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EPA’s Playbook Unveiled: A Story of Fraud, Deceit and Secret Science

Part 1 :: How This Phony CIA Agent Pulled Off a ‘Scam’ to Impose Environmental Regulations on Americans

Kevin Mooney / @KevinMooneyDC / February 10 2015

Remember the EPA bureaucrat who got caught receiving $900,000 in pay without working because he claimed he also was employed by the CIA?

According to a report from the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, the man, former climate policy expert John Beale, “retired” when questions arose about his spotty attendance and expense records.

Only he didn’t file his retirement paperwork and continued to draw an active-duty salary for some time after. His boss at the time in the EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation, now-EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, knew this for about seven months and did nothing to stop it.

>>> This is the first of a two-part series.

“On March 29, 2012, an OAR official raised concerns about Beale’s retirement when he informed McCarthy that Beale was still on payroll,” the report stated.

“Despite being aware of the fact that one of her subordinates was collecting a paycheck without providing any work product, this arrangement continued for seven more months before McCarthy ever contacted Beale.”

In December 2012, McCarthy met with Beale for the first time in nearly 15 months, and he informed her that he was no longer planning on retiring. Two more months passed before concerns with Beale were officially reported to the inspector general. On April 30, 2013, McCarthy had cause to fire Beale, but instead elected to allow him to voluntarily retire with full benefits.

Liz Purchia, press secretary for McCarthy, told The Daily Signal in an email: “[McCarthy] believed he was retired, and [that] was the reason he was not in the office.”

How Did He Do It?

According to the Senate report, Beale’s career at the EPA was marked by relentless dishonesty on matters large and small and a cadre of supervisors who, like McCarthy apparently in the matter of his retirement pay, enabled his self-dealing behaviors.

He claimed an injury so he could ride first-class on flights for government business, which in one case drove the ticket price from $1,000 to $14,000. He forged expense forms, claimed to be away on CIA business for 2½ years worth of work days and flew to Los Angeles and stayed in posh hotels on the EPA’s tab for family visits that had nothing to do with agency work.

Few even attempted to question Beale’s frequent absences, enormous expense reports, exorbitant salary—he retired as the agency’s highest-paid employee—and lack of accountability. He was personally popular, well-connected and believed to be among the agency’s most effective employees.

But Beale’s greatest deception has nothing to do with first-class flights and fancy hotels.

Beale, who is serving a 32-month sentence in the federal prison in Cumberland, Md., for pleading guilty to felony theft of government property, spent most of his career devising regulations under the Clean Air Act that are justified by science few have seen and no one has peer-reviewed, according to the Senate report.

“We should all question how John Beale became a senior official at the EPA and played a major role in long-lasting policy decisions while pulling off a scam I thought only Hollywood could make up,” Sen. David Vitter, R-La., told The Daily Signal.

“But this egregious case helped us successfully reveal how EPA has wasted taxpayer resources and mismanagement in a manner that is far too common.”

John Beale and the Clean Air Act

Beale’s penchant for bilking the EPA out of money eroded the trust Americans place in their government and EPA employees place in their superiors and coworkers. But it was the role he played beginning in the mid-1990s in creating and implementing regulations pursuant to Clean Air Act that continues to reverberate and linger at the expense of the American people.

Staffers with the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee set out last year to probe the relationship between “sue-and-settle” arrangements and evidence they had uncovered that pointed to the manipulation of scientific data.

What they discovered, as detailed in their report, titled “EPA’s Playbook Unveiled: A Story of Fraud, Deceit and Secret Science,” was how agency officials concealed and misled about the science that underpinned its most significant initiatives and silenced and marginalized their own internal watchdog offices, which enabled the agency to greatly overstate the benefits and underestimate the costs of its Clean Air Act rulemaking.

Under the Clean Air Act, the EPA is required to create National Ambient Air Quality Standards for particulate matter and ozone. The American Lung Association sought to jumpstart this process with a so-called “sue-and-settle” suit filed in 1995.

The idea behind “sue-and-settle” is for friendly plaintiffs to sue a government agency, work out agreeable terms—perhaps even beforehand—and emerge with a court order to implement rules or regulations that could not have been achieved through the democratic or even regulatory process.

The American Lung Association suit resulted in a consent decree that called for the EPA to propose final standards for particulate matter by Nov. 29, 1996, and issue the standards by July 19, 1997. The decree set no deadline for ozone standards because they had been reviewed in 1993 and were not up for another review until 1998.

But Beale and Robert Brenner, his best friend and erstwhile boss, made what documents called a “policy call” and seized on the urgency to produce new particulate matter standards to rush through a new ozone standard as well.

This put the agency in the position of advancing two regulatory standards simultaneously, which it had never done. And it put the agency and those charged with reviewing such regulations, including the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee, under impossible deadline pressure.

Why Beale Was Emboldened

The EPA admitted in court papers filed pursuant to the American Lung Association lawsuit that any period shorter than Dec. 1, 1998, for promulgation of the particulate matter standard “would require the EPA to reach conclusions on scientific and policy issues with enormous consequences for society before it has had an adequate opportunity to collect and evaluate pertinent scientific data” and that further time was needed to reach a “sound and scientifically supportable decision.”

Beale had no time for that. He needed an ally to move things along and found one in Carol Browner, the Al Gore acolyte and former staffer who served as administrator of the EPA through both terms of the Clinton administration. Beale formed a close relationship with her and met with her multiple times per week to discuss his progress on this.

The urgency, as well as his influence with the boss and an unwillingness of others at EPA to block him, gave Beale “the mechanism he needed to ignore opposition to the standards.”

Beale’s efforts to include ozone in the new regulations proved expensive for Americans.

The EPA estimated the cost at $2.5 billion, but its estimate was based on receiving the full benefits of cutting ozone but achieving only a partial attainment of the standards, which the law did not permit. The Council of Economic Advisers also measured the cost and found it to be $60 billion—24 times the EPA estimate.

Indeed, as was the case with him getting away with not showing up for work and submitting exorbitant expense reports, succeeding in this regulatory sleight of hand only emboldened Beale to go further.

