Obama administration vacancies grow thanks to Republican Senate

US President Barack Obama speaks alongside Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R), Republican of Kentucky, prior to a meeting of the bipartisan, bicameral leadership of Congress in the Cabinet Room at the White House in Washington, DC, January 13, 201

Attribution: none


In the final year of President Obama’s term in office, he’s facing a challenge that most lame-duck presidents deal with: an executive branch not running on full steam because staff are heading for the exits to secure new positions. The problem for this president, however, is made far worse than any recent president has faced because so many vacancies in the administration already exist, and have existed for a big chunk of his years in office. That’s because so many of his nominees have been blocked or just ignored by Senate Republicans.

New data compiled by the Congressional Research Service and obtained by POLITICO found that the Senate in 2015 confirmed the lowest number of civilian nominations—including judges and diplomatic ambassadors—for the first session of a Congress in nearly 30 years.The sheer number of vacancies is having a real-world effect on Obama, whose government is on high alert for terrorist attacks and still plans to wage domestic policy fights right up until the lights go out in January 2017. On the international stage, observers say Obama’s officials without confirmation don’t carry the same level of gravitas when meeting with their diplomatic counterparts. In domestic policy disputes, Senate-confirmed staff carries more weight than the equivalent department leaders with “acting” or deputy titles.

“It’s trying to run the executive branch on top of a block of Swiss cheese full of holes,” said Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.).

Check out this comparison: “Obama’s nominees from 2009 through 2014 faced confirmation lengths that were nearly twice as long as Ronald Reagan’s—an average of 59.4 days for the Republican versus 127.2 days for the current president.” For his immediate predecessor, George W. Bush, that wait was 97.4 days. For Clinton, 91.8, and for George H.W. Bush it was 67.3.

One prominent Republican says pointing that out is just whining. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) blames it on President Obama for delaying sending up nominations. “They don’t get them up here with any expedition,” continuing “and then they bitch about it, or cry about it, I should say, when it’s really their fault.” He also said the administration isn’t at all short-staffed. “In fact, if anything, they’re top-heavy with people. They act like they’re oppressed. My gosh, it drives you crazy.”

That’s quite a contrast to what Hatch had to say about Democrats under Bush the Younger. “They are not being fair to the president,” he cried. “They’re not being fair to the independents of the judiciary. They’re not being fair to the process, and the process is broken.” So, yeah, Orrin Hatch knows something about crocodile tears. And, like pretty much all Republicans, he’s absolutely fine with doing actual damage to the nation—at home and abroad—by keeping the government hobbled just to score political points.

Joan McCarter

The Obama Administration Is Canceling Millions of Dollars’ Worth of Student Loans

Image Credit: AP


On Thursday, the Department of Education announced that it’s offering about $28 million in student debt relief to over 1,000 former students of the defunct for-profit school operator Corinthian Colleges Inc. The sum sounds impressive but represents just a tiny fraction of the federal loan amounts burdening former students of an institution that collapsed after one of the most notorious scandals in American higher education.

In many ways, the agreement highlights the limitations of the Obama administration’s approach to reining in for-profit colleges as much as it is an example of the progress that’s been made in holding them accountable.

The relief package is the first major bit of news on Corinthian to come from the department since the summer, when it announced that it was taking unprecedented measures to create a new student debt relief system for those who have been the victim of fraud and abuse. The relief works through a federal debt discharge code called “borrower defense to repayment,” a measure that has rarely been used by borrowers in the past.

The fact that 1,312 former Corinthian students who filed claims will be released from debt for degrees that are widely perceived as worthless is a significant step. In May, the company filed for bankruptcy after years of state and federal investigations (and lawsuits) into a host of its exploitative practices, including deception in recruitment operations, false job placement numbers and predatory lending schemes.

That borrowers are being repaid represents one of the key ways in which the Obama administration is finally putting its money where its mouth is on reining in the damage that many for-profits have created — even if this progress has been a long time coming.

Is it enough? For many critics, the announcement is a reminder that the Education Department’s response is too sluggish and narrow in scope to address the full scope of the crisis surrounding Corinthian, whose misdeeds have been documented for close to a decade.

The Obama Administration Is Canceling Millions of Dollars' Worth of Student Loans
Everest College is one of the school systems that operated under the umbrella of Corinthian Colleges Inc.
Source: Christine Armario/AP

The Huffington Post correspondent Shahien Nasiripour estimates that the debt discharge represents a mere “1% of the roughly 125,000 student debtors who are eligible for expedited debt cancellation.”

The fact that the relief announcement represents just a drop in the bucket isn’t sufficient to condemn the Education Department’s efforts — Corinthian had hundreds of thousands of students attend schools it operated. The current process will take some time.

But another statistic is perhaps more insightful — and unflattering — for the Department of Education’s debt relief efforts: The department has managed to help fewer students across the nation to apply for debt relief than the state of Massachusetts, according to the Institute for College Access and Success.

Why does that matter? It means the federal government is failing to reach out to students who are eligible for debt relief, many of whom do not even know they have such a right or how to exercise it. So far, the Department of Education has received fewer than 7,000 applications, according to the Huffington Post.

That low number strikes at the heart of the matter when it comes to the inherent weaknesses of the federal government’s strategy for student debt relief. It puts the burden on students to recoup money spent on worthless degrees, rather than the institution that wronged them in the first place.

