Obama Whistleblower Prosecutions Lead To Chilling Effect On Press
Posted: 04/16/2013 1:18 pm EDT
NEW YORK -– On April 9, McClatchy’s Jonathan Landay reported that the Obama administration has “targeted and killed hundreds of suspected lower-level Afghan, Pakistani and unidentified ‘other’ militants” in drone strikes, a revelation that contradicts previous administration claims of pursuing only senior-level operatives who pose an imminent threat to the United States.
It was an investigative story clearly in the public interest, shedding new light on the government’s long-running targeted-killing program in Pakistan. But now Landay, a veteran national security reporter for the McClatchy newspaper chain, is concerned that the Obama administration could next investigate him in hopes of finding the sources for “top-secret U.S. intelligence reports” cited in the story. “Do I think that they could come after me?” Landay asked, in an interview with The Huffington Post. “Yes.”
“I can tell you that people who normally would meet with me, sort of in a more relaxed atmosphere, are on pins and needles,” Landay said of the reporting climate during the Obama years, a period of unprecedented whistleblower prosecutions. The crackdown on leaks, he added, seems “deliberately intended to have a chilling effect.”
Landay isn’t alone in that assessment, as several investigative journalists attest in “War on Whistleblowers: Free Press and the National Security State,” a timely documentary directed by Robert Greenwald of Brave New Foundation that premieres this week in New York and Washington. The film details the ordeals of four whistleblowers who turned to the press in order to expose waste or illegality.
“The Obama administration's been extremely aggressive in trying to root out whistleblowers within the government,” NBC News investigative reporter Michael Isikoff says in the film. The New Yorker’s Jane Mayer, describing the secrecy required in her reporting for a profile of whistleblower Thomas Drake amid government prosecution, said the experience didn’t “feel [like] America, land of the free press.”
Drake, a former senior executive of the National Security Agency, says in the film, "it's extremely dangerous in America right now to be right as a whistleblower when the government is so wrong." He adds: "speaking truth to power is now a criminal act."
Drake was charged in 2010 under the Espionage Act, a law passed in 1917 to prosecute spies. Drake was not a spy, but a government employee who tried unsuccessfully to report waste and abuse through official channels before contacting a Baltimore Sun reporter. The government's case eventually collapsed, with Drake only pleading guilty to a misdemeanor of "exceeding the authorized use of a computer."
"He was vindicated in the end, essentially," Daniel Ellsberg, the whistleblower behind the Pentagon Papers, said in the film. "But [Drake] had his life, for the moment, ruined."
Drake’s story is interspersed with those of three other whistleblowers who endured years of hardship as a result of coming forward through the press or directly on YouTube, including Marine Corps officer Franz Gayl, who spoke out about much-needed protection for soldiers against IED attacks in Iraq; former Lockheed Martin project manager Michael DeKort, who posted a video online revealing security flaws in the Coast Guard’s Deepwater project; and former Department of Justice attorney Thomas Tamm, who contacted The New York Times and provided information that helped expose the Bush administration’s warrantless wiretapping program.
Those men have been fired, prosecuted, or shunned because they spoke out. The government accountability advocates who have been forced to defend them, meanwhile, said they were worried the Obama and Bush administrations' aggressive actions against them have chilled future whistle-blowing.
"I've talked to a number of people who've made it clear ... that they are too afraid for their jobs," said Danielle Brian, the executive director of the Project On Government Oversight. "You have a combination of the fear of prosecution and this economy. If they lose this job, they might not be able to pay for groceries."
That might sound like an exaggeration, but not for Drake: he now works in a suburban Washington, D.C., Apple Store.
Advocates were optimistic last year, when Congress was debating a bill to enhance protections for government whistleblowers. A Senate version would have protected national security employees who used official, internal channels to ring the alarm on wrongdoing. The Republican-led House of Representatives, however, stripped out language that would have protected workers at intelligence community agencies like the CIA or NSA.
Just a few days after the House took that step, Obama issued an executive order directing intelligence community agencies to create new rules that would protect their employees from retaliation for speaking out. Whistleblower advocates have identified this as one of the biggest barriers to exposing misdeeds: once a security clearance is revoked, those working in the secretive intelligence world can't find a job even with outside contractors.
Obama's executive order, however, does not have the force of law. Until Congress does act, said Brian, leakers' only recourse will be through journalists, Congress's "worst fear."
"Those national security employees who feel like they have to do something, they go to the press," said Brian. "By not creating a safe channel, [Congress is] actually making things worse."
Meanwhile, the prosecutions continue. John Kiriakou, an ex-CIA officer who passed classified information about the CIA's secret post-9/11 interrogation program along to a reporter, was sentenced to 30 months in prison in January. Obama administration prosecutors said he had "betrayed" his fellow employees.
Kiriakou's status as a whistleblower is disputed. But for his lawyer Jesselyn Raddack, the National Security & Human Rights Director at the Government Accountability Project, the case says all she needs to know about the Obama administration's attitude toward whistleblowers.
Absent a public outcry, she said she saw few signs of improvement in Obama's second term.
"I know that he's tossed a few crumbs in our direction," she said. But "in general we had this secrecy regime put in place by Bush, and instead of rolling it back, Obama has just further expanded it"
Steve Coll, the incoming dean of Columbia's Graduate School of Journalism, profiled Kiriakou for the New Yorker earlier this month. Coll wrote about how "Obama's Justice Department has been unusually aggressive in prosecuting government officials for leaking secrets to the press," with six of the 10 cases over the past century occurring under Attorney General Eric Holder's watch.
“It seems as if the White House has set a kind of snowball rolling by allowing -- as White Houses sort of have to do -- the Attorney General to exercise discretion about which cases to bring forward and which not to," Coll said in an interview with The Huffington Post.
“Once you start to allow prosecutors to bring one case after another," Coll said, "it becomes difficult to stop that momentum."
Mayer said in an email that national security reporting has gotten "increasingly hard" ever since the Bush Administration investigated the Times' sources for its 2005 Pulitzer Prize-winning story on domestic spying.
"I'm not sure I'd say it's worse now than it was then, but starting then, government sources have really felt at legal risk. It's had a classic chilling effect on coverage," Mayer said. "Part of the problem stems from the technology revolution. It's a lot easier now for the government to spy on internet and phone communication than it was in the past. So, all together, I worry that the public may not be getting critical national security information about which it has a right to know.”
Landay and his McClatchy colleagues relied on government sources when producing some of the best reporting during the run-up to the Iraq War, a period where many in the media promoted the Bush administration's flimsy evidence for war. The result of the current administration cracking down on leaks or imposing strict message discipline, Landay said, will be that national security reporters like him "are going to try harder to do our jobs."
"We perform a vital function in a democracy like the United States, the few there are of us, the few whistleblowers," Landay said. "The harder the government tries to control critical information, the more damage it does to the quality of our democracy." http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/16/obama-whistleblower-prosecutions-press_n_3091137.html
Who says nothing ever gets done in Washington? Swiftly and without fanfare, Congress and President Obama have made it easier for top federal employees to trade on inside information.
On Monday, Obama signed into a law a change in the Stop Trading On Congressional Knowledge, or STOCK Act, which was passed in 2012. The change, which was approved unanimously by Congress last week, means that top federal employees, including staffers on Capital Hill and in the White House, will not have to publicly disclose their financial holdings online. That requirement was part of the original STOCK Act, but its implementation had been delayed again and again by Congress. And now it's dead.
The STOCK Act change does not apply to the president, vice president, members of Congress or candidates for Congress. Obama and Congress loudly passed the original STOCK Act last year after reports in the Wall Street Journal and elsewhere, along with academic studies, noted that lawmakers with access to market-moving information were suspiciously lucky in the timing of their stock trades. One widely-cited estimate suggests congressional portfolios outperform the broader market by 12 percent annually, though there are reasons to doubt that figure.
The rationale for changing the law was that its disclosure requirements created a national security risk, according to a study ordered by Congress and completed by the National Academy of Public Administration. Federal employees' unions had objected to the law from the start, saying it could put federal staffers at risk.
Still, changing the law creates its own risks. Though the law's disclosure requirements still apply to members of Congress, staffers have been a big part of the insider trading problem all along. As the WSJ reported in 2010, many congressional staffers were actively trading in stocks of companies with business before Congress. And many of those staffers were working on legislation affecting those companies.
But it's not as if the original STOCK Act was likely to fully clamp down on insider trading anyway: It was loaded with loopholes, Yale professor Jonathan Macey noted in 2011.
"On closer examination, it appears that what Congress really wants is to keep making the big bucks that come from trading on inside information but to trick those outside of the Beltway into believing they are doing something about this corruption," Macey wrote.
They're still at it.
Foreclosure Settlement Checks Bounce In Latest Setback For Troubled Program
Posted: 04/17/2013 11:58 am EDT | Updated: 04/17/2013 12:43 pm EDT
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The foreclosure abuse settlement that was intended to speed relief to homeowners is ending as it began: with controversy and complaints that the program isn't working.
On Tuesday, some of the first people to receive payouts under the $9.2 billion deal between federal regulators and the mortgage industry called into a government hotline to report that their bank would not cash their check, the Federal Reserve announced in a press release. Though the unspecified problem was resolved, the Federal Reserve noted, the episode is likely to further erode confidence in a program that has failed to deliver on almost every promise made by federal regulators.
The Independent Foreclosure Review began in 2011 as part of a deal between bank regulators and 14 mortgage companies to resolve widespread accounts of bank mismanagement through all stages of the foreclosure process. After a long years of repeated delays and mounting concerns about both the cost and effectiveness of the case-by-case reviews, the program was abruptly dropped in most instances in favor of a blanket settlement, which included $3.6 billion in cash payments to 4.4 million homeowners who received a foreclosure notice in 2009 or 2010.
Late last week, regulators announced that the first batch of payments were on their way. Most of these checks are small, with payouts averaging less than $1,000. A small number of borrowers, mostly military personnel who were improperly foreclosed on, will receive checks for the maximum amount of $125,000.
Though bank regulators and the mortgage industry likely hoped that the settlement would mark the end of a public relations disaster for all involved, legislators and independent analysts have in recent weeks sharply criticized both the reviews and the deal to replace them as unfair and not sufficiently transparent.
Earlier this month, the Government Accountability Office issued a scathing report on the review process, finding that regulators did not provide proper oversight and that some errors likely went undetected. Regulators also recently released new information suggesting that banks may have made errors in as many as 30 percent of all loans that qualified for a review, a figure far higher than previously reported.
Last week, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren excoriated regulators for not immediately turning over case records of borrowers who may be considering private legal action against their bank.
"You have made a decision to protect the banks but not to help the families who were illegally foreclosed on," Warren said. "Families get pennies on the dollar for being the victims of illegal activities."
‘We can sustain another terrorist attack’ (Obama 2010 Flashback)
The Hill ^ | 9/22/10 | Ron Christie
Posted on April 21, 2013 10:14:39 PM EDT by Nachum
As a patriotic American, I hope the Washington Post über-journalist misquoted President Obama in his upcoming book discussing the president's thinking behind the war on terrorism. Reading advance excerpts earlier today, I came across the following quotation attributed to the president:
"We can absorb a terrorist attack. We'll do everything we can to prevent it, but even a 9/11, even the biggest attack ever ... we absorbed it and we are stronger."
