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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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NTSB Official Blasts Mayor Nutter for Blasting ‘Idiot’ Amtrak Engineer

Thursday, May 14th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

A National Transportation Safety Board member was not happy with Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter for going off on the “idiot” engineer of an Amtrak train going more than twice the speed limit when it derailed on a curve.

The engineer, 32-year-old Brandon Bostian of Queens, went to work with Amtrak as a conductor in 2006 after graduating from the University of Missouri-Columbia. He became an engineer in 2010.

Bostian’s attorney, Robert Goggin, told ABC that his client has “no explanation” for the crash and only remembers arriving at the crash site and calling 911 after the derailment. At least seven people were killed.

The engineer was treated for head and leg injuries and released from the hospital on Tuesday. He was taken to the Philadelphia Police Department and refused to speak with investigators. “I asked him if he had any medical issues,” Goggin said. “He said he had none. He’s on no medications. … He has no health issues to speak of and just has no explanation.”

“The television was on in the police district, and the constant count and recounting of the incident was being broadcast in his face all morning, and he was distraught.”

Nutter told CNN that “clearly, it was reckless in terms of the driving by the engineer.”

“There’s no way in the world a regional train should be doing 106 on a curve and one that is rated at 50 miles an hour. So, clearly, he was reckless and irresponsible in his actions. I don’t know what was going on with him. I don’t know what was going on in the cab. But there’s really no excuse that could be offered, literally, unless he had a heart attack. And he went to the hospital, we interviewed him, and he was released,” the mayor continued.

Nutter had heard a story that the train was delayed and the engineer may have been trying to make up for lost time.

“But, again, I mean, I mean, you almost have to be an idiot to — even if you are trying to make up time, to be doing 106 on a curve, as opposed to maybe on a straightaway. And so, I mean, that is not acceptable under any set of circumstances. I mean, look, let’s be reasonable,” he said. “People know from time to time a train might leave late. A plane might leave late. But you don’t do reckless things. You don’t endanger passengers by trying to make up time. I’m sure the seven people who lost their lives that we have confirmed, I’m sure they would not have minded being another 20, 25, 30 minutes late, as opposed to dying unnecessarily in a train wreck.”

NTSB member Robert Sumwalt, interviewed directly after Nutter, accused the mayor of making inflammatory comments.

“You’re not going to hear the NTSB making comments like that,” he said. “We want to get the facts before we start making judgments.”

Sumwalt said they would interview Bostian after he’d had a chance to settle down a bit from his crash trauma.

“You have a lot of questions; we have a lot of questions,” Sumwalt said Wednesday evening. “We intend to answer many of those questions in the next 24 to 48 hours.”

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Here Comes the Red Line Again as Syria Found Lying About Sarin

Wednesday, May 13th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

The White House expressed no eagerness today about coming up against — again — President Obama’s red line on chemical weapons in Syria.

The administration repeatedly asserts that President Bashar al-Assad disposed of his chemical weapons stockpile in a deal brokered by Russia to avoid military action at the last red line, when more than 1,400 people were killed in a Damascus suburb with sarin delivered via rockets. For example, Chief of Staff Denis McDonough told the J Street conference in March that they “peacefully removed Syria’s entire declared stockpile of chemical weapons.”

Assad has turned to chlorine gas as his chemical weapon of choice, with repeated deadly attacks on civilians as the administration has continued counting the red-line avoidance as a foreign policy success.

Reuters reported Friday that Organisation for the Prohibition and Chemical Weapons inspectors found traces of sarin and VX nerve agent at a military research site that was not declared as a chemical weapons storage or production facility.

“This is a pretty strong indication they have been lying about what they did with sarin,” one diplomatic source told Reuters. “They have so far been unable to give a satisfactory explanation about this finding.”

White House press secretary Josh Earnest said today the administration is “aware that the OPCW continues to receive credible allegations that the use of chemical weapons in Syria is still taking place.”

“Attempts by the OPCW to resolve some gaps and inconsistencies in Syria’s declaration of their chemical weapons have gone unresolved,” Earnest said. “And we’re also concerned that progress toward destroying all remaining chemical weapons reduction facilities in Syria have been agonizingly slow.”

Earnest acknowledged the Assad regime “continues to not abide by international standards and norms, including the Chemical Weapons Convention and United Nations Security Council Resolutions 2118 and 2209.”

“But as has also been well documented, the Assad regime continues to terrorize the people of Syria through indiscriminate airstrikes, barrel bombings, arbitrary detention and other gross acts of violence that are committed against their own people,” he added.

Asked what the response would be from the White House upon another crossing of the red line, Earnest replied, “Well, this is something that, you know, we obviously are very concerned about and closely monitoring. And we’re aware of these allegations and we believe it’s important for the OPCW to investigate them fully.”

At the end of March, Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) urged Obama to act swiftly against Assad’s chlorine gas attacks.

“Bashar al-Assad and those forces backing his regime, including the government of Iran and its proxy force, Hezbollah, are once again challenging the world and testing the boundaries of the will of the international community to respond,” Menendez wrote.

In September 2013, Menendez’s Senate Foreign Relations Committee passed an Authorization for the Use of Military Force Against the Government of Syria to Respond to Use of Chemical Weapons.

“It is clear,” he said, that the administration’s agreement with Assad to prevent military action “has not prevented the use of chemical weapons against Syrian civilians, nor has international pressure changed Assad’s calculus with respect to murdering his own people.”

“Worse, Assad’s supporters, including the Iranian regime, the Russian government, and Hezbollah have actually increased their support for the regime as these attacks have continued and increased in nature and scope,” Menendez wrote. “All options for response must be explored. We must send a clear signal to Assad and his backers that the international community will not tolerate further such attacks.”

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Dems After Amtrak Derailment: ‘Shrieking Whistles of Warning’ Call for Rail Funding

Wednesday, May 13th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Before investigators have even determined the cause of the deadly Amtrak derailment in Philadelphia, the tragedy has gotten political.

The House Appropriations Committee had previously scheduled a meeting to consider a transportation bill that includes Amtrak funding, with lawmakers split on reducing or increasing funding for rail infrastructure.

Rep. Joe Crowley (D-N.Y.), vice-chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, told reporters on the Hill today that lawmakers should be reminded of the “chaos that has ensued” since the Washington to New York line went down.

“It is a reminder of the investments that need to be made to continue to make sure our tracks and our roads and bridges are in place, but right now, I think the focus needs to be on the loss of life, the injuries that are sustained and the need to get that operation up and running again as soon as possible,” Crowley said.

“We see what happens when something happens that is unexpected,” caucus chairman Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.) said. “Last night, a tragedy involving a couple hundred — 200 or 300 passengers who were on an Amtrak train headed to New York suffered, in some cases, death, grave injury. We — our thoughts and prayers go out to the families of the Americans who have lost their lives. I believe the count is six. And there are over 140 who have been injured. And you never know what’s going to happen, but you have to be ready.”

“And we don’t know yet the circumstances behind the derailment of that Amtrak train,” he continued. “But certainly, we want to make sure we’re always doing whatever we can to make sure that Americans are safe, whether it’s riding on a train, or whether it’s knowing that their military forces will be there to protect our national security. And so we have to do everything we can to make sure we are ready. And that’s why we can’t be playing games with something as important as the funding and appropriations and authorization for the Department of Defense.”

Becerra accused Republicans of trying to “return to their social agenda at a time when we’re less than three weeks away from watching money for our transportation programs expire,” including an abortion bill “which will not get a president’s signature.”

Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in a joint statement that “it’s too soon to conclude the cause, but one thing is certain and that is that this horrific accident spotlights the urgent need to improve railroad safety all across this country.”

“Crashes and derailments leading to mayhem and death have become far too common, contributing to an alarming spike in railroad-related deaths this last year,” the senators said. “We simply cannot ignore the shrieking whistles of warning telling us: it is long past time to upgrade our rail infrastructure and implement comprehensive railroad safety reform.”

Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) said “while the cause of this derailment will take time to determine, investments in safer cars and positive train control as well as maintaining and improving the curves of the track to handle higher speeds may have prevented an accident like this from happening, or minimized the extent of the damage and injuries.”

“We cannot continue to put public safety in jeopardy by undercutting federal investments in our infrastructure,” Cardin added. “I urge the appropriators in the House of Representatives to pay close attention to this crash and use it as a strong foundation to reconsider their dangerous plan to slash funding for Amtrak and other critical infrastructure.”

The White House reaction wasn’t pushing policy, with Vice President Joe Biden reminiscing on all the times he’s taken Amtrak.

“Amtrak is like a second family to me, as it is for so many other passengers. For my entire career, I’ve made the trip from Wilmington to Washington and back,” Biden said in a statement. “I’ve come to know the conductors, engineers, and other regulars—men and women riding home to kiss their kids goodnight—as we passed the flickering lights of each neighborhood along the way.”

Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) was on the train, but got off in Wilmington, before the derailment.

Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) thought his son was on the train.

“There was a period of time last night when I didn’t know the whereabouts of my son, who was scheduled to be on an Amtrak back to New Jersey, and later found out he was on the next train and safe,” Menendez said. “Unfortunately, many New Jersey families this morning aren’t as fortunate as they search for loved ones and answers.”

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ISIS Warns Female Social Media Supporters to Stop Tempting Their Jihadis

Wednesday, May 13th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

ISIS has warned the group’s online female admirers not to praise their jihadi studs too much lest the guys get all lusty.

A message online signed by Abu Sa’eed Al-Britani, believed to be a onetime supermarket worker in south England who ran off to join ISIS, draws from his video “Message Of A Mujahid.”

Addressed to “sisters on social media,” Abu Sa’eed notes “every man needs the comfort of a woman besides him, so praising a Mujaahid online does more damage than good.”

“If you really love and respect the Mujaahideen then do du’aa for their success in the last hours of the night, in sujood, etc. But do not praise him to his face.”

The issues with women continue, as he claims “the biggest fitnah for a man is a woman.”

“Just having a sister follow you on Facebook or Twitter is a fitnah which triggers waswasah [whispers of Satan] in his mind. Even if a man was married to four women, a fifth can also cause him fitnah. Imagine being the cause for a Mujaahid slipping in his intentions. Even a passing thought of riya [showing off] is sufficient to damage all his good deeds. So my sisters, please be considerate when following Mujaahideen online.”

Abu Sa’eed acknowledges that “sometimes a sister may be completely innocent and pure hearted when she speaks to a Mujaahid and expresses her admiration of him, however man was created weak, and is easily inclined towards the tenderness of a female.”

After all, he said, the longer a guy jihads, the more he wants some female company.

“And if a Mujaahid sees a glimmer of this from a sister online, it can distract him and blur his vision and mindset. Indeed, it can effect his intention, and land him in Hell,” Abu Sa’eed said.

“And imagine the feeling on the Day of Judgement knowing a pious brother, a Mujaahid, entered the depths of hell because of you? So my dear sisters, do not distract him from his goal, instead help the Mujaahideen by doing dua for them at the last third of the night. A simple dua behind his back can have much more effect than praising him to his face.”

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Kerry Plucks Hagel’s Old Spokesman to Replace Psaki

Wednesday, May 13th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Jen Psaki has a replacement at the State Department: the last spokesman at the Defense Department.

