|Molly K. Hooper||February 19th 2013|
House GOP lawmakers say they do not fear political blowback if Congress fails to prevent $85 billion in automatic spending cuts from triggering in two weeks.
The cuts known as the sequester are almost certain to hit the Pentagon and non-defense discretionary spending on March 1, and congressional Republicans and the White House are focused more now on avoiding blame for the cuts than preventing them.
That creates a challenging environment for House Republicans, given President Obama’s use of the bully pulpit, which he used to build pressure on them during last year’s fight over the “fiscal cliff.”
Already the White House warns that the cuts will reduce loan guarantees to small businesses, end Head Start funding for 70,000 children and leave 373,000 seriously mentally ill people without treatment.
It says there will be fewer food inspections, raising the potential for a food-borne illness outbreak, and that the Federal Emergency Management Agency will need to eliminate grants for firefighters and emergency personnel. Read more ..
America and Israel
|Meghashyam Mali ||February 18th 2013|
President Obama will be awarded the Israeli Presidential Medal of Distinction during his visit to Israel next month, according to a report in the Times of Israel. Obama will be the first sitting U.S. president to receive the honor, which was announced by Israeli President Shimon Peres’s office on Monday.
“Barack Obama is a true friend of the State of Israel, and has been since the beginning of his public life,” said Peres in a statement announcing the decision. “As president of the United States of America, he has stood with Israel in times of crisis," he continued. "During his time as president he has made a unique contribution to the security of the State of Israel, both through further strengthening the strategic cooperation between the countries and through the joint development of technology to defend against rockets and terrorism.” Read more ..
The Human Edge
|Ashley Yeager||February 17th 2013|
Rats can't usually see infrared light, but they have "touched" it in a Duke University lab. The rats sensed the light as a sensation of touch after Duke neurobiologist Miguel Nicolelis and his team fitted the animals with an infrared detector wired to electrodes implanted in the part of the mammalian brain that processes information related to the sense of touch.
One of the main flaws of current human, brain-controlled prosthetics is that patients cannot sense the texture of what they touch, Nicolelis said. His goal is to give quadriplegics not only the ability to move their limbs again, but also to sense the texture of objects placed in their hands or experience the nuances of the terrain under their feet.
His lab studies how to connect brain cells with external electrodes for brain-machine interfaces and neural prosthetics in human patients and non-human primates, giving them the ability to control limbs, both real and virtual, using only their minds. He and his team have shown that monkeys, without moving any part of their real bodies, could use their electrical brain activity to guide the virtual hands of an avatar to touch virtual objects and recognize their simulated textures. Read more ..
The Iranian Threat
|Frederick Starr||February 16th 2013|
U.S. President Barack Obama has often spoken of the ever-tightening ring of sanctions against Iran. The hope is that the sanctions will eventually bring the Islamic Republic to the bargaining table, if not to its knees. The effort, however, would be more effective if these sanctions did not go hand in hand with a longstanding and lucrative annual bonus to Iran from Washington. This bonus takes the form of a subsidy that arises from the United States and NATO's tacit support for Iran's ports on the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman.
The United States has largely failed to open any alternative route connecting Afghanistan and the great sea lanes that traverse the Arabian Sea, or between Afghanistan's northern neighbors in Central Asia and those same warm-water corridors of trade. Thanks to this failure, shippers from China, Russia, India, and Europe have no alternative but to use the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas, from which some 90 million tons of goods annually are transported by rail to Turkey, the Mediterranean world, Europe, and Russia. Business at that old entrepôt on the Persian Gulf has boomed to such an extent that Iran, with help from India and Russia, has built an even more convenient port and free trade zone on the Gulf of Oman, at the city of Chabahar, from which goods will proceed overland by road and rail to Afghanistan. Read more ..
The Nuclear Edge
|Steve Herman||February 15th 2013|
North Korea's claim this week to have successfully conducted a third underground nuclear test is prompting some in South Korea and Japan to advocate possessing their own such weapons.
South Korean lawmaker Chung Mong-joon of the governing Saenuri (New Frontier) party made such a remark during a meeting of his colleagues from the National Assembly, comparing the situation with North Korea to “a gangster in the neighborhood buying a brand-new machine gun” and trying to defend oneself with merely a pebble.
