Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Good morning everyone! Happy Wednesday to you!

Joining today's show are Mike Barnicle, Jon Meacham, Harold Ford Jr., John Heilemann, Rev. Al Sharpton, Richard Haass, Mary Kissel, Howard Dean, Robert Costa, Joshua Green, Ron Fournier, Mike Lupica, Mark Leibovich, Sara Eisen, Alec Ross and in Taiji, Japan the last hunting vessel has returned to the harbor. Happy Blue Cove Day! 2016-17-2 9:30am ‪#‎dolphinproject‬ ‪#‎tweet4dolphins‬
Donald Trump supporter in South Carolina: 'We're voting with our middle finger'.
Donald Trump tally
bert Bowers, a 50-year-old debt collector, conceded that Donald Trump may have gone “overboard just a little bit” when he attacked President George W. Bush, saying he lied about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and failed to stop the Sept. 11 attacks.

But that did not stop Bowers, of Fountain Inn, S.C., from putting on a cap with Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan and walking through an icy cold parking lot so he could crowd into a raucous Trump rally Monday night.

“He’s not a polished politician,” Bowers said, neatly summing up both Trump’s appeal and liability.

Early evidence suggests that Trump, as he has many times before, is maintaining his wide lead here despite criticism of his crude rhetoric, the latest example of which came in his attacks on Bush in Saturday’s debate and ever since. Though South Carolina has long prided itself on Southern manners and propriety, it is changing rapidly as outsiders increasingly move here. And Trump Nation may be immune to, and in some cases, even more than forgiving of his brash behavior.

“I hope he drops an F-bomb,” one fan said to another on the way into the rally.
Republicans campaign in South Carolina
One poll taken since the debate by Public Policy Polling, which works mostly for Democrats, shows Trump leading South Carolina’s Republican primary field by 17 percentage points, about the same lead he had going into the debate. His core support from about one in three Republicans remains steady here, in line with earlier national polling.

During past controversies, Trump’s supporters have stuck with him, believing his unvarnished criticism of immigrants, Muslims, women and Sen. John McCain’s war record shows he is willing to take on establishment interests and unwilling to bend to what he calls political correctness. Sometimes they agree with his comments, particularly on building a wall along the Southwestern border and barring Muslims from entering the country, according to polls. Sometimes they disagree but are more concerned with upending the political system.

“We’re voting with our middle finger,” said John Baldwin, a used-car dealer from Greenville.

Baldwin and his wife were passing out stickers and signs calling Trump’s supporters the “silent majority,” a phrase that dates to President Nixon and is used by Trump to assert that he is giving voice to beliefs that others are afraid to say out loud.

The question for Trump has always been whether he can build support beyond his loyal core, a task for him that will grow more important if he becomes the GOP nominee. A national poll taken this month by Quinnipiac University showed 59% of voters held an unfavorable view of Trump, compared with 34% who view him favorably. Other polls have shown similar results.

“I used to be a Trump supporter — up until Saturday night,” said Herb Riggs, a retired builder in Florence, who attended a town hall with Florida Sen. Marco Rubio on Monday, and is now considering him, along with Texas Sen. Ted Cruz. “He looked like a schoolyard bully.”

Betty Carter also didn't like the way Trump went after former President Bush. But she's still sticking with him.

"He needs to know where he is: He's in Bush country," she said waiting in a long line to see him Tuesday afternoon at Riverview Park in North Augusta, where she moved more than 15 years ago to care for her grandkids. "I didn't like it, but I'm still voting for him."

Marsha Daigle, a retired federal employee at Trump’s rally Monday in Greenville, said she did not like the bickering in the debate either and worries that it will make it more difficult for Trump to broaden his support.

“It rubs a lot of people the wrong way,” she said.

Speaking at a rally in South Carolina on Tuesday, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump mocked Hillary Clinton for imitating a barking dog. Clinton suggested a dog trained to bark when he heard a lie should follow Republican candidates.

She and her 38-year-old son, Brent Gay, who said he had never voted, said their own support for Trump remains solid because they believe he will halt illegal immigration and help Americans get more jobs.

Like several people interviewed at Trump’s Monday night rally, Daigle was not originally from South Carolina, having lived in California and several other states before retiring in Spartanburg. Demographic data show an increasing number of residents have moved from out of state, perhaps loosening the traditional boundaries of Southern politeness.

