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

  • Obama AUMF: “ISIL is going to lose”
  • Reax from pols: Not happy
  • Marathon Ukraine summit: Deal?
  • Keystone passes: Heads for WH veto
  • FBI director to address race/police
  • Killing of 3 Muslims: Hate?
  • Homeland Security: Boehner snaps
  • Obama admin targets illegal wildlife trafficking
  • IRS in hot water
  • CBS’ Bob Simon dies in car crash
  • Brian Williams: Downfall
  • Montana bill: No more leggings!
Obama: “ISIL is Going to Lose”

• President Obama on Wednesday sent Congress his long-awaited formal request to authorize military force against ISIS, meeting swift resistance from Republicans as well as his fellow Democrats. Republicans want stronger measures than outlined in the plan, which bars any large-scale invasions by U.S. ground troops and covers the next three years

• Obama acknowledged that the military campaign is difficult and will remain so. “But our coalition is on the offensive. ISIL is on the defensive, and ISIL is going to lose,” he said in a televised statement from the WH (Reuters, AP, Hill, TRNS, me)

• With many Democrats insisting the plan is too broad because it includes no blanket ban on ground troops, it could be difficult for the authorization to pass, even though six months have passed since the campaign began

• Under the proposal, the use of military force would be unbounded by national borders. The fight could be extended to any “closely-related successor entity” to ISIS that has overrun parts of Iraq and Syria, imposed a stern form of Sharia law and executed several hostages it’s taken, Americans among them

• The 2002 congressional authorization that preceded the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq would be repealed under the WH proposal, a step some Republicans were unhappy to see, but a separate authorization that was approved by Congress after the 9/11 terror attacks would remain in force, to the consternation of some Democrats

Map explainer: the flow of foreign fighters to Syria (WaPo)

Reax From Pols: Not Happy

• Speaker John Boehner told reporters, “I’m not sure the strategy that has been outlined will accomplish the mission the president says he wants to accomplish.” He said he was sure the plan would change as it moved through Congress (Hill, AP, Reuters, Politico, Fox, Roll Call, TRNS, me)

• The proposed legislation limits Obama from the use of “enduring offensive ground combat operations.” Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle questioned that provision. Asked what “enduring” means in terms of length or scope, WH spox Josh Earnest said he wouldn’t have “a specific number to assign to that word.” (I’ll bet)

• Sen Tim Kaine (D-VA), among the Senate’s most vocal advocates for passing an AUMF targeting ISIS, said he was “concerned about the breadth and vagueness of the U.S. ground troop language and will seek to clarify it.”

• Freshman Rep Ted Lieu (D-CA), a former Air Force officer, on Wednesday became the first Democrat to say he won’t support Obama’s request. He said that Obama hasn’t proved that ISIS “represents a direct, grave threat to our nation.”

• Sen Orrin Hatch (R-UT) called the proposal “utterly stupid.” “Any president worth his or her salt is going to ask for as much authority as they can get, so at least the ISIS people know that he has the authority to come in on them anyway he wants to.” (point) The House Foreign Affairs Committee has scheduled a hearing for today on Obama’s proposal
• President Obama on Wednesday declared that the U.S. has “risen to the challenge” of fighting Ebola and decried those who he said fanned fears about the disease. The WH announced that all but 100 of the U.S. troops in Liberia will return home by 30 April. Some 2,8000 troops were stationed in West Africa (TRNS, Hill)

 

Marathon Crucial Ukraine Summit

• A ceasefire will begin in eastern Ukraine on 15 February, Russian President Vladimir Putin has announced. “We have managed to agree on the main issues,” he said this morning following marathon all night talks involving Russia, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and the leaders of France and Germany (BBC, WSJ, me)

• French President Hollande confirmed a “serious deal,” but highlighted unresolved issues. Poroshenko said heavy weaponry would be pulled out in 14 days and the parties agreed to help Ukraine regain control of the border with Russia

• The Ukrainian and Russian presidents barely looked at each other when they were forced to shake hands Wednesday. There was even an image of President Putin inside the negotiations snapping a pencil in two. On the ground in eastern Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk regions, Wednesday saw new attacks

• Wednesday, Poroshenko warned that his govt was prepared to impose martial law, and said the Minsk summit was one of the final chances to bring about an unconditional ceasefire and withdrawal of heavy weapons

• President Obama has refused to rule out supplying “lethal defensive weapons” to Kiev if diplomacy fails, but Russia says that would worsen the crisis

 

