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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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Undercover Harry: Reid Sports Shades at Presser

Tuesday, February 24th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) underwent eye surgery at the end of January and mid-February to repair facial bones damaged in his home-workout accident; today at a press conference, he was sporting a new look.

Reid wasn’t wearing his new shades on the Senate floor, which suggests the lighting from cameras at the press conference to pressure Republicans to pass a clean DHS bill was painful.

 

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Jindal: Obama ‘Unfit to be Commander in Chief,’ More Intent on Warning About the Crusades

Tuesday, February 24th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal said President Obama “seems more intent on telling us warnings about the Crusades, criticizing America” than fighting terrorism.

Jindal, the 2016 hopeful playing the most hardball lately, emerged from a governors’ meeting with Obama at the White House yesterday to declare the president “unfit to be commander in chief.”

“I take no joy in saying that,” said Jindal, in town for the National Governors Association meeting, to reporters. “I don’t say so for partisan or ideological reasons.”

Jindal elaborated on Fox this morning, saying Obama “disqualified” himself from being fit to lead the country and its military as he “refuses to identify one of the main military threats we face by name: radical Islamic fundamentalism.”

“You listen to those quotes from his own administration. Eric Holder says, ‘We’re not at a state of war.’ You’ve got the State Department saying, ‘We’re not going to kill our way to victory,’ at a time when these barbarians, they’re beheading Christians, they’re torturing, prosecuting Christians, Muslims, Jews, other religious minorities, they are — they killed over 100 schoolchildren, they’re actually killing editorials, because they don’t like their cartoons,” he said.

The governor also cited two “fundamental mistakes” Obama makes in his authorization of military force request to Congress.

“One, he puts an arbitrary timeline, a three-year deadline in there. We know we’ll be done when we’ve hunted down and killed these terrorists, not some political deadline. And then secondly, he bars the use of ground troops,” Jindal said.

“We need to enlist our military commanders. We need to go to them and say, ‘Give us a plan to hunt down, to kill, to eradicate these terrorists.’ We don’t need a president who’s trying to appease (inaudible), trying to be politically correct. He won’t even name the enemy we face, and now he’s refusing to give our military the tools — all the tools they need to go and win this war.”

He added that the 90-minute meeting Obama held with the governors is “more of the president talking to us than a real dialogue.”

“One, the president continues to say, ‘We’re not at war with Islam.’ Well, that’s obvious. That’s obviously true. But we are at war with radical Islam, and he needs to say it. You hear other foreign leaders say it. You hear the president of Egypt, the prime minister of France say it,” Jindal continued. “And secondly, the way that we win, the way we deny them the P.R., the recruiting tool is to hunt them down and kill them.”

“These — this political correctness is just — it’s not helping anything. It’s — it’s hurting our ability to actually go and win this fight. The way we deny them the P.R. tools is hunt them down and kill them.”

Jindal said political correctness is also making Obama “pretend like we’ll never send in ground troops.”

“The reality is we have allies willing to supply ground troops, including Turkey, if this president would be serious about being there to get rid of Assad,” he said of the dictator giving haven to terrorists in return for keeping him in power. “I think there’re a lot of allies worried that if they go after ISIS, it’ll create a vacuum for Assad. It’ll create a vacuum for Iran. So there are allies willing to supply the ground troops if they thought this president were more serious.”

“…This is one of the few times I think Congress needs to give the president more than he’s asked for. I almost never say that. I think they need to give him the ability to go win this war. He hasn’t asked for enough when it comes to the ability to win this war. They should give it to him.”

Obama needled governors eyeing his job in public remarks to the group. “So I’m in the fourth quarter of my presidency, or as some of you might call it — the kickoff for your campaign season,” he said.

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How Dubai Fire Didn’t Turn Into a ‘Towering Inferno’ Disaster

Tuesday, February 24th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson
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If there’s a miracle that happened in the recent news cycle, it’s definitely the fact that there were no casualties in the high-rise fire in Dubai.

The fire began on the 51st floor of the residential Torch Tower in the Marina district of the UAE’s cosmopolitan hub at about 2 a.m. Saturday, when many people were still out enjoying a night on the town. However, the 1,105-foot-high tower boasts a consistent 95 percent occupancy rate.

To complicate matters, a sandstorm was viciously kicking up the flames, spreading the fire to a lower floor, making anyone watching the video fear a “Towering Inferno” scenario. The fire was even visible that night on the city’s live skyline webcam.

So how in the world did everything turn out OK? Gulf News said about 100 firefighters took part in clearing the building and extinguishing the flames.

Lt Col Bel Shallan, Director of the Directorate of Civil Defence in Jebel Ali, immediately headed for the scene of the fire, where he joined his colleagues who were already following orders from Maj Ali Al Mutawa, Director of Operations at Dubai Civil Defence and the commander in charge of this fire-fighting operation.

“Maj Al Mutawa assigned me the responsibility of leading the teams combating the fire from inside the building. We gathered in a safe area inside the building, and then I divided the teams into two — one to combat the fire that was raging on the side of the building facing the sea and the other facing Shaikh Zayed Road,” Lt Col Bel Shallan said.

Dressed in their firefighting gear, which weighs between 5-6kgs, the teams used the emergency elevators to head to their assigned locations. Some started on the 29th floor in the section facing Shaikh Zayed Road and some on the 46th, while others headed to the beach-facing section, starting with the 50th floor and moving up.

The teams would check apartments for people and put out any fires they found in their way.

“Although the fire started on the 51st floor on the beach-facing part of the tower, the strong winds that day caused burning debris to fly off and start a fire on the other side of the building facing Shaikh Zayed Road,” he said.

…“The fire was in the balconies and was moving into the apartments, but thanks to the building’s efficient fire system – which was working at a 100 per cent — the fire did not spread into the apartments, as once it did, the sprinklers would put it out,” he said.

The system, he said, helped cut down the efforts needed to put out the fire “by around 70 per cent. If it weren’t for the system, this fire would have been a disaster”.

Evacuation wasn’t easy for all:

As they moved from floor to floor, they found a teenager and two older people going down the stairs somewhere around the 46th floor, so he took them with him down the emergency elevator to ensure their safety. “But on our way down, the elevator shut down on the 35th floor because the water had reached it, so we escorted them to safety through the stairs.”

“By that point all the elevators had shut down, and we had to go up and down the building using the stairs,” First Sergeant Saif Mohammad Al Gafli, from the Marina fire station, said.

Sergeant Al Gafli, who has been in the force for 11 years, said that their daily physical training enabled them to be able to do so. “We were able to use the lift between the 30-35th floors, and when it stopped we had to go up 35-47 floors on foot, moving from apartment to apartment, putting out fires and ensuring no one was there.”

Fire officials are still probing the cause of the blaze but think it will come down to a tenant leaving a heat source unattended, perhaps someone smoking on a balcony — perhaps a lesson against smoking in sandstorms.

Environmentalists said the fire took off as it did because Dubai doesn’t follow green building practices with insulation against the desert heat.

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Jerusalem Mayor on Terrorist Takedown: ‘The Last Thing You Do Is Run Away’

Tuesday, February 24th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson
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The mayor who took down a knife-wielding terrorist on Sunday told Fox that “the residents of Jerusalem are part of me” and “the last thing you do is run away” from that situation.

Footage from the Jerusalem Municipality Emergency and Safety Department, above, shows an 18-year-old Palestinian from Ramallah attacking a 27-year-old Haredi man on a street corner in central Jerusalem’s Safra Square.

Barkat, in the white shirt, was passing by and jumped out of his car with his bodyguard.

“I was on my way to the office, and, coincidentally, we just were first at the light,” he said. “And my team sitting in the front of the car told me there’s something going on. And I exited the car with my bodyguard. And we slowly approached to figure out, what is going on? Is it a fight or anything? We weren’t sure what is going on.”

“And as we got close, we saw this terrorist with a knife in his hand, seeking, who else should he hurt? And so my bodyguard pulled his pistol and aimed at him. And he immediately froze and threw the knife on the floor.”

Barkat is seen on the video lunging first at the suspect, grabbing him and taking him down. “We tackled him on the ground and neutralized him. And then I looked around and I saw this wounded person and started treating him. And when we realize that there’s no more terrorists around, we realized that the situation is under control. And we wait for the police and the ambulances to come and clear out the place,” Barkat said.

The mayor said once they realized what was happening, there was no turning back. “Once we entered it, we’re in it, and then we had to figure out what the right thing to do is,” he said. “…I was a company commander in the paratroopers. And the DNA we have is to solve the problem.”

The father of four wounded in the attack, Avraham Goldschmidt, got the opportunity to thank Barkat at the hospital yesterday. “It was a humane thing, what you did,” Goldschmidt told the mayor, according to YNet News. “…God willing, I will be the last person to be wounded in a terror attack in Jerusalem.”

Barkat’s word of advice to Americans wanting to avoid terrorist attacks on U.S. soil? “The Iranians are the bad guys. They want nukes. They’re very radical and extremist people. Don’t trust them.”

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Inside an ISIS Handbook for Foreigners Running to the Islamic State

Monday, February 23rd, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

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A new 50-page e-book released this month by ISIS gives directions to would-be jihadists and women wanting to join the Islamic State on everything from securing a safehouse in Turkey to packing enough underwear for the trip.

Maps in the book suggest flying into Şanlıurfa, Turkey, for a nearly 80-mile overland trip to Raqqa, Syria, the capital of the “caliphate.”

“People who leave to get to Syria do not tell anyone, not even family. Travellers to Syria usually want to reach Turkey. But for safety reasons, they buy a ticket for an indirect holiday country like Spain or Greece so their destination doesn’t seem suspicious,” the guide states, suggesting buying a return ticket to tamp down suspicion.

Upon arriving in Turkey, the person waits for a contact arranged through Twitter, important because “they will require protection in addition to not knowing where to go to, or who to trust.”

The old way of getting into Syria, the handbook said, was dressing in a non-religious fashion and hoping Turkish border guards let them past checkpoints, but the “updated method” is now looking for border guards and sprinting into Syria near Akçakale, Turkey. “Lately things have got harder at the Turkish border, so Islamic State members often meet new people in Turkey hotels and smuggle them across the border,” though the safehouses are “usually males only” and can only be accessed with “a paper signed by an existing member to show he is trustworthy.”

“The only reason members live in Turkey in some peace is because Turkey fears revenge attacks,” says the manual.

It also stresses that financial aid could be available, noting a group of Turkistanis (Kazakhstan) who were broke but had their trip arranged and paid for after sending a letter to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

For the journey, ISIS recommends carrying no more luggage than a suitcase, a “tough” backpack with lots of pockets, and one “satchel-type bag” or fanny pack to stash passport and wallet along with other “vitals” including wet wipes, “a few pills (if you suffer from any condition),” a little flashlight and a “few band-aids.”

If a would-be jihadist can’t fit a full change of clothes into the backpack along with all of his electronics, “at least pack some clean underwear.” ISIS recommends packing tablet computers, MP3 players for lectures, external hard drives to stash jihadi material, unlocked WiFi modem, headlamp, and solar chargers to work around “erratic and interrupted” electricity in the Islamic State and not be “dirtying the Earth which belongs to Allah.”

