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The PJ Tatler

Bridget Johnson

Bridget Johnson is a veteran journalist whose news articles and opinion columns have run in dozens of news outlets across the globe. Bridget first came to Washington to be online editor at The Hill, where she wrote The World from The Hill column on foreign policy. Previously she was an opinion writer and editorial board member at the Rocky Mountain News and nation/world news columnist at the Los Angeles Daily News. She is an NPR contributor and has contributed to USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, National Review Online, Politico and more, and has myriad television and radio credits as a commentator. Bridget is Washington Editor for PJ Media.
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Hillary Emails: Blumenthal Edited Her CFR Speech for ‘Vague and Gauzy Liberal Universalism’

Wednesday, July 1st, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

The batch of Hillary Clinton emails released last night by the State Department covers just a few months in 2009, yet shows a secretary of State leaning heavily on the advice of confidante Sidney Blumenthal.

Like on May 20, 2009, when Clinton fired off an email saying “Can you talk? What # should I call?”

Blumenthal replied that he was on a train, but “my cell works anywhere.” The number is redacted.

Blumenthal was an aide to President Clinton and has been a longtime loyalist of the Clinton family, so fiercely loyal that he wasn’t welcome in any State Department position in the Obama administration. He went to work for the Clinton Foundation and has been subpoenaed by the House Select Committee on Benghazi to testify about his communication with Clinton in his time period.

In addition to sending Hillary articles to read in the newest released emails, Blumenthal sends back some editing suggestions for draft speeches.

In a July 9, 2009, attachment marked “confidential,” he gives her “options and ideas” for a speech she’s planning to deliver to the Council on Foreign Relations.

“This speech can’t afford to be lackluster. It will then be held up in invidious comparison to Obama’s glittering best efforts. Your speech must have, amid the policies, a distinctive and authoritative voice,” Blumenthal writes.

“Your early draft makes no distinctions between allies or partners; indeed, it barely mentions allies. The early draft also features a strong malaise theme. Even if rebutted after being raised, the focus is on obstacles and hindrances, not on achievements, opportunities and what can be achieved. There’s no accounting of progress so far. The effect is downbeat in tone. At the same time, the draft contains passages of vague and gauzy liberal universalism, while in one line assailing it, an unconvincing juggling act. The notion that all nations and peoples want the same things as Americans will not fly and is open to derision,” he continues.

“It reflects blithe liberal cultural imperialism, among other things (See Graham Greene. And, on the contrary, some nations—and peoples—seek nuclear weapons, like Iran; some don’t want to curb global warming, like China; some don’t care about human rights, like most Arab nations; some have contempt for democracy, including de facto allies like Egypt, not to mention Myanmar; and some are indifferent to poverty, any number of African kleptocracies.) Also there is some confusion of definitions, for example, asserting dialogue with adversaries is ‘strategic engagement,’ when that is a concept usually applied to allies and partners.”

Blumenthal cautions Clinton that “slogans can become shopworn, especially those that lack analytical, historical and descriptive power. What served you once, at your confirmation, may not serve again… You do not need to have a complex foreign policy agenda reduced to two words that the administration’s adversaries will undoubtedly use against you.”

Clinton ended up making a gaffe at the beginning of the speech, saying of CFR’s new location that
“this will mean I won’t have as far to go to be told what we should be doing and how we should think about the future.”

In a Nov. 5, 2009, email, he gives her “ideas and language” for a Berlin address.

“What I have not done here but might be added are references to Angela Merkel (a courageous woman from the east who embodies the highest values of the West); and specific policies,” he notes. “Those can be fitted in.”

He gives his tips in a Dec. 5, 2009, email after then-Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi was attacked. Clinton should urge President Obama to give Berlusconi a call, he said. “There are many reasons for Obama to do this, not least to condemn violence against a democratically elected head of state. It would be awkward for the U.S. President not to call a Western head of state of a NATO country who has been physically harmed.”

The tone of Clinton toward Blumenthal in the emails is uniformly receptive.

On Sept. 30, 2009, Blumenthal briefly tells Clinton, “Hillary: You’re addressing a group in Africa on Thursday. Joe Wilson will be there and wants to say hello to you.”

Clinton replies she “certainly will” meet the Fair Game diplomat and asks her aides to set up a meeting.

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Dempsey: ISIS ‘Will Eventually Collapse Under the Weight of Their Own Contradictions’

Wednesday, July 1st, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey vowed today that ISIS “will eventually collapse under the weight of their own contradictions” — with “a little help from coalition partners.”

Dempsey and Defense Secretary Ashton Carter were asked at a Pentagon press conference today about the Department of Homeland Security alert about the potential for an ISIS attack over the Fourth of July — and whether ISIS has evolved into more of a threat against the homeland.

“Well, I mean, we are coming into a holiday time. We’re always vigilant at holiday time, we’re always vigilant as an institution about force protection and protecting our people, and ISIL is another reason and a — and as I’m sure Homeland Security has indicated for vigilance,” Carter said, adding “it does have to do with the social media angle.”

“And what that suggests is that in a — the era of social media, a phenomenon like ISIL, unlike al-Qaeda of the old days, there doesn’t have to be and won’t necessarily be a command-and-control relationship between somebody who instigates an incident and ISIL as an organization. They are self-radicalized, self-organized people on social media,” he continued.

“Are we concerned about that? Absolutely, we’re concerned about it. And that has been seen in Europe, so that’s a sign that in the United States, as in Europe and other places in the world, we have to be concerned about it, and we obviously are.”

Asked if he felt powerless or defenseless against ISIS’ brand of “insidious threat,” Carter stressed that “we are not powerless.”

“It just happens not to be the responsibility of the Department of Defense, although we participate in that,” the Defense secretary added. “It is an intelligence community and homeland security and law enforcement mission, which they take very seriously and very persistently, and I think the warning that you indicated shows they’re doing that at this holiday time for America.”

Dempsey noted that the threat “also coincides with from Ramadan, and the call went for increased attacks during Ramadan, which is why you see us maintaining a higher alert status.”

The Islamic holy month of Ramadan ends July 17.

“No, we’re not powerless,” Dempsey said. “In fact, I think the very things that threaten — you know, we’re a significant threat to ISIL, because everything we believe in is completely opposite of what they believe in — every bit of freedom, every bit of diversity, every bit of civic freedoms and religious freedoms, is exactly opposite to what they espouse.”

Carter called ISIS “a little reminder, as that is, of why we celebrate the Fourth of July in the first place.”

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Declaring ‘This Is What Change Looks Like,’ Obama Re-opening Cuba Embassy

Wednesday, July 1st, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Fast-tracking his effort to hold hands with Havana, President Obama today announced the re-establishment of diplomatic relations with Cuba.

In the Rose Garden this morning, Obama called it “a historic step forward in our efforts to normalize relations with the Cuban government and people, and begin a new chapter with our neighbors in the Americas.”

Embassies will re-open for the first time since 1961.

“Our nations are separated by only 90 miles, and there are deep bonds of family and friendship between our people.  But there have been very real, profound differences between our governments, and sometimes we allow ourselves to be trapped by a certain way of doing things,” Obama said.

“For the United States, that meant clinging to a policy that was not working.  Instead of supporting democracy and opportunity for the Cuban people, our efforts to isolate Cuba despite good intentions increasingly had the opposite effect -– cementing the status quo and isolating the United States from our neighbors in this hemisphere.  The progress that we mark today is yet another demonstration that we don’t have to be imprisoned by the past. When something isn’t working, we can -– and will –- change.”

Secretary of State John Kerry will head to Havana later this summer, the president said, to “proudly raise the American flag over our embassy once more.”

“I’ve been clear that we will also continue to have some very serious differences. That will include America’s enduring support for universal values, like freedom of speech and assembly, and the ability to access information. And we will not hesitate to speak out when we see actions that contradict those values,” Obama said.

He touted “enormous enthusiasm” for his approach among Latin American leaders.

“I’ve called on Congress to take steps to lift the embargo that prevents Americans from traveling or doing business in Cuba. We’ve already seen members from both parties begin that work. After all, why should Washington stand in the way of our own people?” he said, trying to guilt-trip lawmakers into lifting what he cannot. “…I’d ask Congress to listen to the Cuban people. Listen to the American people.”

“A year ago, it might have seemed impossible that the United States would once again be raising our flag, the stars and stripes, over an embassy in Havana. This is what change looks like.”

Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), though, said this is what capitulation looks like.

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Senate Dems Ask Judiciary Chairman for Hearings on ‘Reality of Domestic Terrorism Spurred by Racial Hatred’

Wednesday, July 1st, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Senate Democrats are calling on Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley to call hearings on “the reality of domestic terrorism spurred by racial hatred” in the wake of the South Carolina church massacre.

The attack by white supremacist Dylann Roof, who killed nine people in a Bible study at the historic Emanuel AME Church, “undermined Americans’ confidence that they can be safe in public spaces regardless of the color of their skin,” Ranking Member Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and committee members Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), and Al Franken (D-Minn.) wrote.

“In addition to being a hate crime, the Charleston shooting also appears to have been an act of domestic terrorism. Domestic terrorism is defined in the U.S. Code as a criminal act dangerous to human life that is intended to ‘intimidate or coerce a civilian population’ or ‘to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction [or] assassination.’ 18 U.S.C. § 2331(5).”

The Democrats wrote that Roof, “through public and private acts filled with racial animus, sought to intimidate African Americans and discourage them from asserting their rights.”

“We often think of terrorism as the sacrifice of innocent lives in service to a murderous ideology, and Roof’s actions were clearly driven by bizarre and perverse beliefs. Indeed, it has been reported that Roof spoke of a desire to start a race-based civil war, and that he told his victims, ‘You rape our women and you’re taking over our country. And you have to go.’ If this same act had been perpetrated by someone claiming a desire to harm Americans in the service of Islamist principles, it would immediately be labeled an act of terror. A violent act motivated by a racist desire to intimidate a civilian population falls squarely within the definition of domestic terrorism,” they continued.

“Dylann Roof’s actions should remind us that America’s effort to root out terrorism must include a focus on violent racism in our own backyard. Homegrown hate groups have engaged in violence against civilians for these purposes throughout our nation’s history, particularly targeting the African American community, and such groups continue to survive and even thrive.”

They requested Grassley hold hearing on hate groups, noting “in the past, mass violence in our country has been explained away as an act of insanity to be treated as a mental health issue.”

“What we saw in South Carolina is about hate, and it is about evil. We must address the reality of domestic terrorism spurred by racial hatred head on… A hearing could investigate how domestic terrorist hate organizations recruit and spread their ideas; how they gain access to the tools that they use to commit violent acts; and how their members and followers reach the decision to commit murder.”

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Hillary’s Emails: Clinton Asked Iran Man to Dig Into Who’d Been Sent to Face AIPAC

Wednesday, July 1st, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

A curious email among the batch of Hillary Clinton’s correspondence released by the State Department late last night reveals the former secretary of State wanting to know the history of who has been assigned to speak at Washington’s biggest pro-Israel conference.

The White House traditionally sends at least one administration representative to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee mega-conference, which draws nearly 15,000 attendees from around the world, turning the convention center in D.C. into its own small city for three days.

But the Obama administration has increasingly faced a critical AIPAC audience as it has tried to sell its outreach to Iran and relations with the Israeli government have grown more strained.

