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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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Rubio to Erdoğan: Knock Off the Anti-Israel Incitement

Thursday, August 14th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, August 13th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Hagel Says Service Reviews Progressing for Women in Combat Roles

Wednesday, August 13th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, August 13th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, August 13th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, August 12th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Lawmakers Ask Holder to Expand Investigation Into Shooting of Missouri Teen

Tuesday, August 12th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, August 12th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Robin Williams’ Last Gift: Angering ISIS

Tuesday, August 12th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson
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The Islamic State is omnipresent on Twitter these days, so it was curious to see the jihadists weighing in on the death of Robin Williams just as the rest of the world was last night.

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







Kerry, Hagel Weigh in on Robin Williams

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Kerry, Hagel Weigh in on Robin Williams

Tuesday, August 12th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, August 11th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Actor Robin Williams Found Dead in Apparent Suicide, Says Sheriff

Monday, August 11th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, August 11th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, August 11th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, August 11th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, August 9th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, August 8th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, August 8th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, August 8th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, August 7th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, August 7th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, August 7th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

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


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Turkey Steps in to Help Save Yazidis, U.S. May Follow Soon

Thursday, August 7th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

The Obama administration is reportedly considering air drops of supplies — and potential military assistance — to help tens of thousands of minority Yazidis surrounded by ISIS on Mount Sinjar.

White House press secretary Josh Earnest said Washington “strongly condemns” the ISIS siege of Mount Sinjar, adding it is “nearing a humanitarian catastrophe.”

Earnest wouldn’t go into specifics, however, about what kind of action is being considered.

The Yazidis, targeted by dozens of genocides over their history for following their ancient religion, in Nineveh Province fled Saturday to the mountain as the Islamic State fighters closed in on the town of Sinjar. Since then, the death toll on the arid mountain, particularly of the elderly and children, has been “rising by the minute,” according to Kurdish media. People have reportedly been eating leaves off trees in a desperate attempt to survive.

The Peshmerga have been trying to save the Yazidis and carve out a corridor to save them, but ISIS has been pushing hard against the lines of the fierce Kurdish fighters.

Turkey took the lead on humanitarian assistance to the Yazidis, according to Hurriyet Daily News:

The Turkish government airdropped humanitarian aid to thousands of members of the Yazidi community on Aug. 7, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu said, adding that Turkey was the sole country conducting humanitarian operations for displaced Iraqis fleeing from ISIL violence.

“Humanitarian aid [provided by Turkey’s disaster agency, AFAD] was delivered by Iraq’s helicopters for members of the Yazidi community trapped in the mountains of the Sinjar region,” Davutoğlu told private broadcaster NTV Aug. 7.

Davutoğlu’s statement came right after he chaired a security meeting with the participation of Land Forces Commander Gen. Hulusi Akar, Gendarmerie Forces Commander Gen. Servet Yörük and National Intelligence Organization (MİT) chief Hakan Fidan. The meeting focused on the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant’s (ISIL) advance into northern Iraq, which presents a security risk for Turkey amid growing concern about an influx of Iraqi minority groups fleeing violence into Turkey.

Until this afternoon, the only member of the Obama administration to publicly talk about the plight of the Yazidis — though not mentioning the ethno-religious minority by name — in recent days has been UN Ambassador Samantha Power, who said in a statement that she condemned “in the strongest possible terms the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant’s (ISIL) recent attacks on Sinjar and Tal Afar in Ninewa province that have reportedly led to the displacement of tens of thousands of people, many from vulnerable minority communities, deepening Iraq’s already acute humanitarian crisis.”

“ISIL’s reported abuse, kidnapping, torture and executions of Iraq’s religious and ethnic minorities and its systematic destruction of religious and cultural sites are appalling,” Power said.

“The United States supports the Iraqi Security Forces and Peshmerga Forces working to defend these areas against ISIL. We urge all parties to the conflict to allow safe access to the United Nations and its partners so they can deliver lifesaving humanitarian assistance, including to those Iraqi families reportedly encircled by ISIL on Mount Sinjar. The United States is committed to helping the people of Iraq as they confront the security and humanitarian challenges in their fight against ISIL. Iraq’s leaders must move swiftly to form a new, fully inclusive government that takes into account the rights, aspirations and legitimate concerns of all of Iraq’s communities. All Iraqis must come together to ensure that Iraq gets back on the path to a peaceful future and to prevent ISIL from obliterating Iraq’s vibrant diversity.”

