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Iran's Nukes

Deep Bipartisan Concerns Emerge over Obama's Deal with Iran

November 25th 2013

Click to select Image

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

Click to select Image
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


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.

Broken Healthcare

Pro-Obamacare Ads Targeting Millennials Stir Controversy in Colorado

November 13th 2013


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.


The Edge of Disaster

More than 10,000 Philippines Dead as Police Mobilize to Keep the Peace

November 11th 2013

Subanen people of Philippines

The Philippines National Police director on Monday deployed more than 400 additional police officers to Tacloban City to ensure peace and order in the aftermath of the mega-typhoon Yolanda, according to the National Association of Chiefs of Police. Survivors of the monstrous typhoon, that's believed to have killed more than 10,000 people in the Philippines, have been growing desperate for aid on Monday with government authorities struggling to deal with arguably the nation's most deadly and destructive natural disaster in its history. In a statement, the National Police spokesman Senior Superintendent Reuben Sindac claimed that dozens of police officers are responding by air and land to Tacloban and Eastern Samar. He noted that local police officers in the typhoon-hit areas are also victims of Yolanda and many may be dead or severely injured.


The Philippines on Edge

Food and Water Top Concerns for Philippine Survivors

November 11th 2013

Sumatra village after tsunami

In the Central Philippines authorities are struggling to reach many of the some 600,000 people displaced by Super Typhoon Haiyan. Officials anticipate a death toll in the thousands.

At the Villamor Air Force Base in Manila, C130 planes filled with relief goods are headed to one of the hardest hit cities, Tacloban in Leyte Province.

Some relief organizations say their provisions are taking three times longer to get there because so many land routes have been blocked by massive piles of debris from fallen houses and trees.

On the other side of the air field, around 400 people are waiting for a chance to catch a ride on one of the planes headed toward the devastation zone. Among them is Tito Lucinareo, a father of two boys from a small town 25 kilometers outside Tacloban. He says he did manage to get a call through to one of his brothers who said the children survived the storm. But Lucinareo is not sure if they have food. Read more ..

Nature on Edge

US Groups Launch Relief Efforts to Help Philippine Storm Victims

November 9th 2013

Hurricane Irene 28 Aug 0900

Relief efforts are being mobilized in the United States to help victims of Typhoon Haiyan, one of the most powerful storms to ever batter the Philippines. The storm slammed into the central Philippines on Friday, perhaps causing scores of deaths [according to preliminary estimations] and widespread damage. Government and non-government organizations in the U.S. are reaching out to help those affected.

Rain battered Cebu Island as Typhoon Haiyan roared ashore. As it moved inland, it left behind shattered homes and washed-out roads. The storm is known in the Philippines as Yolanda. It left many communities with no power and no communications. As a result, Jose Cuisia, Jr., the Philippines ambassador to the United States, said the full extent of damage is not yet known. Read more ..

The Iranian Threat

Netanyahu Urges Kerry Not to Sign 'Very, Very, Bad Deal' With Iran

November 8th 2013


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urged U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry not to sign what he described as “a very, very, bad deal” with Iran that would relieve sanctions on the country in return for it curbing its nuclear program.

“It’s a very bad deal,” Netanyahu said following a meeting with Kerry, who was heading from Israel to Geneva to take part in talks with Iran and other world powers.

“Iran is not required to take apart even one centrifuge. But the international community is relieving sanctions on Iran for the first time after many years. Iran gets everything that it wanted at this stage and pays nothing. And this is when Iran is under severe pressure,” he said.

“I urge Secretary Kerry not to rush to sign, to wait, to reconsider, to get a good deal. But this is a bad deal, a very, very, bad deal. It’s the deal of a century for Iran; it’s a very dangerous and bad deal for peace and the international community.” Read more ..

Chaos in Africa

Sectarian Fighting Threatens Central African Republic

November 8th 2013

African Rebels and Guns

Hundreds of vigilantes attacked the Central African Republic (CAR) town of Bouar late last month with guns and machetes, according to local officials. Four people died in the ensuing clashes before government troops could reestablish order. This latest round of unrest highlights an increasing sectarian conflict and looming humanitarian crisis as violence between the Christian majority and Muslim minority escalates.

