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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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Kerry Compares Climate-Change Advocacy to Gandhi, Churchill, Mandela, King, Lincoln

Thursday, March 12th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Speaking to the Atlantic Council at a climate change forum today, Secretary of State John Kerry compared climate-change advocacy to President Lincoln, Winston Churchill, Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King, Jr.

“For decades now, the science has been screaming at us, warning us, trying to compel us to act,” Kerry said in the lengthy address.

He urged critics to “stop for a minute and just think about the basics.”

“When an apple falls from a tree, it will drop toward the ground. We know that because of the basic laws of physics. Science tells us that gravity exists. And no one disputes that. Science also tells us when water temperature drops below 32 degrees Fahrenheit, it turns to ice. No one disputes that,” he said. “So when science tells us that our climate is changing and human beings are largely causing that change, by what right do people stand up and just say, well, I dispute that. Or I deny that elementary truth.”

“…Future generations will judge our effort, not just as a policy failure, but as a collective, moral failure of historic consequence. And they will want to know how world leaders could possibly have been so blind, or so ignorant, or so ideological, or so dysfunctional, and, frankly, so stubborn that we failed to act on knowledge that was confirmed by so many scientists in so many studies over such a long period of time and documented by so much evidence.”

Kerry said to properly combat climate change “we need leaders with the political courage to make the tough but necessary policy choices that will help us all find the right path.”

“And I am pleased to say and proud to serve with a president who has accepted that challenge, who has taken this head on,” he added.

To those skeptical of shaping energy policy around climate change fears, Kerry said there’s no reason to not do so.

“Suppose, stretching your imaginations, as it will have to be, that somehow those 97 percent of studies that I just talked about, suppose that somehow they were wrong about climate change in the end. Hard to understand after 20 years of 97 percent, but imagine it. I just want you to imagine it,” he said. “What are the consequences we would face for taking the actions that we’re talking about? And based on the notion that those might be correct, I’ll tell you what the consequences are. You’ll create an extraordinary number of jobs. You’ll kick our economies into gear all around the world, because we’ll be taking advantage of one of the biggest business opportunities the world has ever known.”

“We’ll have healthier people…. We’ll have a more secure world because it’ll be far easier for countries to attain the long-lasting energy independence and security they thrive — they need to thrive and not be blackmailed by another nation, cut off, their economy turned into turmoil because they can’t have the independence they need and the guarantees of energy supply,” Kerry continued.

“We will live up, in the course of all of that, to our moral responsibility to leave the Planet Earth in better condition than we were handed it, to live up to even Scripture which calls on us to protect Planet Earth.”

And the other side of the coin, if energy policies geared toward climate change aren’t enacted?

“The answer to that is pretty straightforward: Utter catastrophe,” Kerry warned. “Life as we know it on Earth.”

Then he compared his climate change advocacy to others who took “certain kinds of risks in the course of public affairs and life.”

“My heroes are people who dared to take on great challenges without knowing for certain what the outcome would be. Lincoln took risks, Gandhi took risks, Churchill took risks, Dr. King took risks, Mandela took risks,” he said. “But that doesn’t mean that every risk-taker is a role model. It’s one thing to risk a career or a life on behalf of a principle or to save or liberate a population. It’s quite another to wager the well-being of generations and life itself simply to continue satisfying the appetites of the present or to insist on a course of inaction long after all the available evidence has pointed to the folly of that path.”

“Gambling with the future of Earth itself when we know full-well what the outcome would be is beyond reckless; it is just plain immoral, and it is a risk that no one should take. And we need to face reality: There is no Planet B.”

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Khamenei Says GOP Iran Letter Inspired by Visit of ‘Zionist Clown’

Thursday, March 12th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

The head of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps said this week that the United States needs to worry about its survival as it formulates “cruel plots” against the Islamic Republic.

“We have grown so much powerful that we don’t feel concerned about the enemy’s unwise attitude. We can go past any enemy scenario, and this has been proved in our contemporary history,” Major General Mohammad Ali Jafari said in Tehran on Wednesday, according to the semi-official Fars news agency.

“The US should find a way to survive and continue its endangered life, but we are surprised at the enemy’s insistence on costly and useless scenarios,” Jafari added.

Fars said the IRGC commander stressed to the Assembly of Experts that the U.S. created ISIS “to counter Iran’s increasing clout in the region, but to no avail.”

And today in Tehran, Ayatollah Khamenei slammed the open letter from 47 Republican senators on nuclear negotiations, saying they had been inspired by “a Zionist clown’s” recent visit to Washington.

“According to international norms, governments are bound to their commitments and those rules cannot be breached with the change of governments,” Khamenei said, assuring the Assembly of Experts that they’d negotiate a deal that the next administration cannot change even though Secretary of State John Kerry admitted to a Senate panel Wednesday that the agreement is not legally binding.

Khamenei called the letter a sign of “collapse of political ethics” in the United States, according to Fars, adding that while his negotiators are good guys “the other side is cunning and deceitful and used to stabbing in the back.”

He also called the letter “humorous, unworthy and disgusting.”

Foreign Minister Javad Zarif told the assembly that the agreement would be subject to international law, not U.S. law.

“The authors may not fully understand that in international law, governments represent the entirety of their respective states, are responsible for the conduct of foreign affairs, are required to fulfill the obligations they undertake with other states and may not invoke their internal law as justification for failure to perform their international obligation,” Zarif said.

“I wish to enlighten the authors that if the next administration revokes any agreement with ‘the stroke of a pen,’ as they boast, it will have simply committed a blatant violation of international law,” he added.

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See How Bobby Jindal Fired Back at Clinton on Iran Letter

Thursday, March 12th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton opened her press conference this week regarding her use of a personal email account with a jab at Senate Republicans who issued an open letter to Iran regarding its nuclear program.

“The president and his team are in the midst of intense negotiations. Their goal is a diplomatic solution that would close off Iran’s pathways to a nuclear bomb and give us unprecedented access and insight into Iran’s nuclear program,” Clinton said to a horde of reporters at the United Nations on Tuesday who were waiting to hear her email comments.

“Now, reasonable people can disagree about what exactly it will take to accomplish this objective, and we all must judge any final agreement on its merits,” she continued. “But the recent letter from Republican senators was out of step with the best traditions of American leadership. And one has to ask, what was the purpose of this letter?”

“There appear to be two logical answers. Either these senators were trying to be helpful to the Iranians or harmful to the commander- in-chief in the midst of high-stakes international diplomacy. Either answer does discredit to the letters’ signatories.”

Clinton followed this up on Wednesday with a tweet:

Responded one governor thinking about running for commander in chief:

  He was actually a day ahead of Clinton on the Iran letter tweets, which may have prompted the wording that she used:

 

 

And more:

While another presidential hopeful stayed on the email scandal:

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Is Putin Well? Nixed Trip Stokes Rumors of Stroke

Wednesday, March 11th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson
putinkarelia

The photo released Wednesday by the Kremlin showing Vladimir Putin with Head of the Republic of Karelia Alexander Khudilainen.

Rumors have been swirling about Russian President Vladimir Putin’s taking usually unheard of sick days.

Putin was supposed to go to Kazakhstan this week to meet in Astana with President Nursultan Nazarbayev and Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, but a Kazakh official told Reuters, “The visit has been cancelled. It looks like he has fallen ill.”

Belarus officials wouldn’t comment, the report said.

Russia’s Interfax news agency got Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, to confirm the Kazakh cancellation. But “the president feels fine,” that report said.

The Moscow Times said Peskov “did not pick up repeated phone calls.”

A Russian news outlet reported that a Wednesday ceremony to formally ink an annexation agreement between Moscow and South Ossetia was canceled. The Interpreter cites another Russian newspaper saying that meeting was scrapped because the agreement wasn’t ready.

Still, the delegation from South Ossetia didn’t find out the ceremony was canceled until after they got to Moscow.

The Kremlin posted stories and photos of two meetings it says happened this week: on Tuesday with Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Area Governor Dmitry Kobylkin and on Wednesday with Head of the Republic of Karelia Alexander Khudilainen.

A series of photos from each meeting showed Putin sitting up in a chair across the table from the officials.

One tweet noted that Putin was wearing the same tie in the photo dated Tuesday as he did for an event two days before. His ties are different, though, in the photos dated Tuesday and Wednesday.

The Interpreter posted a translation of an email received by the Russkiy Monitor, which they said was “signed by an anonymous official of the Central Clinical Hospital of the Department of Presidential Affairs in Moscow, in which he reported that among the patients of this elite Moscow hospital, where the top leadership of the Russian Federation are registered, there were rumors that Vladimir Putin was diagnosed several days ago with an ischemic stroke.”

The Interpreter also forwards a rumor that the Russian Embassy in London is in a tizzy about some sort of pending announcement.

“Even so, the source said that the president was not hospitalized directly at the Central Clinical Hospital,” the report continued. “The editorial board of Russian Monitor cannot confirm or deny the information which might very well be false, however  we must note the fact that the president has not been seen in public since last week, his meeting with the presidents of Belarus and Kazakhstan was unexpectedly cancelled. Observers note that since Putin has been in power, nothing of this sort has occurred.”

At age 62, Putin is just two years under the average life expectancy for males in Russia. He regularly puts on macho displays, with shirts and without, to prove his virility to the populace, and Vanity Fair declared in a 2013 headline, “Vladimir Putin’s Face Appears to Contain More Botulism Than Drug-Store Sushi.”

After the New York Post reported rumors last fall that Putin had been battling pancreatic cancer, Putin’s spokesman said journalists “should shut their trap” because “everything’s OK.”

When Putin missed a 2012 trip to Japan, the Kremlin blamed a “minor sports injury.”

 

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Associated Press Sues State Department for Access to Clinton Records

Wednesday, March 11th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

The Associated Press filed suit today in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia in an effort to force the State Department to release Hillary Clinton’s emails.

The wire service made Freedom of Information Act requests to the State Department as long as five years ago with no records released.

According to the AP:

The FOIA requests and lawsuit seek materials related to her public and private calendars, correspondence involving longtime aides likely to play key roles in her expected campaign for president, and Clinton-related emails about the Osama bin Laden raid and National Security Agency surveillance practices.

