The Justice Department this morning announced a new initiative “to encourage qualified federal inmates to petition to have their sentences commuted or reduced by the president of the United States.”
Deputy Attorney General James Cole said in a news conference that the latest effort is part of Attorney General Eric Holder’s “Smart on Crime” initiative, which “was conceived with an eye towards addressing the crisis caused by a vastly overcrowded prison population, and with a goal of redirecting some of the dollars we spend on prisons to prosecutors and law enforcement agents working to keep our streets safer.”
“The fundamental American concept, equal justice under law, requires that our laws be enforced fairly, and not just going forward. It is equally important that we extend this fairness to those who are already serving prison sentences for their crimes,” Cole said.
He noted that last December President Obama commuted the sentences of eight men and women who had each served more than 15 years in prison for crack cocaine offenses under mandatory sentencing guidelines.
“Since that time, the president has indicated that he wants to be able to consider additional, similar applications for commutation of sentence, to restore a degree of fairness and proportionality for deserving individuals,” Cole added. “The department is committed to responding to the president’s directive by finding additional candidates who are similarly situated to those granted clemency last year, and recommending qualified applicants for reduced sentences.”
“We are launching this clemency initiative in order to quickly and effectively identify appropriate candidates. Candidates who have a clean prison record do not present a threat to public safety and were sentenced under out-of-date laws that have since been changed and are no longer seen as appropriate.”
The initiative is not limited to crack laws and those eligible must meet six conditions, he said: be currently serving a federal sentence in prison “and by operation of law, likely would’ve received a substantially lower sentence if convicted of the same offense today,” be a nonviolent offender without cartel ties, have served at least 10 years behind bars, “do not have a significant criminal history,” have a good conduct record in prison, and “have no history of violence prior to or during their current term of imprisonment.”
“Identifying worthy candidates within our large prison population will be no easy feat. A good number of inmates will not meet these six criteria,” Cole conceded. “But we are dedicating significant time and resources to ensure that all potentially eligible petitions are reviewed and then processed quickly to ensure timely justice.”
Next week, the Bureau of Prisons will begin notifying inmates of the program. Inmates can then fill out an electronic survey, and those who meet the eligibility requirements “will be offered the assistance of an experienced pro bono attorney in preparing his or her application for clemency.”
These attorneys who have volunteered are calling themselves the Clemency Project 2014.
Cole added that the DOJ is “taking the unusual step of working with the federal Public Defender Service to try to get some of their attorneys detailed to the pardon attorney’s office to support this initiative.”
“Once we have made a preliminary determination that a petition is worthy of serious consideration, we will consult with both the United States attorney’s office and the trial judge that handled the case to get their views on the propriety of granting the application,” he said.
The deputy attorney general stressed that “this clemency initiative should not be understood to minimize the seriousness of our federal criminal law, and is designed first and foremost with public safety in mind. Even low-level offenders cause harm to people through their criminal actions, and many need to be incarcerated.”
“…In the same vein, it’s important to remember that commutations are not pardons. They are not exonerations. They are not expressions of forgiveness. Rather, as the president said, they are, quote, ‘an important step towards restoring fundamental ideals of justice and fairness.’ He noted that many of these individuals would have already served their time and paid their debt to society had they been sentenced under current law.”
A Wisconsin senator said he felt some staff of GOP House members were standing in the way of getting more support for his lawsuit against President Obama’s executive overreach.
On Monday, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) filed an answer to the government’s motion to dismiss his lawsuit over the Obama administration’s special Obamacare treatment of Congress and its staff.
“The Office of Personnel Management’s rule restoring tax preferred congressional health care subsidies that the Affordable Care Act eliminated reflects a stunning disregard for the law. On Jan. 6, 2014, I filed suit to overturn this executive overreach and uphold the rule of law. This is just one example of the more than 20 unilateral changes made by the president to his own signature piece of legislation, but it was the one opportunity where I believe I had standing to challenge,” he said in a statement. “The administration does not want this case to have its day in court, and as a result, asked the court on March 17 to dismiss my case due to lack of standing.”
Johnson told Fox last night that the OPM “basically did the president’s bidding, really the Senate Democrats’ bidding, in making sure that the federal government, contrary to the stated purpose, stated law, that is Obamacare, could make a tax-deferred employer contribution when they had to purchase their insurance through the exchanges. It’s unfair, it’s unfair treatment, its special treatment, and by the way, the president has no legal authority to change the law the way it did. But that’s really at the heart of this lawsuit. It is the doctrine and separation of powers and the fact that this president has exceeded his legal authority.”
Also filed Monday was an amicus brief signed by 12 senators and 26 House representatives in support of Johnson’s lawsuit against OPM.
Johnson called this “a pretty good job of uniting the Republican Party.”
“Even though this will be contrary to their own financial best interest and the financial best interest of their staff, realize what is at stake here is literally the constitutional balance, the constitutional framework of this nation,” he said of those who signed on to the suit.
But he said there was a reason why he thinks more lawmakers didn’t hop on board.
“I think we had a real problem getting my emails past staff. I know in one case there was actually a House member who agreed to be part of the amicus brief, who when we went to the staff said we can’t sign the authorization form. Had to make call to that member of Congress and make sure he overrode his staff,” Johnson said.
The senator said he’s hoping the case comes before Judge Griesbach in the Eastern District Federal Court in Green Bay for a ruling “within the next three or four months.”
On a recess trip to Chicago to promote school choice, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) said the “horrific” scourge of street violence there is “more of a sickness of the spirit than it is actually ownership of guns.”
“In fact, if you look at the rules and the laws, the cities that have the most significant gun control seem to still have the highest violence. So, yes, there is a problem. There is mental illness with some of these shootings. There is also just sort of a thuggishness that’s out of control that no longer knows right from wrong,” Paul told Fox last night.
“But it’s something really maybe even beyond government. It’s spiritual. People need to be taught right and wrong, there needs to be an influence in their lives and there has to be a police presence. You know, it’s not as simple as banning guns. Because they have tried that in Chicago, and they have tried that in D.C. and frankly, it hasn’t worked.”
Paul said the “complicated” problem involves poverty and unemployment. “But it also involves lack parental guidance, lack of church guidance, lack of pastoral guidance,” he added.
That rolls into the issue of school choice, he stressed.
“And, you know, that’s one of the things about the school of choice event that I went to. It was an all girls’ school. But the thing is, is that there is really hope. And you can just see in the eyes of these young ladies that they’re going to be the leaders of the next generation. And there is hope for them. It’s hard for me to imagine how people can oppose charter schools, can oppose school choice. I just can’t imagine the people on the other side of this equation,” he said.
“…In Chicago and in Illinois, we have been trying to get scholarships passed by the state legislature. But the Democrats have uniformly opposed scholarships for poor children to go to both public and private schools and for charter schools. And this is all being opposed. And that’s the real answer. You want equality, education is the great equalizer. But you have to start at a young age. And you have to be for innovation. And so many of these people are so beholden to the establishment that they are opposed to it.”
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), a potential dark horse challenger to Hillary Clinton in 2016, writes in her new book, A Fighting Chance, that the political system is “rigged to work for those who have money and power” in Washington.
“Big corporations, hire armies of lobbyists to get billion dollar loopholes into the tax system and persuade their friends in Congress to support laws that keep the playing field tilted in their favor,” she writes.
On MSNBC last night, she argued that America was able to “build a strong and robust middle class, really basically from the Great Depression until about the 1980s.”
“And then you hit the 1980s. And instead it starts to shift. The Republicans say, you know, what we really have to do is we’ve got to open up a bunch of tax loopholes and the way we’re going to pay for that is we’re going to cut back on what we spend on educating our kids. We’re going to cut back on funding basic infrastructure, those roads and bridges and power grids that let businesses get started and move forward. We’re going to cut back on funding basic research in this country, that great pipeline of ideas that had built so much innovation and creation,” Warren said.
“…So, what happens? The American government says we’re going to lend you the money to go to college, but they don’t actually spell out what’s going to happen next. You’re going to pay back the cost of the funds. You’re going to pay back the bad debts, covering that, the administrative costs.”
The senator said the student loan system is set up “so that the United States government can make tens of billions of dollars in profits off the backs of our kids. That is obscene.”
Warren said she wants to pay down student loan debt by passing the Buffett Rule. “The United States government can invest, it can invest in billionaires by saying keep those big tax loopholes. Or it can invest in people who are frying trying to get an education,” she added.
Student loan legislation was her first bill since coming to the Senate, but she said she’ll introduce a tweaked version next time around to try to make it more palatable and increase its chance of passage — at least in the upper chamber.
The Pentagon announced today that a company of paratroopers arrives in Poland on Wednesday to begin exercises, underscoring the department’s assertion that “Russia’s aggression in Ukraine has renewed our resolve to strengthening NATO’s defense plans and capabilities, and to demonstrate our continued commitment to collective defense in reinforcing our NATO allies in Central and Eastern Europe.”
Defense Department press secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby said the paratroopers come from the U.S. Army Europe’s 173rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, Airborne, based in Vicenza, Italy.
“This new exercise is the first in a series of expanded U.S. land force training activities in Poland and the Baltic region that are scheduled to take place for the next few months and beyond. Additional companies from the 173rd will move in the coming days to Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia for similar exercises,” Kirby said.