How dare the president opine that "we can absorb a terrorist attack”? This isn't a gravel spill or an overturned apple cart in which no one gets hurt. No, we're talking about an act of terror, an act of murder in which innocent people are killed simply because they woke up one day and decided to drive to work, take their children to school or otherwise go about their daily lives.
On Sept. 11, 2001, 3,000 innocent Americans were murdered, killed, incinerated and fell from the sky due to an act of terrorism.
(Excerpt) Read more at thehill.com ...
Al Arabiya with AFP -
U.S. aid to the Syrian opposition is set to double to $250 million, Secretary of State John Kerry said on Sunday, adding that Washington would also provide new non-lethal military equipment for rebel fighters.
The announcement came after talks among the pro-opposition “Friends of Syria” group in Istanbul.
But despite the new aid package, the U.S. paid no heed to calls for arms supplies or a direct intervention.
Some of the money will be used to “provide an expanded range of support” to rebel fighters battling President Bashar al-Assad, beyond the current provisions of food rations and medical kits, “to include other types of non-lethal supplies,” the statement said, according to AFP news agency.
The non-lethal military equipment might include providing the opposition fighters with protective battlefield equipment such as body armor, armored vehicles and night-vision goggles, as well as communications gear, U.S. media has reported.
Kerry, who spoke to the press after the meeting, stressed the focus was on the mounting death toll in the crisis-torn country.
“The president directed me to step up our efforts,” Kerry told a news conference.
“The stakes in Syria couldn’t be more clear: chemical weapons, the slaughter of people by ballistic missiles and other weapons of huge destruction, the potential of a whole country,” he said.
“This bloodshed needs to stop.”
The head of the main opposition Syrian National Coalition, Ahmed Moaz al-Khatib, offered reassurances after the talks.
“Our revolution is for the entire Syrian people. We are not supporting one group at the price of another and we shall never allow that to happen,” he told the news conference.
The Coalition said in a separate statement that the opposition rejected “all forms of terrorism and any extremist ideology” and promised that “weapons will not fall in the wrong hands”.
The opposition had also voiced frustration earlier at the lack of a strong international response.
“Assad is firing missiles against densely populated areas... without consequences,” said Yaser Tabbara, a spokesman for the opposition’s interim prime minister Ghassan Hitto.
“Throwing money at the problem won’t solve it.”
The opposition has called for “surgical strikes” on regime missile batteries used against civilians.
Top diplomats from the 11-nation core group of the “Friends of Syria” -- including the United States, European nations and Arab countries -- took part in the more than six hours of talks on Saturday.
In a joint statement afterwards, they warned Assad that foreign support for the opposition would grow if he continued to rebuff efforts to find a political solution to Syria’s crisis.
No money for White House tours and no money for the FAA security which might cause delays at airports. But, there is enough to send double the aid to Syrian rebels.
Clown in chief looking to rile up the voters for his own benefit.
LM Wind Power Lays Off U.S. Workers Despite Government Loan Guarantee to Back Their Jobs
August 24th, 2012 | Author: David Sims
Just days after a mostly foreign-based wind energy equipment manufacturer received a multimillion-dollar federal loan guarantee from the U.S. Export-Import Bank, the company pink-slipped more than 200 American workers. The loan transaction in question involved a Brazilian firm, Wind Power Energia S.A., in Sao Paulo, which required wind blades to complete a 180-megawatt wind farm in the Brazilian state of Bahia and another 211-megawatt farm in the Brazilian state of Ceara, according to company officials.
According to Ex-Im Bank officials, the export credit agency authorized a $32.1 million loan guarantee to Wind Power Energia to buy wind turbine blades manufactured by LM Wind Power Blades Inc., in Little Rock, Ark.
The Little Rock operation is actually a subsidiary of LM Wind Power, which is headquartered in Kolding, Denmark, and is the largest manufacturer of wind turbine blades in the world.
Ex-Im Bank approved the loan guarantee backed by American taxpayer dollars so a Brazilian company could buy wind turbine blades from a Danish company because the deal would “support approximately 250 permanent American jobs at the company’s Little Rock, Ark., and Grand Forks, N.D., manufacturing facilities,” bank officials said.
But as CJ Ciaramella reported in the Washington Free Beacon, LM Wind Power laid off 234 of the Arkansas plant’s roughly 300 workers just two days after its loan was approved.
Obviously, the timing of the layoff raises questions about whether a plan was already in place when the loan, granted expressly to guarantee American jobs, was given.
The Obama administration has not announced any plans to reconsider the loan guarantee.
In May, Bloomberg reported that LM Wind Power Holding A/S saw profits fall 41 percent last year and “expects demand to weaken.” As the report noted, the company’s earnings fell to 73.9 million euros ($92.9 million) in 2011 from 125.1 million euros a year earlier. Sales declined 2.7 percent to 707.5 million euros ($888.9 million). The company counted 5,803 employees at the end of 2011.
In June, as reported in the renewable energy industry journal Recharge, LM Wind Power appointed Leo Schot, a former Siemens Wind Power executive, as its new chief executive officer to replace Roland Sundén.
Ciaramella noted in his Washington Free Beacon article that LM Wind Power hasn’t been the model corporate citizen at its American production facilities, writing that the manufacturer has had numerous citations for workplace safety violations.
The Department Of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration cited the firm 11 times in an investigation beginning October 2010 for exposing workers to unsafe conditions and noted the company had demonstrated a “continued pattern of failing to comply” with OSHA standards.
After the death of a worker at LM Wind Power’s North Dakota production facility in 2010, industry journal Reliable Plant reported that OSHA cited the company with five safety violations for exposing workers to hazards that ultimately took a worker’s life.
OSHA’s Bismarck Area Office reported that an employee working from a scissor lift was crushed to death by a nearby crane and cited LM Wind Power with “one willful, three serious and one other-than-serious citation.” Tom Deutscher, the office’s director, said the death occurred because “the employer failed to identify and eliminate the hazards prior to allowing this employee to perform the work.”
OSHA defines a willful violation as one committed with intentional knowing or voluntary disregard for the law’s requirements, or plain indifference to worker safety and health, according to Reliable Plant. OSHA proposed to fine the company $92,000 over the incident.
Government-Backed Failures Are Mounting
The LM Wind Power debacle continues a litany of failures of government-backed green energy firms across the range of renewable technologies besides wind energy.
Noted columnist Timothy P. Carney wrote that solar panel manufacturer Amonix closed down its 214,000-square-foot Las Vegas factory after receiving various federal subsidies since 1995.
Amonix is unusual in that it has been receiving government grants through three presidential administrations. As Carney explained, during the Clinton administration, the Department of Energy gave Amonix $49,559, while the agency gave the company a “Renewable Energy Research & Development” grant worth approximately $5.5 million during the Bush administration.
Another $10.1 million under this grant was awarded by the Obama administration, in addition to a $9 million federal loan guarantee for manufacturing solar panels for export last year and a $90.6 million loan guarantee to Cogentrix Energy to buy solar panels from Amonix.
In June, the New York Times reported that solar panel manufacturer Abound Solar, which received a $400 million loan guarantee from the federal government, would file for bankruptcy “amid plummeting prices and intense competition from Chinese manufacturers in the solar equipment market.”
The paper noted that the company actually received at least $68 million of the allotted funds. The same article also noted that electric car battery manufacturer A123 Systems received a $249 million grant from the Energy Department “but has laid off some workers and acknowledges that it faces serious challenges.”
In May, in a ThomasNet.com Green & Clean article, I noted that government subsidies allow the American wind power industry to simply exist.
A recent report from the Global Warming Policy Foundation, titled “Why Is Wind Power So Expensive: An Economic Analysis,” authored by Gordon Hughes, professor of economics at the University of Edinburgh, found that in Britain – which is as heavily invested in wind power as any other country — wind farms are “almost entirely subsidized by a complex yet hidden regime of feed-in tariffs, tax cuts and preferential tax credits.”
Hughes’ report found that meeting Britain’s target for renewable energy by 2020 would require a total investment of some £120 billion ($190 billion) in wind turbines and backup. The same amount of electricity could be generated by gas-fired power plants that would only cost £13 billion ($20 billion).
Wind power will most likely always need subsidies, since as Hughes’ report concluded, it is, after all, an inefficient and unreliable method of energy generation. “It is typically much cheaper to transport gas and to rely upon open-cycle gas turbines to match supply and demand than to adopt any of these options,” Hughes wrote, adding that any sizable wind generation installation requires a backup energy-generation system, as well, so the cost is effectively two systems.
As the number of renewable energy casualties continues to climb, it reinforces the thought: Why not just pay for one system that generates electricity less expensively and more consistently and put taxpayer money to better uses? http://news.thomasnet.com/green_clean/2012/08/24/lm-wind-power-lays-off-u-s-workers-despite-government-loan-guarantee-to-back-their-jobs
Obama Still Not Scheduled to Visit West, Texas
by Keith Koffler on April 22, 2013, 8:34 am
President Obama is still not scheduled to visit the devastated community of West, Texas, where an explosion at a fertilizer plant five days ago killed 14 – including 11 emergency responders – and wounded approximately 200 people.
Up to 75 homes were damaged, as well as an apartment complex that was decimated.
Obama so far has sent prayers and money to the town, but not himself.
According to Bridget Johnson at PJ Media, Texas senator Ted Cruz said it is “doubtful” that Obama will visit the town.
He will have ample opportunity. The president, along with First Lady Michelle Obama, will be in Texas two days this week, heading to Dallas Wednesday for a Democratic National Committee fundraiser and then remaining in the city overnight.
On Thursday, he is scheduled to attend the dedication ceremony for the George W. Bush Presidential Center in Dallas.
But he may be on a tight schedule as he is supposed to attend the Planned Parenthood Gala in Washington Thursday evening.http://www.whitehousedossier.com/2013/04/22/obama-scheduled-visit-west-texas
BUMP BUMP BUMP
U.S. Grants Saudis 'Trusted Traveler' Privileges to Help Them Through Airport Security
By Joe Schoffstall March 27, 2013
The Obama Administration is making it easier for Saudis to get through security at airports. In fact, now they will be allowed to bypass custom authorities due to an agreement quietly signed between U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano and Saudi Arabian Interior Minister Prince Mohammed bin Nayef. After the September 11 terrorist attacks, Saudi Arabia acknowledged 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudi citizens.
On January 16, 2013, Janet Napolitano met with Mohammed bin Nayef and announced the plan. Napolitano stated, "I am proud of the bond between the United States and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and today's meeting marks another major step forward in our partnership. By enhancing collaboration with the Government of Saudi Arabia, we reaffirm our commitment to more effectively secure our two countries against evolving threats while facilitating legitimate trade and travel."
During the meeting, the two signed an agreement to begin implementation of U.S. Customs and Border Protection's (CBP) trusted traveler program, Global Entry. Global Entry streamlines the screening process at airports, allowing customs to bypass "trusted travelers" and focus on those they know less about. Those in the program can skip normal Customs and Border protection lines starting next year. Participants may enter the United States by using automated kiosks located at select airports, according to the Global Entry website. They must present passports and fingerprints at kiosks, and make a customs declaration.
