Talk Media News

Victoria Jones created and edits Quick Morning News. She is chief White House correspondent with Washington DC-based Talk Media News, where her insight and analysis are made available to over 400 news talk radio stations around the country and internationally.

Quick News
  • Obama to Cuba in March
  • Apple to fight FBI in court: Encryption
  • GOP 2016 race: “Lying” feuds
  • SCOTUS vacancy: Latest
  • Scalia assassination conspiracy theories
  • Pope: Mass at Mexican border
  • Fed official: Maybe break up big banks

Obama Heads to Cuba in March (NYT, AP, Politico, me)

• President Obama will travel to Cuba in March, part of a broader swing through Latin America. The admin will announce the trip, the first by a sitting president in 88 years – Calvin Coolidge – today. Top Commerce, Treasury and State Dept officials are meeting privately with their Cuban counterparts in DC for talks aimed at expanding business ties

• The brief visit will mark a watershed moment for relations between the U.S. and Cuba, a communist nation estranged from the U.S. for half a century until Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro relaunched a year ago. Since then, the nations have reopened embassies and moved to restore commercial air travel

• Rep Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla), who was born in Cuba, called the visit “absolutely shameful.” “For more than 50 years, Cubans have been fleeing the Castro regime,” said Lehtinen, the longest-serving Cuban-American in Congress. “Yet the country which grants them refuge – the U.S. – has now decided to quite literally embrace their oppressors.”

• Obama and supporters of the detente argue the decades-old embargo has failed to bring about desired change on the island. Still, while Obama has long expressed an interest in visiting Cuba, WH officials had said the visit wouldn’t occur unless and until the conditions were right. “Part of the deal is that I get to talk to everybody,” Obama said in December (we’ll see)

• Obama has argued that the best way to put pressure on the Cuban govt is to expose its citizens to American values and ideals and through diplomatic channels re-established last year. Told during a CNN town hall Wednesday that Obama was going next month, Sen Marco Rubio (R-Fla) joked: “Probably not going to invite me.” (call his bluff…)


• Iranians will shape the future of the Islamic republic for at least a decade when hardline and moderate candidates battle next Friday in elections for parliament and the body which will choose the country’s next supreme leader. But the hardline Guardian Council, which “vets” candidates, has blocked thousands of mostly moderate candidates from standing… (Reuters, me)


Apple Will Fight FBI in Court: Encryption (AP, Hill, Hill, me)

• Apple CEO Tim Cook says his company will fight magistrate judge Sheri Pym’s order to help the FBI hack into an encrypted iPhone belonging to Syed Farook, one of the San Bernardino shooters. The company said that could potentially undermine encryption for millions of other users

• Cook’s response Wednesday set the stage for a legal fight between the federal govt and Silicon Valley. Govt leaker Edward Snowden rushed to defend Apple on Wednesday, tweeting: “The technical changes the @FBI demands would make it possible to break into an iPhone (5C or older) in a half hour.”

• The ruling by Pym, a former federal prosecutor, requires Apple to supply software the FBI can load onto Farook’s county-owned iPhone to bypass a self-destruct feature that erases the phone’s data after 10 unsuccessful attempts to unlock it. The FBI wants to be able to try different combos in rapid sequence until it finds the right one (they’d never give that back)

• WH spox Josh Earnest on Wednesday said the FBI is “not asking Apple to redesign its product or to create a new backdoor to one of their products.” The FBI is “simply asking for something that would have an impact on this one device.” (nonsense – they’re asking for a new iOS system – which would inevitably be a backdoor to all iPhones – for Iran, North Korea, Russia…)

• Cook wrote: “Building a version of iOS that bypasses security in this way would undeniably create a back door.” Cook wrote that the software “does not exist today.” Meanwhile, President Obama on Wed appointed his former national security adviser, Tom Donilon, to lead a new commission on cybersecurity


