Obama administration: All the atrocities belong to Bush

On the heels of the release of a not entirely surprising but unprecedented report on the Central Intelligence Agency’s torture program, President Barack Obama disavowed the agency’s actions and said the torture has harmed the nation’s moral standing in the world. But the White House’s haste to plant the current president on moral high ground and distance him from George W. Bush-era torture has left some pundits wondering how Obama can reconcile his own actions while condemning those of his predecessor.

“Nobody can fully understand what it was like to be responsible for the safety and security of the American people in the aftermath of the worst attack on our national soil,” Obama told the Spanish-language Telemundo Tuesday. “When countries are threatened, oftentimes they act rationally in ways that in retrospect were wrong.”

The long-held Senate intelligence report, which examined more than 6 million pages of CIA material on the agency’s post-9/11 torture programs, found that CIA officials “provided inaccurate information to the White House, Congress, the Justice Department, the CIA inspector general, the media and the American public” with regard to torture practices.

While the current White House is not willing to say whether the Bush-era CIA tactics saved lives, it has been quick to note that the current president doesn’t support such actions.

“The most important question is: Should we have done it? And the answer to that question is no,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest told ABC News’ Jonathan Karl Wednesday.

“The president does not believe that the use of enhanced interrogation techniques was good for our national security. He does not believe that it was good for our moral authority. In fact, he believes that it undermined our moral authority, and that is why he banned them,” he said.

There’s just one problem with the Obama White House’s insistence that the torture-induced moral degradation of U.S. actions in the war on terror was relegated to the Bush administration: Apart from a Nobel Peace Prize, the new boss has looked a lot like the old boss.

The New York Times said as much way back in February 2009:

In little-noticed confirmation testimony recently, Obama nominees endorsed continuing the C.I.A.’s program of transferring prisoners to other countries without legal rights, and indefinitely detaining terrorism suspects without trials even if they were arrested far from a war zone.

The administration has also embraced the Bush legal team’s arguments that a lawsuit by former C.I.A. detainees should be shut down based on the “state secrets” doctrine. It has also left the door open to resuming military commission trials.

And earlier this month, after a British court cited pressure by the United States in declining to release information about the alleged torture of a detainee in American custody, the Obama administration issued a statement thanking the British government “for its continued commitment to protect sensitive national security information.”

These and other signs suggest that the administration’s changes may turn out to be less sweeping than many had hoped or feared — prompting growing worry among civil liberties groups and a sense of vindication among supporters of Bush-era policies.

That largely tacit support of the Bush-era terror policies is less important — and certainly less indicative of its probable blind eye toward torture — than how the Obama administration has filled empty government positions over the years.

Obama appointed Leon Panetta to head the CIA in 2009. Panetta carried out an extensive internal audit of the CIA’s interrogation practices, some of which contributed to the Senate report currently making headlines. But the full Panetta Review has never been released — likely because of the ongoing torture practices it would reveal.

Panetta’s relationship with torture as an Obama appointee goes beyond investigating the practices. In the early days of his tenure at the CIA, Panetta quietly opened loopholes in interrogation restrictions enacted, with much fanfare, by Obama.

That’s about the same time The Wall Street Journal declared that “it seems that the Bush administration’s antiterror architecture is gaining new legitimacy” in response to Obama’s wartime decision-making.

Obama’s embrace of Bush-era policy has only hastened in the years since — and people have noticed.

That’s why Fox News’ Ed Henry asked Earnest this week how the president can disavow Bush-era policies while filling top positions with former Bush officials like John Brennan and James Comey.

Brennan, current top dog at the CIA, is a 25-year veteran of the agency who was appointed deputy executive director under Bush before going on to head that president’s newly created Terrorist Threat Integration Center from 2003 to 2004.

Brennan left government in 2005 to pursue interests in the private sector before returning in 2009 to serve as Obama’s Homeland Security adviser. The first time Brennan came up for consideration as CIA director, he withdrew his name over concerns of his involvement in waterboarding under the Bush administration.

During a press briefing Thursday, Brennan largely defended the CIA actions revealed in the recent Senate report.

“In a limited number of cases, agency officers used interrogation techniques that had not been authorized, were abhorrent and rightly should be repudiated by all,” Brennan said.

He added: “The overwhelming majority of officers involved in the program at CIA carried out their responsibilities faithfully and in accordance with the legal and policy guidance they were provided. They did what they were asked to do in the service of our nation.”

Comey, Obama’s current FBI director, previously served as deputy attorney general during the Bush administration. During his time in that capacity, Comey endorsed enhanced interrogation techniques like waterboarding, sleep deprivation and stress positions.

The official has since reversed his position, but he also doesn’t want to discuss the new torture report.

“I’m not going to go back and talk about my prior roles,” Comey said during a recent news conference. “Maybe when I’m old and gray I can talk about it.”

Aside from his appointments, Obama’s strategies in fighting terror illustrate a disconnect between reality and his criticisms of the previous president.

Henry pointed this out in his exchange with Earnest: “You have repeatedly talked about moral authority. So can you explain how the president believes that it’s un-American to use these techniques, but it was OK to ramp up the drone policy and basically thousands of people around the world, innocent civilians, were killed? What’s the moral equivalency there? How do you have moral authority when innocent civilians are killed by drones?”

According to the current White House, “there is significant care taken and there are significant checks and balances included in the system to ensure any counterterrorism action taken by the United States of America does not put at risk innocent lives.”

Fair enough. Obama doesn’t risk innocent lives with drone strikes and his choice of torture supporters is irrelevant. Americans are to take his word: Any atrocities in the war on terror belong to Bush.

But as long as we trust our leaders at their word, here’s a little gem from Bush, circa November 2005: “We are finding terrorists and bringing them to justice. We are gathering information about where the terrorists may be hiding. We are trying to disrupt their plots and plans. Anything we do… to that end in this effort, any activity we conduct, is within the law. We do not torture.”

