|7:24 AM, Oct 30, 2014 • By JERYL BIER
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) recently suspended all background investigations on current and prospective Customs and Border Protection (CBP) employees due to security concerns over Personally Identifiable Information (PII). The information is revealed in newly released documents justifying recently awarded government contracts: At least five sole-source, no-bid contracts of "unusual and compelling urgency" totaling almost a half million dollars were awarded to various information technology vendors at the end of September.
Although the justification documents for the contracts state that the awards were "not the result of a lack of planning," the contracts' sole-source, no-bid nature was justified because "[t]ime and urgency did not allow for soliciting multiple sources." CBP halted all background investigations until security upgrades are completed:
The five upgrade contracts were awarded in Colorado, Virginia, Indiana, Maryland, and New Mexico. According to the documents, the need for the upgrade is the result of "a requirement for increased security standards for background investigation contractors accessing Personally Identifiable Information." No source is cited for the "requirement for increased security standards":
The BPA referenced in the document covers at least 47 transactions stretching back to 2009 totaling $53 million for background investigations for the CBP. Market research, usually a requirement for government contracts, was not done in the case of the security enhancements because, per the government documents, only the selected vendors can conduct the upgrades due to the systems' proprietary nature. Without the upgrades, use of the systems would have to be discontinued.
It is not clear if the CBP has resumed background checks yet. An email to the CBP requesting an answer to that question and clarification on other issues has been acknowledged by a CBP media representative but a response to the inquiries has not yet been forthcoming.
October baseball notebook.7:38 PM, Oct 29, 2014 • By LEE SMITH
Gregg Ritchie, head coach at George Washington University, says that the Royals have more of their game-changers going into tonight’s game than the Giants do. With pitching, as my former GW teammate explains, the two clubs are basically even. Royals’ starter Jeremy Guthrie and his Giants counterpart Tim Hudson are pretty similar—right-handers whose top velocity is 90-92 mph, and who, as Ritchie says, change speeds up and down, making them plus-and-minus pitchers, rather than power pitchers.
The Royals big game-changer is speed, on offense and defense. The Giants’ big game-changer throughout the World Series is Madison Bumgarner. And that’s why Giants’ manager Bruce Bochy will have him ready in the bullpen. As Royals assistant general manager and another former GW coach Mike Toomey told me earlier today, Bumgarner “can rest all winter. He’s a horse. For game seven, it’s all hands on deck.”
In pitching the first World Series shutout since 2003 Sunday night, the Giants’ 25-year-old southpaw has already become an October legend. With four wins in three World Series (2010, 2012, and this year), Bumgarner has registered a 0.29 ERA with 27 strikeouts in 31 innings. In all postseason play, Bumgarner is 7-3, 2.27 ERA and 73 Ks in 83.1 innings. He’s made 13 postseason appearances in ten series, only one of them a relief appearance. Tonight, however, Giants’ skipper Bruce Bochy has decided to go with Hudson, with Bumgarner only a phone call away in the bullpen.
“Bumgarner is a game-changer,” says Ritchie. “With him striking out eight to ten a game, how many chances do you have to execute something? These other guys are very good pitchers, who keep hitters off balance, but they’re not major strikeout guys. With these other pitchers, there are fewer strikeouts, more times the ball will be put in play and so more opportunity to execute things.”
That’s good for the Royals. “The more balls they put in play will allow their speed to be used,” says Ritchie, who played in the Giants organization. He had decent power as a player, but his premium physical tool was speed, a game-changer that he prizes even now as a college coach. “If speed comes in to play for the Royals tonight,” he tells me, “it’s a big advantage.”
Ritchie agrees with Mike Toomey that speed helps the Royals not only on offense but on defense, too. “Guys who can run balls down in the outfield like Lorenzo Cain and Jarrod Dyson cover more ground and make the field smaller for opposing hitters. The same balls hit by one team may get caught and another team might not make the play on that same ball. That’s how defense is a game-changer,” says Ritchie.
Same on offense. “When Cain and Dyson put the ball in play, it’s tougher to make a play against a guy who runs something like 3.9 from home to first, as opposed to a guy who runs a 4.5 down the line. There’s more pressure on the defense, just knowing that the Royals have guys who can do that.”
