Archive for April, 2015

Senator Bernie Sanders Declares He Is Running For President And Will Challenge Hillary

Bernie SandersThe independent Vermont senator told the Associated Press in a story published Wednesday that he plans to run for the Democrats’ 2016 presidential nomination. The news was confirmed by multiple Sanders aides.

“I am running for president,” he told the Associated Press.

“People should not underestimate me,” Sanders told the AP. “I’ve run outside of the two-party system, defeating Democrats and Republicans, taking on big-money candidates and, you know, I think the message that has resonated in Vermont is a message that can resonate all over this country.”

Sanders caucuses with the Democrats in the Senate but is an unlikely candidate for the Democratic nomination, primarily because he has never been a registered member of the party and calls himself a “democratic socialist.”

Yet many of his views fit with the Democratic left, a constituency in which Sanders has found a small yet devout following. Sanders and his top advisers hope that group of voters will propel his dark horse candidacy. Though Hillary Clinton is the dominant frontrunner, many in the progressive left of the party think she’s too moderate and are clamoring for a different candidate to support.

Sanders will outline his presidential plans further on Thursday when he holds a press conference in Washington. Sanders’ campaign advisers said that while their candidate has announced his plans to run, he won’t hold his first campaign rally until May. That event is expected to be in Vermont.

Sanders is an outspoken critic of Wall Street banks and the outsized influence of money in politics and is a supporter of universal health care. He regularly talks about the need to rebuild the middle class and raise taxes on America’s highest earners.

“At a time of massive wealth and income inequality, we need a progressive tax system in this country which is based on ability to pay,” Sanders said last month in Washington. “It is not acceptable that a number of major profitable corporations have paid zero in federal income taxes in recent years, and that millionaire hedge fund managers often enjoy an effective tax rate which is lower than the truck drivers or nurses.”

In interviews before his campaign announcement, Sanders said trade, income inequality and health care would be key tenants of his run. But despite having vocal liberal supporters on these issues, Sanders is a dark horse candidate and has acknowledged that his run will be uphill.

Born in Brooklyn, New York, Sanders moved to Vermont after graduating from the University of Chicago. His first successful run for office came in 1981 when he was elected Burlington’s mayor by a mere 10 votes. He was elected as Vermont’s at-large member of Congress in 1990 and jumped to the Senate in 2007. Sanders is the longest-serving independent in congressional history.

Sanders does not have the personality of a typical politician. He is sometimes gruff and blunt, dispensing with social niceties and usually getting right to the point. He has come to be known as much for his fly-away hair as his passionate speeches in the Senate and has bluntly lamented the way political journalism in the United States focuses on personality.

He also starts with a small campaign infrastructure, largely the remnants of his past Senate runs, and is primarily being advised by Tad Devine, a Democratic political consultant who worked on the presidential campaign for Al Gore in 2000 and John Kerry in 2004. At an event this month in New Hampshire where Sanders leaned heavily into a presidential bid, the signs outside the house party touted his 2012 Senate re-election bid.

From the outset of his campaign, it appears money will be Sander’s biggest issue. The senator has regularly conceded in the last month that he would not be able to raise near the money Clinton will bring in.

“To run a credible campaign in this day and age, you do need a whole lot of money,” Sanders said. “Whether the magic number is $200 million, it is $150 million, it is a lot of money, but even with that, you would be enormously outspent by the Koch Brother candidates and the other candidates who will likely spend, in the final analysis, over $1 billion, if not two.”

Despite being a champion for many on the left, Sanders has been somewhat left out in the cold by big liberal organizations like MoveOn.org and Democracy for America, who have spent the last few months unsuccessfully urging Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren to run for president.

“Obviously one would hope one would have as much support as possible from all walks of life,” Sanders said on Tuesday when asked why he thinks those groups aren’t rallying around him. “I am a great fan of Elizabeth and as for what people do and why they don’t do it, I am not going to speculate.”

Anna Galland, executive director of MoveOn.org Civic Action, even mentioned Warren in touting Sanders’ jump into the race.

“MoveOn members welcome Sen. Bernie Sanders to the presidential race,” said Galland. “The Democratic Party is made stronger by each additional voice who enters the race and commits to being a strong advocate for everyday, hardworking Americans and not just the wealthy few. That’s why we and our allies continue to call on Sen. Elizabeth Warren to also bring her tireless advocacy for middle-class and working Americans to the race. Our country will be stronger if she runs.”

