The Toxic Edge
|David Heath||December 28th 2013|
Center for Public Integrity
At a memorial service held in November in her favorite classroom, Patricia Buffler was hailed as a champion of children.
While dean of the School of Public Health at the University of California, Berkeley, Buffler started the nation’s largest program researching the causes of childhood leukemia. She expanded her study of this rare disease after stepping down as dean in 1998, continuing the work until she died unexpectedly in late September at the age of 75.
Buffler’s research, backed by more than $35 million in federal grants, could save lives. Her team concluded that sending your child to daycare might reduce the risk of getting leukemia, perhaps by bolstering the immune system. It found strong evidence suggesting that preschoolers should stay away from wet paint. One of her graduate students at the memorial was struck by something Buffler once said: “Children are fragile, so it is our role to protect them.” Read more ..
|Niall Stanage and Amie Parnes||December 27th 2013|
President Barack Obama might want to forget all about 2013.
In his second inaugural address in January, the president laid out a confident, liberal vision. As the year ends, none of his objectives have come to pass, his approval ratings are at historic lows and his journey has hit serious potholes on issues from healthcare to national security.
Former White House press secretary Robert Gibbs summed it up when he told NBC’s “Meet the Press” this month that 2013 was “no doubt... the worst year of the presidency.”
Obama cannot be held solely culpable for the lack of legislative progress. Republicans played their part in that, too. But, even within the White House, there is a recognition that mistakes were made.
“The benefit of time gives you the insight and removes you from the moment in time when these decisions are made,” one senior administration official said. “And sure we might have done some things a little differently.” Read more ..
China on Edge
|Julian Pecquet||December 26th 2013|
The recent flare-up in tensions in the Pacific has raised new doubts about America and China’s ability to peacefully coexist as both set their sights on Asia’s booming potential. On a range of issues — from territorial claims to business practices, economic policies to the environment — the two countries’ struggle to find common ground is all but certain to dominate the headlines for years to come.
Julian Pecquet visited China for 10 days in October at the invitation of the China-United States Exchange Foundation, a Hong Kong-based nonprofit that funds visits by lawmakers, journalists and others. He found that Beijing’s suspicions about the great power across the Pacific mirrored those in Washington, DC.
Congress is taking a hard line against China in the showdown over a handful of tiny Pacific islands, complicating the Obama administration’s efforts to manage the issue.
Senators of both parties are demanding that China rescind its new air defense zone over Japanese-held islands, going beyond the White House's own admonishments. And several Republicans have taken issue with the administration's recommendation that U.S. air carriers abide by China's request to be informed of all flights through the zone.
Read more ..
The Edge of Terrorism
|Laurent Vinatier ||December 24th 2013|
On July 3rd 2013, in a video published on YouTube that was almost immediately taken down, Doku Umarov, the self-proclaimed emir of a Caucasus Emirate in the southwest of the Russian Federation, lifted the moratorium on military operations targeting civilians that he unilaterally declared several months ago. He also called on his troops to do everything possible to oppose and to prevent the proper execution of the Sochi Winter Games in February 2014. The Caucasian leader could not forego this ideal occasion to remind the world of the enduring struggle led first by the Chechens in their fight for independence (1994-2005) and then taken up by a very loose network of Islamist armed groups that thrived in the neighboring republics of Dagestan, Ingushetia and Kabardino-Balkaria. What does this Caucasus Emirate represent today? And what can its fighters do? Read more ..
|Jonathan Easley||December 23rd 2013|
The Obama administration has delayed until Tuesday the sign-up deadline for some people seeking healthcare plans through the federal exchanges.
Monday was supposed to be the last day to sign up for coverage that starts Jan. 1, but an administration official said people who have started the enrollment process will have until Christmas Eve to complete it.
“The deadline for signing up for coverage to start January 1 is today. We recognize that many have chosen to make their final decisions on today’s deadline and we are committed to making sure they can do so,” said Julie Bataille, the director of the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Service’s (CMS) Office of Communication. “Anticipating high demand and the fact that consumers may be enrolling from multiple time zones, we have taken steps to make sure that those who select a plan through tomorrow will get coverage for Jan 1.” Read more ..
The Defense Edge
|Niall Stanage and Carlo Munoz||December 22nd 2013|
A mounting set of foreign policy challenges is raising hackles among conservatives, who argue that the White House is squandering American influence around the globe.
