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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 The increased number of students in the public school system in Williston is crowding its now outdated facilities.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 ..

The Battle for Ukraine

Ukraine’s New President Seeks End to Violence in East

June 7th 2014

Ukraine protest

In his first address as Ukraine's new president, Petro Poroshenko declared that Crimea "is, was and will be Ukrainian."

The billionaire businessman took the oath of office in Kyiv Saturday, in front of parliament, world leaders and dignitaries including U.S. Vice President Joe Biden.

Poroshenko - Ukraine's fifth president since the 1991 breakup of the Soviet Union - said in his inaugural address that he will not accept Russia's annexation of Crimea. Moscow sent troops to the Black Sea peninsula earlier this year and took control of it in March.

The new Ukrainian leader also pledged to open a dialogue with countrymen in eastern regions where pro-Russian separatists have clashed with Ukrainian forces. He offered amnesty to fighters who lay down their arms and offered to negotiate an end to the violence. Read more ..

Obama's Second Term

Stunned by Public Response to Bergdahl Release, Obama is Caught Flat-Footed

June 5th 2014

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The White House has been caught off guard by the negative reaction to the deal that freed Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the last American prisoner of war in Afghanistan.

It has been particularly surprised by criticism of Bergdahl, who is accused of walking away from his unit shortly before being abducted by the Taliban. The surprise helps explain why the administration has struggled to respond to the criticism, which appears to have caught officials flat-footed. Political observers say the White House miscalculations were highlighted by the decision to have President Obama appear alongside Bergdahl’s parents in a Saturday night address at the Rose Garden address.

“They put too positive a spin on what is a very ambiguous set of circumstances,” Southern Methodist University professor Cal Jillson said. “A big part of the WH stew on this is typical photo op hubris,” said Boston University political strategist Tobe Berkovitz. “Instead of just bringing Bergdahl back, they had to do the full kissy-huggy announcement with mom and dad figuring this good news would push the VA mess off the front page.” Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

Syrian Election Results All But Certain

June 3rd 2014

Bashar Assad headshot

Thousands of Syrians queued at polling stations in government controlled areas on Tuesday to cast their ballots for the country's next president. Current President Bashar al-Asad will almost certainly win the election in a process seen as illegitimate by rebels and the international community alike.

Voting started at 7am across the county in areas currently held by the Syrian government. Damascus remained under a tight security presence for most of the day, with troops searching cars at checkpoints throughout the city.

While Assad technically faces two challengers in the election, the race was designed to show support for Asad, not provide a meaningful choice for Syrians. Both opponents are relatively unknowns who were approved by the Assad-controlled "parliament" to run. Additionally, polling was conducted in areas that have some of his most ardent supporters, such as Alawites and other minority Christian groups. Read more ..

Obama's Second Term

Obama Goes to Europe to Rally the Troops and U.S. Allies

June 2nd 2014

President Barack Obama embarks on a four-day trip to Europe on June 2. The junket to Poland, Belgium and France comes while Russia continues to make threatening moves on Ukraine. There is also deep uncertainty about Ukraine President-elect Petro Poroshenko's ability to stabilize his country. Obama will meet with Poroshenko in Poland.

Obama will confer with U.S. allies on June 4-5 in Brussels at a Group of Seven meeting that was quickly arranged after leaders decided to boycott a meeting Russia had been scheduled to host this week. On June 6, Obama will speak in Normandy at Omaha Beach for a ceremony marking the 70th anniversary of the allied D-Day invasion against Nazi forces in World War II. There he will be joined by British Prime Minister David Cameron, French President Francois Hollande, and Russian President Vladimir Putin. No private meetings between Obama and Putin have been announced. Read more ..

The Hamas-PLO Union

Hamas Wants 40,000 on US-Funded PA Budget

May 31st 2014

Gaza Militants

Differences between Fatah and Hamas may delay the formation of a Palestinian unity government and its announcement by PA President Mahmoud Abbas, Palestinian sources said Wednesday.

On Tuesday, Fatah and Hamas officials who met in the Gaza Strip said that Abbas was expected to announce the unity government, which would be headed by PA Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah, on Thursday. But the sources said that the two parties have still not agreed on three major issues concerning the implementation of the Fatah-Hamas reconciliation deal that was signed in the Gaza Strip last month.

