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Israel and Palestine

Israeli Air Force Strikes More Rocket Sites in Gaza

July 6th 2014

Missiles on jet

On July 6, Israel carried out airstrikes in the Gaza Strip. The early morning operation targeted sites where the Israeli army says Palestinian terrorists have launched rocket attacks into Israel.

Clashes between Israeli police and Palestinian protesters have been ongoing for several days in East Jerusalem and other towns.

Tensions have been high since three Israeli teenagers were abducted from the West Bank in June and were later found shot to death and buried. Israel blames the militant group Hamas for the kidnappings and murders.

The Palestinian attorney general said an autopsy on an Arab teenager killed in a suspected revenge attack showed he was burned to death. The charred body of Mohammed Abu Khudair was found in a Jerusalem forest on July 2 about an hour after he was forced into a car by kidnappers. Israeli police arrested suspects on July 6 in connection with Khudair's killing. His father said the teen's body was burned beyond recognition and could only be identified by DNA. Read more ..

The Battle for Ukraine

Ukraine Takes Back Rebel-Held Territory

July 5th 2014

Ukraine--Berkut Riot Police Nov 2013

Ukrainian troops have overtaken the rebel stronghold of Slovyansk in the country's east in a nighttime offensive, and President Petro Poroshenko ordered the armed forces to raise the Ukrainian flag over the city.

Meanwhile, there still was no reply Saturday from Russia or separatist leaders in Ukraine to Poroshenko's request for a new round of talks.

Officials and witnesses said the pro-Russian separatists evacuated Slovyansk on July 5 after coming under mortar fire from government forces. They had controlled the city of 100,000 since sezing administrative and police buildings in early April. The government's retaking of the city marks a rare victory in Ukraine's struggle to quell the months-long rebellion. Read more ..

The Caliphate

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, 'Caliph' of Islamic State, Finally Appears in Video

July 5th 2014

Abu Bakir

A video posted online on Saturday purports to show the leader of the Islamic State extremist group that has overrun much of Syria and Iraq delivering a sermon at a mosque in Iraq, in what would be a rare — if not the first — public appearance by the shadowy militant.

The video was released on at least two websites known to be used by the group, but it was not possible to independently verify whether the person shown was indeed the group's leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. It bore the logo of al-Furqan, the group's media arm. Through brute force and guile, the Islamic State group has seized control of a vast swath of land straddling Syria and Iraq, and has declared the establishment of an Islamic state, or caliphate, in those territories. It proclaimed al-Baghdadi the leader of its state and demanded that all Muslims pledge allegiance to him.

"The mujahedeen have been rewarded victory by God after years of jihad, and they were able to achieve their aim and hurried to announce the caliphate and choose the Imam," he says in the video, referring to the leader. Read more ..

Broken Borders

Texas Military Bases Become Refugee Camps

July 4th 2014

US/Mex Border fence

Texas officials appealed to the Obama administration on Thursday to secure the U.S.-Mexico border once and for all as waves of illegal immigrant children overwhelm the system, with one lawmaker saying U.S. military bases effectively have been transformed into camps to handle the influx. 

"Our military bases are turning into refugee camps. I never thought I'd see this in the United States of America," House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul, R-Texas, said. 

McCaul spoke at a field hearing he convened in McAllen, Texas, in the Rio Grande Valley which has seen the brunt of the migrant surge. Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who has deployed state resources in a bid to boost border security, and other state officials testified at the hearing. 

"Secure this border, Mr. President," Perry urged in his opening remarks.  Read more ..

The Battle for Iraq

Iraqi Parliament Fails to Elect New PM

July 3rd 2014

Nouri al-Maliki

Sunnis and Kurds staged a walkout of Iraq's first parliamentary meeting on Tuesday after Shiites could not name a prime minister to replace Nuri al-Maliki. The move diminishes Iraq's chances of establishing a unity government. Al-Maliki's Shiite-dominated State of Law Coalition declined to make any meaningful compromises during Iraq's first parliamentary gathering since elections earlier this spring. About 255 out of the 328 Parliamentarians joined the meeting, however 90 of them failed to return after a 30-minute morning recess. According to Iraq's constitution, lawmakers must now select a new prime minister within 75 days. With no party holding a majority of the seats in parliament, Iraq's diverse political parties must unite to elect the country's new leader. As the politicians squabbled, armed extremists continue to consolidate their grip over western Iraq. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) urged his militants to increase their attacks during the month of Ramadan, which began Sunday, and declared himself "the caliph" and "leader for Muslims everywhere." An estimated 2,417 Iraqis, including 1,531 civilians, were killed in June. Read more ..

