By The Associated Press - Sunday, May 19, 2013 - 0 Comments
WASHINGTON – A top White House adviser insisted President Barack Obama learned the Internal…
WASHINGTON – A top White House adviser insisted President Barack Obama learned the Internal Revenue Service had targeted tea party groups only “when it came out in the news” while Republicans continued to press the administration for answers on Sunday.
Trying to move past a challenging week that put the White House on the defensive, senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer was scheduled to appear on five Sunday news shows to repeat the administration’s position that no senior officials were involved in the decision to give tea party groups extra scrutiny. Pfeiffer’s appearances were unlike to quiet GOP critics, who have seized on the revelations as proof that Obama used the IRS to go after his political enemies.
By Stephen OhlemacHer, The Associated Press - Friday, May 17, 2013 at 8:21 AM - 0 Comments
WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama picked a senior White House budget official to become…
WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama picked a senior White House budget official to become the acting head of the Internal Revenue Service on Thursday, the same day another top official announced plans to leave the agency amid the controversy over agents targeting tea party groups.
Obama named longtime civil servant Daniel Werfel as the acting IRS commissioner. Werfel, 42, currently serves as controller of the Office of Management and Budget, making him a key player in implementing recent automatic spending cuts known as the sequester.
“Throughout his career working in both Democratic and Republican administrations, Danny has proven an effective leader who serves with professionalism, integrity and skill,” Obama said in a statement. “The American people deserve to have the utmost confidence and trust in their government, and as we work to get to the bottom of what happened and restore confidence in the IRS, Danny has the experience and management ability necessary to lead the agency at this important time.”
Werfel replaces Steven Miller as acting IRS commissioner. Miller was forced to resign Wednesday amid the growing scandal, though he is still scheduled to testify Friday at a congressional hearing. Continue…
By Luiza Ch. Savage - Wednesday, May 15, 2013 at 11:40 AM - 0 Comments
There is a cliché in presidential politics of a second-term curse. Watergate, Iran-Contra, Monica, were all second-term debacles. And here is a piece I wrote during George W. Bush’s second-term woes. (Remember Scooter Libby? Harriet Miers? Katrina?)
Obama now faces three firestorms. Some Republicans are already talking impeachment.
First, the Obama administration came under fire yet again last week over last September’s deadly attacks on a consulate in Benghazi, Libya. A U.S. diplomat who worked in Benghazi told Congress he was demoted after questioning the administration’s explanations of what happened. He also said he was dressed down by the chief of staff to Hillary Clinton after he met with a Republican congressman in Libya without a State department lawyer present. In addition, there is controversy over the motivation of administration officials who heavily rewrote talking points about the attacks to exclude mention of terrorist groups. The administrations says the facts about the attacks weren’t yet clear at the time; critics say they were trying to protect Obama’s image. So far Clinton has not been personally implicated, but poll suggest she is by far the leading Democratic presidential contender in 2016, so Republicans have every incentive to continue to investigate the issue and fan flames of controversy.
Next came news that the IRS was singling out Tea Party groups for extra scrutiny and audits when they applied for non-profit status. Republicans were furious. Obama himself called the actions “outrageous.” A criminal investigation has been launched. House Speaker John Boehner is already calling for “jail time.” The controversy comes at time when campaign finance watchdogs have been calling on the IRS to take a closer look at advocacy groups that apply for non-profit social-welfare groups status –- which allows them to accept unlimited dollars from anonymous donors. Watchdog worry that they are becoming vehicles for funneling big money into politics and subverting campaign finance laws. These include conservative groups, as well as a recent group created by former Obama aides to advocate for his agenda, called Organizing for Action. In the course of researching this story on OFA, I spoke with Public Citizen’s campaign finance lobbyist, Craig Holman, who said the IRS was afraid of going after groups who register as non-political groups but then use their unregulated donations to run political ads or support candidates:
“We’ve gone through two election cycles in which non-profits have been extensively abused, and the IRS hasn’t taken action against a single one. The IRS is afraid of political forces. If you or I try not paying our taxes, they’ll be right on us. When it comes to political insiders breaking Internal Revenue Code, the IRS is frightened of [taking action.]”
It appears that the IRS was not afraid to go after small Tea Party groups. But we have yet to hear of what scrutiny they applied to bigger players. Holman says the IRS should have been even-handed in its work. But he fears the result of the Tea Party controversy will be that they will stay away from scrutinizing these groups altogether.
“This controversy means they will never enforce the tax code,” he told CNN. “We are going to see the IRS hide.”
And a third controversy erupted with news that Obama’s Department of Justice had seized telephone records of several offices of the Associated Press as part of an investigation into a national security leak. The details are dramatic: all incoming and outgoing phone calls made by reporters from 20 phone numbers in May and June of 2012 are now known to the government. The AP’s sources on all kinds of subjects had have been revealed. The news organization was notified only after the fact, so it had no opportunity to contest the seizure in court. Personal cell phone records of reporters were also turned over to the government. The move came in the broader context of the Obama administration’s record of prosecuting more national security leaks to journalists than all past administration’s combined. (One government official was prosecuted under George W. Bush for leaking; under Obama, there have already been six leak-related prosecutions.) Although some Republicans are now expressing outrage, some Senate Republicans had long been calling for a tougher crackdown on national security leaks.
It’s unclear whether this is a result of a deliberate Obama policy of aggressive prosecution or whether technology has simply made it easier for investigators to finger sources and bring indictments. In any case, it has provided Obama with an angry new adversary: the working press.
Curse or not, the investigations and recriminations are consuming Washington, making it harder for Obama to push his own agenda. And by going after the press, he’s going to have a very hard time changing the headlines and the subject.
By Luiza Ch. Savage - Tuesday, May 7, 2013 at 7:34 AM - 0 Comments
A new strategy for high-dollar donations troubles finance watchdogs
They come with their signs and banners on the 14th of every month to mark the shootings at Newtown, Conn.—a hundred or so protesters in front of the headquarters of the National Rifle Association, a boxy, glass-walled building surrounded by blooming trees in a suburb of Washington.
