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Broken Elections

Washington DC Groups Spent Big In Special Elections

July 18th 2013

Money Bands=Happiness

Carpetbagging super PACs and nonprofit groups are dominating this year’s special congressional elections in a potential foreshadowing of the 2014 midterms, where even the sleepiest locales aren’t immune from out-of-state, cash-flush special interests.

Take Massachusetts’ U.S. Senate election, which last month propelled veteran Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., to Congress’ upper chamber — and attracted millions of dollars in outside spending from political groups based in California, New York and Florida.

Organizations in Illinois, meanwhile, spent precisely zero dollars to advocate for or against several candidates who vied early this year to replace ex-Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., D-Ill., while outfits from everywhere but collectively burned through more than $2 million. Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

Violence and Political Rifts on Rise in Lebanon

July 16th 2013

Beirut Ruins

On July 9, a car bomb detonated in Beirut's Hezbollah-controlled southern suburb of Dahiya, killing one person and injuring dozens of others, mostly Shiites. A day later, the parliamentary speaker announced that retired Christian general Michel Aoun's Free Patriotic Movement would be leaving the Hezbollah-led "March 8" bloc in parliament. Since 2006, the FPM's alliance with Hezbollah has facilitated the Shiite militia's political dominance of Lebanon.

If the new split persists, it will represent a significant shift in the country's political dynamics -- and further isolation of Hezbollah -- at a moment when Lebanese Sunnis are becoming increasingly militant. For more than two years, the war in Syria has been threatening Lebanon's stability. The presence of nearly half a million mostly Sunni refugees from next door has skewed Lebanon's delicate sectarian demographics, and the deaths of thousands of Sunnis at the hands of the nominally Shiite Alawite Assad regime have raised tensions to the boiling point. Read more ..

Egypt’s Second Revolution

Egyptian Generals Tell Washington "Don't Bully Us."

July 15th 2013

Egypt Flag @ 6.2013 Anti-Morsi Protests

Deputy Secretary of State William Burns, the first senior US official to visit Cairo since the military coup of July 3, exchanged tough talk with the coup leader, Defense minister Gen. Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, Monday, after he met interim President Adly Mansour and Prime Minister Hazem al-Beblawi.

The general frankly advised Washington to be more realistic about the situation in Egypt. Accordingly to debkafile’s Middle East sources, El-Sisi asked Burns bluntly why the Obama administration backed the Muslim Brotherhood and appeared to accept an Egypt plunged in chaos and economic meltdown during Mohamed Morsi’s one-year presidency. Burns said the US remained committed to an Egypt that is "stable, democratic, inclusive and tolerant," stressing Washington understood that "only Egyptians can determine their future.” To this, Gen. El-Sisi replied that in ousting Morsi, the military had obeyed the authentic will of the Egyptian people. He said the army’s role is national not political.

On the question of US military assistance, the general remarked that the “US is more keen than Egypt on keeping up military aid as an assurance of the continuation of military ties between the two countries.” debkafile: Implicit in this comment was a hint that military ties with Washington would suffer if the administration tried to push the Egyptian army around.

Present at the two-hour meeting were Egypt’s chief of staff Sobhi Sidki and US Ambassador Anne Patterson, a known supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood who tried hard to bridge the differences between the Brotherhood and the general and avert the coup. Secretary Burns faces an uphill task in his mission to mend fences between the Obama administration and the caretaker rulers of Egypt – especially when the Egyptian street’s two halves – anti and pro-Morsi - are united on little else but anti-American sentiment. Read more ..

The Iranian Threat

Iran's Long-Range Rockets Could Reach America By 2015

July 13th 2013

Iran Missiles


The Digital Edge

How Hackers Can Take Control of Your Car

July 12th 2013

car door

You might have seen that frightening episode of the CBS series, Person of Interest, in which a fictional social media company's billionaire founder loses control of his car. From the street, the driver appears to be either a total nutcase (well, in this case, he is) or heavily intoxicated. His car weaves through traffic left and right, crossing lanes willy-nilly and clipping other cars. But inside the car, the driver is helpless. Any control he tries, especially the brakes, is overridden, apparently by the car itself. Unbeknownst to the driver, of course, the car is under remote control.

