Issue XCVI

21 OCT 2016

National

05/28/2014

Obama extends Afghan war, eyes Syria: ‘Harder to end wars than begin them’

Natl1

The next steps: President Obama wants to keep 9,800 U.S. troops in Afghanistan after military operations formally end this year, part of his plan of “finishing the job we started.” Meanwhile, he will send military advisers to Syria.

Declaring a “new chapter in American foreign policy,” President Obama announced Tuesday that he will bring home all U.S. forces from Afghanistan by the end of 2016, even as he readies a plan to send more military advisers to train rebels in Syria’s brutal civil war.

The president revealed his long-awaited plan for winding down America’s 13-year war in Afghanistan, saying he wants to keep 9,800 U.S. troops there beyond the conclusion of formal combat operations at the end of this year. The troop levels are contingent on Afghan leaders signing a security agreement with the U.S.

SEE ALSO: Obama to station 9,800 U.S. troops in Afghanistan beyond 2014

“Now we’re finishing the job we started,” the president said in an address in the White House Rose Garden. “Our relationship will not be defined by war.”

Aides said the timing of the president’s announcement had to do partly with politics — Afghan politics. They said Mr. Obama can make the announcement now because both Afghan presidential candidates say they would support a bilateral security agreement to protect any U.S. soldier from Afghan prosecution.

Syria escalation

While the president was claiming credit for ending one war, Mr. Obama is expected to endorse a plan Wednesday to beef up U.S. involvement in Syria’s 3-year-old war.

Mr. Obama reportedly will use a commencement speech at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point to announce a mission to train moderate Syrian rebels to fight the regime of Bashar Assad and al Qaeda-linked groups.

The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday that Mr. Obama will say that he intends to increase support to the armed Syrian opposition, including providing them with training to build on a CIA-led program he authorized one year ago.

PHOTOS: Top 10 U.S. fighter jets

Mr. Obama declined to answer a reporter’s question at the White House on Tuesday about the plan for Syria’s rebels. The president and top aides have been debating for a year how to put more pressure on the Assad regime without entangling the U.S. in another protracted war in the Middle East.

The president will use his announcement on Afghanistan as a lead-in for his foreign policy speech Wednesday in which he will outline his approach for “a broader set of priorities around the globe.”

“This new chapter in American foreign policy will allow us to redirect some of the...


Obama's risky Afghanistan drawdown: Our view

Natl2

What's needed are goals, not timetables.

When the U.S. invaded Afghanistan 13 years ago, the war didn't look like the muddled mess it eventually became.

The goals were clear, and the cause was just. U.S. troops would wipe out the camps where the 9/11 hijackers were trained, and kill or capture the men who orchestrated the attacks. The nation was united.

But from the moment, just weeks later, that Osama bin Laden and his henchmen escaped over the mountains into Pakistan — and President Bush elected to stay on and fight — the war morphed into something else: a complex exercise in nation-building with no chance of unequivocal victory.

In that light, President Obama's announcement Tuesday that he will bring virtually all the troops home before he leaves office — regardless of facts on the ground — is simply an acknowledgment of the obvious. If there is no good ending to be had, why would it make sense to sacrifice more American lives, particularly when the president has promised since his first campaign to end the wars that his predecessor began?

Nonetheless, there is a difference between an ending that falls short of total victory and one that comes with a very high risk of defeat, as this plan does. By committing to withdraw a specific number of U.S. troops at a specific time, Obama gives the enemy the opportunity to adjust its own timetables.

The administration stressed Tuesday that Afghans have successfully taken the lead in combat operations, which is true. The Afghan security force now does nearly all the fighting. It also has a huge size advantage over the Taliban — more than 300,000 troops vs. about 25,000. It should be able to prevail.

But Afghan military leaders wasted no time Tuesday pointing to their weaknesses. The transition is not yet complete. They still rely heavily on U.S. air support and battlefield medical care, and they fear that neither can build up sufficiently in the short time remaining.

If they're right, the stage would be set for a rerun of events in Iraq, where sectarian tensions stoked by President Nouri al-Maliki have given fresh life to an al-Qaeda franchise that U.S. forces and diplomats had neutered. It now controls Fallujah, a key city liberated by U.S. troops, and it has metastasized across the border into Syria.

