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Ukraine on Edge

Ukrainians Take To the Streets in Favor of EU Accord

December 15th 2013

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An estimated 200,000 pro-EU protesters gathered on December 15 in Kyiv's Independence Square, as demonstrators continued their protests against President Viktor Yanukovych's rejection of an association accord with the European Union in favor of closer ties with Russia. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) addressed the opposition rally, telling demontrators that "Ukraine will make Europe better and Europe will make Ukraine better."



McCain told the cheering crowd, "America stands with you. We are here because your peaceful process and peaceful protest is inspiring your country and inspiring the world,” McCain said. “We are here to support your just cause -- the sovereign right of Ukraine to determine its own destiny freely and independently. And the destiny you seek lies in Europe."



McCain visited the rally together with Senator Chris Murphy (CT-D) had earlier met with opposition leaders and demonstrators.

 Read more ..


Broken Government

Big Business Applauds Boehner's Budget

December 14th 2013

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Business lobbyists are pumping their fists over Speaker John Boehner’s (R-Ohio) slap-down of conservative groups. Executives at trade groups told The Hill they were pleasantly surprised by the strident remarks this week from the typically laid-back Speaker.

“You didn't hear all the applause across downtown?” said Dirk Van Dongen, president and CEO of the National Association of Wholesaler-Distributors (NAW). “Folks were absolutely pleased that he said it. … It needed to be said.”

Boehner this week said conservative groups had “lost all credibility” by opposing the budget pact before it was even released. He said the activist organizations are “using our members, and they’re using the American people for their own goals.” Read more ..


Israelis and Palestinians

IDF Opens Crossing Into Gaza to Facilitate Humanitarian Aid During Freak Snowstorm

December 13th 2013

Rafah crossing

The Israel Defense Forces said Major General Eitan Dangot has called for his troops to open the Kerem Shalom Crossing into the Gaza Strip to facilitate the arrival of humanitarian aid, responding to a request by United Nations officials, as the region’s desert dwellers brace for continued heavy snow fall in a region that usually features a very temperate climate.

The IDF said that, earlier on Friday, tanks with heating gas for warming houses were transferred into the strip. Later in the day, as part of a combined effort, the Ministry of Defense, the Israeli National Water Company Mekorot, and UN agencies will transfer four water pumps into Gaza to address flooding from the snow.

Additionally, the Civil Administration has established a combined Israeli-Palestinian command center to address the civilian needs in Judea and Samaria concerning traffic and power cuts from the snow. Read more ..


India and Afghanistan

Eyeing Pakistan, India Treads Carefully As It Mulls Expanded Afghan Role

December 13th 2013

Karzai

As the U.S. presence in Afghanistan continues to diminish, Kabul is bolstering regional alliances to shore up its security and economic future.

That would explain Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s four-day visit to India that ends on December 15 and comes after recent meetings with neighbors Pakistan and Iran.

New Delhi has poured billions of dollars into the reconstruction effort in Afghanistan and trained hundreds of Afghan officers. And Karzai is expected to plead for further assistance, including lethal military hardware, during his trip.

But any expanded Indian role in Afghanistan after the drawdown of international forces next year will set off alarm bells in neighboring Pakistan, which is already suspicious of New Delhi’s activities in the country.

Michael Kugelman, South Asia associate at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, says as a regional military and economic power, New Delhi can play a key role in terms of regional security and developing Afghanistan’s aid-dependent economy. Kugelman says New Delhi has a long-term stake in Afghanistan: countering the influence of archrival Pakistan while exploring trade and business opportunities.

“India has a very strong stake in the Taliban not returning to power, and the Taliban having no influence or significance in any post-2014 dispensation," Kugelman says. "That’s because the Taliban and its allies are extremely hostile to India. In Afghanistan, India also has business interests in natural resources, particularly in the mining industry.” Read more ..


Broken Government

House of Representatives Votes Today on Budget Compromise

December 12th 2013

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The House is expected to vote Thursday on a two-year deal that would represent the first bipartisan budget compromise of the new divided-government era.

GOP leaders expect their measure will pass, despite complaints from House Democrats that it includes a fix to prevent a cut in doctor payments but does not extend federal unemployment benefits set to expire this month.

Most Republicans appear to be backing Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and GOP leaders, although some conservatives will oppose it over concerns it does not cut spending deeply enough.