Sanders enters a race that has so far been dominated by Clinton, the former secretary of state and Democrats’ prohibitive favorite for the nomination. For most of 2015, Sanders has been reticent to attack Clinton, but he recently has issued statements calling on her to change her policy positions.

 

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King Salman Undertakes Power Shuffle Within Kingdom

King salmanThe Saudi king on Wednesday removed his half-brother from the post of crown prince, replacing him with his nephew, and elevated his son to the position of deputy crown prince in the most significant repositioning of power among members of the kingdom’s royal family since King Salman assumed the throne in January.

The appointments, announced in a decree from the royal court, further thrust a new generation of Saudi princes into the line of succession and mapped out the future of the throne for potentially decades to come.

The post of crown prince secures Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, 55, as the most likely successor to the king. The prince, who is also the interior minister, is widely known internationally as Saudi Arabia’s counterterrorism czar and was previously also deputy crown prince.

The prince becomes the first from among his generation to be elevated to such a high position, first in line to the throne. He has survived several assassination attempts, including one in 2009 by al-Qaeda. He takes over the post of crown prince from Prince Muqrin.

The royal decree also announced that the king’s son, Prince Mohammed bin Salman, had been appointed deputy crown prince. He is believed to be around 30 years old and is also the country’s defense minister. As deputy crown prince, he is essentially seen as being second in line to the throne.

The newly appointed crown prince and deputy crown prince are both from among a generation of grandsons of Saudi Arabia’s founder, the late King Abdul-Aziz Al Saud, whose sons have passed power among one another from brother to brother since his death in 1953.

The royal decree said that the appointments were made in line with the kingdom’s founding principle of “continuity on the basis of service to faith, the nation and the people, and what is good for its loyal people.”

As the new crown prince, Mohammed bin Nayef will continue to oversee the country’s massive police force and border guards as interior minister. As crown prince, he will also serve as deputy prime minister. His late father was the elder full-brother of 79 year-old King Salman.

The moves come as the U.S.-allied monarchy is facing a number of challenges, including creating millions of jobs for its mostly young population, low oil prices that have forced the country to dig into its massive financial reserves, and security threats both internally from terrorist groups and externally along its borders with Iraq and Yemen.

Since assuming the throne after the death of his half-brother King Abdullah in January, the new monarch has presided over a more pro-active foreign policy, including Saudi-led airstrikes launched in March against Shiite rebels in Yemen, known as Houthis, who are supported by Iran. Riyadh, under Abdullah, joined the U.S.-led coalition carrying out airstrikes on Islamic State extremists in Syria and helping arm rebels seeking to oust President Bashar Assad, another ally of Iran.

Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is overseeing the Saudi airstrikes in Yemen, will remain defense minister as he takes on the title of deputy crown prince. He also heads a massive council that oversees all economic and development issues.

The prince was replaced as the head of his father’s royal court by Hamad al-Sweillam. The position is similar to that of a gatekeeper to the king. The decree also ordered a payment of one month’s additional salary to all Saudi citizens working in the country’s security or armed forces, including civilians.

Another critical change in the Cabinet reshuffle was the removal of longtime Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal, who was replaced with Adel al-Jubeir, the kingdom’s current ambassador to the United States. The 75 year-old Saud al-Faisal, who’d served as foreign minister for 40 years, spent several months this year receiving medical treatment abroad. The decree cited “health conditions” as the reason for his retirement.

The king also moved Adel Faqih from the post of labor minister to that of economy minister. Khaled al-Faleh was put in charge of the Health Ministry.

The most senior woman in government, Nora al-Fayez, was sacked from her post as deputy education minister for girls, the decree said. Shunned by ultraconservatives, she was strongly pushing to try to get physical education on the curriculum for girls in Saudi public schools.

Prince Muqrin, who was crown prince until Wednesday’s announcements, is the youngest of his generation of the sons of Abdul-Aziz. At 69 years old, he once headed the kingdom’s intelligence agency, but was largely seen as a transitional figure in his post as crown prince. The royal court statement said he was relieved as crown prince upon his request.

