November 29, 2013

Common Core-aligned lesson plan for third-graders casts Obama as modern messiah

Another biography of President Barack Obama is making waves.

This one is entitled “Barack Obama: Son of Promise, Child of Hope.” The author, Nikki Grimes, paints the 44th president as nothing short of a messianic figure. has found a language arts lesson plan for third-, fourth- and fifth-graders revolving around the book at the website The description of the $3.60 lesson plan by Sherece Bennett boasts that it is officially “aligned” with the Common Core State Standards Initiative, an attempt to standardize various K-12 curricula around the country.

The book treats Obama as sort of a modern combination of Moses and the Joseph of the Old Testament—with a bit of Johnny Appleseed thrown in for good measure.

Early in the book, Eagnews notes, a young, hopeful Obama notices some homeless people and asks, “Will I ever be able to help people like these?”

As the future president grows, his mother teaches him “English grammar and the Golden Rule.” “Be honest, be kind, be fair.”

Later in the story, Obama dramatically changes his name from Barry to Barack.

“One morning, he slipped on the name he’d been born with. The name of his father, Barack. For the first time in his life, he wore it proudly–like a coat of many colors.”

The allusion is obviously biblical. In Genesis 37:3, Joseph, the favorite son of Jacob, receives a “coat of many colors.”

Still later, the “Common Core aligned” book dramatically describes Obama’s work as a community organizer in Chicago.
The work was grueling, with stretches of failure, and puny patches of success. Door-to-door Barack went, early mornings, late nights, pleading and preaching, coaxing strangers to march together, to make life better for everyone.
He worked as hard as a farmer, planting the words “Yes, we can!” like seeds in spring.
The lesson plan for the book includes a number of exciting activities including a collage containing “pictures and words about Barack Obama,” according to Eagnews.
Also included is a “comprehension quiz.”

“Barack Obama: Son of Promise, Child of Hope” receives an average rating of three stars (out of five possible) at

As with many politically-charged books, this one has mostly five-star and one-star reviews. Only about 15 percent of the reviews are somewhere in the middle.


November 28, 2013

EPA preparing to unleash a deluge of new regulations

Happy holidays from the Obama administration. Federal agencies are currently working on rolling out hundreds of environmental regulations, including major regulations that would limit emissions from power plants and expand the agency’s authority to bodies of water on private property.

On Tuesday, the White House released its regulatory agenda for the fall of 2013. It lists hundreds of pending energy and environmental regulations being crafting by executive branch agencies, including 134 regulations from the Environmental Protection Agency alone.

The EPA is currently crafting 134 major and minor regulations, according to the White House’s regulatory agenda. Seventy-six of the EPA’s pending regulations originate from the agency’s air and radiation office, including carbon-dioxide-emission limits on power plants.

Carbon-dioxide limits are a key part of President Barack Obama’s climate agenda. The EPA is set to set emissions limits that would effectively ban the construction of new coal-fired power plants unless they use carbon capture and sequestration technology. Next year, the agency will move to limit emissions from existing power plants — which could put more older coal plants out of commission.

“The proposed standards, if finalized, will establish achievable limits of carbon pollution per megawatt hour for all future units, moving the nation towards a cleaner and more efficient energy future,” the agency said in its agenda. “In 2014, EPA intends to propose standards of performance for greenhouse gas emissions from existing and modified power plant sources.”

Hundreds of coal plants that have been closed or slated for early retirement due to Environmental Protection Agency regulations, according to coal industry estimates.

“Already, EPA regulations have contributed to the closure of more than 300 coal units in 33 states,” said Laura Sheehan, spokeswoman for the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity.

However, the agency isn’t just working on limiting emissions from coal plants. The EPA is also working on a rule that would expand the definition of “waters of the U.S.” under the Clean Water Act to include water on private property.

Republicans have hammered the EPA’s draft water rule as the largest expansion of agency power in history.
“The EPA’s draft water rule is a massive power grab of private property across the U.S. This could be the largest expansion of EPA regulatory authority ever,” Texas Republican Rep. Lamar Smith. “If the draft rule is approved, it would allow the EPA to regulate virtually every body of water in the United States, including private and public lakes, ponds and streams.”

The EPA’s rule is heavily supported by environmentalists who argue that it’s necessary to protecting water quality. Smaller water sources, they argue, eventually affect larger water sources that people use for recreation or their livelihood.

“It’s taking the way the Clean Water Act works back, so that it works the way water works in the real world,” Bob Wendelgass, president and CEO of Clean Water Action, told Fox News.

The EPA says the rule is needed to clear up uncertainty left in the wake of U.S. Supreme Court decisions on the agency’s regulatory authority over bodies of water.

“The [Clean Water Act] does not distinguish among programs as to what constitutes ‘waters of the United States,’” the agency said. “As a result, these decisions affect the geographic scope of all [Clean Water Act] programs.”


November 27, 2013

MSNBC’s Chris Matthews wronged by Washington Post

Sure, MSNBC’s Chris Matthews is all kinds of loopy. On long election nights, even his thinning blonde hair gets crazed and flops all over the place. He purposefully spouts off outlandish ideas on a near daily basis. And he’s not the easiest TV journalist to interview. He’s image conscious. And paranoia reigns supreme.

But he did not deserve the poor treatment he received over the weekend from The Washington Post‘s opinionated media blogger Erik Wemple, who claims his section involves actual reporting.

