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The 2016 Campaign

Republican Presidential Hopefulls Remain Leery of Nevada Ranch Imbroglio

April 17th 2014

GOP presidential hopefuls are largely steering clear of Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy’s fight with the federal government.

The showdown, which left armed militia members and feds staring each other down last week, has captivated talk radio and cable news shows, turning Bundy into a conservative cause célèbre.

Yet Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and former Arkansas Governor and 2008 presidential candidate Mike Huckabee are the only big-name GOP stars to have spoken out on the dispute so far. Tea Party favorite Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) has been silent, and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) have also not commented on Bundy, who has been fighting the federal government in and out of court for more than 20 years over his refusal to pay grazing fees. Read more ..


Ukraine on Edge

Senator McCain Urges European Integration of Moldova and Ukraine

April 17th 2014

Russian troops in Ukraine

Senator John McCain has reiterated his support for the continued integration of Moldova and Ukraine into European structures during a visit on April 17 to the Moldovan capital, Chisinau.

In a speech to university students, McCain, a former Republican presidential candidate, also expressed his support for a swift path for Georgia to become a member of NATO.

McCain used his visit to again criticize Moscow's actions in Ukraine amid concerns of a possible Russian incursion across the country to occupy Moldova's breakaway region of Transdniester. Read more ..


Broken Government

New IRS documents Show Lerner Colluded with DOJ to Prosecute Conservatives

April 17th 2014

IRS Bldg DC

Members of the House of Representatives announced that the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) released documents that appear to describe a conspiracy by the IRS and the Department of Justice (DOJ) to "railroad" conservative organizations that posed a threat to the re-election of President Barack Obama and to his political agenda.

Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., the current chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, and Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, chairman of the Subcommittee on Economic Growth, Job Creation and Regulatory Affairs released their response to documents they read that were obtained by an Inside-the-Beltway nonpartisan, public-interest group, Judicial Watch, which investigates and exposes government corruption and abuse. Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

Islamic Terrorists Abduct 100 Schoolgirls From Burning Nigerian Town

April 16th 2014

Nigeria Boko Haram

A large group of Islamic terrorists on Tuesday abducted at least 100 Nigerian schoolgirls from a high school in the predominantly Christian town of Chibok, Borno, following a violent terrorist attack on the town, according to Nigerian police officials.

The Islamist group known as Boko Haram is suspected of carrying out the abductions of the teenaged children, according to police statements to reporters. Boko Haram, which is translated as "Western education is forbidden," is waging an all-out war against the government of President Goodluck Jonathan in order to drive out Christianity and establish a caliphate in northern Nigeria..

Police officials said the girls were in their classes studying for their upcoming Senior Secondary School Certificate Examination (SSSCE), which is similar to New York State's Regents Examinations, that's required before students are allowed to graduate. Read more ..


The Battle for the Ukraine

Armed Pro-Russia Separatists Seige East Ukraine Government Buildings Despite Kiev Threats

April 15th 2014

Pro-Russian demonstrators in eastern Ukraine

Kiev has said an "anti-terrorist operation" against pro-Moscow separatists is underway, as Russia declared Ukraine on the brink of a civil war. The Kiev crackdown appeared to get off to a slow start, if at all, however.

Twenty-four hours after the Ukrainian ultimatum expired for the separatists to lay down their arms, witnesses on Tuesday reported no signs yet that Kiev forces were ready to storm state buildings, in the Russian-speaking east that the rebels had occupied.

Oleksander Turchinov, Ukraine's interim president, insisted the operation had started in the eastern Donetsk region, although he said it would happen in stages and "in a considered way". Read more ..


The Edge of Hate

Jewish Center Shooting Suspect Recorded Yelling 'Heil Hitler' During Arrest

April 14th 2014

Kansas City Jewish shooting 3-13-14 use 1x only

Hatred inspired a 73-year-old man to open fire outside a Jewish community center in Kansas, killing a teen and his grandfather, authorities say.