Chung is no fringe politician. He is the country's wealthiest lawmaker through his controlling shares in the Hyundai Heavy Industries group. The JoongAng Ilbo, major South Korean newspaper, terming North Korea's latest test an existential threat to Seoul, questions whether the country should arm itself with nuclear weapons and if the United States will ultimately protect it if Pyongyang were to threaten a nuclear attack. Read more ..
The Battle for Syria
|Yaakov Lappin||February 14th 2013|
On January 30, just before dawn, according to international media reports, the Israel Air Force struck a target (or targets) in Syria. While many details of this attack remain shrouded in mystery, since then a number of facts have come into focus.
The strike followed months of warnings from Jerusalem that Israel would not tolerate the proliferation of strategic arms, or unconventional weapons, from the crumbling Syrian state to Hezbollah.
Days after the attack, Syrian state television released images of one of the bombed-out sites on the outskirts of Damascus, showing large, wrecked, military trucks that could well have been carrying advanced anti-aircraft missile systems.
That would fit well with media reports that cited Western intelligence officials, who said that SA-17-type air defense systems were the target. Other sources have suggested the anti-aircraft missiles in question were the SA-8 model. Syria possesses an array of sophisticated air defense systems, and their proliferation to Assad's ally, Hezbollah in southern Lebanon, could curtail the IAF's maneuverability over Lebanese skies.
IAF flights over Lebanon are vital for surveillance during times of ceasefire between Israel and the Iranian-sponsored Hezbollah. During times of direct conflict, the flights are vital for the mission of obliterating Hezbollah's rocket arsenal and command and control centers. Read more ..
North Korea on Edge
|Guita Aryan & Jeff Seldin||February 14th 2013|
North Korea’s nuclear test this week is also putting the spotlight on Iran, which has been moving forward on its nuclear program despite Western and U.S. opposition. There were celebrations in North Korea, where the country's latest nuclear test is being publicly hailed.
But as worldwide condemnation pours in, there is also the recognition that the test goes beyond the saber-rattling of Pyongyang. "This is about proliferation and this is also about Iran," noted U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. "Because they're linked."
Experts say tough talk alone is unlikely to resonate in Iran, so what Tehran does next may very well depend on how the world backs up similar talk to North Korea. “If you want to prevent Iran from getting the bomb you have to take a hard line against North Korea,” stated Raymond Tanter, former U.S. National Security Council member. He says that so far, Western resolve has not been strong enough. Read more ..
The Toxic Edge
|David Heath & Ronnie Greene||February 13th 2013|
The Center for Public Integrity
In September 2010, scientists at the Environmental Protection Agency came to a startling conclusion: Even a small amount of a chemical compound commonly found in tap water may cause cancer.
The compound, hexavalent chromium, gained infamy in the Oscar-winning film Erin Brockovich, based on the David-vs.-Goliath legal duel between desert dwellers in Hinkley, Calif., and Pacific Gas & Electric Co. The film ends in Hollywood fashion, with the corporate polluter paying $333 million to people suffering from illnesses.
But in real life, the drama continues. More than 70 million Americans drink traces of chromium every day, according to the Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit research organization. And now, more than a decade after the film, EPA scientists cite “clear evidence” that the chemical compound, also known as chromium (VI), can cause cancer. The federal agency was poised to announce its findings in 2011, a step almost certain to trigger stricter drinking-water standards to prevent new cancers and deaths. Read more ..
The Saudi Succession
|Simon Henderson||February 13th 2013|
The Washington Institute
Speculation about who will rule Saudi Arabia in the future is mounting after the surprise February 1 appointment of Prince Muqrin bin Abdulaziz as second deputy prime minister, a post long viewed as "crown prince in waiting." The unexpected move puts a spotlight on the complicated politics and procedures surrounding Saudi succession.
Prince Muqrin is the youngest surviving son of the late Ibn Saud (a.k.a. King Abdulaziz), the founder of Saudi Arabia. He is now the third most powerful person in the kingdom, behind King Abdullah (who also serves as prime minister) and Crown Prince Salman (the deputy prime minister). Both of these men are ailing, however: Abdullah (age 90) is rarely seen standing upright and has a limited attention span, and Salman (77) has dementia. In comparison, Muqrin (70) appears to be in good health. Read more ..
North Korea's Nukes
|Martin Barillas||February 12th 2013|
Cutting Edge Senior Correspondent
North Korea defied international warnings on February 12 and carried out its third nuclear test, drawing immediate condemnation from leaders around the globe. Pyongyang said the "successful" test was in response to what it called the "reckless hostility" of the United States, which has led the global charge toward expanding sanctions against the communist state.
