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Negotiating Partner Iran Declares Victory in Nuke Talks, Reaffirms Support for Terrorists

Tuesday, November 25th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

After Iran bought seven more months of nuclear negotiations, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei declared victory against the U.S. and Tehran’s support for terrorism.

 

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Michael Brown Is a Victim. But Not in the Way That You May Think.

Tuesday, November 25th, 2014 - by Bryan Preston

According to the grand jury in Ferguson, MO, 18-year-old Michael Brown lost his life on August 9, 2014 when he charged police Officer Darren Wilson.

Wilson had his gun drawn. When Brown charged the police officer, who was much smaller than he was, the officer feared for himself and fired.

But how did Brown get to that point?

Moments prior to the fatal shots, the grand jury found that Brown had had an altercation with Officer Wilson at* the back of the officer’s car. Brown went for the officer’s weapon. Wilson fired two shots at that point. Forensic evidence — gunpowder residue on Brown’s hand, a wound on Brown’s hand, Brown’s blood on the gun and in the car — says that there was a fight between the teenager and police officer. After the first shots, he fled, then turned back toward Wilson.

But how did things get to that point?

Moments before the altercation in the squad car, Officer Wilson had stopped Brown and a friend, Dorian Johnson, who were walking down the middle of the road and disrupting traffic. Wilson did not know what Brown and Johnson had done just prior to that, or why they were disrupting traffic.

Moments prior to that, Brown and Johnson had robbed a liquor store. They didn’t take cash, though. They stole less than $50 worth of Swisher Sweets cigars. Brown was supposedly heading off to college soon. Why did he risk everything for a petty robbery?

And why did he act like a thug and steal that specific type of cigar?

It turns out that Swisher Sweets cigars have a specific purpose to marijuana smokers. Some pot smokers take Swisher Sweets, which are among the cheapest cigars on the market, hollow them out, and fill them with pot. That disguises the pot as an ordinary cigar. Brown’s social media included strong hints that he used Swisher Sweets cigars in that way.

Stealing Swisher Sweets cigars doesn’t necessarily make Michael Brown a drug user. Social media posts suggesting that he was a drug user don’t make him a drug user. But the amount of THC, the chief active ingredient in marijuana, found in Brown’s autopsy does mean that he was a drug user. Just prior to the robbery of the convenience store, Brown had used so much pot that he could have had hallucinations, according to the autopsy. He may have been hallucinating when Officer Wilson confronted him in the middle of the street. We will never know.

How did Brown get to the point where he was a heavy pot user, at least once, and strong-arm robbed a liquor store to obtain cigars used to conceal drug use? And from whom was he concealing that drug use?

Answering those questions may finally get us to understand what happened to Michael Brown, and why. We need to rewind far past August 9, 2014, back as many as 18 years.

Did Brown’s parents know who his friends were? Did they know about his drug use? Did they know about his social media habit of pretending to be a gang banger? Was he one of those kids born into a “good family” that taught him well, only to reject those values? Was he taught any values at all?

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Holder Says DOJ Has ‘Resisted Forming Premature Conclusions’ in Ferguson Investigation

Tuesday, November 25th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

Attorney General Eric Holder said the Justice Department’s investigation into the Michael Brown shooting is still “ongoing” despite the conclusion of the St. Louis County grand jury proceeding.

“Though we have shared information with local prosecutors during the course of our investigation, the federal inquiry has been independent of the local one from the start, and remains so now,” Holder said in a statement late Monday. “Even at this mature stage of the investigation, we have avoided prejudging any of the evidence. And although federal civil rights law imposes a high legal bar in these types of cases, we have resisted forming premature conclusions.”

Holder, who visited Ferguson in August, called Brown’s death a “tragedy.”

“This incident has sparked a national conversation about the need to ensure confidence between law enforcement and the communities they protect and serve,” he said. “While constructive efforts are underway in Ferguson and communities nationwide, far more must be done to create enduring trust.”

“The Department will continue to work with law enforcement, civil rights, faith and community leaders across the country to foster effective relationships between law enforcement and the communities they serve and to improve fairness in the criminal justice system overall. In addition, the Department continues to investigate allegations of unconstitutional policing patterns or practices by the Ferguson Police Department.”

Holder said in early September that during his visit to Ferguson he heard people “consistently” express “compelling” concern about law enforcement incidents and a “lack of diversity on the police force.” He added that the review of “constitutional policing” practices would be undertaken by the Civil Rights Division.

“Though there will be disagreement with the grand jury’s decision not to indict, this feeling should not lead to violence,” Holder continued in his Monday statement. “Those who decide to participate in demonstrations should remember the wishes of Michael Brown’s parents, who have asked that remembrances of their son be conducted peacefully. It does not honor his memory to engage in violence or looting.” CNN reported this morning that more than a dozen stores were burned in the aftermath of the verdict.

“In the coming days, it will likewise be important for local law enforcement authorities to respect the rights of demonstrators, and deescalate tensions by avoiding excessive displays—and uses—of force.”

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FDA to Mandate Calorie Counts on Prepared Foods

Tuesday, November 25th, 2014 - by Liz Sheld

Thanks to our nanny government, Americans will be faced with the unavoidable reality of a calorie count should they chose to purchase prepared food in restaurants and other venues.

The Food and Drug Administration will announce today the new calorie labeling rules for all establishments that sell prepared food. The calorie counts must be displayed “clearly and conspicuously” on the menus. Business have until November 2015 to comply with the new rules.

AP reports: “The regulations will also apply to convenience stores, bakeries, coffee shops, amusement parks and vending machines.” There’s no escaping it.

The idea is that consumers will pass on a delicious cheese steak and opt for a healthy sprout-filled salad, hold the dressing, if they were to know exactly how many calories are in their meal. Conversely, the government is hoping that restaurants will be conscientious, and make food with lower calorie counts. It sounds like the government is trying to turn the entire country into one of Michelle Obama’s lunch rooms full of starving students eating healthy, government-approved slop.

“Americans eat and drink about one-third of their calories away from home and people today expect clear information about the products they consume,” FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg said. The effort is just one way Americans can combat obesity, she added.

If people really expected that, business would provide it to them voluntarily. Many establishments provide nutrition information on their websites as it is.

Grocery stores and convenience stories lobbied to get out the requirements, but to no avail.

It’s not just the consumer who will be punished by the government.

“Representatives for the supermarket industry have said it could cost them up to a billion dollars to put the labels in place – costs that would be passed on to consumers. They said the rules could cover thousands of items in each store, unlike restaurants, which typically have fewer items.”

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Brown Family Statement Vows Campaign for Police Body Cameras

Monday, November 24th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson
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On Nov. 20, in the video above, Michael Brown Sr. called for any protests of the grand jury verdict to be peaceful. Tonight, after the grand jury decided not to indict Officer Darren Wilson, Michael Brown’s family issued this statement:

We are profoundly disappointed that the killer of our child will not face the consequence of his actions.

While we understand that many others share our pain, we ask that you channel your frustration in ways that will make a positive change. We need to work together to fix the system that allowed this to happen.

Join with us in our campaign to ensure that every police officer working the streets in this country wears a body camera.

We respectfully ask that you please keep your protests peaceful. Answering violence with violence is not the appropriate reaction.

Let’s not just make noise, let’s make a difference.

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Scott: Allow ‘Thorough Search for Justice and Truth for the Brown Family’

Monday, November 24th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) reminded those displeased with the lack of an indictment against Officer Darren Wilson that there are still investigations pending in the shooting death of Michael Brown.

“Today’s announcement by the grand jury is one among a number of federal and state investigations related to this case. As federal and state officials continue to examine all the facts surrounding this tragedy and the subsequent events, I encourage the public to allow a thoughtful and thorough search for justice and truth for the Brown family and the community of Ferguson,” Scott said in a statement issued as unrest unfolded in the streets of Ferguson. “Each investigation and inquiry must be allowed to run its full course and do so without leaks or an attempt by one side or another to skew the public’s opinion.”

Scott said he encouraged “all people concerned about the death of Michael Brown and the events in Ferguson to channel their frustration, hurt and anger into productive, meaningful ways to build our communities, no matter where we live.”

Protests were also unfolding in Los Angeles, Oakland, New York, Seattle and outside of the White House in Washington.

“Earlier this evening, Michael Brown’s parents – Michael Brown, Sr. and Lesley McSpadden – respectfully requested that those who seek to have their voices heard, do so peacefully and without violence. I stand with them in that request, because it is time to rebuild and restore the Ferguson community, and others, which have been so hurt by these events. I stand ready to add my voice and actions alongside those that seek to do that,” the senator said.

“I am hopeful for more peaceful and constructive expression – whether people agree or disagree with today’s outcome – because the community of Ferguson has been through enough. Those that seek to use the death of Michael Brown or today’s grand jury decision to riot, loot or create lawlessness in any community only distract and divert attention away from important questions that remain to be answered,” Scott continued.

“As this long and complicated process continues, let us not forget that at its core, a family and community has lost a young man – Michael Brown. My thoughts and prayers are with his parents and those who loved him as they grieve their loss. And while I know their loss is heightened by many unanswered questions surrounding his death last August, I hope that good can come out of this tragic situation.”

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Ferguson Officer Wilson Releases Statement on the Grand Jury’s Finding

Monday, November 24th, 2014 - by Bryan Preston

Through his attorney, Ferguson police Officer Darren Wilson has released a statement reacting to the grand jury’s decision not to indict him in the shooting of Michael Brown.

Today, a St. Louis County grand jury released its decision that no charges would be filed in the case involving Officer Darren Wilson. From the onset, we have maintained and the grand jury agreed that Officer Wilson’s actions on August 9 were in accordance with the laws and regulations that govern the procedures of an officer.

In a case of this magnitude, a team of prosecutors rightfully presented evidence to this St. Louis County grand jury. This group of citizens, drawn at random from the community, listened to witnesses and heard all the evidence in the case. Based on the evidence and witness testimony, the grand jury collectively determined there was no basis for criminal charges against Officer Wilson.

