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.
Hostages on the tarmac!
You're ignoring the sequester. The president isn't happy.
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Jets taxi into takeoff position at Los Angeles International Airport. Flight delays have been reported throughout the nation because of the furloughing of air traffic controllers. (David McNew, Getty Images / April 22, 2013)
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April 24, 2013
Hours before the federal spending sequester began on March 1, when President Barack Obama predicted that "People are going to be hurt," he did not add, Trust me, I'll make sure of it. But he might as well have, as this week's furloughs of air traffic controllers make obvious.
The furloughs reflect panic: Having exaggerated their early predictions that the sequester's small reduction in spending growth would seriously affect Americans, many Democrats are hell-bent to pre-empt those Americans from drawing two logical conclusions: If one level of cuts is this painless, then maybe we should make ... more cuts to expenditures. And while we're at it, maybe we should ignore the politicians who told us that if Washington lowered the spending growth curve ... the Earth will fly into the sun.
Earlier this month, then, you could anticipate a White House effort to enrage the public when that same public preached blasphemy to McClatchy-Marist pollsters: The percentage of Americans who didn't think the sequester cuts are affecting the economy rose by 13 points over the prior month (from 27 to 40 percent), while the percentage who did think the cuts harm the economy fell by 11 points (from 47 to 36 percent).
The president and his allies in Congress hadn't anticipated that. They've spent March and April listening for fury from citizens who are, um, ignoring the sequester. Some of those citizens instead are marveling that the stock market (as measured by the S&P 500 Index) has shot up 10.7 percent in not-exactly-sequester-ravaged 2013.
So, what could the administration do to make a reduction of barely 1 percent of actual federal outlays — less than $45 billion of this year's roughly $3.8 trillion — turn citizens against Republicans who oppose more tax increases? Easy, or so the president's men and women figured: Cue the air controller furloughs! Let's stall some flights on the tarmac!
Sure enough, travel delays have followed. We're less certain, though, that this hostage-taking will cut the way the White House expects: The scheme relies on citizens being — how to put this delicately? — stupid enough to think that the Federal Aviation Administration can't find a more flier-friendly way to save $600 million.
To believe that, though:
• Americans would have to ignore the plan that U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., delivered in early March to Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, detailing how LaHood's FAA could save twice that amount — $1.2 billion.
• Americans would have to ignore House Republicans who note that LaHood's supposedly destitute FAA is spending some $500 million on consultants — and $300 million on travel and supplies.
• And Americans would have to ignore Democrats' refusal to accept congressional Republicans' offer to give the administration more flexibility in sequester cuts — an offer House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., reiterated during a meeting Monday with the Tribune editorial board. No, the White House doesn't want flexibility. The White House wants what the president predicted March 1.
Who knows, maybe congressional Republicans will wind up wearing the jacket for this latest mess; they usually do. Although voters have such a poor opinion of them that it's doubtful their approval rating can fall lower. The notion that, having agreed to tax hikes to avoid the so-called fiscal cliff, they'll surrender to the White House — Yes, yes, more tax hikes, and please, let's end the sequester's real-life curbs on spending growth — at the moment looks fanciful.
A different scenario: The longer this intentionally imposed air traffic slowdown drags on, the more incompetent LaHood and other administration officials look. They've had a year and a half to prepare for a sequester that the White House proposed, and that the president signed into law. Yet their idea of good management is to subject thousands of civilian air controllers to rolling furloughs? These officials' plan for winning Americans' hearts and minds is to toy not only with flight schedules, but also with a moribund economy that relies on the efficiency of U.S. air travel?
We note that, except for some party leaders who have no choice but to back their president, not many Democrats are, pardon the phrase, flying to his side.
Some of them may think this game of chicken is politically dangerous.
Or they may be thinking about another kind of danger: the first air scare that occurs because an understaffed, overworked control tower makes a mistake.
Obama resists Republican bid to see gun smuggling operation documents
Reuters ^ | April 24, 2013 | by David Ingram
Posted on Wednesday, April 24, 2013 7:42:31 PM by Oldeconomybuyer
President Barack Obama is resisting a congressional subpoena for documents related to how the administration responded to the revelation of the failed operation known as "Fast and Furious" on the U.S.- Mexican border.
Justice Department lawyer Ian Gershengorn told a hearing the matter was best left to the give-and-take of the U.S. government's two elected branches, the president and Congress, and should not be a matter for the courts.
