Review Category : Poltics

US Energy Dept. to Keep NM Nuclear Waste Facility Closed Through 2015

Photo by Joe Raedle(WASHINGTON) — The U.S. Energy Department announced on Tuesday that it would keep the New Mexico nuclear waste facility closed through 2015, following an underground fire and radiation leak earlier this year.

According to a press release from the DOE, operations at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant near Carlsbad, N.M., were suspended following the fire and leak in February. The facility is the only one in the U.S. for the dumping of nuclear waste.

“Safety is our top priority,” said Mark Whitney, the acting assistant secretary for the DOE’s Office of Environmental Management. Whitney announced the WIPP Recovery Plan, which outlines the steps that will be taken before operations can resume.

“Some of the top nuclear and recovery experts from DOE and the nuclear industry helped develo this plan and I’m confident we will be able to safely and compliantly resume operations in the first quarter of 2016,” he said.

The facility is built 2,000 feet below the desert in salt mines. While it had only accepted low-level nuclear waste from the U.S. nuclear weapons program, officials had hoped to upgrade its permits to accept high-level nuclear waste.

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Six Secret Service Safeguards Breached by White House Intruder

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — There were at least six safeguards that failed when a man jumped the fence and got deeper into the White House than anyone before.

Secret Service Director Julia Pierson appeared Tuesday before a House Committee over the biggest breach in security since she took over the post in March last year.

Though the agency’s spokesperson initially said that former veteran Omar Gonzalez was apprehended just inside the North Portico doors during the Sept. 19 incident, that has now been proven false.

Further details first reported by The Washington Post make it clear that there were a half dozen steps that were not taken by the Secret Service during the close call, just minutes after the Obamas had left the building.

“How on earth did it happen?” House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa said in his opening statements at Pierson’s hearing Tuesday morning.

Here’s a step-by-step look at what happened:

The Fence and Plainclothes Officers

The first breach that occurred came when a team of plainclothes Secret Service agents circulating the perimeter of the White House fence did not spot Gonzalez as he climbed over. That team is in place as an early warning intended to alert the rest of the Secret Service team.

Crash Boxes and Front Door

When any officer spots an intruder — which should have been the plainclothes team — agents should hit the red button in the “crash boxes” posted throughout the White House and grounds. That alarm would lock the door to the White House, but since it never went off, the doors were left unlocked.

Booth Agent

If the plainsclothes agents failed to spot someone climbing the fence, there is an officer stationed in a guard booth on the North Lawn.

Attack Dog

If that officer sees the intruder, but realizes that they will not be able to apprehend them before they reach the White House, the officer is supposed to send an attack dog to stop the intruder.

According to The Washington Post, people familiar with the incident said that the officer may not have felt that they could release the attack dog because there were other Secret Service officers pursuing Gonzalez by foot, and the officer may have feared that the dog would attack the Secret Service agents rather than the intruder.

SWAT Team and Extra Guard

The guard in the North Lawn booth is also trained to send a SWAT team and a guard to the front door to confront the intruder. Neither of these were sent.

Guard at the Front Desk

The final breach came when Gonzalez ran past the guard inside the North Portico door, through the entrance hallway, down a hall past the staircase that would lead him directly to the first family’s private residence and into the East Room. It was only there, in the room used for formal state dinners and national security announcements, where Gonzalez was finally taken and physically tackled by a Secret Service agent.

“The fact is the system broke down on September 19,” Issa said.

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Clay Aiken Sings Different Tune in Bid for Congress

ABC News(WASHINGTON) — More than a decade after Clay Aiken made his singing debut on the stage of American Idol, he is taking to the political stage, competing for a very different sort of title: U.S. Congressman.

Running as a Democrat in North Carolina’s 2nd District, Aiken is making the case to voters that his voice is good for more than just singing.

“What people don’t recognize is that in the months and weeks following American Idol, I worked to set up an organization for kids with disabilities, and for the last 11 years I’ve helped grow that organization from one that had programs in North Carolina to one that has programs in states across the country,” Aiken told ABC News.

In an effort to get voters to focus on him as a candidate rather than a singer, Aiken has put a stop on the singing — at least for now — as he travels across in his native North Carolina, where he faces an uphill battle as a Democrat running in a conservative district.

“I recognize that this box that people have me in is that of a singer,” Aiken said. “There’s a whole bunch more to me than just being a singer, and we’ve done a great job of explaining that to folks. By singing I put myself back in the box, and that’s not necessarily what we’re trying to do here.”

During an appearance on The Colbert Report, Stephen Colbert tried to get Aiken to sing the national anthem with him, but he refused. “There’s a very big difference [between] doing it in a mocking way and doing it seriously,” Aiken explained.

