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Ukraine on Edge

Russia Duns Ukraine for $11 Billion Gas Bill

April 5th 2014

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Ukraine's Prime Minister, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, has accused Russia of "economic aggression" and threatened to sue Russia over recent price hikes for natural-gas supplies. "Russia was unable to seize Ukraine by means of military aggression. Now they are implementing plans to seize Ukraine through economic aggression," Yatsenyuk told a government meeting on April 5. "Political pressure is unacceptable," he continued. "We do not accept the price of $500."

Yatsenyuk's comments come after Russia twice this last week raised the price of natural-gas for Ukraine, taking the cost for Ukraine from $285.5 per 1,000 cubic meters at the start of this last week to $485.5 by the end of the week. Read more ..


America's Darkest Edge

Pentagon Opposes Allowing Concealed Weapons Bases

April 4th 2014

Beretta 90TWO

The Pentagon is opposed to calls from some lawmakers for troops to be allowed to carry concealed weapons on base after this week's Fort Hood shooting, a defense official said Friday. 

“The Department took a close look at this after the 2009 shooting at Fort Hood and again after the Navy [Yard] shooting, and our position is we do not support arming all personnel on post, camps, stations,” Pentagon spokesman Army Col. Steve Warren said. 

Army Spc. Ivan Lopez, 34, went on a shooting rampage at Fort Hood on Wednesday that left three dead and 16 injured. Lopez also shot and killed himself. Texas Reps. Michael McCaul and John Carter both called for allowing troops to carry concealed weapons in response to the violence. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) echoed their comments at an Army hearing on Thursday, when he said he expects a jihadist threat against U.S. troops at home to increase. Read more ..


Israel and Palestine

Israeli and Palestinian Leaders 'Have to Lead' on Peace Talks

April 3rd 2014

John Kerry

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry spoke by telephone Thursday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, after both sides broke parts of an agreement on talks toward a two-state solution. Kerry is in Algiers, where he discussed prospects for Mideast peace with Algerian Foreign Minister Ramtane Lamamra.

Kerry says U.S. negotiators met with Israeli and Palestinian officials in overnight talks that lasted until four in the morning in an effort to move the peace process forward. 

"I think it is a critical moment, obviously," Kerry said. "The dialogue remains open.  There was progress made in narrowing some of the questions that have arisen as a result of the events of the last few days.  But there is still a gap.  But that gap will have to be closed and close fairly soon."

The events of the past few days have been the biggest challenges to eight months of peace talks.  They include the Israeli Cabinet failing to approve the release of a group of Palestinian prisoners and Palestinian officials voting to join 15 international organizations that would draw them closer to enhanced U.N. recognition. Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

David Cameron Orders Inquiry into Muslim Brotherhood for Extremism

April 2nd 2014

Big Ben

David Cameron has ordered Whitehall officials to launch an investigation into the Muslim Brotherhood – drawing on assessments by MI5 and MI6.

Speaking at a No 10 news conference, the prime minister said that the government was committed to encouraging people away from the path of extremism.

"We want to challenge the extremist narrative that some Islamist organisations have put out," he told reporters following talks with new Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi.

"What I think is important about the Muslim Brotherhood is that we understand what this organisation is, what it stands for, what its beliefs are in terms of the path of extremism and violent extremism, what its connections are with other groups, what its presence is here in the United Kingdom. Our policies should be informed by a complete picture of that knowledge," he said.

Read more ..

Obama's Second Term

A Deal in the Works for Minimum Wage Hike

April 1st 2014

Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is struggling to stop Senate Democrats from backing a plan to undercut President Obama’s $10.10 minimum wage target.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) has been reaching out to Democrats to agree on a compromise that is threatening to divide the president’s party on this core component of its election-year message.

Democrats already disagree among themselves over whether they should continue to stick to the $10.10 amount or try to work with Republicans on a lower figure.
A senior Democratic leadership aide said Reid is a “hardcore” supporter of Obama’s target number, to be achieved over three years, a proposal strongly supported by labor unions, which are powerful in the majority leader’s state.

