What’s Up May 19, 2013?

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· Pfeiffer defends handling of IRS scandal White House senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer on Sunday defended the Obama administration’s handling of the IRS scandal.

“What would be an actual real scandal in Washington would be if the president had been involved or had interfered in an IRS investigation,” Pfeiffer said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”

Pfeiffer said that the administration followed the “cardinal rule” of all White Houses.

“You do nothing to interfere with an independent investigation and you do nothing to offer the appearance of interfering with investigations,” Pfeiffer said. Once informed, the White House officials responded after they had the facts, he said.

Obama has come under fire from Republicans and others for being slow to respond and for saying that he learned only recently of the investigation into IRS officials targeting tea party groups.

“What we waited for were the facts,” Pfeiffer said. “It’s important to get out there fast, but it’s important to get out there right.”

Pfeiffer said the White House is remaining focused and will not going to let Republicans “drag Washington into a swamp of partisan fishing expeditions, trumped up hearings and false allegations.” Story Continued

· Obama Aide: ‘Irrelevant Fact’ Where President Was During Benghazi Attacks Obama aide Dan Pfeiffer said it’s an “irrelevant fact” where the president physically was during the Benghazi terror attack on September 11, 2012:

Host Chris Wallace reminds Pfeiffer that Obama didn’t really talk with Secretary Clinton, Secretary Panetta, or Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, that night. “He was talking to his national security staff,” Pfeiffer insists.

Asked about whether the president entered the Situation Room, Pfeiffer says, “I don’t remember what room the president was in on that night, and that’s a largely irrelevant fact.”

Pfeiffer then argues that Wallace’s questions about the president’s handling of the Benghazi terror attack are “offensive.” Story Continued and to watch the video

· First Lady Expands Anti-Obesity Campaign to Museums 

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First Lady Michelle Obama has expanded her anti-obesity campaign to museums, enlisting them to offer “healthy food options,” and change their menus.

Mrs. Obama’s “Let’s Move!” initiative is now calling for museums, zoos, gardens, science and technology centers to “join the call to action,” to decrease obesity among children.

The first lady is recruiting these institutions to join the “”Let’s Move!” Museums and Gardens” project because of their power to “influence real and sustained behavior change” on the eating habits of kids.

“With their impressive reach and great potential for impact, museums and gardens can launch community efforts to create a healthier generation using interactive exhibits, outdoor spaces, gardens and programs that encourage families to eat healthy foods and increase physical activity,” the program said.

So far, 624 institutions across the country have signed up.

One of the goals of the program is that 90 percent of the museums and centers that offer food service will “already offer or will change their menu to offer food options that reflect healthy choices.”

“Let’s Move!” wants the museums to abide by the Center for Disease Control’s (CDC) nutrition standards, which include limiting “deep-fried entrée options to no more than one choice per day” and offering fruit or a “non-fried” vegetable as side dishes “instead of chips or a cookie.”

Other goals of Mrs. Obama’s initiative include recruiting 2,000 institutions in the first year and securing 200 million visits per year to the participating organizations.

The project also placed an emphasis on physical activity, hoping that the museums and zoos will offer afterschool and summer programs.

“Museums and gardens are core community institutions,” Let’s Move! said. “They are trusted in their communities and have the capacity to influence real and sustained behavior change.”

“This initiative is intended to capture what is happening in museums and gardens and also to encourage new activity,” it says.

When awarding the winners of the 2013 National Medal for Museum and Library Service last month, Mrs. Obama noted that three of the five recipients are enrolled in her museums campaign.

“There are some of you who are even members of our Let’s Move Museums and Gardens initiative – yes, indeed,” the first lady said. “And you know that I greatly appreciate that work, everything that you all are doing to make it fun and creative for kids to develop lifelong health habits. Thank you for that work.” Story Continued

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· Al-Qaeda’s Syrian wing takes over the oilfields once belonging to Assad

Up to 380,000 barrels of crude oil were previously produced by wells around the city of Raqqa and in the desert region to its east that are now in rebel hands – in particular Jabhat al-Nusra, the al-Qaeda off-shoot which is the strongest faction in this part of the country.

