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The Battle for Baghdad

As Tensions Rise, Secretary Kerry Tells Syria and Iran to Back Off Iraq

June 26th 2014

Iranian drone and pilot

Secretary of State John Kerry is continuing his focus on the crisis in Iraq as he meets on June 26 in Paris with his counterparts from Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. The State Department says the talks will include both the security situation in Iraq and the civil war in neighboring Syria.

U.S. officials have been urging Iraq to install a government that is inclusive of Iraq's Sunni and Kurdish minorities, as the country deals with a surge by Sunni Islamist militants. However, Kerry told reporters on June 25that the U.S. is not interfering with the political process in Baghdad.

"It's up to Iraqis to make those decisions. We have stated clearly that we have an interest in a government that can unite Iraqis," said Kerry. Read more ..


The Battle for Iraq

Iraqi PM Rejects Forming 'Salvation' Government

Iraq ISIL pistol standoff

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has rejected forming an emergency government to help the country counter a surge by Sunni Islamist militants.

In a televised address, Maliki said he considered a "national salvation government," intended to present a unified front among Iraq's three main groups, a "coup against the constitution" and going against Iraq's April 30 parliament election results.

Iraqi leaders said they will meet a July 1 deadline for beginning to form the post-election government. U.S. officials believe the leadership in Baghdad should seek to draw Sunni support away from the militants from the al-Qaida breakaway group the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). ISIL militants have seized areas across northern and western Iraq. Read more ..


The Battle for Iraq

Militant Advance in Iraq Blow to Families of Fallen US Troops

June 25th 2014

ISIS terrorist in Iraq

The rapid advance of Islamist militants through key cities in Iraq is forcing many Americans to re-examine the eight-year-long war that killed nearly 4,500 U.S. service members.  The loss of lives is on the minds of many who took part in the 2014 Illinois Motorcycle Freedom Run.

This is more than just a motorcycle to Kory Thompson.  It is a moving tribute to his son, Army Corporal Michael Thompson, who died in a helicopter crash near Talil Air Base in Iraq in 2008.

“Their call sign was Red River 44. When Red River 44 banked to go into Talil, they lost altitude, and the guys from the other helicopter say it look like they flew right into the ground,” he said. It was Thompson’s second time in Iraq, a mission his father said he enthusiastically volunteered for, based on his experience during his first deployment. Read more ..


The Battle for Iraq

'Intense' and 'Sustained' U.S. Military Help Coming to Iraq

June 24th 2014

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The United States is pledging “intense" and "sustained” support for Iraq as it battles Sunni militants. And now a major component of that help - teams of military advisers - can move into action thanks to an agreement between the U.S. and Iraqi governments granting legal protections to U.S. forces. But there are growing concerns about how much that support can do amid signs the Iraqi military is withering under pressure.

It has become a familiar scene in Iraq - militants with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant - ISIL (also known as ISIS) - celebrating another victory.

Those fleeing tell stories of horror.

"I wish I had camera with me to film what happened with us, so that you could see it with your own eyes," said Ali Shebban, an internally displaced Iraqi citizen. "Clashes all around. Children, women, old men all running." Read more ..


Israel on Edge

Legalists to UN Head Moon: "Retract all Acceptance of PA to the UN"

June 24th 2014

UN HQ NYC

The Legal Forum for Israel, a body representing hundreds of lawyers and jurists from various countries, has sent a letter to UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon last week demanding that he retract all acceptance within the UN of the Palestinian Authority and  reject the Palestinian request to accede to international conventions.

Relating to the abduction of the three boys form Gush Etzion, author of the letter Alan Baker, former legal adviser of Israel’s foreign ministry, former ambassador to Canada and Director of the International Action Division of the Legal Forum for Israel, writes: "We are, first and foremost, at the time of writing this letter, most distressed at the tragic situation in which one or more Palestinian terror groups, affiliated to what you and the UN regard as the “State of Palestine”, considered to be a non-member state observer in the UN, have taken three Israeli youths hostage, in clear violation of all basic humanitarian norms and conventions. Read more ..


The Battle for Ukraine

Separatists Declare Ceasefire as Tallks with Ukrainian Government Begin

June 23rd 2014

A leader of the pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine says rebel forces will observe the unilateral cease-fire that President Petro Poroshenko declared Friday as the first step in a broader peace plan.

