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Ukraine's Crisis

Ukrainian-American Rabbi Denounces Anti-Semitic 'Provocations' Staged by Russia

March 5th 2014

One of the chief religious leaders of Ukraine, Rabbi Yaakov Dov Bleich, accused Russia of deliberately staging anti-Semitic “provocations” in Crimea in order to justify its invasion of the former Soviet republic that since 1954 had been part of Ukraine. At a March 4 press conference in the U.S. office of the United Jewish Communities of Eastern Europe, Rabbi Bleich compared Russia’s behavior to that of the Nazis prior to the Anschluss invasion of Austria in 1938. “Things may be done by Russians dressing up as Ukrainian nationalists,” he said, adding that it’s “the same way the Nazis did when they wanted to go into Austria and created provocations.”

Rabbi Bleich, a vice president of the World Jewish Congress, also announced the creation of an aid effort, KievRelief.org, to fund security for synagogues and mosques and to provide humanitarian relief for all Ukrainians. Read more ..


The 2016 Campaign

Iowa GOP Appears to Favor Insiders for 2016 Caucuses

March 4th 2014

Conservative critics say Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad (R) wants to make it tougher for Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and other Tea Party favorites to win the 2016 Iowa caucuses. They believe Branstad wants to get rid of the Iowa Straw Poll, which has helped boost anti-establishment presidential candidates, including former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.).

Conservative activists say members of Branstad’s campaign operation have tried to manipulate the rules for the upcoming Polk County GOP convention to ensure the selection of a large bloc of loyal delegates. Polk County is Iowa’s most populous county and has significant influence over the future leadership of the state party.

Branstad’s campaign initially tried to stack the process with a slate of 99 delegates, which included the governor’s family members, donors and current and former staff, according to Republicans involved in the fight over the rules. The delegates selected at the county convention will go on to serve at the district conventions later this year, which will then select the makeup of the state central committee. Read more ..


Ukraine's Crisis

Putin Threatens Invasion while Obama Warns Russia of 'Isolation'

March 4th 2014

The United States will take a series of steps to isolate Russia economically and diplomatically if it does not end its intervention in Ukraine, President Obama warned Monday.

In rhetoric that underscored how quickly the crisis in Ukraine has escalated, Obama said the U.S. would look to hurt Russia’s economy if its leaders continued “on the current trajectory they’re on.”

He said the administration was “examining a whole series of steps — economic, diplomatic — that will isolate Russia and will have a negative impact on Russia’s economy and status in the world.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin responded on Tuesday morning, blaming a coup in Ukraine for causing instability and fear among Russian-speaking citizens in eastern Ukraine. Read more ..


Ukraine's Crisis

G7 Suspends Planning for Moscow Summit while Obama's Options Narrow

March 3rd 2014

Click to select Image

The Group of Seven (G7) leading industrialized countries say they are suspending participation in the planning for an international summit in Moscow this summer.

The decision comes as tensions are increasing in Crimea after Russia's parliament on March 1 approved the deployment of troops to Ukraine and Kyiv a day later ordered the mobilization of reservists.

The White House issued a joint statement on March 2 on behalf of the G7 leaders, the president of the European Council, and the president of the European Commission. In the statement, the leaders condemned Russia’s "clear violation of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine," adding that Moscow's actions violate the "principles and values" on which the G7 and G8 operate.

The G7 includes Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, and the United States. The countries also participate in the G8, which includes Russia. The country's Black Sea port of Sochi is scheduled to host the G8 summit in June. Read more ..


Obama's Second Term

Republican Lawmaker Says Putin 'Runs Circles Around' Obama

March 2nd 2014

Russian President Vladimir Putin “is running circles around” the U.S. in his maneuvering on the global stage, a senior House Republican said Sunday following Putin’s military intervention in Ukraine.

“I think Putin is playing chess, and I think we’re playing marbles. It’s not even close,” the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), said on “Fox News Sunday.”
Rogers said Putin’s move to send Russian troops into Crimea following the ouster of Ukraine’s president “is not an isolated incident.”

“They are expanding their border,” he said. Crimea was part of Russia through 1954, and Rogers noted a proposal in the Russian parliament that would allow Crimea to become part of the Russian Federation.

In proceeding with the military intervention, Putin ignored a warning from President Obama to stay out of Ukraine. Read more ..


