Ryan Barrell   |   July 22, 2015   11:30 AM ET

We've reached another emotional moment in the journey to Jon Stewart's retirement - his last ever interview with President Barack Obama.

The Commander-in-chief took the opportunity to issue a sweeping executive order, jokingly banning Stewart from leaving.

Since Obama is also leaving his job soon, they both spent twenty minutes reflecting on recent years. It was emotional, interesting, and informative. Here's the full interview:

It was the president's seventh appearance on the popular current affairs show, which will be taken over by South African comedian Trevor Noah when Jon Stewart vacates his seat after 16 years at the helm.

Meanwhile, it's looking a lot like Obama's hot seat will be taken up by either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump in 2017.


Paul Vale   |   July 21, 2015    8:19 PM ET

NEW YORK -- A TV news anchor’s flag-waving commentary on the Chattanooga shooting went viral on Monday due to some provocative lines suggesting the US should respond by sending bombers to the “desert.”

Tomi Lahren took aim at President Obama’s response to the threat of radical Islamism, decrying his “be friendly to jihadists mentality.” The jingoistic outburst was performed in front of a backdrop featuring an American eagle soaring across Old Glory.

“Four United States Marines are now dead,” she said. “Climate change didn’t kill them, lack of free community college didn’t kill them, the income gap, wage inequality, nope, not those things either. Gay marriage? Nope. Oh, white racism? Not that either. So what did? President Obama, if you won’t say it, I will: radical Islam.”

“It’s about time we bring the fight to them, full force,” she continued. “Let’s show them [the 'radical jihadists'] what the United States looks like up close and personal. Show them what a B1 bomber looks like flying overhead; show them what they’re messing with. Put the fear of God in their desert.“

Unfortunately, Miss Lahren didn’t explain how bombing a “desert” might have curtailed what appears to be a domestic terror attack.


Daniel Welsh   |   July 17, 2015    4:19 PM ET

With best friends like Nicola McLean and Maria Fowler, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Aisleyne Horgan-Wallace’s life couldn’t get any more A-list, but she’s now revealed that she’s in regular contact with none other than Barack Obama.


True, the conversation is completely one-sided, but that’s hardly the point, is it?

The ‘Big Brother’ housemate - who returned to the house during this year’s series, as part of a ‘Time Warp’ twist - recently confessed that she often sends private messages to the US President when she’s feeling a little merry.


Aisleyne Horgan-Wallace

She told The Mirror: “I DM Barack Obama every time I've had one too many because he does follow me.”

When asked what kind of messages she sends Obama, Aisleyne responded that she tells him : “I love what you've done with our country… You're amazing. You're everything a president should be.”

Our country, Aisleyne? She does release we’re not… oh never mind.

barack obama

President Obama, who presumably doesn't watch 'Big Brother'

For anyone concerned for Obama, who we’re positive spends his Sunday mornings trawling his DMs to see which British reality stars have messaged him, never fear - Aisleyne is insistent she always sends him an apology the next day, usually along the lines of: “I'm so sorry I sent you that message! Like cringing."

Still, DMing the US President is still better than tweeting personal details, like she did earlier this month, when she posted the phone number of her ‘BB’ rival, Helen Wood, on her official account.

Aisleyne later alleged that she wasn’t at this year’s ‘BB’ final due to a “security risk” - and while we initially thought that might be due to her feud with Helen, it turns out it might actually be because of her high-profile connections with the world’s most powerful man...


Paul Vale   |   July 16, 2015    3:15 PM ET

NEW YORK -- How best to greet America’s first African-American president? For a group of protesters in Oklahoma, the answer was to form mob and wave a symbol of slavery outside his hotel room.

The Confederate flag may have been removed from the South Carolina statehouse and purged from retailers’ stock rooms following the murder of nine people in Charleston last month, but the banner of armed insurrection against the United States remains a potent symbol for some.

Barack Obama stayed in an Oklahoma City hotel on Wednesday night ahead of a visit to a federal prison in El Reno, Oklahoma. So out came the "stars and bars," though protesters were quick to inform the watching media that the demonstration definitely wasn't "racist.

confederate flag oklahoma

People wave Confederate flags outside the Obama's hotel, on Wednesday, July 15, 2015, in Oklahoma City

"It is about history," protester Trey Johnson told a local TV station. "We're not gonna stand down from our heritage,” he added. Presumably that's the history in which the southern states went to war with the US government over their right to own other human beings, specifically black slaves.

“You know, this flag's not racist,” he added. “And I know a lot of people think it is, but it's really not. It's just a southern thing, that's it.”

Make of that what you will…


Paul Vale   |   July 15, 2015    8:02 PM ET

NEW YORK -- On the command of Barack Obama, the US Army invaded Texas on Wednesday, one of several Republican southern states now subjugated under martial law. American service personnel, covertly aided by soldiers from the People's Liberation Army of China and fighters from the Islamic State, moved quickly to rest control of the local populace.

