Obama calls idea of screening Syrian refugees based on religion ‘shameful,’ defends White House strategy



Speaking to reporters in Antalya, Turkey, on Monday, President Obama said his approach to countering the so-called Islamic State “is the strategy that ultimately is going to work” but that the terrorist network still can exact serious damage worldwide.

“But understand that one of the challenges we have in this situation is that if you have a handful of people who don’t mind dying, they can kill a lot of people,” Obama said in a news conference after the conclusion of the Group of 20 summit there. “That’s one of the challenges of terrorism. It’s not their sophistication or the particular weaponry that they possess, but it is the ideology they carry with them and their willingness to die.”

[Raids spread across France and Belgium amid manhunt for suspects]

Obama also pointedly addressed the issue of whether the United States and other countries should continue to accept refugees, given the fact that one of the participants in the Paris plot may have come in with Syrian migrants. He said the United States would continue to accept more refugees from Syria and elsewhere, though “only after subjecting them to rigorous screening and security checks.”

“Slamming the door in their faces would be a betrayal of our values,” he said. “Our nations can welcome refugees who are desperately seeking safety and ensure our own security. We can and must do both.”

Without directly naming GOP presidential candidates, the president blasted political leaders for suggesting the United States should accept only Christians fleeing Syria. He alluded to the fact that some of these same politicians — namely Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), whose father fled Cuba decades ago – -had benefited from America’s willingness to accept refugees.

“And when I hear folks say that, well, maybe we should just admit the Christians but not the Muslims, when I hear political leaders suggesting that there would be a religious test for which person who’s fleeing from a war-torn country is admitted, when some of those folks themselves come from families who benefited from protection when they were fleeing political persecution, that’s shameful,” he said, his voice rising. “That’s not American. That’s not who we are. We don’t have religious tests to our compassion.”

The president noted that the world’s most prominent Christian leader, Pope Francis, did not frame the Syrian refugee crisis in the same terms as several Republican leaders.

“When Pope Francis came to visit the United States and gave a speech before Congress, he didn’t just speak about Christians who were being persecuted, he didn’t call on Catholic parishes just to admit those who were of the same religious faith, he said protect people who were vulnerable,” Obama said. “And so I think it is very important for us right now, particularly those who are in leadership, particularly those who have a platform and can be heard, not to fall into that trap, not to feed that dark impulse inside of us.”

Cruz, for his part, laughed before telling reporters in Sun City, S.C. what he thought about the president’s comments.

“It is one of the saddest things we’ve seen for seven years, that President Obama has consistently abandoned and alienated our friends and allies and has coddled and appeased our enemies. And that is never more true than with radical Islamic terrorism,” he said. “Both President Obama and Hillary Clinton want to define the enemy as some sort of abstract and ill-defined violent extremism. That means they cannot direct a strategy to defeat it because they cannot acknowledge who they’re fighting.”

At other points in the news conference Obama repeatedly defended his military, counterterrorism and diplomatic strategy against Islamist extremists, saying that it represents the only sustained way degrade the Islamic State, also known as ISIS and ISIL, and to resolve Syria’s protracted civil war.

“So, there will be an intensification of the strategy we put forward, but the strategy that we are putting forward is the strategy that ultimately is going to work,” Obama said, adding that he encouraged the other leaders at the summit to contribute more in terms of military and humanitarian resources.

He also reiterated that he was unwilling to dispatch major ground troops to Syria in order to confront the threat there.

“The one exception is that there had been a few who suggested that we should put large numbers of U.S. troops on the ground,” he said, “And it is not just my view, but the view of my closest military and civilian advisers that that would be a mistake, not because our military could not march into Mosul or Raqqa or Ramadi and temporarily clear out ISIL, but because we would see a repetition of what we’ve seen before, which is if you do not have local populations that are committed to inclusive governance and who are pushing back against ideological extremes, that they resurface unless we’re prepared to have a permanent occupation of these countries.”

The president had sharp words for some of his critics, arguing that they have not offered a detailed strategy that is different from his, beyond calling for additional ground troops.