In 2000, 64% of the population was state-born, according to census data, but by 2013, the number of resident born in the Palmetto State had fallen to 58%.

GOP strategist Kevin Madden, a former Mitt Romney spokesman, said he believes Trump may yet suffer in Saturday’s South Carolina primary, noting that attitudes here often shift in the final days of the campaign.

“These are views that are outside the mainstream of Republican thought,” Madden said. “His views in that debate were more associate with Code Pink and the liberal left and that might give people pause, rather than reinforce what they liked about some of his debate performances.”

Monday night’s rally was typical of Trump’s performances, which feel like arena rock concerts as much as political events. Thousands packed into the TD Convention Center. Many stood along the sides of the cavernous convention hall when the seats ran out. Others were sent to an overflow room or turned away. Giant screens lit up Trump’s face; spotlights vacillated in front of the stage; Van Halen music blared.

“Didn’t you love this last debate?” Trump said to cheers. “They came at me from every angle.”

Trump, as he often does, riffed from topic to topic. He mocked Florida Gov. Jeb Bush for his debate performance and claimed the audience was stacked with his special-interest supporters.

He repeated his criticism of President George W. Bush’s decision to invade Iraq, but did not mention Bush, who is popular among the state’s Republicans, by name during that portion of the speech.

“We shouldn’t have gone into Iraq. That was a big mistake because it destabilized the whole Middle East,” Trump said. “Some people say ‘Oh, don’t say that.’”

“Everything you see right now is an offshoot of that decision,” he added, before launching into criticism of President Obama’s handling of the withdrawal from Iraq.

Later, he returned to the topic, even offering praise for Saddam Hussein, as a bad guy who nonetheless kept Iraq from disintegrating into sectarian violence and spawning terrorist groups attacking the West.

Human rights groups have estimated that Hussein, who was hanged in 2006, killed hundreds of thousands of people.

“Saddam Hussein killed terrorists,” Trump said. “He didn’t do it politically correct. He found a terrorist, they were gone within five seconds, OK. With us, we find a terrorist, it’s going to be 25 years and a trial.”

The crowd laughed, hollered and waved signs.

Noah Bierman reported from Greenville and Mascaro from Columbia and North Augusta, S.C.

In South Carolina, big leads on both sidesDonald Trump holds a broad 16-point lead among those likely to vote in South Carolina's Republican primary this Saturday, according to a new CNN/ORC Poll. Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton tops Bernie Sanders by 18 points in the state's Democratic primary, which will be held a week later.

In the Republican race, Trump, at 38%, tops Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who holds second place with 22%. Behind those two, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio garners 14% support, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush is at 10%, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson has 6% and Ohio Gov. John Kasich is at 4%.

Trump's lead is bolstered by widespread perceptions of him as the candidate best able to handle the economy, immigration and ISIS, and further, that he has the best chance to win in November and would be most likely to change the way things work in Washington.

Voters in South Carolina are less apt to say they trust Trump on social issues and on foreign policy, yet he is still near the top of the list of preferred candidates even on those issues.

Trump holds an even broader lead among white evangelical voters in the state, who typically make up a majority of Republican primary voters. He tops Cruz by nearly 20 points among this group: 42% Trump, 23% Cruz, 14% Rubio, 9% Bush, 5% Carson and 1% Kasich.

But voters' views on the contest aren't universally settled: About half of those likely to vote in Saturday's primary say they've already decided whom to support, the rest are leaning or still deciding.

The poll suggests Trump's support may have softened after Saturday's debate among the GOP candidates. In interviews conducted before the debate, 40% backed Trump, compared with 31% who said they supported him after the raucous matchup between the remaining candidates in the field. Two candidates who attempted to remain above the fray in the debate -- Carson and Kasich -- each appeared to get a bump in the post-debate interviews, though the increase for both candidates was within the margin of sampling error for the post-debate interviews.

Likely voters in the Democratic primary in the Palmetto State, set to be held Saturday, February 27, tilt sharply toward Clinton over Sanders, 56% for Clinton to 38% for Sanders.

Clinton's lead rests heavily on the state's black voters and women. Both groups made up a majority of voters in the 2008 primary there. Among black voters, she leads 65% to 28%, and among women, she leads 60% to 33%. White voters break in Sanders' favor, 54% for the Vermont senator to 40% for the former secretary of state, while men are about evenly divided between the two, 49% Clinton to 45% Sanders.