Law enforcement personnel must frequently make split-second and difficult decisions. Officer Wilson followed his training and followed the law. We recognize that many people will want to second-guess the grand jury’s decision. We would encourage anyone who wants to express an opinion do so in a respectful and peaceful manner.

On a side note, Officer Wilson would like to thank those who have stood by his side throughout the process. This continued support is greatly appreciated by Officer Wilson and his family. Moving forward, any commentary on this matter will be done in the appropriate venue and not through the media.

Small numbers of rioters are causing major trouble and violence in Ferguson. At least three stores have been burned and several police cars destroyed, despite the Brown family’s and President Obama’s call for peace.

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Obama on Ferguson: ‘Communities of Color Aren’t Just Making These Problems Up’

Monday, November 24th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

President Obama emerged in the White House briefing room soon after the announcement of a grand jury’s decision to not indict Officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of Michael Brown.

Obama noted that “either way” the verdict “was going to be subject to intense disagreement,” so he wanted to concentrate on dialogue that “won’t be done by smashing car windows.”

“First and foremost we are a nation built on the rule of law, so this decision was the grand jury’s to make,” he said.

He reminded all that the parents of the deceased 18-year-old had called upon Ferguson to protest peacefully regardless of the verdict. “Michael Brown’s parents have lost more than anyone,” Obama said. “We should be honoring their wishes.”

The president noted “our police officers put their lives on the line for us every day,” adding, “As they do their jobs in the coming days they need to work with the community — not against the community — to distinguish those who want their voices hear on legitimate issues” from rioters or vandals.

“In too many parts of this country deep distrust exists between law enforcement and communities of color,” Obama said, adding this is “tragic” because poor communities need good policing the most. Law enforcement should be trained to ensure officers conduct themselves “in a way that is fair to everybody,” he said.

“…Communities of color aren’t just making these problems up… we do have work to do here, we shouldn’t just try to paper it over.”

The president was asked if he intends to visit Ferguson once things settle down.

“Let’s take a look and see how things are going,” he said, noting that Attorney General Eric Holder already made the trip. “We have to make sure that we need to focus at least as much attention on all those positive activities that are taking place” as on those committing violent acts, he added.

Missouri’s two senators also responded quickly to the grand jury’s decision.

“There will be many people who are disappointed in today’s decision, even though it is a result of a deliberate legal process that’s being independently checked by Attorney General Eric Holder and the U.S. Justice Department,” Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) said.

“While we await the conclusion of that independent investigation — and continue working together for solutions to systemic issues highlighted by this tragedy — I’m praying that the good people of St. Louis and local law enforcement will remain peaceful and respectful of one another.”

As McCaskill released the statement protesters began clashing with police in the streets of Ferguson.

Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) said he’s been “in close touch with clergy members and other local leaders” since Brown’s August death, “and I believe we all agree our first priority is peacefully healing and rebuilding the community after months of unrest.”

The Senate Republican Conference vice-chair stressed “we must balance the rights of Americans to exercise their free speech alongside the rights of people to live peacefully and safely in their communities.”

“My thoughts are with Michael Brown’s family today, as well as those in law enforcement who continue to protect the rights of all they serve, the National Guard members we ask to step forward during difficult times in our state, and all of their family members,” Blunt continued.

“Michael’s death was tragic, and the months since this tragedy have marked a challenging time in Ferguson and across Missouri. Together, I know we can move forward and heal as we work to find better job opportunities in and more investment for challenged communities.”

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Ferguson Grand Jury Declines to Indict Officer Wilson (Video Added)

Monday, November 24th, 2014 - by Bryan Preston

After three months of deliberations, a grand jury in Ferguson, Missouri voted not to indict police Officer Darren Wilson in the August 9 shooting death of Michael Brown.

Prosecutor Robert McCulloch announced the grand jury’s decision Monday evening. As he made the announcement, thousands were assembled in Ferguson’s streets and threats of a return to riots and violence hung in the air.

The announcement was scheduled for 8 PM Central time, but the prosecutor was about 15 minutes late. During the waiting time, rumors swirled on cable news and social media that Officer Wilson would not be indicted.

In his lengthy statement, McCulloch noted that the grand jury and the federal investigators examined “all of the available evidence,” including witnesses, physical evidence from the scene, evidence from autopsies of Michael Brown, and all other relevant evidence. He also criticized the media for excessive speculation and sensationalism, despite the fact that he schedule the announcement to be in prime time, when it would surely attract massive media coverage, and after thousands had gathered in the city’s streets.

McColluch stated that he delivered his lengthy statement to ensure everyone that the grand jurors and the federal investigators had “examined every witness and every piece of evidence.” He noted that the grand jury deliberated for two days before reaching its decision.

“No probable cause exists to indict Officer Wilson,” McCulloch said. The grand jury had voted not to indict the police officer.

McCulloch then described the events of August 9, in which Officer Wilson shot Michael Brown.

While McCulloch continued to lay out the evidence that Brown had in fact attacked Officer Wilson, Brown’s family released a statement:

Update: Watch video of Prosecutor McCulloch’s statement.

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An Alternative View of the Issues Surrounding the Ferguson Grand Jury

Monday, November 24th, 2014 - by Rick Moran

I don’t agree with this take on issues surrounding the Ferguson grand jury by Derrick Jackson of the Boston Globe. But it is a valid interpretation based on his worldview that police are gunning for black kids and that nothing is being done about it.

The national hysteria over the Ferguson grand jury is a fresh indictment of America. The core issue is a charge of police brutality by a white officer shooting an unarmed black 18-year-old man. Yet all around the country, the talk is about black violence.

Here in Boston, police are sending out robocalls to public school students and sending messages to college students to stay calm. In Oakland, California, businesses are putting steel plates on their doors. In Los Angeles, Police Chief Charlie Beck said he hopes to get advance notice from Missouri authorities about whether or not the grand jury indicts Ferguson officer Darren Wilson for Brown’s shooting. And in Ferguson, some schools are already closed in anticipation of the decision, gun sales have skyrocketed and a state of emergency was declared by Missouri Governor Jay Nixon.

To be sure, Attorney General Eric Holder and many black clergy have also asked for police restraint for any protests after the grand jury decision is announced. But such balanced pleas have been drowned out by the drama of an FBI warning that the grand jury’s decision “will likely be exploited by some individuals to justify threats and attacks against law enforcement and critical infrastructure.” The memo said people “could be armed with bladed weapons or firearms, equipped with tactical gear/gas masks, or bulletproof vests to mitigate law enforcement measures.”

Meanwhile, police restraint is hard to come by.

Jackson points to the incredible shooting in Cleveland involving a 12-year-old boy with a pellet gun who was gunned down by officers. Another incident in New York City involved the shooting of a man in a dark stairwell  by a rookie cop.

Understandable confusion and an accident? Not according to Jackson:

Until the nation frets more about actual police killings than it does speculating on potential black violence, questions like Mallory’s will continue to be asked.In 1968, the literary critic Hoyt Fuller wrote, “Black people are being called ‘violent’ these days, as if violence is a new invention out of the ghetto. But violence against the black minority is in-built in the established American society.”

As if to prove that Fuller continues to be right, USA Today two weeks ago reported that the number of fatal police shootings around the country last year was nearly nine a week, the highest in two decades. Earlier this year, the newspaper reported that nearly two black people a week were killed by police in a seven-year span ending in 2012. While one in five black people killed by police are under 21, only one in 11 white people killed by police are so young.

And many criminologists say we hardly know the full truth as USA Today found that only 750 of 17,000 police departments around the nation file killings by police with the FBI.

Jackson concludes:

So far, the nation has settled for the worm’s eye view on police while maintaining an eagle watch for an explosion by black people. Although few want riots, the disparity between these views is so blatantly unequal that it guarantees that violence against the black minority will remain built into established American society.

Does all the talk about potential violence because of the Ferguson grand jury decision constitute a kind of intimidation in and of itself? I think it does. But it’s a tactic by authorities to keep the peace. The speculation about violence is meant to warn the radical elements that the police will be ready for anything. As for ordinary citizens, the warnings and preparations make it advisable for them to avoid the protests altogether.

I’m just wondering if all this speculation about violence breaking out isn’t actually contributing to an atmosphere where violence becomes inevitable. It certainly raises the tension to unbearable levels where a release of some kind becomes necessary. You would hope that release takes the form of peaceful protests — but there are a lot of wild cards in the mix and quite literally, anything can happen.

I don’t share Mr. Jackson’s perspective, but I understand it. His positions may be based on a skewed worldview, and faulty reasoning, but it’s very difficult to walk a mile in his shoes.

Trying to understand the frame of reference of someone who holds polar opposite views of your own is never a wasted exercise.

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VA Manager at the Center of Phoenix Scandal Gets Fired

Monday, November 24th, 2014 - by Bryan Preston

It only took six months of taxpayer-funded leave…

Department of Veterans Affairs officials on Monday said they had “formally removed,” Sharon Helman, the director of the Phoenix VA Health Care System, where the largest nationwide scandal in the agency’s history first came to light this summer.

Helman has been on paid administrative leave for nearly six months, following findings that employees at her hospital lied about health-care wait times for former troops seeking treatment for everything from cancer to post-traumatic stress disorder.

The action comes amid complaints from a growing chorus of Republicanswho said the agency was not acting quickly enough to discipline officials responsible for the wrongdoing, despite legislation this summer to expedite the process for firing VA senior executives.

“This removal action underscores VA’s commitment to hold leaders accountable and ensure that Veterans have access to quality and timely care,” the agency said in a short e-mailed statement.

The Justice Department had signaled that Helman’s firing would be fine, on Nov. 6. The VA had claimed that it could not legally fire her, because the scandal was still under FBI investigation.

Weeks before that, in October, the VA had officially recommended firing four officials who were involved in the scandal — but Helman was not on that list.

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‘We Want to Terminate the Sanctions’: Kerry Says Iran Playing Fair, Critics Disagree

Monday, November 24th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

Secretary of State John Kerry told reporters in Vienna that, on the seven-month extension of nuclear talks, if Iran and the P5+1 haven’t reached an agreement on ”the major elements” by the four-month mark “and there is no clear path, we can revisit how we then want to choose to proceed.”

