President Obama asked Americans to “reject violence” and threatening rhetoric after two NYPD officers were slain by a gunman posting anti-police messages.
Officers Rafael Ramos, 40, and Wenjian Liu, 32, were shot to death as they sat in their patrol car Saturday in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn.
Gunman Ismaaiyl Brinsley, 28, then killed himself on a nearby subway platform.
Brinsley left a Facebook message stating, “I’m Putting Wings on Pigs Today… They Take 1 Of Ours, Let’s Take 2 of Theirs #ShootThePolice #RIPErivGardner [sic] #RIPMikeBrown This May Be My Final Post… I’m Putting Pigs In A Blanket.”
“I unconditionally condemn today’s murder of two police officers in New York City,” Obama said in a statement issued Sunday East Coast time, but still Saturday in Hawaii. “Two brave men won’t be going home to their loved ones tonight, and for that, there is no justification. ”
“The officers who serve and protect our communities risk their own safety for ours every single day – and they deserve our respect and gratitude every single day,” Obama continued. “Tonight, I ask people to reject violence and words that harm, and turn to words that heal – prayer, patient dialogue, and sympathy for the friends and family of the fallen.”
Attorney General Eric Holder said in a statement late last night that he would “make available all of the resources of the Department to aid the NYPD in investigating this tragedy.”
“I condemn this afternoon’s senseless shooting of two New York City police officers in the strongest possible terms. This was an unspeakable act of barbarism, and I was deeply saddened to hear of the loss of these two brave officers in the line of duty,” Holder said.
“…This cowardly attack underscores the dangers that are routinely faced by those who protect and serve their fellow citizens. As a nation we must not forget this as we discuss the events of the recent past. These courageous men and women routinely incur tremendous personal risks, and place their lives on the line each and every day, in order to preserve public safety. We are forever in their debt.”
Former NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly told ABC this morning that Obama needs to be the “ultimate healer and one who brings people together.”
“Obviously, there’s a lot of emotion involved when two police officers are killed. I think when the mayor made statements about that he had to train his son to be — his son who is biracial — to be careful when he’s dealing with the police, I think that set off this latest firestorm. And quite frankly, the mayor ran an anti-police campaign last year when he ran for mayor,” Kelly said.
“I think, yes, a lot of the rhetoric was — at a time when the police had a 70 percent approval rating. Obviously, that’s not the case now during the de Blasio administration.”
Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.), who represents part of Queens, said administration officials and Mayor Bill de Blasio have been “trying all along to bring the city together.”
“No one has ever given up on the police department or said we were anti-police department. What we were crying for was to saying how African-Americans feel, how their communities are policed and want the justice system to work for everyone,” Meeks said.
“…And you heard from the families of Michael Brown and Mr. Garner saying that they did not want any violence at all in any of the demonstrations and definitely this. They’ve stated very loudly and very clearly how shocked and how opposed they are to the violence and to this assassination of police officers that took place yesterday.”
Sharpton: Use of Garner, Brown Names by NYPD Killer ‘Reprehensible and Against the Pursuit of Justice’
Al Sharpton posted a statement through his National Action Network Saturday evening condemning the deadly ambush of two New York Police Department officers and promising to follow up with a press event Sunday morning.
Officers Rafael Ramos, 40, and Wenjian Liu, 32, were shot to death as they sat in their patrol car Saturday in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn.
Identified gunman Ismaaiyl Brinsley, 28, then killed himself on a nearby subway platform.
Brinsley left a Facebook message stating, “I’m Putting Wings on Pigs Today… They Take 1 Of Ours, Let’s Take 2 of Theirs #ShootThePolice #RIPErivGardner [sic] #RIPMikeBrown This May Be My Final Post… I’m Putting Pigs In A Blanket.”
“I have spoken to the Garner family and we are outraged by the early reports of the police killed in Brooklyn today, Any use of the names of Eric Garner and Michael Brown, in connection with any violence or killing of police, is reprehensible and against the pursuit of justice in both cases,” Sharpton said.
“We have stressed at every rally and march that anyone engaged in any violence is an enemy to the pursuit of justice for Eric Garner and Michael Brown,” he continued. “We have been criticized at National Action Network for not allowing rhetoric or chanting of violence and would abruptly denounce it at all of our gatherings. The Garner family and I have always stressed that we do not believe that all police are bad, in fact we have stressed that most police are not bad.”
Sharpton also tweeted, “An eye for an leaves the whole world blind. We all at NAN express our prayers and condolences to the families of the 2 NYC officers.”
He plans to hold a press conference at the National Action Network at 11 a.m. with Eswa Garner, the widow of Eric Garner, and his mother, Gwen Carr.
At 1 p.m. Sharpton will then go to St. Luke Baptist Church in Harlem where, according to NAN, he will “then preach, leading a prayer service for the officers & the healing of the city.”
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio and Police Commissioner Bill Bratton gave a press conference Saturday evening after visiting with the families of the two murdered police officers at Woodhull Hospital.
Bratton said Brinsley “walked up to the police car. He took a shooting stance on the passenger side and fired the weapon – his weapon – several times through the front passenger window, striking both officers in the head.”
“Officer Liu and Officer Ramos never had the opportunity to draw their weapons. They may never have actually even seen their assailant – their murderer,” the police chief said, adding that at 5:45 a.m. Brinsley shot his former girlfriend in Baltimore County, Md. “Baltimore County detectives later received information from the victim’s mother that Brinsley was posting on the victim’s Instagram account. Further information was developed indicating that Brinsley may have had associations with the East Flatbush area of Brooklyn. At approximately 2:45 this afternoon, Baltimore authorities sent a fax – a warning flyer, a wanted flyer – to the NYPD and other agencies.”
“Tragically, this was essentially at the same time as our officers were being ambushed and murdered by Brinsley.”
De Blasio said the “entire city was attacked by this heinous individual.”
“Even though the assailant took his own life, we’ll be vigilant for any information about anyone else who might be involved. And this is a point to make clear to all my fellow New Yorkers – that any time anyone has information that there might be an attack on our police, there might be an act of violence directed at any police officer, it is imperative that that be reported immediately,” the mayor said.
“You heard the commissioner outline the tragic timeline, but anybody who sees a posting on the internet or any other indication of an intention to attack the police must report it immediately. Call 9-1-1. Report it to a police officer. But whatever the situation, that information must get into the hands of the police immediately, so we can protect the lives of our police officers and, in fact, of all of us, since they protect us.”
President Obama, on his first day of vacation in Hawaii, was out on the golf course Saturday. A White House official said, “The president has been briefed on the Brooklyn police shooting. White House officials continue to monitor the situation.”
More Coverage on Shootings:
President Obama was asked at his year-end press conference today about the state of black America at the conclusion of 2014:
Like the rest of America, black America in the aggregate is better off now than it was when I came into office.
The jobs that have been created, the people who’ve gotten health insurance, the housing equity that’s been recovered, the 401 pensions that have been recovered: a lot of those folks are African-Americans. They’re better off than they were.
The gap between income and wealth of white and black America persists, and we’ve got more work to do on that front.
I’ve been consistent in saying that, you know, this is a legacy of a troubled racial past, Jim Crow and slavery. That’s not an excuse for black folks, and I think the overall majority of good black people understand it’s not an excuse.
They’re working hard. They’re out there hustling and trying to get an education, trying to send their kids to college. But, you know, they’re starting behind oftentimes in the race. And what’s true for all Americans is we should be willing to provide people a hand up, not a hand out, but help folks get that good early childhood education, help them graduate from high school, help them afford college.
If they do, they’re gonna be able to succeed, and that’s gonna be good for all of us.
And we’ve seen some progress. The education reforms that we’ve initiated are showing measurable results. We had the highest high school graduation that we’ve seen in a very long time. We are seeing record numbers of young people attending college. You know, in many states that have initiated reforms, you’re seeing progress in math scores and reading scores for African-American and Latino students, as well as the broader population.
But we’ve still got more work to go.
Now, obviously, how we’re thinking about race relations right now has been colored by Ferguson, the Garner case in New York, a growing awareness in the broader population of what, I think, many communities of color have understood for some time, and that is that there are specific instances, at least, where law enforcement doesn’t feel as if it’s being applied in a colorblind fashion.
The task force that I formed is supposed to report back to me in 90 days not with a bunch of abstract musings about race relations but some really concrete, practical things that police departments and law enforcement agencies can begin implementing right now to rebuild trust between communities of color and the police department.
And my intention is to — as soon as I get those recommendations — to start implementing. Some of them, we’ll be able to do through executive action. Some of them will require congressional action. Some of them will require action on the part of states and local jurisdictions.
But I actually think it’s been a healthy conversation that we’ve had. These are not new phenomena. The fact that they’re now surfacing, in part because people are able to film what have just been in the past, stories passed on around the kitchen table, allows people to, you know, make their own assessments and evaluations. And you’re not going to solve the problem if it’s not being talked about.
\President Obama today signed a bipartisan bill to extend extra support to Israel as a major strategic partner — accompanied by a statement that he reserved the right to interpret the legislation as he sees fit.
The United States-Israel Strategic Partnership Act of 2014 was introduced in the House by Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) and Ted Deutch (D-Fla.) and in the Senate by Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Roy Blunt (R-Mo.).
First and foremost, the legislation expresses the sense of Congress that Israel is “a major strategic partner.”
It allows the Defense Department to transfer surplus equipment to Israel, beefs up U.S. defense stockpiles in the country by $200 million, and expands U.S.-Israel cooperation in the fields of energy, water, agriculture, and alternative fuel technologies.
It authorizes the president to share more research and intelligence with Israel and authorizes the Department of Homeland Security to launch pilot programs in coordination with Israel to increase their border, maritime and aviation security. It directs the president to report to Congress on potentials for expansion of cyber-security cooperation.
It includes Israel in the visa waiver program and requires that military sales to other countries in the Middle East won’t harm Israel’s military edge, and the administration has to regularly report to Congress on Israel’s qualitative military edge over its neighbors. It also says the administration must move toward granting top-tier status to Israel for certain license-free exports.
“At a time when Israel is facing many external threats, the U.S. Congress today sends to the president’s desk the U.S. – Israel Strategic Partnership Act seeking to bolster closer ties with our ally, the democratic Jewish State of Israel,” Ros-Lehtinen said at the beginning of the month. “At a time when the Iranian regime continues to advance its nuclear ambitions, Hamas unrelentlessly terrorizes Israeli citizens and the Palestinian Authority continues to incite violence and undermine the peace process at every turn, it is important for Congress to stand with Israel in a bipartisan effort.”
“That is why in passing this bill, we will afford Israel the unique status as our major strategic partner and we reaffirm our support to enhance Israel’s qualitative military edge so that it can continue to defend itself and its citizens from all threats.”
Today, in a flood of year-end legislation that passed Obama’s desk, the president signed the bill into law.
He issued a separate statement on it, though.
“This bipartisan piece of legislation reflects the importance placed by my administration on strengthening and deepening U.S.-Israel bilateral cooperation and ties,” Obama said. “It reinforces critical defense and security programs, which have reached an unprecedented level under my administration. It also lays the groundwork for increased trade and cooperation across a range of cutting-edge fields, including energy, water, agriculture, and technology.”