Witnesses say Frazier Glenn Cross, who also goes by the last name Miller, yelled a Nazi salute after the shooting Sunday in Overland Park, one day before the start of Passover. Police say Cross then drove to a nearby Jewish assisted-living facility, shooting another victim to death before surrendering to authorities.

Suspect in Jewish Center Shooting ID'd as Former KKK Leader

The well-known white supremacist and former Ku Klux Klan leader was later recorded screaming “Heil Hitler!” during his arrest. Read more ..


Ukraine on Edge

EU Gas Supply Jeopardized as Pro-Russian Militants Threaten Ukraine Sovereignty

April 13th 2014

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Ukraine's acting Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said in a Facebook message on April 13 that Ukrainian security forces have launched an "antiterrorist operation" in the eastern city of Slovyansk where on the previous day separatists, aligned with Russia, seized the city hall and Ukrainian Security Service headquarters. Avakov characterized the attack as an “act of aggression” by Russia.

Avakov wrote that "forces from all the security units of the country have been brought in." Slovyansk is one of several Ukrainian cities where pro-Russian militants bearing automatic weapons on April 12 stormed police stations. Military helicopters were spotted flying over Slovyansk early on April 13.

With covered faces, armed men wearing mismatched military clothing and gear have seized government buildings in Slovyansk, which is only 90 kilometres from the Russian border. Hundreds of pistols have been seized from police headquarters in Slovyansk and presumably now being distributed to Russian sympathizers in the region. Armed pro-Russian militants have spread out in Slovyansk. Read more ..


Broken Government

Obama Pooh-Poohs Voter Fraud Complaints

April 11th 2014

President Obama labeled complaints about voter fraud “bogus” and accused Republicans of cynically trying to prevent Americans from accessing the polls in a fiery speech Friday at a civil rights forum hosted by Al Sharpton.

Obama argued that attempts in some states to impose new voter identification restrictions were actually efforts by Republicans to make “it harder, not easier to vote.” And the president said that while voter fraud should be prevented, it rarely occurred.

“So let's be clear, the real voter fraud is the people who try to deny our rights by making bogus arguments about voter fraud,” Obama said. Obama sad that the efforts betrayed a weakness within the Republican Party, saying his opposition needed to restrict poll access to remain competitive. Read more ..


The Edge of Space

Batteries for Space Exploration - the Final Frontier?

April 11th 2014

New Earth Sized Planets

NASA has begun the search for a next generation of energy storage technologies to replace the battery technology that has previously powered the organization's space program.


The core technologies solicited in NASA's call for proposals will advance energy storage solutions for the space program and other US government agencies, such as the Department of Energy's Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA-E) through ongoing collaboration with NASA and industry.

"NASA is focusing on creating new advanced technologies that could lead to entirely new approaches for the energy needs of the agency's future Earth and space missions," said Michael Gazarik, associate administrator for space technology at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "Over the next 18 months, NASA's Space Technology Mission Directorate will make significant new investments that address several high priority challenges for achieving safe and affordable deep-space exploration. One of these challenges, advanced energy storage, offers new technology solutions that will address exploration and science needs while adding in an important and substantive way to America's innovation economy." Read more ..


Obama's Second Term

Sebelius to Resign as HHS Chief

April 10th 2014

Kathleen Sebelius

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius will resign from President Obama’s Cabinet on Friday, ceding her role as the top official in charge of ObamaCare, the White House has confirmed to The Hill.

Obama intends to replace Sebelius, who has been under fire for the botched rollout of the federal ObamaCare exchange, with Sylvia Burwell, who is now the director of the Office of Management and Budget. The announcement will be made at the White House on Friday morning.

Sebelius's long-expected departure comes just two weeks after the end of ObamaCare's first enrollment period.

The administration exceeded its original target of enrolling 7 million people in the exchanges after a troubled launch for HealthCare.gov that created a firestorm for the White House and thwarted millions of people as they tried to sign up for coverage.