Alexander Borodai made the announcement in Donetsk, where talks opened Monday between rebel leaders and representatives of the Ukrainian government. Borodai, prime minister of the separatists' self-declared Donetsk People's Republic, said the rebels' cease-fire would last until Friday, the same day the government's week-long cease-fire is set to end. He said his side would engage in further talks to end the crisis. Read more ..


The Battle for Iraq

Secretary of State Kerry Concedes Iraq Faces 'Existential Threat'

June 23rd 2014

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Monday pledged "intense" support for Iraq against the "existential threat" posed by a major militant offensive pushing toward Baghdad from the north and west.

Kerry pressured Iraq's top Shi'ite leaders on Monday to create a more inclusive government in order to face down the insurgents, who have captured vast territories in northern and western Iraq.

The United States' "support will be intense, sustained, and if Iraq's leaders take the steps needed to bring the country together, it will be effective," Kerry told journalists in Baghdad. Read more ..


The Battle for Iraq

Kurdish Peshmerga Forces Near Kirkuk Fight Back with Artillery

June 22nd 2014

PKK (Kurdish Worker's Party) Fighter

Kurdish Peshmerga forces south of Kirkuk have fired barrages of artillery shells at the bases of Islamic militants in what officials in the area said was a “response to unprovoked shelling” from the insurgents. “Peshmerga forces are stationed near the lower Zab and will continue their defense,” Anwar Haji Osman, Kurdistan Region’s deputy Peshmerga minister stated.

According to correspondents in Kirkuk, large numbers of Peshmerga forces are deployed 70 kilometers south of the city. Four Peshmerga fighters were reportedly wounded as a result of shells fired at their bases by the Islamic militants. Though the Kurds haven’t officially joined the war against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), and are in defensive positions, they have come to clashes with the group in Kirkuk and northern Diyala. Read more ..


The New Egypt

Egyptian Court Confirms Mass Death Sentences

June 21st 2014

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An Egyptian court confirmed death sentences for 183 people Saturday, in a case involving rioting last August in the town of Minya, south of Cairo. Convictions against 496 others were thrown out, while four were given life sentences. Lawyers for those condemned to death say that they will appeal.

The ruling by Judge Saeed Youssef drew the ire of many human rights activists, as well as criticism from the four corners of the globe. Despite the 183 death sentences, it was not clear who, if anyone, would actually be put to death.

The case drew international media attention because many of the sentences appeared to be arbitrary. Just one police officer died in the clashes around which the trial revolved. Mohamed Badie, the Supreme Guide of Egypt's now outlawed Muslim Brotherhood group, had his death sentence confirmed for inciting the crowd to violence. Read more ..


Broken Government

Essential Evidence of IRS Malfeasance Destroyed by Obama Administration

June 19th 2014

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Congressional Republicans are hunting for hard drives, smartphones and maintenance logs that they think could yield emails from former IRS official Lois Lerner.

Two House committees — Ways and Means and Oversight — are investigating IRS claims that Lerner’s hard drive failed in 2011, likely erasing emails they believe to be relevant to their probe of the scrutiny that was given to Tea Party groups.

The IRS says backup copies of the emails no longer exist because until last year, it only kept such tapes for six months before recycling them. The agency has yet to say what became of Lerner’s hard drive, though Sen. Orrin Hatch (Utah), the top Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, and several GOP aides say they have been told the drive no longer exists. Lerner, the central figure in the IRS controversy, and other agency staffers discussed the drive going to the “hard drive cemetery” in 2011 if its contents couldn’t be saved, according to emails released Friday. Read more ..


The Battle for Iraq

Obama Seeks Replacement of Embattled Iraqi Premier Nouri al-Maliki

June 19th 2014

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Iraqi forces and Sunni militants fighting for control of the country's biggest oil refinery continued clashing on June 19 at the site in Beiji. Witnesses reported smoke spilling from the plant and said the black flag of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) was flying from a building.

Iraqi security officials said the government was still in control of the refinery, which is located about halfway between Baghdad and Mosul. The United States is continuing to weigh options for how to help Iraq fight the militants who have taken over key cities in the north and threatened the capital.