Keystone Passes: Heads for a Veto

• The House passed a bill on Wednesday that would allow construction of the Keystone XL pipeline 270-152, setting up President Obama to issue the third veto of his presidency. The vote saw 29 Democrats vote in favor and all Republicans except Rep Justin Amash (R-MI) voting in favor. Following the likely veto, it’s back to the Obama admin (Politico, Hill, TRNS, me)

• The WH has steadfastly opposed the pipeline bill on the grounds that it would wrongly strip authority from the president to judge whether cross-border infrastructure projects are in the national interest, and would prematurely end a long-running Obama admin review that’s entering its last lap at the State Dept

• And though Obama hasn’t tipped his hand on whether he would approve the project, he’s expressed skepticism over the job impacts that its backers have touted, and questioned whether the additional fuel would remain in the U.S. to benefit consumers here. Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) Wednesday accused Obama of standing with “left-fringe extremists and anarchists.”

• Democratic leaders in both chambers are confident they can keep the Keystone bill from winning the two-thirds support needed to overcome Obama’s threatened rejection. An override would require four more Democratic senators and 20 more House Democrats to join the GOP

• Because it’s the Senate’s version of the bill that’s headed to the president, the Senate GOP would have to win an override before House Republicans could take their turn. Sen John Hoeven (R-ND) said, “We may very well want to test to see if there is support to override.”
FBI Director to Address Race/Police

• FBI Director James Comey today will give a speech at Georgetown University where he’s expected to say that in areas where nonwhites commit a majority of the crimes, law enforcement officers can become cynical and develop mental shortcuts that lead them to more closely scrutinize members of minority groups (NYT, me)

• He’s expected to say that much research shows that people in a society with a majority of whites unconsciously react differently to blacks. The text of Comey’s speech hasn’t been released by the FBI, but several bureau officials described parts of it

• Comey’s expected to say that most police officers are not racists, and that they chose their profession because they wanted to help protect others, regardless of whether people are white, black or another ethnicity

• Comey’s wading into the national debate between police officers and African-Americans that was highlighted by the fatal shooting of unarmed Michael Brown, who was black, by a white police officer in Ferguson MO in August. It will be the first time one of the bureau’s directors has publicly addressed the issue of race at length

 

Killing of 3 Muslims: Hate?

• Police are trying to determine whether hate played any role in the killing of three Muslims in Chapel Hill NC, a crime they said was sparked by a neighbor’s long-simmering anger over parking and noise inside their condominium complex (AP, Reuters, me)

• Craig Stephen Hicks, 46, describes himself as a “gun toting” atheist. Neighbors say he always seemed angry and confrontational. His ex-wife said he seemed obsessed with the shooting rampage movie “Falling Down,” and showed “no compassion at all” for other people

• His current wife, Karen Hicks, said he “champions the rights of others” and said the killings “had nothing to do with religion of the victims’ faith.” Later Wednesday, she issued another statement, saying she’s divorcing him (clue?)

• Hicks appeared in court Wednesday on charges of first-degree murder in the deaths Tuesday of Deah Shaddy Barakat, 23, his wife Yusor Mohammad, 21, and her sister Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, 19. He pleaded indigence and was appointed a public defender

• The women’s father, Mohammad Abu-Salha, said police told him each was shot in the head inside the couple’s apartment and that he, for one, is convinced it was a hate crime

Pic: Chapel Hill Wednesday night – about 2,000 people attended a candlelight vigil for the victims at the heart of UNC’s campus

Alleged Killer Posted Gun Pic on Facebook

• “The media here bombards the American citizen with Islamic, Islamic, Islamic terrorism and makes people here scared of us and want us out. So if somebody has any conflict with you, and they already hate you, you get a bullet in the head,” said Abu-Salha, a psychiatrist

• The killings are fueling outrage among people who blame anti-Muslim rhetoric for hate crimes. A Muslim advocacy organization pressed authorities to investigate possible religious bias. The hashtag #MuslimLivesMatter trended. Chapel Hill police asked the FBI for help in the probe

• Barakat and Mohammad were newlyweds who helped the homeless and raised funds to help Syrian refugees in Turkey with dentistry this summer. They’ve previously volunteered there. Barakat was pursuing an advanced degree in dentistry. Mohammad was scheduled to begin dentistry studies in the fall. Abu-Salha was a sophomore design major

• On Facebook, Hicks’ profile picture reads “Atheists for Equality” and he frequently posted quotes critical of religion. On 20 Jan he posted a photo of a .38-caliber revolver that he said was loaded and belonged to him. “Yes, that is 1 pound 5.1 ounces for my loaded 38 revolver, its holster and five extra rounds in a speedloader,” the post said