The Allegiance Council, a body made up of the living sons of Abdul-Aziz and some of the prominent grandsons who vote to pick the king and crown prince from among them, voted majority in favor of naming Prince Mohammed bin Salman as deputy crown prince, the decree said.

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SCOTUS Ready To Hear Legal Arguments Over Same-Sex Marriage

supreme_court_buildingThe U.S. Supreme Court hears landmark arguments on whether the Constitution provides a right to same-sex marriage, and activists on both sides of the contentious social issue converged on the white marble courthouse Monday to voice their views.

Anti-gay rights activists rallied in front of the courthouse steps condemning same-sex marriage, while a line snaked around the block of people, many displaying gay rights messages, hoping to snag one of the limited number of seats available in the courtroom for Tuesday’s 2-1/2 hour oral arguments.

The nine justices will be hearing arguments concerning gay marriage restrictions imposed in Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee, four of the 13 states that still outlaw such marriages. The ruling, due by the end of June, will determine whether same-sex marriage will be legal nationwide.

Before gay marriage became legal after a court ruling in the liberal northeastern state of Massachusetts in 2004, it was not permitted in any state. Now it is legal in 37 states and Washington, D.C.

Gay rights activists call same-sex marriage a leading American civil rights issue of this era.

At a small Monday morning rally, opponents of gay marriage, mainly representatives of Christian organizations, railed against judges who have struck down state gay marriage bans.

“Homosexuality is not a civil right,” said one of the speakers, Greg Quinlan of the group New Jersey Family Policy Council.

Steven Hotze, a conservative Texas doctor, raised concerns about the impact legalized gay marriage would have on Christians who oppose it. “It would force individuals to have to condone, accept, even celebrate, sexual immorality,” Hotze said.

Conservative Justice Anthony Kennedy may cast the deciding fifth vote on a court closely divided on gay rights. The four liberal justices are expected to support same-sex marriage, and Kennedy has a history of backing gay rights.

Tuesday’s arguments will be divided into two parts. The first, set for 90 minutes, is on whether the Constitution’s guarantees of due process and equal protection under the law mean states must allow gay couples to marry. The second, scheduled for an hour, concerns whether states must recognize same-sex marriages that take place out-of-state.

The legal repercussions for same-sex couples are broad, affecting not just their right to marry but also their right to be recognized as a spouse or parent on birth and death certificates and other legal papers.

President Barack Obama is the first sitting president to support gay marriage. His administration will argue on the side of the same-sex marriage advocates. Nineteen states have filed court papers backing same-sex marriage. Seventeen are supporting the four states defending their bans.

Opinion polls show support among Americans for same-sex marriage has been rising in recent years.

Mary Bonauto, the lead lawyer arguing for gay marriage, said the case “doesn’t rest on where public opinion stands.” She also said people living in states where it is now legal have become comfortable with the idea of same-sex couples marrying.

Opponents say the legality of same-sex marriage should be decided by individual states, not judges. Some argue it is an affront to traditional marriage between a man and a woman and that the Bible condemns homosexuality.

 

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Clinton Foundation Cash Could Derail Hillary Campaign

Clinton cashThe author of “Clinton Cash” acknowledged Sunday that his book has no evidence that Hillary Clinton as secretary of state directly influenced huge international deals in exchange for million-dollar contributions to her family foundation but argued the numerous instances deserve an investigation.

“It’s a very extensive pattern,” author Peter Schweizer told “Fox News Sunday.” “There are 11 instances. And I think, when you have one or two examples, it’s coincidence. When you have this many, to me it’s a trend. … I think this warrants an investigation.”

For his upcoming book, Schweizer spent roughly 10 years probing the mix of public and private business and money between Hillary Clinton, her husband and former President Bill Clinton and their Clinton Foundation – all of which he calls the “Clinton Blur.”

The dealings disclosed in the book come in the early weeks of Clinton’s campaign to become the Democratic presidential nominee for 2016.

One key example of a possible deal, Schweizer argues, is the relationship between the former president and wealthy Canadian mining investors who donated millions to the foundation after the State Department and eight other U.S. agencies signed off on a deal in 2010 that ultimately gave the Russians access to part of the U.S. uranium reserves.

Schweizer also argued the deal helped lead to Bill Clinton getting paid $500,000 for a speech in Russia.

