Review Category : Poltics

California Sen. Barbara Boxer Calls for Toy Guns to Be Painted Bright Colors

US Senate(WASHINGTON) — Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., sent a letter to the Commissioner of the Consumer Product Safety Commission, urging him to review a California law that would mandate all toy guns be painted a bright color to ensure they are not confused for actual weapons.

The death of 12-year-old Tamir Rice in Cleveland last month is just the most recent example of what can happen when a police officer mistakes a play weapon for a real firearm, Boxer wrote. In the November shooting, police mistook a toy airsoft gun that Rice was playing with for a real gun. Some reports indicated that the orange safety tip meant to identify the gun as a toy had been removed.

“We don’t need another child’s death to remind us that we need to change the current laws regulating imitation firearms,” Boxer urged. She proposed that toy guns be painted white, bright red, bright orange, bright yellow, bright green, bright pink or bright purple.

The California law was signed by Gov. Jerry Brown in September.

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Obama: ‘I’m the Big Elf. I’m Like Will Ferrell’

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — Toting two giant bags of toys, President Obama had a simple holiday message as he arrived to sort gifts at the Marines Corps’ Toys for Tots event on Wednesday: “Ho, ho, ho.”

“That’s a pretty serious ‘Ho ho ho,’” the first lady remarked, before introducing the special “helper” she brought along this year.

“I don’t know how good he’ll be with sorting. He doesn’t usually deal in shopping in any kind of way,” Michelle Obama said of her husband. “But we’ll watch him closely to see if he can figure out which ones are zero-to-two or unisex. It gets really complicated, so watch him because he could really make your work harder.”

The president was confident he was up to the task. “I’m the big elf. I’m like Will Ferrell,” he said.

“I’m positive that girl’s zero-to-two, that’s perfect for the Call of Duty video game,” he joked to the first lady. “See, she didn’t even get the joke. She wasn’t listening to me.”

After thanking the Marine Corps for organizing Toys for Tots, which has given away more than 469 million toys to more than 216 million children since its inception, the president took off his jacket, rolled up his sleeves and got to work sorting toys for little girls and boys.

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CIA Also Blamed for $40 Million Cost of Torture Report

The Central Intelligence Agency(WASHINGTON) — It’s not only the contents of the Senate’s CIA report that are causing controversy. It’s also the cost.

The five-year review, which examined more than six million CIA documents, came with a price tag of $40 million. That eye-popping figure, costly even by Washington standards, has been seized upon by Republican critics of the report.

But Sen. Dianne Feinstein, chairwoman of the Select Intelligence Committee, says the vast majority of the cost is attributed to the CIA, which insisted on renting a separate building for the review.

“Rather than provide documents for the committee to review in its own secure Senate office, as is standard practice, the CIA insisted on establishing a separate leased facility and a stand-alone computer network for committee use,” Feinstein, D-Calif., said in a statement Wednesday. “The CIA hired teams of contractors to review every document, multiple times, to ensure they were relevant and not potentially subject to a claim of executive privilege. Only after those costly reviews were the documents then provided to committee staff.”

Feinstein said the CIA insisted on hiring outside contractors to review every document, often multiple times. She said she wrote several letters to the CIA over the years, raising questions about the cost.

The unusual arrangement of working in a separate facility, rather than at CIA headquarters or in a secure room on Capitol Hill, led to the allegations that the CIA was spying on Senate computers. Feinstein accused the CIA of obscuring the committee’s investigation and gaining access to Senate computers, which led CIA Director John Brennan to apologize.

The CIA has not commented on the cost of the study.

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CIA Torture Report: White House Mum on Whether Methods Saved Lives

Alex Wong/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — President Obama has condemned what he calls “torture” of detainees by CIA interrogators at black sites overseas in the dark days after 9/11.

But the White House is not taking a position on whether any of the information gleaned from those sessions — putting questions on the propriety of the tactics aside — actually helped to save lives.

The administration also refuses to say whether Obama shares the view of his own CIA director, John Brennan, who said on Tuesday that intelligence gained from enhanced interrogation techniques did in fact help to “thwart attack plans, capture terrorists, and save lives.”

“The most important question is: Should we have done it? And the answer to that question is no,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest told ABC News’ Jonathan Karl on Wednesday.

“The president does not believe that the use of enhanced interrogation techniques was good for our national security. He does not believe that it was good for our moral authority. In fact, he believes that it undermined our moral authority, and that is why he banned them,” Earnest said.

Under repeated questioning, Earnest refused to answer whether those interrogations ultimately saved lives as current and former CIA officials allege. He did say the White House believes the tactics were “not worth it.”

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NJ Voters Give Gov. Christie Mixed Approval Rating

Andrew Burton/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — Is Bridgegate sticking to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie?

According to new Quinnipiac University poll out Wednesday, 48 percent of Garden State voters approve of Christie’s job performance while nearly the same amount — 47 percent — disapprove.

