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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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Boehner Asked to Invite Ukrainian President to Address Joint Session of Congress

Monday, September 8th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

The senators who lead the Foreign Relations Committee have asked House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to invite Ukraine’s president to address a joint session of Congress.

President Petro Poroshenko will visit Washington on Sept. 18.

Foreign Relations Chairman Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and Ranking Member Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) told Boehner in their letter that it’s ”critically important for every Member of Congress to hear from Ukraine’s President at this defining moment for not only Ukraine, but for Russia and the post-Cold War international order.”

“Earlier this year, the Ukrainian people surprised the world when they came together and stood their ground in Maidan Square in the face of violence and tyranny, in order to defend their beliefs and the very sovereignty of their nation against corrupt leaders who had abandoned the will of the people and the interests of their nation,” Menendez and Corker wrote. “Today, with a newly elected democratic government in office, and having chosen for themselves the direction of their nation, Ukraine faces a renewed battle for its economic and political sovereignty.”

“Russia, under the leadership of President Vladimir Putin, is challenging the very foundations of the security architecture that has supported peace and stability on the European continent since the end of the Cold War. President Poroshenko is on the front line of this conflict to determine the fate of Ukraine and the future of the international order.”

The senators urged to Boehner to seize “this historic moment” and “extend a hand of friendship to the Ukrainian people by inviting President Poroshenko to address a joint session of Congress and share his views on the critical situation in Ukraine.”

Menendez went to Kiev over Labor Day weekend and urged President Obama to start assisting Ukraine with much-needed military aid.

“As has been reinforced by my meetings in Estonia and Poland, it is clear that, in the case of Russia, any projection of weakness is potentially more provocative than the projection of strength,” Menendez wrote to Obama. “I am gravely concerned about President Putin’s blatant aggression in Ukraine and the risk that his imperialist ambitions may pose to our eastern NATO allies.”

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Sanders Introduces Proposal for New Wealth Tax

Monday, September 8th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) called for a new tax at this weekend’s Vermont AFL-CIO annual convention: the wealth tax.

According to Sanders’ office, the proposal for a progressive estate tax works like so: The tax rate on estates valued from $3.5 million to $10 million would be 40 percent, those worth $10 million to $50 million would get a 50 percent levy, and estates worth more than $50 million would pay 55 percent.

If you’re worth more than $1 billion, you get slapped with an additional 10 percent tax.

Sanders argued this would pay down the national debt, reduce wealth inequality, and “pay for investments in infrastructure, education and other neglected national priorities.”

“A nation will not survive morally or economically when so few have so much while so many have so little,” Sanders told the convention. “We need a tax system which asks the billionaire class to pay its fair share of taxes and which reduces the obscene degree of wealth inequality in America.”

The senator got a supporter in former Labor Secretary Robert Reich, now a professor at University of California at Berkeley.

The country “is creating an aristocracy of wealth populated by heirs who don’t have to work for a living yet have great influence over how the nation’s productive assets are deployed,” Reich said, and Sanders’ bill would be “a welcome step toward reversing this trend.”

As the Senate returns from recess today, Sanders is getting a debate he’s long sought in the upper chamber as an amendment to reverse the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission Supreme Court decision on campaign finance comes to the floor.

“Billionaires buying elections is not what our Constitution stands for,” Sanders said in a statement Sunday. “The major issue of our time is whether the United States of America retains its democratic foundation or whether we devolve into an oligarchic form of society where a handful of billionaires are able to control our political process by spending hundreds of millions of dollars to elect candidates who represent their interests.”

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Romney on Obama: ‘I Don’t Know If You Can See Reality from a Fairway’

Monday, September 8th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

Former Massachusetts governor and 2012 Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney told Fox on Sunday that he thinks Americans are having “some buyer’s remorse about President Obama.”

“I’m not sure how they feel about me,” he added. “But that’s kind of irrelevant.”

Romney said the “real question” is “how’s this president doing?”

“And, frankly, they recognize the president has not been engaged. The idea that we have a group known as ISIS or ISIL, that we’ve known about for almost year, where members of Congress have said to the president, prepare for this, get ready for them, make sure they don’t make incursions into Iraq. I mean, we’ve fought long and hard to provide security and freedom for those people,” he continued.

“Yet, the president was too busy on the golf course to pick up the phone and meet with the leaders around the world and to say what happens if? You know, the Pentagon was going through what-if scenarios. But the president apparently wasn’t, hasn’t developed a strategy.”

President Obama is due to announce his strategy in a Wednesday address.

“I don’t know whether you can’t see reality from a fairway, but the president has not seen the reality internationally and domestically. We’ve got, what, 92 million people that have stopped looking for work, that are out of work in this country? It’s unacceptable,” Romney said.

“The American people are struggling, having a hard time. This president’s policies, both at home and abroad, are hurting people and people are responding in the way they review him.”

On his 2012 run, Romney said ”there’s no question that I and my campaign made some mistakes.”

“I think it’s going to be a long time before we see a perfect campaign and a perfect candidate,” he said. “Look, I have weaknesses. I don’t get every sentence up perfectly. Sometimes I misspeak.”

Romney said “the opposition did a very good job picking up on those mistakes and just beating the heck out of me, and I didn’t do as good a job as I wish I would have, describing who I am to the American people.”

On the future? “I’m not running. I’m not planning on running.”

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Rubio: Midterms Should Give ‘Clarity’ on Decision for Presidential Run

Monday, September 8th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) told CBS on Sunday that he should have more “clarity” on whether or not he’ll run for president after November’s midterm election.

“I’ll have to make decision in 2016 either way, because I’m up for re-election in the Senate and for me it’s not going to be about the position. It’s going to be about where can I best advocate for a 21st century reform agenda that allows us to usher in another American century,” Rubio told Face the Nation.

“The decision I have to make is can I best do that as a senator or can I best do that as running and hopefully winning the presidency,” he continued. “And that is a question I’ll have more clarity on after this midterm, because I can promise you this, the one place where I will not be able to do that from is a Senate that is still run by Harry Reid, that allows no votes on anything of substance or importance.”

Rubio sits on the Intelligence and Foreign Relations committees and has been seizing foreign policy as a signature issue in the past few months.

He stressed that he believes ISIS currently poses a threat to the homeland.

“First and foremost because they are replete with both European and American fighters and more Europeans than Americans who have passports that allow them immediate access into the United States,” Rubio said. “Second, because I think it’s important not to overestimate the amount of intelligence that we have on these groups and about these groups; they have learned a lot about our intelligence gathering capabilities through a series of disclosures and other sorts of things.”

“And they have become increasingly capable at evading detection. So for us to simply sit back and say we don’t think they pose a threat because we haven’t seen one I think would be shortsighted. The fact of the matter is this group has, among their ranks, hundreds if not thousands of people with the capability of entering the United States quickly and easily and we should not take that lightly.”

Saying he doesn’t take the accusation lightly, Rubio charged that “this president has committed presidential malpractice in his foreign policy.”

“I think that Exhibit A is what he’s done with the Middle East. He ran for office under the notion that our national interests in the Middle East were to disengage as quickly as possible and disentangle from the region, and that has been chaotic, it has led to a series of policy pronouncements and words that he is — whether it’s saying that the ISIL was the J.V., whether it’s setting red lines that weren’t in force,” the senator said.

“All these things have been dramatically counterproductive to our foreign policy and I think have created some generational and reputational damage to the United States of great significance.”

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Obama on Golfing After Foley Murder: ‘I Should Have Anticipated the Optics’

Sunday, September 7th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

On this morning’s Meet the Press, Chuck Todd asked President Obama about golfing directly after addressing last month’s beheading of journalist James Foley:

TODD: I’ve got to ask, like, so during that vacation, made the statement on Foley, you went and golfed. Do you want that back?

OBAMA: You know, it is always a challenge when you’re supposed to be on vacation, because you’re followed everywhere. And part of what I would love is a vacation from–

TODD: You want us to stop following you.

OBAMA: — the press, because–

TODD: I promise you in two and a half years I think that happens.

OBAMA: Because the possibility of a jarring contrast given the world’s news, there’s always going to be some tough news somewhere, it’s going to be there.

But there’s no doubt that after having talked to the families, where it was hard for me to hold back tears listening to the pain they were going through, after the statement that I made, that I should have anticipated the optics. That’s part of the job.

And you know, I think everybody who knows me, including, I suspect, the press, understands that you take this stuff in. And it’s serious business. And you care about it deeply. But part of this job is also the theater of it. Part of it is how are you–

TODD: You hate the theater.

OBAMA: Well, it’s not something that always comes naturally to me, but it matters. I’m mindful of that. So the important thing is in addition to that, is am I getting the policies right, am I protecting the American people, am I doing what’s necessary?

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Feinstein: It’s ‘Overdue,’ But Obama Finally ‘on the Offense’ Against ISIS

Sunday, September 7th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said she thinks President Obama has gotten to the point where he is acting appropriately against the threat posed by ISIS.

“I want to congratulate the president,” Feinstein said this morning on CNN. “He is now on the offense.”

Feinstein pointed out the coalition of nine nations to fight ISIS agreed upon at last week’s NATO summit. “His people are in different regional countries as we speak consulting and trying to bring in other countries in the region. I think that this is a major change in how ISIS is approached,” she said.

“ISIS is a major threat to this country in the future and right now to the entirety of Syria and Iraq, and the expanding caliphate,” she stressed. “I think where they’re going is to Baghdad. It is my belief they will try to attack our embassy. So we’re going to protect our embassy, protect our consulate in Irbil, and, at the same time, begin to use Special Operations, more [intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance], crack down on where they’re getting their money, and taking aggressive action against this terrorist group.”

“It is overdue, but the president is now there. And I think it’s the right thing for America, and, hopefully, our partners will be aggressive with us.”

Feinstein said she spoke with Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes on Saturday and asked him specifically “who is going to be in charge now” of this coalition.

