Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Tired - A Dharma Talk 12-20-15

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Gautama Awakening - A Dharma Talk 12-13-15

Islamist and the US - What is occurring and what works?

One of the contentious issues in America today is, what to do in response to the Islamist terrorism by ISIS and other Islamists, including Iranian Shiite hostility towards the "Great Satan" USA?

This matter has become more significant  in light of the Paris and San Bernardino Islamist terrorism, the Iranian Nuclear Agreement and the various positions by candidates in the US election campaigns.

Our own responses to statements by others, to the political actions we do or do not take, are influenced by many factors. What is skillful and appropriate changes with time, our knowledge of what is so and life circumstances. What is compassion towards all beings - especially towards those who engage in or support the various forms of terrorism exemplified by the Islamic State actions?

Below is an interesting summary and analysis. This is one among the many that have been sent to me and I quote it because of the different analysis that it seems to offer, not because I agree or disagree with it.

"Today, half of Islamic Republic President Hassan Rouhani's closest aides are holders of PhDs from U.S. universities, among them his Chief of Staff, Muhammad Nahavandian, a Green Card holder, and his Foreign Minister Muhammad Javad Zarif. (The other half consists of former holders of U.S. hostages in Tehran, among them Defense Minister Hussein Dehqan and Environmental director Masoumeh Ebtekar.)

Quite a few of Osama bin Laden's 50 or so siblings are either holders of U.S. passports or green cards, along with thousands of other Saudis.

Unlike Russia, which has a 200-year history of war against Muslims, having annexed Islamic land at the rate of one square kilometer a day during the 19th century, the U.S. never annexed any Muslim-majority nation.
And unlike China, which is still holding its Muslim minority, the Uighurs, in East Turkestan (Xinjiang) surrounded by a ring of steel, the U.S. is not trying to stop a Muslim nation's aspiration after self-determination.

In the 1990s, when Saudi Arabia normalized ties with the People's Republic of China, it shut down the offices of the Uighur exiles in Jeddah. Where did the exiles transfer to? The answer is: Washington DC, since neither Muslim nations nor Europeans would agree to host them.

Since the 1970s, the U.S. has been host to more than five million Muslims from all over the world, many of them fleeing brutal Islamist regimes in their homelands. In a conversation in 2002, Princeton Professor Bernard Lewis expressed the hope that Muslims in the United States and other Western democracies could become "beacons of enlightenment" projecting light back to their old counties. Many of us shared that hope.

Now, however, we see that the opposite is happening. Instead of exporting "light" back to the Muslim world, a growing number of Muslims in Western democracies have become importers of darkness in their new abodes.

Worse still, the politically correct crowd has turned Islam into a new taboo. They brand any criticism of Islam as racist, ethnocentrist or simply vile, all crammed together in the new category of "Islamophobia."
Is it Islamophobia to question a religion whose Middle East leaders often preach "Death to America" and hatred for Western values?

More prevalent than Islamophobia is Islamophilia, as leftists treat Muslims as children whose feathers should not be ruffled.

The Islamophilia crowd does great disservice to both Western democracies and to Islam itself.
They invite Americans and Europeans to sacrifice part of their own freedom in atonement of largely imaginary sins against Muslims in the colonial and imperialist era. They also invite Muslims in the West to learn how to pose as victims and demand the rewards of victimhood as is the fashion in Europe and America. To the Muslim world at large, the message of Islamophilia is that Muslims need no criticism, although their faith is being transformed into a number of conflicting ideologies dedicated to violence and terror.

Never mind if Islamic theology is all but dead. To say so would be a sign of Islamophobia.

Never mind that God makes only a cameo appearance in mosque sermons almost entirely obsessed with political issues.

All that Western intellectuals or leaders need to do is stop flattering Islam, as President Obama has been doing for the past seven years, claiming that virtually anything worthwhile under the sun has its origin in Islam.
Many Muslims resent that kind of flattery, which takes them for idiots at a time that Islam and Muslims badly need to be criticized. The world needs to wake from its slumber and ask: What is going on?"

