Archive for May, 2015

Putin Blacklists European Union Politicians In Response To Sanctions

PutinMoscow has released a blacklist of European Union politicians barred from Russia in response to EU sanctions over Crimea and Ukraine, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said.

“Russia yesterday handed over a list of people to diverse EU embassies who may not enter Russia any longer,” Rutte said at a weekly press conference, adding that two Dutch MPs and a Dutch MEP were on the list.

The list contains 89 names, according to a letter from Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders tweeted by Belgian MEP Mark Demesmaeker.

The letter, which was confirmed as authentic by the Dutch foreign ministry, said Moscow had asked for the list not to be made public.

Moscow drew up the list in response to the EU’s own sanctions and travel bans over Russia’s annexation of Crimea last year and its alleged involvement in the eastern Ukraine conflict, Rutte said.

A spokeswoman for the EU diplomatic service in Brussels said that Russia had barred several European politicians from entry in recent months, but had so far refused to provide a list of those targeted.

“We take note that the Russian authorities have decided to share the list. We don’t have any other information on legal basis, criteria and process,” the spokeswoman said in an email statement.

Britain said Saturday there was “absolutely no justification” for a Russian travel blacklist which is thought to include nine Britons among 89 barred individuals.

The formerly confidential list includes past and serving parliamentarians and ministers who have been outspoken critics of President Vladimir Putin and the war in Ukraine.

The Britons are thought to include MI5 spy chief Andrew Parker, the head of the armed forces Nick Houghton, former foreign secretary Malcolm Rifkind and former deputy prime minister Nick Clegg.

“There is absolutely no justification for this list. And the Russian authorities have not provided any legal basis for the list or for the names on it,” said a spokeswoman for the Foreign Office in London.

“If Russia’s intention is to put pressure on the EU to ease sanctions then this is not the way to do it. The onus is on Russia to fully implement the Minsk (ceasefire) agreement.

“The EU and member states are urgently seeking more transparency from the Russian authorities for this move.”

Rifkind, who served as foreign minister from 1995 to 1997 and was until recently head of parliament’s security and intelligence committee, said he was previously unaware that he had been blacklisted.

“I have read the reports in the media but not a word from the Russians!” he said via email.

Edward McMillan-Scott, a former vice-president of the European Parliament with responsibility for democracy and human rights, tweeted a link to the list on which he also features.

“I’m banned from Russia again first time since 1972! #45 on the hit list,” he commented.

Other Britons named include the former head of the MI6 foreign spy service, John Sawers, junior defence minister Philip Dunne, Northern Ireland minister and former junior defence minister Andrew Robathan, and Robert Walter, a former MP and member of the parliamentary assembly of the Council of Europe.



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Obama warns of grave consequences without NSA resolution

NSA SurveillanceU.S. President Barack Obama warned on Friday that surveillance powers used to prevent attacks on Americans could lapse at midnight on Sunday unless “a handful of senators” stop standing in the way of reform legislation.

Obama said he had told Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and other senators that he expects them to act swiftly on a bill passed by the House of Representatives that would renew certain powers and reform the bulk collection of telephone data.

“I don’t want us to be in a situation in which for a certain period of time, those authorities go away and suddenly we’re dark and heaven forbid we’ve got a problem,” Obama told reporters in the Oval Office.

McConnell has called the Senate back to Washington for a rare Sunday session to deal with the expiration of three provisions of the Patriot Act, including Section 215, used to justify the National Security Agency’s collection of billions of Americans’ telephone call records.

The NSA program has worried privacy advocates since it was exposed to journalists two years ago by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, now a fugitive in Russia.

On Friday, online activists blocked congressional offices’ access to thousands of websites to protest the Patriot Act.

Republicans, who control both the Senate and House, have been unable to agree on how to deal with the expiration. Late last week, the Senate failed by three votes to advance the USA Freedom Act, the reform bill backed by Obama and passed overwhelmingly by the House.

