White House

10 things you need to know today: July 12, 2014

James is headed home.

James is headed home. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

The Week

LeBron James announces return to Cleveland, White House answers new NSA revelations, and more

1. LeBron James announces return to Cleveland Cavaliers
LeBron James announced his return to the Cleveland Cavaliers in an exclusive essay for Sports Illustrated on Friday. “I always believed that I’d return to Cleveland and finish my career there. I just didn’t know when,” James wrote. “I looked at other teams, but I wasn’t going to leave Miami for anywhere except Cleveland…I’m coming home.” James’ free agency fueled weeks of rumors, but a return to Cleveland began to seem more likely when Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert flew down to Florida last weekend, and the team subsequently made a cap-clearing trade on Wednesday. “In Northeast Ohio, nothing is given,” James added. “I’m ready to accept the challenge.” [Sports Illustrated]


2. White House knew of British government’s plans to destroy NSA data
Newly declassified documents show that the Obama administration was made aware in advance of Britain’s plans to force The Guardian newspaper to destroy data it had obtained on leaked National Security Agency documents. The White House had previously said it would be “very difficult to imagine a scenario in which that would be appropriate” in regard to performing a similar operation on an American media outlet. On Thursday, Obama administration officials said that while the White House had been aware of the plans after all, it had not assisted the British government in forcing the newspaper to destroy the computer data. [The Associated Press]


3. CDC improperly sent pathogens at least five times in past decade
Anthrax, lethal botulism bacteria, and deadly bird flu virus pathogens all may have wound up in laboratories via improper shipment procedures over the past decade, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released on Friday. “These events should never have happened,” Tom Frieden, CDC director, said in a conference call. “Frankly, I’m angry about it.” The report was released following last month’s safety lapse, in which more than 80 workers may have been exposed to live anthrax after other employees mistakenly sent samples of the bacteria to a different CDC lab. [The Washington Post]


4. U.S. on track for lowest annual deficit since 2008
The Treasury Department announced a $71 billion total June surplus on Friday afternoon, putting the U.S. on track for its lowest annual deficit since 2008. The deficit totals $366 billion in the first nine months of this budget year, down 28 percent from the same amount of time in 2013. Currently, the Congressional Budget Office is forecasting a total deficit of $492 billion, although the actual number will not be realized until the end of the full budget year, on Sept. 30. [ABC News]


5. Dutch Supreme Court blocks U.S. extradition of Al-Qaeda suspect
The Dutch Supreme Court ruled on Friday that Sabir Ali Khan could not be extradited to the United States to face charges of conspiracy to commit murder in support of al-Qaeda. Khan has citizenship in the Netherlands thanks to his mother, who was Dutch. He was arrested by Pakistani forces in 2010, allegedly at the request of the U.S., and he says he was subsequently tortured. When he was released to Dutch officials, the U.S. began trying to arrange an extradition. Khan currently lives freely in the Netherlands, although he told Time in January that he believes he is under constant surveillance. [Time]


6. Border Patrol stops migrant flights to San Diego
Following two weeks of protests from activists on both sides of the national immigration debate, the Border Patrol halted transfers of Central American migrants from Texas to San Diego on Thursday. San Diego’s U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency had stepped in to handle an influx of immigrants arriving at the Texas border who required processing. But, a spokesman for the Border Patrol said the Texas backlog had been reduced and that location could “handle their own processing on site.” [San Diego Union-Tribune]


7. Kurdish forces seize Iraq oil fields as ministers halt government roles
Kurdish forces seized two more oil fields on Friday, in northern Iraq, prompting Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s government to threaten “dire consequences” if the Kurds did not withdraw. Meanwhile, Kurdish politicians halted their roles in Baghdad’s government, although they plan to still attend parliament. “The country is now divided literally into three states,” Hoshiyar Zebari, a Kurd and Iraq’s current foreign minister, said. “Kurdish, a black state (ISIL) and Baghdad.” [Reuters]


