By Robert Gehl, January 29, 2015.
For about one week, the American people were witness to the hatred Barack Obama has for the middle class.
His plan to eliminate the 529 college savings plan was met with almost unanimous condemnation and so, under intense pressure, he dropped that provision of his so-called plan to destroy support the middle class.
The plan was so bad – taxing the savings parents put in for their kids college savings – and so anti-middle class (12 million families rely on the accounts) and so hypocritical – he used the plans himself for his daughters – that even libs like Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer were against it.
Rather than admit it was a bad idea, spokesman Eric Schultz said it was a “distraction” that took attention from all the other stupid ideas Obama has.
The College Savings Foundation, a nonprofit group that advocates for 529s, estimates that 70 percent of account holders earn less than $150,000 based on a 2014 survey conducted by Strategic Insight, a mutual fund research firm. Another 10 percent of account owners have income below $50,000. Families on average contribute $175 a month and amass about $19,774 in their accounts.
Even though every American can set up and contribute to these accounts, because poor people (naturally) didn’t invest in them, they were bad. Fu*k the middle class. Gotta give things to poor people. Tax middle-class college savings accounts and just give it to them.
Richard Pollock is the former Washington bureau chief of PJTV.
In 2013, John Podesta was paid $87,000 by a shadowy foreign billionaire whose passion is preventing energy exploration on American land.
Just two years later, Podesta is a member of President Obama’s inner circle, and the driving force inside the White House to block 12 million acres of land in Alaska’s Artic National Wildlife Refuge from oil drilling.
The circumstances suggest Podesta may have run afoul of Obama’s highly-touted ethics pledge, which requires political appointees to disqualify themselves in matters relating to the interests of a former employer or client.
Podesta — who is preparing to leave the White House to take a top position with Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign — has largely avoided public scrutiny during his time as a White House Counselor.
But his work came into fuller view earlier this week when he emerged as one of the architects of the new White House policy that seeks to end any future drilling for oil on Alaska’s coastal plain.
In fact, Podesta personally announced the policy in a White House blog post Sunday, waxing poetic that the move would ensure “this wild, free, beautiful, and bountiful place remains in trust for Alaska Natives and for all Americans.”
Shielding public lands from oil and gas drilling also is one of the main occupations of Hansjorg Wyss, a mysterious Swiss billionaire who personally hired Podesta as a “consultant” in 2013 just before he entered the White House, according to his White House disclosure form.
A public ethics controversy for the White House Counselor involving the second wealthiest man in Switzerland could be awkward for Podesta as he prepares to kick off Hillary’s campaign.
The ethical questions could also force into the open the relationship between Podesta and Wyss — including why a left-wing foreigner is wielding influence over how Americans use their land.
Wyss, a Swiss citizen, has been a generous donor to Podesta’s Center for American Progress, giving $4 million to the group during Podesta’s tenure, according to the private foundation’s tax documents.
Podesta has returned the favor by rewarding Wyss with a coveted seat on CAP’s board.
But it may be Wyss’s decision to personally hire the White House Counselor in 2013 as a “consultant,” and paying him $87,000 that could cause Podesta the most trouble.
A number of federal ethics rules, including President Obama’s “ethics pledge,” signed into law by the president on his first day in office, preclude political appointees from engaging in issues of interest to a former employer.
The period of disqualification applies to all work done within two years before entering the federal government. Podesta worked at Wyss’s HJW Foundation in 2013 and joined the White House in January 2014.
Federal conflict of interest rules overseen by the Office of Government Ethics also instruct political appointees to “not work on any matter” if the work of their previous employer “would raise a question regarding the employee’s impartiality.” The law applies to White House officials.
One way political appointees can get around conflicts of interest requirements is to get an official waiver from an ethics office.
It’s unclear if Podesta ever sought or received a waiver. White House press secretary Josh Earnest did not respond to a detailed request for comment on the matter.
Cleta Mitchell, an attorney for Republican political figures and conservative groups said the Podesta-Wyss issue could spell trouble for the White House Counselor.