By Amir Tahiri, from 1972 until the 1979 Iranian Revolution, executive editor-in-chief of Iran's main daily newspaper, Kayhan and currently a contributor to the pan-Arab daily, Asharq al-Awsat. This and other articles by the author regarding Islamism and the US are at:

Below are other analysis sent to me subsequent to the above. Am not sure if the embedded links will work but the original is available in the links at the end:

"The Risks of Inaction in the Face of Iranian Misbehavior"

"The Obama administration has emphasized that the nuclear deal with Iran was narrowly focused and was not intended to address concerns such as Iran’s support for terrorism or its regional activities. Yet while the U.S. and its allies got a narrow deal, Iran effectively received a far more comprehensive one.

Iran’s actions have made clear that it can be expected, at most, to abide by the letter of the text. As Sen. Bob Corker has noted, since the agreement was signed in July, Iran has sentenced Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian–who has been in jail for more than a year–and imprisoned another Iranian-American. It has defied United Nations sanctions by exporting arms to Yemen and Syria; by dispatching Gen. Qasem Soleimani, chief of Iran’s elite military Qods Force, and other sanctioned officials to Russia, Iraq, and elsewhere; and by conducting two ballistic missile launches. Iranian hackers have reportedly engaged in cyber attacks on the State Department. Tehran also refused to fully cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency investigation into its nuclear weapons research.

How have the U.S. and its negotiating partners responded to Iran’s actions? Rote condemnation. 

Also see: 

 And here is another analysis:

"ISIS Is Only One Piece of Syria’s Extremist Puzzle"

"...All this leaves me thinking that the known Islamists in Syria are like an iceberg. ISIS–the manifestation of the jihadis– is the visible tip, but the bulk of the Syrian opposition is like a larger mass lurking below the waterline. Groups with extremist orientations and  ideologies are waiting to inherit Syria if ISIS  falls. The longer the conflict drags on, the more motivated and determined these groups–having done much of the fighting–will be to ensure that their vision of Syria shapes the end game.

On the one hand, all this validates Vladimir Putin’s notion that some of the opposition groups are as bad as ISIS; on the other hand, by supporting Mr. Assad, the Russians–and, to an extent, U.S. acquiescence–only contribute to radicalization and anger at the West. Defeating ISIS won’t address the problem of the jihadis, the report found, unless “it is accompanied by an intellectual and theological defeat of the pernicious ideology that drives it.”

"After the San Bernardino terror attacks earlier this month, Congress passed legislation, which was signed by President Barack Obama, that would restrict the automatic granting of visas to individuals who travel to Iran, a country that the State Department designates as a leading state sponsor of terror. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif complained over the weekend that the visa restrictions were a new sanction on Iran, which he believed would violate the nuclear deal. (The deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action or JCPOA, prevents the United States from placing new sanctions on Iran in response to nuclear work, but the U.S. can still sanction Iran for its sponsorship of terrorism, as Kerry has repeatedly stated). In his letter, Kerry reassured Zarif that he is “confident that the recent changes in visa requirements passed in Congress, which the Administration has the authority to waive, will not in any way prevent us from meeting our JCPOA commitments.”

Iran’s complaint about the visa restrictions came amid closer scrutiny of its nuclear and military activities by Congress and the Obama Administration. The United Nations found last week that an Iranian ballistic missile test in October violated a Security Council resolution.

“If we fail in any way to relentlessly enforce what we’ve got in terms of both U.S. unilateral and multilateral abilities to constrain Iran’s actions, they will take that as a clear signal that we’ve taken our eye off the ball,” Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) told the Wall Street Journal on Thursday. Over the weekend, Congressional sources told the Washington Free Beacon that they were concerned that the White House was undercutting anti-terror measures to placate Iran and keep the nuclear deal on track.

“According to the Obama administration’s latest interpretation, the nuclear deal allows Iran to test ballistic missiles in violation of international law, but does not allow Congress to prevent terrorists from coming into the United States,” Omri Ceren, the managing director of press and strategy at The Israel Project, told the Washington Free Beacon. 

For the full text of the letter to Zarif, click here.

