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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 ..


Ukraine on Edge

Ukraine Appears Poised to Revert to Soviet-Style Repression of Catholics

January 15th 2014

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Ukraine’s government is threatening to proscribe one of the country’s historic Christian churches in what appears to be a reversal for democracy in the Eastern European nation. President Viktor Yanukovych has threatened to drop from the government registry the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church – which is in communion with Pope Francis and thus a part of the worldwide Catholic Church. This would open up both priests and bishops to civil prosecution for providing spiritual care to the thousands of fellow Ukrainians who are protesting their support for Ukraine’s admission to the European Union which is now opposed by President Yanukovych and his ally, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

A letter from Ukraine’s Ministry of Culture that cited “systematic disregard for the law by some priests” at mass protests held at Kyiv’s Maidan Nezalezhnosti or Freedom Square, was made public on January 6. Read more ..


Iran's Nukes

Obama Administration Dismisses Iran's Victory Lap

January 15th 2014

The White House has dismissed a claim by Iranian President Hassan Rohani that the interim nuclear deal Iran reached in Geneva in November marked the 'surrender' of major powers.

President Hassan Rohani has described a nuclear deal reached in Geneva in November as a victory for Iran. Rohani made the claim in Iran's southwestern province of Khuzestan on January 14, saying the interim deal was a "surrender" by major powers to Iranian demands. "The Geneva agreement means acceptance of the Iranian nation's nuclear right and defeat of cruel sanctions [against Iran]," he said.

But in Washington, White House spokesman Jay Carney said, "it is not surprising to us...that the Iranians are describing the agreement in a certain way towards their domestic audience." Read more ..


Broken Economy

Detroit Showcases Dramatic Turnaround at Auto Show

January 14th 2014

Tesla Car

U.S. automakers have much to celebrate at this year’s North American International Auto Show in Detroit.

Fueled by growing sales and increased production, the industry has made a dramatic turnaround since hovering on the brink of collapse less than five years ago.

Taking a chance
Facing bankruptcy in 2009, Chrysler was grappling with the fate of its assets, including the Sterling Heights Assembly Plant where Charles Archard worked.

“Me and my wife both worked in the plant," Archard said. "She took the buyout. I stayed there. But there was a 50/50 chance that it could have went bankrupt. I took that chance.”

It paid off. Chrysler not only reversed its decision to close Sterling Heights, but also added another shift. At this year’s North American International Auto Show, the company announced that workers like Archard will soon be building a new mid-size sedan at the plant, which will offer job security for the foreseeable future. “And then we found out a billion dollars is going to be put into the plant for new vehicles and everything, so it was great,” Archard said. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

US, Russia Split Over Inviting Iran to Syria Peace Talks

January 13th 2014

Syrian Dead

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov met Monday in Paris to plan for Syrian peace talks later this month.  The men could not agree on inviting Iran to join those talks.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has no bigger ally than Iran.  So his government says it expects Iran will be invited to planned peace talks in Geneva "just like any other state."

The international mediator to the conflict, Lakhdar Brahimi, agrees. "Iran is a very important country in the region and they have to be present in a conference like this," he said. But while the United Nations is responsible for sending the invitations, Brahimi says he is working in consensus with the main organizing partners: Russia and the United States. Read more ..


Obama's Second Term

Obama to Get His Day in Court for Abuse of Executive Power

January 12th 2014

Nothing less than the boundaries of executive power are at stake Monday as the Supreme Court considers whether President Obama violated the Constitution during his first term.

Oral arguments slated for Monday will center on a trio of recess appointments to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) that were deemed unconstitutional by lower courts.

If they uphold the decision, experts say the justices could endanger hundreds of NLRB decisions. Even more significant are the ramifications for future presidents, with the court poised either to bolster or blunt the chief executive’s appointment powers.

“Rulings like this have implications that last for centuries,” said Michael Lotito, an employment and labor attorney and co-chairman of Littler Mendelson's Workplace Policy Institute. Read more ..