But lawmakers know exactly how they want to proceed — with sanctions legislation decried by the administration as a deal-killer.

“Now I want to underscore that even as the negotiations continue towards a comprehensive deal, the world is safer than it was just one year ago. It is safer than we were before we agreed on the Joint Plan of Action, which was the interim agreement,” Kerry said, proclaiming that Iran “is indeed living up to its JPOA commitments.”

“…A year ago, we had no idea whether or not real progress could be made through these talks. We only knew that we had a responsibility to try. Today, we are closer to a deal that would make the entire world, especially our allies and partners in Israel and in the Gulf, safer and more secure.”

Kerry claimed they are “not going to sit at the negotiating table forever, absent measurable progress.”

The next meeting will be in December, he said, “to drive this process as hard as we can.”

“A viable agreement would have to include a new level of transparency and verification beyond the expanded access that we’ve had under the JPOA. And as these conditions are met, a viable agreement would also include for Iran relief from the international nuclear-related sanctions that help to bring them to the table to negotiate in the first place,” he said.

“…We want to terminate the sanctions. Yes, we want to terminate the sanctions which were put in place to get us to these negotiations and ultimately to be able to bring about a deal. But the world – and I underscore this – not just the United States, not just the P5+1 – the world still has serious questions about Iran’s nuclear program.”

Kerry also threw some words at “my friends in Congress,” who on both sides of the aisle have grown increasingly critical of the administration’s strategy and reluctance to consult lawmakers.

“I believe in the institution and the critical role that the Senate has to play, and the House. We have stayed in close consultation throughout this process, and we will continue to do so. And we look for your support for this extension and for continued talks,” he said.

“And I would say to those who are skeptical, those who wonder whether we should rush ahead down a different course, I believe the United States and our partners have earned the benefit of the doubt at this point,” Kerry continued. “Many were quick to say that the Joint Plan of Action would be violated; it wouldn’t hold up, it would be shredded. Many said that Iran would not hold up its end of the bargain. Many said that the sanctions regime would collapse. But guess what? The interim agreement wasn’t violated. Iran has held up its end of the bargain, and the sanctions regime has remained intact.”

Even though the State Department is trying to keep all details around the talks and agreement close to the vest, there’s buzz around Washington on whether Iran has violated the deal.

Around the same time IAEA revelations leaked about Iran feeding uranium gas into a centrifuge, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei tweeted about “how can Israel be eliminated” and tweeted about why he supports the nuclear talks, including “repelling the evil of the Great Satan.”

AIPAC said in a statement that, contrary to Kerry’s claims, “there is evidence that Iran has not fully complied with the Joint Plan of Action with respect both to its research and development of advanced centrifuges.”

Kerry confirmed Iran will be receiving “pro-rated” sanctions relief during the extension from an “already agreed upon fund that is dispersed, and since we’re living under it, we’ll live up to that agreement. But we’re not doing anything additional beyond that that I know of.”

He added that he hopes Congress will “come to see the wisdom of leaving us the equilibrium for a few months to be able to proceed without sending messages that might be misinterpreted and cause miscalculation.”

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), who took over the committee from Kerry, called it “disappointing and worrying that after a year of serious talks with Iran that we do not have a deal, while Iran simultaneously stonewalls international weapons inspectors seeking access to suspicious sites in Iran.”

“The cycle of negotiations, followed by an extension, coupled with sanctions relief for Iran has not succeeded.  I continue to believe that the two-track approach of diplomacy and economic pressure that brought Iran to the negotiating table is also the best path forward to achieve a breakthrough,” Menendez said. “I intend to work with my Senate colleagues in a bipartisan manner in the coming weeks to ensure that Iran comprehends that we will not ever permit it to become a threshold nuclear state.”

The powerful lobbying group AIPAC called it “particularly troubling that this new extension will yield Tehran even more economic relief without increased pressure on the Islamic Republic.”

“Iran has now received direct sanctions relief valued at approximately ten billion dollars since the negotiations began, and there is no sign those benefits have produced favorable results,” they added in a statement.

“Congress delayed enacting additional sanctions over the past year to give negotiations a chance,” AIPAC said. “It is now essential that Congress take up new bipartisan sanctions legislation to let Tehran know that it will face much more severe pressure if it does not clearly abandon its nuclear weapons program. We urge Congress to play its traditional and critical role to ensure that a final agreement truly eliminates any path for Iran to build a nuclear weapon.”

Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), co-author with Menendez of the sanctions legislation feared by the White House, agreed that it’s time to charge forward.

“Today’s announcement means that the Administration will continue to block sanctions and allow the terror-sponsoring Iranian regime to make $700 million a month—roughly $23 million per day—even as Iran advances its nuclear bomb-making program and sparks an arms race in the Middle East,” Kirk said. “Now more than ever, it’s critical that Congress enacts sanctions that give Iran’s mullahs no choice but to dismantle their illicit nuclear program and allow the International Atomic Energy Agency full and unfettered access to assure the international community’s security.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the Knesset today that crisis was averted — for now — without a bad deal coming by today’s deadline.

“It is very important that this agreement has been prevented as of now but a struggle is yet before us and we intend to continue this struggle in order to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear threshold state that would endanger us and others,” Netanyhau said. “Israel will always act on this matter and reserves its right to defend itself by itself.”

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New Caption Contest: ‘Here’s How You Know Chuck Hagel Didn’t Really Resign, in 1 Picture’

Monday, November 24th, 2014 - by Myra Adams

 

U.S. President Barack Obama (C) speaks as Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel (L) and Vice President Joe Biden look on during a press conference announcing Hagel's resignation in the State Dining Room of the White House November 24, 2014 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

U.S. President Barack Obama (C) speaks as Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel (L) and Vice President Joe Biden look on during a press conference announcing Hagel’s resignation in the State Dining Room of the White House November 24, 2014 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

 

Our latest contest photo and headline come to us from the Washington Post’s  Chris Cillizza, who wrote at “The Fix” blog:

But, all of the reporting on the departure suggests that it was not really Hagel’s decision at all. And, judging from the body language and facial expressions on display at the announcement this morning, the reporting is right. Big time.

And to that I say, “Who needs a secretary of Defense anyway when we have such a strong commander in chief — winner of the Nobel Peace Prize?”

Caption-contest fans will find my declaration very comforting because we know a “Peace Through Strength” sign hangs in the Oval Office. (Shhhhh, Obama does not want you to know that he crossed out “Through Strength” with his famous “red line” using a Sharpie.)

For more on why Hagel “resigned” be sure to read  Bridget Johnson’s report here at PJ Media.  Here is my favorite line:

“You’ve always given it to me straight and for that I’ll always be grateful,” said Obama.

Now for more “straight” talk, click to the next page to find  out the winners of our last contest, which posed the question:

“Is Our King Playing with a Full Deck?”

Credit: Drudge Report

Credit: Drudge Report

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Chairman: On Fourth Defense Secretary, Obama Needs to Ask, ‘Is It Me?’

Monday, November 24th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

The chairman of the House Armed Services Committee said President Obama needs to look in the mirror as yet another secretary of Defense leaves his administration.

“The Obama administration is now in the market for their 4th secretary of Defense,” Rep. Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) said. “When the president goes through three secretaries, he should ask, ‘Is it them, or is it me?’”

McKeon said “with the cards stacked against him,” Hagel “led the department with efficiency and aplomb.”

“He was given a thankless task of an underfunded Defense Department, growing threats, and intrusive White House micromanagement,” the chairman added.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who will lead the Senate Armed Services Committee in the 114th Congress, said despite policy differences with Hagel over the years he views the secretary as “a friend, a patriot, and a dedicated public servant who has always put our country first and the needs of our men and women in uniform above his own.”

“His predecessors have spoken about the excessive micro-management they faced from the White House and how that made it more difficult to do their jobs successfully. Chuck’s situation was no different,” McCain said.

“I hope the president will nominate a secretary of defense with the strength of character, judgment, and independence that Bob Gates, Leon Panetta, and Chuck Hagel all exhibited at their best. But ultimately, the president needs to realize that the real source of his current failures on national security more often lie with his administration’s misguided policies and the role played by his White House in devising and implementing them. That is the real change we need right now.”

The outgoing Senate Armed Services chairman, retiring Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), simply thanked Hagel’s “dedication to the security of our nation and the welfare of our troops and their families has always been steadfast.”

“I have always enjoyed a great personal relationship with him, and I commend him on a lifetime of service to his nation in war and in peace,” Levin added.

Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) said Obama needs to “move quickly” to nominate a new Defense secretary. “The threats we currently face, be it ISIS, Iran or others, involve some of the most dangerous actors in the world,” he said.

“The new secretary must be willing and able to develop a cohesive long-term strategy to combat these threats and keep our nation safe. This has not proven to be a strong point for this administration in the past, and that must change. America cannot continue to lead from behind on issues of national security at home and abroad.”

“Whether a resignation or a firing of Secretary Hagel, this decision reflects the uncertainty of this administration as it relates to foreign policy in general, and in particular the destruction of ISIS,” said Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.). “Given the crisis with ISIS, along with situations of unrest in the Ukraine, Iran, and west Africa, this president and his administration need to send a clear message of strength and commitment.”

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said a recent memo from Hagel about the administration’s failing policy against ISIS “was welcome news to those of us who have harbored these thoughts for some time.”

“Whether it was leaving a residual force behind in Iraq or assisting the Free Syrian Army at a time when it would have been most beneficial, our failing strategies in Iraq and Syria are President Obama’s fault. On numerous occasions he has chosen to ignore sound military advice,” Graham said.

“I hope President Obama will now do the same soul-searching regarding our failing strategies in Syria and Iraq.  He too must be willing to make the necessary changes.”

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Cartoon: Hagel Fiddled with Climate Change While the World Burned

Monday, November 24th, 2014 - by Bryan Preston

Departing SecDef Chuck Hagel may have fired some shots at President Obama on his way out, but cartoonist Rob Lang reminds us that Hagel has done his boss’ bidding on political priorities, while serious national security threats emerged around the world. Click to enlarge.

