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The PJ Tatler

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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Can the Taliban Five Be Kept from Leaving Qatar?

Friday, May 29th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Sunday marks one year since Sgt. Bowe Bergdal was traded to the U.S. in exchange for the release of five Taliban commanders from Guantanamo Bay.

On Monday, travel restrictions will be lifted by the former detainees’ host country, Qatar.

“I don’t have any announcements on this matter that I’m prepared to deliver today. But it is true that the United States has been in touch with our partners in Qatar about the kind of steps that we believe are important to protecting the national security of the American people,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters today.

“You’ll recall that prior to the transfer of these — of these detainees taking place, we had reached agreements with Qatar about limitations that could be pleased on these individuals that would protect our national security, and that’s ultimately why the — why then-Secretary of Defense Hagel certified that this transfer could be conducted consistent with our national security goals,” he added. “And we continue to be in touch with the Qataris about the steps that we believe are necessary to protect the American people.”

But he wouldn’t say if that would include an extension of the travel ban.

“We’re talking to them about a range of issues, and when we have an announcement on this, we’ll let you know,” Earnest said.

“What the president believes is important is for us to make sure that we have in place the conditions that are necessary to protect the American people,” he said. “And what exactly that entails is not something I can talk about here, because it’s something that we’re talking about with the Qataris right now. But when we do have an announcement on this, we’ll let you know.”

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) noted that “already over the past year, it’s been reported that the flimsy ‘security assurances’ in Qatar have been violated, jeopardizing our security.”

“In a few days, these assurances disappear and Taliban leaders will be free to return to the battlefield, putting U.S. security interests and Americans at risk,” Royce said in a statement today. “The White House’s race to empty Guantanamo continues. In December, six detainees were released by the administration to Uruguay with dubious assurances that they had never been involved in conducting or facilitating terrorist attacks. Now living blocks from our U.S. Embassy in Uruguay, these dangerous detainees are free to travel throughout the region. Uruguay is the latest example of this administration’s failure to properly weigh and respond to the threat posed by former detainees.”

That Uruguay transfer was the largest number of detainees released at one time since 2009.

“The president’s view that Guantanamo drives the terrorist threat is a fundamental misread of terrorist motivations – one that jeopardizes the safety and security of the United States and our allies,” Royce added.

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Menendez: White House ‘Conceding on Bedrock Values’ of America by Taking Cuba Off Terror List

Friday, May 29th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) blasted the Obama administration for “conceding on bedrock values” of the United States with its “dangerous and misguided” removal of Cuba from the list of state sponsors of terror.

President Obama ordered a review of Cuba’s status on the list when he announced steps to ease restrictions on the communist island back in December. He asked for the report from the State Department within six months, and received those recommendations in early April.

On April 14, Obama submitted to Congress the statutorily required report indicating his intent to pull Cuba off the list, beginning a 45-day congressional review period. That has expired, and Secretary of State John Kerry today made the final decision to rescind Cuba’s designation as a state sponsor of terrorism.

“The rescission of Cuba’s designation as a State Sponsor of Terrorism reflects our assessment that Cuba meets the statutory criteria for rescission,” State Department spokesman Jeff Rathke said today. “While the United States has significant concerns and disagreements with a wide range of Cuba’s policies and actions, these fall outside the criteria relevant to the rescission of a State Sponsor of Terrorism designation.”

Cuba, though, “is only more intransigent and uncompromising in its disrespect for universal values and freedoms” as it gets concessions from the United States, Menendez said.

“This approach of the U.S. giving and Cuba taking simply rewards the regime for decades of repression. The Castro regime is feeling vindicated for 50 years of brutality, making this announcement a further misstep in a profoundly flawed policy,” the senator continued.

Menendez stressed that the Castro regime “has not shown one iota of change in its actions that earned it a spot on the State Sponsor of Terrorism list.”

“Cuba still provides sanctuary to Joanne Chesimard, who remains on the FBI’s Most Wanted Terrorism List for the murder of New Jersey State Trooper Werner Foerster, it recently was caught sending arms to North Korea in the single largest violation of United Nations Security Council sanctions, and also received a shipment from a Chinese arms manufacturer that was seemingly headed for Colombia’s terrorist organization FARC,” he said. “Yet today Cuba was somehow delisted from this dishonorable list of State Sponsors of Terrorism. To this day, we have not seen one substantial step toward transparent democratic elections, improved human rights, freedom of assembly, or the ability to form independent political parties and trade unions on the island.”

“It is terribly disconcerting that the list of unilateral concessions by the Obama administration continues to grow without any signs of reciprocity from a despotic and reinvigorated Castro regime. At the end of the day, decisions like this are doing nothing but depriving the Cuban people the liberties and freedoms they seek and deserve.”

Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), who replaced Menendez as the top Dem on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee after the New Jersey senator was indicted by the Justice Department, disagreed, calling the delisting “a necessary step forward in establishing a more constructive relationship with Cuba.”

“The administration has conducted a thorough review and determined the Cuban government no longer provides support for international terrorism,” Cardin said, adding “this is an important step in developing a path toward a more constructive future, but in no way does it ignore the ongoing violations of human rights in Cuba, the detentions of political dissidents, and the Cuban government’s harboring of American fugitives wanted for crimes, including the murders of U.S. law enforcement officers.”

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O’Malley Keeps Trolling Opponents with Youth and Hip Guitar Skills

Friday, May 29th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson
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Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley preceded his presidential announcement with the latest reminder that he’s the younger and hipper Democratic hopeful.

O’Malley, who plays in a Celtic rock band, wordlessly strums “Hail to the Chief” in his new campaign video.

The words on the screen? “Stay tuned.”

O’Malley, 52, will be making his announcement Saturday at 10 a.m. on Federal Hill in Baltimore. His campaign is saying it will be a “will he or won’t he” announcement about challenging Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders for the presidential nomination.

It’s not much of a surprise, though, as O’Malley is headed to Iowa and New Hampshire right after his announcement.

The governor has already trolled Clinton with a video announcement poking fun at the former secretary of State’s announcement.

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VIDEO: Actor Answers ‘Call to Humanity to Obliterate’ ISIS, Fights Alongside Kurds

Thursday, May 28th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson
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An actor with a fair share of action projects opened up to an Arabic TV network today about his decision to leave Hollywood and fight ISIS alongside the Kurds.

“ISIS, they need to be wiped off, completely, the face of this earth. They’re a stain on humanity, and this is a call. It’s not just a Kurdish call, this is a call to humanity to obliterate them,” Michael Enright told UAE’s Al Aan TV (the above video has Arabic newscasters but his interview is in English).

“I’ve been to the Middle East before, and I actually really like the Arabic people,” he said, noting that he’s studied some Islam to learn more about the people there.

Enright, 51, has 29 TV and film credits including Alias, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest, Knight and Day, Law & Order: LA, and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

ISIS caught his attention, Enright said, “when they cut off an American journalist’s head.”

“And what was even worse for me is that it was an Englishman who did it,” he added, referring to “Jihadi John.”

“I love America with all my heart, and it was an Englishman who did it to an American citizen. And I thought, oh, wow, I gotta try and help right that wrong. And then he did it to the Englishman and then the Japanese. And then I found out about Yazidi people — I’d never heard of Yazidis before.”

Finding out that Yazidi men and boys were being slaughtered and the women and girls turned into rape victims was “too much,” the actor said.

“And then the straw that broke the camel’s back, I guess, was the Jordanian pilot, when they burned him alive. And that’s when I decided I was gonna come.”

Enright described the Iraqi Shiites like “the French of the Middle East… they just give up. They just keep surrendering and giving all our weapons that we citizens have paid for over to the enemy.”

“But the Kurds weren’t. The Kurds were fighting. And I thought, ‘I want to join them, because that’s my spirit’ — I didn’t come here to run, I came here to fight, and if I have to die then I die.”

Enright acknowledges he might not see his family and friends again in this life.

“I didn’t come here for a party,” he said, acknowledging that while clearing a house of ISIS IEDs it felt like “something out of the movies.”

The actor stressed that he’s squarely focused on killing ISIS.

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Hastert Indicted on Hush-Money Charges

Thursday, May 28th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Former House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), who led the lower chamber during the majority of the George W. Bush administration, was indicted today on federal charges:

A federal indictment released this afternoon accuses the Plano Republican of disguising the withdrawal of nearly $1 million from various financial accounts to avoid federal disclosure requirements, and of lying to the FBI about the matter.

The federal charges allege that the money was part of $3.5 million that Hastert was paying an unnamed “Individual A” in order “to compensate for an conceal his prior misconduct” against that individual.

Fuller details about exactly why Hastert would be paying someone $3.5 million were not immediately available. But the indictment strongly suggests Hastert needed the money because he was being blackmailed.

“In or about 2010, Individual A met with (Hastert) multiple times. During at least one of the meetings, Individual A and defendant discussed past misconduct by defendant against Individual A that had occurred years earlier,” the indictment states. “Shortly thereafter, defendant began providing Individual A cash payments.”

…According to the indictment, Hastert agreed to pay the money beginning in 2010. From 2010 to 2014 he allegedly withdrew $1.7 million in cash from various accounts. Eventually, according to a statement from the Department of Justice, “Hastert started structuring his cash withdrawals in increments of less than $10,000 to evade” required disclosure of withdrawals in excess of $10,000. When questioned by the FBI about the matter, he “falsely stated that he was keeping the cash.”

Hastert was a high school teacher and wrestling coach before being elected to the Illinois House of Representatives in 1980. He won his U.S. House seat in 1986 and succeeded Newt Gingrich as speaker in 1999.

Now 73, Hastert works as a lobbyist, including representing the interests of the government of Turkey.

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Pataki Running for President, Makes Declaration in Moderate New Hampshire

Thursday, May 28th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Former New  York Gov. George Pataki jumped into the race today for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination.

Pataki made his announcement in Exeter, N.H., as “birthplace of the Republican Party, Abraham Lincoln’s party, who saved the Union and who brought the promise of freedom to all Americans, Teddy Roosevelt’s party, who fought for the Square Deal so that the rich and powerful couldn’t limit the freedom of working Americans, and Ronald Reagan’s party, who restored Americans’ belief in ourselves and in the transcendent value of freedom, the freedom that has given us the greatest country the world has ever known, the freedom that a man named Amos Tuck declared the foundation of that party right here in Exeter, New Hampshire, the same freedom that I fear is at risk today from an ever more powerful, more intrusive government in Washington.”

