President Obama is back in his campaign comfort zone: Smiting his political enemies

 According to Politico,
Obama’s turnaround in recent weeks – he’s seized the offensive with a series of controversial executive actions and challenges to leaders in his own party on the budget — can be attributed to a fundamental change in his political mindset, according to current and former aides. He’s gone from thinking of himself as a sitting (lame) duck, they tell me, to a president diving headlong into what amounts to a final campaign – this one to preserve his legacy, add policy points to the scoreboard, and – last but definitely not least – to inflict the same kind of punishment on his newly empowered Republican enemies, who delighted in tormenting him when he was on top.
“‘Freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose’ — Barack and Bobby McGee,” says former Clinton press secretary Mike McCurry. “President Obama is free to take the risks and use executive authority that will either make him a much more popular president with rising approval rates or get him impeached by a Republican Congress that won’t be able to control itself. We can contemplate the possibility of each result while smoking a Cuban cigar.”
Republicans didn’t really think that President Obama was going to let their years of obstruction did they? The odds are that the president’s first act of punishment could be a veto of the bill to authorize the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. During his press conference on Friday, the president said, “On most issues, in order for their initiatives to become law, I’m going to have sign off. And that means they have to take into account the issues that I care about, just as I’m going to have to take into account the issues that they care about.” In other words if Republicans think that they can unilaterally jam their agenda down the president’s throat, they are going to be in for a big surprise.
Unless McConnell and Boehner can pass legislation that contains some of what the president wants, the American people can expect a lot of vetoes. House and Senate Democrats have already pledged to hold firm and give Obama the backing he needs to make sure that his vetoes are upheld, which means that the Republican controlled Congress won’t be getting much done without the help of Democrats.
The shoe will soon be on the other foot, and Republicans are about to pay a heavy price for their years long campaign of Obama obstruction 

Rep. Blake Farenthold's Problems Just Keep Getting Worse

The news broke that Republican Rep. Blake Farenthold's former communications director was suing her former boss for sexual harassment. It also doesn't help Farenthold's situation that we just learned that he owned the domain name "" for well over a decade (It's unclear if former Rep. Ben Quayleever got the chance to guest-blog). Furthermore, on Thursday a collection of some of Farenthold's online writings from 2006 to 2010 were unearthed and they do nothing to help his reputation. Farenthold's travails don't look like they'll be going away anytime soon, and local Republicans are talking about a primary challenge.
According to The Texas Tribune, Debra Medina is being mentioned as a potential contender. The tea partier placed third in the 2010 gubernatorial primary, and she made news for showing some 9/11 truther tendencies. Earlier this year Medina ran for comptroller but again took a distant third. So far Medina is defending Farenthold, tweeting, "Remember innocent until proven guilty though even the accusation taints the office." She's unlikely to be the only name we hear though: Romney won this Corpus Christi-based seat 61-38, and there's no shortage of Republican office holders in the area.
Farenthold has actually been very lucky to avoid any real intra-party opposition up till now. The congressman was a virtual unknown in 2010 when he won a Democratic-held seat in a low-turnout fluke, and under normal circumstances he would have quickly faced a real challenge (see Bentivolio, Kerry). However, while a few serious Republicans talked about primarying him in 2012, it never happened. Farenthold's district was dramatically redrawn late in 2011, and evidently no one felt that they had enough time to organize a campaign. Farenthold easily won renomination in 2012 and 2014, and he looked likely to keep his accidental seat as long as he wanted it. But unless this story disappears, Farenthold's luck may finally have run out.

The U.S. is suing New York City over cruel and unusual punishment of juvenile prisoners

Federal prosecutors sued New York City on Thursday over alleged civil rights violations after a Department of Justice investigation found a "deep-seated culture of violence" against young inmates at the Rikers Island jail.