State media said the underground test used a lighter, smaller nuclear bomb with greater explosive force than previous tests - raising fears Pyongyang has achieved a breakthrough in miniaturizing the technology.
Following the test, the North's Foreign Ministry defiantly warned of unspecified additional measures. South Korea has already placed its military on alert and hinted at the possibility of additional North Korean nuclear tests or missile launches on Tuesday. The U.N. Security Council is holding an emergency meeting later today in New York to discuss the test, which prompted an outpouring of global criticism. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon immediately condemned the "deeply destabilizing" test, calling it a "clear and grave violation" of international sanctions. Read more ..
Catholic Church on Edge
|Martin Barillas||February 11th 2013|
Cutting Edge Senior Correspondent
There is no clear front-runner among the various contenders to occupy the papacy once the current occupant of the Holy See, Pope Benedict XVI, leaves on February 28 at 8 pm local time in Rome. Generally, candidates are chosen from among the College of Cardinals. One of these is Cardinal Archbishop Peter Kodwo Appiah Turkson of Ghana, who serves as president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. If elected, Cardinal Turkson would be the first known black African to occupy the chair once held by St Peter himself.
Pope Benedict XVI announced on February 11 that he will step down at the end of the month, being the first to do so in nearly 600 years. A conclave of cardinals would then have to elect a new leader of the worldwide Church before the end of March. A Vatican said that the interval between resignation and election will be "as brief as possible". The pontiff announced his decision in Latin during a consistory of cardinals while emphasising that his duties require “both strength of mind and body”. His brother, Rev. Georg Ratzinger, told the German press that the Pope had been considering the move for several months, due to declining health.
In his statement, translated from the original Latin, the Pope said “After having repeatedly examined my conscience before God, I have come to the certainty that my strengths due to an advanced age are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry,” adding, “I am well aware that this ministry, due to its essential spiritual nature, must be carried out not only by words and deeds but no less with prayer and suffering.” Read more ..
|Cameron Joseph||February 10th 2013|
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said that the looming sequestration is "a bad idea all around" and called for a balance of spending cuts and closing tax loopholes in order to avoid it. "It is almost a false argument to say we have a spending problem. We have a budget deficit problem that we have to address," she told Fox News's Chris Wallace on Sunday.
The Democratic House leader said she backed a “big, bold proposal,” to curb long-term spending, and, short of that, a plan that ended subsidies for large oil companies and eliminated loopholes in the tax code. "It isn't as much a spending problem as much as it is priorities," she said at another point, arguing that tax subsidies were a better target than cuts to programs such as education. Read more ..
Obama's Second Term
|Justin Sink||February 9th 2013|
President Obama warned in his weekly address that the sequester would deal a "huge blow to middle-class families and our economy as a whole" and urged Congress to strike a compromise deal to avert the $85 billion in automatic cuts.
"There’s certainly no reason that middle-class families and small businesses should suffer just because Washington couldn’t come together and eliminate a few special-interest tax loopholes, or government programs that just don’t work," Obama said. "At a time when economists and business leaders from across the spectrum have said that our economy is poised for progress, we shouldn’t allow self-inflicted wounds to put that progress in jeopardy."
The president devoted a significant amount of his address to outlining the real-world consequences that would result if the sequester was implemented. On Friday, top administrative aides warned the cuts would hamper law enforcement, hurt federal education programs, withhold mental health services and furlough thousands of workers. Read more ..
Tunisia on Edge
|Mark Snowiss||February 8th 2013|
Clashes between police and protesters have broken out in Tunis during the funeral of a slain secular opposition leader. Tens of thousands of mourners converged on the main cemetery in the Tunisian capital on February 8 for the funeral procession of Chokri Belaid, who was gunned down earlier this week outside his home.
VOA reporter Lisa Bryant in Tunis says police used tear gas at the cemetery to make way for the funeral procession. "Hundreds and thousands of people just ran from the tear gas. It was everywhere. One of the reasons is because there [were] just too many people, and [another] reason is that people were apparently setting cars on fire outside. So it's really hard to say what the exact story was," Bryant reported. Mourners scaled walls and tombstones in the rain and wind to get a glimpse of the open army truck carrying Belaid's coffin. Witnesses say some protesters threw stones at the police. Read more ..
Tunisia on Edge
|Lisa Bryant||February 7th 2013|
Tunisia's political crisis deepened on Thursday as police clashed with protesters and lobbed tear gas after the ruling Islamist Ennahdha party rejected a plan to form a new government.
