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Bridget Johnson

Bridget Johnson is a veteran journalist whose news articles and opinion columns have run in dozens of news outlets across the globe. Bridget first came to Washington to be online editor at The Hill, where she wrote The World from The Hill column on foreign policy. Previously she was an opinion writer and editorial board member at the Rocky Mountain News and nation/world news columnist at the Los Angeles Daily News. She is an NPR contributor and has contributed to USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, National Review Online, Politico and more, and has myriad television and radio credits as a commentator. Bridget is Washington Editor for PJ Media.
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Ayatollah Khamenei Jumps on Ferguson, Goes on Twitter Tear About Racism in the U.S.

Monday, August 18th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

Ayaytollah Ali Khamenei has jumped into the Ferguson fray on his official Twitter account:

 

 

 

 

 

It seems those rapprochement talks between Iran and the U.S. under the four-month extension are going… well.

 

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Russia ‘Guarantees’ Hagel That Convoy Really Wasn’t a Little Invasion

Friday, August 15th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel hopped on the phone with his Russian counterpart today after Ukraine military forces took out part of a column of Russian armored vehicles that crossed into their country.

Hagel spoke with Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu “to discuss the ongoing situation in Ukraine,” Pentagon press secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby said in a readout of the call late Friday afternoon. “Specifically, Secretary Hagel requested clarification regarding the Russian humanitarian convoy. Minister Shoygu ‘guaranteed’ that there were no Russian military personnel involved in the humanitarian convoy, nor was the convoy to be used as a pretext to further intervene in Ukraine.”

“He acknowledged that the goods would be delivered and distributed under the International Committee of the Red Cross,” Kirby continued. “Minister Shoygu assured Secretary Hagel that Russia was meeting Ukraine’s conditions.”

The Guardian’s Moscow correspondent tweeted last night that he and the Telegraph’s correspondent “just saw a column of APCs and vehicles with official Russian military plates cross border into Ukraine.”

NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen confirmed to reporters on Friday that a “Russian incursion” had taken place overnight.

“It just confirms the fact that we see a continuous flow of weapons and fighters from Russia into eastern Ukraine and it is a clear demonstration of continued Russian involvement in the destabilisation of eastern Ukraine,” Rasmussen said.

“Russia’s continued unlawful incursions into Ukraine are further evidence of Vladimir Putin’s malicious plan for usurping large portions of Ukrainian territory. Russia continues to provide illicit arms and other lethal material to separatist rebels in Eastern Ukraine, and recent attempts to utilize ‘humanitarian convoys’ to transport troops and military supplies into Ukraine have only escalated this conflict. This slow motion invasion of Ukraine by Russia is abhorrent and the United States and Europe need to renew our support for the Ukrainian government,” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, said in a statement.

“The president’s approach to this situation has failed to deter Putin from once again invading a sovereign country. The Obama administration should stop dithering and immediately deliver lethal assistance that has long been requested by the Ukrainian government,” Rubio continued.

“Along with our European allies, the U.S. should quickly impose additional sanctions to effect the Russian economy, targeting all transactions with key Russian sectors, including energy. Finally, Europe and America need to move expeditiously to begin to stem Europe’s energy dependence on Russia. This is a long term project, but Putin’s goals are now more clear than ever and drastic action will be necessary to strip Putin of his ability to intimidate Europe.”

Sens. Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) asked President Obama yesterday to share intelligence with Ukraine and send weapons.

“President Putin, undeterred by international condemnation, has provided heavy weapons to separatists, including tracked and armored vehicles and the advanced missile and radar systems that took down MH-17. In light of these developments, we should supply the Ukrainian military with appropriate defensive weapons such as anti-tank weapons to help them reclaim their territory,” McCain and Donnelly wrote.

“…We must stand decisively in support of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. The future of Ukraine should be determined in Kiev, not Moscow. Our enhanced support will send a strong message to President Putin that efforts to expand or cement Russia’s influence through foreign aggression will not succeed and that Russian-backed rebels must resolve their political differences through the peaceful means offered in good faith by their democratic government.”

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Dem Lawmakers Talking About Upping ‘Participation in the Electoral Process’ After Ferguson

Friday, August 15th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

The No. 3 Democrat in the House said that lawmakers are discussing how to use the community outrage in Ferguson, Mo., as a springboard for get-out-the-vote efforts.

Assistant Leader James Clyburn (D-S.C.) told MSNBC today that he’s been discussing the events in Ferguson, Mo., with Congressional Black Caucus chairwoman Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio).

“We are going to really look into what the Congressional Black Caucus can do at the local level, going in there with our Congressional Black Caucus Institute, and probably having some discussions with local communities, helping them to get organized, helping them to understand the relationship between the treatment they get from elected officials and their participation in the electoral process. That participation — participation seems to be very low in that area,” Clyburn said.

“The people are there. But for some strange reason, they are not participating. And we’ve got to do something about that, because we are not going to solve these problems if we stay out of the arena.”

Clyburn said he was “thinking this morning about all of this rhetoric about being tough on crime.”

“It’s one thing to be tough on crime. I’m tough on crime. But it’s something else to be death on blacks. And that’s what seems to be happening,” he said.

“When I think about the chokehold up in New York — a guy crying out for 10 or 11 times that ‘I can’t breathe,’ and with three or four other people piled on top of him, the police officer could not find the wisdom to stop choking the guy until he could not breathe anymore — to me, that’s deliberate. And we have to look at this — a lot of bad people carrying badges. Most of them are good people. And I support police officers. But we’ve got to find a way to weed these people out.”

The lawmaker added that “hopefully, this will jump-start a movement that will have people all over this country taking a hard look at their communities, the treatment they are getting from elected officials, and whether or not that is going to start them to participating at a greater level as we go forward.”

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GOP Lt. Gov. in Missouri Says Holder’s Ferguson Response Thus Far ‘Praiseworthy’

Friday, August 15th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

The Republican lieutenant governor stressed to Fox News that he has seen nothing from the Justice Department’s involvement yet in the Michael Brown shooting case to give him cause for concern.

Attorney General Eric Holder, who has come under fire from members of the Congressional Black Caucus for not expanding their investigation to the entire police department in Ferguson, Mo., met yesterday morning with President Obama in Massachusetts, where Obama is on vacation, to discuss the case.

“The federal civil rights investigation into the shooting incident itself continues, in parallel with the local investigation into state law violations,” Holder said in a statement Thursday. “Our investigators from the Civil Rights Division and U.S. attorney’s office in Missouri have already conducted interviews with eyewitnesses on the scene at the time of the shooting incident on Saturday. Our review will take time to conduct, but it will be thorough and fair.”

Holder spoke by phone with the parents of the slain teenager this morning.

“I think it’s entirely praiseworthy that he would speak to the parents. I don’t find any basis for criticism there,” Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder (R-Mo.) said.

“We know that the Department of Justice has in the past, in some previous cases, put their thumb on the scales of justice,” Kinder added. “I, to this point so far, I have not seen that, and I hope we don’t see that as this process goes forward.”

“People have the right, a right we will defend, to peaceably assemble in the streets, but we do not decide these questions in the streets. This is America. We have legal processes.”

Kinder stressed he was “delighted” to hear the county prosecutor announce yesterday that the Brown shooting will be taken to a grand jury.

“Missouri is different than many other states in that prosecutors have the option of charging on what we call their own information, that is, their own decision. or they can charge by taking to a grand jury,” he said. “And in that case, it is not the prosecutor doing the charging, but it is the people empaneled in a grand jury. The people of St. Louis county, therefore, will be heard from in the grand jury process. And I applaud the prosecutor for announcing that he will take this to a grand jury.”

Kinder didn’t object to the police releasing the name of the shooter, six-year police veteran Officer Darren Wilson.

“We all knew that the officer’s name would have to be released. The only question was when,” the lieutenant governor said.

“And what we have here is a necessity to protect him and his family. He has not been charged with a crime as we is sit here and discuss this. He may be down the road,” Kinder said. “If he is, he is entitled to all the protections that our jurisprudence system offers any criminal defendant, should he be charged as a criminal defendant, and that includes the presumption of innocence and the right to a defense and counsel and everything else.”

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Armed Services Chairman Promises to Review If Military Equipment ‘Being Used as Intended’ by Cops

Friday, August 15th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

The chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee said Congress would review how the Pentagon transfers surplus military equipment to law enforcement agencies.

The statement from Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) comes after criticism, including from Republican Sen. Rand Paul (Ky.), that the SWAT reaction to the protests and rioting in Ferguson, Mo., resembled a police state more than a suburb.

“Congress established this program out of real concern that local law enforcement agencies were literally outgunned by drug criminals,” Levin said today. “We intended this equipment to keep police officers and their communities safe from heavily armed drug gangs and terrorist incidents.”

“Before the defense authorization bill comes to the Senate floor, we will review this program to determine if equipment provided by the Defense Department is being used as intended,” he added.

At yesterday’s Pentagon briefing, press secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby was asked whether the concern over increased militarization of domestic police forces would give the Defense Department pause about the oversight of the program or its future.

“There is a law enforcement support program that the Defense Department administers which provides to law enforcement agencies around the country surplus military equipment, gear, arms, ammunition, vehicles. This is a useful program that allows for the reuse of military equipment that otherwise would be disposed of that can be used, again, by law enforcement agencies to serve their citizens,” Kirby replied.

“So it’s a — so the program serves a purpose. That said, it is up to law enforcement agencies to speak to how and what they gain through this system. And I’m not going to inject the Pentagon into this discussion. How this equipment is used to serve local citizens, again, is up for local law enforcement agencies to speak to.”

More: 

GOP Lt. Gov. in Missouri Says Holder’s Ferguson Response Thus Far ‘Praiseworthy’

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Pentagon on N. Korea Missiles: ‘Pope Worries About a Higher Authority Than Kim Jong-un’

Thursday, August 14th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

The Pentagon today brushed off North Korea’s latest saber-rattling just before Pope Francis touched down in South Korea for a five-day visit.

Pyongyang fired five short-range missiles into the sea east of the Korean peninsula.

Pentagon press secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby said he wouldn’t “speak to North Korean intentions,” such as whether it’s a precursor to the firing of longer-range missiles.