In March, rebels from the organization Seleka ("Union" in the Sango language) overthrew President Francois Bozize, causing new conflict in an already unstable region. Seleka's leader, Michel Djotodia, assumed power becoming CAR's first Muslim president. But anger against the rebel group's violence and looting prompted locals to take up arms. Vigilante groups, comprised of both Bozize loyalists and aggrieved Christians, have created a new militia called "Anti-balaka" (anti-machete), spreading violence. Read more ..

Expanding Drug Trade

UN: Afghan Becoming Full-Fledged Narco State

November 8th 2013

Afghan Poppy Fields

U.N. Office of Drugs and Crime Chief Yury Fedotov warned Wednesday that Afghanistan risks becoming a "full-fledged narco-state." Fedotov confirmed that the annual "Afghanistan Opium Survey" due to come out next week, will show growth in drug trading from 2012, affecting not only southern provinces but also land in the north, traditionally under control of the central government. Without support from the international community to create jobs, he said, poppy cultivation and opium production will continue to rise.

As a global leader in opium production, Afghanistan's government and NATO forces have tried for over a decade to reduce the problem with eradication campaigns and crop substitution programs. Despite these efforts, opium production in Afghanistan represented 75 percent of global production in 2012, and areas of cultivation have more than doubled since 2002. Read more ..

The Way WE Are

Senate Approves ENDA 64-32 in Historic Step on Gay Rights

November 7th 2013

Employee applications

The Senate on Thursday approved the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) in a historic advance for the gay rights cause. The upper chamber approved ENDA in a 64-32 vote, and 10 Republicans joined Democrats in supporting the bill.

“Let the bells of freedom ring," Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), the lead sponsor of the bill, said Thursday. "The Senate has clearly spoken to end discrimination in the workplace."

The legislation would create federal workplace protections for gay and transgender people by banning employers from making hiring and firing decisions on the basis of sexual orientation.

The Republicans voting in favor of ENDA were Sens. Susan Collins (Maine), Mark Kirk (Ill.), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), Dean Heller (Nev.), Kelly Ayotte (N.H.), Rob Portman (Ohio), Jeff Flake (Ariz.), John McCain (Ariz.), Orrin Hatch (Utah) and Pat Toomey (Pa.). Read more ..

Iran on Edge

Iran's Ebadi Calls For National Dialogue On Nuclear Energy

November 6th 2013

Iran Nuclear Equipment centrifuges

Iranian Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi has launched a new initiative aimed at stirring debate among the Iranian public about the country's nuclear program. The nuclear issue, she says, is more than just a political matter.

"It is a subject of national concern that directly influences people's daily lives," she writes in an online appeal, which as of November 5 had been signed by more than 300 intellectuals and activists both inside and outside of Iran.

The human rights lawyer and former judge outlined the aims of her new initiative, titled "National Dialogue on Nuclear Energy," in an interview. 

"My goal is to create scientific, economic, and environmental discussions to demonstrate to the people the pro and cons of nuclear energy. Then it will be up to the people to decide whether the nuclear policy of the government has been well-advised or not," Ebadi says.

Ebadi, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2003 for her human-rights efforts in Iran, hopes that Farsi-language media outside of Iran, news websites, and social-networking outlets will help promote the debate on the nuclear issue. Ebadi, who has come under pressure by the Iranian regime and has lived in exile abroad since 2009, says censorship has prevented such a debate inside Iran. Read more ..

Broken Healthcare

White House Sends SOS to Insurers

November 5th 2013


The White House on Tuesday asked health insurers for help in quelling the growing furor over the cancellation of insurance plans under ObamaCare.

In a meeting at the White House, Obama chief of staff Denis McDonough asked insurance executives to explain to customers who are losing their plans what new options are available under ObamaCare, and what new subsidies they might qualify for.