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey told a Senate subcommittee on June 18 that the Iraqi government has asked for U.S. airstrikes. He said the Shi'ite-led Iraqi government has failed its people, and that leaders failed to carry out their commitment to form a unity government with Sunnis and Kurds. Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

IDF Operates Over Night to Decimate Hamas Terror Infrastructure

June 18th 2014

IDF On Guard

The IDF and Israeli security forces have continued their operation over night to locate the three abducted boys while decimating the Hama terror infrastructure in Judea and Samaria. The IDF carried out night raids throughout all of Judea and Samaria, this time meeting little resistance.

An IDF spokesman announced that as part of an extensive series of intelligence and operational activities, security forces arrested 65 wanted persons; 51 of them were released as part of the Schalit deal in 2011. They further shut down a terrorist affiliated radio station. Ten brigades are participating in these operations. Since the beginning of the operation some 240 terrorists were arrested and about 800 homes were searched. Hundreds of weapons have been uncovered during these searches.

The Gazan front appears to be heating up. Hamas officials from Gaza have threatened to retaliate against the IDF’s operations against their infrastructure. In the past 14 days, 11 rockets were fired from Gaza at Israel. There are reports of the IDF deploying more Iron Dome anti-rocket systems throughout the south. Read more ..


Argentina on Edge

Argentine Nationalist Sentiments Bestirred by U.S. Supreme Court Decision on Debt

June 17th 2014

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President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner

The U.S. Supreme Court dealt Argentina a pair of defeats in its long-running attempt to avoid paying some debts from its 2001 default. On June 16, the court let stand a lower court ruling that Argentina cannot make payments on restructured debt unless it also repays investors who refused to accept terms of the refinancing offered by Buenos Aires.

In addition, the court said investors could use the U.S. courts to pursue information about where Argentina owns property around the world. That should make it easier for creditors to collect on court judgments against the South American nation. Read more ..


The Battle for Baghdad

Obama Commits Ground Forces to Iraq; More Expected

June 17th 2014

President Barack Obama is sending 275 U.S. military personnel to Iraq to help provide security to the embassy in Baghdad and U.S. personnel. The administration on Monday sought to reassure Americans that the deployment is not another open-ended commitment of troops to Iraq.

"This force is deploying for the purpose of protecting U.S. citizens and property, if necessary, and is equipped for combat," Obama said in a letter to lawmakers. "This force will remain in Iraq until the security situation becomes such that it is no longer needed."

Obama's notification to Congress Monday also said the move has the consent of the Iraqi government. Read more ..


Israel and Palestine

Wife of Palestinian Leader Undergoes Surgery in Israel while Fate of Israeli Teens is Unknown

June 16th 2014

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Physicians in Israel performed surgery on Amina Abbas, the wife of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, at a private clinic near Tel Aviv on June 13, while tensions grew between Israel and the PA over the abduction of three Israeli Jewish adolescents by Palestinian terrorists. Abbas was released from the clinic on June 15.

Israel occasionally allows Palestinians to enter Israeli territory in order to receive medical treatment unavailable at PA hospitals. Israeli physicians and hospitals have even treated Palestinians accused of carrying out bomb attacks. Earlier this month Israel admitted the 68-year-old mother-in-law of Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh for medical treatment. She was granted entry from the Gaza Strip to receive cancer treatment at a Jerusalem hospital. Haniyeh’s granddaughter received treatment in Israel in November 2013 for an infection in her digestive tract. She later died in Gaza. Read more ..


The Battle for Baghdad

Sunni Islamists Continue Onslaught Towards Baghdad while Iran Intervenes

June 16th 2014

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Residents and local Iraqi officials say Sunni militants have seized the northern city of Tal Afar, the latest capture in a surge of fighting that has resulted in international condemnation and calls for unity in Iraq.

The seizure early on June 16 comes after a week in which militants from the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) seized Mosul and Tikrit and threatened to advance on Baghdad. After the capture of Mosul, all the Christian Iraqis still living there fled to safety. Catholic Archbishop Amil Shamaaoun Nona of Mosul said in an interview with Aid to the Church in Need - a Catholic relief agency,  “All the faithful have left the city. Who knows whether they will ever be able to return.” Read more ..