Israel on Edge

Israel Strikes 34 Targets in Gaza Strip

July 1st 2014

IAF Fighter

Israel struck 34 targets in Gaza Monday night in response to the discovery of three murdered teens near Gush Etzion.

The Israeli military says Hamas bears clear responsibility for the kidnappings and the rocket fire that has plagued southern Israel over the last few days.

The three boys, Naftali Fraenkel, 16, Gil-ad Shaar, 16, and Eyal Yifrach, 19, were discovered 12 miles from the area where they were initially kidnapped 18 days ago, in an open field near the Arab village of Halhul. According to news reports, it seems that the boys were shot soon after they were kidnapped.

The IDF suspects two Hamas terrorists are behind the kidnapping and murder, but so far the two known operatives have evaded capture. Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

Abducted Israeli Teenagers are Found Dead

June 30th 2014

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Israeli security forces has found the bodies of three teenaged Jewish students who had been abducted by Palestinian terrorists over two weeks ago. They were found in a field northwest of Hebron in the Beit Kahil region of Israel. Israeli police and military units had been searching for Gil-Ad Shaer, Naftali Fraenkel and Eyal Yifrah for the last 18 days.

The June 30 discovery came after Israel's Security Agency, known as Shin Bet, had been focusing its efforts on the area over the past two days during searches for the three teens. A large number of police officers and security forces had gathered at the Halhul junction north of Hebron, near the area where the three were said to have been abducted. The area was declared a closed military perimeter. Israeli citizens had rallied over the abductions, demanding their release by the terrorists. Read more ..

Obama's Second Term

Supreme Court to Rule on Obamacare Birth-Control Mandate

June 30th 2014

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The boundaries of religious freedom hang in the balance as the Supreme Court prepares to close out its term with a decision on the Affordable Care Act’s “birth control mandate.”

Monday's ruling, the most closely watched of the season, decides round two for ObamaCare at the high court, and will be the second time that the justices will close their term with a ruling on President Obama's signature law.

The stakes are high. A ruling against the administration could undermine the statute’s provision requiring companies to offer contraceptive services to workers as part of their insurance coverage. It would peel away a significant portion of the mandate, potentially affecting preventive health coverage for millions of women, the government and backers of the law say. Perhaps even more important, they contend, are the ramifications of a finding that corporations could be exempt from federal statutes on grounds that they have religious objections. Read more ..

Nigeria on Edge

Islamist Rebels Strike in Nigeria and Kill Christians at Church

June 30th 2014

An assault by Islamist Boko Haram marauders is feared to have claimed the lives of at least 100 persons in northeastern Nigeria. The June 29 raid occured near Chibok, a village in the same area from where the group kidnapped more than 200 girls in April. Initial reports from the attack yesterday also speak of five churches and several houses burned.

The Islamists' main target was the village of Kwada, where they opened fire and tossed handgrenades at worshippers leaving the churches. A similar fate awaited the villagers of Kautikari, located eight kilometers from Chibok. Read more ..

Obama's Second Term

Obama is Worried about Terrorism

June 29th 2014

President Obama said that the U.S. has been seriously threatened by terrorists for his entire time in office and even since before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

“They’re gaining strength in some places,” Obama said on ABC’s “This Week.”
Obama added that his administration is trying to boost its response to terrorists trained in Iraq and Syria who, because of European passports, would have little trouble getting to the U.S.

“We’re spending a lot of time, and we have been for years, making sure that we are improving intelligence so that we can respond to that,” Obama said. “There are going to be times where we take strikes against organizations that could do us harm.” Read more ..