8. Death toll rises past 120 in Gaza Strip fighting
More than 120 Palestinians have been killed in fighting between Israel and militants in the Gaza Strip, according to Palestinian sources. The United Nations estimates that more than three-quarters of the dead are civilians. Israel has promised to continue its operations, which are targeting militant and militant facilities housing senior operatives. “The objective is to restore quiet to the cities of Israel, and I intend to achieve this objective,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said. [BBC News]


9. Seattle’s only legal marijuana shop runs out of pot after three days
Seattle’s Cannabis City, the first legal marijuana shop in Washington’s largest city, sold out of its pot stock just three days into its state-approved license. While 24 other stores across Washington were also given state approval to retail marijuana this week, Cannabis City was the first in Seattle to begin selling, and its 11 pounds on hand did not last long. Shop owners blamed the shortage on the plants’ maturation process, which takes three to four months (pot growers and processors were only issued licenses last week). “We knew it was coming,” Cannabis City owner James Lathrop said. “We didn’t have any guaranteed additional deliveries.” [Bloomberg Businessweek]


10. Last living member of the Ramones dies at 65
Tommy Ramone, a co-founder of Rock and Roll Hall of Fame band the Ramones, died on Friday at age 65, according to a business associate. Tommy Ramone, born Erdelyi Tamas in Hungary, started the band in 1974 with singer Jeff Hyman (Joey Ramone), Douglas Colvin (Dee Dee Ramone), and John Cummings (Johnny Ramone). While the Ramones struggled to gain commercial success, the punk group influenced a number of other artists, including Green Day, Nirvana, and even Bruce Springsteen. They are best remembered for classics such as Blitzkrieg Bop. [CBS News]

The Survivor: How Eric Holder outlasted his (many) critics.

Obama has resisted calls from inside and outside the administration to dismiss Holder. | Paul J. Richards/ AFP/Getty Images

Politico Magazine

Why the hell is Eric Holder still around? That’s a question many of Barack Obama’s political advisers have asked at various points throughout Holder’s tumultuous five years at the helm of the Justice Department.

For most of Obama’s presidency, in fact, if there’s been controversy, Holder was likely to be in the middle of it, from the failed efforts to close Guantánamo Bay and to prosecute alleged Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in a Manhattan court to his inability to send Wall Street executives involved in the mortgage meltdown to jail. His detractors in the West Wing of the White House, and there have been many, have seen the attorney general as a never-ending source of questionable decisions, tin-eared political missteps and off-the-reservation remarks. “If it was coming out of the Justice Department,” a former top adviser to Obama recalled to me, “it was bad news.”

Congress has it in for Holder, too: House Republicans howled for his scalp after voting him in contempt of Congress two years ago in a dispute over a gun investigation gone awry, making Holder the first Cabinet member ever to be sanctioned. And at least one Hill Democrat, Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, suggested Holder step down after it was revealed the department had secretly obtained journalists’ phone records as part of leak investigations involving the Associated Press and Fox News. “Whenever you feel that you have lost your effectiveness … to the detriment of the job that you do,” Manchin told Bloomberg, “decisions have to be made.”

And yet Holder, an affable, ambitious and stubborn 63-year-old career prosecutor, has not only weathered these attacks but emerged, improbably, with greater leverage and more access to Obama than ever. How did he do it? To start, it helps that he is one of the few administration figures to cross the threshold from employee to friend of the famously reserved president. Holder, in fact, is one of the only Cabinet members Obama routinely invites over for dinner and drinks (Education Secretary Arne Duncan, a hoops buddy from Chicago, is another) and the only one who times his summer vacation to hang out with the president on Martha’s Vineyard. Their wives are even closer, and Michelle Obama is a not infrequent drop-in guest for Friday pizza night at Holder’s house. Besides, the attorney general is nothing if not a loyalist, an increasingly valuable commodity to a second-term president rattled by accelerating congressional investigations. Obama clearly respects Holder’s four decades of experience as an attorney and judge and supports Holder’s positions on LGBT rights and racial profiling, often telling his staff he recognizes it’s not all Holder’s fault: The job of attorney general is a “shit magnet” for the most intractable controversies.