Related: ISIS Seizes Mosul Dam, Threatens Genocide Against the Yazidis

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Schumer: ‘We Do Not Want a Drone Flying Into the Engine of a Jetliner’

Thursday, August 7th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said uniform, federal rules about drone use need to be crafted soon to prevent a potentially catastrophic event above U.S. skies.

“Drones do many good things. They are great for law enforcement. They are used to fight forest fires, see where they are, many other places. But there are some dangers too; safety,” Schumer said last night on CNN. “We do not want a drone flying into the engine of a jetliner and causing mayhem, and privacy. You do not want a drone hovering outside your office window, your living room window or even your bedroom window.”

“And, a few months ago, the courts threw out any regulations on drones. So, we need some regulations. We need to keep drones for their useful purposes, but make sure that they do not interfere with our safety or our privacy.”

Schumer said the drone regulation can’t just be the purview of the states.

“This is something that really requires federal regulation, first. Densely populated areas like New York — you do not want New Jersey regulating a New York drone. You can use national regulations. And, there ought to be set rules. This is going to be a new way of doing many different things,” he said.

“And, I think even those who are involved would rather have one national rule than a bunch. The FAA has always been in charge of our skies. We do not have separate laws to tell airplanes how to fly over New York versus Illinois versus Florida. And, it ought to be the same for drones.”

Amazon is interested in using drones to make deliveries, and the unmanned aerial vehicle industry is lobbying hard against rules that could restrict commercial possibilities for the technology.

“The federal regulations should be done in a smart way and thread the needle, allowing commerce and the useful uses of drones; but, at the same time putting limitations on privacy. For instance, do we want to allow private investigators to use drones and follow any of us around without our knowledge or permission?” Schumer said.

“So, the real privacy issues. But maybe there are some who say we should not have drones. I am not one of those. I think they serve many useful purposes. And smart regulation can save the baby and throw out the bath water.”

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Snowden Granted Three More Years in Russia

Thursday, August 7th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

NSA leaker Edward Snowden still has a roof over his head in Russia, according to RIA Novosti:

Russian authorities have extended the temporary asylum for fugitive National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower Edward Snowden for three years starting from August 1, his lawyer Anatoly Kucherena said Thursday.

Russia’s Federal Migration Service refused to comment on the report.

“Political asylum is not under consideration. In this case, a decision was made about his residence permit. The permission was issued for three years with a possibility of extension for another three years,” Kucherena told reporters in Moscow.

The lawyer said that a foreign national may apply for Russian citizenship after living in the country for five years, but said it was up to Snowden to decide.

Snowden is free to travel in Russia and abroad, the lawyer said.

He said that a political asylum is granted by a presidential decree and is “an absolutely different procedure.”

Snowden took refuge in Putin’s kingdom at the beginning of August 2013 after going on the run in the wake of leaking sensitive information about NSA surveillance programs. His temporary asylum ran out last Thursday.

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Putin Responds to U.S., EU Sanctions by Blocking Agricultural Imports

Thursday, August 7th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

The Kremlin issued this executive order yesterday in revenge for U.S. and EU sanctions:

Russian state bodies of power, federal authorities, local self-government bodies, legal entities established in accordance with Russian law, and physical individuals under Russian jurisdiction shall, in carrying out their activities, respect for a duration of one year following this Executive Order’s entry into force a ban or restriction on foreign economic operations involving the import to Russia of particular kinds of agricultural produce, raw materials and foodstuffs originating in countries that have decided to impose economic sanctions on Russian legal entities and/or physical individuals, or have joined such decisions.

The Russian Federation Government has been given instructions accordingly. In particular, the Government has been instructed to take measures to ensure balanced goods markets and prevent accelerating price rises for agricultural products and foodstuffs; to organise together with regional authorities timely monitoring of goods markets; and act together with associations of goods producers, retailers and organisations to take measures to increase supply of domestic goods.

Agriculture comprises not quite 4 percent of the Russian GDP, according to the CIA World Factbook, and the country produces grain, beets, sunflower seeds, and some vegetables and fruit. Its top import source is China, followed by Germany and Ukraine.

At a press conference following the U.S.-African Leaders Summit in Washington yesterday, President Obama was asked if sanctions are actually working considering how Russia appears to be close to invading Ukraine.

