Published June 18, 2013
June 18, 2013: A general view of Taliban office in Doha before the official opening in Doha, Qatar. In a major breakthrough, the Taliban and the U.S. announced Tuesday that they will hold talks on finding a political solution to ending nearly 12 years of war in Afghanistan as the Islamic militant movement opened an office in Qatar. American officials with the Obama administration said the office in the Qatari capital of Doha was the first step toward the ultimate U.S.-Afghan goal of a full Taliban renouncement of links with Al Qaeda. (AP)
June 18, 2013: Afghan President Hamid Karzai speaks during a ceremony at military academy on the outskirts of Kabul, Afghanistan. Karzai announced at the ceremony that his country’s armed forces are taking over the lead for security nationwide from the U.S.-led NATO coalition. (AP)
Representatives from the United States and the Taliban will engage in Afghanistan peace talks Thursday in an office that has opened in Qatar, senior U.S. administration officials say.
The officials say detainee exchanges will likely be among the topics discussed in the Doha office, which opened Tuesday after months of delays. Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s High Peace Council is expected to follow up with its own talks a few days later.
Published June 13, 2013
Feb. 2, 2012: FBI Director Robert Mueller testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP)
Following revelations about the federal government’s surveillance programs, FBI Director Robert Mueller defended the government’s collection of millions of U.S. phone records, emails and other information that people transmit online as vital to the nation’s national security. Mueller told a House Judiciary panel Thursday that law enforcement must stay “a step ahead of criminals and terrorists” while still heeding Americans’ civil liberties.
Early in the hearing, Mueller tried to make the case for the National Security Agency surveillance programs and said that law enforcement “must stay a step ahead of criminals and terrorists” while still heeding the civil liberties of Americans.
Mueller, who is stepping down from his post in September, says that if the metadata collection program had been in place before the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, they would have identified one of the 9/11 hijackers in San Diego and most likely derailed the plot.
Published time: June 11, 2013 14:53
“Such methods are in demand. But you can’t just listen to the phone call in Russia; you need a special order from court. This is how this should be done in civilized society while tackling terrorism with the use of any technical means. If it is in the framework of the law, then it’s ok. If not it is unacceptable,” Putin said answering the question of RT’s Editor-in-Chief Margarita Simonyan. Commenting on Obama’s statement that “You can’t have 100 per cent security and 100 per cent privacy,” Putin disagreed, saying it is possible if done within the law.
Russia said it could consider the possibility of granting political asylum to 29-year-old Edward Snowden, if such request is made. The ex-CIA worker disclosed the existence of PRISM, the National Security Agency’s (NSA) massive data-mining surveillance program, to The Guardian.
“If we receive such a request, we will consider it,” President Vladimir Putin’s press secretary Dmitry Peskov said.
By Tom Blumer | June 09, 2013 | 16:59
Although there are stories at Fox News and the Daily Caller, there appears to be almost no interest on the part of the establishment press in covering the Treasury Department’s failure to report over 99% of its conference costs when Oklahoma Republican Senator Tom Coburn asked for an itemized listing a year ago.
The Politico, the repository for stories which cause Democrats and the left discomfort that the rest of the press would prefer to ignore (“Oh, the Politico did something with it, so we don’t have to”), buried the item in a “Morning Tax” report Thursday. Writer Lauren French held off as long as she possibly could presenting how the $50 million in omitted IRS costs dwarfed the measly $500,000 which was reported (paragraph breaks added by me; bolds are mine throughout this post):
Coburn questions incomplete disclosure from Treasury
MORE MISSED DISCLOSURES. The inspector general audit detailing the nearly $50 million the IRS spent on conferences shocked members of Congress. But none more than Sen. Tom Coburn.
That’s because the Oklahoma Republican had already been told by the Treasury Department of each conference the department held from 2005 to 2012 — and that response did not mention any of the 200 IRS conferences included in the IG report.
The Treasury, responding from a 2012 request from Coburn, said it hosted only five conferences with more than 50 staffers and the cost for the events were under $500,000. Now Coburn is asking Treasury Secretary Jack Lew to explain the discrepancy.