"That is how it has worked for 225 years," said Gershengorn, referring to the ratification of the U.S. Constitution in 1788.
U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson was skeptical and told Gershengorn, "There are three branches here, not just two." She did not say how she would rule, but questioned Gershengorn for more than twice as long as she did House of Representatives lawyer Kerry Kircher.
(Excerpt) Read more at reuters.com ...
'Climate of Fear'? Obama's ATF pick facing probe over retaliation claim
fox ^ | 4/25/13 | Barnini Chakraborty
Posted on Thursday, April 25, 2013 8:34:49 PM by Nachum
WASHINGTON – An independent government watchdog agency is investigating allegations that President Obama's nominee to lead the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives retaliated against employees for whistle-blowing, FoxNews.com has learned.
The allegations against B. Todd Jones, a Minnesota federal prosecutor who also is serving as acting director of the ATF while his nomination is pending, include claims that he mismanaged the prosecutor's office and presided over a "climate of fear." Specifically, he was accused of retaliating against whistle-blowing with "a suspension and a lowered performance appraisal."
In a letter dated July 20, 2012 to the Office of Special Counsel, employees at the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Minnesota first claimed that they were being mistreated and that the office had turned into a “hostile work environment.”
(Excerpt) Read more at foxnews.com ...
President's pick for French ambassador folded over ties to poker ring: sources
By KAJA WHITEHOUSE and JENNIFER GOULD KEIL
Last Updated: 7:45 AM, April 26, 2013
Posted: 5:05 AM, April 26, 2013http://www.nypost.com/p/news/national/ring_bets_off_bam_diplo_pick_folded_tHxkdAt1iQIxc6GWZ7X7jJ
The Manhattan billionaire President Obama wanted to appoint ambassador to France turned down the prestigious position over ties to an alleged Russian mob-run poker ring that was laundered through a Carlyle hotel art gallery, sources told The Post.
Marc Lasry, who runs the $12 billion investment firm Avenue Capital in Midtown, withdrew on Tuesday because of his close friendship with Illya Trincher, 27, who was busted last week with 30 others, including Trincher’s pro-poker-playing father, Vadim, and brother Eugene.
The feds last week accused Illya Trincher of running the New York arm of the $100 million betting and money-laundering racket with world-renowned Manhattan art dealer Hillel “Helly” Nahmad.
HIGH STAKES: Investor Marc Lasry, outside his Upper East Side mansion yesterday, was President Obama’s pick for French ambassador, but is said to have declined over a pal’s alleged role as head of a poker ring with art dealer Helly Nahmad.
“Marc Lasry is a big-time gambler, in golf and poker,” a source told The Post. “He’s a ‘master of the universe’ type, and he was friends with the kid Trincher.”
Lasry, 53, turned down the post only days after the White House asked the FBI to probe whether he was tied to anyone involved in the criminal enterprise, sources said.
His name surfaced in FBI tapes probing the matter as a person who likes to play in exclusive high-stakes poker games, sources said.
Because ambassadorships require Senate approval — normally a pro-forma step — Lasry faced the prospect of being grilled about the ring.
“It’s not that he committed a crime, but it opens a can of worms,” a source said.
In mid-March, Bill Clinton, a close friend of Lasry, said at a fund-raiser that Lasry was Obama’s pick for the ambassadorship. Once a big Clinton donor, Lasry was one of the few Wall Street honchos to stick by the Democrats in 2012, raising nearly $1 million for Obama’s re-election campaign.
The hedge-fund king and other high-rollers can wager up to $2 million in the poker games, which were held in apartments worth $20 million or more, sources said.
The ring took bets “from celebrities, professional poker players and very wealthy individuals working in the financial industry,” the criminal complaint says.
Among the defendants is a Russian national, still at large, who also is accused of trying to fix the 2002 Winter Olympics skating competition.
Others arrested included “Poker Princess” Molly Bloom, who has organized poker games for celebs including Leonardo DiCaprio and Tobey Maguire.
Nahmad, himself a high-stakes gambler, allegedly helped launder “tens of millions of dollars” from the bookmaking ring through his Carlyle hotel gallery.
Nahmad controlled his family’s $3 billion art collection.
Lasry has been known to play in informal games with other wealthy investors, including Boaz Weinstein, founder of hedge fund Saba Capital Management, and David Bonderman, head of private-equity giant TPG Capital.
