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Bridget Johnson

Bridget Johnson is a veteran journalist whose news articles and opinion columns have run in dozens of news outlets across the globe. Bridget first came to Washington to be online editor at The Hill, where she wrote The World from The Hill column on foreign policy. Previously she was an opinion writer and editorial board member at the Rocky Mountain News and nation/world news columnist at the Los Angeles Daily News. She is an NPR contributor and has contributed to USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, National Review Online, Politico and more, and has myriad television and radio credits as a commentator. Bridget is Washington Editor for PJ Media.
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Mexican President Decries ‘Exclusionary and Discriminatory Tone Regarding Migration Flows Into U.S.’

Monday, October 6th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto decried a “discriminatory” nature to the immigration reform debate in the U.S., telling CNN the relationship between the two countries is “a lot broader” than the one issue.

“The number of daily crossings, legal crossings, every day. About a million people every day, legal crossings that come. People coming and going from one country to the other because of work and trade and the trade level that we have which is so broad which we will probably talk about,” the president said.

When asked by Fareed Zakaria if some of the rhetoric around the debate was “racist,” Nieto replied, “I think it’s discriminatory, yes, and I think it’s unfortunate for a country whose formation and historic origin relies so much on the migration flows of many parts, Europe, Asia, for instance.”

“I think this is a country whose origin to a great extent is one of migration and that’s why it’s unfortunate to hear this exclusionary and discriminatory tone regarding the migration flows into the United States,” he continued. “Today we have to recognize that the migration that comes from Mexico to the United States has fallen.”

“There is a lower number of migrants to balance between those who are coming to the United States and those going back to Mexico is practically a zero balance today, and that reflects the fact that in Mexico we are opening greater opportunities for those who don’t want to leave their country or those who have no need to go looking for a new opportunity of personal or professional growth.”

He said he is “certain” that his reforms are “going to bring Mexico greater growth, more opportunities for jobs and professional development for more Mexicans and that this will allow us to have more progress.”

Nieto also maintained that legalization of marijuana in the U.S. would cause more problems instead of removing the criminal element from the equation.

Just last week, the Border Patrol caught a truck driver trying to smuggle $1.67 million worth of marijuana through the Nogales crossing.

“I instead think that this is a door of access to drug consumption to the most harmful drugs and it eventually will generate an environment of more violence as well, and we will have to see in those states that have already legalized marijuana consumption what social behaviors are they seeing and if whatever gave way to this eventual legalization in those states, has it really resulted in the economic benefits for those states and for society at large?” Nieto said. “I don’t think that is the case. However, I do insist we have to hold a debate with evidence showing exactly what is happening throughout the world and what is also happening in the states of the American Union where they have legalized it.”

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CDC Director: ‘Nothing Off the Table’ on Policy to Fight Ebola, ‘Except Doing Things That Might Backfire’

Monday, October 6th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

The director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention worked the rounds on the morning news shows today to try to assure the public that his agency is working “24/7″ to “keep Americans safe,” and  will “look at the possibilities” regarding further policies to keep the virus from traveling from affected countries.

“Nothing is off the table in terms of keeping Americans safe, except doing things that might actually backfire and make Americans less safe,” Dr. Thomas Frieden told Fox News when asked about more intense screening of people coming off flights in the U.S.

“We’ve already had well over 100 people considered possibly to have Ebola. You know there have been about 40,000 people entering the U.S. from these three countries over the last six months. Only the one individual in Dallas has had Ebola. In that situation, the authorities there are doing an excellent job tracking every single contact,” he added.

Frieden called the report of a sick Liberian child being tested for Ebola in Delaware unconfirmed.

“We have no other individuals who are, at this point, confirmed with Ebola. We’re gonna have rumors. We’re gonna have suspicions. We’re gonna have possibilities.”

The CDC leader told NBC that there’s no update this morning on Dallas Ebola patient Thomas Eric Duncan, who’s “fighting for his life.”

“This is the time when we’re particularly looking at the contacts that he had. Ten contacts who definitely had contact with him and 38 others who might have had contact. Every single one of those 48 people was monitored yesterday. Their temperatures were taken. None of them had symptoms. None of them had fever. The key here is to keep doing that every single day,” Frieden said.

He confirmed there is “no more” ZMapp for now, the experimental drug that may have helped American missionaries recover from the disease.

“The company is working hard to make a few more doses, but it’s hard to make. It takes a long time.”

Frieden defended the screening occurring at airports in the affected countries, telling CBS that Duncan’s temperature was 97.3 when he left Monrovia.

“But we will look at all opportunities to improve the safety of Americans. Because that’s what CDC does 24/7 is protect Americans. And one thing that’s encouraging is some signs of progress in the outbreak. We’ve seen no more cases in Nigeria. It looks like they’ve stopped it,” he said. “We’ve now trained 4,000 people across Africa…and we’re going to see those people deployed to Africa and join hundreds of people from around the country who — around the world who are responding to the outbreak. So definite signs of progress.”

President Obama is scheduled to receive an update “on the Ebola outbreak in West Africa” this afternoon, according to the White House, before heading to a Turkish restaurant in D.C. for a DNC event.

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DHS Secretary: ‘No Evidence’ Yet of Terror Motive in Oklahoma Beheading; State, FBI Probes Ongoing

Monday, October 6th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said Sunday that there’s “no evidence” that ISIS or any other group inspired Alton Nolen to behead a co-wokerer at a food processing plant in Oklahoma last month.

Nolen had recently converted to Islam and reportedly tried to convince co-workers to follow suit, had pictures of jihadis on his Facebook page and used a large knife from his kitchen in the attack. He was let go from the plant right before the attack.

The FBI is investigating Nolen’s use of “Arabic terms in the attack,” according to a court document from District Attorney Greg Mashburn. The state is seeking the death penalty because of the ”especially heinous, atrocious or cruel” nature of the slaying.

Johnson was asked Friday on Fox about classifying the beheading as workplace violence.

“He very clearly was somebody who was looking at the extremist ideology, had to some degree, and I don’t really know exactly how much, this is a matter for law enforcement, some degree had had embraced it, and there’s no evidence at this point that he was directed by a terrorist organization to do what he did or that that was the principle motivating factor,” the DHS secretary replied. “This was a horrible act of violence and it will be resolved I’m sure in criminal justice.”

Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin said officials in her state are still probing Nolen’s connections and motives.

“Since the attack was reported, I have been communicating with law enforcement as well as Oklahoma’s Department of Homeland Security to ensure a thorough investigation is conducted into the motives of the attacker. That investigation is still ongoing, and it is unclear at this time whether the crime was an act of terrorism, workplace violence, or a gruesome combination of both,” Fallin said in a statement last week.

“I have asked the Oklahoma Department of Homeland Security to work with the FBI to quickly get the facts and share them with the people of Oklahoma. In the meantime, I’m asking Oklahomans to remain alert and report any suspicious activity to local law enforcement.”

Fallin added that she has asked law enforcement “to keep me informed so that I can relay factual information to Oklahomans.”

Texas Gov. Rick Perry told Fox “the White House is going to have to deal with this.”

“It’s going to have to, you know, get straight to the point here. We know what’s going on. And the idea that this is everyday workplace violence — Americans know that’s not the case,” Perry said. “And every day that goes by without pointing out the fact that this was most likely an act of terror is not in the best interests of America.”

The White House has remained mostly mum on the beheading, with Deputy National Security Adviser Tony Blinken telling Fox on Sept. 28, “The FBI has an active investigation. I’m not going to get ahead of it. Let’s see what they find.”

KFOR reported that “an official from Washington D.C. flew in to Oklahoma to present a special thank you to the Muslim congregation” at the Islamic Society of Greater Oklahoma City. “Your service is a powerful example of the powerful roots of the Abrahamic faiths and how our communities can come together with shared peace with dignity and a sense of justice,” President Obama said in a statement to the group, which was celebrating Eid al-Adha.

The Islamic Society last week issued a statement against a story on Fox News that featured an anonymous man who said he attended the mosque and said “when they’re among friends and congregants only, they will promote the true teachings of Islam, which include the offer to non-Muslims – the choice rather that you must convert, live under Islamic rule, or be fought against.”

“As we join our fellow Oklahomans in shock at the murder, ISGOC is troubled to find that some irresponsible entities are attempting to link the perpetrator’s outrages to our leadership and institution,” the statement said. “…Anonymous speakers making uncorroborated allegations against minority communities is as un-American as it gets. We urge Fox News to investigate this significant lapse in journalistic integrity.”

“The anonymous speaker claimed that he was last in our institution in 2011 at the request of law enforcement. We question why [Megyn] Kelly did not note that no allegations of
misdoing have ever been levelled at our institution by any law enforcement entity. Each and every allegation made against the ISGOC is false.”

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) last week accused Obama of being “weak” in not calling the beheading terrorism and “not being honest either with himself or the public about the times in which we live.”

“Seventy-six percent of the American people believe he’s being too soft, too weak regarding radical Islam. I bet you if you polled ISIL, 100 percent would say the same thing. If you polled our enemies, they would say he’s weak. If you polled our friends, they would say he’s weak,” Graham said.

“The American people have figured this out. And President Obama constantly says things that make no sense. ISIL’s at war with us, my friend.”

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Sanders: ‘Obscene’ Wealth on Forbes’ List a ‘Grave Danger’ to Economy, Political System

Sunday, October 5th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said Forbes magazine’s latest tally of billionaires simply highlights the growing danger of “obscene” wealth and income inequality in the country.

Forbes last week released its list of the 400 richest Americans, whose total net worth stands at $2.29 trillion — a cumulative increase of $270 billion over last year.

Bill Gates was the wealthiest with $81 billion, and four members of Walmart’s Walton family are in the top ten. The Koch brothers Charles and David occupy the No. 4 spot.

Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg saw his net worth shoot up the most over the past year, by $15 billion for a total of $34 billion.

Sanders, however, stressed that the billionaires on the list make more than 150 million people who comprise the “bottom half” of America.

“Never before in the modern history of our country have so few had so much and so many had so little. This incredible and obscene level of wealth and income inequality is a grave danger to our economy and our political system,” Sanders said in a statement this weekend.

“Congress must summon the courage to take on their big money campaign contributors and pass legislation that asks the wealthy to start paying their fair share of taxes and overturns the disastrous Supreme Court decision on Citizens United.”

Sanders has been testing the waters of a potential 2016 run, with supporters arguing that he will give voters a choice on liberal orthodoxy.

The senator has pointed out when asked about likely candidate Hillary Clinton that ”America does not want to anoint anybody.”

“In this country today, as I think you know, the middle class is collapsing. We have more people living in poverty than almost any time in the history of this country. We have massive wealth inequality. 95 percent of new income is going to the top 1 percent. We have a Citizens United Supreme Court decision that allows billionaires, like the Koch Brothers, to buy elections. We have the global warming crisis. We have an enormous set of problems facing our nation, and, in fact, the world,” Sanders told CNN on Thursday.

“And I think that the working class of this country, the middle class of this country, needs people to stand up for them and to take on the billionaire class which, today, has so much power economically and politically. And, yes, within that context, I am giving thought to running for president. But it is a very, very difficult decision. Not on easy decision. I have to assess whether there is the kind of support necessary all over this country in terms of a unprecedented grassroots movement prepared to take on the billionaire class that have so much power. That’s what I’m trying to ascertain right now.”

Sanders said there’s “absolutely nothing” wrong with Clinton, but “this is not about Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders or anybody else.”