 

Homeland Security: Boehner Snaps

• House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) showed a flash of anger Wednesday, speaking with reporters after a closed-door GOP caucus meeting: “The House has done its job. Why don’t you go ask the Senate Democrats when they’re going to get off their ass and do something other than to vote ‘no.'” (Hill, Politico, TRNS, me)

• Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said Tuesday that the upper chamber had done all it can do and that it’s now time for the House to send over another funding bill for Homeland Security that can pass through the Senate. Funding for DHS runs out on 27 Feb

• But inside the meeting, Boehner and other GOP leaders told their members they were staying the course and wouldn’t cave to Democratic demands for a so-called “clean” bill, free of the GOP riders targeting President Obama’s immigration moves

• However,  Sen Mark Kirk (R-IL) said Wednesday, “I generally agree with the Democratic position here. I think we should have never fought this battle on DHS funding. I think it’s the wrong battle for us at the wrong time.” Asked if the GOP shared blame for the impasse over DHS, Kirk said “It does.” He said that McConnell should allow a vote on a “clean” bill

• Kirk’s comments marked a bit of a switcheroo from Tuesday: “The Republicans – if there is a successful attack during a DHS shutdown – we should build a number of coffins outside each Democratic office and say, ‘You are responsible for these dead Americans.'”

• Rep Mark Meadows (R-NC introduced the Eliminating Pornography from Agencies Act, barring federal employees from accessing porn on govt computers. (because that will work)

Obama Admin Targets Illegal Wildlife Trafficking

• Hoping to stem illegal wildlife trafficking, the Obama admin on Wednesday introduced an aggressive plan for taking on traffickers that will include using American intel agencies to track and target those who benefit from the estimated $20 billion-a-year market (NYT, me)

• The plan, outlined by officials from State, DoJ and Interior Depts, will also increase pressure on Asian countries to stop the buying and selling of illegal rhinoceros horns, elephant ivory and other items, which President Obama has called an “international crisis” – and try to reduce demand for those items worldwide (only education can)

• But the planned actions, the result of a two-year admin review on how to limit wildlife trafficking, will be supported by only a modest increase in funding and staffing for the law enforcement arm of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the agency chiefly responsible for policing the wildlife trade. (so, not so serious perhaps) In recent years, investigations have fallen

• “It’s fantastic that we are doing this, but given that there are still limited resources, the govt needs to really focus its efforts and go after the criminal organizations behind the trade in the most critical areas both here and abroad,” said Crawford Allan, a wildlife trafficking expert with Traffic, a program of the World Wildlife Fund

• The U.S. has grown into the second-largest market for illegal wildlife products and a major conduit of the products to Asia, where rhino horns and ivory are believed to cure ailments like headaches and hangovers. The trade has driven several animal species to near extinction, while fueling the growth of international criminal gangs


IRS in Hot Water: Seizing Small Business Assets

• Members of the House Ways and Means Committee on Wednesday slammed the top watchdog of the IRS for allegedly seizing the assets of innocent small businesses. “Whether or not it is within the law, it is wrong to, without any criminal evidence, seize somebody’s property,” Rep Charles Rangel (D-NY) fumed. Rep Mike Kelly (R-PA) called it “waterboarding”

• Committee members were outraged by the agency’s history of accusing small businesses that handle cash transactions under $10,000 of structuring funds and seizing business assets even when there’s no evidence of criminal activity (Hill, Politico, AP, me)

• The committee referenced Carol Hinder of Iowa, who lost her Mexican restaurant that she ran as a cash-only business, after the IRS seized her bank account for $33,000. Chair Pete Roskam (R-IL) said it took Hinders a year and a half to get her money back

• IRS Commissioner John Koskinen told the committee that the agency changed its civil asset forfeiture policy in October to better protect innocent taxpayers. Koskinen said the IRS is now focusing its resources only on cases where evidence indicates that the structured funds are derived from illegal sources

• “The IRS grabbed these taxpayers by their throat and squeezed and squeezed and squeezed without mercy and nearly ruined them and made their lives miserable,” Roskam said. “Would you be willing to apologize to those taxpayers who were so abused?” Though it took several times of Roskam asking, Koskinen finally said he’s “sorry that mistakes happen” and apologized

 

Bob Simon, CBS Correspondent, Dies in Car Crash

• Bob Simon, an award-winning CBS News correspondent whose career spanned nearly 50 years and many major world conflicts, was killed in a car crash in Manhattan on Wednesday. He was 73 (NYT, AP, CBS, me)