Now the violently anti-Western jihadist group, which has been steadily extending its control in the region, is selling the crude oil to local entrepreneurs, who use home-made refineries to produce low-grade petrol and other fuels for Syrians facing acute shortages.

The ability of Jabhat al-Nusra to profit from the oil locally, despite international sanctions which have hindered its sale abroad, will be particularly worrying to the European Union, which has voted to ease the embargo but at the same time wants to marginalise the extremist group within the opposition.

In the battle for the future of the rebel cause, the oil-fields may begin to play an increasingly strategic role. All are in the three provinces closest to Iraq – Hasakeh, Deir al-Zour, and Raqqa, while the Iraqi border regions are the homeland of the Islamic State of Iraq, as al-Qaeda’s branch in the country calls itself.

It was fighters from Islamic State of Iraq, both Iraqi and Syrian, who are thought to have founded Jabhat al-Nusra as the protests against the rule of President Assad turned into civil war.

Because of sanctions, Jabhat’s oil is largely shipped to thousands of home-built mini-refineries that have sprung up across the north of the country. The crude is distilled in hand-welded vats dug into the ground and heated with burning oil residue.

The Jabhat Al Nusra, a proscribed islamic militant group control the oil fields and cannot export due to sanctions, so this provides some cash flow to the rebel cause as well as much needed fuel for Northern Syria

It is not clear how much money is being channelled back to the group. But all those buying the raw product were aware that Jabhat was profiting.

“Jabhat do not ask for taxes or charges for this trade,” said one of them, Omar Mahmoud, from Raqqa province. “But we are buying the oil from them so they do not need to.”

Syria’s oil output, never as great as that of some of Syria’s Arab neighbours, fell to about 130,000 barrels a day after the outbreak of the revolution against the Assad regime.

However, Jabhat al-Nusra are now putting that to good use. The homes refineries are turning out poor quality but usable – and much-needed – petrol and kerosene for cooking and home stoves.

Their product might not meet the quality, and certainly the health and safety standards, demanded by Shell or ExxonMobil, but it provides a living to thousands of blackened figures willing to risk the business’s inherent dangers.

In parts of north-east Syria, the stills are set up by every road-side, the produce sold like fruit from lay-bys to drivers as they pass. But the unquestioned centre of the industry is the desert outside the small town of Mansoura, a few miles west of Raqqa city and on the other side of the Euphrates River.

Here, the entire horizon is a blighted scene of billowing clouds out of which dark figures occasionally emerge on foot or roaring motor-bikes. Near the road sit oil tankers carrying the raw product.

“I make 3000 Syrian pounds (about £15) a day,” said Adel Hantoush, 19, his legs dripping with crude, a filthy headscarf wrapped around his face. A building site casual labourer in better times, he helps support his father, mother and nine brothers and sisters.

Black smoke blew past his head as colleagues poured fuel into the burning pit under their tank. “The last thing I think about is my health,” he said. “If I don’t do this, my family will die.”

The amateur production process is quite simple, and easily explained in school text books.

The oil is heated slowly, with the different grades of product evaporating at different temperatures. The vapour is fed through pipes channelled through pits filled with water to recondense it as a liquid, which runs out into containers at the other end.

Near Raqqa, they pay 4000 Syrian pounds (£20) a barrel, with the price rising for smaller quantities and as the distance increases. A single refining vat can take six barrels at a time, producing maybe 30 litres of petrol, similar quantities of cooking fuel and higher amounts of diesel.

Abdulwahad Abdullah, a wheat farmer from north of Raqqa who runs a single still through two five-hour cycles a day, says he can make 20,000 pound profit (£100) on a good day.

It is a Mad Max scene, indicative of the chaos the war has unleashed in Syria, creating a landscape ideal for the methods of dominance al-Qaeda learned in post-war Iraq.

General Selim Idriss, the head of the western-backed opposition Military Council, has appealed for Western help specifically to seize the fields from Jabhat, but the forces required – he put it at 30,000 men – make that a pipe dream. Even pro-Western rebel militias in the area admit that the level of support received from the council is at present minimal.

They have promised to take on Jabhat al-Nusra once the fighting is over, but they are split and fighting among themselves, with their lack of money forcing some to turn to looting and extortion to fund themselves, further alienating the local population.

