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The PJ Tatler

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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After ‘Washington Broke Arms and Heads,’ TPA Squeaks by Cloture with 60 Votes

Tuesday, June 23rd, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

The Trade Promotion Authority bill, broken off from a trade package that hit Democratic roadblocks in the House, barely made it past a procedural vote today.

The bill passed cloture 60-37, with a final vote expected tomorrow on the legislation so sought by President Obama.

TPA passed cloture 60-37, with a final vote expected on the bill so sought by President Obama o

Thirteen Democrats backed the fast-track trade legislation. The only Republicans to vote against advancing the bill were Sens. Susan Collins (Maine), Ted Cruz (Texas), Rand Paul (Ky.), Jeff Sessions (Ala.), and Richard Shelby (Ala.).

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), who was lobbying his colleagues to support the TPA, called it “the most progressive trade package ever produced.”

“I spent months negotiating this deal because it is in our country’s best interest. It includes a Trade Promotion Authority bill that creates unprecedented transparency and raises the bar on human rights, labor, and the environment, while promoting the open Internet,” Wyden said Monday, adding that he had “round-the-clock discussions” with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) and leading Democrats over the past week.

“We urged Republican leaders to include Senator Brown’s trade enforcement bill as a sign of good faith that Republican leaders will do what is necessary to ensure the entire trade package gets done, and I remain committed to seeing all four bills enacted into law,” he said.

Both Senate independents voted against cloture. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) lamented that the vote today – “pushed by multi-national corporations, pharmaceutical companies and Wall Street – will mean a continuation of  disastrous trade policies which have cost our country millions of decent-paying jobs.”

TPA is called fast-track because it allows the president to negotiate a deal without congressional amendments. Lawmakers just get an up-or-down vote on the final product.

Sessions explained his “no” vote in a lengthy statement that stressed “Americans increasingly believe that their country isn’t serving its own citizens.”

“They need look no further than a bipartisan vote of Congress that will transfer congressional power to the Executive Branch and, in turn, to a transnational Pacific Union and the global interests who will help write its rules,” the senator said. “The same routine plays out over and again. We are told a massive bill must be passed, all the business lobbyists and leaders tell how grand it will be, but that it must be rushed through before the voters spoil the plan. As with Obamacare and the Gang of Eight, the politicians meet with the consultants to craft the talking points—not based on what the bill actually does, but what they hope people will believe it does. And when ordinary Americans who never asked for the plan, who don’t want the plan, who want no part of the plan, resist, they are scorned, mocked, and heaped with condescension.”

“Washington broke arms and heads to get that 60th vote—not one to spare—to impose on the American people a plan which imperils their jobs, wages, and control over their own affairs. It is remarkable that so much energy has been expended on advancing the things Americans oppose, and preventing the things Americans want… President Obama, and allies in Congress, have won this fast-track vote. But, in exchange, they may find that they are losing something far greater: the trust of the American people. Americans have a fundamental, decent, and just demand: that the people they elect defend their interests. And every issue to come before us in the coming months will have to pass this test: does this strengthen, or weaken, the position of the everyday, loyal American citizen?”

Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) said the vote was “just another example of the Senate getting back to work.”

“This is a dramatic departure from the old Senate because there’s actually been a lot of time for consideration of important pieces of legislation from the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act to the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act to the budget,” Cornyn said. “And now by moving this Trade Promotion Authority bill forward, we can ensure that American workers and businesses get the best deal in pending trade agreements.”

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Carter on Eastern European Buildup: We Don’t ‘Seek a Cold, Let Alone Hot War with Russia’

Tuesday, June 23rd, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said the U.S. “will continue to hold out the possibility that Russia will assume the role of respected partner moving forward, not isolated and going backward as it is today.”

Carter outlined steps to counter Russia’s aggression in a speech Monday to the Allianz Defense Forum in Berlin, where he said NATO allies will “not rely on the Cold War play book” to respond to the Kremlin.

“We will take a new, strong, and balanced strategic approach. We will take necessary steps in the U.S. and NATO capabilities, posture, and plans to deter Russia’s maligned and destabilizing influence, coercion, and aggression, including its efforts to undermine strategic stability and challenge the military balance in Europe,” Carter said. “To do so we’ll leverage strong and modern U.S. forces — the greatest fighting force, the world has even known an adaptive and agile NATO working, as I said, from a new play book; and deepening security partnerships throughout Europe and around the world. Just this week, just this week there are 20 named exercises of U.S. forces in Europe. Just this week.”

“We will continue to help reduce the vulnerability of allies and partners, not only through military training and support, but also through work to enhance European energy security, and therefore decrease dependence on Russian energy.”

The Defense secretary stressed that “much of the progress we’ve made together since the end of the Cold War, we accomplished with Russia.”

“Let me repeat that,” he added. “Not in spite of Russia, not against Russia, not without Russia, but with it.”

Carter said the U.S. does “not seek a cold, let alone a hot war with Russia.”

“We do not seek to make Russia an enemy. But make no mistake, we will defend our allies, the rules-based international order, and the positive future it affords us. We will stand up to Russia’s actions and their attempts to reestablish a Soviet-era sphere of influence,” he continued. “The United States will not let Russia drag us back to the past. We want to move forward together.”

Carter told CBS this morning that Romania, Estonia, Bulgaria, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland will get “heavy combat equipment for training purposes, principally” to guard against a Ukraine-style invasion from Russia.

“This is a sign of, a more — a different kind of footprint. Lighter, more agile, dealing with so-called hybrid warfare, the little green men phenomenon that we saw in Crimea and Ukraine and that many countries that border Russia are concerned about,” he said.

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Meet the Afghanistan Hero Who Killed Almost All of Taliban Terrorists Trying to Attack Parliament

Tuesday, June 23rd, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Afghanistan has a new national hero right now after one soldier took out nearly all of the terrorists who tried to attack parliament on Monday.

The Taliban — who are not considered terrorists by the White House but an “armed insurgency” — detonated a car bomb outside of the heavily guarded compound in Kabul, with a woman and child among the five civilians killed.

Seven terrorists then tried to infiltrate the compound armed with RPGs and AK-47s.

Afghan National Army Sgt. Eisa Khan stepped in to save the day. From Tolo News:

Khan, who personally killed six of the insurgents, said it was a proud day for him that he could defend his country to this extent.

“I am very happy to be alive and proud I could defend my country,” he said adding “I was prepared to defend my country with every drop of blood in me”.

The 28-year-old soldier from Laghman province, said that there had been 20 troops stationed inside the heavily guarded entrance to Parliament when insurgents attacked. However, according to him they had received intelligence a few days ago that an attack was planned against them so precautionary measures had been in place.

Monday’s incident was triggered by a suicide car bomb before insurgents tried to storm the building. ANA troops were able to keep the insurgents at bay but Khan was responsible for personally killing six of the seven insurgents.

The incident took place at about 10.20 am just minutes before the second vice president Mohammad Sarwar Danish was due to introduce the minister of defense nominee to MPs for a vote of confidence.

You don’t even need to speak Pashto or Dari for the wrath of Khan and his awesomeness to translate in the above video. As he told Afghanistan’s Khaama Press “in an aggressive mode”: “I am a servant of this country and swear that Pakistan’s slaves won’t succeed from me.”

UPDATE: The hero soldier has gotten a new three-bedroom home, a brand-new extended-cab pickup, a promotion, monthly salaries from some of the saved members of parliament, and a medal from President Ashraf Ghani.

 

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Obama to Mosque Protesters at Ramadan Dinner: ‘Stop Yelling and Start Listening’

Monday, June 22nd, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

President Obama said at tonight’s White House iftar dinner that many Americans don’t know Muslims personally and thus get “distorted” views on the religion’s adherents.

The iftar breaks the fast at the end of each day during Ramadan, the Islamic holy month that began last week.

Guests at the White House dinner included ambassadors from Islamic countries and the two Muslims serving in Congress, Reps. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) and Andre Carson (D-Ind.). This year Obama also invited Samantha Elauf, who recently won her lawsuit against Abercrombie & Fitch at the Supreme Court after being denied a job at a Tulsa store because she wears a headscarf.

The menu included vegetable salad with rosemary pita chips, lemon lamb, crushed peanut potatoes, French beans, chocolate flourless cake, cherry compote, chai tea, yogurt sorbet.

In his remarks to the dinner guests, Obama said the iftar was “a reminder of the freedoms that bind us together as Americans, including the freedom of religion — that inviolable right to practice our faiths freely.”

“Around the world and here at home, there are those who seek to divide us by religion or race or sect,” he said. “Here in America, many people personally don’t know someone who is Muslim. They mostly hear about Muslims in the news — and that can obviously lead to a very distorted impression.”

The president described “a group of protesters gathered outside with offensive signs against Islam and Muslims” at the mosque in Phoenix that was attended by the Garland, Texas, Muhammad cartoon contest attackers.

“And then the mosque’s leaders invited them inside to share in the evening prayer. One demonstrator, who accepted the invitation later, described how the experience changed him; how he finally saw the Muslim American community for what it is — peaceful and welcoming. That’s what can happen when we stop yelling and start listening.”

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Will the U.S. Stand By Israel After the UN’s War Crimes Accusations?

Monday, June 22nd, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

The government in Jerusalem and Israel advocates in Washington denounced a United Nations report accusing the Jewish state of war crimes, while the White House had a muted “wait-and-see” reaction.

“In relation to this latest round of violence, which resulted in an unprecedented number of casualties, the commission was able to gather substantial information pointing to serious violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law by Israel and by Palestinian armed groups. In some cases, these violations may amount to war crimes,” states in part the report from a commission of inquiry reporting to the UN Human Rights Council. “The onus remains on Israel to provide sufficient details on its targeting decisions to allow an independent assessment of the legality of the attacks conducted by the Israel Defense Forces and to assist victims in their quest for the truth.”

“The commission is concerned that impunity prevails across the board for violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law allegedly committed by Israeli forces, whether it be in the context of active hostilities in Gaza or killings, torture and ill-treatment in the West Bank. Israel must break with its recent lamentable track record in holding wrongdoers accountable, not only as a means to secure justice for victims but also to ensure the necessary guarantees for non-repetition.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the Knesset today that “in defending itself against such attacks, Israel’s military acted, and acts, according to the highest international standards.”