In the Middle East, longtime U.S. allies Israel and Saudi Arabia have been rattled by the administration’s nuclear talks with Iran, which led to an interim agreement in November. Under its terms, some sanctions were lifted on the longtime U.S. enemy.
In the Pacific, China has flexed its muscle, unilaterally setting up an air defense zone over a set of islands it says are its territory. That led to a fly-over by U.S. jets but a later recommendation from the State Department that American commercial airlines should accede to Beijing’s request for advance notice of flights into the area. More recently, U.S. and Chinese war ships nearly collided in the South China Sea. Read more ..
|Alexander Bolton||December 21st 2013|
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) believes Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) will negotiate on comprehensive immigration reform next year, despite his declarations to the contrary.
The Democratic leader argued that Boehner has a new willingness to confront Tea Party groups and this, in turn, gives Reid confidence that he will not have to break up the Senate immigration bill to negotiate a series of piecemeal reforms with the House.
“I think that John Boehner will conference with the Senate. Why wouldn’t he? He’ll have a lot of pressure from his members now that the election is getting closer,” Reid said in an interview with The Hill.
“Some of his members are in very marginal districts where they need to do something on immigration,” he added. Read more ..
Obama's Second Term
|Niall Stanage and Amie Parnes||December 20th 2013|
President Obama rued the rollout of the healthcare website as his biggest mistake of the year during a White House news conference Friday, underlining the extent to which the issue has overshadowed everything else during a dismal 2013 for the 44th president.
Asked about his worst error, Obama said that he had stressed the need for consumers to have “a good experience, an easy experience” in the run-up to the launch of HealthCare.Gov.
He continued: “The fact is it didn’t happen in the first month, first six weeks, in a way that was at all acceptable. And since I’m in charge, obviously we screwed it up.” Yet, at the same time, Obama emphasized that enrollment into the health exchanges was rapidly picking up pace. “More than half a million Americans enrolled on HealthCare.Gov in the first three weeks of December alone,” he said. Read more ..
|Brendan Sasso||December 19th 2013|
President Obama will soon have to decide what changes he wants to make to the National Security Agency's sweeping surveillance operations after a report from a panel he convened recommended a substantial overhaul on December 18.
The White House so far has not promised to implement any of the suggested changes, saying merely that they will incorporate the report into an overall review to be completed over the "next several weeks." But the administration hinted that the president is receptive to at least some of the proposals. "The president noted that the group’s report represented a consensus view, particularly significant given the broad scope of the members’ expertise in counterterrorism, intelligence, oversight, privacy and civil liberties," the White House said.
The panel's highly-anticipated report outlines 46 proposed changes to NSA surveillance in response to the uproar over the programs revealed by Edward Snowden. The advisory group did not advocate completely ending the most controversial program revealed by Snowden — the bulk collection of data on every U.S. phone call. Read more ..
Obama's Second Term
|Ramsey Cox and Erik Wasson||December 18th 2013|
The Senate on Wednesday gave final passage to a two-year budget plan in a 64-36 vote.
Nine Republican senators voted with 55 Democrats and Independents to pass the budget deal, which sets top-line spending levels for 2014 and 2015, allowing appropriators to get to work on an omnibus spending bill for the current fiscal year.
While Congress will have to approve that package to prevent another government shutdown after Jan. 15, the bipartisan votes in the House and Senate have raised hopes that Washington is moving on from years of budgetary showdowns. The vote in the Senate was closer than in the House, where majorities in each party backed the compromise negotiated by Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and her House counterpart, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.). Read more ..
Ukraine on Edge
|George Friedman||December 17th 2013|
The name "Ukraine" literally translates as "on the edge." It is a country on the edge of other countries, sometimes part of one, sometimes part of another and more frequently divided. In the 17th and 18th centuries, it was divided between Russia, Poland and the Ottoman Empire. In the 19th century, it was divided between Russia and Austria-Hungary. And in the 20th century, save for a short period of independence after World War I, it became part of the Soviet Union. Ukraine has been on the edge of empires for centuries.
My father was born in Ukraine in 1912, in a town in the Carpathians now called Uzhgorod. It was part of Austria-Hungary when he was born, and by the time he was 10 the border had moved a few miles east, so his family moved a few miles west. My father claimed to speak seven languages (Hungarian, Romanian, Slovak, Polish, Ukrainian, Russian and Yiddish). As a child, I was deeply impressed by his learning. It was only later that I discovered that his linguistic skills extended only to such phrases as "What do you want for that scrawny chicken?" and "Please don't shoot." Read more ..
|Brendan Sasso||December 16th 2013|
A federal judge on Monday ruled that government's collection of data on all U.S. phone calls is likely unconstitutional, comparing the National Security Agency (NSA) program to George Orwell's 1984.
