|4:10 PM, Jan 26, 2015 • By GEOFFREY NORMAN
The Hill is reporting that:
The U.S. has closed its embassy in Yemen's capital because of security concerns, the State Department said Monday. The closure comes after the resignation of Yemen's president, pressured by rebel forces.
In the recent past, Yemen has been cited as a nation where anti-terrorist efforts by the U.S. have borne fruit.
Now a coup has changed all that and left Saudi Arabia with a dangerous and potentially hostile nation on its southern border.
The administration, however, is not giving up on the country with White House chief of staff Denis McDonough saying, on Sunday:
“I think it’s very important to recognize that governance in Yemen has always been difficult. We will continue to press on the ground, including today, to make decisions transparently, pursuant to a political agreement, so that we can work with them to keep on the offensive against al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.”
The part about staying on the offensive may have been too optimistic.
3:26 PM, Jan 26, 2015 • By ADAM J. WHITE
Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu's upcoming address to Congress, at Congress's invitation, is drawing significant criticism -- that much is no great surprise. What does surprise, however, is one particular criticism: that the event will be not just bad policy, but even unconstitutional.
That criticism may have originated with a blog post by law professor Peter Spiro, but it has been embraced and amplified, to varying degrees, by significant voices in the conservative legal movement: Michael Ramsey, Josh Blackman, and David Bernstein.
Ramsey, writing on the Originalism Blog, captures the two basic threads of the argument: First, Congress cannot host foreign leaders, because none of the powers granted to Congress by the Constitution expressly covers such events. Second, the Constitution does expressly empower the president to "receive Ambassadors and other public Ministers," and Congress's invitation to Netanyahu undermines the president's constitutional authority in this sphere.
Neither argument is as conclusive as he suggests. True, Congress does not have a specific, explicit constitutional authorization to meet with foreign leaders, but then again the same could be said of Congress's convening of hearings, oversight inquiries, public events, or other receptions undertaken to support Congress's ultimate lawmaking and appointment-confirming actions. Congress does, after all, have constitutional powers to make appropriations in support of foreign policy, to confirm the appointment of diplomatic personnel, and to ratify treaties. Hearing from foreign leaders -- merely hearing from them -- can support those constitutional objectives, just as congressional hearings support Congress's legislative actions.
2:12 PM, Jan 26, 2015 • By GEOFFREY NORMAN
Bloomberg is reporting that
Russia’s credit rating was cut to junk by Standard & Poor’s, putting it below investment grade for the first time in a decade.
The world’s biggest energy exporter is on the brink of a recession after oil prices fell to the lowest since 2009 and the U.S. and its allies imposed sanctions over President Vladimir Putin’s actions in Ukraine. The penalties have locked Russian corporate borrowers out of international debt markets and curbed investor appetite for the ruble, stocks and bonds.
So sanctions have “worked,” in the sense that they have caused Russia significant economic pain. There are, however, two things to keep in mind.
* The first people hurt by sanctions, embargoes, blockades and other forms of economic warfare are not the dictators and their cronies whom we wish to punish. Putin will not be cutting back on his discretionary spending any time soon.
* The target of this sort of economic punishment can choose either to mend his ways and behave in a fashion that will bring relief or … he can strike back. With Europe in distress (recently, the vote in Greece), one suspects that Mr. Putin will sense opportunity.
Cruz, Paul perform as well.12:12 PM, Jan 26, 2015 • By STEPHEN F. HAYES
Rancho Mirage, California
Three top Republican senators joined top center-right donors Sunday evening for a lively, informal discussion on politics and policy to cap off a weekend that effectively marks the kickoff of the 2016 presidential primary. In oversized white chairs on stage at the Ritz Carlton Rancho Mirage, Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, and Marco Rubio fielded questions for nearly 90 minutes from Jonathan Karl of ABC News, who capably pushed the potential candidates for responses on a wide range of issues.
The discussion came as part of a weekend seminar for wealthy conservatives and libertarians sponsored by Charles and David Koch and was livestreamed by ABC News.
There were few differences between the three senators over the first half of the discussion, which focused largely on domestic policy. On tax policy, none of the three said they would take the deal offered to GOP primary candidates in 2012 – $10 in spending cuts for every $1 of tax hikes. Cruz mocked the premise and suggested that it’s a question that only the media love. Rubio argued that even with the kind of cuts and tax hikes the question assumes, the U.S. government couldn’t “set aside” the looming entitlement crisis. Paul used the session to urge Republicans in Washington to take a bolder approach to tax reform, saying that if the GOP spends its time just fighting for “revenue neutral tax reform” he might as well return to his medical practice in Kentucky.