The results compare to a 46 to 45 percent approval rating on Oct. 1 and, according to Quinnipiac, continue an 11-month slump that began when the Bridgegate scandal broke.

The latest survey took place on Dec. 3-8, so part of the polling would have covered the new results from an interim state committee Bridgegate report, which in some ways cleared the potential 2016 presidential candidate of any wrongdoing, although the report is not final.

But with some key issues, Christie is under water. On handling economy and jobs, he gets 41 to 51 percent. As for handling the state budget, he gets 42 to 48 percent and for education he gets 39 to 50 percent.

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One Torture Report, Two Very Different Interpretations Down Party Lines

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — Republicans on the Senate Intelligence Committee have issued a minority report in which they rebutted some of the assertions made in the majority’s report written mainly by the committee’s Democrats and released earlier Tuesday.

Here are some events contained in the report on which the majority and minority takes are completely opposed to one another:

The capture of Jose Padilla: The majority report said its review of cables and other CIA records shows that the use of CIA’s torture techniques on the detainee Abu Zubaydah “played no role” in the identification of the terrorist Jose Padilla, a U.S. citizen and Muslim convert who was convicted in 2011 for involvement in a terror conspiracy, or the thwarting of plots in which Padilla was involved. The majority also noted that the intelligence community had deemed Padilla’s plots “infeasible.”

But the minority report asserted that the “breadth” of the information Abu Zubaydah gave up while he was being subjected to enhanced interrogation, and the impact that information had on subsequent intelligence efforts, reflected the effectiveness of the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program.

Thwarting of the U.K. Urban Targets Plot: While the CIA frequently cited the purported thwarting of Khalid Sheikh-Mohamed’s plot against targets at Heathrow Airport and Canary Wharf as an enhanced interrogation success story, the report says the plot itself never progressed beyond the planning of initial stages before its main orchestrators were captured.

But the minority report contended the CIA interrogation program “played a key role in disrupting the Heathrow and Canary Wharf plotting.”

The “tip-off” about bin Laden courier Abu Ahmad al-Kuwaiti: The committee report noted repeatedly that multiple detainees provided information about Abu Ahmad al-Kuwaiti, a key courier to Osama bin Laden, outside of enhanced interrogation. Hassan Ghul, who provided key information about al-Kuwaiti in 2004, provided the most valuable information on al-Kuwaiti, the report found, before he was subject to torture techniques.

The minority report said that while there was other information in CIA databases about al-Kuwaiti, the information was not recognized as important by analysts until after other detainees corroborated that information during enhanced interrogation.

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Obama Unveils $1B Boost for Preschools, Including $55 Million from Disney

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — It’s a year-end present for tens of thousands of kids and early childhood education programs.

President Obama Wednesday is set to unveil a $1 billion package of new public and private funding for U.S. preschool programs during a White House summit to promote one of his favored domestic initiatives.

The Walt Disney Co., the parent company of ABC News, has contributed $55 million in “Disney Imagicademy” apps and books to help bolster pre-kindergarten reading programs, the company said.

The administration is also launching a new campaign, “Invest in US,” to enhance private investment in the programs, officials said. A number of celebrities, including Shakira, Jennifer Garner and John Legend, will lend their voices to a promotional campaign.

“What we’re demonstrating here is how important this is, that we’re making progress and doing it in a bipartisan way,” said Obama domestic policy adviser Cecilia Munoz.

Three quarters of the funds Obama will announce come from existing government grant programs, according to the White House. Nearly four dozen private sector companies, including LEGO and PVH Corp., which owns clothing lines Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger, have pledged donations of more than $300 million combined.

The Education Department projects the new federal grants will allow 63,000 additional American children access to early childhood education programs next year.

Only three in 10 American 4-year-olds currently have access to state-funded preschool programs, the agency said.

“We’re seeing just tremendous interest from Republican and Democratic governors across the nation” to expanding the grant programs, said Education Secretary Arne Duncan. “What still haunts me is the unmet need in state after state after state. …There are so many 3- and 4-year-olds that still don’t have access and we know the consequences long-term when we fail to prepare them for kindergarten.”

The summit is part of a domestic-agenda blitz launched by the White House following Democrats’ bruising losses in the midterm elections. Since Nov. 5, Obama has taken executive action on immigration, unveiled stringent new rules for ozone pollution, launched a task force on race and justice, and hosted summits on foster children and Native Americans.

As he enters the final two years of his presidency, Obama intends to lean heavily on his so-called “convening power” to foster civic dialogue and encourage progress in areas where Congress has failed to act, administration officials said.

The White House remains hopeful that early childhood education can be an issue of common ground with a Republican-controlled Congress that convenes in January.

“We all share the same aspirations for our young people. And I was encouraged that this year Republicans agreed to investments that expanded early childhood education,” Obama said in a Nov. 5 news conference after the midterm elections. “I think we’ve got a chance to do more on that front.”

