February 27, 2012
By Michael Edwards
The Obama Administration, by Executive Order, has moved another step closer to preemptive war with Iran by declaring a National Emergency to deal with this supposed threat. A National Emergency, which gives the president extraordinary power to subvert the Constitution, is legally defined as “A situation beyond the ordinary which threatens the health or safety of citizens and which cannot be properly addressed by the use of other law.”
Given the immense power the executive receives during such “emergencies”, one would think the U.S. must face a clear and present danger in order to justify such actions. Yet, all recent wars fought by America and paid for by U.S. tax dollars were preceded by little more than an Executive Order declaring a national emergency. And, notably, the president makes these declarations without the need for a vote by the Congress as stipulated by the U.S. Constitution.
So what has changed with Iran that now requires a National Emergency? It seems the U.S. is just itching for another fight, because it’s clear that Iran poses no threat to the ‘health and safety’ of U.S. citizens that cannot be dealt with by ‘other laws’.
Here are the top reasons why a National Emergency should not be declared to deal with Iran:
Never Attacked US: Iran has never attacked the United States, or even any of her interests overseas. In fact, they have not attacked or invaded anyone in at least 270 years. And they haven’t even threatened to harm the U.S. unless of course they are attacked first. Do we want to continue to be a nation that attacks others without provocation, or one that defends our country against genuine aggressors? Iran is not an aggressor and certainly not a national emergency threat.
No Nuclear Weapon: Claims that Iran is developing a nuclear weapon seems to be the only argument warmongers have to suggest a preemptive strike. Yet, all U.S. intelligence agencies universally agree that Iran does not have a nuclear weapons program. Even if they did, why is that a reason to attack them? Just having a weapon doesn’t make a country a threat. Plenty of countries have nuclear weapons and we don’t consider them a threat.
Self Preservation: Iran will not attack the West militarily with a nuclear weapon, or even conventionally, because they know they would be inviting their immediate destruction. Iran is a sophisticated secular society, much like Iraq was before America invaded. In fact, Iran has the third largest Jewish population in the world who live in harmony with Muslims and others. In other words, they have a lot to lose to invite war with anyone, and they know that any move viewed as aggression would be met with swift and overwhelming force. The West wants the world to believe their leadership is primitive and stupid, but they aren’t.
December 5, 2011
By Stephen Dinan
“This is actually laughable. What are they thinking?” –KTRN
Already unhappy with the Obama administration’s handling of illegal immigrants in the U.S., liberal lawmakers on Friday asked the government to go even further and make American aid to Mexico based on that country treating immigrants better.
Rep. Raul Grijalva, Arizona Democrat and a co-chairman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, led a letter signed by more than 30 lawmakers, including Foreign Affairs Committee ranking Democrat Howard L. Berman, that accused Mexican authorities of everything from kidnapping and robbery to extortion of migrants crossing Mexico on their way to the U.S.
In the letter the lawmakers asked Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to put pressure on Mexico to clean things up.
“The current levels of abuse against migrants in transit in Mexico represent a humanitarian crisis that has been recognized by international human rights organizations across the globe,” they wrote, adding that because of its location and ties, the U.S. has “a clear interest and responsibility” to push Mexico.
Mexico has regularly fought for better treatment of its citizens who live illegally in the U.S., but reports have exposed rough treatment by Mexican authorities of Central American migrants who cross Mexico on their way to try to enter the U.S. illegally.
In addition, illegal immigrants are preyed upon by smugglers and sometimes fellow migrants themselves.
One worker at a shelter for illegal immigrants in Mexico told Amnesty International in 2010 that six out of every 10 women and girls who pass through the facility have faced sexual violence.
December 2, 2011
By Paul Joseph Watson
Two new amendments that would attempt to halt the indefinite detention of American citizens on U.S. soil under a section of the National Defense Authorization Act have been introduced and could be voted on by the end of the day, even as Obama administration lawyers reaffirmed their backing for state sponsored assassination of U.S. citizens.
Ron Paul’s Campaign For Liberty website has the details.
Senate Amendment (SA) 1126 would “clarify” Section 1031 to explicitly state within the section that the authority of the military to detain persons without trial until the end of hostilities does not apply to American citizens.
SA 1125 would limit the mandatory detention provision in Section 1032 to persons captured abroad, not in America.
However, given the fact that a previous amendment which merely sought to provide oversight for the egregious Section 1031 of the NDAA bill was voted down comprehensively yesterday, getting these two new amendments passed seems a tall order.