“Weal unemployment today is 12 percent. Do you know what youth unemployment percent is? It is 20 percent. Our infrastructure is crumbling. We need to create millions of jobs rebuilding our infrastructure,” he said.

Sanders telling headed to New Hampshire for a town hall on Friday and to Iowa for Saturday and Sunday events.

He told MSNBC that the trips are designed to determine whether “there is the kind of grassroots support that I would need to take on the billionaire class and the Koch brothers.”

“It is very hard to determine, if you’re serious and if you really want to win, whether you can mobilize people in the way that has to be done to be successful.”

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Administration Criticism That Israel ‘Poisons Atmosphere’ with Jerusalem Construction Is ‘Deplorable,’ Says Senator

Thursday, October 2nd, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) slammed as “deplorable” the White House’s condemnation of Israel, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was visiting, for housing construction in Jerusalem.

White House press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters yesterday that the U.S. is “deeply concerned by reports that Israeli government has moved forward with the planning process in the sensitive area — or in a sensitive area of east Jerusalem.”

“This step is contrary to Israel’s stated goal of negotiating a permanent status agreement with the Palestinians, and it would send a very troubling message if they were to proceed with tenders or construction in that area,” Earnest continued. “This development will only draw condemnation from the international community, distance Israel from even its closest allies, poison the atmosphere, not only with the Palestinians but also with the very Arab governments with which Prime Minister Netanyahu said he wanted to build relations.”

“It also would call into question Israel’s ultimate commitment to peaceful negotiated settlement with the Palestinians.”

Earnest said the construction issues “did come up in the conversations” between President Obama and Netanyahu.

Netanyahu told MSNBC today that the Obama administration “should get acquainted with the facts first.”

“I find that curious, because the criticism was leveled at a new neighborhood that was mixed. It had a substantial part of the apartments apportioned — parceled out to Arabs, to Palestinians alongside Jews. So it’s — why not have them live together?” Netanyahu said.

“The second part of the criticism was actually baffling to me, because it criticized individual Jews who bought apartments in an Arab neighborhood. Now Jews buy apartments, private property, in Arab neighborhoods. Arabs buy apartments in Jewish neighborhoods. And I find that that’s the right thing to do.”

The prime minister stressed that he and Obama did not get into these specific issues, even though the White House and State Department press secretaries began slamming Israel over the construction.

State Department press secretary Jen Psaki was asked to clarify her criticism today.

“We’re talking about settlement activity and the fact that there are multiple stages in the process and the fact that it continued, and that’s why we expressed our concern,” Psaki said. “Our position is not changing. I was answering the question broadly. Obviously, as we stated yesterday, we’re also referring to provocative actions that can make it more difficult to move forward in a peaceful manner in the region.”

“Israel remains an important partner, a security partner, a friend and ally. That has not changed… I think we’re talking about what the – what we’ve already seen to be the response from the international community to ongoing activities such as these.”

Rubio, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said, “Jerusalem is Israel’s capital and the United States should not be condemning zoning and permitting decisions made by Jerusalem’s municipal government.”

“Finally, the Obama Administration’s view of Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts suggests that it has learned nothing from its six years of failed efforts. The administration can continue to live in a fantasy world where we are always just one step from a renewal of the peace process and the achievement of a comprehensive agreement, but the fact of the matter remains that Israel does not have a viable negotiating partner. Palestinian ‘leaders’ who make false accusations of genocide, partner with a terrorist group, and constantly peddle hateful rhetoric, rather than take the tough decisions required to create a lasting peace, are not seeking peace with Israel,” the senator continued.

“This is another case of President Obama’s bizarre logic of tearing down our closest partners while building up those who do not share our values. Especially now, when Israel and moderate Arab states in the Middle East are facing terrorist attacks, the president should begin to treat Israel as the invaluable and reliable friend it truly is.”

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Toomey Protests College Invitation to Mumia: A ‘Slap in the Face’ to Law Enforcement

Thursday, October 2nd, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Toomey (R) is protesting a Vermont college’s choice of a cop-killer as its commencement speaker, asking, “What possible enlightenment can your students obtain from this man?”

Goddard College announced this week that Mumia Abu-Jamal, “an American prisoner, author, and journalist” who got a degree from the school in 1996, was picked by students to deliver the fall commencement address this Sunday.

His remarks were recorded by video, the college said, and will play along with a documentary about the inmate convicted in the 1981 murder of Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner.

“As a reflection of Goddard’s individualized and transformational educational model, our commencements are intimate affairs where each student serves as her or his own valedictorian, and each class chooses its own speaker,” said Goddard College Interim President Bob Kenny. “Choosing Mumia as their commencement speaker, to me, shows how this newest group of Goddard graduates expresses their freedom to engage and think radically and critically in a world that often sets up barriers to do just that.”

Toomey and Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) led this year’s block of the nomination of Debo Adegbile to lead the Civil Rights Division at the Department of Justice, as Adegbile was the director of litigation for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund when it took up Abu-Jamal’s case on appeal.

Yesterday, Toomey fired off a letter to Kenny saying he “cannot fathom how anyone could think it appropriate to honor a cold-blooded murderer—one who ambushed a police officer, shot that officer in the back, and while that officer lay wounded and defenseless on the ground, lowered a gun to the officer’s face and took his life.”

“Is there any crime so heinous that Goddard would not reward the perpetrator with a spot as commencement speaker? This is not a question of free speech.  It is a question of judgment and your school’s basic sense of right and wrong,” Toomey wrote.

The senator added there’s no way the college can argue that Abu-Jamal may not be guilty.

“Four eyewitnesses saw Abu-Jamal ambush Danny Faulkner and shoot multiple bullets into Officer Faulkner’s back, chest, and face. Three other eyewitnesses heard Abu-Jamal brag that he had shot Officer Faulkner and hoped that Officer Faulkner died. And during the trial, when Danny Faulkner’s blood-stained shirt was displayed, the jury saw Abu-Jamal turn in his chair and smirk at Officer Faulkner’s young widow, Maureen,” he wrote.

“…What lesson is Goddard teaching its students about their moral responsibilities, as members of a civil society, to their fellow citizens? Danny Faulkner’s family has been subjected to three decades of untold pain. They have been forced to sit by and watch as political opportunists exploited Danny Faulkner’s death to further their own agendas—spreading lies about the trial and the evidence and organizing rallies that, amazingly, portrayed Mumia Abu-Jamal as the victim.”

Toomey asked, “Did anyone bother to raise the question of how celebrating this unrepentant murderer might affect the victim’s family?”

The senator called the commencement address ”a slap in the face to Danny Faulkner’s family, and to all of the law enforcement officers who risk their lives for us every day,” and asked the college president to revoke the invitation.

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354 House Members Appeal to Kerry to Pay Attention to Iran’s ‘Dangerous’ Lack of Cooperation with Inspectors

Thursday, October 2nd, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

A huge majority of House lawmakers have appealed to Secretary of State John Kerry to take note of Iran’s refusal to cooperate with inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency as the P5+1 tries to forge a nuclear deal with the Islamic Republic.

The letter was led by the leaders of the House Foreign Affairs Committee — chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) and ranking member Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) — and the 352 other signatories included House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.), and Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.).

“As you know, the IAEA has sought information on the ‘potential military dimensions’ of the Iranian nuclear program, in particular information about Iran’s extensive research and development of a nuclear explosive device,” the letter to Kerry states, noting that in its Sept. 5 report the IAEA said Iran “had failed to meet its latest deadline.”

“We believe that Iran’s willingness to fully reveal all aspects of its nuclear program is a fundamental test of Iran’s intention to uphold a comprehensive agreement,” the lawmakers wrote. “…The only reasonable conclusion for its stonewalling of international investigators is that Tehran does indeed have much to hide.”

“We are concerned that an agreement that accepts Iran’s lack of transparency on this key issue would set the dangerous precedent that certain facilities and aspects of Iran’s nuclear program can be declared off limits by Tehran, resulting in additional wide-ranging restrictions on IAEA inspectors, and making effective verification virtually impossible.”

A “resolution” of the issue of IAEA inspections is “essential to establishing a baseline regarding the status of the Iranian nuclear program,” they stressed.

“Accurate predictions of the period of time needed by Iran to assemble a weapon and assessments of Iran’s compliance cannot be made without highly reliable information obtained from an unrestricted inspection and verification regime. Such a baseline is also critical to developing more precise estimates on the time it would take Iran to develop a nuclear weapons capability without detection.”

The lawmakers added that they would like to see a negotiated solution to the crisis, but urged Kerry to “carefully monitor Iran’s cooperation with the IAEA’s inquiry.”

“As you have written, there is a ‘discrepancy…between Iran’s professed intent with respect to its nuclear program and the actual content of that program to date.’ We agree with your assessment that ‘these issues cannot be dismissed; they must be addressed by the Iranians if a comprehensive solution is to be reached.’ An agreement that effectively prevents Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapons capability demands transparency on the extensive research and development work that Iran has undertaken in the past.”

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FCC Considering Petition to Ban Use of ‘Redskins’ on Air, a Move Backed by Some Lawmakers

Thursday, October 2nd, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

Washington’s delegate to Congress has asked the Federal Communication Commission to ban the use of the Washington Redskins’ name on the air.

Upon a petition from a George Washington University professor to strip a local radio station of its license because it says the Redskins’ team name, FCC chairman Tom Wheeler told reporters that the commission “will be dealing with that issue on the merits and we’ll be responding accordingly.”

“There are a lot of names and descriptions that were used over time that are inappropriate today,” Wheeler said this week. “And I think the name that is attributed to the Washington football club is one of those.”

Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) said she hopes the FCC does become the language police in regulating football team names.

“Prohibiting the use of the team name on TV and radio would help significantly to prevent the widespread use of a term that has been adjudicated and found to be a racial slur that offends Native Americans and many others of all backgrounds,” Norton said.  “The FCC petition is a potent tool to add to the others stimulated by Native people.”

Norton plans to introduce a House companion bill to Sen. Maria Cantwell’s (D-Wash.) effort to strip the National Football League of its tax-exempt status if it continues to use the name “Redskins.”

Cantwell’s bill, co-sponsored by Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and retiring Sen. Tim Johnson (D-S.D.), would just affect 501(c)(6) nonprofit sports leagues who “promote” use of the word Redskins.

“American taxpayers should not be forced to subsidize a $9 billion league that promotes a dictionary-defined racial slur,” said Cantwell, a member of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, when introducing the legislation in mid-September. “It’s time to end the special tax breaks for the National Football League.”

“It is not right that the National Football League continues to denigrate an entire population,” Reid said. “This is personal for me. As senator from Nevada, I represent 27 tribes and have worked to protect their homelands and their sovereignty. I wish Roger Goodell and the NFL’s leadership team would take a stand.”

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office canceled the Redskins’ trademark registration in June.

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Netanyahu Says He and Obama Have ‘Difference of Emphasis’ on Iran’s Nuclear Capability

Thursday, October 2nd, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stressed to President Obama before their bilateral meeting Wednesday at the White House that he “fervently” hopes a bad deal with Iran isn’t brewing.

The Obama administration continued the P5+1 talks with Iran during the UN General Assembly last week.

“As you know, Mr. President, Iran seeks a deal that would lift the tough sanctions that you’ve worked so hard to put in place, and leave it as a threshold nuclear power,” Netanyahu said with Obama at his side. “I fervently hope that under your leadership that would not happen.”

