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Bridget Johnson

Bridget Johnson is a veteran journalist whose news articles and opinion columns have run in dozens of news outlets across the globe. Bridget first came to Washington to be online editor at The Hill, where she wrote The World from The Hill column on foreign policy. Previously she was an opinion writer and editorial board member at the Rocky Mountain News and nation/world news columnist at the Los Angeles Daily News. She is an NPR contributor and has contributed to USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, National Review Online, Politico and more, and has myriad television and radio credits as a commentator. Bridget is Washington Editor for PJ Media.
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Blair: ISIS Fight to ‘Evolve Over Time’ to Likely U.S. Reassessment of Boots on the Ground

Monday, September 22nd, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, September 22nd, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, September 22nd, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

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

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

That meant eight days of work were completed between recesses.

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

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

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

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

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Power-Sharing Deal Struck in Afghanistan Presidential Contest

Monday, September 22nd, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, September 19th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, September 19th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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White House Clearly Relieved at Scottish Referendum Result

Friday, September 19th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cameron acknowledged the campaign “stirred strong passions.”

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

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

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

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

Friday, September 19th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

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

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

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Islamic State, Land of Free Stuff!

Thursday, September 18th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

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

Which begged the obvious response:

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

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What Does Kerry Call ISIS? ‘The Enemy of Islam’

Thursday, September 18th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

In the question of what the group that calls itself the Islamic State should be called, France has decided to officially use “Daesh” — an insulting Arabic acronym used by Kurds and others in the region.

Secretary of State John Kerry has his own moniker for the terrorists that the administration formally refers to as ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant).

“What would you call — I call them ISIS: Islamic State of Iraq and Syria,” Rep. Ted Poe (R-Texas) asked Kerry today at a House Foreign Affairs Committee meeting on the administration’s strategy.

“What would you tell the American people? OK, we are doing this support. We are at war. We are a counter-terrorism operation. Whatever you want to call it,” Poe said, referring to Kerry’s insistence on “war” terminology not being important. “Who is the enemy? Define the enemy for me. What would you call them?”

“Well, I call them the enemy of Islam, because that’s what I think they are, and they certainly don’t represent a state, even though they try to claim to,” Kerry replied.

“So, officially, we should refer to them as the enemy of Islam?” Poe asked.

“Well, I do,” said Kerry. “I don’t know if there’s an official whatever. But I hope you join me in doing that, because that’s what I think they are, and [they] don’t they deserve to have a reference in their name that gives them legitimacy.”

“Are they the enemy of the United States?” Poe continued.

“They are an enemy of humanity,” Kerry responded. “…Definitively, it is in the national security interest of our country, with Americans over there with passports learning how to fight and taking part in this.”

Rep. Steve Chabot (R-Ohio) said he thought “many” people were “shocked” when Obama “emphasized that the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant was in fact not Islamic.”

“They now simply refer to themselves as the Islamic State. You know, they don’t call themselves the Methodist State or the Episcopalian State or the Baptist State. They’re the Islamic State, and I think for good reason,” Chabot said.

“You know, when Christians, for example, are told to convert to Islam or die, that would seem to fly in the face of the president’s insistence that the Islamic State is not the Islamic State. And an indication that he may not fully accept that radical Islam is indeed something that does exist and in fact is growing.”

Kerry said the U.S. “shouldn’t compound the sin by allowing them to get away with” calling themselves the Islamic State.

“Now religious leaders, Islamic leaders are reclaiming legitimate Islam. And they’re separating it, too. So I wouldn’t compound the crime by calling them a state whatsoever. They’re the enemy of Islam. That’s what they are,” Kerry said. “And as the 21 clerics yesterday said in Saudi Arabia, they are in fact the Order of Satan. And there’s nothing in Islam that condones or suggests people should go out and rape women and sell off young girls or give them as gifts to jihadists, and you know, cut people’s heads off and tie people’s hands behind their backs, and put them on their knees and shoot them in the head.”

“These are war crimes. And they’re crimes against humanity. And we need to make clear that that is exactly what is the reality here.”

“It’s clear to me that their motivation is their religious fervor, this fanaticism, however misguided it is,” Chabot interjected. “I mean, that’s their motivation here.”

“Well, I don’t know. They use that,” Kerry replied. “I don’t know if that is in truth — it’s part of it. The caliphate is certainly on the minds of many. But I think a lot of them are thugs and criminals and people who simply want to go out and maraud and take part in the success of — vanquish and be opposed to modernity and a whole bunch of other things.”

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Ukrainian President to Congress: Ready to Compromise for Peace Except on Territorial Integrity

Thursday, September 18th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

Addressing a joint session of Congress this morning, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said he’s willing to negotiate to bring peace to his country but draws the line at anything that compromises Ukraine’s sovereignty.

“Over the last months, Ukrainian have shown that they have courage to stand up to the most powerful enemy. We will never obey or bend to the aggressor,” Poroshenko said. ”We are ready to fight, but we are people of peace, and we extend the hand of peace to Russia and the Russian-inspired separatists.”

“I am ready to do my utmost to avoid the further escalation and casualties, even at this point when the war has already started feeding on itself. Sooner or later, I’m absolutely sure peace will return to the Ukrainian homes.”

Despite “the insanity of this war,” he said, “I am convinced that peace can be achieved sooner rather than later, and I’m ready to offer the separatists more rights than any part of Ukraine had ever had in the history of nation.”

“And I’m ready to discuss anything except one thing: Ukrainian independence, Ukrainian territorial integrity, Ukrainian sovereignty,” Poroshenko stressed, garnering applause from the U.S. lawmakers. “And I am confident if this war is about the rights and not about the geopolitical ambition, the solution must and I am sure, will be found.”

“Ladies and gentlemen, in 1991, independence came to Ukraine at a very low cost and peacefully. Yet the more real this independence become, the higher grew its cost. Today, the cost is as high as it gets.”

The president said Russia’s invasion has taught his country to “learn the value of independence and to recognize the true friends.”

His country needs “to root out the seeds that drain Ukraine’s potential,” Poroshenko said, including those problems “largely inherited from the era of Soviet Union — decay, corruption, bureaucracy and the self-preserving cynicism of political elites.”

He asked Congress  ”to create a special fund to support investment of American companies in Ukraine and to help us with the reforming of our economy and our justice system,” a request met with applause. “And I assure you that all aid received from the west will be utilized by non-corrupt institution and that the new generation of official will make sure that the funds are distributed effectively.”

“By supporting Ukraine, you support new future of Europe and the entire free world. By supporting Ukraine, you support a nation that has chosen freedom in the most cynical of the times. In Ukraine, you don’t build a democracy. It’s already exist. You just defend it.”

Poroshenko reference New Hampshire’s motto: “Live free or die.”

“Live free or die was the spirit of the revolutionary on the Maidan during the dramatic winter months of 2014 with a significant presence of the member of United States Congress,” he said. “And we thank you for that.”

“Live free or die are words of Ukrainian soldiers standing on line of freedom on this war. Live free must be the answer with which Ukraine comes out of this war. Live free must be the message Ukraine and America send to the world while standing together in this time of enormous challenge.”

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Who’s Buying ISIS’ Oil? Kerry Says They’re Looking Into It

Thursday, September 18th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

Secretary of State John Kerry acknowledged at Wednesday’s hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that the Islamic State is “pumping oil and selling it to the tune of a million dollars a day to fund its brutal tactics.”

But he was evasive when Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) asked Kerry who was buying the oil. “Who are they selling it to? Which countries are transiting…”

“We have raised with a number of countries in the region the question of how they could possibly be getting oil out of the country. It’s being smuggled out. And what — that’s part of the approach here is to deal… ” Kerry replied before Durbin interjected, “Through which countries do you believe it’s being smuggled out?”

“Well, it’s being smuggled out from the border countries of Syria, obviously, which means either through Turkey or through Lebanon or south…”

“Now, are they joining us in the effort to stop this smuggling?” Durbin asked.

“They are, but, obviously, Turkey has difficulties right now, has 49 hostages that are being held, and they’ve talked about that publicly,” Kerry responded. “And Turkey is — you know, we’ve had some conversations with them, and those conversations will continue.”

In January, the Telegraph reported that Bashar Assad was buying ISIS’ oil and funding the terrorist group. Al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra already admitted last year that Assad was buying their oil from Deir Ezzor province.