But several Democratic senators have signaled they are willing to negotiate a lower wage floor that would be easier to get enough Senate votes to pass. Read more ..


Obamacare Website Falters When Slammed by Last-Minute Applicants

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HealthCare.gov, for a second time on Monday, experienced technical difficulties that left some visitors unable to access the site.

While the administration said the problem was resolved quickly on Monday afternoon, it shows how the website is having trouble keeping up with the last-minute rush of people seeking coverage before the March 31 deadline.

The website was down briefly earlier on Monday, and early in the afternoon, users trying to create accounts for the first time were unable to access application and enrollment tools, the administration said. “The tech team is working to resolve the issue as quickly as possible,” an official said as the problem persisted. “The Data Services Hub is still fully operational. Users already in system remain able to complete enrollment.” Read more ..


The Edge of Climate Change

Meeting Climate Targets May Require Reducing Meat and Dairy Consumption

March 31st 2014

Cows

Greenhouse gas emissions from food production may threaten the UN climate target of limiting global warming to 2 degrees Celsius, according to research at Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden.

On Monday 31 March the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) presents their report on the impacts of climate change.

Carbon dioxide emissions from the energy and transportation sectors currently account for the largest share of climate pollution. However, a study from Chalmers now shows that eliminating these emissions would not guarantee staying below the UN limit. Emissions from agriculture threaten to keep increasing as global meat and dairy consumption increases. If agricultural emissions are not addressed, nitrous oxide from fields and methane from livestock may double by 2070. This alone would make meeting the climate target essentially impossible. Read more ..


The Bear is Back

Putin and Crimea: A New World Order?

March 30th 2014

Putin Gesticulates

With the stroke of his pen, Russian President Vladimir Putin deepened the divide between East and West by signing a document that officially made Ukraine’s Black Sea region of Crimea part of the Russian Federation.

Some Russia experts see that act as a marking of the end of the post-Cold War era in Europe that the world has known since the days of Reagan and Gorbachev. It is no less than a tectonic shift – “one defined by ideological clashes, nationalistic resurgence and territorial occupation," wrote Michael McFaul, former U.S. Ambassador to Russia, in an opinion piece for the New York Times newspaper this week.

Speculation over whether or not Putin has nursed a desire to grab Crimea - a region with deep Russian roots – has sparked debate among Kremlin observers. “This is not something that one could have predicted,” said Russian expert Thomas Graham, Senior Director at Kissinger Associates, Inc. “I think if you look at the record of the past few weeks – a month ago – Putin didn’t believe or know that he going to annex Crimea,” he said. “You know, a lot of this was a response to events that unfolded very rapidly.” Read more ..


The Bear is Back

In UN Vote, Russia's 'Sphere of Influence' Hedges Its Bets

March 29th 2014

Human Rights Council Meeting

The Kremlin may be wondering where some of its neighbors were during a UN vote rebuking Russia's annexation of Crimea. 

The 11 states that voted against the resolution are recognizable as traditional Russian allies. The list includes South American states that are hostile to Washington, such as Venezuela. It also includes Syria, which has relied on Moscow's vote on the UN Security Council to shelter the regime of Bashar al-Assad. 

What must have been disappointing for Russia, however, is the fact that only two members of the Moscow-backed Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) -- Armenia and Belarus -- voted against the resolution.

Azerbaijan and Moldova voted in favor of the proposal recognizing Ukraine's territorial integrity. All other CIS members either abstained or refrained from voting. Russia has labored to show that opposition to its actions in Ukraine is a Western phenomenon rather than a worldwide consensus.  Read more ..


Iraq on Edge

Iraq's Election Commission Resigns on Eve of Elections

March 28th 2014

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Board members of Iraq's Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) resigned on March 25, just one month before nationwide parliamentary elections scheduled for April 30th. The IHEC is caught between the judicial and legislative branches over the exclusion of certain candidates running in the election. The dispute leaves the integrity of upcoming elections in doubt.