Critics want a more expansive process: The Debt Collective, the organization that helped put together a debt strike by former Corinthian students and played a role in adding public pressure to the federal government to devise a debt-relief process, says that the process is too little too late.

WH warns states: Defunding Planned Parenthood might break law

Getty Images


The Obama administration has warned Louisiana and Alabama that they could be violating federal law by cutting off Planned Parenthood from their states’ Medicaid programs.
The Republican governors in both states this month terminated their state Medicaid contracts with the organization in the wake of controversial undercover videos showing Planned Parenthood officials discussing the price of fetal tissue for medical research.
But the White House points out that federal law says Medicaid beneficiaries may obtain services from any qualified provider and that cutting Planned Parenthood out of the program restricts that choice.
The federal Centers for Medicare and Medicare Services (CMS) has contacted Louisiana and Alabama about the issue.
“CMS has notified states who have taken action to terminate their Medicaid provider agreements with Planned Parenthood that they may be in conflict with federal law,” Department of Health and Human Services spokesman Ben Wakana said in a statement.
“Longstanding Medicaid laws prohibit states from restricting individuals who have coverage through Medicaid from receiving care from a qualified provider,” he said. “By restricting which provider a woman could choose to receive care from, women could lose access to critical preventive care, such as cancer screenings.”
The warning was first reported by The Wall Street Journal.
Federal courts have in the past blocked state attempts by states including Indiana and Arizona to cut Planned Parenthood out of Medicaid, citing the law that gives consumers a choice in providers.
Mike Reed, a spokesman for Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R), indicated the state and its Department of Health and Hospitals (DHH) are standing by its decision.
He cited a provision in the state Medicaid contract allowing either party to cancel it at will, with 30 days notice.
“CMS reached out to DHH after we canceled the Medicaid provider contract with Planned Parenthood,” Reed said. “DHH explained to CMS why the state chose to exercise our right to cancel the contract without cause.”
Jindal is one of 17 big-name Republicans running for president in 2016.
Planned Parenthood praised the Obama administration’s move.
“It’s good to hear that HHS has clarified what we already know — blocking women’s access to care at Planned Parenthood is against the law,” Dawn Laguens, the group’s executive vice president, said in a statement.
She added that the group will “do everything in our power to protect women’s access to health care in all fifty states.”
White House press secretary Josh Earnest has defended Planned Parenthood and said it follows the “highest ethical standards.” The White House has also threatened to veto any government spending bill that defunds the organization, which some Republicans are calling for.

U.S. Government To Lion-Killing Dentist: Hey, Can You Give Us A Call?

Cecil the lion in happier days in Zimbabwe's Hwange National Park.
Cecil the lion in happier days in Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park. | Credit: Andy Loveridge/Wildlife Conservation Research Unit/Associated Press


Hey, Walter Palmer, the Obama administration wants to talk to you.

The severed head of Cecil the lion has now been located in Zimbabwe and turned over to officials there. However, the Minnesota dentist said to be responsible for Cecil’s killing is still unaccounted for, according to a U.S. government agency, which issued a statement on Thursday asking him to please, please give them a call.

“The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service is investigating the circumstances surrounding the killing of ‘Cecil the lion.’ That investigation will take us wherever the facts lead,” said Edward Grace, the agency’s deputy chief of law enforcement, in the statement.

“At this point in time, however, multiple efforts to contact Dr. Walter Palmer have been unsuccessful. We ask that Dr. Palmer or his representative contact us immediately,” Grace added.

Reuters reports that the Fish and Wildlife Service is looking into whether Palmer violated theLacey Act, which, among other things, makes it a federal crime to trade in wildlife killed in violation of foreign law.

So, if you see Palmer, please make sure he gets the message?

Walter Palmer in an undated photo with a leopard in Zimbabwe.
Walter Palmer in an undated photo with a leopard in Zimbabwe. | Credit: brentsinclair.blogspot.com

Arin Greenwood – HuffPost’s animal welfare editor.

10 things you need to know today: June 20, 2015

David Goldman/Associated Press


1.Families of Charleston shooting victims confront Dylann Roof in court
Just a day after the tragic shooting in a Charleston church that left nine dead, the victims’ families addressed suspected shooter Dylann Roof in court in an emotional confrontation. “We welcomed you Wednesdaynight in our bible study with open arms,” said Tywanza Sanders, 26, the mother of one victim. “Every fiber in my body hurts. And I’ll never be the same.” Roof, charged with nine counts of murder, remained expressionless. Thousands of mourners gathered for a vigil Fridaynight.

Source: ABC News, Los Angeles Times

2.Global terror attacks increased in 2014, State Department says
Terrorist attacks increased by 35 percent globally in 2014, according to a State Department report released Friday. As a result, deaths in those situations rose more than 80 percent. Nearly 33,000 people were killed in almost 13,500 attacks last year. There were 20 attacks the U.S. called “exceptionally lethal,” killing more than 100 people each. The report highlighted Iran’s “undiminished” support for terrorism, including the nation’s assistance to the Hezbollah militia and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The U.S. and other world powers plan to finalize a nuclear deal with Iran by June 30.

Source: U.S. Department of State, The Wall Street Journal

3.Charleston shooting renews debate over Confederate flag
Dylann Roof allegedly killing nine people in a historically black Charleston church Wednesday night has been called a hate crime. While the state and American flags were flown at half-mast on statehouse ground, the Confederate flag remained at full height. South Carolina senator and Republican presidential candidate Lindsey Graham downplayed the controversy Friday, saying the flag “is part of who we are” in an interview with CNN. Graham characterized South Carolina’s symbolism as a “compromise,” saying there’s an African-American memorial near the statehouse. “It works here,” he said.

