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Broken Government

Obama Prepares to Circumvent Congress on Immigration Initiatives

May 9th 2014

President Obama is increasingly looking to administrative action on immigration, as efforts to pass a legislative overhaul continue to stumble in Congress.

The administration has moved via executive branch authority on numerous fronts in recent days to improve access to education for illegal immigrants and loosen visa restrictions for some foreign workers.

Those steps come as Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson conducts a separate review of immigration policy at the president's direction, and is reportedly weighing an administrative move to curtail deportations.

Taken together, the administration’s actions signal the president’s resolve to press forward on a key item on his policy agenda, with or without help from the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue. Read more ..


Pakistan on Edge

World Bank Loans $12 Billion to Pakistan

May 8th 2014

Pakistan Islamic women

The World Bank approved a $12 billion loan for Pakistan on Friday to help the country alleviate poverty and increase economic growth. Islamabad will receive $1 billion this week while the rest of the loan will be disbursed over the next five years. With a term of 30 years and a low interest rate of two percent, the bank hopes no future bailout will be necessary.

The World Bank's loan will help Pakistan implement new free market policies that will increase long-term economic productivity. Nearly $600 million of the fund's first payment will be allocated toward enhancing the energy sector. The bank plans to retarget electricity subsidies for the poorest Pakistanis, improve pricing structures, and open power markets to private competition. Adding accountability and transparency will also prevent government waste.

Providing a continuous supply of electricity in Pakistan remains difficult for Islamabad. Local utilities depend on costly hydrocarbon imports to generate power, buying about $1 billion a month in oil to make electricity. Additionally, daily blackouts of several hours are common, especially when demand rises dramatically in hot summer months. Overall, the country faces a 7,000 megawatt shortfall even as up to 44 percent of its citizens are off the grid. Read more ..


Financing the Flames

Congress Prepares Hearings to Reconsider Palestinian aid after Hamas Union

May 7th 2014

Gaza Qasam Rocket

Mere days after the Palestinian Authority announced its intention to form a unity government with Hamas, the US Congress is examining the process required to cut off aid to the organization. A subcommittee on the Middle East in the House of Representatives will hold a hearing on the matter on Thursday, in search of a way forward after peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians ended bitterly last week.

Capitol Hill aides say financial assistance may only be cut should the unity government between Fatah, the party of PA President Mahmoud Abbas, and Hamas, a terrorist organization as listed by the United States, actually come to pass. Past efforts to form such a government have failed.

Speaking with The Jerusalem Post, Congressman Eliot Engel (D-New York), ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said no bill was required for aid to be cut to the Palestinians. Read more ..


The 2016 Campaign

GOP Senators Lean Against their Colleagues as Fear for 2016 Emerges

May 6th 2014

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Senator Rand Paul (R)

Fearful of a third successive Democratic triumph, concerned Senate Republicans are turning against 2016 presidential bids by upstart hopefuls within their own ranks.

In forceful comments to The Hill, GOP senators made it plain that they would much prefer their party nominate a current or former governor over Sens. Ted Cruz (Texas), Marco Rubio (Fla.) or Rand Paul (Ky.).

Those senators have created a buzz among conservative activists, but their colleagues in the upper chamber are eager to support a nominee from outside Washington with a record of attracting independents and centrist Democrats.
They worry that Washington has become so toxic that it could poison the chances of any nominee from Congress in 2016.

“I’m not saying people like Rand Paul and Rubio and Cruz — and there are probably 10 other senators who think they could be president — shouldn’t be president. I’m just saying I want to elect somebody, and everybody is so anti-Washington now that it might be better to have somebody that’s outside of Washington,” said Sen. Chuck Grassley (Iowa), one of the upper chamber’s most senior Republicans. Read more ..


The Battle for Ukraine

Fearful of a Violent Future, Jewish Community of Odessa Prepares to Leave

May 5th 2014

Odessa’s Jews are prepared to evacuate should the violence in the western Ukrainian city get significantly worse, several community leaders told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday. Odessa’s Jewish community numbers some 30,000, down from nearly 40 percent of the city’s population before the Holocaust.

Running street battles between pro-Russian and nationalist forces claimed dozens of lives in the Black Sea port this weekend, culminating in the burning of dozens of pro-Russian protesters in the city’s trade union building on Friday evening.

The Odessa bloodshed came on the same day that Kiev launched its biggest push yet to reassert its control over separatist areas in the east, hundreds of kilometers away, where armed pro-Russian rebels have proclaimed a “People’s Republic of Donetsk.” Read more ..


Egypt After Morsi

U.S. Senator Blocks Military Aid to Egypt

May 3rd 2014

General Al-Sisi

U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy announced on Tuesday that he will block the Obama administration from sending nearly $650 million in military aid to Egypt. His action is a direct response to an Egyptian court sentencing over 600 people to death on Monday. As the chairman of the foreign aid subcommittee, Leahy has consistently prioritized human rights, passing a law that denies aid to any regime that came to power through a coup.