“I think that, when you listen to what they actually have to say, what they’re proposing, most of the time, when pressed, they describe things we’re already doing,” Obama said. “Some of them seem to think that, if I was just more bellicose in expressing what we’re doing, that that would make a difference. Because that seems to be the only thing that they’re doing, is talking as if they’re tough.”

“My only interest is to end suffering and to keep the American people safe,” he added, saying that he was open to other ideas. “But we do not do, what I do not do, is to take actions either because it is going to work politically or it is somehow, in the abstract, make America look tough or make me look tough.”

Noting that he regularly visits wounded soldiers at Walter Reed Medical Center, the president said he was well aware of the cost of war.

“And I see a 25-year-old kid that is paralyzed or has lost his limbs. And some of those are people I’ve ordered into battle,” he said. “So I can’t afford to play some of the political games that others may.”

Under repeated questioning by reporters, the president appeared annoyed at times. Asked again by CNN’s Jim Acosta why the United States would not take more aggressive action, Obama replied, “Well, Jim, I just spent the last three questions answering that very question. So, I don’t know what more you want me to add.”

Asked whether the United States had advance warning of the Paris attacks, Obama said that while American intelligence regularly detects hints of possible threats, “there were no specific mentions of this particular attack that would give us a sense of something that we need — that we could provide French authorities, for example, or act on ourselves.”


TRUE: Clinton says John Kerry was the first secretary of state to rely on a government email account


Members of the House Select Committee on Benghazi peppered Hillary Clinton with questions for about 11 hours on Oct. 22, 2015. As expected, Clinton’s use of a private email account and server was a topic of discussion.

At one point, Rep. Lynn Westmoreland, R-Ga., pressed Clinton on whether she had told State Department officials about emails on her private server.

Westmoreland: If they were gathering emails, you had to tell them that you had a private server when you were there.

Clinton: Well, the — the server is not the point, it’s the account. And I made it a practice to send emails that were work-related to people on their government accounts. In fact, you know, Secretary Kerry is the first secretary of state to rely primarily on a government account.

This is not the first time that Clinton, her staff or her supporters have talked about how other secretaries of state have used email. Of course, the historical comparison can’t go back very far because the country hasn’t had many secretaries since the advent of email.

In fact, beyond Clinton herself — and Kerry, who has to abide by a requirement to use departmental email — we only have three secretaries of state to consider. They are Condoleezza Rice, Colin Powell and Madeleine Albright.

Of those, Powell is the only one who used email very much at all.

According to MSNBC, an aide for Albright said she “did not use email while she was in office” from 1997 to 2001.

Similarly, Rice, head of the State Department from 2005 to 2009, was not a habitual emailer either, according to multiple reports. As Harf noted in a State Department briefing, “Secretary Rice has repeatedly said that she did not regularly use email,” and a spokesperson for Rice told ABC, “She did not use personal email for official communication as secretary.”

Powell, on the other hand, took it as his personal mission to get the entire department on email.

“I arrived at the State Department as secretary with a disastrous information system there,” Powell said on NBC’s Meet the Press on Sept. 6, 2015. “And I had to fix it. And so what I had to do is bring the State Department to the 21st century.”

In his book It Worked for Me, Powell tells how he got Congress to pay for 44,000 new computers and put an Internet-connected machine on every desk in every embassy and every office in the department.

“To complement the official State Department computer in my office, I installed a laptop computer on a private line,” Powell wrote. “My personal email account on the laptop allowed me direct access to anyone online. I started shooting emails to my principal assistants, to individual ambassadors, and increasingly to my foreign-minister colleagues who like me were trying to bring their ministries in the 186,000 miles per second world.”

An aide to Powell confirmed his use of this personal email account in a statement to Politico.

“He sent emails to his staff generally via their State Department email addresses,” the statement said. “These emails should be on the State Department computers.”

So, Powell was on email, but it was through a private, not government email account.

Our ruling

Clinton said Kerry was the first secretary to rely mainly on a government email account.

This statement is accurate, but it glosses over a bit of context — that only one secretary before Clinton herself, Colin Powell, used email much at all while secretary of state. This undercuts the implication of Clinton’s claim, that there was a tradition of sorts of secretaries of state using private email accounts. It was a tradition of one. We rate the claim Mostly True.