The protests now spreading across the country come after the assassination of Chokri Belaid, a leading secular opposition politician. He was a staunch opponent of the moderate Islamists in power - and the growing clout of hardliners that Tunisians call Salafists. The scenes are eerily reminiscent of Tunisia's revolution two years ago. And like then, Tunisia's leaders bowed to public fury and announced the government's dissolution.
Addressing the nation Wednesday night, Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali said he would form a new Cabinet of technocrats with no political affiliation. He said this government would be in place until new elections are held - which, he said, would happen as soon as possible. Read more ..
The Cyber Edge
|Richard Kaplan||February 6th 2013|
Economic Warfare Institute
In the past several weeks there have been numerous stories in the press regarding hacking incidents against major newspapers in the United States that have been attributed to the People's Republic of China. These incidents follow closely on other reports of hacking incidents against U.S. financial institutions that were attributed to the Islamic Republic of Iran.
There are two major hacker groups. The first is independent hackers, usually young disenfranchised youth that conduct computer intrusions as a dare or some sport. The second, and most dangerous to the national security of the U.S., are the state sponsored hackers, such as those from China and Iran.
On any given day, state-sponsored hackers conduct tens of thousands of "probes and scans" of the U.S. federal government and commercial websites. They are looking for system vulnerabilities in an attempt to gain access to sensitive information on national defense and critical technology subjects. Read more ..
|Reva Bhalla||February 5th 2013|
As U.S. President Barack Obama's second-term foreign policy team begins to take shape, Iran remains unfinished business for the U.S. administration. The diplomatic malaise surrounding this issue over the past decade has taken its toll on Washington and Tehran. Even as the United States and Iran are putting out feelers for another round of negotiations, expectations for any breakthrough understandably remain low. Still, there has been enough movement over the past week to warrant a closer look at this long-standing diplomatic impasse.
At the Munich Security Conference held Feb. 1-3, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden said the United States would be willing to hold direct talks with Iran under the right conditions. Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi responded positively to the offer but warned that Iran would not commit unless Washington shows a "fair and real" intention to resolve the issues dividing the two sides. Read more ..
The Battle for Syria
|Zack Pontz||February 4th 2013|
Israel Defense Force Chief of Staff Benny Gantz arrived in Washington, D.C., Sunday as the guest of his US counterpart, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey.
A statement released by an IDF spokesperson said that the two “will conduct a series of work meetings together, as well as meetings with other American officials. They will also discuss current security challenges, the regional security status in the Middle East and military cooperation.”
Sources in Israel’s security establishment told Israeli daily Yediot Ahronot that during the five-day trip the two sides will deal primarily with developments and possible risks stemming from the civil war in Syria. The main issue will be how the United States and Israel will deal jointly in the case that rebels or Hezbollah take control of chemical weapons now in the hands of the Syrian army. Read more ..
China and Japan
|Bernard Banks||February 3rd 2013|
The Japanese Coast Guard has intercepted a Chinese fishing boat near Japan's southern island of Okinawa and detained its captain on suspicion of unauthorized fishing in Japan's Exclusive Economic Zone. The Coast Guard said the Chinese boat was stopped some 40 kilometers off Miyaki island, about 150 kilometers from islands in the East China Sea that are claimed by China, Japan and Taiwan. The Coast Guard said the Chinese vessel had a crew of 13. A long-simmering dispute over control of the islands - known as the Senkaku in Japan and the Diaoyu in China - has escalated in recent months, as China seeks to assert its claim to wide swaths of the East and the South China seas. Both sides have scrambled fighter jets and deployed patrol ships as tensions have risen.
Earlier Saturday, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told Coast Guard members in Okinawa that Japan would defend the disputed islands at all costs. "Since the country has acquired the ownership of the Senkaku islands, there has been an increase in incursions and patrols by Chinese government vessels. I highly commend the daily work and the effect that you of the Coast Guard [have] as you protect the waters around our country," he said. Abe also warned that the security situation regarding the islands was likely to get worse before it gets better. Read more ..
America's Darkest Edge
|Fred Schulte||February 3rd 2013|
Center for Public Integrity
The federal agents who visited Scott Taylor’s rural Pennsylvania gun shop in early January 2010 — to conduct the store’s first inspection in more than three decades — found thousands of violations of firearm sales laws.
