This afternoon, President Obama will announce the My Brother’s Keeper initiative designed to “help every boy and young man of color who is willing to do the hard work to get ahead.”
“For decades, opportunity has lagged behind for boys and young men of color. But across the country, communities are adopting approaches to help put these boys and young men on the path to success. The President wants to build on that work. We can learn from communities that are partnering with local businesses and foundations to connect these boys and young men to mentoring, support networks, and skills they need to find a good job or go to college and work their way up into the middle class. And the Administration will do its part by helping to identify and promote programs that work,” the White House said in a fact sheet on the project.
The initiative will include early-childhood nutrition and education programs with a focus later in life on keeping these students in school and partnering with communities and police “to reduce violence and make our classrooms and streets safer.”
Obama will sign a Presidential Memorandum establishing the My Brother’s Keeper Task Force, an interagency effort led by Assistant to the President and Cabinet Secretary Broderick Johnson.
Joining Obama today will be Colin Powell, Rahm Emanuel and Michael Bloomberg.
Obama will also meet with a number of business leaders – including Joe Echevarria of Deloitte, Magic Johnson of Magic Johnson Enterprises, Glenn Hutchins of Silver Lake Partners, Adam Silver of the National Basketball Association and Thomas Tull of Legendary Entertainment – “to discuss ways in which they and their companies can work with the Initiative to improve the life outcomes of boys and young men of color.”
“Data shows that boys and young men of color, regardless of socio-economic background, are disproportionately at risk throughout the journey from their youngest years to college and career. For instance, large disparities remain in reading proficiency, with 86 percent of black boys and 82 percent of Hispanic boys reading below proficiency levels by the fourth grade – compared to 58 percent of white boys reading below proficiency levels. Additionally, the disproportionate number of black and Hispanic young men who are unemployed or involved in the criminal justice system alone is a perilous drag on state budgets, and undermines family and community stability. These young men are more than six times as likely to be victims of murder than their white peers and account for almost half of the country’s murder victims each year,” the White House said.
“The effort launched today is focused on unlocking the full potential of boys and young men of color – something that will not only benefit them, but all Americans.”
A group that supports gay and lesbian candidates for political office has endorsed two gay Republicans running for office.
But the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, which says it “endorses qualified, committed openly LGBT candidates who can WIN at the ballot box,” notably left out the gay GOP candidate who perhaps has the strongest chance of winning his race.
Carl DeMaio, a former member of the San Diego City Council challenging Rep. Scott Peters (D-Calif.), featured his partner in a recent campaign ad. The ad, titled “A New Generation Republican,” included a few seconds of DeMaio and partner Jonathan Hale walking together in a parade.
The Victory Fund this week endorsed former University of New Hampshire dean Dan Innis, who is in a primary race with former Rep. Frank Guinta (R-N.H.) for the chance to face incumbent Rep. Carol Shea-Porter (D-N.H.), and former Massachusetts Senate minority leader Richard Tisei, who is in a tight race against Rep. John Tierney (D-Mass.) in a replay of their 2012 face-off.
“Both Dan Innis and Richard Tisei have demonstrated outstanding leadership and are viewed as visionary leaders that are voices for their constituencies. We are proud to announce their endorsements today,” said Torey Carter, chief operating officer at the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, in a statement. “These two candidates have the potential to become the first out LGBT Republicans in Congress.”
Carter said their elections “would shatter a glass ceiling for the Republican Party,” but the candidate not endorsed probably has the best shot at doing the shattering. And the Victory Fund is not talking about why it won’t support DeMaio.
The Rothenberg Political Report has called Peters “extremely vulnerable” and noted in its race analysis that “DeMaio may actually start the race with higher name I.D. than the incumbent.” He’s amassed a sizable war chest topping $1 million and has the backing of House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio). It’s also a top 5 race of the National Republican Congressional Committee.
So in response to the Victory Fund’s selective endorsement, DeMaio and Tisei announced Wednesday that they’d already begun their own victory fund.
Their Equity Leadership Fund vows to “send a strong message to the Republican Party and establishment LGBT groups alike,” and raised $254,625 in just two months at the end of 2013.
“This liberal group did not endorse Carl in 2012 and we’re not surprised they’re not endorsing him in what national observers call the most likely seat to switch parties in the country,” DeMaio spokesman Dave McCulloch told the San Diego Union-Tribune. “When it matters, this group is about a liberal agenda.”
Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed this evening a bill that would allow businesses to deny services based on religious grounds, such as a baker refusing to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple.
“I call them like I see them despite the tears or the boos from the crowds,” the Republican governor said as protesters rallied outside her office.
Brewer said she met with attorneys, lawmakers and citizens on both sides of the issue after the bill landed on her desk. Those who urged her to veto the bill included former GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney and Arizona GOP Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake.
Brewer said that as governor she has “protected religious freedoms when specific concerns” have arisen, but the bill presented to her was too broad.
She also tersely said that it fell outside of the scope of the agenda she sought this year. “I made my priorities for this session abundantly clear,” she said, noting she wanted a budget to keep Arizona “one of the best states to grow or start a business” and fixing a broken children protective system.
“Instead, this is the first policy bill to cross my desk,” Brewer said. “…I have not heard one example where business owners’ religious liberties has been violated” in the state.
“I understand that long-held norms about marriage and family are being challenged,” she added, but stressed that the bill as written carried the “potential to create more problems than it purports to solve.”
She also said she feared it would divide Arizona “in ways no one could imagine.”
Brewer encouraged that people try to turn the “ugliness” that resulted from debate over the bill “into a new search for greater respect and understanding.”
The governor left without taking questions from the media.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) declared on the Senate floor that all of the “horror stories” being shared about Obamacare are “untrue,” sparking outrage from GOP lawmakers.
“Across the country, Americans who were once denied insurance because they suffered from something like cancer or as simple as acne were able to buy affordable health insurance that they could afford and they could trust,” Reid said
“But despite all that good news, there’s plenty of horror stories being told,” Reid insisted. “All of them are untrue, but they’re being told all over America.” He proceeded to accuse the Koch brothers of spreading false stories with anti-Obamacare ads.
Senate Minority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) said “it’s not insult enough that Texans and Americans across the country are losing their healthcare plans or seeing their hours cut at work because of Obamacare. Now the most powerful Democrat in Congress has said Americans’ personal horror stories about Obamacare ‘are untrue’—not just some, but ‘all of them.’”
“I invite the majority leader to visit places like Plano, TX, where he can meet with Glenn Barlow, who is in his 50s, and lost his existing plan, which he liked. The most comparable plan he can purchase under Obamacare is 65 percent more expensive and includes maternity care that he doesn’t need,” Cornyn said.
“I wish these stories weren’t true, but this is what happens when a president shoves his big-government agenda down the throats of the American people and forces them to buy health care they don’t need or don’t want. At the end of the day, the only thing that’s ‘untrue’ are the many promises the president made when he tried to sell the nation on Obamacare, chief among them: if you like your plan, you can keep it.”
Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and David Vitter (R-La.) are delving into whether pay-to-play activity had a role in the approval of a controversial new painkiller that is up to 10 times stronger than Vicodin.
Reports indicated that the School of Medicine and Dentistry at the University of Rochester hosted meetings between pharmaceutical manufacturers and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) officials at which industry representatives paid upwards of $25,000-$35,000.
The FDA ended up approving Zohydro, which contains hydrocodone without acetaminophen, despite the FDA’s own Anesthetic and Analgesic Drug Products Advisory Committee shooting down approval 11-2. The FDA has received statements of opposition from healthcare groups, addiction treatment specialists, 29 state attorneys general, and members of Congress.
“We have expressed to FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg our dismay with these pay-to-play meetings and the role they may have played in FDA’s failure to protect and promote public health through the regulation and supervision of prescription painkillers. The FDA’s approval process should not compromise patient safety for financial gain,” Manchin and Vitter wrote to the school’s dean, Dr. Mark Taubman.
“We are also troubled by the role the pay-to-play meetings may have played in the recent approval of Zohydro ER, a controversial new prescription painkiller. Zohydro ER has up to 10 times as much hydrocodone as Vicodin and Lortab and will come in a formulation that can be easily crushed, snorted and injected.”
To further their investigation into the pay-to-play allegations, the senators asked that the dean provide no later than March 30 “a detailed account of all payments/transfers received by your institution from pharmaceutical companies in relation to pain conferences for the period of 2001 to the present.”
They also want details on the meetings including lists of attendees, any honorariums paid, food and beverage expenses, and more.