Indeed, despite some expressing confidence that Obama will veto the NDAA bill because of the indefinite detention provision, the Obama administration today reaffirmed the notion that it considers American citizens as legitimate targets for state assassination in the war on terror.
More critical voices have warned that the passage of the bill would hand the federal government unprecedented powers on the scale of Stalinist North Korea, which routinely imprisons political dissidents in concentration camps, having first declared them enemies of the state, of course.
November 28, 2011
By Ethan A. Huff
“If people want to take marijuana, let them. Not only is it may less harmful than cigarets and alcohol, it actually has some amazing medical benefits for people who are sick. Why does the government care? Oh wait, they make more money and keep people down and in jail for pot. It’s a way to control us. It’s not because they are concerned for your health. If that was the case, they would ban high fructose corn syrup.” –KTRN
The battle continues to rage between the individual states and the federal government over the legalized cultivation and use of medical marijuana. Americans for Safe Access (ASA), the nation’s largest medical marijuana advocacy organization, has now filed a lawsuit against the Obama Administration’s Justice Department for aggressively trying to subvert state and local laws by shutting down legal medical marijuana dispensaries.
California, Oregon, New Mexico, Colorado, and a handful of other US states all have laws on the books that permit the growth, possession, and use of medical marijuana in some way, shape, or form. But the federal government still ignorantly classifies the natural plant as a Schedule I narcotic under the Controlled Substances Act, a tenet of the “War on Drugs” that has been a source of much conflict over the past several years.
This ongoing clash between state and federal law has led to numerous federal raids of medical marijuana growers and distributors, particularly in the State of California where medical marijuana laws are among the most lenient, and where the plant is most utilized. The federal government also routinely intimidates local officials to try to get them to ban medical marijuana dispensaries.
In a most recent raid, for instance, the US Department of Justice (DOJ) stormed Northstone Organics, a fully-licensed marijuana cultivation collective in Mendocino County, Cal. Agents reportedly cut down all 99 of the group’s marijuana plants, and handcuffed the owner and his wife with zip-ties.
Obama Has Now Increased Debt More than All Presidents from George Washington Through George H.W. Bush Combined
October 6, 2011
By: Terence P. Jeffrey
The Obama administration passed another fiscal milestone this week, according to new data released by the Treasury Department. As of the close of business on Oct. 3, the total national debt was $14,837,099,271,196.71—up about $44.8 billion from Sept. 30.
That means that in the less-than-three-years Obama has been in office, the federal debt has increased by $4.212 trillion–more than the total national debt of about $4.1672 trillion accumulated by all 41 U.S. presidents from George Washington through George H.W. Bush combined.
This $4.212-trillion increase in the national debt means that during Obama’s term the federal government has already borrowed about an additional $35,835 for every American household–or $44,980 for every full-time private-sector worker. (According to the Census Bureau there were about 117,538,000 households in the country in 2010, and, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were about 93,641,000 full-time private-sector workers.)
When Obama was inaugurated on Jan. 20, 2009, according to the Treasury Department, the total national debt stood at $10,626,877,048,913.08.
At the end of January 1993, the month that President George H. W. Bush left office, the total national debt was $4.1672 trillion, according to the Treasury. Thus, the total national debt accumulated by the first 41 presidents combined was about $44.8 billion less than the approximately $4.212 trillion in new debt added during Obama’s term.
As of Monday, Obama had been in office 986 days—or about 32 and a half months. During that time, the debt increased at an average pace of $4.27 billion per day. Were that rate to continue until Obama’s term ends on Jan. 20, 2013, the debt would then stand at about $16.86534 trillion—an increase of more than $6.2 trillion for Obama’s four years.
That would equal nearly $53,000 for each American household or more than $66,00 for each full-time private-sector worker.
That total national debt did not exceed $6.2 trillion until 2002, when George W. Bush was president.
October 4, 2011
The Daily Caller
By: Matthew Boyle
President Barack Obama’s “green jobs” initiatives suffered another major blow late Monday, as the nonprofit National Renewable Energy Lab in Golden, Colorado, announced a plan to lay off roughly 10 percent of its staff through a voluntary buy-out plan.
According to the Denver Post, the lab plans to eliminate between 100 and 150 of its 1,350 jobs. The Obama administration supported the NREL in 2009 with roughly $200 million in stimulus grants. Energy Secretary Stephen Chu visited Golden in May 2009 to promote the NREL as a beneficiary of those funds.