Rear Adm. John Kirby, now retired, was renowned for some of the soundbites he dropped (and the word “zorching”) as Chuck Hagel’s spokesman. When Ashton Carter became Defense secretary, he moved to bring in his own spokesman.

“I am pleased to welcome John Kirby as our new State Department spokesperson,” Secretary of State John Kerry said in a statement today. “I first got to know John’s work several years ago, when I was on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and he was spokesperson for Admiral Mike Mullen and then Chief of Information for the Navy.”

“John was known as the Navy’s indispensable utility player – it didn’t matter whether he was serving as an instructor at the U.S. Naval Academy, a public affairs officer for the Blue Angels, or aboard multiple Navy vessels – name the challenge – at every stage of his career, including in his most recent assignment as the Pentagon’s top spokesman, John has stood out for his impeccable judgment, collegiality, and character,” he continued. “And he understands the media – absolutely.”

About plucking a spokesman from the military, Kerry added, “John has always – intuitively, instinctively – gravitated toward diplomacy, and I know that he is looking forward to that focus as he retires from the Navy and moves into civilian life. All of this makes him the perfect person to help tell America’s story to the world.”

Kerry lauded the “extraordinary work” of deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf, “who stepped in seamlessly” as acting spokesperson when Psaki left for the White House.

“Marie has made a contribution to every important thing I’ve done as secretary and plays a particularly important role in leading the communications strategy for our Iran negotiations,” he said. “I am privileged to work with a remarkable team and grateful to each of them for their contributions.”

The parody accounts that were disappointed when Carter moved Kirby aside are anxious to get back to work.

 

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Earnest: Obama Not Criticizing Private School Parents, Just Reminding Them to Think of the Collective

Wednesday, May 13th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

White House press secretary Josh Earnest said President Obama, who attended a private prep school and sends his children to the most exclusive private school in D.C., wasn’t criticizing people who send their kids to private school.

Obama made the comments while talking about society’s elites at a forum on poverty Tuesday at Georgetown University.

“Those who are doing better and better — more skilled, more educated, luckier, having greater advantages — are withdrawing from sort of the commons, kids start going to private schools, kids start working out at private clubs, instead of the public parks, on anti-government ideology than dis-invest from those common goods and those things that draw us together,” Obama said. “And that, in part, contributes to the fact that there’s less opportunity for our kids.”

Earnest told MSNBC this morning that Obama was making the point “that it’s important for us to recognize that as a country, we all have an interest investing in the common benefits that our country has to offer.”

“His point is that, even if you send your kids to private school, we all have an interest in making sure that we have good, high-quality public schools in this country that are available to everybody. And it’s not that far from the White House that we do have some of the best public schools in the country over in Fairfax County, Virginia. And that is an example — that is also a more wealthy than average county in the country. And that is an example of a society and of a community that is invested in a common good for the benefit of their community,” Earnest continued.

“I don’t think that he’s criticizing people for sending their children to private schools.”

Instead, Earnest said, Obama is “suggesting that all Americans need to keep in mind that it’s in our collective best interest as a country and as individual citizens for us to invest in the common good, for us to invest and make sure that we have good quality public schools are available for everybody, so that everybody has a fair shot, everybody has a fair shake, everybody has an equal opportunity to succeed and will let their ambition and their hard work take them as far as it — as it will carry them.”

“That’s what this country is all about,” he said. “And we start to lose sight of those basic values in this country, if we all start to sort of retract back into our own private clubs and our own private schools and lose sight of the fact that we all have an interest, even if our kids aren’t going to the public schools, that we want those public schools to be good.”

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On ‘Broad Cooperation’ Visit to Russia, Kerry Chides Ukraine

Tuesday, May 12th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson
putinkerry

(Photo: Kremlin)

President Vladimir Putin showed up for his Sochi meeting with Secretary of State John Kerry today, prompting Kerry to gush at a press conference later that he was “particularly grateful” to Putin “for the very significant and serious conversation that he engaged in, for the very significant amount of time that he committed to this discussion.”

“And I express President Obama’s gratitude for Russia’s willingness to engage in this discussion at a time when the exchange of views could not be more important,” Kerry continued. “So we thank them for talking through these issues face-to- face as we try to come together and find workable solutions to very important issues to all of us.”

Putin’s website led with a story about his meeting with defense ministers and the military-industry complex. Underneath that was a brief about his Kerry meeting: “Vladimir Putin received United States Secretary of State John Kerry. The State Secretary arrived at the Russian leader’s Sochi residence after his talks with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.”

The Kremlin released two photos of the meeting, both with Putin giving Kerry his characteristic power smirk.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the two parties talked about Ukraine and the “contradiction and divergences between Russia and the U.S.” along with “ways to settle the conflict in Syria.” Russia has been a key arms supplier to Bashar al-Assad.

“Among other things, we shared our views on the implementation of our agreements aimed at resolving the Iran’s nuclear program. We also discussed the situation in Yemen, Libya, and other Middle East countries. We also discussed the situation in Afghanistan, in the Korean Peninsula, and we emphasize that both U.S. and Russia are advocating denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” Lavrov said.

“Of course, we discussed the state of our bilateral relations, including some specific irritators that have been in place recently. But in a broader context, we also discussed our views related to bigger problems that had been accumulating for several years. Sometimes our opinions diverged and we did not always find common understanding of the issues.”

Putin, Lavrov said, “firmly emphasized that we are ready for as broad cooperation as possible and as close interaction as possible with the U.S.A. based on equal rights and mutual respect of interests and positions of each other.”

Kerry said he’s “grateful” to Putin for “his directness, and for his very detailed explanations of Russia’s position with respect to some of these challenges.”

On Syria, Lavrov said “there should be no attempts to use the issue of alleged use of chemical weapons to exercise any political pressure.”

Assad has been attacking communities with chlorine gas since the Russian-forged agreement to dispose of his chemical weapons stockpiles.

“With regard to Syria, our positions with our U.S. partners are very similar,” Lavrov said. “We believe that this process should be representatives, but given the contradictions within the opposition groups themselves, it is very important that all the external actors that can influence these other group have to encourage them to continue negotiations and to implement the Geneva communique as of June 30th. And it requires work with different Syrian groups and units, and it also requires participation of some external actors. We have discussed that today as well.”

In response to a Russian media question about Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko vowing to eventually recpature and rebuilt Donetsk Airport, Kerry said he hadn’t heard the speech but unleashed some criticism on the Ukrainians anyway.

“If indeed President Poroshenko is advocating an engagement in a forceful effort at this time, we would strongly urge him to think twice not to engage in that kind of activity, that that would put Minsk in serious jeopardy. And we would be very, very concerned about what the consequences of that kind of action at this time may be,” Kerry said.

Kerry acknowledged Poroshenko may have been talking about operations in the long term, but “I do know that resort to force by any party at this point in time would be extremely destructive at a moment when everyone has brought together the working groups, the working groups have met, and the working groups have an ability to try to provide a path forward on all of those issues that many of us have been concerned about over the course of the last months.”

“I absolutely agree to what John Kerry – John has just said,” Lavrov said.

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Obama’s Pick for Somalia Ambassador Withdraws Nod After Kerry’s Mogadishu Drop-In

Tuesday, May 12th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

The State Department today said there’s nothing amiss in the withdrawal of President Obama’s pick to be ambassador to Somalia just after Secretary of State John Kerry’s visit there.

Obama nominated career Foreign Service official Katherine Dhanani to the post on Feb. 25. She was to be the first U.S. ambassador to Somalia since the embassy shut its doors in 1991.

On May 5, Kerry became the first secretary of State to visit Somalia in a brief series of meetings at the airport in Mogadishu. “The next time I come, we have to be able to just walk downtown,” Kerry declared during the drop-by.

On Monday, the White House announced that Dhanani had withdrawn her nomination for the post.

“This was a decision made by the nominee for personal family reasons. Our policy on Somalia has not changed, so there’s no news to report on that. This was simply a decision for personal reasons,” State Department spokesman Jeff Rathke said today.

“We have a unit at our embassy in Nairobi now that covers issues related to Somalia. So we are already – we are following now Somali issues from our embassy in Nairobi. This nomination was with the Senate. It had not been – it had not come to a vote, so I would refer you to the White House on any specific decisions about a new nominee. They will have the lead on that. But this in no way changes the commitment that the United States Government has to Somalia and the specific steps that the Secretary mentioned when he was in Mogadishu,” Rathke added.

“I think [Kerry], as you will recall, he also said at that time that we didn’t have a fixed timeline for having an on-the-ground diplomatic presence in Mogadishu.”

Rathke acknowledged that the nomination withdrawal came “in just the last couple of days subsequent to the secretary’s visit.”

“But I think the secretary’s visit to Mogadishu is a clear testimony to our commitment to the progress that’s been made in Somalia and to continuing to support it, and to doing so by having an enhanced presence in Mogadishu.”

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While Senate Dems Block Obama’s Trade Fast-Track, GOPs Vow to Move Bill in House

Tuesday, May 12th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Senate Democrats blocked fast-track trade legislation today on a procedural vote, keeping the bill from coming to the floor for debate.

The vote was 52-45, with a 60-vote threshold required.

“The simple fact is that to pass the Senate, bills must have strong Democratic support. Nearly every bill passed by the Senate this year has enjoyed the support of over ninety percent of Senate Democrats,” Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who has voiced strong opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement, said.

“Senator McConnell needs to work with Democrats for our votes. I hope he will reconsider his approach.”

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) pressed senators to begin debate on the bill, noting it’s “simply a placeholder that will allow us to open the broad debate on trade our country needs.”

“Voting yes to open debate on a 21st Century American trade agenda offers every member of this body the chance to stand up for American workers, American farmers, American entrepreneurs, and American manufacturers,” McConnell said. “It’s a chance to stand with Americans for economic growth, opportunity, and good jobs. Selling products stamped ‘Made in America’ to the many customers who live beyond our borders is key.”

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) asserted in a floor speech, though, that those who says free-trade agreements create jobs “have been proven wrong time after time after time.”

“The administration says trust us. Forget about those other trade agreements. The TPP is special. This time it will be different. This one really will create jobs, despite the fact that every major organization representing the working people of this country says the exact opposite,” Sanders argued. “The TPP would force American workers to compete against desperate workers in Vietnam who make 56 cents an hour. We have got to do better than that‎.”

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said he voted against cloture “because trade promotion must go hand-in-hand with worker protections and trade enforcement.”

“If the Senate considers TPA, we absolutely must do so as part of a package that includes the other three essential bills before us – providing assistance for workers in displaced industries, establishing stronger remedies when trade agreements are breached, and promoting investment in developing countries,” Blumenthal said.

McConnell called the filibuster “pretty shocking.”

“There are always limits to what can be accomplished when the American people choose divided government. But it doesn’t mean Washington shouldn’t work toward bipartisan solutions that make sense for our country,” he said. “Trade offers a perfect opportunity to do just that.”

He later told reporters, “Look, this is not a game, this is about trying to accomplish something important for the country that happens to be the president’s number one domestic priority at the moment.”

