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Obama and Boehner Square Off on Government Regulation August 31, 2011

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Responding to a request from House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, for the Obama administration to “provide a list of all pending and planned rulemakings with a projected impact on our economy in excess of $1 billion,” President Barack Obama tells the speaker that his administration has taken steps to minimize regulatory burdens and costs government wide.

In a letter to Boehner, Mr. Obama writes that his executive order earlier this year “called for an ambitious Government-wide review of rules now on the books” which the president says is now complete. He adds that the review led to cuts from 26 agencies, generating more than $10 billion in savings over 5 years.

President Obama replied Tuesday with a list of seven proposed rules with an estimated economic impact of over $1 billion. The various proposed regulations apply to the Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Transportation, ranging in rough costs from $1 billion for DOT hours of service regulations, to as much as $90 billion for ozone air standards.

Boehner’s office answered Obama’s letter with a statement Tuesday afternoon bashing the seven regulations.

“The combined cost of these seven new regulatory actions alone could be more than $100 billion,” the statement read. “These costs will be felt by the American people in the form of fewer jobs and slower economic growth.”

In his earlier letter, the speaker requested the specific information from the White House be available to Congress when they return from recess in September, so that “as the House considers legislation requiring a congressional review and approval of any proposed federal government regulation that will have a significant impact on the economy as we continue our efforts to remove impediments to job creation and economic growth for the American people.”

And the House will take up regulation issues the second week of September, as reflected in the congressional schedule issued by House majority leader Eric Cantor, R-Va. “Our regulatory relief agenda will include repeal of specific regulations, as well as fundamental and structural reform of the rule-making system,” Cantor stated in a memo Monday.

Obama explained to Boehner in his correspondence that the rules creating over $1 billion in estimated economic impacts “are in a highly preliminary state” and promises scrutiny for the potentially costly measures. The president concluded the letter to Boehner by saying that he looks forward to working closely on a regulatory system.

Boehner’s office points out 212 smaller regulations it says the administration has in the works and called for more disclosure.

“Given this new information disclosed today, I believe it is the Administration’s responsibility to now make public the detailed cost estimates for all 219 of the new ‘economically significant’ regulatory actions it has planned, so that the American people can see the total cost of these government rules on private-sector job creation in our country,” Boehner’s statement said.

With CIA help, NYPD moves covertly in Muslim areas August 31, 2011

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Since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the New York Police Department has become one of the nation’s most aggressive domestic intelligence agencies, targeting ethnic communities in ways that would run afoul of civil liberties rules if practiced by the federal government, an Associated Press investigation has found…

The operations have benefited from unprecedented help from the CIA, a partnership that has blurred the line between foreign and domestic spying.

The department has dispatched undercover officers, known as “rakers,” into minority neighborhoods as part of a human mapping program, according to officials directly involved in the program. They’ve monitored daily life in bookstores, bars, cafes and nightclubs. Police have also used informants, known as “mosque crawlers,” to monitor sermons, even when there’s no evidence of wrongdoing.

Neither the city council, which finances the department, nor the federal government, which has given NYPD more than $1.6 billion since 9/11, is told exactly what’s going on.

Many of these operations were built with help from the CIA, which is prohibited from spying on Americans but was instrumental in transforming the NYPD’s intelligence unit.

A veteran CIA officer, while still on the agency’s payroll, was the architect of the NYPD’s intelligence programs. The CIA trained a police detective at the Farm, the agency’s spy school in Virginia, then returned him to New York, where he put his new espionage skills to work inside the United States.

And just last month, the CIA sent a senior officer to work as a clandestine operative inside police headquarters.

The NYPD denied that it trolls ethnic neighborhoods and said it only follows leads. Police operations have disrupted terrorist plots and put several would-be killers in prison.