The Battle for Iraq

The Mystery of Iraq's Vanishing Army

June 13th 2014

"Now in Mosul jihadist militants control the city and the situation is calm. But we do not know who they are and what they want to do now," said Chaldean Catholic Archbishop Amel Shamon Nona of Mosul. According to the Fides news service, the climate in Iraq’s second largest city is grim, following its capture two days ago by the rebels of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

The ISIL is an Islamic jihadi Sunni grouping, which is also active in the Syrian conflict, that seeks to impose a caliphate in the region. Iraqi soldiers and civilians are streaming away from Mosul and heading for Baghdad. Read more ..


Obama's Second Term

Obama Administration Faces Tough Choices in Iraq

June 13th 2014

The Obama administration is facing its worst-case scenario in Iraq, which seems on the verge of crumbling as Islamic militants march on Baghdad.

Just more than three years after U.S. soldiers left the country, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has taken over hundreds of square miles ranging from Syria’s coast to the Iraqi cities of Mosul and Tikrit.

The terrorist group is in control of a wide swath of land from which it could launch attacks on the West, former U.S. Ambassador to Iraq John Negroponte warned Thursday.
“If these people succeed in multiple countries, that is going to represent some kind of permanent terrorist threat to the West, to our interests around the world and to ourselves," he said on MSNBC. Read more ..


Obama's Second Term

Obama's Foreign Policy Prowess in the Dock Following Bergdahl and Iraqi Mess

June 13th 2014

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President Obama’s team of national security advisers is under attack on Capitol Hill for not foreseeing the collapse of Iraq’s Army forces who have been routed by Sunni jihadists.

Republicans are calling for heads to roll and Democrats have been slow to defend Obama’s national security team after a string of questionable performances.

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have second-guessed Obama’s decision to release five senior Taliban commanders from Guantanamo Bay and his handling of the civil war in Syria. Now they’re concerned the insurgent’s lightening war across Iraq has taken the administration by surprise. Read more ..


The Way We Are

Sgt Bowe Bergdahl, former Taliban Prisoner, Returns Home with Little Fanfare

June 13th 2014

The Army sergeant held by the Taliban in Afghanistan for nearly five years has returned to the United States.
U.S. military officials say Bowe Bergdahl, who had been treated at a military hospital in Germany, arrived early on June 13 at an Army medical center in San Antonio, Texas.

The 28-year-old Bergdahl was released by his jihadi captors two weeks ago following a controversial prisoner swap in which President Barack Obama agreed to release five Taliban terrorists from the military prison at the U.S. Navy facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. They were released to the custody of the government of Qatar - an absolute Muslim monarchy on the Arabian Peninsula that faces the Persian Gulf. Qatar agreed to hold them for one year, even while they are free to circulate in Qatar during that time. Read more ..


Hamas-PA Unity

US Defunding Effort Moves to Formal House Resolution

June 12th 2014

Edwin Black

Today, the spreading Congressional sentiment on defunding the Palestinian Authority escalated to a formal resolution in the House of Representatives. Some fifteen cosponsors, led by Representatives Trent Franks (R-AZ) and Michelle Bachmann (R-MN), have officially presented their resolution to defund the PA based on two violations of American law: the unity with Hamas and the recently-publicized program of monthly salaries paid to Palestinian terrorists in Israeli prisons via the PA's Ministry of Prisoners. The resolution framers call for a “sense of the House” that all funding be stopped unless the PA takes verified actions "dissolving the unity government with Hamas,” regardless of any technocratic appearances, as well as "repealing the Law of the Prisoners and abolishing the Ministry of Prisoners … relating to compensation and recognition of convicted terrorists."

Prior to today’s action, various preliminary resolutions were floated and announced from the floor of the House, such as an April 3, 2014 effort advanced by Ted Poe (R-TX), but never put to a vote. By entering the formal resolution, House procedures will automatically number it and refer it to the House Foreign Affairs Committee for a possible vote. That committee is controlled by Chairman Ed Royce (D-CA) and its ranking member Eliot Engel (D-NY), both of whom have publicly warned the PA about a funding stoppage. If the new resolution survives the Foreign Affairs Committee, it then goes to the full House for an up or down vote.

