The Battle for Syria
|Margaret Besheer||July 15th 2012|
The Syrian government denied July 15 that it used tanks and helicopters to attack the village of Tremseh in Hama province on June 12. Activists reported mass killings in the village, but a government spokesman said only two civilians and 37 armed individuals were killed in what Damascus said was a defensive operation. The U.N. observers were at Tremseh on June 15 investigating events.
U.N. military and civilian observers entered Tremseh for a second consecutive day on Sunday to try to verify reports of a military operation on the village. On Saturday, the U.N. supervision mission, known by its acronym UNSMIS, confirmed an attack had taken place using a variety of weapons, including artillery, mortars and small arms. At a news conference in Damascus Sunday, Foreign Ministry Spokesman Jihad Makdissi denied the army had used tanks, helicopters and heavy weapons to target the town. He said yes, there was a massacre. What happened, he said, was not an attack by the army on innocent civilians but a clash between regular forces and armed groups. Read more ..
The New Egypt
|Margaret Besheer||July 14th 2012|
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visits Egypt over the weekend to meet the nation's first freely elected president, Mohamed Morsi, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood whose Islamist followers want to reassess the previously close relations between Washington and Cairo.
Clinton's visit, scheduled to begin Sunday, comes as many Egyptians are increasingly concerned about what they consider American interference in the domestic affairs of this Arab nation of more than 80 million people. High on the agenda for the secretary of state's meeting with President Morsi are likely to be Egypt's political transition, its struggling economy, its peace treaty with Israel, and U.S. aid totaling more than $1 billion a year. Read more ..
The Climate Edge
Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), a top House Democrat, is urging the Energy and Commerce Committee's Republican majority to hold a hearing that explores links between climate change and extreme weather.
The request, spelled out in a letter Friday, is a sign that Democrats and environmentalists hope to translate the recent record-setting heatwaves into political momentum for efforts to battle global warming.
It asks Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) to convene a hearing “on the recent wildfires and extreme weather events the United States has experienced and the role global climate change played in these events.”
Waxman, the committee’s top Democrat, notes that Republicans have declined repeated requests over the past year to hold hearings on climate science. Read more ..
The Iran Threat
The United States is beefing up its naval presence in the Persian Gulf, an indication perhaps of future military conflict or a clear threat to Iran, which has threatened to close the vital Strait of Hormuz should economic sanctions bite too hard.
A Washington-state newspaper reports that the USS Stenis, an aircraft carrier, is returning to service much sooner than expected. "The ship came home to Naval Base Kitsap on March 2 after seven months of launching planes into Iraq and Afghanistan. Generally, it wouldn't go back to the Fifth Fleet area of responsibility for four to five years, after a deployment to the Western Pacific and a maintenance period. But with Iran making threats, crew members learned Saturday they'll be leaving again in late August for eight months."
In addition to the Stenis, two U.S. aircraft carrier battle groups are now in the Middle East and the Navy has doubled the number of minesweepers in the region, to eight. The Los Angeles Times reports: "The Navy is rushing dozens of unmanned underwater craft to the Persian Gulf to help detect and destroy mines in a major military buildup aimed at preventing Iran from closing the strategic Strait of Hormuz in the event of a crisis, U.S. officials said." Read more ..
The 2012 Vote
|Zachery Lichaa||July 12th 2012|
Two days after arriving in London for the Summer Olympics’ opening ceremony later this month, Mitt Romney will lay out his Middle East policies and host a fundraiser during a two day stay in Israel, according to the Jerusalem Post. The fundraiser will include a small group of people willing to pay at least $60,000 per plate, the Post reports. Romney’s stay in Jerusalem, which will begin on July 29, will also include meetings with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres.
Directly after the fundraising event, the presumed Republican nominee for President will host a conference in Jerusalem to lay out his approach to the pressing issues of the Middle East. The subject of Jonathan Pollard – the Texas born intelligence analyst who was convicted by the United States of spying for Israel – will also be on the agenda, according to Jonny Daniels, an Israeli based political consultant.
Romney has stated in the past that he would be willing to examine Pollard’s case if he reaches the White House. It’s going to be a statesmanlike visit, because [Romney] needs to be careful about how everything is perceived,” Daniels told The Post. Read more ..
The Iranian Threat
Hayom and Agencies
Read more ..
In a report released by the Pentagon on June 29, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta wrote that Iran's long- and short-range ballistic missile capabilities have improved recently, including weapons that target ships at sea, according to a report by Bloomberg News on Wednesday.
The Bloomberg article said the Pentagon report, which was commissioned by the U.S. Congress, mentioned Iran's deployment of new ships and submarines as well, and provides "the latest snapshot of Iran’s so-called asymmetric capabilities designed to counter the strengths of Western militaries."
Panetta reportedly signed the report which was quoted as saying “Iran has boosted the lethality and effectiveness of existing systems by improving accuracy and developing new submunition payloads" which have a greater and more lethal reach than that of solid warheads. According to Bloomberg, the report was distributed to four congressional defense committees last week in accordance with a 2010 directive to provide annual classified and unclassified assessments of Iran’s military capabilities. The article said the unclassified reports are meant to update Congress on Iran's latest "asymmetric capabilities" being developed to counter Western military strength.