“The New York Police Department is doing everything it can to make sure there’s not another 9/11 here and that more innocent New Yorkers are not killed by terrorists,” NYPD spokesman Paul Browne said. “And we have nothing to apologize for in that regard.” AP’s investigation is based on documents and interviews with more than 40 current and former New York Police Department and federal officials. Many were directly involved in planning and carrying out these secret operations for the department. Though most said the tactics were appropriate and made the city safer, many insisted on anonymity, because they were not authorized to speak with reporters about security matters.

In response to the story, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a leading Muslim civil rights organization, called on the Justice Department to investigate. The Justice Department said Wednesday night it would review the request.

“This is potentially illegal what they’re doing,” said Gadeir Abbas, a staff attorney with the organization.

After the terrorist attacks, New York hired retired CIA official David Cohen to transform its intelligence division.

Among Cohen’s earliest moves at the NYPD was asking for help from his old CIA colleagues. He needed someone who had access to the latest intelligence so the NYPD wouldn’t have to rely on the FBI to dole out information.

CIA Director George Tenet dispatched Larry Sanchez, a respected CIA veteran, to New York while Sanchez was still on the CIA payroll, three former intelligence officials said. Sanchez directed and mentored officers, schooling them in the art of gathering information, officials said.

There had never been an arrangement like it, and some senior CIA officials soon began questioning whether Tenet was allowing Sanchez to operate on both sides of the wall that’s supposed to keep the CIA out of the domestic intelligence business.

“It should not be a surprise to anyone that, after 9/11, the Central Intelligence Agency stepped up its cooperation with law enforcement on counterterrorism issues or that some of that increased cooperation was in New York, the site of ground zero,” CIA spokeswoman Jennifer Youngblood said.

Cohen also persuaded a federal judge to loosen rules and allow police to open investigations before there’s any indication a crime has been committed.

With that newfound authority, Cohen created a secret squad that would soon infiltrate Muslim neighborhoods, according to several current and former officials directly involved in the program.

The NYPD assigned undercover officers to monitor neighborhoods, looking for potential trouble. Using census data, police matched undercover officers to ethnic communities and instructed them to blend in, the officials said. They hung out in hookah bars and cafes, quietly observing the community around them.

The unit, which has been undisclosed until now, became known inside the department as the Demographic Unit, former police officials said.

“It’s not a question of profiling. It’s a question of going where the problem could arise,” said Mordecai Dzikansky, a retired NYPD intelligence officer who said he was aware of the Demographic Unit. “And thank God we have the capability. We have the language capability and the ethnic officers. That’s our hidden weapon.”

Cohen said he wanted the squad to “rake the coals, looking for hot spots,” former officials recalled. The undercover officers soon became known inside the department as rakers.

For years, detectives also used informants known as mosque crawlers to monitor weekly sermons and report what was said, several current and former officials directly involved in the informant program said. If FBI agents were to do that, they would be in violation of the Privacy Act, which prohibits the federal government from collecting intelligence on purely First Amendment activities.

Browne, the NYPD spokesman, flatly denied the accounts of mosque crawlers and rakers. He said the NYPD only uses undercover officers and informants to follow leads, not to target ethnic neighborhoods.

“We will go into a location, whether it’s a mosque or a bookstore, if the lead warrants it, and at least establish whether there’s something that requires more attention,” Browne said.

Last month, the CIA deepened its ties to the NYPD. It sent one of its most senior spies to New York to work out of police headquarters, on the CIA payroll. He is a special assistant in the intelligence division but U.S. officials said he is not doing intelligence-gathering. His name remains classified.

“It’s like starting the CIA over in the post-9/11 world,” Cohen said in “‘Securing the City,” a laudatory 2009 book about the NYPD. “What would you do if you could begin it all over again? Hah. This is what you would do.”

Associated Press  writers Tom Hays and Eileen in Washington contributed to this report.

Seattle Green Jobs Program Gets $20M, Creates 14 Posts August 30, 2011

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A green jobs program in one of America’s greenest cities is being called a bust 16 months after a $20 million federal grant to weatherize homes in Seattle ended up putting just 14 people to work in mostly administrative jobs and upgrading only three homes in the area.

