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Bridget Johnson

Bridget Johnson is a career journalist whose news articles and opinion columns have run in dozens of news outlets across the globe. Bridget first came to Washington to be online editor at The Hill, where she wrote The World from The Hill column on foreign policy. Previously she was an opinion writer and editorial board member at the Rocky Mountain News and nation/world news columnist at the Los Angeles Daily News. She has contributed to USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, National Review Online, Politico and more, and has myriad television and radio credits as a commentator. Bridget is Washington Editor for PJ Media.
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AIPAC ‘Distressed’ by Iran Negotiations Extension, Economic Relief

Monday, July 21st, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

The leaders of the largest pro-Israel lobby in D.C. were willing to give the Obama administration a shot at the beginning of the six-month interim agreement with Iran, but now it appears as if AIPAC’s patience is wearing thin.

The administration announced Friday night that it would extend the nuclear negotiations for four months, stressing that they were making progress on a deal and that Tehran was cooperating.

In November, AIPAC unveiled a list of concerns about the interim agreement, and invited Secretary of State John Kerry and Treasury Secretary Jack Lew to the March convention to discuss the talks. While AIPAC leaders at the conference welcomed the administration members and said they were open to hearing what they had to say, many of the conference attendees were unmoved by the reasoning of cabinet members.

The largest standing ovation of the conference went to Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) when he told the crowd that he had stood against members of his own party on Iran — including calling for new sanctions.

Today, AIPAC said in a statement that “despite our support for talks, we note that Tehran has yet to indicate a willingness to dismantle any element of its nuclear infrastructure.”

“We are concerned that rather than coming into compliance with U.N. Security Council resolutions, Iran will try to use the recently announced extension of talks to break the international coalition and advance its nuclear weapons program,” said the group. “We are deeply disappointed that the P5+1 has offered even more economic relief to Iran. Economic pressure brought Tehran to the negotiating table, and increased pressure is critical to any reasonable prospect for reaching a good agreement. Moreover, we are distressed that the P5+1 is providing Iran access to increased economic benefits at the very moment when Hamas is using arms supplied by Tehran to attack Israeli civilians.”

AIPAC said it was “concerned from the outset that Iran would drag out talks to improve its position, and Tehran has actually enjoyed some economic improvement as a result of sanctions relief in the Joint Plan of Action.”

“In addition, during the last six months, Iran has continued both enriching uranium and conducting research and development on advanced centrifuges,” continued the statement. “The Administration and Congress must make clear to Tehran that America’s patience with diplomacy is not infinite. And the Administration should begin immediate substantive consultations with Congress concerning what an acceptable final nuclear agreement must include.”

“The United States should make clear that Iran can expect no further extension of the talks. We must find new means to step up pressure on Tehran. And Iran must verifiably dismantle its nuclear weapons program or face harsh consequences for its ongoing violations of treaty commitments and international law.”

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Kerry Dispatched to Egypt to Forge Middle East Ceasefire

Monday, July 21st, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

Secretary of State John Kerry has landed in Cairo in a mission to arrive at some sort of settlement to end the latest battle between Hamas and Israel.

“The United States – and our international partners– are deeply concerned about the risk of further escalation, and the loss of more innocent life. We believe there should be a ceasefire as soon as possible – one that restores the cease-fire reached in November of 2012,” the State Department said in its announcement of the trip. “Secretary Kerry is working to support Egypt’s initiative to pursue that outcome, and will travel to the region as part of those efforts.”

Hamas rejected Egypt’s peace plan last week after Israel approved it. “It is a surrender and we reject it outright,” the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades said. “Our battle with the enemy will intensify.”

“As I’ve said many times, Israel has a right to defend itself against rocket and tunnel attacks from Hamas. And as a result of its operations, Israel has already done significant damage to Hamas’s terrorist infrastructure in Gaza,” President Obama said this morning on the South Lawn of the White House. “I’ve also said, however, that we have serious concerns about the rising number of Palestinian civilian deaths and the loss of Israeli lives. And that is why it now has to be our focus and the focus of the international community to bring about a cease-fire that ends the fighting and that can stop the deaths of innocent civilians, both in Gaza and in Israel.”

Kerry, Obama said, will meet with allies and partners to attempt to forge an agreement.

“I’ve instructed him to push for an immediate cessation of hostilities based on a return to the November 2012 cease-fire agreement between Israel and Hamas in Gaza,” Obama said. “The work will not be easy. Obviously, there are enormous passions involved in this and some very difficult strategic issues involved.”

“Nevertheless, I’ve asked John to do everything he can to help facilitate a cessation to hostilities,” he added. “We don’t want to see any more civilians getting killed.”

At the State Department, spokeswoman Marie Harf echoed that “we have serious concerns about the rising number of Palestinian civilian deaths and the loss of Israeli lives.”

“I’ll let the Israeli government speak to its operations, but they’ve spoken about particularly rocket and tunnel attacks coming from Hamas in Gaza and I know they’ve been quite focused on those kind of attacks and thwarting them, but I’ll let them speak to their own military operation,” Harf told reporters.

“The secretary and the president both have been clear that they’ve spoken about the November 2012 ceasefire because look, overall our preference here is a ceasefire as soon as possible. That’s what the secretary is going to Cairo to talk about with the Egyptian, with Ban Ki-moon and with others. And so at this point we do believe that there’s not another viable plan out there.”

Harf added that “obviously our position on Hamas hasn’t changed.”

“But this is an important point to talk to the Egyptians, who do play a role here, and have played an important role in past ceasefires, as you’ve noted, to see if we can get to a ceasefire here,” she said. “I would also emphasize that this is hard, and that you know, I think the secretary will be there on the ground talking to the Egyptians, but I think we need to be realistic about how hard this is.”

UPDATE: Kerry has announced a $47 million aid package “to help address the humanitarian situation in Gaza,” including “an initial $15 million contribution to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) in response to UNRWA’s $60 million Gaza Flash Appeal.”

 

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Feinstein: ‘World Would Very Much Respect’ Obama’s ‘Increased Attention’ on Crises Abroad

Monday, July 21st, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

The chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee said it would be nice if President Obama stepped up his attention to the foreign policy crises crashing down around him.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) stressed “the eastern part of the Ukraine is essentially controlled by Russian partisans who are run by Russia.”

“I agree with those who see former fighters, Russian fighters amidst them. Russian equipment, Russian training, Russian practice. And I think Putin ought to own up in the sense that do what an objective, responsible leader would do,” she told MSNBC today. “…I think it may well be that the United States should take its solid intelligence, which I believe is solid now, and declassify it, and let the world see what went into this and why the belief is so solid that this, in fact, was a Russian Buk that unleashed this missile.”

“…What action is the world going to take? Are we just going to sit by and see this all happen? What action is Europe going to take? Will they become a participant in a sanctions regime that will say to Russia, the West condemns this act?”

Feinstein said she believes “that America’s reputation is somewhat diminished, but I think there are people that still believe that we want to do the right thing.”

“This is a very hard time. With ISIS and its caliphate in the middle of Syria and in the middle of Iraq, with them marching on Baghdad, with what’s happening with Iran and the P-5-plus- 1, Gaza,” she said. “…Now, look, I’m not gonna tell the president what to do. But I think the world would very much respect his increased attention on this matter. And I think there ought to be increased attention.”

“And I think the leader of the free world has to be strong and this is a time where strength is necessary. And this, our president, has to convince Europe to stand up and be part of this so that the world can speak out with one voice of condemnation.”

Feinstein added that it’s important current events don’t “just slide from the viewers’ screen.”

“I think people have to understand the kind of world we live in today, with this kind of expressly high-tech technology and what it can do and how it’s controlled and who has access to it,” she said. “This is as important as keeping people from a dirty bomb, in my view.”

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Obama: Pro-Russia Rebels Demonstrating ‘Kind of Behavior That Has No Place in the Community of Nations’

Monday, July 21st, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

President Obama added a brief statement to his schedule this morning to come to the podium and ask Russian separatists in Ukraine what they’re trying to hide at the MH17 crash site.

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Saturday that OSCE monitors were only allowed 75 minutes at the crash site Friday and fewer than three hours on Saturday, all confined to a small area. “The site is not secure, and there are multiple reports of bodies being removed, parts of the plane and other debris being hauled away, and potential evidence tampered with. This is unacceptable and an affront to all those who lost loved ones and to the dignity the victims deserve,” Psaki said.

The location of the black boxes was also uncertain, with rumors over the weekend saying that the rebels turned the flight recorders over to Moscow.

“Now, international investigators are on the ground. They have been organized. I’ve sent teams. Other countries have sent teams. They are prepared. They are organized to conduct what should be the kinds of protocols and scouring and collecting of evidence that should follow any international incident like this,” Obama said on the South Lawn of the White House.

“And what they need right now is immediate and full access to the crash site. They need to be able to conduct a prompt and full and unimpeded, as well as transparent investigation. And recovery personnel have to do the solemn and sacred work of recovering the remains of those who were lost,” he added.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has declared a demilitarized zone around the crash site, but the separatists are still hampering the investigation.

“As investigators approached, they fired their weapons in to the air. The separatists are removing evidence from the crash site. All of which begs the question: What exactly are they trying to hide?” Obama said. “Moreover, these Russian-backed separatists are removing bodies from the crash site, oftentimes without the care that we would normally expect from a tragedy like this. This is an insult to those who’ve lost loved ones. This is the kind of behavior that has no place in the community of nations.”

The president said that given Russia’s “extraordinary influence” over the separatists, Russian President Vladimir Putin should have greater pull in getting them to behave.

“President Putin says that he supports a full and fair investigation, and I appreciate those words, but they have to be supported by actions,” Obama said. “The burden now is on Russia to insist that the separatists stop tampering with the evidence, grant investigators who are already on the ground immediate, full and unimpeded access to the crash site.”

“If Russia continues to violate Ukraine’s sovereignty and to back these separatists, and these separatists become more and more dangerous and now are risks, not simply to the people inside of Ukraine but the broader international community, and Russia will only further isolate itself from the international community, and the costs for Russia’s behavior will only continue to increase,” he added.

Putin made his own address earlier today, insisting “no one should and no one has the right to use this tragedy to pursue their own political goals.”

“I believe that if military operations had not resumed in eastern Ukraine on June 28, this tragedy probably could have been avoided,” Putin said. “…All those who are responsible for the situation in the region must take greater responsibility before their own peoples and before the peoples of the countries whose citizens were killed in this disaster.”