“He emphasized the need for all involved in the marketplaces, including the administration, issuers and other stakeholders, both federal and private, to ramp up communication and education efforts to consumers who have received or might receive letters about their individual market plans changing," White House press secretary Jay Carney said. Millions of Americans have received letters saying that they cannot keep their current health insurance because of the law. Read more ..

The Way We Are

Speaker Boehner Rejects Discrimination Bill

November 4th 2013

john Boehner

Speaker John Boehner on Monday said he opposes legislation in the Senate that would ban forms of workplace discrimination against gay and transgendered people.

A spokesman said Boehner (R-Ohio) does not support the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) because it would be bad for the economy.

“The Speaker believes this legislation will increase frivolous litigation and cost American jobs, especially small business jobs,” said Boehner spokesman Michael Steel. The Speaker's office also said that they believe current law already prohibits employers from firing their workers because they were LGBT.

Senate Democrats believe they have the 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster on Monday and put ENDA on a path to passage this week.
White House press secretary Jay Carney on Monday said that he and others at the White House heard with Boehner’s position with “regret.” Carney said the reasoning behind Boehner's opposition "sounds familiar to the opposition to all civil rights measures" in the nation's history. "That opposition was wrong then and is wrong now," Carney said. Read more ..

Financing the Flames

Financing the Flames from a Mobile Home in Florida

November 4th 2013

Financing the Flames

A regular feature of West Bank confrontation between Israeli soldiers and Palestinians seems to be a corps of intrepid young women that villagers call “internationals.” They specialize in upfront and personal, in-your-face, and often nose-to-nose verbal taunting hoping to provoke a reaction that video cameras can record. If and when soldiers finally do react, these incidents are then uploaded to the Internet to prove “the brutality of the IDF.” These “internationals” often seem to appear out of nowhere at a village flashpoint. Just as suddenly, they melt into the background.

Using false names and seemingly untrackable movements, the skilled and stealthy internationals have managed to inspire and encourage videographed confrontation far beyond their numbers. Who are they? What is the font of their financial wherewithal? Who is financing these flames?

Searching for answers, one night in early May 2013, I traveled to the tiny West Bank town of Deir Itsiya where the internationals quietly maintain a base of operations. The women are known to many in that local Arab community, where they are provided logistical assistance and deferential hospitality. They receive many European guests. When I asked my taxi driver, "Do you know where the house is?" he answered, "Yes, Sheik Haider (neighborhood)." He took me there.

At an elbow in a dusty road, I found their compound behind long, ornate iron fencing. I knocked on all the doors, the ones with knockers and the ones without. No answer. I called out for anyone who was home. A neighbor strolled by to remark. The driver translated: "He said the European girls are not sleeping in town tonight. But he knows how to reach them. I will take you where he said." Read more ..

The US and Egypt

Kerry: US a Partner of Egypt, Aid Cutback Not Punishment

November 3rd 2013

Egyptian Mil. Police Alexandria

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met with Egyptian civilian and military leaders Sunday in the highest-ranking U.S. visit to Cairo since the coup against President Mohamed Morsi. He called for transparent justice a day before the start of the trial against the former president.

Kerry says it is no secret that Egypt is going through difficult times following July's military-backed takeover, but he told officials here that President Obama is confident Egyptians will overcome those challenges.

"The United States believes that the U.S.-Egypt partnership is going to be strongest when Egypt is represented by an inclusive democratically-elected civilian government based on rule of law, fundamental freedoms, and an open and competitive economy," he said. Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

U.S. Drone Kills Taliban's Top Leader

November 2nd 2013

 The General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper

A Pakistani Taliban leader, suspected of plotting the assassination of seven American intelligence operatives, was killed in a U.S. unmanned aerial vehicle (drone) strike on Friday in the latest counterterrorist attack against the Islamist group that's affiliated with al-Qaeda, according to a Middle East terrorism analyst and former police anti-terrorism task force member.

The Taliban confirmed the death of Hakimullah Mehsud, a top leader of the group, said Thomas Milhousen, a 30-year police veteran.