‘Hidden and Unverified’

That first round of standards, which regulated coarse particulate matter, such as pollen and dust, became known as PM10. But Beale wanted more.

In 1997, with the backing of his superiors, he sought to engage the agency in regulating fine particulate matter—particles a fourth the size of those regulated under PM10 and too small to be visible to the human eye.

But to enact these regulations, EPA first had to produce scientific research that established these smaller particles posed a threat to humans.

To accomplish this, Beale pulled data from two controversial studies—the Harvard Six Cities Study and an American Cancer Society study known as ACSII. The data was not trusted. The air advisory committee pointed out it had not been peer-reviewed, and others indicated Beale was exaggerating the findings for his desired result.

Further undermining those studies’ credibility is that even now, 20 years later, EPA still refuses to release the data, despite McCarthy’s promise to do so during her confirmation hearings.

Though Beal is out of the picture and in prison, his rulemaking techniques he employed to advance the 1997 National Ambient Air Quality Standards for ozone and particulate matter remain firmly entrenched.

“This effort codified EPA’s now customary practice of using fine particulates (PM2.5) to inflate the benefits of nearly all regulations issued under the Clean Air Act,” the Senate report concludes. “Yet the science supporting nearly all of EPA’s alleged benefits remain hidden and unverified.”

Part 2 :: EPA Under Fire for Concealing Controversial Scientific Data, Silencing Skeptics

Kevin Mooney / @KevinMooneyDC / February 11, 2015

For more than 15 years, the Environmental Protection Agency has resisted releasing data from two key studies to the general public and members of Congress. Government regulators used those studies to craft some of the most expensive environmental rules in U.S. history.

When skeptics within the federal government questioned and challenged the integrity of the studies—the Harvard Six Cities Study and an American Cancer Society study known as ACS II—they were silenced and muzzled.

That’s when the Republican staff on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee stepped in to shine light on the situation, revealing the scope of the scandal in in a report titled, “EPA’s Playbook Unveiled: A Story of Fraud, Deceit and Secret Science.”

>>> This is the second of a two-part series. Read the first part: How This Phony CIA Agent Pulled Off a ‘Scam’ to Impose Environmental Regulations on Americans

The key player in the scandal is John Beale, who was sentenced to serve 32 months in federal prison on Dec. 18, 2013, after pleading guilty to stealing almost $900,000 from U.S. taxpayers.

It was in 1994 that Beale first began to beguile EPA employees and supervisors into believing he worked for the CIA. When he failed to report for work, Beale would enter “D.O. Oversight” on his calendar, which meant he was a director of operations responsible for covert operations at the CIA.

But it was the role Beale played beginning in the mid-1990s in creating and implementing regulations pursuant to Clean Air Act that continues to reverberate and linger at the expense of the American people.

Two Allies at the EPA

Over the past decade, evidence has emerged to reveal the Six Cities and ACS II studies did not support enacting one of the most controversial, far-reaching and expensive regulations in American history. Otherwise, the agency would have provided access to the data without a fight.

The political appointees who led the EPA at the time feared the consequences of enacting such a regulation without being able to offer scientific evidence of its necessity.

Beale needed an ally. He needed someone to explain the problems with the research and the reasons the data could not be released. Someone who could run interference with various actors in Washington. He found one in top EPA official Robert Brenner.

Brenner had recruited Beale, his former Princeton University classmate, to the EPA as a full-time employee in 1989.

Brenner, then deputy director of the EPA’s Office of Policy Analysis and Review within the Office of Air and Radiation, hired his friend despite Beale’s lack of legislative or environmental policy background. He also placed Beale in the highest pay scale for general service employees—a move typically reserved for those with extensive experience.

He then allowed Beale to collect retention bonuses, which go to only the most highly qualified employees to keep them from jumping ship—an unlikely scenario for a man who had picked apples and worked in a small-time law firm in Minnesota before joining the agency. Employees are supposed to be eligible for such bonuses—potentially worth as much as a fourth of the employee’s annual salary—for only three years, but Brenner helped Beale receive them for more than 10.

The two would work together at the EPA for 25 years—during which time the Office of Policy Analysis and Review would grow “in both scope and influence” as Beale and Brenner worked in tandem to muzzle dissenting voices within the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) and the EPA’s Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee.

‘Beale Memo’ Details Regulatory Agenda

At the crux of their agenda—the initiative that would build their legend within the agency—was implementation of a fine particle standard regulating air pollution.

The formula had been set with the American Lung Association sue-and-settle agreement and codified in a confidential document known as the “Beale Memo,” which described how Beale pressured regulatory and clean air bodies to back off criticisms of EPA rulemaking both within the agency and in correspondence with members of Congress.

The EPA attempted to conceal this document from Sen. David Vitter’s committee investigators, but a conscientious whistleblower “turned it over surreptitiously,” the report said.

The memo outlined how Beale and Brenner would work to compress the time the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs and the voluntary Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee had to review regulations so they could get away with using “secret science.”

The Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee opposed from the start the move to regulate fine particulate matter. Members claimed there was no precedent or court order to establish these regulations, that research had not distinguished between dangers posed by PM 10 particles and those a fourth that size under PM 2.5, and that the PM 2.5 target was arbitrary and tied to no known science. (PM stands for particle matter, a term “for particles found in the air, including dust, dirt, soot, smoke, and liquid droplets,” according to EPA.)

Further, the committee, known as CASAC, complained it was being asked to do the work that took eight years on the previous air quality review in 18 months.

“The Beale memo is interesting in that it provides evidence of Beale’s direct role in ensuring concerns raised by other agencies, CASAC members and OIRA were not considered in the final rulemaking,” wrote Luke Bolar, spokesman for Vitter, in an email to The Daily Signal.

“While there were major concerns with the science and the cost-benefit analysis as outlined in comments filed on the rule, the Beale memo was written to push back against OIRA publicizing those concerns,” Bolar added. “They didn’t have to directly ‘blunt’ criticism, as Beale got his way through his close ties to Mary Nichols (then head of the Office of Air and Radiation) and Carol Browner (EPA administrator.”