“I am here to show my senator, who has an A-rating from the NRA, that there is another voice,” says Donna Lipresti, a 60-year-old law-firm administrator from northern Virginia, who hoists a sign calling for background checks for gun buyers. Similar grassroots demonstrations, petition drives and vigils have been unfolding across the United States.
These are not just spontaneous local events. As President Barack Obama has been pushing hard for gun-control legislation, protests like these are part of an ambitious and expensive political experiment by his top campaign strategists. It is an unprecedented, and controversial, tactic that aims to convert Obama’s cutting-edge, get-out-the-vote expertise into a massive machine to grind laws through Congress.
By macleans.ca - Wednesday, May 1, 2013 at 12:30 PM - 0 Comments
We’re not sure what Prime Minister Stephen Harper gets his kids, Rachel and Ben,…
We’re not sure what Prime Minister Stephen Harper gets his kids, Rachel and Ben, for Christmas, but let’s hope they fared better in 2011 than U.S. President Barack Obama, who received a basketball signed by the Toronto Raptors (23 wins to 43 losses). Harper’s gifts also included historic maps of North America. Total value: $1,880.
All told, the President of the United States received $240,000 in gifts that year, according to data released this week, with most going to the National Archives.
The single most-expensive gift was a blue mask sculpture from the president of the tiny Gabonese Republic, Ali Bongo Ondimba, valued at $52,695. Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy lavished 16 gifts, including two Hermès golf bags and Baccarat crystal statuettes of golfers, totalling $41,675.71.
By Luiza Ch. Savage - Wednesday, May 1, 2013 at 7:48 AM - 0 Comments
Obama said at a press conference on Tuesday that he is recommitting to his failed promise to close the U.S. prison at Guantanamo. There has been much confusion over who is responsible for his failure to do so — the president or Congress? The Pentagon has asked for $200 million to build permanent structures to replace deteriorating facilities there, suggesting that while the politicians debate, the once-temporary facility could be made permanent.
Here are 5 things to know about what is happening:
1. Detainees are on hunger strike
Obama renewed his call to close the prison amid a detainee hunger strike. The specific spark that set it off in February is disputed, but both detainee lawyers and U.S. military officials agree on its underlying cause: growing desperation and hopelessness among the detainees – many of whom have been held for over 11 years without trials, and over half of whom have been designated for transfer for more than three years – that they will never be allowed to go home.
2. Most can never get trials
The most difficult problem is what to do with those detainees who are deemed to dangerous to release but not feasible to prosecute. It is not possible to give the vast majority of the detainees trials. They are being held essentially as Prisoners of War because the government believes they were simply part of al-Qaeda or the Taliban and the U.S. continues to be at war with those organizations. But most of them are not linked to any specific terrorist attack – i.e. a crime for which they could be prosecuted. Moreover, for a variety of reasons, vaguer charges like providing material support for terrorism do not apply to most of them.
3. Some detainees were designated for release in 2009 but are still there
Most of the focus right now is on 86 of the 166 Guantanamo prisoners. This is the group that has been designated for transfer to other countries if certain security conditions can be met. They are not “cleared” – unlike some other former Guantanamo prisoners, they did not win a court order finding that they were not part of al-Qaeda or the Taliban at all and so must be released. Rather, a group of U.S. government national security agencies unanimously found in 2009 that they were low level enough that they could potentially transferred away if the receiving country could provide credible security assurances that it would keep an eye on them and prevent them from “returning to terrorism.” The outward trickle of this group stopped after January 2011 when Congress restricted transfers to countries with troubled security.
4. Obama’s plan would bring them to the U.S. for more indefinite detention without trial
Defenders of the Obama administration blame Congress for the failure to shut down Guantanamo because Congress blocked the president’s plan. But Obama’s plan for emptying the prison was not to release all the detainees who could not receive trials. Instead, he wanted to bring all the remaining detainees to a “Supermax” prison inside the U.S., where they would continue to be held indefinitely without trial as wartime detainees. Congress forbid the transfer of any more detainees onto U.S. soil. But even if Obama persuaded them to lift that restriction, the underlying issues of perpetual confinement without trial that are driving the current hunger strike would still persist.
5. Obama has been sitting on his hands
Obama could have been doing more to winnow the population at Guantanamo than he has been. Although Congress essentially halted all transfers of low-level detainees to countries with troubled security throughout 2011, since January 2012 lawmakers gave the Pentagon the power to waive most of the security restrictions on a case-by-case basis and transfer detainees anyway. The Obama administration has not used that authority. Obama himself banned any further repatriations to Yemen – where 56 of the 86 low-level detainees designated for transfer are from – even before Congress imposed its restrictions. Earlier this year, the administration reassigned and did not replace, the high level diplomat whose job had been to negotiate detainee transfers. Essentially the administration has had a stated policy that it wants to close Guantanamo but has for some time not been doing anything to implement that policy. Yesterday, Obama said he would “review” what could be done administratively and try again to persuade Congress to facilitate closing the prison.
Below are the president’s remarks:
Q: Mr. President, as you’re probably aware, there’s a growing hunger strike on Guantanamo Bay among prisoners there. Is it any surprise really that they would prefer death rather than have no end in sight to their confinement?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, it is not a surprise to me that we’ve got problems in Guantanamo, which is why when I was campaigning in 2007 and 2008, and when I was elected in 2008, I said we need to close Guantanamo. I continue to believe that we’ve got to close Guantanamo.
Well, I think it is critical for us to understand that Guantanamo is not necessary to keep America safe. It is expensive. It is inefficient. It hurts us in terms of our international standing. It lessens cooperation with our allies on counterterrorism efforts. It is a recruitment tool for extremists. It needs to be closed.
Now, Congress determined that they would not let us close it — and despite the fact that there are a number of the folks who are currently in Guantanamo who the courts have said could be returned to their country of origin or potentially a third country.
I’m going to go back at this. I’ve asked my team to review everything that’s currently being done in Guantanamo, everything that we can do administratively. And I’m going to reengage with Congress to try to make the case that this is not something that’s in the best interest of the American people. And it’s not sustainable.
The notion that we’re going to continue to keep over a hundred individuals in a no-man’s land in perpetuity, even at a time when we’ve wound down the war in Iraq, we’re winding down the war in Afghanistan, we’re having success defeating al Qaeda core, we’ve kept the pressure up on all these transnational terrorist networks, when we’ve transferred detention authority in Afghanistan — the idea that we would still maintain forever a group of individuals who have not been tried, that is contrary to who we are, it is contrary to our interests, and it needs to stop.