But there’s another explanation, and according to the two dozen current and former Obama administration officials and confidants of both men I’ve spoken with in recent weeks, it may well be the main reason the first black president of the United States has stood so firmly behind the first black attorney general of the United States: Holder has been willing to say the things Obama couldn’t or wouldn’t say about race.

“He’s a race man,” says Charles Ogletree, a longtime friend of Holder’s who taught and mentored Obama and his wife, Michelle, as Harvard Law School students in the 1980s. “He’s gone farther and deeper into some issues of race than the White House would like, but I know he has the president’s well-wishes. It’s clear [Obama and Holder] believe in the same things.”

Holder himself recently told another African-American friend that he feels part of his job is “to talk about things the president can’t talk about as easily.” Asked to describe Holder’s role, one of his former top aides described him as “Obama’s heat shield.”

There’s no question that Obama has resisted calls, from inside and outside the administration, to dump Holder, including quiet rumblings by some aides who wanted Obama to ease him out after the 2012 reelection.

But the president brushed off such talk, as he has done repeatedly with those who have tried and failed to come between him and his AG. From the start, the White House staff has been at odds with Holder—a conflict that, my sources told me, has been one of the longest-running hidden dramas of this White House. “He says he’s on Team Obama, but he’s really on Team Holder,” one top Obama aide told me.

The bad blood goes all the way back to a month into Obama’s first term—as the West Wing staff was working 18-hour days to keep the economy from collapsing—when Holder jolted Obama’s team seemingly out of nowhere. Tellingly, the subject was race. Holder informed the White House he planned to deliver a Black History Month speech but never got around to telling Obama’s aides what he would actually say, a habit that would infuriate the White House time and again over the years—and underscore Holder’s special standing in Obama’s world.

“Though this nation has proudly thought of itself as an ethnic melting pot, in things racial we have always been and continue to be, in too many ways, essentially a nation of cowards,” Holder declared to a gathering of Justice Department employees—a bombshell assertion that caused the predictable rage among Obama’s attackers on the right, who accused him of playing the race card.

Obama’s top political aides—white liberals to a man, and they were all men—didn’t necessarily disagree with Holder’s sentiment; they just thought it was a dumb way of saying it and dangerously ill-timed to boot. Obama was ticked off, too, and did nothing to stop his top advisers David Axelrod, Rahm Emanuel, Robert Gibbs and Jim Messina from severely restricting Holder’s public utterances and imposing a ban on Sunday show appearances that stands to this day.

But the president’s anger only went so far, and Holder takes no small satisfaction in outlasting those early rivals. In interviews, many of the officials I spoke with offered a blunt explanation for his bond with Obama: For all the president’s success at breaking barriers, Obama is often the only black person in the room when a major decision is being made—unless Holder, senior adviser Valerie Jarrett or National Security Adviser Susan Rice is present. This isn’t just about skin pigment, and it’s not a phenomenon unique to Obama; all presidents draw close to them people who share common personal experiences and their deepest priorities, people they trust, who provide the elusive “comfort level” they seek in times of extreme stress. John F. Kennedy had his “Irish Mafia,” Ronald Reagan had his California buddies, Bill Clinton surrounded himself with pals from Arkansas.

Balanced against such bonds, Holder’s scraps with Congress, his battles with a press corps furious over the most leak prosecutions of any administration in history and the opposition of Obama’s palace guard—who view him as politically clueless—just can’t quite compete.

Ed. Note:  This is a very long magazine article…

Continue reading here…

The White House Is Exhausted

The National Journal

The past week has not been kind to Obama. But could it be a turning point for his presidency?