Long-Lasting Impact

Efforts to slow Beale, Brenner and their highly charged regulations failed. As a result, today the “co-benefits” of PM 2.5 are used to justify almost the entirety of the Obama administration’s air quality initiatives even though the immediate benefits still have yet to be proven.

“There is no watchdog now inside the EPA,” laments Steve Milloy, the former editor of JunkScience.com, which has posted a fact sheet that debunks the EPA’s PM 2.5 claims. “Whatever the EPA wants it gets. The agency is allowed to run rampant. There was a time when OIRA use to have stopping power, but now it’s just ignored. OIRA has become a rubber stamp.”

This is especially true of PM 2.5, Milloy says. “There is no real world evidence” PM 2.5 has caused sudden or long-term death, he said. “The claim that PM 2.5 kills people is at the heart and soul of how the EPA is selling these regulations. But it’s a claim that’s not supported by the facts or evidence. The EPA has rigged the whole process.”

Indeed, the purported co-benefits have become the benefits, according to Vitter’s report.

“Historically, EPA used co-benefits in major rules as one of several benefits quantified to justify a rule in the RIA,” the report says. “Yet, at the beginning of the Obama administration, there was a ‘trend towards almost complete reliance on PM 2.5-related health co-benefits.’ Instead of being an ancillary benefit, EPA started using PM 2.5 co-benefits as essentially the only quantified benefit for many CAA regulations.”

The Senate report claims all but five air pollution rules crafted between 2009 and 2011 listed PM 2.5.

Lack of Transparency at EPA

The Clean Air Act requires EPA to set air quality standards to protect public health with an “adequate margin of safety.” In its review of the National Ambient Air Quality Standards, the EPA considers factors such as the nature and severity of health effects, the size of the at-risk groups affected and the science.

Several exhaustive scientific reviews prior and subsequent to the 1997 standards were conducted following open, public processes that allowed for public review and comment prior to updating the standards.

EPA press secretary Liz Purchia told The Daily Signal in an email that the process is open enough.

The National Ambient Air Quality Standards are bolstered by “sound science and legal standards,” she said, and “several exhaustive scientific reviews prior and subsequent to the 1997 standards were conducted following open, public processes that allowed for public review and comment prior to updating the standards.”

She added:

Beale’s involvement in no way undermines the rational basis for the agency’s decisions nor the integrity of the administrative process. Reducing the public’s exposure to ground-level ozone and PM protects millions of Americans from costly and dangerous illness, hospitalization, and premature death.

All that may be true, but the EPA still won’t provide the underlying data to put the matter to rest.

Vitter and his team say this is because the EPA can continue to overstate the benefits and understate the costs of federal regulations—just as Beale did in the 1990s.

“This technique has been applied over the years and burdens the American people today, as up to 80 percent of the benefits associated with all federal regulations are attributed to supposed PM 2.5 reductions,” the report states.

Source

The Scheme behind the Obamacare Fraud

Lies smooth the transition to a fundamental transformation of our health-care system.

November 23, 2013 4:00 AM
By Andrew C. McCarthy

Fraud can be so brazen it takes people’s breath away. But for a prosecutor tasked with proving a swindle — or what federal law describes as a “scheme to defraud” — the crucial thing is not so much the fraud. It is the scheme.

To be sure, it is the fraud — the individual false statements, sneaky omissions, and deceptive practices — that grabs our attention. As I’ve recounted in this space, President Obama repeatedly and emphatically vowed, “If you like your health-insurance plan, you can keep your health-insurance plan, period.” The incontrovertible record — disclosures by the Obama administration in the Federal Register, representations by the Obama Justice Department in federal court — proves that Obama’s promises were systematically deceitful. The president’s audacity is bracing, and not just because he lies so casually while looking us in the eye. Obama also insults our intelligence. It is one thing to tuck evidence of falsehood into a few paragraphs on page 34,552 of a dusty governmental journal no one may ever look at. It is quite something else to announce it in a legal brief publicly filed in a case of intense interest to millions of Americans aggrieved by Obamacare’s religious-liberty violations. To be so bold is to say, in effect, “The public is too ignorant and disengaged to catch me, and the press is too deep in my pocket to raise alarms.”

Still, to show that politicians lie is like pointing out that it gets dark at night. The lie, the fraud, does not tell us why they lied in this instance. The fraud does not tell us what the stakes are. To know that, we must understand the scheme — the design.

The point of showing that Obama is carrying out a massive scheme to defraud — one that certainly would be prosecuted if committed in the private sector — is not to agitate for a prosecution that is never going to happen. It is to demonstrate that there is logic to the lies. There is an objective that the fraud aims to achieve. The scheme is the framework within which the myriad deceptions are peddled. Once you understand the scheme, once you can put the lies in a rational context, you understand why fraud was the president’s only option — and why “If you like your plan, you can keep your plan” barely scratches the surface of Obamacare’s deceit.

In 2003, when he was an ambitious Illinois state senator from a hyper-statist district, Obama declared:

I happen to be a proponent of a single-payer universal health-care program. I see no reason why the United States of America, the wealthiest country in the history of the world, spending 14 percent of its gross national product on health care, cannot provide basic health insurance to everybody. . . . Everybody in, nobody out. A single-payer health care plan, a universal health care plan. That’s what I’d like to see. But as all of you know, we may not get there immediately.

That is the Obamacare scheme.

It is a Fabian plan to move an unwilling nation, rooted in free enterprise, into Washington-controlled, fully socialized medicine. As its tentacles spread over time, the scheme (a) pushes all Americans into government markets (a metastasizing blend of Medicare, Medicaid, and “exchanges” run by state and federal agencies); (b) dictates the content of the “private” insurance product; (c) sets the price; (d) micromanages the patient access, business practices, and fees of doctors; and (e) rations medical care. Concurrently, the scheme purposely sows a financing crisis into the system, designed to explode after Leviathan has so enveloped health care, and so decimated the private medical sector, that a British- or Canadian-style “free” system — formerly unthinkable for the United States — becomes the inexorable solution.