Now, it’s a hard case to make because I think for a lot of Americans the notion is out of sight, out of mind. And it’s easy to demagogue the issue. That’s what happened the first time this came up. I’m going to go back at it because I think it’s important.
Q Meanwhile we continue to force-feed these folks –
THE PRESIDENT: I don’t want these individuals to die. Obviously, the Pentagon is trying to manage the situation as best as they can. But I think all of us should reflect on why exactly are we doing this? Why are we doing this? We’ve got a whole bunch of individuals who have been tried who are currently in maximum security prisons around the country. Nothing has happened to them. Justice has been served. It’s been done in a way that’s consistent with our Constitution, consistent with due process, consistent with rule of law, consistent with our traditions.
The individual who attempted to bomb Times Square — in prison, serving a life sentence. The individual who tried to bomb a plane in Detroit — in prison, serving a life sentence. A Somali who was part of Al-Shabaab, who we captured — in prison. So we can handle this.
And I understand that in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, with the traumas that had taken place, why, for a lot of Americans, the notion was somehow that we had to create a special facility like Guantanamo and we couldn’t handle this in a normal, conventional fashion. I understand that reaction. But we’re now over a decade out. We should be wiser. We should have more experience in how we prosecute terrorists.
And this is a lingering problem that is not going to get better. It’s going to get worse. It’s going to fester. And so I’m going to, as I said before, examine every option that we have administratively to try to deal with this issue, but ultimately we’re also going to need some help from Congress, and I’m going to ask some folks over there who care about fighting terrorism but also care about who we are as a people to step up and help me on it.
By Luiza Ch. Savage - Thursday, April 25, 2013 at 12:42 PM - 0 Comments
The U.S. Defense Secretary, Chuck Hagel, today told journalists traveling with him in the Middle East, that U.S. intelligence agencies have assessed “with varying degrees of confidence” that Syria has used small amounts of chemical weapons. Hagel said the weapons may have included the nerve gas sarin. A UN investigation in underway.
On March 20th at a joint press conference on with Israel’s prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Obama said his administration was trying to establish whether reports were of chemical weapons use were true. Obama said:
Once we establish the facts I have made clear that the use of chemical weapons is a gamechanger. And I won’t make an announcement today about next steps because I think we have to gather the facts. But I do think that when you start seeing weapons that can cause potential devastation and mass casualties and you let that genie out of the bottle, then you are looking potentially at even more horrific scenes than we’ve already seen in Syria. And the international community has to act on that additional information.
Earlier, in a March 4 speech to the AIPAC policy conference, Obama said:
Because we recognize the great danger Assad’s chemical and biological arsenals pose to Israel and the United States, to the whole world, we’ve set a clear red line against the use of the transfer of the those weapons.
Does it matter that the weapons were used in “small amounts,” as Hagel said? What does “the international community has to act” translate into?
Recently, the Democratic chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee joined Republicans such as John McCain in calling for a direct intervention in Syria – including establishing a no-fly zone and direct arming of rebel fights.
On Tuesday, White House spokesman Jay Carney gave a vague answer about how the administration would respond to chemical weapons use by Syria:
Well, I’m not going to speculate about consequences. What I will say is that the President made clear that the use of or transmission of chemical weapons, including the transmission of chemical weapons to non-state actors, would be unacceptable in the President’s view, unacceptable to the United States.
The New York Times reports today that the Pentagon is considering its options:
Administration officials said that the Pentagon had prepared a menu of military options for Mr. Obama if he concluded that there was incontrovertible evidence that chemical weapons had been used. Those options, one official said, could include missile strikes on Syrian aircraft from American ships in the Mediterranean or commando raids.
UPDATE: On a conference call this afternoon with reporters, a senior White House official speaking on background, emphasized that the Obama administration is not taking the “intelligence assessments” at face value – but will continue to investigate to corroborate the facts. The official said the evidence is based on a “broad mosaic of information” which includes “physiological samples,” but added that the “chain of custody is not clear” for the samples, and administration “cannot confirm how the exposure occurred and under what conditions.”
Alluding to the mistaken assessments about weapons of mass destruction in pre-invasion Iraq, the official said “intelligence assessments alone are not sufficient” and that more investigation was needed because “only corroborated facts can guide our decision-making.”
“Given our own history with intelligence assessments, including assessment of weapons of mass destruction, it’s very important that we are able to establish this with certainty, and that we are able to present evidence that is air-tight in a public and credible fashion to underpin all our decision-making. That is the threshold that is demanded given how serious this issue is. But nobody should have any mistake about what our red line is. When we firmly establish that there has been chemical weapons use within Syria, that is not acceptable the United States, nor is transfer of chemical weapons to terrorist organizations.”
Hagel’s comments reflected the contents of a letter sent to U.S. senators who asked whether the Assad regime had used chemical weapons.
The official said that while a UN investigation is underway, the administration is “seeking to make it more comprehensive.” If chemical weapons were used, the administration believes they were used by Assad: “We are very skeptical that the reports of use of chemicals weapons could be attributed to anyone other than Assad regime given our belief that they maintain custody of those weapons. If it is established in a credible way, we do believe Assad is ultimately accountable,” the official said.
By Emma Teitel - Monday, April 22, 2013 at 6:26 PM - 0 Comments
Shortly after the Tsarnaev brothers allegedly bombed their own city and a day before they took their armory to Watertown, the U.S. Senate defeated a bi-partisan gun control amendment that aimed to expand background checks for gun buyers. President Obama was furious. Vice President Joe Biden verged on tears, while Newtown families in Washington wept openly.
“We’ll return home now, disappointed but not defeated,” said Mark Barden, whose seven-year-old was one of 20 children shot and killed by Adam Lanza at Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14, 2012. “We return home with a determination that change will happen. Maybe not today, but it will happen. It will happen soon.”
