TRNS News Notes is brought to you by Victoria Jones. Victoria Jones is the Chief White House correspondent and global analyst of the Washington DC based Talk Radio News Service, where her insight and analysis are made available to over 400 news talk radio stations around the country and internationally.

In the News

  • Judge blocks Obama immigration policy
  • Judge accused WH of conspiracies
  • WH summit: Violent extremism
  • Boehner says he’d allow DHS shutdown
  • DHS shutdown: WH uses bully pulpit
  • Has Netanyahu leaked Iran nuke details?
  • Palestinian Authority collapse?
  • Talks in West Coast ports dispute
  • ISIS: Egypt / Libya
  • Ukraine: Fragile truce in peril
  • Obamacare signup deadline extended
  • U.S. embedded spyware: Report


Judge Blocks Obama Immigration Policy

• U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen of Brownsville TX on Monday temporarily blocked President Obama’s plan to protect millions of undocumented immigrants from deportation. The WH said in a statement that the court’s “decision wrongly prevents these lawful, commonsense policies from taking effect and the DoJ has indicated that it will appeal that decision.”

• Ruling in favor of some two dozen U.S. states, led by Texas, opposed to the admin’s plan, Hanen said in a decision posted on the LAT website that the admin had failed to comply with administrative procedures in setting up its new policies (Reuters, me)

• Obama in November said he would allow as many as 4.7 million of an estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants to stay in the country without fear of deportation, including about 4.4 million who are parents of U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents

• Obama’s plan would also expand the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which lets undocumented immigrants who entered the country as children remain and be allowed to work. That expansion was scheduled to begin on Wednesday

• Critics have argued that Obama’s executive order violated constitutional limits on presidential powers. The WH has said Obama exercised his authority properly

• In a lengthy and colorful opinion last August, Hanen departed from the issue at hand to accuse the Obama admin of adopting a deportation policy that “endangers America” and was “an open invitation to the most dangerous criminals in society.” (NYT)


Judge Accused WH of Conspiracies

• Judge Hanen once accused the Obama admin of participating in criminal conspiracies to smuggle children into the U.S. by helping reunite them with parents who live here illegally

• Hanen expressed frustration in a December 2013 order in an immigrant smuggling case that he’d had four situations in a month in which children who arrived in the U.S. illegally alone were reunited with parents who were themselves in the country illegally (AP, me)

• Hanen sentenced a smuggler to 10 months in prison in that case but saved his most withering words for the U.S. govt for not arresting and deporting the mother who hired the the smuggler to get her 10-year-old daughter into the U.S. The govt has generally been temporarily reuniting such children with their relatives inside the U.S. pending deportation proceedings

• “Instead of arresting

[the child’s mother] for instigating the conspiracy to violate our border security laws, the [DHS] delivered the child to her – thus successfully completing the mission of the criminal conspiracy,” Hanen wrote. He compared the cases to the govt seizing weapons being smuggled across the borders and being delivered to criminals inside the U.S.

• “DHS has simply chosen not to enforce the U.S.’ border security laws,” Hanen wrote. He said the govt’s failure to enforce immigration laws were “both dangerous and unconscionable.,” although he separately noted, “This court takes no position on the topic of immigration reform, nor should one read this opinion as a commentary on that issue.”


WH Summit: Violent Extremism

• A three-day WH summit this week on countering violent extremism will not focus exclusively on threats from ISIS, senior admin officials said Monday. While the militant group poses a near-term threat to the U.S., one of three officials previewing the event said violent extremists “come in all shapes and sizes.” (AP, Reuters, me)

• The conference will highlight domestic and international efforts to prevent extremists and their supporters from radicalizing, recruiting and inspiring others, particularly disaffected young people. The conference is designed to share best practices and emerging strategies to prevent extremists from carrying out violent acts

• VP Joe Biden opens the summit today by meeting with reps from Boston, LA and Minneapolis. The three cities have programs in place to counter extremism and one official said the WH wants to “push them forward” as examples for the rest of the country

• President Obama is scheduled is scheduled to address a gathering at the WH on Wednesday that will examine how U.S. cities are dealing with these issues. Obama will also deliver remarks Thursday at State Dept, where reps of some 60 countries are scheduled to meet. Complete list of participants hasn’t been released

• Reps from the private sector, NGOs and social media companies are scheduled to participate in the summit. A series of announcements are expected during the meeting, but the senior admin officials declined to provide any details.

