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Bridget Johnson

Bridget Johnson is a veteran journalist whose news articles and opinion columns have run in dozens of news outlets across the globe. Bridget first came to Washington to be online editor at The Hill, where she wrote The World from The Hill column on foreign policy. Previously she was an opinion writer and editorial board member at the Rocky Mountain News and nation/world news columnist at the Los Angeles Daily News. She is an NPR contributor and has contributed to USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, National Review Online, Politico and more, and has myriad television and radio credits as a commentator. Bridget is Washington Editor for PJ Media.
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Rand Paul Wins CPAC Straw Poll for Third Year in a Row

Saturday, February 28th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) won the CPAC straw poll for the third year in a row to close out the conservative conference in Washington today.

Seventeen names were on the straw poll ballot, picked according to whether they’ve been hiring staff, telling donors they’re considering a run, visiting presidential forums or dropping in on early primary states.

Paul won with 25.7 percent of the vote, followed by Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker with 21.4 percent.

“I am humbled by the enthusiastic support and encouragement I received this week at the Conservative Political Action Conference,” Paul said in a statement released by his PAC. “Our party is filled with constitutional conservatives who have chosen to stand with me for a third consecutive straw poll victory.

“…The Constitutional Conservatives of our party have spoken in a loud and clear voice today. I plan on doing my part and I hope you will join me as I continue to make the GOP a bigger, better and bolder party.”

In third place was Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) with 11.5 percent, followed by pediatric neurosurgeon Ben Carson with 11.4 percent, and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush with 8.3 percent.

Former Sen. Rick Santorum (Pa.) got 4.3 percent, and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) got 3.7 percent.

The straw poll had 3,007 votes, a 20 percent increase over last year’s conference participation. Forty-two percent of those voting were students.

Three out of 10 CPAC voters said foreign policy would be their most important issue in picking a presidential candidate. Seven in 10 wanted a “peace through strength” foreign policy when asked about international disengagement.

Just 18 percent said illegal immigrants should be able to stay in the country and apply for citizenship, while 11 percent said they should stay but not be allowed to apply for citizenship.

Four in 10 thought marijuana favored the legalization of taxed marijuana for recreational and medical use, while 27 percent said it should remain illegal.

Most important attribute in a presidential candidate, from a list of offered choices, was a “solid conservative record.” Just 17 percent thought the most important quality was for the candidate to appeal to independent voters.

Deal-breakers? The biggest ones were expanding Medicaid under Obamacare, backing Common Core (58 percent said they would never vote for a GOP nominee who supported it), and supporting immigration reform. Just 18 percent said supporting gay marriage was a deal-breaker.

Paul addressed the conference in jeans and rolled-up shirtsleeves on Friday, with his usual pack of loyal supporters bringing down the house and waving “stand with Rand” signs.

He took plenty of shots at presumed Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, arguing the former secretary of State’s “abdication of responsibility, her refusal to provide an adequate defense for Benghazi, her dereliction of duty should forever preclude her from higher office.”

“It’s time for Hillary Clinton to permanently retire,” Paul added.

Paul won the 2014 straw poll with 31 percent of the vote. Cruz came in second a year ago with 11 percent support, Carson got 9 percent, and Christie had 8 percent. Walker did not attend last year’s conference and had 7 percent. Rubio got 6 percent back then.

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American Blogger Hacked to Death by Islamists in Bangladesh

Friday, February 27th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

A Bangladeshi-American secularist blogger who had received frequent threats from Islamists was hacked to death on a Dhaka street Thursday night.

Ansar al-Islam Bangladesh used its Twitter account to claim responsibility for the murder of Avijit Roy before its account, Ansar Bangla 7, was taken down.

“The target was an American citizen.. 2 in 1. #America recently martyred 2 of our brothers in #Khurasan & #Shaam. #Revenge+#Punishment,” read one of the tweets.

Roy is a dual U.S.-Bangladesh citizen who lived in Georgia and was in Bangladesh for a month, according to the Associated Press. He reportedly has a daughter currently attending school in the U.S. His wife, Rafida Ahmed Bonna, was with him at the time of the attack and was severely wounded, with one of her fingers severed by the pair of machete-wielding attackers.

Roy’s blog in the 90 percent Muslim country, mukto-mona.com, translates to “free thinking” and featured atheist, humanist and nationalist writers. He was also an author whose books included The Philosophy of Disbelief and The Virus of Faith — further stoking outrage of Islamists.

He and his wife had just left a book fair when they were attacked. Roy was struck in the head and died on the operating table at Dhaka Medical College and Hospital, Reporters Without Borders said.

“The measures so far taken have not led to the arrest and trial of the perpetrators and instigators of crimes of violence against journalists and bloggers. The police and judicial authorities need to focus on the right target,” Benjamin Ismaïl, head of the Reporters Without Borders Asia-Pacific desk, said. “It is unacceptable for them to spend so much time searching news outlets, arresting journalists, censoring news and investigating bloggers, when the many attacks on bloggers are still unpunished.”

State Department press secretary Jen Psaki opened Friday’s briefing with the attack and said the administration “condemns in the strongest terms the brutal murder of Avijit Roy, which was horrific in its brutality and cowardice.”

“Avijit was a journalist, a humanist, a husband, and a friend, and we extend our condolences to his family and friends. He was taken from us in a shocking act of violence,” Psaki said. “This was not just an attack against a person, but a cowardly assault on the universal principles enshrined in Bangladesh’s constitution and the country’s proud tradition of free intellectual and religious discourse.”

“…Clearly, we know his background, which was why I outlined it, but don’t have anything to ascribe in terms of a motive in this case.”

But Islamists targeting secularist bloggers is sadly nothing new in Bangladesh.

In 2013, they put out a call for bloggers deemed blasphemers to be murdered. In January 2013, blogger Asif Mohiuddin was stabbed by Islamists yet survived. On Feb. 15, 2013, Ahmed Rajib Haider, a blogger who also criticized Islamic fundamentalism, was hacked to death and no one was convicted in the attack.

Ansar al-Islam took credit for Haider’s slaying in a November Facebook post, and included Mohiuddin’s face on a hit list of future targets.

“We call on Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s government to leave no stone unturned in investigating and prosecuting the attack on Avijit Roy and Rafida Ahmed Bonna,” Committee to Protect Journalists Asia Program Coordinator Bob Dietz said. “This attack is emblematic of the culture of impunity that pervades Bangladesh, where the lack of accountability in previous attacks on the press continues to spurn a deadly cycle of violence.”

Reporters Without Borders said 19 bloggers have been listed as targets on Islamist websites since the 2013 demonstrations.

Instead of going after the Islamists, the press-freedom group said, the Bangladeshi authorities began shutting down websites and arresting bloggers.

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Jeb Bush Faces CPAC Crowd as ‘Practicing Reform-Minded Conservative’

Friday, February 27th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush knew he would face a firing squad of sorts at the Conservative Political Action Conference today, and did so describing himself as a “practicing reform-minded conservative.”

Some walked out at the beginning of the speech, led by a Tea Party supporter carrying a Gadsden flag, but the house was still packed as his detractors stayed to boo or heckle the governor.

Bush had just as many supporters, who frequently jumped to their feet to applaud the governor. Love him or hate him, the CPAC crowd was hanging on his every word.

With no opening remarks, Bush conducted the interview Q&A style with Sean Hannity, standing instead of seated as some previous speakers were.

Bush quipped that he used to be mad at his mom for saying the White House had seen enough Bushes, but “since that time she’s had a change of heart and that’s all right by me.”

“I have to show what’s in my heart. I have to show I care about people and their future. It can’t be about the past,” he said of the family legacy.

Conservatives in Washington, he said, “have been principled in opposing the overreach” of the Obama administration, but “need to start being for things again.”

“It’s good to oppose the bad things but we need to start being for things.”

Being for the right policies that stimulate economic growth will bring out voters who “don’t know they’re conservative,” Bush argued. “We will be able to get Latinos and young people and other people you need to get to get 50.”

Responding to boos over his immigration policy, Bush said his critics should read his book, Immigration Wars, before casting an opinion on his positions.

“A great country needs to enforce its borders,” he said, adding that he also wants to “narrow family petitioning” to a spouse and minor children “so it’s the same as every other country.”

“There is no plan to deport 11 million people. We should give them a path to legal citizenship” where they work and make a contribution to society, he said.

The division in the crowd was most evident at this point, with some booing and heckling while others were standing and applauding.

“The simple fact is this nation needs to start growing again … we need to change the subject to high sustained economic growth,” Bush said. Of the argument that U.S. citizens should get jobs before immigrants, he replied, “You either believe that the pie is static, that’s the left’s point of view… someone’s benefit is someone else’s detriment” or growing the economy “at a rate that looks more like the ’80s.” His target? Four percent.

“There’s going to be opportunities for all. We don’t believe in the government divvying it up to get our crumbs.”

Bush stressed that he doesn’t agree with President Obama’s executive actions. “The Congress ought to pass a bill that does not allow him to use that authority.”

On Common Core, he said “our standards have to be high enough… our students need to be career-ready.”

“In this Department of Education there is a risk they will intrude” on the states and localities, he said. “…The federal government role, if any, is to provide incentives for more school choice.”

Bush, who eliminated the affirmative action system in Florida, said there are now more minorities in the college system there than in the previous “discriminatory” one.

On fighting ISIS, he stressed that “we can’t disengage in the world and have a good results.”

“We’ve managed to mess up every relationship in the world” under Obama, “even Canada, which is hard to do.”

By restoring trust between critical coalition countries such as Egypt and the White House, Bush said such power could put a “noose” on ISIS and “take them out.”

He endorsed Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker’s (R-Tenn.) idea of creating a safe zone for the Free Syrian Army and said he didn’t want conditions on boots on the ground in order to allow intelligence and special forces capability to “make a difference.”

He panned the Iran nuclear negotiations, adding “there should be no light between us and Israel” and calling Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s address to a joint session of Congress “very important.”

Bush was also asked about his “Terry’s Law” efforts in the Schiavo case. “I acted on my core belief that the most vulnerable in society should be at the front of the line,” he said.

When Hannity said he was going to pose a question he was asking of all the politicians who joined him on stage during the conference, Bush quipped, “Boxers.”

The end of Bush’s Q&A session differed from the other 2016 hopefuls in that he shook hands and took selfies with the crowd.

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Paul: ‘Our Freedom Is at Risk from a Supreme Court That Fails to Protect Our Liberty’

Friday, February 27th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson
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The CPAC audience was packed to hear the winner of the confab’s straw poll the previous two years, and Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) didn’t disappoint his faithful.