Or perhaps not at all. In the wake of Boston some might see heightened hope for the gun control lobby. Paul M. Barrett at Bloomberg Businessweek sees the opposite:
“I’ll predict that the unrest emanating from Boston will benefit the National Rifle Association and its allies in their campaign for widespread individual firearm ownership. For better or worse, the pro-gun side thrives on heightened anxiety … As any gun manufacturer will tell you, the 9/11 attacks helped sales at firearm counters around the country and strengthened the NRA’s hand in lobbying against greater federal restrictions.”
Arkansas State Representative and long-time NRA member Nate Bell tweeted the following on the weekend: “I wonder how many Boston liberals spent the night cowering in their homes wishing they had an AR-15 with a hi-capacity magazine?” Cain TV —Herman Cain’s TV network—was equally subtle: “Just wondering: wouldn’t it be good right now if everyone in Boston had a gun?”
To follow the NRA’s logic—“the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is with a good guy with a gun”—the more good guys with guns, the better. The more gun owners who are “law-abiding citizens”—to use the right’s new favourite expression (“job creators” is so 2012)–the less likely criminals are to shoot up the neighbourhood and hide in your boat. According to the NRA, merely following the law is proof you should have unlimited access to the tools most convenient for breaking it. The gun lobby doesn’t just thrive on fear mongering, or “heightened anxiety,” as Barrett calls it. It thrives on the myth that the law-abiding citizen will never cease to be one. And so its leaders ask, every time a new measure comes before the Senate, every time a violent tragedy strikes somewhere in their country:
Why should harmless, law-abiding citizens, be inconvenienced and insulted with extensive background checks when we have no reason to fear them?
The answer is simple: Until last week we had no apparent reason to fear a person like Dzhohkar Tsarnaev, the “popular” teenage wrestler, handsome stoner, and — at least as far as his father is concerned—“angel” on Earth. Until last week, the brothers Tsarnaev were seemingly harmless, law-abiding citizens. (The older brother’s rumoured domestic violence charge has not yet been verified and there’s nothing illegal about watching unsavoury YouTube videos.) Neither showed any desire to commit mass murder. Everyone’s query, now that four people are dead and nearly 200 are injured, about how two supposedly normal individuals could be capable of such atrocities, is in essence, an answer. It’s the answer to the gun-control, background-check debate: we never know, ultimately, who is capable of evil and who isn’t. We only talk about “root causes” once they’ve torn through the earth and fulfilled their twisted purpose. The Boston Marathon bombing isn’t proof that people need weapons to protect themselves from monsters. It’s proof that any one of us could be a monster. We are all law-abiding citizens until we aren’t.
Why shouldn’t “everyone in Boston have a gun?” Because until last week, Dzhohkar Tsarnaev was everyone. No one today would protect his right to forego an extensive background check on the purchase of a weapon. So why last week? Why ever?
By Luiza Ch. Savage - Thursday, April 18, 2013 at 12:29 PM - 0 Comments
The president says it’s only Round One.
As families of victims of the mass shootings in Newtown, Tucson, and Virginia Tech looked on yesterday, the most modest of the gun control proposals put forward in the U.S. Senate could not muster the 60 votes needed to get over Republican opposition. A bipartisan amendment that would have required background checks of all commercial sales of guns (aimed at closing the loophole that had excluded gun shows) was defeated on a vote of 54-46.
Polls suggest that an overwhelming majority of Americans support background checks, but that did not translate into more votes in the Senate where Democrats have a slim majority. Four Democrats from conservative states voted against the measure: Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Max Baucus of Montana, Mark Begich of Alaska, and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota. Heitkamp said in a statement that the background checks would “put an undue burdens on law-abiding North Dakotans” and said she would favor measures that focused on mental health policies rather than guns. “This conversation should be about what is in people’s minds, not about what is in their hands,” she wrote. (Majority leader Harry Reid of Nevada also voted against the measure, but for “procedural reasons” that will enable it be taken up again at a later time. See technical explanation here.)
Overall, the votes were a dramatic victory for gun rights and the National Rifle Association. Only 40 senators voted in favor of an assault-weapons ban, and only 46 voted in favor of limits on the size ammunition magazines. In contrast, 57 senators voted in favor of loosening gun restrictions by allowing people with concealed weapons permits to carry them in other states.
In emotional remarks from the White House Rose Garden, Obama called the outcome “a pretty shameful day for Washington” and vowed to press on. Mark Barden, whose 7-year-old son Daniel was killed in the Newtown shooting, also spoke:
“We’ll return home now, disappointed but not defeated. We return home with the determination that change will happen — maybe not today, but it will happen. It will happen soon. We’ve always known this would be a long road, and we don’t have the luxury of turning back,” he said.
Having learned in the first term the limits of his official powers when it comes to passing domestic legislation, Obama is trying a different approach. After his reelection, he launched a grassroots organizing effort called “Organizing for Action”, building on the infrastructure of his presidential campaign machine, aimed at mobilizing grassroots support for his legislative agenda. While some said yesterday’s defeat suggests the failure of his experiment, it’s simply too early to judge whether it will make an impact.
Obama has given every indication he will keep pushing to mobilize his supporters to put pressure on Congress. White House spokesman, Josh Earnest, said today: “I think we’re pretty close to a consensus on this just as about everywhere except in the United States Congress. And as the President alluded to yesterday, I think that is an indication of the pernicious influence that some special interests have in the United States Congress. And that is going to require a vocalization of public opinion to overcome it.”
But as he does so, Obama has to keep relations cordial with those same Republican lawmakers whose support he needs to pass his other domestic priority of his second term: immigration reform.
Yet it hasn’t been all defeat for the gun control lobby. Since the Newtown shootings, which left 20 children and six adults dead four months ago, four states have passed stricter gun laws. On the other hand, another twelve have loosened them.
By Luiza Ch. Savage - Wednesday, April 10, 2013 at 1:28 PM - 0 Comments
Republicans in the House of Representatives today held a hearing on legislation that would do just that in the event that Obama denies a permit for the proposed pipeline from Alberta to the Gulf Coast..
Could they get away with it?
Maybe, reports the Washington Post in an interesting article.
Such a move would raise constitutional division-of-powers questions:
The Congressional Research Service has examined this question in two separate reports, and in a 2012 report, it suggests Congress has just as much a right to weigh in on international pipelines as the president.