+ The Department of Justice's two-and-a-half-year investigation's findings, released by Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, concluded that Rikers is a "broken institution" for adolescent prisoners, where corrections officers repeatedly used excessive force that violated the constitutional rights of prisoners, namely the "cruel and unusual punishments" prohibited by the Eighth and 14th amendments.

+"[Inmates] are entitled to be detained safely and in accordance with their constitutional rights — not consigned to a corrections crucible that seems more inspired by Lord of the Flies than any legitimate philosophy of human detention," wrote Bharara in August. 

President Obama is closing out 2014 with one hell of a bang

If President Barack Obama’s year ended in November, it would have been one of the worst of his presidency. Good thing he had the past five weeks.

+ Matt Yglesias explains: "On Nov. 26, the Obama administration put forward new anti-smog regulations that should prevent thousands of premature deaths and heart attacks every year. About curbing reckless borrowing by giant banks that will reduce profits and shareholder earnings but increase the safety of the financial system. Yet both of these were minor stories compared to normalizing relations with Cuba after decades and his sweeping plan to protect millions of unauthorized immigrants from deportation."

Politico: "Obama feels liberated, aides say, and sees the recent flurry of aggressive executive action and deal-making as a pivot for him to spend his final two years in office being more the president he always wanted to be."
two weeks later, Obama's appointees at the Federal Reserve implemented new rules 

The (Cyber) Terrorists Win

TheInterview Cancelled Poster2
It's not just The Interview: Paramount pulls Team America substitute over hacking fears

Three movie theaters say Paramount Pictures has ordered them not to show Team America: World Police one day after Sony Pictures surrendered to cyberterrorists and pulled The Interview.

+ The famous Alamo Drafthouse in Texas, Capitol Theater in Cleveland and Plaza Atlantain Atlanta said they would screen the movie instead of The Interview, but Paramount has ordered them to stop. (No reason was apparently given and Paramount hasn't spoken.)Team America, of course, features North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un's father, Kim Jong-il, as a singing marionette.

+ Production company New Regency has also scrapped Pyongyang, a planned film about the country starring Steve Carrell.

+ Here's the Kim Jong-un death sequence that those pesky hackers really don't want you to see.

+ With The Interview's cancellation, the (cyber) terrorists won. Or lost.

+ Either way, North Korea is no laughing matter.

President Obama Grants Commutations and Pardons

Today President Barack Obama granted clemency to twenty individuals, consisting of eight commutations and twelve pardons.

The President granted commutations of sentence to the following eight individuals:

·         Sidney Earl Johnson, Jr. – Mobile, AL
Offense:  Conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute cocaine base; possession with intent to distribute cocaine base; use of a communication facility to commit a felony (Southern District of Alabama)
Sentence:  Life imprisonment; 10 years’ supervised release (Apr. 13, 1994)
Commutation Grant:  Prison sentence commuted to expire on June 12, 2015.

·         Cathy Lee Jones – Portsmouth, VA
Offense:  Conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute and distribute heroin and cocaine base (Eastern District of Virginia)
Sentence:  262 months’ imprisonment; five years’ supervised release (Apr. 29, 2003)
Commutation Grant:  Prison sentence commuted to expire on April 15, 2015.

·         Rickey Marcell McCall – Birmingham, AL 
Offense:  Possession with intent to distribute in excess of 50 grams of a mixture and substance containing cocaine base; possession of a firearm by a convicted felon (two counts) (Northern District of Alabama)
Sentence:  Life imprisonment; 120 months’ supervised release (Jan. 11, 2001)
Commutation Grant:  Prison sentence commuted to expire on April 15, 2015.

·         Larry Nailor – Memphis, TN
Offense:  Possession of a controlled substance with intent to distribute approximately 50 grams of cocaine base (Western District of Tennessee)
Sentence:  Life imprisonment; 10 years’ supervised release (Nov. 7, 1997)
Commutation Grant:  Prison sentence commuted to expire on April 15, 2015.