“It is to preserve and protect that freedom for future generations that I speak. It is to preserve and protect that freedom that this morning, I announce I am a candidate for the Republican nomination for president of the United States,” he said.

The location of his announcement was notable as an early primary state that tends to favor more moderate candidates. The governor’s 99-year-old mother watched the announcement from home on C-SPAN, he noted.

“Today, there’s one former member of Congress lobbying for every current member, and the first thing I would do is say that if you ever serve one day in Congress, you will never be a lobbyist. There will be a lifetime ban on members of Congress ever becoming a lobbyist,” he vowed, detailing his platform.

“I’d repeal oppressive laws like Obamacare and end Common Core. I’d eliminate excessive taxes that crush small business. I’d throw out an incomprehensible tax code written by lawyers at the direction of lobbyists in the interests of the powerful and replace it with simpler, lower rates that are fair for all of us. I’d lower taxes on manufacturers to the lowest in the developed world so that factories and jobs could spring up across America. And I’d shrink the size of the federal workforce, starting with the bureaucrats overseeing Obamacare, and I’d fire every current IRS employee abusing government power to discriminate on the basis of politics or religion. That is not America.”

Pataki quipped that it “seems like liberals have so much compassion for the poor that they keep creating more of them.”

“Conservative policies replaced dependency with opportunity in New York State. I know we can do the same thing for the United States,” he said.

As governor on 9/11, he added, “I saw up close the horrible consequences of too many believing that because radical Islam was thousands of miles away, across an ocean that we were safe in America. Sadly, it wasn’t true then, and it’s not true now.”

“Today, those in the other party, instead of offering ideas, seek to divide. When you have no solutions, instead you offer fear,” Pataki said. “They say we are anti-immigrant; we, the proud children and grandchildren and descendants of immigrants, we know that immigration has and will continue to enhance the greatness of this country.”

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Lead U.S. Nuke Negotiator with Iran Leaving State Department

Thursday, May 28th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

The lead U.S. negotiator at the table with Iran in the P5+1 nuclear talks is leaving the State Department.

Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman traveled to Vienna yesterday to resume negotiations, and will meet Secretary of State John Kerry in Geneva on Saturday for additional talks with the Iranians.

The fourth-ranking official in the State Department will be out the door after the June 30 nuclear deadline.

Sherman was an adviser to Hillary Clinton during her 2008 campaign, and the former secretary of State appointed her old supporter to her current State Department post in 2011. Sherman’s history in Democratic Party politics includes running the pro-abortion rights lobbying group EMILY’s List.

“As the secretary has said, Undersecretary Sherman has been an absolutely critical member of his team, in particular in the work spearheading the nuclear negotiations with Iran, but also on nearly every other important issue in the department,” State Department spokesman Jeff Rathke told reporters today. “She has close relations and collaboration with her P5+1 and E.U. counterparts. They’ve been instrumental in enabling us to reach the interim agreement that has halted the progress of Iran’s nuclear program and makes our partners and allies and our world safer.”

“So, you know, she’s gonna stay on through the completion of the talks. I don’t have a lot more to add to motivation.”

Asked if now is the right time to be leaving, Rathke said “one of the things that Undersecretary Sherman has made a point of doing is to mentor colleagues and to build a large and strong U.S. negotiating team, which encompasses experts from across the U.S. government and within the State Department as well.”

“So, if we are successful in concluding a final deal, we’ll move into a new phase of implementation and monitoring,” he said. “And, you know, this team that Undersecretary Sherman has put together and has led over these last couple of years will continue to track Iran’s nuclear program if we get to a deal and they’ll be joined by others across this government.”

Of that June 30 deadline: “We’re not contemplating an extension.”

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Obama Tells DNC Donors It’s ‘Liberating’ as Second Term ‘Concentrates the Mind’

Thursday, May 28th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

President Obama told a DNC fundraiser in Miami yesterday that he’s experiencing “a liberating feeling” as his second term runs out “in the sense that the amount of time I have left, it concentrates the mind.”

“And I think a lot of folks have been surprised at the degree to which we are moving and pushing and trying whatever we can to advance the goals of making sure that every American in this country and every child in this country, if they’re willing to work hard, can get ahead, and that opportunity and prosperity is broad-based,” Obama told the $33,400 a head event for a few dozen well-heeled donors.

“But ultimately, an eight-year span in the life of a country is pretty short. We can get a lot done, but part of what we’re also doing is laying the foundation so that we then pass that baton to the next administration and we institutionalize some of the progress that we’ve been making,” he added. “And ultimately, how much staying power these things have depends on a Congress that is thinking about our future.”

“…This is not something I’m doing for me, this is something we are doing together. Because it’s going to be just the blink of an eye before I am, like you, a citizen, who has returned from office but still occupies the most important position in a democracy. And together I want us to make sure that we are doing everything we can to pass on the kind of America that gave us such incredible opportunity and allowed us to be here today.”

Obama said that “by almost every economic measure, by every economic measure, we are better off and, in some cases, significantly better off than when I came into office.”

“By almost every measure, this country has come bouncing back in ways that a lot of folks in 2009 might not have anticipated,” he said. “But what’s also true is, is that there is so much work that’s left undone, so many things we could be doing to make sure that more people have access to the ladders of opportunity that have been the hallmark of this country. If we pass immigration reform, that would not only improve our economy, drive down our deficit, but it would make sure that America continued to be a land — a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants where we’re attracting incredible talent and vitality from every corner of the globe.”

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Harf Explains Why Fall of Mosul, Ramadi Were Kinda Different

Thursday, May 28th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said the fall of the Mosul and the fall of Ramadi are pretty much different because of the amount of time it took for ISIS to seize the Iraq cities.

“I think Mosul and Ramadi are a little bit different,” Harf told CNN. “And what we saw in Ramadi is that, for months and months, the Iraqi forces were contesting ISIL there. Mosul fell quite quickly, question, so that was a little bit different.”

“…But when it came to Ramadi, they contested it for many months. They fought valiantly. ISIL threw a ton of resources, a lot of firepower at the situation. And, unfortunately, we had a pretty significant setback. But they have started to counterattack around Ramadi and we are confident that eventually Ramadi will be retaken.”

Mosul fell 11 months ago, and has not been retaken.

Outgoing Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey said recently in a Frontline documentary the fall of Mosul took military planners by surprise and the Pentagon had no contingency plans in place.

“So, look, there were several things that surprised us about ISIL,” Dempsey said. “The degree to which they were able to form their own coalition, both inside of Syria — and inside of northwestern Iraq; the military capability that they exhibited — the collapse of the Iraq Security Forces. Yeah, in those initial days, there were a few surprises.”

Three days before the fall of Ramadi, though, Dempsey seemed unconcerned.

“The city itself is — it’s not symbolic in any way. It’s not been declared, you know, part of the caliphate, on the one hand, or central to the future of Iraq. But we want to get it back. I mean, the issue here is not — is not brick and mortar. It’s about defeating ISIL. So, as I said, this — I — you know, I would much rather that Ramadi not fall, but it won’t be the end of the campaign should it fall. We got to get it back. And that’s tragic for the people, as have — as we’ve seen along the way,” Dempsey told reporters at the Pentagon on May 14.

Harf also said Wednesday that she wouldn’t “make sort of sweeping generalizations about some of these forces”– the Iran-backed Shiite militias — jumping in the fight.

“I think they’re all probably a little bit different on the ground,” she said.

“But what I would say is, we have been very clear with the Iraqis that it’s important to us certainly that any of these other provincial forces that are working are under Iraqi command-and-control, that the Iraqi armed forces are the ones in control of these offensives. Obviously, that’s what we have been focusing on.”

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Santorum: I Know Radical Islam, Can Face Former SecState ‘Very Steeped in Knowledge in That Area’

Thursday, May 28th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Former Sen. Rick Santorum is taking another shot at the White House, and he thinks appealing to blue-collar workers’ concerns including income inequality will single him out in a crowded GOP field.

Santorum announced his candidacy yesterday in his home state. He came in second to Mitt Romney in the 2012 delegate count, with strong early showings in Iowa, Colorado, Missouri, and Minnesota. He was weakest in key states such as New Hampshire and Florida.

“I think we sound a lot different,” he told Fox of his new campaign message. “I mean, we have focused in on where the problem is in America today, and that is that, you know, you see a hollowing out of the middle of this country. The wages have stagnated. Family incomes and median income is going down. And the opportunity to rise, particularly for the 74 percent of Americans who don’t have a college degree, it’s just not happening.”

“And one of the reasons it’s not, and you know this because you’ve been there, is because we’ve lost our manufacturing base in this country,” he said. “And that’s why I have this announcement at a manufacturing facility. We had manufacturers from all over the country here. We’re excited about someone who is willing to go out and help America compete again, because we can bring those jobs back here. We just have to have plans to do it.”

Santorum said he’ll be putting forward a “very detailed plan” for the country including a “simple, fair, flat tax.”

That plan, he said, is “going to be very stimulative to the economy generally, but in particular to manufacturing.”

“We’re going to put things in place that will make America a manufacturing mecca to create the opportunity for us to create jobs.”

Santorum boasted during his campaign announcement that ISIS had singled him out by name — they called him a “Catholic crusader” in a March issue of their Dabiq magazine.

“There’s a lot of places to start. I think you have to start where the temperature is the hottest, and that’s in the Middle East. Iran is certainly, as you know, for a long time I’ve been sounding the alarm on Iran… This is something that is critical for us,” the former senator said. “I’m hopeful, I pray, literally I pray that we don’t strike a deal with Iran that puts them that close to a nuclear weapon that’s really their option. But if that doesn’t happen, and I pray it doesn’t, that’s going to be a big job for the next president to make sure that Iran does not get a nuclear weapon.”

“We take on ISIS. I talked here today how important it is not to have a commander in chief with no experience. A commander in chief is not an entry-level position. I served eight years on the Armed Services Committee. I’ve been talking about this problem of radical Islam now for more than a dozen years and traveled the country, traveled the world. And we need someone with experience who knows how to handle that, to go up particularly against a former secretary of State who is very steeped in knowledge in that area.”