According to Congressional analysts, the new "sense of the House" resolution is not only a policy document, it is "a messaging instrument to the Obama Administration and House appropriators." Key among those appropriators is Nita Lowey, the ranking Democrat from Westchester County, NY. Lowey sits on both the full Appropriations Committee and the key subcommittee governing State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs. Foreign assistance begins and dies in this subcommittee. The Republican side of the aisle, including subcommittee chairwoman Kay Granger from Dallas, has been lining up staunchly against continued funding, citing the known legal obligations. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

Kurds Push ISIS from Kirkuk

June 12th 2014

PKK (Kurdish Worker's Party) Fighter

Days after seizing Mosul, Iraq's second largest city, insurgents tied to al-Qaeda seized Tikrit, the birthplace of Saddam Hussein on Wednesday. As the Iraqi Army fled its posts, the Kurdish Peshmerga also exploited the chaos to secure control of the northern oil-rich city of Kirkuk on Thursday.

Both the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and the Kurdistan Communities Union have pledged to prevent the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) from expanding its forces into northern regions. Unlike the Iraqi national army, the Kurdish forces are more disciplined, loyal to their leaders, and have mobilized to stop the threatening spread of ISIS from western Iraq and Syria. Read more ..


Broken Government

House Majority Leader Cantor to Step Down from Leadership

June 12th 2014

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) on Wednesday announced he would step down from his leadership post at the end of July, cutting short his tenure less than a day after he lost his re-election bid to a little-known primary challenger.

The move cemented an abrupt and shocking fall for a Republican star widely seen as the next Speaker of the House, and it officially launched a shake-up in the party hierarchy that began within hours after Cantor’s defeat to Tea Party challenger Dave Brat. Elections to replace Cantor will be held on June 19, a week from Thursday.

“It is with great humility that I do so, knowing the tremendous honor it has been to hold this position,” Cantor said of his decision to step down. Cantor plans to serve out his term in the House but will not mount a long-shot write-in bid to reclaim his seat in the November general election. He said nothing about his future plans other than to pledge to fight for conservative candidates and policies. Read more ..


Broken Government

Defense Sec. Hagel is 'Damn' Sure of the Rightness of Bergdahl Swap with Taliban

June 11th 2014

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on Wednesday defended the administration’s prisoner swap of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl for five Taliban detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, arguing that it was necessary to conduct the swap secretly and quickly.

Hagel argued that a proof-of-life video of Bergdahl gave officials “growing urgency to act.”

“In January of this year, we received that video, and it was disturbing. It showed a deterioration in his physical appearance and mental state compared to previous videos,” Hagel told the House Armed Services Committee, which is conducting an investigation into the prisoner swap.

“The intelligence community carefully analyzed it and concluded that Sgt. Bergdahl’s health was poor and possibly declining,” Hagel said. Read more ..


The Battle for Iraq

Iraqi Army Crumples Before the Black Flags of Al Qaeda in Tikrit

June 11th 2014

Iraqi militants have seized two provincial capitals in two days as they continue a lightning offensive that is almost effortlessly removing a wide swath of northern Iraq from government control.

On June 11, the Sunni-fundamentalist Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) took control of the Iraqi city of Tikrit and freed hundreds of prisoners. That was just hours after the militants seized Mosul, Iraq's second-largest city, in three days of fighting on June 6 to 9 that routed the Iraqi army so completely that it left stocks of weapons behind. Read more ..


Education on Edge

Oil Boom Crowding North Dakota Schools

June 10th 2014

Special Ed Teacher

The oil boom in North Dakota and Montana has brought a flood of people to once sparsely-populated rural towns.  The rapid pace of expansion in the town of Williston, North Dakota is putting pressure on all kinds of local services -- from fire and emergency response to road construction and utilities. The increased number of students in the public school system in Williston is crowding its now outdated facilities.

Through oil boom and bust, and now boom again, John Monger says life’s been a roller coaster in his hometown of Williston. “Born and raised here.  Been living in this town for 47 years,” he said.

Monger is now in his 24th year teaching at Hagan Elementary, the last three of them spent working in a temporary modular trailer attached to the school. “The modular classrooms are smaller than the regular classroom," he said. "Right now I have 18 students, and I started the year out with 16 students.” Read more ..


