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Bridget Johnson

Bridget Johnson is a veteran journalist whose news articles and opinion columns have run in dozens of news outlets across the globe. Bridget first came to Washington to be online editor at The Hill, where she wrote The World from The Hill column on foreign policy. Previously she was an opinion writer and editorial board member at the Rocky Mountain News and nation/world news columnist at the Los Angeles Daily News. She is an NPR contributor and has contributed to USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, National Review Online, Politico and more, and has myriad television and radio credits as a commentator. Bridget is Washington Editor for PJ Media.
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White House ‘Closely Watching’ Hong Kong Protests; China Says Butt Out

Monday, September 29th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

The White House said Monday it supports “the aspirations of the Hong Kong people” as thousands have filled the streets in defiance of the Chinese government to demand democracy.

The Occupy Central movement is protesting law that requires Beijing to approve chief executive candidates, and the PRC today warned other countries against siding with the demonstrators.

“I have read the news reports about this. I can tell you that the U.S. government is closely watching the situation in Hong Kong,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest said today when asked about the protests. “Around the world — so this is true in Hong Kong and other places — the United States supports internationally recognized fundamental freedoms such as the freedom of peaceful assembly and the freedom of expression. The United States urges the Hong Kong authorities to exercise restraint and for protesters to express their views peacefully.”

Protesters have been using a sea of colorful umbrellas to shield themselves from tear gas and pepper spray being fired at crowds, thus earning the movement the nickname “Umbrella Revolution.”

“The United States supports universal suffrage — universal suffrage in Hong Kong in accordance with the basic law. And we support the aspirations of the Hong Kong people,” Earnest continued. “We believe that an open society with the highest possible degree of autonomy, and governed by the rule of law is essential for Hong Kong stability and prosperity. Indeed, this is what has made Hong Kong such a successful and truly global city to this point.”

“But we have consistently made our position known to Beijing, and will continue to do so. We believe that the basic legitimacy of the chief executive in Hong Kong will be greatly enhanced if the basic law’s ultimate aim of selection of the chief executive by universal suffrage is fulfilled. We also believe that the legitimacy of the chief executive will be enhanced if the election provides the people of Hong Kong a genuine choice of candidates that are representative of the peoples’ and the voters’ will.”

When asked if the White House would like to see Hong Kong demonstrators’ demands of free speech and democracy extended to mainland China as well, Earnest replied  ”the short answer to that is yes.”

“The longer answer is that we make a point out of every interaction with Chinese — senior Chinese Government officials that respect for basic universal human rights is critically important. There’s no question that it’s the foundation of our democracy,” he continued. “We believe that it should be the foundation of any government and that that respect for an protection of basic universal human rights is an important principle and it’s a principle that is raised every time that a senior member of this administration is dealing with a senior member of the Chinese Government.”

President Obama travels to Beijing in November, and Earnest said “the president will certainly raise that the protection of basic universal human rights is critically important.”

“That’s something that the president has done in every interaction that he’s had with the Chinese leadership and I’m confident that that will be part of the conversation that he is looking forward to having in November.”

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying stressed at a press conference today that the “central government firmly opposes all kinds of illegal acts in Hong Kong that undermine the rule of law and sabotage social security and fully believes and strongly supports the lawful handling of the case by the Hong Kong SAR government.”

“We have noticed remarks made by certain countries. I’d like to reiterate that Hong Kong is China’s Kong Kong, which is a special administrative region of China,” Hua said. “Hong Kong affairs fully fall within China’s domestic affairs. We hope that relevant countries can be prudent in their words and deeds, refrain from interfering in the internal affairs of Hong Kong in any way, stay away from supporting the illegal acts such as ‘Occupy Central,’ and do not send out wrong signals.”

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) noted that he wrote Secretary of State John Kerry two weeks ago about China’s undermining Hong Kong’s autonomous status.

“The people of Hong Kong want nothing more than what those in free countries around the globe have: the right to peacefully assemble, speak freely and choose their own leaders. The protesters have taken to the streets peacefully, with nothing more than umbrellas in hand. The security forces use tear gas and threaten greater force,” Rubio said today in a statement.

“They use police investigative powers to intimidate free press and those who support rights of free association. Meanwhile, the government in Beijing censors news and information about developments in Hong Kong to those on the mainland, going so far as to block social media sites such as Instagram.”

Rubio said the Obama administration “must make clear that any violence against peaceful protesters will have significant consequences for U.S.-China relations.”

The senator added he was “disheartened” by the reaction of the U.S. Consulate in Hong Kong: “We do not take sides in the discussion of Hong Kong’s political development, nor do we support any particular individuals or groups involved in it.”

“It is longstanding U.S. policy, enshrined in the Hong Kong Policy Act of 1992, to support democratization in Hong Kong and to support the human rights of the people of Hong Kong,” Rubio said. “America should be on the side of those in the street peacefully protesting for their fundamental freedoms.”

 

 

 

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Netanyahu: ‘The Nazis Believed in a Master Race; the Militant Islamists Believe in a Master Faith’

Monday, September 29th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned the United Nations General Assembly today about “militant Islam” and chided those who don’t see the connections between ISIS and Hamas or Iran.

“Last week, many of the countries represented here rightly applauded President Obama for leading the effort to confront ISIS. And yet weeks before, some of these same countries, same countries that now support confronting ISIS opposed Israel for confronting Hamas,” Netanyahu said.

“They evidently don’t understand that ISIS and Hamas are branches of the same poisonous tree. ISIS and Hamas share a fanatical creed, which they both seek to impose well beyond the territory under their control. Listen to ISIS self-declared caliph, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi,” he continued. “This is what he said two months ago. ‘A day will soon come when the Muslim will walk everywhere as a master. The Muslims who caused the world to hear and understand the meaning of terrorism and destroy the idol of democracy.’”

“Now listen to Khaled Mashal, the leader of Hamas. He proclaims a similar vision of the future. ‘We say this to the west: by Allah, you will be defeated. Tomorrow our nation will sit on the throne of the world.’”

Netanyahu stressed that even if these groups operate in different lands, “they all seek to create ever-expanding enclaves of militant Islam where there is no freedom and no tolerance; where women are treated as cattle; Christians are decimated; and minorities are subjugated, sometimes given the stark choice: convert or die.”

“The Nazis believed in a master race. The militant Islamists believe in a master faith,” he said. “They just disagree who among them will be the master of the master faith.”

The prime minister said “the Islamic State of Iran” is where militant Islam could soon “have the power to realize its unbridled ambitions.”

“Iran’s president, Rouhani, stood here last week and shed crocodile tears over what he called the globalization of terrorism. Maybe he should spare us those phony tears and have a word instead with the commanders of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards. He could ask them to call off Iran’s global terror campaign, which has included attacks in two dozen countries, on five continents since 2011 alone,” Netanyahu said.

“You know, to say that Iran doesn’t practice terrorism is like saying Derek Jeter never played shortstop for the New York Yankees.”

Netanyahu, who will meet with President Obama on Wednesday at the White House, warned everyone to not “be fooled by Iran’s manipulative charm offensive.”

“It’s designed for one purpose and for one purpose, only, to lift the sanctions and remove the obstacles to Iran’s path to the bomb,” he said.

“…It’s one thing to confront militant Islamists on pickup trucks armed with Kalashnikov rifles. It’s another thing to confront militant Islamists armed with weapons of mass destruction.”

The Israeli leader presented a stark comparison with the terror group that has captured Washington’s attention as of late.

“Would you let ISIS enrich uranium? Would you let ISIS build a heavy-water reactor? Would you let ISIS develop inter-continental ballistic missiles? Of course you wouldn’t. Then you mustn’t let the Islamic state of Iran do those things either, because here’s what’ll happen,” Netanyahu said. “Once Iran produces atomic bombs, all the charms and all the smiles will suddenly disappear. They’ll just vanish. And it’s then that the ayatollahs will show their true face and unleash their aggressive fanaticism on the entire world.”

“Make no mistake, ISIS must be defeated. But to defeat ISIS and leave Iran as a threshold nuclear power is to win the battle and lose the war.”

Netanyahu also defended Israel from attacks from the UN Human Rights Council — he dubbed it the “Terrorist Rights Council” — and stressed that “Israel is fighting a fanaticism today that your countries may be forced to fight tomorrow.”

“For 50 days this past summer, Hamas fired thousands of rockets at Israel, many of them supplied by Iran,” he said. “…Israel justly defended itself against both rocket attacks and terror tunnels… Israel was doing everything to minimize Palestinian civilian casualties. Hamas was doing everything to maximize Israeli civilian casualties and Palestinian civilian casualties.”

“Israel’s soldiers deserve not condemnation but admiration, admiration from decent people everywhere.”

Netanyahu held aloft a photo of Hamas rocket launchers nestled in a civilian neighborhood, images captured by French journalists.

“I say to President Abbas, these are the crimes, the war crimes, committed by your Hamas partners in the national unity government which you head and you are responsible for,” he added. “And these are the real war crimes you should have investigated or spoken out against from this podium last week.”

“…Hamas, which both targeted and hid behind civilians, that’s a double war crime, Hamas is given a pass. The Human Rights Council is thus sending a clear message to terrorists everywhere: Use civilians as a human shield. Use them again and again and again. And you know why? Because, sadly, it works.”

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Admin Lauds ‘Key Outcomes’ of UN Human Rights Council, Including LGBT Discrimination Resolution

Monday, September 29th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

President Obama reversed President George W. Bush’s decision to boycott the UN Human Rights Council, and the State Department said the 27th session last week “underscored the importance of robust U.S. engagement at the Council, where the United States continues to work with countries from all regions to address urgent human rights concerns.”

“U.S. leadership helped to keep the Council at the forefront of international efforts to promote and protect human rights, including by underscoring the critical role of civil society,” the department said in a fact sheet detailing “key outcomes” at the session:

LGBT: The Council adopted the second-ever UN resolution on violence and discrimination facing LGBT persons world-wide. Brazil, Chile, Colombia and Uruguay led the resolution, with the United States co-sponsoring and lobbying heavily. Countries from every geographic region joined its supporters. The resolution will lead to further UN reporting on this critical human rights issue.

Civil Society Space: The United States proudly supported the HRC’s second resolution urging states to create and maintain, in law and in practice, a safe and enabling environment for civil society. The Ireland-led resolution underscored the importance for civil society to be able to seek, receive, and use resources and affirmed freedom of expression

Syria: The HRC’s 15th resolution on Syria focused on torture and the situation in Syrian prisons, and reiterated the international community’s demand for unfettered humanitarian access in Syria.

