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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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Dem Senator ‘Understands Criticism Leveled at President’ Over Islam Semantics, But ‘They Missed the Point’

Thursday, February 19th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

The top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations African Affairs Subcommittee accused Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) of trying to score “cheap partisan political points” off of the administration’s refusal to describe ISIS as Islamic.

On Fox last night, Cruz called the semantics battle and the State Department’s assertion that job opportunities will dissuade jihadists “idiocy.”

“This bizarre, politically correct, double speak is simply not befitting a commander-in-chief whose first obligation should be to protect the United States of America,” Cruz said. “…What undermines the global effort is for the President of the United States to be an apologist for radical Islamic terrorists, to analogize it to the Crusades from 700 years ago.”

Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) told CNN today that he’s “upset” with Cruz for taking on President Obama’s “simple but powerful point.”

“I don’t think this is very hard to understand or very complicated. ISIS is trying to characterize the United States and our allies as being at war with Islam, and ISIS is trying to characterize themselves as being the legitimate heirs of the prophet of Mohammed,” Coons said. “…What our president is saying is we’re not at war with Islam, we’re at war with people who have perverted Islam and who are claiming to be Islamic extremist, Islamic jihadists, in order to advance their own legitimacy.”

“I understand the criticisms that are being leveled at the president, but they missed the broader point. 20,000 foreign fighters, folks from the United States, from Great Britain, Germany, France are flooding into Syria and Iraq to join ISIS’ fight. We should not help ISIS by strengthening the perception that this is a war of Christianity against Islam. It’s not. It’s a war of the modern world against a group of medieval radical extremists who happen to be Muslims and are misclaiming a Muslim heritage and religious authority.”

Coons, who tweeted Monday that he was “horrified by the video of 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians being beheaded by ISIS terrorists, unspeakable hatred and unthinkable extremism,” said he thinks “we are dedicating far too much time to splitting hairs on this point.”

“They are Islamic, they are extremists,” the senator said. “They are Islamic, they are extremists. Our president is trying to be careful about not claiming that this is a war between Christianity and Islam. Does that make sense? It’s a simple, powerful point.”

Coons, though, stressed that he thought it was important to point out the faith of the Egyptian victims. In its original statement on the massacre, the White House called the Copts “Egyptian citizens.”

“I commend the president for convening a global summit on fighting extremism in all forms, but I do think it’s important to emphasize at times when ISIS’ victims are Christians, I called that out,” he said.

“And I point to the fact that it was Coptic Christians who were murdered in Libya. When they murdered the Yazidis in Iraq, which is another religious minority and Christians, I pointed out the fact that they were massacring religious minorities including Christians. It is important to emphasize that they claim to be legitimate Muslim jihadists, but their legitimacy has been rejected by every respected leader of the Muslim world.”

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Obama: People Who ‘Spew Hatred’ Toward Muslims, Immigrants Feed ‘Terrorist Narratives’

Thursday, February 19th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

President Obama told a gathering of international dignitaries today that “all of us have a responsibility to refute the notion that groups like ISIL somehow represent Islam, because that is a falsehood that embraces the terrorists’ narrative.”

He also called on Muslim clerics and organizations to “push back not just on twisted interpretations of Islam” but “on the lie that we are somehow engaged in a clash of civilizations.”

“Obviously, there is a complicated history between the Middle East, the West, and none of us I think should be immune from criticism in terms of specific policies, but the notion that the West is at war with Islam is an ugly lie. And all of us, regardless of our faith, have a responsibility to reject it,” the president said.

“At the same time, former extremists have the opportunity to speak out — speak the truth about terrorist groups. And oftentimes, they can be powerful messengers in debunking these terrorist ideologies. One said, ‘This wasn’t what we came for, to kill other Muslims.’ Those voices have to be amplified.”

Among other components of his anti-extremism plan already outlined, including jobs and good governance, Obama stressed ensuring “that our diverse societies truly welcome and respect people of all faiths and backgrounds, and leaders set the tone on this issue.”

He noted “acts of anti-Semitism” in Europe, “or in some cases, anti-Muslim sentiment or anti-immigrant sentiment.”

“When people spew hatred towards others because of their faith or because they are immigrants, it feeds into terrorist narratives. If entire communities feel they can never become a full part of the society in which they reside, it feeds a cycle of fear and resentment and a sense of injustice upon which extremists prey,” Obama continued. “And we can’t allow cycles of suspicions to tear at the fabric of our countries.”

“So we all recognize the need for more dialogues across countries and cultures. Those efforts are indeed important. But what’s most needed today, perhaps, are more dialogues within countries, not just across faiths, but also within faiths. Violent extremists and terrorists thrive when people of different religions or sects pull away from each other and are able to isolate each other, label them as ‘they,’ as opposed to us, something separate and apart.”

So, Obama said, “let’s share the truth of our faiths with each other.”

He announced a program named after murder U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens “to connect 1 million young people from America and the Middle East and North Africa for dialogue.”

“In some of our countries, including the United States, Muslim communities are still small and, you know, relative to the entire population. And as a result, many people in our countries don’t always know personally somebody who is Muslim. So the image they get of Muslims or Islam is in the news. And given the existing news cycle, that can give a very distorted impression,” he said. “A lot of the bad, like terrorists who claim to speak for Islam, that’s absorbed by the general population; not enough of the good — the more than 1 billion people around the world who do represent Islam, and are doctors and lawyers and teachers and neighbors and friends.”

“So we have to remember these Muslim men and women, the young Palestinian working to build understanding and trust with Israelis, but also trying to give voice to her people’s aspirations; the Muslim clerics working for peace with Christian pastors and priests in Nigeria and the Central African Republic to put an end to the cycle of hate; the civil society leaders in Indonesia, one of the world’s largest democracies; parliamentarians in Tunisia working to build one of the world’s newest democracies; business leaders in India with one of the world’s largest Muslim populations; entrepreneurs unleashing new innovations in places like Malaysia, health workers fighting to save lives from polio and from Ebola in West Africa and volunteers who go to disaster zones after a tsunami or after an earthquake to ease suffering and help families rebuild, Muslims who have risked their lives as human shields to protect Coptic churches in Egypt and to protect Christians attending mass in Pakistan and who try to protect synagogues in Syria.”

Obama reminded all that a Muslim police officer was killed in the Charlie Hebdo massacre and a Muslim employee saved Jews at the kosher grocery store.

“It’s not a question of Jews or Christians or Muslims,” he said. “We’re all in the same boat, and we have to help each other to get out of this crisis.”

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Psaki Leaving State Department to Head White House Communications Team

Thursday, February 19th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

The Associated Press is reporting that President Obama is plucking Jen Psaki from the State Department to run his communications team at the White House.

She’ll replace Jennifer Palmieri on April 1. Palmieri is leaving to work on Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.

Psaki, who was Obama’s traveling press secretary during his re-election campaign, began conducting the daily briefing as the State Department’s press secretary in May 2013.

It required lots of on-the-job training. Psaki was picked by then-new Secretary of State John Kerry to be his press secretary, replacing Victoria Nuland, in mid-February 2013, and began undergoing intensive training within the State Department on global affairs.

Psaki came to the job with no foreign policy experience and regularly faced grillings from reporters around the world.

Nuland, on the other hand, was a former U.S. ambassador to NATO in the George W. Bush administration and a former foreign policy adviser to Dick Cheney.

Kerry knows Psaki from her work on his 2004 presidential campaign, but unlike the messaging she shaped for Obama’s and Kerry’s campaigns the State Department is expressly a nonpartisan agency.

There’s also a press shake-up at the Pentagon, where new Defense Secretary Ash Carter will replace press secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby with a civilian.

Kirby told reporters yesterday that he didn’t know when his last briefing will be.

“We’ll just have to see how the schedule plays out,” he said. “You know, we try to do two a week, and then we’ll just see.”

The last civilian press secretary, George Little, stepped down in October 2013, days after Carter stepped down after Chuck Hagel’s tenure began.

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VIDEO: Saudi Cleric Says Earth Can’t be Rotating Because This Cup

Thursday, February 19th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson
YouTube Preview Image

Thanks to Al-Arabiya for circulating this gem on the same week of Galileo’s birth:

Answering a student question on whether the Earth is stationary or moving, Sheikh Bandar al-Khaibari replied: “stationary and does not move.”

He then attempted to support his argument by quoting some clerics and selected religious statements. But his most controversial method to debunk the rotation theory was a “logical” deduction in which he used a visual.

“First of all, where are we now? we go to Sharjah airport to travel to China by plane, clear?! focus with me, this is Earth;” he said, holding a sealed water cup.

He argued that if a plane stops still in air “China would be coming towards it” in case the Earth rotates on one direction. It the Earth rotates on opposite direction, the plane would never reach China, because “China is also rotating.”

The sheikh also said the moon landings were a hoax, which actually just puts him the company of a bunch of American conspiracy theorists.

Twitter is huge in Saudi Arabia, so the mocking came swiftly after his Sunday science lesson.

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Kerry: Fight Against Extremism Can’t be ‘Distracted’ by ‘Hatred or Bias’

Thursday, February 19th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

In advance of his address to the Countering Violent Extremism summit today, Secretary of State John Kerry advocated deploying a more “creative arsenal” to fight ISIS rather than just the “rational and often necessary response” of military force.

“A safer and more prosperous future requires us to recognize that violent extremism can’t be justified by resorting to religion. No legitimate religious interpretation teaches adherents to commit unspeakable atrocities, such as razing villages or turning children into suicide bombers. These are the heinous acts of individuals who distort religion to serve their criminal and barbaric cause,” Kerry wrote in a Wall Street Journal op-ed.

“A safer and more prosperous future also requires us not to be distracted by divisions grounded in hatred or bias. There is no room in this fight for sectarian division. There is no room for Islamophobia or anti-Semitism. Violent extremism has claimed lives in every corner of the globe, and Muslim lives most of all. Each of us is threatened, regardless of ethnicity, faith or homeland. We must demonstrate to the terrorists that rather than divide us, their tactics unite us and strengthen our resolve.”

Kerry touted the week’s summit, which was the administration’s answer to the January terrorist attacks in Paris, as an event to “adopt an action agenda that identifies, shares and utilizes best practices in preventing and countering violent extremism.”

He added that the agenda items will be brought up at the United Nations General Assembly in September.

“Eliminating the terrorists of today with force will not guarantee protection from the terrorists of tomorrow. We have to transform the environments that give birth to these movements. We have to devote ourselves not just to combating violent extremism, but to preventing it. This means building alternatives that are credible and visible to the populations where terrorists seek to thrive,” Kerry wrote.

“The most basic issue is good governance. It may not sound exciting, but it is vital. People who feel that their government will provide for their needs, not just its own, and give them a chance at a better life are far less likely to strap on an AK-47 or a suicide vest, or to aid those who do,” he added, mentioning job training and eliminating corruption.

He lauded the “power of the international community to make positive progress” on things like battling Ebola.