Significant Lives

Israeli Public, World Leaders Pay Tribute to Sharon

January 12th 2014

Sharon lays in state Jan 2014

On Sunday, January 12, thousands gathered to pay their last respects to Israel’s eleventh prime minister and brilliant military strategist, Ariel Sharon, who passed away on Saturday after spending the last eight years of his life in a coma following a stroke in 2006. Sharon’s casket was placed in the Knesset in an area open to the public from morning until evening. Young children and the elderly; religious and secular; right-wingers and left-wingers, were among those that made up the diverse crowd that came to pay tribute tothe leader known by the Israeli public and media as Arik.

“He was the people’s leader,” said Marcelle Romano, a grandmother originally from Sderot. “I remember seeing Arik in Sderot on many occasions. My neighbor, Kochava Haroush worked on his ranch as a cook and housekeeper for many years,” Marcelle recalled. “In Sderot, we loved him -- he was bigger than life.” Read more ..


Obama's Second Term

Obama to Announce Reforms to NSA Surveillance

January 12th 2014

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President Obama is under fire from all sides to announce major reforms to the National Security Agency on Friday.

Privacy and civil liberties groups as well as lawmakers on the left have urged for a wholesale termination of much of the government’s snooping. Silicon Valley, home to some of Obama’s biggest supports, is also pressing for change. So are foreign leaders, rankled by the notion that their ally might be spying on them.

The calls for reforms put Obama in a tough spot give his administration’s insistence that the NSA’s efforts are critical for national security.
While Obama is sure to announce some significant policy changes in his Jan. 17 address, it remains unclear just how far he is willing to go. Read more ..


Significant Lives

Former Israeli Premier Ariel Sharon Dies After Long Coma

January 11th 2014

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Former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has died from complications associated with a massive stroke that he suffered eight years ago. He was 85.

Israeli news reports say Sharon died Saturday at a hospital near Tel Aviv. A week ago, medical officials said his kidneys and other vital organs had begun to fail.

As a soldier, he was known for his daring heroics on the battlefield in the decades following the creation of the State of Israel, most notably during the Yom Kippur War of 1973. In a brilliant tactical display, he led Israeli troops across the Suez Canal, cutting off Egypt's third army. Read more ..


Iraq on Edge

Iraq is Turning to Russia for Aid

January 10th 2014

Bye bye Iraq

One week has passed since al-Qaida militants raised their flag over government buildings in Fallujah and declared an independent Islamic state.  The White House has called on Congress to help provide aid to Iraq as soon as possible.  This week, the Iraqi ambassador to the United States told VOA in an interview with the Persian News Network his country is going to Russia for help. 

The recent terrorist takeover in Fallujah and other parts of Anbar province has created a new urgency within the Iraqi government.  And while Iraq appreciates current U.S. counterterrorism support, the Iraqi ambassador to the U.S., Lukman Faily, says the government is turning to Russia for military equipment while the U.S. Congress deliberates President Barack Obama's latest request. "We are under no obligation to work with only one partner, whether it's Iranians, or Americans or Russians or French, no," said Faily. Read more ..


South Korea on Edge

South Koreans Show Outrage Over Rodman's Pyongyang Trip

January 9th 2014

Kim Jong Un North Korea basketball

American basketball star Dennis Rodman’s trip to North Korea is not winning him many friends in South Korea.

South Korean social media sites are filled with sneering comments about the former National Basketball Association All-Star - accusing him of going to North Korea for money and calling him names like “psychopath.”

One Twitter user wrote, “Dear North Korea: Rodman is a gift.  Happy (belated) holidays” @MangJang_chb(01.06).

Comments became especially angry after a video showed him singing “Happy Birthday” to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

Rodman, who is on his fourth trip to North Korea, calls Kim his friend.  This time, he brought along a group of former NBA players and others to play basketball with North Korean players, an effort in what Rodman calls sports diplomacy. Read more ..


The Toxic Edge

IBM in Toxic Debacle

January 9th 2014

The findings from a federal study which examined over 34,000 workers who worked at IBM's Endicott plant from 1969 to 2001 have just been released. The study found the total number of deaths from all causes and all cancers combined were lower among the workers than what would be expected.

However, deaths from some types of cancer were more frequent than what would be expected. Several types of cancers were relatively more common in workers who had more potential exposure to specific chemicals or worked longer in certain production buildings.

This, according to a doctor who conducted another study of IBM Endicott workers which pre-dated the federal one, is consistent with his findings.