Yemen, CAR, DRC, and Sudan: The United States co-sponsored resolutions on Yemen, the Central African Republic, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, highlighting our shared commitment to protecting human rights through assistance and enhanced dialogue. The Council extended the mandate of the Independent Expert on Sudan, through a resolution that criticized ongoing violations and abuses of human rights in Sudan.

Journalists, FGM, and Political Participation: The HRC’s Safety of Journalists resolution condemned recent violence against journalists and urged states to provide protection and prevent such actions. The Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) resolution acknowledged progress toward the elimination of FGM but underlined ongoing concerns. The Equal Participation in Political and Public Affairs resolution urged all states to eliminate barriers to the full participation of all citizens in political and public affairs.

The LGBT resolution was singled out in a statement by Secretary of State John Kerry, who said the “historic” passage “marks yet another important chapter in UN efforts to stand united against the human rights abuses that LGBT individuals face around the world.”

The vote was 25 in favor and 14 against, with seven abstentions.

Countries voting against the measure, which “takes note with appreciation of the report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights entitled ‘Discriminatory laws and practices and acts of violence against individuals based on their sexual orientation and gender identity’” and commissions a major report on challenges facing gays worldwide, were Algeria, Botswana, Côte d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Gabon, Indonesia, Kenya, Kuwait, Maldives, Morocco, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.

Pakistan said “the wider connotations of sexual orientation could be detrimental” and “Muslims strongly believed that their religious and cultural values should be respected.”

“The United States will continue to promote human rights around the world for all people,” Kerry said. “Who you love, and who you are, must not be an excuse or cover for discrimination or abuse, period.”

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McCain: Obama’s Plan to Train Syrians to Fight ISIS But Not Assad ‘Unworkable’ and ‘Immoral’

Monday, September 29th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

When asked on CBS 60 Minutes Sunday night if the battle against ISIS was really a war or not, President Obama called it ”assisting Iraq in a very real battle that’s taking place on their soil, with their troops, but we are providing air support.”

“And it is in our interests to do that because ISIL represents sort of a hybrid of not just a terrorist network but one with territorial ambitions and so some of the strategy and tactics of an army,” Obama continued. “This is not America against ISIL.”

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said this morning that Obama is framing it wrong: “This is ISIL against America.”

“When Mr. Baghdadi left our prison after spending four years, he walked out and said I’ll see you in America,” McCain said of the self-proclaimed caliph. “All you have to do is watch what they’re saying. And, again, I am just puzzled by the president, some of his statements, for example, he left behind a stable Iraq. We have predicted exactly what would happen.”

“…It is a direct result of our failure to leave a residual force behind. And when they say we couldn’t, they are not telling the truth, because I was over there with Lindsey Graham and Joe Lieberman and we know it for a fact. So — and this here idea that somehow we didn’t know that this was happening, of course we knew it. We saw it happening.”

McCain then turned to Obama’s strategy of training 5,000 Free Syrian Army in Saudi Arabia and sending them back, a process expected to take many months.

“But are we going to do anything about Bashar Assad’s air attack? Dropping these horrible air bombs on them? Are we going to ask young men to train and equip and we send them back to be slaughtered by Bashar Assad’s air power? We need a no-fly zone,” the senator said. If Assad breaches it, “we take on his air force.”

“Assad in my view has been responsible for 192,000 Syrians dead. There are 150,000 Syrians in his prison. He has used chemical weapons. He uses these barrel bombs. Yes. And he’s directly supported by the Iranians who sent in 5,000 Hezbollah and changed the whole momentum on the battlefield. Of course, are you going to ask these young people, by the way, we’re going to train and equip you, but you are going to fight against ISIS, but not against Assad? It’s not only unworkable. It’s immoral.”

McCain called the unwillingness of legislative leaders to come back and vote on the military action “an act of cowardice on the part of Congress.”

“They didn’t want to vote before the election,” he added. “…Air power alone does not win wars. I was in one when they tried that. So air power alone, we’re going to have to have boots on the ground if we’re really going to succeed.”

“ISIS has wiped out the boundary between Iraq and Syria. What is the difference between it now? They have a caliphate larger than the size of the state of Indiana. So for us to say, well, and our British friends, we’ll bomb them in Iraq but not in Syria. Why? There is no boundary anymore. ISIS goes back and forth between. In fact, now they will go into the populated areas.”

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Karzai Says Afghanistan ‘Deserves a Better Life’ as He Turns Over the Reins of Power

Monday, September 29th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

After 13 years in power, 10 of those as an elected president, President Hamid Karzai today handed the reins over to new leadership in Afghanistan.

Ashraf Ghani was sworn in as president. His wife, Lebanese Christian Rula Ghani, promises to be a more visible first lady in Afghanistan than her predecessor, Dr. Zeenat Karzai, who was rarely seen in public.

The new chief executive officer, a newly created position with duties similar to a prime minister, will be filled by Abdullah Abdullah. He and Ghani worked out the power-sharing agreement after Abdullah contested the results of the presidential election runoff, citing widespread fraud.

Karzai delivered his final address to the nation Sunday night, vowing that “sooner or later, there will certainly be peace in the country.”

“When I first came to office, we didn’t have a flag, or a currency. We were the object of foreign agendas. We were homeless in our own country,” he said. “I am proud to have worked toward bringing the nation together to live under one flag in their shared homeland. I am proud to have worked toward rebuilding the nation that our ancestors had built. I am proud to see kids going to school all over the country and singing the national anthem with pride and joy every day.”

Afghanistan, he stressed, “deserves a better life.”

“Today we are working as one united team for a better Afghanistan,” Abdullah, a longtime political rival of Karzai, said after being sworn in today. “Afghanistan today is in need of cooperation, brotherhood, unity and partnership more than ever.”

The White House sent counselor John Podesta to lead the American delegation at the inaugural.

The U.S. delegation also included Marine Sgt. Miroslav Kazimir, who was badly wounded by a roadside bomb in 2011.

“Today we congratulate President Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai and Chief Executive Officer Abdullah Abdullah on this historic inauguration. I have known both of them for many years, and they are both patriots committed to the success of their country. Never has that been more evident than in the spirit of cooperation and partnership that united them in establishing a government of national unity to fulfill Afghan aspirations for peace, prosperity and stability,” Secretary of State John Kerry said in a statement.

“Afghans have taken a moment of challenge and turned it into a moment of real opportunity.”

Kerry also lauded Karzai’s “contributions to the cause of democracy, development and security.”

“It’s no secret that our relationship with President Karzai has been punctuated by disagreements,” he said. “But always, always, the world has recognized that he is a nationalist, a patriot, and an important figure who stepped forward when his country needed him, and helped profoundly shape one of the most challenging periods in Afghan history that has seen remarkable progress.”

Notably, Karzai refused to sign a bilateral security agreement that Ghani will now sign.

“If I learned anything from my recent visits to Kabul, it’s that the Afghan people are determined to choose unity over division and ensure that the first peaceful democratic transition in the history of their country will not be its last,” Kerry continued.

“This is a beginning not an ending, and with all beginnings the toughest decisions are still ahead. As Afghanistan enters this new chapter in its history, the United States looks forward to deepening its enduring partnership with a sovereign, unified and democratic Afghanistan.”

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J Street Fundraising for Dems with Focus on Four Tight Senate Races

Monday, September 29th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

The J Street PAC is trying to raise funds to push Democrats to victory in two of the tightest Senate races in the country.

In the latest Real Clear Politics poll average, Rep. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) takes a slim, statistically insignificant lead of 0.8 points over Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.). In a Quinnipiac poll earlier this month, Gardner bested Udall by 8 points.

In the race to fill retiring Sen. Tom Harkin’s (D-Iowa) seat, state Sen. Joni Ernst (R) has a small lead of 2.2 points in the latest Real Clear Politics polling average on Rep. Bruce Braley (D-Iowa).

In an email to supporters of the “pro-Israel, pro-peace” organization, J Street political director Dan Kalik calls Udall and Braley “two of J Street’s strongest allies on the Hill.”

“We can’t afford to lose these two races,” Kalik writes. “Mark’s opponent has spoken out strongly against President Obama’s diplomatic effort to halt Iran’s nuclear program. Bruce’s opponent has called on Congress to defund the Palestinian Authority.”

“If Mark and Bruce don’t have the resources they need in these last few weeks, you can expect their opponents’ dangerous, neoconservative ideas to gain momentum in the Senate.”

The email asks for $18 donations ahead of Tuesday’s “crucial” FEC quarterly fundraising deadline.

J Street has also been fundraising for Michelle Nunn in Georgia and Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), who is getting hit on foreign policy issues from former Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown (R).

“It’s bad enough when any senator from New Hampshire has the reputation of a partisan follower,” Brown said in a speech last week. “But when our senator, a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, just goes along like another naïve follower of Barack Obama, missing obvious realities and opportunities to lead in the current security environment – that’s when you’ve really got to worry.”

Nunn, the former CEO of the Points of Light Foundation, has come under fire for the fact that the charity encouraged donations to Islamic Relief USA, the U.S. affiliate of World Islamic Relief that has been banned in Israel for supporting Hamas.

A campaign memo leaked over the summer showed the Nunn campaign’s strategy for courting the Jewish community.

“Michelle’s position on Israel will largely determine the level of support here,” the memo said. “There is tremendous financial opportunity, but the level of support will be contingent on her position. This applies not only to PACs, but individual donors as well.”

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CAIR: Holder Did ‘Very Little’ to Address ‘Harassment of Muslim Communities’ by Law Enforcement

Monday, September 29th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

The Council on American-Islamic Relations reacted to Attorney General Eric Holder’s resignation announcement by calling on him to do more before he leaves office.

Holder said he will stay until a successor is confirmed.

“The American Muslim community will remember Holder’s tenure as a period in which the civil rights of Muslims and other minorities were either defended with the greatest vigor in some arenas, or completely disregarded in others,” CAIR said in a statement, adding that Holder’s DOJ “forcefully confronted discrimination of Muslim employees in the workplace, challenged neglect or bullying of children in schools, upheld the right of communities to build mosques and cemeteries, and prosecuted perpetrators of hate crimes and acts of vandalism.”

“Mr. Holder also oversaw the FBI’s purge of hundreds of anti-Muslim training materials used in counterterrorism trainings as well as the banning of biased instructors.”

CAIR also lauded Holder for his “vigorous defense of the nation’s immigrant community from overreaching state immigration laws and from state laws restricting ballot access.”

“Unfortunately, the DOJ under Mr. Holder’s watch did very little to address frequent reports of FBI harassment of Muslim communities, profiling, intimidation, warrantless surveillance, use of ex-convicts as community spies, informant driven plots of entrapment, coercion to speak without legal representation, purposeful misapplication of terrorist watch lists — including the extrajudicial exile of American citizens traveling abroad — inappropriate religious questioning at the U.S. border and ports of entry, acts of wrongful detention, and lethal use of force,” the statement continued.

