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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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O’Malley Camp: Plan for 6 DNC-Sanctioned Exclusive Debates ‘Does No One Any Favors’

Tuesday, May 5th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley hasn’t yet entered the presidential race, but his camp today hinted that the six approved Democratic National Committee debates won’t nearly be enough.

The DNC announced today the DNC-sanctioned debates will begin in fall 2015 and be sponsored by “a combination of state Democratic Parties, national broadcast media, digital platforms, local media, and civic organizations.”

Early primary and caucus states of Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina will each host a sanctioned debate.

“While GOP debates the same failed policies, Democrats will debate how to help families get ahead. Looking forward to a real conversation,” Hillary Clinton tweeted.

“If Governor O’Malley decides to run, we will expect a full, robust, and inclusive set of debates—both nationally and in early primary and caucus states,” O’Malley spokeswoman Lis Smith said.

“This has been customary in previous primary seasons,” Smith added. “In a year as critical as 2016, exclusivity does no one any favors.”

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) didn’t issue comment; his formal campaign launches May 26.

The DNC seems to be anxious to show that there will be competition in the Democratic Party primary, even though the committee announced Sanders’ run with a heavy dose of Hillary.

“We’ve always believed that we would have a competitive primary process, and that debates would be an important part of that process,” DNC chairwoman Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (Fla.) said in a statement. “Our debate schedule will not only give Democratic voters multiple opportunities to size up the candidates for the nomination side-by-side, but will give all Americans a chance to see a unified Democratic vision of economic opportunity and progress – no matter whom our nominee may be.”

“While a six sanctioned debate schedule is consistent with the precedent set by the DNC during the 2004 and 2008 cycles, this year the DNC will further manage the process by implementing an exclusivity requirement,” the committee said. “Any candidate or debate sponsor wishing to participate in DNC debates, must agree to participate exclusively in the DNC-sanctioned process. Any violation would result in forfeiture of the ability to participate in the remainder of the debate process.”

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ISIS Message Warns of 71 ‘Trained Soldiers’ in 15 U.S. States, 23 ‘Signed Up for Missions’

Tuesday, May 5th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

A new warning from a purported American jihadist details specific levels of ISIS fighters in the U.S. — as well as targeted states — in the wake of the attack in Garland, Texas.

ISIS’ official operations bulletin as well as their radio station Al-Bayan claimed responsibility for the attack on the “derisive cartoons” competition by Phoenix roommates Elton Simpson and Nadir Soofi. Simpson was flagged by the FBI in 2010 for trying to join jihad in Somalia and more recently for tweeting on behalf of the Islamic State. He tweeted about the attack before it happened and praise for his involvement — and additional oblique threats of attacks in the U.S. — spread quickly among ISIS tweeps.

This new warning — posted on a file-sharing site accompanied by a large ISIS flag — is signed by “Abu Ibrahim Al Ameriki.” It’s not know if this is the same American believed to have joined an Islamic Jihad group in Pakistan several years ago; little is known about that jihadist who bears the same name, but he has done propaganda videos before.

“The attack by the Islamic State in America is only the beginning of our efforts to establish a wiliyah [province] in the heart of our enemy. Our aim was the khanzeer Pamela Geller and to show her that we don’t care what land she hides in or what sky shields her; we will send all our Lions to achieve her slaughter,” the message to “brothers and sisters fighting for the Sake of Allah” states.

“This will heal the hearts of our brothers and disperse the ones behind her. To those who protect her: this will be your only warning of housing this woman and her circus show. Everyone who houses her events, gives her a platform to spill her filth are legitimate targets. We have been watching closely who was present at this event and the shooter of our brothers. We knew that the target was protected. Our intention was to show how easy we give our lives for the Sake of Allah.”

The message says ISIS has stationed “71 trained soldiers in 15 different states ready at our word to attack any target we desire.”

“Out of the 71 trained soldiers 23 have signed up for missions like Sunday, We are increasing in number bithnillah. Of the 15 states, 5 we will name… Virginia, Maryland, Illinois, California, and Michigan,” the posting continues. “The disbelievers who shot our brothers think that you killed someone untrained, nay, they gave you their bodies in plain view because we were watching.”

“The next six months will be interesting, To our Amir Al Mu’mineen make dua for us and continue your reign, May Allah enoble your face,” it concludes, using an honorific title for Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

Titled “The New Era,” the message was tweeted by a user who describes him or herself as “stuck in the lands of the kufr,” with a photo of an ISIS flag and a residential suburban neighborhood in the background.

Simpson tweeted about half an hour before the Garland attack, “The bro with me and myself have given bay’ah to Amirul Mu’mineen. May Allah accept us as mujahideen. Make dua #texasattack.”

White House press secretary Josh Earnest acknowledged today that Garland was “what appears to be an attempted terrorist attack.”

More at PJ Tatler: EXCLUSIVE: FBI, DHS Assessed Terror Attack Threat to Texas ‘Draw Muhammad’ Contest as ‘UNLIKELY’

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Obama Picks His Fifth Afghanistan Commander as Chairman of Joint Chiefs

Tuesday, May 5th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

President Obama today nominated the commandant of the Marine Corps to be the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Gen. Joseph Dunford would take over for Gen. Martin Dempsey, who has been chairman since October 2011.

Dunford, who has been Marine commandant since last summer, led the International Security Assistance Force and U.S. forces in Afghanistan. He was Obama’s fifth Afghanistan commander.

“I’ve had a chance to work with him. I have been extraordinarily impressed by Joe from the situation room where he helped to shape our enduring commitment to Afghanistan, to my visit last year to Bagram, where I saw his leadership first-hand,” Obama said today in the Rose Garden.

“I know Joe. I trust him. He’s already proven his ability to give me his unvarnished military advice based on his experience on the ground. Under his steady hand, we’ve achieved key milestones, including the transition to Afghan responsibility for security, historic Afghan elections, and the drawdown of U.S. forces, setting the stage for our combat mission there.”

Obama urged the Senate to confirm Dunford “without delay so we can stay focused on the work that unites us all as Americans: keeping our military strong, our nation secure, our citizens safe.”

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) already put his stamp of approval on the pick. “General Dunford is a proven leader, commanding forces in Afghanistan, with a deep understanding of the national security challenges we face,” Graham said. “President Obama’s selection of General Dunford to become the next Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is outstanding.”

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) vowed his Armed Services Committee will the nominations of Dunford and vice-chairman pick, Air Force Gen. Paul Selva, “prompt and thorough consideration.”

“In addition to his leadership of the Marine Corps, General Dunford’s exemplary service in Iraq and Afghanistan makes him a strong choice as we confront threats to stability and peace in both countries and throughout the region,” McCain said.

House Armed Services Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) said he hopes that Dunford would continue to be straight with Congress as Obama’s top military adviser.

“General Dunford is a good choice to be chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff,” Thornberry said. “The range and severity of threats America faces today is unprecedented. I am encouraged that the president has chosen as his top military officer a general who has stared down many of those threats personally. General Dunford has always been candid in giving his best military advice to this committee, if he is confirmed, I look forward to that relationship continuing.”

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‘We’ve Lost Our Way, Morally’: Huckabee Jumps Into 2016 Race

Tuesday, May 5th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee threw his hat into the 2016 ring today, telling an audience in his hometown Hope that “we need the kind of change that really could get America from Hope to higher ground.”

Huckabee comes into primary season with experience unusual among the current GOP field: He’s previously run for president, finishing first in the 2008 Iowa caucuses and second in the race for delegates.

While entering the race as the top pick of some conservatives, Huckabee stressed that he could still transcend partisanship.

“I governed in a state that was the most lopsided and partisan in the country. No Republican governor had more Democrats and fewer Republicans. I challenged the deeply entrenched political machine that ran this state. My friend, it was tough sledding, but I learned how to govern, and I learned how to lead,” he said. “And even in that environment, we passed 94 tax cuts, rebuilt our road system, saw dramatic improvements in student test scores and fought the corruption of the good old boy system so that working class people would finally be given a fair shake.”

Huckabee said his healthcare policies would focus on prevention and cures “rather than costly intervention.”

“Because hope comes from finding cures for cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s,” he said. “The same way that we once lined up at the courthouse in the 1950s and took our vaccines and eradicated polio.”

“…As president, I’d launch a curative approach to health care and save money and lives, not just save a bunch of government programs.”

In a Huckabee White House, the governor said, “the ayatollahs of Iran will know that hell will freeze over before they get a nuclear weapon.”

“But we’ve lost our way, morally. We’ve witnessed the slaughter of over 55 million babies in the name of choice, and we are now threatening the foundation of religious liberty by criminalizing Christianity and demanding that we abandon biblical principles of natural marriage,” he said. “Many of our politicians have surrendered to the false god of judicial supremacy, which would black-robed and unelected judges the power to make law as well as enforce it, upending the equality of our three branches of government as well as the separation of powers so very central to the Constitution.”

“My friend, the Supreme Court is not the supreme being, and they cannot overturn the laws of nature or of nature’s God.”

Huckabee said the Department of Education should be “expelled,” and education policy “ought to be set by states, local school boards and, best of all, by the moms and dads of the children.”

He also resurrected his Fair Tax proposal, under which “the IRS would disappear and April 15th would be just another beautiful spring day.”

Huckabee said his campaign will be funded by $15 and $25 a month contributions from working people, but “rest assured, if you want to give a million dollars, please do it.”

“I’m just gonna ask you to give something in the name of your children and grandchildren. I walked away from my own income to do this, so I’m not asking you for some sacrifice I’m not willing to make. I don’t have a global foundation or a taxpayer-funded paycheck to live off of. I don’t come from a family dynasty, but a working family. I grew up blue collar, not blue blood,” he added.

“So I ask you to join with me today, not just so I can be president, but so we can preserve this great republic and someday so that your children and grandchildren can still go from Hope to higher ground.”

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ISIS Claims Responsibility for Garland Attack, Vows ‘What’s Coming Will Be Even Worse’

Tuesday, May 5th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

In a daily radio broadcast today on their Al-Bayan channel, the Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack on a Mohammad cartoon exhibit in Garland, Texas. Here’s the snippet from their daily bulletin, which lists all operations “specifically for the soldiers of the Islamic State”:

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The two terrorists who were killed before making it into the exhibit hall were identified as Phoenix roommates Elton Simpson and Nadir Soofi. Simpson was flagged by the FBI in 2010 for trying to join jihad in Somalia and more recently for tweeting on behalf of the Islamic State. He tweeted about the attack before it happened.