Has Wemple forgotten the basic ethics of reporting?

Over the weekend, Wemple ventured out to the Barnes & Noble in downtown Washington to hear Matthews speak about his new book, Tip and the Gipper: When Politics Worked. Only instead of asking Matthews about his boring book, he asked about his MSNBC colleague Martin Bashir, who recently said on national TV that someone should poop in former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin‘s mouth. Bashir thought this form of punishment was reasonable, since Palin compared the national debt to slavery and well, this was among the ways slaves were punished back in the day. Bashir later apologized profusely.

Still, somehow Wemple thought Matthews should have to opine on the matter. Only he didn’t. He wouldn’t reply and explained that he worked for MSNBC. Wemple hazed Matthews a little, saying, “Well, it’s just a question, though. I mean, he’s a colleague, he said something. You have opinions. You’d have an opinion if someone else worked at another network.”

Here’s where things get hypocritical.

Some weeks back, Evan Gahr, an investigative journalist covering the David DeJesus case against The Washington Post for age and race discrimination, called Wemple and asked for his thoughts. DeJesus is a sales employee at the Post. Not only did Wemple not comment, but he hung up on the reporter.

At least Gahr told Wemple who he was. In Wemple’s case with Matthews, he never informed Matthews who he was or where he works. Has Wemple forgotten the basics of journalism? And if he won’t comment on his own colleague, DeJesus, why should Matthews give the “Erik Wemple Blog” a comment?
When Matthews told Wemple that he is not a media critic, which he’s not, Wemple blasted him, saying, “Oh, yes you are.”

Matthews was right. He’s not a spokesman for MSNBC and has no business commenting on Bashir any more than Wemple should have to comment on a pending lawsuit against the Post. Matthews is a progressive, bombastic TV host. That doesn’t make him a media critic any more than it makes Wemple a lawyer in the DeJesus case or a publicist for the Post.

In his story, Wemple fully disclosed that he never fully disclosed to Matthews that he was associated with the “Erik Wemple Blog”, saying, “Though we didn’t disclose our affiliation with the Erik Wemple Blog, Matthews was speaking at a public event.”

That’s weak, Wemple. Very weak.

The Mirror posed questions to Wemple by email and here’s how he replied:

1. Was that you who attended the book event and approached Chris Matthews or someone else working for WaPo?

Wemple: “That was me.”

2. Why didn’t you or the person say who you were or where you worked? That seems rather odd and a very basic requirement of the industry.

Wemple: ”This was an open, on-the-record presentation by Matthews. It was a public event. At public events, speakers know that what they say is public, on the record. The disclosure in the item that I hadn’t said, ‘Hey, I’m with the Washington Post,’ was included out of an abundance of caution.”

3. Why should Matthews comment about Martin Bashir when you would not comment about David DeJesus for Evan Gahr. You would no more speak for WaPo than Matthews would for MSNBC. Except you seemed to set another standard for him than you have for yourself.

Wemple: ”I don’t think there’s much equivalency here at all. Gahr’s story related to a complicated workplace lawsuit on the commercial side of the Washington Post. Though I work at the Washington Post, I have no idea of the circumstances over there, nor do I know the ins and outs of the complaint. By contrast, the Bashir thing was as public a spat as there is: The guy said something vile on air, and apologized on air. So it’s not too much to expect Matthews to have a take on things.”


November 26, 2013

Federal investigators still not contacting conservative groups targeted by IRS

More than half a year after the IRS targeting scandal broke in May, federal investigators have still not contacted any of the 41 conservative groups represented in the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) lawsuit against the IRS.

Though the FBI and IRS both launched investigations into the wrongdoing, and Eric Holder’s Justice Department vowed to cooperate with the FBI probe, none of these agencies have contacted the ACLJ’s clients to figure out what happened.

“It’s now been more than six months since the public revelation of the IRS targeting scheme. The Obama Administration — including the White House — has repeatedly promised that an investigation would ensue and that we would get to the bottom of this unlawful and unconstitutional scheme. Unfortunately, that does not appear to be happening. To date, not one of our 41 clients has been contacted by the FBI, the Justice Department or any other federal investigative agency,” ACLJ chief counsel Jay Sekulow told The Daily Caller.

“What we do know is the continual release of documents and emails by Congressional investigators clearly show that this scheme was well orchestrated, extremely broad, and politically motivated. Our lawsuit continues to move forward and we urge Congress to continue its investigation to determine the depth and scope of this scheme that violated the constitutional rights of our clients,” Sekulow said.

More than 28 weeks since the story broke, guys. Twenty-eight weeks. You know how much fun I could have been having during that time if I had been completely blowing off whatever it was I said I was going to do? You know how many movies I could have seen, how many parties I could have crashed, how much weed I could have smoked, how many women I could have gazed at from afar in the park? That’s a lifetime, man.

Cherish the time you have, federal investigators probing the IRS targeting scandal. Seize the moment, or else you’ll wake up one of these days disoriented and not even recognize the long, dead-eyed face looking back at you from your reflection in the subway window. And you’ll miss that time that’s gone by. You’ll want to have that time back.


November 25, 2013

Labrador: Obama is making Congress irrelevant

Rep. Raul Labrador says that President Obama is increasingly making Congress irrelevant as he seeks to implement his progressive vision for America using the executive branch and the courts.

In an interview, the first Hispanic Republican from Idaho, who rode into Congress three years ago on the 2010 tea party wave, said that the legislative branch must do more to fight the loss of its power.