Iran’s concerns that American legislation could hurt economic progress comes in the wake of increased anti-American activity and rhetoric by Islamic Republic leaders. Three days after the nuclear deal was signed in July, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei tweeted an image of President Barack Obama with a gun to his head, threatening the “aggressive and criminal U.S.” In September, Khamenei declared that Iran would defeat the U.S. in the event of a war.

Last week, Iran banned the importation of more than 200 American products, following a directive issued by Khamenei in November. The regime recently arrested Iranian-American businessman Siamak Namazi and Lebanese-born U.S. resident Nizar Zakka. Last month, Iran also executed Hamid Samiee, a dual Iranian-American citizen it had been holding since 2008.

In October, Iran announced the conviction of Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian on charges of espionage, and later sentenced him to prison for an unspecified length of time. A senior Iranian official accused Rezaian of conspiring with the U.S. government to topple the regime in Tehran.

Khamenei’s office also published a video last month accusing the U.S. of orchestrating the deadly November 13 terror attacks in Paris. A little over a week later, Khamenei warned that the U.S. was using “money and sexual attractions” to infiltrate the Islamic Republic." 

Friday, December 18, 2015

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes - Who guards the people from the guardian governmental officials? A string of governmental officials believing they are above the law, despite the extensive media attention and criticism of Hillary Clinton's against-the-law use of private emails for government business of all sorts.

A story that speaks for itself:

"The New York Times (see links below) on Thursday revealed the latest email-hider: Defense Secretary Ash Carter. Mr. Carter was confirmed in February, and from the start used a private account to correspond with aides about everything from legislation to media appearances. He may well have discussed far more serious, classified matters, but we don’t know. That’s because we must rely on Mr. Carter’s word that he turned all his work correspondence over to the Defense Department. Just as we must trust that Hillary Clinton didn’t delete anything official from the private server she used as secretary of state. seems that Mr. Carter continued to use his private email account for two full months after the news broke about Mrs. Clinton’s ether escapades. So the defense secretary either a) doesn’t read the news; b) thinks rules apply to him even less than they do Mrs. Clinton; or c) felt the secrecy afforded was worth the risk of getting caught. It seems Mr. Carter didn’t stop until White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough—who was watching the Hillary explosion—told him in May to cut it out...."

"...One irony of these scandals is that, in seeking to keep government business secret from Americans, officials make it more available to foreign enemies.

Former EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson used private email accounts. She and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack also used email aliases, making it harder for Freedom of Information Act filers to track down correspondence. Former Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius used private email. As did former Acting Labor Secretary Seth Harris, who had three private accounts.

The head of the Chemical Safety Board used a private account and didn’t preserve the correspondence. High-ranking Justice Department officials—including the former head of the criminal division—were off the government grid. Disgraced former IRS official Lois Lerner used two off-reservation email addresses, as well as an internal instant-messaging service that didn’t archive conversations.

When the folks at the top routinely break the rules, the folks lower down figure they get to as well. Mrs. Clinton’s aides conducted business off government servers. A former EPA official strategized over private email with environmental groups about how to shut down the proposed Pebble Mine in Alaska."

Much of this material, and more details and statistics, has come to light through government oversight reports and Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA) actions. For more details, see:

And for more details of one particular case concerning former EPA administrator Michael Goo, see this editorial:

“I’ve been involved with EPA regulations for more than 25 years, and I’ve never seen anything like this before,” Jeff Holmstead, a former EPA assistant administrator in the Bush Administration, says. “It is remarkable that a senior official would use a private email account to evade federal law and secretly give an outside group a seat at the table when regulations are being developed.”

"The EPA’s interlocutors here are environmental litigators and political insiders who understand federal law. This may explain why they communicated with Mr. Goo through his private Yahoo email. In a May 2011 email, the Sierra Club’s John Coequyt says: “Attached is a memo I didn’t want to send in public.”

Son of Saul - A very different perspective on a death camp.