·         Antonio Gromyko Reeves – Kennett, MO
Offense:  Distribution of five grams or more of cocaine base (Eastern District of Missouri)
Sentence:  188 months’ imprisonment; four years’ supervised release (May 21, 2004)
Commutation Grant:  Prison sentence commuted to expire on April 15, 2015.

·         Jennifer Regenos – Muscatine, IA
Offense:  Conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine (Southern District of Iowa)
Sentence:  240 months’ imprisonment; 10 years’ supervised release (Mar. 25, 2002)
Commutation Grant:  Prison sentence commuted to expire on April 15, 2015.

·         Barbara Lammsies Scrivner – Portland, OR 
Offense:  Conspiracy to manufacture, possess with intent to distribute, and distribute methamphetamine; possession with intent to distribute methamphetamine (District of Oregon)
Sentence:  360 months’ imprisonment; five years’ supervised release (July 3, 1995)
Commutation Grant:  Prison sentence commuted to expire on June 12, 2015.

·         Israel Abel Torres – Dallas, TX
Offense:  Conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute controlled substances; possession with intent to distribute cocaine base (Eastern District of Texas)
Sentence:  Life imprisonment; 10 years’ supervised release; $1,000 fine (Dec. 4, 1998)
Commutation Grant:  Prison sentence commuted to expire on April 15, 2015.

The President granted pardons to the following twelve individuals:

·         Roy Norman Auvil – Bartonville, IL
Offense:  Possession of an unregistered distilling apparatus; working a distillery on which the required sign is not placed (District of South Carolina)
Sentence:  Five years’ probation (Nov. 16, 1964)

·         Bernard Bryan Bulcourf – McIntosh, FL
Offense:  Counterfeiting Federal Reserve notes (Southern District of Florida)
Sentence:  90 days’ confinement in a community treatment center, followed by three years’ probation (Nov. 18, 1988)

·         Steve Charlie Calamars – San Antonio, TX
Offense:  Possession of phenyl-2-propanone with intent to manufacture a quantity of methamphetamine (Western District of Texas)
Sentence:  57 months’ imprisonment; three years’ supervised release (May 31, 1989; as amended Apr. 8, 1994)

·         Diane Mary DeBarri, fka Diane Mary Wilhelm – Fairless Hills, PA
Offense:  Conspiracy to manufacture and distribute methamphetamine; distribution of methamphetamine (Eastern District of Pennsylvania)
Sentence:  90 days’ imprisonment; five years’ probation conditioned on performance of community service as directed by the court (June 15, 1984)

·         Donnie Keith Ellison – London, KY
Offense:  Manufacture of marijuana (Eastern District of Kentucky)
Sentence:  Five months’ imprisonment; three years’ supervised release (Sept. 1, 1995)

·         John Marshall French – Clovis, CA
Offense:  Conspiracy to transport a stolen motor vehicle in interstate commerce (District of South Carolina)
Sentence:  Three years’ probation conditioned on performance of 100 hours of community service and payment of $2,337 restitution (Mar. 2, 1993)

·         Ricardo Marcial Lomedico, Sr. – Point Roberts, WA
Offense:  Misappropriation of bank funds by an employee (Western District of Washington)
Sentence:  Five years’ imprisonment (Nov. 21, 1969)

·         David Raymond Mannix – Lafayette, OR
Offense:  Conspiracy to commit larceny; theft of military property (U.S. Marine Corps general court-martial convened at Camp Pendleton, CA)
Sentence:  75 days’ confinement; forfeiture of $350 pay per month for three months; reduction to Private First Class, pay grade E-2 (Oct. 18, 1989, as approved Mar. 2, 1990)

·         David Neil Mercer – Grand Junction, CO
Offense:  Archaeological Resources Protection Act violation (District of Utah)
Sentence:  36 months’ probation; $2,500 fine; $1,437.72 joint and several restitution (Apr. 9, 1997)