June 07, 2013
Neil Munro, White House Correspondent
Email Neil Munro
Subscribe to RSS
A clear majority of independents, and even a plurality of Democrats, believe high-ranking IRS officials were aware of the agency’s harassment of conservatives’ political organizing, according to a new Gallup poll.The poll’s results are risky for Obama, whose political approval rate has remained relatively high, despite the lousy economy, because of his relatively high personal ratings.
Sixty-two percent of adults disapprove of his handling of the IRS scandal, said the Gallup poll. Only 32 percent of adults approve of his reaction to the scandal.
If his approval ratings falls, he’ll have even more difficulty accomplishing his top political goals. Those goals include passage of an immigration bill and winning a Democratic majority in the House.
Fifty-seven percent of independents say high IRS officials were “aware of conservative targeting,” said the Gallup poll, released Friday. Only 23 percent believe the “knowledge [was] limited to IRS employees in one office.”
Published May 31, 2013
What started as a scandal over the IRS’s targeting of conservative groups has broadened, with lawmakers and other critics now questioning whether other kinds of organizations were unfairly flagged for additional scrutiny.
Rep. Sam Graves, R-Mo., chairman of the House Small Business Committee, wrote a letter to Acting IRS Commissioner Daniel Werfel on Friday asking a series of questions about the agency’s audit practices for small businesses.
He made no specific allegation, but said that lawmakers’ investigations to date prompted the letter.
“(Congressional) investigations have only raised more questions as to the extent these practices may have extended beyond conservative groups,” Graves wrote.
Indeed, the scope of the IRS’ heavy auditing and scrutiny appears to go beyond Tea Party groups.
WND reported game-changing shipment 2 weeks ago
Published: May 30, 2013
Aaron Klein | Email | Archive
Subscribe to feed
TEL AVIV – The Syrian government already has received a first shipment of S-300 air defense missiles from Russia and is waiting for more, stated President Bashar al-Assad in a television interview today.
Assad told Hezbollah’s Al-Manar television station that Syria “has got the first batch of Russian S-300 missiles” and “the rest of the shipment will arrive soon.”
Citing Arab intelligence sources two weeks ago, WND was first to report that S-300 missile batteries had reached Syria.
Israeli security sources said two weeks ago there was no information to support the Arab claim.
Dr. Anthony Levatino, former abortionist turned pro-life activist
(CNSNews.com) – A former abortionist who said he had performed some 1,200 abortions before his conversion to pro-life activist, said Thursday at a House subcommittee hearing that abortion causes pain to unborn babies.
“If anybody thinks that ripping off arms and legs and crushing these children the way we’re doing during these procedures isn’t painful, they’re just kidding themselves … badly kidding themselves,” Dr. Anthony Levatino said at a hearing on the District of Columbia Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act.
Levantino was one of four witnesses at the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice hearing to discuss fetal pain and the bill, H.R. 1797, which would ban abortion after 20 weeks across the nation.
Published May 23, 2013
Republican Rep. Darrell Issa declared Thursday that the embattled IRS official who refused to testify Wednesday had no right to do so, and is now looking to haul her back before his committee.
The chairman of the House oversight committee made the call after consulting with attorneys about IRS official Lois Lerner’s bizarre appearance before the panel on Wednesday. Lerner, the head of the exempt organizations division which oversaw the controversial targeting of conservative groups, caused confusion Wednesday morning when she pleaded the Fifth and refused to answer questions — but also delivered an opening statement in which she asserted her innocence.
Though Issa dismissed her from the hearing room, he questioned at the time whether she had waived her rights by delivering the statement. A spokesman told Fox News on Thursday that Issa had reached a decision.
“After consulting with counsel, Chairman Issa has concluded that Ms. Lerner’s 5th amendment assertion is no longer valid,” spokesman Ali Ahmad said. “She remains under subpoena, the Committee is looking at recalling her for testimony.”
Issa, citing the concerns over Lerner’s comments, never actually adjourned the hearing — where other current and former Treasury and IRS officials testified. He only called it into recess. The thinking among Republicans is that they can still call her back to testify.
WASHINGTON – Lois Lerner, head of the IRS tax exempt organizations division, told the House Oversight Committee that she had done nothing wrong before invoking her Fifth Amendment right to remain silent and not testify.
“I have not done anything wrong,” Lerner said in a brief opening statement. “I have not broken any laws, I have not violated any IRS rules and regulations, and I have not provided false information to this or any other congressional committee.”