“The report in hand was commissioned by a notoriously biased institution; it was given an obviously biased mandate; it was initially headed by a grossly biased chairperson who received money from the Palestinians and was forced to resign,” Netanyahu said.

“…Israel treats this report as flawed and biased, and it urges all fair-minded observers to do the same.”

White House press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters today that they’re “continuing to review” the 184-page report.

“We indicated last year in the midst of the conflict, that we support Israel’s right to self-defense. And at the same time, we expressed deep concern about the civilians in Gaza that were in harm’s way. And we urged all parties to do everything they could to protect innocent civilians who were essentially caught in the crossfire of this conflict,” Earnest said.

“And that was an important thing to do, particularly given the high civilian death toll in Gaza. But we are also aware Israel has undertaken an investigation of incidents from the conflict. And we await further outcomes from the Israeli government on this particular matter.”

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee issued a statement urging the White House and Congress “to stand by our ally, particularly if international bodies seek to exploit this report to punish Israel.”

“There is only one true culprit for last summer’s unfortunate civilian casualties: the terrorist organization Hamas. Hamas indiscriminately waged a war of aggression against Israeli civilians while inhumanely exploiting Gaza residents as human shields. Any suggestion of moral symmetry between the actions of Israel and those of the terrorist organization Hamas is a malicious affront to the truth,” AIPAC said.

“Because it scrupulously employed extraordinary measures exceeding international legal standards in order to avoid civilian casualties, Israel deserves praise rather than criticism.”

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) called the report “the latest evidence that Israel is also confronting a global attempt to de-legitimatize its very existence, especially its inherent right to self-defense.”

“This report illustrates the failings of the UN Human Rights Council. There is no moral equivalence between Israel and Hamas. Israel tries to avoid civilian casualties while Hamas revels in them,” Royce said. “Moving forward, the Administration and Congress must actively work together and with our allies to defeat referrals of the conclusions of this report to other international bodies and tribunals. Failing to do so would create a new arena of confrontation that would further damage prospects for peace.”

Ranking Member Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) noted that “from the outset, this ill-conceived report promised to demonize Israel for defending itself.”

“Nowhere else in the Middle East—certainly not in Gaza—do we find such respect for international law and pursuit of justice,” Engel said. “This unfair singling out of Israel harms American interests and foments further instability in a volatile part of the world.”

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said the UN report “is just another sign that the council has lost all credibility.”

“This attack on Israel is just the latest piece of evidence that President Obama and Secretary Clinton’s efforts to reform the organization from within have failed. The U.S. should not participate in the council until it is truly reformed,” added the 2016 presidential candidate.

“…I will continue to fight UN efforts like this to delegitimize Israel and will work to ensure that no U.S. funding goes to support UN agencies, such as the UN Human Rights Council, unless they cease their anti-Israel agenda.”

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Haley, South Carolina Delegation Unite to Demand Confederate Flag Come Down

Monday, June 22nd, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

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Surrounded by South Carolina’s congressional delegation and bipartisan representatives, Gov. Nikki Haley (R) declared today that the Confederate flag outside of the state capitol needs to go.

Haley acknowledged that many see the flag as a symbol of their heritage, and stressed that it doesn’t automatically make them racist.

But, she said, “150 years after the end of the Civil War the time has come” to take the flag down.

Haley said she’s spoken with leaders in the state house and senate to let them know that if they do not make sure the debate to pull the flag down takes place this summer she will use her authority to call them into session expressly for that purpose. A two-thirds majority is needed under state law to take down the flag.

“The time for action is coming soon,” she said.

Haley was flanked by Assistant House Democratic Leader James Clyburn (D-S.C.), whom she hugged after her announcement, as well as Sens. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.). Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus was also standing behind Haley, as well as Charleston Mayor Joe Riley.

“This has been a very difficult time for our state; we have stared evil in the eye,” Haley said in reference to last week’s massacre at the Emanuel AME Church by a white supremacist.

“Our state is grieving but we are also coming together,” the governor said, noting that the victims’ families and their “expression of faith and forgiveness took our breath away.”

Haley took her family to the church for services yesterday, and “my children saw what true faith looks like.”

She stressed that after Walter Scott was shot in the back by a North Charleston police office in April, South Carolina “did not respond with rioting and violence like other places have … both Republicans and Democrats, black and white, came together and passed the first body camera bill in the country.”

That law was championed by Sen. Scott, who grew up in North Charleston.

Haley said “history is often filled with emotion, and that’s more true in South Carolina than a lot of other places.”

It’s a “tough history” on matters of race, she noted, and “we don’t need reminders” of what past generations have endured.

“We have come a long way since those days and have much to be proud of, but there’s more we can do.”

The governor said “the hate-filled murderer” who carried out the church massacre had a “sick and twisted view of the flag,” appropriating it for white supremacy.

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Movement to Draft Elizabeth Warren Decides to Get Behind Bernie

Monday, June 22nd, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Progressives who tried to draft Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) for president in 2016 have decided to move on.

But the leaders of the Ready for Warren movement are not ready to move over to Hillary Clinton.

Ready for Warren has transformed into Ready to Fight, and it’s ready to fight for Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).

“We believe the movement to draft Warren fundamentally changed the terms of the 2016 debate, and these days, just about every Democrat running for president seems to sound a lot like Warren. Few people have ever played as large a role in a Democratic presidential primary without even entering the race,” leaders Erica Sagrans and Charles Lenchner wrote in a CNN op-ed.

“But having demonstrated how much support Elizabeth Warren has, we’ve spent the past few weeks listening to our grassroots supporters and the progressive community about what they want to do next. And one thing we heard time and again is that they’re ready to play a big role in 2016, fighting alongside Warren on issues like trade, student debt, and reining in Wall Street,” they added.

So they looked for a “Warren wing” candidate — and after polling supporters 56 percent “have urged us to back Bernie Sanders as the candidate currently running for president who best embodies the values that Warren champions.”

Ready to Fight officially endorsed Sanders with its Friday transformation from Ready for Warren.

Sanders had a message for them today: Come on in.

“Elizabeth Warren is a good friend. Like millions of her supporters around the country, I have great respect and admiration for her,” Sanders said today. “That is why it is so gratifying that so many people who wanted Elizabeth to run for president are now getting behind our campaign to restore America’s middle class and take on Wall Street and the big banks.”

His campaign said former draft-Warren staffers are already working for the Sanders effort in Iowa and New Hampshire.

Sanders is polling at 12 percent nationally compared to Clinton’s 57 percent in the latest Monmouth poll out last week. He’s only 10 percent behind Clinton in New Hampshire.

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Earnest: Obama Has No Regrets Over Using the N-Word

Monday, June 22nd, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

White House press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters today that President Obama “does not” regret using the N-word during a podcast.

“Racism, we are not cured of,” Obama said on comedian Marc Maron’s “WTF” broadcast. “And it’s not just a matter of it not being polite to say ‘nigger’ in public. That’s not the measure of whether racism still exists or not. It’s not just a matter of overt discrimination. Societies don’t, overnight, completely erase everything that happened 200 to 300 years prior.”

Earnest said Obama’s “use of the word and the reason that he used the word could not be more apparent from the context of his discussion on the podcast.”

The president was trying to make clear that it’s not possible “to judge the nation’s process on race issues based solely on an evaluation of country’s manners,” he added. “The fact is that we’ve made undeniable progress in this country over the last several decades, and as the president himself has often said, anyone who lived in this country through the ’50s and the ’60s and the ’70s and the ’80s notes the tremendous progress that we’ve made. That progress is undeniable.”

“But what’s also undeniable is that there is more work that needs to be done, and there’s more that we can do. And the fact is everyone in this country should take some inspiration from the progress that was made in the previous generation and use that as a motivation and an inspiration to try to make further progress toward a more perfect union.”

Prodded by reporters, Earnest said “I don’t know that I’ve heard” Obama speak the N-word before, even though it was used several times in his memoir.

“It was a free-flowing conversation,” he said of the president’s podcast interview. “It was pretty wide-ranging, and there was no decision made on the part of anybody here at the White House that we are going to capitalize on this audio interview from somebody’s garage in California, that this would be an opportune time for him to get this particular point off his chest.”

“In fact, I think the point he is making is entirely consistent with the way he has made this point both in settings where he is delivering from prepared remarks, but also when he is answering — in the context of answering other questions.”

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Obama Drops the N-Word During Podcast About Racism

Monday, June 22nd, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson
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President Obama dropped the N-word during a podcast with comedian Marc Maron, sparking controversy not only about his use of the word but how media outlets should run it.

Obama was the guest on Maron’s “WTF” broadcast, where the two talked about racism in the United States from the podcast host’s L.A. garage.

“Racism, we are not cured of,” Obama said. “And it’s not just a matter of it not being polite to say ‘nigger’ in public. That’s not the measure of whether racism still exists or not. It’s not just a matter of overt discrimination. Societies don’t, overnight, completely erase everything that happened 200 to 300 years prior.”

The legacy of slavery “casts a long shadow and that’s still part of our DNA that’s passed on,” he added.

Obama also talked about his renewed push for gun-control measures, arguing “the question is just is there a way of accommodating that legitimate set of traditions with some common-sense stuff that prevents a 21-year-old who is angry about something or confused about something, or is racist, or is deranged from going into a gun store and suddenly is packing, and can do enormous harm.”

While the White House has not issued a statement on the interview, CNN cited a spokesperson noting that Obama used the N-word “about a dozen times” in his memoir Dreams from My Father.

CNN decided to not edit the audio and to spell out the word in its story when included as part of Obama’s quote. The New York Times also used the full word.

“We wanted to avoid any unsuspecting rip and read of our story resulting in ‘n—–’ getting on the air,” Associated Press spokesman Paul Colford told CNN in an email. The wire service used the N-word in its final story. “Our reasoning was: It’s the president talking, and using that specific word to make a point.”

Fox and MSNBC bleeped out Obama’s N-word, as well as NBC and ABC.

Obama, who was in L.A. on a fundraising swing, added during the podcast that he thinks “the American people are, overwhelmingly, good, decent people.”