The company-sized contingents will number about 150 soldiers each, which could vary according to the exercise, he added, but will “roughly” total 600 personnel for the four countries.
“And what we’re after here is a persistent presence, a persistent rotational presence in these exercises,” Kirby continued. “So, we’re going to start, the troops will be in place in all four countries, probably by the end of this weekend, maybe Monday. As we get into all four countries, the exercises will last about a month or so. But then we will rotate fresh troops in for more exercises.”
“How far this will go? I can’t give you a specific, you know, deadline or timeline on it, but we’re looking at trying to keep this rotational presence persistent throughout the rest of this year. But beyond that, it could go beyond the end of this year. We just don’t know. We’re just going to have to see how it goes.”
Kirby acknowledged that the exercises — “real infantry training…that’s not insignificant” — could expand to other countries in the region.
“And we’re in discussions with our NATO allies and partners right now. It very well could, but right now it’s going to start with those four countries,” he said, adding that “these particular exercises were additive” since the Ukraine crisis came to a head and the U.S. sought ways “to reassure our allies and partners.”
“I think the message is to the people of Poland and Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, that the United States takes seriously our obligations under article 5 of the NATO alliance, even though these aren’t NATO exercises. It’s a very tangible representation of our commitment to our security obligations in Europe, and the message is to the people of those countries and to the alliance that we do take it seriously. And we encourage our NATO partners to likewise look for opportunities of their own to do this same kind of thing for one another. And I think if there’s a message to Moscow, it is the same exact message that we take our obligations very, very seriously on the continent of Europe.”
Kirby stressed that the Pentagon is under no obligation to inform Russia of the exercises.
He said the exercises swung into motion after Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel “was pretty clear with the military leadership that he wanted to look for a wide range of opportunities through which we could continue to reassure our partners in Europe.”
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) noted today, though, that the administration thumbed its nose at Poland long ago.
“We should have set up a deal where our energy over time could be supplied to them to eliminate over time their reliance. We should take them into NATO,” McCain said on Don Imus’ show when asked about how to handle Ukraine. “We should restore the missile defense systems that we canceled in the Czech Republic and Poland.”
“There’s a broad variety of things that we can do… What we do is wag our finger at [Russia] and then they do it and then we wag our finger at them again. The United States of America has lost credibility and that credibility has affected all over — all over the world and it really is — it’s the worst I’ve ever seen.”
The Navy is moving another warship, USS Taylor, to the Black Sea in the coming days. Kirby said today that there have been no more Russian warplane flyovers of the USS Donald Cook since the incident two weeks ago.
A Democratic congresswoman from Rep. Paul Ryan’s (R-Wis.) home state said that the Congressional Black Caucus is eager to meet with the House Budget Committee chairman on Wednesday to discuss his comments on inner-city poverty.
“We have got this tailspin of culture, in our inner cities in particular, of men not working and just generations of men not even thinking about working or learning the value and the culture of work, and so there is a real culture problem here that has to be dealt with,” Ryan said last month on Bill Bennett’s Morning in America when talking about welfare-to-work requirements.
The CBC sent Ryan a letter calling the original comments “highly offensive.” Ryan said his comments had “nothing to do whatsoever with race.”
“After reading the transcript of yesterday morning’s interview, it is clear that I was inarticulate about the point I was trying to make,” he said in a statement. “I was not implicating the culture of one community — but of society as a whole. We have allowed our society to isolate or quarantine the poor rather than integrate people into our communities.” The CBC invited Ryan to come to one of their weekly meetings to talk about poverty.
Rep. Gwen Moore (D-Wis.) told reporters on a House Democratic caucus call today that they see the meeting, scheduled to take place after Ryan’s committee holds a hearing titled “A Progress Report on the War on Poverty: Lessons from the Frontlines,” as an “opportunity.”
“You know, Congressman Ryan is a nice guy. And, as such, you know, he has tried to frame the comments that he made about inner-city folks as just sort of inarticulate ways of communicating,” Moore said. “We’re gonna challenge his assumptions about that, and really raise with him a couple of very specific proposals.”
“One is to really focus and target in on job opportunities for inner city and rural men. There is a program that was modeled in the stimulus package called the 10-20-30 program. And it was to target 10 percent of economic resources in those communities where 20 percent of the population lived in poverty for over 30 years,” she continued.
“And when you look at it, this is not a partisan thing. It’s not a racial thing. It’s not an urban or a rural thing. If we were to implement that, it would touch Republicans, like 50/50 Democrats-Republicans, rural areas and urban communities.”
Moore said they really hope to bend Ryan’s ear during the meeting.
“He says that he wants to, you know, his take on talking about poverty is to say, ‘We’ve spent billions or trillions of dollars on poverty programs and poverty won.’ And we see that essentially as just a sort of playing with statistics or numbers, because in fact these poverty programs have helped raise people into the middle class by giving them job experience,” she said.
“And it has literally been a lifeline to millions of people, and not just people of color, but seniors. We all know, for example, that the Medicare and Medicaid programs, Social Security, literally lifted seniors out of poverty. And so, we are happy that Representative Ryan wants to engage in this conversation and we’re not going to let him get away with sort of a, you know, a sleight-of-hand on this. We know how to crunch numbers as well.”
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) said Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) needs to “tone down the rhetoric a little bit” on calling the militia members at the Bundy Ranch “domestic terrorists.”
“I do think that the federal government, through the Endangered Species Act, has overstepped. I think the fact that 80 percent of the land is owned by the federal government in Nevada, these are things we could correct,” Paul told Fox. “But I don’t think they ought to be corrected in a standoff or an armed standoff or in violence.”
“I have legislation to try to fix some of this. I would send the Endangered Species Act back to the states and let the governors and state legislature oversee this,” he added. “I have had this in the hopper for a year. And if Senator Reid wants to have constructive dialogue on the problem, I would love to have a floor debate and a vote on my bill.”
The senator said that within the dispute over grazing fees, “there is real debate where whether this land should be owned by the federal government or state government.”
“With regard to his specifics, I’m for obeying the law and I’m not for a violent outcome. But with regard to the general question, should the states have some prerogative in this, I think so,” Paul continued. “I would like to see the land owned by individuals, either privately or, at the very most, the state government, but not the federal government. And I would like to see the Endangered Species Act administered with a little more sense of what people need as well as what animals need.”
It’s the “absurdity coming from the federal government” that is making people angry in cases such as this, he said.
“They charge homeowners or property owners in Kentucky money to chop down our trees if they find a bat on the land. So really, this needs to be administered closer to home so we wouldn’t have, I think, such outrageous overstepping by authorities.”
Reid told KSNV-TV “it’s obvious that you can’t just walk away from this.”
“And we can speculate all we want to speculate to what’s going to happen next. But I don’t think it’s going to be tomorrow that something is going to happen, but something will happen. We are a nation of laws, not of men and women,” he said.
Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.), though, told the Nevada station that he takes “more issues with the BLM coming in with a paramilitary army of individuals with snipers.”
“I’m talking to people and groups that are there at the event. Your own government with sniper lenses on you. It made a lot of people very uncomfortable,” he said.
Secretary of State John Kerry called Earth Day today “proof that the steadfast determination of millions is powerful enough to change the course of history.”
“I still remember participating in the very first Earth Day back in 1970,” Kerry said in a statement this afternoon. “It helped to unleash a wave of grassroots activism that ultimately led to the creation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and landmark laws like the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act. This Earth Day we need to consider new ways to unleash a new wave of activism to tackle today’s long list of environmental challenges from the existential threat of climate change to the cause of the oceans.”
Kerry stressed that “climate change’s impacts aren’t far off in the future – they are here and now,” adding in bold type, “We’re increasingly seeing events like those that scientists have long predicted.”
“Extreme droughts are hammering crop production, forcing farmers out of business and driving up grocery bills. More intense floods and storm surges are causing billions in property damage. The coasts are swiftly eroding, rendering home after home uninhabitable or uninsurable. We still have a short window of time to prevent the worst impacts of climate change, but the science tells us that window is closing,” he said.
This year’s Earth Day focus is cities, “and the fact is, how the world’s cities respond to our climate change challenge will make a huge difference.”
“Roughly 5.2 billion people are projected to live in the world’s urban communities by 2050. Building codes and electricity requirements, public transportation systems, and land management will help determine whether we meet this global challenge. The Department of State is committed to doing our part to help bring about greener cities around the world. We are working to deploy renewable energy technologies; build recycling infrastructure; safeguard wildlife, forests and wetlands; and help communities better protect their water resources,” Kerry continued.
“There is another issue that demands our attention this Earth Day: the state of our oceans. We can’t care for the Earth without protecting the ocean that covers nearly three-quarters of it. With global overfishing, record pollution, and ocean acidification, our oceans are in trouble. That’s why I am convening an international ocean conference at the State Department in June to leverage the shared efforts of governments, the private sector, civil society leaders, and global stakeholders.”
Kerry added “we have our own history to write together, cleaning up global communities and protecting natural resources for generations to come.”
Vice President Joe Biden introduced himself at a meeting with Ukrainian legislators in Kiev today as someone who has “someone who has held high public office in my country for now 40 years.”
Biden became the junior senator from Delaware in 1973.