Still, Democratic voters in South Carolina aren't as firm in their choices as Democrats in New Hampshire or Iowa were, according to pre-election polling. In surveys ahead of the first two contests, majorities said they had made up their minds. In South Carolina, however, just 43% say they have definitely decided whom to support with about 10 days to go before Election Day. Potentially troublesome for Clinton: Blacks were far less likely to say they are committed to a candidate than whites. About a third of black voters (34%) say they have decided on a candidate versus nearly 6 in 10 white voters (57%).

On the issues, the survey finds Clinton holding wide advantages over Sanders. She is seen as the candidate better able to handle foreign policy, health care, race relations and the economy by margins of 20 points or more. She holds a slimmer 6-point edge over Sanders on gun policy.

Across all domestic issues tested in the poll, however, there are broad racial gaps in candidate trust, with majorities of blacks saying they trust Clinton more on each issue. Whites generally break for Sanders, though are evenly split on who would better handle race relations. Majorities across racial lines choose Clinton as better able to handle foreign policy.

The racial divide is perhaps starkest on core Democratic values. Asked which candidate better represents "the values of Democrats like yourself," nearly two-thirds of whites choose Sanders over Clinton on that measure, while 7 in 10 blacks choose Clinton. And when assessing who would do more to help the middle class, 69% of blacks say Clinton would, while 66% of whites say Sanders would.

Majorities of both blacks (75%) and whites (58%) see Clinton as better able to win in November.

The CNN/ORC South Carolina poll was conducted by telephone February 10-15 among a random sample of 1,006 adult residents of the state. Results among the 404 likely Republican primary voters have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 5 percentage points. For results among the 280 likely Democratic primary voters, it is plus or minus 6 percentage points.

CNN will host town hall meetings with the GOP presidential candidates in South Carolina on Wednesday and Thursday at 8 p.m. ET. And, MSNBC Hosts Back-to-Back Primetime Specials with Trump and Gov. Kasich Tonight.

MSNBC, "The Place for Politics," will host in-depth primetime interviews with two leading Republican presidential candidates in South Carolina tonight, February 17, just three days before Saturday's "First in the South" primary.

"Morning Joe" hosts Joe and Mika will moderate an hour-long town hall with Donald Trump airing at 8:00 p.m. ET. The event will take place in Charleston and feature questions from South Carolina voters.

Immediately before the Trump town hall, "Hardball" host Chris Matthews sits down with Ohio Governor John Kasich in Hilton Head, SC for an extended one-on-one interview airing at 7:00pm ET.

MSNBC is inviting all Republican presidential candidates to participate in similar long-form interviews this primary season.

On Thursday night, from 9-11 p.m. ET, Jose Diaz-Balart and Chuck Todd will moderate a Clinton - Sanders Town Hall in Las Vegas ahead of Saturday's Nevada Democratic caucuses.

In November, Rachel Maddow moderated a Democratic Candidates Forum in Rock Hill, South Carolina. Earlier this month, Maddow and Todd moderated the first one-on-one Democratic debate between Clinton and Sanders in Durham, New Hampshire.

Clinton, Sanders in a dead heat for Nevada. Likely Democratic caucusgoers in Nevada are split almost evenly between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders ahead of Saturday's caucuses, according to a new CNN/ORC Poll.

Though Clinton holds an edge over Sanders on handling a range of top issues, the results suggest the extremely close race hinges on divided opinions on the economy.

Overall, 48% of likely caucus attendees say they support Clinton, 47% Sanders. Both candidates carry their demographic strong points from prior states into Nevada, with Clinton holding an edge among women, while Sanders tops the former secretary of state among voters under age 55.

One exception emerges though: Although the pool of potential caucusgoers in Nevada is more racially diverse than those who participated in Iowa or New Hampshire, the racial divide among likely caucusgoers isn't nearly as stark as among voters in South Carolina, with both white and non-white voters about evenly divided between the two candidates.

The economy is rated the top issue by 42% of likely Democratic caucusgoers, and which candidate would better handle it seems a central division in the race.

Overall, Clinton holds broad advantages as more trusted on foreign policy, race relations, immigration and health care, but likely caucusgoers are split 48% for Clinton and 47% for Sanders on the economy. Among those likely caucusgoers who call the economy their top issue in choosing a candidate, more support Sanders: 52% back him vs. 43% for Clinton.