And an opposition lawmaker in Turkey said his government is buying ISIS’ oil

Ali Ediboglu, a Republican People’s Party member of parliament representing a border region, told Taraf, “$800 million worth of oil that ISIS obtained from regions it occupied this year [the Rumeilan oil fields in northern Syria — and most recently Mosul] is being sold in Turkey.

“They have laid pipes from villages near the Turkish border at Hatay. Similar pipes exist also at [the Turkish border regions of] Kilis, Urfa and Gaziantep,” Ediboglu said. “They transfer the oil to Turkey and parlay it into cash. They take the oil from the refineries at zero cost. Using primitive means, they refine the oil in areas close to the Turkish border and then sell it via Turkey. This is worth $800 million.”

President Obama has had a close working relationship with Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the former priem minister who recently became president.

Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.) asked Kerry at today’s House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing if we could bomb the oil fields or refineries to help deprive ISIS of its $1 million-per-day revenue.

“Um, I haven’t heard any objections,” Kerry responded before Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) said he’d run out of time and could submit a more detailed answer to the committee in writing.

Kerry did hint, though, at the Assad-ISIS alliance: “We have evidence that Assad has played footsie with them.”

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Disturbing: ISIS Releases First in Video ‘Series’ with Captured British Journalist

Thursday, September 18th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson
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ISIS released this morning what it said would be the first in a video “series” featuring another British hostage — not being executed, but delivering a case against the “Western media” portrayal of the Islamic State and the U.S.-British refusal to pay ransom.

Titled Lend Me Your Ears, the first video reveals veteran photojournalist John Cantlie, who has worked for the The Sunday Times, The Sun the Telegraph and more. He was first captured in Syria in July 2012, was shot trying to escape (“every Englishman’s duty,” he later wrote), and was rescued within a week by the Free Syrian Army.

Cantlie extensively talked about his experience after that, detailing between 10 to 15 British captors among the al-Qaeda-linked cell and threats that he would be beheaded, including “mock executions” where captors would torture prisoners and sharpen their knives.

In today’s video, Cantlie sits at a desk in an orange jumpsuit, and says he was abducted in November 2012.

Previous videos of ISIS have include hostages delivering statements criticizing their countries before they were beheaded, but have given indications that the statements were coerced. For example, Miami journalist Steve Sotloff spoke of “what little I know about foreign policy” in his video — but he wrote for Foreign Policy magazine, among others, and deeply covered the Arab Spring countries.

ISIS appears to have heard the skepticism and makes Cantlie address it directly.

Cantlie notes in the video that “many things have changed” since his kidnapping, including the “expansion of the Islamic State… a land mass bigger than Britain and many other nations.”

“Now, I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, he’s only doing this because he’s a prisoner. He’s got a gun at his head, and he’s being forced to do this, right?” Cantlie says, making a gun-firing gesture toward his head with his fingers.

“Well, it’s true. I am a prisoner. That I cannot deny. But seeing as how I’ve been abandoned by my government and my fate now lies in the hands of the Islamic State I have nothing to lose. Maybe I will live, and maybe I will die.”

He says that “over the next few programs” he will lay out facts that can “save lives.”

He then makes a pitch against “another conflict” in Iraq and says he’ll show how the news organizations he used to work for “twist and manipulate the truth.”

Cantlie also said he’d detail what really happened when “many European prisoners” were released by ISIS “and how they British and American governments thought they could do it differently than every other European country” — a clear reference to the hefty ransoms paid by other nations. “They negotiated with the Islamic State and got their people home, while the British and the Americans were left behind.”

“It’s very alarming to see where this is all headed,” Cantlie adds, “and it looks like history repeating itself yet again.”

“There is time to change this seemingly inevitable sequence of events, but only if you, the public, act now.”

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House Passes Amendment to Train, Equip Syrian Rebels

Wednesday, September 17th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

The House today passed an amendment to train and equip Syrian rebels, with more Democrats than Republicans opposing President Obama’s request.

The House vote was 273-156 after more than six hours of debate that revealed no party-line divides. Eighty-five Democrats were opposed along with 71 Republicans. (See the yeas and nays here.)

“The amendment to the continuing resolution, according to a summary by the office of sponsor and House Armed Services Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.), allows the Defense Department ‘to train and equip appropriately vetted elements of the Syrian opposition and other appropriately vetted Syrian groups or individuals.’ Additionally, this amendment would strengthen Congressional oversight by requiring detailed reports, including progress reports on the plan, vetting  process, and procedures for monitoring unauthorized end-use of provided training and equipment. It would also require the President to report on how this authority fits within a larger regional strategy.”

McKeon lauded the bipartisan vote after the amendment’s passage.

“This authority would allow those forces to fight ISIL terrorists. The president requested this authority and — after we shaped it to include robust oversight mechanisms — the House gave it to him. I hope the Senate quickly follows suit,” McKeon said.

“While we voted to approve the authority in large numbers, none of us believe that this program alone can achieve the president’s objective to ‘degrade and destroy’ ISI,” he added. “A more robust strategy will be required from the president to do that. I hope that, with the support of Congress and the American people, he adopts one.”

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), past chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, voted for the amendment while stressing it still doesn’t present a comprehensive strategy against ISIS.

“I am afraid that this misguided approach will preempt many to acquiesce and take a deal that would undermine our national security and leaves Iran with enrichment capabilities,” Ros-Lehtinen said. 

Rep. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), who’s locked in a tight race to unset Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.), voted for the amendment as “ISIL is an imminent threat to the safety of our nation and our interests.”

“They have kidnapped and murdered Americans, threatened attacks on American soil, and are actively pursuing recruits in the United States,” Gardner said. “We must not sit back and watch while this terrorist organization continues to threaten our citizens, our government, and our way of life. Today’s action by the House of Representatives sends a clear message that we will not stand idly by while terrorists attempt to intimidate us.”

Some of the GOP “no” votes came from Tea Party conservatives such as Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-S.C.).

“The only choice I was given was to approve (or disapprove) a plan that would arm groups we know very little about,” Mulvaney said in a statement. “…The Administration has been completely incapable of defining what ‘victory’ looks like. I think ‘when will we know it will be over?’ is a reasonable question to ask. The answers have been frighteningly ambiguous to, worse, completely unreasonable.”

Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), another “no” vote, said Obama’s “failure to convince the American people, coupled with turning a blind eye to this ongoing conflict, has once again left the United States without any good options.”

“President Obama has the right conclusion – defeating the Islamic State – but a flawed strategy filled with half-measures to reach it,” she continued. “The Islamic State declared war against the United States, and President Obama has asked the U.S. Congress to follow him in a Vietnam-style slow walked response. I will not.”

“Either the United States chooses to decisively defeat this brutal evil with all available resources, or we will have to answer the next generation’s questions regarding why we failed to defeat the totalitarian evil of our day.”

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Kerry to Code Pink: ‘No Negotiation with ISIL… They’re Not Offering Anyone Healthcare’

Wednesday, September 17th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

Upon returning from Vietnam, Secretary of State John Kerry testified before Congress about the war and chucked his medal at the U.S. Capitol the next day.

Today, Kerry told antiwar protesters they should be against ISIS in part because of the lack of social services they offer to women.

Kerry began his testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee backdropped by Code Pink protesters seated in the gallery rows. They held signs including “There is no military solution” and “No beheading. No bombing.”

“You know, as I came in here, obviously, we had some folks who spoke out and I would start by saying that I understand dissent. I’ve lived it. That’s how I first testified in front of this country in 1971. And I spent two years protesting a policy,” Kerry said. “So I respect the right of Code Pink to protest and to use that right. But you know what, I also know something about Code Pink.”

“Code Pink was started by a woman and women who were opposed to war, but who also thought that the government’s job was to take care of people and to give them health care and education and good jobs,” he continued.

“And if that’s what you believe in — and I believe it is — then you ought to care about fighting ISIL because ISIL is killing and raping and mutilating women. And they believe women shouldn’t have an education.”

Kerry noted that the Islamic State sells off girls “to be sex slaves to jihadists.”

“There’s no negotiation with ISIL, there’s nothing to negotiate. And they’re not offering anyone healthcare of any kind. You know, they’re not offering education of any kind,” he said. “For a whole philosophy or idea or a cult, whatever you want to call it, that frankly comes out of the Stone Age, they’re cold-blooded killers, marauding across the Middle East, making a mockery of a peaceful religion.”

“And that’s precisely why we are building a coalition to stop them from denying the women and the girls and the people of Iraq the very future that they yearned for. And frankly, Code Pink and a lot of other people need to stop and think about how you stop them and deal with that.”