Once you grasp that this is the scheme, the imperative to lull the public with lies makes sense. Like all swindles, Obamacare cannot work if its targeted victims figure out the endgame before it is a fait accompli.

The president is a community organizer in the Saul Alinsky tradition. He is trained to adopt the language and co-opt the sensibilities of the masses in order to become politically viable; then, once raw power is acquired, the Alinskyite uses every component of it to thwart opposition in patient but remorseless pursuit of the given “social justice” goal. Consequently, in pursuit of health-care statism, Obama moderated his rhetoric over the years, but not his ideological goals. He stressed pragmatism: a gradual campaign that kept the ultimate prize in sight. “I don’t think we’re going to be able to eliminate employer coverage immediately,” he told his hard-Left base at a 2007 SEIU health-care forum. “There’s going to be potentially some transition process. I can envision a decade out or 15 years or 20 years out.”

There’s that word: transition. It’s the route “change” takes to reach its final destination: “fundamental transformation.” If you’re paying attention, you’ll hear the word transition a lot in Obama’s health-care speeches. You’ll also find it in that Justice Department brief the administration no doubt wishes Eric Holder’s minions had edited more furtively:

The [Affordable Care Act’s] grandfathering provision’s incremental transition does not undermine the government’s interests in a significant way. Even under the grandfathering provision, it is projected that more group health plans will transition to the requirements under the regulations as time goes on. [Officials of the Department of Health and Human Services] have estimated that a majority of group health plans will have lost their grandfather status by the end of 2013 [emphasis added].

Understand what this studiously unthreatening, gradualist gobbledygook means. A “group health plan” is employer-provided insurance; the phrase thus blithely refers to the “transition” of 156 million Americans who get health insurance for themselves and their families through work. It does not mention the so-called individual market, consumers who buy health insurance on their own. That’s because the administration assumes the “transition” of those 25 million Americans from their preferred plans to Obamacare will already have progressed well toward completion. And indeed it has, as we have seen in the millions of cancellation notices reported in the last six weeks.

The Justice Department’s assertion, based on the administration’s internal analyses, conveys that by the third year of Obamacare’s implementation — “the end of 2013,” which has since been extended by a year due to Obama’s “waiver” of the employer mandate — more than half of those 156 million group policies will have lost their “grandfather status.” “Grandfathering” is the mirage Obama projected for his illusory “if you like your plan, you can keep your plan” guarantee.

You couldn’t keep your plan because Obamacare mandates made it impossible for private insurers to offer it. The mandates essentially require that everything and everyone be covered — even though you do not need coverage for everything (e.g., 23-year-old men do not need birth-control pills, neo-natal care, and periodic colonoscopies), and even though mandatory coverage for preexisting conditions is not insurance but welfare. The mandates are simply cost-shifting from the young and healthy to the older and sicklier — just as you would find in any universal, single-payer system. But Obamacare is camouflaged to make it look like the insurers are deciding not to offer your plan anymore, rather than that the government is forcing their hand.

Of course, that’s not the half of the deceit — not in a program the president publicly insisted was not a tax even as his Justice Department insisted to the Supreme Court that it was one. Obama also said, “If you like your doctor, you will be able to keep your doctor, period.” As Hot Air’s Ed Morrissey noted this week, that promise too is fraudulent. If your doctor is not part of the network offered on the plans in your exchange, you will lose your doctor. To keep costs down, exchanges will limit their provider networks. Top doctors and hospitals are already being cut out. Moreover, the onerous regulations, reporting requirements, and constant threat of fee-slashing are beginning to drive doctors out of the profession.

Then there is the Independent Payment Advisory Board. Stanley Kurtz described the IPAB in all its frightening detail in a 2011 National Review cover story: “An unelected and unaccountable bureaucratic entity with nearly limitless power over federal Medicare spending, [it] will have the power to effectively ration health care through price controls.”

Put aside that the IPAB, which Obamacare insulates from judicial review, is an unconstitutional delegation of Congress’s legislative power — a model that, if adopted in spheres of activity beyond health care, would effectively end popular self-governance. As the rising costs driven by our health-care system’s suffocating regulations compound our astronomical debt, pressure is mounting for the IPAB to oversee cost-cutting — i.e., rationing — not only in Medicare but across the whole Obamacare framework. In fact, as Stanley recounts, the bipartisan Simpson-Bowles commission appointed by Obama made just such a recommendation — giving the president political cover to push hard for IPAB expansion. “Once IPAB’s rules govern America’s health-care system as a whole,” Stanley concludes, “we will be most of the way down the road to a British-style single-payer system.”

So how does Obama get all the way down that road? That is where the scheme’s manufactured crisis comes in. Obamacare commands that all Americans purchase health insurance, whether they want it or not. This is essential: If young healthy people refused to buy overpriced, largely superfluous coverage to underwrite the cost of insuring older and sick people, premiums would further skyrocket. As Powerline’s John Hinderaker explains, insurance companies would either have to fold or shift the costs to whatever employer plans still remained. This, in turn, would spur employers to cancel plans, dumping ever more people into the government exchanges.

The individual mandate is what is supposed to prevent that death spiral. There’s just one thing: The individual mandate is legally unenforceable.

Yes, there is a penalty for failing to purchase insurance — starting at $95 or 1 percent of income the first year and rising sharply thereafter. But the designers of Obamacare went out of their way to prohibit the IRS from using its usual array of civil and criminal processes (fines, liens, etc.) to confiscate it. The government may only collect the penalty by deducting it from tax refunds — meaning people who prudently structure their tax withholding so that no refund accumulates can avoid paying with impunity.

Obviously, it would be far less expensive for young people — who are already disproportionately strained by Obama’s no-growth, high-unemployment economy — to opt for a penalty they are not actually required to pay than to purchase prohibitively costly coverage. After all, under Obamacare, they can wait until they are sick to buy “insurance.” That is, Obamacare’s architects consciously created the incentive to destroy the program’s own insurance exchanges.