“Everybody that I meet believes in a lot of the same things … they believe in honesty, and family and community and looking out for each other,” he said. “The problem is there is a big gap between who we are as a people and how our politics expresses itself.”

He also told Maron that his teenage daughters Sasha and Malia are “in the age where they still love me, but they think I’m completely boring.”

“And so they’ll come and pat me on the head, talk to me for 10 minutes, and then they’re gone all weekend,” he said, adding, “They break my heart.”

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Scott Welcomes ‘Robust Conversation’ About Race Relations After Charleston

Monday, June 22nd, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) said he expects a “robust” dialogue about race relations in the wake of last week’s massacre of nine parishioners at the historic Emanuel AME Church in Charleston.

“When we look for as to the reasons why this happened, it’s hard to understand, when evil is just over taking the heart, the mind is just demented. This was obviously a case of racism. His actions were driven by hatred, and that is the clear and dominant reason this happened,” Scott said on CBS’ Face the Nation when asked if “racism, guns” caused the crime.

“There’s no doubt that when your mind and your heart are consumed with hatred and with racist motivations, that he sought to create a race war, according to, I believe, his own words, in this country, what he’s done for South Carolina and what he’s done for Charleston is, he’s brought our community together,” the senator said. “One of the beautiful scenes that I have had, that was etched into my memory now is Morris Brown Church, when we had such a diverse gathering of Charlestonians and South Carolinians coming to pay homage, pay respect to the families and to love on them, and just a day-and-a-half later, to have several thousand people show up, two- thirds or more not being black, here at home to see that kind of a unified group of people coming together to pray for and to just hug the families so much about what he has sparked, which is bringing people together.”

“I think we’re going to have a robust conversation going forward about race relations, a robust conversation going forward about bringing people together. And I look forward to participating in that conversation. The entire state now is, without any question, taking a leap forward. What the enemy meant for evil, I believe God will bring good out of it.”

Scott acknowledged that South Carolina “has a rich and provocative history” that includes the Confederate flag.

“For some, that flag represents that history. And for so many others, it represents a pain and oppression. I’m looking forward to our state leaders getting together and having robust conversation after the funerals about what is the next step,” he said.

Scott said he won’t state his personal position on whether or not to remove the flag in front of the state capitol until after the nine victims in the church shooting have been laid to rest.

“I am going to make sure that I am a part of that conversation. My voice will be clear. My position will be stated,” he said. “…I have made the commitment to wait until after the funeral to start that debate. And I’m going to honor that commitment.”

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Clyburn: ‘Rightward Drift That Is Going Too Far’ Helped ‘Embolden’ Charleston Shooter

Monday, June 22nd, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Assistant House Democratic Leader James Clyburn (D-S.C.), speaking on NBC Sunday about the church massacre in his home state, said the attack was predictable because of the “rightward drift” in the United States.

“I’ve been saying for some time now, my friends in the Congressional Black Caucus will tell you, I’ve been saying to them that there’s this rightward drift in the country that I think is going too far. And people get emboldened by all of this,” Clyburn said.

“We hear all this discussion about the confederate battle flag…. That’s a battle flag that flies in front of the statehouse. That is a flag of rebellion. We would not be having this discussion if that were the confederate flag or the flag of the Confederate States of America. Because that flag is not a symbol of hate,” he said.

“So when you see the resurrection of this, a young man, 21 years old, wearing all of these apartheid things on his shirt, burning the United States flag and glorifying the elongated version of a battle flag, certainly you’re creating a climate that allows this kind of thing to happen.”

Clyburn helped negotiate a compromise years ago to keep the Confederate flag at the state capitol, but he said Sunday that “if they had followed the compromise, we would not be here.”

“The compromise was to put the flag in front of the office building next to the statue. What happened was when some people rejected the compromise, the legislature, out of defiance, put that flag where it is today, in front of the statehouse,” he said. “That is not what the compromise was. The compromise was to put it on the backside of the statehouse, out of public view.”

“…They keep saying that it takes two-thirds to bring it down. That may be true. But it only takes a simple majority to get rid of that two-thirds law.”

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Putin: I’m Not ‘Aggressive,’ I’m Just ‘Persistent’

Monday, June 22nd, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Russian Vladimir Putin dove into his country’s recent acts of aggression in an interview with PBS, stressing that he insists upon respect for Mother Russia on the world stage — or else.

“I keep hearing that Russia wants to be respected. Don’t you want to be respected? Isn’t there anyone who wants to [not] be self-respected and humiliated? That is a strange way to see things — it’s not an exclusion which Russia demands to be respected. Is there anyone who wants to be neglected and humiliated?” Putin said.

“It’s something about respect or the lack of respect. The thing is we want to meet our own interests without detriment to our partners,” he said. “But sure we count on a constructive and substantial dialogue. And when there is none, or let’s say the unwillingness to talk to us, then there is a counter-response on our side.”

The crisis in Ukraine, he said, was their fault because they didn’t respect Russia.

“Ukraine was proposed to sign an association agreement. As everybody knows, Ukraine is area member within the framework. And it is Ukraine who insisted on establishing — there are lots of incentives and benefits. For 17 years we have been negotiating with Euro on the conditions of our accession to the WTO,” Putin said.

“It’s not the way people do things. And on our proposal to hold associations, we answered it is none of your business. Is that the way issues are discussed and settled, particularly with Russia? It isn’t about just respect. We want our interests to be protected.”

Russia, he insisted, “is aimed at developing good neighborly relations, both with Iran and with all the countries in the region.”

And if President Obama inks a final nuclear agreement with Iran, it will be one of “his main achievements in the foreign policy.”

“So I believe that the ball is on your side now. And we expect that among all the difficulties, the president of the United States will achieve the result,” Putin added.

The sanctions placed on Russia after Putin invaded Ukraine are “very far from a catastrophe,” he said.

“We would not like to respond to any destructive actions that our partners are imposing on us, even to the detriment of their own economy. Based on the calculations, including on those of our European partners, some of them even measure losses of $40 billion or $50 billion. Based on the recent details we have heard from Europe, experts believe that the losses of European producers there may amount up to $100 billion,” he said.

Putin chided interviewer Charlie Rose for calling Russian policy aggressive.

“We are not being aggressive. We are persistent,” he retorted. “We are consistent in pursuing our interests … for a long time, for decades, we were silent.”

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Netanyahu: Wake Up and Listen to the State Department’s Own Assessment of Iran’s Terrorism

Monday, June 22nd, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at the start of his weekly cabinet meeting Sunday that the State Department’s own annual terrorism report should serve as a wake-up call against a bad deal with Iran.

“In 2014, Iran’s state sponsorship of terrorism worldwide remained undiminished through the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Qods Force (IRGC-QF), its Ministry of Intelligence and Security, and Tehran’s ally Hizballah, which remained a significant threat to the stability of Lebanon and the broader region,” the “Country Reports on Terrorism 2014″ states.

Iran used the IRGC-QF “to implement foreign policy goals, provide cover for intelligence operations, and create instability in the Middle East. The IRGC-QF is the regime’s primary mechanism for cultivating and supporting terrorists abroad.”

“…Iran remained unwilling to bring to justice senior al-Qa’ida (AQ) members it continued to detain, and refused to publicly identify those senior members in its custody. Iran previously allowed AQ facilitators to operate a core facilitation pipeline through Iran since at least 2009, enabling AQ to move funds and fighters to South Asia and Syria.”

The mysterious Khorasan group in Syria that briefly was on the lips of the White House last fall was set up by al-Qaeda’s leader in Iran, Muhsin al-Fadhli.

“The U.S. State Department report on Iranian involvement in terrorism needs to be a wake-up call for anyone who does not understand the magnitude of Iranian subversion and aggression both within and beyond the Middle East,” Netanyahu said.

“The Iranian network now embraces over 30 countries and a new terrorist cell is added every few weeks, whether directly or via its proxy Hezbollah. For example, we recently saw in Cyprus a terrorist apartment in which a great quantity of explosives was discovered, and this is only one example out of dozens,” the prime minister continued.

“And this regime is now due to receive, under the nuclear agreement, both a certain path to nuclear bombs, in the wake of violations and oversight that has been full of holes, and billions of dollars, which will enable them to increase both the terrorist efforts I have described, their regional aggression and the accelerated arming of their proxies – Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad, Hamas and others,” he said. “Therefore, this is not a good agreement. This agreement endangers the State of Israel, the Middle East and – in my opinion – the peace of the entire world.”

The deadline for a final agreement is just eight days away.

Iran, Syria and Sudan are still on the state sponsors of terrorism list after the recent removal of Cuba.

Terrorist attacks around the world increased 35 percent in 2014 and terrorism fatalities were up 81 percent from 2013.

The number of people kidnapped or taken hostage by terrorists rose threefold.

The State Department has maintained that issues such as Iran’s sponsorship of terrorism and other destabilizing activities around the world, in addition to holding four Americans, should be considered separate from a nuclear deal.

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Hillary: ‘Deeper Challenge’ After Charleston Is Racism, and Not Just ‘Kooks and Klansmen’

Saturday, June 20th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

On the heels of President Obama’s gun-control advocacy before the U.S. Conference of Mayors meeting in San Francisco, Hillary Clinton told the leaders today that the racism behind the mass murder in South Carolina isn’t isolated but systemic.

“Just as earlier generations threw off the chains of slavery and then segregation and Jim Crow, this generation will not be shackled by fear and hate,” the Democratic presidential hopeful said, adding that upon hearing the news of Wednesday’s massacre of nine people in Charleston by a white supremacist “I was so overcome, how to turn grief, confusion into purpose and action.  But that’s what we have to do.”

“For me and many others, one immediate response was to ask how it could be possible that we as a nation still allow guns to fall into the hands of people whose hearts are filled with hate,” she said.

Having been first lady of Arkansas before being first lady of the United States, she said, “I know that gun ownership is part of the fabric of a lot of law-abiding communities.”

“What I hope with all of my heart is that we work together to make this debate less polarized, less inflamed by ideology, more informed by evidence, so we can sit down across the table, across the aisle from one another, and find ways to keep our communities safe while protecting constitutional rights.”

Agreeing with Obama about the need to renew gun-control efforts, Clinton said, “I stand before you because I know and you know there is a deeper challenge we face.”