Source: CNN

4.Obama administration unveils plans to cut 1 billion tons in carbon emissions by 2027
The Obama administration announced big cuts in carbon emissions for heavy-duty trucks on Friday. The Environmental Protection Agency and the Transportation Department proposed a 24-percent cut in carbon emissions, set to take full effect by 2027. One environmental group estimates this reduction equates to about 1 billion tons of carbon emissions. The proposal, which would alleviate levels of carbon pollution contributing to global warming, is the latest installment in the Obama administration’s efforts to cut down on greenhouse gas emissions.

Source: New York Times, Reuters

5.Repealing ObamaCare could increase U.S. debt by $137 billion
A Congressional Budget Office (CBO) and Joint Committee on Taxation report Friday offered dismal predictions for budget deficits if ObamaCare is repealed. In the first analysis of the issue in three years, the CBO said that if Obama’s healthcare reform is repealed, the U.S. deficit will increase by as much as $137 billion in the next 10 years. The debts would stem from an increased number of uninsured Americans, and consequential rise in Medicare costs. An estimated 19 million additional Americans would become uninsured by 2016.

Source: The Wall Street Journal

6.Hawaii raises legal smoking age to 21
Hawaii Gov. David Ige (D) signed a bill Friday raising the state’s legal smoking age to 21. The law applies to buying, smoking, and possessing traditional and electronic cigarettes. Hawaii is the first state to enact a law of this kind, although some local governments already enforce similar bans.

Source: The Associated Press

7.84 dead in India from drinking toxic liquor
At least 84 people died this week from drinking toxic homemade liquor outside Mumbai, India, in the deadliest case of its kind the city has seen in more than 10 years, officials told the Los Angeles Times on Saturday. The victims reportedly died from methanol poisoning after drinking the liquor Wednesday night. Five people were arrested and eight police officers were suspended after officials found the liquor was sold over the counter nearby.

Source: Los Angeles Times

8.Google will remove revenge porn from search results
Revenge porn, or sexually explicit media released without the subject’s consent, will no longer show up in Google search results, the tech giant announced Friday. “In the coming weeks,” Google will post a form where victims can request revenge porn results removed. Of course, Google cannot remove the images from the internet itself. “Revenge porn images are intensely personal and emotionally damaging, and serve only to degrade the victims—predominantly women,” the announcement read.

Source: Google, The Verge

9.Brian Williams in first post-suspension interview: ‘It has been torture’
In his first interview since being suspended from NBC Nightly News in February, Brian Williams sat down with Matt Lauer to discuss his professional mistakes and his future with the network. “It has been torture,” Williams said. He refused to acknowledge how many other false or exaggerated stories he told over the course of his career: “Any number north of zero is too many,” he said. Williams will return to the network as MSNBC anchor of breaking news and special reports.

Source: Today

10.Yankees’ Alex Rodriguez homers for 3,000th hit
New York Yankees’ designated hitter Alex Rodriguez notched his 3,000th hit Friday in Yankee Stadium with a home run against the Detroit Tigers. A-Rod, who sat out last season for using performance-enhancing drugs, is just the 29th MLB player to reach the milestone. Only he and Hank Aaron have more than 600 home runs, 2,000 RBIs, and 3,000 hits to their names.

Source: ESPN

Julie Kliegman

Obama Administration Readies Big Push on Climate Change

The administration is expected to propose new carbon standards for big trucks and trailers as soon as this week. PHOTO: JEREMY MARTIN/LARAMIE DAILY BOOMERANG/ASSOCIATED PRESS


Proposals to curb emissions from trucks, airplanes, oil and natural-gas operations, and power plants

The Obama administration is planning a series of actions this summer to rein in greenhouse-gas emissions from wide swaths of the economy, including trucks, airplanes and power plants, kicking into high gear an ambitious climate agenda that the president sees as key to his legacy.

The Environmental Protection Agency is expected to announce as soon as Wednesday plans to regulate carbon emissions from airlines, and soon after that, draft rules to cut carbon emissions from big trucks, according to people familiar with the proposals. In the coming weeks, the EPA is also expected to unveil rules aimed at reducing emissions of methane—a potent greenhouse gas—from oil and natural-gas operations.

And in August, the agency will complete a suite of three regulations lowering carbon from the nation’s power plants—the centerpiece of President Barack Obama’s climate-change agenda.

The proposals represent the biggest climate push by the administration since 2009, when the House passed a national cap-and-trade system proposed by the White House aimed at reducing carbon emissions.

Anticipating the rules, some of which have been telegraphed in advance, opponents of Mr. Obama’s regulatory efforts are moving to block them. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.), is urging governors across the country to defy the EPA by not submitting plans to comply with its rule cutting power-plant emissions.

Nearly all Republicans and some Democrats representing states dependent on fossil fuels say the Obama administration is going beyond the boundary of the law and usurping the role of Congress by imposing regulations that amount to a national energy tax driven by ideological considerations.

