Fighting the Impunity of Terrorism with the United Nations Tools

Dr Ion Jinga   |   October 3, 2015   11:29 PM ET

Motto: "There are many causes that I am prepared to die for but no causes that I am prepared to kill for". Mahatma Gandhi

Friday October 2nd, in New York and worldwide was celebrated the International Day of Non-Violence. It is marked on the birthday of Mahatma Gandhi, leader of the Indian independence movement and pioneer of the philosophy and strategy of non-violence. Almost 68 years after Gandhi's assassination, his legacy as a prophet of non-violence is more actual than ever.
On September 29th, President Barack Obama hosted the Leaders' Summit on Countering ISIL and Violent Extremism, at the United Nations in New York. The Summit was attended by representatives from more than 100 nations, Romania included, more than 20 multilateral institutions, some 120 civil society groups from around the world and partners from the private sector. Its agenda included a reflection upon lessons learned in fighting terrorism, a focus on comprehensive and integrative approaches to defeating ISIL, how to confront the false ideologies espoused by the group and how to address social, political and economic drivers of violent extremism.

In his remarks, President Barack Obama underlined that: "This is not a conventional battle. This is a long-term campaign, not only against this particular network, but against its ideology. Ultimately, it is not going to be enough to defeat ISIL in the battlefield. We have to prevent it from radicalizing, recruiting and inspiring others to violence in the first place. And this means defeating their ideology. Ideologies are not defeated with guns, they're defeated by better ideas -- a more attractive and compelling vision. We will ultimately prevail because we are guided by a stronger, better vision: a commitment to the security, opportunity and dignity of every human being."

His words were echoed by the British Prime Minister David Cameron: "We need to win this propaganda war far more effectively than we have to date. I believe in freedom of speech, but freedom to hate is not the same thing".

I share this vision. And, again, as President Obama noted: "Poverty does not cause terrorism. But when people are impoverished and hopeless and feel humiliated by injustice and corruption, this can fuel resentments that terrorists exploit. Which is why sustainable development is part of countering violent extremism. So the real path to lasting stability and progress is not less democracy; I believe it is more democracy".

Justice is part of democracy. Together with freedom speech, freedom of religion and strong civil societies, it has to play a part in countering terrorism and violent extremism. Fighting the impunity of terrorism with the tools of international law, under the aegis of the United Nations, is part of Romania's approach and my country has a long and consolidated tradition in promoting the UN multilateral diplomacy and the UN legal instruments.

Speaking in front of the UN General Assembly on September 29th, President of Romania Klaus Iohannis sent an unequivocal message: "The consolidation of international justice and the need to put an end to impunity should trigger a reinforced legal approach towards international terrorism. Terrorism is a sum of crimes against individuals and societies. Romania believes that the international community should do more in combating terrorism with the tools of law, including international criminal law. It is with that purpose in mind that Romania and Spain triggered a process of reflection on the possible creation of an International Court for the Crime of Terrorism".

Same day, Foreign Ministers of Romania and Spain co-hosted a debate on the topic "Towards an International Court against Terrorism (ICT) - Ideas and Challenges", in the margins of the UNGA ministerial week. The debate reflected how to fight against terrorism with the means of international criminal law, and not only with the military force. The topic is both complex and sensitive: how to tackle the definition of terrorism, how to define jurisdiction, how to convince states to cooperate. All these elements were open for debate. It was underlined that the ICT added value would culminate to its preventative effect on perpetrators and the question of victims of terrorism came central: there is too much impunity for crimes of terrorism and too many victims not receiving justice nowadays. Hence, the discussion on the ICT was timely.

Terrorism attacks the core sovereignty of a country and therefore the issue of countering terrorism and violent extremism brought the whole of the UN together. More than half of the UN Security Council resolutions adopted over the past year focused on this topic and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon was resolute in upholding the human rights in the fight against terrorism. Terrorist groups constitute a direct violation of the UN Charter and a great impediment to the implementation of the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda.

Political will and support from the civil society are essential for the continuation of the Romanian-Spanish initiative but one thing is clear: terrorism is a grave challenge and the international justice could be one of the greatest force at the disposal of mankind to counter it. It could be mightier than the mightiest weapon. As the great Romanian legal expert Vespasian Pella wrote in 1950: "Without an international court, indicted people would always feel convicted not as a result of guilt, but of defeat".

Will Vladimir Putin Save the World?

David Spencer   |   October 3, 2015    8:56 AM ET

There has been precious little to praise about the regime of Vladimir Putin in recent years. His actions in stoking civil war in Ukraine and annexing the Crimea region is criminal under international law, his crackdown on political opposition and dissenting voices has seen numerous state-sponsored and the oppression that can be experienced in Russia by ethnic and religious minorities, and the LGBT community, is shocking and criminally under-reported here in the west.