Coalition of state lawmakers formed to compare notes on gun control agenda

Charging that members of Congress have failed to pass reforms to combat American gun violence, 200 lawmakers from 50 states, Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia have formed an alliance dubbed the American State Legislators for Gun Violence Prevention (ASLGVP). The group says its goal is advancing legislative gun control efforts in statehouses throughout the nation.

The new gun policy organization held its inaugural meeting in the nation’s capital this week, where members discussed actions they plan to take in their respective states in 2015 and planned to build on gun control advances that have taken place in the past two years. Key elements of the group’s gun control plans include closing so-called gun-buying loopholes in the background check process, identifying relationships between guns and domestic violence, and exploring gun control options in areas with high rates of shooting crime.

The group’s founder, Democratic New York State Assemblyman Brian Kavanagh, said during a Monday news conference that the group is also intent on cracking down on interstate gun transfers.

“Gun violence isn’t a regional concern or a partisan issue. It’s a tragic crisis affecting Americans across the country,” he said in a statement. “We’ve come together in recognition of the essential role state legislators must play whether or not Congress chooses to act in reducing gun violence.”

Representatives from eight states — including some mostly gun-friendly areas like Virginia, Alabama, New Hampshire and Kansas — attended the Monday briefing. The only Republican present was Kansas State Representative Barbara Bollier, who is currently promoting background checks in her state as a matter of public health.

“This upcoming session I will support state legislation for background checks,” Bollier said in a statement. “It is imperative that this public health issue be addressed in Kansas.”

Bollier has called the newly formed gun control group “a tremendous opportunity for the people’s voice to be heard throughout the country.”

Of course, especially with regard to background checks for guns relating to public health, not everyone agrees with her positions.

Topeka area State Rep. Ken Corbet, a conservative gun rights supporter, said that her plans run afoul of residents’ Constitutional rights.

“I think if the Founding Fathers wanted that to be a public health issue, it would have said that in the 2nd Amendment. They did not bring that up,” he told local reporters.

While there is currently no public donor list available for the new 50 state gun control group, Kavanagh said that fundraising efforts are currently underway. But they may be facing an uphill battle considering National Institute for Money in State Politics figures showing that pro-2nd Amendment groups spent about 40 times as much as gun control groups in the 2011-2012 election cycle. All of that spending paid off, too. Fewer than 10 percent of gun control proposals introduced at the state level following 2012 shootings became law, according to the institute.

Recent polling data is also stacked against the gun control crowd, with Pew Research reporting this week that support for gun rights has risen markedly throughout the nation in the two years since the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.

Fifty-two percent of Americans now say that protecting the rights afforded in the 2nd Amendment is more important than increased gun control, which is supported by 46 percent of likely voters. A healthy majority — 62 percent of respondents — also said that gun ownership makes people safer.

Still, ASLGVP believes it can advance a gun control agenda by focusing on efforts tailored to states and individual communities.

“ASLGVP members represent diverse perspectives based upon our own experiences and the needs of our respective districts and states, and do not seek to craft a one-size-fits-all agenda for all states,” the organization says on its website.

Lawmaker decries swift Congressional approval of ‘egregious’ surveillance measure

Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) on Wednesday dubbed an intelligence authorization bill that sailed easily to passage in the House “one of the most egregious sections of law I’ve encountered during my time as a representative.” The libertarian-leaning lawmaker said that the legislation grants the government “unlimited access” to the private communications of all Americans.

Amash’s issue was with Sec. 309 of the fiscal year 2015 rendition of the Intelligence Authorization Act, a new which authorizes “the acquisition, retention, and dissemination” of nonpublic communications. The nonpublic communications mentioned include those to and from U.S. persons, according to the lawmaker.

In a letter urging his House colleagues to reject the Senate-approved bill in a recorded vote, Amash contends that the communications data collected without a court order could end up in the hands of law enforcement agencies conducting criminal investigations.

“To be clear, Sec. 309 provides the first statutory authority for the acquisition, retention, and dissemination of U.S. persons’ private communications obtained without legal process such as a court order or a subpoena,” he wrote. “The administration currently may conduct such surveillance under a claim of executive authority, such as E.O. 12333. However, Congress never has approved of using executive authority in that way to capture and use Americans’ private telephone records, electronic communications, or cloud data.”

Supporters of the Sec. 309 provision have argued that it is a surveillance reform because the measure includes language limiting the executive branch’s power to retain private communications data beyond five years. But Amash noted that the executive branch already follows a similar policy, effectively making the provision a way to provide a “novel statutory basis for the executive branch’s capture and use of Americans’ private communications.”

In other words, Sec. 309 institutionalizes the very actions it is supposedly intended to limit. The executive branch currently carries out the type of data collection in question under an executive order dating back to the Reagan administration. Congress’ acknowledgement of the tactics represents a troubling new stamp of legislative approval, Amash said.

The lawmaker also took issue with the way in which Sec. 309 made its way into the intelligence bill.

“The Senate inserted the provision into the intelligence reauthorization bill late [Tuesday] night,” he wrote. “That is no way for Congress to address the sensitive, private information of our constituents — especially when we are asked to expand our government’s surveillance powers.”

Despite Amash’s last-ditch effort to block the provision, House lawmakers followed the Senate’s lead and passed the 2015 bill in a voice vote, 325-100.

Amash was joined by 44 Republicans and 55 Democrats in voting “no” to the bill. For a full list of lawmakers who rejected the measure, visit Amash’s Facebook page.

Gun groups differ on support for government funding bill

Gun rights advocates are calling on lawmakers to force a government shutdown because of a $1 billion provision included in the trillion-dollar government funding package that would advance President Barack Obama’s gun control agenda.

“On behalf of one million law-abiding gun owners, we are asking you, in the strongest terms, to vote against the anti-gun omnibus appropriations bill,” Gun Owners of America (GOA) said in a statement to lawmakers. “As a matter of process, this gigantic bill was hatched in secret and sprung on the American people less than the 72 hours before consideration, which was promised by Republicans when they asked us to elect them.”

