June 28, 2013

Obama to name top cop for State Department after leaving the post open for 2,000 days

President Obama plans to name a watchdog for the State Department after a bipartisan push to fill the post that has been vacant for 2,000 days.

The five-year absence of a permanent internal watchdog at the State Department has prompted Republicans, led by several Republicans, including Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, to question the agency’s internal oversight capabilities in the wake of the terrorist attack last September on a U.S. diplomatic post in Benghazi.

On Wednesday Cruz threatened to hold up all of Obama’s nominees to the State Department until the president names an inspector general, a position that has been vacant during all of Obama’s time in the White House.

Cruz also said the Interior and Labor Departments also need internal watchdogs, but “only the State Department has been without a credible and independent inspector general for so long.”

After the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Thursday passed a bipartisan resolution urging the president to nominate a permanent inspector general for the State Department, administration officials indicated that Obama plans to tap Steve Linick, who currently serves as inspector general of the Federal Housing Finance Agency, which oversees mortgage buyers Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

Ed Royce, a California Republican who chairs the Foreign Affairs panel, applauded the move, although he said it was long overdue. Leaving that position open, he said, was particularly egregious while the inspector general’s office is reviewing an independent investigation into the administration’s handling of the attacks in Benghazi, which killed four Americans, including U.S. ambassador Christopher Stevens.

Amid new revelations about the State and Defense Department’s handling of the aftermath of the attacks in May, the State Department’s Office of Inspector General announced that it was investigating an independent review of the Benghazi attacks, known as the Accountability Review Board.

Chaired by former Ambassador Thomas R. Pickering, with Admiral Michael Mullen the vice chairman, the ARB’s report on Benghazi criticized State Department officials in Washington for ignoring requests for more guards and safety upgrades, and for failing to adapt security procedures in a rapidly deteriorating security environment.

It also unequivocally said the attack was premeditated and carried out by terrorists, not the result of a spontaneous uprising sprung from protests.

The report did not specifically blame senior members of the administration, such as then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, for mishandling security leading up to the attack or for the fallout afterward. Pickering and Mullen were faulted for failing to interview Clinton during their investigation.

“Having pressed both the president and [State Department] Secretary Kerry on this issue, I’m glad the president has finally decided to nominate someone to fill the vacant position,” Royce said in a release.

Royce said he was puzzled, however, as to why the president thought it was acceptable to have no top cop on the beat at the State Department for nearly 2,000 days, especially as the Office of Inspector General is reviewing whether there political appointees unduly influenced internal and outside investigations of “administrative and criminal misconduct.”

With Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., the ranking member of the Foreign Affairs panel, Royce has previously pushed Obama to nominate a permanent inspector general at State. He and Engel wrote several letters to Obama and Kerry urging them to nominate a qualified IG, an issue Royce and Engel described as “essential to the proper functioning” of the State Department.

Earlier this month, Sen. Bob Corker and Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez, D-N.J., wrote the president urging him to nominate permanent inspectors general at the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development to identify “ineffective programs, process weaknesses, and wasteful spending that undermine public confidence in government.”


June 27, 2013

Conservatives threaten to oust Boehner if he allows vote on immigration bill favored by Democrats

House Republican conservatives warned Wednesday they would move to oust Speaker John Boehner if he puts an immigration reform bill up for a vote that doesn’t have the support of a majority of GOP members.

“There gets to be a time when there is a straw that breaks the proverbial camel’s back,” Rep. Matt Salmon, R-Ariz., said at a monthly question and answer event featuring a group of  conservative lawmakers.

Salmon, along with Reps. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho;  Tim Huelskamp, R-Kansas; and Rep. Tom McClintock, of California, said they do not support the Gang of Eight comprehensive immigration reform plan now advancing in the Senate, despite the passage of an amendment that would at 20,000 border agents and other border security measures to the bill.

Boehner, R-Ohio, told Republicans today he will not take up the Senate bill, repeating a pledge he made in writing last month, and instead plans to move House-authored legislation. But many in the conservative wing of the GOP conference fear Boehner will allow a bill on the floor that includes legalization or a pathway to citizenship for the nation’s 11 million illegal immigrants but does not include the level of border security they believe is needed to stop illegal migration.

Such a bill could pass with mostly Democratic support and a fraction of the Republican conference backing it.

Salmon said if Boehner chooses that path, “We would probably be frustrated to the point of looking for new leaders.”

McClintock said that if Boehner allows an immigration reform bill on the House floor that requires mostly Democrats to pass it, “it would be cause for removal, in my judgment.”

“The American people put us in the majority in the House and I think we need to act like a majority,” Salmon added later.

Boehner has been criticized recently by GOP lawmakers for bringing bills to the floor that lack adequate GOP support and are largely backed by Democrats.

On the opening day of Congress in January, a small group of conservative  lawmakers tried to block Boehner’s election to the speakership. The plan fizzled, but it underscored the growing sense of discontent with his leadership among the party’s right flank.

Earlier this month, Boehner said he did not foresee bringing a bill to the floor unless a majority of House Republicans support it. The House is now moving a series of smaller bills that deal individually with expanded visa programs, increased border security and an employment verification system for employers.

None of the conservative lawmakers at Wednesday’s event said they back the new Senate amendment, authored by Sens. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., and John Hoeven, R-N.D., to boost border security, including adding 20,000 more border agents. The lawmakers said they object to it because it does not require full implementation before clearing the way for illegal immigrants to obtain citizenship.