The White House has issued no official statement on the terrorist attack but press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters Monday “there is no act of expression, even if it’s offensive, that justifies an act of violence.”

Earnest spoke aboard Air Force One as President Obama headed to New York for remarks at Lehman College, his eighth appearance on David Letterman, and a DNC event at a private residence.

“We have seen extremists try to use expressions that they considered to be offensive as a way to justify violence not only in this country but around the world, and in the mind of the president there is no form of expression that would justify an act of violence,” he said.

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said in a statement that “while all the facts are not in yet, last night’s attack serves as a reminder that free and protected speech, no matter how offensive to some, never justifies violence of any sort.”

“This attack also underscores the importance of close collaboration between federal, state and local authorities in our Nation’s homeland security efforts, as well as public awareness and vigilance. Initial word of the planned program at the Curtis Culwell Center in Garland was passed from local law enforcement and the community to federal authorities days before the event, and the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI were then able to disseminate information about the planned event to law enforcement and first responders across the country,” Johnson said.

“Finally, in reaction to last night’s attack, we urge that members of the public not misdirect anger and suspicion at people simply because of their religious faith. The strengths and heritage of this Nation include our racial, religious and ethnic pluralism, and our acceptance and inclusiveness of others different from ourselves.”

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Kerry Becomes First Secretary of State to Visit Somalia, Doesn’t Leave Airport

Tuesday, May 5th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

John Kerry today became the first secretary of State to touch down in Somalia.

Kerry made the trip from neighboring Kenya, where took selfies with baby elephants at an orphanage and laid a wreath at the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi in honor of the 1998 terror attack victims.

In a statement, spokeswoman Marie Harf said Kerry landed in Mogadishu today “to reinforce the United States commitment to supporting Somalia’s ongoing transition to a peaceful democracy.”

“In his meetings with federal and regional government officials, he will discuss security cooperation and Somalia’s progress towards meeting its reform and development benchmarks in view of its 2016 elections,” Harf said. “He will also meet with civil society leaders to discuss the importance of a vibrant NGO sector and thank African Union troops for their role in stabilizing Somalia.”

Last year on a visit to D.C., Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud told PJM that he wants “to see the United States increase its support given to Somalia in terms of economic development so that the grievances that al-Shabaab is utilizing right now are not there.”

“Boko Haram, al-Shabaab, all of them, these are terrorist organizations — they are linked, they live for each other, they support each other and they are connected globally,” Mohamud said. “It’s not just an issue of one country or one region — it’s a global phenomenon that needs to be addressed globally.”

Kerry sat down with Mohamud, but not at the presidential residence: he didn’t leave the airport. He stayed for about three hours before flying back to Kenya.

“The next time I come, we have to be able to just walk downtown,” Kerry declared to Mohamud.

A senior State Department official downplayed the al-Shabaab threat, telling reporters on a background call that the terrorists are “in some small pockets, and the AMISOM troops have been very effective in pushing them out of these pockets.”

“The fact that al-Shabaab is carrying out the asymmetrical attacks that they are doing is a sign that they are being pushed out of areas where they’ve been holding territory. We see it as showing that they are being pushed up against the wall, and we’ll keep pushing them up against the wall until they are brought under control.”

The official said they didn’t announce Kerry’s toe-touch in Somalia for security reasons.

Letting him leave the airport would be “a huge, huge logistical and security challenge for us. The last thing we need is something to happen when the secretary is on the ground. And I don’t think we have the confidence of taking him out of – off the grounds of the airport.”

The official added that Kerry was especially excited about the trip “when he learned he was the first.” He’s not the highest ranking U.S. official to visit, though, as President George H.W. Bush did so in 1993.



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Earnest on Obama Reaction to Texas Attack: ‘No Form of Expression That Would Justify Act of Violence’

Monday, May 4th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

The White House has issued no official statement on the terrorist attack in Garland, Texas, last night, but press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters today “there is no act of expression, even if it’s offensive, that justifies an act of violence.”

Earnest spoke aboard Air Force One as President Obama headed to New York for remarks at Lehman College, his eighth appearance on David Letterman, and a DNC event at a private residence.

“The president was informed last night of the violence outside Dallas,” Earnest said of the two gunmen claiming ISIS loyalty who opened fire outside a Muhammad cartoon contest.

Both gunmen were shot to death by a police officer after they wounded a security guard, who has since been released from the hospital. One has been identified as Elton Simpson of Phoenix, who was flagged by the FBI in 2010 for trying to join jihad in Somalia and more recently for tweeting on behalf of the Islamic State.

Earnest said Obama “was informed last night of the violence outside Dallas.”

“We have seen extremists try to use expressions that they considered to be offensive as a way to justify violence not only in this country but around the world, and in the mind of the president there is no form of expression that would justify an act of violence,” he said, according to the White House pool report.

“We saw a pretty important and notable display of bravery on the part of first responders and …because of their courage the only person that was injured by these gunmen was a security officer.”

Lawmakers have also been slow to respond to the violence. One local congressman tweeted his reaction: “My thoughts and prayers go out to all those in attendance and affected by the shooting at today’s Mohammed Art Exhibit in Garland,” Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas) said.

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) said in a statement, “My thoughts and prayers go out to the entire Garland community and all those affected by last night’s shooting. Quite simply, an attack on free speech is an attack on all Americans. I want to thank Garland law enforcement and all agencies involved for ensuring a bad situation did not become much, much worse.”

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Senator’s Review of Base Sexual Assaults Finds More Than Half Targeted Military Spouses, Civilians

Monday, May 4th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

A senator who has been advocating for tougher safeguards against sexual abuse in the military today released a report that found more than half the cases from a handful of bases studied involved attacks on civilians or military spouses.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) noted that neither group is counted among the classifications of victims in Defense Department reports on the prevalence of sexual assault.

Gillibrand, who was chairwoman of the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Personnel in the last Congress, began the review of four bases — Fort Hood, Camp Pendleton, Naval Station Norfolk, and Wright-Patterson Air Force Base — in February 2014. The senator requested that the Pentagon turn over “all reports and allegations of rape, forcible sodomy, sexual assault, sex in the barracks, adultery and attempts, conspiracies, or solicitations to commit these crimes” from the past five years.

Nearly a year after the request, the DoD only turned over 107 cases from 2013 despite the breadth of Gillibrand’s request. “The documents analyzed by our office suggest that civilians (including spouses) are especially vulnerable, and that the military justice system continues to struggle to provide justice,” the report states.

Nearly half of the reported victims declined to move forward with the legal process after initially filing a report, and of the remaining cases just 20 percent went to trial. Of those, half resulted in imprisonment or dishonorable discharge while the rest of the cases resulted in punishment such as docked pay or rank.

“We requested this data to understand what happens when reports are filed, how they are investigated and move forward within the military justice system and needless to say, the more we learn, the worse the problem gets,” Gillibrand said in a statement. “These 107 files are a snapshot of the thousands of estimated cases that occur annually – the latest projection for 2014 alone is 20,000 cases of sexual assault and unwanted sexual contact.”

“What we’ve found are alarming rates of assault among two survivor groups not routinely counted in DoD surveys, survivors declining to move forward with their cases and very low conviction rates,” she added. “Even with the much-lauded reforms, the system remains plagued with distrust and simply does not provide the fair and just process that survivors deserve.”

Of the reports studied by her office, 32 percent were filed by civilian woman, such as residents near bases, and 21 percent were filed by civilians married to a service member.

“This is over double the rate of civilian survivors that are listed in the DoD SAPRO Report (Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Annual Report for FY 2013). (This could be due to higher reporting at these bases, or a higher incidence of sexual assaults at these bases, but that is unknown.) The Department of Defense’s sexual assault surveys, which are the main source of data to quantify the prevalence of sexual assault in the military, only query servicemembers, and therefore only include projected statistics of how many servicemembers are survivors of military sexual assault,” Gillibrand’s report states.

About 73 percent of military spouses declined to pursue charges. “Of the 22 sexual assault incidents reported by spouses, in only one case did the military command proceed to trial, and in that case the husband was acquitted of the sexual assault. The military justice system is clearly failing these military spouses.”

“…An alarming number of cases appear to go cold when the accused and alleged survivor provide conflicting statements as to whether the sex was consensual. In particular, if the two parties have a previous sexual history, the alleged assailant is more likely to be believed. Of the 34 cases
in which the accused told the authorities that the sex was consensual, or denied it happened, the command took action just ten times. In these cases, there were zero convictions of sexual assault. Significantly, 27 of 34, or about 79% of these cases, did not go to trial.”

The report also charges that Norfolk provided a “strikingly low number of cases in proportion to the number of servicemembers” at the Naval Station, noting that the Fort Hood reporting appeared too low as well.

“The Department of Defense provided five 2013 Wright-Patterson Air Force Base sexual assault case files to Senator Gillibrand for consideration. Previously, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base’s Office of the Staff Judge Advocate released sexual assault statistics to the Dayton Daily News indicating that nine assaults had been reported in 2013. Moreover, the Wright-Patterson Sexual Assault Response Coordinator provided the Dayton Daily News with a different number of sexual assault reports in 2013: 25. Based on the different statistics provided, the number of reported sexual assaults at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in 2013 is unclear, and may be underreported.”

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The ISIS Penal Code, Including Penalty for ‘One Who Kills Merrily’

Monday, May 4th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson


The Islamic State recently released a list of crimes and punishments, promising “to govern with His Shariah on His earth between His servants although the kūfar dislike it.”

“And we wish to explain the Hūdood of Allah Sūbhānahu Watāla as a warning:

  • Insulting Allah = Killing.
  • Insulting Messenger of Allah = Killing even if the one who did it repents.
  • Insulting the religion = Killing.
  • Zināh = If married, stoned to death. If not married; 100 lashes and banning from the land for the period of 1 year.
  • Homosexuality = Killing the one who does such an act, and the one who it’s done to.
  • Stealing = Cutting the hand
  • Drinking alcohol = 80 lashes
  • Slander = 80 lashes
  • Spying for kūfar interests = Killing.
  • Turning back on Islam (apostate) = Killing
  • Banditry (in Arabic Qat3 at-Tarīq) are 4 categories:

A) The one who kills and takes money = Killed and crucified.
B) The one who kills merrily = Killing
C) The one who steals merrily = His left hand and right feet will be chopped of.
D) The one who scares the people = Banishing him from the land”

“There is no good in one who is sentenced if he doesn’t surrender himself to the Sharia of His Lord, and there is no good in a judge if he doesn’t judge according to the Sharia of Allah between His servants,” the document says. “The Islamic State will not be lenient in this great purpose, for whom they offered hundreds of shūhadā from their innocent and pure sons.”