By the time that problem erupts, private insurance will already be gutted. Coverage requirements will already be dictated by government, as will pricing, with a subsidy structure that builds in progressive wealth redistribution. And doctors will already be beholden to government for patient access, treatment options, record-keeping requirements, and payment. That is, much of the single-payer infrastructure will be in place.

The manufactured financial crisis will be portrayed as a demonstration that exchanges based on the assumption that individuals will take responsibility for their own “private” insurance arrangements do not work. It will be time to solve the crisis by a seamless transition — there’s that word again — to a fully socialized health-care system, now overtly controlled by the government. “Free” health care for everyone — with all the substandard treatment, absurd wait times, and rationing that entails — will be supported by a few “tweaks” to our progressive tax system . . . no more unwieldy, unpredictable premium payments.

That’s the scheme. Or maybe you still believe that if you like your private medical system, you can keep your private medical system, period.

— Andrew C. McCarthy is a senior fellow at the National Review Institute. He is the author, most recently, of Spring Fever: The Illusion of Islamic Democracy.

Source

Obama-appointed US trade adviser linked to illegal deal in Congolese gold

UN report says Kase Lawal knew he was dealing with the wanted warlord Bosco Ntaganda

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Congolese warlord Bosco Ntaganda has been wanted by the international criminal court since 2006. Photograph: Reuters

A US trade adviser appointed by Barack Obama orchestrated a deal to buy gold worth millions of dollars from a wanted Congolese warlord, according to a UN report.

Kase Lawal, a Nigerian-born US oil tycoon, transferred millions of dollars to the notorious rebel leader Bosco Ntaganda between December 2010 and February 2011 as part of the deal, the report by the UN’s Group of Experts on the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) states.

If true, this would be a contravention of UN resolutions banning individuals or organisations from financing illegal armed groups in the wartorn eastern DRC.

The UN report says Lawal, the chairman and chief executive of the Houston-based oil firm Camac, was aware he was paying Ntaganda.

Obama put Lawal on the US advisory committee for trade and policy negotiations in September 2010, just months before the deal with Ntaganda.

All efforts to reach Lawal failed. Camac said it had no comment on the allegations, but said: “Camac is a law-abiding company and we disagree with the representations made in the report.” The White House did not respond to a request for comment.

Ntaganda has been wanted by the international criminal court (ICC) since an arrest warrant was issued in 2006. He funds his exploits by smuggling natural resources in the mineral-rich country, and faces allegations of recruiting child soldiers and presiding over mass rapes and murder of civilians by his troops in the National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP).

The CNDP militia has since integrated into the Congolese national army but its soldiers continue to obey rebel command structures.

Ntaganda, like many rebel leaders in eastern DRC, funds his activities by smuggling natural resources.

The UN says “gold is among the sources of financing most readily available to armed groups”.

According to the report, while Lawal was initially under the impression that he was buying gold from an owner in Kenya, he did not abort the deal when he learned Ntaganda was the true owner.

Instead, the UN report says Lawal merely “appeared relieved to finally be engaging directly with the true owner of the gold”.

The report says Lawal financed the deal while Edward Carlos St Mary, a Houston businessman and friend of Lawal’s, carried out the transaction in DRC. The deal was proposed to the two men by Dikembe Mutombo, a Congolese former NBA player with the Houston Rockets, and three of his relatives.

Despite paying, Lawal never received the gold. St Mary flew to Goma in DRC to finish the deal in a Camac-leased jet, but the passengers were arrested by Congolese presidential security officers as they tried to take off with the gold in February 2011.

St Mary and two Camac employees were charged with money-laundering and illegal transport of a banned material, because at this time the Congolese government had banned mining of gold, tin and coltan in the provinces where the minerals trade was affected by illegal armed groups. The three men were released in late March after Camac’s Kinshasa representative paid $3m (£1.9m) in fines.

Substantial sums of money were involved from the start. The report says Lawal told St Mary he had lost “$30m as a result of the whole ordeal, including transport fees, fines, bribes” and the payments for the gold.

Jason Stearns, a former Group of Experts co-ordinator, said: “This is a fine example of the rank disregard of international law by major international companies and businessmen.

“Lawal knew Bosco Ntaganda was involved in the deal, so he was knowingly doing business with a man wanted by the ICC. On top of that, there was a Congolese mining ban in place at the time. And finally, he’s probably violating a UN arms embargo on the region.”

A source close to the UN who asked to remain anonymous said: “The whole thing was a scam. It’s likely the Congolese were always going to arrest [St Mary and the others] and keep the money and the gold. The charge of illegal transport of a banned material was a pretext for the arrests.

“In reality, the Congolese authorities and Ntaganda worked together to ensure full payment was made for the gold, that the gold never left the DRC, and that the arrested men would have to pay a series of heavy fines to secure their release.”

St Mary agrees. Speaking to the Guardian from Houston, he said that at one stage he nearly pulled out of the deal, only to be put on the phone to Zoé Kabila, the president’s brother, who reassured him the gold dealers were “legitimate”. That was before he knew Ntaganda was involved.

Later, in Goma, St Mary said Ntaganda was arguing with Joseph Kabila, DRC’s president, on the phone. “They were arguing over how to split the cash,” he said. “Even when I first met Ntaganda, he told me he’d just spoken to Kabila and that we’d be able to leave with the gold with no problem.”

When the story first broke in early 2011 Lawal tried to pin the blame on his friend St Mary. Since then, relations have soured between the two men, yet St Mary defends Lawal’s decision to push ahead with the deal. “Mickey [Lawal – Kase Lawal’s brother, also in Goma] and I told [Kase] Lawal that the owner of the gold was Bosco [Ntaganda].

“But by the time we found that out I think our lives were in jeopardy. To try to pull out then could have cost us our lives. In those circumstances, what else can you do? There was no out.

“There was only one way to go: try to do a deal and get the hell out of there. The problem was the authorities and Bosco were partners in this, and we didn’t know that until it was too late.”

Conflict persists in eastern DRC, despite a 2003 peace agreement to end a bloody war. Numerous rebel groups and militias operate in the region and there are regular attacks on civilians, including massacres and mass rapes.

