Everyone Hates Mitt Romney

Paul Vale   |   January 16, 2015   12:00 AM ET

Everyone hates Mitt Romney. Everyone. Not just the 47% of Americans he dismissed as welfare takers during his slapstick presidential charge in 2012, and not just the workers he said he "loves to fire" during the same burlesque campaign.

Absolutely everyone hates him. Democrats, Republicans, the Tea Party... even the British, including David Cameron and Boris Johnson, who rounded on the former governor after the then-candidate suggested the country was ill-prepared to host the 2012 Olympic Games.

That'll be the same Olympics that were globally hailed as the best in decades, though in Mitt's defense he did enter a dancing horse with a Twitter account as compensation...

This week, backpedaling on assurances that after two failed presidential bids he would not run again, Romney announced to donors that he was thinking of running again.

Adding levity to the proposal, the multi-millionaire corporate raider, who once disdained social welfare programs and made fun of poor people for wearing plastic ponchos, leaked that he was going to run as the poverty candidate -- as in the Republican candidate most concerned about the poor.

Even Romney can spot that inequality is the current cause célèbre. However shoehorning a man who once said "corporations are people" into Russell Brand's "doyen of the downtrodden" plimsolls will be a Sisyphean task. It would be easier for Donald Trump to run as an African-American, or Hillary as a man.

Yet antipathy for Romney is not just bubbling up from the hoi polloi. Rupert Murdoch, another who thinks that wealth and politics are perfectly good bedfellows, called Romney a "terrible candidate" this week, adding that the 67-year-old had "had his chance".

Trump too, speaking on MSNBC, said that Romney "blew it" in 2012, the bewigged birther dismissing his fellow businessman as "a dealmaker that couldn't close the deal".

Even Sarah Palin, a woman whose political opinion has not evolved beyond the unlettered populism responsible for her preposterous tilt at the VP's job in 2008, pushed for "new energy... new blood... and new ideas".

Following the leak of Romney's intention, the other likely presidential candidates formed a firing squad. Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker took aim, saying, "I think it's difficult to make an argument about moving forward when you're arguing about things from the past," while Kentucky Senator Rand Paul pulled the trigger, calling Romney "yesterday's news".

Another desirous of the Oval Office is Texas Senator Ted Cruz, who returned to his oft-quoted line from Ronald Reagan demanding "bold colours" (Cruz) not "pale pastels" (Romney). According to Republican mythology, the long-dead Gipper currently sits on the right hand of God (receiving a pedicure from Ayn Rand) so Cruz's dismissal carried all the weight of scripture.

So everyone hates Mitt. Except, it seems, the business executives and donors who are pushing for Romney round three, along with his loyal spokesman, Eric Fehrnstrom, who like Cruz invoked the divine to defend his client. "Reagan ran three times," said Fehrnstrom this week, "Mitt learns from experience. If he does run, he will run his strongest campaign yet."

Romney leads several polls, mainly due to his name recognition from 2012, and the fact that no other candidate has officially thrown their Stetson into the ring. Yet the most relevant poll was taken in 2012, when Obama secured a second term at Romney's expense when a Republican victory seemed very achievable. After that defeat, Romney 2016 seems impossible.

As Jonathan Chait put it in New York Magazine this week, "Nothing could convince me that Romney will actually run for president, not even Romney taking the oath of office."

Prosperity Can Save the World

Joana Alfaiate   |   January 15, 2015    5:38 PM ET

Prime Minister David Cameron and President Obama have come together to champion prosperity. The two leaders highlight the importance of economic growth - but they define prosperity as being also the rule of law, peace and freedom. These Western values have become a matter of life and death: Obama and Cameron explicitly urge their citizens to defend them from those who claim our way of life is 'decadent' and must be crushed. The leaders have an unlikely ally in Ed Balls, who has also made an appeal for 'inclusive prosperity'.

Obama, Cameron and Balls are behind the curve. The Legatum Prosperity Index™ has been working for the last eight years on defining prosperity as wealth and wellbeing in all-encompassing terms: economy, entrepreneurship, governance, education, health, security, freedom and community. The Index ranks 142 countries based on these indicators, - covering 96% of the world's population and 99% of global GDP -, putting them together to reach an overall prosperity rank. For the Legatum Institute, "prosperity" is the term that embodies the true achievement of a better life, one where living standards are high, countries are peaceful and safe, and people are healthy, educated and free.

When Cameron and Obama talk of the threats to 'our' way of life - they mean the atrocities in Paris by al-Qaeda, the violent video killings of Islamic State, the murderous pillaging of Boko Haram, the attacks on the school in Peshawar, and to Russia's aggressive actions in Ukraine. Security and freedom is under threat; prosperity stands between these values and violence, repression, and impunity.

