Posts tagged obama
MOSCOW – Russia’s deputy prime minister laughed off President Obama’s sanction against him today asking “Comrade @BarackObama” if “some prankster” came up with the list.
The Obama administration hit 11 Russian and Ukrainian officials with sanctions today as punishment for Russia’s support of Crimea’s referendum. Among them: aides to President Vladimir Putin, a top government official, senior lawmakers, Crimean officials, the ousted president of Ukraine, and a Ukrainian politician and businessman allegedly tied to violence against protesters in Kiev. source – ABC News
Washington: More often than ever, the Obama administration censored government files or outright denied access to them last year under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act, cited more legal exceptions it said justified withholding materials and refused a record number of times to turn over files quickly that might be especially newsworthy, according to a new analysis of federal data by The Associated Press.
Most agencies also took longer to answer records requests.
The government’s own figures from 99 federal agencies covering six years show that halfway through its second term, the administration has made few meaningful improvements in the way it releases records. In category after category – except for reducing numbers of old requests and a slight increase in how often it waived copying fees – the government’s efforts to be more open about its activities last year were their worst since President Barack Obama took office.
In a year of intense public interest over the National Security Agency’s surveillance programs, the government cited national security to withhold information a record 8,496 times – a 57 percent increase over a year earlier and more than double Obama’s first year, when it cited that reason 3,658 times. The Defense Department, including the NSA, and the CIA accounted for nearly all those. The Agriculture Department’s Farm Service Agency cited national security six times, the Environmental Protection Agency did twice and the National Park Service once.
And five years after Obama directed agencies to less frequently invoke a “deliberative process” exception to withhold materials describing decision-making behind the scenes, the government did it anyway, a record 81,752 times.
“I’m concerned the growing trend toward relying upon FOIA exemptions to withhold large swaths of government information is hindering the public’s right to know,” said Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. “It becomes too much of a temptation. If you screw up in government, just mark it `top secret.’”
Citizens, journalists, businesses and others last year made a record 704,394 requests for information, an 8 percent increase over the previous year. The government responded to 678,391 requests, an increase of 2 percent over the previous year. The AP analysis showed that the Obama government more than ever censored materials it turned over or fully denied access to them, in 244,675 cases or 36 percent of all requests. On 196,034 other occasions, the government said it couldn’t find records, a person refused to pay for copies or the government determined the request to be unreasonable or improper.
Sometimes, the government censored only a few words or an employee’s phone number, but other times it completely marked out nearly every paragraph on pages. source – AP
Washington, DC – Secretary of State John Kerry warned of serious repercussions for Russia on Monday if last-ditch talks over the weekend to resolve the crisis in Ukraine failed to persuade Moscow to soften its stance.
Kerry will travel to London for a Friday meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov ahead of a Sunday referendum vote in the Crimea region to secede from Ukraine and join the Russian Federation.
U.S. and European officials argue that Moscow is orchestrating the referendum and waging an intimidation campaign with thousands of Russian troops controlling the region. If Russian-backed lawmakers in Crimea go through with the Sunday referendum, Kerry said the U.S. and its European allies will not recognize it as legitimate under international law.
“There will be a response of some kind to the referendum itself,” Kerry said. “If there is no sign [from Russia] of any capacity to respond to this issue … there will be a very serious series of steps on Monday.”
“Our hope is to have Russia join in respecting international law. … There is no justification, no legality to this referendum that is taking place,” he said. “The hope is that reason will prevail but there is no guarantee of that.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican and a top critic of President Obama’s foreign policy, asked what the administration would do if Russian forces advance farther into the eastern area of Ukraine, and the new government in Kiev asks the U.S. for weapons to fight the Russians.
Kerry responded carefully, saying “we have contingencies – we are talking through various options that may or may not be available.” “Our hope is not to create hysteria or excessive concern about that at this point in time,” he said. “Our hope is to avoid that, but there’s no telling that we can.” source – Washington Examiner
“He shall enter peaceably even upon the fattest places of the province; and he shall do that which his fathers have not done, nor his fathers’ fathers; he shall scatter among them the prey, and spoil, and riches: yea, and he shall forecast his devices against the strong holds, even for a time.” Daniel 11:24
Washington: President Barack Obama would veto a GOP-drafted bill that would allow legislators to take agency officials to court if they don’t enforce laws, according to a White House statement. The GOP is pushing the bill through the House because Obama has repeatedly declined to enforce laws he doesn’t like, say GOP legislators.
“President Obama has refused to enforce those parts of our nation’s immigration laws that are not to his political liking, has waived portions of our welfare laws, has stretched our environmental laws to accommodate his policy objectives, and has waived testing accountability provisions required under the ‘No Child Left Behind’ education law,” according to Rep. Bob Goodlatte, the chairman of the House judiciary committee.
For example, in June 2012, Obama created a temporary mini-amnesty for at least 500,000 younger illegal immigrants. The act boosted his election-day support among Hispanics, but made it more difficult for young Americans to find jobs.
“Political appointees at the Justice Department have announced that rather than work with Congress to amend the federal criminal code, they will simply stop prosecuting low-level drug offenders under mandatory minimum sentencing laws,” said Goodlatte in a Fox News op-ed.