ISIS also released new propaganda photos of a grocery store and department store, a healthcare clinic with a jihadist doctor, and a hotel that it renovated and opened in Mosul.



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DNC Tries to Give Love to Hillary on Bernie’s Big Day

Monday, May 4th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

This graphic was in the Democratic National Committee email Thursday after Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) confirmed he would run for the White House — challenging former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for the party’s nomination.

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The email just had the subject line “Bernie Sanders,” but featured Clinton’s photo also followed by black-and-white images of Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.). “But so are they,” the text read, followed by a fundraising pitch.

Maybe they heard something from the party’s left flank, because the following day, the DNC sent out another email with the subject line “Bernie Sanders!”

This featured just information about Sanders in the body of the email, pitching him as a candidate who has “fought tirelessly for the middle class.”

But on Saturday, this was followed with another DNC email with the subject line “Bernie and Hillary!”

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Expect the Democratic race to be an internal struggle as Hillary expects the lion’s share of fundraising and Bernie tries to woo smaller donors — and, in the process, woo away votes on the far left.

Clinton’s campaign didn’t issue any statement about Sanders’ candidacy, but Hillary did acknowledge his entrance into the race via Twitter:


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Carly Fiorina Announces Presidential Run on ABC

Monday, May 4th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson
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Former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina announced her run for the White House today on Good Morning America.

Fiorina, 60, becomes the fourth entrant to vie for the Republican nomination, and the only woman on the GOP side of the race so far.

“I think I am the best person for the job,” Fiorina declared to ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, “because I understand how the economy actually works. I understand the world, who’s in it, how the world works.”

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, Fiorina said, “clearly is not trustworthy, about a whole set of thing.”

“She peddled a fiction about [Benghazi] for a month, she hasn’t been transparent about her server and her emails, and now we see now all of these foreign government donations to the Clinton Global Initiative.”

Fiorina’s last bid for public office, the 2010 California Senate campaign, failed to unseat incumbent Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), who is retiring at the end of this Congress.

She plans an online town hall forum today before hitting early states Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina.


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Sanders Eschews ‘Soap Opera Aspects of Modern Campaigns’ on Day One

Thursday, April 30th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is now part of the presidential field — in trademark Bernie fashion.

Sanders eschewed the campaign pep rally and instead opted for a podium in the “swamp” area of the Senate lawn. He told reporters that he needed to make it snappy because he needed to get back to work.

His campaign website fine print says “Paid for by Bernie 2016 (not the billionaires).”

“Let me say this, and I say this to you honestly: One of the hesitancies I had about deciding whether to run or not is obviously dealing with money. I’m not going to get money from the Koch brothers, and I’m not going to get money from billionaires. I’m going to have to raise my campaign contributions through BernieSanders.com, small campaign contributions. That’s how I’m going to do it,” he said.

Sanders insisted that his campaign is not just a statement-making enterprise: “We’re in this race to win,” he declared.

He still does “seriously wonder — and it’s not just Bernie Sanders — whether any candidate who is not a billionaire or who is not beholden to the billionaire class, [is] able to run successful campaigns.”

“If that is the case, I want you all to recognize what a sad state of affairs that is for the American democracy.”

He’s looking forward to debating Hillary Clinton about, among other things, her vote for the Iraq war in the Senate. “We don’t know what Hillary’s stances are on all the issues,” he needled.

Sanders also highlighted other ways in which his campaign may be refreshing to voters. First, he hates 30-second “ugly” campaign TV ads. Doesn’t want to go there.

“This is not the Red Sox versus the Yankees,” Sanders said. “I ask the media’s help on this — allow us to discuss the important issues facing the American people, and let’s not get hung up on political gossip or all the other soap opera aspects of modern campaigns.”

Fox carried Sanders’ presser live, while CNN and MSNBC stuck with their Baltimore coverage.

The Democratic National Committee sent out an email to supporters that said “Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders is in… Hillary Clinton is in, too.”

Sanders will remain an Independent in the Senate, but run for the Democratic Party presidential nomination.

“Can any candidate in this country who represents working families, who is not a billionaire, who is not beholden to big money, can that candidate in this day and age win an election? It’s not just Bernie Sanders. I don’t know the answer,” he told CNN. “From what I’m understanding, we’re raising hundreds of thousands of dollars today. Clearly we’re not going to be having the billions of dollars that our opponents will have. But I do believe, and I would not have entered this race if, A, I didn’t think we could win, and, B, if we could not raise enough money to run a strong campaign.”

“…People did not die to create a democratic system where it’s a war between billionaires. I will get the vast amount of money from small, individual contributions. That’s how I’ve always done it. That’s how I’ll do it this time.”

Mother Jones noted that Sanders has already taken more questions from the press than Clinton has.

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Jarrett: Obama Would Just be ‘Enormous Distraction’ in Baltimore

Thursday, April 30th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Valerie Jarrett said President Obama isn’t planning on driving an hour up the road to Baltimore because he’d just be an “enormous distraction” as protests continue.

Obama was previously criticized for not going to Ferguson, Mo., after rioting broke out in the wake of Michael Brown’s death.

“Right now we’re trying to ensure that there is peaceful, and opportunity for peaceful demonstrations. We had a very difficult night a couple of nights ago and everybody from the local law enforcement to the state are all working to try to keep the peace. And when the president arrives on the scene, he’s an enormous distraction, and pulls resources away from where they need to be. So for the time being, he won’t go,” Jarrett told MSNBC today.

“But he’s certainly keeping up with what’s going on. I’ve spoken to the governor and the mayor every day. He spoke to the governor and the mayor on Monday. Our attorney general sent her top people out there to sit down and meet with the mayor and local leaders to see what they could do to help provide the kind of technical assistance, that’s so important at a time like this, to defuse the situation and not ignite it.”

Jarrett cited “thousands and thousands of people on the streets of Baltimore who are — love their community, want to protect their community, want to improve the relationship between the police and the community that they’re there to serve, and we should hold that up and celebrate that.”

She also defended Obama’s statement on the riots in the Rose Garden this week during a press conference with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

“Whether he’s physically on the streets of Baltimore or speaking here, very eloquently from the Rose Garden, I think his message was one which really resonated broadly around the country, and that is that we do need to be talking about these issues. And we don’t need to simply talk about them when we have a tragedy, such as this one, and you see people pouring out into the streets. The same thing happened last summer in Ferguson and Staten Island and Ohio and around our country,” Jarrett said.

“And I think it’s an expression of an underlying simmering frustration that’s out there that we need to do something about. And the president has talked very clearly about his agenda to have a middle class economic strategy that grows the middle class and provides ladders of opportunity for people to get into the middle class. And until we meet those challenges head on, we’re going to continue to have challenges. And that’s what he wants to talk about.”

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Pelosi: What Is the Job of Police, ‘to Fight a Guerrilla War’?

Thursday, April 30th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) questioned whether it’s the job of law enforcement to conduct “guerrilla warfare” on city streets, before quickly correcting her word choice.

At a press conference today, Pelosi opened by stressing “all of us who love justice and all of us who love Baltimore are deeply saddened by the death of Freddie Gray and deep the wounds that have been laid bare in the Baltimore community.”

“Of course, we hope for the speedy recovery of the police officers who were hurt,” she added. “Freddie’s death, though, in police custody demands answers, and I’m pleased that the Department of Justice has opened an investigation as to what happened. To find justice, we must respect the great successful tradition of nonviolence.”

“…The fury of despair, of no hope is something throughout the world, and including in our — in our country that evokes an angry response, but we again also have to respect the responsibilities our law enforcement officers take when they leave home to protect the community.”

Pelosi said there ultimately “has to be something different happening in the orientation of not only our police, but our justice system.”

Pressed later on the role Congress can play in that “reorientation,” Pelosi said, “I do think also that we all have to respect the role that our law enforcement agencies play, and what are they — what is their job?”

“Is their job to maintain order — law and order, and protect people from criminal offenses and the rest of that? And report them, or is it to fight a guerrilla war on the streets of a city? There has to be a different kind of training for that,” she said.

“I don’t mean a guerrilla war. I don’t want to overstate it that way. But actions taken by some that are a departure from the normal responsibilities of a police officer. And that doesn’t mean anything about peaceful protest or enthusiastic protest. It means targeted actions against the police and against the safety of the people who are trying to demonstrate peacefully.”

She added that “we can’t let anybody exploit” the power of peaceful protest “by hooliganism.”

“On the other hand, we have to have a balance in how we make judgments about it,” Pelosi said. “So, in the meantime, it would be great if we had a great summer jobs program where we can put people to work. You know, things that alleviate some of the despair that people have out there.”

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Rand Paul, Progressive Caucus Chairman Team Up for Drug Crime Reclassification Bill

Thursday, April 30th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

GOP presidential hopeful Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) has teamed with the co-chairman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus in his latest legislative effort.

Paul and Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) reintroduced the Senate version of the RESET Act — Reclassification to Ensure Smarter and Equal Treatment Act of 2015 — while Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) introduced the House version.

Paul originally introduced the bill last July but had no co-sponsors in the Senate.

The bill “would reclassify specific low-level, non-violent drug possession felonies as misdemeanors, eliminate the distinction between crack and powder cocaine for sentencing, and ensure that food products containing drugs are weighed fairly,” his office said, the last clause giving a reprieve to pot brownies.

“The RESET Act will end the worst sentencing injustices for non-violent offenses in our criminal justice system,” Paul said. “It will more closely align punishment with the severity of the offense and make it possible for someone to get a second chance after a non-violent youthful mistake, instead of a lifetime punishment.”

Paul, who’s campaigning Monday in Grand Rapids with Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.), will likely push his criminal justice reform proposals more as media focus remains on civil unrest and allegations of police brutality.

After Democratic Party presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton told a crowd at Columbia University that “it’s time to end the era of mass incarceration,” Paul’s camp released a statement noting that “not only is Hillary Clinton trying to undo some of the harm inflicted by the Clinton administration, she is now emulating proposals introduced by Senator Rand Paul over the last several years, and we welcome her to the fight.”

Ellison said the “failed war on drugs is designed to keep entire communities in a cycle of debt and poverty.”

“1.5 million African American men are missing from society due in large part to our broken criminal justice system,” the congressman added. “We need to bring the punishment for non-violent and low-level drug offenses back into proportion with similar crimes.”

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Sharpton Meets with Baltimore Mayor, Planning March from Charm City to D.C.