“So he was just doing the bidding of a Swiss billionaire and he’s in the White House to do it,” Mitchell told TheDC. “That’s pretty clear. If he didn’t recuse himself then that’s what he’s done.”
Wyss is a gigantic contributor to liberal groups. He has given more than $110 million to activist organizations since 2008.
Forbes estimates his personal net wealth at $11.2 billion.
The billionaire has been adverse to publicity. He once told a Swiss newspaper, in a rare interview in 2011, that “nobody knows me, and I hope that it stays like this.”
It’s not hard to see why.
In 2009, top executives at Synthes — a medical device company then-owned by Wyss — were indicted by federal prosecutors for conducting untested medical procedures on human patients without Food and Drug Administration approval.
Three elderly people died.
Wyss was CEO and according to court papers, approved the procedures.
In 2009, the U.S. Attorneys for Eastern Pennsylvania formally handed down indictments. Federal prosecutors named Wyss as “Person Number 7” in the criminal conspiracy.
While he eventually escaped indictment, four of his top executives went to prison and his company negotiated a plea deal in which the firm’s subsidiary paid $23 million. Immediately after the legal settlement with prosecutors, Wyss sold his company for $21.3 billion.
Podesta’s authorship of the Alaska lands deal dovetails with Wyss’s main interest. Keeping drillers away from Western lands, including Alaska, is a passionate crusade for Wyss.
He famously ponied up $35 million in 2010 to set aside 310,000 acres of land from development in Montana.
In January 2013, Wyss contributed $4.25 million to purchase oil and gas leases on 58,000 acres of land in Wyoming’s Hoback Basin.
Wyss sits on the governing council of the Wilderness Society, and on the boards of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance and the Grand Canyon Trust.
In addition to Podesta, Wyss also hired Molly Mcusic to be his foundation president.
Mcusic served in the Clinton administration as a top assistant to Interior Secretary Bruce Babbit. She is best remembered for using the Antiquities Act to designate lands as “National Monuments.”
It was through the use of the act that Mcusic permitted Clinton to withdraw more land in the lower 48 states than any president since Theodore Roosevelt.
Mcusic’s office is in Washington, D.C. She visited the White House five times early in the administration, according to White House visitor logs.
Her visits included a visit to White House special advisor Valerie Jarrett’s office; two visits with communications guru Stephanie Cutter and a final visit with Nancy Sutley — who ran the White House Council of Environmental Quality until early 2014.
Wyss lives in Wyoming where he continues his campaign against oil and gas drilling, as well as seeking grazing bans on federal lands.
At the end of 2013, Wyss merged the HJF Foundation with his Wyss Foundation, building a private foundation that has amassed a net value of $2 billion, according to tax filings.
Podesta has previously come under fire from liberal groups for CAP’s excessive secrecy. A Nation article in 2013 accused Podesta’s CAP of being “among the most secretive of all think tanks concerning its donors.”
In anticipation that campaign finance reporters would be interested in CAP’s contributors, CAP last week gave a list of its donors to the Washington Post’s Greg Sargent.
Wyss’s name was left off that list, although the think tank reported three “anonymous” donors.
However, 2013 tax documents from the HJW Foundation and the Wyss Foundation show that Wyss contributed $1.5 million to CAP in that year alone.
Legal argument over the basic constitutionality of the president’s actions
Updated by Dara Lind on January 29, 2015, 1:30 p.m. ET @DLind firstname.lastname@example.org
The Obama administration’s starting to implement its executive actions on immigration from November 2014 — and their early guidelines just set up a fight with enforcement agents who are already ticked off at the White House.
Applications for the new “deferred action” program aren’t expected to open up until spring. But federal immigration agents are already being told to consider whether immigrants in their custody might qualify for the new program — and not to deport them if they might.