“This is precisely what you said you would not do if we gave your party control of Congress,” the group added.

GOA chairman and executive director Tim Macy said that a provision which adds $53 million to the government’s budget for “fight[ing] gun violence is an extrajudicial attack on gun rights. The additional funding brings the government’s total gun violence budget to $1.1 trillion.

“We all know this is a euphemism for gun control, and there is nothing which prevents the administration from using this money to support its anti-gun ‘executive action’ agenda,” he said, according to The Hill.

GOA lists the following additional complaints about the government funding bill:

* The bill rewards ATF for its illegal Fast and Furious program with an extra $22 million. Eric Holder has thumbed his nose at you with respect to any accountability for this outrageous abuse, and yet the drafters have no problem rewarding him for his contempt of (and for) Congress.

* The bill also provides $73 million for states like New York to impose gun bans when psychiatrists, as a result of its anti-gun “SAFE” Act, are forced by state law to report their patients, based on subjective determinations with no real due process. Tens of thousands of people may experience unconstitutional gun bans in New York alone, thanks to this bill.

* Finally, the bill provides $3 million to encourage Americans to lock up their safety, so that their guns will not be available in connection with a burglary or armed home invasion.

Meanwhile, the National Rifle Association has supported the spending bill because of a provision that protects hunters’ rights to use traditional lead ammunition.

“For years, radical animal rights and environmental advocates have used all the tools at their disposal, including litigation, to attempt to ban lead ammunition,” the group wrote to house Speaker John Boehner. “A ban on traditional ammunition would affect hunters, sportsmen, law enforcement, military and target shooters — whether or not they hunt. There are currently no comparable alternatives to lead ammunition in terms of cost, ballistics and availability. This bill would prevent a traditional ammunition ban and protect not just hunters, but millions of American gun owners.”

Rand Paul has Mitch McConnell’s support for presidency

If Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) decides to run for president in 2016, he’ll have fellow Kentucky Republican lawmaker Mitch McConnell’s support.

McConnell told CNN’s Dana Bash on Monday that he will “almost certainly” be supporting the Paul for president campaign at some point, but not in early primary states.

“I’m going to be helpful to him in any way I can be,” he said. “But I’m not going to be tromping around in New Hampshire and Iowa, I can tell you that.”

McConnell and Paul got off to a rough start back in 2010 due to many of the junior senator’s anti-establishment leanings, but they have since improved their relationship in Congress.

“I’m a big fan of his,” McConnell said. “I mean we started off on opposite paths, but we’ve become great allies. … I think he’s a very, very smart, capable guy.”

Meanwhile, Paul told a Kentucky ABC affiliate this week that he’ll welcome back former staffer Jesse Benton, who had worked for Ron Paul and resigned from Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-Ky.) re-election campaign in August following a political scandal involving the elder Paul.

“I think Jesse [Benton] is honest, he’s good at politics and I don’t think he’s done anything wrong,” Paul said.

“Jesse is married to my niece and was a big help in the Kentucky election here in 2010 and a big help for Sen. McConnell,” Paul also said. “He’ll help us.”

Paul didn’t indicate what role Benton might play, as the Kentucky Republican will be running for Senate re-election and, likely, for the presidency.

“That decision isn’t made yet,” Paul said, “but we are doing things to be prepared if it were to happen.”

“There’s still uncertainty and time to sort of make final decisions over the next few months.”

The lawmaker is expected to announce whether he’ll run for president this spring.

Sessions continues criticism of Obama’s ‘stunning’ immigration action

Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) has continued his vocal criticism of President Barack Obama’s immigration actions this week, saying the “breathtaking,” lawless executive amnesty goes beyond immigration by threatening to delegitimize the country’s institutions.

Responding to news that Obama never actually signed an executive order to carry out the massive immigration actions announced on Nov. 20, Sessions said the president was going out of his way to make it difficult for lawmakers to undo the actions.

“I guess they just whispered in the ear of (DHS Director) Jeh Johnson over at Homeland Security, ‘Just put out a memo. That way we don’t have to enforce the law,’” Sessions said at a Judicial Watch event.

The senator also noted that without an official order to reference, “We don’t even have a really significant, direct, legal direction that we can ascertain, precisely what the president is doing. It’s a stunning event in my view.”

Sessions contends that Obama has effectively created an “alternative immigration system” despite Obama’s own assertions that the president of the United States “is not empowered to do that.”

Sessions also warned that Obama’s extrajudicial immigration maneuvers are going to be costly for the nation’s taxpayers.

The lawmaker noted that illegal immigrants will be eligible for a $2,600 Earned Income Tax Credit in addition to a possible $1,000 per child credit once are granted Social Security numbers under Obama’s plan. The credits could net illegal immigrants as much as $5,000 in federal tax money.

Sessions also repeated calls for House lawmakers to include a provision in the anticipated omnibus spending bill to block Obama’s executive amnesty, a measure that has been blocked so far by House leaders.

Former Common Core supporter drafts bill against the standards

Draft legislation created by Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) would make it easier for U.S. states to opt out of the Common Core by prohibiting the federal government from “mandating, incentivizing or coercing” states to adopt the education standards.

Vitter’s “Local Control of Education Act” would disallow federal officials the ability to “incentivize a State, local educational agency, or school to adopt any specific instructional content, academic standard, assessment, curriculum, commonality of standards or assessments, or program of instruction… which shall include providing any priority, preference, or special consideration during the application process based on any specific content, standard, assessment, curriculum, commonality, or program.”

The federal government has set aside some $4.35 billion in grants and waivers to incentivize Common Core adoption through its Race to the Top program.

Vitter had previously supported the education standards, but changed his position last week in an email to supporters.