The Edge of Soccer Craze

Loud, Loyal American Fans Travel to Brazil in Huge Numbers

June 28th 2014

Injured female soccer player

The World Cup, international soccer's marquee event, attracts the most passionate and loyal fans in the world. Supporters from the United States, a country with a small but rising fan base, are out to prove that they are just as enthusiastic as any other country.

Rio de Janeiro has hosted four World Cup games so far, three of which included South American teams. The city has, at times, been dominated by Argentines, Chileans, and Ecuadoreans. But the strongest constant international presence here in Rio has been the Americans.

 "Oh man, U.S. fan support here has been IN-credible.  At the Fan Fest, every single game, we're representing more than the teams we're playing. There's so much U.S.A. pride, cheers every two seconds, and when we score? Oh man. It's like the biggest party in the U.S.A.," said Samantha Medney, one of thousands of U.S. supporters in Brazil. Read more ..

Broken Borders

Obama Goes Around Congress on Immigration

June 27th 2014

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The Obama administration is "not bluffing" in its intent to take executive action on immigration policy if House Republicans don't act soon, top Democratic leaders warned Thursday.

President Obama has delayed any potential changes to his deportation policy to allow House GOP leaders time to bring legislation to the floor this summer. But if the Republicans don't act in July, the Democrats say, unilateral changes by Obama are inevitable.

"We're at the end of the line," Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) said Thursday during a press briefing in the Capitol. "We're not bluffing by setting a legislative deadline for them to act.

"Their first job is to govern," Menendez added, "and in the absence of governing, then you see executive actions."

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) piled on. Noting that a year has passed since the Senate passed a sweeping immigration reform bill with broad bipartisan support, he urged House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to bring a similar bill to the floor. Read more ..

The Battle for Baghdad

As Tensions Rise, Secretary Kerry Tells Syria and Iran to Back Off Iraq

June 26th 2014

Iranian drone and pilot

Secretary of State John Kerry is continuing his focus on the crisis in Iraq as he meets on June 26 in Paris with his counterparts from Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. The State Department says the talks will include both the security situation in Iraq and the civil war in neighboring Syria.

U.S. officials have been urging Iraq to install a government that is inclusive of Iraq's Sunni and Kurdish minorities, as the country deals with a surge by Sunni Islamist militants. However, Kerry told reporters on June 25that the U.S. is not interfering with the political process in Baghdad.

"It's up to Iraqis to make those decisions. We have stated clearly that we have an interest in a government that can unite Iraqis," said Kerry. Read more ..

The Battle for Iraq

Iraqi PM Rejects Forming 'Salvation' Government

Iraq ISIL pistol standoff

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has rejected forming an emergency government to help the country counter a surge by Sunni Islamist militants.

In a televised address, Maliki said he considered a "national salvation government," intended to present a unified front among Iraq's three main groups, a "coup against the constitution" and going against Iraq's April 30 parliament election results.

Iraqi leaders said they will meet a July 1 deadline for beginning to form the post-election government. U.S. officials believe the leadership in Baghdad should seek to draw Sunni support away from the militants from the al-Qaida breakaway group the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). ISIL militants have seized areas across northern and western Iraq. Read more ..

The Battle for Iraq

Militant Advance in Iraq Blow to Families of Fallen US Troops

June 25th 2014

ISIS terrorist in Iraq

The rapid advance of Islamist militants through key cities in Iraq is forcing many Americans to re-examine the eight-year-long war that killed nearly 4,500 U.S. service members.  The loss of lives is on the minds of many who took part in the 2014 Illinois Motorcycle Freedom Run.

This is more than just a motorcycle to Kory Thompson.  It is a moving tribute to his son, Army Corporal Michael Thompson, who died in a helicopter crash near Talil Air Base in Iraq in 2008.

“Their call sign was Red River 44. When Red River 44 banked to go into Talil, they lost altitude, and the guys from the other helicopter say it look like they flew right into the ground,” he said. It was Thompson’s second time in Iraq, a mission his father said he enthusiastically volunteered for, based on his experience during his first deployment. Read more ..