"Details about how the plan will work with the Saudis have not been released. Nayef's ministry, however, will be responsible for screening which applicants will be considered when the pilot program begins next year. It's not known whether the Saudi ministry will share its raw intelligence about applicants with its American counterparts," writes The Investigative Project on Terrorism. "What is known, based on information provided by a Homeland Security source, is that each individual who makes it into the program will have been vetted by both the CBP and by the Saudi Interior Ministry against various databases."
Judicial Watch adds, "It's downright outrageous that the Obama administration is now making it easier for Saudis to enter the United States. Consider that just three years ago the U.S. government actually placed Saudi Arabia on a list of 14 countries whose travelers would face enhanced security when entering the country. Why? Because a Saudi national named Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab tried to blow up a Detroit-bound U.S. commercial airliner on Christmas Day in 2009."
Only a select few are currently a part of the Global Entry program including Canada, Mexico, South Korea, and the Netherlands.
Seniors Get Hung Up In Health Care Scams
Law enforcement agencies are reporting a spike in health insurance scams across the country, many of which are preying on the public's confusion over the massive changes taking place in the nation's health care system.
By Jenny Gold, Kaiser Health News
MONDAY, April 22, 2013 (Kaiser Health News) — One recent morning, 86-year-old Evelyne Lois Such was sitting at her kitchen table in Denver when the phone rang. She didn’t recognize the phone number or the deep voice on the other end of the line. “He asked if I was a senior, and I said yes, and he said we are sending out all new Medicare cards and I want to make sure I have all of your statistics correct,” Such recounts.
At first, the caller didn’t seem too fishy; he started by running through her address and phone number, just to make sure they were right. But then he read off a series of numbers and asked if it was her bank routing number. “I didn’t know really at the time whether it was or not, but I just said no. He said, well could you give it to me so I’ll have it correctly, and I said, well I’m not so sure about that. And he started to say something and I hung up.”
When the scammer tried calling her a second time, she hung up immediately, scribbled down the number from her caller ID and dialed Medicare to report the scam.
“I kind of thought it was funny at first, and then I thought, you know, how dare they?” says Such. “There are some seniors who aren’t well and don’t think as well as they used to, and it just made me angry that they would be victimized like this.”
Law enforcement agencies are reporting an increase in these sorts of health insurance scams across the country. Many of the fraudsters seem to be preying on the public’s confusion over the massive changes taking place in the nation’s health care system.
Seniors are often targets — they’re more likely to be home to answer the phone, and they tend to have retirement savings that scammers hope to tap. But they aren’t the only victims: The federal government received nearly 83,000 complaints of “imposter scams” last year — up 12 percent from the year before.
“America’s rife with health scams,” says James Quiggle, communications director at the Coalition Against Insurance Fraud in Washington, D.C. “Crooks are offering fake health coverage, stripped down policies masquerading as real coverage. They’re also selling … fake Obamacare coverage,” he explains.
Recent polls have found that well over half of Americans say they still don’t understand how the new health law will affect them. “Crooks are playing on that confusion. Confusion is a crook’s best friend,” says Quiggle.
“Fraudsters are as attuned to what’s going on in the news as anybody else,” says Lois Greisman, who runs the division of marketing practices at the Federal Trade Commission. “Before Katrina hit land, websites were up soliciting funds to help victims of Katrina. This is not a surprise; this is par for the course.” A program as vast as the health care overhaul makes for a dangerous twist on the regular scams, she adds.
Greisman and her team are working to take down the scams as quickly as possible, but there is an endless number; scammers range from just your average amateur looking to make a quick buck, to well-organized crime rings that mass-produce fraud.
“The first line of defense is don’t take a call from out of the blue from anyone who’s offering to help you navigate the new health care market,” cautions Greisman. “Those kinds of cold calls just shouldn’t take place, same thing with an unsolicited email, an unsolicited text.”
Many people see through those sorts of simple scams, says Sally Hurme, an elder law attorney at AARP. “But even if one in a thousand falls for the scam and gives up info or agrees to send information off to who knows where, they’ve made [the scammer’s] day. That’s what their job is,” says Hurme. As the Affordable Care Act ramps up, the country is likely to see more frequent insurance scams, and they’re likely to get more sophisticated, she adds.
Savvy senior Evelyne Lois Such offers this advice for others who get a suspicious call: “Don’t answer too quickly. Think about the answer you give them and what they’re asking.” And never give up and personal or financial information over the phone.
Better yet? Just hang up.
This article was produced by Kaiser Health News with support from The SCAN Foundation.
White House: Obama backs Internet sales tax bill
April 22, 2013 01:46 PM EST |
WASHINGTON — The White House says President Barack Obama supports a bill to give states more authority to collect sales tax from Internet retailers.
White House spokesman Jay Carney says the Senate bill would level the playing field for small businesses and brick-and-mortal retailers that are undercut by online companies.
Carney says that governors and mayors have overwhelmingly told the White House the bill is needed. He says states are losing out on revenue that could go to education, law enforcement, infrastructure investments and health care.
Under current law, states collect sales tax from companies that have a physical presence in their state. The Senate bill would expand that to include sales to people in other states.
The Senate is expected to hold a procedural vote on the bill on Monday.
Obama’s blood trail from Benghazi to Boston
By Doug Hagmann (Bio and Archives) Monday, April 22, 2013
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What do the murders of four Americans in Benghazi have to do with the murders of three in a terrorist attack in Boston? Plenty, if you understand what you are seeing in the abstract expressionism of the Jackson Pollock painting is actually a blood trail, and the Pollock painting you are closely studying is an exact reproduction of one of his earlier works. It is a reproduction of a reproduction. We’ve seen this picture before, a bloodstained tangle of lies being sold to us as an artistic masterpiece. But you have to step farther back, not closer to the painting, to actually see the blood trail.
Does anyone still remember the terror attack and murders of Americans in Benghazi on September 11, 2012? Does anyone still care? How about the indignation shown by Obama’s then Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on January 23, 2013 when being questioned by Senator Johnson about whether the American people were misled about the motive for the attacks? Animated and agitated, Clinton never did answer the question, instead waving her arms and pounding her fist on the table before her in a decidedly undiplomatic like fashion while shedding absolutely no light on what she knew and when she knew it.
Her response was dreadfully shrill yet non-committal, instead rebuking the Senator for seeking the truth with “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?”
In the wake of the bombings in Boston and amid information the government and media does not want you, the average American citizen to know, motive and causation make a lot of difference. Compare Clinton’s terse response to questions surrounding Benghazi with that of Department of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano, whose testosterone levels rose sharply as she decided that she would not even dignify Congressman Jeff Duncan’s questioning last week about the reported involvement of a Saudi national identified as Abdulrahman Ali Isa al-Salami al-Harbi, a/k/a Abdulrahman al Harbi.
The Saudi connections
In the event you don’t recognize that name associated with the Boston bombing, the media initially reported that a Saudi national, later determined to be al Harbi, was under guard at a Boston hospital after being injured in the attack. He was seen running from the explosions and tackled by police a short distance from the bombing site. During the normal investigative process of al Harbi, investigators learned that he was reportedly the subject of an alleged deportation order under Section 212 3B Immigration & Nationality Act regarding “Security and related grounds—Terrorist Activities”, but completely unrelated to Boston. To get on this list requires some pretty substantial evidence. To be removed from this list is practically impossible, short of detention or death.
Amid the flurry of media reports that followed, however, his name and status at the hospital were gradually and methodically being erased from news reports and people’s memories. An intentional government and media brown-out turned into a noticeable blackout, even while federal authorities were searching his fifth floor apartment at 364 Ocean Avenue, Revere, MA and removing various items for forensic analysis.
Before the last items were taken from his apartment, I am told, orders were given to immediately stop any investigation of al Harbi. Suddenly and inexplicably, al Harbi became off limits, and a few federal agents are angry and want to know why.
His status under Section 212 3B was reportedly rescinded about 5:30 p.m. ET Wednesday, and he suddenly enjoyed protective status on orders from the ‘highest levels of our government’, but not before Congressman Duncan had a copy of the 212 3B status of al Harbi. Additionally, it is reported, not only was the order rescinded, but his file was made to appear as if the order never existed in the first place.
According to sources close to this author, al Harbi became the primary focus of a high level diplomatic meeting between U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al Faisal on Tuesday morning, the day after the marathon bombing and the day before his status suddenly changed. The 10:00 am meeting was abruptly closed to the media with only minutes notice, something that rarely happens. The reason, according to sources with “knowledge” of the matter, is due to the classification of al Harbi as a person of interest in the marathon bombing and his status as a Saudi “elite”.
The aforementioned file alteration and status were changed following this meeting, and arrangements were reportedly made for him to leave the United States. As all of this reportedly took place in such a very short period of time, it is important to understand that the alleged changes had to have the approval at the level of the U.S. Secretary of State, or higher. It was done on behalf of the Saudis, with approval and direction from the highest levels of our own government. Why is this important to the events in Boston and Benghazi?
Benghazi to Boston: the Saudi agenda & shielding the truth
First, don’t get stuck in the minutia of al Harbi, just be aware of it and who is behind it. Instead, look at the larger picture. To be clear, al Harbi himself is not the main story here. It’s bigger than that, and the problem is that people are not thinking big enough. It’s about an agenda to shape the world power structure. The Obama regime is in place to finish what was started long ago. Now, the players under Obama and a complicit press are shielding the truth from the American people. We are not being told the truth about anything, from Benghazi to Boston, and the common factor in all of this is Saudi Arabia.
Our intimate relationship with Saudi Arabia began in earnest (most recently) under George Herbert Walker Bush, and was further expanded by George W. Bush, a/k/a ‘Bandar Bush,’ a name earned for his intimate relationship with Prince Sultan bin Bandar of Saudi Arabia. It should be clear by now that the continuity of this globalist, Pan-Islamic agenda that existed under Bush was further solidified and even expanded by the Obama administration. It is not a political agenda, but a globalist one. We do not have elected leaders who favor the U.S., but internationalists that favor the globalist agenda. Understanding this should explain that the right-left paradigm is a historical artifact, and provide prospective in terms of how the government is pushing this agenda towards completion. We’ve been overtaken and captured from within.
We’ve learned from the 2001 attacks that the Saudis are the largest exporters of terrorism, yet we continue to work for them, providing our military assets and our troops to doing their dirty work. Through the Muslim Brotherhood, they have infiltrated many, if not all levels of our government. As stated, this did not begin under Obama, but was expanded under him. And what better presidential candidate was there to accomplish this objective? Now does his meteoric rise from a community organizer to state senator to President make better sense?
We still cannot even have any intelligent conversation about Obama’s Constitutional legitimacy to hold the Office of President without being marginalized by both sides of the political divide. Why then, would we expect the truth about Benghazi? And yet, Americans believe what they see and hear about everything from Benghazi, Boston, and even to matters of our economy? We are a captured operation.
