Paul Vale   |   January 6, 2015    7:05 PM ET

NEW YORK -- For the first time in eight years, the Republican Party has assumed control of the US Congress, having taken the Senate from the Democrats in the midterm elections last year.

On Tuesday at noon, Vice President Joe Biden swore in senators new and old, while Mitch McConnell of Kentucky took his place as majority leader in the chamber.

In the House of Representatives, which has been controlled by Republicans since 2010, veterans and newcomers recited the pledge of allegiance. Yet despite the recent elections victories, the GOP remains a party mired in disunity.

As members of the House were filing in, behind the scenes Speaker John Boehner was the target of a Tea Party coup to unseat him in favour of a more conservative, less “establishment” leader. The coup, however, fell somewhat short and Boehner, alongside the even more “establishment” McConnell, will lead their party in Congress over the next session.

Despite the discord, Republicans looked to assert themselves straight away by moving to approve the stalled Keystone XL pipeline, which would run from Canada to the Gulf coast.

President Obama retains a veto on legislation sent from Congress, which the White House said on Tuesday he would use to block the pipeline - a project that Obama and many Democrats have decried as a retrograde step in combatting global warming.

The pipeline is the opening battle in what is likely to be a long and difficult war between Congress and the White House for the remainder of Obama's term.

And though Republicans and Democrats have talked compromise in the weeks leading up to the new session, Republicans’ desire to dismantle the past six years of Obama governance means a series of vetoes and ultimately a shutdown is the most likely outcome in the months ahead.

Here are the top items on the Republican agenda:

Energy: The Senate's first bill would approve construction of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, designed to pump oil from Canada to the US Gulf Coast. Republicans and some Democrats call the project a job-creator, but Obama and other Democrats consider it a pathway to worsening global warming. The House seems likely to approve the measure quickly. The GOP also plans legislation expediting US natural gas exports.

Health care: Republicans want to weaken Obama's 2010 health care overhaul. Leading off in the House: Legislation making it easier for smaller businesses to avoid providing health coverage to their workers by hiring veterans who already have government coverage. Another bill would exempt companies from covering employees who work under 40 hours weekly — up from the current 30-hour cutoff. Votes on a full repeal of the law are likely, but a certain veto by Obama awaits if it reaches him.

Immigration: A bill financing the Department of Homeland Security lapses in late February. Republicans would extend the agency's funding but want language blocking Obama's executive actions shielding from deportation as many as 4 million immigrants in the US illegally. Republicans also want to beef up enforcement of immigration laws while easing restrictions on incoming farm and highly skilled workers.

Budget: House Republicans want to balance the budget in 10 years. Senate Republicans haven't embraced that timeline, but GOP leaders agree that federal spending must be curbed. Republicans will likely use must-pass spending bills to challenge Obama on anti-pollution and business regulations.

Taxes: The GOP wants to lower income tax rates for corporations and other businesses, with lost revenue recovered by plugging unspecified loopholes. Democrats might go along if extra money is raised for building highways.

Other votes: Speeding congressional approval of trade treaties; hindering Obama's outreach to Cuba and Iran; Obama's nominations of Loretta Lynch for attorney general and Ashton Carter for defense secretary; renewing expired terrorism risk insurance; preventing expiration of the highway construction trust fund, the Export-Import Bank and federal borrowing authority.

Paul Vale   |   January 2, 2015    7:38 PM ET

Barack Obama has moved to impose further sanctions on North Korea over the hack of Sony Pictures Entertainment, signing an executive order on Friday to further censure the rogue state.

Although the US has already sanctioned North Korea over its nuclear program, these are the first sanctions punishing Pyongyang for alleged cyber attacks.

The Obama administration says the sanctions affect three North Korean entities, including a government intelligence agency and a North Korean arms dealer. The US is also sanctioning 10 individuals who work for those entities or the North Korean government.

Those sanctioned are barred from using the US financial system, and Americans are prohibited from doing business with them.

The White House says this is just the first part of the US response to the Sony incident.

Though disputed, the cyber attack against Sony was believed to be an act of retaliation for the film “The Interview”, starring Seth Rogen and James Franco, which depicts the fictional death of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

In response to the attack, Sony pulled the Christmas Day release of the film, but later reversed the decision allowing it to be show on demand and in selected theatres.

In December, North Korea’s Internet suffered a prolonged outage, an incident Pyongyang blamed on America, while decrying the president as a “monkey”.

The following statement was released by the White House on Friday:

Today, the President issued an Executive Order (E.O.) authorizing additional sanctions on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. This E.O. is a response to the Government of North Korea’s ongoing provocative, destabilizing, and repressive actions and policies, particularly its destructive and coercive cyber attack on Sony Pictures Entertainment.

The E.O. authorizes the Secretary of the Treasury to impose sanctions on individuals and entities associated with the Government of North Korea. We take seriously North Korea’s attack that aimed to create destructive financial effects on a US company and to threaten artists and other individuals with the goal of restricting their right to free expression.

As the President has said, our response to North Korea's attack against Sony Pictures Entertainment will be proportional, and will take place at a time and in a manner of our choosing. Today's actions are the first aspect of our response.