• In towns and cities across Denmark, large crowds mourned shooting victims of gun attacks in Copenhagen. Two people were killed and five police were injured in attacks on a free speech debate and a synagogue. The gunman was later shot dead by police. He was identified as Omar El-Hussein and didn’t appear to be part of a wider terror cell (BBC)

Boehner Says He’d Allow DHS Shutdown

• House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) said Sunday he’s “certainly” willing to allow funding for the Dept of Homeland Security to lapse in less than two weeks. “The House has done its job; we’ve spoken,” Boehner said on Fox News Sunday. “If the Senate doesn’t like it, they’ll have to produce something that fits their institution.”

• Pressed on whether he would, in effect, allow the dept to shut down if the Senate doesn’t come up with a funding bill of its own, the speaker said: “Certainly, the House has acted. We’ve done our job. Senate Democrats are the ones putting us in this precarious position.” (NYT, Politico, Fox, Hill, Reuters, TRNS, me)

• Sen John McCain (R-AZ) didn’t seem to be on board with the speaker’s plan. “The American people did not give us a majority to have a fight between House and Senate. They want things done. You cannot cut funding from the Dept of Homeland Security. We need to sit down and work this thing out,” McCain said on NBC’s Meet the Press

• WH chief of staff Denis McDonough said, “It’s very important that we not, however, take the path that they’re suggesting we do take, which is: Congress continues to get paid, but law enforcement officials associated with defending our borders, protecting us against cyberattacks, defending our airports and making sure that airlines and aviation security is upheld, are forced to work without pay.”

• “We know that AQAP, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, has plans to do things like this around the world. We want to make sure we’re staying one step ahead of them,” McDonough said on CBS’s Face the Nation, taped Saturday between two deadly attacks in Copenhagen


DHS Shutdown? WH Uses Bully Pulpit

• The Obama admin is ratcheting up pressure on Republicans to fund the Dept of Homeland Security, which faces a shutdown after 27 Feb without action by Congress. They’re stuck because the GOP-led House is insisting that the funding bill also overturns President Obama’s executive actions on immigration that have provided legal status to millions

• The WH will use its bully pulpit during this recess week for Congress. Today, VP Joe Biden travels to Baltimore to visit the Maryland State Police forensic lab. He’s expected to discuss how DHS funding helps provide training and technical assistance for law enforcement (Hill, me)

• The WH will hold its summit for countering violent extremism this week, with the president slated to deliver remarks both Wednesday and Thursday on counterterrorism initiatives

• DHS Sec Jeh Johnson and other agency officials are expected to press the funding case this week. The dept says Johnson has already visited with more than 20 lawmakers on Capitol Hill to discuss the funding situation, and placed well over a dozen phone calls to members

• Progressive groups aligned with the WH have also stepped up their efforts to pressure Republicans. Americans United for Change has purchased advertising on Facebook and Twitter. Meanwhile, immigration activists are holding a series of more than 50 rallies across the country in support of the president’s immigration actions


• Makes sense. Wicked winter weather hit Washington DC on President’s Day – and hit the South, too. And the Northeast couldn’t care less. It’s got its own probs. Meanwhile, a train carrying crude oil derailed in West Virginia during a snowstorm. At least one tanker went into the Kanawha River and a house caught fire (AP, me)


Has Netanyahu Leaked Iran Nuke Details?

• Mistrust between the Obama admin and Benjamin Netanyahu has widened even further in recent days because of U.S. suspicion that the Israeli PM has authorized leaks of details about the U.S. nuclear talks with Iran (WaPo, me)

• The decision to reduce the exchange of sensitive info about the Iran talks was prompted by concerns that Netanyahu’s office had given Israeli journos sensitive details of the U.S. position, including a U.S. offer to allow Iran to enrich uranium with 6,500 or more centrifuges as part of a final deal

• Obama admin officials believed these reports were misleading because the centrifuge numbers are part of a package that includes the size of the Iranian nuclear stockpile and the type of centrifuges that are allowed to operate

• 500 advanced centrifuges and a large stockpile of enriched uranium might put Iran closer to making a bomb than 10,000 older machines and a smaller stockpile, the admin argues

• An initial TV report that the admin had cut all communications with Israel about the Iran talks was denied by WH spox Alistair Baskey. Sources in Israel said that a senior U.S. national security official was meeting with senior Israeli national security officials Monday. U.S. officials were not likely to share latest into about U.S. strategy in the talks

• Iran has denied a WSJ report that Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khameini recently responded to a letter sent in October by President Obama suggesting cooperation with Iran in fighting ISIS in Iraq and Syria (Reuters)


Palestinian Authority Collapse?