“We are in this for the long haul. We can send a clear signal to the next generation that its future will not be defined by the agenda of the terrorists and the violent ideology that sustains them; we will not cower, and we will prevail by working together. Indeed, there are roles for everyone, from religious and government leaders to academics, NGOs and the private sector. Our collective security depends on our collective response,” Kerry wrote.

“The 20th century was defined by the struggle to overcome depression, slavery, fascism and totalitarianism. Now it’s our turn. The rise of violent extremism challenges every one of us, our communities, our nations and the global rule of law. But the extremist forces arrayed against us require that we charge forward in the name of decency, civility and reason.”

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Obama: ‘No Religion Is Responsible for Terrorism’

Wednesday, February 18th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

WASHINGTON — President Obama gave a lengthy defense of the administration’s policy to not link Islam to terrorism, telling the summit on Countering Violent Extremism this afternoon that “no religion is responsible for terrorism; people are responsible for violence and terrorism.”

He gave as examples of extremism the 1994 Oklahoma City bombing, 9/11, the Fort Hood massacre, the Boston Marathon bombings, and “horrific acts of violence at a Sikh temple near Milwaukee or at a Jewish community center outside Kansas City.”

“Most recently, with the brutal murders in Chapel Hill of three young Muslim Americans, many Muslim Americans are worried and afraid. And I want to be as clear as I can be, as Americans all faiths and backgrounds, we stand with you in your grief and we offer our love and we offer our support,” Obama told the crowd in the South Court auditorium.

The president called “groups like al-Qaeda and ISIL” a challenge for the world, as “we’ve seen deadly attacks in Ottawa and Sydney and Paris and now Copenhagen.”

“Given the complexities of the challenge and the nature of the enemy, which is not a traditional army, this work takes time and will require vigilance and resilience and perspective,” he said. “But I’m confident that just as we have for more than two centuries, we will ultimately prevail.”

He defined violent extremism: “We don’t just mean the terrorists who are killing innocent people; we also mean the ideologies, the infrastructure of extremists, the propagandists, the recruiters, the funders who radicalize and recruit or incite people to violence.”

“Around the world and here in the United States, inexcusable acts of violence have been committed against people of different faiths by people of different faiths, which is, of course, betrayal of all our faiths. It’s not unique to one group or to one geography or one period of time.”

Obama addressed the “fair amount of debate” over the terms used to describe the terrorist threat.

“We must never accept the premise that they put forward, because it is a lie, nor should we grant these terrorists the religious legitimacy that they seek. They are not religious leaders; they’re terrorists,” he said of ISIS’ claim to be the Islamic State. “And we are not at war with Islam. We are at war with people who have perverted Islam.”

Al-Qaeda and ISIS, he added, “do draw selectively from the Islamic texts. They do depend upon the misperception around the world that they speak in some fashion for people of the Muslim faith, that Islam is somehow inherently violent, that there is some sort of clash of civilizations.”

“Of course, the terrorists do not speak for a billion Muslims who reject their ideology. They no more represent Islam than any madman who kills innocents in the name of God, represents Christianity or Judaism or Buddhism or Hinduism.”

He lauded religious leaders who “preach that Islam calls for peace and for justice and tolerance towards others.”

“That terrorism is prohibited. The Koran says whoever kills an innocent, it is as if he has killed all mankind. Those are the voices that represent over a billion people around the world.”

Obama said the “reality, which, again, many Muslim leaders have spoken to, is that there’s a strain of thought that doesn’t embrace ISIL’s tactics, doesn’t embrace violence, but does buy into the notion that the Muslim world has suffered historic grievances, sometimes that’s accurate.”

“It does buy into the belief that so many of the ills in the Middle East flow from a history of colonialism or conspiracy. It does buy into the idea that Islam is incompatible with modernity or tolerance, or that it’s been polluted by Western values. So, those beliefs exist. In some communities around the world, they are widespread,” he continued. “And so, it makes individuals, especially young people who already may be disaffected or alienated more ripe for radicalization.”

He stressed Muslim leaders “need to do more than discredit the notion that our nations are determined to suppress Islam, that there is inherent clash in civilizations.”

Obama advocated tackling “head-on” terrorist ideologies, encouraging entrepreneurship and addressing “the grievances that terrorists exploit, including economic grievances.”

“There are terrorists who come from extraordinarily wealthy backgrounds, like Osama bin Laden. What’s true, though, is that when millions of people, especially youth, are impoverished and have no hope for the future, when corruption inflicts daily humiliations on people, when there are no outlets by which people can express their concerns, resentments fester. The risk of instability and extremism grow,” he said.

The president said community intervention is needed as well, such as when “faith leaders may notice that someone’s beginning to espouse violent interpretations of religion.”

“I know some Muslim Americans have concerns about working with government, particularly law enforcement. And their reluctance is rooted in the objection to certain practices, where Muslim Americans feel they’ve been unfairly targeted. So, in our work, we have to make sure that abuses stop, are not repeated, that we do not stigmatize entire communities. Nobody should be profiled or put under a cloud of suspicion simply because of their faith,” he said.

“Engagement with communities can’t be a cover for surveillance. It can’t securitize our relationship with Muslim Americans, dealing with them solely through the prism of law enforcement.”

America, Obama said, needs “to show that we welcome people of all faiths” to dismantle the terrorists’ recruitment narrative. He spoke of getting a Valentine from an 11-year-old Muslim girl who wrote, “I am worried about people hating Muslims. If some Muslims do bad things that doesn’t mean all of them do.”

“We can’t paper over problems. And we are not going to solve this if we are always just trying to be politically correct. But we do have to remember that 11-year-old girl. That is our hope. That is our future,” he said.

The president didn’t mention a “military component” to defeating ISIS until the end of his speech.

“There are savage cruelties going on out there that have to be stopped. ISIL is killing Muslims at a rate that is many multiples the rate that they’re killing non-Muslims. Everybody has a stake in stopping them. And there will be an element of us just stopping them in their tracks with force,” Obama said.

“But to eliminate the soil out of which they grew, to make sure that we are getting a brighter future to everyone, and a lasting sense of security, now we are going to have to make it clear to all of our children, including that little girl in fifth grade, that you have a place.”

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Kerry Going to be Out of Town, Somewhere Yet to be Determined, During AIPAC & Bibi Speech

Wednesday, February 18th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Secretary of State John Kerry will be out of town — somewhere, according to the State Department — and unable to speak at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee conference.

Kerry spoke to AIPAC last year, an annual event that draws thousands of pro-Israel lobbyists to Capitol Hill. President Obama last addressed the conference in 2012, when he was seeking re-election.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanayhu is scheduled to speak at the conference, which runs March 1-3 at the convention center in D.C. It coincides with Netanyahu’s March 3 address to a joint session of Congress.

“I expect we certainly will have representation. I don’t think we’re at a point of announcing who that will be yet,” State Department press secretary Jen Psaki said today when asked about the conference.

And why won’t Kerry be there?

“I think the more likely reason is that the secretary is probably going to be out of town, which I don’t think surprises any of you, given his overseas travel schedule. We’re still working out the next couple of weeks,” Psaki said.

Vice President Joe Biden has also announced unspecified travel plans that will keep him from being in the chamber when Netanyahu speaks. “Is everyone fleeing?” a reporter asked.

“We’ve all spent days, if not months on a plane. I don’t think it’s should surprise anyone that the chief diplomat might be overseas,” Psaki retorted.

“I believe the vice president is attending the inauguration for the new government of Panama, I believe. I can’t remember the specifics, but it’s a set date. And again we, as you know, always have a fluid schedule. And as we have more information, we’ll let you know. I expect we’ll be certainly represented there,” she continued. “I think, again, the secretary of state never speaks at this every single year. I expect we’ll have a representation there. I would leave it at that.”

The new Panamanian leader was inaugurated last summer.

“Perhaps that’s not the right information. I’m sure you can check the vice president’s schedule on his Web site,” Psaki said. Biden is heading to Uruguay “the first week in March,” according to the White House, for their presidential inauguration and will also hold meetings in Guatemala.

“Might you invent a country that he could go to if — if there isn’t any?” a reporter asked of Kerry.

“I don’t think inaugurations for new leaders are invented,” Psaki snapped before asking for a change of subject.

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Earnest: ‘Virulent Strain of Extremist Ideology Has Tried to Insert Itself in Muslim Community’

Wednesday, February 18th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Responding to criticism that this week’s summit on violent extremism isn’t focused on radical Islam — while most of the participating group are linked to the Muslim community — White House press secretary Josh Earnest said the administration is “very mindful of the fact that a particularly virulent strain of extremist ideology has tried to insert itself in the Muslim community.”

“There’s no question about that. That’s true in the United States. That’s true in other places around the world. And that is — will be the subject of extensive discussion at the — at the summit,” Earnest told reporters at today’s briefing.

“At the same time, we also recognize that there are other forms of extremism that have prompted others to carry out acts of violence even on American soil. You know, we’ve talked on a couple of previous occasions about, you know, the, you know, the violent extremist who carried out an attack on a Sikh temple in Wisconsin, or, you know, the — the radical ideology that prompted someone to go and open fire outside a Jewish community center in Kansas.”

Earnest said the conference has a broad focus because “extremism has taken a variety of forms in this country in a way that has had violent results.”

“And, you know, we want to be focused on making sure that we’re countering all of that, but that does not diminish in any way the concern that we have that some extremists have made some inroads into some Muslim communities in attempting to inspire — inspire them to carry out acts of violence or to join their fight,” he said.

“And we have worked very hard and very diligently with the Muslim community here in this country, with local law enforcement, and with political leaders to counter that ideology and to counter that messaging. And that is — that is something about which we remain vigilant. And today’s summit, or this week’s summit provides a good venue for talking about some of the successes of that strategy and to identify some additional steps that we can take to further safeguard the American people.”

Asked if there were targeted extremist groups represented at the summit other than representative of the Muslim community, Earnest referred reporters’ questions to the National Security Council.

Asked later if there were any extremist groups that had legitimate grievances, Earnest talked about “ensuring that countries that are carrying out counterterrorism operations within their borders do so with proper respect for universal human rights,” singling out Nigeria as an example.

“Boko Haram does not have legitimate grievances,” a reporter fired back.

“No, they don’t,” Earnest replied. “But what we want to do is we want to make sure that — that Boko Haram doesn’t have a fertile recruiting ground in Nigeria that only is enhanced if you have a Nigerian government that runs roughshod over the basic human rights and values of their citizens.”

The press secretary also responded to the weekend statement about the beheading of 21 Coptic Christians by ISIS, which didn’t mention the victims’ faith.

“I can’t account for that specific line in the statement, but we’ve been clear there that we condemn this murder,” he said. “…On a variety of occasions, I think I’ve been pretty clear here that we condemn the outrageous killing of these Egyptian citizens because of their Christian faith.”

But, he was reminded, Obama singled out the faith of the victims after three Muslim students were killed by a neighbor in North Carolina. “No one in the United States of America should ever be targeted because of who they are, what they look like, or how they worship,” the president said in a statement last Friday.