“The devil is in the details of putting this together,” she noted. “And he said very clearly Secretary Hagel and Secretary Kerry. So, what I want to hear is from both of those two, what is the military plan and what is the diplomatic plan? And time’s a wasting, because we have now said that we’re going to go on the offensive. And it’s time for America to project power and strength.”

On Wednesday, the day before the 9/11 anniversary, Obama is planning to address the nation on the ISIS threat.

Feinstein said Obama should speak to “what other Middle Eastern countries are going to do, and what would be the prime role for America.”

“I hope we have Special Operations. We have made air attacks now 137 times,” she said. “We should have Special Operations working. We should use our ISR much more than has been. It’s been difficult in Syria, but that is now ramping up. I believe we should go after their command-and-control, where there are caches of equipment, and use that ISR and take it out, as well as in Iraq, as — the same thing.”

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Al-Shabaab Names New Leader, Vows to ‘Punish’ U.S. and Renews Allegiance to al-Qaeda

Saturday, September 6th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

Somali al-Qaeda affiliate Al-Shabaab quickly promoted a new leader for the organization and vowed retaliation for the “American Crusaders’ aerial bombardment” that killed Ahmed Godane on Labor Day.

The White House confirmed Godane’s death yesterday, calling his “removal… a major symbolic and operational loss to the largest al-Qaida affiliate in Africa.”

Al-Shabaab confirmed Godane’s “martyrdom” in a slick, six-page statement that offered “congratulations” on the martyrdom and heralded the late leader for his “patience and steadfastness.”

“We hereby take the opportunity to advise our Mujahideen brothers and the courageous tribes of Somalia to fulfil their obligation to the utmost of their means so as to repulse the malicious onslaught of the Crusaders against the Islamic Wilaayaat and the oppressive American and Western aggression on our lands. We advise them to take a unified stand against the Crusaders just as they are fighting us regardless of their religious, ideological and political differences; for defending the religion of Islam is a trust binding upon your necks,” said the English-language statement.

“So sacrifice your lives for that which your leaders have sacrificed their lives for and avenge their deaths. Defend your religion and your honour, for waging Jihad against the Americans, their crusader allies and the treacherous apostate agents is the most binding of individual obligations. Beware of allowing the disbelievers any sense of enjoyment and safety as long as your hearts beat and your eyes blink.”

Al-Shabaab vowed to ”not delay in punishing those who have perpetrated such heinous massacres,” and promised that the terror group would “only grow in strength and ferocity” after Godane’s death.

“Our Jihad will not be affected in the least by the martyrdom of our Shaykhs and if Jihad were to end with the death of an individual,” it would have been derailed by the deaths of Osama bin Laden, Abu Musab al-Zaqawi and others, the statement continued.

“We also reassure you that the Shaykh has left behind a group of men that reject oppression and refuse for their religion to be humiliated. They are men who will neither rest nor settle down until they govern all the corners of the earth with the Shari’ah of Allaah, deliver justice, spread fair council, unify Muslims upon the kalima of Tawheed and purify the lands of Islam from the filth of the crusaders and their apostate allies.”

Godane’s successor is Ahmad Umar Abu Ubaidah, aka Ahmed Diriye, a longtime senior adviser to Godane and former primary school Quran teacher.

Al-Shabaab also “renews its pledge of allegiance” to al-Qaeda, with whom it allied in 2012, and leader Ayman al-Zawahiri.

“Indeed, a vibrant and glorious dawn is today imminently approaching on the horizon of the Muslim Ummah after the growth, refinement and maturity of the Jihad across the entire Islamic world. The ruthless and oppressive onslaughts by the Crusaders, Zionists and Raafidha in our lands and the lands of Palestine, Iraq, Shaam [the Levant], Afghanistan, the Arabian Peninsula, the Islamic Maghreb, Chechnya and elsewhere has only further inflamed the passion for Jihad in the hearts of the Muslim youth across the globe,” the statement says. “Similarly, the many sacrifices, unyielding fortitude, robust eemaan, and the daring manner in which the Mujahideen confronted the vicious campaign of the enemies have increased the intensity, purity and clarity of Jihad.”

It ends with a message to the “enemies of Allaah”: “Expect only that which will cause you great distress and be prepared to reap the fruits of your recklessness and folly. Avenging the death of our scholars and leaders is a binding obligation on our shoulders that we will never relinquish nor forget no matter how long it takes. By the permission of Allaah, you will surely taste the bitter consequences of your actions.”

Al-Shabaab’s attacks include last year’s brutal assault on the Westgate mall in Nairobi.

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) stressed in a Friday statement that despite Godane’s killing dealing a “serious blow” to the terror group, “we must keep a close watch on al-Shabaab, offering support to the African allies fighting these terrorists, as the group looks to adapt to this loss.”

“The rapid growth of al Qaeda-inspired affiliates like al-Shabab throughout the Middle East and Africa represents a grave danger to the U.S. and our allies and we must have a comprehensive strategy to eliminate these threats,” House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) said.

While in the U.S. last month for the African leaders summit in D.C., Somalia President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud flew to Minnesota to urge Somali-Americans to not fundraise, support or be recruited by Al-Shabaab.

“Somalis in Minnesota, you should also play your part,” Mohamud told the crowd, according to MPR News. “The enemy that is in [Somalia] is also in here. Keep your children safe.”

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GOPs: Obama Delay Means ‘Radical Agenda,’ ‘Blanket Amnesty’ in the Works

Saturday, September 6th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

Republicans lashed out at President Obama’s decision to delay an immigration executive order until after midterm elections, saying the move is proof that what is coming will be drastic.

“Once again, President Obama is playing political games to protect his liberal friends in November by using sleight of hand to temporarily hide his radical agenda from the American people,” House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) said. “The president needs to abandon his attempt to issue blanket amnesty by executive order, and instead focus on securing the border as the House already did.”

“Border security is a critical national security issue, and President Obama should stop using immigration as a political tool during election time, and instead work in a bipartisan way to solve this problem and secure the border,” Scalise added. “The decision to delay is a blatant admission that this is not just the wrong policy for the president’s liberal friends, but for the American people.”

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) said “it’s not enough for the president to wait until after the election to act on immigration.”

“Under our Constitution, he should wait until Congress passes a law,” Alexander said. “The Founders of our country did not want a king and the American people do not want a president who acts like one. Every voter this November should take into account this shameful presidential trick of delaying action until after the election.”

One candidate already pressing this with voters is former Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown (R), vying to replace Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D) in New Hampshire.

“President Obama’s decision to delay executive action to grant amnesty to illegal immigrants until after the election is of little comfort to people like myself who believe in the rule of law,” Brown said in a statement. “Make no mistake: President Obama plans to grant amnesty, it’s just that he will cynically wait until after the election so as not to harm Senate Democrats like Jeanne Shaheen.”

“On illegal immigration and so many other issues, Jeanne Shaheen stands with the president, as she has with his previous executive orders on amnesty,” Brown continued. “Senator Shaheen votes with President Obama 99% of the time. The people of New Hampshire have a choice: they can re-elect Senator Shaheen and send President Obama a blank check, or they can have a real check and balance by supporting me.”"

Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) said the White House’s decision “to delay executive action on immigration until after the election is an open admission that the president intends to take actions that the majority of Americans oppose.”

“This is no surprise, coming from an administration that has avoided accountability and transparency at every turn,” the former Judiciary Committee chairman added. “I continue to urge the president to take measured, legal actions that Americans support to address the surge at our Southern border.”

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Obama Promises Decision on Immigration Action Coming ‘Fairly Soon’

Friday, September 5th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

President Obama told reporters in Wales today that he’s been preoccupied by dealing with ISIS, but expects to decide what executive action he wants to take on immigration reform “fairly soon.”

Congress comes into session next week. Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) has been gathering petition signatures on his website to “stop the president’s pro-amnesty agenda.”

“I have to tell you that this week I’ve been pretty busy, focused on Ukraine, and focused on ISIL, and focused on making sure that NATO is — is boosting its commitments and following through on what’s necessary to meet 21st-century challenges,” Obama said at today’s press conference when asked if he was going to press forward with an executive order with midterm elections just two months away.

“Jeh Johnson and Eric Holder have begun to provide me some of their proposals and recommendations. I’ll be reviewing them. And, you know, my expectation is that fairly soon, I’ll be considering what the next steps are.”

Obama said he’s “unequivocal” about the need for immigration reform, but has an “overriding preference”  to see Congress act first. “We had bipartisan action in the Senate. The House Republicans have sat on it for over a year. That has damaged the economy,” he said. “It has held America back. It is a mistake.”

“And in the absence of congressional action, I intend to take action to make sure that we’re putting more resources on the border, that we’re upgrading how we process these cases, and that we find a way to encourage legal immigration and give people some path, so that they can start paying taxes, and then pay a fine and learn English and be able to not look over their shoulder but be legal, since they’ve been living here for quite some time.”

He added that “on my flight back, this’ll be part of my reading, taking a look at some of the specifics that we’ve looked at.”

“And I’ll be making an announcement soon,” Obama said.

“But I want to be very clear: My intention is, in the absence of — in the absence of action by Congress, I’m going to do what I can do within the legal constraints of my office, because it’s the right thing to do for the country.”

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‘How Cool Is This!’: Obama Drops in on Stonehenge

Friday, September 5th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

A beaming President Obama said he was at one of the places he’d always wanted to visit while touring Stonehenge after the NATO summit.

Obama walked about the prehistoric monument for about 20 minutes, according to the White House pool report, exclaiming, “How cool is this!”

The visit was added to his schedule at the last minute before he departed the UK.

“It’s spectacular, it’s spectacular. It’s a special place,” he added.

Reporters asked if he had always wanted to visit Stonehenge, which could have been an ancient calendar or spot for sacred ritual. “Knocked it off the bucket list!” the president replied.