Citing the rampant prescription drug abuse in his home state, Manchin has been lobbying for reclassification of Vicodin as a Schedule II controlled substance. That would put the common prescription pain reliever in the same category as cocaine, amphetamines, opium and morphine.
Back in 2012, Manchin first introduced an amendment to the Food and Drug Administration Safety and Innovation Act to reschedule hydrocodone. It passed by unanimous consent but was pulled out in the version passed by the House.
Last year, five pharmacy groups sent a letter to Manchin and his supporters opposing the reclassification: the American Pharmacists Association, the Food Marketing Institute, the International Academy of Compounding Pharmacists, the National Association of Chain Drug Stores, and the National Community Pharmacists Association.
“Moving all of these hydrocodone products to Schedule II will result in significant barriers for patients who have a legitimate need for these products, and it will result in adding to the nation’s healthcare costs with no assurance of a reduction in diversion and abuse,” they wrote.
Republican leaders in the Senate are turning up the public pressure on Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to bring Iran sanctions to the floor, something he promised he’d do before the White House told Dems to step back.
The GOP wants to tie a vote to Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I-Vt.) comprehensive veterans package, which advanced on a 99-0 cloture vote yesterday. That would be wrapped in to an alternative to Sanders’ bill crafted by Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.).
Under Sanders’ massive bill, veterans without a service-related disability who can only get insurance through the Obamacare exchanges could enroll in the VA healthcare system instead. Veterans would get all immunizations recommended by the CDC, would be eligible for expanded chiropractic and alternative medicine treatments, and could get fitness center memberships paid for through a two-year pilot program.
Fertility treatment would be covered and veterans whose infertility is related to military service would receive adoption assistance. Comprehensive dental care, which is currently offered on a limited basis to certain veterans but doesn’t cover things like dentures, would be offered at 16 locations minimum, for starters.
Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told reporters yesterday that they want to insert an Iran vote “because it’s a very time sensitive matter.”
“It is incorporated in our alternative and we hope that the Senate majority leader will choose to allow a side-by-side if he doesn’t permit amendments to be offered,” Burr said. “But we look forward to a lengthy debate this week on veteran’s issues and on the Iran sanctions piece of legislation.”
Sanders called the GOP move “silly partisan politics.”
“We can have honest differences on how to address veterans issues, but it is disrespectful to the millions of veterans in this country to introduce an extraneous provision on Iran sanctions,” he said.
Reid said the Senate has always bee “fixated on preventing Iran from having nuclear capability.”
“This is an issue that should be bipartisan. There shouldn’t be partisanship on this issue, and it is too bad, really too bad, that the Republicans are trying to make an issue like this partisan,” Reid said.
“We’ve been trying for months to get a debate and a vote on the Kirk-Menendez Iran sanctions bill,” McConnell told reporters. “We’ll be discussing it at length on the floor on why we should go forward with that legislation and why we ought to get a vote on it.”
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) is holding President Obama’s pick for surgeon general, saying that the choice is too political for a post that needs to serve all Americans.
Dr. Vivek Murthy is the co-founder of Doctors for America, “born out of the campaign organization Doctors for Obama, a project of the left-leaning think tank Center for American Progress,” Paul noted in a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.). The doctors group has worked closely with Organizing for America.
“The majority of Dr. Murthy’s non-clinical experience is in political advocacy,” Paul wrote. “…I have outstanding questions about who is funding these organizations, and it is clear that more transparency is needed from a group whose influence frequently impacts appointments in the Obama Administration.”
“The primary policy goals of Dr. Murthy’s organization have been focused on advancing stricter gun control laws and promoting the Affordable Care Act,” the senator continued. “In his efforts to curtail Second Amendment rights, Dr. Murthy has continually referred to guns as a public health issue on par with heart disease and has diminished the role of mental health in gun violence. As a physician, I am deeply concerned that he has advocated that doctors use their position of trust to ask patients, including minors, details about gun ownership in the home. His organization has also advocated that physicians collect and report data on gun ownership to the Federal Government and increasing Federal funding for gun control research.”
Paul added that “historically, the Surgeon General of the United States has been a position with the purpose of educating Americans so that they may lead healthier lives, rather than advancing a political agenda.”
“Dr. Murthy has disqualified himself from being Surgeon General because of his intent to use that position to launch an attack on Americans’ right to own a firearm under the guise of a public health and safety campaign,” he wrote.
“Accordingly, I will object to any unanimous consent agreement or the waiver of any rule with respect to the nomination of Dr. Murthy.”
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) gave a fiery speech on the Senate floor slamming Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) for praising Cuba and highlighting the bloody repression faced by those protesting Nicolas Maduro’s regime in Venezuela.
Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee Chairman Harkin has been raving about Cuba’s “remarkable” healthcare ever since his recent three-day trip to the communist island.
“I heard him also talk about these great doctors that they have in Cuba. I have no doubt they’re very talented. I’ve met a bunch of them. You know where I met them? In the United States because they defected. Because in Cuba, doctors would rather drive a taxi cab or work in a hotel than be a doctor. I wonder if they spoke to him about the outbreak of cholera that they’ve been unable to control, or about the three-tiered system of health care that exists where foreigners and government officials get health care much better than that that’s available to the general population,” Rubio said of Harkin’s speech.
“…I heard about their wonderful literacy rate, how everyone in Cuba knows how to read. That’s fantastic. Here’s the problem: they can only read censored stuff. They’re not allowed access to the Internet. The only newspapers they’re allowed to read are Granma or the ones produced by the government.”
Rubio propped up a few large photos to talk about Venezuela: the arrest of opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, the murder of beauty queen Genesis Carmona, the abuse of student protesters.
“This is what they do in Venezuela. This is what the allies of the Castro regime does, this is what they export. This is what they teach. This is what they support. And it doesn’t stop here,” Rubio said. “Who are Cuba’s allies in the world? North Korea. Before he fell, the dictator in Libya, the dictator in Syria, the tyrant in Moscow. This is who they line up with. This is this wonderful paradise? By the way, this in and of itself deserves attention, what’s happening in Venezuela, in our own hemisphere. It is shameful that only three heads of state in this hemisphere have spoken out forcefully against what’s happening. It is shameful that many members of Congress who traveled to Venezuela and were friendly with Chavez, some even went to his funeral, sit by saying nothing while this is happening in our own hemisphere. And this wonderful Cuban paradise government that we heard about? This is what they support.”
Rubio promised to outline through the week a series of proposals including sanctions to target the Maduro regime. Maduro has called Rubio “el loco de los locos.”
“Sanctions are a tool in our foreign policy toolbox, and we, as the freest nation on Earth, are looked to by people in this country, and all around the world, to stand by them in their moment of need when they clamor for freedom and liberty and human rights. They look for America to be on their side, not for America to be cutting geopolitical deals or making it easier to sell tractors to the government there. We should be clear about these things,” the senator said.
“I don’t think we should stand by here with our arms crossed, watching these things happen in our hemisphere and say nothing about them. I can close by saying this: Over the last week, I have tweeted about these issues. I get thousands of retweets from students and young people, until they shut them out, in Venezuela who are encouraged by the fact that we are on their side. What they want is what we have, the freedom and the liberty. That’s what all people want. And if America and its policy-makers are not going to be firmly on the side of freedom and liberty, who in the world is? Who on this planet will? If this nation is not firmly on the side of human rights and freedom and the dignity of all people, what nation on the Earth will? And if we’re prepared to walk away from that, then I submit to you that this century is going to be a dangerous and dark one. But I don’t believe that’s what the American people want from us. Nor the majority of my colleagues.”
This morning, American Atheists announced the group would have a booth at the Conservative Political Action Conference beginning March 6 in Washington.
“‘Conservative’ isn’t a synonym for ‘religious’,” said American Atheists president David Silverman in a statement announcing the booth. “In fact, a fifth of conservatives seldom or never pray, and the same number state religion is not important in their lives.”
“If conservatism doesn’t embrace religious neutrality, its influence will wither and die,” Silverman said. “Atheists are a growing constituency—an increasingly united constituency—and conservative legislators ignore our vote and our voice at their own peril. We demand equality and fairness—nothing more—which is the very foundation of American values. Imposing religious dogma on its citizens should not be the role of the small government advocated by conservatives.”
They were even prepared to offer a free one-year membership in American Atheists for anyone who stopped by the booth.
Just a few hours after the story was out, CPAC rescinded the group’s booth approval.
Silverman said he received a phone call from American Conservative Union Executive Director Dan Schneider informing him “that the ACU board is breaking its agreement to permit American Atheists to host an information booth.”