That report notes, “Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution authorizes Congress to ‘regulate Commerce with foreign Nations.’ Whereas any independent presidential authority in matters affecting foreign commerce derives from the President’s more general foreign affairs authority, Congress’s power over foreign commerce is plainly enumerated by the Constitution, suggesting that its authority in this field is preeminent.”
Now, just to complicate matters, a 2013 CRS report notes that a 2010 ruling by the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota found the president had the right to issue international pipeline permits because Congress had not challenged this authority over a period of several years.
Such a move would trigger lawsuits. And, of course, Obama can veto any legislation out of Congress. So is there enough support in Congress to override a presidential veto with a super-majority vote? Not yet. Notes the Post:
…on March 22 the Senate approved a non-binding resolution in favor of building the project by a vote of 62 to 37, with 17 Democrats voting in favor.
So in the end, can Congress grant a permit to the pipeline even if Obama rejects it? It appears proponents may be able to force the project through, if they can attract a few more Democrats to their side, but they would still have to fight in federal court to seal such a victory.
Full story is here.
By Aaron Wherry - Saturday, April 6, 2013 at 6:34 PM - 0 Comments
Four years ago, Justin Trudeau penned a few hundred words on the inaugural address of the new American president.
“He invoked George Washington and the revolution that created the United States. He returned to a moment stripped of all but ‘hope and virtue.’ That was the beginning of America, and it is to those fundamentals that he reached,” Mr. Trudeau wrote of Mr. Obama. “But what kind of tools are hope and virtue alone? Surely we need stimulus for the economy, regulation for the banks, protection for the environment, jobs for the jobless, subsidies here, investment there … Surely hope and virtue are just rhetorical flourishes, not the tools he plans to use to set the world on a new course? Surely we need action, not just pretty words? But President Obama told us that those will indeed be how he brings change to America. For actions, behaviours and habits will never change unless mindsets, assumptions and expectations are first shifted.”
How to do that?
By Luiza Ch. Savage - Wednesday, April 3, 2013 at 1:53 PM - 0 Comments
Politico has an interesting profile today of Tom Steyer, a billionaire who is using his wealth to press Democratic politicians on environmental issues, including TransCanada’s proposed Keystone XL pipeline:
The former hedge fund trader-turned-philanthropist is bankrolling a far-flung political operation pushing environmental causes and candidates, including his pricey effort to torpedo the Keystone XL oil pipeline. He’s increasingly drawing scrutiny for trying to take down the Senate candidacy of Massachusetts Rep. Stephen Lynch, a Democrat who has expressed support for Keystone. Steyer is signaling that his efforts against Lynch are just the beginning of an aggressive political expansion that could target Democrats in other races who go against environmental causes.
He’ll be giving Obama an earful tonight:
Steyer and his wife are hosting Obama at their San Francisco home Wednesday night for a $5,000-a-person cocktail reception that will benefit the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. The event will be filled with environmental and green-energy donors, who Steyer said won’t hide their feelings about Keystone from the president. “We will certainly talk about what we care about,” said Steyer…
Meanwhile, the Obama administration is in the process collecting public comment on their latest environmental impact review of the pipeline, which was considered friendly to the pipeline. The public comment deadline runs until April 22, and includes a public hearing in Nebraska on April 18. After State Department issues a final environmental impact statement, the State Department will have another 90 days to come up with a National Interest Determination. Other departments will then have another 15 days to weigh in, before President Obama makes a final decision on whether or not to issue a permit for the cross-border portion of the pipeline that is to run from Alberta to refineries on the Gulf Coast.
And Alberta premier Alison Redford is expected in Washington, DC next week. According to the Brookings Institution, a Washington, DC think tank:
On April 9, the Energy Security Initiative at Brookings will host Alison Redford, the premier of Alberta, for a discussion on the the Alberta-U. S. energy relationship, environmental efforts undertaken by her administration, and the Keystone XL pipeline.
Senior Fellow Charles Ebinger, director of the Energy Security Initiative, will provide introductory remarks. Brookings Trustee Daniel Yergin, chairman of Cambridge Energy Research Associates, will moderate the discussion with Premier Redford to include questions from the audience.
The event will be webcast and can be live Tweeted at hashtag #AlbertaUS.
By Aaron Hutchins - Monday, March 18, 2013 at 11:21 PM - 0 Comments
By Luiza Ch. Savage - Tuesday, February 26, 2013 at 11:49 AM - 0 Comments
Unless President Obama can reach a deal with congressional Republicans before Friday, $1.3 trillion in across-the-board federal government spending cuts will begin to take effect March 1. The cuts, known in Washington-speak as the “sequester” were never meant to happen. They were supposed to be the stick that was going to get Democrats and Republicans to agree to a long-term deal to reduce the deficit through a combination of taxes and spending. The sequester was the price of the August 2011 deal that got Republicans to agree to raising the limit on how much the federal government could borrow.
The idea was that both parties would be forced to agree to policies they did not like – because the alternative – cuts by “meat cleaver” rather than scalpel – would be much worse. The cuts were intentional divided between defense spending cuts (which Republicans oppose) and cuts to domestic spending and social programs (which Democrats oppose.)
The trouble is, so far, it hasn’t been enough of an impetus for both sides to come to a deal. President Obama says he wants more revenue increases so that the burden of deficit reduction will be “shared” through society – while Republicans have already agreed to increases on capital gains, dividend, and income taxes for high-income earners in January (as part of a deal to make permanent the bulk of the Bush tax cuts), say they have no stomach for more.
In addition, many Republicans in the House are now more interested in shrinking government, than they are maintaining defense spending. So the threat of Pentagon cuts ($43-billion in 2013) may not be as effective at getting them to the table as the president may have believed. Fiscal hawks such as senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham have called the cuts disastrous – but other Republicans believe any kind of tax hike would be worse.
Critics note that the federal budget will still grow under the sequester, though not as much as it would have otherwise. But the Obama administration is making the case that the impacts will be severe:
- The Congressional Budget Office predicts one million or more jobs will be lost in the U.S. this year due to the scheduled cuts, at a time when the U.S. economy is still struggling.