According to Iraqi electoral law, candidates with an "ill" reputation are barred from contesting parliamentary seats. But the courts and parliament have voiced contradictory interpretations of this vague clause, compromising the Election Commission's ability to act independently. Read more ..


Obama's Second Term

New Lows for Obama's Public Approval Ratings

March 28th 2014

Nearly six in 10 people disapprove of President Obama's job performance in a new poll by The Associated Press, the highest rating recorded by the newswire.

According to the AP-GFK survey released Wednesday, 59 percent disapprove of Obama's job performance, while 41 percent approve.  A similar poll released by the news outlet in January found 45 percent approved of him, while 53 percent disapproved. Other recent polling has found Obama's disapproval rating slightly lower, remaining in the low 50s. A CBS News poll Tuesday showed 50 percent disapproval, while Gallup has his disapproval at 52 percent.

In the AP poll, only 40 percent approve of Obama's handling of international relations, a new low. The newswire notes that Obama's handling of foreign policy is usually neutral. Read more ..


Turkey on Edge

Turkey's Local Polls Shape Up As Erdogan Referendum

March 27th 2014

Erdogan

Officially, when Mustafa Sarigul appears on the ballot as the main opposition candidate for Istanbul mayor, he will be battling incumbent Kadir Topbas for votes.

But when Sarigul talks about his competition he generally utters one name: Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

It comes up over and over again as Sarigul speaks one March evening in his armored car, heading home following back-to-back meetings with local community leaders.

The Turkish prime minister knows losing the city in the March 30 elections could be devastating, Sarigul says: "If Istanbul decides, that means all of Turkey decides."  "He is afraid because in leadership surveys I am ranked second after him and he knows that if we get Istanbul, he and his whole campaign will be in danger."  Read more ..


Inside Obamacare

Speaker Boehner Querulous About Obamacare Deadline Extension

March 26th 2014

“What the hell is this, a joke?” Boehner said at his weekly press conference. He was responding to the administration’s announcement on Tuesday evening that people who had begun the process of signing up for insurance through the federal exchanges would have until mid-April to do so, instead of March 31.

The Speaker called the move “another deadline made meaningless,” adding it to a litany of unilateral changes that the administration has made to the law.

“This is part of a long-term pattern of this administration manipulating the law for its own convenience,” Boehner said. “It’s not hard to understand why the American people question this administration’s commitment to the rule of law.” Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

Israel-Syria Border Escalation

March 25th 2014

Soldiers-vehicle

This week’s events on the Israel-Syrian border are testimony to the extent to  which the effective disintegration of the Syrian state is producing a new  security reality in the North.

Once, Syrian President Bashar Assad’s  regime sought to conduct its business via Israel’s border with Lebanon. The  Syrians would seek to place pressure on Israel by supporting paramilitary  proxies in Lebanon, which would launch attacks on Israeli forces and  communities.

At the same time, the direct Syria-Israel line would be kept  silent, out of fear of Israeli retribution. The precise reversal of this  situation now appears to be the reality. On the assumption of Hezbollah  responsibility for the attacks, which at present appears the most likely  explanation, the movement is using the Syria-Israel border as a site for attacks  on Israeli forces. Read more ..


Crisis in Ukraine

President Obama Keeps Up the Rhetorical Pressure on Putin

March 24th 2014

President Obama vowed Russia would “pay a price” for its annexation of Crimea as he kicked off a week of talks with European leaders focused largely on the crisis in Ukraine.

“Europe and America are united in our support of the Ukrainian government and Ukrainian people,” Obama said. “We are united in imposing a cost on Russia for its actions so far.”
The president and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte briefly addressed the press following bilateral talks and a tour of the Rijksmuseum, the Netherlands’ national art museum.

Obama noted that he and other leaders of the G-8 — minus representatives from the Kremlin — will meet later Monday, and are expected to consider permanently expelling Russia from the economic group. The world leaders are also expected to discuss additional economic penalties for Russia in response to its aggression in the region. Read more ..


