April 30, 2014

Supreme Court raises concerns over warrantless cellphone searches

The Supreme Court raised concerns Tuesday about whether police have the constitutional right to search the cellphones of people they arrest.

The justices addressed the privacy rights issue during oral arguments in a pair of cases in which defendants were convicted and sentenced to prison partly because police obtained key evidence from their cellphones after a warrantless search.

Justice Elena Kagan worried that those searches violate privacy rights because "people carry their entire lives in their cellphones."

"A person can be arrested for driving without a seat belt and the police could take that phone and look at every single email that person has written, including work emails, including emails to family members — very intimate communications," she said.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said she doesn't understand "why we've cut the warrant out of the picture."

The Fourth Amendment says that police generally need a warrant before they can conduct a search and that the warrant must be based on "probable cause" evidence that a crime has been committed.

But the Supreme Court has made exceptions when people are arrested, saying that police don't need a warrant to search the belongings a suspect is carrying at the time of his or her arrest.

Police, as well as the Justice Department, have argued that searches are vital to ensure evidence isn't tampered with or destroyed.

But privacy advocates and defense lawyers say that because cellphones potentially contain vast amounts of personal information unrelated to a person's arrest, they should be off limits to a police search without a warrant.

Attorneys for the police and federal government told the justices that police are interested only in evidence pertinent to a person's arrest and aren't interested in gleaning personal information from cellphones.

"You can just rove through the phone. You need to keep a scope focus," said Deputy Solicitor General Michael Dreeben.

But some justices suggested it's unrealistic for police to immediately know what information is relevant and what isn't — particularly in the heat of making an arrest.

Justice Stephen Breyer said it's not unreasonable to suggest that police could accidentally collect too much information from a person's cellphone in the heat of an arrest.

"The point of a warrant is that a person who is not involved and is objective listens to what the policeman is saying, knowing that sometimes, like me or any other human being, a police can get a little carried away," he said.

The government also argued that searches of cellphones pose little legal difference than when police search the contents of a person's wallet at the time of an arrest, which they already have the authority to do.

But Justice Anthony Kennedy suggested that cellphones pose different privacy challenges than wallets.

"I don't think it odd to say we are living in a new world," he said.

In one of two cases, a California state court upheld the conviction of David Leon Riley after San Diego police found evidence on his smartphone that he belonged to a gang and was involved in a gang-related shooting. Prosecutors used video and photographs found on the smartphone to persuade a jury to convict Riley of attempted murder and other charges.

In the other case, from Boston, a federal appeals court said the warrantless search of a cellphone belonging to Brima Wurie violated the Fourth Amendment. After arresting him on suspicion of selling crack cocaine, police examined the call log on his older model "flip phone" and used the information to determine where he lived. When they searched his home after obtaining a warrant, they found crack, marijuana, a gun and ammunition.

Attorneys for California and the federal government added that because many smartphones have encryption features, it's imperative police have immediate access to the devices before they are disabled or locked — either by the owner or by someone remotely.

The justices appeared somewhat less concerned over warrantless searches of older cellphones, which aren't connected to the Internet.

Justice Antonin Scalia said that "our rule [of law] is, if you're arrested, police can seize it and examine it."

April 29, 2014

EPA Chief Promises To Go After Republicans Who Question Agency Science

Environmental Protection Agency administrator Gina McCarthy has issued a warning to Republicans who continue to question the integrity of the agency’s scientific data: we’re coming for you.

McCarthy told an audience at the National Academy of Sciences on Monday morning the agency will go after a “small but vocal group of critics” who are arguing the EPA is using “secret science” to push costly clean air regulations.

“Those critics conjure up claims of EPA secret science — but it’s not really about EPA science or secrets. It’s about challenging the credibility of world renowned scientists and institutions like Harvard University and the American Cancer Society,” McCarthy said, according to Politico.

“It’s about claiming that research is secret if researchers protect confidential personal health data from those who are not qualified to analyze it — and won’t agree to protect it,” she added. “If EPA is being accused of secret science because we rely on real scientists to conduct research, and independent scientists to peer review it, and scientists who’ve spent a lifetime studying the science to reproduce it — then so be it.”

Republicans Sen. David Vitter of Louisiana and Rep. Lamar Smith of Texas have led the charge on pressing the EPA to make publicly available the scientific data behind its clean air regulations. McCarthy promised she would make such data publicly available during her confirmation process last year. Now her refusal to cough up the data has angered Republicans.

“EPA’s leadership is willfully ignoring the big picture and defending EPA’s practices of using science that is, in fact, secret due to the refusal of the agency to share the underlying data with Congress and the American public,” said Vitter.

“We’re not asking, and we’ve never asked, for personal health information, and it is inexcusable for EPA to justify billions of dollars of economically significant regulations on science that is kept hidden from independent reanalysis and congressional oversight,” Vitter added.

The EPA has used non-public data to justify 85 percent of $2 trillion worth of Clean Air Act regulation benefits from 1990 to 2020. The agency also uses such datasets to assert that Clean Air Act regulation benefits exceed the costs by a 30:1 ratio originates from the secret data sets.

House Republicans have backed a bill that would block the EPA from crafting regulations based on “secret” data. Republicans argue that such data was used to craft onerous regulations, like one promulgated in late 2012 to reduce soot levels.

