|4:47 PM, Dec 19, 2014 • By GEOFFREY NORMAN
Jon Harper of Stars and Stripes reports that:
Hundreds of American troops are now in Iraq’s volatile Anbar province helping the Iraqi military take on the Islamic State, Joint Chiefs of Staff officials said. Currently, about 350 U.S. troops are stationed at Al Asad Air Base in Anbar. The force is composed of advisers and support personnel who are assisting the Iraqi army, as well as a security contingent tasked with providing force protection.
Anbar was, of course, critical to the success of the Iraq war and has since been an objective of ISIS, which has taken large and vital areas of the province.
Leading to the deployment of American troops to Anbar. Still ...
President Barack Obama has ruled out sending American ground troops back into combat in Iraq, and has limited the military mission to training and equipping Iraqi troops fighting the Islamic State.
On Tuesday, there were media reports that American troops in Anbar had been in a direct fight with militants near Al Asad. Multiple U.S. defense officials said those reports were false.
Other possible 2016 GOP candidates quiet.4:21 PM, Dec 19, 2014 • By MICHAEL WARREN
Two potential Republican presidential candidates weighed in on the hack of Sony Pictures by the North Korean government.
"The recent Sony hack is not a cyber attack on Hollywood," said Bobby Jindal, the two-term governor of Louisiana, in a statement. "[I]t is an attack on America. It is an attack on freedom and represents a serious danger to U.S. national security. Are we really going to let terrorists and thugs, likely the North Korean dictator in this instance, determine what movies we watch?"
Meanwhile, Florida senator Marco Rubio criticized Barack Obama's foreign policy and called on the president to "act swiftly" in response to North Korea. "The fact that North Korea was willing to conduct a flagrant cyber-attack against a major corporation and even threaten violence against Americans attending movie theaters across the country is another example of the devastating consequences that result when America projects weakness," said Rubio. "I call on the President to respond swiftly to undo the damage to freedom of speech and expression caused by Sony’s decision to not release ‘The Interview.’ I also look forward to hearing from administration officials what the United States’ response to this blatant violation of America’s sovereignty and security will be."
The FBI has concluded that the hack of Sony, which prompted a terroristic threat in response to a comedy movie that mocked North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un, has been traced back to the government in Pyongyang. In his Friday afternoon press conference, President Obama condemned the hack. He also called Sony's decision not to release The Interview on its planned opening day, Christmas, a "mistake."
Other possible GOP candidates have remained quiet on the issue. Email inquiries to the offices of senators Ted Cruz of Texas and Rand Paul of Kentucky, as well as to a spokesman for former Florida governor Jeb Bush, have not been returned. Both Rubio and Jindal said federal officials should do more in response to the cyber attack.
"The President and Congress must take a stand to protect our liberty here," Jindal said. Rubio urged the Obama administration to relist North Korea as a state sponsor of terror, criticizing the George W. Bush administration for taking the totaliarian nation off the list.
"North Korea continues to threaten its neighbors, develop its nuclear weapons program, and imprison thousands of its civilians in modern day gulags. It is also important to remember that just last year, Panama intercepted a North Korean ship that was involved in transferring weapons between North Korea and Cuba and that Cuba has been a staunch defender of Pyongyang at the United Nations," said Rubio, who has also been sharply critical of the decision earlier this week by the Obama administration to pursue normalization with Cuba.
3:54 PM, Dec 19, 2014 • By GEOFFREY NORMAN
Thanks to (mostly) fracking you can not only drive to work for less than before, you may now be writing a smaller check to cover the mortgage. As the Wall Street Journal reports:
Low oil prices may offer a hidden gift to consumers beyond the gas pump: They could also indirectly support lower mortgage rates.
The plunge in oil prices has been spurred in part by concerns over a slowdown in global economic growth. Those fears have also boosted demand for government bonds, pushing down yields on longer-term Treasurys. Mortgage rates tend to closely track the 10-year Treasury.
And, according to one expert:
“Further oil price declines could lead the way to sub-3.5% mortgage rates.”