The Colbert Report aside, Aiken has made a few exceptions to his ban on campaign trail singing.

“There’ve been one or two times on the campaign trail, where it was organic — there was a band, and somebody else was singing — and I stepped up and sang just a little bit,” Aiken said.

Aiken said he’s running for Congress to fill what he sees as a “vacuum” of needed leadership in Washington. And in his home district, Aiken believes there is a sentiment of anger toward Republican Rep. Renee Ellmers, who was elected in 2010.

“My mom used to joke that I was gonna go…to Hollywood, and ‘go Hollywood.’ And I clearly did not, I stayed about a year and a half and came home, and I’m the same person I was before,” Aiken said.

And though Aiken said he didn’t “go Hollywood,” he believes Ellmers has gone Washington.

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Secret Service Director: White House Intrusion ‘Unacceptable’

ABC News(WASHINGTON) — Facing an outraged Congressional committee Tuesday, Secret Service Director Julia Pierson called the White House intrusion that took place on Sept. 19 “unacceptable.”

“Protecting the White House complex is a challenge in any environment,” she said. “We are never satisfied by the status quo and we are constantly reviewing our security protocols.”

In a startling security lapse, 42-year-old Omar Gonzalez, armed with a 3-and-a-half-inch serrated knife, scaled the north fence at the White House, stormed through the unlocked North Portico door and barrelled past an agent into the East Room just minutes after the first family had departed the White House.

House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa called lawmakers back to Capitol Hill to convene the rare recess hearing, saying the failure “has tested the trust of the American people in the Secret Service” to protect the president.

“Common sense tells us that there were a series of security failures, not an instance of praiseworthy restraint. Inexplicably, Omar Gonzalez breached at least five rings of security on September 19th,” Issa, R-Calif., said. “The White House is supposed to be one of America’s most secure facilities, and in fact, one of the world’s most secure facilities. So how on earth did it happen?”

Pierson — brought in just 18 months ago to clean up the scandal-plagued agency — now faces a scandal of her own.

She said 16 people have been apprehended for scaling the fence over the past five years, including six this year.

“Our goal today is also clear: to determine how this happened and make sure it does not happen again,” said Democrat Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md. “I hate to even imagine what could have happened if Gonzalez had been carrying a gun instead of a knife when he burst inside the White House. That possibility is extremely unsettling.”

A “crash box” alarm that should have alerted agents of an intruder had been muted at the behest of the chief usher’s office, the Washington Post reported Monday, and the agent guarding the door had no time to lock it before Gonzalez entered.

While the incident was the primary focus of the hearing, lawmakers also demanded answers about an incident the next day when an unauthorized vehicle was cleared into the White House compound, as well as a 2011 incident when a man fired several rounds at the White House while some of the president’s family was inside.

Pierson reportedly requested that much of the hearing take place behind closed doors, calling a public discussion of Secret Service practices “beyond reckless.” Lawmakers claimed the public deserves to know what happened, but agreed to hold a classified session immediately following Tuesday’s open hearing.

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Seven Questions for Secret Service Director Julia Pierson After WH Intrusion

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — On the heels of the Washington Post’s revelation that the armed man who scaled the White House fence earlier this month not only entered the executive mansion but bolted past a guard and into the East Room, the Secret Service has come under fire once again.

According to White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest, President Obama was “obviously concerned” about the Sept. 19 perimeter breach — and in a rare moment of accord, the Republican-controlled House share his concern.

Tuesday, members of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee will grill Secret Service Director Julia Pierson about the agency’s repeated lapses. Here’s seven questions lawmakers are likely to ask:

1. Why the lack of transparency?

Monday’s revelations don’t exactly square with the agency’s original explanation, which seemed to imply that the 42-year-old fence jumper, Omar Gonzalez, had been apprehended just inside the entrance.

The day after the incident, the Secret Service released a statement saying simply, “Gonzalez failed to comply with responding Secret Service Uniformed Division Officers’ verbal commands, and was physically apprehended after entering the White House North Portico doors.”

2. Didn’t Gonzalez’s erratic history raise a red flag?

Secret Service investigators interviewed Gonzalez, an Iraq vet, at least twice before he stormed into the White House on Sept. 19.

Two months before the incident, authorities in Virginia discovered a sawed-off shotgun and a map marking the White House stashed in Gonzalez’s car. They confiscated the weapons but concluded he wasn’t a threat to the president. And about a month later, officers spotted Gonzales wandering along the south fence with a hatchet in his waistband. They determined they didn’t have enough evidence to hold him.

