March 29, 2013

Senators: ‘Far-left’ group pushes EPA to implement cap-and-trade without congressional approval

Republican senators urged the Environmental Protection Agency not to participate in a “sue-and-settle” arrangement with a law school policy institute that is trying to require the agency to develop rules implementing cap-and-trade, even though Congress refused to pass the law.

“In a recent rulemaking petition, the Institute for Policy Integrity (the Institute) seeks to compel EPA rules under three separate sections of the Clean Air Act,” Marten Law’s Dustin Till explains in a post. “The Institute first argues that Section 115 of the Clean Air Act, a never-before-used provision addressing international air pollution, requires EPA to order all 50 states to modify their state-level implementation plans to address greenhouse gas emissions.”

Four senators attacked the idea today in a letter to EPA assistant administrator Gina McCarthy, President Obama’s nominee to lead the agency.

“The potential negative impact in this case is that it threatens to expand environmental regulation beyond original intent of the law and could have detrimental effects on the livelihoods of our fellow Americans that are not always understood by academia,” wrote Sen. David Vitter, R-La., Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Neb., Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Wyo., and Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., in a letter today.
“When the price of transportation fuels increases for any reason, it is those with limited resources and fixed incomes whose livelihoods are most impacted by this added financial burden,” they added. “In recent years, we have consistently heard the term “environmental justice” as a reason for promulgating certain agency actions. We believe there also needs to be a measure of “economic justice” to ensure that Agency actions are not overly regressive and lack consideration for economic harm visited upon the very citizens these environmental laws are intended to protect.”

The Institute for Policy Integrity (IPI), in response to the senators, acknowledged that it is seeking cap-and-trade via the regulatory process.

“Market-based mechanisms, like the cap-and-trade approach advocated in our petition, are a highly cost effective and flexible means of reducing pollution,” executive director Michael Livermore said in a statement today. “There is broad agreement among economists that these types of policies are preferable to command-and-control-style regulation. By maximizing flexibility, market approaches to pollution control help spur innovation and allow businesses to reduce emissions at the lowest possible cost.”

IPI also asked the EPA to begin holding all coal plants to the same emissions standards set for natural gas plants. Under current policy, those emissions standards only apply to coal plants not yet constructed. President Obama explained the significance of this rule in 2008.

“So, if somebody wants to build a coal plant, they can — it’s just that it will bankrupt them, because they are going to be charged a huge sum for all that greenhouse gas that’s being emitted,” Obama said in 2008. The application of that rule to existing coal plants would, presumably, bankrupt them as well.

Vitter described the potential lawsuit as “a prime example of a far-left organization pushing EPA to play the ‘sue-and-settle’ game, hoping EPA will again circumvent transparency and craft policy and draconian regulations that could have a significant negative financial impact on consumers.”


March 28, 2013

DOJ emails show feds kept judges in the dark about cellphone tracking device

Department of Justice documents obtained by the ACLU reveal that the department has not been “forthright” with California judges about its use of a controversial and sophisticated cellphone tracking device, according to the ACLU.

Federal investigators, according to the ACLU’s analysis of Justice Department emails, have “routinely” used a portable technology called a “stingray,” which masquerades as a cellphone tower by emitting a powerful signal. The goal is to trick nearby cellphones into connecting to the stingray, which can then gather data transmitted by the phones.

The device target the cellphones of intended suspects, but it can also capture the cellphone data of nearby innocent people for up to several kilometers.
The emails —obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request filed by the ACLU of Northern California and the San Francisco Bay Guardian — came to light as part of a larger investigation into the methods used by the Justice Department to track down a suspect in an electronic tax fraud scheme.

The Justice Department sought a court order mandating that Verizon hand over location data for the phone of the suspect, Daniel Rigmaiden. While the Justice Department’s request mentioned that it would use a mobile location tracking device, it did not specify that a stingray would be used.
Rigmaiden, who was indicted in 2008, has since argued that he should have access to details about the investigative methods used to track him down. A federal magistrate judge has been sympathetic to that position.

The Justice Department has also argued that in-field use of the device was an innocent mistake by agents “using a relatively new technology,” but the emails obtained by the ACLU demonstrate that the government’s undeclared in-field use of the stingray was not isolated to the Rigmaiden case.
For example, an email chain dated May 2011 showed that federal investigators were still using the technology in the field, although their court applications for surveillance failed to “make that explicit.”
The federal government has argued, however, that tools like the stingray can be used without a search warrant because they do not capture the content of communications made with cellphones. Instead, they capture only limited data, such as the phone numbers dialed.

Federal officials also contend that they delete the tracking data collected during stingray surveillance operations.

The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) also obtained documents from the FBI in February 2013 that revealed the technology not only targeted Rigmaiden, but also innocent cellphones within the vicinity of the signal.
The documents showed that the bureau’s agents have been using “cell site simulator” technologies since 1995.

The FBI told The Wall Street Journal in 2011 that the bureau “considers the devices to be so critical that it has a policy of deleting the data gathered in their use, mainly to keep suspects in the dark about their capabilities.”

Additionally, a September 2012 investigative report by LA Weekly found that law enforcement across the country — including Los Angeles, Miami, Fort Worth, and Gilbert, Arizona — are secretly using the technology.
A federal court hearing on U.S. v Rigmaiden is scheduled for Thursday in Arizona.
There, Linda Lye — staff attorney at the ACLU of Northern California — will argue that evidence collected against Rigmaiden with the stingray should be disregarded because the government failed to tell the federal magistrate judge that it was using the tool to collect data on the suspect.

“In court Thursday, I will argue that this email confirms the need for suppressing the evidence in the Rigmaiden case because it shows that the government was engaged in a widespread practice of withholding important information for judges, and that it did so for years,” wrote Lye in a blog post.
“We hope that the court sends the clear message to the government that it cannot keep judges in the dark,” said Lye. “Judges are not rubber stamps – they are constitutional safeguards of our privacy.”
Federal government electronic surveillance has reportedly seen a dramatic increase over the past several years.
A 2012 report by the ACLU revealed that between 2009 and 2011, warrantless electronic surveillance requests by the Justice Department to spy on phone communications increased 60 percent from 23,535 to 37,616.