Judge Richard Leon of the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., granted a request from conservative activist Larry Klayman to block the NSA's phone data collection. But he said that in light of the "significant national security interests at stake in this case and the novelty of the constitutional issues," he will stay the order, pending the government's appeal.
It is the first time a court has ruled against the agency's collection of phone records, which was revealed in documents leaked by Edward Snowden. The American Civil Liberties Union, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and dozens of other groups have brought separate lawsuits challenging the program, which the NSA has defended as necessary to protect national security. Read more ..
The Ukraine on Edge
|James Brooke||December 15th 2013|
Ahead of a visit to Moscow by Ukraine’s president, protesters filled central Kyiv, warning him not to sign a trade pact with Russia.
Ruslana Lyzhychko, the pop singer who is the muse of the pro-Europe movement here, gave the core message: “Ukraine wants to be part of Europe.”
President Viktor Yanukovych says on Tuesday in Moscow he will only sign economic agreements that restore normal trading relations with Russia, Ukraine’s largest trading partner. But Prime Minister Mykola Azarov told a pro-government rally on Saturday the government is finalizing negotiations with the Kremlin on a new strategic partnership agreement.
Protesters worry Yanukovych will sign a secret treaty that will bind Ukraine to joining President Vladimir Putin’s new Moscow-centered Customs Union.
On Sunday, Stanislav, a 56-year-old businessman from Poltava, was on the edge of a sea of protesters estimated to be in the hundreds of thousands.
“It is the restoration of the Soviet Union, the same Soviet Union that I lived through,” he said of President Putin’s economic group, formally called the Eurasian Union. At every entrance to the barricaded encampment, volunteers handed out flyers, urging people to keep up protest numbers during the president’s Moscow visit. The flyer warned: “On the 17th Yanukovych flies to Moscow to sell out Ukraine and to ask Putin for money to save his skin.”
Moral support came from two visiting American senators, one a Democrat and the other Republican. Senator Chris Murphy, the Democrat, told the crowd: "Ukraine's future stands with Europe, and the United States stands with Ukraine.” Read more ..
The Edge of Terrorism
|Daniel Green ||December 14th 2013|
A recently captured document written by al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) reveals an unusual degree of self-reflection regarding the terrorist group's short-lived control over parts of southern Yemen. Having retreated to historic safe havens in the interior following last year's Yemeni military campaign, AQAP has returned to its insurgent roots as it reconstitutes its forces. As part of this regenerative process, it has undertaken a thorough review of its 2011-2012 occupation and administration in the south -- a unique approach given that al-Qaeda has never devoted much attention to the details of governance and development nor administered such a large area in the past. Among other things, the document indicates that AQAP sees value in analyzing its experience with governance and using it as a propaganda tool to blunt criticism that al-Qaeda does not care about the people. While AQAP's actual record of administering territory falls far short of what it presents in its self-review, the document's depth of thinking and its focus on popular sentiment provide valuable insights into al-Qaeda's future strategy in Yemen and elsewhere. Read more ..
Obama's Second Term
|Alexander Bolton||December 13th 2013|
The year-end budget deal is likely to pass the Senate next week even though few Republican senators have publicly backed it, leadership aides say.
“It seems likely we’ll get there,” said a Senate Democratic leadership aide of the 60 votes needed to advance the budget agreement crafted by Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.).
A Senate GOP leadership aide said the budget pact’s prospects received a strong boost Thursday when the House passed it with more than 300 votes.
“I don’t have any reason to think it won’t pass,” said the aide. “The vote yesterday in the House that got 169 Republicans was a big vote.” The final tally was 332 to 94, a strong rebuke to conservative groups such as Club For Growth and Heritage Action that had urged lawmakers to oppose it. Read more ..
The Ukraine on Edge
|Robert Coalson||December 12th 2013|
Just hours after Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych called for roundtable talks with the opposition, police forcefully moved against demonstrators in Kyiv under the cover of darkness -- and hopes of a negotiated settlement to the standoff were dashed.
Yanukovych's reversal, appearing conciliatory after a meeting with three former Ukrainian presidents on December 10 only to crack down that night, was just his latest U-turn. It mirrored another apparent flip-flop weeks earlier, when police used force against protesters on the night of November 30 only to back off and cede the streets to them the next day.