“Sections 11(b) and 12(c)(2) of this bill purport to require me to provide to the Congress certain diplomatic communications and direct the Secretary of State to undertake certain diplomatic initiatives,” he added. “Consistent with longstanding constitutional practice, my administration will interpret and implement these sections in a manner that does not interfere with my constitutional authority to conduct diplomacy and to protect the confidentiality of diplomatic communications.”
The legislation comes as the administration is eager to push Israel to a two-state solution with the Palestinians. “It’s a particularly sensitive moment because we understand the frustrations of Palestinians,” Secretary of State John Kerry said this week in London. “We understand the frustrations of the Palestinian Authority and President Abbas and those who are pushing hard, because they don’t see another course at this moment.”
Boxer said in a statement that she applauded Obama for signing the bill “to strengthen our historic relationship with Israel.”
“This law will enhance cooperation between Israel and the United States on a wide range of issues – from defense to energy to cyber security – so we can work together to address the many challenges facing both countries,” she said.
The chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee said the hacking attack against Sony is part of a longer-running plot — and the administration has had “no real policy” to face such attacks.
“This is part of a much bigger picture. It really began in 2008 with robberies by cyber of both the Royal Bank of Scotland and Citibank, to the tune of about $8 million and $10 million, respectively. It has gone on and graduated to the point where most companies have been attacked one way or another. In the last two years, we have JPMorgan Chase, we have Home Depot, we have eBay and we have Target,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) told CNN today.
“What’s different to me about this attack is the monumental size of it, and secondly, there is extortion involved with it. In other words, the North Koreans are saying, unless you do this, we will do that. And this is where it becomes extraordinarily dangerous.”
She added that “in the six years that have gone by, we have no real policy to handle this.”
“Now, right now, you can look at North Korea, taken off the terrorist list, you can see this attack is in a sense a terrorist attack. You could put them back on. You can levy financial sanctions against them,” Feinstein continued.
The State Department list of state sponsors of terrorism only includes four countries by this point — Cuba, Iran, Sudan and Syria — and the Obama administration is considering taking Cuba off the list. President George W. Bush took North Korea off the list in 2008.
“But the big problem is developing an international agreement with teeth to stop this kind of behavior because we’re going toward bloodshed, I believe, if we don’t solve it. We have tried to pass a cyber information-sharing bill,” the senator said. “…We’re getting into the arena of major attacks. Right now, it has to do a great deal with private industry. But the cost for private industry is now in the trillions of dollars. And it has to be stopped.”
President Obama said he wished Sony had consulted him before yanking the film from theaters, but Sony Entertainment CEO Michael Lynton told CNN he did consult with the White House after the threats.
“This is a complicated matter. And there is the question of liability. If something were to happen, who is liable for the loss of life?” Feinstein said.
“Now, this attack took place almost a month ago. So, we’re 3 1/2 weeks into it and still going back and forth as to what might be done or who should have done what. And this can’t continue to happen, in my view. This is a problem that’s going to be with us for a very long time. And so, we have to get certain structures in place and the ability to handle it.”
Whatever the administration decides to do, the senator stressed, “I would hope that we can convince the North Koreans that this carries a very heavy price.”
“Certainly, we have attacks from China. We have attacks from Russia. We have attacks from Iran and we have attacks from within our own country. So, it has become a very sad way of life. And at some point, we face a disastrous attack. And this is what we must prevent.”
New York Rep. Charlie Rangel (D) said the extradition of a cop killer given political asylum by Fidel Castro might not be in the best political interests of the new relationship with Cuba.
Joanne Chesimard was serving a life sentence for the execution-style murder of New Jersey State Trooper Werner Foerster in 1973. She escaped from prison in 1979 and sufficed in Cuba in 1984, where she is believed to still be living.
Chesimard was put on the FBI’s Most Wanted Terrorists list last year. A reward of up to $1 million is offered for information leading to her capture. The state is offering additional money.
Colonel Rick Fuentes, superintendent of the New Jersey State Police, said in a statement that they “continue to work closely with the FBI towards the capture” of Chesimard.
“We view any changes in relations with Cuba as an opportunity to bring her back to the United States to finish her sentence for the murder of New Jersey State Trooper Werner Foerster in 1973,” Fuentes said. “We stand by the reward money and hope that the total of two million dollars will prompt fresh information in the light of this altered international relationship.”
Rangel told CNN that the extradition of Chesimard is “remotely possible.”
“You know, we’re fighting a war of terrorism and I have no idea what priority she would have. I know she’s wanted by the state of New Jersey, but it’s abundantly clear that this is an international appreciation of our country. It’s one of the greatest things that’s happened in recent history. The people of Cuba and the people of America love each other notwithstanding our serious government conflicts,” Rangel said.
“Quite frankly, I haven’t heard her name come up in decades. Nor did we even know about the Cuban spy that they had arrested and been holding for 20 years.”
When it was pointed out that her name was brought up recently — on the Most Wanted Terrorists list — the congressman replied, “Well, what we’re talking about is what’s in the best interest of the people of the United States from a foreign policy point of view and I think you would agree with me that on that radar screen her name doesn’t even come up.”
“And so quite frankly this is the most historic thing that’s happened in this hemisphere. We can talk about really getting at ISIS and terrorists, we can talk about communicating with people who love us and we love them and before I left Havana last night, a lady grabbed me and I never felt more proud of being American and she said, ‘Congressman, do you know that there are two reasons why Cubans love America so much?’ I said, ‘No, what are they?’ She said, ‘United States movies and all the other great reasons.’ Now, you know you have to feel good about that. And whether in Miami or Havana you feel like that nation is going forward.”
After the next interview question, Rangel referred to the cop killer as “this other lady’s name.”
“I’ve been in Congress over 40 years, we’ve been involved with this over 50 years. You’re the first person that has actually brought her name up to me and so there’s no question that there are even a lot of older Cubans, some that are located in Florida, that have emotional ties,” he said.
“Senator Rubio and a couple of other politicians, but the president of the United States has to decide what is good for the people of the United States of America. And with all the serious crises that we have, I don’t think those voices that are against this policy will get much coverage.”
President Obama said at his year-end press conference that he would have told Sony not to cancel the Christmas release of The Interview, had the studio consulted him first.
“Sony’s a corporation. It suffered significant damage. There were threats against its employees. I am sympathetic to the concerns that they faced,” Obama said. “Having said all that, yes, I think they made a mistake.”
“In this interconnected digital world, there are going to be opportunities for attackers to engage in cyber assaults, both in the private sector and the public sector,” he continued. “Now, our first order of business is making sure that we do everything to harden sites and prevent those kinds of attacks from taking place.”
Obama said he long ago deployed a cyber-security interagency team “to look at everything that we could do at the government level to prevent these kinds of attacks,” including “coordinating with the private sector.”
“But a lot more needs to be done. We’re not even close to where we need to be,” he said. “And, you know, one of the things in the new year that I hope Congress will is prepared to work with us on is strong cybersecurity laws that allow for information-sharing across private sector platforms, as well as the public sector, so that we are incorporating best practices and preventing these attacks from happening in the first place.”
“But even as we get better, you know, the hackers are going to get better, too. Some of them are going to be state actors. Some of them are going to be non-state actors. All of them are going to be sophisticated and many of them can do some damage. We cannot have a society in which some dictator someplace can start imposing censorship here in the United States. Because if somebody is able to intimidate folks out of releasing a satirical movie, imagine what they start doing when they see a documentary that they don’t like or news reports that they don’t like. Or even worse, imagine if producers and distributors and others start engaging in self-censorship because they don’t want to offend the sensibilities of somebody whose sensibilities probably need to be offended.”
Canceling the movie after a hack from North Korea, he said, is “not who we are. That’s not what America is about.”
“Again, I’m sympathetic that Sony as a private company was worried about liabilities and this and that and the other. I wish they had spoken to me first. I would’ve told them, ‘Do not get into a pattern in which you’re intimidated by these kinds of criminal attacks,’” Obama said. “Imagine if, instead of it being a cyber threat, somebody had broken into their offices and destroyed a bunch of computers and stolen disks. And is that what it takes for suddenly, you to pull the plug on something?”
“So we’ll engage with not just the film industry, but the news industry, the private sector around these issues. We already have. We will continue to do so. But I think all of us have to anticipate occasionally there are going to be breaches like this. They’re going to be costly. They’re going to be serious. We take them with the utmost seriousness. But we can’t start changing our patterns of behavior any more than we stop going to a football game because there might be the possibility of a terrorist attack; any more than Boston didn’t run its marathon this year because of the possibility that somebody might try to cause harm.”
The president was asked if he would watch The Interview in solidarity with the censored filmmakers.
“I’ve got a long list of movies I’m going to be watching,” Obama replied. “You know, I never release my full movie list. But let’s talk to the specifics of what we now know.”
“The FBI announced today that — and — and we confirm that North Korea engaged in this attack. I think it says something interesting about North Korea that they decided to have the state mount an all-out assault on a movie studio because of a satirical movie starring Seth Rogen and James Flacco.”
That’s James Franco; Obama’s goof of the actor’s name sent “James Flacco” shooting to the top of Twitter trending topics.
“I love Seth. And I love — and I love James. But the notion that that was a threat to them, I think gives you some sense of — of the kind of regime we’re talking about here,” he continued. “They caused a lot of damage. And we will respond. We will respond proportionally, and we’ll respond in a place and time and manner that we choose. It’s not something that I will announce here today at a press conference.”
“More broadly, though, this points to the need for us to work with the international community to start setting up some very clear rules of the road in terms of how the Internet and cyber operates. Right now, it’s sort of the Wild West.”
Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) wants to screen the movie that angered North Korea so at his first re-election fundraiser.
“I would say one thing — I’m pretty disappointed in Sony Pictures decision to pull The Interview under pressure from North Korea,” Kirk said Thursday on WBEZ radio, in comments captured by BuzzFeed. “I would say that I’m gonna be trying to hold the first big Kirk for Senate fundraiser at a screening of The Interview, so that everybody shows the North Koreans that you cannot edit what we want to see and do in the United States, under the First Amendment.”
“It was a terrible lesson to terrorists, to give them what they wanted — that we should, as Americans under the First Amendment, we should never have to ask North Korea for permission as to what movie we can — just think of a previous really good movie, that was Team America: World Police, that was really funny about North Korea,” Kirk said of the 2004 film from the creators of the South Park that lampooned Kim Jong-il.
Like the assassination plot against Kim Jong-un in The Interview, the elder Kim dies in Team America by being impaled on a kaiser’s helmet.
However, without explanation, Paramount has now banned theaters from screening Team America.
“And your birthright as an American citizen — you never have to ask the North Koreans for permission for what movie you can see,” Kirk said. “I hope that now all the media about this movie makes it a smash hit, and that we see many more movies like it, and teach the North Koreans a lesson about what Americans can and cannot do.”
There was no elaboration on how the Kirk campaign would get the film if Sony refuses to ever release it.
Anonymous accounts on Twitter have noted that people are asking or assuming that the power-hackers will leak the film, but they haven’t indicated that they plan to do so.
President Obama has decided on his task force to review police practices and make recommendations after the Ferguson protests.
Obama signed an executive order creating the Task Force on 21st Century Policing as “part of the administration’s efforts to strengthen community policing and strengthen trust among law enforcement officers and the communities they serve,” according to the White House.
“The Task Force will examine, among other issues, how to build public trust and foster strong relationships between local law enforcement and the communities that they protect, while also promoting effective crime reduction. The Task Force will prepare a report and recommendations to be presented to the President.”
