Review Category : Poltics

Washington’s Cherry Blossom Trees: The Complicated Roots

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — Washington’s cherry blossoms have become an iconic image of springtime in the nation’s capital. And while the trees can be appreciated solely for the ethereal beauty they cast on the shores of the Potomac River, the historical roots of the trees are more complicated.

Ann McClellan, a recognized expert on the trees who has written two books on Washington’s annual festival celebrating the blossoms, told the ABC News/Yahoo! News series Power Players that the first trees given to Washington from Japan in 1910 were a symbol of international friendship.

“When they gave the gift of trees they were really giving something of themselves, because they were grateful to the United States for brokering the treaty of Portsmouth, which ended the Russo-Japanese War,” McClellan said. “It was the first time Japan was treated as a bona fide member of the international community.”

The trees were given in honor of then-first lady Helen Taft, wife of the 27th president William Taft, who had developed an interest in the blossoming trees from her travels to Japan and was working to beautify the park area around today’s tidal basin, which was a swampland at the time.

“Mrs. Taft had seen the trees, not blooming but saw how they were planted and thought Washington, which was just under construction at that time, would be a great place for them, and boy was she right,” McClellan said.

Japan sent thousands of full-grown trees to Washington to beautify the park, but those trees would never be planted on the shores of the Potomac. After the Department of Agriculture inspected the trees, it was determined that the trees had to be destroyed.

“Of course, trees that have been in the ground have bugs, worms and all sorts of pests,” McClellan said. “So the Department of Agriculture inspected them, deemed them impossible, and forced them to be burned.”

The final decision to burn Japan’s gift was made by President Taft himself. But instead of causing a diplomatic crisis, Japan sent 3,000 more trees in 1912 that met the Department of Agriculture’s standards and were the start of the trees that still line the tidal basin today.

The trees, though planted successfully, were planted incorrectly.

“In 1912, when they planted the gift, the gift came with instructions; it was in Japanese, and nobody bothered to read it,” McClellan said. “Instead of planting the trees in groves and alleés as the instructions recommended, we instead planted them close together along the water’s edge of the tidal basin.”

The mistake meant that the growth of the trees was irreversibly stunted, McClellan said: “What that does is it creates this lovely cloudlike effect because the branches intersect but it means that they can’t grow to their full height. …We’re all agog, so it’s fine, but that is one of the reasons they tend to be a little smaller here.”

Since Mrs. Taft, first ladies have continued to play an instrumental role in maintaining the cherry blossoms.

“The first ladies have been very involved…especially Lady Bird Johnson was involved in them and the Japanese gave a gift of several thousand trees in her honor. Those are planted around the Washington Monument,” McClellan said.

For more about the trees, including McClellan’s cautions about the permanent damage that people cause to the trees by plucking their blossoms, check out this episode of Power Players.

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

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Diplomatic Incident over Kim Jong-Un’s Haircut

Ed Jones/AFP/Getty Images(LONDON) — Kim Jong-un’s distinctive haircut is no laughing matter for North Korea. A London hair salon that put up a promotional poster of the country’s leader, with the tag line “Bad Hair Day?” is at the center of a diplomatic dispute.

The North Korean embassy has asked the British government to take action against the hair salon, calling the poster a “provocation.”

A British spokesman tells ABC News that the government in London “will respond in due course.”

After putting the poster in the window to advertise a special deal, the hair salon got a visit from two men in black suits from the North Korean embassy earlier this week.

Barber Karim Nabbach tells BBC News that the men demanded to know the name of the person who put the poster up.

“I said you’re not having my name. If you want to take it any further, bring your lawyers in and we can take it from there,” Nabbach said.

Nabbach said they contacted Scotland Yard about the visit, and police found the poster “funny.”

“Everyone finds it funny except for the North Korean embassy,” he said.

The embassy was unavailable for comment.

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

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Boehner Supports US Forces in Afghanistan Past 2014

Alex Wong/Getty Images(KABUL, Afghanistan) — A top U.S. lawmaker is giving his support to keeping a residual U.S. force in Afghanistan after the planned withdrawal of most coalition forces by the end of 2014.

Meeting with U.S. and Afghan officials in Kabul, House Speaker John Boehner remarked that American troops “fought to bring peace and security to Afghanistan and to ensure it can never again be used as a safe haven for terrorists to attack the United States.”

The Obama administration has been at loggerheads with Afghan President Hamid Karzai over signing a Bilateral Security Agreement that would leave an unspecified number of U.S. soldiers in the country in a training and advisory role past 2014.

Karzai, who wants various concessions from Washington, says he will leave it up to his successor to determine whether a post-war pact is right for Afghanistan.