Ukraine on Edge

Ukraine Goes on the War-Path Following Russian Invasion of Crimea

March 2nd 2014

Russian M17 Helos
Russian troops in Ukrainian Crimea

Ukrainian interim Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk says "we are on the brink of disaster" and has urged Russian President Vladimir Putin to pull back his military from the country. Speaking to foreign reporters in Kyiv on March 2, he said: "This is the red alert. This is not a threat -- this is an actual declaration of war to my country. We urge [Russian] President [Vladimir] Putin to pull back his military and to stick to its international obligations as well as bilateral and multilateral agreements that have been signed between Ukraine and Russia." He added, "There are no grounds for this aggression," in reference to the Russian military initiative.

His remarks come a day after Russia's parliament approved the deployment of troops to Ukraine and Kyiv on March 2 ordered the mobilization of reservists. Russian troops were seen arond the perimeter of Russian military installations in the Crimea, which had been allowed under a previous arrangement with Ukraine. The invading Russian forces did not bear any insignia on their uniforms, even while their vehicles had Russian military license plates. When confronted with Russian forces, which demanded disarming, most Ukrainian units in Crimea refused. No deaths among Ukrainian forces have been reported. Read more ..


Russia and the Ukraine

Russia Moves to Send Troops into Crimea

March 1st 2014

Russian Tanks Invade Georgia

With the new government in Kyiv weak and in disarray, Russia makes an aggressive move into Crimea.

Russian President Vladimir Putin prepared Saturday to officially send troops to Ukraine's Crimea, after the upper house of Parliament voted to approve the move.

Emboldened by Russia's show of force, armed men Saturday seized government buildings in Eastern Ukraine's two largest cities - Kharkiv and Donetsk. Soon, Russian flags flapped from the rooftops.

Putin's decision to send troops to Ukraine came after an appeal by Crimea's new pro-Russian leader for soldiers to patrol the predominantly Russian-speaking peninsula. Sergei Aksenov, the new prime minister of Ukraine's Autonomous Republic of Crimea, leads the Russia Unity Party, which won no seats in Ukraine's 2012 parliamentary elections. Read more ..


The 2014 Election

Obama Readies 2014 Pitch

February 28th 2014

Obama with baseball bat

Obama will argue that the 2014 midterm elections represent a clear choice between "opportunity for all" versus "opportunity for few" in his speech to the Democratic National Committee's winter meeting Friday afternoon.

The remarks to Democratic officials and lawmakers are designed to set the terms for the upcoming midterms, the White House said, with a particular focus on the president's economic agenda.

Obama will argue his recent efforts on raising the minimum wage and making college more affordable will illustrate that Democrats are more interested in addressing everyday issues for middle class Americas. He'll also slam Republicans as intransigent and argue that GOP lawmakers look for ways to benefit the wealthiest Americans.

"The Republican Party can keep telling the country what they’re against – whether it’s the Affordable Care Act, or the minimum wage, or equal pay laws, or commonsense immigration reform, or the very existence of climate change," Obama will say, according to excerpts of his speech. Read more ..


Financing the Flames

Polish MEP to Question Ashton on EU Taxpayers Money 'Helping Fund Palestinian Terrorists

February 27th 2014

Edwin Black

Michal Kaminski, a member of the European Conservatives and Reformists group (ERCR), said he was ‘’shocked’’ by revelations made by American investigative author Edmin Black in his latest book Financing the Flames about how the money that’s going into the Palestinian Authority (PA) from the US and Europe is funding a specific terrorism program administered by the Palestinian Authority’ Ministry of Prisoners, pursuant to a law called the ‘law of the prisoner’, which creates monthly salaries for convicted terrorists which escalate by the number of people that are killed.

‘’If a terrorist in Israel commits an act of terrporism, if he blows up a bus or stabs a man at a tourist junction, he goes on immediate official Palestinian Authority salary. These salaries make up 6 percent of the entire PA budget,’’ said Edmin Black, who presented his book to members of the EU parliament this week in Brussels, told European Jewish Press.

‘’This is open, it’s not denied and they are getting hundreds of millions of dollars from the EU and from the United States tax payer. I am urgng the EU to immediately stop all payments to the PA until they rescind this program,’’ he added.

‘’My book is about the robust use of tax-exempt, charitable and public monies to promote a culture of confrontation and even terrorism in Israel. The public which wants its tax monies used to promote peace and reconciliation is doing the exact opposite, they are paying for specific acts of terrorisml and they are paying for organizations to promote hate,’’ said Black who cited in particular tax-exempt organizationsq like the New Israel Fund, the Ford Foundation and the George Soros Open Socitey Foundation

 ‘’I will write a parliamentary question to Madame Ashton to ask about the reaction of the European Union about the facts that were exposed in this book. Because the facts are really shocking,’’ said MEP Michal Kaminski. ‘’Unfortunately there are many people in the European Parliament who don’t see the truth. The truth is that Europe’s only reliable ally in the Middle East is Israel,’’ he added. Read more ..