House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) called it “unfortunate that Senate Democrats have chosen to delay the President’s top legislative priority,” but stressed “the Republican House will continue working on a free trade framework that creates jobs, increases wages and expands markets for U.S. businesses.”

“Either America will write the rules of global commerce for the 21st Century, or China will do it for us to the detriment of U.S. workers,” Scalise said. “House Republicans will continue working to ensure that America leads the world, grows our economy, and puts the interests of our country’s workers and families first.”

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Reid: Why Care About Tom Brady’s Balls When Redskins Are Being Racist?

Tuesday, May 12th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson
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Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) complained on the floor of the upper chamber today that America is more concerned with Tom Brady’s delfating balls than the Washington Redskins’ racist name.

Brady received a four-game suspension as a result of “Deflategate” and the New England Patriots were fine d $1 million and stripped of two draft picks.

“Yesterday the National Football League punished one of its most recognizable players for allegedly having tampered with game balls,” Reid said.

“I find it stunning that the NFL is more concerned about how much air is in a ball than with a racist franchise name that denigrates Native Americans across our country. The Redskins name is a racist name,” he continued.

“So I wish the Commissioner would act as swiftly and decisively in changing the name of the Washington, D.C. team, as he did enforcing how much air is in the football.”

Last summer, Reid sent a letter to Redskins president Bruce Allen, who had invited the senator to attend a game.

“During my time in the United States Senate, I have worked to right many of the injustices endured by Americans throughout the country. Among the most egregious in the history of our country are those injustices inflicted upon American Indians, Alaska Natives, and Native Hawaiians. This is personal for me. I represent 27 tribes as the Senator from Nevada and have worked to protect their homelands and their sovereignty. I have a duty to ensure that the United States uphold centuries-old treaty and trust obligations towards Native Americans, and I take this responsibility very seriously,” Reid wrote.

“I will not stand idly by while a professional sports team promotes a racial slur as a team name and disparages the American people. Nor will I consider your invitation to attend a home game until your organization chooses to do the right thing and change its offensive name.”

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Obama at Poverty Forum on ‘Capitalist Types Who Are Reading Ayn Rand and Think Everybody Are Moochers’

Tuesday, May 12th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

President Obama said today that the incidents with police in Baltimore and Ferguson, along with “a growing awareness of inequality in our society,” can turn attention back to poverty in America and bridge “ideological divides that have prevented us from making progress.”

At the Georgetown University panel on poverty, Obama name-dropped Ayn Rand and acknowledged he may speak differently to a black audience.

Panelists joining the president were American Enterprise Institute President Arthur Brooks, Harvard professor Robert Putnam, and Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne.

“The stereotype is that you’ve got folks on the left who just want to pour more money into social programs, and don’t care anything about culture or parenting or family structures, and that’s one stereotype. And then you’ve got cold-hearted, free market, capitalist types who are reading Ayn Rand and think everybody are moochers. And I think the truth is more complicated,” Obama said.

“I think that there are those on the conservative spectrum who deeply care about the least of these, deeply care about the poor; exhibit that through their churches, through community groups, through philanthropic efforts, but are suspicious of what government can do. And then there are those on the left who I think are in the trenches every day and see how important parenting is and how important family structures are, and the connective tissue that holds communities together and recognize that that contributes to poverty when those structures fray, but also believe that government and resources can make a difference in creating an environment in which young people can succeed despite great odds.”

Brooks quipped that when Obama was railing on cold-hearted capitalists, “what was going through my head was, please don’t look at me, please don’t look at me.”

“I’m more outnumbered than my Thanksgiving table in Seattle, let me tell you,” the head of the free-enterprise think tank added.

“So how are we on the center right talking about poverty in the most effective way? Number one is with a conceptual matter. We have a grave tendency on both the left and the right to talk about poor people as ‘the other.’ Remember in Matthew 25, these are our brothers and sisters,” Brooks continued.

“…When you talk about people as your brothers and sisters you don’t talk about them as liabilities to manage.  They’re not liabilities to manage. They’re assets to develop because every one of us made in God’s image is an asset to develop. That’s a completely different approach to poverty alleviation. That’s a human capital approach to poverty alleviation. That’s what we can do to stimulate that conversation on the political right, just as it can be on the political left.”

Obama maintained that a free market is “perfectly compatible” with government “investment” programs.

“People don’t like being poor. It’s time-consuming. It’s stressful. It’s hard. And so over time, families frayed. Men who could not get jobs left. Mothers who are single are not able to read as much to their kids. So all that was happening 40 years ago to African-Americans,” the president said. “And now what we’re seeing is that those same trends have accelerated and they’re spreading to the broader community.”

He added that over the past few decades “the effort to suggest that the poor are sponges, leaches, don’t want to work, are lazy, are undeserving, got traction.”

“And, look, it’s still being propagated,” Obama continued. “I mean, I have to say that if you watch Fox News on a regular basis, it is a constant menu — they will find folks who make me mad. I don’t know where they find them. They’re like, I don’t want to work, I just want a free Obama phone — or whatever. And that becomes an entire narrative — right? — that gets worked up. And very rarely do you hear an interview of a waitress — which is much more typical — who’s raising a couple of kids and is doing everything right but still can’t pay the bills.”

Obama also commented on “this whole family-character values-structure issue.”

“It’s true that if I’m giving a commencement at Morehouse that I will have a conversation with young black men about taking responsibility as fathers that I probably will not have with the women of Barnard. And I make no apologies for that. And the reason is, is because I am a black man who grew up without a father and I know the cost that I paid for that. And I also know that I have the capacity to break that cycle, and as a consequence, I think my daughters are better off,” he said.

“…When I’m sitting there talking to these kids, and I’ve got a boy who says, you know what, how did you get over being mad at your dad, because I’ve got a father who beat my mom and now has left, and has left the state, and I’ve never seen him because he’s trying to avoid $83,000 in child support payments, and I want to love my dad, but I don’t know how to do that — I’m not going to have a conversation with him about macroeconomics.”

The president said he’s “all for” values and character — things stressed by Brooks — “but I also know that that character and the values that our kids have that allow them to succeed, and delayed gratification and discipline and hard work — that all those things in part are shaped by what they see, what they see really early on.”

“And some of those kids right now, because of no fault of those kids, and because of history and some tough going, generationally, some of those kids, they’re not going to get help at home,” Obama added. “They’re not going to get enough help at home. And the question then becomes, are we committed to helping them instead?”

 

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White House: If Saudis Were Sending a Snub, ‘That Message Was Not Received’

Monday, May 11th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

White House press secretary Josh Earnest said today that if King Salman changing his mind against coming to Washington this week was supposed to send a message to the administration, “that message was not received.”

Earnest insisted that “all the feedback that we’ve received from the Saudis has been positive.”

The Saudi king, who was supposed to meet one-on-one with President Obama at the White House on Wednesday before a broader meeting of the Gulf Cooperation Council countries, initially RSVP’d “yes.” On Friday, he changed that to a “no.”

Of the GCC states invited — Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates — only Kuwait and Qatar are sending heads of state to the Camp David confab.

Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad bin Nayef will be attending. Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al Jubeir insisted to CNN that the king was staying behind because of the need to oversee the offensive in Yemen. A five-day humanitarian ceasefire to allow for aid to be brought to the country begins tomorrow.

“This idea that this is any way a snub or reflects a problem with the relationship actually has no basis in fact,” said Al Jubeir, who up until recently was the Saudi ambassador to the United States.

This GCC summit was an idea touted by Obama upon the announcement of the nuclear framework with Iran, as a way to smooth over opposition to the impending deal in the Gulf states.

“What we want to do is essentially have a game plan for how we can cooperate and work jointly with our GCC partners, not just in providing them with reassurance as to their security in the face of external threats, but also in terms of developing the capabilities that will better prepare them to deal with the evolving situation in the region,” Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes told reporters today.

Rhodes defended the guest list as “not at all uncommon for a number of these heads of state to not travel internationally for meetings of this nature but rather to have the individuals who are representing them at this type of meeting.”

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) told MSNBC that the king’s change of plans was indeed a snub and an “indicator of the lack of confidence that the Saudis and others have.”

“They do not see a way to reach — to be satisfied with the situation when it’s clear that Iranian nuclear deal is a No. 1 priority, and this administration feels that they can some how make agreements with Iran throughout the region when these countries view Iran as a direct threat. That certainly is the case when you look at Iranian aggression in four different countries that has destabilized them and given the Iranians a lead role,” McCain said.

On Kerry’s recent visit to Riyadh, McCain noted, “I have great respect for John Kerry, but I’ve noticed in his tenure here in the Senate but also as secretary of State that he sometimes interprets things as he wants them to be rather than what they really are, whether it’d be convening 40 nations in Geneva to arrange the departure of Bashar al-Assad from Syria, as you might recall he did, the Palestinian-Israeli failed peace talks, and of course there’s other examples of it, particularly the failure to restrain Vladimir Putin and his continued aggression in Ukraine.”

Rhodes later responded that “this type of repeated questioning of the credibility of the secretary of State of the United States of America, who served many years in the United States Senate and the United States military, is not in keeping with longstanding practice with respect to U.S. national security.”

“Clearly, the king sets the direction,” Rhodes acknowledged. “And President Obama spoke to King Salman today. They’ve had several conversations and will have an ongoing dialogue about the broader strategic direction here. But it’s, we believe, the right degree of representation for them to have essentially all of the people in their system who have the responsibility for these portfolios at the table at Camp David.”

In a readout of that call, the White House said the king “called President Obama today to express his regret at not being able to travel to Washington this week.”

“The President and King Salman reviewed the agenda for the upcoming meetings and agreed on the necessity of working closely, along with other GCC member states, to build a collective capacity to address more effectively the range of threats facing the region and to resolve regional conflicts. The President and King Salman also discussed the importance of a comprehensive agreement between the P5+1 and Iran that verifiably ensures the exclusively peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear program.”

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Kerry Going Hat in Hand to Putin Because ‘You Can’t Deal with Diplomatic Issues If You Don’t Do Diplomacy’

Monday, May 11th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said today that Secretary of State John Kerry is meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, despite Moscow’s aggression and resulting sanctions, “because you can’t deal with diplomatic issues if you don’t do diplomacy.”

Kerry flew to Sochi today to meet with Putin and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov “to discuss a full range of bilateral and regional issues, including Iran, Syria and Ukraine.” From there he’ll fly to Turkey.

Kremlin officials indicated they were still deciding whether Putin would see Kerry.

“At this point Putin has to believe there is nothing he cannot do. He invades Ukraine, annexes Crimea, and Kerry still runs to see him,” tweeted opposition leader Garry Kasparov.

There were reports coming out of Russia that Putin wasn’t even going to make time in his schedule for Kerry, but Harf responded to that with, “Our understanding that it’s confirmed.”

“So Putin may not even show up for Kerry! Lol. I’m sure Kerry will apologize for any misunderstanding,” Kasparov added today.

“I don’t know what we expect here from the Russians, but I know that, as we’ve talked about before, Secretary Kerry and the team have long been thinking through ways to get back to a diplomatic process here when it comes to a Geneva-like scenario where we get the parties to the table and where we can actually make progress towards a political transition in Syria,” Harf said.