Thursday, April 30th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Al Sharpton meets Wednesday with Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake (Photo via National Action Network)

Rev. Al Sharpton said he couldn’t resist the urge to get involved in the Freddie Gray case before meeting yesterday with Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake.

“I have been asked by many in the Baltimore area since day one to get involved in the justice for Freddie Gray movement. Though I have discussed it on my daily radio and TV shows and been in touch with our NAN Baltimore chapter, I resisted personal involvement until we saw what the promised May 1 investigation report would bring,” Sharpton said Monday in a statement through his National Action Network.

Baltimore police said Wednesday that the Friday report is not a public document but the internal investigation into the in-custody death of the 25 year old that will be turned over to state investigators. The state attorneys will then review and decide if any charges will be filed against officers.

Sharpton said he was “saddened and disappointed” that the public wouldn’t see the report Friday.

“It is concerning to me that a deadline that the police themselves had set and announced they have now conveniently changed,” he said. Therefore, he decided to come to Baltimore to meet with local leaders and “to schedule a two-day march in May from Baltimore to Washington.”

“The march will bring the case of Freddie Gray, Eric Garner, Walter Scott, Eric Harris to the new Attorney General, Loretta Lynch. Ms. Lynch, in her new role that we all supported, must look and intervene in these cases. Justice delayed is justice denied.”

After speaking with Rawlings-Blake yesterday, Sharpton had the mayor on his MSNBC show.

“You know, we want to do more than just seek justice for Freddie Gray. We want to have justice, and in order to do that, we have to respect the process and we have to work very hard to make sure that this investigation is protected,” Rawlings-Blake said of the report release timeline. “…I certainly don’t want to give people the impression that the — that our state’s attorney will have made a decision by Friday.”

The mayor also defended her handling of the case and protests.

“I’m a criminal defense attorney — you know, by profession, before I was mayor. That’s what I did. I understand the issues of police brutality. I understand the issue of police misconduct, and we are making steady progress. Is this a tremendous setback, what is happening with our city? Absolutely it is. But it’s not going to stop me from confronting these issues and making sure that we get it right for our communities,” she said.

“I’m determined not to turn this into a political issue. We have to get this right, bring peace and order and healing in our city. I’m not going to play politics with it.”

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Tom Cotton Challenges Iran Foreign Minister to Verbal Duel

Wednesday, April 29th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Freshman Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), who perturbed the Obama administration when he got 46 colleagues to sign on to an open letter advising Tehran of Congress’ legitimate role in any nuclear agreement, is not done facing off with Iran.

In New York for the U.N. Nonproliferation Treaty Conference, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said at a New York University event on Wednesday that all sanctions on Iran will be lifted the moment it signs an agreement:”If we have an agreement on the 30th of June, within a few days after that, there will be a resolution before the UN Security Council under Article 41 of Chapter 7 which will be mandatory for all member states whether Senator Cotton likes it or not.”

“We don’t want to get bogged down into the domestic procedures in the United States. I’ve studied and lived in the U.S.,” Zarif said. “I know enough about the U.S. Constitution and U.S. procedures, but as a foreign government I only deal with U.S. government. I do not deal with U.S. Congress.”

How did Cotton respond? Game on.

“Sanctions relief isn’t about what I like, but what will keep America safe from a nuclear-armed Iran. But I suspect Foreign Minister Zarif is saying what President Obama will not because the president knows such terms would be unacceptable to both Congress and the American people. The repeated provocative statements made by members of the Iranian leadership demonstrate why Iran cannot be trusted and why the president’s decision to pursue this deal and grant dangerous concessions to Iran was ill-advised from the beginning,” Cotton said in a statement. “These aren’t rhetorical tricks aimed at appealing to hard-liners in Iran; after all, Mr. Zarif was speaking in English in New York. Rather, they foreshadow the dangerous posture Iran will take and has taken repeatedly—including as recently as yesterday with the interception of a U.S.-affiliated cargo ship—if this deal moves forward.”

“More, they reaffirm the need for Congress to approve any final deal and to conduct oversight over the Obama administration’s actions. As we consider the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act, I urge my colleagues to ensure we pass legislation strong enough to stop a bad deal in its tracks and protect the American people from a nuclear Iran.”

But the senator wasn’t done with Zarif, taking to Twitter with a challenge.





Zarif hasn’t replied to the tweets.

In an earlier interview with PBS, Zarif also stated that the administration is misstating the nature of the agreement.

“Sanctions must be lifted as soon as Iran implements its agreed part. We have an agreement,” he said. “That agreement provides for the lifting of all sanctions, all economic and financial sanctions and those sanctions are lifted because the logic is very clear. The logic is if you want an agreement, you have two options — option of pressure, option of agreement. You cannot mix the two.”

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Baltimore Riots Meet Campaign 2016: Paul Camp Says Clinton Bogarting Rand’s Ideas

Wednesday, April 29th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

There’s a campaign 2016 flavor to the Baltimore riots.

Not just because former Gov. Martin O’Malley put on a crisp white shirt and toured the crime scenes on Tuesday — met with a mixed reaction by residents because of bitterness over his zero-tolerance crime policies as mayor.

“I just wanted to be present. There’s a lot of pain in our city right now, a lot of people feeling very sad,” O’Malley told reporters. “Look, we’ve got to come through this together. We’re a people who’ve seen worse days, and we’ll come through this day.”

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told an audience at Columbia University today that “we have to come to terms with some hard truths about race and justice in America.”

“There is something profoundly wrong when African-American men are still far more likely to be stopped and searched by police, charged with crimes, and sentenced to longer prison terms than are meted out to their white counterparts,” Clinton said. “There is something wrong when a third of all black men face the prospect of prison during their lifetimes. And an estimated 1.5 million black men are ‘missing’ from their families and communities because of incarceration and premature death.”

Clinton says the government needs to go further than President Obama’s proposal to give matching funds to state and local governments investing in body cameras, “and make this the norm everywhere.”

“We also have to be honest about the gaps that exist across our country, the inequality that stalks our streets. Because you cannot talk about smart policing and reforming the criminal justice system if you also don’t talk about what’s needed to provide economic opportunity, better educational chances for young people, more support to families so they can do the best jobs they are capable of doing to help support their own children,” she continued.

She advocated reforms to bring down incarceration rates. “One in every 28 children now has a parent in prison. Think about what that means for those children,” she said. “…Without the mass incarceration that we currently practice, millions fewer people would be living in poverty.”

Clinton admitted she didn’t “know all the answers,” and would be talking more about the issue “in the months to come,” but “it’s time to end the era of mass incarceration. We need a true national debate about how to reduce our prison population while keeping our communities safe.”

“There are other measures that I and so many others have championed to reform arbitrary mandatory minimum sentences are long overdue,” she said. “We also need probation and drug diversion programs to deal swiftly with violations, while allowing low-level offenders who stay clean and stay out of trouble to stay out of prison. I’ve seen the positive effects of specialized drug courts and juvenile programs work to the betterment of individuals and communities. And please, please, let us put mental health back at the top of our national agenda.”

Clinton named-dropped GOP presidential hopeful Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) as one of the lawmakers who has pressed for criminal justice reform, and his campaign fired back that Clinton “proposed various criminal justice reform ideas in an attempt to undo some of Bill Clinton’s work– the same work she cheerfully supported as First Lady.”

“Not only is Hillary Clinton trying to undo some of the harm inflicted by the Clinton administration, she is now emulating proposals introduced by Senator Rand Paul over the last several years, and we welcome her to the fight.”

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Earnest Says Iran Seizure of Ship Could be Worse: It Could Have Been a Nuclear-Armed Seizure!

Wednesday, April 29th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

The White House says it’s “monitoring” the seizure of a cargo ship by Iran, while Tehran said today that the Maersk Tigris isn’t leaving Shaheed Bahonar Port anytime soon.

“As of this morning, it is our understanding that the Maersk Tigris remains in the custody of the IRGC Navy. And we’re continuing to monitor the situation,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters today. “We have not at this point received any reports of injuries to crew members. And, as we noted yesterday, according to information received from the vessel’s operators, there are no Americans onboard.”

“This is obviously a situation that we continue to monitor because we are committed to, as we discussed at some length last week, committed to ensuring freedom of navigation and the free flow of commerce in international waters.”

Maersk tweeted that the company was “pleased to learn that the crew is safe.” There are 34 crew members on the vessel.

“Maersk is in close dialogue with Rickmers Shipmanagement to explore options to help resolve this situation,” the shipping company added.

The shipped is flagged out of the Marshall Islands, a protectorate of the United States. “Our concerns about the interference with the Maersk Tigris, would be even more acute if an Iranian-armed — I’m sorry, a nuclear-armed Iranian Navy were conducting these kinds of intercepts,” Earnest shot back when asked if this latest act of aggression would undermine nuclear negotiations.

“I’m not going to offer up any — make any threats from here about the likelihood of imposing additional sanctions over this particular incident, but the — our approach to this is consistent — our approach to Iranian behavior is consistent with the approach that we’ve taken when it comes to sanctions, which is that we can have a conversation about their nuclear program, get them to make serious concessions when it comes to their nuclear program, in exchange for some sanctions relief for those concessions,” said the White House spokesman.

“But it would have no impact on our concerns about their behavior in a variety of other areas and would have no impact on the sanctions that are already in place against them as a result of their behavior in other areas.”

Iran’s semi-official Fars News Agency quoted Iran’s Ports and Maritime Organization deputy chief, Hadi Haqshenas, as saying that despite Al-Jazeera reports that the ship had been released “the vessel, Maersk Tigris, is still in custody.”

“The ship is still held in Shaheed Bahonar Port and the report about its release is hereby denied,” he said, saying that the military seized the ship at the request of his agency because of a court dispute over payments with Maersk.

Sen. Jim Risch (R-Idaho), who sits on the Senate Foreign Relations and Intelligence committees, told Fox that the seizure was obviously “a response to the president of the United States last week dispatching naval power to the Straits of Hormuz, arguably the most important shipping lane in the world.”

“And what do they do? They do this and antagonize us. They antagonize the world. Taking a ship that is from the Marshall Islands, which we obviously have a deep relationship with,” Risch said.

“I mean, every problem we have in the Middle East has Iran’s fingerprints on it. And it just keeps getting worse, instead of getting better.”

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VFW: CNN Host’s Comment About Vets ‘as Unacceptable as It Is Insulting’

Wednesday, April 29th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson
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The Veterans of Foreign Wars isn’t ready to let a CNN host off the hook for comments she made about returning veterans having complicity in police violence.