Food distribution centres were establish in Walmart stores across the state, with a curfew in place restricting the movement of non-military personnel to between 9am and 9pm. A statement from the White House is scheduled for Thursday, with Obama expected to declare a state of emergency and the suspension of all local and national elections pending confiscation of civilian firearms...

jade helm

Eric Johnston, the Texas organiser for the counter Jade Helm 15 exercise, talks on the phone, Wednesday, July 15, 2015, in Bastrop, Texas

The above paragraphs would have been my introduction had the Jade Helm 15 exercise been revealed as a military campaign to subdue much of the Southwestern United States.

There’s nothing new about American conspiracism; an unpleasant coda to every mass shooting is the tedious reflex claiming an “inside job” or a "false flag," usually with the aim of tighter gun control. However, Jade Helm has gone far beyond the usual conspiratorial bent, gaining such a large following that national politicians have been unwilling to dismiss its tenets for fear of alienating the electorate.

Here are the basics: Jade Helm 15 is a realistic military training exercise in which US forces are faced with a fictitious counterinsurgency in the Southwestern states -- from California to Texas. The exercise is to last from July 15 to September 15.

Conspiracy theorists contend it is not an exercise, but a real mission to place Texas under martial law. Specific details vary: some say the Chinese are complicit; others say soldiers will go door-to-door to disarm citizens. Some predict Vladimir Putin will arm a Texas rebellion. But why has this nonsense gained such traction?


The initial paranoia was whipped up by radio talk show host Alex Jones, who started trumpeting a military takeover in March after a member of his staff obtained a map detailing the exercise with Utah, southern California and Texas listed as "hostile." Soon thereafter, Jones was warning his listenership of the impending "invasion.”

The frenzy escalated in April when Texas Governor Greg Abbott was confronted by a concerned mob. Rather than dismiss their anxiety, he instead penned a letter to the Texas State Guard requesting that they “monitor the proceedings.” In May, Texas Senator Ted Cruz, plotting a presidential bid, also refused to dampened fears, preferring to ask the Pentagon for reassurances, while using the opportunity to bash the Obama administration.

Both directly lent the paranoia legitimacy, while highlighting how the American system creates politicians that have to reflect their constituents, rather than lead them.

And there's Chuck Norris, the martial artist turned actor who penned an opinion piece for the WorldNetDaily website, suggesting there was more to the training exercise than officials disclosures. "It’s neither over-reactionary nor conspiratorial to call into question or ask for transparency about Jade Helm 15 or any other government activity,” he wrote.

The psychosis reached such a pitch that by late April the US military dispatched an official to Texas to speak to residents of Bastrop Country, southeast of Austin. In a packed meeting room, Lt. Col. Mark Lastoria tried to reason with the crowd, assuring them that Jade Helm was not an intelligence gathering exercise, nor would it lead to confiscation of property.

The soldier even had to assure attendees that the United Nations was not involved, and was jeered when he said he didn’t know about “Agenda 21” (the UN’s sustainability planning programme that conspiracy theorists claims is a forerunner to a one-world government).

As laughable as this might appear, some of the underlying reason for the distrust are not. Speaking to the Washington Post, Bastrop’s former mayor Terry Orr gave what he perceived as the root cause: “The truth is, this stems a fair amount from the fact that we have a black president.” He added that local residents think Obama is only concerned with African-Americans and “illegal aliens” and that the government "is just not on the side of the white guy.”

Though race is woven into the fabric of American political culture, other factors are also at play, including a long-standing distrust towards the federal government, a national trait that would persist regardless of the colour of the President.

More pertinently, America is a changing nation -- demographically, socially, economically and politically. Declining religious affiliation, healthcare reform, changing attitudes towards LGBT rights, fear of another recession and America’s perceived waning as a global power all feed a anxiety. In the 2014 paper “Conspiracy Theories and the Paranoid Style(s) of American Politics,” researchers Eric Oliver and Thomas Wood argue that people often turn to conspiracies to cope with the difficult emotions uncertainty begets.

Interestingly the researchers found that conspiratorial thinking cuts across the political divide (conspiracism isn’t the preserve of the right wing), nor is it an affliction of the perennially paranoid. Yet one of the real drivers could be religion, with conspiracy theorists likely to also hold supernatural or paranormal beliefs. That's not in short supply in Texas or beyond.

Whatever the reasons, the Lone Star state is not (at the time of publication) under martial law, a fact likely to be spun by Jones et al as a victory for an alert, well informed citizenry that has thwarted Obama's tyranny (for now). In the absence of an armed takeover, the Internet stepped in, reminding us what it would be like had the Texas fallen to Obama's ISIS-Chinese hordes. Here are some more:


Paul Vale   |   July 15, 2015    4:15 PM ET

NEW YORK -- A political group is to confront President Obama with 5,000 naked men and women on his forthcoming trip to the Kenya, a protest against Obama’s "open and aggressive support for homosexuality."