“If you flipped it, where border enforcement has to be in place before legalization,” Labrador said. “I would be more supportive.”

The House, added Huelskamp, “will have a different approach. We are going to do border security first. If the Senate bill passes, I think the phone lines on the House side are really going to light up.”
Corker disputed the claim by conservatives about his amendment.

“If the Hoeven-Corker amendment becomes law, 10 years must pass and there must be 700 miles of pedestrian fencing and 20,000 additional border patrol agents along the southern border before a Green Card is issued to those with RPI status,” Corker said.


June 26, 2013

Obama turns climate change into corporate bonanza

President Obama, speaking on climate-change at Georgetown University on Tuesday, invoked science again and again. But the policies he pushed had less to do with the findings of physics than the wishlists of corporate lobbyists. Still, Obama had the audacity to throw barbs at the "special interests."

"Science" is a favorite mantra of the Democrats and the Left today. It justifies both executive power grabs and a smug sense of superiority. Those barbaric Republicans oppose our policies only because they're anti-science, the argument goes. Obama on Tuesday even pegged the opponents of his policies as the "flat-Earth society." Accusing opponents of denying science is a focus-group-tested, party-approved message of the Democrats these days. It's the charge they throw at anyone who opposes their regulations and subsidies.

There is, of course, a decent amount of scientific consensus on climate change. We know that methane and carbon dioxide act as greenhouse gasses, applying upward pressure on temperatures. We know that industrial activity adds to greenhouse-gas concentrations. And we know that rapid changes in temperature can disrupt climate and have harmful effects.

But Obama and his allies pretend science tells us much more. They talk as if we can precisely know what amount of emissions will cause how much temperatures will change, and thus how much the seas will rise or storms will hit. Most importantly - and most falsely - they pretend that we can count on Democrats' policies to meaningfully mitigate these effects.

In Washington, though, this sort of technocratic talk always gives way to corporatist policymaking. And Obama's energy plan bubbles over with corporate-government collusion.

His climate plan rests primarily on a 2007 Supreme Court ruling that greenhouse gasses are "pollutants," which the Environmental Protection Agency must regulate. Obama even called CO2 (the stuff you breathe out and plants breathe in) a "toxin," in the energy plan he released Tuesday.

During the arguments in that 2007 case, energy giants Entergy and Calpine both filed amicus curiae briefs asking the court to force the EPA to regulate greenhouse-gas emissions. Calpine lobbyist Michael Brady was a special guest of Obama on Tuesday, according to National Journal, Obama's constant anti-lobbyist rhetoric notwithstanding.

Back in 2007, Calpine's brief rattled off a murderers row of special interests that sided with them in favor of regulation: General Electric, which spends more on lobbying than any other corporation; Exelon, so cozy with Obama that a company lobbyist once called it "The President's utility;" Duke Energy, which underwrote Obama's 2012 convention with $10 million in financing; and others.

Why would all these companies want EPA to regulate their emissions? Maybe they're worried about melting polar ice caps. Or maybe they see profit in these policies. This latter possibility - which seems more likely - ought to raise doubts about how much policy will follow science, as opposed to lobbying.

For instance, a month after the Obama administration placed greenhouse-gas caps on all new power plants in 2011, the EPA's Gina McCarthy (now in line to run the agency) announced the first plant to win an exemption - and that plant happened to be installing GE turbines. GE is not only the lobbying king, the company's CEO is Obama's jobs czar.

Obama's energy plan also calls for more loan-guarantees for renewable energy. This was the Solyndra program. It involves trusting bureaucrats to pick winning projects to back with taxpayer money, subsidizing banks and solar-panel makers in the process.

Obama even gave a nod to ethanol, saying we need "farmers to grow new fuels." Ethanol subsidies are widely derided as a wasteful corporate welfare boondoggle. Now Obama wants more.

Despite the glaring clashes with his rhetoric on "special interests," Obama considers it a virtue to have corporations at the center of his climate plan. At Georgetown, he touted Wal-Mart and General Motors - and the fact that they see profits in pursuing green energy and supporting green policy - as signs that his grand plans wouldn't hurt the economy. (In the process, he seems to have given a 5.5 percent boost to the stock of Solar City, the solar company installing Wal-Mart's solar panels, and founded by $100,000 Obama donor Elon Musk.)

This is the conflation at the heart of Obamanomics: Obama points out that a few politically connected very large corporations would profit from his policies, as if that's evidence the economy will benefit.

But GE's windmill profits come at the expense of Americans who pay more for electricity when utilities have to buy wind power. And regulations or mandates that roll off Wal-Mart's back can crush smaller competitors.

Obama even named Nike as one of his allies on U.S. climate policy. Does Obama realize that Nike's manufacturing is almost all done in the Third World? Tax energy in the U.S. and you hurt Nike's U.S.-based competitors like New Balance, while Nike hardly feels a pinprick.

With all this profit from politically connected companies on the line, do you think policy will be crafted by science -- or by lobbying?


June 25, 2013

Supreme Court may revive economy-crushing EPA rule

The Supreme Court may revive a costly Environmental Protection Agency coal-fired power plant emissions rule that was struck down by courts last year.

The controversial rule was criticized as one of the costliest EPA regulations ever issued under the Clean Air Act.

The court could revive the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule, or CSAPR, which was stuck down by a federal court for going beyond the EPA’s legal authority under the Clean Air Act.
“In this case, however, we conclude that EPA has transgressed statutory boundaries,” stated the opinion by Circuit Judge Brett Kavanaugh in 2012. “Therefore, the rule must be vacated.”