“I have a rule. Never play cards with Marc for money,” Bonderman told the trade publication Institutional Investor in 2007.
The publication reported that Lasry often hosts winner-take-all card games in his Upper East Side mansion, where the stakes can get as high as $20,000 per hand.
Last year, Lasry spoke on Bloomberg TV of his love for poker.
“Poker is math, so I enjoy playing it because I think there’s a lot of math involved,” he said. “And it’s fun. It’s fun to play with others.”
The White House had no immediate comment on the Lasry gambling allegations.
Lasry said “no comment” when asked about the gambling yesterday as he rushed into his home on East 74th Street.
A spokesman for Avenue Capital said, “Marc withdrew because it was becoming difficult to receive a waiver of the ‘key man’ provision from Avenue Capital’s investors, and he would have had to divest himself of his Avenue Capital business holdings.”
Lasry told Avenue Capital investors on Tuesday that he was staying put at the hedge fund, which invests in distressed debt.
In a letter, the Moroccan-born financier cited “recent speculations regarding the possibility that I might be asked to serve as the next US ambassador to France.
“I am very grateful to have been considered, but I would like to put the speculation to rest and let you know that I will be remaining at Avenue,” he wrote.
Lasry’s withdrawal raised eyebrows because he was known to badly want the ambassadorship. Before he withdrew, Lasry was planning to move his family to France and turn over management of Avenue to others.
In March, Avenue appointed its first chief investment officer since Lasry founded the firm with his sister, Sonia Gardner, in 1995.
A source close to Clinton said, “Lasry loves playing cards. He played in a celebrity poker tournament for Clinton’s foundation.
“I can’t believe that Obama admits in a book that he snorted cocaine and yet Marc Lasry can’t be named ambassador to France because he played cards.”
Additional reporting by Geoff Earle, Bruce Golding and Lia Eustachewich email@example.com
Blogs: New York Times vindicates Andrew Breitbart
'I wish to God that Andrew Breitbart were alive to see this,' one person wrote. | Reuters
By KEVIN ROBILLARD | 4/26/13 12:14 PM EDT Updated: 4/26/13 6:42 PM EDT
Lee Stranahan, a Breitbart disciple who also investigated the Pigford case, was jubilant.
“I wish to God that Andrew Breitbart were alive to see this,” Stranahan wrote. “He fought this fight for years, was totally right and never got credit for it.”
“NYTimes Confirms: Massive Fraud at USDA in Pigford; Breitbart Vindicated,” blared the headline on Breitbart’s eponymous website.
(Also on POLITICO: 'This Town': A Washington takedown)
The Times’ A1, above-the-fold story — which involved Freedom of Information Act requests, interviews with former administration officials and database work — shows how political appointees in the Obama administration’s Justice and Agriculture Departments turned a potential government court victory into $1.3 billion settlement for Hispanic and female farmers — some of whom never even claimed discrimination in court. The story also detailed how the feds relied on a flawed payout system for black farmers that was ripe with fraud and revealed that career officials in the Agriculture Department had opposed the program.
The original black farmers’ case, called Pigford v. Glickman, and the unfair treatment of many of the original plaintiffs in the lawsuit became a personal cause for Breitbart, who died in 2012 of a heart attack. The conservative provocateur published a December 2010 report about the case, entitled “The Pigford Shakedown,” and also spoke about the program at CPAC and other events.
(Also on POLITICO: Turbulence at The Times)
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, who the Times portrays as a driving force behind the settlement, said the payments were justified and fraud was minimal. “We weren’t just writing checks for the heck of it,” Vilsack told the paper. “People were not treated fairly and, in fact, even today there are damages as a result of folks who weren’t treated fairly.”
Hot Air’s Ed Morrissey noted the ultimate vindication is still out of reach.
“Perhaps now that The New York Times has exposed this, a few lawmakers might get shamed into doing something about it,” he wrote. “That would really put a smile on Andrew’s face.”
Read more: http://www.politico.com/story/2013/04/new-york-times-andrew-breitbart-90681.html#ixzz2RccU17tf
Noam Chomsky: Obama’s Inexplicable ‘Attack’ On Civil Liberties ‘Goes Well Beyond Anything’ Imagined
by Andrew Kirell | 1:51 pm, April 28th, 2013» 43 comments
In an interview with AlterNet this past week, America’s most well-known left-wing intellectual slammed President Obama for his inexplicable “attacks” on civil liberties in the forms of various laws expanding upon the executive powers set forth by President George W. Bush.
