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Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Former top general calls on Obama to wipe out Isis in wake of Foley killing” was written by Spencer Ackerman in New York and Dan Roberts in Washington, for The Guardian on Thursday 21st August 2014 17.42 UTC

An influential retired US general has called on Barack Obama to order the destruction the militant group responsible for murdering American journalist James Foley amid conflicting views in the administration on how to respond to the atrocity.

As Obama’s foreign policy team debates expanding its renewed air war in Iraq after the killing of Foley by the Islamic State (Isis), John Allen, a retired marine general who commanded the Afghanistan war from 2011 to 2013, urged Obama to “move quickly to pressure its entire ‘nervous system’, break it up, and destroy its pieces.”

Allen’s argument, presented in an op-ed for the DefenseOne website, echoes remarks by secretary of state John Kerry and comes amid internal dispute in the Obama administration over the future course of its two-week air war in Iraq. Much diplomatic effort is said to be spent broadening and hardening a region-wide effort against Isis, something Allen endorsed, with Turkey and Qatar being a particular near-term focus for Kerry.

The debate is said to be fluid. At present, a US official anticipated more continuity than change in future military operations against Isis, but said: “It may ultimately evolve.”

On Wednesday, six new airstrikes continued to hit Isis positions near the Mosul Dam, three days after Obama declared that it was no longer under Isis control. Nearly two-thirds of the 90 US strikes since 8 August have taken place near the critical dam.

In a grisly video produced by Foley’s captors, his killer says Foley’s death came as revenge for US airstrikes in Iraq. Soon after the video was released, the US confirmed that it had recently mounted a failed rescue bid for Foley. Elite US military forces secretly invaded Syria earlier this summer in a mission that involved dozens of special operations forces from all US military services, including the 160th special operations aviation regiment.

US forces flew into Syria in defiance of air defence batteries that senior military officials have described as highly threatening to pilots. Modified Black Hawk helicopters were involved, and “armed fixed-wing aircraft and drones” provided cover to forces on the ground, said an administration official. No hostages were found at the targeted location.

It emerged on Thursday that Foley’s family received a message from Foley’s captors on 13 August, warning them that he would be killed. They passed the message on to the US government, which helped with a response. Phil Balboni, chief executive of GlobalPost, the Boston-based online news publication that had published work by Foley, told Reuters: “It was an appeal for mercy. It was a statement that Jim was an innocent journalist,” and that he respected the people of Syria, where he was held.

Foley’s family and friends hoped the militants were bluffing and wanted a ransom, he said. The group had last year demanded a ransom of 2m for his rescue, Balboni said.

Wary of overcommitment to a new Iraq war, the Obama administration has sent mixed signals about how far it is willing to go against Isis. Kerry, who has been hawkish against Isis, said the jihadist organization “must be destroyed/will be crushed”, a goal beyond the one Obama has thus far set.

Allen proposed attacking Isis in Syria as well as Iraq “across its entire depth”, an option the Pentagon has studied after the group overran Iraq’s second largest city in June but is yet to implement.

In an interview on Thursday with National Public Radio, one of Obama’s closest advisers opened the door for attacking Isis in Syria, which would represent a significant expansion of a bombing effort whose missions have slowly evolved.

“We would not restrict ourselves by geographic boundaries,” said Ben Rhodes, a deputy national security adviser. “We haven’t made decisions to take additional actions at this time.”

Rhodes indicated that the administration believes that the incoming government of Haider al-Abadi in Baghdad will aid US efforts in assembling and deepening an anti-Isis coalition. Rejecting a recent suggestion, Rhodes ruled out a rapprochement with Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad to confront a mutual foe.

Writing for the DefenseOne website, Allen conspicuously praised Obama, who is wary of expansive promises made by the military. He did not propose a return to ground combat, but urged a “focused advise and assist” mission to bolster Iraqi and Kurdish soldiers and non-jihadist Syrian rebels, a commitment that would require a reintroduction of significantly more US military advisers.

Obama has ruled out US ground combat, preferring to rely on proxies, something his critics have not challenged, with memories of a bloody US occupation still fresh. The US official said working through vetted Syrian opposition groups and Iraqi and Kurdish forces “will continue to be the foundation of the US approach going forward”.