• The cost of fighting ISIS is now $6.2 billion, the Pentagon said Wednesday. Military action involving lethal force began on 8 August 2014. Over Operation Resolve’s 542 days, the average cost of operations was $11.5 million a day as of the end of January (how are we doing so far, then, getting our money’s worth?)
GOP 2016 Race: “Lying” Feuds (AP, Hill, me)
• Sen Ted Cruz (R-Texas) dared Donald Trump to sue him on Wednesday. Cruz has been fighting charges of dishonesty from Trump – and Sen Marco Rubio (R-Fla) – for weeks. “You have been threatening frivolous lawsuits for your entire adult life,” Cruz, a Harvard Law School graduate, said at a presser, speaking directly to Trump
• Trump threatened earlier in the week to bring a defamation lawsuit against Cruz over a TV ad that attacks the GOP front-runner’s conservative bona fides. The ad features footage of the billionaire businessman in a 1999 interview supporting abortion rights. Trump now says he opposes abortion (evolved, he says…)
• Trump’s lawyer sent Cruz a letter Tuesday charging the ad was “replete with outright lies, false, defamatory and destructive statements” and threatening damages against Cruz if it’s not taken down. Cruz said Wed he would take Trump’s deposition himself – and would run the ad more frequently. “Please, Donald, file this lawsuit,” Cruz said on CNN Wed night
• Meanwhile, Rubio scored a big win going into the South Carolina primary as he secured the coveted endorsement of Gov Nikki Haley (R-SC). “If we elect Marco Rubio, every day will be a great day in America,” she said. The endorsement was a major setback for former Gov Jeb Bush (R-Fla) who had hoped to get it himself (he’s not wearing glasses now – that’s the ticket)
• Rubio on Wed accused Cruz supporters of using “push polls” and creating a fake Facebook page wrongly claiming that Rep Trey Gowdy (R-SC) had switched his endorsement from Rubio to Cruz. “He’s been lying,” Rubio said on CNN. Cruz denied being involved with anything untoward and called for anyone with evidence to come forward


• Ted Cruz has eclipsed Donald Trump in a national NBC News/WSJ poll of Republican primary voters out Wednesday. Cruz has 28% of GOP primary voters surveyed between Sunday and Tuesday, Trump fell seven points, from 33% to 26%. Wednesday is the first time Trump hasn’t come out on top since October (Politico)


SCOTUS Vacancy: Latest (Reuters, HuffPo, Hill, me)
• WH spox Josh Earnest was put on the defensive Wed over President Obama’s actions a decade ago as a member of the Senate when he tried to block the nomination put forward by President George W. Bush of conservative Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court – Obama used a filibuster. Alito was confirmed anyway
• “Some Democrats engaged in a process of throwing sand in the gears of the confirmation process. And that’s an approach that the president regrets,” WH spox Josh Earnest told reporters. Earnest portrayed Obama’s vote to try to block Alito as “symbolic” and sought to contrast it to “Republicans’ reflexive opposition” to Obama nominating a justice to replace Antonin Scalia
• “I, first of all, think they’re going to cave in,” Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid, speaking in Reno, Nevada, said of the Republicans. Sen John Cornyn (R-Texas), the No 2 Republican, Wednesday didn’t rule out Judiciary Committee hearings, saying it was up to the chairman whether to schedule a hearing
• Retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, a Reagan appointee, said Wednesday, “I think we need somebody there to do the job now and let’s get on with it.” “You just have to pick the best person you can under the circumstances, as the appointing authority must do.”
• Earnest said Obama and first lady Michelle Obama would pay their respects to Scalia on Friday when the late justice’s body lies in repose at the Supreme Court building. Earnest said Obama wouldn’t go to Scalia’s funeral Mass on Saturday in DC but that VP Joe Biden would attend

• Interactive on judicial confirmations: That time when they said… how lawmakers have switched sides with their opponents, based on political control of Congress and the WH – great stuff (NYT)

Scalia Assassination Conspiracy Theories (Mother Jones, me)
Obama did it: Sunday, conspiracy theorist and right wing talk show host Alex Jones (no relation) said: “You realize, Obama is just one vote away from being able to ban guns, open the borders and actually have the court engage in its agenda, and now Scalia dies. My gut tells me they killed him, and all the intellectual evidence lays it out.” (intellectual? evidence?)
Unusual place to find a pillow: Right wing talk show host Michael Savage suggested to Trump during a phone call that it was murder. Trump said, “It’s a horrible topic, but they say they found a pillow on his face, which is a pretty unusual place to find a pillow.” – the resort owner now says the pillow was “over his head, not over his face”
Poisoned or injected: William Richie, former head of criminal investigations with the DC PD, wrote “How can the marshal say, without a thorough post mortem, that he was not injected with an illegal substance that would simulate a heart attack?” Scalia’s son, Eugene, said on the Laura Ingraham radio show Wed that the theories were a “hurtful distraction”
Hillary Clinton did it: Liberty News Now published a piece Tuesday alleging that Hillary Clinton was behind it. She had been asked at an event if she’d consider appointing Obama to the court, and her response was: “What a great idea.” (maybe they were in it together… so, now, how many people have the Clintons allegedly killed?)
A little too coincidental: Right wing talk show host Andrew Wilkow thinks Obama might have done it. “It’s just a little, how you say, coincidental? That the only thing standing in the way of Barack Obama’s agenda being fully completed in the next 11 months is a potentially divided court that goes 5-4 against him … Andrew, what are you saying? I’m not saying anything.”