Also, last week in a speech to the American Bar Association, FBI general counsel Andrew Weissman told audience members that the bureau is seeking the power to spy on emails or Gchat in real-time, according to a Wednesday report by Slate.

Google — in its period transparency report — has also reported a continual rise in the number user data requests filed by governments, including the U.S.

The DOJ did not respond to The Daily Caller’s request for comment by the time of publication.


March 27, 2013

Obama eyes taking millions of acres to save habitat from global warming

A sweeping new Obama administration strategy to protect plants, fish and animals from the hazards of global warming would require the government to set aside millions of acres of land to preserve threatened habitat.

"More than millions of acres across the landscape will be required," said U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe. "The lands will be protected by easement, by land acquisitions, by local, by land trusts, by state agencies, by federal agencies," he told reporters in releasing a 120-page National Fish, Wildlife and Plants Climate Adaptation Strategy, in the works for four years.
"We're doing it for wildlife preservation and we're thinking about climate," he added.

Under Obama, 4.5 million acres in 10 national wildlife refuges have already been set aside in part to ease the pressure of global warming on plants, fish and animals, said Ashe. A large purchase in Florida's Everglades, for example, is aimed in part at preserving grasses that can help prevent rising water from flooding the area and destroying animal habitat.

The new strategy, produced by several federal and state agencies and tribal groups, would expand that program to protect habitat under global warming pressure and used by everything from butterflies and robins to foxes and even coral. For example, more habitat for grizzly bears would be set aside so they can move north as their habitat warms.

The report provides goals and strategies but doesn't demand land purchases. It is meant to "inspire and enable natural resource managers, elected officials, and other decision makers to take action over the next five to 10 years to help our living resources adapt to climate change."

Among the potential horrific results of global warming highlighted in the report is the possibility that birch trees will become extinct, robbing two Indian tribes of the tree paperbark that "has been indispensable for canoes, sacred fires, and as a substrate to grow fungi for medicines."

Another: Warming temperatures on the Great Plains threaten the lesser prairie chicken. "Climate change models project that temperatures in the lesser prairie-chicken's range will climb by about five degrees and that precipitation will decrease by more than one inch per year by 2060. Such changes would likely harm the lesser prairie-chicken's chances of survival," said the report.


March 26, 2013

Ralph Nader explains how voting for the ‘least worst’ candidate corrupts democracy

Consumer advocate Ralph Nader on Monday decried the lack of choices at the ballot box and predicted super rich candidates would run in 2016.

Speaking on C-SPAN, Nader said the influence of money on the political process along with the weakening of unions had prevented candidates from addressing certain controversial issues. Voting for the lesser of two evils had also allowed candidates to skirt around particular topics.

“As voters, we get too satisfied with least worst choices, so we’ll vote for the Democrats because we think the Republicans are worse, or we’ll vote for the Republicans because we think the Democrats are worse,” he explained. “And every four years both of them get worse, because if you’re a least worst voter you don’t pull the least worst candidate. You’re desperately supporting the least worst candidate because the other guy is worse. So you lose your bargaining power, and they don’t have to give you the time of day the minute you indicate you’re a least worst voter.”

Nader, a five-time candidate for President of the United States, denied the two parties were so entrenched that it was impossible for a third party candidate to win a national election. He remarked that super wealthy individuals such as New York mayor Michael Bloomberg had the resources to run a successful presidential campaign.

“Here’s what I think is going to happen. We will have the usual Green Party and libertarian parties in 2016. But there are some mega-billionaires who are seriously considering running third party, and the minute a mega-billionaire announces, like Ross Perot, they get enormous press, they get the polls and they are in play. ”

Self-financed candidates had the potential “to be attractive to a lot of voters,” Nader said, because they were not beholden to political donors and special interests.

“So people are ready,” he added. “But you have to convince them that the candidate has a chance to win. They’re not convinced the little third parties have that chance because of all the obstruction.”


March 25, 2013

What Sequester? Federal Jobs Website Lists Thousands of Openings

For all the talk about the dramatic spending cuts to hit the federal government under the bipartisan sequestration, the federal government isn’t exactly tightening its belt. According to, the job posting site for the feds, approximately 2,200 jobs listings became available during one week in March. As Eileen Ambrose reports, “Add in new postings open only to current or former federal workers, including those laid off, and the number of new openings jumps to more than 4,600.”

Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) has issued a list of jobs included at that he says demonstrate the feds’ continued wastefulness. These jobs include a director for the Air Force History and Museums Policies and Programs, clocking in at a hefty $165,300; a Department of Labor assistant with pay up to $81,204; painters for the Air Force, and a lawyer for the Morris K. Udall Scholarship Foundation, with an annual salary of $155,000. These jobs, says Coburn, “are not necessary at this time until we get past this pothole in the road.”

Meanwhile, President Obama and the media continue to proclaim that air traffic controllers will be cut, the postal service will have to cut days, and border security will be furloughed. Much of the pressure from the sequester springs from the fact that federal employees are increasingly unionized, meaning that the government has little flexibility in terms of pay and benefits. President Obama has inflated the size of the federal workforce overall, even as state workforces have declined.

March 22, 2013

Sen. Ted Cruz says the federal government thinks it has ‘authority to regulate our toilet seats’

Toilet seats just got political.

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, a constitutional lawyer recently elected to Congress, says they’re an intimate example of federal overreach.

He name-dropped the familiar fixtures in his March 16, 2013, speech to the Conservative Political Action Conference, known as CPAC.

"We have a federal government that thinks they have the authority to regulate our toilet seats," he said.

Does the long arm of the law extend into your bathroom?

Yes. But some constitutional scholars say that’s too far.

Plumbing the Constitution

Cruz is no stranger to the nation’s founding documents. He argued before the U.S. Supreme Court as the solicitor general of Texas and has written more than 80 briefs for the nation’s highest court.

He might like to flush some of its decisions.

Here’s what he told his CPAC audience:

"There's the 10th Amendment, something our omnipotent federal government seems to have forgotten all about. The 10th Amendment provides that the powers not given to the federal government are reserved to the states and to the people.

"How did we get a $16.5 trillion national debt? We have a federal government that thinks they have the authority to regulate our toilet seats and our light bulbs. We need to get back to the Constitution."
We’ve written plenty about light bulbs (which, yes, are regulated) but hadn’t taken up the question of toilet seats.