Obama is scheduled to arrive back at the White House tonight.




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Islamic State Starts Issuing Traffic Tickets

Friday, September 5th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

Who knows what the vehicle code is in the Islamic State, except for that rule of driving white Toyota pickups. Whatever it is, a fighter from Bahrain got nailed in the caliphate “capital,” Raqqa. No word on what the penalty is.


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Administration Says Al-Shabaab Leader Killed in Labor Day Strike

Friday, September 5th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

The Obama administration confirmed today that the leader of Al-Shaaab was killed in a Labor Day airstrike.

“We have confirmed that Ahmed Godane, the co-founder of al-Shabaab, has been killed. The U.S. military undertook operations against Godane on Sept. 1, which led to his death. Removing Godane from the battlefield is a major symbolic and operational loss to al-Shabaab,” Pentagon press secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby said in a statement. “The United States works in coordination with its friends, allies and partners to counter the regional and global threats posed by violent extremist organizations.”

Al-Shabaab was quiet after the strike, issuing no statements, leading analysts to believe that either the terror group had taken a hit or has been planning a retaliatory hit.

The White House echoed the news, with press secretary Josh Earnest saying “Godane’s removal is a major symbolic and operational loss to the largest al-Qaida affiliate in Africa and reflects years of painstaking work by our intelligence, military and law enforcement professionals.”

“Even as this is an important step forward in the fight against al-Shabaab, the United States will continue to use the tools at our disposal – financial, diplomatic, intelligence and military –to address the threat that al-Shabaab and other terrorist groups pose to the United States and the American people. We will also continue to support our international partners, particularly the African Union Mission in Somalia, that are working to support the Federal Government of Somalia build a secure and stable future for the Somali people,” Earnest continued.

There was no mention of Godane being killed on Al-Shabaab’s news site, which carried Ayman al-Zawahiri’s statement yesterday of al-Qaeda’s South Asia expansion and the recent beheading of American journalist Steve Sotloff.

Al-Shabaab and al-Qaeda allied in 2012. In September of last year, they executed the gruesome attack on the Westgate mall in Nairobi.

Last month, Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud warned an audience in D.C. of the concern of Al-Shabaab and Nigeria’s Boko Haram training together even though they’re physically a continent apart.

Boko Haram has been making lightning-quick gains, taking territory and declaring a caliphate.

“There are more non-Somalis than Somalis at the highest level” of Al-Shabaab now, he said. “We have people from North America, people from Europe, people from Asia, the Gulf… we have all kinds of people in place but still Somalia has the name associated with Al-Shabaab.”

The country’s instability left the nation “a vacuum for a long time,” Mohamud acknowledged. “This has been a breeding ground for them.”

Secretary of State John Kerry said at the top of an anti-ISIS coalition meeting in Wales today that they could learn lessons from fighting the Islamic State to use later against al-Qaeda in North Africa.

“I think this could become conceivably a model that can help us with Boko Haram, could help us with Shabaab, with other groups if we can do this successfully,” Kerry said.

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Holder Expanding Ferguson Investigation to Entire Police Department

Thursday, September 4th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

Attorney General Eric Holder announced today that the Justice Department is significantly expanding its inquiry into the conduct of the Ferguson police after the Aug. 9 shooting of Michael Brown.

Holder said the federal civil rights investigation into the shooting itself “remains open and remains very active,” and assured Americans that the probe is “fair, thorough and independent.”

When he was recently in Ferguson, though, the attorney general said he heard people “consistently” express “compelling” concern about law enforcement incidents and a “lack of diversity on the police force.”

In addition to collecting resident complaints, the Justice Department said it reviewed public records including “demographics” and “cases filed by private litigants” in its decision to open the investigation.

“As a result of this history,” Holder said, his department decided to launch an “extensive review of documented allegations” and open an investigation to determine if there is a pattern or practice of violations in Ferguson.

Holder said the review of “constitutional policing” practices would be undertaken by the Civil Rights Division.

The investigation will focus on all aspects of policing, he said, including force, the use of deadly force, stops, searches, arrest, detainment procedures and conditions, and any “discriminatory police techniques and tactics.”

Holder said they met with the mayor and police chief, who “welcomed this investigation” and pledged to cooperate with the DOJ.

He added that the investigation would go wherever it may lead, and could expand to neighboring jurisdictions. “We will not hesitate to do so,” he said.

Two days after Officer Darren Wilson shot Brown, Holder vowed that the DOJ would “supplement, rather than supplant, the inquiry by local authorities.”

On Aug. 20, Holder visited Ferguson to meet with local officials and the Brown family.

“As the brother of a retired police officer, I know firsthand that our men and women in uniform perform their duties in the face of tremendous threats and significant personal risk.  They put their lives on the line every day, and they often have to make split-second decisions,” Holder said after his trip.

“But in my conversations with dozens of people in Ferguson, it was clear that this shooting incident has brought to the surface underlying tensions that have existed for some time; tensions with a history that still simmers in communities across the country,” he added. “The national outcry we’ve seen speaks to the sense of mistrust and mutual suspicion that can sometimes take hold in the relationship between law enforcement officers and their constituents.”

Rep. Wm “Lacy ” Clay (R-Mo.), who represents the district where the Brown shooting occurred, said in a statement that he’s “very gratified that the Department of Justice has responded to my concerns and those of my constituents by launching this federal probe into possible civil rights violations that may have been committed by the Ferguson, Missouri Police Department.”

“I want to personally thank Attorney General Holder for responding to my request with such strength and speed,” Clay said.

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‘Decimated’ al-Qaeda Announces Big Expansion with New South Asia Chapter

Thursday, September 4th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson
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Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri announced the formation of a new chapter —  the Al-Qaeda Jihad Organization in South Asia — intended to ”raise the flag of jihad” in India and beyond.

“This step is an effort for the ascendancy of Islam, re-establishment of Islamic government, and rule of Islamic sharia in the land of South Asia, which was once part of the world of Islam but infidels captured it and divided it into small pieces,” Zawahiri said, according to a MEMRI translation.

The terror leader said the formation of the new wing has been underway for “nearly two years” now. The expansion plans were being fomented at the same time as Zawahiri initiated another key cog in al-Qaeda expansion and rebranding — appointing young and ruthless al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula leader Nasir al-Wuhayshi as the organization’s general manager.

Zawahiri says that existing jihadi leaders in South Asia were brought into the al-Qaeda fold to form the new branch.

Taliban leader Mullah Omar will oversee the new unit. ”In the entire word at this time, the message of jihad under the flag of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan has been spreading and expanding continuously,” Zawahiri said.

He said his confidence on Mullah Omar rests in part on the fact that U.S. troops are soon leaving Afghanistan, making the Taliban leader’s 2001 prediction of eventual victory correct.

“Therefore, O mujahid brothers, progress towards unity and fraternity! Hold tight Allah’s rope by leaving behind internal differences and discord, and stay away from groupism! This organization has been established so that, by uniting with our Muslim brothers in the entire world, to erase the borders which were drawn by the Britishers to divide the Muslims of South Asia,” he continued. “Therefore, the fundamental message of this organization for the inhabitants of South Asia is that they unite based on the Islamic monotheism and perform the duty of aiding Islam by walking on the path of dawah [invitation to Islam] and jihad adopted by prophets and pious persons of Allah.”

Zawahiri specifically noted Burma, Bangladesh, and India’s regions of Assam, Gujarat and Kashmir as regions where al-Qaeda cares and will offer “a cool breeze for the hapless and weak people.”

“Today, the core of al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan is on a path to defeat. Their remaining operatives spend more time thinking about their own safety than plotting against us. They did not direct the attacks in Benghazi or Boston. They have not carried out a successful attack on our homeland since 9/11,” President Obama declared in May 2013 at the National Defense University.

Last August, Obama told Marines at Camp Pendleton that “al-Qaeda’s top ranks have been hammered.”

“The core of al-Qaeda, in Afghanistan and Pakistan, is on the way to defeat,” he added.

Two days later, when questioned about this in a press conference at the White House, the president reiterated that “core al-Qaeda is on its heels, has been decimated.”

“So it’s entirely consistent to say that this tightly organized and relatively centralized al-Qaeda that attacked us on 9/11 has been broken apart and is very weak and does not have a lot of operational capacity, and to say we still have these regional organizations like AQAP that can pose a threat, that can drive potentially a truck bomb into an embassy wall and can kill some people,” he maintained.

And while Obama admitted in his State of the Union address that the “threat has evolved” with the growth of affiliates, he maintained “we have put al-Qaeda’s core leadership on a path to defeat.”

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Obama Adviser: ISIS Strategy ‘Going to Come Together in the Coming Weeks’

Thursday, September 4th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

Deputy national security adviser Tony Blinken promised that President Obama’s strategy to destroy ISIS “is going to come together in the coming weeks.”

“As we speak, the president is deeply engaged with our partners in Wales at the NATO summit. In the days ahead, Secretary Kerry will be going out to the region. Secretary Hagel will be following suit. Lisa Monaco, our counterterrorism adviser, will also be heading out, all of this in an effort to put together a coalition of countries, each of whom have a lot at stake if ISIL is allowed to consolidate its place and to grow from where it ISIS,” Blinken told CNN last night.

He also maintained that Obama has been “entirely consistent” in messaging that has alternately advocated defeating ISIS and turning it into a “manageable problem.”

“What he said and what he said very clearly is this. This is going to be a long-term effort. In the near term, what we can begin to do is to disrupt ISIL. And, indeed, we have actually started to do that in Iraq with the strikes that we have taken,” Blinken said. “Second, we get to the point of disrupting them, really getting them off their toes, onto their heels. That’s the same thing as making the problem manageable. And then, over time with this coalition, we get them to the point of defeat.”