"It replicated one major finding which was lymphoma. We found that in an earlier look and sure enough the NIOSH study showed it as well. Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma was elevated in the workers in this plant in Endicott," said Dr. Richard Clapp, Professor Emeritus at the Boston University School of Public Health. Read more ..


Obama's Second Term

Obama Aides Strike Back at Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates

January 8th 2014

Former White House officials rushed to defend President Obama against scathing criticism from former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. In his new memoir, Gates wrote the president did not believe in his own strategy in Afghanistan, and that for him, it was “all about getting out.”

Former White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley said Gates shouldn’t have released his memoir while the war in Afghanistan is still being fought. “It’s one thing as historians look back on an administration, but in the middle of it, when you’re pursuing a war at the same time, and one that is controversial with the American people and has been very difficult on our military, I think it’s just a disservice to be very frank with you,” Daley said on January 7 on CBS’s “This Morning.”

“I understand while everyone wants to get out there and write a book and get on the circuit, but I think it’s unfortunate,” Daley said, while emphasizing he had respect for the former Defense chief.

In the coming book “Duty: Memories of a Secretary at War,” Gates said that some White House staff took “micromanagement and operational meddling to a new level.” Read more ..


The Battle for Iraq

Iraq city Fallujah Now Fully Under al-Qaida Control

January 7th 2014

Rebel fighters

The city center of Iraq's Fallujah has fallen completely into the hands of fighters from the al-Qaida-linked Islamic State in Iraq and Levant, police said Saturday, yet another victory for the hardline group that has made waves across the region in recent days. ISIL is also one of the strongest rebel units in Syria, where it has imposed a strict version of Islamic law in territories it holds and kidnapped and killed anyone it deems critical of its rule. Also on Saturday, it claimed responsibility for a suicide car bombing in a Shiite-dominated neighborhood in Lebanon.

Hadi Razeij, head of the Anbar province police force, said police had left the city center entirely and had positioned themselves on the edge of town. "The walls of the city are in the hands of the police force, but the people of Fallujah are the prisoners of ISIL," he said, speaking on Arabic language satellite broadcaster al-Arabiya. Read more ..


Palestine on Edge

Illegal Weapons Found at Palestinian Embassy in Czech Republic Following Mysterious Death of Ambassador

January 6th 2014

Just days after the death of the Palestinian ambassador to the Czech Republic in Prague, some 12 illegal weapons were uncovered at the embassy complex on January 5. While local police declined to give further details, Palestine’s deputy foreign minister hastened to say that the weapons were not illegal.

Deputy Palestinian Foreign Minister Taysir Jaradat confirmed on January 5 that in a meeting with his Czech counterpart he was held to account for the firearms. “We told them that these guns have been in the embassy for a long time -- going back to the former regime of Czechoslovakia -- and these guns were either licensed in the embassy or were given as gifts to the ambassador." Speaking to Voice of Palestine, Jaradat affirmed "They are not in use."

During the years of the Cold War, the terrorist Palestine Liberation Organization was closely aligned with the former Soviet Union and the communist-controlled countries, including Romania, the Democratic Republic of Germany, and the former Czechoslovakia. The PLO had diplomatic representatives throughout the former Soviet bloc. PLO terrorists, as were other leftists, received training in explosives, espionage and disinformation. In addition, numerous Palestinians received academic training at universities in Soviet-controlled countries. For example, Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas holds a doctorate from a Soviet university. Read more ..


The War on Terror

American Weapons Manufacturer Refuses Sale to Pakistan

January 6th 2014

A U.S. gun manufacturer has turned down a multi-million dollar opportunity to sell arms to Pakistan, citing concerns the weapons would be used against American soldiers.

Nick Young, founder of Desert Tech, said on his company's Facebook page that it had been approached to "legally supply" sniper systems to Pakistan. The company was formerly known as Desert Tactical Arms.

Young said the Utah-based company's "greatest fear" was that the equipment might be used against U.S. troops. He said he started the company "to protect Americans, not endanger them." He also said that his company employs several military veterans.

The contract was reported to be worth as much as $15 million.

"I don't feel good about this, and it really got the owner Nick Young to think about it," said Desert Tech Sales Manager Mike Davis. Read more ..