North Korea has denied involvement in the cyberattack, which led to the disclosure of tens of thousands of confidential Sony emails and business files, then escalated to threats of terrorist attacks against movie theaters. Many cybersecurity experts have said it's entirely possible that hackers or even Sony insiders could be the culprits, not North Korea, and questioned how the FBI can point the finger so conclusively.

Senior US officials, who briefed reporters on condition of anonymity, dismissed those arguments and said independent experts don't have access to the same classified information as the FBI.

"We stand firmly behind our call that the DPRK was behind the attacks on Sony," one official said, using an acronym for the North's official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

Those sanctioned include North Koreans representing the country's interests in Iran, Russia and Syria. Any assets they have in the US will be frozen, and they'll be barred from using the US financial system. Americans will be prohibited from doing business with them, the Treasury Department said.

At the United Nations, no one answered the phone at North Korea's UN Mission, and calls to a diplomat there were not answered. Sony, too, declined to comment.

While denying any role in a cyberattack, North Korea has expressed fury over the Sony comedy flick "The Interview," which depicts the fictional assassination of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Sony initially called off the film's release after movie theaters decided not to show the film. After President Barack Obama criticized that decision, Sony decided to release the film in limited theaters and online.

The White House called the sanctions "the first aspect of our response" to the Sony attack - a declaration that raised fresh questions about who was behind a nearly 10-hour shutdown of North Korean websites last week.

Despite widespread speculation, the US never said whether it was responsible for shutting down North Korea's Internet. But North Korea had a blunt response. Its powerful National Defense Commission blamed the outage directly on the US and hurled racial slurs at Obama.

On Friday, US officials still wouldn't say who was responsible. Yet they pointed out that there had been media reports suggesting North Korea shut down its own Internet.

North Korea and the US remain technically in a state of war because the 1950-53 Korean War ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty. The rivals also are locked in an international standoff over North Korea's nuclear and missile programs and its alleged human rights abuses.


  |   January 1, 2015    8:11 PM ET

January is always about a detox, a time to cleanse yourself of negative influence, guilty pleasures and useless clutter. And Twitter is a great place to start.

Are you wasting too much time scrolling through the feeds of vacuous celebrities who only tweet pre-approved crap from their PRs?

Ever wonder, 'why am I so angry ALL THE TIME?' when your feed is stuffed full of overly opinionated journalists whose self-important blather raises your temperature?

Have you kept loyally following grimly unfunny parody accounts who should just die quietly?

Did you eve think it was a good idea to follow the D-listers reinventing themselves professional trolls?

Yes, we've all done it. But with most of us following hundreds of accounts, it can be hard to know where to begin. Help is at hand. Here are the top 20 people to unfollow in 2015.

Paul Vale   |   December 31, 2014    3:50 PM ET

President Vladimir Putin has used his New Year's speech to hail Russia's annexation of Ukraine's Crimea Peninsula.

He said Crimea's "return home" will "forever remain a landmark in the national history."

His comment in his prepared annual address already has been broadcast in Russia's far eastern regions, where the holiday was celebrated hours ahead of Moscow, given the time difference.

After Ukraine's former Russia-friendly president was driven from power, Moscow sent troops to overtake Crimea, home to a Russian naval base. Those forces blocked Ukrainian military garrisons and set the stage for a hastily called referendum on Crimea joining Russia, which Ukraine and the West rejected.

The West has since introduced sanctions against Russia over the annexation of Crimea and Moscow's support for a pro-Russian insurgency in eastern Ukraine.

The Russian leader also used the turn of the year to tell US President Barack Obama that Moscow is looking for equality in bilateral relations next year.

The Kremlin on Wednesday published several dozen New Year's messages addressed to heads of states and international organizations such as the Olympic Committee and FIFA.

Putin reminded Obama of the upcoming 70th anniversary of the allied victory in World War II and said that it should serve as a reminder of "the responsibility that Russia and the United States bear for maintaining peace and international stability." Moscow is anxious for the relations to advance but only as long as there is "equality and mutual respect."

Conspicuously absent from the list of the recipients of New Year's messages was Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko.

Position Available: President Of The United States 2016

Jon-Christopher Bua   |   December 29, 2014   11:25 AM ET

In this political environment if anyone thinks they can predict who the 2016 presidential candidates will be let alone the next president...Not So Fast!

At a similar moment in the run-up to 2008, I wrote a Sky News 'Washington Notebook' Blog entitled "Hillary v Rudy: The Main Event"....Enter Barack Obama and all bets were off!

Unless Joe Biden decides to run, 2016 will be another wide open presidential contest just like 2008. There will be no incumbent or VP seeking their party's nomination.

In most presidential election cycles the voters make an initial assessment - is the country headed in the right direction?

This question typically turns on how the economy is doing.

In 1992 the winning message was - "Its the economy stupid!"

If things are going well the American people are inclined to stay the course - lately however almost nothing seems to be going right.

Despite candidate Obama's many promises, President Obama has been faced with a
never-ending cavalcade of crises to attend to.

These unforeseen events have forced his agenda of hope and change to the back burner of reality.

