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April 23 2017 4:46 PM

Homeland Security Chief: “I Don’t Know How to Stop” Homegrown Terrorists

Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly admitted on Sunday that he doesn’t know how to stop “homegrown terrorists,” which he described as the “most common” threat facing the United States. Kelly made the stark admission during an interview on CBS’s Face the Nation when he was asked about last week’s attack in Paris.

“There are so many aspects to this terrorist thing,” Kelly said. “Obviously you got the homegrown terrorists. I don’t know how to stop that. I don’t know how to detect that. You got other terrorist threats that come across the border. I believe in the case of the murder, in the Paris shooting I believe he was homegrown. But, again, there are so many threats that come in from across border. And it's essential absolutely to control one's border.” The reason Kelly emphasized the border so much is because he was advocating for Congress to fund the wall along the Mexican border.

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When host John Dickerson asked him to clarify his statement, Kelly did acknowledge that homegrown terrorism is “a big threat” to the country. “Is it the No. 1 threat? I think it's the most common threat." he said.

So how can he help combat it? “I think the appeal I would make on the homegrown threat is if you see something, say something.”

Kelly also said that what keeps him “literally awake at night is the threat against aviation.” A successful attack on a plane “would be the Super Bowl for the terrorists,” and there are “a number of plots that we’re watching very, very closely.”

April 23 2017 3:14 PM

Inexperienced Centrist Macron to Face Off Against Far-Right Le Pen in France

The most hotly contested and divisive French presidential election in recent history seem to have ended exactly as the polls predicted and centrist Emmanuel Macron will be facing off against the extremist right-wing Marine Le Pen in next month’s runoff. Although official numbers have yet to be released, projected results estimate Macron will receive 24 percent of the vote compared, to Le Pen’s 22 percent. That means the two non-traditional candidates beat the center-right’s François Fillon and the leftist Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who are disputing the third place.

Assuming the result holds, it would be a historic day in France and mark the first time the two political parties that have dominated French politics since World War II don’t make it to the presidential runoff. The Macron-Le Pen face-off also sets up a clear choice for French voters in deciding whether they want to go down a nationalist, Brexit-style path or one that continues to emphasize the country’s international alliances. Le Pen has made no secret that she wants France to get out of the European Union in a move that many have said could be the final, deadly blow to the 28-nation bloc.

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When French voters will head to the polls on May 7 they will have the choice of two highly unconventional candidates. Macron is an ex-banker who served as economy minister but is otherwise a newcomer to the political scene as he has never served in elected office and only founded his party last year. He is seen as the clear favorite in the runoff against the 48-year-old Le Pen, who heads the anti-immigrant National Front. At just 39 years old, Macron would be France’s youngest president.

Demonstrating the way other politicians will unite behind Macron to ensure Le Pen loses, defeated Socialist candidate Benoit Hamon, who appears to have suffered a humiliating defeat in fifth place, urged voters to get behind the young centrist. Fillon also conceded defeat and endorsed Macron. “Extremism can only bring unhappiness and division to France. There is no other choice than to vote against the far right. I will vote for Emmanuel Macron,” Fillon told supporters. “I consider it my duty to tell you this frankly. It is up to you to reflect on what is best for your country, and for your children.”

April 23 2017 1:32 PM

Trump Insists Mexico Will “Eventually … At a Later Date … in Some Form” Pay for Wall

President Donald Trump wants everyone to know he is not backing down from the promise of forcing Mexico to pay for the border wall that was a big part of his campaign platform. But it seems he has now realized that getting another country to pay for something they decidedly don’t want is a bit complicated. “The Democrats don't want money from budget going to border wall despite the fact that it will stop drugs and very bad MS 13 gang members,” Trump wrote on Twitter.

That view, the commander in chief insisted, is short-sighted because Americans won’t have to pay for it in the long run. “Eventually, but at a later date so we can get started early, Mexico will be paying, in some form, for the badly needed border wall,” Trump wrote in a tweet that raises more questions than it answers.

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Whether the wall will be funded is key to the current debate over the budget that could very well lead to a government shutdown. Congress needs to pass a spending bill by Friday and the White House seems to be playing hardball with senior administration officials raising questions about about whether Trump would accept legislation that funds the government without paying for the wall.

Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, for example, told CNN that he believed Trump would be “insistent” that a spending bill include cash for the wall. "Well, Dana, I think it goes without saying that the president has been pretty straightforward about his desire and the need for a border wall, so I would suspect he'll do the right thing for sure, but I will suspect he'll be insistent on the funding," Kelly said.