“The jobs are not there,” Todd Myers, who wrote the book “Eco Fads,” told Fox News. “So we’re training people for jobs that don’t exist.”

Seattle is not alone. The Department of Energy has allocated $508 million to 41 states for its Better Buildings Neighborhood Program and 600 jobs have been created or retained. 

“While communities are advancing their programs at different rates, we are pleased with the progress,” the agency wrote in a recent statement. 

One year into the three-year program, 9,000 homes have had energy audits and received some kind of upgrade. The goal is to weatherize 150,000 homes by 2013 and save consumers $65 million annually on energy bills.

Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn says it’s too early to declare the program a failure. 

“We may have to adjust how we market it and the incentives we provide,” McGinn said. “Nobody has really cracked the green jobs code.”

Contractors who do the energy audits and home retrofits blame government for getting in the way. To be a participating business in Seattle, the contractor is required to pay workers $21 an hour with full benefits, including retirement pay. But according to several small business owners in the area, the prevailing wage for new workers who lay insulation is $12. per hour.

McGinn, however, insisted that allowing contractors to pay anything less than what the city has declared a ‘living wage’, amounts to a ‘race to the bottom’ for jobs. 

“The workforce agreements that were negotiated with contractors at the table made sure that some benefits of this work is going to local workers, and we’re going to pay fair wages for it,” he said.

But Myers and others say the biggest problem with the program is government is trying to create a market that consumers don’t want. The average homeowner in the U.S. pays about $2,000 a year for energy. 

The weatherization upgrades are aimed at saving 15 percent on energy consumption. If the retrofit costs $10,000 even with all the government incentives, it will take over 30 years to pay off through lower energy bills.

“The problem is the policies the politicians choose, whether green jobs or retrofits, are based on appearance,” Myers said. “They choose things that look good, rather than what’s best for the environment.”

Among the other cities having trouble fulfilling the green jobs promise are Toledo, Kansas City and Phoenix. So far, those cities have created a combined 72 jobs with $65 million in grants.

The difficulty is magnified on the federal level. President Obama once said he wanted to create 5 million green jobs over 10 years. The 2009 stimulus package included $5 billion toward that goal.

A chunk of that money went for weatherization programs, but according to a Department of Energy inspector general report one year later, “only two of the 10 highest-funded recipients completed more than 2 percent of planned units.”

Ron Paul: Bernanke Is Out of Options to Save Economy August 30, 2011

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Chairman Ben Bernanke is not calling for another fix to the economy by the Federal Reserve because he’s already used up all the quivers in the Fed’s bow, Rep. Ron Paul said Sunday.

Paul is a 2012 Republican presidential candidate and supports the U.S. returning to the gold standard to protect its currency and force a balanced budget. He has been highly critical of the Federal Reserve and its chairman over plans for “quantitative easing,” a two-part program which flooded the market with dollars in an attempt to make money more available for borrowing and lending. 


Paul argued that Bernanke’s plan to buy bank assets and drop more than $2 trillion into the economy did not yield the results the chairman hoped, a conclusion that Paul says Bernanke implicitly acknowledged during a speech last week in which he offered no new bailout programs from the Fed. 

“He really hasn’t pulled back. Symbolically, he has and he is not having another QE3,” Paul said. “But he has maintained a (view) to keep interest rates low until 2013. You can’t keep interest rates low without monetizing debt because if somebody else doesn’t buy it, he has to buy it. So he’s continuously quantitatively easing.”

Paul said that artificially holding down interest rates was instrumental in the housing bubble that burst in 2007 and sparked the economic meltdown from which the U.S. economy is still trying to recover. 

He said if government — and its central bank — stopped trying to bail out its friends, then the economy would soon return to normal. 

“Let the people who live beyond their means, let them go bankrupt,” he said. “Hands off, give us a sound currency, free up the markets. Property rights. Enforce contracts. Make sure people go bankrupt when they go bankrupt and don’t bail out their buddies.”

