Friday, February 12, 2016

Good morning everyone! Happy Friday to you!

Joining today's show are Nicolle Wallace, Steve Rattner, Mark Halperin, Eugene Robinson, Kasie Hunt, Chuck Todd, Chris Cillizza, Sam Stein, John Heilemann, Steve Kornacki, Andrea Mitchell, Dr. Ben Carson, Marc Morial, Richard Engel, Sara Eisen, Ed Balls and in Taiji, Japan today, it is very windy. Boats staying in. BLUE COVE DAY! 2016-12-2 6:53am‪#‎dolphinproject‬ ‪#‎tweet4dolphins‬

What a week is right Mika. What a week. Can you believe we had another Democratic debate. In it, Clinton clings to Obama. Hillary Clinton wants Bernie Sanders to know she's got President Barack Obama's back.

Much of the debate lacked the bitterness of earlier forums as Clinton and Sanders laid out differences on policy questions. But the confrontation during the PBS "NewsHour" Democratic debate simulcast on CNN flared into open anger in the final moments.

Clinton accused her rival of not standing with Obama after he endorsed a book by CNN contributor Bill Press critical of the president. She said Sanders had called Obama "weak" and a "disappointment" in the past and she warned "the kind of criticism that we heard from Sen. Sanders about our president, I expect from Republicans. I do not expect (it) from someone running for the Democratic nomination to succeed President Obama."

Democratic presidential candidates Sen. Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton participate in the PBS NewsHour Democratic presidential candidate debate at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee on February 11, 2016, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Hillary Clinton criticizes Sanders for attacks on Obama 02:22
Sanders was furious: "Madam Secretary, that is a low blow."

He insisted Obama was his friend, but that did not mean that a senator had to agree with the president on everything.

"One of us ran against President Obama," Sanders said, responding to Clinton's 2008 showdown against the then-Illinois senator. "I was not that candidate."

One of the biggest moments of the night came when Sanders warned Clinton: "You are not in the White House yet."

The debate was the first time the rivals met since Sanders won the New Hampshire primary in a 20 point victory on Tuesday.

Obama's legacy
The issue of Obama's legacy is an important one because his approval ratings among Democrats remains high. And on a day in which she won the endorsement of the political arm of the Congressional Black Caucus, Clinton, who is desperate to slow the surging Sanders after his Granite State triumph, seemed to be reaching out for African-American voters in South Carolina — a key state in her southern firewall.

Both candidates made strenuous efforts to show they appreciate economic and social problems afflicting African-American communities.

"An African-American baby born today stands a one in four chance of ending up in jail," Sanders said. "That is beyond unspeakable," he added.

He went on to say that race relations would "absolutely" be better under his administration than in Obama's tenure.

Sanders also called for overhauls in sentencing, and a "radical reform" of a system that he said has turned into a vicious circle that disproportionately cycles African-American males in and out of jail.

Clinton said that under Obama there had been a "lot of advances" that had helped African-Americans but warned that thanks to social media "we are seeing the dark side of the remaining systemic racism that we have to root out in our society."

There was also a spirited exchange between Clinton and Sanders over foreign policy as she sought to drive home an argument that only she has the qualities demanded of a commander-in-chief.

Sanders revived his attack on Clinton's 2002 vote to authorize the Iraq War to argue that judgement -- not experience -- is most important in a commander in chief. Clinton hit back that a vote 14 years ago does not equate to a plan to destroy ISIS in 2016.

Henry Kissinger
Then Sanders, the former 1960s student activist, took an unexpected swipe against Clinton for taking the advice of Henry Kissinger, one of her Republican predecessors as secretary of state, who is reviled by many liberals for his role in wars and political unrest in Vietnam, Cambodia, Indonesia and South America.

"She talked about getting the approval or the support or the mentoring of Henry Kissinger. Now, I find it rather amazing, because I happen to believe that Henry Kissinger was one of the most destructive secretaries of state in the modern history of this country," Sanders said. "I am proud to say that Henry Kissinger is not my friend."