Obama intends to appoint:
Philadelphia Police Department Commissioner Charles Ramsey (co-chair)
George Mason University professor and former Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Justice Programs Laurie Robinson (co-chair)
Deputy Chief Operating Officer for Public Safety Cedric L. Alexander from DeKalb County, Georgia, who is also the National President of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives
Jose Lopez, lead organizer at Make the Road New York (MRNY), a Brooklyn-based nonprofit community organization focused on civil rights, education reform, and combating poverty
Yale Law professor Tracey Meares
Brittany Packnett, executive director of Teach For America in St. Louis, Mo.
Susan Rahr, executive director of the Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission, formerly the first female sheriff of King County, Washington
Constance Rice, a civil rights attorney and co-director of the Advancement Project
Sean Smoot, director and chief counsel for the Police Benevolent and Protective Association of Illinois (PB&PA) and the Police Benevolent Labor Committee (PBLC); formerly a policy adviser to the Obama-Biden transition team on public safety and state and local police issues
Bryan Stevenson, founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Ala.
Tucson Police Department Chief Roberto Villaseñor
“These fine public servants bring both a depth of experience and tremendous dedication to their new roles,” Obama said in a statement. “Our nation will be well-served by these men and women, and I look forward to working with them in the months and years to come.”
The White House vaguely promised a “proportional response” toward the “sophisticated actor” who hacked Sony and brought down the planned Christmas release of The Interview.
Press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters yesterday that the cyber-crime ”is still under investigation, both by the FBI and the National Security Division of the Department of Justice.”
“I for, I think, pretty obvious reasons, am not going to get ahead of that investigation or any announcements that they may make about that investigation,” Earnest said.
President Obama will undoubtedly be asked about the North Korean threat at his year-end press conference this afternoon.
“But I can tell you that consistent with the president’s previous statements about how we will protect against, monitor and respond to cyber incidents, this is something that’s being treated as a serious national security matter. There is evidence to indicate that we have seen destructive activity with malicious intent that was initiated by a sophisticated actor,” Earnest continued.
“And it is being treated by those investigative agencies, both at the FBI and the Department of Justice, as seriously as you would expect. It has also been the subject of a number of daily meetings that have been convened here at the White House that have been led by both the president’s homeland security adviser and occasionally by his cyber coordinator. This includes senior members of our intelligence community and homeland security officials, military, diplomatic and law enforcement officials.”
However, he wasn’t ready to say how the U.S. might respond to an attack.
“Before we start publicly speculating about a response, it’s appropriate that we allow the investigation to move forward. I do understand that the investigation is progressing. And that as the members of the national security team meet to discuss this matter, they are considering a range of options,” Earnest said.
“As they do so, though, they’re mindful of the need for a couple of things. They’re first of all, as we would be in any scenario, strategic scenario like this, they would be mindful of the fact that we need a proportional response. And also mindful of the fact that sophisticated actors when they carry out actions like this are oftentimes, not always, but often seeking to provoke a response from the United States of America… So we want to be mindful of that, too.”
As far as Sony canceling The Interview, Earnest would only say that “as a general matter is that the president and the administration stand squarely on the side of artists and other private citizens who seek to freely express their views.”
“Sometimes those views can be laced with criticism, or are sometimes intended to provoke either some kind of either comedic response or one that is intended to be some element of some pretty biting social commentary,” he added.
“All of that is — is appropriate and well within the rights of private citizens to express their views. And the president has certainly been on the receiving end of some expressions like that. And while we may not agree with the content of every single thing that is produced, we certainly stand squarely on the side of the right of private individuals to express themselves. And that is a view that we — that is strongly held by this administration as it has been throughout the history of our country.”
In a three-hour press conference today, Russian President Vladimir Putin was asked if the country’s current economic troubles have anything to do with international penalties for the invasion of Ukraine.
“No. This is not the price we have to pay for Crimea… This is actually the price we have to pay for our natural aspiration to preserve ourselves as a nation, as a civilisation, as a state. And here is why,” Putin began.
“After the fall of the Berlin Wall and the breakup of the Soviet Union, Russia opened itself to our partners. What did we see? A direct and fully-fledged support of terrorism in North Caucasus. They directly supported terrorism, you understand? Is that what partners usually do? I won’t go into details on that, but this is an established fact. And everyone knows it,” he said.
“On any issue, no matter what we do, we always run into challenges, objections and opposition. Let me remind you about the preparations for the 2014 Olympics, our inspiration and enthusiasm to organise a festive event not only for Russian sports fans, but for sports fans all over the world. However, and this is an evident truth, unprecedented and clearly orchestrated attempts were made to discredit our efforts to organise and host the Olympics. This is an undeniable fact! Who needs to do so and for what reason? And so on and so forth.”
Putin compared Russian policy to “a bear protecting his taiga.”
“You see, if we continue the analogy, sometimes I think that maybe it would be best if our bear just sat still. Maybe he should stop chasing pigs and boars around the taiga but start picking berries and eating honey. Maybe then he will be left alone. But no, he won’t be!” he said.
“Because someone will always try to chain him up. As soon as he’s chained they will tear out his teeth and claws. In this analogy, I am referring to the power of nuclear deterrence. As soon as – God forbid – it happens and they no longer need the bear, the taiga will be taken over.”
In a pointed reference to the Siberian autonomy movement, which has picked up steam this year, Putin added that he’s heard “even from high-level officials that it is unfair that the whole of Siberia with its immense resources belongs to Russia in its entirety. Why exactly is it unfair? So it is fair to snatch Texas from Mexico but it is unfair that we are working on our own land – no, we have to share.”
“And then, when all the teeth and claws are torn out, the bear will be of no use at all. Perhaps they’ll stuff it and that’s all,” he said. “So, it is not about Crimea but about us protecting our independence, our sovereignty and our right to exist. That is what we should all realize.”
Despite sanctions, Putin stressed, “we must decide whether we want to keep going and fight, change our economy – for the better, by the way, because we can use the current situation to our own advantage – and be more independent, go through all this or we want our skin to hang on the wall.”
“This is the choice we need to make and it has nothing to do with Crimea at all.”
Secretary of State John Kerry received a bipartisan request to stand with Israel and veto any United Nations Security Council resolution that imposes a “solution” on the Jewish state.
The Palestinians have drafted a resolution declaring a state and giving Israel two years to pull out of territory that the Palestinian Authority considers its own. On Tuesday, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki left the door open to a U.S. vote in favor of such a resolution, telling reporters today “we have to see what the details are.”
“There is a perception …that we have never supported any UN action related to Israel, and that is not true,” Psaki said. “We have supported a range of actions in the past. What we haven’t supported is steps that are unilateral actions that predetermine the outcome of negotiations.”
The draft was submitted to the Security Council on Wednesday by Jordan.
“We write to express concern about ongoing efforts to impose the terms of a peace agreement on our friend and ally Israel outside of direct negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians,” Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) wrote to Kerry. “We urge you to make clear that the United States will veto any United Nations resolution and would oppose any efforts to bypass direct negotiations and impose peace terms on Israel through the United Nations Security Council and other international bodies.”
“For decades, the United States has consistently opposed efforts to bypass direct negotiations and impose terms on Israel through the United Nations Security Council,” the letter continues. “As President Obama said to the United Nations General Assembly in 2011, ‘I am convinced that there is no short cut to the end of a conflict that has endured for decades… Peace will not come through statements and resolutions at the United Nations… Ultimately, it is the Israelis and the Palestinians, not us, who must reach agreement on the issues that divide them; on borders and on security, on refugees and Jerusalem.’”
“We strongly agree with this sentiment. Yet there are multiple efforts in the United Nations Security Council to set parameters for final status negotiations, effectively imposing terms on our ally Israel in matters that are vital to its security and national interests.”
Graham and Schumer “strongly” urged Kerry “to make clear to all parties that the United States strongly opposes, and if need be will veto, any effort to bypass direct negotiations and impose peace terms on Israel through the United Nations.”
“A failure to decisively announce that we will veto any resolution from the United Nations that dictates the peace process runs counter to decades of American foreign policy and only gives momentum to these counterproductive proposals,” the senators added. “We thank you for your continued dedication to this issue and we look forward to supporting our government’s efforts to bring both parties back to the negotiating table without preconditions.”
The House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman warned that there’s a lot more at risk from North Korea’s demonstrated hacking prowess than a movie.
Rep. Ed Royce (R-Calif.) said Bureau 121, North Korea’s elite hacking unit, “obviously was involved” in the Sony hacking and threats that led the studio to pull The Interview.
“But we have to remember, Wolf, they’re also good at hacking into infrastructure. The energy grid — I mean there is a lot of infrastructure at risk here. One of the things we did do in Congress, you know, just in the last 24 hours, Congress finally got out those last four cyber cyber security pieces of legislation,” Royce told CNN.
“Now I hope we move instantly to protecting the grid. But secondarily, I hope we take a look again at what we could do to keep North Korea out of the financial system, by passing the types of sanctions we once slapped on them, which almost imploded the regime. We should look at that.”
While still awaiting a “formal announcement” of guilt by the U.S. government, Royce said, “it’s very clear that North Korea did this.”
“And it’s also very clear that North Korea has used its hackers to penetrate or to attempt to get information about our energy grid and other targets in the US,” he added.
“There’s two things I’m worried about. The first is North Korea targeting our energy grid. And second, North Korea finally managing to get that nuclear weapon which they have onto the cone, which they’ve been testing, of a three stage ICBM missile, and obtain that delivery capability.”
In October, the commander of U.S. forces in Korea told reporters at the Pentagon that Kim Jong-un is concentrating on a better developed cyber-warfare program, which “we need to protect ourselves against and be concerned about.” Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti also said he suspects Pyongyang is at the point of capability to build and deliver a warhead.
Royce believes the threat of another 9/11, made against the movie’s premiere and theaters showing the film, came from North Korea.
“On top of it, not too long ago, maybe a year or so ago, North Korea released an official document, or it was a VCR that they put together in which they showed a missile coming in and hitting Washington, D.C., and the Capitol blowing up. And they put that out on the Net. And that was done by North Korea as a form of a threat,” he said.
“Up until now, a lot of it’s been propaganda. But the fact that they’re issuing these threats now, and the fact that they’re moving forward with their weapons program to try to deliver ICBM capability, you know, with a nuclear warhead in the cone, this really takes it to a new level in terms of dealing with the Kim family in North Korea.”
The chairman said sanctions should be levied against financial institutions doing business with North Korea, which has choked the regime in the past.
“My suggestion is that we do exactly what we did when Stuart Levey, the undersecretary of the Treasury, found North Korea counterfeiting $100 bills. And at that point, he sanctioned the financial banks that were doing business with North Korea,” Royce said. “Within a matter of weeks, the North Koreans — within six weeks, could no longer pay their generals. They had to shut down, shortly after that, their weapons programs, their missile program, because they couldn’t buy parts. They didn’t have the hard currency. And a dictator needs hard currency to stay in power.”
In a Senate chairman race billed as Tea Party conservative vs. GOP establishment, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) backed out and will let Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) have the gavel.
Sessions has been ranking member on the Senate Budget Committee for four years, and wanted to challenge the senior Enzi for the chairmanship in the 114th Congress.
In a statement yesterday, Sessions said he and Enzi, who both came to the Senate 18 years ago, “will long remain good and close friends.”
