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.

Hooded gunmen armed with Kalashnikovs fire on police in French city of Marseilles, police source says (Reuters)

In the News

  • Ukraine: Obama/Merkel at WH today
  • Netanyahu speech: Uproar in Israel
  • Iran talks: No extension likely
  • Alabama gay marriage showdown today
  • ISIS: Where is Kayla?
  • Report: Your car can be hacked
  • Car manufacturers track you, keep data
  • Brian Williams cancels Letterman…
  • House Oversight probes WH over FCC
  • Homeland Security standoff
  • Grammys: Annie Lennox stole the night

Ukraine Crisis: Merkel at WH Today

• The leaders of Russia, Ukraine, Germany and France aim to meet in Belarus’s capital Minsk on Wednesday to discuss a peace plan for eastern Ukraine amid escalating violence there. It comes after leaders of the four countries discussed the ongoing conflict by phone Sunday (Reuters, BBC, Hill, TRNS, me)

• President Obama meets today at the WH with German Chancellor Angela Merkel to discuss Ukraine and other issues. There will be a late morning presser. Friday, Merkel and French President Francois Hollande traveled to Moscow for talks with President Vladimir Putin that produced no breakthrough in the conflict that’s claimed more than 5,300 lives

• The Obama admin is facing bipartisan pressure from the Capitol to provide weapons to Ukraine. But the Germans believe that would both internationalize the conflict, playing into the hands of Putin, and wouldn’t improve the chances of a depleted Ukrainian army facing separatists armed with “unlimited” supplies of Russian military equipment

• SecState John Kerry said Sunday in Munich that the U.S. and its European allies are united. “We are united, we are working closely together.” “We all agree that this challenge will not end through military force. We are united in our diplomacy.”

• Putin said on Sunday after the call with Merkel, Hollande and Ukrainian President Poroshenko, that the Minsk meeting could only happen on Wednesday “if by then we have managed to agree our positions.” In the meantime, EU foreign ministers meet in Brussels today, when they’re expected to endorse an expansion of visa bans and asset freezes to 19 more people


Vid: a preview of the Vox interview with President Obama – the first time any interview with the president has used graphics quite like this to illustrate in real time. Exciting. He talks about why the economy has become so good for corporations and not so good for workers. Full interview available today (Vox, me)
Netanyahu Speech: Uproar in Israel

• PM Benjamin Netanyahu’s planned address to Congress has Israel in an uproar. And Washington’s not exactly calm, either. Israeli opposition Labor leader Isaac Herzog has described the speech as a cheap election stunt that would only undermine support for Israel in Washington (AP, Hill, Haaretz, JPost, Bloomberg, me)

• Yair Lapid, leader of the centrist Yesh Atid party, said Netanyahu was causing “serious damage” to American ties and urged him to stay home. Michael Oren, who served as Netanyahu’s ambassador to the U.S. until 2013 and is running for parliament with a newly formed centrist party, said Netanyahu would do better to deliver his speech at DC’s AIPAC conference

• The pro-Israel lobby AIPAC has reservations about the speech to Congress because it’s turning into a partisan event, according to a person involved in U.S.-Israel relations – anonymous. Abe Foxman, director of the anti-Defamation League, a leading Jewish American group in the U.S., has urged Netanyahu to call off the visit

• However, in Israel, a criminal probe may be looming over recent allegations that Netanyahu’s wife, Sara, kept thousands of dollars from recycling drinking bottles that were technically state property. “Bottlegate” has dominated Israeli headlines, overtaking Congress speech coverage. The scandal aligns with previous allegations of extravagant spending by the Netanyahus

• Meanwhile, the WH announced on Friday the VP Joe Biden will be overseas on 3 March and won’t be attending Netanyahu’s speech. Biden is the member of the admin closest to Netanyahu. Some other Democrats won’t attend. U.S. officials fear the speech, expected to focus on Iran, could upset delicate nuclear negotiations and is too close to Israeli elections

• Vid: U.S. politicians aren’t the only one with lame campaign ads. Here’s Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu with an attempt at a funny ad aimed at showing that focus on apparent scandals is silly

Iran Talks: No Extension Likely
• Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khameini told Iranian air force personnel Sunday that he “firmly” backed a fair nuclear deal. “I am for reaching a good settlement and the Iranian nation too will certainly not oppose any deal to uphold its dignity and integrity,” Khameini said (Reuters, Hill, NYT, me)• SecState John Kerry on Sunday virtually ruled out an extension of the talks. “The only chance I can see of an extension at this point in time would be you really have the outlines of an agreement. But if we’re not able to make the fundamental decisions that have to be made over the next weeks, literally, I think it would be impossible to extend.”