“Well, we don’t know yet whether sanctions are working. Sanctions are working as intended in putting enormous pressure and strain on the Russian economy. That’s not my estimation; if you look at the markets and you look at estimates in terms of capital flight, if you look at projections for Russian growth, what you’re seeing is that the economy has ground to a halt. Somewhere between $100 billion and $200 billion of capital flight has taken place. You’re not seeing a lot of investors coming in new to start businesses inside of Russia,” Obama said.

“And it has presented the choice to President Putin as to whether he is going to try to resolve the issues in eastern Ukraine through diplomacy and peaceful means, recognizing that Ukraine is a sovereign country, and that it is up ultimately to the Ukrainian people to make decisions about their own lives; or, alternatively, continue on the course that he’s on, in which case he’s going to be hurting his economy, and hurting his own people over the long term.”

“In that sense,” Obama continued, “we are doing exactly what we should be doing. And we’re very pleased that our European allies and partners joined us in this process, as well as a number of countries around the world.”

When asked if the administration would consider providing military aid to Ukraine beyond MREs, Obama noted “the Russian army is a lot bigger than the Ukrainian army.”

“So the issue here is not whether the Ukrainian army has some additional weaponry. At least up until this point, they’ve been fighting a group of separatists who have engaged in some terrible violence but who can’t match the Ukrainian army,” the president said. “Now, if you start seeing an invasion by Russia, that’s obviously a different set of questions. We’re not there yet. What we have been doing is providing a whole host of assistance packages to the Ukrainian government and to their military, and we will continue to work with them to evaluate on a day-by-day, week-by-week basis what exactly they need in order to be able to defend their country and to deal with the separatist elements that currently are being armed by Russia.”

According to RIA Novosti, the list of banned imports from the U.S., EU, Norway, Australia, and Canada includes:

- Fresh, chilled and refrigerated beef;

- Fresh, chilled and refrigerated pork;

- Poultry meat and all edible poultry by-products;

- Salted, pickled, driedand smoked meat;

- Fish and shell fish;

- Clams and other water invertebrates;

- Milk and dairy products;

- Vegetables, edible roots and tuber crops;

- Fruits and nuts;

- Meat by-products or blood, as well as products made of them;

- Ready-to-eat products including cheeses and cottage cheese based on vegetable fats.

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Dem Chairman in Israel: ‘A Nation Has a Responsibility to Defend Itself’ Against Hamas

Thursday, August 7th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

Several members of Congress are spending the first week of the summer recess in Israel to show support for the Jewish state, view the tunnels used by Hamas and see the Iron Dome missile defense system that they helped fund.

Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Steve Israel (D-N.Y.) said in a statement that he was “humbled to be traveling to the United States’ greatest ally… to show my support for the Israeli people during this time of instability.”

“I have always been one of Israel’s strongest supporters in the U.S. Congress, and I will always stand up for its needs,” he added.

Rep. Tom Graves (R-Ga.), also part of the congressional delegation, said he hoped the presence of the bipartisan group “communicates the unbreakable bond between our two nations.”

“There is a lot to learn about the peace process and the impact of events here on U.S. interests at home and abroad,” Graves said. “While we will discuss a broad range of economic and political issues, I am especially interested to learn more about Israel’s counter-terrorism techniques, including their approach to securing borders and ports of entry.”

Rep. Israel was pressed by CNN on Wednesday about the Obama administration criticism of Israeli strikes on Gaza.

“Well, I will tell you what the prime minister said, that Israel mourns the loss of every life,” the DCCC chairman said. “But the fact of the matter is that it is Hamas that has chosen to hide its military commanders underground and put civilians above ground. It is Hamas that has decided to embed its military technologies and weapons in schools, in mosques and other facilities.”

“It is Hamas that decided to launch rockets in an asymmetric way. And so it is Hamas that has the responsibility for increasing the number of fatalities. I happen to agree with that view,” Israel continued. “What would you do? My district — 200 of my constituents lost their lives on 9/11. What did we do? We responded. Israel has not the right, but the responsibility to protect its civilians while trying to minimize the loss of innocent civilians and that’s exactly what they have done.”

When pressed again on whether the administration criticism of the Jewish state was valid, the congressman said, “I do not know what more Israel could have done.”