“Once again, racist rhetoric has metastasized into racist violence. Now, it’s tempting, it is tempting to dismiss a tragedy like this as an isolated incident, to believe that in today’s America, bigotry is largely behind us, that institutionalized racism no longer exists. But despite our best efforts and our highest hopes, America’s long struggle with race is far from finished,” she said.

“I know this is a difficult topic to talk about. I know that so many of us hoped by electing our first black president, we had turned the page on this chapter in our history. I know there are truths we don’t like to say out loud or discuss with our children. But we have to. That’s the only way we can possibly move forward together. Race remains a deep fault line in America. Millions of people of color still experience racism in their everyday lives.”

Clinton highlighted the gap in median wealth between black and white families, higher death rates from asthma among black children, and blacks serving longer prison sentences for the same crimes as whites.

“Our problem is not all kooks and Klansmen. It’s also in the cruel joke that goes unchallenged. It’s in the off-hand comments about not wanting ‘those people’ in the neighborhood,” she continued. “Let’s be honest: For a lot of well-meaning, open-minded white people, the sight of a young black man in a hoodie still evokes a twinge of fear. And news reports about poverty and crime and discrimination evoke sympathy, even empathy, but too rarely do they spur us to action or prompt us to question our own assumptions and privilege.”

Clinton evoked the goal of “what I once called ‘a village,’ where there is a place for everyone.”

“I know it’s not usual for somebody running for president to say what we need more of in this country is love and kindness. But that’s exactly what we need more of. We need to be not only too busy to hate but too caring, too loving to ignore, to walk away, to give up.”

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Obama: No ‘Wild-Eyed Plot to Take Everybody’s Guns Away’

Friday, June 19th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

President Obama continued his latest gun-control push in a speech to the U.S. Conference of Mayors in San Francisco today, insisting there’s no “wild-eyed plot” at hand to seize guns.

“Obviously, the entire country has been shocked and heartbroken by what happened in Charleston. The nature of this attack — in a place of worship, where congregants invite in a stranger to worship with them, only to be gunned down — adds to the pain,” Obama said. “The apparent motivations of the shooter remind us that racism remains a blight that we have to combat together. We have made great progress, but we have to be vigilant because it still lingers. And when it’s poisoning the minds of young people, it betrays our ideals and tears our democracy apart.”

“But as much as we grieve this particular tragedy, I think it’s important, as I mentioned at the White House, to step back and recognize these tragedies have become far too commonplace.”

The president drew criticism from the right, including Gov. Bobby Jindal, for pushing gun control not even 24 hours after the massacre at the historic Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C.

“Few people understand the terrible toll of gun violence like mayors do,” Obama said today. “Whether it’s a mass shooting like the one in Charleston, or individual attacks of violence that add up over time, it tears at the fabric of a community. It costs you money and it costs resources. It costs this country dearly.”

“More than 11,000 Americans were killed by gun violence in 2013 alone — 11,000. If Congress had passed some common-sense gun safety reforms after Newtown, after a group of children had been gunned down in their own classroom — reforms that 90 percent of the American people supported — we wouldn’t have prevented every act of violence, or even most. We don’t know if it would have prevented what happened in Charleston. No reform can guarantee the elimination of violence. But we might still have some more Americans with us. We might have stopped one shooter. Some families might still be whole. You all might have to attend fewer funerals.”

Obama told the mayors “we should be strong enough to acknowledge this.”

“At the very least, we should be able to talk about this issue as citizens, without demonizing all gun owners who are overwhelmingly law-abiding, but also without suggesting that any debate about this involves a wild-eyed plot to take everybody’s guns away,” he continued.

He took another stab at Congress, saying that “today’s politics makes it less likely that we see any sort of serious gun safety legislation.”

“I remarked that it was very unlikely that this Congress would act. And some reporters, I think, took this as resignation. I want to be clear — I am not resigned. I have faith we will eventually do the right thing,” Obama said. “I was simply making the point that we have to move public opinion. We have to feel a sense of urgency.”

“Ultimately, Congress will follow the people. And we have to stop being confused about this. At some point, as a country, we have to reckon with what happens. It is not good enough simply to show sympathy.”

The president asserted as he did in the White House briefing room on Wednesday that “you don’t see murder on this kind of scale, with this kind of frequency, in any other advanced nation on Earth.”

“Every country has violent, hateful, or mentally unstable people. What’s different is not every country is awash with easily accessible guns. And so I refuse to act as if this is the new normal, or to pretend that it’s simply sufficient to grieve, and that any mention of us doing something to stop is somehow politicizing the problem,” he said. “We need a change in attitudes among everybody — lawful gun owners, those who are unfamiliar with guns. We have to have a conversation about it and fix this.”

“And ultimately, Congress acts when the public insists on action. And we’ve seen how public opinion can change. We’ve seen it change on gay marriage. We’ve seen it beginning to change on climate change. We’ve got to shift how we think about this issue. And we have the capacity to change, but we have to feel a sense of urgency about it. We, as a people, have got to change. That’s how we honor those families. That’s how we honor the families in Newtown. That’s how we honor the families in Aurora.”

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Perry’s ‘Oops’ Moment When Describing Charleston Shooting

Friday, June 19th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson
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Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry isn’t done with his presidential campaign “oops” moments.

In an interview on Newsmax’s Steve Malzberg Show, Perry ripped President Obama’s call for gun control after the Charleston church massacre in which a white supremacist gunned down nine people at a Bible study.

“This is the MO of this administration. Anytime there is an accident like this — the president’s clear, he doesn’t like for Americans to have guns and so he uses every opportunity, this being another one, to basically go parrot that message,” Perry said.

Perry’s campaign told Business Insider that he meant to say “incident” instead of “accident.”

“When watching the entire interview, it’s clear from the context of his comments that Governor Perry meant incident,” communications adviser Lexi Stemple said.

Perry said the focus needs to be about prescription drug abuse. “Also, I think there is a real issue to be talked about. It seems to me, again without having all the details about this, that these individuals have been medicated and there may be a real issue in this country from the standpoint of these drugs and how they’re used,” he said.

“There are a lot of issues underlying this that I think we as a country need to have a conversation about rather than just the knee-jerk reaction of saying, ‘If we can just take all the guns away, this won’t happen.’”

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O’Malley ‘Pissed’ That Ball Dropped on ‘National Crisis’ of Guns

Friday, June 19th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

President Obama said “at some point, we as a country will have to reckon with the fact that this type of mass violence does not happen in other advanced countries.”

Hillary Clinton asked of gun control in the wake of the Charleston church massacre, “How many people do we need to see cut down before we act?”

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said “while we have made significant progress in advancing civil rights in this country, we are far from eradicating racism.”

The former Maryland governor who’s competing against Clinton and Sanders for the 2016 Democratic Party nomination is just “pissed.”

“I’m pissed,” O’Malley said in an email to supporters today. “I’m pissed that after an unthinkable tragedy like the one in South Carolina yesterday, instead of jumping to act, we sit back and wait for the appropriate moment to say what we’re all thinking: that this is not the America we want to be living in.”

“I’m pissed that we’re actually asking ourselves the horrific question of, what will it take? How many senseless acts of violence in our streets or tragedies in our communities will it take to get our nation to stop caving to special interests like the NRA when people are dying?” he continued.

“I’m pissed that after working hard in the state of Maryland to pass real gun control—laws that banned high-magazine weapons, increased licensing standards, and required fingerprinting for handgun purchasers—Congress continues to drop the ball. It’s time we called this what it is: a national crisis.”

O’Malley touted his “F” rating from the NRA, saying he “never backed down” to the gun lobby group.

“So now, I’m doubling down, and I need your help. What we did in Maryland should be the first step of what we do as a nation. The NRA is already blaming the victims of yesterday’s shooting for their own deaths, saying they too should have been armed. Let’s put an end to this madness and finally stand up to them,” he said.

The reference is to NRA board member Charles Cotton, who wrote on an online forum of victim and pastor state Sen. Clementa Pinckney: ”Eight of his church members, who might be alive if he had expressly allowed members to carry handguns in church, are dead. Innocent people died because of his political position on the issue.”

O’Malley advocated a national assault weapons ban, stricter background checks, and fingerprint requirements “to reduce straw buying.”

“Not one of the GOP presidential candidates comes even close to being right on this issue—and some actually believe that things like background checks are excessive, or that high-capacity magazines are a basic right,” O’Malley wrote with a link to his campaign website. “Well, I believe we all have a basic right to safe schools, safe places to worship, and safe streets.”

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Clyburn: Church Shooting a Wake-Up Call to Confront 21st Century KKK Evolution

Friday, June 19th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

In Charleston , S.C., after the church massacre there, House Assistant Democratic Leader James Clyburn (D-S.C.) said Americans need to root out grass-roots hate groups in much the same way that the Ku Klux Klan was confronted decades ago.

Clyburn said he hopes suspect Dylann Roof is cooperating with police, as reported, because “I really want to know, because I really believe that we cannot understand the full import of this action until we know what motivated this young man.”

“Now, if he had some individual antisocial feelings, even racial misgivings, that’s one thing,” the congressman told CNN. “But if he is acting out of his sensitivities and sensibilities with some kind of organized antisocial group that is proliferating the Internet with all of this hate stuff, then that’s something else again, because I really believe that those people of goodwill that exist in this state and this nation have got to stop being silent, when we see so many things like this taking place.”

“I remember back in the ’70s, when I was in the governor’s office, the things we did under Governor West to penetrate and infiltrate the Ku Klux Klan to render them almost useless to everybody, including themselves. We have now stepped back from these groups. And we act as if, because we’re not doing it, then we don’t have any responsibility for it.”

The Southern Poverty Law Center reported last year that nearly 100 murders over the past five years have been tied to users of Stormfront, a large international web forum for white supremacists and neo-Nazis founded by former Alabama KKK leader Don Black.

After Roof killed nine people Wednesday night at the historic Emanuel AME Church, Stormfront users expressed concern that he was putting a bad face on the “white nationalist” movement. An anonymous user posted on the forum last year about attacking black churches.

“We have responsibility to each other. We have responsibility to this state and to this nation. And we see this kind of stuff taking place. We have got to speak up. We have got to stand up,” Clyburn said.