“The Administration seems determined to double down on the type of deeply regressive regulatory policy we’ve already seen it try to impose on lower-and-middle-class families in every state,” Mr. McConnell said in a statement. “These Obama administration regulations share several things in common with the upcoming directives: they seem motivated more by ideology than science, and they’re likely to negatively affect the economy and hurt both the cost and reliability of energy for hard-working American families and small-business owners.”

Supporters of Mr. Obama’s efforts say the regulatory push has the backing of both science and the force of law. They cite a 2007 Supreme Court decision that compelled the EPA to regulate greenhouse-gas emissions if the agency found they endanger the public’s health and welfare, which the EPA did in 2009 with a scientific finding shortly after Mr. Obama became president.

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10 things you need to know today: February 3, 2015

Kayana Szymczak/Getty Images

The Week

1.Second snowstorm hits already snow-covered Northeast
Boston authorities postponed a victory celebration for the New England Patriots after their Super Bowl victory, moving it from Tuesday to Wednesday due to a record breaking winter storm. The second blizzard to hit the Northeast in a week dumped another foot of snow on Boston, which was blanketed with two feet of snow last week, the most snow ever to fall on the city in seven days. The storm has been linked to at least 10 deaths, and forced the cancellation of 2,900 flights in Chicago, Newark, Boston, and New York.

Source: Reuters

2.Paul and Christie criticized for vaccine remarks
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, both potential 2016 GOP presidential candidates, faced criticism from medical experts on Monday after suggesting some child vaccinations should be made voluntary. Paul said some vaccines have caused “profound mental disorders.” Christie said parents need “some measure of choice” although, with a U.S. measles outbreak surpassing 100 cases, a spokesman said Christie believes “there is no question kids should be vaccinated” for measles. CDC director Tom Frieden said not vaccinating endangers other children.

Source: Fox News, The Washington Post

3.Obama sets new rules on NSA data mining
The Obama administration on Tuesday will announce new rules about how U.S. intelligence agencies manage the data they collect. The National Security Agency and other spy agencies will have to delete private information they collect about Americans that has no intelligence value, and do the same for foreigners after five years, The New York Timesreports. Obama will also begin a regular, formal White House assessment of NSA spying on foreign leaders.

Source: The New York Times

4.Obama releases his proposed $4 trillion budget
President Obama on Monday unveiled the specifics of a $4 trillion proposed budget that would roll back blanket spending cuts, raise taxes on wealthy Americans, and extend tax benefits to the middle class. “These proposals will put more money in middle-class pockets, raise wages, and bring more high-paying jobs to America,” Obama said in a statement. The budget covers the 2016 fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1. The blueprint is largely a symbolic statement of the president’s priorities, as Congress will make significant changes to it over the coming months.

Source: The Associated Press

5.Google reportedly is developing an Uber rival
Google invested $258 million in Uber in August 2013, and put more money in the next year, but now the internet search giant reportedly is preparing to compete with Uber by starting its own ride-hailing service, possibly linked to its driverless car project. A person close to Uber’s board said David Drummond, Google’s chief legal officer and an Uber board member, informed fellow Uber board members of the possibility. Uber leaders reportedly have seen a prototype app being used by Google employees.

Source: Bloomberg

6.Cuba publishes first photos of Fidel Castro since August
Cuba on Monday released the first photos of former president Fidel Castro seen since August. With Cuba’s communist government and the Obama administration attempting to renew diplomatic relations cut off in the Cold War, rumors have surfaced that Castro, 88, was dead or near death. Last week, Cuba released a letter attributed to Castro in which he said he didn’t trust the U.S. but advocated a “peaceful resolution to conflicts.” The photos, published in the official Granma newspaper, showed Castro in a meeting with a youth leader.

Source: The Washington Post

7.Bus firebombing kills seven in Bangladesh
Attackers hit a packed bus with gasoline-bombs in Bangladesh on Tuesday, killing at least seven people and injuring 16 others. The local police chief blamed the bombing on opposition activists, but they denied responsibility. At least 53 people have died in political violence, mostly vehicle firebombings, since the opposition launched a nationwide transportation strike in early January in a bid to force Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to resign.

Source: The Associated Press

8.Suge Knight charged with murder
Former rap mogul Marion “Suge” Knight was charged with murder and attempted murder on Monday for allegedly running over two men with his truck, killing one and injuring the other. His $2.2 million bail was revoked because authorities considered him a possible flight risk. Police said Knight argued with the men on the set of Straight Outta Compton, a film about the group N.W.A., and later ran them over. Knight’s lawyer said he accidentally ran over the victims while trying to get away from two men trying to attack him.

Source: Los Angeles Times

9. Charles Manson’s marriage license expires with no wedding
Eighty-year-old mass murderer Charles Manson’s marriage license is set to expire on Thursday without a wedding. Manson and his fiancee, 26-year-old Afton Elaine Burton, missed their last chance to marry over the weekend — weddings are not performed on weekdays at the California prison where Manson is incarcerated. Burton, who uses the nickname Star, intends to get another 90-day license and proceed with the wedding plan, according to a source in contact with her.

Source: The Associated Press

10.Revenge-porn site creator convicted of extortion
A California court on Monday convicted revenge-porn site founder Kevin Bollaert, 28, on identity theft and extortion charges. He faces up to 20 years in prison. Bollaert set up one website, YouGotPosted.com, where women’s former husbands and boyfriends posted nude photos of them, and he established another website, ChangeMyReputation.com, where victims could pay up to $350 to get the photos taken down. “This is essentially 21st century blackmail,” Deputy Attorney General Tawnya Austin told jurors last week.