And yet it seems that this tyrannical despot might just be the one person able to stop the march of Islamic extremism in Syria, given the failings of our own Governments and International organisations to act.

The rise of ISIS and other Islamism groups in Syria and Iraq has been driven by the civil war in the region which has created a power vacuum in much of the east of the country. Combined with the inept and weak US-supported Iraqi government, the circumstances in the region were ripe for a non-state entity to fill the void.

This is precisely what ISIS have done having seen an opportunity to impose their own warped interpretation of the Koran on a large territorial area.

It is exactly this kind of situation which the UN should address as a peacekeeping organisation. However these days the UN can be perceived as little more than a feckless talking shop where nations can afford to be big of rhetoric, without ever having to worry about taking any meaningful action to back it up. Its history is littered with inaction and its role in the Syrian conflict to date has barely stretched beyond putting out press releases.

The UN's ineptitude is at least partly why the US and the UK have been drawn into other Middle East conflicts and it has been these ill-thought-through campaigns which have made further such interventions politically toxic. This has left a situation where the US and the UK are unable to justify putting troops on the ground in Syria.

This is despite the fact that ISIS do offer a far more tangible threat to British and US interests than other adversaries in the region. It was ISIS followers who killed the satirists at Charlie Hebdo in Paris. It was an ISIS gunman who slaughtered British tourists on the beach in Tunisia. And it is ISIS who have gloated over the beheading of innocent western hostages and lured our Muslim citizens to their deaths in a conflict they are no part of.

Politicians go to great lengths to explain why ground troops will not work against them, yet military experts, such as the former head of British Armed Forces, Sir David Richards, consistently say it is the only way to defeat ISIS, and that success could be achieved in as little as six months.

Vladimir Putin is now stepping into this hiatus, and although his actions so far have been confined to air strikes, it is widely expected that ground troops will follow.

So what's the difference between Putin and the West? The primary one is Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who is allied to Putin and fiercely opposed by western leaders.

Make no mistake, he is also not a nice man. He has tortured captives, bombed his own civilians and is responsible for the deaths of some 200,000 of his own people during the civil war. In normal situations he is not the sort of leader we would want to work with.

But the current situation in Syria is far from normal, and the treat to our interests in growing. Yet still we remain intransigent in our insistence that we must get rid of ISIS and Assad. Such ambitions are at best naïve, and at worst making the situation far worse.

Speaking on BBC Newsnight this week, Lt General Sir Simon Mayall, a senior Military advisor, criticised the UK for being guilty of 'wishful thinking' over the removal of Assad, and stated that the Russians had been 'in many ways more realistic'.

History has shown time and time again that trying to win a conflict on two fronts at the same time always leads to disaster. Diplomacy norms state that it is fruitless to try and deal with two conflicting issues at the same time. The aftermath of the Arab Spring in countries like Libya has demonstrated clearly that removing those in power without a plan of transition leads to chaos and offers a fertile breeding ground for yet more Arab extremists.

And yet we remain steadfast.

To remove Assad from the regions he still controls now is only going to open up more territory for ISIS, or other Islamist groups, to move into. To remove them both together is all but impossible, and would simply open the door to al-Qaeda or others.

The only way to bring an end to the war in Syria is to take it one step at a time.

The first task has to be to defeat ISIS because it is they who pose the direct threat to western nations. Bashir al-Assad is a despicable figure, but he does not threaten the lives or security of Western people. It therefore makes sense to leave him in power, however flimsy and hampered by sanctions that may be, until the extremist threat has died down.

Then is the time to start political and diplomatic efforts to get rid of him.

Of course this is not Vladimir Putin's objective. His motivation is far from altruistic, as he wants to retain Assad as an ally in the region. But as the only actor in the region who seems willing to step up and take on ISIS, he is the most likely to move us on down the road towards this endpoint. Once Putin has removed those threatening Assad, the international community will find it much more straightforward to manoeuvre him out of power.

It is not a perfect scenario by any means, and will likely see a great deal more bloodshed in the interim. But in the long run, it seems to be the only viable, realistic solution to bring stability back to the region.

And while the rest of the world sits on its heels and fails to act, it seems it will be Vladimir Putin who is keeping the streets of the UK and the US safe from Islamic extremists. We may well have, not Barack Obama or David Cameron, but Vladimir Putin to thank for saving us from the horrors of ISIS.