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‘Massive Expansion of Federal Power’: EPA Issues New Rules Over Waters Near Rivers

Wednesday, May 27th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

The Environmental Protection Agency moved ahead with its controversial rule to “clarify” the definition of protected waters in what Republicans have branded a massive power grab.

In March 2014, the EPA began a “robust” 90-day “outreach effort” to gather input in shaping a final rule, maintaining that the directive is simply a clarification effort needed to define streams and wetlands protection after Supreme Court decisions in 2001 and 2006. The final rule was expected around this time.

Critics, though, charged that the administration embarked on an unprecedented breach of private property rights without scientific basis.

The EPA wants to cover “most” seasonal and rain-dependent streams, which account for about 60 percent of stream miles in the country, arguing they have “a considerable impact on the downstream waters.”

Wetlands “near rivers and streams” would be protected under the CWA, and “other types of waters [that] may have more uncertain connections with downstream water and protection will be evaluated through a case specific analysis of whether the connection is or is not significant.” Critics say this could be construed to even include ponds and ditches on private property.

Overall, the EPA stated, a third of waters in the U.S. don’t meet Clean Water Act standards.

“For the water in the rivers and lakes in our communities that flow to our drinking water to be clean, the streams and wetlands that feed them need to be clean too,” said EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy. “Protecting our water sources is a critical component of adapting to climate change impacts like drought, sea level rise, stronger storms, and warmer temperatures – which is why EPA and the Army [Corps of Engineers] have finalized the Clean Water Rule to protect these important waters, so we can strengthen our economy and provide certainty to American businesses.”

The EPA said that ditches “not constructed in streams and that flow only when it rains” are not covered under the rule, but does cover “prairie potholes, Carolina and Delmarva bays, pocosins, western vernal pools in California, and Texas coastal prairie wetlands when they impact downstream waters.”

“The rule protects waters that are next to rivers and lakes and their tributaries because science shows that they impact downstream waters,” the EPA said. “The rule sets boundaries on covering nearby waters for the first time that are physical and measurable.”

Senate Committee on Environmental and Public Works Chairman James Inhofe (R-Okla.), whose panel has scrutinized the rulemaking in several hearings, said that the EPA didn’t narrow the definitions, but made them broader.

“This makes it more important than ever for Congress to act,” Inhofe said, referring to the legislation he introduced with a bipartisan group of senators last month to rein in the water rules.

“It’s clear that the EPA would rather skew public comments in its favor than acknowledge the real concerns Americans and Congress have with this overreaching rule,” Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) said. “Instead of moving forward with a rule that fails to represent the interests of many Americans, we should act immediately to pass the bipartisan Federal Water Quality Protection Act.”

President Obama, though, praised the EPA action “to clear up the confusion and uphold our basic duty to protect these vital resources.”

“This rule will provide the clarity and certainty businesses and industry need about which waters are protected by the Clean Water Act, and it will ensure polluters who knowingly threaten our waters can be held accountable,” Obama said in a statement. “My administration has made historic commitments to clean water, from restoring iconic watersheds like the Chesapeake Bay and the Great Lakes to preserving more than a thousand miles of rivers and other waters for future generations. With today’s rule, we take another step towards protecting the waters that belong to all of us.”

Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) lashed out at the rule as “a massive expansion of federal power” that “puts the EPA in the ludicrous position of acting as the main regulator of ponds, ditches, and even intermittent streams across the country.”

“Generations of state and local officials have crafted water rules that take community needs into account while ensuring that water is kept clean,” he said. “Now, this rule threatens to wash all those years of state water law away and drown communities and businesses in federal red tape.”

House Science, Space, and Technology Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) noted that the rule was unveiled alongside “a new PR campaign attempting to rebrand the rule’s tarnished image.”

“But cosmetic updates cannot hide the fact that it’s still a massive power grab of private property. America’s farmers, landowners and small businesses are right to be concerned,” Smith said. “The rule expands the EPA’s jurisdiction, giving the agency the power to restrict Americans from making decisions about their own property.”

Industry groups also ripped the new rule, with American Energy Alliance president Thomas Pyle calling it “an attack on individuals’ private property rights under the guise of protecting our country’s waterways.”

“In reality, the rule isn’t about protecting waterways or wetlands,” Pyle said. “It’s about increasing the size and scope of the federal government and giving Washington bureaucrats more control over what American citizens do on their own property.”

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Chairman: What If Iran Takes Nuclear Inspectors Hostage, Too?

Wednesday, May 27th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

The chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee mused what would happen if the U.S. inks a nuke deal with Iran and takes the nuclear inspectors hostage — just like the Americans held for years now.

The families of Jason Rezaian, Amir Hekmati, Saeed Abedini and Bob Levinson will for the first time all testify before Congress on their families’ ordeals at a June 2 hearing.

Rezaian is a Washington Post reporter who was taken into custody last summer. Hekmati is a Marine veteran who was seized in 2011 while visiting extended family for the first time. Abedini was convicted in 2013 on charges that the Idaho pastor was trying to spread Christianity. Levinson was kidnapped eight years ago off the coast of Iran while working as a private investigator on a cigarette smuggling case.

Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) spoke with CNN yesterday as news came in that Rezaian’s trial proceedings on espionage charges would be extended to an undisclosed date.

“We should make it very clear to the Iranian government that if their intelligence community and their judicial system can’t protect someone, a journalist like Jason — and three other Americans, by the way, are being held there — if their intent is to duplicate, replicate what they did in 1979 by taking Americans hostages, then what guarantee do we have that, when inspectors, international inspectors go in there, that they’re not going to be taken captive?” Royce said.

“This needs to end now. And that is an old pattern. But to have the possibility of a death sentence for a journalist, this is nothing new in Iran either.”

Hekmati was originally sentenced to death in a closed-door trial, then given a prison sentence on charges that he conspired to commit espionage.

“We’re going have Jason’s brother testify in my committee next week and other family members representing the other three families that are held there. But can you imagine being held for 10 months in Evin prison, which is where some of the worst torturing has gone on, you know, against religious leaders, against students in Iran?” Royce continued.

“Our hearts go out here to the family members. And we hope we can secure his release.”

On Iran and the fight against ISIS, Royce said that “because Baghdad is perceived as being so close to Iran, the Iranian influence has been such that the weapons have not gone to the Sunni tribes.”

“The weapons have not gone to the Kurds,” he said. “In the National Defense Authorization Act, in the legislation we just passed, we addressed that issue by mandating that some of the aid that we put through Baghdad go directly to the Kurdish forces and to the Sunni tribes that are working there, because we know that the Shia-led government at this point has not only provided woefully inadequate officers, but have not provided the resources, the equipment necessary for the tribesmen.”

“…I have met with the leadership of the Sunni tribes when they came to Washington. They want to take back that province, but they say they need the equipment and support from Baghdad to do it.”

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Paul: ‘ISIS Exists Because of the Hawks in Our Party’

Wednesday, May 27th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

GOP presidential hopeful Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) said today that ISIS essentially exists because of his colleagues.

Paul was responding on MSNBC to comments by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) that ISIS exists because of the party’s noninterventionists who didn’t want to intervene in Syria early on.

“I would say it’s exactly the opposite. ISIS exists and grew stronger because of the hawks in our party who gave arms indiscriminately and most of those arms were snatched up by ISIS. These hawks also wanted to bomb Assad, which would have made ISIS’ job even easier,” he said. “They created these people. ISIS is all over Libya because these same hawks in my party loved — they loved Hillary Clinton’s war in — in Libya. They just wanted more of it.”

“But Libya’s a failed state, and it’s a disaster. Iraq really is a failed state or a vassal state now of Iran. So everything that they have talked about in foreign policy, they’ve been wrong about for 20 years, and yet they have, somehow, the gall to keep saying and pointing fingers otherwise.”

Paul also predicted that Jeb Bush would have problems because “the Bush legacy on war will destroy any hope we have of getting independent vote.”

“I’m asking some difficult questions of Republicans. Do you think the invasion of Iraq made it more stable or us more safe? We now have ISIS to contend with. Do you think the invasion of Libya made us more safe?” he said. “The interesting thing is people want to paint me as out of step with the Republican Party, but when you get outside the Beltway and go to America, the rest of America, I think is more in line with what I’m saying, because I think we do have to defend ourselves. I’m all for doing something to stop ISIS. I was all for going after 9/11 to go after bin Laden.”

“You know, I think the ultimate answer is getting Arab coalitions and boots on the ground that will stop them. You need Turks fighting. Turks need to have their army up on the board, and they need to fight… Also, Assad does really need to leave. When Assad leaves, there needs to be a government that we could support. Right now there are 1,500 groups, many of them bad people, including ISIS that hawks in our party have been arming.”

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal issued a statement calling Paul’s comments “a perfect example of why Senator Paul is unsuited to be commander in chief.”

“We have men and women in the military who are in the field trying to fight ISIS right now, and Senator Paul is taking the weakest, most liberal Democrat position,” Jindal said. “It’s one thing for Senator Paul to take an outlandish position as a Senator at Washington cocktail parties, but being commander in chief is an entirely different job. We should all be clear that evil and radical Islam are at fault for the rise of ISIS, and people like President Obama and Hillary Clinton exacerbate it.”

The governor, who is contemplating a presidential run, said the senator’s “illogical argument clouds a situation that should provide pure moral clarity.”

“Islam has a problem. ISIS is its current manifestation. And the next president’s job is to have the discipline and strength to wipe ISIS off the face of the earth,” he added. “It has become impossible to imagine a President Paul defeating radical Islam and it’s time for the rest of us to say it.”

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Crocker: Iran Meddling in Iraq ‘About the Worst Thing I Could Imagine’

Wednesday, May 27th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

The former U.S. ambassador to Iraq and Afghanistan warned that Iran’s involvement in Iraq “would be about the worst thing I could imagine, from the point of view of U.S. interest.”

Iran is insisting that it’s the only country serious about going after ISIS, backing Shiite militias to move in on ISIS strongholds.

“This is a thrust into the heart of Sunni Iraq, Anbar Province, the citadel of Sunniism in Iraq, if you will,” Ryan Crocker told CNN. “I cannot imagine anything more carefully calculated to permanently split this country apart, the country of Iraq apart, than a Shia-led military effort into a completely Sunni area.”

Iran even named their operation after Imam Hussein, a venerated Shiite figure, to spite the Sunnis.