“But the president was clear and wanted to be clear with the American people and folks around the world that that’s something that’s going to take time. So, what he said was entirely consistent. There’s a continuum that goes from disrupting them to degrading them or managing them and ultimately to defeating them.”

Blinken acknowledged that ISIS can’t be destroyed by airstrikes alone, “which is exactly what the president is building and exactly why we’re being so deliberate about it.”

He said consultations with Congress should “intensify” when lawmakers return from summer recess next week.

“ISIS is focused on the region. It poses a clear and present danger to people in Iraq, to people in Syria, to people in the region, and indeed as we have seen tragically, to Americans in the region,” Blinken said. “It has aspirations to threaten the homeland. We don’t think it’s there yet, but, if it’s left unchecked, it could get there. And that’s what we’re determined to prevent.”

“…Weeks ago, the president gathered all of his national security advisers, homeland security advisers, in anticipation of the anniversary of 9/11, as we do every year, because that can be a time of heightened concern, to make sure that we were doing everything possible against all lines of effort to be vigilant and to prevent any threats. And I’m very confident we have done just that.”

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Paul: Obama ‘Policy of Dethroning Gadhafi’ Helped Create Jihadist Mess

Thursday, September 4th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

Trying to shake off the “isolationist” label he’s received on foreign policy matters, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) argued on Fox last night that ISIS has “absolutely” declared war on the United States.

“And I think what we should do is then come to the American people — a good leader — you know, if I had been president, I would have called a joint session of Congress this August, brought everybody back from recess and said, this is why ISIS is a threat to the country,” Paul said. “This is why I want to act, but I want to do it in a constitutional manner, and I want the entire American public to come together to galvanize support and say, you know what? This is something we can’t take. We’re not going to let our enemies behead our journalists We’re not going to let them become strong enough to attack our embassy.”

The senator said “you’d think people would kind of get” the fact that he doesn’t like being called an isolationist.

“I’ve been trying to say that for the last four years in public life, that I’m neither an isolationist nor an interventionist. I’m someone who believes in the Constitution and believes that America should have a strong national defense and believes that we should defend ourselves,” he said. “But when we do it, we should do it the way the Constitution intended. And that’s that the president should come before Congress and make the case for war.”

Paul showed shades of Campaign 2016, stressing that ”in the past, you know, Hillary Clinton has said ISIS is not a threat to the United States.”

Still, he said ”intervention isn’t always the answer.”

“I think in Libya, it’s made the world less safe. It’s made the jihadist groups more emboldened in Libya. I would say the same thing in Syria. I think that President Obama’s support for the Islamic rebels has allowed ISIS to grow stronger in Syria, and they never would have grown this strong without weapons from — or their allies getting weapons from both us, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar. So really, we have done a disservice and created chaos that’s allowed the jihadists to grow stronger,” the senator continued.

“…President Obama’s policy of dethroning Gadhafi, of going after Assad, has made the jihadists stronger. I don’t say we’re responsible. I don’t say America’s responsible. I say President Obama’s responsible.”

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White House Calls on Stores to ‘Follow Example’ of CVS, Quit Selling Tobacco

Thursday, September 4th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

The White House issued special praise for drugstore chain CVS for its decision to stop selling tobacco products.

The chain announced the move in conjunction with changing its name to CVS Health. CVS had planned to stop selling tobacco Oct. 1, but bumped the day up to Wednesday.

“Along with the start of CVS Health, the sale of cigarettes and tobacco products at CVS/pharmacy ends today,” Larry J. Merlo, president and CEO of CVS Health, said in a statement. “By eliminating cigarettes and tobacco products from sale in our stores, we can make a difference in the health of all Americans.”

White House press secretary Josh Earnest issued a statement calling it “a powerful example that we hope others in the industry will follow.”

“CVS’s actions will not only help Americans across the country who are trying to quit smoking, it will also help ensure that when families go to their neighborhood pharmacy, they can get the information and support they need to live healthy lives, which can contribute to driving down health care costs,” Earnest said.

“The president has made creating a tobacco-free generation a top priority… And 50 years after the Surgeon General’s landmark Report on Smoking and Health, we have reduced smoking rates by half. However, our work is far from done, and today’s announcement by CVS Health is an important step forward in improving the health and lives of millions of Americans.”

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), who called on other companies to follow CVS’ example when the corporation announced the Oct. 1 target date back in February, declared that the immediate halt of sales marked ”a major victory in the fight against tobacco, America’s leading killer.”

“We can debate the health benefits and dangers of many products, but tobacco kills consumers when used as intended,” Blumenthal said. “CVS rightly recognized the contradiction between keeping Americans healthy and selling tobacco products, and I commend them for taking these dangerous products off their shelves. I urge other pharmacies and businesses to follow CVS’s lead.”

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Islamic State Releases Photos of Its Orphanages

Wednesday, September 3rd, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

The Islamic State today released a series of photos they say detail the orphanages that they now run in Nineveh, the heart of ancient Assyria and modern-day Mosul.

The series of photos titled “Orphanages in the state of Nineveh,” showing boys and girls holding an Islamic State flag, boarding a bus with an Islamic State flag, and riding bumper cars at a small fun fair, were released online by the “Information Office of the Mandate of Nineveh.”

It’s not known who the children are or how they came to be in ISIS’ custody. In one image, a jihadist’s face is blurred as he leads kids ranging from pre-schoolers to grade-schoolers in a chant or song in front of Islamic State flags.

ISIS forced Christians to flee the Nineveh plain starting in mid-July. An Aug. 17 report from the Dominican Sisters of Saint Catherine of Siena in Iraq notes how the nuns were forced from facilities they ran in the area. “We left nineteen places of ours, which include convents, schools and orphanages. Moreover, we have learned that our convent and the orphanage we own in Bartila have been taken by the ISIS,” states the report. “Also, our convents in Mosul and in Tal Kaif were taken (including a school and kindergarten).”






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Kerry: Sotloff Beheading ‘a Punch to the Gut’

Wednesday, September 3rd, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

Secretary of State John Kerry addressed the beheading of Miami native Steven Sotloff this morning, calling the news “a punch to the gut.”

“Yesterday, the world bore witness again to the unfathomable brutality of ISIL terrorist murderers when we saw Steven Sotloff, an American journalist who left home in Florida to tell the story of brave people in the Middle East, taken from us in an act of medieval savagery by a coward hiding behind a mask,” Kerry said in a statement, his first remarks since the video emerged Tuesday afternoon.

President Obama said in Estonia today that the authenticity of the video had been confirmed “overnight” by U.S. officials.

“There are no words strong enough to express the sorrow we feel for his family, particularly his mother, whose heartbreaking video plea spoke to every single parent who has ever worried about a son or daughter who goes to dangerous places to do the work they love,” Kerry continued.

“This young man was a driven and courageous journalist, reporting from places like Syria, Libya, and Egypt. Steven Sotloff’s reporting was as empathetic as his killers are evil. He focused on the stories of average people trapped in war, and documented their day-in and day-out struggle for dignity. Like Martha Gellhorn, he chronicled humanity in the face of inhumanity, and he told the story of enormous generational events as if they were happening to someone you knew from your own life.”

Kerry added that “for so many who worked so long to bring Steven and the other Americans home safely, this was not how the story should’ve ended.”

“It’s a punch to the gut,” he said. “The U.S. Government has used every military, diplomatic, and intelligence tool we have, and we always will. Our special operations forces bravely risked a military operation to save these lives, and we’ve reached out diplomatically to everyone and anyone who might be able to help. That effort continues, and our prayers remain – as they always are – with the families of all hostages who remain trapped in Syria today.”

“Barbarity, sadly, isn’t new to our world. Neither is evil. We’ve taken the fight to it before, and we’re taking the fight to it today. When terrorists anywhere around the world have murdered our citizens, the United States held them accountable, no matter how long it took. And those who have murdered James Foley and Steven Sotloff in Syria should know that the United States will hold them accountable too, no matter how long it takes.”

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Obama Addresses ‘Horrific’ Beheading of Sotloff; Says He Does Have an ISIS Strategy

Wednesday, September 3rd, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

President Obama confirmed at a press conference in Estonia today that journalist Steven Sotloff had been beheaded by ISIS, noting “overnight, our government determined that, tragically, Steven was taken from us in a horrific act of violence.”

The video showing the beheading — and the executioner taunting Obama — surfaced early Tuesday afternoon. Obama flew to Estonia in the evening without commenting on the killing.

“I want to say that today the prayers of the American people are with the family of a devoted and courageous journalist, Steven Sotloff,” Obama said at the end of remarks about Ukraine and Russia. “…We cannot even begin to imagine the agony that everyone who loved Steven is feeling right now, especially his mother, his father and his younger sister.  So today, our country grieves with them.”

“Like Jim Foley before him, Steve’s life stood in sharp contrast to those who have murdered him so brutally,” the president continued. “They make the absurd claim that they kill in the name of religion, but it was Steven, his friends say, who deeply loved the Islamic world. His killers try to claim that they defend the oppressed, but it was Steven who traveled across the Middle East, risking his life to tell the story of Muslim men and women demanding justice and dignity.”

Sotloff covered Arab Spring countries, from Bahrain to Egypt to Syria. He also covered the aftermath of the Benghazi consulate attacks, including interviewing guards on duty that night who confirmed there was no protest and detailed the militant attack.

Obama added that “whatever these murderers think they’ll achieve by killing innocent Americans like Steven, they have already failed.”

“They have failed because, like people around the world, Americans are repulsed by their barbarism,” he said. “We will not be intimidated. Their horrific acts only unite us as a country and stiffen our resolve to take the fight against these terrorists. And those who make the mistake of harming Americans will learn that we will not forget, and that our reach is long and that justice will be served.”

Obama was asked what his response will be now that a second American has been beheaded by ISIS.

