Democratic U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, the first Muslim to serve in Congress, said a report that the National Security Agency and FBI were tracking the email of five prominent American Muslims is “troubling because it suggests that Americans were targeted because of their faith and civic engagement.”
Documents leaked by former government contractor Edward Snowden revealed that the Muslim attorneys and activists were targeted for surveillance from 2002 to 2008 under a program meant to uncover terrorists and foreign agents, according to an analysis from online news organization The Intercept.
Among the documents released were training materials that used the name “Mohammed Raghead” as an example of a terrorist suspect.
“Profiling based on religion breeds distrust and resentment in communities that are potential partners in the fight against crime,” Ellison said.
“Muslim-Americans continue to face bigotry and hatred, but the NSA’s former spying practices undermine our entire nation’s progress towards greater inclusion. Undue surveillance has a chilling effect in all communities.”
U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison took out his guitar and took to Twitter to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the release of Minnesotan Prince's iconic 'Purple Rain' album.
"Can't believe it's been thirty years since #PurpleRain," the Minneapolis Democrat tweeted Wednesday morning to his nearly 55,000 followers. He also posted this video:
New York Democratic Rep. Joe Crowley felt the need to respond in kind:
WASHINGTON -- Minnesota's eight House members and both senators collectively urged the Army Tuesday to clarify a new directive expanding legal services to victims of sexual assault in the National Guard.
The Army recently released new rules expanding important legal services to certain victims of military sexual assault, but the rules don't cover National Guard members who become victims of sexual assault outside drill weekends or military duties.
Minnesota's ten members of Congress say the directive will undermine the Minnesota National Guard's ability to "effectively provide support services to survivors of sexual assaults," according to a release.
The letter was led by Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar and GOP Rep. John Kline and co-signed by Democrat Sen. Al Franken and Reps. Collin Peterson, Betty McCollum, Keith Ellison, Tim Walz and Rick Nolan, and Republican Reps. Michele Bachmann and Erik Paulsen.
"Our Minnesota service members should not be impeded from seeking critical services in the aftermath of a sexual assault," the letter said. "The Army must provide clear guidance and direction in order for the National Guard to effectively provide these services authorized by Congress."
The letter comes as the Department of Defense scrambles to deal with the increasing problem of sexual assaults in the military. According to the delegation release today, the DoD found in May that overall reporting of sexual assaults in the military in 2013 was 50 percent higher than it was the previous year -- 5,061 in 2013 versus 3,374 in 2012. Previous year-to-year increases in reporting never exceeded five percent.
There are more than 13,000 soldiers and airman in the Minnesota National Guard.
By Allison Sherry
With help from Rachel Stassen-Berger
WASHINGTON -- Democratic Sens. Al Franken and Amy Klobuchar joined a chorus Friday in criticizing the Veterans Administration and pressed the regional office on wait times for medical appointments in Minnesota's clinics and hospitals.
"The incidents that have been reported at VA facilities in Arizona and elsewhere are outrageous and entirely unacceptable," the two wrote in a letter to Janet Murphy, network director for the VA Midwest Health Care Network in Minnesota.
Franken and Klobuchar specifically asked Murphy for the average number of days veterans must wait to receive appointments at every VA facility in Minnesota.
One of Franken's GOP opponents Mike McFadden pinged the senator earlier Friday for keeping quiet on the VA scandal, in which more than two dozen hospitals and clinics face allegations of long wait times and false record-keeping. In Phoenix, there are allegations the missteps caused multiple deaths.
"Criticizing mergers and talking about Internet fast lanes may generate headlines for Sen. Franken, but it does nothing to guarantee that our veterans have access to quality healthcare when they need it," said McFadden, in an e-mailed statement. He also called for Shinseki's resignation. "Minnesota doesn't need any more out-of-touch politicians like Al Franken."
Franken's office said that two weeks ago, in the wake of the news about several alleged incidents at VA medical centers in Arizona and elsewhere, the senator directed his office to contact the Department of Veterans Affairs to find more information about the wait times for medical care.
Franken and Klobuchar's letter went out the same day Democratic Rep. Rick Nolan called for VA Secretary Eric Shinseki's resignation.
Democratic Reps. Collin Peterson and Tim Walz didn't go that far Friday, instead calling for a "national review" of all VA medical facilities. Walz is a veteran and member of the Veteran's Affairs committee.
GOP Rep. Erik Paulsen has not called for resignation. Rep. John Kline scribed an op-ed on VA issues earlier this week in a local paper, which stopped short of calling for a resignation. Rep. Michele Bachmann, on Fox News, called for his resignation.
All week, Minnesota Republican Congressional candidates blasted Democrats on the scandal. On Thursday, Republican 7th Congressional District candidate Torrey Westrom and 8th Congressional District Stewart Mills also called for Shinseki’s resignation. First District Republican Jim Hagedorn’s campaign sent out a release titled, “Obama-Walz have let down veterans."
Hank Sadler, chair of Veterans for Walz, sharply criticized the "partisan" attacks.
"It's despicable that Republicans running for Congress would use veterans' lives in a blatant attempt to score cheap political points. They should be ashamed," he said, in an email.
First District Republican Aaron Miller had also blasted Walz on May 21, with a release titled, "Our veterans deserve better, President Obama and Congressman Walz are failing them."
On May 27, Kline said: "General Shinseki is a decorated Vietnam veteran and I appreciate his service to our country, but the entire leadership of the VA must be held accountable which is why I’m calling on him to resign – and if he doesn’t, the President should relieve him of his duties."
The U.S. House passed the Water Resources Reform and Development Act, legislation that would pave the way for closure of the Upper St. Anthony Falls Lock and Dam on the Mississippi River in an effort to prevent the advance of invasive carp.
The water infrastructure bill, which passed on a near unanimous vote, also includes a provision from U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum that would create a federal task force headed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to combat the spread of invasive carp throughout the Upper Mississippi and Ohio River Valley.
A voracious species, the invasive carp can grow to 40 pounds or more and some can jump up to 10 feet out of the water. They compete with native game fish, including bass, walleye, and northern pike, for food and habitat.
If the lock remains open, environmentalists and state Department of Natural Resources officials fear the carp could spread north past the barrier causing irreparable harm to the state’s fishing and tourism industries.
The legislation “protects our vital fishing and recreational industry, it preserves tourism jobs in northern Minnesota, it prevents us from spending government dollars to manage carp if these fish invade northern Minnesota waters,” U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison said in a House floor speech.
The Senate could vote on the bill before the end of the week, sending it on to President Obama for his signature.
The bill also authorizes spending up to $800 million for a flood diversion project that would protect the Red River Valley region of North Dakota and Minnesota.