If the forum was characterized by agreement on domestic policy issues, the stark differences between Paul and Rubio on foreign policy were obvious. Karl asked specifically about Cuba policy and noted that Paul has voiced support for the Obama administration’s new approach. In an argument that echoes Obama’s, Paul argued that it’s time for a change after fifty years of a failed Cuba embargo. As he has before, Paul once again suggested that those who disagree with him are driven primarily by “emotion.” Rubio countered by accusing Paul – and Obama – of misunderstanding the purpose of the embargo, noting that the Castro regime confiscated property of many Americans during the revolution. Cruz, for his part, reinforced Rubio’s arguments and cited his family’s ties to Cuba.
The sharpest differences came during the discussion of Iran. Paul again supported the Obama administration’s case that even talking about additional sanctions could threaten the delicate talks. Invoking Ronald Reagan and the Soviet Union, Paul touted the benefits of talking to your enemies and suggested that Cruz and Rubio were out of step with the Republican icon. Rubio scoffed at the suggestion that triggered sanctions are too tough. The Obama administration, he argued, is too solicitous of the Iranian regime. It’s hard to have serious negotiations with the mullahs, Rubio added, in part because of their apocalyptic views of a world that fails to embrace Islam.
9:45 AM, Jan 26, 2015 • By JERYL BIER
Obama administration officials have been effusive in their praise for late Saudi King Abdullah Bin Abdul-Aziz who died last week at the age of 90. Now comes word that chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin E. Dempsey is establishing a "research and essay competition" at the US military's National Defense University to honor the long-time U.S. ally. DoD News reports:
The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff has established a research and essay competition in honor of Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah Bin Abdul-Aziz hosted by the National Defense University....
Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey said the essay competition is a fitting tribute to the life and leadership of the Saudi Arabian monarch...
“This is an important opportunity to honor the memory of the king, while also fostering scholarly research on the Arab-Muslim world, and I can think of no better home for such an initiative than NDU,” Dempsey said in a statement announcing the competition.
The competition will focus on issues related to the Arab-Muslim world and is designed to encourage strategic thinking and meaningful research on a crucial part of the world. The program will be in place at NDU for the next academic year, officials said.
Per its website, the National Defense Institute "supports the joint warfighter by providing rigorous Joint Professional Military Education to members of the U.S. Armed Forces and select others in order to develop leaders who have the ability to operate and creatively think in an unpredictable and complex world."
Statements from President Obama, Vice President Biden, and Secretary of State John Kerry on the death of the king read in part as follows:
King Abdullah’s life spanned from before the birth of modern Saudi Arabia through its emergence as a critical force within the global economy and a leader among Arab and Islamic nations. He took bold steps in advancing the Arab Peace Initiative, an endeavor that will outlive him as an enduring contribution to the search for peace in the region. At home, King Abdullah's vision was dedicated to the education of his people and to greater engagement with the world.
Vice President Biden:
King Abdullah’s death is a great loss for his country. It is hard to distinguish him from Saudi Arabia itself. Over many decades, he played an outsized role in building his country.
Over the years, I have come to know King Abdullah. I always appreciated his frankness, his sense of history, his pride in his efforts to move his country forward, and his steadfast belief in the U.S.-Saudi relationship.
8:49 AM, Jan 26, 2015 • By GEOFFREY NORMAN
The headline from The Hill reads:
White House chief of staff: No let up in focus on middle class
And if you are a member of the battered middle class, you have to wonder if that is good news or bad news.
The left, and elements of the Democratic party (which Senator Charles Schumer has said is “the party of government”), have long believed that the route to permanent political dominance is through tying the American middle class up with entitlements. Convince middle class Americans that health care, home ownership, higher education, etc. are gifts from the government rather than the fruits of their own labor, and you’ll have them forever. Docile and dependent.
The Obama administration is moving the middle class ever closer to a day when the descendants of the old American yeoman are merely subjects, ceding more and more power to the political class in the hope that it will “focus” on their needs.
7:33 AM, Jan 26, 2015 • By DANIEL HALPER
President Obama is being knocked by local press for chewing gum today at the Republic Day parade in India.
"In an ungainly sight, cameras caught US President Brack Obama chewing gum during the Republic Day parade on Monday. In the picture captured by cameras and posted on Twitter by some users, Obama was spotted removing his chewing gum while PM Modi was seen trying to explain something to the US president," reports the Times of India.
Here's the picture that appears to be driving the conversation:
The report has more:
However, this is not the first time that Obama has been spotted chewing gum during an important function. Though there was a lot of commentary on social media on his chewing gum at a formal ceremony.
Comments on Twitter included remarks by author Shobhaa De, who said, "Barack bhai working his jaws overtime and chewing gum! At least it isn't gutka. But seriously - gum during a formal parade?".