The Edge of Ecology

Google Technology Powers Online Effort to Catch World's Forest Killers

February 26th 2014

Congo Forest

A powerful new online forest monitoring system is the latest tool in the fight against deforestation.

The world's tree cover is disappearing at an alarming rate - 2.5 million square kilometers since 2000, the equivalent of 50 football [soccer] fields every minute of every day - because of fire, illegal logging and land gobbled up by farms, mining and oil operations. By the time these activities are discovered, it is often too late to do anything about them, much less determine who is at fault.

Enter Global Forest Watch, created by the World Resources Institute and 40 partner groups. WRI president Andrew Steer says it's a game changer. “It is possible to bring for the first time ever really, real-time data at a very local level to everybody in the world," he said. "And that is what Global Forest Watch is all about.” Read more ..


Ukraine on Edge

Ukraine on the Brink: A Fragile Calm

February 25th 2014

Ukraine protest

Despite the news from Kiev at the time of writing - that the Ukrainian Parliament has dismissed embattled President Yanukovych and secured the release of opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko - Ukraine’s woes are far from over.

Protests in Ukraine have been increasing in scope and violence since President Yanukovych, under significant financial pressure from Russia, refused to sign a trade agreement with the European Union. According to polls conducted last December, 43% of Ukrainians approve of closer links with the EU. Thus, bowing to Russian pressure was seen as a betrayal by many, and further evidence that the president favors the Kremlin over the western provinces of his own country. Read more ..


The Edge of the Universe

Hubble Discovers Object Perhaps Oldest Ever Seen

February 24th 2014

Andromeda galaxy

The Hubble Telescope’s famous "Deep Field" photo showed that seemingly empty patches of space are actually chock full of far-away stuff. The original 1996 picture revealed thousands of galaxies in the apparently blank spot of sky. Now Hubble has done it again with a new set of what are called "Frontier Fields" images that look farther in the universe than any previous pictures. These images reveal a treasure trove of previously unseen galaxies, including one that may be among the most distant objects ever seen. The candidate galaxy, called Abell2744 Y1, appears to lie more than 13 billion light-years away, meaning its light has taken 13 billion years to reach us. This object appears to have formed when the universe was only about 650 million years old. Such primordial galaxies may be different from the types that tend to form now. Read more ..

Obama's Second Term

Retailers Band Together to Fight Health Reform Law

February 23rd 2014

Obamacare

When the Affordable Care Act required that “large employers” offer health care coverage to workers, businesses reliant on part-time, temporary and seasonal workers in the staffing, construction, retail and service industries sought a way to loosen those obligations.

Enter the “Employers for Flexibility in Health Care Coalition,” a working group with a name that suggests it brings solutions to the complicated health care law. E-Flex, as it is often called, says on its web page that it is “working to help ensure that employer-sponsored coverage — the backbone of the U.S. health care system — remains a competitive and affordable option for employers and for employees.” E-Flex’s name regularly appears in testimony and letters to Congress and in comments filed with federal regulators. But the coalition has no office space or business registration in Washington, D.C. Read more ..


Obama's Second Term

Obama Calls for Minimum Wage Hike

February 22nd 2014

Minimum wage protest

President Obama on Saturday called on Congress to approve a raise in the federal minimum wage. In his weekly address, Obama noted that while the economy continues to recover from the last recession, wages have barely ticked upwards over the past four years.

“Because even though our economy is growing, and our businesses have created about eight and a half million new jobs over the past four years, average wages have barely budged,” Obama said.
Raising the minimum wage was a major component of Obama’s State of the Union address last month. Right now, it stands at $7.25 per hour. The president and Democrats have proposed raising it to $10.10.

On the campaign trail this year, Democrats are expected to play up the issue, which is a priority for their allies in labor. Business groups have lobbied against raising the minimum wage, arguing it would raise prices and cost jobs — sentiments echoed by several Republican lawmakers. Read more ..


Broken Government

Republican Ideology and Interests Converge in Minimum Wage Debate

February 21st 2014

Click to select Image

House Speaker John Boehner is so against raising the minimum wage that he once said he would rather commit suicide than vote for a “clean” increase.

The Ohio Republican and son of a barkeep has repeatedly opposed federally mandated hike increases, which have been a constant in the Democrats’ election-year playbook.

Boehner has “always believed that it's a job killer,” former Ohio Rep. Steve LaTourette, a labor-friendly Republican who is close to Boehner, told The Hill. He pointed to the Congressional Budget Office’s recent report that found that increasing the minimum wage could cost the economy 500,000 jobs. Some Democrats are optimistic Boehner will cave and allow a vote this year, but the record shows there is little if any daylight between the pro-business Speaker and his conservative conference on this issue. Read more ..