Inevitably, the car blows up (creating an exciting visual). However, the software genius escapes in the nick of time.This, of course, is TV drama. It's fiction. A remotely compromised car is a scenario that makes a good thriller and scares the bejesus out of viewers. But possible in real life? No way.Well, wait a minute.Way. Read more ..

The Edge of Transportation

Global Shipping Contends With Oversupply Problems

July 11th 2013

Container Ship at Sea

The global shipping industry is oversupplied. Because supply far exceeds demand, shipping rates have plummeted, as have the prices of ships. Some shipping companies have sought to capitalize on this trend by purchasing newer, larger ships at lower prices so that they can remain price competitive. But unless demand rebounds by the time these ships become operational, the industry's oversupply problem will only worsen.

It is unclear whether the global shipping industry will normalize before these new ships enter the market. Demand could rise as the global economy recovers, or the supply of ships could somehow fall. But the economy's recovery could just as well be slower than anticipated. Several factors could prevent the industry from righting itself, not the least of which are inaccurate forecasts of future market behavior. Read more ..

Broken Government

Tampa and Miami Go to War over Cuban Trade

July 10th 2013

Click to select Image

Quietly at first, and now quite publicly, the city of Tampa has courted Cuba in hopes of becoming its future trading partner. Business owners in Tampa talk of how they’ll capitalize when the island opens up, and politicians make trips there and have come out against the embargo.

Things are far different across the state in Miami. Elected officials there favor the trade embargo. Business leaders, fearful of retribution, rarely speak about future trade with the island nation.

Miami may seem poised to benefit most when the embargo ends, with its close proximity and much larger Cuban-American population. There are 982,758 people of Cuban ancestry in the Miami metro area, compared to 81,542 in the Tampa Bay area. Read more ..

Broken Intelligence

FISA Court Judge Got Free Pass to Koch Anti-Terror Event

July 7th 2013

contemplation of justice/scotus building

U.S. District Judge Roger Vinson, who signed an order requiring Verizon to give the National Security Agency telephone records for tens of millions of American customers, attended an expense-paid judicial seminar sponsored by a libertarian think tank that featured lectures from a vocal proponent of executive branch powers.

Vinson, whose term on the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court began in 2006 and expired last month, was the only member of the special court to attend the August 2008 conference sponsored by the Foundation for Research on Economics & the Environment, according to disclosure records filed by the federal judge. The Center for Public Integrity collected the disclosure records as part of an investigative report that revealed how large corporations and conservative foundations routinely sponsor ideologically driven educational conferences for state and federal judges. Read more ..

Broken Healthcare

Republican Lawmaker Smells 'Big, Fat Rat' in ObamaCare Delay

July 6th 2013

Obama in front of AMA

Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-Ga.) said he smells a "big, fat rat" in the Obama administration's delay on a key part of its healtcare bill. "I smell a big fat rat. Not just a little rat," Gingrey said on Fox News on Friday.

The congressman, a doctor and leading ObamaCare critic who's running for the Senate, said the move to delay a mandate requiring large employers to provide healthcare insurance until 2015, rather than 2014, was done solely to give red-state Democrats cover in the 2014 midterm elections.

"You know, in 2010 the Democrats in Congress pushed the enforcement of the employee mandate back to 2014... conveniently until after the presidential election. So, now under the cover of Independence Day holidays, they're pushing it back again. But this time, out of fear of its disastrous consequences and the impact on the midterm elections. And this decision was not made in the best interest of the people, I can assure you." Read more ..