Poroshenko told CNN this morning that he doesn’t see “any differences from the tragedy of 9/11″ and the shooting down of the civilian airliner.

“We should demonstrate the same way of reaction,” said the Ukrainian leader.

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Malaysia Airlines Flight Spotted as Lone Transcontinental Traveler Over Syria

Monday, July 21st, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

With all of the scrutiny surrounding the path of doomed MH17 over a war zone in eastern Ukraine, Malaysia Airlines Flight MH4 took a questionable route from Kuala Lumpur to London yesterday:

 

Homs remains an area of heavy fighting despite a recently lifted siege, with ISIS taking over a gas field and executing many of the workers.

A look at FlightRadar24 this morning found that MH4 wasn’t flying over Syria anymore, but heading over the Islamic State and Mosul:

Screen Shot 2014-07-21 at 10.52.17 AM

Planes are having to find new diversions since last week’s takedown of the passenger airliner by a Russian-made missile, including this wide curve under the Crimean peninsula.

Screen Shot 2014-07-21 at 10.42.56 AM

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Two Americans Among IDF Killed Fighting for Israel

Monday, July 21st, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

Two American citizens are among the 13 Israel Defense Forces soldiers in the Golani brigade killed in the ground operation into Gaza.

Max Steinberg, 24, was born in Woodland Hills, Calif., where he attended El Camino Real High School and Pierce College, according to the Jewish Journal of Los Angeles. He volunteered for the IDF in December 2012 and was a sniper in Golani.

Steinberg’s family still lives in the San Fernando Valley. They were flying to Israel for his burial.

“He was completely dedicated and committed to serving the country of Israel,” his father, Stuart, told the Associated Press. “He was focused, he was clear in what the mission was, and he was dedicated to the work he needed to be doing.”

Nissim Sean Carmeli, 21, was from South Padre Island, Texas, and moved to Israel four years ago.

The specific circumstances of their deaths aren’t known, only that all of the 13 IDF soldiers died in the Gaza City neighborhood of Shejaiya.

Seven were killed when their personnel carrier drove over an explosive device, three were killed by a fire in a building, and three were killed in a firefight with Hamas.

“We can confirm the deaths of U.S. citizens Max Steinberg and Sean Carmeli in Gaza,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in a Sunday night statement. “Out of respect for those affected by this, we have nothing further at this time.”

 

maxsteinberg

Max Steinberg

carmeli

Nissim Sean Carmeli

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White House Extends Iran Nuclear Deadline by Four Months

Friday, July 18th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

With two days to go until the July 20 deadline for a final nuclear agreement with Iran, the Obama administration announced Friday evening that it would extend the deadline by four months.

In a lengthy statement from the White House, press secretary Josh Earnest lauded Washington’s “unprecedented diplomatic effort with the Islamic Republic of Iran to achieve a comprehensive solution to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.”

“As verified by the International Atomic Energy Agency, Iran has met its commitments under that initial accord – ceasing its enrichment of uranium to higher levels; taking steps to neutralize its more dangerous stockpile of nuclear material; refraining from installing more centrifuges, including its more advanced models; halting advances at its Arak reactor; and submitting to broader and far more frequent inspections of its facilities,” Earnest said. “Meanwhile, the relief provided by the P5+1 and EU has been limited, and the overwhelming majority of our sanctions remain in force.”

The White House insisted that while “our negotiators have made progress in some areas and, while real gaps remain, there is a credible prospect for a comprehensive deal.”

“Because of this – and because Iran has upheld its commitments under the initial accord – we agreed today to extend the Joint Plan of Action to November 24. This extension will allow us to continue the negotiations while ensuring that the progress of Iran’s nuclear program remains halted during the negotiations,” Earnest said.

He added “throughout this process, we have consulted regularly with Congress, whose efforts have been critical in supporting this diplomatic opportunity” — but lawmakers have regularly complained throughout the six-month period that they haven’t been included in the process.

“We have also engaged closely with our regional partners and allies – particularly Israel and our Gulf partners – given our shared interest in preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon and the United States’ enduring commitment to regional security,” Earnest said.

“We will not accept anything less than a comprehensive resolution that meets our objectives, which is why it is necessary for negotiations to continue.”

On Wednesday, the White House wouldn’t say if it would extend the talks, but was paving the way by waxing about Iran’s “surprisingly favorable” record.

Secretary of State John Kerry insisted tonight “this effort remains as intense as it is important, and we have come a long way in a short period of time.”

“Less than a year ago, President Obama and Iranian President Rouhani spoke for the first time to try to usher in a new diplomatic moment, and I held the first bilateral meeting between a Secretary of State and an Iranian Foreign Minister in more than three decades,” he said in a statement. “Since that time, we’ve been intensely engaged in a constant and comprehensive effort – the best chance we’ve ever had to resolve this issue peacefully.”

The six-month interim agreement, Kerry claimed, “has been a clear success.”

“Today, we have a draft text that covers the main issues, but there are still a number of brackets and blank spaces in that text,” he said, adding that some of those gaps are concentrated around “issues such as enrichment capacity at the Natanz enrichment facility.”

“Diplomacy takes time, and persistence is needed to determine whether we can achieve our objectives peacefully. To turn our back prematurely on diplomatic efforts when significant progress has been made would deny ourselves the ability to achieve our objectives peacefully, and to maintain the international unity that we have built. While we’ve made clear that no deal is better than a bad deal, the very real prospect of reaching a good agreement that achieves our objectives necessitates that we seek more time,” Kerry continued.

The Nov. 24 date was picked because it’s exactly one year since the initial agreement was finalized in Geneva. Kerry argued the extension is “warranted by the progress we’ve made and the path forward we can envision.”

The U.S. “will continue to suspend the sanctions we agreed to under the JPOA and will allow Iran access to $2.8 billion dollars of its restricted assets, the four-month prorated amount of the original JPOA commitment,” he said.

Kerry was quickly booked on all five Sunday morning news shows.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said Thursday that Tehran would be open to an extension “if it becomes clear that the opposite side respects the Iranian nation’s rights and viewpoints within the framework of international law.”

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) on the floor of the upper chamber this week noted the “same obfuscation, same Iranian tactics we’ve seen for decades … that’s not an endgame – that’s a nonstarter.”

Menendez stressed that the only acceptable agreement is one that would set off alarm bells if Iran tries to attain nuclear weapons capability over the next 20 to 30 years.

Along with Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Menendez circulated a letter to President Obama around the Senate this week to gather signatures on the need for a tough stance against Tehran, touching off a lobbying battle of sorts with pro-Iranian groups.

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) said tonight the extension sounds like anything but the “progress” claimed by Kerry.

“It looks like the Iranians won extra time with a good cop-bad cop routine, backing off the Supreme Leader’s absurd claim for 190,000 centrifuges,” Royce said. “This tells me Iran, with centrifuges spinning, thinks time is on its side. Increased economic pressure would strengthen our hand, but the administration opposes it. It should welcome congressional efforts to ratchet up the economic pressure on Iran.”

“Any deal should be graded on its technical merits, not in the hopes of a partnership with Iran on Iraq and other issues, as some have argued,” the chairman added. “Iran’s terrorist-backing activities, including illicitly shipping missiles to Hamas, demands even higher standards of verification for any deal. Everything about Iran’s nuclear program signals ‘nuclear bomb,’ yesterday, today, and I worry tomorrow.”

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Obama Bringing Central American Leaders to White House to Talk Immigration

Friday, July 18th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

President Obama has not gone down to see the influx of illegal immigration overwhelming the southern border, yet will host Central American leaders at the White House next week to talk immigration reform.

“President Obama will welcome President Otto Perez Molina of Guatemala, President Juan Orlando Hernandez of Honduras, and President Salvador Sanchez Ceren of El Salvador to the White House on July 25,” press secretary Josh Earnest announced in a statement late Friday afternoon.

“The four leaders and Vice President Biden will discuss how to reinforce our ongoing collaboration to stem the flow of undocumented migrants from Central America to Mexico and the United States. This will include discussion of how the United States and Central American governments are cooperating to promote safe, legal, and orderly migration between our countries in a spirit of shared responsibility, including with respect to the return of family units, which began this week for all three countries,” the statement continued.

“The leaders will also discuss how we can work together with other members of the international community to foster development, economic growth, and security in the region and address the factors that are causing Central American citizens to undertake the dangerous journey to the United States. The Vice President will also host a lunch for the three leaders prior to the meeting with President Obama to continue the dialogue he began on this topic in his June 20 meeting in Guatemala City.”

Obama has requested $3.7 billion in emergency appropriations to address the immigration influx, many of them unaccompanied minors, but will not entertain bipartisan proposals to reform a 2008 law that is keeping Central American migrants in the country for an extended period of time for amnesty proceedings — until Congress passes his funding.

“Last year President Obama suspended the policy of immediately returning of illegal immigrants caught at the border. Consequently, thousands of families in Central America have taken the President’s unilateral decision as an open invitation to send their children to the United States. This is unacceptable and has created a massive crisis. Our nation has immigration laws and those laws MUST be enforced. We need to treat these children humanely, but they should then be sent back to their country of origin as soon as possible,” Texas Rep. Joe Barton (R) said Thursday.

“I am also adamantly against the President’s recent request for $3.7 billion emergency funding for the border. His plan focuses on treating the symptoms and not the disease. I am staying in constant contact with Republican leaders as we craft a plan to secure the border and stop the free flow of illegal immigrants into Texas.”

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Psaki: ISIS ‘Seeks to Distort Religion Solely to Obtain Power Through Violence’

Friday, July 18th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

State Department spokeswoman said the stoning of a woman by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS or ISIL) was the result of a movement that “seeks to distort religion solely to obtain power through violence.”

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported today that a woman in her 30s in Tabaqa became the first victim of the Islamic State’s judiciary system.

“The Islamic state carried out its first sentence of death by stoning against a woman in Tabaqa, accusing her of adultery,” said the human rights group.

“The situation is unbearable. Stoning is the worst punishment history has known. A quick death is more merciful,” Raqqa activist Salameh, using a pseudonym, told AFP via the Internet. “The woman’s family did not know the sentence was going to be carried out at this time.”

“We condemn in the strongest possible terms the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant’s barbaric stoning of the woman yesterday in Tabaqa — Tabaqa, Syria,” Psaki told reporters at the start of the daily briefing.