He cited Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), a veteran of the civil rights movement, who “would say, we have got to get in the way and make some noise.”

“And unless people do that, speak up and speak out, the evil- thinking people will control the airwaves and they will control the activities, much of which is not good for the future of this great country,” Clyburn added.

Two branches of the KKK and four other “white nationalist” groups reportedly operate in South Carolina. It’s unknown if Roof, whose Facebook photo showed him wearing a jacket with Rhodesian and apartheid South Africa flags, was directly connected to any of these organizations.

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Hillary: ‘We Have to Face Hard Truths About Race, Violence, Guns, Division’

Thursday, June 18th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Hillary Clinton was in Charleston, S.C., yesterday on a campaign stop — but had left for Vegas before the shots rang out at the Emanuel AME Church last night.

Addressing the National Association of Latino Elected Officials conference in Sin City today, the 2016 Democratic presidential front-runner noted her visit to the technical school in Charleston was “such a positive, upbeat, optimistic event.”

“So many of those young people were for the first time seeing what they could do and being paid for doing it,” Clinton said. “The administration and faculty of the school was so proud. The businesses that were employing the diverse group of apprentices were getting their money’s worth. And I left feeling not only great about Charleston, but great about America.”

“When I got to Las Vegas, I learned about the horrific massacre in the church. You know the shock and pain of this crime of hate strikes deep. Nine people — women and men — cut down at prayer.  Murdered in a house of God.  It just broke my heart. That of course is the last place we should ever see violence. We shouldn’t see it anywhere.”

Clinton said “in the days ahead we will once again ask what led to this terrible tragedy and where we as a nation need to go.”

“In order to make sense of it, we have to be honest. We have to face hard truths about race, violence, guns, and division,” she said. “Today, we join our hearts with the people of Charleston and South Carolina—people everywhere—who pray for the victims, who pray for the families, who pray for a community that knows too much sorrow. And we pray for justice. That the people of Charleston find peace and that our country finds unity.”

“The church where these killings took place is known as Mother Emanuel. And like any mother, it holds its flock close.  Today is a day to hold each other even closer. More than 50 years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. told the families of the girls killed in the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, ‘You do not walk alone.’ Today we say to the families of Mother Emanuel and to all the people of Charleston, ‘You do not walk alone.’”

Clinton added that “millions of Americans — regardless of race or creed or ethnicity or religion — are walking with you.”

“In grief. In solidarity. In determination. We are with you. And we stand with you as we seek answers and take action. How many innocent people in our country—from little children, to church members, to movie theater attendees—how many people do we need to see cut down before we act?” she said.

“So as we mourn and as our hearts break a little more, and as we send this message of solidarity, we will not forsake those who have been victimized by gun violence. This time we have to find answers together. I pledge to you, I will work with you—those of you who are local officials, those of you who are thinking hard about your own communities. Let’s unite in partnership, not just to talk, but to act.”

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Jindal: Obama’s Reaction to Charleston Shooting ‘Completely Shameful’

Thursday, June 18th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) slammed President Obama for his “completely shameful” reaction to the Charleston church massacre.

“At some point, we as a country will have to reckon with the fact that this type of mass violence does not happen in other advanced countries. It doesn’t happen in other places with this kind of frequency. And it is in our power to do something about it,” Obama said in a gun-control message in the White House briefing room today.

Obama took a dig at Republicans on Capitol Hill, adding “the politics in this town foreclose a lot of those avenues right now.”

“But it would be wrong for us not to acknowledge it,” he said. “And at some point it’s going to be important for the American people to come to grips with it, and for us to be able to shift how we think about the issue of gun violence collectively.”

Jindal told Fox that “today was not the moment” for Obama’s speech.

“Within 24 hours of this awful tragedy, nine people killed at a Bible study in a church, now, let’s stop and think about that. Nine people coming into the church who are saying — to praise God, to study’s God’s scripture, gunned down,” the governor said.

“This monster then says he is going leave some victims alive so they can go tell the world what he has done. Within 24 hours, we have got the president trying to score cheap political points.”

Jindal said Obama can “have this debate next week.”

“His job as commander in chief is to help the country to begin the healing process. Now is the time to be hugging these families. Now is the time to be praying for these families. Now is the time to be coming together. Thank God for law enforcement for capturing this monster, and there’s no other word for him, this monster, so quickly. He has got a job as president to help begin the healing process, to unify us. For whatever reason, he always tries to divide us,” he said.

Jindal acknowledged that he and Obama disagree on the 1st, 2nd and 10th amendments.

“But now is not the time. My point is, whether he and I agree or not, now is the time — look, there are children wondering, why do things like this happen? There are families at home trying to understand, how does it happen in a church?” he continued. “What the commander in chief should have done, he could he emulated what Nikki Haley did. What a great example, a great governor of her state, coming forward and speaking for the people of South Carolina, saying our hearts are broken and literally having that candid moment on TV.”

“You could see the emotion. You could see — that’s beginning the healing process. The president could have asked the country. He could have said, instead of talking about politics today, we’re not Democrats, Republicans, independents, blacks, whites. We’re Americans, and we all need to worship together. We need to — what would have been great sign is to call for people to fill those churches, because don’t let anybody be scared from going to church. We’re not going to deterred from lifting our prayers,” Jindal said.

“…Government is not going to eradicate evil. And that’s why it would be also a good time to call America to prayer. That president doesn’t seem to like to do that, but it’s an important, important part of our country’s tradition.”

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Washington Reacts to Pope’s Warning Against Turning Earth Into ‘Immense Pile of Filth’

Thursday, June 18th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Few on Capitol Hill didn’t have an opinion on Pope Francis’ environmental encyclical today, which urged people to preserve God’s creation instead of turning Earth into an “immense pile of filth.”

“It is not enough to balance, in the medium term, the protection of nature with financial gain, or the preservation of the environment with progress,” the pope wrote. “Halfway measures simply delay the inevitable disaster. Put simply, it is a matter of redefining our notion of progress.”

“…Nobody is suggesting a return to the Stone Age, but we do need to slow down and look at reality in a different way, to appropriate the positive and sustainable progress which has been made, but also to recover the values and the great goals swept away by our unrestrained delusions of grandeur.”

Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said he was “concerned that his encyclical will be used by global warming alarmists to advocate for policies that will equate to the largest, most regressive tax increase in our nation’s history.”

“We have been innovative with our energy supply, and for generations the United States has lifted people out of poverty through the development of our God-given natural resources, most prominently from fossil fuels. We have worked to make these resources cleaner and more efficient, and natural gas is a perfect example,” Inhofe said. “To unravel this fabric of economic opportunity would create more poverty, not less.”

President Obama said he welcomed the pope’s “decision to make the case – clearly, powerfully, and with the full moral authority of his position – for action on global climate change.”

“I believe the United States must be a leader in this effort, which is why I am committed to taking bold actions at home and abroad to cut carbon pollution, to increase clean energy and energy efficiency, to build resilience in vulnerable communities, and to encourage responsible stewardship of our natural resources,” Obama said, adding that he’s looking forward to talking climate change with the pontiff when he visits Washington in September.

Secretary of State John Kerry eagerly jumped in with praise for Pope Francis, noting “the faith community – in the United States and abroad – has a long history of environmental stewardship and aiding the poor, and Pope Francis has thoughtfully applied those same values to the very real threat our planet is facing today.”

“The devastating impacts of climate change – like heat waves, damaging floods, coastal sea level rise and historic droughts – are already taking place, threatening the habitat all humans and other creatures depend on to survive,” Kerry said.

Catholic Republican lawmakers including House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) spoke carefully on the new document. “Well, one thing we know about this Pope is that he’s not afraid to challenge everyone’s thinking on issues, frankly, one way or another, and I admire his dedication to the poor and his work to protect the sanctity of life,” Boehner said at his press conference today. “And frankly, I respect his right to speak out on these important issues.”

At her press conference, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) lauded the pope at length for writing “with beauty, with clarity and with moral force.”

“He quotes St. Francis at the beginning and, of course, for me, that is our patron saint of the city of San Francisco — our namesake, the pope’s namesake — and in our Song of St. Francis, which I quoted the first day I was sworn in as Speaker of the House, I quoted the Song of St. Francis: where there is darkness, may we bring light. And His Holiness is bringing light on this subject,” Pelosi said. “…We really must listen to His Holiness as we go forward.”

Pelosi was asked about another part of Pope Francis’ encyclical, in which he addressed transgender issues: “The acceptance of our bodies as God’s gift is vital for welcoming and accepting the entire world as a gift from the Father and our common home,” the Pope wrote, “whereas thinking that we enjoy absolute power over our own bodies turns, often subtly, into thinking that we enjoy absolute power over creation.”

“I think that he is saying what I hear in church on Sunday,” Pelosi replied after some prodding by the reporter.

“It’s funny. I was going on one of these evangelical — I don’t want to say evangeical, but one of these shows — one of these preachers; you know, I went to see one of them once, and they said to me, but before you go, you better make sure he’s not anti-gay, he’s not anti-women’s rights in terms of a woman’s right to choose, he’s not this and that. And I said well, that’s interesting, because I’ll be going to 9 o’clock Mass where I will hear that and you’re going to think that’s going to block me from going to another religious service, which was, frankly, silent on the subject,” she continued.

“But getting back to encyclicals, one of my favorite encyclicals is Pope Benedict’s — was Benedict’s first encyclical. It was called ‘God is Love.’ And in it, Pope Benedict quotes St. Augustine, who was his favorite saint. And he says in there that Augustine said 17 centuries ago, any government that does not exist to promote justice is just a bunch of thieves. And then he, Benedict — Pope Benedict, His Holiness, goes on to say sometimes, it’s very hard to define what is justice, but you must be — you must be — he cautioned against the blinding glare of money and special interest. Read it. It’s very interesting.”

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See Pelosi’s Pick for the New $10 Bill

Thursday, June 18th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

The Treasury Department is stripping Alexander Hamilton off the $10 bill, to be replaced with a woman yet to be determined.

“Democracy is the theme for the next redesigned series and the Secretary will select a woman recognized by the public who was a champion for democracy in the United States,” Treasury said last night, stressing that even though they’ll have public input forum the final selection will not be a democratic one. “While the Secretary of the Treasury is responsible for final decision on all design features, he will receive regular updates on the public feedback as he considers new design aspects and the portrait selection for the $10 note.”