“Look, in any war, you’re always going to get the tragedy of those casualties. And we have drone programs that operated against the bad guys, and, unfortunately, there were casualties that we mourned and that we didn’t want. That’s what happens in a war,” the leading Dem said.

“This war happened to be started by a terrorist group that launched rockets at heavily populated Israeli cities. Now, the other thing I would mention is this. We can bemoan the criticisms and the back and forth. What’s important is that the United States and the United States Congress under this administration has helped finance the Iron Dome program, which has saved thousands of more lives and prevented an already horrifying escalation of hostilities from escalating even further. So I’m going to continue to focus on technologies like the Iron Dome program. I don’t care who said what. I care about the deed, and that we are actually in very good shape with Israel on military and intelligence cooperation.”

Rep. Israel was pressed on the timeline of the conflict and allegations that the Jewish state hid the fact that the three missing Israeli teens kidnapped from the West Bank had been murdered.

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Obama Says It’s ‘Premature’ to Fast-Track Promising Ebola Drug, Share with Africa

Wednesday, August 6th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

President Obama hedged on an ethics question about whether Africans should receive the same experimental drug that put two Americans stricken with Ebola on the path to recovery, telling reporters at the conclusion of the U.S.-African Leaders Summit that efforts to rein in the disease should focus on prevention instead.

But as the epidemic grows within West Africa, the Arab world saw its first possible Ebola death as a businessman in his 40s returning to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, from Sierra Leone died two days after being admitted to King Fahd Hospital with symptoms of viral hemorrhagic fever.

Saudi Arabia had already banned pilgrims from the affected countries from making the hajj to Mecca. Arab News reported that officials there retraced the businessman’s steps and are now monitoring people he contacted before checking into the hospital.

Two American healthcare workers who were aiding Ebola victims in Liberia were gravely ill before receiving the experimental serum, ZMapp, which had only been tested on animals by San Diego company Mapp Biopharmaceutical Inc. They are now recovering at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta.

“I think we’ve got to let the science guide us,” Obama said at a press conference this evening when asked if the FDA should fast-track approval and perhaps save lives in Africa as well. “And you know, I don’t think all the information is in on whether this drug is helpful.”

Nigerian officials are reportedly interested in acquiring the drug. The doctor who treated American Patrick Sawyer, a Liberian government official who died in the country after flying into Lagos, is now ill with Ebola and eight other cases are confirmed or probable.

The World Health Organization announced today it would convene a panel of medical ethicists next week to discuss if the drug should be used on others and who should receive it.

“We are in an unusual situation in this outbreak. We have a disease with a high fatality rate without any proven treatment or vaccine,” Dr. Marie-Paule Kieny, assistant director-general at the WHO said in a statement. “We need to ask the medical ethicists to give us guidance on what the responsible thing to do is.”

The death toll was 932 as of Monday, according to the WHO tally.

“What we do know is that the ebola virus, both currently and in the past, is controllable if you have a strong public health infrastructure in place. And the countries that have been affected are the first to admit that what’s happened here is that there public health systems have been overwhelmed. They weren’t able to identify and then isolate cases quickly enough,” Obama said. “You did not have a strong trust relationship between some of the communities that were affected and public health workers. As a consequence, it spread more rapidly than has been typical with the periodic ebola outbreaks that have occurred previously.”

“But despite obviously the extraordinary pain and hardship of the families and persons who have been affected, and despite the fact that we have to take this very seriously, it is important to remind ourselves this is not an airborne disease. This is one that can be controlled and contained very effectively if we use the right protocols.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention today announced a “surge” response to the rapidly spreading outbreak.

“CDC now is taking a more active role, and has been invited by WHO to provide leadership on the technical front. The CDC has activated its Emergency Operations Center to its highest response level,” the agency said. Its highest travel warning remains in effect for Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia and Nigeria. Fifty additional “disease control experts” will be in the region within 30 days, the CDC added.

“The bottom line with Ebola is we know how to stop it: traditional public health. Find patients, isolate and care for them; find their contacts; educate people; and strictly follow infection control in hospitals. Do those things with meticulous care and Ebola goes away,” said CDC Director Tom Frieden. “To keep America safe, healthcare workers should isolate and evaluate people who have returned from Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone in the past 21 days and have fever or other symptoms suggestive of Ebola. We will save lives in West Africa and protect ourselves at home by stopping Ebola at the source.”