Ukraine on Edge

A Tentative Truce Reached in Ukraine Following EU Diplomatic Talks

February 21st 2014

A senior European Union diplomat said Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych and opposition representatives are expected to sign an agreement on February 21 aimed at ending months of bloody political unrest. According to VOA News, the diplomat said the pact would provide for some constitutional reforms. Yanukovych announced the preliminary agreement today on his website but the opposition has yet to comment.

Live video feeds on February 21 from Kiev's Maidan Square, which protesters have occupied for weeks and where clashes with security forces have harvested perhaps dozens of deaths and hundreds of wounded, showed relative calm after several days and nights of violence. Orthodox and Catholic clergy led services at around noon local time in which they and the thousands of participants chanted and asked for God's forgiveness for the violence. Several priests asked for divine blessings on Ukraine, which has been caught in a struggle that has pitted distinct regions of the country against each other. Read more ..


Obama's Second Term

Obama Drops Social Security Cut

February 20th 2014

Obama game face

Yielding to pressure from congressional Democrats, President Obama is abandoning a proposed cut to Social Security benefits in his election-year budget.

The president’s budget request for fiscal 2015, which is due out March 4, will not call for a switch to a new formula that would limit cost-of-living increases in the entitlement program, the White House said Thursday.

"This year the administration is returning to a more traditional budget presentation that is focused on achieving the president’s vision for the best path to create growth and opportunity for all Americans, and the investments needed to meet that vision," a White House official said. Obama last year proposed the new formula for calculating benefits as an overture to Republicans toward a "grand bargain" on the debt. Read more ..


Obama's Second Term

Immigration Reform Advocates Urge Obama to Stop Deportations

February 19th 2014

Immigration Protest

Immigrant rights advocates are urging President Barack Obama to use his executive authority to stop the deportations of illegal immigrants. Some arrests were made Monday when dozens of advocates rallied in Washington.

Religious and civil rights activists chanted and prayed alongside illegal immigrants near the White House as they urged the president to stop the deportations, which they say are tearing families apart.

Methodist Bishop Julius Trimble said he wants comprehensive, humane immigration reform that provides a pathway to citizenship.

"A majority of people who are detained and deported have no criminal record or have done no crime," he said. "They are just here because they don't have documentation and we don't have a pathway for dealing with those persons who are our neighbors or parts of our churches and who have businesses in our communities." Read more ..


The Constitutional Edge

Tunisia's New Constitution is Model for Arab World

February 18th 2014

New Tunisian Assembly

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry says Tunisia's new constitution is a model for political reform in the Arab world. Kerry made an unannounced visit as part of a trip to Asia, the Middle East, and Europe.

Secretary Kerry said he was in Tunisia to show Washington's support for this young democracy.

"The Tunisian people have ratified a new constitution, a constitution that is rooted in democratic principles - equality, freedom, security, economic opportunity, and the rule of law. And it is a constitution that can serve as a model for others in the region and around the world," he said. As the birthplace of the so-called Arab Spring uprisings, Tunisia remained a powerful symbol, said Oxford University researcher Monica Marks in an interview on Skype. Read more ..


The Edge of Healthcare

West Nile Virus Costs US $780 Million

February 17th 2014

mosquito bites knuckle

It’s been 14 years since West Nile Virus disease arrived in the United States. A new study says the disease has cost about 780-million dollars in health care costs and lost productivity.

Before 1999, West Nile Virus had not been detected outside the Eastern Hemisphere. That changed following reports in the U.S. of serious infections and deaths.

Dr. Erin Staples is a medical epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – and the lead author of the study, which appears in the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene. She said the virus is carried by infected mosquitoes.

“Once people get bitten and infected by the virus a fair proportion will actually not develop any symptoms. But a proportion will go on to develop either a febrile illness with muscle aches and feeling generally unwell. And in a small proportion of people that get infected – they’ll go on to develop kind of a more severe presentation or clinical manifestations, which include what we call neuro-invasive disease. That means infections of the nervous system,” she said. These include encephalitis, meningitis and acute flaccid paralysis, where part or all of the body is paralyzed. Read more ..


The battle for Syria

Washington Week: US Renewing Focus on Syria

February 16th 2014

Syrian Jihadis

U.S. President Barack Obama is sharpening Washington’s focus on Syria after the breakdown of U.N.-mediated talks aimed at ending the country’s bloody civil war.

Diplomatic roadblocks are forcing the United States to reassess its approach to Syria. Obama honed in on some of the burning issues.