The Ukraine Crisis

Obama Gives Assurances that Europe and America are On the Same Page

March 24th 2014

President Barack Obamas said the United States and Europe are united in holding Russia to account for its actions in Crimea. "Europe and America are united in our support of the Ukrainian government and the Ukrainian people," he told reporters after meeting with Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte in Amsterdam on March 24. "We are united in imposing a cost on Russia for its actions so far."

Obama told the Dutch newspaper de Volkskrant that his message to European leaders is that Russian President Vladimir Putin needs to "understand the economic and political consequences of his actions in Ukraine" but that "it's important that Ukraine have good relations with the United States, Russia, and Europe." Read more ..


Malaysia on Edge

China Examines Satellite Images of Possible Malaysia Airlines Jet Debris

March 22nd 2014

Malaysia's defense minister says a Chinese satellite has spotted a large object floating in the Indian Ocean southwest of Australia where officials hope to find a Malaysia Airlines plane that has been missing for more than two weeks.

"Chinese ships have been dispatched to the area. Beijing is expected to make an announcement in a few hours,'' Malaysian Defence Minister and acting Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein told reporters.

He said on March 22 that he had been informed that a Chinese satellite had spotted an object 22 meters (72 feet) by 30 meters (100 feet).

However, he said there was still no confirmation that debris detected by a satellite in the Indian Ocean several days ago was from a missing Malaysia Airlines plane. Read more ..


Turkey on Edge

Turkey Blocks Twitter, Erdoğan Vow 'Eradication'

Erdogan

Turkey has blocked access to Twitter, hours after Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan vowed to close down the social media platform.

“We now have a court order. We’ll eradicate Twitter. I don’t care what the international community says. Everyone will witness the power of the Turkish Republic,” Erdoğan said at his campaign rally in the western city of Bursa on March 20, 10 days before the upcoming local elections.

The Press Advisory of the Prime Ministry later clarified Erdoğan's statement, arguing that Twitter officials currently "ignore" some court rulings in Turkey, which order the social media platform to "remove some links" as per the complaints filed by Turkish citizens. Read more ..

Malaysia on Edge

Malaysia Airlines Mystery Highlights Lack of International Cooperation

March 20th 2014

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As the search for the missing Malaysian plane enters its 13th day and possible sightings of wreckage are reported off Australia’s southwest coast, the Malaysian government is struggling to be responsive to families of the passengers and avoid diplomatic repercussions. Analysts say the incident highlights the need for better regional cooperation.

After families of missing passengers publicly lashed out against the Malaysian government's handling of the jetliner mystery, authorities in Kuala Lumpur announced they will send delegates to Beijing, where hundreds of next of kin anxiously await reliable findings.

The move is a further attempt by the Malaysian government to correct early missteps that have drawn criticism from China, home to the majority of the plane's passengers.

But more than focusing on how one country has handled the crisis, analysts say the struggle to find the plane shows the lack of a regionally coordinated response.
Read more ..


Obama's Second Term

Consumers' Obamacare Costs May Triple in Some States

March 19th 2014

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Health industry officials say ObamaCare-related premiums will double in some parts of the country, countering claims recently made by the administration.

The expected rate hikes will be announced in the coming months amid an intense election year, when control of the Senate is up for grabs. The sticker shock would likely bolster the GOP’s prospects in November and hamper ObamaCare insurance enrollment efforts in 2015.

The industry complaints come less than a week after Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius sought to downplay concerns about rising premiums in the healthcare sector. She told lawmakers rates would increase in 2015 but grow more slowly than in the past.
“The increases are far less significant than what they were prior to the Affordable Care Act,” the secretary said in testimony before the House Ways and Means Committee. Read more ..


Ukraine on Edge

NATO Seeks to Bolster Weakened Ukrainian Military

March 18th 2014

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NATO officials don’t expect to see near-term military “stand offs” with Russia as President Vladimir Putin appears poised to annex the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea, but are planning to bolster Ukrainian forces in the long-term, a NATO official told The Hill.