When soon-to-be private citizen Barack Obama walks out of the Oval Office for the last time on January 20, 2017 it is likely that what has plagued and confounded this administration in Iraq,
Iran, Afghanistan, Syria, and the Middle East will not have been resolved; ISISL and al Qaeda will have continued their evil ways and "Rootin Tootin Putin" will still be challenging the West, gobbling up as much of his former Soviet Empire as he can get away with.

North Korea's "boy fanatic" Kim Jong-Un will continue to cause heartburn for anyone actually paying attention.

U.S. race relations - a far cry from being repaired could in fact get worse; the world economy will likely remain fragile and diseases like Ebola and HIV-AIDS tragically will still be with us as well as the phenomena of disappearing aircraft.

All of this along with Global Warming and the world energy crisis will be waiting for the next occupant of the White House as soon as the sound of the twenty-one gun salute begins to fade.

What a job!
Who would want it?

Well, there seems to be a growing number of possible candidates interested in vying for the top spot.

For the Democrats at the moment the possible contenders are Hillary Clinton (former New York Senator and Secretary of State), Joe Biden (Fmr Senator DE and VP), Martin O'Malley (Fmr Gov MD), Jim Webb (Fmr Senator VA), Brian Schweitzer, (Fmr Gov Montana), Joe Manchin (Fmr WVA Gov and Senator) and if Hillary decides not to go forward there is talk of Elizabeth Warren (Sen MA), Andrew Cuomo (Gov NY), Mark Warner (Sen VA) and the list continues to grow!

For the Republicans at the moment the possible contenders are Jeb Bush (Fmr Gov FL), Chris Christie (Gov NJ), Rand Paul (Sen KY), Marco Rubio (Sen FL), Ted Cruz (Sen TX), Paul Ryan (Rep WI) Ben Carson (surgeon), Rick Perry (Gov TX), Bobby Jindal (Gov LA), Scott Walker (Gov WI), and yes Mitt Romney (Fmr Gov MA and 2012 GOP Presidential Candidate) this list also keeps on growing!

Then there are the "others" - from both parties - who might consider throwing their hats into ring - Bernie Sanders (Sen VT), Carly Fiorina (Fmr head of HP), Rick Santorum (Fmr Sen PA), John Bolton (Fmr UN Amb), Michael Bloomberg (Fmr Mayor NYC), Jon Huntsman (Fmr Gov UT and Amb to China), George Clooney and the perennial favorites - Sarah Palin (Fmr Gov AK), Michele Bachmann (Rep MN), Donald Trump (businessman) and Rudy Giuliani (Fmr Mayor NYC).

What is probably the biggest challenge for both parties is that the long primary process gives the extreme elements of both parties far too much influence on the selection of their party's nominee.

To become a viable and well financed nominee a potential candidate must appear to support the most extreme views of their party.

As a result the candidate that can win their party's primary contest will have a tough time moving back to the middle which is usually what is required to win the general election.

This was one of Mitt Romney's biggest problems in 2012.

In selecting their president the American people tend to react to what they perceived were the weaknesses of their last choice.

Although the jury is still out on whether the Obama presidency has been a success, President Obama still has time to build and solidify his legacy.

There are certainly some things that the American people had hoped for that President Obama has not yet been able to achieve - and changing "the way that things are done in Washington" was at the top of their wish list.

Since the painful Democratic losses in the Midterms, President Obama now must deal with a Republican controlled Senate and House of Representatives for the remainder of his term.

So his legislative agenda is likely to be limited at best.

What qualities will the American people be looking for in their president this time?

One could argue that perhaps the most important quality our next president should have is the ability to work with the opposition to break the gridlock and get things done!

Some say this argues in favor of a "seasoned political hand" with lots of government experience.

This probably explains why two scions from America's most recently famous political dynasties seem to be the "front runners" at the moment in a race which has not yet officially begun - Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush.

Both of these potential contenders know first hand the personal sacrifice this jobs requires and the hardships it will impose on their entire family.

If they choose to compete Hillary and Jeb really do know what they are getting into.

Hillary Clinton has yet to formally declared her candidacy although she already has a formidable apparatus in place and lots of monetary support ready to go the minute she confirms she is in the race.

Hillary has been First Lady, U.S. Senator from New York, a presidential candidate and Secretary of State - so she clearly has significant political and government experience.

She was also a partner in a law firm before she became First Lady of the State of Arkansas.

In short, Hillary is probably the most experienced woman to ever run for presidency.

Hillary has a tough decision ahead - if she does not run - she still remains the "Grand Dame" of the Democratic Party and a "king maker" supreme!

If she runs and loses she will have sought the presidency twice unsuccessfully and she could lose her superstar status.

If she wins she will be the first woman president and the only wife of a former president to be elected to that same office on her own.

And just think Chelsea Clinton would be able to say that both of her parents were Presidents of the United States!

Jeb Bush has been a successful governor of Florida and both the son and brother of a president.

If he runs he probably has a lock on Florida and Texas - which could give him a real advantage on election night.

Jeb is also one of the only GOP possible contenders who might be able to appeal to the Hispanic vote and change the numbers game to favor a Republican win.

Jeb has real credentials with the Hispanic community - his wife is a Mexican born American, he is fluent in Spanish and his views on immigration policy have been more moderate than many other GOP contenders.