That soot rule is supposed to yield $4 billion to $9 billion in benefits per year, while costing from $50 million to $350 million, but the data backing that claim up is not publicly available.

“For far too long, the EPA has approved regulations that have placed a crippling financial burden on economic growth in this country with no public evidence to justify their actions,” said Arizona Republican Rep. David Schweikert, who introduced the bill.

“Virtually every regulation proposed by the Obama administration has been justified by nontransparent data and unverifiable claims,” said Smith, who cosponsored the bill. “The American people foot the bill for EPA’s costly regulations, and they have a right to see the underlying science. Costly environmental regulations should be based on publicly available data so that independent scientists can verify the EPA’s claims.”


April 28, 2014

GOP Leadership Plotting to Pass Amnesty in August, May Put AZ, TX in Play for Dems

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), the House GOP Conference Chair, said that amnesty legislation could come to the floor by August.
Her comments come after multiple House Republicans have ramped up support for amnesty legislation and discussed bills they plan to introduce in the coming months. 
“I believe there is a path that we get a bill on the floor by August,” McMorris Rodgers said, according to the Spokesman-Review. “We’re going to have to push that this is a legal status, not amnesty,” she said.
According to NBC 5, Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX) "will soon introduce a bill that will establish a path to citizenship for the minor children of illegal immigrants and a guest worker program."
"If the only illegal act they committed was coming into the country without proper documentation we'd put them on a path to legalization," Barton said.
Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL) said the Republican leadership is "as close as we have ever been" and, though "it is still a big, big, heavy lift... I think we’re going to get there.”

“I think we finally have the policy right,” Diaz-Balart told Roll Call. "And what we’re finding is more and more people out there as they’re seeing it, different aspects of the policy, are starting to say, ‘Hey, that is something that makes sense.’”
Rep. Peter King (R-NY) wrote to House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), who has said he was "hellbent" on passing amnesty and mocked conservative opponents who opposed it, to let him know that he would support amnesty legislation because it would help the party.
“It would be in our country’s national interest as well as the interest of our party if this could be achieved and I want to assure you of my support as this effort goes forward,” King wrote to Boehner.
But studies and polls suggest that amnesty legislation, in addition to lowering the wages of American workers, would go against the political interest of Republicans, contrary to the claims made by amnesty proponents. 
According to a Washington Post report, amnesty legislation could put states like Arizona and Texas in play for Democrats. 

In addition, two national polls, conducting by NBC News/Wall Street Journal and ABC News/Washington Post, have also found that a plurality of Americans are less likely to vote for candidates who support amnesty legislation. 
And when Republicans like Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) promote granting work visas to all of the country's illegal immigrants and allowing them to remain in the country, he is promptly greeted the next day by Hispanic leaders in Wisconsin who call him "offensive."
Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), who recently said not passing amnesty is "a stain on America's honor," said last year that amnesty proponents would make a final push for legislation after the GOP primaries, many of which are in May and June, are done. Prominent Democrats like Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) have said that this year is the last chance to pass sweeping amnesty legislation.
And though momentum for amnesty legislation has stalled after Sens. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) and Ted Cruz (R-TX) blasted the GOP leadership'"immigration principles," as amnesty, the Republican leadership seems intent on making that final push for amnesty legislation during this Congress. 

April 25, 2014

GOP senators attack Obama for considering more ways to weaken immigration law

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and 21 Republican senators accused President Obama of trying to further dilute immigration law Thursday.

“Clearly, the urgent task facing your administration is to improve immigration enforcement, not to look for new ways to weaken it,” the senators wrote in a letter to Obama. “Since 2009, your administration has issued policy directives and memoranda incrementally nullifying immigration enforcement in the interior of the United States — to the point that unless individuals in the country illegally are apprehended, tried, and convicted for a felony or other serious offense, they are free to live and work in the country.”

In March, Obama ordered the Department of Homeland Security to conduct a an immigration “enforcement review.” Since then, reports have indicated that the administration is looking to further reduce deportations, or as the senators wrote, the changes under consideration “represent a near complete abandonment of basic immigration enforcement.”

Thursday’s letter comes as the Obama administration is already under fire for his administration’s current immigration policies.

“As a result of your policies, individuals here illegally who do not meet administration ‘priorities’ are not only largely exempt from the law, but are released even if they come into contact with federal law enforcement authorities,” the letter read.

“Because these priorities require at least one, and frequently multiple, criminal convictions, countless dangerous offenders are released back onto the streets on a continual basis,” it continued. “Since ICE frequently takes no action until after the most serious crimes have occurred and the offenders have been tried and imprisoned, the administration is allowing preventable crimes harming innocent people to take place every day.”

As the letter pointed out, according to the LA Times, since 2009 there has been a 40 percent decline in interior removals. Further, based on Immigration and Customs Enforcement data, essentially all the aliens removed from the United States were either convicted criminals or repeat border crossers — in fact, in 2013 ICE ended up releasing some 68,000 deportable criminal aliens back into the U.S.

“Our entire constitutional system is threatened when the Executive Branch suspends the law at its whim and our nation’s sovereignty is imperiled when the commander-in-chief refuses to defend the integrity of its borders,” the senators wrote.