“We have talked and I am deferring to his seniority so that he can lead the Budget Committee as its Chairman beginning in 2015. Mike graciously deferred to me two years ago after he timed out on HELP as Ranking Member, and it has been my enormous privilege to serve as the panel’s Ranking Member these last four years, as well as to serve as the Judiciary Ranking Member for the two years before that,” Sessions said.
He pitched Enzi as “an accountant and a small businessman who understands the need to balance budgets and tell the truth about the numbers.”
“He is a man of integrity and principle, respected by all of his Senate colleagues. I am eager to assist him next year, and I hope to tackle the important issue of welfare reform,” Sessions added.
The Alabama Republican will serve on four committees come January: Armed Services, Budget, Environment and Public Works, and Judiciary.
“My roles in the Senate will give me the opportunity to focus on important issues such as defense, national security, federal debt, EPA reform, crime, and immigration,” Sessions added. “Overall, I remain deeply concerned about falling wages and the lack of good jobs for Americans. Too many of our citizens are either stuck in place or falling behind, and too often their needs are forgotten. Our new GOP Congress must put the needs of Americans first.”
Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.), incoming chairman of the House Budget Committee, said Sessions has been “a tireless advocate for fiscal responsibility and pro-growth policies” on the Senate Budget Committee.
“I wish to congratulate Senator Enzi on his upcoming chairmanship of the Senate Budget Committee,” Price said. “It will be an honor to work together as we address the tremendous fiscal and economic challenges facing our nation in a way that can achieve real, positive results for the American people.”
Secretary of State John Kerry tried to cheer up family members of foreign service officers posted alone abroad with a tale from the Vietnam War.
The State Department hosted the officers’ families for holiday reception yesterday. Kerry noted that there’s been a 350 percent jump in the number of FSOs who have to serve in unaccompanied posts — leaving family behind for security reasons — since 9/11.
“And it obviously is a sad commentary on the challenges that we face in the world beyond our control, where countries are in turmoil, places are in transition,” Kerry said.
“…I want to emphasize that as we gather here for what is a celebration, a festive time, we do so mindful that in a lot of vital but troubled places like Iraq, Afghanistan, Tunisia, Yemen, South Sudan, Pakistan, where yesterday’s news was just horrendous, we have people who are working to carry the torch for America and for universal values that go with the presence of these committed public servants.”
Kerry stressed that he knows “personally” that “it is never easy when you are separated by thousands of miles and the office and the home are, in a sense, divided, and employee from family, and it’s complicated.”
“Obviously, this holiday season, a lot of you are yearning for the idea of being together with your loved ones, and we understand that. There are going to be empty seats at a dinner table, which is hard to deal with. There are fewer hands to decorate a tree or more packages that get lugged to the post office instead of being handed over personally. We understand every aspect of what it means to be here, part of this family, this particular family within the family,” he said.
Which led to his personal anecdote:
And I know sometimes there’s tension, anxious moments, even tears. Skype has a lot of benefits, but hugging ain’t one of them. So I’ll just share with you, 46 years ago — my staff tells me it was 46 years ago — it was 1968, that I remember — 1968, Christmas, I was in a river in Vietnam up in — near the Co Chien River, for anybody who knows what that means. And I was on a patrol boat. We were out there alone at night. The tracers were flying in the sky, the flares were dropping, sounds of eruptions of machine gun fire and other things here and there, and it was Christmas Eve. And there was supposed to be a truce, but the truce was broken. And I remember thinking how absurd that was, but it was life. And I took a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, went up and sat on the top of the roof of the boat, and just sat there. And frankly, I had visions of, really, sugar plums, chestnuts, New England in the snow. But what I learned was that the family of people around you make up for a lot. And I also learned that nothing ever makes up for the meaning of the quality of that service, of being able to be there for your country and make a difference.
Former President Carter said he’s recently visited Raul and Fidel Castro, and thinks “normal diplomatic relations will be very good” with the dictator brothers.
“When I was a president, as you just mentioned, we started the diplomatic relations process and we established major intersections in both Havana and also in Washington. The last time I was Cuba, just two or three years ago, we had over 300 diplomats serving in the intersection in Havana. And that will continue, I think, no matter what happens,” Carter told CNN.
He added that he hopes Congress ”will go ahead and remove the embargo, all the sanctions, because that doesn’t hurt the Castro brothers.”
“It just hurts the people of Cuba, about 11 million of them, who had to suffer because of our own imposed economic sanctions,” he said.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) has vowed that in the GOP majority Congress the embargo will stand.
Carter called President Obama’s unilateral actions “a major step forward to bring about more freedom and more democracy and more respect for human rights in Cuba as well.”
“In a country where we impose sanctions, it’s almost impossible to imagine that the dictators themselves or their immediate staff or their top friends are going to be suffering economically. They’ve got all they want,” the former president said.
“I’ve been to the home of both Raul Castro and also Fidel Castro in the last few years and they’re not suffering at all. But the 11 million people of Cuba suffer. We have a lot of farmers in Georgia who have been going down to Cuba under very tight restrictions to sell corn and chickens and other things to the Cuban people.”
He maintained that Obama’s actions “will help American farmers” along with “the average Cuban.”
“And it will also lead towards better respect for human rights, in my opinion, as we have a flood of American citizens going and letting Cuban people know what democracy really means,” Carter continued.
He called Rubio’s criticism of Obama’s policy “absolutely ridiculous” with “no rational or logic to what he had to say.”
“This is a very wise and very courageous thing for President Obama to do. And in my opinion, is long overdue. In my time in the White House, we would have had diplomatic relationships then, if they build on the enormous diplomatic staff, we have maintained ever since 1979 in Havana and in Washington,” Carter said.
“But people in Cuba still really respect and revere almost Fidel Castro. But there’s no doubt that under Raul’s presidency, there have been a lot of openness and reforms implemented in Cuba, particularly, economic in nature. A lot of things are permitted in Cuba now that were not permitted as long as Fidel was in office. So I think with Raul, this is what he told me personally, and what he was told all the visitors is he’s looking for an opportunity to open up Cuba but very carefully step by step. I think that’s what we have to expect.”
Sony Pictures officially decided not to release The Interview on Dec. 25 as planned, citing the major theater chains that refused to show the movie after hackers made 9/11-style threats against screenings.
“We respect and understand our partners’ decision and, of course, completely share their paramount interest in the safety of employees and theater-goers,” the Sony statement said.
“Sony Pictures has been the victim of an unprecedented criminal assault against our employees, our customers, and our business. Those who attacked us stole our intellectual property, private emails, and sensitive and proprietary material, and sought to destroy our spirit and our morale — all apparently to thwart the release of a movie they did not like. We are deeply saddened at this brazen effort to suppress the distribution of a movie, and in the process do damage to our company, our employees, and the American public. We stand by our filmmakers and their right to free expression and are extremely disappointed by this outcome.”
The Associated Press reported moments ago that federal investigators have connected the hacking to North Korea.
At the State Department earlier today, Jen Psaki said department officials did meet with studio executives during production, as revealed in leaked emails, but disputed reports that they OK’d the picture. “We’re not in the business of signing off on content of movies or things along those lines,” she said.
“I can confirm for you that [Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Daniel] Russel did have a conversation with Sony executives, as he does routinely with a wide range of private groups and individuals, to discuss foreign policy in Asia,” Psaki said. “[Special Envoy for North Korean Human Rights Issues] Bob King, contrary to reports, did not view the movie and did not have any contact directly with Sony.”
“As we have — as we’ve noted before, entertainers are free to make movies of their choosing, and we are not involved in that,” she added.
Psaki said she wouldn’t compare the comedy about the assassination of Kim Jong-un to the Mohammed film initially blamed for the Benghazi attack, a movie heavily criticized by the State Department.
“I would not put them in the same category, which I’m sure does not surprise you,” Psaki said. “We don’t have — it’s a fiction movie. It’s not a documentary about our relationship with the United — with North Korea. It’s not something we backed, supported or necessarily have an opinion on from here.”
After violent reactions to Innocence of Muslims in 2012, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said “the United States deplores any intentional effort to denigrate the religious beliefs of others.”
“We firmly reject the actions by those who abuse the universal right of free speech to hurt the religious beliefs of other,” the U.S. Embassy in Cairo said back then.
While being asked questions about unilateral changes in Cuba policy today, White House press secretary Josh Earnest if they would relax sanctions on North Korea under the same theory.
“That if you open it up, that you put more pressure on them, maybe they’ll change their behavior?” a reporter asked.
“No. OK,” Earnest bluntly responded, drawing laughter.
Saw @Sethrogen at JFK. Both of us have never seen or heard of anything like this. Hollywood has done Neville Chamberlain proud today.
— Rob Lowe (@RobLowe) December 17, 2014
.@RobLowe it wasn’t the hackers who won, it was the terrorists and almost certainly the North Korean dictatorship, this was an act of war
— Newt Gingrich (@newtgingrich) December 17, 2014
City of Atlanta demands all remaining prints of gone with the wind be destroyed
— Albert Brooks (@AlbertBrooks) December 17, 2014
. @JuddApatow I agree wholeheartedly. An un-American act of cowardice that validates terrorist actions and sets a terrifying precedent.
— Jimmy Kimmel (@jimmykimmel) December 17, 2014
If they had cyber threats in 1940, I guess nobody would have ever seen “The Great Dictator.” pic.twitter.com/jpmDtpTtez
— Richard Roeper (@richardroeper) December 17, 2014
— Mitt Romney (@MittRomney) December 18, 2014
This month the House said goodbye to the last World War II veterans serving in Congress: Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.), the retiring longest serving member of Congress in history, and Rep. Ralph Hall (R-Texas), who was defeated in his primary.
Dingell, 88, and Hall, 91, served a combined 46 terms, or 92 years, in the House.
Dingell decided to say farewell with a 2014 Holiday Jingle (the whole poem is on BuzzFeed):
‘Twas just days before Dems lost control of the Senate
Handing over the reins to whoever’s left in it.
But amidst all the partisan clanking and clatter
Thought I’d write you a poem and highlight a few matters
Looking back on my career and the year in reflection
For I’m hanging it up, after 30 elections.
… From Gruber to Ebola, I’ve survived this year’s banter.
Think the Tea Party’s dead? You should ask my friend Cantor.
Cruz’s latest ploy backfired, ushering through nominations
Like a new Surgeon General, and a head of immigration
Made our Cabinet stronger, reaffirmed our world power
If Ash Carter doesn’t work, well there’s always Tim Howard
…So the election’s now upon us, and amidst all the hintin’
There’ll be a line of new choices [and a Bush, and a Clinton]
As folks “actively explore,” and throw their hats in the ring
We must look at their records, and the experience they bring
As for me, I’ve never been one to create a big scene
So Happy Holidays to all, DINGELL 2016!
The leader of Hamas in exile says the European Union General Court decision to remove Hamas from its list of terrorist organizations should pave the way for countries to follow suit.
In a statement to Middle East Monitor, Khaled Mashal said the EU’s “past position was not based on objective facts.”
“In addition to this, it was in violation of and contradictory to international law as well as legal and humanitarian norms that guarantee the right of nations to resist occupation. It would be in the European Union’s best interest to align itself with international law and with legal and humanitarian norms and to refrain from violating these laws under the misguided pressure of Israel and its exploitation of the international community,” Mashal said.