Though entire divisions of the Iraqi army fled from Isis in June, “they’ve shown a lot more capability in the last two weeks than in the previous two months,” the official said.

At the State Department, officials said the US is pressuring Qatar and Turkey to help cut off flows of financing and foreign fighters to Isis, even as they cautioned that they did not see evidence of either government supporting the extremist group officially.

“We are working with governments in the region where we believe there are private citizens funding [Isis] to get them to clamp down even further to cut off those sources of funding,” said spokeswoman Marie Harf.

“We need to attack [Isis] on a variety of fronts, one of which is the bombs that the Pentagon folks are dropping on them right now. One of them is not letting them have access to resources.”

Kerry also spoke directly to the Qatari foreign minister on Wednesday, during which Foley’s death was “likely” to have come up, according to US officials, although the call was primarily about Gaza.

Asked whether Qatar, Turkey or Saudi Arabia – another alleged source of funding – were “fully on board”, Harf responded: ”Well, look, we’re talking to them every day about what more we can all do. We know there’s more that needs to be done. We know this is a long-term fight, and we know it’s a tough one. So we’re having those conversations.”

Allen said Foley’s killing “embodies” the threat from Isis, which he called “an entity beyond the pale of humanity”. The US official said Allen’s article “serves a purpose in helping explain to the American people how dire it is”.

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Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Supreme court debates ‘Obamacare’ and Republican campaign – live” was written by Jim Newell, for guardian.co.uk on Monday 26th March 2012 16.55 UTC

12.54pm: Day One of the Case of the Century has already concluded, and the chamber is clearing out. Here’s CNN/New Yorker legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin‘s insta-reaction from the press bench:

Jamie Dupree of WBS radio had a bit more to offer, suggesting that there was still plenty of intra-justice sparring during these early, procedural hours:

While the U.S. Supreme Court set aside 90 minutes for argument on the first day of its review of the Obama health reform law, it did not seem like there was an appetite among the Justices to side step the essential question of the constitutionality of the law itself.

Instead, the Justices started skirmishing in advance of what will be the main event on Tuesday, when the Supreme Court takes two hours to review the individual mandate.

Jess Bravin at the Wall Street Journal felt a similar vibe – that the justices seem quite eager to fight this out instead of making an anticlimactic punt:

From what we’ve seen today, most of the justices appeared ready to get to the core of this case now, without waiting until 2014. Overall, the justices didn’t seem receptive to the argument that the Anti-Injunction Act bars a suit until 2014 or after because they didn’t see the insurance-mandate penalty as the kind of tax envisioned by the act.

For further insta-reactions, read any news website. Or stay here all day! You should stay here.

12.31pm: Actor Martin Sheen, who played President Jed Bartlett on The West Wing, has lent his fictional presidential voice to this new ad for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee:

“The same Republicans in Congress who obstructed Mr. Obama every step on the road back,” he says, “now want to end Medicare, eliminate it altogether.” Watch out, Martin Sheen! PolitiFact is going to shake a fist in your direction, any second now.

12.14pm: Today’s hearing at the Supreme court has now finished for the day.

12.10pm: Why can’t the Supreme Court justices simply decided this case with a game of paintball between the liberals and conservatives? You can learn so much from a game of paintball, according to these Western journalists who played with Hezbollah members.

11.56am: Aaaaand here’s the long-awaited video footage of Rick Santorum calling “bullshit” on Jeff Zeleny of the New York Times. Yes, it looks worse on video. Meaning it’s hilarious! He is quite the angry fellow.

 

11.44am: It wasn’t the big name lawyers for either side – profiles here and here – who opened the proceedings, the Wall Street Journal writes:

In a twist, the first lawyer set to stand up before the court Monday morning wasn’t Donald Verrilli or Paul Clement, the powerhouse advocates leading each side. Instead it’s Robert Long, a Covington & Burling partner who is arguing that the case isn’t ripe for adjudication. Long was hired by the Supreme Court to make that argument because both of the litigants – in a rare point of agreement – say the case is ready to be decided.

And the Associated Press reports on what sounds like a very… exciting… opening…

Eight of nine justices fired two dozen questions in less than half hour at Washington attorney Robert Long. He was appointed by the justices to argue that the case has been brought prematurely because a law bars tax disputes from being heard in the courts before the taxes have been paid.

