Ukraine on Edge
|Kristina Wong ||April 24th 2014|
|Mikhail Kalashnikov and his invention|
The thriving Russian arms trade will remain strong even if members of Congress succeed in ending U.S. and NATO contracts over the conflict in Ukraine, experts say. Russia has 26 percent of the global market share in the weapons industry, second only to America’s 29 percent, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).
But Russian firms mostly sell to customers in Asia, Africa and the Middle East, which means that they are mostly insulated from the punitive actions that could be taken by the U.S. and its allies. Over the past five years, 65 percent of conventional arms from Russia have gone to Asia and Oceania, 14 percent to Africa, and 10 percent to the Middle East. Russia’s top customers are China, India and Algeria, whom it supplies missiles, tanks, radars, aircraft and ships.
In comparison, the U.S. market only accounted for 0.04 percent of Russia’s major conventional arms sales, and the Western and Central Europe market for only 0.4 percent during that period, according to SIPRI. Read more ..
|Alexander Bolton||April 23rd 2014|
Can Sen. Rand Paul really become the 45th president?
His curly hair and slight frame aren’t a Hollywood casting agent’s idea of a commander in chief. But the freshman Republican senator from Kentucky rejects established norms; he’s on a declared mission to redefine the presidency and his own party.
This approach has its detractors, notably from the national security wing of the GOP. Bill Kristol of The Weekly Standard, for example, has called Paul “not presidential” and said his foreign policies are “dangerous.”
Many other Republicans are nervous about Paul’s rising stock, much more than they were about the presidential bids of his father, former Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas).
A CNN/ORC International poll last month showed Paul leading a field of Republican presidential contenders among Republicans and independents who favor the GOP nationwide. He garnered 16 percent support among those groups, compared to Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who garnered 15 percent and 11 percent, respectively.
Paul won the presidential survey at the Northeast Republican Leadership Conference in New Hampshire and the straw poll at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington. Even so, there are some in GOP circles who say they don’t take Paul seriously. Read more ..
The Battle for Ukraine
|Thekla Hritz||April 22nd 2014|
As millions of Christians around the world began celebrations for Easter, the heads of the Russian and Ukrainian Orthodox churches made critical statements over the crisis in Ukraine.
It is the first time in many years that Easter -- the day on which Christians believe Jesus was resurrected -- occurs at the same time for both Catholics and Orthodox followers.
Thousands of Christians gathered on the evening of April 19 for major Easter church services and ceremonies in Rome and Jerusalem.
Pope Francis urged Catholics to rediscover the roots of their faith in an Easter Mass at St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican. Read more ..
Israel on Edge
|Omri Ceren||April 21st 2014|
The arrest of an Arab-Israeli human rights activist on suspicion of being recruited by Hezbollah threatened on Thursday to expand into a broader scandal over the role of a controversial U.S.-based non-profit that has been criticized for funneling money to anti-Israel organizations and activists, including to those that support waging economic warfare against Israel.
Majd Kayyal was arrested as he returned to Israel from a trip to Lebanon, with Israel’s Shin Bet security agency accusing him of illegally traveling to an enemy country and contacting Hezbollah.
Details of his detainment were released and published on Thursday, including a statement from his lawyer acknowledging that Kayyal knew he was breaking the law by traveling to Lebanon. Kayyal is the editor of the website for Adalah, an organization that recently became prominent for spearheading eventually violent protests against a plan by the Israeli government to drive billions of dollars into underdeveloped areas of Israel’s southern Negev region. Read more ..
|Erik Wasson||April 20th 2014|
The midterm elections will not be a referendum on President Obama's performance in the White House, the Democratic National Committee chairwoman said Sunday.
"No, absolutely not,” Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) told NBC's "Meet the Press." “These elections, particularly the Senate elections, are referendums on the candidates running.”
NBC's David Gregory asked Wasserman Schultz if keeping the Senate and taking back the House are an uphill climb given the president's low poll numbers and the unpopularity of ObamaCare. Forty-nine percent of those polled in the most recent Gallup survey say they disapprove of the president's job performance. Only 45 percent said they approve. Wasserman Schultz said that the election will be hard-fought and Democrats can prevail if they can get base voters to the polls. Read more ..
|Mike Lillis||April 19th 2014|
How are relations between President Obama and Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.)? Well, it's complicated.