“Well, keep in mind that from the outset, the moment that ISIS went into Mosul, we were very clear that this was a very serious threat not just to Iraq but to the region and to U.S. interests. And so we’ve been putting forward a strategy since that time that was designed to do a number of things. Number one, to make sure that Americans were protected in Iraq, in our embassies, in our consulates. Number two, that we worked with Iraqis to create a functioning government that was inclusive and that could serve as the basis for Iraq to begin to go on the offensive,” he replied.

“And the airstrikes that we’ve conducted in support of protecting Americans conducting humanitarian missions and providing space for the Iraqi government to form have borne fruit. We’ve seen that in Sinjar Mountain. We’ve seen it most recently in the town of Amerli, which heroically held out against a siege by ISIL. We’re seeing progress in the formation of an inclusive Sunni-Shia-Kurd central government. And so what we’ve seen is the strategy that we’ve laid out moving effectively.”

He was put on the spot about whether the administration will now have a comprehensive strategy.

“Last week when this question was asked, I was specifically referring to the possibility of the military strategy inside of Syria that might require congressional approval,” Obama said, referring to his response at a previous press conference that  ”we don’t have a strategy yet” for airstrikes on ISIS.

“Our objective is to make sure that ISIL is not an ongoing threat to the region. And we can accomplish that. It’s going to take some time and it’s going to take some effort. As we’ve seen with al-Qaeda, there are always going to be remnants that can cause havoc of any of these networks, in part because of the nature of terrorist activities.  You get a few individuals, and they may be able to carry out a terrorist act,” he continued.

“But what we can do is to make sure that the kind of systemic and broad-based aggression that we’ve seen out of ISIL that terrorizes primarily Muslims, Shia, Sunni — terrorizes Kurds, terrorizes not just Iraqis, but people throughout the region, that that is degraded to the point where it is no longer the kind of factor that we’ve seen it being over the last several months.”

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Obama Sending 350 Troops to Protect Baghdad Embassy

Tuesday, September 2nd, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

The White House just announced that President Obama authorized hundreds of extra troops on the ground to protect the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.

Press secretary Josh Earnest said in a statement that that the Defense Department authorization stemmed from a State Department request for “approximately 350 additional U.S. military personnel to protect our diplomatic facilities and personnel.”

“This action was taken at the recommendation of the Department of Defense after an extensive interagency review, and is part of the President’s commitment to protect our personnel and facilities in Iraq as we continue to support the Government of Iraq in its fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).  These additional forces will not serve in a combat role,” Earnest said.

“The President has made clear his commitment to doing whatever is required to provide the necessary security for U.S. personnel and facilities around the world. The request he approved today will allow some previously deployed military personnel to depart Iraq, while at the same time providing a more robust, sustainable security force for our personnel and facilities in Baghdad.”

The notice came just hours after the video of American journalist Steve Sotloff’s beheading surfaced.

It also comes after Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) warned Sunday that Baghdad could be the next to fall.

“I believe their goal is Baghdad. I think it’s very, very serious and we have to have a strategy to deal with it in Syria and in Iraq in this new caliphate and to prevent that caliphate from expanding,” she said, stressing that ISIS “is on its way to Baghdad and I believe that they will try to attack our embassy from the West, which is a Sunni area where I believe they are infiltrating now.”

Earnest said tonight that “in addition to our efforts to protect our personnel, we will continue to support the Government of Iraq’s efforts to counter ISIL, which poses a threat not only to Iraq, but to the broader Middle East and U.S. personnel and interests in the region.”

“The President will be consulting this week with NATO allies regarding additional actions to take against ISIL and to develop a broad-based international coalition to implement a comprehensive strategy to protect our people and to support our partners in the fight against ISIL,” he said. “As part of this effort, Secretary Kerry, Secretary Hagel, and President Obama’s counterterrorism advisor, Lisa Monaco, will be traveling separately to the region in the near-term to build a stronger regional partnership.”

Obama had not issued a statement yet on the murder of Sotloff.

UPDATE 9 p.m.: Pentagon press secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby said the announcement “builds upon previous embassy security deployments announced on June 15 and June 30 and will bring the total forces responsible for augmenting diplomatic security in Iraq up to approximately 820.”

“The additional joint forces will come from within the U.S. Central Command area of operations and will include a headquarters element, medical personnel, associated helicopters, and an air liaison team,” Kirby said. “In all, 405 U.S. military personnel will be sent to Baghdad to provide a more robust and sustainable security presence to help the Department of State continue their critical mission. With this order, 55 personnel who have been in Baghdad since June will redeploy outside of Iraq. Those 55 personnel will remain postured to deal with other security contingencies in the region, if necessary.”

“The Department of Defense will continue to plan and prepare further military options should they become necessary, and we will remain ready to protect our diplomats, our citizens, and our interests in Iraq, while we continue to work with the Iraqi government to counter the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.”

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White House Says It ‘Dedicated Significant Time and Resources’ to Rescue Sotloff

Tuesday, September 2nd, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

The news of the beheading video of Steve Sotloff broke as White House press secretary Josh Earnest was delivering the daily briefing.

“I’ve not seen those reports today. I think that may have just happened in the last few minutes while I’ve been standing up here,” Earnest told reporters. “This is something that the — that the administration has obviously been watching very carefully, since this threat against Mr. Sotloff’s life was originally made a few weeks ago.”

Miami native Sotloff, 31, had written for TIME magazine, Foreign Policy, the Christian Science Monitor, The Diplomat and more when he disappeared Aug. 4, 2013, near the Turkish border.

After photojournalist James Foley was beheaded on camera in a video released by ISIS on Aug. 19, his executioner reappeared on camera holding Sotloff by the back of his orange shirt.

A few days ago, ISIS backers tweeted that a video showing Sotloff’s death would be coming soon.

“Our thoughts and prayers, first and foremost, are with Mr. Sotloff and Mr. Sotloff’s family and those who worked with him,” Earnest said.

“The United States, as you know, has dedicated significant time and resources to trying and rescue Mr. Sotloff. We’ve — I’m not in a position to confirm the authenticity of that video or the reports at this point, obviously, since I just walked out here,” he added.

“But this is — if there is a video that has been released, it is something that will be analyzed very carefully by the U.S. government and our intelligence officials to determine its authenticity.”

The video features what appears to be the same executioner who killed Foley, with a London accent.

“I’m back, Obama,” the killer taunts. “And I’m back because of your arrogant foreign policy toward the Islamic State, because of your insistence on continuing your bombings.”

“So just as your missiles continue to strike our people, our knife will continue to strike the necks of your people. We take this opportunity to warn those governments that enter this evil alliance of America against the Islamic State to back off and leave our people alone.”

At the State Department briefing, press secretary Jen Psaki said, “We’ve seen reports of a video that purports to be the murder of U.S. citizen Steven Sotloff by ISIL. The intelligence community will work as quickly as possible to determine its authenticity.”

“If the video is genuine, we are sickened by this brutal act taking the life of another innocent American citizen,” Psaki added. “Our hearts go out to the Sotloff family and we will provide more information as it becomes available.”

When asked what the government’s last information was on Sotloff, she replied, “I just don’t have any other additional information to provide. Certainly understand the interest.”

Last week, Sotloff’s mom appealed directly to self-proclaimed caliph  Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in a video carried by Al-Arabiya.

“My son Steven is in your hands,” Shirley Sotloff said. ”Steven is a journalist who traveled to the Middle East to cover the suffering of Muslims at the hand of tyrants. Steven is a loyal and generous son, brother, and grandson. He’s an honorable man and has always tried to help the weak. We have not seen Steven for over a year and we miss him very much. We want to see him home safe and sound and to hug him.”

“Steven has no control over the actions of the U.S. government. He’s an innocent journalist,” she said.
“I’ve always learned that you, the Caliph, can grant amnesty. I ask you to please release my child.”

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CDC Director Warns Ebola Outbreak Getting Worse; Window Closing to Stop It

Tuesday, September 2nd, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

Screen Shot 2014-09-02 at 11.43.40 AM

The director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned this morning that the Ebola outbreak is getting worse and “our window of opportunity to turn it around is closing.”

In its first situation report on the outbreak released Friday, the World Health Organization painted a grim picture as well, with 3,052 probable, confirmed and suspected cases in West Africa and 1,546 deaths.

“In the past six weeks, cases have continued to increase. Although the numbers of new cases reported in Guinea and Sierra Leone had been relatively stable, last week saw the highest weekly increase yet in all three affected countries,” states the WHO report. ”This highlights the urgent need to reinforce control measures and increase capacity for case management.”

“We’ve seen outbreaks of Ebola before. This is the first epidemic spreading widely throughout country and many countries, and it’s spiraling out of control. It’s bad now, much more than the numbers show,” CDC director Thomas Frieden told CNN this morning. “It’s going to get even worse in the very near future and our window of opportunity to turn it around is closing. But it’s not yet closed. The crucial thing we need to do is to act fast. Action today is worth much more than action in a couple weeks or a month or two.”

“What we’re seeing is a spiraling of cases, really a hugely fast increasing cases that’s harder and harder to manage. The more we can get in there and tamp that down, the — the fewer cases we’ll have in the weeks and months to come. Right now, the epidemic is completely out of control,” he added.

Frieden stressed that it’s impossible to “seal off” the affected countries.

“The measures that have been taken that have it harder to fly in and fly out have made it harder to get help in, harder to control the epidemic, and therefore paradoxically have increased risks to other places,” he said.

The director said he’d spoken to a counterpart in Guinea who had tried to visit one of the badly affected rural areas, which doesn’t even have radio transmission. “And he was pelted with stones and almost harmed in trying to bring assistance.”

“The epicenter, the crucible, if you will, of this epidemic is this three-country area near what’s called the Mano River where the three countries all have a shared border, where the epidemic probably started and where it remains most intense. If we can tamp it down there by providing things like bed nets and soap and water, information to people and services, then we can begin addressing it at the source of the source,” Frieden added.