The Battle for Iraq

'Intense' and 'Sustained' U.S. Military Help Coming to Iraq

June 24th 2014

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The United States is pledging “intense" and "sustained” support for Iraq as it battles Sunni militants. And now a major component of that help - teams of military advisers - can move into action thanks to an agreement between the U.S. and Iraqi governments granting legal protections to U.S. forces. But there are growing concerns about how much that support can do amid signs the Iraqi military is withering under pressure.

It has become a familiar scene in Iraq - militants with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant - ISIL (also known as ISIS) - celebrating another victory.

Those fleeing tell stories of horror.

"I wish I had camera with me to film what happened with us, so that you could see it with your own eyes," said Ali Shebban, an internally displaced Iraqi citizen. "Clashes all around. Children, women, old men all running." Read more ..

Israel on Edge

Legalists to UN Head Moon: "Retract all Acceptance of PA to the UN"

June 24th 2014


The Legal Forum for Israel, a body representing hundreds of lawyers and jurists from various countries, has sent a letter to UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon last week demanding that he retract all acceptance within the UN of the Palestinian Authority and  reject the Palestinian request to accede to international conventions.

Relating to the abduction of the three boys form Gush Etzion, author of the letter Alan Baker, former legal adviser of Israel’s foreign ministry, former ambassador to Canada and Director of the International Action Division of the Legal Forum for Israel, writes: "We are, first and foremost, at the time of writing this letter, most distressed at the tragic situation in which one or more Palestinian terror groups, affiliated to what you and the UN regard as the “State of Palestine”, considered to be a non-member state observer in the UN, have taken three Israeli youths hostage, in clear violation of all basic humanitarian norms and conventions. Read more ..

The Battle for Ukraine

Separatists Declare Ceasefire as Tallks with Ukrainian Government Begin

June 23rd 2014

A leader of the pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine says rebel forces will observe the unilateral cease-fire that President Petro Poroshenko declared Friday as the first step in a broader peace plan.

Alexander Borodai made the announcement in Donetsk, where talks opened Monday between rebel leaders and representatives of the Ukrainian government. Borodai, prime minister of the separatists' self-declared Donetsk People's Republic, said the rebels' cease-fire would last until Friday, the same day the government's week-long cease-fire is set to end. He said his side would engage in further talks to end the crisis. Read more ..

The Battle for Iraq

Secretary of State Kerry Concedes Iraq Faces 'Existential Threat'

June 23rd 2014

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Monday pledged "intense" support for Iraq against the "existential threat" posed by a major militant offensive pushing toward Baghdad from the north and west.

Kerry pressured Iraq's top Shi'ite leaders on Monday to create a more inclusive government in order to face down the insurgents, who have captured vast territories in northern and western Iraq.

The United States' "support will be intense, sustained, and if Iraq's leaders take the steps needed to bring the country together, it will be effective," Kerry told journalists in Baghdad. Read more ..

The Battle for Iraq

Kurdish Peshmerga Forces Near Kirkuk Fight Back with Artillery

June 22nd 2014

PKK (Kurdish Worker's Party) Fighter

Kurdish Peshmerga forces south of Kirkuk have fired barrages of artillery shells at the bases of Islamic militants in what officials in the area said was a “response to unprovoked shelling” from the insurgents. “Peshmerga forces are stationed near the lower Zab and will continue their defense,” Anwar Haji Osman, Kurdistan Region’s deputy Peshmerga minister stated.

According to correspondents in Kirkuk, large numbers of Peshmerga forces are deployed 70 kilometers south of the city. Four Peshmerga fighters were reportedly wounded as a result of shells fired at their bases by the Islamic militants. Though the Kurds haven’t officially joined the war against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), and are in defensive positions, they have come to clashes with the group in Kirkuk and northern Diyala. Read more ..

The New Egypt

Egyptian Court Confirms Mass Death Sentences

June 21st 2014

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An Egyptian court confirmed death sentences for 183 people Saturday, in a case involving rioting last August in the town of Minya, south of Cairo. Convictions against 496 others were thrown out, while four were given life sentences. Lawyers for those condemned to death say that they will appeal.