Gonzalez’s motives aren’t clear: Though he had armed himself with 3 ½ inch knife, he claims his only intent was to warn the president that the “atmosphere was collapsing.” Still, the fact that a man repeatedly flagged by Secret Service managed to make it so far into what was once considered most secure residence in the nation is troubling.

3. Why didn’t agents fire?

The Secret Service Uniformed Division supposedly maintains “five rings” of protection to create a secure perimeter around the executive mansion. But it was a counterassault agent patrolling the interior — an agent who was never supposed to come face-to-face with a would-be fence jumper — who eventually subdued Gonzalez.

At the North Gate, a plainclothes surveillance team posted outside the gate failed to notice Gonzalez clambering over the eight-foot fence.

Then, in quick succession, a guard booth officer, SWAT team, and K-9 unit all failed to respond.

They allowed Gonzales to dart into the White House, which had been vacated by the first family just minutes before.

4. Why didn’t they release the dogs?

The K-9 unit, a team of Belgian Malinois dogs trained to attack intruders, was also not deployed.

Sources say officers were afraid the dogs would attack the officers pursuing Gonzalez instead of the intruder himself.

5. Why wasn’t the door secured?
Gonzales didn’t have to force the front door or pick the lock. It wasn’t locked.

Secret Service agents generally wait for notice of an intruder to lock the front door — but the officer guarding the entrance on Sept. 19 wasn’t aware of a fence jumper until he was almost upon her.

Gonzales dashed past her and ran past the entrance to the first family’s private quarters and into the ceremonial East Room on the first floor.

6. Why is the Secret Service taking direction from hospitality staff?
According to the Washington Post’s Carol Leonnig, someone had apparently muted a “crash box” alarm designed to alert officers of intruders — at the behest of the usher’s office.

Apparently, the alarm frequently went off without provocation, disturbing the staff. Even so, some lawmakers are chiding the agency for disabling the crash box “to appease superficial concerns of White House ushers.”

7. How did the President actually react?
In public, President Obama appeared calm, saying that the Secret Service “does a great job.” But previous security breaches have reportedly left the president and first lady fuming.

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Ted Cruz Says He’s Made No Decision About 2016

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — Texas Senator Ted Cruz says that he had not made a decision to seek the 2016 GOP presidential nomination despite an article that says otherwise.

A person identified as a “Cruz adviser” told the National Journal that “At this point it’s 90/10 he’s in. And honestly, 90 is lowballing it.”

The same article said the freshman senator would campaign for president on a strong foreign policy platform.

However, Cruz took to Facebook Monday to post the following denial:

“Contrary to media reports this morning, Heidi and I have not made any decisions about political plans past the mid-term elections. Clearly we have an overzealous supporter out there making freelance comments, but to be clear, no decision has been made. Whoever this ‘anonymous advisor’ was, he or she had no authority to speak, and doesn’t know what they’re talking about.”

Cruz is just one of numerous Republicans who have been mentioned as possible contenders for the 2016 Republican nomination. Others include Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush.

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Supreme Court Reinstates Early Voting Restrictions in Ohio

zimmytws/iStockphoto/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — In a tight split decision, the U.S. Supreme Court voted on Monday to allow early vote restrictions to go into effect in Ohio.

According to a court order, the court, by a vote of 5-4, granted a request from state officials asking for a stay of a lower court decision. By issuing the stay, even temporarily, a new, shorter voting period is put into effect for the November election.

The stay will be in effect pending a ruling on a petition for a writ of certiorari that will be filed by the state, which will not happen prior to the upcoming election.

Justices Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan said they would have denied the application for a stay.

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‘College Was a Long Time Ago’ for Rand Paul and Laughing Gas Tale

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images(NEW YORK) — Rand Paul has never been quiet when it comes to voicing his disapproval of America’s war on drugs.

And a new profile in the New Yorker, which traced the Republican’s life from childhood to potential 2016 presidential contender, details a time when the Kentucky senator reportedly engaged in a little drug use of his own.

One of Paul’s classmates at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, told the New Yorker that he once obtained tanks of nitrous oxide from a friend studying dentistry. Another colleague added that the three of them then attached a scuba mask directly to the tank and got high on laughing gas.

“College was a long time ago,” Paul, 51, said in a statement to the New Yorker without clarifying whether the incident actually happened. “The high jinks reported by others make my college experience sound way more adventuresome than it actually was.”

The New Yorker also addressed a story that described Paul’s time in a Baylor secret society, the NoZe Brotherhood, when Paul and a friend pretended to kidnap a woman from her apartment, told her to smoke pot and made her pray to “Aqua Buddha” in a creek. Paul’s friends made light of the alleged event to the New Yorker; one said that the Aqua Buddha was an inside joke on the Baylor swim team and no drugs were involved that night.

