March 9th, 2015
"A war of Obama's making"......
BY BYRON YORK
The White House and some Democrats are livid over congressional Republican attempts to circumvent President Obama's authority to make a nuclear arms deal with Iran. They have a right to be angry — but not to be surprised.
There's a war going on between the executive and legislative branches in which Obama has shown contempt for Congress' constitutional powers, and now, in response, Congress is showing contempt for the president's constitutional powers. It's an unfortunate situation, but it's what Obama has wrought.
The latest development is an open letter to Iranian leaders written by GOP Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., and signed by 46 other Senate Republicans. Released Monday morning, the letter reminds Iran that Obama is negotiating with them on his own, without the formal approval or support of Congress. Obama is not pursuing a treaty, which would have to be agreed to by the Senate, or a joint executive-congressional agreement, which would also require Congress' approval.
"We will consider any agreement regarding your nuclear-weapons program that is not approved by the Congress as nothing more than an executive agreement between President Obama and Ayatollah Khamenei," the Republican senators write. "The next president could revoke such an executive agreement with the stroke of a pen and future Congresses could modify the terms of the agreement at any time."
Just in case there's any confusion, the Republicans remind Iran that the next U.S. president will be inaugurated in January 2017, about 22 months from now, while at least some of the GOP senators who signed the letter will remain in office for many years to come.
The Cotton letter comes on the heels of House Speaker John Boehner's decision to invite Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address Congress in what amounted to an extended attack on Obama's Iran negotiations.
It should go without saying that the reason Republicans are doing these things is because they are deeply concerned about a possible Iran deal. But another reason they're acting is because they can. On Iran and before that on immigration, healthcare, and other matters, Obama has pushed his executive authority beyond its proper limits, on the flimsy pretense that he is entitled to act unilaterally if Congress does not pass bills he wants. Could anyone fail to anticipate that in response Congress would stretch its own authority, too?
White House spokesman Josh Earnest quickly condemned the Cotton letter, calling it "a partisan strategy to undermine the president's ability to conduct foreign policy." Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., undoubtedly speaking for others in her party, called the letter "bizarre" and "a desperate ploy to scuttle a comprehensive agreement and the chance for a peaceful resolution."
Remember what preceded the Republicans' action. A number of senators, led by Republican Sen. Bob Corker, have been working on legislation to require congressional approval for any Iran deal. "The legislation is a response to the administration's intention not to seek approval or review from Congress for the agreement with Iran, despite a long history of Congress playing a role in international agreements, which has provided added legitimacy and longevity to many of these accords," notes one GOP aide.
The White House response to Corker's initiative was swift. "If this bill is sent to the president, he will veto it," said a National Security Council spokeswoman.
March 9th, 2015
Iran and Venezuela have both enjoyed increasingly closer ties over the past decade, which makes this particular move by Obama's fractured foreign policy impetus even more mystifying.....
WASHINGTON - The United States on Monday declared Venezuela a national security threat and ordered sanctions against seven officials in the worst diplomatic dispute with the oil-rich country since socialist President Nicolas Maduro took office in 2013.
President Barack Obama issued and signed the executive order, which senior administration officials said did not target the energy sector or Venezuela's broader economy. The move raises tensions between Washington and the OPEC member just as U.S. relations with Cuba, another longtime U.S. foe in Latin America, are set to be normalized.
Declaring a country a national security threat is the first step in starting a sanctions regime. The same process has been followed with countries such as Iran and Syria, U.S. officials said.
The White House said the executive order targeted people whose actions undermined democratic processes or institutions, had committed acts of violence or abuse of human rights, were involved in prohibiting or penalizing freedom of expression, or were government officials involved in public corruption.
"Venezuelan officials past and present who violate the human rights of Venezuelan citizens and engage in acts of public corruption will not be welcome here, and we now have the tools to block their assets and their use of U.S. financial systems," White House spokesman Josh Earnest said in a statement.
"We are deeply concerned by the Venezuelan government's efforts to escalate intimidation of its political opponents. Venezuela's problems cannot be solved by criminalizing dissent," he added.
Venezuelan Foreign Minister Delcy Rodriguez told reporters that Caracas would respond to the U.S. move soon.