He added that one good thing out of Bernanke’s speech is that he effectively returned the responsibility for the economy back to Congress and a fiscal approach.

“He at least sort of said, ‘Oh, it’s up to the Congress. It’s all Congress’ fault. They need to deal with it. So he’s sort of throwing up his hands. But all he needs to do is quit monetizing debt. Interest rates would go up and Congress would be forced to cut debt,” Paul said.

Paul has been holding steady near the top of the polls for the Republican nomination despite being described as “unconventional” because of his libertarian streak. The 12-term Texas congressman surmised that he’s in vogue now because many Americans realize it’s time to return to the principles on which the nation was founded. 

“I’m fascinated with your word ‘unconventional,'” he told “Fox News Sunday. “Isn’t it strange that we can apply that word to freedom and liberty and the Constitution and limited government and a balanced budget?’

Paul said that while some question whether he’s just in the race to be the “prophet” who guides the discussion, he’s definitely vying for the actual job of president. 

“I’m in it to win it. And you’re absolutely right, I do say that I am more interested in influence and power. As a matter of fact, as president I would reduce the power of government. I wouldn’t seek it. I would never take the power from the Congress. I would not go to war without
congressional approval,” he said. 

“I resent the power that has galvanized in the executive branch and in the judicial system and I would want to shrink the size of government,” he added. “That doesn’t mean I don’t want to win. That means I want a new approach at least from current standards for the presidency.”

Paul’s approach to foreign policy has also been called unconventional, or in some circles, isolationist. He has opposed most wars launched by the U.S., saying that it leads to too many unintended consequences, and has harshly criticized U.S. participation in NATO military action against Libya. 

Paul said that his approach to international relations rests on national security, not “pretending that we can pick the dictators around the world.” 

He added that the U.S. government should take cues from its military.

“The one telltale sign of the support I’m getting is because of my foreign policy. I get more donations from active military duty people than all the other candidates put together, which tells me a lot and tells the American people a lot,” Paul said. 

“Military people wanted to defend this country but they don’t want perpetual war when they are undeclared and you don’t see the end and you don’t know who the enemy is and it’s too many restrictions on how they retaliate against the enemies … Our (National) Guard units should be here taking care of us when we have floods, but no, they’re overseas and the military is worn out, it’s time for a change if for no reason than we’re flat out broke,” he said. 

“Federal Family” Learns a Lesson About Disaster Politics August 29, 2011

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“Since the end of last year’s hurricane season, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration have been working with the nation’s entire emergency management team to get ready for this year’s hurricane season. That team includes the entire federal family, state, local and tribal governments, the faith-based and non-profit communities, and the private sector.”

American politicians have a gift for over learning the lessons of the immediate past, and the response to Hurricane Irene is a prime example.

Compared to the other major natural disasters of the year – the rash of cyclones that killed hundreds across the Southeast in April or the mile-wide tornado that killed 160 people in Joplin, Mo. on May 22 –Irene was a dud.

But the storm had all the makings of a catastrophe: large, slow-moving and pointed at the heart of the nation’s largest city. It was not hard to imagine that the low-lying central part of Manhattan would be swamped like New Orleans’ Lower Ninth Ward after Hurricane Katrina. Not only would there have been scores of lives lost, but the beating heart of America’s financial industry would have been stifled.

In the end, though, the storm was nothing like Katrina and the small number of dead and isolated property damage will be lamented now, but soon swept from the front pages. It takes a lot to hold the nation’s disaster fascination: ask the still-struggling folks in Alabama and Joplin.

But before Irene fizzled, the Obama White House wanted to make sure that Irene was no Katrina and that, in fact, the president and his aides would be seen in compassionate command of the situation.

Hence the introduction of what may be the most condescending euphemism for the national government in its long history of condescending euphemizing: “federal family.”