The atheist leader said Schneider told him the reason for the dis-invite was the “tone” of a quote he gave to CNN: “The Christian right should be threatened by us.”
“This is exactly the problem. The ACU, which has invited CPAC speakers such as Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, and Sarah Palin, is afraid of my tone? My ‘tone’ was clearly an excuse to back out after our press release angered religious conservatives,” Silverman said.
“Continuing to conflate religion and conservatism is not a viable strategy; this was apparently too scary for CPAC attendees to hear,” Silverman said. “America’s religious conservatives can deny it all they want, but soon they’re going to realize that ignoring the growing number of atheist constituents is a losing proposition.”
He said that a member of the American Atheists board met with CPAC organizers in the weeks after their registration, and their input “was well-received and the atmosphere was positive.” He added that the atheists were even suggesting CPAC speakers and other engagement opportunities.
Silverman said they still want to come to the conference. “We still want to attend CPAC. If the ACU will invite us to exhibit as previously agreed, we will be there to talk about the importance of religious equality,” he said.
Brent Bozell of the Media Research Center, who has previously accused CPAC of destroying the conservative movement, said “the invitation extended by the ACU, Al Cardenas and CPAC to American Atheists to have a booth is more than an attack on conservative principles. It is an attack on God Himself. American Atheists is an organization devoted to the hatred of God. How on earth could CPAC, or the ACU and its board of directors, and Al Cardenas condone such an atrocity?”
Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) blasted Meet the Press host David Gregory for throwing softball questions at National Security Advisor Susan Rice on Benghazi, saying: “I get tougher questions in the Bojangles drive-thru than he asked her.”
Appearing on NBC’s Meet the Press for the first time since her 2012 post-Benghazi round on the Sunday shows, Rice was asked by Gregory if she had any regrets about that appearance and whether she felt that it cost her the secretary of State job.
Rice was also asked if we’re any closer to finding those responsible for the murder of four Americans that night, including Ambassador Chris Stevens. “The United States stays on the case. This president, our President Obama, has said that we do what will it takes to bring the perpetrators to justice,” she said. “And indeed, we will.”
“I would love the chance to ask follow-up questions of Susan Rice because David Gregory apparently did not avail himself of that opportunity,” Gowdy said on Fox. “There is no regret about lying to your fellow citizens, no regret — no regret about the fact that in 18 months, not a single solitary person has been brought to justice. No regret for misleading the families and loved ones of those four murdered Americans. I can certainly help her if she is struggling to come up with an area of regret. Who did she talk to before she went on the Sunday talk shows? Did she call Hillary Clinton? Did she call Gregory Hicks in Libya? Did she do any due diligence at all?”
Gowdy stressed that the truth “undercuts the narrative that the president has been engaged in during the campaign.”
“Remember, we were in the midst of a campaign. Al-Qaeda is on the run and Osama bin Laden is dead. Well, apparently al-Qaeda was not on the run. They were at the front door of our facility in Benghazi getting ready to kill our ambassador, burn it down. So she could either tell the truth or she can blame it on a video for which there was no evidence whatsoever, and she opted to protect her career and pair up the talking points that were provided her by the White House.”
Gowdy, who sits on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said to this day “a lot of the classified documents are classified to protect political careers, not to protect national interest.”
“There are four committees that have been looking into this for 18 months. To my knowledge, not a single one has had an opportunity to ask the follow-up questions that David Gregory failed to ask on Sunday. It may be time to put our efforts together with a select committee with subpoena power,” he said. “Because, as you know, I can’t subpoena anyone. I can’t subpoena the greeter at Walmart. I have no subpoena power. The committee chairman and the speaker do. And I’m about ready to Ms. Rice some questions under oath, not David Gregory questions about what’s your favorite color, but serious questions about why you had so little intellectual curiosity as to question the talking points that you were asked to parrot. Did you ask anybody to prove to you that this was a video or did you just go out and parrot it?”
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said he hopes Gov. Jan Brewer will veto a law that would allow businesses to deny services based on religious grounds, such as a baker refusing to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple.
McCain told CNN this morning that “unfortunately, it hurts the image of our state just as a couple of years ago our other law SB 1070″ — an anti-illegal immigration law that was partially overturned by the Supreme Court.
“It’s not an accident that our Arizona Chamber of Commerce and our business leaders came out with a very strong message yesterday that they don’t want the governor to sign this,” the senator said.
The Chamber sent a letter to Brewer asking her to veto the bill. “After analyzing the bill, we are very concerned about the effect it could have on Arizona’s economy. As leaders in the business community, we cannot support measures that could expose our businesses to litigation, nor do we want to send a message that our state is anything but an open and attractive place for visitors and the top talent that will be the cornerstone of our continued economic growth,” the Chamber said. “If specific Arizona issues related to religious liberty are identified, we would stand ready to work with anyone to ensure that any solution addresses those problems while also ensuring that all individuals feel welcome in our state and that business is not hurt.”
The Greater Phoenix Economic Council warned Brewer in a letter that “this legislation has the potential of subjecting the Super Bowl, and major events surrounding it, to the threats of boycotts.”
McCain said the bill “is going to hurt the state of Arizona’s economy, and frankly, our image.”
“So, I hope that the governor of Arizona will veto this and we move on. Arizona is the most beautiful state in America. And it’s not helpful when we see this kind of controversy,” he said, adding that he’d not had a direct conversation with Brewer about the bill.
The governor has until Friday to decide whether to veto or sign it. “I have to look at what it says and what the law says and take that information and do the right thing,” she told CNN.
“I don’t know of a necessity for it. I believe that Arizona is a wonderful state. We welcome all people of all persuasions,” McCain said. “We’re proud of our state. And so, this is not the message we want to send. I hope the governor will veto it and we will move on and advertise the great beauty of our state.”
Arizona’s other senator, Republican Jeff Flake, made his views known via Twitter:
I hope Governor Brewer vetoes SB 1062
— Jeff Flake (@JeffFlake) February 22, 2014
— Jeff Flake (@JeffFlake) February 25, 2014
UPDATE: Another Republican has added his opinion to the mix…
— Mitt Romney (@MittRomney) February 25, 2014
Rep. Aaron Schock (R-Ill.) said the House Ways and Means Committee’s threat to subpoena the IRS emails of Lois Lerner and other IRS documents “is basically the last attempt by our Chairman Dave Camp to play nice.”
“It’s our last attempt to say, look, here are six letters that we have sent you since may of last year. Many of them cosigned by the leading Democrat on the committee, Sander Levin, asking for repeated attempts for information that we need to conclude our investigation to come to some determination, as to who is responsible within the administration, within the IRS for this illegal targeting. And all of those six, but one, have been ignored,” Schock said on Fox.
“Not even answered. Five of the six letters, and anybody, again, Democrat or Republican in America, should be outraged.”
Schock said many on the committee have been urging Camp, the only one who can issue the subpoena, to do so.
“Basically, this is the last straw and everybody is getting frustrated at the lack of cooperation. Our committee has jurisdiction,” he said.
The congressman noted that the revolving door of four acting or permanent IRS commissioners in the past year was hampering the investigation.
“Every one of them, once they get appointed they come in and the first thing they say is Chairman Camp, members of the committee, I’m the new acting commissioner, and I’m here to comply,” Schock said.
“Simple things like did the IRS notify the treasury of the targeting? Did the IRS notify the White House of the targeting? Zippo. Cricket. No response.”
Yesterday, Camp sent IRS Commissioner John Koskinen a letter requesting again all documents related to the IRS targeting of conservative groups.
“At a recent Subcommittee on Oversight hearing on January 28, 2014, you promised to work with the Committee to fulfill this months-long request,” the chairman wrote. “However, we have yet to receive any additional Lerner documents. If the IRS does not take immediate steps to provide the Committee with documents responsive to this request, I will consider using compulsory process to compel them.”
President Obama said in a statement this morning that he was mourning the loss of actor, writer, producer and director Harold Ramis as his films made him “question authority.”
Ramis died Monday from vasculitis at age 69.
“Michelle and I were saddened to hear of the passing of Harold Ramis, one of America’s greatest satirists, and like so many other comedic geniuses, a proud product of Chicago’s Second City,” Obama said.
“When we watched his movies – from Animal House and Caddyshack to Ghostbusters and Groundhog Day – we didn’t just laugh until it hurt. We questioned authority. We identified with the outsider. We rooted for the underdog,” the president continued. “And through it all, we never lost our faith in happy endings.”
“Our thoughts and prayers are with Harold’s wife, Erica, his children and grandchildren, and all those who loved him, who quote his work with abandon, and who hope that he received total consciousness.”
