Yes, I was in the Nutcracker...

 I had a great time in a walk-on role of an Ambassador in the The Washington Ballet 's production of "The Nutcracker" this weekend. The boys enjoyed my (temporary) sideburns! 

Bret plays in the Franklin Templeton Shootout at the Tiburon Golf Club in Naples, FL


Approx. 200 special ops forces going to Iraq

Lucas Tomlinson
Approximately 200 special operations forces, including intelligence personnel, pilots to position them, mechanics to maintain their aircraft, a quick reaction force and other support personnel in addition to the main assault force are headed to Iraq in the next few weeks as part of the new “specialized expeditionary targeting force” announced by Defense Secretary Ash Carter today on Capital Hill, a U.S. official tells Fox News.
“These guys will be conducting a range of operations including direct action,” or targeted assassinations of senior ISIS leadership in U.S. military jargon.  
A separate senior U.S. official says capturing senior ISIS leaders would be an important component of the new assault force’s mission to learn more about ISIS networks as well. 
“This intel gathering mission is just as important, if not more important, than killing bad guys,” a U.S. official said.
He also said the number of troops in this new special ops component “could grow” north of 200 people.  
The U.S. military conducted similar operations in Iraq to take out senior al-Qaeda leadership, such as the mission led by  Gen. Stanley McChrystal which killed Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq in June 2006. 
“It’s a 3-1 ratio [support-to-tooth],” said a U.S. official familiar with the composition of special operations forces describing the composition of the force. 
The nearly 200 member special ops force, is separate from the 50 special operations forces going to Syria, the official said.
Ash Carter described the new force going to Iraq today in his opening remarks, but did not include a number or a timeline.
"We're deploying a specialized expeditionary targeting force to assist Iraqi and Kurdish Peshmerga forces and to put even more pressure on ISIL. These special operators will over time be able to conduct raids, free hostages, gather intelligence, and capture ISIL leaders," says Carter in his opening remarks.
A U.S. official tells Fox News the new special ops force will also “kill” senior ISIS leaders during nighttime raids if the mission requires. 


Salty New York City

Emily B. Cyr

Starting today, menus in New York City are going to get a little more crowded.  Along with calorie counts, menus will also indicated which dishes are high in sodium content. The law comes at a precarious time for the man who proposed it, Mayor Bill de Blasio.

Starting December 1st, chain restaurants in New York City who serve dishes with more than 2.3 grams of sodium (the recommended daily dose), must identify these dishes with the image of a salt shaker. The reason for the salt shaker is to notify customers that this dish is not only high in sodium, but has more of it than the daily recommended dose for an entire day.  As previously specified, this does not affect all restaurants in New York, only chain restaurants, which the NYC Board of Health defines as having 15 or more locations nationwide.  This type of restaurant accounts for a third of all restaurant traffic in New York City.

The reason New York is the first city to enact such a law stems from the fact that heart disease is a top killer in the United States, and the number one cause of death in New York City. Sodium is a well-known cause of heart disease and it appears that New Yorkers are having more than their fair share of it. However, this problem affects certain groups more than others; the NYC Board of Health says that 80% of New Yorkers consume more sodium than recommended, and Black New Yorkers consume on average five times more sodium daily than White New Yorkers.  

The way this bill addresses an issue extremely prevalent to minorities reflects the campaign that brought Mayor de Blasio into office.  Bill de Blasio won the mayoral election in 2013 with 96% of the black vote, a near absolute majority. Part of his campaign was highlighting the diversity in his immediate family, which translated to him giving attention to minority groups who felt forgotten by former Mayor Michael Bloomberg.  However, his support among this group has been drastically dwindling. When he took office in January 2014, there was a mere 6% disapproval rating held by African American voters.  By August 2015, this number had grown to 24%, a cause for concern if he wants to be reelected in 2017.

While the salt warnings show great attention to the health of his constituents, it does not address their primary concern: safety. One of the major reasons attributed to his shrinking approval rates is De Blasio’s handling of crime in the city. One of his most recent critics is actually one of his appointees, NYPD Police Commissioner Bill Bratton. Bratton stated that New Yorkers’ concern with increasingly crowded and dangerous streets was something “the administration…was not validating” and called it “a mistake”.  While De Blasio’s approval rating has sunk, Bratton’s has risen, with his approval rating up to 52%, when it was at 31% this time last year.

Even if the salt law is intended to help New Yorkers, it might be more headache than its worth. Taking into account the opposition to Bloomberg’s soda ban in 2012 and recent studies showing the ineffectiveness of calorie counts on menus reducing obesity, it is doubtful this will boost the mayor’s approval ratings.

You can take away the salt, Mayor de Blasio, but that does not mean New Yorkers will be less salty.