The demonstration is the plan of the country’s ultra conservative Republican Liberty Party, an organisation vocal in its opposition of extending rights to the LGBT community. Homosexuality is currently illegal in Kenya, with acts carrying a prison sentence of up to 14 years.

Obama is to visit the African country later this month, with Republican Liberty Party leader Vincent Kidala having already sought permission to hold a “peaceful protest,” which involves thousands of men and women stripping naked to show the President the “differences” between the genders.

According to the Nairobi Times, Kidala sent a notification for the march on Tuesday.

His letter read: “The procession shall be carried out by approximately 5,000 totally naked men and women to protest over Obama’s open and aggressive support for homosexuality. The party’s main objective is for him to see and understand the different [sic] between a man and a woman.”

According to Pink News, Kidala confirmed authenticity of the missive, telling local media that his party is to hire “prostitutes” to bolster numbers for the protest. He added that the prostitutes would work for free as they’ll lose business should homosexuality be made legal.

Anti-LGBT groups in Kenya have advised Obama not to talk about gay rights on his visit, however White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the President will confront the issue, telling reporters last week: “I’m confident the president will not hesitate to make clear that the protection of basic universal human rights in Kenya is also a priority and consistent with the values that we hold dear here in the United States of America.”

Last month, the US Supreme Court ruled that same-sex marriage would be legal across all 50 states, a move decried by social conservatives and the majority of the Republican presidential field.


The Nuclear Deal Is Good for Iran and Bad for US Allies

Nehad Ismail   |   July 14, 2015    1:43 PM ET

The media reported that a landmark Iran nuclear agreement has been finally reached on Tuesday July 14th after two weeks of intensive political bargaining in Vienna, reported Reuters quoting Iranian diplomats.

The deal is said to allow U.N. inspectors to press for visits to Iran's military sites as part of their monitoring duties - a compromise between Washington and Tehran. Iranian media rejected such a demand earlier today.

"All the hard work has paid off and we sealed a deal. God bless our people," one diplomat told Reuters on condition of anonymity. A second Iranian official confirmed the agreement.

But access at will to any site would not necessarily be granted and even if so, could be delayed, a condition that critics of the deal are sure to seize on as possibly giving Tehran time to cover any sign of non-compliance with its commitments

Death to America:
Meanwhile on Friday July 10th 2015 whilst the nuclear talks were taking place tens of thousands of protesters in Tehran and cities across Iran Friday chanted "Death to America" in the Islamic republic's annual Quds (Jerusalem) Day of Demonstration.
Even in stifling heat approaching 100 degrees (38 Celsius), the crowds were undeterred. Participants in the demonstrations included President Hasan Rouhani and other top Iranian officials.
Analysts believe Iran is the winner. The US negotiating team has been the weakest link giving away more and more concessions whilst the Iranian team remained stubbornly firm. The Iranians were aware of the fact that both President Obama and his secretary of State John Kerry were desperate to sign a deal. In June news leaked that Obama had written letters to Iranian President Rouhani virtually begging him to sign a deal. Both Obama and Kerry are desperately seeking some kind of foreign policy success.

The Iranian leaders will celebrate by announcing to their people that the world super powers have acknowledged Iran's right to become a nuclear power. Obama's advisors will tell him that such rhetoric is for local consumption. But this doesn't alter the fact that Iran will squeeze more and more concessions from a weak US President. Obama's weakness was starkly reflected in his refusal to take a tough stance against the Assad regime which is Iran's ally and client. According to Washington sources Obama was afraid any action against the Syrian regime would alienate Iran and derail the nuclear talks.
President Obama is rushing to sign a nuclear deal with Iran at any price. Iran's negotiators have won generous concessions from the Obama administration.

Many issues still remain unresolved:

The Iranians have failed to provide satisfactory answers to several questions:
In March the IAEA asked about the possible military dimensions (PMDs) of their nuclear program. Iran refused to answer. No clear answer has been given in the recent talks either.
According to latest reports the agreement announced Tuesday, Iran has NOT agreed to allow unfettered, unlimited access and intrusive inspection of suspected sites military and non-military without prior consultations. Iran had said it would implement the Additional Protocol (AP) of the nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT), but the supreme leader had balked at its implications, declaring inspections of military sites a red line.
Critics of the nuclear deal such as John Bolton former US Ambassador to the UN warn of Iranian concealment, cheating, delay and obstruction to defeat whatever is agreed in writing. Bolton even dismisses the "snapback" mechanism to revive economic sanctions as questionable and will be subject to endless disputes and delays.