Paul’s address was delayed by Senate votes, and he showed up in jeans with rolled-up shirt sleeves to ask, “Will you, lovers of liberty, rise to the occasion?”

They did rise to their feet, waving “stand with Rand” signs distributed outside the ballroom.

“When politicians accept censorship, when politicians accept imprisonment without trial, when politicians accept torture, even of the innocent, as necessary, then lovers of liberty must rise,” the senator said. “We must rise and stand with our forefathers who stared down the king. We must rise as free men and women and reclaim our birthright. We must protect and defend the Constitution against all enemies — foreign and domestic!”

Paul declared “our freedom is at risk from a Supreme Court that fails to protect our liberty.”

“In the mistake of the century, Justice Roberts affirmed the power of government to force you to buy insurance. Justice Roberts argued that we must presume Obamacare constitutional,” he said. “I’ve got a better idea. Why don’t we presume liberty? Just as we are presumed innocent, so too we should be presumed free!”

The ophthalmologist vowed to “make it my mission” to repeal “every last bit” of Obamacare.

“To defend our country, we need to gather intelligence on the enemy. But when the Intelligence Director lies to Congress, how are we to trust them?” Paul said. “Are we to trust them to collect and hold every American’s phone records? I say, that your phone records are yours.  I say the phone records of law-abiding citizens are none of their damn business!”

Paul took plenty of shots at presumed Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, arguing the former secretary of State’s “abdication of responsibility, her refusal to provide an adequate defense for Benghazi, her dereliction of duty should forever preclude her from higher office.”

“It’s time for Hillary Clinton to permanently retire,” he added.

Paul said he envisions the perfect national defense as “unparalleled, undefeatable, and unencumbered by nation building.”

“We must realize, though, that we do not project strength by borrowing money from China to send it to Pakistan. It angers me to see mobs burning our flag and chanting ‘death to America’ in countries that receive our foreign aid. I say it must end. I say not one penny more to these haters of America.”

Chants of “President Paul” interrupted the senator’s speech.

He talked about the “two Americas” described by Martin Luther King Jr. and the “undercurrent of unease” he found on his trips to “trips to Ferguson, Detroit, Atlanta, and Chicago. “…Those of us who have enjoyed the American Dream must break down the wall that separates us from ‘the other America.’”

Paul brought up the case of Kalief Browder, a Bronx teen who spent three years at Rikers Island without charge after being accused of taking a backpack.

“It is not the desire for wealth that drives us — what drives us is the desire for freedom,” he said. “The history of man is a history of men and women striving to restrain the power of government and expand the realm of freedom.”

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Trump: Diplomats ‘Know Nothing About Negotiating’

Friday, February 27th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson
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Among the field of potential presidential hopefuls speaking to the Conservative Political Action Conference today, Donald Trump touched on foreign policy while pitching his business cred to do a better job negotiating than diplomats do.

Someone in the audience yelled “you’re fired!” at The Apprentice host at the beginning of the speech, which Trump brushed off.

“A lot people think I’m doing this for fun. I’m not doing this for fun… Washington is totally broken and it’s not going to get fixed until we put the right person in that top position,” Trump said.

With an eye toward lawmakers in Congress, he declared “the Republicans have to toughen up.”

“If I decide to run and win, nobody would be tougher” on ISIS, Trump vowed. “…I’d just hit them really hard.”

One of the foreign policy problems, he said, is “we have diplomats doing our negotiating” and diplomats “know nothing about negotiating.”

Asked where he was on deciding to run for president on a scale of 1 to 100, Trump replied, “75 to 80 — I am really inclined. I want to do it so badly.”

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Bolton to CPAC: ‘We Have Two More Years of Peril to Go’

Friday, February 27th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson
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Declaring that “we have two more years of peril to go,” former UN Ambassador John Bolton focused his Conservative Political Action Conference speech on a searing criticism of Hillary Clinton.

“Hillary and her husband were a year ahead of me in law school,” Bolton told the crowd. “I have been burdened with them 20 years longer than the rest of the country… in short, I am ready for Hillary.”

“Her four years at the State Department demonstrate that she is not fit to be the president of the United States…. On national security issues Hillary’s record is indistinguishable from Barack Obama’s.”

To a conference renowned for putting foreign policy on the back burner, Bolton stressed “why national security issues must be at the center of the issues” in 2016. “I fully expect to play a role in that debate one way or the other.”

He called an impending nuclear deal with Iran “the biggest act of American appeasement in contemporary history.”

“President Obama has the worst relationship with Israel since the state of Israel was created in 1948.”

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Rubio to CPAC: ‘I Have a Debt to America I Will Never be Able to Repay’

Friday, February 27th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) indicated at this morning’s Conservative Political Action Conference that if he decides to run for president he’ll focus squarely on that instead of a backup plan to stay in the Senate.

But he demurred on where he is in the decision-making process, refusing to answer Sean Hannity’s question on where that decision is on a scale of 1-100.

The senator did stress why he would run for the highest office in the land.

“America doesn’t owe me anything, but I have a debt to America that I will never be able to repay,” Rubio told the CPAC crowd, elaborating on the history of his parents’ immigration from Cuba. “For me, America isn’t just a country, it’s the place that literally changed the history of my family.”

Now, he asked, “What kind of country we are going to be?”

“Sometimes you wouldn’t know we’re an exceptional nation by listening to the left… by listening to the president,” Rubio said. “When was the last time you heard about a boatload of American refugees arriving on the shores of another country?”

“God is still blessing America,” he said, but “our allies no longer trust us and our enemies no longer fear us” as President Obama “treats the ayatollah in Iran with more respect than the prime minister of Israel.”

“Today our nation is on the road to decline,” but “we are one election away from triggering another American century.”

Rubio stressed the need for regulatory reform, repealing and replacing Obamacare, and placing a focus not just on college but vocational training. “We shouldn’t be stigmatizing those vocational careers,” he said. “…Not everyone should be forced to get a four-year degree in order to find a job.”

He advocated a Sunni force including Egypt, Jordan, Bahrain and other nations in the region to take the fight to the Islamic State, “and you will wipe ISIS out.”

“Imagine if we had a president who understood that the way to defeat ISIS is not to find them a job,” the senator said.

On President Obama’s immigration executive actions, Rubio stressed that it’s not a question of policy but of constitutional authority. Noting that he wants to cut taxes but wouldn’t approve of doing it unilaterally, he said, “I don’t know where [Obama] suddenly found the constitutional power to do this.”

Rubio also addressed critics of his participation in the Senate Group of Eight that forged an immigration reform compromise.

“It wasn’t very popular; I don’t know if you know that from some of the folks here,” he quipped.

He said the comprehensive agreement addressed problems that must by tackled, including visa overstays, more fencing needed along the border, and an immigration system that “can’t continue to be based on family alone” but brings in more highly skilled workers.

Rubio said he learned from the process. “What I’ve learned is you can’t even have a conversation” about legalizing those currently in the country illegally “until future immigration is brought under control.”

The only way people will agree to a step-by-step immigration reform is if the government follows through on the first steps, he said. “The only way forward … you can’t just tell people we’re going to secure the border, we’re going to get e-Verify, you have to do it.”

Asked about how the GOP caucus is performing in the Senate, Rubio cited a “dispute” between those who think the job is about managing the government rather than improving the system.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who has addressed the conference in past years, is not a speaker at this CPAC.

On 2016, Rubio said he hasn’t “made that decision yet” and must “decide through careful prayer.” He added “I don’t want to be in politics my whole life” — quipping he’d like to do other things like maybe own an NFL team.

The senator even got in his standard water joke, a self-deprecating reference to his notorious sip in his 2013 State of the Union response. Hannity noted that some of the sleepy morning crowd may have stayed up too late last night drinking. “There’s nothing wrong with drinking, Sean,” Rubio said as he took a swig of water.

Rubio faced a lightning round for his quick reaction to a few names:

Hillary Clinton? “Yesterday.”

Bill Clinton? “Really yesterday.”

Obama? “Failed.”

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Inhofe Armed with Snowball While Arguing Terrorism a Bigger Threat Than Climate Change

Thursday, February 26th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson
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The chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee wielded a snowball on the Senate floor today to counter statements by the Obama administration that have ranked climate change as the greatest global threat.

“Despite a long list of unsubstantiated global warming claims, climate activists and environmental groups will cling to any extreme-weather related headline to support their case for global warming and to instill the fear of global warming in the American people,” Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) said.

“President Obama is using a similar tactic in order to scare Americans into supporting his extreme climate change agenda. In a recent interview, President Obama agreed that the media overstates the dangers of terrorism while downplaying the risks of climate change. His press secretary, Josh Earnest, later reiterated that President Obama believes climate change affects far more Americans than terrorism,” he continued. “According to the President, the biggest challenge we face IS NOT the spread of Muslim extremists in Syria, Iraq, Egypt, Algeria, Libya, Tunisia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen or Nigeria.”

“It is not Russia aggression against NATO and the US as well as its invasion of Georgia and the Ukraine. It is not the expansion of Iranian influence and sponsorship of terrorism throughout the Middle East, or its pursuit of a nuclear weapon and a system to deliver it. It is not North Korea’s continued development of its nuclear weapon stockpile and improving their delivery systems to include the January 23 launch of a submarine launched ballistic missile called the KN-11. It is not the continued capture and killing of reporters, missionaries, businessmen, Christians, and other non-Muslims, in what has clearly been a religious confrontation being pursued by Islamic extremists.”

Obama’s position “that global warming is our biggest problem is underscored by the fact that he won’t even publicly state that the 21 Egyptians executed by ISIL were Coptic Christians,” Inhofe said. “And he goes out of his way to downplay the actions and dangers of ISIS, even though the group continues to terrorize the world.”

“…According to the president, our biggest threat is not the continued threats made by extremists against the United States and its citizens. It is not the successful attacks carried out in the United States in places such as New York, Boston, and Fort Hood or potential attacks of lone-wolves or sleeper cells against soft targets like the Mall of America, which is the most recent subject of an ISIL threat.”

Inhofe said that “even as these atrocities are taking place, President Obama is telling the world that climate change is a greater threat to our nation than terrorism.”

“This is just another illustration that this president and his administration is detached from the realities we are facing today and into the future.”

The snowball was allowed on the floor as a prop by unanimous consent. It was eventually chucked at Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.), who was presiding over the Senate, and caught by a page.

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Jindal’s Deal for Obama: ‘I’ll Keep an Eye Out for the Medieval Christians’

Thursday, February 26th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal had an offer for President Obama at today’s Conservative Political Action Conference.