Egypt’s Second Revolution

Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood Recovers After Morsi’s Ouster

July 5th 2013


It is unclear what will become of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood in the wake of the July 3 ouster of President Mohammed Morsi. In the short term, the world’s oldest and largest Islamist movement will continue to denounce the coup and engage in protests which, coupled with the security crackdown on the Brotherhood, will likely result in violence. Eventually, however, the group will try to revive itself by re-assimilating into Egypt’s political institutions, though it is in no hurry to attempt to reclaim the presidency.

On July 4, Egyptian security forces continued to hold members of the Muslim Brotherhood’s leadership, particularly those affiliated with its political arm, the Freedom and Justice Party. In addition to Morsi, who remains in what military authorities are describing as “preventative” detention, many key figures such as supreme guide Mohammed al-Badie. Read more ..

Egypt's Second Revolution

Mansour Sworn In as Interim President

July 4th 2013

Chief Justice + President Mansour

Adly Mansour, tapped by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) to hold executive authority in Egypt until the "national reconciliation plan" for a new government is implemented, was sworn in this morning as Egypt's President. Mansour is a relative unknown upon the world political stage, but has a reputation for effective administration and fairness. He became Chief Justice of Egypt's High Constitutional Court a mere two days before being announced as interim President, after spending 21 years as a Justice in that court.

The 67-year-old Mansour was appointed to the court in 1992, and will exercise executive authority as transitional President until new Presidential Elections are held, General Abdel-Fattah Al- Sisi announced in a televised speech to the nation last night. It is as yet unknown exactly how much authority Mansour--a highly regarded jurist--will actually be invested with.   Read more ..

The Edge of Space

Existence of Space Wind Confirmed

July 4th 2013

Dumbbell Nebula

A new study provides the first conclusive proof of the existence of a space wind first proposed theoretically over 20 years ago. By analysing data from the European Space Agency's Cluster spacecraft, researcher Iannis Dandouras detected this plasmaspheric wind, so-called because it contributes to the loss of material from the plasmasphere, a donut-shaped region extending above the Earth's atmosphere. The results are published today in Annales Geophysicae, a journal of the European Geosciences Union (EGU).

"After long scrutiny of the data, there it was, a slow but steady wind, releasing about 1 kg of plasma every second into the outer magnetosphere: this corresponds to almost 90 tonnes every day. It was definitely one of the nicest surprises I've ever had!" said Dandouras of the Research Institute in Astrophysics and Planetology in Toulouse, France.

The plasmasphere is a region filled with charged particles that takes up the inner part of the Earth's magnetosphere, which is dominated by the planet's magnetic field.

To detect the wind, Dandouras analysed the properties of these charged particles, using information collected in the plasmasphere by ESA's Cluster spacecraft. Further, he developed a filtering technique to eliminate noise sources and to look for plasma motion along the radial direction, either directed at the Earth or outer space. Read more ..

Egypt's Second Revolution

Morsi Removed: Army Suspends Constitution, Announces Provisional Government

July 3rd 2013

General Al-Sisi

In an announcement on state TV that caused the Tahrir Square protesters to erupt in jubilation, Army head General Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi announced the suspension of the constitution, the removal of President Morsi from office, and the creation of a provisional government headed by Adli Mansour, Egypt's Chief Justice of the High Constitutional Court. General Al-Sisi made it clear that the new government will be inclusive of all sectors of Egypt's national constituency. He announced a "roadmap to national reconciliation," and a plan to include every Egyptian in the planning of the new government, appearing to hold the Army out of a direct role in that government--acting only as its guardian. Read more ..