In addition to McConnell, Sens. Chuck Grassley, Jeff Sessions,  Richard Shelby,  Mike Lee, Johnny Isakson, Mike Johanns, Jim Inhofe, John Boozman, David Vitter, James Risch, Mike Crapo, Pat Roberts, Roy Blunt, Thad Cochran, Saxby Chambliss, Tim Scott, Tom Coburn, Deb Fischer, Ted Cruz, John Hoeven, and Orrin Hatch signed the missive.

“The evidence proves that the Administration has collapsed immigration enforcement. As a result, millions of struggling Americans have been deprived of their jobs and incomes. Congress must work to end the lawlessness and restore constitutional order.  Yet Congressional Democrats continue to empower the illegality and stonewall all efforts to stop it,” Sessions said in a statement to The Daily Caller.

“The Administration’s immigration policies are widening the income gap the White House claims it wishes to narrow,” he added. “American workers have a right to the protections our immigration laws afford, but the Administration has nullified those protections while simultaneously pushing to double the flow of future guest workers into the United States. These policies make it more difficult for the working poor of all backgrounds to rise into the middle class.”

Read the full letter:

We write to express our grave concerns over the immigration “enforcement review” that you ordered after meeting with advocacy groups on March 13, 2014, and that is now being carried out by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).  According to reports, the changes under consideration would represent a near complete abandonment of basic immigration enforcement and discard the rule of law and the notion that the United States has enforceable borders.

Clearly, the urgent task facing your administration is to improve immigration enforcement, not to look for new ways to weaken it.  Since 2009, your administration has issued policy directives and memoranda incrementally nullifying immigration enforcement in the interior of the United States – to the point that unless individuals in the country illegally are apprehended, tried, and convicted for a felony or other serious offense, they are free to live and work in the country.

According to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) own figures, in 2013, nearly all individuals removed from the United States were convicted criminals and recent border crossers. As the LA Times reported, since 2009, there has been a 40% decline in removals of individuals living and working in the interior of the country.  And, recently revealed documents from ICE show that in 2013, the agency released 68,000 potentially deportable aliens deemed by ICE to pose a criminal threat.

As a result of your policies, individuals here illegally who do not meet administration “priorities” are not only largely exempt from the law, but are released even if they come into contact with federal law enforcement authorities.  Because these priorities require at least one, and frequently multiple, criminal convictions, countless dangerous offenders are released back onto the streets on a continual basis.  Since ICE frequently takes no action until after the most serious crimes have occurred and the offenders have been tried and imprisoned, the administration is allowing preventable crimes harming innocent people to take place every day. 

Chris Crane, President of the National ICE Council, testified before Congress about the inability of ICE agents to do their jobs, saying:  “I think most Americans assume that ICE agents and officers are empowered by the Government to enforce the law.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  With 11 million people in the country illegally, ICE agents are now prohibited from arresting individuals solely on charges of illegal entry or visa overstay—the two most frequently violated sections of U.S. immigration law.”  He also described how your administration is punishing ICE agents who want to uphold the oath they took to serve America.  He stated:  “As criminal aliens are released to the streets and ICE instead takes disciplinary actions against its own officers for making lawful arrests, it appears clear that Federal law enforcement officers are the enemy and not those that break our Nation’s laws.” 

These policies have operated as an effective repeal of duly enacted federal immigration law and exceed the bounds of the Executive Branch’s prosecutorial discretion.  It is not the province of the Executive to nullify the laws that the people of the United States, through their elected representatives, have chosen to enact.  To the contrary, it is the duty of the Executive to take care that these laws are faithfully executed.  Congress has not passed laws permitting people to illegally enter the country or to ignore their visa expiration dates, so long as they do not have a felony conviction or other severe offense on their record.  Your actions demonstrate an astonishing disregard for the Constitution, the rule of law, and the rights of American citizens and legal residents.

Our entire constitutional system is threatened when the Executive Branch suspends the law at its whim and our nation’s sovereignty is imperiled when the commander-in-chief refuses to defend the integrity of its borders. 

You swore an oath to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.  We therefore ask you to uphold that oath and to carry out the duties required by the Constitution and entrusted to you by the American people.


April 24, 2014

Energy Department scraps millions in fees for nuclear loan guarantee

Developers of a Georgia nuclear project didn't have to pay millions of dollars in fees designed to prevent risk for taxpayers when it secured $6.5 billion in loan guarantees from the Energy Department in February, the agency confirmed Tuesday to the Washington Examiner.

The DOE calculated a zero dollar "credit subsidy fee," which protects taxpayers if developers default, for electric utility Georgia Power -- a subsidiary of Southern Co. -- and Oglethorpe Power Corp. to spur completion of two large, next-generation nuclear reactors at the Vogtle power plant in Waynesboro, Ga. Energy & Environment Publishing's Greenwire first reported the story.

Dawn Selak, a spokeswoman with the DOE's loan program office, said the agency calculated little risk of default based on a methodology devised by the White House Office of Management and Budget.

“These calculations are made using a standard methodology, consistent with guidelines followed across the federal government. In this case, it should be noted that the Vogtle project sponsors are well-established, sizable companies that are already heavily invested and wholly committed to the project," she said in an email.

Southern Co. declined to comment for the story.

Autumn Hanna, senior program director with spending watchdog group Taxpayers for Common Sense, called the move "absurd."