The GOP and the Rise of Anti-Knowledge

In the realm of physics, the opposite of matter is not nothingness, but antimatter. In the realm of practical epistemology, the opposite of knowledge is not ignorance but anti-knowledge. This seldom recognized fact is one of the prime forces behind the decay of political and civic culture in America.

Some common-sense philosophers have observed this point over the years. “Genuine ignorance is . . . profitable because it is likely to be accompanied by humility, curiosity, and open mindedness; whereas ability to repeat catch-phrases, cant terms, familiar propositions, gives the conceit of learning and coats the mind with varnish waterproof to new ideas,” observed psychologist John Dewey.

Or, as humorist Josh Billings put it, “The trouble with people is not that they don’t know, but that they know so much that ain’t so.”

Ben Carson, a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination who opposed a Muslim being elected president. (Credit: Marc Nozell / Flickr CC 2.0)

[Ben Carson] is anti-knowledge incarnated, a walking compendium of every imbecility ever uttered during the last three decades.

Fifty years ago, if a person did not know who the prime minister of Great Britain was, what the conflict in Vietnam was about, or the barest rudiments of how a nuclear reaction worked, he would shrug his shoulders and move on. And if he didn’t bother to know those things, he was in all likelihood politically apathetic and confined his passionate arguing to topics like sports or the attributes of the opposite sex.

There were exceptions, like the Birchers’ theory that fluoridation was a monstrous communist conspiracy, but they were mostly confined to the fringes. Certainly, political candidates with national aspirations steered clear of such balderdash.

At present, however, a person can be blissfully ignorant of how to locate Kenya on a map, but know to a metaphysical certitude that Barack Obama was born there, because he learned it from Fox News. Likewise, he can be unable to differentiate a species from a phylum but be confident from viewing the 700 Club that evolution is “politically correct” hooey and that the earth is 6,000 years old.

And he may never have read the Constitution and have no clue about the Commerce Clause, but believe with an angry righteousness that the Affordable Care Act is unconstitutional.

This brings us inevitably to celebrity presidential candidate Ben Carson. The man is anti-knowledge incarnated, a walking compendium of every imbecility ever uttered during the last three decades. Obamacare is worse than chattel slavery. Women who have abortions are like slave owners. If Jews had firearms they could have stopped the Holocaust (author’s note: they obtained at least some weaponsduring the Warsaw Ghetto rising, and no, it didn’t). Victims of a mass shooting in Oregon enabled their own deaths by their behavior. And so on, ad nauseam.

It is highly revealing that, according to a Bloomberg/Des Moines Register poll of likely Republican caucus attendees, the stolid Iowa burghers liked Carson all themore for such moronic utterances. And sure enough, the New York Times tells usthat Carson has pulled ahead of Donald Trump in a national poll of Republican voters. Apparently, Trump was just not crazy enough for their tastes.

Why the Ignorance?

Anti-knowledge is a subset of anti-intellectualism, and as Richard Hofstadter has pointed out, anti-intellectualism has been a recurrent feature in American life, generally rising and receding in synchronism with fundamentalist revivalism.

Journalist Michael Tomasky has attempted to answer the question as to what Ben Carson’s popularity tells us about the American people after making a detour into asking a question about the man himself: why is an accomplished neurosurgeon such a nincompoop in another field? “Because usually, if a man (or woman) is a good and knowledgeable and sure-footed doctor, or lawyer or department chair or any other position that could have been attained only through repeated displays of excellence and probity, then that person will also be a pretty solid human being across the board.”

Well, not necessarily. English unfortunately doesn’t have a precise word for the German “Fachidiot,” a narrowly specialized person accomplished in his own field but a blithering idiot outside it. In any case, a surgeon is basically a skilled auto mechanic who is not bothered by the sight of blood and palpitating organs (and an owner of a high-dollar ride like a Porsche knows that a specialized mechanic commands labor rates roughly comparable to a doctor).

We need the surgeon’s skills on pain of agonizing death, and reward him commensurately, but that does not make him a Voltaire. Still, it makes one wonder: if Carson the surgeon believes evolution is a hoax, where does he think the antibiotic-resistant bacteria that plague hospitals come from?