“This is the latest example of ISIL’s infamous atrocities against the Syrian people. ISIL is a vicious terrorist organization with a proven agenda of grotesque violence and repression, which runs against the Syrian revolution’s goals of freedom and dignity,” Psaki continued.

“We’ve been clear that all those who commit crimes against the Syrian people must be held accountable. The United States regularly reports on violence against women and girls around the world and supports efforts to prevent and respond to such violence, including advancing accountability by working with law enforcement, supporting civil societies efforts, and engaging with critical stake holders such as men and boys,” she said.

“We raise these issues with world leaders and an international force such as the United Nations to spur collective action against such — these egregious crimes.”

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Power at UN: Russia Recently Transferred Tanks and Artillery to Separatists

Friday, July 18th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

UN Ambassador Samantha Power said at the United Nations today that the shootdown of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 came on the heels of discoveries by Ukrainian officials of Russian arms transfers to separatists.

Power said three infants were among the 283 passengers killed.

“Of the operational SAM systems located near the border, only the SA-11, SA-20, and SA-22 SAM systems are capable of hitting an aircraft at this flight’s altitude of 33,000 feet. We can rule out shorter-range SAMs known to be in separatist hands, including MANPADS, SA-8 and SA-13 systems, which are not capable of hitting an aircraft at this altitude,” she said. “Early Thursday, an SA-11 SAM system was reported near Snizhne by a Western reporter and separatists were spotted hours before the incident with an SA-11 system at a location close to the site where the plane came down.”

“Separatists initially claimed responsibility for shooting down a military transport plane and posted videos that are now being connected to the Malaysian airlines crash. Separatist leaders also boasted on social media about shooting down a plane, but later deleted these messages. Because of the technical complexity of the SA-11, it is unlikely that the separatists could effectively operate the system without assistance from knowledgeable personnel. Thus, we cannot rule out technical assistance from Russian personnel in operating the systems.”

Power said the Ukrainian government does also possess the Buk missile system, or SA-11, but “we are not aware of any Ukrainian SAM systems in the area of the shoot-down.”

“And, more importantly, since the beginning of this crisis, Ukrainian air defenses have not fired a single missile, despite several alleged violations of their airspace by Russian aircraft,” he said.

However, Russian separatists shot down a Ukrainian transport plane, carrying 40 paratroopers and nine crew, on June 13. On June 24 separatists downed a Ukrainian helicopter, killing all nine on board.

Separatists claimed credit for the downing of a Ukrainian military cargo plane on July 14 and a Ukrainian fighter jet two days later.

“If indeed Russian-backed separatists were behind this attack on a civilian airliner, they and their backers would have good reason to cover up evidence of their crime. Thus, it is extremely important that an investigation be commenced immediately,” Power said.

She stressed that “in the last few weeks, Russia has increased the number of tanks, armored vehicles, and rocket launchers in southwest Russia. More advanced air defense systems have also arrived.”

“Moscow has recently transferred Soviet-era tanks and artillery to the separatists and several military vehicles crossed the border,” Power continued. “After recapturing several Ukrainian cities last weekend, Ukrainian officials discovered caches of weapons long associated with Russia stockpiles, including MANPADS, mines, grenades, MREs, vehicles, and a pontoon bridge.”

“Ukrainian forces have discovered large amounts of other Russian-provided military equipment, including accompanying documentation verifying the Russian origin, in the areas that they have liberated from separatists in recent days. Recruiting efforts for separatist fighters are expanding inside Russia and separatists have openly said that they are looking for volunteers with experience operating heavy weapons such as tanks and air defenses. Russia has allowed officials from the ‘Donetsk Peoples’ Republic’ to establish a recruiting office in Moscow.”

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Pentagon Doesn’t ‘Have a Working Theory’ on Culprits Behind MH17 Takedown

Friday, July 18th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

Pentagon press secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby told reporters today that more than 24 hours after a passenger airliner was downed with a Russian-made surface-to-air missile they don’t have any operational theories on what was behind the takedown.

“I don’t think we have a working theory at this point… I mean, this just happened yesterday,” Kirby said. “There’s teams of investigators now trying to get to the site and pore through this. And I mean, we just have to let them do their job.”

It was one of the few press briefings on the Malaysia Airlines attack at which questions were taken, as press secretary Josh Earnest’s daily briefing was canceled by the White House around noontime.

“We see strong evidence that Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was hit by a surface-to-air missile at an altitude of about 33,000 feet and that the missile was launched from a location near the border that is controlled by Russian separatists. This incident obviously occurred in the context of a conflict fueled by Russian support for Ukrainian — or for these Russian separatists and that support has — and that support has included arms, materiel and training,” Kirby said.

“As we investigate who did this and why, this terrible tragedy underscores for Russia to take immediate and concrete steps to deescalate the crisis in Ukraine and support the Ukrainian government’s plan for a ceasefire and peace settlement.”

Kirby said they see see “no hint that Russian support for the separatists has ceased.”

“In fact, we believe that Russia continues to provide them with heavy weapons and other military equipment, financing as well. And they continue to allow these Russian fighters to enter Ukraine freely,” he said. “There have been — as you know, we’ve acknowledged that some tanks, some personnel vehicles have — have made their way across the border. It is a — it has been a steady, concerted campaign by Russia’s military to continue to support and resource, advise these separatists.”

Kirby said they didn’t have any specific information corroborating reports that a Buk system was seen being hustled back across the Russian border missing two missiles.

“The missile itself, the SA-11, which is the one we believe was used to down Flight 17, is a sophisticated piece of technology,” the admiral said. “And it is — it — it strains credulity to think that — that it could be used by separatists without at least some measure of Russian support and technical assistance.”

“I don’t have an indication now that a system was brought over. And we don’t exactly know who is responsible for firing that missile, or with — or with what assistance. What I’m saying is that that system is fairly sophisticated,” Kirby added. “…Nobody is suggesting that the Russian military advice and assistance has not somehow crossed the border. It is just unclear exactly how much and when and who. That is what the investigators are going to look at and that is what we need to let them do.”

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel conferred by phone today with Malaysian Minister of Defense Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Tun Hussein, whose step-grandmother was among the passengers killed.

Kirby said they’re still keeping an eye on “roughly still about 10,000 to 12,000″ Russian troops at the Ukrainian border.

“And it fluctuates a little bit from week to week, but the point is that it has been a — over time, a steady increase of these combined arms tactical battalions across the border on the Russian side, but to the southeast of Ukraine. And they are close to the border. In many cases, closer than those forces who were more aligned right on the east. If you remember we had, you know, tens of thousands that were along the eastern border with Ukraine, but not as close as these units appear to be,” he said.

“All they’re doing is further escalating tension. It’s difficult to know what the intent is. That’s a question you should ask the Russian ministry of defense. But they’re there. They’re growing in size week by week, and they continue to just do nothing more than escalate the tension.”

He said various government agencies would likely be participating in an international investigation of the takedown, but “I have no expectation right now that there’ll be a DOD representative on this team.”

Kirby said the Pentagon continue to review Ukrainian requests for military assistance.

So far, they’ve received MREs, radios, body armor, individual first aid kits, sleeping mats, and uniform items to battle Putin’s army and militia.

“Over the next few months, additional items will start moving through the procurement process to include night vision goggles, thermal imagers, Kevlar helmets, explosive ordnance disposal robots, and some additional radios. And there’s been some other equipment given to Ukraine’s border guards — barbed wire, alarm systems, excavators, trucks, generators, that kind of thing — communications gear,” he said. “…I think I’ve said it before that they have requested a lot of material, some of it lethal in nature. But the focus has been and remains on the non-lethal side of the assistance.”

When asked if they were withholding lethal aid to avoid stoking tensions with Russia, Kirby replied, “Look, I mean, I’m not going to get into hypothetical here. The concern is that the territorial integrity of Ukraine has been violated and continues to be violated by its neighbor in Russia and that needs to stop.”

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Preventable Medical Errors Third-Leading Cause of Death, Senate Panel Told

Thursday, July 17th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

A Senate committee heard today that preventable medical mistakes in hospitals are surpassed only by heart disease and cancer in causes of death for Americans.

Dr. Peter Pronovost of Johns Hopkins University told the Senate Subcommittee on Primary Health and Aging that blood clots, overexposure to radiation, infections, drug reactions, diagnostic mistakes and falls are taking their toll despite advances in prevention.

“We need to declare right now that preventable harm is unacceptable and work to prevent all types of harm,” Pronovost said.

A recent Journal of Patient Safety study put the annual toll from preventable medical errors at as many as 440,000 deaths each year — not counting tens of thousands more patients who die outside of hospitals from medical mistakes such as drug errors.

“Medical harm is a major cause of suffering, disability, and death – as well as a huge financial cost to our nation,” Chairman Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said at the hearing. “This is a problem that has not received anywhere near the attention that it deserves and today I hope that we can focus a spotlight on this matter of such grave consequence.”

In 2011, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that one out of every 25 patients acquires an infection in the hospital for an annual toll of 75,000.

Medical errors also rack up a tab of up to $1 billion a year when counting effects such as lost work days. “People who are harmed lose their jobs, their homes, their insurance,” said Lisa McGiffert of Consumers Union. “Many go bankrupt trying to pay the medical bills that they would not have had if they had not been harmed by a health care provider.”

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Obama: Malaysia Airlines Downing ‘Looks Like It May Be a Terrible Tragedy’

Thursday, July 17th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

President Obama briefly addressed the downed Malaysia Airlines flight before comments this afternoon about infrastructure executive actions in Delaware, saying that the loss of the plane carrying 295 passengers and crew “looks like it may be a terrible tragedy.”

“Right now we’re working to determine whether there were American citizens on board. That is our first priority and I’ve directed my national security team to stay in close contact with the Ukrainian government,” Obama said. “The United States will offer any assistance we can to help determine what happened and why and as a country our thoughts and prayers are with all the families of the passengers wherever they call home.”

His remarks on the flight barely exceeded 30 seconds before he launched into his previously scheduled speech on transportation projects at the Port of Wilmington.

The White House said Vice President Biden called Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko.

Poroshenko spoke on TV after Obama’s remarks, stressing, “We don’t call this an ‘incident’ or ‘catastrophe,’ but a terrorist action.”

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev posted a message on his Facebook page expressing “deepest condolences following the crash of the Malaysian Airlines plane over Ukraine.”