"If there is indeed zero risk, then they should not need a federal loan guarantee," she told the Examiner.

The fees were a political sticking point following the $535 million loan guarantee given to solar-panel maker Solyndra, which did not have to pay a credit subsidy fee as part of the loan program created in 2009 under the federal stimulus package. The company went bankrupt in 2011, leading to political attacks by Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee and Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

Those committees -- chiefly, Oversight and Government Reform, chaired by California Republican Darrell Issa -- charged that Solyndra snagged the award as a payback for campaign contributions to President Obama. A House Republican-led probe, however, found those accusations to be unfounded.

Hanna said that she hopes lawmakers who raised concerns about Solyndra will do the same about the Vogtle nuclear loan guarantee.

"We've been saying all along this is the same program that brought you Solyndra," Hanna said. "We would like to see the lawmakers who raised strong concerns with the loan guarantee program continue to raise concerns."

The nuclear industry and the Obama administration hope that getting the twin 1.1-gigawatt Westinghouse AP1000 reactors across the finish line can jumpstart a U.S. nuclear power renaissance.

"We are working across the board to try to push the technology forward into the marketplace for all of our energy sources," Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz said in a February speech announcing approval of the $6.5 billion in loan guarantees. "The president did make it clear that he sees nuclear energy as a part of America's low-carbon energy portfolio, and of course it already is a major part."

The DOE has yet to finalize the final $1.8 billion tranche it conditionally approved in 2010 for the Vogtle project.

But approval of the loan guarantees in 2010 came as a boom in natural gas production had just gotten underway. That influx of natural gas has lowered prices and sparked construction of new natural gas-fired generators, all but sidelining U.S. nuclear construction and forcing early retirements of some reactors.

Georgia Power has stood by the project despite delays — the reactors are 21 months behind schedule — and cost overruns of $1 billion that now put the project's cost at an estimated $15.5 billion.

Charlotte Baker, an Energy and Commerce spokeswoman, told the Examiner, "We are continuing our oversight of the loan guarantee program and are looking into this issue." Oversight and Government Reform did not respond to a request for comment.

The news comes as the DOE has breathed new life into its loan guarantee program, which had lain relatively dormant in the Solyndra fallout.

On top of the nuclear loan guarantees, the agency announced earlier this month that it would revive an auto loan guarantee program for advanced vehicles. And last week it announced that it would offer up to $4 billion in loan guarantees for renewable energy and energy-efficiency technology.

House Republicans approved a budget earlier this month that would end the loan guarantee program. Aside from that, however, the GOP response to the Obama administration's push has been muted.

Tyson Slocum, director of consumer watchdog group Public Citizen's energy program, said he expected much of the same regarding the Vogtle project. He said allegations of cronyism, which were a top-line GOP criticism with Solyndra, wouldn't play in this case because Democrats would gain little by offering political handouts to an electric utility in conservative Georgia.

"The DOE waiver of the subsidy cost payment not only puts taxpayers at risk, but should also put to rest the Issa-led allegations that the Obama administration runs the loan guarantee program to play political favorites. Because I see no political gain for Democrats whatsoever in Georgia as a result," he told the Examiner.

The zeroed out fee stands in contrast to the $880 million it asked from Constellation Energy Group for a nuclear project in Maryland. That upfront fee pushed the utility to shelve the project.

The risk profiles, however, of the proposals for Constellation, which is now owned by Exelon Corp., and Georgia Power are different.

Constellation would have needed to sell its electricity in competitive markets. Georgia Power, though, operates in a regulated market, meaning its customers must purchase the power the eventual nuclear reactors produce and that it can charge them for other costs.

Jack Spencer, a nuclear expert and director of the Roe Institute for Economic Policy Studies at the Heritage Foundation, said that while he disagreed with the general idea of the loan guarantee program, the Vogtle reactors were still fairly low risk.

"I don't think this is a huge risk for the taxpayer, but that doesn't mean the government should be subsidizing the capital for them to build it," he told the Examiner.

April 23, 2014

Washington Post hires ultra-liberal former union bully and nobody bats an eye

On Monday, The Washington Post announced it had hired Philip Bump, a journalist currently at Atlantic magazine’s The Wire, to cover politics for their daily blog The Fix.

The move set off a chain of congratulations from across the political press corps.

But lost in the media love fest was Bump’s partisan past — a history left unspoken in either the Post’s official announcement or any of the Twitter applause. Not only does Bump’s archive at The Wire betray a palpable bias in favor of progressivism; his career as a journalist began when he headed a vicious pro-labor blog which published the names and addresses of opponents later targeted by unions.

“We’re excited to announce that Philip Bump ​will be joining The Fix team,” the Post’s public relations team trumpeted Monday afternoon. “Bump has written about politics and the environment at Grist and has contributed to The Daily Beast, The Atlantic, The Daily and Huffington Post.”

The Post’s announcement added that Bump is a former designer at Adobe Systems, a participant in Americorps and a veteran of several political campaigns in Silicon Valley, California.

But what were these political campaigns? According to the political blog San Jose Inside, in 2009 Bump worked for the South Bay Labor Council (SBLC), a Silicon Valley-based union group with a penchant for making the political personal. Cindy Chavez, the group’s former chief executive, frequently targeted political opponents and local journalists who dared to stray from her preferred storyline.