Here’s the thing about toilet seats and the Constitution. The 10th Amendment reserves powers for the states and the people — except those given to the federal government.

And under current interpretations of the Constitution’s Commerce Clause and 14th Amendment, there’s power to federally regulate toilet seats. (Take that, commode!)

How? Well, the federal government can regulate consumer products, access to public facilities for people with disabilities and workplace health and safety.


• The Mine Safety & Health Administration says, "sanitary toilets shall have an attached toilet seat with a hinged lid and a toilet paper holder together with an adequate supply of toilet tissue."

• The Occupational Safety & Health Administration says construction sites with 20 employees or more shall provide "1 toilet seat and 1 urinal per 40 workers."

• The U.S. Access Board requires at least one "accessible" toilet in buildings covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act, which means, in part, a toilet seat at a height of 17 inches to 19 inches. Springs to return seats to a lifted position aren’t allowed.

Those MSHA and OSHA rules? Cruz’s office says the federal government "has no business regulating such minutia."

It could be — and has been — worse.

Take the Great Horseshoe Seat Scandal of the 1970s.

The brand-new Occupational Safety & Health Administration — which draws constitutional authority mainly from the Commerce Clause — had decided to implement a variety of voluntary industry standards as law.

And it turned out that plumbers had for decades agreed that public toilets should have open-front, elongated seats rather than the closed rings of home bathroom seats.

(Why? Oh, it’s a matter of speculation that’s made us the laughing-stock of Europe, where experts make jokes that the chief of one American lab was too polite to repeat. But it might have something to do with, um, hygiene.)

So businesses suddenly faced a federal mandate on seat shape. The "resultant outcries about picayune government regulations," as one newspaper columnist put it, helped land hundreds of OSHA regulations on a to-delete list.

The shape of your public toilet seat was no longer federally regulated by the ‘80s.

Plumbing fixtures now generally don’t face federal regulation. Instead, manufacturers follow voluntary industry standards, which often get the force of law from state and local governments.
But they could.

Commodes and the Commerce Clause

Meanwhile, the regulations that yet exist — about workplace seat availability and public restroom seat height — strike Cruz as "regulating down to the minutia" on issues best left to states and local governments, said his press secretary, Catherine Frazier.

He’s right that the federal government "thinks" it has that authority, according to constitutional scholars we consulted.

Cruz’s former constitutional law professor at Harvard, Laurence Tribe, offered some examples where toilet seats are "obviously subject to federal regulation" under settled law:

• The commercial sale of toilet seats, like other commodities, in transactions involving an interstate market are subject to regulation under the Commerce Clause.

• The provision of adequate toilet facilities to workers in businesses affecting interstate commerce is subject to federal regulation under the Commerce Clause.

• Ensuring that toilet facilities, like others, are made available without regard to race or disability is subject to regulation under the Commerce Clause and equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment.

The question of whether the Constitution should be interpreted to grant such power to the federal government exposes a deep rift among experts.

Randy Barnett, who represented opponents of the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate, argues for a narrower Commerce Clause, as do libertarian scholars such as Ilya Shapiro of the Cato Institute.
A few decisions since the 1990s have gone their way, including the recent ruling that the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate wasn’t justified by the Commerce Clause. The framers "gave Congress the power to regulate commerce, not to compel it," justices ruled. (The mandate was upheld under the government’s taxing power, instead.)

But settled law still says toilet seats are fair game.

"Basically, Cruz is taking an example that sounds silly — toilet seats! — but if you look at the legal basis for the regulatory authority, it's pretty well-established and not all that silly," said Kermit Roosevelt, a law professor at the University of Pennsylvania. "This is just political posturing, and Cruz, as a Harvard law grad, presumably knows it."

Our ruling

Cruz, railing against modern interpretations of the Commerce Clause and the 10th Amendment to the Constitution, said, "We have a federal government that thinks they have the authority to regulate our toilet seats." While federal attention to toilet seats has dropped since its brief foray into seat shape in the ‘70s, and now mainly addresses toilet access for workers and height for wheelchair users, Cruz is firmly right that the courts, Congress, and executive agencies claim federal power to regulate them.

His toilet trivia is True.


March 21, 2013

Casino Jack’s New Game

Jack Abramoff, the infamous lobbyist, was slumped over a table in a dimly lit Clear Channel studio on a recent Sunday evening when a voice came crackling over his headphones. “I’m going to play ‘Hot Blooded’ coming out of the break,” his producer said. “I want you to live the song and give me some hot blood!” Soon, jagged guitar riffs from Foreigner’s 1978 hard-rock anthem began blaring over the airwaves (I got a fever of a hundred and three …). Abramoff swigged some iced tea and leaned into his microphone: “Welcome back to The Jack Abramoff Show, live from Washington, D.C.!”

Billed as an insider’s view of Washington, the program focuses on the nexus between lobbying and politics. This episode’s main target was Barack Obama. “We have a president who came into office pledging to wipe out lobbyists,” Abramoff said, before reeling off the ways Obama had fallen short of his promise. “Americans are sick of the special interests,” he added. “They’re sick of everything I used to be.”

Abramoff—the man at the center of a sprawling corruption scandal that led to 21 convictions and tarred large swaths of the Republican establishment—is hardly the first person you might expect to be scoring the president’s ethics, much less on his own radio show. But, then, American life is littered with unlikely redemption stories. Since 2010, when Abramoff was released from prison (where he served three and a half years for fraud, conspiracy, and tax evasion), he has refashioned himself as a reformer, and emerged as one of the most visible faces of the good-government movement. He is a frequent cable-news commentator, with a best-selling book (Capitol Punishment: The Hard Truth About Washington Corruption From America’s Most Notorious Lobbyist), the radio program (on XM Satellite Radio), and a pair of reality-TV-show concepts in development.

Abramoff is also tearing up the speaker’s circuit, where he collects fees as high as $15,000. Harvard Law School has hosted him, as has an FBI training center. The morning after I met him at the Clear Channel studio, I joined Abramoff on a train ride to New Jersey, where he had yet another speaking engagement. As we hurtled past crumbling smokestacks and barren parking lots, he filled me in on his latest project: a proposed law called the American Anti-Corruption Act, put together by a bipartisan team, including former Federal Election Commission Chairman Trevor Potter. The law aims to curb the influence of special interests by, among other things, barring lawmakers from taking money from industries or entities they regulate. Abramoff said his role was to push for the toughest possible standards. “I was basically the Mikhail Suslov of this effort—the member of the politburo who was the strictest Marxist,” he told me, chortling. “It’s an obscure reference that few of your readers will get.”

