Thursday, May 23, 2013

President Obama To Join Gov. Christie At The Jersey Shore On Tuesday

CBS 2 has learned that President Barack Obama will visit the Jersey Shore on Tuesday with Gov. Chris Christie. It will be his first time on the shore since he visited right after Hurricane Sandy hit on Oct. 29.

A White House advisory said Obama would view the ongoing recovery efforts from Sandy and talk about “expanding economic opportunity for families hit by the storm.”

In the days after Sandy roared ashore, President Obama surveyed the damage with Christie. The subsequent images of the Democratic president and Republican governor and their apparent mutual respect for each other turned the political world on its ear.

“I cannot thank the president enough,” Christie said back on Oct. 31.

Then on April 29, Christie continued to praise President Obama for being “a man of his word” when it came to his swift response to the storm.

“I don’t have any regrets because anyone who’s had the job that I have knows that your first job is to get the job done for the people who elected you and not to worry about politics, whether it’s presidential politics or any other type of politics,” Christie told WCBS 880′s Steve Scott.

“Secondly, I’d give the President high marks. Everything that we asked of him to do he’s done, his administration has done. And while there were some blips in terms of the national flood insurance program that angered people, rightfully, the administration has worked on fixing that. So while I have broad areas of disagreement with the President on other issues, I cannot say anything other than the truth which is the President’s been a man of his word on this and his administration has followed through,” said Christie.

As a result of the governor’s buddy-buddy meeting with the president, Christie made the “do not invite list” for the Conservative Political Action Conference, a major event for GOP big wigs.

Many Jersey Shore business have reopened and boardwalks and beaches were expected to be open in time for Memorial Day weekend.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

No early warning for U.S. on Israeli strikes in Syria

Without confirming that Israel was behind the attacks, the intelligence official said that the United States was essentially told of the air raids "after the fact" and was notified as the bombs went off.

Israeli jets bombed Syria on Sunday for the second time in 48 hours. Israel does not confirm such missions explicitly - a policy it says is intended to avoid provoking reprisals. But an Israeli official acknowledged that the strikes were carried out by its forces.

"It would not be unusual for them to take aggressive steps when there was some chance that some sophisticated weapons system would fall into the hands of people like Hezbollah," the U.S. intelligence official told Reuters, speaking on condition of anonymity.

While the air raids raised fears that America's main ally in the Middle East could be sucked into the Syrian conflict, Israel typically does not feel it has to ask for a green light from Washington for such attacks.

Officials have indicated in the past that Israel sees a need only to inform the United States once such a mission is under way.

U.S. President Barack Obama said on Saturday that Israel has the right to guard against the transfer of advanced weapons to Hezbollah, an ally of both Syria and Iran.

Rather than an attempt to tip the scales against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Israel's action is seen more as part of its own conflict with Iran, which it fears is sending missiles to Hezbollah in Lebanon through Syria. Those missiles might hit Tel Aviv if Israel makes good on threats to attack Tehran's nuclear program.

Another Western intelligence source told Reuters the latest attack, like the previous one, was directed against stores of Fateh-110 missiles in transit from Iran to Hezbollah.

People were woken in the Syrian capital by explosions that shook the ground like an earthquake and sent pillars of flames high into the night sky. Syrian state television said bombing at a military research facility at Jamraya and two other sites caused "many civilian casualties and widespread damage," but it gave no details. The Jamraya compound was also a target for Israel on January 30.

The U.S. intelligence official said additional strikes in the future could not be ruled out.

"Any sophisticated weaponry that finds its way there (Syria)that looks to be destined to fall in the hands of bad actors, I think there is a likelihood that those could be targets as well," the second official said.


Obama has repeatedly shied away from deep U.S. involvement in the Syrian conflict, which erupted in 2011 and has killed an estimated 70,000 people and created more than 1.2 million refugees.

Hours after the Israeli attacks, several U.S. lawmakers voiced concern over the mounting uncertainty in the Middle East.

Influential Republican lawmaker John McCain said Israel's air strikes on Syria could add pressure on the Obama administration to intervene, but the U.S. government faces tough questions on how it can help without adding to the conflict.

"We need to have a game-changing action, and that is no American boots on the ground, establish a safe zone and to protect it and to supply weapons to the right people in Syria who are fighting, obviously, for the things we believe," McCain said on "Fox News Sunday."

"Every day that goes by, Hezbollah increases their influence and the radical jihadists flow into Syria and the situation becomes more and more tenuous," he said.

U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said last week that Washington was rethinking its opposition to arming the Syrian rebels. He cautioned that giving weapons to the forces fighting Assad was only one option, which carried the risk of arms finding their way into the hands of anti-American extremists among the insurgents.