Day 1,956 of his presidency was not too kind to President Obama. Having to announce within a four-hour span that he had lost both an embattled Cabinet secretary and his chief spokesman, Obama looked Friday like a man gamely trying to get a stalled administration back on track. He entered the week still stuck with low approval ratings and facing fierce criticism of his policies both at home and abroad. On Wednesday, he tried to chart a new course internationally with a West Point speech setting out a new foreign policy. On Thursday, he dealt with widespread criticism of the speech. On Friday, he tried to dig himself out of a troubling Veterans Administration scandal by jettisoning VA Secretary Eric Shinseki, a man he thought was being unfairly blamed for the problems. Then he accepted the resignation of press secretary Jay Carney, the longtime public face of his White House. It is a cliché to note the aging of our presidents, to count the gray hairs sprouting with each passing day in the Oval Office. But Obama does look weary. And he is at a point in his administration when his agenda seems tired and many of his appointees are exhausted. In that regard, he is no different than every second-term president since World War II. For all of them, the sixth year was troubled and filled with administration scandals, political challenges and executive turnover. A second-term president has to figure out how to govern effectively without his original band of hardy loyalists. Most of them have fled government at this point. When Obama looks around his White House these days, he sees Valerie Jarrett and Dan Pfeiffer and only a handful of other aides who were with him on that frigid day in 2007 in Springfield when he announced his long-shot candidacy. Only three of Obama’s original 16 Cabinet officers remain—Eric Holder at Justice, Tom Vilsack at Agriculture, and Arne Duncan at Education. He is on his fourth budget director, his fifth chief of staff, and, soon, his third press secretary.
The turnover at press secretary is the least surprising. Few appreciate what a tough job that is. Marlin Fitzwater, who served Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, said that the biggest shock to him when he became press secretary was how hard he had to dig to get the facts and to make sure what he said publicly was accurate. As Carney was later to learn, most of that work is done off-camera, fighting to be included in the inner circle. The two-term presidents since Dwight Eisenhower have all worn out their press secretaries. Bill Clinton and George W. Bush each had four, and Ronald Reagan had three. Lyndon Johnson, who served less than two full terms, had four. Each had to struggle with the reality that the public starts to tune out a president in his second term. This is a highly personal office. A president is the only politician whom voters, in effect, invite into their homes and watch on television every night. But in a sixth year, people tend to believe they have pretty much heard it all from the president and about all they hear seems to be bad news. In making his announcements on Shinseki and Carney, the president did all the things expected of him in the circumstances, projecting determination and even smiling bravely. But what he didn’t do was signal convincingly that he knows how to provide a way forward for the 966 days he has left in the White House. How he responds now will determine whether this week is regarded as a low point or a critical turning point for his presidency.

White House Mistakenly Outs CIA Afghanistan Chief

This was pure sloppiness on their part.  Unacceptable…


During President Obama‘s surprise trip to Afghanistan on Sunday, the White House mistakenly exposed the identity of the Central Intelligence Agency’s top official in Kabul.

According to the Washington Post, the officer’s name (which has been redacted by the press to protect the individual’s safety) was inadvertently included among a list distributed to the press showing the names senior U.S. officials participating in the president’s trip.

The mistaken list reportedly identified the individual as “Chief of Station,” the CIA’s term for the highest-ranking spy official in a given country. After the White House recognized the error, they quickly issued a revised list.

The oversight was brought to light by Washington Post White House bureau chief Scott Wilson, who noticed the name on a pool report sent to the press and asked the White House press team if the name’s inclusion was intentional.

WaPo‘s report continues:

Initially, the press office raised no objection, apparently because military officials had provided the list to distribute to news organizations. But senior White House officials realized the mistake and scrambled to issue an updated list without the CIA officer’s name. The mistake, however, already was being noted on Twitter, although without the station chief’s name.

It is unclear whether the disclosure will force the CIA to pull the officer out of Afghanistan. As the top officer in one of the agency’s largest overseas posts, with hundreds of officers, analysts and other subordinates, the station chief in Kabul probably has been identified to senior Afghan government officials and would not ordinarily take part in clandestine missions beyond the U.S. Embassy compound.

Read the rest of the report here.

Carney: GOPers Admit Benghazi About ‘Trying to Raise Money and Motivate Their Base’


During an appearance on MSNBC on Friday, NBC News reporter Kristen Welker grilled White House Press Sec. Jay Carney about how the White House views the establishment of a select committee to investigate the Benghazi attack. Carney said that the investigation is unnecessary and even Republicans have confessed that the effort is not aimed at uncovering the truth but to increase campaign donations and excite the GOP base.