When asked who would do more to help the middle class, Sanders narrowly tops Clinton among all likely caucusgoers, 50% to 47%. Likely caucusgoers are also split on which candidate best represents Democratic values, 50% say Clinton does, 49% Sanders.

As was the case in Iowa, Sanders' support rests partly on those who are not regular participants in the caucus process, and turnout could play a role in whether the results reflect this close a race on Saturday.

Clinton fares better among those who say they are definitely going to participate in the caucus, as well as among those who say they have regularly participated in the past. Newer voters are more likely to back Sanders, as are those a bit less certain they'll show up on Saturday.

The Republican side seems set for less suspense when that party holds caucuses on Tuesday, February 23. The poll finds businessman Donald Trump holding a wide lead, topping the field with the support of 45% of those likely to caucus. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz are closely matched in the race for second place, with Rubio at 19% and Cruz at 17%. Retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson (7%), Ohio Gov. John Kasich (5%) and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (1%) lag well behind those three.

Nearly 6-in-10 likely GOP caucusgoers say they have definitely decided whom to support, with about one-quarter still trying to make up their minds.

As in the South Carolina poll, Trump dominates the field on handling top issues, including the economy (61% trust Trump most), illegal immigration (58% Trump), ISIS (55% Trump) and foreign policy (42% Trump). He holds a smaller edge over Cruz and Rubio on handling social issues -- 28% say Trump would handle those best, 21% Cruz and 20% Rubio.

Trump is also widely seen as most likely to change the way things work in Washington (64% say he's best on that measure), and as the candidate with the best chance of winning in November (56% say Trump has the best shot).

In Nevada, unlike South Carolina, Trump has a significant advantage on the question of who best represents Republican values: 35% name Trump, 22% Cruz, 20% Rubio.

The CNN/ORC Nevada Poll was conducted by telephone February 10-15 among a random sample of 1,006 adult residents of the state. Results among the 245 likely Republican caucusgoers have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 6.5 percentage points. For results among the 282 likely Democratic primary voters, it is plus or minus 6 percentage points.

Trump Has 26-Point Lead In CNN/ORC Poll Of Nevada
Businessman Donald Trump has a 26-point lead over his closest competitor in the CNN/ORC poll of likely GOP Nevada caucusgoers released Wednesday.

Trump polled at 45 percent, followed by Sens. Marco Rubio (R-FL) at 19 percent and Ted Cruz at 17 percent.
Retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson polled at 7 percent and Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) polled at 5 percent.

About one-quarter of likely caucusgoers have not made up their minds. The Nevada Republican caucus is Feb. 23.

TPM's PollTracker Average shows Trump's lead is 19-points over Cruz, 34.7 percent to 15.7 percent.

The poll was conducted among 1,006 adult Nevada residents, 245 of whom were likely GOP caucusgoers, by phone from Feb. 10-15. The margin of error for Republicans was plus or minus 6.5 percent.

Obama: SCOTUS nominee will be 'indisputably' qualified. President Barack Obama vowed on Tuesday to name an "indisputably" qualified Supreme Court nominee and lashed out at Republicans who he said demand a strict interpretation of the Constitution -- except regarding his right to propose a new justice.

The President staked out a tough position after Republicans warned he would not get a vote on his eventual nominee to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia. The GOP is arguing that filling the seat on the nation's highest bench should be left to the next president.

"The Constitution is pretty clear about what is supposed to happen now," Obama said during his first press conference since Scalia's passing over the weekend.

Obama took a swipe at Republicans by saying he was amused to hear some in the party describe themselves as "strict interpreters" of the Constitution but dispute the idea that he has the right to get a hearing for a Supreme Court nominee.

"I am amused when I hear people who claim to be strict interpreters of the Constitution suddenly reading into it a whole series of provisions that are not there," he said. "I am going to present somebody who indisputably is qualified for the seat and any fair minded person, even somebody who disagreed with my politics would say would serve with honor and integrity on the court."

He added: "Your job doesn't stop until you are voted out or until your term expires."

Obama also weighed in on the 2016 presidential race, hinting heavily that he did not believe that Donald Trump was qualified to be president and is convinced the billionaire Republican front-runner would never reach the White House.

"I continue to believe Mr. Trump will not be president," Obama said, adding that he viewed the American people as too sensible to put someone like the former reality star in the White House.