Speaking with the liberal blog’s Mike Stivers, Chomsky expressed dissatisfaction with the current president’s record on civil liberties: “I personally never expected anything of Obama, and wrote about it before the 2008 primaries. I thought it was smoke and mirrors. The one thing that did surprise me is his attack on civil liberties. They go well beyond anything I would have anticipated, and they don’t seem easy to explain.”
For an example of Obama’s civil liberties abuses, Chomsky cited Holder vs. Humanitarian Law Project, in which the administration petitioned the Supreme Court to put an end to legal groups giving any “material assistance” — including advice to turn nonviolent — to terrorist organizations.
“The case in question was a law group that was giving legal advice to groups on the terrorist list, which in itself has no moral or legal justification; it’s an abomination,” Chomsky said. “But if you look at the way it’s been used, it becomes even more abhorrent … And the wording of the colloquy is broad enough that it could very well mean that if, say, you meet with someone in a terrorist group and advise them to turn to nonviolent means, then that’s material assistance to terrorism…. Obama wants to criminalize that, which is a plain attack on freedom of speech. I just don’t understand why he’s doing it.”
He called that and the 2011 NDAA bill’s “indefinite detention” provision part of the president’s “very serious attack on civil liberties.”
On the fact that President Obama has prosecuted six whistleblowers under the Espionage Act, Chomsky lamented that “I don’t know what base he’s appealing to. If he thinks he’s appealing to the nationalist base, well, they’re not going to vote for him anyway. That’s why I don’t understand it. I don’t think he’s doing anything besides alienating his own natural base.”
He then likened the president to a previous gang of executive officials who were widely criticized as abusive on civil liberties policy:
“What it is is the same kind of commitment to expanding executive power that Cheney and Rumsfeld had. He kind of puts it in mellifluous terms and there’s a little difference in his tone. It’s not as crude and brutal as they were, but it’s pretty hard to see much of a difference.”
Read the full interview here.
>> Follow Andrew Kirell (@AndrewKirell) on Twitterhttp://www.mediaite.com/online/noam-chomsky-obamas-inexplicable-attack-on-civil-liberties-goes-well-beyond-anything-imagined
The More Illegal Immigrants That Go On Food Stamps The More Money JP Morgan Makes
By Michael, on April 28th, 2013 http://theeconomiccollapseblog.com/archives/the-more-illegal-immigrantsthat-go-on-food-stamps-the-more-money-jp-morgan-makes
Recently uncovered documents prove that the Obama administration has been working with the Mexican government to increase the number of illegal immigrants on food stamps, and when more illegal immigrants go on food stamps JP Morgan makes more money. As you will read about below, JP Morgan has made at least 560 million dollars processing Electronic Benefits Transfer cards. Each month, JP Morgan makes between $.31 and $2.30 for every single person on food stamps (and that does not even include things like ATM fees, etc). So JP Morgan has a vested interest in seeing poverty grow and the number of people on food stamps increase. Meanwhile, the Obama administration has been aggressively seeking to expand participation in the food stamp program. Under Obama, the number of people on food stamps has grown from 32 million to more than 47 million. And even though poverty in America is absolutely exploding, that apparently is not good enough for the Obama administration. It has now come out that the U.S. Department of Agriculture has provided the Mexican government with literature that actively encourages illegal immigrants to enroll in food stamps. One flyer contains the following statement in Spanish: "You need not divulge information regarding your immigration status in seeking this benefit for your children." The bold and the underlining are in the original document in case you were wondering. Overall, federal spending on food stamps increased from 18 billion dollars in 2000 to 85 billion dollars in 2012, and at this point one out of every five U.S. households in now enrolled in the food stamp program. When people illegally or fraudulently enroll in the food stamp program, it makes it harder for those that desperately need the help to be able to get it.
It is certainly a good thing to help fellow Americans that are suffering. It is a crying shame that more than a million public school students in America are homeless. That should not be happening in the "wealthiest nation on earth".
But today we have a system that has turned poverty into big business. According to an article posted on Breitbart.com, JP Morgan has made at least 560 million dollars (and probably much more) processing EBT cards...
A new report by the Government Accountability Institute finds that JP Morgan has made at least $560,492,596 since 2004 processing the Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) cards of 18 of the 24 states it has under contract for the food stamp program.
A Daily Beast article provided some more specifics about the monster profits that JP Morgan is making...
