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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

India-Launch-Vehicle

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

Troops

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 ..


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

Click to select Image

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 ..



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