Broken Government

57K Vets for Appointments

June 9th 2014

female us soldier

More than 57,000 veterans are awaiting initial appointments at Veterans Affairs hospitals and clinics around the country 90 days after requesting them, according to a White House-ordered audit released Monday.

The results show patients are waiting much longer than the 14 days the agency has said was its target for scheduling an appointment.

Nationwide, there are roughly 57,436 veterans waiting for to be scheduled for care, and another 63,869 who over the past 10 years have enrolled for healthcare but have "not seen an appointment."

The audit covered 731 VA hospitals and large outpatient clinics, and found that the agency's scheduling practices concealed long wait times and created "confusion among scheduling clerks and supervisors." The audit also says a 14-day goal for seeing first-time patients was unattainable given the growing demand among veterans for healthcare and poor planning, and that 13 percent of VA schedulers reported supervisors telling them to falsify appointment dates to make waiting times appear shorter. Read more ..


Broken Banking

Bank of America to Pay the Latest Billion Pentalty

June 8th 2014

Bank of America ATMs

Bank of America is negotiating a deal with the Justice Department and a number of states that could lead to a roughly $12 billion settlement related to the bank's mortgage banking practices, according to a U.S. law enforcement official. The troubled bank has paid some $60 billion in fines, penalties, and settlements in recent years arising from its questionable conduct.

Currently at issue are allegations that Bank of America defrauded buyers of mortgage-backed securities by misleading them about the quality of the loans involved.

The securities in question consisted of home loans that financial institutions bundled according to their risk. The products played a key role in the 2008 financial crisis. Loans that were rated as safe began to fail in huge numbers as the housing market collapsed. Since 2008, the company has paid some $60 billion in fines, penalties and settlements. Read more ..


The Battle for Ukraine

Ukraine’s New President Seeks End to Violence in East

June 7th 2014

Ukraine protest

In his first address as Ukraine's new president, Petro Poroshenko declared that Crimea "is, was and will be Ukrainian."

The billionaire businessman took the oath of office in Kyiv Saturday, in front of parliament, world leaders and dignitaries including U.S. Vice President Joe Biden.

Poroshenko - Ukraine's fifth president since the 1991 breakup of the Soviet Union - said in his inaugural address that he will not accept Russia's annexation of Crimea. Moscow sent troops to the Black Sea peninsula earlier this year and took control of it in March.

The new Ukrainian leader also pledged to open a dialogue with countrymen in eastern regions where pro-Russian separatists have clashed with Ukrainian forces. He offered amnesty to fighters who lay down their arms and offered to negotiate an end to the violence. Read more ..


Obama's Second Term

Stunned by Public Response to Bergdahl Release, Obama is Caught Flat-Footed

June 5th 2014

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The White House has been caught off guard by the negative reaction to the deal that freed Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the last American prisoner of war in Afghanistan.

It has been particularly surprised by criticism of Bergdahl, who is accused of walking away from his unit shortly before being abducted by the Taliban. The surprise helps explain why the administration has struggled to respond to the criticism, which appears to have caught officials flat-footed. Political observers say the White House miscalculations were highlighted by the decision to have President Obama appear alongside Bergdahl’s parents in a Saturday night address at the Rose Garden address.

“They put too positive a spin on what is a very ambiguous set of circumstances,” Southern Methodist University professor Cal Jillson said. “A big part of the WH stew on this is typical photo op hubris,” said Boston University political strategist Tobe Berkovitz. “Instead of just bringing Bergdahl back, they had to do the full kissy-huggy announcement with mom and dad figuring this good news would push the VA mess off the front page.” Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

Syrian Election Results All But Certain

June 3rd 2014

Bashar Assad headshot

Thousands of Syrians queued at polling stations in government controlled areas on Tuesday to cast their ballots for the country's next president. Current President Bashar al-Asad will almost certainly win the election in a process seen as illegitimate by rebels and the international community alike.

Voting started at 7am across the county in areas currently held by the Syrian government. Damascus remained under a tight security presence for most of the day, with troops searching cars at checkpoints throughout the city.

While Assad technically faces two challengers in the election, the race was designed to show support for Asad, not provide a meaningful choice for Syrians. Both opponents are relatively unknowns who were approved by the Assad-controlled "parliament" to run. Additionally, polling was conducted in areas that have some of his most ardent supporters, such as Alawites and other minority Christian groups. Read more ..