Source: NBC 7 San Diego, The Washington Post

10 things you need to know today 1-27-2015

The Week

1. Blizzard slams into the Northeast

A massive winter storm hit the Northeast on Monday, shutting down roads and transportation systems in New York City and Boston, and dumping more than a foot of snow on parts of New England. The National Weather Service had warned as much as 30 inches of snow in New York, but the city appeared to have been spared the worst, with eight inches falling overnight at LaGuardia Airport. The National Weather Service said hours more of heavy snow were coming Tuesday, repeating the warning that, “This is a serious life-threatening storm!” [The Boston Globe, NY1]
2. Kurds regain control of Kobani

Kurdish fighters claimed on Monday that they had driven Islamic State militants out of the contested Syrian border town of Kobani. The Kurds, aided by U.S. airstrikes, fought ISIS in the streets for months to regain full control of the town. On the Turkish side of the border, thousands of Kurdish refugees who fled fearing an ISIS takeover celebrated the news. Kobani is in ruins, but the defeat marked a major setback for ISIS, which seized vast swaths of Iraq and Syria last year. [Bloomberg]
3. Ex-CIA officer convicted of disclosing secret information

Former CIA officer Jeffrey Sterling was convicted Monday on charges that he leaked details of a covert operation to New York Times reporter James Risen. The case became the focus of intense debate about the Obama administration’s prosecution of alleged leakers after federal prosecutors subpoenaed Risen in an attempt to force him to say who told him about the top secret operation to disrupt Iran’s controversial nuclear program, which he described in a book. Risen refused to disclose his source. [CNN]
4. Obama visits Saudi Arabia after king’s death

President Obama headed to Saudi Arabia on Tuesday to lead a U.S. delegation offering condolences to the oil-rich country’s royal family following the death of 90-year-old King Abdullah. Obama, who just finished a three-day visit to India, will meet with Abdullah’s successor, King Salman. The high-powered delegation will include high-ranking Republicans, such as Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), as well as other high-ranking Obama administration officials — an indication of the importance Washington places on Saudi Arabia, a key oil supplier and counterterrorism ally. [The New York Times]
5. At least 10 killed when jet crashes during NATO training in Spain

A Greek F-16 fighter jet crashed during NATO training at a base in southeastern Spain on Monday, killing at least 10 people. The jet lost power during take-off and hit other aircraft that were parked on the ground, sending flames and smoke into the air. Eight of the people killed were French military personnel. Two were Greek. At least 21 other service members, including 11 Italians and 10 French, were injured. [The Associated Press]
6. Federal worker says he was controlling drone that crashed near White House

A federal employee came forward Monday and said he was responsible for the two-foot wide quadcopter drone that crashed on White House grounds hours earlier. The man, who does not work at the White House, said he was flying the remote-controlled quadcopter for fun around 3 a.m. when he lost control of it, not meaning for it to go near the White House. The Secret Service briefly locked down the White House when the drone was discovered. The Secret Service said the man appeared to be telling the truth. [The New York Times]
7. Koch brothers reportedly plan to spend $889 million on 2016 election

A conservative advocacy network backed by the billionaire Koch brothers intends to spend $889 million on the 2016 election. The plan was announced at an annual meeting hosted by Freedom Partners, a tax-exempt business lobby at the heart of Charles and David Koch’s political operations, according to a person who attended. The money would go toward field operations, technology, and other resources. Together, the Democratic and Republican presidential nominees are expected to spend about $1 billion. [The Washington Post]
8. CBO says deficit falling to lowest of Obama’s presidency

The Congressional Budget Office said Monday that the budget deficit should shrink this year to its lowest level as a percentage of the economy since 2007. The nonpartisan agency said the deficit for the fiscal year, which ends in September, will be $468 billion, down a tick from last year’s $483 billion mark. In addition, the CBO said there were 19 million fewer uninsured Americans this year compared to the year before thanks to changes implemented under ObamaCare. [The Associated Press]
9. Survivors mark 70th anniversary of Auschwitz liberation

About 300 Auschwitz survivors gathered Tuesday to mark the 70th anniversary of the liberation the former Nazi concentration camp by Russian troops. The presidents of Poland, Germany, France, and Ukraine will be among the dignitaries who will be present for the commemoration at the site of the camp, in southern Poland, where 1.1 million people, most of them European Jews, were killed during World War II. German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the anniversary should serve as a reminder of the world’s responsibility to continue to “expose those who promote prejudices.” [Reuters]
10. Kobe Bryant to have season-ending shoulder surgery

Los Angeles Lakers star guard Kobe Bryant has decided to follow his doctor’s advice and have shoulder surgery that is expected to end his season, according to a statement released by the basketball team on Monday. Bryant tore his right rotator cuff last week. He has been having one of the worst seasons of his career, and with the Lakers at the bottom of the standings had little reason to hurry back and risk further injury. [USA Today]

10 things you need to know today: December 3, 2014

The man who would be Sec Def. 
The man who would be Sec Def. AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

The Week

Obama picks Ash Carter as Defense secretary, Russia heads into a recession, and more