Throughout Ukraine's ongoing crisis, which was sparked by Yanukovych decision to back away from a landmark pact with the European Union in favor of closer ties with Moscow, the president's mixed signals and frequent reversals of course have been dizzying.
According to Kyiv-based political analyst Viktor Nebozhenko, they have created the impression that he is losing control over the situation.
"President Yanukovych is clearly not up to the political task at hand," he says. "He is lost, that is obvious. The fact that he acts in directly contradictory ways -- one minute, he's conciliatory, the next, he is harsh -- shows that he has no strategy and he is simply being carried along with the currents."
He adds that Yanukovych's vacillations are the "main problem" in Ukraine now, producing an atmosphere in Kyiv that Nebozhenko describes as "de facto martial law." "It is obvious that the president is acting illogically -- at one moment, he is trying to frighten people and then he tries to make compromises," he says. "This is now the main problem -- what move will the president of Ukraine make next?" Read more ..
|Daniel Wagner||December 11th 2013|
The Center for Public Integrity
Minutes after Rick Metsger took the oath of office to become the newest overseer of the nation’s credit union industry, he walked a few blocks up the street to break bread with executives and lobbyists for the firms he now regulates.
The luncheon in his honor was held at an elegant, $4 million Capitol Hill party and meeting space called Credit Union House. It drew a tightknit group of business leaders, advocates, and regulators — the most powerful people in a financial industry that holds more than $1 trillion but that most Americans know little about.
Metsger, whose ascent they had gathered to toast, was one of their own, a fellow-true believer in credit unions who would now police the industry full-time as one of three board members of the National Credit Union Administration. Read more ..
|Russell Berman, Erik Wasson and Mike Lillis||December 11th 2013|
Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) announced a budget deal Tuesday evening that would call for about $1 trillion in federal spending in 2014 while replacing some sequestration cuts. The deal replaces $63 billion in sequester cuts over two years and trims an additional $23 billion in long-term deficits.
The agreement falls far short of the grand budget bargain Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and President Obama once envisioned. But if passed, it will bring a measure of fiscal peace to the capital for the first time since Republicans took control of the House in 2010.
“This deal doesn't solve all of our problems, but I think it is an important step to heal some of the wounds here in Congress,” Murray said in a joint press conference with Ryan at the Capitol. Read more ..
The Way We Are
|Anita Powell||December 10th 2013|
Tens of thousands of South Africans gathered Tuesday to bid farewell to anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela, a man loved around the globe for his long, difficult fight to bring equality to South Africa. The event at a Johannesburg soccer stadium brought together dignitaries and celebrities from around the world -- as well as masses of ordinary South Africans who braved long waits and bad weather to pay tribute to the man everyone here knows simply as “Tata.”
Cold, rainy weather didn’t stop more than 60,000 South Africans -- and many dignitaries from abroad -- from descending on this Johannesburg soccer stadium to celebrate the life of Nelson Mandela. The former president and anti-apartheid icon died Thursday at the age of 95, after a long battle with a recurring lung infection.
He is admired in South Africa and around the world for leading the intense struggle to end South Africa’s racist apartheid regime. He spent 27 years in prison for his opposition to the regime, and emerged to become South Africa’s first black president in 1994. Read more ..
The Defense Edge
|Jeremy Herb||December 9th 2013|
The House and Senate are suspending regular order on a $607 billion Defense authorization bill in a last-ditch effort to get it to President Obama's desk before the end of the year.
The move likely means there won't be votes this year on tougher Iran sanctions or a controversial proposal to take sexual assault cases outside the chain of command.
The defense panels hope to quickly pass the measure through both chambers — without amendments — because the House plans to adjourn at the end of the week.
The strategy has no guarantee of success. But the lawmakers are confident they can pass the bill, which has been signed into law 51 straight years.
“Yes, it’s without a net, and yes we’ve done it before,” a senior committee aide said in a background briefing with reporters Monday. The deal announced by House and Senate Armed Services leaders would authorize more than $600 billion in Defense spending and ensure key provisions like special military pay aren’t disrupted. Read more ..
The Digital Edge
|Thomas A. Campbell and William J. Cass||December 8th 2013|
There's one downside to 3-D printing: it can do so much. Additive manufacturing (AM), as it's also known, has immense potential not only for streamlining industrial processes but also for producing objects that would be outright impossible to make with traditional methods. Nevertheless, that's precisely the problem: as the technology develops, it creates new opportunities for intellectual property (IP) pirates and counterfeiters, not to mention the makers of contraband goods like plastic firearms. The challenge for policy makers is to keep up with AM's new capabilities and to choose policies that protect our citizenry without compromising innovation.