“After listening to literally thousands of parents, teachers, and others,” he wrote, “I don’t believe that we can achieve that Louisiana control, buy-in and success I’m committed to if we stay in Common Core.”

Vitter said that his constituents’ reasonable concerns about the threat of a federal takeover of all aspects of education were at the heart of his decision.

The lawmakers, a likely 2015 Louisiana gubernatorial candidate, also said that he would lead a charge to draft Louisiana-specific education standards.

“I’ve fought tooth and nail for local control of education and against the enormous growth of federal power under President Obama,” Vitter recently told The Daily Signal.

Current Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, a Republican, similarly changed his position on Common Core, even issuing executive orders against the standards and suing his education secretary.

Retired ABC News journalist recalls Obama’s profane tirades against press

Ann Compton, a retired ABC News journalist, recalled President Barack Obama launching into profanity-laced tirades against the press in closed meetings and called his “the most opaque” administration of “any I have covered.”

Compton, who retired from a 40-year career over the summer, noted a number of steps the Obama administration has taken over the years to block out the press.

“I was a strong voice for complaining that this particular administration has been more opaque than any I have covered about what the President does in the Oval Office every day,” Compton told C-Span’s Brian Lamb.

“He is far less accessible on photo ops with meetings. Even some meetings on the record, meeting in the Roosevelt room with financial leaders… from Wall Street or on issues with environmental groups, or… public opinion leaders,” she continued. “I think most presidents have been far more forthcoming than the second Obama term, in terms of what the President is doing every day and we almost never get photo ops.”

And when the president isn’t doing what he can to avoid the press, according to Compton, he’s chewing journalists out in off-the-record meetings.

“I have seen in the last year Barack Obama really angry twice. Both were off-the-record times,” she said.

“One, profanity-laced where he thought the press was making too much of scandals that he did not think were scandals,” she continued. “Another where he took us to task for not understanding the limits he has with foreign policy and the way he’s dealing with the Middle East and Iraq and Afghanistan.”

When asked by Lamb if the president had a point, Compton replied, “From his point of view, he may. But we cover what we are allowed to cover. And when policy decisions and presidents are inaccessible and don’t take questions from the press on a regular basis, I think… they reap what they sow.”

Watch the full interview here.

Survey: The Internet makes us smarter

If you believe your online reading habits are making you better informed, you’re not alone. More than 7 in 10 Americans believe that the Internet is making average people better informed about the world around them.

That’s according to a Pew Research poll released Monday which gauged how average people use the Internet and how they feel about today’s always-connected culture.

Pew previously reported that a growing number of Americans are eschewing traditional print and network news, shifting instead to Internet-based reporting. Its latest news survey indicates that Americans feel that they’re benefiting from this shift.

Seventy-five percent of respondents reported that visiting news websites on a daily basis has increased their knowledge of national news in recent years. Americans reported similar increases in international news awareness as well.

But technology is benefitting Americans in more ways than news awareness. The recent Pew report indicates that Internet users feel their time online makes it easier for them to learn a broad range of new things, with 85 percent saying that the Internet and cellphones have improved their ability to learn.

Eighty-one percent of respondents also reported that cellphones and the Internet have helped them make better choices in products and services than five years ago.

In addition, 72 percent say that sharing creative ideas is easier than ever.

Most importantly, however, is that a majority of Americans are comfortable with the vast amount of information at their fingertips and don’t feel overloaded with information. Seventy-two percent of respondents said they like having so much available information, compared to 26 percent who said they feel overloaded.

Sessions: Obama plans direct cash payments for illegals

Alabama Republican Senator Jeff Sessions continued his criticism of President Obama’s immigration actions Friday, taking the president to task for the White House admission that illegal immigrants will receive tax credits under the plan.

On Monday, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest told reporters that Obama was working to turn illegal immigrants into U.S. taxpayers.

“That does mean that they’re going to be filing their taxes on a regular basis and that does mean that if they qualify for the child tax credit, for example, as a taxpayer that would be something that they would benefit from,” he said.

Sessions told National Review that the tax benefits are proof that the Obama administration plans to further ignore the nation’s laws.

“He has now launched a new $100 million facility and staffing operation to provide illegal immigrants with the exact benefits rejected by Congress — including work permits, Social Security and Medicare,” Sessions said. “These credits will cost American taxpayers billions every year and represent an enormous cash transfer from American workers to lower-wage illegal workers. These tax credits are not refunds, but a direct cash payment from the Treasury to illegal immigrants — at a time when the Treasury is running huge deficits.”

Sessions has also recently criticized the Department of Homeland Security for “misconduct on a gross scale” for failing to deport illegal immigrants.

“Despite a massive rush on the border, deportations have continued their steady and dramatic decline. Interior deportations have fallen 23 percent since last year alone, and have been halved since 2011…,” Sessions said Friday.

He continued, “The effective result of the Administration’s non-enforcement policy is that anyone in the world who manages to get into the interior of the United States — by any means, including overstaying a visa — is free to live, work, and claim benefits in the United States at Americans’ expense. Again: this is the result of lawless orders issued by this Administration.”

Watch: Even the State Department thinks its talking points are ridiculous

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki was caught on a hot mic calling her talking points “ridiculous,” following a tense exchange with reporters over the U.S. non-position on the recent acquittal of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

Asked for reaction to the court’s decision to drop charges against Mubarak, Psaki offered this gobbledygook: “Generally, we continue to believe that upholding impartial standards of accountability will advance the political consensus on which Egypt’s long-term stability and economic growth depends. But beyond that, I would refer you to the Egyptian government.”

Reporters in the room quickly revolted, saying that her answer meant nothing.

“It means that in general we believe that impartial standards and the justice system should work as planned,” Psaki attempted to defend her statement. “But I don’t have any specific comments…”

The Associated Press’ Matt Lee later pushed back, “Can you… push your people a little harder? Because… you call for accountability and transparency all the time from any number of governments, and so if… no one is being held accountable for what happened it would seem to me that you would have a problem with that.”