Collaboration between Kabila and Ntaganda during the recent presidential and legislative elections lends weight to the accusations.

“Bosco and the CNDP have allegedly been involved in election fraud while campaigning for Kabila’s Majorité Présidentielle [coalition],” said Stearns. “Allegations include ballot-stuffing, stealing people’s identities and intimidation. It’s all been happening in CNDP-controlled areas.”

A Goma resident who wished to remain anonymous said: “Bosco and his men are a very visible presence … they put a lot of pressure on people to vote for their favourite candidates.”

Fraud was so rife that the Congolese electoral commission annulledelection results in some areas.

Source

Solyndra: Politics infused Obama energy programs

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By Joe Stephens and Carol D. Leonnig

Linda Sterio remembers the excitement when President Obama arrived at Solyndra last year and described how his administration’s financial support for the plant was helping create hundreds of jobs. The company’s prospects appeared unlimited as Solyndra executives described the backlog of orders for its solar panels.

Then came the August morning when Sterio heard a newscaster announce that more than a thousand Solyndra employees were out of work. Only recently did she learn that, within the Obama administration, the company’s potential collapse had long been discussed.

“It’s not about the people; it’s politics,” said Sterio, who remains jobless and at risk of losing her home. “We all feel betrayed.”

Since the failure of the company, Obama’s entire $80 billion clean-
technology program has begun to look like a political liability for an administration about to enter a bruising reelection campaign.

Meant to create jobs and cut reliance on foreign oil, Obama’s green-technology program was infused with politics at every level, The Washington Post found in an analysis of thousands of memos, company records and internal ­e-mails. Political considerations were raised repeatedly by company investors, Energy Department bureaucrats and White House officials.

The records, some previously unreported, show that when warned that financial disaster might lie ahead, the administration remained steadfast in its support for Solyndra.

The documents reviewed by The Post, which began examining the clean-technology program a year ago, provide a detailed look inside the day-to-day workings of the upper levels of the Obama administration. They also give an unprecedented glimpse into high-level maneuvering by politically connected clean-technology investors.

They show that as Solyndra tottered, officials discussed the political fallout from its troubles, the “optics” in Washington and the impact that the company’s failure could have on the president’s prospects for a second term. Rarely, if ever, was there discussion of the impact that Solyndra’s collapse would have on laid-off workers or on the development of clean-
energy technology.

“What’s so troubling is that politics seems to be the dominant factor,” said Ryan Alexander, president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, a nonpartisan watchdog group. “They’re not talking about what the taxpayers are losing; they’re not talking about the failure of the technology, whether we bet on the wrong horse. What they are talking about is ‘How are we going to manage this politically?’ ”

The administration, which excluded lobbyists from policymaking positions, gave easy access to venture capitalists with stakes in some of the companies backed by the administration, the records show. Many of those investors had given to Obama’s 2008 campaign. Some took jobs in the administration and helped manage the clean-
energy program.

Documents show that senior officials pushed career bureaucrats to rush their decision on the loan so Vice President Biden could announce it during a trip to California. The records do not establish that anyone pressured the Energy Department to approve the Solyndra loan to benefit political contributors, but they suggest that there was an unwavering focus on promoting Solyndra and clean energy. Officials with the company and the administration have said that nothing untoward occurred and that the loan was granted on its merits.

Most documents that have been made public in connection with a congressional investigation relate to the period after the loan was granted. The process began in the George W. Bush administration but resulted in the first loan in the program being granted under Obama. As a result, many factors that led to Solyndra winning a half-billion-dollar federal loan remain unknown.

White House officials said that all key records regarding Solyndra’s loan approval have been released.

Officials acknowledged that some of the records provide an unvarnished view that they might have preferred to keep private — such as a senior energy adviser’s reference to a conference call about Solyndra as a “[expletive] show,” or a company investor writing that when Solyndra was mentioned in a meeting, Biden’s office “about had an orgasm.”

Officials said those unflattering disclosures reinforce their position that they are not hiding their actions and that, despite the blemishes, nothing suggests political considerations affected the original decision to extend the loan to Solyndra. They stressed that the administration disregarded advice to avoid political problems by replacing senior Energy Department managers and moving to abort Obama’s visit to Solyndra.

“Everything disclosed . . . affirms what we said on day one: This was a merit-based decision made by expert staffers at the Department of Energy,” White House spokesman Eric Schultz said in a statement.

Officials said that concern for workers was reflected in the administration’s decision to allow Solyndra employees to receive aid under a program for workers displaced by foreign competition.

“When Solyndra’s liquidity crisis became clear, the Department of Energy underwent a robust effort to find a viable path forward for the company,” the White House’s prepared statement said. “This administration is one that will fiercely fight to protect jobs even when it’s not the popular thing to do.”

Star power in D.C.

Like most presidential appearances, Obama’s May 2010 stop at Solyndra’s headquarters was closely managed political theater.

Obama’s handlers had lengthy e-mail discussions about how solar panels should be displayed (from a robotic arm, it was decided). They cautioned the company’s chief executive against wearing a suit (he opted for an open-neck shirt and black slacks) and asked another executive to wear a hard hat and white smock. They instructed blue-collar employees to wear everyday work clothes, to preserve what they called “the construction-worker feel.”

White House e-mails suggest that the original idea for “POTUS involvement” originated with then-Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel. Emanuel, now mayor of Chicago, did not respond to a request for comment from The Post.

Well beyond the details of the factory photo op, raw political considerations surfaced repeatedly in conversations among many in the administration.

Just two days before the visit, Obama fundraiser Steve Westly warned senior presidential adviser Valerie Jarrett that an appearance could be problematic. Westly, an investment fund manager with stakes in green-energy companies, said he was speaking for a number of Obama supporters in asking the president to postpone the visit because Solyndra’s financial prospects were dim and the company’s failure could generate negative media attention.

“The president should be careful about unrealistic/optimistic forecasts that could haunt him in the next 18 months if Solyndra hits the wall,” Westly wrote. Westly did not respond to a request for comment from The Post.