Faster and More Furious
Following public outcry over a perceived cover-up and a charge of contempt of Congress, Attorney General Eric Holder announced on July 9 that five Mexican nationals suspected of murdering U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry were indicted in Tucson, Arizona. The indictment charging the five suspects was unsealed, plus a reward of up to $1 million was announced by the Federal Bureau of Investigation for information leading to the arrest of four fugitives, according to Justice Department officials.
However, many law enforcement officers believe this is merely a rehashed news story to attempt to sway Americans into believing the Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry's murder case is a priority for President Barack Obama and his embattled Attorney General.
"Reading the press statements emanating from the feds reveals most of details occurred in 2011 and 2010. This is another example of the Obama administration's politically-motivated actions. [Holder] is attempting to help with the re-election of a failed president and save his own job," said former NYPD police detective Samuel Robinson, an African American law enforcement veteran. Read more ..
Repealing President Obama’s healthcare law would let members of Congress keep their government-subsidized insurance coverage after they retire — a benefit they lost under the health law. The Affordable Care Act — specifically, a Republican amendment to the Affordable Care Act — kicked members of Congress and their aides out of the healthcare program for federal employees.
Instead, lawmakers and staff have to get coverage through the insurance exchanges created by the healthcare law. Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), who championed that provision, said it ensures that lawmakers live under the same rules as their constituents.
Now, as the House prepares to vote on a bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act, some Democrats are arguing that repeal would reinstate a two-tiered system that gives lawmakers a leg up.
“Repeal looks like it’s worse than anyone would have thought,” a Democratic official said. “Not only are Republicans helping their insurance company donors, they’re also trying to help themselves. House Republicans are set to repeal the promise that members of Congress have health care just like everyone else and to restart the perk of lifetime government health care for themselves.”
Before the Affordable Care Act became law, with Grassley’s amendment attached, members and their staffs bought insurance through the Federal Employees Health Benefit Program (FEHBP). They would return to the FEHBP if the law is repealed, the Democratic official said. Read more ..
The 2012 Vote
|Evelyn Garcia and DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz|
The Floridian Democratic National Committee (DNC) member whose e-mails exposed a deep disdain for Israel called it quits over the weekend, the JTA reports.
Evelyn Garcia apologized and resigned her post at the DNC, which she has held since 2008.
"In passionately advocating my position supporting the rights of people I felt were being harmed, I used language that I now regret,” she said in a released statement. “The gist of the conversation had to do with my concern for innocent people being oppressed, but such support for the oppressed does not diminish my support for the good people of Israel.”
Despite leaving the DNC, Garcia has not yet ended her bid for the Florida House of Representatives. One of four remaining candidates, her district includes the heavily Jewish populated area of Palm Beach.
The e-mails, first released by BizPacReview, expose a vitriol and disgust with Israel and the Jews that is hard to deny. In one she writes, “by supporting Israeli occupation with US foreign aid, we are all complicit and guilty of their crimes against humanity.” She goes on to write, “Palestinians had nothing to do with the Holocaust and it’s about time this guilt trip was taken off their backs.” Read more ..
The Edge of Justice
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) blasted Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives for holding Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress and attempting to try him in federal criminal court, according to a press statement released on Friday.
“Instead of focusing on jobs, House Republicans are pursuing a political witch hunt against the Obama administration and Attorney General Eric Holder,” Reid said in a statement.
“I support Attorney General Holder, who has done an outstanding job protecting our nation and prosecuting threats to our national security. The attorney general has cooperated with the House, but it’s clear that no amount of cooperation will ever be enough for Tea Party-driven House Republicans,” Reid added.
Top conservative talk show host Mark Levin, who served as chief of staff at the U.S. Justice Department during the Reagan administration, often calls the Nevada senator "Harry 'the body odor' Reid," a reference to one of Reid's remarks about tourists visiting the Capitol who emit a foul odor.
"Reid often makes astounding comments, but because he's a Democrat he's never suffered politically by having wall-to-wall news coverage of his remarks," said political strategist Mike Baker. For example, the Senate Majority Leader had to apologize for making racist comments during the 2008 presidential campaign. According to reporters Mark Halperin and John Heilemann, in a discussion with candidate Barack Obama, Reid told him that he would be a success since he was "light skinned" and spoke with no "Negro dialect." Read more ..
The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) “elevates commercial gain for a few over the well-being of society’s less fortunate,” says a complaint penned by Marcus Owens, the former chief of the Internal Revenue Service’s nonprofit corporations division, on behalf of Clergy VOICE, a group of ministers from progressive churches in Ohio.
ALEC has attracted attention recently for its model “stand your ground” and voter ID laws which led major corporate backers like Coca Cola and Kraft Foods Inc. to drop their membership in the face of a threatened boycott by activists. The Florida gun law became a hot topic following the slaying of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed teen, by a neighborhood watch volunteer in February.
Until recently, ALEC has enjoyed a low profile, despite its substantial influence over legislation in the nation’s statehouses. The group claims on its website that it has helped craft close to 1,000 bills introduced by state lawmakers and that “an average of 20 percent become law.” Read more ..