A week-and-a-half ago, millions of Afghans went to the polls to select a new leader but the outcome may not be known for some time. Even then, a run-off is predicted between the two top candidates, which could further delay the signing of the BSA.

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

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Boehner Supports US Forces in Afghanistan Past 2014

Alex Wong/Getty Images(KABUL, Afghanistan) — A top U.S. lawmaker is giving his support to keeping a residual U.S. force in Afghanistan after the planned withdrawal of most coalition forces by the end of 2014.

Meeting with U.S. and Afghan officials in Kabul, House Speaker John Boehner remarked that American troops “fought to bring peace and security to Afghanistan and to ensure it can never again be used as a safe haven for terrorists to attack the United States.”

The Obama administration has been at loggerheads with Afghan President Hamid Karzai over signing a Bilateral Security Agreement that would leave an unspecified number of U.S. soldiers in the country in a training and advisory role past 2014.

Karzai, who wants various concessions from Washington, says he will leave it up to his successor to determine whether a post-war pact is right for Afghanistan.

A week-and-a-half ago, millions of Afghans went to the polls to select a new leader but the outcome may not be known for some time. Even then, a run-off is predicted between the two top candidates, which could further delay the signing of the BSA.

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

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Highway Funds in Danger of Running Out

pictureimpressions/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — The Obama administration is telling Congress that it’s either the president’s way or funds for highway projects will soon run out.

That message is being delivered by Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, who is currently on a bus tour of eight states.

The Highway Trust Fund is due to be depleted by August. If that happens, states won’t have the money for big projects or even much needed repairs and improvements. That situation will of course lead to layoffs at a time when the economy finally seems to be rebounding.

Congress has been faced with this problem time and time again and the usual course of action is a quick money infusion that usually lasts a couple of months until things turn into crisis mode again.

President Obama is looking a long-term fix that would provide over $300 billion for four years. Some of the money would come from closing corporate tax loopholes, which Republicans are adverse to doing.

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

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Rep. Kyrsten Sinema Running Boston Marathon to Honor Victims and Survivors

US House of Representatives(WASHINGTON) — “A marathon is a celebration of life and endurance and the human spirit,” Rep. Kyrsten Sinema says. “Runners are such a tight-knit community. Even if we don’t know each other, we treat each other like friends.”

Next week, Sinema, a freshman Democrat from Arizona, will be one of two members of Congress running in the 118th Boston Marathon, joining Rep. Joe Kennedy III, D-Mass.

“Boston is like the Holy Grail of running events,” she told ABC News. “I never thought I would ever find my toe at the starting line at Boston.”

Sinema, 37, is running in honor of Martin Richard, the eight-year-old boy killed by the first blast in last year’s twin bombing. She says she has raised $20,000 for Team MR8, a charity established in memory of Martin by his parents.

Of the 36,000 racing bibs available for the historic occasion, 5,500 slots are reserved for charity runners like Sinema, a self-described “endurance runner” who would not qualify based on speed. She said Martin’s parents chose her and a friend to run in honor of their son.

“I’m so privileged to be running in honor of Martin Richard and for the other victims and survivors,” she said. “That is a big responsibility to carry to that start line and to carry those 26.2 miles across that finish line, so I’m going to spend those four-plus hours with Martin and the other victims and survivors in my heart.”

While most members of Congress would probably struggle to run even one mile, Sinema says she has completed eight marathons as well as an Iron Man triathlon.

“This is going to be by far the most emotional marathon I’ve ever run,” she admitted.

Sinema calculates that she runs about 40 miles per week at a pace of about 10:30 per mile. Her best finish came this January in Phoenix when she completed the P.F. Chang’s Rock N’Roll Marathon in 4 hours and 29 minutes.

“If I’m having a good day on Monday, I can smash that record, so that’s my intention,” she pledged. “It’s also the most exciting course in the world and it’s going to be a really, really emotional day so I have my fingers crossed that that will bring me across the finish line faster.”

Sinema is also holding several events this week in her district to continue raising money for others touched by the tragedy. In addition to Team MR8, she says she has raised nearly $10,000 for One Fund Boston, the foundation established by Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick to support the victims and survivors, and $4,000 for the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Greater New England.

So after last year’s horrific bombings, is she concerned at all about the security surrounding the marathon?

“I have zero concerns about security,” she said. “The City of Boston has done an incredible job preparing for this marathon and I have 100 percent confidence that it’ll be a flawless event.”

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

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Romney Son Takes a Swipe at Harry Reid on Tax Day

Alex Wong/Getty Images(NEW YORK) — Almost two years after Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid repeated an unsubstantiated report that Mitt Romney did not pay taxes, one of the Romney sons fired back.

Josh Romney tweeted a photo of his father standing in line at the post office to mail his tax forms Tuesday evening.