In his remarks before the prime minister’s, Obama said they would “have an opportunity to discuss the progress that’s being made with respect to dealing with Iran’s nuclear program, which obviously has been a high priority for not only Israel, but also the United States and the world community.”

“It’s challenging I think for an Israeli Prime Minister to have to work so hard during Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, but I know that the Prime Minister’s utmost priority is making sure that his country is safe during these difficult times,” Obama added.

White House press secretary Josh Earnest stressed “there are statements from leaders in Iran indicating that they don’t have designs on a nuclear weapon.”

“And what we need to do is we need to reach an agreement between the Iranian regime and the general international community, a verifiable agreement to demonstrate that Iran will not acquire a nuclear weapon,” Earnest said. “…Previous interactions with Iran about their nuclear program have drawn the expressions of frustration from some in the international community because they have observed Iran using ongoing diplomatic conversations as cover to make advances on their nuclear program. That is not the case in the context of these talks. Rather, the opposite has occurred.”

Netanyahu told NPR this morning that Israel and Washington have “a difference of emphasis between the nuclear weapons themselves or the capability to make them in short order.”

“To the extent that an agreement emerges that is close to our position which says, no enrichment capability, no centrifuge. You don’t really need in Iran because there are 17 nations in the world that have civilian nuclear energy without centrifuges. Centrifuges are only used for one thing – to make bomb-grade material,” he continued.

Netanyahu would not promise acceptance of any agreement that comes out of the talks.

“Well, I hope very much that it approaches as close as possible our position,” he said. “Depends what it is. But I’ve often said and I’ve heard it echoed from the president, no deal is better than a bad deal. And a deal that would leave Iran with capacity to arrive in short order to nuclear weapons would be a very bad deal.”

More: 354 House Members Appeal to Kerry to Pay Attention to Iran’s ‘Dangerous’ Lack of Cooperation with Inspectors

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Secret Service Director Out: Pierson Hands in Resignation Day After Hearing on Security Fails

Wednesday, October 1st, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

Secret Service Director Julia Pierson handed in her resignation a day after being grilled by both parties in a tense House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing.

“The president concluded that new leadership at that agency was required,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest said.

Earnest told reporters that the three-decade veteran of the agency handed her resignation to Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson because she felt “a new direction was necessary.”

“As an interim Acting Director of the Secret Service, I am appointing Joseph Clancy, formerly Special Agent in Charge of the Presidential Protective Division of the Secret Service. Mr. Clancy retired from the Secret Service in 2011. I appreciate his willingness to leave his position in the private sector on very short notice and return to public service for a period,” Johnson said in a statement.

“Today, I have also asked the Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas, aided by this Department’s General Counsel, to assume control and direction of the ongoing inquiry by the Secret Service of the fence jumping incident at the White House on September 19. Deputy Secretary Mayorkas should complete that review and submit findings to me by November 1, 2014.”

Johnson said he also “determined that scrutiny by a distinguished panel of independent experts of the September 19 incident and related issues concerning the Secret Service is warranted.”

That panel will be “named shortly.”

“I will also request that the panel advise me about whether it believes, given the series of recent events, there should be a review of broader issues concerning the Secret Service,” he said. “The security of the White House compound should be the panel’s primary and immediate priority.”

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said Pierson’s testimony “was not confidence-inspiring.”

“What she described as mistakes were major security breaches. Now is not the time for our enemies to believe we cannot protect our nation’s Commander in Chief. I appreciate the Director’s service, but it’s time for new leadership at the agency,” Graham said in a statement.

“Additionally, it’s time for an independent top-to-bottom review of the agency, its operations, and ability to fully carry out its mission.”

Pierson, the first woman to head the agency, was appointed in March 2013 after Director Mark Sullivan stepped down.

Sullivan led the Secret Service for seven years, including during the 2009 White House state dinner party-crasher and 2012 Columbian prostitute scandals.

Oversight Committee Ranking Member Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) told CNN earlier today that Pierson  had to go “if she cannot restore trust in the agency and if she cannot get the culture back in order.”

“I think she would agree that she has to go. And I told her that she’s got a tall order there. But it’s going to be very difficult.”

After Pierson stepped down, Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) said the resignation “certainly does not resolve” problems that pre-date her tenure at the agency.

“Yesterday, the Committee called for an outside review by independent experts. Today, Homeland Security Jeh Johnson today agreed that such a review is critical,” Issa said. “The Oversight Committee will continue to examine clear and serious agency failures at the Secret Service that have been exposed.”

“While serious questions surround the Secret Service, Director Pierson served her country with honor and has my gratitude for her efforts.”

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Face of Democracy: 17-Year-Old Takes on Beijing as Student Leader of Hong Kong Protests

Wednesday, October 1st, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

When Joshua Wong was just 15 years old, he led a fight against state efforts to pump Chinese government “patriotic education” classes into his school. Now 17, he is a leader of hundreds of thousands of protesters flooding the streets of Hong Kong. The Wall Street Journal has more on this brave young man, it tells a story as well to show his journey through social media.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Foreign Relations Chairman to Hong Kong Leader: Give the People ‘Full Democratic Rights’

Wednesday, October 1st, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

The chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee asked Hong Kong’s Chief Executive, Leung Chun-ying, to give the protesters “the full democratic rights and freedoms that they have been promised and which they deserve.”

The chief executive has sided with Beijing and refused to give into the protesters’ demand that they be able to choose from a slate of candidates not vetted by China.

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters Tuesday they’re “obviously continuing to watch this closely,” but didn’t have anything new to add.

“We believe the legitimacy of the chief executive would be greatly enhanced if the Basic Law’s ultimate aim of selection of the chief executive by universal suffrage is fulfilled and if the election provided the people and provides the people of Hong Kong a genuine choice of candidates representative of the voters’ will,” Psaki said. “And certainly this is – we’ve consistently voiced our support for that, including directly to China.”

In the letter to Leung, Menendez expressed “grave concerns” over the use of tear gas and pepper spray on peaceful demonstrators and urged “you and your government to fully respect the rights of the people of Hong Kong to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression, which are enshrined in the Hong Kong Bill of Rights.”

Menendez called it a “perversion” to suggest that choosing from China-approved candidates “is the realization of aspirations of the people of Hong Kong for autonomous self-government, democratic governance, and genuine ‘universal suffrage’ in Hong Kong.”

Hong Kong’s Basic Law states that the chief executive would be elected through “universal suffrage upon nomination by a broadly representative nominating committee in accordance with democratic procedures.”

To be included on the ballot, China will ascertain if they meet criteria including “love the country and love Hong Kong.”

“Under Hong Kong’s own laws no restrictions may be placed on the exercise of this right other than those imposed in conformity with the law and that are necessary in the interests of national security or public safety and public order. Yet in early July, Hong Kong police briefly detained over 500 participants and organizers for their role in peaceful protests that called on the Hong Kong and central governments to deliver genuine democracy,” Menendez noted. “…Such suppression of the right to peaceful assembly and free expression – rights that are afforded the people of Hong Kong under the Basic Law and fully consistent with the ‘one country, two systems’ – are deeply troubling.”

“As the Chief Executive of Hong Kong , I urge you to exercise your leadership to guarantee that your citizens, the people of Hong Kong, receive the full democratic rights and freedoms that they have been promised and which they deserve.”

China’s foreign ministry said Tuesday that Hong Kong “is a special administrative region of China, and Hong Kong affairs fall entirely within China’s internal affairs.”

“We urge relevant countries to be prudent in words and deeds, refrain from interfering in Hong Kong’s internal affairs in any way, and do not support the illegal activities such as the ‘Occupy Central’ nor send any wrong signal.”

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700 Soldiers Deploying from Fort Campbell at End of Month to Battle Ebola

Wednesday, October 1st, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

Soldiers from Fort Campbell, Ky., are comprising about half of the force deployed to Liberia to battle the growing Ebola epidemic.

“Secretary Hagel has authorized the deployment of 700 soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division headquarters element to Liberia,” Pentagon press secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby announced Tuesday. “This element will deploy in late October and become the headquarter staff for the joint forces command, led by Major General Gary Volesky.”

Volesky used to lead Army Public Affairs.

“At the same time, the Army will deploy another 700 soldiers from various engineering units throughout the United States to supervise the construction of ebola treatment units, conduct site surveys, and provide engineering expertise,” Kirby said. “I want to once again underscore that these deployments are part of a whole of government response to the ebola outbreak. The U.S. military is not in the lead, but we are fully prepared to contribute our unique capabilities in support of our interagency partners.”

“This will not be an overnight process, but we are already making significant progress. Some 195 Defense Department personnel are now on the ground in West Africa. And over the weekend, the equipment for the 25 bed hospital and two mobile labs arrived in Monrovia. We expect the hospital to be operational about the middle of this month — sorry, the middle of October.”

Kirby stressed that “U.S. military personnel are not and will not be providing direct care to ebola patients.”

The announcement came hours before the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Tuesday evening that the first Ebola case had been diagnosed in the U.S., a Liberian man who traveled to visit family in Texas.

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), warning that “the Ebola epidemic in Africa is potentially as dangerous to the United States as the Islamic State in the Middle East,” noted “American cities are only one plane flight away from these infected countries.”

“An out-of-control epidemic in Africa could devastate entire countries, potentially creating new safe havens for terrorists,” Alexander added. “The United States knows how to protect our health care workers who are controlling the epidemic and the Fort Campbell troops who are providing logistical support.”

The first group of soldiers is headquarters-based, Kirby said, helping Volesky “command and control the effort.”

The other group “are largely engineers, just to help.”

“Because much of what we’re doing down there is creating infrastructure, or creating facilities that health care workers can use. And so, it would make sense that we would want combat engineers,” Kirby said. “Largely, they’re combat engineers. You know, we’ve got a battalion of C.B.s down there that are working right now on clearing ground and leveling ground to — to begin to prepare for these hospital units that will be built.”

After that, deployments will “come in waves” to actually build the infrastructure.

“We’ll continue to announce, as folks get down there, as you know, we’re looking at approximately, and it could go higher than 3,000 troops, eventually, could be detailed to this mission,” he said.

“All the troops that are going are getting trained on personnel protective equipment and on the disease itself. As we’ve said before, I mean, Secretary Hagel has no higher priority than force protection and making sure that the threat down there is the disease, it’s not an armed threat, and so just like any other threat, we take it very, very seriously, and we’ll make sure that they’ve got the protection that they need.”

As far as the length of the operation, “we’re looking at least six months, but it could go longer than that, depending on the needs of the mission.”

“Believe me, everybody in the military shares the same sense of urgency that everybody else does about this disease, and we’re contributing as best we can with the capabilities that we uniquely possess,” Kirby said.

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Congressional Dems Want FCC to Unblock LGBT Sites at Schools, Libraries

Wednesday, October 1st, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

A group of congressional Democrats has joined with a group of activist organizations in asking the Federal Communications Commission to ensure that online filtering software at schools doesn’t block “access to important LGBT resources for library patrons and high school students.”

By law, libraries and schools must block online content that is “obscene; child pornography; or harmful to minors.”

“It has been reported to me that filtering software also can be used to block much more,” said Rep. Mike Honda (D-Calif.), chairman of the Congressional Anti-Bullying Caucus. ”Regrettably, Internet content filtering software can — intentionally or unintentionally — be used to block access to particular viewpoints in a discriminatory manner.”