“Mr. Holder also failed to respond to the request of more than 120 civil rights, religious and community groups calling on the DOJ to investigate the New York City Police Department’s (NYPD) sweeping surveillance of American Muslim institutes including houses of worship, student groups and businesses that cater to the Muslim community. While the NYPD unit that conducted the spying was disbanded in April, the city has not assured community members that it will put a permanent end to mass surveillance or other forms of biased and predatory policing.”

CAIR notes “reports indicate that Mr. Holder’s update to the guidance will still include exceptions for federal law enforcement agents to profile in cases of national security and border enforcement – an exception that will negatively impact Hispanic and Muslim communities.”

“As Mr. Holder prepares to make his exit, CAIR strongly urges that he issue guidelines on racial profiling that protect the rights of all Americans without any exceptions.”

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White House ‘Not Going to Get Ahead’ of Motive Investigation in Oklahoma Beheading

Sunday, September 28th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

Deputy National Security Adviser Tony Blinken told Fox News this morning that “we don’t know” if the beheading of a woman by a Muslim co-worker in Oklahoma last week was terrorism.

Alton Nolen, 30, a recent convert to Islam, reportedly tried to convince co-workers at the Vaughn Food processing plant in Moore, Okla, to convert before last week’s murder. His Facebook page was under the name Jah’Keem Yisrael and included images of jihadists and Quran citations.

After being notified he was being let go from his job, he went to the front office of the plant and attacked 54-year-old Colleen Hufford with a knife, beheading her. He then stabbed 43-year-old Traci Johnson, who survived, multiple times before being shot by the company’s CEO, Mark Vaughn.

“The FBI has an active investigation. I’m not going to get ahead of it. Let’s see what they find,” Blinken told Fox.

“But as we all now with Nidal Hasan, when he shot up and kill the number of American soldiers, the administration labeled it workplace violence,” host Chris Wallace asked the White House official. “Are you willing to call this an act of terror if, in fact, that’s what it is?”

“I don’t want to get — of course if that’s what it is, absolutely,” Blinken replied. “But I don’t want to get ahead of the facts. Let’s let the FBI investigate.”

A New York Democrat told MSNBC on Friday that he suspects Nolen was at least “influenced” by ISIS.

“There are copycats out there. We see it happen when we see mass murder here in the United States. We always fear about a copycat incident,” Rep. Joe Crowley (D-N.Y.) said. “And I don’t think anything — I don’t think we can expect anything less on the world stage when someone like — what is so depraved and really baseless that ISIL has been involved with in terms of beheading. That if someone is vulnerable, mentally disturbed, that it may have an influence on them.”

“I think that may be what happened here. I hope it’s not the case.”

Members of Congress have been relatively quiet about the murder; neither of Oklahoma’s GOP senators, Jim Inhofe and Tom Coburn, have issued statements about the attack.

NBC terrorism analyst Evan Coleman said “it certainly looks like him being fired was a predicating factor in what he did.”

“But nonetheless, if you look at the facts that occur here, in the absence of other evidence, it’s very difficult to imagine that the events of the past few weeks did not influence this man somehow. You don’t just go and behead a co-worker. That doesn’t happen very often,” Coleman said.

“Now, if this does prove that this has been inspired by ISIS, and I doubt it was something, you know, coordinated by ISIS, but if it was something inspired by what ISIS did in Iraq, it illustrates exactly the problem we have with lone wolves. It is that you don’t have to have a Ph.D. to murder someone, you don’t have to be sophisticated, you don’t have to operate on somebody else’s orders. And even as someone unsophisticated, someone who’s a crank, you can still hurt a lot of people. And I think this is exactly evidence for why this is such a problem.”

Adam Soltani, the executive director of the Council on American Islamic Relations in Oklahoma, told KFOR that “it’s really unfortunate that there’s a lot of attention on Muslims these days for actions of people who are either part of extremist groups or who have extreme ideas.”

“However, Islam is clear on what it stands for. Islam stands for peace, Islam stands for justice, Islam stands for love for humanity, compassion and mercy,” Soltani said. “What this gentleman did in Moore, which is inhumane and barbaric, is definitely not a representation of what our faith teaches and we hope and pray that justice will be brought against the perpetrator soon, so that the victims and their families can find some sort of solace in that justice,”

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Holder Promises CBC He Won’t ‘Let Up’ During Remaining Time in Office

Friday, September 26th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

Attorney General Eric Holder told the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation this morning that he has “no intention of letting up” and “no intention of slowing down” in the time between his resignation announcement and when a successor is confirmed.

Holder lauded the administration’s “important reforms and evidenced-based strategies to make America’s criminal justice system both more fair and more effective.”

“With a national initiative for building community trust and justice which I announced earlier this month, we are striving to eliminate mistrust and to build strong relationships between law enforcement officers and the communities that they serve, so that we can diffuse tensions that simmer just under the surface in too many cities and towns across our great country and that too often give rise to tragic events like those that captured our national attention just last month in Ferguson, Missouri,” he said.

The administration’s new Smart on Juvenile Justice Initiative “will promote system-wide reform and bolster our efforts to end racial and ethnic disparities,” Holder added.

“My colleagues and I are acting aggressively to ensure that every American — that every American — can exercise his or her right to participate in the democratic process, unencumbered by unnecessary restrictions that discourage, that discriminate or that disenfranchise in the name of a problem that doesn’t exist.”

Holder listed several department actions related to voting, including Monday’s conclusion of arguments in the DOJ’s challenge to the Texas voter ID law, “which our experts found likely to disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of eligible voters who lack the requisite identification.”

“We will continue to look to groups like the CBC for leadership to advance the Voting Rights Act amendments and to continue your efforts until all Americans can make their voices heard in the halls of the federal government,” he said.

“…Our cause is just. Our mission is clear. Our history propels us. So let us act together to make our nation, to make our union more perfect.”

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Bipartisan Lawmakers to Admin: Please Oppose Venezuela’s Security Council Bid

Friday, September 26th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

A bipartisan group of lawmakers is calling on the Obama administration to oppose Venezuela’s effort to land a non-permanent, two-year seat on the UN Security Council.

A week ago, Reuters cited diplomatic and administration sources as saying they were resigned to Caracas securing a seat at the 15-nation table and wouldn’t oppose the bid. Venezuela is the only Latin American country in the running and needs a two-thirds vote from the General Assembly next month.

President George W. Bush led a campaign against a Venezuelan bid in 2006. That was during the reign of Hugo Chavez, but this Venezuelan bid comes after Nicolas Maduro’s violent crackdowns on peaceful demonstrators and other human right abuses.

“There should be no place for Venezuela at the UN Security Council. Nicolas Maduro and his regime have been the cause of instability in Venezuela and the Western Hemisphere region and allowing it a seat on the Security Council will legitimize and embolden this brutal regime and give it a platform from which it will attempt to undermine U.S. national security interests as well as global security,” said Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.).

“The world is facing many serious security threats, from ISIL in Iraq and Syria and the Iranian nuclear program to Russia’s aggression in Ukraine and elsewhere; a Venezuelan seat on the Security Council would allow it to advocate for its allies like Syria, Iran and Cuba at a time when we need a united approach to confront these challenges.”

Ros-Lehtinen was joined by Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.), Ted Deutch (D-Fla.), Matt Salmon (R-Ariz.), Albio Sires (D-N.J.), Chris Smith (R-N.J.), Joe Garcia (D-Fla.), Michael McCaul (R-Texas), Patrick Murphy (D-Fla.), Gus Bilirakis (R-Fla.), Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.), Ted Yoho (R-Fla.), and Sean Duffy (R-Wis.) in petitioning Secretary of State John Kerry and UN Ambassador Samantha Power to oppose the bid.

“We must object when tyrannical regimes, which constantly threaten our national security and undermine our foreign policy, use this opportunity to broadcast anti-American rhetoric and legitimize their oppressive tactics,” the letter reads. “The United States must take a decisive stand in this issue, provide a voice and a vote for those being oppressed, and promote our ideals of democracy, freedom, and the respect for human rights.”

Ros-Lehtinen said President Obama ”must oppose Venezuela’s bid for a seat at the Security Council, and Secretary Kerry and Ambassador Power must use the full weight, diplomacy and force of their offices to urge other nations to join the U.S. to vote against and defeat this maneuver by the Maduro regime.”

“We must take a decisive stand for the sake of U.S. national security interests, but also to provide a voice and vote for those being oppressed and to promote our ideals of democracy, freedom and the respect for human rights,” she said.

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Holder Lauds ‘Greatness’ of Obama in ‘Bittersweet’ Farewell

Thursday, September 25th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

A choked-up Attorney General Eric Holder paid tribute to his longtime friends and confidantes in the Obama administration as the president announced his ally’s resignation this afternoon.

Holder received an extended standing ovation from family and co-workers packing the State Dining Room at the White House for President Obama’s announcement.

“Over the summer, her came to me, and he said he thought six years was a pretty good run,” Obama said, adding “this is bittersweet.”

“But with his typical dedication, Eric has agreed to stay on as attorney general until I nominate a successor, and that successor is confirmed by the Senate, which means he’ll have a chance to add to a proud career of public service, one that began nearly 40 years ago as a young prosecutor in the department that he now runs,” he continued.

Obama thanked Holder for showing “a deep and abiding fidelity to one of our most cherished ideals as a people, and that is equal justice under the law.”

“Eric’s proudest achievement, though, might be reinvigorating and restoring the core mission to what he calls the conscience of the building, and that’s the Civil Rights Division. He has been relentless against attacks on the Voting Rights Act because no citizen, including our servicemembers, should have to jump through hoops to exercise their most fundamental right. He’s challenged discriminatory state immigration laws that not only risked harassment of citizens and legal immigrants, but actually made it harder for law enforcement to do its job,” he said.

“Under his watch, the department has brought a record number of prosecutions for human trafficking and for hate crimes, as no one in America should be afraid to walk down the street because of the color of their skin, the love in their heart, the faith they practice or the disabilities that they live with.”

Thanks to Holder’s efforts, Obama said, “more Americans, regardless of race or religion, gender or creed, sexual orientation or disability… will receive fair and equal treatment under the law.”

Holder, who will stick around until his as-yet-unnamed replacement is confirmed by the Senate, said he had “very mixed emotions” about the moment.

“I want to thank you, Mr. President, for the opportunity that you gave me to serve and for giving me the greatest honor of my professional life. We have been great colleagues, but the bonds between us are much deeper than that. In good times and in bad, in things personal and in things professional, you have been there for me. I’m proud to call you my friend,” he said.