The New Egypt

Deadline Looms: Army and Morsi Supporters Vow Fight to Death

July 3rd 2013


In what has all the earmarks of the start of another Arab-Spring civil war, the most densely populated Sunni Arab country is fracturing along political and sectarian lines, just ahead of the Egyptian Army's deadline for President Mohammed Morsi to accommodate the demands of millions of protesting Egyptians. Emotions in the huge crowds of protesting citizens have run the gamut--from despair to elation and back--after a series of ultimata hurled back and forth amongst the Army, Morsi, the protesters, and Morsi's supporters in the penumbra of the Muslim Brotherhood. Overnight a group of pro-Morsi  demonstrators outside Cairo University was fired upon by snipers on nearby rooftops, killing at least 16 and wounding over 200. "There is only one thing we can do: we will stand in between the tanks and the president," said Gehad El-Haddad, official spokesman of the Muslim Brotherhood movement. Read more ..

The New Egypt

International Pressure Mounts on Egypt's Morsi

July 2nd 2013

Mohammed Morsi

Egypt's President Mohamed Morsi is facing international pressure to engage in "serious national dialogue" hours after he rebuffed an army ultimatum to find a solution to the political crisis.

The UN human rights office called on Morsi's government on Tuesday to listen to the demands of the Egyptian people and engage in a "serious national dialogue" to defuse the crisis.

Rupert Colville, the spokesman of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, also said the role of the Egyptian military was crucial. "Nothing should be done that would undermine democratic processes," he said.

Earlier, the US President, Barack Obama, spoke to the Egyptian leader via phone. A White House statement said he "stressed that democracy is about more than elections; it is also about ensuring that the voices of all Egyptians are heard and represented by their government, including the many Egyptians demonstrating throughout the country." Read more ..

The New Egypt

Millions Demand Morsi Resign As 16 Are Killed

July 1st 2013

Cairo burning US embassy

Opponents of embattled Egyptian President Mohammad Morsi raised the stakes on Monday, telling the Islamist president that he must step down by 5pm Monday. If he does not, the opposition said, chaos will likely follow, as the entire country descends into mass civil disobediance.

It is almost guaranteed that Morsi will not resign as a result of the ultimatum. He is convinced of his legitimacy as a democratic leader, and sees his opponents as part of a secular conspiracy that has long persecuted the Muslim Brotherhood to which he belongs. There is the possibility, however, that the opposition is attempting to force not Morsi's hand but the army's. The army is the ultimate power in Egyptian society, and should they choose to remove their support from Morsi, his fall would be inevitable. The army has already given Morsi a 48-hour window in which to tame the protests or they will restore order on their own. Read more ..

The Mideast on Edge

Kerry: No Breakthrough but 'Real' Progress on Mideast Peace Talks

June 30th 2013

John Kerry

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has ended his fifth trip to the Middle East as secretary without an accord on resuming Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. But he says considerable progress has been made.

Secretary Kerry concluded four days of shuttle diplomacy Sunday, saying some very wide gaps have been narrowed in the positions of Israel and the Palestinians.

“We have made real progress on this trip. And I believe that with a little more work the start of final status negotiations could be within reach,” he said.

He said some specific details remain to worked out but he had been impressed with the seriousness of the parties and remains confident that they are on the right track. Kerry met twice with the president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, and three times with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Netanyahu later told his Cabinet that he is willing to resume peace talks without preconditions. Read more ..

Russia After Putin

Russia After Putin: Inherent Leadership Struggles

June 28th 2013


Russia has undergone a series of fundamental changes over the past year, with more changes on the horizon. Russia's economic model based on energy is being tested, the country's social and demographic make-up is shifting, and its political elites are aging. All this has led the Kremlin to begin asking how the country should be led once its unifying leader, Vladimir Putin, is gone. Already, a restructuring of the political elite is taking place, and hints of succession plans have emerged. Historically, Russia has been plagued by the dilemma of trying to create a succession plan following a strong and autocratic leader. The question now is whether Putin can set a system in place for his own passing out of the Russian leadership (whenever the time may be) without destabilizing the system as a whole.

A Difficult Land to Rule

Without a heavy-handed leader, Russia struggles to maintain stability. Instability is inherent to Russia given its massive, inhospitable territory, indefensible borders, hostile neighboring powers and diverse population. Only when it has had an autocratic leader who set up a system where competing factions are balanced against each other has Russia enjoyed prosperity and stability.