Under the new law, taxpayers who don’t purchase health insurance will have to report that omission on tax returns for 2014 and will pay a penalty along with federal income tax. At issue is whether that penalty is a tax.

The “good stuff” comes tomorrow, when the individual mandate will be up for question-firing.

11.32am: Here’s our latest commentary on the issue, in which Jason Farago argues that Justices Roberts and Kennedy are all too aware of how overturning the PPACA would reflect on the Court’s reputation:

John Roberts surely wants to see the president lose this election as much as any establishment conservative, but it may be the election of 2000, rather than 2012, that really forces the chief justice’s hand. Whether he believes the zany arguments of the act’s opponents have worth is not the central question – because, to be frank, he has more to lose than Barack Obama, if he strikes it down. Obama may get a second chance, but for Roberts, the entire legitimacy of his court is as stake.

I wouldn’t go before a “death panel” to say so, but it seems a safe bet that Roberts and Kennedy will back the administration, if on narrow terms. But in the unlikely event that the justices kill part or all of the Affordable Care Act, it will at least remind us of one unspoken issue in this presidential race: that when we choose a president for four years, we’re also getting supreme court justices for decades more.

 

11.19am: Evan McMorris-Santoro of Talking Points Memo is also outside the Supreme Court, and notes that the atmosphere closely resembles those last days of protests outside the Capitol two years ago when the House was passing the health care law – specifically, tea partiers and liberal supporters shouting past each other with cheap sloganeering:

11.08am: Spotted amid the throngs of activists and angry journalists who couldn’t procure seating to today’s Supreme Court hearing: Rick Santorum, whining (appropriately) about how Mitt Romney basically invented the dreaded legislation being discussed indoors.

10.45am: Rick Santorum is standing by his hurling of a curse word – oh my! – at a New York Times reporter, telling Fox & Friends this morning, “If you haven’t cursed out a New York Times reporter during the course of a campaign, you’re not really a real Republican.” A new public litmus test! Romney? Gingrich? When will you curse out a Timesman in public?

Santorum – like any good Catholic boy – is even turning his vulgarity into a fundraising opportunity, emailing his supporters this morning:

Earlier today, while campaigning in Wisconsin, I criticized Romney and Obama for their outrageous healthcare legislation. Predictably, I was aggressively attacked by a New York Times reporter all too ready to defend the two of them, and all too ready to distort my words. Let me assure you, I didn’t back down, and I didn’t let him bully me. I think it is high time that conservatives find the courage to expose the liberal press for what they are, a defender and enabler of Romney’s and Obama’s liberal agendas.

This will probably reap great rewards.

10.35am: Let’s say there are two ways to evaluate the likelihood of the Supreme Court overturning, or at least mortally wounding, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act: (1) Read every explainer – or really the entirety of every legal blog over the past two years – to arrive at a conclusion based on justices’ previous rulings, overturn rates, or even (god forbid) the case’s merits, or (2) notice that there are five conservatives on the court as opposed to four liberals and just assume they’ll overturn it. The American public, according to The Hill’s latest poll, seem to be thinking more along the lines of (2):

Although voters want the court to strike the law, they don’t necessarily trust the justices’ motivations. Fifty-six percent of likely voters believe the justices are swayed by their own political beliefs, while just 27 percent believe they “make impartial decisions based on their reading of the Constitution.”

Skepticism about the justices relying on their political beliefs ran consistently among age, racial and philosophical categories, with a majority of whites (54 percent), blacks (59 percent), Republicans (56 percent), Democrats (59 percent), conservatives (54 percent), centrists (56 percent) and liberals (59 percent) expressing the same viewpoint.

10.17am: Not that he matters in any way whatsoever, but here is a new ad from Herman Cain in which a bunny is launched from a catapult and then shot in mid-air.

You’ll recall that Herman Cain led a major party’s race for its presidential nomination for several whole weeks last fall.

10.13am: President Obama, as ABC’s Jake Tapper reports, got himself into a bit of hot mic trouble near the end of his 90-minute meeting with Russian president Dmitri Medvedev this morning. Here’s the eerie transcript, in which Obama pleads for “space” on missile defense until his would-be reelection is out of the way:

Obama: On all these issues, but particularly missile defense, this, this can be solved but it’s important for him to give me space.