“I was talking to the city councilman last week,” Brooke Baldwin said Tuesday while reporting from Baltimore. “He said, ‘Brooke, these people have to live in the community. There’s a lack of emotional investment.’ And a lot of young people — and I’ve been talking about this so much. A lot of young people — and I love our nation’s veterans, but some are coming back from war, they don’t know the communities, and they’re ready to do battle.”

After outcry over her remarks, Baldwin made an on-air apology today.

“I absolutely misspoke,” Baldwin said on CNN’s New Day this morning. “I inartfully chose my words a hundred percent, and I just wish, just speaking to all of you this morning … I wholeheartedly retract what I said. I’ve thought tremendously about this, and to our nation’s veterans — to you, I have the utmost respect for our men and women in uniform, and I wanted you to know that this morning. So to all of you, I owe you a tremendous apology. I am truly sorry.”

She offered another apology at the beginning of her afternoon show.

“No one wants peace more than those who wear the badge and those who wear the uniform,” VFW National Commander John W. Stroud said in a statement after Baldwin’s apology. “To have someone in the press make a personal statement that, apology or not, accuses military veterans as being the aggressors is as unacceptable as it is insulting.”

“Our country should celebrate the fact that highly trained and motivated veterans are choosing to continue serving their nation and communities as police officers — a profession, just like the military, that most Americans would fail even the most basic entrance requirements,” Stroud said. “Journalistic standards should demand better than accusatory statements made without any facts or reality.”

The VFW is asking its members to view Baldwin’s original comments, listen to her apology, “then if so compelled, to let her know your thoughts through CNN’s viewer feedback link here.”

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Geert Wilders on Capitol Hill Sparks Protest from Muslim Members

Wednesday, April 29th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Days after a liberal congressman proposed legislation to stop the Iowa conservative from legislating, Rep. Steve King announced he would bring a controversial Dutch politician to Capitol Hill.

King (R-Iowa) and Wilders plan on holding a “Fighting Radical Islam” press conference on Thursday on the lawn outside the Capitol.

Wilders is leader of the Party for Freedom, the Dutch parliament’s fourth-largest party, and argues that the Netherlands is being Islamacized. His death has been called for via fatwa by al-Qaeda, the Taliban, ISIS and others.

King’s office says other members of Congress will attend, but did not name them. Wilders’ visit is being co-hosted by Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas).

The two Muslim members of Congress, Reps. Andre Carson (D-Ind.) and Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), had asked Secretary of State John Kerry and Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson to ban Wilders’ entrance into the United States “due to his participation in inciting anti-Muslim aggression and violence.”

Along with Rep. Joe Crowley (D-N.Y.), Ellison and Carson called on House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to denounce Wilders’ visit.

“Hatred left unchecked begets further discrimination, and history has shown that when communities fail to fight back against hate, it only grows in severity and scope,” the Democrats wrote. “What begins as hatred against one group can rapidly morph into targeting of any number of minority groups.”

Wilders spoke this morning before the Conservative Opportunity Society, which was founded by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.).

“I have nothing against Muslims. Before the death threats started I have visited almost every Islamic country and I met many friendly people. I know there are many moderate Muslims who do not live according to the violent commands of the Quran. Muslims can be moderates. But there is no moderate Islam. Islam has changed Europe beyond recognition,” Wilders said.

“…Our duty is clear. In order to solve the problem, we have to stop mass immigration to the West from Islamic countries. And we have to get rid of the cultural relativism.”

Wilders added that it’s “sheer stupidity” to stop would-be jihadis from running off to join the Islamic State: “This is wrong. Let them leave if they want to leave. But let them never return.”

“In my country and the other EU member states, which signed the so-called Schengen Treaty, we have abolished all border controls between the 26 member states of the Schengen zone. This means that jihadis from one of these states can freely travel to the others and commit their crimes there. And it has already happened. Last year a jihadi from France, who had just returned from Syria, went to Belgium and murdered four people at the Jewish Museum in Brussels,” he said.

‘Without borders a nation-cannot guarantee the security of its citizens. Neither can it preserve its national identity and culture. I believe that one of the most vital things which we Europeans must do is to leave Schengen and reinstate national border control.”

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Congressman Praises Baltimore Mom’s ‘Love Whooping’ of Rioting Son, Calls for Moms Movement

Wednesday, April 29th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson
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A Baltimore mom who earned national fame by finding her rioting son and smacking him upside the head before dragging him home inspired a special plea in the halls of Congress on Tuesday.

Toya Graham spotted her 16-year-old son, Michael, among the masked miscreants Monday, and promptly swung into action, pulling off his ski mask and slapping him as she pulled him away from the crowds. “You want to be out here doing this dumb s–t?” she was captured telling him on camera. As he tried to get away from her, she continued, “Get the f–k over here. Get over here now. Did you hear what I said?”

“He gave me eye contact. And at that point, you know, not even thinking about cameras or anything like that. That’s my only son and at the end of the day I don’t want him to be a Freddie Gray,” Graham told CBS, adding she was “shocked, I was angry, because you never want to see your child out there doing that.”

“He knew he was in trouble,” the mom said. “He said ‘when I seen you,’ he said, ‘ma, my instinct was to run.’”

On the House floor yesterday, Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) propped up a picture of the mom, saying it was “is time now for black mothers to once again rise up.”

“Beside me today is an image that many people across the nation have seen and are talking about. The image of a strong mother giving her son what I would call a ‘love whooping’ to snatch him back from the grips of senseless street violence plaguing Baltimore. As this picture demonstrates, Madame Speaker, mothers can and must be the mobilizing force to take back our streets. Mothers feel the pain of the loss of a child unlike any other. The primal scream of a mother at the death and sudden departure of her child is unlike any other outcry known to mankind,” Rush said.

“…This mother is demonstrating the power of a mother’s love and the power of a mother’s courage; she walked into harm’s way, directly to locate her son demonstrating a power that is beyond imagination and selflessness.”

To honor Graham “and the important role that all mothers play in taking back our streets and ending the violence plaguing communities across the nation,” Rush called on America’s mothers to wear yellow on Mother’s Day “in a symbolic show of solidarity to create a ‘Mothers in Yellow’ movement to end violence that plagues this nation’s communities and neighborhoods.”

“Simply put,” the congressman said, “senseless destruction of your own neighborhood is not protesting it’s pillaging. It’s not political, it’s pillaging. Nothing more, nothing less.”

Rush, a former Black Panther and born-again Christian, lost one of his sons in a South Side shooting in Chicago in 1999.

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Reid on Riots: ‘Millions of Americans Feel Powerless’ with System ‘Rigged Against Them’

Tuesday, April 28th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson
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Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) took to the floor of the upper chamber today to declare that “no American should ever feel powerless,” but an unfair system has driven people to riot in Baltimore.

Reid called the death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray, whose spine was severed while in the custody of Baltimore police, “the latest in a series of disturbing and unnecessary deaths of young men of color at the hands of police and vigilantes.”

“To be clear, violence is never an acceptable response, even to tragedies such as these. The rioting and looting we are seeing on the streets of Baltimore will only further damage a community in a great American city that is already hurting,” he said. “But we should not let the violence perpetrated by a few to become an excuse to ignore the underlying problem: that millions of Americans feel powerless in the face of a system that is rigged against them.”

Reid stressed that “it’s easy to feel powerless when you see the rich getting richer while opportunities to build a better life for yourself and your family are nonexistent in your own community.”

“It’s easy to feel devalued when schools in your community are failing. It’s easy to believe the system is rigged against you when you spend years watching what President Obama called today ‘a slow-rolling crisis’ of troubling police interactions with people of color,” he continued. “No American should ever feel powerless. No American should ever feel like their life is not valued. But that is what our system says to many of our fellow citizens.”

“No American should be denied the opportunity to better their lives through their own hard work. But that is the reality that too many face. In a nation that prides itself on being a land of opportunity, millions of our fellow citizens live every day with little hope of building a better future no matter how hard they try. We cannot condone the violence we see in Baltimore. But we must not ignore the despair and hopelessness that gives rise to this kind of violence.”

Reid related the situation in Baltimore to his own upbringing in Searchlight, Nev. “This is about the deep, crushing poverty that infects rural and suburban communities across the country. It doesn’t matter if you live in Searchlight or Las Vegas, in Baltimore or rural Maryland: when there is no hope, anger and despair move in,” he said. “So let’s condemn the violence. But let’s not ignore the underlying problem. Let’s not pretend the system is fair. Let’s not pretend everything is OK. Let’s not pretend the path from poverty like the one I traveled is still available to everyone out there as long as they work hard.”

“For hard work to bear fruit, there must be opportunity and there must be hope. I can’t imagine what direction my life would have taken without the hope of the American dream. As a little boy, I had hope. As a teenager I had it. I had it in college.”

The senator opined that bipartisan work being done on criminal justice reform “is a good start.”

“Ensuring that populations are not unfairly targeted for incarceration will be a positive step. But we also need to be investing in inner cities and rural areas, and ensuring that jobs and training and educational opportunities are available where they are needed most,” he said.

“Looking out at the year ahead, the only bill on the agenda I see that does anything to create jobs is the highway bill. That is not enough. We need to do more. It’s up to us here in this Capitol to create jobs. Republicans and Democrats must work together to make sure that America continues to be a land of opportunity for all of our fellow citizens.”

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Saudis Uncovered Plot to Bomb U.S. Embassy in Riyadh Before State Dept. Closures

Tuesday, April 28th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

The Saudi Interior Ministry said today that it arrested two of three suspects in a car-bombing plot that targeted the U.S. Embassy in Riyadh.

The plot was uncovered on March 13, the Saudis said. The State Department shut down consular services and even the embassy phone lines in Riyadh, Jeddah and Dhahra for several days afterward citing “heightened security concerns,” but did not elaborate on the reason for the shutdown.

“All U.S. citizens are encouraged to be aware of their surroundings, and take extra precautions when travelling throughout the country. The Department of State urges U.S. citizens to carefully consider the risks of traveling to Saudi Arabia and limit non-essential travel within the country,” the State Department message in mid-March said.

Today, the Saudis said “a Saudi national and two Syrian nationals residing in a Gulf state” were behind the embassy attack plot.

“Security authorities took security precautions at the embassy and the surrounding area. Information indicated that one of the Syrians had already entered Saudi Arabia,” the Saudi Embassy in Washington said. “Security agencies initiated an intensive search that resulted in the arrest of two suspects on March 14, 2015 including the Syrian who entered the Kingdom on March 11, 2015. The second suspect, a Saudi national, was active in raising money illegally. Investigations are continuing.”

