The White House will be “picking up the pace on executive actions,” as Congress focuses its efforts on the newly formed select committee investigating Benghazi, senior Obama adviser Dan Pfeiffer declared Tuesday.
In an op-ed for The Huffington Post, Pfeiffer argued that congressional Republicans are not interested in engaging on the economy, instead spending time “obsessively trying to repeal the Affordable Care Act” and “ginning up politically motivated investigations.”
“Given this dynamic, President Obama has only one option — use every ounce of his authority to unilaterally improve economic security,” Pfeiffer said.
“Next week, as congressional Republicans spend their energy on yet another partisan investigation, we’ll be picking up the pace on the executive actions to help the economy,” Pfeiffer added.
The White House has dismissed the select committee investigating the terrorist attacks in Benghazi, Libya, announced earlier this month by Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) as redundant and politically motivated. Republicans have argued that the special panel was necessary after the release of a previously undisclosed email from White House deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes showing involvement in drafting then-U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice’s infamous talking points.
The veteran White House aide did not detail exactly how the president would exert his executive authorities in the coming days, although Obama is expected to take at least two major actions on the environment.
On Wednesday, Obama is slated to designate the largest national monument of his presidency in the mountains of New Mexico. And Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy hinted Monday that the president would personally present new carbon emissions limits on coal-fired power plants. The White House has said that announcement would come in early June.
The president will also travel to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., on Thursday, Pfeiffer said, “to make it easier for foreign tourists to see more and spend more money in our country.”
“We have many more executive actions to come, and every day the president has charged us with looking for additional ways to expand opportunity,” Pfeiffer said.
The accelerated focus on executive actions might further complicate efforts to pass major legislation on Capitol Hill before the summer recess, however.
House Republicans have said that the president’s willingness to act unilaterally is a core reason they’re reluctant to move on immigration reform legislation — one area where the White House has conceded that executive actions alone aren’t enough.
Earlier this year, Boehner warned that if Obama “tries to ignore” the Constitution, “he’s going to run into a brick wall.”
“House Republicans will continue to look closely at whether the president is faithfully executing the laws — as he took an oath to do,” Boehner said.
Read more: http://thehill.com/blogs/blog-briefing-room/news/206600-white-house-picking-up-the-pace-on-executive-actions#ixzz32IKZbi7U
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SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korea, which this month threatened to carry out a fourth nuclear test, may be closer than previously thought to putting a nuclear warhead on a missile, some experts say, making a mockery of years of U.N. sanctions aimed at curbing such a program.
North Korea has long boasted of making strides in acquiring a “nuclear deterrent”, but there had been general skepticism that it could master the step of miniaturizing a nuclear warhead to mount on a ballistic missile.
No one outside the inner circle of North Korea’s nuclear program likely knows what advances the country has made. But there has been a shift in thinking by some who study North Korea full time since it conducted a nuclear test in February last year and amid on-off indications it is preparing another.
The isolated and poverty-stricken state, which regularly threatens to destroy the United States and South Korea in a sea of flames, defends its nuclear program as a “treasured sword” to counter what it sees as U.S.-led hostility.
And there was now “tremendous technological motivation” to conduct a nuclear test as it races to perfect the technology to miniaturize warheads, a South Korean nuclear expert said.
“The field deployment of a nuclear missile is imminent,” said Kim Tae-woo, former head of South Korea’s state-run Korea Institute for National Unification, who also served as head of research at the state-run Korea Institute for Defense Analyses.
Diplomatic sources told Reuters that China, North Korea’s lone major ally, had used diplomatic channels to warn North Korea against a nuclear test, another possible sign that Pyongyang is considering such a move.
Experts say the delivery vehicle of choice for the North’s first nuclear warhead would most likely be the mid-range Rodong missile, which has a design range of 1,300 km (800 miles).
“Given the number of years that North Korea has been working at it, my assessment is that they can mount a warhead on a Rodong,” Mark Fitzpatrick, director of the non-proliferation at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, said.