October baseball notebook.5:34 PM, Oct 29, 2014 • By LEE SMITH
The fact that the Royals and the Giants have pushed the World Series to a game seven is evidence the two clubs are very evenly matched. Even tonight’s probable starters, Tim Hudson for the Giants and Jeremy Guthrie for the Royals, are similar style pitchers. Top velocity for both is around 90-92 miles per hour. They’re not power pitchers, but plus-and-minus pitchers, meaning they change speeds, up and down, to keep hitters off balance.
And to further even things out tonight, while the Royals are known for their dominant bullpen, for game seven the Giants have lefty starter Madison Bumgarner ready to come out of the pen on only two days’ rest after his masterful shutout Sunday night.
“I will not be at all surprised to see Bumgarner come in,” says Royals assistant general manager Mike Toomey. “He can rest all winter. He’s a horse. For game seven, it’s all hands on deck.”
Toomey, another former head coach at George Washington University, has worked in professional baseball for decades, managing and scouting for, among others, the Pirates, Giants, and Expos/Nationals organizations. He’s been with the Royals for nearly seven years now and even after logging some 200 nights on the road the past year, he shows few signs of tiring. After all, his club is playing baseball in October.
“Playing in the World Series has brought a lot of happiness to a long-awaiting fan base,” says Toomey. “It’s been 29 years since the Royals last won it, and now we’re having a great year.”
It’s true Royals’ fans have been loyal and patient, but the failure to get to the World Series for nearly three decades put some pressure on the Royals’ front office. Toomey explains how the organization built a winner.
“After pitching, the priority in putting together any club is to be strong up the middle,” says Toomey. “Our catcher Salvador Perez is only 24. Our guys signed him out of Venezuela at the age of 16 and then he went to our baseball academy in the Dominican Republic.”
Perez, as Toomey explains, is one of the club’s pillars, homegrown like many of the other Royals’ stars. “Moustakas, Gordon, Hosmer, Ventura,” says Toomey, all of them grown down on the Royals farm and, thanks to their performance this October in front of a national TV audience, now stars.
5:28 PM, Oct 29, 2014 • By GEOFFREY NORMAN
Laura Barron-Lopez of the The Hill is reporting that:
Secretary of State John Kerry said he wants to make a decision on the controversial Keystone XL pipeline "sooner rather than later.” Kerry's comments came after a meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper on Tuesday. Kerry said the pipeline, which would carry crude oil from Alberta to Gulf refineries, "of course" came up during their talk.
"I certainly want to do it sooner rather than later, but I can’t tell you a precise date," Kerry said, referencing the recommendation he must ultimately send to the president on the pipeline.
It has been five or six years, now, but who is counting. Important thing is to get it done sooner rather than later.
4:19 PM, Oct 29, 2014 • By GEOFFREY NORMAN
A candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives, after a debate with his opponent, said that:
… he’d like to substantially downsize or eliminate the federal Education Department, giving more power to the states. He’d like to see less testing in the K-12 space. And on higher education, [he] wants to see student loan rate reductions or refinancing and better disclosure by private loan companies to borrowers. “We need to address the overall costs of higher education,” he said, adding that Randolph-Macon tuition has doubled since he started working there.
That candidate, as reported in Politico, is a Democrat who is given little chance of winning the race for the seat Eric Cantor expected to be occupying before he was so rudely upset in the primary. Hard to say which is more surprising. The fact that Jack Trammell is a Democrat or that he is a college professor. As is his opponent, for that matter. Both teach at Randolph-Macon.
Whatever white wine they are serving at the faculty soirees there, send a tanker truck of the stuff around to all the colleges and universities.
3:39 PM, Oct 29, 2014 • By WALTER OLSON
Editor’s note: In the final debate between Maryland gubernatorial candidates Anthony Brown (D) and Larry Hogan (R), one contender flubbed the name of the state’s second-largest city. “When I travel around the state of Maryland, whether I’m in Oakland, whether I’m in Cumberland, whether I’m in Frostburg, Hagerstown, Frederickstown, families want the same thing,” the Democrat said. Brown—who is Maryland’s lieutenant governor—meant to end with “Frederick.” He did not notice or correct his error.
TWS friend and Maryland resident Walter Olson, author most recently of Schools for Misrule: Legal Academia and an Overlawyered America and founder of the invaluable Overlawyered blog, shared with us a parody of the performance, which he says can be sung to "Nottamun Town," made famous by Jean Ritchie.