Just how lucrative JP Morgan’s EBT state contracts are is hard to say, because total national data on EBT contracts are not reported. But thanks to a combination of public-records requests and contracts that are available online, here’s what we do know: 18 of the 24 states JP Morgan handles have been contracted to pay the bank up to $560,492,596.02 since 2004. Since 2007, Florida has been contracted to pay JP Morgan $90,351,202.22. Pennsylvania’s seven-year contract totaled $112,541,823.27. New York’s seven-year contract totaled $126,394,917.
These contracts are transactional contracts, meaning they are amendable based on changes in program participation. Each month, the three companies that administer EBT receive a small fee that can range from $.31 to $2.30 (or higher depending upon the number of welfare services on an EBT card and state contractual requirements) for each SNAP recipient.
So the more people that are out of work and that need to turn to the government for food, the bigger profits that JP Morgan makes.
What makes all of this even more insulting is that many of the jobs that JP Morgan could be providing to Americans to help alleviate this poverty are being shipped overseas instead. As I noted in a previous article, many EBT card customer service calls are being routed to call centers in India by JP Morgan.
So why doesn't anyone do anything about this?
Well, it turns out that JP Morgan has the politicians that oversee the food stamp program in their back pocket. The following is from a recent Money Morning article...
And the bank has taken steps to make sure the SNAP program remains a growing source of revenue. JPMorgan's political donations to the members of House and Senate agricultural committees, the ones with legislative responsibility for the program, soared from just over $82,000 in 2002 to nearly $333,000 as of 2010.
What a wonderful system we have, eh?
And surely JP Morgan just loves the fact that the Obama administration is actively encouraging illegal immigrants to apply for food stamps.
What you are about to read should absolutely shock you. At a time when the U.S. government is absolutely drowning in debt, the Obama administration is making it abundantly clear to illegal immigrants that their immigration status will not be checked when they apply for food stamps. The following is from a recent Judicial Watch press release...
Judicial Watch today released documents detailing how the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is working with the Mexican government to promote participation by illegal aliens in the U.S. food stamp program.
The promotion of the food stamp program, now known as “SNAP” (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), includes a Spanish-language flyer provided to the Mexican Embassy by the USDA with a statement advising Mexicans in the U.S. that they do not need to declare their immigration status in order to receive financial assistance. Emphasized in bold and underlined, the statement reads, “You need not divulge information regarding your immigration status in seeking this benefit for your children.”
The documents came in response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request made to USDA on July 20, 2012. The FOIA request sought: “Any and all records of communication relating to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) to Mexican Americans, Mexican nationals, and migrant communities, including but not limited to, communications with the Mexican government.”
The documents obtained by Judicial Watch show that USDA officials are working closely with their counterparts at the Mexican Embassy to widely broaden the SNAP program in the Mexican immigrant community, with no effort to restrict aid to, identify, or apprehend illegal immigrants who may be on the food stamp rolls.
You can see a copy of the flyer right here.
So who pays for all of this?
You do of course.
The Obama administration is doing all that it can to promote illegal immigration, and big banks such as JP Morgan just make bigger profits the more illegal immigration that we see, but it is you and I that end up with the bill. This was put beautifully in a recent article by Mike Adams of NaturalNews.com...
Nearly $75 billion of taxpayer money is spent each year on federal food stamps, and it turns out some of that is alarmingly being handed out to illegal immigrants -- people who contribute nothing to the federal tax base in America but who seem to be experts on collecting social welfare benefits of all kinds. If you are working for a living, you are buying food for illegals who are being actively recruited by Obama and the democratic party so that they will vote more democrats into office.
When we reward illegal immigration, what happens?
That's right - we are just going to get even more illegal immigration.
According to WND, we have already started seeing a huge increase in illegal immigrants coming across the border since Congress began debating the amnesty bill...
Illegal border crossings have doubled, and possibly even tripled, since the latest congressional push began toward comprehensive immigration reform.
In reporting first published by Townhall.com’s Katie Pavlich, border patrol agents in the Tucson/Nogales sector claim illegals are coming here in much higher numbers in just the past few months.
“We’ve seen the number of illegal aliens double, maybe even triple since amnesty talk started happening,” an unnamed border agent said to Townhall. The data from Customs and Border Protection cited in the report shows 504 illegals were detected crossing in that sector between Feb. 5 and March 1. Only 189 were caught on camera, and just 174 of the 504 were apprehended. Of those spotted on camera, 32 were carrying huge packs believed to contain drugs and several were heavily armed.