Psaki continued to deflect, saying that she’d provide more information if it became available.

“What you said, says nothing,” Lee pressed. “It’s like saying, ‘well we support the right of people to breathe. That’s great, but if you can’t breathe…”

Psaki didn’t exactly disagree, but we only know that because she forgot to turn off her mic as she hurriedly left the press conference.

“That Egypt line is ridiculous,” she said.

Small-business owners slowly regaining economic confidence

Small-business owners in the U.S are becoming increasingly optimistic about the state of the economy, according to the most recent rendition of the Wells Fargo/Gallup Small Business Index. But while small-business optimism is higher than it has been since 2008, it’s still well below pre-recession levels.

The small-business index score increased to 58 last month, up from 49 in July, revealed the survey of small-business owners. The last time the index was this high was when it reached 83 in 2008.

“This increase shows that small-business owners are reacting positively to the same rising economic tides that have lifted overall economic confidence in the U.S. and optimism about jobs,” Gallup said of the numbers.

For contrast, the business index reached its all-time high of 114 in 2006. While the U.S. economy was beginning to slow after a couple years of economic confidence at the time, Americans had not yet been hit with recession-level economic stagnation. The record low was recorded in the third quarter of 2010 when the index dropped to -28. That’s about the time politicians began attempting to shift the narrative to recovery after prolonged economic recession even though many Americans continued to struggle as much as they had at the height of the economic unease.

The index has risen steadily over the past two years, with owners reporting gradual improvements in their abilities to hire new employees and make business investments.

Twenty-six percent of business owners currently say they plan to expand their staffs in the next 12 months, which is on par with hiring projections recorded in the index in 2006. That’s good news considering that small businesses provide a majority of jobs in the U.S. and have generated about 65 percent of net new jobs since 1995.

More good news is that only 11 percent of small-business owners said they expect their financial situation to deteriorate to “poor” or “very poor” in the coming year. Meanwhile, 71 percent report that they expect to be in “very good” or “somewhat good” economic shape for the next 12 months. Financial expectations haven’t been this good among small-business owners since 2007.

With improving financial expectations half of the small-business owners polled said they plan to make capital investments in the coming year. That’s up from 43 percent in 2013 and 41 percent in 2012.

Conservative groups turn to state lawmakers for help blocking EPA

A coalition of free-market and conservative groups is urging state lawmakers and governors to “fiercely resist” the “expensive, destructive, unlawful regulations” the Environmental Protection Agency wants to place on existing U.S. power plants.

The coalition, which includes Heritage Action, Americans for Prosperity and more than 30 others, sent a letter to state officials urging them to refuse to cooperate with the EPA and fight its proposal in any way possible.

Last week marked the end of the public comment period for the EPA proposal, which mandates that existing power plants cut carbon emissions to 30 percent of 2005 levels by the year 2013. The agency says it expects to have the rule finalized by next summer.

Beyond the potential economic impact of the rule, the conservative groups argue that the EPA’s carbon emissions rules are an affront to federalism and the separation of powers.

From the letter:

When Congress enacted and amended the Clean Air Act, it did not authorize EPA to restructure state electricity policies. If at any time during the past six years, a U.S. senator or congressman had introduced legislation containing the CPP’s emission-reduction requirements, the bill would have been dead on arrival. Indeed, even when Democrats had a supermajority in the Senate, they chose not to consider House-passed cap-and-trade legislation.

Moreover, the CPP is unlawful and almost certain to be overturned. EPA stretches the pertinent statutory authority, section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act, beyond all recognition. This obscure, seldom-used provision was designed to set technology-based emission standards for “particular sources,” aptly defined as “designated facilities” in EPA’s 1974-1975 implementing regulations. In the CPP, EPA illicitly treats the entire electric power sector of a state as a “particular source,” and illicitly sets emission standards based not on technologies specific to coal power plants but on the agency’s wish list of ‘green’ energy policies.

The conservative groups contend that state lawmakers’ best course of action is to withhold state resources from the regulatory implementation process, thereby forcing the EPA to “promulgate and implement that policy itself — and be held solely accountable for the disastrous consequences that will follow.”

“You will never regret saying no and forcing the federal government to implement its own destructive agenda,” the groups wrote.

The organizations argue that states that do cooperate with the EPA rule will suffer similar problems to those that got onboard with President Barack Obama’s healthcare overhaul and were “micromanaged” by federal officials.

The EPA currently lacks a plan to force the carbon emissions policies on states that choose not to implement the rules because it has put most of its resources into aiding states that are slated to cooperate.

“Resistance to these regulations is not futile!” the letter says.

Compliance, however, may be. The conservative groups say that the EPA rule will likely be overturned by the incoming GOP-controlled Congress and that the 2016 presidential election “could bring an end to EPA’s war on coal.”

Read the full letter here.

We’re No. 2

The latest figures out from the International Monetary Fund show that the U.S. has been overtaken by China as the world’s leading economy after about a century and a half of U.S. economic dominance.

The IMF numbers show China on track to produce $17.6 trillion worth of goods and services compared to the U.S.’s slated $17.4 trillion.

The Wall Street Journal’s Market Watch explains:

These calculations are based on a well-established and widely used economic measure known as purchasing-power parity (or PPP), which measures the actual output as opposed to fluctuations in exchange rates. So a Starbucks venti Frappucino served in Beijing counts the same as a venti Frappucino served in Minneapolis, regardless of what happens to be going on among foreign-exchange traders.

PPP is the real way of comparing economies. It is one reported by the IMF and was, for example, the one used by McKinsey & Co. consultants back in the 1990s when they undertook a study of economic productivity on behalf of the British government.

Yes, when you look at mere international exchange rates, the U.S. economy remains bigger than that of China, allegedly by almost 70%. But such measures, although they are widely followed, are largely meaningless. Does the U.S. economy really shrink if the dollar falls 10% on international currency markets? Does the recent plunge in the yen mean the Japanese economy is vanishing before our eyes?