Stopping the outbreak there “is going to be the best way of protecting of ourselves” in the United States, he said.

“For doctors on the front lines and emergency departments here, they have to think about travel,” he said. “That if someone has been in West Africa in the past three weeks and has a fever, isolate and test for Ebola.”

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Dem Senator: America Doesn’t Want an ‘Itchy Trigger Finger’ to Stop ISIS

Tuesday, September 2nd, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

An ally of President Obama on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee cautioned against having an “itchy trigger finger” in going after ISIS.

Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) was asked on MSNBC this morning about Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein’s (D-Calif.) assessment over the weekend that Obama was being “too cautious” in confronting the terror megastorm in Iraq and Syria.

“I have a lot of respect for Senator Feinstein, but I think he’s right to take his time. Listen, these are bad guys. They obviously present a threat to our friends in the region and the security of the United States,” Murphy said.

“But this is complicated, and the fact is that the American people do not have an itchy trigger finger right now. They want our president to take the time to build a coalition, both with our allies in Europe, and, more importantly, with our allies and partners in the region to make sure that we’re not getting dragged into a sectarian regional civil war.”

The senator added that he knows ”a lot of my colleagues want to show strength through immediate force, but that’s where the American public is.”

“I think ISIS absolutely needs to be stopped. The question is not whether there’s a will. The question is whether there is a way right now. And with American support unilaterally being expressed in the region, you’re not gonna stop ISIS. The only way you’re gonna stop ISIS is by rallying Sunni and Shiite regions and countries to the cause as well. So they need to be stopped, but it can’t be done by the United States alone,” Murphy continued.

“So I don’t think you are going to defeat ISIS in the short term. You essentially have to dramatically weaken them and stop this perceived inevitable momentum. And so, the president is right for the time being to conduct these strikes inside Iraq that are going to substantially stop their momentum.”

He called it an “incredibly tricky dance.”

“And I think that is why the president needs to take his time here. The American public do not want us rushing into a conflict. If he wants to go into Syria with military power, he’s gotta come to Congress,” Murphy said. “And frankly, that’s my bottom line, is that right now this debate needs to be happening in Congress. Because the American people have to have some say in this as well. And I hope when we get back next week we’re gonna get a request from the president for military authorization from Congress because this debate can’t happen just inside the White House.”

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Feinstein: Intelligence Community Caught By Surprise When ISIS Took Down International Border

Tuesday, September 2nd, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

The chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee said she’s siding with Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) in the need to confront the “vicious, vicious” ISIS movement head-on.

“They have announced that they don’t intend to stop. They have announced that they will come after us if they can; that they will, quote, ‘spill our blood.’ They have indeed done that by beheading Mr. Foley and who knows how many others that are unknown,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) told NBC on Sunday.

Feinstein said the U.S. should act in earnest when it takes over the presidency of the UN Security Council this month to put together “the beginning of a strategy to put together a coalition of the willing, if you will.”

“I mean it’s a savage movement. In this case they have money. They have direction. They have moved rapidly to cross the Syrian border, take over Mosul and then give a sermon from the mosque in Mosul. They took over the Mosul dam — all that is changing now. But I believe their goal is Baghdad. I think it’s very, very serious and we have to have a strategy to deal with it in Syria and in Iraq in this new caliphate and to prevent that caliphate from expanding,” she said.

Feinstein said if she’s learned one thing about President Obama it’s that he’s “very cautious – maybe in this instance, too cautious.”

“I do know that the military, I know that the State Department, I know that others have been putting plans together. And so hopefully those plans will coalesce into a strategy that can encourage that coalition. From Arab nations, you know, Jordan is at jeopardy, Lebanon is at jeopardy. The UAE and other countries are in jeopardy. So there is good reason for people to come together now and begin to approach this as the very real threat that it in fact, is,” she said.

She also agreed that Obama’s comparison of ISIS to a junior varsity team in January was “wrong.”

“I think it’s a major varsity team if you want to use those kinds of monikers, but I see nothing that compares with its viciousness. I’ve been on the Intelligence Committee now since before 9/11 and I’ve watched this evolution of non-state actors into world terror very carefully and closely,” Feinstein continued. “This is really the first group that has the wherewithal in terms of financing; the fighting machine in terms of a structure; heavy equipment, heavy explosives; the ability to move quickly. I mean they cross the border into Iraq before we even knew it happened. So this is a group of people who are extraordinarily dangerous. And they’ll kill with abandon.”

The chairwoman said U.S. intelligence in Syria “has not been good for a number of reasons.”

“But I do know that the breaking through of the borders was not known ahead of time. I think a lot of that hopefully has been repaired now. And I think the intelligence community is well aware of the need to get up and running in a major way both in Iraq and in Syria,” she said.

Feinstein stressed that ISIS “is on its way to Baghdad and I believe that they will try to attack our embassy from the West, which is a Sunni area where I believe they are infiltrating now.”

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Menendez to Obama: Give Ukraine Weapons; Stand Up to Putin at NATO Summit

Tuesday, September 2nd, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

The Democratic chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee spent Labor Day weekend in Kiev, where he called upon President Obama to start assisting Ukraine with much-needed military aid.

Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) met with presidents and other top officials in a swing through Estonia, Poland and Ukraine.

In Ukraine on Saturday, he issued a letter to Obama advising the president that now is the time to lead European allies in a robust response against Russian President Vladimir Putin’s aggression.

“With Putin’s second invasion of Ukraine, now is the time for the United States to act with our European partners to counter Russia’s irridentist goals by providing weapons to allow Ukrainians to defend themselves, as well as additional support and training to the Ukrainian military, and to impose further sectoral sanctions to isolate Russia. This is a logical succession to what the Senate Foreign Relations Committee passed in March of this year and which you signed into law,” Menendez wrote.

The chairman says he has “serious concerns” that at this week’s NATO summit in Wales there will be efforts “to limit NATO’s options to protect our Eastern European allies and to be able to respond to current and future threats to NATO states.”

“I commend your recent decisions to increase U.S. troop levels to approximately 300 in Poland and the involvement of the U.S. Army’s 173rd Airborne in the Baltic Air Patrol. Those actions have been extremely well received by our allies, as tangible measures of NATO resolve and commitment but will largely be undercut should the NATO-Russia Founding Act be reaffirmed at next week’s Summit.”

Obama travels to Estonia today and will fly to Wales on Wednesday night for the Thursday summit, which will focus on Afghanistan and then Ukraine. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Secretary of State John Kerry will join Obama at the summit.

“While the United States and NATO stand by their commitments, our interpretation of the Founding Act must be consistent with our core obligations to NATO states and consider Russia’s blatant disregard of its commitments to NATO and the international community,” Menendez wrote. “To unilaterally reaffirm an agreement in the face of a breach of the same agreement by Russia makes no national security or foreign policy sense; could limit future flexibility and readiness to respond to security threats against NATO states; and suggests a unilateral retreat in the face of the most serious threat to security and stability in Europe faced by NATO since the end of the Cold War.”

The Founding Act states that “NATO and Russia will cooperate to prevent any possibility of returning to a Europe of division and confrontation and will seek the widest possible cooperation amongst the participating states of the OSCE with the aim of creating in Europe a common space of security and stability without dividing lines or spheres of influence limiting the sovereignty of any state.”

It further requires NATO and Russia to “[refrain] from the threat or use of force…against any other state, its sovereignty, territorial integrity or political independence in any manner inconsistent with the United Nations Charter and with the Declaration of Principles Guiding Relations Between Participating States contained in the Helsinki Final Act.”

“As has been reinforced by my meetings in Estonia and Poland, it is clear that, in the case of Russia, any projection of weakness is potentially more provocative than the projection of strength,” Menendez added. “I am gravely concerned about President Putin’s blatant aggression in Ukraine and the risk that his imperialist ambitions may pose to our eastern NATO allies.”

“While in Europe, I urge you to pursue multilateral policies to appropriately respond to Russia’s continued aggression, to increase Russia’s economic isolation, and demonstrate NATO’s continued and equal commitment to the security of every member state.”

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Obama on GOPs: ‘Break Those Folks Down,’ Like How He Got Michelle to Marry Him

Tuesday, September 2nd, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

President Obama told union supporters Monday that Democrats can beat Republicans in the same way he wed Michelle Obama: by simply persisting until she said “yes.”

Obama flew to Milwaukee to speak at Laborfest and promote his policies he said have made America “stronger” — “because of the decisions we made to rescue our economy and rebuild it on a new foundation asking the simple question, is this good for ordinary Americans, is this good for working people — not just a few, but for everybody.”

“By almost every measure, the American economy and American workers are better off than when I took office,” he said to applause. “We’re better off by almost every measure.  But, look, none of this progress has come easy.  Every inch of it we have had to fight for.  Every inch of it we’ve had to work against a lockstep opposition that is opposed to everything we do.”

“But it was worth it.  Every gray hair is worth it. Every gray hair is worth it — and at least I’ve still got some hair.”

At this, one of the union supporters shouted, “And you look good!”

“Oh, I look good — see, I like that.  Thank you. Whenever folks say — whenever they see me they say, you know what, you look OK — like they’re surprised. And then sometimes they say I look taller than I do on TV.   I say, yes, I look — that’s because the TV is small.  It makes me look smaller,” Obama quipped.

He then got back to his argument about Republican obstructionism. “Sometimes when I talk about this stuff to some of my folks on the other side of the aisle, they’re all like, well, why are you stirring up class resentments?  I’m not stirring up class resentment,” the president said. “Let me tell you something, working families, they’re fine that folks are rich.  The average person, they’re not looking for a yacht.  They’re not looking for their own plane.  They’re not looking for a mansion.  They don’t need to be vacationing in St. Bart’s.  All they’re looking for is that if they work hard, they can pay the bills; that they can send their kids to school; they can retire with some dignity, maybe take a vacation once in a while — go to Wisconsin Dells or something.  They ain’t looking for nothing fancy.”

