Donate

Politics

From KQED

Council Members Call For More Openness in San Jose's Permit Process

Two San Jose council members say their city makes it too tough on small business owners who want to open shop or expand.

CPUC to File Revised PG&E Penalty

The California Public Utilities Commission is set to file a revised penalty proposal Monday for PG&E’s part in the fatal San Bruno gas line explosion.

Ro Khanna: Candidate for Congressional District 17

As part of our on-going election coverage, Ro Khanna joins us in the studio. The Fremont attorney and former Obama administration official is challenging seven-term Congressman Mike Honda for the district at the heart of Silicon Valley.

U.S. Think Tanks Influenced by Foreign Governments?

A number of well-respected U.S. think tanks, including the Brookings Institution and the Atlantic Council, have accepted tens of millions of dollars from foreign governments in Europe, the Middle East and Asia as these countries seek to influence U.S. policy. That's according to a New York Times investigation published on Saturday. The Brookings Institution released a statement defending the independence of its scholars, saying the article contains "major omissions, distortions, and errors."

PBS NewsHour

Who wins Senate control? Nov. 4 may not decide

WASHINGTON — A suspenseful election night is one thing, but what if it stretches out for a month? Or into next year?

A handful of tight races in states with quirky election laws make for the headache-inducing possibility that Election Day will come and go without deciding which party controls the Senate.

If that happens, brace for a fierce runoff election and possible recounts that could make for an ugly holiday season in politics and government.

The main reason for uncertainty: Louisiana’s election laws. Strategists in both parties say a Dec. 6 runoff is likely because Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu and top Republican challenger Bill Cassidy will struggle to exceed 50 percent on the crowded Nov. 4 ballot.

In Louisiana’s “jungle primary,” all candidates – regardless of party – run in November. If none exceeds 50 percent, the top two finishers head into a Dec. 6 runoff.

It’s not implausible that control of the Senate could hang on a Louisiana runoff.

Republicans need six more seats to claim a 51-49 Senate majority. A 50-50 split would let Vice President Joe Biden break tie votes and keep Democrats in charge.

Republicans are strongly favored to win three races where Democratic senators are retiring: West Virginia, South Dakota and Montana.

Their best hopes to pick up three more seats are in the four contests where Democrats seek re-election in states President Barack Obama lost: Alaska, Arkansas, Louisiana and North Carolina.

Republicans are also making strong bids in Iowa, Colorado and New Hampshire, which Obama carried.

If Republicans win two of those races, plus the three where they are heavily favored, then all eyes and lots of campaign money would turn to Louisiana if there’s a runoff.

“And I don’t think there’s any chance we don’t go into a runoff in Louisiana,” said Brian Walsh, a Republican adviser in Senate races.

A major GOP campaign group has reserved $4 million in Louisiana TV air time after Nov. 4, anticipating battling Landrieu through Dec. 6.

Waiting for a make-or-break Louisiana outcome would deeply affect the postelection congressional session scheduled to start Nov. 12. Congress must appropriate money in November to keep the government running, and it may revisit the president’s continued authority to arm Syrian rebels, among other things.

If Republicans think they will control the Senate in the new Congress set to convene Jan. 3, they may want to limit action in the Democratic-controlled lame-duck session. It’s almost certain that Republicans will retain their House majority.

Georgia’s Senate race could have an even messier outcome than Louisiana’s. GOP nominee David Perdue is thought to have a modest lead over Democrat Michelle Nunn in the race to succeed retiring Republican Saxby Chambliss.

But there’s a Libertarian on the ballot, who might win enough votes to keep Perdue and Nunn from reaching 50 percent. That would trigger a runoff Jan. 6, three days after the new Congress’ scheduled start.

It requires a lot of “ifs.” But a scenario in which Republicans entered the new Congress with a 50-49 Senate majority, while awaiting a Georgia outcome that could soon return them to the minority, would further roil an already bitterly partisan government.

If nothing else, “it would make for a bad Christmas for everyone,” said GOP strategist Ron Bonjean.

A recount of a Georgia runoff result, should there be one, would extend confusion even deeper into 2015. A candidate may request a recount if the margin is less than 1 percent of all votes cast.

Alaska presents another possibility for an inconclusive Nov. 4 Senate election. Alaska traditionally counts only about two-thirds of its total vote on election night. State law postpones counting most absentee and questioned ballots until a week after the election.

Twice in the past six year, a Senate winner in Alaska wasn’t declared until at least two weeks after Election Day. This year, the state features one of the nation’s tightest races. First-term Democratic Sen. Mark Begich faces Republican Dan Sullivan. Obama lost Alaska by 14 percentage points.