An American Tribute to British Gun Policy

Judd Birdsall   |   October 2, 2015   11:27 PM ET

In the wake of yet another school shooting in the United States, I'm profoundly grateful, as an American in England, to live in a country where my children have no fear of guns at school.

The United States and the United Kingdom have many important similarities, but rational gun policy is not one of them.

The UK responded to 1987 Hungerford massacre by banning semi-automatic weapons and to the 1996 school shooting in Dublane by banning handguns. The US has suffered scores of mass shootings--294 in 2015 so far--and responded with well-meaning "thoughts and prayers."

And Obama is tired of it. The president has addressed the nation many times in the wake of mass shootings, and in response to Thursday's massacre at a community college in Oregon, he lamented:

I said just a few months ago, and I said a few months before that, and I said each time we see one of these mass shootings, our thoughts and prayers are not enough. It's not enough. It does not capture the heartache and grief and anger that we should feel. And it does nothing to prevent this carnage from being inflicted someplace else in America--next week, or a couple of months from now.

Americans are a profoundly religious people, so the outpouring of prayer is not surprising. But it seems that for far too many Americans their deepest religious allegiance is to Gun Almighty. And he is a jealous deity, demanding no compromise with commonsense. We sacrifice thousands of lives, 316,545 in the last decade alone, on the altar of the Second Amendment--or at least a fundamentalist interpretation of that amendment.

All of this is baffling to Britons. The US ambassador to the UK, Matthew Barzun, has visited dozens of schools around Great Britain and asked students what they like and dislike or find confusing about America. The number one dislike is always the same: guns.

These British students understand the issue at a visceral level. They routinely see the news of American students senselessly murdered by a deranged person with easy access to guns that are designed not for hunting animals but for killing humans.

Britain hasn't had a school shooting in nearly 20 years. America has already had 45 school shootings this year alone.

Brad Pitt once said, "America is a country founded on guns. It's in our DNA." Pitt may be right, but Britons recognize this bit of American DNA for what it is: a genetic mutation. And a deadly one.

There is no comparable mutation in the United Kingdom. Here the collective right to safety trumps an individual right to guns. The UK doesn't have a written constitution, but even if it did, it wouldn't have an anachronistic Second Amendment that made sense in the time of muskets but not machine guns.

And, thankfully, guns are not a partisan issue in the UK. It was a Conservative government that introduced the handgun ban in 1996 following the Dublane shooting.

British politicians don't have to fear the lobbying influence of the American National Rifle Association. The NRA-UK is not linked to the American organisation and does not share its militant views. NRA-UK chief executive Derrick Mabbott has called the US group "fanatical" and told the Telegraph "I once had to sit through a diatribe from their CEO and it made me physically ill."

Rather than campaigning for more guns and fewer gun restrictions, the British version of the NRA focuses on training gun owners to safely and legally use their guns for sport and pest control. There's no pretense that guns are somehow for personal safety or to protect citizens from the government.

To obtain a firearms license in the UK, one must provide a compelling rationale, prove his identity, offer two character references, and secure approval from his doctor. Then there's a rigorous background check and home inspection by the police. If a licence is granted, it's usually only valid for five years.

The whole process instills a proper sense of the serious responsibility it is to own a gun. Plenty of American gun owners share this seriousness, but the easy availability of guns in the US breeds a gun culture much more focused on rights rather than responsibilities.

I find it refreshing to live in a country where very few people want guns, even fewer have guns, and those that do have gun licences have been thoroughly vetted.

Once when I was driving down a country road in Cambridgeshire with my children I saw a man carrying a rifle. I instinctively pulled over, rolled down my window, and had lovely chat with him. He showed his rifle to my kids. He was a farmer hunting pesky rabbits, and he shared my view that America's gun laws are insane.

Only afterward did I reflect on the encounter and realise that back home in America I would never approach a man with a gun, especially not with my kids in the car. I would make a whole range of different assumptions about him, right or wrong. And I would make an abrupt U-turn.

After yet another mass shooting, it's high time for America to turn away from policies that enable shockingly high levels of gun crime.

The UK provides an instructive model. As Obama argued, "We know that other countries, in response to one mass shooting, have been able to craft laws that almost eliminate mass shootings. Friends of ours, allies of ours--Great Britain, Australia, countries like ours. So we know there are ways to prevent it."

Chris York   |   October 2, 2015   11:59 AM ET

Thursday saw yet another mass shooting bring death, carnage and frustrated misery to the US as nine people were killed by a gunman on a college campus.