The seven individuals named in the order, which included top domestic security and intelligence officials, would have their property and interests in the United States blocked or frozen and would be denied entry into the United States. U.S. persons would also be prohibited from doing business with them.
The White House also called on Venezuela to release all political prisoners, including "dozens of students," and warned against blaming Washington for its problems.
"We've seen many times that the Venezuelan government tries to distract from its own actions by blaming the United States or other members of the international community for events inside Venezuela," Earnest said in the statement.
"These efforts reflect a lack of seriousness on the part of the Venezuelan government to deal with the grave situation it faces."
U.S. officials told reporters in a conference call that the executive order did not target the Venezuelan people or economy and stressed that upcoming legislative elections should be held without intimidation of the government's opponents.
The sanctions effectively confirm Venezuela as the United States' primary adversary in Latin America, a label that was for decades applied to Communist-run Cuba until Washington and Havana announced a diplomatic breakthrough in December.
Washington said last week it would respond through diplomatic channels to Venezuela's demand for a cut in the U.S. Embassy's staff in Caracas after the government called for a plan within 15 days to reduce staff to 17 from 100 at the American facility.
Commercial ties between Venezuela and the United States have, however, been largely unaffected by diplomatic flare-ups, which were common during the 14-year-rule of late socialist leader Hugo Chavez.
The United States is Venezuela's top trading partner, and Venezuela in 2014 remained the fourth-largest supplier of crude to the United States at an average of 733,000 barrels per day - despite a decade-long effort by Caracas to diversify its oil shipments to China and India.
Opposition leader and twice-presidential candidate Henrique Capriles told Reuters the sanctions were a problem for a corrupt elite in the Maduro government, but not ordinary Venezuelans.
"It's not a problem with Venezuela or with Venezuelans; it's a problem for the corrupt ones. It doesn't affect we Venezuelans."
March 9th, 2015
The Atlantic / MATT SCHIAVENZA
The changing of the clocks—which happened once again Sunday morning—is wasteful, unnecessary, and even dangerous.
As most people no doubt noticed given that they were robbed of an hour of sleep, Sunday marked the beginning of Daylight Saving Time in the United States, Canada, and several other countries and territories in North America. For morning people, Daylight Saving is a drag, depriving them of an hour of tranquil morning light. But for others, "spring forward" brings with it the promise of long, languid afternoons and warmer weather.
Like millions of other Americans who have slogged through an uncomfortably cold winter, I'm looking forward to the change of season. But Daylight Saving Time is an annual tradition whose time has passed. In contemporary society, it's not only unnecessary: It's also wasteful, cruel, and dangerous. And it's long past time to bid it goodbye.
Daylight Saving has been an official ritual since 1918, when President Woodrow Wilson codified it into law during the waning days of World War One. Nowadays, its ostensible purpose is to save energy: One more hour of sunlight in the evening means one less hour of consumption of artificial lighting. In 2005, President George W. Bush lengthened Daylight Saving Time by a month as part of a sweeping energy bill signed that year, citing the need to reduce U.S. dependency on foreign oil.
But does Daylight Saving Time actually make much of a difference? Evidence suggests that the answer is no. After the Australian government extended Daylight Saving Time by two months in 2000 in order to accommodate the Sydney Olympic Games, a study at UC Berkeley showed that the move failed to reduce electricity demand at all. More recently, a study of homes in Indiana—a state that adopted Daylight Saving Time only in 2006—showed that the savings from electricity use were negated, and then some, by additional use of air conditioning and heat.
The simple act of adjusting to the time change, however subtle, also has measurable consequences. Many people feel the effects of the "spring forward" for longer than a day; a study showed that Americans lose around 40 minutes of sleep on the Sunday night after the shift. This means more than just additional yawns on Monday: The resulting loss in productivity costs the economy an estimated $434 million a year.
Daylight Saving Time may also hurt people who suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder, depriving them of light in the mornings. "Our circadian rhythms were set eons ago to a rhythm that didn’t include daylight savings time, so the shift tends to throw people off a bit,” Nicholas Rummo, the director of the Center for Sleep Medicine at Northern Westchester Hospital in Mt. Kisco, New York, told HealthDay News. The switchover to Daylight Saving Time is also linked to an increase in heart attacks as well as traffic accidents.