Senate GOPers expected to launch special effort to repeal Obamacare/defund Planned Parenthood this week

Per Chad Pergram

Fox has learned that Senate Republicans will meet later tonight to forge a path on using a special parliamentary process known as budget reconciliation to repeal Obamacare and defund Planned Parenthood.

“Budget reconciliation” is a unique process..which limits amendments and debate time..and sidesteps filibusters. It also requires but a simple majority for passage. Thus, since Democrats blocked GOP efforts to put a health care reform repeal on the floor..this is the option.

That said, there are several senators who may vote no on the package because it doesn’t go far enough to repeal Obamacare. The measure can only repeal the portions of Obamacare which the Democrats used in 2010 to pass Obamacare.

It also appears that Planned Parenthood seems to have survived the cut for this plan. There was some thought that the GOP brass may have to yank Planned Parenthood defunding out of the measure..because they might lose votes from moderate Republicans such as Sens. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Mark Kirk (R-IL)…all of whom face re-election next year. The first two face competitive races.

The possible defections of these senators over Planned Parenthood..coupled with those who won’t vote for the plan because the health care repeal doesn’t go far enough…risks passage of the bill as the GOP leadership might not be able to get to 51 votes.

We expect the budget reconciliation plan to on the floor this week in the Senate. The House has already passed the measure and sent it to the Senate.

If the Senate can pass the bill, this tees up a veto from President Obama.


Vermont Senators and College

Emily B. Cyr

To the thrill of college students at Georgetown University this Thursday, 2016 presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders came to campus to explain his philosophy of Democratic-Socialism. At a school like Georgetown where the average cost of attendance for an undergraduate is $67, 420 annually, it is not hard to guess that Sanders might find a few fans for his tuition free college plan. But while people might think Sanders’ plan is radical, he is certainly not the first Senator from Vermont to propose drastic changes to higher education.

Before Sanders held his seat in the Senate, many, many years before, it was held by Justin Morrill. Born in 1810, Morrill grew up in Vermont with the aspirations of obtaining a college education, but the inability to do so. He got as much schooling as he could while working different jobs throughout New England. Fortunately, he became politically active and was elected to the House of Representatives as a Whig in 1854. It was during his time in Congress where he made history, by proposing the groundbreaking Land Grant Acts of 1862 and of 1890.

These acts are responsible for the vast network of schools now known as Land Grant schools. (Penn State, Cornell, MIT, Tennessee State, Texas A&M and the University of Kentucky are a few to name). Morrill had both personal and political reasons for expanding higher education; one namely being that this was a time of rapid industrialization in the United States. Farming techniques were lagging and Morrill saw a need for improving the sciences of agriculture and engineering. Morrill also wanted to expand education opportunities so that people like him, the son of a blacksmith, had access to an education that included practical studies as well as the liberal arts.  The schools were funded through the sales of public lands, making this a huge increase in the federal government’s involvement with higher education. The bill passed in 1890 extended these benefits to African Americans, and created the 1890 schools, better known as the historically black colleges and universities.

While Morrill provided the schools, now Sanders wants to make them free. The two senators have more in common than just the higher education. Both Sanders and Morrill use Europe as an example of what they are hoping to implement. In his website platform Sanders references how Germany has made college tuition free, similar to Morrill referencing how Europe already had agriculture schools which were making them industrially superior to the United States.

Bringing a little irony to the table—the fact that Sanders does not look so radical next to Morrill, who literally transformed education from an elite privilege to a public good. The Republican making the Demo cart look conservative…who would have thought? 


The Banlieues of France

Emily B. Cyr

For those familiar with the situation in the Parisian suburbs, known as banlieues, it was probably not a shock that the alleged ring leader of the Paris attacks was found there. Saint-Denis, where he was located, is a northern suburb of Paris, one of many that are infamous for their crime and violence. The banlieues of Paris represent France’s problem of a largely marginalized immigrant community that has become a potential home for radicalism.

In the mid-20th century, three things caused a major influx of immigrants into France. The first came after World War II; already facing housing issues from the destruction of war, France also had to find room for the flood of immigrants they were receiving. Secondly, the influx of new residents grew with the end of the Algerian War in 1962 when thousands were repatriated to France from Algeria.  The third influx came during a period known as Les Trente Glorieuses, meaning the thirty glorious (years). During this time (roughly 1945-1975), France experienced great economic growth and sought immigrants to fill labor shortages. But this prosperity ended with the oil crisis of 1973, and employment opportunities started to dwindle.  