The guide recommends bringing an electric hair trimmer. “If you’re a brother, this is the quickest way to trim your moustache here, and if you like the Talafi buzzcut or egghead-style, then bring a bigger hair clipper.”

For clothes, jihadists are advised to bring knee pads, running shoes, flip-flops, long johns, windbreakers, beanies, goggles, and lots of socks. The handbook on how much clothes to bring: “Bring only the strict minimum (okay, so some sisters fainted after reading this bit, but continue reading, in shā Allah).”

Also on the packing list, in addition to standard toiletries: “Skin lotion and hand lotion if you have dry skin” and utensils including a spork. The guide notes that “knives here are scarce” and low quality.

There’s a section on how to talk to Turkish authorities if stopped, including claiming the purpose of the visit is tourism or helping Syrian refugees along the border. “Make sure you have a good knowledge of the tourist attractions in Turkey. Go to a travel agent and get yourself some brochures on Turkey or buy a traveller’s handbook. This is important since if they question you, you can just brandish this in front of their noses and show them how serious of a tourist you are.”

It advises women to arrange contacts beforehand, to learn some conversational Turkish, not travel on the same plane in groups larger than three, buy a SIM card for a cell phone at the airport, and to “be chill to the airport officers.” Once at a hotel, the woman would call contacts for a ride to a home of an ISIS sympathizer in preparation to cross the border at night or dawn. It cautions that if you leave your luggage at the safehouse “they might steal your stuff.” The guide also recommends bringing an extra abaya in case a woman rips hers while crawling under barbed wire at the border.

After crossing into ISIS territory, newbies are advised to “be sure to take a breath of fresh air, ‘cause that’s how sharī’ah feels like.”

The handbook includes some testimonials from foreign fighters who made the trip, including a European jihadist who “hacked some Israeli credit cards” to cover the cost of his ticket.

One woman tells of sneaking off from her family to join the Islamic State yet being detained by Turkish authorities who didn’t buy her story of being an aid worker. ISIS “found out about our predicament and sent us a lawyer who worked some magic” and got she and other women released from Turkish custody after a week, she writes.

The guide includes a list of Twitter handles, some suspended, of contacts within the Islamic State, reminding would-be jihadis to reach out only through secure browsers and chat apps.

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Obama’s Immigration Forum in Miami to Conveniently Include Cuba Pitch

Monday, February 23rd, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

As his immigration executive actions have been blocked by the courts, President Obama will travel to Miami for a Wednesday townhall on immigration to rally public opinion in his corner.

The forum will be hosted at Florida International University by Telemundo and MSNBC.

White House press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters today that the focus of the townhall will be “the president’s ongoing efforts to bring some accountability to our immigration system and try to finally fix as many of the broken — the many problems of the broken immigration system as he possibly can.”

But what a coincidence that the forum is being held in a hub of Cuban-Americans.

“It’s a town hall meeting, you know, so that means that people will have an opportunity to ask question of the president. And given the sizable Cuban-American population in South Florida, I wouldn’t be surprised if somebody just choose to ask the president about this. And I would not anticipate that the president will have any new announcements,” Earnest said.

“But I do think that you can expect to hear the president persuasively restate his case for why he believes moving to normalize relations with Cuba is clearly in the best interest of the United States and is the best way for us to elicit the kind of social and political change that we’d like to see in Cuba.”

Earnest added that “it’s precisely because of the president’s commitment to universal human rights and applying pressure on the Cuban regime to respect and even protect those basic human rights, that the president wants to change his policy.”

The president’s new plan, he argued, “will remove a barrier to our efforts to try to focus international attention on the Cuban regime’s treatment of its citizens, that for too long, any time we wanted to go and raise concerns about Cuba’s policy toward their own people, other countries wanted to raise questions about our policy toward Cuba.”

“And now that distraction has been removed, international attention will focus on the way that the Cuban regime all too often violates the basic human political rights of their people,” he said. “And whether that’s turned to squelch free speech, or trying to trample on the rights of independent journalists, or to prevent groups of people from gathering to have political discussions in Cuba, that there are a variety of — of instances on a regular basis where we see the — the Castro government try to squelch the basic human rights of their people.”

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) noted that as the next round of U.S.-Cuba normalization talks begins later this week, more than 200 dissidents were recently arrested by Havana.

“U.S. officials are so desperate to open a U.S. embassy in Havana, that they’re forging ahead despite a new wave of repression,” he said today. “…It’s clear there is zero intent on behalf of the Castro dictatorship to engage in a genuine conversation that centers around bringing freedom to the island’s residents.”

“In addition, the recent congressional delegation that visited Cuba sent worrying signals to the regime that human rights are, in fact, negotiable. By staying in a regime-controlled hotel that was confiscated twice in its history, these U.S. officials sent a worrying message that the many legal claims the U.S. has against the Castro regime are not a priority for U.S. lawmakers. Even worse about this trip is how the members of Congress capitulated to the regime’s terms for this trip by not meeting with dissidents and human rights activists. These are not insignificant actions, because the regime interprets them as signs that U.S. policy makers are not truly interested in the democratic aspirations and human rights of the Cuban people.”

The leader of that congressional delegation? House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). Pelosi tweeted that she had “positive and constructive meetings” with Cuban officials.

Rubio said U.S. negotiators “must insist that any future negotiations place democracy, human rights, free expression and the free will of the Cuban people to choose their own leaders through multi-party elections as the highest priority before any more concessions are made to the regime.”

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White House ‘Still Evaluating’ AIPAC Invitation, But Obama Not Interested

Monday, February 23rd, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

The White House made clear today that President Obama isn’t interested in attending the giant American Israel Public Affairs Committee conference in Washington beginning a week from Sunday.

Obama last addressed the conference in 2012, when he was stumping for re-election votes.

In 2013, Vice President Joe Biden address AIPAC. Biden is heading to Uruguay “the first week in March,” according to the White House, for their presidential inauguration and will also hold meetings in Guatemala.

The conference runs March 1-3 at the convention center in D.C. It coincides with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s March 3 address to a joint session of Congress. That’s also the lobbying day of the conference, when thousands of pro-Israel activists will flood Capitol Hill.

Netanyahu will also directly address AIPAC while in town.

Last week, the State Department said Secretary of State John Kerry, who spoke at the conference last year, will be out of town at an undetermined location.

“We are still in discussions with AIPAC about what sort of administration representation they’ll have at the meeting,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters today. “You’ll recall that, you know, there were previous — in previous years there have been administration representatives, including the president on at least one occasion I can think of off the top of my head, but we’re still evaluating the invitation and as soon as we have some more information about who will be available to speak to the group I will let you all know.”

Obama spoke to the conference as a senator in 2008, when he was stumping for votes, and as president in 2011 in addition to 2012.

Kerry speech’s last year, which received a lukewarm reception, extolled the brilliance of Obama’s Iran negotiating plans in an address that began 45 minutes late.

Asked directly if Obama was considering going to AIPAC this year, Earnest replied, “Not that I’m aware of.”

Democrats confirmed to speak at the conference this year include longtime supporters of Israel and critics of the administration’s policy on Iran and ISIS.

Dem Speakers include Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Reps. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.), Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii), Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), Steve Israel (D-N.Y.), Brad Sherman (D-Calif.), Krysten Sinema (D-Ariz.).

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Hawaii Dem: Terrorists Not Just Recruited Because ‘They’re Poor, or Feeling Alienated’

Monday, February 23rd, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

After President Obama’s conference last week on violent extremism, Hawaii Dem Rep. Tulsi Gabbard said it’s clear the administration still doesn’t understand the threat.

“Understanding that this is not just people who are being motivated because they’re poor, or they are feeling alienated, or they’re looking for some kind of violence or excitement in their life,” Gabbard told MSNBC this morning. “This goes to a much deeper theological motivation, ideological motivation, and unless we defeat that as well as a strong military defeat, we’re going to continue to see more recruits popping up.”

Gabbard has been hammering the White House for weeks on its refusal to link “Islamic” with the extremism faced from groups such as ISIS and al-Qaeda.

The first Hindu member of Congress is a captain in the Hawaii Army National Guard and Iraq combat veteran. She is also a vice chair of the Democratic National Committee.

“When we look at ISIS, what I believe the president and the administration needs to do is really understand the ideological motivation behind groups like ISIS, behind groups like al-Qaeda, and the fact that when you look at the 40 plus groups around the world who are committing these atrocious actions, the one common element is this Islamic extremist ideology that not only motivates them, but it’s their primary recruiting tool,” the congresswoman said today.

Gabbard said she thinks Obama “has good intentions, but I think it’s important for us to really look at all sides of this and understand at its core what’s the root cause and motivation of these people who are conducting these things, and how we stop their momentum, and how we defeat them.”

“Terror recruits,” she said, “look for some kind of purpose to their lives, and so when they look at what ISIS, and al-Qaeda, and these groups are offering them, they’re promising them, if you go and do these things, if you become a martyr, you conduct this jihad, then you will go to heaven, your family will be taken care of, and it’s a spiritual ideology that’s drawing them in, which is what has to be defeated.”

There is no “quick and easy way,” to defeat them, she said, “but the question of whether or not to deploy large amounts of U.S. ground troops is directly tied to the need to understand the enemy’s ideology, because if that were to happen, if we had large numbers of U.S. troops deploying, it would play directly into their recruitment propaganda which is this is, you know, the infidels in the West waging war against Muslims. And it would increase their ability and their strength to grow in the actions in — in their war that they are waging.”

“Which is why it’s so important for us to empower and arm the Kurds, empower these Sunni tribes, empower the Egyptians, the Jordanians, people who are on the ground and in the region who are eager and really begging for our help to go and fight against this enemy.”

 

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New Defense Secretary ‘Very Open-Minded’ About Transgender Troops

Monday, February 23rd, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

The new secretary of Defense traveled to Afghanistan over the weekend to meet with U.S. troops, where he took questions from service members at a townhall event in Kandahar.

One lieutenant commander asked, “What are your thoughts on transgender service members serving in an austere environment like this here in Kandahar?”

Defense Secretary Ashton Carter’s predecessor, Chuck Hagel, said in May that he was open to reviewing the policy on transgender service members. “Every qualified American who wants to serve our country should have an opportunity if they fit the qualifications and can do it,” he told ABC, adding that the transgender issue was “a bit more complicated because it has a medical component to it.” LGBT activists saw Hagel’s departure as a setback for the movement to convince Congress.

Carter responded that he comes at the issue “from a fundamental starting point.”

“It’s not something I’ve studied a lot since I became secretary of Defense… we want to make our conditions and experience of service as attractive as possible to our best people in our country,” he told the troops.

“And I’m very open-minded about — otherwise about what their personal lives and proclivities are, provided they can do what we need them to do for us. That’s the important criteria. Are they going to be excellent service members? And I don’t think anything but their suitability for service should preclude them.”

Carter was also asked to expound on the micromanagement of the Pentagon by the White House, an environment that led to Hagel’s departure.

Hagel’s successor called it a “very, very, very fair question.”