The agreement would set a $1.012 trillion spending ceiling for fiscal 2014 and eliminate $63 billion in proposed sequester spending cuts. Read more ..


Broken Government

Budget Deal Reveals Republican Rift

December 12th 2013

The rift between House Republican leaders and outside conservative organizations broke into the open Wednesday as Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) rebuked groups that had preemptively denounced a budget deal. Distrust between Boehner and conservative groups has been a theme of his Speakership, but it boiled over the day before an expected vote on a two-year budget deal likely to hand the Speaker’s team a victory.

Conservative groups, including Heritage Action and FreedomWorks, had assailed the agreement even before it was struck, prompting Boehner to lash out at them. “They’re using our members, and they’re using the American people for their own goals. This is ridiculous,” Boehner told reporters at a press conference after the GOP meeting. Read more ..


Broken Government

Congressional Budget Deal is Good News for DoD

December 11th 2013

The deal struck Tuesday by Budget Committee leaders would give the Pentagon $22 billion in sequester relief in fiscal 2014.

While the budget deal provides some sequester relief for the military that Pentagon leaders have clamored for, it does not raise spending back up to pre-sequester funding levels.

In all, the agreement will increase defense spending by $31.7 billion above the sequestration caps over the next two years, with an equal amount of relief going to non-defense discretionary spending.
Members of the military would help pay for the boost in spending.

A summary of the agreement says that veterans under the age of 62 will have to pay more into their retirement accounts. Read more ..


The Iranian Threat

Congressional Democrat Voices Concern over U.S. Parts for Iran's Jets

December 10th 2013

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A senior Democrat is lashing out at a provision of the nuclear deal with Iran that could make it easier for the country to repair its aging fleet of civilian aircraft.

A little-noticed provision of the deal paves the way for U.S. companies such as Boeing and General Electric to inspect and repair Iran's American-made planes inside Iran. But Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.), a senior member of the House Foreign Affairs panel and a hawk on Iran, says the planes could be used to promote terrorism and support Syria's Bashar Assad.

“America should exploit some of the vagaries in the agreement’s language and prevent Boeing from repairing Iranian aircraft until we have a final deal,” Sherman said in a statement Tuesday. “Otherwise we will have made a permanent irreversible concession in a 'temporary' agreement.” He said he opposes “licensing parts and services needed to repair Iran's American-made planes because they have been used to support some of Iran's worst activities.” Read more ..


Iran's Nukes

Senate Pushes Through Defense Bill but Dodges Iran Sanctions

December 10th 2013

The push for Iran sanctions took a major hit on Monday as lawmakers on the Armed Services panels moved to rush through a $607 billion Pentagon spending bill without amendments. The leaders said they wanted their mammoth bill to be rushed through both chambers because the House plans to adjourn at the end of the week.

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and ranking member James Inhofe (R-Okla.) argued there simply isn’t time to consider amendments on Iran or anything else. “This is the only way we can pass a bill this year,” Levin said at a press conference unveiling the committees’ agreement on the Pentagon policy bill. Read more ..


After Fukushima

Record Outdoor Radiation Level at Fukushima ‘Can Kill in 20 Minutes'

December 9th 2013

Rad monitor Japan

Outdoor radiation levels have reached their highest at Japan’s Fukushima nuclear plant,warns the operator company.Radiation found in an area near a steel pipe that connects reactor buildings could kill an exposed person in 20 minutes,local media reported.

The plant’s operator and the utility responsible for the clean-up Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) detected record radiation levels on a duct which connects reactor buildings and the 120 meter tall ventilation pipe located outside on Friday. TEPCO measured radiation at eight locations around the pipe with the highest estimated at two locations - 25 Sieverts per hour and about 15 Sieverts per hour, the company said. This is the highest level ever detected outside the reactor buildings, according to local broadcaster NHK. Earlier TEPCO said radiation levels of at least 10 Sieverts per hour were found on the pipe. Read more ..


Israel and Iran

Netanyahu Willing to Give Diplomacy a Chance on Iran's Nuclear Program

December 8th 2013

Bibi

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday he’s willing to give diplomacy a chance to weaken Iran’s nuclear program. 

For diplomacy to succeed, however, “it must be coupled with powerful sanctions and a credible military threat,” he said during comments at the Brookings Institution’s Saban Forum, adding that "Israel is prepared to do what is necessary to defend itself."