“There are going to be some immediate steps we have to take to help the humanitarian situation there. There will be some immediate steps we can take to apply more pressure to the Assad regime, and we are going to be taking a look with all the parties concerned to try to move forward on a diplomatic solution,” said Obama.

The U.S. president spoke after U.N. mediator Lakhdar Brahimi said days of negotiations between the Syrian government and a rebel coalition deadlocked over a transitional authority to rule Syria in a post-Assad era. “I think it is better that every side goes back and reflects and takes responsibility.  Do they want this [peace] process to take place or not?” - asked Brahimi. Read more ..


Obama's Second Term

Resurgent Holder Pushes Agenda

February 15th 2014

Eric holder

Conservatives hoping to celebrate the departure of Attorney General Eric Holder might be in for a long wait.

The attorney general’s position has looked perilous at various points during his tenure. But these days, he seems resurgent, pushing states to strike down voting restrictions on ex-felons and fighting hard to restore some of the key powers of the Voting Rights Act.

It has been an uphill climb. In 2012, Holder became the first attorney general to be held in contempt by the House of Representatives while, the year before, he had to retreat from his earlier insistence that suspects in the September 11, 2001 attacks should be tried in criminal court in New York.

Holder has been a consistent conservative target throughout his time in office, with issues from the Fast and Furious scandal to his stance on the Voting Rights Act raising the ire of the right. Rep. Paul Gosar (R-N.H.) has sponsored a resolution in the House with 140 co-sponsors calling for Holder’s immediate resignation.

Critics of Holder were buoyed by a report in the current edition of The New Yorker that suggested Holder was planning to step down this year. But Justice has pushed back against that characterization, arguing that, when the interview was conducted late last year, Holder was simply saying he had a lot more work to do, not setting a date for his departure.

“The most the attorney general has said is that he still has a lot he wants to accomplish on issues like criminal justice reform, voting rights and LGBT equality. He did not speak about his plans any further than that,” said Justice spokesman Brian Fallon. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

Syria Peace Talks Reach an Impasse

February 14th 2014

Dead Syrians

Five days of peace talks aimed at ending Syria's civil war ended in a bitter impasse on Friday with Syrian government and opposition negotiators trading accusations over who was to blame for the stalemate at the UN-mediated talks in Geneva.

U.N. mediator Lakhdar Brahimi met separately with the Syrian government and opposition delegations Friday.  When the meetings ended, the two parties held separate news conferences to vent frustrations with each other's negotiating positions.

The one issue that both delegations were able to agree upon was that the other party was responsible for the deadlock in the three-week old peace process. "We have reached a point which we cannot overcome without the presence of another team [Syrian government delegation] who is willing to deal with a peaceful solution,"  Syrian opposition spokesman Louay Safi told reporters, adding that the five days of negotiations had come to a "dead end'' because of the government delegation's "belligerence.'' Read more ..


The Digital Edge

Comcast to Buy Time Warner in $45.2B Deal, Setting Up Antitrust Fight

February 13th 2014

Television Array

Comcast is buying Time Warner Cable in a $45.2 billion deal that would combine the nation’s biggest cable companies, setting up a lengthy and contentious antitrust review in Washington.

The two companies said the deal would benefit consumers and increase competition, but critics immediately warned it would set up Comcast— which also owns NBC Universal — as too dominant a force in communications.

The deal would bring Comcast’s total number of subscribers to 30 million, with the company gaining 8 million subscribers from Time Warner. But as a part of the deal, Comcast also agreed to sell off systems that serve 3 million subscribers.
Top antitrust lawmakers vowed to examine the acquisition closely.

In a statement, Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Mike Lee (R-Utah) — chairwoman and ranking member of the Senate Commerce's Subcommittee on Antitrust — said they will hold a hearing on the proposed merger. “This proposed merger could have a significant impact on the cable industry and affect consumers across the country,” Klobuchar said, adding that she will “carefully scrutinize the details of this merger and its potential consequences for both consumers and competition.” Read more ..


Working Government

Senate Approves Debt Hike After McConnell, GOP Leaders Vote Yes

February 12th 2014

McConnell Mitch

The Senate sent a bill hiking the debt ceiling to President Obama’s desk on Wednesday, but only after a dramatic fight that forced GOP Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) to cast a tough vote advancing the legislation.

McConnell and top lieutenant Sen. John Cornyn (Texas) reluctantly backed ending debate after it became clear that no one in their conference wanted to cast the deciding 60th vote.

Sixty votes were needed to overcome a filibuster by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who complained that Congress was raising the debt ceiling without demanding any curbs on Washington’s spending. With the upper chamber’s Democrats and Independents all voting yes, Senate Republicans needed to muster five votes to overcome Cruz.