That’s a reference to one of Bill Murray’s lines in Caddyshack: “So we finish the eighteenth and he’s gonna stiff me. And I say, ‘Hey, Lama, hey, how about a little something, you know, for the effort, you know.’ And he says, ‘Oh, uh, there won’t be any money, but when you die, on your deathbed, you will receive total consciousness.’ So I got that goin’ for me, which is nice.”
Here’s a fine Ramis clip from later in his career, as the pro-life dad of Seth Rogen in Knocked Up:
White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters today that the U.S. government still doesn’t know where deposed Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych is.
National Security Advisor Susan Rice admitted the same thing on Meet the Press on Sunday.
This apparent lack of intelligence comes days after President Obama protested that the crisis in Kiev wasn’t “some Cold War chessboard in which we’re in competition with Russia.”
“As you know, Mr. Yanukovych has left Kiev in an orderly fashion, packed up his things and left. And his whereabouts are not known to us in a confirmable way. And certainly, while he was a democratically elected leader, his actions have undermined his legitimacy. And he is not actively leading the country at present,” Carney responded when asked who Washington considers the legitimate leader right now.
“We do believe that Parliament has lawfully elected its new speaker and we support getting the situation under control in terms of law and order, and in ensuring that the institutions of government are working. We note that recent parliamentary votes have been passed by overwhelming majorities that include members of Yanukovych’s own party,” he continued.
“We believe that working pursuant to Ukraine’s constitution and through its institutions of government is the most promising path towards the de-escalation of violence, a multiparty coalition government, and early elections — all things that we have long supported. And it will be critical, in our view, in the coming days for Ukraine’s leadership to focus on its pressing financial challenges and we stand ready to support them as they make needed reforms.”
Reports have indicated Yanukovych is in the pro-Moscow south of the country and was refused a charter flight out of the nation.
So does the U.S. consider Yanukovych deposed and recognize chairman of the Ukrainian parliament Oleksandr Turchynov as the interim president?
“Well, we believe he is the lawfully elected speaker of parliament. The — Mr. Yanukovych had left Kiev and packed up his belongings and left, and his whereabouts are not known. So, he’s certainly not actively leading the country at present. And we encourage the Ukrainian parliament and others to take actions that help continue a path towards de-escalation of violence, embrace constitutional change, and move toward a coalition government — a multiparty coalition government, as well as early elections,” Carney responded.
It was clear why Washington was so hesitant to proclaim Yanukovych officially ousted: Russia.
“Russia and the United States have a shared interest in restoring Ukraine to stability, in de-escalating violence, and supporting the formation of a technical government with broad-based support across Ukraine. And, you know, it’s certainly not in Russia’s interest to have tens of thousands of people in the street deeply discontented with the government that they were closely backing, and instability and violence in Ukraine is certainly not — and it should not be seen as in Russia’s interest,” Carney said.
“…It was our view that President Putin and Russia generally agrees with the proposition that we need to see a Ukraine that is — where there is not violence and where stability is returned, because that’s in Russia’s interests. It’s in Ukraine’s interest and it’s in Europe’s and the United States’ interest.”
Russia recalled its ambassador and dismissed the Euromaidan protests as “armed clashes between violent roughnecks and militants from far-right nationalist organizations with security forces who were defending the safety of the peaceful population and the interests of the government.” The Kremlin also blamed the West for stoking the uprising.
On the arrest warrant issued to bring Yanukovych in on charges of murder, Carney said “these aren’t positions for us to take.”
The White House is sending Secretary of State John Kerry to speak at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee megaconference in Washington beginning Sunday.
Also sent will be Treasury Secretary Jack Lew. Together the two are expected to explain the Iran deal and the sanctions relief that has peaked the ire and concern of so many.
Kerry is also expected to talk about his attempt to forge a Mideast peace deal.
He drew criticism in recent weeks for his comments about the price Israel would pay if it didn’t acquiesce to the U.S. peace process. “You see, for Israel there’s an increasing delegitimization campaign that has been building up,” Kerry said. “People are very sensitive to it. There are talk of boycotts and other kinds of things. Are we all going to be better with all of that?”
The chief Palestinian negotiator told Al-Jazeera last week that things will get “ugly” if a Mideast peace deal isn’t reached by April and warned that the Palestinian Authority — which already controls only half of the two Palestinian territories — could crumble. “Number one…I cannot accept Israel as a Jewish state,” Saeb Erakat said. “Number two: I cannot accept any document without East Jerusalem being the capital of Palestine.”
Last year, Vice President Joe Biden was sent by the White House to talk to the conference. President Obama spoke the year he was seeking re-election.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is coming to D.C. to address the conference and to meet with Obama on March 3.
The chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee said she believes her party will gain seats in the fall because Americans have “buyer’s remorse” about electing so many Tea Party members in the past.
“How many times does President Obama have to — extended his hand across the aisle, offered to sit down, said let’s sit down and work things out, put things in his budget that our party has fundamental problems with, simply to be able to get the Republicans to understand that we want to find common ground?” Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) said this morning on CNN.
“The tea party extremists, sadly, that have been allowed to control the direction of the Republican party have a stranglehold — on their party. And so it’s prevented them,” she said, adding that of her 21 years in office she’s been in the minority for 13 years. “I understand it can’t be my way or the highway… I support my party’s agenda, but you have to put aside differences, figure out where you can agree so you can move forward together.”
She said the only thing to change the current gridlock in Washington “is an election” — or more.
“We might have to have a couple of elections until it’s clear to, at least from my perspective, to the Republicans that the path that they have chosen, the path of extremism, the path of doing nothing but obstructing the president’s ability to get stuff done and choosing not to work with him is going to be rejected by the American people,” Wasserman Schultz continued.
Of her party’s chances in the fall, “I think we have tremendous opportunities across the country.”
“I think we’re going to pick up seats. I think it’s very clear that a lot of constituents across the country have buyer’s remorse from the tea party, Republicans that they elected in 2010. The Republican Party has essentially voted in lock step to shut the government down, to follow Ted Cruz and the tea party off the cliff and take the country with it.”
“…I mean, sadly, the Republicans who actually used to be willing to do that are retiring because they are frustrated. The Republican party is in a civil war. They are in a battle for what direction their own party will go in. And they’re beating the heck out of one another. It’s very hard for any of them to focus on working across the aisle.”
The longest-serving representative in the history of Congress will be stepping down at the end of this term.
Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.), who turns 88 years old in July, has served in the House for 58 years and 29 terms.
“I’m not going to be carried out feet first,” Dingell told the Detroit News. “I don’t want people to say I stayed too long.”
Dingell is expected to announce at a luncheon in his district today that he’ll retire from the seat he’s held since 1955.
“My doctor says I’m OK. And I’m still as smart and capable as anyone on the Hill. But I’m not certain I would have been able to serve out the two-year term,” the congressman told the paper.
“I find serving in the House to be obnoxious. It’s become very hard because of the acrimony and bitterness, both in Congress and in the streets,” he added. “This is not the Congress I know and love,” he says. “It’s hard for me to accept, but it’s time to cash it in.”
In June, Dingell broke the all-time record with 20,997 days served in Congress.
Dingell stoked controversy in 2010 when he said of ObamaCare “the harsh fact of the matter is when you’re going to pass legislation that will cover 300 American people in different ways it takes a long time to do the necessary administrative steps that have to be taken to put the legislation together to control the people.”
But he’s also earned liberals’ ire for years, being called names such as the “NRA’s waterboy” for opposing gun control.
Dingell has voted against gun-control measures such as bills allowing lawsuits against gun manufacturers, earning the NRA’s highest rating.
“John Dingell is a supreme fighter for working men and women who has built a record of accomplishment second to none. I have known no better person in government during my 35 years in Congress,” said Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), who’s also retiring. “His rare combination of legislative skill, steely determination, hard work and generosity of spirit have helped him play a vital role in almost every major congressional initiative over the last half century, including the civil rights revolution, historic protections for the environment, the establishment of Medicare and passage of landmark health insurance reforms.”
Dingell is just one of two World War II veterans remaining in Congress. The other, 90-year-old Republican Ralph Hall (Texas), is running for another term this fall.
Hall, who once pumped gas for Bonnie and Clyde, says it will be his last campaign.
Somali terror group Al-Shabaab told Al-Jazeera that it wouldn’t be negotiating with the government and would continue its quest to kill “anyone who supports the Christians.”
They also rebuffed Kenya’s claim that the Westgate mall attackers were dead, claiming they’d eventually reveal what happened to their gunmen.