While Paul, who’s an ophthalmologist, acknowledges that college was a while ago and drugs are bad for you, he believes the punishment for using them is much worse.

“I think that drugs are a scourge and are bad for young people, but a lifetime in prison as punishment is not the answer,” Paul said in a USA Today op-ed article. “I believe in redemption and forgiveness for the 19-year-old kid who made a mistake by purchasing drugs. I think that young people deserve a second chance.”

The potential presidential candidate for 2016 has lately been making increased efforts to reach out to young voters and minority communities.

Paul introduced a piece of legislation called the REDEEM Act alongside Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., in July, which would overhaul the criminal justice system and help low-level offenders by restoring their voting rights and having their nonviolent criminal records expunged so they can get jobs.

Weeks later, Paul announced the RESET Act, which would reclassify low-level drug possession offenses to misdemeanors. It would also eliminate differences in sentencing for offenses involving crack cocaine and powder cocaine, because penalties for crack cocaine are more severe than those for the powder version.

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Three Times Obama Administration Was Warned About ISIS Threat

Alex Wong/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — President Obama has suggested that the U.S. intelligence community underestimated ISIS, but there were at least three instances in which U.S. intelligence officials issued a public warning about the growing strength of the militant Islamic terror group.

In his 60 Minutes interview Sunday, Obama seemed to put the blame on the intelligence community, saying, “I think they underestimated what had been taking place in Syria.”

At the White House daily briefing Monday, Press Secretary Josh Earnest cast the net quite a bit wider.

“Everybody was surprised to see the rapid advance that ISIL was able to make from Syria across the Iraqi border,” said Earnest. “To be able to take over such large swaths of territory in Iraq did come as a surprise.”

But for nearly a year, senior officials in the U.S. government have been warning about the alarming rise of ISIS, or ISIL as the terrorist group is also known, and the inability of the Iraqi government to confront the threat.

Here are three examples:

Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Iraq and Iran
Nov. 14, 2013

On Nov. 14, 2013, State Department official Brett McGurk testified before a House Foreign Affairs subcommittee extensively about the growing threat of ISIL/ISIS.

“We face a real problem,” McGurk said. “There is no question that ISIL is growing roots in Syria and in Iraq.”

McGurk was quite specific about the extent of the threat. He cited the group’s alarming campaign of suicide bombings, its growing financial resources and its expanding safe haven in Syria.

“We have seen upwards of 40 suicide bombers per month targeting playgrounds, mosques, and markets, in addition to government sites from Basra to Baghdad to Erbil,” he said.

He was also specific about the inability of the Iraqi government to deal with it.

“AQ/ISIL has benefited from a permissive operating environment due to inherent weaknesses of Iraqi security forces, poor operational tactics, and popular grievances, which remain unaddressed, among the population in Anbar and Nineva provinces,” McGurk said.

U.S. Ambassador to Iraq
Jan. 23, 2014

In January, ISIS/ISIL gave a strong indication of just how much of a threat they posed when the group took over the Iraqi city of Fallujah and part of Ramadi. At that point, U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Robert Beecroft said it could get a whole lot worse.

“It’s a very precarious situation,” Beercroft told ABC News’ Martha Raddatz. “And a misstep anywhere could set off a larger conflict in the country.”

U.S. Army Director, Defense Intelligence Agency
Feb. 11, 2014

On Feb. 11, 2014, the Pentagon’s top intelligence official, Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, warned the group would likely attempt to take over even more territory.

“ISIL probably will attempt to take territory in Iraq and Syria to exhibit its strength in 2014, as demonstrated recently in Ramadi and Fallujah, and the group’s ability to concurrently maintain multiple safe havens in Syria,” Flynn told the Senate Armed Services Committee.

That’s a prediction, unfortunately, that proved to be right on target.

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Gay Marriage and Six Other Big Issues on Supreme Court Agenda

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — Hovering over the Supreme Court’s 2014 docket of interesting cases is the blockbuster issue of gay marriage. The justices will meet behind closed doors Monday to discuss whether to hear one or more cases challenging marriage bans in five states.

“This set of issues is the greatest civil rights issue of our time,” says former acting Solicitor General Neal Katyal, who is representing one set of challengers.

Since the Supreme Court’s historic gay marriage rulings in 2013, three appellate courts have struck bans in five states.

In an unusual circumstance, Katyal — and the other challengers — have asked the Supreme Court to step in despite having won in the lower court.

Here’s the sentiment according to Katyal: “Let us have our shot in court, and win on a national level.”