The US and the UK may not have an unblemished record when it comes to true prosperity. Neither is the freest country in the world, (the US ranks 21st in Personal Freedom in the 2014 Prosperity Index, placing it below Uruguay, Costa Rica, Malta or Portugal). But in terms of other variables, like rule of law, tolerance, and social capital, these two nations enjoy a high level of overall prosperity -- the US ranks 10th of 142 countries in 2014 for its good overall performance; while the UK ranks 13th. This lends the leaders of these two nations the authority to urge others to follow suit: only if governments can secure such all-important values for their citizens can they protect ordinary people from the violence of extremists.

Chris York   |   January 12, 2015    1:30 PM ET

Britain First have kissed goodbye any chance they could ever be seen as even a remotely credible political force after posting what could be their most bizarre Facebook update to date.

In response to the absence of a United States contingent at the huge solidarity march in Paris on Sunday, the pseudo-political group joined the ranks of fully signed up conspiracy theorists with an explanation that would make Donald Trump blush:

Latching on to a conspiracy theory more than a decade after it was debunked, Britain First appeared to suggest that Barack Obama had sympathy with the Islamists behind the Paris attacks.

The US president has been dogged by false rumours of his "true" religion ever since he campaigned for the US senate in 2004.


Despite repeated denials and the assertion that visiting Indonesia or having the middle name "Hussein" doesn't automatically make you a terrorist, the gossip has persisted.

Other bastions of right-wing lunacy who also believe Barack Obama is a Muslim include...



pamela geller

So, they're in good company.

Sorcerers, Apprentices, Broomsticks: The US Has Not Done Enough to Support Democracy in Pakistan, Peace With India

Catriona Luke   |   January 9, 2015   11:26 AM ET

Writing sensitive diplomatic documents is probably the world's second oldest profession. A mountainous, inaccessible central Asian country with immense strategic importance, causes a regional governor to urgently dispatch a memo to the equivalent of the State department. This country, he writes, autonomously governed 'ruled on theocratic lines, is likely to be a stronger guarantee against Soviet advance to the borders of India than any resumption of effective [he mentions a large neighbouring state] control'.

'This country' might have been Afghanistan, but the memo sent by Sir Olaf Caroe, governor of North West Frontier, in June 1935 concerned Tibet, at that time a semi-British protectorate in a 37-year reprieve from Chinese rule that has marked its porous history from the 18th century.

Olaf Caroe as well as being a 'Forward policy man' to his fingertips, was a proponent of the creation of Pakistan not only because he had a sentimental attachment to the Pathans, but because like many of his Indian Civil Service generation he was obsessed by the Soviet threat. After 1947 and as a regular visitor to Washington he influenced the Americans on the 'uncertain vestibule' of buffer states between the Soviet Union, the subcontinent and the oil-rich Persian Gulf.

His geopolitical treatise Wells of Power: the oilfields of south west Asia (1951) and his role in the formation of the 1955 Baghdad Pact, modelled on Nato, for the US, Turkey, Iran, Pakistan and Iraq, allowed him to persuade Allen W. Dulles, the first civilian director of the CIA, that the imperial lessons of military hardware and a tight hand on the geo-political tiller was necessary to keep them aligned to the west. It was complemented by Seato, the Southeast Asia Treaty Organisation, founded in 1954 to prevent communism from gaining ground in the region. Pakistan was a member and hence a recipiant of US military aid.

In the 1950s Dulles modelled the fledgling CIA on British imperial lines, and staffed it with Ivy Leaguers. Within seven years the great games division of the CIA had a) deposed Mossadeq and backed the return of the shah in Iran on the slightest of rumours that the Soviets had an eye on Iran oil; b) overthrown the elected leftist prime minister (Jacobo Arbenz) in Guatemala to replace him with a military junta; c) begun the long process of pouring military aid into Pakistan (see Kamran Shafi's excellent article for Tribune Pakistan, "A gentle reminder", 2011) which culminated in the backing of Ayub Khan's military coup in 1958 and the decision to build a new capital at Islamabad suspiciously close to Rawalpindi GHQ.

Washington's reasoning on this was to do with India. Nehru's relationship with Moscow (five years plans, massive state nationalisation) which deepened under the successive governments of his daughter Indira Gandhi. The second volume of Christopher Andrew's and Vasili Mitrokhin's The Mitrokhin Archives shows how effectively the Soviet Union penetrated and bought India from the 1960s - their most successful client state outside Europe - in a combined policy of stagnation of its economy and repression of its political structures. It threw up a flurry of counterweight alliances - the US with Pakistan, China with Pakistan and from the 1970s Saudi Arabia with Pakistan, all of which came to benefit and inflate Pakistan's military and consequently make it almost impossible for democracy to take root.