At this point a protester began chanting, “The war invasion will not protect the homeland!” She was led from the room by security.

“There’s no invasion. The invasion was ISIL into Iraq,” Kerry retorted. “The invasion is foreign fighters into Syria. That’s the invasion. And it is destructive to every possibility of building a state in that region. So even in a region that is virtually defined by division and every member of this committee understands the degree to which these divisions are deep in that region.”

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Washington Keeping Scottish Independence Referendum at Arm’s Length

Wednesday, September 17th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

If there’s a unifying message Washington is trying to publicly send about the referendum that could split Scotland from the United Kingdom, it might be “c’est la vie.”

Administration officials have been stressing that it’s the UK’s business, refusing to give much of an opinion when asked about Thursday’s crucial vote.

The polling margin is decidedly toss-up. A Sunday Times poll from Sept. 9-12 found 46 percent yes, 47 percent no, and 7 percent undecided. A Telegraph poll conducted Sept. 12-15 found 43 percent in favor of secession, 47 percent saying no and 9 percent undecided. The video of ISIS beheading Scottish aid worker David Haines was released in the early morning hours UK time on Sept. 14.

A Scotsman poll conducted Sept. 12-16 found the “no” vote at 45 percent, with “yes” at 41 percent and 14 percent undecided. A Panelbase poll taken Sept. 15-17 found the “no” votes pulling head, at 50 percent to 45 percent on the “aye” side; five percent were still undecided.

By any measure, it’s too close to call.

When asked in Paris on Monday about the upcoming vote and its broader implications for Europe, Secretary of State John Kerry eschewed a characteristically verbose response.

“No, no. Honestly, I — anything I would say to that effect would be — become part of the campaign, and it’d be inappropriate for me to say anything at this point,” Kerry said.

“I will say this: that we’ve — just that the president has said — I think the president said in the past at various locations the strong and united and proactive United Kingdom has been an important player and an important contributor. But he and I and no one in our government are commenting on this vote.”

White House press secretary Josh Earnest noted that President Obama was standing next to British Prime Minister David Cameron at the G-7 meeting in Brussels when he gave the definitive White House meme on the referendum.

“You recall that what the president said was he said that — that from the outside, the United States has a deep interest in ensuring that one of the closest allies that we’ll ever have remains strong, robust, united and an effective partner with the United States,” Earnest said Monday.

“So, this is a decision for the people of Scotland to make. We certainly respect the right of individual Scots to make a decision about the — along these lines. But, you know, as the president himself said, we have a — we have an interest in seeing the United Kingdom remain strong, robust, united and an effective partner.”

“United” — so does that mean Washington does have a position on the vote?

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ISIS Now Promoting Their Films with Trailers

Wednesday, September 17th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

“Flames of War,” coming soon! Complete with President Obama vowing no more Iraq war and the Mission Accomplished banner. ISIS ups its production value with its latest threats (Rambo-style explosions in the trailer, fake flames, no beheadings):

YouTube Preview Image

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Is it ISIS, ISIL or IS? French Government Puts a Name Change Into Effect

Wednesday, September 17th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

Is it ISIS or ISIL? The French government has found its solution.

The term ISIL, meaning the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, references the eastern Mediterranean region stretching from Turkey to Egypt, swallowing up Syria, Lebanon, Israel and Jordan. After establishing their “caliphate,” the terror group dropped the Levant from its name and simply went with Islamic State.

The Obama administration, from the Pentagon to the State Department to the White House, consistently uses ISIL. A majority of members in Congress, on both sides of the aisle, also use ISIL in their press releases. Hearing names juggle between ISIS and ISIL. The British government uses ISIL as well.

Houses Democrats eventually decided in caucus to use ISIL, reportedly in part out of deference to women named Isis.

Governments are unified about not legitimizing their border-busting caliphate by calling them the Islamic State, or IS. The use of Islamic State is usually prefaced by “so-called” or “self-professed.”

ISIS, which generally has been favored by a majority of news outlets including The New York Times and ABC News, stands for the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham — parts of Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria, which formed Greater Syria, after a caliphate was formed in the 7th century. Al-Sham can also be interpreted to mean the same territory as the Levant or to simply refer to Damascus.

After President Obama appeared on Meet the Press earlier this month, host Chuck Todd theorized why the administration uses ISIL. “Obviously we refer to it at NBC News as ISIS. The Obama administration, president, says the word ISIL,” Todd said. “The last S stands for Syria, the last L they don’t want to have stand for Syria.”

Maureen Dowd called it “a bit odd that the administration is using ‘the Levant,’ given that it conjures up a colonial association from the early 20th century, when Britain and France drew their maps, carving up Mesopotamia guided by economic gain rather than tribal allegiances. Unless it’s a nostalgic nod to a time when puppets were more malleable and grateful to their imperial overlords.”

While the successor to al-Qaeda in Iraq sees Islamic State, ISIS, or ISIL as legitimizing their caliphate aims, they take Daesh as an insult.

The formal name of the group is al-Dawla al-Islamiya al-Iraq al-Sham. Take the “D,” an “A,” and the “Sh,” and that’s where the loose acronym Daesh comes from.

It was first pegged by Arabic media and quickly caught on among Free Syrian Army and Kurdish fighters, civilians in the region opposed to IS, Twitter Kurds, and governments in the region that want to dis’ the Islamic State. It’s also used in Israel.

The great part is the term’s multiple meanings among IS opponents, as the word sounds like the Arabic term for trampling or crushing underfoot: daes. It can also sound like Dahes, explained France24, which can either mean “one who sows discord” or refer to the Dahes wal Ghabra war in the pre-Islamic period of Arabia.

France thinks that’s just perfect.

Stressing that “this is a terrorist group and not a state,” Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told reporters last week that he will be using the Arabic term — and he urged news organizations to do the same.

“The Arabs call it ‘Daesh’ and I will be calling them the ‘Daesh cutthroats,’” Fabius said.

The latest press release from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs leaves out the “cutthroats,” but holds fast to the Daesh vow — while attempting to train people on the term.

“M. Laurent Fabius, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Development, had a meeting today with his British counterpart, Mr Philip Hammond,” said a Tuesday statement. “During this first bilateral meeting, the ministers took stock of the common battle against Daesh [ISIL], support for a solution to the crisis in Ukraine, the priorities for the European Union following the appointment of the new Commission, and the fight against the spread of the Ebola epidemic.”

“There can be little political ambiguity behind the French government’s decision to deploy Daesh as a linguistic weapon,” noted France24.

And IS/ISIS/ISIL goons really hate Daesh:

Several residents in Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city which fell to the extremist group in June, told The Associated Press that the militants threatened to cut the tongue of anyone who publicly used the acronym Daesh, instead of referring to the group by its full name, saying it shows defiance and disrespect. The residents spoke anonymously out of fear for their safety.

Last month, the Associated Press ruled that it would not use ISIL in stories anymore except in direct quotes, telling Poynter: “About a month ago ISIL changed its name, so our approach is to refer to them on first reference simply as ‘Islamic militants,’ ‘jihadi fighters,’ ‘the leading Islamic militant group fighting in Iraq (Syria), etc.’ On second reference, something like ‘the group, which calls itself the Islamic State,’ with ‘group’ helping to make clear that it is not an internationally recognized state.”

What do you think they should be called?




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Bipartisan Team Introduces Bill to Demilitarize Police

Wednesday, September 17th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

A Republican and a Democrat have joined forces in the House to reform the controversial program that gives surplus Defense Department equipment to local police departments.

More than 8,000 federal and state law enforcement agencies actively participate in the program, the DoD told a Senate hearing last week, in 49 states and three U.S. territories. Among the “controlled property” distributed to law enforcement over the past 12 months are more than 92,000 small arms, 44,000 night-vision devices, 52,000 Humvees, and 617 MRAPs.

On Tuesday, Reps. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) and Raul Labrador (R-Idaho) introduced the Stop Militarizing Law Enforcement Act.

The bill aims to “prevent transfers of equipment inappropriate for local policing, such as high-caliber weapons, long-range acoustic devices, grenade launchers, armed drones, armored vehicles, and grenades or similar explosives.”

It ends a provision in the program requiring that departments are supposed to use the military equipment within a year, postulating that this creates an incentive where police use the equipment in inappropriate circumstances.

It also requires that departments can account for all equipment granted by the federal government, noting that in 2012 a sheriff was busted for re-gifting his Humvees and other military equipment.