Crocker said the key question to ask after the fall of Ramadi is where is the United States.

“I would simply note that Iraqi forces have been fighting out there for the last 16 months, since the beginning of last year. The city is almost fallen on a number of occasions. They’ve held on with their fingernails,” the ambassador said. “And I think we need to take that into account.”

“I think there are real questions about leadership and generalship in the Iraqi security forces. And I would ask, where are we? We used to be able to make a difference in decisions on command and control. I would suggest that part of the problem that Iraq is facing today is because we have been missing in action,” the continued.

“There is a very complex situation out there. What I am saying is that we have shown we can make a difference when we bring our influence together. This is ultimately a political situation, a political struggle. The politics are pretty badly messed up right now. We can make a difference in that. We’re not making that difference.”

Crocker stressed that “sustained engagement is what we need.”

“We have not had that for the last few years. We need it now. You know, a phone call is important. A visit is even more important,” he said. “And a string of visits and phone calls to demonstrate that this is of critical importance to the U.S., that we are going to make a difference, we are going to use our influence is what we need to demonstrate now.”

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Psaki: ‘If We Spent Every Day Worrying About What Iran Said, That’s All We Would Focus On’

Wednesday, May 27th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

White House communications director Jen Psaki said they’re just brushing off Iranian criticism about the fall of Ramadi, as they do most rhetoric from Tehran.

Major General Qassem Soleimani, commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps’ Quds Force, said Sunday that the U.S. did nothing to stop the sacking of Ramadi and “there is no will to fight the ISIL” in Washington.

“If we spent every day worrying about what Iranians said about the United States, that’s all we would focus on,” Psaki told CNN this morning. “The fact is the proof is in the pudding. We have done thousands of air strikes along with our coalition forces. We’ve trained, we’ve equipped the Iraqi Security Forces, and we have taken steps to support them and their needs on the ground, and we are going to stay at that.”

“But the actions speak louder than words there. So we are not going to worry about the Iranian accusations. We’re going to focus on what more we need to do to help support the Iraqi Security Forces on the ground.”

Psaki said the situation is “more complicated than a line” — namely, the line from Defense Secretary Ashton Carter about Iraqis not having the will to fight in Ramadi.

“We have a terrorist organization that intends to do harm to the Iraqi forces and intends to do harm to the region, and even more broadly than that,” she said. “…Let me first say that what Secretary Carter said was consistent with what he was seeing and hearing from the ground. But also the Iraqi themselves acknowledge that there were some command issues, there were some issues on the ground, and it’s something they want to adapt to as well.”

“…But this is a case where the training began late last year. It wasn’t applicable or wasn’t, the Iraqi Security Forces who were fighting back in Ramadi didn’t have access to that. That’s something we need to continue. But then also I think it’s important for people to remember, the Iraqi security forces have also retaken 25 percent of populated areas from ISIL. There are going to be ups and downs here. We need to continue to adapt and we need to continue to prepare them and equipped them with what they need as does the international coalition.”

Psaki said President Obama has been “very clear” about boots on the ground in Iraq to counter ISIS.

“Of course as commander in chief he is constantly talking to his military advisers. We’re talking to our coalition partners. As I noted earlier, we just rushed 2,000 A-24s to the ground,” she said. “So of course we’re constantly making decisions and taking steps to make sure we’re adapting to the tactics that ISIL and others are using on the ground.”

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Kenyan Lawyer Offers Obama 50 Cows, 70 Sheep, 30 Goats for Malia’s Hand

Wednesday, May 27th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

A Kenyan lawyer is offering President Obama quite the livestock dowry to marry first daughter Malia.

Felix Kiprono wants to have a meeting with Obama when the president visits his ancestral homeland in July, and offer him 50 cows, 70 sheep and 30 goats for Malia’s hand, The Nairobian reports.

“I got interested in her in 2008. As a matter of fact, I haven’t dated anyone since and promise to be faithful to her. I have shared this with my family and they are willing to help me raise the bride price,” Kiprono told the newspaper. 16-year-old Malia was only 10 years old during her dad’s first presidential campaign.

“People might say I am after the family’s money, which is not the case. My love is real,” the lawyer continued. “I am currently drafting a letter to Obama asking him to please have Malia accompany him for this trip. I hope the embassy will pass the letter to him. I will hand it over to the US Ambassador with whom we have interacted several times.”

“If my request is granted, I will not resort to the cliché of popping champagne. Instead, I will surprise her with mursik, the traditional Kalenjin sour milk. As an indication that she is my queen, I will tie sinendet, which is a sacred plant, around her head.”

In fact, Kiprono left none of the details a surprise.

“I will propose to her on a popular hill in Bureti near my father’s land where leaders and warriors are usually crowned. The place is called Kapkatet, which means ‘victory’,” he said. “Ours will be a simple life. I will teach Malia how to milk a cow, cook ugali and prepare mursik like any other Kalenjin woman.”

While the labor force participation rate for women is higher in Kenya than in the United States, an article in The African Executive noted that some men in the country still “believe that it is a waste of time and money to educate a girl, as her only role will be that of a wife.”

“When young women are forced to marry men old enough to be their fathers, they lose their independence. They have to abide by the wishes of their husbands, even if those edicts are oppressive. Such women hardly exercise their freedom of movement or association and as a result cannot participate in the nation building process. Among the Loita Maasai, for example, women are not allowed to address men at a public baraza. Some women must even adopt subservient positions when speaking to their own spouses.”

Kiprono has been getting some advice on his proposal from Nairobian commenters, including: “Modern marriage is not based on bride price and in fact whites do not care about bride price. No modern parent care how many goats or sheep you have, they leave their children to choose their lives and what make them happy. You just privately approach the girl and let her know how you feel about her. If she reciprocate your love then we all do not need to know until you invite us for the wedding. She has a life and maybe a love life, she may be tied up in a relationship or she may be free but not interested in you. The choice is hers, not Obama’s. In fact your poor approach can be repelling to even other girls if you approach their fathers instead approaching them, so try to polish up despite the fact that you are in a third world country.”

Malia should be as excited about this offer as she was about her dad pardoning that other turkey.

maliapoed

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White House Graduates Sacking of Ramadi from ‘Setback’ to ‘Not Unsubstantial Setback’

Tuesday, May 26th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

The White House was calling the sack of Ramadi last week a “setback” in the war against ISIS, and got roundly criticized by some lawmakers on Capitol Hill for downplaying the ISIS victory.

Today, it was still a setback — just with a few qualifiers.

“I think there are a variety of contributors to what happened in Ramadi,” press secretary Josh Earnest said when asked about Defense Secretary Ashton Carter’s contention that the Iraqi army showed no “will to fight” and essentially ran from Ramadi. “The first is that there — the Iraqi security forces, who were fighting in Ramadi, and have been fighting in Ramadi for a year and a half, didn’t have the benefit of the training of the United States and our coalition partners. There were clearly, as the Iraqis have indicated, some military command and planning problems that occurred. And we saw a pretty effective tactic used by ISIL. And all of that led to a not unsubstantial setback in Ramadi.”

The lack of “will to fight,” Earnest said, “certainly has been a problem that we’ve see in the past.”

“That’s what allowed ISIL to make such significant gains last summer. And so what the United States and our coalition has been focused on is making sure that we can enhance the capacity of the Iraqi security forces and supporting the Iraqi central government as they try to unite that country and build a multisectarian security force to face the threat that they — that is posed by ISIL,” he said.

The U.S. is trying to shut down the flow of foreign fighters and funding to Iraq, but taking the fight to ISIS within Iraq, Earnest added, is “not the something that the United States is willing to do for the Iraqi people.”

“And the Iraqi central government, Prime Minister Abadi, has made crystal clear on a number of occasions he doesn’t want anybody to step in and do this for them,” he said. “He’s prepared to unite that country, to bring that country together, and to mobilize a multi-sectarian security force to face down the security threat in his country. And that’s what the United States and our coalition partners stand ready to do.”

Still, Earnest insisted that the administration is “pleased with the progress that’s been made” against ISIS.

“There are going to be days of progress and there are going to be periods of setback… the sophistication and capability of some of these ISIL forces is not particularly surprising,” he said of the onetime JV team. “We’ve long acknowledged how dangerous they are. And that said, we also know that there are tools and techniques that can be used to counter and defeat them.”

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Earnest: Weekend Urban Violence Shows Need for Gun Laws; Will See If Obama Wants to Talk About It

Tuesday, May 26th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

White House press secretary Josh Earnest said the recent spate of urban violence shows a need for Congress to pass more gun laws — but President Obama may or may not comment on the rash of shootings.

A dozen people were killed and 43 were wounded in Chicago over the holiday weekend. In Baltimore, nine were killed in 29 shootings across the city this past weekend.

Asked about the violence at today’s press briefing, Earnest said the administration is “certainly continuing to be concerned by violence that we see in cities all across the country.”

“And I think it’s an indication of just how widespread this violence has become, that in some ways, it’s almost — it doesn’t sort of break through in the news coverage anymore when you see these kinds of — when you see this rash of violence. So this is something that, you know, the president’s talked about quite a bit,” he continued. “And this is a reflection of some pretty entrenched problems. And, you know, obviously, there’s some common-sense things that we can do. Certainly, passage of some gun safety laws in Congress that could keep guns out of the hands of criminals would be one thing that we could do to try to limit the violence.”

“There’s more that we could do to try to address some of the dire economic circumstances in some of these urban communities. And there’s more that we can do to support local governments and leaders in these communities to try to meet the needs of the local population. And — so there’s — there’s — this is going to require — there’s no one simple answer to trying to address this. But this is certainly a challenge that the president’s ready to confront.”

Asked if the president would like to comment on the crime wave himself, Earnest replied, “We’ll see what we can do.”

He referred reporters to the departments of Housing and Urban Development, Labor, and Education for questions about summer jobs programs, etc., to help prevent summer shootings.

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Dem Congresswoman Challenging McCain for Senate Seat

Tuesday, May 26th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

While Tea Party Republicans are mulling a primary challenger for Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the Democrats have announced their candidate to take on the incumbent as he vies for his sixth term.

Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick (D-Ariz.) announced in a video today in which she tells of growing up in Arizona and shows the boots “I bought with my waitressing tips… yup, I still wear ‘em.”