“After careful deliberation and exhausting our other options, The Associated Press is taking the necessary legal steps to gain access to these important documents, which will shed light on actions by the State Department and former Secretary Clinton, a presumptive 2016 presidential candidate, during some of the most significant issues of our time,” said Karen Kaiser, AP’s general counsel.

Said AP Executive Editor Kathleen Carroll, “The Freedom of Information Act exists to give citizens a clear view of what government officials are doing on their behalf. When that view is denied, the next resort is the courts.”

State Department spokesman Alec Gerlach declined to comment. He had previously cited the department’s heavy annual load of FOIA requests — 19,000 last year — in saying that the department “does its best to meet its FOIA responsibilities.” He said the department takes requests “first in, first out,” but noted that timing depends on “the complexity of the request.”

Carroll said the AP intends to file additional requests using FOIA and other tools following the disclosure last week that Clinton used a private email account run on a server on her property outside New York while working at the State Department.

Years-long FOIA delays, unfortunately, have become a matter of course in Washington, as the editor of The Hill has noted lately.

 

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Report: Young Killer in Chilling ISIS Video Is French Citizen

Wednesday, March 11th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

isisboy

A boy shown in an ISIS video released this week murdering a prisoner alleged to be a Mossad spy is a French citizen, according to French officials.

An ISIS fighter standing alongside the boy in the video speaks with a southern French accent and, according to the Associated Press, “could be the step-brother of Mohammed Merah, who killed seven people in attacks on a Jewish school and paratroopers in the south of France beginning on March 11, 2012.”

He lauds the boy as one of the “young lions of the caliphate” while vowing that “the Islamic conquests have begun.”

The boy faces a kneeling 19-year-old Mohamed Said Ismail Musallam, an Israeli citizen of Palestinian descent. The highly produced video show a slow-motion shot of a bullet entering the forehead of the victim, then the boy shooting him several more times after he slumps to the ground.

The boy then hoists his handgun in the air, shouting, “Allahu Akbar!”

The video, viewed by PJM, includes a long “confession” from Musallam, clad in an orange jumpsuit, claiming he was approached by the Mossad to gather information on potential attacks against Jerusalem by Palestinians. Then, he said, he was asked to go to Syria.

His parents, though, told CNN that he was recruited by ISIS. “They sent him money through the Western Union,” said Said Musallam, his father. “They said you will have girls, money, cars, villas, paradise, but afterwords he discovered that there is nothing.”

In the video, Mohamed Musallam claims that his father and brother are also Mossad informants. After showing Musallam’s murder, the video lists information about the location of his father and brother, along with photos and addresses of other alleged Mossad agents in Jerusalem, from bus drivers to security guards and construction workers.

The adult jihadist in the video, calling Musallam an “evil apostate,” says they will “cleanse” Jerusalem of “filth.”

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Is Jim Webb Moving in as Clinton Gets Mired in Emails?

Wednesday, March 11th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Could former Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.) see an opening in 2016 as former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is on the defensive over her emails?

Webb launched his exploratory committee last November to feel out the presidential race. With other names being floated for the Democratic nomination including Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, and longshot self-proclaimed socialist Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), he could find an opening as the moderate option for Dems.

In the 2012 National Journal rating, Webb was ranked as the 42nd most liberal member of the Senate. That put him as less liberal than former Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska) and slightly more liberal than Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.). He was more economically conservative and socially liberal than both.

Webb’s candidacy would put a war veteran in the race. The 69-year-old served in Vietnam in the Marine Corps, was awarded several medals including the Navy Cross and two Purple Hearts, speaks fluent Vietnamese, and his current wife immigrated to the U.S. as a child after the fall of Saigon.

And now, he’s ramping up that 2016 effort, including launching a new website yesterday that stresses bipartisanship “as one who spent four years in the Reagan Administration and then served in the Senate as a Democrat.”

“We desperately need to fix our country, and to reinforce the values that have sustained us for more than two centuries, many of which have fallen by the wayside in the nasty debates of the last several years,” Webb states. “…Over the past few months thousands of concerned Americans from across the political spectrum have urged me to run for President. A constant theme runs through these requests. Americans want positive, visionary leadership that they can trust. They’re worried about the state of our economy, the fairness of our complicated multicultural society, the manner in which we are addressing foreign policy and national security challenges, and the divisive, paralyzed nature of our government itself. In short, they’re worried about the future. They want solutions, not rhetoric.”

According to the Wall Street Journal, after a slow start he’s finally making some plans to visit early primary states:

Addressing reporters in Washington, D.C., Tuesday, Mr. Webb said he and his team are still “carefully and methodically” considering whether to officially launch a presidential campaign. “I’m looking at this issue in terms of whether this is something that I can fully commit myself to, and we’re also trying to figure out if we can get the sort of financial support” needed, he said.

Next month, Mr. Webb will head to Iowa, followed by a trip to South Carolina in May and another to New Hampshire in June.

…Mr. Webb said he began “doing more media” last month and said he has seen “tremendous support” in response. “In terms of the visits, we’re a little bit behind, but in terms of putting together the structure that will allow us to make a decision, we’re right where I want to be,” he added.

Speaking at an event Tuesday sponsored by the International Association of Fire Fighters, Mr. Webb received a warm reception as he emphasized his time as a marine in Vietnam. “I suppose there are a lot of people who can say that they’ve seen firefighters fight a fire. But there aren’t very many who can say they’ve fought a fire,” he said. “When I was in the Senate, a lot of my colleagues liked to point out how many times they’d been to Iraq and Afghanistan. But watching a war isn’t the same thing as fighting a war.”

William McQuillen, the secretary-treasurer of the Professional Fire Fighters of New Hampshire, called Mr. Webb a “fascinating guy” with an “important and powerful story to tell.”

What do you think about Webb challenging Clinton?

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Senate Dems Block Human Trafficking Bill Over Hyde Amendment

Wednesday, March 11th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Senate Democrats are blocking a bipartisan bill to combat human trafficking by claiming that Republicans snuck in Hyde Amendment language.

The 1976 amendment, which regularly surfaces attached to appropriations bills, blocks the use of specific federal funds to pay for abortions.

The Senate today continued consideration of the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act of 2015, which was introduced by Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) in January and unanimously passed out of committee in February. It has 31 co-sponsors including Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.).

The bill enhances training and programs to identify victims of human trafficking and go after offenders. It expands the definition of child abuse under federal law to include human trafficking and child pornography production.

The legislation integrates the Hyde Amendment, Cornyn said, by maintaining “the status quo by making sure that this Crime Victims Compensation Fund, that the funds available from that fund are constrained by the same constraint that exists under all other federal law.”

Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) told reporters outside of a Democrats’ policy luncheon yesterday that the bill “should be about protecting women from truly horrific acts of violence and about fighting against human slavery” and “will not be used as an opportunity for Republicans to double down on their efforts to restrict a woman’s health care choices.”

“The Republicans are trying to pull a fast one here on human trafficking bill, but it is absolutely wrong and honestly it is shameful,” Murray said. “I know there are a whole lot of us who are going to fight hard against any attempt to expand the Hyde amendment and permanently impact women’s health.”

Durbin, who voted for the bill in the Judiciary Committee, claimed “there’s a representation made that the provision, the controversy or provision was not included in this bill.”

“It turns out that it was,” he said. “I don’t know how that happened or who was the author of it, but the fact is the bill that is on the floor today has a provision in it which we were told would not be included.”

“Yeah, a list was sent to certain members saying ‘here are the changes from last year.’ This provision was not listed among them,” Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) added.

Cornyn said those claims are ridiculous.

“Democrats have supported legislation consistent with the Hyde Amendment for a long, long time. As I’ve said, it’s been the law of the land for 39 years,” he said on the Senate floor. “All the Democrats, every single Democrat, voted to support Obamacare, which contained the same restriction on taxpayer funding for abortions.”

“In other words, our Democratic friends have voted time, and time, and time, and time again for the exact same language they now say they’re going to filibuster on the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act. Language they said they weren’t aware of when they voted for it. They didn’t read. Their staff didn’t tell them about it,” Cornyn continued.

“My hope is this: that members of the United States Senate will rise above this – this agreement, this posturing, this attempt to try to play gotcha at the expense of these victims of human trafficking.”

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said on the floor Wednesday morning that Republicans must pull the Hyde language or the bill will fail.

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ATF Pulls Bullet-Ban Proposal After Flood of ‘Critical’ Comments

Wednesday, March 11th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms is dropping a plan to ban a type of bullets after what it said was significant negative feedback during the public comment period.

The ATF proposed reclassifying M855 ball ammunition as “armor piercing ammunition” under the Gun Control Act of 1968 and the Law Enforcement Officers Protection Act of 1986.

In a letter last week to ATF Director B. Todd Jones, Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) and House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) said they were concerned that the proposal “reverses decades of ATF precedent” and “is beyond the statutory authority of the ATF and is contrary to the very clear intent of legislation passed by Congress.”

The lawmakers charged that the proposal “will substantially harm consumers and will have a negligible (if any) positive affect on officer safety—the Congressionally-intended goals of GCA and LEOPA.”

“ATF should act immediately to reverse course and rescind this rule which clearly violates Americans’ Second Amendment rights,” they added. “…The stated purpose of the LEOPA changes to the Gun Control Act are to protect law enforcement officers from the threat of easily-concealed handguns firing rounds capable of overcoming their bullet proof vests. There’s no evidence that a law enforcement officer has ever been fired upon by an AR-15 ‘pistol’ shooting the M855 round. This reversal of long-standing precedent seems to be a vindictive attempt to attack users of the most popular sporting rifle in the United States: the AR-15 series of firearms. This is nothing more than an overreaching attempt at expanding gun control. Therefore, we strongly urge the ATF to scrap this heavy-handed and misguided effort.”

The ATF said it received more than 80,000 comments on the proposal, with the comment closing date set for March 16.