“Militarizing America’s main streets won’t make us any safer, just more fearful and more reticent,” Johnson said in a statement. “Before another small town’s police force gets a $750,000 gift from the Defense Department that it can’t maintain or manage, it behooves us to press pause on Pentagon’s 1033 program and revisit the merits of a militarized America.”

The issue of police militarization heated up as a result of the protests in Ferguson, Mo., over the shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown.

“Our nation was founded on the principle of a clear line between the military and civilian policing,” said Labrador. “The Pentagon’s current surplus property program blurs that line by introducing a military model of overwhelming force in our cities and towns. Our bill would restore the focus of local law enforcement on protecting citizens and providing due process for the accused.”

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Republicans Pick New Senator to Lead Conservative Caucus

Wednesday, September 17th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

Republican senators selected Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) to lead the conservative agenda in upper chamber starting in the 114th Congress.

Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), who has served as the chairman of the Senate Steering Committee for the past two years, will step down from the post at the end of this year.

“Mike Lee is a knowledgeable and principled movement conservative, and he has done a terrific job as vice chairman of the Steering Committee this Congress,” Toomey said in a statement. “I’m pleased to hand the gavel to him.  I look forward to continuing to work with Mike, and my colleagues, to advance innovative conservative ideas that help create jobs and grow the economy.”

The conservative caucus meets each Wednesday to plan its agenda.

Lee has made a conservative war on poverty a centerpiece of his personal policy agenda.

“I am honored by the opportunity to chair the Senate Steering Committee,” said Lee, who has been serving as vice-chairman of the caucus. “Senator Toomey has been a courageous and principled leader and I hope to maintain the standard he has set.”

“The Senate Steering Committee will continue to develop and promote conservative solutions and facilitate vigorous discussion and debate on the issues that matter most to the country,” he added. “I look forward to leading this effort and very much appreciate the support of my colleagues.”

Toomey fell out of favor with some on the right after co-sponsoring a gun-control compromise bill in spring 2013 with Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), which ultimately failed.

Senate Conservatives Fund president Ken Cuccinelli called Lee “a principled leader and a true champion for the conservative movement.”

“SCF was proud to endorse Mike when he ran for the Senate in 2010 and we are very glad that he has been named Chairman of the Senate Steering Committee,” Cuccinelli said in a statement. “Mike has continued to be a strong voice for our nation’s Constitution and the need for limited government. We’re excited to see him continue to fight for conservative policies in this new position and stand ready to help steer the Senate in the right direction.”

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Sen. Levin vs. Code Pink: Goes Off on War Protesters, Accuses Them of ‘Acting Very War-Like’

Tuesday, September 16th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson
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Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) turned in an epic gavel-wielding, gavel-banging, gavel-pointing performance today in combat with the antiwar group Code Pink at a hearing on ISIS.

A sampling of the Levin Smackdown:

LEVIN: OK. Would you — we’re asking you again to please sit down, and if not, we’re gonna ask you to leave.


LEVIN: No, thank you. Thank you for — would you please now leave?


LEVIN: Would you please now leave?


LEVIN: I’m asking you to please leave.


LEVIN: You’re acting very war-like yourself.

PROTESTER: No more war.

LEVIN: Would you please leave?

PROTESTER: (OFF-MIKE) We do not want war. No military solution to this. No more war. No more war. No military solution.

And later…

LEVIN: We’re asking you nicely. We’re asking you nicely to please leave the room.


LEVIN: Look, we’re asking you nicely. Would you please leave the room. Thank you.


LEVIN: We ask you for the last time. Thank you very much.

PROTESTERS: If the U.S. (inaudible) the way for ISIL. U.S. military will not be (inaudible) and its counterproductive.

LEVIN: General Dempsey, as soon as the noise is removed from the room…

PROTESTERS: … war. We’ve had 13 years of…

LEVIN: We would ask all of you to avoid these kind of outbursts. They’re not doing anybody any good, including hearing what this testimony is, and they’re not doing you and whatever your cause is any good either.


LEVIN: Thank you very much. Would you please — I’m asking you nicely to please leave the room.

PROTESTER: Please, Senator. (inaudible) the issues. Bring in (inaudible).

LEVIN: Thank you very much. Good-bye. Good-bye. Thank you.

And more…


LEVIN: Would you please — please be quiet?

I’m asking you now to please leave the room.

Please remove this lady.


LEVIN: Please remove her. The disruptions are not gonna be acceptable to anybody.


LEVIN: I ask you to remove the lady. Please remove the lady from the room. Thank you very much (inaudible).

When singled out for heckling, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) chuckled and quipped, ”I always appreciate special attention from this group, Mr. Chairman.”

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EBOLA: Obama Vows to Battle ‘Epidemic of the Likes That We Have Not Seen Before’

Tuesday, September 16th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

At the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this afternoon, President Obama vowed that America would take on the “daunting task” of trying to stop the Ebola outbreak while keeping the virus from spreading to the States.

Obama said the work of the CDC “and our efforts across the government is an example of what happens when America leads in confronting some major global challenges.”

“Faced with this outbreak, the world is looking to us, the United States, and it’s a responsibility that we embrace,” he said. “We’re prepared to take leadership on this to provide the kinds of capabilities that only America has, and to mobilize the world in ways that only America can do. That’s what we’re doing as we speak.”

Before flying to Atlanta, Obama met with Dr. Kent Brantly, the missionary who contracted Ebola while treating patients in Liberia. Brantly was cured after taking experimental drug ZMapp and flying back to the U.S. for supportive care.

Brantly appeared this afternoon before a joint hearing of the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions and the Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies, Committee on Appropriations.

The doctor described seeing cases come in during June and quickly “spiraling out of control.” He said he appealed for help from the international community but “our pleas appeared to fall on deaf ears.”

“This has been in eye of the government for months,” Brantly told senators. “We can’t afford to wait months or even weeks for action.” Tens of thousands will die at the current rate of infection, he warned, if the response lags for a couple of months.

The response to the Ebola outbreak thus far has been “sluggish and unacceptably out of step with the scope and size” of the problem, he stressed.

Brantly called the outbreak “a fire straight from the pit of hell” and warned that Americans shouldn’t think the physical buffer of the Atlantic Ocean “will protect us from the flames of this fire.”

At midnight, the White House announced a broader anti-Ebola strategy to use “the unique capabilities of the U.S. military and broader uniformed services to help bring the epidemic under control,” including “command and control, logistics expertise, training, and engineering support.”

“U.S. Africa Command will set up a Joint Force Command headquartered in Monrovia, Liberia, to provide regional command and control support to U.S. military activities and facilitate coordination with U.S. government and international relief efforts. A general from U.S. Army Africa, the Army component of U.S. Africa Command, will lead this effort, which will involve an estimated 3,000 U.S. forces,” the White House said.

“First and foremost, I want the American people to know that our experts, here at the CDC and across our government, agree that the chances of an Ebola outbreak here in the United States are extremely low,” Obama said today.

“We’ve been taking the necessary precautions, including working with countries in West Africa to increase screening at airports so that someone with the virus doesn’t get on a plane for the United States. In the unlikely event that someone with Ebola does reach our shores, we’ve taken new measures so that we’re prepared here at home.”

The president remarked on his meeting with Brantly, saying the doctor “looks strong and we are incredibly grateful to him and his family for the service that he has rendered to people who are a lot less lucky than all of us.”

Obama called Ebola “now an epidemic of the likes that we have not seen before.”

“It’s spiraling out of control. It is getting worse. It’s spreading faster and exponentially. Today, thousands of people in West Africa are infected. That number could rapidly grow to tens of thousands. And if the outbreak is not stopped now, we could be looking at hundreds of thousands of people infected, with profound political and economic and security implications for all of us,” he continued.

“…And we’ve devoted significant resources in support of our strategy with four goals in mind.  Number one, to control the outbreak. Number two, to address the ripple effects of local economies and communities to prevent a truly massive humanitarian disaster. Number three, to coordinate a broader global response. And number four, to urgently build up a public health system in these countries for the future — not just in West Africa but in countries that don’t have a lot of resources generally.”

Obama compared the command center that the U.S. will set up in Liberia to “our response after the Haiti earthquake.”

Major Gen. Darryl Williams, commander of Army forces in Africa, arrived on the ground in Liberia today to start setting up the headquarters.