The "Son of Saul" is a movie that is just opening which has received very interesting reviews and interviews. I have not seen the movie at this time. Below are some excerpts from articles and podcasts that I have found particularly insightful. As a child/ teenager I knew someone who had been a Sonderkommando - but we never spoke of those experiences.

Here is a comment by Terry Gross: "There's a new Holocaust movie, and let me say right at the start here, I usually try to avoid Holocaust movies. I've read books about the Holocaust. I've seen feature films and documentaries. And at this point, I don't want to go to a theater to watch such unbearable suffering unless it adds to my understanding of the Holocaust or is an exceptionally well-made film. But I went to see the new film "Son Of Saul," and it is an exceptionally well-made film. And it left me with a better understanding of how Auschwitz-Birkenau operated as an extermination factory and of the Jews who the Nazis forced to be the workers in that factory, Jews who were called Sonderkommandos. Their job was getting fellow Jews into the gas chamber, the corpses into the ovens and then disposing of the ashes."

What follows is an extensive interview with the director and main actor of the film (transcript and podcast):

Here are excerpts from reviews and some embedded trailers:

"Good movies summon up worlds. “Son of Saul,” a great movie and a debut feature by László Nemes, summons up a world we may think we know from a visual perspective we’ve never encountered—the willed tunnel vision of a Jewish worker in a Nazi death camp. This point of view is doubly protective. We’re spared the worst of Auschwitz’s horror because the protagonist, a Hungarian named Saul Ausländer (a phenomenal performance by Géza Röhrig), is determined to keep what’s left of his sanity by focusing his gaze, and for a while his mind, on the ground in front of his feet and on whatever tasks may be at hand. His vision broadens only after he comes upon the corpse of a boy he chooses to think of as his son. That’s when he sees a chance to perform a moral act in the midst of the madness, and when Mr. Nemes’s film attains an ineffable beauty.

The storytelling perspective is singular too. We’ve never before learned about a death camp’s workings through two meticulously detailed days in the life of such a man. As a member of the Sonderkommando—Jewish prisoners forced to assist the Nazis in processing the remains of the doomed—Saul is a temporary trusty who will vanish in the ovens like all the other prisoners once his work tour is done. He’s also a target with a red X sewn onto the back of his jacket, lest he try to escape, and the camera often follows him from behind in remarkable tracking shots enhanced by an even more remarkable cacophony of ambient sounds. (The cinematographer was Mátyás Erdély. The sound designer was Tamás Zányi. The screenplay was written by the director with Clara Royer.)"

"The immensity of the Holocaust requires the filmmaker — even one making an eight-hour documentary — to exclude many aspects of the systematic savagery. None has done so more resolutely than Hungary's Lazlo Nemes, director and co-writer of Son of Saul. The grim yet kinetic drama spends all its time at the shoulder of one man, and its only other major character is a corpse."

A Plea from Rabbis to Succor those facing anti-Christian Genocide

"In our view, as rabbis, any immediate admissions (to the US) should focus on providing a haven for the remnants of historic Christian communities of the Middle East. Christians in Iraq and Syria have been suffering longer than other groups, and are fleeing not just for safety but because they have been targeted for extinction. In a region strewn with desperate people, their situation is even more dire. Christians (and Yazidis, ethnic Kurds who follow a pre-Islamic religion) have long been targeted by Muslim groups—not only Islamic State, or ISIS—for ethnic cleansing. Churches have been burned, priests arrested.

In the worst cases, Christians have been tortured, raped and even crucified. Mosul, Iraq, which was home to a Christian population of 35,000 a decade ago, is now empty of Christians after an ISIS ultimatum that they either convert to Islam or be executed. In Syria, Gregorios III Laham, the Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarch of the Church of Antioch, said in 2013 that “entire villages” have been “cleared of their Christian inhabitants...”

"...Tragically, present policy does not take into account the uniquely precarious situation of displaced Christians. Instead of receiving priority treatment, Christians are profoundly disadvantaged. For instance, the State Department has accepted refugees primarily from lists prepared by the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner on Refugees, which oversees the large camps to which refugees have flocked, and where they are registered. Yet endangered Christians do not dare enter those camps.

George Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, wrote in the Telegraph in Britain in September that a similar protocol in the U.K. “inadvertently discriminates against the very Christian communities most victimised by the inhuman butchers of the so-called Islamic State. Christians are not to be found in the UN camps, because they have been attacked and targeted by Islamists and driven from them.”

For the full article see;

Saturday, December 12, 2015

"We Must Overcome the Voldemort Effect: The refusal to call Islamism by its proper name." What is the skillful appropriate name?

"Islam is a religion, and like any other faith, it is internally diverse. Islamism, by contrast, is the desire to impose a single version of Islam on an entire society. Islamism is not Islam, but it is an offshoot of Islam. It is Muslim theocracy.

In much the same way, jihad is a traditional Muslim idea connoting struggle—sometimes a personal spiritual struggle, sometimes a struggle against an external enemy. Jihadism, however, is something else entirely: It is the doctrine of using force to spread Islamism.

President Barack Obama and many liberal-minded commentators have been hesitant to call this Islamist ideology by its proper name. They seem to fear that both Muslim communities and the religiously intolerant will hear the word “Islam” and simply assume that all Muslims are being held responsible for the excesses of the jihadist few.
I call this the Voldemort effect, after the villain in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books. Many well-meaning people in Ms. Rowling’s fictional world are so petrified of Voldemort’s evil that they do two things: They refuse to call Voldemort by name, instead referring to “He Who Must Not Be Named,” and they deny that he exists in the first place. Such dread only increases public hysteria, thus magnifying the appeal of Voldemort’s power.

The same hysteria about Islamism is unfolding before our eyes. But no strategy intended to defeat Islamism can succeed if Islamism itself and its violent expression in jihadism are not first named, isolated and understood. It is as disingenuous to argue that Islamic State is entirely divorced from Islam as it is to assert that it is synonymous with Islam. Islamic State does indeed have something to do with Islam—not nothing, not everything, but something. That something is the way in which all Islamists justify their arguments using Islamic scripture and seek to recruit from Muslims."

The above is from the following article by a self-described former "leader of a global Islamist group that advocated the return of a caliphate."

"How to Beat Islamic State

To win against the jihadists, isolate them, undercut their appeal to Muslims and avoid a ‘clash of civilizations’"

For the rest of the article see:


Using names is the potential for clarity and for skillful action; it is also fraught with the potential of blinding us. Therefore, I cite the following excerpt from the poem "Please Call Me by My True Names" by Thich Nath Hanh:

“I am the child in Uganda, all skin and bones,
my legs as thin as bamboo sticks.
And I am the arms merchant,
selling deadly weapons to Uganda.

I am the twelve-year-old girl,
refugee on a small boat,
who throws herself into the ocean
after being raped by a sea pirate.
And I am the pirate,
my heart not yet capable
of seeing and loving.

I am a member of the politburo,
with plenty of power in my hands.
And I am the man who has to pay
a "debt of blood" to my people,
dying slowly in a forced labor camp.”


Friday, December 11, 2015

A Great Laugh Header - “Can Male Prairie Voles Blame Promiscuity on Poor Memory?” 10-Dec-2015 American Association for the Advancement of Science

Scientific Inquiry Conclusion:

"To explore the effects of promiscuity on the genetic level, Mariam Okhovat and colleagues took a closer look at the expression of avpr1a, a gene that predicts sexual fidelity in males and that's well known to play a role in a spatial-memory circuitry. Lower expression of the related receptor V1aR in certain brain regions is associated with a poor memory for locations of aggressive interactions with other males, a result that could lead to wandering (and contact with non-pair females). By contrast, abundance of V1aR is linked to a better spatial memory for past aggressive encounters, and less wandering."

What about human genes? What behavior and misbehavior can we blame on our genes? - "My genes made me do it?"

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes - Helpful Governmental Actions and "Mis-Actions"

"All that advice on how to save money? Lots of it goes down the drain, watchdogs tell Congress"

"Federal watchdogs told Senate lawmakers Thursday that thousands of their recommendations for eliminating millions of wasted dollars every year get swept under the rug and simply never implemented.