• Iran’s FM Javad Zarif said in Munich Sunday that Tehran doesn’t favor another extension of the talks, either. He also said, “Sanctions are a liability; you need to get rid of them if you want a solution. This is the opportunity to do it, and we need to seize this opportunity.”

• Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu told his weekly cabinet meeting that he would strive to thwart a “bad and dangerous agreement.” “World powers and Iran are charging ahead to an agreement that would allow Iran to arm itself with nuclear weaponry, something that would imperil the existence of the State of Israel.” He’s scheduled to address Congress on 3 March

• Major sticking points to a nuclear deal are the pace at which sanctions would be removed, the size of Iran’s nuclear fuel-producing capacity – a key consideration in preventing the output of bomb material – and the length of any agreement
• Fifteen residents of the St Louis region filed two lawsuits Sunday evening, one against Ferguson and another against Jennings. They seek class action status. They allege the cities have created an unconstitutional modern-day debtors’ prison largely over traffic tickets. The purpose: to raise revenue to keep the municipalities afloat (NYT, me)


Alabama Gay Marriage Showdown Today

• As Alabama appeared set within hours to become the 37th state where gays can legally wed, chief justice Roy Moore sent a letter Sunday evening to probate judges ordering them to refuse to issue same-sex marriage licenses when the courts open this morning. Moore wrote the judges weren’t bound by a federal judge’s ruling 23 Jan that the ban was unconstitutional

• Susan Watson, executive director, ACLU of Alabama, called the move by the conservative chief justice “grandstanding” and predicted licenses would be issued shortly. The developments unfolded as gay couples started showing up at county courthouses around the state (AP, me)

• U.S. district judge Callie Granade had ruled that the state marriage ban was unconstitutional and – in a later clarifying order – said that probate judges have a legal duty under the U.S. constitution to issue the licenses. Moore called homosexuality “evil” in a 2002 custody ruling

• A few probate judges have said they would refuse to issue the licenses until they received greater clarity from the courts. Moore, as head of the court system, upped the ante Sunday night, though it was unclear what enforcement provision he has. Moore’s letter said Gov Robert Bentley can take action against elected officials who fail to follow the law

• AG Luther Strange has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to put aside Granade’s order since justices are expected to issue a ruling later this year on whether gay couples have a right to marry nationwide. The high court hadn’t ruled on the state’s request within hours of the opening of courthouses today
• Winter-weary New England is bracing for another round of snow that could bring up to 2 feet of snow in some areas of the region. The National Weather Service issued winter storm warnings for central New York, the western Catskills and much of New England through early Tuesday (Fox)


ISIS: Where is Kayla?

• The parents of 26-year-old Kayla Jean Mueller, who has been held hostage for more than a year by ISIS militants, are in a very “fragile state,” family friend Todd Geiler said Sunday. They’re clinging to hope that she’s still alive, having yet to receive info confirming otherwise (AP, Hill, Daily Courier, TRNS, Fox, CNN, WSJ, me)

• The parents are asking the nation and the world to pray for Mueller’s return, Geiler said. “This thing, it’s time to have an ending. It’s time to bring Kayla home to her parents and her family.” Mueller is an aid worker who had been working in Turkey assisting with Syrian refugees. She had previously volunteered in India, Israel and the Palestinian territories

• ISIS said Friday that Mueller died in a Jordanian airstrike, crushed under a building. The govt of Jordan dismissed the statement as propaganda. U.S. officials said they haven’t seen any evidence to corroborate the report. Mueller is the only known remaining U.S. hostage held by ISIS (very convenient timing – and that it would be Jordan and during Muslim prayers)

• “For as long as I live, I will not let this suffering be normal, something we just accept. It’s important to stop and realize what we have, why we have it and how privileged we are. And from that place, start caring and get a lot done,” Mueller said at a meet of the Prescott AZ Kiwanis Club, where her father was a member

• SecState John Kerry said Sunday on NBC’s Meet the Press that the U.S.-led coalition was “on the road” to defeating ISIS. “Twenty-two percent of the populated areas they have held have been taken back already. And that’s without launching what we would call a major offensive,” Kerry said (maybe launch one, then?)
Report: Your Car Can Be Hacked