“For 36 years I sat in our legislature, and I used to actually have this seat in our — I was the chairman of our committee. Thank you for making me feel relevant again, back in a legislative body,” he told the Rada, adding that he’d signed the guest book at his hotel “Ukraine united, Joe Biden.”
“Just because I’ve been around, literally met every major leader in the world in the last 40 years, I don’t — I want you to know I do not underestimate the incredible pressure you all are under. I do not underestimate the challenge that you all face. And I do not underestimate the frustration you must feel when someone like me comes along and says this is a great opportunity for you. As my mother would say, but for the honor, I’d just as soon as pass the opportunity,” he quipped.
“…I hope none of you have to appear in the first edition of the ‘Profiles in Courage in Ukraine,’ but my expectation is some of you are going to have to make some really difficult, difficult personal decisions,” he added, referencing JFK’s book.
Biden told the lawmakers that there’s “an expression in English, it says, an expert is anyone from out of town with a briefcase.”
“Well, I don’t have a briefcase, and I’m not an expert. But I have an opinion, and I speak for the president of the United States, and he shares the same opinion. And that is that this is a second opportunity to make good on the original promise made by the Orange Revolution. This is a genuine opportunity to get right what is always difficult to do the first time when coming out from under the oppression or control of another power,” he said.
“…I have an expression I use as I’ve gone around the world through my career is you never tell another man or woman what’s in their interest. They know their interest better than you know their interest. And so I want you to know that we are not suggesting we have the answers for you, but we’re merely suggesting that we stand ready to stand with you in every endeavor that you undertake to generate the united prosperous and coherent Ukraine you’re all fighting for.”
The veep told the Ukrainians to “imagine where you’d be today if you were able to tell Russia: Keep your gas.”
“…And you may have different traditions. It’s not quite the same, but we understand different traditions in our country — not as deeply as you do, but we are the most heterogeneous democracy in the world. We’re soon going to get the point where over 50 percent of the United States of America is made up of people of non-European stock; the majority of the American people are not of European origin in 2020. We understand. We have millions of Muslims. We have hundreds — but it’s not quite the same. We’re not up against a border. We’re not sitting against a border of another powerful nation.”
A congressional Marine vet slammed a New York Times op-ed for linking veterans and white supremacy, saying “if we target specific groups like Muslims as opposed to veterans, the outcry across this country would be outrageous.”
Kathleen Belew, a postdoctoral fellow in history at Northwestern University who is working on a book on Vietnam veterans and the radical right, wrote that Overland Park Jewish center shooter Frazier Glenn Miller killed three people as “a soldier of the white power movement: a groundswell that united Klansmen, neo-Nazis and other fringe elements after the Vietnam War, crested with the bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building in 1995, and remains a diminished but potent threat today.”
“Vietnam veterans forged the first links between Klansmen and Nazis since World War II. They were central in leading Klan and neo-Nazi groups past the anti-civil rights backlash of the 1960s and toward paramilitary violence. The white power movement they forged had strongholds not only in the South, but also in the Pacific Northwest, Colorado, California and Pennsylvania,” Belew continued. “Its members carried weapons like those they had used in Vietnam, and used boot-camp rhetoric to frame their pursuit of domestic enemies. They condoned violence against innocent people and, eventually, the state itself.”
Rep. Michael Grimm (R-N.Y.) asked on Fox “how can someone that is apparently so well-educated be so darn ignorant?”
“This is one of the most outrageous, and ignorant things I’ve ever seen written. Even for the New York Times, which nothing, you know, surprises me with what they write, but this — you shouldn’t even be able allowed to use this under your bird cage. It is disgraceful. It is shameful. And I’ll tell you what, if Ms. Belew has such a problem with our veterans, maybe she should live in a country that doesn’t provide the security and the liberty and the freedom that each and every one of our veterans provide, each and everyday. And maybe that’s what she should do,” said Grimm, a veteran of operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm.
Belew’s piece argued “it would be irresponsible to overlook the high rates of combat trauma among the 2.4 million Americans who have served in our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the full impact of which has not yet materialized. Veterans of those conflicts represent just 10 percent of those getting mental health services through the Department of Veterans Affairs, where the overwhelming majority of those in treatment are still Vietnam veterans.”
Grimm said that considering there was a draft in the Vietnam war, it’s possible “that we drafted one or two that were hate martyrs.”
In the Marine Corps he knew, the congressman added, “the last thing we wanna be is hate martyrs because the — when I was trained with blacks, Latins, everything you can ever imagine, and we put our faith and our lives in each other’s hands. We developed such a respect for each other, there is no hatred at least in the Marine Corps I served in.”
Grimm said if Belew had written an article saying Muslims needed greater scrutiny, “the left, you know, the far left would be putting together marches and they would be out protesting everywhere you can imagine but because it’s our men and women in uniform, the New York Times can get away with it. And it’s again — it’s shameful.”
He added that such attitudes would serve to “dissuade” veterans suffering from PTSD and other conditions “from seeking the treatment that they need.”
Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the archbishop of New York, put in a good word for former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) on Sunday’s Face the Nation and said he’d be a good presidential candidate.
Dolan also quipped that Pope Francis could throw his hat in the ring, noting the Argentinian pontiff (who polls far better than President Obama) “has really ignited the imagination of the world.”
“And, for once, finally, it’s almost like people are saying, wow, there’s reason to cheer. There’s reason to hope. There’s a good guy. The good guys are winning in the church. People want the church to succeed. People want religion and faith and spirituality to work,” he said. “People in general are on the side of virtue and goodness and everything that’s noble and decent in the human person. And when you see somebody like Pope Francis that can tap into that and just seems to emanate that and call forth — call that forth from everybody, people kind of take a second look at religion and say, wow, maybe belief is worth it.”
Dolan cautioned the media, though, against interpreting Francis’ reforms as changing the structure of the Church. “Christianity, like Judaism, is a revealed religion. It’s an inherited religion. We believe that God has told us certain things about himself and ourselves. And we can’t tamper with that,” he said. “Now, we can kind of redirect the way we teach it or express it. And, boy, this pope is doing that on steroids. But to the substance of it, can’t, can’t, can’t.”
One example, the cardinal stressed, is gay marriage.
“I believe we can’t camper tamper with that. Would I do things to protect the civil rights of those who are unable to live up to that? You bet I would, whether that became insurance, whether that became housing, whatever,” he said. “Do I believe that society could be affected negatively if we tamper with the definition of marriage? Yes. And that’s just not as man of faith. That’s just as, I would like to think, a loyal American, that if we tamper with that essential of human relationships, marriage, we’re sooner or later going to come to regret it.”
He also tipped his hat to Hobby Lobby: “I think they are just true Americans. They’re saying, look, the genius of America is that religious convictions affect the way we act. America is at her strongest, at her best when people can bring everything into the public square, including their moral, ethical, spiritual and religious convictions. And the government should never force us to do anything that is contrary to those deepest held convictions. That they’re fighting for that, willing to go all the way to the Supreme Court, boy, they sure have my admiration.”
Dolan said Bush, who unlike his Methodist brother George W. is Catholic, will be helping the archdiocese promote Catholic schools.
“I like Jeb Bush a lot. Whether I would be for him as a presidential candidate or not, I don’t know personally. But I sure admire him. And I especially appreciate the priority he gives to education and immigration, by the way,” Dolan said. “I found him remarkably innovative… He said, darn it, let’s see what works. We can’t do business as usual. We got to help our public schools. We know that they are terribly flawed. What can we do improve them?”
“And he experimented. And he went out on a limb. And a lot of things — and things began to click in Florida to — such that he’s rightly proud of this progress that he made in education. And, if you don’t mind me blowing our own horn here, he says one of the best things going is Catholic education.”
When asked if he would like to see Bush run for president, the cardinal replied, “Yes, I think he — I sure think he’d bring something, yes. He’d be good.”
Retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens told ABC that his decision to step down “was not made for any political reason whatsoever,” but it’s natural for justices to think about who might fill their shoes.
The 94-year-old judge’s retirement in 2010 allowed President Obama to pick another liberal for the court, Justice Elena Kagan.
Stevens is out with a book proposing six amendments to the Constitution, including altering the Second Amendment to say “the right of the people to keep and bear arms, when serving in the militia, shall not be infringed.”
“I think every one of my proposals is a moderate proposal,” the justice said. “…I think that’s what should be the rule that it should be legislatures rather than judges who draw the line what is permissible.”
He said the new wording is “what was intended, because there was a fear among the original farmers that the federal government would be so strong that they might destroy the state militias. The amendment would merely prevent arguments being made that Congress doesn’t have the power to do what they think is in the best public interest.”
Under the amendment, Stevens acknowledged, Congress could ban individual gun ownership.
Another proposed amendment would ban gerrymandering with the intention of preserving political power.
“Well, it’s subjective, but it’s easily recognizable if you look at the shapes of the districts that gerrymandering produces. It doesn’t take a genius to say that there’s something fishy with these particular districts,” he said.
Stevens said he “really” believes they will eventually pass.
“Well, perhaps today there might be no chance for certainly the second amendment proposal. But the difficulty of the process shouldn’t foreclose an attempt,” he said.
President Obama spent Saturday golfing before the first family made an appearance at a DC Baptist church on Easter.