Just as the situation involving al Harbi provides us with a window into this agenda, Benghazi provides us with that same window. Unraveling the truth from the lies in both instances will show just how deep the U.S. is involved with expanding the Saudi Kingdom of power across the Middle East, even at our own national peril. Of critical importance, this relationship is leading us on the path to World War III.
Before the marathon bombings, Russian intelligence officials warned the U.S. about the Islamic terror threat posed by Islamic terrorists in the U.S., including the older brother of the Boston bombing duo. The FBI KNEW the identity of the elder Boston bomber a year ago. Yet, the U.S. DHS, under the Obama regime, deliberately ignored the warnings. We’re spreading and actually sponsoring this radicalization through this Pan-Islamic agenda, yet most people cannot see the bigger picture.
Putin warned us that our policies were the equivalent of playing with dynamite, and continuing to play would result in a direct confrontation with them. During the so-called Arab Spring, Putin also warned the U.S. not to destabilize the Middle East, and warned Obama not to meddle in the affairs of Syria, which he described as their ‘red line in the sand’. Syria holds strategic military and economic importance for Russia and China, and is the backdoor to Iran, another country of importance to both superpowers.
Despite these warnings, the U.S. set up the largest weapons running operation in Benghazi, a location from where weapons were shipped under U.S. operational command to the Islamic terrorists in Syria to topple the Assad regime. The Saudis were the paymasters for this operation, but are duplicitous.
Benghazi was the direct result of this operation, and we now find ourselves in a proxy war with Russia-and soon to be China-with no peaceful end in sight as the U.S. continues to do the dirty work for the Saudis, the internationalists, the international bankers, and the global elite. The terror attacks in Boston were the latest blowback from our foreign policy, and there will be more.
Hillary Clinton, Janet Napolitano, and the entirety of the Obama regime are refusing to provide Americans with any truths about what is actually taking place, whether it is about a sole Saudi citizen or the attacks in Benghazi, and complete Saudi agenda. Meanwhile, clueless Americans cheer as the younger bombing suspect is arrested after one of the most unprecedented manhunts in U.S. history, but fail to see all of the entanglements of the Pollock painting. We are willfully and almost gleefully giving up our rights because of the globalists who are running the foreign and domestic policies.
The path to WW III
Like the Pollock paintings, people must be able to see the connections—the blood trails—that connect the terrorist attacks in Boston to the terrorist attacks in Benghzi. We are emboldening the Muslim terrorists by our foreign policies. We are training them, arming them, and in some cases, siding with one faction over another. We are not exporting peace or freeing people from oppression, but creating a new world order.
Time and again, from the first World Trade Center Bombing to 9/11, from Benghazi to Boston, we see the same template reproductions of the paintings, yet don’t recognize it.
We are not dealing with Americans with an American mentality. No, we are dealing with Americans in name only, driven by an internationalist, global mentality.
The ‘elected’ are the ‘elect’ vying for a future seat at the global table. They are hidden amid the entanglements of the Pollock work. They are the very ones who will lead us into global conflict.
So when you see the next massive manhunt that closes a city, understand that this is of our own doing. This is part of a larger agenda that you must step back from the painting to identify. While we surrender our rights domestically, we advance on the path that takes us into WW III. Boston was an indirect blowback from Benghazi, but the truth of the matter will continue to remain hidden unless we demand and receive answers to the proper questions. That is assuming, of course, there is anyone left to ask such questions.
Step back and look at the larger picture. See the blood trail that extends among the continents.
Copyright © Douglas J. Hagmann and Canada Free Press
Douglas J. Hagmann and his son, Joe Hagmann host The Hagmann & Hagmann Report, a live Internet radio program broadcast each weeknight from 8:00-10:00 p.m. ET.
Douglas Hagmann, founder & director of the Northeast Intelligence Network, and a multi-state licensed private investigative agency. Doug began using his investigative skills and training to fight terrorism and increase public awareness through his website.
Doug can be reached at: email@example.com
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Fisker spent $600K for every car it sold, skids toward bankruptcy
Hot Air ^ | April 22, 2013 | MARY KATHARINE HAM
Posted on April 22, 2013 10:13:55 PM EDT by Hojczyk
1.3 billion in venture capital and taxpayer funds, and they spent $600,000 per $100,000 car they sold. What an investment!
Fisker Automotive Inc. spent more than six times as much U.S. taxpayer and investor money to produce each luxury plug-in car it sold than the company received from customers, according to a research report…
The Anaheim, California-based company made about 2,500 of its $103,000 Karmas before halting production last year, disrupting its plans to use a $529 million U.S. loan to restart a shuttered Delaware factory owned by the predecessor of General Motors Co. (GM) The Karma was assembled in Finland.
Fisker was allowed to keep using money from its Energy Department loan after violating its terms multiple times, according to a report released April 17 by PrivCo, a New York- based researcher specializing in closely held companies. It said it based its report on documents, including the loan agreement, obtained through the U.S. Freedom of Information Act.
Fisker has been heading toward bankruptcy for several months, laying off employees, and missing payments to the Department of Energy on its way. The Obama administration seized $21 million from the company this week to satisfy its loan agreement, allowing the Fisker to escape expected bankruptcy for a little while longer.
(Excerpt) Read more at hotair.com ...
Luxury hybrid car maker Fisker Automotive has spent $660,000 in taxpayer dollars and venture capital funds for each car it sold — totalling $1.3 billion, according to a report. The company’s Fisker Karma sold for about $103,000 per vehicle, meaning the company took a hit of $557,000 every time it sold its product.
The company was also allowed to continue to draw down on a $529 million Department of Energy loan after violating the loan’s term multiple times, according to a report by the New York-based research firm PrivCo.
According to the report, the Department of energy knew that Fisker was not meeting goal required to keep receiving taxpayer dollars. The DOE cut off funding to the company in June 2011, allowing taxpayers to lose $193 million.
“They made a mistake” in giving Fisker the loan, PrivCo Chief Executive Officer Sam Hamadeh told the Denver Post. “Should they have fought this sooner? Obviously — as soon as it became evident that they had begun to default.”
It has been reported that Fisker is circling the bankruptcy drain and has hired the law firm Kirkland & Ellis LLP, which has one of the largest bankruptcy practices in the country, to handle a potential bankruptcy. A crisis PR firm, Sitrick & Co., also reportedly is assisting the beleaguered car maker.
The company stopped manufacturing cars last year and has a $20.2 million payment to the Energy Department due on April 22.
Consumers purchased 1,600 Fisker Karmas. Another 338 of the luxury hybrid cars — worth more than $33 million — were destroyed in a parking lot during Superstorm Sandy.
Hamadeh said that technical defaults began in 2011 in part due to “lower-than-required earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization, and failing to meet a production milestone of at least 11,000 vehicles sold to dealers for an average of $87,500 by Sept. 30, 2011,” according to the Denver Post.
However, the DOE says it acted responsibly in cutting off the company’s funding and argued that PivCo’s report was flawed and contained errors.
“The Department of Energy stopped payment on the federal loan in 2011 after Fisker stopped meeting their milestones, and is committed to the best outcome for taxpayers,” said Bill Gibbons, a DOE spokesman. “Despite Fisker’s difficulties, our overall loan portfolio of more than 30 projects continues to perform very well, and more than 90 percent of the $10 billion loan loss reserve that Congress set aside for these programs remains intact.”
“PrivCo’s assertion that Fisker defaulted in December 2010 is simply false,” said Gibbons. “The milestones that PrivCo includes in its report are also wrong. The fact is, the department stopped disbursements on the loan after the company stopped meeting its milestones.”
Republicans have already attacked the DOE’s loan program because of other high-profile failures and levied allegations of cronyism.
Fisker does not lack for political clout, though. The Fisker Karma has been sported by celebrities such as Al Gore, Justin Bieber, and Leonardo DiCaprio.
The venture capital firm Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield and Byers — where Gore is a partner — was a seed investor in the company and spent $400,000 in 2009 and 2010 on lobbying. The firm lobbied in favor of the stimulus bill that handed out $90 billion for green energy programs.
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The government-backed electric car company Fisker Automotive laid off about 160 workers Friday, or roughly 75 percent of the automaker's staff, as it has struggled to find financial backing that would allow it to continue building its high concept clean cars.
The layoff announcement came as the innovative start up faces a looming repayment on a loan from the U.S. Department of Energy, and as reports have swirled that it could be preparing to file for bankruptcy. As with the failed solar firm Solyndra, the green car company was once an early pick by the Obama Administration to be part of America's clean energy future. The Obama Energy Department had approved Fisker for a government loan up to $529 million.
Stunned workers filed out of Fisker's Anaheim headquarters Friday morning with their belongings in boxes. One told ABC News that the employees had no advance notice the layoffs were coming, and they were told they would received no severance.
Among Fisker employees, the worker said, there was an overwhelming sense of sadness Friday that even after building a new, environmentally-focused line of gracefully-designed, high-end American cars, they had not been able to find financial success.
READ: Is Fisker Headed for a Solyndra-Like Collapse?
An Energy Department spokesman said today that early signs of the company's distress prompted officials there to freeze payments to Fisker after having provided the company with nearly $200 million to produce its first car, the $97,000 Fisker Karma.
"The Department of Energy stopped payment on the federal loan in 2011 after Fisker stopped meeting their milestones, and is committed to the best outcome for taxpayers," the Energy Department statement said, before defending other green investments by the Obama administration.
"Despite Fisker's difficulties, our overall loan portfolio of more than 30 projects continues to perform very well, and more than 90 percent of the $10 billion loan loss reserve that Congress set aside for these programs remains intact," the department said.
Among those laid off by Fisker Friday were the company's team of spokespeople. The head of that team, Roger Ormisher, told ABC News earlier this week that he could not address reports that the automaker had hired a law firm to prepare it for bankruptcy.
"We are not offering any official comment on the speculation around bankruptcy at this stage," Ormisher said.
Even before the layoffs, the Anaheim, Calif.-based company disclosed that it had furloughed non-essential U.S. workers in March, a move made as the company is "in the process of identifying a strategic partner... [but] continuing to manage its day-to-day operations," Ormisher had said.
Fisker Automotive entered the electric car market with hefty support from the U.S. Energy Department and backing from such celebs as Justin Bieber and Leonardo DiCaprio, but the company and its high-priced Fisker Karma have continued to skid financially.
If the California-based luxury carmaker goes bust, it will be the most high profile failure of an alternative energy firm backed by the Obama administration since the solar company Solyndra filed for bankruptcy in 2011.
ABC News Investigation: The Fall of Solyndra
Financial Deadline Looms
In April 2010, Fisker started receiving payments on a loan of up to $529 million from the Department of Energy as part of the Obama administration's push to bolster alternative energy firms. Fisker has been making repayments on the loan interest for several years, but the first sizeable repayment of the principle – an amount the company has not disclosed – is due at the end of April.
The loan to Fisker was part of a $1 billion bet the Energy Department made in two politically-connected California-based electric carmakers producing sporty -- and pricey -- cutting-edge autos. Fisker Automotive, backed by a powerhouse venture capital firm whose partners included former Vice President Al Gore, predicted it would eventually be churning out tens of thousands of electric sports sedans at the shuttered General Motors factory it bought in Delaware. The other major recipient of financial support, Tesla Motors, is backed by PayPal mogul Elon Musk.