The Economy on Edge
|Gary Burtless||July 7th 2012|
The Brookings Institution
Private sector employment grew for the 28th consecutive month in June, but it rose just 84,000. The pace of payroll growth was about half the average rate of gain in the preceding 27 months. Declines in government employment offset some of the June growth in private payrolls, so total employment rose by only 80,000. Since April, net job gains in the BLS employer survey have averaged 75,000 a month, a pace that is too slow to keep the unemployment rate from rising. Job growth averaging between 90,000 and 100,000 a month is needed to hold the unemployment rate constant.
The Labor Department’s household survey offers a brighter picture of job gains in May and June. The number of adults reporting they hold a job increased 128,000 in June following an estimated employment gain of 422,000 in May. Since January the household survey has shown employment growth averaging 156,000 a month, about one-quarter faster than the pace of job gain shown in the BLS employer survey. Neither survey shows a robust or sustained improvement in employer demand since the start of the year. If the economy were near full employment, the pace of job gains would be neither surprising nor disappointing. In an economy in which the unemployment rate has exceeded 8.0 percent for 41 months, however, the job gains represent an intense disappointment. Read more ..
The 2012 Vote
|Elise Viebeck||July 7th 2012|
The Supreme Court ruling on healthcare reform has upended the parties’ messaging war, and led to a series of adjustments on both sides of the aisle. Republicans, still reeling from the conservative-leaning court’s decision to uphold President Obama’s signature law, are looking to regain their political legs. Democrats, who were pummeled by the GOP over the last couple of years on healthcare, are going on offense. House GOP leadership officials have scheduled a floor vote on repealing the law next week in what will represent the opening of a new chapter in the intense message battle.
Throughout the 2009 and 2010 debate on the bill, Democrats were divided on what direction to pursue on healthcare. Republicans, meanwhile, were united in their opposition. The political dynamic continued after Obama signed the unpopular measure into law, evidenced by the GOP’s historic electoral victories in 2010. But now, Republicans are fractured on whether the individual mandate is a tax or a penalty, and are openly worried that they are running out of time in their quest to repeal “ObamaCare.”
In this new round, Republicans face newly empowered Democrats eager for a second chance to convince the public on the merits of the law. Democrats are also anxious to exploit weaknesses in the GOP’s presumptive presidential candidate, Mitt Romney, who played into opponents’ hands this week when his campaign veered from the party line on the ruling. The floor vote in the House could open Republicans up to charges that they are losing their focus on the economy, especially in light of a new Kaiser Family Foundation poll that found political independents are tiring of the debate. Read more ..
Transpotation on Edge
President Obama signed a $105 billion transportation bill on Friday, bringing to an end a three-year fight over road and transit spending. The bill signing capped a day that began with an unemployment report showing the U.S. economy had added only 80,000 jobs in June, leaving the national unemployment rate unchanged at 8.2 percent.
Obama has touted the highway bill as a jobs bill, and at the White House signing ceremony he was surrounded by construction workers and students. The ceremony began after the president concluded a two-day campaign trip through the swing states of Ohio and Pennsylvania. “First of all, this bill will keep thousands of construction workers on the job rebuilding our nation’s infrastructure,” Obama said in a quick speech delivered less than an hour after he landed at Andrews Air Force base in suburban Washington.
“Second, this bill will keep interest rates on federal student loans from doubling this year, which would have hit nearly seven and a half million students with an average of $1,000 more on their loan payments,” he continued. “These steps are going to make a real difference in the lives of millions of Americans.” Republicans had sharply criticized the president for the unemployment numbers on Friday. Read more ..
The 2012 Vote
President Obama launches a bus tour Thursday through two battleground states crucial to his reelection bid. Obama’s focus during the trip through Ohio and Pennsylvania is the economy, and it begins a day before a critical monthly report on jobs — an event the White House is awaiting with some anxiety after May's figures fell far short of analysts' predictions.
The “Betting on America" tour is a nod to the near-certainty that November's elections will hinge on jobs, housing and other economic indicators despite the recent fervor from both parties over the Supreme Court's surprise verdict to uphold Obama's healthcare reform law. Rather than sitting on his heels for those employment numbers, Obama's schedule hints at a campaign that wants to get out in front of any bad economic news that might be forthcoming. Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt said the president will use the tour both to tout his economic recovery efforts and to attack Mitt Romney, the presumptive GOP presidential nominee, on his record atop Bain Capital, a private equity firm that's come under fire for buying up struggling companies and streamlining them, often by firing employees. Read more ..
The Climate Edge
|Marko Nokkala||July 4th 2012|
VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland
A study carried out by VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland indicates that extreme weather conditions cost EU transport system at least €15 billion a year. Currently, the greatest costs incurred are from road accidents, with the associated material damage and psychological suffering. However, costs arising from accidents are expected to decrease in volume, though time-related costs attributable to delays are projected to increase. In part, this is due to climate change, whose impact on extreme weather phenomena was addressed in the study, and because of consequent costs.