Reuters quotes a senior Taliban commander as saying, “We confirm with great sorrow that our esteemed leader was martyred in a drone attack."

"Mehsud, who was on U.S. most-wanted terrorist lists with a $5 million bounty, is believed to have been behind a deadly suicide attack at a CIA base in Afghanistan, a failed car bombing in New York’s Times Square and other brazen assaults in Pakistan that killed thousands of civilians and security forces," the Associated Press reported on Friday.


The UK on Edge

Cameron: London Should be a World Capital of Islamic Finance

November 1st 2013

Big Ben

The London Stock Exchange will be launching a new Islamic bond index in an effort to establish the City of London as one of the world's leading centers of Islamic finance. Britain also plans to become the first non-Muslim country to issue sovereign Islamic bonds, known as sukuk, beginning as early as 2014. The plans are all part of the British government's strategy to acquire as big a slice as possible of the fast-growing global market of Islamic finance, which operates according to Islamic Sharia law and is growing 50% faster than the conventional banking sector.

Although it is still a fraction of the global investment market -- Sharia-compliant assets are estimated to make up only around 1% of the world's financial assets -- Islamic finance is expected to be worth £1.3 trillion (€1.5 trillion; $2 trillion) by 2014, a 150% increase from its value in 2006, according to the World Islamic Banking Competitiveness Report 2012-2013, published in May 2013 by the consultancy Ernst & Young. But critics say that Britain's ambitions to attract investments from Muslim countries, companies and individuals are spurring the gradual establishment of a parallel global financial system based on Islamic Sharia law. Read more ..

Broken Government

Virginia Vote Could Send National Message on Political Gridlock

October 31st 2013

capitol building night #2

The political fallout from the recent U.S. government shutdown over a dispute about the Obama administration's health care policy can already be seen in the upcoming election for governor in the U.S. state of Virginia.  In this swing state where neither party can claim an overwhelming majority of support, voters are voicing support for compromise over ideology.

In the Republican leaning town of Culpeper, Virginia, diners at the Frost Cafe like Mike Luhko are still angry over the recent federal government shutdown.  And they want to punish politicians who will not work together for the greater good.

“I’m just like a lot of people.  I hear this from a lot of people.  I’m a sales rep [representative] and I see a lot of people every day and most people are fed up with our president and with this congress and with this state," said Luhko. Read more ..

Obama's Second Term

Deficit Was $680 Billion in 2013

October 30th 2013


The federal budget deficit for fiscal 2013 was $680 billion, the Treasury Department reported Wednesday.

This is the first time that the deficit has fallen below $1 trillion during President Obama's time in the White House.

The monthly Treasury statement for September had been delayed by a government shutdown at the beginning of October. Fiscal 2013 ended on Sept. 30. The deficit has dropped $409 billion from 2012, when it was $1.089 trillion.

Most of the change comes from higher tax receipts. Receipts rose to $2.77 trillion in 2013, up from $2.45 trillion in 2012. Spending was $3.45 trillion, down from $3.53 trillion in 2012. White House Budget Director Sylvia Mathews Burwell hailed the deficit total, noting that the deficit is now less than half what it was in 2009, when it stood at $1.4 trillion in the wake of the recession. Read more ..

Africa on Edge

Africa May be Next Factory to World

October 29th 2013

Nairobi Square

The three-day (10/28-30) African Economic Conference is underway in Johannesburg, South Africa. Heads of state, business leaders and development experts are discussing how regional integration can boost economic growth.

African countries have seen high levels of economic growth over the past decade. That’s despite the global economic crisis that struck in 2008 and 2009. But conference organizers say growth could have been even better had countries made it easier to do business with each other. They say that’s where regional integration plays a major role.

It means investing in infrastructure, education, labor and technology – ensuring good management of shared natural resources – and having uniform rules, standards and regulations so goods and services don’t get delayed or blocked at the border. Read more ..

Afghanistan on Edge

What The 'Zero Option' Would Look Like In Afghanistan

October 28th 2013

Afgan Troops

What if the United States pulled all its troops out of Afghanistan?