“I think it is important for the president, in this case as he has in many others, to articulate a pretty clear principle, and I think it’s the kind of principle that the vast majority of Americans should be able to support, which is that people should not, regardless of their faith, be targeted because of what their last name is, what they look like, or how they worship,” Earnest said.

“…We have also acknowledged that this is an issue that’s under investigation in North Carolina, but I think as a principle it’s — this is the kind of thing that we should all be able to agree with.”

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DHS Secretary: Administration ‘Should Give Voice to Plight of Muslims Living in This Country’

Wednesday, February 18th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson stressed at the Countering Violent Extremism summit this morning that “we in the administration and the government should give voice to the plight of Muslims living in this country and the discrimination that they face.”

Johnson said he is “personally committed to speak out about the situation that very often people in the Muslim community in this country face; the fact that there are 1.6 billion Muslims in the world and that the Islamic faith is one about peace and brotherhood.”

“For our part, we — we ask something of you, of members of the community,” he said. “First of all, I’ve heard over and over again, and this is where we have to depend upon people in the community, that we need to develop the counter-narrative. We’ve heard that over and over now. And we know that there are a number of those who have undertaken to do this. We need to take that to the next level, developing the counter- narrative.”

“Also in our communities and the communities we engage, we ask that we all have a stake. So one of the themes of this conference which fits right in with that is our communities, our responsibility, our shared future. And that is very much part of the message that we like to bring when we go to places like L.A., Boston, Minneapolis. Our communities, our responsibility, our shared future.”

The administration has faced criticism from Islamic groups that its pilot programs to counter violent extremists have disproportionately singled out Muslim communities.

“And so one of the things I like to say is that we all have a stake. It’s our public safety. It’s our homeland security. It’s our country. And so, ‘if you see something, say something’ really does have to be more than a slogan. Public engagement, public awareness in our homeland security public safety efforts is becoming all the more crucial, given how our challenges in homeland security are evolving,” Johnson continued.

“And so we go to city after city, community after community to deliver this message and to build trust and to build a partnership with people like you in this room… We want to hear from those represented in this room about best practices.”

Johnson also took a dig at the Senate for not yet passing funding for his department, which expires at the end of this month. Democrats have blocked a bill from coming to the floor that defunds Obama’s immigration actions.

“We’re unable to engage in new starts, new initiatives for spending. New initiatives, new spending for border security. We still need to pay for the enhanced border security that we put in place last summer,” he said. “We are unable to enhance border security, to strengthen border security.”

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CNN Banner: ‘ISIS Lures Women with Kittens, Nutella’

Wednesday, February 18th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

nutella

This morning, as the summit on violent extremism continued at the White House and the State Department insisted jihadis need jobs, CNN delved into what really lures people to the Islamic State.

The segment was about what lures “the most highly sought-after targets: Western women” to join ISIS’ ranks.

“How do you relay your message of jihad in a way Westerners understand?” host Carol Costello said, referring to the terrorists’ strong presence on social media. “ISIS is talking online about jars of Nutella, pictures of kittens and emojis. They want people to believe their life on the battlefield isn’t so different than yours. They actually eat Nutella, and I guess they have pet kittens.”

It’s true that ISIS fighters have tweeted pics posing with jars of Nutella, and the women of ISIS have included the Italian hazelnut spread in recipes shared online.

New York magazine got a female ISIS Nutella fan to explain why: “I don’t know, perhaps all the sisters who liked Nutella in the west decided to migrate to sham..?” She added that when they came to the Islamic State they were greeted by “shops were stocked with goodies such as Nutella, kinder bueno, snickers and just things we would find back home. And so I guess that’s why its so popular…. it’s a luxury we never thought we would find in this war torn country.”

And those kittens? Yes, there is a Twitter account that hasn’t been updated in a while but specializes is posting pics of terrorists and their cats.

Ad Week had a bit of advice for CNN: “Even if the segment was about how ISIS was adopting a Western style approach to social media to seem less threatening and ultimately lure recruits (which it wasn’t), avoid screen-grabbable-and-meme-ready graphics like the above, which distract from the discussion, rather than inform it. Far more people have seen that graphic online–free of context–than watched the segment, and for them, it’s been nothing but a lure for people to crack jokes. Just a thought.”

 

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Ash Wednesday and Lunar New Year Greetings from the Administration

Wednesday, February 18th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

A statement from President Obama:

Today, Michelle and I join our fellow Christians across the country and around the world in marking Ash Wednesday. Lent is a season of sacrifice and preparation, repentance and renewal. Through reflection on the teachings that guide us, we reaffirm our commitment to God and one another — and we remember those who are suffering, including those persecuted for their faith. We join millions in deepening our faith as we look toward the Easter celebration.

Meanwhile, today’s greeting from Secretary of State John Kerry, getting ahead of the occasion:

On behalf of President Obama and the people of the United States, I am delighted to express my wishes of good health, good fortune, and happiness to those around the world celebrating the Lunar New Year on February 19.

As many throughout the Asia-Pacific and in the United States gather with family, let us also remember the closeness we share as global citizens. We can feel proud of the bonds we have strengthened as Pacific nations, and the prosperity and mutual understanding we have jointly achieved. Let us also look forward to the great possibilities of the New Year. As we continue to advance shared cultural understanding, economic cooperation, regional security, and educational partnerships, we will open doors to mutually beneficial opportunities. Let us build on the momentum of our agreements concerning environmental protection, health improvement, and poverty reduction to better the lives not just of individual countries, but the entire world.

President Obama and I look forward to the year ahead. There will be great challenges, but there will also be great achievements as we work together toward common goals. We wish you a festive Lunar New Year celebration, and success and prosperity in the days to come.

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Harf on ‘Too Nuanced’ Comments: ‘We’re Very Good’ at Killing Terrorists, But…

Wednesday, February 18th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf this morning defended her comments on not being able to defeat ISIS by killing the terrorists, telling MSNBC “there are a lot of different extremist threats we face and there are different tools we have to go after each one of them.”

“We are killing them and we will continue killing ISIS terrorists that pose a threat to us. We’re very good at that,” Harf said. “…But in the longer term, and this isn’t specific to ISIL, military commanders, politicians of both parties, counterterrorism experts all agree that if you’re going to prevent terrorist groups from spreading to other places and getting more recruits, you have to look at root causes that can lead people to extremism. You have to do it all of it. You have to take them on militarily, but you have to look at things like governance, like opportunity, so these groups aren’t able to get more people to their cause. Absolutely.”

Harf added it’s “not something the United States can do on its own,” referencing this week’s summit on violent extremism hosted by the White House.

“This is not just a threat in one place. If you look at the Lord’s Resistance Army and Kony, Josephy Kony — I don’t remember people talking about that much more — but that’s a Christian militant group,” she said.

She then claimed that the U.S. has “gotten countries like Egypt, like Jordan, others, on board with this effort against ISIL” — countries taking revenge militarily on attacks against their own people.

“In the short term, where we have to take military action and we’re very committed to that, it is extraordinary to see other Arab countries taking airstrikes in Syria against ISIL. That is a very extraordinary thing. We’ve really seen the region come together against this threat,” Harf continued. “But it’s not just military. They have to do more to cut off financing, the cut off the flow of foreign fighters. If you look at a country like Turkey, that’s a main route for people to get into Syria.”

Last night on CNN, Harf said she hasn’t read the criticism of her comments and was just echoing what others have said.

“Military commanders that we’ve had throughout many years here fighting this war on terrorism have said the exact same thing, that in the short term when there’s a threat like ISIL. We’ll take direct military action against these terrorists. We have done that. We are doing that in Iraq and Syria,” she said. “But longer term, we have to look at how we combat the conditions that can lead people to turn to extremism.”

Blitzer then challenged her assertion that terrorists just need jobs to turn then away from a life of jihad, noting that some of the most infamous terrorists have come from rich families. “So you suggested that maybe if you find these young men jobs, they might not become terrorists?” Blitzer asked.

Harf said Blitzer was making a “gross oversimplification,” and said her argument about getting to the “root cause” of terrorism “might be too nuanced an argument for some.”

Her original comments sparked the #JobsForISIS hashtag on Twitter. A sampling:

 

 

 

 

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Obama on Immigration Ruling: No Applications Yet Because ‘the Law Is the Law’

Wednesday, February 18th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

President Obama’s said his administration will be “prepared to implement” his immigration executive actions “fully as soon as the legal issues get resolved.”

U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen of Federal District Court in Brownsville blocked the administration’s execution of the orders as lawsuits are pending from 26 states.

Stressing that he disagreed with the ruling, Obama told reporters in the Oval Office yesterday “this is not the first time where a lower court judge blocked something or attempted to block something that ultimately was shown to be lawful.”

“And I’m confident that it is well within my authority and position of the executive branch’s prosecutorial discretion to execute this law. This will help us make our borders safer; will help us go after criminals and those that we don’t want in this country; will help people get on the right side of the law and get out of the shadows,” he said.

“And keep in mind that this is something that we necessarily have to make choices about because we’ve got 11 million people here who we’re not all going to deport. Many of them are our neighbors. Many of them are working in our communities. Many of their children are U.S. citizens. And as we saw with the executive action that I took for DREAMers, people who have come here as young children and are American by any other name except for their legal papers, who want to serve this country, oftentimes want to go into the military or start businesses or in other ways contribute — I think the American people overwhelmingly recognize that to pretend like we are going to ship them off is unrealistic and not who we are.”

The application period for Obama’s expansion of the deferred action program was set to begin today. Obama said the Department of Homeland Security would figure out how to proceed from here.

DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson said they “fully expect to ultimately prevail in the courts, and we will be prepared to implement DAPA and expanded DACA once we do.”

“It is important to emphasize what the District Court’s order does not affect,” Johnson added. “The Court’s order does not affect the existing DACA. Individuals may continue to come forward and request initial grant of DACA or renewal of DACA pursuant to the guidelines established in 2012. Nor does the Court’s order affect this Department’s ability to set and implement enforcement priorities.”

Obama said the administration is “not going to disregard this federal court ruling.”

“The law is the law in this country, and we take things a step at a time. So we’re not going to be actually taking applications in until this case is settled. But we are doing the preparatory work because this is a big piece of business and it’s important for us to do in order for us to actually secure our borders effectively and allocate limited resources to the most important tasks and functions that the Department of Homeland Security has,” the president said.

“We should not be tearing some mom away from her child when the child has been born here and that mom has been living here for the last 10 years, minding her own business and being a important part of the community. We should be focusing on stopping people at the borders, reinforcing our effectiveness there, going after criminals and felons who are in our midst who we can deport, strengthening our systems for legal immigration. Those are all the things that we could be doing through a comprehensive immigration reform bill, and in fact, we know that there has been in the past bipartisan support for that.”

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) noted that on 22 separate occasions, “President Obama himself admitted the Constitution did not grant him authority to take executive action on immigration.”