“We’re going to create an air bridge to get health workers and medical supplies into West Africa faster. We’re going to establish a staging area in Senegal to help distribute personnel and aid on the ground more quickly. We are going to create a new training site to train thousands of health workers so they can effectively and safely care for more patients. Personnel from the U.S. Public Health Service will deploy to the new field hospitals that we’re setting up in Liberia,” Obama said. “And USAID will join with international partners and local communities in a Community Care Campaign to distribute supplies and information kits to hundreds of thousands of families so they can better protect themselves.”

The president stressed a global response needs to happen “faster than they have up until this point.”

“This is actually something that we had announced several months ago at the G7 meeting. We determined that this has to be a top priority; this was before the Ebola outbreak.  We anticipated the fact that in many of these countries with a weak public health system, if we don’t have more effective surveillance, more effective facilities on the ground, and are not helping poor countries in developing their ability to catch these things quickly, that there was at least the potential of seeing these kinds of outbreaks. And sadly, we now see that our predictions were correct,” Obama said.

“…The reality is that this epidemic is going to get worse before it gets better. But right now, the world still has an opportunity to save countless lives. Right now, the world has the responsibility to act — to step up, and to do more. The United States of America intends to do more. We are going to keep leading in this effort.”

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), ranking member on the Senate health committee, said “the spread of this disease deserves a more urgent response from our country and other countries around the world than it’s now getting.”

“We must take the dangerous, deadly threat of Ebola as seriously as we take ISIS. Let me say that again. We must take the dangerous, deadly threat of the Ebola epidemic as seriously as we take ISIS. I think I have a reputation as a senator who’s not given to overstatement. I don’t believe that’s an overstatement,” Alexander said.

“…This is one of the most explosive deadly epidemics in modern time if we do not do what we know how do to control it.”

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Will U.S. Help Trained FSA Forces When Assad Attacks? Dempsey: ‘We Do Not Have to Deal with It Now’

Tuesday, September 16th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey told the Senate Armed Services Committee that they haven’t thought ahead yet to what happens when Bashar al-Assad starts striking Free Syrian Army forces tasked by the U.S. to fight ISIS.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) first pointed out at this morning’s hearing that training and equipping approximately 5,000 FSA fighters in one year seems like a inadequate response” to the strength of “some 31,000,” ISIS fighters, “metastasizing in a very rapid fashion into a much larger force.”

“And, obviously, this group of 5,000, as you mentioned, in unit size deployments will be back in Syria fighting against ISIL. They will also be fighting against Bashar Assad, which they’ve been doing for a number of years before ISIL was ever a significant factor,” McCain told the Pentagon leaders.

“Now, they will be fighting against Bashar Assad, and Bashar Assad will attack them from the air, which he has done and with significant success, not only against them, but there’s been 192,000 people who have been slaughtered in Syria since the onset,” the senator continued. “If a — if one of the Free Syrian Army is fighting against Bashar Assad and he is attacking them from the air, would we take action to prevent them from being attacked by Bashar Assad?”

“Well, we’re, first of all, not there yet, but our focus is on ISIL and that is the threat right now to our country and to our interests and to the people of the region. So what we are training these units for, yes, as a stabilizing force in Syria, as an option, but the first focus is, as I just said, as the president laid out in his statement to the country,” Hagel replied.

“We are now recruiting these young men to go and fight in Syria against ISIL, but if they’re attacked by Bashar Assad, we’re not gonna help them?” McCain asked.

“They will defend themselves, Senator,” Hagel said. “We will help them and we will support them, as we have trained them.”

“If we were to take Assad off the table, we’d have a much more difficult time forming a coalition,” Dempsey said. “But I think what you’re hearing us express is an ISIL first strategy. I don’t think we’ll find ourselves in that situation, given what we intend to do.”

“You don’t think that the Free Syrian Army is going to fight against Bashar Assad who has been decimating them? You think that these people you’re training will only go back to fight against ISIL?” McCain continued. “Do you really believe that, General?”

“What I believe, Senator, is that as we train them and develop a military chain of command linked to a political structure, that we can establish objectives that defer that challenge into the future. We do not have to deal with it now,” Dempsey said.

“That’s a fundamental misunderstanding of the entire concept and motivation of the Free Syrian Army. That — it is Bashar Assad that has killed many more of them than ISIL has,” said McCain. “And for to us say that we are going to go in and help and train and equip these people and only to fight against ISIL, you’re not gonna get many recruits to do that, General. I guarantee you that. And that’s a fundamental fallacy in everything you are presenting the — this committee today.”

Dempsey acknowledged that he recommended aiding Syrian opposition forces back in 2012, when President Obama overruled the Pentagon, State Department and CIA.

“You know that for policy reasons, the decision was taken in another direction,” Dempsey said.

McCain asked Hagel if he was concerned about security on the southern border. “We received testimony from our homeland security people that our border is porous and the people who are now free to travel to the United States and also other radical elements, might cross our southern border to attack the United States,” the senator said.

“I’m always concerned about our border,” Hagel responded. “…We — we can improve our border security.”

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Manchin Warning on Coal Shutdowns: ‘Prices Will Soar and the Grid Will Fail’

Tuesday, September 16th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) warned that the “alarming” number of coal plants shutting down due to EPA regulations portends a looming energy crisis.

The Government Accountability Office reported yesterday that “power companies now plan to retire a greater percentage of coal-fueled generating capacity and retrofit less capacity with environmental controls than the estimates GAO reported in July 2012.”

“About 13 percent of coal-fueled generating capacity—42,192 megawatts (MW)—has either been retired since 2012 or is planned for retirement by 2025, which exceeds the estimates of 2 to 12 percent of capacity that GAO reported in 2012.”

The GAO added that the Department of Energy, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has only taken “initial steps” over the past two years to interact on the question of how EPA regulations could affect energy reliability.

Thirty-eight percent of plant closures were centered in West Virginia, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Kentucky.

“The number of coal-fired plants that are being forced to shut down is alarming, and I truly believe we are setting ourselves up for a major electric stability crisis in this country,” Manchin said in a statement. “The GAO report verifies the dangerous impact the EPA’s proposed rules are having on our electrical grid and our economy, and it should be an eye-opener not just for West Virginians, but for hard working individuals and families across America who depend on coal for reliable and affordable energy, especially during the harsh winters when the grid is pushed to capacity.”

The senator said the report “should also clearly demonstrate that it is time for the Department of Energy to accelerate available grants and loan guarantees for advanced fossil fuel projects.”

“I will do everything in my power to continue pushing all relevant federal agencies to live up to their responsibilities to ensure the reliability of our national electricity system,” Manchin added.

“It is long past time that these agencies recognize that we will rely on fossil fuels for decades to come, and rather than simply forcing plants to close, we need to figure out how to help them run more efficiently. If we don’t, prices will soar and the grid will fail.”

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Obama Calls for Renewing ‘Common-Sense’ Gun Law Push on Navy Yard Anniversary

Tuesday, September 16th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

President Obama made a guarded call for more gun-control measures on the one-year anniversary of the Navy Yard shooting.

Aaron Alexis, a contractor who had red flags that should have been caught in a security clearance check, went on a September 2013 shooting rampage at the Navy Yard, killing 12.

“One year ago, our dedicated military and civilian personnel at the Washington Navy Yard were targeted in an unspeakable act of violence that took the lives of 12 American patriots,” Obama said in a statement this morning.

“As we remember men and women taken from us so senselessly, we keep close their family and friends, stand with the survivors who continue to heal and pay tribute to the first responders who acted with skill and bravery,” he continued. “At the same time, we continue to improve security at our country’s bases and installations to protect our military and civilian personnel who help keep us safe.”

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel today announced in March reforms crafted in response to the shooting, including automated checks on cleared personnel that will pull information from law enforcement and “other relevant” databases.

“One year ago, 12 Americans went to work to protect and strengthen the country they loved,” Obama said. “Today, we must do the same – rejecting atrocities like these as the new normal and renewing our call for common-sense reforms that respect our traditions while reducing the gun violence that shatters too many American families every day.”

The Senate opened this morning with a special prayer for the victims delivered by Chaplain Barry Black.

“One year ago this city bore witness to a terrible tragedy at the Navy Yard,” tweeted D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray. ”Today, we remember the 12 lost and honor their memory.”

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GAO Report ‘Highlights Obamacare’s Unlawful Dismissal’ of Provisions on Funding Abortion

Tuesday, September 16th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

A new report from the Government Accountability Office found that the administration has skirted policy intended to keep taxpayers from paying for elective abortions under Obamacare.