“I think it’s an exercise in futility to try to figure out what it is Kim Jong-un does and why. Some people are saying that these five rockets were fired in conjunction with the pope’s visit,” Kirby said. “My guess is the pope worries about a higher authority than Kim Jong-un.”

“So I’m not going to speculate about what they did or why. What I’ll say is what I’ve continued to say almost every week. North Korea needs to meet its international obligations. It needs to pay more attention to feeding its own people and educating its own citizens than further destabilizing the peninsula.”

Kirby added that “regardless, our commitment, our treaty commitments, one of the five of seven treaty alliances we have is to the South Korean government.”

“We take very seriously our treaty commitment there on the peninsula and to security on the peninsula,” he said. “Nothing’s going to change about that, and it’s not going to affect our desire, ability and intent to continue to exercise and work on interoperability with our South Korean counterparts.”

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Conyers: Ferguson ‘Reminiscent of the Violent Altercations That Took Place During the Civil Rights Movement’

Thursday, August 14th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

The ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee said the expected removal of local police from handling the unrest in Ferguson, Mo., is “an important step towards restoring peace and allowing for an independent, thorough investigation to take place.”

Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) charged that “serious and sweeping civil rights violations may have taken place” in the St. Louis suburb.

“The tragic killing of 18-year-old Michael Brown and the events that have transpired since the shooting in Ferguson are reminiscent of the violent altercations that took place during the Civil Rights Movement. Countless African Americans endured unwarranted hostility and excessive force from law enforcement while exercising their right to peaceful assembly and civil resistance,” Conyers said in a statement.

“It is a great travesty to find ourselves again witnessing the blatant violation of our right to peaceably assemble in Ferguson.”

Rep. Wm. Lacy Clay (D-Mo.) told Bloomberg that Gov. Jay Nixon (D) would announce once he arrived to the city that the St. Louis County police would be removed from the situation.

Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) said it was time to “de-militarize this situation — this kind of response by the police has become the problem instead of the solution.”

“I obviously respect law enforcement’s work to provide public safety, but my constituents are allowed to have peaceful protests, and the police need to respect that right and protect that right,” McCaskill said.

Her GOP counterpart, Sen. Roy Blunt (Mo.), said in a statement that he spoke with Attorney General Eric Holder about “the continued investigation in Ferguson, and I continue to monitor what I believe is close coordination between county and federal authorities.”

“It’s important to remember that this tragedy began when a young man lost his life, and I support local and federal officials in their efforts to conduct open, transparent, and parallel investigations into what happened here,” Blunt said in reference to the police shooting of an 18-year-old last weekend. “Michael Brown’s memory, his family, and his community are not well-served by more violence.”

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) even weighed in, with a reference to the arrest of two journalists in a McDonald’s last night. “In the wake of this terrible tragedy, my thoughts and prayers go out to the family and friends of Michael Brown,” he said. “I strongly support a full and thorough investigation of the events surrounding his death, and subsequent actions, including the detention of journalists covering this heartbreaking situation.”

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) said it’s “crucial” that the House and Senate Judiciary Committees hold hearings when Congress returns from recess “on the continued incidents of the killing of African American males by law enforcement.”

“The killing of African American young males is becoming an epidemic in America. We have seen this story before with Eric Garner, Oscar Grant and now Michael Brown and these are just some of the names who have fallen victim of excessive policing,” Jackson Lee said. “…Added to that should be continued questions on the overall killing of African American young males such as the cases of Trayvon Martin and Alfred Wright.”

“I will be reviewing the President’s initiative of My Brother’s Keeper which will lay the framework dealing with omnibus legislation I plan on introducing that will deal with the epidemic of the killing of so many African American males,” she added. “This must stop now. Mothers and fathers are crying too often.”

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Paul: Militarization of Law Enforcement at ‘Near-Crisis Point in Our Country’

Thursday, August 14th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) wrote in a TIME op-ed today that the crisis in Ferguson, Mo., after a police shooting underscores the need to demilitarize the police.

“If I had been told to get out of the street as a teenager, there would have been a distinct possibility that I might have smarted off. But, I wouldn’t have expected to be shot,” Paul wrote of the “awful tragedy” that took the life of 18-year-old Michael Brown. “The outrage in Ferguson is understandable—though there is never an excuse for rioting or looting. There is a legitimate role for the police to keep the peace, but there should be a difference between a police response and a military response.”

“The images and scenes we continue to see in Ferguson resemble war more than traditional police action.”

Paul cited a Glenn Reynolds piece in Popular Mechanics five years ago, stressing that our fears about police militarization are becoming reality.

“Washington has incentivized the militarization of local police precincts by using federal dollars to help municipal governments build what are essentially small armies—where police departments compete to acquire military gear that goes far beyond what most of Americans think of as law enforcement,” the senator wrote, adding it’s “usually done in the name of fighting the war on drugs or terrorism.”

When you couple this militarization of law enforcement with an erosion of civil liberties and due process that allows the police to become judge and jury—national security letters, no-knock searches, broad general warrants, pre-conviction forfeiture—we begin to have a very serious problem on our hands.

“Given these developments, it is almost impossible for many Americans not to feel like their government is targeting them. Given the racial disparities in our criminal justice system, it is impossible for African-Americans not to feel like their government is particularly targeting them,” Paul continued.

“This is part of the anguish we are seeing in the tragic events outside of St. Louis, Missouri. It is what the citizens of Ferguson feel when there is an unfortunate and heartbreaking shooting like the incident with Michael Brown.”

The senator stressed that “anyone who thinks that race does not still, even if inadvertently, skew the application of criminal justice in this country is just not paying close enough attention.”

“Our prisons are full of black and brown men and women who are serving inappropriately long and harsh sentences for non-violent mistakes in their youth,” Paul wrote. “The militarization of our law enforcement is due to an unprecedented expansion of government power in this realm. It is one thing for federal officials to work in conjunction with local authorities to reduce or solve crime. It is quite another for them to subsidize it.”

“Americans must never sacrifice their liberty for an illusive and dangerous, or false, security. This has been a cause I have championed for years, and one that is at a near-crisis point in our country.”

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Obama: ‘Now’s the Time for Peace and Calm on the Streets of Ferguson’

Thursday, August 14th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

President Obama stepped up to the microphone early this afternoon during his Massachusetts vacation to express support for Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon (D) in dealing with the police shooting and ensuing protests just outside of St. Louis.

“I know that many Americans have been deeply disturbed by the images we’ve seen in the heartland of our country as police have clashed with people protesting,” Obama said. “Today, I’d like us all to take a step back and think about how we’re going to be moving forward. This morning I received a thorough update on the situation from Attorney General Eric Holder, who’s been following it and been in communication with his team.”

The DOJ and the FBI are already investigating the death of 18-year-old Michael Brown, he noted.

“The Department of Justice is also consulting with local authorities about ways that they can maintain public safety without restricting the right of peaceful protest and while avoiding unnecessary escalation,” Obama said. “I made clear to the attorney general that we should do what is necessary to help determine exactly what happened and to see that justice is done.”

“I also just spoke with Governor Jay Nixon of Missouri. I expressed my concern over the violent turn that events have taken on the ground and underscored that now is the time for all of us to reflect on what’s happened and to find a way to come together going forward.”

Obama said the governor, whose presence in the crisis has thus far been minimal, will be traveling to Ferguson. “He is a good man, and a fine governor. And I’m confident that, working together, he’s gonna be able to communicate his desire to make sure that justice is done and his desire to make sure that public safety is maintained in an appropriate way,” he said.

“Of course, it’s important to remember how this started. We lost a young man, Michael Brown, in heartbreaking and tragic circumstances. He was 18 years old. His family will never hold Michael in their arms again,” the president continued. “And when something like this happens, the local authorities, including the police, have a responsibility to be open and transparent about how they are investigating that death and how they are protecting the people in their communities.”

“There is never an excuse for violence against police or for those who would use this tragedy as a cover for vandalism or looting.”

And, Obama added in reference to the Huffington Post and Washington Post reporters arrested last night, “There’s also no excuse for police to use excessive force against peaceful protests or to throw protesters in jail for lawfully exercising their First Amendment rights.”

“And here in the United States of America, police should not be bullying or arresting journalists who are just trying to do their jobs and report to the American people on what they see on the ground. Put simply, we all need to hold ourselves to a high standard, particularly those of us in positions of authority,” he continued. “I know that emotions are raw right now in Ferguson and there are certainly passionate differences about what has happened. There are going to be different accounts of how this tragedy occurred.”

“There’re going to be differences in terms of what needs to happen going forward. That’s part of our democracy. But let’s remember that we’re all part of one American family. We are united in common values and that includes belief in equality under the law and basic respect for public order and the right to peaceful public protest, a reverence for the dignity of every single man, woman and child among us and the need for accountability when it comes to our government.”

Obama added that “now’s the time for healing” and “now’s the time for peace and calm on the streets of Ferguson.”

“Now is the time for an open and transparent process to see that justice is done and I’ve asked that the attorney general and the U.S. attorney on the scene continue to work with local officials to move that process forward,” the president said. “They will be reporting to me in the coming days about what’s being done to make sure that happens.”

Obama left without taking questions from the media and quickly departed for a nearby golf course.

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Ferguson Cops Arrest Two Reporters Working at a McDonald’s

Thursday, August 14th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

Two reporters were arrested at a McDonald’s last night in Ferguson, Mo., while filing their stories of the day’s protests and police action, leading to charges that authorities are violating the First Amendment rights of journalists on the scene.

Huffington Post Washington Bureau Chief Ryan Grim said Justice Department reporter Ryan Reilly was working on his laptop in the restaurant “when police barged in, armed with high-powered weapons, and began clearing the restaurant.”

“Ryan photographed the intrusion, and police demanded his ID in response. Ryan, as is his right, declined to provide it. He proceeded to pack up his belongings, but was subsequently arrested for not packing up fast enough. Both Ryan and Wesley were assaulted,” Grim said in the statement.

“Compared to some others who have come into contact with the police department, they came out relatively unscathed, but that in no way excuses the false arrest or the militant aggression toward these journalists. Ryan, who has reported multiple times from Guantanamo Bay, said that the police resembled soldiers more than officers, and treated those inside the McDonald’s as ‘enemy combatants.’ Police militarization has been among the most consequential and unnoticed developments of our time, and it is now beginning to affect press freedom.”