Clinton responded with one of her most cutting lines of the night, playing on a complaint among her supporters that he is weak on foreign policy and is unwilling to disclose who is advising him on national security.

"Well, I know journalists have asked who you do listen to on foreign policy, and we have yet to know who that is," Clinton said.

The rivals also made a pitch for the Latino community, which will play a key role in the next Democratic nominating contest in Nevada on February 20. They backed Obama's executive actions to defer deportations of up to five million undocumented immigrants. Both said they would go further.

Clinton pointed out that Sanders had voted against an ultimately failed bid to pass comprehensive immigration reform in Congress in 2007 while she voted for it. Sanders explained that he had done so because guest worker provisions under the legislation were described by one legal advocacy group as "akin to slavery."

There were also heated exchanges after Sanders slammed Clinton over super PACs supporting her campaign.

He has argued that the fact that Clinton accepts contributions from financial groups means she is less likely to take on Wall Street in office. Clinton countered that despite accepting such donations in 2008, Obama passed tough new regulations on the financial industry early in his administration and she would do the same.

'People are not dumb'
democratic debate clinton sanders campaign contributions orig vstan cws 05_00013826

Sanders retorted: "Let's not insult the intelligence of the American people. ...People are not dumb."

Clinton sought to dent Sanders by portraying his plans as unrealistic and said it was important for Americans to vet both of their programs.

At one point, Clinton told him, "We are not France," after Sanders had complained that the United States was the only major industrialized power in the world that did not provide universal health care for its citizens. "We should not make promises we can't keep," Clinton said and warned that Sanders' plans to push for a single-payer health care program would gridlock the political system and jeopardize Obamacare.

Clinton sought to co-opt the language that Sanders has been using to refer to an economy he says rewards the rich at the expense of the middle class.

"Yes, the economy is rigged in favor of those at the top," Clinton said. "I know a lot of Americans are angry at the economy and for good cause. Americans haven't had a raise in 15 years," Clinton said, adding that she wanted to do more to ensure that "Wall Street never wrecks Main Street again."

5 takeaways from the Democratic debate.
President Barack Obama was the star of Thursday night's debate between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders.

Clinton didn't just stake her claim for Obama's mantle, she proved she's willing to brawl for it. Sanders, meanwhile, showed he's getting more comfortable being the liberal that liberals always hoped Obama was at heart. And he made it clear he's not a fan of Henry Kissinger.

Here are five takeaways from the PBS NewsHour debate in Milwaukee:
Clinton embraces Obama in a bold new way
Clinton's single biggest objective all night -- especially heading into South Carolina, where African-American voters are hugely influential -- was to drive a wedge between Sanders and Obama.

She succeeded, highlighting Sanders' 2011 musings about a liberal primary challenger to Obama and questioning Obama's commitment to the progressive cause.

That, Clinton said, is "the kind of criticism that we've heard from Senator Sanders about our president I expect from Republicans. I do not expect it from someone running for the Democratic nomination to succeed President Obama."

She also accused Sanders of straying out of the bounds of intra-party policy disputes.

"You know, senator, what I am concerned about is not disagreement on issues -- saying that this is what I would rather do, I don't agree with the president on that," Clinton said. "Calling the President weak, calling him a disappointment, calling several times that he should have a primary opponent when he ran for re-election in 2012, you know, I think that goes further than saying we have our disagreements."

The attacks frustrated Sanders enough that he at one point said that her questioning his loyalty to the President was a "low blow" and shot back: "One of us ran against Barack Obama. I was not that candidate."

But he also didn't shy away from criticizing the President's record. He said that Obamacare's reliance on private insurers gives that industry enormous influence in politics. And he criticized the Dodd-Frank financial reforms. "My view, it doesn't go anywhere near far enough," Sanders said.

Fighting for African-American voters
What would you do to improve race relations?