“The people we are fighting with is because of ideology. They want to colonize us. They want to erase our religion, our people and our land. Those people bring a new face every time. Every new person that comes into office works for them. So for that reason, they are no different to us. Whomever the Christians bring, no matter their name or background, we will not negotiate with them because they have no decision-making powers. They have no powers to refuse or accept anything. What you lose by force you return by force. We will not negotiate with anyone. The country is ours,” Al-Shabaab spokesman Sheikh Ali Dheere said, stressing there will be no negotiations with new Prime Minister Abdiweli Sheikh Ahmed Mohamed.
“Anyone who works for the apostate government, no matter where and at what level, they are supporting the apostates and the Christians who sent them. Our stand is clear is on such people. We will fight them and kill them anywhere we see them,” Dheere said in defending their attacks on civilians. “Anyone who supports the Christians, either through the pen or by carrying a weapon, they are the same to us and we will kill them… We don’t kill civilians who don’t work for the apostate government. We protect them. We do not harm them.”
The terror group also has a strong beef with Turkey and with any Turkish nationals working on development aid in the country.
“Them building roads, schools and hospitals is similar to a man who wants to slaughter a goat. If he feeds that goat, is it any good to that goat? He is going to slaughter it anyways. The schools they have built, they teach our Somali children bad behavior; they teach them music; they teach them everything that is bad for them,” Dheere said. “The biggest enemy of the Muslim people is NATO and Turkey is part of NATO. NATO is a union of Christians. They are the number one supporters of that union. NATO uses Turkey as the hammer that’s used to crush Muslims.”
He contended that Muslims in Mogadishu “want to free from the enemy.”
“We don’t just go and blow a place up or fire bullets aimlessly. There is a lot of intelligence before an operation. We only attack a place when we are sure the people in there are the apostates, the Christians and those that support them,” Dheere continued. If there are Muslim casualties, “We pray for that Muslim person and the martyr who carried out the operation to go to paradise. Also we have warned the Muslim people not to go close to apostate bases and where the Christians are. Most of the population has heeded our warning.”
Dheere disputed the Kenyan government’s account that four attackers were killed in the brutal siege of Nairobi’s Westgate mall in September. The U.S. government says it believes Kenya’s official account, while a New York Police Department report suggested that the gunmen may have escaped.
“All that Kenya said, nothing is believable. Nothing of what they said is true. Look at how many times they went back on what they said. They first said there were 18 individuals in the mall. Then they said they were 15. Another time they said they were 4. Another time they said a woman was leading them. They said they were all dead. Another time they said they were alive,” Dheere said.
“Even when people could hear the bullets, they were saying the fighting was over. That shows what they say has no basis. It is not something anyone can believe. In our own time we will say whether the men are alive or not. For the individuals involved and for military reasons we will not disclose now.”
The chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee on African Affairs said this morning that President Obama needs to avoid setting “a dangerous precedent for America’s foreign policy” by letting countries that pass anti-gay laws not face serious repercussions.
Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni today signed into law a bill that hands down a sentence of life in prison for many same-sex acts.
Originally dubbed the “kill the gays bill” for its death penalty provisions, the legislation was passed in the Ugandan parliament in December with the capital punishment reduced to life imprisonment.
Also receiving prison time under the bill would be those who don’t report gays to the government or any organizations or individuals that support gay rights. Ugandans can also be sentenced for attempted homosexual acts or same-sex activity committed outside the country.
“The rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons are universal human rights and deserve to be respected around the world,” Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) said. “The shameful Anti-Homosexuality Bill that President Museveni signed into law today goes far beyond discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, and makes homosexual conduct punishable with life in prison. It promotes a climate of oppression and fear, and is an unconscionable violation of fundamental freedoms and universal standards for human rights.”
“The enactment of this law is another sad chapter in a disturbing trend against personal freedom in Uganda, including crackdowns on independent media and political dissent. While I recognize and value Uganda’s leadership in promoting stability in the region, the United States must not stand by as democratic values and humanitarian principles are increasingly disregarded by Uganda’s political leadership. Promoting universal human rights, including freedom of speech, association, religion and press, must remain a fundamental component of our work as a nation,” he added.
National Security Advisor Susan Rice phoned Museveni last weekend to try to convince him not to sign the bill, and Obama warned in a special statement that “enacting this legislation will complicate our valued relationship with Uganda.”
Coons noted that two years ago Obama promised “that it would be the policy of the United States government to more closely tie our diplomatic and development efforts to human rights.”
“America’s foreign policy can and should be led by its values, including the protection of basic human rights regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity,” the senator said.
“This law is a setback for human rights around the world and will endanger Uganda’s relationship with the United States. There should be consequences for such action, not just in Uganda, but also in Nigeria, Russia, and anywhere else in the world where LGBT rights and other human rights are being legally restricted. America’s rhetoric must now be met with action. For there to be no diplomatic or developmental consequence for the enactment of these laws would be to set a dangerous precedent for America’s foreign policy.”
While signing the bill, Museveni called the international outcry “an attempt at social imperialism, to impose social values.”
“We’re sorry to see that you (the West) live the way you live but we keep quiet about it,” Museveni said.
Appearing on NBC’s Meet the Press for the first time since her 2012 post-Benghazi round on the Sunday shows, National Security Advisor Susan Rice acknowledged that the information she delivered back then wasn’t completely true.
Host David Gregory asked if she had any regrets about that appearance, in which she said the attack was attributed to an anti-Muhummad YouTube video.
“No, because what I said to you that morning and what I did every day since was to share the best information that we had at the time. The information I provided, which I explained to you, was what we had at the moment,” Rice said. “It could change. I commented that this was based on what we knew on that morning was provided to me and my colleagues and indeed to Congress by the intelligence community and that’s been well validated in many different ways since.”
“And that information turned out in some respects not to be 100 percent correct. But the notion that somehow I or anybody else in the administration misled the American people is patently false, and I think that that’s been amply demonstrated.”
The controversy over her news show appearances led to the withdrawal of her nomination as secretary of State. Instead, President Obama appointed Rice to a post that didn’t need Senate confirmation.
“What I do know is that I have a great job. It’s the greatest honor in the world to work for the president of the United States and on behalf of the American people. And I couldn’t ask for anything more,” she said.
Rice was asked if we’re any closer to finding those responsible for the murder of four Americans that night, including Ambassador Chris Stevens.
“Yes, I think you’ve heard the attorney general speak to this. The investigation is ongoing and has indeed made progress. But the point is we will get the perpetrators. We will stay on it until this gets done. If you need any proof of that, recall the capture operation that occurred not long ago in Libya against somebody who attacked the United States many years ago in Africa,” she said.
Anas al-Libi, wanted in the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings, was captured 15 years later in Tripoli.
“The United States stays on the case. This president, our President Obama, has said that we do what will it takes to bring the perpetrators to justice,” Rice said of Benghazi. “And indeed, we will.”
Vladimir Ilyich Lenin has been having a few difficult days in Ukraine. First, some of those democracy-loving people started tearing down the communist godfather’s statues in the former Soviet republic:
— Bridget Johnson (@Bridget_PJM) February 21, 2014
— Bridget Johnson (@Bridget_PJM) February 21, 2014
The first day Lenin began to come crashing down, the number stood at 16. By the next day, Ukrainians reported that more than 50 Lenins had fallen. They started keeping an interactive map:
Today, a Kiev Lenin headed to his rightful home:
— Ｇｕｓ (@Gus_802) February 23, 2014
But he does still have a few friends — namely, in a pro-Moscow part of the east where deposed President Viktor Yanukovych may have fled.
— Maxim Eristavi (@MaximEristavi) February 23, 2014
Whatever, because thousands of Ukrainians are now having fun at Yanukovych’s personal playground, including touring his pirate ship.
— Bridget Johnson (@Bridget_PJM) February 23, 2014
President Obama emerged from his meeting with the Dalai Lama today with a pro-China message.
Says the White House readout:
The President met this morning at the White House with His Holiness the XIV Dalai Lama. The President reiterated his strong support for the preservation of Tibet’s unique religious, cultural, and linguistic traditions and the protection of human rights for Tibetans in the People’s Republic of China. The President commended the Dalai Lama’s commitment to peace and nonviolence and expressed support for the Dalai Lama’s “Middle Way” approach. The President stressed that he encourages direct dialogue to resolve long-standing differences and that a dialogue that produces results would be positive for China and Tibetans. In this context, the President reiterated the U.S. position that Tibet is part of the People’s Republic of China and that the United States does not support Tibet independence. The Dalai Lama stated that he is not seeking independence for Tibet and hopes that dialogue between his representatives and the Chinese government will resume. The President and the Dalai Lama agreed on the importance of a positive and constructive relationship between the United States and China.