The general assumption is that as Washington and Kabul work to hammer out a long-term security agreement, a way will be found to maintain a U.S. troop presence after 2014.

The two sides have reached a preliminary agreement on a deal. But a key U.S. demand -- that its troops be granted immunity from prosecution under Afghan law and be tried only in the United States -- remains a major sticking point.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has put the final decision on a deal to a Loya Jirga -- a traditional gathering of tribal, ethnic, and religious leaders -- that will meet and give its verdict next month. Washington has made clear that the "zero option" of pulling its forces out entirely -- as it did in Iraq after it failed to work out a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) with Baghdad -- is a very real option. Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

Shift on Syria Angers Saudi Arabia, Derails Obama’s Mideast Plans

October 27th 2013

King Abdullah and sword 2

Saudi Arabia’s ire at the United States risks complicating President Obama’s second-term agenda across the Middle East. Saudi officials over the past few days have decried U.S. policy in the region as “dithering” and refused to take a United Nations Security Council seat in protest.

The backlash risks setting the two peculiar allies on a collision course on a range of issues that involve Egypt, Syria and Iran. The Saudis’ change of strategy was precipitated by Obama’s decision last month to call off military strikes against Syria and instead throw in his lot behind a Russia-backed effort to have Syrian President Bashar Assad turn his chemical weapons over to the international community. The Saudis want Assad deposed, in large part because he is allied with their regional rival, Iran. In response to Obama’s move, Saudi Arabia took the highly unusual step of turning down a two-year stint on the U.N. Security Council, a decision the former director of Saudi intelligence said was “based on the ineffectual experience of that body.” Read more ..

Broken Government

Profits Complicate Defense Contractor's Case Against Sequester

October 27th 2013

night vision goggles

The largest defense contractors have shielded their bottom lines from the sequester.

Defense firms are boosting their profits despite the automatic spending cuts by laying off workers, cutting facilities, buying back stock and taking advantage of prior-year contracts.

Lockheed Martin and Boeing this week both notched double-digit upswings in their quarterly profits from last year. Revenues dipped at Lockheed, Northrop Grumman and General Dynamics, but their profits were up.

Since sequestration took effect on March 1, Lockheed’s shares have increased 53 percent to $134, while Boeing’s stock has risen 73 percent to $131, partly on the strength of its commercial sales. The Dow Jones has increased 11 percent in the same time frame. Experts agree the cuts will have an increasingly large impact in the coming years; the sequester will take a $20 billion bite from the Pentagon in January.

But for now, the cuts aren't hitting contractors’ bottom lines, which makes their case for ending the sequester a tougher sell. “This divergence between sales and profits is typical of the final stage in a defense build-up,” said Loren Thompson, a defense analyst at the Lexington Institute who consults with several defense firms. Read more ..

The US and Iran

US Nuclear Negotiator Calls for Pause in Iran Sanctions

October 25th 2013

Iran Nuclear Equipment centrifuges

The top U.S. nuclear negotiator is calling for a pause in U.S. congressional efforts to impose sanctions on Iran, weeks after accusing Iran of being deceptive about its nuclear program.

In an exclusive interview Friday  U.S. Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman said any push for additional U.S. sanctions should be delayed to see if nuclear talks can "gain traction."

She said Obama administration officials have been speaking with Senate and House lawmakers on delaying the sanctions.

"Congress has its prerogatives," she said.  "We don’t get to control Congress, but we are having very serious discussions.  We work as partners with Congress.  They’ve been very effective partners as we’ve tried to approach this negotiation.  We need them to continue to be effective partners to reach a successful conclusion, and I have trust that they will be.”Congress has been seeking harsher sanctions on Iran over its questionable nuclear program. Iran says its program has peaceful aims. But the West and Israel believe Iran is developing nuclear weapon capability. Read more ..