Chris Harper-Mercer was carrying four guns when he opened fire on the grounds of Umpqua Community College before being shot dead himself by police.

gun deaths

Infographic provided by Statista

A clearly exasperated Barack Obama once again addressed the nation to urge for tighter gun controls - something vigorously opposed by many in the US.

While the debate continues, this chart lays bare the stark reality of the numbers of US citizens killed on US soil by guns compared to terrorism related deaths and gun deaths in the UK.

Despite the disparity, the US continues to spend billions of dollars every year on counter-terrorism ($16bn in 2012) while the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) submitted a request for £1.2bn for 2016.


Obama expressed frustration that it was necessary for him to frequently console victims' families and that he was again calling for new gun control regulations.

"Somehow this has become routine," Obama said from the White House. "We've become numb to this.

"We should politicise it," he said. "As I said each time we see one of these mass shooting, our thoughts and prayers are not enough. … It does not capture the heartache and grief and anger that we should feel."

Almost 1,000 Massacres Since Sandy Hook and the USA Still Hasn't Learned Its Lesson

David Mooney   |   October 2, 2015    3:12 AM ET

The damning inevitability with which commentators from all sides now speak following a gun tragedy in the USA says a lot about the situation the country finds itself in. President Obama seemed frustrated with having to address another media conference after yet more of his citizens have been killed in an incident where a white male took a gun to a campus, this time Umpqua Community College. "Somehow this has become routine," he said.

By now, the news of the events feel somewhat devoid of any actual human connection such is the frequency of these sorts of incidents. The reports feel divorced from reality and with each series of murders, the shock factor is somewhat diluted. A blasé "Oh, it's happened again?" isn't as far away as you'd think.

The latest is a shocking incident - but millions of people are not shocked by it.

The National Rifle Association is always quick to defend the weapon when it comes under the attack of the watching world. The most famous soundbite, which came from NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre after 20 children and six adults were shot dead at a Sandy Hook school in Newton, Connecticut in 2012, is that "the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun."

Since then, there have been 994 mass-killing incidents and almost 300 of them have happened this year alone. That's almost one a day. I don't want to sound like I'm trivialising that figure, but you've got to be pretty fucked up to turn that into a pro-gun stance. Almost 1000 massacres doesn't scream "there needs to be more firearms for good people" no matter how hard and how long you look at it.

When the pro-gun lobby says that these incidents shouldn't be politicised and that the time for analysing gun control isn't so soon after such a tragedy, it raises the question of exactly when is. These stories are now so frequent, it will always be too soon.

Perhaps if the "bad guys" in each of those mass killings couldn't pop down to their local supermarket and pick up their week's groceries, a few snacks and an assault rifle, then it might not have been a ridiculously simple task for them to walk into a college campus and end the lives of thousands of innocent victims, who were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.

It seems baffling that so many people in the United States seem to ask how on earth these sorts of tragedies happen every time they do, without even considering the most obvious and glaring answer. Millions of people own guns. And guns do have a very limited range of uses.

It should be as difficult as possible for anybody to get hold of a firearm and it should be a criminal offence to be caught in possession of one, with very few exceptions. Of course, some will slip the net; however a large number of would-be criminals, many of which suffer from mental health issues, would not be able to attack innocent victims quite so easily and many wouldn't know when to begin in trying to obtain a weapon.

For the record, mental health funding was cut by $4bn nationally between 2009 and 2011 - but no stringent gun laws have been imposed. People with such illnesses need support, not simple access to semiautomatic rifles. Also for the record, the majority of weapons used in incidents of mass killings in the USA are acquired legally.

In 1996, when 28-year-old Martin Bryant entered a café at Port Arthur in Tasmania, Australia, and ate his lunch before setting off on a killing spree, the reaction in the country was for a clampdown on firearms. This was the massacre that tipped the country over the edge; almost 650,000 weapons were turned in to authorities in a national buyback scheme. Gun-related homicides dropped around seven per cent year on year.

Every argument in favour of keeping firearms available to the American public boils down to "I want a gun". It's not protection, those waters get muddied when family members are also likely targets as they make noises in the haze of a 3am wake-up in the home. Leave them in an open place and kids can discharge them completely by accident; lock them away and they're hardly protecting anything. The icing on the cake is that owning a firearm increases a person's risk of suicide.

In large parts of America, guns have been fetishized. They can end a life relatively easily and they should be feared, not revered, fondled or posed with for photographs to make a good Facebook profile.

It may sound trite, but it's a really simple equation. There will be fewer people shot if there are fewer firearms readily available. Just how many mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, brothers, or sisters must be told that a family member will not be coming home because a lunatic has put a bullet in them before the USA will actually do something about it?