Obama’s golf partners at Andrews Air Force Base were White House trip director Marvin Nicholson, Walter Nicholson and Joe Paulsen for about four hours on the green.
At 10 a.m. the next morning, the Obamas left the White House for northwest D.C.’s 19th Street Baptist Church. The pastor there, Rev. Derrick Harkins, has been helping the administration promote Obamacare. He also used to be a faith adviser to the Democratic National Committee. “Rev. Harkins is a national leader in the faith community with strong and diverse ties to the African-American church, evangelicals and the progressive faith community,” the DNC said at the time of his 2011 appointment. “Outreach to people of all faiths is a key priority and trademark of President Obama, and Harkins is the right leader to continue the Democratic Party’s engagement of the faith community.”
The Obamas went to St. John’s Episcopal Church the previous Easter and have not joined any particular congregation since coming to Washington.
They sat in a second-row reserved pew in an otherwise packed church, according to the White House pool report, with a row of Secret Service behind them.
Harkins told congregants to greet their neighbors and welcome the president. “Obama high-fived a baby boy, hugged and kissed women, and Michelle blew kisses from inside their pew,” said the report.
“Isn’t our first family gracious?” the pastor said.
Obama “dropped a white paper or envelope into the silver contribution plate as ushers distributed them through the pews” and soon after “an older gentleman stood up from his seat some distance from the president and raised his arm and yelled, ‘God Bless President Obama!’ The worshippers applauded loudly. The president smiled.”
Harkins’ prayer asked God to give Obama “every measure of encouragement” and “wisdom,” and “tend to his spirit” under the weight of criticism, to which the crowd eagerly replied with yells of “yes”.
The sermon “talked about supporting people ‘living in the shadows and the margins,” including ‘LGBT’ people,” continued the pool report. “…The president listened attentively from his seat, with his chin propped on his left hand at times, and his fingers entwined together as the sermon shifted toward a rousing finale. He joined in applause at the end.”
On the route from the church back to the White House, a group held a “stop deportations” sign along the street.
Pres Obama and Easter Bunny place hand over heart for singing of the National Anthem at WH Easter Egg Roll. pic.twitter.com/y2WmjM5F44
— Mark Knoller (@markknoller) April 21, 2014
President Obama used his weekly address to extend Easter and Passover wishes, expounding upon the time of year with “great meaning.”
He noted the week’s Seder held at the White House, at which he and Michelle Obama “joined Jewish families around the world in their retellings of the story of the Exodus and the victory of faith over oppression.”
“And this Sunday, Michelle, Malia, Sasha, and I will join our fellow Christians around the world in celebrating the Resurrection of Christ, the salvation he offered the world, and the hope that comes with the Easter season,” the president added.
It’s not known if the first family will attend church, as it isn’t on the president’s weekend schedule. He spontaneously attended a service in October, but skipped church on Christmas.
“These holy days have their roots in miracles that took place long ago. And yet, they still inspire us, guide us, and strengthen us today. They remind us of our responsibilities to God and, as God’s children, our responsibilities to one another,” Obama continued.
“For me, and for countless other Christians, Holy Week and Easter are times for reflection and renewal. We remember the grace of an awesome God, who loves us so deeply that He gave us his only Son, so that we might live through Him. We recall all that Jesus endured for us – the scorn of the crowds, the agony of the cross – all so that we might be forgiven our sins and granted everlasting life. And we recommit ourselves to following His example, to love and serve one another, particularly ‘the least of these’ among us, just as He loves every one of us.”
Obama called on Americans to join a “universal mission” this holiday.
“The common thread of humanity that connects us all – not just Christians and Jews, but Muslims and Hindus and Sikhs – is our shared commitment to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. To remember, I am my brother’s keeper. I am my sister’s keeper. Whatever your faith, believer or nonbeliever, there’s no better time to rededicate ourselves to that universal mission,” he said. “For me, Easter is a story of hope – a belief in a better day to come, just around the bend.”
On Monday, the White House hosts the annual Easter Egg Roll on the South Lawn, which under Obama has integrated the first lady’s Let’s Move! campaign. This year’s theme is “Hop into Healthy, Swing into Shape.” Most of the personalities appearing at the event are professional athletes; actor Jim Carrey will be reading stories to kids.
Republicans dedicated their weekly address to “Republican Enablers vs. Democrat Mandators.”
“Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina would allow federal dollars to follow a child with Down syndrome or another disability to the school the parents choose. Democrat mandators say, no—government knows best. Last year, Republican senators proposed legislation to give back to states control over whether teachers and schools are succeeding or failing. Democrat mandators proposed, in effect, a national school board,” said Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.).
“Health care provides the most glaring difference between Republican enablers and Democrat mandators. Too often, Obamacare cancels the policy you want to keep and tells you what policy to buy, even if it costs more and restricts your choices of doctors and hospitals… Republicans want to enable and empower you. We want to be the iPhone party. We believe government ought to be a platform that gives you opportunity and freedom to create a happier, more prosperous, and safer life.”
Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) slammed the founder of Facebook for going after him on immigration reform, saying the CEO just wants to pad his profits with more legalized workers.
The advocacy group co-founded by Mark Zuckerberg, FWD.us, released an ad in Iowa featuring Alejandro Morales, who wants to serve in the Marine Corps but can’t because he entered the country illegally at 7 months old.
Morales stands gazing up at the Iwo Jima Memorial in the ad as the music swells. “I believe 100 percent what this country stands for. Let me earn it. Let me serve.”
Imposed over a shot of the memorial are quotes from King, including, “We’re not going to take your oath into the military, but we’re going to take your deposition and have a bus for you to Tijuana.”
Another ad states that instead of supporting the military, King “insults the brave soldiers who are immigrants and those who would proudly serve.”
“I am under attack by billionaire Mark Zuckerberg because I am one of the few who will stand up and tell the truth about amnesty,” King responded in a statement. “He wants amnesty because it would benefit his multi-billion dollar corporation, but I’m fighting to preserve the Rule of Law. Why would we reward people for breaking our laws? Rewarding law breakers produces more law breakers.”
“Our Nation’s military is full of dedicated men and women and to disrespect them by rewarding illegal aliens with citizenship is an insult,” King added. “I ask that everyone who agrees that illegal immigrants should not be rewarded for having broken the law stand with me.”
President Obama signed an executive order today extending eligibility for the third-highest Defense Department recognition to foreign armies.
“Executive Order 12019 of November 3, 1977 (Establishing the Defense Meritorious Service Medal), is amended by inserting, ‘or to any member of the armed forces of a friendly foreign nation,’ after ‘any member of the Armed Forces of the United States,’” said the short order.
Worn between the Purple Heart and Meritorious Service Medal, the Defense Meritorious Service Medal is awarded to military personnel “serving with or assigned to a number of joint activities including the Secretary of Defense, organizations of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and headquarters of joint commands,” according to an Air Force fact sheet. “Other joint activities and specified commands such as military assistance advisory groups and joint missions; and jointly manned staffs within Allied Command Europe, Allied Command Atlantic, the NATO Military Committee, and military agencies associated with functions of the military or other joint activities as may be designated by the secretary are also included.”
The medal is awarded for “non-combat meritorious achievement or service that is incontestably exceptional and of magnitude that clearly places the individual above his peers while serving in one of the assignments for which the medal has been designated.”
White House press secretary Jay Carney did not address the order at today’s daily briefing, focusing instead on Obama’s trip to Tokyo next week.
Under its implementation of Sharia law, the Iranian regime has turned the justice system into a grotesque theater of public executions after often sketchy trials and dubious charges.
One Iranian couple who held no doubt about who killed their son, though, weren’t going to let that happen.
From UAE newspaper The National:
The dramatic climax followed a rare public campaign to save the life of Balal, who at 19 killed another young man, Abdollah Hosseinzadeh, in a street fight with a knife back in 2007.
Shargh newspaper said police officers led Balal to a public execution site in the northern city of Nowshahr as a large crowd gathering on Tuesday morning.
Samereh Alinejad, mother of the victim who lost another son in a motorbike accident four years ago, asked the crowd whether they know “how difficult it is to live in an empty house”.
Balal, black-hooded and standing on a chair before a makeshift gallows, had the noose around his neck when Ms Alinejad approached.
She slapped him in the face and removed the rope from his neck assisted by her husband, Abdolghani Hosseinzadeh, a former professional footballer.
“I am a believer. I had a dream in which my son told me that he was at peace and in a good place … After that, all my relatives, even my mother, put pressure on me to pardon the killer,” Ms Alinejad told Shargh.
“The murderer was crying, asking for forgiveness. I slapped him in the face. That slap helped to calm me down,” she said. “Now that I’ve forgiven him, I feel relieved.”
Balal’s mother, who had been sitting on the ground in a daze among the crowd waiting to see the hanging, tearfully embraced Alinejad after they removed the noose.
Former NSA contractor and leaker Edward Snowden, who asked a staged question of Russian President Vladimir Putin during a TV show yesterday, defended his actions in a Guardian op-ed.
Putin was addressing the nation in a four-hour television appearance in which he took a handful of questions, including from a 6-year-old boy who asked Putin if he thought President Obama would save him from drowning.