The other reporter arrested, Wesley Lowrey of the Washington Post, posted his account and video on the paper’s website.

The McDonald’s, Lowrey explained, is located a few blocks from where 18-year-old Michael Brown was shot by police over the weekend, sparking the current unrest. Reporters have used the restaurant for its food, WiFi, and outlets to recharge phones and other equipment.

Wrote Lowrey of the encounter with the officers who came into the restaurant:

I was wearing my lanyard, but Ryan asked why he had to show his ID. They didn’t press the point, but one added that if we called 911, no one would answer.

Then they walked away.

Moments later, the police reemerged, telling us that we had to leave. I pulled my phone out and began recording video.

An officer with a large weapon came up to me and said, “Stop recording.”

I said, “Officer, do I not have the right to record you?”

He backed off but told me to hurry up. So I gathered my notebook and pens with one hand while recording him with the other hand.

As I exited, I saw Ryan to my left, having a similar argument with two officers. I recorded him, too, and that angered the officer. As I made my way toward the door, the officers gave me conflicting information.

One instructed me to exit to my left. As I turned left, another officer emerged, blocking my path.

“Go another way,” he said.

As I turned, my backpack, which was slung over one shoulder, began to slip. I said, “Officers, let me just gather my bag.” As I did, one of them said, “Okay, let’s take him.”

Multiple officers grabbed me. I tried to turn my back to them to assist them in arresting me. I dropped the things from my hands.

“My hands are behind my back,” I said. “I’m not resisting. I’m not resisting.” At which point one officer said: “You’re resisting. Stop resisting.”

That was when I was most afraid — more afraid than of the tear gas and rubber bullets.

As they took me into custody, the officers slammed me into a soda machine, at one point setting off the Coke dispenser. They put plastic cuffs on me, then they led me out the door.

I could see Ryan still talking to an officer. I said: “Ryan, tweet that they’re arresting me, tweet that they’re arresting me.”

He didn’t have an opportunity, because he was arrested as well.

When they were released at the station after about 15 minutes in a holding cell, Lowrey said they asked for and were denied the opportunity to speak to a commanding officer. “The chief thought he was doing you two a favor,” they were reportedly told.

Reilly later wrote that their apparent “crime” was “not packing up our gear quickly enough after a heavily armed SWAT team shut down the McDonald’s where we were working.”

“A Saint Louis County police officer in full riot gear, who refused to identify himself despite my repeated requests, purposefully banged my head against the window on the way out and sarcastically apologized,” Reilly wrote. “I’m fine. But if this is the way these officers treat a white reporter working on a laptop who moved a little too slowly for their liking, I can’t imagine how horribly they treat others.”

“And if anyone thinks that the militarization of our police force isn’t a huge issue in this country, I’ve got a story to tell you.”

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Jindal Says He Supports Educational Standards, But Common Core Mutated from Original Intent

Thursday, August 14th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal told MSNBC this morning that he was originally thought classroom standards were “a great idea,” and is “still for rigor in the classroom,” but wants Common Core out of his state because  ”it has become something very different than than what it started.”

“Now it’s become driven by the federal government, the federal bureaucracy. It was never intended to be a top-down approach. And the federal government has never made curriculum decisions in our local schools. I think it’s a mistake to do that,” Jindal said.

“A lot of times people who are for Common Core try to say, well, if you’re against this, you’re against standards. That’s simply not true. I’m for tests. I’m for standards. I just don’t want the federal government driving these standards,” he added.

“As a parent, I look at the math standards. I look at some of the reading text, and I’m very worried about my kids doing these things. I think it would have been better if they had slowed down, let the teachers, let the parents have more involvement, have more transparency. I think they have rushed to do this. So I think the idea of standards is good.”

Jindal acknowledged that “historically Louisiana has not done well, but recently we’ve implemented very aggressive reform, so that, for example, in New Orleans, 90 percent of our kids are now in charter schools.”

“We have doubled the percentage doing reading and math on grade level in five years. We have got the highest ever graduation rate in our high schools,” he said. “…We’ve still got work to do. I’m not saying that we’re where we want to be, but we’re doing better than we’ve done before because we’ve done things like charter schools. We’ve done things like high- stakes testing. We do merit evaluations of our teachers. We do school choice. We empower parents.”

“I’m all for reforms, and I’m all for accountability. I think it’s important…. My problem with Common Core is, again, the Federal Department of Education, Arne Duncan, through Race to the Top, No Child Left Behind waivers, through funding threats has made this into a federal takeover of our local curriculum. That’s what’s not acceptable.”

Education reform will likely be a top issue if Jindal decides to run for president.

The governor said he’s “thinking and praying about it, won’t make a decision until after November.”

“If I were to decide to run, I certainly think that our country is hungry for a big change in direction, not incremental change, especially when it comes to restoring the American dream for our children and grandchildren,” he said. “…We need to fix those things. We need a stronger foreign policy. But there will be time after November to make those decisions.”

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Lee: ‘We Can’t Just Cut Obamacare, or Even Repeal It and Go Back to the Old System’

Thursday, August 14th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) argued in a speech yesterday at the Reagan Ranch that “the similarities between the late 1970s and today seem to grow by the hour” and it’s time to do a realignment of the GOP like President Reagan did back then.

Lee gave the address to mark the 33rd anniversary of Reagan signing into law the Economic Recovery Tax Act of 1981.

“A chasm of distrust is opening between the American people and their government. Both parties are seen as incapable of producing innovative solutions to growing problems, or uninterested in even trying. Reagan’s ‘forgotten Americans’ are once again being left behind,” the senator said. “Once again, the left has betrayed the trust of the American people. But the right has not won it back.”

“So it seems to me that conservatives today need to do what Reagan did in the late 1970s: identify the great challenges holding back America’s working families, and propose concrete, innovative solutions to help overcome them,” he said. “Just like Reagan did, as conservatives today we need to re-apply our principles to the challenges of the moment. We need to offer the country a new, positive reform agenda that remembers America’s forgotten families and puts the federal government back on their side.”

Lee stressed that “a real conservative reform agenda has to do more than just cut big government.”

“It has to fix broken government. Reagan did just that a generation ago. Since then, new challenges have emerged, demanding repair – and conservative principles can once again point us toward exciting, innovative solutions,” he said.

Areas for reform include a level regulatory playing field for all businesses, transportation growth that would “cut out those Beltway middle-men,” and education reform that focuses on “fixing the system so college doesn’t cost so much in the first place,” the senator argued.

“A conservative reform agenda must confront a welfare system that isolates the less fortunate.  A reformed system would start to bring the poor back into our economy and civil society,” he said. “…We can’t just cut Obamacare, or even repeal it and go back to the old system we had before. Instead, we need to move forward with real healthcare reforms that empower patients and doctors, not big government and big insurance companies.”

“A renewed commitment to reform can not only put America on the path to recovery, but reunite our nation after too many years of bitter division… and empower our people after too many years of falling behind.”

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Rubio to Erdoğan: Knock Off the Anti-Israel Incitement

Thursday, August 14th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

A member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and potential 2016 presidential contender has asked the prime minister of Turkey to stop inciting violence against Israel.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) wrote to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan yesterday “with great concern about your comments regarding Israel’s recent actions in Gaza, and reports that organizations operating in Turkey are planning to breach Israel’s naval blockade of Hamas-controlled Gaza.”

“In response to thousands of rocket attacks on Israel launched by Hamas and other terrorist organizations from Gaza, Israel instituted a naval blockade to prevent items that could be used to support these attacks from entering Gaza by sea. The intent of the measures is to protect Israel, while still allowing humanitarian aid into Gaza. I encourage you to take all appropriate measures to keep these organizations from provoking a confrontation with Israeli forces and violating this blockade. A publicity stunt by Turkish organizations in 2010 led to the regrettable loss of life, and it would be irresponsible for your government not to take measures to avoid a similar outcome this time,” Rubio wrote.

The senator referred to the Mavi Marmara, which ended in a raid of the flotilla by Israeli forces in which 10 activists were killed and 10 commandos were wounded.

“The United States has not forgotten how a centuries-old legacy of tolerance led to Turkey being the first Muslim-majority country to recognize the State of Israel in 1949. Your nation led the region, and much of the world, in acknowledging the right of the Jewish people to live in peace and security. The relationship between Turkey and Israel has historically been strong, and mutually advantageous. Although strained on the political level in recent years, economic interaction remains robust,” Rubio continued. “I was thus deeply troubled by your comments at a campaign event on August 3rd comparing Israel’s recent actions to Nazi Germany’s genocidal campaign against Jews and other minorities.”

Erdoğan, who just won the presidency in what many predict will result in a saturation of executive power, said, “Just like Hitler, who sought to establish a race free of all faults, Israel is chasing after the same target.”

“Such deplorable comments and anti-Israel views have become increasingly common among senior Turkish officials and severely undermine our mutual interest in collaboration to address the common challenges our nations face,” Rubio wrote.

“Given our nations’ long-standing partnership, and Turkey’s significant role in NATO, I urge you to halt this incendiary rhetoric regarding Israel. Additionally, I request that you take all appropriate measures to keep organizations operating in Turkey from provoking a confrontation with Israeli forces by attempting to breach Israel’s naval blockade of Hamas-controlled Gaza.”

President Obama and Erdoğan have been close, and Erdoğan even ripped off the styling of Obama’s campaign logo for his own campaign.

Obama called Erdoğan on Tuesday to congratulate him, according to the White House, and highlighted the Islamist leader’s (in a secular republic) “historic opportunity to further move Turkey forward.”

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Pentagon: Evacuation of Yazidis ‘Far Less Likely’ After Assessment by ‘Less Than 20′ U.S. Personnel

Wednesday, August 13th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

The Pentagon said its reconnaissance team that checked out the plight of Yazidi refugees under siege from ISIS fighters on Mount Sinjar is not as dire as officials there believed.

“As part of the ongoing humanitarian efforts ordered by President Obama, today a team of U.S. military personnel, accompanied by USAID, conducted an assessment of the situation on Mt. Sinjar and the impact of U.S. military actions to date,” Pentagon press secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby said in a statement. “The team, which consisted of less than twenty personnel, did not engage in combat operations and all personnel have returned safely to Irbil by military air.”

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced yesterday that he had asked Obama for and received permission to send 130 extra “advisers” to Iraq, but stressed to Marines at Camp Pendleton that this didn’t mean “boots on the ground.”