At the time, the Associated Press reported that the stimulus grants included $68 million to build a demonstration model of an energy-efficient office building; $19.2 million for solar, geothermal and fuel cell equipment; $10 million for testing and evaluation of wind technology; and $45 million to research and test drive-train systems for wind turbines.
The lab’s mission is to handle U.S. Department of Energy research and development programs.
NREL spokesman Bob Noun blames Congress for the organization’s failures. The Denver Post reports that he believes the gridlocked U.S. Congress forced the NREL to find $8 million in new budgetary savings.
“We don’t see any budget scenario where the lab doesn’t face budget cuts,” Noun said. “We just want to be proactive in managing the budget so we continue our core mission.”
Amy Oliver of Colorado’s conservative Independence Institute said one way to look at these potential “green jobs” shortcomings is that the NREL is exaggerating its claims. Oliver told The Daily Caller that the government-funded lab has seen a surge in government funding in recent years.
“Their funding for 2008 was $328 million,” Oliver said in a phone interview. “In 2010 it was $536.5 million. They’ve had a 64 percent increase in their funding during the Obama administration.”
Oliver acknowledges that the $8 million NREL projects in savings is a significant amount, and told TheDC she was impressed to learn that its leadership would even consider cutting their budget. But, she says, while the saved $8 million doesn’t represent a real budget cut, it’s a better outcome than more spending.
Oliver also suggested that the NREL layoffs may indicate another failure of the Obama administration’s “green jobs” agenda. Candidate Obama pledged in 2008 that he would add 5 million green jobs to the economy, but Republican lawmakers in Washington, D.C. now say the White House has stretched what it defines as a “green job” in order to pad its numbers.
September 29th, 2011
The Huffington Post
By: Mark Sherman
Raising prospects for a major election-year ruling, the Obama administration launched its Supreme Court defense of its landmark health care overhaul Wednesday, appealing what it called a “fundamentally flawed” appeals court decision that declared the law’s central provision unconstitutional.
Destined from the start for a high court showdown, the health care law affecting virtually every American seems sure to figure prominently in President Barack Obama’s campaign for re-election next year. Republican contenders are already assailing it in virtually every debate and speech.
The administration formally appealed a ruling by the federal appeals court in Atlanta that struck down the law’s core requirement that individuals buy health insurance or pay a penalty beginning in 2014.
At the same time, however, the winners in that appellate case, 26 states and the National Federation of Independent Business, also asked for high court review Wednesday, saying the entire law, and not just the individual insurance mandate, should be struck down.
The Supreme Court almost always weighs in when a lower court has struck down all or part of a federal law, to say nothing of one that aims to extend insurance coverage to more than 30 million Americans.
The bigger question had been the timing. The administration’s filing makes it more likely that the case will be heard and decided in the term that begins next week.
Repeating arguments it has made in courts across the country in response to many challenges to the law, the administration said Congress was well within its constitutional power to enact the insurance requirement.
Disagreeing with that, the 26 states and business group said in their filings that the justices should act before the 2012 presidential election because of uncertainty over costs and requirements.
On the issue of timing, their cause got an unexpected boost from retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, who said voters would be better off if they knew the law’s fate law before casting their ballots next year.
The 91-year-old Stevens said in an Associated Press interview that the justices would not shy away from deciding the case in the middle of a presidential campaign and would be doing the country a service. “It would be better to have that known about than be speculated as a part of the political argument,” Stevens said in his Supreme Court office overlooking the Capitol.
Though the Atlanta appeals court struck down the individual insurance requirement, it upheld the rest of the law. The states and the business group say that would still impose huge new costs.
In another challenge to the same law, the federal appeals court in Cincinnati sided with the administration. In a separate Supreme Court filing Tuesday night, the Obama administration said it does not appear necessary to grant review of the Cincinnati case and the government added that consolidating the two cases could complicate the presentation of arguments “without a sufficient corresponding benefit.”
The law would extend health coverage mainly through subsidies to purchase private insurance and an expansion of Medicaid. The states object to the Medicaid expansion and a provision forcing them to cover their employees’ health care at a level set by the government.
The individual insurance mandate “indisputably served as the centerpiece of the delicate compromise that produced” the law, according to the states, with Florida taking the lead.