“I think President Obama is learning more and more that the Congress is irrelevant, and I think that’s our own fault,” Labrador said.

“Every time there’s a difference with the president, he says, ‘I don’t need the Congress anymore. I can actually pass it through regulations or through executive orders,’ he said.

“The biggest fear that I have is that we will go to a system of government that was actually repudiated by our Founding Fathers. Our Founding Fathers did not want a strong executive. They did not want a monarch. And the reason was because you had one person making the decisions for all the American people, or all the people of the nation. That’s why they escaped England.”

Labrador, an unapologetic conservative, discussed compassion, immigration, the next big budget fight and House Speaker John Boehner’s prospects of being re-elected speaker.

The two parties show compassion for the poor in very different ways, he said.

“Democrats think that the only way you can care about somebody is by making them dependent on the government,” he said.

He went on to explain why his single-parent mother who worked “two to three to four jobs,” refusing assistance, because she thought “it would take something away from us, it would take the dignity away.”

Labrador also dished advice to his fellow Republicans: “I think Republicans are too afraid, sometimes, of their own shadows. They are so worried of being liked, that they are unwilling to defend themselves on principle.”

He says his colleagues “need to stop worrying about what the Washington media says about us.”

The most conservative member in the bipartisan group of representatives asked to broker an immigration reform bill, Labrador pulled out in June when he realized the Democrats seemed more focused on dividing the Republicans than solving the problem.

In this video interview, Labrador said the White House and Democrat Leadership backed away when House negotiators demanded “hard triggers” in the bill to do verifiable enforcement first before amnesty was granted. Labrador also warned Republicans not to pander to Hispanics.

“Hispanics are not going to vote for Republicans just because we voted for an immigration bill.” He says, we have to show them “our ideas are better” and how “they can achieve success better under a Republican plan.”

In a previous segment of the interview, Labrador discussed the implications of Obamacare’s rollout, and how the government shutdown has become easier to explain now that the pain of Obamacare is widespread.


November 22, 2013

Obama Woos Liberal Journalists With Another Off-The-Record Meeting

On Thursday, Fox News’ Ed Henry tweeted that MSNBC hosts Ed Schultz and Lawrence O’Donnell, as well as Ezra Klein of the Washington Post and Fox News’ Juan Williams, had been invited for a private off-the-record chat with President Obama. Obama’s signature program, Obamacare, has been flailing in the press for weeks, and Obama apparently believes that it is about time to reshift the narrative: 

MSNBC hosts relocated to West Wing today; @WeGotEd @Lawrence @ezraklein arrived for apparent meet w/President (Fox's @TheJuanWilliams too)

Juan Williams refused to describe what Obama himself said, but he did state that the White House is in “full fight mode over the Affordable Healthcare Act right now.” He added, “They feel as if they had a major systems failure, a major management failure, and they’re trying to get back on track.” Williams said that the biggest messaging issue has related to President Obama’s lie that if Americans wanted to keep their health insurance plans, they could. “There is frustration, that’s clear from everybody who I was talking to this morning at the White House,” Williams concluded.

This is not the first time that the White House has wooed specific groups of journalists. In October, as Breitbart News reported, Obama met with The Washington Post’s Charles Krauthammer, the Wall Street Journal editorial page editor Paul Gigot, National Review’s Washington editor Robert Costa, former CNN co-host Kathleen Parker, and Byron York of the Washington Examiner. In May, the White House held a session on Benghazi on “deep background.” In September, Obama met with select reporters to discuss the situation in Syria.

November 21, 2013

Surveillance court blasts NSA in newly-released documents

A late-night document dump by the Director of National Intelligence revealed yet another harsh rebuke of the National Security Agency (NSA) by a federal judge, who claimed the spy agency “continuously” and “systematically” overcollected data on American citizens.

The release of thousands of previously classified — and heavily redacted — NSA slides and Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) opinions late Monday night includes the original, undated court order authorizing the sweeping surveillance of Americans’ email and internet data, known as the Pen Register and Trap and Trace provision.

But of particular interest is another FISC order — again undated — tasked with renewing that provision. The court denied a large part of that reauthorization request, charging that the NSA repeatedly and routinely collected more data on American citizens than the law empowered them to do.

“The government has provided no comprehensive explanation of how so substantial an overcollection occurred,” the court accused. “Given the duration of the problem, the oversight measures ostensibly taken since [date redacted] to detect overcollection, and the extraordinary fact that NSA’s end-to-end review overlooked unauthorized acquisitions that were documented in virtually every record of what was acquired, it must be added that those responsible for conducting oversight at NSA failed to do so effectively.”

Analysts say the documents prove the NSA’s abuse of authority is much broader than initially admitted.

“Notwithstanding repeated public assurances from senior officials, these rulings show a growing pattern of failures by NSA personnel to comply with strict rules for collecting and disseminating data,” said Bradley Moss, a D.C.-based national security lawyer, in a statement to The Daily Caller News Foundation.

Moss worried about “errors” in reporting these violations to the surveillance court. “Even if those errors were inadvertent or accidental,” he wrote, “their consistent recurrence casts doubt upon the ability of the NSA to properly manage its own program in compliance with the strict parameters required by the FISC.”

Like many in Congress, Moss wants to see the creation of a “special advocate” able to sit in on the surveillance court’s NSA hearings, argue for privacy issues and “more clearly identify for the FISC judge the gaps in the Government’s arguments.” U.S. intelligence officials have already warned that the bill which would implement these provisions, the USA Freedom Act, is “flawed.”