On July 9, 2009, Clinton received an email from Jake Sullivan, a deputy policy director on Hillary’s 2008 presidential campaign who went on to serve as her deputy chief of staff at the State Department and then director of policy planning. Sullivan, now a visiting lecturer at Yale, also was a national security adviser to Vice President Biden until last year.

Sullivan “spent months secretly laying the groundwork” for the current Iran nuclear negotiations and is believed to be Clinton’s pick for national security advisor.

“With apologies for the delay in getting back to you on this, below are the key admin attendees at AIPAC conferences. For certain years in the 1990s, we’re still looking for the participant lists,” Sullivan wrote in the email, followed by this list:

      “2008: Rice spoke.
      2007: Cheney spoke.
      2006: Cheney spoke.
      2005: Rice spoke.
      2004: Bush spoke.
      2002: Bush spoke.
      2001: Powell spoke.
      2000: Bush spoke.
      1997: Gore and Albright spoke.
      1996: President Clinton spoke.
      1995: President Clinton spoke.”

Biden ended up speaking to AIPAC the next month, in which he defended the administration’s outreach to Iran. “We will pursue direct, principled democracy with Iran,” Biden told the conference, adding that the U.S. “will approach Iran initially in the spirit of mutual respect.”

Clinton ended up addressing AIPAC the next year, in 2010, where she spent more time addressing a two-state solution than Iran.

“We took this course with the understanding that the very effort of seeking engagement would strengthen our hand if Iran rejected our initiative. And over the last year, Iran’s leaders have been stripped of their usual excuses. The world has seen that it is Iran, not the United States, responsible for the impasse,” she told the conference then. “With its secret nuclear facilities, increasing violations of its obligations under the nonproliferation regime, and an unjustified expansion of its enrichment activities, more and more nations are finally expressing deep concerns about Iran’s intentions.”

Both Clinton and then-Sen. Obama stumped at AIPAC in 2008. President Obama addressed AIPAC in 2011 and while stumping for re-election in 2012. Biden was sent in 2013. Secretary of State John Kerry was sent in 2014, while National Security Advisor Susan Rice got the duty — and a chilly reception to the administration message — this year.

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Dem Warns He’ll ‘Make Certain’ That Iran Deal Is Blocked If Ayatollah’s Demands Met

Tuesday, June 30th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

As the Obama administration extended the deadline for nuclear talks to July 7, some in the president’s own party are more nervous about what the ayatollah is saying than they are reassured by the White House.

Rep. Alcee Hastings (Fla.), the top Democrat on the Commission on Security & Cooperation in Europe, said today that he applauds administration negotiation efforts, but “I am deeply concerned by news that Ayatollah Ali Khameni – the arbiter of public matters in Iran – has demanded that nearly all sanctions be lifted before Tehran has dismantled portions of its nuclear infrastructure and before international investigators confirm that Iran is on track to meet its obligations.”

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei made clear that they won’t accept a deal that doesn’t lift sanctions immediately; the White House said last Wednesday that they’re “most focused on …the actions, not the words.”

Secretary of State John Kerry said, “We’re not going to be guided by or conditioned by or affected by or deterred by some tweet that is for public consumption or for domestic political consumption.”

Hastings said he’s “even more alarmed that Ayatollah Khamenei has unequivocally rejected any freeze on Iran’s nuclear enrichment and has refused to agree to allow inspections of Iranian military sites.”

“During the past eighteen months of negotiations, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reported that Iran’s stockpile of nuclear fuel has increased by approximately 20 percent. We must not allow negotiation extensions to permit the continuation of this enrichment or Tehran’s support of international terrorism. Sanctions relief unquestionably supports Iran’s ability to fund such organizations and any agreement must guarantee that sanctions in place now are lifted slowly and deliberatively,” the congressman said in a statement today.

“At the end of the day, an acceptable deal will be one that guarantees that any Iranian pathway to a nuclear weapon is completely eliminated. It is my sincere hope that the current negotiations will result in a strong deal that does just that. In the event that a final agreement is reached which fails to do so, I will stand with my colleagues in Congress to make certain that it is blocked.”

Today Kerry met with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

State Department press secretary John Kirby said the “technical extension” of the talks was “like going into extra innings here, okay, in the same game.”

“And what I can also say, then, thirdly is that our focus remains on trying to reach a deal. And that’s where – and the work inside the negotiating room is them trying to resolve the differences that are still outstanding. Again, I won’t speak to the specifics of all those differences, but there does remain – there are differences on some issues, and again, they’re working through that,” Kirby said.

“Secretary Kerry’s also very pragmatic and clear-eyed about this, though, and as I think you heard the President say – certainly Secretary Kerry has said it before – that no deal is better than a bad deal. So it’s not about – the – I don’t – the extension is – it’s important because it provides a little extra breathing space, but nobody’s under any illusions or trying to race to that day as sort of ‘I got to have it by.’ It’s – we could get a deal in two days, three days: we could get a deal on the 7th: or we could get no deal at all. That’s always a possibility too.”

President Obama told reporters today that “if we can’t provide assurances that the pathways for Iran obtaining a nuclear weapon are closed and if we can’t verify that, if the inspections regime, verifications regime, is inadequate then we’re not going to get a deal and we’ve been very clear to the Iranian government about that.”

“…And given past behavior on the part of Iran, that can’t simply be a declaration by Iran and a few inspectors wandering around every once in a while. That’s going to have to be a serious, rigorous verification mechanism. And that, I think, is going to be the test as to whether we get a deal or not.”

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said today that if Obama “chooses to conclude a deal that ensures that Iran will be a nuclear threshold state,” he’s “confident that a majority of both houses of Congress” will oppose it.

“If the president were serious about negotiating a deal that advances our security and protects our allies, such as Israel, he would walk away from the table and impose new sanctions on Iran until the regime comes to the table ready to negotiate seriously,” he said.

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O’Malley: Save Puerto Rico!

Tuesday, June 30th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Democratic presidential candidate and former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley wants the U.S. to step in and bail out Puerto Rico.

On Sunday, Gov. Alejandro Garcia Padilla announced that the U.S. territory can’t pay its $72 billion in debt, drawing comparisons to Greece and warnings from economists that U.S. investors have much more to lose from a Puerto Rico collapse than the fall of Athens. Unlike a U.S. city such as Detroit, Puerto Rico cannot file for bankruptcy per the Constitution.

 ”As a nation we must help our fellow U.S. citizens not only because it’s the right thing to do, but because our region’s economic stability depends on it,” O’Malley said in a statement today, urging President Obama and Congress to act.

Garcia Padilla has asked “for concerted actions from Washington, in one voice, now — action wherein changes can finally be made to Chapter 9, so that Puerto Rico can count on the same protections as other jurisdictions.”

“Those who attempt to exploit this situation to gain a financial or political advantage” would find that “Puerto Rico will be united against you,” the governor warned creditors.

“While Governor Garcia Padilla has taken the courageous first steps to steer Puerto Rico through this crisis, we must act now to avoid Puerto Rico’s economic collapse,” O’Malley said. “First, Puerto Rico should be able to negotiate with its creditors just as states can under the U.S. Bankruptcy code. Congress should approve Resident Commissioner Pedro Pierluisi’s legislation that would allow for this to happen.”

“Second, as I’ve stated before, the Department of Health and Human Services must end the inequitable treatment of Puerto Rico under Medicare, Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act. High costs and low reimbursement rates are a huge burden to Puerto Rico’s budget and millions of U.S. citizens are at risk of losing care,” he continued.

“These are two steps we can take today, but I urge the Administration and Congress to work with Puerto Rico on a path forward that both provides immediate relief, and builds a foundation for sustainable, long-term economic stability.”

Pierluisi stressed yesterday that the island “does not have access to tools that are available to nations—like IMF or other external funding—just as it does not have access to certain tools—like Chapter 9 for its municipalities—that are available to all U.S. states.”

“Puerto Rico’s political status is thus a major impediment to its economic and fiscal recovery,” he said, adding of his legislation to seek an exemption from the Jones Act that “to say this legislation faces political headwinds in Washington is a serious understatement.”

“I filed a bill to achieve this objective in July 2014, and then again in February 2015, and am working hard to move it forward in the legislative process.”

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‘You’re Going to Get What I Think, Like It Or Not’: Christie Running for President

Tuesday, June 30th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson
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In a speech that was part sentimental reflection and part classic Christie zingers, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie today became the 14th hopeful officially seeking the Republican presidential nomination.

Speaking to an audience in his hometown of Livingston, Christie had his wife Mary Pat, who’s a managing director at the Wall Street investment firm Angelo, Gordon & Co, and their four children by his side for the entire speech.

“The last six years we proved not only can you govern this state, you can lead it to a better day and that’s what we’ve done together,” said the second-term governor. “…Americans are not angry. Americans are filled with anxiety. They are filled with anxiety because they look to Washington, D.C., and they see a government that not only doesn’t work anymore, it doesn’t even talk to each other anymore. It doesn’t even try to pretend to work anymore.”

“We have a president in the oval office who ignores the Congress and a Congress that ignores the president. We need a government in Washington, D.C., that remembers you went there to work for us, not the other way around.”

Christie, who was blasted by a reporter for New Jersey’s biggest paper as a “liar” on the day of his announcement, told the audience “both parties have failed our country.”

“Both parties have stood in the corner and held their breath and waited to get their own way, both parties have led us to believe that in America, a country that was built on compromise, that somehow now compromise is a dirty word,” he said. “If Washington and Adams and Jefferson believed compromise is a dirty word we’d still be under the crown of England.”

He reassured his supporters that “anxiety can be swept away by strong leadership and decisiveness to lead America again.”

Christie, who will be largely focusing his campaign message on entitlement reform, noted “we have candidates who have said we can’t confront this because if we do, we’ll be lying and stealing from the American people.”

“Let me fill everybody else in. The lying and stealing has already happened,” he said. “The horse is out of the barn. We’ve got to get it back in. You can only do it by force.”

Christie made references to foreign policy, stressing “if we’re going to lead, we have to stop worrying about being loved and start caring about being respected again, both at home and around the world.”

“I am not running for president of the United States as a surrogate for being elected prom king of America. I am not looking to be the most popular guy who looks in your eyes every day and tries to figure out what you want to hear, say it and then turn around and do something else. When I stand up on a stage like this in front of all of you, there is one thing you will know for sure. I mean what I say, and I say what I mean, and that’s what America needs right now,” he said.

“And unlike some people who offer themselves for the presidency in 2016, you’re not going to have to wonder whether I can do it or not.”

He promised a campaign “without spin or without pandering or focus group-tested answers.”

“You’re going to get what I think, whether you like it or not or whether it makes you cringe every once in a while or not,” he said. “A campaign when I’m asked a question, I’m going to give the answer to the question that’s asked, not the answer that my political consultants told me to give backstage. A campaign that, every day, will not worry about what is popular but what is right, because what is right is what will fix America, not what’s popular.”

“…If you give me the privilege to be your president, I will wake up every day not only with my heart strong and my mind sharp, but with my ears open and my arms open to welcome the American people no matter what party, no matter what race or creed or color, to make sure that you know that this is your country, too. We are going to go and win this election and I love each and every one of you.”