Two weeks ago, Netanyahu condemned the deal the United States reached with its allies over Iran’s nuclear program. The six-month deal requires Iran to slow its program. If Tehran meets those guidelines, a final deal could be achieved. Netanyahu’s comments indicate Israel is toning down its rhetoric over the threat of Iran. Israeli President Shimon Peres, whose post is ceremonial, said Sunday in Tel Aviv that he’s even willing to meet with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. Read more ..


Obama's Second Term

ObamaCare Navigators Ordered to go Paperless

December 7th 2013

Federal health officials have been advising ObamaCare counselors this week to stop using paper applications to enroll people — out of fear that the applications wouldn’t be processed in time.

Based on interviews the Associated Press conducted, enrollment counselors and brokers facilitating the insurance sign-up process have been advised by the Obama administration to stop using paper.

Uninsured consumers in the United States must sign up for health insurance by Dec. 23 in order to receive coverage starting Jan. 1.

“We received guidance from the feds recommending that folks apply online as opposed to paper," Mike Claffey, spokesman for the Illinois Department of Insurance, told the AP.

Counselors who spoke to the AP said federal officials discussed the paper application issues on a conference call Wednesday. Read more ..


Broken Bookselling

Did Barnes And Noble Fake the Financials on Nook?

December 7th 2013

Barnes and Noble store

The retailer’s stock closed down 12% today after it disclosed in an SEC filing that the agency is investigating two matters involving the company’s recent financial reports. On October 16 the SEC’s New York regional office told Barnes and Noble that it’s looking at a company earnings restatement in July. In addition, the SEC is curious about a charge by a “former non-executive employee” that some Information Technology expenses had been ”improperly allocated” between the Nook and Retail segments. “The Company is cooperating with the SEC, including responding to requests for documents,” Barnes and Noble says in the filing. Did the chain lose $117M of its market value today just because of an investigation? Probably not. Many investors have also become pessimistic about the number of Nook tablets and e-readers that Barnes and Noble will sell this holiday season — especially after Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos attracted so much attention on 60 Minutes last week when he disclosed his experiments with delivery drones. Read more ..

Central Africa on Edge

Central African Republic: Religious Leaders Hopeful UN Troops Will Settle Tense Situation

December 7th 2013

Catholic Church leaders in the Central African Republic are hoping the arrival of French and African troops will help settle a situation that has effectively left people barricaded in their homes in the capital, Bangui. "It's tense and dangerous on the streets and everyone is afraid," said Monsignor Cyriaque Gbate Doumalo, secretary-general of the Central Africa Republic’s Catholic bishops' conference. "We've long appealed for the international community to intervene, since no one here can do anything. We hope the new forces will now act quickly to bring this crisis to an end," he told Catholic News Service (CNS) by phone on December 5.

Doumalo said he had been unable to leave his residence because of "constant shooting everywhere," and said local radio stations, deprived of staff, were playing music rather than broadcasting news. He said St Bernard Parish in the northern part of Bangui had appealed for help after refugees from the fighting, some with gunshot wounds, sought shelter in the church. Read more ..


Russia on Edge

New Evidence of the Dark Side of Olympic Sochi emerges

December 6th 2013

Sochi 2014 Olympic games torch

A documentary detailing the irregularities marring the run-up to next year's Sochi Olympics premieres in Russia this week, in defiance of what its makers say were attempts by Moscow authorities to block the film.

"Putin's Games" offers a rare glimpse into the pervasive corruption, rights abuses, and environmental damage that critics say has pervaded the Black Sea resort as Russia scrambles to prepare it for the Winter Games in February 2014.

Producer Simone Baumann says she was approached on three occasions by Russians proposing to buy the controversial film. Baumann, who has refused to enter into negotiations, claims to have turned down lucrative offers not to show the film.

"I was not surprised by these requests," Baumann says. "I spend a lot of time in Russia and the notion that money buys everything infuriates me." Read more ..


Broken Government

Obama Denounces Income Disparities and Pushes for Minimum Wage Hike

December 4th 2013

President Obama on December 4 declared that addressing income inequality would be the focus of “all” of the White House’s efforts “for the rest of my presidency.” In a sweeping address that touched on raising the minimum wage, investing in infrastructure and ending tax breaks for the wealthy, Obama warned that the American economy has become “profoundly unequal,” declaring economic mobility the “challenge of our time.”