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper tried to paint the disclosures as an exercise in government transparency. “Release of these documents reflects the Executive Branch’s continued commitment to making information about this collection program publicly available when appropriate and consistent with the national security of the United States,” he wrote.

But in fact, the director’s hand was forced by a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed in 2011. That lawsuit has already compelled the government to release reams of documents regarding the NSA’s domestic spying on Americans.


November 20, 2013

Spy court says NSA exceeded bounds, but judges approved all data requests anyway

The federal government used the Patriot Act more than 500 times from 2005 through 2011 to secretly obtain records from businesses, including bulk telephone and Internet data, and never once did the secret court charged with oversight turn them down, according to the latest document dump from U.S. spy agencies.

More than 1,000 pages of documents released late Monday show the secret court repeatedly chastised the government for overstepping its authority in collecting data on Americans’ emails, but never shut down the program.

The National Security Agency “exceeded the scope of authorized acquisition continuously during the years of acquisition under these orders,” Judge John D. Bates wrote in a heavily redacted, 117-page opinion released as part of the documents.

The email program was revealed by former government contractor Edward Snowden, but the latest declassified records shed new light on the legal basis for it, including NSA collection of the addresses of senders and recipients, and the subject line and time of each email.

The secret court said that for a period of time, virtually every record generated by the email program included data that hadn’t been authorized. At the beginning, the NSA failed to properly control the information it obtained on Americans, allowing it to be shared outside of the small group that was supposed to have access.

“The government has provided no meaningful explanation why these violations occurred, but it seems likely that widespread ignorance of the rules was a contributing factor,” Judge Bates concluded.

Despite those criticisms, he allowed the program to continue.

It was shut down in 2011, reportedly because President Obama concluded it wasn’t producing enough valuable intelligence. Just months before that decision, the documents show, the intelligence community was still assuring judges that the program was vital to national security.

Michael Birmingham, a spokesman for the Office of the Director of National Security, said there were several reasons for ending the program.

“The decision was made in 2011 to cease collecting email and Internet content from Americans in bulk due to operational and resource reasons,” he said.

In his opinion, Judge Bates attributed the consistent failures of NSA officials to abide by the rules to “poor management, lack of involvement by compliance officials, and lack of internal verification produces — not bad faith.”

The NSA did not respond to requests for comment.

Elizabeth Goitein, co-director of the Brennan Center for Justice’s national security program, said the revelations show an agency that has systematic trouble following the rules.

“Either the NSA is trying to comply with the court’s order and it’s absolutely incapable of doing so, which quite worries us, or it’s not really trying that hard,” she said. “None of those answers really inspires a lot of confidence.”

Since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the U.S., the federal government has claimed broad legal authority to collect records in its hunt for terrorists, including the power to demand that major Internet and telephone companies turn over records on their customers’ communications.

Read the entire article

November 19, 2013

White House deflects question about Duncan’s ‘white suburban moms’ comment

White House press secretary Jay Carney Monday fought off questions and did not condemn Education Secretary Arne Duncan’s condescending comments about “white suburban moms.”

While defending Duncan, Carney said the current education system is not properly preparing students to succeed in life.

Duncan’s “point was that we need to be honest with kids and parents about whether we’re providing the skills they need to succeed,” Carney said after being quizzed about Duncan’s statement.

Duncan caused an uproar while complaining about the growing public opposition to federal Common Core eduction standards and tests, amid a recent drop of up to 30 percent in some schools’ average scores.

“It’s fascinating to me that some of the pushback is coming from, sort of, white suburban moms who — all of a sudden — their child isn’t as brilliant as they thought they were and their school isn’t quite as good as they thought they were, and that’s pretty scary,” Duncan told education officials at a conference in Richmond, Va.

“You’ve bet your house and where you live and everything on, ‘My child’s going to be prepared.’ [So the test results] can be a punch in the gut,” he said.

On Monday, Carney was asked “is that an appropriate way for the secretary of education to talk about a constituency, to qualify them by race?”

“I can just tell you that the secretary of education and everybody on the president’s team dedicated to this effort is focused on making sure that we do everything we can, working with states and others, to ensure that our kids are getting the education they need for the 21st century, for the careers of the 21st century,” he responded.

“So, again, I haven’t had a discussion with the president about that, but I think the broader point that we need to be honest about whether we’re providing the skills … our children need to succeed. I think we can agree on that,” Carney said.

Republicans are gleefully hammering Duncan and other Democrats for Duncan’s racially-tinged or condescending comment, just as Obama and his allies hammered any GOP legislators during the 2012 election whose comments could be used to bolster their claim that Republicans are waging a “war on women.”

Rep. Steve Stockman sent out a Tweet urging Duncan be fired for “dismissing #CommonCore critics as just white suburban moms with dumb kids.”

Duncan is a “corrupt and bankrupt bigot,” said conservative blogger Michelle Malkin.

“I can tell you I’ve personally met moms and dads of ALL races, of ALL backgrounds, and from ALL parts of the country, who have sacrificed to get their kids into the best schools possible,” Malkin wrote. “They are outraged that dumbed-down, untested federal ‘standards’ pose an existential threat to their excellent educational arrangements — be they public, private, religious, or homeschooling.”

Some left-wingers are also jumping on Duncan.