NATO plans to help Ukrainian forces build capacity via joint exercises, advice and other unspecified things, the official said on background.

Although the official did not specify exact exercises, the U.S. Army is planning to conduct an exercise in Ukraine this July, according to the Army Times. Exercise Rapid Trident 2014 is expected to take place near L’viv, Ukraine, and will involve units from Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Canada, Georgia, Germany, Moldova, Poland, Romania, the United Kingdom and Ukraine, Lt. Col. David Westover Jr. told the Army Times.

Westover said the exercise will focus on training for peacekeeping, not repelling an enemy invader. Read more ..


Ukraine on Edge

Obama's Relations with Putin Reach a Nadir

March 18th 2014

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The relationship between President Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin appears to have reached the breaking point over the crisis in Ukraine.

Through a series of long telephone conversations, Obama and Putin have talked extensively behind the scenes about the fate of Crimea, with the United States repeatedly warning Russia against a grab for territory.
But Putin appears to be forging ahead, defying Obama’s calls for a diplomatic solution that would allow both sides to save face.

Now the United States and its allies are directly hitting some of Putin’s closest advisers with sanctions in a move intended to isolate and punish the Kremlin. Read more ..


Ukraine on Edge

Obama Moves to Impose Sanctions while Putin Moves On

March 17th 2014

Announcing that the U.S. and its allies have mobilized to isolate Russia, President Barack Obama has imposed sanctions on key individuals Washington deems responsible for a Moscow-backed referendum in Ukraine's Crimea aimed at putting the region under Russia's control.

Speaking at the White House, Obama announced that he ordered sanctions against 11 Russian and Ukrainian officials, including two top advisers to Russia's President Vladimir Putin, in addition to ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych. All will be subject to asset freezes.

In an executive order issued earlier, Obama said that the policies and actions of the Russian Federation have been found to “undermine democratic processes and institutions in Ukraine; threaten its peace, security, stability, sovereignty, and territorial integrity; and contribute to the misappropriation of its assets, and thereby constitute an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States.” Read more ..


Egypt After Morsi

Egypt Vows 'Decisive' Response to Terror Outbreak

March 16th 2014

Security Forces Riot Gear

Egypt's interim government has pledged "decisive" action and ordered heightened security after armed men killed six soldiers at a Cairo checkpoint.

The shooting on Saturday morning came two days after a soldier was killed in Cairo, as fighters once based in the Sinai Peninsula widen attacks that have surged after the army overthrew President Mohamed Morsi last July.

The government is preparing for a presidential election this spring that will probably be contested and won by army chief Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, the field marshal who overthrew Morsi. Sisi is expected to resign as defence minister and army chief and announce his candidacy this week, following the interim president's approval of a law to organise the poll. Read more ..


Ukraine on Edge

United States Increases Naval Presence in Black Sea

March 15th 2014

The commander of a U.S. military vessel says it will carry out more exercises with NATO allied ships in the Black Sea.

The U.S.S. Truxtun took part in drills with Romanian and Bulgarian ships in the Black Sea last week a few hundred miles from Crimea where Russia has deployed troops after protests toppled Ukraine's pro-Moscow president. The Ukrainian government has denounced what it regards as an invasion of its territory by Russia in a region adjacent to Crimea.

The United States said the exercises were routine and had been planned long before the crisis erupted. Read more ..


Ukraine on Edge

Ukraine Protests Incursion of Russian Troops on Ukrainian Soil

March 15th 2014

Ukraine's Foreign Ministry has released a statement expressing its' "strong and categorical protest against the landing" of Russian troops in an area some 10 kilometers north of Crimea.

A statement issued by the ministry said some 80 troops of the "Russian Federation Armed Forces" backed by four helicopter gunships and three armored combat vehicles had seized the village of Strilkove in the Kherson region on March 15.

The ministry called it an "invasion" of Ukrainian territory and demanded Russia withdraw its forces immediately.