The congressional letter cites the 2011 PFLAG v. Camdenton R-III School District case, brought by the ACLU because the school’s filtering software blocked the websites of Parents, Family and Friends of Lesbian and Gays (PFLAG), the Matthew Shepard Foundation, Campus Pride, and DignityUSA. The school district unblocked those sites but the lawsuit continued because of its “sexuality” filter that blocked “all LGBT-supportive information, including many websites that are not sexually explicit in any way.”

The ACLU won in federal court in 2012 and the school district had to stop blocking LGBT sites, submit to 18 months of compliance monitoring and pay $125,000 in legal fees.

“We know from Camdenton that this problem exists, yet there are few institutional resources to guide public schools and libraries to ensure LGBT content is not intentionally or unintentionally blocked,” the letter states.

“The Internet has the potential to help LGBT people cope with discrimination, isolation and stigma they may face in their everyday lives. A 2013 Pew Research Center report and a national survey of LGBT adults found: 39% have been rejected by friends or family because of their sexual or gender identity; 30% have been physically attacked or threatened; 21% have been treated unfairly by an employer; and, only 56% have told their mother about their sexual or gender identity,” it continues.

“A 2014 report by the LGBT Technology Partnership & Institute ‘Vision for Inclusion: An LGBT Broadband Future’ concluded that LGBT people are dependent on the Internet to meet a range of individual and social needs, which also makes them especially vulnerable to discriminatory Internet policies enacted by schools and libraries.”

Commission regulations, they argued, “could make clear that LGBT educational content should not be filtered in a discriminatory manner.”

Organizations backing the congressional effort include the ACLU, the Human Rights Campaign and GLAAD.

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CAIR Calls on NFL to ‘Clarify Policy on Prayer’ After Abdullah’s Penalty

Tuesday, September 30th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

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The Council on American-Islamic Relations said the National Football League needs to “clarify” its prayer policy after Kansas City Chiefs safety Husain Abdullah was penalized Monday night for kneeling in the end zone — “sajdah.”

Abdullah, an observant Muslim, had just received completed a 39-yard interception return versus the New England Patriots.

He was penalized for 15 yards for unsportsmanlike conduct under the NFL’s Rule 12, Section 3, Article 1 (d), “Players are prohibited from engaging in any celebrations or demonstrations while on the ground.”

“However, the officiating mechanic in this situation is not to flag a player who goes to the ground as part of religious expression, and as a result, there should have been no penalty on the play,” NFL spokesman Michael Signora said today, according to ESPN.

Abdullah told the Kansas City Star that he thought he was penalized for sliding on his knees. “I just got a little too excited,” he said. The safety added that his coach agreed and chided him for sliding.

This morning, Abdullah tweeted an Instagram of himself prostrated in prayer with the words, ”‘Subhana Rabbial-’Ala’ (Glory be to my Lord The Most High).”

CAIR noted the NFL rule, but said singled out the exception for religious expressions, “such as Tim Tebow’s prayer while kneeling.”

After Tebow, as a college player, wrote Bible scriptures on his eye black, the NCAA banned players from writing anything under their eyes. In the NFL, “Tebowing” became a verb for when the quarterback took a knee in prayer on the field.

“To prevent the appearance of a double standard, we urge league officials to clarify the policy on prayer and recognize that the official made a mistake in this case,” said CAIR National Communications Director Ibrahim Hooper urged the NFL in a statement.

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FCC Sacks Sports Blackout Rules, But NFL Could Still Have Sway

Tuesday, September 30th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

The Federal Communications Commission ordered the elimination today of sports blackout rules that blocked cable and satellite broadcasts of games blacked out on local stations.
a local broadcast station.

“The action removes Commission protection of the NFL’s current private blackout policy, which requires local broadcast stations to black out a game if a team does not sell a certain percentage of tickets to the game at least 72 hours prior to the game,” the FCC said in a statement.

The FCC’s order found the blackout rules are “no longer justified in light of the significant changes in the sports industry since these rules were first adopted nearly forty years ago.”

“At that time, ticket sales were the primary source of revenue for the NFL and most NFL games failed to sell out. Today, television revenues have replaced ticket sales as the NFL’s main source of revenue, and blackouts of NFL games are increasingly rare.”

Only two games were blacked out last season, the FCC said.

“Today’s action may not eliminate all sports blackouts, because the NFL may choose to continue its private blackout policy. However, the NFL will no longer be entitled to the protection of the Commission’s sports blackout rules. Instead, the NFL must rely on the same avenues available to other entities that wish to protect their distribution rights in the private marketplace.”

The league, which objected to lifting the rules, said in a statement that teams “have made significant efforts in recent years to minimize blackouts.”

“The NFL is the only sports league that televises every one of its games on free, over-the-air television.  The FCC’s decision will not change that commitment for the foreseeable future.”

Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) asked the FCC in June to lift the blackout rule, arguing in a letter to the commission that it “unfairly harms consumers by insulating the NFL from market realities and punishing fans in cities with large stadiums and declining populations.”

Today, Blumenthal declared the FCC “officially threw a flag on the NFL’s anti-fan blackout policy.”

“The sports blackout rule unfairly harms consumers by punishing fans in cities with large stadiums and declining populations,” Blumenthal said in a statement. “The FCC did the right thing today by removing this antiquated rule, which is no longer justified by facts or simple logic.”

“Even as the NFL made millions upon millions of dollars off of broadcasting rights, they continued as recently as this season to threaten fans with unnecessary blackout restrictions.”

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North Korea at the UN: U.S. Military Exercises a ‘Veiled Attempt to Succeed in a Surprise Attack’

Tuesday, September 30th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

North Korea got its shot at the UN podium during the General Assembly, with Foreign Minister Ri Su Yong denouncing the Security Council as “a forum for telling lies.”

The speech came as rumors have swirled about the health of Kim Jong-un, who’s been out of the public eye for weeks. Seoul’s Chosun Ilbo newspaper reported that Kim is up to nearly 300 pounds and had surgery for fractures of both of his ankles.

“Despite unprecedently persistent economic blockade, military threat and political obstruction, we have firmly safeguarded national dignity, effectively deterred war and put the stagnant economy onto an upward track, under the leadership of the Great General Kim Jong Il,” Ri told the UN. “Today we have at last secured the reliable springboard to leap into a powerful nation following the guidance of the respected Marshal Kim Jong Un.”

The foreign minister reported “a great leap in our fishing industry and livestock farming and as well as a blooming new civilization of the 21st century in the living environment and cultural and welfare spheres for the future generations and working masses.”

“…However, high-handedness and arbitrariness veiled under the various disguises such as democracy, humanitarian crises, counterterrorism, human rights protection, and non-proliferation are committed in brazen-face form of sanctions, blockade, military threat and armed intervention.”

Ri complained that the Security Council “turned its back” on the DPRK’s referrals of South Korean-U.S. military exercises to the UN body.

“As the joint military exercises were led by its permanent member state, the Security Council was bound to close its eyes, block its ears and shut its mouth, no matter how enormous in scale, aggressive in purpose and dangerous in nature they were,” he said.

“…The claim that these war exercises are annual in nature is just a veiled attempt to succeed in a surprise attack after creating chronic immunity to them.”

The North Korean representative proceeded to claim the Security Council “simply ignores civilian killings of the Palestinian people by Israel” and called the U.S. claim that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction “a big lie of the century.”

“The hostile policy, nuclear threat and stifling strategy pursued by the United States for more than half a century inevitably resulted in the decision of nuclear weapons state of the DPRK,” Ri said. “The nuclear deterrent of the DPRK is not intended to threaten or attack others. Neither is it a bargaining chip to be exchanged for something else.”

“The nuclear issue will be resolved if and when the threat to our sovereignty and right to life is removed in substance with termination of the US’s hostile policy against the DPRK. Politicization, selectivity and double standards should be withdrawn in dealing with human rights issues. Abusing the human rights issues for political purposes is in itself the biggest human rights violation.”

The country that makes anyone deemed a dissident disappear into forced labor camps, including American Kenneth Bae, said it is “always open to dialogue and cooperation for genuine human rights that have nothing to do with political motivation and hypocrisy in all their manifestations.”

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Ryan Says He’s Learned Lessons About ‘Slighting People Who are Depending Upon Government’

Tuesday, September 30th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), who is out with a new book on his 2012 vice presidential run and beyond, says he’s “learned a lot” from the experiences of the past few years.

“I made some mistakes. And I think you need to own up. That’s the other thing. People in public life, for some reason they don’t think it is right to own up to mistakes,” Ryan told PBS. “In private lives we are supposed to, I mean as adults. So I made some mistakes and I own up to those mistakes. I can learn from that.”

That includes using the phrase “makers and takers” to describe those using public assistance programs.

“What I meant when I said it was that we have a system where too many people are becoming dependent upon the government, and there won’t be enough people paying for the government to keep that kind of a system going,” Ryan said. “And what I meant to say is we need to focus on getting people off of welfare into work. We need to focus on getting people to where they want to get in life so that they can be upwardly mobile, so they can be self-sufficient. So they can reach their dreams. Because the whole American idea as I describe here is that the condition of your birth in this country doesn’t determine the outcome of your life.”

“And the role and goal of government is to protect our natural rights and promote equality of opportunity so we can make the most of our lives. And I was trying to articulate the fact that our system, our federal government has gotten too big, has gotten to top down, too coercive and a lot of people aren’t seeing this. A lot of people aren’t getting this opportunity.”

What it sounded like, the congressman said, ”is I was slighting people who are depending upon government who earned benefits.”

“And so that was not what I meant to say but it is — it took a liberal Democrat at the Rock County Fair in Janesville, Wisconsin, to come up to me and tell me really what it sounded like. And I realized after this guy kind of laid into me, you know, he is right,” Ryan continued.

“I think it does come across that way so I need to change the way I talked, and the thinking behind it, so that I can communicate more effectively, which is we want a system where everybody can make the most of their lives. Those of us who are conservatives, that doesn’t mean we are for no government. We want government to be effective and limited so that it can do what it is supposed to do well to help get people where they need to be.”

Ryan admitted that his running mate on the GOP ticket, 2012 presidential candidate Mitt Romney, had the same problem with his 47 percent comments.

“What I am trying to say is in this hyperpolarized time we are in, I would like to think that there is a majority in this country that if given a very clear mandate, a very clear choice, built upon a clear governing philosophy that we can recapture that spirit in this country and get these reforms passed,” he said. ”…What I think is prevailing is a government-centered view of American life that is based on collaboration, that is more top- down, that is not respecting people in communities, that is not respecting local control.”

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Ben Carson Lends Name to NRSC Fundraising Effort

Tuesday, September 30th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

With the end-of-month fundraising deadline upon us, Republicans and Democrats have been lobbying supporters hard for campaign cash.

Dr. Ben Carson, a retired neurosurgeon who piqued conservatives’ interest with his speech at the February 2013 National Prayer Breakfast, lent his name to a fundraising letter emailed Monday by the campaign arm of the Senate GOP.

“Replacing Obamacare starts with taking back the Senate from Harry Reid and the Democrats,” states the Carson email for the National Republican Senatorial Committee. “We, as a country, need to have a real conversation about how to reform our healthcare system in a way that improves quality, reduces costs, expands access, and honors America’s legacy.”

“Instead of having that conversation, Democrats have been raising millions of dollars to spread their false attacks on conservatives….We need your help to set the record straight.”

The email links to a donation page asking for supporters to chip in $20.14 to the NRSC.