The ruling by Judge Saeed Youssef drew the ire of many human rights activists, as well as criticism from the four corners of the globe. Despite the 183 death sentences, it was not clear who, if anyone, would actually be put to death.

The case drew international media attention because many of the sentences appeared to be arbitrary. Just one police officer died in the clashes around which the trial revolved. Mohamed Badie, the Supreme Guide of Egypt's now outlawed Muslim Brotherhood group, had his death sentence confirmed for inciting the crowd to violence. Read more ..

Broken Government

Essential Evidence of IRS Malfeasance Destroyed by Obama Administration

June 19th 2014

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Congressional Republicans are hunting for hard drives, smartphones and maintenance logs that they think could yield emails from former IRS official Lois Lerner.

Two House committees — Ways and Means and Oversight — are investigating IRS claims that Lerner’s hard drive failed in 2011, likely erasing emails they believe to be relevant to their probe of the scrutiny that was given to Tea Party groups.

The IRS says backup copies of the emails no longer exist because until last year, it only kept such tapes for six months before recycling them. The agency has yet to say what became of Lerner’s hard drive, though Sen. Orrin Hatch (Utah), the top Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, and several GOP aides say they have been told the drive no longer exists. Lerner, the central figure in the IRS controversy, and other agency staffers discussed the drive going to the “hard drive cemetery” in 2011 if its contents couldn’t be saved, according to emails released Friday. Read more ..

The Battle for Iraq

Obama Seeks Replacement of Embattled Iraqi Premier Nouri al-Maliki

June 19th 2014

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Iraqi forces and Sunni militants fighting for control of the country's biggest oil refinery continued clashing on June 19 at the site in Beiji. Witnesses reported smoke spilling from the plant and said the black flag of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) was flying from a building.

Iraqi security officials said the government was still in control of the refinery, which is located about halfway between Baghdad and Mosul. The United States is continuing to weigh options for how to help Iraq fight the militants who have taken over key cities in the north and threatened the capital.

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey told a Senate subcommittee on June 18 that the Iraqi government has asked for U.S. airstrikes. He said the Shi'ite-led Iraqi government has failed its people, and that leaders failed to carry out their commitment to form a unity government with Sunnis and Kurds. Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

IDF Operates Over Night to Decimate Hamas Terror Infrastructure

June 18th 2014

IDF On Guard

The IDF and Israeli security forces have continued their operation over night to locate the three abducted boys while decimating the Hama terror infrastructure in Judea and Samaria. The IDF carried out night raids throughout all of Judea and Samaria, this time meeting little resistance.

An IDF spokesman announced that as part of an extensive series of intelligence and operational activities, security forces arrested 65 wanted persons; 51 of them were released as part of the Schalit deal in 2011. They further shut down a terrorist affiliated radio station. Ten brigades are participating in these operations. Since the beginning of the operation some 240 terrorists were arrested and about 800 homes were searched. Hundreds of weapons have been uncovered during these searches.

The Gazan front appears to be heating up. Hamas officials from Gaza have threatened to retaliate against the IDF’s operations against their infrastructure. In the past 14 days, 11 rockets were fired from Gaza at Israel. There are reports of the IDF deploying more Iron Dome anti-rocket systems throughout the south. Read more ..

Argentina on Edge

Argentine Nationalist Sentiments Bestirred by U.S. Supreme Court Decision on Debt

June 17th 2014

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President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner

The U.S. Supreme Court dealt Argentina a pair of defeats in its long-running attempt to avoid paying some debts from its 2001 default. On June 16, the court let stand a lower court ruling that Argentina cannot make payments on restructured debt unless it also repays investors who refused to accept terms of the refinancing offered by Buenos Aires.

In addition, the court said investors could use the U.S. courts to pursue information about where Argentina owns property around the world. That should make it easier for creditors to collect on court judgments against the South American nation. Read more ..

The Battle for Baghdad

Obama Commits Ground Forces to Iraq; More Expected

June 17th 2014

President Barack Obama is sending 275 U.S. military personnel to Iraq to help provide security to the embassy in Baghdad and U.S. personnel. The administration on Monday sought to reassure Americans that the deployment is not another open-ended commitment of troops to Iraq.