Bump, for his part, was SBLC’s political director and administrator of “San Jose Revealed,” a pro-union website which published vitriolic hit pieces against the Council’s perceived enemies. Although the website was run anonymously, San Jose Inside discovered Bump’s connection through an examination of electronic evidence and two sources who alleged the SBLC made payments to him.

Under his direction, “San Jose Revealed” published the personal address — obtained under spurious circumstances — of a frequent target of pro-union groups. This individual’s home was later vandalized, with property destroyed and defiled with swastika graffiti.

Bump also reportedly published a map to the house of a deputy district attorney who prosecuted violent Bay Area gangs for a living, shamed a local business owner’s daughter for an unpaid garbage bill and posted the Match.com dating profile of an opposing local politician.

While Bump may have moderated his tactics after he began working at more mainstream media outlets, he still wore his liberal politics on his sleeve.

A cursory review of even his most recent articles for The Wire — one mocking former Republican governor Jeb Bush’s bank account, one admittedly “trolling” the conservative Heritage Foundation for “making Obamacare work,” still another suggesting inherent racism in the Republican Party — reveals a talented writer with an unapologetically progressive bent.

Past articles show a proclivity to wax apocalyptic about the scourges of global warming and gun violence, with one piece excoriating Americans who fail to take the “gigantic problem” of climate change seriously and another advocating forced scarcity of bullets as a way to work around Second Amendment protections.

This isn’t necessarily a problem in and of itself; many journalists betray open partisanship, and Bump’s pieces appear to be well-written and logically consistent. But for a paper like the Post, which prides itself in objectivity (particularly in its political reporters), it’s noteworthy how little attention was given to their newest hire’s sharp left-wing bent.

Contrast that with the Post’s hiring of Robert Costa, another recent Post employee poached from the conservative National Review. Despite Costa’s utterly objective reporting on the Republican Party — he never wrote an editorial or column for National Review and took care to express that he’s not on the “conservative team” — his hiring last fall was met with surprise by those who never expected the Post to take on even a perceived conservative journalist.

Newsbusters called it “perhaps the first time in decades that a top-tier ‘mainstream’ news outlet has hired away a reporter from a right-leaning publication.” And on the other end of the spectrum, Esquire Magazine noted that Costa “came up through the various nurseries of the longtime white-supremacist journal, National Review.” Unlike Bump, almost no one ignored the ideological component of Costa’s hiring.

In the same Esquire piece, Charles Pierce writes that although Costa’s reporting on last fall’s government shutdown was impeccable, he still “await[s] the first national political reporter that the Post hires from, say, The Nation.”

With Bump — who once contributed to the ultra-liberal Mother Jones — Pierce’s wait appears to be over.


April 22, 2014

Obamacare outreach group gets $13 million at administration’s request

A private foundation donated $13 million to a nonprofit to provide Obamacare outreach after the administration requested the funding, according to a General Accountability Office report.

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius “contacted the chief executive officers of five organizations to solicit support for one outside entity, Enroll America,” said the GAO report Monday. Enroll America is a nonprofit that promotes the Affordable Care Act.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), a public health-focused nonprofit, gave two distinct grants to Enroll America, one for $3 million in April 2013 and a second for $10 million in May, according to the GAO report. The donations came after then-Health and Human Services (HHS) secretary Sebelius encouraged donations to Enroll America in a January 2013 phone call, but RWJF officials told the GAO the grants “were not made in response to the Secretary’s call.”

According to the report, Sebelius also sought funding for Enroll America from H&R Block and requested “nonfinancial support, such as technical assistance, from Ascension Health, Johnson & Johnson and Kaiser, which consists of the Kaiser Foundation Health Plans and Kaiser Foundation Hospitals.”

H&R Block officials told the GAO that though they considered making a donation prior to Sebelius’ request, they ultimately decided against it. But prior to the decision, HHS officials said that when H&R Block’s CEO discussed a potential donation with Sebelius, the secretary “suggest an amount higher than what H&R Block had said it was considering.”

On Enroll America’s part, the nonprofit’s representatives “asked the Secretary to request financial support from the three organizations” — meaning Ascension,  Johnson & Johnson and Kaiser — and that “in at least one case, Enroll America asked HHS to solicit specific levels of financial support.”

The Obama administration unsurprisingly maintains that the fundraising is legal and the GAO report did not issue any opinions on its legality. But the results raise questions about both the legality and propriety of HHS fundraising — the department directly regulates Kaiser, Ascension and Johnson & Johnson.

But the fundraising may have not been limited to HHS. The GAO spoke to a RWJF employee who reported speaking to a White House official, the deputy assistant to the president for health policy, in 2012, about Enroll America.

The official “indicated a hope that R.W.J.F. would provide a significant financial contribution to support Enroll America,” the report found. While not named, the White House’s Jeanne Lambrew holds that position. White House officials maintained that Lambrew “did not make a specific funding request on behalf of Enroll America.”

Enroll America,  was founded by former White House official Anne Filipic, but according to the GAO report, fundraising efforts may have reached to the White House itself as well.