“So we have two things that we owe our elected leadership as an institution. The first, of course, is excellent carrying out of their policies and orders, which you do so magnificently,” Carter said. “The second is advising the president, our elected leadership, on what they ought to ask us to do. And on that first part I’ll just tell you where I come from, which is I think that the president deserves from me, and I pledge to him and then I did in my confirmation hearing which, as you’ve indicated, my most candid advice.”

“I’m not going to pull any punches, I’ll say it exactly the way I see it. That’s what he wants. That’s what he deserves. He won’t necessarily do what I recommend, OK? Fair enough. He’s the president, I’m not. But he deserves to hear what I say and what I think. And that’s one of the reasons that he hired me.”

Carter also stressed his responsibility “to ensure that the president receives professional military advice also, which is another source of tremendous experience and expertise.”

“And so my view is that I know the president, I think he is somebody who really wants to think through problems, and who also is quite aware of how many issues there are around the world that bubble up every day,” he said. “One person, no matter how able they are, couldn’t possibly get on top of all those things. He needs help. And one of my jobs is to help him, and then to carry out those instructions with the excellence that we have.”

“And I think we’re capable of doing that. I think we’ve shown abundant evidence that we can do that and will continue to do that. So to me it’s that simple. I’m going to play it absolutely straight. That’s the kind of person I am. That’s the kind of secretary of defense he has told me he wants. And that’s the kind of secretary of defense I’ll be. So it’s as simple as that to me.”

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‘Zionazi’: BDS Supporters Hate on Oscars Star Lady Gaga

Monday, February 23rd, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

If you weathered the Academy Awards last night, you may have been pleasantly jolted out of your seat by Lady Gaga’s pitch-perfect tribute for the 50th anniversary of The Sound of Music.

After Gaga belted out her medley of the musical’s numbers in an uncharacteristically conservative chiffon gown, none other than Julie Andrews came out to give her blessing to the tribute and to give Gaga a big hug.

Then came the haters:

 

 

 

 

 

Despite intense pressure from the BDS movement to boycott Israel, Lady Gaga performed in Tel Aviv last September. “Put your hands up and cheer for yourselves,” she told the crowd. “You are strong, you are brave, you are confident, and I f*cking love you, Israel.”

Afterward, she stressed that “the world view of Israel is just not reality.”

“It’s in a beautiful place, the people are in good spirits. I had a very emotional show with those fans. It was wonderful.”

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‘Snowden Could Not be Here Tonight for Some Treason’

Monday, February 23rd, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson
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Who knew Edward Snowden would, in a matter of speaking, take home an Oscar for leaking information from the NSA?

Citizenfour, the story of Snowden’s leaks, won best full-length documentary at the Oscars last night. Accepting the award were director Laura Poitras, journalist Glenn Greenwald, and Snowden’s girlfriend, Lindsay Mills.

Snowden, who was granted three more years of residency in Russia last fall to protect him from U.S. prosectors, issued his reaction through the American Civil Liberties Union, which is representing him and asking President Obama to grant full clemency.

“When Laura Poitras asked me if she could film our encounters, I was extremely reluctant. I’m grateful that I allowed her to persuade me,” Snowden said. “The result is a brave and brilliant film that deserves the honor and recognition it has received. My hope is that this award will encourage more people to see the film and be inspired by its message that ordinary citizens, working together, can change the world.”

The executive director of the ACLU, Anthony Romero, said the film “helped fuel a global debate on the dangers of mass surveillance and excessive government secrecy.”

In her acceptance speech, Poitras said the “disclosures that Ed Snowden revealed don’t only expose a threat to privacy but to our democracy itself.”

As the winners were leaving the stage, Oscars host Neil Patrick Harris quipped, “The subject of Citizenfour, Edward Snowden, could not be here tonight for some treason.”

Greenwald, naturally, didn’t find the treason joke funny.

“I thought it was pretty pitiful, given Hollywood’s fondness for congratulating itself for doing things like standing up for McCarthyism and blacklists. So to just casually spew that sort of accusation against someone who’s not even charged with it, let alone convicted of it, I think is, you know, stupid and irresponsible,” the former Guardian reporter told Buzzfeed. “But I’m trying not to make too much out of it.”

Citizenfour debuts tonight on HBO.

 

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Does Obama Love America? Republican Politicians Weigh in on Giuliani Comments

Sunday, February 22nd, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Every Republican, especially those with an eye on 2016, is now being asked to confirm or repudiate the opinion of former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani on President Obama’s feelings toward America.

“I do not believe, and I know this is a horrible thing to say, but I do not believe that the president loves America. He doesn’t love you. And he doesn’t love me. He wasn’t brought up the way you were brought up and I was brought up, through love of this country,” Giuliani said at a Wednesday dinner in Manhattan with Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker.

Giuliani hasn’t backtracked, telling John Catsimatidis on 970 AM The Answer today that “we need a American president more like Ronald Reagan who gave us a sense of optimism.”

“I said it maybe 30 times before but somehow this time it hit a nerve, maybe because the president is on such defense for his unwillingness to face Islamic terrorism,” he said. “…There’s something about his unwillingness to talk about Islamic extremist Muslims that is not only wrong, it is becoming very dangerous.”

Not all 2016ers have opined. So what is everyone else saying about Giuliani’s comments when prodded by reporters?

Walker, to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel: “I’ve said repeatedly that (Giuliani) can speak for himself. The president can defend that. I assume most people in this country love America. And to me I don’t think it’s worth getting into the battle over whether he does or he doesn’t. He can handle that himself. I know I do. And I know there are great people in this country who love this country and who … feel this country’s exceptional and it doesn’t necessarily align by party. I think there are Republicans and Democrats and plenty of people in between. I’ve never asked the president so I don’t really know what his opinions are on that one way or another.” The governor was also asked Saturday if he believes Obama is a Christian. “I don’t know,” he replied. “I’ve never asked him that. You’ve asked me to make statements about people that I haven’t had a conversation with about that. How [could] I say if I know either of you are a Christian?”

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), to a local TV station: “I don’t feel like I’m in a position to have to answer for every person in my party that makes a claim. Democrats aren’t asked to answer every time Joe Biden says something embarrassing, so I don’t know why I should answer every time a Republican does. I’ll suffice it to say that I believe the president loves America; I think his ideas are bad.”

Gov. Bobby Jindal (La.): “The gist of what Mayor Giuliani said — that the president has shown himself to be completely unable to speak the truth about the nature of the threats from these ISIS terrorists – is true,” he said in a statement to The Hill. “If you are looking for someone to condemn the mayor, look elsewhere.”

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), to a home-state news station: “I think it’s a mistake to question people’s motives. It’s one thing to disagree on policy.”

Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, to Hugh Hewitt: “I can’t get into his head — or, for that matter, his soul — about what he thinks about this country. I think the president in his mind loves this country, but his policies, and what his policies are doing to this country, is my concern.”

Former New York Gov. George Pataki, this morning on CNN: “The media loves to talk about somebody’s comment. OK, they’re having a schoolyard spat. Who loves America? I don’t doubt that the president loves America. But I do doubt that we’re focusing on solving the problems in Washington that we need to. And instead of let’s — fighting about stupid things like this or measles vaccines or evolution, let’s focus on coming together, as we did after September 11 and solving the very real problems facing the American people.”

Former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge, this morning on CNN: “So, Rudy articulated it in a very bold, dramatic way, in a way that most of us don’t agree with. But it’s about the frustration with the president, not about Rudy.”

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), this morning on CNN: “I don’t think Rudy’s ever going to get the dust from Ground Zero out of his lungs. He was there during the fall of those towers…. Rudy cares passionately about America’s national security. And one thing to remember about Rudy. He governed a city that was majority, vast majority Democratic. He’s not a partisan politician in any real way. But he cares a great deal.”

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush: “Governor Bush doesn’t question President Obama’s motives. He does question President Obama’s disastrous policies,” his spokeswoman told Talking Points Memo.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), this morning on ABC: “Well, I love Rudy, but I don’t want to go there. The nation’s very divided. President Obama has divided us more than he’s brought us together and I don’t want to add to that division. I have no doubt that he loves his country. I have no doubt that he’s a patriot. But his primary job as president of the United States is to defend this country and he’s failing miserably.”

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, on Fox today: “You know, I don’t think it helps to question the president’s patriotism or motives. Look, Rudy Giuliani is a great American. He saw nearly 3,000 of his own citizens die on 9/11. And he is understandably frustrated with a president who as I said before is fully willing to lecture the people of this country about the crusades, but is unwilling to call Islamic extremism for what it is. And I just truly believe that the focus of our country today needs to be on the task at hand, getting this economy moving again, restoring America’s strong place in the world and I look forward to being a voice and to play some role in helping to advance that.”

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VIDEO: Jerusalem Mayor Takes Down Knife-Wielding Terrorist

Sunday, February 22nd, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson
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The mayor of Jerusalem and his bodyguard took down a knife-wielding terrorist today, a takedown captured on Jerusalem Municipality Emergency and Safety Department footage.

According to YNet News, the 18-year-old Palestinian teen from Ramallah stabbed a 27-year-old Haredi man in central Jerusalem’s Safra Square.

Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, 55, was in his car nearby, jumped out of his vehicle along with his security guard, and rushed the suspect. They also gave first aid to the victim, who suffered “moderate” wounds, until paramedics arrived.

Barkat, who was a paratrooper during his six years of IDF service, is in the white shirt in the above security footage.

UPDATE: Looks like the victim is going to be OK.

 

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After Al-Shabaab Threat to Mall of America, DHS Secretary Says He’s ‘Got to Take That Seriously’

Sunday, February 22nd, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

shabaabamerica

Al-Shabaab burst onto the documentary filmmaking scene this weekend with a new video explaining the grisly Westgate mall attack and suggesting shopping targets for other jihadists.

The 1-hour and 16-minute film is not only slickly produced but the Somali terror group’s video puts ISIS to shame with its high production value and splicing of interviews, news footage, graphics and photos to perfectly mimic a documentary.

The film was released in English and Arabic. The narrator on the English-language film, watched by PJM, has his face obscured by a balaclava and a fuzzy bar over his eyes. That move by Al-Kataib, the media arm of Al-Shabaab, could be in response to western intelligence’s claim to have identified ISIS spokesman and killer “Jihadi John” through his voice, eyes, and build.

The Shabaab narrator speaks perfect English with a Somali accent.

Beginning with a history of how Shabaab thinks the Kenyan “kuffar” have wronged them, the narrator doesn’t mention the September 2013 attack on the Westgate mall in Nairobi until the 43-minute mark. “Westgate was perhaps the only natural response to blatant Kenyan aggression,” he says.

The Shabaab production rips security camera footage and interviews from the HBO documentary Terror at the Mall. It highlights bungles of the Kenyan government and security forces, from the number of terrorists claimed to have been inside the building and arrested or killed to allegations that Kenyan soldiers looted stores. It features exclusive audio reels of calls from the terrorists back to their Shabaab handlers.

The film is laid out as both a regional defense of aggression and a call for broader jihad against the “crusaders” worldwide. “Headed towards you are men who love death more than you love life,” the narrator warns.

At the conclusion of the film, he suggests targets with coordinates: the Mall of America in Minnesota, which is the largest mall in the U.S., and the West Edmonton Mall in Alberta, which is the largest mall in North America.