Randi Weingarten, head of the nation’s largest teacher’s union, the American Federation of Teachers, also slammed Duncan, partly because she had led an effort to dismantle the Common Core standards and testing.

“You think the Obamacare implementation is bad? The implementation of the Common Core is far worse,” Weingarten said early November.

Duncan “really doesn’t get it,” she said after Duncan’s comments.

“This white suburban mom suggests that you check your mouth carefully before you shove your foot in it, or shovel that piece of racist class distinction out to school superintendents,” said a blogger at

The tests are “opposed because they suggest that all children begin and have a school experience which is on equal footing with others when it’s not … [and] because they place a heavy emphasis on annual standardized testing, which is expensive and unnecessary,” said the blogger, named Karoli.

“Parents saw their kids’ scores drop by as much as 30 percent with very little explanation for why that could be… Duncan is telling us all, it’s just that our expectations of our little darlings are too high. At least, if we’re a white suburban mom,” she wrote.


November 18, 2013

Immigration reform backers press Congress to draft legislation ASAP

Immigration reform advocates on and off Capitol Hill say they won't take House Speaker John Boehner's "no" for an answer and will continue to press Congress to immediately move on legislation that includes a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants.

U.S. Chamber of Commerce Chief Executive Thomas J. Donohue, whose organization is among a loose coalition of business, political and religious groups pressing for immigration reform, vowed "to continue to push forward" on the effort.

"The chamber remains committed to advancing immigration reform, and we’re going to keep working with all our partners to do what’s in the best interest of this great nation," he said. "No one ever thought this was going to be easy, but we’re going to see it through."

Jay Timmons, president and CEO of the National Association of Manufacturers, said immigration reform is a top priority for his group because without it, "we will continue sending talent to our competitors and turning away a future generation of innovators and entrepreneurs."

Catholic Bishop John Wester of Salt Lake City said fixing the nation's broken immigration system is a moral issue and one that shouldn't be held back because of partisan bickering.

"From the faith perspective, immigration reform is about human beings and their basic rights, life and dignity," he said. "Too often in this nation, we witness the violation of the rights of immigrants and the loss of their dignity and, yes, lives.

"Let us pray that our elected officials developed the courage to move this issue forward in the days and months ahead."

Boehner, R-Ohio, on Wednesday said the House won't bring up legislation resembling the comprehensive Senate-passed measure that would legalize millions of illegal immigrants living in the U.S. and make them eligible for citizenship.

Boehner said the House instead would tackle the issue by drafting piecemeal measures — not the Senate's approach involving one comprehensive bill. He said his conference is working on a "set of principles" that would guide those reforms.

"The idea that we're going to take up a 1,300-page bill that no one had ever read, which is what the Senate did, is not going to happen in the House," Boehner said.

Democrats decry Boehner's move, saying he's afraid to bring up a bill resembling the Senate measure because he fears it would pass — thus giving the Senate a victory.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., called Boehner's announcement "outrageous."

"That's just a dereliction of duty in terms of what our responsibilities are here and removes any credible moral authority on the subject of immigration from any of the Republicans," she said.

But Americans for Tax Reform President Grover Norquist, who supports immigration reform, called Boehner's announcement "a good first step" toward moving the issue forward.

The anti-tax advocate said it's Democrats and President Obama — not Boehner — who have dropped the ball, saying that the president has "chose[n] not to take any affirmative step toward even thinking about it."

"You've got people who care about immigration on the Democrat side really [upset] at the president for screwing them by not moving on the issue when he had a majority [in Congress until early 2011] and not making any effort to work with Republicans since," he said.

Norquist added that if the Republican-run House passes a few smaller immigration-related bills, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., would feel immense pressure from many fellow Democrats, as well as outside groups, to act.

"I understand why a Democrat would go, 'Oh yeah, well, we don't want to do it your way.' Well, you know what? It's not exactly your choice since you failed to do it any way up until now," Norquist said.

"The [Democrats] are in a much more tenuous situation than they'd like to pretend they are. They need [immigration reform] as much or more than the [Republicans] do."

Still, some Democrats say they haven't given up hope that a comprehensive immigration reform package can clear both chambers.

Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said he thinks a deal still is possible this year. And if not, "I think we have a real good chance to do it in the first half of next year."

"If I had to bet money, we’re going to have an immigration reform bill on the president’s desk," the senator said.

And Pelosi suggested Boehner may be bluffing when he said he wouldn't negotiate with the Senate.

"I don't know whether people are taking it seriously or not," she said. "I don't even accept that as a serious statement because if it were a serious statement, there would be much more uproar about it."


November 15, 2013

Fed nominee Janet Yellen objects to audit of monetary meetings

Federal Reserve Vice Chairman Janet Yellen, President Obama’s pick to head the central bank, took a strong stand Thursday against a Republican measure to rein in the Fed, even as she wooed and wowed senators at her confirmation hearing with her polite but firm responses to criticism of the central bank’s easy money policies.

Ms. Yellen said she strongly opposes legislation to audit the Fed if it allows Congress to scrutinize and pressure the central bank’s internal deliberations over interest rates and monetary policy. Sen. Rand Paul, Kentucky Republican, is pushing a bill that would give congressional watchdogs authority to audit such internal deliberations, and is demanding a vote on the bill as the price of allowing the Senate to vote on Ms. Yellen’s nomination to become the Fed’s next chairman in January.