The sources told the Palestinian Al-Quds newspaper that one of the obstacles hindering the formation of the unity government is related to the status of the Palestinian security forces. Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

Assad's Bombing Raids Kill 14 Per Day in Syria

May 30th 2014

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A Syrian activist group said government air raids have killed nearly 2,000 civilians this year in and around Aleppo, the country's largest city.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on May 30 that 567 children and 283 women were among those killed in the northern city, which is a stronghold for opposition fighters.

The figure, which relies on the Britain-based group's contacts with activists and others on the ground, amounts to 14 civilians killed each day between January 1 and May 29.

The Observatory's Rami Abd al-Rahman tells VOA the ongoing violence makes it impossible to hold free and fair presidential elections on June 3, as planned. Read more ..

Broken Bookselling

Amazon Pushes Back Against Widespread Charges of Extortion --Warns of Protracted Battle with Hachette

May 28th 2014

Amazon box

Amazon pushed back--and hard against widespread accusations of extortion and bullying with an unusual public statement. It read

We are currently buying less (print) inventory and "safety stock" on titles from the publisher, Hachette, than we ordinarily do, and are no longer taking pre-orders on titles whose publication dates are in the future. Instead, customers can order new titles when their publication date arrives. For titles with no stock on hand, customers can still place an order at which time we order the inventory from Hachette -- availability on those titles is dependent on how long it takes Hachette to fill the orders we place. Once the inventory arrives, we ship it to the customer promptly. These changes are related to the contract and terms between Hachette and Amazon. At Amazon, we do business with more than 70,000 suppliers, including thousands of publishers. One of our important suppliers is Hachette, which is part of a $10 billion media conglomerate. Unfortunately, despite much work from both sides, we have been unable to reach mutually-acceptable agreement on terms. Hachette has operated in good faith and we admire the company and its executives. Nevertheless, the two companies have so far failed to find a solution. Even more unfortunate, though we remain hopeful and are working hard to come to a resolution as soon as possible, we are not optimistic that this will be resolved soon. Read more ..

Vote 2016

Republican Praise of the Clinton Era Gives Wings to Hillary's Campaign

May 27th 2014

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Republican praise of the Clinton era over the last several years could reverberate in the 2016 presidential race, giving the Democratic front-runner a key talking point.

One of Hillary Clinton's biggest challengers in her likely White House bid is convincing voters that she can make Washington work. Critics have long called Clinton a polarizing figure, citing her effort to revamp the nation's healthcare system in the 1990s and more recently, her congressional testimony on the 2012 attack in Benghazi, Libya.

But Clinton can counter those salvoes by citing Republican compliments of her and a slew of GOP statements on how former President Clinton worked with the other side of the aisle to pass sweeping legislation. Read more ..

Egypt on Edge

Egypt Goes to the Polls while Tight Security Reigns in Two-Day Election

May 26th 2014

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Abdel Fattah el-Sissi

Helicopters hovered over parts of the Egyptian capital, Cairo, early Monday as voting in the two-day presidential election began. Security was tight in many neighborhoods. Police blocked off streets and parts of city blocks to protect voters at polling stations.

More than 400,000 Egyptian police and army soldiers were deployed Monday for the election, and more than 14,000 judges are overseeing the vote at polling stations across the country. Several hundred European Union and African Union observers are also monitoring the vote.

Sky News Arabia reported that young men from the now banned Muslim Brotherhood group were arrested in Manoufiya province, north of Cairo, after they resorted to violence to disrupt the election. Police denied initial reports that Muslim Brotherhood supporters threw a home-made bomb in front of a church in the town of Bani Sueif, south of Cairo. Read more ..

The Pope in Israel

Pope Visits Western Wall and Hears of Jewish Exile and Return

May 26th 2014

Pope Francis at Kotel May 25 2014

After a visit at the Dome of the Rock and after descending from the Temple Mount Pope Francis visited the Western Wall (Kottel) today (May 26), where he prayed and placed a note among the Kottel’s stones. Before approaching the Holy site the Pope received a briefing on the history of the Temple Mount by a guide using a three dimensional map. The Pope heard of the two Jewish Temples, their destruction, and the evolving architecture of the Temple Mount. Pope Francis was then addressed by Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, Rabbi of the Kottel and the Holy Sites, and heard him speak proudly of the Jews’ history, of their exile and redemption.