- Transportation secretary Ray LaHood has warned that the almost one billion dollars of scheduled cuts to his department includes $600-million to the budget of the Federal Aviation Administration, and will lead to furloughs for air traffic controllers. He has predicted 90-minute take-off delays at major U.S. airports that will ripple through the country. Air traffic control towers in smaller airports may be shuttered. He said the airport delays would begin being felt around April 1.
- The secretary of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano, warned that border management would be hard hit by the cuts, as border patrol officers would be furloughed. “It would have serious consequences to the flow of trade and travel at our nation’s ports of entry,” she said. The U.S. will have to accept fewer international flights, and increase delays for clearing customs. Average wait times could increase by 50%. At seaports, container inspections could take up to 5 days longer, she said. The Coast Guard would reduce its presence in the Arctic by a third. Asked how the sequester would affect border wait times, Napolitano said: “All I can tell you is that with sequestration, that situation is not going to improve, it’s going to go backwards.”
- Education secretary Arne Duncan said 10,000 teachers would lose their jobs, and some 70,000 poor kids would be kicked out of “Head Start” early education programs.
Republican leaders are under pressure to hold their ground on taxes. A conservative senator is warning that the Republican caucus would oust John Boehner as Speaker of the House if he agreed to any more tax increases in order to avert the sequester.
Meanwhile, the president has been traveling the country making the case that the cuts will be disastrous for various sectors of the economy. Today he travels to a shipyard in Virginia.
In response, congressional Republicans have proposed a plan that would give the president more discretion in deciding what programs will be cut – a move opposed by the White House.
A new poll suggests that more Americans would blame Republicans (45%) is not deal is reached to avert the cuts, than would blame Obama (32%).
But perhaps the two side will find a way of delaying, yet again, the impacts. The track record in this town lately has been one of last-minute deals that avert disaster — but only by kicking it down the road, and keeping the economy in the grip of uncertainty.
By Paul Wells - Tuesday, February 19, 2013 at 12:13 PM - 0 Comments
We sure picked a good day to be discussing the future of Keystone XL with CPAC and a blue-chip guest list in Washington. (Showtime is 7 p.m. and you can watch it all on CPAC. We’ve got Gary Doer and John Manley and many more, and Colleague Luiza Ch. Savage will keep them all honest. I’m writing from the U.S. departure lounge at Ottawa airport, and right now it looks like I’ll probably get to the Newseum before cameras roll.)
Fifteen months after Barack Obama delayed a decision on the Keystone XL pipeline, it is getting time to stop delaying. Continue…
By Paul Wells - Friday, February 15, 2013 at 10:23 AM - 0 Comments
Paul Wells on the meaning of drones
Dick Cheney was on CBS the other day, explaining U.S. President Barack Obama’s failings yet again. “I think the president came to power with a world view that’s fundamentally different,” the former vice-president said. “[There was] the sense that he wanted to reduce U.S. influence in the world, he wanted to take us down a peg.”
There’s no point debating this. Millions of Americans do consider the Obama presidency an assault against the United States. They voted for Mitt Romney last November and it didn’t do them much good. As for those who like Obama, they’d have choice things to say about what Cheney did to U.S. influence. “I think the worst thing that we could do right now,” Obama aide Stephanie Cutter said, “is take Dick Cheney’s advice on foreign policy.”
So the most interesting part of Cheney’s interview was the part where he agreed with Obama. He was asked about remote-controlled drones as a device for killing suspected terrorists, including U.S. citizens. “I think it’s a good program,” Cheney said. “I don’t disagree with the basic policy that the Obama administration is pursuing.”
By Aaron Wherry - Thursday, February 14, 2013 at 4:39 PM - 0 Comments
Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver, asked after QP today about the possibility of the United States adopting a cap-and-trade system, as raised by President Barack Obama in the State of the Union address.
Reporter: If they move to cap-and-trade, is that an initiative this government would support as well?
Oliver: Well, that’s speculative and hypothetical. I don’t want to get into that.
Mr. Oliver tried to be more categorical in November, but was undone by the convoluted history of his party’s position (ie. previously opposed to a carbon tax, while in favour of cap-and-trade, but now opposed to cap-and-trade, while saying cap-and-trade is the same thing as a carbon tax).
There are two ways to clarify matters now. Mr. Oliver could say that the Harper government would never, ever, ever, ever implement a cap-and-trade system, even if the United States did so. Or Mr. Oliver could say that, while the Harper government currently opposes cap-and-trade, it would have to at least consider implementing such a system if the United States did so. Although the latter would likely require some degree of explanation given the repeated and strenuous condemnation of cap-and-trade that has been offered these recent months.
This is probably academic (cap-and-trade is unlikely to pass the House of Representatives, although I’m interested to see if a “market-based solution” becomes more interesting to Republicans when the alternative—regulations—comes into focus). But this issue also seems to be of great and pressing concern to many Conservative MPs, so we should all try to strive for the greatest clarity.
By Emma Teitel - Wednesday, February 13, 2013 at 9:57 AM - 0 Comments
I heard Fran Lebowitz speak at Massey Hall last week about how much she hates strollers, NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg and audiences with low standards. She blames the latter on the Oprah effect—the impulse of the modern American audience to rise in applause of anything and everything. Nowhere in history (besides, perhaps, on the Oprah Winfrey show) was this phenomenon more pervasive than last night during Barack Obama’s State of the Union Address. Except for Ted Nugent or John Boehner, the live audience was perpetually on its feet. Even Paul Ryan couldn’t resist applauding this one liner — that or he really enjoys veiled digs at his own policy proposals:
“I am open to additional reforms from both parties, so long as they don’t violate the guarantee of a secure retirement. Our government shouldn’t make promises we cannot keep – but we must keep the promises we’ve already made.”
Three more observations about the State of the Union: Continue…
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, February 13, 2013 at 8:00 AM - 0 Comments
About midway through his State of the Union Address last night, Barack Obama turned to climate change and put the following to Congress.
I urge this Congress to pursue a bipartisan, market-based solution to climate change, like the one John McCain and Joe Lieberman worked on together a few years ago. But if Congress won’t act soon to protect future generations, I will. I will direct my Cabinet to come up with executive actions we can take, now and in the future, to reduce pollution, prepare our communities for the consequences of climate change, and speed the transition to more sustainable sources of energy.