A few hours later, we arrived at the Morris Museum, a stately brick building on the outskirts of Morristown. Abramoff’s talk, which was part of a local university’s public-affairs series (past lectures have included “Fixing the Economics of Medicare” and “Turkey: Its Role in World Affairs”), had attracted an overflow crowd of mostly senior citizens. Threading his way through the crowd, Abramoff, who was wearing a silver Rolex and a baggy gray suit that bunched around the ankles, smiled and shook hands like a politician working a rope line. Then, after a fawning introduction, he stepped to the podium. His face lit up and his soft, raspy voice dropped several octaves. “Thank you so much, Len, for that very kind introduction,” he began. “Especially for someone who, for far too long, was used to the introduction of: ‘Will the defendant please rise?’ ” The audience burst into laughter. Abramoff then launched into his life story: His early foray into politics. His detour into moviemaking (he co-wrote and produced the 1989 action film Red Scorpion, starring Dolph Lundgren as a KGB agent). His fateful plunge into lobbying. Every chapter was peppered with self-effacing humor, which made him seem gracious and humble, even when he was bragging—which he did with some regularity.

At one point, Abramoff recalled how he had wowed a top partner at his former lobbying firm with his unbendable ethics. He then boasted of his lobbying prowess: “We could overpower any opponent on any issue by the sheer power of our resources, and our persuasive arguments, and our ability to strategize.” Abramoff claimed that his win-at-all-costs ethos grew out of his deep commitment to the issues and clients he represented. “The people who were hiring us, some of them were very fine folks who had been trampled on for years—Indian tribes and others,” he said. “So I took great pride in not losing.” It was in his zeal to win, he added, that he accidentally stumbled over some “very murky lines in the sand in lobbying and in politics.”

It is this tidy story line, which blurs the distinction between Abramoff’s crimes and standard lobbying practice, that gives his reform campaign credibility. He’s not to blame, the system is, and now he’s seeing to it that the system is repaired. In reality, though, the legal lines Abramoff crossed were not particularly murky, or sand-covered: the man conspired to swindle clients out of tens of millions of dollars, partly by billing for phantom services, and defrauded the financiers of a casino-boat venture by faking a $23 million wire transfer. His e-mails to colleagues, meanwhile, brimmed with greed (“Can you smell money?!?!?!”) and scorn for the “fine folks” who enlisted his services—among other things, he referred to his Native American clients as “monkeys” and “morons.”

Besides playing down his misdeeds, Abramoff wields the cudgel of “reform” to bash old foes. He regularly assails the character and ethics of veteran Republican Senators John McCain and Chuck Grassley, both of whom chaired committees that investigated his dealings. Abramoff is more forgiving when it comes to what many reformers see as one of the more corrosive forces in politics: corporate special interests. He argues that corporations usually meddle in politics only because Big Government is threatening to smother them with regulation, and he opposes measures that would curb their political clout, such as disclosure requirements for independent groups that spend money to sway elections.

All of which has raised suspicion among Abramoff’s former colleagues. “This guy scammed the system while he was here in Washington as a so-called lobbyist, and he’s playing the system now,” Howard Marlowe, a past president of the American League of Lobbyists, told me. But some good-government groups have welcomed him into the fold—partly because he draws attention to their cause—and pundits across the political spectrum have showered him with praise. Michael Moore, for example, has commended him for “coming clean” and “saying what needs to be said.” And audiences generally receive him warmly. This may be partly an outgrowth of our collective appetite for redemption stories—Americans love a reformed sinner—but it is also a testament to Abramoff’s knack for channeling the public’s mistrust of government.

As he wrapped up his speech, Abramoff touted his proposed law and threatened to oust any lawmakers who stood in the way. “I have yet to encounter anybody outside the Beltway of Washington who thinks this system’s working,” he said. “Maybe together with others who care about this, we can move the needle a little bit.” The audience applauded loudly. A slender, elegantly dressed woman, with tortoise-shell glasses dangling from her neck, turned to me and said, “He’s terrific. And charming! He could charm the birds out of the trees.” People then lined up at the podium to thank Abramoff. “I think it’s very brave, what you’re doing,” said one elderly man, touching his hand to his heart. “What can we do to help you clean up Washington?” Abramoff smiled graciously, then hustled toward the exit, where he climbed into a waiting limo and sped off toward his next engagement.


March 20, 2013

Republicans take aim at another EPA administrator for use of private email account

Congressional Republicans have set their sights on another top Environmental Protection Agency official because of concerns that he was using a private email account to conduct official business, possibly skirting public disclosure laws.

Louisiana Republican Sen. David Vitter California Republican Rep. Darrell Issa sent a letter to EPA Region 9 Administrator Jared Blumenfeld, asking him to confirm that he has not used a private email account to conduct agency work.

“We are concerned that your use of a personal e-mail account, other than your official account, is demonstrative of a larger problem at EPA,” reads the letter from Vitter and Issa. “Accordingly, we call on you as a Regional Administrator to stand up for the interest of transparency and cooperate with our ongoing investigation into the inappropriate use of non-official e-mail accounts to conduct Agency business.”

EPA emails that have been released as part of a lawsuit by the Competitive Enterprise Institute showed that Blumenfeld used an unofficial email address to send a message to former Administrator Lisa Jackson’s alias email account “Richard Windsor.”

“It has come to our attention that you used a non-official e-mail account to send a message that related to your official duties to then-Administrator Lisa Jackson’s Richard Windsor alias account,” the letter continues. “There does not appear to be any emergency circumstances justifying the use of a non-official e-mail account. Moreover, the fact that the e-mail was sent to Administrator Jackson’s alias account heightens our concern.”

“This is a ‘culture’ issue, in that Obama administration appointees aggressively use private accounts, even a false identity account,” Chris Horner, Competitive Enterprise Institute senior fellow and author of the book “The Liberal War on Transparency,” told The Daily Caller News Foundation.