The Economist (Tuesday July 14th) referred to "worrying differences between the detailed American account of what had been agreed and the far vaguer public interpretation of the accord by the Iranians. These were subsequently amplified by statements about "red lines" by Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, in which he appeared to reject key provisions of Lausanne, particularly those relating to inspection of suspicious sites".

However the Financial Times cautiously welcomed the deal:
"Iran has accepted unprecedented international control and surveillance over its nuclear programme as well as cuts in its uranium stocks and in the number of centrifuges. Yes, it might cheat. But the terms imposed by the US and the other members of the P5+1 group of leading powers will not make that easy".

Many in the Middle East including Saudi Arabia and Israel think that Iran will at some point in future become a nuclear threshold state, as a result of the P5+1 agreement. The lifting of sanctions will embolden Iran to escalate its funding to its proxies and continue its strategy of sponsoring and supporting terrorism.
As far as the Middle East is concerned Obama's speech celebrating the deal has not impressed or reassured the allies. Obama just repeated what he has been saying for the last two years.

Labour's Untimely Demise

Grainne Gillis   |   July 14, 2015   10:10 AM ET

What has happened to the Labour party? Once the proud defender of the working classes, it has been steadily showing its true blue colours since it assumed the mantle of the now defunct and destructive 'New Labour' project. For me, this culminated in Harriet Harman's failure to oppose the government's welfare cuts, which seems a bizarre type of own goal, considering she is the deputy leader of the now blindingly apparent nominal 'Opposition'.

Let's make no mistake about it: these Tory-lite tactics cost Labour the election. For sure, Labour had a weak messenger in Ed Miliband, who in almost 5 years failed to define what he, or the PLP under his leadership, stood for. Moreover, when he did define what he stood for - it turned out to be a carbon copy of a UKIP anti-immigration policy. But the Labour Party's biggest failure under his leadership, in my opinion, was the failure to be an effective opposition and challenge the lie of austerity. A failure that Harman and anyone cut from that Blairite cloth seem absolutely intent on continuing.

Part of me is in absolute despair at the state of British politics, and I believe what we are witnessing is the absolute exposure of the endgame of the freemarket capitalism - the new feudalism. Class war has never been so obviously played out, and clearly most of the political elite at Westminster are hopelessly out of touch with what is actually happening in the country. Homelessness has been on the rise; food bank usage has been on the rise by the working poor; child poverty has been on the increase; at least 49 benefit claimants have killed themselves directly related to welfare cuts. This has all happened since 2010, and the link with ideological, unnecessary austerity is brutally transparent. And where is the Labour Party on all this? Our supposed Opposition is towing the government line on austerity, sucking up to the Bullingdon bullies like an erstwhile gangly-limbed teenager trying to ingratiate themselves in a gang. Teenagers have an excuse for this; elected MPs who are voted in by the public to oppose wrong-footed government policy do not.

Like many others, the wasteland of the Miliband years have left me feeling increasingly disenfranchised from a party which, as a centre-Leftist, should feel like my natural political home. The problem, I suspect, is that while my political views have not changed much (I believe in a healthy mixture of socialism and capitalism - note the word 'healthy') the party has been pulled so much to the right as to be indistinguishable from the Tories (who in turn are being pulled to the right by UKIP, and UKIP have ended up taking the place of the BNP, with more legitimacy than the BNP ever had). Here's what would make me support Labour again, and what I believe would increase their supporter base:

1. A clear mandate opposing ideological austerity, and exposing in no uncertain terms the economic and societal vacuousness of pursuing those policies in terms of economic recovery.

2. Proper and independent regulation of the financial sector and the media. While every sector should be regulated it has recently struck me that there is a huge disparity between the eagerness Cameron has in regulating and gagging, let's say, the Third Sector and his cronies and party backers in big business and the media.

3. Closing tax avoidance loopholes, which are costing the UK upwards of £12bn a year. Compare this to the proposed welfare cuts, which will save the UK the comparatively measly sum of £1.2bn. The lack of logic behind this alone should prove to be a godsend for any Opposition, which Harman seems to have blithely ignored.

And I don't think I'm alone in feeling that the Labour Party is in disarray. And yet, if this is Labour's untimely demise, it has come at the worst time possible, because never has it been so badly needed. The thirst among friends, even those that would sway more to the Right than I would, for a new kind of politics that will stand up for the non-millionaired majority of the electorate, has never been so keen. Where has the party of Hardie and Attlee disappeared to? As short-lived as his leadership was, of John Smith? If we spend every goddamned year in the United Kingdom eulogising the dead and veterans of World Wars I & II, why are we not protecting their legacies of the welfare state and the NHS, where no child would go hungry, and the vulnerable would be protected, rather than letting the same legacies be used and spat out by the evil (or should I say, EVEL) of Cambornian ideology? Where is the political warrior that will go into battle day in, day out in Parliament for the next 5 years and stand up for the working and middle classes? Because ultimately, that is the direction the Labour Party should be taking now. Otherwise its MPs may as well hand in their red rosettes and join the Tories and have done with it.