There is strong public support for increased federal funding for preschool programs. Seventy percent of Americans, in a September Gallup poll, said they back efforts to expand publicly-funded pre-K education to every American. Republicans are less enthusiastic, however, with 53 percent supporting such an effort compared to 87 percent of Democrats.

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Obama Defends Immigration Reform Action at Town Hall Meeting

Official White House Photo by Pete Souza(NASHVILLE, Tenn.) — President Obama said Tuesday that he has the authority to reform the nation’s immigration system and that the executive action he took last month does not constitute “amnesty or legalization or even a path to citizenship” for millions of undocumented immigrants.

Obama made his remarks at a town hall meeting from Casa Azafran, a community center dedicated to the rights and services for immigrants and refugees in Nashville, Tennessee.

As for his decision to protect up to five million people from deportation for the next few years, the president said that it was done to show undocumented immigrants “that the America people actually are fair minded and want to reward other than punish people who do the right thing.”

Obama suggested that he had no other choice but to act on his own given House Republicans’ refusal to move on a Senate bill passed 18 months ago. He added that the response from the GOP to his executive action “was a vote taken last week to force talented young people and workers to leave our country.”

Knowing that he won’t be in office two years down the road, the president nonetheless said that his successor, whoever that might be, won’t gamble on trying to reverse his decision, claiming that the American public won’t allow that to happen.

Responding to a criticism from Tennessee Republican Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn that he’s forcing “hard-working taxpayers to compete for jobs with illegal aliens,” Obama asserted that immigrants have always wound up being “a net plus to our economy and a net plus to our society.”

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During Capitol Hill Grilling, Gruber Apologizes for Crediting “Stupidity of the American Voter” for Passage of Affordable Care Act

Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — Jonathan Gruber, the MIT economist who was credited as one of the architects of the Affordable Care Act, said on Tuesday that he was neither, “a politician nor a political adviser,” and insisted he, “was not the architect of President Obama’s health care plan.”

The MIT professor faced hostile members of the House Oversight House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Tuesday as he tried to explain his input into Obamacare — and apologized repeatedly for a series of incendiary comments he was caught making about its passage.

Gruber, who was reportedly paid millions to consult on the creation of the Affordable Care Act and various states’ related health care exchanges — but who was largely unknown to the public until videos surfaced in which he mocked the “stupidity of the American voter” — apologized for his statements which he Tuesday labeled as “mean,” “glib” and “arrogant.”

The economist was recorded boasting that keeping the public in the dark about President Obama’s signature legislative act was essential to those who created it. “Lack of transparency is a huge political advantage,” Gruber said, “and, basically, call it the stupidity of the American voter or whatever. But basically that was really critical to getting the thing to pass.”
On the Hill, Gruber insisted he was not the, “architect of President Obama’s health care plan,” as some labeled him, however, there was no getting around the fact that Gruber did have serious input during the drafting of the law as a key economic adviser. He visited the White House more than 20 times as it was being developed, and personally met with President Obama in that time as well.
Although she denied knowing who he was when the videos began making headlines, then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi touted Gruber’s work in speeches and on a 2009 blog posting on her official website.
The exchanges with Gruber were occasionally tense. Fed up with what he perceived as Gruber’s posturing at one point, California Republican Darrell Issa, the House Oversight chair, asked the MIT professor point blank, “Are you stupid?”
“I don’t think so, no,” Gruber responded. When asked if MIT employs stupid people, Gruber again said “no.”
Finally, Issa asked, “So you’re a smart man who said…some really stupid things?” With that, Gruber agreed with his questioner.
Along with other Republicans taking their own pokes at Gruber, Maryland Democrat Elijah Cummings, the ranking Democrat on the committee, added, “Stupid — I mean absolutely stupid comments. They were irresponsible, incredibly disrespectful and did not reflect reality.”
Cummings also acknowledged that Gruber’s statements insulting the intelligence of the American public did serious harm to the Affordable Care Act, saying it was a “public relations gift” to the GOP, and concluding, “You wrapped it up with a bow.”

Near the beginning of his testimony, Gruber said that he, “made a series of inexcusable and offensive comments, where I conjectured with a tone of expertise to try to make myself seem smarter by demeaning others, and I apologize for that.”

“I behaved badly and I’ll have to live with that,” Gruber added. “But my own inexcusable arrogance is not a flaw in the Affordable Care Act. The ACA is a milestone accomplishment for our nation that has already provided millions of Americans with health insurance.”

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Hagel in Iraq to Thank Troops, Meet with Iraqi Leaders

Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel was in Baghdad on Tuesday, making a trip to visit and thank troops for their contributions to the ongoing fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.

According to Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby, Hagel was scheduled to meet with Iraqi leaders and speak to U.S. and Australian military personnel in Baghdad. He also intended to visit the the Joint Operations Center in Baghdad.

Hagel “looks forward to gaining firsthand knowledge of coalition progress against the threat [ISIS] poses to the region, and to ensuring our troops — and the personnel of our Iraqi and coalition partners — understand how grateful he is for their service and professionalism.”

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