Who Wants to Buy the New York Daily News?

The beleaguered tabloid’s billionaire owner wants to sell—and a new owner best be ready to hemorrhage $20 million a year. Could Rupert Murdoch be that man?

In yet another seismic shudder in the traumatized journalism business, billionaire real estate developer and media mogul Mortimer B. Zuckerman—the owner of the New York Daily News since 1993—announced on Thursday that he plans to sell the venerable but money-losing tabloid.

“The reaction is utter shock,” a longtime Daily News reporter told The Daily Beast minutes after Zuckerman’s memo revealing his intention to “explore the possibility [of a sale] and talk to potential buyers and/or investors” arrived by email blast in employees’ inboxes Thursday afternoon.

“Everybody knew that someday this might happen, but this is completely out of the blue,” said the reporter, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “The memo came out, and everybody looked at it and a lot of people said, ‘Holy shit!’”

Former Daily News editor in chief Martin Dunn, who ran the newsroom twice—for three years in the 1990s and again from 2004 to 2010—also expressed surprise at Zuckerman’s announcement. “I’m shocked,” Dunn told The Daily Beast. “Mort was always very proud of the fact that the Daily News had a huge political influence in the city. With the continuing troubles in newspaper circulation, perhaps that influence isn’t as great as it used to be.”

The print edition of the paper, which once sold in the millions of copies, these days has a paid weekday circulation of about 400,000, the sort of precipitous decline in the digital age that has affected nearly every newspaper, including the city’s rival tabloid, the 213-year-old New York Post

Advertising revenue has also plunged, especially because the traditional backbone of newspaper revenue, classified advertising, evaporated with the advent of free online classified sites such as Craigslist.

New York’s tabloid war, said a battle-scarred veteran, has become a pitiable spectacle of “two bald guys fighting over a comb."

Zuckerman, 77, wrote to his employees that after being approached “a few weeks ago” about the possibility of selling his 95-year old newspaper—a favorite of strap-hanging commuters in the working-class precincts of New York City’s outer boroughs—“I have retained Lazard, a leading financial advisory firm,” to help facilitate a sale of the paper or else secure outside investors to help shoulder the costs.

“I have not come to this decision easily,” wrote Zuckerman, who signed his memo “Mort.” “I appreciate that this news is difficult for you to digest. But I want to reassure you that my aim throughout this process will be to do the right thing for the business to ensure the Daily News and its brilliant staff have the best opportunity to achieve all our future ambitions.”

Zuckerman, who didn’t return a phone call seeking comment, didn’t hint at the existence of a potential buyer, but two observers with knowledge of his business practices suggested that he wouldn’t have sent the memo—or, for that matter, hired the pricey advisers at Lazard—if a deal wasn’t already in the works.

“Why would you write that memo unless it’s already well under way?” said a media insider who is intimately familiar with Zuckerman’s modus operandi. A second knowledgeable observer agreed: 

“Mort would never put out a memo saying negotiations are going to take place unless a deal has been done. That is so blatantly obvious.”

But two other Zuckerman-watchers said it is equally possible that the mogul, whose personal net worth is estimated by Forbes at $2.6 billion, is still actively seeking someone to take the paper off his hand. According to persons with knowledge of the situation, the Daily News is hemorrhaging money at a rate of about $20 million a year.

According to a person who had a conversation about the Daily News with Mike Bloomberg when he was at City Hall, the financial media billionaire once mused privately that if he had not been elected mayor, he would have tried to buy the paper from Zuckerman.

Other possible suitors, according to a report in Capital New York, include the Dolan family—of Cablevision, Madison Square Garden, and Newsday fame—and the newspaper chain-owning Newhouse clan.

But in interviews with media insiders Thursday, the most frequently mentioned potential buyer was 21st Century Fox and News Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch, the owner since 1976 of the Post, which loses as much as $70 million a year. According to these observers, it would make business sense for Murdoch, whose personal wealth is estimated by Forbes at $14.1 billion, to purchase the Daily News and simply shut it down, with the Post likely to benefit, at least in the short term, from increased circulation and advertising revenue.

New Yorker magazine media writer Ken Auletta told The Daily Beast: “I know for a fact that Murdoch and Zuckerman have circled each other for years, with each wanting to buy out the other in order to combine newspaper operations and get rid of competition. But Murdoch has deeper pockets than Mort Zuckerman does, and more patience.”

Indeed, Auletta recalled that in the mid-1990s when he was writing a profile of the Australian-born media titan, Murdoch told him that—never mind his Hollywood movie studio and television empire—his biggest joy was owning the Post and toiling in the newsroom over headlines and stories. 

Murdoch got his start, at age 21, remaking a small afternoon tabloid in Adelaide, Australia, into a valuable and profitable asset; the Adelaide News became the foundation of News Corp.

The Post, on the other hand, has lost money for years—quite a lot of it, actually—“but Murdoch does arithmetic differently than other people,” Auletta said.

“How many capitalists are willing to put up with repeated losses?” he continued. “Some people would buy it [the Daily News] for power or vanity, and you could imagine that happening. Murdoch has lost over a billion dollars on the New York Post since he bought it in the mid-’70s. But he does it because he calculates its value in other ways than financial. It gives him power. It gives him influence—not just political influence over politicians but also over issues he cares about.”
Zuckerman, by contrast, “has real political interests, but he doesn’t do what Murdoch has done. I don’t think he has the same love of newspapers,” Auletta said.