“This tragedy has claimed the lives of hundreds of people from different countries and has caused profound grief for those who lost loved ones,” Medvedev said. “I mourn for the victims.”

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters today that she didn’t have “any confirmed information about casualties, the cause or additional details.”

“Our thoughts and prayers go out to those on board, their families and loved ones. We’re closely monitoring the situation. The secretary is, of course, aware of these reports. And we’re seeking additional information,” Psaki said. “Our embassy in Kiev is also in close contact with the Ukrainian authorities on this incident. But at this point, those are all the details that we have.”

Reports have indicated 23 Americans were on the manifest, but Psaki said they were “looking to, of course, obtain that information.”

Psaki said Secretary of State John Kerry hadn’t called any Russian officials, and she didn’t know of any plans to do so.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) told CNN that he didn’t want to leap to conclusions about the cause of the crash, but “if it was a missile that took this plane down, then it has to be a very sophisticated weapons system.”

“And the Ukrainians do not have that capability. So if it is the case, we’re going to have to act, and act in the most stringent fashions, including real sanctions, including giving the Ukrainians the ability to defend themselves, which we have not done so far,” McCain said.

“I think Putin was disappointed that he didn’t get more support both in Eastern Ukraine, Odessa, other parts of Southern Ukraine. But most of us who get to know Vladimir figured that he was not was going to give up easily and that he would continue to try to foment disorder in Eastern Ukraine, which, as we all know, is the most important part of the Ukrainian economy,” he said. “So I never believed he was going to go quietly, I’d – it’s impossible to assume that he’d believe that something like this would do anything but have the most negative effects.”

McCain told MSNBC, “If it is the result of either separatist or Russian actions mistakenly believing that this was a Ukrainian war plane, I think there’s going to be hell to pay, and there should be.”

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Malaysia Airlines 777 Down in Restive Area of Ukraine

Thursday, July 17th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

Malaysia Airlines confirmed that it has lost another Boeing 777: Flight MH17 from Kuala Lumpur to Amsterdam, over a restive region near Donetsk, Ukraine.

There were 280 passengers on board and 15 crew members.

The incident comes a day after President Obama announced new sanctions on Russia. “Along with our allies, with whom I’ve been coordinating closely the last several days and weeks, I’ve repeatedly made it clear that Russia must halt the flow of weapons and fighters across the border into Ukraine; that Russia must urge separatists to release their hostages and support a cease-fire; that Russia needs to pursue internationally-mediated talks and agree to meaningful monitors on the border,” Obama said Wednesday evening.

“On top of the sanctions we have already imposed, we are therefore designating selected sectors of the Russian economy as eligible for sanctions,” he said. “We are freezing the assets of several Russian defense companies.  And we are blocking new financing of some of Russia’s most important banks and energy companies.  These sanctions are significant, but they are also targeted — designed to have the maximum impact on Russia while limiting any spillover effects on American companies or those of our allies.”

White House press secretary Josh Earnest said Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke by phone this morning about the new sanctions regime. It was unclear if that call took place before or after MH17 went down.

Earnest told reporters aboard Air Force One en route to Delaware that Obama “had been briefed about the airliner crash and had instructed his staff to keep him updated,” according to the White House pool report.

Obama is speaking at the Port of Wilmington today to “announce a new initiative, using his pen and his phone, to increase private sector investment in our nation’s infrastructure.”

Malaysia Airlines, which lost Flight MH370 in March, has given few updates as the situation unfolds.

An aide to Ukraine’s interior minister posted on Facebook that they believe the plane was taken down by a Buk missile system “kindly” given to pro-Russian rebels in the region.

The aide said the plane was flying at 10,000 meters when it was taken down. “Cynicism of Putin and his terrorists have no limit! Europe, USA, Canada, the civilized world – open your eyes! Help us all what you can! This is a war between good and evil!” the aide wrote.

“Here’s a video from the crash site! Some rascals shouted ‘Beauty! Beautifully lit’! Nonhumans!”

YouTube Preview Image Ukrainians posted photos of a Dutch passport reportedly found near the crash site.

 

 

 

 

 

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Hispanic Caucus ‘Energized’ After Meeting with Obama, Ripping on Colleague Cuellar

Thursday, July 17th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

One member of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus emerged from yesterday’s closed-door meeting with President Obama and Vice President Biden feeling “energized” about their conversation on pushing immigration reform through executive orders and the border crisis.

In a readout of the meeting, the White House said Obama “heard from members of the Caucus about ideas for actions to improve our immigration system.”

“The President reaffirmed that he is focused on fixing as much of our broken immigration system as he can within the confines of the law, and has asked Secretary Johnson and the Attorney General to conduct a thorough review that produces recommendations before the end of the summer,” the White House said. “The President made clear that regardless of the steps he takes through administrative action, nothing replaces the need for Congress to pass commonsense immigration reform, and he will continue to make the case for swift action by Congress on a comprehensive bill.”

Obama “also emphasized the urgency for Congress to approve supplemental funding to aid the government response to the influx of migrants at the Rio Grande Valley.”

“The situation in the Rio Grande Valley underscores how our immigration system is broken, and Republicans need to stop blocking comprehensive immigration reform so we can fix the system now. In the absence of Republican action, the President has mounted a significant effort to deal with this urgent humanitarian situation,” continued the readout. “The Administration is focused on addressing these immediate and pressing challenges to make sure we are responding in an efficient and timely way and confronting the root of the problem with top-level diplomatic efforts in Central America.”

Obama thanked the caucus members for “their leadership and major accomplishments for the Latino community, including improvements in education, access to health care, and economic growth.”

Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) said the caucus members told Obama they “will not support a supplemental budget request that undermines the legal protection for children” — going against the efforts of Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas) to reform parts of a 2008 law that provides extended amnesty proceedings for illegal immigrants from non-contiguous countries. “The CHC told the President we will fight for the rights of these children under the law and a lot of other Democrats will stand with us.”

“I saw a compassionate President who listened to our position on the deportation crisis that families and communities are facing in America.  We urged the President to be as broad and expansive in using prosecutorial discretion and executive action as the Republicans have been narrow and mean-spirited when it comes to immigrants and immigration,” Gutierrez said.

“I think the President, the Vice President and their administration get it on an emotional level – they get the pain that immigrant communities are suffering, the families being split apart, and they get the pain that children fleeing violence are suffering.”

Gutierrez added that “we would denounce any country overseas that attacks, protests, and turns back children fleeing violence and turmoil.”

“And as a great nation we must set an example for others when it comes to the rule of law and the generosity of our people.”

Cuellar told Fox that he didn’t get a word in edgewise at the meeting as “there was a brief determined number of people that were going to be speaking.”

“I’ve been working on this for many years. The border issues and this crisis. I understand how the process works. And again, no matter who you are, you should never box yourself in this situation,” Cuellar said. “We got to look at a policy change with due process for this kids. But at the same time, we’ve got to have those hearings. So the kids that need to be returned safely will have to be returned safely.”

CHC chairman Ruben Hinojosa (D-Texas) openly criticized his colleague. “He’s a Blue Dog. He comes to the meetings once in a long time. And what you are hearing now is a unanimous voice of those who have been participating in the Congressional Hispanic Caucus,” Hinojosa said. “But to make it clear, Cuellar does not speak for the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.”

Cuellar said it’s about doing the right thing.

“I’m Hispanic, I’m a Blue Dog, 80 percent of my population that I represent are Hispanic. I — as a member of Congress, I can make my proposal. I live on the border,” Cuellar said. “And by the way, it would have been nice if he would have spoken to me, asked me what my legislation does. He was just ignorant of the facts.”

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Israeli Ambassador: 20 Times as Many Germans Died in WWII; Did That Make U.S. Response ‘Disproportionate’?

Wednesday, July 16th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

Israel’s ambassador to the United States stressed on CNN that the Jewish state cannot be accused of a disproportionate response to Gaza rockets because “it has nothing to do with a body count on both sides.”

“Twenty times as many Germans died in World War II than Americans. It didn’t make the American response disproportionate and didn’t make the Nazis right,” Ambassador Ron Dermer said.

Furthermore, he said, Israel is not targeting any civilians, unlike Hamas.

“How many of the total number of people who were killed were non-combatants I don’t know the exact number. After any time you have these types of activities, military activities we have an investigation into each and every incident. We do not target civilians. That’s is the difference between us and Hamas. We’re doing everything to keep their civilians out of harm’s way. We’re not perfect. It’s a very dense urban area,” Dermer said.

“We have an issue now where we have nearly three-quarters of our population, the equivalent of 200 million Americans in bomb shelters. We have to defend ourselves. They put their missile batteries next to schools, next to mosques, next to hospitals. We’re doing everything we can to keep their innocents out of harm’s way.”

Israel is “sending flyers, text messages, or phone calls” to warn Palestinian civilians of the bombings, but Hamas is “saying go into harm’s way.”

“Hamas is telling the Palestinians in Gaza to ignore the warnings of the Israeli Defense Forces and to go into harm’s way,” Dermer said. “…It’s very important to understand what it means for a disproportionate response. Sometimes say Israel is being disproportionate because more Palestinians have been killed than Israelis, 200 versus one.”

The ambassador disputed the Palestinians’ claim that Israelis targeted a charity for the disabled.

“We didn’t bomb a disabled center. Here’s the people you have to ask are the people using these civilians as human shields. They are using civilians as human shields. It’s a tactic of war. If the international community condemns Israel for defending itself legitimately, and you’ve heard the words of the American president, you’ve heard the secretary of state. We’ve appreciate the strong backing they’ve given for Israel’s right to defend itself. If you place the blame on Israel, Hamas is going to put more civilians in harm’s way,” said Dermer.

“We call off actions time after time. If you can really tell me that if 200 million Americans were in bomb shelters then the American government and the American military would use less force than Israel then that’s very surprising.”

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House Bill to Sue Obama Gets Its First Hearing

Wednesday, July 16th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

The House Rules Committee this morning began its examination of legislation to authorize a lawsuit against President Obama for executive overreach.

“Under President Obama, the executive branch has increasingly gone beyond the constraints of the Constitution. In fact, in a number of instances the president has gone beyond his Article II powers to enforce the law and has infringed upon the Article I powers of Congress to write the law,” Chairman Pete Sessions (R-Texas) said at the beginning of the hearing.

The committee called four constitutional law scholars to discuss the draft resolution and Obama’s actions.