“I’ve got a deal for you,” Jindal said in his early evening speech while talking about Obama’s references to the Crusades. “I’ll keep an eye out for the medieval Christians. Why don’t you do your job and go after the Islamic terrorists?”

The potential 2016 candidate referenced his recent trip to London, where he irked critics by citing no-go zones in Muslim neighborhoods and called out clerics for not doing enough to stop extremism. “They didn’t like it,” the governor said, adding that he stressed Islamic extremists aren’t martyrs but “these individuals are going to go straight to hell exactly where they belong.”

Jindal also took issue with recent words from the State Department about the nature of the ISIS fight. “How have we won victory in any war other than killing our way to victory?” he said.

“We don’t need a war on international poverty; we need a war on the evil that is radical Islamic terrorism,” he said.

Jindal spoke of his parents’ immigration from India and how others must assimilate too. “We used to be a melting pot; now the politically correct crowd says we’re a salad bowl,” he said.

“By the way, I am tired of hyphenated Americans …we are all Americans.”

Jindal spent considerable time hammering at domestic policy as well as terrorism.

“We must repeal every single word of Obamacare — not a little bit, all of it,” he said. “While Republicans in Washington are about to wave the white flag of surrender on amnesty they’re about to wave the white flag of surrender on Obamacare.”

“This election wasn’t about getting a nicer office for Sen. Mitch McConnell … this election was about taking our country back and that starts by repealing Obamacare .”

The governor also stressed the “need to remove Common Core from every classroom.”

Asked about his plans for the next presidential election, Jindal said regardless of whether he is the candidate “in 2016 it is not an option for us to not win this election.”

“Anyone thinking about running for president… they need to think about what they would do if they were elected president,” he said. “I want a leader that remembers what they promised us when they asked us to vote for them.”

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Walker: If I Can Take on Lots of Protesters, I Can Take on ISIS

Thursday, February 26th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

With a raised voice and rolled-up shirtsleeves, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker vowed to create more jobs and opportunity to a standing-room only crowd at the Conservative Political Action Conference today.

He also fielded a handful of questions from the audience, including one on how he’d handle the threat of ISIS.

“Sometimes people in the media don’t understand that as a governor I get a threat assessment from FBI,” Walker replied, adding, “I want a commander in chief who will do everything in their power” to ensure that the threats posed by radical Islamists “do not wash up on American shores.”

“If I can take on 100,000 protesters I can do the same across the world,” Walker said, without offering specifics.

One of those opponents interrupted the speech, yelling “you suck” and something about American workers. “They come from Wisconsin as well,” Walker quipped, shouting down the protester and bringing the crowd to its feet.

His speech hinged largely on his successes as governor, but he touched briefly on foreign policy.

“We have a president…whose former secretary of State actually gave a reset button to the Russians! To the Russians!” Walker exclaimed.

“We need a president, a leader who will stand up and say we will take the fight to them and not wait” for ISIS to attack, he said. “…We need a leader who will stand with Israel.” Referencing next Tuesday’s address to a joint session of Congress by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Walker said the country needs a leader who “understands” that when a prime minister visits to make a case on Iran’s nuclear threat “we should show him our respect.”

“We need to show the world that in America you have no greater ally and no greater enemy,” the governor said before reverting to domestic policy.

That was largely a message of liberation from government control.

“In America we celebrate our independence from the government, not our dependence on it,” Walker said, touting his accomplishments in Wisconsin on concealed carry, castle doctrine, and voter ID.

“Our school scores are better … because we put the power back in the hands of the hard-working taxpayers.”

In reference to a 2016 run — he stressed that his lawyers said he needed to note they’re still in the exploratory stage, something followed by chants of “run, Scott, run” — Walker said “we need to go back to look at the great founding principles of this country.”

“Not to go back in time… but to use that as a guide,” he said.

“They tried to recall me. They made me their No. 1 target,” Walker said of his electoral experience, adding that it would help “should we choose to run for the highest office in the land.”

“I’ve been running three times in the last four years.”

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DHS Appropriations Wrangling Now Includes Boehner Air-Kisses

Thursday, February 26th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson
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House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) got both cheeky and testy with the media today when pressed on what his caucus will do with a “clean” Department of Homeland Security funding bill that breaks off the de-funding of President Obama’s immigration executive actions.

The Senate let the “clean” appropriations bill proceed on a 98-2 cloture vote yesterday. The two “nays” came from Sens. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) and Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.).

But the caucus is already splitting further on the bill. Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), a member of the GOP leadership, said he won’t vote for a bill that doesn’t block the immigration funding.

“At least 22 times, President Obama said he didn’t have this authority. At least half a dozen of my Senate Democrat colleagues publicly agreed and objected to the president’s executive amnesty. We must uphold the Constitution and the law,” Blunt said.

“President Obama is more likely to sign legislation that is attached to funding the department, which is why I still believe the House-passed bill was the right approach to addressing this problem.”

Boehner battled back against the White House characterizing the rifts as a Republican fight. “All Republicans agree that we want to fund the Department of Homeland Security and we want to stop the president’s executive actions with regard to immigration,” he said.

Still, the speaker is noncommittal about what the House will do with the scaled-back version of their bill.

“House passed a bill six weeks ago. It’s time for the Senate to do their work,” Boehner said. “I don’t know what the Senate can produce or what they can’t produce. If they produce something, we’ll decide what we’re going to do after we see it.”

Will he be able to persuade his caucus to vote for the bill? “When I see what the Senate actually passes, then I’ll know,” he replied.

Does he feel that this is challenging his speakership? “No. Heaven sakes, no. Not at all.”

“The courts have stopped the president’s executive action, at least temporarily. But having said that, I think there’s a role for Congress to play in defending the Constitution and upholding the rule of law. And we intend to do that,” he added.

At the next question, Boehner replied, “If ands and buts were candy and nuts every day would be Christmas.”

Pressed further about the DHS funding expiring this weekend: “We passed a bill to fund the Department of Homeland Security six weeks ago — six weeks ago. It’s time for the Senate to act. We passed a bill to fund the department six weeks ago. How many times do I have to say it?”

Reporters were frustrated that he kept answering the questions the same way. Boehner responded to the next one with air kisses toward a male reporter.

“That’s just a kiss, that’s all,” he quipped.

“Several,” the reporter replied.

On the other side of the aisle, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) held a joint presser to accuse Republicans of seeking a DHS shutdown.

If House Republicans “send over a bill with all the riders in it” after the Senate passes a clean version, Reid said, “they’ve shut down the government.”

“We are not going to play games. We’ve been working for a month to come up with a clear funding proposal the president can sign, so they can — they can put all the riders on it they want, we will not allow that to take place,” he said.

“I think what they’re demonstrating, though, is that immigration is not the reason they’re shutting down the government, it was the excuse they were using. Because now, they have an out from what the judge did — said in Texas, and now they still want to shut down government,” Pelosi said. “So understand, shutting down government is their motive, and that’s what they have to be held accountable for.”

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Christie to CPAC: Someone Should Tell the White House to ‘Shut Up’

Thursday, February 26th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie stood by his temper in a Q&A at the Conservative Political Action Conference today, noting that the White House should be told to shut up.

Fielding questions before the audience of conservative activists from radio host Laura Ingraham, Christie was asked about Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s seesaws on social issues and asked how he would be as a socially conservative candidate.

“I just stand on my record. I’m pro-life. I ran as a pro-life candidate,” he said, adding that he was the first New Jersey governor ever to speak at a pro-life rally on the steps of statehouse.

“People make certain assumptions because … you’re a Republican from New Jersey. Don’t believe what the media will tell you that you can’t get elected as a pro-life candidate.”

Ingraham asked him about some of the descriptors that even his friends use about him: “explosive,” “short-tempered,” “hot-headed.”

“Here’s the word they miss: the word they miss is passionate. I’m the son of a Sicilian mother and an Irish father which means in my household I got to learn about dispute resolution really early,” Christie said. “…I care about fighting for the people I represent. I care about the fights worth fighting.”

He stressed that he has no political consultant in his ear “like Charlie Brown’s teacher.”

And of his October comments to a heckler at a press conference? “Sometimes people need to be told to sit down and shut up… there’s so much ridiculous stuff being spewed out of the White House someone should say just shut up.”

Christie also answered questions about education and focusing on the middle class as far as job creation.

He was also asked about his deep polling deficit among potential 2016 candidates.

“Is the election next week?” Christie quipped, citing his big totals in gubernatorial races. “I’m not worried about what polls say 21 months before.”

If he runs, the governor said, he’ll wage a “hard-fighting” campaign. “I’ll take my chances on me,” he said. “I’ve done pretty well so far.”

Christie cited early polls for the 2008 election that showed a race between Hillary Clinton and Rudy Giuliani.

He also said he’s not concerned about Jeb Bush’s fundraising power. “Sometimes those special interests, more than anything they hate the truth,” he said.

Yesterday Christie held his 128th townhall meeting with no screened questions. “That the kind of interaction we should have with the people we’re working for.”

Asked what he gave up for Lent, Christie quipped he told his priest he was giving up the New York Times — but was told to give up something he’d actually miss instead.

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After She Calls Netanyahu Speech ‘Destructive,’ White House Sending Rice to Address AIPAC

Thursday, February 26th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

The Obama administration has selected its representative to address the American Israel Public Affairs Committee conference beginning Sunday in Washington.

National Security Advisor Susan Rice will be facing a highly skeptical crowd to pitch the White House case for the twice-extended Iran nuclear negotiations and impending deal framework.

In addition, UN Ambassador Samantha Power will be addressing the conference.

The White House made clear Monday that President Obama isn’t interested in attending the giant conference, which sold out for the first time ever. More than 16,000 pro-Israel activists will be converging upon the Washington convention center.

Obama last addressed the conference in 2012, when he was stumping for re-election votes.

In 2013, Vice President Joe Biden address AIPAC. Biden is heading to Uruguay “the first week in March,” according to the White House, for their presidential inauguration and will also hold meetings in Guatemala.

Last week, the State Department said Secretary of State John Kerry, who spoke at the conference last year, will be out of town at an undetermined location.

The conference coincides with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s March 3 address to a joint session of Congress. That’s also the lobbying day of the conference, when thousands of pro-Israel activists will flood Capitol Hill.

Netanyahu will address AIPAC Monday morning.

In an interview with PBS aired Tuesday, Rice called Netanyahu’s congressional address “destructive.”

“The relationship between Israel as a country and the United States as a country has always been bipartisan. And we’ve been fortunate the politics have not been injected into that relationship. What has happened over the last several weeks, by virtue of the invitation issued by the speaker and the acceptance of it by Prime Minister Netanyahu on two weeks in advance of his election is that on both sides there has now been injected a degree of partisanship, which is not only unfortunate, I think it’s destructive of the fabric of the relationship,” Rice said.