Fiddling with climate change

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‘New Car Smell’? MSNBC Pundit Says Hillary Clinton Is the Democrats’ ‘Only Hope’

Monday, November 24th, 2014 - by Bryan Preston

In an ABC interview broadcast Sunday, President Obama said two things that are contradictory to each other.

When asked about his declining popularity and what Americans might be looking for in the 2016 presidential election, Obama said that voters will be looking for that “new car smell.” In other words, not someone like him, who has now been in the national eye for a decade and in the presidency for six years.

“I think the American people, you know, they’re going to want — you know, that new car smell. You know, their own — they want to drive something off the lot that doesn’t have as much mileage as me,” Obama told Democrat operative turned ABC host George Stephanopoulos.

But Obama also said that Hillary Clinton would be a “terrific” president. Clinton has been in national politics since her husband won the presidency in 1992. The former first lady, senator and secretary of state has spent decades on the national stage, yet has very few accomplishments — but major controversies like “sniper fire,” the Russian “reset” and Benghazi — to burnish her resume.

MSNBC pundit Mark Halperin sees a potential Hillary Clinton candidacy differently. Halperin told his colleagues on Morning Joe today that Hillary Clinton is the Democratic Party’s “only chance” to retain the presidency in 2016.

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“They’ve got a bench,” host Mika Brzezinski said of the Republicans’ 2016 hopefuls, noting that Mitt Romney, Chris Christie, Rand Paul, Jeb Bush and many others are considering running and have records to run on. “Unlike, I mean, do the Democrats have a bench?” she asked Halperin.

“Oh no they’ve got one big front-runner,” Halperin replied.

“But do they have a bench?” Brzezinski asked again.

“No, she’s their only hope,” Halperin replied, shaking his head and chuckling.

Hillary Clinton is currently 67 years old, and would be 70 by the time she takes office if she were to win the presidency in 2016. That would make her one of the oldest presidents in American history, something quite different from Barack Obama’s “new car smell.”

h/t DC Examiner

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Flournoy Unchained: SecDef Shortlister Defended Obama’s Iraq Withdrawal

Monday, November 24th, 2014 - by Bryan Preston

Former Pentagon official Michèle Flournoy is said to be on the short list to replace Chuck Hagel. Hagel is being forced out of the Obama administration, the first cabinet-rank change since voters roundly rejected Obama’s policies in the Nov. 4 elections.

Flournoy bears the distinction of having publicly defended Obama’s withdrawal of American troops from Iraq. During the 2012 election, Flournoy attacked Mitt Romney over the issue.

Romney, in comments that have turned out to be prescient in light of the rise of ISIS, ripped Obama’s troop withdrawal as “tragic.” That withdrawal left a vacuum of power into which the Islamic State has risen and seized territory the size of England.

“Governor Romney called the ending of the Iraq War and the bringing of our troops home ‘tragic,’ which is really hard to understand,” Flournoy said in an Obama campaign video. “He wanted to keep our troops there longer, tens of thousands of them.”

Such loyalty to Obama may be rewarded with an appointment to lead the Pentagon.

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Hagel Unchained: Departing Defense Secretary Fires Parting Shots in Interview Last Week

Monday, November 24th, 2014 - by Bryan Preston

Departing Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel may have sealed his exit in this interview with Charlie Rose last week. Rose conducted the interview at the Pentagon.

In the interview, Hagel made two key points that serve as accusations that President Barack Obama is mismanaging the United States military and the ISIS threat.

Rose asked Hagel to elaborate on comments that he made in a speech at the Reagan Library last weekend. In that speech, Hagel said that America’s military capability, while still the best in the world, is being threatened.

Hagel re-iterated that to Rose, but also left viewers to wonder about the direction that President Obama is taking the military.

“I am worried about it, I am concerned about it, Chairman Dempsey is, the chiefs are, every leader of this institution,” Hagel said, including Pentagon leadership but leaving both President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden’s names out of his list of officials who are worried about the U.S. military’s declining capability. Hagel said that the Congress and the American people need to know what while the U.S. military remains the strongest, best trained and most motivated in the world, its lead is being threatened because of policies being implemented now.

Hagel went on to note that a good leader prepares their institution for future success, saying that “the main responsibility of any leader is to prepare your institution for the future. If you don’t do that, you’ve failed. I don’t care how good you are, how smart you are, any part of your job. If you don’t prepare your institution, you’ve failed.”

In the past couple of years, Hagel has warned that defense budget cuts implemented under President Obama were hurting readiness and capability. The “how smart you are” line may be a veiled shot at President Obama, who basks in a media image that he is a cerebral, professorial president.

In the same interview, Hagel also commented on the rise of ISIS and how it must be fought. Hagel charged that Obama’s handling of the ISIS threat is now indirectly assisting Syrian dictator Bashar Assad.

While President Obama has downplayed the ISIS threat, even calling the group “jayvee” as it rose to power, Hagel warned last week that it is a threat unlike any other we have ever faced.

“We’ve never seen an organization like ISIL that is so well-organized, so well-trained, so well-funded, so strategic, so brutal, so completely ruthless,” Hagel said. “We have never seen anything quite like that in one institution.

“And then they blend in ideology — which will eventually lose, we get that — and social media. The sophistication of their social media program is something that we’ve never seen before. You blend all of that together, that is an incredibly powerful new threat.”

Related: 

Flournoy Unchained: SecDef Shortlister Defended Obama’s Iraq Withdrawal

 

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Obama Says It’s ‘Appropriate Time’ for Hagel to Go; Lawmakers Say Defense Secretary Disagreed with White House

Monday, November 24th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

Saying he was “lucky” to have Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel in his administration, President Obama said it’s now the “appropriate time for him to complete his service.”

Obama was flanked by Hagel and Vice President Joe Biden during the Monday morning announcement in the State Dining Room.

He credited Hagel with helping build a coalition to fight ISIS and combat Ebola in West Africa, and said the troops see themselves in the Vietnam veteran.

Obama said Hagel came on board when the Pentagon was “entering a significant period of transition” including the drawdown in Afghanistan and budgetary constraints.

The president called Hagel “an exemplary Defense secretary” and added he’s admired him since he was a “green-behind-the-ears freshman senator.”

“If there’s one thing I know about Chuck, he does not take this or any decision lightly,” Obama said.

Hagel will stay on until a successor is confirmed.

“You’ve always given it to me straight and for that I’ll always be grateful,” said Obama.

Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) noted to CNN that he saw growing policy rifts between Hagel and Obama, including over boots on the ground to battle ISIS.

“Secretary Hagel did not believe that the foreign policy is working or is going to work,” King said.

Rep. Randy Forbes (R-Va.), a member of the House Armed Services Committee, told Fox that Hagel’s firing “makes very clear that this administration continues to be far more concerned about controlling the message than they are about controlling the threat that the United States faces.”

“What we understand that the real catalyst for this move was not so much what the secretary’s done or not but really that he’s given the White House advice that they don’t want to hear, and that’s what concerns me,” Forbes said.

“Because whether I agree with the secretary of Defense or not, we want him to be able to give his honest advice to the president of the United States. And we’ve had testimony where our leaders have been saying this president’s White House has been ignoring the military advice and advice coming out of the Department of Defense. That concerns us a great deal.”

Obama added that today the U.S. can “claim the strongest military the world has ever known.”

In his remarks, Hagel thanked the troops and lawmakers, and promised to work hard until his successor is confirmed. He called building a team effort “part of the fun of it.”

“It’s been the greatest privilege of my life,” he said.

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Paul Unveils ‘Declaration of War’ Against Islamic State

Monday, November 24th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) today released a “declaration of war against the Islamic State” with the intention of introducing when Congress comes back into session after Thanksgiving.

The resolution would kill the 2002 Iraq Authorization for Use of Military Force and put a one-year expiration date on the 2001 Afghanistan AUMF. The administration has been leaning upon those war on terror statutes to conduct current operations against ISIS in Iraq and Syria.

It notes that “the organization referring to itself as the Islamic State has declared war on the United States and its allies” and “presents a clear and present danger to United States diplomatic facilities in the region, including our embassy in Baghdad, Iraq.”

“The state of war between the United States and the organization referring to itself as the Islamic State, also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), which has been thrust upon the United States, is hereby formally declared pursuant to Article I, section 8, clause 11, of the United States Constitution,” the resolution states.

“The President is hereby authorized and directed to use the Armed Forces of the United States to protect the people and facilities of the United States in Iraq and Syria against the threats posed thereto by the organization referring to itself as the Islamic State, also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).”

It clarifies that it can’t be “construed as declaring war or authorizing force against any organization” except ISIS or direct affiliates.

It limit the use of ground forces except “as necessary for the protection or rescue of members of the United States Armed Forces or United States citizens from imminent danger posed by the organization referring to itself as the Islamic State, also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS); for limited operations against high value targets; or as necessary for advisory and intelligence gathering operations.”

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The Senate Must Pass This Vital Bipartisan National Security Bill Before the Session Ends

Monday, November 24th, 2014 - by Bryan Preston

The lame duck Senate, still under Democratic control, has at least one major national decision to make: confirming departing Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s successor. That is, if President Obama nominates Hagel’s successor before the session ends.

The Senate could and should take up an important national security bill before the 113th Congress’ clock runs out. That bill is S.2329, the Hezbollah International Financing Prevention Act of 2014. The bill directs the president to designate Hezbollah,up to now viewed primarily as a terrorist group and national security threat, as a significant narcotics trafficker and a significant transnational criminal organization.

Hezbollah has American blood on its hands. The terrorist group bombed the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut, Lebanon on October 23, 1983, killing 241 American personnel. The group was founded in 1982 and has been an officially designated terrorist group for nearly 20 years. But it has flourished, thanks to its Iranian patronage and to its extensive criminal activities. In addition to launching numerous attacks against Israel, Hezbollah has killed civilians in attacks all over the world.

S.2329 was introduced by Sen. Jean Shaheen (D-NH) and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) in May 2013. There has been no Senate action on it since.

