Obama administration

Microsoft to the Obama administration: No, you can’t have access to users’ emails stored on servers overseas

A federal judge has ruled that Microsoft must turn over emails stored on a server in Ireland, but the software giant, in the face of a contempt charge, is so far refusing to comply with the order, according to Windows IT Pro, because it infringes on the sovereignty of a foreign country:

Judge Loretta Preska, the chief of the US District Court in Manhattan ruled on July 31 that Microsoft was required to hand over email messages stored in an Ireland data center to US prosecutors investigating a criminal case. But she suspended the order temporarily amid complaints from international companies—and tech companies in the US—that argued that allowing US authorities to search and seize data held internationally was illegal.

On Friday, however, she lifted that suspension after prosecutors successfully convinced her that her order was not appealable. The removal of the suspension legally requires Microsoft to hand over the email immediately.
[…]
In the view of Microsoft and many legal experts, federal authorities have no jurisdiction over data stored outside the country. It says that the court order violates Ireland’s sovereignty and that prosecutors need to seek a legal treaty with Ireland in order to obtain the data they want.

Boom: Government Accountability Office says that Obama’s Taliban prisoner exchange broke federal law

The Obama administration broke two laws when authorized a trade for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl in exchange for five Taliban detainees who were being held at Guantanamo Bay, according to a report released late last week by the Government Accountability Office:

President Obama’s decision to exchange captive Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl for five Guantanamo Bay detainees violated federal law, according to a legal opinion the Government Accountability Office sent to Congress Thursday.

That’s because the administration failed to notify Congress at least 30 days before the transfer, as required under a law passed in February. The Pentagon notified Congress of the deal on May 31, the same day the transfer was made.

And because Congress did not authorize spending for the exchange, it also violated the Antideficiency Act, a law intended to protect Congress’s power of the purse.

The Department of Defense spent $988,400 on the transfer, the Pentagon told the GAO.

An intentional violation of the Antideficiency Act is a crime punishable by up to two years in prison, but those criminal penalties are rarely enforced.

The Department of Defense Appropriations Act of requires the administration to notify Congress of a prisoner exchange at least 30 days before the transfer takes place. President Obama believes that this law is unconstitutional because he believes that it violates the separation of powers. He issued a signing statement making his objection clear when he signed the measure into law.

Watchdog group sues the “most transparent administration in history” for allowing the White House to obstruct document release

President Barack Obama’s White House has interfered with Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests over the release of communications with a dozen federal agencies, according to a lawsuit filed on Monday by Cause of Action, a government watchdog organization.

Cause of Action has sued ten cabinet agencies — including the Departments of Justice, Treasury, and Health and Human Services — the Internal Revenue Service, and the White House Office of Management and Budget for allowing the White House to influence the FOIA process and delay response to document requests.

“Accountable and transparent government does not involve instructing agencies to send politically sensitive records to the White House for review,” said Dan Epstein, executive director of Cause of Action, in a press release announcing the lawsuit. “The bureaucracy has violated the law by stonewalling the public’s access to documents for political reasons.”

“Cause of Action’s own investigation reveals that the White House is actually demanding access from agencies to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests and Congressional document requests, as well as the documents subject to those requests, in a manner that may obstruct congressional oversight and violate the spirit of FOIA,” he added.

In case you didn’t already know: Report finds that HealthCare.gov failed because of the Obama administration’s incompetence

The headaches consumers experienced when HealthCare.gov, the federal Obamacare Exchange, launched last year were because of the management failures of the federal agency tasked with implementing the system. And this incompetence cost the federal government millions more than expected. This, according to a new report from the Government Accountability Office:

Investigators found that the administration kept changing the contractors’ marching orders for the HealthCare.gov website, creating widespread confusion and adding tens of millions of dollars in costs. Changes were ordered seemingly willy-nilly, including 40 times when government officials did not have the initial authority to incur additional costs.

The report faults the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Service for ineffective oversight. Known as CMS, the agency is part of the Department of Health and Human Services and was designated to administer Obama’s health care law.
[…]
Investigators found that the administration kept changing the contractors’ marching orders for the HealthCare.gov website, creating widespread confusion and adding tens of millions of dollars in costs. Changes were ordered seemingly willy-nilly, including 40 times when government officials did not have the initial authority to incur additional costs.

The report faults the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Service for ineffective oversight. Known as CMS, the agency is part of the Department of Health and Human Services and was designated to administer Obama’s health care law.

Legislative intent matters: Democrats removed availability of subsidies through the federal exchange before Obamacare was passed

Obamacare supporters are very worried about last week’s decision in Halbig v. Burwell, in which the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the IRS didn’t have the authority to dole out subsidies to consumers who purchased covered on the federal insurance Exchange.

In light of recently discovered January 2012 comments made by Jonathan Gruber, chief architect of the Obamacare, the Obama administration’s allies are trying to spin the legislative history of the law.

Greg Sargent, who writes at the Washington Post’s PlumLine blog, says that language authorizing the federal Exchange was actually in the version of Obamacare that passed the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, but was taken out when its version was merged with the Senate Finance Committee’s version:

A reconstruction of the process by which that contested phrase got into the law demonstrates two key facts:

1) The first Senate version of the health law to be passed in 2009 — by the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee — explicitly stated that subsides would go to people on the federally-established exchange. A committee memo describing the bill circulated at the time spelled this out with total clarity.