“Although ATF endeavored to create a proposal that reflected a good faith interpretation of the law and balanced the interests of law enforcement, industry, and sportsmen, the vast majority of the comments received to date are critical of the framework, and include issues that deserve further study,” the bureau said in a statement. “Accordingly, ATF will not at this time seek to issue a final framework. After the close of the comment period, ATF will process the comments received, further evaluate the issues raised therein, and provide additional open and transparent process (for example, through additional proposals and opportunities for comment) before proceeding with any framework.”

Scalise called it “a great victory for the 2nd Amendment that President Obama and his liberal lieutenants at the ATF reversed themselves at our strong urging and halted their attempt to infringe upon the hard-fought rights of the American people.”

“We fought the Obama Administration on their attempted ammunition grab, and they finally backed down,” he said. “The administration’s continued attempts to circumvent Congress in order to implement radical regulations is unacceptable, especially when their efforts trample on the freedoms guaranteed to all Americans by the Bill of Rights, and we will continue to fight any future actions just as we were successful in fighting this latest attempt.”

But Connecticut Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D) and Chris Murphy (D) said in a joint statement that they’re “troubled and disappointed that the ATF succumbed to pressure from gun groups and abandoned critical efforts to keep police safe from armor-piercing bullets.”

“Weapons that can penetrate bullet-proof vests pose a grave danger to law enforcement officers who dedicate their lives to protecting our communities, and they should not be made more readily available or easier to access,” the Dems said.

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There Is Now a Congressional Chicken Caucus

Wednesday, March 11th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

There is a caucus for everything in Congress, and now poultry won’t feel left out.

Reps. Jim Costa (D-Calif.) and Steve Womack (R-Ark.) founded the Congressional Chicken Caucus this week “to educate members of Congress and others about the history, contributions and issues of importance to U.S. chicken producers, pertaining to food safety, international trade, labor, animal welfare, immigration and environmental issues, among others.”

Costa, who represents the ag-heavy San Joaquin Valley, said the poultry industry “plays a critical role in the economy” in his district.

“We are home to the largest poultry processor in the West and the 5th largest in the country, which provides nearly 5,000 district jobs. As such, I am honored to be Co-Chair of the Congressional Chicken Caucus,” the Blue Dog Dem said in a statement. “I look forward to working with my good friend Rep. Steve Womack in providing a platform on which issues pertaining to the poultry industry can be addressed.”

Womack said he shares “a longstanding bipartisan relationship” with Costa.

“We look forward to growing the caucus’ membership, working together to educate members, and advancing the issues that are important to the U.S. chicken industry,” he said.

Costa’s office noted that U.S. chicken producers are responsible for 280,000 direct jobs and 25,000 family farmers produce products worth $60 billion across more than 30 states.

“In 2014, U.S. chicken production was responsible for as much as $348.8 billion in total economic activity throughout the country, creating or supporting as many as 1,339,875 total jobs in chicken production and in supplier and ancillary industries.  Although chicken farms and processing plants may not be located in every district, the industry’s induced economic impact can be felt in every sector of the U.S. economy, in every state and every congressional district.”

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Gowdy: ‘No Choice’ But for Clinton to Turn Server Over to Third-Party Arbiter

Tuesday, March 10th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

House Republicans who have been trying to see former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s emails in the Benghazi investigation weren’t satisfied with her press conference today.

“For instance, there remain serious questions about the security of the system she employed from a national security standpoint, who authorized this exclusive use of personal email despite guidance to the contrary from both her State Department and the White House, who had access to the server from the time Secretary Clinton left office until the time—almost two years later—the State Department asked for these public records back, and who culled through the records to determine which were personal and which were public,” Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), the chairman of the special committee investigating Benghazi, said in a statement.

“Without access to Secretary Clinton’s personal server, there is no way for the State Department to know it has acquired all documents that should be made public, and given State’s delay in disclosing the fact Secretary Clinton exclusively used personal email to conduct State business, there is no way to accept State’s or Secretary Clinton’s certification she has turned over all documents that rightfully belong to the American people,” he added.

Gowdy says he sees “no choice” but for Clinton to “turn her server over to a neutral, detached third-party arbiter who can determine which documents should be public and which should remain private.”

Presented with that scenario, Clinton said during her press conference that her server will remain private.

“Because Secretary Clinton has created more questions than answers, the Select Committee is left with no choice but to call her to appear at least twice,” Gowdy said. “The first appearance will be to clear up her role and resolve issues surrounding her exclusive use of personal email to conduct official business. This is necessary to establish our Committee has a complete record with respect to Secretary Clinton’s time in office. Our committee will then call her to appear before the Committee in a public hearing to answer questions specifically regarding Libya and the Benghazi terrorist attacks that took the lives of our four brave fellow citizens.”

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) said Clinton just rehashed talking points used by her defenders.

“The expectation that we merely trust that Secretary Clinton shared all relevant e-mails and that the process of vetting the e-mails was as thorough and unbiased as it should have been is insulting given the Clintons’ well-established history of misleading the American people,” Issa said. “This matter cannot be put to rest without a thorough forensic examination of the email server and an unbiased independent review of the records in question.”

“…That she is only now addressing this, years after the fact, seems to indicate her response has little to do with some sudden, revelatory desire for transparency.”

House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) said Clinton “would certainly like this matter to go away because it would be the most convenient scenario for her.”

“Today’s press conference does not bring closure to this matter,” Chaffetz said. “The House Oversight Committee has a long history of investigating violations of the Federal Records Act and we will continue looking into this matter to ensure that all records were properly preserved in accordance with the law.”

 

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Reid: GOP Letter to Ayatollahs Won’t Discourage Dems from Backing Iran Deal Approval Bill

Tuesday, March 10th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Despite his fury at 47 Senate Republicans for issuing an open letter to the leaders of Iran about Congress’ role in nuclear negotiations, Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) told reporters today that he doesn’t expect it to make Democratic supporters back down from a bill about congressional consent.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Ranking Member Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) introduced the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act a week and a half ago along with Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), and Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.). The bill mandates that the president submit the text of any nuclear agreement with Iran to Congress and prohibits the administration from suspending congressional sanctions for 60 days. During that period, Congress would have the opportunity to hold hearings and approve, disapprove or take no action on the agreement.

Both the Kirk-Menendez sanctions and the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act are strongly bipartisan and likely to receive veto-proof majorities. Menendez has been absolutely critical to rallying Dem support, and the White House strongly dislikes both pieces of legislation.

Co-sponsors on the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act include Sens. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.), Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), Angus King (I-Maine), John McCain (R-Ariz.), Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), Rand Paul (R-Ky.), Jim Risch (R-Idaho), and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.).

The letter from some GOPs to the government of Iran, Reid said, was so “that they know how the American government works, and they know this letter is meaningless. That’s how I feel about the letter myself.”

Asked specifically after the closed caucus luncheon if it would “discourage” Democrats from supporting the Corker-Menendez bill, Reid replied, “No.”

Reid acknowledged that he was interviewed about a year ago in the Justice Department investigation of Menendez.

“I try very carefully to not deal in hypotheticals. Let’s wait and see what happens before we start speculating on what should happen if something happens,” Reid said. “Let’s wait until we have some real facts before us.”

“…Senator Menendez has done a stellar job as chair of the committee, and as far as I am concerned, he’s been an outstanding senator.”

Republicans have suggested that the timing of the leak about impending Justice Department charges is too coincidental of a hit against the administration’s No. 1 Dem critic of Iran nuclear negotiations.

Menendez has vowed to press forward with his Iran bills, which he wants to come up for a vote after the administration’s framework deadline in two weeks.

On Sunday, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) told NBC that her “heart fell” when she heard the news.

“I don’t wish this upon any senator. And particularly somebody that has pulled himself up by his bootstraps and reached a real kind of pinnacle in the Senate,” Feinstein said. “So I just wish him well. I don’t know what the facts are. I hope he can, as they say in the jargon, beat it.”

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Maduro: Obama ‘Personally Decided to Accomplish the Task of Overthrowing My Government’

Tuesday, March 10th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’s equally paranoid successor said last month that Vice President Joe Biden is coming to get him.

Now, President Obama’s enforcement of sanctions passed by Congress three months ago has President Nicolas Maduro even more coup-convinced.

“President Obama, representing the imperialistic elite of the United States, has personally decided to accomplish the task of overthrowing my government and intervening in Venezuela in order to control it. That is why they took this step today,” Maduro said Monday evening, according to El Universal, after Obama imposed sanctions imposed on seven Venezuelan officials for human rights violations.

Last month, Maduro called upon Venezuelans to “be on the maximum alert level” as the Biden threat looms.

“A plan has been launched for a coup d’état. I know well what I am saying,” Maduro said, adding, “The imperial power has entered into a despair phase (…) They, in their madness, do not realize the strength (Venezuelan) people have.”

Maduro continued with his purge of opponents after that warning, arresting Caracas mayor and opposition leader Antonio Ledezma as the State Department swore that it wasn’t planning a coup against the Venezuelan president.

Today, Maduro also said he would “request a special enabling law to preserve peace in the country,” according to El Universal.

“I think our view, obviously, continues to be that he needs to spends more time listening to the views of the Venezuelan people,” State Department press secretary Jen Psaki said. “So that’s what we would recommend.”

“…It’s not promoting unrest in Venezuela as was suggested in the speech, or undermining Venezuela’s economy or its government; it’s making clear and sending a strong message about how — about the fact that we don’t accept human-rights abusers, corrupt officials.”

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Hillary Clinton: ‘The Server Will Remain Private’

Tuesday, March 10th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton emerged before a horde of press at the United Nations today to defend herself over using a personal email address while in the office — and defended her role as arbiter of what emails were official, thus required to be turned over, and which were personal and could be trashed.

Clinton has been under fire for revelations that she only used personal email and a home-based server while serving as the nation’s top diplomat. A late-night tweet nearly a week ago — “I want the public to see my email. I asked State to release them. They said they will review them for release as soon as possible.” — didn’t calm the controversy.

She began the press conference pitching for women’s rights initiatives and slamming Senate Republicans for interfering in President Obama’s nuclear negotiations with the Iranians.

The first question, in UN custom that favors the international press corps, went to Turkish television — but the question was about her emails.

“When I got to work as secretary of State I opted for convenience to use my personal email account, which was allowed by the State Department,” Clinton said, noting that she didn’t want to juggle multiple email devices.