Similar concerns arose repeatedly among officials inside the White House. One staffer at the Office of Management and Budget suggested to a colleague that the visit could “prove embarrassing to the administration in the not too distant future.” Even Ron Klain, Biden’s chief of staff, acknowledged “risk” in the trip.

But administration officials ultimately waved off the jitters, after assurances from Energy Department officials that their policy was sound and that Solyndra’s troubles would be fleeting. After Obama’s trip, the administration hung a photo from his visit on a wall in the West Wing, to underscore good things to come.

Solyndra’s financial picture did not improve, however, and by year’s end the company was crumbling. Its investors pitched bailout plans, seeking help from what a Solyndra executive referred to as the “Bank of Washington” — his apparent term for U.S. taxpayers. The Energy Department rebuffed the plans, at least initially.

In late 2010, Solyndra board member Steve Mitchell told his associates that Energy Department officials had conceded that additional financing was necessary yet said in private meetings that they lacked the political muscle to deliver it. “The DOE really thinks politically before it thinks economically,” Mitchell concluded. A spokesman for Mitchell said he would have no comment for this article. An Energy Department spokesman said that all decisions regarding the loan were based on merit.

Solyndra eventually realized that it had to lay off workers to stay afloat — no small step for a company that the president had backed to create jobs in a recession. But ­records indicate that the Energy Department urged company officials to delay the move until after the contentious November 2010 midterm elections, which imperiled Democratic control of Congress.

Despite the effect that timing might have on workers, one e-mail among company investors ended the discussion by asserting: “No announcement till after elections at doe request.” An Energy Department spokesman did not respond to requests for comment for this article.

More than once, investors wrote that the administration appeared to be making particular decisions to avoid looking “bad.” A December 2010 e-mail between administration officials’ staffers seemed to confirm the suspicions, concluding that “a meltdown” at Solyndra “would likely be very embarrassing for DOE and the Administration.”

An outside energy adviser foresaw serious political damage, writing to senior West Wing officials in February to warn that because federal loans went to companies linked to Obama donors, a wave of Republican attacks “are surely coming.” He recommended that Obama consider replacing Energy Secretary Steven Chu and his deputies, perhaps with a bipartisan management team.

A Solyndra board member, in a memo, described at length mistakes he thought that company founder Christian Gronet had made, saying that some of the stories about his actions “border on moronic” and that Gronet’s missteps had sparked an executive mutiny. ­Gronet survived, the board member suggested, only because of his close relationship with Energy Department leaders and because he had “star power in D.C.”

Gronet’s attorney, Miles Ehrlich, said in a statement last week that Gronet did his best but ­acknowledged that there had been internal debate about the business strategies he chose.

Political calculus was especially on display in an e-mail early this year between administration staffers who calibrated the damage that could result from pushing back Solyndra’s collapse by a few months at a time.

“The optics of a Solyndra default will be bad whenever it occurs,” an OMB staff member wrote to a colleague. “If Solyndra defaults down the road, the optics will arguably be worse later than they would be today. . . . In addition, the timing will likely coincide with the 2012 campaign season heating up.”

Solyndra executives and investors were attuned to the value of playing politics. Memos from Solyndra’s lobbying firm, McBee Strategic Consulting, stressed the need to “socialize” with leaders in Washington and to mobilize a lobbying effort described variously as quiet, surgical and aggressive.

Dinner in Vegas

Beyond the West Wing, the documents provide a vivid glimpse into high-level machinations inside the world of clean-energy entrepreneurs.

Solyndra’s strongest political connection was to George Kaiser, a Democratic fundraiser and oil industry billionaire who had once hosted Obama at his home in Oklahoma. Kaiser’s family foundation owned more than a third of the solar panel company, and Kaiser took a direct interest in its operations.

With the 2010 midterm elections just days away, Kaiser flew to Las Vegas to help the party cause. He was a guest at a private fundraising dinner for Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (Nev.), but the real attraction at the event was its headliner — Obama. Realizing he might have an opportunity to talk with the president, Kaiser’s staff prepped him with talking points about Solyndra.

Kaiser did not have to angle for Obama’s attention. Organizers seated him next to the world’s most powerful man — for two hours.

“OK, I’ll admit it. It was pretty intoxicating,” Kaiser effused in an e-mail to an associate at 5:30 the next morning. “Charming and incisive as always. Casual conversation; not speechifying.”

Kaiser did not squander his time. While he avoided the use of the word “Solyndra,” according to the account he later gave to colleagues, he complained to the president about Chinese manufacturers dumping cheap solar panels on the U.S. market and pressed Obama’s deputy chief of staff about the need for a Buy American Act for federal agencies. The company was intent on making the federal government a major customer — part of what a Solyndra investment adviser called the “Uncle Sam” strategy — and the new act would give Solyndra an advantage.

Kaiser, who has declined in­terview requests, said through spokesman Renzi Stone that he has not discussed Solyndra’s loan “with the U.S. government.” Other e-mails show that he rejected requests to take a more forceful role in advocating for the company.

Nonetheless, records show that Kaiser, a frequent visitor to the White House, was in contact with officials at Solyndra and its biggest investors, and advised them on leveraging the power of the West Wing.

“Why don’t you pursue your contacts with the WH?” Kaiser advised a Solyndra board member in October 2010.

Nonprofit law specialists said that Kaiser’s focus on Solyndra was striking, because he had no official role at the company and had no personal investment in the corporation. After amassing a fortune in the oil and banking industries, Kaiser had endowed a nonprofit corporation that bore his name, but he did not sit on its board.

The nonprofit corporation, known as the George Kaiser Family Foundation, had its own investment fund, which owned a third of Solyndra. Mitchell, a Solyndra board member, was the fund’s manager.

Despite those walls between Kaiser and Solyndra, e-mail exchanges show that Mitchell repeatedly sought Kaiser’s counsel and in one instance requested ­“authority” to make a major move.

Nonprofit experts stressed that once Kaiser donated his money to charity — and thereby qualified for millions of dollars in tax breaks — the money was no longer his under federal law.