CSAPR would have required sharp reductions in sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions from power plants in 28 eastern states, including coal-fired and natural gas-fired plants — by one estimate, costing $853 million annually.

“The U.S. Supreme Court is likely taking this case in order to reverse the D.C. Circuit panel’s decision that is contrary to law and would further delay long-needed clean air standards necessary to protect our public health,” Howard Lerner, executive director of the Environmental Law and Policy Center, said a statement.

The Obama administration is looking to have the policy reinstated, but 14 states, led by Texas; several power companies; and the United Mine Workers of America urged the court not to take up the case.

A study done last year by the Institute for Energy Research found that CSAPR and another costly EPA rule — Mercury Air Toxics Standards — would shutter more than 10 percent of the country’s coal-fired power generation.
“We believe that the Supreme Court will uphold the EPA’s scientific and technical expertise in moving forward to clean up the air we breathe, reduce asthma and protect public health, especially for children and the elderly,” Lerner added.

According to the EPA the rule would prevent up to 34,000 premature deaths a year as well as generate up to $280 billion in economic benefits.


June 24, 2013

Obama meets with privacy watchdog panel … in private

The White House over the past several days has launched a public relations offensive to convince Americans that, under President Obama’s leadership, privacy and Fourth Amendment rights won’t be sacrificed in the name of national security.

The administration took a major step in that effort Friday, as Mr. Obama met for the first time with the newly revived Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, a decade-old panel that had been dormant for the entirety of his presidency.
The meeting, hyped by administration officials as proof that the president is committed to having a debate on how to balance national security with privacy rights, was held behind the closed doors of the White House Situation Room, and details of the meeting have yet to be released.

But officials also are making their case publicly. On Sunday morning, Gen. Keith B. Alexander, head of the embattled National Security Agency, tried to reassure the public that the federal government’s data-collection programs — revealed publicly earlier this month by former NSA employee Edward Snowden, now on the run and believed to be in Moscow — are subject to proper oversight and are vital to protecting the nation.

“We get oversight by [the Justice Department]; we get oversight by the courts; we get oversight by the administration and by Congress, all three parts of government,” Gen. Alexander said during an interview on ABC’s “This Week.” “We follow the laws and we defend this nation. … We’ve got to move this debate from a political debate to a debate on national security, because that’s what we’re talking about … the security of this country.”

Taken as a whole, the recent steps show an aggressive attempt by the White House to reclaim the narrative in the ongoing privacy versus security debate, which largely has been driven by critics of the president, the media and by self-proclaimed “whistleblowers” such as Mr. Snowden.

By resurrecting the privacy watchdog panel, Mr. Obama is committing himself to that privacy-security debate and will help to lead it, according to the White House.

“It will be part of a process,” White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters Friday, adding that the meeting will be the first of several sit-downs that also will include lawmakers and other stakeholders.
But critics question why the White House waited so long to put the privacy board back together.
“Here’s my answer: They didn’t see this as important enough,” said Lanny Davis, special counsel to President Clinton and a member of the first incarnation of the privacy board.

He was appointed to the panel by President George W. Bush but resigned after being treated more like “White House staff” than an independent watchdog, Mr. Davis said.

In 2008, the board was revamped as a fully independent agency, presumably to free it from the political pressures of the White House.

Those changes resulted in the near-death of the group. It languished without a full complement of members for five years.

Mr. Obama didn’t nominate anyone to the board until December 2010, and didn’t offer a full five-member contingent until late 2011.

The board’s new chairman, David Medine, former associate director of the Federal Trade Commission, wasn’t confirmed by the Senate until last month, despite being nominated 18 months earlier.
The other four members were confirmed last August, but they were in limbo until Mr. Medine was approved as chairman.

Congress surely deserves part of the blame for not confirming Mr. Obama’s nominees more quickly. But that doesn’t change the fact that the board, had it been fully functional and had the White House pushed it more aggressively, could have fulfilled a critical mission, Mr. Davis said
“They should’ve been in place. What they might have been able to do is persuade the [National Security Agency] and the White House to get their story out about how important their [surveillance] programs are,” Mr. Davis said.

In the absence of an active board, the administration allowed Mr. Snowden — a government contractor who leaked classified information on NSA programs to media outlets and now faces espionage charges — to control the debate.

Still, the privacy board’s revival is better late than never, Mr. Davis said.

“The president’s decision to meet with them, even if it’s late in happening, is important and [Mr. Obama] should be credited for that,” he said.

In addition to Mr. Medine, the other members of the board are: James Dempsey, vice president of public policy for the Center of Democracy and Technology; Rachel Brand, chief counsel for regulatory litigation at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and a former Justice Department official; Elisabeth Collins Cook, former assistant attorney general at the Justice Department; and Patricia Wald, former chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.


June 21, 2013

Sen. Mike Lee: 'Banana Republic Quality' to Harry Reid Rushing Immigration Bill

Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) said on the Senate floor Thursday evening that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s tactics rushing through the “Gang of Eight” immigration bill are like those that would be used by a third-world dictator. 

Lee’s fiery comments came during a colloquy with Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) in which the two were fighting against Reid’s rush to pass the immigration bill.

“I find it repugnant to the system of government under which we are supposed to be operating,” Lee said of Reid allegedly pushing the bill to a vote in less than a week. “I find it even repugnant to Article 6 of the Constitution which makes it clear that there’s one kind of Constitutional Amendment that is never appropriate.