“It’s always been bipartisan. We need to keep it that way. We want it that way. I think Israel wants it that way. The American people want it that way. And when it becomes injected or infused with politics, that’s a problem.”

Aboard Air Force One en route to Miami yesterday, White House press secretary Josh Earnest said Rice “was referring to is how reducing the U.S.-Israeli relationship to just a relationship between two political parties is destructive to a relationship between our two countries that for generations had been strengthened through bipartisan cooperation, not just in this country but in Israel.”

“I think it is entirely consistent with what the president has already said, that the U.S.-Israel relationship has been strengthened because you have seen leaders in both parties in both countries signal their strong support for that relationship,” Earnest added. “And allowing this relationship to be subjected to party politics does weaken the relationship. It’s not good for that relationship.”

Other speakers at AIPAC include House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), Democratic House Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.).

More than half of the Senate and two-thirds of House lawmakers are expected to attend, according to AIPAC organizers.

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Are ISIS ‘Islamic Radical Terrorists’? Kerry Says ‘Many, Not All’ Are

Wednesday, February 25th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Secretary of State John Kerry was asked by Rep. Ted Poe (R-Texas) at today’s House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing whether he would define ISIS as “Islamic radical terrorists.”

“Well, I think many of them are. Not all of them. But many of them are. And certainly, the top leadership, al-Baghdadi and folks around him, are formulating their concept of the caliphate — of the caliphate on the basis of their interpretation of Islam,” Kerry said.

“To the degree they are establishing a caliphate and hanging some of their notions of — of organization and discipline and — and — and battle based on that, there is a component of it that is a distorted sense of — of — of Islam.”

And more:

“But also, there’re a lot of criminals and thugs and adventurers and thrill-seekers and — involved in this. There’s a kind of criminal anarchy in all of it, notwithstanding whatever basis they want to claim with respect to Islam.

And — and it is important in coming at this that you not empower them through the language we use to be able to make the argument to their people that, in fact, we’re at war with Islam and they’re building that up as a recruitment tool and we create our own problem. I think that’s what people are trying to be sensitive to here.

Now, when you get into the deep analysis, yes, there are clearly very distorted sense of radical extreme Islam being put forward. The victims are anybody who stands in their way or people who are different or who have different beliefs. They can be Christians. They can be Yazidis. They can be officers and police officers who are Sunni and — and trying to stand up for their village or their town, in Mosul.

I mean, they go out and kill the mayor. They kill young kids. They’ll kill, you know, people they think are apostates.”

Kerry was also asked why ISIS does what it does.

“They do this for power and for the extension of their — the leaders for their misguided notion of their caliphate and their desire to be the power that is defining not only their version of Islam but to have the power within that region to run the show,” he said.

Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-S.C.) asked Kerry to “define ISIL.”

“Well, ISIS is self-defining. They are the combatants and those who have pledged allegiance to them who have formed a caliphate, fly a flag, wear their black uniforms and are engaged in a struggle both within Syria and Iraq, most directly, but also in what they call distant provinces as they try to establish their caliphate,” Kerry replied.

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Three New York Immigrants Charged with Aiding ISIS

Wednesday, February 25th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Federal officials today charged three New York residents on charges of trying to join ISIS, with one offering to assassinate President Obama for the Islamic State.

Two Uzbekistan citizens — Abdurasul Hasanovich Juraboev, 24, and Abror Habibov, 30 — were charged, along with one Kazakh, 19-year-old Akhror Saidakhmetov. Each faces a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison.

The New York office of the FBI said authorities began watching Juraboev in August 2014 when he posted on an Uzbek-language jihadi website. He and Saidakhmetov forged a plan to travel to Turkey to join ISIS, and the latter was arrested today at JFK trying to board a flight to Istanbul.

Juraboev’s flight was scheduled for next month, and he was arrested today in Brooklyn. Habibov, who was allegedly helping finance their trip, was arrested in Jacksonville, Fla. All lived in Brooklyn.

Juraboev and Saidakhmetov are legal permanent U.S. residents, while Habibov visited legally and overstayed his visa.

“This is real. This is the concern about the lone wolf inspired to act without ever going to the Mideast or the concern of once they get to the Mideast acquire fighting skills, capabilities and then attempting to return to the country,” NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton told reporters today.

United States Attorney Loretta Lynch, whose nomination to replace Attorney General Eric Holder is stalled in the Senate, said in a statement the flow of fighters “represents an evolving threat to our country and to our allies.”

“As alleged in the complaint, two of the defendants in this case sought to travel to Syria to join ISIL but were also prepared to wage violent jihad here in the United States. A third defendant allegedly provided financial assistance and encouragement. We will vigorously prosecute those who attempt to travel to Syria to wage violent jihad on behalf of ISIL and those who support them,” Lynch said. “Anyone who threatens our citizens and our allies, here or abroad, will face the full force of American justice.”

Juraboev made this threat to kill Obama in the August 2014 web posts. Saidakhmetov expressed his intent, reportedly to an informant, to buy a machine gun and shoot police officers and FBI agents if they stood in the way of his plan to go join ISIS.

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Kerry to Congressman: ‘Don’t Make Fun’ of Marie Harf’s Comments

Wednesday, February 25th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Secretary of State John Kerry told a congressman today to stop making fun of what State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said.

At this morning’s House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing, Rep. Steve Chabot (R-Ohio) asked Kerry about Harf’s comments last week, in which she said “we cannot win this war” by killing ISIS and job development was one facet of the plan to combat extremism.

In clarifying her comments on CNN, Harf then said her argument about getting to the “root cause” of terrorism “might be too nuanced an argument for some.”

“Harf espoused the interesting proposition that we should create a jobs program for people who might be inclined to support groups like ISIS, jobs for jihadists. She didn’t call it that, but I will,” Chabot said in his questioning of Kerry. “And just where will these jobs come from? I guess not at the mall. It’s apparently too dangerous to work there now. And are these shovel-ready jobs, or are they yet to be created, like Keystone Pipeline jobs?”

“And Mr. Secretary, did Ms. Harf consult with anyone else in the State Department, yourself or anyone, before announcing this new initiative? If not, who did she consult with?” the congressman continued. “I realize that according to Ms. Harf, many of us are not nuanced enough to grasp the wisdom of such an enlightened proposal, but I and, I’m sure, some of my colleagues would appreciate some insight on where in the heck this idea came from.”

Kerry said that’s not what the deputy press secretary was saying “if you take the full breadth of what Marie Harf was talking about.”

“In fact, what she was talking about is the notion that if all we do is have a military approach to the problem of violent religious extremism, whether it’s Islamic or other — or whether there’s violent extremists, we’re going to fail,” he said. “You will have the next secretary of State or the one thereafter, a continuum of presidents coming to you with new acronyms for new groups that are a new threat.”

“And everything that came out of our White House summit on violent extremism underscored the fact that there’s one component that you have to do for sure, which is the military. You have to take ISIS fighters off the battlefield the way we are, and that’s for certain. But if you don’t want them just replenished, like the three kids from Britain who just traveled ostensibly to Syria to join up.”

Kerry called it “a spreading cancer” that “is not going to be eliminated by just shooting at people once they finally get to the battlefield.”

“Everything that came out of the conference we just had the other day pointed to the need to deal with prevention,” he said, referencing last week’s conference on violent extremism hosted by the White House.

Chabot tried to get in another question, but Kerry interjected, “Don’t — don’t make fun — don’t make fun of what she was talking about.”

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Feinstein Wants to Close the Terrorist Gun Loophole

Wednesday, February 25th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

The senator behind the Assault Weapons Ban bill and a House Republican have teamed up for new gun-control legislation — to ban terrorists from buying guns.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) introduced the Denying Firearms and Explosives to Dangerous Terrorists Act of 2015 in the upper chamber with co-sponsor Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Ed Markey (D-Mass.).

Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), the former chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, introduced the bill in the lower chamber with 14 co-sponsors, Feinstein’s office said.

“Under current law, known or suspected terrorists on terrorist watch lists are prohibited from boarding airplanes, but they are legally allowed to buy firearms and explosives anywhere in the United States. That makes no sense,” Feinstein said in a statement. “The Kouachi brothers, responsible for the attacks in Paris, were on U.S. terrorist watch lists, including the no-fly list. However, if the brothers had instead been in the United States, they would have been able to legally purchase weapons.”

“Sadly, this situation isn’t rare,” she continued. “Individuals on the consolidated terrorist watch list who sought to purchase a weapon in 2013 and 2014 cleared the background check in 455 out of 486 attempts. We need to close this dangerous loophole and keep weapons out of the hands of terrorists.”

That report, which included individuals on no-fly lists, was compiled by the Government Accountability Office.

Studying a 10-year period from 2004 to 2014, the background check clearance rate was 91 percent of attempted transactions, or 2,043 of 2,233 times, according to the GAO.

The bill would give the attorney general discretion to “deny the transfer of a firearm” if he or she “determines that the transferee is known (or appropriately suspected) to be or have been engaged in conduct constituting, in preparation for, in aid of, or related to terrorism, or providing material support or resources for terrorism” and “has a reasonable belief that the prospective transferee may use a firearm in connection with terrorism.”

It includes international and domestic terrorism.

If someone thinks they were wrongly denied the ability to buy a weapon or explosives under the terrorism statute, he or she would be able to first complain to the Justice Department, then file a lawsuit against the DOJ.

In such a lawsuit, the Justice Department would be able to keep classified information deemed to compromise national security.

King said “common sense dictates that the federal government stop gun sales to suspects on the terrorist watch list.”

“Federal law already prohibits nine categories of dangerous persons from purchasing or possessing firearms, including the mentally ill and criminals,” he said. “Yet, after almost 14 years, we still allow suspected terrorists the ability to purchase firearms.”

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What Will House Republicans Do with McConnell’s ‘Clean’ DHS Funding Bill?

Wednesday, February 25th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

With funding for the Department of Homeland Security running out at the end of the week, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) confirmed he’s acquiescing to Democrats’ demands to break immigration demands off of the DHS appropriations bill.

A vote on a “clean” DHS bill isn’t scheduled yet, and it would then have to be approved by the House.

Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) told reporters after a closed caucus meeting today that he’s just “waiting for the Senate to act.”

“The House has done its job to fund the Department of Homeland Security and to stop the president’s overreach on immigration. And we’re waiting for the Senate to do their job. Senate Democrats have stood in the way now for three weeks over a bill that should have been debated and passed. So until the Senate does something, we’re in a wait-and-see mode,” Boehner said.