A senior Republican leadership aide said late on Friday that the party’s leaders in the House wanted the Senate to take up and pass the Freedom Act.

The Freedom Act would end the bulk collection of telephone records and replace it with a more targeted system for retrieving the information.

In the Senate, the measure is supported by Democrats, but opposed by Republican security hawks, who want to extend the Patriot Act provisions, and libertarian-leaning Senator Rand Paul, a 2016 Republican presidential candidate.

Paul and other privacy advocates have blocked Senate efforts to pass any extension.

Congressional aides said backers might be able to win the additional three Senate votes to advance the Freedom Act, possibly by allowing opponents to offer amendments.

The Patriot Act has allowed the NSA nearly unobstructed access to information about phone numbers called and the times of the calls. The government claims they do not have access to the content of those phone calls, but some have raised suspicion over that point.

If the program expires, such records would be kept by the phone companies and would only be available to the NSA via search warrants.

Also set to go down with telephone data would be the use of two wiretap techniques: roving and lone-wolf. Roving wiretaps allow investigators to track a suspected terrorist known to often switch telephones. Lone-wolf wiretaps which the Times reports, has never been used allow the tracking of suspects not linked with a specific terror organisation.

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Rubio Marks Birthday With Nevada Fundraiser

Marco RubioSen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) kicked off his first presidential campaign visit to the key early nominating state of Nevada on Thursday with a promise: You’re going to be seeing a lot of me.

After touring the Gold & Silver Pawn Shop with Rick Harrison, star of the TV show “Pawn Stars,” Rubio told reporters he plans to be back “quite often” as he sought to localize his “New American Century” campaign theme.

“Nevada is a state that in many ways embodies some of the challenges we have in the 21st century,” Rubio said

Rubio is the youngest 2016 candidate, though he’s just half a year younger than fellow presidential contender Texas Senator Ted Cruz, also a freshman lawmaker. But he’s 18 years Jeb Bush’s junior and more than 20 years younger than Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton.

Harrison said during a Fox and Friends appearance that he isn’t concerned about the first term senator’s age, however.

After chatting with him over lunch in Los Angeles recently, Harrison said he was convinced that Rubio was the best candidate for the job.

‘A governor is a politician, a senator is a politician. What you need is a very strong leader,’ Harrison said. ‘Someone who’s willing to speak his mind and put the right people in charge of things and if they do a bad job, fire them.’

What impressed Harrison most about Rubio was that he didn’t mention ‘the party’ during the meeting.

‘Which was a really big deal to me,’ he said. ‘This guy honestly cares about American people and free enterprise.’

Rubio, he said, truly ‘wants to make it easier to do business. It will bring people out of poverty. It will do things for the economy, so I’m behind him.’

The Democratic National Committee mocked the union of Rubio and the Pawn Stars clan with a series of graphics depicting ‘Mario Rubio’s Pawn Shop.’

‘This is a fitting theme for Mr. Rubio, as his entire campaign is pawning off old, failed GOP ideas as new,’  it said in a blog post.

It hit him for backing ‘the old, rejected GOP policy of ending Medicare as we know it,’ opposing comprehensive immigration reform, ‘marriage equality’ and so-called equal pay for equal work legislation.

‘Dusting off these old ideas and trying to pawn himself off as something new isn’t going to work,’ it said.

Rubio, notably, does support comprehensive immigration reform and was a sponsor of the bipartisan Senate bill formed by a group of lawmakers known as the Gang of 8.

He’s since said that he’d be open to a piecemeal approach that also shuts down a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants if that’s what it takes to get legislation passed – but that’s not his preferred option.

‘I still believe we need to do immigration reform,’ he said earlier this month during a Fox News appearance. ‘The problem is we can’t do it in one big piece of legislation.’

That’s because ‘the votes aren’t there’ in the House of Representatives, he explained.

Harrison’s support could give Rubio a boost in Nevada, a state that is important to both the nomination process and the general election.

