Tuesday, August 11, 2015

New Jersey man arrested and charged with conspiring to support ISIS

A former New Jersey resident has been arrested and charged with allegedly conspiring and attempting to provide support to the Islamic State, the U.S. Department of Justice said Monday.
Nader Saadeh, 20, a former Rutherford, N.J., resident, was expected to appear before a federal judge Monday afternoon.
The charges against Saadeh stem from an FBI investigation into a group of individuals from the New Jersey-New York area. Saadeh is the sixth man to be arrested in the two-state sting. His brother, Alaa Saadeh, was arrested on June 29.
Federal investigators say Saadeh sent “electronic messages” between 2012 and 2013 that expressed his anger and hatred for the United States. At that time, he also expressed interest in forming “a small army” that would include his friends. He also, reportedly, posted images of the black and white ISIS flag on his Facebook page in 2014.
According to an informant working with the FBI, Saadeh told friends in April 2015 that he was preparing to travel overseas. It was around that same time authorities say Saadeh became a “radicalized supporter” of ISIS and expressed solidarity with those behind the terror attacks in Paris. In that attack, 12 people were killed at the offices of Charlie Hebdo, a French satirical magazine that published controversial cartoons about the prophet Muhammad.
The investigation into Saadeh started when a friend, identified as “individual 1” in court documents, contacted the FBI and expressed concern that Saadeh, his brother and their friends were planning a trip overseas where they might join a terror group.
Individual 1 told investigators that Saadeh’s interest in ISIS as well as his “adoption of stringent religious behavior” coincided with other statements he made in support of ISIS.
Investigators say they also obtained emails from April 2015 that were sent to Saadeh by family members, including one from his mother, begging her son not to join the terror group.
A third New Jersey resident, Samuel Rahamin Topaz, was arrested on June 17, 2015. Topaz was also charged with conspiring to provide material support to ISIS.
In a post-arrest interview, Alaa Saadeh, told authorities his brother Nader and Topaz watched ISIS propaganda videos together and discussed going overseas to join the group.
Saadeh, a dual U.S.-Jordanian national, got on a May 5 flight from New York to Amman, Jordan. He was detained upon arrival, though it was not immediately clear when he was returned to the United States.
If Saadeh is found guilty, he could face up to 20 years in prison and a fine of $250,000.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Executions likely go on despite strong Supreme Court dissent

Wherever their summer travels have taken them, Supreme Court justices probably will weigh in on Texas' plans to execute two death row inmates in the week ahead.

If past practice is any guide, the court is much more likely to allow the lethal-injection executions to proceed than to halt them.
Opponents of the death penalty took heart when Justices Stephen Breyer and Ruth Bader Ginsburg made the case against capital punishment in late June as arbitrary, prone to mistakes and time-consuming. Even if death penalty opponents eventually succeed, the timeline for abolition probably will be measured in years, not months.
That's because Breyer, joined by Ginsburg, was writing in dissent in a case involving death row inmates in Oklahoma, and five sitting justices, a majority of the court, believe "it is settled that capital punishment is constitutional," as Justice Samuel Alito wrote in his opinion for the court in that same case.
Texas has scheduled back-to-back executions Wednesday and Thursday for Daniel Lee Lopez and Tracy Lane Beatty.
Lopez was convicted of running over a Texas police officer with his car during a high-speed chase. Lopez' lawyer already has asked the court to stop the execution.
Beatty strangled his 62-year-old mother, then stole her car and drained her bank accounts. He has an appeal pending in lower courts and could also end up at the Supreme Court.
The justices rarely issue last-minute reprieves to death-row inmates. Even after Breyer's opinion calling for a re-examination of capital punishment by the Supreme Court, no justice publicly backed a Missouri inmate's plea to halt his execution to allow the court to take up the constitutionality of the death penalty.
Similarly, the three Oklahoma inmates who lost their high court case now face execution in September and October and want the justices to reconsider the decision from June in light of Breyer's dissent. The court almost never does that.
The heightened attention on the death penalty comes amid declining use of capital punishment in the United States, and a sharp drop in the number of death penalty prosecutions.
The 18 executions that have taken place so far this year have been carried out in just five states -- Texas, Missouri, Georgia, Florida and Oklahoma. Nine of those were in Texas. Twelve states with the death penalty have not had an execution in more than five years. That list includes California and Pennsylvania, which between them have more than 900 death row inmates.
The relatively small number of states that actively seek to carry out death sentences underscores what Ginsburg characterized in late July as "the luck of the draw."
"If you happen to commit a crime in one county in Louisiana, the chances you will get the death penalty are very high. On the other hand, if you commit the same deed in Minnesota, the chances are almost nil," she said at a Duke University law school event in Washington.
Texas is far and away the leader in carrying out executions, but it too has seen a drop in the number of new inmates on its death row. No new death sentences have been imposed in Texas this year, said Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center.
Geographic disparity was among several defects Breyer and Ginsburg identified in June. Another is the length of time many inmates spend living under a sentence of death, which Breyer had previously suggested also might be a violation of the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment. Six of the 18 men who have been executed in 2015 spent at least 20 years on death row, including one who served 31 years before his execution.
Yet for all the systemic problems opponents of capital punishment can cite, they also have to reckon with what death penalty opponent Michael Meltsner called the "world of brutality and the awful capacity of people to commit violent crimes." One example: The Justice Department, which has otherwise advocated for criminal justice reforms during the Obama administration, won a death sentence in the case of convicted Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.
"When awful things happen, people don't think about the costs and benefits. They react to circumstances. There is an ambivalence that has tracked the death penalty debate for many years," said Meltsner, a Northeastern University law professor and experienced civil rights lawyer.
Among the questions surrounding the possibility that the Supreme Court would take up the constitutionality of the death penalty is the makeup of the court itself.
With four justices in their late 70s or early 80s, the next president might have the chance to fill several vacancies and could change the court's direction.
"Obviously, the composition of the court matters greatly and the biggest unknown variable about the life of the American death penalty is the presidential election of 2016. My expected time frame for constitutional abolition varies greatly based on the result," said Jordan Steiker, a University of Texas law professor.
It took Breyer and Ginsburg more than 20 years on the Supreme Court to voice their doubt about capital punishment. Justices Harry Blackmun and John Paul Stevens likewise spoke out at the very end of their time on the court.
Steiker said he thinks Breyer's dissent will serve as a road map for death penalty lawyers and future justices who may not feel constrained to wait before grappling with executions.
"It was invigorating to those who'd like to see constitutional abolition," he said. "The arguments not new, but they had not been marshaled as effectively by a justice until this opinion."