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Congressman Asks St. Louis Mayor to Remove 32-Foot Granite Civil War Monument

Tuesday, June 30th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Screen Shot 2015-06-30 at 10.39.26 AM

A Missouri congressman is asking the mayor of St. Louis to bring down a 32-foot-high stone Civil War memorial in the city’s Forest Park.

The Confederate Memorial was erected in 1914 by the Ladies’ Confederate Monument Association. “To avoid provoking further antagonism to the project, the Association declared that the design they would choose could not depict any figure of a Confederate soldier or object of modern warfare,” reads a history of the monument. The shaft of the monument bears “The Angel of the Spirit of the Confederacy” and below that is a bronze sculpture “depicting the response of the South to this spirit as a family sends a youth off to war.”

“On the back of the shaft, designed by William Trueblood, is a tribute ‘To the Memory of the Soldiers and Sailors of the Southern Confederacy,’ written by St. Louis minister Robert Catlett Cave, who had served as a Confederate soldier from Virginia. Beneath that is a quotation by Robert E. Lee: ‘We had sacred principles to maintain and rights to defend for which we were duty bound to do our best, even if we perished in the endeavor.’”

Rep. Wm. Lacy Clay wrote last week to St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay, stressing that “now is the time to replace the Confederate Memorial, as iconic as it is controversial, from its perch in Forest Park.”

“Some may disagree and reflect upon this memorial as a symbol of southern culture and Civil War reverence,” Clay said. “But, symbols matter and should reflect who we are as a people today. Divisive, alienating, racially charged symbols do not accurately represent the goodness and fullness of the people of the city of St. Louis.”

The congressman called it “unfortunate” that the mass murder of nine people at the historic Emanuel AME Church in Charleston brought the issue to the forefront. “However, action must be taken to ensure that divisive symbols, such as the Confederate Memorial, do not have relevance in our city’s future.”

“Let us lead and influence how we are perceived by the world…as a force for good, and in solidarity with those advocating racial healing. It is not only time for a reappraisal of all public symbols that reflect upon the ‘peculiar institution’ of slavery, but also time for removal. Symbols associated with this country’s racist, oppressive past should not be elevated or displayed in public places.”

Other statues and monuments in the park include a Korean War memorial, Thomas Jefferson, Union Gen. Franz Sigel, and St. Francis of Assisi.

Clay will be introducing with Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.) a bill that would prohibit the Department of Veterans Affairs from allowing the display of the Confederate flag at national cemeteries which it manages across the nation.

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Iran Preparing for Failure of Nuke Talks After Washington’s ‘Buyer’s Remorse’

Tuesday, June 30th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Iran announced today –  the deadline that had been set for a nuclear deal with the P5+1 but was extended indefinitely, according to the White House — that it doesn’t see a deal to its liking coming through.

Thus, reported the semi-official Fars News Agency, the Islamic Republic is formulating plans to weather tougher expected sanctions after talks crash.

“Given the fact that the Iranian officials have announced that they don’t trust the Americans, we consider a percentage of pessimism for the result of the negotiations and we think that there is a possibility for the talks to fail to end in successful results that we favor and meet our national interests; therefore, we have prepared ourselves for how to administer the country given the severity of the sanctions that will be imposed,” Iran’s Government Spokesman Mohammad Baqer Nobakht told reporters in Tehran.

More from Fars:

Nobakht also underscored that Tehran will not accept any undertakings beyond the Additional Protocol to the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

His comments came [as] an informed source close to the Iran-world powers talks in Vienna strongly dismissed an AFP report claiming that Tehran and the world powers have reached a system to give the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) access to all allegedly suspect sites in the country, stressing that even the NPT additional protocol does not envisage access to military centers.”The Americans seem to be showing buyer’s remorse after Lausanne agreement. The US may be preparing grounds for failure and blame game,” the Iranian source said.

“Who guarantees the IAEA confidentiality after assassination of Iranian nuclear scientists? Tehran trusted the IAEA with secret informations, and its nuclear scientists were killed by the West. Although the additional protocol does not envisage such visits, Tehran has allowed the IAEA access Parchin twice. Iran received nothing in return when it allowed the IAEA access its Parchin military site,” the source added.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said that the U.S. pledged to terminate sanctions within six months after talks began, but reneged.

“The Americans changed the 6 months to one year first, and then lengthened the negotiations by making repeated excessive demands and even threats to boost the sanctions and speaking of militarism and on and under the table,” he said.

“Contemplation and study over the trend of the demands made by the Americans shows that they aim to uproot Iran’s nuclear industry and the country’s nuclear essence and change it to a caricature and a window without a content.”

The ayatollah added that while Iran has been seeking to get sanctions lifted, “we see them as an opportunity from a different angle because they have caused us to pay more attention to domestic forces and capacities.”

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White House Downplays Extension of Iran Nuke Deadline: ‘Not Surprising or Uncommon’

Monday, June 29th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Calling it “not surprising or uncommon,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest confirmed today that Iran nuclear negotiations will extend past the June 30 deadline.

“What our negotiators are currently engaged in is an effort to try to complete negotiations consistent with the political framework that was agreed to in the first week in April. And yes, it is the day before the deadline, and at this point, I would anticipate that the negotiations will extend past the deadline,” Earnest told reporters at the daily briefing.

He noted that the deadline for the preliminary framework was March 31, but they stuck around until the April 2 announcement of an agreement.

He added that the extension of the deadline this time wasn’t necessarily a promising sign for the administration.

“I think I would accede the likelihood, or the higher likelihood, that the talks will extend past the deadline as an indication that there are still some important unresolved issues in the negotiations. And these are not issues that can be resolved in the next 36 hours,” Earnest said.

He also wouldn’t give odds for reaching a deal at this point.

“I would hesitate to put numbers on it at this point. So we’re close to the deadline and obviously our negotiators understand the stakes of these negotiations. And that, frankly, I think is why the United States and our P-5-plus-1 partners are willing to sit at that table a few extra days to try to reach an agreement that is consistent with the political framework that was agreed to back in early April,” he said.

“I mean, the thing that the president’s been very clear about is if the Iranians refuse to agree to a framework that’s consistent, or a final agreement that’s consistent with the framework that was reached in April, then there won’t be an agreement. And the — we understand at this point that that’s — that’s something that the Iranians are hoping to avoid. They would very much like to get some sanctions relief.”

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei made clear that they won’t accept a deal that doesn’t lift sanctions immediately; the White House said last Wednesday that they’re “most focused on …the actions, not the words.”

Secretary of State John Kerry said, “We’re not going to be guided by or conditioned by or affected by or deterred by some tweet that is for public consumption or for domestic political consumption.”

“But there are going to be some serious commitments that they’re going to have to make in terms of that — shutting down every pathway they have to a nuclear weapon, and complying with a verification regime to ensure that they’re living up to the commitments that they have made,” Earnest said today. “And all of that is, you know, will be part of any final agreement, consistent with the political agreement that was reached back in April.”

But there’s pressure on Capitol Hill to not extend the negotiations indefinitely.

“A supreme ruler who lives by the motto ‘Death to America’ seems to be setting the tone at the negotiating table. Count me among the many in Congress who are supremely concerned by the direction of these negotiations,” House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) said.

“Secretary Kerry needs to know that Congress has its own redlines: anywhere, anytime inspections; no sanctions relief jackpot for Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps; guaranteed sanctions snap-backs; and meaningful restraints on Iran’s nuclear program that last decades. The Administration should be making it clear to the Iranians that an agreement without these conditions, among others, won’t pass muster with Congress.”

Royce warned that the administration appears “to be on the verge of an agreement that – even if it was fully adhered to by Iran – accepts that after just ten years or so, Tehran would have the ability to produce nuclear weapons in very short order, perhaps within a matter of weeks.”

“That’s without Iranian cheating,” he added. “…Mr. President, I’ll be the last one to be critical if you walk away from this negotiating table.”

Former CIA Director Michael Hayden told Fox on Sunday that “what matters is what the ayatollah says the Iranians will do with what it is we believed we have agreed on in Vienna.”

“It’s a big deal as to what the ayatollah commits himself to,” Hayden said of Kerry’s dismissal of Khamenei’s tweets. “We went through this in April when we both walked away from the talks thinking we had an agreement. It was quite different what we said they agreed to and what they said they agreed to. Now, we’re down to brass tacks. What it is they say has to be what they actually agreed to and only the ayatollah can determine that.”

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Prosecutor Who Went After Morsi, Muslim Brotherhood Assassinated in Cairo

Monday, June 29th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

The Egyptian prosecutor who led the prosecution of former President Mohamed Morsi and many of his Muslims Brotherhood compatriots was assassinate in a Cairo bombing today.

Terrorist groups have had their eyes on Egypt since the ouster of Morsi, but calls to attack Egypt have stepped up since Morsi and Muslim Brotherhood Supreme Guide Mohamed Badie were sentenced to death.

The Taliban, for exampled, has called upon every “influential” Muslim to try to save Morsi. Terrorist attacks increased in the restive Sinai peninsula after Morsi’s sentencing.

Today, Prosecutor General Hisham Barakat was killed in a car bombing — not the first assassination attempt against a state official since Morsi’s ouster, but the first successful one.

Barakat died hours after the North Cairo attack due to internal bleeding, Al-Ahram reported.

The car bomb was planted along the route Barakat’s convoy would take every day from his home to work. The Egyptian presidency decried the terrorist attack and said in a statement the country “has lost a great judicial figure who has shown dedication to work and commitment to the ethics of the noble judicial profession.”

The Obama administration, which has been highly critical of the Morsi and other Muslim Brotherhood prosecutions, said in a statement through National Security Council spokesman Ned Price that “the United States strongly condemns today’s terrorist attack in Cairo that killed Egyptian Prosecutor-General Hisham Barakat and injured at least nine others.”

“We offer our condolences to the family of Mr. Barakat, those injured in the attack, and the Government and people of Egypt,” Price said. “The United States stands by Egypt at this difficult time, as we continue to work together to fight the scourge of terrorism.”

The statement from State Department spokesman John Kirby was nearly identical: “The United States condemns in the strongest possible terms the terrorist attack, which killed the Egyptian Public Prosecutor Hisham Barakat. We extend our deepest condolences to the Egyptian Government and to the families and friends of those who lost their lives. We also wish a speedy recovery to those who suffered injuries. The United States stands firmly with the Egyptian government in its efforts to confront terrorism.”

The Muslim Brotherhood tweeted that “murder is reprehensible and unacceptable,” and only ousting President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s government “will stop the bloodshed.”

“Today’s crime reveals the coup’s security apparatuses is only capable of facing peaceful protesters, torturing workers & harassing the poor,” they said, never mentioning the slain prosecutor by name. “We affirm that violence will not end except by achieving justice, toppling this illegitimate regime and allowing #Egypt to be free.”

 

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‘A Magic Trick with the Elections Clause’: Supreme Court Rules on Redistricting

Monday, June 29th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

The Supreme Court ruled 5-4 today, with Justice Anthony Kennedy siding with liberal members of the court, that using independent commissions to redraw electoral districts is constitutional.

The case stemmed from a challenge of such a commission in Arizona created by a ballot proposition.

In his dissent, Chief Justice John Roberts called the decision “a magic trick with the Elections Clause.”