"The Jerusalem you have arrived at, honored Pope, is not only the physical Jerusalem. It is also the Jerusalem of dreams; the dream of millions of Jews throughout two thousand long years of exile. Jerusalem is a dream that has been realized; we are still walking in it as dreamers, expecting the full realization of the dream," said Rabbi Rabinowitz.

Relating to the destruction of the Second Temple, Rabbi Rabinowitz spoke of Titus’s Arch in Rome, which depicts the exile of the Jews. "It is true, Titus succeeded in taking the Menorah (candelabrum) and the tools of the Temple; but the light of faith, and the hope to return to the land of our fathers, he was not successful in extinguishing," he remarked. "We have traveled a long road on the way home; we have journeyed from the four corners of the land." Read more ..

Obama's Second Term

Obama Makes a Surprise Visit to Afghanistan

May 25th 2014

Obama Air Force 1

President Obama landed at Bagram Airfield Base in Afghanistan on Sunday after making a secret trip to the country the night before.

Obama is expected to rally U.S. troops in the country on Memorial Day weekend for only a few hours. He is not expected to meet with President Hamid Karzai while in Afghanistan.

His surprise trip comes as the president and the Department of Veterans Affairs face criticism of long wait times and mismanagement in the VA that could have led to deaths at some clinics in the United States.

Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes said the White House wanted to make the trip about the troops and not Afghanistan politics. Rhodes said the VA scandal was not a “factor into the planning for the trip.”

On the trip, he will receive a briefing from top commanders in Afghanistan and visit wounded military personnel at a base hospital. The trip marks Obama's fourth to the country and the first in his second term. More than 32,000 U.S. troops remain in the country and most are expected to return home later this year. Read more ..

Belgium on Edge

Terror Strikes Jewish Museum in Belgium

May 24th 2014

Three people died as the result of wounds received at a Jewish museum in the heart of Brussels on May 24 when gunmen opened fire after descending from a car parked nearby. Witnesses said that two people got out of the car and then a gunman opened fire and shot people indiscriminately before escaping. A fourth person remains in critical condition at a local hospital. Twelve other persons were reportedly being treated for shock.

Security at Israel's embassy and at synagogues and other Jewish facilities was increased in the Belgian capital. Belgium heightened its overall terror alert level since the attack came on the eve of national, regional, and European parliamentary elections.

Belgian interior minister Joëlle Milquet, while surveying the scene of the carnage, said that he would not yet label the attack as anti-Semitic. Howwever, he suggested that "there are strong grounds for presuming so." Read more ..

The Darkest Edge

Report: Son of Hollywood Director is Calif. Shooter

May 24th 2014

Emergency Medical

An attorney for Hollywood director Peter Rodgers, who was an assistant director on "The Hunger Games," says the Rodgers family believes their son is responsible for a shooting spree near the campus of University of California at Santa Barbara that left seven dead, including the shooter, and at least seven others wounded.

Police in the wealthy oceanfront city are calling Friday's incident a premeditated mass murder. Witnesses say a young man drove through an entertainment district near the university firing shots.

The shooter engaged in two gun battles with sheriff's deputies before crashing his car into a parked vehicle. Deputies found him dead with a gunshot wound to the head. According to Reuters, Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown "could not immediately say whether the suspected gunman was killed by deputies in the exchange of fire or died of a self-inflicted wound." Read more ..

Libya on Edge

Libya Responds to Raid On Parliament

May 23rd 2014

Libyan freedom fighter

Militiamen attacked Libya's parliament building over the weekend, killing two people and wounding over 60. Libya's army chief responded by calling for rival Islamists of the Libyan Shield militia to take up arms on Monday, as the worst violence in recent years seemed likely to escalate.

According to Western media, militia members from Zintan, southwest of Tripoli, used rocket propelled grenades and truck mounted anti-aircraft guns to gain access to government buildings. Acting under retired General Khalifa Heftar, the fighters announced that they suspended the General National Congress (GNC) and would assign a new emergency cabinet. A spokesman for the general said, on local TV, that Libya could no longer be "a breeding ground or an incubator for terrorism," referring to a recent increase in the influence of Islamists in government. Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

Muslim Terrorists Destroy Precious Assyrian Antiquities

May 22nd 2014

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According to a report from the website www.apsa2011.com, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) has destroyed Assyrian statues and artifacts believed to be 3000 years old.