The administration said in the Atlanta-based 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that the law’s changes in the insurance market, including requiring insurers to cover people without regard for pre-existing health conditions, would not work without the participation mandate.
The insurance requirement is intended to force healthier people who might otherwise forgo insurance into the pool of insured, helping to reduce private insurers’ financial risk.
Both appeals stressed the importance of resolving the overhaul’s constitutionality as soon as possible, which under normal court procedures would be by June 2012.
While a decision in that time frame would come in the midst of a heated presidential campaign, the NFIB said it is more important to resolve uncertainty about costs and requirements than drag out consideration into 2013 or beyond.
“When you talk to our members and other small-business owners about what is the biggest problem they’re facing, they say uncertainty,” said Karen Harned, executive director of the NFIB’s legal division. “When you ask what, one of first answers is the health care law.”
Stevens, who retired last year, said his former colleagues would not be affected by the potential impact of their decision on Obama’s re-election chances.
“They’ll decide it on the law. I’m totally convinced of that,” he said.
Obama appointed Stevens’ successor, Elena Kagan.
Stevens said that if he still had a vote on the court on timing, he would cast it in favor of hearing the case sooner rather than later. He would not say how he would vote on the issue of the law’s constitutionality, although he said the court’s 6-3 decision in a 2005 case involving medical marijuana seems to lend support to the administration’s defense of the law.
Stevens wrote the opinion that held that the Constitution allows federal regulation of homegrown marijuana as interstate commerce. A central dispute in the health care case is over Congress’s power under the Constitution’s commerce clause to mandate the purchase of health insurance.
In addition to the competing rulings on the law’s validity, a federal appeals court in Richmond, Va., ruled that it was premature to decide the law’s constitutionality. Citing a federal law aimed at preventing lawsuits from tying up tax collection, that court held that a definitive ruling could come only after taxpayers begin paying the penalty for not purchasing insurance.
The administration suggested that the Supreme Court should consider that issue because of the appellate ruling.
The federal appeals court in Washington, D.C., also heard arguments in yet another lawsuit against the overhaul last week. That court has no timetable for its decision.
The other states aligned with Florida are: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Michigan, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Washington, Wisconsin and Wyoming.
September 26, 2011
By: Laura Rozen
In late 2009, the Obama administration transferred 55 so-called bunker-buster bombs to Israel. The 5,000-pound bombs conceivably put Israel in the position to attack Iran’s buried nuclear facilities–or to target Hezbollah’s buried bunkers in Lebanon.
The revelation, first reported by Newsweek’s Eli Lake Friday, received independent confirmation via a sensitive U.S. diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks last month.
In a November 2009 meeting among senior American and Israeli military and diplomatic officials, “both sides . . . discussed the upcoming delivery of GBU-28 bunker busting bombs to Israel, noting that the transfer should be handled quietly to avoid any allegations that the USG [U.S. government] is helping Israel prepare for a strike against Iran,” the leaked Nov. 18, 2009 U.S. cable states. ThinkProgress’s Ali Ghraib first reported on the U.S. cable, which WikiLeaks released in August.
Israel had earlier requested the deep-penetrating bombs from the Bush administration, Lake reported. But according to Lake’s report, Bush had refused the Israeli request, not wanting to give Israel a “green light” to bomb Iran. (However, another leaked U.S. cable discusses Israeli media reports suggesting that the Bush administration transferred an earlier shipment of GBU-28 bombs to Israel, in 2005. “All media continued coverage of the forthcoming arms sale by the U.S. of GBU-28 bombs to Israel,” an unclassified April 2005 U.S. diplomatic states.)
American policymakers had–and indeed have–many reasons to be wary of Israel initiating a confrontation with Iran–chief among them the roughly 150,000 American troops the United States currently has deployed on either side of Iran in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as other forces and assets assigned to bases in Qatar, Bahrain and elsewhere in the Persian Gulf region.
So why has the Obama administration seemingly reversed that call? After all, the Obama White House has sought to curtail Iran’s nuclear program through diplomatic and economic measures–and the export of 5,000-pound bunker buster bombs to Israel would seem to severely test Israeli patience for that slow and frustrating effort. And, secondly, why is the information emerging now–nearly two years after the administration carried out the deal?
Some policy observers suggest that the U.S. military under Obama was trying to “hug Israel close,” in order to increase its feeling of security and thus hopefully stave off the prospect that Israel might launch a surprise strike on Iran on its own, thereby wreaking all sorts of havoc with U.S. military and diplomatic initiatives in the region.