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act requires the qualified healthcare plans offered in the exchanges, and the plans may offer abortions. However, the law prohibits the use of federal funds to pay for “non-excepted abortion services” — abortion services that take place in instances where there is not rape, incest, or the life of the mother involved.

“There are 23 states with laws restricting the circumstances under which QHPs may provide non- excepted abortion services as a covered benefit in 2014, and 28 states with no such laws. Among the 23 states with restrictions, 17 have laws that do not permit the coverage of non-excepted abortion services by QHPs, and 6 states permit the coverage of non-excepted abortion services only in limited circumstances, such as to prevent substantial and irreversible impairment of a pregnant woman’s major bodily function,” the GAO report states.

The GAO found that in 5 states (Connecticut, Hawaii, New Jersey, Rhode Island, and Vermont), all QHPs cover non-excepted abortion services.

In 15 states (Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, the District of Columbia, Georgia,
Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Montana, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Texas, and Washington), some QHPs cover non-excepted abortion services. In 8 states (Delaware,
Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, West Virginia, and Wyoming), no QHPs cover non-excepted abortion services.

“Of the 18 issuers offering QHPs that cover non-excepted abortion services from which we
obtained information, all but three issuers indicated that the benefit is not subject to any restrictions, limitations, or exclusions,” the report adds.

“PPACA requires that QHP issuers providing non-excepted abortion services coverage notify
enrollees at the time of enrollment that those services are covered. While most issuers
from which we collected information indicated they were notifying enrollees that abortion
services were provided as a covered benefit, four issuers indicated they were not disclosing this information to enrollees.”

The GAO said it presented its report to the Department of Health and Human Services, which “stated that, based upon our findings, additional clarification may be needed and CMS will use our findings to address issues of concern to better ensure that stakeholders understand the laws and regulations governing the provision of non-excepted abortion services coverage.”

“The American people deserve an administration committed to carrying out the law – not usurping it,” House Republican Conference Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) said in a statement. “Disappointingly, today’s report marks one more example of the president’s disregard for the law and for hard-earned taxpayer dollars.”

“For decades, both Republicans and Democrats have believed that taxpayer dollars should not fund elective abortion,” she said. “Yet this report highlights Obamacare’s unlawful dismissal of these bipartisan measures.”

McMorris Rodgers referred to the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion and Abortion Insurance Full Disclosure Act of 2014, which passed the House in January and has since been sitting in the Senate.

“We must come together to protect hardworking taxpayers across the country, which is why I was proud to support bipartisan legislation that corrects this abuse – and I am hopeful the Senate will take up this important legislation,” she said. “We must put an end to this unacceptable executive overreach.”

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3,000 U.S. Military Personnel Ordered to West Africa to Fight Ebola

Monday, September 15th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

The White House has decided to up its anti-Ebola effort in West Africa, allocating 3,000 U.S. forces to Liberia “to help bring the epidemic under control.”

A Sept. 12 update by the World Health Organization reported 4,366 confirmed, suspected or probable cases of the Ebola virus, with 2,218 deaths as of Sept. 7. Cases are centered in Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, Senegal and Sierra Leone.

The virus was introduced into Senegal on Aug. 20 by a person who traveled overland from Guinea.

“There has been no indication of any downturn in the epidemic in the three countries that have widespread and intense transmission (Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone), with a surge in new cases in Liberia a particular cause for concern,” the WHO said.

More than 300 healthcare workers have contracted Ebola, and nearly half of those have died.

“Every outbreak of Ebola over the past 40 years has been contained, and we are confident that this one can—and will be—as well,” the White House said in a late-night fact sheet that declared partnerships with the affected countries and United Nations to combat the virus “just as we fortify our defenses at home.”

“The United States has applied a whole-of-government response to the epidemic, which we launched shortly after the first cases were reported in March. As part of this, we have dedicated additional resources across the federal government to address the crisis, committing more than $175 million to date,” the statement said. “We continue to work with Congress to provide additional resources through appropriations and reprogramming efforts in order to be responsive to evolving resource needs on the ground. Just as the outbreak has worsened, our response will be commensurate with the challenge.”

A key cog in the strategy will be using “the unique capabilities of the U.S. military and broader uniformed services to help bring the epidemic under control,” including “command and control, logistics expertise, training, and engineering support.”

“U.S. Africa Command will set up a Joint Force Command headquartered in Monrovia, Liberia, to provide regional command and control support to U.S. military activities and facilitate coordination with U.S. government and international relief efforts. A general from U.S. Army Africa, the Army component of U.S. Africa Command, will lead this effort, which will involve an estimated 3,000 U.S. forces.”

“Many” of the forces will be stationed at an intermediate staging base “to facilitate and expedite the transportation of equipment, supplies and personnel,” the White House added.

“Command engineers will build additional Ebola Treatment Units in affected areas, and the U.S. Government will help recruit and organize medical personnel to staff them… The United States Public Health Service Commissioned Corps is preparing to deploy 65 Commissioned Corps officers to Liberia to manage and staff a previously announced Department of Defense (DoD) hospital to care for healthcare workers who become ill. The deployment roster will consist of administrators, clinicians, and support staff.”

USAID will jump into the program with a campaign to “provide communities and households with protection kits, appropriate information and training on how to protect themselves and their loved ones.”

Currently, “more than 100″ personnel from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are on the ground in the region. The Obama administration has asked Congress for an additional $30 million to send more CDC workers and supplies.

Obama is also asking for an additional $58 million for the National Institutes of Health to develop an Ebola vaccine that has entered stage one clinical trials.

“Earlier this month, President Obama released a message to the people of West Africa to reinforce the facts and dispel myths surrounding Ebola,” the White House added. “The video was transcribed into French, Portuguese, and other local languages and was distributed to television and radio stations across the region. Tens of thousands of West Africans viewed or listened to the message.”

At home, the administration said the CDC is “working closely” with Customs and Border Protection and “assisting with exit screening and communication efforts in West Africa to prevent sick travelers from boarding planes.”

“Despite the tragic epidemic in West Africa, U.S. health professionals agree it is highly unlikely that we would experience an Ebola outbreak here in the United States, given our robust health care infrastructure and rapid response capabilities,” the fact sheet states. “Nevertheless, we have taken extra measures to prevent the unintentional importation of cases into the United States, and if a patient does make it here, our national health system has the capacity and expertise to quickly detect and contain this disease.”

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Pelosi: Clinton ‘Would Be One of the Best Qualified People to Enter the White House’

Monday, September 15th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said she believes Hillary Clinton would be one of the best prepared candidates for the presidency, who “just happens to be a woman.”

Clinton told the crowd at Sen. Tom Harkin’s (D-Iowa) steak fry over the weekend that she’s “thinking” about running for the Oval Office. She brought along campaigner-in-chief Bill Clinton to the early caucus state.

“First of all, we have to find out if Hillary is going to run. She seemed very ready in Iowa at the steak fry,” Pelosi told MSNBC today.

“If she decides to run, which I think she will, she would be one of the best qualified people to enter the White House,” she said. “Really, she has been a senator and she has seen firsthand as first lady what the job entails. She has been secretary of state. She really brings so much experience to it.”

Pelosi said she doesn’t think it will hurt Clinton’s candidacy that she’s been hedging on the question for so long.

“I think she is handling it exactly correctly because we have an election coming up, midterms, most — many people don’t even know their midterm elections, they’re so focused on 2016 — but very, very important elections, hopefully to reelect a Democratic Senate to support President Obama to make strides in the House,” she said.

“And we always hope we can win and work hard for that. But it’s appropriate for any announcement of that kind to come after the midterms. She said next year is that — the impression you got from that is that she would make an announcement next year.”

Pelosi wouldn’t announce which midterm candidates Clinton may choose to help, ”but it is in the public domain that she will be doing events — a couple of events for us, end of September, middle of October, and we are very excited about that.”

“I can just imagine the excitement that is generated from that,” she added.

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Obama Withdraws DOJ Civil Rights Nomination for Mumia Defender

Monday, September 15th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

The White House today withdrew the nomination of Debo Adegbile to lead the Civil Rights Division at the Department of Justice.

Nominated in January, Adegbile was rejected by the Senate in a March vote 47-52, with Democratic Sens. Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.), Joe Manchin (W.Va.), Mark Pryor (Ark.), Joe Donnelly (Ind.), John Walsh (Mont.), Chris Coons (Del.) and Bob Casey Jr. (Pa.) joining with Republicans.