• The admin also fears that Netanyahu is ignoring a potential new blowup with the Palestinians. U.S. intel reports indicate that the Palestinian Authority, which governs the West Bank and has nominal authority in Gaza, could run out of money next month. In that case, the U.S. fears, the civil service and security force in the West Bank could collapse (WaPo, me)

• “This is a dangerous issue,” Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas warned Friday. Israel is withholding our money and this means that the ‘State of Palestine’ will face a crisis.” The U.S. believes Abbas may simply dissolve his govt if the money isn’t released

• But Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said Monday that the Palestinians were making an empty threat. He cited an Israeli saying: “If they want to collapse, they’ll collapse. If they don’t, they won’t collapse.”

• The money crunch stems from Israel’s decision to withhold tax revenue it collects on behalf of the Palestinian Authority. This move was retaliation for the Palestinian decision last fall to pursue legal action against Israel in the International Criminal Court

• The Obama admin is considering various options to show Israelis and Arabs alike that it’s still serious about pursuing a Palestinian peace agreement, despite the impasse reached last year in the U.S.-brokered talks

• The share of federal drug offenders subject to mandatory minimum sentences that critics call unduly harsh has plunged in the last year, according to figures AG Eric Holder plans to release today in arguing for the success of his criminal justice policies (AP)


Talks in West Coast Port Dispute

* Labor Sec Thomas Perez flew Monday to San Francisco in an attempt to resolve a damaging contract dispute between the West Coast dockworkers union and maritime assn of companies. Months-long negotiations have ground to a halt (AP, USA Today, Reuters, me)

• So, too, has the processing of billions of dollars of cargo due to pass through 29 seaports from Southern California to Seattle. Over the holiday weekend, companies locked out workers who would normally load or unload ships. Imports are stuck on massive vessels lined up outside the ports

• Full port operations are supposed to resume today, when Perez is scheduled to speak formally with both sides for the first time. He’s already been in touch by phone with reps of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union and the Pacific Maritime Assn, which represents the shipping lines that carry cargo and the terminal operators that handle it

• Cargo congestion at the coast’s largest ports predated the contract dispute, though the problems were nothing like those seen now. Congestion worsened in the fall, which is when the maritime assn says dockworkers began slowing down

• The union blames slow movement of cargo on larger problems with the supply chain, including a shortage of truck beds to carry containers from dockside yards to distribution warehouses. The two sides have reached tentative agreements on many key issues, but are stuck on whether to change the process of arbitrating workplace disputes. There are other issues

• Ashton Carter will be sworn in as the 25th Secretary of Defense today. The Senate approved his nomination 93-5, replacing Sec Chuck Hagel who resigned in November and served two years (TRNS)


ISIS: Egypt / Libya

• Egypt has called on the international community to intervene against ISIS militants in Libya. President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said Monday, “What is happening in Libya is a threat to international peace and security.” His remarks came as Egyptian jets bombed ISIS targets in response to an ISIS video of the apparent beheading of 21 Egyptian Christians

• Libya has been in chaos since 2011, with militias battling for control of territory and two rival govts. Nearly a third of the population has fled across the border into Tunisia. The Egyptian Foreign Ministry urged the U.S.-led coalition conducting air strikes against ISIS in Iraq and Syria to give political and material support to Egypt (BBC, New Yorker, Politico, me)

• Pope Francis deviated from a planned address Monday to comment on the killings. “Their only words were: ‘Jesus, help me!’ They were killed simply for the fact that they were Christians,” he said while speaking to members of the Church of Scotland. The WH on Sunday condemned the killing, calling it a “despicable and cowardly murder.”