The numbers are eye-opening, but they don’t mean that the U.S. is in danger of rapidly losing world economic influence just yet.

A number of contributing factors, including the U.S.’s 2008 self-inflicted financial crisis, slowed U.S. economic output at a time when China was beginning to realize unprecedented financial growth. As the U.S. economy strengthens, the margins could shift.

China’s large population also makes it far from the world’s wealthiest nation, with a per-person gross domestic product less than one-quarter of that in the United States.

Obama’s immigration actions are changing public perceptions

President Barack Obama’s executive amnesty plan is having a negative effect on American support for a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants, according to a new major poll.

Quinnipiac polling data illustrate that 48 percent of American voters feel that illegal immigrants should be allowed to stay and given a path to citizenship in the U.S. That is the “lowest level ever measured” for path to citizenship support, according to the polling agency.

Eleven percent of respondents said that they felt illegal immigrants “should be allowed to stay, but not be allowed to apply for citizenship,” and 35 percent said they should be deported.”

Americans disapproved of Obama’s immigration executive action by a small margin with 48 percent opposing the measures and 45 percent in approval.

But there is evidence in the polling data that Obama’s actions had a deleterious effect on public perception of immigration amnesty.

“While President Barack Obama’s popularity wallows, support for immigrants wanes as Americans look at immigration reform with ambivalence,” said Tim Malloy, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Poll.

Respondents in the poll were nearly 10 percent less likely to feel that illegal immigrants should be allowed to stay and given a path to citizenship in the U.S than they were in early November. They were also about 10 percent more likely to support deportation than at this time last year.

If Congress intends to take action to reverse the president’s immigration reforms, they may want to avoid doing so by initiating a government shutdown. That strategy is disapproved of by Americans by a margin of 68 percent to 25 percent.

Lawmakers initiate plan to authorize military force against ISIS without Obama

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is planning to put together a proposal for Congressional authorization of war against Islamic State terrorists in Iraq and Syria next week. It is expected to vote on the measure Wednesday.

The committee’s top lawmakers, Sens. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and Robert Corker (R-Tenn.), plan to hold a hearing Monday to query Secretary of State John Kerry and/or other “appropriate administration officials” about the conflict with ISIS.

The hearing will be followed Wednesday by a full committee markup on an authorization for the use of military force (AUMF) measure.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) recently tried controversially to force Senate consideration of an AUMF against ISIS by attaching a Declaration of War against the group to an unrelated water bill. But with the committee’s decision to tackle the issue, Paul agreed to withhold his amendment.

“I think the most important responsibility of a legislator is to vote yay or nay on whether or not we are sending our young men and women to war and I think we have been derelict in that duty,” Paul told reporters Wednesday.

Paul said his decision to force the issue because President Barack Obama “has assumed he doesn’t even need to ask” Congress before unleashing the U.S. military on ISIS.

While several lawmakers agree with Paul’s view, others have offered criticism of the decision to explore a legislative AUMF. Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) told reporters the Monday hearing represents a “red herring” and predicted heavy partisan squabbling during the AUMF markup session.

AUMF supporters like Paul and Menendez have acknowledged that partisanship could prevent the measure from ever reaching the Senate floor for a full vote, though Paul said he hopes lawmakers and the president are “shamed into doing the right thing.”

“I do what I have control over. I have control over forcing a vote in the committee; I can’t force a vote on the floor,” Paul said.

The AUMF is usually provided to lawmakers for a vote by the president, leading some lawmakers to criticize the legislative approach. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) accused Paul and his allies of “inventing” a war declaration.

“[AUMF merits] thoughtful debate,” McCain said “This is not it.”

The White House initially claimed that the president had all of the authority he needs to take on ISIS because of existing military force authorizations. Obama faced harsh criticism for the position and eventually said that he would submit a military force plan to Congress for approval. But legislators, including McCain, have noted that the administration has been dragging its feet and taking too long to produce an AUMF proposal.

“They keep talking about the AUMF. They haven’t, they haven’t sent over anything. I’ve been involved in numerous of these crises where they send over a request for the authorization for the use of military force,” McCain said last month. “You can’t believe they really want it if they don’t even send over a proposal.”

In Paul’s view, that’s just the problem that is forcing Congress to act on its own.

“Debate and talks are good, but votes are what count around here,” Paul said, after noting that Obama “might never be ready” to submit an AUMF for consideration.

Americans not too satisfied with U.S. direction

If you feel like the country is headed in the wrong direction, you aren’t alone. Sixty-seven percent of likely American voters feel the nation is on the wrong track.

According to polling numbers from Rasmussen, just 25 percent of Americans are happy with the United States’ current outlook.

Rasmussen notes that the results vary among party and ethnic lines:

Eighty-seven percent (87%) of Republicans and 67% of voters not affiliated with either major political party think the country is on the wrong track. Democrats agree by a 48% to 42% margin.

Seventy-two percent (72%) of whites and 57% of other minority voters say the country is on the wrong track. Blacks disagree by a narrow 45% to 41% margin.

The number of Americans happy with the way things are going has remained below 30 percent since June of last year, according to the polling agency.

Many pundits cited similar levels dissatisfaction in “wrong direction” polls taken in the run-up to the 2014 midterms as the predominant reason for President Barack Obama’s defeats.

Exit polls should Americans consistently saying that the nation is of track just under 70 percent of the time.

Even so, polls conducted last month illustrate that citizens aren’t particularly confident that the electoral shakeups will make much of a difference moving forward.

Seventy-five percent of respondents to a post-election NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll said the nation is off track, and 76 percent said they expect “just some change” or “not that much change” as a result of the election.

Cruz warns of federal land grab in Defense bill

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) issued a statement Wednesday urging his congressional colleagues to reject the 2015 National Defense Authorization Act because of an “extreme land grab” and other pork included in this year’s rendition.