“So that’s certainly going to be one of the main topics of conversation. I don’t have anything else to preview at this time about what that might look like. But we’ve certainly felt very strongly that we need to get back to that kind of political dialogue at some point, given where we are.”

Harf stressed “we’ve always said where there’re areas we can work together, we will, whether it’s the Iran talks, as you know, where we’ve really been in lock step on this issue, Syria, other issues, but also to discuss ones where we very strongly disagree, like Ukraine.”

“This is part of our ongoing effort to maintain open lines — open lines of communication on all of these issues where we agree, where we disagree, and they thought this was a good time to meet.”

Kerry speaks with his counterpart, Lavrov, “over the phone from time to time, including recently.”

“All very serious issues, and given that we’re going there, we thought it made sense to meet with President Putin,” Harf added.

Asked whose idea it was to meet, she obliquely answered, “We always make these decisions jointly about where we will meet and when.”

“Also given we’re close to the Iran deadline on the nuclear negotiations, and the Russians have been in lockstep with us on that issue, but also given what’s going on in Ukraine, the continued violations of Minsk, the continued aggression by the Russian separatist forces, these are all topics that we thought it made sense to discuss now.”

Even if Putin goes through with the meeting, there’s likely to be a message sent by the Russians: two years ago, he kept Kerry waiting for three hours.

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King: Muslim Groups Complain About Harassment, Surveillance When Asked to Help Fight ISIS

Monday, May 11th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) charged that all U.S. Muslim groups are doing is “complain about the fact that they’re being harassed and they’re being surveilled” as they need to step forward and help stop jihadi recruitment on U.S. soil.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations said in a brief statement Friday that the group “engaged with DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson during two separate meetings focused on the Obama administration’s new countering violent extremism (CVE) program in New York.”

“CAIR officials met previously with the secretary on the same issue in both Minneapolis and Los Angeles.”

King said a source in the meeting told him Johnson was “asking for them to step forward and be more cooperative” as they complained about harassment.

“Well, if we keep that attitude up, we’re going to get nowhere. The Muslim community has to realize that a lot of the responsibility lies with them to cooperate with law enforcement,” King said this morning on MSNBC.

The former chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee said “there was real concern this weekend, that I can tell you” when the threat level was raised on military bases.

“Again, there has been a significant increase in threat streams coming to the U.S. So we are very concerned. That’s number one,” King continued. “Just because of signals that are out there, things that have been picked up.”

He couldn’t go into more detail about the threats and added there are “also other concerns which I can’t go into.”

“But having that said, I believe that we are on to it as much as we can be, and I’ve been talking to different police officials and they are certainly monitoring certain events.”

Leaders from the Council on American-Islamic Relations Arizona (CAIR-AZ), the Islamic Community Center of Tempe, the United Islamic Center, the Islamic Center of East Valley, the Islamic Center of Tucson, the Islamic Center of North East Valley, the West Valley Islamic Center, Masjid Al Noor (Mesa), Islamic Center of North Phoenix, Arizona Cultural Academy, the Somali American United Council, the Arizona Muslim Police Advisory Board, and the Muslim American Society – Arizona signed a statement last week condemning “all forms of terrorism and religious extremism.”

The attackers of the Garland, Texas, Muhammad cartoons event lived in Phoenix.

“We also share the view that violence in response to anti-Islam programs like the one in Garland is more insulting to our faith than any cartoon, however defamatory. Bigoted speech can never be an excuse for violence. Unfortunately, human history shows us that hatred breeds more hatred and extremism leads to more extremism,” the statement continued.

“Ironically, bigots like those that planned the anti-Islam event and the perpetrators of Sunday’s attack share a common goal of seeking to provoke a downward spiral of mutual hostility and mistrust in America. People of good will must work together to ensure that extremists of all faiths and backgrounds do not accomplish that malevolent goal.”

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Feinstein: ‘ISIS Now Has a Presence in 11 States’

Monday, May 11th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Stressing the need to stop the “kill, kill, kill” message of terrorists on the Internet, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said Sunday that ISIS is rooted in 11 U.S. states.

That comes after a message posted online last week threatened that the group has “71 trained soldiers in 15 different states ready at our word to attack any target we desire.”

Feinstein, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committe, told NBC that the social media onslaught from jihadists is “putting the lone wolf in a position that that’s never happened before… and that is, you know, you do it and we take credit for it.”

“The evil, the beheadings, the individual doesn’t see,” she said. “So you make the contact and you pursue that contact and then the individual goes out and puts forth an attack.”

“ISIS is now has a presence in 11 states. It’s unlike AQAP, it’s unlike the old al-Qaeda. It’s both a fighting force, it’s an occupying force, it’s a governing force.”

Feinstein added that ISIS is “reaching out to put together that caliphate.”

“And in the process behead or shoot anyone whose religion differs or differs with what they’re doing. It’s a force that we really haven’t seen before,” she said. “We have to begin to cope more seriously with it. That includes social media.”

She stressed that if the FBI can’t keep up with the phalanx of jihadis using social media, “they just have to come to the President and Congress and they are going to get the resources.”

“I mean this is a matter of prime defense of the homeland. It would come first,” the senator vowed.

“Director Comey has said in their 56 field offices, they have investigations in every one. It takes 30 agents to surveil one person. So it’s an amazingly intensive personnel issue. Having said that, I really think we need to take a look at this.”

Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) told MSNBC this morning that the feds battling online jihad “are making some progress as far as slowing it down.”

“For instance, Facebook and Twitter will take it down when it actually reaches a incitement of violence level. But again, by then, it’s already been up a while. It’s — mainly what we have to do is find a way to get it at the source, to get it before it makes it,” King said. “And that’s going to be tough but it is being worked on, I can tell you that.”

Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), who’s especially active on Twitter, last week ripped federal authorities for a weak response to Twitter jihad.

“I was shocked at what we are doing in counter-messaging. I want to pass this iPad around to my colleagues. If you know anything about social media, the one thing you should look at is the engagement of people on our social media feeds,” Booker said. “And it’s laughable. Three retweets, two retweets.”

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Aussie Doctor Who Joined ISIS Lobbies for His License, Says No ‘Brain Washing’ Involved

Monday, May 11th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

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An Australian doctor who ran off to the Islamic State is lobbying the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency in his defense as they debate stripping him of his medical license.

Dr. Tareq Kamleh appeared in a recent Islamic State Health Service video encouraging other Muslim doctors to come there as he worked in a unit with newborns in Raqqa.

Kamleh has assumed the name Abu Yousef Al-Australie; he reportedly has a German mother and Palestinian father and told colleagues he was going to join Doctors Without Borders. Australian media described the Adelaide doctor as a “narcissist” who loved Will Ferrell movies, “Family Guy,” and had a drunk party trick of “sneaking up behind seated women and placing his exposed penis on their shoulder.”

Kamleh posted a response to Australia’s health license agency in his defense, stressing he “made a very well educated and calculated decision to come here, it did not involve any brain washing.”

He went on to claim that deaths in the area are from coalition drone strikes and not ISIS’ knives.

“If you truly have concerns of ‘womanizing’ or ‘alcoholic’ behaviors, maybe you should look into every Australian medical school, starting with the yearly AMSA conventions. Interesting hospital admissions of the Adelaide convention in 2007 (which had a budget of over $300,000…money well spent considering people are still starving to death in parts of the world) was a female student with toxic gonococcal pharyngitis, and several admissions with acute alcohol induced hepatitis… I’m sure they all enjoyed getting their stomachs’ pumped!….or maybe the Adelaide group of male medical students who printed jumpers titled ‘super rooters’…whereby having sex with people from every state within the week gained them entry…”

Kamleh called it his “humanitarian duty” to join the Islamic State. ISIS has been trying to lure Western doctors to the region, telling them to “stop treating the Kuffar and come treat the wounds of your brothers.” At the same time, ISIS has been executing Iraqi doctors who refuse to treat the terrorists.

“I formally deny that I have ever taken part in unprofessional conduct which would have jeopardized my doctor-patient relationship,” Kamleh writes. “I never intend to return to Australia, I have finally returned home.”

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What Sanders Says Socialism Would Look Like in U.S. If He Won Presidency

Sunday, May 10th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Noting that he’s “perhaps the most progressive member of the United States Senate,” Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) described today how, as president, he would do socialism in America.

“When we talk about Democratic socialism, I think it is important to realize that there are countries around the world, like Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland, who have had social democratic governments on and off for many, many years. And we can learn a whole lot from some of those countries,” the 2016 Democratic presidential contender said on CBS this morning.

“For example, the United States is the only major country on earth that doesn’t guarantee healthcare to all people as a right. And if you look at the healthcare systems in those countries, you know what, not only that they cover all their people, much more cost-effective than we are. We end up spending almost twice as much as they do,” he said.

In terms of education, Sanders said, “all of those countries in Germany, Austria, many other countries, you know what they say? That, in a highly competitive global economy, all people, regardless of their income, should be able to get a college education. College education is free in those countries. That makes a lot of sense to me.”

Another area is the country’s child care system, the senator continued, which “is a total disaster.”

“Those systems are much better. By and large, what they do is many of these countries have higher voter turnouts than we do. They have governments which do a lot better job representing their middle class, rather than a billionaire class, which has much power today in our economic and political landscape,” he said.

Sanders added that it’s “fair to say” he’s more liberal than the most liberal Democrat.

“If elected president, I will have a litmus test in terms of my nominee to be a Supreme Court justice. And that nominee will say that we are going to overturn this disastrous Supreme Court decision on Citizens United, because that decision is undermining American democracy,” he said. “I do not believe that billionaires should be able to buy politicians.”

Sanders said he’s drawn about 90,000 contributors for his campaign since his announcement, with the average donation $43.

“I don’t think we are going to outspend Hillary Clinton or Jeb Bush or anybody else. But I think we are going to raise the kinds of money that we need to run a strong and winning campaign,” he said.

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DHS Secretary: Islamic Leaders Need to Help Feds Because They Can ‘Talk the Language’ of ISIS

Sunday, May 10th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said Islamic leaders who can talk the language of terrorists need to help battle the massive social media offensive being waged by groups like ISIS.

Johnson disagreed this morning with an assessment at a hearing last week by Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), who called the federal government’s efforts to counter social media jihadists laughable.

“But it’s important to remember that a lot of the counter-narrative needs to come from within the community. And so when I meet with community leaders, I am asking them, what are we doing to counter this narrative?” Johnson told ABC. “It is slick. It is effective. But we need to get the message out, and that’s not necessarily a government objective, a government mission. It has to come from within the community.”

“It has to come from Islamic leaders, who frankly can talk the language better than the federal government can,” he added. “And so when I meet with community leaders, Islamic leaders, that’s one of the things that we urge them to do. Some have began it. We’ve seen some good progress, but there is a lot more that can be done.”

Johnson called the reason for the raising of the threat level at military bases “pretty much self-evident.”

“I saw other groups have called for attacks on government installations, military installations, which is why we have ramped up our federal protective service at federal buildings around the country, and why the military, the Department of Defense, is taking action itself,” the secretary said. “These are prudent steps, these are prudent, cautious steps, in a time when the public and law enforcement and our government needs to be vigilant and needs to be aware.”

