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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


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

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 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


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 ..

The Iranian Threat

Iranian-American Indicted for Espionage Involving American Fighter Jet

January 29th 2014


An engineer who was arrested earlier this month for allegedly attempting to ship stolen documents regarding a high-tech U.S. military fighter jet to the Iranian government was officially indicted by a federal grand jury in Connecticut on Tuesday, according to law enforcement officials.

Mozaffar Khazaee, who is a naturalized U.S. citizen but also retains his Iranian citizenship, is charged with transporting stolen goods after he was arrested attempting to surreptitiously deliver stolen property to Iran's military.

The 59-year-old suspect was arrested on Jan. 9. 2014 for his attempt to smuggle thousands of pages of classified documents regarding the U.S. military's high-tech F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. If convicted, the suspect is facing a maximum prison sentence of 20 years. Khazaee was indicted Tuesday for transporting, transmitting and transferring in interstate commerce goods obtained by theft, conversion or fraud, according to court documents. Read more ..

Ukraine on Edge

Ukraine Repeals Anti-Protest Laws as Dissidents Occupy Government Offices

January 28th 2014

Ukraine's parliament has repealed controversial antiprotest laws in a move aimed at ending two months of antigovernment protests.

A total of 361 lawmakers out of 412 present voted to repeal the legislation at a special session of parliament on January 28.

The laws had sparked violent clashes between antigovernment protesters and riot police when they were enacted earlier this month.

President Viktor Yanukovych agreed to abolish them on January 27 after talks with opposition leaders, who have made their repeal a key demand.

The vote came after Prime Minister Mykola Azarov -- a loyal Yanukovych ally -- announced he was stepping down. Azarov said in a statement that he was resigning to create "an additional possibility for a political compromise to peacefully resolve the conflict." Read more ..

Libya on Edge

Libya Bankruptcy Warning Raises Concerns

January 27th 2014

African refugees from Libya

Libyans like to say their country will one day be seen as “Dubai on the Mediterranean” -- rich, successful and advanced. But as their country struggles with a fitful political transition from autocracy to democracy amid storms of militia violence, political squabbling and lawlessness, they are now hearing for the first time talk that Libya could go bankrupt.

That could happen in four years, according to Revenue Watch Institute, a New York-based think tank.

In a study by its economic analyst, Andrew Bauer, a former member of Canada’s G7 and G20 delegations, Libya has all the oil resources it needs to become the richest country per capita in North Africa but “if current trends continue, the nation of 6.5 million may well go bankrupt by 2018.”

Libyan government officials scrambled to dismiss the forecast but just a few days ago, the deputy governor of the Central Bank of Libya, Ali Salem, warned that Libya’s overdependence on oil “could become a nightmare.” Directly addressing the hopes of Libyans of an Emirate-style future, he cautioned at a seminar in Tripoli that Dubai’s enormous wealth comes not just from oil, but is generated by a diversified economy. Read more ..

Defense on Edge

US Military Refocus on Pacific a Work in Progress

January 26th 2014

U.S. Naval Carrier

One of the main features of the global defense strategy laid out by President Barack Obama two years ago, shifting the U.S. military's focus from the Middle East to the Asia Pacific region, is meeting significant challenges from China and its rapidly developing military power.

But U.S. military officials say American dominance of the Asia Pacific is not diminishing.

Recent actions by China, including its imposition of an aircraft identification zone over the East China Sea and a near collision between Chinese and U.S. warships, show that dominance is being challenged.

The Obama administration, in its efforts to shift focus from wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to the Pacific, where China has been building up its forces, includes strategic placement of a new aircraft carrier and the development of hypersonic missile technology.  Read more ..

Obama's Second Term

Supreme Court Hands Victory to Religious Groups over Obamacare Mandate

January 25th 2014

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The Supreme Court ruled Friday that an order of nuns in Colorado is not required to fully comply with ObamaCare’s contraception mandate, in a partial and temporary victory for critics of the contentious provision.

In an order handed down late Friday, the justices concluded that the nuns — and roughly 200 religious nonprofits — do not need to file government forms to exempt themselves from the law’s mandate that workers receive free contraception as part of employee health insurance plans.