"This force is deploying for the purpose of protecting U.S. citizens and property, if necessary, and is equipped for combat," Obama said in a letter to lawmakers. "This force will remain in Iraq until the security situation becomes such that it is no longer needed."

Obama's notification to Congress Monday also said the move has the consent of the Iraqi government. Read more ..

Israel and Palestine

Wife of Palestinian Leader Undergoes Surgery in Israel while Fate of Israeli Teens is Unknown

June 16th 2014

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Physicians in Israel performed surgery on Amina Abbas, the wife of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, at a private clinic near Tel Aviv on June 13, while tensions grew between Israel and the PA over the abduction of three Israeli Jewish adolescents by Palestinian terrorists. Abbas was released from the clinic on June 15.

Israel occasionally allows Palestinians to enter Israeli territory in order to receive medical treatment unavailable at PA hospitals. Israeli physicians and hospitals have even treated Palestinians accused of carrying out bomb attacks. Earlier this month Israel admitted the 68-year-old mother-in-law of Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh for medical treatment. She was granted entry from the Gaza Strip to receive cancer treatment at a Jerusalem hospital. Haniyeh’s granddaughter received treatment in Israel in November 2013 for an infection in her digestive tract. She later died in Gaza. Read more ..

The Battle for Baghdad

Sunni Islamists Continue Onslaught Towards Baghdad while Iran Intervenes

June 16th 2014

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Residents and local Iraqi officials say Sunni militants have seized the northern city of Tal Afar, the latest capture in a surge of fighting that has resulted in international condemnation and calls for unity in Iraq.

The seizure early on June 16 comes after a week in which militants from the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) seized Mosul and Tikrit and threatened to advance on Baghdad. After the capture of Mosul, all the Christian Iraqis still living there fled to safety. Catholic Archbishop Amil Shamaaoun Nona of Mosul said in an interview with Aid to the Church in Need - a Catholic relief agency,  “All the faithful have left the city. Who knows whether they will ever be able to return.” Read more ..

The Battle for Iraq

The Mystery of Iraq's Vanishing Army

June 13th 2014

"Now in Mosul jihadist militants control the city and the situation is calm. But we do not know who they are and what they want to do now," said Chaldean Catholic Archbishop Amel Shamon Nona of Mosul. According to the Fides news service, the climate in Iraq’s second largest city is grim, following its capture two days ago by the rebels of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

The ISIL is an Islamic jihadi Sunni grouping, which is also active in the Syrian conflict, that seeks to impose a caliphate in the region. Iraqi soldiers and civilians are streaming away from Mosul and heading for Baghdad. Read more ..

Obama's Second Term

Obama Administration Faces Tough Choices in Iraq

June 13th 2014

The Obama administration is facing its worst-case scenario in Iraq, which seems on the verge of crumbling as Islamic militants march on Baghdad.

Just more than three years after U.S. soldiers left the country, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has taken over hundreds of square miles ranging from Syria’s coast to the Iraqi cities of Mosul and Tikrit.

The terrorist group is in control of a wide swath of land from which it could launch attacks on the West, former U.S. Ambassador to Iraq John Negroponte warned Thursday.
“If these people succeed in multiple countries, that is going to represent some kind of permanent terrorist threat to the West, to our interests around the world and to ourselves," he said on MSNBC. Read more ..

Obama's Second Term

Obama's Foreign Policy Prowess in the Dock Following Bergdahl and Iraqi Mess

June 13th 2014

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President Obama’s team of national security advisers is under attack on Capitol Hill for not foreseeing the collapse of Iraq’s Army forces who have been routed by Sunni jihadists.

Republicans are calling for heads to roll and Democrats have been slow to defend Obama’s national security team after a string of questionable performances.

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have second-guessed Obama’s decision to release five senior Taliban commanders from Guantanamo Bay and his handling of the civil war in Syria. Now they’re concerned the insurgent’s lightening war across Iraq has taken the administration by surprise. Read more ..