Asked if he’s concerned about “rebellion” from upset conservatives, he replied, “I’m waiting for the Senate to pass a bill.”

Asked what he thinks of McConnell’s plan, Boehner said, I”‘m waiting for the Senate to pass a bill. There’s a lot — I don’t know what the Senate is capable of passing. And until I see what they’re going to pass, no decision has been made on the House side.”

House Republicans aren’t publicly signaling much on which way they’d go if presented with a bill that excludes their effort to defund President Obama’s executive actions.

“We have a right to fund or not fund anything,” Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) told MSNBC this morning.

“Every time somebody talks about a shutdown, they talk about the budget, they talk about everything, they always point to the of the purse. Well, the power of the purse says we want you to do and we will fund 100 percent of keeping America safe, we just won’t fund visas and work permits for illegal immigrants. It’s that simple,” Issa said.

“It’s a pretty straight forward understanding. He has no authority to grant work permits, therefore, we will not fund granting work permits for people who are unlawfully here. We’re happy to do immigration reform, but we have to have a willing partner.”

Issa added that “right now, the speaker has said that he’s staying with needing to make sure that the president’s unlawful act is not funded. And I realize there’s a federal judge in play, but again, the president would like funding for longer than that federal judge’s stay may be in effect.”

McConnell said on the Senate floor this morning that “later this week, the Senate will consider a bill from the senior senator from Maine that’s about as reasonable as you can get.”

“Obviously, President Obama was right to refer to the kind of overreach he took in November as ‘ignoring the law.’ And Senator Collins’ sensible bill focuses simply on preventing that most egregious example of executive overreach from taking effect. It’s as simple as that,” he said. “Her bill isn’t tied to funding for DHS either. So there are no excuses left. Democrats should join us in voting for this common-sense legislation.”

“In the meantime, we’ve offered Democrats the chance to prove they were serious about something else: funding the Department of Homeland Security.”

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) told Fox that “we’re not playing politics” if McConnell breaks up the bill.

“I told the Republicans I would support their movement. And I think that’s a rational way to move. You give them both to the House. And Democrats are afraid the House is going to do a different thing, basically play a gotcha game and make some amendments,” Manchin said.

“I don’t think the House would pass up the ability it to vote for a clean Homeland Security. If they do that and they put their immigration bill, basically repealing the president’s executive order, they’re truly playing politics at the highest level and putting their politics ahead of the security of our nation. I just don’t think good people will do that.”

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Capitol Grinches Shooing Away Sledders Asked to Stop

Wednesday, February 25th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

D.C. delegate to Congress is upset that Capitol Police have been shooing sledders away from Capitol Hill during the recent snow dumps.

“Sledding on U.S. Capitol Grounds is one of the oldest traditions in the nation’s capital,” Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) wrote yesterday to Senate Sergeant at Arms Frank J. Larkin. “Although I understand that sledding has been banned for years, what I do not understand is why the U.S. Capitol Police have recently decided to enforce this Scrooge-like ban.”

“Because the Capitol Police Board issues the regulations, I am reaching out directly to the Board to request that sledding be permitted on U.S. Capitol Grounds,” she said.

“The District of Columbia received enough snowfall to bring out sledding children and their parents last week. Left to enforce the ban for no good reason, some U.S. Capitol Police turned away families invoking security. Because of high-residential density, there are few places to sled in the city, and the grounds of the U.S. Capitol – the Hill – provide a perfect sledding venue. The sledding ban appears to be arbitrary.”

Norton pointed out that “there is so little snow here that there will not be frequent sledding and, therefore, no significant damage to Capitol Grounds.”

“Moreover, the public is not barred from walking or playing games on the grounds. I understand that there may be reasonable limits placed on sledding, but an absolute ban on sledding in the little snow the District has on the grounds of the People’s House and the Senate is unseemly and unnecessary,” she added.

“Americans should be able to sled on ‘America’s front lawn.’ I am asking that the Capitol Police Board remove the ban on sledding from Capitol Police Regulations.”

Norton asked for a response within 30 days.

 

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Durbin, Feinstein Invite Netanyahu to Dem-Only Meeting; Prime Minister Declines

Wednesday, February 25th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Two prominent Senate Democrats invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to sit down with their caucus while he’s in town next week — he said thanks, but no thanks.

Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) extended the invite to the prime minister on Monday in a letter first reported by Bloomberg.

Netanyahu accepting the invitation to address a joint session of Congress, they wrote, “sacrifices deep and well-established cooperation on Israel for short-term partisan points — something that should never be done with Israeli security and which we feel could have lasting repercussions.”

“To maintain Israel’s dialogue with both political parties in Congress, we invite you to a closed-door meeting with Democratic senators during your upcoming visit to Washington,” Durbin and Feinstein wrote. “We believe such a venue would be a wholly appropriate opportunity to discuss the range of issues that face our two countries.”

Reuters obtained the decline, which wasn’t released publicly by Netanyahu’s office.

“Though I greatly appreciate your kind invitation to meet with Democratic Senators, I believe that doing so at this time could compound the misperception of partisanship regarding my upcoming visit,” he wrote.

Netanyahu stressed that he agreed “wholeheartedly” of the bipartisan foundation for strong U.S.-Israel ties. “I also fully understand the importance of bipartisan support for ensuring that our alliance remains strong in the future,” he wrote.

“I can assure you my sole intention in accepting it was to voice Israel’s grave concerns about a potential nuclear agreement with Iran that could threaten the survival of my country.”

Netanyahu said he’d be happy to meet with senators when all of them are welcome in the meeting room.

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State Dept. on ISIS Kidnapping of Christians: ‘The Majority of Its Victims Have Been Muslims’

Tuesday, February 24th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

The State Department this evening responded to ISIS’ mass kidnapping of Christians in Syria by stressing that the terrorists harm all religious groups.

Estimates of the number of kidnapped Assyrians from villages near Tel Hmar have ranged from at least 90 to as high as 200. Thousands fled with no possessions as ISIS attacked in the early morning hours. Members of the ancient community speak Aramaic, the language of Jesus.

The Assyrian Human Rights Network said ISIS moved the hostages to the Abdul Aziz Mountains region, where they fear the terrorists will use the Christians as human shields against Kurdish fighters.

Said State Department press secretary Jen Psaki in a statement sent to reporters tonight:

The United States condemns in the strongest possible terms ISIL’s attacks yesterday on predominantly Assyrian Christian villages in the northeast Syrian province of Hasakeh, where they kidnapped dozens of civilians, including women, children, priests, and the elderly. Hundreds of other civilians remain trapped in villages surrounded by ISIL fighters, and clashes continue between ISIL and local forces defending their communities. ISIL burned and destroyed homes and churches, and the violence has reportedly displaced more than 3,000 people. We demand the immediate and unconditional release of the civilians taken captive yesterday and of all those held by ISIL.

ISIL’s latest targeting of a religious minority is only further testament to its brutal and inhumane treatment of all those who disagree with its divisive goals and toxic beliefs. ISIL continues to exact its evil upon innocents of all faiths, and the majority of its victims have been Muslims. People of all faiths and many religious leaders throughout the region have united in condemning ISIL’s depravity, including its mass killings, rape, sexual enslavement, lashing, stoning, crucifixion, torture, and public murders of hostages.

Earlier this month, ISIS was ordering Assyrians to remove crosses from their churches. About 600 families are now sheltering at the Cathedral of the Virgin Mary in Al-Hasakah, suffering from “a significant lack of blankets, water, food and heating fuel,” the Assyrian Human Rights Network said.

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Obama Vetoes Keystone XL: ‘This Act of Congress Conflicts with Executive Branch Procedures’

Tuesday, February 24th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

President Obama just vetoed legislation dropped on his desk to approve the Keystone XL pipeline.

“Through this bill, the United States Congress attempts to circumvent longstanding and proven processes for determining whether or not building and operating a cross-border pipeline serves the national interest,” Obama said in his statement to the Senate.

“The Presidential power to veto legislation is one I take seriously. But I also take seriously my responsibility to the American people,” he continued. “And because this act of Congress conflicts with established executive branch procedures and cuts short thorough consideration of issues that could bear on our national interest — including our security, safety, and environment — it has earned my veto.”

The veto comes as no surprise, though this morning congressional Republicans were rallying pressure on the administration through social media.

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) called the veto “a national embarrassment.”

“It’s embarrassing when Russia and China are plowing ahead on two massive pipelines and we can’t get this one no-brainer of a project off the ground. The president is just too close to environmental extremists to stand up for America’s workers. He’s too invested in left-fringe politics to do what presidents are called on to do, and that’s put the national interest first,” Boehner said.

“We are not going to give up in our efforts to get this pipeline built – not even close. We pledged to make the people’s priorities our priorities, and we will keep working every day to deliver on that commitment.”

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), the ranking member on the Environment and Public Works Committee, applauded the president for just saying no to “Canadian special interests.”

“Reports have shown the pipeline project will increase the dangers of spills like the ones that occurred in Arkansas and Michigan, and will result in pollution that causes serious illnesses like asthma and increases in carbon pollution – the main cause of climate change,” Boxer said. “Instead of building this pipeline, which will only create 35 permanent jobs, the Republican leadership should immediately focus on passing a long-term transportation bill that will support millions of jobs.”

The chairman of the EPW committee, Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), said Obama “denied Americans thousands of new, well-paying jobs and the opportunity to progress towards energy independence.”

“In my home state of Oklahoma on March 22, 2012, he acknowledged that America is producing ‘so much oil and gas in places like North Dakota and Colorado that we don’t have enough pipeline capacity to transport all of it.’ Today he confirmed this was just another campaign stump speech that he did not intend to back up with real solutions,” Inhofe said.

“I stand in strong support of a veto override vote. Congress must band together with the majority of Americans who support this job-creating initiative. The U.S. energy sector has faithfully provided over 9.2 million jobs to our economy, and it is unfortunate the president has failed to lead the way in standing for energy independence, national security, and a more robust economy.”

The bill passed the Senate 62-36 on Jan. 29 with one Republican (Marco Rubio) and one Democrat (Harry Reid) not voting. Nine Dems sided with the GOP in that vote.

Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.), sponsor of the bill, said he’d “continue to work with my colleagues in Congress to try and gain the support necessary to override the veto.”

“Another option is to attach this legislation to other energy, infrastructure or appropriations legislation that the President won’t want to veto,” Hoeven said. “The will of the American people and Congress is clear.”

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VA Secretary Apologizes for ‘Misstatement’ of Telling Homeless Vet He Served in Special Forces

Tuesday, February 24th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

The secretary of Veterans Affairs faced the press outside of the department moments ago to apologize for claiming to have served in the Special Forces.