April 21, 2014

Obama admin wants to require companies to give workers’ numbers, addresses to unions before labor elections

The Obama administration is poised to change regulations to allow for union “ambush elections” in which workers have less time to decide whether or not to join a union — and in which workers’ phone numbers and home addresses are provided to unions.

The administration’s National Labor Relations Board’s (NLRB) proposed rules would allow for union elections — in which workers at a company vote whether or not to unionize — to be held 10 days after a petition is filed. And what, exactly, would be happening to the unions during those 10 days? The new rules require employers to disclose workers’ personal information, including phone numbers, home addresses, and information about when they work their shifts.

Insiders close to the situation believe the new rules will almost certainly go into effect with few or no fundamental changes.

“The members of the Board went through two days of grueling hearings that went into the evening. They asked plenty of probing questions. But I wonder if any minds were changed at all,” Workforce Fairness Institute spokesman Fred Wszolek, who recently testified at an NLRB hearing in opposition to the rule, told The Daily Caller.

“Certainly some parts of the proposed rule will be changed at the margin. But it seems very likely that going forward, union organizing elections will happen much more quickly and more private contact information of employees will be turned over to the unions,” Wszolek said.

“If Board members wanted to truly modernize these rules, they would do two things. First, leave the timetable alone. Thirty or forty days to hold an election is not a long time. Let people think about it. Second, if you’re going to give access to unions any personal email addresses a company has, fine. But let’s protect the privacy of workers by no longer requiring companies to give to the union the home addresses of workers. It’s very hard to intimidate or coerce a worker by email. But it’s much easier to intimidate or coerce a worker when you’re standing on their doorstep,” Wszolek said.

As TheDC previously reported, United Auto Workers (UAW) members in black shirts recently paced the assembly line intimidating workers during normal business hours before the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee voted not to unionize. The NLRB is holding a hearing Monday to determine whether or not to discard the plant’s election results, on the grounds that they were tainted by outside sources, and allow the plant to be unionized.

April 18, 2014

White House to use executive orders to aid the solar industry

The White House announced on Thursday it was launching a $15 million dollar “Solar Market Pathways” program to help state, local and tribal governments expand their solar energy production.

“To advance our nation’s energy and climate goals, the United States must be a leader in innovating and deploying clean energy,” the White House said. “Solar is a vital component of the Administration’s all-of the above strategy. Supported by historic investments in research, development, and deployment, the price of solar technologies has decreased and the U.S. solar market has experienced rapid growth since President Obama took office.”

“But the President is committed to continuing the momentum,” the White House added. “The White House is also calling, today for new commitments from the private sector and non-profits to support solar deployment and jobs.”

But it doesn’t end there, the White House also proposes powering more federal housing projects and state and local government buildings and schools with solar energy. The EPA’s announced it will double on-site renewable energy generation through its “Green Power Partnership” by the end of the decade.

President Obama’s new solar push, of course, comes with more financing for solar energy facilities and panels. This includes $2.5 billion from the Energy Department for more loan guarantees for solar projects — the same loan guarantees that were given to failed companies like Solyndra and Abound Solar.

This announcement comes as the Energy Department announces i’’s looking to issue $4 billion in green energy loan guarantees and that the Defense Department is planning to expand its use of green energy sources.

Previous efforts by the Obama administration to promote green energy use have been criticized by Republicans after several high-profile failures tainted such efforts. Companies like Solyndra and Abound got hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayer-backed loan guarantees only to fail after years of mismanagement.

Abound filed for bankruptcy in June 2012 after drawing down on $70 million of its $400 million Energy Department loan guarantee. The Daily Caller News Foundation reported in 2012 that the company knowingly took taxpayer dollars while making faulty solar panels that routinely caught fire.

“Our solar modules worked as long as you didn’t put them in the sun,” an internal source in the company told TheDCNF.

The Energy Department’s inspector general released a report on Thursday that government officials ignored expert advice about the company’s potential problems.

“We found that [DOE's] internal solar expert had previously expressed concerns to the program regarding deficiencies in Abound’s quality control,” the IG wrote.

Solyndra’s failure sparked Republican criticisms that the Obama administration was playing venture capitalist and losing. The company failed in September 2011 after getting $535 million from the Obama administration.

The Obama administration says that the costs of solar have come down dramatically in the past few years, meaning the technology is much more viable today than it was in the past. Solar energy made up 30 percent of the newly installed electric generation capacity for 2013.

“Without question, the Obama administration has been the most solar-friendly ever,” Rhone Resch, president of the Solar Energy Industries Association, told The Washington Post.

But solar energy is still expensive and heavily subsidized. Despite being heavily subsidized, solar power made up only about 0.11 percent of U.S. electrical generation in 2012, according to the Energy Information Administration.


April 17, 2014

IRS emails reveal discussion with Justice about suing nonprofits

IRS emails released Wednesday show that just before the tea party targeting scandal was revealed last year, Lois G. Lerner and her colleagues at the tax agency were talking with the Justice Department about making examples out of nonprofit groups that they felt were violating campaign laws by playing political roles.

The emails, obtained by Judicial Watch, also show that Ms. Lerner was reluctant to face questions from Congress even before her first hearing, at which she asserted her right to remain silent. It was an indication that she distrusted Republican motives from the start.