Still, the Little Sisters of the Poor Home for the Aged and other nonprofits “that hold themselves out as religious” and object to the provision must inform the Department of Health and Human Services of that status to avoid paying penalties under the law. Read more ..

The 2016 Race

House Speaker Boehner Favors Jeb Bush for 2016 Presidential Race

January 24th 2014

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Jeb Bush

Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said the evening of January 23 that former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush would be a great president if he ran in 2016. However, the Speaker made clear he is not endorsing anyone more than two years before the election.

“Well listen I’m not endorsing anybody, but Jeb Bush is my friend, and I frankly think he would be a great president, I really do,” he said on “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.” Bush was the only potential GOP candidate Boehner mentioned when asked who he liked for president.

In the wide-ranging interview, Boehner also touched on last October’s government shutdown and other presidential prospects.

Boehner said the bridge scandal that has dogged New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) would not be going away any time soon — whether or not Christie knew anything about the lane closures. Read more ..

Obama's Second Term

Obama's State of the Union Address Will Tackle Income Inequality

January 23rd 2014

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President Barack Obama will try to pump some vitality into a lackluster second term on Tuesday when he delivers his State of the Union address.

The address will include a “healthy dose” of the income inequality message the White House has focused on in recent weeks, according to one senior administration official familiar with the text.

A president who has yet to add to the big legislative accomplishments of his first term will call for raising the minimum wage to $10 per hour and extending federal unemployment benefits that expired last month.

He will also discuss energy and college affordability, two other issues that relate to the economic mobility message that is a major White House theme ahead of this year’s midterm elections. Read more ..

Broken Government

Overwhelming Majority of Americans are Dissatisfied with Government

January 22nd 2014

Nearly two-thirds of the public is dissatisfied with how the U.S. government works, a new poll suggests.

Sixty-five percent say they are dissatisfied, according to a Gallup poll released Wednesday. This represents Gallup’s highest recorded percentage in the trend since 2001.

Dissatisfaction with the government has increased 5 percentage points from last year.

Two-thirds also say they’re not satisfied with the size and power of the federal government.
Republicans and independents have become much less satisfied with the government’s effectiveness, the poll indicates, compared to Democrats. Read more ..

Heathcare on Edge

Target Will Drop Part-Time Employees from its Healthcare Plan

January 21st 2014

Retail Sales Target Cashier

Target Corp. announced on Tuesday it would no longer offer healthcare coverage to its part-time employees.

In a blog post on the company’s website, Jodee Kozlak, the executive vice president of human resources, framed it as a positive development for part-time employees of the company.

“The Health Insurance Marketplaces provides new options for healthcare coverage that we believe our part-time members may prefer,” she wrote. “In fact, by offering them insurance, we could actually disqualify many of them from being eligible for newly available subsidies that could reduce their overall health insurance expense.” Kozlak added that at present, fewer than 10 percent of part-time employees that are eligible have actually enrolled in the company’s healthcare plan. Read more ..

The Economic Edge

As Sanctions Are Relaxed, Western Businesses Look To Iran

January 20th 2014

Iran Nuclear Equipment centrifuges

The easing of sanctions on Tehran that has just taken effect is sending Western companies rushing to seek new business opportunities in Iran.

A group of senior French executives, including from the energy and automotive sectors, is heading to Tehran early next month. They follow a delegation of British lawmakers who visited this month.

At the same time, Iran's Trade Promotion Organization says business delegations from Italy, Austria, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Turkey, and many other countries have already visited since late last year, when an interim nuclear deal between six world powers and Iran was announced.

Under the sanctions that were relaxed under the deal, Iran will be allowed to spend some $4.2 billion in previously frozen funds over the next six months. However, the largest part of the international sanctions regime remains in place pending a permanent future solution to the Iranian nuclear crisis. Read more ..

State of Surveillance

Obama Embraces Dubya's Basic Surveillance Structure

January 19th 2014

NSA facility

Former National Security Agency Director Michael Hayden said Sunday that President Obama’s speech on the agency’s controversial intelligence-gathering programs revealed that he had “embraced” the basic surveillance structure favored by former President George W. Bush.

“The president has embraced it. He has got a political problem — and I don't mean to trivialize it, because in a democracy, political problems are very serious. He needs consent of the governed,” Hayden said during an interview with Chris Wallace of “Fox News Sunday.”
“He is willing to shave points off of flexibility, add administrative burdens, add oversight, but the objective, Chris, is to keep on doing what he's doing."