“But no one should be surprised, as the majority of these administrators are activists who came into their position after a professional lifetime of work for radical green pressure groups,” said Horner, who is the man behind the EPA emails lawsuit.

The released emails also show that other top EPA officials were using private accounts to conduct official business, including acting Administrator Bob Perciasepe.

“Despite the clear policy prohibiting use of personal emails, we understand that several high ranking EPA officials, including Acting Administrator Perciasepe, have used their personal e-mail account for official purposes,” the letter reads.

Accordng to the released emails, Perciasepe was using an unofficial “” email account to conduct official business.

This discovery came on the heels of the resignation of EPA Region 8 administrator James Martin. The Daily Caller News Foundation reported that Martin used his private “” email account to correspond with environmental activists. (RELATED: What was key EPA official hiding?)

Vitter and Issa started an investigation into Martin’s email activity, looking into concerns that he may be trying to evade federal transparency laws.

EPA rules tell employees “not use any outside e-mail account to conduct official Agency business.” If a non-EPA email system is used in an emergency situation, employees are responsible for saving email records and attachments.

“The next shoe to drop is their use of Instant Messaging, which thanks to FOIA I’ve learned was used for certain sensitive discussions — like creating the ‘Richard Windsor’ account,” Horner said.

EPA Region 9 did not immediately respond to The Daily Caller News Foundation’s request for comment.


March 19, 2013

Taxpayer-subsidized lab Obama used to plug green energy hasn’t produced any batteries

Speaking at Argonne National Laboratory on Friday, President Obama announced $2 million in green energy subsidies with the goal of getting U.S. cars and trucks off oil.
Argonne, a Department of Energy lab that has received more than $2 million in stimulus funds, partnered with LG Chem Michigan in 2011 to produce electric vehicle batteries, providing the manufacturer with its own patented battery design, according to the Washington Free Beacon.
The batteries were supposed to power the Chevy Volt. The problem is, LG Chem hasn’t produced a single battery yet.
The company received $151 million in stimulus money in 2010, which was intended to cover half the construction costs of its Holland, Mich., factory. Its other plant is in South Korea.
LG Chem was supposed to use Argonne’s design to produce the Volt batteries in its Holland plant once construction was finished.  But according to a recent Inspector General report, the company’s employees have been too busy playing video games to produce any batteries, despite spending $142 million.
“Through interviews with LG Chem Michigan management and other staff, we confirmed that employees spent time volunteering at local non-profit organizations, playing games and watching movies during regular working hours,” the report said. This “non-productive work” cost the DOE more than $1.6 in the third quarter of 2012 alone, the IG report estimates. LG Chem hasn’t produced a single battery that could be sold, either. “Even though the facility had produced a large number of test cells, the plant had yet to manufacture battery cells that could be used in electric vehicles sold to the public,” the report states. Company officials told the IG they had not begun production at the facility because demand for the Chevrolet Volt “had not developed as anticipated.” LG Chem also significantly underestimated labor costs and ran out of funding for planned construction at its Holland, Mich., plant. Only about 60 percent of the planned production capacity was constructed, and LG Chem says it won’t add production lines unless demand increases dramatically. In fact, production has not yet shifted from the company’s South Korea plant, even though, as the IG report noted, “Until the shift in production takes place or some alternative use for the plant is developed, U.S. taxpayers will receive little direct benefit from a plant for which they  provided up to half of the funding.”

March 18, 2013

Employers, Unions Outraged by $63-Per-Worker Obamacare Fee

A provision buried inside Obamacare will force many employers to pay an extra $63 per employee next year. Analysts say most of the cost will likely be passed on to workers.

"It's caught most employers, if not all employers, by surprise," said National Business Group on Health Vice President of Public Policy Steve Wojcik. "They're very upset about it."

Over the next three years, the Obamacare fee will fund a $25 billion account for insurance companies designed to cover higher costs associated with insuring people with pre-existing conditions. The government claims the fee will go down in 2015 and 2016.

The Obama Administration says the fee “is intended to help millions of Americans purchase affordable health insurance, reduce unreimbursed usage of hospital and other medical facilities by the uninsured and thereby lower medical expenses and premiums for all.”

But the United Auto Workers Retiree Medical Trust, which covers 806,000 autoworkers, has joined others in asking federal regulators for an exemption. Boeing, which has 405,000 employees and dependents subject to the fee, has also requested an exemption. Boeing says the Obamacare fee will add $25 million in costs on top of the already $2.5 billion the company spends each year on health benefits.

Health and Human Services (HHS) denied the request by Boeing and others but said the $63 levy would not affect the thousands of retired autoworkers whose primary coverage is Medicare. Still, says HHS, it will not categorically exempt employees in court-structured benefit plans.

“At a time when we are facing economic uncertainty,” said Chantel Sheaks of Buck Consultants, a subsidiary of Xerox, “[companies will] be hit with a multimillion-dollar assessment without getting anything back for it.”


March 15, 2013

Where’s the Outrage Over Obama’s Lies?