Blame for that failure lies not with Obama but with Maliki, who refused to sign a security agreement that would have protected U.S. troops from prosecution, leaving Obama no choice but to withdraw.

The situation...



05/22/2014

House poised to pass USA Freedom Act aimed at ending bulk collection of American phone records

Natl1

WASHINGTON — The House is poised to take the first significant step to change the National Security Agency's bulk collection of American phone records, a compromise bill that is displeasing many civil liberties activists.

The USA Freedom Act would codify a proposal made in January by President Barack Obama, who said he wanted to end the NSA's practice of collecting the "to and from" records of nearly every American landline telephone call under a program that searched the data for connections to terrorist plots abroad.

The bill, scheduled for a House vote Thursday, instructs the phone companies to hold the records for 18 months and let the NSA search them in terrorism investigations in response to a judicial order. The program was revealed last year by former NSA analyst  Edward Snowden.

"The bill's significant reforms would provide the public greater confidence in our programs and the checks and balances in the system," the White House said in a statement Wednesday endorsing the legislation.

Privacy and civil liberties activists denounced the measure, saying it had been "gutted" to win agreement from lawmakers, particularly on the Intelligence Committee, who supported the NSA phone records program.

"This legislation was designed to prohibit bulk collection, but has been made so weak that it fails to adequately protect against mass, untargeted collection of Americans' private information," Nuala O'Connor, president and CEO  of the Center for Democracy and Technology, said in a statement.

"The bill now offers only mild reform and goes against the overwhelming support for definitively ending bulk collection," she added.

House Intelligence Committee member Rep. Adam Schiff, a Democrat who represents a liberal district outside of Los Angeles, said the bill is perhaps the most significant action  Congress will take in response to the Snowden leaks. The former NSA contractor handed journalists documents that revealed a host of once-secret NSA surveillance programs, including some that sweep in the personal information of Americans even as they target foreigners.

Outrage over the programs that Snowden publicized brought together conservatives and liberals who favor civil liberties, while the administration and congressional leadership resisted changing what they considered a useful counterterror tool .

"I think there's been...


NSA reform bill loses backing from privacy advocates after major revisions

Natl2

A landmark surveillance bill, likely to pass the US House of Representatives on Thursday, is hemorrhaging support from the civil libertarians and privacy advocates who were its champions from the start.

Major revisions to the USA Freedom Act have stripped away privacy protections and transparency requirements while expanding the potential pool of data the National Security Agency can collect, all in a bill cast as banning bulk collection of domestic phone records. As the bill nears a vote on the House floor, expected Thursday, there has been a wave of denunciations.

“It does not deserve the name ‘USA Freedom Act’ any more than the ‘Patriot Act’ merits its moniker,” wrote four former NSA whistleblowers and their old ally on the House intelligence committee staff.

The former NSA officials – Thomas Drake, William Binney, Edward Loomis and J Kirk Wiebe – and former congressional staffer Diane Roark denounced 11th-hour changes to the Freedom Act as resulting in “a very weak” bill.

“Much legislation has been exploited and interpreted by the administration as permitting activities that Congress never intended,” they wrote in a letter Wednesday to Representative Zoe Lofgren, a California Democrat.

Lofgren told the Guardian last week that she intended to offer amendments to the Freedom Act, which cleared the House intelligence and judiciary committees two weeks ago, adding encryption protections and providing greater leeway to companies seeking to disclose surveillance orders for their customers’ data.

But Lofgren warned on the House floor Wednesday that none of her amendments were put into order by the powerful House rules committee, which released a new version of the Freedom Act on Tuesday night that reflected substantial changes made at the insistence of the Obama administration, the NSA and the office of the director of national intelligence.

Most significantly, the version emerging from the rules committee expanded the definition of a “specific selection term,” the root thing – formerly defined as information that “uniquely describe[s] a person, entity, or account” – the government must present to a judge, with suspicion of connection of terrorism or espionage, in order to collect data under the bill.

The new definition is “a discrete term, such as” a person, entity, account, “address or device”. That...



05/14/2014

Obama to ask Congress for cash for America’s roads, bridges

Natl1

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama is heading to a crumbling Hudson River bridge to try to pressure Congress into giving America’s roads, bridges and ports an infusion of cash.