In a speech from the Justice Department on Friday, Obama said he would now require intelligence agencies to obtain judicial approval before reviewing databases of information about telephone calls. Read more ..

Egypt After Morsi

Miracle on the Nile

January 18th 2014

2012 Egyptian Elections

A miracle on the Nile has been accomplished this week. Tens of millions of Egyptian citizens from all walks of life, Muslims and Christians, conservatives and liberals, seculars and religious, young and old, and in some instances, healthy and sick, have come out to cast a vote in the referendum of the century: either to say yes to new moderate constitution, relatively democratic, or to say no and revert to an Islamist constitution adopted by the previous Muslim Brotherhood regime.

Most likely, an overwhelming majority of voters will chose to move away from the 2012 Islamist regime of Mohammed Morsi and select a more liberating draft, one that reinforces fundamental rights to women and minorities. The referendum will seal a popular uprising that exploded almost a year ago, and culminated in two gigantic peaceful demonstrations last summer against the political oppression of the Ikhwan regime. Read more ..

The Edge of terrorism

Congressional Recognition for Terrorism Expert Walid Phares Released

January 17th 2014

Walid and Myrick

After waiting for more than a year, a Congressional letter of recognition for terrorism analyst Walid Phares was finally released. The letter reads:

It is my great privilege to recognize the patriotism and valor of Professor Walid Phares, who has been an advisor to my office and the Congressional Anti-Terrorism Caucus since 2006. During that time, he has also ably served as my academic advisor on the Middle East, Terrorism, jihadi ideologies, Middle East minorities, Muslim reformers and democratic movements.

I found his enlightening book, Future Jihad: Terrorist Strategies Against America, to be highly educational. The wisdom and insight I found on every page when I read it in 2005, led me to conclude that the book was a must-read for every American; it would help them to understand the ideological basis of the jihadi threat at home and abroad and enable them to figure out the best strategies against it.  Future Jihad was included on the summer reading list of House Republicans in 2007 and was read by many of them. Dr. Phares’ book, The War of Ideas: Jihadism against Democracy, deepened my understanding of jihadists’ use of propaganda to promote their political ideology, penetrate the West, and recruit members. His third book authored after 9/11, The Confrontation: Winning the War against Future Jihad (published in 2008) also enabled me and other global strategists to forge the appropriate alliances and isolate the extremists. Read more ..

Israel on Edge

UNESCO Pulls Jewish Exhibit After Last Minute Protest From Arab League

January 17th 2014

jerusalem from mt of olives

UNESCO (the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization) has pulled a Jewish exhibit two years in the making, titled “People, Book, Land -- The 3,500 Year Relationship of the Jewish People and the Land of Israel,” after a zero hour protest from the Arab League.

The exhibit, which was created by Los Angeles-based Jewish human rights group the Simon Wiesenthal Center (SWC) together with UNESCO, was scheduled to open on January 20th, 2014 at UNESCO’s Paris headquarters. The invitations had already gone out, and the fully prepared exhibition material was already in place. The display was co-sponsored by Israel, Canada, and Montenegro.

Rabbi Marvin Hier, Dean of the SWC, called the move an “absolute outrage.” “The Arabs,” he said, “don’t want the world to know that the Jews have a 3,500-year relationship to the Land of Israel.” Read more ..

The Digital Edge

Network Neutrality Debate May Be Headed Back to FCC

January 16th 2014

computer keyboard woman hands

Despite reports to the contrary, the debate over network neutrality is far from over. An appeals court recently overturned rules that bar broadband providers from blocking or slowing Internet traffic. But the court also suggested that the Federal Communications Commission can take another shot at the issue by reconsidering how it regulates the Internet.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled that the FCC doesn’t have the authority to require broadband providers to treat online content equally -- leaving them free to manipulate online traffic or charge companies such as Netflix Inc. a premium for faster delivery.

If the FCC decides to take up the issue again, it will face some of the most formidable lobbyists in town. Three Internet service providers were among the top 20 lobbying spenders in the first nine months of 2013. Combined they hired more than 350 lobbyists, 14 of whom were former members of Congress. Read more ..

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