“That Clause vests congressional redistricting authority in ‘the Legislature’ of each State,” Roberts wrote. “An Arizona ballot initiative transferred that authority from ‘the Legislature’ to an ‘Independent Redistricting Commission.’ The majority approves this deliberate constitutional evasion by doing what the proponents of the Seventeenth Amendment [direct election of U.S. senators] dared not: revising ‘the Legislature’ to mean ‘the people.’”

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), running for the Democratic presidential nomination, said the ruling “is an important step in the fight against voter suppression.”

“When congressional districts are controlled by partisanship it is bad for voters and our democracy,” Sanders said. “Allowing non-partisan commissions to draw district lines will help combat the hyper-partisan gerrymandering we have seen in some states. We still must go further—it’s time to restore the Voting Rights Act, expand early voting periods and make it easier for people to vote, not harder.”

State Government Leadership Foundation Chairman Tom Reynolds said the decision “allows a delicate process that extends back to our nation’s creation to remain in the hands of those who were not elected and have little accountability to voters.”

“Five years ago, our REDistricting Majority Project helped state legislatures in their efforts to build fair and competitive districts, and we are disappointed Arizona’s legislature will remain unable to drive that process for its constituents going forward,” Reynolds said. “We will continue to push for state governments to take the lead on this important task.”

Attorney General Loretta Lynch said she was “pleased that the Supreme Court has vindicated the rights of voters who want their electoral districts drawn fairly, independently and without undue emphasis on partisan affiliation or political creed.”

“Arizona’s approach to redistricting is an innovative and effective advance in the effort to reduce gerrymandering and give all Americans an opportunity to make their voices heard,” Lynch said. “Today’s decision is a victory for the people of Arizona, for the promise of fair and competitive elections and for the principles of democratic self-governance that make our nation exceptional.”

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Supreme Court Slaps EPA in 5-4 Ruling Against Power Plant Regulations

Monday, June 29th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

The Supreme Court dealt a blow to the Obama administration’s costly regulations levied on coal-fired power plants, saying in a 5-4 decision that the Environmental Protection Agency should have taken into account the rule’s pricey impacts.

Writing for the majority in a conservative-liberal split, Justice Antonin Scalia said the EPA “strayed well beyond the bounds of reasonable interpretation in concluding that cost is not a factor relevant to the appropriateness of regulating power plants.”

“EPA’s decision to regulate power plants under §7412 allowed the Agency to reduce power plants’ emissions of hazardous air pollutants and thus to improve public health and the environment. But the decision also ultimately cost power plants, according to the Agency’s own estimate, nearly $10 billion a year. EPA refused to consider whether the costs of its decision outweighed the benefits. The Agency gave cost no thought at all, because it considered cost irrelevant to its initial decision to regulate.”

Justice Elena Kagan wrote for the minority that “the majority’s decision that EPA cannot take the same approach here — its micromanagement of EPA’s rulemaking, based on little more than the word ‘appropriate’ — runs counter to Congress’s allocation of authority between the Agency and the courts.”

Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) called it vindication.

“The Supreme Court delivered a much-needed win for American businesses and families. As noted by SCOTUS, the Obama administration failed to consider the impacts of EPA’s regulatory agenda on the nation’s economy,” Inhofe said. “I applaud the court’s decision to put a halt to reckless rule making that does not take into account commonsense considerations, such as cost.”

“This serves as a reminder that the agency should be implementing laws written by Congress, instead of rewriting those laws to fit the president’s extreme environmental agenda,” he added. “While the ruling is certainly a victory, EPA even acknowledges the negative economic costs that have already occurred including the premature closure of coal plants and thousands of lost jobs. EPA’s actions have far-reaching consequences, even when they are the result of unauthorized actions. The Courts must keep this in mind as the agency approaches finalization of its so-called Clean Power Plan.”

Sen. David Vitter (R-La.), former ranking member of the committee, noted the agency “has a poor track record of blatantly producing bogus cost-benefit analyses to justify their rules.”

“I’ve been pushing EPA to use the best available science and data in current and future-rulemaking,” said Vitter. “While today’s Supreme Court ruling is a step in the right direction, there’s still much more that needs to be done to ensure EPA’s mistakes during the rulemaking process do not decrease electricity reliability and greatly increase the cost of energy for low-income families and senior citizens – which is exactly what this mercury rule will do.”

“The Supreme Court made it clear: EPA can no longer ignore the costs of its reckless agenda,” American Energy Alliance President Thomas Pyle said in a statement. “This decision shows that states should resist EPA’s calls to submit plans for the upcoming climate rule, which will impose enormous economic burdens on the American people for little, if any, environmental gain.”

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Should New York Town Take Down Its Indian-Wrestling Seal?

Monday, June 29th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

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Dissent is gaining traction on social media against the longtime seal of a village on the road between Syracuse and Albany.

Whitesboro, N.Y., with a population under 4,000, was founded by Hugh White — who is immortalized on the village’s seal fighting with an Oneida chief.

According to the history page of Whitesboro’s website:

Most of the Oneida tribe of Indians had maintained their professions of friendship for the white man in an honorable manner. Judge White, as a frontier settler along the Sauquoit Creek, was required to exercise much diplomacy in dealing with his red neighbors. He soon acquired their good will and was fortunate to inspire them with very exalted ideas of his character. An incident that occurred between an Oneida Indian and Hugh White sealed a lasting friendship and confidence. An Oneida Indian of rather athletic form was one day present at the White’s house with several of his companions and at length for fun commenced wrestling. After many trials, the chief became conqueror and he came up to Hugh White and challanged him. White dared not risk being brow beaten by an Indian nor did he want to be called a coward. In early manhood, he had been a wrestler, but of late felt he was out of practice. He felt conscious of personal strength and he concluded that even should he be thrown, that would be the lesser of two evils in the eyes of the Oneida Indians than to acquire the reputation of cowardice by declining. He accepted the challenge, took hold of the Indian and by a fortunate trip, succeeded almost instantly in throwing him. As he saw him falling, in order to prevent another challenge, he fell upon the Indian for an instant and it was some moments before he could rise. When the Indian finally rose, he shrugged his shoulders and was said to have muttered “UGH”, you good fellow too much”. Hugh White became a hero in the eyes of the Oneida Indians. This incident made more manifest the respect of the Indian for White. In all ways, White dealt fairly with the Oneida tribe and gained their confidence, which brought about good-will.

But the seal has come under scrutiny before:

In 1963, the Seal was re-designed by local artist, Gerald E. Pugh, to commemorate the Village’s Sesquicentennial. In an article of the Observer Dispatch, written by Joe Kelly in 1977, a notice of claim was filed with the Village Board saying the seal depicts a “white man choking an Indian” and said the seal demeans, disgraces and creates prejudice and distrust of Indian people. He asked the Village to stop displaying the seal. As a result of this, the seal was re-designed with Hugh White’s hands being placed on the Indian’s shoulders and not so close to his neck. The wrestling match was an important event in the history of the settling of the Village of Whitesboro and helped foster good relations between White and the Indians. The new version is displayed on Village trucks, highway equipment, letterheads and documents.

And now it’s under fresh scrutiny since Confederate flags started coming down:

 

 

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Kasich to Jump in Presidential Race July 21, Stress Need for More Empathetic Nation

Monday, June 29th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Ohio Gov. John Kasich is planning to jump into the presidential ring in an announcement with a July 21 announcement at his alma mater, Ohio State.

Kasich, 63, has been governor since 2011, and served in Congress for 18 years including as chairman of the House Budget Committee. He took at stab at a White House run in 2000, then went to work as a managing director at Lehman Brothers and as a Fox News commentator.

On Sunday, he told CBS’ Face the Nation that “the whole country needs more empathy,” not just his party.

“I think it’s been a disappearing value… if you’re developmentally disabled, we want you to be mainstreamed as much as possible. If you’re mentally ill, we want you to get your medication so you can stand and lead a good life,” Kasich said. “The same is true with rehabbing prisoners. We’ve been able to help people who are drug addicted to come out of prison and have only a 10 percent recidivism rate. That’s what unifies the country.”

“And you know, where people are losing here is a little bit of an erosion of the spirit. Does the American dream work? Do I have an opportunity to become something special? And I think that, if we in fact can convince people that everyone’s included, that everybody has an opportunity to rise, based on a growing economy, America’s stronger and not divided.”

The governor stressed it’s a conservative value to mind the Old and New Testaments and care for the poor and disadvantaged.

“There are divisions between rich and poor and black and white, and we can fix these things if everybody feels they have an opportunity to rise,” he said. “And that’s kind of my philosophy.”

On the Supreme Court’s same-sex marriage ruling, Kasich said, “we need to take a deep breath.”

“Look, I believe in traditional marriage, but the Supreme Court has ruled, and it’s the law of the land, and we’ll abide by it. And I think everybody needs to take a deep breath to see how this evolves,” he said. “But I know this, I mean, religious institutions, religious entities, you know, like the Catholic Church, they need to be honored as well. And I think there’s an ability to strike a balance.”

Kasich had an explanation for his currently low poll numbers: “Because I came into this office to take care of our beloved Ohio. I didn’t travel outside the state… What I wanted to do was fix Ohio.”

“So we went from $8 billion in the hole to a $2 billion surplus to a balanced budget, the largest tax cuts in the country and growing 360,000 jobs with everyone having a chance. Now I can go out and tell my story. And hopefully, the polls will rise. We’ll see. I’ll do my best. That’s all I can do.”

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Huckabee: People Should ‘Go the Path’ of MLK-Style Civil Disobedience After Marriage Ruling

Monday, June 29th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson
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GOP presidential candidate and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee said conservatives need to pattern civil disobedience after the nation’s great civil-rights hero in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision legalizing same-sex marriage.

Huckabee told ABC on Sunday that he was “moved” by the words of plaintiff Jim Obergefell, who wanted to be listed as the surviving spouse of the man he married in Maryland after they moved to Ohio.

“We’ve always been a nation of law. We’re now a nation of men,” Huckabee argued. “What happened this week is so brilliantly pointed out by Justice Scalia is that this was not done through the legislative process. This was done through a court edict of five unelected lawyers, a part of a committee, who decided that they knew better than the legislators who actually get to make law, that they know better than the people who voted in over 30 states to affirm traditional marriage.”

“This case wasn’t so much about a matter of marriage equality, it was marriage redefinition. And I think people have to say, if you’re going to have a new celebration that we’re not going to discriminate, may I ask, are we going to now discriminate against people of conscience, people of faith who may disagree with this ruling. Are they going to be forced, either out of business, like the florist, the caterers, the photographers, like the CEO of Mozilla, who was run out of his job because of a personal contribution to support a proposition in California that actually won on the ballot.”

When asked if he was going to call for civil disobedience to the ruling, Huckabee replied, “I don’t think a lot of pastors and Christian schools are going to have a choice.”

“They either are going to follow God, their conscience and what they truly believe is what the scripture teaches them, or they will follow civil law. They will go the path of Dr. Martin Luther King, who in his brilliant essay the letters from a Birmingham jail reminded us, based on what St. Augustine said, that an unjust law is no law at all. And I do think that we’re going to see a lot of pastors who will have to make this tough decision. You’re going to see it on the part of Christian business owners. You’ll see it on the part of Christian university presidents, Christian school administrators,” he said.

