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Do You Feel Lucky?

July 17th, 2014

“I know what you’re thinking — `Did he fire six shots or only five?’ Well, to tell you the truth, in all the excitement, I kind of lost track myself. But being this is a .44 Magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world, and would blow your head clean off, you’ve got to ask yourself one question: `Do I feel lucky?’ Well, do you, punk?”
— Harry Callahan, badge #2211 (from the movie Dirty Harry)

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Obama Proposes Expansion of Pacific Ocean Sanctuaries

June 18th, 2014

The President announced his plan to create the world’s largest nature sanctuary. In an article by the Washington Post, it is reported:

The proposal, slated to go into effect later this year after a comment period, could create the world’s largest marine sanctuary and double the area of ocean globally that is fully protected.

“I’m going to use my authority to protect some of our nation’s most precious marine landscapes,” Obama said in a video to participants at a State Department conference, adding that while the ocean is being degraded, “We cannot afford to let that happen. That’s why the United States is leading the fight to protect our oceans.”

Under the proposal, according to two independent analyses, the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument would be expanded from almost 87,000 square miles to nearly 782,000 square miles — all of it adjacent to seven islands and atolls controlled by the United States. The designation would include waters up to 200 nautical miles offshore from the territories.

“It’s the closest thing I’ve seen to the pristine ocean,” said Enric Sala, a National Geographic explorer-in-residence who has researched the area’s reefs and atolls since 2005.

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With / Without

June 7th, 2014

With/Without – and who’ll deny it’s what the fighting’s all about?
— Pink Floyd

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Beware: When Government Runs Smooth

June 1st, 2014

“My experience with government is when things are non-controversial,
beautifully co-ordinated and all the rest, it must be that not much
is going on.”
— J.F. Kennedy

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Liberty

May 10th, 2014

“They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary
safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”
— Benjamin Franklin, 1759

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The President Stops for Some PA Rock ‘n Roll

April 21st, 2014

Earlier this week, while traveling to Oakdale, Pennsylvania to talk about the importance of reforming America’s job-training programs, the President was treated to a rock-and-roll surprise.

Local band Comfort Tech transformed their driveway into a stage, and as the President’s motorcade drove by, he spotted the musicians and wanted to meet them.

“Secret Service wouldn’t let me go down and hear you play, but I figured at least I could say thanks for offering to play,” the President told the musicians.

The President and Vice President chatted with the band and took a few pictures, and we got it all on tape.

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Citizenship

April 11th, 2014

The health of a democratic society may be measured by the quality of functions performed by private citizens.
– Alexis de Tocqueville

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McCutcheon v. FEC

April 3rd, 2014

WASHINGTON DC — The Supreme Court struck down a 40-year-old ban on “aggregate contributions” that a single donor can give to candidates and party committees. Though an individual still is limited to the amount donated to a single candidate, an individual can give an unlimited amount multiple candidates.

McCutcheon v. FEC PDF

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US Electronic Surveillance and Intelligence Gathering

March 14th, 2014

The United Nations Human Rights Committee is concerned that the U.S. violated basic human rights including the right to privacy.

“The mass communications surveillance revealed by Edward Snowden demonstrates a shocking disregard by the US for the privacy rights of both those inside the country and those abroad,” said Andrea Prasow, senior national security counsel and advocate at Human Rights Watch. “The US review is the perfect time for the Human Rights Committee to make clear that mass communications surveillance, whether against a country’s own citizens or another country’s, violates basic rights.”

From The Voice of Russia:
Andrea Prasow, a senior counsel with the Terrorism and Counterterrorism Program at Human Rights Watch, in an interview to the Voice of Russia says the US review is the perfect time to make clear that mass communications surveillance, whether against a country’s own citizens or another country, violates basic rights.

Could you give us a brief comment on what is expected from that review? Who is to present the US during this session?

The US has sent a delegation of 32 officials, primarily federal officials, although there are some representatives from state and local governments because of course the international obligations are binding on each state as a whole, whether it is a state like the US that has local governments or a unitary state. So, the US is responsible for enforcing and complying with the human rights obligations at every level of the US government. So, those 32 officials will be here to defend the US human rights record, to answer questions from the Human Rights Committee about specific examples of the central violations and to respond to concerns that civil society members have raised over the last week before both the Human Rights Committee and the US delegation.

If the committee concludes US electronic surveillance violates fundamental human rights, what the consequences will be? What actions will it require from the US?

A strong statement from the human rights committee which I think is absolutely appropriate will cause the US, I hope, to reexamine its mass communications surveillance practices. This is the first time that the US is under review or any of the states that are involved in significant mass communications surveillance are under review since the revelations of Edward Snowden of last year. So, this is the first opportunity for the human rights committee to really grapple with these issues. So, we are hoping that they will be pressing the US government on its respect of the rights of privacy both inside the US and outside the US, for US citizens and for foreigners, and ultimately the committee will issue some strong language prompting the US to revisit its practices.

Recently President Obama has introduced a number of curbs on the NSA data use. Do you think that anything has changed since that time? Were these reforms truly substantial?

It is hard to tell because keep in mind that the only reason that public is aware of a significant portion of the mass surveillance is because of the Snowden leaks. So, we still don’t know what we don’t know. It is hard to tell how much the reforms will have made any difference if at all, but the US obviously needs to put forward with disclosing even more information and finding ways to make sure that it does respect individuals rights to privacy.

How much did the revelations about NSA eavesdropping and collection of metadata affected the US image on the international political scene?