In the study conducted by VTT and EWENT project partners, researchers calculated the costs, caused by extreme weather phenomena for the transport system, its users and customers of freight carriers in the 27 EU member states. This marks the first time calculations have been completed on this scale and scope. The study shows that the mode of traffic most vulnerable to extreme weather is road traffic. It continues to have a higher volume than the other modes, with the additional factor of not being centralised or professionally controlled, in contrast to rail or aviation. Read more ..
The Race for Solar
House Republicans want the CEO of the bankrupt company Abound Solar to testify at a hearing this month, a sign of GOP plans to continue shining the political spotlight on the struggles of the Energy Department’s loan program.
House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Republicans have asked CEO Craig Witsoe and his predecessor, Tom Tiller, to appear at a July 18 hearing.
The Colorado-based maker of advanced solar panels, which has drawn $70 million in federal loans, filed for bankruptcy Monday and will liquidate.
Trent Waterhouse, an Abound spokesman, noted Witsoe has appeared before the committee in the past and added, “it would be his intention to cooperate again.” Witsoe appeared at a May 16 hearing of the government spending subcommittee, which will also hold the upcoming hearing. Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), the panel's chairman, sent Witsoe a July 2 letter asking him to appear. Abound is the second Energy Department-backed manufacturer of solar panels to go belly-up. Solyndra, which had won a $535 million loan guarantee in 2009, collapsed last year. Read more ..
The Edge of Terrorism
A federal jury in Texas convicted a Saudi Arabian citizen, living in the U.S. on a student visa, of attempting to create a weapon of mass destruction (WMD) as part of his plot to attack various targets in the United States, according to a Justice Department statement released yesterday.
One of the Saudi terrorist's main goals was the bombing of former President George W. Bush's home, according to court testimony. Khalid Aldawsari, a matriculated student at South Plains College in the Lubbock area, in an e-mail referred to President Bush's Dallas home as a "tyrant's house."
Testimony during Aldawsari's trial in Amarillo, revealed to the jurors that the 22-year-old Saudi had been visiting Internet web sites in order to learn how to build an improvised explosive device (IED), using easy-to-obtain chemicals, according to federal law enforcement officials. Courtroom testimony also revealed that Aldawsari conducted research on the Internet regarding targets throughout the United States.
In addition, law enforcement agents stated that Aldawsari had written blog entries about his ambition of "violent jihad and martyrdom." "[Wednesday's] guilty verdict shows how individuals in the Untied States with the intent to do harm can acquire the knowledge and materials necessary to carry out an attack," Special Agent in Charge Diego Rodriguez of the Dallas FBI field office said in a statement.
A diary found at Aldawsari's apartment revealed that he had come to the U.S. in order to commit terrorist acts and he even boasted of how the scholarship he received "will help tremendously in providing me with the support I need for jihad." Read more ..
The Medical Edge
|Cody Mooneyhan||July 1st 2012|
Whether from surgery or battle wounds, ugly scars can affect body and mind. Now a new research report offers a new strategy to reduce or eliminate scars on the skin. Specifically, scientists from NYU describe how agents that block receptors for adenosine (a molecule generated from ATP which is used by the body to provide energy to muscles) can be applied topically to healing wounds to reduce scar size, yielding skin that feels more like the original, unscarred skin.
"Scars can be disfiguring and, if extensive enough, can lead to diminished function and quality of life," said Bruce N. Cronstein, M.D., a researcher involved in the work from the Division of Translational Medicine in the Department of Medicine at New York University School of Medicine in New York, NY. "We hope that our findings may lead to new agents that diminish scarring and disfigurement following burns, wounds, or even illnesses that destroy skin and lead to a better quality of life for victims of these traumas."
When the skin or other tissues are wounded, ATP leaks from the damaged cells and is then converted to adenosine which promotes healing. Scars form when adenosine continues to be produced at the wound site after the injury is healed, leading to larger, thicker scars than what may have otherwise been there. Read more ..
Following the U.S. Supreme Court decision on immigration enforcement and the Obama Administration response -- that includes a special hotline for complaints against Arizona law enforcement officers who dare to enforce immigration laws -- controversial Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio gave President Barack Obama and his minions a "virtual raspberry" and defiantly announced, "I'm going to enforce our state laws."
The most controversial provision of the much maligned Arizona immigration law, a provision that requires police check the status of anyone they suspect of being in the country illegally, was the only provision to be upheld by the nation's highest court on Monday.
However, the high court's ruling is leaving the door open to additional challenges by the Obama White House and Attorney General Eric Holder, who has been investigating Arpaio for years.
"I'm concerned about whether the federal government will pick up the illegal aliens that law enforcement and my office come in contact with. In fact, I predicted this morning they won't, and I just heard that the Homeland Security said they're not going to pick up illegal aliens that the law enforcement comes in contact with on traffic stops," said Sheriff Arpaio during an appearance on Fox News Channel's Your World with Neil Cavuto on Tuesday. Read more ..
|Justin Sink||June 29th 2012|
Attorney General Eric Holder blasted the House's vote to hold him in contempt and vowed to stay focused on his work at the Department of Justice.
Speaking at a press conference Thursday shortly after the vote concluded, Holder said Republicans and Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), chairman of the powerful House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, held a "politically motivated" vote.