Despite the problem-plagued rollout, Sebelius was kept on as the administration’s public face of the law over the course of the six-month enrollment period. As recently as April 1, the White House said the president had “full confidence” in Sebelius. Sebelius was present at Obama’s healthcare law victory speech in the Rose Garden earlier this month, but was not publicly thanked by the president at that time. Read more ..


The 2016 Race

Republicans Quibble over Jeb Bush's Immigration Comments

April 9th 2014

Republican members of Congress are criticizing Jeb Bush’s comments on immigration, highlighting the challenge he’d face in winning over the GOP’s conservative base in a 2016 presidential primary.

The former Florida governor made headlines this weekend, when he said people coming to the U.S. illegally were doing so out of an “act of love” for their families, and they shouldn’t be treated the same as criminals committing a felony.

Bush’s comments at an event marking the 25th anniversary of his father’s presidency come as he is weighing his own bid for the White House, but they weren’t warmly received, even among Republican members who want to see the system changed.
Rep. Raúl Labrador (R-Idaho), a conservative who has worked on immigration reform, suggested Bush was “pandering.” Read more ..


Broken Government

Senate Democrats Campaign Against the Supreme Court

April 8th 2014

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Senate Democrats and liberal groups are mounting a pressure campaign against the Supreme Court, hoping to influence future decisions by blasting conservative justices for alleged political bias.

The effort from the left also portrays the high court as an instrument rigged to help the wealthy, and is intended to energize Democratic voters and increase turnout in the midterm elections.

Some legal experts see the effort as akin to basketball or soccer players “working the ref” in a high-stakes game.

Critics say Democratic leaders used a similar strategy in 2010, when they piled on the court for striking down the ban on political spending by corporations in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission.

Some court watchers speculated that Chief Justice John Roberts felt chastened by the angry reaction and sought to avoid another uproar, when he crafted the majority decision in 2012 that largely upheld ObamaCare. Read more ..


Obama's Second Term

White House Political Agenda Emerges from Beneath the Obamacare Rock

April 8th 2014

The White House believes it is ready to take advantage of a rare political victory on healthcare.

Senior administration officials say it was tough to build political momentum with ObamaCare’s enrollment numbers hanging over their heads.

Now that the enrollment period is over, and a higher than expected 7.1 million people have signed up for an insurance plan through the exchanges, an energized White House believes an economic push that has fizzed will start to gain traction. “In order to capture a sort of national attention — it was going to be impossible to do that before enrollment ended,” one senior administration official told The Hill. Read more ..


Crisis in Ukraine

Obama Administration Threatens Sanctions over Russian Provocations in Ukraine

April 8th 2014

The White House accused Moscow on Monday of stirring up trouble in Ukraine, as pro-Russian demonstrations provoked fears that President Vladimir Putin might mount a second invasion there just weeks after annexing Crimea.

The administration said demonstrators who seized government buildings in the cities of Lugansk and Donetsk were not locals, and were part of a carefully orchestrated campaign backed by the Kremlin.

State Department spokeswoman Jennifer Psaki said the demonstrations were “not a spontaneous set of events,” and White House spokesman Jay Carney said evidence suggested some protestors were paid.
A further Russian incursion “either overtly or covertly” would seriously escalate the crisis, he added. Read more ..


Broken Healthcare

Health Plan Premiums Skyrocketing

April 7th 2014

Obamacare

Health insurance premiums are showing the sharpest increases perhaps ever according to a survey of brokers who sell coverage in the individual and small group market. Morgan Stanley’s healthcare analysts conducted the proprietary survey of 148 brokers. The April survey shows the largest acceleration in small and individual group rates in any of the 12 prior quarterly periods when it has been conducted.

The average increases are in excess of 11 percent in the small group market and 12 percent in the individual market. Some state show increases 10 to 50 times that amount. The analysts conclude that the “increases are largely due to changes under the ACA.”