• The video showed militants forcing a group of men to the ground and decapitating them. The kidnapped Egyptian workers, all Coptic Christians, were seized in separate incidents in Dec and Jan from the coastal town of Sirte in eastern Libya, which is in under the control of Islamist groups

• The video describes the Copts as “crusaders” and refers among other things to two women, wives of Coptic priests, whose alleged conversion to Islam triggered a sectarian dispute in Egypt in 2010

• Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) said on Fox News Sunday that “it’s too early to predict” whether Congress will pass authorization legislation for the fight against ISIS that President Obama has sent. “We’re going to have exhaustive hearings … and we’re going to have bipartisan discussions on how we strengthen this authorization.” (Reuters, Hill, me)


Ukraine: Truce in Peril

Ukraine’s govt and separatist rebels have failed to begin withdrawing heavy weapons from the front line, despite a deadline of today. The two sides were given until two days after the latest truce came into effect to start the pullout. The leaders of Germany, Ukraine and Russia discussed the crisis in an overnight phone call (BBC, me)

• Germany said today they had agreed “concrete steps” for observers to have greater access. The Ukraine govt said it wouldn’t pull back until fighting ended in the beleaguered town of Debaltseve

• Observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) have been trying to reach Debaltseve after being denied by the rebels on Sunday. Separatists insist the ceasefire agreement doesn’t apply in Debaltseve because they have the town surrounded. They’ve offered Ukrainian troops encircled there a safe corridor to leave

• The Ukrainian military command said pro-Russian rebels had attacked 112 times since early Sunday, mostly around Debaltseve. A Ukrainian officer said there was also fighting near the strategic southern port city of Mariupol. The rebels accused Ukrainian forces of shelling Donetsk airport. Meanwhile, further EU sanctions have gone into effect

• And State Dept spox Jen Psaki said said over the weekend that the U.S. was “gravely concerned by the deteriorating situation in and around Debaltseve” and called on “Russia and the separatists it backs to halt all attacks immediately.”

• Fun interactive with pics: Who’s running for president (or not)? (NYT)


Obamacare Signup Deadline Extended

• Americans who couldn’t enroll in federal Obamacare insurance plans over the weekend because of computer glitches or long waits will now have until next Sunday to sign up, the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services said early Monday. The special enrollment period ends 22 Feb (USA Today, me)

• The extension was prompted by the Saturday outage of an IRS function for Obamacare enrollment, which could have prevented about 500,000 people from enrolling. The glitch prevented some people from getting their income verified so they could enroll on and at least some state exchanges by the Sunday deadline

• People eligible for the special enrollment period are those who don’t already have coverage through the federal exchange, haven’t been terminated from coverage purchased through this year, who say they tried to enroll by the deadline but ran into a technical issue or endured a long call center wait on Friday, Saturday or Sunday

• Officials said people can “attest” they had issues with the call center. “People have to be truthful when applying for federal benefits; it is the law. As such, we are confident that attestation is an effective and efficient way to offer people in live coverage for a time-limited opportunity to finish the process,” said CMS spox Aaron Albright



• Mayweather vs Pacquaio – is it actually going to happen? There were talks and then talks and then an allegedly serendipitous meeting. Then another meeting, this time at Pacquaio’s hotel suite. They know where they’ll box (Vegas), they have a date in mind (2 May), the money is said to be insane, sooooo….. (WSJ, me)


U.S. Embedded Spyware: Report

• The U.S. has found a way to permanently embed surveillance and sabotage tools in computers and networks it’s targeted in Iran, Russia, Pakistan, China, Afghanistan and other countries closely watched by American intel, according to a well regarded Russian cybersecurity firm (Reuters, NYT, me)

• Kaspersky Lab said the implants had been placed by what it called the “Equation Group” – seems to be a reference to the NSA and U.S. Cyber Command

• It linked the techniques to those used in Stuxnet, the computer worm that disabled about 1,000 centrifuges in Iran’s nuclear enrichment program. it was later revealed that Stuxnet was part of a program code-named Olympic Games and run jointly by Israel and the U.S.

• Kaspersky’s report detected particularly high infection rates in computers in Iran, Pakistan and Russia, three countries whose nuclear programs the U.S. routinely monitors

• Some of the implants burrow so deep into the computer systems, Kaspersky said, that they infect the “firmware,” the embedded software that preps the computer’s hardware before the op system starts

• In many cases, it allows the American intel agencies to grab the encryption keys off a machine, unnoticed, and unlock scrambled contents. And many of the tools are designed to run off computers that are disconnected from the internet


Saturday Night Live 40th anniversary special – was funny except when it wasn’t

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Victoria Jones – Editor

TRNS’ James Cullum and William McDonald contributed to this report

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