President Obama has been reluctant to label the ouster of Mohammed Morsi in July 2013 a coup, but he did choose to suspend aid to Egypt in October. The U.S. annually sends about $1.3 billion in military aid to Egypt. Last week, however, the President decided to partially lift the suspension on aid and now supports delivering 10 Apache helicopters as well as $650 million in additional funding that Senator Leahy is trying to block. Read more ..


Benghazigate

General tells Benghazi Lawmakers No One asked Military to save Americans

May 2nd 2014

libya-consulate

A former upper-echelon military intelligence officer who was the deputy director of the U.S. African Command testified before lawmakers on Thursday that the U.S. Department of State, headed by Hillary Clinton, never once asked the U.S. military to save the lives of Americans being slaughtered at the Benghazi, Libya, United States diplomatic mission, according to a videotape from the U.S. Congress.

In response to the alleged 'smoking gun' email written by a White House staff member for then-U.S. Secretary to the United Nations Susan Rice -- which was released by the public-interest group Judicial Watch on Tuesday to Fox News and the Examiner by JW's Jill Farrell -- the House of Representatives Oversight and Government Reform Committee on Thursday held a special session to investigate the latest allegations of an Obama Administration cover-up.

Read more ..

Financing the Flames

Presidents Conference Overwhelmingly Rejects J Street

April 30th 2014

Edwin Black

J Street, the controversial lobby group focusing on Israel, has been overwhelmingly rejected for admission to America’s most prestigious and mainstream Jewish body, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. The secret ballots, once counted, yielded only 17 votes in favor of admitting J Street to the Conference of Presidents and 22 against, with three abstentions, according to an informed source not authorized to speak for her organization. Hence, J Street did not even achieve a simple majority. Admission to the umbrella group of 50 leading Jewish organizations would have required 33 of 50 voting member groups—more than twice the number J Street garnered.

The acrimonious vote came as American Jewish groups increasingly begin to define their mainstream. Criticism and defense of J Street’s application has been intense, with challenges to its non-Jewish funding and positions on the peace process competing with the communal impulse to include a spectrum of dissent in a so-called “open tent.”

There is more tolerance for dissent in Israel than in the Jewish community,” Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League told the JTA’s Ron Kampeas at the ADL’s annual Washington conference. Foxman added, “We will support the admission of J Street not because we agree with them, not because we support their views, but in order to ensure the integrity and credibility of American Jewish advocacy and of the Conference of Presidents.” Conversely, late on the night before the vote, Zionist Organization of America president Mort Klein told a reporter that he was working tirelessly to convince fellow organizations that J Street should be rejected because of its extreme views.

During a one-hour debate, each organization was allowed only 90 seconds to speak. The time limits were rigidly enforced. One east coast organizational source stated that despite the acrimony of prior days, the debate before the vote was orderly and respectful. Read more ..


Obama's Second Term

GOP Stymies Democrats' Minimum Wage Hike

April 30th 2014

Senate Republicans on Wednesday blocked legislation from Democrats that would increase the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 an hour.

The Senate voted 54-42 to end debate on a motion to proceed to the Minimum Wage Fairness Act, short of the 60 votes that were needed. Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) was the only Republican to vote "yes."

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) voted against the measure in order to have the chance to bring it up again. Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.), an opponent of increasing the wage to $10.10, missed the vote due to a tornado in his home state.
Democrats have made the minimum-wage issue central to their midterm election campaign on income equality, which aims to portray Republicans as beholden to the rich. Read more ..


Obama's Second Term

Dark Clouds Approaching for Democrats as Obama's Approval Rating Plummets

April 29th 2014

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Democrats may be at risk in this November’s midterm elections as President Obama’s approval rating drops, a new poll suggests.

A Washington Post-ABC News survey released Tuesday found 41 percent approve of Obama’s job as president. That's down from 46 percent through the first three months of this year and the lowest the polling series has recorded during his presidency.

Forty-two percent approve of Obama’s job on the economy, while just over a third approve of Obama’s job handling the crisis between Ukraine and Russia. Read more ..


Obama and Israel

Kerry Apologizes for Israel Apartheid Remarks

April 29th 2014

John Kerry

The U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry backtracked Monday from remarks that Israel risks becoming an apartheid state.

Kerry made the remarks in a closed-door session at an international council last week. After they were revealed, they were quickly condemned by Jewish groups and U.S. lawmakers.

Kerry issued a statement Monday recalling his longtime support of Israel and said that he should have phrased his opinions differently.

According to the New York Times:

“For more than 30 years in the United States Senate, I didn’t just speak words in support of Israel,” Mr. Kerry said in his statement. “I walked the walk when it came time to vote and when it came time to fight. Mr. Kerry added that he did not believe that Israel was an “apartheid state” or intended to become one. Mr. Kerry did not dispute he had used the phrase but said it had led to a “misimpression” about his views." Read more ..