Out of all the candidates for the Labour leadership, there is only one that may potentially fulfil that criteria. I don't buy into the notion that Corbyn is unelectable; and, quite frankly, I'm not so concerned with the election in 2020 as I am with the damage the Tories are currently wreaking and how to oppose that. If a week is a long time in politics, five years is an eternity; and the candidate that appeared unelectable yesterday may very well crest the wave of capturing the Zeitgeist in a few years. In recent years, Obama is the proof positive of that.

The best way to revive Labour's fortunes is not to follow the trajectory it has been on since Blair, but to revive its beating heart, and that lies not in Westminster (yet) but in the people in the wider UK who still hope that political heart exists. The victory of the SNP, and the left-wing policies they espoused shows that there is a hunger for an alternative to Toryism. Politics is changing; and rather than doing what is politically expedient and towing the redundant New Labour line, Labour must now find a new voice. If they do, they might be pleasantly surprised at how the electorate respond in kind.

Kathryn Snowdon   |   June 26, 2015    8:09 PM ET

US President Barack Obama led a chorus of "Amazing Grace" during his eulogy for the reverend of the Charleston church where nine people were gunned down before calling for stronger gun laws.

Obama described Reverend Clementa Pinckney, pastor of Charleston's Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, which was targeted in a "hate crime", as a "good man".

He described those killed as "good people, decent people, God-fearing people. People so full of life and so full of kindness, people who ran the race, persevered. People of great faith."

barack obama

Barack Obama led a chorus of 'Amazing Grace' at Reverend Clementa Pinckney's funeral

He told the families of those murdered: "The nation shares in your grief. Our pain cuts that much deeper because it happened in a church."

The president also used the eulogy to call on America to front up to its problem with guns.

He said that for too long America has "been blind to the unique mayhem that gun violence inflicts on this nation", and called for action on gun control, not just talk.

The removal of the confederate flag from the country's capital was also touched upon. Obama said that, while "this flag did not cause these murders", the flag represents more than just ancestral pride.

He said removing the flag from the state's capital would not be an act of "political correctness".

Obama said: "For many, black and white, that flag was a reminder of systemic oppression and racial subjugation. We see that now.

"By taking down that flag," he said, "we express God's grace."

Article continues below slideshow:

Obama said taking the flag down would be an "acknowledgment that the cause for which they fought, the cause of slavery was wrong".

Obama never mentioned the name of the 21-year-old charged over the murders, Dylann Roof, name, only referring to "the alleged killer" during his eulogy.

The president said: "Blinded by hatred the alleged killer couldn't see the grace surrounding Revered Pinckney and that bible group."

He added: "The alleged killer couldn't imagine how the city of Charleston... how the state of South Carolina... and the United States of America would respond, not merely with revulsion at his evil act but with big hearted generosity and more importantly with a thoughtful introspection and examination that we so rarely see in public life."

After his speech, Obama tweeted how much he admired the grace shown by the victims' families, using the hashtag 'HateWontWin'.

People were moved by Obama's rendition of Amazing Grace.


'Hate Crime' Church Shooting Leaves Nine Dead In Charleston As Police Hunt Suspect

Jon Stewart's Devastatingly Brilliant Gun Violence Speech Drops Jokes For Brutal Truths

Charleston Shooter Captured By Police

Anonymous To Stop 'Hateful' Westboro Baptist Church From Picketing Charleston Shooting Victims' Funerals

Words Of Forgiveness From Charleston Shooting Victim's Son Are Utterly Inspiring

Steven Hopkins   |   June 25, 2015    7:04 AM ET

Barack Obama took time out during an event honouring LGBT Pride Month to teach a heckler some manners, and left no one in doubt what is expected when you're in "my house".

The president was speaking at the White House on Wednesday when an LGBT activist interrupted him to protest against his administration's policies on deportation of undocumented immigrants.

"Not one more deportation!" Jennicet Gutiérrez, a transgender woman, shouted.

Obama had no time for Gutiérrez, telling her, "no, no, no, no...", before continuing, "listen, you're in my house".


President Barack Obama responds to heckler Jennicet Gutiérrez after she interrupted him during a LGBT Pride Month event

When Gutiérrez continued to try and get the president's attention, he said, "It's not, you know, respectful, when you get invited to somebodies..."

The crowd cheered as Obama shut Gutiérrez down, telling her: "You're not going to get a good response from me by interrupting me like this."

Gutiérrez was booed by the crowd, before Obama continued: "I'm sorry... no, no, no... shame on you. You shouldn't be doing this."

The crowd began chanting "Obama", before the president turned to his security detail and asked if Gutiérrez could be removed from the venue.

Story continues below

Obama told Gutiérrez: "You can either stay and be quite, or we will escort you out." After pausing for a moment, the president then gave the order: "Can we have this person removed please."