The arrests were included in a longer list of terrorism-related arrests — 93 in all — announced by the Saudis.

A New Year’s Eve terror bust netted 15 Saudi citizens for forming an ISIS cell called Soldiers of the Land of the Two Holy Mosques. “Meetings were held in remote areas outside the Al-Qassim region, where they received explosive and weapons training to target security locations, remote areas and security and military personnel,” the Saudi Embassy said.

Another Saudi citizen linked to ISIS — an explosives expert — was arrested Jan. 31. “He acknowledged in his statements that he had pledged allegiance to Daesh leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi and confessed to his involvement in social media activities promoting terrorism, including disseminating methods of manufacturing explosives and inciting propaganda for terrorist acts.”

Just days before the plot to bomb the U.S. Embassy was uncovered, the Saudis arrested 65 people linked to ISIS, including a Palestinian, a Yemeni and “two unidentified nationals.”

“Suspects were arrested for links with Daesh and for provoking sectarian tension, as well as for targeting security forces and attacking General Intelligence prisons,” the Saudis said.

Another Saudi citizen was reportedly pulled over for reckless driving and bomb-making materials were found in his car. “The preliminary investigations indicated that he was influenced by Daesh’s online propaganda.”

ISIS is believed to be seeking more Western hostages after it killed all of its known American hostages. The terrorist group is counting on sympathizers in countries across the region to help.

The Saudi Gazette reported in September that there are 40,000 Americans living and working in the kingdom.

On April 20, a message was sent to U.S. citizens in the kingdom that “Saudi security forces would be taking precautionary measures to protect against an attempt by militants to target sites such as malls and oil facilities.”

“All U.S. citizens are encouraged to be aware of their surroundings, and take extra precautions when traveling throughout the country.”

State Department spokesman Jeff Rathke told reporters today that they “have ongoing sharing of intelligence and coordination with Saudis, but I don’t have anything in connection with these arrests to announce.”

On the closure of consular facilities, Rathke refused to confirm that it had a connection to the bomb plot. “I don’t have details to share about the particulars of the arrests and the reasons for which the arrests were made,” he said. “So we’re referring to the Saudis to speak on that.”

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Bernie Sanders to Challenge Hillary for Democratic Party Nomination

Tuesday, April 28th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

After weighing whether he’d have the cash and resources to take on the Clinton machine, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) has decided he’s gonna go for it.

The self-proclaimed socialist will announce his presidential bid on Thursday, Vermont Public Radio reported.

VPR said Sanders won’t announce his run with much pomp — just a statement, followed by a campaign rally a few weeks down the road.

Though an independent in the Senate, Sanders will be running for the Democratic Party nomination.

Sanders is scheduled to speak this evening at Howard University in Washington on his plans to “lower student debt, make college affordable and reverse the decline of the American middle class,” according to his office.

Earlier today, Sanders spoke about the same-sex marriage cases being argued before the Supreme Court.

“Of course all citizens deserve equal rights,” the senator said. “It’s time for the Supreme Court to catch up to the American people and legalize gay marriage.”

On Monday, he sent letters to all 50 governors warning about potential effects of the GOP budget.

“The Republican budget moves this country in exactly the wrong direction. At a time of massive wealth and income inequality, it gives huge tax breaks to millionaires and billionaires, while making devastating cuts to education, Medicare, affordable housing and prescription drug coverage,” Sanders said.

“Instead of creating jobs, it will lead to the elimination of more than 2 million jobs. Instead of making college more affordable, it will increase the cost of college for millions of Americans. Instead of eliminating hunger in America, it will add to the financial problems of low-income families with children and will create more hunger. This budget is the Robin Hood principle in reverse. It takes from the poor to give to the rich.”

Earlier this month, as Hillary Clinton hit the road in Iowa, he mocked Hillary Clinton’s “Scooby van” tour and the horde of press following it while stressing that America has no idea what she’s running on.

“I’m sure there is great national interest about the Scooby van; I can’t think of an interest of more significance to the American people,” Sanders quipped on MSNBC.

Sanders promised to give a decision on his own presidential aspirations “pretty soon.”

“If I run, I want to run a serious campaign. I want to make sure that we have the financial resources to do it,” he said, noting that his money comes from small donors, “not billionaires.”

The “most important issue” for a candidate to focus on, he said, “is are we prepared to take on the billionaire class which has so much power over our economic and political life.”

Meanwhile, “Why don’t you tell me what Hillary Clinton is campaigning on? Do you know?”

“You don’t know and I don’t know and the American people don’t know,” Sanders said.

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Obama Advocates ‘Soul Searching’ After ‘Handful of Thugs Tore Up’ Baltimore

Tuesday, April 28th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

In his first comments about the Baltimore riots, President Obama said the country has seen “too many instances of what appears to be police officers interacting with individuals, primarily African-American, often poor, in ways that raise troubling questions.”

But he accused Congress of not throwing money at his program proposals to address the “slow-rolling crisis.”

Obama spoke at length and obliquely about the instances of police-related deaths, saying he talked for so long because “I felt pretty strongly about it.” Yet it took a reporter’s question at a press conference with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, focusing largely on bilateral relations and trade, to prompt Obama to speak about Monday’s riots.

The president said “obviously our thoughts continue to be with the family of Freddie Gray,” the 25-year-old who died April 19 after suffering a severed spine in police custody.

“Second, my thoughts are with the police officers who were injured in last night’s disturbances. It underscores that that’s a tough job, and we have to keep that in mind. And my hope is that they can heal and get back to work as soon as possible,” Obama added. Fifteen police officers were injured in Monday’s rioting.

He called the rioting “counterproductive — when individuals get crowbars and start prying open doors to loot, they’re not protesting, they’re not making a statement, they’re stealing.” It’s therefore “entirely appropriate,” he said, for Baltimore officials to “work to stop that kind of senseless violence and destruction.”

“The violence that happened yesterday distracted from the fact that you had seen multiple days of peaceful protests that were focused on entirely legitimate concerns of these communities in Baltimore led by clergy and community leaders, and they were constructive and they were thoughtful. And frankly, didn’t get much attention. And one burning building will be looped on television over and over and over again, and thousands of demonstrators who did it the right way, I think, have been lost in the discussion,” Obama said.

He referred to the rioters as “a handful of criminals and thugs who tore up the place.”

Obama said his White House task force had come up with policy proposals for local communities and law enforcement that “wouldn’t solve every problem, but would make a concrete difference in rebuilding trust and making sure that the overwhelming majority of effective, honest and fair law enforcement officers, that they’re able to do their job better because it will weed out or retrain or put a stop to those handful who may be not doing what they’re supposed to be doing.”

“I can’t federalize every police force in the country and force them to retrain. But what I can do is to start working with them collaboratively so that they can begin this process of change themselves,” he said. “…I think it’s gonna be important for organizations like the Fraternal Order of Police and other police unions and organizations to acknowledge that this is not good for police. They have to own up to the fact that occasionally there are gonna be problems here, just as there are in every other occupation.”

The president stressed that there are some bad cops, just like “there are some bad politicians, who are corrupt, and there are folks in the business community or on Wall Street who don’t do the right thing.”

“…We can’t just leave this to the police. I think there are police departments that have to do some soul searching. I think there are some communities that have to do some soul searching. But I think we, as a country, have to do some soul searching. This is not new. It’s been going on for decades. And without making any excuses for criminal activities that take place in these communities, what we also know is that if you have impoverished communities that have been stripped away of opportunity, where children are born into abject poverty. They’ve got parents, often, because of substance abuse problems or incarceration or lack of education themselves, can’t do right by their kids.”

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U.S. Nuke Negotiator ‘Always Struck’ by How Much Obama Feels Connected to Jews and Israel

Tuesday, April 28th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman, who has been at the negotiating table with the Iranians, told a friendly Jewish audience Monday that she’s “always struck about how personally” President Obama feels about issues that matter to American Jews “and how personally he feels about his connection to the Jewish people and to Israel.”

“This deep-seated feeling is what drives his unwavering commitment to Israel’s security and his desire to ensure Israel’s future as a democratic and Jewish state,” Sherman said at the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism Biennial Leadership Policy Conference in Arlington.

“It’s also what drives this administration’s approach to the Iran nuclear threat. We understand that Israel is in a tough neighborhood. That’s why we have given Israel more security assistance than any other administration in history,” she continued. “And that’s why we’re doing everything we can to ensure that that neighborhood doesn’t become even tougher with a nuclear-armed Iran. We believe that the parameters, announced two weeks ago in Lausanne, offer the best chance at preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, and just as importantly, that the alternatives fall far short of what we’ll have if we’re able to turn the political framework into a comprehensive agreement.”

Sherman said she knows “the Iranian nuclear issue is at the forefront of the Jewish community’s concerns, but I also know that there are other important concerns as well.”

“First, as you know, we have always had Israel’s back in the international arena, and we have repeatedly stood up against efforts to delegitimize Israel or single Israel out unfairly, even when it meant standing alone. That has been the case and will continue to be the case,” she said. “…If the new Israeli government is seen as stepping back from its commitment to a two-state solution, something that all of you and a vast majority of American Jews supports, that makes our job in the international arena a lot tougher. Because our ability to push back on efforts to internationalize efforts to address Israeli-Palestinian issues has depended on our insistence that the best course in achieving a two-solution is through direct negotiation between the parties.”

Sherman argued that sanctions “are not effective at preventing Iran from having a nuclear weapon” and the “only thing” that works is the Joint Plan of Action.

“Many people say – and I understand the impulse, because you get frustrated and there’s so much going on in the region that is it not good – that people say, ‘Take military action against Iran.’ Actually, our intelligence community has assessed and said publicly that if we took military action against Iran, it would only take away their program for maybe two years. They have mastered the entire nuclear fuel cycle, and you can’t bomb away knowledge. So even if we destroyed their facilities, they could re-create it.”

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Kerry on ‘Acceleration’ of Global Zero, Pledge to Cut Nuclear Arsenal ‘Even Further’

Tuesday, April 28th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Secretary of State John Kerry told the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons Review Conference at the United Nations in New York on Monday that as the U.S. negotiates with Iran to rein in its nuclear program, the administration is stepping up dismantlement of the nuclear arsenal at home.

“We have and we will continue to scale down our arsenal, and to continue to move, step by step, toward nuclear disarmament. And I would say to you that our progress is indisputable. As of September 2014, the number of nuclear weapons in our stockpile has fallen to 4,717, or 85 percent below the Cold War peak. And yes, still way too many. Over the last 20 years alone, we have dismantled 10,251 warheads, with another approximately 2,500 warheads retired and in the queue for elimination. Now, this is complex and costly work, but we are committed to reducing this backlog,” Kerry said. “And I am pleased to announce today that President Obama has decided that the United States will seek to accelerate the dismantlement of retired nuclear warheads by 20 percent.”