White House budget director Mick Mulvaney, took a bit more of a conciliatory approach saying, “We don’t know yet,” when asked whether Trump would sign a bill without funding for the wall. Trump pretty much espoused that message in an interview with the Associated Press on Friday. “I don't know yet,” Trump said when he was asked about a bill without funding for the wall. “People want the border wall. My base definitely wants the border wall. My base really wants it.”

Attorney General Jeff Sessions also didn’t risk saying whether the president would sign a spending bill without funding for wall. Regardless though, Sessions expressed confidence that the wall would be funded “one way or another.” Speaking on ABC’s This Week, Sessions seemed to suggest there are ways around the spending bill. "There are a lot of ways we can find money to help pay for this.” Sessions also said that he didn’t think Democrats would shut down the government over the wall.

Democrats, however, made clear they’re staunchly against the wall and won’t be budging. “The wall is, in my view, immoral, expensive, unwise, and when the president says ‘well I promised a wall during my campaign,’ I don’t think he said he was going to pass billions of dollars of cost of the wall on to the taxpayer,” said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi on NBC’s Meet the Press. “The president, I think, talking about this wall, is expressing a sign of weakness. He's saying, 'I can't control our borders. I have to build a wall'.”

April 23 2017 12:46 PM

Bernie Sanders: “The Model of the Democratic Party Is Failing”

Fresh off his “Unity Tour” alongside Democratic National Committee chair Tom Perez, Sen. Bernie Sanders said on Sunday that the Democratic Party needs to change. “I think what is clear to anyone who looks at where the Democratic Party today is, that the model of the Democratic Party is failing,” Sanders said on CBS’s Face the Nation.

Why does the senator have such a dim view of the party that almost turned him into a presidential candidate? Because it keeps losing. "We have a Republican president who ran as the most unpopular candidate in the modern history of this country,” Sanders said. “Republicans control the House, the Senate, two-thirds of governor chairs, and in the last eight years they have picked up 900 legislative seats. Clearly the Democratic Party has got to change."

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As far as the Vermont senator is concerned, the Democratic Party should become “a grassroots party, a party which makes decisions from the bottom on up, a party which is more dependent on small donations than large donations.” Once the party really takes up the issue of standing up “to the billionaire class,” then turnout will soar and Democrats will start winning again.

Sanders made his comments shortly after a poll identified him as the country’s most popular active politician, revealing that he is viewed favorably by 57 percent of registered voters. Yet he is also angering Democrats, in part because he refused to identify himself as a member of the party last week, preferring to continue to label himself as an independent. He also raised the ire of many in the party when he refused to wholeheartedly endorse the Democratic congressional candidate in Georgia Jon Ossoff.  

April 23 2017 12:44 PM

Remember When American Airlines Called the Police to Force NAACP’s Rev. William Barber Off a Plane?

On Friday night, video emerged of an American Airlines flight attendant allegedly hitting a woman with her baby’s stroller, then challenging a passenger who attempted to intervene to “hit me.” The incident bears obvious similarity to a recent string of disturbing airplane encounters, the most notorious of which involved a police officer dragging a bloody passenger off an overbooked United flight.

These conflicts have received a great deal of publicity in recent weeks, but they are not at all a new phenomenon. Indeed, just last year, in a nonviolent but still disturbing confrontation, American Airlines removed Rev. William Barber II—president of the North Carolina NAACP and leader of the Moral Mondays movement—from a flight, utilizing a police officer. The incident received virtually no press at the time, but it has become relevant once more in light of this month’s airplane confrontations. Barber had just delivered the keynote speech at an interfaith event that launched the 2016 Ecumenical Advocacy Days, which encourages people of faith to fight for the rights of the marginalized. He had boarded a plane returning to Raleigh-Durham and sat down in the two seats he requires due to a disability when he noticed a fellow passenger talking very loudly. When he asked a flight attendant to request that the passenger lower his voice, the man began disparaging Barber, criticizing his disability and declaring his problems with “those people.”

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According to a statement written by Barber and published in the Wilmington Journal, what happened next is distressingly familiar. Barber could not turn around because of his disability, so he rose and calmly told the man that, in Barber’s words, “he did not know me” or “my condition.” He added that he “would pray for him.” Apparently, a member of the airline crew then called the police. An officer arrived and told Barber, “Sir you need to leave the plane.” Barber did so immediately. He reflected on the experience in his statement:

Virtually all the police officers and American employees were gracious to me.  Some were openly troubled by the decision to force me to spend another night away from home. To those of you who were worried about me, I am fine, physically. Yes, I am not at all happy about what I believe were the real reasons I was the one asked to leave.  My training and experiences with non-violent civil disobedience, and my deep faith, however, made my decision to peacefully comply with the order to get off the plane an easy one. I turned the matter over to my legal counselors, one here and one in Washington DC.

