6-25-15 News Notes

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.

Myanmar’s parliament blocks opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi from presidency ahead of key elections (BBC)

News Now

  • South Carolina Mourns/Hate charges?
  • Confederate flag wavers
  • SCOTUS today: Which decisions?
  • Obama/GOP win on trade: Dems lose
  • OPM dodged on data breach disclosures
  • 32 million records hacked?
  • IRS erased computer backup tapes
  • Ex advisers warn Obama on Iran deal
  • Boehner’s palace revolt
  • U.S. shifts hostage policy
  • Tsarnaev speaks at sentencing
South Carolina Mourns / Hate Crimes Charges? (NYT, AP, Hill, me)
• A large drape covered the Confederate flag which flew high Wednesday outside the South Carolina Statehouse. The open coffin of slain state Sen Clementa Pinckney (D) was brought to the Statehouse in a horse-drawn carriage and displayed under the dome. He was tirst African-American given that honor since at least Reconstruction

• Other viewings and funerals for the nine victims are scheduled through Monday. The first are today. President Obama plans to memorialize the victims Friday morning during Pinckney’s funeral at the College of Charleston. Pinckney was the pastor of Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, where the massacre of churchgoers took place eight days ago

• The Senate passed a resolution Wednesday condemning the shooting. Sen Tim Scott (R-SC), in an emotional speech from the floor, said that the “hateful and racist actions of one deranged man has changed nine families forever. It has changed South Carolina forever, Charleston forever.” The Senate also held a nine-second moment of silence

• The DoJ will likely file federal hate crime charges against Dylann Roof, 21, the man suspected of carrying out the massacre, federal law enforcement officials said Wednesday. He already faces nine counts of murder. FBI analysts have concluded “with a high degree of certainty” that Roof posted a racist manifesto online, which could be key to any federal charges

• The top Democrat on the House Homeland Security Committee has asked for hearings on domestic terrorism in the wake of last week’s shooting. Meanwhile, the Charlotte NC Fire Dept is investigating an early morning fire at a Baptist church as arson, a senior investigator said. The church ‘s congregation is mostly black (Hill)
Confederate Flag Wavers (Hill, Hill, AP, Think Progress, TRNS, me)
• Sen Roger Wicker (R-Miss), is calling on Mississippi to replace the state’s flag, which includes the Confederate battle banner. He said it’s become clearer to him that many of his fellow citizens find the flag offensive. Gov Robert Bentley (R-Ala) ordered the removal of a Confederate battle flag from a memorial on the state Capitol grounds: “Right thing to do.”

• Board members at the Citadel military college in South Carolina, whose cadets fired the first shots of the Civil War, voted in favor of moving its Confederate Naval Jack flag from a prominent place to another one. That requires lawmakers to amend the same law that’s kept the Confederate flag flying outside the Statehouse

• The words “Black Lives Matter” were spray-painted Wednesday on a century-old Confederate memorial in St Louis, not far from Ferguson Mo. The Confederate flag will disappear from merchandise of the popular 1980s TV series “The Dukes of Hazzard,” but Ben Jones who played Cooter says he’ll keep Confederate items in his stores

• And SC state Rep Bill Chumley (R) thinks the flag should stay, and blamed the victims. He said on CNN, “Why didn’t somebody just do something?” (ignorant man) Tywanza Sanders, 26, tried to talk Roof out of it, asked him to kill him instead of others and then threw himself in front of the first bullet. Chumley now regrets “using those words.” (get educated)

• For all the talk about the Confederate flag, so far only one appalling, awful mass shooting appears to have been inspired by it. It seems almost convenient that the focus is on the flag, rather than on the much tougher issue of gun safety, the real elephant in the room, which almost nobody wants to tackle. Wrap ourselves in flags, instead

SCOTUS Today: Which Decisions? (WSJ)
• Decision(s) today, tomorrow, maybe Monday, at 10 am EST. Only Biggies are left. 1) Execution Methods: Issue: From three Oklahoma death row inmates, whether the sedative midazolam presents an unconstitutional risk of severe pain in executions of condemned criminals

• 2) Power-Plant Emissions: Issue: Whether the EPA unreasonably disregarded costs when it decided to regulate power plant emissions of mercury and other air toxics.
• 3) Congressional Redistricting: Issue: Whether a state may transfer redistricting authority from the legislature to a nonpartisan independent commission – Arizona did in 2000 ballot initiative