“The president, preferring to steamroll Congress and the American people rather than engage in dialog with them, has now changed his tune and sought to vest himself with the unchecked authority to rewrite our immigration system in a last ditch effort to craft his preferred ideological legacy,” Issa said. “But the fact remains that the president’s proposal, aside from being blatantly unconstitutional, is both bad for America and bad for the very people it purports to help, ultimately leaving them in legal limbo, rather than finally taking decisive action.”

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Extremism Summit Opens with CAIR Calling for Threat Discussion in ‘Proportionate, Non-Existential Terms’

Tuesday, February 17th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

The White House’s Countering Violent Extremism summit opened in Washington today with criticism from both sides – those who thought the administration’s effort was “stigmatizing” Muslims, and those who objected to the conference’s wide breadth beyond radical Islam.

It wasn’t even clear who was participating in the summit, besides representatives from more than 60 countries, according to the White House. State Department press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters Tuesday that she’d try to get a list.

On the Wednesday schedule: a late afternoon address from President Obama. On Thursday, Obama will speak again to official ministerial delegations. Secretary of State John Kerry will take center stage Thursday in “outlining the action agenda and moderating the third section which is about getting senior-level perspective on the changing threats of violent extremism, which comes in many forms,” a senior administration official said.

The administration organized the conference in reaction to the January terrorist attacks in Paris. They did not send an administration-level representative to the unity march called by French President Francois Hollande afterward, and stopped using the term “radical Islam” to describe terrorists.

A senior administration official responded Monday to a question about whether the Islamic element of extremist attacks was being glossed over with an answer about Marxist rebels in Colombia.

“I think obviously we want to be taking into account the current concerns that different countries are facing.  But as I think will be clear from the variety of presentations and case studies that are mentioned — to include some of the media that we have organized to help catalyze the discussion that features some of the longer-running terrorist threats that people sometimes forget about in the current context, such as the FARC in Colombia, which is now in negotiations, but has been a designated terrorist organization for some time, responsible for countless acts of violence,” the official said.

“I think we will see through the complexity of the discussion that violent extremism is a broader trend, and that everyone will be approaching it through their own lens of their immediate concerns, but there are lessons to be learned across all forms of efforts to counter different types of violent extremism. And again, as was just mentioned, the interventions themselves must be specific and localized even if they happen to be falling under the same umbrella category. So I think we’ll see in the context of the meeting itself the diversity that reflects the reality of recent history.”

Another official said on background that those “who perpetrated the terrorist attacks in Paris and elsewhere are calling themselves Muslims and their warped  interpretation of Islam is what motivated them to commit these acts — they’re not making any secret of that, and neither are we.”

“But we are very, very clear that we do not believe that they are representing Islam.  There is absolutely no justification for these attacks in any religion, and that’s the view of the vast majority of Muslims who have suffered huge casualties from the likes of folks like ISIL or al-Qaeda. So you can call them what you want,” the official continued. “We’re calling them terrorists. And the president is absolutely resolved to confront this threat. He’s made it clear that we’re at war with terrorist groups and he’s taken scores of high-level terrorists off the battlefield.”

“So we are not treating these people as part of a religion. We’re treating them as terrorists. We call them our enemies and we’ll be treating them as such.”

The Council on American-Islamic Relations, though, held a press conference in Minneapolis today asserting that the Justice Department’s Countering Violent Extremism pilot program just raises concerns.

CAIR prepared a brief last week stating that “CAIR is a natural enemy of violent extremists” and arguing the administration’s initiatives, including one announced in September as a way to counter “homegrown” terrorists, are not the “most effective use of public resources.”

CAIR issued the following recommendations to the U.S. government:

– “The U.S. government should avoid practices that stigmatize American Muslims and Islam.”

– “U.S. government entities should discuss violent extremist threats in proportionate, non-existential terms.”

– “The Department of Justice should issue guidelines, similar to Good Samaritan laws, to protect those who act in good faith to prevent violent extremism by engaging with those considering it in order to dissuade them. DOJ policies should make clear that those who intervene to help others should not suffer for it by being subjected to prosecution, watchlisting, or surveillance because of their association with a potential violent extremist.”

– “The U.S. Congress should hold hearings, similar to the Church Committee, to investigate the federal government’s overbroad surveillance of mosques and American Muslims, absent evidence of criminal activity.”

– “In any government driven CVE program, there must be clear standards and safeguards to prevent abuses.”

“According to the information available to CAIR, U.S. Attorney’s in all three pilot cities for the current CVE initiative solely targeted Muslims,” the brief states. “…The absence of nationally-announced government CVE programs targeting violence emanating from white supremacist or anti-government groups results in the false insinuation that American Muslims are not fully invested in honoring our religious and civic duty to our nation.”

Attorney General Eric Holder quipped at the National Press Club today that “whenever you’re getting criticized by both sides, it probably means you are probably getting it right.”

“You know, it’s — we spend more time, more time talking about what you do call it as opposed to what do you do about it. You know? I mean really, you know. You know, if Fox didn’t talk about this, they would have nothing else to talk about, it would seem to me. You know, radical Islam, Islamic extremism, you know, I’m not sure an awful lot is gained by saying that,” Holder said.

“…What we have to do is defined not by the terms that we use, but by the facts on the ground. And you know, so I don’t worry an awful lot about what the appropriate terminology, you know, ought to be. You know, and I think that people need to actually think about that and think about, really, we’re having this conversation about words as opposed to what our actions ought to be?”

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Psaki ‘Not Going to Put New Labels’ on Mass Beheading of ‘Egyptian Citizens’

Tuesday, February 17th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

State Department press secretary Jen Psaki stressed the beheading of 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians by ISIS wasn’t just an issue of religion, even when confronted with the pope’s words on the murders.

Pope Francis today said a Mass for “our 21 Coptic brothers, slaughtered for the sole reason that they were Christians.”

“The blood of our Christian brothers and sisters is a testimony which cries out to be heard,” Francis said earlier. “It makes no difference whether they be Catholics, Orthodox, Copts or Protestants. They are Christians!”

Asked about the pope’s reaction in a phone call today with reporters, and asked specifically “does the administration agree” the men were killed because of their faith, Psaki said she was “not going to put new labels or — or, certainly, argue with comments of the pope.”

“But I would say that we have spoken in the past about, you know, our concerns about the, you know, targeting of — of religious groups, and we’ve seen, unfortunately, this happen in Iraq and other places,” Psaki said. “ISIL has gone after not just individuals for religious affiliation but for being a woman, for being — for even people with disabilities. And so we’ve seen the barbarity of their tactics.”

“But, you know, beyond that, obviously, this is simply a horrific attack of terrorism and one that we came out this weekend and joined many countries in the world in condemning.”

The Obama administration stood out among other U.S. allies for not identifying the slain men as Coptic Christians, simply condemning the mass murder of “Egyptian citizens.” Australia, the UK, and Canada all noted the victims were Christian.

Psaki was also asked about spokeswoman Marie Harf’s comments to MSNBC that “we cannot kill our way of this war” and assertion that disaffected jihadists need good-paying jobs.

“Marie, my colleague, was saying what we’ve said many times, which is this is not only a military solution. A military solution will not bring an end to ISIL,” Psaki replied. “That’s why there are several components of our coalition. Yes, the military component is important, and we’ve done thousands of strikes in Iraq and Syria. That’s continuing to pick up, as you know, and you’ve covered quite a bit.”

“But we also need to delegitimize ISIL. If the ideology is out there and growing, ISIL will continue to grow and thrive. We need to cut off their financing. We need to prevent foreign fighters from moving.”

Psaki said Harf was talking “not just ISIL” but referring to the Countering Violent Extremism summit that began in Washington today, which “is broad.”

“It’s not just about ISIL. That’s certainly the part of it. But it’s about countering violent extremism and how to take on this threat over the long term,” she said. “And obviously, there are several components as — and the evidence of that is also all of the different breakout groups that are happening throughout the summit. But, again, I think this is something we’ve talked about quite a bit. And the need to make sure we’re working with countries to address some of the root causes that have led to the — you know, ability to recruit.”

Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), whose state includes a “vibrant and thriving Coptic community,” said the “innocent men were murdered because of their Christian faith.”

“But this attack was targeted at all people — Coptic, Egyptian, American, and all who reject extreme ideologies that have no basis in religious doctrine, but rather are rooted in hatred and ignorance,” Menendez added in a statement.

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Holder ‘Confident’ Ferguson Investigation Results Will be Released Before He Leaves Office

Tuesday, February 17th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Attorney General Eric Holder said at the National Press Club today that he intends to release the Justice Department’s findings in the Michael Brown shooting before he leaves office.

That’s not exactly a solid timetable, as a vote on Loretta Lynch’s nomination to succeed Holder hasn’t yet come to the Senate floor for a vote. Only one Republican senator, Orrin Hatch (Utah), has publicly indicated he’ll vote for Lynch.

Holder ordered the review of the September shooting months ago; protests have since cooled.

“It is my intention to announce our determination, the decision that we’ve made both with regard to the individual officer’s conduct in the shooting of Michael Brown, as well as the pattern and practice investigation that we have done into the Ferguson Police Department,” he said, referencing potential civil rights charges for Office Darren Wilson, who was not indicted by a grand jury.

“My hope is, as I said, that we will do this before I leave office, and I’m confident that we will do that — though I guess it’s ultimately up to Congress as to when I actually leave office,” Holder continued, quipping, “You would think, in some ways, that her — Loretta’s process would be sped up, given their desire to see me out of office.”

The attorney general added that “logic has never been necessarily a guide up there” in Congress.

“But in any case, my hope would be, as I said, to make these determinations before I go. The reviews are under way. I was briefed on both of them just last week,” Holder said. “I’m satisfied with the progress that we have made, and also comfortable in saying that I think I’m going to be able to make those calls before I leave office.”

Holder said it wasn’t “inappropriate” that he called for change at the Ferguson Police Department before the DOJ investigation was complete, noting “the reality is that I had been briefed all along on this matter.”

“I think everybody will see when we announce our results that the process that we’ve engaged in is, as I said at the time back when I went to Ferguson, independent, thorough and based only on the facts and the law,” he said. “And I’m confident that people will be satisfied with the results that we announce.”

Multiple news outlets last month, citing unnamed sources, reported that the DOJ will not recommended federal charges against Wilson.

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New SecDef Sworn in; Biden Gets Creepy with Carter’s Wife

Tuesday, February 17th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

 

Ashton Carter was sworn in as secretary of Defense today with a pledge to help guide President Obama in a wise national security direction and with a little creepiness from Vice President Biden.

During a 20-minute ceremony in the Roosevelt Room at the White House, Biden lauded Carter as a “profoundly capable manager,” singling out how he secured “protective undergarments” and mine-resistant vehicles for troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Biden got cozy with Carter’s wife, Stephanie, while the new SecDef outlined a bit of his vision.

In a message released to Defense Department staff, Carter said he has three top priorities.