Huckabee added that he’s “not sure that every governor and every attorney general should just say, well, it’s the law of the land because there’s no enabling legislation.”

“Let me just ask people on the left. If we get a future court that is conservative and that conservative court decides that this was a mistake and we’re going to go back to traditional marriage and we’re also going to say that every unborn people is in fact a person and is – is absolutely guaranteed due process and therefore we would strike down the idea of abortion from conception forward, is the left going to be OK to let the Supreme Court make that decision?” he asked.

“…When the president lit up the White House the other night with rainbow colors, I guess that’s his prerogative. If I become president, I just want to remind people that please don’t complain if I were to put a nativity scene out during Christmas and say, you know, if it’s my house, I get to do with it what I wish despite what other people around the country may feel about it.”

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ISIS Is Using These Talking Points to Lure Taliban to Their Side

Monday, June 29th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

The ISIS creep into Afghanistan now has an official PR strategy for luring Taliban fighters over to the side of the Islamic State.

Black ISIS flags are being raised in Afghan villages and casualties from firefights have included foreign fighters from places such as Turkey, Chechnya, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, the Kunduz governor said recently. However, the relationship between the Taliban and ISIS has been strained to the point of open warfare in the streets and the Taliban arresting a former commander of theirs, Maulvi Abbas, for switching to ISIS.

In eastern Nangarhar province, ISIS distributed warning fliers to homes warning “women are not allowed to leave their homes without wearing a Burqa and without any Sharia excuse,” according to provincial council member Obaidullah Shenwari last week, and warning elders “not resolve their issues through holding local Jirga [council] but to resolve through Daesh leadership.”

Yesterday, ISIS supporters online were distributing a testimonial — “Why I Left Taliban” — reportedly from a member of a tribe based in Paktia, Khost and Paktika who found the former rulers of Afghanistan to be corrupt and un-Islamic — thus paving the way for ISIS growth among the country’s Islamists.

“I found that they were not serious about Sharia or establishing Caliphate but were aiming at on how to re-sit on the seat of power in Kabul at any cost,” writes the member, identifying himself as Abu Talut Al-Khurasani.

“I can not confirm but many brothers in Taliban told me at one instance when Mullah Omar was consulted on the matter, he suggested that Taliban should pledge allegiance to Islamic State to hold unity between Muslims but were met with disagreements by other senior members in Taliban. I got the idea that the worst is coming and planned my exit from Taliban with other brothers. We couldn’t remain silent on this injustice and treachery against 1.9 billion Muslim by Taliban.”

The testimonial then provides bulleted talking points for Taliban thinking of switching allegiance to the Islamic State, including “most Taliban are racist bigots” against groups such as Uzbeks and Taliban “who under disguise of Jihad work for the supremacy of Pashtuns in Afghanistan.”

Many of the talking points center around the Taliban’s motivation and operations, and recognition of bodies such as the United Nations and European Union:

  • “Taliban never intended to take their Jihad around the world but are nationalistic movement that seeks to overthrow Kabul regime.”
  • “Taliban do not believe in Caliphate and defending Muslims cause around the world.”
  •  ”Taliban fools Al-Qaeda members with hope that they will be their partner in their Global Jihad.”
  • “Taliban believe in diplomacy, politics and compromise even if they have to step over Islamic principles and sharia.”
  • “Taliban don’t recognize Muslim Caliphate established by Islamic State.”
  • “Some Taliban senior leaders and members work for ISI and military intelligence.”
  • “Taliban depend on the Pakistani scholars for fund and support and recuritment of martyrdom seekers, these are the same scholars that occupy seat in Pakistani Parliament.”

The Taliban are also slammed for recognizing international borders and sovereign Gulf states, and not hating Shiites as much as ISIS does.

But the talking points also throw out something else for jihadis to chew on: what if they really have no leader?

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Defense Secretary Gave This Answer to U.S. Soldier Who Asked for Plan Against Boko Haram and Al-Shabaab

Friday, June 26th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Defense Secretary Ashton Carter was addressing members of the U.S. Army stationed in Grafenwoehr, Germany, today when he got a terrorism question from a soldier.

“Sir, I’d like to know, what is the Department of Defense plan of action when it comes to the increasing threat posed by Al-Shabaab and Boko Haram in West Africa?” an Army specialist asked.

“Yeah. Both Boko Haram and Al-Shabaab are serious terrorist organizations,” Carter replied. “They are — are — terrorize not only their own countries, but the continent of Africa. And this is one of these things that if you leave it unchecked, it will go worldwide, including to the United States. So it’s a real concern to us.”

Shabaab has been recruiting in the United States for years, including among the Somali community. A former Beltway cabbie, Liban Haji Mohamed, was placed on the FBI’s Most Wanted Terrorists list in January for recruiting for Shabaab in Northern Virginia. A new Shabaab video released this month shows white fighters in the Somali terror group.

“Some of them, as we see elsewhere around the world, are renaming themselves, taking — taking the ISIS brand or some of the ISIS playbook and trying to modernize themselves. Because both those groups have been around for a while,” Carter continued.

Boko Haram formally pledged allegiance to ISIS in March.

“But they’re cruel. They’ll stop at nothing. And our — and we are in the fight against them. Our principal way of doing that is to help others who are either the African nations, which we — where we try to help train and equip and so forth their militaries better to deal with that,” Carter said. “And in some cases, we’re helping allies — the French, for example, on the African continent, to combat these groups.”

“But you know, make no mistake, they’re — they’re as dangerous as terrorists in the Middle East. They just happen to be in Africa, but what they do to people and what they’re prepared to do to people, what their aspirations are, are not really very different.”

Nigeria has asked for greater help fighting Boko Haram. The U.S. has offered some aid but has been critical of what it says are human rights violations committed by Nigerian forces hunting down Boko Haram members.

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Obama: Country Must Fight ‘Impulse to Call Johnny Back for a Job Interview But Not Jamal’

Friday, June 26th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

President Obama delivered the euology for slain pastor and South Carolina state Sen. Clementa Pinckney with thoughts on racism today and a rendition of “Amazing Grace.”

Obama admitted he didn’t know Pinckney well, but said the legislator “encouraged progress not by pushing his ideas alone but by seeking out your ideas, partnering with you to make things happen.”

The accused shooter at the Emanuel AME Church, Dylann Roof, committed “an act that drew on a long history of bombs and arson and shots fired at churches, not random but as a means of control, a way to terrorize and oppress, an act that he imagined would incite fear and recrimination, violence and suspicion, an act that he presumed would deepen divisions that trace back to our nation’s original sin,” the president said.

“Blinded by hatred, he failed to comprehend what Reverend Pinckney so well understood — the power of God’s grace,” he said, adding “this whole week, I’ve been reflecting on this idea of grace.”

“We may not have earned this grace with our rancor and complacency and short-sightedness and fear of each other, but we got it all the same… For too long, we were blind to the pain that the Confederate Flag stirred into many of our citizens. It’s true a flag did not cause these murders. But as people from all walks of life, Republicans and Democrats, now acknowledge, including Governor Haley, whose recent eloquence on the subject is worthy of praise, as we all have to acknowledge, the flag has always represented more than just ancestral pride. For many, black and white, that flag was a reminder of systemic oppression and racial subjugation.”

Removing the Confederate flag from the grounds of South Carolina’s capital, Obama argued, “would not be an act of political correctness. It would not an insult to the valor of Confederate soldiers. It would simply be acknowledgement that the cause for which they fought, the cause of slavery, was wrong. The imposition of Jim Crow after the Civil War, the resistance to civil rights for all people was wrong.”

But, the president continued, “I don’t think God wants us to stop there” at just taking flags down.

“Perhaps it causes us to examine what we’re doing to cause some of our children to hate. Perhaps it softens hearts towards those lost young men, tens and tens of thousands caught up in the criminal-justice system and lead us to make sure that that system’s not infected with bias, that we embrace changes in how we train and equip our police so that the bonds of trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve make us all safer and more secure,” he said.

“Maybe we now realize the way a racial bias can infect us even when we don’t realize it so that we’re guarding against not just racial slurs but we’re also guarding against the subtle impulse to call Johnny back for a job interview but not Jamal, so that we search our hearts when we consider laws to make it harder for some of our fellow citizens to vote.”

Obama also resurrected his calls for more gun control, stressing “for too long, we’ve been blind to the unique mayhem that gun violence inflicts upon this nation.”

“The vast majority of Americans, the majority of gun owners want to do something about this. We see that now,” he said. “And I’m convinced that by acknowledging the pain and loss of others, even as we respect the traditions, ways of life that make up this beloved country, by making the moral choice to change, we express God’s grace.”

The president added it would “be a betrayal of everything Reverend Pinckney stood for, I believe, if we allow ourselves to slip into a comfortable silence again.”

“Once the eulogies have been delivered, once the TV cameras move on, to go back to business as usual. That’s what we so often do to avoid uncomfortable truths about the prejudice that still infects our society.”

Southern history, Obama added, “can’t be a sword to justify injustice or a shield against progress. It must be a manual for how to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past, how to break the cycle, a roadway toward a better world…. That’s what I felt this week — an open heart. That more than any particular policy or analysis is what’s called upon right now, I think.”

Obama then broke into singing “Amazing Grace,” with the organ player at the capacity service joining in.

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Obama: Gay Marriage Proponents Should ‘Revere Our Deep Commitment to Religious Freedom’

Friday, June 26th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

President Obama lauded today’s 5-4 ruling at the Supreme Court in favor of same-sex marriage as a civil rights victory while the White House Twitter avatar — and Valerie Jarrett’s — went rainbow.

The “slow, steady effort” of activists was “rewarded with justice that arrives like a thunderbolt,” he said in Rose Garden remarks.

Obama said in 2004 that he didn’t believe marriage was a civil right, and expressed opposition to same-sex marriage over the next several years until his self-described “evolution.”

“This ruling will strengthen all of our communities by offering to all loving same-sex couples the dignity of marriage across this great land,” he said today. “In my second inaugural address, I said that if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well. It is gratifying to see that principle enshrined into law by this decision.”

The president gave himself a back-pat for refusing to defend the Defense of Marriage Act in court and for ending “Don’t ask, don’t tell.”

“I know that Americans of good will continue to hold a wide range of views on this issue. Opposition, in some cases, has been based on sincere and deeply held beliefs. All of us who welcome today’s news should be mindful of that fact and recognize different viewpoints, revere our deep commitment to religious freedom,” Obama said.

“But today should also give us hope that on the many issues with which we grapple, often painfully, real change is possible. Shift in hearts and minds is possible. And those who have come so far on their journey to equality have a responsibility to reach back and help others join them, because for all of our differences, we are one people, stronger together than we could ever be alone. That’s always been our story.”

Obama said the people who worked toward marriage equality “slowly made an entire country realize that love is love.”

“What an extraordinary achievement, but what a vindication of the belief that ordinary people can do extraordinary things; what a reminder of what Bobby Kennedy once said about how small actions can be like pebbles being thrown into a still lake, and ripples of hope cascade outwards and change the world,” he said.

“Those countless, often anonymous heroes, they deserve our thanks. They should be very proud. America should be very proud.”

 

 

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Menendez to Kerry: Hey, Did You Happen to Notice All Those Red Lines from the Ayatollah?