Looking back, she said, a second phone and email would have been wise “but at the time this didn’t seem like an issue.”

“I saw it as a matter of convenience.”

She contended that the “vast majority” of her emails “went to government employees at their government addresses,” so she assumed that the email would be stored in government records on the receiving end.

When asked for her emails by the State Department, Clinton said she “responded right away” and “provided all my emails that could possibly be work-related,” even though “I knew that the State Department already had the vast majority of them.”

Clinton said her team sorted through more than 60,000 emails and determined about half of them to be work-related. She said those work emails turned over to the State Department came out to 55,000 printed pages.

“At the end I chose not to keep my private personal emails,” she said, which included topics such as her daughter  Chelsea’s wedding and “yoga routines.”

“No one wants their personal emails made public,” Clinton stressed, adding that she thinks “most people understand that and respect that privacy.”

As far as official State Department correspondence, Clinton said she’s “very proud” of her work as secretary of State that they reflect. “And I look forward to people being able to see that for themselves,” she said.

“I want it all out there,” Clinton stressed, adding that she followed rules on using personal discretion to determine what was a personal email and “did not” delete any government correspondence. “In fact, my direction to conduct the thorough investigation was to err on the side of providing anything that could be possibly viewed as work-related.”

“…That doesn’t mean they will be by the State Department once the State Department goes through them, but out of an abundance of caution and care, you know, we wanted to send that message unequivocally.”

She said she’s “very confident of the process that we conducted” and looks forward to people getting “unprecedented insight into a high government official’s” daily duties after the work emails are released — “which I think will be quite interesting.”

“Looking back it would have been probably smarter to have used two devices,” she said, but “I have no doubt that we’ve done absolutely what we should have done.”

“We have more than met the requests from the State Department.”

And the personal server in her home? Clinton was unyielding when asked if she would allow an independent third-party investigator probe the server.

She said it was set up for President Clinton’s home office and includes “personal communications between my husband and me.”

“The server will remain private,” she declared.

Clinton said “there were no security breaches” of the server, with the premises guarded by the Secret Service.

“I did not email any classified information to anyone on my personal email,” she said.

Separately, Clinton was asked about donations to the Clinton foundation from countries that abuse women, as she was at the UN lobbying for women’s rights. “I’m very proud of work that foundation does; we are very clear about where we stand on all of these issues,” Clinton responded, adding “there can’t be any mistake” regarding her passion for women’s rights and people who support foundation “know well” what they stand for.

Turkish television asked Clinton if she felt her email scandal would receive different attention if she was a man.

Clinton smiled. “I will leave that to others to answer,” she replied.

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‘Token,’ ‘Minstrel Show’: Ugly Comments Directed at Selma Delegation Co-Chair Scott

Tuesday, March 10th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) led the congressional delegation to Selma this weekend with Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), a pilgrimage which carried deep meaning for the first African-American senator elected from the south since Reconstruction but brought out the ugly in a fair number of his foes. A sampling:

 

Though the senator gets this sort of reaction whenever he opens his mouth on any policy matter:

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Biden: GOP Senators’ Letter to Iran ‘Beneath the Dignity of an Institution I Revere’

Tuesday, March 10th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

In a lengthy response to Senate Republicans who signed Sen. Tom Cotton’s (R-Ark.) letter to Iranian leaders, Vice President Joe Biden charged that lawmakers soiled the sanctity of the Senate and argued that Congress doesn’t need to approve a nuclear agreement with Iran.

Biden said the open letter, dated Monday, “expressly designed to undercut a sitting President in the midst of sensitive international negotiations, is beneath the dignity of an institution I revere.”

“This letter, in the guise of a constitutional lesson, ignores two centuries of precedent and threatens to undermine the ability of any future American president, whether Democrat or Republican, to negotiate with other nations on behalf of the United States. Honorable people can disagree over policy. But this is no way to make America safer or stronger,” he said in the statement.

President Obama confined his remarks to a snarky quip that Republicans were siding with “hard-liners” in the Islamic Republic. Leading the attack against GOPs for the move have been Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and now Biden.

“Around the world, America’s influence depends on its ability to honor its commitments. Some of these are made in international agreements approved by Congress,” Biden continued. “However, as the authors of this letter must know, the vast majority of our international commitments take effect without Congressional approval. And that will be the case should the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Russia, China, and Germany reach an understanding with Iran. There are numerous similar cases. The recent U.S.-Russia framework to remove chemical weapons from Syria is only one recent example. Arrangements such as these are often what provide the protections that U.S. troops around the world rely on every day. They allow for the basing of our forces in places like Afghanistan. They help us disrupt the proliferation by sea of weapons of mass destruction. They are essential tools to the conduct of our foreign policy, and they ensure the continuity that enables the United States to maintain our credibility and global leadership even as presidents and congresses come and go.”

“Since the beginning of the Republic, presidents have addressed sensitive and high-profile matters in negotiations that culminate in commitments, both binding and non-binding, that Congress does not approve. Under presidents of both parties, such major shifts in American foreign policy as diplomatic recognition of the People’s Republic of China, the resolution of the Iran hostage crisis, and the conclusion of the Vietnam War were all conducted without congressional approval.”

Biden said that in his 36 years in the upper chamber “I cannot recall another instance in which senators wrote directly to advise another country—much less a longtime foreign adversary— that the president does not have the constitutional authority to reach a meaningful understanding with them.”

“This letter sends a highly misleading signal to friend and foe alike that that our commander in chief cannot deliver on America’s commitments—a message that is as false as it is dangerous.”

Biden added that the “decision to undercut our president and circumvent our constitutional system offends me as a matter of principle.”

“As a matter of policy, the letter and its authors have also offered no viable alternative to the diplomatic resolution with Iran that their letter seeks to undermine,” he said. “There is no perfect solution to the threat posed by Iran’s nuclear program. However, a diplomatic solution that puts significant and verifiable constraints on Iran’s nuclear program represents the best, most sustainable chance to ensure that America, Israel, and the world will never be menaced by a nuclear-armed Iran. This letter is designed to convince Iran’s leaders not to reach such an understanding with the United States.”

Without calling Cotton by his name, Biden charged that the “author of this letter has been explicit that he is seeking to take any action that will end President Obama’s diplomatic negotiations with Iran.”

“But to what end? If talks collapse because of Congressional intervention, the United States will be blamed, leaving us with the worst of all worlds. Iran’s nuclear program, currently frozen, would race forward again. We would lack the international unity necessary just to enforce existing sanctions, let alone put in place new ones. Without diplomacy or increased pressure, the need to resort to military force becomes much more likely—at a time when our forces are already engaged in the fight against ISIL,” he said.

“The president has committed to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. He has made clear that no deal is preferable to a bad deal that fails to achieve this objective, and he has made clear that all options remain on the table. The current negotiations offer the best prospect in many years to address the serious threat posed by Iran’s nuclear ambitions. It would be a dangerous mistake to scuttle a peaceful resolution, especially while diplomacy is still underway.”

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NYT Columnist Disses GOPs as Not Being Able to Find Iran on Map While NYT Can’t Find Iran on Map

Tuesday, March 10th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

The Twittersphere exploded with condemnation and defense of freshman Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) for leading the letter of 47 GOP senators to Iran’s leadership — explaining how Congress works and how that jeopardizes their imminent pact with President Obama. A fair share of the criticism painted Cotton, a combat veteran with tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, as a backwoods yokel who must not even know Middle East geography:

 

 

Joining that chorus was New York Times columnist Roger Cohen:

However, the NYT had its own map problems:

 

That correction came from this story.

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Obama OKs Venezuela Sanctions While ‘Simultaneously Moving to Lift Sanctions on Cuba’

Monday, March 9th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

President Obama finally pulled the trigger on Venezuela sanctions today, three months after signing the bipartisan Venezuela Defense of Human Rights and Civil Society Act of 2014 into law, but lawmakers behind the bill said it was just a first step in dealing with Nicolas Maduro’s regime.

And, as noted by bill co-sponsor and co-author Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), “Even as I welcome this round of sanctions, I question why President Obama is simultaneously moving to lift sanctions on Cuba, which has played a direct role in sowing unrest in Venezuela and has a human rights record even worse than the Maduro regime. Human rights violations in Venezuela stem directly from what the Cuban army and intelligence agency have taught the Chavez-Maduro regime.”

Citing the “erosion of human rights guarantees, persecution of political opponents, curtailment of press freedoms, use of
violence and human rights violations and abuses in response to antigovernment protests, and arbitrary arrest and detention of antigovernment protestors, as well as the exacerbating presence of significant public corruption,” Obama said in his executive order blocking the entry of seven Venezuelan officials, the situation ”constitutes an unusual and  extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States, and I hereby declare a national emergency to deal with that threat.”

Venezuela recalled its chargé d’affairs for “immediate consultations.”

“Venezuelan officials past and present who violate the human rights of Venezuelan citizens and engage in acts of public corruption will not be welcome here, and we now have the tools to block their assets and their use of U.S. financial systems,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest said.

“We are deeply concerned by the Venezuelan government’s efforts to escalate intimidation of its political opponents.  Venezuela’s problems cannot be solved by criminalizing dissent. We have consistently called on the Venezuelan government to release those it has unjustly jailed as well as to improve the climate of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, such as the freedoms of expression and peaceful assembly,” Earnest said. “These are essential to a functioning democracy, and the Venezuelan government has an obligation to protect these fundamental freedoms. The Venezuelan government should release all political prisoners, including dozens of students, opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez and Mayors Daniel Ceballos and Antonio Ledezma.”

Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), who authored the bill, said he welcomed the announcement but urged the Obama administration “to take further action, including against Venezuelan Minister of Defense Vladimir Padrino López, specifically in the aftermath of his authorization to permit security forces to use lethal force against peaceful protesters.”

“Since the start of 2014, the world has watched in alarm as President Maduro has led Venezuela down a path toward political crisis and economic ruin,” Menendez said. “As the average Venezuelan citizen has suffered the effects of runaway inflation and widespread shortages of basic foodstuffs, the Maduro government has radicalized its agenda, jailing opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez for over a year and arresting Caracas Mayor Antonio Ledezma. The recent death of 14-year-old Kluiverth Roa, at the hands of government security forces, shows the extreme lengths the regime in Venezuela is willing to go in order to silence the Venezuelan street.”