“I respect John McCain’s service to our nation; I just believe our state’s changing,” she said. “Arizonans should have a real choice who they send to the United States Senate.”

Kirkpatrick, a former city attorney for Sedona, was first elected to the House in 2008 but lost her seat to Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) in 2010. After redistricting, Gosar ran for 2012 re-election in a newly created district and won, while Kirkpatrick ran for her old seat and was victorious.

A survey released earlier this month by Dem-leaning Public Policy Polling found McCain with just 41 percent job approval among Republican voters. However, McCain led prospective Dem challengers, including Kirkpatrick.

McCain also has a slim edge over potential GOP challengers Reps. Dave Schweikert (R-Ariz.) and Matt Salmon (R-Ariz.). Only Salmon fares well in hypothetical polling against the Dems.

Dean Debnam, president of PPP, called the Arizona Senate race reminiscent of Indiana in 2012.

“John McCain should be fine if he makes it to the general, but like Richard Lugar, unhappiness with him among conservatives could cause him to lose a primary. And if that happens the general election could get interesting,” he said.

Democrat Joe Donnelly won Lugar’s seat after campaign stumbles by Tea Party nominee Richard Mourdock.

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee’s targets in 2016 include Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), being challenged by former Sen. Russ Feingold, and Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), being challenged by Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.).

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‘No Will to Fight’ Iraqis Faced Multiple Oklahoma City-Sized Bombs in Ramadi Fall

Tuesday, May 26th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

A former military planner in Iraq said that Baghdad has a right to react indignantly to Washington’s suggestions that they ran away from Ramadi in the face of the ISIS assault.

“What apparently happened was that the Iraqi forces just showed no will to fight,” Defense Secretary Ashton Carter told CNN in an interview aired Sunday. “They were not outnumbered. In fact, they vastly outnumbered the opposing force, and yet they failed to fight, they withdrew from the site, and that says to me, and I think to most of us, that we have an issue with the will of the Iraqis to fight ISIL and defend themselves.”

Lt. Col. Douglas Ollivant (Ret.), who served on the National Security Council under presidents George W. Bush and Obama, told PBS “there are clearly problems with the Iraqi army; they need to be addressed, but the counterpoint is also true.”

“The Iraqi army was in Ramadi for a year-and-a-half and did fight off the Islamic State there for a year-and-a-half, and, if we’re to believe the accounts, really were at the receiving end of a well-planned, well-executed attack by the Islamic State that involved a number of very, very large explosive car bombs, some of which were said to be the size of those in the Oklahoma City bombing, literally kind of leveling blocks or at least large buildings, an assault that any military force would have a hard time with,” Ollivant said.

“So there is some truth to what the secretary is saying, but at the same time, the indignation on the part of the Iraqis is very valid. Some of these soldiers have fought very well.”

Ollivant acknowledged that the Iraqi troops have received support from the United States in terms of training, but rumors persist that soldiers have not been paid by the Iraqi government.

He opined that the Iraqis can take back Ramadi in four to eight weeks, similar to Tikrit.

“The Iraqi forces that were in Ramadi didn’t have the anti-tank missiles that they needed to stop these vehicle-borne, these explosive car bombs from attacking their positions. It wouldn’t hurt to have more unarmed surveillance drones. If we were to push those, then the Iranians wouldn’t have to provide them. That’s a way for us to kind of use a chess move against the Iranian influence in Iraq, which we do need to be concerned about,” Ollivant said.

“So there are a series of things we can do, but essentially it’s more of what we’re doing, more training, more equipping, more intelligence support.”

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Muslim Televangelist: Masturbating Men Will Make Their Hands Pregnant

Tuesday, May 26th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson
YouTube Preview Image

Mucahid Cihad Han is a Muslim televangelist of sorts. On Turkey’s 2000 TV Sunday, he sat there with his laptop answering questions about what’s haram or halal, and received one question that, based on the uproarious Twitter reaction, may have just been thrown out at the cleric as bait.

The concerned viewer told the “self-styled” cleric, as described by Hurriyet Daily News, that he can’t help himself — he’s married but masturbates all the time, even while on a pilgrimage to Mecca. Han mulled the concern and figured he could, indeed, help the Mecca masturbator:

After repeating the question a few times, Han claimed that Islam strictly prohibits masturbation as a “haram” (forbidden) act. “Moreover, one hadith states that those who have sexual intercourse with their hands will find their hands pregnant in the afterlife, complaining against them to God over its rights,” he said, referring to what he claimed to be a saying of Prophet Muhammad.

“If our viewer was single, I could recommend he marry, but what can I say now?” the televangelist added, advising the viewer to “resist Satan’s temptations.”

…Despite Han’s assertive religious stance, only a limited number of Islamic interpretations categorize masturbation as “haram,” while most of others call it a “makruh” (disliked) act. Many of the mainstream Islamic interpretations even allow it in certain conditions, like if the act could be used to avoid the temptation of an extramarital affair.

The TV fatwa reaped lots of mocking on social media, but Han stoked that by tweeting the above video of his masturbation edict.

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Homeland Security Congressman: ‘Rand Paul Is Consumed by the NSA’

Tuesday, May 26th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) accused Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) of being “consumed” by the NSA and wrongly painting the agency as villainous.

Before the Senate left for the Memorial Day recess, Paul blocked a motion to extend the Patriot Act without debate or amendments. This followed his nearly 11-hour speech on the Senate floor against NSA metadata collection.

“This is a debate that should be had, and the reason I am objecting is because I’ve made a very simple request, to have amendments, to have them voted on, and to have a guarantee that they’re voted on,” Paul said late Friday. “I started out the day with a request for six amendments; I’m willing to compromise to having two amendments at a simple majority vote. I think that’s a very reasonable position, and if we can’t have that and we can’t have an extensive debate over something we’ve had four years to prepare for, I will object, and I do. I object.”

His office said the senator will “pick up where he left off in the battle to defeat this illegal spying program” when Congress returns May 31.

King, the former chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, railed on CNN against “people like Rand Paul, who, again, somehow make the NSA the villain when it’s al-Qaeda, it’s ISIS, it’s this whole array of Islamist terrorists we’re against, and somehow Rand Paul is consumed by the NSA.”

“We can’t allow it to expire, because the majority of both houses want the program to continue in one form or another. I would support it being reauthorized as it is. I realize that’s virtually impossible at this stage. Either there should be a brief extension, or they should adopt a bill that the House passed,” he said.

That’s the USA FREEDOM Act, which reins in some of the NSA powers.

“Again, I didn’t fully support that bill, but I ended up voting for it, because that was the only way to keep the program going,” King said. “The NSA is essential. I’d rather have it continue as-is, but at least under having it continue under the amended form, or the revised form that came out of the House. But it’s irresponsible.”

The congressman stressed that he’s “never met a more patriotic group of people than the men and women of the NSA, and I also believe that constitutional protections are in place right now.”

“The House bill would increase those protections, and there’s no excuse for it to be allowed to lapse,” he said. “If we can’t come to an agreement by June 1, because that’s the date, then at least have a 30- or 60-day extension so we can get this resolved. We can’t be basically, you know, fiddling while Rome is burning. That’s what’s going to happen here.”

Bill Kristol of The Weekly Standard charged in an ABC appearance that Paul “has now decided he wants to be a liberal Democrat” and “undercut necessary intelligence collection, weaken the police officers and our intelligence services.”

“And Rand Paul thinks that’s going to sell in a Republican primary,” he said. “I think he’s deeply misguided about that. But I guess he sincerely believes it. And he’s welcome to make the case.”

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Defense Sec at Arlington: ‘Troops of Such Caliber’ Have ‘Great Leader’ in Obama

Monday, May 25th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

At today’s Arlington National Cemetery Memorial Day observance, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said “troops of such caliber demand great leaders, and there’s no doubt they have one in our commander in chief.”

“I see that every day,” continued Carter, who assumed his post in February. “He knows well the challenges we must face, the obligations we must meet, and the opportunities we must seize in order to keep our nation safe and to make a better world for our children. And I see that he cares deeply about the safety, welfare, and dignity of our men and women in uniform and their families.”

“For all that, and so much more, I am tremendously proud to serve as his secretary of Defense,” he added.

Carter named Fallujah among the battles that left “a legacy that has made our military the finest fighting force the world has ever known.”

A decade ago in the first and second battles of Fallujah, 134 coalition soldiers lost their lives. The city fell to ISIS in February 2014, and nearby Ramadi fell this month.

“On a day set aside for Americans to honor and remember those who perished while serving our country, our obligation and our opportunity are one and the same. Our obligation is to give voice to the fallen, honor them, and share their stories of sacrifice and heroism,” Carter said. “Our opportunity is to use this day to inspire new generations to understand the freedom they have been given, to grasp how and why it is theirs, and to dedicate themselves to pass it on to generations unborn.”

President Obama laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns this morning before the Arlington ceremony attended by about 5,000, including Gold Star families.

“For many of us, this Memorial Day is especially meaningful; it is the first since our war in Afghanistan came to an end. Today is the first Memorial Day in 14 years that the United States is not engaged in a major ground war,” Obama said. “So on this day, we honor the sacrifice of the thousands of American servicemembers — men and women — who gave their lives since 9/11, including more than 2,200 American patriots who made the ultimate sacrifice in Afghanistan.”

Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) said on the Senate floor Friday that “we should say a special prayer for the parents of young Americans who fought and died in Iraq and Afghanistan and the current wars today.”

“We had a tragedy with the fall of Fallujah, we had a tragedy with the fall of Ramadi, we need those parents to know their sons and daughters did not die in vain,” Isakson said.

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii), an Iraq war veteran, told CNN on Sunday that Obama is wrong when he says the U.S. is not losing the war against ISIS.

“Clearly, ISIS has gained momentum, in particular over the last week, as we have seen the ground that they have gained both in Iraq and Syria,” Gabbard said. “…You have this solution. You have got the Kurds, the Kurdish Peshmerga, and you have Sunni tribesmen who are literally begging — I met with a Sunni tribal leader last week in Washington — they are begging for arms, heavy weapons, ammunition, to be able to fight against ISIS to protect their families and their tribal lands and their territories, but still to this point, both the U.S. and the central Iraqi government is failing to provide that, and, therefore, ISIS continues to be able to grow.”

Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.), also an Iraq veteran, said “you are not losing and you are not winning because we are not really engaged in this fight.”