“While much progress has been made on many of our recommendations, other critical recommendations to improve efficiency and effectiveness across the federal government remain unimplemented,” Gene Dodaro, the U.S. comptroller general and chief of the Government Accountability Office told a Senate panel on regulatory affairs and federal management at a hearing on why agencies do not always listen to their watchdogs....

 He testifies about what his auditors found, which come to about 1,800 areas for savings every year. Many suggestions, about 80 percent, are implemented. And others linger for years, he said, a whopping 4,800 of them still on the books as of last month.

Inspectors general, who play a similar role in uncovering waste, fraud and abuse that can often result in excess spending, have similar frustrations...."

For the full article see:

And here is another extensive report, with sources from the Congressional Research Service, Senate Library, Government Accountability Office, Offices of Inspector Generals, and staff of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affair, detailing specific projects and the spending or mis-spending involved, released by US Senator Jeff Flake. The presentation mode is particularly interesting:

127 + killed in Paris 11/13 Islamist terrorism attacks, hundreds more injured; 14 killed in San Bernardino 12/2 Islamist terrorism attack, many more injured - What is skillful and appropriate to do?

The following are two particularly interesting and suggestive proposals (plus one) among the many I have heard, read and received:

"One phrase from Saudi clerics could begin the end of Islamic State" The one phrase is discussed at the end of the podcast.

"A virulent ideology powers Islamic State. Nance argues that it’s not a sect of Islam, but a death cult powered by an apocalyptic vision. To beat them, the West must fight against that vision. Ideas are harder to fight than a military force. Hard, but not impossible."

 For the podcast see: 


Here is another overlapping yet at time quite different proposal.


"Call Islamic Terrorism by Its Name"


"Why ignoring the religious beliefs behind the threat is foolish—and dangerous...

Here is the reality. There are radicalized groups of Muslims that pick and choose portions of the Quran and Hadiths religious texts, interpreting them as instructions to pursue jihad and impose their religion on the whole world. Infidels, they believe, have three alternatives: conversion to Islam, submission (the payment of tribute) or death. Killing of infidels is to these extremists a religious obligation that will gain them entry to a sensuous and rewarding life in paradise.

To deal with this, we must strengthen our surveillance capabilities by restoring the portions of the Patriot Act that Congress removed in June. We must establish a no-fly zone in Syria so that the refugees remain there and aren’t brought to the United States. Our ineffective vetting of Tashfeen Malik, one of the killers in San Bernardino, when she came to America is an example of why the process must be overhauled and made much more expansive. Finally, we must recognize and acknowledge that there is an Islamic terrorist war against us, and we must respond appropriately. 

The overwhelming majority of Muslims don’t hold these beliefs. Like members of other religions with ancient roots, these Muslims ignore the barbaric portions of their books and history. Judaism long ago read out of the Old Testament the stoning of women for adultery. Christians long ago abandoned crusades, inquisitions and pogroms. We must encourage Muslim leaders to show the world that Islamic terrorists represent an antiquated and inhumane interpretation of Islam. These leaders need to loudly and dramatically speak for the hundreds of millions of Muslims who worship a peaceful, merciful and loving God. All Americans, in particular those in the media, can do their part by encouraging those Muslim leaders who come forward with a positive message about modern Islam."


"The failure to speak bluntly about Islamic terrorism opens the door to the vast generalizations that can steer the debate in a totally counterproductive direction. The idea of excluding all Muslims is unworkable and legally dubious. It will soon disappear. But it is clear that the Obama administration’s refusal to face up to the nature of Islamic terrorism is never going to change. That is more than foolish. It is also dangerous.

Investigating large multifaceted criminal organizations like the Mafia or making war against similarly complex terrorist organizations requires properly identifying the organizational rationale. Making it politically incorrect to use the proper designation also makes it much harder to see the connections that enable these groups to flourish."