Agreeing that General Padrino was “inexplicably” and unwisely left off the list, Rubio stressed that “the human rights crisis in Venezuela is getting worse every day, and these long overdue financial sanctions are important steps to hold Nicolas Maduro’s regime accountable.”

“The authoritarian system that Hugo Chavez and Nicolas Maduro have imposed in Venezuela have destroyed its economy and any semblance of democratic order in the country,” Rubio said. “Maduro has ruined lives through both the misery his system has inflicted, but also the lives his regime has cut short in response to demonstrations over the past year. As long as Maduro and his thugs remain in power, economic conditions and human rights will continue to worsen in Venezuela.”

A senior administration official told reporters on a conference call today that Obama’s order is “not action taken against the Venezuelan government as a whole; it is not action taken against the Venezuelan people or the Venezuelan economy.”

“I hope that the Venezuelan government and President Maduro will not respond to it in a way that will obfuscate or misinform his population or others about the actions that we’re taking today, as he’s done, unfortunately, on previous occasions where he has interpreted or misinformed people about the intent or the reach of actions that we have taken, seeing them as broader and more malevolent against the entire Venezuelan people than they actually are,” the official said.

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Dems to Obama: Use Powers to Crack Down on Oil Rail Transportation

Monday, March 9th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Wisconsin Democrats are urging President Obama to explore using his executive authority to take “immediate” action against “dangerous” trains transporting oil from hugely successful production areas in North Dakota.

Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) and Rep. Ron Kind (D-Wis.) noted that the Obama administration missed a Jan. 15 deadline to release final Department of Transportation and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration rules on oil train accidents.

“We write to you today with deep concerns about the risk that trains carrying crude oil continue to pose to our constituents.  Oil train accidents are increasing at an alarming rate as a result of the increased oil production from the Bakken formation in North Dakota. Congress has provided additional funding to study safer tank cars, hire more track inspectors, and repair rail infrastructure. We urge your Administration to use this funding, along with its regulatory powers, to improve oil train safety as quickly as possible,” Baldwin and Kind wrote to Obama today.

“…It is time for you to take immediate action and we request that your Administration issue final rules without further delay. We believe that recent accidents make clear the need for rules stronger than those originally proposed.”

Baldwin and Kind said that the primary risk is crumbling rail infrastructure, including not enough Federal Railroad Administration inspections and old bridges.

“The danger facing Wisconsin communities located near rail lanes has materialized quickly. Just a few years ago, an oil train in the state was a rare sight. Today, more than 40 oil trains a week pass through Wisconsin cities and towns, many more than 100 tank cars long,” the lawmakers wrote. “It is clear that the increase in oil moving on the rails has corresponded with an uptick in oil train derailments. In addition to the derailment in Illinois on Thursday March 5, 2015, there have been derailments in North Dakota, Virginia, Alabama, West Virginia, and a fatal explosion in Lac-Megantic, Quebec.”

“These catastrophes have illuminated the many areas ripe for improvement, as well as additional measures needed to be taken in order to ensure safety when transporting crude oil by train.”

They want new regulations for the stabilization of oil to make crude “less likely to ignite,” new safety requirements for tank cars, new speed limits for oil trains, and “increased transparency” about oil shipments as “it is also important that our communities are aware of what is being shipped in their backyard.”

Supporters of the Keystone XL pipeline have noted the need for a comprehensive energy infrastructure that involves rail and roads, though Baldwin voted against the pipeline in January.

Baldwin sought amendments requiring that tar sands producers pay into the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund, and guarantees that American consumers get the Keystone oil before foreign export markets.

“Working with Canada we can achieve true North American energy security and also help our allies,” sponsor Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.) said then. “For us to continue to produce more energy and compete in the global market we need more pipelines to move crude at the lowest cost and in the safest and most environmentally friendly way. That means that pipelines like the Keystone XL are in the vital national interest of our country.”

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This Must-See Video of Peshmerga Taking Out ISIS Bomber Is Everything

Monday, March 9th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

This video was being shared today among Kurdish social media accounts. Today, Peshmerga fighters launched an offensive against ISIS in southwest Kirkuk. An ISIS vehicle with a suicide driver, laden with explosives, was sent to the Kurds’ front line. They got rid of the suicide bomber in a very explosive fashion.

 

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Malaysia Airlines Marks One-Year MH370 Anniversary by Not Mentioning Lost Passengers

Monday, March 9th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Malaysia Airlines put out a super-awkward statement to mark Sunday’s one-year anniversary of the disappearance of flight MH370 — awkward in that the only statement issued didn’t mention the 227 passengers who vanished that day:

Malaysia Airlines (MAS) has held a private gathering to remember the 13 employees lost when flight MH370 disappeared en route to Beijing from Kuala Lumpur one year ago today. The event at the Malaysia Airlines Academy, Kelana Jaya, Kuala Lumpur, was attended by MAS employees and family members of those employees lost.

The gathering of the MAS family was led by Tan Sri Md Nor Yusof, Chairman of Malaysia Airlines, and Group Chief Executive Officer, Ahmad Jauhari Yahya. They were joined by members of the Board of Directors and members of staff across all divisions of the company.

Tan Sri Md Nor opened the get together and honoured the memory of those lost. “Today we acknowledge the reality of our shared loss and remember 13 dear friends and colleagues who left us when MH370 disappeared one year ago,” he said. “We love them. We miss them and we will never forget them. They will always remain in our hearts.”

Ahmad Jauhari paid tribute to the dedication of the airline’s employees; for their tireless efforts and their enduring support to the airline and the families of the passengers. “Whilst MH370 was tragic for all of us, it also brought out the best in Malaysia Airlines,” he said. “Watching how the whole organisation came together, united, supported each other as a family in crisis, really amazed me. I am deeply honoured and touched by the spirit of volunteerism by everyone who came forward offering to help in any way you could.”

He gave special thanks to those who volunteered to provide caregiving assistance and support for families of passengers and crew. The Government of Malaysia and all those supporting the international search effort were also recognised.

Malaysia Airlines will never ever forget our 13 wonderful dear friends and colleagues. The search for answers continues.

The families who received text messages on March 24, 2014, stating “Malaysia Airlines deeply regrets that we have to assume beyond any reasonable doubt that MH370 has been lost and that none on board survived” would likely disagree that the tragedy brought out the best in the airline.

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Powell Still Sees ‘Dark Vein of Intolerance’ in Parts of the GOP, America

Monday, March 9th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Former Secretary of State Colin Powell said on the 50th anniversary of the “Bloody Sunday” Selma marches that the “dark vein of intolerance” within the GOP that he called out in 2013 is still there.

“There’s also a dark — a dark vein of intolerance in some parts of the party. What do I mean by that? I mean by that that they still sort of look down on minorities. How can I evidence that?” Powell said on Meet the Press in January 2013. “When I see a former governor say that the president is ‘shuckin’ and jivin’,’ that’s racial era slave term.” That was a reference to 2012 comments by former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.

“When I see another former governor after the president’s first debate where he didn’t do very well, says that the president was lazy. He didn’t say he was slow. He was tired. He didn’t do well. He said he was lazy,” Powell said in reference then to Mitt Romney. “Now, it may not mean anything to most Americans, but to those of us who are African Americans, the second word is shiftless and then there’s a third word that goes along with that. The birther, the whole birther movement. Why do senior Republican leaders tolerate this kind of discussion within the party?”

Yesterday, Powell was asked on ABC if he still feels that way about the Republican Party.

“I still see it,” he replied. “I still see it in the Republican Party and I still see it in other parts of our country. You don’t have to be a Republican — a Republican to be touched by this dark vein.”

“America is still going through this transformation from where we were just 50 of 60 years ago. You have to remember, it was only about 60 or 70 years ago that we stood have — still had poll taxes, that we still had literacy tests in order to vote, that the voting places were only open two days a month for African-Americans,” Powell continued.

“…So we have to deal with this. We have to deal with making sure that everybody can vote and express their opinion, police forces are acting in a proper manner, citizens are acting in a proper manner with respect to the police forces and that governments and cities and states throughout the — throughout the country are making sure that they are not discriminating against any particular part of their citizenry.”

Powell said he was “troubled” by the voter ID movements in several states.

“Those are hurdles that we can get over,” he said. “And what I say to my friends in the African-American community, is whatever those states do, you meet the standards and then you make sure you register. You make sure you vote. You make sure you vote for the people who tried to put these barriers, these hurdles in your way and then you vote them out.”

He said he hasn’t made a choice for 2016 yet, even when the brother of his former boss is vying for the GOP nod.

“I always vote for the person I think is most qualified to be president of the United States of America,” Powell said. “I know Jeb Bush very, very well. I think he’s a very accomplished individual and we’ll see who else is going to be running and I’ll make my judgment based on what I think is best for the country.”

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Boko Haram Pledges Allegiance to ISIS to ‘Enrage the Enemy of Allah’

Saturday, March 7th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Boko Haram formally pledged allegiance to ISIS in an audio recording released today, saying their vow represents “the completeness of the religion with the book that guides and the sword that favors.”

Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan has pledged to decimate Boko Haram by the March 28 presidential elections. The terrorist group’s strategy has included using little boys and girls to suicide bomb crowded areas such as markets, and recent incursions into Cameroon and Niger.

In August, Boko Haram leader Abubakr Shekau declared that land it seized in northeastern Nigeria was “part of the Islamic caliphate.”

“To the Caliph… we are sending you this message, following what Allah said in his Quran and what the prophet, peace by upon him, said … we announce our allegiance to the Caliph of the Muslims, Ibrahim,” Shekau said, using the name Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi goes by.

Shekau pledged Boko Haram’s loyalty “in hardship and ease, and to endure being discriminated against, and not to dispute about rule with those in power, except in case of evident infidelity.”

“We call on Muslims everywhere to pledge allegiance to the Caliph and support him,” he said, adding that they “pledged allegiance to the Caliph because of the interest of the Ummah [community] in their religion.”