Yet during an hour of tense floor conversations, it appeared they might fail. The vote started late, as Senate Republicans huddled behind closed doors. After meeting for roughly an hour in private, the conference still did not know whether it could conjure up the needed votes.

On the floor, the procedural vote ran on for another hour, with Republicans slow to offer support. Cornyn and McConnell, who is the most vulnerable Senate Republican up for reelection in 2014, then voted to end the debate, making it clear the procedural motion would be approved.

After their dramatic votes, another group of Republicans met in a room off the Senate floor. They returned, and several switched their votes from no to yes. Some members said they switched their votes to give cover to McConnell and Cornyn. Read more ..


The 2016 Race

Republican Investigation Found No Fault in Hillary Clinton's Actions on Benghazi Debacle

February 11th 2014

Congressman Darrell Issa (R-CA)

The Republican leading the investigation into the Benghazi terror attack said the “failure” didn't lie with Hillary Clinton and that her “legacy” was “mostly intact” for a 2016 presidential run.

The show of support for the former secretary of State by House Oversight Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) is among the surprising revelations in the new book “HRC: State Secrets and the Rebirth of Hillary Clinton,” by The Hill's Amie Parnes and Politico's Jonathan Allen.

Issa made the comments in a December 2012 interview, at a time when Republicans were still focusing their anger on inaccurate administration talking points they claimed were crafted to help President Obama win re-election. “When the call came in at three o'clock in the morning, the failure wasn't viewed, at least as of today, as Secretary Clinton's. It was really an Obama failure,” Issa said. “Her legacy is mostly intact for 2016, if she chooses.” Read more ..


The 2016 Race

Team Clinton Loses No Time Running for 2016 Election

February 11th 2014

Members of Team Clinton started talking about a 2016 presidential bid months before the former first lady left the State Department. The night President Obama won his second term, Allida Black and Adam Parkhomenko, veterans of Clinton’s 2008 campaign for the White House, exchanged emails about plans to start Ready for Hillary — a super-PAC promoting another run for the White House.

While Clinton didn’t formally approve the political action committee, Black believed she had Clinton’s blessing, according to a book published Tuesday by The Hill’s Amie Parnes and Bloomberg’s Jonathan Allen.

The book, titled HRC, reports that just months after Clinton left the State Department, longtime adviser Cheryl Mills — who functions as Hillary Clinton’s consigliere — met with Guy Cecil, the executive director of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and a candidate to manage Clinton’s 2016 campaign. Read more ..


Broken Government

Congress Faces Scramble to Raise Debt Ceiling

February 10th 2014

Capitol Senate

The coming week will see a return to fiscal drama in the U.S. Capitol with lawmakers scrambling to raise the federal borrowing limit before they adjourn for a week-long recess.

Democrats and Republicans have yet to agree on a formula to boost the debt ceiling, and failure to act would leave the U.S. government unable to pay all its bills by the end of the month.

President Barack Obama and his Democratic allies in Congress are demanding a conditions-free increase in the government's debt ceiling.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi says prompt action is needed to keep the U.S. solvent. “This is not a matter of negotiation," Pelosi said. "This is the full faith and credit of the United States of America.” Republicans control the House of Representatives and are debating whether to attach items to a debt ceiling bill. Read more ..


The Edge of Healthcare

Endocrine Society Calls for Large-Scale Studies to Evaluate Testosterone Therapy Risks

February 9th 2014

Old guy muscles

According to a statement issued today by the Endocrine Society, the risks and benefits of testosterone therapy for older men with declining levels of the hormone need to be fully evaluated.

The statement comes in response to recent studies that have raised concerns about the safety of testosterone therapy in older men with a history of heart disease. Two retrospective analyses and one randomized trial supported by the Veterans Health Care System, and the National Institutes of Health found a higher rate of cardiovascular events in men who received testosterone and had preexisting heart problems. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has announced it plans to evaluate the safety of testosterone therapy.

Testosterone is approved for the treatment of hypogonadism due to known diseases of the testes, pituitary and hypothalamus. Although the use of testosterone therapy is increasing, the treatment has not been approved for the treatment of age-related symptoms or the age-related decline of testosterone levels.

Important safety data are expected from the NIA's ongoing randomized trial examining testosterone in about 800 older men with unequivocally low testosterone levels and accompanying symptoms, including sexual and physical dysfunction. The trial's structure and careful monitoring of cardiovascular events will help provide important safety information. Read more ..