1. Obama to nominate former Pentagon official Ashton Carter to replace Hagel
President Barack Obama has picked Ashton Carter, a former high-ranking Pentagon official, to replace Chuck Hagel as Defense secretary, Obama administration officials said Tuesday. Hagel got the job over Carter in 2013, and later in the year Carter left due to a rift between the two. This time he was the last top prospect not to drop out of the running. A formal announcement is expected in days, after Carter is vetted. Carter is respected by Republican hawks, which is expected to help in confirmation hearings. [Politico, The New York Times]


2. Russia enters recession as oil prices fall
Plummeting oil prices are pushing the Russian economy into a recession, officials in Moscow announced Tuesday. Russian leaders had been expecting their economy to grow in 2015 — but that was when they were assuming oil would remain at $100 a barrel. Revised estimates show that the country’s economy will contract by 0.8 percent if prices hover around $80 per barrel. With the ruble losing value and oil now around $71 per barrel, Moscow says under a more “pessimistic” scenario, with $60-per-barrel oil, its economy could drop by up to 4 percent. [CNN]


3. Boehner argues against government shutdown over immigration
House Speaker John Boehner on Tuesday urged fellow Republicans to avoid a government shutdown by approving a long-term government spending bill next week. Many conservatives want to use the bill to deny money the Homeland Security Department needs to carry out President Obama’s executive order shielding as many as 4.7 million undocumented immigrants from deportation. Boehner reportedly argued for funding most federal programs through September, and revisiting Homeland Security’s budget in 2015, when the GOP will control the Senate. [Reuters]


4. Police investigate Michael Brown’s stepfather for remarks during riot
St. Louis County police said Tuesday they were investigating Louis Head, the stepfather of Michael Brown, to see whether angry remarks he made incited rioting on the night a grand jury decided not to indict the white police officer who shot and killed the unarmed black teenager in August. A video reportedly surfaced in which Head tells an angry mob, “burn this bitch down,” shortly before protesters began burning cars. Police said the inquiry was part of a broader investigation of the violence. [The New York Times]


5. Detroit public buildings lose power
A power outage caused by a “major cable failure” cut off electricity to Detroit’s fire stations, schools, and other public buildings on Tuesday. Traffic signals and the city’s People Mover shut off downtown, and firefighters spent much of the day rescuing people from elevators stuck in public buildings. The outage affected more than 900 sites, with some going without lights all day after the grid shut down around 10:30 a.m. [Detroit Free Press]


6. Netanyahu fires two ministers and calls for early elections
Israel’s coalition government collapsed on Tuesday when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu fired his finance and justice ministers, Yair Lapid and Tzipi Livni, saying they had “harshly attacked” him and his government. Netanyahu called for dissolving the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, andholding elections two years early so that he can get “a clear mandate to lead Israel.” The parties of Lapid and Livni had clashed with Netanyahu over a host of issues, most recently a proposed law declaring Israel a Jewish state. [BBC News]


7. Hong Kong protest founders announce their “surrender”
Three founders of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement announced that they would “surrender” to police on Wednesday. The trio — Occupy Central leader Benny Tai, and co-founders Chan Kin-man and Chu Yiu-ming — tearfully urged protesters to retreat from three major intersections they have been blocking since late September. While some protesters called the move a “betrayal,” teenage protest leader Joshua Wong, who began a hunger strike on Monday, praised Tai for his role starting the movement, and said the fight for free elections in the Chinese-run city would continue. [Agence France Presse]


8. CDC considers call for stressing circumcision health benefits
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is proposing federal recommendations that would state that all males, including teenage boys, should be counseled on the health benefits of circumcision. Studies in Africa over the last 15 years indicate that circumcision lowers men’s risk of HIV infection from heterosexual intercourse by 50 to 60 percent. The procedure also reduces the risk of herpes and human papillomavirus. The American Academy of Pediatrics said in 2012 that circumcision’s benefits outweigh its risks. [NPR]


9. Woman sues Cosby, accusing him of sexual assault at the Playboy Mansion
A 55-year-old California woman, Judy Huth, filed a lawsuit against Bill Cosby on Tuesday, accusing the embattled comedian of sexually assaulting her at the Playboy Mansion in 1974, when she was 15. In the lawsuit, Huth says she and a friend met Cosby at a park, and that the assault occurred after Cosby gave her alcohol. The suit was the latest in a flurry of rape accusations against Cosby. Lawyers for Cosby, who has resisted commenting on the allegations, were not immediately available for comment. [Los Angeles Times]


10. Rolling Stones sax player Bobby Keys dies
Bobby Keys, who played on-and-off with the Rolling Stones for decades, died on Tuesday at his Tennessee home after a long illness. He was 70. Keys played memorable sax solos on such Stones hits as Brown Sugar, Can’t You Hear Me Knocking, and Sweet Virginia. He also contributed to John Lennon’s Whatever Gets You Through the Night. “I have lost the largest pal in the world,” the Stones’ Keith Richards wrote in a statement, “and I can’t express the sense of sadness I feel, although Bobby would tell me to cheer up.” [The Associated Press]

This Is What Eric Holder’s Legacy Will Be

The Huffington Post

Attorney General Eric Holder, the first African-American to hold the top law enforcement position in the United States, announced on Thursday that he plans to step down from his position as soon as a successor can be confirmed. If he remains in office until December, Holder will become the third longest-serving Attorney General in the history of the United States. Here are some key components of his legacy.

He decided not to defend DOMA

The Obama administration initially defended the Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA, which banned federal recognition of same-sex marriages. At first, Holder maintained that while the administration disagreed with the law, it was the Justice Department’sresponsibility to defend the laws that Congress had passed. (Some of the briefs written by Justice Department lawyers arguing that DOMA was constitutional were considered offensive by gay rights organizations.)

