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AP: President Obama to reveal number of civilian deaths from drone strikes

By Associated Press

WASHINGTON, D.C. — President Barack Obama is expected to disclose as early as Friday the number of civilians killed in U.S. military and CIA drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen and Africa since he took office and will issue an executive order that makes protecting civilians a more integral part of planning U.S. military operations, according to activists and other individuals familiar with the report.

The White House is to disclose the casualties with a range of numbers indicating that an estimated 100 civilians have been inadvertently killed by 500 drone strikes since 2009. The estimate is said to cover drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen, Libya and Somalia. It does not cover ones in Afghanistan, Iraq or Syria where U.S. forces have conducted thousands of air attacks.

The individuals spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to disclose the information.

While sketchy details often emerge about individual drone strikes, the full scope of the U.S. drone program — a key tool of Obama’s counterterrorism strategy — has long been shrouded from view. Still, the new information is not likely to answer all the questions that have been raised and human rights groups have long claimed that the administration undercounts civilian casualties,

The London-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism, for instance, has estimated that there were anywhere from 492 to about 1,100 civilians killed by drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia since 2002.

Federico Borello, executive director of Center for Civilians in Conflict in Washington, said Thursday that he applauds Obama’s forthcoming executive order. He said he had not yet seen the final draft, but that his group probably would call on Congress to codify it into law so that future presidents cannot throw it out.

“This is something that we’ve been working on for 10 years,” he said. To have civilian protections “in the heart of military planning is a big deal.”

Reprieve, an international human rights organization based in New York, claims that the Obama administration’s previous statements about the drone program have been proven to be false by facts on the ground and the U.S. government’s own internal documents.

“But more importantly, it has to be asked what bare numbers will mean if they omit even basic details such as the names of those killed and the areas, even the countries, they live in,” Reprieve said in a statement on Thursday.

“Equally, the numbers without the definitions to back up how the administration is defining its targets is useless, especially given reports the Obama administration has shifted the goalposts on what counts as a ‘civilian’ to such an extent that any estimate may be far removed from reality.”

Associated Press

Photo Courtesy of Getty Image

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President Obama Delivers Final SOTU Address

By Ann-Marie Adams, Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama delivered his eighth State of the Union address before a packed House chamber on Tuesday, pushing back on “negative attacks” toward his policies and the typical moniker that comes at the end of an incumbent president’s second term: lame duck.

Obama’s 58-minute speech illuminated his top priorities and challenges for the last seven years. He also honed in on his agenda to fix a broken immigration system, to push climate change and to tackle criminal justice reform, especially gun violence. Also, the Obama administration is aiming to expand the number of Syrian refugees admitted to the United States.

Recently, the president signed an education bill that he said will “fix some of the challenges of the No Child Left Behind and promises to invest more in early childhood education.” On December 10, 2015, Obama signed into law  a new education reform bill that shifts power from the federal government to the states. Each state will now set the agenda on issues of school performance and accountability. Under the Every Child Achieves Act, local districts will once again have power to determine how to improve troubled schools. In all, the new bill minimizes federal oversight of schools and doesn’t have an ambitous goal for education reform.

Margaret Spellings, who served as former Pesident George Bush’s education secretary from 2005 to 2009, sounded an alarm, saying Obama’s education secretary, Arne Duncan, shephered a bill that removed the consequences to local school districts for failing to meet a federal educational standard or take the pressure off local officials to effectively fix low-performing schools.

Before Obama’s new bill, there was strict federal control on education. Now, the Senate bill nixed most of NCLB’s major accountability provisions.

RELATED: CNN’s State of the Union 2016: Full text

Obama also touted additional achievement, especially his health care bill. To date, six million people have signed up for Obamacare, which was passed in Congress and came into law in March 2010. And nearly 18 million people have gained access to healthcare, Obama said.

He also touted his accomplishments with the economy, climate change and bringing China, one of the world’s largest emission centers, to the table.  America signed a climate change deal at the United Nations Conference on Climate Change last month. The agreement calls for countries to reduce greenhouses emissions. Additionally, White House officials said unemployment was cut in half.

However, Obama signed a bill that aims to cut food stamps by $8.7 billion in the next 10 years. The cut was a part of the 2014 Farm Bill.

“All these things still matter to hardworking families; they are still the right thing to do; and I will not let up until they get done,”  he said.

He did not, however, set the agenda for the 2016 election as other presidents such as Dwight Eisenhower have done in the past. And he was faced with obstruction on many other issues, including Federal and Circuit Court judge appointments. On Monday, his last appointment, Felipe Restrepo of Pennsylvania, became the only the second Circuit Court judge approved in 2015. Restrepo was Obama’s last nominee to be confirmed.

Earlier this month, the Obama administration also said it would join a new push with the United Nations to allow police agencies help respond to terrorism. The Obama administration said Islamic terrorism is less worrying than “homegrown” terror. But reports are finding that domestic terrorism is just as dangerous as foreign terrorism. The Obama administration has issued reports that claim Tea Party groups and nativist groups are possible domestic terrorists.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy was one of several guests who personify President Obama’s tenure in office.

While Malloy was with First Lady and Congressman John Larson (D-1) was also joined by a special guest: Geoffrey Tillman, who was wrongfully convicted of a crime and served more than 15 years.

Viewers, for the most part, saw an energetic president who pushed proposals for the coming year ending with a deep resolve that “America is emerging stronger and better.”

The speech was well-received.

According to a CNN poll, 53 percent of viewers had favored the President’s speech, matching the highest rating of his presidency reached following his 2013 address. Only 20 percent of viewers said they had a positive reaction to his speech and 25 percent reported a negative view.

South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley gave the Republican response, in which she criticized Obama’s policies and critiqued Trump for leading the campaign trail with anger and showmanship.

Haley also cast Obama and his administration in an unflattering light, saying  America “would soon have a chance to turn the page.”

“The President’s record has often fallen far short of his soaring words,” Haley said.

 House Speaker Paul Ryan also debut as House Speaker alongside Biden.

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson was designated as the Cabinet member who did not attend the State of the Union address.

Photo Courtesy of VOA.

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White House Promises to Veto Bill to Close US Borders to Syrian Refugees

By Ann-Marie Adams I The Hartford Guardian

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama recently vowed to veto the Republican-led House of Representative’s effort to curb the influx of refugees fleeing the Islamic state of Syria and Iraq.

The White House issued a statement on Wednesday saying that President Obama would veto the legislation, which has support from both parties. The House’s 246 Republicans supported the bill, which passed 289 to 137. Forty-seven Democrats supported it. This is sufficient to override a presidential veto.

The bill would require that the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security and the director of national intelligence said that refuges from Syria and Iraq poses no threat once they submit to a thorough background check.

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson called for a balance between safety and freedom as law enforcement agencies increased security after the terrorist attacks in Paris.

“In our efforts to enhance the security of the homeland, we must not compromise our values as a free and open society,” said Johnson during remarks at a cybersecurity event on Wednesday.

According to the State Department,  1,869 Syrians have entered the United States since October 2014.  The bulk of those, 1,682, came during 2015.

Congressman Paul Rand, (R-Kentucky) said he would impose measures that block these and other high-risk refugees from tax-benefits.

But other members of Congress objected to the draconian laws to curtail the number of Syrian Refugees entering the United States.

“Defeating terrorism should not mean slamming the door in the faces of those fleeing the terrorists,” said. “We might as well take down the Statute of Liberty.”

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy was one of six governors who said he would welcome Syrian refugees into their state. To date, 31 governors agreed to accommodate Syrian refugees.

“We have the toughest process in the world about allowing refugees into our country. That’s the reality,” Malloy said. “By the way, let’s be very clear. No one is taking a raft from Turkey to get to the United States. We control this situation to a higher degree than any European country can at the current moment.”

White House officials in a 90-minute call with 34 governor’s reiterated that Obama’s top priority is the safety of the American people.

While in the Philippines this week, President Obama responded to Republicans’ quest to close the US boarders to Syrian refugees.

“I cannot think of a more potent recruitment tool for ISIL than some of the rhetoric coming out of here in the course of this debate. It’s counterproductive and it needs to stop,” Obama said.

On Wednesday,  Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) sharply criticized Obama’s treatment of his stance on not wanting to admit Syrian refugees into the United States, and challenged him to a debate.

Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) plans to block the House bill if it reaches the upper chamber after the Thanksgiving recess.

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White House to Host Pope Francis, Renew Talk

By Ann-Marie Adams I The Hartford Guardian
WASHINGTON, D.C. — President Barack Obama is expected to meet with His Holiness Pope Francis on his visit to America next Tuesday.

In preparation for the Pope’s visit,  White House officials said in a phone call to reporters that they are looking to ensure that his visit “has lasting value” and will serve to elevate the aspirations of the Obama administration.



“This is a very unique visit.  It’s quite different from any other type of visit that we would receive from a leader of a foreign government in the sense that the Pope is the leader of an incredibly important institution that is deeply valued by many, many Americans, and he’s also a prominent, if not preeminent, moral and spiritual leader around the world on a whole host of issues,” said  Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications Ben Rhodes. “So we see this as an opportunity to continue our engagement with Pope Francis and the Vatican, but also to receive the visit of a leader who is incredibly important to many Americans and many people around the world.”

The president is also expecting to renew his talks that he started last March in Italy , said Senior Director for European Affairs and National Security Council Charlie Kupchan.

On Tuesday, the Pope will arrive at  Andrews Airforce Base and will be greeted by the president, selected officials from the administration and local residents in Washington, D.C.

On Wednesday, President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama will have an arrival ceremony for the Pope on the South Lawn of the White House.


Also on the pope itinerary is the Sept.  23 Mass for 25,000 people on the east portico of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception overlooking the University Mall at The Catholic University of America. During the Mass, the Pope Francis will canonize Blessed Junipero Serra, the 18th century Franciscan missionary who founded missions and evangelized in California.


This will be the first canonization on U.S. soil.

Pope Francis will end his visit in America with a ceremony in Philadelphia. The ceremony will be hosted by Vice President Joe Biden and Dr. Jill Biden.


The Pope has been a leading voice for peace and for dialogue between people of different faiths and nations.  He is  scheduled to speak at the United Nations next week.

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White House Celebrates Huskies NCAA Win

By Ann-Marie Adams I Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama on Tuesday honored the University of Connecticut women’s basketball team at the White House.

This was the Huskies’ third celebratory gathering at the White House during Obama’s tenure and the team’s 10th National Championship under Coach Geno Auriemma.

The Huskies won their 10th title after defeating Notre Dame in the April  championship game in Tampa.

Auriemma said it was a “special feeling”to be at the White House again.

“This is an incredible honor and it doesn’t matter how many times you are here,” Auriemma said. “When you walk into that door [at the White House] it’s still a special feeling.

President Obama recognized senior Breanna Stewart, the two-time national player of the year.

“[Stewart] has game,” Obama said. “She reminded how hard the team works to be the best by saying ‘We make it look easier than it is, but it comes with a lot of hard work … You don’t just step onto the court and get the trophy.”

Obama also praised the team for academic accomplishment and civic volunteerism, saying that these women do Thanksgiving and winter food drives.

They also spend their afternoons with senior citizens, Obama said.

Sport fans say UConn women are favored to win the title in 2016, which will be Obama’s final year in office.

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Connecticut to Send Fire Crew to Montana

HARTFORD — The Connecticut Department of Energy & Environmental Protection will send a 20-person fire crew to Montana to help the U.S. Forest Service fight wildfires on Thursday.

The crew is a part of more than 30,000 trained firefighters from across the nation that has responded to burning forests in the western states and Alaska, where President Barack Obama is now on his second day of a trip to highlight climate change.

This is the second crew the department sent to help with wildfires since Aug.4. The state is a part of the reciprocal aid program under the U.S. Forest Service. The crew consists of seven staff members and 13 local firefighters. They will leave from the Manchester-Boston Regional Airport in New Hampshire.

About 8 million acres of  forest were affected by brush fire, officials said. The brush fire rapidly exploded in Clarkston on Friday at about 11 a.m. By 4 p.m. the fire burned about 700 acres of forest.

American forests play a crucial role in mitigating climate change. Obama had pledged to take new approaches to climate change. The trip was to push his agenda to address carbon pollution by reducing carbon emissions by 12 percent.


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President Obama Visits Kenya, Says Africa is On the Move

By Ann-Marie Adams, Staff Writer

President Barack Obama on Friday made his first official trip to his father’s homeland: Kenya.

Despite a security breach and other concerns, Obama reunited with his 96-year-old grandmother Sarah Obama and his sister Auma Obama in Nairobi. This is the first public–and long sought after–visit with his African relatives since his ascendancy to the White House.

“It was a wonderful time,” Obama said  after spending time with his relatives this weekend. He said he will have “more freedom to reconnect” when he’s no longer president.


His homecoming in Nairobi, Kenya also included the Global Entrepreneurship Summit in Nairobi. His three-day visit to Kenya will address business and investment and the region’s security threats.

At the summit, he urged equal rights for gays and lesbians in Africa and more opportunities for women and girls.

“When a government gets in the habit of treating people differently, those habits can spread,” Obama said during a joint news conference Saturday with Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta.

However, his host Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta disagreed and said gay rights was a “non-issue.”

Gay rights are “not really an issue on the foremost mind of Kenyans. And that is a fact,” he said.

To aid Kenya’s economic trajectory, Obama announced more than $1 billion new commitments from the U.S. government, as well as American banks, foundations and philanthropists. Half of the money, White House officials said, will go to support women and young people, who Obama says face bigger obstacles when trying to start businesses in a growing economy. Africa, Obama said, is one of the fastest growing regions in the world.

He also visited Memorial Park Saturday for a wreath laying ceremony in honor of the victims of the deadly 1998 bombing at the U.S. Embassy.

While in Kenya, Obama is also scheduled to meet civil society groups to discuss human rights and civil liberties.

Obama first visited Kenya three decades ago and then in 2006 as a senator in Chicago.

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Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari Meets With President Obama

Updated Friday, July 31, 2015 at 6:28 p.m.

By Ann-Marie Adams, Staff Writer
WASHINGTON — In an effort to shore up U.S. relations with Nigeria and to help fight Islamic extremists, President Barack Obama met with Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari on Monday at the White House.

Buhari’s visit to the U.S. comes within several weeks of taking office after the ouster of former Nigerian President Johnathan Goodluck. It was a contentious and historic election after he promised to to expel Boko Haram and root out endemic corruption in the Nigerian government. It was the first time a peaceful transfer of power occurred after the end of military rule in 1999.

Buhari’s visit on Monday is “a sign of the importance the U.S. places on relations with Nigeria,” White House officials said. Besides being a “Power Africa” focus country, Nigeria has a strong Nigeria diaspora community in the United States.



Many Nigerian-Americans were pleased with the White House’s invite to Buhari, who will hold the United Nations’ Security Council’s presidency in August.


“President Obama made the right decision in inviting President Muhammadu Buhari to the White House,” said Sabella Abidde, a Political Science Professor at the University of Alabama. ” It gave both leaders the chance to get to know one another and, in the process, exhanged “wish list.” It was also an affirmation of Nigerian’s nascent democracy.”


Others agreed, expressing hope for less corruption in Nigeria.
“President Buhari ushers in hope for Nigerians worldwide. We are tired of years of corruption and inept leadership. Nigeria needs a no-nonsense honest leader. We hope Pres. Buhari can start us on that path,” said Johnathan Adewumi, a Brooklyn, NY businessman.
Obama invited Buhari immediately after the 72-year-old former dictator was declared the winner of the March election. Buhari praised Obama for demanding that the Nigerian election be transparent and fair.

“Nigeria is obviously one of the most important countries in the world and one of the most important countries in the African continent. Recently we saw an election in which a peaceful transition to a new government took place and it was an affirmation of Nigeria’s commitment to democracy, a recognition that although Nigeria is a big country and a diverse country with many different parts the people of Nigeria understand that only through a peaceful political process can change take place,” said President Obama who was flanked by Vice President Joe Biden, National security advisor Susan Rice, Secretary of State John Kerry and other White House officials.

U.S. relations with Nigeria soured because of government corruption and the human trafficking of more than 200 schoolgirls, who were kidnapped by “an increasingly lethal” Boko Haram in April 2014. The abduction of these girls, most of whom were Christian and from the town of Chibok, led to international condemnation and a campaign to “Bring Back Our Girls.”

Boko Haram’s human trafficking and deadly rampages have killed thousands in Nigeria since its formation in 2009. Last Friday, at least 15 people were killed in suicide bombings at open air praying grounds on one of Muslims calendar.

Last week, Buhari fired the entire top echelon of the military, which he has accused of corruption that prevents what once was Africa’s mightiest armed force from curbing the Islamist insurgency based in Nigeria’s northeast. The insurgency has killed more than 13,000 people and driven another 1.5 million from their homes, according to reports.



Dressed in a traditional West African-style caftan of a black long gown and a matching pants and prayer hat, Buhari reaffirmed his allegiance to democracy and promised to address U.S. concerns.

Buhari noted the “positive trends” of elections in Nigeria and credited the “pressure from the United States and Europe to make sure elections were free and credible led us to where we are now.”

He said he was “extremely happy” about the progress and “very grateful” for the invitation from Obama to the White House.

Nigeria boasts Africa’s largest economy and hosts the fourth largest oil reserves. However, Nigeria’s economy has suffered under the decline of oil prices, government corruption and security issues.

Additionally, Nigeria plays a critical role in the region in terms of being an economic power, but also a historical contributor to peacekeeping and playing a very important role globally,” said Grant Harris, the senior director for African affairs at the National Security Council.

“This feels to us like Nigeria is at an important moment in which there can be real reforms across the board,” said Harris, in a conference call to reporters last week. “We’re looking forward to what we can do with a president who has staked out an agenda that we think is the right agenda at the right time.”

Grant said that the U.S. has been providing important security assistance to help professionalize the Nigerian military and to help their approach to Boko Haram.

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President Obama to Visit Federal Prison

By Ann-Marie Adams, Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — As a part of his overall strategy to reform the “broken criminal justice system,” President Barack Obama is expected to visit a federal prison next week.

White House officials announced the visit on Friday, saying Obama will visit El Reno Federal Correctional Institution in El Reno, Oklahoma this coming Thursday.

There, he is expected to meet with inmates and law enforcement officials, said White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest.

At the prison, Obama will also conduct an interview with VICE that will be a part of a documentary airing this fall on HBO focusing on America’s “broken criminal justice system,”

 El Reno is a medium security federal correctional institution.

The visit to El Reno will be a part of a two-day trip to Oklahoma.

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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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