Egypt After Morsi

Dozens Injured or Dead from Recent Cairo Clashes

January 5th 2014

Wounded Egyptian Protester

The death toll from the latest clashes between hard-line Sunni protesters and security forces in Egypt has risen to 17, a security official said Saturday, less than two weeks ahead of a key referendum on an amended constitution. In what were the deadliest street battles in months, Cairo and other heavily populated residential areas on Friday witnessed hundreds of Muslim Brotherhood members and their supporters throw firebombs and rocks at security forces, who responded with water cannons and tear gas.

Health Ministry spokesman Mohammed Fathallah said 62 people were injured in the violence.

The security official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media, said police arrested 258 protesters and confiscated homemade bombs, firearms, knives, fireworks and Molotov cocktails. Among the security forces, 17 were injured in the clashes and three vehicles and a traffic office in Egypt's second largest city of Alexandria were set on fire, he said.

Read more ..

Broken Government

Deadlocked Congress Faces Big Job in 2014

January 4th 2014

Statistics show that last year’s session of Congress was the least productive in history, with the Democratic-led Senate and the Republican-led House of Representatives far apart on most critical issues. Now, lawmakers are heading back to Capitol Hill for a fresh start in 2014, with plenty of unfinished business to take care of, including passing a Farm Bill, raising the debt ceiling and dealing with immigration reform.

Activists for immigration reform, like these hunger strikers, are likely to keep the pressure on the House of Representatives to take up the issue. The Senate passed a wide-reaching immigration reform bill last year. House Speaker John Boehner said he realizes reform is necessary. “The only way to make sure immigration reform works this time is to address these complicated issues one step at a time. I think doing so will give the American people confidence that we’re dealing with these issues in a thoughtful way and a deliberative way,” he said. Read more ..


Broken Intelligence

Napolitano: No Clemency for Edward Snowden

January 3rd 2014

Snowden

Former Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said Friday that she “would not put clemency on the table” for NSA leaker Edward Snowden.

“I think Snowden has exacted quite a bit of damage and did it in a way that violated the law,” Napolitano said in an interview airing on "Meet the Press" this Sunday.

She said damage from Snowden’s actions will be seen for years to come.
Asked if the administration should consider a deal that would allow Snowden to avoid jail time in return for unreleased documents, Napolitano said she couldn't judge without knowing what information the former defense contractor still had.

“But from where I sit today, I would not put clemency on the table at all,” she said. The New York Times and another former Obama administration official are among the voices calling for Snowden to be given a break. Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

Terrorists will not Triumph, says IOC president

January 2nd 2014

Chechen jihadis

Responding to two recent terrorist bombings in Russia, the International Olympic Committee's new president, Thomas Bach of Germany, has insisted "Sochi 2014 is for athletic achievements and terrorism must never triumph" in his New Year's Day message on Wednesday.

Bach, who had succeeded France's Jacques Rogge to become the ninth IOC chief, blasted the terrorists for their suicide bomb attacks which left more than 34 Russians dead. Security experts say that the attacks were a warning of what can be expected as Russia gears up to host the Winter Olympics in less than six weeks.

Despite the terrorist bombings, Bach claimed in his New Year's message that he firmly believes that the Russian government, police and military will "deliver a safe and secure Olympic Winter Games for all athletes and all participants and we must ensure that nothing interferes with them [the athletes] realizing their full potential in the world's biggest sports event."

Read more ..

North Korea on Edge

North Korean Leader Boasts of Unity After Bloody Purge

January 1st 2014

Kim Jong-Un

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said his country is united following a political purge that included the execution of his uncle. In a New Year's day speech, Kim also called for better relations with South Korea while warning Seoul and Washington that conflict on the peninsula could lead to a nuclear catastrophe.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un spoke publicly for the first time Wednesday about a bloody purge in December of challengers to his political power.

In the high-level upheaval, Kim executed his uncle and one-time mentor, Jang Song Thaek, believed to be Pyongyang's number two in power.

South Korea's spy agency said at least two of Jang's followers were also killed as the young leader sought to consolidate his rule.