Lerner said she “would very much like to answer the committees questions today,” but that her counsel had advised her not to testify, in light of the Department of Justice criminal investigation into the IRS’s targeting of conservative groups for extra scrutiny.
Because she was taking the Fifth, Lerner said, “I know that some people will assume I’ve done something wrong. I have not.”
Rep. Darrell Issa, chairman of the committee, subsequently dismissed Lerner from the hearing.
May 20, 2013 By Patrick Goodenough
Pakistani Christians protest against the country’s blasphemy laws and violence targeting their minority community. An independent U.S. watchdog has urged the executive branch every year since 2002 to designate Pakistan as a “country of particular concern” over religious freedom violations. (AP Photo)
(CNSNews.com) – As the State Department prepares to release its annual report on international religious freedom Monday, a key issue for many Americans concerned about religious persecution is whether it will blacklist a handful of particularly egregious violators – or, as in previous years, ignore the recommendations of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.
The question is especially sensitive in the case of countries where the plight of minority Christians has worsened, even as their governments benefit significantly at the cost of U.S. taxpayers.
Among the religious freedom violators are four of the top ten recipients of U.S. foreign aid in fiscal year 2013 – Egypt, Pakistan, Iraq and Nigeria. Another is Vietnam, whose communist government has seen its diplomatic and economic ties with the U.S. improve dramatically over the past seven years.
On Monday, Secretary of State John Kerry will release the administration’s report on the state of religious freedom around the world in 2012, a requirement under the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA), which sought to enhance the importance of religious freedom in the pursuit of U.S. foreign policy.
The primary tool available to the executive branch under the 1998 legislation is the designation of “countries of particular concern” (CPCs) – those whose authorities either commit or are judged to tolerate violations of religious freedom. CPCs are subject to U.S. sanctions or other measures designed to prod governments to improve.
Currently designated CPCs are Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Uzbekistan.
But a handful of other countries deserve to be on the list too, in the view of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), an independent body established under the IRFA, comprising unpaid commissioners appointed by congressional leaders and the administration.
When it released its own yearly report three weeks ago, the USCIRF pressed for Egypt, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Vietnam to be designated CPCs.
In some of those cases, the recommendation has been disregarded for years.
Pakistan, home to some of the world’s most notorious blasphemy laws, has evaded CPC status despite USCIRF recommendation every year since 2002, as have Turkmenistan since 2000, Egypt since 2011, Nigeria since 2009, and Tajikistan since last year.
The other two, Iraq and Vietnam, were both previous designated CPCs. The Bush administration removed Iraq in 2004, following the fall of Saddam Hussein regime; and Vietnam in 2006, citing improvements as a result of active lobbying of the communist authorities in Hanoi.
Each year since 2008 the USCIRF has recommended that Iraq be returned to the CPC list. In the case of Vietnam, the commission never agreed with its delisting, and has recommended its return every year since, also to no avail.
Last week House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Rep. Ed Royce (R-Calif.) introduced legislation calling on the administration to relist Vietnam as a CPC, citing authorities’ refusals to grant legal recognition to churches, as well as assaults, harassment, imprisonment and home destructions targeting Christians.
Last year’s State Department report on international religious freedom referred to “continued reports of abuses of religious freedom” in Vietnam and said that then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and other senior State Department officials “raised religious freedom concerns with government officials and called for continued improvements in religious freedom.”
Those diplomatic efforts did not appear to have had any effect, however: The report also noted that Hanoi “did not demonstrate a trend toward either improvement or deterioration in respect for and protection of the right to religious freedom.”
A Government Accountability Office (GAO) report earlier this year examining compliance with the IRFA noted tensions between the USCIRF and State Department as each has sought to do its respective job.
The report prompted USCIRF chair Katrina Lantos Swett to underline in a letter to the GAO that the commission’s “mandate is neither to conduct diplomacy nor balance religious freedom against other U.S. national interests.”
Swett said the USCIRF recognized that its role “sometimes poses a challenge for the State Department” – but also noted that “at times, our findings draw the ire of offending governments that would prefer their shortcomings remain hidden.”
Syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer on Friday said the Internal Revenue Service’s targeting of conservative organizations could be “fatal” for the Obama administration if it turns out that anyone in the White House was aware of it.
