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Tuesday
May312011

Congress Mulls Cuts to Food Stamps Program

ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- Congress is under pressure to cut the rapidly rising costs of the federal government's food stamps program at a time when a record number of Americans are relying on it.

The House Appropriations Committee on Tuesday will review the fiscal year 2012 appropriations bill for the Department of Agriculture that includes $71 billion for the agency's "Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program." That’s $2 billion less than what President Obama requested but a 9 percent increase from 2011, which, critics say, is too large given the sizeable budget deficit.

A record number of Americans -- about 14 percent -- now rely on the federal government's food stamps program, and its rapid expansion in recent years has become a politically explosive topic.

More than 44.5 million Americans received the so-called SNAP benefits in March, an 11 percent increase from one year ago and nearly 61 percent higher than the same time four years ago.

Nearly 21 million households are reliant on food stamps.

Opponents of the program argue that money from the food stamps budget -- with what they call its increasingly lax requirements -- needs to be shifted to other programs such as education and child nutrition. The program's supporters argue that at a time of economic decline, such welfare programs are even more important to try to keep Americans from spiraling into poverty.

The cost of the food stamps program has increased rapidly since it was established by Congress in 1964. It cost taxpayers more than $68 billion last year, double the amount in 2007.

Nutrition assistance now accounts for more than half -- or about 67 percent -- of the USDA's budget, compared with 26 percent in 1980. That shift in focus, critics say, is ineffective because it hasn't put a dent in poverty or hunger in the United States while taking away money from other programs, specifically agricultural programs that should be the main focus of the agency.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
May312011

Bachmann Nearing 2012 Decision; Calls Palin a "Friend," Not a "Competitor"

ABC News(NEW YORK) -- It's all systems go for Rep. Michele Bachmann: her last daughter leaves the nest this week and the congresswoman is scheduled to make a formal announcement about her decision to run for the 2012 presidential election next month in Iowa.

"We'll be making it in the city where I was born, conveniently enough in Waterloo, Iowa.  So I'm looking forward to that," she told ABC News on Tuesday.

Referring to Sarah Palin, the Minnesota Republican insisted there was enough room for two Tea Party favorites in the 2012 race, and that she would have no problem running against the woman she considers a friend.

"All I want to say is that I like Sarah Palin a lot, we're friends.  And I don't consider her a competitor, I consider her a friend.  But my comparison ultimately is to Barack Obama," Bachmann said.

If she does make it to the White House, would President Bachmann sign the proposed GOP Medicare plan that Congresswoman Bachmann voted for?

"I think some version of this bill because [Rep. Paul Ryan] is right, we have to sustain Medicare.  We can’t let it just go away for senior citizens, and that's exactly what he's trying to do.  I agree with what Paul is trying to do," she said.

Bachmann's previously said she supports Ryan's bill with "an asterisk."  On Tuesday, she said that asterisk is because "people don't recognize that this is about people who are 55 and under.  I don't want a 78-year-old woman to think that Medicare is going to be pulled out from under her, because it won't.  It's the 55 and under plan."

While other potential candidates have bowed out citing their family obligations, the mother of five plus 23 foster children said everyone's on board in the Bachmann house.

"All of the children as of about a week from now will be graduated and gone from high school.  And so we are at a very different life.  After 29 years of parenting, it is going to be a very different household," she said.

So one solution to an empty nest is to run for president?

"I guess so," Bachmann said.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
May312011

Rogue Is Vogue: What Is Sarah Palin Trying to Tell Us?

Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- For the last 48 hours, the biggest mystery in political circles was where Sarah Palin and her giant tour bus, draped in images of the American flag and the Constitution, were going next.

She's already stopped in Washington, D.C., Mount Vernon, and Fort McHenry in Maryland. On Tuesday, she starts in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, and her next stops continue to be the subject of intense speculation.

"Many of the mainstream media are looking for kind of a conventional campaign type tour and I’ve said from that beginning that this isn’t a campaign tour except to campaign on our Constitution, our charters of liberty," Palin told Fox News' Greta Van Susteren in an interview broadcast Monday night. "I don't think I owe anything to the mainstream media...I want them to have to do a little bit of work on a tour like this."

So, if Palin's goal is to bypass traditional media, the bigger mystery may be why we keep scrambling to cover her like a traditional candidate.

The narrative of her trip is beginning to sound a lot like a grade school, "What I did on my summer vacation" routine.  Palin's getting asked mostly the same question about her 2012 presidential ambitions at each stop along the way, and giving mostly the same non-committal answer.