Medvedev: Yeah, I understand. I understand your message about space. Space for you…

Obama: This is my last election. After my election I have more flexibility.

Medvedev: I understand. I will transmit this information to Vladimir.

The White House has responded that with Russia having only recently resolved (in its own special way) its “election,” and the United States still having eight more months until its election that’s already been under way for a year, it’s true that neither side expects to get much done in the near term.

10.00am: Good morning and welcome to your Monday politics liveblog. This is Jim Newell writing from Washington. While you can usually find me at Wonkette these days, I’ll be substituting this week to bring you all the freshest political misery.

Most of today’s focus will be on the Supreme Court health care reform hearing, as Ryan Devereaux writes in our briefing of the morning’s events, but sadly the Supreme Court can’t fit us all as spectators. So we’ll have plenty of time to cover the other stuff – what mean things Rick Santorum said about Obama, or Mitt Romney said about Santorum, and so on, forever.

The main focus of political news comes away from the campaign trail today as 26 states challenge the constitutionality of the Obama administration’s signature health care legislation in the Supreme Court. A new CBS News/New York Times poll finds more Americans continue to disapprove of the president’s federal health care law than support it. According to the poll, 47% of Americans disapprove of the Affordable Care act while 36% approve, 16% don’t have an opinion. The issue has been prominent on the campaign trail: last week the Obama administration decided to embrace the term “Obamacare”, a phrase often used pejoratively by the president’s challengers.

Rick Santorum took a swing at Mitt Romney on Sunday, calling him “the worst Republican in the country to put up against Barack Obama.” Speaking in Wisconsin over the weekend, Santorum added that the former Massachusetts governor was “uniquely disqualified” to serve as the GOP’s presidential candidate. “Pick any other Republican in the country. He is the worst Republican in the country to put up against Barack Obama,” Santorum said. When pressed about his comments by a reporter, Santorum responded with obscenities. “Quit distorting my words. It’s bullshit.” Both the Obama and Romney camps have capitalized on Santorum’s outburst to cast him as a panicky and unhinged candidate in the final days of a failing campaign. It’s also earned him the nickname, “Tantorum”.

A senior White House adviser, David Plouffe, hit back at Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich for their “reprehensible” comments on the Trayvon Martin shooting. On Friday President Obama expressed his sympathy for the Martin family, saying: “If had a son, he would look like Trayvon.” Gingrich said the comments were divisive, and Santorum said the president was “politicizing” the issue. Plouffe said the comments were “reprehensible” and appealing to voters’ “worst instincts”.

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Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Why Obama’s healthcare reform is the court’s supreme test” was written by Jason Farago, for guardian.co.uk on Monday 26th March 2012 15.01 UTC

In October 2009, a reporter from something called the Cybercast News Service – a strange outfit run by the same people who put a giant ad in New York’s Times Square screaming “Don’t Believe the Liberal Media!” – asked Nancy Pelosi a question about the pending healthcare legislation. “Madam Speaker,” he asked, “where specifically does the constitution grant Congress the authority to enact an individual health insurance mandate?” The then-speaker couldn’t believe it. “Are you serious? Are you serious?” she asked, and laughed the guy out of the room.

That was about the reaction most serious conservative legal scholars had, too, when a few outliers groused that Congress had no right to require Americans to obtain healthcare. Their disapproval often went hand in hand with the strange constitution-worship of those early Tea Party days, complete with tricorn hats, irrational defenses of states’ rights, and, not incidentally, a bit of uncertainty about the president’s birth certificate. Within Congress, where Republicans led by Charles Grassley tried for months to forge a bipartisan deal, nobody except a few crusaders, among them Michele Bachmann and Jim DeMint, ever proposed that the Affordable Care Act would contravene the rules of the road.

But here we are, not three years later, and the signal accomplishment of Barack Obama’s presidency could be headed for the rubbish heap – by order not of the lawmakers, but of the supreme court. The sun is shining, the capital’s cherry blossoms are in bloom, but outside the courthouse people stood in line (or paid others to do so) for so long you’d think a new iPad was being released. It’s the biggest show in a tiny town, and the justices know they’re being watched. Otherwise, they would never have scheduled three days of oral arguments – the longest parley the court has permitted in nearly half a century.