Jabhat have used their greater proficiency at fighting, honed by jihad in Iraq and elsewhere, to take a leading role at the battlefront. “They are more disciplined,” Abu Hamza, a fighter with a rival Islamist rebel brigade in Aleppo admitted. “When they attack, they make a plan first, and then stick to it.”

Their battlefield supremacy has enabled them to seize the economic as well as the military high-ground.

In Raqqa, they also control flour production, earning money from selling to bakeries, some of which they own as well. “Jabhat now own everything here,” one disillusioned secular activist said.

In other places they sell the flour at a loss, further endearing them to the local population.

Until now it has been a virtuous circle. Well-funded anyway from foreign contributions, they are able to avoid levying the fees – some say bribes – to pay their men and for supplies that have made other brigades increasingly unpopular. That in turn has been a major boon to recruitment, with thousands defecting to them.

Jabhat al-Nusra’s rule has not been easy. It has had to fight opposed local brigades, and has begun to face protests over its hardline policies – most recently last week after their public execution of three captured soldiers in Raqqa’s town square. The group said this was revenge for a massacre of civilians by pro-Assad forces in the coastal town of Baniyas.

Ominously, this was done in the name of “Islamic State of Iraq and Syria”, suggesting that Jabhat al-Nusra at least in the east is now fully under the control of the murderous Iraqi mother group.

Few are concerned about the downsides, though one man showed huge weals that had grown under his arm which he blamed on his days inhaling the dense black smoke.

One Mansoura man, Mahmoud Ismail, a computer technician who had come to the desert site to visit friends and was watching them pour petrol into barrels to take away, said he had tried the work for a single day. But he then gave it up when he thought about what he was inhaling.

“I came, did it, and then packed up and stopped,” he said. “It just wasn’t worth it.”

With that, he flicked his cigarette on to the ground, and stamped it out. Story Continued

· Obama Approval Rating Not Hurt By Scandals: CNN/ORC International Poll A new poll shows that recent scandals haven’t hurt President Obama’s approval rating.

The poll, from CNN and ORC International, found that 53% of Americans approve of the job Obama is doing, while 45% disapproved. This number remains virtually unchanged from polls taken before the scandals hit.

The poll was taken on May 17th and 18th, and has a 3% margin of error.

A CNN poll taken in early April showed Obama’s approval rating to be 51%. According to a Gallup poll taken in early May, the president’s approval rating was 50%.

The CNN poll also found that 71% of Americans find the actions of the IRS employees who targeted Tea Party groups to be unacceptable. However, 6 in 10 respondents said they trusted the president’s statements on the issue.

Last week was a rough one for the administration, as news broke that the IRS had been unfairly targeting Tea Party groups applying for tax-exempt status. Additionally, it was revealed that the Justice Department had subpoenaed phone records from the Associated Press. The White House also faced continue scrutiny on the attacks in Benghazi. Story Continued

Sunday Roundup  – by Adrianna Huffington

This week saw the kickoff of Second Term Scandal Season, though the first entrants fall on very different parts of the manufactured scandal vs. real scandal continuum. On the deeply-contrived end is Benghazi — with supposedly damning White House emails having been altered by GOP leakers. On the actually scandalous end is the administration’s snooping through the AP’s phone records, which the New York Times called “an effort to frighten off whistle-blowers.” The incident points out the hypocrisy of a White House that praises whistleblowers in the abstract, but then goes after them — aggressively and often. “Speaking truth to power is now a criminal act,” says whistleblower and former NSA executive Thomas Drake, who the DOJ charged under the WW I-era Espionage Act. It’s President Obama’s war against whistleblowers that is the true scandal. Story Continued

Ms. Huffington brings some new points to light that were not known outside her circle of friends. But then the truth is a tough subject. PdC.

What’s Behind the Benghazi Hearings?  – Barbra Streisand; Singer; Actress; Director; Composer; Activist

Remember Whitewater and the “travel office” non-scandals of the 1990s? The Republicans and certain media outlets wasted the nation’s time and millions of dollars in pursuit of alleged wrongdoing by First Lady Hillary Clinton. It was all sound and fury signifying nothing. Two decades later, the same script is being revisited about the attack on the American consulate in Benghazi, Libya, which the president and Secretary Clinton clearly labeled a “terrorist act.”