The more than $580 billion bipartisan military funding bill includes expected national security provisions in addition to some energy and public lands provisions not related to the nation’s vital security interests.

“At a time where jobs are scarce and the federal government has removed billions of acres of land from productive use, Congress should not be restricting more than a half-million new acres,” he added.

Among the provisions Cruz has taken issue with are:

  • 250,000 acres of new wilderness designations.
  • 400,000 acres withdrawn from productive use (for energy, mining, timber, etc.).
  • 15 new national park units or park expansions.
  • Eight new studies for national parks.
  • Three new wild and scenic river designations and three new studies for additional designations.
  • Study to begin the National Women’s History Museum.

“With the military’s shrinking budget, it is offensive that this bill would be used to fund congressional pork,” Cruz said.

The 2015 Defense bill slowed the annual rate of growth for service members’ housing allowances and a more modest pay raise than the private sector average.

The Republican is urging Congress to reject the 2015 NDAA, a bill he calls an “attempt by self-serving politicians to exploit the men and women of the military to serve their special interests.”

But Cruz faces an uphill battle getting members of either party to alter the Defense authorization, long considered a piece of annual must-pass legislation.

Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), the Armed Services Committee’s top Republican, told The Hill that he too disproves of the land provisions, but added, “[Y]ou have to have a bill. That’s what people lose sight of.”

The GOP’s immigration balancing act

With Congress in full lame-duck mode, Republican lawmakers are struggling to formulate a plan to fulfill promises that the GOP would defeat President Barack Obama’s immigration overhaul at all costs.

On Tuesday, reports indicated that GOP lawmakers in the House have mostly ruled out attempts to force an immigration battle by initiating a government shutdown next week.

Instead, many are advocating a vote on a largely symbolic measure that would disapprove of Obama’s immigration executive orders but still fund immigration enforcement through March 2015. Some GOP lawmakers said the move will make it easier to block the immigration overhaul when they have majority control over both legislative bodies in 2015.

Here’s how two Republicans described the strategy to Talking Points Memo:

“You need to utilize every political means that you can in the environment that you’re in. We have limited capabilities now politically, with one house of government,” freshman Rep. Robert Pittenger (R-N.C.) said.

“We’re not going to take that bait,” Rep. Dennis Ross (R-Fla.) said of a potential shutdown. “We learned from what happened last time. We also learned that no matter what we do until we get a dance partner in the Senate … we’ve got to be realistic. And shutting down the government is not a realistic alternative at this juncture.”

House Republicans could vote to state their displeasure with Obama’s actions as early as Thursday. But that won’t really matter, as outgoing Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has made clear that the resolution will never see the light of day in his chamber.

House Republicans are then expected to vote on separate legislation funding government operations through September 2015, with a continuing resolution that would cut most immigration funding by March.

The continuing resolution caveat isn’t ideal for Senate Democrats, but it’s better than a drawn-out budget battle.

Breaking from House Speaker John Boehner’s (R-Ohio) establishment, the GOP’s most conservative members are advocating for holiday budget drama.

If the party doesn’t do all it can, they contend, Republicans risk failing on promises the party made ahead of the midterm elections.

“Do what you said you would do,” Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) said during a Wednesday press conference.

The lawmaker is calling for the addition of a rider to the budget bill to strip funding for Obama’s actions as soon as possible.

“What the president is doing is dangerous,” Cruz said. “If the president doesn’t have to follow the law, what is the point of electing Congress?”

Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) has also called for a rider to strip immigration funding, saying Tuesday that Congress’s current plan is too watered down.

“The executive amnesty language is substantially weaker than the language the House adopted this summer, and does not reject the central tenets of the President’s plan: work permits, Social Security and Medicare to 5 million illegal immigrants — reducing wages, jobs and benefits for Americans,” he said.

Sessions also noted that the use of a rider to restrict funding for controversial programs is fairly common.

“Congress must respond to the president’s unlawful action by funding the government but not funding illegal amnesty,” he said. “This is a perfectly sound and routine application of Congressional authority. In fact, the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service reports that last year’s omnibus spending bill included 16 such funding restrictions on fee-based programs.”

Rand Paul slams John McCain’s hawkish foreign policy

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), a “wacko bird,” took Senate hawk John McCain (R-Ariz.) to task this week, saying his elderly colleague would like to see the U.S. involved in “15 wars more.”

“I want less, McCain wants more [military intervention],” Paul said at a Wall Street Journal event. “He wants 15 countries more, 15 wars more. But the thing is, is that there is a more and a less argument.

“When you poll that in Iowa, 45 percent agreed with McCain and 41 percent agreed with me.”

The numbers come from a recent Bloomberg/Des Moines Register poll question pitting Paul’s policy positions against McCain’s.

Paul offered that his Senate re-election platform, as well as any future presidential plans, includes advocacy for war only as a last result.

“If I’m ever commander in chief, I will not want to take the country to war,” the senator said. “It will be the last resort and only when the country is united.”

The lawmaker said he “begrudgingly” supports current U.S. efforts to quell unrest in the Middle East, but reminded the audience that he argued against arming so-called moderate rebels in Syria last year. Many of the weapons have since been commandeered by radicals.

On Wednesday, Paul introduced legislation that would levy a congressional declaration of war against Islamic State fighters in Iraq and Syria if passed.

“Six hundred tons of weapons went into Syria in 2013 alone… Many of them found their way into the hands of ISIS,” Paul said. “I don’t think there are any moderates there. There’s two million Christians who are on the other side of the war. It’s a messy civil war and we shouldn’t be involved in it.

“The only reason I’m for getting back involved over there is not because I think there’s any end to the war between Sunnis and Shiites or there’s any end to the Syrian civil war or there would be anything that great by replacing Assad with ISIS,” Paul said. “But the reason I get involved is because we have an embassy and a consulate to defend.”