It's Time for America to Rethink Its Gun Control Laws

Richard Neil   |   October 1, 2015    9:27 PM ET

Another day, another mass shooting spree. Surly by now, it's time for America to rethink its gun control laws and make the logical changes that other advanced countries have made. At the time of writing this article, at least 13 people have reportedly been killed and around 20 wounded in a college shooting in Roseburg, Oregon. How many more of these tragedies have to happen?

Ask yourself this, how would this killing spree have been possible if the killer didn't have access to firearms? If you're looking to murder as many people as possible whilst being at a safe distance to avoid being stopped, then I'd say a gun would be the perfect weapon for the job. So why are they so accessible to the public? "Guns don't kill people, people do" - yeah, people with access to lots of guns.

The National Rifle Association (N.R.A) are America's main advocator of gun rights and one of the most influential lobbying groups in Washington, they are believed to have over 5 million active members at present. They are an extremely powerful organisation that funds and manipulates conservative American politics by being one of the biggest financers in congressional elections. Whilst the N.R.A hides under the guise of 'protection' and 'freedom', they are actually protecting the gun industry to freely manufacture and sell essentially any weapon or accessory to American citizens.

The same old excuses keep being given by N.R.A supporters whenever a mass shooting spree occurs, they want to keep hold of their precious guns but none of their arguments have any real rational thinking behind them. It seems that their solution to the problem is to simply arm more people with guns! It's insane! It's like saying that the killing of any innocent child could have been prevented if the child was armed in the first place and able to return fire, wouldn't it just be a smarter move to remove all the guns?

How some of these military spec weapons can even be classed as for only 'home protection' is beyond absurd. I'm pretty confident that back in 1789, when they passed the law for the right to bear arms in the second amendment of their U.S Constitution, they wouldn't have had the advanced and sophisticated weapons that we have today. It's clearly an outdated law that needs to be brought into the modern era.

When the Dunblane school massacre happened in Scotland on the 13th of March 1996, it was one of the deadliest firearm incidents that the U.K had ever witnessed. It caused public outrage and two new firearms Acts were passed that made private ownership of handguns illegal in Britain. It took just one tragedy and nothing similar has thankfully happened since, so why won't America change their gun control laws? What is it that is really preventing them from doing so? President Barack Obama has already admitted that failing to pass "common sense gun control laws" was the greatest frustration of his presidency, so why can't even the most powerful man in the developed world make the changes? Is it that the N.R.A is just too dominant? Is it that their political system too now corrupted? Or is it simply that America is just a gun loving nation? Whichever it is, there will be no end to these mindless acts of violence as long as the weapons needed to commit them are so easily available to the public.

Eve Hartley   |   September 24, 2015    2:32 PM ET

The UK-based cousin of American president Barack Obama is suing her former employers at London's Met Police for £400,000 - claiming a pair of farting policemen were among those who made her life a misery.

Marie Auma says officers and employees pursued a conspiracy against her, including two who deliberately broke wind beside her desk at Southwark Police Station.

The 57-year-old, who was at Obama's inauguration in 2009, claims she was 'belittled and humiliated' in the campaign of alleged harassment.

It stemmed from alleged refusal of leave to visit her brother's grave after he died in a car crash in Kenya in 2007 and culminated in her being medically retired with mental health difficulties.

Now in a trial at Central London County Court, Auma, of Green Lanes, Palmers Green, Haringey, is fighting for compensation. The Met denies liability.

Her barrister Lorraine Mensah told Judge Simon Freeland QC that Auma, whose job involved liaising with crime victims, had been the victim of '21st Century bullying'.

Few of the individual incidents which occurred between 2007 and 2009 could be said to be harassment, but together they formed a 'culture' of bullying against her, she said.

She told the court Auma had been refused leave to visit Kenya in 2007, following the death of her brother in an accident.


When she complained about the refusal, she was branded a trouble-maker in the force's 'rumour mill', said the barrister.

She said there was a 'pack mentality' and that the rumours led directly to an officer and another civilian employee deliberately breaking wind at her desk.

"The passing of wind at her desk in an open plan office is an attempt to belittle her and humiliate her."

"There was clear evidence before the defendants that she was suffering stress, causing her ill health, and she attributed that to the bullying and harassment that she complained of," Mensah added.

She had to take time off work due to chest pains in the second half of 2008, which she put down to anxiety and stress caused by her situation at work.

The Met could at any time have 'controlled or stopped' the harassment and so prevented Auma from mental injury, said the barrister.

Auma is related to Mr Obama through her aunt, Kezia Obama, who is the president's Bracknell, Berkshire-based step-mum.