·         Claire Holbrook Mulford, fka Claire Audrey Holbrook – Flint, TX
Offense:  Using a residence to distribute methamphetamine; carrying a firearm during a drug-trafficking crime (Eastern District of Texas)
Sentence:  70 months’ imprisonment; two years’ supervised release (Dec. 3, 1993)

·         Brian Edward Sledz – Naperville, IL
Offense:  Wire fraud; violation of the Commodity Exchange Act (Northern District of Illinois)
Sentence:  One year of probation conditioned on payment of $1,318 costs of supervision and $8,297.91 restitution (Apr. 29, 1993)

·         Albert Byron Stork – Delta, CO
Offense:  Filing a false tax return (District of Colorado)
Sentence:  Six months’ confinement in a jail-type or treatment institution; three years’ probation (May 8, 1987)

Russia's economy is totally screwed. Here's why you should care

The Russian economy is staggering thanks to a collapse of its currency, the ruble. It's certainly bad news for Russia, but it could have big ramifications for the rest of the world.

The value of the ruble has dropped nearly 20% since Monday, a figure unmatched since the country's economic crisis in 1998.

Bloomberg News: "The foundations on which Vladimir Putin built his 15 years in charge of Russia are giving way."

+ The collapse of Russia's currency may actually force Putin to acquiesce on geopolitical issues from Syria to Ukraine.

The Obama administration wants a Wall Street banker to regulate big banks

Shortly after supporting a spending bill that unraveled crucial Wall Street regulations, the White House is doubling down on its pick of a Wall Street banker for the third most powerful position at the Treasury Department.

Antonio Weiss, an investment banker at Lazard Ltd., was nominated for undersecretary for domestic finance at the Department of the Treasury by the Obama administration last month. His nomination has become a lightning rod in a Democratic Party fighting over its economic message — and senators like Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) are furious.

+ Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) has revealed plans to launch a grassroots campaign to finally break Wall Street's death-grip on the U.S. economy.



Rove: Bush knew about CIA’s harsh tactics  Rove disputed a claim that the former president was kept in the dark until 2006.

Rove defends CIA's use of rectal feeding tubes  Rove said the procedure was necessary to keep detainees nourished during hunger strikes.

Cheney: Real torture was murders on 9/11  “Torture is what the al Qaeda terrorists did to 3,000 Americans on 9/11," he said.

Senator readies torture bill for new year  Sen. Ron Wyden said CIA director left open the possibility of torture being used again.

Dem senator: Lawmakers should publicize notes on CIA briefings  Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse says members of Congress should come clean about what they knew.

Former CIA official: Pelosi knew about harsh interrogation tactics  Jose Rodriguez said House Democratic leaders knew about harsh tactics and did not object.

No question CIA’s tactics were torture, McCain says  “I urge everyone to just read the report,” the GOP senator said.

Senior Intel Republican: Only a few detainees were waterboarded  Sen. Saxby Chambliss (Ga.) says the furor over the Central Intelligence Agency is overblown.

Former CIA chief not sure he would have approved waterboarding  “There are certain things that are always off the table," Michael Hayden said.

Senate independent: CIA leaders should come from outside the agency  “I think there was misleading of the committee,” Sen. Angus King said.

House Intelligence chief blasts CIA report  "I think we'll see a consequence of the release of this report,” Mike Rogers said.

We have to 'stop hating' CIA, rep says  Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) said it'll be difficult to reverse damage done to CIA’s reputation.

President Obama Launches Competitions for New Manufacturing Innovation Hubs and American Apprenticeship Grants

President Obama Launches Competitions for New Manufacturing Innovation Hubs and American Apprenticeship Grants

Today, at a meeting of the President’s Export Council (PEC), President Obama will announce nearly $400 million to help improve the competitiveness of American businesses and workers by spurring new manufacturing innovations and giving America workers additional opportunities to improve and expand their skill sets for middleclass jobs. 

