Tag Archive | "President Barack Obama"

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Senate Passes NSA Reform Bill: USA Freedom Act


Ann-Marie Adams, Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — After much wrangling over the need to balance national security and privacy concerns, the Senate on Tuesday passed a bill that aims to protect America against suspected terrorists.

The USA Freedom Act now requires overzealous intelligence and law enforcement officials to get a court order before probing phone databanks and engaging in counterterrorism activities such as wiretaps.

The Senate approved the bill 67-32, ending the brief lapse after it allowed the Patriot Act to expire Sunday at midnight. And previously, the House of Representatives passed a version of the bill with 338 Democrats and Republicans.

President Barack Obama, who pledged to address National Security Agency reform, signed the bill on Tuesday. This is one of the most sweeping surveillance reform in a generation.

Several surveillance programs were illegal because it violated Americans’ civil liberties, according to many conservatives on the hill. The most controversial surveillance tool, they said, is the sweeping power under Section 215 of the Patriot Act, which requires the government to collect bulk phone records — including the numbers, time stamps, and duration of a call — and give sweeping power with wire taps.

It is a relief to millions of Americans because it reigns in the government’s surveillance powers.

“After needless delay and inexcusable lapse in important national security authorities, my administration will work expeditiously to ensure our national security professionals again have the full set of vital tools they need to continue protecting the country,” Obama said.

Sen. Mitch McConnell meets the press after Senate passes USA Freedom Act bill.

Sen. Mitch McConnell meets the press after Senate passes USA Freedom Act bill.

Other observers said this is “sensible” NSA reform that will restore public confidence in the country’s surveillance programs. That’s because the USA Freedom Act overhauls the government’s collection of bulk phone records and instead requires telecommunications companies to hold the data. The NSA now has six months to end its bulk collection program. Additionally, the Act restores the “lone wolf” provision, which allows law enforcement officials to follow suspects in contact with other terrorist groups.

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said this law “balances the need to protect the country with the need to protect the privacy of the American people.”

However, Senate Majority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky), along with other conservatives who wanted to add more power to the NASA, disagreed with the majority.

“I cannot support passage of the so-called USA Freedom Act,” McConnell said. “It does not enhance the privacy protections of American citizens, and it surely undermines American security by taking one more tool from our war fighters at the wrong time.”

Other proponents of civil liberty chimed in on what is considered a major reform of the way the NSA conduct its programs.

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said the law “is critical to keeping Americans safe from terrorism and protecting their civil liberties.”

In a press release Tuesday, the American Civil Liberties Union Deputy Director Jameel Jaffer said: “”This is the most important surveillance reform bill since 1978, and its passage is an indication that Americans are no longer willing to give the intelligence agencies a blank check.”

Intelligence officials will continue using Section 215 and the roving wiretap provision for investigations that began before the June 1.

The program is one of the most controversial spying programs exposed by the Edward Snowden leaks nearly two years ago.

Photo Credit: defenseone.com; govsense.com

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U.S. Removes Cuba from Terrorist List


By Ann-Marie Adams, Staff Writer

WASHINGTON—United States officials on Friday removed Cuba from its list of countries that sponsor terrorism.

The move comes more than six months after President Barack Obama announced plans to re-establish diplomatic ties between Washington and Havana. That’s because State Department officials’ 45-day review was the last hurdle to cement a relationship with Cuba.

State Department officials said that even though the country was removed from the list, the U.S. and Cuba still have differences. The U.S. placed Cuba on the list in 1982 because it allegedly support terrorist organizations in Latin America.

“While the United States has significant concerns and disagreements with a wide range of Cuba’s policies and actions, these fall outside the criteria relevant to the rescission of a State Sponsor of Terrorism designation,” spokesman Jeff Rathke said.

Currently, only Syria, the Sudan and Iran remain on the list.

The President in December 2014 officially requested Cuba’s removal after a meeting with Cuban President Raul Castro in Panama, where the Summit of the Americas was held.

This move paves the way for the U.S. to have embassies in America and Cuba. Officials are expected to announce details next week.

The recent development will also remove selected trade barriers against Cuba. However, Congress would have to reverse the overall embargo.

 

 

 

 

 

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White House Agrees to Sign if Senate Passes NSA Reform Bill


By Ann-Marie Adams, White House Correspondent

WASHINGTON — White House officials said Thursday that President Barack Obama would sign the USA Freedom Act if the Senate passes a bipartisan bill aimed at rolling back the government’s authority to spy on its own citizens.

 
This attempt at National Security Agency reform in Congress, officials said, would clear the way to curb bulk collection of Americans’ phone records and other personal information with warrantless FBI investigative tools under the Patriot Act’s Section 215.

 

 

So the National Security Act, would help restrict breaches to privacy rights. The bill, proponents said, is aimed at overzealous government officials who target foreigners in the US and for Americans who have a probable-cause warrant because they travel overseas. After the September 11 attack on the World Trade Center, George Bush signed the Patriot Act, granting sweeping changes to civil liberties.

 

 

The House passage of the bill comes after the  Obama administration tried to change America’s surveillance methods after a NSA Consultant Edward Snowden revealed massive spying by the American government on its citizens and others.

 
Press Secretary Josh Earnest said if the Senate fails to pass the USA Freedom Act before leaving for the Memorial Day break, it would jeopardize national security.

 
“The USA Freedom Act represents a reasonable compromise that strengthens the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act’s privacy and civil liberties protections,” Earnest told reporters at a press briefing on Thursday after the House of Representatives passed the USA Freedom Act with overwhelming bipartisan support, 338-88. “We strongly support this bill just as many national security professionals, as well as civil libertarians do.”

 
Passage of the USA Freedom Act means a break up the so-called “haystack” of domestic phone records so that telecommunications companies can oversee intelligence agencies and change the process of collecting data.

 
Senator Mitch O’Connell (R-Ky.) in a recent meeting said that Senate Republicans prefer a clean renewal of the Patriot Act, rather than a two-year extension.

 
Under the reform, however, NSA would still have authority to collect thousands of call records based on a single court order, which ruled that a provision of the Patriot act did not permit a dragnet collection of US phone records.

 
Also, polls showed broad and deep bipartisan antipathy to government surveillance.

 
The Senate is expected to consider the bill after Congress returns on June 1.

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Obama Tackles Climate Change in Graduation Speech at U.S. Coast Guard Academy


By Ann-Marie Adams, White House Correspondent

NEW LONDON — In his commencement speech at the United States Coast Guard Academy on Wednesday, President Barack Obama addressed the issue of climate change, saying there has been too much equivocation in Congress about a dramatic change to the climate, which has implications for national security.

 
Obama called on Congress to direct attention to proposals that have already engendered much debate.
“I know there are some folks back in Washington, who refuse to admit that climate change is real,” he said to more than 200 graduating cadets. “Denying it or refusing to deal with it undermines our national security.”

 
Obama also catalogued the impact of climate change, emphasizing the issue at the core of each cadet’s mission, whether it’s cleaning up ravaged coastlines or intercepting drug traffickers from Latin America, the Caribbean or Europe. The newly commissioned ensigns will, he said, will soon be working with refugees from flooded and drought stricken countries, helping to open oil drilling plants and dealing with weather related disasters.

 
The location for his address about climate change was fittingly in one of Connecticut’s coastal communities, where Super Storm Sandy devastated the New England coast in 2012, causing $394.3 million in damages.

 
Hurricane Sandy affected 24 states on the eastern seaboard from Florida to Maine.
“The science is indisputable,” Obama said. “The planet is getting warmer….The world’s glaciers are melting.”

 
Last year, the president also outlined a series of plans he has pushed to restrict carbon and greenhouse gas emissions, promote “clean energy” production such as wind and solar projects and increase federal protection of public lands, saying climate change is a threat to homeland security. As a result, he recently announced the country’s intention to contribute $3 billion to the Green Climate Fund to cut carbon pollution and strengthen developing countries’ resilience.

 
Obama is scheduled to travel to Paris in December for a Climate Summit to discuss a global accord limiting greenhouse gases. The U.S. has already committed to reduce carbon emissions by 2025.

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President Obama to Visit Connecticut


Ann-Marie Adams, Staff Writer

WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama on Tuesday will travel to New London to give a commencement address and much support for a fundraiser event in the area.

The President will give the address at the 134th commencement at the United States Coast Guard Academy and attend a Democratic National Convention meeting in later that day, White House officials announced on Friday.

The graduation ceremony is scheduled for May 20 at 11 a.m. on Cadet Memorial Field in New London.

It’s a tradition for presidents to deliver a commencement address at one of the U.S. service academies on a rotating basis.

The school is the smallest of the nation’s five service academies. Cadets receive full scholarships and graduate with an obligation to serve five years in the Coast Guard.

After the commencement address, the president on Wednesday will attend a Democratic National Committee fundraiser event in the private residence of Michael and Terran Whittingham in Stamford. According to sources, about 30 supporters are expected to contribute about $33,000.

at the home of Michael and Terran Whittingham. Approximately 30 supporters, contributing a total of $33,400, are present, according to the DNC.

 

 

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White House Honors East Hartford Teacher


By Ann-Marie Adams, Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — The White House recently honored one of Connecticut’s best teachers.

President Barack Obama honored Cara Quinn, one of 55 teachers from across the nation who gathered in the Rose Garden on a sunny afternoon. a East Hartford resident.

Quinn, who is not teaching now because of her father’s illness, has taught sixth grade at Sunset Ridge School for more than 10 years.

During her career, Quinn has developed programs to prepare students for college, including a college immersion experience. She said she focuses not only on academics, but on character development.

“I think its important to nurture students to be globally aware,” she said.

Last October, Quinn was also named Connecticut’s 2015 Teacher of the Year.

“In her classroom, Mrs. Quinn not only teaches the material, she also teaches her students about their community and about their world,” Former Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor said in a press release. “She encourages her students to give back through service and inspires them to make a difference.”

A teacher of 11 years, Quinn was chosen from over 100 district-level Teachers of the Year.

Quinn succeeded the 2014 Connecticut Teacher of the Year,  John Mastroianni. He is a music teacher at William H. Hall High School in West Hartford

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President Obama to Preview State of the Union Address


By Ann-Marie Adams, Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama will preview new policies in his state of the union speech on Wednesday while in Iowa.

There,  he will introduce plans to help “move the middle class forward” with affordable broadband Internet,  according to a White House spokesperson.

Iowa, once called the dirtiest little city in the nation, was selected to highlight the possibilities of every town welcoming broadband internet into their businesses and home.

The president is aiming to use his executive power to accomplish this goal.

“There are some steps we can take through executive actions that allow us to make sure every community can do  what Cedar Falls is doing,” Obama said.

That’s because the Cedar Rapids has internet speed nearly 100 times faster than the national average. And this high-speed internet is for an affordable price, according to a new report issued today by the National Economic Council and Council of Economic Advisers.

The need for broadband is an economic imperative, officials said. And Obama will stress the need for affordable high-speed broadband for all Americans, and how several small cities and towns setting up themselves to compete with world cities.

“This isn’t about streaming videos and movies,” said a White House official in a conference call. “It’s about strengthening the economy and attracting the next generation of start ups.”

He said this is to aid a “nationwide movement” to help Americans develop new skills and find paying jobs because most jobs require access to the internet.

High-speed, low-cost broadband, he said, is paving the way for economic revitalization not just in Cedar Falls, but in places like Chattanooga, TN, Kansas City, MO, and Lafayette, LA — all of which have Internet speeds nearly 100 times faster than the national average.

Nearly forty percent of American households either cannot purchase a fixed 10 Mbps connection or they must buy it from a single provider, the report states.

Also,  94 percent of Americans in urban areas can purchase a 25 Mbps (megabit per second) connection, but only 51 percent of the rural population has access to Internet at that speed.

Last November, the President outlined his plan to keep the Internet open to new competition and innovation by safeguarding net neutrality — which will help ensure no one company can act as a gatekeeper to digital content.

President Obama speaks on the need for affordable high-speed broadband for all Americans, and how certain small cities and towns are taking steps to lay a foundation for broadband access that rivals the most connected cites in the world.

Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

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Congress Begins Showdown on Keystone Pipeline


By Ann-Marie Adams, Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — Less than one week into the 114th Congress, the Republican-controlled House and Senate symbolized where their priority is: the Keystone XL pipeline.

The GOP-Senate on Monday voted 63-32 to advance the debate on the keystone project, which includes building a pipeline that would carry up to 830,000 barrels of petroleum oil per day from Western Canada, then cut across South Dakota and Nebraska to oil refineries on the Gulf Coast. The vote was four short of overriding a veto.

Last Friday, the Nebraska Supreme Court allowed a route for the pipeline to cross the Canadian border.The question put forth was whether former Governor Dave Heineman had a right to approve the pipeline route.

The House of Representatives passed a bill 266 to 153, with 28 Democrats in support of the project. Now, the Senate will consider amendments to the bill on Tuesday.

According to the State Department’s environmental review, the Keystone project would contribute about $3.4 billion to the American economy and support 42,000 temporary jobs over its two-year construction period. Of that amount, about 3,900 of them would be in construction. And the rest would be service jobs.

Only about 35 of those jobs would be permanent jobs.

“This is important legislation. It’s long overdue,” said Sen. Patrick Toomey (R-Pennsylvania) “It’s good news that it’s going to create jobs across our country … and reduce dependence on non-American oil.”

Republicans said they expect to send the bill to the White House next week.

President Barack Obama is expected to make the final decision on the bill. But supposedly, Obama’s advisers strongly oppose the pipeline and have urged him to reject it. Shortly after congress convened last Tuesday, a White House spokesman said the president would veto the bill.

However, the Senate on Monday voted for cloture, a procedure that would break a filibuster usually used to block or delay a senate action on a bill.

There was also a test vote, which indicated that the legislation might have enough bi-partisan support for approval. This also presupposes the senate’s ability to override the president’s veto. And most importantly, it sets the tone for the president’s remaining tenure in office.

Additionally, several Democrats argued against the measure.

Boxer said that the bill is not worth passing because it only offers to create less than 50 long-term jobs. And so this project, she said, is “not ready for prime time.”

“The first bill symbolizes their priorities,” said Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-California). “The only people this helps is the Canadian oil interests.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky told the Associated Press that the president has delayed this issue long enough. And now, he should consider signing the bill.

The bill has been on the radar since 2005 when the Canadian company TransCanada proposed the pipeline and applied to the State Department for a construction permit in 2008.

Environmentalists are against the bill, citing past oil spills and potential air pollution from this massive project. Others say the additional emissions produced by the pipeline would not be a major contributor to climate change.

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President Obama Lifts Bans on Cuba


By Ann-Marie Adams, Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — In a move that has been hailed as historic, President Barack Obama on Wednesday signed an executive order to “re-establish diplomatic ties with Cuba.”

The move to thaw the relationship with this communist country comes after months of secret talks between the Obama administration and Cuban officials in Canada and the Vatican. Talks culminated with a 45-minute conversation on Tuesday between Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro, which detailed ways the United States would end 53 years of enmity that has caused disagreement in Latin America and the Caribbean. Fidel Castro was not involved in these discussions, officials said.

Obama had to forgo Congress. Only Congress, which imposed sanctions on Cuba in 1961, can dismantle them completely. So the president’s move was mostly a symbolic but powerful one, according to a White House official on background call before Obama’s live speech. This move represents the most significant changes to America’s Cuba policy in more than 50 years, including the  Helms-Burton Act enacted in 1996. The Act strengthened the America’s embargo against Cuba.

White House officials believe this is a “step in the right direction.”

“These are the steps that I can take to change these policies,” Obama said in his televised speech from the East Room, emphasizing the limits of his unilateral move to help the U.S. “normalize relations” with Cuba.

Unresolved disputes remain, however. Cubans urged for an end of the U.S. pro-democracy programs in Cuba, which they see as a subversive attempt to overthrow Castro. The White House stood firm on those demands, refusing to disrupt that policy.

Obama’s executive order bodes well for Cuba’s economy because Cuba agreed to release political prisoners, including “a very frail” Alan Gross, a USAID subcontractor who U.S. officials said was wrongfully imprisoned. The order now allows travel, commerce, and the flow of information to and from Cuba.

Former Florida Governor and potential 2016 Republican presidential candidate, Jeb Bush, challenged Obama’s move toward Cuba, saying to USA Today: “I don’t think we should be negotiating with a repressive regime to make changes in our relationship.”

Bush has  favorable ratings in  large Cuban-American constituencies in Florida.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), a Cuban American, said he would do all he can as the incoming chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to block Obama’s plan. More specifically, Rubio said he would block anyone Obama nominates to serve as ambassador to Cuba.

While politicos plan to make moves in Congress, most Americans will now be able to travel to Cuba. Previously, there was a ban on all travel to Cuba. Now, government officials and academicians can travel there for research purposes.

“With the changes I’m announcing today, it will be easier for Americans to travel to Cuba, and Americans will be able to use American credit and debit cards on the island,”  Obama said.

Other benefits to Americans in this move also allow Cuban Americans to send remittances to their family, U.S. embassies can now be in Cuba, and more businesses can have easier trade relations.

Travel for tourist activities are still banned.

According to Sen. Rand Paul, (R-KY) on a West Virginia radio station the embargo on Cuba just hasn’t worked.

“If the goal is regime change, it sure doesn’t seem to be working,” Paul said.

Photo Credit: President Barack Obama delivers a statement on Cuba and the release of American Alan Gross, in the Cabinet Room of the White House. (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)

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Protest Erupts After Grand Jury Acquits Police for Killing Michael Brown


By Ann-Marie Adams, Staff Writer

The nation is reacting to a  St. Louis County grand jury’s verdict after they refuse to indict a white police officer who killed an unarmed black teenager.

The jury said that 28-year-old Darren Wilson will not be indicted for killing 18-year-old Michael Brown with six shots in an August confrontation, St. Louis County prosecutor Robert McCulloch said lateMonday night.

In Washington, President Barack Obama called for peaceful protests.

“We need to accept that this decision was the grand jury’s to make. There are Americans who agree with it, and there are Americans who are deeply disappointed, even angry. It’s an understandable reaction,” Obama said. “But I join Michael’s parents in asking anyone who protests this decision to do so peacefully.”

As protesters took to the streets in Ferguson, The Hartford Guardian encourages readers across the country to  on Twitter.

According to reports, crowds of protesters filled streets near the Ferguson police station following the announcement. And police car and stores were set on fire, other stores were looted, gunfire was heard and bricks were hurled. Police said they had been fired on and responded with smoke bombs and pepper spray before using tear gas.

Police later said they came under heavy automatic weapon fire, and some buildings were left to burn because of the danger. County police said an officer suffered a gunshot wound, but it was unclear if it was because of the protest violence.

Protests sprang up in cities from New York to Los Angeles and remained mostly peaceful. At least half a dozen commercial airline flights into St. Louis were diverted out of concerns about the unrest.

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