“Control of the U.S. Senate hangs in the balance this year, but the Democrats are currently outspending Republicans in the most competitive states,” Carson continues. “Election Day is getting closer and closer. We need supporters like you to win back the Senate and reform our healthcare system.”

Carson’s endorsements this election cycle have favored the Tea Party challenger in some instances and the NRSC-favored candidate in others.

In the Oklahoma Senate race, Carson endorsed Tea Party favorite T.W. Shannon over the eventual primary winner, Rep. James Lankford (R-Okla.). In Louisiana, Rep. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) and Tea Party challenger Rob Maness are vying to oust Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.); Carson has endorsed Cassidy. He’s also endorsed Scott Brown in the New Hampshire Senate race and Monica Wehby in Oregon, the latter drawing the ire of former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) because of Wehby’s stance on abortion.

Carson argued that Wehby is “personally… pro-life,” but “she’s pragmatic also and she knows that there’s no way you’re going to win in Oregon with that stance.”

Recently he launched his own political action committee, the USA First PAC.

It’s part of his consideration of a presidential run in 2016.

“It would be much more pleasant to put my feet up, to relax. You know, I’ve made plenty of money, I can live a very comfortable life, and that would be my preference,” Carson told Fox News Sunday. “However, given the state of our nation, looking at what’s going on, and understanding that sometimes we’re called to do things that we don’t want to do because we have to do them, and we look at the future of our children, our grandchildren, all the people who come behind us, if we all run for the hills, if we all run for the most comfortable place and just allow whatever to happen happen, then we get what we deserve.”

Carson said a lack of political experience wouldn’t affect how he would perform in the Oval Office.

“I think what is required for leadership is wisdom and the ability to assemble an appropriate team, ability to listen and an ability to make wise decisions,” he said.

A peek at just a bit of the avalanche of fundraising begs on Monday:

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White House ‘Closely Watching’ Hong Kong Protests; China Says Butt Out

Monday, September 29th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

The White House said Monday it supports “the aspirations of the Hong Kong people” as thousands have filled the streets in defiance of the Chinese government to demand democracy.

The Occupy Central movement is protesting law that requires Beijing to approve chief executive candidates, and the PRC today warned other countries against siding with the demonstrators.

“I have read the news reports about this. I can tell you that the U.S. government is closely watching the situation in Hong Kong,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest said today when asked about the protests. “Around the world — so this is true in Hong Kong and other places — the United States supports internationally recognized fundamental freedoms such as the freedom of peaceful assembly and the freedom of expression. The United States urges the Hong Kong authorities to exercise restraint and for protesters to express their views peacefully.”

Protesters have been using a sea of colorful umbrellas to shield themselves from tear gas and pepper spray being fired at crowds, thus earning the movement the nickname “Umbrella Revolution.”

“The United States supports universal suffrage — universal suffrage in Hong Kong in accordance with the basic law. And we support the aspirations of the Hong Kong people,” Earnest continued. “We believe that an open society with the highest possible degree of autonomy, and governed by the rule of law is essential for Hong Kong stability and prosperity. Indeed, this is what has made Hong Kong such a successful and truly global city to this point.”

“But we have consistently made our position known to Beijing, and will continue to do so. We believe that the basic legitimacy of the chief executive in Hong Kong will be greatly enhanced if the basic law’s ultimate aim of selection of the chief executive by universal suffrage is fulfilled. We also believe that the legitimacy of the chief executive will be enhanced if the election provides the people of Hong Kong a genuine choice of candidates that are representative of the peoples’ and the voters’ will.”

When asked if the White House would like to see Hong Kong demonstrators’ demands of free speech and democracy extended to mainland China as well, Earnest replied  ”the short answer to that is yes.”

“The longer answer is that we make a point out of every interaction with Chinese — senior Chinese Government officials that respect for basic universal human rights is critically important. There’s no question that it’s the foundation of our democracy,” he continued. “We believe that it should be the foundation of any government and that that respect for an protection of basic universal human rights is an important principle and it’s a principle that is raised every time that a senior member of this administration is dealing with a senior member of the Chinese Government.”

President Obama travels to Beijing in November, and Earnest said “the president will certainly raise that the protection of basic universal human rights is critically important.”

“That’s something that the president has done in every interaction that he’s had with the Chinese leadership and I’m confident that that will be part of the conversation that he is looking forward to having in November.”

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying stressed at a press conference today that the “central government firmly opposes all kinds of illegal acts in Hong Kong that undermine the rule of law and sabotage social security and fully believes and strongly supports the lawful handling of the case by the Hong Kong SAR government.”

“We have noticed remarks made by certain countries. I’d like to reiterate that Hong Kong is China’s Kong Kong, which is a special administrative region of China,” Hua said. “Hong Kong affairs fully fall within China’s domestic affairs. We hope that relevant countries can be prudent in their words and deeds, refrain from interfering in the internal affairs of Hong Kong in any way, stay away from supporting the illegal acts such as ‘Occupy Central,’ and do not send out wrong signals.”

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) noted that he wrote Secretary of State John Kerry two weeks ago about China’s undermining Hong Kong’s autonomous status.

“The people of Hong Kong want nothing more than what those in free countries around the globe have: the right to peacefully assemble, speak freely and choose their own leaders. The protesters have taken to the streets peacefully, with nothing more than umbrellas in hand. The security forces use tear gas and threaten greater force,” Rubio said today in a statement.

“They use police investigative powers to intimidate free press and those who support rights of free association. Meanwhile, the government in Beijing censors news and information about developments in Hong Kong to those on the mainland, going so far as to block social media sites such as Instagram.”

Rubio said the Obama administration “must make clear that any violence against peaceful protesters will have significant consequences for U.S.-China relations.”

The senator added he was “disheartened” by the reaction of the U.S. Consulate in Hong Kong: “We do not take sides in the discussion of Hong Kong’s political development, nor do we support any particular individuals or groups involved in it.”

“It is longstanding U.S. policy, enshrined in the Hong Kong Policy Act of 1992, to support democratization in Hong Kong and to support the human rights of the people of Hong Kong,” Rubio said. “America should be on the side of those in the street peacefully protesting for their fundamental freedoms.”

 

 

 

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Netanyahu: ‘The Nazis Believed in a Master Race; the Militant Islamists Believe in a Master Faith’

Monday, September 29th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned the United Nations General Assembly today about “militant Islam” and chided those who don’t see the connections between ISIS and Hamas or Iran.

“Last week, many of the countries represented here rightly applauded President Obama for leading the effort to confront ISIS. And yet weeks before, some of these same countries, same countries that now support confronting ISIS opposed Israel for confronting Hamas,” Netanyahu said.

“They evidently don’t understand that ISIS and Hamas are branches of the same poisonous tree. ISIS and Hamas share a fanatical creed, which they both seek to impose well beyond the territory under their control. Listen to ISIS self-declared caliph, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi,” he continued. “This is what he said two months ago. ‘A day will soon come when the Muslim will walk everywhere as a master. The Muslims who caused the world to hear and understand the meaning of terrorism and destroy the idol of democracy.’”

“Now listen to Khaled Mashal, the leader of Hamas. He proclaims a similar vision of the future. ‘We say this to the west: by Allah, you will be defeated. Tomorrow our nation will sit on the throne of the world.’”

Netanyahu stressed that even if these groups operate in different lands, “they all seek to create ever-expanding enclaves of militant Islam where there is no freedom and no tolerance; where women are treated as cattle; Christians are decimated; and minorities are subjugated, sometimes given the stark choice: convert or die.”

“The Nazis believed in a master race. The militant Islamists believe in a master faith,” he said. “They just disagree who among them will be the master of the master faith.”

The prime minister said “the Islamic State of Iran” is where militant Islam could soon “have the power to realize its unbridled ambitions.”

“Iran’s president, Rouhani, stood here last week and shed crocodile tears over what he called the globalization of terrorism. Maybe he should spare us those phony tears and have a word instead with the commanders of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards. He could ask them to call off Iran’s global terror campaign, which has included attacks in two dozen countries, on five continents since 2011 alone,” Netanyahu said.

“You know, to say that Iran doesn’t practice terrorism is like saying Derek Jeter never played shortstop for the New York Yankees.”

Netanyahu, who will meet with President Obama on Wednesday at the White House, warned everyone to not “be fooled by Iran’s manipulative charm offensive.”

“It’s designed for one purpose and for one purpose, only, to lift the sanctions and remove the obstacles to Iran’s path to the bomb,” he said.

“…It’s one thing to confront militant Islamists on pickup trucks armed with Kalashnikov rifles. It’s another thing to confront militant Islamists armed with weapons of mass destruction.”

The Israeli leader presented a stark comparison with the terror group that has captured Washington’s attention as of late.

“Would you let ISIS enrich uranium? Would you let ISIS build a heavy-water reactor? Would you let ISIS develop inter-continental ballistic missiles? Of course you wouldn’t. Then you mustn’t let the Islamic state of Iran do those things either, because here’s what’ll happen,” Netanyahu said. “Once Iran produces atomic bombs, all the charms and all the smiles will suddenly disappear. They’ll just vanish. And it’s then that the ayatollahs will show their true face and unleash their aggressive fanaticism on the entire world.”

“Make no mistake, ISIS must be defeated. But to defeat ISIS and leave Iran as a threshold nuclear power is to win the battle and lose the war.”

Netanyahu also defended Israel from attacks from the UN Human Rights Council — he dubbed it the “Terrorist Rights Council” — and stressed that “Israel is fighting a fanaticism today that your countries may be forced to fight tomorrow.”

“For 50 days this past summer, Hamas fired thousands of rockets at Israel, many of them supplied by Iran,” he said. “…Israel justly defended itself against both rocket attacks and terror tunnels… Israel was doing everything to minimize Palestinian civilian casualties. Hamas was doing everything to maximize Israeli civilian casualties and Palestinian civilian casualties.”

“Israel’s soldiers deserve not condemnation but admiration, admiration from decent people everywhere.”

Netanyahu held aloft a photo of Hamas rocket launchers nestled in a civilian neighborhood, images captured by French journalists.

“I say to President Abbas, these are the crimes, the war crimes, committed by your Hamas partners in the national unity government which you head and you are responsible for,” he added. “And these are the real war crimes you should have investigated or spoken out against from this podium last week.”

“…Hamas, which both targeted and hid behind civilians, that’s a double war crime, Hamas is given a pass. The Human Rights Council is thus sending a clear message to terrorists everywhere: Use civilians as a human shield. Use them again and again and again. And you know why? Because, sadly, it works.”

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Admin Lauds ‘Key Outcomes’ of UN Human Rights Council, Including LGBT Discrimination Resolution

Monday, September 29th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

President Obama reversed President George W. Bush’s decision to boycott the UN Human Rights Council, and the State Department said the 27th session last week “underscored the importance of robust U.S. engagement at the Council, where the United States continues to work with countries from all regions to address urgent human rights concerns.”

“U.S. leadership helped to keep the Council at the forefront of international efforts to promote and protect human rights, including by underscoring the critical role of civil society,” the department said in a fact sheet detailing “key outcomes” at the session:

LGBT: The Council adopted the second-ever UN resolution on violence and discrimination facing LGBT persons world-wide. Brazil, Chile, Colombia and Uruguay led the resolution, with the United States co-sponsoring and lobbying heavily. Countries from every geographic region joined its supporters. The resolution will lead to further UN reporting on this critical human rights issue.