“If we had a Congress that cared about policies that actually helped working people, I promise you we could get everything done that we’ve talked about doing.  But until we have that Congress, it’s up to us to fight for these policies,” he added. “So wherever I can, I’ve acted on my own.”

Of people who want to hike the minimum wage and implement other policies pushed by unions, Obama said, “Eventually, Congress is going to hear them.”

“We’ll break those folks down.  We’ll just stay on them.  We’ll just keep at it.  That’s how I got Michelle to marry me — I just wore her down,” he quipped. “Persistence — you just stay at it.  Because the only thing more powerful than an idea whose time has come is when millions of people are organizing around an idea whose time has come.  Millions of people are voting for an idea whose time has come.”

“…America is not the party we belong to, but the values we share. America is hard work. America is responsibility. America is sacrifice. America is looking out for one another. Let’s embrace some economic patriotism that says we rise or fall together as one nation, as one people.”

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Senator to Clapper: Contractors with Unpaid Taxes and Security Clearances Pose Risk

Wednesday, August 27th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

A Democratic senator has asked the director of national intelligence to investigate the high number of  defense employees who have failed to pay their taxes, arguing that giving them security clearances poses a national security risk.

Financial health is supposed to be assessed in the security clearance process to determine, for example, whether someone with access to classified information can be bought by a hostile party. Federal law, though, doesn’t prohibit someone with unpaid taxes from holding a security clearance.

The Government Accountability Office issued a report recently finding that, as of June 2012, out of 83,000 Defense Department employees and contractors owing $730 million in unpaid taxes to the IRS, about a quarter of those were still deemed eligible for a TS/SCI clearance — top secret/sensitive compartmented information.

Together, those with unpaid taxes who received the high clearance owed $83 million, according to the GAO. Forty-seven percent of those debt holders were contractors, who accounted for about $25 million of the delinquent taxes.

The median debt amount owed was about $3,700, according to the report, and “tax debts ranged from a minimum of about $100 to millions of dollars.”

About 40 percent of the total number of DoD employees with tax troubles had a repayment plan in place with the IRS.

“This data indicates that there are tens of thousands of federal employees and contractors with the highest levels of clearance who, because of extreme financial overextension, may no longer be relied upon to put our country’s interests before his or her own,” Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) wrote to DNI James Clapper.

“This unacceptable situation raises national security concerns and sends the message to taxpayers that some folks don’t have to play by the rules, but can still be trusted with access to our nation’s most sensitive information,” the senator said. “Given the scope of this problem and the amount of debt involved, I urge you to address this matter comprehensively and promptly.”

Tester heads the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs subcommittee that oversees the federal workforce and has been critical of security clearance oversight. Clapper has been working with the Office of Personnel Management to improve the standards for background investigations and clearances.

Tester said in a statement that “some of these individuals with delinquent tax debt are jeopardizing our national security because of poor judgment and decision-making.”

“Potentially harmful financial behaviors should not be ignored after an individual is granted or deemed eligible to have a security clearance,” he said.

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Peshmerga Getting ‘Some’ Help with U.S. Arms, But ‘It’s Not Enough’

Wednesday, August 27th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

A spokesman for the Peshmerga told CNN today that the Kurdish forces had received “some weapons from the United States,” but “it’s not enough, very little” to be able to defeat ISIS.

Brig. Gen. Hazhar Ismail said they are now “gaining ground” again versus the Islamic State in part thanks to U.S. airstrikes intended to protect Irbil.

“It’s very little, but it helped us a lot. So now, day by day, we are gaining ground, and we have a plan to re-control and defeat our enemy, our common enemy, the international enemy, is, and all the area, to save the area from is. You know they are threatening the civilian people,” Ismail said. “They killed many peoples in Sinjar, in Sinjar Mountain. They kill Christian, Yazidi, Kurd, Arab. There is no difference. So we have a plan with help and support with our friend, the U.S., and some countries.”

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced Tuesday that “in addition to support from the U.S., and the central government of Iraq in Baghdad, seven additional nations – Albania, Canada, Croatia, Denmark, Italy, France, and the United Kingdom – have committed to helping provide Kurdish forces urgently needed arms and equipment.”

“Operations have already begun and will accelerate in the coming days with more nations also expected to contribute,” Hagel said in a statement. “…This multinational effort, which is being coordinated with the Government of Iraq in Baghdad, will greatly assist Kurdish forces in repelling the brutal terrorist threat they face from ISIL.”

Ismail said Baghdad is stalling shipments, saying it wants to check everything going to the Kurds first.

“For a week, we did not receive anything from U.S. or from other countries. The problem, Baghdad. So we need U.S. and other countries to tell Baghdad, you have to solve some bad policies you’re created in the past. It is a good chance to solve the problems now,” he said.

He stressed that the U.S. arms that did get through “helped us a lot to stop ISIS and to re-control the area.”

“But believe me, it’s not enough, because we have a very long border with ISIS. We have 1,050 kilometer border with ISIS. We’re fighting terrorist country, not terrorist organization or small group. So we need to have weapons, ammunition, equipment, everything as army,” Ismail said. “We are part of Iraqi defense system, but unfortunately, they did nothing for us, with budget, with training, with weapons, with ammunition, with everything. So even for eight years, they did not pay the Peshmerga forces even $1.”

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Senators to Latin American Nations: Return Your Ambassadors to Israel

Wednesday, August 27th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

Four senators this week called on the presidents of Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, El Salvador and Peru to restore diplomatic relations with Israel.

The Latin American countries yanked their ambassadors from the Jewish state in protest of the operations in Gaza, with Brazil calling the IDF action a “disproportionate use of force.”

“This is an unfortunate demonstration of why Brazil, an economic and cultural giant, remains a diplomatic dwarf,” Israel Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said in return. “The moral relativism behind this move makes Brazil an irrelevant diplomatic partner, one who creates problems rather than contributes to solutions.”

Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) and Jim Risch (R-Idaho) sent letters Monday to each of the countries involved in the diplomatic spats, saying they were “deeply disappointed by your government’s decision to recall your Ambassador to Israel ‘in protest’ against Israel’s legitimate military operations to restore deterrence against rocket attacks and terrorist tunnels designed by Hamas to kill Israeli civilians.”

“Hamas is a terrorist organization committed to using violence as a political tool and denying Israel’s right to exist. Hamas leaders have violated international law by promoting the use of civilians as human shields, and have rejected multiple cease fire offers that could save lives on both sides of this conflict,” they wrote. “All loss of innocent lives during this conflict is tragic, but your government’s decision to downgrade diplomatic relations with Israel at this critical time will only embolden Hamas leaders to continue on the current course of indiscriminate rocket attacks against Israeli civilians rather than working with the Israeli government to achieve a sustainable cease fire arrangement.”

“Your actions send a troubling message to the United States about your government’s commitment to long-lasting peace between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization.”

The bipartisan group encouraged each president to “return your Ambassador to Israel, as a symbol of your country’s steadfast commitment to achieving an enduring peace in the Middle East and the fight against the scourge of international terrorism.”

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Armed Services Chairman to Obama: Come to Congress with a Strategy Against ISIS, and We’ll Talk

Wednesday, August 27th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

The chairman of the House Armed Services Committee said Congress can’t even begin to speculate what it can do to aid the fight against ISIS until President Obama comes up with a strategy to “destroy” the Islamic State.

“ISIS is a clear and present threat to our allies across the Middle East and to the United States. There is no negotiating with ISIS or deterring it. It must be defeated and destroyed,” chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) said in a statement today. “Doing so demands a comprehensive strategy combining diplomatic, political, and military efforts, and the contributions from a broad coalition of countries. Such a strategy will require time, commitment, and leadership that America is uniquely suited to provide.”

“This comprehensive approach may well require additional authorities from Congress, but speculation about that before the president has even offered a strategy is putting the cart before the horse,” he continued. “We need the president to explain to the American people what is at stake, what our objectives are, and the strategy for how to achieve them. Only after we understand all this can we contemplate what new authorities might be needed.”

McKeon, who is retiring at the end of this term, challenged Obama “to engage Congress.”

“I’m willing to work with him, and I would offer a few factors for him to keep in mind,” the chairman continued. “First, ISIS is an urgent threat and a minimalist approach, that depends solely on FY15 funding or pinprick strikes that leave fragile forces in Iraq and Syria to do the hard fighting, is insufficient to protect our interests and guarantee our safety in time.”

“Second, good strategies keep options on the table and keep an adversary guessing, instead of telegraphing what we won’t do. No leader ever won a conflict by first declaring what steps he was unwilling to take – or, for that matter, leaking details about steps he actually is taking.”

Third, McKeon stressed, “the ISIS threat was allowed to build and fester over a period of time.”

“They are not likely to be decisively defeated quickly, but will have to be faced by this president and his successors,” he said. “Therefore, strategy and decisions made by the president now should preserve future options, not foreclose them. Finally, this enemy must be defeated, but if we are not going to adequately resource our effort, we will only make a very complex security situation worse.”

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Obama Tells American Legion U.S. Leads with ‘Strength and Confidence and Wisdom’

Tuesday, August 26th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

President Obama lauded the U.S. for being a leading force for peace and security in the world while assuring that pulling out of Afghanistan wouldn’t let the country become a haven for terrorists.

Obama told the American Legion convention that “the United States is better positioned to lead in the 21st century than any nation on Earth.”

“It’s not even close. We have the most powerful military in history. That’s certainly not close. From Europe to Asia, our alliances are unrivaled. Our economy is the most dynamic. We’ve got the best workers. We’ve got the best businesses. We have the best universities and the best scientists,” he said.