The Supreme Court nomination battle is putting control of the White House, Congress and the Supreme Court on the line this November. Democrats hope that voters will consider the GOP's refusal to undertake that process as a sign of obstruction and overreach that could cause a backlash against Republicans and help Democrats take back the Senate.

On the one hand, and despite the GOP gambit, the President could decide to find the candidate he believes has the most stellar legal qualifications and thus increase political pressure on Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell for a vote.

But given that his pick is unlikely to even have confirmation hearings, Obama could chose to nominate a "sacrificial lamb" who would delight the Democratic Party's liberal base voters and motivate a high turnout in November's election.

Some court watchers have suggested a compromise candidate, possibly a moderate Republican, whom it would be difficult for GOP Senate leaders to snub -- for example someone like Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch.

Hatch told CNN on Tuesday that he didn't think he would be nominated.

"That's kind of a joke. I'll be 82 in March. They're not going to put an 82-year-old man on there," he told CNN's Chris Cuomo on "New Day."

"Of course if they decided to do that, I'd have every Democrat praying for my demise. If they did do that, and it's not going to happen, but if they did, I would spend the next 20 years making sure that I did the job."

In his news conference, the President bemoaned what he styled as the wider sweep of Republican obstructionism in the Senate which he said threatened the proper functioning of nation's political institutions.

"This is the Supreme Court and it's going to get some attention. We have to ask ourselves as a society, a fundamental question, are we able to still make this democracy work the way it's supposed to, the way our founders envisioned it?" Obama asked.

He challenged anyone who adheres to a strict reading of the Constitution to come up with a reason why his nominee did not at least deserve a hearing.

"It's pretty hard to find that in the Constitution," Obama said.

Hillary Clinton Meets With Rev. Al Sharpton, Other Civil Rights Leaders. Campaign 2016 came to New York City again Tuesday, as the Rev. Al Sharpton met with Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton in Lower Manhattan.

The meeting came almost a week after Sharpton meet with Clinton’s rival candidate, Bernie Sanders, in Harlem.

CBS2’s Janelle Burrell spoke with Sharpton before the meeting about the issues they’d be discussing.

“I’ll talk to her about the situation that we face from a civil rights point of view,” he said. “Clearly there is an economic issue but there’s a race issue and I think to talk about economics without talking about race, to talk about the criminal justice system without talking about the race and the disproportionate impact based on race is something that we need to have addressed by whomever is going to be the next president.”

During the meeting, Clinton was flanked by Sharpton and National Urban League President Mark Moriale as they expressed to her their concerns about voting rights, affirmative action, police-community relations and other issues.

“My campaign is really about breaking every barrier,” Clinton said. “I’m not a single issue candidate and we don’t live in a single issue country and we have work to do and that work can only be done in partnership.”

Last week, Sharpton had a breakfast with Sanders at the famed Sylvia’s Restaurant a day after Sanders trounced Clinton in the New Hampshire primary, taking 60 percent of the votes to Clinton’s 38 percent.

The two met for about 30 minutes. Speaking to reporters afterwards, Sharpton said they discussed a variety of topics from the water crisis in Flint, Michigan to issues of police brutality.

As CBS2 Political Reporter Marcia Kramer reported, Clinton tried to one-up Sanders. She also met with other leading civil rights leaders, demanding an end to systemic racism ahead of the primary in South Carolina and the caucus in Nevada.

Clinton also went to Harlem to demand programs to break down barriers holding back African-American families, and programs to send more kids to college.

“Race still plays a significant role in determining who gets ahead in America and who gets left behind,” Clinton said. “Anyone asking for your vote has a responsibility to grapple with this reality.”

Clinton hoped her speech in Harlem would serve as a megaphone to minority voters in South Carolina and Nevada. She was left in desperate need of a win after losing to Sanders in New Hampshire.

In her speech, Clinton called for a $2 billion plan to reform school disciplinary policies that feed the so-called school-to-prison pipeline.

“When we make direct strategic investments in communities that have been left behind, and when we guarantee justice and dignity to every American, then we really can make progress,” Clinton said.

But it remained unclear Tuesday whom civil rights leaders would back, including Sharpton.

“Our votes must be earned, and we are not a monolithic people,” he said.

Sharpton said he’d like to see every candidate in both parties meet with the group and said he’ll be heading to South Carolina next week to get out the primary vote, 1010 WINS’ Juliet Papa reported.

Meanwhile, Sanders picked up the endorsement of Erica Garner – the daughter of Eric Garner, whose chokehold death in NYPD custody on Staten Island sparked national protests in 2014.