China wanted Obama to call off the meeting, saying through the Foreign Ministry that it would “grossly interfere in the internal affairs of China, seriously violate norms governing international relations and severely impair China-U.S. relations.”
Still, Obama didn’t look too excited about the words of His Holiness:
The ranking Democrat on the House Oversight and Government Relations Committee is demanding that Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) apologize for suggesting former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton may have told the Pentagon to stand down in the Benghazi attack response.
Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) took issue with a Monday speech Issa gave in New Hampshire. Issa told the GOP event he “came here to hopefully shape the debate for 2016.”
“We need to have an answer of when the secretary of Defense had assets that he could have begun spinning up. Why there was not one order given to turn on one Department of Defense asset?” Issa said of Benghazi. “I have my suspicions, which is Secretary Clinton told Leon [Panetta] to stand down, and we all heard about the stand down order for two military personnel. That order is undeniable.”
Cummings told Issa in a letter today that the “accusations are beyond the pale, and you should immediately retract them and issue a public apology.”
“The definition of treason is the betrayal of allegiance owed to one’s country, and your statements seem to accuse former Secretary Clinton of this offense. You suggest that Secretary Clinton directed the Secretary of Defense of the United States to intentionally withhold military assistance that may have saved the lives of one of her own ambassadors and three other brave Americans serving their country,” Cummings continued. “Attempting to qualify your accusations as ‘suspicions’ does not help your cause, but instead reveals that you have no evidence to back up your claims.”
He highlighted a recent House Armed Services Committee report that found there was no stand-down order, and added that he was “personally stunned by the reckless, baseless, and utterly offensive accusations you launched” against Clinton.
“This is not the first time you have publicly—and falsely—accused former Secretary Clinton of actions relating to Benghazi. On April 24, 2013, you went on national television and accused Secretary Clinton of making false statements to Congress about personally authorizing security reductions in Libya, citing her ‘signature’ on a cable sent by the Department in 2012,” Cummings continued. “In fact, the cable you referenced—which you had access to at the time, but the press did not—included only a stamp of the Secretary’s name, like millions of other cables sent from the State Department to posts around the world.”
“Although you have frequently made baseless accusations without evidence to support them, I believe the statements you made on Monday in New Hampshire are the most insulting and unpatriotic accusations you have made during your past three years as Chairman. You may believe this kind of affront is acceptable at a political event with donors who expect rhetoric with ‘red meat,’ but Members of Congress have a higher and more solemn responsibility to respect the Constitution and those charged with fulfilling its mission. As the Ranking Member of this Committee, I ask that you publicly apologize for your statements and withdraw them immediately.”
Earlier this month, Issa told The Hill that he was retracting some comments: past praise for Clinton’s cooperation with the Benghazi investigation, as noted in a December 2012 interview for the book HRC: State Secrets and the Rebirth of Hillary Clinton.
“The snapshot in time was an accurate snapshot — at that time I had a pledge from the secretary to cooperate,” Issa said. “Secretary Clinton promised me full cooperation. I got less than full cooperation. She didn’t deliver.”
Issa also stressed that the probe is not over and Clinton will be called to answer the committee’s questions either in an open hearing or behind closed doors.
“She’s a factor in this in a number of areas,” he said. “In the case of Secretary Clinton, I do believe that there will be a number of questions that we will need to get specifically from her. I believe the same of [former] Secretary [of Defense Leon] Panetta.”
Texas gubernatorial candidate Greg Abbott has come under fire this week, particularly from CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, for campaigning with Ted Nugent after the rocker called President Obama a “subhuman mongrel.”
Specifically, in January Nugent called the president “a Chicago communist-raised, communist-educated, communist-nurtured, subhuman mongrel like the ACORN community organizer gangster, Barack Hussein Obama.” Nugent dismissed the criticism as being stirred by “people who hate freedom.”
“It’s a free country but that kind of language really doesn’t have any place in our political dialogue,” Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) told CNN last night. “It harms the Republican Party. I’m sure that it harmed that candidate there and it should be obviously repudiated from time to time. He should know, particularly in these days of Twitter and Facebook and the cloak of anonymity of Twitter, we see things that are really totally objectionable and makes you sad, actually to see. So that kind of thing is beyond the pale and I hope that our candidate down there learned a lesson.”
Texas Gov. Rick Perry told Blitzer “we agree that that is not appropriate language to use for the President of the United States.”
“I’m not going to get into this side of whether it’s inappropriate or not. There are people who say things all the time. I mean, the idea that Ted Nugent has said something that’s outrageous shouldn’t surprise anybody,” Perry continued. “He shouldn’t have said that about the President of the United States. We need to be focusing on the things that people really care about though…. I think that this will be a news story or two and then we will get back to being focused on what the people of the state of Texas really care about and that is how are you going to make sure that my children have a good future, that I have a job, that we continue to have the energy industry that’s creating lots of jobs.”
When Blitzer broached the subject of Nugent apologizing, Perry interjected, “He may do that.”
“I will put that responsibility on him to address that,” the governor continued. “…Ted and I have been on the stage together. He is a proud and a strong defender of the Constitution of the United States. We’ve all said things that we would like to reel back in. I suggest to you this is probably one of those for him.”
“Those sentiments there, of course I don’t agree with them,” Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) told CNN. “You’ve never heard me say such a thing, and nor would I. You know, I will note, there’s a reason Ted Nugent, people listen to him, which is that he has been fighting passionately for Second Amendment rights.”
When asked if he would campaign with Nugent, Cruz replied, “I’m going to avoid engaging in hypotheticals.”
Last night, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) chimed in:
Ted Nugent’s derogatory description of President Obama is offensive and has no place in politics. He should apologize.
— Senator Rand Paul (@SenRandPaul) February 21, 2014
UPDATE 1:30 p.m.: “I do apologize – not necessarily to the president – but on behalf of much better men than myself,” Nugent said today in a radio interview with Ben Ferguson.
Nugent said he apologizes “for using the streetfighter terminology of ‘subhuman mongrel’ instead of just using more understandable language, such as ‘violator of his oath to the Constitution.’”
The FCC commissioner who brought the plans of newsroom monitoring to light in a Wall Street Journal op-ed said the agency is now tweaking the news content study to try to make it more palatable, but “the devil is in the details.”
Pai, a former deputy general counsel for the FCC, was appointed as one of the Republican board members in 2012.
“The FCC is proposing to do what it is calling a Critical Information Needs, or CIN, study. They will send researchers into newsrooms across the country, television and broadcast and newspapers, to try to figure out why they cover the stories they do. They have identified eight categories of news they think news people should be covering. Some of the questions they ask were highly technical. They are asking reporters, for example, have you ever wanted to cover a story and were told you can’t do so. As I looked into the study design, I got concerned about what it implicated for our First Amendment values,” Pai told Fox News.
He noted that FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler just “instructed the contractor, who will be doing the study, to remove questions from the study relating to news philosophy and editorial judgment.”
“That’s a positive step but the devil is in the details when it comes to the actual study as implemented,” Pai said. “…Government doesn’t have a place in the newsroom. One thing that’s made the country great is the fact that news outlets decide for themselves what stories to cover and how to cover them, especially in a marketplace as competitive as this one. They don’t need the government over their shoulders tell them they’re doing something wrong.”
Pai said the study hasn’t yet started. “That’s why it’s critical for us to make sure we stop the study or, if it’s going forward, we make sure it doesn’t infringe on constitutional freedom.”
To do the study, he said, the FCC “is relying on a statute that requires the FCC to report to Congress every three years on barriers entrepreneurs and small businesses face when trying to get into the communications industry.”
“Even if there were some connection, the FCC doesn’t have regulatory authority when it comes to the print media. We don’t tell newspapers what to cover, and newspapers, nonetheless, are covered under the CIN study,” he added.
One of the “great ironies” of the study, Pai added, is there is no “barrier” to information with the explosion of the Internet.
“Consumers have an unparalleled amount of choices. They can go online. They can find a broadcast network they like. They can go on cable news or newspapers. Given they have so many choices and given there are so many people competing to provide them the news they want, there’s no reason for the FCC to inject itself into the editorial judgments of all these people,” he said.