Steven Hopkins   |   September 24, 2015    8:12 AM ET

Channel 4 presenter Matt Frei has apologised after using a racial slur he claims he "simply wasn't aware of" to describe Barack Obama.

The Europe editor said the US president was "smiling like a split watermelon" during a meeting with the Pope, a comment that was widely condemned online. British former NBA player John Amaechi was among those to slam the remark.

obama pope francis

Matt Frei has apologised for the remarks

The watermelon is considered a symbol of racism to black people in America. It dates back to a stereotype that the fruit is a favourite of African Americans.

Frei apologised on Twitter for his description of Obama and said that he was unaware the expression had racial connotations - something that wasn't lost on everyone.

Amaechi later conceded Frei probably did not mean to cause any offence.

Frei isn't the first high profile Brit to apologise after making the off-colour remark.

In 2008 Boris Johnson apologised for referring to black people as "piccaninnies" and using the term "watermelon smiles" in a column published in the Daily Telegraph six years earlier.

The London mayor had mocked Tony Blair's globetrotting, writing: "What a relief it must be for Blair to get out of England. It is said that the Queen has come to love the Commonwealth, partly because it supplies her with regular cheering crowds of flag-waving piccaninnies," he wrote. It also mentioned "watermelon smiles".

Frei's biography on the Channel 4 website, it states: 'Prior to his appointment as Europe Editor for Channel 4 News, Frei was the Washington Correspondent for two years and has reported on the Americas on everything from business and culture to US foreign policy and its view of the world.'

He previously anchored the BBC World News America bulletin and was also Washington Correspondent.


Chris York   |   September 23, 2015    3:00 PM ET

Did you hear? The Pope is calling for planetary government and is a danger to the entire world.

No this isn't the plot from the latest instalment of Star Wars, it is the latest tirades of America's right-wing media.

His holiness has embarked upon an historic visit to the US and has given Conservatives the jitters as he talks about thing outside what they see as his remit.


Barack Obama shakes hands with the most evil man alive the lovely Pope

Apparently it's fine for Pope Francis to "help souls get to heaven" but he isn't allowed to talk about capitalism, climate change or redistribution of wealth in a country with one of the highest levels of income inequality in the world.

And if he does that's because he's an evil Marxist intent on imposing a New World Order.

Thankfully the Pope took absolutely no notice.

Jumping into the issues of the day, Pope Francis opened his visit to the United States with a strong call Wednesday for action to combat climate change, calling it a problem that "can no longer be left to a future generation." President Barack Obama, in turn, hailed the pontiff as a moral force who is "shaking us out of our complacency" with reminders to care for the poor and the planet.

The White House mustered all the pageantry it had to offer as the pope arrived at the White House before an adoring crowd of thousands and a nation that seemingly cannot get enough of the humble pontiff who is rejuvenating American Catholicism while giving heartburn to some of its conservatives.

Speaking in a soft voice and halting English, Francis delivered a strong message against those who doubt the science of climate change, saying that the warming planet "demands on our part a serious and responsible recognition" of conditions awaiting today's children.

It was a message sure to delight the Obama White House, and liberals in general. But the pope's message had something for conservatives, too, with a pointed call to protect religious liberties - "one of America's most precious possessions."

"All are called to be vigilant,' he said, "to preserve and defend that freedom from everything that would threaten or compromise it."

That message was sure to be welcomed by many US bishops and conservatives who have objected to the Obama administration's health care mandate and the recent Supreme Court legalization of same-sex marriage.

Paul Vale   |   September 22, 2015    9:34 PM ET

NEW YORK -- Pope Francis has arrived. On his first visit to the United States, the Pontiff landed at Joint Base Andrews on Tuesday, the 78-year-old greeted by President Obama and the First Family.

The Jesuit, who has attempted to transform the Catholic Church into a force for social justice during his two years in the Vatican, has a diplomatic brief for the trip. However, he arrives at a time of acute political tension, in which any statement, utterance or action is likely to be corralled into the ongoing presidential campaign debate that has dominated the country’s political culture in recent months.

The Pope arrived from Cuba, emerging from the Alitalia jet in his traditional chalky robes, removing his hat in the wind. Francis will spend six days in the US, addressing Congress, before visiting Philadelphia and New York.

The Argentine is expected too preach a message of care for the downtrodden and protection for the environment, uncomfortable notions for many American conservatives in which free market fundamentals (often at expense of the poor and the Earth’s resources) remain the national God.

Francis has also spoken out against the vilification of immigrants, a lively topic in the simmering political climate, as well as attacking the sacred cow of capitalism. Abortion and race relations are also potential flash points during the visit.