Cronyism: White House advisor intervened to expand Obamacare’s health insurance bailout to limit dramatic premium increases

Barack Obama and Valerie Jarrett

The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee has uncovered correspondence between White House advisor Valerie Jarrett and a health insurance company executive after he gave a “heads-up” that the Obamacare bailout wouldn’t be enough to avoid the “unwelcome surprise” of higher than expected premium increases.

Chet Burrell, President and CEO of Care First Blue Cross Blue Shield, reached out to Jarrett on April 4 at 10:20 am to bring the issue to her attention. Katherine Branch, the White House advisor’s assistant, replied less than 30 minutes later to ask if he was available to talk to Jarrett later that afternoon.

Burrell and Jarrett apparently had that little chat. He followed up the next day with a summary of the issue he talked with her about. The document attached in the email expressed concern over the budget neutrality of Obamacare’s “risk corridor” program, known to many as the insurer “bailout.”

The risk corridor program guarantees payments from the from the federal government to insurers if the risk pool isn’t properly balanced with the young and healthy people who are intended to offset the costs of sick and unhealthy consumers. The payments come from a fund into which insurers contribute, and it was originally scored as budget-neutral, meaning that there wouldn’t be any cost to taxpayers.

Given the unlikelihood of many insurers contributing to the program due to unbalanced risk pools, Burrell suggested that insurance premiums would rise, and spark a negative public reaction, unless the administration was willing to “clarify” (read: provide more funding) the bailout rule.

Obama campaigns for Democrats while Libya burns: U.S. military evacuates embassy in Tripoli amid escalating violence

Three years after military intervention in Libya to overthrow Muammar Gaddafi’s regime, the State Department evacuated the U.S. embassy in Tripoli with the assistance of U.S. Marines amid the escalating violence in the North African country:

A Pentagon spokesman said in a statement that military planes and spy vehicles assisted in the operation to protect American officials from a possible attack.

All embassy personnel were relocated, including the Marine security guards who were providing security at the embassy and during the movement. The embassy staff was driven in vehicles to Tunisia,” Rear Adm. John Kirby said.

“The mission was conducted without incident, and the entire operation lasted approximately five hours.”
[…]
“Securing our facilities and ensuring the safety of our personnel are top department priorities, and we did not make this decision lightly,” State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said in a statement. “Regrettably, we had to take this step because the location of our embassy is in very close proximity to intense fighting and ongoing violence between armed Libyan factions.”

One has to wonder if this is another one of those instances in which the White House will try to “underscore” that problems in Libya are “not a broader failure of policy.” Of course, there’s not a video to blame this time around.

Obama must take a tougher stand against Russia, and he can do that by ending Ex-Im’s deals with Vladimir Putin’s cronies

With tensions boiling over in Ukraine as Vladimir Putin’s regime sends more weapons to separatists, House Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling (R-TX) is calling on President Barack Obama to stop the Export-Import Bank from doing deals with Russian businesses.

Hensarling says that Russia “bears responsibility” for the conflict in Ukraine as well as the “atrocity of the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17,” in which 298 people lost their lives. The Texas Republican noted that Putin’s regime “is supplying the separatists with advanced weapons and encouraging their attacks on aircraft and on the people of Ukraine.”

“Russia’s actions are in direct conflict with our national interests,” Hensarling wrote in a letter to President Obama. “Yet, still, the Export-Import Bank remains open for business in Russia. In fact, total authorizations for deals between Ex-Im and Russia have increased nine-fold since you took office.”

The House Financial Services Committee recently noted that Ex-Im increased funding for Russian projects by 177 percent in FY 2013, translating to a $580 million commitment, a record level. These loans and subsidies are backed by American taxpayers.

Obamacare’s architect agrees: Healthcare law subsidies were supposed to apply only to state-run Exchanges

The Obama administration’s claim that Congress never intended for Obamacare subsidies to apply only to states that implemented their own Exchanges looks much, much weaker this morning. Reason’s Peter Suderman has passed along some video gold, in which the architect of the law says it was worded to place political pressure on states.

Jonathan Gruber, the MIT economist who worked on Romneycare in Massachusetts, helped the administration craft Obamacare and, in January 2012, stated pretty clearly that consumers in states that opted out of the law would be denied subsidies.

“What’s important to remember politically about this is if you’re a state and you don’t set up an exchange, that means your citizens don’t get their tax credits — but your citizens still pay the taxes that support this bill,” Gruber told an audience. “So you’re essentially saying [to] your citizens you’re going to pay all the taxes to help all the other states in the country.”

“I hope that that’s a blatant enough political reality that states will get their act together,” he said, “and realize there are billions of dollars at stake here in setting up these exchanges.”

Here’s the clip (the original is almost an hour long) via Phil Kerpen:

Today in Liberty: Looks Obamacare’s employer mandate will take effect, House lawsuit against Obama moves closer to a vote

“Government is actually the worst failure of civilized man. There has never been a really good one, and even those that are most tolerable are arbitrary, cruel, grasping and unintelligent.” — H. L. Mencken


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