• Bernie Sanders is barnstorming Nevada, drawing thousands to rallies. Hillary Clinton’s team finds themselves downplaying expectations of a big win in the state, even though Nevada was supposed to be one of Clinton’s safest bets. Sanders has appeal among first-time voters and is making inroads with minorities – it’s tightening as they head to Saturday’s caucuses (AP, me)
Pope: Mass at Mexican Border (Politico, AP, NBC News, me)
• Pope Francis on Wednesday wrapped up a five-day visit to Mexico with a Mass for thousands at a field in Ciudad Juarez, a few hundred feet from the U.S border. The popular pontiff also laid flowers and prayed at a nearby memorial honoring migrants, many of whom have died as they tried to cross the border
• The pope appealed for govts to open their hearts to the “human tragedy” of forced migration. “No more death! No more exploitation!” he implored. Francis stopped short of calling outright for the U.S. to open its borders, but he urged recognition for the multitudes fleeing gangland killings and extortion in their homelands
• “We cannot deny the humanitarian crisis which in recent years has meant the migration of thousands of people, whether by train or highway or on foot, crossing hundreds of kilometers through mountains, deserts and inhospitable zones. They are our brothers and sisters,” he said
• Donald Trump, – who once described Mexican migrants as “rapists” – alleged last week that Mexico pushed the pope to visit the border “because Mexico wants to keep the border just the way it is because they’re making a fortune.” The Vatican reportedly has called Trump’s comments “very strange” and pointed to the pope’s long passion for the welfare of migrants

• Iraq is missing “highly dangerous” radioactive material stolen last year that Iraqi officials fear could be used as a weapon if acquired by a terror group. The material, stored in a protective case the size of a laptop, went missing last November from a storage facility belonging to a U.S. oilfield services co in the southern Iraqi city of Basra (Reuters)

Fed Official: Maybe Break Up Big Banks (Bloomberg, Hill, Reuters, me)
• Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis President Neel Kashkari will lead an effort to toughen U.S. banking laws to prevent another financial crisis. “The biggest banks are still too big to fail and continue to pose a significant risk to our economy,” Kashkari said Tuesday in Washington. Kashkari joined the central bank on 1 Jan as its newest policy maker

• Kashkari, 42, managed the Treasury’s $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program for rescuing banks in the 2008 crisis. His position is at odds with top Fed leaders, including chair Janet Yellen, who isn’t calling for dramatic steps such as breaking up large banks – such changes would also face a steep uphill battle in the GOP-led Congress

• Wednesday, Kashkari said, “I don’t see this as a partisan issue.” “I do think there are people on both sides of the aisle who care about this issue and think we should take stronger action. It wasn’t a political statement. It was a statement about economic risks.” (little trip to the Fed’s woodshed may be in store for you, Neel, at its next meeting…)
• Tuesday, Kashkari suggested policymakers should seriously consider breaking up large banks into smaller, less connected entities. Alternatively, large banks could be subjected to such extreme regulation, comparable to a nuclear power plant, that they effectively become public utilities. He acknowledged the ideas could be “unsettling”

• Kashkari said Tuesday that the financial industry has “lobbied hard to preserve its current structure and thrown up endless objections to fundamental change.” He rejected arguments such as that U.S. banks would be at a disadvantage to competitors in nations with looser regulations, because the U.S. “should do what is right for our economy.”

• Watch: Marco Rubio has a new ad out promising a return to “Morning in America,” but the ad has the sun rising over Vancouver. It opens with a tugboat flying a Canadian flag passing through Vancouver’s harbor. The Rubio campaign told Buzzfeed it was a “mistake” – yup, little bit

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Victoria Jones – Editor