As if 2015 weren't bad enough for the Department of Homeland Security (for example, in June, internal DHS tests revealed that its Transportation Security Administration failed to stop 67 of 70 guns passing through airport screeners), a U.S. congressman revealed in December that, based on a congressional staff investigation, 72 DHS employees currently appear on the FBI's terrorist watch list. He admitted to Boston Public Radio that DHS' record makes him squeamish about our ability to vet Syrian refugees. (Being on the FBI list is not a prohibited category for buying guns, either, and in fact, the Government Accountability Office reported that 91 percent of listees' attempts to purchase guns in the past 10 years succeeded.)
The continuing crisis
The vice president of human resources at the Washington Post issued a formal memo in December to reassure female employees in its sleek new office building that people in the seventh floor's central "hub" could definitely not see up their skirts as they walked on the indoor eighth-floor balcony overhang, even through the clear glass barriers. The memo cited HR's "multiple" futile attempts, from many viewing angles, to see no-no's, and thus concluded that the ladies are safe. Nonetheless, the memo encouraged all employees, when in the seventh-floor "hub," not to look up.
Leading economic indicators
Dr. Raymond Schinazi was a federal government employee when he led a team that discovered sofosbuvir, which completely cures hepatitis C patients with an 84-pill regimen, but, as he recently told CBS News, he only worked for the government "seven-eighths" of the time — and, conveniently, it was during the other eighth that he found sofosbuvir. He admits now that in 2012 he made $400 million selling his sofosbuvir company to Gilead Sciences, which famously set sofosbuvir's price for 84 pills to $84,000. Now, the Department of Veterans Affairs, with 233,000 war vets with hep-C, tells Congress that it needs much more money, even though Gilead has "cut" the VA's price in half (to $42,000 per treatment, or $9.66 billion). (In a 2013 medical journal, Schinazi revealed that sofosbuvir could be manufactured for about $17 a pill, or $1,400 for an entire treatment.)
Famously, of course, no central characters from big banks went to jail for crashing the economy and causing thousands to lose their homes and jobs, but the U.S. Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission seem rather proud that at least they pressured several banks to pay the government billions of dollars in civil-case settlements. However, the activist group U.S. PIRG revealed in December that of the 10 largest such federal settlements, where banks and corporations paid a total of $80 billion, more than half was characterized as tax-deductible. (In addition, the $80 billion was ultimately paid by the banks' and corporations' stockholders rather than by wrongdoing employees.)
"It may be the most confusing traffic light you've ever seen," wrote the Boston Globe in December, describing a pedestrian crossing in Cambridge, Mass. If the three clusters of three lights each are dark, drivers proceed. If a pedestrian comes along, one light will blink yellow, then solid yellow, then two solid yellows, then two reds, until two flashing red lights in each cluster appear — and in Cambridge (and only Cambridge!), flashing red lights mean … go (unless pedestrians are actually present). The city has prepared a 12-diagram pamphlet to explain the whole thing, and officials say they have statistical proof from tests that the system enhances safety.
It was Nick Silvestri, 19, of Long Island, who, seated in the orchestra section of the Broadway comedy "Hand to God" on July 2, left his seat to plug his iPhone into an "electrical outlet" on stage. Actors, patrons and management went nuts, but Silvestri ultimately was allowed to stay, and the show resumed. Set designer Beowulf Boritt said later he was proud that he had created a stage set so realistic that the electrical outlet (which of course was attached to nothing) looked so authentic.
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