The reported transfer may have been a “gesture” by the Obama White House “to assure the Israelis we love them,” one Washington Iran expert who insisted on anonymity told The Envoy via email. Still, he confessed that he still found the ultimate motivation behind the transfer mystifying.
It’s also worth noting that the pending U.S. transfer of 5,000-lb. bunker buster bombs occurred at a Nov. 18, 2009 meeting of American and Israeli officials — approximately a week before Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced a ten-month partial freeze on Jewish settlement building in the West Bank that the Obama administration had sought.
As to the timing of the revelation, while some observers have suggested that American officials may have leaked it in order to burnish Obama’s pro-Israel credentials as he faces a tough 2012 presidential campaign, Lake himself, in an in an interview with NPR Saturday, discounted a political motivation for his initial sources. Lake also said on Twitter that Obama White House officials were not among the U.S. and Israeli sources for his story. (Nevertheless, some Democratic Congressional staff sources have eagerly circulated the Lake story, seemingly seeking to beat back the Republican narrative that Obama has not demonstrated sufficient love and support for the Jewish state.)
The simpler explanation may in this case be the more compelling one: American and Israeli officials initiated the disclosure of the information now to send a potent warning to Iran.
Such a message would be well timed, in view of other recent developments in the Iranian nuclear effort. Last month, Tehran announced that it had started moving nuclear centrifuges to a buried underground facility in Qom. American officials have been concerned that as Iran proceeds with transferring its enrichment program from its current Natanz facility to the underground Qom facility, Israel might choose to launch a preventive strike aimed at thwarting Iran’s nuclear initiative before it becomes harder to target at the buried Fordo facility near Qom.
The Obama “administration is interested in sending message to the Iranians that we have lots of things we can do that are tougher, … [that it] can ratchet up the pressure on Iran,” suggested Patrick Clawson, an Iran expert at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, in an interview with The Envoy Monday. “The administration may be lifting its skirt a little bit to show some ankle.”
(And in actuality, Israel has received earlier shipments of U.S. bunker buster bombs, analysts said. For instance, the Bush Defense Department announced in 2008 plans to sell 1,000 GBU-39 smart bunker buster bombs to Israel, “to develop and maintain a strong and ready self-defense capability,” according to an Associated Press report. However, Israeli analysts said at the time that the smaller, 250-pound, precision GBU-39 bombs were more useful against buried arsenals in Lebanon and Gaza–not Iran. “You would need something a lot heavier,” former Israeli military strategic planner Shlomo Brom told the AP. “The GBU-39 can penetrate 6 feet of concrete, and 6 feet is not enough” for targeting Iran’s buried nuclear facilities, he said. By contrast, analysts note that the bunker busters reportedly transferred in the 2009 Obama deal are 5,000-pound bombs, with much deeper penetration capacities.)
Could the disclosure now that Israel has the means to strike Iran’s underground nuclear facilities change Iran’s nuclear decision-making calculus? It’s hard to know with any certainty, given that so many factors that might influence such a decision are still very much in play.
But in a meeting with journalists in New York last week, attended by The Envoy, Iran President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad did not discount the possibility of an Israeli strike–and he warned harshly against it.
“The Zionists are quite eager to be able to damage the security of Iran,” Ahmadinejad said through a translator at the Sept. 22 lunch with journalists, using “Zionists” to refer to the Israeli government. “It’s their ultimate dream to be able to transgress against Iran. Certainly know Iran’s response will be quite hard and it will be regretful for them. We assure everyone we will defend ourselves. I hope they avoid that fatal mistake.”
Message delivered–and received?
September 23rd, 2011
The New York Times
By: Eric Lipton
President Obama’s visit to the Solyndra solar panel factory in California last year was choreographed down to the last detail — the 20-by-30-foot American flags, the corporate banners hung just so, the special lighting, even coffee and doughnuts for the Secret Service detail.
“It’s here that companies like Solyndra are leading the way toward a brighter and more prosperous future,” the president declared in May 2010 to the assembled workers and executives. The start-up business had received a $535 million federal loan guarantee, offered in part to reassert American dominance in solar technology while generating thousands of jobs.