The analysts conducting the survey attribute the rate increases largely to a combination of four factors set in motion by Obamacare:  Commercial underwriting restrictions, the age bands that don’t allow insurers to vary premiums between young and old beneficiaries based on the actual costs of providing the coverage, the new excise taxes being levied on insurance plans, and new benefit designs. Read more ..


The Digital Edge

Ships Trying to Verify Pings in Malaysia Jet Search

April 6th 2014

Arliegh Burke ship

Three distinct but fleeting sounds have now been heard from the depths of the Indian Ocean, but authorities are still uncertain whether any of them are signals from the data recorder of the missing Malaysian passenger jet.

An Australian ship with sophisticated deep-sea sound equipment picked up a signal Sunday that could be from the Boeing 777's black box that tracks flight information. That followed sounds heard by a Chinese ship on both Friday and Saturday in a different section of the search area.

The head of Malaysia's civil aviation agency, Azharuddin Abdul Rahman, said authorities are hopeful the signals might prove to be a breakthrough in the search for the plane that disappeared nearly a month ago with 239 people aboard on a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. But a link to the aircraft has yet to be confirmed.  Read more ..


Ukraine on Edge

Russia Duns Ukraine for $11 Billion Gas Bill

April 5th 2014

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Ukraine's Prime Minister, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, has accused Russia of "economic aggression" and threatened to sue Russia over recent price hikes for natural-gas supplies. "Russia was unable to seize Ukraine by means of military aggression. Now they are implementing plans to seize Ukraine through economic aggression," Yatsenyuk told a government meeting on April 5. "Political pressure is unacceptable," he continued. "We do not accept the price of $500."

Yatsenyuk's comments come after Russia twice this last week raised the price of natural-gas for Ukraine, taking the cost for Ukraine from $285.5 per 1,000 cubic meters at the start of this last week to $485.5 by the end of the week. Read more ..


America's Darkest Edge

Pentagon Opposes Allowing Concealed Weapons Bases

April 4th 2014

Beretta 90TWO

The Pentagon is opposed to calls from some lawmakers for troops to be allowed to carry concealed weapons on base after this week's Fort Hood shooting, a defense official said Friday. 

“The Department took a close look at this after the 2009 shooting at Fort Hood and again after the Navy [Yard] shooting, and our position is we do not support arming all personnel on post, camps, stations,” Pentagon spokesman Army Col. Steve Warren said. 

Army Spc. Ivan Lopez, 34, went on a shooting rampage at Fort Hood on Wednesday that left three dead and 16 injured. Lopez also shot and killed himself. Texas Reps. Michael McCaul and John Carter both called for allowing troops to carry concealed weapons in response to the violence. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) echoed their comments at an Army hearing on Thursday, when he said he expects a jihadist threat against U.S. troops at home to increase. Read more ..


Israel and Palestine

Israeli and Palestinian Leaders 'Have to Lead' on Peace Talks

April 3rd 2014

John Kerry

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry spoke by telephone Thursday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, after both sides broke parts of an agreement on talks toward a two-state solution. Kerry is in Algiers, where he discussed prospects for Mideast peace with Algerian Foreign Minister Ramtane Lamamra.

Kerry says U.S. negotiators met with Israeli and Palestinian officials in overnight talks that lasted until four in the morning in an effort to move the peace process forward. 

"I think it is a critical moment, obviously," Kerry said. "The dialogue remains open.  There was progress made in narrowing some of the questions that have arisen as a result of the events of the last few days.  But there is still a gap.  But that gap will have to be closed and close fairly soon."

The events of the past few days have been the biggest challenges to eight months of peace talks.  They include the Israeli Cabinet failing to approve the release of a group of Palestinian prisoners and Palestinian officials voting to join 15 international organizations that would draw them closer to enhanced U.N. recognition. Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

David Cameron Orders Inquiry into Muslim Brotherhood for Extremism

April 2nd 2014

Big Ben

David Cameron has ordered Whitehall officials to launch an investigation into the Muslim Brotherhood – drawing on assessments by MI5 and MI6.