The graciousness of Barber’s statement is unsurprising: For years, the reverend has served as the leading moral voice of progressive opposition to racism, greed, and bigotry. As the leader of Moral Mondays, Barber battled North Carolina’s Republican-led descent into cruelty, apathy, and avarice. He has been mocked, degraded, and arrested by his opponents, and yet he continues to fight tirelessly against injustice. And for that, he was rewarded by getting booted from his airplane by a law enforcement officer. Barber may have complied “peacefully” with the officer’s instructions. But that doesn’t mean the rest of us have to accept this state of affairs as anything close to normal.

*Correction, April 23, 2017: This post originally misstated the date on which Barber was removed from the airplane.

April 23 2017 11:26 AM

North Korea Detains Another U.S. Citizen Amid Rising Tensions  

North Korea arrested a U.S. citizen for unknown reasons on Saturday as he was getting ready to leave Pyongyang on a flight to China. The Wall Street Journal was first to report the detention early Sunday, citing two unnamed sources. The Associated Press and CNN both confirmed the news later in the day.

Tony Kim, who also goes by his Korean name Kim Sang-duk, had been teaching accounting at the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology for about a month when he was detained at the airport, the university’s chancellor told the Associated Press. The Embassy of Sweden in Pyongyang, which represents U.S. interests in North Korea, also confirmed the detention. "He was prevented from getting on the flight out of Pyongyang," an embassy official told CNN. "We don't comment further than this."

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The university chancellor said he was told Kim’s detention had “nothing to do” with his work at the university but didn’t know any other details. Founded in 2010, Pyongyang University of Science and Technology is the country’s only privately funded university and has a large number of foreign staff.

Kim is now the third known American who is under detention in North Korea. Otto Warmbier, a 21-year-old student at the University of Virginia, was detained at the Pyongyang airport last year. He was later sentenced to 15 years of hard labor, allegedly for removing a political sign from a hotel wall. Kim Dong Chul, another American, was sentenced to 10 years of hard labor on spying charges.

The latest detention comes at a time of particularly tense relations between Pyongyang and Washington. On Sunday, North Korea said it was ready to sink the aircraft carrier that was sent to the region. "Our revolutionary forces are combat-ready to sink a U.S. nuclear-powered aircraft carrier with a single strike," Rodong Sinmun, the newspaper of the ruling Workers’ Party, said in an opinion piece. A strike on the carrier would be “an actual example to show our military’s force.”

April 23 2017 9:48 AM

Only 2 Percent of Americans Who Voted for Trump Regret It

President Donald Trump is getting ready to mark his 100 days in office as the least popular commander in chief of the modern era at this point in their presidency. But among his supporters, 96 percent of those who voted for Trump said they would do it all over again if the election were held today, and only 2 percent say they regret supporting him, according to the latest Washington Post/ABC News poll. In contrast, 85 percent of Americans who voted for Hillary Clinton said they’d vote for her if the election were held today. That’s not because Clinton voters would support Trump, but rather because they say they’d be more willing to back a third-party candidate or not vote at all.

The poll makes clear what numerous surveys have already pointed out: Trump has not enjoyed the typical 100-day honeymoon period. Overall, only 42 percent of Americans approve of Trump’s performance as president, and 53 percent disapprove. The number is worse in the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll that puts Trump’s overall job-approval rating at 40 percent, 4 points lower than it was in February. That is in sharp contrast to the average 69 percent approval for past presidents at or near the 100-day mark. President Barack Obama, for example, had a 69-26 percent approval rating near his 100 days in office.

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More than half of Americans don’t think Trump has accomplished much in his first 100 days. Forty-five percent of Americans flat out say that Trump’s presidency is off to a poor start while 19 percent say it’s been “only a fair start.” That compares to the 35 percent who say the president’s first 100 days have been “good” or “great,” according to the NBC/WSJ poll.

That doesn’t mean it’s all doom and gloom for the president. The Post/ABC poll also finds some surprisingly positive evaluations of the commander in chief’s performance on certain issues. More than half of Americans—53 percent—say Trump is a strong leader, including 25 percent of Democrats. Plus 73 percent of Americans approve of the way he has been pressuring companies to keep jobs in the country. A plurality—46 percent—also approve of the way he has been handling North Korea. The president also gets high marks for his recent military actions in Syria, which 62 percent of Americans say they support, according to the NBC/WSJ poll.

Still, despite these few bright spots, the polls point to mostly bad news for the president, as 56 percent say he doesn’t have the judgment to serve effectively as president, and 58 percent doubt his honesty and trustworthiness. The public also seems to have noticed Trump’s penchant for changing his mind, with 55 percent saying he doesn’t follow a consistent set of principles.