Monday is for completists only, but could be revealing: the justices will go through some procedural arguments to determine whether they should rule on the act’s constitutionality now or wait until its central planks comes into force in 2014. Though the debate will be dry – it hinges on the Anti-Injunction Act, an arcane piece of tax law from the 1860s – the circumstances of the argument certainly aren’t. Neither the administration nor the law’s opponents claim that the court can’t rule yet; instead, it was the justices themselves who introduced this so-called “orphan argument” and appointed a hotshot DC attorney to make the case. If the justices decide they want to duck the whole issue, we may get a hint Monday.

The real red meat doesn’t come until Tuesday, when the justices will consider whether the “individual mandate”, or the requirement that Americans buy healthcare, falls under the commerce clause. That provision, in Article 1 of the constitution, lets Congress make laws that “regulate Commerce … among the several States,” and it is one of the most fundamental powers assigned to the legislature. The galling justification of the Obamacare opponents is that the mandate impermissibly forces the uninsured to “enter into commerce” – as if the 50 million Americans with no health insurance had never participated in a $2tn industry and were all living in Unabomber-like isolation. Two judges in Atlanta endorsed this argument (in a decision that cited the actual Boston Tea Party), but several conservative appellate judges, including a former clerk for Justice Antonin Scalia, were not convinced.

Wednesday is another technical day, hinging partly on states’ participation in Medicaid, but also on whether the court can strike down the individual mandate and leave the rest of the act intact, or whether they have to take it all or nothing.

What this supposed case of the century really amounts to is a political grudge dressed up as a meritless constitutional challenge, and a reminder that a tradition of conservatism that believed in judicial restraint has been superseded by one willing to use the courts to torpedo anything they don’t like. Calling the individual mandate unconstitutional is ridiculous on its face – but it’s even more so when you remember that the Heritage Foundation touted it as an ideal free-market solution to the healthcare crisis back in the 1980s, that it had Newt Gingrich’s backing as recently as the last election cycle, and that poor Mitt Romney signed a nearly identical program into law as governor of Massachusetts. This is not a legal argument; this is a ploy.

And there’s good reason to believe that even this court, with its clear conservative majority, is not going to strike down the most important domestic legislation since the civil rights movement on such flimsy grounds. To be clear, the only reason that this case has a chance of ending with a defeat for the White House is because of the 2006 retirement of Sandra Day O’Connor, and the lurch to the right the court has undergone since her departure. Like nowhere else, the presidency of George W Bush endures in the quiet work of the smiling John Roberts and the scowling Sam Alito, to say nothing of the 62 judges Bush placed on the appellate benches, many of them relatively young and fire-breathing.

But unlike Clarence Thomas, who’ll certainly vote to kill Obamacare and maybe a few decades’ worth of earlier rulings besides, Roberts is neither indifferent to precedent nor deaf to public skepticism about the court’s impartiality. He certainly isn’t the minimalist “umpire” he claimed to be at his 2005 confirmation hearing. None of us, during this first Citizens United election, can still believe that now.

But Roberts, as well as Anthony Kennedy, knows that the court has never recovered from the disgrace of Bush v Gore 12 years ago. John Paul Stevens wrote in his dissent that that case would destroy “the Nation’s confidence in the judge as an impartial guardian of the rule of law”, and he was right. According to a poll this month, fully three out of four Americans think the justices’ political views will determine their decision in this case.

John Roberts surely wants to see the president lose this election as much as any establishment conservative, but it may be the election of 2000, rather than 2012, that really forces the chief justice’s hand. Whether he believes the zany arguments of the act’s opponents have worth is not the central question – because, to be frank, he has more to lose than Barack Obama, if he strikes it down. Obama may get a second chance, but for Roberts, the entire legitimacy of his court is as stake.

I wouldn’t go before a “death panel” to say so, but it seems a safe bet that Roberts and Kennedy will back the administration, if on narrow terms. But in the unlikely event that the justices kill part or all of the Affordable Care Act, it will at least remind us of one unspoken issue in this presidential race: that when we choose a president for four years, we’re also getting supreme court justices for decades more.

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