"I don’t know. I honestly don't know," she told reporters on Monday. "It's still a matter of looking at the field and considering much.  There truly is a lot to consider before you throw yourself out there in the name of service to the public because it's so all-consuming."

There's evidence that despite her ability to get non-stop, almost obsessive attention from the press, she garners only a fraction of that interest from voters in her own party.

A recent Gallup survey found that while she has almost universal name recognition among Republican voters, her approval rating is just 48 percent.  Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, the nominal frontrunner in this still-fluid primary, has a 56 percent approval rating.

Even so, Palin has already succeeded in doing two things this week: making herself the center of the story, and poking the mainstream media in the eye.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
May312011

Obama Calls On John Bryson to Head Commerce Department

Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- President Obama will announce John Bryson, the former CEO of Edison International, as his choice to run the U.S. Department of Commerce, ABC News has learned.

The president was to make the announcement Tuesday afternoon in the Rose Garden, but because of the heat outdoors, the announcement was moved to the White House's State Dining Room.

An experienced business leader, Bryson serves on several corporate boards, including that of The Walt Disney Company, the parent company of ABC News.

In March, President Obama nominated Commerce Secretary Gary Locke to be the next U.S. Ambassador to China, replacing Jon Huntsman, who stepped down to explore a run for the presidency.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Monday
May302011

Women Fighting and Dying in War, Despite Combat Exclusion Policy

Jupiterimages/Comstock(WASHINGTON) -- By this Memorial Day, nearly 150 U.S. female troops have made the ultimate sacrifice in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, with over 700 wounded. Although Department of Defense policy precludes women from being assigned to ground combat-infantry units, women have for years served in combat situations where they're just as vulnerable.

Marine Lance Corp. Angelica Jimenez, 26, was one of them.

On June 25, 2005, Jimenez was riding in the back of a truck carrying 14 female Marines near the Iraqi hotbed of Fallujah. The all-female unit was tasked with searching and questioning Iraqi women at security checkpoints, ensuring they were not armed with explosives. Since females were not allowed to sleep at the checkpoints as their male counterparts were, every day the women would be driven to and from an American base, making them a visible target each time they hit the road. It was only a matter of time before their luck would run out, and that night, it did.

A car approached their convoy, moments before it ran straight towards the women's truck. Packed with explosives, it detonated on impact, enveloping all 14 women in a deadly fireball. Most of the women were severely burned. Two women died immediately, one later that night, in what would become the deadliest attack on servicewomen since 1991.

Jimenez was knocked unconscious. She remembers waking up, directly in the line of insurgent fire, her flak jacket covered in blood, her M-16 gone.

Since 1994, the Department of Defense's combat exclusion policy prohibits the assignment of women to any unit below brigade level when the unit's primary mission is direct combat on the ground. However, according to DOD spokesperson Eileen Lainez, the policy does not "preclude women from being involved in ground combat."

Blurring the lines further, the Army precludes women from being "assigned" to ground combat infantry units, but allows them to be "attached" to such units, where they often perform the same roles their male counterparts would.

The policy defines ground combat as "engaging the enemy on the ground with individual or crew served weapons, while being exposed to hostile fire and to a high probability of direct physical contact with the hostile force's personnel." Genevieve Chase, veteran of Operation Enduring Freedom and founder of American Women Veterans, found herself in that situation while serving in 2006 in the hotspots of Helmand and Bagram, where counterinsurgency strategy emphasizes building relationships with locals including Afghan women who won't talk to a male stranger.

"In both Iraq and Afghanistan, female troops have worked from day one outside the wire," Chase told ABC News. "In war, you do what you can. You can't withhold somebody because of their gender. If you are in charge of an aid station with three female medics, and this infantry unit needs another medic, you're sending them a medic. Rules in combat are very different."

But while Chase served alongside men and carried the same weapons, the policy precluded her from having the same combat training as the infantrymen.

The policy also precludes female officers from leading ground combat units. Not only does the rule prevent women from gaining the experience they need to win promotions to the military's top ranks, Chase said, it does not always reflect reality on the battlefield.

Recently, the congressionally mandated Military Leadership Diversity Commission recommended that the DOD rescind the combat exclusion policy. Commission chair retired Air Force Gen. Lester L. Lyles said rescinding the policy is one way the military can get more qualified women into its senior leadership ranks.

Today, women make up about 15 percent of active-duty service members; 18 percent of National Guard and reserves; 10 percent of Iraq and Afghanistan combat veterans; and 10 percent of those who have served in the Iraq and Afghanistan theaters.