Fisker launched the Karma with great fanfare, showing off prototypes of its sleek, quiet-running sports sedan at major auto shows and opening showrooms around the globe.
But in October 2011, ABC News aired reports revealing that the government loan to Fisker raised concerns among industry observers and government auditors, and added to questions about the way billions of dollars in loans for smart cars and green energy companies were being awarded.
In a 2011 interview with ABC News, Henrik Fisker, the renowned Danish auto designer who founded the company, issued a promise to U.S. taxpayers that they had no reason to worry about the more than $500 million in federal funds the government was getting set to bet on the company.
"No, I don't think they need to worry about it," Fisker said. When asked if Fisker might be the next Solyndra, he said, "Absolutely not."
When Henrik Fisker resigned from the company in March, the auto maker released a statement saying, in essence, that nothing had changed: "Mr. Fisker's departure is not expected to impact the company's pursuit of strategic partnerships and financing to support Fisker Automotive's continued progress as a pioneer of low-emission hybrid electric powertrain technology."
But the outlook has only appeared to get worse.
In December, the Wall Street Journal reported that Fisker board members had discussed the prospect of filing for bankruptcy, citing unnamed sources. Company executives responded by saying they were seeking larger partners for the small automaker.
For weeks following, there were widespread reports of a possible deal involving Chinese automakers. But a major Chinese manufacturer said those talks had fallen through. Last week came word in a report by Reuters that Fisker Automotive had begun consulting with bankruptcy lawyers.
That news came with less than a month before Fisker must make a significant payment on its U.S. Energy Department loan, which comes due April 22.
Obama Administration Had Advance Warning On Electric Car Failure
April 24, 2013 3:31 AM
Newly released documents show that the Obama administration was warned as early as 2010 that electric car maker Fisker Automotive Inc. was not meeting milestones set up for a half-billion dollar government loan, nearly a year before U.S. officials froze the loan after questions were raised about the company’s statements. (Photo by Jeff Fusco/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON (AP) — Newly released documents show that the Obama administration was warned as early as 2010 that electric car maker Fisker Automotive Inc. was not meeting milestones set up for a half-billion dollar government loan, nearly a year before U.S. officials froze the loan after questions were raised about the company’s statements.
An Energy Department official said in a June 2010 email that Fisker’s bid to draw on the federal loan may be jeopardized for failure to meet goals established by the Energy Department.
Despite that warning, Fisker continued to receive money until June 2011, when the DOE halted further funding. The agency did so after Fisker presented new information that called into question whether key milestones — including launch of the company’s signature, $100,000 Karma hybrid — had been achieved, according to a credit report prepared by the Energy Department.
The December 2011 credit report said “DOE staff asked questions about the delays” in the launch of the Karma “and received varied and incomplete explanations,” leading to the suspension of the loan. Fisker had received a total of $192 million of the $529 million loan before it was suspended.
In the June 2010 email, Sandra Claghorn, an official in DOE’s loan program office, had written that Fisker “may be in limbo due to a lack of compliance with financial covenants” set up by the Energy Department to protect taxpayers in the event of default. Another document, from April 2010, listed milestones that Fisker had not yet met.
Aoife McCarthy, a spokeswoman for the Energy Department, said the June 2010 email was taken out of context.
“The document shows that one person at a meeting discussed the possibility that Fisker might not meet a financial commitment” required by the Energy Department, McCarthy said in an email late Tuesday. DOE received the needed certification five days later and subsequently made the loan payment, she said.
The Associated Press obtained the Fisker documents ahead of a House hearing scheduled for Wednesday on the federal loan to the troubled car maker, which has laid off three-fourths of its workers amid continuing financial and production problems.http://washington.cbslocal.com/2013/04/24/obama-administration-had-advance-warning-on-electric-car-failure
Eric Schneiderman Challenges Obama Administration Over Mortgage Investigations
Posted: 04/24/2013 7:34 am EDT | Updated: 04/24/2013 9:02 am EDT
WASHINGTON -- New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has privately criticized the Obama administration and the Department of Justice for not aggressively investigating dodgy mortgage deals that helped trigger the financial crisis, according to senators and congressional aides who met with him this month.
New York’s top prosecutor is co-chair of the administration’s year-old Residential Mortgage Backed Securities Working Group, an initiative that President Barack Obama called for in his State of the Union address last year. In a sign of Schneiderman’s importance to the group, the White House seated him behind Michelle Obama during the speech.
Schneiderman, a Democrat who has attempted to investigate Wall Street, expressed his frustrations with the administration earlier this month during private meetings with Democratic senators on Capitol Hill, arguing that he was “naive” when he first entered into the partnership with the Justice Department, lawmakers and their aides said.
Critics of Schneiderman's collaboration, which came in exchange for his assent to a national mortgage settlement, warned at the time that the attorney general was being played. His recent criticisms of the administration may renew allegations that he, too, has compiled a lackluster enforcement record.
Schneiderman has recently directed his attention to working with lawmakers and outside groups to pressure the administration to toughen its approach. He traveled to Washington for meetings with Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Carl Levin (D-Mich.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), among others, according to people who attended the meetings. The four senators have been among the loudest critics of the Obama administration's efforts to hold the financial industry accountable for alleged wrongdoing, charging they have not gone far enough.
Examples of criticized settlements include the Justice Department's decision not to file criminal charges against financial companies accused of manipulating benchmark interest rates, as well as banks alleged to have helped drug cartels launder money through the U.S. financial system. Government panels like the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission and the Levin-chaired Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations that referred cases for potential prosecution have seen their recommendations cast aside.
Schneiderman excoriated Justice Department officials for their approach in targeting wrongdoing by financial institutions in private meetings with lawmakers.
“He expressed similar frustrations that the public has expressed,” Levin said.
Levin said that Schneiderman argued that the Justice Department lacks the “political will” to forge ahead with prosecutions of high-ranking financial executives and large financial groups.
“There's been a real lack of going after the top folks, in general,” Levin said. His subcommittee has aggressively probed potential wrongdoing by leading financial institutions, including alleged money laundering at HSBC and mortgage-related misdeeds at Goldman Sachs.
Another senator, who requested anonymity, said of Schneiderman that it's “very clear he's extremely frustrated."
Schneiderman’s behind-the-scenes criticism may sting administration and enforcement officials, who for years have been dogged by allegations that they have been soft on Wall Street.
The White House attempted to rebut those accusations in part by giving Schneiderman a plum role on a unit launched with great fanfare. He was promised aggressive prosecutors and investigators who through enforcement action would put to rest allegations that the Obama administration has been lax on pre-financial crisis misconduct.
The Justice Department has promoted four cases as having been brought thanks to the securitization task force: two separate settlements reached between the Securities and Exchange Commission and JPMorgan Chase and Credit Suisse, and two civil cases Schneiderman has brought in state court against those same banks.
The SEC’s settlements ended investigations that began long before the formation of the securitization task force.
Critics allege the task force has racked up an unimpressive record. In a sign of its decreased standing at the White House, Obama did not mention it in his State of the Union address earlier this year.
“No one is happy with the pace of the task force at all. It's a travesty,” said Brian Kettenring, a community organizer who runs the advocacy groups Leadership Center for the Common Good and Campaign for a Fair Settlement. “It’s one of the biggest black marks on this administration, in terms of what they promised versus what has happened.”
Michael Bresnick, executive director of the Obama-formed Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force, an oft-criticized collection of regulators that has spent much of its time targeting low-level mortgage brokers and borrowers, said last month the RMBS group is “actively investigating fraud” related to mortgage securities.
More than 200 people from the working group are currently investigating potential misconduct in mortgage securities, the Justice Department said.
“Many more investigations are ongoing,” Bresnick said.
Part of the administration’s embrace of Schneiderman was guided by his appeal to liberal groups, who view him as the new sheriff of Wall Street and have criticized the administration’s approach to alleged misconduct by big banks.
Schneiderman often describes how he is holding Wall Street accountable during private meetings with key interest groups, participants in the meetings have said. His office has demanded various internal bank documents on activity ranging from alleged attempts to manipulate benchmark interest rates to the pre-financial crisis securitizations of home loans that eventually defaulted.
New York’s top law enforcement officer also has the two pending civil cases against Credit Suisse and JPMorgan Chase for allegedly misleading investors in mortgage bonds. Both banks have disputed the allegations.
Schneiderman relied on the Justice Department to bring those two cases, officials said. The agency and several U.S. Attorney’s Offices combined to interview more than 40 people and provided more than a dozen analysts and attorneys to review documents for Schneiderman’s lawsuits, officials said.
“The sharing of information and expertise has been certainly beyond anything I've ever seen or been aware of," Schneiderman said when he announced his JPMorgan lawsuit in October. "It has enabled us to move forward more quickly and more aggressively than we would have.”
Justice spokeswoman Adora Andy Jenkins said the agency “supplied and continues to supply crucial investigative and litigation support, technological resources, and expertise to these cases.”
In the months after Schneiderman took office in 2011, large financial institutions and their lawyers said they feared him. Now, some have said privately in interviews that they view him as a nuisance, given the dearth of cases he has brought in light of his aggressive requests for documents.
Instead, another New York state regulator who is viewed as a rival, Superintendent of Financial Services Benjamin Lawsky, has emerged as the key Wall Street scourge, earning the enmity of some industry executives for his enforcement activities and willingness to buck federal regulators.
In his most notable case, Lawsky secured $340 million from Standard Chartered, a UK bank, to settle accusations the bank hid key details from regulators involving at least $250 billion in illicit transactions with Iran and potentially violated U.S. sanctions policy.
At the time of the settlement, Levin, the powerful chairman of the Senate's investigations panel, said that Lawsky and his team "showed that holding a bank accountable for past misconduct doesn’t need to take years of negotiation over the size of the penalty; it simply requires a regulator with backbone to act.”
Members of advocacy groups who have met with Schneiderman have expressed disappointment in his own efforts to hold financial institutions accountable, and question his criticisms of the administration. Those who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of jeopardizing their relationships with his office described Schneiderman’s rhetoric as far more aggressive than his investigations.
"Millions of households are still reeling from the mortgage crisis, which continues to be a drag on our economic recovery," said Schneiderman spokesman Damien LaVera in response.
“The attorney general ... is working constructively with the Justice Department ... [and] will continue to work on multiple fronts with activists and allies inside and outside the government to find aggressive, creative ways to ensure that struggling homeowners in New York and around the country get the relief they deserve,” LaVera added.
Schneiderman maintains the backing of some liberal groups, in part because of his efforts to convince the White House to fire Edward DeMarco, the government regulator overseeing state-controlled mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
Some of these groups have been critical of DeMarco, the acting head of the Federal Housing Finance Agency, for his refusal to allow the mortgage companies to forgive distressed borrowers’ mortgage debt. Earlier this year Schneiderman prepared a memo outlining a potential way in which the White House could replace DeMarco.http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/24/eric-schneiderman-mortgage-settlement_n_3140928.html?utm_hp_ref=politics
$3 Million Retirement Cap in Obama's Budget Would Not Apply to Himhttp://www.breitbart.com/Big-Government/2013/04/23/Obama-s-3-Million-Retirement-Cap-Would-Not-Apply-To-Himself
by Wynton Hall23 Apr 2013399post a comment View Discussion
President Barack Obama’s 2014 budget puts a $3 million cap on tax-advantaged retirement accounts to crack down on “wealthy individuals” using these investment vehicles to earn “substantially more than is needed to fund reasonable levels of retirement savings.”