“The combined trends of increasing inequality and decreasing mobility pose a fundamental threat to the American dream, our way of life, and what we stand for around the globe,” he said in an hour-long speech from a community center in one of Washington, D.C.’s poorest neighborhoods, Anacostia.

Obama’s speech came as the president has seen his approval ratings drop with the disastrous rollout of ObamaCare. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

Islamists Invade Christian town in Syria and Kidnap Nuns

December 4th 2013

Rebel fighters

Islamist rebels from an al-Qaeda-affilated group on Monday invaded a Syrian town comprised primarily of Christians and abducted approximately 12 nuns, according to former U.S. intelligence and law enforcement officials monitoring the scene. The jihadists took total control of the Christian town of Maaloula, which is located north of Damascus. The heavily armed Muslim terrorists began burning houses inside of Maaloula, the news media reported, and the rebels also abducted and tortured at least a dozen Catholic nuns from the nearby Mar Thecla Monastery, the largest Christian compound in that region.

Maaloula is one of the original strongholds of Christianity in Syria during the time of the early church. The town of Maaloula has experienced several battles between President Bashar al-Assad's troops and the mostly Islamist rebels.

Read more ..

Broken Government

Congress Blows its Own Budget Deadline and Ponders Increased Revenue

December 3rd 2013

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Congressional budget conferees on December 2 failed to meet a deadline set by appropriators for a top-line budget number.

The blown deadline raises the odds that Congress will need at least a stopgap spending bill to keep the government running after Jan. 15.

Appropriators had called on the House-Senate conference to get a deal by Dec. 2 to ensure they had time to complete detailed spending bills, but the informal deadline was never endorsed by the leaders of the conference.

Sources say a small budget deal remains possible before the committee’s official deadline on Dec. 13, though this week is pivotal. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

Syria Insurgents Attack Christian village

December 3rd 2013

Syrian Rebel w/SAW

Syrian Christians have again been subjected to armed attacks by the largely Islamist insurgents currently battling to bring down the Assad regime in the Mideastern nation. Rebel militias attacked Maalula, a predominantly Christian settlement approximately 45 miles west of Syria's capital, on November 30. This is the second such attack in recent months on the city. Picturesque Maalula is one of the few places left in the Mideast where there remain speakers of Aramaic - the language spoken by Jesus. The news was confirmed by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (which is affiliated with Assad opponents based in the UK) and the Syrian government news agency (SANA). Militants serving in the Jabhat al-Nusra Islamist organization were among the attackers. The November 30 attack is the second such assault in the last 3 months. In Maalula are located the St Thekla Greek Orthodox convent and a pilgrim site dedicated to the memory of Saints Sergius and Bacchus.
Read more ..

China on Edge

Biden Junkets to China over Concerns about New Air-Defense Zone

December 2nd 2013

Vice President Joseph Biden will directly raise concerns over China's new air-defense zone with officials in Beijing during his trip to the region, the White House said Monday.

"This is an opportunity for Vice President Biden to raise our concerns directly with policymakers in Beijing and to seek clarity regarding the Chinese intentions in making this move at this time," White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters.

"It is also an opportunity to confer with our allies Japan and the Republic of Korea, both of whom are directly affected by China's actions." Biden is on a week-long trip to Japan, China and South Korea.

Late last month, China declared a disputed area off its coast an “Air Defense Identification Zone" and asked to be notified of any air travel through the region. Read more ..


Iraq on Edge

Terrorists Slaughter over 60 Iraqis in One day in Mass Executions

December 2nd 2013

Revolutionary Guards

Suspected terrorists murdered more than 60 Iraqis, many of them in mass executions, throughout Iraq on Friday. Friday’s violence makes the death toll more than 200 this week. Overall, well over 6,000 people have been killed this year in Iraq, and the government in Baghdad has practically begged for help from other nations to stop the increased number of militants Islamists especially those from al-Qaeda in Iraq, also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.

The terrorist attacks occurred in and around Baghdad and in mostly Sunni Arab parts of the country, such as Nineveh and Salaheddin provinces, as well as in the city of Kirkuk.