To help support new advancements in manufacturing, the President will announce more than $290 million in public-private investment for two new Manufacturing Innovation Hub Competitions. Today’s announcement fulfills the President’s 2014 State of the Union pledge to launch four new institutes this year, for a total of eight institutes launched so far, and puts the Administration past the halfway mark on the President’s original goal of creating 15 manufacturing innovation institutes supported through executive action.

In addition, the President will announce $100 million to expand apprenticeships for American workers - a proven training strategy for workers to learn the skills that employers need for American businesses to grow and thrive in a competitive global environment. Apprenticeships are also a path to the middle class – 87 percent of apprentices are employed after completing their programs and the average starting wage for apprenticeship graduates is over $50,000.

During today’s meeting, President Obama will also highlight the continued need to reform and simplify our tax code and the importance of opening up new markets abroad for American-made goods and services through tough, fair new trade agreements.

The PEC, chaired by Jim McNerney, President and CEO of Boeing and vice-chaired by Ursula Burns, Chairman and CEO of the Xerox Corporation, is the principal national advisory committee for exporting.  The Council advises the President on government policies and programs that affect U.S. trade performance; promotes export expansion; and provides a forum for discussing and resolving trade-related problems among the business, industrial, agricultural, labor, and government sectors.

New Actions to Grow America’s Competitiveness for Jobs, Exports, and Investment

Ø  Announcing More Than $290 Million in Public-Private Investment Through Two New Manufacturing Innovation Hub Competitions:President Obama will launch two new competitions for manufacturing innovation institutes today—one in smart manufacturing at the Department of Energy and one in flexible hybrid electronics at the Department of Defense. Each institute will receive $70 million or more of federal investment to be matched by at least $70 million from the private sector for a total of more than $290 million in new investment.

Ø  Launching the $100 Million American Apprenticeship Grants Competition: The President will also announce that the Department of Labor is opening a competition to spur partnerships between employers, labor, training providers, and local governments to expand apprenticeships into high-growth fields like advanced manufacturing and healthcare and scale models that work. Apprenticeships are a proven path to the middle-class, as 87 percent of apprentices are employed after completing their programs with an average starting wage of over $50,000.

Exports Power American Jobs and Growth

Our long-term competitiveness for jobs, exports, and investment depends on America’s ability to lead on the cutting-edge of technology and on the skills and talent of America’s workers. Last year, the United States exported $2.3 trillion dollars of goods and services, an all-time high, and today, exports support more than 11 million American jobs across 300,000 businesses. Manufacturing, in particular, is the engine behind our exports and innovation – contributing the majority of the nation’s exports and nearly three-quarters of its private-sector R&D. And American manufacturing is more competitive than it has been in decades, growing nearly twice as fast as the economy overall and adding 764,000 jobs since February 2010. At the same time, businesses looking to move production to the United States consistently cite the skills of America’s workers, the most productive workforce in the world, as the reason for rooting jobs and investment here.  Today’s announcements build on that competitive strength by investing in manufacturing innovation and upgrading the skills of American workers through the proven model of apprenticeships.

Two New Manufacturing Innovation Institute Competitions:

Manufacturing institutes serve as a regional hub, bridging the gap between applied research and product development by bringing together companies, universities and other academic and training institutions, and Federal agencies to co-invest in key technology areas that encourage investment and production in the U.S. This type of “teaching factory” provides a unique opportunity for education and training of students and workers at all levels, while providing the shared assets to help small manufacturers and other companies access the cutting-edge capabilities and equipment to design, test, and pilot new products and manufacturing processes.