Of all the high-stakes “what if” possibilities, campaign professionals see a Dec. 6 Louisiana runoff as the most likely. Landrieu has scrapped to win three Senate terms, but the state has trended Republican in recent years.

“If Louisiana is the deciding seat, pity anyone watching television in the state that month,” said Matt Bennett, who has advised several Democratic candidates. “They will be blitzed with more ads, from campaigns and outside groups, than they could possibly imagine.”

Generally, Republicans fare better in runoffs because their supporters tend to vote regardless of the date, weather or levels of publicity.

But an intensive, well-targeted get-out-the-vote operation could save Landrieu, Bennett said, “and the Democrats clearly dominate in the technology and coordination of their ground campaigns.”

Follow Charles Babington on Twitter.

The post Who wins Senate control? Nov. 4 may not decide appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

Army: White House fence jumper is decorated veteran

WASHINGTON — The man accused of getting inside the White House after scaling a fence is a veteran who was awarded a medal for his service in Iraq and retired due to disability, the Army said Sunday.

Authorities have identified the intruder from Friday night’s shocking incident as Omar J. Gonzalez, 42, of Copperas Cove, Texas, and the Army said he had served from 1997 to 2003, when he was discharged, and then again from 2005 to December 2012, when he retired.

The military does not provide details about a soldier’s disability due to privacy considerations.

The Secret Service tightened security outside the White House after the embarrassing breach in which the intruder carrying a knife climbed the fence, ran across the lawn and entered the building before agents stopped him.

The first family was away from the White House at the time.

Increased surveillance and more officer patrols are among the measures that Secret Service Director Julia Pierson ordered. She also began an investigation into what went wrong.

A member of the House Homeland Security Committee said Sunday that it was astonishing, at a time of concerns about terrorist attacks, that “someone could actually get into the White House without being stopped.”

Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., said the intrusion was “absolutely inexcusable” and he expected congressional hearings into the incident at one of the world’s most heavily secured buildings.

“This demands a full investigation, an investigation as to what happened, why it happened and what’s being done to make sure it never happens again,” he told “Fox News Sunday.”

Officials first said the fact that the man appeared to be unarmed may have been a factor in why agents at the scene didn’t shoot or have their dogs pursue him before he made it inside.

But a criminal complaint issued late Friday revealed Gonzalez had a small folding knife with a 3 1/2-inch serrated blade with him at the time of his arrest.

At a hearing late Saturday afternoon in D.C. Superior Court, the assistant public defender representing Gonzalez said Gonzalez had no convictions or arrest warrants and had tested negative Saturday for drug use, according to The Washington Post.

“This is someone who has provided service to his country and shown commitment in his life,” said the lawyer, Margarita O’Donnell, as she tried unsuccessfully to get Gonzalez released.

Gonzalez was expected to appear in federal court Monday to face charges of unlawfully entering a restricted building or grounds while carrying a deadly or dangerous weapon.

According to a criminal complaint, Gonzalez told Secret Service agents after his arrest that he was “concerned that the atmosphere was collapsing” and needed to contact the president “so he could get word out to the people.”

The Army said Gonzalez enlisted in July 1997 and was assigned to the 10th Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Brigade, 4th Infantry Division, at Fort Hood, Texas. At the time, he listed his home as Puerto Rico.

He was discharged in September 2003 after completing his service obligation.

Gonzalez enlisted a second time, in July 2005, and served until his retirement in late 2012.

During this period, he was assigned to the 1st Squadron, 14th Cavalry Regiment, at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state, and the 4th Squadron, 9th Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division at Ford Hood.

Gonzalez served in Iraq from October 2006 to January 2008, according to the Army.

Obama and his daughters had just left the White House by helicopter Friday evening when the intruder hopped the fence.

The intruder ran toward the presidential residence unimpeded, ignoring orders from officers to stop, until being tackled just inside the doors of the North Portico – the grand, columned entrance overlooking Pennsylvania Ave.

“Every day the Secret Service is challenged to ensure security at the White House complex while still allowing public accessibility to a national historical site,” the agency said in a statement Saturday. “Although last night the officers showed tremendous restraint and discipline in dealing with this subject, the location of Gonzalez’s arrest is not acceptable.”

With questions mounting, President Barack Obama tried to allay concerns about whether the Secret Service is still up to the task of protecting him and his family.

“The president has full confidence in the Secret Service and is grateful to the men and women who day in and day out protect himself, his family and the White House,” White House spokesman Frank Benenati said late Saturday.

The Secret Service said its Office of Professional Responsibility was carrying out the review.

The breach triggered a rare evacuation of much of the White House. Secret Service agents drew their weapons as they hurried White House staffers and journalists out of the West Wing through a side door.