As ever it was the decisions made in remote capitals that had the most devastating effects. At the time of the fall of East Pakistan in 1971 as Gary J Bass, professor of politics at Princeton, has shown in "The Blood Telegram: Nixon, Kissinger, and a Forgotten Genocide," disgraceful White House diplomacy attended the birth of Bangladesh. Washington gave the Pakistan military carte blanche to murder 300,000 Bengalis, most of whom were Hindus, and forced 10 million to flee to India. The cause: that Nixon and Kissinger in wanting to extract the US from Vietnam in a face-saving way - and obsessed as ever with the Soviets - opened a channel to split Moscow and Beijing with the help of Pakistan's military leader Yahya Khan. Yahya was Nixon's intermediary to Chou Enlai and he later helped prepare the ground for Kissinger and then Nixon to visit China.

If it sounds like the pragmatism of geo-politics to safeguard "the free world", The Blood Telegram also shows in the age of 'Reds under the Beds' Nixon and Kissinger to be stupid and vulgar especially in their attitudes toward the Indian administration, which they regarded in its pro-Soviet alignment as repulsive and shifty, and especially in their opinion of Indira Gandhi. "The old bitch," Nixon called her. "I don't know why the hell anybody would reproduce in that damn country but they do."

So it is not too difficult to imagine the scenes in the White House when Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, the civilian prime minister, sat down on a sofa with Mrs Gandhi at Shimla in July 1972 and talked about peace and the Line of Control. The meeting, the news got about in Foggy Bottom, was brokered from Moscow.

Kissinger made repeated efforts to warn Bhutto off, ostensibly on the grounds of Pakistan's nuclear programme (which they equally turned a blind eye to in the 1980s) but the reality is that Washington found Zulfikar Ali impossible to control - in contrast to the military establishments that Washington favoured - and they wanted him out.

When the Soviets invaded Afghanistan in 1979, US-Pakistan policy was not so far removed from Caroe's 'theocratic lines'. Combined aid from the US and Saudi Arabia poured into Afghanistan to fund the mujahideen. Arnold Raphael, the serving US ambassador, who went down in the Bahawalpur plane crash with Zia and Pakistan's top military and ISI brass, in August 1988, was known to have lobbied Washington to have the hard-line director of ISI, General Hamid Gul with his links to the fundamentalist, acid-throwing Gulbuddin Hekmatyar in the Afghan Alliance, to take over from a failing Zia in Pakistan.

This may have been too much even for Washington. But the sideways consequence was the vast re-arming of the Pakistan military through the 1980s and the increase of the ISI from a staff of 2000 in 1978 to 40,000 (with a $1 billion budget) a decade later. Anatol Lieven notes that "Zia used the ISI to channel US and Arab aid to the mujahedin. A good deal of this money stuck to the ISI's fingers." With joint funding streams from Washington and the Gulf, the ISI /military was now able to direct foreign policy, influence media coverage in Pakistan, blackmail elected governments and undermine the democratic process. By the end of the 1980s the ISI enjoyed a position of status quo that even today is only slowly being eroded.

In this, most foolishly, the west was complicit: Christopher Andrew, the Cambridge intelligence academic noted in the chapter on Pakistan in The Mitrokhin Archives: The World, during the 1980s Zia's rule from a western perspective, provided near ideal conditions of stability.

For a great part of the first decade of this century it was said in the western media that the US-Pak relationship is one of mutual need. More accurately, it may also be read as one of mutual responsibility for Pakistan not being able over six decades to reach its economic, democratic and social development potential, and at times has been prevented from coming to peace with its neighbour India.

That is not to say that the geo-politics practised in and around the subcontinent by other states - Saudi Arabia, Russia, Iran, China have been any better. The Russian occupation of Afghanistan 1978-87 resulted in 876,825 deaths.

But with Washington seemingly once again turning a blind eye to democratic struggles once again in Pakistan in 2015, you might once again wonder at their under-used capacity to propel India and Pakistan to peace.

In the last week of January Barack Obama will be the state guest at India's annual Republic Day celebrations. He will be the first US head of state to have visited India twice, and it will be the second summit-level meeting between Obama and Modi in four months.

The issue, after 60 years, might be whether this is once again in response to the shifting geo-political alliances of the region, or whether Obama has his head screwed on the right way and might actually move US policy in favour of peace between India and Pakistan. That would be a first.

Paul Vale   |   January 8, 2015    4:46 PM ET

NEW YORK -- President Obama is under pressure from a bi-partisan group in Congress that is demanding the infamous 28 pages of redactions in the official 9/11 report be declassified.

Former Senator Bob Graham, who penned the report into the attacks in 2001, has joined a growing chorus of voices demanding the redacted pages, which detail links between the terrorists and the Saudi Arabian government, be made public.