What did John McCain and Joe Lieberman propose? Cap-and-trade.
So the President’s preferred policy for reducing greenhouse gas emissions would seem to be cap-and-trade. (Note: this would also seem to mean he differentiates between cap-and-trade and a carbon tax, which his office dismissed in November. And so dies a talking point.) If Congress fails to act in that regard, he will presumably move forward with regulations.
That’s basically the opposite of the Harper government’s position. Having proposed and pursued a market-based solution (cap-and-trade), the Harper government now advocates government regulation as its preferred policy while loudly and repeatedly claiming that cap-and-trade would be ruinous for the country.
By Paul Wells - Tuesday, February 12, 2013 at 11:29 PM - 0 Comments
In its rhetoric, Barack Obama’s Tuesday State of the Union address sealed the four-year transformation of the United States into a society well to the left of Stephen Harper’s Canada.
Never mind the president’s closing peroration in favour of substantial new firearm regulation — misleading to cross-border comparisons at any rate, as the U.S. starts from such anarchy on firearms that they would have a long way to regulate before they caught up to the Canadian firearms regime, even after Parliament abolished the long-gun registry last year. Nor am I really thinking about his call for tax increases as a component of deficit reduction — simple arithmetic when the books are as out of whack as they are in Washington. There was also Obama’s passionate plea for serious policy to regulate carbon emissions in a bid to control global warming. His federally mandated increase to the minimum wage with an added cost-of-living index. And the bit that I found most striking because it was least expected and, if it were carried out, perhaps most ambitious: universal preschool for all four-year-olds, an extension of public schooling that would be hard to imagine in Canada, where Harper cancelled the federal-provincial daycare agreements he inherited from the Paul Martin Liberals. Continue…
By Luiza Ch. Savage - Tuesday, February 12, 2013 at 11:22 PM - 0 Comments
During his State of the Union address, Obama made the case for action on climate change but proposed few concrete plans. The president said his administration would speed up approvals of domestic oil and gas permits to take advantage of America’s domestic energy boom.
He called for a “market-based solution” to climate change and referred to a past attempt at cap-and-trade legislation. But such legislation is likely a non-starter in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives — so Obama also said he willing to take unilateral executive actions “to reduce pollution.”
He didn’t give specifics about what unilateral steps his administration could take without legislation passed by Congress, but environmentalists have been asking the administration to regulate carbon emissions from existing power plants — especially those that burn coal — currently the largest source of carbon emissions in the U.S.
Industry says that the costs of upgrading existing plants will be too high — but there is speculation a carbon rule or standard could be the trade-off for an eventual decision to approve the Keystone XL pipeline (which was not mentioned at all in his speech).
Here is what Obama said about energy in his speech:
“After years of talking about it, we are finally poised to control our own energy future. We produce more oil at home than we have in 15 years. We have doubled the distance our cars will go on a gallon of gas, and the amount of renewable energy we generate from sources like wind and solar – with tens of thousands of good, American jobs to show for it. We produce more natural gas than ever before – and nearly everyone’s energy bill is lower because of it. And over the last four years, our emissions of the dangerous carbon pollution that threatens our planet have actually fallen.
“But for the sake of our children and our future, we must do more to combat climate change. Yes, it’s true that no single event makes a trend. But the fact is, the 12 hottest years on record have all come in the last 15. Heat waves, droughts, wildfires, and floods – all are now more frequent and intense. We can choose to believe that Superstorm Sandy, and the most severe drought in decades, and the worst wildfires some states have ever seen were all just a freak coincidence. Or we can choose to believe in the overwhelming judgment of science – and act before it’s too late.
“The good news is, we can make meaningful progress on this issue while driving strong economic growth. I urge this Congress to pursue a bipartisan, market-based solution to climate change, like the one John McCain and Joe Lieberman worked on together a few years ago. But if Congress won’t act soon to protect future generations, I will. I will direct my Cabinet to come up with executive actions we can take, now and in the future, to reduce pollution, prepare our communities for the consequences of climate change, and speed the transition to more sustainable sources of energy.
“Four years ago, other countries dominated the clean energy market and the jobs that came with it. We’ve begun to change that. Last year, wind energy added nearly half of all new power capacity in America. So let’s generate even more. Solar energy gets cheaper by the year – so let’s drive costs down even further. As long as countries like China keep going all-in on clean energy, so must we.
“In the meantime, the natural gas boom has led to cleaner power and greater energy independence. That’s why my Administration will keep cutting red tape and speeding up new oil and gas permits. But I also want to work with this Congress to encourage the research and technology that helps natural gas burn even cleaner and protects our air and water.
”Indeed, much of our new-found energy is drawn from lands and waters that we, the public, own together. So tonight, I propose we use some of our oil and gas revenues to fund an Energy Security Trust that will drive new research and technology to shift our cars and trucks off oil for good. If a non-partisan coalition of CEOs and retired generals and admirals can get behind this idea, then so can we. Let’s take their advice and free our families and businesses from the painful spikes in gas prices we’ve put up with for far too long. I’m also issuing a new goal for America: let’s cut in half the energy wasted by our homes and businesses over the next twenty years. The states with the best ideas to create jobs and lower energy bills by constructing more efficient buildings will receive federal support to help make it happen.”
By Emily Senger, Jaime Weinman, Jonathon Gatehouse, and Mika Rekai - Tuesday, February 12, 2013 at 7:00 PM - 0 Comments
Obama gets caught in “Skeetgate” and HMV learns the power of social media
Shorn for love
America isn’t the only place where young pop stars have to apologize for having a sex life. Minami Minegishi, a 20-year-old member of the Japanese musical group AKB48, shaved her head in penance after a gossip magazine showed her leaving the apartment of a backup dancer from another band. It wasn’t the romance with a rival group that caused the scandal, but the fact that, as Minegishi said in an apologetic YouTube video, she did not “behave as a good role model” and follow the band’s rules about sexual behaviour—namely, it’s off-limits to girls. The tearful apology didn’t help her cause—management demoted the star to a trainee team.