Taylor couldn’t properly account for more than 3,000 guns he had bought or sold during the previous three years, according to agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. These and other violations led ATF to revoke his license to sell guns in November 2011. But that wasn’t the end of the story. Far from it.
Taylor blamed the infractions on his poor health and a computer crash that wiped out his business records. The gun shop, located in the basement of his Biglerville, Pa., home, remains open 14 months later while Taylor appeals the ATF action in federal court. Taylor had no comment. His lawyer, Scott L. Braum, said the violations have been corrected and “no rational person would expect them to reoccur in the future.” Read more ..
The New Egypt
|Bernard Banks||February 2nd 2013|
Egypt's main opposition bloc has backed calls for President Mohamed Morsi to step down, a day after deadly clashes left the government scrambling to contain the fallout from footage of police brutalising a man.
A statement from the National Salvation Front on Saturday signalled a harder line from the opposition coalition which has spearheaded protests against President Morsi since November. "The Salvation Front completely sides with the people and its active forces' calls to topple the authoritarian regime and the Muslim Brotherhood's control," it said, urging Egyptians to stage peaceful protests. It demanded Morsi's trial for crimes of "killings and torture" and ruled out dialogue with the presidency until "the bloodletting stops and those responsible for it are held accountable". Read more ..
Israel on Edge
|Zach Pontz||February 1st 2013|
One day after Syrian officials admitted a strike had been carried out on a military facility, pointing the finger at Israel as the perpetrators, Lebanese newspaper Addiyar Daily is reporting that the militaries in Lebanon, Syria and Jordan have gone on high alert.
According to the paper, thought to be a pro-Syrian publication, Syrian army units have deployed in guerrilla-size formations in the Golan Heights. In Lebanon the High Command of the Armed Forces has ordered a “level 3″ alert for all its forces. And in Jordan armored units have reportedly been placed near the border with Israel, near the River Jordan.
Western officials told the New York Times Wednesday that a strike had been carried out on a convoy carrying sophisticated antiaircraft weaponry intended for the Hezbollah Shiite terror militia in Lebanon. The American officials said Israel had notified the United States about the attack beforehand. Read more ..
The Battle for Syria
|Martin Barillas||January 31st 2013|
Cutting Edge Senior Correspondent
Russia expressed concern over a January 30 aistrike, presumably carried out by Israeli air forces inside Syria. The Russian Foreign Ministry says such action, if confirmed, amounts to "unprovoked attacks" against a sovereign nation, in violation of the United Nations charter.
Russia's foreign ministry said it was "deeply concerned" by the Syrian claims and that it was taking "urgent measures" to investigate. The strident statement said, "If this information is confirmed, then we are dealing with unprovoked strikes against targets located on the territory of a sovereign state, which brazenly infringes on the UN Charter and is unacceptable, no matter the motive used for its justification."
Differing accounts of the January 30 airstrike have emerged, with Syrian authorities saying Israeli jets fired on a military research facility near Damascus, killing two people.
Israeli and Western news media reported an Israeli airstrike at a different location, close to the Syrian-Lebanese border. They say the target was a convoy delivering missile parts to Hezbollah, the strongly anti-Israel Shi'ite militia based in Lebanon. Read more ..
|Pat Madgal ||January 30th 2013|
Stung by dysfunctional inventory and warehouse policies and a failing model, America's greatest book chain--Barnes and Noble--is preparing to shutter a third of its stores. Some 200 stores are slated to disappear in the coming years, according to Mitchell Klipper, chief executive of Barnes & Noble's retail group. Klipper claimed the chain would only close "about 20 stores per year" over a decade. But many observers expected the fast shrinkage period to be accelerated to just a few years--if not sooner. Moreover, the remaining shelf space, experts predict, will be devoted less and less to books, and more to widgets, chocolates, and cuddly dolls.
The chain was devastated by a dismal holiday period drop of approximately 12 percent in all three of its sales vectors: store traffic, web orders, and Nook.
Headlines predicting doom are now common. Fortune was typical when its headline declared: "Barnes and Noble's Hardest Lesson: It Pays to be Small." The Los Angeles Times blasted this headline: "The Incredible Shrinking Barnes & Noble." The Atlantic blared: "Welcome to the End of Barnes & Noble as You Knew It." Barnes and Noble has closed so many prominent stores that one newspaper local Washington, D.C. area newspaper actually headlined that its store might remain open: "Barnes & Noble Expects to Stay Open in Bethesda." Read more ..
|Saul Roth||January 29th 2013|
Wolrd Jewish Daily
North Korean scientists are among those trapped inside an Iranian nuclear facility at Fordo, the victims of a blast that occurred last week.