“The team has assessed that there are far fewer Yazidis on Mt. Sinjar than previously feared, in part because of the success of humanitarian air drops, air strikes on ISIL targets, the efforts of the Peshmerga and the ability of thousands of Yazidis to evacuate from the mountain each night over the last several days,” Kirby continued.

“The Yazidis who remain are in better condition than previously believed and continue to have access to the food and water that we have dropped. Based on this assessment the interagency has determined that an evacuation mission is far less likely,” he said. “Additionally, we will continue to provide humanitarian assistance as needed and will protect U.S. personnel and facilities.”

The Pentagon did not release their estimate on the number of Yazidis still on Mount Sinjar.

On Tuesday, UN officials warned of an imminent atrocity with an estimate of 40,000 Yazidis trying to hide from ISIS on Mount Sinjar. “All possible measures must be taken urgently to avoid a mass atrocity and potential genocide within days or hours – civilians need to be protected on the ground and escorted out of situations of extreme peril,” said Rita Izsák, Special Rapporteur on minority issues.

“We are witnessing a tragedy of huge proportions unfolding in which thousands of people are at immediate risk of death by violence or by hunger and thirst,” said Chaloka Beyani, Special Rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons. “Humanitarian aid must be delivered quickly and no efforts should be spared to protect all groups forcefully displaced by this conflict.”

Additionally, the UN noted that ISIS is hunting down religious minorities in all areas under its control.

“We cannot stand by in the face of such atrocities,” said Christof Heyns, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions. “International actors must do all in their power to support those on the ground with the capacity to protect lives.”

At a Tuesday press conference, UN Secretary Ban Ki-moon called the plight of the Yazidis and others on Mount Sinjar “especially harrowing.”

“UN humanitarian personnel are in the area, doing what we can. Air drops of food and water are reaching some of the trapped people. But the situation on the mountain is dire. And even when people manage to find a way out, they remain exposed to searing heat and a perilous odyssey,” Ban said.

The White House said in a briefing earlier today that it was still assessing what to do about the trapped Yazidis.

“The Iraqis and the Kurdish forces in particular have been engaged. They have a presence on the mountain and they will certainly be cooperating with us in this effort,” Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes told reporters in Massachusetts.

“We have offers of support from a number of allies like France, Australia, Canada,” Rhodes said. “We will be in discussions with them about what they can do, both as it relates to helping the Yazidi population that has been trapped on the mountain but also more broadly helping bring relief to the displaced persons in Northern Iraq, which includes not just Yazidis but an enormous number of Iraqi Christians and others who have been driven from their homes by ISIL.”

“…The people who are on the ground fighting ISIL are the Kurdish forces and the Iraqi security forces. We are taking action from the air on the objectives of protecting our people and providing humanitarian space for the Yazidis, in particular on the mountain. If there’s additional things that we can do as part of an effort to move them off the mountain, [Obama will] certainly review those — those options.”

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) today stressed “the United States is not the only country on Earth with an air force.”

“While I support President Obama’s decision to use airstrikes to protect the lives of thousands of innocent people of the Yazidi minority, the U.S. should not have to act alone militarily in this crisis,” Sanders said. “ISIS is a danger to the entire region and to the world. The international community must work with the U.S.”

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Hagel Says Service Reviews Progressing for Women in Combat Roles

Wednesday, August 13th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

Queried by Marines at Camp Pendleton yesterday, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said the review to consider how women can serve in combat roles is continuing.

The Pentagon announced in January 2013 that it would lift the ban on women serving in combat, and proceeded to open a formal review process to gain input from the different service branches.

“Well, as you know, we are — we, the Defense Department, are all of us in the process, each of the services, for working through the last very small group of positions that have been restricted to men only,” Hagel told the Marines. “And I was just talking with the commandant the other day about this. The Marines are working exactly in the direction they should be working, are working to get these directives and requirements met on time.”

“Each service is different, as you know. And requirements are different. Combat is a different world. I served a year in Vietnam in 1968 as an infantryman, and I know a little something about that business, your business. And so we want to make sure that as we work through all of this and we open up more opportunities for women in every service, in every MOS, that we give everybody as much assurance as we can that this will be successful, that they can be successful,” the Defense secretary continued.

“At the same time, everyone agrees that we’re not going to lower our standards, and whether it’s a male or a female in any occupation, no one wants to do that. And we are not doing that, and we won’t do that.”

Hagel stressed, though, that “there are ways that we can explore and we are and adjust to making sure that we continue to move forward and assure that these occupations that have been closed to women get opened up and get opened up on the timelines that are now in process.”

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Hagel to Marines: ‘Every One of the Decisions That the President Has Ultimately Made’ in Iraq are ‘Recommendations I’ve Made’

Wednesday, August 13th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told Marines at Camp Pendleton yesterday that President Obama “has authorized me to go ahead and send about 130 new assessment team members up to northern Iraq in the Erbil area to take a closer look and give a more in-depth assessment of where we can continue to help the Iraqis with what they’re doing and the threats that they are now dealing with.”

“I would tell you that, as you know what’s going on in Iraq, for example, that we are focused once again on assisting the Iraqis. They have — are in the process of forming a new government, as you know, which is going to be the centerpiece of how that government is going to be able to deal with what’s going on there, the specific threats of ISIL and the other realities that are now confronting the people of Iraq,” he said.

“…The Iraqi people, the government of Iraq, country of Iraq is now under threat from some of the most brutal, barbaric forces we’ve ever seen in the world today, and a force, ISIL, and others that is an ideology that’s connected to an army and it’s a force and a dimension that the world has never seen before like we have seen it now.”

Hagel told the Marines that Obama “made some decisions on, first, on the basis of protecting our people and our interest in Iraq, and also on the basis of humanitarian assistance, we’re doing an awful lot, and we’ll do more, as we continue to support the process now underway to form their new government.”

The secretary said the additional 130 advisers were approved after his recommendation to the president, and have already arrived in Erbil.

“I would also say it follows the criteria that President Obama has made very clearly, that this is not any extension of any role other — for the United States other than to find ways to assist and help advise the Iraqi security forces, which we have been doing,” Hagel continued.

“As the president has made very clear, we’re not going back into Iraq in any of the same combat mission dimensions that we once were in, in Iraq. Very specifically, this is not a combat boots-on-the-ground operation. We’re not going to have that kind of operation, but short of that, there are some things we can continue to do, and we are doing, and I just wanted you to know that, because that team of 130 new assessors that just arrived in Erbil, it’s a inter-service team, but there are a lot of Marines on that team.”

Still, the first question posed to the Defense secretary was “given the current situation in both Iraq and Israel” why he doesn’t see the need for boots on the ground.

“Well, as I just mentioned, boots-on-the-ground regarding Iraq, the president said we’re not going to do that. And the mission that we had in Iraq on fighting that war and combat mission is over. And he’s been very clear about that,” Hagel replied.

“But also, if you recall, the Iraqi people made some decisions on their own sovereignty on that count. As to boots-on-the-ground in Israel, no, we’re not going to do that,” he continued. “Just a reminder, what we’re doing in Iraq now is at the request of the Iraqi government. Every one of the decisions that president has ultimately made [are] recommendations I’ve made to him, the most recent I just mentioned, the 130-member assessment team going — that’s now in Erbil.”

“We are working with the Iraqi government at their request to help them. We work, obviously, with the Israeli government, as we do with all governments on our relationships of what we can do. But no boots on the ground in Iraq and Israel.”

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Kerry Promotes Climate-Change Mitigation Funding on Trip in the Pacific

Wednesday, August 13th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

Secretary of State John Kerry is wrapping up a five-day trip through Asia and the Pacific by focusing on climate change.

On Saturday, Kerry met with leaders in Burma. He then joined Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel for meetings in Australia on Monday.

Today, he flew to the Solomon Islands to meet government leaders and attend wreath laying ceremonies at the Guadalcanal American Memorial, and would fly on to Hawaii from there.

At the memorial, Kerry said he was there “with just enormous reverence.”

“As a veteran myself and someone who fought in a very different kind of war, I come here with utter awe for those who served here in the circumstances and the manner in which they served,” he said. “…We also take note in more ways than words could ever describe of the stunning bravery of those Marines who, against all odds, won the first major offensive for the Allies in the Pacific right here. This is where the difference began to be made.”

When Kerry met with Solomon Islands Prime Minister Gordon Lilo, the focus was on the environment.

“Can I just say, while the press is here, I want to make sure — I want them to hear how important we believe stopping here in the Solomon Islands is. We are a Pacific nation. The president is engaged in a major rebalance in the Asia Pacific. We have great concerns about — first of all, great ties with the Solomon Islands, as you know. And beyond that, we’re working together on things. We’re very, very saddened by the loss of life during the cyclone,” he said, adding that America was “happy” to provide $250,000 of water, and aid.

“But more importantly, we have $25 million in Asia Pacific climate change adaptation. We have another $25 million in mitigation programs. I know it’s of great concern to you. And in addition to that, we have huge historical ties that we respect enormously,” Kerry continued.

“So there’s a lot that ties us together. Our fisheries. We hope the Tuna Treaty is something that can be signed up to and furthered. We’re working together on illegal fishing. We thank you for coming to the conference that took place in Washington on the oceans. We want to continue that work.”

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Obama on Missouri Shooting: ‘We Should Comfort Each Other… Not in a Way That Wounds’

Tuesday, August 12th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

President Obama released his first statement on the shooting of Missouri teenager Michael Brown, urging calm in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson after two nights of rioting.

“The death of Michael Brown is heartbreaking, and Michelle and I send our deepest condolences to his family and his community at this very difficult time,” Obama said. “As Attorney General Holder has indicated, the Department of Justice is investigating the situation along with local officials, and they will continue to direct resources to the case as needed.”

Brown, 18, was shot to death in a St. Louis suburb on Saturday afternoon. Police say the teen attacked an officer and tried to take his gun, while witnesses counter that the unarmed teen had his hands up in the air.

On Monday, Holder said in a statement that his department’s investigation “will supplement, rather than supplant, the inquiry by local authorities.”

“At every step, we will work with the local investigators, who should be prepared to complete a thorough, fair investigation in their own right,” Holder said.