The court could decide not to get involved at all, but Irv Gornstein, executive director of the Supreme Court Institute at Georgetown Law, thinks it is not a question of “if,” but “when.” At a recent event he said that the court might take a few weeks to discuss which cases to take but that the justices will eventually grant cert and “give a definitive answer this term.”

Overshadowed by the gay marriage debate are the actual cases which the court will begin considering when oral arguments begin on Oct. 6. Here’s a rundown of some of the other cases:


After his wife left him, Anthony D. Elonis took to posting violent passages on Facebook. “Did you know that it’s illegal for me to say I want to kill my wife?” he posted in one. “Hell hath no fury like a crazy man in a kindergarten class,” he wrote in another. He was convicted under a federal threat statue. But Elonis argues he never intended to carry out a threat, and he was expressing himself at times using song lyrics that are similar to the music produced by rap star Eminem. At issue in the case is under what circumstances the government can punish speech as a threat. It’s an interesting intersection of Internet speech, rap music and the First Amendment.


Gregory Holt aka Abdul Maalik Muhammad pled guilty in 2005 for threatening to kidnap and harm the daughters of George W. Bush. In 2010 he was convicted of first-degree domestic battering and sentenced to life. Once in prison, Holt said he wanted to grow a beard in accordance with his Muslim faith. But while the Arkansas Department of Corrections allows mustaches, it forbids other facial hair. Quarter inch beards are permitted only for a diagnosed dermatological problem. Holt says the prison is violating his rights under a federal law specifically designed to protect religious exercise for prisoners. But corrections officials say the court should give deference to a policy that was crafted to keep inmates from hiding contraband and protect security.


Congress acted quickly after the document-shredding scandal at Enron in 2002. It passed a law meant to stop the destruction of a “record, document, or tangible object” with the intent to obstruct a federal investigation. But did Congress mean to include fish? In 2007, John Yates’ boat the Miss Katie was boarded by a deputized federal agent who was concerned that some of the harvested red grouper appeared to be less than the 20 inches allowed by federal regulations. The deputy put aside a number of the fish and asked Yates to bring them ashore the next day. But according to the government, Yates instead ordered a crew member to throw some of the fish in question over board, and replace them with bigger fish. Once on dry land, the deputy was not fooled. But Yates did not just receive civil penalties. He was convicted under the post Enron law, a federal statute that can bring a maximum penalty of 20 years. Although Yates got a lesser sentence, his lawyers argue the law was intended for data storage or record-keeping devices, not red grouper thrown off the Miss Katie.


This case explores a long-time conflict between Congress and the Executive with Middle East politics as the back drop. When Menachem Binyamin Zivotofsky was born in Jerusalem in 2002, his American parents sought to have “Israel” listed on his passport pursuant to a law passed by Congress that allows them to do so. But State Department officials refused. The law is not enforced by the State Department because it runs counter to its policy to take no position on one of the most contentious issues in history: The political status of Jerusalem. The Zivotofskys sued. In legal briefs, lawyers for Secretary of State John Kerry say the law “impermissibly impinges on the Executive Branch’s exclusive constitutional authority to decide whether and on what terms to recognize a foreign sovereign.” Lawyers for the Zivotofskys respond that Congress has broad power over passports and that the place-of-birth entry on the passport is designed not for any foreign policy purpose, but to identify the passport holder.


The Alabama Legislative Black Caucus and the Alabama Democratic Conference are challenging a 2012 redistricting plan adopted by a Republican-led legislature. They say the plan packed African Americans into existing majority-black districts and diluted their influence. Alabama’s attorney general says in part that the drafters of the plan were seeking to comply with the Voting Rights Act by keeping the majority-black districts under the new plan about the same as the ones in the previous plans. This will be the first voting rights case heard by the justices since a divided court struck down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act.


Peggy Young, an employee of United Parcel Service, became pregnant in 2006 and was told by her doctor not to lift anything heavier than 20 pounds for the first 20 weeks or pregnancy. Young asked her supervisor for an accommodation for her pregnancy-related lifting restriction. She was told that UPS — governed by a collective bargaining agreement — did not give light duty for pregnancy. Young sued under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) arguing that the law requires employers to provide the same accommodations it provides to non-pregnant employees who are similar in their ability or inability to work. UPS indeed offers light work accommodations to a subset of workers who are injured on the job, have a disability defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act, or lose their Department of Transportation certification. But UPS says it has a pregnancy-neutral policy and that Young was treated in exactly the same way the company treats all employees — pregnant or not — who are unable to perform essential functions of the job as a result of an off-the-job injury or condition.

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