“I’m also grateful for the support you have given me, and the department, as we have made real the visions that you and I have always shared. I often think of those early talks between us about our belief that we might help to craft a more perfect union. Work remains to be done, but our list of accomplishments is real… I hope that I have done honor to the faith that you have placed in me, Mr. President, and the legacy of all those who have served before me.”

Holder gave special thanks to “good friend” and senior White House adviser Valerie Jarrett, “whom I’ve been fortunate to work with from the beginning of what started as an improbable idealistic effort by a young senator from Illinois, who we were both right to believe would achieve greatness.”

“I want to thank the woman who sacrificed the most and allowed me to follow my dreams. She’s the foundation of all that our family is and the basis of all that I have become,” he continued after thanking his parents. “My wife Sharon is the unsung hero and she is my life partner. Thank you for all that you have done. I love you.”

Holder vowed that while he may leave the Justice Department, “I will never leave the work.”

“I will continue to serve and try to find ways to make our nation even more true to its founding ideals… I want to thank you all for joining me on a journey that now moves in another direction, but that will always be guided by the pursuit of justice and aimed at the North Star.”

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NPR: Holder to Announce Resignation Today

Thursday, September 25th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

National Public Radio is reporting that Attorney General Eric Holder will announce his resignation today:

Two sources familiar with the decision tell NPR that Holder, 63, intends to leave the Justice Department as soon as his successor is confirmed, a process that could run through 2014 and even into next year. A former U.S. government official says Holder has been increasingly “adamant” about his desire to leave soon for fear he otherwise could be locked in to stay for much of the rest of President Obama’s second term.

Holder already is one of the longest serving members of the Obama cabinet and ranks as the fourth longest tenured AG in history. Hundreds of employees waited in lines, stacked three rows deep, for his return in early February 2009 to the Justice Department, where he previously worked as a young corruption prosecutor and as deputy attorney general — the second in command — during the Clinton administration.

But some of that early glow faded in part due to the politicized nature of the job and in part because of Holder’s own rhetoric, such as a 2009 Black History Month speech where he said the country was “a nation of cowards” when it comes to discussions about racial tension.

No confirmation yet from the Justice Department.

President Obama is scheduled to arrive back in Washington at 3:25 p.m., leaving time in the late afternoon for any announcement to be added to the schedule.

UPDATE: The White House says the announcement will come at 4:30 p.m.

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Clinton: Country is ‘Less Racist, Less Sexist, Less Homophobic,’ But People are Isolationist

Thursday, September 25th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

In a wide-ranging townhall-style interview, former President Bill Clinton told CNN that he doesn’t think racism has gotten worse in the country and that President Obama’s Syria strategy has a “chance” of being successful.

Clinton said the ISIS threat is “quite significant and it certainly threatens to change the whole landscape in the Middle East, redrawn national boundaries, crash national governments and we know they’re killing a lot of innocent people who don’t agree with them.”

“They ran the Christians out of Iraq who’ve been there since the dawn of Christendom and they butchered those Syrian soldiers and, you know, we don’t agree with the Syrian government but their soldiers, their uniformed personnel and thought with rules of war, and of course they like to decapitate people on the Internet,” he said. “So I think that strategy that the president has adopted has a chance of succeeding. I support him on what they’re doing.”

Clinton added that arming rebels in Syria is “worth the gamble.” His wife advocated this to President Obama three years ago but was overruled.

“One thing we know will happen, if we don’t help people who are trying to create an open inclusive secular society, they will lose. If we do help them and they lose anyway, somebody will get their weapons but I don’t think that will massively change the balance of power. Anytime you do anything, it might not work. We don’t have 100 percent in control,” he said. ”You just make a judgment over whether it’s more likely than not to work.”

On the recent unrest in Ferguson, Mo., Clinton said he doesn’t think there’s been a rush to judgment in the shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown by Officer Darren Wilson.

“What do we know? We know that the young man was unarmed. We know there was some kind of altercation with the police officer. We know when he was trying to get away he was shot. We know he had two bullets in the head. We know somebody made some sort of mistake. We don’t know what that was,” he said.

“…The most interesting thing to me about Ferguson was when the governor put the African-American state trooper who was from that area in charge of overseeing the situation and communicating with the folks in the community, things got better.”

Racism hasn’t gotten worse in the country, Clinton said, “but I think that we’re playing with it, with its darker possibilities with things like the stand your ground laws.”

“I actually think we are less racist, less sexist, less homophobic than we used to be. I think our big problem today is we don’t want to be around anybody who disagrees with us,” he added. “And I think that in some ways, it can be the worst silo of all, be holed up in.”

Clinton said he’s a “huge” football fan and hopes the NFL is “trying to get it right now” with the Ray Rice domestic violence scandal.

“I grew up at home with domestic violence. And — God, I hope that it works out all right for — I hope he really is OK and he never does it again. Sometimes, people don’t, but it’s rare. And I think what bothers everybody is that that, that seems that the NFL diminished the importance of it early on,” he said.

“I think that people who are rich and popular because of athletics, or entertainment, or any other thing like that, they shouldn’t be held for an impossible standard, they shouldn’t be exempted from the general rule that we can’t get away with abusing people because of our position.”

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New Ebola Czar Appointed to Manage U.S. Strategy Abroad

Thursday, September 25th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

The Obama administration now has an Ebola czar to lead the State Department’s effort to reach out to foreign governments and direct a comprehensive strategy to handle the outbreak.

Ambassador Nancy Powell, former U.S. envoy to India,was awarded the Homeland Security Service to America Medal in 2006 for leading an effort to combat bird flu.

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the goal is to “ensure a speedy and truly global response to this crisis.”

“President Obama has declared the Ebola outbreak a national security priority. Speaking on September 16 at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, the President outlined the U.S. Government’s strategy to address the threat from the worsening Ebola epidemic in West Africa,” Psaki said in a statement.

“The four goals of that strategy are 1) controlling the epidemic at its source in West Africa; 2) mitigating second-order impacts, including blunting the economic, social, and political tolls in the region; 3) engaging and coordinating with a broader global audience; and 4) fortifying global health security infrastructure in the region and beyond,” she said.

“Even as we lead, the President emphasized at the CDC the need for more nations to contribute the experienced personnel, supplies and funding. Ambassador Powell, working with leaders from across our government, is leading our efforts to build the coalition required to bring this epidemic under control.”

After focusing on climate change Tuesday and ISIS on Wednesday, President Obama will today deliver remarks on the Ebola crisis.

A new study in the New England Journal of Medicine estimates that 20,000 people could be infected by early November, an alarming prediction the World Health Organization is citing in its call to reverse the trend.

The WHO said it was notified of the outbreak in March, but investigation has revealed that it started in December 2013.

“This study gave us some real insight into how this outbreak was working, for example, we learned there is no significant difference among the different countries in the total numbers of male and female case patients,” says Dr Christopher Dye, director of strategy for WHO and co-author of the study. “There may be differences in some communities, but when we actually looked at all the data combined, we saw it was really almost split 50-50.”

“Assessing the case fatality rate during this epidemic is complicated by incomplete information on the clinical outcomes of many cases, both detected and undetected,” Dye added. “This analysis shows that by 14 September, a total of 70.8% of patients with definitive outcomes have died. This rate was consistent among Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.”

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Kerry: Climate Change Hurting Food Production, and Food Production Hurting Climate

Thursday, September 25th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

Secretary of State John Kerry told a climate-change reception at the Waldorf Astoria in New York yesterday that the climate change has our food production stuck in a no-win cycle.

“I was chairman of the fisheries, oceans subcommittee for a long period of time in the Senate, and I saw what has been happening in the major fisheries of the world,” he told the Global Alliance for Climate-Smart Agriculture. “Even as we went and tried to ban driftnet fishing and rewrite the Magnuson laws and do all these things – still overfished, still too much money chasing too few fish, still major shifts in the ecosystem as the result of increases in acidity, the acidification of the oceans, the changes in ocean currents, what’s happening with the melting of the icecaps and so forth has a profound impact on the future of food.”

“And all you have to do is talk to farmers or even talk to garden club members in America and they will tell you how things that used to grow in certain places don’t grow anymore, how there’s been a migration of certain species and capacities for growth, a band in the center of America that’s moved north and south,” Kerry added.

“So the link is clear: Climate change affects how much food we’re able to produce, and it affects – and how much food we produce actually affects climate change at the same time. Now we see this drought that’s hitting in various parts of the world, but particularly in Central America.”

Kerry was late to the reception because of a meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. “This city during these days of UNGA does not lend itself well to diplomatic speed dating, and unfortunately, I sort of scheduled one too many,” he quipped while apologizing for his tardiness.

He told the crowd that he had been involved in “this nexus between climate change and food security” since the 1970s.

“The first thing I did when I returned from Vietnam was not protest the war, which I shortly did, but become active in Earth Day 1970, the first Earth Day, and helped to organize it in my home state of Massachusetts, when 20 million Americans came out and said we don’t want to live next to toxic waste sites, we don’t want to be getting cancer from Woburn dump, things like that in Massachusetts. Particularly we had the Cuyahoga River that lit on fire, literally,” Kerry said.

“And those 20 million people ultimately engaged in a way that became very political. They targeted the 12 worst voters in Congress, labeled them the ‘Dirty Dozen’ and in the very next election beat seven of the 12. That is what brought us the Clean Air Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act, Marine Mammal Protection Act, Coastal Zone Management Act, and actually created the Environmental Protection Agency we didn’t have when that first took place.”

Kerry called it “a hell of a journey from there to here.”

“And I went to Rio and the Earth Summit in the 1990s and so forth. Unfortunately, it was a voluntary process. It didn’t work and we now are where we are, the hottest year in history last year, the last ten years have been the hottest ten years in history. I mean, it’s an extraordinary statement about the lack of willpower of governments on a global basis, ours included, to have been able thus far to be able to do what we need,” he continued.

“I’m proud to say that President Obama is changing that. We are moving rapidly now. We have ten times the amount of solar power in place that we had five years ago. We have three times the amount of renewables in place that we had. We have new automobile standards, new building standards, so forth and so on.”

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Algerian Terrorists Loyal to ISIS Behead French Mountain Climber

Wednesday, September 24th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

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As French President Francois Hollande prepared to speak at the United Nations General Assembly today, Algerian terrorists who back ISIS released a video showing the beheading of a French mountain climber.

Hervé Gourdel was kidnapped on Sunday evening in the mountainous region of Djurdjura, part of the Atlas range not far from Algiers.