Though Congress is in recess, Frieden will testify tomorrow at a hearing of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations.

Obama said “we’re surging not just U.S. resources, but we have reached out to European partners and partners from other countries, working with the WHO.”

“Let’s get all the health workers that we need on the ground. Let’s help to bolster the systems that they already have in place. Let’s nip as early as possible any additional outbreaks of the disease,” he said. ”And then during the course of that process, I think it’s entirely appropriate for us to see if there are additional drugs or medical treatments that can improve the survivability of what is a very deadly and obviously brutal disease.”

The president added that the administration would focus “on the public health approach right now because we know how to do that, but I will continue to seek information about what we’re learning with respect to these drugs going forward.”

“If it seems to be effective, would you support fast-tracking its approval in the United States?” a reported asked.

“I think it’s premature for me to say that because I don’t have enough information. I don’t have enough data right now to offer an opinion on that,” he responded, echoing similar noncommittal responses in recent days from administration officials.

A statement at the conclusion of the summit issued by the White House said the leaders in attendance — minus the presidents of Liberia and Sierra Leone, who stayed home to deal with the crisis — “committed to redoubling efforts to control the outbreak of the Ebola virus in West Africa and, critically, working together to share expertise, as Africa moves towards the realization of the African Center for Disease Control and Prevention.”

“This is a — a big problem, as you know,” Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said at a townhall in Stuttgart, Germany, today when asked if Ebola is on the Pentagon’s radar. “We have to protect our people. And we will. But where we can be of assistance, we will, and we are.”

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Feinstein Refuses to Release Committee Torture Report with Current CIA Redactions

Wednesday, August 6th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

Leading Senate Democrats, including the chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, are upset with the intelligence committee for redacting too much of a panel report on the CIA’s detention and interrogation program.

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said in a statement Friday that “more than 85% of the Committee Report has been declassified, and half of the redactions are in footnotes.”

“The redactions were the result of an extensive and unprecedented interagency process, headed up by my office, to protect sensitive classified information,” Clapper said. “We are confident that the declassified document delivered to the Committee will provide the public with a full view of the Committee’s report on the detention and interrogation program, and we look forward to a constructive dialogue with the Committee.”

Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), though, said in a statement yesterday that she reviewed the redacted version of the report’s executive summary and “concluded that certain redactions eliminate or obscure key facts that support the report’s findings and conclusions.”

“Until these redactions are addressed to the committee’s satisfaction, the report will not be made public,” she added. It was to come as early as next week.

The majority report will be countered by committee Republicans’ own report, which is expected to argue that enhanced interrogation techniques have been helpful in the war on terror.

“I am sending a letter today to the president laying out a series of changes to the redactions that we believe are necessary prior to public release. The White House and the intelligence community have committed to working through these changes in good faith. This process will take some time, and the report will not be released until I am satisfied that all redactions are appropriate,” Feinstein said.

“The bottom line is that the United States must never again make the mistakes documented in this report. I believe the best way to accomplish that is to make public our thorough documentary history of the CIA’s program. That is why I believe taking our time and getting it right is so important, and I will not rush this process.”

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) called the CIA’s redactions “totally unacceptable.”

“Classification should be used to protect sources and methods or the disclosure of information which could compromise national security, not to avoid disclosure of improper acts or embarrassing information,” Levin said. “But in reviewing the CIA-proposed redactions, I saw multiple instances where CIA proposes to redact information that has already been publicly disclosed in the Senate Armed Services Committee report on detainee abuse that was reviewed by the administration and authorized for release in 2009.”

“The White House needs to take hold of this process and ensure that all information that should be declassified is declassified.”

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Sanders: GOP Turning Blind Eye to Algae Overrunning Drinking Water

Wednesday, August 6th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said the recent problem with Toledo’s drinking water stands as proof that climate change is overrunning water supplies with algae.

Officials said the summer heat in combination with fertilizer runoff resulted in the Lake Erie algae bloom that contaminated tap water for thousands of residents in the region. Toledo’s drinking water ban lasted for three days.

“This country faces a lot of crisis. One of the areas that we have not focused on enough is the situation regarding water. And it’s not just Toledo and its not just Vermont. It is lakes all over the country that are being overrun by algae because of phosphorus runoff. And what we have is a situation in states and in Washington where the Republican Party basically says, ‘Freedom is about allowing polluters to destroy our air, our land’ and in this case our water. And I think that is pretty crazy,” Sanders told MSNBC last night.