Argentina on Edge

Kirchner Stifling News Media in Argentina

October 24th 2013

Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner

While visiting Argentina a few years ago, just as president Néstor Kirchner was defending the biggest default in history, I saw a televised government message that concluded with the phrase, “Argentina . . . A serious country” ( “Un país en serio”). At the time, I dismissed the ad as more farcical than Orwellian, thinking that a government more obsessed with its image than with reality is its own worst enemy. Unfortunately, such a regime finds enemies elsewhere — starting with any independent journalist or media outlet that refuses to toe the party line.

The Kirchner-controlled congress propagated a media law in 2009 aimed at silencing such critics. President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner (successor and, now, widow of Néstor) claimed that the measure served the public interest by breaking up powerful monopolies in the communications sector. By requiring the Clarín media conglomerate and others to divest themselves of lucrative cable television licenses, the government will achieve its real objective of muzzling independent newspaper, television and radio outlets. Read more ..

Afghanistan on Edge

Will The Next Afghan President Be A Pen, Radio, Or Bulldozer?

October 23rd 2013

Koran and prayer beads

A bulldozer. A radio. A pencil. A Koran. These are just a few of the candidates vying to win Afghanistan's upcoming presidential election.

For each of the 10 candidates expected to be on the ballot for the April 5 vote, there is a symbol. And those symbols will be printed on ballot papers alongside the name and photograph of each candidate to help voters choose their preferred candidate.

The idea is to make voting easier for the many eligible voters in the country who cannot read. Only 39 percent of Afghanistan's adult population is literate.

In keeping with elections dating back to 2004, the country's Independent Election Commission (IEC) initially assigned a symbol to each potential candidate assuming that there would be a high number of contenders to choose from. (This approach caused problems during general elections in neighboring Pakistan this spring, where some candidates took umbrage at the symbols they were assigned.) However, after the IEC eliminated 17 hopefuls from the running, only 10 remained from the list of vetted candidates announced on October 22. This freed up the IEC to allow candidates to choose their own symbols, pending approval. Read more ..

Afghanistan on Edge

Former Taliban Leader's Release Fails To Revive Peace Talks

October 22nd 2013

Taliban soldiers

Just weeks ago, his release was hailed by the Afghan government as the key to successful peace talks with the Taliban.

But Pakistan's decision to free Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Taliban's co-founder and former second-in-command, has failed to live up to Kabul's expectations.

No formal negotiations between Kabul and the Taliban have been scheduled. No location has been set. And it is unclear whether Baradar is actually free at all. Added together, it appears that Kabul's efforts to negotiate a peaceful end to the 12-year conflict in Afghanistan have suffered yet another blow.

Even before his reported release in September, questions were raised about Baradar and the possible role he could play in the peace process. There were doubts about his clout with the current Taliban high command and whether he could convince the militant group to end its bloody insurgency. Read more ..

South Africa on Edge

Race in Spotlight Ahead of S. Africa 2014 Elections

October 21st 2013

Black farmers protest 2

The issue of race is rearing its head again as South Africa prepares for national elections next year.  One new political party has made a point of verbally attacking the white minority population who benefited under the apartheid system. At the same time, a small group of white South Africans say their race is threatened with “genocide.”  Analysts say that reckless racial sentiments are not productive and out of sync with today’s South Africa.

Nearly 20 years ago, South Africa’s first black president, Nelson Mandela, described his country as a “rainbow nation” at peace with itself. Mandela’s presidency ended the apartheid system in which non-whites were oppressed and treated as inferior to white South Africans. However, the legacy of racism is still a reality in today’s South Africa. And two political movements have recently used race as a rallying cry ahead of the 2014 vote. Read more ..

The Iranian Threat

Netanyahu Warns US Not to Roll Back Iran Sanctions

October 20th 2013

Bibi Netanyahu with Glasses

The United States should not ease sanctions against Iran until it can prove that Iran has fully dismantled its nuclear program, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday. The warning comes amid reports that the Obama administration is considering offering Iran a chance to recover frozen assets overseas in exchange for steps to scale back its nuclear program. “The question is not of hope,” Netanyahu said on “Meet the Press” on NBC. “The question is of actual results.”