Boko Haram also made the move, Shekau said, to “enrage the enemy of Allah” by “our gathering under one banner,” with more “enemy mortality.”

It isn’t the first time that Shekau has given a friendly nod to ISIS in a media release; Boko Haram is similarly complimentary of al-Qaeda and has noted that they’re united in cause.

An alliance with Somalia’s Al-Shabaab may be next.

Al-Shabaab released a movie last month focusing on the Westgate mall massacre — and suggesting similar attacks at western malls including the Mall of America in Minnesota — that bore the hallmarks of ISIS video production.

A message posted online last week urged Shabaab fighters to “remember the coalition against the Islamic State” as they face an African Union coalition on their home turf.

“The fighting of the regimes, and ruling according to the Sharia, means that the Jihad is in the right path, the only thing left is the pledging allegiance to a Caliph which is a very required step in Islam,” said the lengthy message, signed by a prolific ISIS supporter.

The United Arab Emirates warned in October that more needed to be done to counter ISIS’ spread in North Africa.

“What really scares us now is what we see from Daesh, and are we going to see in the future any sort of collaboration between different terrorist groups like Daesh and al-Shabab?” Emirati foreign minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan said at the opening of a counter-piracy conference.

“I think we should start to ask ourselves: how ready we are as countries, companies and international organizations in facing these big threats,” the sheikh added.

Somali media have reported that Al-Shabaab members have been squabbling over loyalty to ISIS or Ayman al-Zawahiri.

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Obama at Selma: ‘This Nation’s Racial History Still Casts Its Long Shadow Upon Us’

Saturday, March 7th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Presidents Obama and George W. Bush marched in Selma, Ala., for the 50th anniversary of the civil rights march today, with Democrats buzzing that Obama’s GOP predecessor stood and applauded the president’s call for Congress to pass a new Voting Rights Act.

Bush joined Obama on the stage along with Michelle Obama and Laura Bush, and the two presidents led the commemorative march.

In 2013, the Supreme Court found that Section 5 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which put special conditions on certain jurisdictions, didn’t reflect modern-day conditions and was no longer enforceable. Since then, Democrats have been wanting GOP leadership to bring a new VRA up for a vote.

“Because of campaigns like this, a Voting Rights Act was passed. Political and economic and social barriers came down,” Obama told the crowd in Selma, which the local fire department estimated at 40,000. “And the change these men and women wrought is visible here today in the presence of African Americans who run boardrooms, who sit on the bench, who serve in elected office from small towns to big cities; from the Congressional Black Caucus all the way to the Oval Office.”

Obama brought up the Justice Department report issued this week accusing the Ferguson Police Department of systematic discrimination.

“It evoked the kind of abuse and disregard for citizens that spawned the Civil Rights Movement. But I rejected the notion that nothing’s changed. What happened in Ferguson may not be unique, but it’s no longer endemic,” he said. “It’s no longer sanctioned by law or by custom. And before the Civil Rights Movement, it most surely was.”

“We do a disservice to the cause of justice by intimating that bias and discrimination are immutable, that racial division is inherent to America. If you think nothing’s changed in the past 50 years, ask somebody who lived through the Selma or Chicago or Los Angeles of the 1950s. Ask the female CEO who once might have been assigned to the secretarial pool if nothing’s changed. Ask your gay friend if it’s easier to be out and proud in America now than it was thirty years ago. To deny this progress, this hard-won progress -– our progress –- would be to rob us of our own agency, our own capacity, our responsibility to do what we can to make America better.”

Still, the president said, “We just need to open our eyes, and our ears, and our hearts to know that this nation’s racial history still casts its long shadow upon us.”

“…Right now, in 2015, 50 years after Selma, there are laws across this country designed to make it harder for people to vote.  As we speak, more of such laws are being proposed.  Meanwhile, the Voting Rights Act, the culmination of so much blood, so much sweat and tears, the product of so much sacrifice in the face of wanton violence, the Voting Rights Act stands weakened, its future subject to political rancor,” Obama said.

If lawmakers “want to honor this day,” he added, they should go back to Washington and “pledge to make it their mission to restore that law this year.”

“President Bush is here in Selma and stood up and applauded when President Obama urged Congress to restore the Voting Rights Act,” Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) tweeted. Bush signed a VRA renewal when he was in office, and Obama highlighted that in his speech.

“Obama and Bush, good sign for passing a new VRA, with section 5 in force. Seize the moment,” tweeted Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.).

The White House pool report noted that signs along the presidential motorcade route included “USA’s best George Bush Thanks.” Part of Obama’s speech was drowned out by drum-beating protesters changing “we want change.”

Dozens of members of Congress made the trip to Selma, as diverse as House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). Sens. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) led the congressional delegation.

Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), who as a young demonstrator on Bloody Sunday was viciously beaten, addressed the crowd, but notably shared his experiences in a series of tweets.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Vitter: ‘Maternity Hotel’ Raids Show Need to End Birthright Citizenship

Friday, March 6th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) says this week’s “birth tourism” busts by federal law enforcement show the need to end birthright citizenship in the country.

Agents raided more than three dozen “maternity hotels” set up in Southern California for the purpose of those coming on visas granted for other reasons or undocumented to give birth to a U.S. citizen.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement said the pregnant women, mostly from China, paid $15,000 to $50,000 for their hotel stays.

“We need to stop automatically granting citizenship to babies born in this country,” Vitter said. “I have yet to talk to anybody in the real world, which means outside of Washington, D.C., who doesn’t think this is crazy, who doesn’t think birth tourism is nuts and should be illegal.”

“I’ve heard no common sense justification for this,” he added.

Vitter, who is running for Louisiana governor this year, first introduced legislation to end birthright citizenship in 2011.

He reintroduced the bill again in January, which was referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee with no co-sponsors.

The bill states that citizenship would only be granted to those born in the United States who have at least one parent who is a U.S. citizen or resident alien, or an alien performing active service in the armed forces.

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Jarrett Says She Never Got an Email from Secretary of State Clinton

Friday, March 6th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

White House senior advisor Valerie Jarrett told Bloomberg News in an interview aired today that she never got an email from former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

“I actually did not,” she interjected when host Erik Schatzker said, “I’d have to imagine that while the Clinton was the Secretary of State, you received e-mails from her.”

“No, I have not received an e-mail from Secretary Clinton,” Jarrett stressed.

Did anybody in the Obama administration receive emails from Clinton while she was at the State Department?

“That I don’t know,” Jarrett responded. “I do know that obviously the president has a very firm policy that e-mail should be kept on government systems. He believes in transparency. And I know that the State Department is currently working with the National Archives to make sure that all of Secretary Clinton’s e-mails are captured.”

Asked if Clinton broke policy by using personal email on a private server for official communications, Jarrett said, “I defer totally to the State Department for that. We established the policy here, but then we leave it up to every single agency to determine how to adhere to that policy.”

Would the White House fire somebody using personal email to conduct official business?

“Well, I don’t want to get into a hypothetical,” Jarrett said. “I do know that we have training here at the White House on a continuance basis to make sure that our staff understand the importance of keeping it on the system, so that it’s there.”

“And we believe in the transparency and we believe in the public records, that they need to be captured. And so we constantly are having trainings for our team to make sure they know what’s going on and we encourage all of the other agencies to do the same.”

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Days Before News of Corruption Charges, Menendez Warned of Political Foes Trying to ‘Break’ Him Over Iran Resolve

Friday, March 6th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson
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Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) foreshadowed today’s news that the Department of Justice is preparing corruption charges against him by hinting to AIPAC that his political enemies would try to “break” him for his resolve on Iran sanctions.

Menendez, the ranking member on the Foreign Relations Committee and a longtime proponent of tough measures on Iran to prevent the Islamic Republic from getting a nuclear weapon, has long been a thorn in the side of the White House for his determination to keep and impose tough sanctions.

But last Friday, Menendez upped the ante.

On top of the reintroduction of sanctions legislation with Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) that the administration disliked, he introduced a bill Friday that the White House really hates: one that requires congressional approval of an Iran deal.

Menendez introduced the legislation with Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), and Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.). The bill mandates that the president submit the text of any nuclear agreement with Iran to Congress and prohibits the administration from suspending congressional sanctions for 60 days. During that period, Congress would have the opportunity to hold hearings and approve, disapprove or take no action on the agreement.

Both the Kirk-Menendez sanctions and the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act are strongly bipartisan and likely to receive veto-proof majorities. Menendez has been absolutely critical to rallying Dem support.

And when it came to rallying the nation’s most powerful pro-Israel lobby the evening before AIPAC’s big lobbying day — which coincided with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s big speech day — Menendez was a rock star, likely infuriating the White House.

His speech followed National Security Advisor Susan Rice, who got a lukewarm at best reception. Among the lawmakers in the crowd to cheer Menendez were Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), the top Dem on House Foreign Affairs Committee, and former Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.).

Menendez specifically told the crowd, “I will not yield to those who wish to break me.”

“For so long as I have a voice and a vote, I will not yield to those who wish to break my resolve on stopping Iran’s elicit nuclear program,” he added.

He even got in a dig at Rice: “I take issue with those who say the prime minister’s visit to the United States is ‘destructive’ to U.S.-Israel relations,” Menendez said. Rice made such comments in an interview with PBS aired last week.

Menendez’s speech had the AIPAC audience buzzing afterward. One woman was overheard saying, “Oh my God. We’re moving to New Jersey.”

The senator told the audience that “when it comes to defending the U.S.-Israel relationship, I am not intimidated by anyone — not Israel’s political enemies, and not by my political friends when I believe they’re wrong.”

Menendez declared he would be “proud when I escort Prime Minister Netanyahu to the House Chamber to give his speech, to show him the respect he deserves from every American who cares about our relationship with the only true democracy in the Middle East.”

“…I know there are more than a few people here in Washington who say that I’m outspoken in my defense of Israel – and, frankly, I’m not only proud of it, I’m fully prepared to stand on this stage today – or on any stage anywhere, anytime – to carry that message to both the friends and enemies of Israel around the world.”

The senator agreed to postpone a vote on Iran sanctions until March 25 not because of the White House pressure on him, but to keep on board other Democrats needed to attain the veto-proof majority.