If that bill is passed, it is being projected that it will bring 33 million more people into this country...
The pending Senate immigration bill would bring a minimum of 33 million people into the country during its first decade of operation, according to an analysis by NumbersUSA, a group that wants to slow the current immigration rate.
By 2024, the inflow would include an estimated 9.2 million illegal immigrants, plus 2.5 million illegals who arrived as children — dubbed ‘Dreamers’ — plus roughly 3.4 million company-sponsored employees with university degrees, said the unreleased analysis.
The majority of the inflow, or roughly 17 million people, would consist of family members of illegals, recent immigrants and of company-sponsored workers, according to the NumbersUSA analysis provided to The Daily Caller.
We have made legal immigration a complete and total nightmare while leaving the back door completely wide open at the same time.
We greatly punish those who are trying to do things legally while at the same time we are greatly rewarding those that are cheating the system.
What kind of sense does that make?
Shouldn't we insist that everyone come in through the front door?
Those that are coming over our borders illegally know what the score is...
Linda Vickers, who owns a ranch in Brooks County, which is Ground Zero for the immigration debate, pins the blame directly on talk of 'amnesty' and a 'path to citizenship' for people who entered the U.S. illegally.
She recalls one man being arrested on her ranch not long ago.
"The Border Patrol agent was loading one man up, and he told the officer in Spanish, 'Obama's gonna let me go'."
Border Patrol agents report that immigrants are crossing the border, and in some cases surrendering while asking, “Where do I go for my amnesty?”
We are already becoming a poverty-stricken nation. We simply can't afford to feed millions upon millions of illegal immigrants as well.
As I write this, the U.S. national debt is $16,758,107,082,298.63.
We now have a debt to GDP ratio of about 105 percent.
In the United States today, the amount of money that is deposited in our banks is about 9.3 trillion dollars. If we took every penny of that and used it to pay off the national debt, we would still owe more than 7 trillion dollars.
We are stealing more than 100 million dollars from future generations of Americans every single hour of every single day to pay our bills, and yet everyone seems to think that this is "normal" somehow.
The truth is that what we are doing is absolutely criminal, and we should all be ashamed.
For much more on our exploding national debt, please see the following article: "55 Facts About The Debt And U.S. Government Finances That Every American Voter Should Know".
In the end, it should be apparent to everyone that our system is failing. Our government is corrupt, our big banks are consumed with greed and most average Americans are so addicted to entertainment that they have absolutely no idea what is going on.
What would those that bled and died for this country think about what we have become today?
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April 28th, 2013 | Tags: Benefits, Electronic Benefit Transfer, Federal Spending, Food Stamps, Illegal Immigrants, JP Morgan, Mexican, Money, Obama, Poverty, Spanish, The Obama Administration | Category: Banksters, Government Debt
UNPRECEDENTED Shortages Of Ammo, Physical Gold And Physical Silver ».
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It’s official: Obama spends more time on recreation than economy
BIZPACReview.com ^ | 4/29/2013 | Cheryl Carpenter Klimek
Posted on Monday, April 29, 2013 9:05:55 AM
A report released by the Government Accountability Institute (GAI), has concluded that President Barack Obama has spent twice as much time on vacation and golf as he has in economic meetings throughout his entire term in office.
That may come as no surprise to some, but the nonpartisan GAI actually conducted an analysis which found Obama spent ...read more here.
(Excerpt) Read more at bizpacreview.com ...
Mel Watt Picked For FHFA Post By White House To Replace Ed DeMarco
Posted: 05/01/2013 1:43 am EDT
BOSTON -- President Barack Obama will nominate Mel Watt, a longtime Democratic congressman from North Carolina, to oversee government-controlled mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac in a move that may give the White House greater control over housing policy.
Obama will announce his nomination of Watt to lead the Federal Housing Finance Agency on Wednesday, people familiar with the matter said. The nomination, subject to Senate approval, would thrust the Yale-educated lawyer into the center of U.S. economic policy as the government weighs how best to maintain the housing recovery while reducing the government’s role in propping up home prices and providing loans.
FHFA regulates Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the bailed-out mortgage financiers that together own or guarantee about half of all outstanding U.S. home loans. The federal government backstops more than nine of every 10 new mortgages.