This latest tidal wave of violence has resulted in victims being kidnapped from their homes and later their corpses are usually found beaten and bullet-ridden. On Friday morning, Iraqi police officials reported they discovered the remains of 18 men. Two of the victims were tribal chiefs, while four police officers and a military officer were found dumped in farmland near the Sunni Arab town of Tarmiyah, just north of Baghdad. According to Iraqi police officials all 18 victims had been shot execution-style in their heads and chests and their bodies were discovered only a few hours after the mass-execution.

Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

Israel Takes Fire from Syria

December 2nd 2013

Israeli army units fired back into Syria after receiving fire from an outpost on the Syrian side on December 2. No Israeli casualties were reported following the exchange on the Golan Heights, even though local media reports that at least one Syrian soldier was hit by Israeli fire.

The clash of arms came after Israel was subjected by mortar fire that originated in Syria earlier in the day. The mortar round struck approximately 160 feet from a home located in Majdal Shams - a village of Israeli Druze. No injuries or damage were reported following the attack. Israeli Defence Forces are investigating the incident. 

Majdal Shams is one of several Druze towns in the Golan Heights area. According to Israeli National News, residents there are loyal to Syria. Druze living there have spied for Syria, according to the INN report, and some have gone to fight with the insurgents currently battling the Syrian regime of President Bashr al-Assad. Even so, some Druze - as do other non-Jewish Israelis -serve in the Israel Defence Forces, usually in combat. For example, the incoming Golani Brigade commander is a Druze. Read more ..


Iran's Nukes

Netanyahu Predicts Obama's Iran Deal will Collapse

December 1st 2013

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, visiting Rome on an official visit, reiterated his opposition to an agreement between Iran and several world powers about the Islamic Republic's nuclear weapons program.

Speaking at a Hanukah ceremony at the Great Synagogue on December 1, Netanyahu expressed concern over what he described as a rapid weakening of the international sanctions regime against Iran.

“As we have warned, and I say this with regret, the sanctions regime has started to weaken and very quickly. If tangible steps are not taken soon, it is liable to collapse and the efforts of years will vanish without anything in exchange,” said Netanyahu.

Citing the example of Judah Maccabbeas, who lead Jewish patriots in a fight to the death with Roman invaders during the 2nd century BCE, former Israeli commando Netanyahu promised that Israel will take all the steps necessary to prevent the Islamic Republic from achieving the capacity to fabricate nuclear weapons.

“I tell you and promise in the spirit of the Maccabees, we will not allow Iran to receive a military nuclear capability,” he said.

He also appeared to respond to criticism leveled against him by former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert earlier on the same day. Israeli premier Netanyahu said that he would not be silenced in his campaign for stronger action against Iran’s nuclear weaponization program. Read more ..


Broken Economy

Tax Hike Spooks Struggling Homeowners

December 1st 2013

Home Foreclosure

The housing industry and consumer advocates are preparing for a frantic eleventh-hour push to save struggling homeowners from a hefty tax bill next year.

Congress has a light end-of-year workload compared to 2012, when lawmakers scrambled to avoid the “fiscal cliff.” But industry and advocates are joining forces to highlight one particular provision, warning that allowing it to expire could push more homeowners into foreclosure just as the housing market is recovering.

The provision in question exempts homeowners that have some portion of their mortgage forgiven, typically by a short sale, from having to pay taxes on that forgiven debt. Under normal tax law, such forgiven debt is taxed as income, but the Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act, enacted in 2007 as the subprime bubble was bursting, freed struggling homeowners from that hefty tax bill. Read more ..


Broken Government

A Watershed Moment for the Obama Administration and Healthcare

November 30th 2013

Today marks the deadline for federal health officials to fix massive problems with ObamaCare’s enrollment website.

Meeting the Nov. 30 deadline would provide a major boost for the administration, which has been mired in unprecedented conflict over its healthcare rollout for two straight months. It would also help push back against criticism surrounding the administration's decision to delay the law's online sign-up system for small businesses.

Another month of serious problems at HealthCare.gov would be disastrous. Without a smoothly running site, it will be difficult for the administration to enroll the millions of people necessary for stability on the new insurance exchanges.

A paltry enrollment number would likely raise next year's prices on the marketplaces and cause insurers to withdraw their plans. It would also take a political toll on Democrats in the 2014 midterm elections, when ObamaCare is already expected to be a major issue. Read more ..