But behind the pomp and pageantry, Solyndra was rotting inside, hemorrhaging cash so quickly that within weeks of Mr. Obama’s visit, the company canceled plans to offer shares to the public. Barely a year later, Solyndra has become one of the administration’s most costly fumbles after the company declared bankruptcy, laid off 1,100 workers and was raided by F.B.I. agents seeking evidence of possible fraud.
Solyndra’s two top officers are to appear Friday before a House investigative committee where, their lawyers say, they will assert their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.
The government’s backing of Solyndra, which could cost taxpayers more than a half-billion dollars, came as the politically well-connected business began an extensive lobbying campaign that appears to have blinded government officials to the company’s financial condition and the risks of the investment, according to a review of government documents and interviews with administration officials and industry analysts.
While no evidence has emerged that political favoritism played a role in what administration officials assert were merit-based decisions, Solyndra drew plenty of high-level attention. Its lobbyists corresponded frequently and met at least three times with an aide to a top White House official, Valerie B. Jarrett, to push for loans, tax breaks and other government assistance.
Administration officials lay the blame for Solyndra’s problems in part on the global collapse in the price of solar energy components, which forced the company to sell its innovative solar panels at less than it cost to make them. Some lawmakers on Capitol Hill question whether the firm’s executives may have engaged in a cover-up of their precarious financial condition, allegations the company denies.
But industry analysts and government auditors fault the Obama administration for failing to properly evaluate the business proposals or take note of troubling signs already evident in the solar energy marketplace.
“It was alarming,” said Frank Rusco, a program director at the Government Accountability Office, which found that Energy Department preliminary loan approvals — including the one for Solyndra — were granted at times before officials had completed mandatory evaluations of the financial and engineering viability of the projects. “They can’t really evaluate the risks without following the rules.”
The Energy Department’s senior staff has acknowledged in interviews the intense pressure from top Obama administration officials to rush stimulus spending out the door.
“We had to knock down some barriers standing in the way to get these projects funded,” Matthew C. Rogers, the Energy Department official overseeing the loan guarantee program, said in March 2009, just days before Solyndra got its provisional loan commitment. Mr. Rogers said Energy Secretary Steven Chu had been personally reviewing loan applications and urging faster action on them.
Two committees of Congress, the Department of Energy’s inspector general and the Department of Justice are now investigating what went wrong in the Solyndra case. In Washington, it has set in motion a highly partisan battle over the benefits or failings of Mr. Obama’s stimulus program.
Some Republican lawmakers have raised questions about political interference in the loan decision, pointing to the fact that George B. Kaiser, a billionaire from Tulsa, Okla., was a fund-raiser for Mr. Obama’s 2008 campaign and the backer of a foundation that is Solyndra’s leading investor. While he has met with top White House and administration officials multiple times, Mr. Kaiser and administration officials say they discussed issues related to his foundation, not Solyndra.
But during the period when Solyndra’s loan guarantee was under review and management by the Energy Department, the company spent nearly $1.8 million on Washington lobbyists, employing six firms with ties to members of Congress and officials of the Obama White House. None of the other three solar panel manufacturers that eventually got federal loan guarantees spent a dime on lobbyists.
Energy Department officials said the lobbying had no impact on their decisions. But Solyndra, which had been among 143 companies to express an interest in a loan guarantee and 16 that were asked to submit a formal application — ended up securing the first financial commitment. Solyndra’s loan guarantee was the highest of the four companies.
Tim Harris, the chief executive of Solopower, which got a $197 million loan guarantee last month to build solar panels in San Jose, Calif., said his company had never considered employing a Washington lobbyist to grease the application. “It was made clear to us early in the process that that was clearly verboten,” Mr. Harris said. “We were told that it was not only not helpful but it was not acceptable.”
If there was a single bet made by the Obama administration that would determine the success or failure of its investment in Solyndra, it centered on the global price its competitors pay for one of earth’s most common elements: silicon.
Solyndra’s unique tube-shaped solar panels — which harvest early morning and evening light for electricity instead of just midday sun — do not rely on silicon. But it assumed its competitors would continue to pay a relatively high price for silicon, allowing Solyndra to charge the premium required to turn a profit on its panels. It was an assumption Obama officials bought into. But industry experts outside the federal government, going back to 2008, were predicting silicon prices were headed for a steep fall.
Bush administration officials had started the review of the Solyndra application in May 2008. They were anxious to approve the deal, because members of Congress were complaining that the loan guarantee program, signed into law in 2005, still had not given out its first award. But in the final weeks of the administration, Energy Department officials put the brakes on any loan commitment to Solyndra, partly out of concern that its costs made the price of manufacturing power capacity significantly higher than its competitors.