During this massive growth in population, France created high rise apartment complexes called HLMs (Habitation à Loyer Modéré), where masses of immigrants live. These are rent controlled apartments in the industrial suburbs where many immigrants from the Maghreb countries like Tunisia and Morocco live. The HLMs have become synonymous with high crime rates, high unemployment rates and low graduation rates. One of the major reasons for this is because many banlieues are physically isolated. Usually the benefit of living in the suburbs is to have an urban city at your fingertips and be able to easily escape to the calm suburbs. But for many of the underprivileged banlieues like Clichy-Sous-Bois, this is a far cry from reality. While Clichy-Sous-Bois is only 15 kilometers (less than 10 miles) from the center of Paris, it is not connected by the metro thus it takes about an hour and a half to commute into the city. Due to frustrations like these, many residents in the banlieues became restless.

It was starting in the 1980s the banlieues got a bad rap for violence. In the late summer of 1981, around 250 cars were vandalized in France. This was a tactic known as “rodéo”, meaning the cars were specifically stolen, taken on joy rides and then burned together. This led to an increase in tensions between the police and Maghreb community, leading to two tragic events. The first was event occurred in 1986 when Malik Oussekine died. Oussekine was arrested during a student protest at a university in Paris who died in police custody under questionable circumstances. Then in 1993, Makome M’Bowole, an 18 year old immigrant from Zaire, was shot and killed while in police custody.

These two instances inspired Mathieu Kassovitz to create the film La Haine in 1995. La Haine, which means hate, is a French black and white drama that depicts the lives of three youths living in the suburbs of Paris. Spoiler alert: it ends with the main character being accidentally shot and killed by a French police officer.  La Haine won critical acclaim, and vast recognition, with Prime Minister of France Alain Juppé holding a mandatory screening of it for cabinet members.

Of course this did not end the problems, with riots erupting again in 2005. It was actually just in October that President Francois Hollande travelled to the northern Paris suburbs to mark the 10th anniversary of these riots. President Hollande argued there were no longer forgotten neighborhoods in France to which he was met with boos from the crowd, who asked him if things would ever change?

Understanding these deep seeded frustrations already exist, there is concern it could lead to radical action means that President Hollande must keep his eyes focused domestically as well as abroad if he wants to ensure the safety of France.


Franco-American Alliance

Emily B. Cyr

 The attacks in Paris on Friday still feel unreal; impossible to understand and the source of incalculable grief. While trying to grasp these events, there has been one phrase that comes to the minds of many Americans: this is France’s 9/11. It is without a doubt an oversimplification to label the Paris attacks this way but it allows America to show its support and understanding of the grief those in France are feeling this week. It is another way the two countries are linked, and a chance to revive the Franco-American alliance that began centuries ago.

As President Obama said Friday, France is America’s oldest ally. This is a fact not up for argument, because on February 6th 1778, the United States of America made its first formal military alliance with a foreign power through the Treaty of Alliance with France. On the same day, the Franco-American Treaty of Amity and Commerce was signed, which ensured a trade alliance between the two countries. These treaties were crucial because at this point in the Revolutionary War, the United States had been on the edge of reconciliation with Britain, and this alliance allowed them to continue fighting. One of the most visible forms of this alliance was through a man beloved by French and Americans alike, the Marquis de Lafayette.

Eager to help the American cause, 19 year old Lafayette came to America by his own means in 1777 (before the Treaty of Alliance was even signed) as the Continental Congress could not afford to pay for his voyage or his service. He offered himself free of charge and George Washington, who liked that Lafayette was a fellow Mason, made him a Major general. Lafayette was not only a symbol of this alliance, but a crucial player in war.

During the miserable winter of 1777 to 1778, Lafayette suffered alongside Washington and his troops at Valley Forge. He used his own money to help the poorly equipped troops at Valley Forge and would not leave despite the protests of his wife back in France.  Lafayette was staunchly loyal to General Washington, and it was through these two men that major victory arrived.

In 1781, Lafayette and Washington laid siege to General Cornwallis and British troops at Yorktown. Cornwallis surrendered on October 19, 1781 and this siege, known as the Battle of Yorktown, became the last major battle in the American Revolution. It was in 1782 victory was formally declared to the United States and a peace treaty was signed in 1783 between the British and Americans. Where was this treaty signed? No place other than Paris.

Without question, the alliance has had its ups and downs. Through the French Revolution, the American Civil War and both World Wars, the countries have argued and quarreled. But, as the outpouring of American support for Paris has shown, France and America are ultimately friends. “Nous sommes tous Américains” read the headlines in Paris on September 12th, 2001, and “we are all Parisians” as Secretary of State John Kerry said last night. Both countries are stronger for this friendship and will be stronger for working together to alleviate this pain and preventing a new one.  

Russian long-range bombers launched ISIS mission from base in southern Russia

By Lucas Tomlinson

12 Russian long-range bombers including supersonic Tu-22M “Backfires” flew from a base in Mozdok, Russia near the border of Georgia and Azerbaijan and launched cruise missiles inside Syria against ISIS targets in Raqqa shortly after midnight according to a US official with knowledge of the mission.