What would you do to improve race relations? 02:03
As the campaign transitions from mostly-white Iowa and New Hampshire to Latino-heavy Nevada and African-American-dominated South Carolina, both candidates were focused from the outset on courting minority voters.

For Clinton, it was about hitting point-by-point challenges confronting minorities.

For Sanders, it was an opportunity to hit his core argument that soaring income inequality is the injustice at the root of all of America's problems.

"We can talk about it as a race issue, but it's a general economic issue," Sanders said.

Clinton, meanwhile, was aiming to hit a much broader issue set -- and made that clear from her opening statement.

"I want to go further. I want to tackle those barriers that stand in the way of too many Americans right now. African-Americans who face discrimination in the job market, education, housing, and the criminal justice system," she said.

She also name-dropped South Carolina Rep. Jim Clyburn when calling for more federal money to be pumped into persistently poor communities. Clyburn wasn't among the members of the Congressional Black Caucus who endorsed Clinton earlier Thursday, and he plans to endorse a candidate soon, but Clinton couldn't wait. She needs African-American voters to get behind her now.

Revolution vs. reality
The last few Democratic debates have settled into a consistent pattern: Sanders simplifies everything, and then Clinton explains, in detail, why he's wrong.

Clinton can win every argument, or blur their lines, saying "we agree," but lose a debate. And it's largely because she feels constrained: Clinton is presenting herself as someone who can accomplish things in the real world, while Sanders is selling a vision.

She challenged Sanders specifically on his implication that Clinton is part of a political establishment corrupted by campaign contributions, noting that Obama "was the recipient of the largest number of Wall Street donations" in history.

Sanders said he didn't think anyone would be fooled.

"Let's not insult the intelligence of the American people. People aren't dumb. Why in God's name does Wall Street make huge campaign contributions?" he said, chiding: "I guess just for the fun of it, they want to throw money around."

But Clinton at the end found a line that may work and could be featured on the trail and in future debates -- dismissing Sanders as a one-note candidate.

"I am not a single-issue candidate and I do not believe we live in a single-issue country," she said.

Sanders throws shade
Remember when, in the heat of the 2008 primary, Obama looked at Clinton mid-debate and said, dismissively, that she was "likeable enough"?

Sanders had his "likeable enough" moment Thursday night.

It came after Clinton discussed her ability to pay for $100 billion in new policy proposals, saying that, "I think once I'm in the White House, we will have enough political capital to be able to do that."

Sanders shot back: "Secretary Clinton, you're not in the White House yet."

Passive-aggressive as it was, it showed Sanders' increasing willingness to mix it up with Clinton. Even in the last debate, under a constant barrage of attacks from Clinton, Sanders seemed unwilling to deliver such a personal one-liner.

Clinton, meanwhile, had clearly dialed back her tone, dropping the shouting and lessening the tense exchanges with the Vermont senator, while talking more to the audience.

Why the exchange about Henry Kissinger mattered
Clinton's fluency on foreign policy has long been a strength Sanders can't possibly match. So over and over, he's leaned on a single comeback: She voted to go to war in Iraq in 2002 and he voted against it.

On Thursday night, Sanders had a second she's-for-it, I'm-against-it play: Henry Kissinger.

He attacked Clinton, out of the blue, for having touted the mentorship of Kissinger, a Republican former secretary of state under Richard Nixon hated by liberals for his role in Vietnam, Cambodia and elsewhere.

"I am proud to say that Henry Kissinger is not my friend. I will not take advice from Henry Kissinger," Sanders said.

Clinton, looking a little surprised, had a ready comeback that cast doubt on Sanders' qualifications on foreign policy, saying: "Well, I know journalists have asked who you do listen to on foreign policy, and we have yet to know who that is."

But the two talked for a surprisingly long time about Kissinger and his record.

Clinton praised Kissinger, saying that "his opening up China and his ongoing relationships with the leaders of China is an incredibly useful relationship for the United States of America," no matter what anyone might think of the 92-year-old Kissinger.