The new guidance that Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers are receiving was reported by Breitbart Texas a few weeks ago, after receiving leaked documents from a Customs and Border Protection agent. (The Associated Press reported on a similar set of guidelines on Wednesday.) The leaks make it clear that the agents themselves are extremely unhappy that they’re being told not to deport immigrants who they know are unauthorized — and in fact, if anything, are being told to help them. Immigration agents have long distrusted the Obama administration’s commitment to enforcing immigration law aggressively. That relationship is about to get a whole lot rockier.
The fact that the White House is already in a fight with agents before anyone has even gotten the chance to apply for the new program is a big deal for both the political fight over the executive actions, and the policy battle over their implementation. The resistance of federal immigration agents was one big reason that the Obama administration’s first attempt to protect some unauthorized immigrants, in 2010 and 2011, didn’t work — and will make it much harder for the government to roll out the new program. On the political front, agents — and in particular their unions — have become an unlikely ally of the congressional Republicans leading the political attacks against the administration’s program. As a theoretical legal argument over the basic constitutionality of the president’s actions grows into an argument about how they’re being implemented, agents are going to play a key role.
hat the new guidance does
The new guidance was issued to officers in both Customs and Border Protection (which deals with enforcement at the border) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (which deals with enforcement at the interior), though the detailed presentation Breitbart posts online is the version shown to officers of CBP. It lays out a very careful set of instructions for agents to follow if they think that someone they’ve apprehended might qualify for deferred action under either the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA, which was introduced in 2012 but is being expanded in February) or the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans program (DAPA, which was created by the November 2014 memos) — or even if they don’t qualify for deferred action, but aren’t an “enforcement priority” either. The process includes taking the immigrant to a facility that processes biometric information, running a record check, and attempting to use whatever evidence is available to figure out whether or not the immigrant would qualify for one of the programs.
From a certain public-safety perspective, this makes perfect sense. After all, one of the problems with unauthorized immigration (as both supporters and opponents of immigration reform point out) is that the government doesn’t “know who’s in the country.” Focusing on getting immigrants registered, and then figuring out what they qualify for, reduces the number of people who are still in the shadows.
But it also highlights the corner the Obama administration is painting itself into with the notion of “prosecutorial discretion.” It’s defending deferred action in court by saying that immigrants won’t be protected from deportation simply by meeting the broad standards they laid out in November 2014 memos; but it’s telling immigration agents, who are the actual prosecutors in immigration cases, that they don’t have the power to decide who should be protected and who shouldn’t. In the eyes of agents, the administration is promising them that they get to make decisions based on the facts in any individual case — and then taking that promise away.
The longstanding tension between immigration agents and the administration
Some ICE and CBP agents are already angry about this, and they’re only going to get angrier. One source described the policy to Breitbart as “catch and release 2.0.” “Catch and release” was originally used for a border policy that released some immigrants back into Mexico rather than formally deporting or imprisoning them, but has been used more generally to refer to policies where immigration agents don’t deport everyone they apprehend.
This is something that agents have been complaining about for years. Immigration agents suffer from some of the lowest morale in the federal government, and union reps generally tie this to a feeling that they’re not being allowed to do their jobs by deporting unauthorized immigrants. This feeling long predates the president’s 2014 executive actions — in fact, it predates any actual policy limiting deportations. The National ICE Council, the union representing ICE agents, issued a vote of no confidence in then-director John Morton in summer 2010 — before any memos had been released attempting to limit deportations.
The irony here is that the new policy is in line with what ICE agents have long claimed they’re under orders to do — and management’s long denied. Chris Crane, head of the National ICE Council, testified under oath in 2011 that his agents were being given secret, unwritten instructions not to arrest unauthorized immigrants except in very limited circumstances. When pressed by Democrats in Congress, Crane said he couldn’t offer any documentation to support his claims, and that no other agents would be willing to corroborate them out of fear — so his claims of a super-secret unwritten policy started seeming a lot like the West Wing’s “secret plan to fight inflation,” and were generally ignored by Democrats and the press. (So while the new guidance is being described as “catch and release 2.0,” it’s not clear whether the agents believe catch and release 1.0 ever went away.)