The White House today released a joint statement with Japan, during the visit of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, reaffirming “our commitment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons.”

“In this 70th year since the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, we are reminded of the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons use… We further emphasize the importance of applying the principles of irreversibility, verifiability and transparency in the process of nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation.”

Kerry told the NPT conference that the administration’s “commitment to disarmament is clear in other areas as well.”

“We have pledged not to pursue new nuclear warheads or support new military missions or military capabilities for the weapons that we do have, and we haven’t tested a nuclear weapon in 23 years. We have clearly demonstrated our commitment to abide by the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. We have reduced the role that nuclear weapons play in our national security strategy. And the primary purpose today is simply to deter nuclear threats from others. We have reduced the alert status of our nuclear arsenal, and we have taken every reasonable step to ensure its safety, security, and strict control,” he continued.

Kerry said implementation of the New START Treaty with Russia is “going well,” and lauded his Senate role in getting it past. Republicans who agreed to ratification did so on the administration promise of modernizing the nuclear arsenal, something that’s never happened.

“We know that we can cut back even further, and President Obama has made clear our willingness, readiness, now, to engage and negotiate further reductions of deployed strategic nuclear weapons by up to one-third below the level set by New START,” he said. “Let me underscore: That offer remains on the table, and we urge the Russians to take us up on it.”

He acknowledge that Russia’s “clear violation of its obligations under the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty.”

“We are urging Russia to return to compliance. For decades, that treaty has contributed to the peace and the security in Europe and Asia. And there is no reason — no reason — to create new dangers by undermining it now,” Kerry added.

“…We also remain firmly committed to holding the proposed conference on a regional zone in the Middle East, free of all weapons of mass destruction. And this zone is a hugely ambitious goal and fraught with challenges, but ambitious goals are always the ones worth pursuing. We support the regional efforts underway to reach agreement on terms for a conference, and those terms must be shared by all — there is no prospect for engagement or agreement absent the consent of the states involved. And this principle needs to be observed and respected if a process is really to start. And if that’s the case, I guarantee you the effort will have the full support of the United States.”

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‘I Love My Country’: Meet the Hero Vietnam Vet Who Stood Between Rioters and Cops

Tuesday, April 28th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

As rioting raged in pockets of Baltimore on Monday evening, a 72-year-old Vietnam veteran stepped between a line of police in riot gear and the rioters and told them to get their butts home.

CNN reporter Joe Johns went up and talked with the man who put himself in the line of fire to bring peace to his neighborhood. He initially identified himself as “just a soldier.”

“I did 30 years, OK, came out a Master Sergeant. I’ve seen more than all this,” said Robert Valentine. “I’ve been through the riots already. This right here is not relevant. They need to have their butts at home. They need to be in their home units with their families studying and doing something with their life. Not out here protesting about something that is not really about nothing.

“They do not respect this young man’s death. You know. Now, mama and daddy lost a child. That could be them. So I’m very pissed,” he added.

Johns pressed Valentine on why he chose to come out and confront the rioters.

“I love my country. I love my Charm City. I’m an American,” Valentine said. “I’m not black, white, red, yellow or nothing. I am American.”


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‘We Didn’t Endorse It’: Baltimore Mayor Defends ‘Destroy Space’ Comment as Riots Rage

Monday, April 27th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson
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The mayor of Baltimore took umbrage at the suggestion that her “space to destroy” comment left the door open for the riots that broke out in her city today.

After the first signs of violence with smashed windows and a looted convenience store Saturday night, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said she “made it very clear that I work with the police and instructed them to do everything that they could to make sure that the protesters were able to exercise their right to free speech.”

“It’s a very delicate balancing act,” she continued. “Because while we tried to make sure that they were protected from the cars and other things that were going on, we also gave those who wished to destroy space to do that as well. And we worked very hard to keep that balance and to put ourselves in the best position to de-escalate.”

Five hours after the riots began Monday, Rawlings-Blake emerged at a press conference to call the latest developments “very disturbing.”

But she seemed equally disturbed at the media.

Rawlings-Blake criticized the “blatant mischaracterization” of her Saturday quotes by reporters, charging that it “was not helpful today.”

“I was asked a question about the property damage that was done, and in answering that question I made it very clear that we balance a very line between giving protesters — peaceful protesters — space to protest. What I said is, in doing so, people can hijack that and use that space for bad. I did not say that we were accepting of it, I did not say that we were passive to it, I was just explaining how property damage can happen during a peaceful protest. It is very unfortunate that members of your industry decided to mischaracterize my words and try to use it in a way to say we were inciting violence. There’s no such thing,” she said.

“What we did was manage a peaceful protest in the best way possible and when it got violent and destructive we responded to that. We have an obligation to protect people’s First Amendment rights. We also understand through the best training and best practices that we have to do everything we can to de-escalate, and those were the tactics that were deployed yesterday. Did people exploit those tactics or that space that we gave, that we facilitated to have people protest for bad? Yes, they did. But we didn’t endorse it.”

Asked if the “de-escalation strategy” was a mistake, the mayor paused and replied, “Any other questions?”

Rawlings-Blake said there is a “very clear difference” between “what we saw over last week with peaceful protest, those who seek justice, those who want to be heard and seek answers … and the thugs who only want to incite violence and destroy our city.”

“We’re deploying every resource possible to gain control of the situation and to ensure peace moving forward.”

She said she contacted Gov. Larry Hogan to request the National Guard. “As soon as they are available they will be immediately deployed,” she added.

At his own press conference later, Hogan noted, “When the mayor called me, which quite frankly we were glad that she finally did, instantly we signed the executive order.”

Maryland is now in a state of emergency. A 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew will be in effect starting tomorrow in Baltimore for at least one week, with exceptions for people going to work and medical emergencies.

Several police officers and journalists have been injured in the riots. Looters burned down a CVS drugstore and torched a 60-unit senior living complex and activity center that was under construction at a Southern Baptist church.

“These malicious attacks against law enforcement and local communities only betray the cause of peaceful citizens seeking answers and justice following the death of Freddie Gray,” Hogan said.

The Gray family had asked for no protests of any kind today as the 25-year-old, whose spine was severed while in police custody, was remembered at a memorial service.

Baltimore City Council President Bernard C. Young, at the mayor’s press conference, said he was “saddened” that media have been “focusing on the negativity of this city and not looking at the great things that are going on in this city.”

“We have young people who are out there protesting peacefully, but you’re not focusing on them. You’re focusing on those that are burning down buildings and rioting throughout the streets of Baltimore,” Young said, accusing “people not even connected to the community” of committing the rioting.

Councilman Brandon Scott stepped to the microphone and declared, “I’m not gonna be as nice as everyone else. I am simply pissed off. This is the city that I love, this is the city that I chose to dedicate my life to. And we cannot stand idly as thugs, whatever you want call them… we’ll just call them cowards, burn our city.”

“If you are an adult, and you are out there participating in this, you are ruining the future for these young people. And I’m calling on every able man and woman who wants to stand up, get out there and get in between these folks… Get out there and stand tall and stand up for your neighborhood,” Scott said.

“Adults have to step up and take control of our children and take control of our future.”

The White House said President Obama spoke with Rawlings-Blake on Monday. “The Mayor updated the President on efforts to address the demonstrations and maintain peace throughout the city,” the administration said in a readout of the phone call. “The President highlighted the Administration’s commitment to provide assistance as needed and will continue to receive updates on the situation from Attorney General Lynch and White House Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett. Jarrett also spoke with Maryland Governor Larry Hogan today.”

Lynch “assured the President that she would continue to monitor events in Baltimore and that the Department of Justice stands ready to provide any assistance that might be helpful there.”

“Violence is unacceptable no matter who does it. Vandalism is unacceptable no matter who does it,” Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) said. “…It’s time for calm. It’s time for the kids to go home. It’s time to remember the vast majority of Baltimore’s citizens are law abiding.”

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Baltimore Police Say Bloods, Crips Agree to Put Turf Wars Aside to Target Cops

Monday, April 27th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

The Baltimore Police Department has warned that gangs in the city — and potentially across the country — have put aside their turf wars to kill cops in the wake of the in-custody death of a young man.

Freddie Gray, 25, died April 19, a week after his arrest, from a severed spinal cord. He reportedly fled on foot after making eye contact with officers who were patrolling the high-crime neighborhood, and was taken to a police van after being apprehended by officers. That part of the arrest was captured on video, but officials say no video was rolling inside the police wagon. An hour later, Gray was in a coma.

Gray’s memorial service was today, and unrest in Baltimore resulted in nearly three dozen arrests over the weekend. Six police officers were reportedly injured.

Photos began to surface on social media of Bloods and Crips united in protest, with red and blue bandanas mingling in the midst of other protesters.

Baltimore police said today that its Criminal Intelligence Unit “has received credible information that members of various gangs including the Black Guerrilla Family, Bloods, and Crips have entered into a partnership to ‘take out’ law enforcement officers.”

“This is a credible threat,” the release stressed in boldface. “Law enforcement agencies should take appropriate precautions to ensure the safety of their officers. Notification will be sent via NLETS [National Law Enforcement Telecommunications System]. Further information will be sent through appropriate channels. Media is requested to distribute this information to the public and law enforcement nationwide.”

Gray’s family has appealed for calm. “My family wants to say, ‘Can y’all please, please stop the violence? Freddie Gray would not want this.’ Freddie’s father and mother do not want any violence. Violence does not get justice,” his twin sister, Fredericka Gray, said in a statement.

Fans weren’t allowed to leave the Orioles game at Camden Yards for a time on Saturday night until the street protests calmed down. In addition to the arrests, a convenience store was looted and police car windows were smashed.

Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) was at the protests instead of the White House Correspondents’ Dinner. He lived for many years in the neighborhood where Gray was arrested.

“I think the thing that upset so many people was the fact that he was a young man, we still don’t know exactly why he was arrested; we do know that he was hollering out for aid, he was not given aid after being arrested,” Cummings told CBS on Sunday.

“And we also know that he was not seat belted. And the next thing we knew, a week later, he was dead. And a lot of people are very, very frustrated as to trying to figure out what happened here and it’s very upsetting.”

Cummings said he was at the protests all day Saturday, “and it was very peaceful all day, thousands of people. And then at the end there were a few people who said, we are going to turn this city down, we’re going to close it down.”