Despite a U.S. denial, the news Web site that originally broke the story, WND.com, revealed new details Tuesday of the Jan. 21 explosion. "Sixteen North Koreans, including 14 technicians and two top military officers, are among those trapped after a Jan. 21 explosion destroyed much of Iran’s Fordow nuclear site, a source reveals. The source who provided the initial information on the explosion at Fordow has now provided details of the explosion and the degree of the destruction at one of Iran’s most important nuclear sites."
According WND’s source, 36 North Korean technicians and military officers visited two Iranian nuclear sites on on Jan. 15 and 17. At the Fordow site, the North Koreans were to witness the commencement of six cascades of "174 new-generation, speedier centrifuges." WND's source said security cameras recorded the following events: "On Jan 21, 14 members of the North Korean team and two military officers now stationed at Fordow along with Iranian scientists started the process of feeding uranium gas into the newly set-up cascades at 9:15 a.m. Tehran time. At 10:43 a.m., due to a drop in power pressure, system warning signs went off, but everything went back to normal after two minutes." Read more ..
Mali on Edge
|Martin Barillas||January 29th 2013|
Cutting Edge Correspondent
Islamist militants have lost more ground in northern Mali, with French and Malian troops taking the city of Timbuktu and secular Tuareg rebels announcing they have seized the city of Kidal. A spokesman for Tuareg rebel group MNLA told VOA that the group's fighters now control Kidal and the nearby town of Tessalit. There has been no independent confirmation of the claim.
Meanwhile, French media reports say French and Malian troops entered central Timbuktu on January 28, a day after they seized the local airport and the key roads that lead to the historic city. The U.N. cultural agency UNESCO lists Timbuktu as a World Heritage site for its ancient mosques and shrines, some of which date back to the 15th century. But Islamist group Ansar Dine considers the sites sacrilegious, and the militants destroyed some mausoleums while they controlled the city. Read more ..
The New Egypt
|Bernard Banks||January 27th 2013|
Egypt has been thrown into a 30-day state of emergency and a night-time curfew in three cities along the Suez Canal that have seen deadly clashes in recent days, it president Mohamed Morsi has declared. In a televised address late on Sunday, Morsi said the emergency measures in Port Said, Ismailia and Suez would take effect on Monday from 9:00 at night to 6:00 in the morning. He warned that more action would be taken to stem the latest eruption of violence across much of the country. "I have said I am against any emergency measures but I have said that if I must stop bloodshed and protect the people then I will act," Morsi said. He also called for dialogue with top politicians starting on Monday to resolve the situation. Read more ..
|Dave Levinthal||January 27th 2013|
Center for Public Integrity
Congress’ fiscal cliff fiasco, a flurry of lame duck legislation and election-season politics drove some of the nation’s most powerful lobbying forces to double down on their governmental influence efforts late last year, newly filed reports show. Such an uptick foreshadows what could be ever-more-aggressive lobbying on federal finances, taxation, energy and social issues like immigration and gun ownership as President Barack Obama enumerated in his inaugural address Monday. The trend may end a prolonged lobbying spending slowdown largely prompted by Capitol Hill gridlock and a dearth of meaningful legislation receiving consideration during much of 2011 and 2012. In all, about half of the year’s top 100 lobbying organizations spent more on lobbying in the fourth quarter of last year than in the third quarter. About half also showed an overall increase in spending for 2012, an analysis of congressional disclosure reports and Center for Responsive Politics data indicates. Read more ..
The New Egypt
|Edward Yeranian||January 26th 2013|
Egyptian authorities say at least 30 people have been killed in violence that erupted in the coastal city of Port Said, after a court handed down death sentences over last year's deadly football riot. Army enforcements are being deployed to the area to restore order.
Clashes broke out Saturday between relatives of those sentenced to death and police guarding the prison where those convicted are being held. The violence spread with reports of rival groups of football fans firing live rounds at each other and police.
Reinforcements from Egypt's Second Army were ordered into the city to prevent further clashes. Egyptian state TV reported that a curfew was being imposed to calm the situation. Fans known, as ultras, were said to be blocking the city's main railway station. Read more ..