Appearing on Fox News’ “Hannity,” Krauthammer called the IRS situation “the one scandal that people have a visceral sense about” — it’s the one U.S. institution, besides the military, that can do very serious harm.
Going after conservative groups based on their politics is “a violation that everybody — left or right– understands,” he added.
Krauthammer urged that there’s no suggestion that Obama knew what was happening, “but if there’s any indication that there were people in the White House who knew, who orchestrated, who encouraged or whatever, then it can be a fatal problem.”
Obama ducked a direct question on Thursday about whether he or anyone else in the White House had known what was happening.
Krauthammer said he wasn’t comparing the current situation to Watergate, but pointed out that the second article of impeachment against Richard Nixon was abuse of the IRS.
“The one issue that can fell a presidency is the corruption of the IRS coming from on high,” Krauthammer said.
Watch below, via Mediaite:
May 16, 2013
President Barack Obama dismissed calls for the appointment of a special prosecutor to investigate the IRS scandal, and evaded a question asking if White House officials knew of the IRS targeting of conservative political groups.
“I can assure that I certainly did not know anything about the [inspector general] report before the IG report had been leaked through the press,” he told reporters during a Thursday lunchtime press conference held in the White House Rose Garden.
Obama’s evasion will likely spur public suspicions that White House officials knew about, or even supported, the IRS targeting.
Published May 11, 2013
April 17, 2013: Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP)
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius’ recent push to encourage health care executives and nonprofit organizations to make donations to organizations working to implement ObamaCare is drawing criticism from a key Senate Republican who questions whether she has a conflict of interest.
HHS spokesman Jason Young confirms that Sebelius in recent weeks has asked various charitable foundations, businesses executives, churches and doctors to make financial contributions to nonprofit organizations, such as Enroll America, that are helping to implement President Obama’s health care overhaul.
Young said there is a special section within the Public Health Services Act that allows the HHS secretary to solicit financial support for nonprofit organizations conducting public health work. He said most of the solicitations have occurred through telephone calls, but in some speeches as well.
“For the last several months, the secretary has been working with a full range of stakeholders who share in the mission of getting Americans the help they need and deserve,” Young said. “We have always worked with outside groups and the efforts now ramping up are just one more part of that work.”
The fundraising pitches were first reported by the Washington Post. Young said Sebelius made no fundraising request of entities regulated by HSS, such as drug companies, hospitals or insurers.
Some lawmakers and advocacy groups have voiced concerns in recent weeks that many consumers will have a hard time navigating the health coverage options available to them next year as a mix of government programs and tax credits for private insurance kicks in.
The administration has recently announced it would be directing $200 million to states, private groups and local health centers so that they can hire workers who can help consumers pick the insurance plan best for them. The fundraising pitches appear to be another step along those lines. Beginning Oct. 1, people can start signing up for coverage through new state and federal health exchanges.
But Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said that soliciting money from health care executives is absurd.
“Moving forward, I will be seeking more information from the administration about these actions to help better understand whether there are conflicts of interest and if it violated federal law,” Hatch said.
Hatch’s criticism comes as House Republicans plan yet another vote to try to repeal ObamaCare.
In his remarks at a Mother’s Day-themed event at the White House on Friday, Obama said his signature health care law “is here to stay.”
“There’s a lot that this law is already doing for Americans with insurance,” the president said. “There’s a lot more that’s going to happen for folks who don’t have insurance.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Published May 10, 2013
Tea Party leaders refused to accept an apology from the IRS Friday in which the agency acknowledged that it inappropriately flagged conservative groups for additional review during the 2012 election to see if they were violating their tax-exempt status. Jenny Beth Martin, national coordinator for Tea Party Patriots, said she wants to see resignations over what she called the “disturbing, illegal and outrageous abuse of government power.”
Republican lawmakers also seized on the acknowledgment, after having complained about the suspected harassment more than a year ago. Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell called for a “government-wide review” to assure “these thuggish practices” are not in use elsewhere. House Republican Leader Eric Cantor later said the House would investigate.
Reaction was swift and harsh after Lois Lerner, who heads the IRS division that oversees tax-exempt groups, acknowledged the issue at a conference Friday sponsored by the American Bar Association.
She confirmed that organizations were singled out because they included the words “tea party” or “patriot” in their applications for tax-exempt status.
In some cases, groups were asked for their list of donors, she said.