|Pete Kasperowicz||January 16th 2014|
The Senate approved the $1 trillion omnibus spending bill Thursday, sending it to the White House for President Obama's signature and sparing the government from another government shutdown.
Senators voted 72-26 in favor of the bill, and all "no" votes came from Senate Republicans, including GOP Leader Mitch McConnell and Minority Whip John Cornyn (Texas). That followed a 72-26 vote to end debate, which needed 60 votes.
With the Senate's passage, Obama has until the end of Saturday to sign it into law — Saturday is when federal funding runs out.
A day earlier, the House passed the omnibus bill 359-67, with 64 "no" votes coming from Republicans who argued that it spent too much and complaining that Congress had just a few days to assess the 1,500-page bill. Read more ..
|Jeremy Herb||January 15th 2014|
A new report from the Senate Intelligence Committee says the September 2012 terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya, could have been prevented.
The bipartisan report released Wednesday concludes that the State Department failed to increase security in Benghazi, despite intelligence reports on the deteriorating security situation and warnings that U.S. facilities were at risk ahead of the Sept. 11, 2012, attack, where U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans were killed.
“The committee found the attacks were preventable, based on extensive intelligence reporting on the terrorist activity in Libya — to include prior threats and attacks against Western targets — and given the known security shortfalls at the U.S. Mission,” the panel said in a statement on the report. Read more ..
|Alexandra Jaffe||January 14th 2014|
During his State of the State address on Tuesday, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) again accepted full responsibility for last year's George Washington Bridge lane closures, which have grown into a full-blown scandal for the potential presidential candidate.
“The last week has certainly tested this administration. Mistakes were clearly made. And as a result, we let down the people we are entrusted to serve. I know our citizens deserve better. Much better,” the Republican governor said.
“I am the governor and I am ultimately responsible for all that happens on my watch — both good and bad,” he added.
Christie promised to cooperate with ongoing investigations into the scandal, but insisted that "what occurred does not define our state."
Christie’s aides privately admit his only chance to move past the controversy lies in refocusing on governing New Jersey. His Tuesday address was the first step down that path.
The governor spent the rest of the speech touting the accomplishments of his first term and outlining proposals for school and tax reform and crime reduction that he plans to pursue during his second term.
But the bipartisan accomplishments of his first term might not be so easy to come by in the next — Democrats in the state could be wary to work with someone tainted by scandal, something Christie advisers privately admit the governor is aware of.
And the renewed focus on New Jersey might not be enough to move past the scandal. New details are emerging about the extent of his administration’s involvement in the bridge closures as payback against a Democratic mayor who refused to endorse his reelection, and another New Jersey elected official has come forward to accuse the Christie administration of further political retribution. Read more ..
|Pat Madgal||January 13th 2014|
The media is abuzz with the portended demise of Barnes and Noble lead by the collapse of Nook.
Deadline NY wrote: The company’s position appears to be, it could have been worse. Barnes & Noble’s bookstores and online service generated revenues of $1.1B in the nine weeks ending December 28, it says today. That’s down 6.6% vs the period last year. But most of the decline is due to store closures. At stores open at least a year, revenues just fell 0.2% not including Nook tablets and e-readers. “We are pleased with our holiday sales results, especially our core comparable bookstore sales, which were essentially flat and an improvement as compared to the first half of the year,” newly named CEO Michael Huseby says. It’s harder to sugar-coat the story at Nook. Its revenues – which include digital content, devices and accessories — fell 60.5% to $125M. Devices and accessories fell 66.7% to $88.7M which the company attributes to “lower unit selling volume and lower average selling prices.” Digital content fell 27.3% to $36.5M “due to lower device unit sales and lower average selling prices.” Read more ..
|Luis Ramirez||January 11th 2014|
Former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has died from complications associated with a massive stroke that he suffered eight years ago. He was 85.
Israeli news reports say Sharon died Saturday at a hospital near Tel Aviv. A week ago, medical officials said his kidneys and other vital organs had begun to fail.
As a soldier, he was known for his daring heroics on the battlefield in the decades following the creation of the State of Israel, most notably during the Yom Kippur War of 1973. In a brilliant tactical display, he led Israeli troops across the Suez Canal, cutting off Egypt's third army. Read more ..
|Erik Wasson||January 10th 2014|
The House will vote next week on a three-day stopgap spending bill to prevent a new government shutdown and buy time to finish a $1 trillion omnibus.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said the House would vote early next week on the continuing resolution under a suspension of House rules, which would require it to be approved by a two-thirds vote.
House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said he would urge his members to back it.
“I will support it on suspension, I urge my colleagues to support it on suspension,” Hoyer said.