“The text of the Constitution that we have sworn to defend provides separate powers for each branch of the federal government. Article I puts the power to legislate – to write the law – in the hands of Congress. Article II, on the other hand, requires that the president “take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed,” Session said. “This difference is important. The Founders knew that giving one branch the power to both write and execute the law would be a direct threat to the liberties of the American people. They separated these powers between the branches in order to ensure that no one person could trample upon the rights of the people.”

“My fear is that our nation is currently facing the exact threat that the Constitution is designed to avoid. Branches of government have always attempted to exert their influence on the other branches, but this president has gone too far. Rather than faithfully executing the law as the Constitution requires, the president has instead selectively enforced the law in some instances, ignored the law in other instances, and, in a few cases, changed the law altogether, all without going through the required constitutional law making process.”

The top Democrat on the committee, Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.), highlighted outside testimony from two constitutional law experts calling the lawsuit “meritless.”

“There is no standing and it is a bad idea for a Speaker to file such an embarrassing loser,” said Charles Tiefer of the University of Baltimore Law School.

Sessions argued that “it is important that we all acknowledge that this is not a political issue” and “not an issue that should pit Republicans against Democrats.”

“Any approach in which the President can ignore, selectively enforce, or unilaterally rewrite the law tilts the balance of power away from the legislature and toward the executive,” he said. “Presidential overreach also undermines the rule of law, which provides the predictability necessary to govern a functioning and fair society.”

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Arizona Dem: GOP Trying to ‘Drag That Bloody Flag of Amnesty’ Into Border Crisis

Wednesday, July 16th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

A Democratic congressman accused Republicans of trying to “reinstitute the whole issue of fear” and “drag that bloody flag of amnesty” in the border crisis.

Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) told MSNBC that today President Obama will sit down with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus for the first time since the influx of illegal immigrants coming over the border reached crisis proportions and overwhelmed authorities.

“I really believe there is — the purpose of the meeting is now much more than original. Originally, it was to talk about our recommendations to the president that we had forward to him regarding what he can do with executive action to move forward on comprehensive immigration reform,” Grijalva said. “That will be discussed and that’s the vitally important issue that he has constitutional and legal authority to do.”

“The issue of the children at the border, the children that are — with us in this country right now and being taking care of, that issue and the supplemental that the president requested are tied together unfortunately,” he added. “And, you know, Republicans in the House and in the Senate are trying to milk this for as much of political advantage as they can.”

Grijalva said the GOP is attacking Obama for “imperial powers that he doesn’t follow the law,” then wants to change the 2008 law that allows illegal immigrants from non-contiguous countries special processing rights.

He added that Republicans aren’t paying attention to the problem of drug cartels in Central America “because it doesn’t play to tune that they’re playing out there.”

“They’re trying to rave up people, reinstitute the whole issue of fear, drag that bloody flag of amnesty, the border is not secure, there’s sorts of people coming over, and it’s a consequence, see what political advantage they get in the midterms and going it to 2016,” Grijalva said.

“I think the president needs to be firm, CHC, the Hispanic Caucus is going to be firm and protect these children because after all they’re children and there’s a moral and legal imperative that we do that.”

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Pentagon: Bergdahl Free to Go Where He Pleases While Under Investigation

Tuesday, July 15th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

The Pentagon said today that Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl is not under any restrictions as the Army returns him to active duty yet probes the circumstances surrounding his capture by the Taliban.

The Army said Monday that Bergdahl had completed his weeks-long reintegration process to address the effects of being held by the Taliban for five years.

“Sgt. Bergdahl has completed the final phase of the reintegration process under the control of U.S. Army South and is currently being assigned to U.S. Army North, Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston (JBSA),” the Army said. “He will now return to regular duty within the command where he can contribute to the mission.”

Pentagon press secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby told reporters today that he couldn’t answer questions regarding the status of the investigation or whether Bergdahl had secured outside counsel.

“As you know, he did return to full duty this week. And I do know that the investigation into his departure will, you know — will continue and that it will include an interview with him, but I don’t know if that’s occurred yet or — and as for whether he’s, you know, gotten representation, that’s really a question for him to answer,” Kirby said.

Even with the ongoing investigation, there are no restrictions on Bergdahl’s movements.

“He’s an active-duty Army soldier. And just like any active-duty Army soldier, he’s free to leave base,” Kirby said. “He’s — I mean, he’s not under any particular restrictions. And I would remind you — I mean, he’s not been charged with anything.”

“There’s allegations, but, I mean, just having allegations posed against you in the military doesn’t restrict your freedom of movement or place you in any kind of restricted status just by the nature of somebody alleging wrongdoing. There will be a fair, complete, comprehensive investigation into the circumstances surrounding his departure from that base, and then we’ll move on from there.”

When asked if they were concerned about Bergdahl being a flight risk, Kirby replied before ending the press conference, “He’s under no restrictions. There’s simply an ongoing investigation into the circumstances surrounding his departure.”

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Texas Dem O’Rourke: Obama Should Have Come to the Border

Tuesday, July 15th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

A Texas Democrat said he doesn’t think President Obama’s $3.7 billion emergency stopgap measure to address the border crisis addresses the roots of the problem, and said the commander in chief should have visited the border.

Other border colleagues of Rep. Beto O’Rourke’s (D-Texas) have been critical of the administration on the crisis, including Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas) and Ron Barber (D-Ariz.).

“The right decision for the president when he was in Texas was to go to the border, preferably McAllen or Brownsville where so many of these refugees are coming from Central America, or El Paso, Texas, the district I represent, which has hosted more than 2,000 family members from Central America,” O’Rourke told Fox News.

“Visit the families themselves, talk to them, hear their story. Talk to the Border Patrol, to ICE, to Annunciation House and other Catholic charities and volunteers who are helping these families out.”

O’Rourke said “the important thing now is to get the response to this situation right.”

“So I’m interested in the president’s proposal. I’m grateful that he’s made one. I’m listening to my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to see how we can get this right and do the best thing for all concerned,” he said.

However, the congressman added, “the core problem, at least as I’ve heard it from the president and others, has not been addressed.”

“It’s not sealing the border between the U.S. and Mexico. It’s not sealing the border between Mexico and Guatemala. It’s addressing the issues like the drug demand that we have in this country that’s driving drug trafficking through these other countries and destabilizing them,” he said.

“It’s talking about a history of intervention and then neglect from the United States that has caused severe problems in governance and civil society. Those are very difficult, systemic issues that are gonna take a while to fix, and we’re not going to be able to do it unilaterally. We need to work with our partners in the area who, by the way, have also seen asylum requests from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador to the neighboring countries — Belize, Mexico, Nicaragua, Costa Rica – have gone up over 700 percent over the last five years. So this is truly a hemispheric, a regional problem.”

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Virginia Dem Moran: Hamas Rockets are ‘Fairly Feckless’

Tuesday, July 15th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

A Virginia congressman characterized the rockets being fired into Israel by Hamas as “fairly feckless,” pointing to “too many” Palestinian deaths as the problem.

“Well, Israel has the overwhelming support of the American Congress. There are a few of us who feel that, you know, a cease-fire is the only way to go, and it’s in Israel’s, as well as the Palestinians’ interest to have a cease-fire,” Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.) said on MSNBC last night.

“Lives are of value. And there are going to be too many innocent Palestinians killed in this. I don’t think that there are going to be many Israelis. We have helped Israel secure the Iron Dome. And really these rockets that have been fired from the Gaza Strip, they’re fairly feckless. I mean, they fall in land that is generally unoccupied, but nevertheless, they are a threat. And I suspect if Hamas could kill people with them, they certainly would,” Moran said.

The Israeli Defense Forces reported this morning that a rocket fell on a house in Ashkelon.

“But Israel clearly has the capacity to kill more Gazans and I think they will as long as rockets continue to be fired from the Gaza Strip,” Moran said. “So, a cease-fire seems to be in everyone’s interest. The fact is Israel only generates more hatred, not just from Hamas, but the Arab and Muslim community throughout the world, I suspect with what’s going on, with the possible exception of Egypt, perhaps.”

“And certainly from the Palestinian standpoint, they’re going to continue to lose lives and many of them are going to be innocent women and children,” he added.

Hamas rejected a cease-fire agreement offered by the Egyptians today even though the Israeli cabinet accepted the plan.

Israel, Moran argued, “can’t kill all of the people in the Gaza and they can’t eliminate Hamas. They can certainly teach them a lesson and their objective is long-term stability in Gaza. I’m not sure that’s going to be achieved when you have as many deaths as has occurred from this recent conflict.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the congressman added, isn’t “going to be the prime minister of Israel forever.”

“At some point, there has to be a two-state solution or you’re going to have this revenge of the cradle where the demographics are going to prevent Israel from being able to have one state that elects a democratic government that isn’t Palestinian, because the Palestinian growth rate is so much greater than Israel’s growth rate. So, they need a two-state solution.”

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Kerry: ‘Very Real Gaps’ Remain with Iran, Coming Back to D.C. to ‘Consult’ with Obama, Congress

Tuesday, July 15th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

Just five days away from the deadline for a final nuclear agreement with Iran, Secretary of State John Kerry said “very real gaps” remain between P5+1 and Iranian negotiators in Vienna.

“Despite the difficulties of these negotiations, I am confident that the United States and our partners in the P5+1 remain as squarely focused as ever on testing whether or not we can find a negotiated solution to this most pressing international security imperative,” Kerry told reporters today.

He said he’d had “lengthy conversations” with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif over the past few days “about what Iran is willing to do and what it needs to do to not only assure the community of nations, but to adhere to what the foreign minister himself has said repeatedly are Iran’s own limited objectives: not just to declare that they will not obtain a nuclear weapon, but to demonstrate in the actions they take beyond any reasonable doubt that any Iranian nuclear program, now and going forward, is exclusively for peaceful purposes.”

“In these conversations, and indeed over the last almost six months since the Joint Plan of Action took effect, we have made progress. We have all kept the commitments made in the Joint Plan, and we have all lived up to our obligations. We have all continued to negotiate in good faith. But after my conversations here with both Iran and with our P5+1 partners in particular, it is clear that we still have more work to do,” Kerry said.