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Why the Fox Debate is taking hits from Donald Trump's fans


The attacks by Donald Trump and his followers on the Fox News debate have raised a really important question:
What, exactly, is the role of moderators in a presidential debate?
Or to take a broader view: What is the role of journalists, period?
Many in the mainstream media, including such luminaries as Katie Couric, Andrea Mitchell and Jeff Greenfield, have praised the tough questioning by Megyn Kelly, Bret Baier and Chris Wallace. Perhaps most striking was this piece by liberal New York Times columnist Frank Bruni:
“They took each of the 10 Republicans onstage to task. They held each of them to account. They made each address the most prominent blemishes on his record, the most profound apprehensions that voters feel about him, the greatest vulnerability that he has.
“It was riveting. It was admirable. It compels me to write a cluster of words I never imagined writing: hooray for Fox News.”
But many conservative commentators, led by Rush Limbaugh and Mark Levin, have criticized Fox over the debate. What’s telling is that some portion of the Fox audience, at least according to Twitter and Facebook, is also unhappy.
Now some of these are fierce Trump partisans who are ticked when anyone challenges him on anything. Others were disappointed with the overall tone of the Cleveland event.
“The only reason Fox had high ratings was because of TRUMP and he’s the very one they tried to tear down. Thanks for Trump for your ratings, it sure wasn’t the so-called journalists,” one person said.
Another wrote that “those questions were inappropriate and vicious by Fox.”
These were offset by many others who praised the moderators’ performance, but let’s look at what some found “vicious.”
Trump was asked whether he would pledge to support the GOP nominee (after raising the potential for an independent bid in numerous interviews); about his own derogatory words about women; why he once supported single-payer health care; his evidence that Mexico is sending rapists into the United States; the Iran nuclear deal, and why he once supported abortion rights.
Jeb Bush was asked what he would say to families of those who died in “your brother’s war.” Scott Walker was asked about flip-flopping on immigration. Ben Carson was asked about his political inexperience. Marco Rubio was asked if abortion should be allowed in cases of rape and incest. And on and on.
These were aggressive questions, no doubt about it. They were painstakingly framed to elicit substantive answers from the candidates.
How would some of these detractors have reacted if the same sort of debate questions had been asked of Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley? (We won’t get to find out, as the DNC has not awarded Fox one of its six debates.)
In other words, are the critics upset because they think the Fox anchors tried to put the Republican candidates on the defensive?
Of course, critics sometimes shout the loudest, and social media give them a big megaphone. But the 24 million Americans who watched--those are World Series numbers, even if many tuned in for the Trump Show--saw the candidates having to hit major-league pitching, not giving a scripted speech or appearing in a paid commercial. 
It’s fine to criticize the moderators of any debate, and it’s fine to criticize Fox. But some of these cries of “I’ll never watch Fox again” seem disproportionate for a debate that was highly praised by most journalists.
Anchors are supposed to be tough in interviews and at debates, and not just to produce “good television.”
Provocative debate questions are nothing new. In 1988, CNN’s Bernard Shaw began by asking Michael Dukakis whether he would support the death penalty if his wife was raped and murdered. Dukakis’ impassive response sealed his fate.
In 2012, CNN’s John King began by asking Newt Gingrich about an ex-wife’s account that he was having an affair and asked her for an open marriage. Gingrich thundered against “the destructive, vicious nature of much of the news media.”
The great interviewers like Tim Russert, who was a Democratic operative before joining NBC, know full well about pressing the pols. Russert said in 2007 that the founder of “Meet the Press,” Lawrence Spivak, once told him that “that the job of the host is to learn as much as you can about your guest’s positions and take the other side.”
Having watched Megyn, Bret and Chris spend hours preparing for the debate, I know they took great pains to be fair. In fashioning a question about a story that Fox had just broken, Baier made sure to say the candidates on stage might not be aware of it so there would be no implication that they were just uninformed.
The team was led by Bill Sammon, the Washington managing editor, and there were no dictates from on high. Unfortunately, some liberal outlets insist on arguing that Fox was pursuing some kind of crusade.
The left-wing Talking Points Memo, for instance, accused Fox of a “Trump-bashing agenda”:
“Fox News’ purpose in the main 10-candidate event was made plain with the first question: an in-your-face spotlight on Donald Trump’s refusal to promise not to run as an independent candidate. And the relentless pounding of Trump—on his bankruptcies, his past support for single-payer health care and abortion rights, his ‘specific evidence’ for claiming Mexico has dispatched criminals to the U.S. (slurs about immigrants by other candidates didn’t come up) and even his sexist tweets-—continued right on through to Frank Luntz’s post-debate focus group, designed to show how much damage Trump had sustained.” 
Did Luntz control what his focus-group members would say? And is there a suggestion that Trump shouldn’t have been asked about his past liberal positions, or whether he’d rule out a third-party run?
Buzzfeed put it this way:
“The sharp change in tone marks a drastic shift for Fox, which has intentionally boosted Trump’s bid for weeks.”
Not true. It’s a big place. Some commentators have been sympathetic to Trump, while others—such as Charles Krauthammer and Jonah Goldberg, both of whom have felt the Trumpian wrath—have been slamming him.
Buzzfeed admits that “Fox News isn’t the only outlet that has succumbed to Trump-mania. The entire media has fallen under the spell.” Then why single out Fox?
The question of how much coverage to give Donald Trump is an important one. And television journalists shouldn’t get a pass for the way they handle candidates. We're all fair game.
But I can tell you from first-hand observation that Fox’s Cleveland team had one goal: to pin down all 10 presidential contenders on that stage.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Sanders Trumps Hillary