“I believe that he is the best candidate,” Erica Garner said. “He stood for the people even when it wasn’t popular.”

Also Tuesday, President Barack Obama was asked at an unrelated news conference about claims by Clinton that she was the legacy and keeper of his legacy, while Sanders was disloyal to him. Obama responded that the candidates have more commonalities in their positions than differences.

“That’s the great thing about primaries is everybody’s trying to differentiate themselves, when in fact, Bernie and Hillary agree on a lot of stuff and disagree pretty much across the board with everything the Republicans stand for,” Obama said. “So my hope is that we can let the primary voters and caucus goers have their say for a while, and let’s see how things play out.”

Obama said he knows Clinton better than Sanders personally, since Clinton served in his administration, “and she was an outstanding secretary of state.” He said he suspects Clinton agrees with him on some issues more than Sanders does, and vice versa.

Ultimately, Obama said, Democratic voters believe in the same things, and he further added, “I am not unhappy that I am not on the ballot.”

The Republicans were also battling ferociously for the South Carolina vote Tuesday. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush said he would be the best candidate to beat the Democrats because he is experienced in the rough-and-tumble world of politics.

“The Democratic nominee is going to scrape the bark off whoever the Republican is,” Bush said, “so an untested person with an unproven record – as gifted as they are in terms of their ability to speak – is just going to get into the meat grinder,” Bush said.

His remarks were an obvious reference to Donald Trump, who was also in South Carolina speaking about bark, or rather, barking. He poked fun at Clinton for saying she needs a dog trained to bark when politicians say something that is not true.

“Every time they say these things like, ‘Oh, the Great Recession was caused by too much regulation,’ arf, arf, arf!” Clinton said. “You know?”

“Hillary Clinton is a joke,” Trump fired back. “I’m watching television and I see her barking like a dog. If I ever did that, I would be ridiculed all over the place.”

For his own part, Trump offered what he thought was a winning combination for winning over voters.

He introduced a local woman whose family was threatened with losing the family farm. It was 30 years ago, she said, but they kept the farm because Trump himself paid off the mortgage.

Assad casts doubt on Syria ceasefire prospects amid intensifying campaign. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has cast doubt on the prospects of a proposed ceasefire in his country's grinding civil war.

He told a group in Damascus on Monday that "no one" was capable of bringing about the necessary circumstances for a planned truce to take effect later this week.

World powers agreed Friday in Munich, Germany, to seek a nationwide "cessation of hostilities" in Syria to begin in a week's time, although it would not apply to the battle against terrorist groups ISIS and al Nusra Front.

But in his comments on the proposal, Assad seemed skeptical about whether a halt in the conflict was possible.

"We hear about them requesting a ceasefire within a week. OK, then who is capable of bringing together all these conditions within a week? No one. Who will speak to the terrorists if a terrorist organization refused to adhere to the ceasefire, who will make them accountable? Who, as they say, will bomb them?"

In comments to Syria's central Bar Association, reported in Syria's state news agency SANA, Assad said many questions remain about which groups in the conflict could be classified as terrorists.

"As a state, anyone who bears weapons against the state and against the Syrian people is terrorist, and this is indisputable," he said.

U.S. questions Russia's willingness for ceasefire
Meanwhile, the U.N. said convoys are expected to start delivering aid in the coming days to besieged areas inside Syria after receiving authorization from the Assad government.

Vanessa Huguenin, a spokeswoman for the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, told CNN the convoys would be going into seven areas in Syria.

The Syrian Observatory for Human rights reported that humanitarian aid is expected to enter the cities of Zabadani, Madaya and Muadamiyat al-Sham in the Damascus suburbs Wednesday, as well as the Shiite towns of Kefraya and Foua in the suburbs of Idlib.

Critics have expressed doubts about the prospects of the proposed truce as the Syrian army, backed by Russian air power, pursues a major offensive in northern Syria.

U.S. national security adviser Susan Rice told reporters Monday that the escalating military campaign called into question "Russia's willingness or ability to implement the agreements achieved in Munich."

"The intensified bombings, the displacement, the fact that civilian entities have been hit by the regime and its backers, is of grave concern," she said.

Four hospitals and a school were struck Monday in the northern Syrian provinces of Aleppo and Idlib, the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights said Tuesday, killing at least 46 people and injuring scores of others.