But Sanders whacked at Kissinger over China, saying he'd been against the country before he was for it -- specifically by advancing "the domino theory, you know, if Vietnam goes, China, da-da, da-da-da, da-da."

Donald Trump Autographs a Child in Baton Rouge.
Here's an unconventional autograph: Republican front-runner Donald Trump signed a toddler's hand with a marker during a rally in Baton Rouge Thursday.

Trump took a moment after spotting little Curtis Ray Jeffrey III — who had a bejewelled Trump pacifier and his hair done up in a mohawk-like hairdo — on the rope line of the event.

Trump won the nation's first primary in New Hampshire on Tuesday. He brought up rival Marco Rubio's disappointing fifth-place finish, but said he only mentioned it because Rubio said "some nasty things about us today."

Trump shrugged off news that President George W. Bush would campaign for his brother, Jeb Bush, in South Carolina by reserving comment.

"Now he's bringing in his brother," Trump said of Jeb Bush. "I won't say anything, I'm gonna save that for after his brother makes a statement."

"Because there's plenty to say about what happened, okay? Especially that last three months. And especially getting us in that quicksand, you know, we got in quicksand," Trump said, referring to going into Iraq.

Asia markets extend rout as Nikkei plunges 4.8%.
Markets in Asia dropped sharply on Friday, with the Nikkei tumbling, after a sell-off on Wall Street as oil remained volatile and concerns about how central banks' easing measures will affect banks' earnings persisted. "The idea that central banks are now fully targeting the interest rate structure and putting a gun to domestic banks heads in a fight to stoke credit growth is in no way an equity friendly story," wrote Chris Weston, chief market strategist at spreadbetter IG, in a morning note. The Bank of Japan blindsided markets on January 29 by cutting its benchmark rate into negative territory in a move that's sparked concerns over banks' earnings.

Japan's Nikkei 225, which reopened after a public holiday on Thursday, dropped 760.78 points, or 4.84 percent, to 14,952.61, falling for seven of the past eight sessions to its lowest close since October, 2014. The Nikkei 225 has been on a downward spiral in recent days, as the yen rapidly strengthened against the dollar, with the index ending down more than 11 percent for the week.

"The heightened volatility in financial markets could adversely impact the real economy. It may dampen business confidence, disincentivizing Japanese companies from investing and raising wages. It may also discourage banks from lending and expanding the balance sheets," DBS said in a note Friday. "If the financial market jitters spread and business plans are postponed broadly elsewhere, Japan's exports would also be depressed."

During Asian trade, the dollar-yen pair was at 112.50, up from a session low of 111.91; it had traded as low as 110.98 on Thursday, compared with levels over 120 at the beginning of the month. The yen has risen sharply since the BOJ's move to a negative interest rate policy. A strong yen is a negative for export stocks as it dampens their overseas profits when converted into local currency.

That's prompting some analysts to revise their forecasts for the dollar-yen pair. Barclays said in a note Friday that it believes the yen had been "excessively" undervalued compared with the country's economic fundamentals and that's now unwinding. It expects the dollar-yen pair to fall as low as 100 by end of the first quarter and 95 by year end. 

Among Japanese exporters, Toyota, Nissan and Sharp dropped 6.81, 5.82, and 10.32 percent, respectively. 
In Australia, the S&P/ASX 200 fell 55.77 points, or 1.16 percent, to 4,765.30, off by more than 2 percent for the week. The financial sector weighed on the index, dropping 1.58 percent on Friday. 
In South Korea, the Kospi was down 26.26 points, or 1.41 percent, at 1,835.28, while Hong Kong's Hang Seng index slipped 226.22 points, or 1.22 percent, to 18,319.58 on its second day of trade this week. Both the Korean and Hong Kong markets were closed from Monday through Wednesday for the Lunar New Year holidays.

Mainland Chinese markets and Taiwan will resume trade next week.

Banking stocks under pressure
Asia's banks and financial stocks remained under pressure, following drops in their Europe and the U.S. counterparts as concerns mounted over their potential performance in a low-growth and low-interest rate environment.