"You can’t amend the Constitution to deny any state its equal representation in the Senate," he charged, "and if at any moment we end up with a situation in which we have second-class Senators, Senators that may commit and propose for debate and discussion and a vote on an amendment, and if we have to go to the Majority Leader and say, ‘Mother, may I?’ then perhaps we have something. Perhaps we have lost the environment in which each of the states were supposed to receive equal representation.”

Lee suggested the Senate's regular mode of operation was akin to a "banana republic" where leaders expect their subordinates to "rubber stamp" legislation without input from constituents:

It also seems to me to take on a certain character, a certain banana republic quality that we’re asked to vote on legislation--in many circumstances, just hours or even minutes after we have received it. We take on a certain rubber stamp quality when we do that. I remember a few months ago, in connection with the fiscal cliff debate, as we approached the fiscal cliff on New Year’s Eve, we were told by our respective leaders, "just wait, something’s coming. Go back to your offices, watch your televisions, play with your toys, do whatever it is that you do but be good senators, run along and stay out of trouble. We’re taking care of this. We’ll send you legislation as soon as we’re ready."

He went on to argue that the fiscal cliff legislation was bad for the country but passed
overwhelmingly because the leaders in both political parties silenced their opposition.

Lee then compared that murky process to what is happening here with the immigration bill, and noted that what happened then is “in some respects very similar” to the secret fiscal cliff deal.

After that, Lee called on his colleagues to defy Reid and “make this a real legislative body... You don’t really have a true, deliberative legislative body unless you have enough time to debate things before we vote on them, to where the members can actually read them before they come up.”
Later in the colloquy with Sessions, Lee compared Reid’s style of running the U.S. Senate to the Soviet Union.

“One of the distinguishing characteristics of a democracy is that you have choices, you have options,” Lee said. “[T]hey had elections in the Soviet Union, but the big difference was the government decided who was on the ballot... Only those candidates that had been very carefully screened by the Communist Party officials could appear on the ballot.”

The people's choices, Lee declared, "were limited so as to guarantee a certain ordained outcome.”
“Now if you’ll forgive the analogy here, what he have here makes sense, and it makes that all the 50 states are represented,” he continued. “But only if in fact we are presented with actual legitimate choices, with actual legitimate options."

Lee concluded, "One of the reasons why we’ve seen legislation pushed through at the very [last minute], and our colleagues in this body vote for that legislation overwhelmingly, is that they’re told ‘at the moment you have no other option. You can have a binary choice here. You can vote yes, or you can no. But you don’t really have the option of making any changes to this.'”


June 20, 2013

CBO says immigration bill aids investors, not wage earners

The Senate’s pending immigration bill would boost investors’ and owners’ share of the economy for at least twenty years, and shrink some Americans’ wages and salaries for at least 10 years, according to a report from the Congressional Budget Office.

“The rate of return on capital would be higher [than on labor] under the legislation than under current law throughout the next two decades,” says the report, titled “The Economic Impact of S. 744.”

The higher rate of return would also push up the interest rates by paid by American taxpayers for the federal government’s $17 trillion debt, the report says.

The threat of lost wages has spurred opposition from populist conservatives, including Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, and from left-wing politicians, such as Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.

Populist conservatives who oppose the immigration bill, and some progressives who back the bill, also have long bemoaned the declining percentage of new wealth earned via blue-collar wages and professionals’ salaries.

President Barack Obama strongly backs the immigration rewrite, but has complained about the trend.
“In all countries around the world, you’re seeing growing inequality, and so we have to find ways to make sure that ladders of opportunity exist for those at the bottom, and that profits and increased productivity all does not just benefit those at the top,” Obama told a German audience in Berlin.

Last September, those worries were buttressed by a report from the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, which showed that labor’s share of income has dropped by roughly 10 points since the early 2000s.

In turn, the share of income earned via capital has increased by the same percentage.

The federal Bureau of Economic Affairs estimates that labor’s share fell from roughly 67 percent to 58.2 percent.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates the share fell from 75 percent in 1979 to 67 percent in 2007.

The result of this economic shift is that economic inequality widened, according to the authors of the reserve’s report, Margaret Jacobson and Filippo Occhino.

But once the economy recovers, the widening gap “will be reversed as the recovery continues … [and] the labor share will pick up and converge to its long-run trend value,” says the September report.

The pending bill will roughly double the inflow of immigrants over the next 20 years to roughly 46 million, or about 1 immigrant for every 7 Americans.

At least 85 percent of the immigrants will be low-skilled, and will not pay enough in taxes to cover the cost of routine government benefits, said Robert Rector, a budget analyst at the Heritage Foundation.

“It is very difficult to imagine that those households could pay enough in taxes to pay for their benefits,” he told reporters Wednesday.

The huge inflow of new workers will force down average wages, the CBO predicted. Average wages would then increase after 2025 as the market balanced itself out, according to the prediction.

“Because the bill would increase the rate of growth of the labor force, average wages would be held down in the first decade after enactment by a reduction in the ratio of capital to labor, which would make workers less productive,” said the densely written report.

The lost wages would be felt most by the low-skill Americans, but also by the smaller population of high-skill worker who will face an influx of competition from roughly 5 million skilled immigrants, and from a changing pool of roughly 2.5 million skilled guest-workers, the CBO report said.