Friday, June 26th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) dropped a line to Secretary of State John Kerry, who landed in Vienna today for the final Iran nuclear negotiations ahead of a Tuesday deadline, to see if the top diplomat just happened to notice Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s red lines.

Khamenei’s speech on state television, which was tweeted to the English-speaking audience, demanded that “all financial and economic sanctions imposed by the U.N. Security Council, the U.S. Congress or the U.S. government should be lifted immediately when we sign a nuclear agreement,” that “inspection of our military sites is out of the question and is one of our red lines,” and that freezing Iranian research and development “for a long time, like 10 or 12 years, is not acceptable.”

Only days before, Menendez noted to Kerry, the Iranian parliament voted to ban access to military sites, documents and scientists as part of any future deal with the P5+1 countries.

“These demands are unacceptable – they presuppose that the government of Iran will act in good faith, when it has shown itself in the past to be an untrustworthy negotiating partner,” Menendez wrote. “The Iranian regime had spent decades deceiving the international community, it stands in violation of its international commitments, and it continues to deny the International Atomic Energy Agency access to its facilities and answers to questions about its nuclear-related military activities.”

“Given Iran’s past deceptions, the restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program must not be lifted until the Iranian regime has demonstrably met their obligations under any prospective deal. Furthermore, significant limitations on research and development and resolution of military dimensions of Iran’s program, through access to scientists, documents and places and anytime, anywhere inspections are critical to the viability of a nuclear agreement with Iran.”

Menendez reminded Kerry that the secretary of State has repeatedly said “no deal is better than a bad deal.”

“A deal that allows sanctions to be lifted before Iran’s government meets their obligations, without intrusive inspections to safeguard against a continued covert nuclear program, and that leaves Iran as a threshold nuclear state, is a bad deal that threatens the national security of America and our allies, and must be rejected,” said the senator, who has been a thorn in the administration’s side leading Democrats against any deal that gives dangerous concessions to the Islamic Republic.

“I ask that you clarify whether these newly-imposed Iranian conditions are understood to be objectives that must be met at the P5+1 negotiations for any agreement to be achieved. If Iranian negotiators intend to adhere to the provisions demanded by Ayatollah Khamenei and Iran’s parliament, I urge you to suspend the current negotiations with Iran.”

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New al-Qaeda Magazine Warns of ‘New Pearl Harbor’ with ‘Game-Changer’ Military Strategy

Friday, June 26th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Al-Qaeda relatively new — yet gruesomely active — chapter in southeast Asia debuted the second edition of its English-language magazine today, with slain American jihadist Adam Gadahn as the cover boy and occupying nearly every one of its 92 pages.

It also included a warning about what al-Qaeda sees at a “game-changer” in future attacks.

Al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent dubs their magazine Resurgence — just as long and slick as al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula’s Inspire, which has inspired American jihadists with tutorials such as the pressure-cooker bomb directions used by the Boston Marathon bombers.

AQIS’s special summer issue is dedicated to the longtime al-Qaeda operative Gadahn, who was killed in a U.S. airstrike earlier this year, and other recently killed al-Qaeda members including AQIS deputy emir Ahmad Farooq, who have “increased our resolve to carry on the mission” for which they “sacrificed” their lives.

It also raises the death of USAID contractor Warren Weinstein, a longtime al-Qaeda hostage killed in January in a U.S. drone strike. President Obama admitted the strike a few months later.

“By intentionally killing its own citizen (Dr. Weinstein), the American government has once again proved itself to be a stubborn and arrogant enemy of Islam which prefers the assassination of its citizen to the release of a single innocent Muslim woman being unjustly held in American captivity: Dr. Aafia Siddiqui,” the magazine writes, noting the “Lady al-Qaeda” who has also been sought by ISIS in exchange for slain hostage James Foley.

“Not only is Obama responsible for the politically motivated killings of Dr. Weinstein and [Italian hostage] Lo Porto, he is also deceiving his nation by claiming that this was ‘accidental’. We don’t have any doubt that the criminal silence of the American government regarding Dr. Weinstein and its refusal to negotiate the terms of his release were motivated by the desire to see him dead, even if this should necessitate an ‘inadvertent’ drone strike which could be used to explain away his killing as a ‘tragic accident’.”

They claim Weinstein was treated well by al-Qaeda, with a “sumptuous diet” including “salmon on a daily basis.” They also claimed that al-Qaeda spent 80,000 rupees a month on 73-year-old Weinstein’s heart medicines and dietary needs.

The magazine hails Gadahn’s “contribution to Jihadi media” as “undoubtedly one of the major achievements of his life.”

“It would hardly be an exaggeration to say that he was a one-man media team; script-writing, recording, translating, dubbing, editing, and producing speeches and documentaries on his own. His ability to improvise and make the best of available resources was remarkable.”

The magazine claims Gadahn was almost captured alive in Karachi on two occasions. Gadahn moved to Pakistan from Southern California in 1998, and Resurgence claims that 9/11 hijacker Hani Hanjour asked him about U.S. airline security in 1999.

The rest of the issue features a massive interview with Gadahn in which he talks about being homeschooled because “there is no doubting the facts that schools—particularly American public schools—are one of the leading causes of the corruption of children’s minds, values, morals, manners and health.”

“Don’t forget, it’s the American school system which considers pizza to be a vegetable, men and apes to be descended from a common ancestor, and sex outside marriage to be OK as long as it’s ‘safe’!” Gadahn said in a pages-long argument for homeschooling. “So protecting us from such evils and negative influences is probably the main reason my parents didn’t send me or my siblings to school.”

He said he was introduced to Islam through his counterculture parents dabbling in every religion as he grew up. Gadahn said his full conversion didn’t cause any “real problems” with his family, except when his grandfather asked him to fetch some beer.

Gadahn spoke of meeting Muslims with an “affinity for jihad” in Southern California, including the local Muslim Brotherhood and “Jama’at-i-Islami-type brothers who were affiliated with a nationwide organization called ICNA (Islamic Circle of North America).” He said his “turn to jihad” began in 1996.

“I think I was motivated by two things in particular which are common to almost all those who mobilize: the urge to help and defend persecuted and oppressed Muslims wherever they might be, and the urge to help in the establishment of the Islamic state,” Gadahn says. “…Frankly, I was afraid that if I remained in America I would sooner or later leave my religion.”

Gadahn returned to the U.S. for a year after his initial training, and admits he was tempted to conduct a terrorist attack.

“When I heard Clinton—the American president—announce that American forces had carried
out missile strikes against camps run by Shaykh Usama (pronounced ‘Yu-sama’ by the hillbilly in the White House), I was overcome by rage and actually considered taking my grandfather’s gun and opening fire at some of the local government buildings (the Santa Ana, California federal building and courthouse, in particular), but since the gun in question was nothing more than a .22 caliber revolver, I quickly decided against it, which was probably for the better, because if I had gone ahead with the idea, it would have been a low-casualty, low-impact operation (to say the least).”

Gadahn explained he held onto his American passport to help facilitate “jihad work,” and urged jihadists to not burn theirs “out of misguided zeal and optimism.” However, he did tear up his passport in a 2007 video. By that time, he noted, he couldn’t travel on it anyway.

He also outlined what still distinguishes al-Qaeda from other terrorist groups: “its global/international reach and membership,” “its focus on fighting America, the Crusader West and the Jews,” “its lack of a written ‘aqeedah (doctrine/creed) or manhaj (methodology) which every prospective member has to agree to before joining,” “its recognition of the importance of public relations for the Mujahideen and of winning and preserving popular support of the Muslim masses,” and “its particularly close ties with
the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan [Taliban].”

Gadahn also slammed ISIS: “It has become clear that there are elements in this group—and in its senior leadership—who have little or no respect for the sanctity of Muslim life, and for whom declaring a Muslim to be outside the fold of Islam and spilling his blood is as easy as saying ‘al-Salaamu ‘Alaykum’!” He said they’ve deviated from the teachings and methodology of al-Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and violated Ayman al-Zawahiri’s “General Guidelines for Jihadi Work.”

“…The important thing I want all our brothers and sisters to remember is that if this ‘caliphate’ is defeated or destroyed or reaches a dead end, or if they see this ‘caliphate’ do things which no Muslim can support or condone, it in no way means a failure or setback for the noble and legitimate goal of restoring the Caliphate, because simply put, this self-appointed ‘caliphate’ is not the Caliphate for which generations of Mujahideen and martyrs have been working.”

Gadahan advised would-be jihadists thinking of running off to join the Islamic State to instead “carry out armed attacks against the enemies at home.”

He called a recent plot by Pakistani naval officers to attack American ships at the behest of al-Qaeda “a real game-changer.”

“It’s just a matter of time before the lions of Allah make good on their threats and carry out a new Pearl Harbor, with all that entails in terms of devastating consequences for what is euphemistically called ‘international stability’ (read Crusader hegemony),” Gadahn says.

“The use of domestic weaponry and machinery to attack targets of the Crusaders, Zionists and their allies—and the ease with which it could be adopted and imitated by others serving in all branches of the military, not just the Pakistani military but also other militaries in the region and world.”

He notes that the Pakistani officers weren’t al-Qaeda when they joined but were won over. “There is no shame or harm in failing: rather, the real shame and loss is in not trying. The story of Jihad is a story of successes followed by failures and failures followed by successes, and who knows: perhaps history will eventually remember this operation the same way it remembers the first attempt to bring down the World Trade Center.”

Gadahn’s message to Muslims: “While our enemies are evil and depraved, they aren’t stupid, and when choosing the targets of their aggression, they usually start with the weakest links in the chain, which are the peaceful and pacifistic types.”

Thus, he said, “hurry up and join the caravan” of jihad.

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Justice Kennedy: Same-Sex Marriage Bans Violate Equal Protection, ‘Harm and Humiliate Children’

Friday, June 26th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Same-sex marriage is legal nationwide after the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that prohibiting gay unions was similar to prohibiting interracial marriage.

“The Court has long held the right to marry is protected by the Constitution,” Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for the opinion. “For example, Loving v. Virginia, 388 U.S. 1, 12, invalidated bans on interracial unions, and Turner v. Safley, 482 U. S. 78, 95, held that prisoners could not be denied the right to marry.”

Kennedy wrote that four principles “demonstrate that the reasons marriage is fundamental under the Constitution apply with equal force to same-sex couples.”

“The first premise of this Court’s relevant precedents is that the right to personal choice regarding marriage is inherent in the concept of individual autonomy… A second principle in this Court’s jurisprudence is that the right to marry is fundamental because it supports a two-person union unlike any other in its importance to the committed individuals,” he said.

“A third basis for protecting the right to marry is that it safeguards children and families and thus draws meaning from related rights of childrearing, procreation, and education,” and current marriage laws “harm and humiliate the children of same-sex couple.” Plus, the justice added, the right to marry is not “less meaningful for those who do not or cannot have children.”

“Precedent protects the right of a married couple not to procreate, so the right to marry cannot be conditioned on the capacity or commitment to procreate.”

Finally, Kennedy opines, “this Court’s cases and the Nation’s traditions make clear that marriage is a keystone of the Nation’s social order… it is demeaning to lock same-sex couples out of a central institution of the Nation’s society, for they too may aspire to the transcendent purposes of marriage.”