The so-called Big Four banks Down Under - ANZ, Commonwealth Bank of Australia, Westpac, and NAB - closed down between 1.31 and 2.54 percent.

Japanese banks saw steep losses, with Mitsubishi UFJ down 2.23 percent, SMFG lower by 4.06 percent, Mizuho Financial shedding 3.66 percent and Nomura falling 9.21 percent. 

South Korean brokerages were down between 0.70 and 5.03 percent; Samsung Securities fell 3.50 percent, while Daewoo Securities was down 3.20 percent.

Overnight, European banking equities extended recent declines, pushing the STOXX 600 European bank index down 6.3 percent by the end of trade. Concerns over interest rates' effects on banks got an additional fillip when Sweden's central bank yesterday slashed its deposit rates from negative-35 basis points to negative-50 basis points.

Oil gains 5% in Asian trade

NIKKEINikkei 225 Index14952.61
HSIHang Seng Index18319.58
ASX 200S&P/ASX 2004765.35
SHANGHAIShanghai Composite Index2763.95
KOSPIKOSPI Index1835.28
CNBC 100CNBC 100 ASIA IDX5512.21
Oil prices remained volatile, registering gains in Asian trade after a drop overnight on the back of a build-up in global inventories. 

U.S. crude retraced losses of 4.5 percent overnight to trade up 4.81 percent in Asian hours at $27.47 a barrel. Global benchmark Brent was up 4.36 percent at $31.37 a barrel after sliding 2.5 percent overnight.
Energy plays were mixed, with shares of Santos rising 3.61 percent and Woodside slipping 0.26 percent, while Japan's Inpex fell 6.36 percent and Japan Petroleum slid 3.94 percent.

Hong Kong-listed shares of CNOOC, Petrochina and Sinopec closed up between 0.40 and 0.67 percent.

The Wall Street Journal reported that according to UAE's energy minister, OPEC was ready to cooperate on production cuts, But skepticism in the market remained; in recent weeks both Russia and Venezuela have called for OPEC and other major oil producers to cut output and Iran has said it is ready to cooperate on output, all apparently without making any headway.

Bluescope shares up 14%
Shares of steelmaker Bluescope closed up 14.16 percent, after a profit upgrade. The steelmaker projected earnings for the first half of fiscal 2016 would be A$230 million, up from an earlier projection of about A$180 million. Reports said the company cited accelerated cost-cutting, better margins and rising demand in Australia as reasons for the profit upgrade.

Other resources plays Down Under closed mostly down, with big producers Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton falling 1.27 and 0.98 percent respectively. Iron ore producer Fortescue was down 4.71 percent.

Rio Tinto reported annual losses after Thursday's market close and scrapped its progressive dividend policy, broadly in line with market expectations, citing worsening global economic conditions and downturn in commodity prices. Rio Tinto reported a net loss of $866 million for 2015, compared with a $6.53 billion profit the previous year.

The price of gold was off 0.84 percent at $1,236.10 an ounce during Asian hours after jumping more than 5 percent in overnight trade to a one-year high. The precious metal is usually considered a safe-haven investment at times of market volatility.

Mark Matthews from Bank Julius Baer said in a note that at any moment a rally in risk appetite could send the precious metal back down. But Matthews added, "Few market participants think that rally, when it comes, will be sustainable, and after that, markets will remain in a southerly direction for the next few months."

"In which case, there is more room for gold (and its proxies) to move higher," added Matthews.

Gold miners ended mostly up. Shares of Evolution Mining added 5.05 percent, Kingsgate soared 43.75 percent and Alacer Gold tacked on 3.77 percent. Newcrest gave up morning gains to close down 0.12 percent.

Major indexes in the U.S. finished lower, with the Dow Jones industrial average closing 254.56 points, or 1.6 percent, lower at 15,660.18. The S&P 500 slipped 22.78 points, or 1.23 percent, to 1,829.08 and the Nasdaq composite was down 16.76 points, or 0.39 percent, at 4,266.84.