Last month President Obama said in a speech, “I’m proud of the fact that under my administration oil production is higher than it has been in a decade or more.” Last year in the second presidential debate, Obama made the same claim, and when Mitt Romney pointed out the facts that debunked it, Obama sniffed, “What you’re saying is just not true. It’s not true.” As the Wall Street Journal reports, the Congressional Research Service now confirms that Obama cleverly lied both times. But the real question is, do any of those Obama voters care? And if not, why not?
They can’t say Obama didn’t lie. The facts on oil production show that Obama shamelessly tried to take credit for the 1.1 million barrels per day increase since 2007 that happened in spite of, not because of, his policies. According to the CRS, “All of the increased [oil] production from 2007 to 2012 took place on non-federal lands.” On federal land, production fell more than 23% between 2010 and 2012. The federal share of oil production fell from 31% in fiscal 2008 to 26% in fiscal 2012. Similarly, the feds’ share of natural gas production went from 27.8% in 2007 to 15.5% today. Nor is it any mystery why federal oil production has fallen. Obama’s drilling moratorium after the BP Deepwater Horizon spill, and his snail’s-pace process for awarding permits on federal land––process time increased 41% from 2006 to 2011––has held back oil production to gratify the sensibilities of deep-pocketed environmental romantics like the Sierra Club.
As Bob Dole wondered during the 1996 presidential race, “Where’s the outrage?” Where are all those fearless investigative reporters, the self-styled watchdogs of the public weal, who claim to hold politicians accountable when they lie and mislead on the scale this president has? But taking credit for increased oil production is small beer compared to the still festering scandal surrounding the administration’s response to the murder of 4 Americans, including an ambassador, in Benghazi last summer. The legacy media have shown little interest in ferreting out why the President, his ambassador to the U.N., his Secretary of State, and various flunkeys and flacks made multiple public claims that the murders resulted from a spontaneous demonstration sparked by an obscure Internet video.
Indeed, this patent attempt to spin bad news should have been chum to those reporters constantly circling politicians and sniffing out scandal. Nor did you need Sherlock Holmes to figure out the motive. Obama has staked his foreign policy bona fides on the claim that “al Qaeda’s on its heels” and  “al Qaeda is on the run,” that the death of Bin Laden and continuing droning of al Qaeda operatives had contained that terrorist threat, and that the foreign policy of “leading from behind” in Libya and promoting Islamists like the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt would serve America’s interests and security without the interventionist excesses of the Bush administration and its wrong-headed wars. Confronting the truth about Benghazi would have exposed Obama’s foreign policy blunders and the truth he wanted to hide: al Qaeda is active and growing, and overthrowing Gaddafi released tons of advanced weapons into the hands of terrorists while leaving behind a failed state.
The same media that turned a shabby campaign scandal like Watergate, a type of hardball politics unexceptional in American history, into an existential threat to our freedom and democracy, has been AWOL on Benghazi. Where’s Bob Woodward now? He’s too busy recycling anonymous gossip and squabbling with White House factotums who find his tone objectionable. Meanwhile the death of our ambassador, the dangerous failures of the president’s foreign policy, and the patent lies told to cover-up these failures are all ignored.
So much for the media, whose partisanship is so persistent and obvious that it has become a dog-bites-man story. So we know why they are ignoring the scandals and lies and other sins of the Obama administration that, under a Republican, they would have burned through the whole Brazilian rainforest to report. As Jennifer Rubin wrote in January, “The media, in failing to doggedly seek answers, share in this shameful episode and have contributed to the complete absence of transparency and accountability. Nothing but blatant bias can explain that.” But where is the outrage of the American voter? Why didn’t some of the 5 million voters who put Obama over the top last November feel outraged enough by the Benghazi debacle and cover-up to question their support?
This is the key question for those plotting a Republican comeback. Are there too many “uninformed voters” who are ignorant of the facts damning the Obama administration? Then how do we inform them? Given how easily information is available to those who want it in an age of 24/7 cable news and the Internet, it’s hard to imagine what new messaging technique or device will get people to pay attention who clearly don’t want to. Scarier still is the prospect that people know and don’t care. They see the administration peddle half-truths and lies to cover-up a deadly attack on our fellow citizens caused by the president’s incompetence, and simply don’t care. The death of Christopher Stevens to them is not an affront on the dignity and honor of the United States, one to be punished. It is just another statistic, like a highway death, one of those sad things that are the cost of doing business. Poking around in the cause of it is unseemly, as Hillary Clinton said when she yelled at the Senate hearing, “Was it because of a protest, or was it because of guys out for a walk one night who decided they’d go kill some Americans? What difference, at this point, does it make?”
That last question, by the way, itself should have generated a firestorm of outrage and demands for her resignation. Whether the Secretary of State doesn’t indeed know “what difference” it makes, or does know and was trying to evade inconvenient truths by resorting to sentimental bluster, she should have been fired. On the contrary, the lapdog press lauded her “fiery moment,” as ABC put it, and her approval numbers reached 61% after her outburst before the Senate, making her the most popular politician in the country.
Clearly, something is missing in a critical mass of American voters when assaults on our interests and security abroad arouse no righteous anger either at the perpetrators or the politicians who caused the attacks and then tried to misdirect the citizens about the real causes for partisan electoral advantage. Something is missing when voters shrug away patent lies about oil production, and ignore policies that are hampering an industry that can create jobs and radically change our foreign policy calculus by liberating our energy needs from thug regimes who use our dollars to attack our interests. So what’s missing?

March 14, 2013

New Obama Policy Group Scandal Waiting to Happen?

President Obama's new policy group Organizing for Action is holding a summit in Washington Wednesday, and the president is a featured speaker.

Some watchdog groups call it a "scandal waiting to happen," and are asking the president to "shut down" what they call a new "dangerous arm of his presidency."
The non-profit, created out of the president's re-election machine, Obama for America, is designed to redirect the might of his political campaign to back his policy agenda.
OFA deploys resources to promote items like gun control, immigration reform, and climate change.
It's run by former top Obama advisers. Even the group's website bears a close resemblance to the president's campaign website, making many question where the White House ends and OFA begins.
First lady Michelle Obama helped launch OFA.
"This is your movement and going forward it can be whatever you make of it," the first lady said in an online video announcement of the group.
But those who want access will likely have to spend money - a lot of it.
On Wednesday night, OFA is holding its Founders' Summit, where donors have access to the commander in chief himself. The cost for a seat at the table is $50,000 per person.
"I just think that's wrong," said Bob Edgar, president of Common Cause, a group dedicated to open and accountable government.
He said the president is blowing a chance to prove his dedication to campaign finance reform and minimize the role that money plays in politics.
"Once the president won re-election he should have stopped, thought about this organization and organized from the bottom up and not the top down," Edgar told CBN News.
The White House said OFA is for average Americans and denied reports that mega donors who bundle $500,000 or more for OFA will get quarterly meetings with the president.
"OFA was set up to promote the president's public policy agenda and therefore as anyone would expect, the president would likely meet with their representatives to discuss his agenda," White House press secretary Jay Carney said.
"Any notion, as we've talked about, that there's a price set for a meeting for, with the president is absurd and wrong," Carney added.
People who donate $250 or more will be disclosed on OFA's website.
Since controversy about the group broke, OFA announced it will not take money from corporations, federal lobbyists, or foreign countries. The group is vowing to raise millions to deploy an army of activists to advance the president's agenda.

March 13, 2013

US tells China to halt cyberattacks, and in a first, lays out demands

The Obama administration fired a warning shot Monday across the bow of the Chinese cyberespionage juggernaut, laying out specific expectations from China and reiterating its vow to take unspecified “action” if the theft of proprietary data from US corporations continues unabated.

