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Sunday, Dec 21st

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President Obama commutes 8 sentences and grants 12 pardons

Obama pardonsPresident Obama commuted the sentences of eight drug offenders Wednesday and pardoned 12 federal offenders.  The drug offenders had received sentences ranging from 188 months or almost 16 years to life. They will now be released in 2015.

The White House announced the president's action in a news release. The president traditionally marks the Christmas season with acts of clemency.

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US co-opted Cuba's hip-hop scene to spark change

Cuba hip hop groups infiltratedFor more than two years, a U.S. agency secretly infiltrated Cuba's underground hip-hop movement, recruiting unwitting rappers to spark a youth movement against the government, according to documents obtained by The Associated Press.

The idea was to use Cuban musicians "to break the information blockade" and build a network of young people seeking "social change," documents show. But the operation was amateurish and profoundly unsuccessful.

On at least six occasions, Cuban authorities detained or interrogated people involved in the program; they also confiscated computer hardware, and in some cases it contained information that jeopardized Cubans who likely had no idea they were caught up in a clandestine U.S. operation. Still, contractors working for the U.S. Agency for International Development kept putting themselves and their targets at risk, the AP investigation found.

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The Koch brothers eclipse the RNC

Koch brothersThe Koch brothers and their allies are pumping tens of millions of dollars into a data company that’s developing detailed, state-of-the-art profiles of 250 million Americans, giving the brothers’ political operation all the earmarks of a national party.

The move comes as mainstream Republicans, led by Mitch McConnell, are trying to reclaim control of the conservative movement from outside groups. The Kochs, however, are continuing to amass all of the campaign tools the Republican National Committee and other party arms use to elect a president.

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Potential Indictments in George Washington Bridge Probe May Be Handed Down in January: Sources

GW bridgeMultiple sources familiar with the investigation into last year's traffic jams near the George Washington Bridge tell NBC 4 New York at least half a dozen potential federal indictments in connection with the scandal may be handed down as early as January.

Those facing potential indictment include former staffers to Gov. Christie and current and former Port Authority officials, the sources said. Possible charges may be related to what sources familiar with the probe describe to NBC 4 New York as an apparent conspiracy to cover up what they refer to as a politically motivated plot.

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Obama nominates Ashton Carter for Secretary of Defense

Ashton CarterShaking up his Pentagon leadership, President Barack Obama tapped policy wonk Ashton Carter to oversee the sprawling Defense Department Friday, heralding his new nominee as one of the nation's "foremost national security leaders."

Obama announced Carter's nomination during a ceremony at the White House. A Pentagon veteran who is seen as a centrist, Carter is expected to be easily confirmed by the Senate, putting him at the helm of a department moving back into military conflict in the Middle East even as it grapples with budget cuts.

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Dark money in US courtrooms

dark money in US courtsOutside groups helped make the 2014 elections the most expensive midterm campaigns in U.S. history. But it wasn't just aspiring governors and legislators who benefited from the flood of dark money unleashed by the 2010 Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission decision, which prohibited the government from restricting campaign contributions by nonprofit corporations and other independent groups.

Since 2011, special interest groups have significantly increased their targeting of judicial campaigns in the United States. Groups such as the Americans for Prosperity and the Center for Individual Rights — which are funded by conservative billionaires Charles and David Koch and exist largely, as Andy Kroll put it in Mother Jones, to “keep dark money in the dark” — have committed unprecedented sums to influence state judicial elections, including a number of key state supreme court retention races.

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GOP aide resigns after comments on Obama girls

GOP aide attacks Pbaba daughtersRepublican Party staffer Elizabeth Lauten has resigned from her post as communications director for U.S. Rep. Steve Fincher, R-Tenn., after making controversial comments about Sasha and Malia Obama, Fincher's chief of staff confirmed Monday.

Jessica Carter had no additional comment on the matter, the Associated Press reports.

This morning, NBC News said she was "resigning today" after making the comments.

Lauten told NBC News via phone Monday that her departure was already "in the works," NBC reports.

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