Menendez stressed to AIPAC that Iran “needs to understand that there are consequences to an impasse – and those consequences are additional, consequential sanctions.”

“I can tell you one thing: as long as I have an ounce of fight left in me, as long as I have a vote and a say and a chance to protect the interest of Israel, the region, and the national security interests of the United States – Iran will never have a pathway to a weapon,” he said. “It will never threaten Israel or its neighbors, and it will never be in a position to start a nuclear arms race in the Middle East. Not on my watch!”

CNN, which broke the story of the pending corruption charges today, said they could be unveiled “within weeks,” saying Attorney General Eric Holder signed off on the prosecution but suggesting they may have been sitting on it for a while: “Prosecutors are under pressure in part because of the statute of limitation on some of the allegations.”

Asked about the story by the White House pool at an event with President Obama today, Holder replied, “I can’t comment on that.”

“The start of this investigation is suspect,” Tricia Enright, Menendez’s communications director, said in a statment. “We know many false allegations have been made about this matter, allegations that were ultimately publicly discredited. We also know that the official investigation of this matter is ongoing, and therefore cannot address allegations being made anonymously.”

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ADL: Farrakhan Cements Status as ‘Pied Piper of Bigotry’ with 9/11 Accusations

Friday, March 6th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson
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The Anti-Defamation League said Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan cemented his status as the “leading anti-Semite in America” this week with a speech blaming Jews for 9/11.

Farrakhan was speaking at his group’s Saviours’ Day conference on Sunday when he declared that “an Israeli film crew dressed as Arabs were filming the Twin Towers before the first plane went in.”

In fact, he said, the terrorist attacks were “not committed by Arabs or Muslims at all.”

“It is now becoming apparent that there were many Israelis and Zionist Jews in the key roles of the 9/11 attacks,” Farrakhan said. “If they can prove me wrong, I’ll pay with my life, since they want to kill me anyway. Prove me wrong. We’re dealing with thieves and liars and murderers.”

“…We know that many Jews received a text message not to come to work on September 11th. Who sent that message that kept them from showing up? ”

He also faulted the U.S. government for not investigating “what these scholars and scientists have uncovered about 9/11 and who was really behind it.”

“It now appears that 9/11 was a false flag operation, which is an attack by one country but made to appear like that attack came from another in order to start a war between them. Is this what friendship is?”

The ADL keeps an ever-expanding dossier of Farrakhan’s anti-Semitic rants, which have included blaming Jews for slavery.

“Farrakhan is the pied piper of bigotry. No one perhaps since Father Coughlin has been able to so use and abuse his status as a religious leader with a large audience to obsessively harp on about perceived Jewish power and influence,” ADL National Director Abe Foxman said in a statement. “At a time when anti-Semitic attitudes in America are at historic lows, Farrakhan’s unabashed promotion of anti-Semitism is a throwback to the intolerance of another era.”

Still, “unlike most fringe anti-Semites, Farrakhan still has a significant following who not only listen raptly, but who cheer him on with every new insult,” Foxman added.

Farrakhan also tweeted this week that he wants “all Black soldiers in the U.S. Armed Forces to come home, unite & fight for our own lives.”

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Sens. Scott, Brown Lead Congressional Delegation to Selma

Friday, March 6th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Sens. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) led a congressional delegation down to Selma, Ala., today for the 50th anniversary of the Bloody Sunday civil rights march.

It the first Congressional Civil Rights Pilgrimage for Scott, an annual event led by Civil Right Era veteran Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.).

Scott, the first African-American senator elected from the South since Reconstruction, and Brown kicked off the weekend by introducing a resolution before leaving Washington to commemorate the three 1965 marches from Selma to Montgomery with a postage stamp.

Co-sponsors of the resolution are Sens. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.).

“Fifty years ago, the nation watched as one of the defining events of the 20th century unfolded in Alabama,” said Scott in a statement. “As we prepare to mark the 50th anniversary of those historic marches from Selma to Montgomery, it is incredibly important to preserve the stories of those who marched and share their courage with younger generations. Each of these brave men and women risked life and limb to ensure that our country continued on the path to a more perfect union, and for their work, we should all be grateful.”

“The brave women and men who marched from Selma to Montgomery fifty years ago risked their lives to demand full and equal participation in our democracy,” Brown said. “We must honor their legacy and continue the fight to ensure that all Americans have the freedom and opportunity to exercise their constitutional rights.”

More than 100 lawmakers are expected to take part in the pilgrimage, which includes stops in Birmingham, Montgomery, Selma, and Marion.

Portman is one of those, and explained why in an op-ed this week.

“Even as we celebrate what we have overcome, we must not forget how much further we have to go,” Portman wrote. “Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., standing on the steps of the capitol of Alabama in Montgomery at the conclusion of the march from Selma, said, ‘The moral arc of the universe is long but it bends towards justice.’ He was right, but it does not bend on its own. That is the work of us all.”

Portman noted that “while Jim Crow and institutionalized racism were long ago consigned to the dustbin of history, challenges not quite as visible but just as insidious remain.”

“Too many children still grow up in poverty,” he said. “Too many families are broken by drug abuse or by the absence of parents who are in and out of prison.”

The office of Rep. Martha Roby (R-Ala.), who is also attending the commemoration, told Politico on Thursday that 23 Republicans from both chambers were signed up for the trip. Both Roby and Scott were reportedly lobbying their colleagues to attend.

Congressional Black Caucus members, though, said they were disappointed that GOP leaders in Congress won’t be attending, including House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). “The Republicans always talk about trying to change their brand and be more appealing to minority folks and be in touch with the interests of African-Americans. This is very disappointing,” said CBC Chairman G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.).

President Obama and former President George W. Bush will be there.

“The irony of nearly 100 Republican and Democratic Members of Congress going to Selma on the 50th anniversary of the 1965 Voting Rights Act this weekend will not be lost on the country,” said D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D). “The Voting Rights Act that we will commemorate has been dismembered by the Supreme Court, and only the Members of Congress on this trip and their colleagues can reshape and restore it. Yet, we go empty handed without a bill that could be the occasion for a real celebration of even the promise of a bill.”

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Israeli Ambassador on Pelosi: ‘I Don’t Know Frankly Why She Felt That Way’

Friday, March 6th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Faced with criticism that he’s playing a part in the deteriorating relationship between Israel and Washington, Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu could not have postponed his speech to Congress until after his election “because then a deal could have happened.”

“What the prime minister was saying, which was new, which is you should link it to Iran’s behavior, meaning Iran has to stop its aggression in the region, it has to stop terrorism around the world, and it has to stop threatening Israel with annihilation,” Dermer told CNN last night.

“…We’ve had an open dialogue and the problem is not that there is a breakdown in communication. The problem is we have a difference of policy. We want to prevent Iran not only from having a nuclear weapon today, we want to prevent it from having a nuclear weapon tomorrow. That’s the difference between the U.S. and Israel, and we will weather this difference just as we have weathered many differences in the past.”

Dermer brushed off criticism of Netanyahu from administration official, congressional Democrats, and a few vocal former Israeli officials.

“The person who’s responsible ultimately for the security of Israel is the prime minister of Israel. And he knows that there are critical times where the prime minister has to speak out. This is one of those times,” he said.

“…I remember that the head of the American CIA also recommended against the operation that took out bin Laden. And your president, President Obama, made a different decision because ultimately it was his responsibility. I trust that the prime minister has the right judgment in dealing with this grave threat to Israel.”

Dermer also responded to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) “near tears” experience, when she claimed she felt offended at the speech.

“I don’t know frankly why she felt that way. I was in the hall during the speech and you saw very broad bipartisan support for what the prime minister had to say,” the ambassador said. “And I think you could just see it for yourself, the speech speaks for itself.”

“…The days when the Jewish people — as the prime minister said in his speech, the days when the Jewish people will be passive in the face of genocidal threats to our annihilation are over. That’s why the prime minister spoke out.”

Given a do-over, Dermer said his government wouldn’t have done anything differently.

“No question about it,” he said. “I don’t know if I could have lived with myself knowing that we had an opportunity to speak out at a critical moment on a threat to the survival of the Jewish state and we would not have taken that opportunity.”

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Iran Demands That ‘All Sanctions are Lifted at Once’ to Move Forward in Talks

Thursday, March 5th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Iran’s state-owned Press TV is reporting that Tehran is demanding that all sanctions be lifted to proceed with a nuclear agreement.

“Our principle position is that all sanctions are lifted at once,” Iran’s senior nuclear negotiator and deputy foreign minister, Abbas Araqchi, reportedly told the network.

Negotiators, including Secretary of State John Kerry and Iran Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, met in Switzerland this week for the latest round of talks. They tentatively agreed to meet again on March 15, the Ides of March.

Araqchi further stressed that insisting no sanctions remain in place is a “very important aspect” of the talks.

Meeting with the Saudi foreign minister in Riyadh today, Kerry said he’s “seeking to show that Iran’s program is exclusively peaceful and that we can block all of the pathways necessary to acquire the fissile material for a nuclear weapon and then to be able to move towards the production of that weapon.”

“To date, we have made progress, but there do remain serious gaps, and those need to be resolved. We still don’t know whether we’ll get there,” he said.

Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal said the kingdom is “worried about atomic energy and atomic bomb.”

“But we’re equally concerned about the nature of action and hegemonistic tendencies that Iran has in the region. And these elements are the elements of instability in the region. We see Iran involved in Syria and Lebanon and Yemen and Iraq and God knows where. This must stop if Iran is to be part of the solution of the region and not part of the problem,” al-Faisal said.

Kerry stressed again the administration’s assertion that a nuke deal should be agreed to before somehow acting against Iran’s support of terrorism.

Today is the 45th anniversary of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and Kerry issued a statement noting that “our common security would be profoundly affected if additional countries crossed the nuclear threshold.”

“That is why President Obama and I have committed so much time and attention to seeking an agreement that will ensure Iran’s nuclear program is peaceful, and that it will formally commit to it in perpetuity as a signatory to the NPT, and through a science-based, verifiable agreement with the P5+1 member nations and their partners,” Kerry said.