4) Housing Discrimination: Issue: Whether Fair Housing Act of 1968 prohibits practices that have a disparate impact on minorities unless otherwise justified

5) Affordable Care Act: Issue: Whether the Affordable Care Act authorizes tax credits for insurance bought on heathcare.gov, as well as on state-operated insurance exchanges. Case turns on a single word in the 2,000-plus-page statute, in a clause authorizing the tax credits for policies purchased on an exchange established “by” the state

6) Same-Sex Marriage: Issue: Whether the 14th Amendment permits states to deny marriage to same-sex couples, or to deny recognition to same-sex marriages performed in states or countries that allow them. Also weighing an incremental step: upholding state marriage restrictions while compelling states to recognize legal same-sex marriages from other states

• Senate Judiciary Committee chair Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), along with 15 Democrats, sent a letter to Chief Justice John Roberts Wed, pressing SCOTUS to provide live audio of its upcoming decisions on gay marriage and Obamacare. No comment from the court (imperial, obdurate, they seem to have forgotten they serve us) (Hill, me)

Obama/GOP Win on Trade (Reuters, TRNS, me)
• Phew. After a six-week congressional battle including two brushes with failure, some fancy legislative footwork and myriad backroom (barroom?) deals to keep the legislation alive, the Senate voted 60-38 Wednesday to grant President Obama fast-track power to negotiate trade deals and speed them through Congress. The bill next goes to the president for signature

• That could propel the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a central element of Obama’s foreign policy pivot to Asia, over the finish line, and boost hopes for completing an ambitious trade deal with the EU. U.S. labor groups are fuming and said they would redouble their efforts to fight fast-track

• The TPP, potentially a legacy-defining achievement for Obama, (may be his only one – see SCOTUS), would be the biggest free trade deal in a generation and would also serve as a counterweight to the rise of China. It would cover 40% of the world economy and raise annual global economic output by nearly $300 billion

• Fast-track authority, letting lawmakers set negotiating goals for trade deals but restricting them to yes-or-no votes on final agreements, will last for up to six years and will extend to any trade deals negotiated by Obama’s successor

• Passage of worker aid in the House today would allow both measures to go to Obama for approval this week, before lawmakers head out for their week-long break (I know, we don’t get one). The bruising battle pitted Obama against many fellow Dems, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif). Republicans are licking their wounds after some infighting, too

• In a sharp change of policy, Homeland Security officials announced plans Wednesday to end the long-term detention of mothers with children caught crossing the border illegally by allowing most of them to be released quickly on bond (that DHS claims will be affordable for them – we’ll see if it actually is) (NYT, TRNS, me)
OPM Dodged On Data Breach Disclosures (WSJ, Hill, me)
• This is very dodgy behavior. Obama admin officials avoided immediately disclosing the severity of the govt employee data hack by defining it as two distinct breaches, according to people familiar – and latest numbers are 18 million and counting. FBI agents suspect China was behind the hack of Office of Personnel Management databases

• Those hackers accessed not only personnel files but security clearance forms, which contain juicy info that foreign intel agencies could use to target spy operations, according to officials. Chinese officials have said they weren’t involved (course not)

• The admin disclosed the breach of personnel files on 4 June but not the security clearance theft. The security theft was disclosed a week later, but FBI investigators looking into the theft already knew about it. FBI director James Comey had to brief lawmakers, and he didn’t discuss the incident in the “two breaches” terms that OPM used, either

• President Obama on Wednesday “raised ongoing U.S. concerns” about China’s cyber behavior during a closed-door meeting at the WH with top Chinese officials and urged the officials “to take concrete steps to lower tensions,” the WH said in a statement. The meeting was part of a three-day summit (chiding will do absolutely no good at all) (Hill me)
32 Million Records Hacked??
• OPM director Katherine Archuleta on Wednesday said her agency is investigating whether up to 18 million records were stolen as part of one breach, but the numbers were much less precise on the hack of background check investigations that took place over a number of years – (think about that for a minute – oh wait – Jason Chaffetz did – maybe 32 million)

• House Oversight Committee chair Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) on Wednesday put to Archeluta her own words of 2 Feb this year, noting that OPM claimed that it was “a proprietor” of personally identifiable info on 32 million federal employees and retirees. “Are you here to tell me that info is all safe? Or is it potentially 32 million records here that are at play?”