Tomasky expresses astonishment that Carson’s jaw-dropping comments make him more popular among Republican voters, but he concludes without fully answering the question he posed. It is an important question: what has happened to the American people, or at least a significant portion of them?

Anti-knowledge is a subset of anti-intellectualism, and as Richard Hofstadter has pointed out, anti-intellectualism has been a recurrent feature in American life, generally rising and receding in synchronism with fundamentalist revivalism.

The current wave, which now threatens to swamp our political culture, began in a similar fashion with the rise to prominence in the 1970s of fundamentalists like Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson. But to a far greater degree than previous outbreaks, fundamentalism has merged its personnel, its policies, its tactics and its fate with a major American political party, the Republicans.

An Infrastructure of Know-Nothing-ism

Thanks to these overlapping and mutually reinforcing segments of the right-wing media-entertainment-“educational” complex, it is now possible for the true believer to sail on an ocean of political, historical, and scientific disinformation without ever sighting the dry land of empirical fact.

Buttressing this merger is a vast support structure of media, foundations, pressure groups and even a thriving cottage industry of fake historians and phony scientists. From Fox News to the Discovery Institute (which exists solely to “disprove” evolution), and from the Heritage Foundation (which propagandizes that tax cuts increase revenuedespite massive empirical evidence to the contrary) to bogus “historians” like David Barton (who confected a fraudulent biography of a piously devout Thomas Jefferson that had to be withdrawn by the publisher), the anti-knowledge crowd has created an immense ecosystem of political disinformation.

Thanks to publishing houses like Regnery and the conservative boutique imprints of more respectable houses like Simon & Schuster (a division of CBS), America has been flooded with cut-and-paste rants by Michelle Malkin and Mark Levin, Parson Weems-style ghosted biographies allegedly by Bill O’Reilly, and the inimitable stream of consciousness hallucinating of Glenn Beck.

Whether retail customers actually buy all these screeds, or whether foundations and rich conservative donors buy them in bulk and give them out as door prizes at right-wing clambakes, anti-knowledge infects the political bloodstream in the United States.

Thanks to these overlapping and mutually reinforcing segments of the right-wing media-entertainment-“educational” complex, it is now possible for the true believer to sail on an ocean of political, historical, and scientific disinformation without ever sighting the dry land of empirical fact. This effect is fortified by the substantial overlap between conservative Republicans and fundamentalist Christians.

The latter group begins with the core belief that truth is revealed in a subjective process involving the will to believe (“faith”) rather than discovered by objectively corroberable means. Likewise, there is a baseline opposition to the prevailing secular culture, and adherents are frequently warned by church authority figures against succumbing to the snares and temptations of “the world.” Consequently, they retreat into the echo chamber of their own counterculture: if they didn’t hear it on Fox News or from a televangelist, it never happened.

For these culture warriors, belief in demonstrably false propositions is no longer a stigma of ignorance, but a defiantly worn badge of political resistance.

We saw this mindset on display during the Republican debate in Boulder, Colorado, on Wednesday night. Even though it was moderated by Wall Street-friendly CNBC, which exists solely to talk up the stock market, the candidates were uniformly upset that the moderators would presume to ask difficult questions of people aspiring to be president. They were clearly outside their comfort zone of the Fox News studio.

The candidates drew cheers from the hard-core believers in the audience, however, by attacking the media, as if moderators Lawrence Kudlow and Rick Santelli, both notorious shills for Wall Street, were I.F. Stone and Noam Chomsky. Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebusnearly had an aneurismover the candidates’ alleged harsh treatment.

State-Sponsored Stupidity

It is when these forces of anti-knowledge seize the power of government that the real damage gets done.

It is when these forces of anti-knowledge seize the power of government that the real damage gets done. Under Virginia’s Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, the Virginia government harassed with subpoenas a University of Virginia professor whose academic views contradicted Cuccinelli’s political agenda.