On the downside, if Jeb runs he loses his right to a private life forever -something Hillary lost long ago.

Jeb will be exposing himself and his family to a level of scrutiny they have yet to experience.

If he wins he will be the third Bush to hold the office of President -gaining a special place for his family as a unique political dynasty in America.

Since this will make The Bushes the only family that will have produced three presidents - beating out the Adamses, Harrisons and Roosevelts.

There is another trying aspect to a Clinton - Bush redux.

These two presidential families have now become close and the dirty and painful presidential campaign process necessary to win may no longer be that appealing or even acceptable.

Chelsea Clinton and George P. Bush would also have to wage all out war to win the "youth vote" on behalf of their parents.

Of the other potential wannabes we have U.S. Senators, Members of the House of Representatives, several Governors, former Governors and Mayors, a variety of business leaders, a physician and an actor or two.

All of these individuals can bring some unique skills to the competition.

Americans often pick governors because they have executive experience - running their state, dealing with the opposition in their legislatures, commanding the National Guard in emergencies and balancing their budgets.

In fact, 17 of our presidents were governors - and 9 of the 17 were governors immediately before becoming president. 16 presidents also served as senators but only 3 held that position immediately before becoming president and 14 presidents previously served as vice-president immediately before attaining the highest office in the land.

So as I said at the beginning of this blog it is simply too soon to tell who will capture the attention and the imagination of the voters in 2016.

Perhaps it will be Hillary or Jeb or Marco or Elizabeth or Ted or Chris or maybe a true surprise like a Manchin-Huntsman or
Huntsman-Manchin ticket.

This attractive and dynamic bi-partisan duo - two former governors who have worked together before to bridge the partisan divide with their "no labels" approach to problem solving - is something worth keeping your eyes on.

The only thing we can all count on, is that the battle to fill this particular "Position Available" job posting will be a hard-fought, entertaining and exciting ride...full of surprises!

Paul Vale   |   December 29, 2014    3:19 AM ET

Revelations by a Senate Intelligence Committee in December detailing the extent of the CIA’s torture programme instituted in the months after 9/11 reverberated around the world, while forcing America into an uncomfortable introspection as to the values that should define the Republic. Yet the report was just one piece of remarkable news emanating from the United States towards the end of 2014.

In the same month, Washington moved to normalise diplomatic relations with Cuba after more than half a century of hostility, while protesters marched through towns and cities demanding an end to the killing of unarmed black men by officers of the law.

Fears of an Ebola outbreak dominated the news in September after Thomas Eric Duncan became the first Ebola patient to die in the US having travelled to Texas from Liberia. Officials scrambled to allay the fears of the citizenry by placing some doctors returning from Africa into quarantine, though the virus would go on to claim only one more victim on American soil.

In politics, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie spent much of the year mired in scandal, diminishing his chances of a serious tilt at the presidency in 2016, while the midterm elections in November gave Republicans control of both houses of Congress, setting the stage for a difficult end to the Obama administration.

Below we chart the 10 biggest US news stories of 2014:

Thomas Tamblyn   |   December 23, 2014    4:00 PM ET

North Korea's internet suffered a complete blackout on Monday 22 December and even now is still reportedly suffering from intermittent connection problems.

According to security company Arbor Networks, North Korea was hit by a sustained denial of service attack which was designed to overwhelm the country's servers.

The attack was partially successful as the entire country suffered an internet blackout for around 24 hours before intermittent service was resumed.


Dan Holden, director of security research at Arbor Networks spoke to the Guardian about the attack confirming that given North Korea's lack of technological sophistication it wouldn't take much to knock the entire country's internet offline.

“Anyone of us that was upset because we couldn’t watch the movie, you could do that. Their internet is just not that sophisticated.”

Holden's comments suggest that although the US Government is the likely perpetrator, the task could easily have been undertaken by a band of reasonably well-trained civilians who took umbrage over the Sony Pictures hack.

President Obama confirmed on Friday that the US would retaliate to the attack on Sony Pictures with appropriate force however he failed to go into further detail.

The US government has since declined to comment on the attack against North Korea so until more is known about the incident it'll be difficult to determine who was behind the attack.

What is certain however is that North Korea's internet blackout is connected to the recent cyber attack on Sony Pictures which saw the entire company's digital assets distributed online including payroll details, unreleased films and thousands of private emails.

Sony Pictures has since been trying to contain the spread of leaked corporate information including threats to sue Twitter after it failed to block those users that were posting leaked email conversations.

Jack Sommers   |   December 23, 2014    1:00 PM ET

Widespread internet outage in North Korea has been blamed on a cyber-attack by the US, in retaliation for the hacking that intimidated Sony into cancelling a movie release and left the country feeling humiliated and angry.

The White House and the State Department declined to say whether the US government was responsible, after North Korea experienced sweeping internet outages for hours before coming back online late on Monday.

The US had promised a "proportional response" to the Sony hacking.

One computer expert said the country's online access was "totally down."

north korea

A poster in South Korea shows how cyber war can be waged against the North

After the Sony hacking led to release of comedy 'The Interview' being cancelled, Barack Obama said the US government expected to respond to it.