Earlier this month, the House majority leader stood by Obama's side as the president signed a pediatric research law championed by Cantor. It marked a rare case of ideological opposites joining forces to move legislation in an election year.
Just two weeks later, the kumbaya moment was old news. The powerful politicians this week traded barbs over which party is to blame for the House's failure to consider immigration reform legislation — a spat suggesting the odds are long that Congress will overhaul the system in 2014.
The back-to-back episodes highlight the hot-and-cold swings that have marked the relationship between Obama and Cantor over the years. The two have shifted from being unlikely allies on issues as diverse as trade and voting rights to prickly foes on more bread-and-butter issues, such as healthcare and the economy.
The relationship between the two men is closely watched, especially because some in the nation's capital think Cantor will succeed House Speaker John Boehner if the Ohio Republican retires at the end of this Congress.
The recent pendulum swing also underscores the tightrope act both parties are attempting this year in the face of low public opinion toward both Congress and the White House. Party leaders want to energize their bases by delivering sharp attacks across the aisle over the other sides' policies. But they also want to show a cooperative face, if only to win favor from the many Independents who view Washington as a partisan quagmire where dollars get wasted and nothing gets done. Read more ..
The Ukraine on Edge
|Glenn Kates||April 18th 2014|
The origins of an anti-Semitic flyer distributed in eastern Ukraine this week are still unclear.
But the international controversy it provoked may point to evidence that Ukraine's Jews have become unwilling political tools in the battle for the country's future.
The most recent incident allegedly happened on April 15, but it took two days to bubble into the full-blown international scandal it has become.
On the first night of Passover, as congregants were leaving synagogue in Donetsk, three masked men reportedly distributed leaflets supposedly stamped and signed by the "governor" of the self-proclaimed and pro-Moscow "People's Republic of Donetsk." The document demanded that all Jews over the age of 16 register and pay a fee or risk being deported as punishment for their "support" of the government in Kyiv. Read more ..
The Battle for the Ukraine
|Michal Margalit||April 17th 2014|
Read more ..
Fear replaced communal atmosphere in Donetsk's Jewish community as armed men handed out a leaflet Passover eve calling on Jews register their religion and property with the interim pro-Russian government or face deportation and loss of citizenship. A leaflet distributed in Donetsk, Ukraine calling for all Jews over 16 years old to register as Jews marred the Jewish community's Passover festivities Monday (Passover eve), replacing them with feelings of concern. The leaflet demanded the city's Jews supply a detailed list of all the property they own, or else have their citizenship revoked, face deportion and see their assets confiscated.
Donetsk, a Ukraine province with 4.3 million people - 10 percent of Ukraine's population - and 17,000 Jews, is home to much of the country's heavy industry, and is thus the biggest prize of the eastern regions where pro-Russian separatists have captured government buildings in the past week.
The 2016 Campaign
|Timothy Cama ||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
|Thekla Hritz||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 ..
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
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
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
from ABC and agencies
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
|Martin Barillas||April 13th 2014|
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 ..
|Justin Sink||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
|Paul Buckley||April 11th 2014|
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
|Elise Viebeck, Jonathan Easley and Justin Sink||April 10th 2014|
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
|Russell Berman||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 ..
|Alexander Bolton ||April 8th 2014|
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
|Justin Sink||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
|Justin Sink||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 ..
|Scott Gottlieb||April 7th 2014|
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
|Steve Herman||April 6th 2014|
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
|Martin Barillas||April 5th 2014|
Cutting Edge Contributor
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
|Kristina Wong||April 4th 2014|
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
|Scott Stearns||April 3rd 2014|
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
|Nicholas Watt||April 2nd 2014|
Read more ..
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.
Obama's Second Term
|Alexander Bolton||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 ..
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
|Fredrik Hederus||March 31st 2014|
Chalmers University of Technology
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
|Katherine Maddux||March 30th 2014|
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
|Glenn Kates||March 29th 2014|
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
|Alex Finkelstein||March 28th 2014|
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
|Mario Trujillo||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
|Glenn Kates||March 27th 2014|
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 ..
|Russell Berman||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
|Jonathan Spyer||March 25th 2014|
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
|Justin Sink||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
|Thekla Hritz||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 ..
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