The House version passed unanimously on July 22, 2014. It has 321 co-sponsors in the House, including conservatives like Rep. Michael Burgess (R-TX) and liberals like Rep. Bobby Rush (D-IL).

In the Senate, in addition to Shaheen and Rubio, the bill has 55 co-sponsors from both parties. Those co-sponsors include conservative Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and liberal Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA). It has support across the ideological divide, in both houses of Congress, and for good reason: It would enable the United States to bring new law enforcement firepower to bear against a major international terrorist group, in two key ways.

One, it would “prevent Hezbollah’s global logistics and financial network from operating in order to curtail funding of its domestic and international activities.” Two, it would “utilize diplomatic, legislative, and executive avenues to combat Hezbollah’s criminal activities in order to block that organization’s ability to fund its global terrorist activities.”

The bill would also go after Hezbollah’s broadcasting operations and its worldwide logistics network. By choking off its finances and its propaganda, the U.S. may eliminate Hezbollah as a threat both to our country and to our allies. Doing so would weaken Iran’s hand as the U.S. and our allies look to curb Iran’s nuclear weapons ambitions.

The U.S. has had some important successes in choking off Hezbollah’s criminal funding streams over the past few years, by prosecuting banks and individuals found to be assisting Hezbollah’s financial operations. But more tools are needed to fight Hezbollah.

The bill is needed, in short, because it would add Hezbollah’s criminal activities to its its ideological-terrorism activities as crimes which the U.S. government and our allies would vigorously fight worldwide. The fact is, while Hezbollah receives funding from Iran to conduct its operations primarily against Israel, it is also a major worldwide drug trafficking network and money laundering operation. Hezbollah is both an Islamic terrorist group and a violent drug cartel. Its cartel activities fund its mass murder attacks. But its criminal activities mostly take a back seat to its ideological activities, in terms of national security priorities and its overall treatment by the United States.

S.2329 would change that, and bring significant law enforcement tools to bear against Hezbollah. These tools will help close off the terrorist group’s finance streams all over the world, and put countries that host Hezbollah on notice that they are harboring a group that the United States now considers a major global criminal network as well as an ideological foe.

All the Senates needs to do is pass the bipartisan bill. Then it would go to President Obama’s desk for his signature, and the United States would significantly ramp up the fight against Hezbollah terrorism, all over the world.

 

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Christian Woman on Death Row in Pakistan: ‘Please Don’t Abandon Me’

Monday, November 24th, 2014 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

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Nicholas Kristof devoted precious New York Times space to the pleadings of one Christian Pakistani family to save their wife and mother from a death sentence:

Note: Asia Bibi, a Christian Pakistani woman, was sentenced to death for blasphemy against Islam in 2010. The year before, while picking fruit with Muslim women, she took a sip of water from the local well. She was immediately accused of making the water impure by ​the other workers, ​who told her that they could no longer use the well. A​ccording to her husband, Ashiq Masih, and others, men and women started beating her and accusing her of making derogatory remarks against the Islamic prophet Muhammad, a charge she denies. Asia is currently in prison waiting to be hanged after losing an appeal ​on ​Oct. 16. She has told her story in a memoir, Blasphemy: A Memoir: Sentenced to Death over a Cup of Water, written with French journalist Anne-Isabelle Tollet. 

Below is an open letter by Ashiq addressed to the world community. (Madam Mayor refers to Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo, who has offered her support to Asia.)

Her husband writes, in part:

I live in hiding with my five children as near as possible to Asia. She needs us very much to help keep her alive, to bring her medicine and good food when she is sick.

After my wife had spent four long years in prison in terrible conditions, we were hoping that the High Court of Lahore would free my wife. She did not commit blasphemy, never. Since the court confirmed the death sentence on the 16th of October, we do not understand why our country, our beloved Pakistan, is so against us. Our family has always lived here in peace, and we never had any disturbance. We are Christians but we respect Islam. Our neighbors are Muslims and we have always lived well with them in our little village. But for some years now the situation in Pakistan has changed because of just a few people, and we are afraid. Today many of our Muslim friends cannot understand why the Pakistani justice system is making our family suffer so much.

We are now trying our best to present the final case to the Supreme Court before the 4th of December. But we are convinced that Asia will only be saved from being hanged if the venerable President Mammon Hussain grants her a pardon. No one should be killed for drinking a glass of water.

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‘Under Pressure,’ Hagel Out as Secretary of Defense

Monday, November 24th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

President Obama is expected to announce at 11:10 a.m. EST that Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is stepping down.

According to the New York Times, Hagel is doing so “under pressure” after two weeks of meetings with Obama.

More from the NYT:

The officials described Mr. Obama’s decision to remove Mr. Hagel, 68, as a recognition that the threat from the Islamic State would require a different kind of skills than those that Mr. Hagel was brought on to employ. A Republican with military experience who was skeptical about the Iraq war, Mr. Hagel came in to manage the Afghanistan combat withdrawal and the shrinking Pentagon budget in the era of budget sequestration.

But now “the next couple of years will demand a different kind of focus,” one administration official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity. He insisted that Mr. Hagel was not fired, saying that he initiated discussions about his future two weeks ago with the president, and that the two men mutually agreed that it was time for him to leave.

But Mr. Hagel’s aides had maintained in recent weeks that he expected to serve the full four years as defense secretary. His removal appears to be an effort by the White House to show that it is sensitive to critics who have pointed to stumbles in the government’s early response to several national security issues, including the Ebola crisis and the threat posed by the Islamic State.

Earlier this month Hagel said there was critical need for overhaul of the country’s nuclear force — plans that the House Armed Services Committee chairman feared would clash with Obama’s “global zero” anti-nuke plans.

Hagel told reporters that both internal and external reviews found “a consistent lack of investment and support for our nuclear forces over far too many years has left us with too little margin to cope with mounting stresses.”

Hagel’s recommendations included “changes in organization, policies, and culture,” while “others require an increase in resources, allocated to the nuclear mission.”

“I hope the president will listen to his senior civilian and military national security leaders, take this as seriously as they do, and cast aside his Global Zero vision that is in reality unilateral disarmament,” Armed Services Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) said at the time. “We can work together to follow the blueprint established by Secretary Hagel and his review and show the leadership our men and women in uniform deserve.”

Obama passed over Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter for the job after Defense Secretary Leon Panetta resigned. Carter, a highly knowledgeable and powerful force inside the Pentagon, stepped down in October 2013. A week later, Press Secretary George Little resigned.

Panetta has since unleashed on the administration in a memoir, saying last month that the president drawing an unenforced red line on Syria was “damaging” to U.S. credibility.

Panetta’s book notes that Obama too often ”relies on the logic of a law professor rather than the passion of a leader” and sometimes he “avoids the battle, complains, and misses opportunities.”

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Graham: House Intelligence Committee Report Clearing Admin of Misleading on Benghazi is ‘Full of Crap’

Monday, November 24th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) blasted the House Intelligence Committee’s final report on Benghazi as “full of crap.”

The committee found no big intelligence failure in the Sept. 11, 2012, attack on a diplomatic facility that took four American lives, including Ambassador Chris Stevens.

It also cleared the administration of wrongdoing in the time it took to launch a rescue operation for consulate staff. And it found that current National Security Adviser Susan Rice wasn’t being deliberately misleading when she made the rounds on the networks to deliver inaccurate talking points that, in part, pointed the finger of blame at anger over an anti-Muhammad video on YouTube.

“As the Committee’s bipartisan report makes clear, the House Intelligence Committee’s investigation into the Benghazi attacks focused on the Intelligence Community’s activities before, during, and after the attacks in Benghazi, Libya, on September 11-12, 2012,” Intelligence Chairman Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) said in a statement Saturday. “The bipartisan panel concluded that there was no stand down order issued by or to intelligence community personnel, and there was no denial of air support to intelligence community officers on the ground. The officers present testified to that effect.”

“The Committee did receive evidence about the activities of the Defense Department, State Department, and White House personnel, which are explained in both the report and the additional views,” he added. “But the Committee does not make final conclusions about other agencies to the extent they were not the focus of the Committee’s investigation.”

Rogers said all members of the committee “were given an opportunity to provide written comments on the Committee’s work and the report.” The retiring chairman “wrote additional views to provide further comments on the motivations and actions of some senior officials.”

“Similarly, the Minority Members provided additional comments. The Committee urges those commenting on the report to read both the report and the additional views.”

Rep. Trey Gowdy’s (R-S.C.) Select Committee on Benghazi said it “received the Intelligence Committee’s report on the Benghazi terrorist attack months ago, and has reviewed it along with other Committee reports and materials as the investigation proceeds.”

“It will aid the Select Committee’s comprehensive investigation to determine the full facts of what happened in Benghazi, Libya before, during and after the attack and contribute toward our final, definitive accounting of the attack on behalf of Congress.”

Said Graham on CNN Sunday: “I think the report is full of crap.”

“To say that Mike Morell — well, the deputy director of the CIA, when I ask him, do you know who changed the talking points, and — with Senator Ayotte and McCain and Susan Rice sitting by his side, said the FBI changed the talking points when it came to references to al-Qaeda,” Graham said. “Only later did we find out through a lawsuit that Mike Morell was deeply involved in changing the talking points, the deputy director of the FBI. When he was sitting in front of a congressional panel and he was asked, does anybody here know who changed the talking points, he sat silent. So, no, the intel community through him lied.”

The House Intelligence Committee, the senator charged, “is doing a lousy job policing their own.”

“I’m saying that anybody who has followed Benghazi at all knows that the CIA deputy director did not come forward to tell Congress what role he played in changing the talking points. And the only way we knew he was involved is when he told a representative at the White House, I’m going to do a hard review of this, a hard rewrite,” he said.

“Three days after the attack, they did not give a damn about the intelligence. They wanted to create a political narrative to protect the president. And I’m not going to stop until someone is held accountable for allowing it to be a death trap, somebody be fired for not coming to the aid of these people for nine-and-a-half-hours. And somebody ought to be fired for lying to the American people. They were worried about the reelection, not telling the truth. And when Susan Rice said, ‘I have no regrets, I gave the American people the best evidence available,’ that’s a bald-faced lie.”