"Glad to see @BarackObama is so human. Like most Americans, he chews gum. Anyone know what brand?," was how noted film-maker Shekhar Kapur reacted.
9:09 PM, Jan 25, 2015 • By DANIEL HALPER
Speaker of the House John Boehner told CBS's 60 Minutes that he's "interested in working with" President Barack Obama:
"Listen, the president and I talk, and I know Mitch [McConnell] talks to the president. Wnd we had a meeting at the White House last week. It was all very cordial, it was all very straightforward. I don't think that's the issue," said Boehner in response to a question about whether Republicans and Democrats can work together.
"You know, the president could have, at the State of the Union, just put out an olive branch, could've taken just a little bit different tone that would've indicated to us that there's some interest in working with us. I can tell you, we're interested in working with him."
'I hope to leave a favorable impression.'8:53 PM, Jan 25, 2015 • By DANIEL HALPER
President Obama will give a Super Bowl Sunday interview to a host of NBC's Today Show, Savannah Guthrie. The news tucked away in a Los Angeles Times profile of the host.
On Sunday, she will have the plum assignment of interviewing President Obama live from the White House during NBC's pre-game coverage of the Super Bowl, likely putting her before more viewers than ever before. The previous two presidential Super Bowl interviews on NBC had been handled by her co-anchor, Matt Lauer.
"I hope to leave a favorable impression," she said, failing to keep a straight face as she did.
For Guthrie, 43, the new deal is recognition of having successfully navigating one of the most tumultuous transitions in the 63-year history of "Today."
She took over the co-anchor chair alongside Lauer in June 2012 after Ann Curry was yanked from the job after one year. Curry's tearful sign-off was so emotional, there was talk in the "Today" control room about cutting the audio feed from her microphone.
12:18 PM, Jan 25, 2015 • By DANIEL HALPER
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel says it won't be easy to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay. The outgoing Pentagon chief made the comments to NPR:
Can Obama keep his revised promise to close the Guantanamo facility before leaving office? "It's going to be very difficult," Hagel said, "especially if the Congress further restricts where these last 122 detainees go." Congress has already barred them from being sent to the United States.
NPR has more:
Hagel's resignation, never fully explained in public, was privately blamed on a variety of factors – one of them being White House frustration with his handling of Guantanamo. No detainee could be transferred out of the prison until Hagel certified that the prisoner would be placed in some other situation where he would not pose a threat to the United States. This was not easy to do.
In the NPR interview, Hagel said that transferring any detainee required action from many parts of the federal government. Diplomats, for example, had to find a country willing to receive each detainee, since there is no political appetite to allow them into the United States. Hagel added that he had a duty not to formally certify that any detainee could leave until there had been "substantial mitigation of risk of these individuals returning to the battlefield to threaten the United States or our people or our allies."
"Has there been a slowing of that [process], which hasn't always made me popular in some quarters? Yes," Hagel said.
"I've made that very clear to the president and to everyone, to the Congress: If it's my responsibility by law, which it is as secretary of defense, then I will do everything I can because the American people rely on that."
Of course, as NPR notes, Obama promised to close Gitmo as soon as he became president of the United States.
10:41 AM, Jan 25, 2015 • By DANIEL HALPER
Denis McDonough appeared to slip up in an interview with ABC when he revealed the previously unknown name on an American being held by ISIS:
Asked the ABC News anchor: "We also have that threat from ISIS. Any hope of saving that second Japanese hostage? And do we have any information on the American woman still being held?"
"Well, the president had a good talk overnight our time here with Prime Minister Abe, underscoring our continued support for and partnership with the Japanese. They making this huge investment halfway around the world like we are in Iraq and Syria against ISIS," said McDonough.
"And as it relates to our hostages, we are obviously continuing to work those matters very, very aggressively. We are sparing no expense, and sparing no effort, both in trying to make sure that we know where they are and make sure that we're prepared to do anything we must to try to get them home. But [REDACTED] family knows how strongly the president feels about this. And we will continue to work this."
The name of the American woman being held by ISIS was previously unnamed.
McDonough's mistake was first noticed by ABC foreign editor Jon Williams:
UPDATE: Citing security concerns, someone close to the family of the named ISIS hostage asked for her name to be removed from this post.
9:23 PM, Jan 24, 2015 • By DANIEL HALPER
"The United States is losing the war with radical Islamists," Newt Gingrich told a group of conservatives at the Iowa Freedom Summit in Des Moines.
And while Gingrich skewered President Obama and his foreign policy, he said part of the problem resides with Republicans as well. "We have an elite, frankly in both parties, unwilling to tell the truth."
While many of the speakers at the Iowa event suggested they'd be running for president, Gingrich made no suggestion himself (and has previously said he won't run again in 2016).
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