He also suggests attacking shops along Oxford Street in London or any of the “Israeli-owned” Westgate malls worldwide, including Canada, Croatia, the UK, Singapore and six locations in the United States.

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson told ABC this morning that the video reflects the “new phase we’ve evolved in terms of the global terrorist threat and what we need to do in terms of counterterrorism.”

“Groups like ISIL, al Shabaab, AQAP are now publicly calling for attacks either through the internet, through videos, through publications, which means that we need to respond militarily, but we also have to have a whole of government approach through law enforcement, homeland security and frankly countering violent extremism efforts here in the homeland, in communities,” Johnson said.

He told CNN “we’re in an environment right now where I suspect these groups are competing for attention.”

“Any time a terrorist organization calls for an attack on a specific place, we have got to take that seriously,” Johnson said specifically of the Mall of America threat. “And so, through our intelligence bulletins, through working with state and local law enforcement, through working with the FBI, we take this kind of thing very seriously.”

The Mall of America said in a statement that it’s “aware of a threatening video that was released which included a mention and images of the mall.”

“We take any potential threat seriously and respond appropriately. We have implemented extra security precautions. Some may be noticeable to guests, and others won’t.”

Johnson said he thinks it’s safe at the mall, but everyone should be vigilant. “It’s all the more reason why I need a budget,” he added in a needle at Congress.

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Senators Fuming Over CENTCOM Revealing Mosul Offensive Strategy to Reporters

Friday, February 20th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) told President Obama that the amount of information revealed about upcoming operations against ISIS is both unprecedented and dangerous.

In an extensive briefing Thursday with reporters, an official with U.S. Central Command said the planning to attempt to take Mosul from ISIS continues.

“The equipping that’s associated with those training sites is — is not free of challenges, but it is generally working on pace. As an example, it is our estimate that the amount of equipment that we have put between coalition contributions and U.S. contributions, in excess of about six brigades’ worth of equipment. And so it is generally keeping pace with those training sites and the effort to get ready for Mosul,” the official said.

The CENTCOM official said they’re shooting for an “April-May timeframe” for a Mosul offensive.

“There are still a lot of things that need to come together. And as we dialogue with our Iraqi counterparts, we want them to go in that timeframe, because as you get into Ramadan and the summer and the heat, it becomes problematic if it goes much later than that. But by the same token, if they’re not ready, if the conditions are not set, if all the equipment that they need is not physically there and they are trained to a degree in which they will be successful, we have not closed the door on continuing to slide that to the right.”

The official went further into detail about the forces expected to be involved. “What we know as of right now is there — in the attack force, there will be five Iraqi army brigades, there will be three smaller brigades that will comprise a reserve force, there will be three Pesh brigades that will help contain from the north and isolate from the west, and then there will be what we’re calling a Mosul fighting force, which will be compromised of largely police and tribal that are being put together right now of mostly former Mosul police, and then finally, a brigade equivalent of CTS forces.”

The official also went into detail about the training schedules for five brigades to take part in the attack, yet estimated “it’s going to take about 12 brigade equivalents to execute the Mosul operation, and we still kind of stand to that.”

McCain and Graham wrote a letter to Obama today calling it “deeply disturbing” that the CENTOM briefing “provided detailed operational information regarding coalition plans to retake Mosul from ISIL.”

“Never in our memory can we recall an instance in which our military has knowingly briefed our own war plans to our enemies,” added McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and Graham, a member of the panel.

“These disclosures not only risk the success of our mission, but could also cost the lives of U.S., Iraqi, and coalition forces,” they continued. “Given the serious impact of these disclosures, we want to know who at U.S. Central Command was responsible for this briefing, and whether they had prior approval from the White House to divulge this information. Those responsible have jeopardized our national security interests and must be held accountable.”

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Maduro Continues Purge of Opponents While Psaki Swears U.S. Totally Anti-Coup

Thursday, February 19th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Venezuelan intelligence officials stormed the office of Caracas mayor and opposition leader Antonio Ledezma today, a dramatic turn of events capped off by the State Department swearing that it wasn’t planning a coup against President Nicolas Maduro.

After 4 p.m. Eastern time, Ledezma tweeted that his office was being raided by regime forces. It was a day after the one-year anniversary of the arrest of former Chacao mayor and opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez.

Two hours after Ledezma reported the raid, his wife Mitzy started tweeting from his account. “He was beaten and detained without a court order,” she stated. “I hold Maduro responsible for the life of my husband.”

She issued tweets demanding to know the whereabouts of her husband and noted he was being persecuted for “speaking the truth and fight for democracy” — an all-caps DEMOCRACIA.

“Mitzy, we’re with you!” tweeted Lilian Tintori, Lopez’s wife. “All Venezuelans are united with Antonio before this new attack on freedom!”

Maduro alleged that Ledezma, whom he calls “The Vampire,” was involved in a plot with the United States to stage a coup. He ominously said the mayor “must be processed by Venezuelan justice to answer for all the crimes committed against the country’s peace, security, constitution.”

He recently alleged that Joe Biden was out to get him and warned Venezuelans to “be on the maximum alert level.”

The State Department flipped out at the coup accusation, with press secretary Jen Psaki issuing a statement calling Maduro’s claims “baseless and false.”

“The United States does not support political transitions by non-constitutional means. Consistent with the principles enshrined in the Inter-American Democratic Charter, the United States reaffirms the region’s commitment that changes in governments must be democratic, constitutional, peaceful, and in accordance with the rule of law,” Psaki said.

“The United States is not promoting unrest in Venezuela nor are we attempting to undermine Venezuela’s economy or its government,” she continued. “We remain Venezuela’s largest trading partner. Venezuela’s economic and political problems are the result of the policies of the Venezuelan government. The Venezuelan government should stop attempting to distract attention from the country’s economic and political problems and focus on finding real solutions through democratic dialogue among Venezuelans. The government should also consider the statements by 36 individuals and entities, including the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, UN Committee Against Torture, Amnesty International, the OAS, and European Parliament, calling for the release of Leopoldo Lopez, who now is entering his second year in prison, and others held for participating in peaceful protests in 2014.”

The statement mentioned nothing about Ledezma.

“We regret that the Venezuelan government continues to blame the United States or other members of the international community for events inside Venezuela,” Psaki continued. “The Venezuelan government needs to deal with the grave situation it faces. Despite the difficulties in our official relationship, the United States remains committed to maintaining our strong and lasting ties with the people of Venezuela.”

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Sanders: Wal-Mart Being Cheapskates with New Raises

Thursday, February 19th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said the raise announced across the board to Wal-Mart employees isn’t nearly big enough because the Waltons are way richer than that.

Wal-Mart was told in a letter from CEO Doug McMillon that the entry wage will be hiked “to at least $9 an hour in April, and, by February of next year, all current associates will earn at least $10 an hour.”

“I’m also excited about an innovative program we’re launching for future associates that will allow you to join Wal-Mart at $9 an hour or more next year, receive skills-based training for six months, and then be guaranteed at least $10 an hour upon successful completion of that program,” McMillon wrote. “We’re also strengthening our department manager roles and will raise the starting wage for some of these positions to at least $13 an hour this summer and at least $15 an hour early next year.”

The company is also making improvements to flexible scheduling and benefits.

Sanders pointed out that the Walton family, which owns Wal-Mart, “is the wealthiest family in America and it is absurd that thousands of their low-wage workers are forced to use programs like food stamps, Medicaid and subsidized housing.”

“Wal-Mart should not be paying starvation wages,” he said. “While this is a step forward and a response to grassroots activism across the country, this is nowhere near enough. Wal-Mart should raise their minimum wage to at least $10.10 an hour now and move it to $15 over the next several years”

“Struggling working families should not have to subsidize the wealthiest family in the country. Wal-Mart also should end its vehemently anti-union activities.”

Sanders, who’s flirting with the idea of a presidential run, is in Iowa to propose cutting college costs in half through an $18 billion boost in federal aid for higher education to be matched by states.

The senator would get that money by pulling half of the extra money requested for the military in President Obama’s budget.

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Log Cabin Republicans ‘Actively Being Prohibited from Sponsoring CPAC,’ Says Director

Thursday, February 19th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

As in past years, the annual Conservative Political Action Conference is being preceded by fresh controversy over the American Conservative Union’s acceptance of gay organizations at the event.

Log Cabin Republicans National Executive Director Gregory T. Angelo said in a statement today that his group began negotiating with the ACU’s new leadership team in July about participation in the conference.

He said Log Cabin was first told that wouldn’t be possible because “Republican” was in the group’s name instead of “conservative,” and when they pointed out other GOP-branded organizations participate he says they were told Log Cabin isn’t “conservative enough.” The group then sent the ACU a list of their conservative policy positions, Angelo said, including Obamacare repeal and support for Second Amendment rights.

Angelo also noted that Log Cabin defended the free-speech rights of Duck Dynasty star Phil Robertson, who is being honored with an award at CPAC this year. “If anyone should be honored with a Freedom of Speech Award at this year’s CPAC, it should be Log Cabin Republicans,” he said, stressing they “are just as conservative as anyone else at CPAC — I dare say even more conservative than many; the only difference is that we are gay.”

ACU Chairman Matt Schlapp, who took the reins from Al Cardenas in June, told Metro Weekly that Log Cabin never formally applied for a sponsorship. “We do not bar any groups or individuals based on sexual orientation. Our standards for any group are the strength of their conservative principles,” Schlapp said. “All conservatives, including gay conservatives, are welcome to be at CPAC.”

“If the Log Cabin Republicans want to take a leadership role in the conservative movement, they need to start advocating for conservative policy solutions and siding with conservative candidates in primaries, even when it means taking on moderate Republicans,” he said. “We encourage them to do just that.”

GOProud tried to attain sponsor status for multiple years at CPAC, but was told they could only attend. In 2013, the Competitive Enterprise Institute used its sponsor status to invite gay conservatives to participate in a panel on the status of gay rights in the GOP.

Metro Weekly cited a December email from Angelo to ACU leaders asking to sponsor the event; he said he received no reply.

“The American Conservative Union has the right to invite or not invite whoever they want to the Conservative Political Action Conference, but they should be honest about the reasons why,” Angelo said in a statement today. “The ACU is fond of hiding behind a fig leaf stating gay people are welcome as guests, but the ability to buy a ticket to CPAC was never what our debate was about; indeed, I will be attending CPAC, as will hundreds of other Log Cabin Republicans members and supporters. Make no mistake: LCR is actively being prohibited from sponsoring CPAC.”

“For our organization, this has always been about contributing to CPAC as sponsors or in some recognized capacity. Time and again, when we showed the ACU that we met their criteria for sponsorship, the reasons for our exclusion changed,” he continued. “The only conclusion that can be made is that the organizers of CPAC do not feel gay people can be conservative—a position opposed by the thousands of Millennial CPAC attendees who have been asking Log Cabin Republicans for months if we would be participating at this year’s event. We owed it to them to explain why we are not.”

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Qatar, GCC Angry After Egypt Says Doha ‘Supportive of Terrorism’

Thursday, February 19th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Qatar yanked its ambassador from Egypt after Cairo accused the state of supporting terrorism — and Egyptians aren’t exactly broken up by Doha’s departure.