Obama's Second Term

Obama Goes to Europe to Rally the Troops and U.S. Allies

June 2nd 2014

President Barack Obama embarks on a four-day trip to Europe on June 2. The junket to Poland, Belgium and France comes while Russia continues to make threatening moves on Ukraine. There is also deep uncertainty about Ukraine President-elect Petro Poroshenko's ability to stabilize his country. Obama will meet with Poroshenko in Poland.

Obama will confer with U.S. allies on June 4-5 in Brussels at a Group of Seven meeting that was quickly arranged after leaders decided to boycott a meeting Russia had been scheduled to host this week. On June 6, Obama will speak in Normandy at Omaha Beach for a ceremony marking the 70th anniversary of the allied D-Day invasion against Nazi forces in World War II. There he will be joined by British Prime Minister David Cameron, French President Francois Hollande, and Russian President Vladimir Putin. No private meetings between Obama and Putin have been announced. Read more ..


The Hamas-PLO Union

Hamas Wants 40,000 on US-Funded PA Budget

May 31st 2014

Gaza Militants

Differences between Fatah and Hamas may delay the formation of a Palestinian unity government and its announcement by PA President Mahmoud Abbas, Palestinian sources said Wednesday.

On Tuesday, Fatah and Hamas officials who met in the Gaza Strip said that Abbas was expected to announce the unity government, which would be headed by PA Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah, on Thursday. But the sources said that the two parties have still not agreed on three major issues concerning the implementation of the Fatah-Hamas reconciliation deal that was signed in the Gaza Strip last month.

The sources told the Palestinian Al-Quds newspaper that one of the obstacles hindering the formation of the unity government is related to the status of the Palestinian security forces. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

Assad's Bombing Raids Kill 14 Per Day in Syria

May 30th 2014

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A Syrian activist group said government air raids have killed nearly 2,000 civilians this year in and around Aleppo, the country's largest city.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on May 30 that 567 children and 283 women were among those killed in the northern city, which is a stronghold for opposition fighters.

The figure, which relies on the Britain-based group's contacts with activists and others on the ground, amounts to 14 civilians killed each day between January 1 and May 29.

The Observatory's Rami Abd al-Rahman tells VOA the ongoing violence makes it impossible to hold free and fair presidential elections on June 3, as planned. Read more ..


Broken Bookselling

Amazon Pushes Back Against Widespread Charges of Extortion --Warns of Protracted Battle with Hachette

May 28th 2014

Amazon box

Amazon pushed back--and hard against widespread accusations of extortion and bullying with an unusual public statement. It read

We are currently buying less (print) inventory and "safety stock" on titles from the publisher, Hachette, than we ordinarily do, and are no longer taking pre-orders on titles whose publication dates are in the future. Instead, customers can order new titles when their publication date arrives. For titles with no stock on hand, customers can still place an order at which time we order the inventory from Hachette -- availability on those titles is dependent on how long it takes Hachette to fill the orders we place. Once the inventory arrives, we ship it to the customer promptly. These changes are related to the contract and terms between Hachette and Amazon. At Amazon, we do business with more than 70,000 suppliers, including thousands of publishers. One of our important suppliers is Hachette, which is part of a $10 billion media conglomerate. Unfortunately, despite much work from both sides, we have been unable to reach mutually-acceptable agreement on terms. Hachette has operated in good faith and we admire the company and its executives. Nevertheless, the two companies have so far failed to find a solution. Even more unfortunate, though we remain hopeful and are working hard to come to a resolution as soon as possible, we are not optimistic that this will be resolved soon. Read more ..


Vote 2016

Republican Praise of the Clinton Era Gives Wings to Hillary's Campaign

May 27th 2014

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Republican praise of the Clinton era over the last several years could reverberate in the 2016 presidential race, giving the Democratic front-runner a key talking point.

One of Hillary Clinton's biggest challengers in her likely White House bid is convincing voters that she can make Washington work. Critics have long called Clinton a polarizing figure, citing her effort to revamp the nation's healthcare system in the 1990s and more recently, her congressional testimony on the 2012 attack in Benghazi, Libya.