The unprecedented publicity of the violent removal of someone so close to the Kim family raised concerns about stability in the nuclear-armed North. But in an annual New Year's Day speech aired by state broadcasters, Kim Jong Un said he removed what he called “factionalist filth” lurking in the party in order to restore unity.

He said the Korean Workers' Party detected and purged the anti-Party, counterrevolutionary factionalists at an opportune time and with a correct decision. He said the party and revolutionary ranks were further consolidated and their single-hearted unity was solidified by 100 times. Read more ..


Turkey on Edge

Corruption Probe Pummels Turkish Economy

December 31st 2013

Erdogan

Turkey's deepening political crisis between the government and judiciary over corruption allegations is impacting the country's stock market and currency. Concerns are growing about the financial and economic fall out.

The increasingly bitter struggle between the government and judiciary over a graft has pummeled Turkey's financial markets. The stock market has fallen nearly 20 percent while the Turkish lira has hit new lows.

Analyst Atilla Yesilada, of the Istanbul based political consulting firm Global Source Partners, says the full impact of the crisis will only be felt when financial markets return after the New Year's holiday period.

"In January or so, the world banking and investment community will return to their desks, trying to decide what to do with the Turkey conundrum. Unless there is a breakthrough in this crisis, I anticipate a lot of macro funds would sell," he said. "We don’t see a way out, How is it going to end? I mean nobody can speculate a decent scenario." Read more ..


Russia on Edge

International Olympic Committee Reassures World about Terrorism in Russia

December 30th 2013

Chechen Islamist militants

The International Olympic Committee says it remains confident the upcoming Winter Games in Sochi will be “safe and secure” despite terrorist bombings in the Russian city of Volgograd that have killed more than 30 people.

The IOC says its president, Thomas Bach, has written to Russian President Vladimir Putin expressing condolences for the Volgograd attacks and stating that he remains "certain that everything will be done to ensure the security of the athletes and all the participants of the Olympic Games."

Monday, a suspected suicide attack demolished a crowded trolley bus in Volgograd, some 650 kilometers northeast of Sochi, which will host the 2014 Winter Olympics in February. The attack came one day after a deadly suicide bombing at the city’s main railway station.

Russian authorities have increased security in and around the southern city. Read more ..


Egypt's Second Revolution

Muslim Brotherhood Supporters Torch University Buildings During Riot

December 30th 2013

Egypt army protest

An Egyptian university student was killed in Cairo when members and supporters of the radical Islamist group, the Muslim Brotherhood, attacked campus police and torched university buildings on Saturday. Egyptian news organizations are blaming the student protesters for large fires set in two buildings on the campus of Cairo's al-Azhar University. Last week the Muslim Brotherhood was officially designated a "terrorist organization" and banned by the Egyptian government.

The deadly conflict between the Brotherhood and the Egyptian government began just after Egypt's military ousted President Mohammed Morsi, who is a leading member of the Muslim Brotherhood. Morsi was deposed and then arrested in July. The campus fires, which were ignited on Saturday morning, were finally brought under control in the afternoon by campus security police who had to fight the fire while attempting to quell the riot. However, examinations for several classes were rescheduled for a later date by school officials.

Read more ..

Russia on Edge

Deadly Terrorist Attack Kills 16 in Russia; Islamists suspected

December 29th 2013

Russian officials say they believe a female suicide bomber caused an explosion that killed at least 16 people and wounded dozens on December 29 at the entrance to a train station in Volgograd. The latest attack in southern Russia occurred about 650 kilometers northeast of Sochi, which will host the Winter Olympics in February. Russia’s federal investigative committee says the bomber walked into a busy train station in Volgograd and detonated explosives just in front of metal detectors.

Vladimir Markin, who heads Russia's Investigative Committee, said that this explosion was the equivalent of 10 kilograms of TNT. According to VOA News, Markin said there would have been many more victims if the so-called guarding system at the train station hadn't worked. He pointed out that security did not allow the suicide bomber to get through the metal detector into the waiting hall where at the time there were lots of people because three trains were late. Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

Egyptian Army Foils Hamas Sinai attack

December 29th 2013

Gaza Qasam Rocket

The Egyptian army said Wednesday it had foiled a plan by Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas to attack a strategic security building in North Sinai, where militants have increased activity in recent months.