The Gulf Cooperation Council is siding with Qatar, though, with secretary general Abdullatif al-Zayani saying in a statement that he “rejects accusations by Egypt’s permanent envoy at the Arab League that Qatar supports terrorism.”

The accusations are “unfounded, contradict reality, and ignore the sincere efforts by Qatar as well as the Gulf Cooperation Council and Arab states in combating terrorism and extremism at all levels,” he said, according to Al-Arabiya.

It all started at Wednesday’s Arab League session when Qatar criticized Egypt for its strikes against ISIS forces in Libya, upset that “unilateral” action was taken after the beheading of 21 Coptic Christians without consulting other Arab nations first.

Tarek Adel, Egypt’s representative at the Arab League, replied, according to the Middle East News Agency, “According to our reading in Egypt of the Qatari reservation, it is evident that Qatar is revealing its position that it is supportive of terrorism.”

Qatar’s news agency released a statement from their foreign ministry claiming Adel’s “tense statement… confuses the need to combat terrorism and the brutal killing and burning of civilians.”

Ousted former President Mohamed Morsi is currently on trial, accused of leaking state secrets to Muslim Brotherhood-supporter Qatar. Morsi could receive the death penalty if convicted.

Nasser Bin Hamad M. Al-Khalifa, the former Qatari ambassador to Washington, tweeted that his country objected to Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s “behavior as it was violation of UN charter and international law resulting in killing and burning of innocent ppl!”

“After Sisi committed his crimes against Libyan children men and women in Derna, he tried to force Arab states to back him up after the fact,” Al-Khalifa wrote.

 

 

 

 

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Dem Senator ‘Understands Criticism Leveled at President’ Over Islam Semantics, But ‘They Missed the Point’

Thursday, February 19th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

The top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations African Affairs Subcommittee accused Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) of trying to score “cheap partisan political points” off of the administration’s refusal to describe ISIS as Islamic.

On Fox last night, Cruz called the semantics battle and the State Department’s assertion that job opportunities will dissuade jihadists “idiocy.”

“This bizarre, politically correct, double speak is simply not befitting a commander-in-chief whose first obligation should be to protect the United States of America,” Cruz said. “…What undermines the global effort is for the President of the United States to be an apologist for radical Islamic terrorists, to analogize it to the Crusades from 700 years ago.”

Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) told CNN today that he’s “upset” with Cruz for taking on President Obama’s “simple but powerful point.”

“I don’t think this is very hard to understand or very complicated. ISIS is trying to characterize the United States and our allies as being at war with Islam, and ISIS is trying to characterize themselves as being the legitimate heirs of the prophet of Mohammed,” Coons said. “…What our president is saying is we’re not at war with Islam, we’re at war with people who have perverted Islam and who are claiming to be Islamic extremist, Islamic jihadists, in order to advance their own legitimacy.”

“I understand the criticisms that are being leveled at the president, but they missed the broader point. 20,000 foreign fighters, folks from the United States, from Great Britain, Germany, France are flooding into Syria and Iraq to join ISIS’ fight. We should not help ISIS by strengthening the perception that this is a war of Christianity against Islam. It’s not. It’s a war of the modern world against a group of medieval radical extremists who happen to be Muslims and are misclaiming a Muslim heritage and religious authority.”

Coons, who tweeted Monday that he was “horrified by the video of 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians being beheaded by ISIS terrorists, unspeakable hatred and unthinkable extremism,” said he thinks “we are dedicating far too much time to splitting hairs on this point.”

“They are Islamic, they are extremists,” the senator said. “They are Islamic, they are extremists. Our president is trying to be careful about not claiming that this is a war between Christianity and Islam. Does that make sense? It’s a simple, powerful point.”

Coons, though, stressed that he thought it was important to point out the faith of the Egyptian victims. In its original statement on the massacre, the White House called the Copts “Egyptian citizens.”

“I commend the president for convening a global summit on fighting extremism in all forms, but I do think it’s important to emphasize at times when ISIS’ victims are Christians, I called that out,” he said.

“And I point to the fact that it was Coptic Christians who were murdered in Libya. When they murdered the Yazidis in Iraq, which is another religious minority and Christians, I pointed out the fact that they were massacring religious minorities including Christians. It is important to emphasize that they claim to be legitimate Muslim jihadists, but their legitimacy has been rejected by every respected leader of the Muslim world.”

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Obama: People Who ‘Spew Hatred’ Toward Muslims, Immigrants Feed ‘Terrorist Narratives’

Thursday, February 19th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

President Obama told a gathering of international dignitaries today that “all of us have a responsibility to refute the notion that groups like ISIL somehow represent Islam, because that is a falsehood that embraces the terrorists’ narrative.”

He also called on Muslim clerics and organizations to “push back not just on twisted interpretations of Islam” but “on the lie that we are somehow engaged in a clash of civilizations.”

“Obviously, there is a complicated history between the Middle East, the West, and none of us I think should be immune from criticism in terms of specific policies, but the notion that the West is at war with Islam is an ugly lie. And all of us, regardless of our faith, have a responsibility to reject it,” the president said.

“At the same time, former extremists have the opportunity to speak out — speak the truth about terrorist groups. And oftentimes, they can be powerful messengers in debunking these terrorist ideologies. One said, ‘This wasn’t what we came for, to kill other Muslims.’ Those voices have to be amplified.”

Among other components of his anti-extremism plan already outlined, including jobs and good governance, Obama stressed ensuring “that our diverse societies truly welcome and respect people of all faiths and backgrounds, and leaders set the tone on this issue.”

He noted “acts of anti-Semitism” in Europe, “or in some cases, anti-Muslim sentiment or anti-immigrant sentiment.”

“When people spew hatred towards others because of their faith or because they are immigrants, it feeds into terrorist narratives. If entire communities feel they can never become a full part of the society in which they reside, it feeds a cycle of fear and resentment and a sense of injustice upon which extremists prey,” Obama continued. “And we can’t allow cycles of suspicions to tear at the fabric of our countries.”

“So we all recognize the need for more dialogues across countries and cultures. Those efforts are indeed important. But what’s most needed today, perhaps, are more dialogues within countries, not just across faiths, but also within faiths. Violent extremists and terrorists thrive when people of different religions or sects pull away from each other and are able to isolate each other, label them as ‘they,’ as opposed to us, something separate and apart.”

So, Obama said, “let’s share the truth of our faiths with each other.”

He announced a program named after murder U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens “to connect 1 million young people from America and the Middle East and North Africa for dialogue.”

“In some of our countries, including the United States, Muslim communities are still small and, you know, relative to the entire population. And as a result, many people in our countries don’t always know personally somebody who is Muslim. So the image they get of Muslims or Islam is in the news. And given the existing news cycle, that can give a very distorted impression,” he said. “A lot of the bad, like terrorists who claim to speak for Islam, that’s absorbed by the general population; not enough of the good — the more than 1 billion people around the world who do represent Islam, and are doctors and lawyers and teachers and neighbors and friends.”

“So we have to remember these Muslim men and women, the young Palestinian working to build understanding and trust with Israelis, but also trying to give voice to her people’s aspirations; the Muslim clerics working for peace with Christian pastors and priests in Nigeria and the Central African Republic to put an end to the cycle of hate; the civil society leaders in Indonesia, one of the world’s largest democracies; parliamentarians in Tunisia working to build one of the world’s newest democracies; business leaders in India with one of the world’s largest Muslim populations; entrepreneurs unleashing new innovations in places like Malaysia, health workers fighting to save lives from polio and from Ebola in West Africa and volunteers who go to disaster zones after a tsunami or after an earthquake to ease suffering and help families rebuild, Muslims who have risked their lives as human shields to protect Coptic churches in Egypt and to protect Christians attending mass in Pakistan and who try to protect synagogues in Syria.”

Obama reminded all that a Muslim police officer was killed in the Charlie Hebdo massacre and a Muslim employee saved Jews at the kosher grocery store.

“It’s not a question of Jews or Christians or Muslims,” he said. “We’re all in the same boat, and we have to help each other to get out of this crisis.”

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Psaki Leaving State Department to Head White House Communications Team

Thursday, February 19th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

The Associated Press is reporting that President Obama is plucking Jen Psaki from the State Department to run his communications team at the White House.

She’ll replace Jennifer Palmieri on April 1. Palmieri is leaving to work on Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.

Psaki, who was Obama’s traveling press secretary during his re-election campaign, began conducting the daily briefing as the State Department’s press secretary in May 2013.

It required lots of on-the-job training. Psaki was picked by then-new Secretary of State John Kerry to be his press secretary, replacing Victoria Nuland, in mid-February 2013, and began undergoing intensive training within the State Department on global affairs.

Psaki came to the job with no foreign policy experience and regularly faced grillings from reporters around the world.

Nuland, on the other hand, was a former U.S. ambassador to NATO in the George W. Bush administration and a former foreign policy adviser to Dick Cheney.

Kerry knows Psaki from her work on his 2004 presidential campaign, but unlike the messaging she shaped for Obama’s and Kerry’s campaigns the State Department is expressly a nonpartisan agency.

There’s also a press shake-up at the Pentagon, where new Defense Secretary Ash Carter will replace press secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby with a civilian.

Kirby told reporters yesterday that he didn’t know when his last briefing will be.

“We’ll just have to see how the schedule plays out,” he said. “You know, we try to do two a week, and then we’ll just see.”

The last civilian press secretary, George Little, stepped down in October 2013, days after Carter stepped down after Chuck Hagel’s tenure began.

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VIDEO: Saudi Cleric Says Earth Can’t be Rotating Because This Cup

Thursday, February 19th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson
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Thanks to Al-Arabiya for circulating this gem on the same week of Galileo’s birth:

Answering a student question on whether the Earth is stationary or moving, Sheikh Bandar al-Khaibari replied: “stationary and does not move.”

He then attempted to support his argument by quoting some clerics and selected religious statements. But his most controversial method to debunk the rotation theory was a “logical” deduction in which he used a visual.

“First of all, where are we now? we go to Sharjah airport to travel to China by plane, clear?! focus with me, this is Earth;” he said, holding a sealed water cup.

He argued that if a plane stops still in air “China would be coming towards it” in case the Earth rotates on one direction. It the Earth rotates on opposite direction, the plane would never reach China, because “China is also rotating.”

The sheikh also said the moon landings were a hoax, which actually just puts him the company of a bunch of American conspiracy theorists.

Twitter is huge in Saudi Arabia, so the mocking came swiftly after his Sunday science lesson.

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Kerry: Fight Against Extremism Can’t be ‘Distracted’ by ‘Hatred or Bias’

Thursday, February 19th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

In advance of his address to the Countering Violent Extremism summit today, Secretary of State John Kerry advocated deploying a more “creative arsenal” to fight ISIS rather than just the “rational and often necessary response” of military force.

“A safer and more prosperous future requires us to recognize that violent extremism can’t be justified by resorting to religion. No legitimate religious interpretation teaches adherents to commit unspeakable atrocities, such as razing villages or turning children into suicide bombers. These are the heinous acts of individuals who distort religion to serve their criminal and barbaric cause,” Kerry wrote in a Wall Street Journal op-ed.