At her press conference today, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) was happy that Hamilton was getting the boot — and had some suggestions for his replacement.

“I would add Frances Perkins, who is the first woman Cabinet officer and the author of Social Security. She certainly has affected many lives,” Pelosi said, referencing the Labror secretary who served from 1933 to 1945.

“I’m a big fan of so many of the women who are being suggested, and any one of them, it would — it would be absolutely great. Who are they talking about? Well, in any event, any one of them would be great. But I would add her name to the list.”

The campaign to bump Andrew Jackson off the $20 bill suggested names of women in American history including Harriet Tubman, Eleanor Roosevelt and Rosa Parks.

“All of them — all of them are women of courage who have made a difference, and I’ve tried to respect some of them when I was Speaker or — some of it didn’t come to fruition until after, but we got started even before, and that’s with a statue to Rosa Parks in the Capitol,” Pelosi continued. “The — Sojourner Truth, a bust of Sojourner Truth in the Capitol, Helen Keller — we have a statue to her. All of this when we came in and said interesting gentlemen, but we have others who have contributed to the success of our country.”

“So I’m pretty excited about it all, but — all of the names that have been suggested. You might want to look at some other denominations as well. Why should we be confined to one?”

Treasury Secretary Jack Lew said in a statement on the switch that “America’s currency is a way for our nation to make a statement about who we are and what we stand for.”

“Our paper bills—and the images of great American leaders and symbols they depict—have long been a way for us to honor our past and express our values,” said Lew. “We have only made changes to the faces on our currency a few times since bills were first put into circulation, and I’m proud that the new 10 will be the first bill in more than a century to feature the portrait of a woman.”

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Obama Raises Gun Control After Church Massacre: ‘This Violence Doesn’t Happen in Other Advanced Countries’

Thursday, June 18th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

President Obama emerged for a brief statement on the Charleston church shooting today, stressing that “this type of mass violence does not happen in other advanced countries” and “we as a country will have to reckon with the fact.”

“It doesn’t happen in other places with this kind of frequency,” he said in the White House briefing room with Vice President Joe Biden at his side.

Nine people, including a South Carolina state senator, were murdered at the historic Emanuel AME Church during a Bible study last night. The suspect, 21-year-old Dylann Roof, was captured today in North Carolina.

Obama said he knew the slain pastor, state Sen. Clementa Pinckney. “To say our thoughts and prayers are with them and their families, and their community doesn’t say enough to convey the heartache and the sadness and the anger that we feel,” he said.

“Any death of this sort is a tragedy. Any shooting involving multiple victims is a tragedy. There is something particularly heartbreaking about the death happening in a place in which we seek solace and we seek peace, in a place of worship.”

The president noted the church’s “sacred” history, including how it was once burned to the ground in the pre-Civil War era because it was a base for the anti-slavery movement.

Obama promised “more of the Bureau’s best” would be joining FBI agents already on the scene in Charleston.

“Until the investigation is complete, I’m necessarily constrained in terms of talking about the details of the case. But I don’t need to be constrained about the emotions that tragedies like this raise,” he said. “I’ve had to make statements like this too many times. Communities like this have had to endure tragedies like this too many times. We don’t have all the facts, but we do know that, once again, innocent people were killed in part because someone who wanted to inflict harm had no trouble getting their hands on a gun.”

“Now is the time for mourning and for healing. But let’s be clear:  At some point, we as a country will have to reckon with the fact that this type of mass violence does not happen in other advanced countries. It doesn’t happen in other places with this kind of frequency. And it is in our power to do something about it.”

Obama said he recognized “the politics in this town foreclose a lot of those avenues right now.”

“But it would be wrong for us not to acknowledge it. And at some point it’s going to be important for the American people to come to grips with it, and for us to be able to shift how we think about the issue of gun violence collectively,” he said. “The fact that this took place in a black church obviously also raises questions about a dark part of our history. This is not the first time that black churches have been attacked. And we know that hatred across races and faiths pose a particular threat to our democracy and our ideals.”

“The good news is I am confident that the outpouring of unity and strength and fellowship and love across Charleston today, from all races, from all faiths, from all places of worship indicates the degree to which those old vestiges of hatred can be overcome.”

After his statement, Obama left to fly to Los Angeles for a Democratic National Committee fundraiser.

The suspect’s uncle told Reuters that Roof recently received a .45 caliber handgun as a birthday present.

Sylvia Johnson, a cousin of Pinckney, told NBC that a survivor told her the gunman sat next to the pastor for the Bible study, and said before opening fire, “I have to do it. You rape our women and you’re taking over our country. And you have to go.”

Roof’s prior arrests were for trespassing and drug possession.

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Lindsey in Love: Graham Opens Up About Past Girlfriends

Thursday, June 18th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Bachelor Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), out with a new e-book to pair with his presidential run, has opened up about his past loves.

In My Story, Graham writes, “I’ve never married. I guess I attribute that to timing, too. The opportunity never presented itself at the right time, or I never found time to meet the right girl, or the right girl was smart enough not to have time for me.”

“I haven’t been lucky that way,” he says of marriage. “But I have a family,” he adds of his sister, who’s married with two children.

Graham says he had two serious relationships while overseas with the Air Force: a JAG officer named Carol and a Lufthansa flight attendant named Sylvia.

“She was a great lawyer and an even better person and we had a blast together,” he wrote of Carol. “But tours of duty end and people move on. Such is life in the military. Carol returned to the States, got married, raised a family, and served on Colin Powell’s staff.”

The relationship with Sylvia “became serious quickly,” he said. “At one point, I thought I would propose, or at least I entertained the idea.”

Asked about the relationship on CNN yesterday, Graham “her mother was elderly in Vienna; I wanted to go back to South Carolina, and she wanted to stay in Vienna.”

“But that time in my life, you know, I was raising my sister. I had gotten through law school. The Air Force had stationed me in South Carolina so my sister could finish high school,” said Graham, whose parents had died by this time in his life.

“When she was in college, for the first time I had some time to myself. And I enjoyed being a prosecutor, traveling all over Europe,” the senator added. “I met Sylvia, some other nice people, young ladies over there. That was probably the best time in my life.”

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Charleston Church Shooter Identified, But Still on the Run (UPDATE: Caught in N.C.)

Thursday, June 18th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

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Police have identified the Charleston shooting suspect at Dylann Storm Roof, 21, of Eastover, S.C. Reports after 11 a.m. EST said he had been caught in North Carolina.

Officials said the shooter sat with church members in a Bible study meeting for an hour before opening fire. He reportedly said he wanted to kill black people before he started shooting, hence authorities investigating the massacre as a hate crime.

Six women and three men were shot to death, including pastor and state Sen. Clementa Pinckney, 41. All but one died at the church.

A federal law enforcement official told the Los Angeles Times that “it appeared from the surveillance images that the assailant may have worn a wig and a fake nose, and may even have dyed part of his skin.” The suspect’s nose isn’t the same shade as the rest of his face, and the hair is a heavy bowl cut.

He was wearing layers even though it was a hot evening in Charleston and was carrying a backpack. He drove a dark sedan.

He was driving a black Hyundai Elantra with South Carolina tag LGF-330.

The shooting was followed by a threat that the church would blow up in 86 minutes, but no explosives were found.

There were a handful of people who were in the church and survived the massacre. One woman said the shooter told her she was being spared so she could tell people what happened inside the church.

South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham (R) said in a statement “there are bad people in this world who are motivated by hate.”

“Every decent person has been victimized by the hateful, callous disregard for human life shown by the individual who perpetrated these horrible acts,” Graham said. “Our sense of security and well-being has been robbed and shaken.”

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who has a campaign rally planned for Saturday in Charleston, called the shooting “a tragic reminder of the ugly stain of racism that still taints our nation.”

“This senseless violence fills me with outrage, disgust and a deep, deep sadness. The hateful killing of nine people praying inside a church is a horrific reminder that, while we have made significant progress in advancing civil rights in this country, we are far from eradicating racism,” Sanders said. “Our thoughts and prayers are with the families and their congregation.”

NAACP President and CEO Cornell William Brooks said “there is no greater coward than a criminal who enters a house of God and slaughters innocent people engaged in the study of scripture.”

“We are all trying to make sense of this senseless act. This is pure evil. It’s infuriating. Mankind’s capacity for evil is horrific,” Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal said. “I’m enraged by this ungodly act and my heart breaks for these families. I hurt for them. Every American needs to take a few minutes today, and in the days to come, to pray for the families of those murdered last night.”

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Nine Killed in Historic Charleston Church; Gunman on the Loose

Wednesday, June 17th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

A gunman entered one of the oldest black churches in the country on Wednesday night and opened fire, killing a state senator and other church members who were attending a Bible study.

Charleston, S.C., Police Chief Greg Mullen told reporters, “I do believe this was a hate crime.”

The shooting began at 9:05 p.m. at the Emanuel AME Church, a congregation that dates back to 1791. One of the church’s founders was Denmark Vesey, who was executed after planning a slave rebellion.

Nine died in the shooting, including the pastor — State Sen. Clementa Pinckney, 41, who was first elected to the statehouse at age 23. Al Sharpton tweeted that Pinckney helped lead a prayer vigil for Walter Scott, who was shot in the back by North Charleston police in April.

Officials didn’t have a number yet of those wounded in the mass shooting.

Police were searching for a white male in his early 20s, wearing a grey sweatshirt and jeans, with a slender build, sandy blonde hair, and clean shaven. The FBI is assisting local police.

Officers briefly took into custody a photojournalist, Austin Rich, who has dark hair but was dressed in a grey shirt near the scene. “I understand that the officers were simply doing their job and they did it well. I was compliant and escorted across the street, to the Marriott Courtyard Hotel and then questioned,” Rich wrote on his Facebook page. “I gave them the details of where I was and who I was with. They asked several questions, checked my phone records and told me I was clear to go. I am thankful for the professionalism of the officers on duty, and have a tremendous amount of respect for them as well.”

In addition to the shooting, a bomb threat was later called into a nearby hotel where people had gathered.