A member of the movement revealed the plan when the army interrogated him, military spokesman Colonel Ahmed Ali said in a statement.

Ali said the army arrested "a Palestinian belonging to Hamas who illegally entered Egypt... in a car with North Sinai license plate".

During questioning "he confessed he planned to blow up (his car) in front of a strategic security building," Ali said. In October, Gaza's Hamas prime minister Ismail Haniya had denied reports his movement was involved in fighting in the Sinai where militant attacks on security forces have increased since the ouster of president Mohamed Morsi on July 3. Read more ..


Inside Politics

Five Senate Races to Watch

December 28th 2013

Congress-senate

Democrats and Republicans are amassing enormous war chests for a midterm battle that will decide who controls the Senate for the remainder of President Obama’s term.

Republicans need a net gain of six seats to reclaim the Senate majority, and are gunning for Democratic incumbents in conservative-leaning states like Arkansas, Alaska, North Carolina, West Virginia and Louisiana. Democrats are mostly playing defense, but see a few opportunities to peel away seats from the GOP column. Here are the five Senate races to watch in 2014.

KENTUCKY
The reelection bid of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is the marquee race of the election cycle. Outside groups on both sides have already spent more than $3.5 million dollars on the race, and are prepared to spend tens of millions more. Read more ..


Broken Intelligence

NSA Snooping is Legal, Says Federal Judge

December 27th 2013

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A federal judge on Friday ruled that the National Security Agency’s (NSA) collection of records on virtually all U.S. phone calls is legal.

Judge William Pauley of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York found the program is needed to combat terrorism and moved to dismiss a lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

"The question for this court is whether the Government’s bulk telephony metadata program is lawful. The court finds that it is,” Pauley wrote. The NSA program collects “metadata,” such as call numbers and times, and its existence was revealed in documents leaked by Edward Snowden. Pauley reaffirmed a Supreme Court ruling from 1979 that says the Fourth Amendment does not protect the records because the caller is voluntarily ceding the information to a telephone company. Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

Muslim Brotherhood a Terror Group

December 25th 2013

Morsi

Egypt’s military-run government has declared the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist group. The move comes months after the military removed Mohammed Morsi from the presidency. Morsi was the Muslim Brotherhood’s candidate in the 2012 election.

The new government's minister of education read a statement announcing the decision, which will give more power to authorities to crack down on the group.

"The Cabinet has declared the Muslim Brotherhood group and its organization as a terrorist organization," the statement from Minister of Higher Education Hossam Elssa read, according to a Fox News report. The organization has long been a power in Egypt, and was an illegal group in that country until after the 2011 revolution that toppled President Hosni Mubarak. But under Morsi, serious opposition developed against the group. Read more ..


Broken Healthcare

Millions of Americans Flood Obamacare Website

December 24th 2013

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Millions of consumers are flooding the online federal healthcare portal ahead of Tuesday’s deadline to purchase insurance that would be effective on Jan. 1, according to the Obama administration.

The HealthCare.gov website set a record for Internet traffic on Monday, with nearly 2 million people visiting the site, and an additional quarter of a million phoning the call centers, according to the administration’s Twitter account. An additional 1 million visited the site and 200,000 called in over the weekend.

Monday was supposed to be the cutoff date for obtaining ObamaCare coverage that takes effect on Jan 1, but in the latest delay to the law, the administration announced people who have begun the enrollment process would actually have until Christmas Eve to complete it. Read more ..


Broken Education

Dozens of U.S. Universities Reject Academic Boycott of Israel

December 24th 2013

Statue of John Harvard by Daniel Chester French, in Harvard Yard, Harvard University

Dozens of American colleges and universities are rejecting an academic boycott of Israeli universities recently approved by the academic American Studies Association, the nation’s oldest and largest association devoted to the interdisciplinary study of American culture and history. And a few schools said they are withdrawing from the organization. The association’s membership — or, rather, 66.05 percent of the 1,252 votes that came in from the group’s 5,000 members — approved the boycott last week over the objections of numerous former presidents of the organization and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who angered activists by saying that he does not support a boycott of Israel (though he does support a boycott of Israeli products in the occupied territories). Read more ..