“The legislation would particularly increase the number of workers with lower or higher skills but would have less effect on the number of workers with average skills. … The wages of lower- and higher-skilled workers would tend to be pushed downward slightly (by less than ½ percent) relative to the wages of workers with average skills,” said the CBO report.

Bill supporters dismissed the criticism.

The immigrant low-skill workers “complement our labor force, they make it more efficient,” said Diana Furchtgott-Roth of the Manhattan Institute. Even if the gain for capital increases inequality, “what’s important is not the degree of inequality, but the ability [of Americans] to move between income groups,” she said.

Increased immigration will help that movement because it will increase the economy’s efficiency, she told The Daily Caller.

The CBO report shows that low-skill and high-skill workers may not gain as much as middle-skill workers, but “average wages across all skills increase in the long term,” said Josh Culling from Americans for Tax Reform, which is backing the immigration rewrite.

The decline in average wages is caused by the arrival of many new low-skill immigrants, not by drops in Americans’ wages, he said.

The bill’s opponents’ dismiss these defenses.

For example, said Rector, the bill authors allow low-skill workers to be imported until the unemployment rate rises to 8.5 percent.

“What they’re really saying is that we don’t give a darn about those [American] low-skill workers,” Rector said.


June 19, 2013

Lawsuit against EPA delayed until Obama unveils new climate plan

State governments and environmental groups are delaying a planned lawsuit against the Environmental Protection Agency.

Two months ago, the EPA delayed finalizing a controversial rule that would have put carbon dioxide emissions limits on new power plants and effectively ban coal plants. Three environmental groups, ten states and two cities planned to file suit against the agency over the delay, but they decided to hold back on the news that the Obama administration will soon unveil its plan to tackle global warming.

“Due to public reports that the president will be announcing major action on climate change very soon, the Attorney General has decided to postpone a lawsuit on this matter for a short period,” said a spokeswoman for New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who is leading the effort.
“Our joint intention is to not file suit today and to see with great interest what the administration announces,” David Hawkins of the Natural Resources Defense Council told the Platts news service, adding that the Obama administration did not ask them to hold off on the lawsuit.

Last week, President Barack Obama reportedly told campaign donors that he will unveil his plans to address global warming, which could include using the EPA to curb power plant emissions.
The EPA’s proposed limits on new power plants have been harshly criticized because they would effectively ban the construction of coal-fired power plants unless they utilized carbon capture technology — which the industry says is not commercially viable.

While 10 states have expressed their intent to sue the EPA over the delay, another seven states’ governors have written to the EPA asking them to reconsider their emissions rule.

“The EPA’s proposed limits on greenhouse gas emissions threaten the livelihood of our coal miners to the point of killing jobs and crippling our state and national economies, while also weakening our country’s efforts toward energy independence,” said West Virginia Democratic Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin.
“Our ability to continue growing our economy depends on affordable, reliable power–and this can only be guaranteed if our nation truly has a diversified portfolio that included coal,” Kentucky Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear wrote to the EPA last month. Asking some states to dramatically alter their potential source of fuel for generating electricity puts their citizens at a distinct economic disadvantage.”
EPA regulations are already projected to shut down more than 280 coal-fired generating units, according to the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity.
“EPA continues to downplay the damage its regulations are causing to the U.S. economy and to the many states that depend on coal for jobs and affordable electricity,” said Mike Duncan, president and CEO of ACCCE.

Some have speculated that the EPA delayed finalizing the new power plant rules in order to create a separate standard for coal plants, so they can be built without having to install carbon capture technology.
“I have not heard or had it implied to me that there’s serious consideration to setting some separate standard for coal plants,” Hawkins told Platts, adding that environmental groups intending to sue the EPA have not yet decided on how long they would wait for the Obama administration.

Environmentalists hope that recent small steps to address global warming taken by the Obama administration — such as the deal to limit ozone emissions with China — signal the beginning of a bigger push to address global warming.


June 18, 2013

Whistleblower Says State Department Trying to Bully Her Into Silence

The State Department investigator who accused colleagues last week of using drugs, soliciting prostitutes, and having sex with minors says that Foggy Bottom is now engaged in an "intimidation" campaign to stop her.

Last week's leaks by Aurelia Fedenisn, a former State Department inspector general investigator, shined a light on alleged wrongdoing by U.S. officials around the globe. But her attorney Cary Schulman tells The Cable that Fedenisn has paid a steep price: "They had law enforcement officers camp out in front of her house, harass her children and attempt to incriminate herself."

Fedenisn's life changed dramatically last Monday after she handed over documents and statements to CBS News alleging that senior State Department officials "influenced, manipulated, or simply called off" several investigations into misconduct. The suppression of investigations was noted in an early draft of an Inspector General report, but softened in the final version.

Erich Hart, general counsel to the Inspector General, did not reply to a request for comment. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said last week that "we hold all employees to the highest standards. We take allegations of misconduct seriously and we investigate thoroughly." She also announced that the department would request additional review by outside law enforcement officers on OIG inspection processes.

After the CBS News made inquiries to the State Department about the charges, Schulman says investigators from the State Department's Inspector General promptly arrived at Fedenisn's door. "They talked to both kids and never identified themselves," he said. "First the older brother and then younger daughter, a minor, asking for their mom's place of work and cell phone number ... They camped out for four to five hours."

Schulman says the purpose of the visit was to get Fedenisn to sign a document admitting that she stole State Department materials, such as the memos leaked to CBS. Schulman says it was crucial that she didn't sign the document because her separation agreement with the State Department includes a provision allowing disclosures of misconduct. Furthermore, none of the materials were classified.