“And now that his signature health care law has not been working and revealed his empty promises, President Obama has changed that law unilaterally over 20 times,” Goodlatte added.
The House bill is titled “the Faithful Execution of the Law Act.” The House is expected to pass the bill Wednesday, along with a companion bill, titled “ENFORCE the Law Act.”
White House officials said they oppose the measure because it creates a paperwork burden for them.
“Federal agencies are continually engaged in the process of determining how to concentrate limited enforcement resources most effectively,” said the White House statement.
“The vastly expanded reporting scheme required by the bill would be unduly burdensome and would place the Attorney General in the unprecedented position of having to be kept informed of and report on enforcement decisions made by every other Federal agency,” the statement said.
“If the President were presented with H.R. 3973, his senior advisers would recommend that he veto the bill.” source – Daily Caller
US president Barack Obama finds the political waters increasingly more difficult to swim in as Russian leader Vladimir Putin continues to eat his lunch. And I mean every, last bite of it. If you are the type of American that swells with patriotic fervor every time our National Anthem is played, these are not good days for you.
MOSCOW/SIMFEROPOL, Ukraine (Reuters) – President Vladimir Putin rebuffed a warning from U.S. President Barack Obama over Moscow’s military intervention in Crimea, saying on Friday that Russia could not ignore calls for help from Russian speakers in Ukraine.
After an hour-long telephone call, Putin said in a statement that Moscow and Washington were still far apart on the situation in the former Soviet republic, where he said the new authorities had taken “absolutely illegitimate decisions on the eastern, southeastern and Crimea regions.
“Russia cannot ignore calls for help and it acts accordingly, in full compliance with international law,” Putin said. Ukraine’s border guards said Moscow had poured troops into the southern peninsula where Russian forces have seized control.
Serhiy Astakhov, an aide to the border guards’ commander, said there were now 30,000 Russian soldiers in Crimea, compared to 11,000 permanently based with the Russian Black Sea fleet in the port of Sevastopol before the crisis.
Putin denies that the forces with no national insignia that are surrounding Ukrainian troops in their bases are under Moscow’s command, although their vehicles have Russian military plates. The West has ridiculed this claim.
The most serious east-west confrontation since the end of the Cold War – resulting from the overthrow last month of President Viktor Yanukovich after violent protests in Kiev – escalated on Thursday when Crimea’s parliament, dominated by ethnic Russians, voted to join Russia. The region’s government set a referendum for March 16 – in just nine days’ time.
European Union leaders and Obama denounced the referendum as illegitimate, saying it would violate Ukraine’s constitution. source – Yahoo News
The Russian military has given Ukrainian forces in Crimea until 5 a.m. Tuesday (10 p.m. ET Monday) to surrender or face a “storm,” Interfax news agency reported.
“If they do not surrender by 5 a.m. tomorrow, we will start a real storm in Ukrainian bases in Crimea,” according to the statement sent by the Russians to the Ukrainian Defense Ministry, a ministry source told Interfax. NBC News could not immediately confirm the report.
The ultimatum was attributed to Alexandr Vitko, chief commander of Russia’s Black Sea fleet.
Ukraine mobilized for war on Sunday after Russian President Vladimir Putin declared he had the right to invade his neighbor to protect Russian citizens.
The standoff in Ukraine has created the greatest moment of tension between Russia and the West since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, an event Russian President Vladimir Putin once called the worst geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century. source – NBC News
Reuters contributed to this report.
Bloomberg: When Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visits the White House tomorrow, President Barack Obama will tell him that his country could face a bleak future — one of international isolation and demographic disaster – if he refuses to endorse a U.S.-drafted framework agreement for peace with the Palestinians. Obama will warn Netanyahu that time is running out for Israel as a Jewish-majority democracy. And the president will make the case that Netanyahu, alone among Israelis, has the strength and political credibility to lead his people away from the precipice.
In an hourlong interview Thursday in the Oval Office, Obama, borrowing from the Jewish sage Rabbi Hillel, told me that his message to Netanyahu will be this: “If not now, when? And if not you, Mr. Prime Minister, then who?” He then took a sharper tone, saying that if Netanyahu “does not believe that a peace deal with the Palestinians is the right thing to do for Israel, then he needs to articulate an alternative approach.” He added, “It’s hard to come up with one that’s plausible.”
Unlike Netanyahu, Obama will not address the annual convention of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a pro-Israel lobbying group, this week — the administration is upset with Aipac for, in its view, trying to subvert American-led nuclear negotiations with Iran. In our interview, the president, while broadly supportive of Israel and a close U.S.-Israel relationship, made statements that would be met at an Aipac convention with cold silence.
Obama was blunter about Israel’s future than I’ve ever heard him. His language was striking, but of a piece with observations made in recent months by his secretary of state, John Kerry, who until this interview, had taken the lead in pressuring both Netanyahu and the Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas, to agree to a framework deal. Obama made it clear that he views Abbas as the most politically moderate leader the Palestinians may ever have. It seemed obvious to me that the president believes that the next move is Netanyahu’s.