This new phrase was supposed to, Power Play supposes, make anxious East Coasters feel the love of a caring federal government — tender squeeze from the Department of Homeland Security, a gentle embrace from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The phrase was a centrally distributed talking point, appearing in op-eds, press releases and statements from across the administration.

No major hurricane had hit the U.S. mainland in the Obama era, and the “federal family” had obviously been saving up a lot of new approaches to differentiate itself from the clan under President George W. Bush.

President Obama, presumably the federal father, came home early from his vacation and addressed the nation on the progress of the storm daily. The agency heads, presumably the siblings of this caring network, fanned out to show intimate engagement with the subject, from sandbagging procedures to storm tracking.

Meanwhile, Democrats were already pushing hard on the notion that Republican spendthrifts had crippled federal disaster preparedness, laying the predicate for pinning the blame for the disaster on the Tea Party movement. When the worst came, the president’s allies wanted to make sure everyone knew who was trying to break up the federal family.

It’s easy to say today, in hindsight, that the administration and its allies over-hyped the storm. If the damage had been greater, the panicky preamble and blame placement would seem justified. But the Obama political team has undoubtedly been taught a lesson about political perception.

It’s much easier to score negative points against someone else than it is to add positive ones to your own tally.

The president made attacking the Bush administration’s handling of Katrina a big part of his rise to power. Obama frequently used the storm and its aftermath to highlight the differences between himself and the man who is now his predecessor. This was a useful strategy because it plugged into one of the dominant narratives of the time: that Katrina was a domestic Iraq, a place where the president allowed people to suffer and die because of his own indifference or stupidity.

While Bush himself would later lament holding back a federal intervention in New Orleans, the largest part of the tragedy of Katrina came because of poor planning, poor preparedness and the sunken geography of the poorest parts of New Orleans. But the establishment press narrative fit fabulously and helped consign the GOP to two massive electoral defeats.

Obama called Irene an “historic storm” on Friday, but she will be all but forgotten soon enough. Katrina, conversely, brewed and churned in just the wrong way to suddenly swamp New Orleans. Remember that Katrina crossed Florida with minimal damage and only became the monster storm of legend when it entered the Gulf of Mexico.

While Americans had days to watch and worry over Irene, Katrina had already been dismissed by many as just another tropical depression before she started sucking up warm Gulf water and picking up speed. It was a perfect disaster.

Irene’s long lead time and the untapped hurricane plans of the Obama administration caused overwrought phrases like “federal family” and for a general sense of anxious hovering. The potential for massive disaster and graphic memories of Katrina cause local leaders to follow suit and join their presidential papa.

(Power Play would suggest that any New Yorkers and New Jerseyans currently complaining about the dire warnings of their mayor or governor ask themselves this: Would they rather have Ray Nagin and Kathleen Blanco?)

It is in this way that campaigns shape governments. The way that Obama ran for office, in this case blasting Bush for Katrina, caused his organization to place an excess premium on hurricane preparedness and messaging.

Some of it may have been defensive, since Democrats came to realize the political potential of a disaster while using the tragedy against Bush, but most of it was probably juxtapositional: “We can do this because we are the party of government. The Republicans hate government and that kills people.”

But rather than having a chance to show how effectively the government party can unite the federal family to a common cause, the president’s team got all worked up for a storm that most Floridians wouldn’t have interrupted their canasta games for. That’s how it goes with natural disasters.

The political lesson, though, is one that the members of Team Obama seem to be constantly being taught: it’s a lot easier to run for president than it is to be one. As they watch Republican frontrunners Rick Perry and Mitt Romney take chunks out of the embattled president’s hide, they will continue to re-learn it.

***Hurricane Irene may have done billions of dollars of damage up the East Coast over the weekend, but it’s also expected to funnel billions of dollars into the sputtering economy. We’ll tell you how. And no topic is off limits when it comes to potential political benefits. Is Washington going too far to try to score points with voters?

Source – Fox News