“Our team will continue working very hard to try to reach a comprehensive agreement that resolves the international community’s concerns. I am returning to Washington today to consult with President Obama and with leaders in Congress over the coming days about the prospects for a comprehensive agreement, as well as a path forward if we do not achieve one by the 20th of July, including the question of whether or not more time is warranted, based on the progress we’ve made and how things are going. As I have said, and I repeat, there has been tangible progress on key issues, and we had extensive conversations in which we moved on certain things. However, there are also very real gaps on other key issues. And what we are trying to do is find a way for Iran to have an exclusively peaceful nuclear program, while giving the world all the assurances required to know that Iran is not seeking a nuclear weapon.”

Members of Congress, including Democrats, have been wary from the beginning of this process of the Obama administration setting the July 20 deadline but secretly expecting that they could extend that indefinitely — while Iran continues to develop its nuclear program.

Kerry insisted that the goal is “realistic,” but “we have not yet found the right combination or arrived at the workable formula.”

Zarif told the New York Times that Iran is willing to accept short-term concessions for longer-term freedom with its nuclear program.

“I am definitively not going to negotiate in public,” Kerry said in response to the story. “I’m not going to comment on any stories with respect to substance one way or the other. The real negotiation is not going to be done in the public eye; it’s going to be done in the private meetings that we’re having, and it is being done there. And I might add these are tough negotiations. The Iranians are strong in their positions. They understand what their needs are, we understand what ours are. Both are working in good faith to try to find a way forward.”

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Obama at Iftar: ‘We Welcome That Debate’ on ‘Heart-Wrenching’ Images from Gaza, Israel

Monday, July 14th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

President Obama told guests at the White House’s annual Iftar dinner tonight that “further escalation” in the Middle East “benefits no one, least of all the Israeli and the Palestinian people.”

Faced with criticism from some Arab and Muslim activists who think he has been too friendly toward the Israeli side, Obama addressed the conflict near the end of his comments, which largely honored “the traditions of one of the world’s great faiths.”

“For all of us, whatever our faiths, Ramadan is a reminder of just how much we share. The values of peace and charity, the importance of family and community — these are universal values. The command to love one another, to uphold justice, and to care for the least among us — these are common threads in our faith traditions,” Obama said.

“…In Islam, there is a hadith that says God helps the servant as long as the servant helps his brother.  In other words, we’re summoned to serve and lift up one another, and that’s the lesson of several of our guests here tonight.”

Guests included Muslim Reps. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) and Andre Carson (D-Ind.), as well as Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Mich.). Ambassadors from Arab and Muslim-majority countries were also invited.

“The pictures we are seeing in Gaza and Israel are heart-wrenching. People here in the United States care deeply about what’s happening there, and I know there are strong views, as well as differences, about how we should move forward, which is part of American democracy. We welcome that debate. That makes us stronger,” Obama said.

“Our goal has been and continues to be peace and security for both Israelis and Palestinians. And I will say very clearly, no country can accept rocket fired indiscriminately at citizens. And so, we’ve been very clear that Israel has the right to defend itself against what I consider to be inexcusable attacks from Hamas,” he continued. “At the same time, on top of the humanitarian crisis in Gaza that we’ve worked long and hard to alleviate, the death and injury of Palestinian civilians is a tragedy, which is why we’ve emphasized the need to protect civilians, regardless of who they are or where they live.”

Obama promised “to continue doing everything we can to facilitate a return to the 2012 cease-fire.”

“We are encouraged that Egypt has made a proposal to accomplish this goal, which we hope can restore the calm that we’ve been seeking. More broadly, however, the situation in Gaza reminds us again that the status quo is unsustainable and that the only path to true security is a just and lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians, where differences are resolved peacefully and in ways that respect the dignity of all people,” he said.

Obama has tried to forge a Mideast peace deal in his second term but the process fell apart when Fatah and Hamas negotiated a unity government. Hamas is on the U.S. foreign terrorist organization list.

“Here at home, even as we’re vigilant in ensuring our security, we have to continue to remain true to our highest ideals. In the United States of America, there is no place for false divisions between races and religions,” the president said. “We are all Americans, equal in rights and dignity, and no one should ever be targeted or disparaged because of their faith.  And that, too, is what makes us stronger.”

 

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Muslims Call for Boycott of White House Iftar Over ‘Endorsement’ of ‘Israel’s Current Massacre’

Monday, July 14th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee encouraged Muslims to boycott tonight’s Iftar dinner at the White House in celebration of Ramadan, citing the administration’s support for Israel.

The dinner is scheduled in the State Dining Room for 8:55 p.m., after the sun goes down to break the daily fast in accordance with Islamic law. Ramadan ends July 28.

In a statement, the committee aid the “deplorable situation” in Gaza, “brought on by Israel’s U.S.-sanctioned illegal occupation of Palestine, has received no direct action from President Obama.”

“The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) will not be attending this year’s government iftars and calls upon members of the Arab and Muslim communities to join us in the boycott, including tonight’s White House Iftar hosted by President Barack Obama, given the government’s condoning of the current slaughter of Palestinians in Palestine and the spying of American Arabs and Muslims domestically,” the group said in a statement.

“In the government’s silence, Israel is committing a massacre in Palestine with the possibility of an all-out ground assault. Our American tax dollars have contributed to over 100 civilian casualties as of Monday morning, of which 70% are estimated by the United Nations to be women and children,” continued the statement.

The ADC cited recent reporting from Glenn Greenwald that revealed “the government’s indiscriminate and ongoing criminalization of the community” through NSA spying on some Arab and Muslim community leaders.

“Political engagement is important and having a seat at the table is crucial — but only when that seat is intended to amplify our voice as a community, not tokenize or subdue it… In lieu of this year’s government iftars, ADC asks that senior officials take immediate steps to end Israel’s current military operation in Palestine and abolish the problematic practices of the NSA regarding the illegal surveillance of our community,” said the ADC.

“If President Obama and the U.S. government truly seek to empower and connect with the Arab and Muslim communities, they must provide a forum for such dialogue to take place. While our request for a meeting with Secretary of State John F. Kerry continues to be ignored, we ask that senior officials meet with the community to discuss these important issues. Government iftars, such as the White House Iftar, are highly politicized events that will be taking place in the shadow of the government’s lack of representation of the community, and will provide no room for this productive dialogue.”

Asked about the boycott at the White House, press secretary Josh Earnest said the purpose of the Iftar dinner “is to observe a religious tradition that Muslims all around the globe are observing at this time of Ramadan.”

“It also is an opportunity for the president and other senior administration officials to pay tribute to the important role that Muslim Americans play in American communities all across the country,” he said. “There are immigrants to this country from a variety of regions of the world who are Muslim, and it is important for every American to understand that they are critical to the success of our country and inter-woven into the basic fabric that makes United States of America such a unique place to live.”

“We certainly respect the differences that some people may have on this — on these matters, but we would not want that to overshadow the efforts of the president and other senior administration officials to pay tribute to the contribution that so many American Muslims play in their communities.”

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Air Force ‘Aggressivly Pursuing Reductions’ Through HQ Reorganization, Buyouts

Monday, July 14th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

The Air Force announced a major reorganization today that it hopes will save $1.6 billion over the next five years.

The Air Force “will create efficiencies by deactivating and realigning organizations at headquarters Air Force, major commands (MAJCOMs), numbered air forces and field operating agencies,” the Pentagon said, on a target to reduce staffing by more than the 20 percent laid out as a benchmark by the Defense Department.

That translates to 3,459 positions on the chopping block at headquarters across the Air Force, both in country and overseas. Early retirements and buyouts will be offered to civilian personnel “to foster voluntary reductions before pursuing involuntary measures.”

The Air Force will try to reap “any additional savings…from staff functions above the wing level.”

“I will work to ensure the world’s best Air Force is the most capable at the lowest possible cost to the taxpayer,” Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James said in a statement. “Everyone knows our economy is still not where it should be; we have a responsibility to ensure that every dollar adds value to the taxpayers and our national defense.”

“We are aggressively pursuing reductions within the first year, rather than spread them out over five years as allowed by DoD,” she said. “It’s better for airmen because it provides them predictability and allows us to re-stabilize our workforce sooner. It also allows us to harvest the savings earlier so that we can plow it back into readiness and some of our key modernization programs.”

A new Air Force Installation and Mission Support Center (AFIMSC), which will report to Air Force Materiel Command, will be created in an effort to streamline operations.

“We will now have an organization, A5/8, that is responsible for developing, managing and constantly assessing an Air Force strategy that is bounded by long-range resource projections and another organization, FM, that deals primarily with the day-to-day budget activities involved in running the Air Force,” Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III said. “Keeping organizations aligned will ensure we keep moving towards our long-range strategic goals despite the short-term budget upheaval we face regularly.”

“The Air Force has been making incremental changes in our business practices for the last several years, but we must change the way we are doing business if we are to meet the Air Force’s goal to reduce staffing functions by more than 20 percent,” said Bill Booth, Air Force acting deputy chief management officer. “Reducing higher headquarters’ staffs means we can save money that can be re-invested in getting ready for combat missions at the wing level.”

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Oklahomas Congressman’s ‘Concerns Validated’ by Getting to See Immigrant Holding Facility

Monday, July 14th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-Okla.), who was denied access earlier this month to a center where illegal immigrants were being held, said his “concerns were validated” by getting to see a holding center at Fort Sill over the weekend.

“There are a lot of children there that have suffered on the trek to the United States of America. We’re talking about cases where people were abused,” Bridenstine told Fox today. “One of the things that I thought was of interest is the fact that a lot of these children have either family members or friends in the United States that are here illegally and those are the folks that are paying coyotes and transnational criminal organizations in Mexico and other places to transport those children here. That is where the suffering is occurring.”

“When you pay criminal organizations to transport children, you’re putting your children in harm’s way. And of course, in many cases, it’s not just the children of illegal aliens in our country but it’s also just friends and relatives of illegal aliens already in our country.”

Bridenstine had originally tried to take pictures when he first attempted to access the illegal immigrants, but did not “push that issue” this time.

“Here’s what they told us: They said, ‘You can come on visit. You can’t ask questions. You can’t talk to the staff. You can’t talk to the contractors. You can’t talk to the children.’ We told them very clearly we will treat their restrictions the way the president treats the laws of this country. We will treat them as suggestions and that’s what we did,” the congressman said.

“And when we went in, they were very accommodating as a matter of fact. We did talk to the personnel that worked there. We talked to the medical staff and in fact, we talked to some of the children and heard some of their stories.”

Those stories, he said, were “horrific.”