“A safer and more prosperous future also requires us not to be distracted by divisions grounded in hatred or bias. There is no room in this fight for sectarian division. There is no room for Islamophobia or anti-Semitism. Violent extremism has claimed lives in every corner of the globe, and Muslim lives most of all. Each of us is threatened, regardless of ethnicity, faith or homeland. We must demonstrate to the terrorists that rather than divide us, their tactics unite us and strengthen our resolve.”

Kerry touted the week’s summit, which was the administration’s answer to the January terrorist attacks in Paris, as an event to “adopt an action agenda that identifies, shares and utilizes best practices in preventing and countering violent extremism.”

He added that the agenda items will be brought up at the United Nations General Assembly in September.

“Eliminating the terrorists of today with force will not guarantee protection from the terrorists of tomorrow. We have to transform the environments that give birth to these movements. We have to devote ourselves not just to combating violent extremism, but to preventing it. This means building alternatives that are credible and visible to the populations where terrorists seek to thrive,” Kerry wrote.

“The most basic issue is good governance. It may not sound exciting, but it is vital. People who feel that their government will provide for their needs, not just its own, and give them a chance at a better life are far less likely to strap on an AK-47 or a suicide vest, or to aid those who do,” he added, mentioning job training and eliminating corruption.

He lauded the “power of the international community to make positive progress” on things like battling Ebola.

“We are in this for the long haul. We can send a clear signal to the next generation that its future will not be defined by the agenda of the terrorists and the violent ideology that sustains them; we will not cower, and we will prevail by working together. Indeed, there are roles for everyone, from religious and government leaders to academics, NGOs and the private sector. Our collective security depends on our collective response,” Kerry wrote.

“The 20th century was defined by the struggle to overcome depression, slavery, fascism and totalitarianism. Now it’s our turn. The rise of violent extremism challenges every one of us, our communities, our nations and the global rule of law. But the extremist forces arrayed against us require that we charge forward in the name of decency, civility and reason.”

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Obama: ‘No Religion Is Responsible for Terrorism’

Wednesday, February 18th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

WASHINGTON — President Obama gave a lengthy defense of the administration’s policy to not link Islam to terrorism, telling the summit on Countering Violent Extremism this afternoon that “no religion is responsible for terrorism; people are responsible for violence and terrorism.”

He gave as examples of extremism the 1994 Oklahoma City bombing, 9/11, the Fort Hood massacre, the Boston Marathon bombings, and “horrific acts of violence at a Sikh temple near Milwaukee or at a Jewish community center outside Kansas City.”

“Most recently, with the brutal murders in Chapel Hill of three young Muslim Americans, many Muslim Americans are worried and afraid. And I want to be as clear as I can be, as Americans all faiths and backgrounds, we stand with you in your grief and we offer our love and we offer our support,” Obama told the crowd in the South Court auditorium.

The president called “groups like al-Qaeda and ISIL” a challenge for the world, as “we’ve seen deadly attacks in Ottawa and Sydney and Paris and now Copenhagen.”

“Given the complexities of the challenge and the nature of the enemy, which is not a traditional army, this work takes time and will require vigilance and resilience and perspective,” he said. “But I’m confident that just as we have for more than two centuries, we will ultimately prevail.”

He defined violent extremism: “We don’t just mean the terrorists who are killing innocent people; we also mean the ideologies, the infrastructure of extremists, the propagandists, the recruiters, the funders who radicalize and recruit or incite people to violence.”

“Around the world and here in the United States, inexcusable acts of violence have been committed against people of different faiths by people of different faiths, which is, of course, betrayal of all our faiths. It’s not unique to one group or to one geography or one period of time.”

Obama addressed the “fair amount of debate” over the terms used to describe the terrorist threat.

“We must never accept the premise that they put forward, because it is a lie, nor should we grant these terrorists the religious legitimacy that they seek. They are not religious leaders; they’re terrorists,” he said of ISIS’ claim to be the Islamic State. “And we are not at war with Islam. We are at war with people who have perverted Islam.”

Al-Qaeda and ISIS, he added, “do draw selectively from the Islamic texts. They do depend upon the misperception around the world that they speak in some fashion for people of the Muslim faith, that Islam is somehow inherently violent, that there is some sort of clash of civilizations.”

“Of course, the terrorists do not speak for a billion Muslims who reject their ideology. They no more represent Islam than any madman who kills innocents in the name of God, represents Christianity or Judaism or Buddhism or Hinduism.”

He lauded religious leaders who “preach that Islam calls for peace and for justice and tolerance towards others.”

“That terrorism is prohibited. The Koran says whoever kills an innocent, it is as if he has killed all mankind. Those are the voices that represent over a billion people around the world.”

Obama said the “reality, which, again, many Muslim leaders have spoken to, is that there’s a strain of thought that doesn’t embrace ISIL’s tactics, doesn’t embrace violence, but does buy into the notion that the Muslim world has suffered historic grievances, sometimes that’s accurate.”

“It does buy into the belief that so many of the ills in the Middle East flow from a history of colonialism or conspiracy. It does buy into the idea that Islam is incompatible with modernity or tolerance, or that it’s been polluted by Western values. So, those beliefs exist. In some communities around the world, they are widespread,” he continued. “And so, it makes individuals, especially young people who already may be disaffected or alienated more ripe for radicalization.”

He stressed Muslim leaders “need to do more than discredit the notion that our nations are determined to suppress Islam, that there is inherent clash in civilizations.”

Obama advocated tackling “head-on” terrorist ideologies, encouraging entrepreneurship and addressing “the grievances that terrorists exploit, including economic grievances.”

“There are terrorists who come from extraordinarily wealthy backgrounds, like Osama bin Laden. What’s true, though, is that when millions of people, especially youth, are impoverished and have no hope for the future, when corruption inflicts daily humiliations on people, when there are no outlets by which people can express their concerns, resentments fester. The risk of instability and extremism grow,” he said.

The president said community intervention is needed as well, such as when “faith leaders may notice that someone’s beginning to espouse violent interpretations of religion.”

“I know some Muslim Americans have concerns about working with government, particularly law enforcement. And their reluctance is rooted in the objection to certain practices, where Muslim Americans feel they’ve been unfairly targeted. So, in our work, we have to make sure that abuses stop, are not repeated, that we do not stigmatize entire communities. Nobody should be profiled or put under a cloud of suspicion simply because of their faith,” he said.

“Engagement with communities can’t be a cover for surveillance. It can’t securitize our relationship with Muslim Americans, dealing with them solely through the prism of law enforcement.”

America, Obama said, needs “to show that we welcome people of all faiths” to dismantle the terrorists’ recruitment narrative. He spoke of getting a Valentine from an 11-year-old Muslim girl who wrote, “I am worried about people hating Muslims. If some Muslims do bad things that doesn’t mean all of them do.”

“We can’t paper over problems. And we are not going to solve this if we are always just trying to be politically correct. But we do have to remember that 11-year-old girl. That is our hope. That is our future,” he said.

The president didn’t mention a “military component” to defeating ISIS until the end of his speech.

“There are savage cruelties going on out there that have to be stopped. ISIL is killing Muslims at a rate that is many multiples the rate that they’re killing non-Muslims. Everybody has a stake in stopping them. And there will be an element of us just stopping them in their tracks with force,” Obama said.

“But to eliminate the soil out of which they grew, to make sure that we are getting a brighter future to everyone, and a lasting sense of security, now we are going to have to make it clear to all of our children, including that little girl in fifth grade, that you have a place.”

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Kerry Going to be Out of Town, Somewhere Yet to be Determined, During AIPAC & Bibi Speech

Wednesday, February 18th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Secretary of State John Kerry will be out of town — somewhere, according to the State Department — and unable to speak at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee conference.

Kerry spoke to AIPAC last year, an annual event that draws thousands of pro-Israel lobbyists to Capitol Hill. President Obama last addressed the conference in 2012, when he was seeking re-election.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanayhu is scheduled to speak at the conference, which runs March 1-3 at the convention center in D.C. It coincides with Netanyahu’s March 3 address to a joint session of Congress.

“I expect we certainly will have representation. I don’t think we’re at a point of announcing who that will be yet,” State Department press secretary Jen Psaki said today when asked about the conference.

And why won’t Kerry be there?

“I think the more likely reason is that the secretary is probably going to be out of town, which I don’t think surprises any of you, given his overseas travel schedule. We’re still working out the next couple of weeks,” Psaki said.

Vice President Joe Biden has also announced unspecified travel plans that will keep him from being in the chamber when Netanyahu speaks. “Is everyone fleeing?” a reporter asked.

“We’ve all spent days, if not months on a plane. I don’t think it’s should surprise anyone that the chief diplomat might be overseas,” Psaki retorted.

“I believe the vice president is attending the inauguration for the new government of Panama, I believe. I can’t remember the specifics, but it’s a set date. And again we, as you know, always have a fluid schedule. And as we have more information, we’ll let you know. I expect we’ll be certainly represented there,” she continued. “I think, again, the secretary of state never speaks at this every single year. I expect we’ll have a representation there. I would leave it at that.”

The new Panamanian leader was inaugurated last summer.

“Perhaps that’s not the right information. I’m sure you can check the vice president’s schedule on his Web site,” Psaki said. Biden is heading to Uruguay “the first week in March,” according to the White House, for their presidential inauguration and will also hold meetings in Guatemala.

“Might you invent a country that he could go to if — if there isn’t any?” a reporter asked of Kerry.

“I don’t think inaugurations for new leaders are invented,” Psaki snapped before asking for a change of subject.

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Earnest: ‘Virulent Strain of Extremist Ideology Has Tried to Insert Itself in Muslim Community’

Wednesday, February 18th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Responding to criticism that this week’s summit on violent extremism isn’t focused on radical Islam — while most of the participating group are linked to the Muslim community — White House press secretary Josh Earnest said the administration is “very mindful of the fact that a particularly virulent strain of extremist ideology has tried to insert itself in the Muslim community.”

“There’s no question about that. That’s true in the United States. That’s true in other places around the world. And that is — will be the subject of extensive discussion at the — at the summit,” Earnest told reporters at today’s briefing.

“At the same time, we also recognize that there are other forms of extremism that have prompted others to carry out acts of violence even on American soil. You know, we’ve talked on a couple of previous occasions about, you know, the, you know, the violent extremist who carried out an attack on a Sikh temple in Wisconsin, or, you know, the — the radical ideology that prompted someone to go and open fire outside a Jewish community center in Kansas.”

Earnest said the conference has a broad focus because “extremism has taken a variety of forms in this country in a way that has had violent results.”

“And, you know, we want to be focused on making sure that we’re countering all of that, but that does not diminish in any way the concern that we have that some extremists have made some inroads into some Muslim communities in attempting to inspire — inspire them to carry out acts of violence or to join their fight,” he said.

“And we have worked very hard and very diligently with the Muslim community here in this country, with local law enforcement, and with political leaders to counter that ideology and to counter that messaging. And that is — that is something about which we remain vigilant. And today’s summit, or this week’s summit provides a good venue for talking about some of the successes of that strategy and to identify some additional steps that we can take to further safeguard the American people.”

Asked if there were targeted extremist groups represented at the summit other than representative of the Muslim community, Earnest referred reporters’ questions to the National Security Council.