“…Also, there is no doubt that Pakistan can mount a nuclear warhead on its version of the Rodong …It is reasonable to assume that North Korea can too. How reliable the warhead would be is another question.”
A South Korean government official involved in monitoring the North’s nuclear capabilities said miniaturization was “within sight”.
“It is likely there has been progress, but on the question of whether they have actually achieved it, I’d have to say not yet,” he said.
In March, the North fired two Rodong missiles which flew about 650 km (400 miles) before splashing into the sea off the east coast, well short of their full range.
Some experts interpreted the short flight as a test of a modified missile designed to carry a nuclear warhead by cutting the amount of fuel on board.
“A long-range missile test makes little sense for North Korea as a test to deliver a nuclear warhead,” Kim said. “…if the North deploys a nuclear weapon, the strongest candidate to carry it will be the Rodong.”
David Albright of the Institute for Science and International Security based in Washington, cited the low yields of the North’s previous nuclear tests as consistent with the type of yield to be expected from a crude miniaturized warhead.
“North Korea is well aware of Pakistan’s and Iran’s work on miniaturizing nuclear warheads for (their) missiles, which originally were copies of the Rodong missile,” he said.
“North Korea would have likely made the same judgment as the two countries about the importance of starting early to develop a nuclear warhead for its missiles.”
Ballistic missile launches are banned under U.N. Security Council resolutions. The council expanded sanctions after Pyongyang’s February 2013 nuclear test, its third since 2006.
The sanctions target the missile and nuclear programs and ban the export of luxury goods to the country, but they cannot seriously damage trade in a country that does little trade with the rest of the world.
For North Korea at present, what was likely more at stake was winning “the political poker game where risks and vague possibilities are seen as matter-of-fact situations”, said Markus Schiller of Schmucker Technologie in Germany.
For a nuclear missile to reach its target with precision and undamaged from the stress of launch and re-entry, everything must work flawlessly and that could be achieved only through repeated testing, said Schiller, a missile technology expert.
A mid-range Rodong would still require a flight into space and return to the atmosphere, bearing the full stress of the re-entry of peak loads of almost 20 times the force of gravity for a few seconds, he said.
“The big question is whether this warhead would still function after re-entry,” he said. “My current guess is rather no than yes.”
But putting most of Japan within range of a nuclear-tipped ballistic missile will be sobering for the world’s third-largest economy and its ally, the United States.
“If you can take Tokyo hostage with nuclear weapons, you can do a lot of things,” said Narushige Michishita, a defense expert formerly involved in Japan’s security policy.
The Obama administration will spend over $1 billion on HealthCare.gov, the still-incomplete Obamacare website, by the end of the year, according to Obama nominee Sylvia Burwell’s testimony to Congress.
Tennessee Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander asked Burwell, the nominee for Health and Human Services secretary, to provide details on federal spending on the embattled health care website during a hearing of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee. Alexander serves as the ranking Republican.
Burwell responded with specifics of HealthCare.gov’s finances.
“It is my understanding that as of February 28, 2014, CMS has obligated a total of approximately $834 million on Marketplace-related IT contracts and interagency agreements,” Burwell wrote to the HELP Committee. “These expenditures include the website and the systems that support enrollment through the Marketplace, such as the data services hub as well as other supporting IT infrastructure, including cloud computing, to support Marketplace IT development.”
And that’s just through February. By the end of the year, HealthCare.gov spending is expected to rise to over $1 billion.
“The president’s budget reflects a need for approximately $200 million for all Marketplace-related IT in FY 2015, some of which is funded through user fees,” she continued. “Much of this amount reflects ongoing operational and maintenance costs of healthcare.gov, as well as continued development.”
After HealthCare.gov’s disastrous roll-out last fall, the Obama administration’s tech surge managed to fix a significant portion of consumer-facing problems on the website. But the back end of the website, which communicates application information between the federal government and insurance companies, still hasn’t been finished.