• A town car in which Simon was a passenger hit another car stopped at a traffic light and then slammed into metal barriers separating traffic lanes, police said. Simon and the town car’s driver were taken to a hospital, where Simon was pronounced dead. The driver suffered injuries. The driver of the other car was uninjured. No arrests

• Simon, in his 19th season on 60 Minutes, won dozens of honors, including 27 Emmy Awards and four Peabody Awards, in a career that dated to the 1960s. He was captured by Iraqi forces at the outset of the Gulf War in Jan 1991 near the Saudi-Kuwaiti border and held for 40 days. He wrote about the experience in his 1992 memoir (without exaggerating)

• He joined CBS in 1967 and covered unrest on college campuses, inner-city riots and the Democratic and Republican National Conventions. He found his niche as a war reporter covering the Vietnam war. He left Saigon on one of the last helicopters out of the city in 1975. He covered conflicts in Northern Ireland and Portugal

• He also covered American military actions in Grenada, Somalia and Haiti. He was assigned to CBS’s Tel Aviv bureau, then to DC’s State Dept bureau. He returned to New York as a national correspondent, then back to Tel Aviv as chief Middle East correspondent. He was last working on a piece on Ebola with his daughter who is a producer at 60 Minutes

 

 

 

Brian Williams: Downfall

• Study in contrasts with Bob Simon. Senior NBC officials seriously considered firing anchor Brian Williams because he lied to his viewers about riding in a military helicopter hit by a rocket-propelled grenade during the Iraq war, according to a top network official (WaPo, NYT, me)

• During suspension talks, Williams failed to secure a promise that he can return to the anchor chair. Steven Burke, chief exec of NBC Universal, told Williams of the decision. NBC News President Deborah Turness told the staff of Nightly News, with Williams calling in to tell them to take good care of the program (oh the continued hubris)

• People were sending up red flags about Williams’s self-aggrandizement about a year ago, an official said. No one took action earlier because the statements that drew attention of staffers weren’t aired on the news broadcast. The announcement to suspend Williams hit the newsroom hard

• “It was very painful,” one NBC News journalist said. “We all worked so hard at establishing our credibility, and it feels like our credibility has been damaged. People are angry at Brian.”

• There’s also a sense that the newsroom has been adrift since Comcast Cable took over NBC Universal in 2011. NBC journalists said editors who once kept a close watch over the broadcast have departed, leaving Williams to operate with few meaningful checks and balances

• As managing editor, Williams held enormous sway over story selection and over which reporters would appear on the broadcast. Journalists with serious reputations were forced out or left on their own. “There was constant changing to his whims,” a former top NBC news manager said. “No one said, ‘No.'”

 

Montana Bill: No More Leggings!

• State Rep David Moore (R) has introduced House Bill 365, which would outlaw “any device, costume, or covering that gives the appearance of or simulates the genitals, pubic hair, anus region, or pubic hair region,” Under that legislative language, “tight-fitting beige clothing” would likely be banned, according to the local lawmaker

• The Billings Gazette reports that Moore would have preferred to ban yoga pants of all colors; he favors giving the cops the power to arrest people for wearing “provocative” clothing. But the bill stops short of that because Moore wasn’t sure whether it would be possible for police to enforce a broader ban (Think Progress, Billings Gazette, me)

• Moore drafted the proposed measure along with Walt Hill, a retired professor, after a bicycle event last summer that involved naked cyclists riding through downtown Missoula. The “Bare As You Dare” event outraged the two men. “Yoga pants should be illegal in public anyway,” Moore said after a hearing on the bill

• Under the proposed bill, a Montana resident who’s convicted three times under the expanded definition of “indecent exposure” could be sentenced to five years in jail and up to a $5,000 fine (beige is the new black). UPDATE: After widespread derision, the bill appears Wednesday to have been tabled by the House Judiciary Committee

• This bill may not seem odd to the Montana legislature. At the end of last year, Republican leaders approved new dress code guidelines for lawmakers that stipulated “leggings are not considered dress pants” and women should be “sensitive to skirt lengths and necklines.” Female politicians pushed back, saying the new rules were “totally sexist, bizarre and unnecessary.”

 

• The first trailer for “The Man from UNCLE” movie is out. Guy Ritchie’s stylish re-working doesn’t look too shabby. Film’s release is August

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______________________

Victoria Jones – Editor

TRNS’ Justin Duckham, William McDonald, Nicholas Salazar and Midori Nishida contributed to this report

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