For anyone with fundamental computer skills and the right equipment— hardware that is getting cheaper and more widely available every day—AM can be straightforward. You start by scanning, drawing or simply buying a computerized rendition of whatever it is that you intend to build. You then take that virtual model and tell your computer to slice it into digitized cross sections. Read more ..
|Elise Viebeck and Jonathan Easley||December 7th 2013|
The Obama administration is selectively releasing data and metrics on ObamaCare to bolster its case that the rollout is going better in the month of December.
Tidbits of information from federal health officials — especially figures that show improvements at HealthCare.gov — have become a key tool in the effort to “reboot” the law in the eyes of the public. But the limited nature of the releases has created conflict with the media and put the spotlight on outstanding areas of concern for the rollout, such as the enrollment site's back end.
It’s not unusual for politicians to put out numbers that bolster their case. Democrats, for example, have been infuriated with House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), who they say has selectively dripped a series of redacted documents about the rollout. Read more ..
Obama's Second Term
|Brenda Sasso||December 6th 2013|
Rep. James Sensenbrenner Jr., the original author of the Patriot Act, says Director of National Intelligence James Clapper should be prosecuted for lying to Congress.
"Lying to Congress is a federal offense, and Clapper ought to be fired and prosecuted for it," the Wisconsin Republican said in an interview with The Hill. He said the Justice Department should prosecute Clapper for giving false testimony during a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing in March.
During that hearing, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) asked Clapper whether the National Security Agency (NSA) collects data on millions of Americans. Clapper insisted that the NSA does not — or at least does "not wittingly" — collect information on Americans in bulk. Read more ..
|Juda Engelmayer||December 5th 2013|
Cutting Edge News Contributor
Nelson Mandela, the man who led South Africa's transition from white-minority rule in the 1990s, after 27 years in prison, and who became South Africa's first black president, died today. He was 95 years old.
Mandela had been battling health issues in recent years, and had recently been repeatedly hospitalized with a chronic lung infection. Since his last release, he had been receiving home-based medical care for his infection; he passed peacefully in his home.
As a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, he was among the most revered statesmen. His warm methods of preaching reconciliation despite his nearly three decade imprisonment, won him not only world acclaim, but prominence and his historic presidency. His mantra as written in his 1994 work, Long Walk to Freedom, "If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner," was the essence of who he was as a leader and an inspiration.
Mandela, who has rarely been seen in public since officially retiring in 2004, will be mourned and memorialized by a grateful nation and a world of fans. Read more ..
|Maria Sacchetti||December 5th 2013|
President Obama acknowledged on Thursday that he lived with his Kenyan uncle for a brief period in the 1980s while preparing to attend Harvard Law School, contradicting a statement more than a year ago that the White House had no record of the two ever meeting.
Their relationship came into question on Tuesday at the deportation hearing of his uncle, Onyango Obama, in Boston immigration court. His uncle had lived in the United States illegally since the 1970s and revealed in testimony for the first time that his famous nephew had stayed at his Cambridge apartment for about three weeks. At the time, Onyango Obama was here illegally and fighting deportation.
On Thursday, a White House official said the press office had not fully researched the relationship between the president and his uncle before telling the Globe that they had no record of the two meeting. This time, the press office asked the president directly, which they had not done in 2011. Read more ..
|Erik Wasson||December 3rd 2013|
Congressional budget conferees on December 2 failed to meet a deadline set by appropriators for a top-line budget number.
The blown deadline raises the odds that Congress will need at least a stopgap spending bill to keep the government running after Jan. 15.
Appropriators had called on the House-Senate conference to get a deal by Dec. 2 to ensure they had time to complete detailed spending bills, but the informal deadline was never endorsed by the leaders of the conference.
Sources say a small budget deal remains possible before the committee’s official deadline on Dec. 13, though this week is pivotal. Read more ..
|Elise Vliebeck||December 1st 2013|
The Obama administration claimed victory Sunday for making HealthCare.gov workable for the vast majority of users, a standard that will be tested as millions of people flood the site in the next three weeks. Sunday marked the passage of the administration's self-imposed deadline for fixing the broken ObamaCare enrollment website, which serves consumers in 36 states.