A group of lawmakers from the Congressional Black Caucus asked Holder today to expand the DOJ’s investigation toward the Ferguson police as a whole, studying their past background of incidents in addition to the shooting of Brown.

“I know the events of the past few days have prompted strong passions, but as details unfold, I urge everyone in Ferguson, Missouri, and across the country, to remember this young man through reflection and understanding,” Obama continued. “We should comfort each other and talk with one another in a way that heals, not in a way that wounds.”

“Along with our prayers, that’s what Michael and his family, and our broader American community, deserve.”

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Lawmakers Ask Holder to Expand Investigation Into Shooting of Missouri Teen

Tuesday, August 12th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

Rep. Wm. Lacy Clay (D-Mo.), who represents St. Louis, House Judiciary Committee Ranking Member John Conyers (D-Mich.), and Congressional Black Caucus chairwoman Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio) have asked Attorney General Eric Holder to expand the Justice Department’s probe into the police shooting of a teenager in Ferguson, Mo.

Michael Brown, 18, was shot to death in a St. Louis suburb on Saturday afternoon. Police say the teen attacked an officer and tried to take his gun, while witnesses counter that the unarmed teen had his hands up in the air.

“The shooting incident in Ferguson, Missouri this weekend deserves a fulsome review. In addition to the local investigation already underway, FBI agents from the St. Louis field office, working together with attorneys from the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division and US Attorney’s Office, have opened a concurrent, federal inquiry,” Holder said in a statement on Monday. “The federal investigation will supplement, rather than supplant, the inquiry by local authorities. At every step, we will work with the local investigators, who should be prepared to complete a thorough, fair investigation in their own right.”

“I will continue to receive regular updates on this matter in the coming days. Aggressively pursuing investigations such as this is critical for preserving trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve.”

The members of Congress asked Holder in a letter today to examine “both the facts of the specific incident as well as the potential for any pattern or practice of police misconduct by the Ferguson Police Department.”

“We understand that the St. Louis County Police Department is investigating the matter in order to have some level of independent investigation take place, but this arrangement is insufficient for at least two reasons,” the lawmakers continued. “First, the St. Louis County Police Department may not be the most objective or credible body to investigate civil rights matters involving law enforcement given evidence of racial profiling by that department in the recent past, which Congressman Clay had asked the Department of Justice to investigate.”

“Second, only the federal government has the resources, the experience, and the full independence to give this case the close scrutiny that the citizens of Ferguson and the greater St. Louis area deserve,” they continued. “Moreover, to the extent that a pattern or practice of police misconduct may exist, such misconduct would be a clear violation of federal law, including 42 U.S.C. § 14141, which makes it unlawful for State or local law enforcement officers to engage in a pattern or practice of conduct that deprives persons of rights protected by the Constitution or laws of the United States. Such conduct would include the use of excessive force by police.”

GOP Sen. Roy Blunt (Mo.) said a in statement that he stands with “all Missourians in remembering the family of Michael Brown and the Ferguson community as they grieve the tragic loss of this young man.”

“His recent high school graduation should have been a beginning of better things,” Blunt added of the teen, who was supposed to start school at a technical college on Monday.

“Everyone deserves a transparent understanding of what happened here,” the senator added. “I am fully supportive of County Executive Charlie Dooley and St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar calling for DOJ and the FBI to take a careful, open review of the events that led to this tragedy for everyone involved.”

Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) said “as a mother, I grieve for this child and his family.”

“I pray that the wonderful, hardworking, and God-loving people of Ferguson will find peace and patience as we wait for the results of what will be numerous and thorough investigations of what happened,” McCaskill added in a statement. “I, like so many other Missourians, will not be satisfied until we have a complete and transparent understanding of all the facts and circumstances that led to this young man’s death.”

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Graham Slams Obama for Thinking Defeat of ISIS Hinges on Iraq Political Reconciliation

Tuesday, August 12th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) criticized President Obama’s latest vacation speech on Iraq as “yet another” address “without a strategy or vision to protect the homeland against an increasingly lethal ISIS threat.”

“ISIS has repeatedly expressed its intent to kill Americans and they are gaining increased capability. President Obama should make it clear – ISIS is not just a threat to the Middle East, it is very much a threat to the American people and the homeland,” Graham said in a statement.

“It’s time we go on offense and hit ISIS where they reside. We need a sustained air campaign to slow momentum and diminish ISIS capability.”

Obama’s brief statement at Martha’s Vineyard focused on the ongoing airdrops and airstrikes in northern Iraq and the selection of a new prime minister designate, Haider al-Abadi.

“The United States stands ready to support a government that addresses the needs and grievances of all Iraqi people. We are also ready to work with other countries in the region to deal with the humanitarian crisis and counterterrorism challenge in Iraq. Mobilizing that support will be easier once this new government is in place,” said Obama, who had dragged his feet on authorizing action against ISIS after the fall of Mosul because he insisted on Iraq putting an inclusive government in place first.

“These have been difficult days in Iraq — a country that has faced so many challenges in its recent history. And I’m sure that there will be difficult days ahead. But just as the United States will remain vigilant against the threat posed to our people by ISIL, we stand ready to partner with Iraq in its fight against these terrorist forces,” the president continued. “Without question, that effort will be advanced if Iraqis continue to build on today’s progress, and come together to support a new and inclusive government.”

Graham said that “when it comes to Iraq, I agree with President Obama that the appointment of a new Iraqi Prime Minister is a step toward helping unify Iraq.”

“I fear Prime Minister Maliki is simply incapable of bringing Sunni’s back into a unified Iraqi government. It’s time for him to go. A new prime minister at least creates the possibility Sunni Iraqi’s will break from ISIS in Iraq,” he said.

“However President Obama is wrong in believing that political reconciliation in Baghdad will address the threat posed to the region and us by ISIS. Disorder in Iraq is a threat, no doubt. But ISIS has goals and objectives which extend far beyond Baghdad.”

The senator stressed that “from the American national security perspective, it is impossible to have a successful outcome in Iraq without hitting and diminishing ISIS.”

“That seems to be a fact President Obama is incapable or unwilling to address.”

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Robin Williams’ Last Gift: Angering ISIS

Tuesday, August 12th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson
YouTube Preview Image

The Islamic State is omnipresent on Twitter these days, so it was curious to see the jihadists weighing in on the death of Robin Williams just as the rest of the world was last night.

However, they weren’t as kind to the kafir, heavily citing the above hilarious sketch he did about jihad and the whole idea of getting 72 virgins upon martyrdom.

 

 

 

 

 

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Kerry, Hagel Weigh in on Robin Williams

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Kerry, Hagel Weigh in on Robin Williams

Tuesday, August 12th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

The death of comedian Robin Williams drew tributes from the secretaries of State and Defense, with the latter praising the late actor for consistently supporting our troops.

Williams was found dead Monday at age 63 from an apparent suicide. His publicist said the Good Morning Vietnam star had been battling depression.

“The entire of Department of Defense community mourns the loss of Robin Williams. Robin was a gifted actor and comedian, but he was also a true friend and supporter of our troops,” Hagel said in a statement Monday night. “From entertaining thousands of service men and women in war zones, to his philanthropy that helped veterans struggling with hidden wounds of war, he was a loyal and compassionate advocate for all who serve this nation in uniform.”

“He will be dearly missed by the men and women of DoD – so many of whom were personally touched by his humor and generosity.”

John Kerry issued his own statement this morning, stressing “there wasn’t anybody Robin Williams couldn’t touch.”

“His humor was just that expansive. He was an absolute genius, with an extraordinary zest for his profession. It’s safe to say that there was more going on in him in one minute than most people in a week,” Kerry said. “He loved people and he committed himself to any issue that concerned him. Robin wasn’t just a huge creative genius, but a caring, involved citizen. I’ll always be grateful for his personal friendship and his support for the causes that we both cared about deeply.”

“We will all miss Robin’s uncanny impressions, zany observations, and cutting-edge quips that found the truth as well as the humor. Teresa and I join the millions he inspired around the world in offering our deepest condolences to his family at this immensely difficult moment.”

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Obama to Fundraiser: ‘No Doubt’ Administration Can ‘Guide the World Through Some of the Rockier Times’

Monday, August 11th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

President Obama told a crowd at a Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee fundraiser this evening that the world universally recognizes “that our leadership is absolutely critical” when it comes to global crises.

“It’s fair to say that America has the best cards when you look at other countries around the world. There’s no other country you’d rather be than the United States. We are best positioned. And what will determine success in the 21st century is all the stuff that we’re best at — knowledge, innovation,” Obama said at a private home in Tisbury, Mass., near where he’s vacationing at Martha’s Vineyard. “For the first time in 10 years, international investors now say the number-one place to invest is no longer China again; it’s the United States of America. Because they recognize that when you combine our incredible natural resources with a system — an economic system as dynamic as ours, and the incredible talents of our people, nobody can compete with us when we’re making the right decisions.”

“But, obviously, our economy doesn’t work in isolation. And we also are seeing around the world incredible challenges, many of them all coming to a head at the same time. The Middle East is just one of the major challenges we have,” he continued. “And before I came here, I had a chance to speak to the prime minister-designate of Iraq. I’m hopeful that now we have the opportunity to form a government in Iraq that can be an effective partner for us, but, more importantly, can form the kind of broad, inclusive government that serves as a basis for them to repel the terrorist movement, ISIL, that has been sweeping across the country.”

Obama acknowledged that “at the same time, we also have problems in Ukraine that we’re having to deal with.”

“Obviously, the situation in Israel and Gaza is something that we’ve all been watching, and deeply concerned about and engaged with,” he said.

“I do want to point out, though, at a time when the news seems filled with news of Ukraine and Gaza and Ebola and you name it, that in every instance people are constantly interested in finding out how can America help solve these problems. And there’s a reason for that. Because despite the complaints and the second-guessing, and the anti-American sentiment that you hear sometimes on television around the globe, when there’s an actual problem they all recognize we’re the one indispensable nation. They all recognize that our leadership is absolutely critical. And that’s true both for challenges and opportunities.”

The president said “the truth of the matter is, is that as challenging as some of the problems are around the globe, what we’re also seeing is unprecedented engagement in Asia, and our alliances have never been stronger there.”