Democrats should be cautious about getting too gleeful about Trump’s numbers though, as 67 percent say the Democratic Party is out of touch with the concerns of most Americans, according to the Post/ABC survey. Both Trump and the Republican Party have better scores in that regard with 58 percent and 62 percent, respectively.

*This post has been updated to include additional information from the Washington Post/ABC News poll.

April 22 2017 8:28 PM

Taliban Fighters Kill at Least 140 Afghan Soldiers at Army Base

Afghanistan is in mourning after at least 140 soldiers were killed by a group of 10 Taliban fighters at a key base in northern Afghanistan. It was the deadliest single attack against an army base since the war began 16 years ago. “Today, there was even a shortage of coffins,” said Ibrahim Khairandish, a member of the provincial council in Balkh Province, where the attack took place.

There are conflicting figures on the death toll, with the defense ministry officially saying more than 100 were killed. Anonymous officials though say at least 140 were killed and some fear the death toll could be higher than 200. “Today, there was even a shortage of coffins,” said Ibrahim Khairandish, a member of the provincial council in Balkh Province.

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Ten Taliban fighters wearing army uniforms entered the huge base and began an hours-long attack that included suicide bombings. Two of the Taliban attackers reportedly detonated their explosive vests inside a mosque that was busy due to Friday prayers.

The Taliban quickly claimed responsibility for the attack, describing it as a retribution for the recent killing of several senior Taliban leaders. A Taliban spokesman said as many as 500 soldiers were killed in the attack. He also claimed four of the attackers were army defectors who had served at the base. The attack lasted six hours and at least one of the attackers was arrested.

The Friday attack was a stark reminder of how badly things are going in Afghanistan, notes the New York Times:

Over the last two years, Taliban fighters have gained more territory in the countryside and now threaten several cities. Afghanistan’s forces, suffering enormous casualties and a leadership marred by indecision and corruption, have struggled to put up a defense.
More than 6,700 members of the Afghan security forces lost their lives in 2016, a record high that is nearly three times the total American casualties for the war.
In a new sign of how badly the Afghan military is faltering, the commander of the NATO coalition forces in Afghanistan, Gen. John W. Nicholson, has requested a few thousand additional American soldiers to assist in training Afghan recruits.

April 22 2017 7:29 PM

Brooklyn Picks a President (for France)

BROOKLYN—Some of the first votes in the French presidential election, a referendum on the future of the European Union, were cast in an old red-brick church building near the Gowanus Canal on Saturday morning. On the sidewalk outside, some of the New York area’s 75,000–odd French citizens waited in the rain to choose between the 11 candidates for their country’s five-year presidential term.

 

The French diaspora in the Americas votes a day early, and unlike U.S. expats, they vote not by mail but in polling places across the hemisphere: the French Embassy in Buenos Aires, the French-American Academy of Jersey City, and here at the French International School in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn. (Sunday, their compatriots from Hanoi to Geneva will follow suit.)

 

Even in a city whose popularity with French tourists and expatriates is the subject of popular expressions (“Très Brooklyn!) and department-store displays back home, the scene on Saturday morning was exceptionally Gallic, if a few Gauloises short of the Rue Oberkampf.

 

France’s scandal-plagued presidential campaign had no one in high spirits, there no were no pins or political T-shirts, except for one woman whose shirt read “Resist.” It was an American reference, but it neatly summed up the common political aim within the diversity of Brooklyn français: a determination to stop Marine Le Pen.

 

April 22 2017 7:24 PM

Trump Says “Congratulations … Tremendous” to Purple Heart Recipient

President Donald Trump raised more than a few eyebrows during his first visit as president to Walter Reed National Medical Center on Saturday when he awarded the Purple Heart to Army Sergeant First Class Alvaro Barrientos. "When I heard about this, I wanted to do it myself," Trump told Barrientos as he placed the Purple Heart on the soldier's lapel. “Congratulations … tremendous.” The medal is given to service members who were wounded or killed in battle.

Many on social media immediately criticized the president’s choice of words to the wounded soldier whose leg had to be amputated after he survived an attack in Afghanistan’s Helmland province.

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This isn’t the first time the president has been criticized for remarks he made about the Purple Heart. During the campaign, a veteran gave the then-nominee his Purple heart. "I always wanted to get the Purple Heart. This was much easier," Trump said at the time.

Trump allowed news media to cover the event on Saturday, in contrast to his predecessor, who awarded Purple Heart medals behind closed doors when he went to Walter Reed.

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