The Assyrian archaeological artifacts were illegally excavated from the Tell Ajaja site, which is renowned for its ancient Mesopotamian antiquities. Photographs showed men destroying the statues with sledgehammers while others watch. Islam abhores any art form that is deemed an idol. At least one of the statues may been at least 3000 years old. Read more ..

Broken Government

Democrats Break with Obama to Demand Resignation of Veteran Affairs Chief

May 22nd 2014

Sgt. Jason Pacheco, USMC, demonstrates his prosthetic leg gun mount

Two House Democrats broke ranks with the White House on Wednesday and called for Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki to resign.

Georgia’s John Barrow and David Scott are the first Democrats to call for Shinseki’s head, and their statements illustrated growing unease over the administration’s response to allegations that dozens of veterans have died because of secret waiting lists that delayed their treatment.

Barrow and Scott spoke up after President Obama defended Shinseki in his first public statement in weeks on the controversy. Obama vowed to punish any misconduct related to the scandal.

“If these allegations prove to be true, it is dishonorable, it is disgraceful, and I will not tolerate it,” Obama said in remarks from the White House. Read more ..

Significant Lives

India's New Muscle Man, Narendra Modi

May 21st 2014


As India prepares to swear in its new prime minister on May 26, the rest of the world is waiting to see what the hard-line Narendra Modi meant when he vowed to take a more "muscular" foreign policy tack and to make the world's second-most-populous country a force befitting its size.

The polarizing Hindu nationalist's election has raised eyebrows in the region and across the ocean, and could have far-reaching implications.

Fears In Pakistan
India's new prime minister will dangle carrots in front of nuclear-armed rival Pakistan -- but will also wield a heavy stick.

Modi, who heads the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), has pledged to continue India's policy of "outreach" toward Pakistan. In a positive sign, Modi has invited his Pakistani counterpart, Nawaz Sharif, to his inauguration and Islamabad, in kind, has said it is ready to host Modi should he decide to visit Pakistan. Read more ..

The US and China

China Warns of More Repercussions Over US Cyber Indictments

May 20th 2014

Chinese hackers

China has lodged a protest with the U.S. Ambassador in Beijing in response to accusations that five Chinese military officers engaged in cyber theft and espionage targeting American companies and labor groups. China also says it could take further steps in response to the indictments.

China’s Foreign Ministry says Beijing lodged the protest late Monday night to U.S. Ambassador Max Baucus, shortly after the indictments were announced. China has flatly denied the accusations and called on the United States to revoke the indictment.

Beijing says it is Washington that owes the world an explanation about its own behavior in cyberspace.  Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei says that “instead of giving an explanation, the U.S. is blurring right and wrong.” He says, “China is demanding that the U.S. give a clear explanation and stop such activities.”

In the past, the U.S. has accused China of hacking computers to steal everything from military technology to commercial secrets. But the indictments are the first attempt to hold individuals accountable for the crimes. When pressed about whether China engages in cyber hacking on Tuesday, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei flatly denied the country has ever been involved in the use of cyber-theft of trade secrets. He also denied China has ever used hacking against its own people. Read more ..

The Water Supply on Edge

Water Crisis Looms In Iran

May 19th 2014

Senegal carrying water

Negin (not her real name) is doing her part to avert a major water shortage in Tehran this summer. 

The 35-year-old mother of two is taking official calls to be economical when it comes to water use -- and warnings that supplies in the Iranian capital could be restricted if the calls are not heeded -- very seriously.

"If I have dirty water from washing the clothes, I use it to wash the floors," she says. "I've also taught my children to be mindful of their water usage when they brush their teeth."

Negin does what she can to conserve water, but she wonders if it is a futile exercise. "Most people waste water," she says of her fellow Tehran residents. "Just the other day I saw a man washing the sidewalk in front of his house and letting water run from the hose."

Warnings about water shortages are nothing new to Iranians, whose country is located in an arid and semi-arid region with little rainfall and frequent droughts. This year, however, officials have said the problem is particularly dire, warning that water shortages could affect up to half of the country's population of 75 million. Read more ..

Libya on Edge

Rogue General's Forces Attack Libyan Parliament

May 18th 2014

Libya Rebel

Armed men attacked the building where Libya's parliament was meeting Sunday.

The operation was carried out by two militia units loyal to a retired general. As they stormed the building, they ransacking lawmakers' offices and fired automatic weapons into the air.  Shelling could also be heard in the vicinity of the building, as clouds of black smoke poured into the air.