Robert McDonald, who took over the troubled department in July, was touring VA facilities in Los Angeles last month when he stopped to speak to a homeless veteran. The man told McDonald that he had served in Special Forces.

“Special Forces? What years?” McDonald responded. “I was in Special Forces.” The exchange was captured by a CBS News crew and his claim was called out yesterday by the Huffington Post.

McDonald, who retired from Proctor & Gamble before being selected by Obama, is a graduate of West Point and served as a captain in the Army for five years, with most of his time in the 82nd Airborne.

His message today? “I have no excuse.”

“We at VA are working hard to restore trust and again I apologize for those who may have been offended by my misstatement,” McDonald said.

“My biggest motivation was to connect with the veteran,” he said when asked why he would make that statement, reminding reporters that at his first national press conference he gave out his cell phone number for veterans to call. “My whole purpose in this job is to try to connect with veterans and better serve veterans.”

“I made a mistake and I apologized for it,” he added. “…I was talking to a homeless veteran … what I said was not on my mind at the time.”

Asked what he’d say to offended Special Forces veterans, the secretary replied, “I apologize to them.”

“What you do when you connect with veterans is try to find common ground,” he said, adding that no one would find him claiming to be Special Forces in any of his corporate or government bios. “Integrity has been one of the foundations of my character.”

Asked if he thinks he should step down: “I want to serve veterans.”

In a statement before the press conference, the American Legion called out McDonald on the lie.

“In an effort to bond with a homeless veteran, Secretary McDonald told him he was in the Special Forces,” National Commander Michael D. Helm said. “He did complete Ranger training and served honorably with the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division. But a lie is a lie.”

“I can’t believe people do this,” Helm continued. “What a disappointment from the leader of a department whose number one issue right now is the restoration of trust. He should be held to a higher standard. The secretary has apologized, as he certainly should. We hope that he can restore the trust that he lost.”

White House press secretary Josh Earnest called McDonald “somebody who understands firsthand about why what he said about his service was wrong and that certainly is why it was appropriate for him to apologize.”

“But there is no reason to think that the mistake that he made should interfere with his ability to continue to lead the fight for our veterans and to continue to implement the kinds of reforms at the VA that are still critical to making sure that our veterans are getting the benefits that they deserve,” Earnest said.

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Justice Department Won’t Bring Civil Rights Charges Against Zimmerman

Tuesday, February 24th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

The Justice Department just announced that George Zimmerman will not face federal civil-rights charges in the February 2012 shooting death of Trayvon Martin.

“The death of Trayvon Martin was a devastating tragedy. It shook an entire community, drew the attention of millions across the nation, and sparked a painful but necessary dialogue throughout the country,” Attorney General Eric Holder said in a statement.

“Though a comprehensive investigation found that the high standard for a federal hate crime prosecution cannot be met under the circumstances here, this young man’s premature death necessitates that we continue the dialogue and be unafraid of confronting the issues and tensions his passing brought to the surface,” Holder said. “We, as a nation, must take concrete steps to ensure that such incidents do not occur in the future.”

The FBI began its investigation when local authorities brought murder charges against Zimmerman. He was acquitted in July 2013.

Said the Justice Department of their probe:

Federal investigators reviewed all of the material and evidence generated by the state of Florida in connection with its investigation and prosecution of Zimmerman, including witness statements, crime scene evidence, cell phone data, ballistics reports, reconstruction analysis, medical and autopsy reports, depositions, and the trial record.  Federal investigators also independently conducted 75 witness interviews and obtained and reviewed the contents of relevant electronic devices.  The investigation included an examination of police reports and additional evidence that was generated related to encounters Zimmerman has had with law enforcement in Florida since the state trial acquittal.  In addition, federal authorities retained an independent biomechanical expert who assessed Zimmerman’s descriptions of the struggle and the shooting.

The federal investigation sought to determine whether the evidence of the events that led to Martin’s death were sufficient to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Zimmerman’s actions violated the federal criminal civil rights statutes, specifically Section 3631 of Title 42 of the U.S. Code or Section 249 of Title 18 of the U.S. Code, as well as other relevant federal criminal statutes.  Section 3631 criminalizes willfully using force or threat of force to interfere with a person’s federally protected housing rights on account of that person’s race or color.  Section 249 criminalizes willfully causing bodily injury to a person because of that person’s actual or perceived race.  Courts define “willfully” to require proof that a defendant knew his acts were unlawful, and committed those acts in open defiance of the law.  It is one of the highest standards of intent imposed by law.

The federal investigation examined whether Zimmerman violated civil rights statutes at any point during his interaction with Martin, from their initial encounter through the fatal shooting.  This included investigating whether there is evidence beyond a reasonable doubt that Zimmerman violated Section 3631 by approaching Martin in a threatening manner before the fatal shooting because of Martin’s race and because he was using the residential neighborhood.  Investigators also looked at whether there is evidence beyond a reasonable doubt that Zimmerman violated Section 3631 or Section 249, by using force against Martin either during their struggle or when shooting Martin, because of Martin’s race.

The investigation is now closed, the DOJ said. “This decision is limited strictly to the department’s inability to meet the high legal standard required to prosecute the case under the federal civil rights statutes; it does not reflect an assessment of any other aspect of the shooting,” the department added, noting it “aggressively prosecutes criminal civil rights violations whenever there is sufficient evidence to do so.”

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Undercover Harry: Reid Sports Shades at Presser

Tuesday, February 24th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) underwent eye surgery at the end of January and mid-February to repair facial bones damaged in his home-workout accident; today at a press conference, he was sporting a new look.

Reid wasn’t wearing his new shades on the Senate floor, which suggests the lighting from cameras at the press conference to pressure Republicans to pass a clean DHS bill was painful.

 

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Jindal: Obama ‘Unfit to be Commander in Chief,’ More Intent on Warning About the Crusades

Tuesday, February 24th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal said President Obama “seems more intent on telling us warnings about the Crusades, criticizing America” than fighting terrorism.

Jindal, the 2016 hopeful playing the most hardball lately, emerged from a governors’ meeting with Obama at the White House yesterday to declare the president “unfit to be commander in chief.”

“I take no joy in saying that,” said Jindal, in town for the National Governors Association meeting, to reporters. “I don’t say so for partisan or ideological reasons.”

Jindal elaborated on Fox this morning, saying Obama “disqualified” himself from being fit to lead the country and its military as he “refuses to identify one of the main military threats we face by name: radical Islamic fundamentalism.”

“You listen to those quotes from his own administration. Eric Holder says, ‘We’re not at a state of war.’ You’ve got the State Department saying, ‘We’re not going to kill our way to victory,’ at a time when these barbarians, they’re beheading Christians, they’re torturing, prosecuting Christians, Muslims, Jews, other religious minorities, they are — they killed over 100 schoolchildren, they’re actually killing editorials, because they don’t like their cartoons,” he said.

The governor also cited two “fundamental mistakes” Obama makes in his authorization of military force request to Congress.

“One, he puts an arbitrary timeline, a three-year deadline in there. We know we’ll be done when we’ve hunted down and killed these terrorists, not some political deadline. And then secondly, he bars the use of ground troops,” Jindal said.

“We need to enlist our military commanders. We need to go to them and say, ‘Give us a plan to hunt down, to kill, to eradicate these terrorists.’ We don’t need a president who’s trying to appease (inaudible), trying to be politically correct. He won’t even name the enemy we face, and now he’s refusing to give our military the tools — all the tools they need to go and win this war.”

He added that the 90-minute meeting Obama held with the governors is “more of the president talking to us than a real dialogue.”

“One, the president continues to say, ‘We’re not at war with Islam.’ Well, that’s obvious. That’s obviously true. But we are at war with radical Islam, and he needs to say it. You hear other foreign leaders say it. You hear the president of Egypt, the prime minister of France say it,” Jindal continued. “And secondly, the way that we win, the way we deny them the P.R., the recruiting tool is to hunt them down and kill them.”

“These — this political correctness is just — it’s not helping anything. It’s — it’s hurting our ability to actually go and win this fight. The way we deny them the P.R. tools is hunt them down and kill them.”

Jindal said political correctness is also making Obama “pretend like we’ll never send in ground troops.”

“The reality is we have allies willing to supply ground troops, including Turkey, if this president would be serious about being there to get rid of Assad,” he said of the dictator giving haven to terrorists in return for keeping him in power. “I think there’re a lot of allies worried that if they go after ISIS, it’ll create a vacuum for Assad. It’ll create a vacuum for Iran. So there are allies willing to supply the ground troops if they thought this president were more serious.”

“…This is one of the few times I think Congress needs to give the president more than he’s asked for. I almost never say that. I think they need to give him the ability to go win this war. He hasn’t asked for enough when it comes to the ability to win this war. They should give it to him.”

Obama needled governors eyeing his job in public remarks to the group. “So I’m in the fourth quarter of my presidency, or as some of you might call it — the kickoff for your campaign season,” he said.

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How Dubai Fire Didn’t Turn Into a ‘Towering Inferno’ Disaster

Tuesday, February 24th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson
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If there’s a miracle that happened in the recent news cycle, it’s definitely the fact that there were no casualties in the high-rise fire in Dubai.

The fire began on the 51st floor of the residential Torch Tower in the Marina district of the UAE’s cosmopolitan hub at about 2 a.m. Saturday, when many people were still out enjoying a night on the town. However, the 1,105-foot-high tower boasts a consistent 95 percent occupancy rate.

To complicate matters, a sandstorm was viciously kicking up the flames, spreading the fire to a lower floor, making anyone watching the video fear a “Towering Inferno” scenario. The fire was even visible that night on the city’s live skyline webcam.

So how in the world did everything turn out OK? Gulf News said about 100 firefighters took part in clearing the building and extinguishing the flames.

Lt Col Bel Shallan, Director of the Directorate of Civil Defence in Jebel Ali, immediately headed for the scene of the fire, where he joined his colleagues who were already following orders from Maj Ali Al Mutawa, Director of Operations at Dubai Civil Defence and the commander in charge of this fire-fighting operation.

“Maj Al Mutawa assigned me the responsibility of leading the teams combating the fire from inside the building. We gathered in a safe area inside the building, and then I divided the teams into two — one to combat the fire that was raging on the side of the building facing the sea and the other facing Shaikh Zayed Road,” Lt Col Bel Shallan said.

Dressed in their firefighting gear, which weighs between 5-6kgs, the teams used the emergency elevators to head to their assigned locations. Some started on the 29th floor in the section facing Shaikh Zayed Road and some on the 46th, while others headed to the beach-facing section, starting with the 50th floor and moving up.