Gourdel, 55, of Nice was an active mountaineer throughout his life. He was seized by Jund al-Khilafa (Soldiers of the Caliphate), which has pledged allegiance to the Islamic State.

The group released a Tuesday video showing Gourdel flanked by armed gunmen vowing to behead him in 24 hours if France didn’t stop targeting ISIS.

Today’s video showing Gourdel’s death was titled “A Message of Blood for the French Government.”

“He left for Algeria to follow his passion, mountaineering, and he was the victim of a heinous crime whose perpetrators must be punished,” Hollande said in a statement. “My thoughts are with his family, his companion and his parents, to whom I spoke and who are overcome by sorrow. My thoughts are with his many loved ones who don’t understand and don’t accept this terrible injustice. Why him? Why there?”

“…Hervé Gourdel died because he was French; because his country, France, fights terrorism. Hervé Gourdel died because he represents a people—our people—that loves freedom and defends human dignity against barbarity.”

Gourdel’s abduction also came hours after an ISIS video urged supporters around the world to target Westerners – “especially the spiteful and filthy French.”

The kidnapping came just days after France officially began referring to ISIS as Daesh, a loose Arabic acronym with derogatory dual meanings.

Both in his statement and in his Wednesday afternoon address at the UN Security Council, Hollande continued calling them Daesh.

“My determination is absolute, and this act of aggression only strengthens it. We will continue to fight terrorism wherever it may be, and in particular the group we call Daesh, which sows death in Iraq, and Syria, which pursues civilian populations, persecutes religious minorities, rapes and decapitates. Yes, it is this group that France is mobilized against, and which the Iraqi authorities called on us to oppose,” he said.

Hollande is flying back to France to convene a defense council meeting tomorrow at Elysee palace to “establish the goals we have set for our military operations and to further strengthen the protection of our fellow citizens.”

“I am calling for all of us, for our entire community to stand united beyond our differences, beyond our sensibilities and our convictions, because the most vital matters are at stake,” he said. “France will not give in to terrorism, France will never give in to terrorism, because it is its duty and, even more important, because its honor depends on it.”

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Libertarian Party: ‘Heightened Risk of Terrorist Attacks on U.S. Citizens’ as Result of ‘Foreign Meddling’

Wednesday, September 24th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

The Libertarian Party today accused President Obama of violating the Constitution in his strikes against ISIS targets in Syria and Iraq, while a liberal lobby also called on the need to have “unequivocally constitutional” approval from Congress.

“Whatever differences they may claim, Democratic and Republican politicians are aligned when it comes to foreign meddling,” Nicholas Sarwark, chairman of the Libertarian National Committee, said in a statement. “President Barack Obama and former President George W. Bush both resort to war in the end.”

The party maintained that since the Islamic State (IS) did not exist in 2001, the authorization for military force approved after 9/11 to go after terrorists connected to the attack doesn’t apply.

“This is wildly reckless and irresponsible,” Sarwark said. “The old parties in Congress just spent $20 billion arming and training Iraqi soldiers, only to see U.S. military weapons land in the hands of the Islamic State. This new measure could end up arming future enemies in Syria as well.”

“The bigger threat is endless war and a heightened risk of terrorist attacks on U.S. citizens as a result of military intervention,” he added.

The Progressive Policy Institute noted in a statement that both former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta have suggested “early and effective U.S. support for indigenous Syrian rebels might have prevented these foreign jihadis from setting up shop in Syria.”

“Non-intervention is not a painless or risk-free option for Americans, no matter how weary we may be of war,” said PPI president Will Marshall.

“President Obama needs to level with the American people about the nature and duration of this conflict. What we are really up against, the enduring source of instability and danger, is not any particular group of Sunni terrorists, but the Islamist ideology that motives them. This fight will be more like the Cold War than World War II. It won’t be settled on any battlefield,” Marshall said. “Only when the jihadist ideology loses its power to inspire young Muslims to kill for a warped vision of a puritanical, all-conquering Islam will the danger pass. That could take a generation. It will require that America and the international community wage—and above all Muslim political and religious leaders—wage a more effective campaign to discredit and marginalize the Islamist death cult.”

The PPI called for a  ”resolute, long-term strategy to contain and eventually defuse the threat posed by Islamist fanatics,” which “must enjoy broad public and political support at home.”

“Rather than invoking post-9/11 legislation, the White House should heed calls from Congressional leaders, such as Sen. Tim Kaine, to seek new authority for this next phase of U.S. counterterrorism operations,” Marshall continued. “It’s important that our confrontation with Islamist extremists have explicit Congressional backing and be unequivocally Constitutional. At the same time, however, Congress must refrain from tying the executive’s hands, for example, by imposing arbitrary deadlines or geographical limits on its ability to confront threats to our people or our interests.”

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ISIS Targets Saudi Pilots, Including Son of Crown Prince, After Syria Strikes

Wednesday, September 24th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Bahrain and Qatar joined the U.S. in the operation to conduct strikes against the Islamic State early Tuesday, and the Saudis released pictures of their pilots after returning from battle. Which inspired ISIS to circulate the pictures and ask radicals in the KSA to kill the pilots.

 

 

 

Word also circulated that Mariam Mansouri, the UAE’s first female pilot, flew her F-16 into battle as well — and led her country’s team.

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Florida Senator: Arab Allies Need to ‘Protect the Soul of Islam’

Wednesday, September 24th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

Florida Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson, who advocated action in Syria after the beheading of his constituent Steve Sotloff, said the fight will ultimately be up to Arab nations for the “soul of Islam.”

Nelson told MSNBC this morning that the growth of al-Qaeda satellite Khorasan is ”just another indication of how much of a threat is out there.”

“At the end of the day, we can provide all these airstrikes, which I support… at the end of the day, this is going to have to be the Arab world and the Muslim world that are gonna have to do this fight on the ground,” the senator said.

“They’re gonna have to decide to protect the soul of Islam and the Arab culture. Otherwise, it’s gonna be taken over by this very radical group, whether it’s those that are trying to do harm to us as the Khorasan Group and ISIS or ISIS that is obviously perpetrating all of this violence against their own people.”

Nelson said President Obama is “doing exactly what he should” in regards to “building a coalition.”

“He’s had intelligence flights over Syria since August 25th… He’s turned it over to his experts, his commanders, to execute the strikes. The president’s doing exactly what he should.”

But he joined the voices of other lawmakers who have opined that Congress shouldn’t be in recess when a new AUMF may be needed.

“Now, with regard to Congress, we ought to be back in session,” Nelson said. “We ought to be debating war and peace right now and ultimately voting to give the authorization for the use of military force.”

“What I believe, however, is the president, as commander in chief, under the Constitution has the authority to go ahead and strike in Syria, as he already has.”

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Rouhani: ‘Conditions Do Not Dictate’ Meeting with Obama at UN

Wednesday, September 24th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

While both leaders are in New York for the United Nations General Assembly, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani told CBS that conditions aren’t right for a meeting with President Obama.

Obama made a historic call to Rouhani last year during the annual meeting of world leaders, but the two did not meet in person.

“Between two nations whom have suffered many problems between one another and to have had great difficulties towards one another, if one day the appropriate foundation hasn’t been laid for such a meeting, if the appropriate aim has not been calculated, then it will not be fruitful,” Rouhani said.

“So today, the conditions do not dictate such a meeting. We do not want to put on a show. Our people do not enjoy a show or theater, and certainly that is also something that the people of the United States do not wish for,” he continued. “Therefore, let’s let the time mature, upon during which such talk and such meeting can be fruitful towards resolving problems and issues.”

Rouhani is planning to meet with British Prime Minister David Cameron. The P5+1 nuclear negotiations are continuing this week.

“There’s nothing like that on the schedule right now,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest said Friday when asked whether the president would seek a meeting with Rouhani. “At this point, I don’t anticipate something like that being added, but we’ll see.”

Rouhani also told CBS that Obama’s Syria strategy just seeks to ”put more fuel on the existing fire.”

“It is not clear for us what they’re seeking, a theater for public consumption, or they’re after a tangible, a real objective in the region. It is not real crystal clear for us, but what I can tell you unequivocally, no terrorist group can be eradicated and destroyed through aerial bombardments,” the Iranian leader said.

“The way to combat terrorism, sir, is not for us to give birth to another terrorist group in order to stand up against an existing terrorist group. These are the series of mistakes that have composed the rings of the chain that have taken us from where we were to where we are today. We must accept the reality. We cannot organize armed groups of fighters in order to reach our objectives.”

Iran had been sheltering 33-year-old Kuwaiti citizen Muhsin al-Fadhli, the leader of Khorasan. They claimed the Zawahiri deputy was under house arrest while he ran al-Qaeda in Iran. He reportedly moved to northern Syria to set up shop about a year ago.

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Obama Tells Fundraiser Islamic Terror Fight Not as Big of an ‘Existential Threat’ as Cold War

Tuesday, September 23rd, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

Taking some time out from UN-related activities this week in New York to fundraise for his party, President Obama told a campaign crowd tonight that the threat posed by Islamic terrorism isn’t as great of an existential threat as the Cold War.

Obama left the Waldorf Astoria hotel in the early evening to head over to a private home at West 90th and Central Park West for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee event, which was attended by DSCC Chairman Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and senior adviser Valerie Jarrett.

“I apologize for the traffic. Not much I can do about it. The blame is spread between me and another 160 or so world leaders who converge upon New York every single year,” Obama said. “Yet unlike some of the previous U.N. General Assembly meetings, this one really counts.”

Obama addressed the UN climate summit today and addresses the General Assembly tomorrow morning.

“We’ve gone through extraordinary challenges over the last decade, and when I came into office, the world economy was in a free fall — something we hadn’t seen since the Great Depression. And we were losing 800,000 jobs a month. We were still in the midst of two wars. Challenges like climate change weren’t being addressed,” he said.

Despite the country being “better off” now “by every economic measure,” the president continued, ”I think there’s some anxiety across the country, and the question is: Why?”

“And I offer three reasons. The first, which is most prominent in the news right now, is that there is great disorder in the world. It’s not unprecedented,” Obama said. “In many ways, it doesn’t pose some of the same existential threats that we experienced during the Great Wars or during the Cold War, but the instability that we see in the Middle East, the Russian aggression towards Ukraine, the breakdown in public health systems — or what public health systems ever existed in a place like Liberia — in the face of the Ebola crisis, and the emergence of a terrorist threat in ISIL that threatens to destabilize an entire region — all those things are justifiably making people wonder whether the center will hold.”

“And the good news is this week what you’re seeing is what American leadership means. I just came from a meeting in which we were actually able to get Arab countries, many of which have historically been on opposite sides of issues and sectarian conflict in the region, all united around fighting ISIL and eradicating the ideology, the extreme fanaticism that underlies what’s happening in ISIL.”