“I would object to legislation that would subject the Fed to short-term pressures that would affect its independence,” she told the Senate Banking Committee. It was her first appearance before Congress since President Obama last month nominated her to replace current Chairman Ben S. Bernanke, who is scheduled to depart Jan. 30.

The two-hour hearing was highly cordial despite some tough questions from Republican lawmakers, and went so smoothly that it helped stoke new record highs for both the Dow Jones industrial average and Standard and Poor’s 500 index Thursday, while likely enhancing the 67-year-old economist’s already strong prospects of being confirmed by the Senate.

Ms. Yellen stressed that she is a strong advocate for openness and transparency at the central bank, which has already taken unprecedented steps under Mr. Bernanke such as scheduling regular news conferences and media interviews to make the Fed more accessible to the public.

“We’re one of the most transparent central banks in the world,” she said. “But I would not support anything that diminishes [the Fed‘s] independence. … For 50 years, Congress has recognized that there should be an exception to the [General Accountability Office‘s] ability to audit” federal agencies when it comes to the Fed’s highly sensitive monetary deliberations, which are closely followed and regularly move financial markets all over the world, she said.

Longtime Fed-watchers said Ms. Yellen’s poised performance made the hearing a resounding success for the nominee to what some have called the second-most powerful office in the world.

Yellen has a strong backbone,” said White & Case partner Ernie Patrikis, who is a former chief operating officer of the New York Reserve Bank. “Every time she was pressed to agree with a senator’s statement, she parried the challenge tactfully. She did not agree to anything just to placate an inquisitor” and managed to “avoid being pinned down” by either side.

With investors and businessmen trying to take the measure of the new Fed chief, “it was extremely important that Yellen did not come out of the hearing bruised,” he said.

Ms. Yellen stressed repeatedly that she sees the Fed’s priority as nurturing the fragile economic recovery with ultra-easy monetary policies and near-zero interest rates until the economy and labor market show enough vigor to keep recovering on their own.

“I consider it imperative that we do what we can to promote a very strong recovery,” she said. “We can’t have normal rates unless the economy is normal.”

Liberal Democrats on the committee generally praised Ms. Yellen, but complained that wealthy investors seem to be the main beneficiaries thus far of the Fed’s stimulative policies, which have sparked stellar gains in the stock market. Ms. Yellen stressed that the Fed’s goal has been to help ordinary Americans, and it has been doing so by helping to ignite a robust recovery in the housing market that is increasing the assets and well-being of the middle class as well as the rich.

Ms. Yellen was treated deferentially by committee Republicans, but nearly all of them questioned her closely on the Fed’s loose money policies. Many complained that the Fed’s program of purchasing $85 billion a month of U.S. Treasury bonds and mortgage-backed securities has the potential to stoke high inflation and financial bubbles, has yet to spark a strong recovery, and will be difficult for the central bank to end.

“I worry that we’re on a sugar high,” said Sen. Mike Crapo, Idaho Republican. “That’s dangerous for the little person out there who’s trying to pay his bills and put away a little for retirement.”

Several Republicans contended that Fed already has already created a bubble in the U.S. stock and bond markets — something which Ms. Yellen vehemently denied. The S&P 500 has surged by 25 percent so far this year, and is up by 163 percent since touching a 12-year low in March 2009.

“Stock prices have risen pretty robustly, but if you look at traditional measures” such as price-earnings ratios, which factor in record-high corporate profits, “you would not see stock prices in territory that suggests bubblelike conditions,” Ms. Yellen said.

Ms. Yellen said she would not hesitate to use the Fed’s regulatory and monetary powers to curb dangerous market bubbles in the future, if necessary, however, and she said the Fed also would remain vigilant against risky practices by banks which could lead to another financial crisis like the one that caused the Great Recession in 2008.

“This is the most important lesson learned from the financial crisis,” she said.


November 14, 2013

Judge Rakoff Blasts Breuer, Prosecution of Companies Rather than Individuals in Bar Speech

Absent sitting on the Supreme Court, it is difficult for a single judge to effect much change. Yet Jed Rakoff, in sending the SEC back to the woodshed in two separate cases over its failure to get factual admissions, meaning admissions of misconduct, on civil settlements of SEC cases, singlehandedly embarrassed the SEC and the Department of Justice into seeking these statements (for instance, numerous media reports indicate that the Administration wants that sort of confession as part of its pending settlement with JP Morgan).

Rakoff threw down another gauntlet in a New York Bar Association speech on Tuesday. I’m taking the liberty of quoting it at length because his rebuke is a breath of fresh air and roused the Department of Justice to issue a “we really are doing our job” response.
But if, by contrast, the Great Recession was in material part the product of intentional fraud, the failure to prosecute those responsible must be judged one of the more egregious failures of the criminal justice system in many years.
Rakoff then pointed to the fact that the FCIC and numerous government officials had discussed fraud in connection with the crisis and went further:
While officials of the Department of Justice have been more circumspect in describing the roots of the financial crisis than have the various commissions of inquiry and other government agencies, I have seen nothing to indicate their disagreement with the widespread conclusion that fraud at every level permeated the bubble in mortgage-backed securities.
He then goes through their litany of excuses (his word). Ooh, it’s hard to pin fraud on top executives in big complex companies! Poppycock, says Rakoff:

Who, for example, were generating the so-called “suspicious activity” reports of mortgage fraud that, as
mentioned, increased so hugely in the years leading up to the crisis? Why, the banks themselves. A top level banker, one might argue, confronted with increasing evidence from his own and other banks that mortgage fraud was increasing, might have inquired as to why his bank’s mortgage-based securities continued to receive triple-A ratings? And if, despite these and other reports of suspicious activity, the executive failed to make such inquiries, might it be because he did not want to know what such inquiries would reveal? 
This, of course, is what is known in the law as “willful blindness” or “conscious disregard.” It is a well-established basis on which federal prosecutors have asked juries to infer intent, in cases involving complexities, such as accounting treatments, at least as esoteric as those involved in the events leading up to the financial crisis. And while some federal courts have occasionally expressed qualifications about the use of the willful blindness approach to prove intent, the Supreme Court has consistently approved it.
The second, “weaker” excuse came out of Lanny Breuer’s mouth in his notorious Frontline interview: that the investors in mortgage-backed securities were sophisticated; it would be hard to prove they relied on ratings and fraudulent misrepresentation. Rakoff basically says that Breuer is a crappy lawyer:
Actually, given the fact that these securities were bought and sold at lightning speed, it is by no means obvious that even a sophisticated counterparty would have detected the problems with the arcane, convoluted mortgage-backed derivatives they were being asked to purchase. But there is a more fundamental problem with the above-quoted statement from the former head of the Criminal Division, which is that it totally misstates the law. In actuality, in a criminal fraud case the Government is never required to prove reliance, ever. The reason, of course, is that would give a crooked seller a license to lie whenever he was dealing with a sophisticated counterparty. The law, however, says that society is harmed when a seller purposely lies about a material fact, even if the immediate purchaser does not rely on that particular fact, because such misrepresentations create problems for the market as a whole.
The third excuse is that prosecution might hurt the economy. Rakoff indicated his discomfort with the “too big to jail” idea, but used that to lambaste the notion of prosecuting institutions as opposed to individuals. No institution would perish if an executive were prosecuted.

Rakoff carefully and pointedly says he’s not accusing prosecutors of revolving-door corruptions and that prosecutors maximize their value in the post-government service market by collecting scalps. Whether of not he actually believes that to be true, he has to say that or risk never hearing a big securities case ever again, in that both defendants and regulators could ask to have cases assigned to other judges based on the notion that Rakoff had said that prosecutors were soft of big corporate crime because they were currying favor with prospective future employers. Notice, by contrast, the cautionary example of Judge Shira Scheindlin, who had a ruling opposing New York City’s stop and frisk rules overturned because she violated the code of conduct for Federal judges by showing partiality.

But he point out other reasons why no one could be bothered to go after the conduct that wrecked the economy. The best US Attorney’s office, the Southern District of New York, was busy on the Rajaratnam case. Any smart prosecutor would ride that horse, which was ready to go, rather than take on the slog of a case that was years away from being files. So basically, with Congress starving the SEC of budget and making it capable only of handing out parking tickets in the form of insider trading cases, SDNY staffers were incentivized to go after the comparatively easy cases the SEC threw over the transom rather than pursue far more important crisis-related cases. Rakoff argues the other reason for the government’s reticence to prosecute is that it would embarrass government officials and expose policy failings.

And Rakoff described why prosecuting companies, rather than targeting individuals, produces lame outcomes:
But if your priority is prosecuting the company, a different scenario takes place. Early in the investigation, you invite in counsel to the company and explain to him or her why you suspect fraud. He or she responds by assuring you that the company wants to cooperate and do the right thing, and to that end the company has hired a former Assistant U.S. Attorney, now a partner at a respected law firm, to do an internal investigation. The company’s counsel asks you to defer your investigation until the company’s own internal investigation is completed, on the condition that the company will share its results with you. In order to save time and resources, you agree. Six months later the company’s counsel returns, with a detailed report showing that mistakes were made but that the company is now intent on correcting them. You and the company then agree that the company will enter into a deferred prosecution agreement that couples some immediate fines with the imposition of expensive but internal prophylactic measures. For all practical purposes the case is now over. You are happy because you believe that you have helped prevent future crimes; the company is happy because it has avoided a devastating indictment; and perhaps the happiest of all are the executives, or former executives, who actually committed the underlying misconduct, for they are left untouched. 
I suggest that this is not the best way to proceed. Although it is supposedly justified in terms of preventing future crimes, I suggest that the future deterrent value of successfully prosecuting individuals far outweighs the prophylactic benefits of imposing internal compliance measures that are often little more than window-dressing. Just going after the company is also both technically and morally suspect. It is technically suspect because, under the law, you should not indict or threaten to indict a company unless you can prove beyond a reasonable doubt that some managerial agent of the company committed the alleged crime; and if you can prove that, why not indict the manager? And from a moral standpoint, punishing a company and its many innocent employees and shareholders for the crimes committed by some unprosecuted individuals seems contrary to elementary notions of moral responsibility.
On the one hand, it’s good to see Rakoff again rattling cages. On the other, it’s disheartening that the comparatively restrained remarks of a Federal judge serve as bold talk. It’s yet another reminder of how candid discussion of fraud and criminal conduct in the crisis has been successfully mislabled by a lapdog media as naive or ill informed.

If you are a Rakoff fan, he’s moderating a panel at Columbia Law School on Friday whose members include Neil Barofsky and John Coffee. I’m told it’s open to the public.