In another instance, in the aftermath of the devastating 2010 earthquake in Haiti, the former president was named co-chairman of the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission, established to coordinate the recovery effort.

The owner of the company that made $50 million by helping establish a system to transfer money via cellphones, as part of the recovery effort, also set up lucrative speeches for Clinton and donated millions of dollars of his own money to the foundation.

There was also a plan to raise money by exploiting Haiti’s rich mineral wealth. And one company that got a rare gold permit was VCS mining, which didn’t have much mining experience. And Hillary Clinton’s brother, Tony Rodham, who also had little or no mining experience, was added to the VCS board after the company received the permit, Schweizer writes.

He also says the foundation failed to disclose some donations, including $2.35 million connected to the chairman of the uranium company that the Russians wanted to buy.

Clinton supporters have argued that Schweizer has repackaged old news and mixed it with innuendo and that the $2.35 million is largely insignificant.

“He’s cherry-picking information that has been disclosed,” Clinton presidential campaign Chairman John Podesta said last week.

Lanny Davis, the White House counsel under President Clinton, told “Fox News Sunday” that “$2.35 million out of $2 billion (in foundation contributions) is not major, even by any definition.”

Over on ABC, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich accused Mrs. Clinton of breaking the law by accepting foundation donations from foreign governments during her tenure at the State Department.

“Look, this isn’t a political problem, this is a historic problem,” Gingrich said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week with George Stephanopoulos.”

“My point is they took money from foreign governments while she was Secretary of State. That is clearly illegal,” said  Gingrich “This is not about politics. It’s illegal. And it’s dangerous to America to have foreign governments get in the habit of bribing people who happen to be the husband of the secretary of state or the next president of the United States.”

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Cameron Sets Out First 100 Day Plan For New Government

David cameronDavid Cameron will promise to put working people “front and centre of our economic plan” when he sets out a timetable for the first 100 days of a Conservative majority government.

On the first day of what Conservatives said would be a week devoted to the Tory economic message, the prime minister will say that legislation to ensure that no-one working 30 hours a week on the minimum wage has to pay income tax by 2020 will form the “centrepiece” of his first Queen’s Speech after 7 May.

The Speech, scheduled for 27 May, will also include bills to strengthen protection for small businesses, create 3 million more apprenticeships, cut the benefit cap to £23,000, introduce work requirements for young benefit claimants and establish new powers to force “coasting” schools to accept new leadership.

A housing bill would give 1.3 million housing association tenants the chance to buy their homes at a discount and a childcare bill would double free childcare for three and four-year-olds to 30 hours a week.

Cameron said: “The first 100 days of a majority Conservative government will continue to put working people front and centre of our economic plan – offering security at every stage of life.

“For the last five years, our priority has been clearing up the mess left by Ed Miliband’s Labour Party, and now our country is on the right track with 2 million more people in work.

For the next five years, we will turn our long-term economic plan into a plan for you and your family, cutting your tax bill, helping with childcare, creating more jobs, offering more young people the chance to own their own home, and guaranteeing security in retirement.”

The warnings came as polls indicated that the General Election race was still neck and neck, with the UK heading for a hung parliament and coalition negotiations after May 7.

A Survation poll put the Conservatives three points ahead on 33 per cent to Labour’s 30 per cent. However, other polls had Labour nudging ahead.

Today’s David cameron found that more than a third of English voters would not regard a Miliband administration propped up by the SNP as ‘legitimate’.

Mr Cameron said that the SNP ‘want to achieve the break-up of our country, so therefore if you have a Labour government backed by the SNP, you have got a government backed by people who don’t want the country to succeed.

‘They don’t want parliament to succeed. They don’t want the government to succeed. They don’t want the United Kingdom to succeed. That is really worrying.’

Nicola Sturgeon and her predecessor Alex Salmond will want voters to look back after five years of a minority Labour adminstration made possible by the SNP and think ‘that was a disaster, now can we break up the United Kingdom altogether?’, said the Prime Minister.

 

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Controversial Attorney General Eric Holder bids farewell to Justice Department

Eric HolderFollowing to confirmation of Loretta Lynch on Thursday, Controversial Attorney General Eric Holder bid farewell to the Justice Department on Friday, offering a gleaming review of his tenure as the nation’s top lawyer in his speech.