“Our first priority is helping the president make the best possible national security decisions for protecting our country and then implementing those decisions with our department’s long-admired excellence,” he said.

Chuck Hagel’s term as Defense secretary ended after a reported disagreement with the president on policy, and Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.) has warned Carter, who served under 11 secretaries of Defense in more than 30 years at the Pentagon, will not have influence in the administration.

“We confront a turbulent and dangerous world: continuing turmoil in the Middle East and North Africa, and the malignant and savage terrorism emanating from it; an ongoing conflict in Afghanistan; a reversion to archaic security thinking in parts of Europe; tensions in the Asia-Pacific; the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction; and intensifying threats in cyberspace,” Carter said. “In addressing these challenges, I have pledged to provide the president my most candid strategic advice. I will count on your experience and expertise as I formulate that advice. I will also ensure the president receives candid professional military advice.”

The second priority is “ensuring the strength and health of you who make up the greatest fighting force the world has ever known our soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, civilians, and contractors all around the world.”

“I will do that by focusing on the well-being, safety, and dignity of each of you and your families. I will ensure your training and equipment are as superb as you are. And I pledge to make decisions about sending you into harm’s way with the greatest reflection and utmost care because this is my highest responsibility as secretary of Defense,” he said.

“Honoring all these commitments also requires us to focus on building the force of the future, which is my third priority… To win support from our fellow citizens for the resources we need, we must show that we can make better use of every taxpayer dollar. That means a leaner organization, less overhead, and reforming our business and acquisition practices. It also means embracing the future and embracing change.”

 

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Netanyahu: ‘How Could Any Responsible Israeli Prime Minister Refuse to Speak to Congress’ on Iran?

Tuesday, February 17th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stressed to the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations in Jerusalem on Monday that the “real question” that should be asked about his upcoming Washington trip “is how could any responsible Israeli prime minister refuse to speak to Congress on a matter so important to Israel’s survival.”

“How could anyone refuse an invitation to speak on a matter that could affect our very existence when such an invitation is offered?” he said.

Netanyahu also defended the timing of the March 3 speech, which coincides with the AIPAC mega-conference in D.C. but the White House complains is too close to Israeli elections.

“The deadline for reaching an agreement with Iran is March 24th. That’s the date that drives the speech. Now is the time for Israel to make its case – now before it’s too late. Would it be better to complain about a deal that threatens the security of Israel after it’s signed? I believe it’s more responsible to speak out now to try to influence the negotiations while they’re still ongoing,” he said.

The prime minister added “the whole point of Zionism is that the Jewish people would no longer be spectators to the decision-making that determines our fate.”

“Remember, we were once powerless. We were once voiceless. We couldn’t even speak on our own behalf. Well, we can and we do now,” he said. “The answer to all three questions are the same. Why Congress? Why Washington? Why now? Because of the grave dangers posed by the deal that is on the table right now.”

Netanyahu stressed that the “survival of Israel is not a partisan issue.”

“The fight against militant Islamic terrorism is not a partisan issue. The battle against the Islamic State, which just beheaded 21 Christians, is not a partisan issue. And the effort to prevent the Islamic Republic from building nuclear weapons, that’s not a partisan issue either,” he continued. “I think the pursuit of nuclear weapons by Iran is the most urgent security challenge facing the world. I think the greatest danger facing humanity is the possibility that any movement or any regime of militant Islam will arm itself with the weapons of mass destruction. Everything that we see in our region now will pale by comparison. Everything that we see in Europe will pale by comparison.”

“When a militant Islamic regime that is rampaging through the region right now – that’s what Iran is doing, it’s conducting a rampage through the region – when such a regime has nuclear weapons, the whole world will be in peril. Look at what Iran is doing now without nuclear weapons. States are collapsing. And Iran is plunging forward. It’s already controlling four capitals. It’s controlling now through its Houthi proxies the Bab-el-Mandeb Straits. It’s trying to envelope Israel with three terrorist tentacles – Lebanon, Hezbollah, Hamas in Gaza and now it’s trying to build with its Hezbollah proxies a third front in the Golan. Such a regime with nuclear weapons would be infinitely more dangerous to everyone, not only to Israel.”

Netanyahu asked if his address to a joint session of Congress “will prevent a dangerous deal with Iran from being signed.”

“Honestly, I don’t know. No one knows,” he replied.

“But I do know this – it’s my sacred duty as prime minister of Israel to make Israel’s case. On March 3rd, I’ll fulfill that duty, representing all the citizens of Israel before the two houses of Congress. And I will make the best case for Israel that I can, knowing that our case is just, that our case is sound, and that our case offers the best hope to resolve this issue peacefully.”

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Bahrain Prince: ‘War on Terror’ Must be Defined as Battle Against ‘Evil Fascist Theocracies’

Tuesday, February 17th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

The crown prince of Bahrain argued in an op-ed for the Telegraph that bickering over ISIS’ name or religion (see the White House refusal to use “radical Islamists”) needs to be replaced across the board with the recognition that the world is fighting theocrats.

Bahrain is sending units from its Defense Forces to help Jordan and is also the base for the U.S. Fifth Fleet.

Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, a 45-year-old educated in America and England, is viewed as the reformer among Bahrain’s royal family.

Writes the prince, in part:

Terrorism is not an ideology; we are not merely fighting terrorists, we are fighting theocrats.

…If we start to define ourselves as in a war with theocrats, however, then I believe we can begin the process of delivering the military, political, economic – and maybe even the social – policies to counter this threat together, as we have in the past. In the last century, the world faced a series of overwhelming threats: fascism, totalitarianism, cold-war communism. They were studied, however, as concepts, understood and clearly defined. We addressed them, clinically, as ideologies.

So what do we call this new form of ideology, how do we identify it and how do we define it? We must agree the specific terminology and identified characteristics to take us to the very root of the problem we face. For one group alone, we already struggle with an absurdity of titles including Isis, Isil, IS and Da’ish. We see the likes of al-Qaeda and its various offshoots. We have al-Shabab and Boko Haram and that’s before contemplating yet unformed groups of their type that may develop in the future. In each case, however, we continue to hop blindly and haphazardly from one tactical threat to the other, without strategically understanding or categorising our foe.

We can begin this process by more fully analysing their characteristics. We know these are people who attempt to govern us here on Earth as well as in the hereafter. They isolate themselves and place no value on the social contract established among ourselves as societies of human beings. They oppress women and slaughter those who do not condone, approve of or subscribe to their own twisted ideology. They also govern by religious edict, constraining the use of reason itself among would-be believers. Their methodology combines the tactics of religious ideology alongside lawless paramilitary rule. It is fuelled by the gains of criminal enterprise in order to establish the fiction of governance, through which continues the desperate fight for geographic territory to claim, protect and rule.

The prince adds that “while we grapple with the conceptual, practical and legal protections of media regulation and online freedom, they ruthlessly exploit these platforms to sow hatred and showcase evil.” A “new-world foe,” he argues, cannot be defeated “through old world solutions alone.”

“While in all probability we will sadly be fighting them for a long time to come, barbaric and primitive though they are, it is naming and understanding of the ideology itself that should next be our target,” Salman writes. “These individuals and groups will of course ebb and flow, but it is the ideology that must be combated and defeated. In the process, we can replace the term ‘war on terror’ and focus on the real threat, which is the rise of these evil fascist theocracies.”

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Court Blocks Obama’s Immigration Actions; White House Vows to Appeal

Tuesday, February 17th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

The White House is fuming at a Texas court’s decision late Monday to block President Obama’s immigration executive actions, while the No. 2 Republican in the Senate said it just reinforced what the GOP has been saying all along about the legality of the actions.

U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen of Federal District Court in Brownsville blocked the administration’s execution of the orders as lawsuits are pending from 26 states.

According to the New York Times, Hanen “said the Obama administration had failed to comply with basic administrative procedures for putting such a sweeping program into effect” and the states opposing the actions had “satisfied the minimum legal requirements to bring their lawsuit.”

“The Supreme Court and Congress have made clear that the federal government can set priorities in enforcing our immigration laws—which is exactly what the president did when he announced commonsense policies to help fix our broken immigration system,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest said in a statement issued before 3 a.m. “Those policies are consistent with the laws passed by Congress and decisions of the Supreme Court, as well as five decades of precedent by presidents of both parties who have used their authority to set priorities in enforcing our immigration laws.”

“The Department of Justice, legal scholars, immigration experts, and the district court in Washington, D.C. have determined that the president’s actions are well within his legal authority,” Earnest continued. “Top law enforcement officials, along with state and local leaders across the country, have emphasized that these policies will also benefit the economy and help keep communities safe. The district court’s decision wrongly prevents these lawful, commonsense policies from taking effect and the Department of Justice has indicated that it will appeal that decision.”

Texas Sen. John Cornyn (R), the majority whip in the upper chamber, said the ruling “reinforces what I and many others have been saying for a long time: that President Obama acted outside the law when he went around Congress to unilaterally change our nation’s immigration laws.”

“Today’s victory is an important one, but the fight to reverse the president’s unconstitutional overreach is not over,” Cornyn added. “The president must respect the rule of law and fully obey the court’s ruling.”

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), though, said Hanen’s ruling “betrays a strong potential bias against the president’s action.”

“This federal trial court order blocking the president’s immigration directives is deeply and destructively wrong, and should be reversed immediately,” Blumenthal said. “Misguided both legally and factually, it apparently presumes legal standing for  states that suffer no direct harm, let alone the irreparable harm the law requires for this court order. This ruling is deeply flawed and should be immediately overturned. Whatever the legal outcome, Congress must act to correct our failed immigration system.”

The expansion of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program was set to begin accepting applications tomorrow.

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White House Condemns ‘Murder of Egyptian Citizens’ by ISIS

Sunday, February 15th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

White House press secretary Josh Earnest issued a statement tonight on the ISIS mass beheading video in which 21 Coptic Christians were murdered on the Libyan coast:

The United States condemns the despicable and cowardly murder of twenty-one Egyptian citizens in Libya by ISIL-affiliated terrorists. We offer our condolences to the families of the victims and our support to the Egyptian government and people as they grieve for their fellow citizens. ISIL’s barbarity knows no bounds. It is unconstrained by faith, sect, or ethnicity. This wanton killing of innocents is just the most recent of the many vicious acts perpetrated by ISIL-affiliated terrorists against the people of the region, including the murders of dozens of Egyptian soldiers in the Sinai, which only further galvanizes the international community to unite against ISIL.

This heinous act once again underscores the urgent need for a political resolution to the conflict in Libya, the continuation of which only benefits terrorist groups, including ISIL. We call on all Libyans to strongly reject this and all acts of terrorism and to unite in the face of this shared and growing threat. We continue to strongly support the efforts of the United Nations Special Representative of the Secretary-General Bernardino Leon to facilitate formation of a national unity government and help foster a political solution in Libya.

The Australian government used the “CC” word in their statement:

 

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper said:

I am outraged and saddened by the beheadings of Egyptian Coptic Orthodox Christians in Libya by groups linked to ISIL. Coming soon after the savage burning of Royal Jordanian Airforce pilot Moaz al-Kasasbeh, the threat posed by ISIL could not be clearer.