If the smuggling organizations don’t get enough money, “your children can be subject to forced labor, to forced prostitution, sold in the slave trade and in many cases, death. There are mass graves in northern Mexico because somebody didn’t pay the right criminal organization.”

“The other thing that was concerning to me was how the children, once they’re at these — by the way, the children who make it there are the lucky ones. There are a lot who don’t make it there. And then once they’re there, how are they released? Who are they released to?” Bridenstine continued.

“What I found out was that a lot of them are being released to folks in the United States of America who are not legal citizens of our country. As such, it’s very difficult to do a criminal background check, if not impossible,” he said. When they are released, they get a date to come back for court. A lot of them don’t come back for court and they just go off into our country and they remain illegal residents.”

The congressman said he intends to keep visiting Fort Sill, where about 1,200 illegal immigrants are being held.

“This is too important of an issue,” Bridenstine said. “Children are being made to suffer. It’s federal policy that is causing this, of this administration. We’ve got to get it right.”

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Nebraska Governor Given Runaround on Illegal Immigrants Sent to His State

Monday, July 14th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

Nebraska’s governor said this morning that they’re still trying to figure out who shipped 200 illegal immigrants to his state.

Sen. Mike Johanns (R-Neb.) recently discovered that the transfer had taken place and notified Gov. Dave Heineman (R).

“No one has been notified — notified us of that,” Heineman told Fox this morning. “So I’ve been on the telephone the last couple of days. The Department of Homeland Security referred me to the secretary of Health and Human Services.”

“We want to know the names of those individuals, who their sponsor is, is their sponsor legal, what communities did you send them to?” he said. “Why are they conducting a secret operation essentially, transporting them all over the country and now, we learn, to Nebraska and the federal government won’t tell us what’s going on.”

“Hey, I want to help the president here. He said he wants to return them expeditiously. The only way you’re going to be able to do that is you got to be able to keep track of them. We need to know who they are.”

Today the Nebraska delegation is going to formally request the information, the governor said.

“And then if this bill in Congress comes up for some sort of debate, I hope the Congress will insert language that says governors, mayors, other local elected officials deserve to know when they’re sending these individuals to our states,” Heineman said. “And you’ve already seen this is bipartisan. The governor of Colorado, John Hickenlooper, good friend, he’s already expressing concerns for his state. It’s going to happen all over America and I’m concerned it’s 200 today. How many is it tomorrow?”

“…Now I want to emphasize, we’re going to treat these kids humanely as long as we have them. But at the end of the day, the president has already said they need to be returned expeditiously. The only way you’re going to do that and why we’re concerned is you got to be able to keep track of them.”

What concerns him most, Heineman said, is the lack of transparency from the federal government.

“They know who they are, where they’re sending them and again, they won’t tell us whether they’re arriving by bus, by plane, by car. I have no idea and I have no idea what communities they’re going to in our state,” he added. “And then again, who’s going to foot the bill? And in all likelihood, that means legal taxpayers are going to pay for services for illegal individuals.”

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White House Threatens to ‘Impose Costs’ on Putin Over Ukraine

Monday, July 14th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

The White House indicated last night that punitive measures are being weighed against Russia for its continuing push into Ukraine.

The Obama administration vowed to heap pressure on the Kremlin after its February seizure of the Crimea peninsula, but Russian actions have continued undeterred.

President Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron spoke by phone Sunday “to discuss the situations in Ukraine, Afghanistan, and Iraq, as well as the status of the P5+1 talks with Iran taking place in Vienna,” according to a readout from the White House.

“On Ukraine, the President and Prime Minister expressed concern about the increasing tensions and ongoing violence in eastern Ukraine and agreed upon the need for Russia to take immediate steps to de-escalate the situation. These steps have already been clearly conveyed to Russia and include the need to enforce a bilateral ceasefire to be observed by the Russian-supported separatists, an immediate halt to the flow of Russian weapons and fighters across the border, the establishment of an effective OSCE border-monitoring mechanism, a roadmap for Contact Group talks, and the release of all hostages,” the White House said.

“So far, neither the United States nor the United Kingdom have seen progress on complying with these conditions. The President and Prime Minister agreed Europe and the United States should take further coordinated measures to impose costs on Russia if it does not take immediate steps toward de-escalation.”

A statement from 10 Downing Street said Cameron will push their Russia objectives Wednesday at the European Council.

“Both leaders agreed that Russia still needed to take several steps towards de-escalation, including support for a ceasefire; the release of all hostages; preventing the transit of weapons and fighters across the border; support for an OSCE monitoring mission on the border and engaging in a roadmap for talks that could lead to a peaceful resolution to the conflict,” said the prime minister’s office. “In the absence of such efforts, then the US and EU must be willing to impose further costs on Russia, as agreed at the G7 summit and the last European Council.”

Russia yesterday accused Ukraine of firing a shell over the border, killing one man in a border town.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has been meeting directly with Russian President Vladimir Putin in order to tamp down the crisis.

The Kremlin said a Sunday meeting in Rio de Janeiro, where both leaders attended the World Cup final, “was lengthy and proved to be detailed and constructive.”

“Mr Putin and Ms Merkel agreed at the meeting that the situation in Ukraine is deteriorating, and noted the necessity for the urgent resumption of work of a contact group, possibly in the form of a videoconference. The leaders also urged for an urgent ceasefire, the prompt announcement of a prisoner exchange and resumption of peacemaking efforts in Ukraine,” the Kremlin said.

“The Russian President expressed the utmost concern over the ongoing actions by the Ukrainian army, emphasising that they are resulting in shells hitting Russian territory and are causing casualties, as in the recent case in the Rostov Region, which is absolutely unacceptable.”

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House Affirms Support for Israel ‘As It Defends Itself Against Unprovoked Rocket Attacks’

Friday, July 11th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

The House passed a bipartisan resolution by unanimous consent today to support Israel “as it defends itself against unprovoked rocket attacks from the Hamas terrorist organization.”

Reps. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.) and Tom Cole (R-Okla.) introduced the resolution two days ago, and it was fast-tracked to the floor with more than 140 co-sponsors.

“I applaud the passage of this bipartisan resolution affirming U.S. support for Israel’s right to defend itself against violence,” said Israel, who is also chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. “It demonstrates the strong and unwavering partnership between the U.S. and the State of Israel and sends a clear message to Hamas and other terrorist organizations that acts of terror against Israel will not be tolerated.”

Cole said the House “reinforced its support of our friends in Israel during times of great tension and unrest in the region.”

“Over the last several weeks, Hamas has fired hundreds of rockets into Israel from the Gaza Strip, putting the lives of our Israeli friends in grave danger. As Israel combats these acts of terror, I am pleased that this resolution shows that America stands behind our friends,” he said. “I am also very proud that the Iron Dome, a joint Israeli-American project that intercepts missiles, has helped in the fight against terror and protected millions of lives. During these times of unrest, this technology is proving indispensable.”

The Iron Dome battery has enjoyed strong bipartisan support in Congress since they went into action in 2011.

The resolution “reaffirms [House] support for Israel’s right to defend its citizens and ensure the survival of the State of Israel, condemns the unprovoked rocket fire at Israel, and calls on Hamas to immediately cease all rocket and other attacks against Israel.”

It included an amendment from House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) noting that Iran is an enabler of Hamas.

“Hamas and their supporters remain committed to armed struggle against Israel’s right to exist–as they deliberately target Israeli population centers using many weapons provided by Iran,” Royce said. “With these threats arrayed against Israel, we will continue stand with the Israeli people.”

A similar resolution has been introduced in the upper chamber by Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), and Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), and is expected to come to the floor for a vote next week.

When asked at today’s briefing if there is anything more the U.S. can do to stop the violence, White House press secretary Josh Earnest noted that President Obama called Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from Air Force One yesterday.

“The president, in that telephone call, also did something that we have done several times publicly, which is reaffirmed Israel’s right to defend itself against these attacks,” Earnest said. “That said, we also condemn the attacks this morning that were launched from Lebanon.”

“In the course of that telephone call, the president also expressed his concern about the risks associated with further escalation and emphasized the need for all sides in this dispute to do everything they can to protect the lives of civilians and restore calm,” he added.

“It is evident that civilians have been killed, including children; that’s tragic and we offer our condolences to the families.”

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White House Has Words with Critical Border Dem

Friday, July 11th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

Texas Democratic Rep. Henry Cuellar said he’s been contacted by the White House about his public criticism of President Obama for not visiting the border this week.

Cuellar, a member of the fiscally conservative Blue Dog Coalition, blasted Obama on multiple networks for visiting Texas for fundraising while eschewing a trip to see the crisis firsthand of thousands of Central American immigrants swarming the border.

“I think any leaders will be defined on how he or she will handle a crisis different, and this is certainly a humanitarian crisis. Listen, I’ve been able to go and talked to the young kids that have been coming across,” Cuellar told CNN, adding that his border district has been trying to be generous to the illegal immigrants but they’re a poor community with limited means. “We don’t have a lot of money but I can tell you the churches, and the nonprofits have been working so hard to provide humanitarian care and I think it’s — leaders should be able to see this firsthand.”

The congressman confirmed that the White House was not happy with his criticism, though he wouldn’t go into detail about who called.

“Well, let me put it this way, I thought we had a very constructive positive conversation. I’m still calling for the president to come down to the border. Apparently he didn’t do it on this visit but the door is open for him to go down there. My community leaders, my — you know, my churches and other folks have asked me, why did the president not come down to the border? That’s all I’m asking,” Cuellar said.

“I’m not asking for anything else, come down to the border and just see it for yourself. If it’s not important, then why is he not — why is he asking us for $3.7 billion of help? And I want to be supportive of the president on that funding.”

He added that the administration official who called was “smart” enough to not “yell at a member of Congress who sits on Appropriations.”

“But, again, I will say this that, again, I’m still saying what I’ve been saying, this is a humanitarian crisis. What is wrong by having the president go down there? He was only 242 miles from the border when he was in Austin. He was only 72 miles from Lackland Air Force Base where I’ve been at to see the young kids there,” Cuellar continued, adding it would have been a 15-minute diversion by air for Obama.

“We have now seen the smuggling organizations that probably make more than $240 million a month. Taking advantage of an incentive, saying that if you come in and then — you know, you’re put in HHS, and they’re taken to somewhere else, and you have to wait two years for a hearing, I don’t think that’s the right approach.”