But an analysis by Forbes finds that a 20-year old saving for retirement would need to amass a $9.97 million portfolio to fund just a $60,000 lifestyle by age 65. What’s more, writes David John Marotta of Forbes, $3 million today represents just $500,000 in 1970s dollars.
Kathleen Pender of the San Francisco Chronicle also notes that Obama’s plan would not apply to himself:
The limit would not apply to Obama’s own pension, which is worth at least $5 million, because it is not in a tax-advantaged account, according to Brian Graff, executive director of the American Society of Pension Professionals & Actuaries. Obama’s pension, which guarantees him a Cabinet-level salary for life indexed to inflation, is a “non-qualified deferred compensation plan, similar to what corporate executives get,” he says.
“No legislation should inhibit individuals from taking care of their own retirement,” says Marotta. “Government officials know very little about retirement planning. They haven’t even had the foresight to keep Social Security solvent.”
Washington State May Push Workers Into Health Exchanges, Costing U.S. Government Millions
By MIKE BAKER 04/24/13 04:10 AM ET EDT http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/24/washington-workers-health-exchange_n_3145568.html
OLYMPIA, Wash. -- In a move that would capitalize on provisions under President Barack Obama's health care law but could cost the federal government millions of dollars, Washington state lawmakers have found a creative way to pass a large chunk of their health care expenses along to Washington, D.C. – and analysts say others are likely to follow suit.
The plan threatens to affect the federal budget and the pocketbooks of some part-time workers, as it would push a group of employees out of their current health care plans and into an exchange developed under the Affordable Care Act.
Observers say the shift seems to run counter to the intent of the new health care law. Supporters, however, say it's a viable strategy for governments to pursue as they manage the insurance rules related to part-time staff.
Washington state appears to be the first major government to seriously explore the possibility of pushing workers into the exchange – but it probably won't be the last. Rick Johnson, who advises state and local governments on health care policy at the New York-based consulting firm Segal Company, said he expects it will be an option some governments will look at in the years to come.
"I can see that as one of the solutions out there," Johnson said.
A spokeswoman with the Department of Health and Human Services declined comment, and it's unclear whether the federal government accounted for this possible outcome.
While Democratic lawmakers have expressed concern about the Washington state plan this year, it is drawing growing interest among a bipartisan group of political leaders in the state. Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee, who supported the Obama health care law while in Congress, has reservations about the plan.
But the former congressman said federal rules don't dictate how employers and employees should handle insurance coverage and indicated that he may consider supporting the idea in the future.
"It's one of those ideas that's premature for us to launch this year, but I don't think we should take it off the table," Inslee said Tuesday.
The Washington state proposal has come before lawmakers as governments around the nation are formulating strategies to manage those who don't work 40 hours a week, since the federal law requires employers to provide coverage for those working at least 30 hours.
Virginia, for example, is requiring all part-time employees to work fewer than 30 hours, which will help the state avoid penalties for not providing health coverage. Florida, facing a potential $300 million penalty for not covering workers who have 30 to 39 hours a week, is moving to extend coverage to those employees.
Washington state is in a less common situation, since it already provides coverage for part-timers down to 20 hours a week.
Budget writers in Olympia say their plan would save Washington state $120 million over the next two years. However, it would consequently push more health care costs onto the federal government, since many low-income part-time state employees and education workers would likely qualify for federal subsidies.
Under the proposal, which has been advanced as a way to help deal with a $1.2 billion budget shortfall, Washington state would make policy changes and secure agreements in which staffers who work between 20 and 30 hours a week would get extra compensation but lose state health coverage. They would then be eligible to get health care in the federal plan, without any consequence for the state.
K-12 workers would have to adopt new bargaining agreements to implement the change, though the state would help by offering sweeteners that would be equivalent to as much as a $2 per hour raise.
Rick Chisa, political director at the Public School Employees of Washington, said the union is open to shifting some workers to the exchange but didn't feel that the current proposal – an inducement valued at perhaps $200 a month for someone working 25 hours a week – provided an adequate incentive, especially if it may be taxed as compensation.
He said the change may eventually make sense for cafeteria workers and teacher's assistants who are on the low end of the pay spectrum, but union leaders also want to see what the insurance product will end up looking like in the exchange before making that move.
"We want to make sure that we're not selling workers short and being mesmerized by a shiny $2 bill," Chisa said. He said it was "very unlikely" for such a shift to happen this year.
The shift could be a problem particularly for part-time workers who have larger family incomes.
Steve Hodes, who works 24 hours a week doing policy work for the Employment Security Department, said he would not qualify for insurance subsidies because his wife makes a decent salary working as an attorney.
He suspects he and his family might be on the hook for thousands of dollars in new expenses if he was moved to the exchange, though solid numbers are elusive since the exchange doesn't exist yet.
"They don't have a clue how much it is," said Hodes, 63.
Under the federal law, large employers who don't provide coverage to full-time workers will face penalties, but they won't face penalties for not covering employees who work under 30 hours a week. Thousands of part-time government employees in Washington state work between 20 and 30 hours a week and currently qualify for state medical coverage.
Observers have been concerned about how private employers will handle the new health care law and the possibility that some may shed insurance coverage. The owner of Olive Garden and Red Lobster restaurants, for example, began experimenting last year with putting more workers on part-time status.
Virginia is doing something similar, with Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell directing that all part-time state employees work less than 29 hours weekly. That is creating a financially crippling problem for many of Virginia's 9,100 adjunct faculty members at the state's 23 community colleges on 40 campuses statewide.
"I've never anticipated getting rich off being a teacher," said J. Gabriel Scala, an adjunct English professor at J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College in Richmond.
"But the rent has to be paid. And I have to eat. And gas has to be put in the car – and $17,000 a year isn't going to do it," she added.
The efforts appear to be the beginning stages of governments working to manage their costs under the health care law.
Washington Democratic state Sen. Jim Hargrove, one of the budget writers who helped develop his state's plan, said lawmakers were considering the option as a way to help both employees and the state budget.
"We're looking," Hargrove said, "at what the possibilities are."
AP Writer Mike Baker can be reached on Facebook: http://on.fb.me/HiPpEV
In Florida, a food-stamp recruiter deals with wrenching choices
By Eli Saslow, Published: April 23http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/in-florida-a-food-stamp-recruiter-deals-with-wrenching-choices/2013/04/23/b3d6b41c-a3a4-11e2-9c03-6952ff305f35_print.html
FORT PIERCE, Fla. — A good recruiter needs to be liked, so Dillie Nerios filled gift bags with dog toys for the dog people and cat food for the cat people. She packed crates of cookies, croissants, vegetables and fresh fruit. She curled her hair and painted her nails fluorescent pink. “A happy, it’s-all-good look,” she said, checking her reflection in the rearview mirror. Then she drove along the Florida coast to sign people up for food stamps.
Her destination on a recent morning was a 55-and-over community in central Florida, where single-wide trailers surround a parched golf course. On the drive, Nerios, 56, reviewed techniques she had learned for connecting with some of Florida’s most desperate senior citizens during two years on the job. Touch a shoulder. Hold eye contact. Listen for as long as it takes. “Some seniors haven’t had anyone to talk to in some time,” one of the state-issued training manuals reads. “Make each person feel like the only one who matters.”
In fact, it is Nerios’s job to enroll at least 150 seniors for food stamps each month, a quota she usually exceeds. Alleviate hunger, lessen poverty: These are the primary goals of her work. But the job also has a second and more controversial purpose for cash-strapped Florida, where increasing food-stamp enrollment has become a means of economic growth, bringing almost $6 billion each year into the state. The money helps to sustain communities, grocery stores and food producers. It also adds to rising federal entitlement spending and the U.S. debt.
Nerios prefers to think of her job in more simple terms: “Help is available,” she tells hundreds of seniors each week. “You deserve it. So, yes or no?”
In Florida and everywhere else, the answer in 2013 is almost always yes. A record 47 million Americans now rely on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), also known as food stamps, available for people with annual incomes below about $15,000. The program grew during the economic collapse because 10 million more Americans dropped into poverty. It has continued to expand four years into the recovery because state governments and their partner organizations have become active promoters, creating official “SNAP outreach plans” and hiring hundreds of recruiters like Nerios.
A decade ago, only about half of eligible Americans chose to sign up for food stamps. Now that number is 75 percent.
Rhode Island hosts SNAP-themed bingo games for the elderly. Alabama hands out fliers that read: “Be a patriot. Bring your food stamp money home.” Three states in the Midwest throw food-stamp parties where new recipients sign up en masse.
On the Treasure Coast of Florida, the official outreach plan is mostly just Nerios, who works for a local food bank that is funded in part by the state. She roams four counties of sandbars and barrier islands in her Ford Escape, with an audio Bible in the CD player and a windshield sticker that reads “Faith, Hope and Love.” She distributes hundreds of fliers each week, giving out her personal cellphone number and helping seniors submit SNAP applications on her laptop.
On this particular morning, Nerios pulled into the Spanish Lakes retirement community near Port St. Lucie, Fla., and set up a display table in front of the senior center. She advertised her visit weeks in advance, but she can never predict how many people will come. Some events draw hundreds; others only a dozen. Her hope was to attract a crowd with giveaways of pet toys and hundreds of pounds of food, which she stacked high on the table. “What person in need doesn’t want food that’s immediate and free?” she said.
She watched as a few golf carts and motorized scooters drove toward her on a road lined with palm trees, passing Spanish Lakes signs that read “We Love Living Here!” and “Great Lifestyle!” The first seniors grabbed giveaway boxes and went home to tell their friends, who told more friends, until a line of 40 people had formed at Nerios’s table.
A husband and wife, just done with nine holes of golf, clubs still on their cart.
An 84-year-old woman on her bicycle, teetering away with one hand on the handlebars and a case of applesauce under her other arm.
A Korean War veteran on oxygen who mostly wanted to talk, so Nerios listened: 32 years in the military, a sergeant major, Germany, Iron Curtain, medals and awards. “A hell of a life,” the veteran said. “So if I signed up, what would I tell my wife?”
“Tell her you’re an American and this is your benefit,” Nerios said, pulling him away from the crowd, so he could write the 26th name of the day on her SNAP sign-up sheet.
She distributed food and SNAP brochures for three hours. “Take what you need,” she said, again and again, until the fruit started to sweat and the vegetables wilted in the late-morning heat. Just as she prepared to leave, a car pulled into the senior center and a man with a gray mustache and a tattered T-shirt opened the driver-side door. He had seen the giveaway boxes earlier in the morning but waited to return until the crowd thinned. He had just moved to Spanish Lakes. He had never taken giveaways. He looked at the boxes but stayed near his car.
“Sir, can I help?” Nerios asked. She brought over some food. She gave him her business card and a few brochures about SNAP.
“I don’t want to be another person depending on the government,” he said.