The Obama administration, though, was determined to move ahead. “DOE is trying to deliver on the first loan guarantee within 60 days from inauguration,” one March 2009 e-mail from an Office of Management and Budget official said.
Damien LaVera, an Energy Department spokesman, said administration officials realized the Solyndra plan posed some certain risks. The loan program was designed to help finance cutting-edge projects that could not otherwise find enough private-sector investors.
“But we did not just take what this company was telling us,” Mr. LaVera said. “We did the analysis on our own and decided it was a good bet.”
But Shyam Mehta, a senior analyst at GTM Research who follows the solar energy industry, said that he questions just how careful this review was, given the obvious warning signs.
“There was just too much misplaced zeal at the Department of Energy for this company,” Mr. Mehta said.
Solyndra executives, seeking an edge in the competition for federal loan guarantees, began employing Washington lobbyists in 2008. The company stepped up its efforts in early 2009, retaining McBee Strategic Consulting. Five lobbyists employed by the McBee group eventually worked on Solyndra’s behalf, including Michael Sheehy, a former top aide to Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, the House Democratic leader. Solyndra has paid McBee Consulting $340,000 since 2009.
Steve McBee, the firm’s founder and a former Senate aide, did not return calls seeking comment, but in an April 2009 press release he said that his firm could help technology companies gain a chunk of the projected bonanza of $100 billion in federal money for clean-energy projects.
Mr. McBee said that lobbying was not allowed as part of the process. But in early 2009, the firm filed a disclosure form saying it was retained by Solyndra to lobby on stimulus act spending related to the Energy Department’s loan guarantee program. A critical piece of the stimulus bill removed a requirement that firms like Solyndra pay a substantial up-front fee to cover the risk of a loan, a provision that had slowed approvals of loan guarantees. Once that was removed, loans began to flow and Solyndra was the first to benefit.
Over the next three years, Solyndra retained two other lobbying firms, hired two in-house lobbyists and aggressively pushed for White House meetings to plead its case. Another lobbying and public relations firm with close ties to the White House — Glover Park Group — also worked on Solyndra’s behalf.
In January 2010, four months after the loan was finalized, Solyndra executives and lobbyists pressed Gregory S. Nelson, an aide to Ms. Jarrett, a senior adviser to Mr. Obama, for a meeting to boast about progress at the plant financed with federal money and to discuss a possible second loan, according to White House e-mails. That meeting occurred on Jan. 15, 2010, records show. White House scheduling officials later began talks that led to Mr. Obama’s visit in May.
But signs were increasing in 2010 that the company’s business plan was imploding. The dive in silicon prices, which had started in late 2008, accelerated by the end of 2010. Solyndra sales were growing, but so were its losses. It was forced to slash prices much lower than its costs in order to compete with conventional silicon panel producers. Trade publications began to question whether Solyndra would survive — even its own accountant in March 2010 said it had “substantial doubt about its ability to continue as a going concern.”
But Solyndra and its lobbyists continued to provide assurances to the White House and the Energy Department, which still could have stopped the flow of federal money that was being given out for construction of a new factory.
“We have no intention of going out of business,” David Miller, a Solyndra executive, wrote to Mr. Nelson, the White House aide, in July 2010. Mr. Miller, added in May 2011, as the cash crunch had severely worsened, that “we have good market momentum.”
Mr. Nelson wrote back encouraged. “Fantastic to hear that business is doing well,” he said, according to a May 2011 e-mail released by the White House. “Keep up the good work.”
Similar positive predictions were shared with members of Congress this year, after the company sought and received permission from the Obama administration to restructure its $535 million loan, which put private investors ahead of the government for some of the debt if the company was liquidated.
That disconnect has led some members of Congress to question if Solyndra was intentionally misleading officials in Washington.
“Even as late as this summer, Solyndra executives told us here in Washington that the company’s finances were improving,” said Representative Cliff Stearns, Republican of Florida, and the chairman of the panel leading the Solyndra inquiry. “Solyndra was never profitable, and it was obviously poorly managed and unviable in the global market.”
September 1st, 2011
The Associated Press
By: Richard Lardner
The U.S. has lost billions of dollars to waste and fraud in Iraq and Afghanistan and stands to repeat that in future wars without big changes in how the government awards and manages contracts for battlefield support and reconstruction projects, independent investigators said Wednesday.