Kaiser arrived in Las Vegas on the Friday night of the fundraiser, carrying a photo of himself and the president, which Obama signed for him. Over the evening, the oilman’s conversation moved from social chatter to business.

“I talked in general about the Chinese and solar but didn’t want to get too specific with him,” Kaiser told associates. “I did talk to him about the Chinese subsidy over the past nine months and the effect it was having on U.S. solar and wind manufacturers. . . . I thought that a more aggressive trade policy with the Chinese was essential. . . . [Obama] said that these issues would be addressed aggressively at the G-20.”

As for majority leader Reid, Kaiser confided in his e-mails: “Harry was mushy nice . . . Barack said privately that Harry would win by a small margin. I hope he’s right.”

Stone said last week that the dinner was only the second time Kaiser had met the president and that there was nothing wrong with Kaiser taking an interest in the foundation and its investments. While the foundation’s board respected Kaiser’s advice, its members made all the financial decisions, he said.

Packing up

Today, a handful of Solyndra employees remain at its Silicon Valley factory, helping wind down operations. Of the 1,100 workers who lost their jobs, an estimated 90 percent remain unemployed, such as Sterio. She’s relying on help from relatives to make payments on her home, where she lives with her ailing husband and four grandchildren.

Solyndra has failed to attract a buyer who would keep the plant operating, so it is trying to unload its assets piecemeal to pay off its debts. The first $75 million recovered is expected to go to Kaiser’s nonprofit organization and other investors; it is unclear how much will be left for taxpayers.

Along with selling its microscopes and industrial robots, the company in November auctioned off the 30-foot-long blue banner that served as a backdrop for Obama’s factory visit.

Winning bidder Scott Logsdon, a laid-off Solyndra worker who’s been lucky enough to land a new job, snapped up the sign for $400. He’s hoping that with all of the political attention Solyndra’s failure has received, the value of the sign will appreciate by Election Day.

It reads: “Solyndra . . . Made in the USA.”

Research director Alice Crites contributed to this report.

Source

MF Global’s US And UK Customers Got Screwed By A Little Thing Called Regulation T

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I think there is sufficient evidence today to conclude that Re-Hypothecation is at the root of the customer losses at MFG. This Reuters story started the discussion on re-hypothecation. There have been several additional articles on this at Zero Hedge, (link, link) and FTAlphaville (link, link).  Let me add one additional bit of info.

The Canadian customers of MFG got their money back within 10 days of the MFG bankruptcy. The accounts that have lost money are either USA or UK based. In Canada, re-hypothecation is not permitted. I got these comments from a Canadian MFG account holder:

The trustee where segregated MF Global Canada customers’ funds were held was RBC Dominion Securities. I don’t think any of these funds ever left the trustee in Canada. Likelihood is if they left, the Canadian government would have made the parent Royal Bank of Canada eat up the losses and make full restitution.

We shall see in the coming weeks if, in fact, re-hypothecation is the cause of the problems. I’m convinced it is.

The rules on broker’s ability to A) Hypothecate and B) Re-hypothecate in the USA are spelled out in Reg T. This set of rules has been established by our good friends at the Federal Reserve Bank. Let me provide some telling words on this re Reg. T rule 15c3-3:

  • Except as otherwise agreed in writing by the OTC derivatives dealer and the counterparty, the dealer may repledge or otherwise use the collateral in its business;
  • In the event of the OTC derivatives dealer’s failure, the counterparty will likely be considered an unsecured creditor of the dealer as to that collateral;
  • The Securities Investor Protection Act of 1970 (15 U.S.C. 78aaa et seq.) does not protect the counterparty.

Well there you have it. Reg. T does permit the broker to “repledge” (AKA re-hypothecate). In the event of default by the broker, the counterparty will be considered an unsecured creditor. (AKA customers lose money). And SIPC provides zero protection to account holders in the event of a broker default.

For me, there is sufficient information to conclude that Reg. T is flawed and must be changed. I have to believe there is any army of lawyers over at the Federal Reserve looking into this as I write and they are struggling with what they can do to “fix” the problem.

For sure a fix is required. MFG has not, as yet, morphed into a systemic problem. But we are getting closer by the day. The Fed is aware of this. The risk is that customers start to withdraw funds and assets from other brokers. The deleveraging this would cause would be catastrophic. A significant chunk of the shadow banking system (about $10 trillion) is dependent on the liquidity that is created by hypothecation. (The situation is bigger and more problematic in the UK)

A month ago Fed governor James Bullard stated on CNBC that the issues with MFG did not constitute a systemic problem. I wrote about this at the time Bullard made those comments. I made a public bet with Bullard (a six pack of beer) that he would be forced to eat his words. I never did hear from him.

I’m re-doubling the bet this AM. If Reg. T is confirmed to be the source of customer losses at MFG then Reg. T will have to be gutted. The changes will have to take place fairly quickly. The consequences across all markets of these changes could prove to be a devastating blow.

The nice folks at the FRB are having a big meeting this week. Reg. T and MFG will almost certainly be on the agenda. I have to believe all those smart folks at the Fed have figured out that we have a problem. We may well get some announcement on this topic by Friday.

Any changes to Reg. T will have profound effects on global markets. Not only the exchanges/asset prices will be affected, this has the potential to derail the global economy. We are already in a very dangerous liquidity situation. If the Fed is forced to change margin rules, liquidity will dry up for an extended period of time. Forced changes in Reg. T will prove to be a Black Swan event.

Note:
Should we get a confirmation of the foregoing discussion and the Fed is forced to react and make regulatory changes, there will be significant long term implications for the Fed. The Fed will have to shoulder the blame for the flaws in Reg. T. They will also have to take responsibility for the broader economic consequences that will surely follow those changes.

The possibility exits for the Fed to lose any credibility they may still have in the US and abroad. The completely unregulated Federal Reserve may lose its independence as a result. There are big downsides to significant revisions to margin rules. The upside is that the Fed’s supreme power over the global economy would be finally checked.

Read more at My Take On Financial Events >

Source – Business Insider

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