“In essence, what the president did was say, look, we need to destroy ISIS, until that takes boots on the ground, in which case the existence of boots on the ground is worse than the existence of ISIS,” Kinzinger said.

“This is not just a situation where, if the house catches on fire, it will burn down and then we just look at a burned-down house. This is now a house on fire in a densely packed neighborhood, where this is going to spread to other places.”

The White House said Vice President Joe Biden called Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi today “to reaffirm U.S. support for the Iraqi government’s fight against ISIL.”

“The vice president recognized the enormous sacrifice and bravery of Iraqi forces over the past eighteen months in Ramadi and elsewhere,” the administration readout said. “The vice president welcomed the Council of Ministers’ unanimous decision on May 19th to mobilize additional troops, honor those who have fallen, and prepare for counter-attack operations. The vice president pledged full U.S. support in these and other Iraqi efforts to liberate territory from ISIL, including the expedited provision of U.S. training and equipment to address the threat posed by ISIL’s use of truck bombs.

 

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GOP Bill Creates Incentives to Put Birth Control Pill Over-the-Counter

Thursday, May 21st, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Some Republicans have floated support for putting birth control pills over the counter, but now two senators have put legislative muscle behind the effort.

Sens. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) and Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) introduced the Allowing Greater Access to Safe and Effective Contraception Act, which aims to encourage manufacturers of contraceptives to file an application for a prescription-to-over-the-counter switch (Rx-to-OTC switch) by allowing priority review for their applications and waiving the FDA filing fee.

The incentives would be available for FDA-approved OTC contraceptives sold to adults 18 and older.

The bill would then repeal the Obamacare prohibition on the use of health savings accounts, medical savings accounts, and flexible spending accounts (FSAs) to purchase OTC drugs as well as repeal the ACA’s annual limits on FSA contributions.

Gardner voiced his support for OTC contraceptives in his winning battle against incumbent Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) last fall. Udall tried to paint his challenger as anti-women’s rights.

“It’s time to allow women the ability to make their own decisions about safe, effective, and long-established methods of contraception,”Gardner said in a statement today. “Most other drugs with such a long history of safe and routine use are available for purchase over the counter, and contraception should join them.”

“Making this medication available over the counter would increase access in rural and underserved areas, save consumers money by increasing competition and availability, and save women time by increasing the ease of getting the safe contraception they need.”

Ayotte said the bill “will help increase women’s access to safe and effective contraceptives and further empower women to make their own healthcare decisions.”

“In addition, our bill restores the ability of Health Savings Accounts and Flexible Spending Accounts to be used to purchase over-the-counter medications, giving women more purchasing power,” she said.

Original co-sponsors are Sens. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), Richard Burr (R-N.C.), Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), and Thom Tillis (R-N.C.).

Gardner argued in a June Denver Post op-ed that women should be able to buy the pill over the counter.

“Since ‘the pill’ was first approved 44 years ago, it’s been one of the most proven and tested pharmaceuticals of our time. It is safe, reliable, effective, and presents very few risks or complications for the more than 10 million women who use it. When other drugs have that kind of track record, we approve them for purchase without a prescription; the Food and Drug Administration has already reclassified over 100 different treatments. Name-brand drugs like Advil, Pepcid, Claritin, Prilosec and many others were once sold by prescription only, but moved to over-the-counter sale (OTC) once they’d been proven safe and unlikely to be abused,” he wrote.

“When treatments go over-the-counter, two things happen: they get dramatically cheaper and consumers save time and hassle by avoiding unnecessary doctors’ appointments just to get the pharmaceuticals they already know they need… Getting the politics out of contraception will improve the lives of women all over the country.”

He cited a 2012 committee recommendation by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists that the pill be put over the counter.

After that guidance was issued, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal threw his support behind OTC birth control.

“As a conservative Republican, I believe that we have been stupid to let the Democrats demagogue the contraceptives issue and pretend, during debates about health-care insurance, that Republicans are somehow against birth control. It’s a disingenuous political argument they make,” Jindal wrote in the Wall Street Journal.

“Contraception is a personal matter — the government shouldn’t be in the business of banning it or requiring a woman’s employer to keep tabs on her use of it. If an insurance company or those purchasing insurance want to cover birth control, they should be free to do so. If a consumer wants to buy birth control on her own, she should be free to do so.”

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Toomey to Obama: Don’t Take Life-Saving Equipment Away from Cops

Thursday, May 21st, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) has implored President Obama to reconsider his decision on blocking some surplus military equipment from police departments, arguing he could be putting officers’ lives at risk.

Obama announced this week new policies on equipment that is donated by the federal government to state and local law enforcement agencies. Complaints about militarized police came after the riots and protests in Ferguson, Mo.

“You know, we’ve seen how militarized gear can sometimes give people a feeling like there’s an occupying force as opposed to a force that’s part of the community that’s protecting them and serving them. It can alienate and intimidate local residents and send the wrong message,” Obama said.

In a letter to Obama today, Toomey said he didn’t object to the inclusion of some items on the banned list. “After all, we are unlikely to hear many complaints over a ban on bayonets, given that our military has not led a bayonet charge since the Korean War,” he wrote.

“But many of the listed items are purely defensive, such as riot helmets, riot shields, and armored personal transport vehicles. They are surplus Department of Defense items that the federal government will not use, and therefore donates to local police departments. After the riots in Baltimore, Ferguson, and New York City, where protesters torched police cars and hurled bricks, cement blocks, and glass bottles at law enforcement, why would we make it harder to send riot gear that would otherwise sit unused to unprotected police officers across the country?” he continued.

“I would not want a police officer to respond to the recent gang shoot-out at Waco, Texas—which killed nine and wounded 18—without ready access to full protective equipment, including, if needed, an armored vehicle. And armored vehicles were essential in providing protection and transportation to law enforcement in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing.”

Toomey said the report of Obama’s working group on police militarization “treats the need to save police lives as something to be weighed against—and sacrificed to—the desire to prevent distrust or discomfort on the part of others.”

“What ‘wrong message’ is sent by allowing law enforcement access to purely defensive equipment such as riot helmets and riot shields? Such equipment sends the message that rioters might have a hard time if their objective is to injure police officers,” the senator wrote. “And in the event that some do get a ‘wrong message,’ how does that concern outweigh saving the lives of police? How many police lives are we willing to sacrifice? One? Twenty? One hundred? We just observed National Police Week and honored those whose names were added to the wall at the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial. How many more names must we add to that wall before we decide that protecting police lives must be a paramount consideration?”

“I am also deeply concerned that your Working Group bought into a false narrative about law enforcement—one that paints America’s police officers as the cause of unrest and violence, as opposed to the brave defense against it.”

Toomey noted that the working group didn’t “cite a single instance of local police misusing federal equipment; it just assumes that police will regard new equipment as an opportunity to abuse their power.”

“This is insulting to our law enforcement officers—the vast majority of whom are honest, hardworking men and women motivated solely by the desire to protect and serve, and who do not have a racist bone in their body,” he added.

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Obama Explains How It’s Acceptable to Broker Deal with Regime That Wants to Annihilate Jews

Thursday, May 21st, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

President Obama told The Atlantic that ISIS is not winning, but “the training of Iraqi security forces, the fortifications, the command-and-control systems are not happening fast enough in Anbar, in the Sunni parts of the country.”

“I don’t think we’re losing,” Obama said. “There’s no doubt there was a tactical setback, although Ramadi had been vulnerable for a very long time, primarily because these are not Iraqi security forces that we have trained or reinforced.”

Obama spoke with Jeffrey Goldberg on Tuesday, after the fall of Ramadi and well into the White House spin operation on the ISIS gain.

“I know that there are some in Republican quarters who have suggested that I’ve overlearned the mistake of Iraq, and that, in fact, just because the 2003 invasion did not go well doesn’t argue that we shouldn’t go back in,” he said. “And one lesson that I think is important to draw from what happened is that if the Iraqis themselves are not willing or capable to arrive at the political accommodations necessary to govern, if they are not willing to fight for the security of their country, we cannot do that for them.”

Obama also assured the magazine that the Iran nuclear deal will be good because of his “personal interest in locking this down.”

“Look, 20 years from now, I’m still going to be around, God willing,” he said. “If Iran has a nuclear weapon, it’s my name on this.”

He also contested Goldberg’s suggestion that the anti-Semitic regime in Iran is not a rational negotiating partner.

“Well the fact that you are anti-Semitic, or racist, doesn’t preclude you from being interested in survival,” Obama said. “It doesn’t preclude you from being rational about the need to keep your economy afloat; it doesn’t preclude you from making strategic decisions about how you stay in power; and so the fact that the supreme leader is anti-Semitic doesn’t mean that this overrides all of his other considerations. You know, if you look at the history of anti-Semitism, Jeff, there were a whole lot of European leaders—and there were deep strains of anti-Semitism in this country—”

Goldberg interjected that European anti-Semitic leaders had, indeed, made irrational decisions.

“They may make irrational decisions with respect to discrimination, with respect to trying to use anti-Semitic rhetoric as an organizing tool. At the margins, where the costs are low, they may pursue policies based on hatred as opposed to self-interest. But the costs here are not low, and what we’ve been very clear [about] to the Iranian regime over the past six years is that we will continue to ratchet up the costs, not simply for their anti-Semitism, but also for whatever expansionist ambitions they may have,” Obama retorted.

“That’s what the sanctions represent. That’s what the military option I’ve made clear I preserve represents. And so I think it is not at all contradictory to say that there are deep strains of anti-Semitism in the core regime, but that they also are interested in maintaining power, having some semblance of legitimacy inside their own country, which requires that they get themselves out of what is a deep economic rut that we’ve put them in, and on that basis they are then willing and prepared potentially to strike an agreement on their nuclear program.”

Obama also said that the African-American experience has a parallel to Israel’s right to exist. “There’s a direct line between supporting the right of the Jewish people to have a homeland and to feel safe and free of discrimination and persecution, and the right of African Americans to vote and have equal protection under the law,” he said. “These things are indivisible in my mind.”

“…I consistently received overwhelming majority support from the Jewish community, and even after all the publicity around the recent differences that I’ve had with Prime Minister Netanyahu, the majority of the Jewish American community still supports me, and supports me strongly.”

Obama appeared in the Oval Office today with Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi, but did not take any questions from the media.