Civil Society Space: The United States proudly supported the HRC’s second resolution urging states to create and maintain, in law and in practice, a safe and enabling environment for civil society. The Ireland-led resolution underscored the importance for civil society to be able to seek, receive, and use resources and affirmed freedom of expression

Syria: The HRC’s 15th resolution on Syria focused on torture and the situation in Syrian prisons, and reiterated the international community’s demand for unfettered humanitarian access in Syria.

Yemen, CAR, DRC, and Sudan: The United States co-sponsored resolutions on Yemen, the Central African Republic, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, highlighting our shared commitment to protecting human rights through assistance and enhanced dialogue. The Council extended the mandate of the Independent Expert on Sudan, through a resolution that criticized ongoing violations and abuses of human rights in Sudan.

Journalists, FGM, and Political Participation: The HRC’s Safety of Journalists resolution condemned recent violence against journalists and urged states to provide protection and prevent such actions. The Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) resolution acknowledged progress toward the elimination of FGM but underlined ongoing concerns. The Equal Participation in Political and Public Affairs resolution urged all states to eliminate barriers to the full participation of all citizens in political and public affairs.

The LGBT resolution was singled out in a statement by Secretary of State John Kerry, who said the “historic” passage “marks yet another important chapter in UN efforts to stand united against the human rights abuses that LGBT individuals face around the world.”

The vote was 25 in favor and 14 against, with seven abstentions.

Countries voting against the measure, which “takes note with appreciation of the report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights entitled ‘Discriminatory laws and practices and acts of violence against individuals based on their sexual orientation and gender identity’” and commissions a major report on challenges facing gays worldwide, were Algeria, Botswana, Côte d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Gabon, Indonesia, Kenya, Kuwait, Maldives, Morocco, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.

Pakistan said “the wider connotations of sexual orientation could be detrimental” and “Muslims strongly believed that their religious and cultural values should be respected.”

“The United States will continue to promote human rights around the world for all people,” Kerry said. “Who you love, and who you are, must not be an excuse or cover for discrimination or abuse, period.”

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McCain: Obama’s Plan to Train Syrians to Fight ISIS But Not Assad ‘Unworkable’ and ‘Immoral’

Monday, September 29th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

When asked on CBS 60 Minutes Sunday night if the battle against ISIS was really a war or not, President Obama called it ”assisting Iraq in a very real battle that’s taking place on their soil, with their troops, but we are providing air support.”

“And it is in our interests to do that because ISIL represents sort of a hybrid of not just a terrorist network but one with territorial ambitions and so some of the strategy and tactics of an army,” Obama continued. “This is not America against ISIL.”

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said this morning that Obama is framing it wrong: “This is ISIL against America.”

“When Mr. Baghdadi left our prison after spending four years, he walked out and said I’ll see you in America,” McCain said of the self-proclaimed caliph. “All you have to do is watch what they’re saying. And, again, I am just puzzled by the president, some of his statements, for example, he left behind a stable Iraq. We have predicted exactly what would happen.”

“…It is a direct result of our failure to leave a residual force behind. And when they say we couldn’t, they are not telling the truth, because I was over there with Lindsey Graham and Joe Lieberman and we know it for a fact. So — and this here idea that somehow we didn’t know that this was happening, of course we knew it. We saw it happening.”

McCain then turned to Obama’s strategy of training 5,000 Free Syrian Army in Saudi Arabia and sending them back, a process expected to take many months.

“But are we going to do anything about Bashar Assad’s air attack? Dropping these horrible air bombs on them? Are we going to ask young men to train and equip and we send them back to be slaughtered by Bashar Assad’s air power? We need a no-fly zone,” the senator said. If Assad breaches it, “we take on his air force.”

“Assad in my view has been responsible for 192,000 Syrians dead. There are 150,000 Syrians in his prison. He has used chemical weapons. He uses these barrel bombs. Yes. And he’s directly supported by the Iranians who sent in 5,000 Hezbollah and changed the whole momentum on the battlefield. Of course, are you going to ask these young people, by the way, we’re going to train and equip you, but you are going to fight against ISIS, but not against Assad? It’s not only unworkable. It’s immoral.”

McCain called the unwillingness of legislative leaders to come back and vote on the military action “an act of cowardice on the part of Congress.”

“They didn’t want to vote before the election,” he added. “…Air power alone does not win wars. I was in one when they tried that. So air power alone, we’re going to have to have boots on the ground if we’re really going to succeed.”

“ISIS has wiped out the boundary between Iraq and Syria. What is the difference between it now? They have a caliphate larger than the size of the state of Indiana. So for us to say, well, and our British friends, we’ll bomb them in Iraq but not in Syria. Why? There is no boundary anymore. ISIS goes back and forth between. In fact, now they will go into the populated areas.”

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Karzai Says Afghanistan ‘Deserves a Better Life’ as He Turns Over the Reins of Power

Monday, September 29th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

After 13 years in power, 10 of those as an elected president, President Hamid Karzai today handed the reins over to new leadership in Afghanistan.

Ashraf Ghani was sworn in as president. His wife, Lebanese Christian Rula Ghani, promises to be a more visible first lady in Afghanistan than her predecessor, Dr. Zeenat Karzai, who was rarely seen in public.

The new chief executive officer, a newly created position with duties similar to a prime minister, will be filled by Abdullah Abdullah. He and Ghani worked out the power-sharing agreement after Abdullah contested the results of the presidential election runoff, citing widespread fraud.

Karzai delivered his final address to the nation Sunday night, vowing that “sooner or later, there will certainly be peace in the country.”

“When I first came to office, we didn’t have a flag, or a currency. We were the object of foreign agendas. We were homeless in our own country,” he said. “I am proud to have worked toward bringing the nation together to live under one flag in their shared homeland. I am proud to have worked toward rebuilding the nation that our ancestors had built. I am proud to see kids going to school all over the country and singing the national anthem with pride and joy every day.”

Afghanistan, he stressed, “deserves a better life.”

“Today we are working as one united team for a better Afghanistan,” Abdullah, a longtime political rival of Karzai, said after being sworn in today. “Afghanistan today is in need of cooperation, brotherhood, unity and partnership more than ever.”

The White House sent counselor John Podesta to lead the American delegation at the inaugural.

The U.S. delegation also included Marine Sgt. Miroslav Kazimir, who was badly wounded by a roadside bomb in 2011.

“Today we congratulate President Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai and Chief Executive Officer Abdullah Abdullah on this historic inauguration. I have known both of them for many years, and they are both patriots committed to the success of their country. Never has that been more evident than in the spirit of cooperation and partnership that united them in establishing a government of national unity to fulfill Afghan aspirations for peace, prosperity and stability,” Secretary of State John Kerry said in a statement.

“Afghans have taken a moment of challenge and turned it into a moment of real opportunity.”

Kerry also lauded Karzai’s “contributions to the cause of democracy, development and security.”

“It’s no secret that our relationship with President Karzai has been punctuated by disagreements,” he said. “But always, always, the world has recognized that he is a nationalist, a patriot, and an important figure who stepped forward when his country needed him, and helped profoundly shape one of the most challenging periods in Afghan history that has seen remarkable progress.”

Notably, Karzai refused to sign a bilateral security agreement that Ghani will now sign.

“If I learned anything from my recent visits to Kabul, it’s that the Afghan people are determined to choose unity over division and ensure that the first peaceful democratic transition in the history of their country will not be its last,” Kerry continued.

“This is a beginning not an ending, and with all beginnings the toughest decisions are still ahead. As Afghanistan enters this new chapter in its history, the United States looks forward to deepening its enduring partnership with a sovereign, unified and democratic Afghanistan.”

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J Street Fundraising for Dems with Focus on Four Tight Senate Races

Monday, September 29th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

The J Street PAC is trying to raise funds to push Democrats to victory in two of the tightest Senate races in the country.

In the latest Real Clear Politics poll average, Rep. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) takes a slim, statistically insignificant lead of 0.8 points over Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.). In a Quinnipiac poll earlier this month, Gardner bested Udall by 8 points.

In the race to fill retiring Sen. Tom Harkin’s (D-Iowa) seat, state Sen. Joni Ernst (R) has a small lead of 2.2 points in the latest Real Clear Politics polling average on Rep. Bruce Braley (D-Iowa).

In an email to supporters of the “pro-Israel, pro-peace” organization, J Street political director Dan Kalik calls Udall and Braley “two of J Street’s strongest allies on the Hill.”

“We can’t afford to lose these two races,” Kalik writes. “Mark’s opponent has spoken out strongly against President Obama’s diplomatic effort to halt Iran’s nuclear program. Bruce’s opponent has called on Congress to defund the Palestinian Authority.”

“If Mark and Bruce don’t have the resources they need in these last few weeks, you can expect their opponents’ dangerous, neoconservative ideas to gain momentum in the Senate.”

The email asks for $18 donations ahead of Tuesday’s “crucial” FEC quarterly fundraising deadline.

J Street has also been fundraising for Michelle Nunn in Georgia and Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), who is getting hit on foreign policy issues from former Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown (R).

“It’s bad enough when any senator from New Hampshire has the reputation of a partisan follower,” Brown said in a speech last week. “But when our senator, a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, just goes along like another naïve follower of Barack Obama, missing obvious realities and opportunities to lead in the current security environment – that’s when you’ve really got to worry.”

Nunn, the former CEO of the Points of Light Foundation, has come under fire for the fact that the charity encouraged donations to Islamic Relief USA, the U.S. affiliate of World Islamic Relief that has been banned in Israel for supporting Hamas.

A campaign memo leaked over the summer showed the Nunn campaign’s strategy for courting the Jewish community.

“Michelle’s position on Israel will largely determine the level of support here,” the memo said. “There is tremendous financial opportunity, but the level of support will be contingent on her position. This applies not only to PACs, but individual donors as well.”

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CAIR: Holder Did ‘Very Little’ to Address ‘Harassment of Muslim Communities’ by Law Enforcement

Monday, September 29th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

The Council on American-Islamic Relations reacted to Attorney General Eric Holder’s resignation announcement by calling on him to do more before he leaves office.

Holder said he will stay until a successor is confirmed.

“The American Muslim community will remember Holder’s tenure as a period in which the civil rights of Muslims and other minorities were either defended with the greatest vigor in some arenas, or completely disregarded in others,” CAIR said in a statement, adding that Holder’s DOJ “forcefully confronted discrimination of Muslim employees in the workplace, challenged neglect or bullying of children in schools, upheld the right of communities to build mosques and cemeteries, and prosecuted perpetrators of hate crimes and acts of vandalism.”

“Mr. Holder also oversaw the FBI’s purge of hundreds of anti-Muslim training materials used in counterterrorism trainings as well as the banning of biased instructors.”

CAIR also lauded Holder for his “vigorous defense of the nation’s immigrant community from overreaching state immigration laws and from state laws restricting ballot access.”

“Unfortunately, the DOJ under Mr. Holder’s watch did very little to address frequent reports of FBI harassment of Muslim communities, profiling, intimidation, warrantless surveillance, use of ex-convicts as community spies, informant driven plots of entrapment, coercion to speak without legal representation, purposeful misapplication of terrorist watch lists — including the extrajudicial exile of American citizens traveling abroad — inappropriate religious questioning at the U.S. border and ports of entry, acts of wrongful detention, and lethal use of force,” the statement continued.