According to AP, Francis spoke of the conservative criticism of his economic worldview during the flight, telling reporters that he may have given the impression that he’s "a little bit more left-leaning." He said this was wrong, and his is simply administering church doctrine. It won’t be the last time he has to answer this charge in the forthcoming days.

Paul Vale   |   September 20, 2015    7:06 PM ET

NEW YORK -- A hugely popular Christian conservative, currently polling second in the race to be the Republican presidential candidate, said on Sunday he “absolutely would not agree” with a Muslim entering the White House.

Ben Carson, a former neuroscientist who boasts fanatical support amongst American evangelicals, told NBC’s “Meet The Press” Islam is incompatible with the country’s constitution.

The softly spoken doctor, who has a penchant for masking extremist sentiment with a gentle delivery, was reacting to a question about a Donald Trump supporter, who at a rally on Thursday decried President Obama as a “Muslim” and called for ethnic cleansing.

ben carson

Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson delivers a speech to supporters Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2015, in Phoenix

When asked if the president’s faith mattered, Carson said it would depend on what the faith was. "If it's inconsistent with the values and principles of America, then of course it should matter," he said. "If it fits within the realm of America and is consistent with the Constitution, I have no problem."

"I would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation," he added. "I absolutely would not agree with that."

Carson's record includes stating that prison sex proves homosexuality is a choice, demanding the US military not be constrained by rules, and that the best way to understand the administration of President Obama is to read Mein Kampf.

Trump was rounded upon earlier this week for not correcting the questioner at his rally, who peddled the birther line that Obama was not born in the US. Despite the outrage, Trump insinuated on Sunday that America had already had its first Muslim president.

When asked on the same show if how he'd feel should a Muslim president be elected, Trump said: "Would I be comfortable? I don’t know if we have to address it right now... But I think it is certainly something that could happen."

When asked again, the frontrunner said: "I mean, some people have said it already happened, frankly… But of course you wouldn’t agree with that."

In reaction to Carson's comments, Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, told the Washington Examiner: "I think his remarks should be repudiated by everyone on the political spectrum and that he should withdraw."


Paul Vale   |   September 18, 2015    3:49 AM ET

NEW YORK -- After a toothless performance in Wednesday's Republican presidential debate, Donald Trump’s campaign rolled into a crisis on Thursday when the reality TV star failed to correct a supporter who explicitely called for the ethnic cleansing of Muslims.

donald trump new hampshire

Trump speaks during a town hall event at Rochester Recreational Arena September 17, 2015 in Rochester, New Hampshire

The first man to grab the microphone at an event in Rochester, New Hampshire, said: "We have a problem in this country. It's called Muslims. You know our current president is one. You know he's not even an American."

Trump’s rebuttal?

"We need this question? This is the first question?"

The unidentified man in a “Trump” t-shirt continued: "Anyway, we have training camps growing where they want to kill us… That's my question: When can we get rid of them?"

Trump’s rebuttal?

"We're going to be looking at a lot of different things. You know, a lot of people are saying that and a lot of people are saying that bad things are happening. We're going to be looking at that and many other things."

When asked after the event why the property tycoon didn’t correct the questioner, his campaign manager ran to a familiar excuse: He didn’t hear the question.

Beleaguered apologist Corey Lewandowski offered the following mitigation: "All he heard was a question about training camps, which he said we have to look into. The media want to make this an issue about Obama, but it's about him waging a war on Christianity."

Trump launched a pretend presidential campaign ahead of the 2012 election, but was forced out of the race after this roasting at the White House Correspondents' dinner:

That “campaign” was based on Trump’s innuendo that the president was not an American-born citizen, with the attendant suggestion that he was a Muslim fifth-columnist bent on ending the Republic.

And if you think Trump didn't hear the questioner, watch this:


Sophie Brown   |   September 17, 2015    6:58 AM ET

Barack Obama has shown his support for Ahmed Mohamed, the 14-year-old Muslim boy who was arrested for making a clock that his teachers believed to be a bomb.

The President tweeted an invite to dinner at the White House, writing: "Cool clock, Ahmed. Want to bring it to the White House? We should inspire more kids like you to like science. It's what makes America great."

On Wednesday, people took to Twitter to show their solidarity with Mohamed using the #IStandWithAhmed hashtag. The teenager now has a long line of supporters including Mark Zuckerberg, who invited him visit Facebook.

You’ve probably seen the story about Ahmed, the 14 year old student in Texas who built a clock and was arrested when he...

Posted by Mark Zuckerberg on Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Mohamed was arrested after a teacher raised concerns about the clock, prompting police to question him, search his things and march him from the school in handcuffs. He was wearing a NASA t-shirt when he was arrested.