When the Zuckerman memo landed with an ominous thud, anxious Daily News employees were left to their own grim thoughts. The current editor in chief, Colin Myler—the latest in a series of 11 top editors that Zuckerman has hired and fired since he acquired the financially struggling tabloid more than two decades ago—wasn’t in the newsroom.

“His office has been dark all day,” said a Daily News employee. The 62-year-old Myler—a British Fleet Street veteran who was a senior editor at the Post before presiding over the closure of Murdoch’s News of The World tabloid amid the 2011 British phone-hacking scandal—didn’t return a phone call seeking comment. Three years ago, when he appointed Myler, Zuckerman told Newsweek

“I want him to stay there for the rest of his life.”

Presumably, whatever happens, Myler’s life will go on.

Soros, Ford Foundation shovel $196 million to 'net neutrality' groups, staff to White House

The IRS’s inspector general confirmed Thursday it is conducting a criminal investigation into how Lois G. Lerner’s emails disappeared, saying it took only two weeks for investigators to find hundreds of tapes the agency’s chief had told Congress were irretrievably destroyed.

Investigators have already scoured 744 backup tapes and gleaned 32,774 unique emails, but just two weeks ago they found an additional 424 tapes that could contain even more Lerner emails, Deputy Inspector General Timothy P. Camus told the House Oversight Committee in a rare late-night hearing meant to look into the status of the investigation.

“There is potential criminal activity,” Mr. Camus said.
He said they have also discovered the hard drives from the IRS’s email servers, but said because the drives are out of synch it’s not clear whether they will be able to recover anything from them.
“To date we have found 32,744 unique emails that were backed up from Lois Lerner’s email box. We are in the process of comparing these emails to what the IRS has already produced to Congress to determine if we did in fact recover any new emails,” Mr. Camus said.

Democrats questioned the independence of Inspector General J. Russell George, who is overseeing the investigation, saying he’s injected politics into his work.

Rep. Gerald Connolly, Virginia Democrat, said Mr. George is refusing to turn documents over to him, prompting a heated reply.

“You’re not entitled to certain documents,” Mr. George said.

“Oh really? We’ll see about that, won’t we,” Mr. Connolly replied, saying that he questioned whether Mr. George could be trusted if he’s refusing to provide documents, yet is in charge of an investigation into whether the IRS stonewalled document requests.

The hearing was the latest chapter in the complex investigation into the IRS’s targeting of tea party groups for special scrutiny.

Several congressional committees are still probing the matter, and both the inspector general and the Justice Department are conducting criminal investigations.

In a 2013 report, the inspector general said the IRS had improperly targeted conservative and tea party groups’ applications for nonprofit status, asking repeated intrusive questions and delaying their applications well beyond a reasonable time. Some of those groups are still waiting, with their applications now pending for years.

Rep. Jason Chaffetz, Utah Republican and Oversight Committee chairman, said the ongoing investigations undercut President Obama’s assertion last year that there was no evidence of corruption in the IRS’s targeting.

“I have no idea how the president came to such a definitive conclusion without all the facts,” he said.
The IRS belatedly told Congress it may have lost some of Ms. Lerner’s emails after her computer crashed, and asserted that the backup tapes didn’t exist.

Sean Astin: I'm not afraid to make 'Christian' films

Known for his leading roles in "Lord of the Rings," the "Goonies" and "Rudy," actor Sean Astin's approach to choosing his next movie role is similar to his take on religion; he doesn't want to be confined to one group.

"I guess I never wanted to declare a team because I wouldn't have wanted any of the other teams to invite me to their party," Astin told FOX411. "I'm a wildcard, they can't figure me out."

Astin, who is "technically Lutheran" after he, his wife and three daughters were baptized in the same church, never thought about defining his faith until he was asked in a live interview to share his religious beliefs.

"I thought, 'Huh, I guess I have to have an answer'," he recalled. "I consider myself a Christian. I don't know if I'm a very good one but I'm praying the forgiveness thing is legit."

While Astin's answer is confident now, his road to faith was a winding road. Raised by his mother, actress Patty Duke, and father, "The Addams Family's" John Astin, in what he describes as a secular home, Astin was exposed to a variety of religions before coming to his own faith.

"My mother was a Catholic who had been kicked out of the church at one time and she put me in Catholic school in sixth to eighth grades and I wanted to become a Catholic then," he said. "But my father, who was an atheist because his parents were a scientist and school teacher, later discovered Buddhism."

In addition to his exposure to Catholicism and Buddhism, Astin's oldest brother "went to India, shaved his head and lived on an ashram and became Hindu."

In 2003, Astin decided to "embrace Christianity" and develop his own "relationship and understanding with God."

"I figure since I went to Catholic school for three years and my mom did some really good Catholic type work, and since I starred in 'Rudy' and I was in 'Lord of the Rings,' I figure if I get to [heaven] and St. Peter is taking numbers, I might have to wait a little while, but I'll probably get let through."

Astin stands strong in his faith today and currently star alongside “Grey’s Anatomy’s” Sarah Drew in the faith-based “Moms Night Out.”

But Astin didn’t say yes to a role in his new film because of its Christian message; the actor chooses roles with artistic value.