“Mr. Holder also failed to respond to the request of more than 120 civil rights, religious and community groups calling on the DOJ to investigate the New York City Police Department’s (NYPD) sweeping surveillance of American Muslim institutes including houses of worship, student groups and businesses that cater to the Muslim community. While the NYPD unit that conducted the spying was disbanded in April, the city has not assured community members that it will put a permanent end to mass surveillance or other forms of biased and predatory policing.”

CAIR notes “reports indicate that Mr. Holder’s update to the guidance will still include exceptions for federal law enforcement agents to profile in cases of national security and border enforcement – an exception that will negatively impact Hispanic and Muslim communities.”

“As Mr. Holder prepares to make his exit, CAIR strongly urges that he issue guidelines on racial profiling that protect the rights of all Americans without any exceptions.”

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White House ‘Not Going to Get Ahead’ of Motive Investigation in Oklahoma Beheading

Sunday, September 28th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

Deputy National Security Adviser Tony Blinken told Fox News this morning that “we don’t know” if the beheading of a woman by a Muslim co-worker in Oklahoma last week was terrorism.

Alton Nolen, 30, a recent convert to Islam, reportedly tried to convince co-workers at the Vaughn Food processing plant in Moore, Okla, to convert before last week’s murder. His Facebook page was under the name Jah’Keem Yisrael and included images of jihadists and Quran citations.

After being notified he was being let go from his job, he went to the front office of the plant and attacked 54-year-old Colleen Hufford with a knife, beheading her. He then stabbed 43-year-old Traci Johnson, who survived, multiple times before being shot by the company’s CEO, Mark Vaughn.

“The FBI has an active investigation. I’m not going to get ahead of it. Let’s see what they find,” Blinken told Fox.

“But as we all now with Nidal Hasan, when he shot up and kill the number of American soldiers, the administration labeled it workplace violence,” host Chris Wallace asked the White House official. “Are you willing to call this an act of terror if, in fact, that’s what it is?”

“I don’t want to get — of course if that’s what it is, absolutely,” Blinken replied. “But I don’t want to get ahead of the facts. Let’s let the FBI investigate.”

A New York Democrat told MSNBC on Friday that he suspects Nolen was at least “influenced” by ISIS.

“There are copycats out there. We see it happen when we see mass murder here in the United States. We always fear about a copycat incident,” Rep. Joe Crowley (D-N.Y.) said. “And I don’t think anything — I don’t think we can expect anything less on the world stage when someone like — what is so depraved and really baseless that ISIL has been involved with in terms of beheading. That if someone is vulnerable, mentally disturbed, that it may have an influence on them.”

“I think that may be what happened here. I hope it’s not the case.”

Members of Congress have been relatively quiet about the murder; neither of Oklahoma’s GOP senators, Jim Inhofe and Tom Coburn, have issued statements about the attack.

NBC terrorism analyst Evan Coleman said “it certainly looks like him being fired was a predicating factor in what he did.”

“But nonetheless, if you look at the facts that occur here, in the absence of other evidence, it’s very difficult to imagine that the events of the past few weeks did not influence this man somehow. You don’t just go and behead a co-worker. That doesn’t happen very often,” Coleman said.

“Now, if this does prove that this has been inspired by ISIS, and I doubt it was something, you know, coordinated by ISIS, but if it was something inspired by what ISIS did in Iraq, it illustrates exactly the problem we have with lone wolves. It is that you don’t have to have a Ph.D. to murder someone, you don’t have to be sophisticated, you don’t have to operate on somebody else’s orders. And even as someone unsophisticated, someone who’s a crank, you can still hurt a lot of people. And I think this is exactly evidence for why this is such a problem.”

Adam Soltani, the executive director of the Council on American Islamic Relations in Oklahoma, told KFOR that “it’s really unfortunate that there’s a lot of attention on Muslims these days for actions of people who are either part of extremist groups or who have extreme ideas.”

“However, Islam is clear on what it stands for. Islam stands for peace, Islam stands for justice, Islam stands for love for humanity, compassion and mercy,” Soltani said. “What this gentleman did in Moore, which is inhumane and barbaric, is definitely not a representation of what our faith teaches and we hope and pray that justice will be brought against the perpetrator soon, so that the victims and their families can find some sort of solace in that justice,”

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Holder Promises CBC He Won’t ‘Let Up’ During Remaining Time in Office

Friday, September 26th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

Attorney General Eric Holder told the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation this morning that he has “no intention of letting up” and “no intention of slowing down” in the time between his resignation announcement and when a successor is confirmed.

Holder lauded the administration’s “important reforms and evidenced-based strategies to make America’s criminal justice system both more fair and more effective.”

“With a national initiative for building community trust and justice which I announced earlier this month, we are striving to eliminate mistrust and to build strong relationships between law enforcement officers and the communities that they serve, so that we can diffuse tensions that simmer just under the surface in too many cities and towns across our great country and that too often give rise to tragic events like those that captured our national attention just last month in Ferguson, Missouri,” he said.

The administration’s new Smart on Juvenile Justice Initiative “will promote system-wide reform and bolster our efforts to end racial and ethnic disparities,” Holder added.

“My colleagues and I are acting aggressively to ensure that every American — that every American — can exercise his or her right to participate in the democratic process, unencumbered by unnecessary restrictions that discourage, that discriminate or that disenfranchise in the name of a problem that doesn’t exist.”

Holder listed several department actions related to voting, including Monday’s conclusion of arguments in the DOJ’s challenge to the Texas voter ID law, “which our experts found likely to disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of eligible voters who lack the requisite identification.”

“We will continue to look to groups like the CBC for leadership to advance the Voting Rights Act amendments and to continue your efforts until all Americans can make their voices heard in the halls of the federal government,” he said.

“…Our cause is just. Our mission is clear. Our history propels us. So let us act together to make our nation, to make our union more perfect.”

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Bipartisan Lawmakers to Admin: Please Oppose Venezuela’s Security Council Bid

Friday, September 26th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

A bipartisan group of lawmakers is calling on the Obama administration to oppose Venezuela’s effort to land a non-permanent, two-year seat on the UN Security Council.

A week ago, Reuters cited diplomatic and administration sources as saying they were resigned to Caracas securing a seat at the 15-nation table and wouldn’t oppose the bid. Venezuela is the only Latin American country in the running and needs a two-thirds vote from the General Assembly next month.

President George W. Bush led a campaign against a Venezuelan bid in 2006. That was during the reign of Hugo Chavez, but this Venezuelan bid comes after Nicolas Maduro’s violent crackdowns on peaceful demonstrators and other human right abuses.

“There should be no place for Venezuela at the UN Security Council. Nicolas Maduro and his regime have been the cause of instability in Venezuela and the Western Hemisphere region and allowing it a seat on the Security Council will legitimize and embolden this brutal regime and give it a platform from which it will attempt to undermine U.S. national security interests as well as global security,” said Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.).

“The world is facing many serious security threats, from ISIL in Iraq and Syria and the Iranian nuclear program to Russia’s aggression in Ukraine and elsewhere; a Venezuelan seat on the Security Council would allow it to advocate for its allies like Syria, Iran and Cuba at a time when we need a united approach to confront these challenges.”

Ros-Lehtinen was joined by Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.), Ted Deutch (D-Fla.), Matt Salmon (R-Ariz.), Albio Sires (D-N.J.), Chris Smith (R-N.J.), Joe Garcia (D-Fla.), Michael McCaul (R-Texas), Patrick Murphy (D-Fla.), Gus Bilirakis (R-Fla.), Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.), Ted Yoho (R-Fla.), and Sean Duffy (R-Wis.) in petitioning Secretary of State John Kerry and UN Ambassador Samantha Power to oppose the bid.

“We must object when tyrannical regimes, which constantly threaten our national security and undermine our foreign policy, use this opportunity to broadcast anti-American rhetoric and legitimize their oppressive tactics,” the letter reads. “The United States must take a decisive stand in this issue, provide a voice and a vote for those being oppressed, and promote our ideals of democracy, freedom, and the respect for human rights.”

Ros-Lehtinen said President Obama ”must oppose Venezuela’s bid for a seat at the Security Council, and Secretary Kerry and Ambassador Power must use the full weight, diplomacy and force of their offices to urge other nations to join the U.S. to vote against and defeat this maneuver by the Maduro regime.”

“We must take a decisive stand for the sake of U.S. national security interests, but also to provide a voice and vote for those being oppressed and to promote our ideals of democracy, freedom and the respect for human rights,” she said.

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Holder Lauds ‘Greatness’ of Obama in ‘Bittersweet’ Farewell

Thursday, September 25th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

A choked-up Attorney General Eric Holder paid tribute to his longtime friends and confidantes in the Obama administration as the president announced his ally’s resignation this afternoon.

Holder received an extended standing ovation from family and co-workers packing the State Dining Room at the White House for President Obama’s announcement.

“Over the summer, her came to me, and he said he thought six years was a pretty good run,” Obama said, adding “this is bittersweet.”

“But with his typical dedication, Eric has agreed to stay on as attorney general until I nominate a successor, and that successor is confirmed by the Senate, which means he’ll have a chance to add to a proud career of public service, one that began nearly 40 years ago as a young prosecutor in the department that he now runs,” he continued.

Obama thanked Holder for showing “a deep and abiding fidelity to one of our most cherished ideals as a people, and that is equal justice under the law.”

“Eric’s proudest achievement, though, might be reinvigorating and restoring the core mission to what he calls the conscience of the building, and that’s the Civil Rights Division. He has been relentless against attacks on the Voting Rights Act because no citizen, including our servicemembers, should have to jump through hoops to exercise their most fundamental right. He’s challenged discriminatory state immigration laws that not only risked harassment of citizens and legal immigrants, but actually made it harder for law enforcement to do its job,” he said.

“Under his watch, the department has brought a record number of prosecutions for human trafficking and for hate crimes, as no one in America should be afraid to walk down the street because of the color of their skin, the love in their heart, the faith they practice or the disabilities that they live with.”

Thanks to Holder’s efforts, Obama said, “more Americans, regardless of race or religion, gender or creed, sexual orientation or disability… will receive fair and equal treatment under the law.”

Holder, who will stick around until his as-yet-unnamed replacement is confirmed by the Senate, said he had “very mixed emotions” about the moment.

“I want to thank you, Mr. President, for the opportunity that you gave me to serve and for giving me the greatest honor of my professional life. We have been great colleagues, but the bonds between us are much deeper than that. In good times and in bad, in things personal and in things professional, you have been there for me. I’m proud to call you my friend,” he said.

“I’m also grateful for the support you have given me, and the department, as we have made real the visions that you and I have always shared. I often think of those early talks between us about our belief that we might help to craft a more perfect union. Work remains to be done, but our list of accomplishments is real… I hope that I have done honor to the faith that you have placed in me, Mr. President, and the legacy of all those who have served before me.”

Holder gave special thanks to “good friend” and senior White House adviser Valerie Jarrett, “whom I’ve been fortunate to work with from the beginning of what started as an improbable idealistic effort by a young senator from Illinois, who we were both right to believe would achieve greatness.”

“I want to thank the woman who sacrificed the most and allowed me to follow my dreams. She’s the foundation of all that our family is and the basis of all that I have become,” he continued after thanking his parents. “My wife Sharon is the unsung hero and she is my life partner. Thank you for all that you have done. I love you.”

Holder vowed that while he may leave the Justice Department, “I will never leave the work.”

“I will continue to serve and try to find ways to make our nation even more true to its founding ideals… I want to thank you all for joining me on a journey that now moves in another direction, but that will always be guided by the pursuit of justice and aimed at the North Star.”