Johnson called it “definitely… a new environment, because of ISIL’s effective use of social media, the Internet, which has the ability to reach into the homeland and possibly inspire others.”

“And so our government and our state and local law enforcement are having to do a number of things to address that, which is why FBI director Comey and I spend a lot of time these days talking to police chiefs, sheriffs around the country. We did that in a video teleconference just on Friday,” he said. “…Because of the use of the Internet, we could have little or no notice in advance of an independent actor attempting to strike. And so that’s why law enforcement at the local level needs to be ever more vigilant and we are constantly reminding them to do that.”

“Just on my watch in the last 16 months, we’ve had to ramp up our communications with state and local law enforcement because of the manner in which the global terrorist threat is evolving. And the FBI and my department work every day together to get information out to law enforcement on the local level…It is a new environment, but we are not discouraging Americans from doing the things they do on a daily basis.”

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HHS Lifts Ban on HIV-Positive Organ Donation

Friday, May 8th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Health and Human Services issued a final rule today lifting the ban on organ donation from HIV-positive individuals.

Organ from infected donors will only be allowed for implantation in HIV-positive recipients, and only under clinical trials until the secretary makes a determination otherwise.

The rule takes effect June 8 and is the result of legislation passed in 2013. The HIV Organ Policy Equity (HOPE) Act was introduced by Sens. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Tom Coburn (R-Okla.).

“Today’s news reflects the significant progress we are making in medicine and medical research, as well as in breaking down the stigma associated with HIV/AIDS,” Baldwin said today. “I am proud to have worked across party lines on this important issue. The HOPE Act is not only a commonsense step forward in saving countless lives, but also decreasing the organ wait time and reducing health care costs in the long term.”

The HHS study will focus on the safety and effectiveness of HIV-positive to HIV-positive organ donation.

“If and when the Secretary determines that participation in such clinical research should no longer be a requirement for transplants with organs from donors infected with HIV to individuals infected with HIV, the regulation mandates that the [Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network] adopt and use standards of quality, as directed by the Secretary, consistent with the law and in a way that ensures the changes will not reduce the safety of organ transplantation,” states the rule in the Federal Register.

The rule predicts “the number of HIV-infected transplants, and the number of institutions performing HIV-infected transplants, will be small.”

The agency skipped notice and public comment, calling it “unnecessary and impracticable to follow proposed rulemaking procedures in this instance.”

“Thus, the Secretary is waiving the public notice and comment procedures in the interest of implementing the changes set forth in the HOPE Act, to enable persons infected with HIV to receive organs from individuals infected with HIV as long as all of the requirements set forth in the HOPE Act are satisfied and to enable the OPTN to revise its standards of quality, consistent with the HOPE Act.”

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Lynch Opens Civil Rights Probe Into Baltimore Police, Won’t Put ‘Prism’ of Racism on Investigation

Friday, May 8th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

New Attorney General Loretta Lynch today announced a civil rights investigation into the Baltimore Police Department, stressing that “if unconstitutional policies or practices are found, we will seek a court-enforceable agreement to address those issues.”

Lynch said the Justice Department probe will focus on “allegations that Baltimore Police Department officers use excessive force, including deadly force, conduct unlawful searches, seizures and arrests, and engage in discriminatory policing.”

“Now, some may ask how this differs from our current work with Baltimore Police Department. And the answer is rather than examining whether the police department violated good policies, we will now examine whether they violated the Constitution and the community’s civil rights,” she said.

She also encouraged other cities “to study our past recommendations and see whether they can be applied in their own communities.”

“Ultimately, this process is meant to ensure that officers are being provided with the tools that they need, including training, policy guidance and equipment to be more effective, to partner with civilians, and to strengthen public safety.”

The Justice Department came down hard on the Ferguson Police Department after finding that Officer Darren Wilson did not break federal law in the Missouri city shooting of Michael Brown. “Some community perception may not have been accurate” on the Brown case, then-Attorney General Eric Holder said March 4, but on the broader concerns of racism in the police ranks “some of those protesters were right.”

Acknowledging the high percentage of minorities in the Baltimore police ranks — a different situation than Ferguson — Lynch, who visited Baltimore this week to talk with city officials and community leaders, said today that “regardless of the racial or ethnic makeup of any city, every city is different.”

“I think policing is an extremely challenging profession at this time, no matter where you are. And I think that the issues facing Baltimore certainly do — some people express them in racial tones, but people, to me, were expressing them more in tones — in tones of community leaders feeling frustrated, feeling pain; police department leaders feeling — feeling also frustrated at not being able to protect their city,” she said.

“So there really was a very strong commonality in what I heard in Baltimore that crossed races, that crossed professionals, that crossed groups. So I think every city’s different, and I — and I don’t want to prejudge or put that particular prism on Baltimore or any other city.”

Lynch noted that it’s “premature” to accept the city of Baltimore’s claim that complaints against the police are down as data that could influence the DOJ investigation.

“We’ll be looking at all of those issues and incidents, but we’ll be looking at the larger issues of whether or not the police as they work to stop, arrest and detain people, how they are in fact implementing their policies,” she said. “We’ll look at excessive force, the use and the guidance that they have and the training that they have already.”

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Jindal: ‘Not Too Late’ for Congress to ‘Show a Spine’ on Iran

Friday, May 8th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Gov. Bobby Jindal said despite the 98-1 vote Thursday for a bill to require congressional approval of a nuclear deal with Iran, he’s worried Congress won’t “show a spine” when it comes to rejecting the final agreement.

Jindal praised the lone “no” vote, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), for taking a “principled, courageous stand.” Cotton objected on the grounds that the bill didn’t stipulate the agreement be considered a treaty.

“I wish the Senate would have allowed debate on amendments. Why not, for example, say, if we’re doing a deal with Iran, they should release American prisoners? Why not say they should recognize the right of Israel to exist? Why not say they need to end support for terrorism?” Jindal said on Fox, referencing amendments from Sens. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), and John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), respectively.

“Why not say that this deal should actually do what the president said it was going to do? For example, get rid of their enriching capabilities, get rid of their stored enriched uranium. Cut off the path to a plutonium pathway. Have anytime, anywhere inspections. You have already got the Iranians now saying, hinting that we may not be able to good into military facilities,” he continued.

“A bad deal is worse than no deal. What I worry is that this president is about to start a nuclear arms race in the Middle East, where the Sunni countries are now going to want their own nuclear capabilities and perhaps the Saudis and others will buy that from Pakistan… I’m disappointed the president seems to be negotiating, he seems to be taking a tougher line with Congress than with the Iran — Iranians.”

The potential 2016 candidate noted that the House receives the bill next and can “improve” it.

“What I worry about, this flips the logic on its head. And in reality, it’s going to take a two-thirds vote to reject any kind of bad deal that the president sends to the Congress. What I worry about, you have got a Congress that already has waved the white flag of surrender on amnesty [and] when it comes to repealing Obamacare,” Jindal said.

“And here, if they’re not willing to fight for good commonsense amendments… what confidence do we have they are going to actually stand up to the president? It will take a two-thirds vote under this bill to actually reject a — because he can veto their disapproval. So you are going to need Democrats and Republicans to stand up and show a spine…Now is the time to send a signal to Iran, to our international partners that the American Congress — if the president won’t, at least the American Congress should stand up for a good deal.”

He stressed that “it’s not too late for the House to add those commonsense amendments.”

“Remember, Iran is already in violation of United Nations resolutions; they’re already in violation of the Non-Proliferation Treaty. Why, all of a sudden, are we believing their promises at a time when they need relief due to the price of oil falling? They need relief from sanctions,” Jindal continued.

“Why in the world are we now giving them what they want, which is a pathway to become a nuclear power? It’s not too late for Congress to step in and rescue the country from this president’s very, very bad deal.”

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British Election: Messina Defeats Axelrod

Friday, May 8th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

The British election yesterday wasn’t just a battle of Tories vs. Labour but an odd fight between former top aides to President Obama.

The Conservative Party won 331 seats and the Labour Party won 232. Labour Party leader Ed Milliband has already stepped down.

“This is the sweetest victory of all,” Prime Minister David Cameron told supporters at his victory party. “The real reason to celebrate tonight, the real reason to be proud, the real reason to be excited is we are going to get the opportunity to serve our country again.”

Anti-Israel Respect Party leader George Galloway lost his seat by more than 10,000 votes to Labour’s Naz Shah. Galloway complained that “the venal, the vile, the racists and the Zionists will all be celebrating” his loss.

But someone else was nursing his wounds: former Obama senior adviser David Axelrod, who advised the Labour Party in what many observers thought was going to be an election that led to a hung parliament instead of a full trouncing.

And advising the Tories? Obama’s 2012 campaign manager and former White House Deputy Chief of Staff Jim Messina.

 

 

 

President Obama, who grudgingly waited days to address Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s beat-back of a challenge to his rule, quickly issued a statement congratulating Cameron on his “impressive electoral victory.”

“The special and essential relationship between the United States and the United Kingdom is rooted in deep and abiding shared interests and values,” Obama said. “I have enjoyed working closely with Prime Minister Cameron on a range of shared interests these last several years, and I look forward to continuing to strengthen the bonds between our countries, as we work together on behalf of global peace, security and prosperity.”

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Obama on Climate Change: ‘I’m Not a Scientist, But I Know a Lot of Scientists’

Friday, May 8th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

At a DNC fundraiser in Portland last night, President Obama mocked the chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee for wielding a snowball on the floor of the upper chamber to make a point about climate change.

“Despite a long list of unsubstantiated global warming claims, climate activists and environmental groups will cling to any extreme-weather related headline to support their case for global warming and to instill the fear of global warming in the American people,” Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) said in February, armed with a ball of icy white stuff.

“President Obama is using a similar tactic in order to scare Americans into supporting his extreme climate change agenda. In a recent interview, President Obama agreed that the media overstates the dangers of terrorism while downplaying the risks of climate change. His press secretary, Josh Earnest, later reiterated that President Obama believes climate change affects far more Americans than terrorism,” he continued. “According to the President, the biggest challenge we face IS NOT the spread of Muslim extremists in Syria, Iraq, Egypt, Algeria, Libya, Tunisia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen or Nigeria.”

After flying out to the ballroom of about 300 people paying $33,400 each, Obama took a dig at Inhofe.

“We’re going to have to tackle climate change. We’ve got some folks in the center right now who think because we get a snowy day, they bring in snowballs into the chambers and think that’s science,” he quipped as the audience laughed. “I’m not a scientist, but I know a lot of scientists. I can understand science. And what the science says is that our planet is warming in such a way that it is going to increase drought, and it is going to increase wildfires, and it is going to displace millions of people around this planet, and increase the severity of floods and hurricanes, and it will cost lives and it will cost our way of life, and it could affect the incredible natural bounty that Oregon represents. And that’s not the kind of America I want to pass on to our kids and our grandkids.”

“That’s why we’re taking actions through the EPA to make sure that we cut carbon pollution that’s produced from power plants. It’s the right thing do.”

Obama promised “there are jobs to be had for those countries that are first to figure out how to harness the power of the sun and the wind, and store it properly and distribute it properly.”