The Wartime Contracting Commission urged Congress and the Obama administration to quickly put in place its recommendations to overhaul the contracting process and increase accountability. The commission even suggested that the joint House-Senate debt reduction committee take a close look at the proposals.
“What you’re asking for is more of the same,” said Dov Zakheim, a commission member and the Pentagon comptroller during President George W. Bush’s first term. “More waste. More fraud. More abuse.”
The bipartisan commission, created by Congress in 2008, estimated that at least $31 billion and as much as $60 billion has been lost in Iraq and Afghanistan over the past decade due to lax oversight of contractors, poor planning, inadequate competition and corruption. “I personally believe that the number is much, much closer to $60 billion,” Zakheim said.
Yet new legislation incorporating the changes could prove difficult with Republicans and Democrats divided over the best way to reduce the deficit.
Several of the proposals would require new spending, the commission acknowledged, and that would be a hard sell in an election year when reducing the size of government is a priority for many. Other proposals would cost little or simply require money to be shifted from one account to another, the panel said.
“If these recommendations are not implemented, there ought to be a Hall of Shame,” said Michael Thibault, co-chairman of the commission. “There’s an opportunity at hand.”
The commission’s 15 recommendations include creating an inspector general to monitor war zone contracting and operations, appointing a senior government official to improve planning and coordination among federal agencies, reducing the use of private security companies, and carefully monitoring contractor performance.
Massachusetts Rep. John Tierney, the top Democrat on the House Oversight and Government Reform national security subcommittee, said Wednesday that the commission’s findings are “alarming.” Tierney said he plans to introduce legislation next week to create the inspector general’s post.
Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., chairwoman of the Senate’s contracting oversight subcommittee, said she plans to prepare legislation based upon the commission’s recommendations.
The commission’s report said contracting waste in Afghanistan and Iraq could grow as U.S. support for reconstruction projects and programs wanes. That would leave the countries to bear the long-term costs of sustaining the schools, medical clinics, barracks, roads and power plants already built with American money.
Overall, the commission said spending on contracts and grants to support U.S. operations is expected to exceed $206 billion by the end of the 2011 budget year. Based on its investigation, the commission said contracting waste in Afghanistan ranged from 10 percent to 20 percent of the $206 billion total. Fraud during the same period ran between 5 percent and 9 percent of the total, the report said. Fraud includes bribery, kickbacks, bid rigging and defective products, according to the commission.
“It is disgusting to think that nearly a third of the billions and billions we spent on contracting was wasted or used for fraud,” McCaskill said.
Styled after the Truman Committee, which examined World War II spending six decades ago, the commission had broad authority to examine military support contracts, reconstruction projects and private security companies. But the law creating the commission set this September as the end of its work, even as contractors continue their heavy support of U.S. operations in the war zones.
Security, transportation, food preparation and delivery, and much more are now handled by the private sector. At the same time, the officials responsible for monitoring contractor performance have been overwhelmed by increasing reliance on private companies.
“We are far more reliant on contractors than we ever were,” said commission member Charles Tiefer, a professor of government contracting at the University of Baltimore Law School. “We always bought munitions from them. But we didn’t used to buy much in the way of services from them.”
The commission cited numerous examples of waste, including a $360 million U.S.-financed agricultural development program in Afghanistan. The effort began as a $60 million project in 2009 to distribute vouchers for wheat seed and fertilizer in drought-stricken areas of northern Afghanistan. The program expanded into the south and east. Soon the U.S. was spending a $1 million a day on the program, creating an environment ripe for waste and abuse, the commission said.
“Paying villagers for what they used to do voluntarily destroyed local initiatives and diverted project goods into Pakistan for resale,” the commission said.
The Afghan insurgency’s second largest funding source after the illegal drug trade is the diversion of money from U.S.-backed construction projects and transportation contracts, according to the commission. But the report does not say how much money has been funneled to the insurgency. The money typically is lost when insurgents and warlords threaten Afghan subcontractors with violence unless they pay for protection, according to the report.
The Associated Press reported this month that U.S. military authorities in Kabul believe $360 million has ended up in the hands of the Taliban, criminals and power brokers with ties to both.
The military said only a small percentage of the $360 million has been garnered by the Taliban and insurgent groups. Most of the money was lost to profiteering, bribery and extortion by criminals and power brokers.