Graham added that when the House Intelligence Committee “says there is no manipulating of the American people, that is absolute garbage.”

“When they say there is no evidence that CIA personnel misled the Congress regarding changing the talking points, that is a lie, because I was on the receiving end of the lie.”

Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) told CNN that Graham’s reaction to the report was “right on target.”

“You know, when you look at this administration it seems like they very much wanted to say that there was no successful al-Qaeda out there,” Kirk said.

House Intelligence Committee member Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) told the network that “calling it crap doesn’t change the fact that it was an exhaustive and objective review.”

“It reminds me of a lawyer’s maxim that, if the law is not on your side, emphasize the facts. If the facts aren’t on your side, bang on the table. I think we heard Lindsey banging on the table quite a bit this morning,” Schiff said.

“This was a two-year exhaustive investigation. It was released by the Republican chairman of the Intelligence Committee and had the support of all the Republicans and Democrats on the committee. It’s designed to be the definitive word on what happened from the intelligence community’s point of view… There were 21 intelligence assessments at the time that it began as a protest. Those turned out to be wrong, but there was no malice in getting it wrong.”

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More Defections of ‘Vetted Moderate’ Free Syrian Army Rebels to ISIS

Monday, November 24th, 2014 - by Patrick Poole

Earlier this month I reported here at PJ Media on the surrender and defections of U.S.-backed Syrian rebel troops to Jabhat al-Nusra (Al-Qaeda’s official affiliate), most notably the Syrian Revolutionaries Front, which the DC foreign policy establishment was hailing as “the West’s best fighting chance against Syria’s Islamist armies,” and Harkat al-Hazm, the first group to receive heavy weaponry from the U.S. earlier this year.

Now Mona Mahmood of the Guardian reports that elements of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) are defecting to ISIS:

US air strikes in Syria are encouraging anti-regime fighters to forge alliances with or even defect to Islamic State (Isis), according to a series of interviews conducted by the Guardian.

Fighters from the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and Islamic military groups are joining forces with Isis, which has gained control of swaths of Syria and Iraq and has beheaded six western hostages in the past few months.

Some brigades have transferred their allegiance, while others are forming tactical alliances or truces. Support among civilians also appears to be growing in some areas as a result of resentment over US-led military action.

“Isis now is like a magnet that attracts large numbers of Muslims,” said Abu Talha, who defected from the FSA a few months ago and is now in negotiations with other fighters from groups such as the al-Nusra Front to follow suit.

As the article notes, rebels perceive the U.S. airstrikes against ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra as a “war on Islam”:

[FSA fighter Murad] and his fellow fighters were awaiting the arrival of Isis militants in Homs, he added. “The moment Isis fighters touch the soil of the Homs countryside, we will be the first to fight with them at the front. This [US-led] military coalition is not against Isis, it is against entire Islam.”

This sentiment is hardly aberrant among the so-called “vetted moderate” Syrian rebels. As I reported back in September, the U.S.-backed Harakat al-Hazm issued a statement at the outset of the U.S. anti-ISIS bombing campaign saying it was  ”an attack on the revolution.”

And I’ve also previously reported that many of these U.S.-backed and armed “vetted moderate” groups have shifting alliances that include fighting with ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra.

As far back as July there were reports that large groups of FSA units were defecting to al-Qaeda and ISIS, surrendering their U.S.-provided weapons along the way, and that other FSA units were forging peace deals and fighting alongside al-Qaeda and ISIS in some areas.

While most of the D.C. foreign policy establishment was promoting the arming of the so-called “vetted moderate” FSA, a few of us were openly skeptical of any effort to back so-called “moderate jihadists.” Whether by Republicans or Democrats, such efforts in the past have always ended in tears for the U.S. and led to increased threats to our national security.

This policy in Syria has been so disastrous the Obama administration has been openly distancing themselves from their “vetted moderate” Syrian rebel partners.

Remarkably, as I noted earlier this month, congressional Republican leadership jumped on board with Obama’s policies at the very moment he was abandoning them, voting to spend another $500 million to arm and train the “vetted moderates.” Meanwhile, some GOP figures who supported Obama’s policies of supporting and arming the FSA since 2011, namely John McCain and Lindsey Graham, have been unapologetic in the face of the collapse and defections of their “vetted moderate” friends.

It remains to be seen whether the new Congress that will be seated in January will follow the folly of the current Congress in providing training, money and weapons to the FSA. But expect these defections by the FSA and other U.S.-backed groups to ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra to continue.

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Obama Honors ‘At Times Tumultuous’ Life of Marion Barry

Monday, November 24th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

President Obama said he was “saddened” at the loss of D.C. political “fixture” Marion Barry, the colorful four-term former mayor who died Sunday at age 78.

Barry had diabetes and kidney disease, and the D.C. medical examiner said the cause of death was hypertensive cardiovascular disease.

He was still on the City Council representing Ward 8.

Barry kicked off the 1990s with a six-month stint in federal prison on a cocaine possession charge. An infamous hotel sting video of the bust had Barry muttering “bitch set me up” as he was hauled away in cuffs.

In 1992 he was back, running for and winning his council seat on the campaign slogan, ”He may not be perfect, but he’s perfect for D.C.”

“Marion was born a sharecropper’s son, came of age during the Civil Rights movement, and became a fixture in D.C. politics for decades. As a leader with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, Marion helped advance the cause of civil rights for all,” Obama said in a statement.

“During his decades in elected office in D.C., he put in place historic programs to lift working people out of poverty, expand opportunity, and begin to make real the promise of home rule,” the president continued. “Through a storied, at times tumultuous life and career, he earned the love and respect of countless Washingtonians, and Michelle and I extend our deepest sympathies to Marion’s family, friends and constituents today.”

Obama was golfing at Lake Las Vegas in Henderson, Nev., when the news broke. Among his partners for the game was onetime Tiger Woods golf coach Butch Harmon.

D.C.’s delegate to Congress, Eleanor Holmes Norton (D), said, “From my earliest encounter with Marion Barry, when he was the first chair of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee until I came back home and found him mayor of my home town, I have seen Marion take hold and write his signature boldly on his own life and times and on the life of the nation’s capital.”

“Many took his struggle to personify in some way their own, endearing him and making him a larger-than-life figure as he became a creator of post-home-rule D.C.,” Norton said.

The District said the public memorial for Barry could be postponed until after Thanksgiving. Verizon Center and the Convention Center are being considered as venues.

Marion Barry’s last tweet:

 

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Why Is the Ferguson Grand Jury Taking So Long?

Sunday, November 23rd, 2014 - by Rick Moran

Grand jury deliberations are as secretive as the conclave of cardinals who elect the pope. Unlike trial juries, which can be sequestered, grand juries live and work in the community, meeting several times a month to hear witnesses and weigh evidence. They are fully aware of the situation in their communities and what’s at stake with their decision.

You can imagine the pressure on the Ferguson grand jury as they are exposed to threats of violence from thugs, as well as pleas for “justice” from more peaceful advocates. And while there may, indeed, be an intimidation factor from those who threaten to riot and loot, you would hope they ignore outside forces and render their decision based on the facts.

So why has it taken so long? CNN’s Steve Almasy explains that it’s a matter of the time the grand jury spends on the case and the fact that the prosecutor has given them all the evidence he has. Normally, a prosecutor will withhold as much ammunition as he can so as not to give the defense a heads up on what he has until he absolutely has to. But in this case, prosecutor Robert McCulloch wanted the grand jury to have everything.

Almasy explains that the grand jury usually only meets once a week, although in the Brown case, “the panel is allowed to meet on days when all 12 jurors can get together. Once agreed upon, the schedule is given to the prosecuting attorney’s office.” So, it’s more often than once a week but less than 5 days a week.

McCulloch told CNN’s Ana Cabrera that it had taken longer than expected to get some of the witnesses in front of the grand jury.

The grand jury meets in secret, so it is impossible to know whether all the evidence has been presented and all the witnesses have testified. One possibility is the grand jury wanted to hear from a witness again.

Another scenario is that the grand jurors took a break before starting their deliberations.

McCulloch has told CNN that if there is no indictment, he will seek to publicly release all evidence in the case.

Paul Fox, St. Louis County’s director of judicial administration, sent a statement to media on Sunday that said that a judge must approve such a request and that the court will have to “analyze the need for maintaining secrecy of the records with the need for public disclosure of the records.”

There are several possible outcomes to the grand jury’s deliberations:

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Al-Shabab, Boko Harum Attacks Kill Nearly 90

Sunday, November 23rd, 2014 - by Rick Moran

Two horrific terrorist attacks yesterday carried out against civilians by two of the worst terrorist groups in the world.

A group of Somalia-based al-Shabab gunmen stopped a bus full of Kenyans at dawn on their way to Nairobi. The gunmen then began to ask the 60 passengers to recite a verse from the Koran. Those that couldn’t were told to lie on the ground.

A primary school headteacher who was the only survivor of the Kenya bus massacre has said he was saved because his would-be killers became confused as he lay waiting to be murdered.

Non-Muslim Douglas Ochwodho, who was singled out to to be killed, said one gunman shot from the right and one from the left, each killing their victims lying in a line on the ground.

They grew closer and closer to Mr Ochwodho, who was in the middle, then the shooting stopped. Apparently each gunman thought the other shot Mr Ochwodho, who remained perfectly still until the 20 Islamic extremists left the scene.

Twenty-eight passengers were murdered when Somalia’s al-Shabab group attacked a bus in northern Kenya at dawn yesterday and picked out those who could not recite an Islamic creed who they assumed to be non-Muslims.

Nineteen men and nine women were killed.

Those who could not say the Shahada, a tenet of the Muslim faith, were shot at close range, Mr Ochwodho, who spoke from a hospital bed where he was being treated for shock, said.

Al-Shabab claimed responsibility for the killings through its radio station in Somalia, saying it was in retaliation for earlier raids by Kenyan security forces on four coastal mosques.