The United States has said it has "varying degrees of confidence" that chemical weapons have been used in Syria on a limited scale, but is seeking more evidence to determine who used them, how they were used and when.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Obama and Bush, distinct men with policy overlaps

Despite vast differences with President George W. Bush on ideology, style and temperament, President Barack Obama has stuck with Bush policies or aspirations on a number of fronts, from counterterrorism to immigration, from war strategy to the global fight against AIDS.

Even on tax policy, where Bush advocated lower tax rates for all and Obama pushed for higher rates on the rich, Bush's tax cuts for the middle class not only have survived under Obama, they have become permanent.

Obama inherited from his predecessor two military conflicts, a war on terror and a financial crisis. He also inherited, and in time embraced, the means with which to confront them.

On Thursday, Obama will attend the dedication of Bush's presidential library in Texas, a tableau that will draw attention to two distinct men—a Republican and a Democrat from different ends of the political spectrum, political foils with polarized constituencies.

Indeed, Obama ran for president in 2008 as the anti-Bush, critical of the war against Iraq and of the economic policies of the preceding eight years.

But in his more than four years of governing, Obama has also adopted or let stand a series of Bush initiatives, illustrating how the policies of one administration can take hold and how the realities of governing often limit solutions.

Bush's signature education plan, No Child Left Behind, remains the law of the land, though the Obama administration has granted states waivers to give them flexibility in meeting performance targets. A Bush Medicare prescription drug plan, criticized for its cost, is now popular with beneficiaries, and Obama has sought to improve it by providing relief for seniors with high bills. Obama continued the unpopular bank bailouts and expanded the auto industry rescue that Bush initiated in 2008.

Bush authorized a military surge in Iraq in an effort to tame the conflict there. Obama completed the withdrawal of troops from Iraq but also authorized a military surge in Afghanistan before beginning a drawdown of troops that is expected to be completed at the end of 2014.

"The responsibilities of office drive presidents toward pragmatism," said Joshua Bolten, a former Bush chief of staff. Where those policies are effective, he added, "the successor has good reason to adopt them."

Obama, like Bush during his presidency, is seeking an overhaul of immigration laws that give 11 million immigrants in the U.S. illegally a chance to get on a path toward citizenship. Bush came up short in 2007, but Bolten believes that six years later the nation and its politicians are in a different place.

"President Bush was just ahead of his time and his party in recognizing both the importance of reaching some sort of bipartisan accommodation and on what the elements of that might reasonably be," he said.

Bruce Buchanan, a government professor at the University of Texas at Austin who specializes on the presidency, says it's not uncommon for presidents to hand off their agendas to another. Even measures or issues that were unpopular under one president can appear different with the passage of time and under the direction of a new occupant in the White House.

"While the names of the problems are the same, the stage of development is usually very different and the public stance of the president dealing with them is often very different," he said. "You have to be sensitive to those things lest you create the false impression that they are mirror images of one another, which I don't think would be accurate."

On no front are the similarities more striking than on counterterrorism. Obama did vow to end the harsh interrogation techniques such as waterboarding that had been employed during the Bush administration, and he issued an executive order upon becoming president declaring that the United States would not engage in torture.

But other practices continued and, in some case, expanded under Obama.

"The basic similarity is these are the only two presidents that have governed in a post-9/11 era, where the principal threat to the United States comes from terrorism," said Ben Rhodes, Obama's deputy national security adviser. "President Obama believes that we're at war with al-Qaida and its affiliated groups, has continued to take direct action against al-Qaida networks overseas and has continued to pursue very aggressive intelligence, law enforcement and homeland security measures that have been developed since 9/11."

Jack Goldsmith, who was an assistant attorney general in the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel during Bush's first term, says Obama's use of warrantless surveillance, military detentions without trial and increased drone strikes has received less pushback than it would under a Republican president.

Goldsmith, now a law professor at Harvard Law School, argued in a blog post after Obama's election that the public "generally trust the former constitutional law professor and civil liberties champion more than a Republican president to carry out these policies."

He added that "many on the left (in Congress and the NGO community, and perhaps the press) who might otherwise be uncomfortable with these policies will give President Obama a freer hand than they would a Republican president."

Still, Rhodes sees significant differences in Obama's national security approach.

Bush, Rhodes said, had defined the broad conflict as a war on terrorism and included Iraq as part of that war.

"We redefined the war as something more narrow, which was a war against al-Qaida and its affiliates, not against other states, not against nonaffiliated terrorist groups," Rhodes said.

Republican Sen. John McCain has a unique perch to assess both presidents. He ran against both—in 2000 against Bush for the Republican nomination and in 2008 against Obama. He allied himself with both men on immigration and called on them to increase troop levels in Iraq and Afghanistan. An early opponent of waterboarding, he has applauded Obama's continued use of other counterterrorism measures.