The supersonic Russian bombers flew over the Caspian Sea, Iran, Iraq and into Syria from a base in southern Russia before unleashing a volley of cruise missiles into Raqqa.  The U.S. military is still assessing the damage.

The Russians also struck targets in Aleppo in northwest Syria as well according to reports which could not be independently verified.

Cruise missiles were also fired Monday from the Caspian Sea from Russian Navy missile boats, some of the same vessels which launched a similar salvo into Syria last month and broadcast worldwide by the Russian defense ministry.

Earlier today the Russian Minister of Defense said cruise missiles missiles were launched from Tu-160 and Tu-95 Bear bombers, but did not mention the Tu-22M Backfires. Russian Defense Minister, Sergey Shoygu, also said the Russians have carried out 2,300 sorties in the past two days.

The Pentagon says the U.S. military does not count airstrikes the same way the Russians do. 

A defense official says the Russians count each bomb as one strike, and the U.S. counts one mission as a strike.  For example, the four A-10 warthogs and AC-130 gunships which destroyed 116 ISIS fuel trucks over the weekend in eastern Syria counted as only one airstrike according to a report from the U.S. Central Command.

Speaking at the annual Wall Street Journal  CEO Council in Washington Monday night, Secretary of Defense Ash Carter called on Europe to do more against ISIS.

“I'm hoping this tragedy has the effect of galvanizing others as it has galvanized the French,” he said.

U.S. miltiary shared intel on ISIS targets in Raqqa, pledges more cooperation

By Fox News Producer Lucas Tomlinson 

The U.S. military shared targeting data with the French military about ISIS targets inside its de-facto headquarters of Raqqa, Syria over the weekend and has pledged to broaden cooperation with the French government going forward a senior defense official tells Fox News.

“We started [Saturday] night, a couple of big targets that the French had been wanting to hit. The coalition gave them 100% support.  Also we will continue with a combination of coalition targets and specific French requested targets for the foreseeable future.  Also we are continuing with our oil revenue targets, under Operation Tidal Wave II.  We are having good results,” according to a U.S. military source.

Operation Tidal Wave II was announced Friday in a Pentagon briefing as a means to attack ISIS oil infrastructure in eastern Syria.  The original Operation Tidal Wave was a U.S. operation against Nazi oil infrastructure in World War II.

When asked how much help the U.S. gave the French military, a separate U.S. official answered, “a lot.”

“The targets had been in the works and we accelerated the strikes due to great interest from the French after the attacks [Friday night],” said the U.S. official.

The French Ministry of Defense said 10 of  its Rafale fighter jets dropped 20 bombs on strategic targets inside Raqqa.

The French strikes were launched from bases in the United Arab Emirates and Jordan, according to a statement from the French military.

This week, the French aircraftcarrier Charles de Gaulle is expected to depart midweek from Toulon and sail to the Persian Gulf to begin strikes against ISIS.

In Norfolk, the USS Harry S. Truman strike group which includes, USS Anzio, a guided-missile cruisier and a number of destroyers and other escort ships will get underway later today, part of a previously scheduled deployment to the Middle East.

The French airstrikes against ISS Sunday were quickly planned to avenge the 129 people killed in Paris Friday night.

Secretary of Defense Ash Carter spoke to his French counterpart, Minister of Defense Jean-Yves Le Drian twice over the weekend pledging to “further intensify our close cooperation” against ISIS, according to statements from the Pentagon.

On the same day of the French airstrikes, the U.S. military destroyed 116 ISIS fuel trucks Sunday in Abu Kamal, Syria in the Euphrates River basin near the Syrian-Iraq border, according to the latest strike report from the U.S. Central Command released Monday.

A military official with knowledge of the strikes said that recently arrived U.S. Air Force A-10 Warthogs from Incirlik Air Base in Turkey carried out the strikes on the fuel farm. 

The official said previously the fuel trucks were off limits to U.S. military strike aircraft.  When asked if the Paris attacks would bring about a change in the U.S. military’s rules of engagement, the official said that the truck drivers were warned first before the bombs fell. 

“We dropped leaflets, warning the drivers to scatter,” said an official who had been briefed on the strike.  “Next we strafed the area [with 30mm cannons] before the dropping bombs” from the warthogs.

The official said separately F-15E Strike Eagles, which arrived to Incirlik late last week participated in their first strikes against the Islamic State over the weekend separate from the attack against the fuel farm.

Over the weekend, the U.S. military sent another shipment of small arms ammunition to the Syrian Arab Coalition, driven to them from Erbil, in Kurdish Iraq.




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Most of the GOP presidential candidates are in South Carolina today -- the site of their next primary-- preparing for another debate tomorrow night in Greenville, SC.

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