The Hamas leader urged leaders of EU countries “to accept and cooperate with the decision of the Court and to take measures to make a brave political decision to remove Hamas from the European Union’s terrorist list in coordination with the Court’s decision and with the values of justice and law, as well as out of respect of the people’s will and their rights.”
“I also urge the leaders and governments in EU states to avoid stalling or wasting time by taking measures or making appeals attempting to circumvent international law and objective facts,” Mashal added. “I also hope that all international forces, including the United States, take the initiative and right the wrong that has been made in the past, which, as everyone knows, is a result of Israeli pressure and not a result of the facts on the ground.”
State Department press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters today that the U.S. is reviewing the court’s findings.
“According to a statement by the European Union, this decision was based on procedural grounds. We understand that the E.U. sanctions Hamas remain in effect pending the E.U.’s decision on whether to appeal,” Psaki said. “The U.S. position on has not changed; Hamas is a designated foreign terrorist organization.”
“Hamas continues to engage in terrorist activity and has demonstrated its intentions during this summer’s conflicts with Israel. It fired thousands of rockets into Israeli civilian areas and attempted to infiltrate Israel through tunnels that extended into Israel,” Psaki continued.
“We will continue to work closely with the European Union on Hamas-related issues. We believe that the E.U. should maintain its terrorism sanctions on Hamas.”
Mashal said Hamas “continues to confine its legitimate resistance and struggle to Palestine and exercises this against the Israeli occupation.”
“This is a natural right for the movement and for all nations under foreign occupation and it is in accordance with our religious and international laws, just as the other nations in the East and the West resisted their occupying forces,” he said.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he was “not satisfied with the European Union’s explanation that the removal of Hamas from its list of terrorist organizations is a ‘technical matter.’”
“The burden of proof is on the European Union and we expect it to put Hamas back on the list forthwith given that it is understood by all that Hamas – a murderous terrorist organization, the covenant of which specifies the destruction of Israel as its goal – is an inseparable part of this list,” Netanyahu said. “We will continue to fight Hamas with strength and determination so that it never achieves this goal.”
Catholic Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), while acknowledging the Vatican’s role in helping free USAID subcontractor Alan Gross from Cuba, said he hopes the Argentine pope continues to press for full human rights on the communist island.
“The Holy Father wishes to express his warm congratulations for the historic decision taken by the Governments of the United States of America and Cuba to establish diplomatic relations, with the aim of overcoming, in the interest of the citizens of both countries, the difficulties which have marked their recent history,” the Holy See said in a statement.
“In recent months, Pope Francis wrote letters to the President of the Republic of Cuba, His Excellency Mr Raúl Castro, and the President of the United States, The Honorable Barack H. Obama, and invited them to resolve humanitarian questions of common interest, including the situation of certain prisoners, in order to initiate a new phase in relations between the two Parties,” the statement continued.
“The Holy See received Delegations of the two countries in the Vatican last October and provided its good offices to facilitate a constructive dialogue on delicate matters, resulting in solutions acceptable to both Parties. The Holy See will continue to assure its support for initiatives which both nations will undertake to strengthen their bilateral relations and promote the wellbeing of their respective citizens.”
At a press conference this afternoon, Rubio stressed that he’s “not criticized” the pope’s intervention in the release of Gross, who had been held by Cuba for more than five years.
“I would also ask His Holiness to take up the cause of freedom and democracy, which is critical for a free people, for a people to truly be free. I think the people of Cuba deserve the same chances to have democracy as the people of Argentina have had, where he comes from, as the people of Italy have, where he now lives,” Rubio said. “Obviously, the Vatican’s its own state, but very nearby.”
“My point is I hope that people with that sort of prestige on the world stage will take up the cause of freedom and democracy,” the senator added.
“The Cuban people are the only people in this hemisphere that have not been able to elect a leader in more than 55 or 60 years. It’s outrageous. And for us to basically — for this government under Barack Obama to unilaterally give up all the things they gave up in exchange for nothing on the side of democracy, is unacceptable in my mind.”
A senior administration official told reporters this morning on a conference call that the support of the pope “was important to us, given the esteem with which both the American and Cuban hold the Catholic Church.”
“When President Obama met with Pope Francis, for instance, earlier this year, Cuba was a topic of discussion that got as much attention as anything else that the two of them discussed,” the official said. “So I would — I would say that this — particularly the, you know, the exchange and transfer of prisoners was finalized in that meeting at the Vatican, but we also were able to review the steps that we would each be taking with the — with the Vatican, including the normalization of relations between the countries and the establishment of diplomatic relations. And the Vatican welcomed that news.”
The third-ranking Senate Republican, who stirred anxiety in the Democratic National Committee with fears that he would run in 2012, hasn’t ruled out a run for the White House in 2016.
Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), 53, has been in the upper chamber since his high-profile oust of Majority Leader Tom Daschle in the 2004 election. He is currently chairman of the Republican Conference.
Thune told The Hill that the 2016 option isn’t on or off the table.
“The things I need to be doing right now I’m not doing and a lot of other people are,” he said. “But you never close the door on anything, you never know what’s going to happen. But as of right now, no.”
Thune, who is up for Senate re-election in 2016, is expected to take the chairmanship of the Senate Commerce Committee in the new GOP-majority 114th Congress.
“I am not actively pursuing [the presidency] at the moment; I’ve got my work cut out for me in the Senate,” he said. “I think being in the majority, and if all things work out here, the committee chairmanship, is going to keep me extremely busy.”
In July 2010, DNC Executive Director Jennifer O’Malley Dillon told the Huffington Post that there was just one prospective Republican candidate who scared her, and he was never a Pennsylvania senator.
“This is personal but John Thune is somebody that I have nightmares about,” she said. “I’ve worked for Tim Johnson and Tom Daschle and he is just a guy you can’t ever count out. He has his head down and is doing some policy stuff. [You] just got to start looking at him.”
The Taliban in Afghanistan, who have tried to mold themselves into negotiating partners as they continue attacks on civilians and military across the country, issued a statement condemning the Pakistani Taliban attack on a public school that killed 145 — most of those children.
“An attack has occurred on a school in the city of Peshawar in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan this morning at around 10:00 am local time. Information from the area suggests that so far some 200 people have been killed and wounded in the incident most of whom are said to be children,” spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said in a statement.
“The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan expresses its condolences over the incident and mourns with the families of killed children,” he said. “The intentional killing of innocent people, women and children goes against the principles of Islam and every Islamic government and movement must adhere to this fundamental essence.”
“The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan has always condemned the killing of children and innocent people at every juncture. Messages of condolences were also released a while back regarding the blasts at a playground in Yahya Khel district of Paktika province and a mosque in Nangarhar province and those acts were considered against the principles of Islam.”
The Afghan Taliban have short memories, as just a couple of weeks ago they murdered a South African father running an education charity and his two children in Kabul. In a March attack on the Hotel Serena in Kabul, the Taliban murdered two young girls, taking out a 2-year-old boy’s entire family. Marketplace bombs indiscriminately kill young and old. The Afghan Taliban throw acid on girls as they try to go to school, and throw hand grenades into girls’ classrooms. And last month in Farah province an Afghan mother took up arms and took out a number of Taliban after they killed her son, vowing to defend her family from the terrorists to the last bullet.
At the Pentagon yesterday, press secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby said the U.S. wouldn’t “target Taliban simply by virtue of the fact that they’re Taliban.”
“It’s about what you’re doing, and if you’re going to conduct terrorist attacks, it doesn’t matter what I.D. cards you’re carrying. We have the authorities to act in our own self-defense and self-defense of our Afghan partners.”
A reporter from the region asked if the Pentagon sees a difference between Pakistani and Afghan Taliban, noting that “Talibans are Taliban, whether they’re Pakistani or Afghani, because they were all once trained and financed by the Pakistans inside Pakistan.”
“I’m sure you don’t expect me to try to defend the murder and the slaughter of innocent kids at a school. So I’m not even going to try to do that,” Kirby said.
“On your question about the Taliban, and we’ve said this before, we don’t look at them as one homogeneous group. Do they share certain ideologies? Yes. And a radical view of the Muslim faith? Yes. And a belief that terror and murder and violence is a way to pursue those goals? Yes,” he continued.
“But we also recognize that there are sub-groups within those who call themselves Taliban who have different, more specific goals and objectives, whether it’s geographically bound or ideologically bound. So, I am not an expert on all the different groups, but we know some are more directed at Afghanistan. They direct their activities in Afghanistan. Some direct their efforts more inside Pakistan against the Pakistani government and Pakistani people. The point is that they — it’s all terrorism. And it’s all a common threat that we face along that spine between Afghanistan and Pakistan, a border which exists only on the map as you look at it, and not necessarily in the eyes of the people that live there, and certainly not in the eyes of the terrorists that use it as safe haven and sanctuary. Which is why we’ve been for so long pursuing a tripartite relationship, at least from the American perspective, between us, Afghanistan and Pakistan.”
In May, the Obama administration traded five senior Taliban leaders for the exchange of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl. That follows long-running attempts from the White House to negotiate with the Taliban before the planned exit of U.S. troops at the end of the year.
The White House will be officially celebrating the Festival of Lights with late afternoon and evening receptions tomorrow, but President Obama kicked off the holiday with his Hanukkah message today:
Over the eight nights of Hanukkah, Jews across America, Israel, and the world will remember an ancient triumph of freedom over oppression, and renew their faith in the possibility of miracles large and small.
Even in the darkest, shortest days of winter, the Festival of Lights brims with possibility and hope. The courage of the Maccabees reminds us that we too can overcome seemingly insurmountable odds. The candles of the Menorah remind us that even the smallest light has the power to shine through the darkness. And the miracle at the heart of Hanukkah – the oil that lasted for eight nights instead of only one – reminds us that even when the future is uncertain, our best days are yet to come.
May this Hanukkah embolden us to do what is right, shine a light on the miracles we enjoy, and kindle in all of us the desire to share those miracles with others. From my family to yours, Chag Sameach.
Tomorrow the Palestinians are expected to bring a resolution before the UN Security Council declaring a state and giving Israel two years to pull out of territory that the Palestinian Authority considers its own. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki left the door open to a U.S. vote in favor of such a resolution, telling reporters today “we have to see what the details are.”
“There is a perception …that we have never supported any UN action related to Israel, and that is not true,” Psaki said. “We have supported a range of actions in the past. What we haven’t supported is steps that are unilateral actions that predetermine the outcome of negotiations.”
The Palestinians need nine votes, or two-thirds of the council, for passage.
Despite giving what Senate Republicans said were troubling responses about President Obama’s executive actions on immigration, Sarah Saldaña was confirmed today to lead the Immigration and Customs Enforcement office.
The vote was 55-39, with six senators not voting. Sens. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) cast the only “yea” votes from the GOP.
Senate Judiciary Committee Republicans complained that not only did Saldaña not meet with the lawmakers, but “didn’t even receive the courtesy of a reply” to their invitation. The committee passed the nomination on to the full Senate on a party-line vote.
Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) noted at the time that when he got the opportunity to ask Saldaña some questions he was met with “vague answers.”
“Many times she answered a question by telling me that she wasn’t familiar with a certain specific topic area and that, if confirmed, she’d look into it,” Grassley said.
Saldaña only received a full committee hearing in the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.