"I think they both had an appreciation for the threat that we face," he said of the two presidents.

But he faults Obama for not leaving a residual force in Iraq and for creating uncertainty about what the U.S. presence will be in Afghanistan after 2014.

And he distinguishes between the presidents. Under Bush, he said the United States became a nation "that was ready to pursue our enemies."

"Obviously, President Obama viewed this as a time to withdraw and not to make military commitments overseas."

Rhodes makes a similar point, though differently.

"The trajectory under the previous administration was an increased military presence overseas," he said. "President Obama would like his legacy to be the reduction of military presence overseas and having, ideally, zero troops in harm's way." 

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Obama outlines private-public project to study the brain

Making good on a promise first hinted at during his State of the Union speech in February, President Obama on Tuesday unveiled the broad outlines of a scientific initiative aimed at mapping the human brain. The project's ambitious goals include understanding how the brain forms memories and controls human behavior; how it becomes damaged by conditions such as Parkinson's disease and autism; and how it can be repaired when afflicted by Alzheimer's disease, post-traumatic stress disorder and other illnesses.

The BRAIN initiative — short for Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies — is modeled after the Human Genome Project, in which the federal government partnered with philanthropies and scientific entrepreneurs to identify and characterize the nearly 25,000 genes that make up human DNA.

"A human brain contains almost 100 billion neurons making trillions of connections," Obama said Tuesday as he outlined the initiative in the East Room of the White House. In the absence of a detailed map of the brain's complex circuitry and operating instructions that could help troubleshoot when the brain's wiring goes awry, scientists often grope in the dark for therapies that can treat Alzheimer's or autism or to reverse the effects of a stroke, Obama said. "So there is this enormous mystery waiting to be unlocked."

The funding available beyond this year for the BRAIN initiative remains unclear. Calling the "three pounds of matter that sits between our ears" a mystery to be unraveled, Obama said his proposed budget of $110 million for fiscal year 2014 would "help get this project off the ground." Private sector partners the Allen Institute for Brain Science, the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and the Kavli Foundation have committed $158 million to the project.

Over five years of the Human Genome Project, the federal government invested $3.8 billion in the effort. But federal spending in the initiative's first year was modest: $27.9 million.

In a bid to fend off opposition from budget-cutters on Capitol Hill and cast the initiative as an investment in the U.S. economy, the White House said that every federal dollar expended on the Human Genome Project went on to generate $141 in economic output.

"Ideas are what power our economy," Obama said. "When we invest in the best ideas before anybody else does, our businesses and our workers can make the best products and deliver the best services before anybody else."

If Obama's proposed budget for the project is approved by Congress this year, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the small office within the Pentagon known as DARPA, will disburse about $50 million in grants under the BRAIN initiative next year. The National Institutes of Health will contribute $40 million, and the National Science Foundation $20 million.

Funding in future years will be negotiated yearly.

"Out of this is going to come a foundation of understanding the brain that we have dreamed of all through human history," said Dr. Francis Collins, who was in charge of the government's role in the Human Genome Project and is now director of the National Institutes of Health.

DARPA Director Arati Prabhakar said her agency would focus on the brain trauma research it has pioneered in recent years. That work was spurred by the brain injuries and PTSD that have afflicted thousands of U.S. veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The resulting insights and treatments will also benefit civilians whose brains have been injured by strokes, illness, car crashes and falls, she said.

"We're starting to learn more about how memory is encoded in the brain and starting to see how we might restore memory loss after injury," Prabhakar said. "There are broader applications," as researchers extend that research to address disorders of memory, such as Alzheimer's disease, and DARPA would probably invest in such projects, she said.

DARPA, whose early research helped spawn the Internet, will also look to fund brain research that would make prosthetic devices more responsive to human thought, as well as other cognitive research that might inspire new information-processing and computing techniques, Prabhakar said. Both subjects are of keen interest to the military.

The White House will also assign the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues the task of exploring the ethical, legal and societal problems certain to arise as brain science advances.

That panel has already weighed in on the social and ethical implications of drugs and technologies that promise to enhance the cognitive performance of healthy people. As future work unlocks the workings of the brain when a patient appears to be in a vegetative state, those experts will probably wrestle with new definitions of life and death. And as the field of neuroprosthetics makes human thought increasingly discernible to computers, age-old fears about the use of mind-reading technologies are likely to spark investigation.

Despite uncertainty about future funding, the initiative drew jubilant praise from scientists engaged in brain research.