Afghanistan After Karzai

Surprises In Preliminary Afghan Election Results

April 28th 2014

Karzai

The preliminary results of Afghanistan's presidential election are in, and reveal several surprises.

When presidential candidate Ashraf Ghani named General Abdul Dostum as a running mate, it was seen as a shrewd political move. With the former Uzbek militia leader on his ticket as first vice president, the prevailing view was that Afghanistan's large Uzbek voting bloc would give Ghani a significant boost. Afghans traditionally vote along ethnic lines, and there was no reason to believe it would be any different this time around.

But while Ghani finished second in the preliminary results released on April 26, enough to go to a second round if the results survive the lengthy complaints period, the tactic appears to have backfired.

Ethnic Uzbeks, who make up about 9 percent of Afghanistan's population, helped Ghani secure big victories in the province of Jowzjan (where he took 69 percent of the vote) and the neighboring Faryab (65 percent) -- each of which have large Uzbek populations.

Ghani did not fare nearly as well, however, in three other provinces with significant Uzbek populations. Ghani failed to garner 40 percent of the vote in Sar-e-Pul (39 percent), Samangan (27 percent) and Kunduz (38 percent). Instead, Abdullah Abdullah won a plurality in all three provinces, helping propel him to a first-place finish countrywide, with 44.9 percent of the vote. Read more ..


After the Holocaust

Palestinian Leader Calls Holocaust ‘Heinous Crime’

April 27th 2014

Holocaust cattle cars

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has described the Holocaust as "the most heinous crime ... against humanity in the modern era." 

Abbas issued the written statement on the eve of Holocaust Remembrance Day, an annual Israeli observance in memory of the 6 million Jews killed by the Nazis during World War II.

It was an unusual comment for an Arab leader and appeared to be an about-face for Abbas. Israeli officials have accused him of playing down the scope of the Holocaust in a doctoral dissertation in the 1970s.

Abbas, who heads the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, appeared to be reaching out to the Israeli public following the collapse of nine months of peace talks last week. Israel suspended the negotiations after the Palestinian leader agreed to form a unity government with the Islamic group Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip. Read more ..


The Battle for Ukraine

Kerry Accuses Russia of Ignoring Geneva Agreement On Ukraine

April 26th 2014

John Kerry

The United States has accused Russia of orchestrating armed resistance in eastern Ukraine. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry Thursday warned Moscow of crippling economic sanctions if it fails to adhere to commitments it made earlier this month in Geneva. Russia has begun military exercises close to its border with Ukraine and says it is ready to step in to defend pro-Russian separatists.

Kerry said Thursday there is no doubt that Russia has sent armed men who have occupied government buildings in several eastern Ukrainian towns.

"The world knows that peaceful protesters don't come armed with grenade launchers and automatic weapons, the latest issue from the Russian arsenal, hiding the insignias on their brand new matching military uniforms and speaking in dialects that every local knows come from thousands of miles away. The world knows that the Russian intelligence operatives arrested in Ukraine didn't just take a wrong turn on the highway. In fact, we have seen soldiers wearing uniforms identical to the ones Russian soldiers wore in Crimea last month," said Kerry.  Read more ..


Palestinians After the Peace Process

Israeli Security Cabinet Unanimously Rejects Negotiations with Hamas

April 24th 2014

Bibi arguing

The Israeli security cabinet unanimously decided today that Israel would not negotiate with a Palestinian government backed by Hamas, the terrorist organization that calls for Israel's destruction. Considered a severe blow to peace talks, the ‘historic’ Hamas-Fatah unity pack was announced on Wednesday following a seven-year power struggle between the two factions.

After Hamas’s victory in the Gaza’s 2006 parliamentary elections, the Islamist group violently took over the Gaza Strip in 2007, throwing out many Fatah political and security officials while imprisoning others. Earlier this year, in January, Hamas Prime Minister, Ismail Haniyah, announced that the Hamas government would release Fatah political prisoners from Hamas prisons and allow Fatah leaders to return to Gaza during the reconciliation process. Read more ..


Ukraine on Edge

Russian Weapons Dealers Unimpressed by U.S. Threats

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 ..


Inside Politics

Is Paul Plausible in 2016

April 23rd 2014

Rand Paul

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

Ukrainian Turmoil Divides Region's Christians

April 22nd 2014

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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

Arrest of Arab-Israeli Activist Puts Focus on NGOs Adalah, NIF

April 21st 2014

A map

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 ..


Inside Politics

DNC Head: Midterms Not About Obama

April 20th 2014

Obama-Limo

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 ..


Broken Government

Soured Relations Between President Obama and Speaker Cantor

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

Jewish Community Becomes Unwilling Participant In Ukrainian Political Battle

April 18th 2014

Defaced Synagogue-Simferopol

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

In Eastern Ukraine Donetsk leaflet: Jews Must Register or Face Deportation--Reminiscent of Holocaust

April 17th 2014

Defaced Synagogue-Simferopol


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.

Read more ..

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 Siege 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

Click to select Image

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 ..



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