“…Nobody else can do what we do. No other nation does more to underwrite the security and prosperity on which the world depends. In times of crisis, no other nation can rally such broad coalitions to stand up for international norms and peace. In times of disaster, no other nation has the capabilities to deliver so much so quickly. No nation does more to help citizens claim their rights and build their democracies. No nation does more to help people in the far corners of the Earth escape poverty and hunger and disease and realize their dignity.”

The president continued by noting “even countries that criticize us, when the chips are down and they need help, they know who to call.”

“They call us. That’s what American leadership looks like. It’s why the United States is and will remain the one indispensable nation in the world,” he said. “Now, sustaining our leadership, keeping America strong and secure means we have to use our power wisely. History teaches us of the dangers of overreaching and spreading ourselves too thin and trying to go it alone without international support or rushing into military adventures without thinking through the consequences.”

“And nobody knows this better than our veterans and our families, our veteran families because you’re the ones who bear the wages of war. You’re the ones who carry the scars. You know that we should never send American sons and daughters into harm’s way unless it is absolutely necessary and we have a plan and we are resourcing it and prepared to see it through.”

He added the U.S. “has to lead with strength and confidence and wisdom.”

“And that’s why after incredible sacrifice by so many of our men and women in uniform, we removed more than 140,000 troops from Iraq and welcomed those troops home. It was the right thing to do,” Obama said.

He praised his administration’s drive against “al-Qaeda’s leadership in the tribal regions in Afghanistan and Pakistan,” and stressed that the war would be coming to a close for the U.S. in four months with the pullout from Afghanistan.

“And now, as Afghans continue to work towards the first democratic transfer of power in their history, Afghan leaders need to make the hard compromises that are necessary to give the Afghan people a future of security and progress. And as we go forward, we’ll continue to partner with Afghans so their country can never again be used to launch attacks against the United States.”

He waited for applause after this line; he got a smattering of claps after the pause.

Obama said he’s “always made clear” that “the blows we’ve struck against al-Qaeda’s leadership don’t mean the end to the terrorist threat.”

“Al-Qaeda affiliates still target our homeland. We’ve seen that in Yemen. Other extremists threaten our citizens abroad, as we’ve seen most recently in Iraq and Syria. As commander in chief, the security of the American people is my highest priority, and that’s why, with the brutal terrorist group ISIL advancing in Iraq, I have authorized targeted strikes to protect our diplomats and military advisers who are there,” he continued.

“And let me say it again, American combat troops will not be returning to fight in Iraq. We’ll not allow the United States to be dragged back into another ground war in Iraq. Because ultimately, it is up to the Iraqis to bridge their differences and secure themselves.”

The president referenced the parents of American journalist James Foley, stressing prayers were with them.

“But our message to anyone who harms our people is simple: America does not forget our reach is long. We are patient. Justice will be done. We have proved time and time again we will do what’s necessary to capture those who harm Americans to go after those who harm Americans. And we’ll continue to take direct action where needed to protect our people and to defend our homeland. And rooting out a cancer like ISIL won’t be easy, and it won’t be quick,” Obama said.

“But tyrants and murderers before them should recognize that kind of hateful vision ultimately is no match for the strength and hopes of people who stand together for the security and dignity and freedom that is the birthright of every human being.”

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Rubio Tells Obama Unilateral Action on Immigration Will Kill Bipartisan Legislative Progress

Tuesday, August 26th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

One of the Senate Republicans in the gang of eight who forged a bipartisan immigration reform bill that passed the upper chamber last year urged President Obama to not take unilateral action in the face of House inaction.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) wrote in a letter to Obama today that he hoped “Senate action on this matter could serve as a catalyst for a humane but responsible reform that could ultimately achieve bicameral, bipartisan support,” but acknowledges the effort is now at a stalemate.

“After the experience of the last 18 months, I have become convinced that there is no realistic path forward on comprehensive reform for the foreseeable future. Instead, it is clear to me now that the only approach that has any chance of success is one that addresses our immigration problems in a series of sequential pieces of legislation,” Rubio wrote.

Those components, he said, would have to address the problems of illegal immigration and a guest-worker program.

“It is my sincere belief that if we can bring illegal immigration under control and modernize our legal immigration system, then the American people and a majority of their representatives in Congress would be willing to reasonably and responsibly address the issue of millions of people currently in this nation illegally. It will not be easy. And it will not be unanimous. But if we can make real progress on stemming the tide of illegal immigration, I am convinced we will have the support necessary to address this serious issue once and for all,” the senator continued.

“All of this is why I have grown increasingly alarmed by news that your administration is considering sweeping executive action to give work permits to millions of people here illegally. If indeed you move forward on such a decision, I believe it will close the door to any chance of making progress on immigration reform for the foreseeable future.”

Rubio offered as example Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) decision in 2012, which “was a major impediment to passage of the kind of immigration reform our nation needs.”

“No matter what we tried to do to institute meaningful enforcement measures in the Senate bill, opponents pointed to DACA as evidence of your unwillingness to enforce the law. They argued that no matter what we wrote into law on enforcement, your administration would simply ignore it,” he said. “Furthermore, your pursuit of unilateral action in the midst of an election year, without any concern for the policy ramifications, has played a significant role in the humanitarian and security crisis that has been occurring on our border with Mexico.”

Rubio said he understood Obama ”inherited a broken system created after years of poor decisions made by both political parties in Washington.”

“But the cumulative result of six years of your administration’s approach on immigration reform is that, for all intents and purposes, America no longer has an immigration system. Instead, we have unsettling chaos,” he added. “I know you are receiving tremendous political pressure from certain activists to grant another unilateral, temporary and uncertain legal status to millions of additional undocumented immigrants. But to do so, without first taking any serious steps to address the border or protect American workers, will increase the perception of ambiguity in our laws, incentivize more people to immigrate here illegally, and significantly set back the prospects of real reform.”

Rubio stressed that “it saddens me that a nation of immigrants is divided by the issue of immigration.”

“At the heart of this issue are the people who are affected by it: the American worker whose wages are undercut by illegal workers. The rancher who lives in fear from the cartels and the coyotes. The brilliant young chemist who got her Ph.D. but can’t get a green card. The young mother risking everything to give her child a chance at a better life. The ‘dreamers’ who graduated at the top of their class but face an uncertain future. The Border Patrol agent who brought diapers and formula from his home to care for the children that have been pouring over the border. And the men and women across this country who ask, ‘If Washington can’t get this right, can they get anything right?’” he wrote.

“As someone who believes sincerely in the need for reform, is the son of immigrants, and lives in a community of immigrants, I still reserve some optimism that you’ll reject the politics of the moment and remember that the decisions you make will impact the people at the heart of this issue long after your duty to serve them has come to an end.”

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Pryor Campaign Ad: Don’t Vote for GOP Challenger Because Ebola

Tuesday, August 26th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

You know campaign season has started in earnest when an incumbent accuses his challenger — Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) vs. Rep. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) — of leaving us all vulnerable to Ebola:

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Is White House Pressuring Pentagon to Downplay ISIS Threat?

Monday, August 25th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

In what many are viewing as a walkback from last week’s comments warning of ISIS’ “apocalyptic, end-of-days strategic vision,” Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey told reporters en route to Afghanistan over the weekend that he would recommend military action against the group only when a threat to the U.S. is substantiated.

Dempsey said, according to the Associated Press, that U.S. officials have seen no ”active plotting against the homeland, so it’s different than that which we see in Yemen.”

“I can tell you with great clarity and certainty that if that threat existed inside of Syria that it would certainly be my strong recommendation that we would deal with it,” said Dempsey. “I have every confidence that the president of the United States would deal with it.”

This morning, Pentagon press secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby told Fox that Dempsey wasn’t told by the White House to soften last week’s tone about the threat.

“There’s been no direction from — from the White House or anybody else to tone down the way we’re speaking about ISIL. And I think we’ve all been very consistently talking about the very real and growing threat that ISIL poses,” Kirby said.

“ISIL is a growing network. They are well resourced. They’re well led. They do pose a regional threat. And to the degree that they are supported by foreign fighters from nations all over the world, including the United States, there is an immediacy to the threat that they pose,” he said. “While, you know, while I think the general feeling is they’re not capable of a 9/11- like-style attack on the homeland right now, they certainly could through the use of foreign fighters impact Western targets, including American targets, if they so choose.”

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) accused President Obama of ”becoming derelict in his duties as commander in chief to protect our homeland by not aggressively confronting ISIL wherever they reside, including Syria.”

“The White House is trying to minimize the threat we face in order to justify not changing a failed strategy,” Graham said in a statement this afternoon. “I fear their foot dragging in confronting increased radical Islamic threats is setting the stage for the creation of an even more powerful ISIL which further terrorizes the region and poses even graver threats to the American homeland.”

“I also fear political pressure is being applied to the military and others to justify President Obama’s reluctance to aggressively confront the threat.”

Graham stressed that Dempsey’s change in tone is “demoralizing to our friends and allies in Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Israel who are worried about the continued strengthening of ISIL.”

“The case has been made.  ISIL is a direct threat to the American homeland,” he said. “They must be defeated and they cannot be beaten without attacking their safe haven in Syria. To do otherwise is ignoring reality and placing the American homeland at risk. The stronger they grow over there, the more in danger we are over here.”

At last week’s press conference, Dempsey said they think ISIS “can be contained, not in perpetuity.”

“This is an organization that has an apocalyptic, end-of-days strategic vision and which will eventually have to be defeated. To your question, can they be defeated without addressing that part of their organization which resides in Syria? The answer is no. That will have to be addressed on both sides of what is essentially at this point a nonexistent border,” Dempsey continued.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel warned that the Islamic State is “beyond anything that we’ve seen.”

“ISIL is as sophisticated and well-funded as any group that we have seen. They’re beyond just a terrorist group. They marry ideology, a sophistication of strategic and tactical military prowess. They are tremendously well-funded,” Hagel said. “…So we must prepare for everything. And the only way you do that is that you take a cold, steely, hard look at it and– and — and get ready.”

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