It was the first cloture failure on a nomination after Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) detonated the nuclear option and put a simple majority threshold in place.

Reid switched his “yes” vote to “no” at the last minute, allowing him to resurrect the nomination down the road.

Adegbile’s nomination was hotly contested because of his defense of cop killer Mumia Abu-Jamal. Adegbile was the director of litigation for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund when it took up Abu-Jamal’s case on appeal.

Reid argued that Adegbile shouldn’t be punished for guilt by association because he “didn’t step into one courtroom on behalf of the murderer.”

President Obama lashed out at the Senate at the time, calling the nomination block ”a travesty based on wildly unfair character attacks against a good and qualified public servant.”

Despite the reserved ability to bring the nominee back to floor, Adegbile was scarcely mentioned in recent months.

Former Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown (R), whose New Hampshire strategy against Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) focuses heavily on the president’s record, said in a statement that he was ”pleased” Obama “has finally withdrawn” the nomination.

“His controversial representation of a convicted cop killer is offensive to law enforcement and victim’s rights groups, not only here in New Hampshire but around the country,” Brown said. “Just as troubling as President Obama’s nomination of Mr. Adegbile was Senator Shaheen’s support for it. This was another example of Senator Shaheen putting the President’s agenda ahead of doing what was right. Thankfully, a bipartisan majority of senators stood together to block consideration of this ill-conceived appointment.”

Adegbile has joined law firm Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr LLP.

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Holder Announces Pilot Program to Dissuade Americans from Joining Terrorist Groups

Monday, September 15th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

Attorney General Eric Holder released a video message today to announce a new pilot program intended to ”bring together community representatives, public safety officials, religious leaders, and United States Attorneys to  improve local engagement, to counter violent extremism and – ultimately – to build a broad network of community partnerships to keep our nation safe.”

The program “in cities across the nation” will be a cooperative effort between the Department of Justice, the White House, the Department of Homeland Security, and the National Counterterrorism Center.

Holder said last week’s 9/11 anniversary was “a solemn reminder of our most important obligation: to ensure America’s national security and protect the American people from a range of evolving threats.”

“Today, few threats are more urgent than the threat posed by violent extremism. And with the emergence of groups like ISIL, and the knowledge that some Americans are attempting to travel to countries like Syria and Iraq to take part in ongoing conflicts, the Justice Department is responding appropriately,” he said.

“Through law enforcement agencies like the FBI, American authorities are working with our international partners and Interpol to disseminate information on foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq, including individuals who have traveled from the United States.  We have established processes for detecting American extremists who attempt to join terror groups abroad.  And we have engaged in extensive outreach to communities here in the U.S. – so we can work with them to identify threats before they emerge, to disrupt homegrown terrorists, and to apprehend would-be violent extremists.  But we can – and we must – do even more.”

Members of Congress have relayed the estimated number of Americans fighting for ISIS as between 100 and 200, acknowledging that there’s still much we don’t know.

Holder said the new program is intended to “work closely with community representatives to develop comprehensive local strategies, to raise awareness about important issues, to share information on best practices, and to expand and improve training in every area of the country.”

He added that since 2012 U.S. Attorneys have attended “more than 1,700 engagement-related events or meetings to enhance trust and facilitate communication in their neighborhoods and districts.”

“This innovative new pilot initiative will build on that important work. And the White House will be hosting a Countering Violent Extremism summit in October to highlight these and other domestic and international efforts. Ultimately, the pilot programs will enable us to develop more effective – and more inclusive – ways to help build the more just, secure, and free society that all Americans deserve,” Holder continued.

“As we move forward together, our work must continue to be guided by the core democratic values – and the ideals of freedom, openness, and inclusion – that have always set this nation apart on the world stage.  We must be both innovative and aggressive in countering violent extremism and combating those who would sow intolerance, division, and hate – not just within our borders, but with our international partners on a global scale.  And we must never lose sight of what violent extremists fear the most: the strength of our communities; our unwavering respect for equality, civil rights, and civil liberties; and our enduring commitment to justice, democracy, and the rule of law.”

The State Department got into the PR war to discourage Americans from joining with a “Welcome to the ‘Islamic State’ Land” video.

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Kerry: Get Past ‘Tortured Debate’ on Whether ISIS Fight Is a ‘War’

Monday, September 15th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

Secretary of State John Kerry encouraged getting past the “tortured debate” of whether the U.S. is at war with the Islamic State, backtracking on comments made last week.

Kerry previously told CBS News that “war is the wrong terminology” to describe the fight.

This was followed by the Pentagon and State Department saying that the U.S. is at war with ISIS.

Kerry was asked about his assessment Sunday for CBS’ Face the Nation.

“I think there’s, frankly, a kind of tortured debate going on about terminology,” Kerrys said. “What I’m focused on obviously is getting done what we need to get done to ISIL. But if people need find a place to land in terms of what we did in Iraq, originally, this is not a war. This is not combat troops on the ground. It’s not hundreds of thousands of people. It’s not that kind of mobilization.”

“But in terms of al-Qaeda, which we have used the word war with, yes, we went — we’re at war with al-Qaeda and its affiliates. And in same context, if you want to use it, yes, we’re at war with ISIL in that sense,” he continued. “But I think it’s a waste of time to focus on that. Frankly, let’s consider what we have to do to degrade and defeat ISIL. And that’s what I’m frankly much more focused on.”

Kerry also sought to tamp down rumors that the U.S. would be coordinating its campaign with Syria’s Bashar al-Assad.

“We will certainly want to deconflict to make certain that they’re not about to do something that they might regret even more seriously,” he said. “But we’re not going to coordinate. It’s not a cooperative effort. We are going to do what they haven’t done, what they had plenty of opportunity to do, which is to take on ISIL and to degrade it and eliminate as a threat.”

On his travels to build a coalition, Kerry said he was “extremely encouraged to hear from all of the people that I have been meeting with about their readiness and willingness to participate.”

“I can tell you right here and now that we have countries in this region, countries outside of this region, in addition to the United States, all of whom are prepared to engage in military assistance, in actual strikes, if that is what it requires,” he added. “And we also have a growing number of people who are prepared to do all the other things. People shouldn’t think about this, this effort just in terms of strikes. In fact, as some have pointed out, that alone is not going to resolve this challenge.”

Kerry said some nations have offered to put boots on the ground.

“But we are not looking for that, at this moment anyway. The answer is, yes, there are some that have said that. There are some that are clearly prepared to take action in the air alongside the United States, and to do airstrikes, if that’s what they’re called on to do,” he said.

“What we’re doing right now is putting together the whole package. And it’s not appropriate to start announcing, well, this country will do this, this country will do that.”

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Ayatollah: U.S. Asked Iran for ISIS Coalition Meeting But Was Rebuffed

Monday, September 15th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

Iraq’s supreme leader said that he was approached by the U.S. about joining a coalition to fight the Islamic State — or, in the Arabic acronym, the Daesh — but the Islamic Republic rebuffed Washington.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei spoke to reporters Monday after being discharged from the hospital, where he underwent prostate surgery and spent a week in recovery, according to remarks carried by the official Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA):

“What has happened in Iraq which broke the backbone of Daesh was not done by Americans but by the Iraqi people and Army. Both Daesh and Americans know this well,” said the Leader.

He added there are evidences indicating that US claims about fighting Daesh terrorists “are lies.”

Commenting on statements of the US Secretary of State about not inviting Iran to join the so-called anti-Daesh coalition, the Leader said: “We are proud that the US has become disappointed at Iran not having a part in a collective wrongdoing.”

But Iran announced from the very beginning that it would not join such a coalition, said Ayatollah Khamenei.

On the very first days of Daesh incursion into Iraq, the US ambassador to that country asked his Iranian counterpart for a meeting between Iranian and American officials to dicuss bilateral cooperation on the issue of Daesh terrorists.

The Supreme Leader said he was opposed to the “Americans’ request” after being informed of the issue by Iranian officials.

“I said we do not work with the Americans as they have evil intentions and stained hands. How is it possible to cooperate with Americans under such circumstances?”

Referring to failure of US previous coalition for Syria, the Leader said: “In the past Americans had formed a coalition against Syria with a heavy propaganda fuss but they failed to do a damned thing. This will be true for their coalition on Iraq too.”

At a Friday press conference in Turkey, Secretary of State John Kerry was asked about engaging with Iran on the ISIS fight.