Speaking at a No 10 news conference, the prime minister said that the government was committed to encouraging people away from the path of extremism.

"We want to challenge the extremist narrative that some Islamist organisations have put out," he told reporters following talks with new Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi.

"What I think is important about the Muslim Brotherhood is that we understand what this organisation is, what it stands for, what its beliefs are in terms of the path of extremism and violent extremism, what its connections are with other groups, what its presence is here in the United Kingdom. Our policies should be informed by a complete picture of that knowledge," he said.

Read more ..

Obama's Second Term

A Deal in the Works for Minimum Wage Hike

April 1st 2014

Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is struggling to stop Senate Democrats from backing a plan to undercut President Obama’s $10.10 minimum wage target.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) has been reaching out to Democrats to agree on a compromise that is threatening to divide the president’s party on this core component of its election-year message.

Democrats already disagree among themselves over whether they should continue to stick to the $10.10 amount or try to work with Republicans on a lower figure.
A senior Democratic leadership aide said Reid is a “hardcore” supporter of Obama’s target number, to be achieved over three years, a proposal strongly supported by labor unions, which are powerful in the majority leader’s state.

But several Democratic senators have signaled they are willing to negotiate a lower wage floor that would be easier to get enough Senate votes to pass. Read more ..


Obamacare Website Falters When Slammed by Last-Minute Applicants

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HealthCare.gov, for a second time on Monday, experienced technical difficulties that left some visitors unable to access the site.

While the administration said the problem was resolved quickly on Monday afternoon, it shows how the website is having trouble keeping up with the last-minute rush of people seeking coverage before the March 31 deadline.

The website was down briefly earlier on Monday, and early in the afternoon, users trying to create accounts for the first time were unable to access application and enrollment tools, the administration said. “The tech team is working to resolve the issue as quickly as possible,” an official said as the problem persisted. “The Data Services Hub is still fully operational. Users already in system remain able to complete enrollment.” Read more ..


The Edge of Climate Change

Meeting Climate Targets May Require Reducing Meat and Dairy Consumption

March 31st 2014

Cows

Greenhouse gas emissions from food production may threaten the UN climate target of limiting global warming to 2 degrees Celsius, according to research at Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden.

On Monday 31 March the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) presents their report on the impacts of climate change.

Carbon dioxide emissions from the energy and transportation sectors currently account for the largest share of climate pollution. However, a study from Chalmers now shows that eliminating these emissions would not guarantee staying below the UN limit. Emissions from agriculture threaten to keep increasing as global meat and dairy consumption increases. If agricultural emissions are not addressed, nitrous oxide from fields and methane from livestock may double by 2070. This alone would make meeting the climate target essentially impossible. Read more ..


The Bear is Back

Putin and Crimea: A New World Order?

March 30th 2014

Putin Gesticulates

With the stroke of his pen, Russian President Vladimir Putin deepened the divide between East and West by signing a document that officially made Ukraine’s Black Sea region of Crimea part of the Russian Federation.

Some Russia experts see that act as a marking of the end of the post-Cold War era in Europe that the world has known since the days of Reagan and Gorbachev. It is no less than a tectonic shift – “one defined by ideological clashes, nationalistic resurgence and territorial occupation," wrote Michael McFaul, former U.S. Ambassador to Russia, in an opinion piece for the New York Times newspaper this week.

Speculation over whether or not Putin has nursed a desire to grab Crimea - a region with deep Russian roots – has sparked debate among Kremlin observers. “This is not something that one could have predicted,” said Russian expert Thomas Graham, Senior Director at Kissinger Associates, Inc. “I think if you look at the record of the past few weeks – a month ago – Putin didn’t believe or know that he going to annex Crimea,” he said. “You know, a lot of this was a response to events that unfolded very rapidly.” Read more ..


The Bear is Back

In UN Vote, Russia's 'Sphere of Influence' Hedges Its Bets

March 29th 2014

Human Rights Council Meeting

The Kremlin may be wondering where some of its neighbors were during a UN vote rebuking Russia's annexation of Crimea. 