He described it as an expensive act of "cyber vandalism", which led to the leaking of private emails, and an FBI investigation blamed North Korea.

He did not say how the US might respond and its offensive cyber operations as highly classified.

"We aren't going to discuss, publicly operational details about the possible response options or comment on those kind of reports in anyway except to say that as we implement our responses, some will be seen, some may not be seen," State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said.

North Korea has forcefully denied it was responsible for hacking into Sony. But the country has for months condemned the 'The Interview', a comedy about a plot to assassinate the North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un.


Sony cancelled plans to release the movie after a group of hackers made terroristic threats against cinemas that planned to show it.

In North Korea, one of the most isolated states in the world, few have access to computers, and even those who do are typically able to connect only to a domestic intranet.

Though the country is equipped for broadband Internet, only a small, approved segment of the population has any access to the World Wide Web.

More than a million people, however, are now using mobile phones in North Korea. The network covers most major cities but users cannot call outside the country or receive calls from outside.

Ivan Simonovic, the UN assistant secretary-general for human rights, said he couldn't speculate about the origin of the internet outages but he hoped it would be "thoroughly investigated."

Doug Madory, the director of Internet analysis at Dyn Research, an Internet performance company, said the problems began over the weekend and grew progressively worse to the point that "North Korea's totally down."

Another Internet technology service, Arbor Networks, which protects companies against hacker attacks, said its monitoring detected denial-of-service attacks aimed at North Korea's infrastructure starting on Saturday and persisting into Monday.

But North Korea's limited connectivity and lack of Internet sophistication would make it relatively simple for a band of hacktivists to shut down online access, and we should not assume that the US government had any part, said Dan Holden, director of security research at Arbor Networks.

"Anyone of us that was upset because we couldn't watch the movie, you could do that. Their Internet is just not that sophisticated," he said.

The Interview - Poking a Sleeping Bear

Jack Banister   |   December 22, 2014    7:24 PM ET

Despite Sony having pulled the pin on the release of the controversial satire, The Interview, the film is still, unsurprisingly, causing a fracas. Far from extinguishing the heat in the situation, pulling the film - which depicts the assassination of Kim Jong Un - has left much of America angry that North Korea has been allowed to impose censorship within the United States. Obama called Sony's decision a mistake, and highlighted the problems with letting American decisions be dictated by threats from abroad. These views are incredibly important to our way of life and we do not want to be in a position where one nation can impose censorship upon another. But we could've been a little bit smarter throughout and in doing so, avoided an international incident.

There are so many fundamental issues that should have been considered before the film idea Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg had was even turned into a screenplay. Is it not immoral to be making a film where the central plot line is the assassination of a living person? Irrespective of whether you think Kim Jong Un is a legitimate head of state or not, that question still needs to be asked. I'm all for satire, for making people laugh and for making political statements through film, but there have to be some boundaries.

From a business point of view, it is absolutely remarkable that Sony didn't foresee, from the beginning, problems with trying to release a film with such a controversial central plot line. Maybe they did, and decided to go for it anyway. Either way, North Korea wasn't exactly going to sit there and heartily chuckle along with the rest of the world. Could you imagine any head of state reacting passively to the release of a film involving their assassination? Putin, for example? Worse, could you imagine the backlash from America if North Korea released a film depicting Obama's killing?

The counter-argument is that we shouldn't decide what films we do and don't make - and what we do and don't say - based on the potential for someone to react aggressively. In it's own way that is a form of censorship. But if we wanted to make a political statement about North Korea, I'd like to think it could have been done with a bit more tact.

We haven't just walked into a forest, found a sleeping bear, and poked it with a blunt stick. We've gone for the sharpest stick we could find by depicting the assassination of a head of state. The bear was always going to get angry, and America is now left to deal with the mess.

If you replace North Korea with a fictional country and Kim Jong Un with a fictional world leader, you still have a film pitch with the potential to be incredibly funny, that carries zero risk of inviting serious backlash. You avoid the schmozzle, Sony doesn't lose 40 million dollars and the Obama administration can carry on with business as usual. I'm not saying anyone wanted to provoke North Korea and cause this almighty ruckus, but in future, I'd like to think we show a touch more thought and tact.

Sara C Nelson   |   December 19, 2014    5:06 PM ET

The FBI has formally accused the North Korean government of being responsible for the devastating hacking attack on Sony Pictures.

In a statement, the intelligence service said it has enough evidence to conclude that North Korea was behind the punishing breach, which resulted in the disclosure of tens of thousands of leaked emails and other materials.

“North Korea's actions were intended to inflict significant harm on a US business and suppress the right of American citizens to express themselves. Such acts of intimidation fall outside the bounds of acceptable state behavior," the statement said.

the interview

The film stars James Franco and Seth Rogen as journalists hired to kill North Korean leader Kim Jong Un

The FBI's case cited, among other factors, technical similarities between the Sony break-in and past "malicious cyber activity" linked directly to North Korea.

President Barack Obama’s administration officials had previously declined to openly blame North Korea but said they were weighing various options for a response.

The statement on Friday did not reveal what options were being considered. President Obama is expected to face questions about the Sony hack at a year-end news conference with reporters later on Friday.