• Serious gaps in security and customer privacy affect nearly every vehicle that uses wireless technology, according to a report out today by Sen Ed Markey’s (D-MA) office. The report concludes that security measures to prevent hackers from gaining control of a vehicle are “inconsistent and haphazard” – but wait, it gets worse (AP, NYT, me)

• Markey posed questions to 16 automakers after researchers showed how hackers can get into the controls of some popular cars and SUVs, causing them suddenly to accelerate, turn, sound the horn, turn headlights off or on and modify speedometer and gas-gauge readings (eek)

• Today’s cars and light trucks typically contain more than 50 electronic control units – effectively small computers, as well as some wireless entry points to these computers, such as tire pressure monitoring systems, Bluetooth, internet access, keyless entry, remote start, navigation systems, wifi, anti-theft systems and cellular-telematics

• Most manufacturers said they were unaware of or unable to report on past hacking incidents. Hackers can get around most security protections cited by manufacturers, according to the security experts Markey consulted

• Information from most manufacturers indicated they wouldn’t know about a hacking attempt unless data from the vehicle’s computers was downloaded by a dealer or at a service center. Only one manufacturer appeared able to detect a hacking attempt while it was happening (lame)
Manufacturers Track You, Keep Your Data

• Most new cars are capable of collecting large amounts of data on a vehicle’s driving history through an array of pre-installed technologies, including navigation systems, telematics etc., that allow car dealers to track and disable vehicles whose drivers don’t keep up with their payments or that are reported stolen, the report said

• Half the manufacturers said they wirelessly transfer info on driving history from vehicles to another location, often using third-party companies, and most don’t describe “an effective means to secure the data,” the report said (super creepy)

• Manufacturers are also using personal vehicle data in various and often vague ways to “improve the customer’s experience,” the report said (not mine). Policies on how long they store drivers’ info vary considerably. Customers often are not made aware explicitly of the data collection and often can’t opt out without disabling valuable features like navigation

• Last month, 19 automakers accounting for most of the passenger cars and light truck sold in the U.S. agreed on a set of principles to protect motorists’ privacy. The voluntary agreement was aimed in part at heading off possible legislation (of course.) Markey has said voluntary efforts don’t go far enough (because they don’t do them)

• The Society of Automotive Engineers has established a security committee that’s evaluating the vulnerability of cars to hacking and is drafting “standards and best practices to help ensure electronic control system safety,” the alliance said (you’ll be sued first)
• Britain’s Prince Charles will intervene in the case of a jailed Saudi blogger who’s been sentenced to 1,000 lashes and urge Saudi Arabia’s new king to halt the punishment. Charles is on a six-day tour of the Middle East. The Mail on Sunday cited unnamed British diplomatic sources


Brian Williams Cancels Letterman
• In a sign of deepening trouble, Brian Williams Sunday canceled an appearance on Late Night with David Letterman, scheduled for Thursday, that had been a key part of his recovery strategy (way too early for that) (Politico, NYT, CNN, me)• Decision was made because NBC was unsure what the situation will be on Thursday and Williams didn’t feel he should keep a commitment to that appearance when his return to Nightly was still up in the air. It was on Letterman in 2013 that Williams gave one of his most vivid accounts of a close encounter with an RPG in Iraq in 2003

• The thinking had been that Letterman can do a serious interview, and the show would be a high-profile, controlled way for Williams to clear the air (note he didn’t pick The Daily Show, where he would have had a really serious and tough interview, but picked the lighter Letterman)

• Saturday, Williams announced he would vacate the air “for the next several days” with Lester Holt filling in as anchor. The plan is an effort to buy time for NBC, which wants to protect it’s No 1 asset. The sense inside NBC News has been that Williams is too big to fail (nobody is)

• It was a mistake for Williams to pen the absence note himself – gives the impression he’s controlling events. Meanwhile, NBC News is conducting an internal investigation – also a mistake – better to outsource for independence. Meanwhile, every story Williams has ever told, including rescuing a puppy as a volunteer firefighter, is coming under scrutiny


• Egyptian authorities have suspended soccer league matches after clashes at a stadium in Cairo left at least 22 people dead. People were crushed after police fired tear gas at fans who were trying to force their way in for a match. Fans blamed authorities for opening only a single gate (BBC, me)


House Oversight Probes WH over FCC

• The House Oversight Committee is investigating if the WH had any “improper influence” on the FCC’s net neutrality rules unveiled this week. The move by the GOP-led Oversight Committee comes days after the FCC detailed rules that would reclassify broadband internet under regulations governing traditional telephones (Hill, WSJ, me)

• Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) sent a letter to FCC chair Tom Wheeler requesting all communications with the WH and other executive branch agencies about the issue, as well as internal docs discussing the WH recommendations and visitor logs of any meetings with admin officials

• In a broader request, Chaffetz asked for all docs and communications from internal staff about the net neutrality rules since Jan 2014. That includes all draft and final versions of the orders. Chaffetz also advised Wheeler’s office and anyone else working on the issue not to delete any docs, a signal more requests for info are possible

• The new regs are meant to enforce rules that would prevent internet service  providers from blocking or slowing any internet traffic, while also barring companies from negotiating deals for priority service. The rules largely mirror President Obama’s recommendations to the independent agency last year

• In his letter, Chaffetz cited a WSJ report last week describing the effort by a pair of WH staffers who helped build the admin’s case for stronger rules. Gigi Sohn, a special counsel for Wheeler, on Thursday said Obama’s recommendations actually gave Wheeler cover to issue strong rules that he was already leaning toward


• The economy added 257,000 new jobs in January and the unemployment rated tick up to 5.7% from 5.6% as more people started looking for work. November and December’s job data were revised upward


Homeland Security Standoff

• Homeland Security Sec Jeh Johnson said on CNN Sunday that he would have to furlough at least 30,000 workers if Congress doesn’t agree to fund his dept by the end of Feb. “This is not a situation to make light of. In these challenging times, we need a fully funded Dept of Homeland Security.” DHS currently employs around 230,000 individuals

• “If people in Congress want to have the debate about immigration reform, let’s have that debate, Johnson said. “But don’t tie that to funding public safety and Homeland Security for the American people.” (CNN, HuffPo, Politico, Hill, me)

• The current standoff in Congress is over whether a DHS funding bill should include riders to end President Obama’s executive action to defer deportations for various groups of undocumented immigrants

• The House has passed a bill, but it’s been filibustered three times in the Senate by Democrats and would face a veto from the president. Congress goes on a week’s recess for President’s Day at the end of this week, so there’s only two working weeks left until 27 February

• Astonishingly, the king of filibusters, Sen Ted Cruz (R-TX), who was willing to hold up the entire govt’s funding back in December, said on CNN on Sunday, “And three times the Democrats stood together, filibustered and said we will not allow the Senate to take up this bill. At a time of growing national security threats across the world, that’s irresponsible.”


Grammys: Annie Lennox Stole the Night

• She didn’t win an award. But her performance rocked the house. Scot Annie Lennox belted out an intense “I Put a Spell On You” backed by Irishman Hozier when she joined him for the second part of “Take Me to Church,” his profound song about the lead-up to a homophobic attack on a gay man in Russia (me, NYT, WaPo,)

• Big winners of the night were 22-year-old British newcomer (new to the U.S.) Sam Smith and underrated American Beck. Smith took home four Grammys, including record of the year for “Stay With Me.” “I want to thank the man who this record is about,” Smith said. “Thank you so much for breaking my heart, ’cause you got me four Grammys.” Beck won for best rock album

• Beyonce and Pharrell Williams both won three Grammys. Beyonce won best R&B song for “Drunk in Love” (as she should), and Williams won best music video for “Happy.” His performance, in a minor key, featured men wearing hoodies and holding their hands up, one of three references to Ferguson that I counted during the night

• Miranda Lambert (best country album) sang “Little Red Wagon” with video flames behind her. One line went silent for its four-letter word. Country singer songwriter Eric Church sang “Hometown” which bemoans the way corporate development steals hometown character, in front of a video montage of riots

Madonna bared her bottom on the red carpet. Kanye stormed the stage. President Obama beamed in with a pre-recorded message about the importance of stopping violence against women. Prince made a passing remark that spoke volumes: “Like books and black lives, albums still matter.” Eight most important words of the night

Sign up here for TRNS News Notes

______________Victoria Jones – Editor

TRNS’ Nicholas Salazar and William McDonald contributed to this report

The Talk Radio News Service is the only information, news booking and host service dedicated to serving the talk radio community. TRNS maintains a Washington office that includes White House, Capitol Hill and Pentagon staffed bureaus, and a New York office with a United Nations staffed bureau. Talk Radio News Service has permanent access to every breaking newsevent in the Washington, D.C. area and beyond.

Copyright © 2015 The Talk Radio News Service, All rights reserved.