When told by host Anna Pavlova that he had a “surprise” video call from Snowden, who has been granted indefinite asylum in Russia to escape prosecution in the U.S., Putin said, “Do I really?”
“Does Russia intercept, store, or analyse in any way the communications of millions of individuals, and do you believe that simply increasing the effectiveness of intelligence or law enforcement investigations can justify placing societies – rather than subjects – under surveillance?” Snowden asked.
Putin addressed Snowden as “a former intelligence officer, and I have worked for an intelligence agency, too.”
“Russia has laws that strictly regulate the use of special equipment by security services, including for the tapping of private conversations and for the surveillance of online communications. They need to receive a court warrant to be able to use this equipment in each particular case. So there is no, and cannot be any, indiscriminate mass surveillance under Russian law,” he said. “Since criminals, including terrorists, use these modern communication systems for their criminal activity, security services should be able to respond accordingly and use modern equipment to combat crime, including terrorism.”
“Yes, we do this, but not on such a large scale and not arbitrarily,” Putin continued. “Hopefully – I hope very much – we will never act in this manner. Besides, we do not have such technical capabilities and funds as the United States. But the main thing is that, happily, our security services are strictly controlled by the state and society and their operation is strictly regulated by law.”
Snowden wrote that his questions were ”intended to mirror the now infamous exchange in US Senate intelligence committee hearings between senator Ron Wyden and the director of national intelligence, James Clapper, about whether the NSA collected records on millions of Americans, and to invite either an important concession or a clear evasion.”
“Clapper’s lie – to the Senate and to the public – was a major motivating force behind my decision to go public, and a historic example of the importance of official accountability,” Snowden claimed, adding that Putin “denied” and “dodged” in his answer in a way “remarkably similar” to Obama.
“I was surprised that people who witnessed me risk my life to expose the surveillance practices of my own country could not believe that I might also criticise the surveillance policies of Russia, a country to which I have sworn no allegiance, without ulterior motive. I regret that my question could be misinterpreted, and that it enabled many to ignore the substance of the question – and Putin’s evasive response – in order to speculate, wildly and incorrectly, about my motives for asking it,” the former Booz Allen Hamilton contractor continued.
“…So why all the criticism? I expected that some would object to my participation in an annual forum that is largely comprised of softball questions to a leader unaccustomed to being challenged. But to me, the rare opportunity to lift a taboo on discussion of state surveillance before an audience that primarily views state media outweighed that risk. Moreover, I hoped that Putin’s answer – whatever it was – would provide opportunities for serious journalists and civil society to push the discussion further.”
The Simon Wiesenthal Center said that they asked the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine who is behind the fliers ordering Jews to register with regional pro-Russia authorities in Donetsk, and received a succinct answer: “We don’t know who.”
The fliers, which were handed out by masked, armed men as eastern Ukrainian Jews left a Passover synagogue service, demanded that all Jews register and list their property, paying a $50 fee to do so, or else face deportation and revocation of citizenship. Some people who received the fliers sent images to relatives in Israel, where the story spread quickly in the media.
In response to an email query, Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt told the Wiesenthal Center that the fliers were “clearly part of a general effort to sow fear among Ukrainian Jews.” Beyond that, the U.S. doesn’t know much.
“The Wiesenthal Center denounces this grotesque action that is clearly designed to spread more fear among the Jewish community, already reeling from the increased instability that has racked the region for the past few months, “said Rabbis Marvin Hier and Abraham Cooper in a statement released in Los Angeles. “We urge authorities to take all necessary measures to ensure the safety of Jewish communal institutions.”
The Anti-Defamation League noted that the leader of the Donetsk People’s Republic, whose name appeared in the document’s signature, has publicly disavowed the flier.
“We are skeptical about the flier’s authenticity, but the instructions clearly recall the Nazi era and have the effect of intimidating the local Jewish community,” said ADL national director Abraham H. Foxman. “We have seen a series of cynical and politically manipulative uses and accusations of anti-Semitism in Ukraine over the past year. The perpetrators and their targets are opposing politicians and political movements, but the true victims are the Jewish communities. We strongly condemn the anti-Semitic content, but also all attempts to use anti-Semitism for political purposes.”
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said it’s critical that the international monitors from the Organization for the Security and Co-operation in Europe deploying to Ukraine as part of yesterday’s Geneva agreement “examine this issue closely to ensure that religious and ethnic minorities do not become targets.”
“This sort of intimidation and persecution is unacceptable and cannot be tolerated in the 21st century,” he said.
Rep. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) stressed that “the world has seen this before and it cannot be tolerated.”
“This act of hate is atrocious and must be brought to a halt immediately,” the congressman said. “I call on President Obama to ensure that this movement is dismantled without delay.”
Secretary of State John Kerry called the fliers “grotesque.” A State Department spokeswoman said they were investigating the pamphlets’ origin but felt that Russia opposes anti-Semitism.
The Clintons announced today that they’re adding a new member to their clan:
Excited to add a new line to my Twitter bio…grandfather-to-be! @hillaryclinton and I are so happy for Chelsea and Marc!
— Bill Clinton (@billclinton) April 17, 2014
My most exciting title yet: Grandmother-To-Be! @billclinton and I are thrilled that Chelsea and Marc are expecting their first child!
— Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) April 17, 2014
Marc and I are so thrilled to be expecting our first child in the fall! Thank you for all of the kind words!
— Chelsea Clinton (@ChelseaClinton) April 17, 2014
Chelsea, 34, married investment banker Marc Mezvinsky, son of former Dem Rep. Ed Mezvinsky (Iowa), in 2010. She said last October that 2014 would be their “year of the baby.”
“And please, call my mother and tell her that. She asks us about it every single day,” Chelsea added then.
She bought a $10 million condo in Manhattan last year and works at her family’s foundation.
President Obama stepped out at the White House daily briefing today to again berate Republicans for challenging Obamacare — in what appeared to be an attempt to get politicians to stop talking about the law’s negative effects before midterm elections.
Obama announced “as more data comes in, we now know that the number of Americans who’ve signed up for private insurance in the marketplaces has grown to 8 million people.”
“Before this law added new transparency and competition to the individual market, folks who’ve bought insurance on their own regularly saw double-digit increases in their premiums. That was the norm. And while we suspect that premiums will keep rising, as they have for decades, we also know that, since the law took effect, health care spending has risen more slowly than at any time in the past 50 years,” he said.
“…And this thing is working. I’ve said before, this law won’t solve all the problems in our healthcare system. We know we’ve got more work to do. But we now know for a fact that repealing the Affordable Care Act would increase the deficit, raise premiums for millions of Americans, and take insurance away from millions more, which is why, as I’ve said before, I find it strange that the Republican position on this law is still stuck in the same place that it has always been.”
Republicans, he charged, “still can’t bring themselves to admit that the Affordable Care Act is working. They said nobody would sign up; they were wrong about that. They said it would be unaffordable for the country; they were wrong about that. They were wrong to keep trying to repeal a law that is working when they have no alternative answer for millions of Americans with pre-existing conditions who’d be denied coverage again or every woman who’d be charged more for just being a woman again.”
“I know every American isn’t going to agree with this law, but I think we can agree that it’s well past time to move on as a country and refocus our energy on the issues that the American people are most concerned about, and that continues to be the economy, because these endless, fruitless repeal efforts come at a cost.”
Instead of taking dozens of votes to repeal, replace or otherwise fix Obamacare, Obama said, lawmakers could have taken votes “to create jobs by investing in things like infrastructure or innovation, or 50 votes to make it easier for middle-class families to send their kids to college, or 50 votes to raise the minimum wage or restore unemployment insurance that they let expire for folks working hard to find a new job.”
“The point is, the repeal debate is and should be over,” he added. “The Affordable Care Act is working. And I know the American people don’t want us spending the next two-and-a-half years re-fighting the settled political battles of the last five years. They sent us here to repair our economy, to rebuild our middle class, and to restore our founding promise of opportunity, not just for a few, but for all. And as president, that’s exactly what I intend to keep doing as long as I’m in this office.”
On House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s (R-Va.) charge that Obama is without cause attacking the GOP on immigration reform, the president slightly smirked and said he “actually had a very pleasant conversation with Mr. Cantor yesterday.”
“I wished him happy Passover. And what I said to him privately is something that I would share with him — that I’ve said publicly, which is, there is bipartisan support for comprehensive immigration reform,” Obama added. “…I know there are Republicans in the House, as there are Republicans in the Senate, who know this is the right thing to do. I also know it’s hard politics for Republicans, because there are some in their base that are very opposed to this.”
Secretary of State John Kerry confirmed that Donetsk Jews received fliers ordering them to register with pro-Russian authorities, calling the news “grotesque.”
Appearing with EU High Representative Catherine Ashton after a Geneva meeting on the Ukraine crisis, Kerry said “the parties agreed today that all sides must refrain from the use of violence, intimidation, or provocative actions. And we strongly condemned and rejected all expressions of extremism, racism, and religious intolerance, including anti-Semitism.”
“Let me say a quick word about that. Just in the last couple of days, notices were sent to Jews in one city indicating that they had to identify themselves as Jews. And obviously, the accompanying threat implied is – or threatened – or suffer the consequences, one way or the other,” Kerry continued.