The agency that oversees HealthCare.gov said "we believe we have met the goal" of making the system navigable for most people, but cautioned that more problems may lie ahead. "Dramatic progress has been made," the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) stated in a report released Sunday morning. "[But] there is more work to be done to continue to improve and enhance the website." Read more ..
|Elise Viebeck||November 30th 2013|
Today marks the deadline for federal health officials to fix massive problems with ObamaCare’s enrollment website.
Meeting the Nov. 30 deadline would provide a major boost for the administration, which has been mired in unprecedented conflict over its healthcare rollout for two straight months. It would also help push back against criticism surrounding the administration's decision to delay the law's online sign-up system for small businesses.
Another month of serious problems at HealthCare.gov would be disastrous. Without a smoothly running site, it will be difficult for the administration to enroll the millions of people necessary for stability on the new insurance exchanges. A paltry enrollment number would likely raise next year's prices on the marketplaces and cause insurers to withdraw their plans. Read more ..
|George Friedman||November 28th 2013|
What was unthinkable for many people over many years happened in the early hours of Nov. 24 in Geneva: The United States and the Islamic Republic of Iran struck a deal. After a decadelong struggle, the two reached an accord that seeks to ensure that Iran's nuclear program remains a civilian one. It is a preliminary deal, and both sides face months of work to batten down domestic opposition, build convincing mechanisms to assure compliance and unthread complicated global sanctions.
That is the easy part. More difficult will be the process to reshape bilateral relations while virtually every regional player in the Middle East seeks ways to cope with an Iran that is no longer geopolitically encumbered.
The foreign ministers of Iran and the six Western powers that constitute the so-called P-5+1 Group clinched a six-month deal that begins the curtailment of Iran's nuclear program while relaxing as much as $6 billion in sanctions -- basically those embargoes that do not require President Barack Obama to secure approval from Congress. Allowing Iran to enrich uranium to "civilian" levels while making sure the know-how is not diverted to military purposes will be complex. Read more ..
|Jeremy Herb||November 27th 2013|
China said Wednesday that it would take action against aircraft in its new defense zone based on the threat level.
The comments came a day after two U.S. B-52 bombers flew through the newly defined Chinese air zone in a direct rebuke of Beijing’s claim for the air space. China’s government said it monitored the two bombers and chose not to respond to the move, despite its threat to take defensive measures against unidentified foreign aircraft.
The air space had previously been seen as international space.
A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said at a briefing Wednesday that the reaction to the U.S. bombers was “in accordance” with its new rules.
It said its response to flights in the air space going forward would depend on “how big the threat was,” The New York Times reported. Read more ..
|Julian Hattem||November 26th 2013|
The Obama administration faces a tough task in convincing the Supreme Court to rule in favor of ObamaCare’s contraception mandate, according to legal experts. They say Chief Justice John Roberts’s court, which upheld the health law in a landmark 2012 decision, has generally set a high bar for limiting religious rights. In addition, Justice Anthony Kennedy, often the court’s swing vote, authored a 1993 decision that exempted a religious group from following laws it said were contradictory with its beliefs.
The Supreme Court announced on Tuesday that it would consider the case, possibly in its spring term. While Hobby Lobby and other businesses opposed to the mandate don’t have a slam dunk case, experts said it will be tough to convince the court that the federal government can order businesses to pay for contraception coverage that goes against their owners' religious beliefs. Read more ..
|Elise Vliebeck||November 25th 2013|
Kathleen Sebelius may become the biggest loser in the Senate's approval of filibuster reform. The Health and Human Services (HHS) secretary has kept her job despite the botched rollout of ObamaCare's insurance exchanges, but it will now be easier for Obama to replace her. After the Senate’s vote, confirming an executive-branch nominee now takes just 51 Senate votes. Some think that raises the likelihood Sebelius will soon be a former Cabinet member.
“The president's hands were previously tied,” said John Hudak, a fellow in governance studies at the Brookings Institution, who wrote a piece on the topic Thursday. “Now, he has more breathing room and he is able to fire whoever he wants at HHS. That's a very, very appealing approach, whether it fixes the problems with ObamaCare's rollout or not.”
The filibuster vote could also make it easier for Obama to fill the healthcare law's controversial cost-cutting board, another big advantage for the president. Read more ..
The US and Iran
|Michael Bowman||November 24th 2013|
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry says a nuclear accord with Iran will halt Tehran’s march to atomic weapons capacity and provide a window to negotiate a final agreement. The Obama administration is attempting to convince skeptics at home and abroad that the preliminary deal is good for America and its allies.