USA vs Russia

US Apology for EU Insult Comes during Frosty Relations with Russia

February 8th 2014

A senior U.S. State Department official, Victoria Nuland, has apologized to the European Union after using an expletive while discussing the EU's diplomatic role in Ukraine's political conflict. Her controversial comment became public in an Internet video of an intercepted phone call. Assistant Secretary of State Nuland was in Ukraine this week to meet President Viktor Yanukovych and opposition figures, as the standoff there between the government and protesters continues.

In a phone call that was apparently bugged and posted on the Internet, Nuland scoffed at the European Union's position to her colleague, U.S. Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt. Read more ..


Obama's Second Term

Obama Seeks to Address Income Equality

February 8th 2014

President Obama vowed to take greater steps – with or without Congress – to combat the growing problem of income inequality.

In his weekly radio address, the president lamented that "those at the top are doing better than ever" in the wake of the Great Recession, while "too many Americans are working harder than ever just to get by."

"We’ve got to reverse those trends," Obama said. "We’ve got to build an economy that works for everyone, not just a fortunate few." The president amplified his recent pledge – broadcast during last month's State of the Union address – to work with Congress "where I can," but also to act unilaterally if Republicans put up roadblocks to his economic agenda. Read more ..


Obama's Second Term

Obama Accentuates the Positive at Farm Bill Signing

February 7th 2014

Obama

President Obama on Friday signed the $956 billion 2014 farm bill into law at a ceremony at Michigan State University. 

The president touted the bipartisan effort that pushed the bill through Congress after three years of fits and starts at a ceremony skipped by Republicans invited to the event.

Obama's comments focused on the economy, and came the day a disappointing jobs report found the nation added just 113,000 jobs in January.
 
“That's the way Washington should continue to work, because we've got more work to do," he said of the farm bill. "We've got more work to do to potentially make sure that unemployment insurance is put in place for a lot of folks out there who need it. We've got more work to do to pass the minimum wage.”He said that the bill saves money even though its total $16.6 billion in savings, including $8 billion in food stamp cuts, is less than Obama wanted to cut from farm programs in past budgets. Read more ..


Obama's Second Term

House Leader Cantor is Point Man for Republican Healthcare Initiative

February 6th 2014

Click to select Image

 House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) is taking the lead on crafting the GOP’s Obama-Care replacement proposal.

The extraordinarily tough task faces many obstacles and is complicated by election-year politics and an unruly GOP conference.

But Cantor believes the Republicans must shake their “party of no” reputation, and passing an ObamaCare replacement bill is part of that strategy.
Most, if not all, Democrats will reject whatever Cantor produces. To pass a bill through the House, Republicans will need to keep defections to about 20 or fewer. That will be a tall order.

For years, Republicans have promised a “repeal and replace” strategy on ObamaCare, but have never coalesced behind one plan. President Obama has repeatedly mocked the GOP for not delivering an alternative.

Cantor intends to move a repeal-and-replace bill before the midterm elections in November, according to a source familiar with the situation. He broached the issue at the House GOP retreat in Cambridge, Md., late last week.

“I think it is very likely that we’re going to have it before the election, we’re going to give the people — or at least we are going to try to give the people — a clear distinction of who we are versus who the Democrats are,” Florida Rep. Tom Rooney (R) said.

Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) is on board with that goal, though he has his hands full on putting together an immigration reform bill — another top priority for the year. Read more ..


Obama's Second Term

Top Obama Aide Confers with Congressional Black Caucus over Judicial Nominees

February 5th 2014

y Mike Lillis - 02/05/14 06:00 AM EST
Senior White House adviser Valerie Jarrett will meet with members of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) Wednesday amid intensifying concerns over President Obama’s judicial nominations.

Black lawmakers have been up in arms over a number of Obama’s picks for the federal bench, particularly in southern states, where they contend the process don’t reflect the ethnic diversity of the regions they would serve.

Many think Obama gave up too much to Republican senators, who also have a say in the nominees, and plan to tell Jarrett just that in Wednesday’s meeting. “Win or lose, we’d feel better if there’s a fight,” Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.), a member of the CBC’s judicial nominations working group, said Tuesday. “We have a Herculean task, of course, because of the senators whose conservatism is antithetical to the judicial philosophy of probably anyone who [Obama would prefer]. Read more ..


Broken Government

Republicans Buck Their Base over Immigration

February 4th 2014

House Republican leaders are facing a disconnect on immigration with their grassroots base.

Much of the GOP base sees Republican principles on immigration as granting amnesty to illegal immigrants because they would provide a legal basis for them to stay and work in the country. The grass roots erupted last week even before the principles were floated to rank-and-file members, with anger fueled by talk radio and conservative websites.