The emails also show how important congressional Democrats were in pushing for action at the Internal Revenue Service and the Justice Department, which talked about how to follow up on a senator’s demand to pursue a test case against a nonprofit group that was spending money on politics.

“Not only do these emails further prove the coordination among the IRS, the Federal Election Commission (FEC), the Justice Department and committee Democrats to target conservatives, they also show that had our committee not requested the Inspector General’s investigation when we did, Eric Holder’s politicized Justice Department would likely have been leveling trumped up criminal charges against Tea Party groups to intimidate them from exercising their Constitutional rights,” Rep. Jim Jordan, an Ohio Republican who is leading an investigative subcommittee looking into the IRS, said in a statement.

In May 2013, just before the IRS targeting was publicly exposed, Ms. Lerner fielded a request from the Justice Department to talk about following up on Senate Democrats’ push to prosecute groups that the lawmakers thought “lied” when they told the FEC that they wouldn’t be conducting political activities but made political expenditures anyway.

The Justice Department requested a meeting to talk about what to do and wanted to know whether that would interfere with the IRS.

“I think we should do it,” Ms. Lerner replied in an internal IRS email laying out early plans for the meeting.
A day after that communication, the IRS admitted to targeting tea party groups. It’s unclear whether the meeting ever took place.

Earlier in 2013, IRS employees were talking on another email chain about the push among some campaign finance activists to have the IRS sue a nonprofit group over its campaign activities. In her part of the conversation, Ms. Lerner said her boss from a prior job at the FEC was one of those pushing for a lawsuit.

“This is their latest push to shut these down. One IRS prosecution would make an impact and they wouldn’t feel so comfortable doing the stuff,” Ms. Lerner said.

But in another part of that email thread, she acknowledged that it would be difficult to define “whether a particular expenditure was political intervention.”

“Whether there was a false statement or fraud regarding [a] description of an alleged political expenditure that doesn’t say vote for or vote against is not realistic under current law,” she said. “Everyone is looking for a magic bullet or scapegoat — there isn’t one. The law in this area is just hard.”

Judicial Watch said it had to sue to compel the IRS to turn over the emails.

IRS Commissioner John Koskinen has told Congress that his agency already has turned over hundreds of thousands of documents, but it will be the end of the year before his agency can turn over the rest of Ms. Lerner’s emails and years before it can produce all of the documents that House Republicans have demanded.

In the meantime, Republicans are pushing ahead with action against Ms. Lerner.

Last week, just before a two-week recess, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee voted to hold Ms. Lerner in contempt of Congress and the House Ways and Means Committee voted to refer criminal charges to the Justice Department.

Both of those resolutions, which cleared the committees on party-line votes, will need to go to the full House for approval.

Ms. Lerner has denied wrongdoing, and her attorney has accused Republicans of partisanship.

“The vote is the latest event in the majority’s never-ending effort to keep the IRS story alive through this fall’s midterm elections,” William W. Taylor III said after the oversight committee’s contempt vote.

Ms. Lerner has done nothing wrong. She did not violate any law or regulation. She did not mislead Congress. She did not interfere with the rights of any organization to a tax exemption,” he said.

The IRS inspector general reported that the agency improperly targeted tea party and conservative groups for intrusive scrutiny and held up many of their applications asking for nonprofit status.

Some of those applications, filed as early as 2010, were still pending as of the middle of last month.

The emails released by Judicial Watch on Wednesday show that the agency didn’t deny any applications and kept many of them pending until they saw the inspector general’s scorching audit.


April 16, 2014

After IRS stonewalls, Tea Party Patriots sues for documents on targeting

The group Tea Party Patriots filed suit on this Tax Day against the Internal Revenue Service for documents about the agency’s infamous targeting of conservative groups last year.

The group hopes the documents will shed more light on why conservative and tea party groups were singled out for extra scrutiny by the IRS while applying for non-profit status ahead of the 2012 election.

Tea Party Patriots also wants to learn more about the specific roles of former IRS official Lois Lerner and other Obama administration officials in developing these regulations that led to the special targeting, officials said Tuesday during a conference call with reporters.

Specifically, the suit, filed Tuesday in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, demands documents relating to the IRS’ infamous “Guidance for Tax Exempt Social Welfare Organizations on Candidate-Related Political Activities.”

The Tea Party Patriots first requested these documents through a Freedom of Information Act request in December. The group said it has not been granted any documents yet.

The suit also is filed against the Treasury Department.

Responding to a question from The Daily Caller, Cleta Mitchell, an attorney representing Tea Party Patriots, described what the group really wants to know from these documents.

“We want to know the role of Treasury,” Mitchell said. “We want to know the role of the White House. We want to know the role of Democratic members of Congress and organizations that were demanding that tea party and conservative groups be targeted.”


April 15, 2014

How the Obama administration turned the latest IPCC report into meaningless gobbledegook

Even by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's own lamentable standards, its new report - by Working Group III of the Fifth Assessment Report - makes no sense whatsoever.

Perhaps it never did but what definitely made it worse was the politicised meddling of the Obama administration.

Before the report's formal release, US officials - who had seen an earlier draft - wrote to the United Nations demanding it be amended.
"The discussion of the economic costs of mitigation is too narrow and does not incorporate co-benefits of action."
Loosely translated this means: "If we admit how much we're spending to such little purpose, the taxpaying public is going to kill us."

So the report was duly amended to suggest that the benefits of wind turbines, solar panels, biofuels - not to mention the losses entailed by leaving fossil fuels in the ground - more than offset the massive costs and inconvenience involved.

This presumably is why the left-wing Guardian was able to give its coverage the headline "IPCC climate change report: averting catastrophe is eminently affordable".
Catastrophic climate change can be averted without sacrificing living standards according to a UN report, which concludes that the transformation required to a world of clean energy is eminently affordable. 
“It doesn’t cost the world to save the planet,” said economist Professor Ottmar Edenhofer, who led the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) team.
Perhaps this was an accurate summation of the report if you read it a certain way. But equally, it was accurate to report, as Breitbart London did, that it was basically a wish list for the eco-fascist new world order.

Or - as some other newspapers did - you could decide that the report's main take home message that the IPCC had now come round to the virtues of nuclear energy and was guardedly approving of shale gas.

How could the report lend itself to such different conclusions? Because it was written by a vast international committee and then tinkered with further by politicians in order to be all things to all men.

Problem is when you try pleasing everyone you end up pleasing nobody.

But at least there's one thing on which almost everyone ought to be able agree. This truly is the lamest report in the IPCC's history. 

April 14, 2014

Nevada ranch standoff could leave dirt on Harry Reid’s reputation

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said little as federal agents seized and then released cattle last week from the Bundy ranch, but there is little doubt that the highly charged episode was threatening to become a political headache for the Nevada Democrat.

The Bureau of Land Management is headed by former longtime Reid aide Neil Kornze, who was confirmed by the Senate as BLM director on Tuesday, just as federal authorities descended on the cattle ranch outside Mesquite, Nev.

Mr. Kornze issued a statement Saturday saying that the bureau would return the cattle and withdraw its agents from the ranch as a result of safety concerns after clashes between law enforcement and the Bundy family’s growing legion of supporters.

“Based on information about conditions on the ground, and in consultation with law enforcement, we have made a decision to conclude the cattle gather because of our serious concern about the safety of employees and members of the public,” Mr. Kornze said.

“We ask that all parties in the area remain peaceful and law-abiding as the Bureau of Land Management and National Park Service work to end the operation in an orderly manner,” he said.

Speculation spiked in recent days over Mr. Reid’s connection to the BLM episode, in which federal contractors seized about 400 head of cattle from 68-year-old rancher Cliven Bundy over his refusal to pay an estimated $1 million in grazing fees over 20 years.

“It was likely pressure from upstairs, rather than weapons from the field, that changed his mind on the matter,” the liberal group Americans Against the Tea Party said in an online post. “Fact is, Harry Reid probably didn’t want his name attached to the biggest civilian massacre in U.S. history right before election season.”

The Las Vegas Review-Journal, Nevada’s largest newspaper, criticized the BLM’s handling of the situation in a Friday editorial, saying the “federal government is all about intimidation and overreach.”

The grazing dispute was escalating quickly. Law enforcement reportedly used a stun gun twice on Mr. Bundy’s son Ammon during confrontations, and hundreds of supporters were driving in from out of state to demonstrate against the cattle confiscation.

Cliven Bundy has argued that his family’s cattle have grazed on the land for more than 100 years, before the BLM was founded and before a federal decision was issued to restrict grazing to protect the desert tortoise. He also has said any fees would be due to local government, not federal agencies.

“The people have the power when they unite,” Ammon Bundy told reporters last week, the Review-Journal reported. “The war has just begun.”

Gov. Brian Sandoval, a Republican, criticized the BLM’s cordoning of “free-speech areas” near the ranch and warned the agency to “be mindful of its conduct.”

“The safety of all individuals involved in this matter has been my highest priority,” Mr. Sandoval said in a Saturday statement. “Given the circumstances, today’s outcome is the best we could have hoped for. I appreciate that the Department of the Interior and the BLM were willing to listen to the concerns of the people of Nevada.”

On Sunday, BLM spokesman Craig Leff told The Associated Press that “the door isn’t closed” to an administrative or judicial resolution with the Bundys.

Mr. Kornze, 35, worked as a senior policy adviser on land-use issues in Mr. Reid’s office from 2003 to 2011 before joining the BLM. He was confirmed by the Senate on a 71-28 vote after serving as the agency’s principal deputy director, even though Republicans had qualms about his lack of experience compared with past BLM directors.

During the confirmation hearing Dec. 17, Mr. Reid called his former aide “just perfect for the job,” even as Republicans noted that previous BLM directors Bob Abbey and Jim Caswell were career federal land managers each with more than 30 years’ experience.

“I remain concerned you lack the experience required for the position of BLM director,” Sen. John Barrasso, Wyoming Republican, told Mr. Kornze at the hearing, according to the Review-Journal.

Mr. Reid made no public statement after Mr. Kornze announced the BLM’s decision.

Sen. Dean Heller, Nevada Republican, urged those who had gathered in support of the Bundy family to return home.

“The dispute is over, the BLM is leaving, but emotions and tensions are still near the boiling point, and we desperately need a peaceful conclusion to this conflict,” Mr. Heller said in a Saturday statement. “I urge all the people involved to please return to your homes and allow the BLM officers to collect their equipment and depart without interference.”