House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) said negotiators are aiming to introduce a giant $1 trillion omnibus spending bill on Sunday or Monday.
But Congress will have to approve the stopgap measure first to avoid a shutdown, since Congress won’t have time to consider and pass the omnibus to meet a Jan. 15 deadline.
The stopgap measure would simply extend current spending, which is based on a $987 billion annual budget for discretionary spending. It would run through Saturday, Jan. 18.
Appropriators are working to write an omnibus with a top-line spending level of $1.012 trillion, based on the two-year budget deal Congress approved last month.
Rogers is slated to talk to Senate Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) to try to finalize the bill later on Friday but plans to work through the weekend in Washington. Read more ..
|Alexandra Jaffe||January 9th 2014|
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R-N.J.) has fired a top staffer involved in a growing controversy over a bridge closing last year, apologizing Thursday morning for the conduct of his staff.
In a lengthy press conference, the possible 2016 presidential candidate continued to assert that he knew nothing about the closures, pledging to fully comply with ongoing investigations into the scandal.
“I am embarrassed and humiliated by the conduct of some of the people on my team,” Christie said Thursday morning. “There’s no doubt in my mind that the conduct that they exhibited is completely unacceptable and showed an inappropriate respect for the role of government.”
Christie said he had fired his deputy chief of staff, Bridget Ann Kelly, for her role in instigating closures on the George Washington Bridge as an act of political retribution for the Democratic mayor Fort Lee, N.J., refusing to endorse Christie’s reelection bid.
He said that, to his knowledge, he had never met or pursued the endorsement of Fort Lee Mayor Mike Sokolich, but planned to meet personally with him and travel to Fort Lee and to personally apologize to the residents of Fort Lee for the situation. However, NBC News reported that Sokolich doesn't want Christie to visit on Wednesday. "If the mayor doesn't want me to meet with him, that's certainly his choice," said Christie. "I'll still go up to Fort Lee today, because I think it's important for me to be on the ground there."
The governor also said he was taking action against his former campaign manager and top political advisor, Bill Stepien, for his involvement in an email chain unearthed in the investigation. Read more ..
Obama's Second Term
|Mario Trujillo||January 8th 2014|
Former White House officials on Wednesday rushed to defend President Obama against scathing criticism from former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.
In his new memoir, Gates wrote the president did not believe in his own strategy in Afghanistan, and that for him, it was “all about getting out.”
Former White House chief of staff Bill Daley said Gates shouldn’t have released his memoir while the war in Afghanistan is still being fought.
“It’s one thing as historians look back on an administration, but in the middle of it, when you’re pursuing a war at the same time, and one that is controversial with the American people and has been very difficult on our military, I think it’s just a disservice to be very frank with you,” Daley said Wednesday on CBS’s “This Morning.”
“I understand while everyone wants to get out there and write a book and get on the circuit, but I think it’s unfortunate,” Daley said, while emphasizing he had respect for the former Defense chief. In the coming book Duty: Memories of a Secretary at War, Gates said that some White House staff took “micromanagement and operational meddling to a new level.” Read more ..
The Edge of Terrorism
|Paul Sperry||January 7th 2014|
After the 9/11 attacks, the public was told al Qaeda acted alone, with no state sponsors. But the White House never let it see an entire section of Congress’ investigative report on 9/11 dealing with “specific sources of foreign support” for the 19 hijackers, 15 of whom were Saudi nationals.
Read more ..
It was kept secret and remains so today.
President Bush inexplicably censored 28 full pages of the 800-page report. Text isn’t just blacked-out here and there in this critical-yet-missing middle section. The pages are completely blank, except for dotted lines where an estimated 7,200 words once stood (this story by comparison is about 1,000 words).
A pair of lawmakers who recently read the redacted portion say they are “absolutely shocked” at the level of foreign state involvement in the attacks.
Reps. Walter Jones (R-NC) and Stephen Lynch (D-Mass.) can’t reveal the nation identified by it without violating federal law. So they’ve proposed Congress pass a resolution asking President Obama to declassify the entire 2002 report, “Joint Inquiry Into Intelligence Community Activities Before and After the Terrorist Attacks of September 11, 2001.”
|Marc Lanthemann||January 7th 2014|
The 20th anniversary of NAFTA's implementation on Jan. 1 has revived some of the perennial arguments that have surrounded the bloc since its inception. The general consensus has been that the trade deal was a mixed bag, a generally positive yet disappointing economic experiment.
That consensus may not be wrong. The history of the North American Free Trade Agreement as an institution has been one of piecemeal, often reluctant, integration of three countries with a long tradition of protectionism and fierce defense of economic national sovereignty. While NAFTA was a boon for certain sectors of the economy, particularly the U.S. agriculture industry, the net effect of the world's second-largest trade bloc remains somewhat unknown.