“I don’t think my faith has had a conscious part in decisions in terms of what movies I make,” he said. “I won’t do something if I feel it has zero moral redemption. I answer to a truly higher power than I’m capable of understanding and I don’t go by what other people would determine as a legitimate Christian offering or not.”

After appearing in his second Christian-focused film, Astin laughs at the fact that he might now be labeled as a Christian filmmaker despite having been in many more mainstream movies.

“What's funny is the idea that I might become a paragon of Christian filmmaking because I've done two Christian films,” he said. “I'm just not going to not make films because Christians are making them if they’re good films.”

“Hollywood is antagonistic to Christian films because of forces that are hard to describe, but Christians have made things difficult for themselves by the way they approach the outside community,” he continued.

Astin said people need to forget about those “who grab the microphones and yell the loudest.” The fact is, people are hungry for family-friendly, faith-based entertainment and studios are finally starting to listen.

“The Christian ground game is presently revolutionizing marketing in filmmaking,” he explained. 

“It's not a subtle thing, and it's a great thing and it's not owned by the Christians. They are just getting there first because they’re tired of not being able to get their product into a wide marketplace.”

No matter your faith, Astin hopes his new movie will allow the audience to stop, breathe and reflect for a minute.

“This sweet premise of moms, whose evening has gone bad and dads who are struggling to kind of make things go right, this movie chooses to let it sink at certain moments and let us reflect for a minute.”

Faith & Fame is a regular column exploring how a strong belief system helps some performers navigate the pitfalls of the entertainment industry.

Kirk Cameron: Christian actors should be held to a higher standard

Filmmaker Kirk Cameron is not one to shy away from expressing his religious beliefs. But how did an 18-year-old actor find God on the set of “Growing Pains” at the height of his success?

"I think eventually if people are thoughtful you start asking grown up questions like, 'How did the world get started? Where did we come from? Where are we going? Why are we here?' and I guess when I, as a child, I just sort of had blind faith in the fairytale that they way we got here was from goo to the zoo to you," he told FOX411. "I finally said that doesn't sound right and someone took me to church and kind of opened my eyes to what I believe is the truth about who we are and why we're here and so when I was about 18 years old I wanted to start living my life in a way that said thank you to the way God made me."

Cameron, best known for his role as Mike Seaver on the sitcom "Growing Pains," has since gone on to make and star in various Christian-themed movies such as his latest endeavor, "Mercy Rule."
Such projects have pegged him as a "Christian actor," a label Cameron said he wears proudly.

"I love God I'm a Christian, but the films that I make...are really about themes that I think resonate in people's heart, at least they do in my own family," the father-of-six with wife Chelsea Noble said. "So I'm always going to make movies that I believe in, that I can give 100 percent to, that I think are going to be offering people something good."

But being in the spotlight often gets Cameron into trouble. The star has been involved with various controversies for expressing his beliefs which are not shared some in Hollywood.

"I think that when anyone is in the spotlight...you're always going to be held to a higher standard and we should be held to a higher standard because we're influencing more people than others might be," the 43-year-old explained. "With the privilege of a platform comes great responsibility....[We've] got to be careful with what we say and how we say it and everything should be seasoned with grace and while I certainly I don't do that perfectly, I strive to do it increasingly."

As a father, Cameron said he was alarmed by the lack of family-friendly films and television shows available for him to watch. That's why he set out to make movies his whole family could enjoy, like his latest "Mercy Rule."

"My wife and I are always looking for a great new movie to watch on movie night and it's hard to find films that are fun and inspiring and that are going to build up our faith in God and our strength as a family. So we decided we would make one and we made it right here in our own backyard with a local little league team and it's a movie where family learn the lessons of mercy, patience, sacrifice and trusting God."

Faith & Fame is a regular column exploring how a strong belief system helps some performers navigate the pitfalls of the entertainment industry.
Follow Sasha Bogursky on Twitter @SashaFB.

Actor John Ratzenberger touts $1M try to boost U.S. manufacturing

The Washington Times
Actor John Ratzenberger, best known for his role as know-it-all postal worker Cliff Clavin on “Cheers,” took to Atlanta on Wednesday to announce with Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal with a million-dollar campaign to bolster U.S. manufacturing.

Mr. Ratzenberger founded the nonprofit Foundation for America to showcase the importance of bringing back manufacturing to the U.S. and returning the nation to one of creator, not importer.

Mr. Deal said Georgia would be implementing a National Educational Initiative to boost the public relations image of the blue-collar job sector, help bring back shop classes to schools.

“One of the most critical issues confronting Georgia manufacturers today is the shallow pool of work-ready talent interested in and capable of embarking on well-paying careers in manufacturing,” Roy Bowen, the president of the Georgia Association of Manufacturers, said in a press release, the Gainesville Times reported. “Achieving success with this endeavor is absolutely essential to ensuring the long term viability of Georgia’s manufacturers and for Georgia to maintain its distinction as the No. 1 state in the U.S. for business.”

Mr. Ratzenberger told Fox News the initiative will hopefully spread to other states.

Mark Cuban’s Surgical Takedown of Net Neutrality

Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban appears on The Glenn Beck Program Feb. 24, 2015. (Photo: TheBlaze TV)
Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban (Photo: TheBlaze TV)

Billionaire Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban has stood firmly against net neutrality, and presented a surgical takedown of the proposal on The Glenn Beck Program Tuesday.