Cuban communist leader lectures Obama for 30 minutes.2:34 PM, Dec 19, 2014 • By MICHAEL WARREN
Barack Obama apologized to Cuban president Raul Castro during their phone conversation after the American commander in chief's opening remarks. Speaking to reporters at his final White House press briefing of 2014 Friday afternoon, Obama gave more details about his phone call with the communist leader of Cuba earlier this week before the announcement of a change in U.S. policy on the Caribbean island nation.
Obama began the phone call with Castro with what he described as 15 minutes of opening comments. It was the first conversation between the heads of state in both countries since 1961.
"I apologized for taking such a long time," Obama said. Castro responded by reminding Obama that the American president was still young enough to beat Castro's brother, former Cuban president and revolutionary leader Fidel Castro, who once gave a 7-hour-long speech.
According to the president, Raul Castro proceeded to speak to Obama uninterrupted for 30 minutes.
2:06 PM, Dec 19, 2014 • By DANIEL HALPER
President Obama said that Sony "made a mistake" by pulling The Interview after being hacked by North Korea:
"Sony is a corporation. It suffered significant damage. There were threats against its employees. I'm sympathetic to the concerns that they faced. Having said all that, yes, I think they made a mistake," said Obama.
Hosted by Michael Graham.1:08 PM, Dec 19, 2014 • By TWS PODCAST
THE WEEKLY STANDARD podcast with editor William Kristol on the Sony hacks, North Korea's role, and the U.S. response.
This podcast can be downloaded here. Subscribe to THE WEEKLY STANDARD's iTunes podcast feed here.
"...federal agencies are here to help."12:44 PM, Dec 19, 2014 • By MICHAEL WARREN
Jeh Johnson, the secretary of homeland security, has released a statement following the North Korean-backed cyber attack on Sony Pictures. Johnson urges American companies to protect themselves against cybersecurity threats and says the Department of Homeland Security is "here to help."
Here's the full statement:
The cyber attack against Sony Pictures Entertainment was not just an attack against a company and its employees. It was also an attack on our freedom of expression and way of life.
This event underscores the importance of good cybersecurity practices to rapidly detect cyber intrusions and promote resilience throughout all of our networks. Every CEO should take this opportunity to assess their company’s cybersecurity. Every business in this country should seek to employ best practices in cybersecurity. The Department of Homeland Security and other federal agencies are here to help. We seek to raise the level of cybersecurity in both the private sector and civilian government, and provide timely information to protect all our systems against cyber threats. For businesses and other organizations that want to improve their cybersecurity, the Cybersecurity Framework is a great starting point and a great tool. It lays out best practices developed together by government and the private sector.
We encourage all businesses and other organizations to use the Cybersecurity Framework to assess and limit cyber risks and protect against cyber threats.
For tips and resources on how you can protect yourself and your organization from cyber threats, visit www.dhs.gov.
12:31 PM, Dec 19, 2014 • By DANIEL HALPER
President Obama and his family will head this evening to Hawaii, where he's expected to vacation until the new year.
"On Friday, December 19, President Obama and the First Family will travel to Honolulu, Hawai’i. The arrival of Air Force One is open to pre-credentialed media and closed to the public," the White House said in a statement.
"The President and First Family do not have any scheduled public events during their time in Hawai’i. There will be travel pool coverage of their trip."
He leaves this evening on the direct Air Force One flight, according to the White House schedule:
5:45PM THE FIRST FAMILY departs the White House en route Andrews Air Force Base
Open Press (Final Gather 5:25PM – North Doors of the Palm Room)
5:55PM THE FIRST FAMILY departs Andrews Air Force Base en route Honolulu, Hawai’i
Out-of-Town Travel Pool Coverage (Call Time 4:00PM – Virginia Gate, Andrews Air Force Base)
11:25PM THE FIRST FAMILY arrives in Honolulu,Hawai’i
Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Honolulu, HI
President Obama is expected to return to Washington on January 4, 2015.