“We are also working with the international community to achieve the DPRK’s complete, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearization, and its return to the NPT and IAEA safeguards.”

A report last week warned that North Korea could have as many as 100 nuclear weapons by 2020.

The U.S. mission to International Organizations in Vienna said in a statement Wednesday that North Korea “continues to operate as a black hole in the global nonproliferation regime – heedless of all its obligations and undermining virtually all aspects of the regime.”

“The expansion of its uranium enrichment facility at Yongbyon, and the clear likelihood of additional unidentified facilities, raise the prospect of an additional route to weapons-usable fissile material production. These activities are clear violations of multiple UN resolutions and must cease immediately.  As highlighted repeatedly by the General Conference, these activities also underscore the importance of a complete understanding of the DPRK’s entire nuclear program,” the statement delivered by Ambassador Laura Kennedy at the IAEA Board of Governors Meeting continued.

“…Unfortunately, Pyongyang has consistently rebuffed our offers of dialogue and instead has responded with a series of provocations.”

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Schumer: ‘Hard Right Republican Temper Tantrum on Immigration’ Holding Up Lynch Nod

Thursday, March 5th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Senate Democrats are pressuring Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to bring the attorney general nomination of Loretta Lynch to the floor, with Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) telling reporters on a conference call that a “hard right Republican temper tantrum on immigration” was keeping her from assuming Eric Holder’s job.

Lynch does have the support of some Republicans. Three GOPs including Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) backed Lynch during last week’s Senate Judiciary Committee vote.

“It’s time to turn the page on Eric Holder’s tenure as Attorney General. We need a fresh start in the position, and this is an opportunity for our nation to move forward,” Graham said, calling her “well-qualified” for the role.

Sens. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) also voted for Lynch at the Judiciary Committee level.

Not all Republicans are as excited, though. “Given Ms. Lynch’s impressive credentials and commitment to public service, I wish that I could support her nomination,” Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) said Friday. “Unfortunately, I cannot. During our meeting, Ms. Lynch refused to answer fundamental questions about the U.S. Constitution and how it limits the president’s authority.”

Republicans who backed away from using the Department of Homeland Security appropriations bill to defund President Obama’s immigration orders have seen holding up the Lynch nomination — 118 days since Obama announced his pick, as of today — as a viable plan B.

“If they want to oppose the president’s executive orders, they should do so in the courts,” Schumer said. “Or, better yet, by passing immigration reform once and for all, which we on the Judiciary Committee worked so long and hard on. But to hold up the nomination of Miss Lynch over immigration is just plain wrong.”

“I’ve heard time and time again from my Republican colleagues that they think Eric Holder’s lawless and they – in their words, and want him to leave. And, yet, here we have this incredibly qualified person to come in, and it’s been stalled out,” Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) said on the call. “…She should be judged on her merits, and not used as a pawn in a proxy fight over the president’s immigration policies.”

Sen. Pat Leahy (D-Vt.) said there wasn’t time to push through Lynch’s nomination while Democrats still had the Senate majority, but instead pushing through judicial nominees with lifetime appointments at the end of the 113th Congress was “a very good trade off.”

“By the time we get to a vote, even if we were to have a vote on Monday, it makes no sense at all. I’m – I’m thinking of people like Loretta Lynch and her family, who fought hard for civil rights, and now on the anniversary of Selma, she’s being told just be patient and wait your turn,” Leahy said. “That’s wrong. And it’s beneath the Senate.”

The Dems said all of the members of the caucus signed a letter to McConnell asking for a vote.

“The problem seems to be that Republicans remain intent on finding any outlet they can to express their frustration with the president, until they get their way on immigration,” Schumer said. “First, they tried defunding the Department of Homeland Security in order to overturn the president’s executive action. Now, that that hasn’t worked, there are reports that more and more of the hard right Republicans are directing their ire at Mrs. Lynch’s nomination. That’s not fair to Ms. Lynch, and it’s the wrong way to govern.”

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Breaking: ISIS ‘Bulldozed’ Ancient Assyrian City of Nimrud

Thursday, March 5th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

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Iraqi reports are saying that ISIS took heavy equipment today and started bulldozing the ancient ruins of Nimrud southeast of Mosul along the Tigris river.

According to a UCLA history of excavations at the site, it was “occupied intermittently from the 6th millennium BC to at least the Hellenistic period, but the most significant period of occupation occurred during the Late Assyrian period, when Assurnasirpal II (883-859 BC) built Nimrud as the capital of his empire. The city remained the chief royal residence and administrative capital of the Assyrian empire until the reign of Sargon II (721-705 BC), though Esarhaddon (680-669 BC) later rebuilt much of the citadel.”

“The modern name Nimrud is taken from the biblical account of Nimrod the hunter who, according to Genesis 10:8-12, established the dynasty from which the Assyrians derived. The Assyrians themselves called the site Kalḫu (biblical Calaḫ), a name which first appears in texts from the 13th century BC.”

A tour company that took groups to the site before the Islamic State invasion noted that modern-day visitors would be able to enter the palace “through a couple of doorways, between impressive statuary showing two hawk-winged lions with human heads in the well-known Assyrian style. These huge sculptures were meant to be the guardians of the city.”

“Some beautiful bas-relief slabs are still on the site, though most of them were taken abroad by excavators,” Atlas Tours states. “Most striking is the throne room, measuring 45.5×10.5 m. It was here that a large number of exquisite ivory carvings were found.”

Iraq’s Tourism and Antiquities Ministry reported on its Facebook page that ISIS “assaulted the historic city of Nimrud and bulldozed it with heavy vehicles.”

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#SledFreeOrDie: Enemies of the State Defy Capitol Hill Sledding Ban

Thursday, March 5th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

D.C.’s delegate to Congress tried to get the sledding ban on Capitol Hill reversed — at least today through the weekend as a fresh snowfall dumps on the District — but the Capitol Police refused to budge.

In a response to Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D), the Capitol Police Board upheld the code section that prohibits Capitol grounds from being “used as playgrounds or otherwise, so far as may be necessary to protect the public property, turf and grass destruction or injury.”

Norton said Wednesday she was “deeply disappointed” that no waiver was granted “despite the spontaneous outpouring from residents, and even my colleagues in Congress, in favor of the waiver.”

“Because the Board did not enforce the sledding ban for many years, it is clearly within its power not to enforce it again during a four-day period,” she said. “…I have not asked for unfettered or unregulated sledding. Rather, I have requested reasonable regulation of sledding to replace the absolute ban.  I do not believe that is too much to ask for the Capitol Grounds, which are used for walking dogs and other activities, in a city that has so few snowfalls that can accommodate sledding.”

Many sledders showed up to the Hill today in protest, and were supported by lawmakers on their own snow day.

 

 

 

 

 

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What the GOP Is Doing About Hillary Clinton’s Emails

Thursday, March 5th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

The chairman of the House committee investigating the Benghazi attacks isn’t satisfied by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s tweet last night that her emails are coming.

“I want the public to see my email. I asked State to release them. They said they will review them for release as soon as possible,” Clinton tweeted Wednesday night, a few days after the story broke that she used personal email for the official State Department business.

“As Chairman [Trey] Gowdy noted, former Secretary Clinton has left herself in the unique position of being the only one to determine what records the American people are entitled to. This has significant negative implications for transparency and government oversight, as well as for media and others who have a legitimate interest in understanding the Secretary’s time in office,” Select Committee on Benghazi Communications Director Jamal D. Ware said in a statement moments ago.

“The former Secretary’s tweet does not answer questions about why this was not done when she left office, the integrity of the emails while she controlled them, the scheme to conceal them, or the failure to provide them in logical course,” Ware continued.

“The Chairman has said the former secretary is welcome to and should release all of her emails, but legitimate investigations do not consider partial records. And that is the point of the subpoena issued yesterday by the Benghazi Committee.”

That subpoena is for “all communications of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton related to Libya and to the State Department for other individuals who have information pertinent to the investigation.”

The committee also “issued preservation letters to internet firms informing them of their legal obligation to protect all relevant documents.”

Gowdy told Fox last night that “you would think” the fact that her emails weren’t on State Department servers could have “come up in the discussion sooner than last week.”

“We have had compliance hearings, private hearings that were outside of the public eye asking when can we expect production and disclosure. You would think at some point it would come up, hey, by the way, we are not ever going to be able too give them to you because we don’t have them. But last week we realized they don’t have them so now we have to go to the source, which is Secretary Clinton yourself,” Gowdy said.

The chairman said he’s putting a “tight” two-week timeframe on his request. “I need to either have the documents or really a good explanation of why you don’t have to give them to me,” he said.

The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee is also investigating the administration’s compliance with the Federal Records Act.

“Violations of the Federal Records Act within federal agencies is something we take very seriously,” chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) said earlier this week. “The House Oversight Committee will work with Mr. Gowdy and the Select Committee on Benghazi to further explore Hillary Clinton’s use of personal emails while at the State Department.”

House Speaker John Boehner’s (R-Ohio) office highlighted how then-press secretary Jay Carney told reporters at the White House in 2011 that “the administration policy that is effective here is that we–all of our work is conducted on work email accounts.”

“The Federal Records Act exists to provide to the American people the level of transparency and accountability they deserve from their federal government,” House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) said. “Her practice frustrated Congressional oversight. The allegations that Secretary Clinton sought to sidestep the law merit robust scrutiny.”

Republican National Committee Chief Counsel John Phillippe sent a letter to State Department Inspector General Steve Linick asking that he “conduct an investigation into whether Secretary Clinton violated Department of State policies concerning the use of personal email addresses to conduct government business.”

“I also urge your office to investigate whether Secretary Clinton’s use of a personal email address violated, or caused the Department of State to violate, the requirement to archive emails that are federal records under the Federal Records Act, 44 U.S.C. § 3101 et seq., and associated federal regulations, 36 C.F.R. § 1220 et seq., including specifically 36 C.F.R. § 1236.22,” states the letter.

The letter recommends questions for the IG to ask including “What mechanisms exist to confirm that the 55,000 pages of emails given to the Department of State encapsulate all of Secretary Clinton’s official correspondence?” and “Who at the Department of State was aware that Secretary Clinton created her own personal server?”

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