Those of us who have lived with Daylight Saving Time our whole lives might feel disoriented without it. But the millions of Americans in Arizona, Hawaii, and territories like Puerto Rico, Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands have survived just fine without it. Not to mention the billions of people throughout Asia, Africa, and South America.
It's said that Benjamin Franklin first proposed a version of Daylight Saving back in 1784 as a way to save candles. This, no disrespect to old Ben, should tell us how silly and obsolete the tradition has become. President Obama—and leaders elsewhere in the world—should do the sensible thing and scrap it.
March 9th, 2015
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama knew that Hillary Rodham Clinton conducted business on a nongovernment email account while secretary of state, but only recently learned the details of the privately run system she was operating, the White House said Monday.
The White House has drawn scrutiny over Clinton's exclusive use of private email and whether Obama or his aides should have done more to ensure her correspondence was secure and properly preserved. In a weekend interview, Obama told CBS News that it was only recently "through news reports" that he'd learned that Clinton was using a nongovernment email system.
But White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Monday that Obama had personally exchanged emails with Clinton on her private account — firstname.lastname@example.org — and was therefore familiar with the address. Earnest said Obama had been referring to when he learned the specifics of Clinton's email system — such as the fact that she had a privately run email server and was using the private account exclusively.
"The president — as I think many people expected — did over the course of his first several years in office trade emails with the secretary of state," Earnest said, adding that the number of emails they exchanged was not large. But it wasn't until recently that Obama learned how Clinton and her team planned to ensure the emails were properly maintained to comply with the Federal Records Act.
Any emails between Obama and Clinton would have been preserved by the White House under the Presidential Records Act, Earnest said.
Still, the disclosure that Obama knew about the private address comes as Clinton's critics seek to saddle Obama's White House with the controversy over her emails. Facing endless questions from the press about the emails, the White House has sought to defend its own technology and transparency practices without inserting itself into Clinton's likely presidential campaign.
The Republican National Committee accused Obama of misleading the American public in the CBS interview, claiming that the White House "can't get its story straight" about how Clinton jeopardized the security of her communications with the commander in chief.
March 9th, 2015
The Daily Signal
Attorney General Eric Holder’s criminal division head, Lanny Breuer, was caught forwarding controversial Fast and Furious-related emails to his personal account.
Obama Labor Secretary Thomas Perez, Holder’s former assistant attorney general for civil rights, allegedly used his private email account to leak non-public information about official business.
As to whether Holder himself ever used personal email for government business, the Justice Department isn’t saying. A spokesman did not respond to requests for information about Holder’s email practices.
In Justice Department emails turned over in a federal Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, Holder’s email name is redacted with no explanation. It’s unknown whether the redactions conceal use of an email address that does not belong to an official government account.
Fast and Furious-related emails between Holder and his wife Sharon Malone, and his mother, are currently being withheld under executive privilege invoked by President Obama.
There are similar redactions of the email name for Obama adviser Eric Schultz. In one instance, “privacy” is cited as the reason. In other cases, no explanation is given.
Experts say it’s not only a question of whether federal officials are trying to skirt Freedom of Information law that requires release of public documents upon request; there are also security concerns. From that standpoint, Clinton’s example may be the most concerning.
Government Executive says security experts are “still scratching their heads about why Clinton would have taken the unusual step of setting up a home-managed email account, a move that potentially made her messages vulnerable to foreign hackers keen on spying on the U.S.’s top diplomat.”
“Computer-security analysts … warned that emails sent across separate servers—instead of delivered entirely within government servers—posed greater risk of being intercepted or spied on.” —@GovExec
A high-ranking government official familiar with the potential security risks says Clinton’s case raises many security issues.
“There are times when the location of the secretary of state and other cabinet members is sensitive” or even classified, said the official, “especially, if they are traveling with [the president].”
A smartphone using a commercial Internet service provider would theoretically broadcast its location most of the time, over an unauthorized network, including when that location classified, the official said.
The official also noted that it’s not known whether Clinton carried her phone into areas where classified discussions took place. “If she did, that [could be] a security violation.”