"Today’s vote is the regrettable culmination of what became a misguided — and politically motivated — investigation during an election year. By advancing it over the past year and a half, Congressman Issa and others have focused on politics over public safety," he said. The Republican-controlled House voted 255-67 to hold the attorney general in contempt, the first time in American history that the head of the Justice Department has faced such a sanction. Seventeen Democrats joined the GOP in voting for the resolution. Read more ..
The 2012 Vote
The Supreme Court on June 28 upheld the insurance mandate in President Obama’s healthcare law, a stinging defeat for conservatives who had insisted the law is unconstitutional. The decision vindicates Obama and congressional Democrats, who maintained throughout the legal challenge that even this court, with its conservative majority, would have to break with decades of precedent to overturn the healthcare law.
Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the majority opinion for the court in the 5-4 decision on the mandate, ruling that Congress has the authority to enforce the healthcare law’s individual mandate, which will require most U.S. taxpayers to buy insurance or pay a penalty.
Roberts said the mandate could survive as a tax. "Nothing in the Constitution guarantees that individuals may avoid taxation by inactivity," Roberts said from the bench. Roberts tacitly acknowledged the passionate opposition to the healthcare law, but he said policy decisions belong to the elected branches of government, not the court. "It is not our job to save the people from the consequences of their political decisions," he said.
The decision allows Roberts — whose legacy will depend in large part on this case — to avoid the severe repercussions that both sides of the case had feared. The court did not strike down the signature domestic achievement of a sitting president, nor did it give its approval to an expansion of Congress's powers to regulate commerce.
House Republicans, in reaction, announced they would vote on repealing the full law on July 11. Read more ..
The Digital Edge
|Nick Flaherty||June 28th 2012|
Major operators in Europe are set to carry out advanced tests of a new WiFi standard for easy access hot spots using newly standardized equipment after successful trials using prototype kit over the last six months.
Many of the world’s largest operators and vendors have signed up to test Next Generation Hotspots (NGH) which use the Wi-Fi Passpoint standard approved this week. This allows users to log in without user names and passwords, relying on SIM card and serial number data instead. European operators in the trials include BT, BskyB’s The Cloud, Deutsche Telekom, Everything Everywhere, Orange, Portugal Telecom TMN, Swisscom, Talk Talk, TeliaSonera and Telefónica. Equipment suppliers include Ericsson and Comfone AG as well as Intel, Cisco, HP and Juniper.
The trials will test operator-to-operator billing procedures to ensure that they are compensated when carrying each other’s subscribers and test features that allow users to change their hotspot subscription package or set up a connection. The trials will also test a variety of authentication methods, including SIM-based, for the growing number of smartphones, as well as non-SIM based, for tablets, laptops and legacy phones which cannot support SIM authentication. The methods to be tested are EAP-TLS, EAP-TTLS, EAP-SIM and EAP-AKA. Read more ..
The 2012 Vote
|Megashyam Mali||June 28th 2012|
A new poll finds President Obama and GOP candidate Mitt Romney locked in tight races in three key battleground states, but with voters split on the economy.
An NBC News/Marist poll released Thursday shows Obama with a slight edge in Michigan and North Carolina and the two candidates deadlocked in New Hampshire.
But on the central issue for many voters, jobs and the economic recovery, the survey’s findings show openings for both candidates to bolster their support.
In Michigan, voters back Obama on the economy over Romney 44 percent to 42, while Romney holds the edge in New Hampshire, with his policies being favored by 46 percent to the president’s 42. In North Carolina the two are deadlocked with 43 percent backing each contender. "The economy plays both ways in all three states," says Marist College Institute for Public Opinion director Lee Miringoff. Read more ..
Students on Edge
|Alexander Bolton||June 27th 2012|
Congressional leaders on Tuesday moved closer to passing two high-profile bills in what could be the final burst of major legislative activity before the 2012 elections. Senate leaders announced a deal to extend federal subsidies for college loans and floated the possibility of attaching the language to a multiyear transportation authorization measure.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) told reporters that he is confident the student loan legislation will pass while pegging the chances of the highway bill at better than 50-50.
Both Reid and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) signaled they are open to combining the bills into one package. They also cautioned that the GOP-led House, where the politics are more delicate on these issues, would have to sign off as well.
The boomlet of activity comes a week after the Senate passed a multiyear farm bill. Earlier this year, the House and Senate cleared legislation on helping start-up businesses, banning insider trading for lawmakers and reauthorizing the Export-Import Bank. Perhaps not coincidentally, approval ratings for Congress have hit 20 percent — more than double what they were during 2011, a year of multiple partisan showdowns. The emerging dynamic is that Senate Republicans are increasingly eager to show they can work with Democrats, which hampers President Obama’s strategy of running against congressional obstructionism. Read more ..
The 2012 Vote
|Amie Parnes||June 27th 2012|
President Obama is exhorting supporters on the campaign trail to avoid rounds of boos or catcalls directed toward his Republican opponent, Mitt Romney. The repeated efforts by Obama — used as recently as Tuesday at an Atlanta fundraiser — are intended to send a signal that he’s heading up a positive campaign even as he runs countless ads excoriating Romney’s business background.