On behalf of all Canadians, I offer my deepest condolences to the families and friends of those killed and to the Coptic community here in Canada, who will feel the loss especially grievously.

Canada is proud to stand with its allies in the fight against ISIL. We will continue to stand firmly together against these terrorists who threaten the peace and freedom we hold so dear at home and that we wish for those abroad.

Barbaric acts such as this do not shake our resolve but, rather, confirm the rightness of our cause and the vital necessity of our mission against ISIL. We will not be intimidated.

From British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond:

I strongly condemn the murders of 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians by ISIL-affiliated extremists in Libya. My thoughts are with the families of those killed.

Such barbaric acts strengthen our determination to work with our partners to counter the expanding terrorist threat to Libya and the region. Acts of terrorism should not be allowed to undermine Libya’s political transition. We remain fully supportive of the UN’s efforts to build a national unity government for Libya and to bring a political solution to the ongoing security crisis. Those who support terrorists can have no part in this process.

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ISIS Beheads Coptic Christians, El-Sisi Vows to ‘Avenge’ Murders

Sunday, February 15th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

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ISIS released a horrific video today confirming its spread to Libya as 21 Coptic Christians were beheaded on the beach.

With the image of the victims’ blood mixing with the waters of Mediterranean, ISIS’ Al-Hayat media titled the video, “A message signed with blood to the nations of the cross.”

The five-minute video, watched by PJ Media, shows masked ISIS members leading the Egyptian Copts, clad in orange jumpsuits, along the sand. The Egyptians, labeled as “the people of the cross, the followers of the hostile Egyptian church,” are made to kneel on the beach, facing away from the water, as killers stand behind them with knives.

All of the killers wore black except the spokesman, who, wearing camouflage, talks in English and sounds American; the video is subtitled in Arabic. “Safety for you crusaders is something you can only wish for,” he says. Some of the Copts are seen silently mouthing prayers as they stoically await their fate. At least one of the victims, beheaded by the spokesman, is black.

“They supplicate what they worship and die upon their paganism,” the screen says as the victims are leaned forward and beheaded. Their heads are placed upon the bodies.

“And we will conquer Rome, by Allah’s permission,” the American-accented narrator says, pointing his dagger at the sea.

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The American-accented ISIS spokesman in the mass beheading video

ISIS published stills from the video in last week’s edition of their magazine Dabiq. The Libyan parliament confirmed Saturday that the Egyptians, kidnapped in January from Sirte where they’d gone to find work, were dead. Today the video link was tweeted from an ISIS account.

Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi gave a televised address tonight in which he vowed to retaliate for the murders and warned of the “ferocious threats” facing the world. He also closed the border with Libya and is forbidding Egyptians from seeking work there, and announced a seven-day mourning period across the country.

El-Sisi is sending his foreign minister to the United Nations to “place the international community before its responsibility and to take necessary procedures in line with the UN convention and to declare that what is happening in Libya threatens international peace and security.”

He vowed that he’ll choose the “necessary means and timing to avenge the criminal killings.”

 

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Netanyahu: Attacks on Jews Across Europe ‘Expected to Continue,’ Israel Preps for ‘Mass Immigration’

Sunday, February 15th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reiterated his vow to make immigration easier for Jews in the wake of the twin attacks in Copenhagen on Saturday.

Documentary filmmaker Finn Noergaard, 55, was killed at a cafe where Lars Vilks, a cartoonist who has depicted Muhammad, was speaking at a forum on free speech. Dan Uzan, 37, a longtime security guard at a Copenhagen synagogue, was outside a bar mitzvah when was was shot dead later in the day.

The suspect in both attacks, Omar El-Hussein, 22, was killed in a shootout with police before dawn.

“Extremist Islamic terrorism has struck Europe again, this time in Denmark. We send our condolences to the Danish people and to the Jewish community in Denmark,” Netanyahu said at the start of today’s cabinet meeting. “Jews have been murdered again on European soil only because they were Jews and this wave of terrorist attacks – including murderous anti-Semitic attacks – is expected to continue.”

“Of course, Jews deserve protection in every country but we say to Jews, to our brothers and sisters: Israel is your home. We are preparing and calling for the absorption of mass immigration from Europe. I would like to tell all European Jews and all Jews wherever they are: ‘Israel is the home of every Jew,’” he said, a similar welcome extended to Jews after the attack on the kosher supermarket in Paris.

Netanyahu today submitted to his cabinet “a NIS 180 million plan to encourage the absorption of immigrants from France, Belgium and Ukraine.”

“We will submit additional plans later,” he said. “To the Jews of Europe and to the Jews of the world I say that Israel is waiting for you with open arms.”

Denmark’s chief rabbi, Yair Melchior, said he was “disappointed” by Netanyahu’s response.

“People from Denmark move to Israel because they love Israel, because of Zionism. But not because of terrorism,” the rabbi said. “If the way we deal with terror is to run somewhere else, we should all run to a deserted island.”

In 2012, Israel’s ambassador to Denmark advised travelers “to wait to don their skullcaps until they enter the building and not to wear them in the street, irrespective of whether the areas they are visiting are seen as being safe,” as well as not to “speak Hebrew loudly” or openly wear Star of David jewelry.

Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt said Sunday the country had “tasted the ugly taste of fear and powerlessness that terror would like to create.” Her selfie partner, President Obama, did not have comment beyond what the National Security Council spokeswoman said Saturday. He was out on the golf course in Palm Springs again today.

White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough, who was interviewed between the first and second attacks for a segment aired today, referenced this week’s upcoming White House Summit on Countering Violent Extremism, which was announced by the administration’s after January’s Paris attacks.

“We obviously made clear that we abhor this and will not let these kind of attacks stand,” McDonough said. “We are scheduling a summit late in the week, a three-day summit at the State Department, on countering violent extremism because we know that AQAP, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, has plans to do things like this around the world. We want to make sure that we are staying one step ahead of them.”

Vilks was on a 2013 wanted poster in AQAP’s Inspire magazine.

Secretary of State John Kerry didn’t have any direct comment on the attacks; press secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement that the U.S. “condemns the terrorist attacks that took place over the weekend in Copenhagen, Denmark.”

“The first attack on Saturday was against a meeting to discuss art, religion, and free speech. The second, early Sunday morning, was against a synagogue. Our deepest condolences go out to the family of the victims who were killed, and our thoughts are with the security officials injured in these terror attacks,” Psaki said.

“We remain in communication with Danish authorities and have offered to be of assistance in any way needed. The people of the United States stand united with the people of Denmark and all others who defend the universal right of freedom of speech and stand against anti-Semitism and bigotry in all its forms.”

The victims Dan Uzan and Finn Noergaard:

 

 

And the killer:

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Synagogue Attacked as Terror Spree Continues in Copenhagen

Saturday, February 14th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

The White House issued its first reaction to today’s terrorist attack in Copenhagen just before reports came in of shots fired at a synagogue.

“The United States condemns today’s deplorable shooting in Copenhagen,” National Security Council spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan said in a statement, in reference to the attack on a free-speech forum where cartoonist Lars Vilks was speaking. “We offer our condolences to the loved ones of the deceased victim, and our thoughts are with those wounded in this attack. We have been in close contact with our Danish counterparts and stand ready to lend any assistance necessary to the investigation.”

Vilks was featured on a “wanted” poster in a 2013 issue of al-Qaeda’s Inspire magazine. Next to Vilks on the poster was Stéphane Charbonnier, murdered in the January attack on Charlie Hebdo.

The date is significant because today in 1989, Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa calling for the murder of Salman Rushdie and his publishers over The Satanic Verses.

President Obama is in Palm Springs for the weekend and was on the golf course as the day’s events unfolded.

An update from Haaretz on a rapidly unfolding situation:

Three people were wounded in a shooting outside of a Copenhagen synagogue, Danish police said late Saturday night.

Police say one person was shot in the head and two policemen were injured by gunfire before the shooter fled by foot.

However, police said it was too early to link the synagogue shooting to Saturday’s shooting that left one dead and three wounded.

Danish television station TV2 said a large metro and train station nearby, Norreport, was being evacuated.

A civilian was killed and three police were wounded on Saturday in a shooting at a meeting in Copenhagen attended by Lars Vilks, an artist who has received death threats since publishing images of the Prophet Mohammed.

The guard at the synagogue, shot in the head, has reportedly died of his wounds.

Inna Shevchenko of the Ukrainian protest group FEMEN was in the cafe for the Vilks event and live-tweeted much of the earlier shooting. She said she heard about 20 shots as they started to run. Police were guarding the event. BBC has audio of the attack.

 

Of course, some were cheering the attacks.

 

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Holder: DOJ to ‘Help Ensure That Justice Will be Served’ in Muslim Student Murders

Friday, February 13th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Attorney General Eric Holder said in a statement this evening that he’s “made available the full resources of the Department of Justice to help ensure that justice will be served” in the case of the three Muslim students killed in Chapel Hill, N.C.

Craig Hicks, 46, turned himself into police after Deah Shaddy Barakat, Barakat’s wife, Yusor Abu-Salha, and her sister, Razan Abu-Salha, were killed on Tuesday. Police said initial evidence points to a parking dispute, but the family claims they were targeted because of their faith.

President Obama made his first statement on the crime today as well, announcing that the FBI would be probing to see if federal laws were violated. “No one in the United States of America should ever be targeted because of who they are, what they look like, or how they worship,” he said.

Holder said he was “shocked and saddened” by the “heinous murders.” All three youths were shot in the head in their apartment.

“The Department’s Civil Rights Division and the FBI, along with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of North Carolina, have opened a parallel preliminary inquiry to determine whether any federal laws, including hate crime laws, were violated,” Holder continued.

“Protecting the safety and securing the civil rights of everyone in this country is, and must always remain, a top priority for today’s Department of Justice. We will never waver in this commitment. And going forward, we pledge to stand with the families of these three remarkable young people – and with all whose lives were touched by this tragedy – as they begin the long road to healing.”

The administration’s response comes a day after Washington was chided by Islamist Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan for not saying anything about the crime.

“If you stay silent when faced with an incident like this, and don’t make a statement, the world will stay silent towards you,” Erdoğan said, calling the silence Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State John Kerry “telling.”

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State Dept. Expects Up to 2,000 Syrian Refugees This Year, More in 2016

Friday, February 13th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

The State Department said the number of refugees admitted from Syria is expected to increase despite concern voice in a House Homeland Security hearing this week that the program is a “huge mistake.”

Press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters that 524 Syrians have been admitted as refugees since the uprising against Bashar Assad’s regime began in 2011.

“We’re likely to admit 1,000 to 2,000 Syrian refugees for permanent resettlement in fiscal year 2015 and a somewhat higher number that is still in the low thousands in fiscal year 2016,” she said. “I don’t have anymore details on where. There’s obviously an entire process that is undergone.”