Mayor Joe Riley, who has led Charleston since 1975, called the shooting “the most intolerable and unbelievable act possible… the only reason someone could walk into church and shoot people praying is out of hate.”

Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) said his “heart is breaking for Charleston and South Carolina tonight.” He was on a plane late Wednesday to return home from Washington.

“This senseless tragedy at a place of worship — where we come together to laugh, love and rejoice in God’s name — is despicable and can’t be understood,” Scott said. “Tonight we stand in prayer for Pastor Pinckney and his congregation, and the families who are enduring unimaginable pain at their loss.”

“We will come together as a city and as a state to lift those up who need us most right now. I hope for their sake, and for the people of Charleston, that the perpetrators of this terrible crime are swiftly brought to justice.”

“Thoughts and prayers to the victims and their families of tonight’s tragic shooting at the Emmanuel AME church,” tweeted Rep. Mark Sanford (R-S.C.), who represents Charleston.

Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush was due in Charleston on Thursday for an event, but canceled his visit in the wake of the shooting.

“Governor Bush’s thoughts and prayers are with the individuals and families affected by this tragedy,” said a statement from his campaign.

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Brian Williams Off the Nightly News, But Destined for Fun New Role at NBC

Wednesday, June 17th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Tall-tale NBC anchor Brian Williams won’t be getting his anchor chair back, but will be staying at his network. Reports CNN:

NBC and Williams have come to a tentative agreement that will keep Williams at the network after his six-month suspension ends in August.

The decision, described by people with knowledge of the plan, ends months of speculation that Williams could leave NBC altogether.

Williams will not be returning to the “NBC Nightly News” anchor chair, the people said. Instead he will have a new role; the details of it are unknown to all but a very small number of executives.

“No one knows anything,” one anchor at the network complained Wednesday.

But that may change very soon: NBC could make an announcement about Williams’ future on Thursday, the people with knowledge of the plan said.

What might he be doing? It could be a number of things within the Comcast-owned company.

Inside NBC, speculation about Williams’ future has centered on MSNBC, its cable news channel, which is suffering from weak ratings. Another scenario could entail a roving reporter job, somewhat like Ann Curry’s job after she was forced off the “Today” show in 2012.

Or NBC could have a surprise up its proverbial sleeve.

In recent days, Williams’ attorney Bob Barnett has been ensconced in meetings with top NBC executives. Among the topics on the table: where, when and how Williams will express regret for the storytelling exaggerations that led to his February suspension.

Asked if Lester Holt will permanently remain at the helm of the nightly news, CNN media reporter Brian Stelter tweeted, “All signs point to yes.”

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Report: Actors Recruited for Trump’s Presidential Announcement Crowd

Wednesday, June 17th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

It apparently took a casting call to make a presidential announcement, according to The Hollywood Reporter:

Donald Trump’s big presidential announcement Tuesday was made a little bigger with help from paid actors — at $50 a pop.

New York-based Extra Mile Casting sent an email last Friday to its client list of background actors, seeking extras to beef up attendance at Trump’s event.

“We are looking to cast people for the event to wear t-shirts and carry signs and help cheer him in support of his announcement,” reads the June 12 email, obtained by The Hollywood Reporter. “We understand this is not a traditional ‘background job,’ but we believe acting comes in all forms and this is inclusive of that school of thought.”

The pay was listed as $50 for fewer than three hours of work. According to the email, Extra Mile was reaching out to potential extras in partnership with Gotham Government Relations and Communications, a New York-Based political consulting group that has worked with Trump in the past. Gotham GR had no comment.

Trump’s campaign manager denied the report when contacted by THR, saying “Mr. Trump draws record crowds at almost every venue at which he is a featured speaker. The crowds are large, often record-setting and enthusiastic, often with standing ovations. Mr. Trumps message is ‘make America great again.’ ”

Trump to Bloomberg News in an interview today that despite his success in the business world “I hear some pundit or some person say, he doesn’t deserve to be on the stage with a senator.”

“A senator is nothing, and I’m not saying — or senators are nothing, I’m saying certain people are zeroes, and I’m not supposed to be on the stage with these people? I mean, give me a break,” he said.

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Treasury to Go All Aaron Burr on the $10 Bill, Bump Off Hamilton

Wednesday, June 17th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Treasury Secretary Jack Lew is about to become the 21st century Aaron Burr by booting Alexander Hamilton off the $10 bill.

Treasury was teasing a big announcement from its engraving office at midnight, until Nancy Lindborg, the president of the U.S. Institute of Peace, broke the embargo by praising Lew’s decision in a tweet.

“Sec Lew announced 2day historic decision to feature a woman on new 10 dollar bill. About time! Share ideas on who to feature ,” Lindborg tweeted.

There had been a long-running campaign to put a woman on U.S. currency — but backers were lobbying for Andrew Jackson to be booted off the $20 bill.

“Andrew Jackson was celebrated for his military prowess, for founding the Democratic party and for his simpatico with the common man. But as the seventh president of the United States, he also helped gain Congressional passage of the ‘Indian Removal Act of 1830′ that drove Native American tribes of the Southeastern United States off their resource-rich land and into Oklahoma to make room for white European settlers. Commonly known as the Trail of Tears, the mass relocation of Indians resulted in the deaths of thousands from exposure, disease and starvation during the westward migration. Not okay,” explained the Women on 20s campaign.

“Some argue that because Jackson was a fierce opponent of the central banking system and favored gold and silver coin or ‘hard money’ over paper currency, he is an ironic choice for immortalization on our money,” their reasoning continues.

Hamilton, meanwhile, was the first secretary of the Treasury, along with being the founding Federalist and one of our most influential Founding Fathers.

UPDATE 11:30 p.m. EST: The Treasury Department issued some answers on the Hamilton bump.

“While the design process is complex and much work remains to be done, Secretary Lew has made clear that the image of Alexander Hamilton will remain part of the $10 note. There are many options for continuing to honor Hamilton,” a statement said. “While one option is producing two bills, we are exploring a variety of possibilities. However, security requirements are the driving consideration behind any new design.”

Yes, they’re saying the reason they picked the $10 and not the $20 is national security.

“Currency is primarily redesigned as necessary to address current and potential security threats to currency notes. When recommending a note for redesign, the Advanced Counterfeit Deterrence (ACD) Steering Committee considers these primary goals: that U.S. currency utilizes unique and technologically advanced security features to deter counterfeiting, that it facilitates the public’s use and authentication, provides accessibility and usability, and maintains public confidence. Based on analysis of these criteria, in June 2013, the Committee recommended that the $10 note should be the next note to be redesigned, assuming no other counterfeit threats emerge.” The bill was last redesigned in 2006. Hamilton remained on the bill.

The last time changes in the selection of people to be honored on bills was made occurred between 1914 and 1928.

“Democracy is the theme for the next redesigned series and the Secretary will select a woman recognized by the public who was a champion for democracy in the United States,” Treasury said, stressing that even though they’ll have public input forum the final selection will not be a democratic one. “While the Secretary of the Treasury is responsible for final decision on all design features, he will receive regular updates on the public feedback as he considers new design aspects and the portrait selection for the $10 note.”

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Kerry Not ‘Fixated’ on Iran Nuke Military Dimensions; State Dept. Fixated on Slamming Reporters Warning of Concessions

Wednesday, June 17th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

State Department press secretary John Kirby chided reporters today for “absolutely, completely false” coverage indicating “that there’s a change in our policy with respect to possible military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear program or that it’s a concession about to be offered or changed.”

But the story was fed by Secretary of State John Kerry.

In a teleconference with reporters on Tuesday as he’s recuperating from a broken leg, Kerry was asked if concerns about the military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear program have to be “fully resolved before sanctions are eased or released or removed or suspended on Iran as part of that agreement.”

“Is that a core principle or is that also negotiable?” Michael Gordon of the New York Times asked.

“The possible military dimensions, frankly, gets distorted a little bit in some of the discussion, in that we’re not fixated on Iran specifically accounting for what they did at one point in time or another. We know what they did. We have no doubt. We have absolute knowledge with respect to the certain military activities they were engaged in,” Kerry replied.

“What we’re concerned about is going forward. It’s critical to us to know that going forward, those activities have been stopped, and that we can account for that in a legitimate way. That clearly is one of the requirements in our judgment for what has to be achieved in order to have a legitimate agreement. And in order to have an agreement to trigger any kind of material significant sanctions relief, we would have to have those answers.”

Kirby said today that “we’ve said we’re not looking for a confession; we’ve already made judgments about the past.”

“But the sanctions lifting will only occur as Iran takes the steps agreed, including addressing possible military dimensions,” he said. “Now, the negotiations are ongoing, and I’m not going to talk about the specifics of it. But I want to put a fork in it right now that there’s any kind of concession or change in the policy. It’s just not simply true.”

Kerry said he would go to Vienna when necessary for “what one hopes would be the closeout and should be the closeout of the negotiations with respect to the Iran nuclear program.”

The deadline for a final deal is June 30.

“Obviously, the stakes on that are very high. Our position has not changed. I’ve noticed some back-and-forth in the last few days,” he said. “But our positions have not altered one iota from what we declared both in JPOA itself as well as in my own interviews and in our discussions with people over the course of the last few months. So the talks remain tough. They’re critical. And just as I have said consistently, we’re not going to rush to an agreement for the sake of an agreement, and we’re not going to sign an agreement that we don’t believe gets the job done.”

Kirby told reporters “sanctions lifting is only going to occur as Iran meets agreed-to steps, including addressing the concerns IAEA has over possible military dimensions.”

But when pressed on whether sanctions relief is possible before the concerns over military dimensions were resolved, the spokesman said he wouldn’t negotiate from the podium.

“I think I’ve answered it as far as I’m going to answer it today,” Kirby said. “The whole reason that we’re having these negotiations and there’s a deal being worked is because we know they were working on a potential military program…What the secretary said was we’re not fixated on a single point in time.”

“I just said ad nauseum, that the IAEA’s concerns about possible military dimensions past and present, have to be fully addressed before there’s going to be a deal.”

