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Turkey on Edge

Turkey's Local Polls Shape Up As Erdogan Referendum

March 27th 2014


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


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'


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.

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


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


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 ..

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


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

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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 ..

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