The Way We Are

Sgt Bowe Bergdahl, former Taliban Prisoner, Returns Home with Little Fanfare

June 13th 2014

The Army sergeant held by the Taliban in Afghanistan for nearly five years has returned to the United States.
U.S. military officials say Bowe Bergdahl, who had been treated at a military hospital in Germany, arrived early on June 13 at an Army medical center in San Antonio, Texas.

The 28-year-old Bergdahl was released by his jihadi captors two weeks ago following a controversial prisoner swap in which President Barack Obama agreed to release five Taliban terrorists from the military prison at the U.S. Navy facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. They were released to the custody of the government of Qatar - an absolute Muslim monarchy on the Arabian Peninsula that faces the Persian Gulf. Qatar agreed to hold them for one year, even while they are free to circulate in Qatar during that time. Read more ..

Hamas-PA Unity

US Defunding Effort Moves to Formal House Resolution

June 12th 2014

Edwin Black

Today, the spreading Congressional sentiment on defunding the Palestinian Authority escalated to a formal resolution in the House of Representatives. Some fifteen cosponsors, led by Representatives Trent Franks (R-AZ) and Michelle Bachmann (R-MN), have officially presented their resolution to defund the PA based on two violations of American law: the unity with Hamas and the recently-publicized program of monthly salaries paid to Palestinian terrorists in Israeli prisons via the PA's Ministry of Prisoners. The resolution framers call for a “sense of the House” that all funding be stopped unless the PA takes verified actions "dissolving the unity government with Hamas,” regardless of any technocratic appearances, as well as "repealing the Law of the Prisoners and abolishing the Ministry of Prisoners … relating to compensation and recognition of convicted terrorists."

Prior to today’s action, various preliminary resolutions were floated and announced from the floor of the House, such as an April 3, 2014 effort advanced by Ted Poe (R-TX), but never put to a vote. By entering the formal resolution, House procedures will automatically number it and refer it to the House Foreign Affairs Committee for a possible vote. That committee is controlled by Chairman Ed Royce (D-CA) and its ranking member Eliot Engel (D-NY), both of whom have publicly warned the PA about a funding stoppage. If the new resolution survives the Foreign Affairs Committee, it then goes to the full House for an up or down vote.

According to Congressional analysts, the new "sense of the House" resolution is not only a policy document, it is "a messaging instrument to the Obama Administration and House appropriators." Key among those appropriators is Nita Lowey, the ranking Democrat from Westchester County, NY. Lowey sits on both the full Appropriations Committee and the key subcommittee governing State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs. Foreign assistance begins and dies in this subcommittee. The Republican side of the aisle, including subcommittee chairwoman Kay Granger from Dallas, has been lining up staunchly against continued funding, citing the known legal obligations. Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

Kurds Push ISIS from Kirkuk

June 12th 2014

PKK (Kurdish Worker's Party) Fighter

Days after seizing Mosul, Iraq's second largest city, insurgents tied to al-Qaeda seized Tikrit, the birthplace of Saddam Hussein on Wednesday. As the Iraqi Army fled its posts, the Kurdish Peshmerga also exploited the chaos to secure control of the northern oil-rich city of Kirkuk on Thursday.

Both the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and the Kurdistan Communities Union have pledged to prevent the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) from expanding its forces into northern regions. Unlike the Iraqi national army, the Kurdish forces are more disciplined, loyal to their leaders, and have mobilized to stop the threatening spread of ISIS from western Iraq and Syria. Read more ..

Broken Government

House Majority Leader Cantor to Step Down from Leadership

June 12th 2014

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) on Wednesday announced he would step down from his leadership post at the end of July, cutting short his tenure less than a day after he lost his re-election bid to a little-known primary challenger.

The move cemented an abrupt and shocking fall for a Republican star widely seen as the next Speaker of the House, and it officially launched a shake-up in the party hierarchy that began within hours after Cantor’s defeat to Tea Party challenger Dave Brat. Elections to replace Cantor will be held on June 19, a week from Thursday.