He also has the backing of the state’s Lt. Governor Mark Hutchison. Hutchison, the campaign has already announced, will serve as state chair of his campaign there.

But Rubio has other, familial ties to the state, as well, that may help him.

Rubio’s family lived in Las Vegas for a six-year stretch during his formative years before ultimately returning to Florida, the state the U.S. Senator still calls home.

Politics runs in his family’s blood. His cousin, Mo Denis, is a state senator in Nevada.

Though, he and Rubio come from the same family tree, they do not share the same political beliefs. Denis is a staunch Democrat.

When his cousin Marco came to town in 2012 to headline a fundraiser for that year’s GOP presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, Denis parked himself outside and gave a rebuttal speech.

Rubio’s walk down memory lane won’t end with his birthday party today at Harrison’s pad tonight.

He’ll talk to tech startups tomorrow morning at Nevada’s Switch Innevation Center and meet with GOP activists in the afternoon in Reno at the home of Kim Bacchus, a registered lobbyist and the chair of the Washoe County Republican Women’s Club.


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Former Senator Rick Santorum Launches Second Presidential Bid

Rick santorum 2Republican Rick Santorum, who fell short in his 2012 presidential bid, launched another run for the White House on Wednesday with a promise to restore the economic power of middle-class American workers.

Santorum, 57, a former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania, emphasized his working-class roots as he formally opened his long-shot 2016 presidential bid near his childhood home in Cabot, in western Pennsylvania.

Looking to build support beyond the social and religious conservatives who bolstered his 2012 campaign, Santorum said “big government” and “big business” had left behind American workers.

“Today is the day we are going to begin to fight back,” he said. “As middle America’s hollowing out we can’t sit idly by. Working families don’t need another president tied to big government or big money.”

Santorum promised to eliminate the Internal Revenue Service, back a flat tax and crack down on illegal immigration that he says has robbed jobs from American workers. He also vowed to cut federal spending and revoke “every executive order and regulation that costs Americans jobs.”

In the 2012 race, Santorum won Iowa’s kickoff contest and 10 other state contests with strong support from voters drawn to his social and religious conservatism and wary of the more business-oriented Mitt Romney.

Santorum outlasted other White House hopefuls to become the last remaining challenger to Romney, who ultimately captured the 2012 Republican nomination.

Santorum, whose support has languished in the low single digits in most polls ahead of the 2016 race, faces a stronger and potentially tougher field of Republican hopefuls this time.

He is the seventh Republican to formally declare a bid for the nomination, more than a year ahead of the November 2016 presidential election, joining a group that includes U.S. Senators Marco Rubio, Rand Paul and Ted Cruz. Other Republicans expected to jump into the race include former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker.

Santorum will face competition for Christian conservative voters, who helped propel his 2012 bid, from former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, Cruz and others, while his low poll ratings raise the possibility that he could be excluded from the early Republican debates, which begin in August.

At his launch event, Mr. Santorum pledged to restore the manufacturing industry, to create more jobs for American workers and to restore the U.S.’s global standing. Of the extremist group Islamic State, he said, “They know who I am and I know who they are,” and said as president he would defeat the group.

He also promised to shrink the size of government, saying the U.S. “doesn’t need another president tied to big government or big money.”

“I know what it’s like to be an underdog,” Santorum said, adding he managed to win 11 state nominating contests because “I stand for someone, the American worker.”

“The last race, we changed the debate. This race, with your help and God’s grace, we can change the nation,” he said.

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Former Governor Pataki to Announce Presidential Bid on Thursday

Goerge PatakiIgnoring the polls and pundits, former New York Gov. George Pataki plans to announce Thursday that he’s joining the crowded Republican field for president.

The three-term governor will unveil his candidacy in Exeter, N.H. which claims the birthplace of the Republican Party and join a group of contenders who are inching toward the 20 mark.

Skeptics abound about Pataki’s chances.