“In the year 2014, after all of the miles traveled and all of the journey of history, this is not just intolerable; it’s grotesque. It is beyond unacceptable. And any of the people who engage in these kinds of activities, from whatever party or whatever ideology or whatever place they crawl out of, there is no place for that. And unanimously, every party today joined in this condemnation of that kind of behavior.”
The U.S., Russia, Ukraine and EU agreed “all illegal armed groups must be disarmed; all illegally seized buildings must be returned to legitimate owners; all illegally occupied streets, squares and other public places in Ukrainian cities and towns must be vacated.”
“Amnesty will be granted to protestors and to those who have left buildings and other public places and surrendered weapons, with the exception of those found guilty of capital crimes,” continues their statement.
State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf told reporters today that the U.S. is still looking into who was behind the fliers.
“As we said in the joint statement, all four parties very clearly condemn anti-Semitism. So again, I don’t have more details on where the reports are coming from, but I know we’re looking into it,” Harf said. “I think the Secretary made very clear that we take this very seriously.”
Israel’s Ynet News is reporting on a chilling flier given to Jews in the eastern Ukrainian province of Donetsk, ordering them to register with the local authorities:
A leaflet distributed in Donetsk, Ukraine calling for all Jews over 16 years old to register as Jews marred the Jewish community’s Passover festivities Monday (Passover eve), replacing them with feelings of concern.
The leaflet demanded the city’s Jews supply a detailed list of all the property they own, or else have their citizenship revoked, face deportion and see their assets confiscated.
It was signed by the head of government in the region and was distributed by masked men outside the Donetsk synagogue after Passover prayers, and beyond. The region is home to about 17,000 Jews.
The leaflet was written in Russian and had Russia’s national symbol on it, as well as the Donetsk People’s Republic insignia.
“Dear Ukraine citizens of Jewish nationality,” the flyer began, “due to the fact that the leaders of the Jewish community of Ukraine supported Bendery Junta,” a reference to Stepan Bandera, the leader of the Ukrainian nationalist movement which fought for Ukrainian independence at the end of World War II, “and oppose the pro-Slavic People’s Republic of Donetsk, (the interim government) has decided that all citizens of Jewish descent, over 16 years of age and residing within the republic’s territory are required to report to the Commissioner for Nationalities in the Donetsk Regional Administration building and register.”
The leaflet detailed what type of documents the Jewish citizens would need to supply: “ID and passport are required to register your Jewish religion, religious documents of family members, as well as documents establishing the rights to all real estate property that belongs to you, including vehicles.”
If the message was not made clear enough, the leaflet further stipulated the consequences that would come to those who failed to abide by the new demands: “Evasion of registration will result in citizenship revoke and you will be forced outside the country with a confiscation of property.”
To add insult to injury, the leaflet demanded the Jews pay a registration fee of $50.
Vice President Joe Biden said he wouldn’t do a thing differently if he decides to shoot for the White House, while President Obama suggested that a Republican victor would continue some of his policies.
Obama and Biden went on the road together yesterday to promote job training at a New York community college.
When CBS asked whether a 2016 run would alter what Biden is doing for the president, the veep responded, “There is nothing I would do differently.”
“If I absolutely knew I wasn’t going to run or I absolutely knew I was, there’s nothing I’d do differently over the next seven, eight, ten months. We have a very important job to do. The president and his agenda is one I strongly believe in, and we have upcoming elections in 2014,” Biden said.
“If I decide to run, believe me, this would be the first guy I talk to. But that decision hasn’t been made, for real. And there’s plenty of time to make that. We have a lot of work to do between now and November.”
Obama lauded Biden as “somebody who I think will go down as one of the finest vice presidents in history,” while also giving some kudos to Hillary Clinton.
“He has been, as I said earlier, a great partner in everything that I do. I suspect that there may be other potential candidates for 2016 who have been great friends and allies. I know that we’ve got an extraordinary secretary of State who did great service for us and worked with me and Joe to help make the country safer,” he said.
“Whoever the Democratic standard bearer is is going to continuing to focus on jobs, making sure that our kids are getting a great education, making sure that we’re rebuilding prosperity from the middle class out in this country. And I am very much interested in making sure that some of the stuff that we’ve gotten started continues.”
When asked if that meant supporting someone who would essentially continue a third term for the Obama presidency, Obama interjected, “Oh, I don’t want to start — I don’t want to necessarily jam them up.”
“We all are a part of this relay race, whether we’re vice presidents, presidents. You know, the truth is that we build off of what folks have done previously. And in some cases that includes, by the way, Republican presidents. That’s the beauty of democracy. It keeps on evolving,” he continued.
“And I’m sure that there are going to be some things that, whoever the next president is, want to continue. There are going to be some things I’m sure they want to do differently. But the trajectory, hopefully, is going to continue to be one in which we’re broadening opportunity for every American.”
President Obama told CBS that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s aggression toward Ukraine is really done out of weakness, not strength.
“Contrary to all the rhetoric that you’re hearing from Russia, there’s no excuse for not only Russian troops being massed along the borders of Ukraine, but also, there’s no excuse for the covert support and certainly the rhetorical support that you’re seeing for these militias that are taking over government buildings and causing chaos,” Obama said.
“What I’m saying is, is that the Russians generally have not been respecting the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine. And that’s not simply my opinion. That’s world opinion,” he continued. “The question now becomes whether or not this can be de-escalated and resolved in a way that gives Ukrainians a chance to make their own decisions about their own lives.”
“What I’ve said consistently is that each time Russia takes these kinds of steps that are designed to destabilize Ukraine and violate their sovereignty, that there are going consequences. Mr. Putin’s decisions are not just bad for Ukraine. Over the long term, they’re going to be bad for Russia.”
The president stressed, though, “we want to give diplomacy a chance as long, ultimately, the decisions are being made by Ukrainians, not by Russians, not by Americans, not by other European nations, but by Ukrainians themselves.”
“None of us think that somehow Ukraine can ignore Russia, should be hostile towards Russia, but we also don’t think that Ukraine should be a vassal state. Now, what we have said consistently is, is that we’re not going to see a military resolution to this problem,” he said.
“What Mr. Putin has been doing he does out of sense of weakness, not strength. The fact that he’s willing to endanger his economy and lose all credibility all around the world the way he has is indicative of the fact that Ukrainians are unsatisfied with a relationship in which you’ve got another country trying to dictate their foreign policy and their economy, and they want to move forward.”
When asked about this week’s tauntin of a U.S. warship in the Black Sea with repeated passes by a Russian fighter jet, Obama brushed off the assertion that it could have been a mocking gesture.
“I have to tell you that everybody around the world understands the superiority of our military. And as commander in chief, I don’t make decisions based on perceived signals. We make decisions very deliberately based on what’s required for our security and for the security of the allies,” he said. “The Russians understand that. They’re not interested in any kind of military confrontation with us, understanding that our conventional forces are significantly superior to the Russians. We don’t need a war.”
During a four-hour television interview today, Putin was asked by a small child if Obama would save him from drowning.
“I don’t want to be drowning!” Putin said, laughing. “… I don’t think I have a close personal relationship with Obama. I think Obama is courageous and a good person, and for sure he would save me.”
The Department of Defense and South Korean Ministry of National Defense wrapped up their fifth defense dialogue in Washington this week with an agreement to “substantively” increase cooperation against North Korean aggression.
Over the course of the two-day meeting, ROK Deputy Minister for Defense Policy Yoo Jeh Seung met with the U.S. Chief of Staff to the Secretary of Defense Mark Lippert, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for East Asia David Helvey, and Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Nuclear and Missile Defense Policy Elaine Bunn, the Pentagon said.
“The two sides reaffirmed the shared view that recent North Korean provocations, including recent missile launches, artillery fire in the Yellow Sea, the infiltration of small unmanned aerial vehicles, and the looming threat of a fourth nuclear test undermine stability of the Korean Peninsula and the region. The two sides also addressed ways to strengthen coordinated actions and the importance of continued close collaboration within the alliance to enable better deterrence of and response to North Korean provocations,” the DoD described the meeting.
“The two sides discussed ways to strengthen the combined defense posture to defend the Republic of Korea and to deter North Korean aggression by enhancing combined Alliance capabilities, and continuing combined exercises. The ROK and U.S. also discussed the ROK proposed conditions-based approach to wartime OPCON transition. The ROK and the U.S. will continue cooperating to develop the future command structure, combined operational plans, ROK critical military capabilities, and U.S. bridging and enduring capabilities.”
Particularly welcome was the South Korean National Assembly’s recent ratification of more cost-sharing support to “offset costs associated with stationing U.S. forces on the Korean Peninsula.”
“The 2014-2018 agreement will provide for continued ROK support in logistics, labor, and construction and will help ensure that we have the resources necessary for the combined defense of the Korean Peninsula,” the Pentagon said.
“The two sides also addressed various areas of alliance cooperation, including regional and global cooperation, and efforts to counter weapons of mass destruction and interdiction, command, control, communications, computers, and intelligence interoperability, and cyber and space cooperation.”
That included a “continued U.S. commitment to provide and strengthen extended deterrence for the ROK using the full range of military capabilities, including the U.S. nuclear umbrella, conventional strike, and missile defense capabilities.”