“How about being another person getting the help you deserve?” she said.
Did he deserve it, though? Lonnie Briglia, 60, drove back to his Spanish Lakes mobile home with the recruiter’s pamphlets and thought about that. He wasn’t so sure.
Wasn’t it his fault that he had flushed 40 years of savings into a bad investment, buying a fleet of delivery trucks just as the economy crashed? Wasn’t it his fault that he and his wife, Celeste, had missed mortgage payments on the house where they raised five kids, forcing the bank to foreclose in 2012? Wasn’t it his fault the only place they could afford was an abandoned mobile home in Spanish Lakes, bought for the entirety of their savings, $750 in cash?
“We made horrible mistakes,” he said. “We dug the hole. We should dig ourselves out.”
Now he walked into their mobile home and set the SNAP brochures on the kitchen table. They had moved in three months before, and it had taken all of that time for them to make the place livable. They patched holes in the ceiling. They fixed the plumbing and rewired the electricity. They gave away most of their belongings to the kids — “like we died and executed the will,” he said. They decorated the walls of the mobile home with memories of a different life: photos of Lonnie in his old New Jersey police officer uniform, or in Germany for a manufacturing job that paid $25 an hour, or on vacation in their old pop-up camper.
A few weeks after they moved in, some of their 11 grandchildren had come over to visit. One of them, a 9-year-old girl, had looked around the mobile home and then turned to her grandparents on the verge of tears: “Grampy, this place is junky,” she had said. He had smiled and told her that it was okay, because Spanish Lakes had a community pool, and now he could go swimming whenever he liked.
Only later, alone with Celeste, had he said what he really thought: “A damn sky dive. That’s our life. How does anyone fall this far, this fast?”
And now SNAP brochures were next to him on the table — one more step down, he thought, reading over the bold type on the brochure. “Applying is easy.” “Eat right!” “Every $5 in SNAP generates $9.20 for the local economy.”
He sat in a sweltering home with no air conditioning and a refrigerator bought on layaway, which was mostly empty except for the “experienced” vegetables they sometimes bought at a discount grocery store to cook down and freeze for later. He had known a handful of people who depended on the government: former co-workers who exaggerated injuries to get temporary disability; homeless people in the Fort Pierce park where he had taken the kids each week when they were young to hand out homemade peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches, even though he suspected some of those homeless were drug addicts who spent their Social Security payments on crack.
“Makers and takers,” Lonnie had told the kids then, explaining that the world divided into two categories. The Briglias were makers.
Now three of those kids worked in law enforcement and two were in management. One of them, the oldest, was on his way to visit Spanish Lakes, driving down at this very moment from Valdosta, Ga., with his wife and two kids. Lonnie placed the SNAP brochures in a drawer and turned on a fan to cool the mobile home.
His son arrived, and they went out to dinner. Lonnie tried to pay with a credit card, but his son wouldn’t let him. Then, before leaving for Valdosta, the son gave his parents an air conditioner, bought for $400. Lonnie started to protest.
“Please,” his son said. “You need it. It’s okay to take a little help.”
The offer of more help came early the next morning. Nerios reached Lonnie on his cellphone to check on his interest in SNAP.
“Can I help sign you up?” she asked.
“I’m still not sure,” he said. “We have a lot of frozen vegetables in the freezer.”
“Don’t wait until you’re out,” she said.
She was on her way to another outreach event, but she told Lonnie she had plenty of time to talk. She had always preferred working with what her colleagues called the Silent Generation, even though seniors were historically the least likely to enroll in SNAP. Only about 38 percent of eligible seniors choose to participate in the program, half the rate of the general population. In Florida, that means about 300,000 people over 60 are not getting their benefits, and at least $381 million in available federal money isn’t coming into the state. To help enroll more seniors, the government has published an outreach guide that blends compassion with sales techniques, generating some protests in Congress. The guide teaches recruiters how to “overcome the word ‘no,’ ” suggesting answers for likely hesitations.
Welfare stigma: “You worked hard and the taxes you paid helped create SNAP.”
Embarrassment: “Everyone needs help now and then.”
Sense of failure: “Lots of people, young and old, are having financial difficulties.”
Nerios prefers a subtler touch. “It’s about patience, empathy,” she said. While she makes a middle-class salary and had never been on food stamps herself, she knows the emotional exhaustion that comes at the end of each month, after a few hundred conversations about money that didn’t exist. Nowhere had the SNAP program grown as it has in Florida, where enrollment had risen from 1.45 million people in 2008 to 3.35 million last year. And no place in Florida had been reshaped by the recession quite like the Treasure Coast, where middle-class retirees lost their savings in the housing collapse, forcing them to live on less than they expected for longer than they expected. Sometimes, Nerios believes it is more important to protect a client’s sense of self-worth than to meet her quota.
“I’m not going to push you,” she told Lonnie now. “This is your decision.”
“I have high blood pressure, so it’s true that diet is important to us,” he said, which sounded to her like a man arguing with himself.
“I can meet with you today, or tomorrow, or anytime you’d like,” she said.
“I don’t know,” he said. “I’m really sorry.”
“You don’t have to be,” she said. “Please, just think about it.”
She hung up the phone and began setting up her giveaway table at another event.
He hung up the phone and drove a few miles down the highway to his wife’s small knitting store. They had stayed married 41 years because they made decisions together. She was an optimist and he was a realist; they leveled each other out. During the failures of the past three years, they had developed a code language that allowed them to acknowledge their misery without really talking about it.
“How you doing?” he asked.
“Just peachy,” she said, which meant to him that in fact she was exhausted, depressed, barely hanging on.
She opened the knitting store three years earlier, but it turned out her only customers were retirees on fixed incomes, seniors with little money to spend who just wanted an air-conditioned place to spend the day. So Celeste started giving them secondhand yarn and inviting customers to knit with her for charity in the shop. Together they had made 176 hats and scarves for poor families in the last year. The store, meanwhile, had barely made its overhead. Lonnie wanted her to close it, but it was the last place where she could pretend her life had turned out as she’d hoped, knitting to classical music at a wooden table in the center of the store.
Now Lonnie joined her at that table and started to tell her about his week: how he had been driving by the community center and seen boxes of food; how he had decided to take some, grabbing tomatoes and onions that looked fresher than anything they’d had in weeks; how a woman had touched his shoulder and offered to help, leaving him with brochures and a business card.
He pulled the card from his pocket and showed it to Celeste. She leaned in to read the small print. “SNAP Outreach,” it read.
“I think we qualify,” Lonnie said.
There was a pause.
“Might be a good idea,” Celeste said.
“It’s hard to accept,” he said.
“We have to take help when we need it,” she said.
Celeste looked down at her knitting, and Lonnie sat with her in the quiet shop and thought about what happened when he opened a barbershop a few years earlier, as another effort of last resort. His dad, an Italian immigrant, had been a barber in New Jersey, and Lonnie decided to try it for himself after a dozen manufacturing job applications went unanswered in 2010. He enrolled in a local beauty school, graduated with a few dozen teenaged girls, took over the lease for a shop in Port St. Lucie and named it Man Cave. He had gone to work with his scissors and his clippers every day, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturdays and Sundays, standing on the curb and waving a handmade sign to advertise haircuts for $5. He had done a total of 11 cuts in three months. But what tore him up inside had nothing to do with the lonely echo of his feet on the linoleum floor or the empty cash register or the weeks that went by without a single customer. No, what convinced him to close the shop — the memory that stuck with him even now — were the weeks when old friends had come in to get their hair cut twice. He couldn’t stand the idea of being pitied. He hated that his problems had become a burden to anyone else.
He wondered: Sixty years old now, and who was he? A maker? A taker?
“I’m not ready to sign up for this yet,” he said.
“Soon we might have to,” she said.
He tucked Nerios’s business card into his back pocket.
“I know,” he said. “I’m keeping it.”
© The Washington Post Company
Fed-Up Immigration Agents Sue Obama Admin. For Right to Do Their Jobs
Aug. 23, 2012 1:30pm
This photo provided by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Wednesday, March 28, 2012, in New Jersey, shows agents taking a person into custody during operation Cross Check III. (Credit: AP)
A group of immigration agents filed a lawsuit against the Obama administration Thursday, saying they are sick of being told not to do their jobs, a feeling intensified by the president’s new non-deportation policy and a previous memo directing them not to arrest certain illegal immigrants.
A total of 10 Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents and deportation officers filed the lawsuit in federal court to try to do away with both initiatives, The Washington Times reports.
Since taking office, President Obama has taken drastic measures to loosen the nation’s immigration laws. In addition to the president’s new executive order that protects younger illegal aliens from deportation, the Obama administration has shut down numerous Border Patrol stations, ended a crucial ICE program that allowed local law enforcement agencies to enforce federal immigration law and actually instructed Border Patrol agents not to make arrests.
The 10 U.S. ICE agents and deportation officers said Obama’s policies have put them between a rock and a hard place. They can either enforce the law and be reprimanded by their superiors, or fail to enforce the law and violate their own oaths of service. In fact, a 1996 law requires the agents to demand proof of legal status from individuals they suspect are in the country illegally.
High-profile attorney Kris W. Kobach, who is also secretary of state in Kansas and a staunch promoter of Arizona’s immigration law and other immigration crackdowns, is representing the agents.
“ICE is at a point now where agents are being told to break federal law, they’re pretty much told that any illegal alien under age of 31 is going to be let go. You can imagine, these law enforcement officers are being put in a horrible position,” Kobach told The Washington Times.
Last week, thousands of illegal immigrants lined up to take part in the Obama administration’s “deferred action” program and began submitting their applications to the Department of Homeland Security. Once again, the program allows illegal aliens who are 30-years of age or younger and have a decently clear criminal record to avoid deportation and acquire work permits.
“The Directive commands ICE officers to violate federal law,” the lawsuit states, “as detailed below, commands ICE officers to violate their oaths to uphold and support federal law, violates the Administrative Procedure Act, unconstitutionally usurps and encroaches upon the legislative powers of Congress, as defined in Article I of the United States Constitution, and violates the obligation of the executive branch to faithfully execute the law, as required by Article II, Section 3, of the United States Constitution.
Not surprisingly, ICE wouldn’t comment on the lawsuit. But don’t expect President Obama or his administration to back down at all — they have continually defended the legality of his new immigration policies.
More from The Washington Times:
At a House Judiciary Committee hearing in July, Rep. Steve King warned of the possibility of a lawsuit and asked Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano if she would rescind the order before it came to that.
“Representative, I will not rescind it,” she replied. “It’s right on the law. It’s the right policy. It fits within our prosecutorial priorities. And although it came out of the Department of Homeland Security, let me say that president is four square behind it, embraces this policy as the right thing to do.”
She said the administration doesn’t have the ability to issue a stay of action for a broad category of people, but said the new policy is different because it invests decisions on a case-by-case basis with agents and officers, who are instructed not to pursue cases for those who meet the guidelines she laid out.
Ms. Napolitano said she’s acting in accordance with Supreme Court rulings that have established a wide latitude for discretion by the executive branch, and said federal law directs the administration to establish immigration enforcement priorities.