Standardized insurance forms and verification systems for premium subsidies still haven’t been finished, and in theory, will be set up by 2015 using the extra $200 million the White House has requested.
Burwell notes that some of the funding will come from user fees — typically a 1-3 percent tax that Obamacare customers pay on their insurance premiums each month to fund the exchange’s operations. Many state-run exchanges are struggling to fund their own costly operations with just monthly user fees. (RELATED: DC Will Tax All Insurers To Pay For Obamacare Exchange)
A HELP committee source told the Washington Examiner that not only will the next $200 million for the website be partly paid for by “accounts the HHS Secretary has a little more leeway to spend in ways she sees fit if Congress doesn’t specifically appropriate money.”
In addition to $1 billion HealthCare.gov, the Obama administration has spent hundreds of millions on federal grants to states establishing their own exchanges. Four state-run exchanges on the edge of collapse have used $474 million in federal taxpayer dollars so far.
Despite warnings that doing so “could lead to increased violence” and potentially deaths, anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks says it plans to publish the name of a country targeted by a massive United States surveillance operation.
On Monday this week, journalists at The Intercept published a report based off of leaked US National Security Agency documents supplied by former contractor Edward Snowden which suggested that the NSA has been collecting in bulk the contents of all phone conversations made or received in two countries abroad.
Only one of those nations, however — the Bahamas — was named by The Intercept. The other, journalists Ryan Devereaux, Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras wrote this week, was withheld as a result of “credible concerns that doing so could lead to increased violence.”
WikiLeaks has since accused The Intercept and its parent company First Look Media of censorship and says they will publish the identity of the country if the name remains redacted in the original article. The Intercept’s Greenwald fired back over Twitter, though, and said his outlet chose to publish more details than the Washington Post, where journalists previously reported on a related call collection program but chose to redact more thoroughly.
“We condemn Firstlook for following the Washington Post into censoring the mass interception of an entire nation,” WikiLeaks tweeted on Monday.
“It is not the place of Firstlook or the Washington Post to deny the rights of an entire people to know they are being mass recorded,” WikiLeaks added. “It is not the place of Firstlook or WaPo to decide how a people will [choose] to act against mass breaches of their rights by the United States.”
When Greenwald defended his decision to publish the names of four countries where telephony metadata is collected by the NSA but withhold a fifth where content is recorded as well, WikiLeaks said it could be interpreted as meaning that the unknown country doesn’t deserve to know they’re being surveilled, but Greenwald said The Intercept was “very convinced” it could lead to deaths. Later, WikiLeaks equated this as an act of racism.
Glenn Greenwald.(Reuters / Ueslei Marcelino)Glenn Greenwald.(Reuters / Ueslei Marcelino)
But as the conversation escalated, the WikiLeaks Twitter announced it would disclose the nation’s identify if The Intercept did not, despite requests from the US government to leave that information redact over fears of what the response could be.
“When has true published information harmed innocents?” WikiLeaks asked. “To repeat this false Pentagon talking point is to hurt all publishers.”
“We will reveal the name of the censored country whose population is being mass recorded in 72 hours,” WikiLeaks wrote at 6:35 p.m. EST Tuesday evening. If the organization intends to uphold that promise, that the identity of the country could be revealed before the weekend.
As RT reported earlier this week, The Intercept story made claims that the NSA has used a program codenamed MYSTIC to collect basic phone records in at least five countries, similar to the metadata that has been controversially collected in bulk domestically as revealed in one of the first documents released by Snowden last year. In the Bahamas and one more locale, though, The Intercept reported that NSA documents reveal another program, codenamed SOMALGET, is deployed in order to process “over 100 million call events per day.”
SOMALGET, the document reads, is a “program for embedded collection systems overtly installed on target networks, predominantly for the collection and processing of wireless/mobile communications networks.” According to The Intercept, the decision to wiretap all calls in and out of the Bahamas was made unilaterally and without the knowledge of the island’s government or its quarter-of-a-million people.