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Obama’s Ramadan Message: ‘A Time to Reinforce Faith, Compassion and Forgiveness’

Wednesday, June 17th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

President Obama issued a statement marking the Islamic month of Ramadan, which begins at sundown:

As the new crescent moon brings in the holy month of Ramadan, Michelle and I send our warmest greetings to all those observing the month of fasting in the United States and around the world.

Ramadan is a time in which families and communities come together for iftars and prayers in festive gatherings that demonstrate the rich and diverse traditions of Muslim societies and cultures.

It is also a deeply spiritual time of reflection and renewal meant to increase thankfulness and consciousness of God’s mercy.  Muslims honor each day of Ramadan as a day of patient endurance through fasting, and each night as a night of gratitude through prayers.  It is a time to reinforce faith, compassion and forgiveness, and perseverance through adversity.  In this month of giving, Muslims around the globe reach out to assist those afflicted by conflict, hunger, poverty and disease.  And here in the United States, American Muslims join their fellow citizens to serve the less fortunate, hosting inter-faith activities that build understanding and remind us that we stand together as one American family.  The diversity and patriotism of America’s religious communities give strength to all of us, and our freedom to worship reminds us of the values we share.

I once again look forward to welcoming American Muslims to the White House for our annual White House iftar dinner to honor the month of Ramadan and recognize the service of American Muslims from across the country.  From my family to yours, Ramadan Kareem.

During the month, Muslims abstain from food or beverages from sun-up to sundown. The iftar dinner breaks the daily fast.

The Institute for the Study of War warned earlier this month that ISIS has staged offensives the past three Ramadans.

“ISIS can also be expected to commemorate its declaration of a Caliphate on the first full day of Ramadan 2014 by trying to build upon or surpass its declaration of the caliphate last year. ISIS could do so by accomplishing new military objectives, striking religious targets, or announcing a new political milestone. Regardless, ISIS is likely to begin and end Ramadan with attempted spectacular military offensive actions in Iraq and Syria.”

The one-year anniversary of the caliphate is June 29.

UPDATE: Secretary of State John Kerry chimes in with his Ramadan wishes:

Ramadan is a season for heightened reflection, worship, compassion, and community. For Muslims everywhere, this special month provides spiritual nourishment and reinforces appreciation for the universal value — and values — of humanity. It is also a time to reflect on awareness of the responsibility of people of all faiths to help those in need, including those stricken by poverty and the victims of conflict in such countries as Burma, Iraq, Libya, Nigeria, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen. Ramadan underscores the beauty in community — one that eats, prays and works together – and that answers the sacred call that we desire for others what we desire for ourselves.

Along with many of our embassies around the world, the Department of State will once again host a celebration in honor of Ramadan. In the months to come, we will remain in constant dialogue with the governments of Muslim-majority countries and with Muslim communities at home and abroad. One of the great strengths of our nation is the diversity both of its citizens and of its overseas partners; and one of the core elements of our diplomacy is our desire to communicate clearly with others in support of the fundamental rights and dignity of every human being.

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Why Putin’s New Military Theme Park ‘Does Pose a Danger to Us’

Wednesday, June 17th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson
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Putin at Patriot Park (Photo: Kremlin)

The chairman of the House Armed Services Committee says the new military-themed park in Russia is one example of how Moscow is a threat to the United States.

Russian President Vladimir Putin opened “Patriot Park” in Kubinka yesterday with an exhibition of wares offered by the country’s arms dealers.

The Kremlin said Putin stressed “that Russian arms and military equipment remain in great demand on the global arms market and the arms order portfolio has been filled for years to come.”

“The president also expressed confidence that the Patriot Congress and Exhibition Centre where the Forum is taking place will become a platform for demonstration of the latest arms and equipment. On display today there is a variety of military products, including small arms and armoured tanks, combat robots and control systems,” the Kremlin statement continued. “The president toured the exposition. From an observation platform, he saw the latest samples of military equipment and arms on display outdoors, and then visited a number of pavilions that display, among other things, military uniform, high technology products and army information systems.”

Visitors to the park can play with grenade launchers, eat military rations for lunch and buy Putin tchotchkes at the gift shop, the Guardian reported.

Putin said the theme park would be “an important element in our system of military-patriotic work with young people.”

Armed Services Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) told CNN “bizarre is a good word to use” for the theme park.

“But I think it would be a mistake to dismiss all of this,” Thornberry said. “Putin has an approach which includes internal propaganda and also propaganda for the neighboring countries. So he is trying to rev up this nationalism, rev up this idea that they are defending the motherland. And that is so they will ignore the damage that he’s doing to their country.”

“So, you know, in some ways it’s clever. But I’m not sure how long it will last. But it does pose a danger to us.”

Russia’s plans are about more than theme parks and games, as Putin announced this week the addition of 40 new intercontinental ballistic missiles to Russia’s stockpile.

“I think it’s consistent with what Putin has done before. It’s to try to escalate and intimidate us for standing with NATO allies. I think it’s perfectly consistent,” Thornberry said.

“The thing — the only thing — and Churchill said this back right after World War II, the thing that Russia respects the most is strength, particularly military strength. He has sensed weakness from the West. And he’s going to keep pushing and making these gestures until he sees something different.”

The chairman said defense cuts need to be reversed and “shoring up our allies all along Russia’s border is very important.”

“They are very nervous and they’re wondering whether NATO and the United States will stand with them,” Thornberry added. “So that reassurance so that we can stand together as an alliance against this sort of aggression, I think is one of the most useful things we can do.”

White House press secretary Josh Earnest today called Putin’s 40 ICBM announcement “saber rattling.”

“What continues to be true is that saber rattling like this does nothing to deescalate conflict. And the United States has repeatedly stressed our commitment to the collective defense of our NATO allies. That is a commitment that we are willing to back up with action if necessary,” Earnest said. “And that stands in pretty stark contrast to the saber rattling that we’ve seen from Mr. Putin.”

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VIDEO: ‘Caucus Tease’ Jeb Bush Bilingually Slow-Jams the News

Wednesday, June 17th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush swung by Jimmy Fallon’s show yesterday to slow jam the news:

President Obama has previously slow-jammed student loan rates:

And Mitt Romney slow-jammed the State of the Union after losing to President Obama:

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has slow-jammed the news, and demonstrated the “evolution of dad dancing”:

The Clintons have steered clear of the slow-jam, probably because of all the suggestive jokes Fallon would drop into the skit.

If the FCC equal-time rule applies to slow-jams, there may be a pack of candidates headed to The Tonight Show.

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RNC Official: ‘The More Candidates, the Better’

Wednesday, June 17th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

The spokesman for the Republican National Committee insisted “the more candidates, the better” after Donald Trump became the 12th GOP in the crowded 2016 field.

“They are bringing more people into this party and they are out there campaigning in places that we don’t go, talking to additional voters,” RNC senior adviser Sean Spicer told CNN. “This is a very, very healthy thing for this party. I’m glad and I hope more people get into.”

Spicer steered clear of criticism of Trump’s announcement when pressed about The Donald’s more controversial statements.

“We have a historic crop of candidates seeking the Republican nomination…. It’s going to give the voters an opportunity to decide which direction they want to go and which vision is best. We’re definitely giving the voters throughout the country an opportunity to look at several different ways that we can go and it’s not going to be without choices when it comes to our nomination,” he said.

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal is expected to enter the race June 24. Govs. Chris Christie, John Kasich and Scott Walker could bump the field of candidates to 16.

“I think to the issue of illegal immigration, Mr. Trump and others have addressed that we need to be very firm on border security and look at ways to make sure America has fixed its immigration problem and allow for people whether it’s from wherever to enter the country in a more systematic way for our economy,” Spicer said.

“I think other Senators, business people, I think at the end of the day each one is going to try to figure out a message that they think resonates in a vision that they want to articulate the country. They are going to talk about their strengths, their vision is the best. I think in the case of Governor Bush, that’s playing off his years as being a successful governor. I think Senator Rubio, Senator Paul, Senator Cruz are going to talk about their solutions that they have found here in Washington. I don’t think it’s a bad thing. I don’t think there’s anybody running for president or sitting at home that’s pleased with the things going on in Washington. One thing that all of the candidates are talking about is trying to find a pathway forward to some of the problems that people in this country face and make America a better country than it is today.”

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After Man Legally Brings AR-15 to Atlanta Airport, a Bill to Make Airports Gun-Free Zones

Tuesday, June 16th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson
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After a man legally brought his AR-15 into Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, a Georgia Democrat has introduced legislation to ban guns on airport grounds before the security checkpoints as well as beyond.

Rep. Hank Johnson’s (D-Ga.) Airport Security Act of 2015 would levy a prison term of up to 10 years for the offense, superseding any local laws that allow gun owners to carry on airport grounds.

Earlier this month, a Georgia man carried his loaded AR-15 into the Atlanta airport to drop his daughter off for a flight. He took pictures of his open carry in the terminal, which is legal under state law, and sent the photos to a local television station.

“It shouldn’t matter what I carry, just that I choose to carry,” the gun owner, Jim Cooley, said. “You never know where something might happen.”

Cooley was followed by Atlanta police as he carried the weapon; the department said they didn’t infringe on his gun rights yet at the same time wanted to ensure the safety of others at the airport.

Johnson said his bill, which has 15 Democratic co-sponsors, to stop that kind of carrying on airport grounds is just “common sense.”

“Airports are the gateway to commerce throughout the world and the front door to the communities they connect for millions of passengers who visit the United States each year,” the congressman said in a statement. “It defies logic that we would allow anyone other than law enforcement officials to carry a loaded gun within an airport.”

Both concealed carry and open carry would be prohibited in his bill, with the exception of local law enforcement and Homeland Security employees.

The area covered would range from the curbside pick-up and drop-off areas to the ticket counters, baggage claim, and any area of the terminal.

Airports would also be required to post signs marking the area as a gun-free zone.

If a traveler is carrying a gun, it would have to be unloaded and in a marked, locked case. A traveler could only carry a gun on airport property in this way within 24 hours of a ticketed flight.

Johnson said on the House floor Monday that Cooley was carrying his AR-15 “only to make a point that was to show he was legally able to carry his firearm in the airports.”

His actions, the congressman said, “undermine public security in the same way as yelling ‘fire’ in a crowded theater.”

Below, a video Cooley posted of his encounter with an Atlanta cop at the airport.

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