“House Republicans, in what is a blatantly political and partisan effort, voted to start another investigation into this matter,” Carney began, “presumably because the six previous investigations by Congress, by Republicans, were somehow not adequate.”

“It’s unfortunate that House Republicans continue to pursue this in a highly partisan manner,” he added. “And, in fact, they themselves have acknowledged how political it is and how oriented it is toward trying to raise money and motivate their base for a midterm election.”

Watch the clip below via MSNBC:


Secret Service: Motorist who followed motorcade onto White House grounds made a mistake

A man is taken into custody by Secret Service on Tuesday. Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

Luckily he wasn’t shot dead by the Capitol Police. I’m sure some will dispute the comparison and that’s ok…

The Washington Post

Mathew Goldstein’s wrong turn near the White House started as a moment of confusion and ended as a national incident.

The IT specialist for the Internal Revenue Service was driving his gray Honda Civic along 17th Street NW on Tuesday afternoon when he inadvertently followed the motorcade carrying President Obama’s daughters into the secure perimeter for the presidential compound.

Goldstein, 55, who is charged with a misdemeanor and was released after a brief appearance in D.C. Superior Court on Wednesday, told law enforcement officials that he had made a mistake and was not familiar with the roads around the White House.

“He was at a function downtown with colleagues and said he was just checked out mentally and confused,” said an official familiar with the incident. “It seems to be bad luck on his part.”

But Goldstein’s mistaken left turn raised serious questions about how an unauthorized vehicle was able to travel within five feet of the Obama girls’ motorcade and get through two rows of metal security bollards at the checkpoint at 17th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue.

Goldstein, described by a friend as brilliant but absent-minded, was so close to the motorcade that the large metal posts could not be raised in time to block the car, according to court papers filed Wednesday.

A foot patrol officer stopped Goldstein, of Mitchellville, by stepping in front of the Honda as it neared Jackson Place NW and Pennsylvania Avenue. The officer removed Goldstein from his car. He was arrested, and the Honda was towed to lot in Southwest for “safe keeping,” according to the documents.

When asked Wednesday how Goldstein was able to breach the outer perimeter, Secret Service spokesman Ed Donovan said the agency would “have to review and find out how that did happen.”

“This incident is being taken seriously and it should not have happened,” Donovan said.

Former Secret Service officials characterized the incident, which led to the lockdown of the White House for more than an hour, as a modest failure of security. Even though Goldstein maneuvered past the checkpoint, he did not get past the rear-most vehicle.

“Obviously, any failure is basically viewed as unacceptable with the Service,” said W. Ralph Basham, who served as director of the agency from 2003 to 2006.

“It’s the human element,” he said. “You’re not expecting to see something like that and when it’s that quick, being able to react in a timely fashion is challenging.”

Dan Emmett, another former Secret Service agent, said it was “amazing this did not happen long ago.”

A presidential motorcade has a marked tail car that stops to block the entrance once the “secure package” transporting the president is inside. On Tuesday, there was apparently no tail car blocking for the Obama daughters.

“Literally anyone can follow them,” said Emmett, the author of a book about his career, “Within Arm’s Length.” “I would be willing to bet they now have a tail car and will from now on.”

Donovan, the Secret Service spokesman, said the agency “does not comment on specific security arrangements for motorcades and neither should our former personnel.”

But it is not uncommon for a presidential motorcade to be inadvertently breached when the president travels outside the District, and it happens a couple of times a year, according to the agency.

Intrusions occur when checkpoints are unmanned prematurely and cars enter the lengthy motorcade, which can have substantial gaps between the more than 20 vehicles. The overwhelming majority of breaches are considered mistakes.

But having a breach at the 17th Street checkpoint is extremely unusual, according to two law enforcement sources who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Both Basham and another former Secret Service agent, who has experience with motorcades, said Obama’s daughters would have been traveling in a “stripped down” motorcade with far fewer support vehicles than the president’s entourage. In some cases, the smaller motorcades are without local police escorts so as not to draw attention, they said.

Basham said that during his tenure, confused motorists sometimes got near the motorcade but that they were forced out by police or intelligence vehicles. He could not recall any instance when a motorist got near the motorcade with the intent of doing harm to the president or another dignitary.