But Clinton can counter those salvoes by citing Republican compliments of her and a slew of GOP statements on how former President Clinton worked with the other side of the aisle to pass sweeping legislation. Read more ..


Egypt on Edge

Egypt Goes to the Polls while Tight Security Reigns in Two-Day Election

May 26th 2014

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Abdel Fattah el-Sissi

Helicopters hovered over parts of the Egyptian capital, Cairo, early Monday as voting in the two-day presidential election began. Security was tight in many neighborhoods. Police blocked off streets and parts of city blocks to protect voters at polling stations.

More than 400,000 Egyptian police and army soldiers were deployed Monday for the election, and more than 14,000 judges are overseeing the vote at polling stations across the country. Several hundred European Union and African Union observers are also monitoring the vote.

Sky News Arabia reported that young men from the now banned Muslim Brotherhood group were arrested in Manoufiya province, north of Cairo, after they resorted to violence to disrupt the election. Police denied initial reports that Muslim Brotherhood supporters threw a home-made bomb in front of a church in the town of Bani Sueif, south of Cairo. Read more ..


The Pope in Israel

Pope Visits Western Wall and Hears of Jewish Exile and Return

May 26th 2014

Pope Francis at Kotel May 25 2014

After a visit at the Dome of the Rock and after descending from the Temple Mount Pope Francis visited the Western Wall (Kottel) today (May 26), where he prayed and placed a note among the Kottel’s stones. Before approaching the Holy site the Pope received a briefing on the history of the Temple Mount by a guide using a three dimensional map. The Pope heard of the two Jewish Temples, their destruction, and the evolving architecture of the Temple Mount. Pope Francis was then addressed by Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, Rabbi of the Kottel and the Holy Sites, and heard him speak proudly of the Jews’ history, of their exile and redemption.

"The Jerusalem you have arrived at, honored Pope, is not only the physical Jerusalem. It is also the Jerusalem of dreams; the dream of millions of Jews throughout two thousand long years of exile. Jerusalem is a dream that has been realized; we are still walking in it as dreamers, expecting the full realization of the dream," said Rabbi Rabinowitz.

Relating to the destruction of the Second Temple, Rabbi Rabinowitz spoke of Titus’s Arch in Rome, which depicts the exile of the Jews. "It is true, Titus succeeded in taking the Menorah (candelabrum) and the tools of the Temple; but the light of faith, and the hope to return to the land of our fathers, he was not successful in extinguishing," he remarked. "We have traveled a long road on the way home; we have journeyed from the four corners of the land." Read more ..


Obama's Second Term

Obama Makes a Surprise Visit to Afghanistan

May 25th 2014

Obama Air Force 1

President Obama landed at Bagram Airfield Base in Afghanistan on Sunday after making a secret trip to the country the night before.

Obama is expected to rally U.S. troops in the country on Memorial Day weekend for only a few hours. He is not expected to meet with President Hamid Karzai while in Afghanistan.

His surprise trip comes as the president and the Department of Veterans Affairs face criticism of long wait times and mismanagement in the VA that could have led to deaths at some clinics in the United States.

Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes said the White House wanted to make the trip about the troops and not Afghanistan politics. Rhodes said the VA scandal was not a “factor into the planning for the trip.”

On the trip, he will receive a briefing from top commanders in Afghanistan and visit wounded military personnel at a base hospital. The trip marks Obama's fourth to the country and the first in his second term. More than 32,000 U.S. troops remain in the country and most are expected to return home later this year. Read more ..


Belgium on Edge

Terror Strikes Jewish Museum in Belgium

May 24th 2014

Three people died as the result of wounds received at a Jewish museum in the heart of Brussels on May 24 when gunmen opened fire after descending from a car parked nearby. Witnesses said that two people got out of the car and then a gunman opened fire and shot people indiscriminately before escaping. A fourth person remains in critical condition at a local hospital. Twelve other persons were reportedly being treated for shock.

Security at Israel's embassy and at synagogues and other Jewish facilities was increased in the Belgian capital. Belgium heightened its overall terror alert level since the attack came on the eve of national, regional, and European parliamentary elections.

Belgian interior minister Joëlle Milquet, while surveying the scene of the carnage, said that he would not yet label the attack as anti-Semitic. Howwever, he suggested that "there are strong grounds for presuming so." Read more ..



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