“And I want that to be America,” he added.

Obama said that after all he’s accomplished in office “people say, Mr. President, no wonder you look so old.”

“And they ask you, how do you just keep at it every day? And I tell them, at least once a day I meet people who, because of the work that we did, have seen their lives transformed,” he said. “…The young man in college who comes to me and says, you know, as a gay teen, I was bullied and thought about suicide, and seeing all the changes that have taken place and the recognition and the acceptance and the love that we’ve seen sweep across this country has made such a big difference in my life. That’s why I don’t get tired, because I want that young man to feel loved.”

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Senate Passes Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act 98-1

Thursday, May 7th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

The Senate today overwhelmingly passed the bill to require congressional approval of any nuclear deal struck with Iran over its nuclear program.

The final vote was 98-1. Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), who gave the administration heartburn with his open letter to Iran’s mullahs signed by 47 GOP senators, was the lone “no” vote. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) missed the vote.

“A nuclear-arms agreement with any adversary—especially the terror-sponsoring, Islamist Iranian regime—should be submitted as a treaty and obtain a two-thirds majority vote in the Senate as required by the Constitution. President Obama wants to reverse this rule, requiring opponents to get a two-thirds vote to stop his dangerous deal,” Cotton said. “But Congress should not accept this usurpation, nor allow the president any grounds to claim that Congress blessed his nuclear deal. I will work with Republicans and Democrats to stop a dangerous deal that would put Iran on the path to obtaining a nuclear weapon.”

The White House said it would not veto the version of the bill that passed unanimously out of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, but the change of heart from the administration was also seen as a realization of months of Democratic support for such a bill building in the upper chamber.

The Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act was scaled down from a previous version before passing committee to cover only the nuclear deal. It clearly states that sanctions on Iran for human rights, missile testing and terrorism will remain in place. It did, however, strip language originally inserted into the bill by Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) that would require certification by President Obama to Congress that Iran was not sponsoring acts of terrorism against Americans.

The administration must submit a deal reached by the June 30 P5+1 deadline to Congress by July 10, when a 52-day period to review the agreement begins. That includes a vote within the first 30 days, 12 days for Obama to weigh a veto, and 10 days for Congress to respond. If Obama submits the deal to Congress in the August recess, lawmakers get an additional 30 days of review.

Lifting sanctions against Iran would require a separate vote in another bill. The legislation passed today requires Obama to certify to Congress every 90 days that Iran is in compliance.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) voted “no” on the cloture motion to end debate on the bill, but minutes later voted for the legislation in the final passage.

Other cloture “no” votes but “ayes” in the final round came from Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Mike Lee (R-Utah), Jerry Moran (R-Kansas), and Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska).

Key amendments to the Iran bill didn’t get a vote, including Sen. Marco Rubio’s (R-Fla.) provision to require that Iran recognize the Jewish state of Israel.

Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) wanted the bill to include the requirement that Iran release Americans Amir Hekmati, Saeed Abedini, Jason Rezaian and Bob Levinson. That amendment drew a swift veto threat from the White House.

“It is outrageous that after two years of negotiations, Iranian officials continue to hold four American citizens as prisoner without any real cause. The United States must insist that Iran release these Americans as a condition of any agreement,” Blunt said.

“You would think if you were negotiating something as significant as preventing Iran from building a nuclear weapon, the very least you could do is release these prisoners,” he added. “The president is committed to blocking my recent efforts, but I’ll keep fighting until these four innocent Americans are released unconditionally and brought home safely to the United States where they belong.”

Cotton and Rubio tried using a procedural move to force a vote on amendments, but Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) responded by moving to cut off debate and push the bill to a final vote.

Menendez said on the Senate floor today that he agreed with many of the amendments — Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), for example, tried to get terrorism language inserted like the original Menendez language stripped from the final version — but “we cannot risk a presidential veto and we cannot at the end of the day risk giving up congressional review and judgment.”

“I increasingly get alarmed that there is a suggestion that there will be greater upfront sanctions relief. I don’t believe that Iran should get a signing bonus,” Menendez stressed. “I’m concerned about the recent statement by the president that he could envision greater sanctions relief coming upfront for Iran.”

Rubio said he was “deeply disappointed by the direction this debate has taken,” understanding that it was carefully crafted to gain widespread support “but I also understand that every member of the Senate has a right to be heard on this debate.”

“Unfortunately, only a couple of amendments were allowed to be voted on, and no one else had an opportunity to get their amendments voted on – amendments that I thought would have made this bill much more meaningful,” he said.

Moran said the Senate “should have done more to strengthen the bill and demand accountability from Iran,” but “this legislation provides the only opportunity for Americans to review the nuclear agreement and have their voices heard.”

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) lent his backing to the bill as it heads over to the lower chamber for a final stamp of approval.

“Senator Corker’s legislation rightly positions Congress to judge and render a verdict on any final nuclear agreement the administration strikes with Tehran. It also should strengthen the administration’s hand at the negotiating table,” Royce said in a statement after Senate passage. “The House should pass this legislation, and the administration should put its added leverage to use. The committee will continue monitoring these negotiations and the growing Iranian threat to our allies and nation.”

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Kerry: ‘We Intend to be Clear About Our Determination’ to Stand Up to Iran Behaving Badly

Thursday, May 7th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

In Saudi Arabia today, Secretary of State John Kerry vowed “we intend to be very clear about our determination going forward to stand up against any country’s illicit intervention in the affairs of another nation in a way that is challenging to regional and global security interests and other kinds of concerns.”

That was in response to a question about Iran stirring up havoc in the region.

“And that holds true with respect to our activities,” Kerry added.

The Obama administration, which wants Yemen to be settled at the United Nations, is hosting the Gulf Cooperation Council countries in Washington next week.

“The United States is deeply concerned about Iran’s activities in the region. We are planning to — we’re not planning to, we are enforcing the United Nations arms embargo requirements, et cetera. We’ve been raising the level of effort of the maritime initiative with respect to the Gulf and area, most recently with the Theodore Roosevelt being moved in and other activities that we’ve been engaged in,” Kerry said. “And one of the topics of our conversation, in the context of Paris tomorrow and Camp David, will be the further steps that we will be taking together with our allies to prevent activities that are in contravention of many United Nations resolutions and also the standards and norms of international behavior between countries.”

“So we are very, very concerned about those activities — in Iraq, with Hizballah, in Yemen, and elsewhere.”

Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir, appearing at the Riyadh Air Base with Kerry, said the kingdom remains firm that “Iran should have no role in Yemen.”

“The last time I checked, Iran didn’t have a border with Yemen. And so the Iranian role in Yemen has been a negative one,” al-Jubeir said. “They have supported the Houthis financially, ideologically, as well as with weapons, and this is not helpful. They have tried to smuggle weapons into Yemen in the midst of this conflict, and we have been able to stop aircraft from landing in Sana’a airport. And the United States has been able to turn back a flotilla of Iranian ships, which we suspect were loaded with weapons that were intended to go to the Houthis.”

“So no, I do not think that Iran’s role in Yemen is a helpful one. I hope they can prevail on their allies, the Houthis, to abide by the cease-fire, but that’s my view on Iran and its role in Yemen.”

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Dems and GOPs Cheer Ruling Against NSA Bulk Collection: ‘The Executive Branch’s Claims are Crumbling’

Thursday, May 7th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

The author of the PATRIOT Act, who now wants to rein in the bill, says today’s court ruling that mass collection of phone data is illegal vindicates his position.

The 2nd Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals today ruled that the National Security Agency’s bulk collection of telephone metadata exceeds the surveillance powers approved by Congress. The ruling didn’t stop the program altogether but directed Congress to go back and draw the boundaries.

That was music to the ears of lawmakers who have been hotly opposed to the mass data collection.

“Today’s court decision reaffirms what I’ve been saying since the Snowden leaks came to light. Congress never intended Section 215 to allow bulk collection,” Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) said. “This program is illegal and based on a blatant misinterpretation of the law.”

“It’s time for Congress to pass the USA FREEDOM Act in order to protect both civil liberties and national security with legally authorized surveillance,” he added, referencing the bipartisan PATRIOT Act reform legislation.

Sen. Pat Leahy (D-Vt.), who has co-sponsored the Senate version of the FREEDOM Act with Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), said “the dragnet collection of Americans’ phone records is unnecessary and ineffective, and now a federal appellate court has found that the program is illegal.”

“Congress should not reauthorize a bulk collection program that the court has found to violate the law. We will not consent to any extension of this program,” Leahy added. Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act has to be reauthorized by June.

“The House is poised to pass the bipartisan USA FREEDOM Act of 2015 next week, and the Senate should do the same. We urge the Majority Leader to bring the USA FREEDOM Act up for a vote next week after the House passes it.”

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) issued a joint statement asking the White House to step in and end the NSA program now.

“This is a huge step for individual Americans’ rights,” Wyden said. “This dragnet surveillance program violates the law and tramples on Americans’ privacy rights without making our country any safer. It is long past time for it to end.”

“Now that this program is finally being examined in the sunlight, the executive branch’s claims about its legality and effectiveness are crumbling,” he added. “The president should end mass surveillance immediately. If not, Congress needs to finish the job and finally end this dragnet.”

Wyden helped out Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) with his 13-hour 2013 filibuster protesting drone use.

Paul called the court ruling today “a monumental decision for all lovers of liberty.”

“I commend the federal courts for upholding our Constitution and protecting our Fourth Amendment rights. While this is a step in the right direction, it is now up to the Supreme Court to strike down the NSA’s illegal spying program,” he said.

The senator and 2016 presidential hopeful sued the Obama administration in 2014 over the bulk collection of Americans’ data.

“It is the duty of elected officials to protect the rights of all Americans, and Congress should immediately repeal the PATRIOT Act provisions and pass my Fourth Amendment Preservation and Protection Act,” Paul added. “I will continue to fight to prevent the Washington machine from illegally seizing any American’s personal communication.”

Another presidential hopeful, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), said Americans can be kept safe “without living in an Orwellian world where the government and private corporations know every telephone call that we make, every website we visit, everyplace we go.”

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White House: Obama ‘Looks Forward to Working with Netanyahu and His New Government’

Thursday, May 7th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

After Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party won elections in March, the Obama administration said it was withholding congratulations — offered quickly by other countries — until Bibi formed a coalition government.

He has formed that coalition, retained his title, and the White House spoke this morning in a statement from press secretary Josh Earnest.

“The president congratulates the Israeli people, Prime Minister Netanyahu and the new governing coalition on the formation of Israel’s new government. President Obama looks forward to working with Prime Minister Netanyahu and his new government,” Earnest said.

“As the president has emphasized, the United States places great importance on our close military, intelligence, and security cooperation with Israel, which reflects the deep and abiding partnership between both countries,” he added. “We also look forward to continuing consultations on a range of regional issues, including international negotiations to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon and the importance of pursuing a two-state solution.”

It’s the two-state solution where the White House has indicated it may throw Netanyahu under the bus.

Earnest said soon after the vote that the policy adjustments of the administration would be contingent on “what sort of policy and priorities the prime minister chooses.”