The president and first lady Michelle Obama would probably be briefed on Tuesday’s incident, he said.

“I’m sure they would be curious about whether this should have happened,” Basham said.

In the courtroom Wednesday, Magistrate Judge Karen A. Howze released Goldstein pending a hearing May 21. The misdemeanor charge of unlawful entry carries a maximum of 180 days in jail and a fine of as much as $1,000. The judge ordered Goldstein to stay away from the White House and its grounds.

Goldstein and his attorney declined to comment.

Don Wharton, who runs the Secular Perspectives blog, said he recruited Goldstein to be a contributor about five years ago. He described Goldstein as an introverted and intelligent atheist who cares deeply about the separation of church and state and had concerns about government surveillance.

Wharton said Goldstein never expressed any ill will toward President Obama or showed signs of violence. He spends some time as an activist for the coalition and writes a personal blog called the Explicit Atheist that has touched on subjects ranging from cosmology to political races in Arizona.

Goldstein’s brilliance, Wharton said, was also punctuated by an absent-mindedness.

“He is very capable of taking philosophical aspects of quantum mechanics and talking about them with clarity, Wharton said. “By most standards, that is a very competent manner of thinking. I can imagine him getting lost though.”

Gwen Ifill Lists Stories That Deserve More Attention Than Benghazi (VIDEO)


PBS news anchor Gwen Ifill


“If this weren’t about politics, we would be talking about the 200-plus missing girls in Nigeria,” Ifill said Sunday on CNN. “We’d be talking about the outbreak of war in South Sudan. There are so many important issues around the world which involves people’s lives, helpless people’s lives, that could use a little attention.”

Emboldened by an email that shows a White House aide explaining how to discuss the attack, House Republicans announced their intention last week to set up a select committee to investigate the attack.

Conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer gloated that many journalists “are somewhat embarrassed by the fact that unlike Fox they allowed themselves to be stoned and spun and rolled for a year-and-a-half and now the memo appears and it’s obvious they missed the story.”

The one sentence from President Obama’s press conference that Democrats should pay attention to

The Washington Post – Chris Cillizza

President Obama delivered a statement in the White House press briefing room touting the signup successes of the Affordable Care Act. He also took four questions from reporters — running the gamut from the situation in Ukraine to the ACA to the possibility of immigration reform. But, for Democrats running for office this November, there was one line in particular worth paying close attention to.

President Barack Obama speaks in the briefing room of the White House in Washington, Thursday, April 17, 2014. The president spoke about health care overhaul and the situation in Ukraine. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

President Barack Obama speaks in the briefing room of the White House in Washington, Thursday, April 17, 2014. The president spoke about health care overhaul and the situation in Ukraine. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Asked by Politico’s Edward Isaac-Dovere whether he would advise Democrats to campaign on Obamacare this fall, the president, eventually, said this: “I think Democrats should forcefully defend and be proud of the fact….we’re helping because of something we did.”  He added that Republicans would have to defend their continued efforts to repeal the law and then quickly pivoted back to talking about the economy, which, he insisted, was the No. 1 priority for most Americans.

Parse those statements and you get this:

1. Democrats shouldn’t run from Obamacare because there is a positive story to tell (and, left unsaid, because they can’t run away from it anyway).

2. Democrats should make sure to focus voters’ attention on Republican efforts to repeal the law and ask questions about whether the GOP has its priorities mixed up.

3. The economy is the real issue and the one on which the midterms will be won or lost by Democrats.

Now, it’s not clear how many candidates will follow Obama’s strategic advice on handling the ACA — particularly given that so many of the seats up in the Senate (Alaska, Arkansas, Louisiana, North Carolina etc.) are in conservative leaning states where many likely voters probably don’t agree with the president’s assertion that “We can agree it’s well past time to move on as a country.”

But, make no mistake: This is President Obama laying out a strategic blueprint as to how he thinks Democrats can run and win in an electoral environment that, at least at the moment, doesn’t look great for them.

10 things you need to know today: April 12, 2014

Pro-Russia militants barricaded themselves into the police station. 