The right of same-sex couples to marry is also enshrined in the 14th Amendment, he added, with current marriage laws causing “a grave and continuing harm, serving to disrespect and subordinate gays and lesbians.”

“Since same-sex couples may now exercise the fundamental right to marry in all States, there is no lawful basis for a State to refuse to recognize a lawful same-sex marriage performed in another State on the ground of its same-sex character.”

Dissenting justices John Roberts, Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Sam Alito each wrote their own opinions, offering slightly different reasons for their objection.

Scalia said he wrote his own opinion, given a stamp of approval by Thomas, “to call attention to this Court’s threat to American democracy.”

“The substance of today’s decree is not of immense personal importance to me. The law can recognize as marriage whatever sexual attachments and living arrangements it wishes, and can accord them favorable civil consequences, from tax treatment to rights of inheritance Those civil consequences—and the public approval that conferring the name of marriage evidences—can perhaps have adverse social effects, but no more adverse than the effects of many other controversial laws,” Scalia wrote. “So it is not of special importance to me what the law says about marriage.”

“It is of overwhelming importance, however, who it is that rules me. Today’s decree says that my Ruler, and the Ruler of 320 million Americans coast-to-coast, is a majority of the nine lawyers on the Supreme Court. The opinion in these cases is the furthest extension in fact-and the furthest extension one can even imagine—of the Court’s claimed power to create ‘liberties’ that the Constitution and its Amendments neglect to mention.”

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Hillary Loyalist McCaskill: But Don’t You Guys Know How Socialist Bernie Is??

Thursday, June 25th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson
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Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) expressed frustration that the media isn’t talking about just how far to the left Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) exists.

An avowed Clinton supporter, McCaskill charged on MSNBC that “the media is giving Bernie a pass right now.”

“I very rarely read in any coverage of Bernie that he’s a socialist,” she added of her Senate colleague.

“I think everybody wants a fight and I think they are not really giving the same scrutiny to Bernie Sanders that they’re giving certainly to Hillary Clinton and the other candidates. She’s gonna win this as soon as I think they begin treating him like a serious candidate instead of ‘oh my gosh, it’s so great we’ve got a fight in the Democratic Party!’”

“Any other candidate that had the numbers that Hillary Clinton has right now would be talked about as absolutely untouchable, and all of a sudden ‘oh, Bernie, Bernie, Bernie!’” McCaskill continued. “I think Bernie is too liberal to gather enough votes in this country to become president. And I think Hillary Clinton is going to be a fantastic president.”

Sanders got to fire back later on Bloomberg. “I find it surprising that she says the media doesn’t refer to me as a socialist — there’s no article I’ve seen that doesn’t refer to me as a democratic socialist.”

“To my knowledge this is the first time a colleague has attacked me; you’ll have to ask Sen. McCaskill why.”

This could be why: Sanders is gaining on Clinton in both New Hampshire and Iowa.

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Cruz: Any GOP Candidate Who Doesn’t Make 2016 a Referendum on Obamacare Should Drop Out Now

Thursday, June 25th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

After today’s Supreme Court ruling in favor of Obamacare subsidies, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) declared that the 2016 election will be a referendum on Obamacare and any candidate who disagrees should drop out.

“Every GOP candidate for the Republican nomination should know that this decision makes the 2016 election a referendum on the full repeal of Obamacare,” Cruz said in a lengthy statement today.

“I have made repeal of this disastrous law a top priority since the first day I arrived in the Senate and have made its repeal central to my campaign,” the freshman senator said. “Any candidate not willing to do the same—and campaign on it every day—should step aside.”

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), another freshman vying for the White House, told CNN that he wants to reform Obamacare, but it’s “hard because we don’t have the leverage.”

“If we had the leverage where the president had to revisit this because part of it had been struck down, then we would have the leverage to force the president to revisit it,” Paul said.

“We have majorities and so we can bring it up and we can pass legislation, but getting the president to actually do something about it and actually have the leverage to get him to perhaps sign something that would change Obamacare, I think we’ve lost that leverage.”

The third freshman senator running for president, Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), issued a statement: “I disagree with the Court’s ruling and believe they have once again erred in trying to correct the mistakes made by President Obama and Congress in forcing Obamacare on the American people.”

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ISIS Attacks Liberated Kobane as Accusations Fly About Terrorists’ Turkey Access

Thursday, June 25th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

ISIS fighters have attacked the border city of Kobane, which had been liberated by a Kurdish offensive and supportive coalition airstrikes in January.

Reports say there have already been multiple casualties in a village near Kobane, including the slaughter of Syrian Kurdish women and children.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said ISIS attacked after 5 a.m. “from three directions inside the city.”

“Displaced people from the village of Barkh Botan informed SOHR that IS executed some citizens from the village.”

“During intense fighting near the city’s border gate at least 15 attackers have been confirmed killed, while a member of the terrorists has been captured alive,” the Kurdish YPG forces said in a statement a few hours ago. “For now, clashes continue within an extent where the terrorists encounter a total blockade by the Defense Units.”

A major source of anger today was exactly how ISIS attacked.

Word quickly spread that ISIS attacked the border city from the Turkish side of the border. Turkey’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Tanju Bilgiç called the claims “lies.”

Figen Yuksekdağ, the co-leader of the Kurdish issue-focused Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) that stunned the Islamist AKP party in parliamentary elections, said Ankara has “supported ISIL for years. Today’s massacre is a part of this support.”

A YPG spokesman told the Telegraph that “the primary information and the eye witnesses say that they entered from Turkey but officially we don’t have confirmed information yet.”

Later, that same spokesman told Reuters that the attackers entered the town from the west, not the north, and were also disguised in Free Syrian Army uniforms. “They opened fire randomly on everyone they found,” he said.

Another activists in the city told the Telegraph that not only did ISIS cross into Kobane from Turkey, but were disguised in YPG uniforms.

The Obama administration have hailed Kobane as a success story in the battle against ISIS. In April, Vice President Joe Biden said Kobane was “proving ISIL can be beaten inside of Syria, as well.”

 

 

 

 

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Obama Takes Victory Lap: ‘This Law Is Working Better Than We Expected’

Thursday, June 25th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

President Obama emerged in the Rose Garden for a victory lap after the Supreme Court rule in favor of Obamacare subsidies, declaring that his signature law “set this country on a smarter, stronger course.”

“And today, after more than 50 votes in Congress to repeal or weaken this law, after a presidential election based in part on preserving or repealing this law, after multiple challenges to this law before the Supreme Court, the Affordable Care Act is here to stay,” Obama said, with Vice President Joe Biden at his side.

“This is not an abstract thing anymore. This is not a set of political talking points. This is reality. We can see how it is working. This law is working exactly as it’s supposed to. In many ways, this law is working better than we expected it to.”

Obama added that “for all the misinformation campaigns, all the Doomsday predictions, all the talk of death panels and job disruption, for all the repeal attempts, this law is now helping tens of millions of Americans, and they have told me that it has changed their lives for the better.”

“…This law is working. And it’s going to keep doing just that. Five years in, this is no longer about a law. This is not about the Affordable Care Act as legislation or Obamacare as a political football. This is health care in America.”

The president lamented that “unlike Social Security or Medicare, a lot of Americans still don’t know what Obamacare is beyond all the political noise in Washington.”

“Across the country, there remain people who are directly benefiting from the law but don’t even know it. And that’s OK. There’s no card that says ‘Obamacare’ when you enroll,” he said. “But that’s by design, for this has never been a government takeover of health care, despite cries to the contrary.”

“…We chose to write a new chapter where, in a new economy, Americans are free to change their jobs or start a business, chase a new idea, raise a family free from fear, secure in the knowledge that portable, affordable health care is there for us and always will be and that if we get sick, we’re not going to lose our home, that if we get sick, that we’re going to be able to still look after our families. That’s when America soars, when we look out for one another and we take care of each other, when we root for one another’s success, when we strive to do better and to be better than the generation that came before us and try to build something better for generations to come.”

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‘A Loss for the Constitution’: GOP Vows to Keep at Obamacare Repeals, Make It 2016 Issue

Thursday, June 25th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Republicans unleashed on the Supreme Court’s 6-3 decision in favor of Obamacare subsidies, with Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) calling it “a loss for the Constitution and … an egregious expansion of executive power.”

“The language of the Affordable Care Act could not have been more clear or limiting in its scope, applying only to exchanges established by the states. The Supreme Court has now taken the incredibly illogical leap of deciding that the words ‘exchanges established by the states’ should also mean ‘exchanges not established by the states,’” Issa said. “This decision weakens Congress’ ability to constrain the executive branch and amounts to handing President Obama a $4 trillion check to spend as he sees fit, contrary to Congress’ and the states’ clearly expressed wishes.”

While not committing to what the next steps from a GOP-majority Congress might be, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said on the floor today that “today’s ruling won’t change Obamacare’s multitude of broken promises, including the one that resulted in millions of Americans losing the coverage they had and wanted to keep.”

“The politicians who forced Obamacare on the American people now have a choice: crow about Obamacare’s latest wobble towards the edge, or work with us to address the ongoing negative impact of a 2,000-page law that continues to make life miserable for too many of the same people it purported to help,” McConnell said.

House Budget Committee Chairman Tom Price (R-Ga.) said the ruling “has not and it should not dissuade policymakers from continuing to pursue a repeal of Obamacare.”

“We’ll take every action possible in Congress, in the courts, and in statehouses across our country to stop this unworkable and unaffordable law from hurting more Americans,” Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) said. “We’ll continue to look for opportunities to deliver real reform that lowers costs, improves access and helps all Americans live healthier lives.”

Even with a GOP majority in both Houses of Congress, though, an Obamacare repeal or significant reform is unlikely to make it past a 60-vote cloture threshold in the Senate — and less likely to hit a veto-proof majority.

Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus noted that Obamacare will now take center stage on the campaign trail.

“Hillary Clinton supports big government mandates and expanding the government’s reach into our healthcare system, maneuvers that have made our healthcare system worse off,” Priebus said. “What you will not hear from Democrats today is any information on how to make healthcare more affordable at a time when premiums are getting more expensive.”

Clinton, meanwhile, panned GOP attempts to repeal Obamacare, adding “it’s time to move on.”

“The Affordable Care Act isn’t perfect, but the evidence is clear: it’s working,” she said in a statement after the ruling. “Republicans should stop trying to tear down the law and start working across party lines to build on these successes. I’ve fought for the promise of quality, affordable health care for every American for decades. And I’m not going to stop now. Anyone seeking to lead our country should stand up and support this decision.”

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) went further, saying “what the United States should do is join every other major nation and recognize that health care is a right of citizenship.”

“A Medicare-for-all, single-payer system would provide better care at less cost for more Americans,” the presidential hopeful said.

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With Roberts Taking the Lead, Obamacare Subsidies Upheld 6-3 at Supreme Court

Thursday, June 25th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

The Obama administration scored a victory at the Supreme Court today as justices upheld Obamacare subsidies in the King v. Burwell decision.

The decision was 6-3, with justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Sam Alito dissenting.

Chief Justice John Roberts delivered the majority opinion. “The combination of no tax credits and an ineffective coverage requirement could well push a State’s individual insurance market into a death spiral,” Roberts wrote. “…It is implausible that Congress meant the Act to operate in this manner.”