That 40-minute meeting at the Waldorf included King Abdullah of Jordan, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, and the foreign ministers of the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Bahrain.

On Ebola, Obama said “as a consequence of our actions, we have a good chance of saving as many as a million lives.”

He said the recent step-up in intervention efforts, including setting up a military command center in Liberia, is also “making sure that there’s not the kind of spillover that could end up being an epidemic in our country and affect our loved ones.”

“Climate change — we’re going to be taking the lead and, in fact, potentially engaging with China in making sure that we move boldly and aggressively in confronting that significant threat,” Obama continued. “We’ve unified the world in isolating Russia and supporting not just the Ukrainian people but the core principle that was part of the foundation of the United Nations, which is a respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of small countries relative to large ones.”

“So what we’ve seen is American leadership at its best. It doesn’t mean that the problems are easy or that they’re solved anytime soon, but it indicates the degree to which we continue to be the one indispensable nation.”

The president said the other issues causing “some disquiet” among the American people are income inequality and the belief that “they just think government doesn’t seem to be capable of working anymore.”

“And it’s popular to suggest that somehow that’s a problem of both parties, a plague on both their houses. But the truth of the matter is it has to do with a very specific problem, which is, is that the opposition on the other side has become ideologically driven and doesn’t seem capable of compromise; cannot say yes even to things they used to be for; and there’s been a tendency to put politics ahead of what’s best for the next generation.”

Obama predicted that with a Congress willing to “play those cards right,” the next generation “will inherit a world that is safer and more prosperous and healthier and has less conflict than ever before in human history.”

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Florida Dem to Boehner, Obama: Congress Needs to Return to Weigh Authorization of Force

Tuesday, September 23rd, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

The round of airstrikes in Syria in the early morning hours prompted one Democrat to ask House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to call Congress back to address a proper authorization of military force (AUMF).

And Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.) also let President Obama know that lawmakers in his own party are questioning the administration’s determination that they can act against ISIS via 2001 and 2003 AUMFs.

Hastings previously asked Boehner to call Congress back during the five-week summer recess to address the same concern. Congress remained in town for only two weeks before leaving for the pre-midterm district campaigning period.

“The situation in both Iraq and Syria on a political, humanitarian and military level grow increasingly dire, and we may very well have a duty to meet these difficulties with force along with any number of other strategic responses,” Hastings wrote Obama today. “However, Congress has a duty to discuss these issues and act accordingly under the United States Constitution and the War Powers Resolution. We must also reexamine the relevancy of the Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Terrorists (AUMF) with regard to the current U.S. airstrikes in Syria and future military operations to address ISIL.”

“The AUMF was born from the need to take immediate and bold action to respond to the horrific terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. The time has come, however, for Congress to fulfill its constitutional role in committing our military resources to global conflicts, and specifically examine whether the required strategy in Iraq and Syria necessitates additional Congressional authorization.”

Hastings’ concern has been echoed by other lawmakers, including Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), who last week told Secretary of State John Kerry, “You’re going to need a new AUMF.”

“I certainly appreciate your timely attention to the complex and difficult situation unfolding in Iraq and Syria, and want you to know that I am eager to facilitate a resolution to the current crisis by making sure that the United States exercises the full might of its democracy to achieve the best outcome for the American people and all those threatened by ISIL,” Hastings added in the Obama letter.

To Boehner, Hastings stressed that “the Administration’s reliance on the Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Terrorists (AUMF) for our country’s ongoing military operations within Syria raises many questions.”

“I must once again respectfully call upon you to bring the U.S. House of Representatives back into session so that we may meet our constitutional responsibility under Article I to address the nature, duration, and scope of these and future activities,” the Florida Dem wrote. “As Members of Congress, we have a duty to ensure that the United States does not enter a conflict without appropriate deliberation or debate. We abdicate this responsibility when we do not exercise full oversight of our military commitment.”

Hastings declared the “time has come for Congress to reassert its constitutional role in committing our military resources to global conflicts, and specifically examine whether the President’s strategy in Iraq and Syria necessitate additional Congressional authorization.”

“Reasonable minds will disagree as to what the fate of the 2001 AUMF ought to be, and reasonable minds may very well disagree as to what military operations, if any, we ought to take to address the ongoing threat posed by ISIL, but in order for such disagreements to occur we must first provide the forum for such discussions. As demonstrated by Article I Section 8, the appropriate forum is Congress,” he said. “The appropriate time is now.”

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Bill Would Require Hospitals to Dispense Morning-After Pill to Assault Victims

Tuesday, September 23rd, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

Democratic senators have introduced a bill to require any hospital receiving federal Medicare or Medicaid funding to provide free emergency contraception to sexual assault victims.

Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) said preventing”unintended” pregnancy should be “a goal we all should share.”

“Unfortunately, in spite of its increased availability, emergency contraception remains an underused prevention method in the United States, especially for survivors of sexual assault,” said Murray. “I’m proud to introduce this legislation with my colleagues who understand the importance of educating both provider and patient on this critical element of a woman’s health care.”

Murray introduced the Emergency Contraception Access and Education Act of 2014 with Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), and Cory Booker (D-N.J.).

Under the bill, morning-after pills such as the Plan B One-Step pill must be provided if a hospital wants to maintain its federal funding to “any woman who arrives at the hospital and states that she is a victim of sexual assault, or is accompanied by someone who states she is a victim of sexual assault; and any woman who arrives at the hospital whom hospital personnel have reason to believe is a victim of sexual assault.”

The hospital must “promptly” provide the woman with “medically and factually accurate and unbiased written and oral information about emergency contraception.”

It must provide the pill upon the woman’s request, even if she is unable to pay.

“Survivors of sexual assault have a right to all support, services, and treatments that they need in order to avoid additional suffering following an assault,” said Blumenthal.

“No woman should be forced to endure the trauma of sexual assault and the potential unintended outcomes without knowing all of the options available to her,” added Booker. “I am pleased to join my colleagues to introduce legislation that ensures victims are not only treated compassionately but also given timely, unhindered access to emergency contraception.”

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Obama Says Strikes Also Targeted al-Qaeda Cell in Syria, Lauds Arab Coalition

Tuesday, September 23rd, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

President Obama said this morning that last night’s airstrikes in Syria targeted an al-Qaeda cell as well as ISIS targets around their headquarters of Raqqa, where witnesses reported strike activity.

The White House has been guarded about specifically mentioning Khorasan or mentioning the threat posed by the training area  focusing on attacks in the West run by Ayman al-Zawahiri’s deputy Muhsin al-Fadhli in north Syria.

“Earlier this month, I outlined for the American people our strategy to confront the threat posed by the terrorist group known as ISIL. I made clear that as part of this campaign the United States would take action against targets in both Iraq and Syria so that these terrorists can’t find safe haven anywhere. I also made clear that America would act as part of a broad coalition. And that’s exactly what we’ve done,” Obama said on the South Lawn of the White House.

The president confirmed that Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Qatar joined in the strikes. The UAE released a statement saying that its air forces launched the first strikes.

“America is proud to stand shoulder to shoulder with these nations on behalf of our common security,” Obama said. “The strength of this coalition makes it clear to the world that this is not America’s fight alone. Above all, the people and governments in the Middle East are rejecting ISIL and standing up for the peace and security that the people of the region and the world deserve.”

“Meanwhile, we will move forward with our plans, supported by bipartisan majorities in Congress, to ramp up our effort to train and equip the Syrian opposition, who are the best counterweight to ISIL and the Assad regime. And more broadly, over 40 nations have offered to help in this comprehensive effort to confront this terrorist threat — to take out terrorist targets; to train and equip Iraqi and Syrian opposition fighters who are going up against ISIL on the ground; to cut off ISIL’s financing; to counter its hateful ideology; and to stop the flow of fighters into and out of the region.”

Obama then added that last night strikes were conducted “to disrupt plotting against the United States and our allies by seasoned al-Qaeda operatives in Syria who are known as the Khorosan Group.”

“And once again, it must be clear to anyone who would plot against America and try to do Americans harm that we will not tolerate safe havens for terrorists who threaten our people,” he added.

Rumors started by Jabhat al-Nusra supporters online this morning said al-Fadhli and his family were killed in U.S. strikes. Last week some jihadists also started a rumor that al-Qaeda leader Zawahiri had been killed, which turned out to not be true.

“I’ve spoken to leaders in Congress and I’m pleased that there is bipartisan support for the actions we are taking,” Obama said. “America is always stronger when we stand united, and that unity sends a powerful message to the world that we will do what’s necessary to defend our country.”

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) called it “historic” that the coalition of Arab nations was so broad.

“While Western military force can help combat the poisonous ideology of groups such as ISIS, ultimately it is up to Muslim nations to resist and eliminate this poison,” Levin said.

 

 

Obama headed up to New York for the United Nations General Assembly, where today he’ll deliver remarks at a climate summit and fundraise for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee tonight.

“Over the next several days I will have the opportunity to meet with Prime Minister Abadi of Iraq, and with friends and allies at the United Nations to continue building support for the coalition that is confronting this serious threat to our peace and security,” he said. “The overall effort will take time. There will be challenges ahead. But we’re going to do what’s necessary to take the fight to this terrorist group, for the security of the country and the region and for the entire world.”

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Administration ‘Aligning’ Policy with Land-Mine Treaty Instead of Signing, Sending to Senate

Tuesday, September 23rd, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

The Obama administration announced this morning that it is “aligning” U.S. policy with the Ottawa Convention, an anti-mine pact that House Armed Services Committee leaders previously warned could tie the hands of the military.

Signing the 1997 treaty, which 160 countries have signed, would be unlikely to pass the Senate, so the White House instead announced changes to the country’s anti-personnel land mine policy.

National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said the U.S. would ”not use APL outside the Korean Peninsula; not assist, encourage, or induce anyone outside the Korean Peninsula to engage in activity prohibited by the Ottawa Convention; and undertake to destroy APL stockpiles not required for the defense of the Republic of Korea.”

“These measures build on our June 2014 announcement that the United States will not produce or otherwise acquire any anti-personnel munitions that are not compliant with the Ottawa Convention, including to replace such munitions as they expire in the coming years,” Hayden said in a statement.

“Even as we take these further steps, the unique circumstances on the Korean Peninsula and our commitment to the defense of the Republic of Korea preclude us from changing our anti-personnel landmine policy there at this time. We will continue our diligent efforts to pursue solutions that would be compliant with and ultimately allow us to accede to the Ottawa Convention while ensuring our ability to meet our alliance commitments to the Republic of Korea.”