12:00 PM, Dec 19, 2014 • By DANIEL HALPER
The full FBI statement on the Sony hacking:
Today, the FBI would like to provide an update on the status of our investigation into the cyber attack targeting Sony Pictures Entertainment (SPE). In late November, SPE confirmed that it was the victim of a cyber attack that destroyed systems and stole large quantities of personal and commercial data. A group calling itself the “Guardians of Peace” claimed responsibility for the attack and subsequently issued threats against SPE, its employees, and theaters that distribute its movies.
The FBI has determined that the intrusion into SPE’s network consisted of the deployment of destructive malware and the theft of proprietary information as well as employees’ personally identifiable information and confidential communications. The attacks also rendered thousands of SPE’s computers inoperable, forced SPE to take its entire computer network offline, and significantly disrupted the company’s business operations.
After discovering the intrusion into its network, SPE requested the FBI’s assistance. Since then, the FBI has been working closely with the company throughout the investigation. Sony has been a great partner in the investigation, and continues to work closely with the FBI. Sony reported this incident within hours, which is what the FBI hopes all companies will do when facing a cyber attack. Sony’s quick reporting facilitated the investigators’ ability to do their jobs, and ultimately to identify the source of these attacks.
As a result of our investigation, and in close collaboration with other U.S. government departments and agencies, the FBI now has enough information to conclude that the North Korean government is responsible for these actions. While the need to protect sensitive sources and methods precludes us from sharing all of this information, our conclusion is based, in part, on the following:
11:44 AM, Dec 19, 2014 • By DANIEL HALPER
CNN political analyst Gloria Borger likened President Obama to Santa Claus in an appearance this morning:
"I'm not saying [Obama's] Superman," said Borger, "but I am saying that he is trying to soar a little bit. He's trying to fly. Everybody assumes, okay, lame duck president, can't get anything done, lost control of the Congress.
"And what he's doing is he's flexing his executive action muscles and he's saying, look, there are things that I can do as president of the United States that I don't need Congress for. He's got a list. He's going down it and he's checking it twice, as we say at this time of year.
"And you know it's no secret to anybody...that this is a president who is frustrated during the last election. He had to stay largely out of it in the those red states. He was trying to protect a lot of Democrats by not causing controversy. Now I think he feels a little unburdened by that and in doing so he's actually setting the agenda for the 2016 election in many ways."
Via Noah Rothman.
10:51 AM, Dec 19, 2014 • By MICHAEL WARREN
Concerned Veterans for America has launched a new video series on the failures of the Obama administration's foreign policy doctrine of "leading from behind." The launch begins with Libya as a case study in what's gone wrong with U.S. foreign relations. Watch the video below:
“Libya is a prime example of why Obama’s strategy of ‘leading from behind’ makes the world a more dangerous place and America less secure,” said Pete Hegseth, CVA's CEO, in a statement. “The Obama administration touted the military operations against Libya in 2011 as an example of their new and improved national security strategy – war from the air, no footprint on the ground, and allies taking the lead. But the current chaos in Libya today shows that that strategy has been a complete failure that has only emboldened and strengthened radical Islamic groups that threaten not only the region, but also America and America’s allies."
'We Still Have More Work To Do'9:01 AM, Dec 19, 2014 • By JERYL BIER
The State Department's Rose Gottemoeller, under secretary for arms control and international security, spoke at the Brookings Institution Thursday where she reaffirmed the United States' "unassailable" commitment to putting the nuclear weapons genie back in the bottle. Gottemoeller told the attendees at the Arms Control and Non-Proliferation Initiative-sponsored event that "the U.S. commitment to achieving the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons is unassailable."
She went on to note that the nation's stockpile of active weapons is down 85 percent from maximum cold war levels, falling to 4,804 in 2013 from a high of 31,255. But, she said, "We still have more work to do."