SHOW ME THE WAY TO FREDERICKSTOWN,
or, LOST IN MARYLAND
Come all you good people and now gather round,
I’ll sing you the story of Anthony Brown;
Who wandered thro’ Mar’land, up hills and down,
Saying show me the way to fair Fred-er-ickstown.
“For eight years in office I’ve just hung around,
Except for that website I ran to the ground,
But Emperor O’Malley has willed me his crown,
So show me the way to fair Frederickstown.”
“Oh Tony, oh Tony, please pencil this down,
There’s a city called Frederick, of famous renown,
The state’s second largest, with green hills all round,
But there is no city called Frederickstown.”
“Do not contradict me,” Tony said with a frown,
“These eight years I’ve traveled this whole state around,
Eastminster, St. Gary’s, and Salisboro town,
From Hagersville-Port to the Chesapeake Sound.”
We wanted a governor with feet on the ground,
We chose Larry Hogan, our taxes came down,
If out on the byways you should meet Mr. Brown,
He’s still out there looking for Frederickstown.
Hosted by Michael Graham.3:05 PM, Oct 29, 2014 • By TWS PODCAST
The WEEKLY STANDARD podcast with editor William Kristol on the controversy over an anonymous U.S. official's comment that Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu is a "chicken****".
This podcast can be downloaded here. Subscribe to THE WEEKLY STANDARD's iTunes podcast feed here.
2:19 PM, Oct 29, 2014 • By JOHN MCCORMACK
Wisconsin governor Scott Walker leads his Democratic opponent Mary Burke 50 percent to 43 percent among likely voters in the final Marquette University Law school poll. The results come as a surprise to many, as the last Marquette poll showed the race tied, and three other pollsters show the Wisconsin gubernatorial election to be a one-point race.
Mary Burke, a Madison school board member and former executive at her father's bicycle corporation, started out the race largely unknown to Wisconsin voters. But over time, voters have had an increasingly negative view of her. The final Marquette poll shows Burke with a 10-point deficit in her favorable/unfavorable rating:
Meanwhile, Walker's job approval rating has ticked up: 52 percent approve of his performance as governor, while 46 percent disapprove. By a 12-point margin, likely Wisconsin voters say their state is heading in the right direction. Just 42 percent of voters want to restore collective bargaining power that was taken away from government unions in 2011, while 52 percent of voters want to keep the law as it is.
Although it could be an outlier, the Marquette University Law poll is generally considered the best pollster in Wisconsin politics for its sound methodology and excellent track record. Walker won the June 2012 recall election by precisely the margin shown in that race's final Marquette poll, and the pollster was within 1-point of the final presidential and senatorial races later that year.
2:04 PM, Oct 29, 2014 • By GEOFFREY NORMAN
The AP is reporting that:
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on Wednesday approved a recommendation by military leaders that all U.S. troops returning from Ebola response missions in West Africa be kept in supervised isolation for 21 days. The move goes beyond precautions recommended by the Obama administration for civilians, although President Barack Obama has made clear he feels the military's situation is different from that of civilians, in part because troops are not in West Africa by choice.
Meanwhile, the nurse who was briefly quarantined in New Jersey has said that, since she has a choice, hers is not to quarantine herself. She is also talking to lawyers. As Elise Viebeck of The Hill reports
[Kaci Hickox] was released earlier this week and transferred to Maine, where she lives. Her attorney said Monday that she agreed to stay in her home and not venture into large public places. But Hickox appears to have changed her thinking. "I am not going to sit around and be bullied by politicians and forced to stay in my home when I am not a risk to the American public,” Hickox said. "I do understand that [Ebola] has created a lot of fear, but we still have to make policies based on evidence."
1:15 PM, Oct 29, 2014 • By DANIEL HALPER
Tom Cotton, the Republican candidate for Senate from Arkansas, is calling on President Obama to renounce the "vulgar" attack on Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu which was expressed by an anonymous administration official in a recent Atlantic article.
"I’m appalled at recent media reports suggesting the Obama administration is seeking ‘détente’ with Iran, while unnamed administration officials disparage Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with vulgar ad hominem attacks. I call upon President Obama to renounce these reports and disclose the names of these officials and fire them. Iran remains our worst enemy and Israel our closest ally. The Obama administration’s weak behavior will only embolden Iran to continue its headlong rush to nuclear weapons and terror campaigns against America and our allies, while destabilizing the region and further eroding our interests," reads Cotton's statement.