“Common sense suggest that we’ve got to do everything that we can to protect clean, drinking water in this country,” the senator continued, adding that “climate change and global warming is making a bad situation even worse.”

“On top of all of that, many of us recognize that we need massive investments in infrastructure in America. And most people think, well, infrastructural roads and bridges and rail. Yes it is. But it is also water plants and waste water systems,” he said.

“The truth is that for a small city or a town or a state government, building the kind of quality waste water plants that we need to that water — so that runoff getting into the water is clean, is inexpensive proposition. And in my view the government has got to be very aggressive in Washington in making sure we rebuild our crumbling infrastructure and that certainly includes waste water plants and water systems.”

Sanders said in his home state they’re “working very hard with farmers to significantly reduce the amount of phosphorus getting into our lake.”

“But I could tell you, I was mayor of Burlington Vermont in the early ’80s. And we built — we constructed one of the major environmental projects in the history of the State of Vermont, and that is building a new source separation project,” he said.

“It was very, very expensive, but we had help from the Federal Government. And the Federal Government cannot continue to turn its back on the needs of cities and towns all over this country with Republicans saying, ‘No, we don’t want to invest in infrastructure.’ The direct result will be, more and more situations where the water we drink will be polluted, where you’ll have huge amounts of leakage of clean water causing all kinds of problems in cities and towns all over America.”

Sanders said “if we invest in infrastructure we get clean water.”

“If we make sure that we have sufficient regulation we can control the amount of phosphorus getting into our lakes and rivers.”

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Paul: Foes ‘Trying to Create a Story’ by Saying He Wants to Cut Israel Aid

Wednesday, August 6th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) said that foes of his efforts to cut Palestinian aid are behind media reports claiming that he wants to cut off aid to Israel.

The controversy goes back to a 2011 interview in which Paul argued that foreign aid should come after domestic debt crises. “We can’t just borrow from our kids’ future and give it to countries, even if they are our friends…. I think they’re an important ally, but I also think that [Israel’s] per capita income is greater than probably three-fourths of the rest of the world,” he told ABC back then. “Should we be giving free money or welfare to a wealthy nation? I don’t think so.”

Last night on Fox, while stumping through Iowa, the potential 2016 presidential contender stressed he’s “never targeted Israel for any aid cuts, never voted to cut any aid to Israel.”

Paul unsuccessfully tried to get his Stand with Israel Act through the Senate last month by unanimous consent, a bill that would stem the flow of aid to the Palestinian Authority if it maintains its ties with Hamas.

“And the interesting thing is I spent the last two months trying to cut aid to Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, and people seem to be trying to create their own story here,” the senator told Fox. “But I’ve been on the Senate floor three times in the last two weeks challenging the Democrats to say, you know what, Hamas should not get any foreign aid. That’s the real story here. Anything else really that’s being brought up is someone trying to create a story.”

Paul, who voted for extra funding for Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system before Congress left for the summer recess, said he’s never voted for any amendment to specifically defund Israel.

“I think it’s misinterpreted. I’ve had votes and budgets that would have reduced overall foreign aid. Some people have interpreted it, saying this is to deny aid to Israel, when, in fact, my inclination and my propositions have always been to strengthen our ties to Israel. So really people misinterpret it. I think foreign aid — we don’t have enough money to continue foreign aid to everyone all the time,” he said.

“But I’ve said repeatedly, I think we ought to start with the countries that are burning our flag, the countries who hate us. I’ve been to Israel. I don’t see anybody there burning our flag,” Paul continued. “So really, I’m for slowing down the aid, saying we don’t have enough, attaching conditions, making sure Hamas never gets any aid. All I’m asking is for some of these outlets that are unfriendly outlets, that they would report the truth, that I have spent a lot of time trying to reduce aid to Hamas and the Palestinian Authority. And if they report otherwise, they’re reporting something truly not accurate.”

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Afghan Woman Kills Four Taliban in Two-Hour Battle

Wednesday, August 6th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

A story of bravery in the face of terrorism from Afghanistan’s TOLO News:

A woman in the province of Nuristan killed four Taliban members on Friday before being killed herself along with her toddler.