The North Korean Threat
|Bernard Banks||January 25th 2013|
North Korea has threatened "strong physical counter-measures" against South Korea if Seoul directly takes part in a new U.N. resolution tightening sanctions against Pyongyang. A statement released Friday by the North's Committee for Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland warned that sanctions mean a war and a declaration of war against Pyongyang. The statement also threatened to end all dialogue with anyone on denuclearization.
The threat against South Korea came a day after the North said it would carry out a new nuclear test and more long-range rocket launches as part of a new phase of confrontation with the United States.
Read more ..
The statement Friday from North Korea's Committee for Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland said it would take action against South Korea if it "takes a direct part" in the U.N. sanctions. The South Korean Unification Ministry declined to comment specifically on the new threats from Pyongyang. It reiterated its stance that North Korea should refrain from further provocations.
The Edge of Terrorism
|Scott Stewart||January 24th 2013|
The recent jihadist attack on the Tigantourine natural gas facility near In Amenas, Algeria, and the subsequent hostage situation there have prompted some knee-jerk discussions among media punditry. From these discussions came the belief that the incident was spectacular, sophisticated and above all unprecedented. A closer examination shows quite the opposite.
Indeed, very little of the incident was without precedent. Mokhtar Belmokhtar, who orchestrated the attack, has employed similar tactics and a similar scale of force before, and frequently he has deployed forces far from his group's core territory in northern Mali. Large-scale raids, often meant to take hostages, have been conducted across far expanses of the Sahel. What was unprecedented was the target. Energy and extraction sites have been attacked in the past, but never before was an Algerian natural gas facility selected for such an assault. Read more ..
|Russell Berman and Erik Wasson ||January 24th 2013|
Speaker John Boehner’s (R-Ohio) pledge to back a Republican budget that balances within 10 years raises the political stakes for his party and sets up another major test of his leadership. Democrats eyeing a takeover of the House in 2014 view the move as a gift, since the GOP budget plan will likely make deeper cuts to popular government programs that any leadership-backed blueprint has before.
Boehner will rely heavily on his budget chairman, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), to help him navigate the treacherous waters of drafting the budget plan and selling it to members.
The Speaker committed to a 10-year target on Tuesday to secure conservative backing for a short-term suspension of the debt limit. The tactic succeeded, but could backfire this spring if he cannot pass a more austere budget out of the House. Read more ..
|Rachel Ehrenfeld & Ken Jensen||January 23rd 2013|
In January 2009, Obama presented his first cyber security strategy plan. That plan, however, mirrored the Bush Administration's blueprint to better protect the nation's federal and commercial cyber security. That plan was followed each successive year with new strategies. New agencies were created and additional personnel were added to the government payroll, only to witness an avalanche of cyber attacks from abroad on U.S. defense and commercial infrastructures. In October 2012, responding to growing criticism on the Administration's failure to provide cyber protection, Obama acknowledged that, "cyber threat is one of the most serious economic and national security challenges we face as a nation," and went on to declare: "America's economic prosperity in the 21st century will depend on cybersecurity." Read more ..
|Amir Mizroch||January 22nd 2013|
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud-Beytenu list won 31 Knesset mandates, followed by Yesh Atid at 19, exit polls broadcast by Israel's three leading television stations showed on Tuesday night. Final results will be published by the Central Elections Commission on Wednesday.
At 22:17, Netanyahu declared victory with a message on his Facebook page. "I wish to thank the millions of the citizens of Israel carried out their democratic right today. According to the exit polls it is clear that the citizens of Israel have decided that they want me to continue in the position of prime minister of Israel and that I form as wide a coalition government as possible. The early results are a big opportunity for many changes that will favor all of Israel's citizens. The elections are behind us and many complex challenges lie ahead. Starting tonight I will start the efforts to form a government that will be as wide as possible," Netanyahu wrote. According to the Channel 2 exit polls, which are unofficial, the left wing bloc stands at 59 and the right wing bloc at 61. Channels 10 and 1 showed 58 to 62 in the blocs. Arab parties, which are counted amongst the left wing bloc, garnered some 24 seats in the 120 member Knesset. Read more ..