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CDC Report Finds Scientists Played Fast and Loose with Bird Flu

Friday, July 11th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention probe into the exposure last month of lab workers to anthrax found that its bioterror research laboratories breached security in handling the bird flu virus.

The report traced “the unintentional exposure of personnel to potentially viable anthrax” at the CDC’s Roybal Campus in Atlanta to the use of unapproved sterilization techniques, a lack of standard operating procedure and the transfer of material not confirmed to be inactive. Workers were using a pathogenic B. anthracis “when non-pathogenic strains would have been appropriate for this experiment.”

The CDC while preparing this report, though, they were “made aware that earlier this year a culture of non-pathogenic avian influenza was unintentionally cross-contaminated at the CDC influenza laboratory with the highly pathogenic H5N1 strain of influenza and shipped to a BSL-3 select-agent laboratory operated by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).”

“There were no exposures as a result of that incident. The CDC influenza laboratory is now closed and will not reopen until adequate procedures are put in place. Further investigation, review, and action is underway,” the CDC said in a statement.

“As a result of these two incidents, CDC is issuing, effective immediately, a moratorium on the movement (i.e., transfer inside or outside the agency) of biological materials (i.e., infectious agents, active or inactivated specimens) from BSL3 or BSL-4 facilities. The moratorium will remain in place pending review by an advisory committee.”

The department’s report found that “the critical nature of CDC investigations to detect and respond to naturally occurring and man-made events with select agents while ensuring the safety of staff are paramount and should be guided by the highest standards.”

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F-35 Fleet Still Grounded as DoD Reviews Safety Problems

Friday, July 11th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said today that there’s no timetable on when the F-35 fleet may be able to hit the skies again.

A week ago, the Pentagon grounded the entire fleet in the wake of a runway fire at Eglin Air Force Base. Hagel arrived at the Florida installation Thursday to talk with pilots from the 33rd Fighter Wing.

There are 97 F-35s in the DoD — 28 delivered to test units and 69 to operational or training units — with more than 16,000 flight hours combined.

“The root cause of the incident remains under investigation. Additional inspections of F-35 engines have been ordered, and return to flight will be determined based on inspection results and analysis of engineering data,” Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby said July 3. “Defense Department leadership supports this prudent approach.”

“Preparations continue for F-35 participation in international air shows in the United Kingdom, however a final decision will come early next week.”

Hagel said that inspections have been completed, but final determinations have yet to be made.

“I got a good report this morning from some of the pilots and the maintenance people, as I noted, on their thinking about this. What they’re doing now is they’re taking all the information that they got from the inspections and they’re putting all that together and continuing the overall investigation to see, how does this all match up and what do we have?” Hagel said.

“I’ve said here, said it before, we’re not going to put the F-35 in the air, send it anywhere until we are absolutely convinced and know that it’s safe to fly. And that means, as to timing, I’ll leave that up to the experts who will come back to us and make a recommendation.”

The F-35B Lightning IIs were supposed to debut at the Royal International Air Tattoo in Britain today, but that appearance was canceled, reported BBC.

“Despite everyone’s best endeavours, it has now been decided that the Lockheed Martin F-35B Lightning II will not fly at the Royal International Air Tattoo (RIAT) 2014 as all of the aircraft currently remain grounded,” said the airshow organizers.

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Dem Dissension Grows: Arizona Border Lawmaker Says Obama Not Doing Enough

Friday, July 11th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

A Democrat with a district along the Mexico border said President Obama is not doing enough to secure the region and his constituents.

Rep. Ron Barber (D-Ariz.), a member of the Blue Dog Coalition of fiscally conservative Democrats, stressed to CNN that “this problem has been going on for a long time.”

“And now it’s been exaggerated by this humanitarian crisis that we have with thousands of children coming into Texas and into my state in Arizona,” Barber said. “I’ve been pressing for changes in our border security strategy and policy, and for us to fix the broken immigration system. As a member of the House Committee on Homeland Security, I’m very pleased that we have a very strong bipartisan effort there. But it needs to come to the floor. We need a bill that will help with increased border security, and we need to fix the broken immigration system. Both of those actions have not been done, and it’s a failure of both the presidency and Washington to not deal with a problem that’s been going on way too long.”

Barber, who used to district director for Rep. Gabby Giffords (D-Ariz.) and won her seat after she retired, represents a district spanning 83 miles of the restive border.

“The people that I represent who live and work along the border, the ranchers, the businesspeople, folks who have retired and are living down there every single day, they feel unsafe in their homes because the drug cartels are coming through their land, bringing drugs, heavily armed and putting our constituents in danger. We need to stop that,” he said.

“And one of the things we need to do is to have more troops, more Border Patrol agents on the border, more technology on the border. I’ve been pressing for that since I got here. And hopefully, now — unfortunately now, because of this crisis, we’re finally getting the attention of Washington and the White House.”

Barber also said the 2008 law providing extended immigration proceedings for illegal immigrants from countries other than Mexico and Canada “needs to be modified.”

“We need to modify the law so that these children who are coming here from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador are able to be returned home expeditiously. Their parents need to have them back with them because these children are facing danger when they come across Mexico on the top of freight trains,” he said. “They’re in a situation here in Arizona that’s creating immense pressures on my community and the people that I serve. We need to be able to get them back home. And that law is unfortunately standing in the way.”

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House Republicans Move Forward with Obama Lawsuit

Thursday, July 10th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

House Republicans moved forward today with their vow to sue President Obama for executive overreach, introducing a draft resolution “providing for authority to initiate litigation for actions by the president inconsistent with his duties under the Constitution of the United States.”

The resolution allows the speaker of the House to “initiate or intervene in one or more civil actions on behalf of the House of Representatives in a Federal court” in response to “implementation of (including a failure to implement) any provision of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act” deemed unconstitutional.

“We do this in order to uphold our oath to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution. It is the same oath the president has taken, and yet, time and again he has circumvented the American people and their elected representatives,” said House Rules Committee Chairman Pete Sessions (R-Texas).

“The president’s failure to uphold his oath dangerously shifts the balance of power away from what the Founding Fathers intended and the Constitution requires,” Sessions added. “Congress’ ability to effectively represent the American people is severely restricted when the executive unilaterally chooses to create its own laws. Further, the president’s actions undermine the rule of law which enables a fair and functioning society in which individuals may invest and businesses may create jobs that help our economy grow.”

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) stressed that “no president should have the power to make laws on his or her own.”

“In 2013, the president changed the health care law without a vote of Congress, effectively creating his own law by literally waiving the employer mandate and the penalties for failing to comply with it. That’s not the way our system of government was designed to work,” Boehner said.

“As I’ve said, this isn’t about Republicans versus Democrats; it’s about the Legislative Branch versus the Executive Branch, and above all protecting the Constitution. The Constitution states that the president must faithfully execute the laws, and spells out that only the Legislative Branch has the power to legislate. The current president believes he has the power to make his own laws – at times even boasting about it,” the Speaker continued. “He has said that if Congress won’t make the laws he wants, he’ll go ahead and make them himself, and in the case of the employer mandate in his health care law, that’s exactly what he did.”

“If this president can get away with making his own laws, future presidents will have the ability to as well. The House has an obligation to stand up for the Legislative Branch, and the Constitution, and that is exactly what we will do.”

Obama mocked the lawsuit during remarks in Austin today.

“There are a number of Republicans, including a number in the Texas delegation, who are mad at me for taking these actions. They actually plan to sue me,” he said, followed by audience laughter. “Now, I don’t know which things they find most offensive — me helping to create jobs, or me raising wages, or me easing the student loan burdens, or me making sure women can find out whether they’re getting paid the same as men for doing the same job. I don’t know which of these actions really bug them.”

“The truth is, even with all the actions I’ve taken this year, I’m issuing executive orders at the lowest rate in more than 100 years. So it’s not clear how it is that Republicans didn’t seem to mind when President Bush took more executive actions than I did,” Obama continued. “Maybe it’s just me they don’t like. I don’t know. Maybe there’s some principle out there that I haven’t discerned, that I haven’t figure out. You hear some of them — ‘sue him,’ ‘impeach him.’ Really? Really? For what? You’re going to sue me for doing my job? Okay.”

On Wednesday, after meeting with Texas Gov. Rick Perry in Dallas, Obama said Perry suggested “maybe you just need to go ahead and act and that might convince Republicans that they should go ahead and pass the supplemental.”

“And I had to remind him, I’m getting sued right now by Mr. Boehner apparently for going ahead and acting instead of going through Congress,” the president said. “Well, here’s a good test case.”

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) said Obama is being “very clever to try to mix these two issues” of executive orders and the immigration crisis.

“Article 2 of the Constitution that gives the president his power is very clear. ‘The presidential shall faithfully execute the laws.’ And that means enforcing the laws that have been passed and signed into law and not creating new laws or changing laws that already exist,” Goodlatte told CNN. “There are laws on the books today that the president is not enforcing that would solve this problem.”

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Obama Calls Netanyhu for First Time Since Crisis Began

Thursday, July 10th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

President Obama called Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu today for the first time since the murder of three Israeli teens touched off the latest rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip.

“The president reiterated the United States’ strong condemnation of continuing rocket fire into Israel by Hamas and other terrorist organizations in Gaza and reaffirmed Israel’s right to defend itself against these attacks. The president expressed concern about the risk of further escalation and emphasized the need for all sides to do everything they can to protect the lives of civilians and restore calm,” the White House said in a readout of the call.

“The United States remains prepared to facilitate a cessation of hostilities, including a return to the November 2012 ceasefire agreement.”

Press secretary Josh Earnest said Obama “once again expressed condolences to the people of Israel on the kidnapping and murder of teenagers Gilad Shaar, Eyal Yifrach, and Naftali Fraenkel, who was an American and Israeli citizen, and urged that the perpetrators be brought to justice.” Obama expressed those condolences in a statement issued by the White House on June 30.

“The two leaders also discussed the situation in East Jerusalem and the West Bank,” today’s readout continued. “The president welcomed the arrest of suspects in the abduction and murder of Palestinian teenager Muhammad Abu Khdeir and expressed appreciation for the prime minister’s determination to see that they be brought to justice. He expressed concern about the beating and detention of teenage American citizen Tariq Khdeir and acknowledged Israel’s efforts to resolve this case.”

“The two leaders discussed the P5+1 negotiations with Iran and the president reiterated that the United States will not accept any agreement that does not ensure that Iran’s nuclear program is for exclusively peaceful purposes.”

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