“The two countries discussed implementation of the tailored deterrence strategy to include combined exercises to ensure that deterrence and extended deterrence remains credible, capable, and enduring,” the Pentagon continued. “Both sides also discussed efforts to counter North Korean missile threats, including the continued combined development of comprehensive counter-missile capabilities to detect, defend against, disrupt, and destroy North Korean missile threats, in particular strengthened missile defense interoperability, including the ROK ‘Kill Chain’ and Korean air and missile defense systems.”
A sixth round of talks is scheduled in Seoul this July.
Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) is lobbying the Defense Department to host an official welcome-home ticker-tape parade for Iraq and Afghanistan vets down Broadway in Manhattan.
Schumer said former Mayor Michael Bloomberg tried to get this after President Obama announced an end to the Iraq war, but was told by the Pentagon that the conflicts are interrelated and “because many people who served in Iraq went to serve in Afghanistan and vice versa, that they shouldn’t do it.”
“Now, the president called for combat to end by the end of 2014. Hagel seconded this. So, now is the time to get moving and prepare and do the great parade that New York can do down the Canyon of Heroes. I talked to DoD. And — they, you know, they’re the bureaucracy of bureaucracies, and they’re jumping through 100 hoops. But they have been very positive,” the senator told MSNBC.
It can be done without the Pentagon, he added, but with cooperation “we can have the top military brass come. We can have flyovers. We can have all kind of military bands and everything else. It will be a grand, grand parade.”
“So, the other parades were good. But to give these women and men who served us and risked their lives for us, the recognition they deserve, there is nothing like a parade in the Canyon of Heroes with the full support of our nation’s Defense Department and all extra things that that entails.”
Schumer, who says he cut his “political teeth” protesting the Vietnam war back in the day, stressed it was “wrong” that those veterans didn’t get a parade for a decade.
“There was just so much anger at the establishment in Vietnam that it boiled over unfortunately into the veterans as almost symbols of the establishment,” he said. “In Iraq, people thought the war was wrong. But there wasn’t the same hostility to the whole way America was going. Vietnam was sort of an awakening to a lot of people.”
He conceded “it will take some money,” but said the city of New York is willing to chip in as are many veterans organizations.
“I think paying for it won’t be the hard part. It’s getting it organized. And we’ll have to figure out when we can do it,” Schumer said, adding Veterans Day would be a “great” day to hold the parade.
— The White House (@WhiteHouse) April 17, 2014
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said he’s “begging” the Obama administration to not give Iran the right to enrich uranium in the ongoing P5+1 talks to arrive at a final agreement.
“I’m sure they will probably continue to negotiate, but here’s what you need to understand about the negotiations. The Obama administration is about to give the ayatollahs in Iran the right to enrich uranium,” Graham told Fox. “This is what they did with North Korea. They allowed the North Koreans a small enrichment program and they were gonna monitor it with the U.N. weapons inspectors. Well, guess what? And that sanctions. The North Koreans have nuclear weapons.”
“We’re on the path to repeating Iran the same mistakes we had in North Korea. I am begging the Obama administration if the Iranians have a nuclear power program, fine, just control the fuel cycle. Do not allow them to enrich uranium. You’ll have a North Korean result on your hand and in the Mideast if the Iranians get a nuclear capability, Sunni Arabs are gonna want one of their own and you are on the road to Armageddon.”
A senior administration official said on background last week that “on some issues, if you can move forward, you may open up trade space on another issue.”
“When we’ve talked about enrichment before, that has many, many pieces to it – from stockpiles to facilities to enrichment levels to centrifuge production,” the official said. “I mean, it’s just a myriad of subsets. And that’s true of every issue.”
Graham said Iran’s recent attempt to send a 1979 hostage-taker to New York as its UN ambassador raises questions about their motives and sincerity.
“If they are really sincere about wanting to reach a peaceful resolution, that nuclear program, why would they do this to begin with? This really tells you all you need to know about this Iranian regime. They are a bunch of thugs,” he said.
“The largest state sponsor of terrorism for the last 30 years. They killed our American soldiers in Iraq providing weapons to people in Iraq to kill American soldiers. They are trying to develop a nuclear weapon, not a peaceful power program. And this is just — tells you all you need to know about the Iranians.”
July 20 has been set by the negotiating parties as the deadline for a final nuclear deal with Iran.
If you’re familiar with The Onion, you’ll love the military version: The Duffel Blog. This satire site counts generals to privates among its readers, and today angered Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.) with a satire claiming he introduced a bill that would require vets to knock on neighbors’ doors and warn they could snap as a high-risk “powder keg of post traumatic stress.”
Contributors include “disgruntled Marines, annoyed Army guys and sickened sailors,” Duffel Blog founder and former Marine Sgt. Paul Szoldra once quipped. And their coverage since the first Fort Hood shooting has been telling.
From “President Obama Says Latest Fort Hood Shooting ‘Definitely’ A Terrorist Attack,” published Saturday:
Following the speech, many of the president’s supporters hailed Obama as a strong wartime leader, citing his declaration that a ‘red line’ had been drawn and that any further attacks from terrorists on U.S. soil would draw a firm rebuke and censure in the United Nations.
While determined to bring the terrorists — and terror groups that supported this latest attack — to justice, some have raised questions on the differences between the latest attack and the tragic workplace violence incident that happened in 2009, where then-Maj. Nidal Hasan accidentally tripped over his beard and shot more than 40 people.
“There are absolutely no similarities in these two cases aside from the application of violence against our servicemen and women,” said White House spokesman Jay Carney to reporters. “Maj. Hasan had never deployed in support of the wars in Afghanistan or Iraq, so he was obviously unable to absorb any sort of extremist message, and he targeted soldiers in a single location, which meant he clearly had issues relevant to that specific location or population.”
When asked if Hasan’s Muslim faith had any bearing on the decision to label that incident ‘workplace violence’ instead of a terror attack, Carney was adamant that it did not.
…The military had already begun planning overseas contingency operations to rout terrorist networks in Killeen, Texas, Pentagon sources said.
At press time, witnesses had apparently overheard Carney later instructing a nearby aide to double-check the shooter’s DD214 document to ensure he had ties to radical Army terror networks.”
Previous Fort Hood coverage has included “Nidal Hasan Says He’s Amish In Last Ditch Effort To Save Beard”:
Most outsiders assumed from Hasan’s name, his parents’ Palestinian background, and his business card tagline of “Soldier of Allah”, that he was Muslim. The judge, Col. Jeffrey Tribley, pressed Hasan for more information on this discrepancy.
“Yes sir. I am Muslim and Amish,” Hasan responded. “This of course means that my beard is two-times as important to my religion, and under religious exceptions in the UCMJ, it is required.”
A federal grand jury handed down an indictment Tuesday against a 49-year-old West Virginia man for threatening to kill Sen. Joe Manchin (D).
Steven Anthony Major of Barboursville, W.Va., was arrested March 21 after making four calls to the senator’s Charleston and D.C. office from March 17-20. He reportedly left his real name while making threats against Manchin and his family.
“During these calls, Mr. Major told Senator Manchin to stay out of the State of West Virginia and made several violent threats including, but not limited to, the following: ‘You a dead man, you don’t f*** with me [sic];’ ‘Your kids and your wife are done;’ ‘[Senator Manchin] and his family going to have bullets in their brain [sic],’” states the affidavit filed last month.
Major faces four counts in the threats, each carrying up to 10 years in prison.
Last April, Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) was the target of a poisoning attempt when a ricin-laced letter was sent to his office. It was intercepted at a mail-sorting facility before reaching the senator.
James Everett Dutschke, 42, also sent a ricin letter to President Obama, then tried to frame an Elvis impersonator. He pleaded guilty and will be sentenced May 14, with a 25-year sentence possible.
President Obama sent Vice President Biden up to Boston to mark the one-year anniversary of the marathon bombings while he stayed in Washington for an Oval Office meeting on immigration reform.
“This morning, the President met with faith leaders in the Oval Office to discuss the importance of taking action to pass commonsense immigration reform,” the White House said in a statement. “The faith leaders shared with the President stories about the impact the failure to fix the immigration system has on families in their congregations and communities. The President expressed deep concern about the pain too many families feel from the separation that comes from our broken immigration system. He emphasized that while his Administration can take steps to better enforce and administer immigration laws, nothing can replace the certainty of legislative reform and this permanent solution can only be achieved by Congress.”
“The President and the religious leaders expressed their longstanding commitment to immigration reform as a moral imperative and pledged to continue to urge Congress to act on reform as soon as possible. The President thanked the faith leaders for their leadership on this issue and their tireless efforts to encourage Congress to finish the job.”
Congress is out on spring break. In the meeting were senior adviser Valerie Jarrett; Dr. Noel Castellanos, CEO, Christian Community Development Association in Chicago; Luis Cortes, president, Esperanza in Philadelphia; JoAnne Lyon, general superintendent, The Wesleyan Church in Indianapolis; Dr. Russell Moore of the Southern Baptist Convention, Nashville; Suzii Paynter, executive coordinator of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship in Atlanta; and Dieter Uchtdorf of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in North Salt Lake City.
The White House said Obama marked the one-year anniversary of the Boston Marathon attack with a closed-press moment of silence while meeting with senior advisers in the Oval Office.