“Iran has been deeply involved with its forces on the ground in Syria. IRGC forces are on the ground,” Kerry said. “So there would have to be much greater clarity and understanding of exactly what the purpose was and what the meaning was of any kind of presence, which is the only thing that stands in the way, as well as they’re a state sponsor of terror in various places.”

Khamenei also tweeted that Foreign Minister Javad Zarif “rejected US Secretary of State’s offer too.”

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Graham on ISIS Fight: Obama ‘Needs to Rise to the Occasion Before We All Get Killed’

Monday, September 15th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) called the fight against ISIS “a turning point in the war in terror,” but said the U.S. is at a disadvantage because “when the White House tells the world we say what we mean and we do what we say, nobody believes that anymore.”

“We’re fighting a terrorist army, not an organization. It’s going to take an army to beat an army. And this idea we’ll never have any boots on the ground to defeat them in Syria is fantasy,” Graham told Fox News on Sunday. “And all this has come home to roost over the last three years of incompetent decisions, so to destroy ISIL, what I was told … won’t even come close to destroy ISIL. It’s delusional in the way they approach this.”

Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), who sits on the Senate Armed Services Committee with Graham, argued that President Obama “has proposed a comprehensive plan that recognizes this has to be ultimately the efforts of the local regional powers, particularly the Sunni government, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Republic. Also, the United Arab Emirates, rather.”

“And Iraq particularly. And he is willing to use American airpower and American training efforts to empower these countries, but it’s their fight… this is a battle within the Sunni community about where they’re going.”

White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough told Fox “we’ve been pretty clear and we’ll continue to be clear about exactly what we’re going to do and how we’re going to do it, and the disciplined fashion on which we’re going to carry it out to ensure that we degrade and ultimately destroy this menacing organization called ISIL.”

Reed said the plan “has great potential to work.”

“First of all, there is the U.S. forces, airpower. Second with the cooperation of the Saudis, we’re going to be training, and it’s going to be done by the Department of Defense, military personnel, Syrians, to go back into Syria. Lindsey and I both support that effort. Then we’re going to be hopefully backing up the Iraqis as they start re-claiming their territory, putting pressure on ISIL to either move forces back to Iraq to defend the territory that they have captured, or to pull back and let us take more Iraqi territory back,” Reed continued. “So I think the plan is the best possible one, because it recognizes it’s not just a full military struggle, it’s also a political struggle.”

Graham said we can’t lose sight of the fact that “it is our fight,” not just theirs.

“This is a radical Islamic army, that’s pushing the theory of a master religion, not a master race like the Nazis. This is not about bringing a few people to justice who behead the innocent in a brutal fashion,” Graham said. “It’s about protecting millions of people throughout the world from a radical Islamic army, they’re intending to come here. So, I will not let this president suggest to the American people we can outsource our security and this is not about our safety.”

“There is no way in hell you can form an army on the ground to go into Syria, to destroy ISIL without a substantial American component. And to destroy ISIL, you have to kill or capture their leaders, take the territory they hold back, cut off their financing and destroy their capability to regenerate,” he continued. “This is a war we’re fighting, it is not a counterterrorism operation, this is not Somalia, this is not Yemen, this is a turning point in the war on terror. Our strategy will fail yet again. This president needs to rise to the occasion before we all get killed back here at home.”

“… This is not a Sunni versus Sunni problem, this is ISIL versus mankind.”

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House Dem: Oversight Committee Agrees to Delve Into NFL’s Domestic Violence Scandal

Monday, September 15th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

Famous for its investigations under chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) ranging from Benghazi to the IRS scandal, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee will next probe domestic violence in the National Football League, according to one of its members.

Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) said she asked Issa and ranking Democrat Elijah Cummings (Md.) to hold a hearing after revelations that heightened concern about how the NFL handles domestic violence cases, including the recent Ray Rice revelations.

“The NFL’s failure to appropriately respond to crimes and misconduct has harmed the prestige of the game and the millions of Americans who look up to these players as role models,” Speier said in a statement. “The NFL’s gross mishandling of the deplorable actions of Ray Rice is the latest example of how this insulated institution has incompetently dealt with serious issues.”

Speier said the investigation should go beyond domestic violence in the league, as well.

“This committee must also investigate the League’s tolerance of performance enhancing drugs, the impact of traumatic brain injury on players later in life, and the tax-exempt status the NFL enjoys thanks to a loophole congress created in the ‘60s,” she said.

“I look forward to working with Chairman Issa and Ranking Member Cummings to shed light on the NFL’s internal policies and processes, which have been largely inconsistent and opaque, and identifying areas where reform is needed.”

The committee has already been delving into human growth hormone testing, with Issa and Cummings meeting with the NFL Players Association and league officials over the past year.

Last week, the players approved an NFL proposal that tests for HGH.

“I applaud the Players Association and NFL for taking a major step in the right direction towards implementing HGH testing for the first time,” Cummings said in a statement Saturday. “Testing for HGH will help prevent injuries on the field and send a clear message to young athletes that HGH will not be tolerated at the game’s highest levels. I encourage the Players Association and the NFL to iron out the remaining details so that HGH testing can begin immediately.”

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Cameron on ISIS: ‘They are Not Muslims. They are Monsters.’

Sunday, September 14th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

Not 24 hours after the brutal video showing the beheading of humanitarian aid worker David Haines was released, the British government said it would seek justice while stressing that ISIS doesn’t represent Islam.

The killer shown in all three ISIS beheading videos — Haines, James Foley, Steve Sotloff — speaks with a London accent.

“David Haines was a British hero. The fact that an aid worker was taken, held and brutally murdered at the hands of ISIL sums up what this organisation stands for,” British Prime Minister David Cameron said in a statement today. Haines, a former Royal Air Force engineer, was kidnapped 18 months ago, and the prime minister said ”the whole country, like his grieving family, can be incredibly proud of what he did and what he stood for in his humanitarian mission.”

“They are killing and slaughtering thousands of people, Muslims, Christians, minorities across Iraq and Syria,” Cameron said of ISIS. “They boast of their brutality. They claim to do this in the name of Islam. That is nonsense. Islam is a religion of peace.”

“They are not Muslims. They are monsters. They make no secret of their desire to do as much harm not just in the Middle East, but to any countries or peoples who seek to stand in their way or dare to stand for values they disagree with.”

Cameron said “the British people need to know that this is a fanatical organisation called ISIL, that has not only murdered a British hostage: They have planned – and continue to plan – attacks across Europe and in our country.”

He said they will confront the terrorist state “in a calm, deliberate way – but with an iron determination” with allies.

“The United States is taking direct military action. We support their efforts,” Cameron continued. “British Tornadoes and surveillance aircraft have been helping with intelligence gathering and logistics. This is not about British combat troops on the ground. It is about working with others to extinguish this terrorist threat. As this strategy intensifies, we are ready to take whatever steps are necessary to deal with this threat and keep our country safe.”

“…It falls to the Government, and to each and every one of us, to drain this poison from our society and to take on this warped ideology that is radicalising some of our young people.”

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg issued a shorter statement calling Haines’ beheading “a crime of the most horrendous kind.”

“This murderous organisation calls itself Islamic State,” Clegg said. “But it is not a state, it is a brutal terrorist outfit whose actions are an affront to every peace loving Muslim around the world. No religion could possibly justify such grotesque acts.”

The Islamic Society of Britain sent a letter to Cameron vowing that they “shall take every opportunity to continue to say clearly and loudly ‘not in our name and not for our faith’.”

“We do not believe the terror group responsible should be given the credence and standing they seek by styling themselves ‘Islamic State’. It is neither Islamic, nor is it a State. The group has no standing with faithful Muslims, nor among the international community of nations. It clearly will never accept the obligations that any legitimate state has, including the responsibility to protect citizens and uphold human rights,” the Islamic Society wrote.

“So we believe the media, civic society and governments should refuse to legitimise these ludicrous Caliphate fantasies by accepting or propagating this name.”

They proposed that “Un-Islamic State” could be an “accurate and fair alternative name to describe this group and its agenda – and we will begin to call it that.”

“We are sure that most British Muslims would agree that ‘Un-Islamic State’ is a considerably more fitting label for this poisonous group – and hope that our fellow citizens will join us in that,” wrote the organization. “We know that this would be one small, symbolic step and that we must all work together to build the inclusion and integration in British society that would repel these poisonous ideas. But we believe that it would help and look forward to your response.”

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