In March, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey called land mines “an important tool in the arsenal of the armed forces of the United States,” stressing that tensions on the Korean Peninsula have increased. The Defense Department prepared a 30-page classified report back then on the dangers of signing the land-mine ban.

Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. James Kirby said in a statement this morning that Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel “fully supports” today’s administration action.

“The department will not use anti-personnel landmines outside the Korean Peninsula; will not assist, encourage, or induce others outside the Korean Peninsula to engage in activity prohibited by the Ottawa Convention; and will undertake steps to begin the destruction of APLs not required for the defense of South Korea,” Kirby said.

The administration announced in June that it would no longer produce or acquire land mines, leading congressional leaders to predict that President Obama would take unilateral action to commit the U.S. to the treaty bypassing the Senate.

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DHS Secretary Cautions Against ‘Rush to Judgment’ on White House Security Breach

Monday, September 22nd, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson cautioned against a “rush to judgment” over security lapses that led to Friday’s White House fence jumper managing to get past the front door.

Omar Gonzalez, 42, of Copperas Cove, Texas, entered the North Portico after the Obama family had left the mansion for Camp David. The Iraq war veteran reportedly had 800 rounds of ammunition in his car along with two hatchets and a machete, and had been stopped in July by Virginia police with a map of the White House, a tomahawk and 11 guns. He had a small knife in his pocket when he entered the White  House.

The Secret Service said in a statement afterward that while “the officers showed tremendous restraint and discipline in dealing with this subject, the location of Gonzalez’s arrest is not acceptable.”

The agency immediate put more stringent security into place along the perimeter and started a review to determine what went wrong Friday.

“I will carefully evaluate the findings and recommendations of the review at that time, after which I’m sure I will discuss them with Director Pierson, White House officials and Members of Congress,” Johnson said. “In the meantime, I encourage all of us to not rush to judgment about the event and not second-guess the judgment of  security officers who had only seconds to act, until all the facts are in.”

One of those new security procedures is closing and locking the front door.

“The Secret Service has beefed up foot patrols along — around the fence line of the White House complex. The Secret Service has deployed additional surveillance resources to beef up the surveillance around the White House. The Secret Service has changed the procedures for ensuring that the entrance to the White House is secure. And there’s already some stepped up training for officers who are essentially standing on the front lines of the White House to ensure that they are aware of the policies and procedures that are related to securing the White House and dealing with incidents like the one that we saw on Friday,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters today.

Earnest said adding “another layer of complexity” to the review is the overlapping jurisdictions of the Park Police and D.C.’s Metro PD.

“There are senior members here at the White House, both the chief of staff, the deputy chief of staff, and others who have been in frequent touch with Secret Service personnel over the weekend and even already today to discuss the incident and to discuss the review that the Secret Service has already started,” he said.

Asked about the incident at the end of an Oval Office event today, President Obama said, “The Secret Service does a great job, and I’m grateful for the sacrifices that they make on my behalf — and my family’s behalf.”

D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) said she wants a meeting with Secret Service Director Julia Pierson to discuss using “the least restrictive means be used to address these security concerns.”

“It is important to keep Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House and the surrounding area, including Lafayette Park, Pennsylvania Avenue, 17th Street and 15th Street, as accessible to the public as possible. These are First Amendment protected areas used by the public on a daily basis to both see the residence of the President and engage in their constitutional right to petition the government, and must be kept open for their continued daily use. It is particularly imperative that the Pennsylvania Avenue side remain open to the public,” Norton wrote in a letter today to Pierson.

“Already, public access to the Pennsylvania Avenue side of the White House may be in danger with reported considerations of establishing checkpoints or otherwise limiting access.”

Norton suggests “minor changes” like “changing the shape of the current fence to prevent access from the exterior, such as curving the upper portion of the fence away from the White House; making the fence surrounding the White House taller; making a request for additional funding to increase staffing; or adding additional specialized canine units to patrol the perimeter.”

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Blair: ISIS Fight to ‘Evolve Over Time’ to Likely U.S. Reassessment of Boots on the Ground

Monday, September 22nd, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair said he thinks the fight against ISIS will eventually evolve from an air campaign to fighting on the ground.

President Obama has repeatedly stressed that there will be no U.S. boots on the ground, but Blair said commanders will need to assess that as the battle heats up.

“We have got absolutely no choice but to do this, and not just in order to contain and then destroy the onward march of ISIS, but also to send a very strong signal to the other terrorist groups operating in the region and beyond the region that we intend to take action and intend to see it through,” Blair told CNN on Sunday.

“You certainly need to fight groups like ISIS on the ground. It is possible that those people who are there locally and who have the most immediate interest in fighting ISIS can carry on the ground offensive against them,” he continued.

“But, look, this will evolve over time, I’m sure, and I’m sure that the leadership both in the U.S. and elsewhere will make sure that whatever is necessary to defeat ISIS is done. I think, by the way, no one’s talking — there’s no need to put in a kind of army of occupation. I mean, you’re not rerunning Iraq or Afghanistan.”

But, Blair stressed, “there will undoubtedly be, over time, a need to hit ISIS not simply through an aerial campaign, but also on the ground.”

“And the question will be, can those people, if they’re supported locally, can they do the job or will we have to supplement that?” he asked.

The former prime minister called the beheadings of British and American citizens “horrific, it’s evil, and it’s totally contrary to the principles of any form of religious faith.”

“How many British-born jihadists are going from Britain to fight in Syria, the estimates are several hundred have gone there. This is not, unfortunately, though, a problem just for Britain. Most European countries also have foreign fighters there,” Blair said.

“…I mean, these people aren’t going because they’re mistreated back in the U.K. They’re given the benefit of a free education, free health care. They’re given all the benefits of the freedom that comes living in a country like Britain.”

Blair said the Brits who have signed up with ISIS “have been subject to an ideology that’s come in from abroad that, unfortunately, is not just limited to Britain, but is right round the world today.”

“It’s an ideology based on a complete perversion of the proper faith of Islam, but it is powerful. It is proselytized and preached by people in mosques, in madrasas, not just in countries like Pakistan and parts of the Middle East and parts of Africa, but even back in parts of Britain,” he continued. “And one of the things that we have got to look at as a country is, how do you root this kind of teaching out and make it absolutely clear that it is completely unacceptable to teach these forms of extremism, whether in a formal school setting or an informal school setting?”

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Clinton: Hillary Was Right When She Was Overruled by Obama on Arming Rebels 3 Years Ago

Monday, September 22nd, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

Former President Bill Clinton said he agreed with his wife in an administration squabble three years ago over arming Syrian rebels at the start of the uprising against Bashar al-Assad.

Then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton argued for arming the unified opposition then, before the Free Syrian Army took a beating and terrorist groups set up shop in the war-torn country.

“I would have taken the chance. I also agree with her when she said we can’t know whether it would have worked or not, and that’s when you have to be careful when you make these commitments because you can’t know,” Clinton told CNN. “But since ISIS has plenty of money, it’s one of the great bank robbers in human history among other things, they were going to get their weapons one way or the other so I would have risked it.”

“And besides, when we were talking about doing it, there was no ISIS,” the former commander in chief added. “However, it was an argument she lost within the administration and she admitted then and acknowledged in her book that she can’t know that if her recommendation had been followed it would have worked. That’s one of those things you can’t know. That’s why all these decisions are hard.”

Clinton called the overall Syria question the “much harder” piece of the puzzle.

“I support giving the forces that we most closely identify with greater capacity to fight ISIS. The whole question about the Syrian government is really academic. Between the Iranians and the Russians and others, they will give them enough money and military capacity to do what they have to do,” he said, referring to Assad’s main avenues of support.

“I think that the worst enemy right now is ISIS, and I don’t think we should be in a position of directly coordinating with or cooperating with Assad, but I think we all recognize what would happen if ISIS had like a monster-like state that included most of Syria and Iraq, and — but I don’t — I think, therefore, that when the president said we’d cooperate with a moderate Syrian forces, they’re the only people we have to try to empower there to do their part in this struggle.”

On the subject of ISIS using beheadings to provoke an American response, Clinton noted “there’s a difference in, for example, using targeted drones and airstrikes as we did against al-Qaeda effectively for years to try to take down their leadership and infrastructure and let them know they can’t just decapitate people for the cheap thrill of the global media response and horrify people and get away with it and getting bogged down in the kind of war they would like us to get bogged down in that would cost us a lot of lives and a lot of treasure and inevitably lead to greater civilian casualties, which is why I think the president’s strategy has a chance of succeeding because the Iraqi government is now more inclusive than it has been since the fall of Saddam Hussein.”

“And that seems to be awakening, if you will, the willingness of the Sunni tribal leaders to participate in fighting,” he said. “We know the Kurds and the Peshmerga are willing to fight. If we can help them and support them, I think the larger fight against ISIS can continue as it should as a local struggle for the freedom and liberty of the people.”

More: Blair: ISIS Fight to ‘Evolve Over Time’ to Likely U.S. Reassessment of Boots on the Ground

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Alexander: 5 Things the Senate Could Do Besides Going on Recess

Monday, September 22nd, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

Congress barely returned from the five-week summer recess, and now lawmakers have left again until Election Day.

The House had originally been scheduled to come back for one week in October, but House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) told lawmakers to leave Thursday and not come back until after midterms. The Senate also wrapped up Thursday.

That meant eight days of work were completed between recesses.

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) released a list of five things he thinks the Senate should have stuck around to work on:

  1. ISIS – “Instead of going into recess, the Senate should be debating whether President Obama’s plan actually accomplishes the goal of destroying ISIS, as well as the appropriateness of involving ourselves in another Middle Eastern conflict.”
  2. Obamacare – “On Obamacare we should be repealing the job-killing medical device tax, allowing families to buy health insurance across state lines and enabling small businesses to pool their resources and purchase more affordable health insurance. All of these are step-by-step reforms that will repair the damage of Obamacare by increasing freedom and choice and driving down the cost of health insurance.”
  3. Jobs – “On jobs, we should remove the big, wet blanket of burdensome regulations the Obama administration has thrown over the economy, approve projects like the Keystone Pipeline and reform and streamline federal worker training programs. All of these proposals would get Washington out of the way and make it easier for Americans to find a job.”
  4. Education – “On education we need to fix No Child Left Behind and send back to states all the decisions about common core and academic standards and tests to stop the Obama administration from acting like a national school board. We could also make it easier for students to go to college by simplifying the 108-question student aid form that keeps an estimated 40,000 Tennesseans from receiving student aid.”
  5. Debt – “On debt, the Senate should pass the plan Senator Corker and I have proposed that would reduce the growth of out-of-control entitlement spending by nearly $1 trillion over the next 10 years. If we don’t fix the federal government’s nearly $18 trillion debt, which is currently more than $55,000 per Tennessean, we risk letting America slip from the hands of the ‘greatest generation’ to the ‘debt-paying generation’ with nothing to show for it but the bill.”