“There comes a point where you can’t manage this anymore, and then you start having to make very difficult choices,” Obama said. “Do you resign yourself to what amounts to a permanent occupation of the West Bank? Is that the character of Israel as a state for a long period of time? Do you perpetuate, over the course of a decade or two decades, more and more restrictive policies in terms of Palestinian movement? Do you place restrictions on Arab-Israelis in ways that run counter to Israel’s traditions?”
During the interview, which took place a day before the Russian military incursion into Ukraine, Obama argued that American adversaries, such as Iran, Syria and Russia itself, still believe that he is capable of using force to advance American interests, despite his reluctance to strike Syria last year after President Bashar al-Assad crossed Obama’s chemical-weapons red line.
“We’ve now seen 15 to 20 percent of those chemical weapons on their way out of Syria with a very concrete schedule to get rid of the rest,” Obama told me. “That would not have happened had the Iranians said, ‘Obama’s bluffing, he’s not actually really willing to take a strike.’ If the Russians had said, ‘Ehh, don’t worry about it, all those submarines that are floating around your coastline, that’s all just for show.’ Of course they took it seriously! That’s why they engaged in the policy they did.”
I returned to this particularly sensitive subject. “Just to be clear,” I asked, “You don’t believe the Iranian leadership now thinks that your ‘all options are on the table’ threat as it relates to their nuclear program — you don’t think that they have stopped taking that seriously?”
Obama answered: “I know they take it seriously.”
How do you know? I asked. “We have a high degree of confidence that when they look at 35,000 U.S. military personnel in the region that are engaged in constant training exercises under the direction of a president who already has shown himself willing to take military action in the past, that they should take my statements seriously,” he replied. “And the American people should as well, and the Israelis should as well, and the Saudis should as well.”
I asked the president if, in retrospect, he should have provided more help to Syria’s rebels earlier in their struggle. “I think those who believe that two years ago, or three years ago, there was some swift resolution to this thing had we acted more forcefully, fundamentally misunderstand the nature of the conflict in Syria and the conditions on the ground there,” Obama said. “When you have a professional army that is well-armed and sponsored by two large states who have huge stakes in this, and they are fighting against a farmer, a carpenter, an engineer who started out as protesters and suddenly now see themselves in the midst of a civil conflict — the notion that we could have, in a clean way that didn’t commit U.S. military forces, changed the equation on the ground there was never true.”
He portrayed his reluctance to involve the U.S. in the Syrian civil war as a direct consequence of what he sees as America’s overly militarized engagement in the Muslim world: “There was the possibility that we would have made the situation worse rather than better on the ground, precisely because of U.S. involvement, which would have meant that we would have had the third, or, if you count Libya, the fourth war in a Muslim country in the span of a decade.”
Obama was adamant that he was correct to fight a congressional effort to impose more time-delayed sanctions on Iran just as nuclear negotiations were commencing: “There’s never been a negotiation in which at some point there isn’t some pause, some mechanism to indicate possible good faith,” he said. “Even in the old Westerns or gangster movies, right, everyone puts their gun down just for a second. You sit down, you have a conversation; if the conversation doesn’t go well, you leave the room and everybody knows what’s going to happen and everybody gets ready. But you don’t start shooting in the middle of the room during the course of negotiations.” He said he remains committed to keeping Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons and seemed unworried by reports that Iran’s economy is improving.
On the subject of Middle East peace, Obama told me that the U.S.’s friendship with Israel is undying, but he also issued what I took to be a veiled threat: The U.S., though willing to defend an isolated Israel at the United Nations and in other international bodies, might soon be unable to do so effectively.
“If you see no peace deal and continued aggressive settlement construction — and we have seen more aggressive settlement construction over the last couple years than we’ve seen in a very long time,” Obama said. “If Palestinians come to believe that the possibility of a contiguous sovereign Palestinian state is no longer within reach, then our ability to manage the international fallout is going to be limited.”
We also spent a good deal of time talking about the unease the U.S.’s Sunni Arab allies feel about his approach to Iran, their traditional adversary. I asked the president, “What is more dangerous: Sunni extremism or Shia extremism?”
I found his answer revelatory. He did not address the issue of Sunni extremism. Instead he argued in essence that the Shiite Iranian regime is susceptible to logic, appeals to self-interest and incentives.
“I’m not big on extremism generally,” Obama said. “I don’t think you’ll get me to choose on those two issues. What I’ll say is that if you look at Iranian behavior, they are strategic, and they’re not impulsive. They have a worldview, and they see their interests, and they respond to costs and benefits. And that isn’t to say that they aren’t a theocracy that embraces all kinds of ideas that I find abhorrent, but they’re not North Korea. They are a large, powerful country that sees itself as an important player on the world stage, and I do not think has a suicide wish, and can respond to incentives.”
This view puts him at odds with Netanyahu’s understanding of Iran. In an interview after he won the premiership, the Israeli leader described the Iranian leadership to me as “a messianic apocalyptic cult.”
I asked Obama if he understood why his policies make the leaders of Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries nervous: “I think that there are shifts that are taking place in the region that have caught a lot of them off guard,” he said. “I think change is always scary.” source – Bloomberg