As you all might know, I have been traveling quite a bit lately and was just recently in the Czech Republic for a conference on the Prague Agenda. I reminded people at that conference that when President Obama laid out his vision for the peace and security of a world free of nuclear weapons, he made it clear that it was not a desirable, but unattainable dream. The Prague Agenda is an achievable long-term goal and one worth fighting for. I will say here what I said in Prague. There should be no doubt: the U.S. commitment to achieving the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons is unassailable. We continue to pursue nuclear disarmament and we will keep faith with our Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) commitments, prominent among them, Article VI. Our responsible approach to disarmament has borne fruit in the form of major reductions in nuclear weapons, fissile material stocks and infrastructure. These efforts have led us to reduce our nuclear arsenal by approximately 85% from its Cold War heights. In real numbers, that means we have gone from 31,255 nuclear weapons in our active stockpile in 1967 to 4,804 in 2013. We know we still have more work to do.
According to the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, which is put out by the Federation of American Scientists, Russia has about the same number of active weapons now as the U.S., and both countries have several thousand more warheads awaiting deactivation. Due to security concerns governments are reluctant to divulge exact numbers, but it's generally beleived that most of the older nuclear powers (U.S., Russia, the UK, and France) have reportedly been gradually declining their stockpiles. Israel, never publicly acknowledging its possession of nuclear weapons, is believed to be holding steady on its stockpile. China, India, and Pakistan, on the other hand, are all still believed to be gradually increasing their numbers. The exact status of North Korea's nuclear program and stockpile of weapons remains unknown.
8:32 AM, Dec 19, 2014 • By DANIEL HALPER
Congressman Keith Ellison wants Elizabeth Warren to run for president of the United States.
“I would love to see Elizabeth Warren in this race. I think it would be fantastic. I think that it would help the quality of the debate and she may win,” Ellison told liberal activists who are urging a Warren run, according to MSNBC. “But even if she doesn’t, I think she’ll make Hillary Clinton a better candidate.”
MSNBC points out:
That’s the closest any major elected official has come to endorsing the Massachusetts Democrat, who has said repeatedly that she is not going to run for president.
Ellison added that he feared Clinton, the presumed frontrunner for the nominee, “could just walk into the general [election] without having committed to some important real, real economic populism.”
“So, I’m supportive of what [DFA] is doing, I’m supportive of what MoveOn is doing, and I think Elizabeth Warren is one of the great, bright lights of our time,” he added.
MoveOn.org and DFA, which grew out of Howard Dean’s 2004 presidential campaign, officially kicked off their campaign to draft Warren Wednesday in Iowa, and have together committed $1.25 million to the effort.
Ellison is chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.
7:57 AM, Dec 19, 2014 • By DANIEL HALPER
Matthew Continetti, writing for the Washington Free Beacon:
“It’s a sad day for freedom,” Marco Rubio told Bret Baier after President Obama announced he would normalize relations with Cuba. Not a sad day, senator: a sad year.
If there was a theme to 2014, it was Obama’s persistence in bailing out dictators and theocrats from political scrapes and economic hardships, his tenacity in pursuit of engagement with America’s adversaries no matter the cost to our strength, principles, credibility, or alliances.
In this president the thugs in Havana and Caracas, Damascus and Tehran, Moscow and Naypyidaw and Beijing have no better friend. For these bullies, these evildoers, these millenarians and sectarians, Barack Obama is more than a dupe. He is an insurance policy.
Cuba is but the latest example of this president’s failing to exercise leverage in the pursuit of American strength and security and prestige. Here are the Castro brothers, decrepit and spent, their revolution a joke, their economy in peril thanks to the collapse in oil prices brought on by a strong dollar and increased U.S. supply.
Read the rest here.
8:32 PM, Dec 18, 2014 • By GEOFFREY NORMAN
Neil Shah of the Wall Street Journal writes:
The typical affluent family in America now has nearly seven times the wealth of a middle-income family, the biggest wealth gap in three decades, according to a new analysis by Pew Research Center. Last year, the median wealth of upper-income families in the U.S. ($639,400) was 6.6 times bigger than that of middle-income families ($96,500), up from 6.2 times in 2010.
Upper-income families now have a median wealth level that is nearly 70 times that of lower-income families.
In a totally unrelated development, the nations richest zip-codes and counties are clustered around Washington, D.C.
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