The 11 states that voted against the resolution are recognizable as traditional Russian allies. The list includes South American states that are hostile to Washington, such as Venezuela. It also includes Syria, which has relied on Moscow's vote on the UN Security Council to shelter the regime of Bashar al-Assad. 

What must have been disappointing for Russia, however, is the fact that only two members of the Moscow-backed Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) -- Armenia and Belarus -- voted against the resolution.

Azerbaijan and Moldova voted in favor of the proposal recognizing Ukraine's territorial integrity. All other CIS members either abstained or refrained from voting. Russia has labored to show that opposition to its actions in Ukraine is a Western phenomenon rather than a worldwide consensus.  Read more ..


Iraq on Edge

Iraq's Election Commission Resigns on Eve of Elections

March 28th 2014

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Board members of Iraq's Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) resigned on March 25, just one month before nationwide parliamentary elections scheduled for April 30th. The IHEC is caught between the judicial and legislative branches over the exclusion of certain candidates running in the election. The dispute leaves the integrity of upcoming elections in doubt.

According to Iraqi electoral law, candidates with an "ill" reputation are barred from contesting parliamentary seats. But the courts and parliament have voiced contradictory interpretations of this vague clause, compromising the Election Commission's ability to act independently. Read more ..


Obama's Second Term

New Lows for Obama's Public Approval Ratings

March 28th 2014

Nearly six in 10 people disapprove of President Obama's job performance in a new poll by The Associated Press, the highest rating recorded by the newswire.

According to the AP-GFK survey released Wednesday, 59 percent disapprove of Obama's job performance, while 41 percent approve.  A similar poll released by the news outlet in January found 45 percent approved of him, while 53 percent disapproved. Other recent polling has found Obama's disapproval rating slightly lower, remaining in the low 50s. A CBS News poll Tuesday showed 50 percent disapproval, while Gallup has his disapproval at 52 percent.

In the AP poll, only 40 percent approve of Obama's handling of international relations, a new low. The newswire notes that Obama's handling of foreign policy is usually neutral. Read more ..


Turkey on Edge

Turkey's Local Polls Shape Up As Erdogan Referendum

March 27th 2014

Erdogan

Officially, when Mustafa Sarigul appears on the ballot as the main opposition candidate for Istanbul mayor, he will be battling incumbent Kadir Topbas for votes.

But when Sarigul talks about his competition he generally utters one name: Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

It comes up over and over again as Sarigul speaks one March evening in his armored car, heading home following back-to-back meetings with local community leaders.

The Turkish prime minister knows losing the city in the March 30 elections could be devastating, Sarigul says: "If Istanbul decides, that means all of Turkey decides."  "He is afraid because in leadership surveys I am ranked second after him and he knows that if we get Istanbul, he and his whole campaign will be in danger."  Read more ..


Inside Obamacare

Speaker Boehner Querulous About Obamacare Deadline Extension

March 26th 2014

“What the hell is this, a joke?” Boehner said at his weekly press conference. He was responding to the administration’s announcement on Tuesday evening that people who had begun the process of signing up for insurance through the federal exchanges would have until mid-April to do so, instead of March 31.

The Speaker called the move “another deadline made meaningless,” adding it to a litany of unilateral changes that the administration has made to the law.

“This is part of a long-term pattern of this administration manipulating the law for its own convenience,” Boehner said. “It’s not hard to understand why the American people question this administration’s commitment to the rule of law.” Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

Israel-Syria Border Escalation

March 25th 2014

Soldiers-vehicle

This week’s events on the Israel-Syrian border are testimony to the extent to  which the effective disintegration of the Syrian state is producing a new  security reality in the North.

Once, Syrian President Bashar Assad’s  regime sought to conduct its business via Israel’s border with Lebanon. The  Syrians would seek to place pressure on Israel by supporting paramilitary  proxies in Lebanon, which would launch attacks on Israeli forces and  communities.