“The Senate should be working instead of going into recess, and a Republican majority wouldn’t tolerate such nonsense,” Alexander said in his statement. “We should be standing up to terrorists, repairing the damage of Obamacare, making it easier to find a good job, sending education decisions back to states and fixing the debt.”

“Instead, Harry Reid and the Democrat Senate majority have wasted time on political stunts like a proposal to limit free speech and kept the Senate from addressing real issues – it’s no wonder Americans are frustrated.”

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Power-Sharing Deal Struck in Afghanistan Presidential Contest

Monday, September 22nd, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

A power-sharing deal in Afghanistan has brought about a resolution to the June presidential runoff, making a candidate who once used Clinton adviser James Carville for his campaign the successor to Hamid Karzai.

Ashraf Ghani’s win in the presidential contest marred by election fraud gives Afghanistan a Christian first lady: his Lebanese wife, Rula.

Former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah, who emerged from the first round of voting in May with lead, will assume the newly created post of chief executive, with similar duties to a prime minister.

Abdullah and Ghani signed the agreement in a ceremony broadcast across the country on TV.

“The President spoke with Dr. Ashraf Ghani and Dr. Abdullah Abdullah earlier today to congratulate them on concluding their agreement for a government of national unity and safeguarding the first democratic and peaceful transfer of leadership in Afghanistan’s history,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest said in a statement Sunday.

“The President thanked Drs. Ghani and Abdullah for their leadership and willingness to partner to advance Afghanistan’s national interests,” Earnest continued. ”The President reaffirmed the United States’ strategic partnership with Afghanistan and commitment to continue its support to the new Afghan government.”

Secretary of State John Kerry hailed the deal as “a moment of extraordinary statesmanship.”

“These two men have put the people of Afghanistan first, and they’ve ensured that the first peaceful democratic transition in the history of their country begins with national unity,” Kerry said.

“Americans know very well that the road to democracy is contentious and challenging, but it’s a road that leads to the best place. It doesn’t happen overnight. We’ve had our own contentious elections and witnessed their aftermath. I’ve lived some of them. But if my recent visits to Kabul and the hours upon hours on the phone with these two men have taught me anything, it’s how invested Afghanistan is in this historic effort.”

Kerry added that Afghanistan “has an enormous opportunity to grow stronger from this recent moment of testing.”

“Elections are not the end. They must be the beginning, where Afghanistan and its people move forward on a reform agenda and make improvements to the electoral process,” he said. “…The United States remains determined to honor the Afghan people’s historic achievement by helping their transition succeed.”

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) noted ”the election, especially the tabulation, has been rough, but there is cause for hope, if things change.”

“After nearly 13 years under the failed policies of the Karzai administration, Afghanistan desperately needs a fresh start with a new leader and innovative ideas,” Royce said. “…President-elect Ghani must confront many challenges, including rampant corruption, revenue shortfalls, and a very challenging security situation.”

After the Taliban took over, Ghani taught at UC Berkeley and Johns Hopkins. After the fall of the Taliban, he returned to his home after 24 years away and became chief adviser to Karzai, receiving wide coverage in international media. Ghani ran against Karzai in 2009 yet finished fourth; he hired James Carville as a campaign consultant then. He’s for women’s rights but also supports negotiating with the Taliban if the terrorists agree to a ceasefire first.

Citing Karzai’s corruption, Abdullah, a doctor and former adviser in the Northern Alliance that battled the Taliban and al-Qaeda before the coalition invasion, ran for president in 2009 but withdrew due to the tainted election process. He has criticized Karzai’s intention of negotiating with the Taliban.

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Obama on International Relations: ‘Even the Folks Who Badmouth Us Look to Us’

Friday, September 19th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

Congress has recessed to prepare for November’s midterm elections, and President Obama warned the DNC Women’s Leadership Forum today that “in the coming weeks, the American people will see two very different visions of this country.”

One is the top-down economy and the other “says that our economy grows best from the middle out… and in case you didn’t figure it out, the second vision is better.”

“We do better when we embrace an economic patriotism that says we’re all in this together,” Obama said.

The president said his pitch for “getting rid of policies that belong in the Mad Men era” isn’t political.

“It’s not politics in the narrow, cramped sense, but, yes, it’s politics in the big sense of us organizing ourselves to try to move our country forward,” Obama continued. “The work we do is bigger than partisan politics. And I believe that for all that is wrong with our politics right now, there’s so much that’s right with America that if we could just create a government and a politics that spoke to common sense and what was important for ordinary Americans, we’d do great.”

“…America isn’t the party we belong to — we’re not born Democrats or Republicans.  America is the values we share:  hard work and responsibility, and sacrifice, and looking out for one another.”

He called one brand of politics “mean and nasty and polarizing” and another sense of the word “having a common vision for the future.”

Obama asked the Democrats to “choose hope,” because “hope is what gave soldiers courage to storm a beach.”

The president also touched on foreign policy, stressing that with all of the challenges “America remains the one indispensable nation in the world.”

“Even the folks who badmouth us look to us,” Obama said. “America is leading the effort to rally the world against Russian aggression. America is leading the fight to contain and combat an Ebola epidemic in Africa. America is leading the coalition that will degrade and ultimately destroy the terrorist group known as ISIL. And as Americans, we welcome these responsibilities; we don’t shy away from them.”

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Sanders: ‘I Do Not Want to See This Become…War Between Christianity and Islam’

Friday, September 19th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

The 22 senators who voted against arming Syrian rebels in the continuing resolution came from each party and had different reasons for their objections.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who may be contemplating a run for the White House, told MSNBC he voted “no” because “I do not want to see this become a war between east and west, a war between Christianity and Islam, a war between the United States and ISIS.”

“The bottom line is, we will not be successful until the countries of the Middle East themselves become engaged and are prepared to take on this terrible organization called ISIS,” the senator argued.

Sanders brought up the wealth of those nations as one reason why they should pick up the fight.

“Saudi Arabia has the fourth largest military budget in the world. They spend more than the United Kingdom and France. If we talk about ISIS being a threat, they are most definitively a threat to the countries around Saudi Arabia and around Egypt. Those are the guys who are really threatened. Where are they? Where is Kuwait? Where are — where is Turkey?” he said.

“So, I do not want to see this be a war between the United States and ISIS. These guys have got to the commit both militarily and financially. Last point on this issue. It turns out, of course, that the Saudi family is worth hundreds of billions of dollars, one of the wealthiest families in the world,” Sanders continued. “You tell me why taxpayers in the state of Vermont who cannot afford to send their kids to college are in a sense subsidizing the efforts of one of the wealthiest families on earth. Does not make a lot of sense to me.”

Sanders said he supports President Obama in the overall strategy to conduct airstrikes against ISIS and forge an international coalition, “but we are not yet there.”

“I hear many of my colleagues, especially the Republicans, criticize the president because ‘he did not have a strategy for ISIS,’” the senator said. “Well, I remember a President and a vice President Bush and Cheney, they had a strategy. They were forceful. They were bold. They took action. And, they committed the worst foreign policy blunder in the modern history of the United States. The result of which we are trying to deal with today.”

“Let me tell you what the nightmare is. The nightmare is that a U.S. fighter plane gets shot down or some American soldiers are taken captive. The war hysteria rises in this country. Our troops get sent into battle. You are already seeing Republicans are talking about boots on the ground.”

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White House Clearly Relieved at Scottish Referendum Result

Friday, September 19th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

The White House expressed satisfaction this morning at Scotland’s vote to stay within the United Kingdom, with one congressman stressing it was an important decision from a security standpoint.

“We welcome the result of yesterday’s referendum on Scottish independence and congratulate the people of Scotland for their full and energetic exercise of democracy,” President Obama said in a statement. “Through debate, discussion, and passionate yet peaceful deliberations, they reminded the world of Scotland’s enormous contributions to the UK and the world, and have spoken in favor of keeping Scotland within the United Kingdom.”

“We have no closer ally than the United Kingdom, and we look forward to continuing our strong and special relationship with all the people of Great Britain and Northern Ireland as we address the challenges facing the world today,” he added.

The White House repeatedly said it wouldn’t step into the middle of referendum. On Wednesday, Obama issued a personally signed tweet saying, “The UK is an extraordinary partner for America and a force for good in an unstable world. I hope it remains strong, robust and united.”

British Prime Minister David Cameron, declaring “the people of Scotland have spoken,” admitted that a “yes” vote “would have broken my heart.”

“Now the debate has been settled for a generation or as Alex Salmond has said, perhaps for a lifetime,” Cameron said. “So there can be no disputes, no re-runs – we have heard the settled will of the Scottish people.”

“We now have a chance – a great opportunity – to change the way the British people are governed, and change it for the better… Just as the people of Scotland will have more power over their affairs, so it follows that the people of England, Wales and Northern Ireland must have a bigger say over theirs.”

Cameron acknowledged the campaign “stirred strong passions.”

“It has electrified politics in Scotland, and caught the imagination of people across the whole of our United Kingdom,” he said. “It will be remembered as a powerful demonstration of the strength and vitality of our ancient democracy. Record numbers registered to vote and record numbers cast their vote. We can all be proud of that. It has reminded us how fortunate we are that we are able to settle these vital issues at the ballot box, peacefully and calmly.”

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) called the outcome “a welcome vote.”

“The Scottish people’s decision to remain part of the United Kingdom will allow our robust cooperation on security, humanitarian, and economic issues to continue uninterrupted,” Royce said. “I look forward to further deepening the exceptional relations between our countries.”

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Bookies Call the Scottish Referendum; Here are Odds on the U.S. in 2016

Friday, September 19th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

The bookies were right as Scotland voted “no” in the independence referendum, so what do they have to say about American politics? Irish bookmaker Paddy Power currently has the odds of a Democrat winning the White House in 2016 at 4/6, with Republicans at 6/5 and independents (Sen. Bernie Sanders, maybe?) at a longshot 50/1. How are individual names faring in the betting pool, though?

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They’re also thinking in the shorter term: Republicans are 1/80 on retaining control of the House with 11/1 odds for the Democrats, and the GOP is 8/13 on gaining control of the Senate with Dems at 6/5.

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Islamic State, Land of Free Stuff!

Thursday, September 18th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

Everything’s free and everyone has gumdrop smiles in the Islamic State, touts a British Muslim activist known for praising 9/11 and the 7/7 tube bombings:

Which begged the obvious response:

There seem to be offer terms, conditions and restrictions (besides being willing to die in jihad), as well:

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