Pro-Russia militants barricaded themselves into the police station. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)

The Week

Pro-Russia militants take over a Ukrainian police station, the White House refuses a visa to Iran’s U.N. ambassador, and more

1. Pro-Russia militants seize more Ukrainian buildings
Several dozen men took over a police station in eastern Ukraine this morning, raising a Russian flag and barricading the building. Ukrainian officials claim the militants seized at least 400 handguns and 20 automatic weapons to distribute to pro-Russia protesters. The militants appear to be Ukrainian, but the headquarters takeover is the latest building seizure by Pro-Russia forces, which come in the wake of a buildup of Russian troops along Ukraine’s border. Russian President Vladimir Putin maintains those movements are part of a military training exercise. [The New York TimesReuters ]


2. White House refuses visa to Tehran’s United Nations ambassador
In what could be an “unprecedented” move, the White House announced on Friday it will deny Iran’s pick for United Nations ambassador a visa. Citing Hamid Aboutalebi’s involvement in the 1979 takeover of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, “the selection was not viable,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said. The decision could cool still-tentative relations between the two countries, as Tehran said it plans to challenge the visa denial. [The Washington PostTIME]


3. President Obama nominates Sylvia Mathews Burwell for health secretary
President Barack Obama nominated Sylvia Mathews Burwell, as expected, for new head of the Department of Health and Human Services on Friday. The selection followed Thursday night’s resignation by Kathleen Sebelius, who quarterbacked the Affordable Care Act rollout. The Senate unanimously confirmed Burwell last year to her post of director of the Office of Management and Budget, and Obama called her a “proven manager” and “steady hand on the wheel.” [The New York Times]


4. NSA reportedly knew about Heartbleed bug for two years
Two anonymous sources told Bloomberg that the National Security Agency knew about the dangerous Heartbleed bug for at least two years, regularly exploiting the internet security flaw for its own intelligence gathering needs. Affecting as many as two-thirds of the world’s servers, Heartbleed left many sites considered secure open to data breaches by hackers. The NSA reportedly used those breaches to obtain passwords and other information. Both the NSA and the National Security Council issued flat denials of any prior knowledge of the bug. [BloombergTIME]


5. Nuclear energy firm agrees to continue supplying Ukraine
Nuclear technology company Westinghouse said on Friday it would extend a 2008 contract to supply fuel for Ukraine’s nuclear reactors. Much of the country’s nuclear fuel comes from Russia, but Moscow is threatening to cut off supplies over price disputes in the fallout over Crimea’s annexation. In light of those ongoing disputes, Ukraine also said it will reach out to European countries for new natural gas sources. [The Associated PressReuters]


6. Brazilian police evict 5,000 squatters from Rio de Janeiro favela
With this summer’s World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics set in Rio de Janeiro, officials have been trying to stamp out the city’s many favelas, slums in which more than 20 percent of Rio de Janeiro’s 6.3 million residents live. On Friday, police got the go-ahead to clear one such favela that was housing 5,000 squatters. People began protesting, throwing rocks at police, who responded with tear gas and rubber bullets. While local media reported a calmer scene by Friday evening, it was the latest incident attracting international attention to a city struggling with concerns over whether it’s prepared to host high-level sporting events. [The Washington Post]


7. Ohio issues new fracking regulations in wake of small earthquakes
Following a state investigation into small earthquakes deep under the Appalachians last month, Ohio issued new fracking conditions on Friday. Calling the link between injections of sand and water into the Utica Shale and the small tremors “probable,” state officials said the quakes wouldn’t have been easily felt by people, but were still cause enough for new permit conditions. “While we can never be 100 percent sure that drilling activities are connected to a seismic event, caution dictates that we take these new steps,” James Zehringer, director of Ohio’s natural resources department, said. [The Associated Press]


8. Pope Francis asks forgiveness for priests’ sexual abuse
Speaking on Vatican Radio on Friday, Pope Francis asked forgiveness from victims of Catholic priests’ sexual abuse. The comments are being called the strongest condemnation yet of the Catholic Church’s sexual abuse scandal. Pope Francis addressed the issue after being criticized for not dedicating enough attention to the problem, saying, “the church is aware of this damage, it is personal, moral damage carried out by men of the church, and we will not take one step backward with regards to how we will deal with this problem.” [CNNTIME]