At the same time, the direct Syria-Israel line would be kept  silent, out of fear of Israeli retribution. The precise reversal of this  situation now appears to be the reality. On the assumption of Hezbollah  responsibility for the attacks, which at present appears the most likely  explanation, the movement is using the Syria-Israel border as a site for attacks  on Israeli forces. Read more ..


Crisis in Ukraine

President Obama Keeps Up the Rhetorical Pressure on Putin

March 24th 2014

President Obama vowed Russia would “pay a price” for its annexation of Crimea as he kicked off a week of talks with European leaders focused largely on the crisis in Ukraine.

“Europe and America are united in our support of the Ukrainian government and Ukrainian people,” Obama said. “We are united in imposing a cost on Russia for its actions so far.”
The president and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte briefly addressed the press following bilateral talks and a tour of the Rijksmuseum, the Netherlands’ national art museum.

Obama noted that he and other leaders of the G-8 — minus representatives from the Kremlin — will meet later Monday, and are expected to consider permanently expelling Russia from the economic group. The world leaders are also expected to discuss additional economic penalties for Russia in response to its aggression in the region. Read more ..


The Ukraine Crisis

Obama Gives Assurances that Europe and America are On the Same Page

March 24th 2014

President Barack Obamas said the United States and Europe are united in holding Russia to account for its actions in Crimea. "Europe and America are united in our support of the Ukrainian government and the Ukrainian people," he told reporters after meeting with Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte in Amsterdam on March 24. "We are united in imposing a cost on Russia for its actions so far."

Obama told the Dutch newspaper de Volkskrant that his message to European leaders is that Russian President Vladimir Putin needs to "understand the economic and political consequences of his actions in Ukraine" but that "it's important that Ukraine have good relations with the United States, Russia, and Europe." Read more ..


Malaysia on Edge

China Examines Satellite Images of Possible Malaysia Airlines Jet Debris

March 22nd 2014

Malaysia's defense minister says a Chinese satellite has spotted a large object floating in the Indian Ocean southwest of Australia where officials hope to find a Malaysia Airlines plane that has been missing for more than two weeks.

"Chinese ships have been dispatched to the area. Beijing is expected to make an announcement in a few hours,'' Malaysian Defence Minister and acting Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein told reporters.

He said on March 22 that he had been informed that a Chinese satellite had spotted an object 22 meters (72 feet) by 30 meters (100 feet).

However, he said there was still no confirmation that debris detected by a satellite in the Indian Ocean several days ago was from a missing Malaysia Airlines plane. Read more ..


Turkey on Edge

Turkey Blocks Twitter, Erdoğan Vow 'Eradication'

Erdogan

Turkey has blocked access to Twitter, hours after Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan vowed to close down the social media platform.

“We now have a court order. We’ll eradicate Twitter. I don’t care what the international community says. Everyone will witness the power of the Turkish Republic,” Erdoğan said at his campaign rally in the western city of Bursa on March 20, 10 days before the upcoming local elections.

The Press Advisory of the Prime Ministry later clarified Erdoğan's statement, arguing that Twitter officials currently "ignore" some court rulings in Turkey, which order the social media platform to "remove some links" as per the complaints filed by Turkish citizens. Read more ..

Malaysia on Edge

Malaysia Airlines Mystery Highlights Lack of International Cooperation

March 20th 2014

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As the search for the missing Malaysian plane enters its 13th day and possible sightings of wreckage are reported off Australia’s southwest coast, the Malaysian government is struggling to be responsive to families of the passengers and avoid diplomatic repercussions. Analysts say the incident highlights the need for better regional cooperation.

After families of missing passengers publicly lashed out against the Malaysian government's handling of the jetliner mystery, authorities in Kuala Lumpur announced they will send delegates to Beijing, where hundreds of next of kin anxiously await reliable findings.

The move is a further attempt by the Malaysian government to correct early missteps that have drawn criticism from China, home to the majority of the plane's passengers.