Later he reportedly said: "As a general rule I'm just fine with a couple of hecklers, but not when I'm up in the house," before receiving a jovial pat on the back from Vice President Joe Biden.

Gutiérrez, 29, came to the US from Mexico when she was 15. She is in the process of getting a green card through her sister, but is currently undocumented.

The president was interrupted by transgender woman Jennicet Gutiérrez

At Wednesday's event, Gutiérrez said she intended to deliver a letter bringing the abuse of undocumented LGBT immigrants to Obama's attention.

Before the event started she said: "The letter is asking to release our communities from detention centers and to stop deportation."

The Williams Institute estimated in 2013 that there were 267,000 adult undocumented immigrants in the US who identified as LGBT.

The Department of Homeland Security recognises LGBT individuals as a "special vulnerability," which officers are instructed to consider when making decisions on detention and deportation.


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But LGBT people are nevertheless detained, despite the risk of abuse in holding facilities. Immigration and Customs Enforcement holds about 75 transgender immigrants each night, most of them transgender women seeking asylum, according to report by Fusion published in November. The report found that many transgender women are housed with men, and one in five said they had been sexually assaulted.

Representatives Raúl M. Grijalva , Michael Honda, and 33 other House Democrats, signed a letter this week asking Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson to improve treatment of LGBT people by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents.

Honda said in a statement: "The alarming rates of sexual assaults of non-heterosexual detainees should be a wakeup call for ICE.

"Even more dire is the fact ICE continues to detain transgender women in men's detention facilities. ICE has the power to determine suitable alternatives to detain LGBT persons, but instead they continue to ignore safer alternatives. Our letter calls on ICE to use the power they have to create a safer and more humane alternative that will treat LGBT individuals with respect and dignity."

Obama briefly addressed immigration in his remarks at Wednesday's event, saying: "Those of us who know freedom and opportunity thanks to the toil and blood of those who came before us, we have an extra responsibility to extend freedom to those who are still marginalised."

He went on to mention "immigrants who deserve a pathway to be able to, to get right with the law," among other groups.

After the event, Gutierrez said in a statement that she was disappointed by Obama's response.

She said: "I am outraged at the lack of leadership that Obama demonstrated.

"He had no concern for the way that LGBTQ detainees are suffering. As a transwoman, the misgendering and the physical and sexual abuse -- these are serious crimes that we face in detention centers. How can that be ignored?"

Obama's slapdown is reminiscent of Jed Bartlet's dismissal of a heckler in political drama, West Wing.

US Dithering Will Turn Iraq Into a Failed State

Struan Stevenson   |   June 23, 2015    3:02 PM ET

Following the major offensive of the Islamic State (ISIS) in Iraq last year, the country's key cities fell like dominos, increasing the Jihadist's control over a vast territory spanning from Syria to Iraq. The magnitude of this catastrophe for Iraq and for the region is mind-boggling. As a direct result of the conflict, three million people have been internally displaced and eight million are now in desperate need of humanitarian support. Mass executions, systematic rape and atrocities are widespread across the country.

When Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi assumed office in September 2014, many held high hopes that he would alter the sectarian policies of his predecessor Nouri al-Maliki, who alienated the Sunni population and facilitated the rise of ISIS. Nine months into his tenure, al-Abadi's plan for national reconciliation lies in tatters, leaving many to believe that Iraq is now a failed state. Urgently needed judicial reforms have never been implemented, nor has Abadi supported the creation of a national guard to arm and train the Sunni tribes to fight against ISIS. These are major mistakes. Instead, al-Abadi has relied upon the brutal Iranian-backed Shi'ite militias, which operate outwith any official framework and openly target and discriminate against Sunnis and other ethnic minorities.

Al-Abadi's reluctance to push the national reconciliatory agenda for Iraq may be partly explained by Nouri al-Maliki's political resistance, which is closely tied to Tehran and maintains enormous influence over the coalition of the ruling Shi'ite political parties. A recent disturbing report in The Washington Times elaborated on how al-Maliki, who remains in government as vice-president, undermines al-Abadi at every opportunity in a bid to return to power. Khalid Mufriji, a Sunni MP who chairs the Committee on Regions and Provinces in the Iraqi parliament, told the Times that: "Maliki is still controlling a lot of the power" and further argued regarding the coalition of Shi'ite parties that: "Abadi cannot get out of the circle of what they decide."

In the absence of a U.S. strategy in Iraq and a capable Iraqi army, the Popular Mobilisation Forces, an umbrella of Tehran-backed Shi'ite militias such as Asaib Ahl al-Haq, Badr Organisation, Hezbollah Brigades and the Imam Ali Brigades, have effectively become the leading services in the fight against ISIS under the command of Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis. Al-Muhandis is a close affiliate of Qasem Soleimani, commander of Iran's terrorist Quds Force and maintains close ties with Iran. Tehran exploits the political dynamics in Baghdad through its proxies to advance its own agenda for regional hegemony and the ISIS crisis has been a pretext for the Ayatollahs to send troops, arms and funds into Iraq in order to achieve this goal.