For the full article see: 

And here is another straightforward analysis and proposal whose title summarizes the article:

Trump: ban Islamists, not Muslims 



Thursday, December 3, 2015

Smile - A Dharma Talk Exercise 11-29-15

A government report that speaks for itself - and a possible first step to a solution


The government paid $80 million last year for feds to stay home, new analysis reveals

The government’s largest agencies paid out more than $80 million last year for thousands of employees to sit home for a month and longer while they faced allegations of misconduct, a system a senior lawmaker denounced as “ripe for abuse.”

“Its costs are high, and its benefits dubious,” a report released this week by  the staff of Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) said, referring to what is known as administrative leave.
“Agencies are able to place an employee on administrative leave simply to avoid addressing an uncomfortable—or potentially even unjustifiable—personnel action,” the report concludes. “Maintaining this status quo serves neither the taxpayer nor the employee.”

Grassley has worked for more than a year to highlight the practice of extended paid leave, whose widespread use was disclosed for the first time by the Government Accountability Office in October 2014. The GAO audit, first made public by The Washington Post, found that 53,000 civilian employees were kept home for one to three months during the three fiscal years that ended in September 2013. About 4,000 of them were idled for three months to a year and several hundred for one to three years, at a cost to taxpayers of more than $700 million.

Some high-profile federal employees have languished on paid leave. There was Paul Brachfeld, the former inspector general for the National Archives and Records Administration, who was banned from coming to work for almost two years, but paid his senior executive salary, during an investigation of alleged misconduct (he eventually retired).

There was Lois Lerner, the Internal Revenue Service official at the center of a controversy of the agency’s treatment of groups seeking tax-exempt status, who was on paid leave for four months after she refused to resign (she also retired).

And dozens of whistleblowers at the Department of Veterans Affairs who reported covered-up patient wait times were sent home after facing retaliation,  cases VA officials are still trying to resolve through negotiated settlements.

In June, the Obama administration urged agencies in June to curtail their reliance on administrative leave. But Grassley and his Senate colleagues say the system needs stronger, legislative fixes. Grassley and Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) plan to introduce a bill in the coming weeks that would crack down on abuses of paid leave, allowing federal agencies to send an employee home only in rare circumstances, when they physically endanger themselves or someone else.

The bill also would ensure that paid leave is tracked and recorded by agencies and prevent its use as a means of retaliation against whistleblowers, aides said.

Paid leave is supposed to be used only in rare circumstances when an employee poses a physical threat in the workplace. Comptroller generals have issued numerous rulings over many years saying that federal workers should not be sidelined for long periods for any reason because of the burden on both taxpayers and the employees, who have no right to appeal paid leave.

Grassley wanted explanations for why so many employees are paid not to work for such long stretches. Eighteen agencies, from VA to Housing and Urban Development, responded to his request for details, but with a lot less detail than the senator asked for, he said.

The State Department, for example, does not report administrative leave to the Office of Personnel Management. The Defense Department did not offer a response, Grassley said. And other agencies provided only vague explanations for why they paid employees not to work for periods that stretch to two and three years, the report said. The result is that it’s hard to know if some uses are warranted or not.
“We found that agencies appear to be using administrative leave as a way to place employees in a catch-all limbo status rather than address personnel problems expeditiously,” the report found. “With no clear standard, agencies’ use of paid administrative leave is largely unchecked and ripe for abuse.”

Supervisors use wide discretion in putting employees on leave, including for alleged violations of ­government rules and laws, whistleblowing, doubts about trust­worthiness and disputes with colleagues or bosses. Some employees remain on paid leave while they challenge demotions and other punishments.

Of the $80.6 million paid out last year, the Department of Homeland Security, the government’s third-largest agency, spent almost $1.8 million to keep 88 employees on paid leave. Four were sidelined for some three years or more, and another 17 for two years or more. Of the 88, 53 faced misconduct charges, 13 had issues with security clearances  and the agency had questions about the fitness for duty of another 22, according to data DHS provided to the senator.

Another 2,500 employees at the Veterans Affairs were placed on paid leave for at least a month last year, and the agency acknowledges it didn’t track the details and why they were sent home.

The total tab in salary alone for these absences — ranging from 30 days to more than a year for 46 employees — came to $23 million, according to the Judiciary Committee.