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NPR: Holder to Announce Resignation Today

Thursday, September 25th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

National Public Radio is reporting that Attorney General Eric Holder will announce his resignation today:

Two sources familiar with the decision tell NPR that Holder, 63, intends to leave the Justice Department as soon as his successor is confirmed, a process that could run through 2014 and even into next year. A former U.S. government official says Holder has been increasingly “adamant” about his desire to leave soon for fear he otherwise could be locked in to stay for much of the rest of President Obama’s second term.

Holder already is one of the longest serving members of the Obama cabinet and ranks as the fourth longest tenured AG in history. Hundreds of employees waited in lines, stacked three rows deep, for his return in early February 2009 to the Justice Department, where he previously worked as a young corruption prosecutor and as deputy attorney general — the second in command — during the Clinton administration.

But some of that early glow faded in part due to the politicized nature of the job and in part because of Holder’s own rhetoric, such as a 2009 Black History Month speech where he said the country was “a nation of cowards” when it comes to discussions about racial tension.

No confirmation yet from the Justice Department.

President Obama is scheduled to arrive back in Washington at 3:25 p.m., leaving time in the late afternoon for any announcement to be added to the schedule.

UPDATE: The White House says the announcement will come at 4:30 p.m.

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Clinton: Country is ‘Less Racist, Less Sexist, Less Homophobic,’ But People are Isolationist

Thursday, September 25th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

In a wide-ranging townhall-style interview, former President Bill Clinton told CNN that he doesn’t think racism has gotten worse in the country and that President Obama’s Syria strategy has a “chance” of being successful.

Clinton said the ISIS threat is “quite significant and it certainly threatens to change the whole landscape in the Middle East, redrawn national boundaries, crash national governments and we know they’re killing a lot of innocent people who don’t agree with them.”

“They ran the Christians out of Iraq who’ve been there since the dawn of Christendom and they butchered those Syrian soldiers and, you know, we don’t agree with the Syrian government but their soldiers, their uniformed personnel and thought with rules of war, and of course they like to decapitate people on the Internet,” he said. “So I think that strategy that the president has adopted has a chance of succeeding. I support him on what they’re doing.”

Clinton added that arming rebels in Syria is “worth the gamble.” His wife advocated this to President Obama three years ago but was overruled.

“One thing we know will happen, if we don’t help people who are trying to create an open inclusive secular society, they will lose. If we do help them and they lose anyway, somebody will get their weapons but I don’t think that will massively change the balance of power. Anytime you do anything, it might not work. We don’t have 100 percent in control,” he said. ”You just make a judgment over whether it’s more likely than not to work.”

On the recent unrest in Ferguson, Mo., Clinton said he doesn’t think there’s been a rush to judgment in the shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown by Officer Darren Wilson.

“What do we know? We know that the young man was unarmed. We know there was some kind of altercation with the police officer. We know when he was trying to get away he was shot. We know he had two bullets in the head. We know somebody made some sort of mistake. We don’t know what that was,” he said.

“…The most interesting thing to me about Ferguson was when the governor put the African-American state trooper who was from that area in charge of overseeing the situation and communicating with the folks in the community, things got better.”

Racism hasn’t gotten worse in the country, Clinton said, “but I think that we’re playing with it, with its darker possibilities with things like the stand your ground laws.”

“I actually think we are less racist, less sexist, less homophobic than we used to be. I think our big problem today is we don’t want to be around anybody who disagrees with us,” he added. “And I think that in some ways, it can be the worst silo of all, be holed up in.”

Clinton said he’s a “huge” football fan and hopes the NFL is “trying to get it right now” with the Ray Rice domestic violence scandal.

“I grew up at home with domestic violence. And — God, I hope that it works out all right for — I hope he really is OK and he never does it again. Sometimes, people don’t, but it’s rare. And I think what bothers everybody is that that, that seems that the NFL diminished the importance of it early on,” he said.

“I think that people who are rich and popular because of athletics, or entertainment, or any other thing like that, they shouldn’t be held for an impossible standard, they shouldn’t be exempted from the general rule that we can’t get away with abusing people because of our position.”

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New Ebola Czar Appointed to Manage U.S. Strategy Abroad

Thursday, September 25th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

The Obama administration now has an Ebola czar to lead the State Department’s effort to reach out to foreign governments and direct a comprehensive strategy to handle the outbreak.

Ambassador Nancy Powell, former U.S. envoy to India,was awarded the Homeland Security Service to America Medal in 2006 for leading an effort to combat bird flu.

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the goal is to “ensure a speedy and truly global response to this crisis.”

“President Obama has declared the Ebola outbreak a national security priority. Speaking on September 16 at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, the President outlined the U.S. Government’s strategy to address the threat from the worsening Ebola epidemic in West Africa,” Psaki said in a statement.

“The four goals of that strategy are 1) controlling the epidemic at its source in West Africa; 2) mitigating second-order impacts, including blunting the economic, social, and political tolls in the region; 3) engaging and coordinating with a broader global audience; and 4) fortifying global health security infrastructure in the region and beyond,” she said.

“Even as we lead, the President emphasized at the CDC the need for more nations to contribute the experienced personnel, supplies and funding. Ambassador Powell, working with leaders from across our government, is leading our efforts to build the coalition required to bring this epidemic under control.”

After focusing on climate change Tuesday and ISIS on Wednesday, President Obama will today deliver remarks on the Ebola crisis.

A new study in the New England Journal of Medicine estimates that 20,000 people could be infected by early November, an alarming prediction the World Health Organization is citing in its call to reverse the trend.

The WHO said it was notified of the outbreak in March, but investigation has revealed that it started in December 2013.

“This study gave us some real insight into how this outbreak was working, for example, we learned there is no significant difference among the different countries in the total numbers of male and female case patients,” says Dr Christopher Dye, director of strategy for WHO and co-author of the study. “There may be differences in some communities, but when we actually looked at all the data combined, we saw it was really almost split 50-50.”

“Assessing the case fatality rate during this epidemic is complicated by incomplete information on the clinical outcomes of many cases, both detected and undetected,” Dye added. “This analysis shows that by 14 September, a total of 70.8% of patients with definitive outcomes have died. This rate was consistent among Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.”

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Kerry: Climate Change Hurting Food Production, and Food Production Hurting Climate

Thursday, September 25th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

Secretary of State John Kerry told a climate-change reception at the Waldorf Astoria in New York yesterday that the climate change has our food production stuck in a no-win cycle.

“I was chairman of the fisheries, oceans subcommittee for a long period of time in the Senate, and I saw what has been happening in the major fisheries of the world,” he told the Global Alliance for Climate-Smart Agriculture. “Even as we went and tried to ban driftnet fishing and rewrite the Magnuson laws and do all these things – still overfished, still too much money chasing too few fish, still major shifts in the ecosystem as the result of increases in acidity, the acidification of the oceans, the changes in ocean currents, what’s happening with the melting of the icecaps and so forth has a profound impact on the future of food.”

“And all you have to do is talk to farmers or even talk to garden club members in America and they will tell you how things that used to grow in certain places don’t grow anymore, how there’s been a migration of certain species and capacities for growth, a band in the center of America that’s moved north and south,” Kerry added.

“So the link is clear: Climate change affects how much food we’re able to produce, and it affects – and how much food we produce actually affects climate change at the same time. Now we see this drought that’s hitting in various parts of the world, but particularly in Central America.”

Kerry was late to the reception because of a meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. “This city during these days of UNGA does not lend itself well to diplomatic speed dating, and unfortunately, I sort of scheduled one too many,” he quipped while apologizing for his tardiness.

He told the crowd that he had been involved in “this nexus between climate change and food security” since the 1970s.

“The first thing I did when I returned from Vietnam was not protest the war, which I shortly did, but become active in Earth Day 1970, the first Earth Day, and helped to organize it in my home state of Massachusetts, when 20 million Americans came out and said we don’t want to live next to toxic waste sites, we don’t want to be getting cancer from Woburn dump, things like that in Massachusetts. Particularly we had the Cuyahoga River that lit on fire, literally,” Kerry said.

“And those 20 million people ultimately engaged in a way that became very political. They targeted the 12 worst voters in Congress, labeled them the ‘Dirty Dozen’ and in the very next election beat seven of the 12. That is what brought us the Clean Air Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act, Marine Mammal Protection Act, Coastal Zone Management Act, and actually created the Environmental Protection Agency we didn’t have when that first took place.”

Kerry called it “a hell of a journey from there to here.”

“And I went to Rio and the Earth Summit in the 1990s and so forth. Unfortunately, it was a voluntary process. It didn’t work and we now are where we are, the hottest year in history last year, the last ten years have been the hottest ten years in history. I mean, it’s an extraordinary statement about the lack of willpower of governments on a global basis, ours included, to have been able thus far to be able to do what we need,” he continued.

“I’m proud to say that President Obama is changing that. We are moving rapidly now. We have ten times the amount of solar power in place that we had five years ago. We have three times the amount of renewables in place that we had. We have new automobile standards, new building standards, so forth and so on.”

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Algerian Terrorists Loyal to ISIS Behead French Mountain Climber

Wednesday, September 24th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

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As French President Francois Hollande prepared to speak at the United Nations General Assembly today, Algerian terrorists who back ISIS released a video showing the beheading of a French mountain climber.

Hervé Gourdel was kidnapped on Sunday evening in the mountainous region of Djurdjura, part of the Atlas range not far from Algiers.

Gourdel, 55, of Nice was an active mountaineer throughout his life. He was seized by Jund al-Khilafa (Soldiers of the Caliphate), which has pledged allegiance to the Islamic State.

The group released a Tuesday video showing Gourdel flanked by armed gunmen vowing to behead him in 24 hours if France didn’t stop targeting ISIS.

Today’s video showing Gourdel’s death was titled “A Message of Blood for the French Government.”

“He left for Algeria to follow his passion, mountaineering, and he was the victim of a heinous crime whose perpetrators must be punished,” Hollande said in a statement. “My thoughts are with his family, his companion and his parents, to whom I spoke and who are overcome by sorrow. My thoughts are with his many loved ones who don’t understand and don’t accept this terrible injustice. Why him? Why there?”

“…Hervé Gourdel died because he was French; because his country, France, fights terrorism. Hervé Gourdel died because he represents a people—our people—that loves freedom and defends human dignity against barbarity.”

Gourdel’s abduction also came hours after an ISIS video urged supporters around the world to target Westerners – “especially the spiteful and filthy French.”

The kidnapping came just days after France officially began referring to ISIS as Daesh, a loose Arabic acronym with derogatory dual meanings.

Both in his statement and in his Wednesday afternoon address at the UN Security Council, Hollande continued calling them Daesh.

“My determination is absolute, and this act of aggression only strengthens it. We will continue to fight terrorism wherever it may be, and in particular the group we call Daesh, which sows death in Iraq, and Syria, which pursues civilian populations, persecutes religious minorities, rapes and decapitates. Yes, it is this group that France is mobilized against, and which the Iraqi authorities called on us to oppose,” he said.

Hollande is flying back to France to convene a defense council meeting tomorrow at Elysee palace to “establish the goals we have set for our military operations and to further strengthen the protection of our fellow citizens.”

“I am calling for all of us, for our entire community to stand united beyond our differences, beyond our sensibilities and our convictions, because the most vital matters are at stake,” he said. “France will not give in to terrorism, France will never give in to terrorism, because it is its duty and, even more important, because its honor depends on it.”

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