“What it comes down to is, the net has worked,” Cuban said. “We’re not in an industry where the technology has become stagnant and there’s no more enhancements so we need regulation to try to make things happen. We’re not there. And so as long as the technology is allowed to advance, we’re OK.”
Cuban said the uncertainty and legal challenges of having the government regulate the Internet will be enormous, and predicted that it will slow down innovation. He also said there are many unexpected issues that will arise from such an enormous change.

“If net neutrality is taken to its logical extension … if there’s no priority for television and it’s just part of the open Internet and delivery, your traditional television, watching the evening news, it’s over,” Cuban said. “If there is no such thing as a prioritized bit, then all that digital television going through the same pipe, all those voters who like to get Fox News or MSNBC, they’re going to freak out because you’re going to have to go to their website to get it or you’re going to have to get a special box that identifies the channels and brings it to you.”
Cuban said television networks will likely begin buffering, which will force people to buy new equipment. But there are even more possibilities that aren’t being discussed.

“There’s going to be someone that comes along and says, ‘We need decency standards applied to all the content on the Internet because now that is coming through the same pipe and it’s open to everybody,’” Cuban remarked. “[Or], ‘We need educational requirements.’ Remember Bill Clinton said you have to have a certain amount of educational content?”
“This goes into the law of unexpected consequences, or unintended consequences, that you don’t know what’s going to happen when all these things change,” he said. “You would think companies like Twitter and Facebook have thought through the technological aspects of it. I don’t think they have.”
Cuban said the Internet isn’t perfect, but slowing down or reversing its progress by giving the government control is not the answer. One thing that companies are consistently working to improve is their online security, but until forms of wireless communication are more secure, Cuban suggested people try to “hack themselves.”
“What I did for myself and my kids … I just said, ‘OK, I’m going to pretend I’m them and try to get into their account,’” Cuban explained. “And what ends up happening … you go in there and say, ‘I forgot my password.’ And then it asks you for a security question.”
“If you’re a visible person like we are, chances are whatever your security question is, you thought about it years ago and you’ve talked about it since then,” Cuban continued. “My first address or my first pet’s name. If you Google that, you’re going to find it. And that’s how most people get hacked.”
Cuban said his daughter’s security question was related to her address, and his wife’s was “easy” to find as well.
“That’s one step, and part two to that is, you should use two-step authentication for everything, for all your email, without question,” Cuban concluded.

Homeland Security chief: Be 'vigilant' at malls

David Jackson and John Bacon, USA TODAY
The secretary of Homeland Security on Sunday warned shoppers at Minnesota's Mall of America and similar venues to be vigilant in the wake of new terrorist threats.

"I'm not telling people to not go to the mall," Secretary Jeh Johnson said on NBC's Meet The Press. "I think that there needs to be an awareness."

He also said, "I'm saying that the public needs to be particularly vigilant."

Mall of America says it has heightened security after a video threatening a terror attack was apparently released by a Somali militant group with ties to al-Qaeda. The group, al-Shabaab, previously took responsibility for the 2013 attack at the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi, Kenya, that left more than 60 people dead.

The video released online focused mostly on the conflict between Kenya and Somalia and the Westgate shopping mall attack. The video calls for similar attacks at the Mall of America and elsewhere.

"If just a handful of mujahideen fighters could bring Kenya to a complete standstill for nearly a week, imagine what a dedicated mujahedeen in the West could do to the American or Jewish-owned 
shopping centers across the world," an unidentified man says on the video.

"What if such an attack was to occur in the Mall of America in Minnesota? Or the West Edmonton Mall in Canada? Or in London's Oxford Street?" the man says, encouraging supporters to "hurry up, hasten towards heaven and do not hesitate."

The FBI and Department of Homeland Security issued a statement Sunday saying U.S. officials were aware of the call for "Westgate style" attacks against shopping malls in the U.S. and elsewhere.

The statement said Homeland Security and the FBI has been working closely with state and local authorities in recent months to "prevent and mitigate these types of threats."

 The Mall of America, among the largest shopping malls in the world with more than 500 stores and 50 restaurants, employs more than 12,000 people. It generally is considered the world's busiest mall, with more than 40 million visitors annually.

Mall officials issued a statement saying it takes any potential threat seriously.

"Mall of America has implemented extra security precautions. Some may be noticeable to guests, and others won't be," the statement said, adding, "The safety and security of our guests, employees and tenants remains our top priority."

Al-Shabaab, based in southern Somalia, was declared a terror organization under U.S. law in 2008. 

The group, which pledged allegiance to al-Qaeda in 2012, took responsibility for an attack Friday at a Mogadishu hotel targeting government ministers that killed 25.

Johnson, who made appearances on five Sunday shows, said the video threat reflects the militant effort to encourage supporters to conduct attacks in their homelands.

"We're in a new phase now, and I'm afraid that this most recent video release reflects that," Johnson said on ABC's This Week.

Contributing: KARE-TV, Minneapolis-St. Paul

Norway's Muslims form protective human ring around synagogue

Photo: AFP Norwegian Muslims create a human peace ring around the synagogue in Oslo at the weekend.

Reuters / Oslo: More than 1000 Muslims formed a human shield around Oslo's synagogueto offer symbolic protection to the city's Jewish community and condemned an attack on a synagogue in neighbouring Denmark last weekend.