Asked later if there were any extremist groups that had legitimate grievances, Earnest talked about “ensuring that countries that are carrying out counterterrorism operations within their borders do so with proper respect for universal human rights,” singling out Nigeria as an example.

“Boko Haram does not have legitimate grievances,” a reporter fired back.

“No, they don’t,” Earnest replied. “But what we want to do is we want to make sure that — that Boko Haram doesn’t have a fertile recruiting ground in Nigeria that only is enhanced if you have a Nigerian government that runs roughshod over the basic human rights and values of their citizens.”

The press secretary also responded to the weekend statement about the beheading of 21 Coptic Christians by ISIS, which didn’t mention the victims’ faith.

“I can’t account for that specific line in the statement, but we’ve been clear there that we condemn this murder,” he said. “…On a variety of occasions, I think I’ve been pretty clear here that we condemn the outrageous killing of these Egyptian citizens because of their Christian faith.”

But, he was reminded, Obama singled out the faith of the victims after three Muslim students were killed by a neighbor in North Carolina. “No one in the United States of America should ever be targeted because of who they are, what they look like, or how they worship,” the president said in a statement last Friday.

“I think it is important for the president, in this case as he has in many others, to articulate a pretty clear principle, and I think it’s the kind of principle that the vast majority of Americans should be able to support, which is that people should not, regardless of their faith, be targeted because of what their last name is, what they look like, or how they worship,” Earnest said.

“…We have also acknowledged that this is an issue that’s under investigation in North Carolina, but I think as a principle it’s — this is the kind of thing that we should all be able to agree with.”

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DHS Secretary: Administration ‘Should Give Voice to Plight of Muslims Living in This Country’

Wednesday, February 18th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson stressed at the Countering Violent Extremism summit this morning that “we in the administration and the government should give voice to the plight of Muslims living in this country and the discrimination that they face.”

Johnson said he is “personally committed to speak out about the situation that very often people in the Muslim community in this country face; the fact that there are 1.6 billion Muslims in the world and that the Islamic faith is one about peace and brotherhood.”

“For our part, we — we ask something of you, of members of the community,” he said. “First of all, I’ve heard over and over again, and this is where we have to depend upon people in the community, that we need to develop the counter-narrative. We’ve heard that over and over now. And we know that there are a number of those who have undertaken to do this. We need to take that to the next level, developing the counter- narrative.”

“Also in our communities and the communities we engage, we ask that we all have a stake. So one of the themes of this conference which fits right in with that is our communities, our responsibility, our shared future. And that is very much part of the message that we like to bring when we go to places like L.A., Boston, Minneapolis. Our communities, our responsibility, our shared future.”

The administration has faced criticism from Islamic groups that its pilot programs to counter violent extremists have disproportionately singled out Muslim communities.

“And so one of the things I like to say is that we all have a stake. It’s our public safety. It’s our homeland security. It’s our country. And so, ‘if you see something, say something’ really does have to be more than a slogan. Public engagement, public awareness in our homeland security public safety efforts is becoming all the more crucial, given how our challenges in homeland security are evolving,” Johnson continued.

“And so we go to city after city, community after community to deliver this message and to build trust and to build a partnership with people like you in this room… We want to hear from those represented in this room about best practices.”

Johnson also took a dig at the Senate for not yet passing funding for his department, which expires at the end of this month. Democrats have blocked a bill from coming to the floor that defunds Obama’s immigration actions.

“We’re unable to engage in new starts, new initiatives for spending. New initiatives, new spending for border security. We still need to pay for the enhanced border security that we put in place last summer,” he said. “We are unable to enhance border security, to strengthen border security.”

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CNN Banner: ‘ISIS Lures Women with Kittens, Nutella’

Wednesday, February 18th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

nutella

This morning, as the summit on violent extremism continued at the White House and the State Department insisted jihadis need jobs, CNN delved into what really lures people to the Islamic State.

The segment was about what lures “the most highly sought-after targets: Western women” to join ISIS’ ranks.

“How do you relay your message of jihad in a way Westerners understand?” host Carol Costello said, referring to the terrorists’ strong presence on social media. “ISIS is talking online about jars of Nutella, pictures of kittens and emojis. They want people to believe their life on the battlefield isn’t so different than yours. They actually eat Nutella, and I guess they have pet kittens.”

It’s true that ISIS fighters have tweeted pics posing with jars of Nutella, and the women of ISIS have included the Italian hazelnut spread in recipes shared online.

New York magazine got a female ISIS Nutella fan to explain why: “I don’t know, perhaps all the sisters who liked Nutella in the west decided to migrate to sham..?” She added that when they came to the Islamic State they were greeted by “shops were stocked with goodies such as Nutella, kinder bueno, snickers and just things we would find back home. And so I guess that’s why its so popular…. it’s a luxury we never thought we would find in this war torn country.”

And those kittens? Yes, there is a Twitter account that hasn’t been updated in a while but specializes is posting pics of terrorists and their cats.

Ad Week had a bit of advice for CNN: “Even if the segment was about how ISIS was adopting a Western style approach to social media to seem less threatening and ultimately lure recruits (which it wasn’t), avoid screen-grabbable-and-meme-ready graphics like the above, which distract from the discussion, rather than inform it. Far more people have seen that graphic online–free of context–than watched the segment, and for them, it’s been nothing but a lure for people to crack jokes. Just a thought.”

 

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Ash Wednesday and Lunar New Year Greetings from the Administration

Wednesday, February 18th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

A statement from President Obama:

Today, Michelle and I join our fellow Christians across the country and around the world in marking Ash Wednesday. Lent is a season of sacrifice and preparation, repentance and renewal. Through reflection on the teachings that guide us, we reaffirm our commitment to God and one another — and we remember those who are suffering, including those persecuted for their faith. We join millions in deepening our faith as we look toward the Easter celebration.

Meanwhile, today’s greeting from Secretary of State John Kerry, getting ahead of the occasion:

On behalf of President Obama and the people of the United States, I am delighted to express my wishes of good health, good fortune, and happiness to those around the world celebrating the Lunar New Year on February 19.

As many throughout the Asia-Pacific and in the United States gather with family, let us also remember the closeness we share as global citizens. We can feel proud of the bonds we have strengthened as Pacific nations, and the prosperity and mutual understanding we have jointly achieved. Let us also look forward to the great possibilities of the New Year. As we continue to advance shared cultural understanding, economic cooperation, regional security, and educational partnerships, we will open doors to mutually beneficial opportunities. Let us build on the momentum of our agreements concerning environmental protection, health improvement, and poverty reduction to better the lives not just of individual countries, but the entire world.

President Obama and I look forward to the year ahead. There will be great challenges, but there will also be great achievements as we work together toward common goals. We wish you a festive Lunar New Year celebration, and success and prosperity in the days to come.

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Harf on ‘Too Nuanced’ Comments: ‘We’re Very Good’ at Killing Terrorists, But…

Wednesday, February 18th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf this morning defended her comments on not being able to defeat ISIS by killing the terrorists, telling MSNBC “there are a lot of different extremist threats we face and there are different tools we have to go after each one of them.”

“We are killing them and we will continue killing ISIS terrorists that pose a threat to us. We’re very good at that,” Harf said. “…But in the longer term, and this isn’t specific to ISIL, military commanders, politicians of both parties, counterterrorism experts all agree that if you’re going to prevent terrorist groups from spreading to other places and getting more recruits, you have to look at root causes that can lead people to extremism. You have to do it all of it. You have to take them on militarily, but you have to look at things like governance, like opportunity, so these groups aren’t able to get more people to their cause. Absolutely.”

Harf added it’s “not something the United States can do on its own,” referencing this week’s summit on violent extremism hosted by the White House.

“This is not just a threat in one place. If you look at the Lord’s Resistance Army and Kony, Josephy Kony — I don’t remember people talking about that much more — but that’s a Christian militant group,” she said.

She then claimed that the U.S. has “gotten countries like Egypt, like Jordan, others, on board with this effort against ISIL” — countries taking revenge militarily on attacks against their own people.

“In the short term, where we have to take military action and we’re very committed to that, it is extraordinary to see other Arab countries taking airstrikes in Syria against ISIL. That is a very extraordinary thing. We’ve really seen the region come together against this threat,” Harf continued. “But it’s not just military. They have to do more to cut off financing, the cut off the flow of foreign fighters. If you look at a country like Turkey, that’s a main route for people to get into Syria.”

Last night on CNN, Harf said she hasn’t read the criticism of her comments and was just echoing what others have said.

“Military commanders that we’ve had throughout many years here fighting this war on terrorism have said the exact same thing, that in the short term when there’s a threat like ISIL. We’ll take direct military action against these terrorists. We have done that. We are doing that in Iraq and Syria,” she said. “But longer term, we have to look at how we combat the conditions that can lead people to turn to extremism.”

Blitzer then challenged her assertion that terrorists just need jobs to turn then away from a life of jihad, noting that some of the most infamous terrorists have come from rich families. “So you suggested that maybe if you find these young men jobs, they might not become terrorists?” Blitzer asked.

Harf said Blitzer was making a “gross oversimplification,” and said her argument about getting to the “root cause” of terrorism “might be too nuanced an argument for some.”

Her original comments sparked the #JobsForISIS hashtag on Twitter. A sampling:

 

 

 

 

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Obama on Immigration Ruling: No Applications Yet Because ‘the Law Is the Law’

Wednesday, February 18th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

President Obama’s said his administration will be “prepared to implement” his immigration executive actions “fully as soon as the legal issues get resolved.”

U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen of Federal District Court in Brownsville blocked the administration’s execution of the orders as lawsuits are pending from 26 states.

Stressing that he disagreed with the ruling, Obama told reporters in the Oval Office yesterday “this is not the first time where a lower court judge blocked something or attempted to block something that ultimately was shown to be lawful.”

“And I’m confident that it is well within my authority and position of the executive branch’s prosecutorial discretion to execute this law. This will help us make our borders safer; will help us go after criminals and those that we don’t want in this country; will help people get on the right side of the law and get out of the shadows,” he said.

“And keep in mind that this is something that we necessarily have to make choices about because we’ve got 11 million people here who we’re not all going to deport. Many of them are our neighbors. Many of them are working in our communities. Many of their children are U.S. citizens. And as we saw with the executive action that I took for DREAMers, people who have come here as young children and are American by any other name except for their legal papers, who want to serve this country, oftentimes want to go into the military or start businesses or in other ways contribute — I think the American people overwhelmingly recognize that to pretend like we are going to ship them off is unrealistic and not who we are.”

The application period for Obama’s expansion of the deferred action program was set to begin today. Obama said the Department of Homeland Security would figure out how to proceed from here.

DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson said they “fully expect to ultimately prevail in the courts, and we will be prepared to implement DAPA and expanded DACA once we do.”

“It is important to emphasize what the District Court’s order does not affect,” Johnson added. “The Court’s order does not affect the existing DACA. Individuals may continue to come forward and request initial grant of DACA or renewal of DACA pursuant to the guidelines established in 2012. Nor does the Court’s order affect this Department’s ability to set and implement enforcement priorities.”