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Buzz Cut:
•        Sanders Trumps Hillary
•        2016 GOP Power Index: Carly climbs on knockout debate
•        Trump expands attacks
•        Power Play: Hayes takes his five
•        To be or not to be: wait, what was the question?

SANDERS TRUMPS HILLARY
Hillary Clinton is to lay out her plan today for free college at government schools. It’s noteworthy that Clinton claims her plan costs exactly half – $350 billion – of what Bernie Sanders’ proposal.
The posture here is that Clinton is the candidate who has the same goals as Sanders – in this case, making college a right, like primary and secondary education – but can attain them in a more responsible way.  Her message to the party is that free college isn’t free to taxpayers, aka voters, and support for outlandish measures will be a killer come next fall. Her call to her party base: Be reasonable, people.
Good luck with that.
In a party that is in the process of disowning its father and in which even socialist Sanders gets silenced by liberal activists, the idea that Clinton can squelch the populist uprising with some triangulation (definitely scalene in nature) is as ridiculous as the thought that Jeb Bush could shoo Donald Trump out of the GOP race with a white paper on border security.

As Glenn Reynolds observed, the inability of the political establishment – left and right (insofar as they are different) – to cope with the current political moment has become painfully obvious.
If Sanders can pack nearly 30,000 souls into a Portland, Ore. arena it’s fair to say that he is doing even better than Trump into harnessing the outrage that animates voters, particularly older, white ones, who believe that America is truly at the abyss. And remember that both Trump and Sanders share the view that a conspiracy between business and politics is at the core of the problem.
It may be Portlandia, but still…
The biggest difference between the Democrats and the Republicans, or between Clinton and Bush, if you prefer, is that on the GOP side there are lots and lots and lots of viable alternatives. As Thursday’s debate showed, Republicans have plenty of credible choices with reasonable electoral paths.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Clinton touts $350B college affordability plan, faces stiff opposition


Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton announced a $350 billion plan Monday to make college more affordable, calling for a “new college compact” designed to reduce the growing burden of student debt.

