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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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Get Covered

February 11th, 2014

After much commotion, the White House is pushing for individuals to sign up for health care coverage. Many people are finding that they get reduced rates, a subsidy or even no-cost insurance.

“The bottom line is I’m going to need you, and the country needs you. And a lot of your friends and peers, they may not know that they need you, but if something happens somewhere down the road where they really need to get to a hospital or a doctor, the fact that you have talked to them and gotten them involved is going to make all the difference in the world.” — President Obama

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The President and Intelligence — Oxymoron?

January 20th, 2014

President Obama delivered a speech at the Department of Justice to announce the outcomes of a broad-ranging and unprecedented review of U.S. intelligence programs.

The review examined how, in light of new and changing technologies, we can use our intelligence capabilities in a way that optimally protects our national security while supporting our foreign policy, respecting privacy and civil liberties, maintaining the public trust, and reducing the risk of unauthorized disclosures.

Additionally, President Obama issued a new presidential policy directive for our signals intelligence activities, at home and abroad. This directive lays out new principles that govern how we conduct signals intelligence collection, and strengthens how we provide executive branch oversight of our signals intelligence activities.

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The First Five Promise Zones

January 12th, 2014

Last year, in his State of the Union address, President Obama announced his plan to work with local communities and businesses to create jobs, increase economic security, expand educational opportunities, increase access to quality, affordable housing and improve public safety by creating 20 “Promise Zones” across the country.

Yesterday, as we reflected on the 50th anniversary of the War on Poverty, the President reiterated this commitment; he reminded us of the frustrations that many American families face, and the need to build ladders of opportunity for those working to get into the middle class.

In a country as great as this one, a child’s zip code should never be what determines his or her opportunity. The government can’t fix this on its own, but it can be a much better partner in helping local leaders develop policies that improve education, protect the most vulnerable, and encourage the entrepreneurial spirit. That’s what we’ll be doing in these Promise Zones, where the federal government will partner with local innovators, advancing their work to expand opportunity in their communities.

Today, in the East Room of the White House, the President will announce the first five “Promise Zones”, located in San Antonio, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Southeastern Kentucky, and the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma.

These areas – urban, rural, and tribal – have all committed, in partnership with local business and community leaders, to use existing resources on proven strategies, and make new investments that reward hard work. They have developed strong plans to create jobs, provide quality, affordable housing and expand educational opportunity, which we’ll help them execute with access to on-the-ground federal partners, resources, and grant preferences.

Each of these designees has a proven track record of working collaboratively; their officials work as a team with business, faith-based and non-profit organizations; and with the public to ensure that opportunity becomes real for every member of their communities.

Over the next three years, we’ll announce 15 more Promise Zones around the country to help build on this Administration’s commitment to create better futures for the middle class and those striving to reach the middle class. The President called this the defining challenge of our time, and I’m proud that today’s announcement will take us one step closer to addressing that challenge. You can watch the President’s remarks here, starting at 2:20 pm ET, and visit our web site to learn more about our efforts to build ladders of opportunity.

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Nelson Mandela Terrorist

December 6th, 2013

SOUTH AFRICA — After the passing of Nelson Mandela, there was a worldwide outpouring of affection and praise; however, Nelson Mandela was on the US Terrorist Watch List until 2008. Why? Because he was a violent terrorist.

“Although initially committed to non-violent protest, he co-founded the militant Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) in 1961 in association with the South African Communist Party, leading a sabotage campaign against the apartheid government. In 1962 he was arrested, convicted of conspiracy to overthrow the government, and sentenced to life imprisonment in the Rivonia Trial.”

“Umkhonto we Sizwe (abbreviated as MK, translated as Spear of the Nation) was the armed wing of the African National Congress (ANC), co-founded by Nelson Mandela, which fought against the South African government. MK launched its first guerrilla attacks against government installations on 16 December 1961. It was subsequently classified as a terrorist organization by the South African government and the United States, and banned.”

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Gettysburg Address

November 19th, 2013

Gettysburg, PA — In the middle of a field being dedicated as a cemetery for the mass burial site of Civil War casualties, President Lincoln said on November 19, 1863:

“Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that this nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate, we can not consecrate, we can not hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

The American dream would be for all politicians to be this concise.

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