If the Republicans want to revisit tragic acts of terrorism, shouldn’t we go back to 9/11/2001? The nation later found out there was massive incompetence on the part of the Bush Administration leading up to 9/11. President Bush received repeated warnings from Richard Clarke, the National Coordinator for Counter-terrorism, regarding an impending terrorist threat. Furthermore, while vacationing on his Texas ranch on August 6th, the president received a CIA briefing stating that Osama Bin Laden was determined to strike in the United States. President Bush dismissed the briefer saying he had “covered his ass” and went fishing.

In the aftermath of this horrific attack that killed almost 3,000 people, the Democrats didn’t spend months trying to politicize the tragedy by asking, “What did the president know and when did he know it?” Sometimes in the face of national tragedy, politics should take a backseat. The hypocrisy of turning Benghazi into a deliberate cover-up scandal is preposterous at a time when the nation faces so many serious problems. The budget sequester, sponsored by Republicans, is already cutting back security at U.S. embassies around the world. Why don’t the Republicans deal with the very real effects of the sequester at home and abroad?

But the Republicans are intent on politicizing the tragic deaths of four Americans last September 11th in Benghazi. Despite Secretary Hillary Clinton’s answering questions at Senate hearings into the matter, the Republicans in the House are trying to drum up a scandal with little new factual evidence. Could it be because they’re afraid Secretary Clinton might run for President in 2016? The report that came out of the The Accountability and Review Board, headed by seasoned diplomat Thomas Pickering, along with former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, absolved Secretary Clinton of wrongdoing, yet the Republican refuse to let this issue go.

The public should demand that the Republicans get on with the nation’s business and not spend their time and money undermining the current administration and former Secretary Clinton.

It is beyond hypocritical that Karl Rove, who was referred to as “Bush’s Brain,” should be running ads through his super PAC, American Crossroads, attacking Hillary Clinton now and accusing her — with no proof — of a “cover up.” This established lie is nothing but a smear and character assassination.

As Army lawyer Joseph Welch said to Republican Senator Joseph McCarthy on June 9, 1954, “Have you no sense of decency?” You could still ask the same question today. Story Continued

It is apparent that Barbara the lady with a great singing voice should stick with what she does well and not quit her day job. Please note that she credits herself with the title of Activist. PdC

The AP ‘Scandal’: The Straight Scoop  – Geoffrey R. Stone, Edward H. Levi Distinguished Service Professor of Law, University of Chicago

We’ve read a lot lately about the AP “scandal.” In short, on May 7, 2012, the Associated Press released a story that disclosed classified details of a CIA operation in Yemen that prevented an airliner bombing around the anniversary of the killing of Osama bin Laden.

In an effort to determine the identity of the government employee who leaked the classified information to the AP, the Justice Department, after conducting an extensive investigation without success, subpoenaed from the AP’s phone company the records for more than twenty telephone lines used by the AP and its journalists. The hope was that, by examining the incoming and outgoing phone numbers, it could identify the leaker and prevent him or her from releasing additional classified information in the future.

According to the media (to say nothing of Republicans and Fox News), in pursuing this investigation the Obama administration brutalized the Constitution and flagrantly violated the law. The hysteria of the media’s response is predictably self-involved and self-interested and the reaction of Republicans is predictably hypocritical.

Let me say at the outset that I am a card-carrying member of the ACLU, a strong proponent of press freedom and a staunch believer in both a robust First Amendment and a vibrant Fourth Amendment. But I also care about rational public discourse, and the furious condemnation of the Department of Justice in this situation is way over the top.

The Fourth Amendment prohibits “unreasonable searches and seizures.” Almost forty years ago, in a regrettable decision, the conservative justices on the Burger Court held that individuals have no “reasonable expectation of privacy” in information we voluntarily reveal to third parties. The Court therefore held that for the government to obtain our financial records from our bank, or our phone records from our phone company, is not an “unreasonable search or seizure” within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment.