Entitled the Joint Inquiry Into Intelligence Activities Before and After the Terrorist Attacks of September 2001, the original report was published in December 2002, however President Bush demanded that 28 pages of the 828-page dossier were blacked out in an effort to protect America’s relationship with the Saudis.

twin towers

The north tower of the World Trade Center burns after s hijacked airplane hit it September 11, 2001 in New York City

Speaking to ABC News, Democratic Graham said on Wednesday: "The 28 pages primarily relate to who financed 9/11 and they point a very strong finger at Saudi Arabia as being the principal financier. The position of the United States government has been to protect Saudi Arabia.

"At virtually every step of the judicial process, when the United States government was called upon to take a position, it has been a position adverse to the interests of United States citizens seeking justice and protective of the government which, in my judgment, was the most responsible for that network of support."

Graham, along with fellow Democrat Stephen Lynch and Republican Walter Jones, are now pushing for legislation forcing Obama to declassify the documents. Should a link between Saudi Arabia and the attackers be revealed, families of the victims could sue the Saudi Kingdom through the American courts.

Reported by ABC News, Terry Strada, of the group 9/11 Families United for Justice, whose husband died in the attack, demanded the pages be published. She said: "Where is the outrage, I want to know that Saudi Arabia, a country, our supposed ally, not only bankrolled al Qaeda and the worst terror attack on US soil, but was also instrumental in implementing an intricate web of operatives in numerous places around the world."


Below are pictures from the opening of the 9/11 memorial in 2014:

Paul Vale   |   January 7, 2015    3:12 PM ET

World leaders have condemned the attack on satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo in France, an assault by three gunmen that left 12 dead and scores injured.

The attackers stormed the newsroom in central Paris and began firing indiscriminately on Wednesday morning. Witnesses told police that the gunmen shouted "we have avenged the prophet," according to Agence France-Presse.

The assailants, who were caught on film fleeing after the attack, remain on the loose. French interior minister Bernard Cazeneuve said a manhunt is under way to trace the perpetrators of the raid.

Cazeneuve said "all the means" of the justice and interior ministries have been mobilised to "neutralise the three criminals who have committed this barbaric act".

Below, global leaders react to events in Paris:

British Prime Minister David Cameron: "The murders in Paris are sickening. We stand with the French people in the fight against terror and defending the freedom of the press."

American President Barack Obama: "France, and the great city of Paris where this outrageous attack took place, offer the world a timeless example that will endure well beyond the hateful vision of these killers. We are in touch with French officials and I have directed my Administration to provide any assistance needed to help bring these terrorists to justice."

Russian President Vladimir Putin: "Moscow resolutely condemns terrorism in all its forms. Nothing can justify terrorist attacks."

narendra modi
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi: "[A] condemnable and despicable attack in Paris. Our solidarity with [the] people of France. My thoughts are with [the] families of those who lost their lives."

canadian stephen harper
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper: "I'm horrified by the barbaric attacks in France. Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families."

dilma rousseff
Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff: "It is an unacceptable attack on press freedom, a fundamental value of democratic societies."

President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker: "I am profoundly shocked by the brutal and inhumane attack on the Charlie Hebdo premises. It is an intolerable act, a barbaric act that concerns us all, as humans, and as Europeans. My thoughts go out to the victims and their families. I wish to express, both personally and on behalf of the European Commission, our greatest solidarity with France.”

matteo renzi
Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi: "Violence will always lose out against freedom."

German Chancellor Angela Merkel: "I was shocked to learn of the despicable attack on the newspaper in Paris. I would like to express to you and your compatriots in this hour of suffering the sympathy of the German people as well my own sorrow, and convey my condolences to the victims' loved ones."

mariano rajoy
Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy: "My firm condemnation of the terrorist attack in Paris. My condolences and solidarity to the French people and the victims."

dalil boubakeur
Head of the French Muslim Council Dalil Boubakeur: "We absolutely condemn such an act and we look forward to the authorities meting out justice. The [Muslim] community is dumbfounded by what has happened."

jens stoltenberg
Secretary General of NATO Jens Stoltenberg: “I strongly condemn the terrorist attack at the office of the Charlie Hebdo magazine in Paris today. This was a barbaric act and an outrageous attack on press freedom."

mevlut cavusoglu
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu: "Whatever is its reason or target, we are against all kinds of terror. People's freedom of belief should also be respected. It shouldn't be ridiculed or scorned. Islam is a religion of peace and it is not right to associate it with terrorism."

helle thorningschmidt
Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt: "Completely defenceless and innocent people became the victims of what appears to be an attack on free speech. The French society, like ours, is open, democratic and based on a free and critical press. Those are values that are deeply rooted in all of us, and which we shall protect. "It is also those very values that make France a strong society that can withstand an attack like this."

francois hollande
French President François Hollande:"This is a terrorist attack, there is no doubt about it. We are under threat because we are a country of freedom and because we are a country of freedom we ward off threats and will punish aggressors."


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.