Ukrainian border guard spokesman Oleh Slobodan told the Associated Press news agency that some 120 Russian troops had taken control of a natural gas distribution station at Strilkove.

Ukraine's Foreign Ministry said Ukraine "reserves the right to use all necessary measures to stop the military invasion by Russia." Read more ..


Russia on Edge

Russian Foreign Policy Reflects Domestic Dysfunction

March 15th 2014

Putin

Vladimir Putin appears well on his way to reclaiming the Crimea for Russia, restoring the peninsula to a status forfeited by Nikita Khrushchev’s Soviet Union in 1954.

But this territorial achievement may provide only temporary distraction for Russia’s 140 million people who have seen their quality of life deteriorate dramatically since Putin took power in 1999.

In an important new book “Russians, The People Behind the Power,” former NPR Moscow correspondent Gregory Feifer depicts a society with a thin crony capitalist veneer that is increasingly afflicted by corruption, alcoholism and other social ills. While none of these are new for Russia, what is surprising is that they have gotten so much worse under Putin. Read more ..


Broken Government

Ryan Budget Up In the Air

March 14th 2014

Paul Ryan

House Republican leaders are polling their members on whether they would support a budget from Rep. Paul Ryan that makes deeper spending cuts than in past years, in an effort to gauge whether they have enough votes to pass it off the floor.

Aides said Friday that the party had not made a final decision on whether to advance a budget this year, despite a strong push by Ryan (R-Wis.), the Budget Committee chairman, to hold a vote by April 15.

The leadership has told rank-and-file members that the budget would likely stick to the spending cap of $1.014 trillion for fiscal year 2015, which the House approved as part of the December agreement negotiated by Ryan and Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.). But in order to achieve the 10-year balanced budget Republicans consider a priority, Ryan will have to propose deeper cuts in the years after 2015 than in the budget that passed the House last year. Read more ..


Inside Politics

Reid Blames Ukraine Standoff on Kochs

March 13th 2014

Harry Reid

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) on Thursday accused Republicans of holding up crucial assistance to Ukraine in order to protect the Koch brothers.

Reid tied the billionaires David and Charles Koch, who have bankrolled conservative causes, to GOP demands that language delaying the Internal Revenue Service’s regulation of nonprofit political advocacy groups be added to the Ukraine package.

Some conservative Republicans want the IRS language added if the bill is also to include reforms to the International Monetary Fund backed by the White House. Reid has been on the warpath against the Koch brothers, with barely a day passing that doesn't include an attack on them.

“It’s hard for me to comprehend how with a clear conscience they could say, ‘Ukrainians, we probably can’t help you because we’re trying to protect the Koch brothers,’” he said on Thursday. “And not only that, they’re saying to the American people that protecting the Koch brothers is more important than helping our country.” Read more ..


Broken Government

Senator Feinstein Opens Up on CIA Snooping on Congress

March 12th 2014

The CIA conducted an unconstitutional search of a Senate Intelligence Committee computer network that amounted to illegal spying, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) charged Tuesday in a dramatic speech on the Senate floor.

Feinstein said the CIA’s actions were illegal and violated both the Fourth Amendment and the government’s separation of powers.

She added that the CIA inspector general was investigating the search and had turned over information to the Department of Justice, given the possibility of a criminal violation.

“I have grave concerns that the CIA’s search may well have violated the separation-of-powers principles embodied in the United States Constitution,” Feinstein said.

“Besides the constitutional implications, the CIA’s search may also have violated the Fourth Amendment, the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, as well as Executive Order 12333, which prohibits the CIA from conducting domestic searches or surveillance,” she said.

She also charged that the agency had subsequently sought to intimidate congressional investigators by filing a “crimes report” with the Justice Department over the Intelligence Committee staff’s decision to print out a CIA document and take it to the Senate. Read more ..