Department of Defense-led Flexible Hybrid Electronics Manufacturing Innovation Institute

The Department of Defense will lead a competition for a new public-private manufacturing innovation institute in flexible hybrid electronics, combining $75 million of federal investment with $75 million or more of private investment. The modern world is filled with electronics: computers, cell phones, sensors, and literally trillions of small devices that make American lives better, if somewhat busier.  The vast majority of these electronic devices are made up of boxy, rigid circuit boards. But in the world around us, most things are not flat or boxy; our bodies, the environment, the vehicles that transport us all tend to reflect an organically derived shape with plenty of curves and flexibility. Flexible hybrid electronics combine advanced materials that flex with thinned silicon chips to produce the next generation of electronic products seamlessly integrated into the things around us.  These include items as diverse as comfortable, wireless medical monitors, stretchable electronics for robotics and vehicles, and smart bridges capable of alerting engineers at the first signs of trouble. For the nation’s warfighters, these new technologies will make lifesaving advances and improve mission effectiveness. For example, intelligent bandages and smart clothing will alert soldiers to first signs of injury or exhaustion; structural integrity sensors will offer real-time damage assessment for helicopters or aircraft after engagement; and small, unattended sensors will give soldiers greater situational awareness.

Department of Energy-led Smart Manufacturing Innovation Institute

A third of the nation’s energy consumption goes into manufacturing. New smart manufacturing technologies – including advanced sensors and sophisticated process controls – can dramatically improve energy efficiency in manufacturing, saving manufacturers costs and conserving the nation’s energy. The Department of Energy will lead a competition for a new public-private manufacturing innovation institute focused on smart manufacturing, including advanced sensors, control, platforms, and models for manufacturing.  By combining manufacturing, digital, and energy efficiency expertise, technologies developed by the institute will give American manufacturers unprecedented, real-time control of energy use across factories and companies to increase productivity and save on energy costs. For energy intensive industries – like chemical production, solar cell manufacturing, and steelmaking – these technologies can shave 10-20% off the cost of production.  The new institute will receive a federal investment of $70 million that will be matched by at least $70 million in private investments and represents a critical step in the Administration’s effort to double U.S. energy efficiency by 2030.

Interested applicants can find more information on the manufacturing innovation institute competitions at

$100 Million American Apprenticeship Grants Competition:

Today, in conjunction with the launch of the American Apprenticeships Grants competition, Secretary of Labor Tom Perez will preside over a graduation at the Urban Technology Project, an apprenticeship program in Philadelphia, PA, whose graduates learn IT skills for careers as computer support specialists. The Department of Labor competition will use $100 million or more of H-1B funds to award approximately 25 grants to partnerships between employers, labor organizations, training providers, community colleges, local and state governments, the workforce system, non-profits and faith-based organizations that:

·         Launch apprenticeship models in new, high-growth fields: Many fast-growing occupations and industries with open positions such as in information technology, high-tech services, healthcare, and advanced manufacturing need the high-quality, on-the-job training provided in an apprenticeship to meet their workforce needs.

·         Align apprenticeships to pathways for further learning and career advancement: Apprenticeships that embed industry-recognized skills certifications or reward workplace learning with college credit provide an affordable educational pathway for those who need to earn while they learn, and apprenticeships linked to pre-apprenticeship programs can help more Americans access this training and get on an early pathway to a good career.

·         Scale apprenticeship models that work: Across the country, there are pockets of excellence in apprenticeship, but all too often these successful models are unknown in other regions or to other employers. These grants will build from strength and invest in innovations and strategies to scale apprenticeships – including to market the value of apprenticeships, make them more attractive to women and other Americans who have been underrepresented, increase the return on investment for workers and, or build national and regional partnerships to expand apprenticeships.

Interested applicants can find more information on the American Apprenticeship Grants Competition, resources for launching new registered apprenticeships, and a toolkit on federal funds for apprenticeship at><.

In addition, Skills for America’s Future is launching an online collaboration space for apprenticeship providers and foundation funders to connect. And the Advanced Manufacturing Partnership Steering Committee, building on new apprenticeship programs launched by Dow, Siemens, and Alcoa, is launching a ‘How-to’ toolkit to help other employers launch apprenticeships.