Libyan state TV reported the armed units kidnapped Speaker Nouri Bousahmein and seven other lawmakers.  Al Jazeera TV and the local Libyan al Mada network reported that Bousahmein denied he had been kidnapped.

Earlier, at a news conference, Bousahmein had called the attack by men loyal to former Army Chief of Staff Khalifa Haftar “a coup” against Libya's “legitimate government,” and called on opposing militias, belonging to mostly Islamist groups, to “counter the attacks.”  He said General Haftar and his supporters should be arrested. Read more ..

The Battle for Ukraine

US, Britain: Tough Sanctions Against Russia if Ukraine Vote Is Disrupted

May 15th 2014

Ukraine protest

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and British Foreign Secretary William Hague say the United States and European Union will hit Russia with far tougher economic sanctions if it tries to disrupt next week's presidential election in Ukraine. Kerry and Hague discussed the crisis in Ukraine Thursday in London with foreign ministers from France, Italy, and Germany.

Foreign Secretary Hague says the European Union and United States are preparing broader, sectoral sanctions against Russia if it interferes with May 25 voting to choose a new government in Kyiv. "Russia's behavior towards the elections will determine whether or not wider economic and trade sanctions will be applied," he said. Read more ..

The Philippines and China

Philippines Accuses China of Developing Land on Disputed Reef

May 14th 2014

coral reef and fish

The Philippines says China is developing land on a disputed reef in the hotly contested Spratly Islands of the South China Sea.

A spokesman for the Department of National Defense confirmed that early this year, military surveillance found China involved in “earth-moving activities in the area” of Johnson South Reef.  The reef, called Chigua by China and Mabini by the Philippines, is more than 300 kilometers west of Palawan province in the Philippines.

The Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs said it lodged a protest with China early last month over its “reclamation” of Johnson South Reef.  In a statement the ministry said China rejected the protest and President Benigno Aquino raised the issue at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit in Burma over the weekend. Following the summit, officials this week released news of the building activities. Read more ..

Broken Government

Representative Michael Grimm Faces Multiple Criminal Charges

May 13th 2014

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U.S. Congressman Michael Grimm, a former FBI agent who once investigated corruption cases, now faces a number of federal criminal charges. A 20-count indictment says Grimm hid more than $1 million in receipts from his Manhattan restaurant, called “Healthalicious,” from 2007 to 2010. He left the business upon election to Congress.

The government’s case against Grimm, now in his second congressional term, charges him with “obstructing and impeding IRS (Internal Revenue Service) functions, conspiracy to defraud the United States.”

The charges include “false tax returns to be filed, mail fraud, wire fraud, health care fraud, perjury, obstruction of an official proceeding, and the hiring of undocumented workers,” according to U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch. Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

Nigeria Accepts Israeli Anti-Terror Squad Offer to Rescue Kidnapped Girls

May 12th 2014


Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan has accepted Israel’s offer to assist with the tracking down of the 200 kidnapped Nigerian girls, and a team of Israeli counter-terror specialists will assist the Nigerian forces in rescuing the girls.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is on a visit to Japan, spoke earlier yesterday (May11) with Nigerian President Jonathan and told him that Israel expresses deep shock over the crime that has been committed against the girls. The Prime Minister added that Israel is ready to assist in locating the girls and in fighting the brutal terrorism that is taking place in Nigeria. In an official statement by the Nigerian President office read: “President Jonathan has accepted Mr. Netanyahu’s offer to said a team of Israeli counter-terrorist specialists to assist in the ungoing search and rescue efforts.” Read more ..

The Battle for Ukraine

United States Will Not Recognize Eastern Ukraine's Secession Referendum

May 11th 2014

Eastern Ukrainians began voting early Sunday in a referendum on secession - with most voters saying they were voting for a break because of the military campaign by Kyiv against Pro-Russian separatists. Other voters cited an expectation for a better life if their region is annexed by Russia.

Voting was brisk this morning at polling stations in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions abutting Russia.

The interim government in Kyiv has denounced the referendum as illegal and a sham. Only one question is on the ballot: Should the regions form independent republics? Most residents against secession say they won't cast a vote. Read more ..

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 ..


General tells Benghazi Lawmakers No One asked Military to save Americans

May 2nd 2014


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.


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 ..

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