The break-in escalated to terrorist threats that prompted Sony to cancel the Christmas release of the movie "The Interview."

The film stars Seth Rogan and James Franco is a comedy romp in which two journalists are contacted by North Korea to take part in a staged Q&A, and are then hired by US agents to kill Kim Jong Un.

A group of hackers known as Guardians of Peace (GOP) had earlier claimed responsibility for the attack.

TIME magazine writes: "Early reports suggested North Korea was behind the GOP, and there's been some evidence of that. But North Korea has denied responsibility for the hack, and it's equally possible the assailants planted clues leading to North Korea as a distraction."

It's not immediately clear what action, if any, the US government will take. Bringing the shadowy hackers to justice appears a distant prospect. A cyber-retaliation against North Korea would risk a dangerous escalation. And North Korea is already targeted by a raft of sanctions over its nuclear weapons program.

The FBI did not indicate whether it has identified any individual hackers who might be culpable.

In May, the Justice Department indicted five Chinese military officers accused of vast cyberespionage against American corporate interests, but none of those defendants has yet to set foot in an American courtroom.

Five Politicians With Style and Substance

Marcus Hobley   |   December 19, 2014   10:07 AM ET

Politians are forever requesting that voters judge them on substance rather than style. Yet the realities of our telegenic age are that they are often judged on both. So is it possible for a political leader to simultaneously achieve success in both areas? From Arnold Schwarzenegger to Ronald Regan there are examples of politians who have pulled off the double act of policy supremo, while also not looking out of place on a Hollywood movie set, or the catwalk at London Fashion Week. In a light hearted festive piece, here are five modern politians who pull off both:

photo credit: (left) (right) Reuters

Alexander Stubb, Prime Minister of Finland (2014-present)

Resembling somewhat of a blend between an Abercrombie and Fitch model and The Great Gatsby, Alex tops the list. Beyond politics he is a keen athlete who competes in iron men events. He also manages to maintain a blog and is an active tweeter despite his hectic schedule.

photo credit: (left) Connie Maria Westergaard (right)

Helle Thorning-Schmidt, Prime Minister of Denmark (2011-present)

Following in the theme of well groomed and chiselled Scandinavian leaders, Helle holds together a four party fractious coalition. She is also said to be the inspiration behind the fictional drama Borgen and is married to Stephen Kinnock, son of former UK Labour Party leader Neil Kinnock. She grabbed international headlines for taking a cheeky selfie with Obama at Nelson Mandela's funeral.

photo credit: (left), (right) GQ magazine

Boris Johnson, Mayor of London (2018-2016)

Boris's style can best be described as shabby chic, with his centrally defining feature being his incredible mop of hair, usually ruffled and a little scruffy, Boris wouldn't be Boris without it. As style goes we particularly like the brilliant union jack handkerchief presuming selected by stylising at GQ.

photo credit: (left) Francesco Guidicini (right) GQ magazine

Chuka Umunna MP, UK Shadow Business Secretary (elected in 2010)

Chuka elegantly manages to combine the easy charm of Obama with the suave of Savile Row's Oswald Boateng. Touted as a future Labour Leader, watch his next moves following the 2015 general election. His most recent interview with Alistair Campbell for GQ magazine makes for an insightful read.

photo credit: (left) Getty Images (right) AFP / Getty Images

Barack Obama, President of the United State of American (2008-2016)

A modern day JFK; it is little remembered that Obama entered the democrat primary race in 2007 as an underdog, yet his wide appeal and inspirational prose is credited with his then surprise victory over the candidate who now looks set to seize the 2016 democrat presidential nomination, Hilary Clinton.

The Normalisation of Relations Between the US and Cuba Is a Victory for Right Over Might

John Wight   |   December 18, 2014    4:43 PM ET

The announcement that the US and Cuba are to begin the process of normalising relations after decades of a US-imposed economic blockade and policy of undermining the Cuban Revolution is long overdue.

Cuba and the Cuban people have successfully defied the world's most powerful superpower for decades, which history will record as a triumph of self determination, dignity, and justice over a global economic system under which nations of the Global South have been denied same. Because for all the mountain of anti-Cuban and anti-Castro propaganda that has been erected over the years by the US and its supporters- slating Cuba on its alleged lack of human rights, democracy, and freedom - Washington's enmity towards this tiny island in the Caribbean has been the result not of the bad things Cuba has done, but the good.

The human right in Cuba to be hungry or homeless or mired in extreme poverty alongside millionaires and billionaires does not exist. The right to be educated, receive healthcare, and be housed does, regardless of wealth or status or luck. It is a society whose people enjoy freedom from illiteracy, poor health, low life expectancy, and infant mortality. And what could be more democratic than a revolutionary process constantly renewed with a level of participatory and grassroots democracy that working people and poor people living in the West could only ever dream about?

In following an economic and social system founded on the principal of justice and dignity for all, and continuing to do so even in the face of an unremitting economic blockade designed to starve it out of existence, Cuba has stood as a beacon throughout the developing world. Its remarkable achievements in literacy, healthcare, and education in conditions of economic scarcity has over many years put the industrialised world to shame. A recent example of Cuba's priorities is its leading role in the fight against Ebola and West Africa, where it has sent hundreds of doctors and medical professionals.