“I’m not sure what the intent behind it is. What I can tell you is a lot of folks I have heard from in the industry are telling me that they are worried about the inadvertent coercion that might happen if the FCC says, look, we are just asking questions. Well, if you are holding a broadcast license the FCC issues, you are not going to feel like it’s voluntary if you have to answer the questions in this 70-something-page study.”
Wheeler wasn’t FCC chairman when the study was designed, Pai said, but now has the power to call it off. “I’m hopeful that he and my colleagues will come to embrace the basic principle that the government has no place in the newsroom,” he said.
A member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee said the panel should soon launch hearings about the Federal Communications Commission’s plan to monitor newsrooms.
The FCC says the study would bring government monitors into newsrooms to “understand the critical information needs (CINs) of the American public)” including “how these CINs are framed, and whether said framing does enough do give viewers the full context of the story.”
FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai warned of the study in a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed, saying “the government has no place pressuring media organizations into covering certain stories.”
Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-N.C.) told Fox she has “a lot of questions.”
“Why is the FCC pursuing this study? What information are we going to gain with it? And what will happen with the results in the end? I believe so strongly in the First Amendment. This is one more attempt by the Obama administration to trample on the Constitution,” she said.
Ellmers said the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications and Technology “reached out with a letter to Chairman Wheeler on this issue.” The study is expected to cost upwards of $1 million. “Not only are we infringing on Americans rights as a country and the ability for free speech, but we are actually making the taxpayers pay for it as well,” she said.
“This is a multimedia study. They are saying it’s critical information needs. There again, so subjective. What will the commission do with the information? How will they utilize it? Again, it’s the commission that licenses broadcasting. You know, this is something that could be very potentially dangerous for America. This is just the freedom doctrine 2.0 — Fairness Doctrine 2.0.”
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said the Ukraine crisis has highlighted President Obama’s “incredible naivete” about President Vladimir Putin and his intentions for the region and world.
Obama said yesterday that his approach is “not to see this as some Cold-War chess board in which we’re in competition at Russia.”
McCain said “serious sanctions” need to move forward. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) proposed a framework for punitive action last night after consultation with his colleagues in the upper chamber.
“The president just displayed his incredible naivete about Vladimir. Remember, after I’m reelected, will be — tell Vladimir after I’m reelected will be more flexible. He doesn’t — president doesn’t think it’s a chess game, certainly, Vladimir Putin does,” McCain said on CNN.
“Vladimir Putin wants a restoration of the Russian empire of which the Ukraine is a crown jewel. And I’m very worried about what actions after the Olympics that Putin may take in order to ensure that,” the senator continued. “Remember, Russia is still occupying two parts of the territory of Georgia. And for us to not understand that Putin will do what he thinks almost unless he is restrained and constrained, he will do what’s necessary to keep Ukraine a crown jewel of the Russian empire in the Russian orbit despite the fact that the overall majority of Ukrainians want to be part of Europe and that’s what this is all about.”
“And again, this violence is escalating to a dramatic degree and what worries me is Russian intervention and possible losing parts of Ukraine, especially Crimea as well as eastern parts of Ukraine.”
McCain also noted that Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said Bashar al-Assad “has gotten stronger while we’ve gone through this charade of the Geneva meeting.”
“It was so outrageous and such as farce to think that they could go to Geneva and convince Bashar Assad to leave government to transition from being the head of Syria when he’s winning, when he’s winning on the battlefield. And that was a terrible joke,” McCain said.
“He has played us for fools and that meanwhile, the Russians, our buddy Vladimir and Sergei, as we called them, are flying in planeloads of Russian weapons which are killing people, and by the way, if you haven’t seen on my website and on Twitter, the pictures that came out of Syria that are documented to be accurate, the horrific pictures of these people who have slaughtered by Bashar Assad — and this president does not do anything of any affect, and it’s shameful.”
The chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee unveiled tonight a framework for Congress to take legislative action on the crisis in Ukraine.
Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), who’s been at loggerheads with the Obama administration over the Iran nuclear negotiations, said Wednesday that he expected the White House “with congressional support to act swiftly on this issue of critical importance.”
Today, the chairman outlined what steps should be taken, including freezing assets of Ukrainian officials “determined to have sanctioned or carried out state-sanctioned violence against peaceful protesters” and advocating for visa bans for “any Ukrainian officials determined to have sanctioned or carried out state-sanctioned violence against peaceful protestors.”
Menendez wants to increase aid “immediately for democracy, civil society actors, and independent journalists” and cut “assistance temporarily to any organizations possibly involved in repression and violence until necessary reviews is completed.”
“The violence and oppression in Ukraine is spiraling out of control as peaceful demonstrators in Kyiv’s Maidan Square are brutalized and killed by government forces,” Menendez said. “We in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee have monitored these developments closely, from holding a hearing last month to introducing a bipartisan resolution expressing deep concern for the undemocratic rule and abuse of individual rights in Ukraine.”
“Only President Yanukovych can put an end to the mayhem that he has unleashed in the Ukrainian capital, but we will not stand idly by while the Ukrainian people are targeted and killed on their own streets. I regret that it has come to this, but I have consulted with my colleagues on the committee and in the days ahead we will take legislative action.”
The White House said yesterday that they were considering some sort of sanctions on Ukraine, while some officials at the European Union were moving forward with such punitive measures.
“I’m not in a position to confirm any additional steps that the United States has decided to take at this point,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters at today’s daily briefing. “The President and other senior members of this administration alluded yesterday to the fact that there were a range of tools that could be used by the administration to hold accountable those who have either ordered or are responsible for the violence that’s being perpetrated by the Ukrainian government against peaceful protesters.”
“So there are a range of options that are available, and it is fair to say that a range of options is being actively considered at the White House. But I don’t have any specific things, any specific decisions about those options to relay to you now,” Earnest added. “As soon as some decisions have been made, if they are made, we’ll let you know.”
Vice President Joe Biden called Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych this afternoon and asked him to “immediately pull back all security forces – police, snipers, military and paramilitary units, and irregular forces,” the White House said in a readout of the call. “The Vice President made clear that the United States is prepared to sanction those officials responsible for the violence. The Vice President urged President Yanukovych to take immediate and tangible steps to work with the opposition on a path forward that addresses the legitimate aspirations of the Ukrainian people. The Vice President underscored that the United States supports an independent, democratic Ukraine that pursues the future its people choose.”
The U.S. representative overseeing negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program said the P5+1 had “a very workmanlike, very constructive and I would say productive set of conversations” with the Iranians in Vienna over the past few days.
The latest round of talks is meant to forge a final deal out of the six-month interim agreement already under way.
“We all, of course, have different perspectives about how to resolve those issues, how they should be addressed; but, indeed, we discussed the entire range of subjects,” Under Secretary of State Wendy Sherman told MSNBC. “…We have now set the table by arraying all of the things that need to be discussed in that comprehensive agreement, a timetable of meetings a process going forward. We began the work. Now we’re going to get even deeper into the hard work. This is going to be difficult. This is going to be tough. This is going to be complex.”
Before the P5+1 went into the week’s meetings, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei said there would be no deal forged to America’s liking, though he gave the foreign ministry permission to discuss nukes anyway. “It won’t get anywhere but I’m not against it,” he tweeted.
“There was a commitment by everyone sitting at the negotiating table today to try to get this done and to get this done by the end of July when the six months of the joint plan of action are up. That was a very worthwhile first step,” Sherman said. “We expect and see that all parties are, in fact, following through on the commitments they have been — they made in that first step. But we don’t want it to be the only step. And we don’t want it to be the last step. We have to get to a comprehensive agreement for two reasons.”
“We have to be sure, as President Obama has said, that Iran never obtains a nuclear weapon. And secondly, we have to make sure that the international community has confidence that Iran’s nuclear program is an exclusively peaceful one. That’s the measure of a comprehensive agreement. That’s what we’re setting out to do.”
Sherman will spend the weekend traveling to Jerusalem, Riyadh, Abu Dhabi and Dubai “for consultations with their governments and representatives of the Gulf Cooperation Council following P5+1 negotiations with Iran in Vienna,” the State Department said this morning.
“What we can do, what we always do is talk to people around the world about what is now they are able to do under the joint plan of action. There was limited targeted sanctions relief for the six months that the joint plan of action is enforced,” Sherman said. “And we have made all the necessary arrangements for that limited targeted sanctions relief. And we are committed to the repatriation of funds from Iranian frozen assets that are permissible under the joint plan of action.”
A senior administration official told reporters on background that the meetings were “long past speeches of ideology.”