It’s also part of a calculated effort to contrast his handling of the hecklers with Romney’s. The presumptive GOP nominee has witnessed crowds at his events booing Obama but has not sought to quiet them.
And, in an interview on Fox News, Romney would not commit to urging his supporters and staff to stop the heckling. “I can assure you that we do not believe in unilateral disarmament,” he said, echoing earlier comments he made that “if you’re going to be heckling us, why, we’re not going to sit back and play [by] very different rules.”
Like Romney, Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), the 2008 GOP nominee, faced a slew of belligerent supporters. Read more ..
Russia on Edge
|Martin Barillas||June 27th 2012|
Cutting Edge Senior Correspondent
|Russian activist Aleksander Dolmatov in Amsterdam.|
Russian political activist Aleksander Dolmatov has requested political asylum in the Netherlands, according a report by the Dutch de Volkskrant newspaper and news broadcaster NOS. Dolmatov had been working as a designer for a company that makes tactical missiles for the Russian military. However, Dolmatov claims that his association with a non-registered opposition party led the Russian secret service to persecute and threaten him despite his association with Russia's arms industry.
“A manager at the company where I work told a reporter that they will murder me,” Dolmatov told de Volkskrant via telephone from a government safehouse somewhere in the Netherlands.
According to the Interfax news agency, Alexander Averin - spokesman for the unregistered opposition party "The other Russia" - said "Opposition activist Alexander Dolmatov was forced to leave Russia. He addressed the authorities of the Netherlands with a request of a political asylum." Read more ..
Islam's War on Christianity
|Martin Barillas||June 26th 2012|
Cutting Edge Senior Correspondent
Nigeria's Christian community was shocked to learn of plans by the Islamic sect known as Boko Haram for an upsurge in the already deadly violence directed at Christians. Boko Haram, which means 'Western learning is un-Islamic,' has issued a threat to make this June "the bloodiest month for Christians." The Islamic sect had already promised to purge northern Nigeria of Christians as part of its effort to eventually impose Muslim religious law over the entire country. Bombs, armed assaults, and directed killings have been used by Boko Haram to rout Christians while also posing an as yet unresolved challenge to the national government.
Boko Haram claims to have trained some three hundred suicide bombers ready to attack Christians at churches in the states of Plateau and Kaduna (southern Nigeria). On June 17, for example, Boko Haram conducted a series of coordinated car bomb attacks at churches as worshippers gathered in Kaduna. Scores of Christians, and Muslims, were killed by the bombings.
Reprisals by Christians ensued in Kaduna, as enraged mobs dragged Muslims from their cars and killed them. Then in the northeastern city of Damaturu, Muslims went on the rampage to avenge the deaths of their co-religionists in Kaduna and elsewhere. The Nigerian army imposed a curfew but fighting continued sporadically, preventing medical teams and emergency personnel from aiding the wounded. Read more ..
|Jordy Yager||June 26th 2012|
Democrats are seeking to portray the Republican contempt motion against Attorney General Eric Holder as an assault on minority rights. Republicans have repeatedly accused Holder and the Obama administration of stonewalling Congress, but Democrats are now trying to steer the “Fast and Furious” debate away from transparency and toward voter suppression.
At the front of the push is a group of seven national civil rights leaders, including the Rev. Al Sharpton, that is scheduled to hold a press conference on June 26 about the effect that placing Holder in contempt of Congress would have on his ability to protect the rights of black and Hispanic voters, homeowners and immigrants. “I’m not saying that this is because Holder is black, and I’m not calling [Republicans] racists. I’m saying what they’re doing has a racial effect, and that’s what we’re going to talk about [on June 26],” said Sharpton in a phone interview.
“The question one would have to raise is: If he is held in contempt, under that cloud, how does he fight for voter rights? This compromises the Justice Department from being able to do a lot of fighting.” Read more ..
The New Egypt
|Robert Berger||June 25th 2012|
|Former Hamas Prime Minister Sheikh Ismael Haneiya (c).|
The victory by a Muslim Brotherhood candidate in presidential elections in Egypt is raising concern in neighboring Israel.
Israel says it respects the outcome of the democratic process in Egypt, in which Islamist candidate Mohammed Morsi was elected president. A statement by the prime minister’s Office in Jerusalem Sunday said Israel hopes the new Egyptian administration will respect the 33-year-old peace treaty between the two countries, which Israel says “contributes to regional stability.”
But some Israeli analysts and media are warning that the peace treaty is in jeopardy.
“I think they will try to kind of freeze or to minimize the agreement,” said Zvi Mazel, a former Israeli ambassador to Cairo. He says Morsi is a leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, which traditionally has been hostile toward Israel. “It is an Islamic, extremist movement. They have said they hate Israel; they would like to see Israel wiped off the map.” Read more ..
Human Rights and Arms
|Zach Toombs||June 24th 2012|
|Saudi protester with sign: 'The people want human rights'|
Every May and June, different branches of the State Department paint contrasting portraits of how Washington views dozens of strategically significant countries around the world, in seemingly rivalrous reports by its Human Rights and Political-Military Affairs bureaus.