In the afternoon, he had a meeting scheduled with Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel. In the evening, the president and the first lady planned to mark the beginning of Passover with a closed-press Seder with friends and staff in the Old Family Dining Room.
Press secretary Jay Carney told reporters at the daily briefing that “without reading out private conversations that the president has had, I think the president believes that there is an opportunity that still exists for House Republicans to follow the lead of the Senate, including Republicans in the Senate, and take up and pass comprehensive immigration reform.”
“And, today’s meeting, that the president had with faith leaders, demonstrates and reinforces the fact that there is a broad, unusually broad coalition that supports that effort, that supports comprehensive immigration reform, and all the benefits that making reform the law would provide to the country, to our security, to our economy, to our businesses,” he added.
The first question Carney received was a request to open Obama’s observation of the Boston Marathon bombings to the White House press pool.
“Well, the president’s going to have a moment of silence in the Oval Office. There’ll be some senior advisers there. It’s during the course of a meeting. We certainly think that the — the moment is important but it is mostly important in Boston, and I appreciate the request,” Carney replied, arguing that if they let one independent media photographer inside other news organizations may feel at a “competitive disadvantage.”
“So, that goes to one side of the argument, but not the one that has to do with access of the free press,” he said.
The Republican National Committee marked Tax Day by suing the Internal Revenue Service.
The lawsuit charges that the IRS is withholding records sought by the RNC’s May 2013 Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, in which the committee sought to review documents and correspondence related to criteria used for reviewing and approving 501(c)(4) tax-exempt organizations.
The FOIA request seeks all documents dated between Jan. 1, 2010, and May 20, 2013, containing the words “tea party,” “patriot,” and/or “9/12 project,” referring to the group created by Glenn Beck, along with any documents pertaining to increased scrutiny of 501(c)(4)s, especially using “be on the lookout for” criteria.
Submitted by associate counsel Jonathan Waclawski, the FOIA letter requests “a similar quick response as Pro Publica received.” ProPublica revealed last May that, in its request to see the applications of 67 nonprofits, the IRS gave them confidential information on conservative groups.
That’s left the IRS with 226 business days, by the RNC’s count, to fulfill the request. The committee said the agency “requested several extensions in order to complete the RNC’s request, but has yet to present the information.”
“The RNC believes the undue delay in producing the requested documents is unacceptable and inexcusable, given that many of these documents have been already produced to other requesting entities. Release of the requested documents is in the public interest, as Americans deserve to know how the IRS interprets and enforces the tax laws—and why it would deliberately target people because of their values and beliefs,” the RNC said in a statement.
The filing in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia details numerous letters over the past year in which in the IRS told the RNC that it was still trying to locate the requested information. A letter dated Jan. 16 said, “I will contact you by April 18, 2014, if I am still unable to complete your request.”
RNC Chairman Reince Priebus said the party filed suit “because the Obama administration has a responsibility to be transparent and accountable to the American people.”
“The IRS has a legal obligation to answer our inquiry for these records. On Tax Day especially Americans deserve to know whether they can trust the agency to which they’re sending their taxes,” Priebus said.
“If the IRS and the Obama administration don’t have anything to hide, why not answer the request? Their delays and distractions make Americans think they’re trying to cover up their actions, just like ex-IRS employee Lois Lerner. We’re going to keep fighting to hold the IRS and Obama administration accountable because Americans deserve a government that treats them fairly and not one that harasses them because of their beliefs nor an administration that goes after its perceived political enemies.”
The mayor of Jerusalem told CNN that “God forbid” the city be carved up in a peace plan to give the Palestinians East Jerusalem as the capital of a state.
“Let me take you back 3,000 years. Jerusalem is the capital of the world, the temple of the middle, and it was never divided to the tribes. But everyone was welcome to come to the city of Jerusalem. The DNA of Jerusalem is a united city respecting all people, residents, visitors, and Jerusalem has a role to play,” Mayor Nir Barkat said.
“And that DNA of the past, that’s how Jerusalem functioned for a thousand years, is our future. By definition it cannot be divided. Our role is to open up and to enable people that come peacefully to the city of Jerusalem to have freedom of religion that did not existed for 2,000 years. Today you go to walk the streets of Jerusalem, you’ll find that the churches are managed by the Christians, the mosques are managed by the Muslims, and the Jews manage the Jewish sites. It was not like that.”
The Palestinians have said that any deal which doesn’t give them East Jerusalem is a non-starter, and the plan being pushed by Secretary of State John Kerry reportedly includes half of the city in return for the Palestinians recognizing Israel as a Jewish state.
“There are solutions to that, but there is not a solution of, God forbid, dividing the city of Jerusalem. It will never function. It’s against the DNA of the city. And by the way, there is not one example of a city in the world that ever got split and became functional,” Barkat said.
“…You can call Ramallah, the center of the Palestinian people, they can bring their embassy to Jerusalem. They today have freedom of movement, freedom of religion. Today Jerusalem is an open international city, and by the way it’s doing extremely well. Jerusalem, if you look at the trends in the city of Jerusalem, our economy has been growing 8 percent from year to year.”
Barkat stressed that “satisfaction of all residents — Muslims, Christians, Orthodox, secular, is otherwise, our crime rates are .1 an average of any American city. When I fly to the States I pray because I know I’m 10 times more exposed to crimes in the United States than I am back home in Jerusalem. And all of that, the economy going north, crime rates going south, all of that, we must be doing something right.”
And giving half of that to Palestinians, he added, is “a very clear no.”
“I’m committed to serve all my residents, the Muslim, the Christian, the Jewish residents. For me they’re all the same. That’s what the Jewish tradition, that’s what the Jewish Bible says. You’ve got to treat everyone equally, and that’s exactly what we’re doing. And there are gaps to close on the Arab neighborhoods, and the Jewish neighborhoods, and I’m committed to closing those gaps,” Barkat said.
“I think it’s a demand that has to be off the table, because whoever raises such a demand doesn’t understand the importance of the city of Jerusalem as a united city. And unfortunately, sometimes I feel that Israel does not have a partner to negotiate with because the charter of, unfortunately, many of the Palestinians and our neighbors is to destroy Israel. And when somebody wants to destroy Israel, sometimes we feel that this is a salami-style negotiations,” he continued. “Let’s take a piece now and then we’ll argue about the rest. It’s — the whole concept of negotiating with the Palestinians has to take another route. They have to understand that Jerusalem will never function as, God forbid, a divided city.”
A Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee said that the sanctions against Russia need to be far more biting than some travel bans on high-ranking officials.
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) told CNN that he was in Ukraine a couple of weeks ago and “Ukrainians were worried about exactly what’s happening — that the Russians would provoke violent confrontations on the streets of Ukraine and use it as a justification to invade.”
“And I think the U.S. really needs to do a few things. We need to step up our sanctions, and that means really trying to get Europe together around sector wide sanctions if the Russians further incur into Ukraine,” he said. “Sanctions on their energy industry, on their mining industry, on their banking industry, things that would really cripple Russia’s economy. And now this is going to be hurtful to Europe as well. It won’t be great for us either, but if Europe and the United States are serious about deterring further Russian aggression, we’re really going to have to go with sector-wide sanctions.”
Schiff also advocated deploying “NATO assets to our NATO allies in the region to give them some level of confidence that we’re going to stand behind Article V of the NATO treaty, that says an attack on any of the NATO countries is an attack on all of the NATO countries.”
The White House said President Obama called Russian President Vladimir Putin yesterday and “expressed grave concern about Russian government support for the actions of armed, pro-Russian separatists who threaten to undermine and destabilize the government of Ukraine.”
“The President emphasized that all irregular forces in the country need to lay down their arms, and he urged President Putin to use his influence with these armed, pro-Russian groups to convince them to depart the buildings they have seized. The President reiterated the importance of Russia withdrawing its troops from Ukraine’s border in order to defuse tensions,” said the readout from the administration. “…The President noted Russia’s growing political and economic isolation as a result of its actions in Ukraine and made clear that the costs Russia already has incurred will increase if those actions persist.”
“The President noted the upcoming contact group meeting in Geneva and said that while he continues to believe that a diplomatic solution is still possible, it cannot succeed in an environment of Russian military intimidation on Ukraine’s borders, armed provocation within Ukraine, and escalatory rhetoric by Kremlin officials.”
The EU, U.S., Russia and Ukraine are scheduled to hold talks in Geneva on Thursday.
Schiff said “the problem has been the sanctions have been too mild, too target-specific, going after a few of the oligarchs that really haven’t hurt the Russian government or the Russian people.”
“Sector-wide sanctions, on the other hand, would really cripple Russia’s economy. It would make Putin pay a real price and it will take a little of the luster off of his bellicose foreign policy,” he added. “Right now the Russians applaud what Putin is doing. If the Russians got to feel the economic impacts they might decide this is not such a great course for Russia after all. But I think the only thing Putin is going to respect is strength and I don’t think we’ve shown it significantly in the response we’ve had yet.”
“…And I think if we want to prevent a third kind of territorial invasion, you know, after Georgia, now Ukraine, we’re going to have to really get serious about imposing substantial costs and repercussions. We have the power to do it. We and Europe have the power to do it. The question is, do we have the will to do it? I think Putin right now questions whether we have the will to step up to the plate.”