He’s scheduled to deliver remarks at Congregation Adas Israel in D.C. tomorrow for Jewish American Heritage Month.

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Pelosi: Cuban Officials on Her Trip Were Under Impression Obama Can Lift Embargo

Thursday, May 21st, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told reporters today that when she visited Cuba in February officials were under the impression that President Obama can lift the congressional embargo.

“I think that the president made the right decision to remove Cuba from the terrorist — it changes its name all the time — terrorist countries of concern; rogue nation — what — whatever that list is, I think he made the right decision to take Cuba off of that list because they are not engaged in the activities that would warrant them being on it,” Pelosi said at a wide-ranging press conference.

Congress had 45 days from the point of Obama’s decision to remove Cuba from the list to oppose the move; that deadline is May 29.

“I don’t see anything that could be accomplished by May 29th to overturn the president’s decision in that regard,” Pelosi said.

“In terms of the — I almost said blockade. Because when we were in Cuba, they kept calling it a blockade. That’s — it’s not a blockade. It’s a — it’s an embargo. A blockade is different. But they kept calling it that,” she continued. “There was some sentiment by some of the leaders that we met with in Cuba that the president had the authority to lift the embargo. He does not. That is an act of Congress that requires an act of Congress.”

“I have not myself been involved in any of the activities to lift the embargo, but I would certainly be very supportive of them as they — as they materialize, because it is really important for us to lift it.”

A fourth round of talks between State Department and Cuban officials resumed today in Havana.

“I hope, though, on the part of Cuba, that it’s not a requirement to normalizing relations with — with the United States,” Pelosi said of the embargo. “It’s something that normalizing relations could lead to, lifting the embargo. But it’s a relic that has not been useful, and has certainly — it’s time for the embargo to go.”

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), who got the press room after Pelosi’s news conference, said it’s not time to remove the embargo.

“And from what I’ve watched over the last two or three months, when it comes to Cuba, the administration keeps giving and giving and giving. But the Castro brothers are giving — are doing nothing,” Boehner said.

“And when you look at their record of human rights violations and you look at how they’ve run their economy into the ground, it’s time for them to come forward. There are conversations in the House about what we can do to stop the president’s actions.”

Boehner said he had a meeting this week “with a group of members who were interested in stopping this progression toward normal relations with Cuba, until such time as they begin to make serious changes in terms of the way they run their country.”

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Sanders Worrying About Nation ‘Moving Very Rapidly Into an Orwellian Type of Society’

Thursday, May 21st, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) didn’t join several Democrats who spoke on the Senate floor with Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) yesterday in his 10.5-hour Patriot Act talkathon, but the Democratic presidential candidate made clear this morning he stands with Rand.

Paul finished his speech shortly before midnight, with his primary opponents present. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) was on the floor and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) was presiding over the Senate, reading a copy of Foreign Affairs magazine.

Paul was essentially stalling the business Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) wanted to get to, protesting what he said was not a fair debate and amendments process on the Patriot Act reauthorization.

“Let me just say this: you know, Rand Paul and I do not have a lot in common on a whole lot of issues, but I think on this issue, we’re coming from the same page,” Sanders told MSNBC.

“I worry very much about the United States moving rapidly into an Orwellian type of society. And, you know, it’s not just that the NSA is collecting virtually avenue phone call made in America, has access to the Web sites that you visit, the e-mails that you send. It’s the private sector knowing what books you’re buying, what food you’re eating, your medical records, banking records — this is really scary stuff. And technology has significantly outpaced legislative ability to protect our privacy,” he added.

Sanders voted against the original Patriot Act and subsequent reauthorizations. Section 215 of the law expires in June.

He called Sen. Pat Leahy’s (D-Vt.) USA Freedom Act “a step forward,” but “I don’t think it goes far enough.”

“There may be enough votes to say, we have got to take a thorough look at the issue of constitutional rights in this country. Look, everybody agrees that terrorism is a real threat. I certainly do. But I think we can protect the American people without undermining the Constitution and the privacy rights of our people,” Sanders added.

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Scott Says Police Body Camera Legislation Not About Federalizing Law Enforcement

Thursday, May 21st, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Regarding claims that his push for police body cameras is federalizing local law enforcement, Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) said could be “nothing further than the truth.”

Scott testified this week before the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism, arguing that a police body cameras would protect both police and citizens and help build trust between communities and law enforcement.

He’ll be introducing legislation on the matter.

“I haven’t heard any of my Senate colleagues come forward and say they believe that the step forward of having body cameras available for law enforcement, local law enforcement, is in any way, shape or form federalizing local law enforcement,” Scott told CNN. “I would oppose, object and strongly stand in the way of federalizing local law enforcement. It’s the worst idea I have heard.”

Scott grew up in the city where Walter Scott, no relation, was running from police last month after a traffic stop and shot in the back. The officer was fired and faces murder charges.

“What this would is would provide funding for local law enforcement who are interested in having body-worn cameras, but cannot afford it,” the senator said of his bill.

“There are about 3,000 or 4,000 jurisdictions around the country that have already made the move in the direction of body cameras. There are some jurisdictions that cannot afford them. What I’m trying to do is make sure that the funding apparatus that could be available is available. And frankly I think it’s going to save more money than it actually costs.”

He said the Walter Scott shooting in his hometown “certainly had a lot to do with me taking a step forward and asking for the hearing that we had yesterday, now asking for the groups that have been part of the hearing process, the experts that have come into my office — we have had over a dozen groups have come in and talk about their concerns, whether it’s disclosure issues, whether it’s data retention, a lot of issues that we need to solve on our way to it.”

“Privacy is a big issue. And it should be a big issue. We should not rush into something. What I hope to see is the laboratory of America working on behalf of the citizens of the country. When you have that many jurisdictions moving forward with body cameras, you would think, three years from now, this is going to be the norm,” he continued. “What I’m trying to do is find the best practices around the country and make them available to other jurisdictions, without us as the federal government coming in and dictating, mandating or requiring anything, but other than having a funding apparatus.”

Scott said he’s “very excited about the fact that the sheriff’s associations that I have met with, the attorney general’s associations that I have met with, the mayors that I have met with all have the same comments.”

“Yes, this will probably be a very good tool for law enforcement officers. Let us talk first about the cost, the data retention, the disclosure issues, FOIA as well, as far as disclosure issues,” he said.

“And if we can overcome those obstacles, then we have a clear path. But everyone so far has agreed that body cameras would in fact lower complaints. One study’s come out that said they declared a 90 percent drop, 90 percent drop in complaints against officers and a 60 percent drop in the use of force. Everyone seems to act differently when they know they’re on video.”

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Trump Slams Geller, Muhammad Cartoon Contest: ‘With All the Problems We Have, Why Taunt?’

Thursday, May 21st, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Donald Trump said a Bloomberg poll that shows him viewed unfavorably by 68 percent of global investors, analysts and traders has no bearing on his presidential chances.

“I think that’s because nobody thinks I’m running. They don’t think I’m running. It’s really a funny thing. As you know, I came in, like, beat almost everybody in the New Hampshire Bloomberg poll, the same thing. Yet they don’t think I’m running. So we’ll see what happens. I mean, in June, I will announce one way or the other, and I think you may be surprised. Even you may be surprised. I’ll be announcing some time in June,” Trump told Fox last night.

In this month’s Bloomberg New Hampshire poll, Trump came in with 8 percent behind Rand Paul and Scott Walker tied at 12 percent, and Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio tied at 11 percent.

Trump called Bush “a reluctant warrior; I think he doesn’t want to be running.”

“I don’t know why he’s running. He looks unhappy. He looks like he doesn’t want to be there,” he added.

He also weighed in on the Muhammad cartoons controversy and shooting in Garland, Texas.

“I think Pam Geller is a terrible messenger. I think she’s terrible. We have enough problems without taunting and driving everybody crazy,” Trump said.

“Now, you look at Muhammad and you look at some of the positions they have Muhammad and some people are going to get extremely upset about it. Now, I’m not the only one and I’m not the only conservative Republican that feels this way. They’re lucky to be alive. Why with all the problems we have, why taunt?”

He called the fall of Ramadi and the Obama administration’s ISIS strategy “a total disaster.”

“We’re losing it so badly. They’re cutting off the heads of every Christian that they can find and other people,” Trump said. “You’re going to have to be stronger. You’re going to have to go in there much stronger. I’ll tell you one thing I’d do different, so they caught the accountant, they call him, a few days ago. Instead of talking about it, they should be silent. They’re bragging, oh, we got him. First, he was a mid-level person. And it was such publicity, we got him, we got him, one person. They should have been quiet and gone after others that weren’t suspected. You know, it’s very interesting I’m a big fan of General Douglas Macarthur, I’m a big fan of General George Patton. They don’t talk. They do.”

U.S. officials have said Abu Sayyaf, killed in a Special Forces raid in Syria, was equivalent to ISIS’ chief financial officer.

“I want to make the country great again,” Trump said. “This country is a hell-hole. We are going down fast and I’m a conservative but I have a big heart. I will take care of people, but a lot of people want me to run, and we’ll see what happens.”

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More Dems Than GOP Aiding Paul’s Marathon Protest of Patriot Act

Wednesday, May 20th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson
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Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) had one Democrat pitch in to help his 2013 filibuster of John Brennan’s CIA nomination: Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), who like Paul protested potential drone strikes against U.S. citizens on American soil without due process.

Of course, at that time Paul was blocking Democratic leadership from proceeding with an agenda item of President Obama’s, and today he’s standing in the way of Republican leadership’s agenda as lawmakers are itching to wrap up a trade bill in time for the Memorial Day weeklong recess.

Today, as he delivers a long speech — like Sen. Ted Cruz’s (R-Texas) 21-hour speech in 2013, not technically a filibuster –  in protest of a lack of debate on the Patriot Act reauthorization and NSA bulk telephone metadata collection, Paul is getting assistance from Wyden — who, like Paul, is demanding that GOP leadership allow consideration of his amendments — and more: Dem Sens. Martin Heinrich (N.M.), Joe Manchin (W.Va.), Chris Coons (Del.), and Jon Tester (Mont.) have pitched in as of 7 p.m. EST.