In a speech at the Asia Society of New York, President Obama’s national security adviser, Thomas Donilon, appeared to move the administration’s marker on cyberespionage beyond Mr. Obama’s own notable attack on the practice in his State of the Union address, in which he refrained from mentioning China by name.

In his comments Monday, Mr. Donilon left no doubt the White House is shifting to a more aggressive stance – including demands for the investigation of cyberespionage cases conducted against US business.

American businesses are “speaking out about their serious concerns about sophisticated,  targeted theft of confidential business information and proprietary technologies through cyberintrusions emanating from China on an unprecedented scale,” Donilon said. “The international community cannot afford to tolerate such activity from any country. As the president said in the State of the Union, we will take action to protect our economy against cyberthreats.”

More significantly, though, Donilon for the first time laid out specific expectations that, if not met, could result in the unspecified US action – which in the past has been interpreted as leaving open the options not only for an offensive cyberattack, but for sanctions or even a military response – depending on the severity of the cyberintrusions.

“We seek three things from the Chinese side,” Donilon said. “First, we need a recognition of the urgency and scope of this problem and the risk it poses – to international trade, to the reputation of Chinese industry, and to our overall relations. Second, Beijing should take serious steps to investigate and put a stop to these activities.  Finally, we need China to engage with us in a constructive direct dialogue to establish acceptable norms of behavior in cyberspace.”

Cyberpolicy experts said the administration’s move is significant, following the high profile cyberespionage attacks on The New York Times, Washington Post, and other news media. It also follows on the heels of a major report last month by the cybersecurity company Mandiant pinning the lion’s share of the cyberespionage carried out against US companies on a unit of the People’s Liberation Army that operates out of a 12-story building in Shanghai.

“This is really the first time a senior US official has come out and given Chinese officials three specific steps on what we need to do to work on this cyberspying problem,” says James Lewis, a cybersecurity expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a national security think tank in Washington. “No one has ever publicly come out and said this directly to the Chinese before – that we want recognition by them of the scope of the problem, we want direct investigation of these cases – and direct dialogue on international norms.”

China’s routine position has been to note that Chinese law prohibits cyberespionage – and that none is being conducted or condoned by the Chinese government. But that plausible deniability had its fig leaf largely shredded by the Mandiant report and a raft of other investigations into cyberintrusions into US technology firms like Google and into critical infrastructure like US natural gas pipeline companies.

“It’s hard to negotiate with people who don’t admit to reality,” Dr. Lewis says. “It’s hard to admit to spying, but they need to just admit that they are developing a strong military and intelligence capability. They can’t say they have nothing, which is what they usually do.”

Cooperating on the investigation of cybercrimes would be “difficult for them, but a good requirement,” Lewis says. So would direct engagement on international norms.

China has in the past urged the US to sign its “code of conduct” for cyberspace – a document the US has refused to sign because of the limits it places on human rights. Still, the Obama administration has for about three years been in formal negotiations with Russia and informal talks with China.

If Chinese infractions continue, the US response would likely be, at least initially, relatively small but symbolic measures, including restricting visas for Chinese individuals involved in cyberactions against the US. The Mandiant report specifically identified three hackers that were part of the military unit – two of whom attended graduate school in the US. They could be refused a visa to visit the US in the future. Beyond that, Lewis says, US officials visiting China should raise cybersecurity every time – as should officials from other countries.

Donilon’s statement appeared also to urge China not to squander US goodwill.

“We have worked hard to build a constructive bilateral relationship that allows us to engage forthrightly on priority issues of concern,” Donilon said. “And the United States and China, the world’s two largest economies, both dependent on the Internet, must lead the way in addressing this problem.”

March 12, 2013

House GOP Leaders: We Can Pass Gun Control, Immigration, Without Republican Support

With more and more conservatives in the House rebelling against John Boehner’s increasingly questionable Speakership, Republican House leadership is now moving to quash in-house concerns by reaching across the aisle for support. Leadership is moving in the wake of a surprising move by 16 House Republicans to vote against a Republican leadership-crafted closed rule on a government funding bill. The rule was designed to limit amendments to the government funding bill, but some House conservatives, concerned over the Boehner team’s refusal to consider a floor vote on an amendment to defund Obamacare implementation, bucked Boehner on the rule.

After undergoing that unpleasant shock, House leadership hasn’t responded by listening to the concerns of the more conservative members of its caucus. Instead, House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) said on Sunday that he would be open to ramming through bills without the support of a majority of his own Republican caucus. Not just on small bills. On issues like immigration and gun control, McCarthy said, he’d be open to taking rogue Republicans across the aisle to work with Democrats.

“It is better if the House does their work,” said McCarthy. “We should be sending bills to the Senate.” As CNN host Candy Crowley pointed out, McCarthy refused to give a straight answer on whether he would continue to uphold the so-called Hastert Rule, under which Republican leadership moves forward with bills only if they have a majority of Republican support.

This is a declaration of war within the Republican ranks. And it should be deeply troubling to Republicans across the country, watching as the recently and controversially reminted House leadership continues to pursue the same political philosophy that led to a mini-rebellion in the House in January.

UPDATE: Late this evening, Rep. McCarthy's representatives reached out to both Breitbart News and The Hill regarding the use of the Hastert rule in the House. The Hill reports in an update to its original story:

In a statement to The Hill, McCarthy spokesperson Mike Long said: "Whip McCarthy strongly supports returning to regular order to bring legislation to the floor that has the support of a majority of the majority. Insinuation to the contrary is completely false."

March 11, 2013

House conservatives: GOP leadership killed measure to defund Obamacare

As Republican senators Ted Cruz, Mike Lee, Marco Rubio, and James Inhofe prepare to introduce a measure to defund Obamacare — and threaten to hold up a continuing resolution to fund the U.S. government if the measure is not given a vote — some conservatives are unhappy that the House, controlled by Republicans, did not do the same thing.

It wasn’t for lack of effort, at least on the part of some conservative Republicans.  As the House prepared to consider its own version of the continuing resolution last week — it ultimately passed 267 to 151 — more than two dozen conservative GOP lawmakers signed on to an amendment that would have defunded Obamacare.  They submitted the amendment and hoped it would receive a vote but were stymied when the House leadership declared that no amendments would be allowed.