"Finally, for the record, I must note that Prime Minister Netanyahu in his youth was a member of Israel’s elite special-operations forces, where he displayed great courage. He and his family have made grave sacrifices in the fight against our common enemies. On behalf of all Arkansans, I want to thank Mr. Netanyahu for his bravery and service."
12:14 PM, Oct 29, 2014 • By GEOFFREY NORMAN
As the Soviet Union maintained Dachas for the nomenklatura, so our Park Service keeps a nice little “cabin” in the Tetons for use by the political class, as revealed by some diligent muckraking by Time.
Vice President Joe Biden is among the administration officials who have enjoyed the comforts of the
… the Brinkerhoff Lodge [which] was built in 1947 by the family of Zachary Brinkerhoff, a prominent Wyoming oil company executive. It features a two-story living room, a full-length deck, Western-style chandeliers and interior walls lined with log or knotty pine paneling.
The Park Service now runs this austere little shack:
Located on the banks of Jackson Lake with views of the glacier-strewn peak of Mount Moran …
Government official who stay there – with their families – are required to be doing some sort of “official business.” Easily accomplished, of course, if you are Secretary of Education Arne Duncan who:
… stayed there for six nights with his wife and children in 2013. He attended a nearby roundtable with tribal leaders and an event at a local school, according to the Department of Education.
And education in America is now vastly the better for it. Still, Duncan was supposed to have paid those additional costs “incurred” by the presence of family. This is one of those rules that seems to be administered according to some sort of wink-wink protocol, understood only by those in the government. That is to say, not administered at all until a snoop from Time comes around asking. Now:
A spokesperson for the Department of Education says the park service “never conveyed” to Duncan that he would have to pay for the non-official portion of his family’s nearly week-long stay. “Secretary Duncan requested an invoice for his family’s stay and will reimburse the park fully for the time he was on personal leave,” the official said.
Among those who have found a way to commit “public service” amid the glories of the Tetons are:
Former Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson [who] stayed three nights in 2011 with her husband, and five other people, including a person listed as a friend. She received a tour of a new air quality monitoring station, according to a park official.
Former Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood [who] traveled there in 2012 for eight nights with his wife, his daughter-in-law, three grandchildren, two other adults and his son, Illinois State Sen. Darin LaHood. He attended the Department of Transportation grant award event, according to LaHood’s office.
Read the whole thing.
11:09 AM, Oct 29, 2014 • By MICHAEL WARREN
The belief that the prime minister of Israel is "chickenshit" is "not the administration's view," a spokesperson for the National Security Council says in a statement. Jeffrey Goldberg of the Atlantic reported Tuesday that a "senior administration official" viewed Benjamin Netanyahu, the prime minister of Israel, as the most frustrating foreign leader to the White House and the State Department.
“The thing about Bibi is, he’s a chickenshit,” the offical told Goldberg. However, the White House's NSC does not dispute the fact the comment was made.
Ali Baskey, a member of the press staff for the NSC, responded to questions about that comment with an official statement. “Certainly that's not the Administration's view, and we think such comments are inappropriate and counter-productive," Baskey said. "Prime Minister Netanyahu and the President have forged an effective partnership, and consult closely and frequently, including earlier this month when the President hosted the Prime Minister in the Oval Office." Baskey did not deny that someone within the administration made that comment.
TWS received the statement after asking the Office of the Vice President if the anonymous comments were made by Vice President Joe Biden. Biden spokesperson Kendra Barkoff did not confirm or deny that Biden was the official quoted by Goldberg. A similiar request to State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki, asking if Secretary of State John Kerry or any other State Department officials made the "chickenshit" comment, has not been answered, nor has a request to the White House press office.
11:03 AM, Oct 29, 2014 • By MARK HEMINGWAY
Time magazine has a cover story out that's causing a fair amount of outrage, but for all the wrong reasons. The story is headlined, "Rotten Apples: It's nearly impossible to fire a bad teacher. Some tech millionaires may have found a way to change that." Since then, some 70,000 people signed an online petition calling for a public apology over Time's supposed smearing of teachers. Time has sensibly invited a series of responses to the piece on its website.