“Immigration and Customs Enforcement has been without a presidentially appointed leader for more than 16 months – that is far too long, particularly considering the challenges we face along our borders,” said committee Chairman Tom Carper (D-Del.). “Sarah Saldaña will provide the leadership our country needs in this critically important and particularly challenging position. Ms. Saldaña is a respected member of the law enforcement community who comes highly recommended, with bipartisan support. Thankfully, Ms. Saldaña has graciously stepped up to the plate to assume this demanding appointment. She undoubtedly has a tough job ahead of her, but I believe that she is up to the task.”
President Obama said Saldaña, most recently U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Texas, “is the right person to lead the dedicated men and women at ICE in securing our borders, keeping American communities safe, and upholding our values.”
“Since I took office, illegal border crossings are down and removal of dangerous criminals is up,” he added in a statement. “I’m confident Sarah will help us build on this progress while protecting our country in a smart, effective, and humane way.”
Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), though, said on the floor today that while Saldaña demonstrated an “admirable independent streak as United States Attorney, she has also demonstrated that her commitment to the rule of law may falter when it comes to faithfully enforcing the Immigration and Nationality Act.”
“In response to a question asked by several members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, including me, Ms. Saldaña said she agreed with the position of DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson that immigrants who entered the country illegally, and have now been targeted for so-called deferred action, have ‘earned the right to be citizens,’” Lee said. “That’s quite a bold claim. No doubt Congress could, and many people think it should, ease the path the citizenship for some aliens here unlawfully. But to assert that citizenship is a matter of right, and that it has been earned by the very act of breaking our immigration laws, is an unacceptable view for a person nominated to be head of immigration enforcement.”
“We have passed through the looking glass. And to see how far we’ve gone inside, observe: Today the president asks the Senate to install, as custodian of our border, a person who evidently believes that crossing our border illegally earns you the right to vote.”
A federal court in the western district of Pennsylvania found parts of President Obama’s executive actions to legalize an estimate 4 to 5 million illegal immigrants unconstitutional.
In the case, United States of America v. Elionardo Juarez-Escobar, an illegal immigrant from Honduras argued that he shouldn’t be subject to deportation.
The Volokh Conspiracy sums up:
According to the opinion by Judge Arthur Schwab, the president’s policy goes “beyond prosecutorial discretion” in that it provides a relatively rigid framework for considering applications for deferred action, thus obviating any meaningful case-by-case determination as prosecutorial discretion requires, and provides substantive rights to applicable individuals. As a consequence, Schwab concluded, the action exceeds the scope of executive authority.
…The procedural background of the case is somewhat unusual. The case involves an individual who was deported and then reentered the country unlawfully. In considering how to sentence the defendant, the court sought supplemental briefing on the applicability of the new policies to the defendant, and whether these policies would provide the defendant with additional avenues for seeking the deferral of his deportation. In this case, however, it’s not entirely clear it was necessary to reach the constitutional question to resolve the issues before the court with regard to the defendant’s sentence.
Here’s the court’s full ruling.
“Although this Court recognizes that the Memorandum providing the basis for the Executive Action on immigration has opined that the Executive branch can create such subcategories of undocumented immigrants, the Court has concerns that some familial bonds are treated differently than others,” the ruling states.
“…The Court holds that the Executive Action is unconstitutional because it violates the separation of powers and the Take Care Clause of the Constitution.”
“President Obama’s executive action is flat out unconstitutional. He’s clearly going beyond the president’s proper legal, constitutional authority,” Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) said in response to the news. “Every president has executive power to provide details where statutes are silent. But that’s fundamentally different from taking action that is directly contrary to statute.”
Secretary of State John Kerry told reporters in London today that international alliances are needed to battle the “almost medieval vision” of Islamist terrorists that attacked in Pakistan and Sydney this week.
“As a father, I know exactly how hard it is when you send kids out of house into the world, to school or anywhere, and particularly in today’s world,” Kerry said of the attack at the Army Public School in Peshawar, in which at least 131 were killed.
“The images are absolutely gut-wrenching: young children carried away in ambulances, a teacher burned alive in front of the students, a house of learning turned into a house of unspeakable horror,” he said. “…This act of terror angers and shakes all people of conscience, and we condemn it in the strongest terms possible. The perpetrators must be brought to justice. And we pledge our full support to the people of Pakistan in this difficult hour and we will help them in any way that we possibly can.”
Noting the cafe siege in Sydney by an Iranian cleric that left two hostages dead, Kerry noted the U.S. “has come face to face with horrific violence on our own soil, and we have seen our citizens held hostage and murdered in faraway places for the most nihilistic, devastatingly negative purposes.”
“So we know in a very personal way what our ally Australia is going through at this very moment. And we grieve with Australia and with the families of all those terrorized, injured, and killed,” he said. “The attacks in Peshawar and Sydney underscore that threats locally are also threats globally. In today’s world, next door is everywhere. And that’s why the United States is engaged in more places with more partners on more issues than ever before, and we are committed with all those allies and partners to standing up to extremism and to the extremists themselves.”
Kerry said he’d had “very candid and constructive conversations” over the past few days in Rome with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and others. He sits down with Palestinian representatives in London today.
“Now obviously, a focus of these conversations has been our deep concern about the situation on the ground in Israel and in the West Bank and the mounting calls from the international community to pursue diplomatic measures to try to address it,” he said. “…All of the reasons that we engaged so intensely one year ago, a little more than that, and all the reasons that Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas were willing to engage — those reasons are even more compelling today. The status quo is unsustainable for both parties and for the region.”
Kerry condemned an acid attack on an Israeli family last week and “indefensible price tag attacks, so-called price tag attacks” against Palestinians, “including the recent burning of a mosque near Ramallah.”
“The cycle of violence leads to more violence and to nowhere,” he said. “Peace is the only prospect, and people need to fight for it.”
A Palestinian resolution is coming before the UN Security Council on Wednesday to demand Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and East Jerusalem and declare the formation of a Palestinian state.
“It’s a particularly sensitive moment because we understand the frustrations of Palestinians. We understand the frustrations of the Palestinian Authority and President Abbas and those who are pushing hard, because they don’t see another course at this moment,” Kerry said. “So the key is to try to find out whether or not there are other options, other ways, other courses; could something be done that helps to respect the process that the Israelis are about to undergo, simultaneously respecting the needs of the region to de-escalate the tensions and avoid confrontation?”
“That’s what we hope to achieve, that’s what these discussions are all about, and we will continue to have these discussions this afternoon and on into the next days. But we’ve made no determinations other than that about any — about language, approaches, specific resolutions, any of that. We haven’t made any determinations.”
Pressed further about the fight against extremists staging attacks like those in Pakistan and Australia, Kerry replied “the threat is what the threat is.”
“If somebody decides they want to die, it’s very hard to prevent every situation from occurring,” he said.
“…I know that our friends in Pakistan and in Australia are tough and strong and prepared to stay the course. So it’s very unfortunate when this happens, but it is done precisely for the kind of effect that it gets, which is questions at a press conference and fears that are spread in various parts of the world.”
A Washington state Democrat warned that President Obama could do some “really awful things” next year with legislative naiveté and his small core of advisers.
Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.), a member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said Obama “made a mistake” by agreeing to sign the cromnibus without pressuring Republicans to take out Wall Street provisions objected to by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and others.
“He did not have to say he would support it. That he wanted us to pass it. We were in the midst of pulling it down in the Democratic caucus when the president suddenly jumped in and said, ‘Oh, well I want this.’ And I’m – what is very hard for me to understand is how he thinks that’s better for the American people,” McDermott said.
The congressman stressed that he “lived through the savings and loan crisis and then through the one that went on later.”
“And you got to say to yourself, when are you going to learn that people are greedy? And that government has to have regulations to control their greed. This is going to happen again as sure as I’m sitting here.”
McDermott said the country needs a president “who will act like Teddy Roosevelt did and break up the banks.”
“We cannot allow that much power to concentrate in so few hands. That’s what Teddy Roosevelt did as the trust buster. And what’s happened in this banking industry, the financial services industry, it’s got more and more powerful between, you know, Citizens United where they can pump all the money they want into the system to buy elections. And at the same time go out and play with the people’s money at the gambling table,” he continued.
“We have given them carte blanche to put us into something really horrendous. And I really think that as Elizabeth Warren suggested that bill should have broken up Citibank when it passed, the Dodd-Frank Bill. We didn’t do it. And we’re going to pay for it down the road.”
With Republicans in control of the House and Senate in the 114th Congress, McDermott stressed that Obama “is going to have to listen to some people other than the little group of people around him now.”
“He is all by himself. He doesn’t have the Senate to save him as they have in the last six years. And he is really in danger of really doing some awful things because he really doesn’t understand,” McDermott said.
“There is a story about Governor Ray of Iowa who was once asked about a bill and he said, ‘Listen, I vote last.’ And that’s what the president should have said when they asked him about this bill. I’m going to make my decision after I see what the House and Senate do. But he got into it way to early and put his cards on the table face up. You could see what he had.”
Sen. David Vitter (R-La.), who will be on the Judiciary Committee in the 114th Congress, said he’s planning to battle President Obama’s executive orders on immigration by opposing his nominee for attorney general, Loretta Lynch.
Vitter said he thinks it’s a “shame” that Republicans split on the constitutional point of order strategy on the cromnibus put forward over the weekend by Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Mike Lee (R-Utah).
“A lot of folks split on sort of a technicality, saying, well, it was a constitutional point of order and the spending bill wasn’t unconstitutional per se. It’s the president’s actions that are unconstitutional. I think that’s splitting hairs too finely,” Vitter told Fox Business.
“I think the reality is, we are far more united against executive amnesty than that vote suggests, and I think we’re going to have a chance to illustrate that early next year. But certainly, I’m very committed to fighting, pushing back any way possible against this unconstitutional action.”
Vitter, who plans on running for Louisiana governor in 2015, stressed he wants to push “strong pro-enforcement legislation” with a GOP majority in Congress.
“And I think we can move forward with that in the House and the Senate, and we should put those things on the president’s desk. So that’s one goal of mine,” he said.
“I think we need to do other things at the same time. One thing I’ve announced is I’m going to oppose this new attorney general nomination, and I’ll be on the Judiciary Committee for hearings to oppose it, because that person would be a key person in the Obama administration helping President Obama implement his illegal, unconstitutional executive action.”
However, he said he doesn’t know if there will be sufficient opposition in the caucus to oppose Lynch. Attorney General Eric Holder has vowed to stay on until a replacement is confirmed.
“There certainly could be if voters help us focus on this travesty of executive amnesty that’s flat-out unconstitutional,” Vitter said. “It would also help if we went back to the 60-vote rule for executive nominations in the new Senate. But both of those things are a bit up in the air.”
He added that no one should have been surprised by his alliance with Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) over the removal of the financial regulation rollback under Dodd-Frank.
“I know it surprised a lot of people. It really shouldn’t, if folks have followed my work in terms of ‘too big to fail.’ For instance, I’ve been working with Sherrod Brown for a couple of years now to try to truly end ‘too big to fail,’ including by having much higher capital standards for mega-banks,” the senator said.
“This was a similar, related issue, and I don’t think the taxpayers should be basically subsidizing risky behaviors through FDIC insurance, and that’s what this issue was about… if we had blocked the rollback, as you know, those derivatives could still happen. They just wouldn’t be under the FDIC insurance umbrella, wouldn’t essentially be subsidized by the taxpayer in that way. And so they would have been more properly priced in the market somewhere else.”