“What we’re also seeing is, in Latin America, when I came into office there was a sense that somehow Chavez and other demagogues were going to be setting the agenda there. No longer. Now they all recognize that partnering with us is best for their people and the future of their children and their grandchildren.”

After months of lobbying from lawmakers, the Obama administration last week finally imposed visa sanctions against some human-rights abusers in Venezuela — not including the country’s leader, Hugo Chavez’s handpicked socialist successor Nicolas Maduro.

Opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez also just went on trial on charges of inciting protests last winter. The former Chacao mayor and charismatic pro-democracy activist could face 10 years behind bars, and has already been held for five months after handing himself in to authorities in February.

Nearly four dozen people died, hundreds were injured and thousands were arrested in the pro-democracy demonstrations early this year.

“In Africa, we just recently had an incredible summit — unprecedented — 50 world leaders who came. All of them just thrilled to be finding ways in which they can work with us to provide electricity to people who have never had it before; to grow crops that they haven’t been able to grow before; to feed themselves; to create commercial partnerships,” Obama continued.

“And so I guess the point is this — that in the same way that through persistence and a steady hand we’ve been able to guide ourselves out of the economic crisis that we were in five years ago, I have no doubt that we’re going to be able to guide the world, as a country, through some of the rockier times that we’re going through internationally. But all of that requires some seriousness in Washington.”

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Actor Robin Williams Found Dead in Apparent Suicide, Says Sheriff

Monday, August 11th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

The Marin County Sheriff’s Office has just reported that actor Robin Williams is dead. The full press release from the coroner’s office:

On August 11, 2014, at approximately 11:55 am, Marin County Communications received a 9-1-1 telephone call reporting a male adult had been located unconscious and not breathing inside his residence in unincorporated Tiburon, CA. The Sheriff’s Office, as well as the Tiburon Fire Department and Southern Marin Fire Protection District were dispatched to the incident with emergency personnel arriving on scene at 12:00 pm. The male subject, pronounced deceased at 12:02 pm has been identified as Robin McLaurin Williams, a 63 year old resident of unincorporated Tiburon, CA.

An investigation into the cause, manner, and circumstances of the death is currently underway by the Investigations and Coroner Divisions of the Sheriff’s Office. Preliminary information developed during the investigation indicates Mr. Williams was last seen alive at his residence, where he resides with his wife, at approximately 10:00 pm on August 10, 2014. Mr. Williams was located this morning shortly before the 9-1-1 call was placed to Marin County Communications. At this time, the Sheriff’s Office Coroner Division suspects the death to be a suicide due to asphyxia, but a comprehensive investigation must be completed before a final determination is made. A forensic examination is currently scheduled for August 12, 2014 with subsequent toxicology testing to be conducted.

According to IMDb, Williams had wrapped up filming on a Night at the Museum sequel.

Williams’ publicist, Mara Buxbaum, released a statement saying the comedian “has been battling severe depression as of late.”

“This is a tragic and sudden loss,” Buxbaum said. “The family respectfully asks for their privacy as they grieve during this very difficult time.”

UPDATE 8:45 p.m.: President Obama issued a statement: “Robin Williams was an airman, a doctor, a genie, a nanny, a president, a professor, a bangarang Peter Pan, and everything in between.  But he was one of a kind.  He arrived in our lives as an alien – but he ended up touching every element of the human spirit.  He made us laugh.  He made us cry.  He gave his immeasurable talent freely and generously to those who needed it most – from our troops stationed abroad to the marginalized on our own streets.  The Obama family offers our condolences to Robin’s family, his friends, and everyone who found their voice and their verse thanks to Robin Williams.”

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Now-Ex DIA Director: ‘Core Ideology’ of al-Qaeda ‘Spreading, Not Shrinking’

Monday, August 11th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

The director of the Defense Intelligence Agency who stepped down last week told an online defense magazine that “we’re in a period of prolonged societal conflict that is pretty unprecedented” and stood by his assessment that the country is not safer today.

The Pentagon announced in April that Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, who took the reins of the agency in 2012, would be resigning. Last month, Flynn told the Aspen Forum “we understand that we’re not” safer than we were two, five, or 10 years ago. White House press secretary Josh Earnest responded to Flynn’s comments by saying “there have been very devastating blows that have been leveled against al-Qaeda.”

Flynn told Breaking Defense that he has never seen so many global crises crashing down simultaneously.

“I will frankly tell you that what I see each day is the most uncertain, chaotic and confused international environment that I’ve witnessed in my entire career. There were probably more dangerous times such as when the Nazis and [Japanese] Imperialists were trying to dominate the world, but we’re in another very dangerous era. We rightfully talk about the last decade being the longest war in American history, for instance, but when we pull combat troops out of Afghanistan at the end of this year, it’s not going to feel like that war is over. To me, it feels like we’ll be facing a familiar threat and heightened uncertainty for a long time yet,” he said.

He stressed that the “explosion of social media” is accelerating the changing landscape, with everyone caught up in the rapid-moving events. “Even the president, I believe, sometimes feels compelled to just do something without first saying ‘Wait! How did this happen? Who made this decision?’”

On his Aspen Forum remarks? “In 2004, there were 21 total Islamic terrorist groups spread out in 18 countries. Today, there are 41 Islamic terrorist groups spread out in 24 countries. A lot of these groups have the intention to attack Western interests, to include Western embassies and in some cases Western countries. Some have both the intention and some capability to attack the United States homeland,” Flynn said.

And “the core ideology and belief system” of al-Qaeda “is spreading, not shrinking.”

“Look at the unbelievably violent videos coming out of Iraq just in recent days. I’ve physically interrogated some of these guys, and I’ve had the opportunity to hear them talking about their organizations and beliefs. These are people who have a very deeply-rooted belief system that is just difficult for Americans to comprehend. Just think about the mindset of a suicide bomber,” Flynn continued.

“…When Bin Laden was killed there was a general sense that maybe this threat would go away. We all had those hopes, including me. But I also remembered my many years in Afghanistan and Iraq. We kept decapitating the leadership of these groups, and more leaders would just appear from the ranks to take their place. That’s when I realized that decapitation alone was a failed strategy.”

Flynn says he believes he accomplished his goal of “shaking things up at DIA.”

“Maybe it did get to the point where I was a little too far out in front of my headlights. I had a meeting with my boss and the message was ‘it’s time for you to go,’ and my reaction was to salute and say, ‘Okay, no problem.’”

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Pentagon Official: Airstrikes ‘Unlikely to Affect ISIL’s Overall Capabilities’

Monday, August 11th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

An official with the Joint Chiefs of Staff told reporters at the Pentagon today that U.S. airstrikes “have slowed ISIL’s operational tempo and temporarily disrupted their advances toward the province of Erbil” and Kurdish forces are holding territory near the imperiled city.

“However, these strikes are unlikely to affect ISIL’s overall capabilities or its operations in other areas of Iraq and Syria,” cautioned Lt. Gen. Bill Mayville, director of operations.

“ISIL remains focused on securing and gaining additional territory throughout Iraq and will sustain its attacks against Iraqi and Kurdish security forces and their positions, as well as target Yazidis, Christians, and other minorities,” Mayville said. “Our current operations are limited in scope to protect U.S. citizens and facilities, to protect U.S. aircraft supporting humanitarian assistance, and to assist in the breakup of ISIL forces that have laid siege to the Sinjar Mountain.”

That assistance has included “14 successful missions” over the past four nights between the US and UK “airdropping more than 310 bundles of food, water, and medical supplies, delivering almost 16,000 gallons of water and 75,000 meals.”

“To date, U.S. Air Force and Navy aircraft, to include F-15Es, F-16s, F/A-18s, and MQ-1s have executed 15 targeted airstrikes,” Mayville said, and “over 60 intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft are supporting our coalition efforts.”

He stressed that there are “no plans to expand the current air campaign beyond the current self- defense activities,” even though Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel today called the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or ISIS) ”a threat to the civilized world.”

“As for what we might do next, we’ll have to wait and see and get a better assessment on the ground before we can offer some options to the president,” Mayville said.

“We are, right now, gripped by the immediacy of the crisis. And our focus right now is to provide immediate relief to those that are suffering. We are looking at the effect that we’re having on those fixed sites, those ISIL sites, those ISIL sites that are laying siege, and we are trying to reduce that threat. And for the near term, that’s going to be our focus.”

Mayville stressed that “in the immediate areas where we have focused our strikes, we’ve had a very temporary effect.”

“What I expect the ISIL to do is to look for other things to do, to pick up and move elsewhere. So I in no way want to suggest that we have effectively contained or that we are somehow breaking the momentum of the threat posed by ISIL… The targeting in this is going to become more difficult.”

The Joint Chiefs ops director said he remains “very concerned about the threat posed by ISIL in Iraq and in the region.”

“They’re very well-organized. They are very well-equipped. They coordinate their operations. And they have thus far shown the ability to attack on multiple axes. This is not insignificant,” Mayville continued.

“What happened last week was that Iraqi security forces simply did not have the equipment and the supplies and the ammunition to sustain their defensive positions around the Mosul Dam and in and around Mount Sinjar. And it is for that reason that the ISIL forces were as effective as they were.”

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Senators Want Kerry to Investigate Hamas Rockets at Taxpayer-Funded UN Facilities

Monday, August 11th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) and Ben Cardin (D-Md.) are demanding that Secretary of State John Kerry launch an independent investigation into at least three incidents where Hamas rockets were discovered at facilities of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA).

The senators argued in a letter last week that the weapons were particularly troubling when coupled with anti-Israel statements and actions of the UN agency.

Their letter cites “multiple instances of weapons found at UNRWA schools as well one-sided statements from UNRWA leadership that unjustly condemn Israel,” including  UNRWA Commissioner General Pierre Krahenbuhl stating July 14 that Israeli security forces are acting “contrary to international humanitarian law” and conducting an “illegal” blockade of Gaza.

“As you know, UNRWA admitted on July 17th, July 22nd, and July 30th that it found rockets belonging to Hamas on its property. We commend UNRWA’s quick condemnation of these incidents, but are concerned with the ultimate fate of these rockets, which UNRWA claimed to have turned over to the  ’local authorities’ or have gone missing. We fear that this means these rockets may have found their way back into Hamas’ hands,” the senators wrote.