Chanting "No to anti-semitism, no to Islamophobia", a group of Norway's Muslims formed what they called a ring of peace on Saturday, a week after Omar Abdel Hamid El-Hussein, a Danish-born son of Palestinian immigrants, killed two people at a synagogue and an event promoting free speech in Copenhagen last weekend.

"Humanity is one and we are here to demonstrate that," Zeeshan Abdullah, one of the protest's organisers, told a crowd of Muslim immigrants and ethnic Norwegians who filled the small street around Oslo's only functioning synagogue.

People gather as Norwegian Muslims create a human peace ring around the synagogue in Oslo. People gather as Norwegian Muslims create a human peace ring around the synagogue in Oslo. Photo: AFP

"There are many more peacemongers than warmongers," Mr Abdullah said as organisers and Jewish community leaders stood side by side. "There's still hope for humanity, for peace and love, across religious differences and backgrounds."

Norway's Jewish community is one of Europe's smallest, numbering about 1000, and the Muslim population, which has been growing steadily through immigration, is 150,000 to 200,000. Norway has a population of about 5.2 million.

The debate over immigration in the country came to the forefront in 2011, when Anders Behring Breivik killed 77 people and accused the government and the then-ruling Labour party of encouraging Muslim immigration and adulterating pure Norwegian blood.

However, support for immigration has been rising steadily since those attacks, and an opinion poll late last year found that 77 per cent of people thought immigrants made an important contribution to Norwegian society.

Italy preps for 9/11-style suicide attack, jihadists have 11 jetliners

Jihadists gettin' jiggy with stolen airliners.Via Examiner-
In the wake of Islamic Jihadists almost completely overrunning Libya, the same terrorists have threatened to attack the nearest European nation, specifically, the Italian Republic. As reported by the Breitbart.com news portal on Feb. 19, 2015, the descendants of the Roman Empire are preparing for the distinct possibly of a 9/11 redux, complete with stolen jetliners.

As the Italian Secret Service warned the military that commandeered civilian jetliners were being "prepared" for a mission that the Italians have so far kept from the public. As reported, an undisclosed number of aircraft are being readied in the coastal city of Sirte, a rather short distance of 450 miles to Palermo, or 700 miles to Rome.
As Breitbart.com noted on Feb. 15, 2015, in an ISIS released video that featured the brutal slaying of 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians, the spokesman of killers plainly said to the camera, "And we will conquer Rome, by Allah's permission, the promise of our Prophet, peace be upon him."

While our Italian NATO allies are fully aware of the "asymmetric" capabilities of the terrorists to launch "both military and terrorist campaigns," the Forze Armate Italiane aren't taking any chances. Reportedly, the Italian air defense system went into high alert after the notification by the Secret Service that the terrorists were preparing for something big.

While many Western news organizations paid scant attention, the Washington Free Beacon reported on Sept. 2, 2014 that with the fall of the Tripoli International Airport, a number of jet airliners have been seized intact by the terrorists. Calling themselves by the macho moniker of The Masked Men Brigade, the group not only controls the airport proper, but now reportedly has custody of upwards of 11 aircraft belonging to both Libyan Airways as well as Afriqiyah Airways.

While the specific type of aircraft the seized jetliners are hasn't been released to the public, it was noted that the state-owned Libyan Airlines fleet until the summer of 2014 included 14 passenger and cargo jetliners, including seven Airbus 320s, one Airbus 330, two French ATR-42 turboprop aircraft, and four Bombardier CJR-900s. Afriqiyah Airways fleet is made up of 13 aircraft, including three Airbus 319s, seven Airbus 320s, two Airbus 330s, and one Airbus 340.

The Masked Men Brigade operates under the organizational umbrella of both al-Qaeda and Ansar al-Sharia—the very same terrorists who attacked the American Consulate in Benghazi on Sept. 11, 2012. Since the fall of eastern Libya to the jihadists, ISIS has emerged as the figurative big dog in the yard, with the various self-styled "militias" have rallied to the banner if ISIS.

With the jets of both airlines forming a de facto suicide air force, Moroccan military expert Abderrahmane Mekkaoui was quoted that he has "credible intelligence" that the Masked Men Brigade "is plotting to use the planes in attacks on a Maghreb [North African] state" on the 9/11 anniversary. According to counter-terrorism expert Dr. Sebastian von Gorka, if the theft is confirmed, the stolen aircraft could be used in at least two ways.

“The first would be how commercial airliners were used on Sept. 11, 2001, literally turning an innocent mode of mass transit into a super-high precision guided missile of immense potency,” he said, adding "The second tactic could be to use the airframe with its civilian markings as a tool of deception to insert a full payload of armed terrorists into a locale that otherwise is always open to commercial carriers." 

Dr. von Gorka holds the Major General Matthew C. Horner Distinguished Chair of Military Theory, Marine Corps University in Quantico, Virginia, as well as being an Associate Professor of War & Conflict Studies at the National Defense University and also is an Adjunct Professor (US National Security) at Georgetown University.

Iwo Jima survivors gather in Washington to mark anniversary of bloody WWII battle

By Martin Kuz 
WASHINGTON — Capt. Larry Snowden led a company of 230 Marines that landed on the beach of a small Japanese island on Feb. 19, 1945. Five weeks later, when Iwo Jima fell to U.S. forces after one of the bloodiest battles in the Pacific during World War II, his unit’s losses reflected the steep cost of an historic victory.