But for all that agents complain, ICE field offices have demonstrated — especially during Obama’s first term — that they didn’t have much of a problem deporting immigrants who were supposed to be “low priorities” anyway. This was actually the entire reason the initial deferred-action program was developed in 2012 to begin with. There were already memos asking ICE agents not to deport unauthorized immigrant students who’d been in the US for years. And on the basis of those memos, President Obama and senior officials said confidently that they weren’t “rounding up students.” But those memos weren’t actually sufficient to keep students from getting deported. So the administration had to develop a way for immigrants to apply themselves, proactively, for protection from deportation — rather than relying on ICE and CBP agents to follow guidance.
There is a big difference between this round of policy changes and previous rounds in 2011 and 2012, though: this time, there’s an actual line of accountability for agents. As one of the November 2014 memos indicated, when ICE wants to deport someone who isn’t supposed to be a “deportation priority,” it’s expected that the head of the field office will sign off on it. That holds agents accountable to their supervisors — and it holds field-office directors accountable to higher-ups in Washington, if an attempt to deport a parent of US citizens turns into a publicity headache for the administration.
So while immigration agents have been claiming for years that they don’t have any power to deport anyone without a criminal record, it looks like that’s going to be truer now than it’s ever been. The unions representing ICE, CBP, and even US Citizenship and Immigration Services agents (who are responsible for processing applications, including those for the deferred-action programs) have never exactly been quiet about how they’d prefer immigration policy to work. Expect them to get even more outspoken — and to have their concerns lifted up even more by Republican critics of the administration.
Mikhail Gorbachev has accused the US of dragging Russia into a new Cold War. The former Soviet president fears the chill in relations could eventually spur an armed conflict.
“Plainly speaking, the US has already dragged us into a new Cold War, trying to openly implement its idea of triumphalism,” Gorbachev said in an interview with Interfax.
The former USSR leader, whose name is associated with the end of the Cold War between the Soviet Union and the United States, is worried about the possible consequences.
“What’s next? Unfortunately, I cannot be sure that the Cold War will not bring about a ‘hot’ one. I’m afraid they might take the risk,” he said.
READ MORE: ‘America needs a Perestroika’ – Gorbachev to RT
Gorbachev’s criticism of Washington comes as the West is pondering new sanctions against Russia, blaming it for the ongoing military conflict in eastern Ukraine, and alleging Moscow is sending troops to the restive areas. Russia has denied the allegations.
“All we hear from the US and the EU now is sanctions against Russia,” Gorbachev said. “Are they completely out of their minds? The US has been totally ‘lost in the jungle’ and is dragging us there as well.”
Gorbachev suggests the situation in the EU is “acute” with significant differences among politicians and different levels of prosperity among member nations.
“Part of the countries are alright, others – not so well, and many, including Germany, are excessively dependent on the US.”
In the USSR, Mikhail Gorbachev served as General Secretary of the Communist Party’s Central Committee from 1985 until 1991, and as the Soviet Union’s only president from 1990. He led controversial perestroika reforms that are believed to have accelerated the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Gorbachev’s rule was marked by considerable warming in relations with the West.
READ MORE: Clock’s ticking: Humanity ‘2 minutes’ closer to its doomsday
Meanwhile, international relations experts in America are quite alarmed over the new Cold War possibility – although not as much as the general public. While over 48 percent of scholars answered “no” when asked whether the US and Russia are headed towards such a conflict, the scenario was deemed likely by 38 percent.
The data comes from an American snap poll conducted at the end of January by the Teaching, Research, and International Policy (TRIP) project at the College of William and Mary, in collaboration with Foreign Policy magazine.
The research compared its results to a Gallup poll from March 2014, when 50 percent of the public believed a new Cold War was indeed possible when asked the same question.
In Russia, one-third of the population believes their country and the US are on a collision course.
According to a poll conducted by the All-Russian Public Opinion Research Center VCIOM in November 2014, the possibility of a new Cold War was considered likely by over 30 percent of Russians, being the highest number in the past seven years. Every fourth Russian (25 percent of respondents) believed such a conflict was already ongoing.