The former routinely criticizes other nations for a lack of fealty to democratic principles, citing abuses of the right to expression, assembly, speech and political choice. The latter tallies the government’s latest successes in the export of American weaponry, often to the same countries criticized by the former.
This year was no different. The State Department’s Military Assistance Report on June 8 stated that it approved $44.28 billion in arms shipments to 173 nations in the last fiscal year, including some that struggled with human rights problems. These nations include the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Israel, Djibouti, Honduras, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Bahrain.
Three nations with records of suppressing democratic dissent in the last year — Algeria, Egypt, and Peru — are listed in the report as recently receiving U.S. firearms, armored vehicles, and items from a category that includes chemical and riot control agents like tear gas. The State Department confirmed that U.S. tear gas was delivered to Egypt up to the end of November, but has declined to confirm it was also sent to Algeria and Peru. Read more ..
|Alexander Bolton||June 24th 2012|
|Credit: Gage Skidmore|
Sen. Ben Nelson (Neb.), the only Senate Democrat to sign the Taxpayer Protection Pledge, says he will not let it stop him from backing a deficit-reduction package that raises new taxes. Nelson, who is retiring from Congress at the end of the year, said that signatories of the pledge should not let it become “a trap.”
Democrats say the anti-tax pledge authored by Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, is the biggest obstacle to reaching a deal to reduce the deficit.
Extension of the Bush tax cuts, avoiding an automatic $1.2 trillion cut to discretionary spending and raising the nation’s debt limit may well hinge on getting a broader deficit deal.
“I look at the pledge as a commitment, not a trap. If it was set as a trap, then it’s unfortunate. I have attempted to, and I think others too, to abide by the spirit of it,” Nelson told The Hill. “I don’t think that it ought to be misused by anyone either.”
The pledge states that those who sign it will oppose “any and all efforts to increase the marginal income tax rates for individuals and/or businesses.” It further states that signatories will “oppose any net reduction or elimination of deductions and credits, unless matched dollar for dollar by further reducing tax rates.” Nelson says cutting spending should be the priority. Read more ..
|Martin Barillas||June 23rd 2012|
Cutting Edge Senior Correspondent
On June 23, an Iranian general said that any military action by Israel on the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program would lead to a collapse of the Jewish state, according to the Fars news agency. This followed the failure of multilateral talks in Moscow, in which Iran and interlocutors such as the U.S. and Russia failed to come to an agreement on the nuclear program.
Fears were thus heightened that Israel might take unilateral military action to destroy Iran’s nuclear program, which is feared to be bent on producing nuclear weapons. However, agreement was reached for a follow-up meeting of technical experts on July 3, saving the process from outright failure.
Iranian Brigadier-General Mostafa Izadi, who serves as Iran’s deputy chief of staff of the armed forces, said of Israel, "They cannot do the slightest harm to the (Iranian) revolution and the system," according to Fars. "If the Zionist regime takes any (military) actions against Iran, it would result in the end of its labors," he added. He also said, "If they act logically, such threats amount to a psychological war but if they want to act illogically, it is they who will be destroyed." Read more ..
|Geneva Sands||June 23rd 2012|
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton cautioned that Iran not be allowed to acquire a nuclear weapon, not only because of own intentions, but because she believes it would spur a regional arms race.
"Everybody needs to know — most particularly the Iranians — that we are serious that they cannot be allowed to have a nuclear weapon. It’s not only about Iran and about Iran’s intentions, however one tries to discern them. It’s about the arms race that would take place in the region with such unforeseen consequences," Clinton told Charlie Rose in an interview posted online on June 21 and aired on CBS's "This Morning."
Clinton warned that a nuclear-armed Iran would create a "cascade of difficult challenges" for both the United Stated and its ally Israel.
"You name any country with the means, anywhere near Iran that is an Arab country, if Iran has a nuclear weapon — I can absolutely bet on it and know I will win – they will be in the market within hours," she said.
Clinton's remarks came as part of an hour-long interview, during which she spoke alongside former Secretary of State James Baker at the State Department in a special series Wednesday on "Charlie Rose," called "Conversations on Diplomacy."
Baker, free of political office, agreed that every possible avenue should be explored to stop Iran from developing a nuclear weapon, but said if all else fails, "we ought to take them out" — which drew laughter from Clinton. "We're working hard, we're working hard," she added. Read more ..
Egypt on Edge
|Edward Yeranian||June 22nd 2012|
Thousands of demonstrators turned out in Cairo’s Tahrir Square after Friday prayers, heeding an appeal by Islamist parties to protest against the country’s ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces. Several secular and youth groups also joined in to denounce recent moves by the council, including the dissolution of parliament.
Protesters braving searing summer heat chanted slogans against Egypt’s ruling military council. Organizers were calling the protest a “million man march,” although webcam images from above the square showed crowds in some areas and empty spaces in others.
A top leader of the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood said the sit-in protest at Tahrir Square would continue until the decision to dissolve parliament is reversed. Protest organizers blocked entrances to the square early Friday, preventing traffic from entering.