Watt was first elected to the House of Representatives in 1992, where he has served on the chamber’s financial services committee. On the banking panel, he perhaps is best known for trying to stamp out predatory lending. He’s also championed access to home loans for low-income borrowers and those with spotty credit.
If confirmed by the Senate, Watt would replace Edward DeMarco, a career civil servant who has supervised Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac on an acting basis since 2009. Top White House officials had promised consumer advocates before November’s presidential election that they would oust DeMarco early this year.
A low-key and unassuming economist, DeMarco has been vilified by some members of Congress, liberal groups and state attorneys general for a variety of alleged sins, most notably his continued refusal to allow Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to forgive distressed borrowers’ housing debts.
Watt would be the second person Obama has nominated to replace DeMarco. A previous nominee, Joseph Smith, at the time North Carolina’s banking regulator, failed to win Senate confirmation after Republicans questioned his independence from the White House. One called him a “lapdog".
A White House spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Over the past three years, DeMarco has worked to return Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to profitability while also reducing their balance sheets and influence over the property sector and setting the stage for an overhaul of how the U.S. economy funds home mortgages.
Since their government rescue during the height of the financial crisis in September 2008, the companies have cost taxpayers about $122 billion. The U.S. Treasury has provided them nearly $188 billion to keep them afloat, but Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have returned about $65 billion in dividends.
In 2012, the twin housing giants reported record profits as rising home prices and fewer delinquencies spurred about $28 billion in combined earnings. Virtually all of the companies’ profits flow to the Treasury. The White House recently projected that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac will over the next 10 years help to reduce the federal government’s debt as they pay off taxpayers and return excess profits to government coffers.
While some advocates attempt to lobby policymakers to keep the companies in conservatorship so they can help pay down the debt and be used to spur greater access to credit, DeMarco has been shrinking their portfolio of loans and securities and trying to bring private capital back into housing finance.
Private investors, funds and lenders fled the housing market in the wake of the financial crisis. Securitization of non-government guaranteed mortgages ground to a halt. Only the federal government enabled borrowers to continue purchasing or refinancing their home loans at historically-low rates.
An abrupt end to the government’s backstop of the housing market would send interest rates soaring. A continuation of the current situation may take taxpayer resources away from other, more economically productive sectors.
DeMarco has instituted a variety of schemes to get investors and lenders comfortable with owning non-taxpayer backed mortgages. He’s also tried to lay the groundwork for a future without Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, whose dominance over the housing market extends from their balance sheets to the basic plumbing of how loans are made, securitized and sold to investors.
DeMarco at times has butted heads with the Obama administration, which has tried to convince him to adopt policies aimed at aiding borrowers and reducing foreclosures. DeMarco has argued that he is mandated by law to “preserve and converse” Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac’s assets, rather than look out for the entire housing market.
Some officials in the Obama administration have expressed displeasure at the DeMarco-approved lawsuits targeting more than a dozen of the world’s largest financial institutions for selling hundreds of billions of dollars of allegedly dodgy mortgages to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. The lawsuits and demands have helped chill lending, officials have said.
Many Democrats have argued that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac should be used to advance policies that would aid the broader housing market, and by extension the economy. Republicans are opposed to using the mortgage financiers as tools for economic or social policy.
Industry executives and Washington lobbyists view Watt as a potential FHFA chief who would go along with Obama administration requests.
For that reason alone, Watt may face an uphill climb to confirmation due to potential Republican opposition. Since its creation in 2008 the FHFA has never had a Senate-confirmed director.
Obama to Pick Wheeler for FCC, Watt for FHFA
Text Size Published: Wednesday, 1 May 2013 | 7:47 AM ETBy: Reuters with AP
President Barack ObamaPresident Barack Obama will nominate venture capitalist and former wireless and cable lobbyist [/color] Tom Wheeler on Wednesday to head the Federal Communications Commission, and Rep. Melvin Watt to head the Federal Housing Finance Agency, which oversees Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
The planned nominations were disclosed by a White House official.
After decades in and around Washington telecom circles, Wheeler would take the reins of the FCC as the industry prepares for a major reshuffling of ownership of radio airwaves and as the agency tries to catch up to rapidly changing technology.
He has the rare support of both industry groups and a number of consumer advocates.
Wheeler has served as an informal adviser to Obama in recent years and has been a big fundraiser for his political campaigns. He went into the venture investing business after years at the helm of the National Cable Television Association and then the wireless industry group CTIA.