Hey @SenatorReid here’s a shot of @MittRomney paying taxes. Does it every year. It’s how you get your paycheck. pic.twitter.com/DwSMXzYhuR

— Josh Romney (@joshromney) April 15, 2014

And then it suddenly felt like we were back in the political brawl of 2012 as Ben LaBolt, a former spokesman for President Obama’s campaign, weighed in.

Pic of the vault in Zurich? MT @joshromney Hey Sen Reid here’s a shot of Mitt paying taxes. Does it every yr. It’s how you get yr paycheck.

— Ben LaBolt (@BenLaBolt) April 15, 2014

In case you forgot about the Harry Reid-Mitt Romney tax spat, here’s a recap.

In the summer of 2012, Reid said someone who worked with Bain Capital, which Romney led, called his office to say that Romney “didn’t pay any taxes for 10 years.”

“He didn’t pay taxes for 10 years! Now, do I know that that’s true? Well, I’m not certain,” Reid told the Huffington Post in an interview. “But obviously he can’t release those tax returns. How would it look?”

Romney denied this, saying Reid needs to reveal his source.

“Harry Reid really has to put up or shut up,” Romney said.

The book Double Down: Game Change 2012 cited Jon Huntsman Sr., whose son Jon Huntsman Jr. ran for president in 2012, as the source of the tax rumor, an accusation Huntsman denied.

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

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No Executive Action on Immigration Overhaul

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — President Obama has no plans to enact unilateral immigration overhaul by executive action, faith leaders from across the country said Obama told them Tuesday.

“We did not discuss the need; we did not bring up the issue of the president doing unilateral action,” Luis Cortes, president of Esperanza, a nonprofit law office serving immigrants, said at a news briefing after the Washington meeting.

“We felt it was more important that Congress take action at this time.”

Obama had asked the director of Homeland Security to look at ways to reduce the number of people deported for entering the United States without documentation. But White House press secretary Jay Carney says that is different from implementing immigration overhaul on his own.

The Department of Homeland Security is now performing a “review of practices and implantation of enforcement guidelines.” In other words, the administration is trying to obey the law and still rid the president of a title recently given him by Hispanic leaders, “Deporter in Chief.”

As for his changing immigration law, Carney said that is a nonstarter.

“I think the president believes that there is an opportunity that still exists for House Republicans to follow the lead of the Senate, including Republicans in the Senate, and take up and pass comprehensive immigration reform,” Carney said at Tuesday’s press briefing. “And today’s meeting that the president had with faith leaders demonstrates and reinforces the fact that there is a broad, unusually broad, coalition that supports that effort, that supports comprehensive immigration reform and all the benefits that making reform the law would provide to the country, to our security, to our economy, to our businesses.

“I think it highlights the isolation that House Republicans find themselves in when so many, not just politicians or advocacy leaders, but folks across the country support doing the right thing here and the irony, of course, is that there is a really strong conservative argument to be made on behalf of comprehensive immigration reform,” he said.

In a series of meetings in the past few months, Obama has met with immigration reform activists and leaders on the topic, hoping to gain their support to pressure House Republicans into action.

Tuesday’s meeting with religious leaders was in hopes of gaining their support and influence in pushing Republicans in the House to act.

“While the DACA action that was taken through executive order has been helpful, it was not the ultimate solution,” Noel Castellanos, CEO of the Christian Community Development Association, said of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. “We were here to talk about that ultimate solution…we need to have Congress work.”

DACA is executive action by the president that affects so-called Dreamers, children who arrive in the United States without documentation, and allows them to stay without fear of deportation.

The six faith leaders who met with the president emphasized the agreement on the issue of immigration overhaul.

“For the first time we have in this country the entire religious community, Muslim, Jewish, Christian, Baha’i…all the major denominations and churches and religious bodies of this country believe that it is a moral imperative that we get immigration reform done,” Cortes said. “It is the first and only political issue in this country where we all agree.”

During Tuesday’s meeting, the president stressed, according to a statement from the White House, “the importance of taking action to pass common sense immigration reform.”

“While his Administration can take steps to better enforce and administer immigration laws, nothing can replace the certainty of legislative reform and this permanent solution can only be achieved by Congress,” Obama emphasized, according to the statement.

Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission for the Southern Baptist Convention, said after the meeting, “I disagree with the president on many things, including life, marriage, religious liberty, HHS mandate; this is one of those issues that isn’t a red state, blue state divide.

“Most people agree, across the religious spectrum and across the political spectrum, that our immigration system is broken so we need to have a system that respects the rule of law, secures the border and finds a way forward for this country.”

It has been more than nine months since the Senate passed its comprehensive immigration overhaul bill, and in that time the House has done little. It did release a set of immigration principles in January, but those seemed to stop at their introduction.