Netanyahu made news in the final days of his campaign by saying there would not be a two-state solution — but has since clarified to what his position has always been, that he cannot negotiate with a Palestinian government that includes Hamas or make any concessions that will jeopardize Israel’s security. Netanyahu has also consistently said that Jerusalem will not be divided, and Palestinians want half or all of Jerusalem in a two-state solution.

“We want that to change, so we can realize a vision of real, sustained real peace,” Netanyahu told NBC after his win. “And I don’t want a one-state solution. I want a sustainable, peaceful two-state solution, but for that circumstances have to change.”

Earnest said the administration is “certainly… in a position to evaluate our approach to these issues, given that the prime minister essentially backed away from commitments that Israel had previously made to this effort.”

“In terms of making decisions at the United Nations and other multilateral fora, the United States has repeatedly intervened in some of those debates at the U.N. and in other places by saying we should — the best way for us to solve this problem is to get the two parties to sit down at the negotiating table, resolve their differences so that this two-state solution can be realized,” he said.

“…But now the prime minister of Israel says earlier this week days before an election that this is a principle that he no longer subscribes to and that his nation no longer subscribes to. That means the United States needs to rethink our approach, that this — that steps that — that this principle has been the foundation of a number of policy decisions that have been made here and now that that foundation has been eroded, it means that our policy decisions need to be reconsidered. And that’s what we will do.”

Earnest then denied he was suggesting that Israel could no longer expect U.S. backing at the UN on controversial anti-Israel measures, such as the Palestinian Authority’s demand for statehood recognition.

“What I’ve tried to say is that it understandably has prompted us to re-evaluate the strategy that we will put in place to make those decisions. And that will be something that we will do moving forward,” he said. “Steps that the United States has taken at the United Nations had been predicated on this idea that the two-state solution is the best outcome. Now our ally in these talks has said that they are no longer committed to that solution.”

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Sanders to Those Who Call Him ‘Gun Nut’: Understand My State

Thursday, May 7th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

“Bernie Sanders, Gun Nut”? Slate thinks so:

Before liberal Democrats flock to Sanders, they should remember that the Vermont senator stands firmly to Clinton’s right on one issue of overwhelming importance to the Democratic base: gun control. During his time in Congress, Sanders opposed several moderate gun control bills. He also supported the most odious NRA–backed law in recent memory—one that may block Sandy Hook families from winning a lawsuit against the manufacturer of the gun used to massacre their children.

Sanders, an economic populist and middle-class pugilist, doesn’t talk much about guns on the campaign trail. But his voting record paints the picture of a legislator who is both skeptical of gun control and invested in the interests of gun owners—and manufacturers. In 1993, then-Rep. Sanders voted against the Brady Act, which mandated federal background checks for gun purchasers and restricted felons’ access to firearms. As a senator, Sanders supported bills to allow firearms in checked bags on Amtrak trains and block funding to any foreign aid organization that registered or taxed Americans’ guns. Sanders is dubious that gun control could help prevent gun violence, telling one interviewer after Sandy Hook that “if you passed the strongest gun control legislation tomorrow, I don’t think it will have a profound effect on the tragedies we have seen.” (He has since endorsed some modest gun control measures.)

In April 2013, Sanders, then chairman of the Veterans Affairs Committee, crossed the aisle to support an amendment that would have ensured VA beneficiaries got a judicial review before having their ability to own a gun stripped away.

Sanders has a “D-” grade with the NRA; he told MSNBC yesterday that to the best of his recollection he got an “F” in their lawmaker ratings. “That doesn’t quite make me a gun nut,” he said.

“In my state of Vermont, we are a very rural state where guns are about hunting, target practice, antique guns, and we have a pretty low crime rate,” Sanders further explained. “I do believe, obviously, that nationally, guns in Baltimore and guns in Los Angeles are very different. I have voted against the importation of assault weapons. And I understand not every part of America is the state of Vermont.”

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Dempsey: Global Security ‘as Uncertain as I’ve Seen in 40 Years’

Wednesday, May 6th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

President Obama’s outgoing chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff warned Congress today that the global security environment “is as uncertain as I’ve seen in 40 years of service.”

Appearing before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense for the last time, Gen. Martin Dempsey added that “we are at a point where our global aspirations are exceeding our available resources.”

“We’ve heard the Congress of the United States loud and clear that we have to become more efficient and we have to do the rigorous strategic thinking to determine the minimum essential requirements that we believe — that is to say, the uniform military — are essential to protect our national interests across the globe,” he said, testifying for a budget proposal that “represents a responsible combination of capability, capacity and readiness. But we are at the bottom edge of our manageable risk in achieving and fulfilling our national security strategy, as it is currently designed.”

Dempsey said he views the security situation as the most challenging of his career because “we face emerging threats from both state actors — you mentioned the threat that Russia poses to Europe, the threat that Iran poses not just in the nuclear arena, the threat of the DPRK, a rising China, which is not yet a military threat, but if left — if that relationship is not managed carefully could become one.”

“So we have state issues, with state actors, and we’ve got a large body of nonstate actors, ISIL, al-Qaida, other groups that have aligned themselves. And for the first time in my career, they are both manifesting themselves simultaneously,” he continued. “This is not a time to be withdrawing from the world.”

Defense Secretary Ashton Carter noted “the Iranian behavior is concerning on a number of fronts and in a number of locations, both as regards the stability of Gulf countries, freedom of navigation, which is very important, and other things, in addition to their nuclear program, of course, which is the concern that inspires the negotiations to which you referred.”

“I’ll say that for us in the Department of Defense, I think this creates a continuing requirement for a presence in the region, reassurance of allies and partners in the region, particularly Israel, but not confined to Israel, but particularly Israel,” Carter said. “And also, of course, with respect to the nuclear agreement, the president has said that he would take no deal over a bad deal. And, therefore, we are under instruction to have a military option, which we work hard to maintain.”

ISIS, Carter said, is a “continuing threat, both in Iraq and Syria, and then you see the ability of it as a movement to inspire the lost and the radical worldwide to acts of violence.”

“Just to touch on North Korea, North Korea’s behavior — I was in South Korea just a couple of weeks ago — continues to be provocative. Considerable uncertainty about their future behavior, so we need to watch it carefully,” he said. “We say that South Korea is the place where our slogan is we need to be able to fight to night, because it’s not a game over there. We need to be ready every day. And so, as we talk about our budget and our presence and so forth, one thing we can’t trim is our deterrent in the — in the Korean Peninsula.”

“I’ve gone on long enough. We can talk about Russia later, perhaps.”

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Gitmo 6-Pack Sent to Uruguay Not Monitored, Transfer May Have Broken Law

Wednesday, May 6th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

The chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee has raised the alarm about a bulk transfer of Guantanamo detainees last December, stressing to Secretary of State John Kerry that the action may be putting the United States in danger and may have been illegal.

The transfer to Uruguay was the largest number of detainees released at one time since 2009.

Syrians Ahmed Adnan AhjamAli Hussain Shaabaan, and Omar Mahmoud Faraj trained with al-Qaeda in Tora Bora and were captured by the Pakistanis in 2001.

Tunisian Abdul Bin Mohammed Bin Abess Ourgy “possessed information suggesting he had prior knowledge of the 9/11 attacks as well as other planned suicide attacks, and had reported associations with senior al-Qaida members including Usama Bin Laden,” said a 2007 Defense Department report.

Mohammed Tahanmatan, a Palestinian, was a member of Hamas who went to Afghanistan to train with the Taliban. “During detention, detainee has stated he hates all enemies of Islam, including Americans, Jews, Christians, and Muslims who do not think as he does,” stated his 2008 report.

Jihad Ahmed Mujstafa Diyab, a Syrian with terror ties from Libya to Pakistan, was captured at an al-Qaeda safe house in Lahore in 2002.

Foreign Affairs Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) today released a letter he wrote to Kerry at the end of April about the release of those “accused of being hardened al-Qaeda fighters, having been involved in forging documents, trained as suicide bombers, and engaged in fighting at Tora Bora.”

“After a first-hand assessment by Committee staff, this transfer appears to be inconsistent with U.S. law, as Uruguay has not taken steps to mitigate the risk that these detainees pose to the United States, including the U.S. Embassy in Montevideo,” Royce wrote.

“As you know, prior to such a detainee release, the Secretary of Defense is required by law (P.L. 113-66) to determine that steps have been or will be taken to ‘substantially mitigate the risk’ of released individuals from again threatening the United States or United States persons or interests. Congress received – after reported reluctance from then-Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel – the required determination related to these six detainees in July 2014.”

The decision to transfer a detainee, he noted, should be made only after “specific conversations” with the host country about what measures they “will take in order to sufficiently mitigate the specific threat that the detainee may pose,” and the State Department has expressly said “if we do not receive adequate assurances, the transfer does not occur.”

“In light of these required determinations and assurances, it was surprising and very concerning that senior Uruguayan officials asserted that they had not imposed or accepted any conditions when they agreed to receive these former detainees,” Royce continued. “In December, the Uruguayan defense minister clearly stated ‘They will not be restricted in any way;’ while a U.S. official involved in this transfer acknowledged publicly that ‘we waited until the last minute to deal with the details.’”

A Dec. 2 letter to the president of Uruguay from Clifford Sloan, then the State Deparment’s special envoy for the closure of Guantanamo, stated in reference to the six detainees, “There is no information that the above mentioned individuals were involved in conducting or facilitating terrorist activities against the United States or its partners or allies.”

“This dubious assertion certainly lessens any sense of obligation Uruguayan officials may feel to undertake adequate risk mitigation efforts, as required by U.S. law,” wrote Royce. “Given the troubling circumstances of these detainee transfers, Committee staff looked into the detainees’ current status, including through official travel to Uruguay.  The information received raises added, serious questions and concerns.”

Royce said that, under Uruguayan law, they had to accept the terror suspects as “refugees,” and the U.S. let the detainees sign that paperwork. But under Uruguayan law, once a refugee arrives on their soil, the government cannot conduct surveillance on or monitor the individual.

“Was the Department aware of this implicit conflict? If so, why was this transfer completed?” the chairman asked Kerry.

The six detainees received Mercosur identity cards as part of their refugee status, which would allow them to travel to Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Venezuela, Uruguay, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia with ease. One of the detainees is known to have traveled to Argentina in February.

“This freedom of widespread movement would seem to make effective mitigation, if attempted, near impossible,” Royce wrote.

Once the Gitmo detainees were in Uruguay, a house was provided for them by Uruguay’s labor union, PIT-CNT — six blocks from the U.S. Embassy in Montevideo.

“I remain concerned that this close proximity to the Embassy, combined with the apparent lack of host country mitigation measures, poses a potential risk to the safety and security of our Embassy and its employees, including local hires,” Royce added.

In fact, those detainees have been protesting in a tent encampment outside of the Embassy, essentially complaining about their new home. Faraj said, “We came here and they asked us to start working right away. It’s not possible to become a normal person in such a short time. We need a proper rehab program that allows us to integrate into the society and step by step we can start working and moving on with our lives.”

“Now we moved to another kind of prison where nothing has changed,” Faraj said, according to NPR. “We are still under the same pressure. The mental state has not changed. I don’t feel settled down. This is essential for me to move on.”