The Battle for Ukraine

FBI Helps Ukraine Recover Billions Stolen by Former Regime

March 10th 2014

$1B US Currency

FBI and U.S. Treasury agents have arrived in Kyiv to aid Ukraine’s interim leaders to uncover the financial crimes of the government of ousted President Viktor Yanukovych in an effort to repatriate billions of dollars.

Ukraine's new government is determined to recover some of the billions of dollars it says went missing during Yanukovych’s regime. And Washington is eager to assist.

“We are very interested in working with the government to support its investigations of those financial crimes, and we have already, on the ground here in Ukraine, experts from the FBI, the Department of Justice and the Department of Treasury who are working with their Ukrainian counterparts to support the Ukrainian investigation,” U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt told reporters here on Monday. Read more ..


Transportation on Edge

Families Fear the Worst on Missing Malaysia Plane

March 9th 2014

airport crowd

Fear and frustration are growing among family members of passengers on board the Malaysia Airlines flight that disappeared in Southeast Asia, and many are demanding more details from airline officials as the search continues for the missing plane.

Families of passengers aboard Malaysia Airlines flight 370 are vacillating between hope and fear for their loved ones as days pass without details of why the plane vanished early Saturday morning or where it might be. 

Two thirds of the passengers were Chinese, and hundreds of family members are waiting in Beijing for answers from airline officials. Many are holed up at a hotel in the city suburbs, where the mood has grown increasingly chaotic as reporters swarm about and press conferences reveal few new details.  

American Sarah Bajc is also waiting in Beijing for news of her boyfriend Philip Wood, who was the flight. “I Am personally not willing to give up hope that there is a chance we will find survivors, that we will find the plane," she said. "There just has to be a chance.”   Read more ..


The Race for 2016

Congressman Rand Paul Brings CPAC Followers to Their Feet

March 8th 2014

A presidential-sounding Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) wowed the the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) on Friday afternoon, proving he still captures the imagination of the party’s libertarian-leaning wing.

Speaking to a standing room-only crowd, Paul received the warmest reception of any headliner yet at the conference. As he ticked off what sounded like the possible outlines of a 2016 White House bid, nearly every other line of his address was punctuated by hearty applause and cheers, and at one point a cry of “Rand Paul run!” rose up in a corner of the crowd.

While other addresses at this year’s CPAC focused on specific policies and red-meat issues like gay marriage and ObamaCare, Paul spoke in broad metaphorical terms of the need to “stand together for liberty.”

“It isn’t good enough to pick the lesser of two evils,” he said. “We must elect men of principle and conviction and action who will lead us back to greatness. There is a great and tumultuous battle underway, not for the future of the Republican Party, but for the future of the country.” Read more ..


Broken Government

US Deficit Hawks Say 2015 Budget Not Bold Enough

March 7th 2014

Congress-senate

The release of the U.S. fiscal budget for 2015 is getting a lukewarm response from both supporters and critics of President Barack Obama. The $3.9 trillion budget promises to lower the annual deficit even as it expands opportunities for poor and working-class Americans.  But critics say it does so by raising taxes on the wealthy -- while ignoring the nation’s most pressing fiscal problems.

Whether it’s improving our aging roads and bridges or expanding opportunities for low-income Americans and school age children, President Barack Obama says it’s about making the right choices.

“As a country, we have got to make a decision if we are going to protect tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans, or if we are going to make smart investments necessary to create jobs and grow our economy, and expand opportunity for every American,” said Obama. Read more ..


Obama's Second Term

White House Announces Yet More Delays in Obamacare Past 2016

March 6th 2014

Getty Images
The White House on Wednesday announced a new ObamaCare delay that will allow some consumers to keep health plans that do not meet the law's standards until past the end of the Obama presidency.

The unprecedented move, first reported by The Hill on Monday, will protect vulnerable Democrats in the midterm elections by staving off a wave of cancellation notices that would have hit patients in the final weeks of the campaign. The policy also means that one of the key features of the Affordable Care Act — minimum healthcare benefit requirements — will not be in place for all Americans when President Obama leaves office. Read more ..


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

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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 ..



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