“When we walked off the island, 99 of us remained,” said Snowden, 93, the senior ranking survivor of the invasion, who retired from the Marines as a lieutenant general in 1979. “That’s a pretty high casualty rate.”

Snowden spoke Thursday in Washington at a gathering of Iwo Jima survivors who marked the 70th anniversary of the start of the siege. Over the decades, the battle’s prominence has persisted, owing to a photograph that shows five Marines and a Navy corpsman raising an American flag on Mount Suribachi, the island’s highest point.

Yet it is the ferocity of the fighting that lingers in the memories of the men sent to Iwo Jima.

Snowden’s company belonged to the 2nd Battalion, 23rd Marine Regiment of the 4th Marine Division. His unit went ashore the first day, part of the initial push of 30,000 U.S. troops, most of whom were Marines.

An additional 40,000 men later joined the struggle against 22,000 Japanese soldiers, who hid among an intricate network of tunnels and caves spanning the volcanic island 750 miles from mainland Japan. U.S. forces advanced as little as 50 yards a day in the early stages as both sides suffered massive casualties.

By the time combat ended on March 26, 1945, almost 7,000 American troops had been killed and more than 19,000 wounded. Almost 19,000 Japanese soldiers were killed as they followed the orders of Gen. Tadamichi Kuribayashi to fight to the death.

U.S. commanders realized only after the battle that they had overrated the strategic importance of the eight-square-mile island and its three airstrips. Iwo Jima nonetheless produced an incalculable morale boost to the American war effort when the photo of the six men raising the flag appeared in newspapers across the country.

Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal captured the moment on Feb. 23, 1945, the battle’s fourth day, and the image endures as a symbol of American resolve in wartime. Gen. Joseph Dunford, commandant of the Marine Corps, told the survivors that their triumph has reverberated across the generations.

“The battle of Iwo Jima has become part of the very ethos of the Marine Corps,” he said. Dunford added that their example inspired Marines who fought in America’s most recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. “Your legacy transcends the capture of a faraway island in the Pacific long ago.”

Kenichiro Sasae, the Japanese ambassador to the United States, extolled the sacrifice of U.S. and Japanese soldiers alike. Referring to Japanese troops who defended the island as they moved underground, he said, “Mount Suribachi must have felt like a tomb waiting to be closed.”

Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz remarked in 1945 that, among U.S. troops on Iwo Jima, “uncommon valor was a common virtue.” Snowden, who led his company even after shrapnel from a mortar blast wounded him in the neck and head, described overcoming his injuries in more modest terms.

“Part of the game,” he said.
Twitter: @MartinKuz

Moscow and Nato remain on diplomatic collision course

West on a 'razor's edge' over response to Russian expansionism

by Kim Sengupta 

The fraught relationship between Russia and the West, which was supposed to improve following an agreement over Ukraine, has descended instead into renewed acrimony after a series of tense military and diplomatic confrontations.

France and Germany, which had brokered the Minsk accord last week, were yesterday trying to hold together the increasingly fragile ceasefire in Ukraine amid reports that fighting was spreading once again. Kremlin-backed separatists and Cossack fighters triumphantly paraded through the shattered town of Debaltseve, a strategic point they had captured in the past 48 hours.

Britain, which along with the EU will be strongly criticised by a House of Lords committee today for “sleep-walking into this crisis”, was drawn towards centre-stage after two Russian Bear bombers off the coast of Cornwall – but just outside UK airspace – were met by RAF jets scrambled from their base in Coningsby, Lincolnshire.

The apparent probe of British readiness came soon after the Defence Secretary, Michael Fallon, accused President Vladimir Putin of trying to extend his campaign of destabilisation to the Baltic countries. The Russian leader, he said, presented as much of a threat to Europe as Isis.

David Cameron said Moscow was trying to make “some sort of point” by its repeated deployment of planes close to British airspace, adding: “I don’t think we should dignify it with too much of a response.”

Weary Ukrainian servicemen leave the area around the besieged town of Debaltseve in eastern Ukraine on Wednesday after fierce combat with pro-Russian rebels (Reuters)
Weary Ukrainian servicemen leave the area around the besieged town of Debaltseve in eastern Ukraine on Wednesday after fierce combat with pro-Russian rebels (Reuters)

Russia reacted with fury at Mr Fallon’s remarks, however. Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Lukashevich declared that his comments were “already beyond diplomatic ethics”, adding: “The characterisation of Russia is completely intolerable. We will find a way to respond to the comments.”

But Mr Fallon received support at home and abroad for his warning on Moscow’s intentions. Valdis Dombrovskis, the vice-president of the European Commission, and a former Prime Minister of Latvia, said: “Russia’s aggression against Ukraine is very worrying for Baltic states. It shows that Russia is looking to redraw Europe’s 21st-century borders by force, and it must be noted that Ukraine is not the first country to face Russian aggression.”

Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius said: “Russia is behaving aggressively now as we speak. I really do see threats to all countries, If we fail to act now to what’s happening in Ukraine, there will be a big temptation [for Russia] to further instigate situations elsewhere.”

Latvia’s Finance Minister, Janis Reirs, said that his country had already detected elements of “hybrid warfare” against his nation.

