“We’re not just going to be waiting for legislation. I’ve got a pen . . . and I can use that pen to sign executive orders and take executive actions,” he asserted. “One of the things that I’m going to be talking to my Cabinet about is how do we use all the tools available to us.”
He’s already made good on his promise to act unilaterally — delaying the ObamaCare mandate on businesses again last week and changing the rules for immigration enforcement.
But what Obama didn’t say is that, behind the scenes, he’s radically increasing the government’s reach. His tools aren’t laws or even executive orders — it’s thousands of new pages of new rules in the Federal Register, the nation’s official book of regulations, controlling everything from home finance to car deals to city zoning.
An unelected, unappointed shadowy network of leftie advocates are rewriting these rules — posing a direct threat to Congress’ legislative authority. Yet alarmingly few lawmakers are aware of its clout. Likewise, few in the private sector know about its unchecked power and influence over business and finance — or even local housing and school policies.
Schools can’t suspend bullies
One troubling new area of regulation: rules for discipline at your children’s schools, so that teachers can no longer kick students who misbehave out of the classroom. They’re relaxing the protocols for punishing even violent kids, compounding fears about classroom safety in a post-Newtown world.
New school-discipline guidelines issued last month by Education Secretary Arne Duncan are based on a “framework” recently formulated by the New York-based Dignity in Schools Campaign.
Following Dignity’s recommendations, the administration is pressuring schools to keep disruptive minority students in the classroom. The new federal guidelines call for a moratorium on suspensions, now demonized as “racist” because they have a “disparate impact” on black students. They also discourage school authorities from bringing police onto campuses even in some violent cases.
“Racial discrimination in school discipline is a real problem today,” Duncan claimed in announcing the new policy. But chances are he outsourced this “solution.”
“I doubt he had anything to do with the actual drafting of these guidelines,” said former Education Department official Hans Bader, maintaining he gave the job to “left-wing radicals.”
Indeed, Duncan’s guidelines adopt Dignity’s recommendation that schools enroll troubled kids in “restorative circles” and other culturally sensitive programs instead of suspending them.
Under this “positive approach,” offenders are allowed to negotiate the consequences for their bad behavior, which usually involves anger-management counseling and “dialogue sessions,” in which teachers join unruly students in “talking circles” to foster greater “cultural understanding.” Talk invariably turns to racism and “white bias.”
Dignity says the powwows “combat bias that contributes to disproportionate discipline.”
Of course, they also provide rowdy minorities an excuse for continued bad behavior.
New York City public schools recently adopted “restorative counseling” as an alternative to suspensions, now banned as a punishment for one-time minor infractions.
“Taking a restorative approach to discipline changes the fundamental questions that are asked when a behavioral incident occurs,” the department’s new discipline code states. Instead of asking who’s to blame and how they should be punished, it addresses “underlying factors” that lead youth to act out.
The administration is tying school funding to compliance with its discipline guidelines, while at the same time threatening discrimination lawsuits.
But relaxed discipline policies threaten to undo the benefits of zero tolerance policies started in 2004. Under the Impact School initiative, New York schools partnered with the NYPD to crack down on campus crime, resulting in a 55% plunge in violent school incidents, according to city data.
Forced integration of the suburbs
The fingerprints of radical social engineers are all over housing policy as well.
Affordable-housing zealots helped craft a sweeping new federal regulation that created a controversial “housing-discrimination database,” which the administration hopes to use to reshape the demographics of every neighborhood in America.
It’s part of an ambitious agenda to eliminate “racial segregation,” ZIP code-by-ZIP code, through the systematic dismantling of “exclusionary” building ordinances across America.
It’s started here in New York’s Westchester County, where HUD is withholding millions of dollars in funding until the area relaxes restrictions on subsidized housing.
But that’s just the beginning of a nationwide campaign to force suburbs to accept Section 8 and other low-income residents.
“The battle for zoning in Westchester County [will be] the battle everywhere,” warned Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino. “This is about changing every block, every neighborhood to the viewpoint of federal bureaucrats at HUD.”
The agency’s 34-page “Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing” mandate, soon to be codified as law in the Federal Register, is the brainchild of the National Fair Housing Alliance, a radical leftist group based in Washington.
NFHA helped draft the legal and technical language in the regulation, and coached other activists to propose ways to strengthen the rule in public comments solicited by HUD. NFHA even prepared letter-writing templates using the same language for other activist groups.
NFHA worked closely with Sara K. Pratt, HUD’s chief of fair-housing enforcement. HUD officially lists NFHA, which happens to be Pratt’s old shop, as a “partner.” The two recently announced a joint media campaign “to fight housing discrimination,” for which Pratt’s office awarded NFHA more than $2 million in grants. Pratt worked several years for NFHA as a director, trainer and consultant.