Intelligence on Edge

US Lawmakers to Debate Proposed Intelligence Reforms

December 23rd 2013

Congress-senate

A U.S. lawmaker says the data collection practices of the National Security Agency will be the focus of a congressional hearing next month.

The chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Democrat Patrick Leahy, says the already embattled U.S. National Security Agency will be subjected to further scrutiny when lawmakers return to Washington in January. Appearing on NBC’s Meet the Press program, Leahy said the committee will review a presidential panel’s recommendations for overhauling bulk data collection that has provoked outcries at home and abroad. “The first public exposure to what the panel has said is going to be [examined] before the Senate Judiciary Committee in a couple weeks,” said Leahy.

Last week, President Barack Obama said he is reviewing 46 recommendations put forth by the panel to better protect private communications and personal information while satisfying U.S. intelligence needs.  Leahy says the saga of fugitive former NSA contractor Edward Snowden makes it clear to all that the agency must be reformed. “They did such a poor job, the NSA, that a sub-contractor was able to steal all their secrets,” said Leahy. Read more ..


Inside Washington

Senate Waters Roiled by Baucus' Departure to China Ambassadorship

December 22nd 2013

President Obama’s nomination of Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) as U.S. ambassador to China is the latest shake-up in the tumultuous battle for the Senate majority.

Democrats believe the nomination will increase their chances of winning seats in Montana and potentially in Louisiana, where vulnerable Sen. Mary Landrieu (D) is in line to pick up the Energy Committee gavel thanks to Baucus’s exit.

But Republicans say their chances of recapturing the majority are rising due to President Obama’s sagging poll numbers. They hope to make races in New Hampshire and Michigan competitive, and are looking to land a strong candidate in Virginia to put the state in play.

Republicans need a net gain of six seats to win the Senate majority in 2014, and are counting on victories against Democratic incumbents in states like Arkansas, North Carolina and Louisiana to get them there. Read more ..


Broken Government

Making or Breaking Obamacare in 2014

December 21st 2013

President Obama is taking a bruised and bandaged ObamaCare into 2014 after a year of unprecedented problems for his administration and its signature law.

While the White House insists its efforts are on-track, the blundering on display in key portions of the reform's rollout surprised even Obama's most ardent critics in 2013.

Obama sought to ward off criticism on Friday, even as he indicated that the botched rollout was his biggest mistake of the year. "The basic structure of that law is working. Despite all the problems, despite the website problems, despite the messaging problems, despite all that, it's working," he told a news conference.

"You don't have to take my word for it. We've got a couple million people who are going to have health insurance just in the first three months," he added. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

Syrian Christians Seek Refuge in Turkey

December 20th 2013

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The growing presence of fighters from radical Islamic groups battling the Syrian regime is increasing pressure on Syria’s ancient Assyrian Christians, many of whom are fleeing to neighboring Turkey. At the Mort Smuni Church in the Turkish city of Mardin near the Syrian border, the service of St. John the Baptist is part of Advent, when an individual saint is celebrated every Sunday in the run-up to Christmas. The members of the small Assyrian Christian community gathered for services are joined by fellow Assyrians who have fled from Syria, just a couple hours drive down the road.

After the services, Father Gabriel meets with church community elders to discuss how to assist the growing numbers of refugees. Currently, they are supporting over a hundred families. He says the rise of Islamic groups fighting the Syrian regime is forcing many Christians to flee.

"In Syria, the conditions for Christians is very bad," he said. "Last week they have kidnapped 12 nuns and, before, two bishops, and they killed many, many Christians and kidnap many persons and told them you must become Muslims. " Read more ..


Broken Government

Senate Hatches Last-Minute Deal

December 20th 2013

The Senate reached a last-minute procedural agreement late Thursday that spared them from horribly-timed votes on Friday and Saturday, and should let everyone fly home Friday for Christmas.

Before the deal, senators were facing a bitter end to a bitter year.

Senate Republicans were forcing Democrats to take as much time as possible working through nominations. They had even planned to skip town after a vote on a key defense bill, and leave Democrats to suffer through a long series of cloture votes and nomination votes starting at 4 a.m. Friday. That raised the prospect that several nomination votes would have been run through the Senate with only a handful of Republican senators around.