The Tappan Zee Bridge outside New York City is in dire need of replacement nearly six decades after being built. When he visits the bridge Wednesday, Obama will call on lawmakers to back his plan to keep the nation’s infrastructure from falling apart. He’ll also promote efforts to cut red tape and delays in permitting.

Wednesday night Obama will headline a pair of high-dollar fundraisers for Democrats.

He will spend the night in Manhattan before attending Thursday’s dedication of the National September 11 Memorial & Museum at the World Trade Center.


Obama to use giant bridge to show how he will cut red tape

Natl2

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama will take aim at the cumbersome approval process for large infrastructure projects on Wednesday, showing how streamlining reviews slashed the time taken to green-light New York's massive Tappan Zee bridge project, the White House said.

Obama is slated to speak at the bridge, about 20 miles north of New York City, at 3:25 p.m. ET (1925 GMT), and will pledge to apply the lessons learned from the permit process for the bridge to a long list of infrastructure projects across the country.

Obama will also urge Congress to pass a new transport bill, without which an estimated 112,000 highway projects and 5,600 transit projects could grind to a halt for lack of funding, putting at risk almost 700,000 jobs in the peak summer construction season.

"While a bipartisan group of members in the Senate are working toward a compromise, there has been no progress by House Republicans to date on the issue," a White House official said in a statement previewing Obama's speech.

Obama has offered a four-year, $302-billion transport spending plan, paid for by ending some business tax breaks. But the White House has said he is open to alternative proposals to avert the looming funding crisis.

He has long pledged to snip red tape on infrastructure projects, which can often face a long series of environmental and other types of reviews from government bodies.

Since 2011, the administration worked on ways to cut red tape for 50 major projects, such as the $3.9-billion replacement for the aging 60-year-old Tappan Zee bridge, crowded with almost 138,000 vehicles per day.

By holding concurrent reviews for several agencies for the new bridge, the government approved it in 1.5 years instead of the three to five years it would have typically taken, the White House said.

Obama will announce that his government is expanding a "dashboard" used to track schedules for permits and coordinate reviews for departments, the White House said.



05/14/2014

Obama to ask Congress for cash for America’s roads, bridges

Natl1

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama is heading to a crumbling Hudson River bridge to try to pressure Congress into giving America’s roads, bridges and ports an infusion of cash.

The Tappan Zee Bridge outside New York City is in dire need of replacement nearly six decades after being built. When he visits the bridge Wednesday, Obama will call on lawmakers to back his plan to keep the nation’s infrastructure from falling apart. He’ll also promote efforts to cut red tape and delays in permitting.

Wednesday night Obama will headline a pair of high-dollar fundraisers for Democrats.

He will spend the night in Manhattan before attending Thursday’s dedication of the National September 11 Memorial & Museum at the World Trade Center.


Obama to use giant bridge to show how he will cut red tape

Natl2

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama will take aim at the cumbersome approval process for large infrastructure projects on Wednesday, showing how streamlining reviews slashed the time taken to green-light New York's massive Tappan Zee bridge project, the White House said.

Obama is slated to speak at the bridge, about 20 miles north of New York City, at 3:25 p.m. ET (1925 GMT), and will pledge to apply the lessons learned from the permit process for the bridge to a long list of infrastructure projects across the country.

Obama will also urge Congress to pass a new transport bill, without which an estimated 112,000 highway projects and 5,600 transit projects could grind to a halt for lack of funding, putting at risk almost 700,000 jobs in the peak summer construction season.

"While a bipartisan group of members in the Senate are working toward a compromise, there has been no progress by House Republicans to date on the issue," a White House official said in a statement previewing Obama's speech.

Obama has offered a four-year, $302-billion transport spending plan, paid for by ending some business tax breaks. But the White House has said he is open to alternative proposals to avert the looming funding crisis.

He has long pledged to snip red tape on infrastructure projects, which can often face a long series of environmental and other types of reviews from government bodies.

Since 2011, the administration worked on ways to cut red tape for 50 major projects, such as the $3.9-billion replacement for the aging 60-year-old Tappan Zee bridge, crowded with almost 138,000 vehicles per day.

By holding concurrent reviews for several agencies for the new bridge, the government approved it in 1.5 years instead of the three to five years it would have typically taken, the White House said.

Obama will announce that his government is expanding a "dashboard" used to track schedules for permits and coordinate reviews for departments, the White House said.



Login