“We urge the State Department to launch an independent investigation into these incidents and to call on the United Nations leadership to hold UNRWA accountable, including by reprimanding or dismissing the UNRWA staff responsible as appropriate, as well as asking the U.N. to ensure that these incidents never take place again,” the letter continues. “In the course of your investigation, we ask you to examine the fate of these rockets, what measures the U.N. took to secure UNRWA property, and how the U.S. intends to work with the U.N. to make sure incidents like these are never repeated.”

“As you know, the United States is the largest donor to UNRWA and has contributed almost $5 billion to the organization since 1950. The United States taxpayers deserve to know if UNRWA is fulfilling its mission or taking sides in this tragic conflict.”

The 2013 U.S. contribution to UNWRA was $294 million. In September 2012 elections for UNRWA’s workers union board, Hamas-affiliated candidates won 25 out of 27 seats.

At the State Department last week, spokeswoman Marie Harf said “our folks are looking into” reports that UNRWA summer camps are teaching Palestinian kids to hate Jews and wage jihad.

“They didn’t have any clarity for me when I came out here, but I’ll follow up with them because obviously, look, any — any anti-Semitic language, any — any language like that really just has no place in the discourse about this or any other issue,” Harf told reporters.

“Given UNRWA’s ties to terrorism in the past, U.S. taxpayers deserve immediate answers and full transparency regarding their intentions and actions,” Kirk said in a statement. “The State Department must make clear to the U.N. that it needs to take all necessary steps to prevent Hamas from using taxpayer-funded property to launch terror attacks against our allies.”

“When leaders and organizations of the United Nations blur the clear distinction between a nation-state defending itself and a terrorist organization attempting to murder civilians, Americans take note,” said Cardin. “When an organization funded in part by the U.S. suggests that the two are morally equivalent, U.S. taxpayers take note.”

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Hit by Russia Sanctions, Poland Urges U.S. to Allow Its ‘Freedom Apples’

Monday, August 11th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson
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Poland expects to get hit hard by Russia’s yearlong ban on agricultural imports from Europe and the United States, and is appealing to the U.S. to help buy its apples.

Actually, the Polish Embassy in Washington has a catchy hashtag in hopes that the movement will catch on: #FreedomApples, a reference to the “freedom fries” of the Iraq War when France wouldn’t back the U.S.

According to the Moscow Times, more than 800 Polish companies exported apples to Russia but were stopped on Aug. 1 — killing a $400 million market for the biggest apple exporter in Europe.

Polish Ambassador Ryszard Schnepf appeals to Americans in a video with an empty apple basket.

Russia’s sanctions, Schnepf says, are “revenge” for their support of Ukraine. “This basket should be full. Full of fresh, delicious Polish apples. Unfortunately, the American market is closed to Polish fresh fruits.”

“Dear American friends: Please, join me in asking the U.S. government to open the doors for our Freedom Apples.”

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Obama Quickly Hits Golf Course After Arrival in Martha’s Vineyard

Saturday, August 9th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

After making a statement on Iraq from the South Lawn this morning, President Obama wasted no time booking it to the golf course.

“I’m not going to give a particular timetable, because as I’ve said from the start, wherever and whenever U.S. personnel and facilities are threatened, it’s my obligation, my responsibility as commander in chief, to make sure that they are protected. And we’re not moving our embassy anytime soon. We’re not moving our consulate anytime soon. And that means that, given the challenging security environment, we’re going to maintain vigilance and ensure that our people are safe,” Obama said.

“Our initial goal is to not only make sure Americans are protected, but also to deal with this humanitarian situation in Sinjar. We feel confident that we can prevent ISIL from going up a mountain and slaughtering the people who are there. But the next step, which is going to be complicated logistically, is how do we give safe passage for people down from the mountain, and where can we ultimately relocate them so that they are safe. That’s the kind of coordination that we need to do internationally.”

Obama spoke with German Chancellor Angela Merkel aboard Air Force One en route to Martha’s Vineyard, as Bo the dog strolled through the press cabin.

The White House press pool was kept out of sight of Obama’s vacation home at the end of a private road.

Obama was only there for about half an hour before hitting the golf course. His partners were Valerie Jarrett’s boyfriend Ahmad Rashad, Jarrett’s cousin Cyrus Walker, and NBA player Ray Allen.

The pool was permitted to watch President Obama and his golf partners as they wrapped up the first hole at Farm Neck. Obama, in a white golf shirt, baseball cap and gray pants, carefully lined up a putt, bending down to the grass and taking a long look at the green before eventually making the short putt.

“The pool did not witness any particularly impressive or embarrassing shots as each player took his turn putting. The foursome appeared to be having a pleasant but low-key conversation, but the pool was kept at a distance and could not hear the discussion,” said an afternoon press pool report.

“After just a couple minutes at the first green, the pool was ushered away” and left to wait in a bus. “The weather in Oak Bluffs is perfect for playing 18 holes — sunny and 79 degrees today.”

Obama is scheduled to be at Martha’s Vineyard through Aug. 17, but will head to Tisbury, Mass., on Monday for a Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee fundraiser.

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Feinstein Urges No Half-Measures on ISIS Fight: ‘It Takes an Army to Defeat an Army’

Friday, August 8th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

Senate Democrats teetered Friday between cautiously supporting and cautiously criticizing President Obama’s airstrikes and humanitarian drops in Iraq.

But Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) warned that just a slap at ISIS won’t be enough.

“I strongly support the president’s authorization for airstrikes against ISIL. This is not a typical terrorist organization—it is a terrorist army, operating with military expertise, advancing across Iraq and rapidly consolidating its position,” Feinstein said in a statement today.

“ISIL is capturing new Iraqi towns every day, is reported to be in control of Mosul Dam and is engaging in a campaign of ethnic cleansing that appears to be attempted genocide. I believe that once this group solidifies its hold on what it calls the Islamic State, its next target may be Baghdad,” she continued. “It has become clear that ISIL is recruiting fighters in Western countries, training them to fight its battles in the Middle East and possibly returning them to European and American cities to attack us in our backyard. We simply cannot allow this to happen.”

“It takes an army to defeat an army, and I believe that we either confront ISIL now or we will be forced to deal with an even stronger enemy in the future. Inaction is no longer an option. I support actions by the administration to coordinate efforts with Iraq and other allies to use our military strength and targeting expertise to the fullest extent possible.”

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), however, stressed that he opposes ”open-ended military commitments, which the President’s actions in Iraq could become.”

“Humanitarian relief is necessary to prevent genocide and provide food and water to meet an urgent emergency, but the president owes the American people a better, fuller explanation of the scope and strategy of military actions,” continued the senator, who sits on the Armed Services Committee. “I am deeply concerned that these actions could lead to prolonged direct military involvement, which I would strongly oppose. As a condition for any military aid in Iraq, I have said that there must be a new government that is inclusive and unifying.”

“I continue to believe that the current situation in Iraq is a failure of Iraq’s leaders, who have used the security forces – with training and equipment we provided – for their own sectarian ends, rather than uniting their country. It is also a consequence of the failure of the international community to contain the ongoing civil war in Syria.”

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White House Explains Obama’s ‘Flip’ January Basketball Analogy About ISIS Weakness

Friday, August 8th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

In a January interview with The New Yorker, President Obama said of the ISIS threat:

The analogy we use around here sometimes, and I think is accurate, is if a jayvee team puts on Lakers uniforms that doesn’t make them Kobe Bryant. I think there is a distinction between the capacity and reach of a bin Laden and a network that is actively planning major terrorist plots against the homeland versus jihadists who are engaged in various local power struggles and disputes, often sectarian.

Naturally, when Obama last night decided that ISIS had become enough of a threat to warrant immediate action in the country from which he withdrew U.S. forces, that quote — branded by the New Yorker writer at the time as a “flip analogy” — circulated fast around social media.

At today’s White House press briefing, press secretary Josh Earnest tried to offer an explanation:

Well, I think what is appropriate to say is that there is no question that the Laker uniforms that were worn, to use that analogy a little, to draw out that analogy a little bit, that were worn by the Al Qaida leadership in Afghanistan has been decimated and defeated in Afghanistan. There’s no question about that.

And that is the result of the many decisions that were made by the president and the courageous service of our men and women in uniform and our men and women in the intelligence agencies.

What is also true is that there are other organizations that subscribe to the violent extremist ideology that’s espoused and promulgated by Al Qaida. Many of those groups in nations across the globe are not particularly sophisticated, are focused on local, sectarian conflicts, that don’t pose a significant or immediate threat to the U.S. interests or the U.S. homeland.

There are, of course, a couple of other organizations that do pose a more substantial threat to the United States and our interests. Al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula is one of them. And you’ve seen the United States in concern with our allies and partners take significant steps, important steps, to mitigate the threat that’s posed by those organizations that do have designs and some capability to try to strike the United States and, in some cases, even try to strike the homeland.

We do remain concerned about the military proficiency that’s been demonstrated by ISIL, and it’s why you’ve seen the president take steps, including the authorization of military force, that would protect American citizens who might be harmed by ISIL.

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Congressional Critic of Obama’s Use of War Powers OK with Current Strikes

Friday, August 8th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

A House lawmaker who has gone after President Obama for what he says have been violations of the War Powers Resolution says he believes the commander in chief is acting within his authority in strikes on Iraq.

Rep. Scott Rigell (R-Va.) added an amendment to a defense bill last summer scolding Obama for trying to operate a “king’s army,” stating, “The precedence set by the Executive Branch in its assertion that Congress plays no role in military actions like those taken in Libya is contrary to the intent of the Framers and of the Constitution which vests sole authority to declare war in the Legislative Branch.”

Two months later, Rigell warned the administration to not treat Congress like a “potted plant” as it weighed how to responded to Bashar al-Assad crossing the chemical weapons “red line.” Rigell rallied a bipartisan effort to pressure Obama to come before Congress before taking any action.

Today, though, Rigell said of Obama’s airstrikes and drops of humanitarian aid to Yazidis under siege by ISIS on Mount Sinjar:  ”I believe these actions are consistent with the president’s authority as defined by the Constitution and the War Powers Act.”

“It could be argued that this use of U.S. military force to provide a means of escape for those trapped atop the mountain has no direct connection to our national security, and thus requires prior authorization from Congress,” Rigell said in a statement this afternoon. “However, the need to move quickly to prevent further loss of life of men, women and children is not in dispute, and the action authorized by the president – at this point at least – is purely defensive in nature.”