Russia denies Sweden’s claim that one of its military planes nearly hit a commercial jetliner over international airspace on Friday, but one congressman said Washington needs to take the near-collision as a serious threat from the Kremlin.
Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.), an Air Force pilot, said he doesn’t believe Russia as they try to sweep the incident under the rug.
“Look, especially when it comes to commercial airliners, flying close to each other is not something that you do. This is obviously the Russians’ attempt to show power and show that they have the teeth of a bear, to try to bully their neighbors, and it’s just — it’s ludicrous,” Kinzinger told Fox.
“I mean, any time you come near — the Russians can basically claim that the Ukrainians shot down the airliner out of Ukraine, but we know that they did it. And that’s what’s going to happen,” he continued. “They are going to go harass these airliners and, some day, there’s going to be something that happens where maybe a Russian jet collides with an airliner again and they have to answer to that.”
“But, no, I’m not buying that this is no big deal. It’s a show of force by the Russians and we’ve been seeing this now for the last year.”
Sweden and Denmark summoned their ambassadors from Moscow to protest the incident, according to The Moscow Times. Danish Foreign Minister Martin Lidegaard said it was “completely unreasonable that civilian lives are put in danger in this way.”
The Russian intelligence plane had turned off its transponder to cloak itself from radar in the region. The Scandinavian Airlines flight involved was headed from Copenhagen to Poland.
“There were no prerequisites for an air accident,” Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Major General Igor Konashenkov said.
Kinzinger said the first step is calling attention to what Russia is doing.
“The Russians are trying to intimidate folks. We need to show the Russians that not only are we going to be intimidated, we’re going to respond with increased NATO presence and flights along the Russian border and in the sea. This is going to be important to do. I think when you see jets — Russian jets intercepting airliners, let’s shadow with NATO jets, if we can do that,” the congressman said.
“But ultimately, again, it’s bringing shame to the Russians. You’re not showing us that you’re tough. You’re showing us that you’re reckless, doing this with innocent airline passengers, and getting yourself in a position where you may collide. I’m a pilot. I know one mistake can lead to a collision. It’s very dangerous and reckless, and not a good neighbor.”
Kinzinger added that “turning off your IFF, your squawk, your transponder is also showing a hostile intention in some cases.”
“So, look, the Russians are not being good neighbors. They are trying to show off. But it should be very clear that while there won’t be a shooting war between the West and Russia, their military would be dispatched quite quickly if, in fact, it came to that,” he said.
“When I was in Kurdistan with the military — I was there I think in 2006 — I remember the Russian jets flying over our base as a show of force. It was a frog-foot jet. And they’ve been doing this for a while. But they’re really stepping it up. So if they claim it’s a response to sanctions, maybe in their mind, it is, but this is not new. The Russians under Vladimir Putin have decided that they want to try to rebuild the pieces of the Soviet Union. And this is part of that. It’s provocation. It’s show of force. And I think the West needs to respond, not by escalation but showing that we won’t be bullied.”
Taliban terrorists stormed a school in Peshawar, Pakistan, today, killing at least 131, according to Pakistani newspaper Dawn.
President Obama released a statement condemning the “heinous” attack on the Army Public School, but didn’t mention the Taliban by name.
“The United States condemns in the strongest possible terms today’s horrific attack on the Army Public School in Peshawar, Pakistan. Our hearts and prayers go out to the victims, their families, and loved ones,” Obama said. “By targeting students and teachers in this heinous attack, terrorists have once again shown their depravity.”
“We stand with the people of Pakistan, and reiterate the commitment of the United States to support the Government of Pakistan in its efforts to combat terrorism and extremism and to promote peace and stability in the region.”
A statement issued by the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad also didn’t mention those responsible. “The United States strongly condemns senseless and inhumane attacks on innocent students and educators, and stands in solidarity with the people of Pakistan, and all who fight the menace of terrorism,” it said.
“Few have suffered more at the hands of terrorists and extremists than the people of Pakistan,” the statement added, saying “that is why it remains essential for the United States and Pakistan to continue to work together to secure peace and stability in the region.”
According to Dawn, initial reports said eight to 10 Taliban staged the attack and by the end six were killed. At least 100 of the dead are children, both boys and girls and mostly in their early teens, and “scores” are injured. The Pakistani Army said they have responded with airstrikes in Khyber.
DG Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) Maj-Gen Asim Bajwa tweeted that the terrorists planted IEDs in the building, which were delaying the rescue of survivors.
Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said the country would observe a three-day period of mourning. “These were my children. This is my loss. This is the nation’s loss,” he said.
A Pakistan Taliban spokesman told CNN that the latest attack was “revenge for the killing of hundreds of innocent tribesmen during repeated army operations in provinces including South Waziristan, North Waziristan and the Khyber Agency.”
Malala Yousazai, the Nobel laureate who was shot in the head by Taliban in 2012 for lobbying for a girl’s right to education, issued a statement saying she was “heartbroken by this senseless and cold blooded act of terror in Peshawar that is unfolding before us.”
“Innocent children in their school have no place in horror such as this,” the 17-year-old said. ”I condemn these atrocious and cowardly acts and stand united with the government and armed forces of Pakistan whose efforts so far to address this horrific event are commendable.”
Over the weekend, the Afghanistan Taliban called for an international investigation into the human rights standards of the United States after the Senate Intelligence Committee Democrats released a lengthy report criticizing enhanced interrogation techniques used in the war on terror.
“We call on the international community as well as those international organizations that call themselves champions of human rights, to examine America’s ongoing policy in light of these human rights standards,” the group said.
This harrowing account was relayed by a 16-year-old survivor to an Agence France-Presse reporter:
“Someone screamed at us to get down and hide below the desks,” he said, adding that the gunmen shouted “Allahu akbar” (God is greatest) before opening fire.
“Then one of them shouted: ‘There are so many children beneath the benches, go and get them’,” Salman told AFP.
“I saw a pair of big black boots coming towards me, this guy was probably hunting for students hiding beneath the benches.”
Salman said he felt searing pain as he was shot in both his legs just below the knee. He decided to play dead, adding: “I folded my tie and pushed it into my mouth so that I wouldn’t scream. The man with big boots kept on looking for students and pumping bullets into their bodies. I lay as still as I could and closed my eyes, waiting to get shot again,” he said.
“My body was shivering. I saw death so close and I will never forget the black boots approaching me. I felt as though it was death that was approaching me,” Salman added further.
…As his father, a shopkeeper, comforted him in his blood-soaked bed, Salman recalled: “The men left after some time and I stayed there for a few minutes. Then I tried to get up but fell to the ground because of my wounds. When I crawled to the next room, it was horrible. I saw the dead body of our office assistant on fire,” he said.
“She was sitting on the chair with blood dripping from her body as she burned,” Salman added.
It was not immediately clear how the female employee’s body caught fire, though her remains were also later seen by an AFP reporter in a hospital mortuary.
Some of the bodies brought to hospital during the Peshawar school attack have been headless: source
— omar r quraishi (@omar_quraishi) December 16, 2014
Leave the school as it is – with the blood of the innocents – like a macabre museum – and require all apologists to take a tour of it
— omar r quraishi (@omar_quraishi) December 16, 2014
‘Despite NRA’s Negative Onslaught,’ Controversial Surgeon General Pick Squeaks Through Confirmation Vote
Dr. Vivek Murthy, a Harvard Medical School instructor who founded Doctors for Obama (which changed its name to Doctors for America), was nominated by President Obama to be surgeon general in November 2013.
The 37-year-old’s nomination stalled amid opposition in the upper chamber, yet was one of the flurry of nominees whose cloture votes were pushed through in the extended weekend Senate session. Today, Murthy was barely confirmed 51-43, with six senators not voting.
The only Republican to vote for Murthy’s confirmation was Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.). Among the nays were Democrats Joe Donnelly (Ind.) and Joe Manchin (W.Va.).
“Our surgeon general serves as America’s leader on public health services and chooses what health policies we should prioritize. For that reason, I don’t believe it’s appropriate for America’s number one doctor to participate in political activism,” Manchin said. “It is essential that the surgeon general gains the public’s trust, so this position must be separated from the political arena.”
“After meeting with Dr. Murthy, I don’t question his medical qualifications; I just question whether the public will believe that he can separate his political beliefs from his public health views,” he added. “I am wary that his past comments and political involvement will have an impact on his leadership capabilities and effectiveness. For these reasons, I am unable to vote for his confirmation as the United States’ next surgeon general.”
The National Rifle Association issued a legislative alert Friday warning that the long-delayed confirmation of Murthy, who has equated gun violence with a “public health epidemic,” was imminent.
“The coordination between the Brady Campaign and those seeking to engineer Dr. Murthy’s confirmation heightens already significant concerns about his willingness to politicize the office of Surgeon General to promote gun control,” the NRA’s Chris Cox wrote to Senate leaders.
Democratic senators who have traditionally supported gun rights but were defeated in midterms — Sens. Mark Begich (Alaska) and Mark Pryor (Ark.) — voted for Murthy. So did Kay Hagan (D-N.C.), who ran unsuccessfully on a 2nd Amendment platform.
Obama issued a statement praising the confirmation of the Doctors for Obama leader. “As ‘America’s Doctor,’ Vivek will hit the ground running to make sure every American has the information they need to keep themselves and their families safe,” Obama said. “He’ll bring his lifetime of experience promoting public health to bear on priorities ranging from stopping new diseases to helping our kids grow up healthy and strong.”
“Vivek will also help us build on the progress we’ve made combatting Ebola, both in our country and at its source,” the president continued. “Combined with the crucial support for fighting Ebola included in the bill to fund our government next year, Vivek’s confirmation makes us better positioned to save lives around the world and protect the American people here at home.”
Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), who was in Hartford earlier in the day marking the two-year anniversary of the Sandy Hook school shooting, said the NRA had “spun a specious smokescreen” on Murthy’s nomination, “working shamefully and tirelessly to block him simply because he stated the obvious fact that gun violence is a public health issue.”
“Despite the NRA’s negative onslaught, today the United States gets a great surgeon general and a superbly qualified public health leader,” Blumenthal said.
But Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), one of the physicians serving in Congress, said in a floor speech today that while Murthy has “impressive academic credentials and I’m sure he will be a fine doctor,” they’re “simply not sufficient qualifications for this important job.”
“Is Dr. Murthy a renowned expert in treating patients or researching diseases? No, not at all. He’s not. Has he actually built a career teaching medicine or leading public health organizations? No, not yet. In fact, Dr. Murthy only completed his medical training, his residency, in 2006, just eight years ago,” Barrasso said. “Now, I speak as someone who has actually practiced medicine for 25 years, who has been an instructor of surgery at Yale Medical School that Dr. Murthy attended. And I saw that being a doctor is about much more than going to school.”
“The majority of his career has been spent not as a doctor treating patients but as an activist, an activist focused on gun control and political campaigns. Even former Surgeon General Richard Carmona has said that Dr. Murthy doesn’t have the medical experience to serve in such an important position. Let me point out, Dr. Carmona is a Democrat.”
Americans, Barrasso argued, “don’t want a doctor who might let political ideology get in the way of treatment and their best interest.”
“Americans don’t want a Surgeon General who might use this position of trust to promote his own personal campaign against the Second Amendment of the Constitution,” he said. “This is just another example of President Obama giving someone an important job based solely on their support of the president’s political career.”