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

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Vice President Biden Applauds Boston’s Courage

Jared Wickerham/Getty Images(BOSTON) — On the one-year anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombings that killed three people and injured more than 200 others, Vice President Joe Biden paid tribute Tuesday to the bravery and courage of survivors and first responders.

“In my career I’ve been part of or witnessed some incredible tributes, but I have to say…I’ve never, never, never witnessed a tribute like I’ve heard today,” he said. “You are truly, truly inspiring, I’ve never heard anything so beautiful as what all of you just said.”

“I know that no memorial, no words, no acts can fully provide the solace that your hearts and soul still yearn to acquire. But I hope it eases your grief a little bit,” he added.

Biden’s speech followed the stories and testimonies of several survivors of the attacks and people who responded to the injured, as well as musical numbers like Wicked’s “For Good” and Hercules’ “Go the Distance.”

“I want you to know you’re an inspiration, without knowing it, to people all across this country who suffered tragedies and are going through tragedy,” Biden said. “The fact that you’re here, I promise you, gives them hope that maybe, maybe they can overcome what they’re going through right now.”

“Even though I’m not a Boston fan, I love you guys, man,” he said. “And I know politicians aren’t supposed to say that, that you’re not a Red Sox fan. But where I come from, when I was in it, if you root for the Red Sox, you got the living hell kicked out of you. So there was a good reason not to be a Red Sox fan.”

Biden also heralded the courage of the first responders and victims, stating that Boston sent a message to the world about the bravery of the American people.

“You are Boston strong, but America is strong. They’re not unlike you all around America,” he said. “That’s what makes us so proud of this city and this state. That we have never, ever, ever yielded to fear. Ever.”

Biden said that despite the goals of the bombers to terrify the city and the country, the Americans involved in that week’s events showed that Americans never back down.

“They try to instill fear. That’s their objective, that’s what they tried to do in Boston. To make us afraid. Not just Boston afraid — to make America afraid, so that maybe, maybe we begin to change our ways,” he said. “America will never, eve,r ever stand down. We are Boston. We are America. We respond. We endure. We overcome. And we own the finish line.”

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

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Mary Landrieu Draws Criticism for Re-Enacting Congressional Hearing in New Ad

US Senate(WASHINGTON) — A new campaign ad from Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu is drawing criticism from some conservative groups for using re-enactments of statements that the senator made in an Energy Committee hearing last year.

But Landrieu’s campaign is defending the re-enactments as necessary to avoid breaking rules that forbid the use of footage shot by Senate cameras.

“It is against Senate ethics rules to use footage that was shot using Senate cameras in campaign ads,” Landrieu campaign manager Adam Sullivan told ABC News.

The $250,000 ad buy began hitting Louisiana airwaves Tuesday and casts Landrieu, now the chair of the Senate Energy Committee, as a defender of Louisiana’s oil and gas industry who has shown independence from President Obama.

“When we were cheated out of oil royalties,” a voiceover in the ad says, portraying Louisianans watching Landrieu on television, before cutting to a re-enacted clip of an actual statement (occurs at 2:32 in video) that Landrieu made in the Energy Committee last year.

“They have to sit here and listen to the federal government say, ‘We can’t share a penny with you,’” Landrieu says. “I will not rest until this injustice is fixed.”

“You think there are a bunch of fairy god mothers out there that just wave a magic wand?” Landrieu asks in another clip from the re-enacted Senate hearing.

Watch Landrieu’s ad:

The conservative opinion magazine The Weekly Standard first reported that “the video clip doesn’t come from C-SPAN or any other real TV,” and the Republican opposition research super-PAC, America Rising, posted a video that juxtaposes Landrieu’s re-enacted statement from the ad with the real statements from the hearing. The video used in America Rising’s clip was shot originally by Senate cameras, which according to a Senate Resolution 431, prohibits it from being used for campaign purposes.

But American Rising Executive Director Tim Miller said that doesn’t serve as justification for re-enacting the hearing.

“There is no rule that requires their campaign to manufacture a fake news show to cover a staged hearing,” Miller said. “The ad is misleading to voters who are made to think they are looking at real news footage. It is telling that Sen. Landrieu is so desperate for positive news to use in an ad that she needed to fabricate it.”

Watch America Rising’s video:

As she campaigns for a fourth term in the Senate, Landrieu is considered one of the Senate’s most vulnerable Democrats and has been weathering a storm of negative attack ads from conservative advocacy groups, such as the Koch Brothers-backed Americans for Prosperity and Freedom Partners. Landrieu, the only Democrat holding a statewide elected office in Louisiana, is facing off against Republican Rep. Bill Cassidy, as well as tea party candidate Rob Maness, in November’s election.

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

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