In a media blitz on U.S. airwaves Sunday, Secretary Kerry described the accord as a first step towards a possible peaceful resolution of Iran's nuclear ambitions. Appearing on CBS’ Face the Nation program, Kerry detailed restrictions Tehran has agreed to.
"They will have to destroy the higher-enriched uranium they have, which is critical to being able to build a bomb," he said. "Once they have destroyed that, they only have lower-enriched uranium. They are not allowed under this agreement to build additional enrichment facilities. We will have restrictions on the centrifuges, which are critical for enrichment.” The secretary stressed the agreement mandates rigorous verification. Read more ..
Financing the Flames
|Edwin Black||November 23rd 2013|
At a time of ceaseless budget crises, it may astound many that American taxpayers are deploying their precious dollars not to pay for peace in Israel, but to achieve the exact opposite: confrontation.
Each year, American aid, taxpayer subsidies of 501(c)(3) organizations, and other financial programs richly support political confrontation between Palestinians and Israelis, vocal critics say. Tax experts estimate that for every one million dollars in donations received by a 501(c)(3), US taxpayers must subsidize approximately $440,000.
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Tax-exempt charitable organizations are supposed to be just that: charitable. But prominent Israeli critics claim that highly politicized American charitable organizations, including several operated by some of America’s most prominent Jewish personalities, are actually working hard to destabilize the Israel Defense Forces and erase Israel’s identity as a Jewish State. Rather than engaging in charitable programs, outspoken critics say, these charitable groups are focused on massive political lobbying and fomenting internal political upheaval that make peace between Arab and Jew seemingly impossible. Not a few of these critics point to the prestigious New Israel Fund (NIF) as the chief culprit.
NIF grants steer millions of US dollars to scores of confrontation-oriented Israeli NGOs. Among the controversial NGOs is one called B’Tselem, which circulates video cameras to Arab villages that are hotbeds for confrontation. Israeli military officials assure that they rely upon B'Tselem’s help to document IDF infractions. But many critics in the ranks charge the cameras are calculated to capture the scene after soldiers are taunted into finally reacting.
One such critic is Colonel Benny Yanay, who represents Consensus, an organization of several hundred IDF officers. "The New Israel Fund,” insists Yanay, “acts against Israel—against the soldiers of our country. It is important to me that people recognize the New Israel Fund for what it is. It is supported by foreign governments and organizations so that Israeli soldiers will be weakened." Yanay adds, "Their budget is more than anything we have—so it is not a fair fight. We are not a political organization. They are political." Read more ..
Egypt and Russia
|Col. (Ret.) Dr. Jacques Neriah||November 22nd 2013|
American Center for Democracy
In one of my encounters with the Soviet military attaché in Paris in the late 1980s, I was asked how many staff members were assigned to me at the Israeli Embassy. I answered that I was the only officer and was assisted by two secretaries. I asked my Soviet counterpart how many people he had working with him, and he said "16." I was shocked at the high number. "What are you doing with so many officers and staff?" I asked. I remember his answer as if it was yesterday: "We are still waiting for better times!"
This episode can easily apply to Egyptian-Russian relations as they emerge today. It seems indeed that "better times" is the proper way to describe the latest developments in Russian-Egyptian relations after almost 30 years of strained, always problematic, and sometimes hostile relations. This is happening not because of a deliberate choice made by the Egyptian regime, but rather as an option of last resort, mainly because of what the current Egyptian leadership and probably half of the Egyptian body-politic feel is a betrayal by their American ally. Read more ..
Iran on Edge
|Joshua Levitt||November 22nd 2013|
Reports of an imminent deal to rein in Iran’s nuclear program seemed unlikely to materialize on Friday, as most of the foreign ministers of the six nations leading the talks have cancelled plans to travel to Geneva, as would be required for the signing of an agreement, with the work left to diplomatic staffers, Israeli daily Ma’ariv reported from Geneva. Of the foreign ministers, only Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was expected to make an appearance in Geneva, Ma’ariv said early on Friday.
Ma’ariv outlined the sticking points in the negotiations, the main obstacle still being Iran’s refusal to budge on calls to forfeit the ability to enrich uranium, which it has claimed as a “right.” Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister, Abbas Arkag’i said, “The principle that Iran has the right to enrich uranium is not debatable, even if you can argue over the quantities, the level of enrichment of uranium, and its location.” Read more ..
|Alexander Bolton||November 21st 2013|
The Senate voted Thursday to change its rules to prevent the minority party from filibustering any nominations other than nods to the Supreme Court.