Less than 24 hours after Gonzalez’s arrest, a second man was apprehended after he drove up to a White House gate and refused to leave, Secret Service spokesman Ed Donovan said, prompting bomb technicians in full gear to search the vehicle as agents briefly shut down nearby streets.

There were no indications the two incidents were connected. But they only intensified the scrutiny of the Secret Service, which is struggling to rehabilitate its image following a series of allegations of misconduct by agents in recent years, including agents on Obama’s detail.

The post Army: White House fence jumper is decorated veteran appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

‘A desire to be recognized’: Why have Americans joined the Islamic State?

WASHINGTON — A college dropout from Florida. A nurse’s aide from Denver. The owner of a pizza-and-wings joint from upstate New York.

Except for their embrace of Islam, there’s no common profile for the 100-plus Americans who have traveled to Syria to join Islamic fighters or are accused of supporting them from the United States.

Their reasons for joining an extremist cause a half-world away are as varied as their geography and life stories.

Some seek adventure and camaraderie. Others feel a call to fight perceived injustice.

But a common strain of disaffection, a search for meaning, seems to emerge, at times stronger than any motivation tied to religious devotion.

“What unifies all these folks is a desire to be recognized, a desire to find a cause that they can mold their life to,” says Evan Kohlmann, who tracks terrorists with Flashpoint Global Partners.

Foreign fighters from dozens of nations are pouring into the Middle East to join the Islamic State group and other terrorist organizations. U.S. officials are putting new energy into trying to understand what radicalizes people far removed from the fight, and into trying to prod countries to do a better job of keeping them from joining up.

On Wednesday, President Barack Obama will lead a meeting of the 15-member U.N. Security Council as part of the effort to stem the flow of foreign nationals. Next month, the White House will hold a conference on the radicalization of Americans.

It’s an increasingly urgent matter now that the U.S. and allies are directly attacking Islamic State fighters. There are concerns of blowback that encourages more terrorism at home.

Just last week, a post on a top jihadi forum urged American Muslims who can’t reach the battlefront to wage “an aggressive and sustained campaign of lone-wolf attacks” locally, according to the SITE Intelligence Group. As well, there are worries that fighters with U.S. passports will return home to carry out attacks in America or with airplanes headed to the U.S.

The transition from everyday American to foreign fighter for a group that trumpets the beheading of its enemies may start with concern that fellow Muslims are being killed abroad. It often includes Internet chatrooms and online conversations with extremists. It may involve knowing someone who’s radicalized. Many cite the teachings of radical U.S.-born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, who was killed in a U.S. drone strike in Yemen in 2011 but whose words are still influential in cyberspace.

Moner Mohammad Abusalha, 22, who grew up playing basketball in Vero Beach, Florida, described his journey to jihadism in a video before he killed himself and 16 others in a suicide bombing in Syria last May. He mentioned both the teachings of al-Awlaki and the influence of friend.

The college dropout, whose father was Palestinian and mother was Italian-American, said of his life as a Muslim in America: “This never was a place for me. … I was always sad and depressed. Life sucked.”

“I want to rest in the afterlife, in heaven,” he said. “Heaven is better.”

Shannon Conley, 19, a nurse’s aide from suburban Denver, wanted to marry an Islamic extremist fighter she met online and thought she could use her U.S. military training to fight a holy war overseas. In pursuing her Muslim faith, “she was exposed to teachings through which she was terribly misled,” her lawyer, Robert Pepin, wrote in a court filing. Conley pleaded guilty to trying to help Islamic militants and is awaiting sentencing.

In the most recent case, 30-year-old Mufid Elfgeeh, a pizza and food mart owner from Rochester, New York, was indicted last week for trying to help three people travel to Syria to join extremist fighters. A naturalized citizen from Yemen, Elfgeeh was arrested this year for buying guns as part of a plan to kill U.S. service members.

Elfgeeh has pleaded innocent.

While the ranks of foreign fighters from America include both naturalized citizens and the native-born, Kamran Bokhari of Stratfor global intelligence said second-generation Muslim Americans trying to balance two cultures could be particularly vulnerable.

“It’s natural for the second generation to be feeling sort of lost and not knowing who they are,” he said. They may feel drawn to the plight of Muslims abroad, and feel guilty about living comfortable lives, he added.

For all the concern about Americans who support Islamic militants, terrorism experts say the problem is much worse in Europe, where Muslims are not as wealthy or assimilated. Several hundred people from Britain have traveled to Syria, according to official estimates, and France and Germany have estimated a combined 1,300 of their citizens have joined the fight.