The idea of women serving in ground combat infantry units has been controversial throughout U.S. history. Arguments against women serving in combat center around the physiological and purported emotional differences between men and women, as well as the interaction between men and women that could distract from a mission.

Chase agrees there will have to be a thorough review on whether to rescind the policy, and that rescinding without a plan as to how to implement changes would be premature. But, she added, "It's long past time to revise the current policy so that it accurately reflects the capacity with which women have and will continue to serve in our armed forces. It gives combatant commanders the ability to truly build the most cohesive, well-trained and effective teams for their respective missions."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Monday
May302011

Park Police Investigate Arrests for Dancing at Jefferson Memorial

Brand X Pictures/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The U.S. Park Police are investigating whether excessive force was used in the arrest of five protesters Saturday, who silently danced in the interior of the Jefferson Memorial to protest a recent ruling against dancing at federal monuments.

Videos posted to YouTube over the weekend show park police officers in light blue polo shirts handcuffing dancers. It looked as if one protester, who was wearing a "Disobey" T-shirt, had been bodyslammed by an officer and choked.

In a YouTube video of Saturday's incident, when protestors were asked by a police officer which one of them was the leader, a member of the group pointed toward the statue of Thomas Jefferson inside the rotunda.

"I'll give you a warning," the officer said calmly. "If you come out here and you demonstrate by dancing, you will be placed under arrest....Does everybody understand that?"

Groups looking to protest at federal monuments are required to obtain permits.

The dancers were protesting a January decision by a federal judge who ruled that dancing quietly at the memorial was an illegal demonstration and not an expression of free speech.

On April 12, 2008, on the eve of Jefferson's 265th birthday, 17 dancers wore headphones and silently sashayed around the interior of the memorial. One woman was arrested. Although criminal charges against her were dropped, one of the other protesters filed a suit against the U.S. Park Service, claiming the arrest was illegal.

The dancers arrested Saturday were protesting a January decision by a federal judge who ruled that dancing quietly at the memorial was an illegal demonstration and not an expression of free speech.

"The purpose of the memorial is to publicize Thomas Jefferson's legacy, so that critics and supporters alike may contemplate his place in history," U.S. District Judge John Bates wrote in his decision.

"Prohibiting demonstrations is a reasonable means of ensuring a tranquil and contemplative mood at the Jefferson Memorial," he wrote.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Monday
May302011

Michelle Obama Visits Troops at Walter Reed

Chuck Kennedy/The White House(WASHINGTON) -- First lady Michelle Obama made an unannounced stop at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center Monday afternoon to visit wounded troops.

"The first lady is visiting privately with wounded warriors and their families at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. This is her third visit to Walter Reed and part of her ongoing private meetings and visits with wounded warriors and their families around the country," an administration official said.

Mrs. Obama last went to Walter Reed in August.

Earlier Monday, President Obama and the first lady met with families of troops lost in combat and then took part in a wreath-laying ceremony at the Arlington National Cemetery.

The president spent his Memorial Day afternoon playing golf in Ft. Belvoir, Va.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Monday
May302011

President Obama Tours Arlington National Cemetery

President Obama visits Section 60 on Veterans Day at Arlington National Cemetery in Nov. 2009. (Kevin Dietsch-Pool/Getty Images)(WASHINGTON) -- Saying "this day is about you," President Obama paid tribute to America’s fallen soldiers and participated in a wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington Cemetery.

In his speech, the president told a story about two roommates at the Naval Academy, Travis Manion and Brendan Looney, who were both deployed after graduation. Travis was killed by a sniper in Iraq in 2007. Three years later, Brendan died in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan.

“Heartbroken, yet filled with pride, the Manions and the Looneys knew only one way to honor their sons’ friendship,” the president said.  “They moved Travis from his cemetery in Pennsylvania and buried them side by side here at Arlington."

“‘Warriors for freedom,’ reads the epitaph written by Travis’s father. ‘Brothers forever.’”

Obama also quoted a letter written to him by Army veteran Paul Tarbox who mentioned he had seen a photo of the president walking amidst the marble headstones in “Section 60” in 2009. He wanted the president to know about a special friend of his and a brave warrior -- Staff Sgt. Joe Phaneuf -- who was buried under one of those headstones.

“Joe, he [Paul] told me, was a friend of his, one of the best men he’d ever known, the kind of guy who could have the entire barracks in laughter, who was always there to lend a hand, from being a volunteer coach to helping build a playground,” the president said. “It was a moving letter, and Paul closed it with a few words about the hallowed cemetery where we are gathered here today.