Haiti After the Earthquake
|JT Larrimore and Brielle Sharkey||January 22nd 2013|
Three years after the 2010 earthquake, Haiti continues its struggle to rebuild. An expanding cholera outbreak and food shortages following Hurricane Sandy in October 2012 have hampered earlier relief efforts. All the while, Haiti has become one of the most extreme cases of a state relying on foreign aid, receiving billions in foreign assistance throughout the years. Despite the billions of dollars pledged and disbursed to rebuild a greater nation, Haiti has regressed back to pre earthquake conditions, as one of the poorest countries in the Americas. On the tragic anniversary of the earthquake, relief efforts and development programs must be held accountable for any shortcomings, while more transparency is required from the international community involved in the implementation of aid programs. Read more ..
The Edge of Terrorism
|Bernard Banks||January 21st 2013|
from VOA and agencies
Algeria is expected to raise the death toll from the hostage crisis at a natural gas complex, as preliminary reports showed that at least 80 people were killed. Algerian Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal was expected to announce updated casualty figures at a news conference on Monday. The Algerian government has said at least 32 militants and 23 foreign and Algerian hostages were killed in the four-day Islamist siege of the facility that ended Saturday with a final government assault.
On Sunday, special forces searching the complex at In Amenas in eastern Algeria found 25 more bodies, but the corpses were so disfigured that it was hard to tell whether they were hostages or militants. Philippine officials said Monday that six of those killed at the complex were Filipinos, while four other Filipinos were missing. The dead also include three British workers, one American, one French citizen and one Romanian. Read more ..
Obama's Second Term
|Dave Levinthal||January 20th 2013|
Center for Public Integrity
Read more ..
President Barack Obama has long vowed to “take on” federal lobbyists, swearing off their campaign cash, curtailing access to his administration, and lately, directing his Presidential Inaugural Committee to reject their donations.
“We've always relied on each other, not Washington lobbyists or corporate interests, to build our campaign,” he wrote to supporters after launching his re-election campaign. While Obama has banned donations to his second inaugural celebration from lobbyists, no such prohibition exists on donations from the corporations that employ them.
Donate they have: Obama’s inaugural festivities Monday are bankrolled by several of the nation’s most powerful corporate lobbying forces, which have collectively spent at least $158.6 million on lobbying since the president first took office, a review of congressional disclosures indicates.
Europe on Edge
|Henry Ridgwell||January 19th 2013|
As the hostage crisis at a remote natural gas complex in Algeria continues to play out, there is anger in European capitals and beyond over the way Algerian authorities have dealt with the situation. The attack also has sparked fears for the vulnerability of foreign-owned assets across the region - and the implications for European security.
British Prime Minister David Cameron postponed a key speech on Europe to deal with the hostage crisis Friday. After chairing an emergency meeting with ministers, he briefed parliament. "I offered UK technical and intelligence support - including from experts in hostage negotiation and rescue - to help find a successful resolution. And I urged that we and other countries affected should be consulted before any action was taken," said Cameron. Read more ..
The Mali War
|Bernard Banks||January 18th 2013|
British Prime Minister David Cameron says Algerian forces are still pursuing Islamist militants and attempting to free hostages at a remote Sahara Desert gas complex.
Cameron told lawmakers in London Friday he has spoken with Algeria's prime minister, who said that the crisis sparked by al-Qaida-linked militants is not over.
"He said that the terrorists had tried to flee, that they judged there to be an immediate threat to the lives of the hostages and had felt obliged to respond. When I spoke to to the Algerian prime minister later last night he told me that this first operation was complete," Cameron said. "But this is a large and complex site and they are still pursuing terrorists and possibly some of the hostages in other areas of the site."
Offers for help ignored
Algerian forces ignored offers of foreign help on Thursday, storming the facility two days after the militants seized dozens of hostages, including many foreigners. Read more ..
The Battle for Syria
|R. Jeffrey Smith||January 17th 2013|
The Center for Public Integrity
The Obama administration has quietly arranged for thousands of chemical protective suits and related items to be sent to Jordan and Turkey and is pressing the military forces there to take principal responsibility for safeguarding Syrian chemical weapons sites if the country’s lethal nerve agents suddenly become vulnerable to theft and misuse, Western and Middle Eastern officials say.
As part of their preparations for such an event, Western governments have started training the Jordanians and Turks to use the chemical gear and detection equipment, so they have the capability to protect the Syrian nerve agent depots if needed – at least for a short time, U.S. and Western officials say.
Washington has decided moreover that the best course of action in the aftermath of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s fall would be to get the nerve agents out of the country as quickly as possible, and so it has begun discussions not only with Jordan and Turkey, but also with Iraq and Russia in an effort to chart the potential withdrawal of the arsenal and its destruction elsewhere. Read more ..
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