The change was approved after Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) triggered the “nuclear option,” which allows a change to Senate rules by majority vote.
The 52-48 vote dramatically changes the rules of the Senate and limits the minority party's ability to prevent confirmation of presidential nominees. Sens. Carl Levin (Mich.), Mark Pryor (Ark.) and Joe Manchin (W.Va.) were the only Democrats to vote against Reid's rules change.
It will allow all three of President Obama's nominees to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals to go forward, as well as his nomination of Rep. Mel Watt (D-N.C.) to lead a housing regulatory agency. Obama praised the action. “The gears of government have to work and the step that a majority of senators took today I think will help make those gears work just a little bit better,” he said in a statement from the White House briefing room. Read more ..
Financing the Flames
|Martin Barillas||November 20th 2013|
New York Times bestselling author Edwin Black will be the featured speaker at the IBC-TV Special Event being hosted in the Beverly Hills City Council Chambers by the Beverly Hills Forum November 25, 2013. He will reveal new information from his latest investigative book, Financing the Flames: How Tax-Exempt and Public Money Fuel a Culture of Confrontation and Terror in Israel. The IBC-TV Special Event accompanies a special 10-part broadcast series on Financing the Flames produced as part of the Edwin Black Show on the IBC-TV network.
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Financing the Flames pulls the cover off the robust use of US tax-exempt, tax-subsidized, and public monies to foment agitation, systematically destabilize the Israel Defense Forces, and finance terrorists in Israel. In a far-flung investigation in the United States, Israel, and the West Bank, human-rights investigative reporter Edwin Black documents that it is actually the highly politicized human rights organizations and NGOs themselves—all American taxpayer supported—which are financing the flames that make peace in Israel difficult if not impossible.
Black spotlights key charitable organizations such as the Ford Foundation, George Soros’s Open Society Foundations, the New Israel Fund, and many others, as well as American taxpayers as a group. Instead of promoting peace and reconciliation between Arabs and Israelis, he writes, a variety of taxpayer-subsidized organizations have funded a culture where peace does not pay, but warfare and confrontation do.
Financing the Flames has received a cascade of accolades since it was unleashed upon the public last month. Rick Halperin director of Southern Methodist University Embrey Human Rights Program and former chairman of the board of Amnesty International USA called the book “a jolt.” Halperin wrote, “Most people should and will be appalled to read the revelations in Financing the Flames. It is a jolt!” Read more ..
The Iranian Threat
|Adiv Sterman||November 20th 2013|
The Times of Israel
Authorities in Azerbaijan’s capital recently jailed an Iranian man for allegedly plotting a terrorist attack against the Israeli embassy, and found photos of the embassy and blueprints in his home, Channel 10 reported Wednesday.
Hasan Faraji, 31, was arrested in late October after he was seen wandering near the embassy, Azeri news site APA reported. A security guard stopped him for questioning and, after refusing to cooperate, Faraji was detained and taken to a nearby police station. He was later sentenced to 30 days in prison, but there was no indication from the report why he was incarcerated. According to a Channel 10 News report on Wednesday, Azeri police claimed they had discovered photos and blueprints of the Israeli embassy in Faraji’s apartment. Read more ..
The Iranian Threat
|Simon Henderson and Olli Heinonen||November 20th 2013|
The International Atomic Energy Agency's latest report on Iran's nuclear program, released November 14, has generated a profusion of optimistic news reports and editorials. According to the IAEA, Tehran has not increased the number of centrifuges installed at declared installations or put more advanced centrifuges into operation, and its stockpile of 20 percent enriched uranium hexafluoride remains below a crucial red line. Meanwhile, work has been proceeding slowly at the Arak reactor, which will be capable of producing plutonium, an alternative nuclear explosive. And three days before releasing the report, the IAEA announced that Iran had agreed to give the agency access to information on some previously blocked aspects of its nuclear program.
Much less emphasized in the report, and the coverage of it, are the IAEA's persistent suspicions of Iran's true motives, as detailed under the heading "Possible Military Dimensions." As page 10 of the thirteen-page report noted, "Since 2002, the Agency has become increasingly concerned about the possible existence in Iran of undisclosed nuclear related organizations, including activities related to the development of a payload for a missile." The agency also received information indicating that Iran has carried out activities "relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device." The report deemed this intelligence to be "credible," noting that the IAEA has obtained more information since November 2011 that "further corroborates" its analysis. Read more ..
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