Russian and Syrian forces must end deliberate attacks on hospitals, including h/t
A United Nations spokesman called the strikes a "blatant violation of international laws," France and Turkey labeled them war crimes, and Britain said they could amount to war crimes and must be investigated.

Western powers blamed Syria and its military ally Russia for the strikes on the hospitals; Russia denied the accusation Tuesday, and a Syrian diplomat said warplanes from the U.S.-led coalition were behind an attack in Idlib.

What does Russia want in Syria? 5 reasons Putin backs Assad

Hospitals destroyed
In one attack in Azaz in northern Aleppo province, 13 people were killed and dozens injured Monday when a hospital for women and children was struck, according to the U.N. human rights office.
Seven people were killed and 23 injured in another strike on a general hospital in Azaz, and 14 people were killed in a strike on a school in the town Monday, the U.N. human rights office reported.

About 100 kilometers (62 miles) away in Maarat al-Numan in Idlib province, nine people were killed and 30 injured when a hospital supported by Doctors Without Borders was struck, the U.N. human rights office said.

Missiles hit that facility four times within minutes, the humanitarian group said, leaving it in ruins.

Another hospital in the town was also struck Monday, leaving three dead and six injured, the U.N. human rights office said.

Airstrikes on February 5 killed three people and wounded at least six at a Doctors Without Borders-supported hospital in Daraa governorate in southern Syria, the aid group said.

Accusations fly
Officials around the world traded accusations over who was behind the attacks.

The United States, the UK and France blamed Syria and its Russian supporters for the attacks, which French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said constituted war crimes.

British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said that Russia needed "to explain itself, and show through its actions that it is committed to ending the conflict, rather than fueling it."

Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu blamed Russia for the strikes in Azaz, which is near the Turkish border, claiming Moscow had targeted the complex with ballistic missiles fired from the Caspian Sea.

But Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov denied the accusations, according to Russian state news agency RIA Novosti.

Turkish defense minister: 'No intention' of sending ground troops into Syria

And Syria's ambassador to Russia, Riad Haddad, said that the United States and coalition forces were responsible for the Idlib attack and that Moscow had intelligence proving U.S.-led coalition warplanes raided the hospital.

The United States has said it carried out no military operations in the attacked area.

Northern Syria has been the scene of intense fighting recently, displacing tens of thousands of people as Syrian regime forces, backed by Russian jets, pursue a major offensive on the key city of Aleppo, and Turkey shells Kurdish People's Protection Units, or YPG, near Azaz.

Turkey considers the YPG to be terrorists, while the United States backs the group in the fight against ISIS.

Ankara has long advocated the creation of a no-fly zone in northern Syria, despite its bombing of Kurdish positions in the region.

A Turkish official told reporters in Istanbul on Tuesday that Turkey would not conduct a unilateral military operation in Syria, but would participate in a joint ground operation with coalition partners.

"We want a ground operation with our international allies," the official said.

Turkish Defense Minister Ismet Yilmaz said Sunday that his country has no intention of sending ground troops into Syria, amid growing international concern about Ankara's shelling of Kurdish forces.

The official added that Saudi Arabia would deploy warplanes to Incirlik Air Base in southern Turkey by the end of the month, in a sign of a reinvigorated Saudi commitment to the U.S.-led coalition air campaign against ISIS.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has also spoken of her support for the creation of a no-fly zone in northern Syria, telling German newspaper the Stuttgarter Zeitung that it could create a haven for fleeing families, and offer at least a partial solution to Europe's refugee crisis.

"(I)t would be helpful if there were areas there, where no party to the war flew bombing missions -- in other words a kind of no-fly zone," she was quoted as saying as she responded to a reporter's question about her position on exclusion zones.

Syrian army on the ISIS front line: "Russian intervention is a blessing"

"We can't negotiate with the terrorists from ISIS. But if it were doable to come to such an agreement with the anti-Assad coalition and the Assad supporters, it would be helpful." CNN's Arwa Damon, Carol Jordan, Alla Eshchenko, Christine Theodorou, Khushbu Shah, Richard Roth, Ross Levitt and Stephanie Halasz contributed to this report.

Apple fighting order in San Bernardino shootings probe. Apple Inc. CEO Tim Cook says his company will resist a federal magistrate's order to hack its own users in connection with the investigation of the December shootings in San Bernardino, California.