Broken Bookselling

Faltering Barnes and Noble Nook Revenue Drops Again--This Time by 32%

November 29th 2013

Barnes-and-Noble store shot

On Christmas morning children will unwrap their gifts to find a shiny new tablets and e-readers, but this year the Nook is not likely to be one of them. Revenues for Barnes and Noble’s Nook e-reader division went down 32 percent to $109 million, according to its most recent earnings report. That’s not good for a business that it competing against both Amazon’s Kindle and the general tablet market.

Barnes and Noble only sold $51 million worth of the e-readers, which in itself represents a fall of 41 percent year over year.

The company has otherwise suffered personnel losses while dealing with its Nook failures. In July, then chief executive William Lynch quit after having served the company for three years. He left saying that he believed there was a good executive team in place and that he looked “forward to the many innovations the company will be bringing to its million of physical and digital media customers in the future.” Read more ..


Broken Government

Congressional Democrats Close Ranks with Obama on Healthcare

November 28th 2013

The White House and congressional leadership are urging Democratic lawmakers to highlight ObamaCare success stories in an effort to take the offensive on the healthcare rollout after two months of backpedaling, according to two memos obtained by The Hill.

The memos, one from the Democrats’ messaging arm and one from the White House, advise members on how to establish the narrative that the Affordable Care Act is already working.

“There are actions Democrats can take to address the Republican attacks and go on offense,” reads the memo from the Democratic Policy and Communications Center (DPCC). The memo outlines a compilation of “messaging ideas to highlight the benefits of the ACA and generate positive press and social media coverage.” Read more ..


The Race for Ethanol

Diverting Grain to Ethanol Makes Turkeys More Expensive

November 28th 2013

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Turkey farmers’ feathers are being ruffled by a federal biofuel mandate they say is increasing the cost of the corn they feed their birds and making it harder for them to turn a profit.

Corn that should be going to feed their turkeys is being diverted to produce ethanol, according to the National Turkey Federation, which is increasing corn prices across the board.

“There’s got to be more of a cost that is passed along somehow,” Keith Williams, a spokesman with the trade group, told The Hill. “That’s going to go to the consumer. It’s increasing the food cost.”

The Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) calls for petroleum refiners to mix a certain amount of biofuel like ethanol, which is made from corn, in with conventional gasoline. Congress created the program in 2005 to reduce the country's dependence on foreign oil, combat climate change and expand the nation's renewable fuels sector. Read more ..


Broken Government

White House Fears of Website Collapse Causes Delayed Obamacare Marketing

November 27th 2013

The White House is delaying a planned ObamaCare marketing campaign because it remains fearful that a rush of consumers to the troubled HealthCare.gov website would overwhelm the system.

According to a New York Times report on Wednesday, the Obama administration is trying to strike a balance between the push for a diverse pool of healthcare enrollees, and the reality of what the problem-plagued website can handle.

The first month’s enrollment numbers were embarrassingly low because of the website's problems, and the administration needs a diverse group of young and healthy consumers to sign up so premiums don’t spike in 2015. Read more ..


Broken Government

Obama Faces tough Fight with Supremes over Obamacare Mandate

November 26th 2013

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The Obama administration faces a tough task in convincing the Supreme Court to rule in favor of ObamaCare’s contraception mandate, according to legal experts. They say Chief Justice John Roberts’s court, which upheld the health law in a landmark 2012 decision, has generally set a high bar for limiting religious rights. In addition, Justice Anthony Kennedy, often the court’s swing vote, authored a 1993 decision that exempted a religious group from following laws it said were contradictory with its beliefs.

The Supreme Court announced on Tuesday that it would consider the case, possibly in its spring term. While Hobby Lobby and other businesses opposed to the mandate don’t have a slam dunk case, experts said it will be tough to convince the court that the federal government can order businesses to pay for contraception coverage that goes against their owners' religious beliefs. Read more ..


Iran's Nukes

Deep Bipartisan Concerns Emerge over Obama's Deal with Iran

November 25th 2013

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Top lawmakers on both side of the aisle on Sunday voiced skepticism about the newly struck agreement with Iran, and vowed to keep up the pressure with sanctions.

Senior members in both chambers said that, at first glance, Iran got the better end of the deal with western powers, China and Russia – effectively exchanging looser sanctions for very little progress in impeding Tehran’s nuclear capabilities.

Some powerful lawmakers have said they’re willing to seek new sanctions now, but delay their implementation until after the six months covered by the current deal. But others weren’t even willing to go that far.