Schulman charged that sending law enforcement officers to pressure her into signing an agreement was heavy handed. "Why not simply mail it, courier it, send it Federal Express or deliver it by any other normal means by which one delivers a demand letter? Why send two federal law enforcement agents?" he asked. He also said that officials from the Inpsector General's Office told him they'd be having a "no kidding get together with the DOJ," implying to him that they would push criminal charges if his client didn't cooperate.

In discussing the chain of events with Kel McClanahan, a D.C. attorney who has represented several agency whistleblowers, McClanahan said the case smacked of intimidation.

"This type of intimidation technique is all too common when an agency wants something from you that it is not entirely confident it can get without your cooperation, and more often than not people who don't know any better fall for it," he told The Cable. "Regardless of what you may think of Fedenisn's motives, she worked for these guys for years and she knows their playbook ... I would have been shocked if she did anything except promptly hire a lawyer and call their bluff."


June 17, 2013

Jailed Qwest CEO claimed that NSA retaliated because he wouldn’t participate in spy program

While National Security Agency’s harvesting of telephone data is often defended as a necessary component of post-9/11 national security, old court documents claim the spy agency was putting such a program into place months before the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

In court papers filed during his 2007 insider trading trial, former Qwest CEO Joseph Nacchio claimed that Denver-based Qwest was denied lucrative NSA contracts he believed to be worth $50-$100 million, after Nacchio refused to involve Qwest in a secret NSA program that he thought would be illegal.

Subsequent reporting at the time revealed that it was a domestic wiretapping program in which the NSA wanted to snoop on Qwest’s vast telephone network without court orders.

President George W. Bush’s administration has said that warrantless wiretapping only began after 9/11, as part of the NSA’s Terrorist Surveillance Program.

Sources familiar with the request to Qwest, quoted anonymously in the New York Times in 2007, “say the arrangement could have permitted neighborhood-by-neighborhood surveillance of phone traffic without a court order, which alarmed them.”

Nacchio claimed that the NSA retaliated for his refusal by leaving Qwest out of a $2 billion NSA infrastructure program called Groundbreaker, which was split among numerous contractors, including Verizon.

Verizon, it was recently revealed, was required by court order to give the NSA telephone records from millions of its customer as part of a sweeping surveillance program.

Nacchio revealed these details in court papers in an attempt to show that he didn’t dump Qwest stock in 2001 because he knew the company was going to post poor performance results in the future. Rather, he suspected the company would benefit from participating in Groundbreaker, which he discussed with NSA personnel in Washington D.C. on Feb. 27, 2001.
But Nacchio’s court filing says NSA officials also sought his participation in the other program, the details of which were redacted in the document, a motion for the court to allow Nacchio to testify about the meeting as part of his defense.

“[O]ne purpose of bringing Messrs. Nacchio and [Qwest Senior Vice President James] Payne into the February 27, 2001 meeting was to [redacted] and stated that Qwest was subsequently denied any agency work as a direct result of Mr. Nacchio’s refusal,” the document reads.

In an interview with prosecutors, a portion of which was included in the court filing, Payne said NSA officials would bring up the secret program frequently and that they “expressed disappointment” that Qwest wouldn’t participate.

“Nacchio said it was a legal issue and that they could not do something their general counsel told them not to do,” Payne said. “Nacchio projected that he might do it if he could find a way to do it legally.”

“There was a feeling also,” he continued,” that the NSA acted as agents for other governmental agencies and if Qwest frustrated the NSA, they would also frustrate other agencies.

Ultimately, this argument wasn’t allowed in open court because the judge didn’t feel there was enough of a connection between the refusal to join the NSA program and Qwest not winning the Groundbreaker contract. Nacchio’s allegations didn’t come to light until the documents were unsealed six months after he was convicted in April 2007.

He was found guilty on 19 counts of insider trading and sentenced to six years. He was also fined $19 million and ordered to forfeit $52 million he made on his stock trade.

Nacchio’s lawyer, Herbert Stern, did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment.


June 14, 2013

FBI hasn’t contacted a single tea party group in IRS probe, groups say

There is no evidence that the FBI has contacted a single tea party group in its criminal investigation of the Internal Revenue Service, according to the groups the IRS abused.

“We have not been contacted by any federal investigative agency and, to date, none of our clients have been contacted or interviewed by the FBI,” Jay Sekulow of the American Center for Law and Justice told The Daily Caller on Thursday. The ACLJ has filed suit against the IRS on behalf of 25 conservative groups, with additional groups being added in the next couple weeks, according to a spokesman.

“I have been very surprised that I have not heard from anybody and frankly, none of my clients have. I talk to other tea party leaders on a regular basis,” said Cleta Mitchell, the lawyer largely credited with pushing the IRS abuses to the forefront.

“It’s been a month and I can’t see any evidence of an investigation of the IRS,” Mitchell told TheDC Thursday. She represents nine tea party groups targeted by the IRS.

Tea Party Patriots — a group with thousands of local chapters — “has not been contacted by the FBI” either, according to Jameson Cunningham, the group’s spokesman.

The revelation suggests that the FBI is in no hurry to get to the bottom of the scandal, despite the Obama administration’s promise to investigate the IRS’s multi-year abuse of conservative groups.