Abdul Baqi Nuristani, police commander in Nuristan, confirmed that the woman, whose name is Uzra, in fact killed four Taliban while defending herself and her toddler in the district of Barg Metal.

Nuristani said Uzra took up arms when a member of her family was killed by the Taliban. He said she fought with the insurgents for over two hours, killing four Talibs.

She was killed later in the battle along with her three-year-old toddler.

The region is along the border with Pakistan, and reports added that 16 members of one family were killed by the Taliban.

Uzra’s act of bravery is even more significant considering she battled a terrorist group that, when in control of Afghanistan before 9/11, treated women like less than human beings. A TOLO morning show recently reunited a 21-year-old man with his family; he went missing at age 6, but his mother was not allowed to go look for her child because that would have meant leaving the house without a male relative.

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Obama Toasts ‘Deeply Personal’ Bonds with African Leaders

Wednesday, August 6th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

President Obama toasted “the new Africa” last night at the large White House dinner to gather African leaders in town for the administration’s summit, pledging to commit “to our shared task to keep on working for the peace and prosperity and justice that all our people seek and that all our people so richly deserve.”

“I stand before you as the President of the United States and a proud American. I also stand before you as the son of a man from Africa,” Obama said to applause. “The blood of Africa runs through our family. And so for us, the bonds between our countries, our continents, are deeply personal.”

“We’re grateful for the ties of family. Of all the incredible moments of our trips to Africa, one of the most memorable was being able to bring Michelle, and later our little girls, to my father’s hometown in Kenya, where we were embraced by so many relatives.”

The president talked of walking “the steps of a painful past” in Africa, including the Ghana and Senegal ports where men and women in chains were shipped to the Americas.

“We’ve been inspired by Africans — ordinary Africans doing extraordinary things. Farmers boosting their yields, health workers saving lives from HIV/AIDS, advocates standing up for justice and the rule of law, courageous women asserting their rights, entrepreneurs creating jobs, African peacekeepers risking their lives to save the innocent,” Obama said.

“And both of us stand in awe of the extraordinary young Africans that we’ve met, not only across Africa, but most recently here in Washington just last week when we hosted our Mandela Washington Fellows from many of your countries. And those young people show the world that Africa has the talent and the drive to forge a new future. These are the tides of history, and the ties of family, that bring us together this week. These are the citizens who look to us to build a future worthy of their dreams — especially those who dream of giving their children a future without war or injustice, without poverty or disease. They are in our prayers tonight.”

He quoted the words of a song called “New Africa”: “Come together, New Africa / Work together / Keep on working, for Africa.”

Guests at the dinner included Guinea President Alpha Conde, leader of one of the countries that makes up the epicenter of the Ebola outbreak, while Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Sierra Leone President Ernest Bai Koroma both stayed home instead of flying to Washington. Other guests include former President Jimmy Carter, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, Robert De Niro, many members of Congress, and Valerie Jarrett along with her boyfriend Ahmad Rashad.


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Russian Girl Reporting on North Korea: ‘Life May Not Be Easy There But It Is Fair’

Tuesday, August 5th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

The Moscow Times reports that a 15-year-old Russian schoolgirl wrote a letter to Kim Jong-un, got an all-expenses-paid trip to the reclusive communist country, and returned the favor with some Soviet-style praise for Kim’s kingdom:

Maryana Naumova, who also happens to hold the title of strongest girl on the planet in powerlifting, sent an email to North Korea’s consulate in Russia in which she asked to pay a visit and meet with young athletes like herself.

“I didn’t even expect them to respond,” Naumova told The Moscow Times. “My dad had said it almost as a joke, ‘Write them a letter.’”

But within two weeks, she said, she received an unexpected response: “Come visit!” The North Korean Sports Ministry offered to cover all expenses for the trip. She and her father quickly got their visas and made their journey in early June.

Naumova said she had decided to go to see something new, “somewhere none of my friends have seen.”

In addition, she was motivated by the fact that she knew so little about the country that is at the center of so many horror stories, and wanted to see the place for herself.

“The rumors about the place did not turn out to be true. Of course, I realize that they did not show me everything, but in Pyongyang I saw ordinary kids buying ice cream and lemonade. People don’t buy that if they are poor.”

While she said she did see poor people outside of the city, she noted that this was not that different from any other country.

“Life may not be easy there but it is fair,” she said.

Kim’s uncle and all of his similarly executed blood relatives were not available for comment.

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