• “We’re reviewing the number and scope of the breach,” Archeluta said. Chaffetz pressed Archeluta several times on the scope. “I’m not going to give you a number I’m not sure of,” she said (doubt she’ll give us a number when she is, either, unless she has to)

• Gene Palmer, the maximum-security prison guard who delivered frozen meat with tools hidden inside to two inmates before they escaped, was arrested Wednesday. His lawyer says he didn’t know contraband was inside the meat and that he didn’t know the inmates were trying to escape. The inmates are still at large – may be armed (AP, me)

IRS Erased Computer Backup Tapes (AP, USA Today, me)
• J. Russell George, the Treasury IG for tax admin, will tell the House Oversight Committee today that IRS employees erased computer backup tapes a month after officials discovered that thousands of emails related to the agency’s tea party scandal were lost. But employees erased the tapes by mistake, not as part of an attempt to destroy evidence (which is worse?)

• As many as 24,000 emails were lost because 422 backup tapes were erased, George will say, and the tapes “most likely” contained emails to and from former IRS official Lois Lerner, who emerged as a central figure in congressional investigations. Conservatives will go nuts on conspiracy theories (incompetence is so much more likely)

• In June 2014, the IRS told Congress it had lost an unknown number of Lerner’s emails when her hard drive crashed in 2011. The IRS discovered that in Feb 2014. George says workers who erased the tapes in 2014 weren’t aware of a 2013 directive from the agency’s CTO to halt the destruction of email backup tapes (didn’t read the memo? or not sent?)

• Separately, the IRS awarded $18.8 million in contracts to 17 corporations that owed back taxes in fiscal years 2012 and 2013, despite a ban on the agreements, according to a govt report issued Wednesday by the IG. The IRS challenged the number and dollar value of the contract awards, but said it had taken corrective steps on the issue

 

Gov Bobby Jindal (R-La) announced his loooong-shot bid for the GOP presidential nomination outside New Orleans Wednesday. “I’m running for president without permission from headquarters in Washington, DC. But rest assured, I’m tanned, rested and ready for this fight.” He’s the unlucky 13th Republican candidate to officially enter the race (Hill, me)

 

Ex Advisers Warn Obama: Iran Deal “May Fall Short” (NYT, Reuters, me)
• Five former members of President Obama’s inner circle of Iran advisers have written an open letter warning that a pending deal to stem Iran’s nuclear program “may fall short of meeting the admin’s own standard of a ‘good’ agreement” and laying out a series of minimum requirements that Iran must agree to in coming days for them to support a final deal

• Several of the officials said concern was that Obama’s negotiators were headed to concessions that would weaken international inspection of Iran’s facilities, back away from forcing Tehran to reveal its suspected past work on weapons and allow Iranian R&D that would put it on course to resuming intensive production once the accord expires

• A senior admin official said the letter “in large part tracks with the U.S. negotiating position inside the negotiating room.” Inside the WH of late, there’s been what one senior official called “vigorous debate” over the risks of walking away v. accepting a deal whose specifics leave some uncomfortable (euphemism for polite screaming matches?)

• Signers: Dennis Ross, adviser on Iran and Middle East in Obama’s first term; David Petraeus, former CIA director and U.S. commander in Iraq; Robert Einhorn, former member of the U.S. negotiating team with Iran; Stephen Hadley, national security adviser to former G.W. Bush and GOP presidential contender Jeb Bush

• Retired U.S. Gen James Cartwright and Gary Samore, Obama adviser on nuclear policy turned president of the advocacy group United Against Nuclear Iran. The deadline for the nuclear deal is 30 June, but it’s expected to slip SecState John Kerry leaves to rejoin the talks in Vienna Friday

• Vid: President Obama confronts a persistent immigration heckler at an LGBT reception at the WH on Wednesday night. Obama asks for quiet: “Listen, you’re in my house.” The transgender activist won’t be quiet. Obama eventually has her removed. “My attitude is if you’re eating the hors d’oeuvres – and drinkin’ the booze…” (C-Span)

Boehner’s Palace Revolt (Hill, me)
• House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and his allies are charging ahead with their effort to punish conservatives who have been a thorn in leadership’s side – a purge that’s roiling the GOP conference. Latest victim is Rep Ken Buck (Colo), who could be stripped of his title as GOP freshman class president this morning (tension is building)