But Holder’s analysis changed. He announced in February 2011 that the Justice Department would no longer defend components of the statute because DOMA “contains numerous expressions reflecting moral disapproval of gays and lesbians and their intimate and family relationships — precisely the kind of stereotype-based thinking and animus the (Constitution’s) Equal Protection Clause is designed to guard against.” Ultimately, the Supreme Court agreed, ruling in June 2013 that key portions of DOMA were unconstitutional.

He lost the fight to bring the Sept. 11 trial out of Guantanamo Bay and into New York City

In one of the biggest disappointments of his tenure, Holder ultimately lost the fight to try the key perpetrators of the Sept. 11 attacks in federal court in New York City. The plan, first announced by Holder in Nov. 2009, faced stiff resistance from many politicians in New York who feared the impact a high-profile trial would have on the city. Others objected because they believed that a military commission was a more appropriate venue for the terrorism trial. Holder ultimately announced he was reversing his decision to try the cases in New York and moved them back to the military commission in Guantanamo.

While the process in Guantanamo has hit numerous roadblocks, Holder’s Justice Department has gathered a string of wins against other terror suspects in federal court. Holder has remarked that the Sept. 11 defendants “would be on death row as we speak” if the case had been allowed to proceed in federal court.

He helped turn around the Civil Rights Division and fought for voting rights

The Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department was heavily politicized during the Bush administration. A 2008 inspector general report found the conservative leadership had hired lawyers with little to no civil rights experience into positions due to their ideological beliefs. The environment caused a massive exodus in the Civil Rights Division: more than 70 percent of its attorneys left between 2003 and 2007. Holder, who has long made civil rights a top priority, was widely credited with overseeing the turnaround of the division.

“I think Eric Holder put the ‘J’ back in DOJ, and in particular he restored the luster of the crown jewel which is the Civil Rights Division, and I had the privilege of having a front-row seat for that,” Labor Secretary Tom Perez, who headed the Civil Rights Division from 2009 to 2013, told The Huffington Post after Holder’s announcement on Thursday.

Holder oversaw several of the Justice Department’s successful voting rights lawsuits during President Barack Obama’s first term, as well as the agency’s continued efforts after the Supreme Court struck down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act. DOJ is currently involved in several voting rights cases, including high-profile suits against voter ID laws in North Carolina and Texas.

He addressed racism head on.

Shortly after his confirmation in 2009, Holder delivered a speech to Justice Department employees at an event commemorating Black History Month. In his remarks, he called out the U.S. as a “nation of cowards” when it comes to addressing race. He said Americans believe that “certain subjects are off-limits and that to explore them risks at best embarrassment and at worst the questioning of one’s character.”

Those words echoed throughout Holder’s tenure at the DOJ as he fought back against laws that suppressed voting and defended the Voting Rights Act. He stepped in to request federal oversight of the New York City Police Department’s stop-and-friskpolicy, a program that has overwhelmingly targeted black and Latino individuals. More recently, he ordered a civil rights investigation into the largely white police force in Ferguson, Missouri, following the shooting death of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown at the hands of Officer Darren Wilson.

“Will we yet again turn a blind eye to the hard truths that Ferguson exposed?” Holder asked during a speech this week, echoing his 2009 remarks. “Or will we finally accept this mandate for open and honest dialogue?”

He oversaw a crackdown on leaks and disappointed civil liberties advocates

Under Holder, the Justice Department has aggressively — some would say obsessively — pursued government leakers. Eight have been charged with violating the draconian Espionage Act of 1917, more than under all previous administrations combined. Journalists have also come under the gun: Holder’s DOJ subpoenaed AP reporters’ phone logs in a leak investigation, named a Fox News reporter as an “un-indicted co-conspirator” in another case, and is still trying to force Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times reporter James Risen to testify about his sources under threat of jail time.

All of that led Risen to call Holder’s boss, Obama, “the greatest enemy to press freedom in a generation.”

One of the leakers charged, Edward Snowden, revealed another disappointment for civil liberties advocates: the DOJ’s intimate role in coming up with the legal rationale that underlies the National Security Agency’s bulk collection of American phone records.

The FBI’s frayed relationship with Muslim communities, meanwhile, has seen little improvement under Holder. The bureau has continued to use sting operations, which critics say are tantamount to entrapment, to arrest Muslims involved in bogus terror “plots.” And NPR reported on Wednesday that the racial profiling guidelines set to be released soon will still allow the FBI to “map” the demographics of Muslim communities.

Perhaps most worrying for many across the spectrum, it was Holder’s DOJ that came up with the “drone memos” — the legal justification that the Obama administration leaned on to kill al Qaeda propagandist and American citizen Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen without a trial.

He released the so-called “torture memos,” but didn’t go after their authors — Shadee

Two months after assuming office in 2009, Holder moved to publicly release a series of previously classified “torture memos” from the Bush administration that sanctioned specific acts of torture, including waterboarding, for CIA use against al Qaeda suspects.

“There is no reason we cannot wage an effective fight against those who have sworn to harm us while we respect our most honored constitutional traditions,” Holder said in March 2009 after releasing nine previously classified Justice Department memos.

Despite the release, which faced significant pushback from senior intelligence officials, the attorney general’s office never brought criminal charges against any government officials investigated for their involvements in over 100 cases of severe prisoner abuse.