“That really does not occur. It was very conversational, it was back and forth. It was not one long presentation followed by another long presentation. It was engaged and it was a dialogue. It was substantive. It covered all of the issues that need to be put on the table to establish the way forward in a comprehensive agreement. And I would say that those words are descriptive of everyone at the table,” the official said.
Tweeted the ayatollah during this week’s talks:
— Khamenei.ir (@khamenei_ir) February 19, 2014
The Simon Wiesenthal Center said they fear an organized anti-Semetic effort is behind the shocking tearing-up of copies of The Diary of Anne Frank in libraries across Japan.
Hundreds of copies of the famous book have been vandalized at about two dozen libraries in metropolitan Tokyo.
Anne Frank’s diary is popular in Japan, with anime adaptations of her story and comic books only increasing Japanese fascination with her story.
“The geographic scope of these incidents strongly suggest an organized effort to denigrate the memory of the most famous of the 1.5 million Jewish children murdered by the Nazis in the World War II Holocaust,” said Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate Dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center.
“I know from my many visits to Japan, how much Anne Frank is studied and revered by millions of Japanese. Only people imbued with bigotry and hatred would seek to destroy Anne’s historic words of courage, hope and love in the face of impending doom,” Cooper continued.
“We are calling on Japanese authorities to step up efforts to identify and deal with the perpetrators of this hate campaign.”
The libraries include ones in Tokyo’s Nakano, Nerima and Suginami wards, according to Kyodo News. Pages in more than 200 copies of the books were ripped out, which was noticed by the Japan Library Association.
House Democrats are spending this week’s congressional break at forums intended to deepen ties with women voters, including one today in Atlanta with Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.).
The title of the forum — “When Women Succeed, America Succeeds” — was a line in President Obama’s State of the Union speech.
“Women in America and in Georgia have been left out and left behind. For every dollar a man earned, a woman only earned about 77 cents. That’s not right. That’s not fair. We’ve heard from many women today telling their story, powerful stories. Too many women are receiving what I call starvation wages. They work from sun up to sun down with very low pay. We’ve got to do much better. They have child care, taking care of elderly parents,” Lewis told CNN.
Dems have introduced legislation in both chambers of Congress to help pay for child care. That ties in with Obama’s push for universal preschool.
“Child care is necessary if you expect mothers and women to work. Somebody got to help take care of the little children,” Lewis said.
When asked if Republicans don’t care about women, the congressman said, “I just happen to believe that we all should care about women. Without women, without our mothers and grandmothers, we wouldn’t be around.”
— Nancy Pelosi (@NancyPelosi) February 20, 2014
Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) dismissed the Congressional Budget Office report predicting that half a million jobs or more may be lost by a minimum wage hike, arguing that Republicans would keep wages down to about a buck an hour if they could.
“If you believe that raising the minimum wage would lose jobs, it never should have been raised from the time it was a buck, you know, in the ’50s and the ’60s and we’ve created about 80 million jobs since then,” Boxer told MSNBC.
Senate Democrats are wanting a hike to at least $10.10 per hour. The CBO found that a rate less than that, which Dems have said is a non-starter, would kill fewer jobs.
“When people are earning a decent living, when they don’t have to fear that they can feed their families when they come home after working a full-day, it does lift everyone up including the communities in which they live because they spend dollars in the community,” Boxer said.
“So I think overall, if we took the attitude that the Republicans take is don’t raise the minimum wage and we applied it — when I was a kid and the minimum wage was a buck an hour, it would still be a buck an hour and by the way since then we’ve created tens and millions of jobs,” she said. “So I think, you know, the CBO comes out with these reports, they did it on healthcare and it turned out that was really good news also because people wouldn’t be stuck in job lock because they’d finally have health insurance, they could start their own businesses, other people would take their jobs.”
“At the end of the day, we know from so many years and decades that raising the minimum wage is a win-win.”
Boxer said Republicans have “a losing argument,” adding that their attitude would mean the country would still “have a buck an hour in minimum wage and we know that’s ridiculous.”
President Obama brushed off the current geopolitical crises as not being a “Cold War chessboard” when asked about Russian President Vladimir Putin’s paws in each of them.
“With respect to Syria and the Ukraine, I do think it is worth noting that you have in this situation one country that has clearly been a client state of Russia, another whose government is currently — been supported by Russia; where the people obviously have a very different view and vision for their country. And we’ve now seen a great deal of turmoil there that arose organically from within those countries,” Obama said in response to a question at a press conference in Mexico.
“I don’t think there’s a competition between the United States and Russia. I think this is an expression of the hopes and aspirations of people inside of Syria and people inside of the Ukraine who recognize that basic freedoms — freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, fair and free elections, the ability to run a business without paying a bribe, to not be discriminated against because of your religion or your beliefs — that those are fundamental rights that everybody wants to enjoy,” he continued.
Russia is the largest arms supplier to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Moscow got Ukraine’s corrupt government to renege on a pledge to draw closer to the EU with a multi-billion-dollar bribe.
“Now, Mr. Putin has a different view on many of those issues, and I don’t think that there’s any secret on that. And our approach as the United States is not to see these as some Cold War chessboard in which we’re in competition with Russia,” Obama said. “Our goal is to make sure that the people of Ukraine are able to make decisions for themselves about their future, that the people of Syria are able to make decisions without having bombs going off and killing women and children, or chemical weapons, or towns being starved because a despot wants to cling to power.”
“Those express our values and our national interests, and we will continue to express those national interests. There are times, I hope, where Russia will recognize that over the long term they should be on board with those values and interests as well. Right now, there are times where we have strong disagreements. And when I speak to Mr. Putin, I’m very candid about those disagreements, even as we will continue to pursue cooperation with Russia on areas where we had shared concerns.”
President Obama finally chimed in on the Ukraine crisis after landing in Mexico today for meetings with President Enrique Peña Nieto, drawing a weak sort of red line on the violence in the former Soviet state.
“The United States condemns in the strongest terms the violence that’s taking place. And we have been deeply engaged with our European partners as well as the Ukrainian government and the opposition to try to ensure that that violence ends,” Obama said. “But we hold the Ukrainian government primarily responsible for making sure that it is dealing with peaceful protestors in an appropriate way, that the Ukrainian people are able to assemble and speak freely about their interests without fear of repression.”
“And I want to be very clear as we work through these next several days in Ukraine that we’re going to be watching closely and we expect the Ukrainian government to show restraint, to not resort to violence in dealing with peaceful protestors.”
At least 25 people have been killed in the past couple of days as Ukrainian police have dispatched snipers to target protesters and chucked Molotov cocktails at their fortifications. Protesters have tried to hold off police with a fire barrier in Kiev’s main square, which police have been trying to breach with water cannons.
Obama added that “we expect peaceful protestors to remain peaceful and we’ll be monitoring very closely the situation, recognizing that with our European partners and the international community there will be consequences if people step over the line.”
“And that includes making sure the Ukrainian military does not step into what should be a set of issues that can be resolved by civilians,” he said. “So the United States will continue to engage with all sides in the dispute in Ukraine and ultimately our interest is to make sure the Ukrainian people can express their own desires and we believe a large majority of Ukrainians are interested in an integration with Europe and the commerce and cultural exchanges that are possible for them to expand opportunity and prosperity.”
“But regardless of how the Ukrainian people determine their own future it is important the people themselves make those decisions and that’s what the United States will continue to strive to achieve.”
Obama made no indication that he’s reached out to President Viktor Yanukovych. The two last met in March 2012 and the White House has been letting Vice President Joe Biden handle relations.
Both chambers of Congress have introduced legislation to keep 2014 Olympic medalists and beyond from having to pay taxes on their newly acquired metals.
The Senate version, introduced by Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), is co-sponsored by Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Chuck Shumer (D-N.Y.), Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Tim Scott (R-S.C.), Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), and John Hoeven (R-N.D.).
It would amend Section 74 of the Internal Revenue Code to state that “gross income” for U.S. Olympic and Paralympic athletes will not include the value of any medals or prize money they win while competing in the Olympics or Paralympics. Medalists would still have to pay taxes on any endorsement or sponsorship income.
“I congratulate all of our Olympic and Paralympic medalists who have dedicated their own time and money to compete on behalf of our nation,” said Isakson. “They should be welcomed as heroes, not handed a tax bill, when they return home from competition. This legislation is just the right thing to do.”
The House version was introduced by Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-Texas).
“It’s stupid to tax the medals our Olympic athletes won,” said co-sponsor Rep. Bill Cassidy (R-La.). “They represent America as ambassadors as well as superior competitors in their sports. Medal winners in particular are a source of pride to us all. The last thing we should do as a government is send them a bill from the IRS when they return home.”