But late Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) announced a deal that allows for a more normal voting schedule. After two late votes Friday, Reid said the 4 a.m. votes were called off, and voting would start mid-morning.

"There will be a series of six roll call votes tomorrow [Friday], beginning at about 10 a.m.," Reid said.

Few lawmakers were around to hear him, but most Republicans were expected to call off their plans to leave town, and instead stick around for the votes. Then, in a tiny sign of bipartisanship — in a year marred by endless partisan divisions —both Republicans and Democrats are expected to leave town together sometime Friday. Read more ..


The Mideast on Edge

Saudi Arabia Prince Shakes Hands With Former Israeli Diplomat, Slams U.S. Mideast Policy

December 19th 2013

Prince Turki al-Faisal

Prince Turki al-Faisal of Saudi Arabia reportedly met with Israeli officials at the World Policy Conference in Monaco on Sunday.

According to Maariv, al-Faisal publicly shook hands with former Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Itamar Rabinovich and also held a discussion with MK Meir Sheetrit. The report added that Sheetrit invited al-Faisal to speak to the Israeli Knesset.

During his remarks at the conference, al-Faisal was critical of U.S. President Barack Obama’s Mideast policy.

“We’ve seen several red lines put forward by the president, which went along and became pinkish as time grew, and eventually ended up completely white,” said al-Faisal, the former intelligence chief of Saudi Arabia, the New York Times reported. Read more ..


Broken Government

US-India Relations Roiled by Arrest of Indian Diplomat

December 18th 2013

An Indian diplomat arrested in the United States last week said she faced repeated handcuffing, stripping and body cavity searches while being held on visa fraud charges in New York City, fueling a diplomatic dispute between the U.S. and India. In an email published in Indian media on December 18, Deputy Consul General Devyani Khobragade, said she broke down in tears multiple times while undergoing cavity searches and other indignities. She said she was also held in a space with common criminals and drug addicts despite her repeated assertions that she had diplomatic immunity.

India has reacted with outrage to Khobragade's arrest. Supporters of a small opposition party staged an anti-U.S. protest in New Delhi on December 18. On December 17, Indian authorities asked U.S. consular officers to return their identity cards, rescinded airport passes and removed concrete security barriers from in front of the U.S. embassy in New Delhi. Read more ..


Ukraine on Edge

Ukrainian Opposition Greets Putin's Promises with Skepticism

December 18th 2013

Ukrainian Prime Minister Mykola Azarov says his country's new bailout deal with Russia will allow Ukraine to revitalize its economy and avoid collapse, but pro-European Union demonstrations continue in Kiev and other Ukrainian cities.

Azarov made the statement on December 18, a day after Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukraine's President Viktor Yanukovych held talks in Moscow.

Putin has promised to reduce the price of natural gas exports to Ukraine by a third and lend it $15 billion.

Opposition leader Vitaly Klitschko greeted Putin's announcement with skepticism on December 17, telling supporters that Yanukovych had handed over Ukraine's national interests, independence and every Ukrainian's prospects for a better life. Anti-government protests in Ukraine began a month ago when Yanukovych refused to sign an EU trade deal in favor of closer ties with Russia. Read more ..


Broken Government

US Likely to Appeal Surveillance Ruling

December 17th 2013

NSA

The U.S. government is expected to appeal a judge's ruling that the National Security Agency's secret collection of telephone records from millions of Americans is likely unconstitutional.

The decision has triggered new conjecture about the legality of U.S. surveillance. Former national security contractor Edward Snowden, who leaked a vast trove of details about the U.S. spying before fleeing to asylum in Russia, praised the ruling, but two national security legal experts told  VOA Tuesday that courts could ultimately uphold government surveillance programs.

Robert Turner of the University of Virginia's Center for National Security Law said that a 1979 U.S. Supreme Court ruling upholding the collection of telephone data is still relevant even though cell phones had not been invented at the time, nor their widespread usage throughout the world even imagined.

He compared the government's limited collection of telephone records - the numbers called, and the length and date of them, but not the content - to the much more intrusive searches of travelers at airports. Those searches have been ruled legal, and not a violation of the U.S. Constitution's prohibition of illegal searches of individuals. Read more ..



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