Obama said the administration is “not going to disregard this federal court ruling.”

“The law is the law in this country, and we take things a step at a time. So we’re not going to be actually taking applications in until this case is settled. But we are doing the preparatory work because this is a big piece of business and it’s important for us to do in order for us to actually secure our borders effectively and allocate limited resources to the most important tasks and functions that the Department of Homeland Security has,” the president said.

“We should not be tearing some mom away from her child when the child has been born here and that mom has been living here for the last 10 years, minding her own business and being a important part of the community. We should be focusing on stopping people at the borders, reinforcing our effectiveness there, going after criminals and felons who are in our midst who we can deport, strengthening our systems for legal immigration. Those are all the things that we could be doing through a comprehensive immigration reform bill, and in fact, we know that there has been in the past bipartisan support for that.”

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) noted that on 22 separate occasions, “President Obama himself admitted the Constitution did not grant him authority to take executive action on immigration.”

“The president, preferring to steamroll Congress and the American people rather than engage in dialog with them, has now changed his tune and sought to vest himself with the unchecked authority to rewrite our immigration system in a last ditch effort to craft his preferred ideological legacy,” Issa said. “But the fact remains that the president’s proposal, aside from being blatantly unconstitutional, is both bad for America and bad for the very people it purports to help, ultimately leaving them in legal limbo, rather than finally taking decisive action.”

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Extremism Summit Opens with CAIR Calling for Threat Discussion in ‘Proportionate, Non-Existential Terms’

Tuesday, February 17th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

The White House’s Countering Violent Extremism summit opened in Washington today with criticism from both sides – those who thought the administration’s effort was “stigmatizing” Muslims, and those who objected to the conference’s wide breadth beyond radical Islam.

It wasn’t even clear who was participating in the summit, besides representatives from more than 60 countries, according to the White House. State Department press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters Tuesday that she’d try to get a list.

On the Wednesday schedule: a late afternoon address from President Obama. On Thursday, Obama will speak again to official ministerial delegations. Secretary of State John Kerry will take center stage Thursday in “outlining the action agenda and moderating the third section which is about getting senior-level perspective on the changing threats of violent extremism, which comes in many forms,” a senior administration official said.

The administration organized the conference in reaction to the January terrorist attacks in Paris. They did not send an administration-level representative to the unity march called by French President Francois Hollande afterward, and stopped using the term “radical Islam” to describe terrorists.

A senior administration official responded Monday to a question about whether the Islamic element of extremist attacks was being glossed over with an answer about Marxist rebels in Colombia.

“I think obviously we want to be taking into account the current concerns that different countries are facing.  But as I think will be clear from the variety of presentations and case studies that are mentioned — to include some of the media that we have organized to help catalyze the discussion that features some of the longer-running terrorist threats that people sometimes forget about in the current context, such as the FARC in Colombia, which is now in negotiations, but has been a designated terrorist organization for some time, responsible for countless acts of violence,” the official said.

“I think we will see through the complexity of the discussion that violent extremism is a broader trend, and that everyone will be approaching it through their own lens of their immediate concerns, but there are lessons to be learned across all forms of efforts to counter different types of violent extremism. And again, as was just mentioned, the interventions themselves must be specific and localized even if they happen to be falling under the same umbrella category. So I think we’ll see in the context of the meeting itself the diversity that reflects the reality of recent history.”

Another official said on background that those “who perpetrated the terrorist attacks in Paris and elsewhere are calling themselves Muslims and their warped  interpretation of Islam is what motivated them to commit these acts — they’re not making any secret of that, and neither are we.”

“But we are very, very clear that we do not believe that they are representing Islam.  There is absolutely no justification for these attacks in any religion, and that’s the view of the vast majority of Muslims who have suffered huge casualties from the likes of folks like ISIL or al-Qaeda. So you can call them what you want,” the official continued. “We’re calling them terrorists. And the president is absolutely resolved to confront this threat. He’s made it clear that we’re at war with terrorist groups and he’s taken scores of high-level terrorists off the battlefield.”

“So we are not treating these people as part of a religion. We’re treating them as terrorists. We call them our enemies and we’ll be treating them as such.”

The Council on American-Islamic Relations, though, held a press conference in Minneapolis today asserting that the Justice Department’s Countering Violent Extremism pilot program just raises concerns.

CAIR prepared a brief last week stating that “CAIR is a natural enemy of violent extremists” and arguing the administration’s initiatives, including one announced in September as a way to counter “homegrown” terrorists, are not the “most effective use of public resources.”

CAIR issued the following recommendations to the U.S. government:

– “The U.S. government should avoid practices that stigmatize American Muslims and Islam.”

– “U.S. government entities should discuss violent extremist threats in proportionate, non-existential terms.”

– “The Department of Justice should issue guidelines, similar to Good Samaritan laws, to protect those who act in good faith to prevent violent extremism by engaging with those considering it in order to dissuade them. DOJ policies should make clear that those who intervene to help others should not suffer for it by being subjected to prosecution, watchlisting, or surveillance because of their association with a potential violent extremist.”

– “The U.S. Congress should hold hearings, similar to the Church Committee, to investigate the federal government’s overbroad surveillance of mosques and American Muslims, absent evidence of criminal activity.”

– “In any government driven CVE program, there must be clear standards and safeguards to prevent abuses.”

“According to the information available to CAIR, U.S. Attorney’s in all three pilot cities for the current CVE initiative solely targeted Muslims,” the brief states. “…The absence of nationally-announced government CVE programs targeting violence emanating from white supremacist or anti-government groups results in the false insinuation that American Muslims are not fully invested in honoring our religious and civic duty to our nation.”

Attorney General Eric Holder quipped at the National Press Club today that “whenever you’re getting criticized by both sides, it probably means you are probably getting it right.”

“You know, it’s — we spend more time, more time talking about what you do call it as opposed to what do you do about it. You know? I mean really, you know. You know, if Fox didn’t talk about this, they would have nothing else to talk about, it would seem to me. You know, radical Islam, Islamic extremism, you know, I’m not sure an awful lot is gained by saying that,” Holder said.

“…What we have to do is defined not by the terms that we use, but by the facts on the ground. And you know, so I don’t worry an awful lot about what the appropriate terminology, you know, ought to be. You know, and I think that people need to actually think about that and think about, really, we’re having this conversation about words as opposed to what our actions ought to be?”

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Psaki ‘Not Going to Put New Labels’ on Mass Beheading of ‘Egyptian Citizens’

Tuesday, February 17th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

State Department press secretary Jen Psaki stressed the beheading of 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians by ISIS wasn’t just an issue of religion, even when confronted with the pope’s words on the murders.

Pope Francis today said a Mass for “our 21 Coptic brothers, slaughtered for the sole reason that they were Christians.”

“The blood of our Christian brothers and sisters is a testimony which cries out to be heard,” Francis said earlier. “It makes no difference whether they be Catholics, Orthodox, Copts or Protestants. They are Christians!”

Asked about the pope’s reaction in a phone call today with reporters, and asked specifically “does the administration agree” the men were killed because of their faith, Psaki said she was “not going to put new labels or — or, certainly, argue with comments of the pope.”

“But I would say that we have spoken in the past about, you know, our concerns about the, you know, targeting of — of religious groups, and we’ve seen, unfortunately, this happen in Iraq and other places,” Psaki said. “ISIL has gone after not just individuals for religious affiliation but for being a woman, for being — for even people with disabilities. And so we’ve seen the barbarity of their tactics.”

“But, you know, beyond that, obviously, this is simply a horrific attack of terrorism and one that we came out this weekend and joined many countries in the world in condemning.”

The Obama administration stood out among other U.S. allies for not identifying the slain men as Coptic Christians, simply condemning the mass murder of “Egyptian citizens.” Australia, the UK, and Canada all noted the victims were Christian.

Psaki was also asked about spokeswoman Marie Harf’s comments to MSNBC that “we cannot kill our way of this war” and assertion that disaffected jihadists need good-paying jobs.

“Marie, my colleague, was saying what we’ve said many times, which is this is not only a military solution. A military solution will not bring an end to ISIL,” Psaki replied. “That’s why there are several components of our coalition. Yes, the military component is important, and we’ve done thousands of strikes in Iraq and Syria. That’s continuing to pick up, as you know, and you’ve covered quite a bit.”

“But we also need to delegitimize ISIL. If the ideology is out there and growing, ISIL will continue to grow and thrive. We need to cut off their financing. We need to prevent foreign fighters from moving.”

Psaki said Harf was talking “not just ISIL” but referring to the Countering Violent Extremism summit that began in Washington today, which “is broad.”

“It’s not just about ISIL. That’s certainly the part of it. But it’s about countering violent extremism and how to take on this threat over the long term,” she said. “And obviously, there are several components as — and the evidence of that is also all of the different breakout groups that are happening throughout the summit. But, again, I think this is something we’ve talked about quite a bit. And the need to make sure we’re working with countries to address some of the root causes that have led to the — you know, ability to recruit.”

Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), whose state includes a “vibrant and thriving Coptic community,” said the “innocent men were murdered because of their Christian faith.”

“But this attack was targeted at all people — Coptic, Egyptian, American, and all who reject extreme ideologies that have no basis in religious doctrine, but rather are rooted in hatred and ignorance,” Menendez added in a statement.

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Holder ‘Confident’ Ferguson Investigation Results Will be Released Before He Leaves Office

Tuesday, February 17th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Attorney General Eric Holder said at the National Press Club today that he intends to release the Justice Department’s findings in the Michael Brown shooting before he leaves office.

That’s not exactly a solid timetable, as a vote on Loretta Lynch’s nomination to succeed Holder hasn’t yet come to the Senate floor for a vote. Only one Republican senator, Orrin Hatch (Utah), has publicly indicated he’ll vote for Lynch.

Holder ordered the review of the September shooting months ago; protests have since cooled.

“It is my intention to announce our determination, the decision that we’ve made both with regard to the individual officer’s conduct in the shooting of Michael Brown, as well as the pattern and practice investigation that we have done into the Ferguson Police Department,” he said, referencing potential civil rights charges for Office Darren Wilson, who was not indicted by a grand jury.

“My hope is, as I said, that we will do this before I leave office, and I’m confident that we will do that — though I guess it’s ultimately up to Congress as to when I actually leave office,” Holder continued, quipping, “You would think, in some ways, that her — Loretta’s process would be sped up, given their desire to see me out of office.”

The attorney general added that “logic has never been necessarily a guide up there” in Congress.

“But in any case, my hope would be, as I said, to make these determinations before I go. The reviews are under way. I was briefed on both of them just last week,” Holder said. “I’m satisfied with the progress that we have made, and also comfortable in saying that I think I’m going to be able to make those calls before I leave office.”

Holder said it wasn’t “inappropriate” that he called for change at the Ferguson Police Department before the DOJ investigation was complete, noting “the reality is that I had been briefed all along on this matter.”

“I think everybody will see when we announce our results that the process that we’ve engaged in is, as I said at the time back when I went to Ferguson, independent, thorough and based only on the facts and the law,” he said. “And I’m confident that people will be satisfied with the results that we announce.”

Multiple news outlets last month, citing unnamed sources, reported that the DOJ will not recommended federal charges against Wilson.

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