While President Obama has yet to make up his mind on whether he should confront the Iranian regime's meddling in Iraq, the mullahs make sure they do not miss any opportunity in forming new Shi'ite paramilitary forces, indoctrinating them with Khomeini's brand of Islamic fundamentalism in order to increase their influence on the ground. The brutality and the atrocities committed by these militia forces against the people of Iraq is similar or sometimes even worse than the carnage committed by ISIS.

Washington backed the nomination of Haider al-Abadi for the premiership last year as he is seen as a moderate. However, by not having a robust strategy for ousting Iran and its proxies from Iraq, the Obama administration has effectively emboldened the extremist elements in Iraqi politics that follow the instructions of the theocracy in Tehran. In such an environment, it is virtually impossible to implement the national reconciliation process in Iraq. Some say that Washington does not wish to pick a fight with Tehran over Iraq as it is keen to reach a nuclear deal with Iran at any cost. But allowing the mullahs to advance their vicious plans and export their fundamentalism and terrorism to the rest of the region will have far greater and long-term negative consequences both for the region and the rest of the world.

Paul Vale   |   June 22, 2015    4:06 PM ET

NEW YORK -- Barack Obama gave a blunt appraisal on Monday of the recent shooting in Charleston, telling a podcast that "it's not just a matter of it not being polite to say nigger in public." The country's first African-American commander in chief added: "That's not the measure of whether racism still exists or not. It's not just a matter of overt discrimination. Societies don't, overnight, completely erase everything that happened 200 to 300 years prior."


President Barack Obama pauses as he speaks at the Annual Meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors in San Francisco, Friday, June 19, 2015

Nine people were murdered in an African-American church in South Carolina last week, with Dylann Roof arrested on suspicion of the massacre. The FBI is looking into the killings as both a possible hate crime and an act of domestic terrorism.

Obama noted that "no other advanced nation on Earth" suffers these incidents with such frequency, ascribing that to the “legacy of slavery." He said: “Jim Crow, discrimination in almost every institution of our lives, you know, that casts a long shadow, and that’s still part of our DNA that’s passed on."

When asked how to stop the killings, he said it was possible to “make events like this less likely," namely passing laws to control gun rights in the US, however said the "grip of the NRA on Congress is extremely strong."

dylann roof

Suspected killer Dylann Roof appears via video link at the courthouse in South Carolina on Friday. The judge set his bail at $1 million

On gun control, Obama reflected: “The question is, is there a way of accommodating that legitimate set of traditions with some common-sense stuff that prevents a 21-year-old who is angry about something, or confused about something, or is racist, or is, you know, deranged from going into a gun store and suddenly is packing and can do enormous harm? That is not something that we have ever fully come to terms with."

Legislators in South Carolina are coming under increasing pressure to remove the confederate flag from the state building, with critics arguing the banner is a symbol of racial hatred. During the shooting, victims reportedly pleaded with the killer not to shoot, the attacker responding: "No, you've raped our women, and you are taking over the country... I have to do what I have to do." On Sunday, protesters in Charleston defaced a confederate monument, writing, “black lives matter” on a civil war statue.

Last week, a board member of the National Rifle Association responded to the Charleston killings by blaming the pastor and state senator who was gunned down in the massacre. Writing on the TexasCHLForum.com, Charles Cotton said Clementa Pinckney was to blame for the slaughter as he voted against a law that would have allowed congregants to carry concealed guns in churches.

Click here to listen to the podcast.


What Could an EU Exit Mean for the UK Construction Industry?

Simon Thomas   |   June 22, 2015    1:02 PM ET

Even though the dust from the 2015 General Election has only just begun to settle, the political news agenda has already shifted to the next public poll; the European Union Referendum.

The EU referendum is one of those issues that seemingly everyone has an opinion on - even US President Barack Obama has weighed in on the debate to say that he opposes a UK exit. That's because an EU exit - for better or for worse - will have profound effects on the way business is done in Britain, especially in my own sector; construction.

Britain's continued involvement in a political and economic union of European states has been a subject of controversy stretching back as far as the 1970s. In 1975, a referendum was held asking whether or not Britons wanted to remain part of the European Economic Community, which became part of the EU - founded in 1993. The electorate resoundingly voted to stay.

That is not to say that history will repeat itself this time. The United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) - a party whose core belief is that Britain should leave the EU - have enjoyed a meteoric rise to prominence in recent years. Despite only winning a single seat in the General Election, their 12% share of the vote proved that their controversial brand of anti-EU politics has struck a chord with millions.