Sen. Chuck Schumer (N.Y.), the No. 3 Democrat in the chamber, called the deal disproportionately good for Iran, and that it was only strong sanctions that gave the U.S. and its allies any leverage over Tehran. Read more ..


Iran's Nukes

Secretary Kerry has 'No Illusions' about Iran's Sincerity

November 24th 2013

Secretary of State John Kerry defended the new agreement on Iran’s nuclear ambitions on November 24, calling it the best course available and only the first step of a long process.

After negotiating late into the night in Geneva, Kerry appeared on several Sunday talk shows in the U.S. to talk up the deal. But at the same time, he made clear that the Obama administration is well aware that Iran must be watched closely as the deal is implemented, and the burden is on Tehran to prove it can follow through.

“Iran has some very stiff hurdles that they’re going to have to meet,” he said on ABC’s “This Week.”

“This negotiation is not the art of fantasy or the art of the deal. It’s the art of the possible,” he added.

Republicans and Democrats made clear that they had serious concerns about Iran’s willingness to follow through on their end of the deal, and GOP lawmakers contended the White House came up short in the talks. Read more ..


Broken Government

How Senate Leader Harry Reid Went Nuclear

November 22nd 2013

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) did not know if he had the votes to trigger the nuclear option at the start of last week. A Democratic leadership aide said he had not yet conducted a whip count and an outside liberal group that worked closely with him to advocate for filibuster reform said he was short of the 50 votes needed.

Reid never told his colleagues when he surpassed the mark. He simply called for a vote on the floor. That’s when Democrats knew they were about to enact one of the biggest Senate rules changes in decades. “I just assumed he would never take it to the floor unless he had the votes. He’s too shrewd a vote counter. He really knows the Senate,” said a Democrat senator.

Several Republican senators tried to patch together a deal in the final hours to avoid the nuclear option. Read more ..


Broken Government

The White House Feels Democrats' Pain

November 21st 2013

The White House says it gets the frustration felt by congressional Democrats over the disastrous first six weeks of ObamaCare, but is convinced once the healthcare law’s website is fixed, all will be well and the criticism will fade.

“I understand it’s not a comforting fact,” one senior administration official said on Wednesday. “But it’s true.”

“There’s no strategy or plan that will be completely satisfactory until the website starts performing consistently,” the senior official added.

As HealthCare.Gov continues to cause problems, officials reaffirmed in interviews that they are confident the law will work once the website is running, and that they can appease angry Democrats worried President Obama is leading them into a disastrous midterm election next year. Read more ..


The Edge of Justice

Radel Pleads Guilty to Drug Charge

November 20th 2013

Scales of Justice

Rep. Trey Radel (R-Fla.) pled guilty in District of Columbia Superior Court the morning of November 20 on a charge of misdemeanor possession of cocaine, a controlled substance. Judge Robert Tignor sentenced Radel to a year of probation with minimal supervision, to allow Radel to enter in-patient substance abuse treatment in Florida. He warned that if Radel breaks probation, he would face up to six months in jail. The misdemeanor charge carried a maximum of 180 days in prison and/or a fine of $1,000.

In a statement before the court, Radel apologized for what he had done, saying he recognized he had "hit a bottom" in his life and needed to seek help. He expressed remorse for letting down both his constituents as well as his 2-year-old son, who he said is not yet aware of what has happened. Radel made no mention of a possible resignation, and said he hoped to get better so as to "be a better man, a better husband, and continue serving my country." Radel left the courthouse without speaking to reporters. Read more ..


The Edge of Justice

Federal Judge Upholds Religious Jewish Policeman's Right to a Beard

November 18th 2013

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Nathan Lewin

A federal District Judge on Friday upheld the constitutional claim of Fishel Litzman, a Hasidic recruit for the New York Police Department who was dismissed from the Police Academy, where he was in the top 1.3% of his class, because he would not, on grounds of religious observance, trim his beard. Judge Harold Baer concluded that Mr. Litzman’s First Amendment rights had been denied because “de facto exemptions . . . abound” to the NYPD’s unpublished rule that permits only facial hair that does not exceed one millimeter in length, and because the NYPD applies its facial-hair limitation “in a discriminatory fashion.” 