This understanding of the Fourth Amendment is regrettable because it ignores the reality that in the modern world we often, as a matter of practical necessity, expose what we quite reasonably regard as private information to third parties, such as banks, Internet providers and phone companies. That we reveal such information to those entities does not in any way suggest that we are indifferent to the privacy of the information.

Nonetheless, that is the prevailing interpretation of the Fourth Amendment and there is no possibility that the current conservative majority on the Supreme Court will change it. Thus, the subpoena of AP phone records from the phone company does not violate the Fourth Amendment.

The First Amendment prohibits government to abridge the “freedom of the press.” Does it violate the First Amendment for the government to gather information about the AP’s phone records? The media argue that because this action will reveal the identity of confidential sources, it abridged “the freedom of the press.”

Forty years ago, in another regrettable decision, the conservative justices on the Burger Court held that the government can constitutionally require reporters to disclose the names of confidential sources. The Court held, in effect, that the “freedom of the press” does not give members of the press any special rights not enjoyed by other individuals.

Although the government cannot constitutionally discriminate against the press (for example, by charging higher sales taxes for newspapers than for other products), the Court held that if other individuals can be compelled to disclose information relevant to law enforcement, then journalists can be compelled to do so as well.

This understanding of the First Amendment is regrettable because there are clearly circumstances in which the government should be constitutionally required to recognize and respect the distinctive harm its investigations might have on our ability to preserve a vibrant, robust public discourse. But, because of the settled state of First Amendment law on this question, it is clear that the Department of Justice’s action did not violate the First Amendment (despite the outraged complaints of the media).

In short, then, nothing the Department of Justice did in this investigation violated the Constitution as currently understood. Nor did anything it did violate federal law. Although proposals to enact legislation restricting the ability of the government to compel the disclosure of information about the identity of confidential sources — a so-called “Shield Law” — have been presented repeatedly in Congress over the past decade, Republican lawmakers have consistently — and shamefully — blocked such legislation on the theory that it might weaken the national security. Thus, it is also clear that the Department of Justice’s use of a subpoena to require the phone company to turn over the call records of the AP did not violate any federal law.

Legally, then, the Department of Justice could constitutionally and legally have sought the phone records of the AP at any time and in any manner it pleased. As a measure of good government, though, since Watergate, the Department of Justice has acted with self-restraint. For the past forty years, the Department has imposed upon itself specific, voluntary limitations on when it will exercise its lawful authority to ascertain the identities of confidential sources.

Thus, as set forth explicitly in Department of Justice regulations, the Department, “in recognition of the importance of freedom of the press to a free and democratic society,” has promulgated regulations providing that “the prosecutorial power of the Government should not be used in such a way that it impairs a reporter’s responsibility to cover as broadly as possible controversial public issues.” These regulations provide that the Department will not subpoena the phone records of a member of the news media unless certain conditions are satisfied, including

(a) balancing in each instance “the public’s interest in the free dissemination of ideas and information with the public’s interest in effective law enforcement,”

(b) “taking all reasonable steps to attempt to obtain the information through alternate sources or means,”

(c) fashioning the subpoena “as narrowly as possible to obtain the necessary information in a manner as minimally intrusive and burdensome as possible,” and

(d) negotiating “with the affected media” before resorting to a subpoena “unless such negotiations” might “pose a substantial threat to the investigation.”

Although these regulations are, in my view, insufficiently protective of the interests of a free press, they are as protective as the Department of Justice has ever been, and they are more protective than either the Constitution (as interpreted by conservative justices) or federal law requires.

It is, of course, possible that the Department of Justice did not comply with its own regulations in the AP investigations. Perhaps the subpoena could have been more narrowly drawn. Perhaps the Department should have negotiated with the AP before issuing the subpoena. I do not have sufficient information to speculate about these issues, but nor do the media. What is clear, though, is that the overblown claims that this investigation is some huge “scandal” that threatens the very foundations of our free society are nothing short of absurd. Story Continued

This sounds like if “My party in in office so they can do whatever they want and it is okay with me.” approach to what happens in Washington DC. I think they need to pass laws that applies to all people and not exclude anyone or any group. Is that too simple minded? PdC

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Filed under Left - Off Base, Politics from Just Right of Center - I want Balance!, Right - too Religous for me

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