He doesn’t register on national polls and has been out of elected office for nearly a decade.

“I just don’t see where he could win,” GOP consultant Ed Rollins told The Post. “I’m not sure he could win in New York anymore.”

But Pataki says he’s undeterred by the odds.

“It will be a very stiff climb up a very steep mountain, but that hasn’t stopped me in the past,” Pataki said in an interview.

Pataki is putting most of his chips on a strong showing in New Hampshire,  a state he’s visited more than any other presidential contender.

The first-in-the-nation primary is a key test for the conservative Republican field and is open to the large contingent of independent voters who could favor a moderate like Pataki, who is pro-choice and has a record of tightening gun laws and environmental protections.

“I’m a Republican following in the tradition of Teddy Roosevelt who understands that conservatism isn’t just economic policy but it’s also preserving and enhancing the outdoors,” Pataki said, arguing that decisions like marriage, gun rights and education should be left up to the states.

Pataki’s super PAC has run ads in New Hampshire. He’s met with longtime donors in New York and Florida about his presidential hopes. And he got a nudge to run from the Republican county chairs in New York City last week.

Pataki believes he can succeed with retail politics and so does one supporter, Alissa Tweedie, a 35-year-old Navy veteran from New Hampshire.

“The more time the governor spends here, the better he is doing,” said Tweedie, who likes Pataki’s record on charter schools, national security and leadership.

“He meets with groups of any size without any pretenses,  no scripting here. I think many have underestimated him and I think that’s just where he wants to be.”

Pataki will have an uphill climb to make the national stage. For the first GOP debate Aug. 6, Fox News will only accept the top 10 candidates based on polling and Pataki isn’t even registering on national polls. One New Hampshire poll this month didn’t even include him as an option.

“Right now, Governor Pataki is on everyone’s list of also-rans. That’s remarkable to say about a three-term governor of New York who was a prominent part of 9/11, but it’s true,” said Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia.


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White House Sends VP Biden Out To Do Damage Control Over Iraqi Comments

IraqVice President Joe Biden reassured Iraq’s government on Monday of US support in the fight against the Islamic State group, telephoning Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi with thanks for “the enormous sacrifice and bravery of Iraqi forces” one day after Defense Secretary Ash Carter questioned the Iraqi military commitment.

Biden’s call followed harsh criticism from Iraqi and Iranian quarters after Carter questioned Iraqi forces’ “will to fight” the surging Islamic State group.

A White House statement on Monday describing Biden’s call said the vice president welcomed an Iraqi decision to mobilize additional troops and “prepare for counterattack operations.” Biden also pledged full US support to “these and other Iraqi efforts to liberate territory from ISIL,” the statement said, using an acronym for Islamic State.

In reaction to Carter’s remarks, which were aired Sunday in a TV interview, a spokesman for Iraq’s prime minister suggested the defense secretary had “incorrect information,” while Gen. Qassim Soleimani, the head of the elite Quds forces in Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, offered his own critical assessment of US forces.

The heated exchanges came after the loss of Ramadi and amid other gains by the IS in recent days. The statements laid bare fissures among countries that have become allies of convenience against the militants. The criticism from both Iraq and Iran began when Carter told CNN’s “State of the Union” that Iraqi forces “vastly outnumbered” the Islamic State group, but still “showed no will to fight” and fled the IS advance on the capital of Anbar province.

On Monday, Saad al-Hadithi, a spokesman for al-Abadi, said his government was surprised by Carter’s comments.

“We should not judge the whole army based on one incident,” al-Hadithi told reporters.

Al-Hadithi said the Iraqi government believes the fall of Ramadi was due to mismanagement and poor planning by some senior military commanders in charge. However, he did not elaborate, and no action has been taken against those commanders.

In Iran, the daily newspaper Javan, which is seen as close to the Revolutionary Guard, quoted Soleimani as saying the US didn’t do a “damn thing” to stop the extremists’ advance on Ramadi.