Cruz campaign pulls ad over appearance by adult film actressTed Cruz's latest political ad turned out to be too hot for TV. 

The Texas senator's campaign confirmed late Thursday that it had pulled a commercial hitting Florida Sen. Marco Rubio over illegal immigration because one of the actresses had previously appeared in pornographic films.

The actress in question, Amy Lindsay, described herself as a Christian conservative and a Republican in an interview with Buzzfeed News late Thursday. She also tweeted her displeasure that the video was pulled from the airwaves.

Cruz campaign spokesman Rick Tyler said Lindsay had responded to an open casting call for the ad. 

"Unfortunately, she was not vetted by the production company," Tyler said. "Had the campaign known of her full filmography, we obviously would not have let her appear in the ad."

An Internet Movie Database page in Lindsay's name lists her as appearing in several movies with titles like "Carnal Wishes" and "Insatiable Desire". She is also listed as having appeared in the TV series "Star Trek: Voyager" and the 1996 film adaptation of Henry James' novel "The Portrait of a Lady."

Lindsay's acting background was first reported by the Daily Caller.

The ad, titled "Conservatives Anonymous" featured a faux self-help session in which voters lamented their past support for Rubio. 

"I voted for a guy who was a Tea Party hero on the campaign trail then he went to D.C. and played patty cake with Chuck Schumer and cut a deal on amnesty," one of the participants, a middle-aged man, tells the group.

The group moderator asks him: "Does that make you angry?"

"Angry? No, it makes me feel dumb for trusting him," the middle-aged man says.

Lindsay played a woman who tells another group member, "Maybe you should vote for more than just a pretty face next time."

Responding to the ad before it was pulled, Rubio accused Cruz of changing positions on a pathway to citizenship and other immigration issues, telling Fox News: “He's willing to say or do anything to win an election.”

“He portrays himself as some sort of immigration purist," Rubio added. "The bottom line is when immigration reform was being debated in Washington, Ted Cruz was a passionate spokesperson on behalf of legalizing people that are in this country illegally, so he either wasn't telling the truth then or he isn't telling the truth now." Fox News' Dan Gallo and Serafin Gomez contributed to this report.

The following is huge news. Syria war pause plan agreed by world powersWorld powers have agreed to seek a nationwide "cessation of hostilities" in Syria to begin in a week's time, after talks in Munich, Germany.

The halt will not apply to the battle against jihadist groups Islamic State (IS) and al-Nusra Front.

The 17-member International Syria Support Group (ISSG) also agreed to accelerate and expand aid deliveries.

The announcement comes as the Syrian army, backed by Russian air strikes, advances in Aleppo province.

The move threatens to encircle tens of thousands of civilians in rebel-held parts of the major city of Aleppo.

The Syrian government has not yet responded, though a key rebel coalition welcomed the announcement.

"If we see action and implementation on the ground, we will be soon in Geneva," Salim al-Muslat told reporters, referring to the Swiss city where the UN is trying to get peace talks between the Syrian government and rebels off the ground.

More than 250,000 people have been killed and 13.5 million displaced in almost five years of fighting in Syria.

Both Sergei Lavrov and John Kerry admitted, repeatedly, this was only progress on paper. Some diplomats are already saying "it's not worth the paper it's printed on".

There are still major gaps. One of the biggest is that Russia's bombing of Aleppo and what it calls terrorist targets is not included in the possible truce even though its actions are seen by many as strengthening Syrian government forces.

On the issue of delivering desperately needed aid to besieged areas, UN officials say they are determined to seize this new opening.

The next week will confirm whether Syria's government and opposition forces are ready to provide access denied for so long.

It will be a week which tests the commitment of all outside players, as well as Syrians on all sides.

That, in itself, is some progress. But moving towards talks to end Syria's devastating war will still take far more than that.
US Secretary of State John Kerry admitted the ceasefire plan was "ambitious" and said the real test would be whether the various parties honoured the commitments.