The debate over NAFTA can, however, obscure some fundamental realities about the future of North America and its three major countries. While the formation of the trading bloc represented a remarkable political achievement, NAFTA has remained a facilitating institution whose success has mirrored the ebb and flow in the slow but inevitable economic integration of the United States, Mexico and Canada. Read more ..
Obama's Second Term
|Alexander Bolton||January 5th 2014|
Senate Democratic leaders feel cautiously optimistic they have the 60 votes they need to advance unemployment benefits legislation on Monday, but that marks only the start of the congressional battle.
Even if the legislation passes the Senate next week, it faces an uphill road in the House. Advocates for extended benefits say the fight could play out between the chambers for weeks.
There is growing sentiment among Republicans that it’s time to stop extended federal unemployment benefits after nearly six years of recession and slow recovery. At least, House Republicans say the $6.4 billion cost of extending benefits another three months should be paid for with deficit-reduction measures. An estimated 1.3 million unemployed workers saw their benefits lapse when the program expired at the end of last month. Read more ..
Iraq on Edge
|Michael Knights||January 4th 2014|
I have paid close attantion to the subject of Al-Qaeda in Iraq throughout the last decade. Like others, I was disheartened to watch the group grow from 2003-2006 and relieved to see it crash and burn in 2006-2009. I was saddened but not surprised to watch it rebound strongly from 2010 onwards. Indeed since the autumn of 2010 I have been warning all who would listen that the group was poised to make a comeback.
Since 2004, I have worked in all the Iraqi provinces and most of the country’s hundred districts, including some of those where Al-Qaeda is strongest. I have worked alongside the Iraqi security forces, the U.S. military and the reconstruction community as they battled Al-Qaeda. It is my firm belief that Al-Qaeda’s resurgence was both predictable and preventable. I believe just as firmly that the counter-terrorism situation in Iraq is still recoverable. We defeated Al-Qaeda in Iraq just five years ago, comprehensively dismantling their networks and propaganda campaigns. In the coming years the United States can help Iraq to do it again. Read more ..
The Cyber Edge
|Bernard Banks||January 3rd 2014|
INCC and agencies
According to Israel's Institute for National Security Studies, the year ahead is one that should be filled with cyber security awareness. A wrap up from the INNS.
USA: U.S. Federal agencies to hire more cyber defenders in 2014
The Washington Post published on December 23, 2013, while some agencies may see staffing reductions to cut costs, one area of federal growth is cyber security. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS), in charge of preserving the federal civilian ".gov" domain, are quick to hire illustrated by recent legislation. The latest proposed amendment to the Homeland Security Act of 2002, requires the DHS secretary to regularly asses the readiness and capacity of the agency's cyber workforce to meet its cyber security mission and develop a comprehensive strategy to enhance readiness, capacity, training, recruitment and retention of the cyber workforce, including a five-year recruitment plan and 10-year projection of workforce needs. By contrast, the Pentagon seems to be having more success staffing the U.S. Cyber Command and uniformed services cyber command, primarily because they can commandeer uniformed personnel. Read more ..
The Way We Are
|George Friedman||January 2nd 2014|
When England adopted the Gregorian calendar in 1752, some 170 years after it was introduced by Pope Gregory XIII, Benjamin Franklin wrote, "It is pleasant for an old man to be able to go to bed on Sept. 2, and not have to get up until Sept. 14." Indeed, nearly two weeks evaporated into thin air in England when it transitioned from the Julian calendar, which had left the country 11 days behind much of Europe. Such calendrical acrobatics are not unusual. The year 46 B.C., a year before Julius Caesar implemented his namesake system, lasted 445 days and later became known as the "final year of confusion."
In other words, the systems used by mankind to track, organize and manipulate time have often been arbitrary, uneven and disruptive, especially when designed poorly or foisted upon an unwilling society. The history of calendrical reform has been shaped by the egos of emperors, disputes among churches, the insights of astronomers and mathematicians, and immutable geopolitical realities. Attempts at improvements have sparked political turmoil and commercial chaos, and seemingly rational changes have consistently failed to take root. Read more ..
|Molly K. Hooper||December 31st 2013|
The Tea Party is facing a huge test in 2014 as establishment Republicans and business groups try to wrestle back control of the GOP.
Grassroots conservative groups have ruled the roost of the House GOP conference since Republicans won back the majority in 2010 but are now under attack from forces within their own party.
In December, Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) repeatedly ripped into outside conservative groups over their tactics during the government shutdown fight, which he described as “ridiculous.”
Allies of Boehner, who has repeatedly struggled to lead his conference while outside groups and conservative senators vied with him for influence, feel optimistic they’ve emerged stronger from the last year. Read more ..