Psaki defended the process as keeping in standing with the United States’ “long tradition of welcoming refugees, many of whom have fled unspeakable horrors and persecution.”

“There has been longstanding bipartisan support for this in Congress. And certainly I think if we look at the crisis in Syria and the unspeakable horrors that many people in that country have gone through, what many people have called for is support for more refugees, which certainly we are open to,” she added.

Refugees are admitted “in a way that is safe and consistent with our national security interests” in a process that “can take months, if not longer.”

“And we have a lot of experience with this, with Afghanistan, with Iraq, with Somalia and other places where the United States has taken refugees in from,” Pskai said. “Refugees are the most carefully vetted of all travelers to the United States. Every refugee under consideration for admission to the United States undergoes the same intensive security screening involving multiple federal intelligence, security, and law enforcement agencies. These include the NCTC, the Terrorist Screening Center, the Department of Defense, the FBI. This process includes a lengthy overseas in-person refugee determination and security screening interview conducted by specifically trained — specially trained DHS officers.”

Homeland Security Committee Chairman Mike McCaul (R-Texas) recently sent a letter to the White House expressing concern over the State Department’s plan to resettle tens of thousands of Syrians fleeing the conflict in the U.S. “I am worried that ISIS could exploit this effort in order to deploy operatives to America via a federally funded jihadi pipeline,” McCaul said this week.

Psaki said today she’s “not seen evidence that suggests that the screening system is not as rigorous as it needs to be.”

She said additional screening measures were implemented “as a result of evidence that came in on two Iraqis after they were admitted to Kentucky” tying them to violent activity in Iraq.

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Obama: FBI Probing Possible Hate-Crimes Violation in Muslim Students’ Murders

Friday, February 13th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

President Obama weighed in today on the shooting of three Muslim students in North Carolina, saying the FBI opened an investigation yesterday into the crime.

Craig Hicks, 46, turned himself into police after Deah Shaddy Barakat, Barakat’s wife, Yusor Abu-Salha, and her sister, Razan Abu-Salha, were killed on Tuesday. Police in Chapel Hill said initial evidence points to a parking dispute.

Family have said the three youths were shot in the head execution-style inside their apartment. A friend said Hicks previously showed up at the apartment, holding a gun, because he thought they were playing the board game Risk too loud.

Neighbors have called him an “equal opportunity” bully, noting he was unfriendly to everyone and regularly complained while openly carrying a gun. He was also an avowed atheist, liking left-wing personalities on his Facebook page and posting against religion in general. His ex-wife said he loved the movie Falling Down, where Michael Douglas’ character goes on a shooting spree.

His current wife said Tuesday that the killings “had nothing do with religion or the victims’ faith,” then announced Wednesday she’s divorcing him.

“In addition to the ongoing investigation by local authorities, the FBI is taking steps to determine whether federal laws were violated,” Obama said in a statement issued by the White House. “No one in the United States of America should ever be targeted because of who they are, what they look like, or how they worship.”

“Michelle and I offer our condolences to the victims’ loved ones. As we saw with the overwhelming presence at the funeral of these young Americans, we are all one American family. Whenever anyone is taken from us before their time, we remember how they lived their lives – and the words of one of the victims should inspire the way we live ours,” Obama added.

He then quoted Yusor, who was going to dentistry school: “Growing up in America has been such a blessing. It doesn’t matter where you come from. There’s so many different people from so many different places, of different backgrounds and religions – but here, we’re all one.”

Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), one of two Muslim members of Congress, said yesterday that there seem to be “enough facts” to investigate federal hate-crime violations.

“There certainly are some facts to indicate that this may — their religion may have been a factor. So, I think that it’s very important that we pursue this and get to the bottom of it. I am confident based on my review of the facts that the parking answer is certainly not the whole story,” Ellison told CNN.

The congressman said he came to that conclusion based on “newspaper articles I’ve read and also people I’ve talked to in North Carolina, who have told me that there was some history between the people, that there may have been comments about — there may have been some comments referring to, you know, religious clothing or clothing associated with certain religious practices.”

“What I want to say is that it’s prudent for us not to jump to a conclusion, but it’s also prudent for us to keep all options open, including the possibility that it was a bias motivated crime,” Ellison added. “I just think that — I don’t want anybody to jump to any conclusions. I want us to keep our minds open and follow the facts where they lead us.”

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Hagel’s Goodbye to Troops: ‘The World Is Still Too Dangerous, and Threats Too Numerous’

Friday, February 13th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Chuck Hagel bid goodbye to the Defense Department today with a warning that “the world is still too dangerous, and threats too numerous.”

“When I joined the United States Army 48 years ago, I could not have imagined one day serving as secretary of defense. It has been a tremendous privilege to serve with you,” Hagel said in a message to the men and women of the department.

“As I leave office, I am immensely proud of what we have accomplished together over the past two years. We have responsibly ended our combat operations in Afghanistan and begun the follow-on mission to preserve our achievements there. We have bolstered enduring alliances and strengthened emerging partnerships, while successfully responding to crises around the world. We have launched vital reforms that will prepare this institution for the challenges of the future. We have fought hard – and made real progress – against the scourge of sexual assault in our ranks,” Hagel continued.

“And after 13 years of war, we have worked to restore our military readiness and ease the burdens on our people and their families.”

He thanked personnel for weathering furloughs and long deployments in the “too dangerous” world.

“A special note to our men and women in uniform: of all the many opportunities my life has given me, I am most proud of having once been a soldier. The lessons from my time in uniform about trust, responsibility, duty, judgment, and loyalty – I have carried these with me throughout my life. As your secretary of defense, I have seen those same traits in each of you,” Hagel said.

“Whether you serve in uniform or as a civilian, you are the reason why our military is the finest in the world and the most admired and most trusted institution in America. Nothing has clarified my thinking, nothing has renewed my hope, and nothing has made me prouder than getting to know, work, and serve with so many of you who have put the nation’s interest above your own.”

Hagel told troops, “I know you will remain vigilant, continuing your important work under the leadership of Ash Carter” — the new Defense secretary confirmed by the Senate yesterday.

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Senators Go After Detergent Pods as Safety Hazard

Friday, February 13th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Lawmakers are going after those little pods of detergent that you drop in the dishwasher or laundry machine, arguing they’re too “enticing” to be around kids.

Sens. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) are filing legislation authorizing the Consumer Product Safety Commission “to create better packaging safety standards to better protect kids,” according to Nelson’s office.

The senators are responding to an “alarming number of calls to poison-control centers” as toddlers, thinking the pods are candy or juice, break into the packets.

“It astonishes me that manufacturers don’t yet realize that if you make a colorful, enticing-looking product, a child will want to get into it,” Nelson said.

The first known fatality from pod-detergent ingestion was a 7-month-old boy in Florida in 2013. In 2014, the American Association for Poison Control Centers reported nearly 12,000 calls to poison-control centers after kids under 5 had been exposed to the pods.

Nelson will meet today with the Florida Poison Information Center, Dr. Alfred Aleguas, to rally support for his bill.

Swallowing regular laundry detergent “often causes mild stomach upset, if there are any symptoms at all, but poison center experts say the new highly concentrated single-load liquid laundry detergent packets seem to be different,” the AAPCC says of the pods. “Some children who have gotten the product in their mouths have had excessive vomiting, wheezing and gasping. Some get very sleepy. Some have had breathing problems serious enough to need a ventilator to help them breathe. There have also been reports of corneal abrasions (scratches to the eyes) when the detergent gets into a child’s eyes.”

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‘How Can I Remain Silent?’: Wiesel to Attend Bibi Address, Implores Congress to Do Same

Friday, February 13th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

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In full-page ads in the New York Times and Washington Post, Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel, who will be attending the March 3 joint session of Congress featuring Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, chided lawmakers who have vowed to boycott the address.

Relating the history of Haman in ancient Persia, who vowed to “annihilate, murder and destroy the Jews, young and old, children and women,” Wiesel stressed that “now Iran, modern Persia, has produced a new enemy.”

“The Ayatollah Khamenei has been as clear as his predecessor in declaring his goal: ‘the annihilation and destruction’ of Israel. He is bent on acquiring the weapons needed to make good on the deadly promise,” he writes in the ad.

“On the day before Purim the Prime Minister of Israel will address Congress on the catastrophic danger of a nuclear Iran. I intend to be there. Should we not show our support for what might be the last clear warning before a terrible deal is struck? Santayana wrote that those who cannot remember history are condemned to repeat it. I believe that those who deny history – specifically the Holocaust – are determined to repeat it. President Obama, Vice President Biden, distinguished members of Congress,” the survivor of Auschwitz and Buchenwald continues.

“I ask you – As one who has seen the enemies of the Jewish people make good on threats to exterminate us, how can I remain silent?”

Wiesel, 86, pleads with Congress “to put aside the politics that have obscured the critical decisions to be made.”

“Surely it is within your power to find a solution that will permit Israel’s Prime Minister to deliver his urgent message,” he says. “Will you join me in hearing the case for keeping weapons from those who preach death to Israel and America?”

The ad was produced through Rabbi Shmuley Boteach’s organizations.

The list of Democrats who have said they’re not attending Netanyahu’s speech stands at 19 House lawmakers and three senators.

The Twitter responses, pro and very anti, speak for themselves.

 

 

 

 

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FBI Director: ‘Widespread Existence of Unconscious Bias’ a ‘Hard Truth’

Thursday, February 12th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

In a speech at Georgetown University today, FBI Director James Comey asserted that rifts between police and communities can’t be overcome until people recognize that they’re all biased.

“There is a reason I require all new agents and analysts to study the FBI’s interaction with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and to visit his memorial in Washington as part of their training. And there is a reason I keep on my desk a copy of Attorney General Robert Kennedy’s approval of J. Edgar Hoover’s request to wiretap Dr. King. The entire application is five sentences long, it is without fact or substance, and is predicated on the naked assertion that there is ‘communist influence in the racial situation.’ The reason I do those things is to ensure that we remember our mistakes and that we learn from them,” Comey said.

“One reason we cannot forget our law enforcement legacy is that the people we serve cannot forget it, either. So we must talk about our history. It is a hard truth that lives on.”

The director said “much research” that points to the “widespread existence of unconscious bias” is a “hard truth” that must be faced.

“Many people in our white-majority culture have unconscious racial biases and react differently to a white face than a black face. We all—white and black—carry various biases around with us. I am reminded of the song ‘Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist’ from the Broadway hit, Avenue Q: ‘Look around and you will find no one’s really color blind. Maybe it’s a fact we all should face. Everyone makes judgments based on race.’”

“You should be grateful I did not sing that,” he quipped.

Comey argued that “if we can’t help our latent biases, we can help our behavior in response to those instinctive reactions, which is why we work to design systems and processes that overcome that very human part of us all.”

“Although the research may be unsettling, what we do next is what matters most,” he added.

But, the FBI chief stressed, “racial bias isn’t epidemic in those who join law enforcement any more than it is epidemic in academia or the arts.”