Numerous states like Louisiana now mandate that public schools teach the wholly imaginary “controversy” about evolution. A school textbook in Texas, whose state school board has long been infested with reactionary kooksreferred to chattel slaves as “workers”  (the implication was obvious: neo-Confederate elements in the South have been trying to minimize slavery for a century and a half, to the point of insinuating it had nothing to do with the Civil War).

This brings us back to Ben Carson. He now suggests that, rather than abolishing the Department of Education, a perennial Republican goal, the department should be used to investigate professors who say something he doesn’t agree with. The mechanism to bring these heretics to the government’s attention should be denunciations from students, a technique once in vogue in the old Soviet Union.

It is not surprising that Carson, himself a Seventh Day Adventist, should receive his core support from Republicans who identify as fundamentalists. Among the rest of the GOP pack, it is noteworthy that it is precisely those seeking the fundamentalist vote, like Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum, who are also notorious for making inflammatory and unhinged comments that sound like little more than deliberate trolling to those who haven’t drunk the Kool-Aid (Donald Trump is sui generis).

In all probability, Carson will flame out like Herman Cain, Michele Bachmann and all the other former panjandrums of a theological movement conservatism that revels in anti-knowledge. But he will have left his mark, as they did, on a Republican Party that inexorably moves further to the right, and the eventual nominee will have to tailor his campaign to a base that gets ever more intransigent as each new messiah of the month promises to lead them into a New Jerusalem unmoored to a stubborn and profane thing called facts.


Hillary Clinton Live-Texts Her Reaction to the Republican Debate

Hillary Clinton appeared to be having a grand-old time during the third GOP debate tonight as she watched – and live-texted her reactions – from her hotel in New Hampshire, where she is currently campaigning.

“Hillary here. I’m here in New Hampshire watching the GOP debate – how about you?” she texted to her supporters. “Reply YES to get texts from me tonight.”

The text was signed “-H,” meaning it was sent from Clinton herself.

Throughout the debate, Clinton continued to text her supporters – hitting the Republican candidates on issues such as college affordability and equal pay. She called out Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson specifically on health care.

“For a surgeon, Ben Carson has a pretty poor diagnosis,” she texted. “We need to build on the progress we’ve made on health care.”

Seems to me 10 Candidates and 0 new ideas
- Hillary Clinton
It’s past time for the GOP to start putting the safety of our kids and communities ahead of the NRA 
and gun manufactures. This is a mater of life or death. 

- Hillary Clinton
The hardest part about college shouldn't be paying for it. We need real plans to make college affordable and available for everyone.
- Hillary Clinton
For a surgeon, Ben Carson has a pretty poor diagnosis. We need to build on the progress we’ve made on health care. 
- Hillary Clinton
Discrimination against the LGBT community is not a myth. It’s a reality for too many Americans and it’s wrong.
- Hillary Clinton
You don’t have to be a scientist to know that climate change is real and we need to address it.

- Hillary Clinton

In addition to the texts, Clinton’s campaign aired four new television ads in both Iowa and New Hampshire during the GOP debate on similar issues that Clinton brought up tonight, including equal pay and college affordability.

INCOMPETENT: Trey Gowdy Says His 11-Hour Benghazi Hearing Didn’t Reveal Anything New

CORRUPTWASHINGTON — Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) couldn’t say Thursday night if his all-day Benghazi hearing with Hillary Clinton revealed any new information.

Gowdy, chairman of the House Select Committee on Benghazi, was asked by reporters what new details came from his panel’s 11 hours of grilling the former secretary of state over her response to the 2012 attack on a U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi.

“Uh,” Gowdy said, pausing for several seconds.

“I think some of Jimmy Jordan’s questioning — well, when you say new today, we knew some of that already. We knew about the emails,” he said. “In terms of her testimony? I don’t know that she testified that much differently today than she has the previous time she testified.”

The fact that Gowdy couldn’t articulate the point of the hearing will only fuel Democrats’ criticisms that he’s using the panel to hurt Clinton’s 2016 White House bid. A couple of Republicans have said as much, too, though Gowdy insists he’s leading a legitimate investigation.

So far, Gowdy’s probe has cost more than $4.5 million and hasn’t turned up much. He vowed Thursday night to keep digging, though.

“We keep going on until we’re able to interview all the witnesses,” Gowdy told reporters.