“In a democracy, the power to make the law rests with those chosen by the people. Our role is more confined—’to say what the law is.’ Marbury v. Madison, 1 Cranch 137, 177 (1803). That is easier in some cases than in others. But in every case we must respect the role of the Legislature, and take care not to undo what it has done. A fair reading of legislation demands a fair understanding of the legislative plan. Congress passed the Affordable Care Act to improve health insurance markets, not to destroy them. If at all possible, we must interpret the Act in a way that is consistent with the former, and avoids the latter. Section 36Bcan fairly be read consistent with what we see as Congress’s plan, and that is the reading we adopt.”

Scalia issued a scathing dissent quipping that the law should now be called “SCOTUScare.”

“The Court holds that when the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act says ‘Exchange established by the State’ it means ‘Exchange established by the State or the
Federal Government.’ That is of course quite absurd, and the Court’s 21 pages of explanation make it no less so,” Scalia wrote.

“This case requires us to decide whether someone who buys insurance on an Exchange established by the Secretary gets tax credits. You would think the answer would be obvious—so obvious there would hardly be a need for the Supreme Court to hear a case about it,” he continued.

“Perhaps the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act will attain the enduring status of the Social Security Act or the Taft-Hartley Act; perhaps not. But this Court’s two decisions on the Act will surely be remembered through the years. The somersaults of statutory interpretation they have performed (‘penalty’ means tax, ‘further [Medicaid] payments to the State’ means only incremental Medicaid payments to the State, ‘established by the State’ means not established by the State) will be cited by litigants endlessly, to the confusion of honest jurisprudence. And the cases will publish forever the discouraging truth that the Supreme Court of the United States favors some laws over others, and is prepared to do whatever it takes to uphold and assist its favorites.”

Roberts also saved Obamacare in June 2012 as the deciding vote on the constitutionality of the law’s penalty, writing then that “the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that certain individuals pay a financial penalty for not obtaining health insurance may reasonably be characterized as a tax.”

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‘Jindian’: Social Media Unleashes on Jindal’s Ethnicity After Governor Launches 2016 Bid

Wednesday, June 24th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal kicked off his bid today to win the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, stressing to supporters that he’s “tanned, rested and ready for this fight.”

“Forty-four years ago a young couple who had never before been on an airplane, they left their home on the other side of the world to come to a place called America. They had never seen it. There was no Internet to search, but they had heard the legend. There was a place in this world where people were free, and the opportunities were real,” Jindal said as he became the 13th GOP candidate.

“They weren’t really coming to a geographical place. They were coming to an idea, and that idea is America. To them, America represented all that was good in the world, where you could get ahead if you worked hard and played by the rules. Place where what matters is the content of your character, not the color of your skin, the zip code you were born in or your family’s last name,” he continued.

“My dad grew up in a house without electricity, without running water. He was the only person in the family to get past the fifth grade. He and mom they came to Louisiana because they believed in America and when they got here they found that the legend was true. They found that the people of Louisiana accepted them and they found that America is indeed the land of the free and the home of the brave. Thirty-seven years later, my parents’ eldest son became governor of Louisiana.”

Jindal vowed he’s “not running for president to be somebody,” but “running for president to do something.”

“Today’s Republican Party in Washington, D.C., has been beaten into submission. It is increasingly afraid to speak the truth. It’s time to say what everybody’s already thinking,” he said. “The emperors in Washington, they’re not wearing any clothes. In case it’s not clear right now, I am running for president without permission from headquarters in Washington, D.C.”

The Democratic National Committee responded to the announcement with a notably mocking fundraising email, subject line “Bobby Jindal wants to be president (seriously!).”

But opponents hit Twitter this evening with hashtags aimed at Jindal’s ethnicity, including #Jindian and #BobbyJindalIsSoWhite.

A sampling:

 

 

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VIDEO: Obama Annoyed By Undocumented Transgender Heckler, Snaps ‘You’re in My House!’

Wednesday, June 24th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

President Obama was interrupted by a heckler during an LGBT Pride Month event in the East Room this evening, eventually ordering the guest removed.

Before protesting the heckler’s interruption with a series of “no, no, no,” Obama snapped, “You’re in my house!”

“You don’t — come on.  It’s not — you know what, it’s not respectful when you get invited to somebody… You’re not going to — you’re not going to get a good response from me by interrupting me like this.”

The interrupter kept calling out “President Obama,” and the president replied, “No, no, no, no.  No, no. No. Shame on you. You shouldn’t be doing this.”

“Can we escort this person out? Come on. You can either stay and be quiet, or we’ll have to take you out.  All right, can we have this person removed, please?”

He then told the audience “as a general rule, I am just fine with a few hecklers — but not when I’m up in the house. You know what I mean? You know, my attitude is if you’re eating the hors d’oeuvres — you know what I’m saying?”

The heckler was an illegal immigrant transgender activist, Jennicet Gutierrez, who shouted, “President Obama, release all LGBTQ immigrants from detention and stop all deportations.” The group GetEQUAL said Gutierrez “could not celebrate while some 75 transgender detainees were still being exposed to assault and abuse in ICE custody at this very moment.”

“There is no pride in how LGBTQ and transgender immigrants are treated in this country,” Gutierrez said in a statement released by GetEQUAL. “If the president wants to celebrate with us, he should release the LGBTQ immigrants locked up in detention centers immediately.”

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White House on Khamenei’s Sanctions Red Line: Don’t Listen to What They Say

Wednesday, June 24th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

The White House today downplayed Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s red line on sanctions relief, with press secretary Josh Earnest telling reporters that the administration is not focused on Iran’s words.

Khamenei said yesterday that “all economic, financial & banking sanctions, either by UNSC, US Congress or administration must be lifted on same day deal is signed.”

“We are seeking a good deal, as Americans do. But by good deal we mean a fair deal while they mean a totalitarian agreement,” the Supreme Leader tweeted. “Major red lines in include accepting some restrictions, but not for 10 or 15 yrs. R&D and constructions must continue.”

Earnest said today he “would acknowledge that there continues to be some difficult challenges that have to be met in order to successfully complete an agreement along the timeframe that we have set out here.”

“That all said, what we’re most focused on are the actions, not the words. And when I say ‘actions,’ I mean both the actions of the negotiators as they sit down with the United States and our P-5-plus-1 partners, but we’ll also be very attuned to the actions of the Iranians as they implement an agreement if one can be reached,” he said.

“And that’s why central to this agreement will be Iran’s commitment to cooperate with a set of intrusive inspections to verify their compliance with the agreement. That will be — that will be central to the agreement and that is consistent with our view that what we — we’re less concerned about the words and much more concerned about the actions.”

The deadline for a final nuclear deal with Iran is June 30. Secretary of State John Kerry is heading to Vienna on Friday.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said today that Khamenei’s statements point toward a good deal being out of reach.

“France wants a deal but wants the deal to be robust, a good deal, but not a bad deal,” Fabius said at a news conference alongside Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir. “A certain number of statements do not seem to go in that direction. France reaffirms that it wants a solid accord, but at the same time must stress the firmness of its positions.”

Al-Jubeir said Saudi Arabia stands by France’s position.

“The Obama Administration is dropping its bottom line by the day. This morning it’s reported that Fordo will be used for isotope production. While we once demanded that this hardened mountain-top facility be shut, we are now on the verge of accepting technology there that can quickly be re-engineered for bomb-making fuel,” House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) said in a statement.

“These continued concessions only emboldened Iran’s leaders to press for more. So much so that yesterday, Iran’s Supreme Leader essentially tore up the weak ‘framework’ agreement reached in April. No inspections on Iran’s military sites? Immediate sanctions relief? How come we are not reading about any concessions on the Iranian side? The way these negotiations are moving, it is increasingly difficult to see the administration striking a meaningful, lasting agreement that would be acceptable to Congress.”

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Tsarnaev to Court: ‘I Pray to Allah to Bestow His Mercy on You’

Wednesday, June 24th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

With references to the current Islamic holy month of Ramadan, Boston bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev spoke publicly for the first time today before he was formally sentenced to death.

Tsarnaev, who was born in Kyrgyzstan in 1993 and brought to the United States from Dagestan in 2002, spoke in a heavy accent although news reports have indicated high school classmates don’t remember him speaking like that.

“I pray to Allah to bestow his mercy on you,” Tsarnaev said before Judge George O’Toole imposed the death sentence that a jury handed down May 15. “I pray for your relief, for your healing, for your well-being, for your health.”

“I want to ask for forgiveness from Allah. I was listening as all these people testified… with strength, with dignity. I am sorry for the lives I have taken… for the damage I have done. I ask Allah for mercy for me and for my brother,” Tamerlan Tsarnaev, who was killed in a confrontation with police after the 2013 attack.

“I am guilty… along with my brother, if there is any lingering doubt,” he admitted.

Tsarnaev’s attorneys argued that the Tamerlan was the ringleader of the bombing plot and basically lured his brother, now 21, into cooperating.

Tsarnaev was found guilty in the deaths of Krystle Campbell, Lingzi Lu, Martin Richard and MIT police officer Sean Collier. The bombings left 264 injured, many with amputations, from the projectile-laden pressure-cooker bomb that they constructed from instructions in al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula’s Inspire magazine.

“I am sorry for the lives that I’ve taken, for the suffering that I’ve caused you, and the damage that I’ve done,” Tsarnaev told the court.

Judge O’Toole told Tsarnaev, “Whenever your name is mentioned, all that will be remembered is the evil you have done.”

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Graham: ‘God Help South Carolina If We Fail’ to Remove Confederate Flag

Wednesday, June 24th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said it was the forgiving reaction of the people of Emanuel AME Church that turned his opinion on the Confederate flag being flown on his home state’s capitol grounds.

“The families of the victims are the most amazing people I’ve ever met in my life. How they could confront the killer of their loved ones and say,’I love him, I’m praying for you.’ It’s just amazes me,” Graham told CNN.

“The way they conducted themselves made it impossible to keep the flag up. The killer embraced the flag in a fashion that there’s no way to explain this.”

The senator noted the flag compromise that was struck in 2000, and “if it had not been for this horrific killing, the flag would still be flying.”

“This is a circumstance of where the people led the politicians. I came to conclude after going to Charleston, that we had to act and sooner rather than later,” Graham said. “And God help South Carolina if we fail to achieve the goal of removing the flag.”

South Carolina lawmakers agreed yesterday to begin debate on moving the flag from capitol grounds.

“I’m never going to pull my state under the bus. We’ve got our share of problems. But I love my state. It’s not about me, it’s not about me running president. It’s about the people who live in my state. And we’re going to take a vote soon, I hope, to remove the flag in reaction to what happened in Charleston,” Graham continued. “And make no bones about it, no mistake. If it hadn’t been for this horrific killing, that flag would still be flying. But after this, none of us, none of us can look the people in AME church, and say, you know, ‘Let’s keep the flag up.’ At least, I can’t.”

“To anybody thinking about voting now, here’s what it means. It means that we’ll get boycotted. It means that our state will suffer economically. It means that the children — black, white, and everything in between — in South Carolina are going to be haunted by this. There is no way to explain this after nine people were murdered by racist young man, who embraced the flag. So for God’s sakes, understand this is not about your political future, my political future. This is about the future of the state.”

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