The teams would check apartments for people and put out any fires they found in their way.

“Although the fire started on the 51st floor on the beach-facing part of the tower, the strong winds that day caused burning debris to fly off and start a fire on the other side of the building facing Shaikh Zayed Road,” he said.

…“The fire was in the balconies and was moving into the apartments, but thanks to the building’s efficient fire system – which was working at a 100 per cent — the fire did not spread into the apartments, as once it did, the sprinklers would put it out,” he said.

The system, he said, helped cut down the efforts needed to put out the fire “by around 70 per cent. If it weren’t for the system, this fire would have been a disaster”.

Evacuation wasn’t easy for all:

As they moved from floor to floor, they found a teenager and two older people going down the stairs somewhere around the 46th floor, so he took them with him down the emergency elevator to ensure their safety. “But on our way down, the elevator shut down on the 35th floor because the water had reached it, so we escorted them to safety through the stairs.”

“By that point all the elevators had shut down, and we had to go up and down the building using the stairs,” First Sergeant Saif Mohammad Al Gafli, from the Marina fire station, said.

Sergeant Al Gafli, who has been in the force for 11 years, said that their daily physical training enabled them to be able to do so. “We were able to use the lift between the 30-35th floors, and when it stopped we had to go up 35-47 floors on foot, moving from apartment to apartment, putting out fires and ensuring no one was there.”

Fire officials are still probing the cause of the blaze but think it will come down to a tenant leaving a heat source unattended, perhaps someone smoking on a balcony — perhaps a lesson against smoking in sandstorms.

Environmentalists said the fire took off as it did because Dubai doesn’t follow green building practices with insulation against the desert heat.

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Jerusalem Mayor on Terrorist Takedown: ‘The Last Thing You Do Is Run Away’

Tuesday, February 24th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson
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The mayor who took down a knife-wielding terrorist on Sunday told Fox that “the residents of Jerusalem are part of me” and “the last thing you do is run away” from that situation.

Footage from the Jerusalem Municipality Emergency and Safety Department, above, shows an 18-year-old Palestinian from Ramallah attacking a 27-year-old Haredi man on a street corner in central Jerusalem’s Safra Square.

Barkat, in the white shirt, was passing by and jumped out of his car with his bodyguard.

“I was on my way to the office, and, coincidentally, we just were first at the light,” he said. “And my team sitting in the front of the car told me there’s something going on. And I exited the car with my bodyguard. And we slowly approached to figure out, what is going on? Is it a fight or anything? We weren’t sure what is going on.”

“And as we got close, we saw this terrorist with a knife in his hand, seeking, who else should he hurt? And so my bodyguard pulled his pistol and aimed at him. And he immediately froze and threw the knife on the floor.”

Barkat is seen on the video lunging first at the suspect, grabbing him and taking him down. “We tackled him on the ground and neutralized him. And then I looked around and I saw this wounded person and started treating him. And when we realize that there’s no more terrorists around, we realized that the situation is under control. And we wait for the police and the ambulances to come and clear out the place,” Barkat said.

The mayor said once they realized what was happening, there was no turning back. “Once we entered it, we’re in it, and then we had to figure out what the right thing to do is,” he said. “…I was a company commander in the paratroopers. And the DNA we have is to solve the problem.”

The father of four wounded in the attack, Avraham Goldschmidt, got the opportunity to thank Barkat at the hospital yesterday. “It was a humane thing, what you did,” Goldschmidt told the mayor, according to YNet News. “…God willing, I will be the last person to be wounded in a terror attack in Jerusalem.”

Barkat’s word of advice to Americans wanting to avoid terrorist attacks on U.S. soil? “The Iranians are the bad guys. They want nukes. They’re very radical and extremist people. Don’t trust them.”

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Inside an ISIS Handbook for Foreigners Running to the Islamic State

Monday, February 23rd, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

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A new 50-page e-book released this month by ISIS gives directions to would-be jihadists and women wanting to join the Islamic State on everything from securing a safehouse in Turkey to packing enough underwear for the trip.

Maps in the book suggest flying into Şanlıurfa, Turkey, for a nearly 80-mile overland trip to Raqqa, Syria, the capital of the “caliphate.”

“People who leave to get to Syria do not tell anyone, not even family. Travellers to Syria usually want to reach Turkey. But for safety reasons, they buy a ticket for an indirect holiday country like Spain or Greece so their destination doesn’t seem suspicious,” the guide states, suggesting buying a return ticket to tamp down suspicion.

Upon arriving in Turkey, the person waits for a contact arranged through Twitter, important because “they will require protection in addition to not knowing where to go to, or who to trust.”

The old way of getting into Syria, the handbook said, was dressing in a non-religious fashion and hoping Turkish border guards let them past checkpoints, but the “updated method” is now looking for border guards and sprinting into Syria near Akçakale, Turkey. “Lately things have got harder at the Turkish border, so Islamic State members often meet new people in Turkey hotels and smuggle them across the border,” though the safehouses are “usually males only” and can only be accessed with “a paper signed by an existing member to show he is trustworthy.”

“The only reason members live in Turkey in some peace is because Turkey fears revenge attacks,” says the manual.

It also stresses that financial aid could be available, noting a group of Turkistanis (Kazakhstan) who were broke but had their trip arranged and paid for after sending a letter to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

For the journey, ISIS recommends carrying no more luggage than a suitcase, a “tough” backpack with lots of pockets, and one “satchel-type bag” or fanny pack to stash passport and wallet along with other “vitals” including wet wipes, “a few pills (if you suffer from any condition),” a little flashlight and a “few band-aids.”

If a would-be jihadist can’t fit a full change of clothes into the backpack along with all of his electronics, “at least pack some clean underwear.” ISIS recommends packing tablet computers, MP3 players for lectures, external hard drives to stash jihadi material, unlocked WiFi modem, headlamp, and solar chargers to work around “erratic and interrupted” electricity in the Islamic State and not be “dirtying the Earth which belongs to Allah.”

The guide recommends bringing an electric hair trimmer. “If you’re a brother, this is the quickest way to trim your moustache here, and if you like the Talafi buzzcut or egghead-style, then bring a bigger hair clipper.”

For clothes, jihadists are advised to bring knee pads, running shoes, flip-flops, long johns, windbreakers, beanies, goggles, and lots of socks. The handbook on how much clothes to bring: “Bring only the strict minimum (okay, so some sisters fainted after reading this bit, but continue reading, in shā Allah).”

Also on the packing list, in addition to standard toiletries: “Skin lotion and hand lotion if you have dry skin” and utensils including a spork. The guide notes that “knives here are scarce” and low quality.

There’s a section on how to talk to Turkish authorities if stopped, including claiming the purpose of the visit is tourism or helping Syrian refugees along the border. “Make sure you have a good knowledge of the tourist attractions in Turkey. Go to a travel agent and get yourself some brochures on Turkey or buy a traveller’s handbook. This is important since if they question you, you can just brandish this in front of their noses and show them how serious of a tourist you are.”

It advises women to arrange contacts beforehand, to learn some conversational Turkish, not travel on the same plane in groups larger than three, buy a SIM card for a cell phone at the airport, and to “be chill to the airport officers.” Once at a hotel, the woman would call contacts for a ride to a home of an ISIS sympathizer in preparation to cross the border at night or dawn. It cautions that if you leave your luggage at the safehouse “they might steal your stuff.” The guide also recommends bringing an extra abaya in case a woman rips hers while crawling under barbed wire at the border.

After crossing into ISIS territory, newbies are advised to “be sure to take a breath of fresh air, ‘cause that’s how sharī’ah feels like.”

The handbook includes some testimonials from foreign fighters who made the trip, including a European jihadist who “hacked some Israeli credit cards” to cover the cost of his ticket.

One woman tells of sneaking off from her family to join the Islamic State yet being detained by Turkish authorities who didn’t buy her story of being an aid worker. ISIS “found out about our predicament and sent us a lawyer who worked some magic” and got she and other women released from Turkish custody after a week, she writes.

The guide includes a list of Twitter handles, some suspended, of contacts within the Islamic State, reminding would-be jihadis to reach out only through secure browsers and chat apps.

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Obama’s Immigration Forum in Miami to Conveniently Include Cuba Pitch

Monday, February 23rd, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

As his immigration executive actions have been blocked by the courts, President Obama will travel to Miami for a Wednesday townhall on immigration to rally public opinion in his corner.

The forum will be hosted at Florida International University by Telemundo and MSNBC.

White House press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters today that the focus of the townhall will be “the president’s ongoing efforts to bring some accountability to our immigration system and try to finally fix as many of the broken — the many problems of the broken immigration system as he possibly can.”

But what a coincidence that the forum is being held in a hub of Cuban-Americans.

“It’s a town hall meeting, you know, so that means that people will have an opportunity to ask question of the president. And given the sizable Cuban-American population in South Florida, I wouldn’t be surprised if somebody just choose to ask the president about this. And I would not anticipate that the president will have any new announcements,” Earnest said.

“But I do think that you can expect to hear the president persuasively restate his case for why he believes moving to normalize relations with Cuba is clearly in the best interest of the United States and is the best way for us to elicit the kind of social and political change that we’d like to see in Cuba.”

Earnest added that “it’s precisely because of the president’s commitment to universal human rights and applying pressure on the Cuban regime to respect and even protect those basic human rights, that the president wants to change his policy.”

The president’s new plan, he argued, “will remove a barrier to our efforts to try to focus international attention on the Cuban regime’s treatment of its citizens, that for too long, any time we wanted to go and raise concerns about Cuba’s policy toward their own people, other countries wanted to raise questions about our policy toward Cuba.”

“And now that distraction has been removed, international attention will focus on the way that the Cuban regime all too often violates the basic human political rights of their people,” he said. “And whether that’s turned to squelch free speech, or trying to trample on the rights of independent journalists, or to prevent groups of people from gathering to have political discussions in Cuba, that there are a variety of — of instances on a regular basis where we see the — the Castro government try to squelch the basic human rights of their people.”

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) noted that as the next round of U.S.-Cuba normalization talks begins later this week, more than 200 dissidents were recently arrested by Havana.

“U.S. officials are so desperate to open a U.S. embassy in Havana, that they’re forging ahead despite a new wave of repression,” he said today. “…It’s clear there is zero intent on behalf of the Castro dictatorship to engage in a genuine conversation that centers around bringing freedom to the island’s residents.”