Police said they did not believe the device was dangerous but said it would be mistaken for a fake explosive.

Mohamed was suspended from school for three days but has not yet been charged.

“She was like, 'it looks like a bomb',” Ahmed told Dallas News of what the teacher said. “I told her, ‘It doesn’t look like a bomb to me.’”

“[A police officer said] ‘So you tried to make a bomb?’ I told them no, I was trying to make a clock. He said, ‘It looks like a movie bomb to me.’”

A Twitter account claiming to be Mohamed and his family has now been verified.

David Cameron's Ideological Assault on the Environment Could Have Catastrophic Consequences Beyond Our Own Borders

Seb Dance   |   September 15, 2015   11:29 AM ET

In October the European Parliament will vote on proposals to strengthen existing air quality legislation, on which I have been working in the Environment Committee. But leaked documents have shown the UK Government is already hard at work undermining these efforts.

Confidential government submissions to Brussels, revealed by the Guardian, argue the UK would lose out due to the high sulphur content of British coal. This, it claims, would lead to pit closures and a greater need to import from foreign competitors.

This course of action is utterly self-defeating, and it will cost the UK further down the line.

We need to wean ourselves off of our dependence on coal and develop alternatives that will allow the UK to become a leader in renewable and non-fossil fuel energy. Our future economic growth depends on it.

In the short-term we can and must take immediate action to limit emissions from heavy polluting sources. Carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology offers such a possibility; but digging up coal offers no long-term solution for powering our industry and keeping our homes heated.

The costs of an over-reliance on fossil fuels are unsustainable; not only are coal plants the top source of CO2 emissions - the primary cause of global warming - but they also add significantly to the problem of air pollution and corresponding health effects and premature deaths this causes.

Unfortunately the Government's position appears blind to this reality and this latest intervention is by no means an exception.

The litany of wasted opportunities and a willingness to concede to the narrow-minded climate change-sceptics on the Tory backbenches have pushed the government to the fringes of the environmental debate. David Cameron's claim to be the 'greenest Government ever' has been well and truly hollowed out.

This government has scrapped subsidies for onshore wind, solar and incentives to replace coal with biomass. It has sold off the Green Investment Bank. It has done away with incentives for consumers to buy greener cars, dropped targets to increase the proportion of revenue from environmental taxes and given up on a pledge of making every new home 'carbon-free' from 2016. Cameron has even u-turned on his pledge to stop fracking in sites of scientific special interest.

Not content with undermining the cheapest and cleanest and economically viable energy sources available, Tory ministers are now set on protecting the big polluters and putting the health of the British people at risk.

The link between our health and air pollution is incontrovertible. Poor air quality causes lower birth weight and reduced lung development of children in polluted areas. It causes asthma, pulmonary heart disease, strokes and lung and bladder cancer. It's killing 10,000 in London every year alone, and it's hitting the poorest and the most vulnerable hardest.

The UK has been in breach of the EU's nitrogen dioxide limit since 2010. The government's record is so poor that the Supreme Court has stepped in and ordered it to present a credible plan to address the problem.

The Environment Secretary's contempt for the Supreme Courts ruling is significant, but the consequences of the Government's actions on the international stage are possibly disastrous.

In December, world leaders will assemble at the COP 21 summit in Paris to thrash out new binding promises and targets to cut greenhouse gas emissions, in the hope of containing global warming to a maximum of 2 degrees Celsius and to limit the most extreme and catastrophic impacts of climate change. Failure is not an option.

So what message does the UK picking fights over our domestic coal industry send out to other big polluters like China and India? Why on earth should other, fast-growing economies listen to the preaching's of UK ministers, when the UK is so keen to follow its own, ultimately short-term and self-defeating, self-interest?

Unlike David Cameron, President Obama has had the courage of his own convictions. His plans to reduce US greenhouse gas emissions by 32% by 2030 would transform hundreds of US coal-fired powers stations and mines. He will expend significant political capital by laying down the gauntlet to state governors likely to push for legal challenges, to Republican senators and congressman, and to vested interests in the fossil-fuel industry to seek cleaner, greener alternatives.

Obama's actions send out a clear message that a deal can be done in Paris. Cameron so-far offers nothing but outdated and short-term thinking.

His ideological assault on environmental policies, including air quality legislation, is not only putting the lives of people at risk, but is having a serious impact on our ability to cut global carbon emissions before its too late.

Our current political leaders, whether we support them on other matters or not, must not abdicate themselves from showing the leadership the world so desperately needs.