Additionally, the ruling party - the Conservatives - are facing serious infighting about the issue, which could well lead to resignations and defections to more right-wing parties like UKIP. So what if the UK does vote to go it alone? How would this affect the construction industry and the way we go about our day-to-day business?

The first major issue is access to labour, without which the construction industry would be unable to function. The industry relies heavily on foreign workers to fill both skilled and non-skilled job roles, and always has done. This, of course, is nothing new. There's evidence to show that the architects of the Pyramids of Giza created incentives to entice labourers from all over Egypt to come and work for them. More recently, in the mid-20th Century, a British labour shortage - coupled with a financial crisis in Ireland - meant that the construction industry in the UK was primarily made up of Irish migrant workers.

A core principle of the EU is the right of free movement, which makes immigration between member states relatively easy and stress-free. For the construction industry, this provides a vital resource. An EU exit would mean that foreign workers would find emigration to the UK much more difficult. It's logical that in this scenario those skilled individuals will instead take the easy option and cast an eye toward France, Germany, or Spain, where the right of free movement would remain intact. James Hick, head of recruitment firm Manpower, says that an EU exit could lead to a skills crisis in any sector that relies on educated and/or skilled workers. I fear that Mr Hick is correct.

This is the view of many in the construction industry. Rob Hooker, director at Greendale Construction says that "foreign labour is vital to reduce skills shortages," and that UKIP's "little Englander" approach is short sighted; we are part of the global market, and to influence it we must remain in the EU. I can't help but agree.

Another issue is investment. At its core, the EU is a trading union, which breaks down the barriers that make it more difficult for companies in different countries to do business with, and invest in, one another. This has caused some alarm among multinationals with a foothold in the UK; already, European manufacturing giants Airbus have expressed concern about investing in an independent UK. Similarly, a high level employee of German firm Festo (which has an annual turnover of £1.76bn) has said German companies should hesitate to invest in Britain until the business landscape of a post-referendum UK becomes clear. And let's not forget that Germany is the economic powerhouse of the EU.

It's not just European countries voicing their opinion either. The BBC's business editor Kamal Ahmed recently wrote of a trip to Japan, where businessmen openly baulked at the prospect that the UK could possibly want to leave the biggest trading union on Earth.

Another factor that is important to keep in mind is that no country has ever withdrawn from the EU before; there is no precedent for how it could affect the way in which we do business with our contemporaries on the continent.

These examples indicate that, from a business point of view, an exit from the EU doesn't make an awful lot of sense. It allows other countries to provide ours with workforce and investment, and allows British businesses better opportunities to set up shop abroad. It seems to me that the strange identity crisis Britain has about itself in Europe is a prevailing factor in an anti-EU surge. Many Britons prefer to identify as British rather than European, and the concept of a union of European states dictating UK policy is a bitter pill to swallow for some. Make no mistake though; an EU exit on the back of a nationalistic, flag-waving, emotive campaign would have real, serious effects on British industry.

Back in 2011 George Osborne famously said "Britain is open for business." If he truly believes those words, now's the time for him to put his money where his mouth is and throw his support behind the campaign against an EU exit. The prosperity of the UK construction industry could depend on it.

Simon Thomas is the Managing Director of Asset International, a leading manufacturer of large diameter plastic pipes. Asset International Ltd supplies bespoke designs to the water and construction industries, from surface drainage to foul sewers and inter-process pipework: www.weholite.co.uk

Sara C Nelson   |   June 22, 2015   11:08 AM ET

An Israeli TV and radio personality has apologised after she was accused of tweeting a racist joke about President Barack Obama.

On Sunday Judy Shalom Nir-Mozes, who is also the wife of Interior Minister Silvan Shalom, informed her 74,000 followers: “Do u know what Obama Coffee is? Black and weak.”

Mozes, whose husband is involved in Israel’s US-sponsored talks with Palestine, was accused of being “racist” and of causing “grievous damage” to foreign relations.

judy mozes

Judy Shalom Nir-Mozes in 2003

She hurriedly deleted the tweet and composed a series of apologies in English and Hebrew.

barack obama

President Obama has not responded to the tweet, nor Mozes' apology

She said: “I apologise, that was a stupid joke, somebody told me."

Addressing him directly, she added: “President Obama I shouldn’t have written the inappropriate joke I heard. I like people no matter about their race and religion.

“Sorry if I caused any offence to anyone. I hope I will stay married when my husband will land and hear what I did.”

It’s not the first time Mozes has found herself in hot water on Twitter.

In March 2012, Mozes tweeted in response to rocket fire coming from Gaza: “I hope that today they decide to destroy Gaza if they don’t stop shooting. Let them suffer as well,” Vox recalls.

A few months later, when her husband's own Twitter feed was taken over by pro-Hamas hackers, she tweeted: "The murderers have taken over Silvan's Facebook, Twitter and email. Our son Nimrod is trying to salvage. I wish they would die!"