Anxiety is building, both in Cairo and elsewhere across Egypt, over the delay in announcing the winner of last week’s presidential runoff election. Both the Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohamed Morsi and his rival, former prime minister Ahmed Shafiq, claim to have won. Read more ..
|Peter Schroeder||June 21st 2012|
Moody's Investors Service issued downgrades to 15 of the world's biggest banks Thursday, saying that they all had "significant exposure" to volatility and risk inherent in their global trading activities.
Banks such as Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase, and Bank of America were among the firms downgraded by the rating agency — a move that could require the banks to pony up billions in additional collateral to cover their derivatives transactions, and also make it more expensive for them to borrow.
"All of the banks affected by today’s actions have significant exposure to the volatility and risk of outsized losses inherent to capital markets activities", said Greg Bauer, the firm's global banking managing director. "However, they also engage in other, often market leading business activities that are central to Moody’s assessment of their credit profiles. These activities can provide important ‘shock absorbers’ that mitigate the potential volatility of capital markets operations, but they also present unique risks and challenges." Read more ..
Pakistan on Edge
|Sharon Behn||June 21st 2012|
Pakistan’s Supreme Court has ousted Prime Minister Yousef Raza Gilani from office, throwing the country into political uncertainty. President Asif Ali Zardari was meeting with the leadership of the ruling People’s Party and coalition partners to discuss the way forward. Former law minister S.M. Zafar says a political crisis can be avoided if the President and parliament move quickly.
“The solution is easy, which is that the present government has a very good majority in the national assembly and they can elect a new prime minister probably by tomorrow. If they do that, the vacuum or the void that has happened on account of no prime minister being available at this moment in the country will be easily solved. But if they don’t do that, then suddenly there is a difficulty in the situation,” Zafar said.
The Court based its decision on an earlier ruling that found Gilani in contempt of court when he refused to open a corruption investigation against President Zardari. The prime minister had refused to step down despite the April ruling. Tuesday’s Supreme Court decision came after opposition political parties filed a petition against him.
Lawyer Hamid Kahn, of the opposition party PTI, confirmed the next step would be a parliamentary vote for a new prime minister. “The president has been directed to act according to the constitution by taking further steps under the constitution, naturally for the election of a new prime minister,” Kahn said. Read more ..
Egypt and Israel
|Zachary Lichaa||June 19th 2012|
As rockets continue to fly into Israel on Tuesday, following a deadly attack on Monday in which an Israeli-Arab was killed at the country’s border with Egypt, the IDF’s Chief of Staff, Benny Gantz, relayed a message to Egypt, as that country attempts to work through political turmoil and upheaval.
“We expect the Egyptians to exercise their sovereignty in Sinai,” he said.
As Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood claims victory in the nation’s recently finished presidential elections, and calls for protests against the Egyptian military in Cairo become louder, Israel and it’s defense apparatus have made adjustments to try and deal with the persistence of both political instability in Egypt and a recent revival of attacks from the Hamas terror group in Gaza. Read more ..
The Edge of Justice
|Diego DiGhero||June 19th 2012|
Officials for the leftist government of Ecuador claim that controversial WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has asked for political asylum in the South American republic. Ecuador, which is led by President Rafael Correa, is considering the request. "Ecuador is studying and analyzing the request," Foreign Minister Ricardo Patiño told reporters in Quito on June 19.
Assange faces extradition to Sweden over alleged sex crimes against two women there. Assange has denied the allegations. While Assange is not currently charged with any crime, Swedish officials they want to question him over the allegations. On June 14, the British Supreme Court rejected Assange's request to reopen his appeal against extradition to Sweden. The extradition proceedings are scheduled to begin on June 28.
Assange reportedly fears that he should he be extradited to Sweden, he would be one step closer to being sent to the United States to face charges relating to his activities at WikiLeaks. Assange may opt to appeal his case to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), which is currently being planned by his attorneys. Swedish authorities have said the ECHR would intervene if Assange faced "inhuman or degrading treatment or an unfair trial" in any potential extradition to the U.S.
Assange published classified materials he allegedly received from U.S. Army Pvt. Bradley Manning, who allegedly downloaded more than 250,000 classified documents from the State Department, and another 500,000 U.S. Army reports, and provided them to Assange. Manning is facing espionage charges as well as violations of the Uniform Code of Military Justice for his activities. Read more ..
Egypt and Israel
With the Egyptian government in a state of flux due to problems with establishing a civilian government and the military's internal problems, terrorists belonging to various Islamic groups are sneaking into Israel from the Sinai Peninsula and attacking Israeli civilians. The latest such violence occurred on Monday morning, an Israeli police source stated.
The sudden and vicious attack launched by terrorists at the Israel- Egypt border is creating a serious security issue especially for inhabitants of the Sinai Peninsula. Denouncing "in the strongest terms" what she called the " terrorist attacks" on civilians in Israel from Sinai, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said "We remain concerned about the security situation in the Sinai Peninsula and call for restraint on all sides."
But counterterrorism expert Mike Snopes, a former NYPD detective and military intelligence officer, believes Nuland has it all wrong. "I always get a little hot under the collar when some minion from the Obama administration starts with 'all sides' jargon. It's the terrorists who need restraining, not innocent Israeli civilians. And as far as response, the Israeli police or military or both have every right to retaliate," said Snopes. Read more ..
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