GOP lawmakers who want to move forward say their leadership needs to do a better job of communicating, but the disconnect over the meaning of amnesty suggests their differences might be unbridgeable.
As Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and his deputies last week attempted to coax their conference to act on immigration, prominent conservatives were making a lot of noise. Read more ..


Broken Government

Obama and Democrats Suffer High Anxiety while Coordinating Agenda

February 4th 2014

A mood of anxiety hangs over President Obama and congressional Democrats as they conduct a series of meetings this week to coordinate their 2014 political and legislative agendas.

While their outlook has improved since last fall, Democrats on Capitol Hill are worried the party is in danger of repeating its disastrous midterm performance of 2010 — and that this time, it could cost them the Senate.

“Let’s face it, not everyone is on the same page,” said one senior Democratic aide.
While the White House and congressional Democrats have sought to present a unified front on raising the minimum wage and extending federal unemployment benefits, divisions over an array of issues including trade, the Keystone XL oil pipeline and how to contain Iran have repeatedly burst to the surface.

That’s made it difficult to calm tempers still hot over the bumbled rollout of ObamaCare. Read more ..


Nature on Edge

Indonesia's Mount Sinabung Volcano Claims 15 Lives

February 3rd 2014

Merapi eruption Indonesia

Mount Sinabung, an active volcano on Indonesia’s Sumatra Island, has been spewing ash for months, but a sudden eruption has killed at least 15 people in recent days.

Officials have been cautiously exploring ash-engulfed terrain to recover the victims of Saturday’s blasts, but eruptions Sunday and Monday continue to hamper recovery efforts.

Victims who perished in the consecutive, pyroclastic blasts include a group of students, their teacher, and a reporter. Three local residents believed to be visiting a family grave were also among those killed. The visiting student group was reportedly distributing aid on behalf of the Christian Students Movement.

Officials said the victims ignored the warnings to avoid the designated hazard zone, including the village of Sukameriah, which is located less than three kilometers from Mount Sinabung’s summit. Surono, head of the Center for Volcanology and Geological Disaster Mitigation, said his agency has warned local residents to avoid that area for months. Read more ..


The UN and the Ukraine

Rasmussen, Lavrov Spar Over Ukraine, Missile Shield

February 2nd 2014

Ukraine

NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov have sparred at a major conference on global security over the future of Ukraine and NATO's planned missile shield.

Rasmussen told the annual Munich Security Conference on February 1 that Ukraine must have the freedom to choose its own path, but Lavrov charged European politicians with helping to destabilize Ukraine.

"What does incitement of protests have to do with promoting democracy?" Lavrov asked.

 "Why don't we condemn those who seize and hold government buildings, attack the police, torch the police, use racist and anti-Semitic and Nazi slogans," Lavrov added.

The so-called Euromaidan protests were sparked in late November by a government decision to abandon closer EU ties in favor of Russia, and included the occupation of government buildings.

But the most serious violence came after the enactment of strict laws against protests in mid-January that have since been revoked. The NATO chief also said the alliance and Russia are not meeting their potential for cooperation despite their strategic partnership. Read more ..


Oil Addiction

Keystone Pipeline Clears Hurdle

January 31st 2014

Oil Pipes2

The controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline cleared a major hurdle on Friday as the State Department ruled the project wouldn’t significantly increase greenhouse gas emissions.

The finding puts the pipeline one step closer to approval, and sets up a new battle between environmental groups and oil companies over whether the project is in the national interest.

The Environmental Impact Statement on the project reiterates key parts of a draft analysis released early last year, finding that oil sands extraction would continue regardless of whether the pipeline is built.

"Approval or denial of any one crude oil transport project, including the proposed Project, is unlikely to significantly impact the rate of extraction in the oil sands or the continued demand for heavy crude oil at refineries in the United States based on expected oil prices, oil-sands supply costs, transport costs, and supply-demand scenarios," the report said.
The finding could be crucial, as President Obama has said he would only approve the pipeline if he was convinced it would not "significantly exacerbate carbon emissions." Read more ..


Obama's Second Term

Majority Leader Reid Stiffs Obama over Expanded Trade Powers

January 29th 2014

Click to select Image

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) on Wednesday suggested he will not bring legislation to the floor that would grant President Obama greater trade powers.

Reid said he is “against” trade promotion authority (TPA) legislation — often called “fast track” — that, if passed, would make it easier for Obama to negotiate trade deals by preventing Congress from amending them.

“I’m against fast track,” said Reid, who told reporters he would not guarantee floor time for legislation by Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.), who is set to leave the Senate upon his confirmation as ambassador to China. “We’ll see,” Reid said of the bill. “Everyone would be well advised just to not push this right now.” Read more ..



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