But more than focusing on how one country has handled the crisis, analysts say the struggle to find the plane shows the lack of a regionally coordinated response.
Read more ..


Obama's Second Term

Consumers' Obamacare Costs May Triple in Some States

March 19th 2014

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Health industry officials say ObamaCare-related premiums will double in some parts of the country, countering claims recently made by the administration.

The expected rate hikes will be announced in the coming months amid an intense election year, when control of the Senate is up for grabs. The sticker shock would likely bolster the GOP’s prospects in November and hamper ObamaCare insurance enrollment efforts in 2015.

The industry complaints come less than a week after Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius sought to downplay concerns about rising premiums in the healthcare sector. She told lawmakers rates would increase in 2015 but grow more slowly than in the past.
“The increases are far less significant than what they were prior to the Affordable Care Act,” the secretary said in testimony before the House Ways and Means Committee. Read more ..


Ukraine on Edge

NATO Seeks to Bolster Weakened Ukrainian Military

March 18th 2014

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NATO officials don’t expect to see near-term military “stand offs” with Russia as President Vladimir Putin appears poised to annex the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea, but are planning to bolster Ukrainian forces in the long-term, a NATO official told The Hill.

NATO plans to help Ukrainian forces build capacity via joint exercises, advice and other unspecified things, the official said on background.

Although the official did not specify exact exercises, the U.S. Army is planning to conduct an exercise in Ukraine this July, according to the Army Times. Exercise Rapid Trident 2014 is expected to take place near L’viv, Ukraine, and will involve units from Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Canada, Georgia, Germany, Moldova, Poland, Romania, the United Kingdom and Ukraine, Lt. Col. David Westover Jr. told the Army Times.

Westover said the exercise will focus on training for peacekeeping, not repelling an enemy invader. Read more ..


Ukraine on Edge

Obama's Relations with Putin Reach a Nadir

March 18th 2014

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The relationship between President Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin appears to have reached the breaking point over the crisis in Ukraine.

Through a series of long telephone conversations, Obama and Putin have talked extensively behind the scenes about the fate of Crimea, with the United States repeatedly warning Russia against a grab for territory.
But Putin appears to be forging ahead, defying Obama’s calls for a diplomatic solution that would allow both sides to save face.

Now the United States and its allies are directly hitting some of Putin’s closest advisers with sanctions in a move intended to isolate and punish the Kremlin. Read more ..


Ukraine on Edge

Obama Moves to Impose Sanctions while Putin Moves On

March 17th 2014

Announcing that the U.S. and its allies have mobilized to isolate Russia, President Barack Obama has imposed sanctions on key individuals Washington deems responsible for a Moscow-backed referendum in Ukraine's Crimea aimed at putting the region under Russia's control.

Speaking at the White House, Obama announced that he ordered sanctions against 11 Russian and Ukrainian officials, including two top advisers to Russia's President Vladimir Putin, in addition to ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych. All will be subject to asset freezes.

In an executive order issued earlier, Obama said that the policies and actions of the Russian Federation have been found to “undermine democratic processes and institutions in Ukraine; threaten its peace, security, stability, sovereignty, and territorial integrity; and contribute to the misappropriation of its assets, and thereby constitute an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States.” Read more ..


Egypt After Morsi

Egypt Vows 'Decisive' Response to Terror Outbreak

March 16th 2014

Security Forces Riot Gear

Egypt's interim government has pledged "decisive" action and ordered heightened security after armed men killed six soldiers at a Cairo checkpoint.

The shooting on Saturday morning came two days after a soldier was killed in Cairo, as fighters once based in the Sinai Peninsula widen attacks that have surged after the army overthrew President Mohamed Morsi last July.

The government is preparing for a presidential election this spring that will probably be contested and won by army chief Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, the field marshal who overthrew Morsi. Sisi is expected to resign as defence minister and army chief and announce his candidacy this week, following the interim president's approval of a law to organise the poll. Read more ..



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