“I think the pressure has to be maintained on Iran, even increased on Iran, until it actually stops its nuclear program,” he added. “You don’t want to go through halfway measures.” Netanyahu compared Iran’s nuclear program to chemical weapons stockpiles in Syria, which President Bashar Assad has pledged to eliminate. Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

Arab League and UN Hold Talks to Set a Date for More Talks

October 20th 2013

A truck bomb explosion in Syria's fourth largest city of Hama killed more than 30 people on October 20, as the special envoy of the United Nations and Arab League held talks in Cairo on fixing a date for a long-delayed peace conference.

Syrian state TV showed fire and rescue workers trying to douse a blaze from a powerful truck bomb explosion near a government checkpoint in Hama. Civilian vehicles lined up near the checkpoint were pulverized and set on fire, killing or wounding dozen of people.

Elsewhere, government artillery pounded rebel-held eastern suburbs of Damascus. Fighting engulfed several southern districts as well, including the Yarmouk refugee camp. Rebels also tried to take control of a main highway out of the capital from government forces.

Broken Government

Cruz: Blame Senate GOP for ObamaCare Defeat

October 19th 2013

Ted Cruz

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) is blaming his fellow Senate Republicans for opposing a movement in the House to defund ObamaCare, which ultimately caused Republicans to win few concessions in the deal to reopen the government and raise the nation’s debt ceiling.

In an interview with the National Review posted on Saturday afternoon, the senator said that there would be “consequences” for supporting the funding bill.

“Unfortunately, rather than supporting House Republicans, a significant number of Senate Republicans actively, aggressively, and vocally led the effort to defeat House Republicans, to defeat the effort to defund Obamacare,” he told the conservative magazine. “Once Senate Republicans did that, it crippled the chances of this effort, and it caused the lousy deal.”

Late on Wednesday, the Senate voted 81-18 to restore government funding until Jan. 15 and raise the debt limit through Feb. 7.

All 18 votes against the legislation came from Republicans, while 27 members of the party voted to send the bill to the House. Among those backing the legislation was Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.), who is facing a primary challenge from a Tea Party-backed candidate, Matt Bevin. “From day one in office,” Cruz said, “I’ve urged the American people to hold every elected official accountable, and far too many elected officials are not listening to the American people.” Read more ..

Egypt on Edge

Egyptian 'Rebel' Group Backs Military

October 18th 2013

Anti-Morsi Protests June 2013

The Egyptian grassroots movement that boasts bringing down ex-President Mohamed Morsi is now seeking a spot in government. But even as Tamarod inspires similar movements abroad, the group remains dogged by the question - is it a player or a pawn?

While Egyptian leaders continue their crackdown on Islamist opponents, they are also trying to move forward on a roadmap for political change.

And one of their biggest backers in the overhaul, the Tamarod, or Rebellion, movement is moving along with them. The public face of outcry against Islamist president Mohamed Morsi, Tamarod says it will compete nationally in new elections for parliament.

Founding member Mohamed Heikal says Tamarod has changed its focus. He says Tamarod has “shifted from a protest movement to a movement of reconstruction and that there is a lot to rebuild." The nation is torn apart by the military's crackdown on Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood and what many Islamists and others see as the subversion of democracy. But Tamarod spokesman Hisham Goran defends the military's path. Read more ..

Pakistan on Edge

Pakistani Quake Victims Suffer As Government Denies International Aid

October 17th 2013

Turkey Earthquake

Residents of the southwestern Pakistani province of Balochistan are still struggling to dig out of the rubble left by two major earthquakes last month. The central government, meanwhile, is being accused of dragging its feet in allowing international aid to reach the disaster zone.

Islamabad has been involved in an intense struggle to crush the separatist aims of the province's Baluch population. This has heightened the complications of providing relief following the quakes that hit on September 24 and 28, killing nearly 700 people and leaving some 1,000 injured.

The central government has maintained tight control over the relief effort amid the continuing insurgency and, with their safety in mind, has denied the involvement of outside aid agencies. Local aid workers acknowledge that there have been some cases of insurgents attacking security forces following the disaster. But aid workers, they say, have not been targeted. Read more ..

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