Kenyan troops are fighting alongside government troops against al-Shabab in Somalia, and the terrorists are murdering civilians in retaliation. Last September, 4 al-Shabab gunmen walked into the upscale Westlake Mall in Nairobi and gunned down 63 men, women, and children. They, too, singled out people who could not recite the Muslim profession of faith, “There is no god but allah and Mohammed is his prophet.”

Meanwhile, in Nigeria, Boko Harum rampaged through a small town killing at least 60 innocents.

An attack by Islamic extremists killed dozens in the northeastern Nigerian village of Doron Baga, a major fishing center on the shores of Lake Chad, witnesses said.

Fisherman Usman Abubakar told the Associated Press that suspected Boko Haram members drove into Doron Baga, in Borno state, “shooting people on sight.”

“I counted 60 bodies with my own eyes,” Abubakar said.

He said he, his wife and three children hid in their home before fleeing to the state capital of Maiduguri about 200 kilometers (124 miles) away.

Abubakar said he is among the many residents who are fleeing Borno and returning to their state of origin, Sokoto in northwestern Nigeria.

Nigerian security official Gideon Jubrin, spokesman for the Borno state police, told AP he has not received any official confirmation of the attack.

Communication in the area are difficult because Boko Haram have destroyed mobile phone masts across the northeastern region, which means attacks often go unreported for days.

Baga was the site of a mass killing in April 2013 where almost 200 people, mostly civilians, were killed and more than 2,000 homes were destroyed in crossfire between the Nigerian troops and Boko Haram.

An attack on Wednesday in Azaya Kura village in Borno left at least 45 people dead when Boko Haram members surged through the village raiding homes and stealing livestock.

Most observers in the region don’t think the Nigerian military can stand up against Boko Harum. Besides, the people fear the military almost as much as they hate Boko Harum. Without the population on their side, Boko Harum will only grow stronger while the Nigerian government fumbles its way to defeat.

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What the President Didn’t Tell You About His Amnesty Plan

Sunday, November 23rd, 2014 - by Rick Moran

Newt Gingrich, writing at CNN, contrasts the words that President Obama used to describe his deferred deportation plan with what his administration is actually proposing.

The President also said in his speech that his actions would offer relief only to people who met certain criteria he described, including having child dependents in the United States. But the actual policy memo makes clear that “DHS will direct all of its enforcement resources at pursuing” people who are “national security threats, serious criminals, and recent border crossers.”

In other words, there will be one group, estimated at 4 million or so, who are eligible for the new work authorization program. But at the same time, there will be no resources directed at enforcing immigration law against the other 7 million people here illegally as long as they do not fall into a few narrow categories, according to the President’s Office of Legislative Affairs. And indeed, a “senior administration official” told Roll Call that the administration “will order immigration agents to prioritize deportations of criminals and recent arrivals — and let people who are not on that priority list go free.” This is not at all the program the President described in his speech.

As I wrote yesterday, drunk drivers, sex abusers, drug traffickers, and even burglars will not be “prioritized” as far as deportations are concerned. Most local governments don’t turn illegals over to the feds anyway, so not much will change. Still, for the federal government to ignore the immigration laws already on the books by looking the other way and “deferring” deportations for almost all 11 million illegal aliens is a breathtaking expansion of executive power.

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SNL Snubs Obama, Mocks Executive Order

Sunday, November 23rd, 2014 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

IJReview picked up on one of the funniest SNL sketches in recent (a.k.a. post-original cast) history. It was a Schoolhouse Rock! parody that aired last night, mocking Obama’s latest immigration-related executive order and complete disregard for the constitutional process:

It starts out with the familiar boy climbing the steps of Capitol Hill and asking what kind of bill is on the Hill with him. The bill responds with a jingle that he is an “immigration bill” and that he hopes he can be passed into law someday.

Cue the President shoving the bill down the stairs before inviting his buddy, the cigarette smoking “executive order,” into the picture.

The boy exclaims in bewilderment that what the President is doing is unconstitutional, but the executive order just laughs at the boy’s belief that he still thinks that is how government works.

The sketch may be tongue-in-cheek payback on the part of NBC after being snubbed by the president, whose administration just so happened not to request air time from the Big 4 to announce his executive order plans in prime time. Dubbed “The Commander-in-Chief of MSNBC,” Obama has employed his “heckler’s veto” multiple times in the past, and Saturday Night Live sketches were far from immune. Last night’s humor is obviously a sampling of what can happen when Tina Fey no longer manages the Obama campaign from its 30 Rock location.

Despite the president’s latest appearance on Univision and Telemundo, the majority of Latino voters disagree with his executive order and rate amnesty low on their list of priorities:

By a margin of 56 percent to 40 percent, Hispanic voters oppose allowing illegal immigrants to obtain federal benefits, including Obamacare benefits, “while they are going through the legalization process and before the 90% goal is reached.”

When asked to choose which of four issues — the economy, immigration reform, education, or health care — is most important to them, registered Hispanic voters said immigration reform was their lowest priority. Just 31 percent ranked the issue first or second, compared with 62 percent for the economy, 57 percent for health care, and 45 percent for education. Non-registered voters, on the other hand, ranked immigration reform as their highest priority.

Apparently SNL did a better job of marketing to a new target demographic than the Big-O.

Watch the video on the next page.

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Even With Iran Nuke Deal, the Military Option is Back on the Table for Israel

Sunday, November 23rd, 2014 - by Rick Moran

An alarming article in the Jerusalem Post reports that Israel may take military action against Iranian nuclear sites even if a deal being negotiated between Iran and the west is reached.

The Israelis point to several concessions made by the west that does not reassure them of Iran’s intent with its nuclear program.

In fact, Israel sees these concessions as a threat. One official cited a “sunset clause” in proposed comprehensive deal, which guarantees Iran a path into the nuclear club and may corner Israel into war.”

But reflecting on the deal under discussion with The Jerusalem Post on the eve of the deadline, Israel has issued a stark, public warning to its allies with a clear argument: Current proposals guarantee the perpetuation of a crisis, backing Israel into a corner from which military force against Iran provides the only logical exit.

World powers have presented Iran with an accord that would restrict its nuclear program for roughly ten years and cap its ability to produce fissile material for a weapon during that time to a minimum nine-month additional period, from the current three months.

Should Tehran agree, the deal may rely on Russia to convert Iran’s current uranium stockpile into fuel rods for peaceful use. The proposal would also include an inspection regime that would attempt to follow the program’s entire supply chain, from the mining of raw material to the syphoning of that material to various nuclear facilities across Iran.

Israel’s leaders believe the best of a worst-case scenario, should that deal be reached, is for inspections to go perfectly and for Iran to choose to abide by the deal for the entire decade-long period.

But “our intelligence agencies are not perfect,” an Israeli official said. “We did not know for years about Natanz and Qom. And inspection regimes are certainly not perfect. They weren’t in the case in North Korea, and it isn’t the case now – Iran’s been giving the IAEA the run around for years about its past activities.”

“What’s going to happen with that?” the official continued. “Are they going to sweep that under the rug if there’s a deal?”

On Saturday afternoon, reports from Vienna suggested the P5+1 – the US, United Kingdom, France, Russia, China and Germany – are willing to stop short of demanding full disclosure of any secret weapon work by Tehran.

Speaking to the Post, a senior US official rejected concern over limited surveillance capabilities, during or after a deal.

“If we can conclude a comprehensive agreement, we will have significantly more ability to detect covert facilities – even after its duration is over – than we do today,” the senior US official said. “After the duration of the agreement, the most intrusive inspections will continue: the Additional Protocol – which encompasses very intrusive transparency, and which Iran has already said it will implement – will continue.”

That may be wishful thinking. In fact, the inspection regime falls short of being “intrusive,” as Iran will still be able to deny immediate access to their facilities. In other words, no “snap” inspections. And without full disclosure of Iran’s previous bomb making efforts, the inspectors may not even know where to look for dual-purpose facilities.

Meanwhile, the calculus for and against Israel taking military action to degrade or destroy Iranian nuclear infrastructure hasn’t changed, except it’s probably a more difficult mission than it was 2 years ago. Facilities have been hardened or built underground. Even with an attack lasting several days, there’s no guarantee that Israel can destroy enough of Iran’s nuclear program to make big difference.

But given the threat, Israel may feel itself backed into a corner and would attack anyway. And as the J-Post article makes clear, it may not matter what kind of deal might be reached between Iran and the west.

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Give Me Your Tired, Your Poor, Your Drunk Drivers, Your Sex Abusers, Your Drug Traffickers…

Saturday, November 22nd, 2014 - by Rick Moran

A good, prudent immigration policy would allow people into the country who can contribute something to the culture or the economy. Job skills, talent, brainpower — these are qualities in people that the U.S, should be encouraging to come, or stay.

Some of the people who will qualify under “deferred deportation” have other kinds of talents. Burglars who have demonstrated a proficiency in robbing people are welcome, according to new rules issued by DHS. Also, those excellent illegal-drug salesmen — some of whom are so good they could probably sell crack cocaine to a 10 year old — have talents desired by President Obama.

Sex abusers, drunk drivers — I mean, it’s obvious that President Obama feels we have a shortage of low-life scumbags in America.

Byron York writes of the new rules issued by U.S. immigration authorities:

The new priorities are striking. On the tough side, the president wants U.S. immigration authorities to go after terrorists, felons, and new illegal border crossers. On the not-so-tough side, the administration views convicted drunk drivers, sex abusers, drug dealers, and gun offenders as second-level enforcement priorities. An illegal immigrant could spend up to a year in prison for a violent crime and still not be a top removal priority for the Obama administration.

In the memo, DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson says his department must develop “smart enforcement priorities” to exercise “prosecutorial discretion” in order to best use his agency’s limited resources. Johnson establishes three enforcement priority levels to guide DHS officers as they decide whether to stop, hold, or prosecute an illegal immigrant.