The lawmaker added that a true defeat of ISIS will only come with populist revolt against the group’s barbaric form of Islam in the Middle East.

Paul said that many Americans agree with his positions despite GOP establishment smears over his foreign policy positions.

“This is not a small movement, nor is it easy to say people like myself, who believe in less intervention, can be characterized as people who don’t believe in a strong national defense,” he said. “That is a caricature and I will have to fight that, but we’ll see what happens.”

Militarized police are here to stay

President Barack Obama and Congress have moved to assuage calls for the demilitarization of American police by paying lip service to the issue without making any real effort to curtail the amount of battlefield equipment being deployed to American streets.

The White House, with the Monday release of its review of police militarization, announced plans to conduct more oversight of the military equipment acquisition programs and require more thorough training for local police receiving wartime equipment.

A new executive order also calls for “after-action analysis reports for significant incidents involving federally provided or federally-funded equipment.”

In addition, Obama is forming a “Task Force on 21st Century Policing” designed to “promote effective crime reduction while building public trust” and examine the use of military equipment on the nation’s streets.

As far as the White House is concerned, militarized police are here to stay. In fact, the administration’s actions, though cleverly disguised as a response to populist calls for demilitarization, mostly further institutionalizes the military-to-police equipment pipeline.

Administration officials have attempted to quiet talk about police militarization by repeatedly claiming that the military vehicles make up only a small percentage of the equipment benefitting local law enforcement involved in the surplus programs. In case you’re wondering, the small percentage still equates to a lot of military vehicles on U.S. streets.

From the president’s “Federal Support for Local Law Enforcement Equipment Acquisition” report:

Examples of controlled property provided include: 92,442 small arms, 44,275 night vision devices, 5,235 high mobility, multi-purpose wheeled vehicles (HMMWVs), 617 mine resistant ambush protected vehicles and 616 aircraft.

A White House official, in a conference call with reporters Monday, said the president was complying with the wishes of Congress.

“Our assumption is Congress has an intent here to support local law enforcement with the use of this kind of equipment,” the official said. “Our focus is on what kind of protections are in place to make sure it’s used properly and safely.”

Congress recently killed the bipartisan Stop Militarizing Law Enforcement Act, which would have limited the transfer of military equipment to police. The bill was introduced by Reps. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) and Raul Labrador (R-Idaho) and had the backing of 45 co-sponsors, including Republican like Reps. Justin Amash of Michigan, Walter Jones of North Carolina and Tom McClintock of California.

Cruz offers his own foreign policy plan

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) continued his efforts to foist himself as a foreign policy strongman Tuesday with deep criticisms of the Obama administration’s actions overseas and presented his own plan for “reasserting American leadership in the world.”

Cruz told a Washington gathering of Concerned Veterans for America that the “the Obama-Clinton foreign policy” has resulted in a world in crisis.

“It’s almost as if the whole world is on fire right now,” he said, according to Business Insider. “Leading from behind doesn’t work.”

Instead, Cruz argued that the U.S. should follow a three-point foreign policy approach centered around being a leading voice for freedom, having a clear vison for military deployment and maintaining a capable national security staff.

Cruz cited President Ronald Reagan’s “tear down this wall” speech as an example of the power of the nation’s ability to inspire freedom throughout the world.

“One of the most striking and inexplicable aspects of the last six years is the almost complete absence of American leadership speaking out for freedom,” he said.

Cruz accused the Obama administration of focusing more on photo ops and press releases than the nation’s vital national security interests to make the case for his second foreign policy point.

“The singular failure of the Obama-Clinton foreign policy has been a failure to focus on the vital national security interests of the United States,” Cruz said. “If and when we have to [use force], it should be with a clear, stated objective up front. We should go in with overwhelming force and then we should get the heck out. It is not the job of our military to produce democratic utopias across the world.”

Obama’s Defense personnel issues are at the center of Cruz’s third foreign policy point. The lawmaker noted Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s resignation.

“What a failure of leadership at a time when the world is on fire,” said Cruz. “It seems what the administration is looking for is a defense secretary who will follow the orders of a political White House.”

Cruz recently suggested that former Sen. Joe Lieberman would be a good replacement for Hagel.

McConnell surprised at Obama’s actions since midterm losses

Incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Tuesday that he’s “perplexed” by President Barack Obama’s doubling down on certain leftist positions after Democrats suffered a “butt-kicking” in the midterm elections.

The remarks came as McConnell appeared at an event sponsored by The Wall Street Journal CEO Council Tuesday.

“By any objective standard the president got crushed in this election,” he said, according to WSJ. “So I’ve been perplexed by the reaction since the election, the sort of in your face dramatic move to the left. I don’t know what we can expect in terms of reaching bipartisan agreement.”

GOP lawmakers have been extremely critical of Obama’s decision last month to issue an executive order granting amnesty to as many as 5 million illegal immigrants in the U.S. In addition, the president has unilaterally worked out a greenhouse gas agreement with China and called for new regulations on Internet providers.

“We need to quit rattling the economy with things that are perceived by the voters as disturbing,” McConnell said, vowing to avoid another government shutdown to walk back Obama’s actions.

The GOP suffered falling approval ratings as a result of the last economic shutdown.

The lawmaker suggested that Republicans will attempt to undo Obama’s immigration actions by voting on individual components of the omnibus immigration bill produced last year by the bipartisan Gang of Eight.

“What I think we ought to do is bust it up, pass as much of it as we can, starting with border security, which is a way of reassuring the American people that we’re not going to have another calamity like we’ve had,” McConnell said.

“I would bust it up if I were setting the agenda in the Senate, start with border security, H-1B visa expansion, H-2A ag worker provisions, E–Verify and some of the other things I think we can get pretty broad agreement on,” he continued.

McConnell also told the gathering that the new Republican majority is willing to work with the president moving forward despite “a deep philosophical difference” that could cause problems.