Cuba's international medical missions, in fact, are legendary, even though they have gone largely unheralded in the West.

When the Cuban Revolution, led by Fidel Castro, overturned the US-backed dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista in 1959, Cuba was glorified bordello and fleshpot for visiting American tourists, mafia hoods, politicians, and businessmen. Its social and economic development, as with comparable countries in the region, had been retarded as a consequence of its control by the US and US corporations.

The imposition of an economic blockade, which in its early years ran in conjunction with terrorist attacks, repeated attempts to assassinate Fidel Castro, sabotage, and the threat of invasion, was a measure of the threat of a good example to US interests in the region. The fact Cuba survived Washington's campaign to return to its former status as US satellite is testament to the consciousness and resilience of its people.

Of course, Cuba is not a socialist utopia. Those only exist in books. It has suffered and had to deal with real life challenges of scarcity and economic paralysis throughout its history, especially in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union, referred to in Cuba as the 'special period'.

Ironically, there are some who believe that most challenging period in the history of the Cuban Revolution is about to begin with the normalisation of relations with its neighbour to the north. Speculation that the embargo has benefitted the Cuban government, allowing it to ascribe the island's problems to factors outwit its control, is about to be tested.

But, then, such speculation is surely the product of wishful thinking when we consider the inordinate ability of the Cuban government and its institutions to adapt and overcome the huge challenges it has had to face over the past six decades.

Those voices in the West, and they still remain, that have come out in condemnation of this historic development, announced in Washington and Havana, are marginal and antediluvian. Punishing countries and their people for exercising their right to self determination is never done in service to democracy, whatever that word means in states where the only people in power are the rich and connected, but rather in service to a political and economic order under which human beings are considered the means to the end for a narrow economic elite, rather than the end in themselves.

The difference between both when written in a sentence is a semantic one. But when applied in practice it is the difference between dignity and degradation, independence and servitude, indeed life and death itself.

Now, at last, the ideas that have guided the development of Cuba since the revolution can be placed against the ideas that have driven its neighbours - the Dominican Republic and Haiti for example - to the depths of despair and immiseration.

The Obama administration deserves credit for ending the anachronism of a vindictive policy that only succeeded in making the case for Cuba rather than diminishing it. But by far most of the credit for this new departure must go to the Cuban people. Without their determination and unwillingness to submit to the writ of Washington, and often doing so in conditions of extreme hardship, they have won a hard fought victory for right over might.

The words of Nelson Mandela are apposite: "From its earliest days, the Cuban Revolution has been a source of inspiration to all freedom-loving people. We admire the sacrifices of the Cuban people in maintaining their independence and sovereignty in the face of the vicious imperialist-orquestrated campaign to destroy the impressive gain made in the Cuban Revolution.

Long live the Cuban revolution!"

The West Is Sending a Message: It's Fine to be a Violent Regime

Lukas Mikelionis   |   December 18, 2014    3:14 PM ET

The expectation for the west to defend freedom in the world was never universally believed. Even during the peak of the Cold War, there were politicians and people who uttered, 'better red than dead' as a badge of honour. They believed that the west must start living in harmony with the occupying power in the east that puts people on a train to Siberia for the crime of possessing dissent thought. But the latest sinister actions on Cuba and Palestine are a unique declaration of submission to conformism.

Firstly, the United States normalised sanctions with Cuba, which means lifting embargo and greater cooperation. Then, there was European Union that sinisterly passed two inter-linked motions: recognised Palestinian statehood and took off Hamas terrorist group from the terrorist organisations list. What message the west is trying to send here? I think it's quite obvious, the meaning of these actions is that we tolerate murderous regimes, which if had a chance would obliterate our democracy without a blink.

Sanctions on Cuba indeed worked. Drying up any possibility to sell their products produced by ineffective laid-back state companies led to economic suffering for the whole country. The Cuban government apparatchiks desperate in preserving their privilege were forced to allow people to open small businesses, strive in free market, and create wealth. Those capitalist reforms would had eventually led to certain democratisation, because once people notice that it's not them who are reaping the benefits of the hard work - they will demand a stake in the political process. But foolishly, after decades of peacefully letting Cuba slide to democracy, President Obama with a single signature empowered a violent, murderous regime.

There's a fallacy about Cuba that it's not as bad as other remaining communist countries such as North Korea, therefore we shouldn't punish it. While it's true that the extent of repressions is incomparable with certain other countries, it's still a mischievous human-right abuser. Human Rights Watch reported that Cuban government have caged up to 57,000 Cubans in prisons or work camps, while dissent constitutes anything from a call for elections to attending a church. In fact, in 2013, more than 30 women, who happened to be related to political prisoners, were arrested after attending a church in Santiago, beaten, and then left in the isolated outskirts of the city. This is a regime the United States just legitimised and offered an opportunity to prolong its existence.