"What we have here are words on paper, what we need to see in the next few days are actions on the ground," he said.
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A task force chaired by the US and Russia will work to implement the truce through consultations with Syria's rival groups.

Aid deliveries for besieged Syrian communities are due to begin as early as Friday.

What has been agreed?
To try to immediately step up aid deliveries to besieged and hard-to-reach areas in Syria

For a US/Russia-led task force to work to achieve a "cessation of hostilities" across Syria beginning in one week's time.

"Cessation of hostilities" will exclude action against so-called Islamic State group, jihadist group al-Nusra Front and other UN-designated terrorist groups.

To work towards an eventual ceasefire and implementation of a UN-backed plan for political transition in Syria.

Mr Kerry made the announcement alongside his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov and the UN special envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura.

Mr Lavrov said there were "reasons to hope we have done a great job today". An earlier proposal from Russia envisaged a truce starting on 1 March.

At the news conference Mr Kerry again suggested that Russian strikes were targeting what the West sees as moderate opposition forces, rather than terrorists, as Moscow says.

British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said the cessation would only work if Russia halted its raids, although Mr Lavrov said they would continue.
Map showing where civilians have fled since Syrian government forces began their offensive on Aleppo - 10 February 2016
The ISSG also agreed that peace talks involving the Syrian government and rebels should resume as soon as possible.
Initial talks were suspended just days after they began earlier this month in Geneva, in the wake of the Aleppo offensive.
Thousands of people displaced by the fighting have been stranded at the border with Turkey and aid agencies have warned of a rapidly deteriorating humanitarian situation.

Syria conflict - key questions
smoke rises after shelling by the Syrian army in Jobar, Damascus
Why is there a war in Syria?
Anti-government protests developed into a civil war that, four years on, has ground to a stalemate, with the Assad government, Islamic State, an array of Syrian rebels and Kurdish fighters all holding territory.

Who is fighting whom?
Government forces concentrated in Damascus and the centre and west of Syria are fighting the jihadists of Islamic State and al-Nusra Front, as well as less numerous so-called "moderate" rebel groups, who are strongest in the north and east. These groups are also battling each other.
How has the world reacted?

Iran, Russia and Lebanon's Hezbollah movement are propping up the Alawite-led Assad government, while Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar back the more moderate Sunni-dominated opposition, along with the US, UK and France. 

Hezbollah and Iran are believed to have troops and officers on the ground, while a Western-led coalition and Russia are carrying out air strikes.

South Carolina Focus Group Visibly Cringes At Trump's Foul LanguageRepublican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump had a group of South Carolina voters cringing at his foul language in a focus group segment that aired Thursday on MSNBC's "Morning Joe."

Bloomberg Politics' Mark Halperin showed the focus group participants videos of Trump cursing at rallies, including a clip of the real estate magnate saying, "We're going to knock the shit out of ISIS" as well as "You can tell them to go fuck themselves!"

Participants covered their faces and gasped at the language. One older man crossed his arms across his chest as the clip rolled.

"It's crass," one female participant said. "It's not how you want your President of the U.S. to present."

A younger male participant, identified as Jacob, was asked if this kind of conduct would hurt Trump in South Carolina. While nodding, Jacob said, "(In) the Bible Belt? This is the belt buckle right here."

A woman added, "We don't tolerate that here."

Within hours, Trump disputed the legitimacy of the clips shown to participants.

. showed a focus group on me using a very bad word. I never said the word, left an open blank. Please apologize!

Interestingly, while they doubted the many professions to faith that the Trumpinator gave, they still thought he would win, even though they nearly all said they would choose Cruz over Trump in a head-to-head contest. So it looks like Cruz definitely has some room to maneuver into, if he can bang the Bible and convince them they want a “consistent constitutional conservative.” But if Trump is able to get them to yell, “damn Mexicans!!” then he’ll win.

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