When U.S. President Barack Obama told the New Republic that “up at Camp David, we do skeet shooting all the time,” he probably never dreamed he’d set off a full-fledged new conspiracy theory, now dubbed “Skeetgate.” Many conservatives accused Obama of lying about his gun fandom; one Republican representative demanded to know “if he is a skeet shooter, why have we not heard of it?” The outcry grew so great that the White House released a photo of Obama shooting skeet at Camp David, which simply resulted in accusations that it was photoshopped, plus mockery of the “mom jeans” he was wearing in the picture. Continue…
By Emily Senger - Tuesday, February 12, 2013 at 11:25 AM - 0 Comments
A preview of what the U.S. president must do on Tuesday night
1. Economy, economy, economy
With U.S. unemployment remaining at 7.9 per cent and an economy that shrank in last quarter of 2012, Obama will have to present a strong economic plan. Watch for themes including infrastructure, manufacturing, clean energy and improved job training and education, which a White House aide flagged as areas that the president will address.
Obama was criticized for failing to address economic issues in a meaningful way during his inauguration speech. Now is his chance and he’s going to take it. “I’m going to be talking about making sure that we’re focused on job creation here in the United States of America,” Obama told Democrats at a gathering last week, reports ABC News.
2. Striking the right tone Continue…
By Emily Senger - Tuesday, February 5, 2013 at 9:35 AM - 0 Comments
Jon Favreau, the man behind many of President Barack Obama’s orations is stepping down…
Jon Favreau, the man behind many of President Barack Obama’s orations is stepping down as head speechwriter, reports the Los Angeles Times.
Tuesday’s report comes after December rumours that Favreau, who has worked as a speechwriter for Obama for seven years, would be stepping down soon after writing the president’s second inaugural address. “We hear he’s mulling various options but hasn’t made a decision about his second-term plans,” reported The Washington Post in December.
Favreau is known for his personality almost as much as his words. He was just 23 when he famously interrupted then U.S. Senator candidate Obama to offer some pointers for his speech. Continue…
By Jaime Weinman - Monday, February 4, 2013 at 6:26 PM - 0 Comments
Unravelling ‘Skeetgate,’ one Conservative accusation at a time
The whole scandal started with a simple question put to President Barack Obama, and his equally simple answer. In a wide-ranging interview, New Republic writer Franklin Foer asked Obama “Have you ever fired a gun?” and Obama said “Yes, in fact up at Camp David, we do skeet shooting all the time,” adding that he had “a profound respect for the traditions of hunting that trace back in this country for generations.” It was the President’s attempt to prove that though he’s been talking about gun control, he still can connect with regular gun-toting Joes. And while he probably didn’t expect to convince many people, he probably didn’t expect the reaction he actually got: a new mini-movement of “skeet truthers,” who dispute the idea that Obama would ever fire a gun.
In the first stage of “Skeetgate,” Obama’s claim that he skeet shoots “all the time” was immediately taken up and mocked by conservative bloggers and pundits, who argued that this was clearly a lie or at least an exaggeration. Roy Edroso, who covers the conservative blogosphere for The Village Voice, rounded up examples of how bloggers “immediately and strenuously disbelieved” the assertion. One blogger pointed to a video where Obama looked nervous at hearing a shooting gun, proof that the President is unused to the sound.
Others allowed that perhaps he’s fired a gun once or twice, but is exaggerating about the “all the time” part: Fox News went to an anonymous source who, they claimed, “has been to the retreat on a half-dozen visits with Obama,” and who said that “the only time he shot skeet was for President’s Cup,” plus maybe one other time. “He couldn’t have been more uncomfortable,” the source said, reassuring Fox viewers that Obama is an anti-gun wimp who barely knows how to hold the thing. Marsha Blackburn, a conservative Republican representative from Tennessee, told CNN that she questioned the whole premise: “‘If he is a skeet shooter, why have we not heard of this? Why have we not seen photos? Why hasn’t he referenced this at any point in time?’”
The cries of skeet fraud became loud enough that the White House staff decided to do what they did with Obama’s birth certificate, and provide the evidence: they released a photo, taken at Camp David in August of last year, of the President wearing shades and earmuffs and shooting at what, presumably, are a bunch of offscreen clay pigeons. But this photo raised more questions than it settled. Press Secretary Jay Carney was asked about the timing: “Why did the White House decide to release the skeet shooting photos three days before this trip?” a reporter queried, referring to Obama’s upcoming tour to promote his gun-control plan. Even an Obama ally, his former campaign strategist David Axelrod, lamented that Obama “should have put the picture out earlier. I don’t know why they waited five days to put that out. It just rekindled the whole story.”
Especially because the photo created a brand-new story: charges of photoshopping and other photographic fakery. Bloggers took to the intertubes to advance various theories for why the gun wasn’t real and Obama was not the second, or even the first shooter. Michael Harlin of The American Thinker, a very conservative but verbose blog, explained that “the weapon is nearly level to the ground” and that in his 50 years of shooting experience, “I have never once seen a smoke pattern like that,” adding that “it is evident that the President has never shot a shotgun before as his stance is leaning slightly backward.” Blogger Pat Dollard pointed out that Obama was reportedly golfing on the very day the photo was taken, and obviously he couldn’t possibly go golfing and shooting in the same day.
Those who didn’t smell a conspiracy at least saw the photo as a staged opportunity to fool the public into thinking Obama likes guns, when he clearly hates them and wants to pry them from your cold dead hands. The blog Five Feet of Fury summed it up: “Why is Obama shooting skeet with a rifle, why an ‘assault’ model, and why is he aiming so low (while wearing mom jeans)?” The “mom jeans” comment caught on enough to make Obama’s pants almost as much an object of mockery as the oversized gun itself.
If one offhand comment and one skeet-shooting photo can create a whole new flood of conspiracy theories and conservative memes, there’s no telling what we may be in for during the next four years. But the controversy seemed to make it clear what will happen every time Obama tries to prove he’s not so different from the people he once described as “cling[ing] to guns or religion.” It’s probably never going to work. Because as NRA spokesperson Andrew Arulanandam said to CNN, “One picture does not erase a lifetime of supporting every gun ban and every gun control scheme imaginable.” Arulanandam’s tack may be the simplest and most effective one—don’t dispute that the photo is real or that Obama shoots skeet, just say that it doesn’t matter as long as he’s coming for your guns.