On the other side of the pond, the European Union's decision to recognise Palestinian state and take Hamas off the terrorist list is the most appalling, immoral decision in the history of the union. We know that the union is spineless against Russian government, for example, because of vested interests of Germany and France, but what Europe is winning by pandering to the group which is openly and violently anti-Semitic and has wet dreams about annihilating the state of Israel, the only democratic force in the Middle East? We're constantly hearing about the Jewish lobby, but it seems that this time the twisted Palestinian lobby bought the politicians with an idea that general population supports Palestine, while it seems only like that due to extremely vocal activists who portray Israel as an 'apartheid state.'

Let's assume for a moment, that the verdict to recognise Palestinian state is harmless. A two-state solution between Palestinian and Jewish populations is an old idea, thus the decision of recognition could indeed be viewed as a welcoming change in fixing the conflict. However, the astonishing choice to essentially recognise Hamas as a legitimate government of Gaza corrupts the whole idea of two-states living side by side, because, and I'm worried that I have to remind this often enough, Hamas don't want a two-state solution - it wants a total destruction of Israel. This is why the group had underground tunnels to smuggle rockets that were used to shoot towards Israel indiscriminately, this is the reason why Hamas cheered the massacre in the Synagogue in November this year.

The depravity of the west is becoming too obvious. We have lost our sense of knowing what is right and wrong. The foreign policy became dominated by the idea of not offending any feelings and being bought into the culture of relativism. Cuba and Palestine are just the recent examples of how easily the west can be forced into the obedience.

Torture Is Torture - Regardless of Who Does It

James Snell   |   December 16, 2014    1:01 AM ET

On Tuesday 9 December, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence released the executive summary and portions of an as yet unpublished report into the torture undertaken by the CIA. In the following days, much was revealed about American programmes of 'enhanced interrogation'. We had all heard of 'waterboarding', of course, but this was different. In scale, intensity and variety, the programmes of torture as described in the report eclipse the expectations of all but the most seasoned observers.

Some of these horrors make agonising reading - but it is incorrect to say that they defy description. In the cold, expressionless language of the Senate report, even blunt, mechanical phrases can contain the key to understanding a world of pain. 'Rectal feeding' is one. 'Stress position' is another. Through reams of inert prose, an appalling picture of abuse is built up and solidified.

There is one small, meek defence to all of this, a defence not in and of itself, but one which begs comparison. 'Other countries do it too,' this line of thought goes, 'but only America has the guts to say it.' This is true for many secretive nations; and tyrannies and theocracies partake in torture just as much as, if not more than, the Americans. But this truth is a hardly a mitigating factor; it does not excuse the brutality, and it does not excuse the futility.

Much is made of the following hypothetical, the 'ticking bomb' scenario. There is, we are told, an imminent attack; terrorists are threatening to kill a vast number of innocent, blameless civilians in a public place; and the only way we can get hold of the intelligence necessary to avert this catastrophe is by torturing another, captured terrorist into telling us. The situation is horrifying, but it is also neat. Too neat. The moral calculation is placed before us as if it were a simple numerical exercise: One person against hundreds, possibly thousands; an awful individual, engaged in nefarious acts, is pitted against a moral mass of the innocent. Quite simple, really; it is almost utilitarianism in action. But that is not the whole story. An essential, shocking part of the equation has been entirely removed. In this scenario, and in all of the others which populate the messy, eternally complicated world of security and defence, we don't even know if it's going to work. And we never know; not until it's underway or over. And it probably won't work: This torture produced 'false confessions and fabricated information, [and] no useful intelligence'. Brutality was condoned and even encouraged by the CIA, and for almost no gain.

Knowing this, the inescapable conclusion is the following: We will not be able to know if our actions of inhumanity are justified until they have taken place. Morally, I think, there is only one place to be, and it is not alongside the professional sadists employed to threaten to murder the mothers of captives, or to leave detainees to freeze to death in a hidden prison camp, days after subjecting them to '48 hours of sleep deprivation, auditory overload, total darkness, isolation, a cold shower and rough treatment.'

There is, of course, a little hitch in my own thinking. I do not pretend otherwise. I am very happy, as a rule, for those in the employ of my country to kill, or to maim, or to brutalise those agents of terror who threaten the innocent. Bomb them in their hiding places; kill them on the battlefield; vaporise them with drones - I can handle that. But when the battle is over, when these men are stripped of their weapons, their offensive capacity, and even, in some cases, their clothes, by the agents of democracy - that's when I start to get a little squeamish. Perhaps it's the indefinite confinement. Perhaps it's the transportation to secretive facilities across the world. It's certainly got something to do with the torture.

One of the most vehement defences of inhumane and illegal conduct is the rallying cry of pragmatism. I have outlined it above. This is war, the argument goes, and sometimes bad things have to happen in order to protect that which we hold most dear. But this sentiment has two major flaws: In engaging in torture, there is no guarantee of protecting that which we hold dear; and by doing so, we are participating in the self-destruction of our own morality, something I imagine most would like their governments to at least bear in mind.

This is war, and some acknowledgement of the situation must be made. Killing terrorists and fascists 'legitimately' - on the battlefield, from the air, with the assistance of drones - is my own concession to the imperfect world in which we live. Such methods are flawed, and do not always achieve the desired result; but at least they are not predicated on the false hope of averting imaginary massacres, and at least they do not challenge the very core of what makes Western civilisation worth defending.