A system of balances under one resolute figure existed during the rule of some of the country's most prominent leaders, such as Ivan the Terrible, Peter the Great, Catherine the Great, Alexander II, Josef Stalin -- and now Vladimir Putin. Each Russian leader must create and tinker with this system to ensure the governing apparatus does not atrophy, fracture or rise in mutiny. For this reason, Russian leaders have continually had to rearrange the power circles beneath them. Significant adjustments have been necessary as Russia grows and stabilizes or declines and comes under threat. Read more ..

Obama and Israel

White House Hosts Israel-Hating Radical Muslim

June 27th 2013

Obama pensive with flag

White House officials met this month with Sheikh Abdullah bin Bayyah, a deputy of radical Egyptian cleric Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood who has been banned from entering the United States, reported the Investigative Project on Terrorism (IPT).

The June 13 meeting took place on the same day the Obama administration announced plans to arm Syria's rebel forces, the report noted. IPT noted that al-Qaradawi, the founder of the International Union of Muslim Scholars (IUMS), endorses Palestinian Authority Arab suicide bombers and supports Hamas in its fight against Israel. The report also said that bin Bayyah, like al-Qaradawi, also "refuses to label the acts of groups such as Hamas, Hizbullah or the Islamic Jihad as terrorism." The White House reportedly sought the meeting with bin Bayyah, the IPT report declared. Read more ..

The Race for Nuclear

Nuclear Waste: A $1 Billion Energy Department Project Overshoots Its Budget by 600 Percent

June 26th 2013

Nuclear Waste

Scattered among the pine forests of this 310-square mile federal reservation are five mothballed nuclear reactors where tens of thousands of workers were once engaged in a grim race to create as much plutonium as they could.

By the time production ended here in 1988, the site was a horrendous mess. Today, about 36 million gallons of radioactive liquid wastes sit in underground tanks, and most federal spending here is devoted to nuclear-related cleanup, not production.

So when U.S. and Russian dignitaries in 2005 helped turn the first shovels of dirt here for a new plant to produce reactor fuel from weapons plutonium, it seemed like an entirely new industry, with a vital international purpose, was coming to Savannah River.

Eight years later, though, that optimism has given way to exasperation. The fuel plant now under construction was the product of a U.S. agreement with Russia for each country to dispose of 34 tons of its own plutonium, an explosive material withdrawn from retired nuclear weapons. The plant was supposed to transform the plutonium into fuel rods to produce electrical power, ensuring it could not be put back in weapons or stolen by terrorists. Read more ..

The Edge of Space

Revealed – The Mystery Of The Gigantic Storm On Saturn

June 25th 2013


We now understand the nature of the giant storms on Saturn. Through the analysis of images sent from the Cassini space probe belonging to the North American and European space agencies (NASA and ESA respectively), as well as the computer models of the storms and the examination of the clouds therein, the Planetary Sciences Group of the University of the Basque Country has managed to explain the behaviour of these storms for the very first time. The article explaining the discovery, the lead author being Enrique García Melendo, researcher at the Fundació Observatori Esteve Duran – Institut de Ciències de l’Espai, of Catalonia, was published in Nature Geosciences.

Approximately once every Saturnian year - equivalent to 30 Earth years - an enormous storm is produced on the ringed planet and which affects the aspect of its atmosphere on a global scale. Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

Pakistani Taliban Kills Mountain Climbing Tourists

June 23rd 2013

Terik i Taliban Pakistan

Pakistan's umbrella Taliban movement claimed responsibility for killing nine foreign climbers in the Himalayas, saying it had created a new wing to attack foreigners to avenge US drone strikes. Gunmen had stormed a base camp on Saturday night in a remote part of northern Pakistan and killed nine tourists and one Pakistani guide who were part of a Nanga Parbat mountaineering expedition, police officials said. Spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan telephoned the AFP news agency to say that the killings were intended to avenge the death of the second in command of the umbrella Tehreek-e-Taliban (TTP) in a US drone strike late last month.