Now the merits of corporate meddling in public education are debatable -- see Andrew Ferguson's piece on Common Core standards for more on that -- but that's not what has allegedly enraged teachers. It is not even remotely controversial that firing teachers is notoriously difficult, but the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), the union orchestrating the Time backlash, lives in some sort of fantasyland where they think that it's outrageous to tell this obvious truth. In 2010, L.A. Weekly -- no one's idea of a conservative anti-teacher, anti-union media outlet -- did a little investigation of the Los Angeles Unified School District, which is the largest school district in the country:
But the far larger problem in L.A. is one of "performance cases" — the teachers who cannot teach, yet cannot be fired. Their ranks are believed to be sizable — perhaps 1,000 teachers, responsible for 30,000 children. But in reality, nobody knows how many of LAUSD's vast system of teachers fail to perform. Superintendent Ramon Cortines tells the Weekly he has a "solid" figure, but he won't release it. In fact, almost all information about these teachers is kept secret.
But the Weekly has found, in a five-month investigation, that principals and school district leaders have all but given up dismissing such teachers. In the past decade, LAUSD officials spent $3.5 million trying to fire just seven of the district's 33,000 teachers for poor classroom performance — and only four were fired, during legal struggles that wore on, on average, for five years each. Two of the three others were paid large settlements, and one was reinstated. The average cost of each battle is $500,000.
That's right. Out of 33,000 teachers, only four were fired for poor performance over the course of a decade. Firing teachers is such a problem there's even a term of art, "the dance of the lemons," that refers to how bad teachers are shuffled from one school to the next as parents get wise to their professional shortcomings. After being shamed by L.A. Weekly's report, the LAUSD promised reform but the problem does not appear to have gotten better. USA Today reported earlier this year that "an average of 2.2 teachers a year are dismissed for unsatisfactory performance" in the entire state of California.
10:01 AM, Oct 29, 2014 • By MICHAEL WARREN
Two Illinois voters say their attempts to vote early for Republicans on an electronic voting machine were registered as votes for Democrats—and they say have the video evidence to prove it.
The voters are 18- and 19-year-old Moline residents who asked to remain anonymous. They say they went to their polling station on Monday, October 28, at the Moline Public Library. Both say they were aware of recent news stories that other early voters in their area had experienced difficulties voting on electronic machines. The complaints have been widespread.
The Republican House candidate for the area, Bobby Schilling, claims 20 supporters have called his campaign to say that their attempts to vote for him were switched to his opponent, Democratic congresswoman Cheri Bustos.
"Two nights ago, I took a call from a supporter of mine who said that his mother-in-law had gone to the library to vote and that every time that she went to push my name that it automatically bounced up to my opponents name," Schilling told KWQC, the local NBC affiliate, on October 24. "I thought, well, maybe she mixed up, she's an older gal, but come to find out in the last two days I've taken 17 calls of people saying the exact same thing."
The two Moline voters say they didn’t expect to experience problems. They figured the problem was older people were having difficult with the machines' touchscreens. But both said their attempts to vote for Republicans on several races were switched to select the Democrat. One of the voters said he tried to vote for the Republican candidate in the races for U.S. House and the state senate, and that both his votes were registered as those for the Democratic candidate. The second voter said he had the same problem for those races as well as those for the state house and the Rock Island County clerk race.
“I pressed the top of the box for [Republican state senate candidate] Neil Anderson, and it clicked for [Democratic state senator] Mike Jacobs,” he said. The machines, both voters said, require the use of fingers, and no stylus or other device is provided.
The voters say they decided to use their cell phones to film their votes after having trouble. They said they wanted to show how easily the machines registered the wrong vote. Watch that video below:
Eventually, both voters were able to vote for the Republican candidates, as they say they preferred. They said the screen appeared to be poorly calibrated, so that while pressing anywhere in the box for a Democrat registered a vote for the Democrat, only pressing the bottom half of the Republican box did so for the Republican. The only way to make the correct vote, they said, was to press the incorrectly checked box to “uncheck” it, then press low in the Republican’s box. The voters say they were able to figure this out without calling over an election judge for help.
9:06 AM, Oct 29, 2014 • By DANIEL HALPER
The Washington Post reports:
Hackers thought to be working for the Russian government breached the unclassified White House computer networks in recent weeks, sources said, resulting in temporary disruptions to some services while cybersecurity teams worked to contain the intrusion.
White House officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss an ongoing investigation, said that the intruders did not damage any of the systems and that, to date, there is no evidence the classified network was hacked.
“In the course of assessing recent threats, we identified activity of concern on the unclassified Executive Office of the President network,” said one White House official. “We took immediate measures to evaluate and mitigate the activity. . . . Unfortunately, some of that resulted in the disruption of regular services to users. But people were on it and are dealing with it.”
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