“Importantly, providing a means of escape reflects our American character and core values, which includes a willingness to do what we can to defend the defenseless and to safeguard the most basic human right, which is life itself,” he said.

Rigell stressed that “though I agree with and support these recent decisions by President Obama, my strong objection to his past willingness to disregard the War Powers Act, and concern that he may disregard it again, specifically in Iraq, remains.”

“Accordingly, I urge the president to present to the American people his vision and plan to elevate peace and stability in Iraq,” added the congressman whose district includes large military populations in Norfolk and Hampton. ”Should that ever include the introduction of U.S. armed forces into hostilities, the president must first seek and receive authorization from Congress. It is not the king’s army.”

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Obama Authorizes Airstrikes in Iraq, Says Threat to Irbil Justifies Move Against ISIS

Thursday, August 7th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

President Obama emerged in the State Dining Room at the White House on Thursday night to announce “targeted aistrikes to protect our American personnel, and a humanitarian effort to help save thousands of Iraqi civilians who are trapped on a mountain without food and water and facing almost certain death.”

Obama referenced a vow he made in June to take action against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIS, ”if and when we determined that the situation required it.”

“In recent days, these terrorists have continued to move across Iraq, and have neared the city of Irbil, where American diplomats and civilians serve at our consulate, and American military personnel advise Iraqi forces,” the president said. “To stop the advance on Irbil, I directed our military to take targeted strikes against ISIL terrorist convoys should they move towards the city. We intend to stay vigilant and take action if these terrorist forces threaten our personnel or facilities anywhere in Iraq, including our consulate in Irbil and our embassy in Baghdad.”

“We’re also providing urgent assistance to Iraqi government and Kurdish forces so they can more effectively wage the fight against ISIL.”

The second part of the operation — the humanitarian assistance — came “at the request of the Iraqi government” to “help save Iraqi civilians stranded on the mountain.”

“As ISIL has marched across Iraq, it has waged a ruthless campaign against innocent Iraqis, and these terrorists have been especially barbaric towards religious minorities, including Christian and Yezidis, a small and ancient religious sect,” Obama continued. “…ISIL forces below have called for the systematic destruction of the entire Yezidi people, which would constitute genocide.”

“I’ve said before the United States cannot and should not intervene every time there is a crisis in the world. So let me be clear about why we must act and act now. When we face a situation like we do on that mountain, with innocent people facing the prospect of violence on a horrific scale, when we have a mandate to help — in this case a request from the Iraqi government — and when we have the unique capabilities to help avert a massacre, then I believe the United States of America cannot turn a blind eye. We can act, carefully and responsibly, to prevent a potential act of genocide. That’s what we’re doing on that mountain.”

Obama said the airstrikes have been authorized “if necessary” to help Iraqi forces break the siege of Mount Sinjar and humanitarian air drops have already begun.

“Earlier this week, one Iraqi in the area cried to the world, there is no one coming to help. Well, today, America is coming to help,” he said, adding the administration mantra that the lasting solution to ISIS’ reign of terror is an inclusive political process in Baghdad and government reforms.

“The several hundred American advisers that I ordered to Iraq will continue to assess what more we can do to help train, advise and support Iraqi forces going forward,” Obama said. “And just as I consulted Congress on the decisions I made today, we will continue to do so going forward. My fellow Americans, the world is confronted by many challenges, and while America has never been able to right every wrong, America has made the world a more secure and prosperous place.”

Secretary of State John Kerry said in a statement that Obama “has acted expeditiously and appropriately in authorizing targeted military action and providing significant humanitarian assistance to the people of Iraq at this very difficult moment when it is vitally needed.”

“With a gut-wrenching humanitarian crisis unfolding, and the rolls of the starving and sick growing daily, there’s not a minute to waste. The United States is acting and leading, and the world cannot sit by and watch innocents die,” Kerry said. The Turks actually took lead on the first humanitarian drops escorted by their F-16s.

“We will continue to coordinate with our allies in the region and the international community to assist Iraqis to confront ISIL’s brutal ideology which poses a severe threat to Iraq, the region, and the United States,” he added. “President Obama has been unequivocal that he will do what is necessary and what is in our national interest to confront ISIL and its threat to the security of the region and to our own long-term security.”

The Pentagon said tonight’s mission was “conducted from multiple airbases within the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility” and included one C-17 and two C-130 aircraft, escorted by two F/A-18s, dropping 72 bundles of supplies including drinking water and MREs.

“The aircraft were over the drop area for less than fifteen minutes flying at a low altitude,” the Defense Department said. “As part of the United States commitment to allies and partners in the region, the Department of Defense maintains a robust stock of food items and water for rapid distribution if needed for a natural disaster or other crisis.”

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) said he supported the administration actions.

“There are a number of justifications for these actions, but the reasons he cited are surely sufficient. It is helpful that the government of Iraq has requested our assistance, and it would also be helpful under the circumstances, though not necessary, for a number of neighboring countries to publicly support our actions,” Levin said. “I have urged the administration to provide greater assistance to the Kurds, to assist their defense and to help them resume their protection of Christian villages in their area.”

Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) called Obama’s proposal ”far from sufficient to meet the growing threat that ISIS poses.”

“A policy of containment will not work against ISIS. It is inherently expansionist and must be stopped. The longer we wait to act, the worse this threat will become, as recent events clearly show,” the senators said in a joint statement.

“We need to get beyond a policy of half measures. The President needs to devise a comprehensive strategy to degrade ISIS. This should include the provision of military and other assistance to our Kurdish, Iraqi, and Syrian partners who are fighting ISIS. It should include U.S. air strikes against ISIS leaders, forces, and positions both in Iraq and Syria. It should include support to Sunni Iraqis who seek to resist ISIS. And none of this should be contingent on the formation of a new government in Baghdad.”

McCain and Graham added that “if ever there were a time to reevaluate our disastrous policy in the Middle East, this is it.”

“Because of the President’s hands-off approach, the threats in the region have grown and now directly threaten the United States,” they said. “We are already paying a very heavy price for our inaction, and if we do not change course, the costs of our inaction will only grow.”

“Without immediate U.S. action, it will not just be innocent Syrians and Iraqis who pay the price of ISIL’s rise,” said Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.).

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Rep. Wolf to Obama: ‘You Will Come to Sincerely Regret Your Failure to Stop the Genocide’

Thursday, August 7th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

A 17-term congressman who has dedicated much of his career to human-rights issues lashed out at President Obama for inviting genocide with his lackadaisical policies.

“Much like President Clinton has deeply regretted his failure to stop the genocide in Rwanda in 1994, I believe you will come to regret your inaction for years to come,” Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) wrote to Obama today.

Before recess, Wolf was repeatedly speaking on the House floor about the massacre of Christians in Iraq and decrying how the U.S. was doing nothing in response.

On Monday, Wolf wrote to Obama to charge that “you and your administration have failed.”

“You, Secretary of State Kerry and Ambassador Power all need to speak out. Having a mid-level White House advisor meet with a group of concerned Assyrian leaders is not enough. In fact, it was little more than an empty gesture,” he wrote. “Time is running out. How many more people must be killed for you to acknowledge this situation?”

In today’s letter, Wolf ripped Obama for the 2012 creation of his Atrocities Prevention Board that hasn’t lived up to its pledge to make the prevention of genocide “a core national security interest and core moral responsibility.”

“Tragically, mass atrocities are happening again today – and on your watch. Genocide is taking place today in northern Iraq, where the Christian and Yezidi populations are being exterminated by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). There is no question that systematic and targeted brutality is occurring. Yet, as I said on the House floor last week, the silence from you and your administration is deafening. Why have you not spoken up, and why has the Atrocities Prevention Board not taken action?” Wolf said.

The congressman highlighted how last weekend the Yazidis were forced onto Sinjar Mountain by ISIS forces, some dying of thirst waiting for help and some women and girls captured by ISIS as sex slaves.

“The homes of Christians and other religious minorities have been marked with spray paint to target those who live there. Families have been force to flee, often on foot, with nothing but literally the shirts on their backs,” Wolf wrote. “We cannot pretend these atrocities aren’t taking place; there are now videos on the Internet being promoted by those sympathetic to ISIS proudly displaying their brutal and grotesque slaughter and abuse of Christians, Yezidis and other religious minorities in Iraq.”

“Your administration is aware of what is going on, yet you are doing nothing. Just what is the point of having an ‘Atrocities Prevention Board’ if it takes no action to prevent or stop atrocities? When was the last time this board has met? Has the board even been convened to address the genocide taking place in Iraq?”

Wolf then reprinted what Obama said at the Holocaust Museum in 2012:

“And finally, ‘never again’ is a challenge to nations. It’s a bitter truth — too often, the world has failed to prevent the killing of innocents on a massive scale. And we are haunted by the atrocities that we did not stop and the lives we did not save.

“Three years ago today, I joined many of you for a ceremony of remembrance at the U.S. Capitol. And I said that we had to do ‘everything we can to prevent and end atrocities.’ And so I want to report back to some of you today to let you know that as President I’ve done my utmost to back up those words with deeds. Last year, in the first-ever presidential directive on this challenge, I made it clear that ‘preventing mass atrocities and genocide is a core national security interest and a core moral responsibility of the United States of America.

“That does not mean that we intervene militarily every time there’s an injustice in the world. We cannot and should not. It does mean we possess many tools – diplomatic and political, and economic and financial, and intelligence and law enforcement and our moral suasion – and using these tools over the past three years, I believe – I know – that we have saved countless lives.”

“It is now clear to the nation and the world that your words were hollow; your ‘presidential directive’ apparently was nothing more than a token gesture. You will come to sincerely regret your failure to take action to stop the genocide in Iraq,” Wolf wrote. “Your conscience will haunt you long after you leave office. Mr. President, say something; do something.”

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Girl Who Nearly Didn’t Get Lung Due to HHS Rule Marks Milestone

Thursday, August 7th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

Remember the dying girl with cystic fibrosis who needed the courts to step in last summer to prevent the Department of Health and Human Services from enforcing a policy that prevents children under 12 from getting adult lung transplants? Lawmakers tried to step in and get Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to use her authority to override the rule and allow the transplant but Sebelius wouldn’t budge. Sebelius eventually lost, and the family won. And today they marked a milestone.

 

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