“Since I first came to the Senate, I have been deeply concerned about the scope and reach of our intelligence community’s bulk data program, which is based on a flimsy interpretation of the original Patriot Act and has questionable national security value,” Coons said. “Particularly now that a federal circuit court has deemed the program illegal and confirmed these concerns, it would be irresponsible for Congress to continue reauthorizing the law without taking steps to address the unlawful surveillance it has allowed.”

On Paul’s side of the aisle, Sens. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Steve Daines (R-Mont.) have gotten up to speak.

Lee tried Tuesday to begin debate on the House-passed USA Freedom Act, which essentially replaces the Patriot Act with more privacy protections, but Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) blocked the motion. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said the bill will get a vote but he has not committed to allowing amendments.

“While the senator from Kentucky and I come to different conclusions with regard to specific question as to whether we should allow section 215 of the Patriot Act to expire, I absolutely stand with the junior senator from Kentucky and more importantly I stand with the American people with regard to the need for a transparent and open amendment process and for an open and honest debate in front of the American people,” Lee said.

“I agree with the junior senator from Kentucky that the American people deserve better than they are getting. And quite frankly it is time that they expect more from the United States Senate. This is not time for more cliffs, for more secrecy, and more 11th hour backroom deals. It’s time for the kind of bipartisan bicameral consensus that I believe is embodied in the USA Freedom Act.”

A handful of House members were also sitting in the Senate chamber to back Paul, including Reps. Jeff Duncan (R-S.C.), Raul Labrador (R-Idaho), Tom Massie (R-Ky.) and Justin Amash (R-Mich.).

“Do we want to live in a world where the government knows everything about us? Do we want to live in a word where the government has us under constant surveillance?” Paul asked. “We should be in open rebellion, saying, ‘enough is enough, we’re not going to take it anymore.’”

Paul’s presidential campaign has been sending out filibuster updates and highlighting news coverage of the talk-a-thon, which began at 1:18 p.m. EST.

Paul’s Twitter account was asking supporters to tweet selfies with his filibuster.

 

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Obama to Coast Guard Grads: Don’t Endanger National Security by Denying Climate Change

Wednesday, May 20th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

President Obama used his commencement address at the Coast Guard Academy today to warn graduates of the threat they face from climate change.

The fight against global warming, he told the grads, is “one where our Coast Guardsmen are already on the front lines, and that, perhaps more than any other, will shape your entire careers.”

“As a nation, we face many challenges, including the grave threat of terrorism. And as Americans, we will always do everything in our power to protect our country. Yet even as we meet threats like terrorism, we cannot, and we must not, ignore a peril that can affect generations,” Obama said.

“Now, I know there are still some folks back in Washington who refuse to admit that climate change is real. And on a day like today, it’s hard to get too worried about it. There are folks who will equivocate. They’ll say, ‘You know, I’m not a scientist.’ Well, I’m not either. But the best scientists in the world know that climate change is happening. Our analysts in the intelligence community know climate change is happening. Our military leaders — generals and admirals, active duty and retired — know it’s happening. Our homeland security professionals know it is happening. And our Coast Guard knows it’s happening.”

Calling the science “indisputable,” the president proceeded to lament that “the fossil fuels we burn release carbon dioxide, which traps heat. And the levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere are now higher than they have been in 800,000 years. The planet is getting warmer. Fourteen of the 15 hottest years on record have been in the past 15 years. Last year was the planet’s warmest year ever recorded.”

“Our scientists at NASA just reported that some of the sea ice around Antarctica is breaking up even faster than expected. The world’s glaciers are melting, pouring new water into the ocean. Over the past century, the world sea level rose by about eight inches. That was in the last century; by the end of this century, it’s projected to rise another one to four feet,” he continued.

“Cadets, the threat of a changing climate cuts to the very core of your service. You’ve been drawn to water — like the poet who wrote, ‘the heart of the great ocean sends a thrilling pulse through me.’ You know the beauty of the sea, but you also know its unforgiving power… Climate change will impact every country on the planet. No nation is immune. So I’m here today to say that climate change constitutes a serious threat to global security, an immediate risk to our national security. And make no mistake, it will impact how our military defends our country. And so we need to act — and we need to act now.”

That, he said, would be the “true hallmark of leadership.”

“When you’re on deck, standing your watch, you stay vigilant. You plan for every contingency. And if you see storm clouds gathering, or dangerous shoals ahead, you don’t sit back and do nothing. You take action — to protect your ship, to keep your crew safe. Anything less is negligence. It is a dereliction of duty. And so, too, with climate change. Denying it, or refusing to deal with it endangers our national security. It undermines the readiness of our forces,” Obama said. “…If we are to meet this threat of climate change, we must be realists. We have to readjust the sails.”

He called climate change — “especially rising seas” — a “threat to our homeland security, our economic infrastructure, the safety and health of the American people.”

“So politicians who say they care about military readiness ought to care about this, as well. Just as we’re helping American communities prepare to deal with the impacts of climate change, we have to help our bases and ports, as well. Not just with stronger seawalls and natural barriers, but with smarter, more resilient infrastructure — because when the seas rise and storms come, we all have to be ready.” Obama also lauded renewable energy technology being used and developed by the military.

Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) said on the Senate floor this morning that Obama’s national security address needed to be about ISIS, not climate change.

“Americans understand that there are much more immediate threats facing our nation,” Barrasso said. “The fall of Ramadi in Iraq, the brutal terrorist attacks by ISIS, these are clear examples of the real threats that must be addressed by President Obama.”

“The president and his national security team must deliver strong leadership and an effective strategy—a strategy to fight the terrorists who want to attack our country and kill more Americans. This should be the focus of the president’s speech today. This should be our most pressing national security concern.”

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Top Intel Dem: ‘No Sugarcoating’ Gravity of Ramadi Seizure by ISIS

Wednesday, May 20th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

The top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee said there can be “no sugarcoating” the fall of Ramadi despite administration assurances that the ISIS victory isn’t as serious as it appears.

“It’s a serious setback… It means, I think, we really have to redouble our efforts to get the Baghdad government to incorporate the Sunnis more fully in the military, to help better arm the Sunni tribes and give them more encouragement to rise up and challenge ISIS,” Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) told CNN.

“I don’t think the answer is more Iranian-backed Shia militias. And I don’t think the answer is American boots on the ground, but rather addressing some of the sectarian problems that have yet to peel the Sunni tribes away from ISIS.”

The Iran-backed militias have moved in on the area between Ramadi and Baghdad but ISIS has been pressing its offensive east instead of keeping its forces concentrated in the city.

“But I think we also have to look at how ISIS has exploited this, because it wasn’t just Saddam who kept a lid on this. It’s also the fact that ISIS purposely went out and tried to stir up these sectarian instincts and frictions and divisions by blowing up Shia mosques, by antagonizing and killing the Shia,” Schiff said.

Ramadi’s fall is “harmful to the cause, and it’s something we’re going have to overcome,” he said. “And it’s part of the seesaw nature of this conflict. I think, as Ambassador Rice points out, this is going to be a long slog.”

“When you look at it overall, we have shrunk the amount of territory in Iraq that ISIS controls. That’s positive. But yet, at the same point, we’re way far away from any kind of a retaking of Mosul. And now we have got to retake Ramadi. And the challenges are extraordinary. But I don’t think that means we can back away from a commitment to the Iraqi government and helping to arm these Sunni tribes to combat the scourge.”

Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) told MSNBC today “there’s no way to say this is a success.”

“And the fact that we’re in the 10th month of a war that the U.S. started August 8th and there hasn’t been any meaningful debate in the House and, save for one committee vote in the Senate in December, there’s not been any meaningful debate about Congress trying to work with the executive to scope U.S. involvement and define the mission, so we can support the troops there risking their lives,” Kaine added. “What this last weekend showed is that, with urgency now, Congress should be addressing this.”

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Menendez: ‘Nothing Has Changed’ in Cuba Despite Administration Concessions

Wednesday, May 20th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson
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Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) stressed at a hearing this morning on Cuba policy that “nothing has changed” with the communist regime despite the Obama administration’s incentives.

As Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta S. Jacobson heads to Cuba tomorrow to reopen negotiations on the policy changes announced in December, Menendez has “deep concerns that the more these talks progress, the more the administration continues to entertain unilateral concessions without – in return – getting agreement on fundamental issues that are in our national interest.”

“I have not seen any movement toward greater freedom for the Cuban people,” he said at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “I have not seen movement toward greater tolerance, democracy, or the rule of law. Human rights abuses continue unabated with more than 1,600 cases of arbitrary political rests this year. And, today, only days before the administration’s recommendation to remove Cuba from the list of State Sponsors of Terrorism goes into effect, known terrorists continue to enjoy safe haven in Cuba. Joanne Chesimard, on the FBI’s most wanted terrorist list for murdering New Jersey State Trooper, Werner Foerster, and Charles Hill, wanted for killing a New Mexico State trooper and hijacking a U.S. civilian plane – are both living in Cuba, protected by the regime.”

“Negotiations aside, hopes aside,” the senator added, “this administration’s desire to move Cuba from the State Sponsor of Terrorism list aside – Cuba’s actions have not changed. Nothing has changed. The real change will come when the Cuban people are finally free.”

Ranking Member Ben Cardin (D-Md.) said he still supports the Obama administration’s Cuba policy because “despite differences we may have with a government, our foreign policy should always endeavor to support that country’s people to the greatest degree possible.”

“Our disagreements with the Cuban government are well known and many,” Cardin said. “But, over time, we have allowed those disagreements to get in the way of developing a strategy that utilizes all of our resources to empower the people of Cuba.”

“Every policy initiative will inevitably come into contact with the reality that the Cuban state and, most importantly, the Cuban state’s relationship with its own citizens, have not yet changed,” committee chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) said. “In truth, we will have to define what a normal relationship with Cuba looks like bilaterally, but also in the context of our relationship with the Americas more broadly.”

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O’Malley Makes Video Announcement That Punks Hillary’s Video Announcement

Wednesday, May 20th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson
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Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley released a video announcement today that … well, mocks campaign announcements.

Especially Hillary Clinton’s video announcement and subsequent scripted Midwestern tour.

O’Malley is actually poised to make an announcement, expected to be a presidential run, on Saturday, May 30, at 10 a.m. on Federal Hill in Baltimore.

O’Malley, 52, is expected to highlight his youth on the campaign trail, buoyed by his band and shirtless photos posted regularly on the Drudge Report.

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