However, the plan faces a difficult sell to both liberal Democrats and Republicans, possibly not going far enough for the Democrats' liberal wing, while turning off Republicans with a high price tag and increased federal intervention.
Clinton announced the plan at a town hall meeting at Exeter High School in New Hampshire, telling gathered supporters: "It’s ambitious but we should be ambitious."
The campaign accompanied the announcement with a campaign video that featured a number of students struggling with student debt telling their stories.
"I want every parent to know his or her child can get a college degree," Clinton said. "That’s the country I want to help build."
The plan aims to ensure that students can attend a 4-year public college without taking out loans, as well as making community college tuition-free, while also pushing states to reinvest in higher education and pushing schools to reduce costs and raise graduation rates.
The plan’s cornerstone is a $200 billion federal incentive system that would encourage states to expand spending in higher education and cut student costs. States that guarantee “no-loan” tuition at four-year public schools and free community college tuition would be eligible for federal money.
Military veterans, lower-income students and those who complete a national service program, like AmeriCorps, would go to school for free, although others would still incur costs for their schooling and living expenses at four-year public universities.
"For many students, it would translate into debt-free tuition," Carmel Martin, executive vice president for policy at the Center for American Progress, who advised Clinton on the plan, told The Associated Press. "It will depend on the student circumstances and the institution they are going to."
Those now repaying loans would be able to refinance their outstanding debt at lower rates, a change the Clinton campaign claims will save an average of $2,000 for 25 million borrowers over the life of a loan. Clinton’s plan would also expand income-based repayment programs and allow every student borrower to enroll in a plan capping their payments at 10 percent of their income and would forgive remaining debt after 20 years.
"We will make sure that debt won’t hold anyone back. For millions of Americans who have debt my plan will give them the chance to refinance at lower interest rates," Clinton said. "If you can refinance your car loan, you should be able to refinance your student loans."
Clinton’s campaign said the plan would be paid for by capping itemized tax deductions for wealthy families at 28 percent.
Although Clinton’s plan may be an effort to satisfy a key demand of the Democrats' liberal wing, the plan doesn’t go as far as others seeking the 2016 nomination. Fellow 2016 hopeful Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., has called for the elimination of tuition and fees entirely for public universities, funded by taxing hedge funds, investment houses and other Wall Street firms. Many party activists and left-wing politicians have made “debt free college” for all a litmus test for the primaries, with Clinton’s plan falling just short of that test.
Minutes before Clinton’s speech, Sanders tweeted his call for the U.S. to “revolutionize” its higher education system and for free tuition at public colleges and universities.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

White House aide arrested after allegedly shooting gun at boyfriend


A White House staffer was arrested late Friday after allegedly shooting a gun at her boyfriend, an officer with the U.S. Capitol Police, during a heated argument, authorities said.
Barvetta Singletary, 37, who is a special assistant to President Obama and also holds the title of house legislative liaison, was charged with domestic violence in the incident, which police say occurred at her home in Upper Marlboro, Md.
Police say she summoned her boyfriend, who was not identified, by text message, and the two had sex. Afterward, according to the criminal complaint, Singletary went to the man’s car with him and accused him of dating other women. Inside the car, Singletary allegedly took the man’s cellphones and his service weapon, demanding passwords to unlock messages stored on the phones.
"You taught me how to use this,” Singletary allegedly told the man. “Don't think I won't use it."
Police say Singletary pointed the gun in the victim's direction and fired one round.
The man ran away and called police, according to authorities. Singletary was arrested at the scene without incident.
A White House spokesperson said Monday:
“We are aware of the matter and have temporarily placed the employee in question on unpaid leave and revoked her access to the complex until we have more information. We will take additional actions as needed. For further questions, I would refer you to the Prince George’s County Police Department.”
Singletary came to the White House a year ago from her job as deputy chief of staff and policy director to Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C., the third-ranking Democratic in the House.
Singletary is a graduate of Hemingway High School and Howard University, Washington DC. She is the daughter of Councilwoman W. Jeanie Brown-Burrows and the late Bobby Singletary.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Florida detective reels in 50 pounds of cocaine worth millions while fishing


An off-duty police detective hooked a big one that didn't get away along the Florida coast last week, snagging a 50-pound parcel of cocaine with a street value of $10 million.
The Charlotte County deputy, fishing from a boat just off the Gulf Coast, reeled in the haul while fishing Wednesday off Englewood Beach in Englewood, according to authorities.
"While out fishing yesterday evening, one of our detectives caught more then he was expecting," Sheriff Bill Prummell of the Charlotte County Sheriff's Office said in a video on the department's Facebook page. "He located a package floating in the Gulf of Mexico more than 20 miles offshore ... That package turned out to be more than 50 pounds of uncut powdered cocaine."
The detective's name is not being released due to safety concerns. The 25 blocks of cocaine have since been turned over to federal authorities, who are working to determine its point of origin. 
 

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