Wheeler did not respond to a request for comment. He will succeed current FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, who plans to leave for the Aspen Institute think tank in coming weeks.
"Tom Wheeler is an experienced leader in the communications technology field who shares the president's commitment to protecting consumers, promoting innovation, enhancing competition and encouraging investment," the White House official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said on Tuesday in disclosing Wheeler's nomination.
Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, a Democrat, will take over as acting chairwoman until the Senate confirms the nomination, the official said. She will preside over a commission that includes one other Democrat and one Republican because Obama has yet to fill another open Republican seat on the usually five-member commission.
Wheeler's lobbying past has concerned some public interest groups as well as Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller, a Democrat who wanted his former staffer and now junior FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel to get the post.
But overall, consumer advocates have embraced Wheeler's candidacy, noting that he joined both trade groups while the industries they represented were young and competing against established technologies.
"He's interested in competition and promoting new technologies," said Andrew Schwartzman, a prominent Washington public interest advocate, who said Wheeler understands the need to challenge market leaders. "His mind-set is of somebody who favors the little guy."
At the same time, many in the telecommunications industry have touted Wheeler's private-sector experience, noting that he founded and invested in many tech-based companies and expressing hope that his lobbying experience will make him more sympathetic to letting markets, not the government, set the industry's pace.
In a 2011 blog, Wheeler hinted that he favored a controversial and ultimately shelved merger deal between AT&T and T-Mobile, sparking speculation that he may be open to more consolidation in the wireless industry.
However, the blog post also suggested the FCC would have been able to levy heavier regulation over the newly merged company because of monopoly concerns.
On Tuesday, few industry groups or companies commented on Wheeler's upcoming nomination before it was formally announced.
The National Association of Broadcasters, whose relationship with the FCC has cooled as Genachowski shifted the agency's focus to expanding broadband access, simply said Wheeler had "the experience and temperament to serve the agency with distinction."
Watt's nomination for the FHFA also was expected to be announced Wednesday.
If confirmed by the Senate, the 20-year veteran of the House would replace Edward DeMarco, an appointee of President George W. Bush who has been a target of housing advocates, liberal groups and Democratic lawmakers.
The North Carolina Democrat's nomination comes at a crucial time for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, two government sponsored mortgage-finance enterprises that the government rescued at the height of the financial crisis in September 2008 as they teetered neared collapse from losses on soured mortgage loans.
Taxpayers have spent about $170 billion to rescue the companies. So far, they have repaid a combined $55.2 billion.
Fannie and Freddie together own or guarantee about half of all U.S. mortgages, or nearly 31 million home loans. Those loans are worth more than $5 trillion. Along with other federal agencies, they back roughly 90 percent of new mortgages.
The nomination also comes as the housing industry is making a comeback. Home prices are up, foreclosures are down and housing construction is on the rise. Moreover, Fannie Mae had its biggest yearly profit last year, earning $17.2 billion.
Watt, a senior member of the House Financial Services Committee and former chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, played an influential role in the passage of a financial regulatory overhaul in 2010. That legislation, however, did not address the fate of the major mortgage lenders, an issue likely to come up during Obama's second term.
Watt represents the Charlotte area, home base of behemoth Bank of America. He becomes yet another high-profile African-American and the second North Carolinian nominated by Obama in three days to a top government post. On Monday, Obama nominated Anthony Foxx, mayor of Charlotte, to head the Transportation Department.
Watt, who has a consistently liberal voting record, is expected to face Republican opposition to his confirmation. The White House was already lining up supporters who might hold some sway with GOP senators.
Obama's $2.5M Hotel and 'Vehicle Rental' Tab on Last Mexico Trip
1:35 PM, May 1, 2013• By JERYL BIER
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As the White House first announced in March, Barack Obama is scheduled to visit Mexico and Costa Rica later this week. The trip is billed as "an important opportunity to reinforce the deep cultural, familial, and economic ties that so many Americans share with Mexico and Central America." And at yesterday’s White House press conference, the president stated that he is "very much looking forward to taking the trip down to Mexico" this week.
But the trip won’t exactly be cheap for taxpayers, assuming the costs mirror those incurred by the American taxpayers for President Obama's last trip to Mexico, for the G-20 summit in June 2012. According to recently discovered documents relating to the costs of that trip, taxpayers paid nearly $2.5 million for hotel and “vehicle rental.”
The first government document is a contract with a travel agent for the hotels required for the president's delegation and entourage for the conference: