Obama adviser behind leak of Hillary Clinton’s email scandal

It’s the vast left-wing conspiracy.

Obama senior adviser Valerie Jarrett leaked to the press details of Hillary Clinton’s use of a private e-mail address during her time as secretary of state, sources tell me.

But she did so through people outside the ­administration, so the story couldn’t be traced to her or the White House.

In addition, at Jarrett’s behest, the State Department was ordered to launch a series of investigations into Hillary’s conduct at Foggy Bottom, including the use of her expense account, the disbursement of funds, her contact with foreign leaders and her possible collusion with the Clinton Foundation.

Six separate probes into Hillary’s performance have been ­going on at the State Department. I’m told that the e-mail scandal was timed to come out just as Hillary was on the verge of formally announcing that she was running for president — and that there’s more to come.

Members of Bill Clinton’s camp say the former president suspects the White House is the source of the leak and is furious.

OBAMA AND VALERIE JARRETT WILL GO TO ANY LENGTHS TO PREVENT HILLARY FROM BECOMING PRESIDENT.

 – Source

“My contacts and friends in newspapers and TV tell me that they’ve been contacted by the White House and offered all kinds of negative stories about us,” one of Bill’s friends quotes him as saying. “The Obamas are behind the e-mail story, and they’re spreading rumors that I’ve been with women, that Hillary promoted people at the State Department who’d done favors for our foundation, that John Kerry had to clean up diplomatic messes Hillary left behind.”

Then, according to this source, Bill added: “The Obamas are out to get us any way they can.”

The sabotage is part of an ­ongoing feud between the two Democrat powerhouses.

Last fall, during the run-up to the 2014 midterm elections, Jarrett was heard to complain bitterly that the Clintons were turning congressmen, senators, governors and grass-root party members against Obama by portraying him as an unpopular president who was an albatross around the neck of the party.

Jarrett was said to be livid that most Democrats running for election refused to be seen campaigning with the president. She blamed the Clintons for marginalizing the president and for trying to wrestle control of the Democratic Party away from Obama.

And she vowed payback.

My sources say Jarrett saw an opportunity to hit back hard when Monica Lewinsky suddenly resurfaced after years of living in obscurity. Jarrett discreetly put out word to some friendly members of the press that the White House would look with favor if they gave Monica some ink and airtime.

Relations have gotten even frostier in the past few months.

After the Democrats took a shellacking in the midterms, the White House scheduled a meeting with Hillary Clinton. When she showed up in the Oval Office, she was greeted by three people — the president, Jarrett and Michelle Obama.

With his wife and Jarrett looking on, Obama made it clear that he intended to stay neutral in the presidential primary process — a clear signal that he wouldn’t mind if someone challenged Hillary for the nomination.

“Obama and Valerie Jarrett will go to any lengths to prevent Hillary from becoming president,” a source close to the White House told me. “They believe that Hillary, like her husband, is left of center, not a true-blue liberal.”

If she gets into the White House, they believe she will compromise with the Republicans in Congress and undo Obama’s legacy.

“With Obama’s approval,” this source continued, “Valerie has been holding secret meetings with Martin O’Malley [the former Democratic governor of Maryland] and [Massachusetts Sen.] Elizabeth Warren. She’s promised O’Malley and Warren the full support of the White House if they will challenge Hillary for the presidential nomination.”

@barackObama GOP senators clash over Iran letter

Barack Obama criticized efforts by Republican lawmakers to undermine negotiations on Iranian nuclear deal, accusing them of making “common cause with the hardliners in Iran”. Video provided by AFP Newslook

President Obama denounced a group of Republican senators Monday for warning Iran that any nuclear deal could be a temporary one, calling it an attempt to undermine the administration’s foreign policy.

“It’s somewhat ironic to see some members of Congress wanting to make common cause with the hardliners in Iran,” Obama said of an open letter from Republicans who have questioned the prospect of a nuclear agreement. “It’s an unusual coalition.”

In the letter to Iran’s leaders, 47 Senate Republicans said that any deal is only an “executive agreement” that may not last beyond Obama’s presidency, which ends on Jan. 20, 2017.

“The next president could revoke such an executive agreement with the stroke of a pen and future Congresses could modify the terms of the agreement at any time,” said the letter pushed primarily by Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark.

As the United States and allies talk to Iran about a deal to block any nuclear weapons program in exchange for a reduction of sanctions, White House spokesman Josh Earnest described the Republican letter as “the continuation of a partisan strategy to undermine the president’s ability to conduct foreign policy.”

The letter is essentially designed to “throw sand in the gears” of ongoing talks, Earnest said, and is not a “role that our Founding Fathers envisioned for Congress to play when it comes to foreign policy.”

Obama, speaking after a meeting with European Council President Donald Tusk, noted there is not yet an agreement with Iran. If there is, the president said, “then we’ll be able to make the case to the American people, and I’m confident we’ll be able to implement it.”

Iran’s foreign minister, Javad Zarif, dismissed the letter as “mostly a propaganda ploy” by critics of his country.

“It is very interesting that while negotiations are still in progress — and while no agreement has been reached — some political pressure groups are so afraid even of the prospect of an agreement that they resort to unconventional methods, unprecedented in diplomatic history,” he said in a statement.

In recent weeks, the Obama administration criticized the House Republican leadership for inviting Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address a joint session of Congress about Iran.

As congressional Republicans and others applauded, Netanyahu questioned whether an agreement would deter Iran from seeking the means to make nuclear weapons.

Iran says that it is not trying to secure a nuclear weapon and that its program is designed for peaceful energy purposes.

The United States, allies and Iran are looking to establish at least the framework of an agreement by the end of the month.

Some members of Congress have objected to the prospect that Obama might not submit an Iran agreement for congressional approval. They have also discussed the possibility of increasing sanctions on Iran, though Obama administration officials have said that move would hurt negotiations.

In their open letter to Iran, the Senate Republicans told that nation’s leaders they “may not fully understand our constitutional system. … Anything not approved by Congress is a mere executive agreement.”

Criticizing that letter, Earnest noted that many signers simply oppose any nuclear agreement with Iran. The White House spokesman said that forgoing a deal risks a “military option” when it comes to the disputed Iranian nuclear deal. He said any agreement would include “intrusive inspection measures” to make sure Iran is not seeking a weapon.

“The rush to war or at least the rush to the military option that many Republicans are advocating is not at all in the best interest of the United States,” Earnest said.

Obama himself said he will sign an agreement only if it prevents Iran from getting a nuclear weapons.

“I would say that over the next month or so we’re going to be able to determine whether or not their system is able to accept what would be an extraordinarily reasonable deal,” Obama told CBS News over the weekend.

He added: “If we are able to verify that in fact they are not developing weapons systems, then there’s a deal to be had. But that’s going to require them to accept the kind of verification and constraints on their program that so far, at least, they have not been willing to say yes to.”

@barackobama offers condolences over Islamic State hostage

The Islamic State has reportedly released a new video claiming that one of two Japanese hostages has been beheaded. While the Japanese government works to confirm its authenticity, at least one militant claims the message is fake. VPC

President Obama offered condolences to the Japanese prime minister Sunday after an online video purportedly showed that a Japanese hostage was murdered by the Islamic State group.

The president offered his sympathy and support in a phone call to Shinzo Abe from India, where he arrived for a three-day visit Sunday, the White House said.

A video released by the extremist group — also known as ISIL or ISIS — on Saturday shows Japanese freelance journalist Kenji Goto holding a photo that apparently shows the dead body of the second hostage, Haruna Yukawa.

Abe said Sunday he was “speechless” and demanded Goto’s release. He told Japanese broadcaster NHK that the video was likely authentic, though he said the government is still reviewing it. Abe offered condolences to Yukawa’s family and friends.

“I am left speechless,” he said, stressing he wants Goto released unharmed. “We strongly and totally criticize such acts.”

He said the government was still working on the situation, and reiterated that Japan condemns terrorism.

Yukawa’s father, Shoichi, said he hoped “deep in his heart” that the news of his son’s killing was not true. “If I am ever reunited with him, I just want to give him a big hug,” he told a small group of journalists invited into his house.

A statement issued by Obama on Saturday said: “The United States strongly condemns the brutal murder of Japanese citizen Haruna Yukawa by the terrorist group ISIL. Our condolences today are with the people of Japan for their terrible loss.” The statement, which calls for the release of Goto and other remaining hostages, did not say how the U.S. knew Yukawa was dead.

Obama says in the statement that the United States will stand “shoulder to shoulder” with Japan. The White House says he also conveyed that message to Abe during their conversation.

French President Francois Hollande said he “strongly condemned the barbaric murder” of Yukawa and praised Japan’s “determined engagement in the fight against international terrorism.”

Some people criticized Abe’s drive for a more assertive Japan as responsible for the hostage crisis.The criticism touched on his push for an expanded role for Japan’s troops — one that has remained strictly confined to self-defense under the pacifist constitution written after the nation’s defeat in World War II.

About 100 protesters, some of them holding placards that read, “I’m Kenji” and “Free Goto,” demonstrated late Sunday in front of the prime minister’s residence, demanding that Abe save Goto.

Demonstrator Kenji Kunitomi, 66, blamed Abe as bringing the hostage crisis on himself.

“This happened when Prime Minister Abe was visiting Israel,” he said. “I think there’s a side to this, where they may have taken it as a form of provocation, possibly a big one.”

While in the Middle East, Abe announced $200 million in humanitarian aid to the nations fighting the militants. The Islamic State group addressed Abe and demanded the same amount of money as ransom for the two hostages.

Jun Hori, an independent journalist, bemoaned Abe’s directly mentioning the Islamic State in announcing the aid.

Goto’s mother, Junko Ishido, was skeptical about the voice on the video claiming to be her son’s.

“I’m petrified,” Ishido told NHK. “He has children. I’m praying he will return soon, and that’s all I want.”

Japanese government spokesman Yoshihide Suga said the audio was still being studied, but there was no reason to deny the authenticity of the video.

SITE Intelligence Group, a U.S.-based organization that monitors extremist websites, said the video, which could not be independently verified, had been distributed across several ISIL-linked Twitter accounts. SITE has reported on several Islamic State videos in the past that proved authentic. Kyodo News agency reported the same video had been e-mailed to the wife of one of the hostages

“I am Kenji Goto Jogo,” the journalist is heard to say in the video, which was directed at his family. “You have seen the photo of my cellmate, Haruna, slaughtered in the land of the Islamic Caliphate. You were warned. You were given a deadline, and so my captives acted upon their words.”

ISIL demanded a $200 million ransom for the release of the two men. The 72-hour deadline passed on Friday. Abe refused to pay a ransom.

In the video Saturday, Goto said ISIL had changed its ransom demand and no longer wanted money.

“Their demand is easier. They are being fair. They no longer want money. So you don’t need to worry about funding terrorists. They are just demanding the release of their imprisoned sister Sajida al-Rishawi,” he said.

Sajida al-Rishawi is a female suicide bomber dispatched by al-Qaeda in Iraq to attack a hotel in Jordan in 2005, SITE reported. She survived when her explosive belt failed to detonate. Al-Rishawi was arrested by Jordanian authorities at the time of the attack on the Radisson SAS hotel in Amman that killed 57 people, many of whom were at a wedding reception.

She was later shown on Jordanian TV confessing to participating in the attack, the BBC reported. Jordanian police said she was the wife of one of three Iraqi male suicide bombers involved in the assault.

Goto was abducted after entering Syria to search for Yukawa, the 42-year-old founder of a private security firm who was taken captive in August, according to reports on Japanese television.

In an earlier video released on Tuesday, both men were shown wearing orange clothing and kneeling in the desert on either side of a masked militant holding a knife.

Japanese media, citing unnamed officials, reported last week that Goto’s wife had received an e-mail in December demanding a ransom of about $17 million.

ISIL has carried out previous threats, posting videos showing the beheading of American hostages James Foley and Steven Sotloff and British hostages David Haines and Alan Herring. Both the U.S. and Britain reject paying ransoms to free hostages.

#Obama to shorten India trip to visit Saudi Arabia

President Barack Obama will cut short his three-day trip to India to travel to Saudi Arabia to pay respects following the death of King Abdullah, U.S. and Indian officials said Saturday, hours before the U.S. president was to depart for New Delhi.

The schedule change means Obama will skip plans to visit the Taj Mahal, the white marble monument of love. Pradeep Bhatnagar, a top state official based in the city of Agra, where the Taj Mahal is located, said U.S. security officials informed him of the cancellation Saturday.

However, the more substantive portions of Obama’s trip to India appeared unlikely to be impacted by his decision to travel to Saudi Arabia. The president was due to arrive in India Sunday for meetings with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, then attend Monday’s annual Republic Day festivities, which mark the day in 1950 that India’s constitution came into force.

White Housespokesman Josh Earnest said the president and first lady Michelle Obama would travel to Riyadh on Tuesday and meet with new Saudi King Salman bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud. Vice President Joe Bidenwas originally to lead a U.S. delegation to the kingdom, but Earnest said the White House changed plans after determining that Biden’s trip coincided with Obama’s departure from India. Biden will not join the president in Saudi Arabia and will instead remain in Washington.

Obama’s visit to India comes as relations between the world’s two largest democracies are strengthening after recent tensions. Obama and Modi developed a good rapport during the prime minister’s visit in Washington last fall. Modi sought to return the favor by inviting Obama to travel to India as his guest for Republic Day, a visit that caught some in the U.S. off guard.

“It took us by some surprise,” said Ben Rhodes, Obama’s deputy national security adviser. “There’s a great affinity between the United States and India and our people, but there’s also a history that is complicated and that would have made it seem highly unlikely that a U.S. president would be sitting with India’s leaders at their Republic Day ceremony.”

After some internal deliberations, the White House accepted Modi’s offer. In addition to the Republic Day events, Obama was to hold a fresh round of bilateral meetings with Modi and an economic summit with U.S. and Indian business leaders.

Obama will be the first U.S. president to visit India twice while in office; he also traveled there in 2010 for an economic summit.

The president’s visit is expected to be heavy on symbolism and lighter on substantive advances, though climate change, economics and defense ties are all on the agenda. Indian political commentator Ashok Malik said expectations for concrete deliverables during the visit are “below the standards usually set by U.S. presidents when they travel across the world for a three-day visit.”

Still, U.S. and Indian officials appear to agree that even a symbolic show of solidarity between the leaders would be a sign of progress after recent difficulties.

While military cooperation and U.S. defense sales have grown, Washington has been frustrated by India’s failure to open up to more foreign investment and to address complaints alleging intellectual property violations. India’s liability legislation has also prevented U.S. companies from capitalizing on a landmark civil nuclear agreement between the two countries in 2008.

Relations hit a new low in 2013 when India’s deputy consul general, Devyani Khobragade, was arrested and strip-searched in New York over allegations that she lied on visa forms to bring her maid to the U.S. while paying the woman a pittance. The official’s treatment caused outrage in New Delhi, and India retaliated against U.S. diplomats.

For Modi, hosting Obama at the Republic Day parade caps off a year of high-profile diplomatic maneuvers by a leader who was once shunned by the international community. He was denied a U.S. visa in 2005, three years after religious riots killed more than 1,000 Muslims in the Indian state where he was the top elected official.

The visit ties in neatly with Modi’s election promise that he would turn around Asia’s third-largest economy. And it could send a message to Pakistan and China — India’s closest neighbors and rivals — that Modi has a powerful ally in the United States.

“Modi has used the invitation as a way of signaling that the United States really looms large in his calculations for where he want to take India,” said Ashley Tellis, a senior associate at the Washington-based Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

U.S. officials say they hope the improving relationship between Obama and Modi will have payoffs in the policy arena. The White House plans to push India on climate change, particularly after reaching a sweeping agreement with China on limiting carbon emissions. The president will also be accompanied on his trip by several U.S. business leaders in hopes of forging new partnerships with India.

The centerpiece of Obama’s visit will be Monday’s celebrations, which are partly a Soviet-style display of India’s military hardware and partly a Macy’s Thanksgiving Day-type parade with floats from across the country highlighting India’s cultural diversity.

The parade, once a huge attraction, has lost much of its sheen for India’s elite over the past decade. But it continues to draw tens of thousands of visitors eager to view the spectacle at least once in their lifetimes.

In State of the Union Address, Obama to Move Past Hardship and Reset Goals

President Obama worked with children on Monday as they made murals for Martin Luther King’s Birthday in Washington.

WASHINGTON — With the American job market surging to life, President Obama plans to use his State of the Union address on Tuesday night to effectively declare victory over the economic hard times that dominated his first six years in office and advocate using the nation’s healthier finances to tackle long-deferred issues like education and income inequality.

In presenting a series of initiatives aimed at the middle class, Mr. Obama hopes to pivot finally from the politics of adversity and austerity that have frustrated him for much of his tenure. But coming off a midterm election defeat that handed full control of Congress to Republicans, the president faces long odds in actually enacting his agenda and in essence is trying to frame the debate for his remaining time in power and for the emerging 2016 contest to succeed him.

For a president entering the seventh year of his presidency, the State of the Union can be a final chance to move past difficulties and set the agenda before the next campaign swings into high gear and consumes the nation’s attention. Ronald Reagan used his to try to move past the Iran-contra scandal. Bill Clinton used his to try to move past his impeachment on charges of lying under oath about an affair with an intern. And George W. Bush used his to try to move past a disastrous year in Iraq and a midterm election “thumping.” “The improving economy is the backdrop for the speech and context for the economic debate over the next two years,” Dan Pfeiffer, Mr. Obama’s senior adviser, said Monday. “We have proof that President Obama’s strategy is working, and the Republicans now have a Chicken Little problem — all the doom and gloom they predicted did not come to pass.”

Republicans cast Mr. Obama’s slow-motion rollout of his State of the Union agenda in recent weeks as the desperate flailing of a lame-duck president who has not come to grips with the electorate’s decision in November or the fact that the opposition now controls the Senate as well as the House. In defying reality, they said, he simply wants to return to the tax-and-spending ways of the past.

“I see this as the president returning to the theme of class warfare,” said Representative Adam Kinzinger, Republican of Illinois. “It may have been effective in 2012, but I don’t find it to be effective anymore. I think, frankly, he’s out of ideas if he is unwilling to work with Republicans, and I think he is unwilling to work with Republicans.”

Mr. Obama has used the period since his party’s election defeat to reassert himself through a climate agreement with China, executive action to liberalize immigration rules and a diplomatic rapprochement with Cuba. His long-sagging approval ratings in polls have gone up, reaching 50 percent in a new Washington Post-ABC News survey, a nine-point jump since December, although other polls have not measured quite as big an increase.

Either way, that may owe as much to a reviving economy as anything else. Unemployment has fallen to 5.6 percent, gasoline prices are down, stock markets are up and the economy grew by 5 percent in the third quarter of last year, its fastest rate in more than a decade. For years, Mr. Obama has been cautious in welcoming positive economic news by noting that more work needed to be done to recover from the financial crash of 2008. But lately, he has been pushing the nation’s economic prospects more robustly and without as many caveats, saying it is time to move to a new stage.

“Over the last six years, we have been weighed down by the legacy of the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression,” Mr. Obama said in a video posted on the White House website, previewing his State of the Union address. “And because of the incredible grit and resilience of the American people, America is now in a position to really turn the page.”

He added: “Now that we have fought our way through the crisis, how do we make sure that everybody in this country, how do we make sure that they’re sharing in this growing economy? How do we make sure that they have the tools to succeed?”

On Tuesday night, Mr. Obama will present the nation a series of proposals previewed in recent weeks that would make community college free for many students, expand paid family leave for new parents and raise taxes on the wealthy in order to cut them for middle-income families and pay for some of his initiatives.

Jared Bernstein, a former economics adviser to Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., said the politics of economic disparity are shifting, noting that Republicans like Mitt Romney and former Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida have been talking about the issue. “At some level, he’s saying, ‘O.K., welcome to the inequality debate,’ ” Mr. Bernstein said of the president. “ ‘What you got?’ ”

But Douglas Holtz-Eakin, a former Congressional Budget Office director who has advised Republican leaders, said Mr. Obama may not be able to convince the country that he has made enough progress fixing the economy. “It will be an uphill battle, as his policy record on growth is not strong, the recovery is still unsatisfying and the inequality message is not popular, which is why he abandoned it so quickly after declaring it the issue of our time,” he said.

Stuart Stevens, an adviser to Mr. Romney during his 2012 presidential campaign, said Mr. Obama has no popular mandate for his latest initiatives. “We just had an election in which the president said his policies were on the ballot,” he said. “Hard to see what is different today than 60 days ago.”

In laying out his agenda, Mr. Obama has pointedly made little effort to embrace that of the new Republican majorities in Congress. While they want to approve the long-stalled Keystone XL pipeline, cut costly regulations and adjust the health care law to spare more businesses with part-time workers, Mr. Obama has vowed vetoes.

The president’s “proposals are so out of touch you have to ask if there is any point to the speech,” Reince Priebus, the Republican National Committee chairman, said in a Twitter message.

Representative Jason Chaffetz, Republican of Utah, said on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday that the president’s tax plan was “a nonstarter” that would not help businesses grow. “More government, a $300-plus billion tax bill from Barack Obama, is not the formula for this country to succeed,” he said.

State of the Union: 7 things to watch

Take a look back at President Obama’s last five State of the Union speeches to see the similarities and differences. VPC

WASHINGTON — President Obama delivers his State of the Union address Tuesday to the first Republican-controlled Congress of his presidency. While the administration and GOP leaders have said they want to find common ground and ways to compromise, Obama is likely to offer an array of policy proposals that are unlikely to advance in Congress in the final two years of his administration.

White House spokesman Dan Pfeiffer told NBC’s Meet the Press that the theme of the speech is “middle-class economics” and the president will focus heavily on ways to improve wage stagnation and economic mobility. Already, Republicans are pushing back against Obama’s latest tax proposal to raise taxes on the wealthiest of Americans.

Republicans are also deeply skeptical of Obama’s willingness to work with Congress following his “pen and phone” comments at 2014’s State of the Union that he would seek to advance his agenda without the assistance of the legislative branch.

“I’ve heard so many proposals, some of which sound good, some that don’t, and every time after the State of the Union — and I try to be this ever-optimist -— but every time after the State of the Union, he goes and retreats and doesn’t reach out to Congress,” Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., said on ABC’s This Week.

“You can’t get your proposals done unless you’re willing to have a relationship with an important branch (of government),” he added.

Here’s a preview of what to expect from Obama’s Tuesday address:

Tax increases: The centerpiece of his economic proposals is a $320 billion plan to raise taxes on the wealthiest of Americans by raising the capital gains tax rate on couples making more than $500,000 to 28% from its current 23.8% rate. The plan would also close tax loopholes and levy new fees on the top financial firms. The plan would also expand child care and education tax breaks for middle-income earners.

• Cybersecurity: A number of high-profile cyberattacks on Sony and the U.S. Central Command’s Twitter account have reinvigorated the need to strengthen both public and private cyberdefenses. Obama is likely to call for new legislation that would make it easier for the government and businesses to share information about potential cyberthreats. It’s a rare area where he could find GOP allies: Both Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, have voiced support for the proposal.

• Internet access: Obama wants to expand broadband access in cities across the nation by instituting new loans to assist rural communities and eliminating existing legal barriers.

• Education: The president is likely to reiterate his recent call to make two years of community college free. The proposal would save an average student $3,800 per yearand could benefit as many as 9 million students.

• Paid family leave: A recent $2 billion proposal would encourage states to create new, paid family and medical leave programs. The president also will push for making it easier for workers to earn sick leave and a new federal law that would give federal workers an additional six weeks of paid parental leave.

• Trade: Two stalled trade pacts with Asia and Europe could get a renewed boost if Congress can renew Trade Promotion Authority to give the president fast-track negotiating authority. GOP leaders have said trade is perhaps one of the best areas for bipartisan agreement in this Congress.

• War on terror: Obama is likely to renew his call for Congress to update the authorization for use of military force to address the new threat raised by the Islamic State.

In his weekly radio address, Obama previewed a State of the Union address that will be bullish on America’s gains during his tenure. “2014 was the fastest year for job growth since the 1990s. Unemployment fell faster than any year since 1984. Our combat mission in Afghanistan has come to a responsible end, and more of our heroes are coming home. America’s resurgence is real,” he said.

@BarackObama to unveil tax package at State of the Union

 

WASHINGTON — President Obama plans to use his State of the Union speech to target tax loopholes that benefit the wealthy, while offering new tax breaks for middle-class items like child care, White House officials said Saturday.

In the prime-time address Tuesday, the president plans to call for ending certain loopholes on trust funds, increasing the top tax rates on dividends and capital gains, and imposing new fees on big financial firms that borrow heavily.

Obama also plans to propose new tax breaks for families that have a second working member, child care and the costs of college education, according to a White House proposal.

He will propose a requirement for businesses that do not have a retirement plan to automatically enroll employees into individual retirement accounts.

The package is designed “to simplify our complex tax code, make it fairer by eliminating some of the biggest loopholes, and use the savings to responsibly pay for the investments we need to help middle-class families get ahead and grow the economy,” says a White House statement.

In unveiling a plan to be discussed at the State of the Union, the Obama administration said that closing loopholes for the wealthy would generate revenue of $320 billion over 10 years; the new tax breaks that Obama plans to propose would cost $235 billion over 10 years.

The $235 billion includes both the new tax breaks and the president’s proposal to make community college free for responsible students, which he laid out last week.

Republicans who control both the U.S. House and Senate have objected to what they call tax hikes and excessive business regulations proposed by the Obama administration, saying they would slow business activity.

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said this week that Obama has practiced “the old politics of pitting, you know, one set of Americans against the other, on the outdated ways of bureaucratic control, all top-down Washington solutions.”

Republican leaders have also said they would work with Obama on simplifying the tax code, one of the goals of the president’s package.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has said that one goal of tax reform should be reducing the corporate tax reform, helping U.S. businesses become more competitive globally. McConnell said this week that the problem with past Obama plans is that “you leave out most of American business.”

An administration statement said that “hundreds of billions of dollars” in inherited assets that are part of trust funds escape taxation every year, and called for the elimination of this “trust fund loophole.”

Another proposal is to increase the top rates on long-term capital gains and dividends from 23.8% to 28% on the highest income households, the level they were at during the Reagan administration.

The proposed fee on financial firms would discourage them from over-borrowing, one of the things that led to the financial meltdown, the White House said. It said the fee could be applied to some 100 firms that have assets of more than $50 billion.

Some of the revenue from these loophole closings would be used for tax breaks designed to “reinvest in the middle class,” said the White House statement.

They include a proposed $500 “second earner” tax credit for families in which both spouses work.

Another State of the Union plank would triple the maximum child care tax credit, providing up to $3,000 per child under the age of 5.

The White House said Obama wants to consolidate six college aid programs into two, helping provide students up to $2,500 in assistance.

A proposed requirement that workers be enrolled in some kind of retirement savings plan would apply to employers who have more than 10 employees.

Obama and aides have spent the past two weeks promoting other items he plans to discuss Tuesday, including proposals on housing, manufacturing, community college, cybersecurity and paid leave.

In his Saturday radio address, Obama previewed some of the people who will sit in the presidential box during the speech.

They include a woman who expanded her business through a federal loan, a wounded warrior who fought in Afghanistan and a man who is repaying his student loans and obtained health insurance through federal programs.

Obama told the radio audience that his State of the Union Address will emphasize economic recovery and “how to build on our momentum” through rising incomes and a stronger middle class.

“And I’ll call on this new Congress to join me in putting aside the political games and finding areas where we agree so we can deliver for the American people,” Obama said.

The White House has announced Obama’s travel in the days after Tuesday’s speech. The president will speak Wednesday at Boise State University in Idaho, and Thursday at the University of Kansas in Lawrence.

 

All Alone: Maduro’s Witch-Hunt Diplomacy

Hard-Liner Rodríguez’s Appointment Signals More Bullish Rhetoric

Nicolás Maduro

Since taking office in 2013, Nicolás Maduro’s foreign policy has been characterized by confrontation and radical measures, surpassing even his predecessor, Hugo Chávez.

For Maduro, there’s always an enemy to attack, and his posturing reached new levels in 2014. In February, his administration cheerfully — and without evidence — labelled peaceful student protests a “coup orchestrated by the opposition with foreign backing.” He then proceeded to ignore calls from world leaders, governments, and international organizations, such as the United Nations (UN) and the Organization of American States (OAS), to seriously investigate the 40 dead, thousands jailed, and hundreds of Venezuelans tortured by law enforcement.

During the first three months of 2014 alone, Maduro blamed former Colombian President Álvaro Uribe for Venezuela’s own problems; expelled three US embassy employees for allegedly meddling in the country’s internal affairs; broke diplomatic and commercial relations with Panama; and accused Ricardo Martinelli’s “lackey” administration of promoting an invasion of Venezuela through the OAS. Problems with other countries like Spain followed, and go on to this day.

Maduro, of course, saved his most venomous political attacks for the United States, Venezuela’s largest consumer of its oil. The aggression towards the United States continued even despite the announcements in December from Barack Obama and Raúl Castro of thenormalization of relations between the United States and Cuba.

Immediately following this historic event, Maduro toned down his anti-imperialist hyperbole, but it didn’t last long. When the US Congress and President Obama signed a targeted sanctions law against Chavista functionaries responsible for human-rights violations, the confrontation reached new heights.

A reduction in financial largesse and diplomatic outreach also marked Venezuela’s 2014 international performance. Dwindling income resulting from the cheapest oil prices in decades put the country’s own budget at risk, and the Maduro administration was forced to cut back on international trips and its once generous aid to other nations.

Nevertheless, the Venezuelan president kept right on spending money during the few visits he did take abroad. In September, Maduro took 175 people — relatives, journalists, ministers, military members, bodyguards, and state officials — to the UN assembly in New York.” As of September 2014, Maduro  wasted over US$14 million in public funds on trips and travel allowances, while the Venezuelan people suffer a deep economic crisis,” denounced opposition Deputy Carlos Berrisbeitia.

That same month, the president appointed the prominent Chavista Rafael Ramírez as Foreign minister, after 10 years of leading state-run PDVSA and the oil ministry. This move was widely understood as the beginning of a new kind of diplomacy, less ideological and confrontational, and an attempt to calm creditors and investors in the oil sector. In fact, his four months in office — almost wholly devoted to representing Venezuela before OPEC — have been more moderate than his predecessor’s, Elías Jaua.

On October 16, 2014, after years of lobbying, Venezuela obtained a non-permanent seat at the UN Security Council. Gaining 181 out of 193 votes from the general assembly, it was a great victory for the ruling PSUV party. This marked the fifth time Venezuela had gained access to the UN’s highest deliberative body, after a resounding failure in 2006 when it competed with Guatemala. In the end, neither country managed to secure a seat, however, after 47 rounds of voting.

November, on the other hand, represented a major setback for Chavista foreign policy. Maduro unsuccessfully pushed for a production cut at an OPEC meeting in order to ease the plummeting price of oil, which accounts for 96 percent of Venezuela’s exports.

The year ended with a sudden change: the recently appointed Ramírez was shipped to the United Nations as Venezuela’s representative on the Security Council, and Maduro ushered in Delcy Rodríguez Gómez to the Foreign Ministry.

Rodríguez, unlike the pragmatic technocrat Ramírez, signals a return to radicalization and ideological rhetoric. The woman now in charge of the country’s diplomatic relations is none other than the daughter of the legendary Marxist politician Jorge Rodríguez, founder of the Socialist League party, and sister of Libertador mayor Jorge Rodríguez, a high-rankingChavista official.

This new designation will undoubtedly isolate Maduro’s regime from the international community even further. If Maduro continues on this course — one that is, ironically, lesspragmatic than even Raúl Castro’s —  he is bound to reap disastrous political defeats like the one at the OAS on December 22. During the meeting, Maduro could not even manage to secure the support from Petrocaribe nations to sign a declaration against the US sanctions.

With Obama’s Signature, Chavistas Feel Wrath of Sanctions

Isolation from United States the Punishment for Human-Rights Violators

The Venezuela Defense of Human Rights and Civil Society Act of 2014approved by Congress one week prior, authorizes President Obama to freeze assets in US territory and suspend or deny travel visas for anyone who “perpetrated, or is responsible for ordering or otherwise directing, significant acts of violence or serious human rights abuses in Venezuela … and those who provided financial and material assistance to commit those acts.”

Targeted sanctions against Chavista officials were among more than a dozen pieces of legislation signed into law by the president on Thursday, December 18. (White House Facebook)

Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro responded that Obama’s action is a “false step,” just one day after the US president announced the normalization of diplomatic relations between Cuba and the United States. He also took to Twitter to express his dissatisfaction.

“On the one hand, [Obama] acknowledges the failure of the aggressive politics against our sister Cuba, who with dignity has resisted.

On the other hand, he is escalating a new stage of aggression against Bolivar’s homeland, amid the rejection of the whole of our people.

Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), one of the authors of the bill, explains that “these sanctions will go after Maduro regime officials and thugs who have spent all of 2014 authorizing and carrying out assassinations, beatings, unjustified incarcerations, kangaroo court trials, and absurd indictments of its political opponents and innocent Venezuelans demanding a better future.”

A Reuters source from the US Embassy in Caracas echoes Rubio’s sentiment, that “These sanctions are not against the Venezuelan people, or against the Venezuelan government as a whole but against individuals accused of violations.”

After Congress passed the sanctions, however, Maduro rejected them on nationalist grounds and called on Venezuelans to rally in opposition: “We don’t accept insolent imperialist sanctions.”

On Wednesday, Diosdado Cabello, president of the Venezuelan National Assembly, also published a defiant op-ed in the New York Times. He suggested that the sanctions were a smokescreen to hide the fact that “scores of people demonstrating against police brutality were being arrested” in the United States.

“It would be regrettable if sanctions against Venezuela, first opposed by the White House, now became a way for the Obama administration to appease those in Congress who oppose the historic restoration of relations between the United States and Cuba,” he wrote.

Already this year, in July, the US State Department suspended the visas of 24 Venezuelan officials accused of human-rights violations during the February anti-government protests that left 43 people dead.

The United States and Venezuela have not had resident ambassadors since 2010, when the late Hugo Chávez and President Obama expelled their ambassadors from Washington, DC, and Caracas respectively.

Video Didn’t Save Eric Garner, Body Cameras Won’t Save You

Obama’s Plan Means More Surveillance of You, Not Police

A grand jury's decision not to indict Eric Garner's killer sparked nationwide anger and protests.

Daniel Pantaleo choked a man to death on camera. He wrapped his arm around his victim’s neck and squeezed until the life escaped his body. The victim was, of course, Eric Garner, a 43-year-old black father of six, whose final words, “I can’t breathe,” have become a rallying cry for social justice.

If you didn’t know Pantaleo was a New York City police officer, you’d expect him to be sitting in a jail cell right now. The fact that he isn’t, and that knowing he’s a cop somehow instantly admonishes him of any guilt, should give us all great pause to wonder … why?

On Wednesday, December 3, a Staten Island grand jury cleared Pantaleo of any wrongdoing by electing not to indict him for Garner’s murder. The decision immediately sparked protestsaround New York, and across the country, only nine days after a St. Louis grand jury similarly cleared police officer Darren Wilson, who shot and killed Michael Brown in early August in Ferguson, Missouri.

Officer Pantaleo denies ever applying a chokehold on Eric Garner.

Public outrage has seemingly forced the Obama administration to react — to do something, anything, that could possibly help solve the problem of police accountability.

In typical Hegelian-dialectic fashion, however, the federal government has seized this opportunity to offer up a “solution” that only furthers their own objectives.

Obama’s Executive Order

On December 1, President Obama issued anexecutive order authorizing US$263 million in funding for local police departments to “improve training” and purchase 50,000 body-worn cameras, or “body cams.”

Meanwhile, the order also ensures the federal programs responsible for funneling military-grade equipment to local law enforcement agencies are sustained. In standard political double talk, the president said the federal government wants to make sure “we’re not building a militarized culture inside our local law enforcement,” while at the same time suggesting these programs “actually serve a very useful purpose.”

The irony of Obama’s proposal was perhaps best captured by the Onion’s headline: “Obama Calls For Turret-Mounted Video Cameras On All Police Tanks.”

The move toward issuing body cams to local police follows a predictable trend, considering the technology’s increased popularity within law enforcement and among well-meaning civil libertarians. They have foolishly bought into the government’s line that “more surveillance will keep you safe.”

Last March, I wrote about the proliferation of body cameras and the dangers of relying on them as a way of keeping law enforcement accountable. At the time, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson announced he was considering a proposal to supply Border Patrol agents with the technology.

The footage gained from body cams is entirely police-run, securely networkedwithin each local department, not unlike dash cam video or any other form of police surveillance. Make no mistake, this is still the police filming you, not the other way around.

The effectiveness of body-worn cameras is premised almost exclusively on a single studyconducted by Police Chief Tony Ferrar and Barak Ariel in Rialto, California. While the study’s basic findings are sound — people will, generally speaking, adjust their behavior when they know they’re being watched — the larger implications drawn from the experiment are deeply flawed.

Obama's executive order authorizes federal funds to supply local police with body-worn cameras. (@intelligencer)

To suggest police-worn cameras will provide footage that is beneficial to the public, leading to potential indictments or even convictions of offending officers, is incredibly disingenuous. Not even the Rialto study or the police-reform advocates who initially championed this technology make this claim. Furthermore, the Eric Garner case and the grand jury’s refusal to indict officer Pantaleo, despite video evidence of the killing, demonstrates camera footage alone is no guarantee of justice.

Instead, what the Rialto study proposes is that the mere presence of a body-worn camera, and the foreknowledge that their actions are being recorded, will cause police officers to check their behavior and become more likely to “follow the rules.”

The study opens its introduction with a question, referencing one of the most famous examples of police brutality in our modern history: “The Rodney King story is a potent reminder about the enormous power that police officers have and how it can sometimes be abused … would the Rodney King incident [have been] avoided had the officers known that they [were] being videotaped?”

The answer, of course, is yes, but only if the officers believed there would be consequences to their actions. Ironically, it was the verdict in the Rodney King case — the jury acquitting the four officers shown on video beating King senseless while he lay on the ground — that set the precedent for police to effectively act with impunity, video evidence be damned.

In fact, a New York Daily Newsinvestigation has revealed that in New York City alone, on-duty police officers have killed at least 179 people over the last 15 years. Of those cases, only three led to criminal charges against the officer, and just one was convicted. The lone officer who was convicted, however, received no jail time.

In other words, the message from the judicial system over the years has been clear: if you wear a badge and kill someone, the odds of being punished are slim to none.

We’ve now reached the point in 2014 when a police officer can choke a man to death on camera, in broad daylight, and before witnesses, and the court decides it’s not even worth the effort of a trial.

Furthermore, the results of these body-camera studies have shown that the most significant effect their implementation has had is in enabling police to more quickly resolve complaints lodged against their own department, and to gather evidence that benefits the state.

In short, body camera technology is yet another tool in the state’s surveillance apparatus, and absent any reasonable expectation of accountability, any measurable “civilizing effect” on the police will surely wear off over time.

Obama’s Hypocrisy

President Obama’s executive order that aims to “improve policing” comes amid claims of a personal commitment to alleviate the “simmering mistrust” between local law enforcement and minority communities most affected by police violence. “This time will be different,” hesaid during a meeting at the White House with activists from Ferguson.

“Part of the reason this time will be different is because the president of the United States is deeply invested in making sure this time is different,” he added, implying he has a personal stake in the matter based on his own ethnicity.

He further clarified this position in an interview with BET on Monday, stating “This is not only personal for me, because of who I am and who Michelle is and who our family members are and what our experiences are, but as president, I consider this to be one of the most important issues we face.”

This comes from a man who does not bat an eye at ordering the deaths of people of color in the Middle East and North Africa. In 2012, amid the controversy surrounding the George Zimmerman trial, he said that if he had a son “he’d look like Trayvon [Martin]”; yet he says nothing of the 16-year-old Abdulrahman al-Alwaki whose death via drone strike he ordered only four months earlier. Abdulrahman was killed, presumably, for the alleged sins of his father — Anwar al-Alwaki — one of the many names on Obama’s “kill list” of high-value targets marked for assassination.

The Obama administration has been responsible for the deaths of thousands in a campaign of state violence in the name of “national security.” The killing is rationalized away, however, since anyone the state targets is naturally a “terrorist threat” — someone who aims to “do us harm” and threatens our freedom.

To the extent that we identify with our government, and see a part of ourselves in the state, there will be a tendency to assign blame to the victims of state violence. Just as Michael Brown was “no angel,” and Eric Garner an illegal cigarette trader, anyone the state murders must necessarily be guilty. Otherwise, if we allowed the state to kill the innocent without consequence, what would that say about us?