“And the next thing you know we had few people, mainly from out of town, come and to start beating up on police cars, and throwing all kinds of projectiles. But the fact is that, for the most part, it was — it could have been worse,” the congressman added.

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and Police Commissioner Anthony Batts told people to go home. “I went on the air and asked people to go home and tell people to email and text their relatives that were down there. And a lot of them left,” Cummings said.

“We had the rain that came along, and that helped. But pretty much — and then we had lot of people in our community, and I got to give credit to the people of Baltimore, a lot of community leaders were in the crowd, saying, this is our house, we will protect our house and asking people not to be violent, because, like I said, it could have been worse.”

He called “this whole police community relations situation… the civil rights cause for this generation, no doubt about it.”

“This thing here, the cell phone with the camera, this has caused a whole new situation, where a lot of the police interaction with citizens is being recorded.”

Cummings said he’s satisfied that the Justice Department is investigating potential civil rights violations. “We’ve got to take this department apart and try to figure out what is wrong and what is right,” he said.

About 100 people marched in a pro-police rally in Annapolis on Sunday.

The Baltimore Fraternal Order of Police canceled its monthly meeting scheduled for tonight. “This decision was not made lightly; however, in light of the current situation and the threat information received today, we felt it prudent to cancel.”

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Gay Businessmen Say They Made ‘Terrible Mistake’ Hosting Cruz Event

Monday, April 27th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

A gay hotelier who hosted a dinner for Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) at his New York penthouse says he made a “terrible mistake” by not reviewing Cruz’s record first.

Ian Reisner co-owns the Out NYC hotel and co-hosted the event last week with his business partner, Mati Weiderpass, who is also gay.

“I am shaken to my bones by the e-mails, texts, postings and phone calls of the past few days. I made a terrible mistake,” Reisner said Sunday in a Facebook post. “I was ignorant, naive and much too quick in accepting a request to co-host a dinner with Cruz at my home without taking the time to completely understand all of his positions on gay rights. I’ve spent the past 24 hours reviewing videos of Cruz’ statements on gay marriage and I am shocked and angry.”

“I sincerely apologize for hurting the gay community and so many of our friends, family, allies, customers and employees,” Reisner continued. “I will try my best to make up for my poor judgement. Again, I am deeply sorry.”

Weiderpass followed a few hours later with his own Facebook post. “I share in Ian’s remorse. I, too, lay humbled with what has happened in the last week. I made a terrible mistake. Unfortunately, I cannot undo this. You taught me a painful but important lesson,” he wrote.

“The people that know me know the work that I have done over the last 20 years for the advancement of gay rights,” Weiderpass added. “Today, I came to realize that I might have nullified my past efforts and accomplishments in just one week. On the eve of this momentous legal occasion at the Supreme Court, I dedicate myself to work even harder to advance our cause that I share with the LGBT community; our community. Again, to all that I have hurt, please accept my sincerest apologies.”

Cruz introduced a constitutional amendment Thursday that says “each State, territory, and possession thereof shall have the power to define marriage as limited to the union of one man and one woman.”

“The union of a man and a woman has been the building block of society since the dawn of history, and the people in numerous states have repeatedly affirmed that truth in their laws,” Cruz said. “Nothing in the Constitution prohibits that.”

After Cruz’s event was reported by the New York Times, along with his statement that he would “love our daughters unconditionally” if one came out as gay, his presidential campaign issued a statement saying his attendance at the event “is what it means to truly be a ‘big tent Republican’ instead of a panderer.”

“The purpose of the meeting and the primary topics of conversation were national security, foreign policy, and America’s commitment to standing with Israel,” Cruz said. “On the subject of marriage, when asked, I stated directly and unambiguously what everyone in the room already knew, that I oppose gay marriage and I support traditional marriage.”

The Human Rights Campaign noted Cruz’s attendance at “a bizarre gay Manhattan reception,” but focused most of their anger on his amendment.

“By introducing this heinously anti-LGBT constitutional amendment, Ted Cruz has forced other presidential candidates to take a position,” said JoDee Winterhof, HRC vice president for policy and political affairs. “Trying to garner support in a field of candidates from the far right, Cruz has no problem using LGBT equality as a wedge issue against fellow Republicans, even as the far majority of Americans strongly support marriage equality. While Cruz is clearly a radical anti-LGBT candidate, the question here is where do his fellow senators stand on these anti-LGBT bills…looking at you Senators Rubio and Paul.”

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Obama’s White House Correspondents’ Dinner Jokes in a Nutshell

Monday, April 27th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson
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Did President Obama score a home run or hideously fall flat in his slate of White House Correspondents’ Dinner jokes Saturday night? You be the judge:

“Fact is, I feel more loose and relaxed than ever. Those Joe Biden shoulder massages, they’re like magic.”

“And my new attitude is paying off. Look at my Cuba policy. The Castro brothers are here tonight. Welcome to America, amigos. Que pasa? What? It’s the Castros from Texas? Oh. Hi, Joaquin. Hi, Julian.”

“Being president is never easy. I still have to fix a broken immigration system, issue veto threats, negotiate with Iran, all while finding time to pray five times a day.”

“I look so old, John Boehner’s already invited Netanyahu to speak at my funeral.”

“Today, thanks to Obamacare, you no longer have to worry about losing your insurance, if you lose your job. You’re welcome, Senate Democrats.”

“Six years into my presidency, some people still say I’m arrogant and aloof, condescending. Some people are so dumb.”

“A few weeks ago, Dick Cheney says he thinks I’m the worst president of his lifetime, which is interesting because I think Dick Cheney is the worst president of my lifetime.”

“I’ve got to stay focused on my job, because for many Americans, this is still a time of deep uncertainty. For example, I have one friend, just a few weeks ago, she was making millions of dollars a year and she’s now living out of a van in Iowa.”

“I tease Joe sometimes, but he’s been at my side for seven years. I love that man. He’s not just a great vice president, he’s a great friend. We’ve gotten so close in some places in Indiana, they won’t serve us pizza anymore.”

“ABC is here with some of the stars from their big new comedy Blackish. It’s a great show, but I have to give ABC fair warning. Being blackish only makes you popular for so long. Trust me. There’s a shelf life to that thing.”

“It turns out Jeb Bush identified himself as Hispanic back in 2009, which, you know what, I — look, I understand. It’s an innocent mistake. It reminds me of when I identified myself as American back in 1961.”

“Ted Cruz said that denying the existence of climate change made him like Galileo. Now that’s not really an apt comparison. Galileo believed the Earth revolves around the sun. Ted Cruz believes the Earth revolves around Ted Cruz. And just as an aside, I want to point out, when a guy who has his face on a Hope poster calls you self-centered, you know you’ve got a problem. The narcissism index is creeping up a little too high.”

“Soon, the first presidential contest will take place, and I for one cannot wait to see who the Koch brothers pick… I know I’ve raised a lot of money too, but in all fairness, my middle name is Hussein. What’s their excuse?”

“Hillary kicked things off by going completely unrecognized at a Chipotle. Not to be outdone, Martin O’Malley went completely unrecognized at a Martin O’Malley campaign event.”

For part of his routine, Obama brought up Key and Peele star Keegan-Michael Key, who plays “Luther the anger translator” on the Comedy Central show, to interpret his mellow words.

Such as: “Because despite our differences, we count on the press to shed light on the most important issues of the day,” Obama said. “And we can count on FOX News to terrify old white people with some nonsense!” Key “translated.”

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Salman Rushdie on the ‘Pu**ies’ Boycotting Award for Charlie Hebdo

Monday, April 27th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Charlie Hebdo will be honored with the 2015 PEN/Toni and James C. Goodale Freedom of Expression Courage Award at the PEN Literary Gala on May 5, causing several writers to plan on no-showing the gala because of the satirical magazine’s content.

The writers planning to protest include Michael Ondaatje, Francine Prose, Peter Carey, Teju Cole, Rachel Kushner and Taiye Selasi.

Prose, who used to lead PEN’s American chapter, told the Associated Press she was “quite upset” about the award to the magazine that has mocked Muhammad. “I couldn’t imagine being in the audience when they have a standing ovation for Charlie Hebdo,” she said.

“A hideous crime was committed, but was it a freedom-of-speech issue for PEN America to be self-righteous about?” Carey told the New York Times. “All this is complicated by PEN’s seeming blindness to the cultural arrogance of the French nation, which does not recognize its moral obligation to a large and disempowered segment of their population.”

Salman Rushdie, whose life has been under threat from an Iranian fatwa since 1989, told the New York Times that the writers are “horribly wrong” for ditching the event.

“If PEN as a free speech organization can’t defend and celebrate people who have been murdered for drawing pictures, then frankly the organization is not worth the name,” Rushdie said. “What I would say to both Peter and Michael and the others is, I hope nobody ever comes after them.”

On Twitter, Rushdie elaborated:



PEN president and author Andrew Solomon wrote Sunday that “only a handful of people are willing to put themselves in peril to build a world in which we are all free to say what we believe.”

“Charlie Hebdo has positioned itself in the firing line of this battle, refusing to accept the curtailment of lawful speech by those who meet it with violence. It is undoubtedly true that in addition to provoking violent threats from extremists, the Hebdo cartoons offended some other Muslims and members of the many other groups they targeted. Indeed, were the Hebdo cartoonists not satirical in their genesis and intent, their content and images might offend most or all of us. But, based on their own statements, we believe that Charlie Hebdo’s intent was not to ostracize or insult Muslims, but rather to reject forcefully the efforts of a small minority of radical extremists to place broad categories of speech off limits—no matter the purpose, intent, or import of the expression,” Solomon continued.

“…We do not believe that any of us must endorse the content of Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons in order to affirm the importance of the medium of satire, or to applaud the staff’s bravery in holding fast to those values in the face of life and death threats.”

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Ayatollah Jumps in on #BlackLivesMatter, Slams U.S. ‘Power with Cruelty’

Monday, April 27th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei tweeted about police brutality back during the Ferguson, Mo., protests, then hit on the U.S. for being racist on Columbus Day, and went on a tear again Sunday while speaking to police commanders:





Never mind the torture currently being suffered by U.S. hostages in Iran, who have been detained and held without due process not knowing the charges against them for sometimes months, not having access to attorneys and being convicted in quickie closed-door “trials.” Never mind the Basij militia that “police” the streets for the mullahs and unleash their fury on Iranian citizens, including the murder of Neda Agha-Soltan during 2009 election protests. Never mind an Iranian penal code that will publicly hang people for apostasy, blasphemy, consensual sex, drinking and more.

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