"We did it and we claim responsibility for this attack," Ehsan said in the call from an undisclosed location. "One of our factions, Junood ul-Hifsa, did it. It is to avenge the killing of Maulvi Wali ur-Rehman," he said. "We want to convey to the world that this is our reply to US drone attacks," he added. Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

Jordan Prepares for Spillover into Syrian War--Americans on the Ground

June 21st 2013

King Abdullah

With no end in sight for the Syrian civil war that has already claimed 93,000 lives, Jordan is again hosting a 12-day military exercise designed to train personnel in counter-terrorism and border security tactics. Known officially as Eager Lion 2013, the mid-June collaboration of 8,000 troops includes forces from Britain, Egypt, France, Iraq, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and the United States among others. Israeli forces will not be included in the drills, despite having a relatively close relationship with Jordan compared to other Arab countries in the region.

The exact goal of the exercises remains somewhat unclear. The Associated Press reports there is speculation that the training may be preparing the Jordanian forces for an assault on Syria to secure al-Assad's extensive chemical weapon stockpiles in the event rebel forces overthrow the regime. However, a less offensive approach is being advocated by military officials. "These exercises bolster our defense capabilities," said Jordanian army Maj. Gen. Awni Edwan. Read more ..

Broken Government

Farm Bill Setback Opens GOP to Attacks About Ability to Lead

June 20th 2013

john Boehner

The surprising defeat of the farm bill is the latest setback for Republican leaders, who have struggled for two-and-a-half years to use their majority to pass major legislation out of the House.

Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) had hoped to use the extended farm bill process to demonstrate the wisdom of his commitment to “regular order” – allowing the measure to emerge from the Agriculture Committee and face dozens of amendments on the House floor.

Instead, the rare floor defeat on legislation supported by Boehner and his entire leadership team allowed Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to gleefully call her GOP counterparts amateurs in running the House. It also renewed questions about Boehner's ability to lead his fractious conference. If the House GOP cannot move a farm bill, how will it move immigration reform or a debt ceiling deal? Read more ..

Obama's Second Term

The IRS vs. Pro-Israel Groups

June 19th 2013


Applications of pro-Israel groups for tax-exempt status are routinely routed to an antiterrorism unit within the Internal Revenue Service for additional screening, according to the testimony of a Cincinnati-based IRS agent.

Asked whether Jewish or pro-Israel applications are treated differently from other applications, Gary Muthert told House Oversight Committee investigators that they are considered “specialty cases” and that “probably” all are sent to an IRS unit that examines groups for potential terrorist ties.

Muthert, who served as an application screener before transferring to the agency’s antiterrorism unit, was interviewed in connection with the committee’s investigation into the IRS’s discrimination against conservative groups. As a screener, Muthert flagged tea-party applications and passed them along to specialists for further scrutiny. Read more ..

The Iranian Threat

Who is Hassan Rowhani?

June 18th 2013


 The June 14 Iranian presidential election was won by Hassan Fereidoun Rowhani. With approximately 51 percent of the votes, he was far ahead of the five other candidates.

Rowhani was born in 1948 in the north Iranian city of Sorkheh, Semnan Province. He is a cleric who carries the title Hojjat-ol-Eslam. In 1960 he began studying religion in Semnan Province and then transferred to the religious seminary in the city of Qom. As a young man he was involved in the revolutionary movement against the Shah, for which he was arrested on several occasions by Iran’s security services. In 1978 he joined Ayatollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic revolution, who was living in exile in Paris. Read more ..

Inside Washington

Majority of Supreme Court Members Millionaires

June 17th 2013

Supreme Court

At least five and perhaps as many as eight of the nine members of the U.S. Supreme Court are millionaires according to recently released financial disclosures, and only two hold any consumer debt.