While crediting Holder in other areas, American Civil Liberties Union Executive Director Anthony Romero issued a statement on Thursday noting “profound disagreements with the Attorney General on national security issues.”

“During his tenure, DOJ approved the drone killing of an American far away from any battlefield, approved the NSA’s mass surveillance programs, failed to prosecute any of the Bush administration torturers, and presided over more leak prosecutions than all previous Justice Departments combined,” Romero said.

He became the first-ever cabinet member to be held in contempt of Congress

In 2012, Holder became the only sitting cabinet member in history to be held in contempt of Congress after the White House claimed executive privilege over documents subpoenaed in relation to Operation Fast and Furious, a botched federal investigation intended to combat gun smuggling. The documents that the Justice Department refused to turn over related not to the actual operation, but rather to how DOJ responded once Congress began investigating the matter.

Holder later dismissed the vote — led by the Republican-controlled House — as political theater, calling it “a crass effort and a grave disservice to the American people.”

The White House also indicated in 2012 that Holder would not face any criminal charges in the matter since the documents being sought were protected by executive privilege.

He took on “draconian” drug sentences and slowly but surely scaled back the war on drugs.

In what Obama described as a “gutsy speech” in front of the American Bar Association in 2013, Holder outlined his plan for “sweeping, systemic changes” to how the Justice Department prosecutes drug-related offenses. While Holder initially faced a lot of internal resistance from career federal prosecutors as he attempted to rein in the so-called war on drugs, he pressed ahead, pushing for changes like allowing low-level and nonviolent drug offenders to avoid “draconian” mandatory minimum sentences and permitting the early release of some elderly defendants.

He continued to push for sentencing reform in March, lending his support to aproposal that would reduce penalties for some drug offenders and help cut prison costs.

“This overreliance on incarceration is not just financially unsustainable, it comes with human and moral costs that are impossible to calculate,” he said.

Holder has also urged first responders to carry the heroin overdose antidote naloxone.

He oversaw a crackdown on marijuana shops, but allowed state legalization to move forward

During the first term of the Obama administration, Holder oversaw an expansive federal crackdown on hundreds of state-compliant medical marijuana dispensaries in states like Colorado and California, which was spearheaded by the Drug Enforcement Agency and several U.S. attorneys.

But in a historic step, Holder announced in 2013 that DOJ would allow for Colorado and Washington to implement their groundbreaking new laws legalizing and regulating the possession, use and sale of recreational marijuana.

While Holder never explicitly came out in favor of legalization or decriminalization, he has been more open to rescheduling marijuana, which is still classified by the federal government as a Schedule I substance like heroin. Holder said the Obama administration would be “more than glad” to work with Congress to re-examine how cannabis is scheduled federally. He even said in April that he’s “cautiously optimistic”about how the historic changes in marijuana law were working out in Washington and Colorado.

And now, as he plans to step down from his post, he appears to be more open than ever to the possibility of classifying marijuana as a less dangerous drug. He said in an interview just this week that “we need to ask ourselves, whether or not marijuana is as serious of a drug as heroin” adding that science should be used to make that determination.

He reached big settlements on pollution cases

The DOJ reached a record $4 billion settlement with BP in November 2012 over criminal charges stemming from the 2010 oil spill, which dumped 4.9 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. That included charges related to the deaths of 11 workers on the rig and the “misconduct or neglect of ships’ officers.” The DOJ is still pursuing civil charges related to the spill, but the agency recently scored a big win when a federal judge ruled that BP was grossly negligent in allowing the spill to occur — a ruling that opens the door to up to $18 billion in civil penalties that could be levied against the company.

The DOJ topped its own record fine this year, however, with a $5.15 billion settlementin April 2014 with Anadarko Petroleum over a decades-long legacy of pollution left by one of its subsidiaries.

He failed to hold Wall Street accountable for the financial crisis

Holder’s legacy is likely to be marred by what critics view as DOJ’s lax approach to investigating and prosecuting the alleged crimes that sparked, or exacerbated, the 2007-09 financial crisis.

Few Wall Street firms, and even fewer senior financial executives, were officially charged with breaking the law for conduct related to the crisis, despite what experts contend is a wealth of evidence — thanks to civil lawsuits brought by aggrieved investors, prior investigations by state authorities, and probes by Congress and the federal Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission — that at the very least should have prompted the Justice Department to investigate further.

Holder’s approach to crisis-era wrongdoing stands in stark contrast to the playbook followed by federal prosecutors contending with the fallout of the savings-and-loan debacle of the late 1980s and early 90s.

“In striking contrast with these past prosecutions, not a single high-level executive has been successfully prosecuted in connection with the recent financial crisis, and given the fact that most of the relevant criminal provisions are governed by a five-year statute of limitations, it appears likely that none will be,” Judge Jed Rakoff of the U.S. District Court in Manhattan wrote earlier this year in the New York Review of Books.

The lack of public evidence that Holder’s Justice Department thoroughly investigated crisis-era wrongdoing has contributed to the perception — one eagerly promoted by the defense bar — that perhaps few crimes were even committed in the runup to the financial crisis.

“But if, by contrast, the Great Recession was in material part the product of intentional fraud,” Rakoff wrote, “the failure to prosecute those responsible must be judged one of the more egregious failures of the criminal justice system in many years.”

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