Aaron Zelin, an expert on jihadi groups at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said roughly half the Americans who have joined the Islamic State group are converts to Islam. The rest typically are born Muslim or “reverts,” people who were Muslim at birth, but didn’t practice the faith until later in life, he said.

“I would argue that they converted to jihadism, not necessarily mainstream Islam,” he said.

Attorney General Eric Holder pointed to the indictment of Elfgeeh as evidence that U.S. officials are aggressively working to identify and disrupt those who want to join or support terrorist groups.

Critics say the administration’s efforts have been largely cosmetic and that officials haven’t done enough to understand root causes.

“You have to understand who is being radicalized, why they are being radicalized and how they are being radicalized, and I don’t think the U.S. government really has a good handle on that,” Kohlmann said.

U.S. officials point to recent success at preventing major terrorist attacks, but Kohlmann said it would be overly optimistic to think the government can closely monitor every American who joins extremist causes. While the Islamic militants’ chief focus remains in Syria, he said there is plenty of rhetoric exhorting sympathizers to target Westerners.

“Take these people at their word. Because they mean it.”

The post ‘A desire to be recognized’: Why have Americans joined the Islamic State? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

White House fence jumper prompts Secret Service scrutiny

Barack Obama, Michelle Obama

WASHINGTON — The Secret Service is coming under renewed scrutiny after a man scaled the White House fence and made it all the way through the front door before he was apprehended.

President Barack Obama and his daughters had just left the White House on Friday evening when the intruder climbed the north fence, darted across the lawn and into the residence, where agents nabbed him.

The security breach triggered a rare evacuation of much of the White House. Secret Service officers drew their guns as they rushed staffers and journalists out a side door.

For the Secret Service, the incident was a devastating episode that prompted fresh questions about the agency and its ability to protect the president.

Rep. Jason Chaffetz, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee on national security, called it “totally unacceptable” and said the incident was just one of a string of security failings on the Secret Service’s watch.

“Unfortunately, they are failing to do their job,” said Chaffetz, R-Utah. “These are good men and women, but the Secret Service leadership has a lot of questions to answer.”

“Was the door open?” he added incredulously.

The Secret Service said the incident would be reviewed to ensure proper procedures were followed.

On Saturday morning, Secret Service agents could be seen walking shoulder to shoulder across the North Lawn, apparently combing the turf for anything the intruder may have dropped during his sprint the night before. The Secret Service said only that the activity was related to the previous night’s incident.

The intruder, in jeans and a dark shirt, appeared to be unarmed when he scaled the fence shortly after 7 p.m. Friday, ignoring commands from officers to halt, Secret Service spokesman Ed Donovan said. The intruder was tackled just inside the doors of the North Portico, the grand, columned entrance that looks out over Pennsylvania Avenue. A search of the suspect turned up no weapons.

The Secret Service identified the man as Omar J. Gonzalez, 42, of Copperas Cove, Texas. He was charged with unlawful entry into the White House complex and transported to a nearby hospital complaining of chest pain. Attempts to reach Gonzalez or his relatives by phone were unsuccessful.

Although it’s not uncommon for people to make it over the White House fence, they usually are stopped almost immediately. Video from the scene showed the intruder sprinting across the lawn as Secret Service agents shouted at nearby pedestrians to clear the area.

“This situation was a little different than other incidents we have at the White House,” Donovan said. “There will be a thorough investigation into the incident.”

Only minutes before the breach, Obama had boarded his helicopter on the South Lawn with his daughters and one of their friends, who was joining the Obamas for a weekend getaway to Camp David, the presidential retreat in Maryland. First lady Michelle Obama had traveled separately to Camp David.

Friday’s incident was just the latest setback for an elite agency whose reputation has suffered a succession of blows in recent years.

In 2012, 13 Secret Service agents and officers were implicated in a prostitution scandal during preparations for Obama’s trip to Cartagena, Colombia. The next year, two officers were removed from the president’s detail after another alleged incident of sexually-related misconduct. In March, an agent was found drunk by staff at a Dutch hotel the day before Obama was set to arrive in the Netherlands.

Obama appointed the agency’s first female director last year as a sign he wanted to change the culture and restore public confidence in its operations. An inspector general’s report in December found no evidence of widespread misconduct.

The Secret Service has struggled in recent years to strike the appropriate balance between ensuring the first family’s security and preserving the public’s access to the White House grounds. Once open to vehicles, the stretch of Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House was confined to pedestrians after the Oklahoma City bombing, but officials have been reluctant to restrict access to the area further.

Last week, the Secret Service apprehended a man who jumped over the same stretch of fence on the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, prompting officers to draw their firearms and deploy service dogs.

The post White House fence jumper prompts Secret Service scrutiny appeared first on PBS NewsHour.