Assets on the forms are reported in a range making it impossible to say precisely how much each justice is worth, but suffice to say, none of them are hurting financially.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg boasts the highest potential net worth at $18.1 million with Stephen Breyer a close second at $17.1 million. Both were appointed by former President Bill Clinton.

However, Ginsburg’s actual net worth may be as low as $4.4 million and Breyer’s as low as $5 million. Federal officials are also exempt from disclosing the value of their homes, making an accurate calculation even more difficult. After collecting nearly $2 million in book advances, Justice Sonia Sotomayor's assets rose to between $1.7 and $10.3 million, ranking her No. 3 in terms of highest potential net worth. Sotomayor is an appointee of President Barack Obama. Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

Forest Fire Warfare

June 16th 2013


The fire raging in Colorado Springs forced William (Bill) Scott and his wife Linda to evacuate their home. Last we spoke, Bill didn't know if they'll have a home to return to. As of Saturday afternoon, June 15, the apparent arson that set Colorado's Black Forest on fire last Tuesday killed at least two people and destroyed and damged more than 388 homes. The fire that burned 15,500 acres led to the evacuation of 38,000 people. The six-hour delay of federal air tankers to help extinguish the fast spreading fire didn't help. All the while, local law enforcement and firefighters have been collecting whatever evidence they can find to identify the arsonist(s). 

Bill Scott, who's a senior fellow at ACD, warned about such a scenario last July, speaking at the ACD/EWI Economic Threats briefing on Capital Hill. An expert on aerial firefighting, he presented a sobering analysis of the devastating Waldo Canyon Fire, pointing out that the striking rise Western U.S. wildfires may be caused by elements other than nature. Read more ..

Broken Government

Charitable 'Matches' Used to Entice PAC Giving

June 13th 2013


Federal law prohibits companies from donating directly to political candidates, which is why individual employees must voluntarily fund corporate-sponsored political action committees — and their bosses can't force them to donate. Yet one enticement companies are using to attract PAC support is a program that will "match" employees’ donations with contributions to charities of their choosing. Take Coca-Cola Co., for instance. Employees who donate to the company's PAC can designate charitable organizations to receive a gift equal to their PAC contributions. In 2012, Coca-Cola gave $217,000 to charities in the name of employees who contributed to its corporate PAC, according to information disclosed online by the company. That's up from $148,000 in 2011. Among the most popular charities in 2012 were Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta (nearly $80,000); Special Olympics International (about $35,000); United Service Organization (roughly $30,000); and The Nature Conservancy (about $18,000). At a national conference for PAC professionals earlier this year, a Coca-Cola official even evangelized such programs to "improve your fundraising numbers." Read more ..

Obama's Second Term

Google, Facebook, Microsoft Ask to Reveal Snooping

June 12th 2013

google logo

Major Internet companies are urging the Obama administration to give them permission to disclose more details about national security requests for their users’ data.

Google sent a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder and FBI Director Robert Mueller, arguing that the information would prove that the company is not turning over massive batches of its users’ sensitive personal data to the government.

“Google’s numbers would clearly show that our compliance with these requests falls far short of the claims being made. Google has nothing to hide,” Google Chief Legal Officer David Drummond wrote in the letter.

Microsoft and Facebook quickly issued statements echoing Google’s call to reveal information about the number and scope of national security requests for data, including court orders under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). Companies are currently barred from discussing or even acknowledging the existence of FISA orders. Read more ..

The Way We Are

Privacy Rights Advocates Praise NSA Contractor Who Exposed US Surveillance Program

June 10th 2013


Some national security advocates are calling for the prosecution of ex-CIA employee Edward Snowden, who leaked details of a top secret U.S. surveillance program. But Snowden’s supporters say he should be protected as a whistleblower for exposing U.S. constitutional violations of civil liberties.

To many who support increased security even at the cost of some personal privacy, Edward Snowden, the National Security Agency contractor who exposed vast government surveillance programs, is a villain. 