“As a general matter under the law of war, there is no obligation to provide direct compensation to individuals detained under the law of war for their detention,” State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said April 30 when asked if the U.S. should be helping the detainees get back on their feet.

Royce requested that Kerry’s department give a briefing to the Foreign Affairs Committee on the status of these detainees and what risk mitigation efforts are being employed.

“I am deeply concerned by the lack of restraints on and the threatening activities of these former Guantanamo detainees in Uruguay,” Royce said today. “The committee will continue its investigation of the State Department’s role in facilitating this troubling detainee transfer. I hope that the new Uruguayan government will treat these men as the threat I believe they are, but it surely won’t unless the administration shows greater concern over the risk they pose to U.S. personnel. “

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De Blasio Gearing Up to Release Nationwide ‘Progressive Agenda’

Wednesday, May 6th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said he’s borrowing from the tactics of Newt Gingrich in putting forward a left-wing version of the Contract with America: The Progressive Agenda.

It will be unveiled on May 12 on the steps of the Capitol with lawmakers at his side from the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

“The bottom line here is that we are in a moment of history where we need to hear a clear vision for addressing the economic reality. A number of us have put together such a vision that’s going to go right at the question of income and equality, which I think is the crisis of our times,” de Blasio told MSNBC this morning, adding the plan will include “raising the minimum wage, providing the kinds of benefits families need like paid sick leave that are rare for many families.”

Hillary Clinton, he opined, is “beginning to fashion a progressive agenda.”

“I think a lot of us understandably want to hear the core ideas around fighting income and equality because that’s what people struggle with. Just an easy example of the challenge of this country for a typical American family, their median income has actually gone backwards the last quarter century,” the mayor said. “If that’s the state of our country, where most people actually have lost ground economically, of course we need our candidates to talk about real change.”

De Blasio plans on hosting a bipartisan presidential forum so everyone can dig into his Progressive Agenda.

“Progressive taxation, close the carried interest loophole. Why should a hedge fund manager pay less proportionally in taxes than the woman who cleans his beach house or the man who flies his private jet for him? The Buffett Rule. Buffett Rule says simply that millionaires and billionaires should pay at least the same tax rate as their secretary and assistants,” he said in describing tenets of the plan.

“…I actually think there is a yearning out there for a set of solutions. I think the typical American believes in progressive taxation and wants to see those who have done well pay their fair share. When it comes to things like minimum wage, I am fascinated by this, red state, blue state dynamics don’t apply the same way. Look at Nebraska that passed a minimum wage increase by referendum in 2014. I think at this moment, you see this incredible movement around the country for the $15 minimum wage. It reflects the reality that people can’t make ends meet on the current minimum wage.”

De Blasio suggested the agenda could be a moment for progressives and conservatives to “find some common ground.”

“I actually think we could. We are having a presidential forum, as I mentioned, in the fall. Bipartisan because if both parties are talking about — let’s now talk about the specific solutions,” he said. “I’d love to see Republican candidates come to our presidential forum and say, I can buy into the Buffet Rule.”

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Chris Cuomo: ‘Hate Speech Is Excluded from Protection’

Wednesday, May 6th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

CNN host Chris Cuomo is drawing Twitter fire today for this:

He then cited the 1942 case Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire, in which the Supreme Court upheld the state’s Offensive Conduct law against name-calling — the “fighting words” doctrine.

 

At publication time Cuomo was still tweet-fighting with critics:

 

Yesterday, Cuomo asked Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) on CNN if free speech was being used “as a cover to poke Islam in the eye.”

“Well, first, that’s a little bit of a hard question to answer in that, if we start down the path of thinking if we know something’s going to offend someone, so we should retreat from that, they keep redefining what’s offensive until then all of their rules are applied on all of us in our free world and our western civilization,” King replied.

“So I think we have to push back on this. I don’t think that what they did down there was offensive. I think it was a robust demonstration of freedom of speech. And we have to do that.”

Cuomo also asked the congressman why he was “boosting” Dutch politician Geert Wilders. “He said some things that are pretty ugly about Islam,” the CNN host said. “There’s not breeding any type of cooperation of faiths and moving forward together.”

“I think this country’s not at all educated on what we have for an enemy. And Geert Wilders opens this up for us and forces us to take a deeper look at the people that are coming to kill us as they did in Garland, Texas just Sunday night,” King said.

“Do you believe that America’s future, when it comes to collaboration of cultures, is to pick on one and paint one in the extreme and at its ugliest?” Cuomo also asked.

“You’ve got to know your enemy,” King answered.

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Clinton Vows to Take Obama’s Executive Actions on Immigration Even Further

Wednesday, May 6th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Campaigning in Nevada yesterday with DREAMers — illegal immigrants brought to the country as children, named so for the DREAM Act — Hillary Clinton vowed “to stop partisan attacks on the executive actions that would put DREAMers – including many with us today – at risk of deportation.”

“And, if Congress refuses to act, as president I will do everything possible under the law to go even further. There are more people – like many parents of DREAMers and others with deep ties and contributions to our communities – who deserve a chance to stay. I’ll fight for them too,” she added.

Clinton’s campaign released a fact sheet on her plans for comprehensive immigration reform, stressing that anything from Congress “must include nothing less than a full and equal path to citizenship.”

She told the Nevada audience that she would put in place “a simple, straightforward, and accessible way for parents of DREAMers and others with a history of service and contribution to their communities to make their case and be eligible for the same deferred action as their children.”

She also vowed to “reform immigration enforcement and detention practices so they’re more humane, more targeted, and more effective.”

Clinton spoke of being a child and watching farmworkers — referring to them as “really, really tired people” — going to work in fields near Chicago.

“So you know where I stand and there can be no question about it because I will do everything I can as president and during this campaign to make this case,” she said. “Now I know there are people who disagree with me and I want them to have a conversation with me. The facts are really clear, we know how much people who are working hard contribute to our economy both in what they buy and what they pay in taxes.”

Her campaign also pointed out that in 1972, “Hillary helped register Latino voters in south Texas and the Rio Grande Valley while working on George McGovern’s presidential campaign.”

“Hillary’s commitment to America’s immigrants was evident as Secretary of State, where she called immigration a ‘source of our vitality and innovative spirit’ and called for us to ‘work together to address these challenges’ so that immigration could ‘continue to be an enormous advantage for the United States, one that bears directly and crucially on our economic and geopolitical prospects,’” her campaign added.

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O’Malley Camp: Plan for 6 DNC-Sanctioned Exclusive Debates ‘Does No One Any Favors’

Tuesday, May 5th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley hasn’t yet entered the presidential race, but his camp today hinted that the six approved Democratic National Committee debates won’t nearly be enough.

The DNC announced today the DNC-sanctioned debates will begin in fall 2015 and be sponsored by “a combination of state Democratic Parties, national broadcast media, digital platforms, local media, and civic organizations.”

Early primary and caucus states of Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina will each host a sanctioned debate.

“While GOP debates the same failed policies, Democrats will debate how to help families get ahead. Looking forward to a real conversation,” Hillary Clinton tweeted.

“If Governor O’Malley decides to run, we will expect a full, robust, and inclusive set of debates—both nationally and in early primary and caucus states,” O’Malley spokeswoman Lis Smith said.

“This has been customary in previous primary seasons,” Smith added. “In a year as critical as 2016, exclusivity does no one any favors.”

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) didn’t issue comment; his formal campaign launches May 26.

The DNC seems to be anxious to show that there will be competition in the Democratic Party primary, even though the committee announced Sanders’ run with a heavy dose of Hillary.

“We’ve always believed that we would have a competitive primary process, and that debates would be an important part of that process,” DNC chairwoman Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (Fla.) said in a statement. “Our debate schedule will not only give Democratic voters multiple opportunities to size up the candidates for the nomination side-by-side, but will give all Americans a chance to see a unified Democratic vision of economic opportunity and progress – no matter whom our nominee may be.”

“While a six sanctioned debate schedule is consistent with the precedent set by the DNC during the 2004 and 2008 cycles, this year the DNC will further manage the process by implementing an exclusivity requirement,” the committee said. “Any candidate or debate sponsor wishing to participate in DNC debates, must agree to participate exclusively in the DNC-sanctioned process. Any violation would result in forfeiture of the ability to participate in the remainder of the debate process.”

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ISIS Message Warns of 71 ‘Trained Soldiers’ in 15 U.S. States, 23 ‘Signed Up for Missions’

Tuesday, May 5th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

A new warning from a purported American jihadist details specific levels of ISIS fighters in the U.S. — as well as targeted states — in the wake of the attack in Garland, Texas.

ISIS’ official operations bulletin as well as their radio station Al-Bayan claimed responsibility for the attack on the “derisive cartoons” competition by Phoenix roommates Elton Simpson and Nadir Soofi. Simpson was flagged by the FBI in 2010 for trying to join jihad in Somalia and more recently for tweeting on behalf of the Islamic State. He tweeted about the attack before it happened and praise for his involvement — and additional oblique threats of attacks in the U.S. — spread quickly among ISIS tweeps.

This new warning — posted on a file-sharing site accompanied by a large ISIS flag — is signed by “Abu Ibrahim Al Ameriki.” It’s not know if this is the same American believed to have joined an Islamic Jihad group in Pakistan several years ago; little is known about that jihadist who bears the same name, but he has done propaganda videos before.

“The attack by the Islamic State in America is only the beginning of our efforts to establish a wiliyah [province] in the heart of our enemy. Our aim was the khanzeer Pamela Geller and to show her that we don’t care what land she hides in or what sky shields her; we will send all our Lions to achieve her slaughter,” the message to “brothers and sisters fighting for the Sake of Allah” states.

“This will heal the hearts of our brothers and disperse the ones behind her. To those who protect her: this will be your only warning of housing this woman and her circus show. Everyone who houses her events, gives her a platform to spill her filth are legitimate targets. We have been watching closely who was present at this event and the shooter of our brothers. We knew that the target was protected. Our intention was to show how easy we give our lives for the Sake of Allah.”

The message says ISIS has stationed “71 trained soldiers in 15 different states ready at our word to attack any target we desire.”

“Out of the 71 trained soldiers 23 have signed up for missions like Sunday, We are increasing in number bithnillah. Of the 15 states, 5 we will name… Virginia, Maryland, Illinois, California, and Michigan,” the posting continues. “The disbelievers who shot our brothers think that you killed someone untrained, nay, they gave you their bodies in plain view because we were watching.”

“The next six months will be interesting, To our Amir Al Mu’mineen make dua for us and continue your reign, May Allah enoble your face,” it concludes, using an honorific title for Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

Titled “The New Era,” the message was tweeted by a user who describes him or herself as “stuck in the lands of the kufr,” with a photo of an ISIS flag and a residential suburban neighborhood in the background.

Simpson tweeted about half an hour before the Garland attack, “The bro with me and myself have given bay’ah to Amirul Mu’mineen. May Allah accept us as mujahideen. Make dua #texasattack.”

White House press secretary Josh Earnest acknowledged today that Garland was “what appears to be an attempted terrorist attack.”

More at PJ Tatler: EXCLUSIVE: FBI, DHS Assessed Terror Attack Threat to Texas ‘Draw Muhammad’ Contest as ‘UNLIKELY’

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