“Americans are right to be angry about it, and I am angry about it,” Obama said in a White House statement on May 15. “I will not tolerate this kind of behavior in any agency but especially in the IRS, given the power that it has and the reach that it has into all of our lives.”

Attorney General Eric Holder promised in mid-May that the FBI would get to the bottom of the IRS’s behavior by opening a criminal investigation.

“I can assure you and the American people that we will take a dispassionate view of this,” Holder told congressional investigators on May 15. “This will not be about parties, this will not be about ideological persuasions. Anybody who has broken the law will be held accountable.”

But in separate testimony before congressional investigators Thursday, FBI Director Robert Mueller seemed completely unaware of the progress of any such investigation.

Republican Rep. Jim Jordan lit into Mueller for his lack of knowledge during a House judiciary committee hearing.

“This is the most important issue in front of the country in the last six weeks, and you don’t know who the lead investigator is?” Jordan asked, sounding shocked.

“At this juncture, no I do not,” Mueller responded.
“Do you know if you’ve talked to any of the victims?” Jordan went on. “Have you talked to any of the groups that were targeted by their government? Have you met with any of the tea party groups since May 14, 2013?”

“I don’t know what the status of the interviews are by the team that’s on it,” Mueller said.

Reached for comment Thursday afternoon, the FBI’s Washington, D.C. press office transferred TheDC to a long-ringing phone line and eventually hung up.


June 13, 2013

Obama Threatens Veto of Religious Protection for Military

Breitbart News reported last week that Rep. John Fleming (R-LA) passed an amendment in the House Armed Services Committee protecting religious speech of service members in the military. President Barack Obama has now threatened to veto the bill if it passes the full House and Senate.

The White House released a Statement of Administration Policy (SAP) on H.R. 1960, the National Defense Authorization Act of 2014. Among other items, the SAP includes as an objection to the bill:

Expansion and Implementation of Protection of Rights of Conscience of Members of the Armed Forces and Chaplains of Such Members: The Administration strongly objects to section 530, which would require the Armed Forces to accommodate, except in cases of military necessity, “actions and speech” reflecting the “conscience, moral principles, or religious beliefs of the member.” By limiting the discretion of commanders to address potentially problematic speech and actions within their units, this provision would have a significant adverse effect on good order, discipline, morale, and mission accomplishment.

The SAP includes a veto threat: “…if the bill is presented to the President for approval in its current form, the President’s senior advisers would recommend that the President veto the bill.”

In other words, Obama says he will veto any bill that forbids his appointees or officers from telling a soldier that he cannot mention Jesus during prayer or have a Bible on his desk, or that keeps those appointees from telling a chaplain (who is an ordained clergyman) what religious teachings he is allowed to give in worship services, or what spiritual counseling he can give to another soldier. 

Ambassador Ken Blackwell, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Human Rights Commission, tells Breitbart News:

President Obama is waging a war on religion. He and Chuck Hagel are denying the most basic rights to those who put their lives on the line to protect all of our rights. It is shameful and appalling. I am confident that congressional leadership will show courage to stand up for our troops against this radical assault on religious liberty in the military.

This is the most compelling expression yet of the aggressive approach of the Obama-Hagel Defense Department to soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines who are observant Christians or devout members of other peaceful faiths, as seen in Breitbart News’ previous reports regarding the unconstitutional infringements of one of America’s most treasured, fundamental rights.

All eyes are on House and Senate leadership to see if they stand firm on the bill for those in the military who are facing this new form of pressure.


June 12, 2013

Damage control: Hillary Clinton loyalists suspected of criminal cover-ups for diplomats

Both chambers of Congress and the State Department’s inspector general are examining allegations that senior officials working under Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton may have suppressed investigations into suspected criminal activity among U.S. diplomats abroad — including the alleged solicitation of prostitutes by an ambassador in Europe.

After CBS News reported on the allegations this week, lawmakers from both parties said the charges are “very serious” — and point out the need for a permanent inspector general at the State Department. A deputy inspector general has been active in recent years, but the department’s top watchdog post, tasked with investigating practices at roughly 260 embassies worldwide, has been vacant for more than five years.

A spokesman for office of inspector general said Tuesday that the probe into “allegations of quashing” by State Department higher-ups was triggered by a 2012 office of inspector general review of the department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security.

That review uncovered complaints by some officials that they were not allowed to thoroughly investigate the allegations of criminal activity. As a result, the office of inspector general has hired independent law enforcement specialists to examine the complaints and the extent to which investigators within the Bureau of Diplomatic Security are being allowed the level of independence required to do their jobs effectively.

In addition to reviewing “eight allegations of criminal misconduct” that arose during the 2012 review, Doug Welty, a spokesman for the office of inspector general, said the office is “also looking into the allegations of quashing.”

Mr. Welty made the remarks as Undersecretary of State Patrick F. Kennedy issued a statement to reporters Tuesday saying he has “never once interfered, nor would I condone interfering, in any investigation.”

Mr. Welty and others at the State Department have declined to comment on the specific allegations related to “quashing.”

But Mr. Kennedy apparently made the statement in response to the CBS News report this week that insinuated that he was involved in suppressing an investigation into the activities of a U.S. ambassador accused of patronizing prostitutes in a public park.

Citing “sources,” CBS News reported that after the accusation surfaced, the ambassador was called to Washington to meet with Mr. Kennedy, but then was permitted to return to his post.

CBS also reported that officials from the State Department's Bureau of Diplomatic Security told the office of inspector general that they were told to stop investigating the case.