Nathan Lewin of Lewin & Lewin, LLP, Litzman’s attorney, said, “Judge Baer’s opinion properly emphasizes the discrepancy between the NYPD’s announced limitation on facial hair and the Department’s failure to enforce that rule against officers other than Fishel Litzman. We are gratified that Mr. Litzman’s personal claim has been sustained on this basis. But we hope that this is the beginning of the end of the New York Police Department’s refusal to grant full religious accommodations to applicants who may not, for religious reasons, trim their beards.” Read more ..


Iran's Nukes

Reports: Saudi Arabia and Israel to Unite in Attack if U.S. Allows Iran Path to Bomb

November 17th 2013

Israeli Jet Dive Bombing

Historic enemies Israel and Saudi Arabia will unite in an attack on Iran's nuclear facilities if world powers allow Iran to continue enriching uranium and a path to the bomb.

According to a report in the Sunday Times, the Mossad is already working with Riyadh on an attack plan that includes the Saudis allowing Israeli war planes to fly over Saudi territory to strike Iran.

According to the Jerusalem Post, which quotes the Sunday Times article:  The paper quoted a diplomatic source as saying the Saudis were willing to assist an Israeli attack by cooperating on the use of drones, rescue helicopters and tanker planes. "Once the Geneva agreement is signed, the military option will be back on the table. The Saudis are furious and are willing to give Israel all the help it needs," the Times quoted the source as saying. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said in an interview with French daily Le Figaro on Saturday that there is a “meeting of the minds” between Israel and the “leading states in the Arab world” on the Iran issue – “one of the few cases in memory, if not the first case in modern times. Netanyahu further said "it is worthwhile to pay attention" to what Saudi and Israeli officials are saying, because they live in the Middle East and understand Iranian intentions. Read more ..


Phillipines on Edge

Aid Trickles Into Remote Parts of Philippines

November 15th 2013

Hurricane Isabel

Badly needed aid and relief supplies have begun arriving in the hard-to-reach areas of the central Philippines one week after a super typhoon tore across the region.
Many people in need, however, still have received little or no assistance.

Interior Secretary Mar Roxas says that in a situation like this, speed is of the utmost importance. Speaking Friday in the devastated city of Tacloban, he said that the need is massive, immediate and not everyone can be reached.

Disaster relief chief Eduardo del Rosario told reporters that the official death toll from the storm has risen to 3,621. The aftermath of the disaster has made it difficult to tally the number of victims. But on Friday, the government estimated 1.4 million people had been displaced and 400,000 of them are still in need of food and basic necessities. Read more ..


Israel on Edge

Syria's Advanced Anti-Aircraft Missiles Revealed as Target of Israel Attack

November 14th 2013

Jet-Fighter-takeoff

Satellite photography taken of the site near Latakia in Syria, which foreign publications claim was the site of an Israeli attack nearly 10 days ago, prove that the targets of the attack were advanced S-125 antiaircraft missile launchers. The launchers were in the process of undergoing upgrades, which made them a substantial threat as far as the Israeli Air Force was concerned.

The satellite photos were taken on the actual day of the attack merely several hours before the missile batteries were destroyed, and were revealed by the investigative journalist Ronen Solomon.

The photography was carried out on the day of the attack by a company that offers satellite services to the US defense establishment, despite the fact that it usually focuses on photography in other Middle Eastern arenas, with emphasis on the efforts against Al Qaeda. It is possible that the reason the photography, which covered the site at precisely that timing, was carried out was due to a warning provided by Israel to the US moments before an attack. In any case, the satellite photography makes it possible to identify that an air defense base is situated at the center of the strike area, where Russian-produced S-125 battery was deployed.
Read more ..

Broken Healthcare

Pro-Obamacare Ads Targeting Millennials Stir Controversy in Colorado

November 13th 2013

Obamacare

A new round of advertisements unveiled by supporters of Colorado's health insurance exchange has ignited controversy that rippled through social media Tuesday and launched debate over their portrayal of women.

In one of the most discussed "Got insurance?" ads, produced by the liberal ProgressNow Colorado and the Colorado Consumer Health Initiative, a young woman holds a packet of birth-control pills and stands

next to a young man, his hand wrapped around her waist.

So what's she thinking?

"OMG, he's hot! Let's hope he's as easy to get as this birth control. My health insurance covers the pill, which means all I have to worry about is getting him between the covers," read the words in the risqué advertisement.

Read more ..


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