Though Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said he didn’t think Murthy would get confirmed until Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Mike Lee (R-Utah) sent the Senate into weekend session with their cromnibus objections, Lee told Fox today that wasn’t the case.
“Look, this is an outgoing Democratic Senate majority. It would’ve been political malpractice for [Reid] to adjourn for the year without getting these things through,” Lee said. “I can guarantee you not one person will be confirmed as a result of this that would not otherwise have been confirmed.”
NRA press conference disappointing but predictable – blame everything in the world except guns for the Newtown tragedy. #wakeup
— Vivek Murthy (@vivek_murthy) December 21, 2012
— Vivek Murthy (@vivek_murthy) April 20, 2013
— Vivek Murthy (@vivek_murthy) April 21, 2013
Signs of progress-we got 20 votes in the senate in favor of gun violence legislation that we wouldn’t have had 1 year ago. Have faith #dr4a
— Vivek Murthy (@vivek_murthy) April 21, 2013
— Vivek Murthy (@vivek_murthy) April 21, 2013
Iran tried to distance itself from the Iranian cleric who took over a cafe in Sydney, saying Man Haran Monis’ actions had nothing to do with Islam.
The 49-year-old, who called himself Sheikh Haron, was killed when police stormed the Lindt cafe after a 16-hour standoff. Australian authorities said they were forced to move in when they heard shots being fired inside the chocolate shop.
Monis was killed. Two hostages were killed, and a police officer was shot in the face yet is expected to survive.
The Iranian sought political asylum in Australia in 1996.
Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Marziyeh Afkham expressed alarm about “unclear and imperfect news about the Iranian refugee,” according to the official Islamic Republic News Agency, which didn’t carry the story of the shooting until the government had something to say.
IRNA said the “psychological conditions of the person, who took refuge in Australia two decades ago, had been discussed several times with the Australian officials.”
Iran’s state-owned Press TV said Afkham “emphasized on Monday that recourse to inhuman methods and terrorism has nothing to do with the divine religion of Islam.”
“She noted that the Australian police have been totally abreast of psychological conditions of the hostage taker, who had immigrated to Australia about two decades ago.”
Iran further tried to tie him to ISIS, noting that “the hostage taker had described Iran and the supporters of the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as terrorists.” Monis was wearing a Shiite headband when he took over the cafe, yet reportedly asked for an ISIS flag during negotiations.
“Some blame the incident on those who support terrorism, including the United States, Israel, and certain regimes in the Middle East region that support such Takfiri groups as al-Nusra Front and ISIL,” Press TV reported.
The semi-official Fars News Agency ran with the headline: “Sydney Hostage-Taker Says He is ISIL Member.” Fars said the generic jihadi flag being waved by Monis was that of al-Nusra.
“The formerly Shiite Muslim underlines that he has converted to Sunni Islam, stressing that Shiites are blasphemous people,” read the Fars story. “He also underscores that the war in Iraq is not a sectarian strife, but a war between the Muslims (i.e. ISIL) and the hypocrites.”
After immigrating to Australia, Monis went to court over hateful letters written to the families of soldiers killed in Afghanistan. He was out on bail on charges of being accessory to the murder of his ex-wife, and subsequently faced more than 50 charges of indecent acts and sexual assault related to his “spiritual healer” practice.
On his website, Monis posted a statement dated December 2014, “I used to be a Rafidi, but not anymore. Now I am a Muslim, Alhamdu Lillah.”
“Islam is the religion of peace, that’s why Muslims fight against the oppression and terrorism of USA and its allies including UK and Australia. If we stay silent towards the criminals we cannot have a peaceful society,” he said in a statement dated Dec. 14. “The more you fight with crime, the more peaceful you are. Islam wants peace on the Earth, that’s why Muslims want to stop terrorism of America and its allies. When you speak out against crime you have taken one step towards peace.”
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and other lawmakers are lobbying the Department of Health and Human Services to scrap “outdated” polices on blood donation by gay and bisexual men.
The policy on MSM — men who have sex with men — being banned from donating blood is “because MSM are, as a group, at increased risk for HIV, hepatitis B and certain other infections that can be transmitted by transfusion,” the FDA says in a Q&A.
“FDA’s primary responsibility with regard to blood and blood products is to assure the safety of patients who receive these life-saving products,” the website explains. “…FDA’s deferral policy is based on the documented increased risk of certain transfusion transmissible infections, such as HIV, associated with male-to-male sex and is not based on any judgment concerning the donor’s sexual orientation.”
Warren, along with Sens. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) and Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and Reps. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.) and Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), wrote a letter to HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell today asking that the blanket prohibition be replaced with an individual risk analysis.
Seventy-five other members of Congress signed the letter.
They noted that on Nov. 13 the HHS Advisory Committee on Blood and Tissue Safety and Availability recommended changing the lifetime ban to a one-year restriction after an MSM encounter, contingent on the “implementation of a blood safety surveillance system.”
“However, such a policy still prevents many low-risk individuals from donating blood,” they wrote. “If we are serious about protecting and enhancing our nation’s blood supply, we must embrace science and reject outdated stereotypes.”
The senators said the one-year-ban proposal “like a lifetime ban is a categorial exclusion based solely on the sex of an individual’s sexual partner — not his actual risk of carrying a transfusion-transmittable infection.”
“The ACBTSA’s proposed policy change would, in practice, leave that lifetime ban in place for the vast majority of MSM, even those who are healthy and low-risk. Both policies are discriminatory, and both approaches are unacceptable. Low-risk individuals who wish to donate blood and help to save lives should not be categorically excluded because of outdated stereotypes.”
They also charged that the recommendation to hinge any change in the MSM blood donation policy to the establishment of a blood safety surveillance system “is an arbitrary condition that will inevitably result in further unnecessary delays.”
“To be clear, a comprehensive surveillance system for our blood supply is a critically important initiative to protect the blood supply from Hepatitis, HIV, and emerging diseases, and is long overdue….Years of HHS inaction on this issue is problematic, but so is the fact that ACBTSA has now suddenly chosen to make such a system a precondition of revising the donation policies specific to MSM.”
Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said the weekend drama over the “cromnibus” appropriations bill and Sen. Ted Cruz’s (R-Texas) failed point of order revealed a “huge” chasm in the GOP.
The $1.1 trillion bill passed in the Senate 56-40 on Saturday night. Between the cloture vote and the final cromnibus vote, Cruz tried to shoot down the bill with a constitutional point of order related to the funding of Obama’s immigration orders. That was firmly rebuked on a 22-74 vote.
Schumer told CNN yesterday that the biggest news of the night was “the open fight between Mitch McConnell and Ted Cruz on the — there are huge differences in the Republican Party.”
“On the floor of the Senate, we saw the soul of the Republican Party being debated,” he said. “Ted Cruz was in the well pushing his so-called constitutional point of order, which risks shutting down the government. Five feet away from him was Mitch McConnell imploring senators to vote the other way. And the vote, unfortunately, was about 50/50 on the Republican side.”
“And so that makes me worry a great deal, because if, after the terrible, terrible brickbats Republicans took when they shut down the government a few years ago, half the Republican senators are still willing to risk it again, despite the fact that their leader went against it, I’m worried about the next two years.”
Schumer predicted “it’s going to get worse” in the 114th Congress because “you have the presidential candidates in the Senate pulling things to the right” — a reference to Cruz and Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.). “We want to work with the Republicans to help the middle class, but I’m worried the Tea Party is going to pull them much too far over.”
Schumer added that the liberals splitting off in the “Warren wing” — senators and potential presidential candidates Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) voted against the cromnibus — isn’t the same issue that the GOPs are facing.
“I think that the differences between — among Democrats are small compared to the huge chasm of Republicans. On the fundamental issues that face us, the economic issues that we need to address to get the middle class moving again, to get middle-class incomes going again, there’s amazing unity on the Democratic side, from Elizabeth Warren, through Hillary Clinton, all the way to Joe Manchin and some of the more conservatives,” he said.
“You look like — on issues like minimum wage, and equal pay, and infrastructure construction, helping people pay for college, the Democratic Party is unified. And if we put together a strong economic message aimed at the middle class, not only will it unify our party, as the Republicans are truly divided, but we can actually, actually do really well in 2016.”
The “soul of the Democratic Party,” Schumer added, is “economic issues.”
“And I think, on economic issues, we are united. And Elizabeth Warren is — even if people don’t agree with her, she’s constructive. She’s not like Ted Cruz and say, shut down the government or don’t fund things if I don’t get my way. She’s working hard to move things in her direction. And that’s a good thing,” the senator said.
“Ted Cruz, on the other hand, he — people say he’s a great political mover and shaker. He made huge mistakes yesterday. Ted Cruz misfired. He helped us get nominees that Republicans didn’t want. He embarrassed Mitch McConnell, who had gone home Friday night and said, see you on Monday. And he got Republicans publicly for the first time talking against him. So I think comparing the two wings of the party is like night and day.”
The Taliban has called for an international investigation into the human rights standards of the United States after the Senate Intelligence Committee Democrats released a lengthy report criticizing enhanced interrogation techniques used in the war on terror.
Under Taliban rule, Afghans were subject to public floggings or executions for “violations” such as women wearing nail polish or exposing any skin, or both teachers and students trying to learn in underground schools. Women had zero rights and weren’t allowed to leave their homes except with a male relative. Nowadays, the Taliban commits acts of violence against activist or working women, and the Pakistani Taliban shot Nobel laureate Malala Yousafzai in 2012 while she was going to school.
“Since the inception of America’s occupation of Afghanistan, the Islamic Emirate has provided information to the international community regarding America’s barbarities and inhumane treatment of the Afghan populace. At the time, no nation dared listen to our nation’s pleas or show even slight response for fear of estranging America,” the Taliban said in a statement posted on the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan website over the weekend.
“Now after 14 years of such barbarities, the US Senate itself has lifted the curtain off of America’s intelligence arm, the CIA, and revealed the extent of their tortuous treatment of unarmed prisoners. In reality the practices of CIA mentioned in this report are only a fraction of those committed by this agency throughout America’s occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq.”
The Taliban said they hope the full Senate report — last week’s release was the executive summary — “is released to the public for passing judgment.”
“It is hoped that the full report will provide a clearer picture of the extent of these crimes,” the group added.
“…Unfortunately America’s intelligence violations continue unabated to this day. Even today America and its intelligence arms continue to operate black prisons throughout their main centers in Afghanistan. These operatives continue to violate the basic rights of ordinary citizens, they carry out night raids on civilian homes, women and children are regularly held without charges, subject them to degrading treatment, carry out indiscriminate bombings, and subject ordinary Afghans to all forms of inhumane treatment.”
The Taliban claimed the U.S. has “planted chosen individuals inside Afghanistan’s intelligence agencies as well as the local police and warlords and use these individuals to commit unspoken barbarities including kidnappings, rape and torture.”
“We call on the international community as well as those international organizations that call themselves champions of human rights, to examine America’s ongoing policy in light of these human rights standards. These human rights abuses, especially violations of international humanitarian laws, continue to be committed by American installed agents in the Kabul regime. If these human rights organizations fail to stop these abuses and then several years later claim to reveal such abuses, it is a sign of their failure and incompetent. Their failure to address such blatant violations implies that these organizations are concerned less with addressing human rights violations and more with promoting hidden agendas.”