Three Quick Friday Hits

  • Three interesting items appeared in the New York Times today – here is the first…

    Compared with the immense size of the stimulus program, the actual number of arrests so far has been microscopic. Earl E. Devaney, the chairman of the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board, the watchdog for stimulus money, said recently that federal prosecutors were looking at only nine stimulus-related cases, including accusations of Social Security fraud and of businesses improperly claiming to be owned by women and members of minorities.

    “Quite frankly, I’m a little surprised it’s that small,” Mr. Devaney testified recently before the Senate, explaining that his office passes along questionable expenses to the various federal inspector general offices following the money, as well as to the Department of Justice. “I know, from talking to them, they’re very interested in sending some very loud signals early, as often as they can, with this money.”

    The small number of cases is partly a function of how much stimulus money has been spent so far, and how it has been spent. While more than $150 billion of it has been pumped into the economy, according to a recent report by the White House, some $62.6 billion of that was in the form of tax cuts. Of the rest, $38.4 billion was sent to states for fiscal relief; $30.6 billion was spent to help those affected by the recession by expanding unemployment benefits and other safety-net programs, and $16.5 billion was spent in areas like infrastructure, technology and research.

    It should have been about $62 billion in infrastructure and $16.5 billion in tax cuts, but what’s done is done.

    And as noted here, FBI Director Robert Mueller has issued a warning about potential fraud arising in the future over the “stim.” Mueller has also issued warnings about mortgage and white collar business fraud in the past, which is probably the prudent thing to do. Basically, I wouldn’t read too much into his warning today by itself, unless further evidence of “stim” fraud arises of course.

  • Here is the second item, including the following…

    LOS ANGELES — Government auditors reported Thursday that the effort to secure the Mexican border with technology and fences has fallen years behind schedule, will cost billions of dollars extra in maintenance costs and has no clear means of gauging whether illegal crossings have been curtailed.

    Mark Borkowski, who directs the Secure Border Initiative for the Department of Homeland Security, stood by the program as “transformational,” but did not challenge the findings. “We are as frustrated as anybody is” with the setbacks, Mr. Borkowski said in an interview.

    The report, by the Government Accountability Office, Congress’s watchdog, said the department had fallen about seven years behind its goal of putting in place the technology the Bush administration had heavily promoted when it announced the Secure Border Initiative in 2005.

    And by the way…

    The apprehension of illegal immigrants at the border has fallen to lows not seen in decades, but scholars and Mexican officials say the recession and the lack of jobs in the United States have contributed to the drop.

    So aside from despoiling habitat, there really is no way to gauge whether or not the “fence” is any good, is there? Pathetic.

  • And speaking of environmental disasters, here is the third story…

    WASHINGTON — The Justice Department is investigating whether a former secretary of the interior, Gale A. Norton, violated the law by granting valuable leases to Royal Dutch Shell around the time she was considering going to work for the company after she left office, officials said Thursday.

    The officials said investigators had recently turned up information suggesting that Ms. Norton had had discussions while in office with Royal Dutch Shell about future career opportunities. In early 2006, Ms. Norton’s department awarded three tracts in Colorado to a Shell subsidiary for shale exploration. In December 2006, she joined Shell as the company’s general counsel in the United States for unconventional oils, a company spokeswoman said.

    The existence of a federal criminal investigation was first reported Thursday by The Los Angeles Times.

    Ms. Norton, 55, was President George W. Bush’s first interior secretary. In that job, she was an ally of Vice President Dick Cheney in the administration’s general approach of opening up more federal lands for energy exploration.

    Gaylie, Gaylie, how does your garden grow (I mean, before the ground beneath it is ripped apart for natural gas exploration, leaving it utterly useless).

    By the way, this post celebrating Norton’s resignation from Interior three years ago contains a link to an Inquirer Op-Ed from Norton claiming that it’s “time for the denial to end” on drilling in the Alaska Natural Wildlife Refuge.

    If Norton is eventually found guilty, I have an idea for her sentencing (speaking of “the mountains she loves so much”). As someone who should have acted as a steward of the environment, I believe she should be forced to parachute into the Rockies with food and water rations for about a week, along with a Swiss army knife. From that point, she’s on her own.

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