But in their 22-page complaint, the agents say they’ve been told in broad terms to ignore a whole class of illegal immigrants. They said they have been instructed not to bother asking for proof, but to take an illegal immigrant’s word that he would qualify for the president’s policy.
One of the instances included in the agents’ lawsuit is the case of ICE Agent Samuel Martin, who picked up an illegal alien from an El Paso County jail and was assaulted as the man tried to escape. The illegal alien also reportedly assaulted a second agent.
Here’s the kicker. When they brought the man to ICE’s processing center, so-called “supervisors” told Martin that the illegal alien had to be released to comply with the Obama administration’s new policies — not the president’s “DREAM Act” but a previous memo from ICE Director John Morton who instructed agents only to give priority to criminals and repeat offenders. Keep in mind, assaulting a federal officer is a federal crime, punishable by up to 8 years in prison.
Another veteran ICE agent was recently threatened with suspension for arresting and illegal alien and refusing to let him walk — against the orders of his superiors.
It is because of instances like this that Chris Crane, the president of the National ICE Council, says morale is in the toilet among ICE agents.
“They feel like they’ve become the enemy because literally we have this situation where individuals that have broken U.S. immigration law as well as often times criminal law at the state or local level — they’re being released, no questions asked, but our own officers are being threatened with their careers being taken away if they go out and enforce the laws on the books,” Crane last month.
Additionally, Roy Beck, executive director of NumbersUSA, the group funding the lawsuit, said the current administration’s amnesty-style policies could also affect the U.S. job market.
“Without immigration enforcement, the labor market would be filled until wages fell either to the global average or the federal minimum wage,” he said. “These agents are protecting every working American’s level of income and wages.”
The Washington Times points out, “The lawsuit, filed in federal court in the Northern District of Texas, argues the administration policies fail to pass muster on three grounds: they infringe on Congress’s right to set immigration policy; they force ICE agents to disregard the law; and the Homeland Security Department didn’t follow the federal Administrative Procedure Act, which requires agencies to write regulations and put them out for public comment before taking big steps.”
Read the entire lawsuit here.
Cost of Food Stamp Fraud More Than Doubles In Three Years
April 1, 2013 http://cnsnews.com/blog/joe-schoffstall/cost-food-stamp-fraud-more-doubles-three-years
In 2012, a U.S. Department of Agriculture official said that food stamp fraud totals $750 million each year - a number that more than doubles the cost of trafficking reported in a 2006- 2008 USDA study.
Kevin Concannon, U.S. Department of Agriculture undersecretary for food, nutrition and consumer services, told the Huffington Post last year that food stamp fraud totals around $750 million each year.
The $750 million number is more than double the amount in total dollars of fraud detected annually in a 2006-2008 study on trafficking - a type of fraud that involves selling Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits to food retailers for cents on the dollar.
"This is $750 million that isn't being used to provide food to individuals and families and that issue isn't lost on us. We want to maintain the confidence of American taxpayers because everyone is challenged in this economy - the payers as well as the folks who are benefiting from the program," Concannon said.
CNSNews.com reached out to the USDA to verify this number. A spokesperson stated via email, "In 2011, program costs totaled $75.7 billion. Using the most recent data on trafficking available, USDA estimated that trafficking would be 1 percent of $75 billion, or approximately $750 million."
This number is $420 million more per year than a report released in March of 2011 that wrote on fraud within the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) from 2006-2008.
"Trafficking diverted an estimated $330 million annually from SNAP benefits – or about one cent of each SNAP dollar – between 2006 and 2008. About 8.2 percent of all stores trafficked," states the Extent of Trafficking in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (2006-2008).
That's an increase from $330 million annually in 2008 to $750 million in 2011. The "USDA doesn't tolerate fraud which is why we are aggressively strengthening our anti-fraud policies and tactics," said the USDA, noting the rate of fraud is at 1 percent of total expenditures.
CNSNews.com previously reported that in January 2009 there were 31,939,110 Americans receiving food stamps. As of November 2012, there were 47,692,896 Americans enrolled, an increase of 49.3 percent.
No furloughs for ObamaCare officials
By Sam Baker - 04/24/13 01:35 PM ET
The office implementing most of President Obama's healthcare law is not furloughing its workers as a result of sequestration, its director said Wednesday.
Gary Cohen, director of the Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight, said Wednesday that his office has not cut its workers' hours and pay as a result of the automatic budget cuts that went into effect in March.
Republicans have accused the Obama administration of politicizing the sequester by targeting highly visible programs like airport security and White House tours.
The fact that ObamaCare officials haven't been furloughed shows that the cuts are political, Rep. Greg Harper (R-Miss.) said Wednesday.
"We're talking about at least a 15 percent furlough of current air-traffic controllers, resulting in delays and perhaps safety concerns, but yet this has been a selective political item by the administration," Harper said.
Agencies across the federal workforce have furloughed their workers, cutting their hours and pay, as a result of the automatic budget cuts known as sequestration. Furloughs have caused airport delays, and extend all the way up to the White House budget office and the West Wing.
Cohen said the implementation office has still been affected by the sequester because it is under a hiring freeze.
"We have been working very hard to avoid the necessity for furloughs," Cohen said. "We are under a hiring freeze, so I can't hire, I can't replace people who leave, which is a serious issue for me in terms of trying to run a program."
A hiring freeze is "not the same" as cutting the pay of existing employees, Harper said.
"Are you telling me, then, that this administration is furloughing air traffic controllers vital to public safety in this country, and yet you're not furloughing anybody in your agency?" Harper asked during a hearing of the Energy and Commerce oversight subcommittee.
"Well, in effect we are, because we can't replace people who leave," Cohen replied.
Read more: http://thehill.com/blogs/healthwatch/health-reform-implementation/295877-official-no-furloughs-for-office-implementing-obamacare#ixzz2RPab57HM
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Congressional leaders in both parties are engaged in high-level, confidential talks about exempting lawmakers and Capitol Hill aides from the insurance exchanges they are mandated to join as part of President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul, sources in both parties said.
The talks — which involve Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), the Obama administration and other top lawmakers — are extraordinarily sensitive, with both sides acutely aware of the potential for political fallout from giving carve-outs from the hugely controversial law to 535 lawmakers and thousands of their aides. Discussions have stretched out for months, sources said.
A source close to the talks says: “Everyone has to hold hands on this and jump, or nothing is going to get done.”
Yet if Capitol Hill leaders move forward with the plan, they risk being dubbed hypocrites by their political rivals and the American public. By removing themselves from a key Obamacare component, lawmakers and aides would be held to a different standard than the people who put them in office.
(Also on POLITICO: GOP pulls contentious Obamacare bill)
Democrats, in particular, would take a public hammering as the traditional boosters of Obamacare. Republicans would undoubtedly attempt to shred them over any attempt to escape coverage by it, unless Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) give Democrats cover by backing it.
There is concern in some quarters that the provision requiring lawmakers and staffers to join the exchanges, if it isn’t revised, could lead to a “brain drain” on Capitol Hill, as several sources close to the talks put it.
The problem stems from whether members and aides set to enter the exchanges would have their health insurance premiums subsidized by their employer — in this case, the federal government. If not, aides and lawmakers in both parties fear that staffers — especially low-paid junior aides — could be hit with thousands of dollars in new health care costs, prompting them to seek jobs elsewhere. Older, more senior staffers could also retire or jump to the private sector rather than face a big financial penalty.
(Also on POLITICO: Baucus will continue ACA push)
Plus, lawmakers — especially those with long careers in public service and smaller bank accounts — are also concerned about the hit to their own wallets.
House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) is worried about the provision. The No. 2 House Democrat has personally raised the issue with Boehner and other party leaders, sources said.
“Mr. Hoyer is looking at this policy, like all other policies in the Affordable Care Act, to ensure they’re being implemented in a way that’s workable for everyone, including members and staff,” said Katie Grant, Hoyer’s communications director.
Several proposals have been submitted to the Office of Personnel Management, which will administer the benefits. One proposal exempts lawmakers and aides; the other exempts aides alone.
When asked about the high-level bipartisan talks, Michael Steel, a Boehner spokesman, said: “The speaker’s objective is to spare the entire country from the ravages of the president’s health care law. He is approached daily by American citizens, including members of Congress and staff, who want to be freed from its mandates. If the speaker has the opportunity to save anyone from Obamacare, he will.”
Reid’s office declined to comment about the bipartisan talks.
However, the idea of exempting lawmakers and aides from the exchanges has its detractors, including Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), a key Obamacare architect. Waxman thinks there is confusion about the content of the law. The Affordable Care Act, he said, mandates that the federal government will still subsidize and provide health plans obtained in the exchange. There will be no additional cost to lawmakers and Hill aides, he contends.
“I think the law is pretty clear,” Waxman told POLITICO. “Members and their staffs should get their health insurance through the exchange; the federal government will offer them health insurance coverage that they obtained through the exchanges because we want to get the same health care coverage everybody else has available to them.”
Waxman has been working on this issue with congressional colleagues and the Obama administration.
Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) said if OPM decides that the federal government doesn’t pick up “the 75 percent that they have been, then put yourself in the position of a lot of entry-level staff people who make $25,000 a year, and all of a sudden, they have a $7,000 a year health care tab? That would be devastating.”
Burr added: “And that makes up probably about 30 percent of the folks that work on the Senate side. Probably a larger portion on the House side. It would drastically change whether kids would have the ability to come up here out of college.”
Yet Burr, a vocal Obamacare opponent, is also flat-out opposed to exempting Congress from the exchange provision.
“I have no problems with Congress being under the same guidelines,” Burr said. “I think if this is going to be a disaster — which I think it’s going to be — we ought to enjoy it together with our constituents.”
The developing narrative is potentially brutal for congressional Democrats and the White House. The health care law, controversial since it was passed in 2010, has been a target of the right and, increasingly, the left. There are concerns about its cost, implementation and impact on small businesses. If the two sides agree on a fix, leadership is discussing attaching it to a must-pass bill, like the government-funding resolution or legislation to hike the nation’s debt limit.
Republicans, though, haven’t been able to coalesce around a legislative health care plan of their own, either. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) pushed a bill this week that would shift funds from a health care prevention fund to create a high-risk pool for sick Americans. That bill couldn’t even get a vote on the House floor as conservatives revolted, embarrassing Cantor and his leadership team. GOP leadership pulled the bill.
But the secret talks about exempting Capitol Hill hands from the exchanges has the potential to be even more politically risky. During the 2009-10 battle over what’s now dubbed Obamacare, Republicans insisted that Capitol Hill hands must have the same health care as the rest of the American people. The measure was introduced by Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), who spent months negotiating the details of the health care law but later became a major Obamacare critic.
The mandate on health exchanges doesn’t cover everyone. Aides in lawmakers’ personal offices must obtain health care through the exchanges but not committee staff. Lawmakers and aides older than 65 are covered by Medicare.
OPM also has to decide where the members and staffers would be covered. According to several people who have spoken with OPM officials, lawmakers would probably be in the exchange of the state they represent. But staffers would sign up in the state where they usually live — that means district office employees would join home state exchanges, and Capitol Hill staffers would mostly be in Washington, Virginia or Maryland.
Jennifer Haberkorn contributed to this report.