Of course, the US is not the only country that in involved in mass communication surveillance. Many countries share information with the US, for the US program, the US shares information with other countries and many countries, particularly countries that suppress human rights are engaged in surveillance of a more targeted form of human rights activists and human rights defenders. So, surveillance is not a US only problem. When 80% of the Internet traffic is going through the US or being connected to the US servers, the US companies, the US is a primary actor in this field. So, I think the revelations from Snowden have prompted an international dialogue on this issue. I think that is important, it is valuable. It should have happened sooner but I am glad that we are able to have this conversation now on the international stage.

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Putin Top 10 Lies

March 10th, 2014

US State Department
Office of the Spokesperson
Washington, DC

As Russia spins a false narrative to justify its illegal actions in Ukraine, the world has not seen such startling Russian fiction since Dostoyevsky wrote, “The formula ‘two times two equals five’ is not without its attractions.”

Below are 10 of President Vladimir Putin’s recent claims justifying Russian aggression in the Ukraine, followed by the facts that his assertions ignore or distort.

1. Mr. Putin says: Russian forces in Crimea are only acting to protect Russian military assets. It is “citizens’ defense groups,” not Russian forces, who have seized infrastructure and military facilities in Crimea.

The Facts: Strong evidence suggests that members of Russian security services are at the heart of the highly organized anti-Ukraine forces in Crimea. While these units wear uniforms without insignia, they drive vehicles with Russian military license plates and freely identify themselves as Russian security forces when asked by the international media and the Ukrainian military. Moreover, these individuals are armed with weapons not generally available to civilians.

2. Mr. Putin says: Russia’s actions fall within the scope of the 1997 Friendship Treaty between Ukraine and the Russian Federation.

The Facts: The 1997 agreement requires Russia to respect Ukraine’s territorial integrity. Russia’s military actions in Ukraine, which have given them operational control of Crimea, are in clear violation of Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty.

3. Mr. Putin says: The opposition failed to implement the February 21 agreement with former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych.

The Facts: The February 21 agreement laid out a plan in which the Rada, or Parliament, would pass a bill to return Ukraine to its 2004 Constitution, thus returning the country to a constitutional system centered around its parliament. Under the terms of the agreement, Yanukovych was to sign the enacting legislation within 24 hours and bring the crisis to a peaceful conclusion. Yanukovych refused to keep his end of the bargain. Instead, he packed up his home and fled, leaving behind evidence of wide-scale corruption.

4. Mr. Putin says: Ukraine’s government is illegitimate. Yanukovych is still the legitimate leader of Ukraine.

The Facts: On March 4, President Putin himself acknowledged the reality that Yanukovych “has no political future.” After Yanukovych fled Ukraine, even his own Party of Regions turned against him, voting to confirm his withdrawal from office and to support the new government. Ukraine’s new government was approved by the democratically elected Ukrainian Parliament, with 371 votes – more than an 82% majority. The interim government of Ukraine is a government of the people, which will shepherd the country toward democratic elections on May 25th – elections that will allow all Ukrainians to have a voice in the future of their country.

5. Mr. Putin says: There is a humanitarian crisis and hundreds of thousands are fleeing Ukraine to Russia and seeking asylum.

The Facts: To date, there is absolutely no evidence of a humanitarian crisis. Nor is there evidence of a flood of asylum-seekers fleeing Ukraine for Russia. International organizations on the ground have investigated by talking with Ukrainian border guards, who also refuted these claims. Independent journalists observing the border have also reported no such flood of refugees.

6. Mr. Putin says: Ethnic Russians are under threat.

The Facts: Outside of Russian press and Russian state television, there are no credible reports of any ethnic Russians being under threat. The new Ukrainian government placed a priority on peace and reconciliation from the outset. President Oleksandr Turchynov refused to sign legislation limiting the use of the Russian language at regional level. Ethnic Russians and Russian speakers have filed petitions attesting that their communities have not experienced threats. Furthermore, since the new government was established, calm has returned to Kyiv. There has been no surge in crime, no looting, and no retribution against political opponents.

7. Mr. Putin says: Russian bases are under threat.

The Facts: Russian military facilities were and remain secure, and the new Ukrainian government has pledged to abide by all existing international agreements, including those covering Russian bases. It is Ukrainian bases in Crimea that are under threat from Russian military action.

8. Mr. Putin says: There have been mass attacks on churches and synagogues in southern and eastern Ukraine.

The Facts: Religious leaders in the country and international religious freedom advocates active in Ukraine have said there have been no incidents of attacks on churches. All of Ukraine’s church leaders, including representatives of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Moscow Patriarchate, have expressed support for the new political leadership, calling for national unity and a period of healing. Jewish groups in southern and eastern Ukraine report that they have not seen an increase in anti-Semitic incidents.

9. Mr. Putin says: Kyiv is trying to destabilize Crimea.

The Facts: Ukraine’s interim government has acted with restraint and sought dialogue. Russian troops, on the other hand, have moved beyond their bases to seize political objectives and infrastructure in Crimea. The government in Kyiv immediately sent the former Chief of Defense to defuse the situation. Petro Poroshenko, the latest government emissary to pursue dialogue in Crimea, was prevented from entering the Crimean Rada.

10. Mr. Putin says: The Rada is under the influence of extremists or terrorists.

The Facts: The Rada is the most representative institution in Ukraine. Recent legislation has passed with large majorities, including from representatives of eastern Ukraine. Far-right wing ultranationalist groups, some of which were involved in open clashes with security forces during the EuroMaidan protests, are not represented in the Rada. There is no indication that the Ukrainian government would pursue discriminatory policies; on the contrary, they have publicly stated exactly the opposite.

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