“This department is restored,” Holder told the Justice Department’s employees in his brief remarks. “It’s restored to what it always was and certainly…and what it must always be: free of politicization, focused on the mission, and making sure that justice is done without any kind of interference from political outsiders.”

Holder saluted the “truly historic and big things” the department’s employees accomplished under his watch, nodding at a number of contentious battles that have defined his six-year tenure.

The debate over whether to try terror suspects in civilian courts or military tribunals “is over,” he declared, “and that’s because of the great work that the prosecutors in various districts have performed in putting together wonderful cases and then successfully trying those cases.”

Holder saluted “historic wins” in the effort to protect the environment from “companies that would have despoiled” it. He hailed the “huge amounts of money” the government recovered on behalf of consumers from financial companies responsible for the mortgage crisis. He saluted the fight for LGBT equality as “the civil rights issue of our time,” and he expressed optimism about an upcoming Supreme Court case that could legalize same-sex marriage nationwide.

On a somewhat newsier note, Holder also noted the recent abandonment of an “extremely anti-competitive” proposed merger between Time Warner and Comcast, suggesting the antitrust division of the department deserves some credit for unraveling it.

Despite his congratulatory message, Holder also nodded at some unfinished business. On criminal justice reform, Holder suggested the effort to end the over-incarceration of Americans is only beginning. He also stressed the need to protect Americans’ right to vote after the Supreme Court invalidated a key portion of the Voting Rights Act in 2013.

“When we celebrated Robert Kennedy’s 50th anniversary of his swearing-in in 2011, people said that was a golden age for the United States Department of Justice,” Holder recalled. “I think that 50 years from now…people are gonna look back at the work that you all did and say that this was another golden age. That’s how good you all are.”

Republicans, of course, couldn’t disagree more. More than any other cabinet official in President Obama’s administration, Holder has sustained intense and unrelenting fire from the GOP. From the “Fast and Furious” gun walking scandal in 2009 to Holder’s recent comments on the relationship between police and minority communities, Republicans have accused the attorney general of running interference for the president and sowing racial division. In 2012, the GOP-led house voted to hold Holder in contempt of Congress, the first time such a step has been taken against a sitting attorney general in U.S. history.

If Holder is bothered by his critics, though, he certainly didn’t show it on Friday.

“I think we can officially say now that Eric Holder is free,” he said. “I love you all madly. Thank you.”

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Speaker Boehner Says House May Have To Subpoena Clinton Server

Boehner HillaryHouse Speaker John Boehner said in an interview published Thursday that the House of Representatives may subpoena Hillary Clinton’s personal e-mail server if she does not turn it over to be examined by an independent third party.

“She violated the law,” the Ohio Republican told Bloomberg, “and the idea that she was going to use her own server and do official business on it is, goes against every transparency issue that the president likes to tout.”

Clinton’s e-mail has been a prominent topic of conversation and speculation since a series of reports last month revealed that she used a personal e-mail account hosted on a server registered to her New York home to conduct all her correspondence during her tenure as secretary of state. The practice is a potential violation of federal law and has raised questions over why she went to such lengths to keep her messages off the official government system.

“At some point they just can’t ignore the fact that there are a lot of public documents on the server that the American people have a right to see,” Boehner said. “And we believe it’s time for Mrs. Clinton to turn that server and all those documents over to the inspector general at the State Department. Let them sort out what’s official, what’s private. I have no interest in what her private emails were.”

Boehner added that he had not made a final decision about whether to issue the subpoena, but said “all options are on the table … If we need to do that, we may have to.”

Also Thursday, the House select committee investigating the 2012 terror attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya called on Clinton to testify about her role in the Obama administration’s response to the attack the week of May 18. Committee chairman Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., sent a letter to Clinton attorney David Kendall that included a set of 100 questions about what the State Department knew about Clinton’s use of a private email server, who set it up and how it was funded.

Gowdy also said he would be willing to hold a private “transcribed interview” with Clinton prior to the week of May 18, potentially at a venue that satisfies her privacy requirements. The select committee had subpoenaed Clinton’s personal emails last month, but Clinton did not meet a deadline to provide them.

As of early March, So far, Clinton has turned over 55,000 pages of emails to the government. Of that number, 300 are related to Benghazi.

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