“HUD uses a network of crony advocates to help create, improve and finalize new rules,” said Cornelia Mrose, a housing analyst who recently prepared a study examining the development of HUD’s suburban integration rule for the American Enterprise Institute, a free-market think tank in Washington. “And it uses this same network of crony advocates to execute and enforce rules.”
NFHA conducts discrimination investigations for HUD using “testers” to pose as renters and homebuyers in minority communities across the country.
Added Mrose, “There’s no division of power here — it’s all rolled into one.”
She warns the close collaboration between activists and federal agencies within the Obama administration has “corrupted” the otherwise public rules-making process and created a powerful “crony advocacy empire” impervious to influence from average citizens.
While citizen opposition was passionate — decrying the regulation as “forced integration” and “affirmative action on a ZIP code level,” while warning of Section 8 housing crime and lower property values — HUD disregarded them as “low-quality comments.”
Recreating the mortgage crisis
As if that weren’t enough, Obama’s new credit cop, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, is out to recreate the conditions that caused the 2008 mortgage collapse by pressuring banks to make loans to people who can’t afford them in the name of racial “fairness.” And it’s happening behind closed doors.
CFPB won’t let private citizens or reporters into meetings with its 25 paid advisers, the Consumer Advisory Board, whose taxpayer-compensated members include trial lawyers who make a living suing banks, former ACORN activists, and even a member of the Democratic National Committee. Some have taken hundreds of thousands of dollars in federal grant money to ferret out discrimination in housing and lending.
“They want input from liberal activists and Democratic partisans without public scrutiny,” said Competitive Enterprise Institute official John Berlau, who last year represented a Mississippi businessman barred from a Consumer Advisory Board meeting in what Berlau says was a “clear violation” of the Federal Advisory Committee Act.
One influential CFPB adviser, Ellen Seidman, happens to be one of the architects of the disastrous housing policies that caused the mortgage crisis. Seidman encouraged subprime lending in “underserved” communities as a top Clinton bank regulator enforcing the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA). “Growth in the subprime credit market indicates that credit needs in many low- and moderate-income areas are being met,” she said in 1999. She also cheered the relaxation of credit standards and the development of the subprime securities market.
“Without CRA as an impetus,” Seidman said, “this market would likely not have developed.”
Now Seidman is helping rewrite the rules for home lending. CFPB recently released new mortgage rules that, despite claims of tightening standards, require no minimum credit scores or down payments and even count payments from “government assistance programs” as qualifying income for low-income borrowers.
Radical advisers also have opened up a new “fair lending” front — car loans.
CFPB has sued the nation’s largest car lender, Ally Bank, for $100 million over discrimination charges.
Ally denies the allegations, arguing it prices for risk, not race. Indeed, the administration failed to take credit scores and other key risk factors into account in its investigation — just as it failed to take them into account shaking down almost three dozen mortgage lenders — including Bank of America and Wells Fargo — for a combined $810 million over alleged lending discrimination.
Discriminating against minority borrowers would be a deplorable crime if true. But investigators have no direct evidence it’s occurring. Cases are based exclusively on statistics showing “disparities” in loan outcomes by race. For the first time, federal civil-rights enforcers are relying on stats, rather than actual acts or intent, to prove racism.
They assume “statistically significant” disparities in loan rates between whites and minorities proves lenders are discriminating against minorities. But there’s a fundamental flaw: They’re not comparing whites and minorities with the same credit backgrounds.
They’re missing their credit scores, debt-to-income ratios and other key information that influences lending decisions (like down payments and trade-ins) in their computer screens. In short, they’re making reckless allegations.
Though investigators argue crunching the raw data is sufficient to prove racism if it shows “significant” racial gaps in loan pricing, they won’t define “significant” — despite repeated bipartisan requests by Congress.
Critics complain even the dubious statistical threshold they’re using to trigger discrimination investigations is arbitrary and capricious.
“CFPB refuses to release any sort of analysis or methodology as to how they reached their conclusions,” National Auto Dealers Association spokesman Baily Wood said.
‘Working the system’
In the 1970s, Saul Alinsky, the Chicago socialist, father of community organizing and Obama idol, wrote “Rules for Radicals” as a training manual for stealth “revolution.” He advised activists to cut their hair and clean up their mouths so they could “work in the system” and change it from the “inside.”
Only by operating inside the establishment, he said, could this new “vanguard” of leftists really hope to redistribute power and wealth “from the Haves to the Have-Nots.”
The strategy has worked beyond his wildest dreams.
It took a few decades, but Alinsky’s coat-and-tie radicals are fully deployed inside the power corridors of Washington — including, of course, the West Wing, where Alinsky’s star pupil controls the show. And they’re collaborating with the most militant elements of the nonprofit sector.
Together, both the washed and unwashed of Alinsky’s “Rules for Radicals” gang are now writing the rules regulating industry and society.
Paul Sperry is a Hoover Institution media fellow and author of “The Great American Bank Robbery.”