“In fact, I believe law enforcement overwhelmingly attracts people who want to do good for a living—people who risk their lives because they want to help other people. They don’t sign up to be cops in New York or Chicago or L.A. because they want to help white people or black people or Hispanic people or Asian people. They sign up because they want to help all people. And they do some of the hardest, most dangerous policing to protect people of color,” he said.

Comey said “something happens to people in law enforcement,” though, that should be recognized as another “hard truth.”

“Police officers on patrol in our nation’s cities often work in environments where a hugely disproportionate percentage of street crime is committed by young men of color. Something happens to people of good will working in that environment. After years of police work, officers often can’t help but be influenced by the cynicism they feel,” he said.

“A mental shortcut becomes almost irresistible and maybe even rational by some lights. The two young black men on one side of the street look like so many others the officer has locked up. Two young white men on the other side of the street—even in the same clothes—do not. The officer does not make the same association about the two white guys, whether that officer is white or black. And that drives different behavior. The officer turns toward one side of the street and not the other. We need to come to grips with the fact that this behavior complicates the relationship between police and the communities they serve.”

Comey said what needs to be fixed is “addressing the disproportionate challenges faced by young men of color.”

“So many young men of color become part of that officer’s experience because so many minority families and communities are struggling, so many boys and young men grow up in environments lacking role models, adequate education, and decent employment—they lack all sorts of opportunities that most of us take for granted,” the director said.

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Say Farewell to the Ebola Czar

Thursday, February 12th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

The Ebola Czar, whom nobody really heard from or saw during his tenure, is now no more.

A statement from President Obama:

When I asked Ron Klain last fall to become the Administration’s Ebola Response Coordinator, the apprehension and even fear of Ebola in the United States was at its peak. Likewise, there was more than a little skepticism from some corners at the selection of Ron to fulfill this function. But, the background noise notwithstanding, I chose Ron for a reason: I have known him to be nothing less than an effective, dedicated, and tireless manager and leader. And those traits have been on full display since October, as Ron has helped marshal our whole-of-government approach to tackle Ebola at the source in West Africa and to fortify our preparedness here at home. The results of that effort speak for themselves, so much so that we can now turn our focus to our ultimate goal of getting to zero cases in West Africa, which might have seemed unthinkable last fall.

As Ron finishes his tenure and returns to private life, I extend my gratitude for his service. He took on a challenge that many called insurmountable, and, in leading the team responsible for the tremendous progress, helped remind the world what makes America so exceptional.

Obama held a Wednesday event at the White House to declare success in his Ebola strategy and announced all but 100 U.S. troops dispatched to West Africa would be home by April 30.

“Today, we move into the next phase of the fight, winding down our military response while expanding our civilian response. That starts here at home, where we’re more prepared to protect Americans from infectious disease, but still have more work to do,” he said. “For as long as Ebola simmers anywhere in the world, we will have some Ebola fighting heroes who are coming back home with the disease from time to time. And that’s why we’re screening and monitoring all arrivals from affected countries.”

Klain, a lobbyist and former Vice President Al Gore’s and VP Joe Biden’s chief of staff, was named to the position in October.

The Democratic Party operative has worked as a lawyer since leaving the White House in 2011. He led the legal team fighting for Gore in the 2000 recount and was portrayed by Kevin Spacey in HBO’s Recount.

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Ashton Carter Confirmed as Secretary of Defense

Thursday, February 12th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Chuck Hagel is officially retired from the Pentagon.

The Senate this afternoon confirmed Ashton Carter as the new secretary of Defense on a 93-5 vote.

Those “no” votes came from Sens. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), Jim Risch (R-Idaho) and John Boozman (R-Ark.).

Blunt, who is also opposing Loretta Lynch for attorney general, said in a statement about both nominees, “Unfortunately, I believe both of these nominees will simply continue to uphold President Obama’s flawed agenda at these important agencies.”

Kirk simply said, “Mine is a vote of no confidence in the national security decisions of this administration.”

Carter handed in his resignation in October 2013 after Hagel was picked for Defense secretary. He’d been a highly knowledgeable and powerful force inside the Defense Department, serving as Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics from April 2009 until October 2011, when he assumed the DSD role.

He was expected to be a noncontroversial pick who should receive quick confirmation from the Senate. Hagel promised to stay on at the Pentagon until his successor was confirmed.

At his confirmation hearing, Carter noted that the country faces “real dangers” including “continuing turmoil in the Middle East and North Africa and the malignant and savage terrorism emanating from it, an ongoing war in Afghanistan, the reversion to old-style security thinking in parts of Europe, the longstanding tensions from the past and the rapid changes in Asia and the continuing need for the stabilizing role of the United States in that region, which are so important to the future, the continuing imperative to counter the spread or use of weapons of mass destruction and new dangers in new domains like cyber.”

“I have promised President Obama that if I am confirmed, I will furnish him my most candid strategic advice. In formulating that advice, I intend to confer widely among civilian and military leaders, including on this committee, experts and foreign partners. And when the president makes a decision, I will also ensure that the Department of Defense implements it with its long-admired excellence,” Carter promised the Senate Armed Services Committee.

“I will also ensure that the president receives candid, professional military advice… and if I’m confirmed as secretary of defense, I will be a stickler for the chain of command.”

Hagel was reportedly forced out due to strategy disagreements with Obama.

“I have worked personally with Dr. Carter on the Iranian nuclear issue and know he has a vast wealth of knowledge that is needed and timely,” Sen. Dan Coats (R-Ind.) tweeted.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said he looks forward to Carter doing more “to reform the contracting process to eliminate waste and fraud.”

Obama said in a statement that Carter “will help keep our military strong as we continue the fight against terrorist networks, modernize our alliances, and invest in new capabilities to keep our armed forces prepared for long-term threats.”

“We have the strongest military in history of the world, and with Secretary Carter at the Pentagon and our troops serving bravely around the world, we’re going to keep it that way,” Obama said.

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Senate Resolution Introduced to ‘Warmly’ Welcome Netanyahu to Congress

Thursday, February 12th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Lawmakers have been chased around Capitol Hill to answer the question of whether or not they’ll attend Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s March 3 address to a joint session of Congress.

But a resolution introduced in the Senate today will put them on the record of supporting Netanyahu’s visit or not.

Majority Whip John Cornyn (-Texas) introduced the resolution today, which recognizes the “government of Iran’s ongoing pursuit of nuclear weapons poses a tremendous threat both to the United States and Israel,” and that Congress has “heard the perspectives, both publicly and privately, of a number of close allies involved” in the P5+1 nuclear negotiations.

The resolution states that the Senate “warmly welcomes” Netanyahu in a “timely opportunity to reinforce the United States-Israel relationship” and “eagerly awaits” his address.

It reaffirms the Senate’s “commitment to stand with Israel during times of uncertainty” and the “unequivocal and bipartisan support for the friendship between the people and governments of the United States and Israel.”

“During this time of such great instability and danger in the Middle East, the United States should be unequivocal about our commitment to one of our closest and most important allies,” Cornyn said in a statement. “I hope all my colleagues will join me in welcoming Prime Minister Netanyahu to Washington so we can continue to work together to advance our common security interests.”

Co-sponsors of the resolution are Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), John Boozman (R-Ark.), Richard Burr (R-N.C.), Shelly Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), Bill Cassidy (R-La.), Dan Coats (R-Ind.), Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Steve Daines (R-Mont.), Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.), Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), Deb Fischer (R-Neb.), Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), Dean Heller (R-Nev.), John Hoeven (R-N.D.), Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), James Lankford (R-Okla.), Mike Lee (R-Utah), John McCain (R-Ariz.), Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Jim Moran (R-Kansas), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Rand Paul (R-Ky.), David Perdue (R-Ga.), Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Jim Risch (R-Idaho), Pat Roberts (R-Kansas), Mike Rounds (R-S.D.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Ben Sasse (R-Neb.), Tim Scott (R-S.C.), Pete Sessions (R-Ala.), Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska), John Thune (R-S.D.), Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), David Vitter (R-La.), and Roger Wicker (R-Miss.).

With GOP majorities in the House and Senate, the resolution will likely get pushed through to President Obama’s desk quickly. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), though, is not among the original co-sponsors.

Cornyn said on the Senate floor today that he could not think of a “more timely or critical subject” than the threat of Iran and terrorism to hear about from “one of the world’s great leaders.”

The senator called the opposition to Netanyahu’s address “mystifying and somewhat disappointing.”

Cornyn is also circulating a “Dear Colleague” letter inviting all senators to join in support of the resolution.

“Prime Minister Netanyahu said his speech to Congress will be about the ‘very survival’  of the State of Israel. Therefore, I believe it is critical for every Member of Congress to hear directly from the Prime Minister of our closest friend and ally in the region on how we can work together to confront the common challenges of Islamic extremism and a nuclear Iran,” Gardner said.

“It’s never been more important for the United States to stand strong beside Israel. I will use my position on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to consistently advocate for policies which serve to strengthen this critical partnership. Israel’s enemies have consistently threatened to wipe Israel off the map. It’s our job to ensure that never happens.”

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ISIS Upset with Obama, Kerry, ‘Heretics’ for ‘Slogan’ That Islam Is Religion of Peace

Thursday, February 12th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson
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Article image from ISIS’ latest issue of Dabiq

The new issue of ISIS’ magazine released today takes issue with Western leaders who assert that Islam is a religion of peace.

In the Dabiq magazine article, the writer said the wrongful “slogan” is also being used by “apologetic ‘du’āt’ [beggars] when flirting with the West.”

“They have repeated this slogan so much to the extent that some of them alleged that Islam calls to permanent peace with kufr and the kāfirīn. How far is their claim from the truth, for Allah has revealed Islam to be the religion of the sword, and the evidence for this is so profuse that only a zindīq (heretic) would argue otherwise,” the magazine states.

The article features a photo of two men at a protest holding a sign that says “Islam = Paz,” with the caption, “Deviants claiming that Islam equals peace.”

After a page worth of quotes from the Quran that “revealed the sword against the apostates,” the article asks, “So how can the zanādiqah (heretics) or even those who blindly follow them – Bush, Obama, and Kerry – obstinately claim that ‘Islam is a religion of peace,’ meaning pacifism?”

“One of the biggest shubuhāt propagated by the heretics is the linguistic root for the word Islam. They claim it comes from the word salām (peace), when in actuality it comes from words meaning submission and sincerity sharing the same consonant root.”

It quotes more of the Quran, concluding “it is clear then that salām (peace) is not the basis of the word Islam, although it shares the same consonant root (s-l-m) and is one of the outcomes of the religion’s sword, as the sword will continue to be drawn, raised, and swung until ‘Īsā (Jesus – ‘alayhis-salām) kills the Dajjāl (the Antichrist) and abolishes the jizyah. Thereafter, kufr and its tyranny will be destroyed; Islam and its justice will prevail on the entire Earth.”

“…There will always be a party of Muslims fighting parties of kāfirīn until there is no more fitnah and the religion is completely for Allah alone.”

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