The State Department has vigorously rejected ƒ CBS report. A senior spokeswoman called it “preposterous” to claim the department would not vigorously investigate allegations of criminal misconduct.

Department officials have remained vague, however, about the details of the allegations in question.
As spokeswoman Jennifer Psaki refused Tuesday to confirm or deny whether a U.S. ambassador had been accused of patronizing prostitutes, U.S. Ambassador to Belgium Howard Gutman emailed an abrupt statement to reporters, saying he was “angered and saddened” by “baseless allegations that have appeared in the press.”

“I live on a beautiful park in Brussels that you walk through to get to many locations, and at no point have I ever engaged in any improper activity,” Mr. Gutman said in the statement.

“To watch the four years I have proudly served in Belgium smeared is devastating,” he said.

The ambassador’s denial appeared to represent the first official acknowledgment of the various allegations of criminal activity cited in the CBS News report.

According to the Center For Responsive Politics, Mr. Gutman was a key Obama fundraiser in 2008, bundling at least $775,000 for the president’s campaign and the Inaugural Committee.

A separate allegation was reportedly made against a State Department security official in Beirut accused of sexually assaulting foreign nationals hired as embassy guards. In another, members of Mrs. Clinton’s security detail were accused of regularly pursuing prostitutes while on official trips in foreign countries. Another referenced a suspected illegal narcotics ring tied to State Department contractors at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.

When pressed for details Tuesday about the cases and an explanation as to whether Mr. Gutman has been cleared from the allegations made against him, Ms. Psaki responded that “there are some investigations that are still ongoing, some that have been concluded.”

“I’m not going to break down individual cases,” she said, adding that all of the allegations in question were “unsubstantiated.”

One State Department official say that the allegations of criminal activity as well as the allegations of quashing by department higher-ups may have been born out of an anonymous survey given to officials in the Bureau of Diplomatic Security as part of the office of inspector general’s 2012 review of the bureau’s activities. “One of the first things they do is a survey, sent out to employees, contractors, etc.,” the official said. “It’s all confidential and sometimes these issues come up. Then, these same people who filled out the survey have an opportunity to speak to inspectors confidentially and sometimes that’s when the allegations come up.

“Allegations are allegations,” the official added. “Not until they can be substantiated and verified do they become findings.”

The situation is drawing increasing attention, meanwhile, on Capitol Hill, where lawmakers from both sides of the isle have begun expressing concern.

“I am appalled not only at the reported misconduct itself, but at the reported interference in the investigations of the misconduct,” said Rep. Ed Royce, California Republican and chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.

If there was interference by State Department officials in investigations being conducted by the Bureau of Diplomatic Security, it “must be uncovered,” said Mr. Royce, who added that he has asked his staff “to begin an investigation into these allegations.”

In a letter to Secretary of State John F. Kerry, Mr. Royce wrote that “the notion that any or all of these cases would not be investigated thoroughly by the [State] Department is unacceptable.”

A spokesman for Sen. Robert Menendez, New Jersey Democrat and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said reports that the State Department dropped or influenced investigations into allegations of misconduct “are very serious and require a dispassionate investigation of the facts.”

“The committee is looking into the alleged actions, and this situation underscores the need for an appointment of a permanent inspector general for the Department of State to assure that allegations of this sort are quickly, fully, and appropriately addressed,” the Menendez spokesman said in an email to Politico on Tuesday.


June 11, 2013

Glenn Greenwald calls out Mika Brzezinski for reading White House talking points

Glenn Greenwald, the journalist who recently broke the National Security Agency surveillance scandal, accused “Morning Joe” co-host Mika Brzezinski of reading White House talking points on the Monday broadcast of her program.

During the exchange that followed, Brzezinski denied she was using reading talking points.
Partial transcript of the exchange as follows:
BRZEZINSKI: This is an incredibly important question that affects all of us. We have to put it in perspective. I want to bring Richard Haass in but, quickly — I just want an answer, yes or no — isn’t it the case that reviewing of emails or any wiretapping cannot take place without an additional warrant from a judge and a review? I mean, it’s not like there’s haphazard probing into all our personal emails. Can we put this into context so we understand exactly what is going on? 
GREENWALD: Yeah, I’ll put it into context for you. The White House talking points you’re using are completely misleading and false. The whole point of what the Bush administration did when it disregarded and violated the FISA law and when the Congress on a bipartisan basis enacted a new surveillance law in 2008 was to enable the NSA to read emails between people in the United States and people outside of the United States without having first to go to a FISA court and get a warrant. The only time individual warrants are needed is when two people are both inside the United States and are both American citizens. But under that law, the U.S. government and the NSA have the power and exercise the power to listen in on telephone conversations and read emails involving all kinds of American citizens and the Senate has been repeatedly asking for the numbers of how many Americans they’re doing that to. And the NSA keeps saying –and it’s false — they can’t provide those numbers. So those talking points you’re reading from are completely false as anybody who has paid even remote attention – 
BRZEZINSKI: Glenn, I’m not reading talking points. Glenn, I’d like to ask a question, is this legal or illegal? Or Richard Haass, can you help me out, since Glenn doesn’t want to answer the question. Is the law being broken here? 
GREENWALD: I did answer your question — 
BRZEZINSKI: I questioned the law. I question all the issues that this raises. I’m personally concerned as well. I’d like to put this in perspective. Is the law being broken?
Brzezinski has also been accused of reading White House talking points on-air by her fellow MSNBC host Ed Schultz.