In a letter to Apple's customers posted early Wednesday on the company's website, Cook argued that such a move would undermine encryption by creating a backdoor that could potentially be used on other future devices.

Cook's letter was a direct and ferocious response to an order from U.S. Magistrate Judge Sheri Pym that Apple Inc. help the Obama administration break into an encrypted iPhone belonging to one of the shooters in the December attack.

The first-of-its-kind ruling was a significant victory for the Justice Department in a technology policy debate that pits digital privacy against national security interests.

In the letter, Cook says, "We oppose this order, which has implications far beyond the legal case at hand."

It concludes: "We are challenging the FBI's demands with the deepest respect for American democracy and a love of our country. We believe it would be in the best interest of everyone to step back and consider the implications.

"While we believe the FBI's intentions are good, it would be wrong for the government to force us to build a backdoor into our products. And ultimately, we fear that this demand would undermine the very freedoms and liberty our government is meant to protect."

The ruling by Pym, a former federal prosecutor, requires Apple to supply highly specialized software the FBI can load onto Syed Farook's work iPhone to bypass a self-destruct feature, which erases the phone's data after too many unsuccessful attempts to unlock it. The FBI wants to be able to try different combinations in rapid sequence until it finds the right one.

The decision gives the Justice Department a significant victory in an entrenched technology policy battle, as more-powerful encryption services threaten the ability of federal agents to uncover important evidence in criminal or terrorism cases. The Obama administration, which has embraced stronger encryption as a way to keep consumers safe on the Internet, had struggled to find a compelling example to make its case.

The ruling Tuesday tied the problem to the deadliest terrorist attack on U.S. soil since the 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Farook and his wife, Tashfeen Malik, killed 14 people in a Dec. 2 shooting at a holiday luncheon for Farook's co-workers. The couple later died in a gun battle with police.

Federal prosecutors told the judge in a court application Tuesday that they can't access a work phone used by Farook because they don't know his passcode and Apple has not cooperated. Under U.S. law, a work phone is generally the property of a person's employer. The judge told Apple to provide an estimate of its cost to comply with her order, suggesting that the government will be expected to pay for the work.

Apple has provided default encryption on its iPhones since 2014, allowing any device's contents to be accessed only by the user who knows the phone's passcode.

The order requires that the software Apple provides be programmed to work only on Farook's phone, but it was not clear how readily that safeguard could be circumvented.

It was not immediately clear what investigators believe they might find on Farook's work phone or why the information would not be available from third-party service providers, such as Google or Facebook, though investigators think the device may hold clues about whom the couple communicated with and where they may have traveled.

The couple took pains to physically destroy two personally owned cell phones, crushing them beyond the FBI's ability to recover information from them. They also removed a hard drive from their computer; it has not been found despite investigators diving for days for potential electronic evidence in a nearby lake.

Farook was not carrying his work iPhone during the attack. It was discovered after a subsequent search. It was not known whether Farook forgot about the iPhone or did not care whether investigators found it.

The phone was running the newest version of Apple's iPhone operating system, which requires a passcode and cannot be accessed by Apple, unlike earlier operating systems or older phone models. San Bernardino County provided Farook with an iPhone configured to erase data after 10 consecutive unsuccessful unlocking attempts. The FBI said that feature appeared to be active on Farook's iPhone as of the last time he performed a backup.

The California judge didn't spell out her rationale in her three-page order, but the ruling comes amid a similar case in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York.

In that case, Magistrate Judge James Orenstein has not yet decided whether the government can compel Apple to unlock an iPhone under the same 18th century law applied to the California case. The All Writs Act has been used to compel a party to help the government in its law enforcement efforts, but Apple has argued that it is not its role to act as a government agent and that doing so would breach trust with its customers.

Investigators are still working to piece together a missing 18 minutes in Farook and Malik's timeline from Dec. 2. Investigators have concluded they were at least partly inspired by the Islamic State group; Malik's Facebook page included a note pledging allegiance to the group's leader around the time of the attack.

FBI Director James Comey told members of Congress last week that investigators in the case had been unable to access a phone in the California case but provided no details.

"It is a big problem for law enforcement armed with a search warrant when you find a device that can't be opened even when a judge says there's probable cause to open it," Comey said. "It affects our counterterrorism work. San Bernardino, a very important investigation to us, we still have one of those killers' phones that we have not been able to open, and it's been over two months and we're still working on it."
Sunset Daily News & Sports
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Sunset Daily News
17 February 2016
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