“He wrote, ‘The venerable warriors that slumber there knew full well the risks that are associated with military service, and felt pride in defending our democracy. The true lesson of Arlington,’ he continued, ‘is that each headstone is that of a patriot.  Each headstone shares a story.  Thank you for letting me share with you [the story] about my friend Joe.’”

“Section 60” is the part of Arlington Cemetery where mostly soldiers from Iraq and Afghanistan, who have died since Sept. 11, 2001, are buried.

On a rainy Veterans Day in 2009, the president stopped unannounced at “Section 60” -- which some people call “the saddest acre in America” -- surprising families who were visiting the gravesites. It was early in his presidency at a time when the combat mission in Iraq was augmented by a surge in additional forces.

On Monday, a day when the combat mission in Iraq is over and the U.S. is preparing for a drawdown in Afghanistan, the president again wandered amid the marble headstones with his wife Michelle Obama. Aides said they spent time greeting families whose loved ones died in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Earlier in the day, the first couple hosted a breakfast at the White House for those who have lost family members in combat.

Since returning from his European tour late Saturday, Obama has visited tornado-ravaged Joplin, Mo., where he honored the dead and vowed to help the small town rebuild.

President Obama last year came under criticism for going to Chicago for a family weekend instead of attending ceremonies at Arlington Cemetery. Rain and lightning ended up canceling his Memorial Day address in the Windy City.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Monday
May302011

Sarah Palin Tells 'Mainstream Media' to Try Harder, Will Reportedly Visit Iowa

Mark Wilson/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Media organizations around the world are trying to catch up with Sarah Palin’s “One Nation” bus tour. She’s not doing them any favors.

In an interview Monday with Fox News host Greta Van Susteren, the former governor of Alaska and potential presidential contender said she’s not sticking to a script with her latest jaunt. While the interview has yet to air, Susteren posted video clips of their conversation online.

“Many of the mainstream media are looking for kind of a conventional campaign-type tour and I’ve said from that beginning that this isn’t a campaign tour except to campaign on our Constitution, our charters of liberty,” Palin said. “I don’t think I owe anything to the mainstream media...I want them to have to do a little bit of work on a tour like this.”

“It’s not about me,” she added. “It’s not a publicity-seeking tour. It’s about highlighting the great things about America.”

Palin also detailed her approach towards bipartisan leadership, saying she’s “certainly willing to and used to working with both sides of the aisle” but that she’s governed by conservative principles.

“What it is that drives me, when it comes to national policy, is the planks of the Republican platform,” she said. “It’s all about respect and equality. It’s all about the free-enterprise system.”

While Palin maintains her bus trip through the Northeast isn’t a campaign tour, it’s only intensified speculation that she’ll vie for the Republican presidential nomination in 2012. A report from Real Clear Politics added fuel to that fire Monday, saying that Palin will visit Iowa in June. Iowa is the state that votes first in the run up to the Republican presidential nomination, and it’s also where a documentary about Palin will debut next month.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Monday
May302011

Obama Appoints Martin Dempsey as Joint Chiefs Chairman

Alex Wong/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- In a hurry for what he called a "seamless" transition during wartime,  President Obama has nominated more promotions from within as he reshapes his military team, choosing four-star Army Gen. Martin Dempsey as the new chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

"Martin Dempsey is one of our nation's most respected -- and combat-tested generals," the president declared in a Rose Garden announcement Monday. "I expect him to push all our forces to continue adapting and innovating to be ready for the missions of today and tomorrow."

Dempsey had just moved into the office of the Army Chief of Staff, a job that will now go to former Iraq commander Gen. Ray Odierno, who stood at attention in Monday's ceremony.

The president called Odierno "one of the Army’s most accomplished soldiers -- and one of the tallest.”

Navy Adm. James "Sandy" Winnefeld was nominated to be Vice Chair of the Joint Chiefs.

The current team, Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen and Vice Chair Marine Gen. James Cartwright, do not retire for several months but President Obama says he's in a hurry.

"It's essential this transition be seamless and that we remain focused on the urgent national security challenges before us," he said.

The president wants a new team in place when he begins to withdraw troops from Afghanistan in July. These new appointments move the president closer to having his national security team in place as he runs for re-election next year. Dempsey will need Senate confirmation.

Last month, CIA head Leon Panetta was nominated to replace Defense Secretary Robert Gates when he retires. Gen. David Petraeus is slated to take over Panetta’s post at the CIA.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio







ABC News Radio