Priority One is the “highest priority to which enforcement resources should be directed,” the memo says. The category includes “aliens engaged in or suspected of terrorism or espionage, or who otherwise pose a danger to national security.” It also includes “aliens apprehended at the border or ports of entry while attempting to unlawfully enter the United States.” In addition, any illegal immigrant convicted of an offense involving a criminal street gang, or convicted of a felony — provided that immigration status was not an “essential element” of the charge — is targeted. Finally, any illegal immigrant convicted of an aggravated felony is included in Priority One.

The guidelines say Priority One aliens “must be prioritized” for deportation unless they qualify for asylum or unless there are “compelling and exceptional” factors that indicate the alien is not a threat.

Priority Two offenders, whose cases are less urgent than criminals in Priority One, include the following:

aliens convicted of a “significant misdemeanor,” which for these purposes is an offense of domestic violence; sexual abuse or exploitation; burglary; unlawful possession or use of a firearm; drug distribution or trafficking; or driving under the influence; or if not an offense listed above, one for which the individual was sentenced to time in custody of 90 days or more (the sentence must involve time to be served in custody, and does not include a suspended sentence)

DHS further defines a “significant misdemeanor” as an offense for which the maximum term of imprisonment is one year or less, but greater than five days. In addition, the guidelines contain a possible out for illegal immigrants accused of domestic abuse. “Careful consideration should be given to whether the convicted alien was also the victim of domestic violence,” the guidelines say. “If so, this should be a mitigating factor.”

It’s bad enough that an illegal with one conviction on any one of those crimes can stay. But a burglar caught and convicted twice is still eligible to remain in the U.S. under Obama’s new rules.

The president told America during his speech on Thursday night that those convicted of “serious” offenses would be deported. But rape is sometimes reduced to a sexual abuse misdemeanor. Other charges related to burglary, like strong-arm robbery, can be dropped. A drug-dealing gangbanger can be convicted of trafficking if the amount of illegal drugs he’s caught with is less than a felony.

The point being, just because a criminal is convicted of a couple of misdemeanors doesn’t mean he’s not a threat to the community. It’s apparent that President Obama and the rest of America have different ideas on what constitutes a “serious” crime.

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US Desperation Sets in as Iran Nuke Deal Deadline Looms

Saturday, November 22nd, 2014 - by Rick Moran

Go figure. It’s Iran whose economy has been crippled by sanctions. It’s Iran that is isolated and nearly alone in the world. It’s Iran that’s literally under the gun to make a deal as, theoretically, the deal would virtually guarantee the US — and probably Israel — would forgo an attack.

Then why in the name of all that is good and holy is it the US that’s desperate to make a deal?

Reuters:

World powers are pressing Iran to stop stonewalling a U.N. atomic bomb investigation as part of a wider nuclear accord, but look likely to stop short of demanding full disclosure of any secret weapon work by Tehran to avoid killing an historic deal.

Officially, the United States and its Western allies say it is vital that Iran fully cooperate with a U.N. nuclear agency investigation if it wants a diplomatic settlement that would end the sanctions severely hurting its oil-based economy.

The six powers face a delicate balancing act at talks in Vienna, due to end by Monday; Israel and hawkish U.S. lawmakers – wary of any rapprochement with old foe Iran – are likely to pounce on a deal if they believe it is too soft on Tehran.

A senior U.S. official stressed that the powers had not changed their position on Iran’s past activities during this week’s talks: “We’ve always said that any agreement must resolve the issue to our satisfaction. That has not changed.”

Privately, however, some officials acknowledge that Iran may never be prepared to admit to what they believe it was guilty of: covertly working in the past to develop the ability to build a nuclear-armed missile – something it has always denied.

A senior Western official said the six would try to “be creative” in finding a formula to satisfy those who want Iran to come clean about any atomic bomb research and those who say this is simply unrealistic.

What’s the point of inking a nuclear deal with Iran if it doesn’t guarantee their enrichment program won’t be used to build a nuclear weapon? Isn’t that the the major reason for these cockamamie negotiations in the first place?

Sheesh.

The IAEA issued a report in 2011 with intelligence information indicating concerted activities until about a decade ago that could be relevant for developing nuclear bombs. It said some of these might be continuing.

IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano this week said Iran had again failed to provide the explanations needed for the IAEA inquiry, which has made scant headway in months.

Iran for its part has said these “possible military dimensions” (PMD) are an issue it will not budge on. “PMD is out of the question. It cannot be discussed,” an Iranian official said.

Another Western official said many inside the IAEA and Western governments felt uneasy about compromising on the issue, but added: “I believe the PMD issue is not a deal-breaker, even though it probably should be.”

Just so we have this straight…

Most western governments believe that Iran should come clean about any military dimensions to its nuclear program (that includes work on ballistic missiles). Those same people believe Iran’s failure to be forthcoming should be a deal breaker.

But the desire for a deal — any deal — is so strong, Iran’s secrecy about its nuclear bomb program will be overlooked in order to make history.

If a deal is signed, there will be great fanfare with President Obama perhaps traveling to Tehran to sign the document. We will be told it’s “historic.” We will be told it’s a great step forward. We will praise Iran’s “moderate” new government.

And in a few years when it becomes obvious that Iran has a nuclear weapon, these same people will throw their hands in the air and claim it wasn’t their fault.

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Latest Obamacare ‘Tweak’ a Doozy

Saturday, November 22nd, 2014 - by Rick Moran

Americans are inveterate tinkerers — a trait commented on by observers from de Tocqueville to Winston Churchill.

That’s why it’s not surprising that the bureaucrats at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services would want to keep tweaking Obamacare. Mind you, it’s not so much because they think they can perfect the law. Rather, they keep tweaking the law in order to keep the American people from brandishing pitchforks and coming to Washington to tar and feather them and ride them out of town on a rail.

Self-preservation can be a marvelous motivating factor.

The geniuses who brought us the dysfunctional website healthcare.gov are in a panic because just about every Obamacare policy is going up in price. So rather than having American citizens deal with such unpleasantness, our intrepid bureaucrats have hit upon a brilliant scheme: why not change the auto-renewal rules of Obamacare premiums by automatically shifting a consumer from a policy that went up in price over to a cheaper policy? Of course, the cheaper policy will have fewer benefits and a larger deductible. And some people may actually like the policy they have now.

But what does that matter to the jamokes at HHS? They know what’s best for you. Just ask them.

Peter Suderman writes:

In a 300-page regulatory proposal released late this afternoon, the Department of Health and Human Services announced that it is considering changing Obamacare’s auto-renewal rules so that, within the health law’s exchanges, instead of being automatically renewed into your current health plan, you’d be moved into the lowest cost plan from the same service tier.

From the attached fact sheet:

Under current rules, consumers who do not take action during the openenrollment window are re-enrolled in the same plan they were in the previous year, even if that plan experienced significant premium increases. We are considering alternative options for re-enrollment, under which consumers who take no action might be defaulted into a lower cost plan rather than their current plan.

(Fact sheet via Adrianna McIntyre; proposal first noted by Politico.)

States running their own exchanges could start doing this in 2016, and federal exchanges could start in 2017.

It’s not just auto-reenrollment. It’s auto-reassignment, at least for those who pick that option. Basically, if you like your plan, but don’t go out of your way to intentionally re-enroll, the kind and wise folks at HHS or state health exchanges might just pick a new plan—perhaps with different doctors, clinics, cost structures, and benefit options—for you. And if you want to switch back? Good luck once open enrollment is closed. There’s always next year.

A hassle? Maybe. But have faith: They know what’s best.

Presumably the idea came up because, even though by some measures premiums aren’t rising by large amounts this year, premiums for many of the lowest cost and most popular plans from last year are rising quite a bit. And since HHS decided over the summer to institute auto-renewal, and since the majority of Obamacare enrollees are expected to take no action and thus stay in their current plans, the reality is that under the current system a lot of enrollees are likely to see large premium hikes, just because they didn’t shop around for a new plan.

Bless their nanny state hearts. The thoughtfulness of liberals is neverending, isn’t it? As we are constantly reminded by many on the left, Americans are just too stupid to realize what their best interests are, so why not make it easy on us and take decisions on our health insurance out of our hands and place the responsibility with our all-knowing betters in government?

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Two New Black Panther Party Members Arrested in Ferguson Bomb Plot

Saturday, November 22nd, 2014 - by Rick Moran

According to a spokesman for St. Louis County prosecutor Bob McCulloch, the grand jury considering whether to indict officer Darren Wilson on charges relating to the Michael Brown shooting in Ferguson, MO, was still meeting as of Friday morning, although McCulloch’s office put the media on notice to expect an announcement in the near future.

And in a sting operation, the FBI has told some media outlets that they have arrested two members of the New Black Panther Party on charges related to a bomb plot connected to the Ferguson protests. Brandon Orlando Baldwin and Olajuwon Davis, recently indicted on charges of trying to purchase handguns under false pretenses, were being charged with federal firearms offenses for trying to buy material for pipe bombs they planned on setting off during protests.

Reuters reports:

Against this backdrop of heightened tensions, according to a law enforcement source, two men described as reputed members of a militant group called the New Black Panther Party, were arrested in the St. Louis area in an FBI sting operation.

As initially reported by CBS News, the men were suspected of acquiring explosives for pipe bombs that they planned to set off during protests in Ferguson, according to the official, who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to publicly discuss the case.

The official said the two men are the same pair named in a newly unsealed federal indictment returned on Nov. 19 charging Brandon Orlando Baldwin and Olajuwon Davis with purchasing two pistols from a firearms dealer under false pretenses.

Both men were arraigned on Friday in federal court, the law enforcement source said.

The FBI and other federal agencies were reported to have stepped up their presence in the St. Louis area in recent days in anticipation of renewed protests after the grand jury’s decision in the Brown case is made known.

An FBI official in St. Louis declined to comment except to say that the two men named in the indictment had been arrested. Officials from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for eastern Missouri were not immediately available for comment.

In 2012, the New Black Panther Party offered a bounty on George Zimmerman, the man acquitted of murdering Trayvon Martin.

The New Black Panther Party’s most notorious act was intimidating voters at a precinct in Philadelphia during the 2008 presidential election. For no announced reason, Attorney General Eric Holder dropped those charges in 2009.

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