"Where you put a major investment in understanding the most complicated thing we know — the human brain — there could be benefits to every aspect of society," said Dr. John C. Mazziotta, a leading neuroscientist who is executive vice dean of UCLA's David Geffen School of Medicine. Scientists could make new discoveries about aging, education, creativity, psychiatric disorders and social problems such as homelessness, he said.

But such lofty goals will not come cheap, cautioned Larry Swanson, president of the Society for Neuroscience. The initiative will fall short of expectations if federal funds dedicated to the project are the object of yearly political haggling.

Obama on Tuesday offered a nod to such concerns.

"Of course, none of this will be easy," he said. "If it was, we would already know everything there was about how the brain works, and presumably my life would be simpler here. It could explain all kinds of things that go on in Washington."

Monday, March 18, 2013

Obama to Nominate Justice Aide for Labor Post

President Obama plans to announce Monday that he will nominate Thomas E. Perez, who heads the Civil Rights Division at the Justice Department, to be the next secretary of labor, a choice that promises to provoke a debate with Republicans about voting rights and discrimination.

 Mr. Perez would replace Hilda L. Solis, who stepped down in January after four years running the Labor Department. Word of his possible selection has been circulating in Washington for days, and a White House official informed reporters that the president would make it official on Monday.

The announcement comes just days after a Justice Department inspector general’s report found that the voting rights section has been torn by “deep ideological polarization” with liberal and conservative factions in sharp conflict. The divisions date back to the George W. Bush administration, and most occurred before Mr. Perez was confirmed in October 2009. He portrayed the report as largely clearing the section on his watch.

But the report also raised questions about testimony he gave, and Republicans made clear that they would take issue with his handling of some cases over the last three and a half years. His critics question, for example, whether he acted inappropriately in persuading the City of St. Paul to drop a lawsuit seeking to limit fair housing claims when there is no intentional bias.

Liberals and labor leaders have hailed Mr. Perez, calling him a strong champion for workers and those who have faced discrimination. While at the Justice Department, he has pursued a record number of discrimination or brutality claims against local police and sheriff’s departments, including that of Joe Arpaio, the outspoken sheriff in Maricopa County, Ariz., who was accused of “a pattern of unlawful discrimination” against Latinos.

Mr. Perez also challenged voter identification requirements imposed by South Carolina and Texas, and his division reached the three largest residential fair lending settlements in the history of the Fair Housing Act. Under him, the voting section participated in the most new litigation in the last fiscal year than in any previous year.

Mr. Perez, 51, who would be the only Hispanic in the cabinet if confirmed, is the son of immigrants from the Dominican Republic. His father died when he was 12, but his family pressed the value of education so much that all four of his siblings became doctors. Mr. Perez graduated from Brown University and Harvard Law School.

He has spent a career fighting discrimination cases as a federal prosecutor, then, under President Bill Clinton, as deputy chief of the civil rights division that he now heads, and finally as head of civil rights enforcement at the Health and Human Services Department. He also served as an elected council member in Montgomery County, Md., and as the state’s secretary of labor, licensing and regulation.

The timing of the inspector general’s report on the voting section seems to ensure that it will come up during Mr. Perez’s confirmation hearings. The report found a toxic environment in which conservatives and liberals fought and maligned one another through the Bush administration and into the Obama administration.

The examples it cited generally preceded Mr. Perez, and he wrote the inspector general that he had made a point of correcting the situation. “Since 2009, the Civil Rights Division and the Voting Section have undertaken a number of steps to improve the professionalism of our workplace and to ensure that we enforce the civil rights laws in an independent, evenhanded fashion,” Mr. Perez wrote.

The inspector general, however, raised questions regarding Mr. Perez’s testimony about a case that preceded his time. Mr. Perez told the Civil Rights Commission in 2010 that no senior department officials were involved in a 2009 decision not to pursue further a case of voter intimidation involving the New Black Panthers. But the report noted that in fact senior officials did participate in discussions about the case, although the final decision was made by career lawyers as Mr. Perez had testified.

Senator Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, the senior Republican on the Judiciary Committee, said the report showed that Mr. Perez was “woefully unprepared to answer questions” about a matter that he expected to be asked about. “This is troubling as it suggests a failure to also prepare for hearings before Congress, including the Senate Judiciary Committee, when questioned on this same topic,” he said in a statement.

Moreover, Mr. Grassley said the report made clear that Mr. Perez had not done as much as he had said to end harassment of conservatives in the voting rights section. “The reports shows that despite claims that it’s a new era in the Civil Rights Division, they are sadly mistaken, and it’s business as usual,” Mr. Grassley said.

While conservatives have called him a radical, Mr. Perez has not backed off his aggressive approach, even as his name was up for consideration for the Labor Department job. Just last Thursday, he announced an investigation into excessive force complaints against the Cleveland Police Department.