“In addition, the recent congressional delegation that visited Cuba sent worrying signals to the regime that human rights are, in fact, negotiable. By staying in a regime-controlled hotel that was confiscated twice in its history, these U.S. officials sent a worrying message that the many legal claims the U.S. has against the Castro regime are not a priority for U.S. lawmakers. Even worse about this trip is how the members of Congress capitulated to the regime’s terms for this trip by not meeting with dissidents and human rights activists. These are not insignificant actions, because the regime interprets them as signs that U.S. policy makers are not truly interested in the democratic aspirations and human rights of the Cuban people.”

The leader of that congressional delegation? House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). Pelosi tweeted that she had “positive and constructive meetings” with Cuban officials.

Rubio said U.S. negotiators “must insist that any future negotiations place democracy, human rights, free expression and the free will of the Cuban people to choose their own leaders through multi-party elections as the highest priority before any more concessions are made to the regime.”

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White House ‘Still Evaluating’ AIPAC Invitation, But Obama Not Interested

Monday, February 23rd, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

The White House made clear today that President Obama isn’t interested in attending the giant American Israel Public Affairs Committee conference in Washington beginning a week from Sunday.

Obama last addressed the conference in 2012, when he was stumping for re-election votes.

In 2013, Vice President Joe Biden address AIPAC. Biden is heading to Uruguay “the first week in March,” according to the White House, for their presidential inauguration and will also hold meetings in Guatemala.

The conference runs March 1-3 at the convention center in D.C. It coincides with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s March 3 address to a joint session of Congress. That’s also the lobbying day of the conference, when thousands of pro-Israel activists will flood Capitol Hill.

Netanyahu will also directly address AIPAC while in town.

Last week, the State Department said Secretary of State John Kerry, who spoke at the conference last year, will be out of town at an undetermined location.

“We are still in discussions with AIPAC about what sort of administration representation they’ll have at the meeting,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters today. “You’ll recall that, you know, there were previous — in previous years there have been administration representatives, including the president on at least one occasion I can think of off the top of my head, but we’re still evaluating the invitation and as soon as we have some more information about who will be available to speak to the group I will let you all know.”

Obama spoke to the conference as a senator in 2008, when he was stumping for votes, and as president in 2011 in addition to 2012.

Kerry speech’s last year, which received a lukewarm reception, extolled the brilliance of Obama’s Iran negotiating plans in an address that began 45 minutes late.

Asked directly if Obama was considering going to AIPAC this year, Earnest replied, “Not that I’m aware of.”

Democrats confirmed to speak at the conference this year include longtime supporters of Israel and critics of the administration’s policy on Iran and ISIS.

Dem Speakers include Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Reps. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.), Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii), Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), Steve Israel (D-N.Y.), Brad Sherman (D-Calif.), Krysten Sinema (D-Ariz.).

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Hawaii Dem: Terrorists Not Just Recruited Because ‘They’re Poor, or Feeling Alienated’

Monday, February 23rd, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

After President Obama’s conference last week on violent extremism, Hawaii Dem Rep. Tulsi Gabbard said it’s clear the administration still doesn’t understand the threat.

“Understanding that this is not just people who are being motivated because they’re poor, or they are feeling alienated, or they’re looking for some kind of violence or excitement in their life,” Gabbard told MSNBC this morning. “This goes to a much deeper theological motivation, ideological motivation, and unless we defeat that as well as a strong military defeat, we’re going to continue to see more recruits popping up.”

Gabbard has been hammering the White House for weeks on its refusal to link “Islamic” with the extremism faced from groups such as ISIS and al-Qaeda.

The first Hindu member of Congress is a captain in the Hawaii Army National Guard and Iraq combat veteran. She is also a vice chair of the Democratic National Committee.

“When we look at ISIS, what I believe the president and the administration needs to do is really understand the ideological motivation behind groups like ISIS, behind groups like al-Qaeda, and the fact that when you look at the 40 plus groups around the world who are committing these atrocious actions, the one common element is this Islamic extremist ideology that not only motivates them, but it’s their primary recruiting tool,” the congresswoman said today.

Gabbard said she thinks Obama “has good intentions, but I think it’s important for us to really look at all sides of this and understand at its core what’s the root cause and motivation of these people who are conducting these things, and how we stop their momentum, and how we defeat them.”

“Terror recruits,” she said, “look for some kind of purpose to their lives, and so when they look at what ISIS, and al-Qaeda, and these groups are offering them, they’re promising them, if you go and do these things, if you become a martyr, you conduct this jihad, then you will go to heaven, your family will be taken care of, and it’s a spiritual ideology that’s drawing them in, which is what has to be defeated.”

There is no “quick and easy way,” to defeat them, she said, “but the question of whether or not to deploy large amounts of U.S. ground troops is directly tied to the need to understand the enemy’s ideology, because if that were to happen, if we had large numbers of U.S. troops deploying, it would play directly into their recruitment propaganda which is this is, you know, the infidels in the West waging war against Muslims. And it would increase their ability and their strength to grow in the actions in — in their war that they are waging.”

“Which is why it’s so important for us to empower and arm the Kurds, empower these Sunni tribes, empower the Egyptians, the Jordanians, people who are on the ground and in the region who are eager and really begging for our help to go and fight against this enemy.”

 

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New Defense Secretary ‘Very Open-Minded’ About Transgender Troops

Monday, February 23rd, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

The new secretary of Defense traveled to Afghanistan over the weekend to meet with U.S. troops, where he took questions from service members at a townhall event in Kandahar.

One lieutenant commander asked, “What are your thoughts on transgender service members serving in an austere environment like this here in Kandahar?”

Defense Secretary Ashton Carter’s predecessor, Chuck Hagel, said in May that he was open to reviewing the policy on transgender service members. “Every qualified American who wants to serve our country should have an opportunity if they fit the qualifications and can do it,” he told ABC, adding that the transgender issue was “a bit more complicated because it has a medical component to it.” LGBT activists saw Hagel’s departure as a setback for the movement to convince Congress.

Carter responded that he comes at the issue “from a fundamental starting point.”

“It’s not something I’ve studied a lot since I became secretary of Defense… we want to make our conditions and experience of service as attractive as possible to our best people in our country,” he told the troops.

“And I’m very open-minded about — otherwise about what their personal lives and proclivities are, provided they can do what we need them to do for us. That’s the important criteria. Are they going to be excellent service members? And I don’t think anything but their suitability for service should preclude them.”

Carter was also asked to expound on the micromanagement of the Pentagon by the White House, an environment that led to Hagel’s departure.

Hagel’s successor called it a “very, very, very fair question.”

“So we have two things that we owe our elected leadership as an institution. The first, of course, is excellent carrying out of their policies and orders, which you do so magnificently,” Carter said. “The second is advising the president, our elected leadership, on what they ought to ask us to do. And on that first part I’ll just tell you where I come from, which is I think that the president deserves from me, and I pledge to him and then I did in my confirmation hearing which, as you’ve indicated, my most candid advice.”

“I’m not going to pull any punches, I’ll say it exactly the way I see it. That’s what he wants. That’s what he deserves. He won’t necessarily do what I recommend, OK? Fair enough. He’s the president, I’m not. But he deserves to hear what I say and what I think. And that’s one of the reasons that he hired me.”

Carter also stressed his responsibility “to ensure that the president receives professional military advice also, which is another source of tremendous experience and expertise.”

“And so my view is that I know the president, I think he is somebody who really wants to think through problems, and who also is quite aware of how many issues there are around the world that bubble up every day,” he said. “One person, no matter how able they are, couldn’t possibly get on top of all those things. He needs help. And one of my jobs is to help him, and then to carry out those instructions with the excellence that we have.”

“And I think we’re capable of doing that. I think we’ve shown abundant evidence that we can do that and will continue to do that. So to me it’s that simple. I’m going to play it absolutely straight. That’s the kind of person I am. That’s the kind of secretary of defense he has told me he wants. And that’s the kind of secretary of defense I’ll be. So it’s as simple as that to me.”

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‘Zionazi’: BDS Supporters Hate on Oscars Star Lady Gaga

Monday, February 23rd, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

If you weathered the Academy Awards last night, you may have been pleasantly jolted out of your seat by Lady Gaga’s pitch-perfect tribute for the 50th anniversary of The Sound of Music.

After Gaga belted out her medley of the musical’s numbers in an uncharacteristically conservative chiffon gown, none other than Julie Andrews came out to give her blessing to the tribute and to give Gaga a big hug.

Then came the haters:

 

 

 

 

 

Despite intense pressure from the BDS movement to boycott Israel, Lady Gaga performed in Tel Aviv last September. “Put your hands up and cheer for yourselves,” she told the crowd. “You are strong, you are brave, you are confident, and I f*cking love you, Israel.”

Afterward, she stressed that “the world view of Israel is just not reality.”

“It’s in a beautiful place, the people are in good spirits. I had a very emotional show with those fans. It was wonderful.”

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‘Snowden Could Not be Here Tonight for Some Treason’

Monday, February 23rd, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson
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Who knew Edward Snowden would, in a matter of speaking, take home an Oscar for leaking information from the NSA?

Citizenfour, the story of Snowden’s leaks, won best full-length documentary at the Oscars last night. Accepting the award were director Laura Poitras, journalist Glenn Greenwald, and Snowden’s girlfriend, Lindsay Mills.

Snowden, who was granted three more years of residency in Russia last fall to protect him from U.S. prosectors, issued his reaction through the American Civil Liberties Union, which is representing him and asking President Obama to grant full clemency.

“When Laura Poitras asked me if she could film our encounters, I was extremely reluctant. I’m grateful that I allowed her to persuade me,” Snowden said. “The result is a brave and brilliant film that deserves the honor and recognition it has received. My hope is that this award will encourage more people to see the film and be inspired by its message that ordinary citizens, working together, can change the world.”

The executive director of the ACLU, Anthony Romero, said the film “helped fuel a global debate on the dangers of mass surveillance and excessive government secrecy.”

In her acceptance speech, Poitras said the “disclosures that Ed Snowden revealed don’t only expose a threat to privacy but to our democracy itself.”

As the winners were leaving the stage, Oscars host Neil Patrick Harris quipped, “The subject of Citizenfour, Edward Snowden, could not be here tonight for some treason.”

Greenwald, naturally, didn’t find the treason joke funny.

“I thought it was pretty pitiful, given Hollywood’s fondness for congratulating itself for doing things like standing up for McCarthyism and blacklists. So to just casually spew that sort of accusation against someone who’s not even charged with it, let alone convicted of it, I think is, you know, stupid and irresponsible,” the former Guardian reporter told Buzzfeed. “But I’m trying not to make too much out of it.”

Citizenfour debuts tonight on HBO.

 

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