“Does it mean anything else than being an accomplice in the plot?” he reportedly asked, later saying the US showed “no will” in fighting the Islamic State group.

Soleimani said Iran and its allies are the only forces that can deal with the threat. “Today, there is nobody in confrontation with (the Islamic State group) except the Islamic Republic of Iran, as well as nations who are next to Iran or supported by Iran,” he said.

So far, the American approach to the conflict has been to launch airstrikes as part of an international coalition it leads, as well as equipping and training Iraqi forces. But US officials also have become uneasy with Iran’s growing role in the conflict.

While Iraqi officials criticized Carter’s comments, his assessment was comparable to one that Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joints Chief of Staff, made last week: “The ISF was not driven out of Ramadi. They drove out of Ramadi.”

Still, a senior Obama administration official, speaking before Biden’s call was announced, tried to soften Carter’s blunt words: “We know the Iraqi retreat followed an intense wave of suicide bombings. The reference to lack of will was in relation to this specific episode, which followed 18 months of fierce ISF attrition against ISIL in Ramadi, coupled with what the Iraqi government has acknowledged were breakdowns in military command, planning, and reinforcement.”

The official was not authorized to discussed the matter publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.

Iran has offered advisers, including Soleimani, to direct Shiite militias fighting against the extremists. Iran has said it does not have combat troops fighting in Iraq, though some Revolutionary Guard members have been killed there.

Baghdad has said military preparations are underway to launch a large-scale counteroffensive in Anbar province, involving Iranian-backed Shiite militias. However, that possibility has sparked fears of potential sectarian violence in the Sunni province, long the scene of protests and criticism against the Shiite-led government in Baghdad.

Beyond that, Mideast officials gathered this past weekend in Jordan at an economic summit said they wanted more involvement from the US in the Islamic State war, including weapons deliveries and military action beyond its coalition airstrikes. Obama has remained leery of involving America in yet another ground war in Iraq after only withdrawing combat troops at the end of 2011.


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Iraqi Forces Recapture Territory From ISIS

A member of the Iraqi security forces opens fire during clashes with ISIL, west of BaghdadIraqi forces recaptured territory from advancing Islamic State militants near the recently-fallen city of Ramadi on Sunday, while in Syria the government said the Islamists had killed hundreds of people since capturing the town of Palmyra.

The fall of Ramadi and Palmyra, on opposite ends of the vast territory controlled by Islamic State fighters, were the militant group’s biggest successes since a U.S.-led coalition launched an air war to stop them last year.

The near simultaneous victories against the Iraqi and Syrian armies have forced Washington to examine its strategy, which involves bombing from the air but leaving fighting on the ground to local forces in both countries.

In a sharp criticism of Washington’s ally, U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter accused Iraq’s army of abandoning Ramadi, a provincial capital west of Baghdad, to a much smaller enemy force.

“The Iraqi forces just showed no will to fight,” he told CNN’s State of the Union program. “They vastly outnumbered the opposing force, and yet they withdrew from the site.”

Iraq’s government, along with Iran-backed Shi’ite militiamen and locally-recruited Sunni tribal fighters, launched a counter-offensive on Saturday, a week after losing Ramadi. A police major and a pro-government Sunni tribal fighter in the area said they had retaken the town of Husaiba al-Sharqiya, about 10 km (6 miles) east of Ramadi.

“Today we regained control over Husaiba and are laying plans to make more advances to push back Daesh fighters further,” said local tribal leader Amir al-Fahdawi, using an Arabic acronym for Islamic State, also known in English as ISIS or ISIL.

“The morale of the (pro-government) fighters is high after the arrival of reinforcements and loads of ammunition,” Fahdawi said. “Today’s advance will speed up the clock for a major advance to regain control of Ramadi.”

Planes were bombing Islamic State positions on the opposite bank of the Euphrates river, where the militants were launching mortars and sniper fire to prevent the pro-government forces advancing, Fahdawi and the police major said.


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