In London, Rory Stewart, the chairman of the Commons Defence Committee, said the West was on a “political razor-edge” over how to balance its response to Mr Putin, weighing the risk of allowing 
Russian expansionism to go unchecked and triggering further conflicts.

He said: “There’s no doubt at all that probably the most vulnerable part of the Nato alliance at the moment is the Baltic states.”

Dark days ahead? The Freedom Monument in Riga during a partial eclipse of the Sun (EPA) Dark days ahead? The Freedom Monument in Riga during a partial eclipse of the Sun (EPA)  

He urged all British political parties to write into their manifestoes a commitment to spend two per cent of GDP on defence – as required by Nato – to send a message to Mr Putin. He also asked them to prepare to deal with threats such as cyber-attacks, irregular troops, and propaganda.

The EU committee of the House of Lords also argued, in the findings of an inquiry to be published today, that Western Europe failed to detect the real character of the Kremlin. For too long, it said, the relationship had been based on the “optimistic premise” that Russia was on a trajectory to democracy.

The British Government, which is one of the guarantors of the territorial integrity of Ukraine in return for it giving up a nuclear arsenal, was heavily criticised for not being “as active or as visible as it could have been”.

“It [the committee] believes that the EU, and by implication the UK, was guilty of sleep-walking into this crisis,” said the committee chairman, Lord Tugendhat. “The lack of robust analytical capacity, in both the UK and the EU, effectively led to a catastrophic misreading of the mood in the run-up to the 

Western governments stressed that continuing fighting risked the breakdown of the Minsk agreement, but the language was markedly muted. The US administration has put on hold a decision on whether or not to supply the Ukrainian government with heavy weaponry; White House spokesman Eric Schultz said: “What was agreed to last week was not a shopping list.”

Nato insists measures have already been taken to counter Russian aggression in the Baltic and eastern Europe, with bases in the area manned by Allied troops.

Kremlin officials have complained that the move breaches an agreement, made during Boris Yeltsin’s presidency, that Nato would not set up military bases in former Warsaw Pact states close to Russia’s borders.

Douglas Lute, the US ambassador to Nato, said: “These bases are not permanent and, as far as we are concerned, they are fully within the agreement.”


'Duck Dynasty' Star To Be Honored With Free-Speech Award At CPAC

Robertson, the star of the hit A&E reality TV show, became a conservative hero after he made homophobic remarks in a December 2013 GQ interview, leading the network to briefly suspend filming. He has since remained a vocal social critic, maintaining that he is "as much of a homophobe as Jesus was" and saying that "orthodox liberal opinion" leads to sexually transmitted diseases.

“Phil has the guts to do and say what most politicians in Washington won’t: You must adhere to your conservative beliefs, all of them, and never surrender or compromise them for anyone," Breitbart 
News executive chairman Stephen K. Bannon said. "We are proud supporters of the Robertsons.”

The award is presented by Citizens United, the conservative group best known for Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the 2010 Supreme Court case that permitted corporations to pour unlimited amounts of money into campaigns.

Norway banishes 'hate preacher' to remote village

Najumuddin Faraj Ahmad, better known as Mullah Krekar, Norway  2015 
(AFP Photo/Audun Braastad)

Oslo (AFP) - A court in Oslo on Monday authorised police to banish Iraqi Kurd "hate preacher" Mullah Krekar to a remote Norwegian village.

The mullah, 58, who has been living in Norway since 1991, founded the radical Islamist group Ansar al-Islam.

He was released from prison at the end of January after serving a two-year, 10-month sentence for making threats against Prime Minister Erna Solberg, before she came to office, and three Kurds.

The police had invoked special measures to order Krekar, whose real name is Najmeddine Faraj Ahmad, to live in a refugee centre in Kyrksaeteroera, a village of 2,500 people situated 500 kilometres (300 miles) from the capital.

The defence had argued that the court needed to examine the legality of the decision, which prohibits the married father of four from leaving the village and which requires him to report to local police three times a week.

"With some misgivings, the court considers that the basic national interest, at least until 31 December 2015, must take precedence over Faraj's right to a family life, freedom to move freely throughout the country and to choose his own place of residence," read the court's decision.

Krekar's lawyer, Brynjar Meling, appealed the decision and asked that it be suspended pending review.

Krekar has been living under risk of deportation since 2003 after Norwegian authorities ordered him to be expelled, claiming he posed a threat to national security.

While Norway's court system has upheld the ruling, Norwegian law bars him from being deported to Iraq, where he risks the death penalty.

While Krekar acknowledges having co-founded Ansar al-Islam, he insists he has not led the group since 2002.

The preacher and the group Ansar al-Islam figure on United Nations and US lists of terrorist groups or individuals.

Immigration Policy Halted by Federal Judge in Texas

A federal judge in Texas has ordered a halt, at least temporarily, to President Obama’s executive actions on immigration, siding with Texas and 25 other states that filed a lawsuit opposing the initiatives.

In an order filed on Monday, the judge, Andrew S. Hanen of Federal District Court in Brownsville, prohibited the Obama administration from carrying out programs the president announced in November that would offer protection from deportation and work permits to as many as five million undocumented immigrants. The first of those programs was scheduled to start receiving applications on Wednesday.