“If that amendment had gone to the floor, far and above a majority of the conference would have voted for it,” said Arizona Rep. Matt Salmon, one of the supporters, in an interview Saturday.  “I think everyone in the conference would have voted for it,” added Florida Rep. Ron DeSantis, another supporter.

Nevertheless, the Republican leadership did not allow the amendment to be considered.  And that, Salmon, DeSantis, and other conservative Republicans believe, is a measure of the leadership’s uneasiness with continuing the legislative fight against Obamacare.  Some Republicans — lawmakers who might have felt pressure to vote to defund Obamacare — believe privately that the fight is essentially over, and that the GOP should come to terms with the reality of national health care.

“I do think there’s a feeling in the conference among some folks who think that the 2012 election settled Obamacare, that we kind of need to move on,” said DeSantis.  “I’m on the other side.  I don’t think it did, because I don’t think it was a major issue in the campaign.”

The main reason that House leadership would not want a fight over defunding Obamacare was that it might scuttle chances of passing a continuing resolution, and thus bring up the prospect of a government shutdown.  “They want desperately to take the idea of a government shutdown off the table,” says Salmon of the GOP leadership.  “That message has been resonating loud and clear.”  Although Salmon, who was in the House in 1995 during the last such fight — doesn’t want a shutdown, he nevertheless believes it “might be the only leverage we have with Obama to get to what we have to do, which is entitlement reform.”

For his part, DeSantis believes that if the GOP signals that it will do anything to avoid a shutdown, it will have little leverage to enact significant reforms.  Obama, too, has something to fear from a shutdown, DeSantis suggested, if the public places some part of the blame at his feet.  “If we don’t have a shutdown, that’s great,” DeSantis said.  “I’m not advocating one.  But at the same time, I’m not going to act like that would be the worst thing ever.”

“I don’t think we should ever take it off the table,” added Salmon.  “I don’t have a trigger finger, where I’m itching to pull that trigger.  But the fact is, we should never, ever say that all options aren’t on the table.”
House leadership sources did not respond to a request for comment.


March 8, 2013

Holder answers Rand Paul’s 13-hour filibuster with three sentences: ‘The answer to that question is no’

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, in a letter replying to Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul, wrote Thursday that the president does not have the power to kill an American not engaged in combat on American soil with a drone.

On Wednesday, Paul held a near-13 hour filibuster of a Senate vote on the confirmation of White House adviser John Brennan as the new head of the CIA.

Paul pressed President Barack Obama to answer unequivocally that he does not have the authority to execute American citizens on U.S. soil without due process.

“It has come to my attention that you have now asked an additional question: ‘Does the President have the authority to use a weaponized drone to kill an American not engaged in combat on American soil?,’” Holder wrote in the letter.

“The answer to that question is no,” he said.

Paul said to CNN Thursday after receiving the letter that it took a month and a half, “and a root canal,” to get the answer from Holder.

Holder had also bobbled the question during a Senate hearing earlier this week when it was posed to him by Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz.


March 7, 2013

The Real Reason Wall Street Always Escapes Criminal Charges? The Justice Dept Fears The Aftermath

The notion of too big to jail just got very serious as the nation’s chief attorney agreed with the idea that financial institutions are too large to prosecute.
US Attorney General Eric Holder testified before the  Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill today, and discussed the lack of criminal cases against financial institutions in the aftermath of the financial crisis.
That’s been a point of irritation and frustration for many in Washington and across the country who feel big banks that were partially responsible for the credit and housing bubble yet went unpunished. Instead, they were given billions in federal bailout money because they were deemed too big to fail. And now while their stocks recover the rest of the economy is barely trudging along.
Holder’s remarks today may add fuel to that fire.
“I am concerned that the size of some of these institutions becomes so large that it does become difficult for us to prosecute them when we are hit with indications that if you do prosecute, if you do bring a criminal charge, it will have a negative impact on the national economy, perhaps even the world economy,” he said. “And I think that is a function of the fact that some of these institutions have become too large.”
In other words, too big to fail has morphed into something more perverse. Not only are big banks bigger than they were during the financial crisis but now the Department of Justice fears bringing criminal charges against them because of the possible repercussions such proceedings would have on the greater economy.
That’s not the first time we’ve heard about the Justice Department’s hesitation to prosecute big financial institutions. Most recently when going after UBS for its role in the global Libor scandal theWall Street Journal reported that officials at the DoJ were “heartened by the lack of a negative reaction in the markets and among regulators around the world to UBS‘s guilty plea. Before the settlement deal, some officials had worried it could destabilize the bank.”
That’s a very scary, very ugly way to run the country. Not only are financial institutions operating under the notion of too big to fail but now there’s room for them to behave as negiligently as possible without fear of a criminal case from the federal government.
It’s no wonder then that big banks hate the idea of breaking up. Just about every big bank CEO that has publically pushed back on the idea of breaking up their bohemoth institutions. Here are some of their reactions to the idea:
  1. Morgan Stanley CEO, James Gorman: “This is a knee-jerk discussion that’s been going on. We need to just calm down, let this play out with the new regulation, the new capital rules, and at that point then figure out which businesses to accelerate, and which businesses to slow down.”
  2. Bank of America CEO Brian Moynihan: The universal banking model is the “most important” model there is because it gives consumers access to global information, capital markets, investment advice and basic banking all in one place. “We can’t be competitive if we can’t provide all those services to our consumers,” he notes.
  3. JPMorgan Chase CEO, Jamie Dimon: “There are huge benefits to size. We bank Caterpillar in like 40 countries. We can do a $20 billion bridge loan overnight for a company that’s about to do a major acquisition. Size lets us build a $500 million data center that speeds up transactions and invest billions of dollars in products like ATMs and apps that allow your iPhone to deposit checks. We move $2 trillion a day, and you can see it by account, by company. These aren’t, like, little things. And they accrue to the customer. That’s what capitalism is.”
  4. Former Citi CEO, Vikram Pandit: “[Citicorp is] a tried and proven strategy. Why did it work? Because it was a strategy based upon operating the business and serving clients and not a strategy based on dealmaking. That’s the fundamental difference.”
It pays to be big and it also keeps you out of court.