“It is with great humility that I do so, knowing the tremendous honor it has been to hold this position,” Cantor said of his decision to step down. Cantor plans to serve out his term in the House but will not mount a long-shot write-in bid to reclaim his seat in the November general election. He said nothing about his future plans other than to pledge to fight for conservative candidates and policies. Read more ..

Broken Government

Defense Sec. Hagel is 'Damn' Sure of the Rightness of Bergdahl Swap with Taliban

June 11th 2014

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on Wednesday defended the administration’s prisoner swap of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl for five Taliban detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, arguing that it was necessary to conduct the swap secretly and quickly.

Hagel argued that a proof-of-life video of Bergdahl gave officials “growing urgency to act.”

“In January of this year, we received that video, and it was disturbing. It showed a deterioration in his physical appearance and mental state compared to previous videos,” Hagel told the House Armed Services Committee, which is conducting an investigation into the prisoner swap.

“The intelligence community carefully analyzed it and concluded that Sgt. Bergdahl’s health was poor and possibly declining,” Hagel said. Read more ..

The Battle for Iraq

Iraqi Army Crumples Before the Black Flags of Al Qaeda in Tikrit

June 11th 2014

Iraqi militants have seized two provincial capitals in two days as they continue a lightning offensive that is almost effortlessly removing a wide swath of northern Iraq from government control.

On June 11, the Sunni-fundamentalist Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) took control of the Iraqi city of Tikrit and freed hundreds of prisoners. That was just hours after the militants seized Mosul, Iraq's second-largest city, in three days of fighting on June 6 to 9 that routed the Iraqi army so completely that it left stocks of weapons behind. Read more ..

Education on Edge

Oil Boom Crowding North Dakota Schools

June 10th 2014

Special Ed Teacher

The oil boom in North Dakota and Montana has brought a flood of people to once sparsely-populated rural towns.  The rapid pace of expansion in the town of Williston, North Dakota is putting pressure on all kinds of local services -- from fire and emergency response to road construction and utilities. The increased number of students in the public school system in Williston is crowding its now outdated facilities.

Through oil boom and bust, and now boom again, John Monger says life’s been a roller coaster in his hometown of Williston. “Born and raised here.  Been living in this town for 47 years,” he said.

Monger is now in his 24th year teaching at Hagan Elementary, the last three of them spent working in a temporary modular trailer attached to the school. “The modular classrooms are smaller than the regular classroom," he said. "Right now I have 18 students, and I started the year out with 16 students.” Read more ..

Broken Government

57K Vets for Appointments

June 9th 2014

female us soldier

More than 57,000 veterans are awaiting initial appointments at Veterans Affairs hospitals and clinics around the country 90 days after requesting them, according to a White House-ordered audit released Monday.

The results show patients are waiting much longer than the 14 days the agency has said was its target for scheduling an appointment.

Nationwide, there are roughly 57,436 veterans waiting for to be scheduled for care, and another 63,869 who over the past 10 years have enrolled for healthcare but have "not seen an appointment."

The audit covered 731 VA hospitals and large outpatient clinics, and found that the agency's scheduling practices concealed long wait times and created "confusion among scheduling clerks and supervisors." The audit also says a 14-day goal for seeing first-time patients was unattainable given the growing demand among veterans for healthcare and poor planning, and that 13 percent of VA schedulers reported supervisors telling them to falsify appointment dates to make waiting times appear shorter. Read more ..

Broken Banking

Bank of America to Pay the Latest Billion Pentalty

June 8th 2014

Bank of America ATMs

Bank of America is negotiating a deal with the Justice Department and a number of states that could lead to a roughly $12 billion settlement related to the bank's mortgage banking practices, according to a U.S. law enforcement official. The troubled bank has paid some $60 billion in fines, penalties, and settlements in recent years arising from its questionable conduct.

Currently at issue are allegations that Bank of America defrauded buyers of mortgage-backed securities by misleading them about the quality of the loans involved.

The securities in question consisted of home loans that financial institutions bundled according to their risk. The products played a key role in the 2008 financial crisis. Loans that were rated as safe began to fail in huge numbers as the housing market collapsed. Since 2008, the company has paid some $60 billion in fines, penalties and settlements. Read more ..

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