Judge Hanen, an outspoken critic of the administration on immigration policy, found that the states had satisfied the minimum legal requirements to bring their lawsuit. He said the Obama administration had failed to comply with basic administrative procedures for putting such a sweeping program into effect.

The administration argued that Mr. Obama was well within long-established federal authority for a president to decide how to enforce the immigration laws. But Texas and the other states said the executive measures were an egregious case of government by fiat that would impose huge new costs on their budgets.

In ordering the administration to suspend the programs while he makes a final decision on the case, Judge Hanen agreed with the states that the president’s policies had already been costly for them.

“The court finds that the government’s failure to secure the border has exacerbated illegal immigration into this country,” Judge Hanen wrote. “Further, the record supports the finding that this lack of enforcement, combined with the country’s high rate of illegal immigration, significantly drains the states’ resources.”

Ken Paxton, the attorney general of Texas, which is leading the states bringing the lawsuit, hailed the judge’s ruling as a “victory for the rule of law in America and a crucial first step in reining in President Obama’s lawlessness.” He said Mr. Obama’s actions were “an affront to everyone pursuing a life of freedom and opportunity in America the right way.”

Mr. Obama said he was using executive powers to focus enforcement agents on deporting serious criminals and those posing threats to national security. Three-year deportation deferrals and work permits were offered for undocumented immigrants who have not committed serious crimes, have been here at least five years and have children who are American citizens or legal residents.

As part of the package, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson also established new priorities, instructing enforcement agents to concentrate on deporting the most dangerous criminals, including terrorists and gang members, as well as migrants caught crossing the border illegally.

In his opinion, Judge Hanen accused administration officials of being “disingenuous” when they said the president’s initiatives did not significantly alter existing policies. He wrote that the programs were “a massive change in immigration practice” that would affect “the nation’s entire immigration scheme and the states who must bear the lion’s share of its consequences.” He said the executive actions had violated laws that the federal government must follow to issue new rules, and he determined “the states have clearly proven a likelihood of success on the merits.”

Since the lawsuit was filed on Dec. 3, the stark divisions over Mr. Obama’s sweeping actions have played out in filings in the case. Three senators and 65 House members, all Republicans, signed a legal brief opposing the president that was filed by the American Center for Law and Justice, a conservative legal action organization.

Joe Arpaio, the sheriff of Maricopa County in Arizona, who is known for crackdowns on people living in the country illegally, also filed a brief supporting the states’ lawsuit. In December, a federal judge in Washington dismissed a separate lawsuit by Sheriff Arpaio seeking to stop the president’s actions.

On the other side, Washington and 11 other states as well as the District of Columbia weighed in supporting Mr. Obama, arguing that they would benefit from the increased wages and taxes that would result if illegal immigrant workers came out of the underground. The mayors of 33 cities, including New York and Los Angeles, and the Conference of Mayors also supported Mr. Obama.

“The strong entrepreneurial spirit of immigrants to the United States has significantly boosted local economies and local labor markets,” the mayors wrote in their filing.

Some legal scholars said any order by Judge Hanen to halt the president’s actions would be quickly suspended by the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in New Orleans.

“Federal supremacy with respect to immigration matters makes the states a kind of interloper in disputes between the president and Congress,” said Laurence H. Tribe, a professor of constitutional law at Harvard. “They don’t have any right of their own.”

The states’ lawsuit quotes Mr. Obama as saying many times in recent years that he did not have authority to take actions as broad as those he ultimately took. Mr. Tribe said that argument was not likely to pass muster with appeals court judges.

“All of that is interesting political rhetoric,” he said, “but it has nothing to do with whether the states have standing and nothing to do with the law.”

Judge Hanen, who was appointed in 2002 by President George W. Bush, has excoriated the Obama administration’s immigration policies in several unusually outspoken rulings. The president's supporters have said that Texas officials, who are leading the states’ lawsuit, were venue shopping when they chose to file in Brownsville.

But at a hearing on Jan. 15, Judge Hanen said Brownsville, which sits on the border with Mexico, was an appropriate venue for the suit because its residents see the impact of immigration every day. 

“Talking to anyone in Brownsville about immigration is like talking to Noah about the flood,” Judge Hanen said.

In a lengthy and colorful opinion last August, Judge Hanen departed from the issue at hand to accuse the Obama administration of adopting a deportation policy that “endangers America” and was “an open invitation to the most dangerous criminals in society.”

The case involved a Salvadoran immigrant with a long criminal record whom Judge Hanen had earlier sent to prison for five years. Instead of deporting the man after he served his sentence, an immigration judge in Los Angeles ordered him released, a decision Judge Hanen found “incredible.” 

Citing no specific evidence, he surmised that the administration had adopted a broader policy of releasing such criminals.

While acknowledging that he had no jurisdiction to alter policy, Judge Hanen said he relied on his “firsthand, in-the-trenches knowledge of the border situation” and “at least a measurable level of 
common sense” to reach his conclusions about the case.

“The court has never been opposed to accommodating those who come to this country yearning to be free, but this current policy only restricts the freedom of those who deserve it most while giving complete freedom to criminals who deserve it least,” he wrote.

The mayor of Brownsville, Tony Martinez, was among those who filed court papers supporting Mr. Obama’s actions. “We see a tremendous value in families staying together and being together,” Mr. Martinez said on a conference call on Tuesday organized by the White House. “Eventually we hope to get all these folks out of the shadows,” he said.