The Edge of the Universe
|Ron Cowen||December 30th 2013|
A team of physicists has provided some of the clearest evidence yet that our universe could be just one big projection.
In 1997, theoretical physicist Juan Maldacena proposed that an audacious model of the Universe in which gravity arises from infinitesimally thin, vibrating strings could be reinterpreted in terms of well-established physics. The mathematically intricate world of strings, which exist in nine dimensions of space plus one of time, would be merely a hologram: the real action would play out in a simpler, flatter cosmos where there is no gravity.
Maldacena's idea thrilled physicists because it offered a way to put the popular but still unproven theory of strings on solid footing—and because it solved apparent inconsistencies between quantum physics and Einstein's theory of gravity. It provided physicists with a mathematical Rosetta stone, a “duality,” that allowed them to translate back and forth between the two languages, and solve problems in one model that seemed intractable in the other and vice versa. But although the validity of Maldacena's ideas has pretty much been taken for granted ever since, a rigorous proof has been elusive. Read more ..
Egypt on Edge
|Eric Trager||December 30th 2013|
As Egypt prepares to vote on a constitution that could prove economically ruinous or, at best, ineffectual, Washington and its regional allies should discuss ways of encouraging Cairo to pursue much-needed reforms.
Egypt's new draft constitution reflects the coalition of leftist political parties and entrenched state actors that helped oust President Muhammad Morsi from power in July. In the short run, the strength of this coalition -- and its ability to achieve a convincing mandate in the January constitutional referendum -- will determine whether the political transition can move forward. In the longer run, however, Egypt's outlook remains bleak: either the massive state spending that the new constitution mandates will be enforced and thereby wreak economic havoc, or the charter will not be enforced, in which case the country will continue to be governed by an unreliable legal system. Read more ..
The Edge of Terrorism
|Jamie Weinstein||December 29th 2013|
Read more ..
Investigative author Edwin Black details how American taxpayers help fund Palestinian terrorists in his new book, ”Financing the Flames: How Tax-Exempt and Public Money Fuel a Culture of Confrontation and Terror in Israel.”
“As soon as a Palestinian terrorist murders an innocent civilian, blows up a bus, or commits any other act of terrorism in Israel, he or she goes on an official Palestinian Authority salary,” Black explained to The Daily Caller. “That salary level follows a schedule of compensation that rises dramatically with the number of people killed and the amount of carnage inflicted.”
“These are the best compensation packages in the PA, dwarfing the wage of an ordinary worker,” he continued. “Hence, you can go from rags to riches in Palestine by murdering a family or firebombing a bus. Approximately $3 million to $7 million each month is paid in this program, constituting approximately 6 percent of the PA’s annual budget. Since the PA is constantly operating at a deficit, this cash supply is dependent upon donor countries such as the United States, the UK, France and Norway. Their foreign ministries and our State Department know about this terror financing, but our congressmen do not, nor does the American public — until now.”
See TheDC’s extensive interview with Black about his book below:
Why did you write the book?
For years, I’ve been following the misconduct of charitable organizations, such as the Carnegie Institution and the Rockefeller Foundation, which engaged in genocidal eugenics in the U.S. and worldwide. A decade ago, I exposed how The Ford Foundation was funneling millions of dollars into anti-Jewish, anti-Israel hate groups in Durban, South Africa. When under pressure, The Ford Foundation pulled its funding from those groups. It re-routed the money to the New Israel Fund. For years, my editors have been asking me to look into the conduct and funding recipients of the New Israel Fund. I finally did, and I discovered that tax-subsidized charitable donations and taxpayer-funded foreign aid are fungibly financing a culture of confrontation, violence and even terrorism in Israel. The result of my effort has been a “newsbook” entitled “Financing the Flames” — a 77,000-word uncovering of how American tax money is achieving the exact opposite of our national intent in Israel.
|Peter Schroeder||December 28th 2013|
Roughly 1.3 million people lost their extended unemployment benefits on Saturday as Congress allowed the program to expire.
Democrats — angry that an extension wasn't included in the recently-enacted budget agreement — have vowed to make the benefits the first item on their 2014 agenda.
Republicans contend that lawmakers would better serve their constituents by directing their efforts to other job-boosting areas, especially given that a year-long unemployment extension comes with a $26 billion price tag. They also are waiting on Democrats to put forward a specific plan.
Underlying the debate is a steadily improving economy, which has seen the jobless rate fall to a five-year low of 7 percent in November. The Federal Reserve gave its own vote of confidence to the recovery when it agreed to pull back from its years’ worth of stimulus action in December, citing the steady gains. Read more ..
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 ..
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