9. Dating app Tinder now worth $5 billion
Created just 20 months ago, the popular dating app Tinder is now worth $5 billion. The app, which syncs a Facebook profile and pings back other active profiles nearby, matches 10 million users a day. Barry Diller’s IAC, which is Tinder’s majority owner, bought another 10 percent of the company from venture capitalist Chamath Palihapitiya for $500 million, making Tinder’s value almost as much as its parent company. [Update: IAC CEO Sam Yagan told Forbes Tinder's $5 billion worth is "nowhere near the truth." Yagan says the firm bought a 10 percent stake for $50 million, not $500 million.] [Bloomberg]


10. Aaron Hernandez associates charged with murder
Carlos Ortiz and Ernest Wallace, associates of former New England Patriots star Aaron Hernandez, were indicted on first-degree murder charges on Friday. No arraignment date has been set yet. Hernandez had previously been charged in the June 2013 slaying of Odin Lloyd, a fact Ortiz’s lawyer John Connors noted: “(Ortiz) started out having a gun (charge), then accessory after the fact, and now we’re up to first-degree murder,” Connors said. “This is absolutely crazy.” [The Boston Globe]

Keeping Tabs on Obama’s Church Attendance Is No Way to Gauge His Faith

Photo by Pool photo by Drew Angerer

The Daily Beast

President Obama has demonstrated the depth and breadth of his faith in numerous ways and in a variety of settings since taking office.
An article in the New York Times last week tallied up the number of times President Obama has attended church while in office: more than Reagan, less than Bush, and when it comes to all presidents, probably somewhere in between. The piece sought to make a broader point about the president’s religiosity based on these rough metrics–but that equation misses a lot else in the process. So I thought it might be illuminating to provide just a glimmer of Obama’s faith, a few moments out of many that stood out to me over the years of working and praying with our president.One of my favorite memories in church with Obama was from 2007, at Brown Chapel A.M.E. in Selma, Alabama. The young senator was at Brown Chapel to worship and mark the anniversary of Bloody Sunday, the day in 1965 when civil rights activists faced dogs and batons as they marched from Selma to Montgomery.

Obama took the pulpit to deliver a powerful sermon–one of my favorites, later called “The Joshua Generation” speech, in which he masterfully linked his own diverse lineage, the Civil Rights movement of the 50s and 60s, the journey of the people of Israel from Egypt to Canaan, and the political moment of that day.

But it was what happened before his formal remarks that really stood out to me. We staff had prepared a standard “acknowledgments card” for Obama to read, with the names of clergy, elected officials, and other dignitaries to thank before his speech. He read those acknowledgments but when he was finished, Senator Obama said there was one more person who hadn’t been recognized.

He looked out into the packed congregation and saw a wizened face sitting several pews back, an old man who looked to be well north of 80 years. None of the other speakers had noticed the man at that point, and we had not introduced him to Senator Obama before the service began. But Obama pointed to him and said, “and finally friends, here with us today is Dr. C.T. Vivian. Let’s pause and thank him. That’s the man Dr. Martin Luther King called the greatest preacher to ever live.”

Vivian’s smile grew wide and eyes teary at the unexpected acknowledgment. Several of us marveled at how we had missed the great Dr. Vivian–whose activism precipitated the 1965 march in the first place–and how Obama had picked his face out from so many others in the crowd. It was a beautiful nod across generations, a pause from that pulpit that I’ll never forget.

There were many other remarkable moments of worship. I remember being at Allen Chapel A.M.E. in Washington for Easter services in 2010, when the entire Obama family–Barack, Michelle, Malia, Sasha, and Ms. Robinson–knelt to take the bread and wine of communion. A week earlier, a drive-by shooting had rocked that same neighborhood, taking five lives and injuring four. The First Family’s attendance at that Easter service added a bit of temporal healing in that community to the eternal hope symbolized by Christ’s body and blood.

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H/t: DB