• Boehner allies have been retaliating against rank-and-file members who voted against a procedural motion earlier this month, nearly derailing a major trade package favored by Republican leaders that’s set to clear the House today. Leadership is livid

• The latest purge is particularly aggressive, targeting members of the new, conservative House Freedom Caucus who voted against the rule. Three members of that caucus have been booted from the whip team, and another was stripped of his subcommittee gavel

• Roughly 200 Republicans believe the retaliation is completely appropriate, they say. “The fact is we’ve got more than 200 rank-and-file members who are royally pissed off at those guys for voting to turn the House floor over to Nancy Pelosi,” said a senior GOP leadership aide

Boehner Lays Down the Law
• The deep fissures in the party were apparent during Wednesday’s closed-door conference meeting in the Capitol. “We are in the majority. Part of being in the majority is advancing an agenda – a conservative agenda,” Boehner said. “Voting against rules is not a vote of conscience; it is a vote to hand the House floor over to Nancy Pelosi.”

• Votes on procedural motions or rules are viewed as a referendum on the majority party’s strategy of bringing legislation to the floor. Centrist Rep Charlie Dent (R-Pa) said, “Look, if you vote against the rule, you know you’ve got to get off the whip team. It’s that simple.”

• The move against subcommittee chair Rep Mark Meadows (R-NC) was also because in Feb he had stopped paying dues to the House GOP’s campaign arm.(naughty) And he’d apparently given his word he’d back Boehner for Speaker before getting his gavel – then reneged and voted for Rep Daniel Webster (R-Fla.) “It’s a bold-faced lie,” Meadows told The Hill

• More Freedom Caucus lawmakers could be on the hit list: Rep Scott Garrett (R-NJ), a founding member, chairs a subcommittee on the powerful House Financial Services panel. Rep Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) holds a subcommittee on the House Oversight Committee. Maybe more…

U.S. Shifts Hostage Policy (BBC, Politico, TRNS, me)
• President Obama issued new policies Wednesday and ordered the U.S. govt not the threaten families of U.S. hostages with prosecution if they attempt to pay captors’ ransom. “That’s totally unacceptable,” Obama said, speaking from the WH. Govt officials will be permitted to talk with terrorist groups that hold the more than 30 Americans currently hostage abroad (30+?)

• The changes come at the end of a review into U.S. policy, which was ordered after the deaths of several U.S. hostages in the past year. The fact that many European govts regularly pay ransoms to free their citizens has frustrated U.S. families as they’ve worked to win the release of their loved ones

• “The families of hostages have told us – and they have told me directly – about their frequent frustrations in dealing with their own govt,” Obama said. “Many of the families told us they at times felt like an afterthought or a distraction,” Obama said. “And that ends today.”

• Obama said a “Hostage Recovery Fusion Cell” to streamline the govt response, housed at the FBI, is already up and running, coordinating the response with State, CIA, Pentagon and other agencies. There would also be a “family engagement team” to keep captives’ relatives in the loop (two teams – that’s already a problem right there)
Tsarnaev Speaks at Sentencing (Yahoo News, TRNS)
• Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 21, spoke publicly for the first time since his arrest, telling a packed Boston courtroom at his sentencing hearing Wednesday, “I would like to now apologize to victims and survivors.” He was given the opportunity to speak before he was formally sentenced to death (if he had spoken earlier, might not be going to die)

• “If there is any lingering doubt, I did it, along with my brother,” Tsarnaev said, choking up as he spoke. “I am sorry for the lives I have taken, for the suffering I have caused you. and for the damage I have done, the irreparable damage.” Tsarnaev offered no explanation of why he did what he did

• Earlier, bombing survivors and family members of those killed or injured delivered victim impact statements, directly addressing Tsarnaev about the suffering and loss he caused. “What you did to my daughter was disgusting,” Patricia Campbell, mother of bomber victim Krystle Campbell, told Tsarnaev

• Later, Judge George O’Toole addressed Tsarnaev before handing down a sentence of death by lethal injection: “When people remember you, they will remember only the evil you have done.” Tsarnaev was cuffed and led out of the courtroom by U.S. Marshals

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___________________

Victoria Jones – Editor

TRNS’ Nicholas Salazar, Loree Lewis, William Hadden, Claire Woodcock and Cortney Smalley contributed to this report

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