November 13, 2013

Senators challenge head of Dodd-Frank agency on financial snooping

The director of Dodd-Frank’s chief enforcement agency clashed Tuesday with the ranking Republican on the Senate Banking Committee over the agency’s sweeping collection of Americans’ personal finance records.

Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) Director Richard Cordray visited Capitol Hill to testify before the committee as part of a semi-annual report to Congress. But he spent much of that time defending his agency’s massive data collection program against Republican senators, chief among them Idaho’s Mike Crapo.

“How many individual credit card accounts is the Bureau monitoring?” Crapo asked several times during the hearing, prompting the director to repeatedly demur.

“I’ve been asked this question a number of times,” Cordray said, “and I’ve said a number of times that’s not the way we proceed. We are not looking to monitor individual credit card accounts. We have no interest in what individuals — what you and I are spending, what their patterns are.”

But after repeated pressing, Cordray finally confirmed that his agency is collecting data on 80 percent of the credit card market, information on individual transactions for around 900 million credit card accounts.

“That’s roughly correct,” he conceded to Crapo, “but it’s not something new that we’re doing. We’re simply accessing the very same set of information that has been developed by private markets and is used by other regulators.”

Republican lawmakers have been trying to pin down the exact number of accounts monitored since at least July, when the CFPB’s deputy director was unable to answer the question.

Cordray claimed that the expansive data set is vital for his agency to understand — and set rules for — a complicated financial landscape.

“I make no apologies,” the director said. “We need that data and information to do our job, in order to keep up and oversee some of the most powerful financial institutions in the world.”

But despite Cordray’s assurances that personal data is always “anonymized,” some senators expressed privacy and security concerns.

Louisiana Republican Senator David Vitter told Cordray he had information contradicting the director’s claim that no personally identifiable information remains on the private data collected.

Contracts with one third-party data firm indicate that the CFPB intends to maintain the postal code, census identifier and age of birth along with the financial information of 5 to 10 million Americans.

“We’ve had experience in other agencies where phenomenal abuses of this kind of information have been undertaken,” Crapo worried. “And all that is necessary for this massive amount of information being collected to be made available [to hackers] is for someone to find the key.”

Keeping sensitive data secure is a big concern at the CFPB. The Daily Caller News Foundation reported last week that Ashwin Vasan, the agency’s new tech head, has almost no experience in information technology.

And Pennsylvania Republican Sen. Pat Toomey discovered that data security flaws revealed nearly one year ago in a report by the CFPB’s inspector general have yet to be fixed.

“We have been working to adopt their recommendations,” Cordray said, “and we are paying very appropriate, precise, diligent attention to the privacy and security of this data.”

Senator Crapo asked the Government Accountability Office to review the CFPB’s data collection last summer, and the agency agreed to open a probe in July. The investigation remains ongoing.


November 12, 2013

Justice Dept silent on whether Greenwald faces arrest for Snowden reports

The Justice Department won’t tell a Democratic lawmaker if it plans to arrest or prosecute Glenn Greenwald — the reporter who published secret documents leaked by Edward Snowden — if he returns to the United States.

U.S. News reports that Florida Democratic Rep. Alan Grayson sent a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder on October 10, requesting that the Justice Department inform him if it intends to bring charges against Greenwald and whether the reporter will face detention or arrest once he enters the United States.

But over one month later the department continues to keep Grayson in the dark, and the congressman believes the delay is deliberate.

“It’s very unlikely that the Justice Department has not given this any thought,” Grayson told U.S. News. “If this had come out of the blue, then maybe they would have some reason to take a long time in responding. I think they already know what their answer is, and therefore they should provide it quickly.”

Grayson says Greenwald, an American citizen living in Brazil, fears “detention, and potentially prosecution, by the Department of Justice or other U.S. authorities” over the documents he published detailing the National Security Agency’s secret surveillance activities.

Without assurances to the contrary, Greenwald will not meet with Grayson and other lawmakers seeking more information on the Snowden disclosures.

Grayson believes Greenwald’s status as a reporter shields him from retaliation. “The administration and the attorney general have taken hostile positions against other investigative journalists,” he said. “I think that has caused the whole profession some concern. It’s reasonable for DOJ to make its position clear: Is the act of investigative journalism now a crime, or not?”

But other lawmakers have called on the U.S. government to punish Greenwald for collaborating with Snowden, a fact Grayson alludes to in his letter. In June, New York Republican Rep. Peter King said prosecution against Greenwald should be “considered.”

“No right is absolute and even the press has certain exceptions,” he said. “When you have someone who’s disclosed secrets like this and threatens to release more, then to me, yes, there has to be — legal action should be taken against him.”

David Miranda, Greenwald’s partner, has also had a brush with the law. Last August, he was detained for nine hours by British police at London’s Heathrow Airport on the suspicion of carrying documents from Snowden. Although he was eventually released, British authorities labelled Miranda’s actions a form of “terrorism.”

Liberal firebrand Grayson has been active on these issues for some time. In July he earned a rare rebuke from the House Intelligence Committee for distributing classified National Security Agency slides to other lawmakers. The slides had already been leaked by Snowden weeks previously.

Greenwald hasn’t returned to the United States since publishing the first Snowden documents in June, but he apparently reached out to American lawyers with contacts in the Justice Department. He also came up empty-handed, tweeting last Thursday that “well-connected lawyers” were unable to get answers regarding the Justice Department’s plan for his return.

“We have no comment regarding the department’s communications with Congress,” a Justice Department spokesman told U.S. News on Monday.