The information he revealed included NSA programs to collect phone records and gain access to the Internet usage of millions of Americans. U.S. officials say the programs are legal and the data they gathered has stopped several terrorist plots. Congressman Mike Rogers, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, wants Snowden to be tried for espionage. Read more ..

Obama's Second Term

NSA Whistleblower Identified

June 9th 2013


Britain's The Guardian newspaper has identified a former CIA technical worker as the source of leaked information on a controversial surveillance programme operated by the US government.

The Guardian said on Sunday it published the identity of 29-year-old Edward Snowden, a current employee of defense contractor Booz Allen Hamilton, at his own request.

"I have no intention of hiding who I am because I know I have done nothing wrong," Snowden was quoted as saying.

"I understand that I will be made to suffer for my actions," but "I will be satisfied if the federation of secret law, unequal pardon and irresistible executive powers that rule the world that I love are revealed even for an instant," Snowden wrote in a note accompanying the first set of documents he provided to the London-based newspaper. The leaks have reopened the debate about privacy concerns versus heightened measure to protect against attacks, and led the NSA to ask the Justice Department to conduct a criminal investigation. Read more ..

Obama's Second Term

Details of Secret Prism Internet Data Collection Program Revealed

June 9th 2013

Smart Phone in hand

The head of U.S. intelligence released new details about the federal government's secretive program to monitor Internet users. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper denied that the program, called PRISM, "unilaterally" obtains information from the servers of U.S. Internet companies. "PRISM is not an undisclosed collection or data mining program," Clapper said in a statement. "It is an internal government computer system used to facilitate the government's statutorily authorized collection of foreign intelligence information from electronic communication service providers under court supervision, as authorized by Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA)."

He said that the Internet companies provide user data to the National Security Agency only after receiving an order approved by a secret FISA court. Read more ..

The Defense Edge

Pentagon May Be Wasting A Billion Dollars a Year in Erroneous Payments to Contractors

June 8th 2013

B-2 Bomber

The Pentagon has been paying hundreds of millions of tax dollars a year to people and companies that don’t deserve it, but its financial management shortcomings are so severe that it’s made little progress in halting the errors or even measuring their magnitude, according to a report released by a Senate committee Thursday.

Although the Defense Department reported making over $1.1 billion in overpayments in fiscal year 2011 to military personnel and retirees, civilian defense workers, contractors, and others, investigators from the Government Accountability Office said that figure is not credible due to missing invoices and other flawed paperwork, as well as errors in arithmetic.

The Pentagon is required by law to ferret out programs susceptible to significant payment errors and then use statistical sampling to estimate the size of those errors, so that Congress can determine the size of the problem. But GAO found defense finance officials didn't have procedures in place to collect and maintain the data they need to come up with a credible estimate. Read more ..

Obama and Israel

Obama's Nominee for U.N. Ambassadorship Ignites Concerns over U.S. Support for Israel

June 6th 2013

Samantha Power

Samantha Power, President Barack Obama’s replacement for Susan Rice as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, has a history of controversial comments about Israel, reigniting concerns regarding the Obama administration’s support for the Jewish state that were raised after the nomination of Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel.

Morton Klein, national president of the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA), told JNS.org on Wednesday that a look at the list of Obama’s nominees and appointments to positions that impact Israel—including Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, Director of the Central Intelligence Agency John O. Brennan, and now Power—“makes very clear that President Obama is no friend of Israel, and that he is insensitive to the interests of American Jews and the pro-Israel community, because all of those important posts have been filled with people who have been very hostile to Israel.” Read more ..

Obama's Second Term

NSA Dragnet Seeks Caller Data on All Verizon Subscribers

June 6th 2013

File Folders

In a move that is bound to unleash howls of indignation and protest on Capitol Hill and throughout the country, the NSA has obtained a FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) Warrant requiring Verizon to provide identification data on all parties making and receiving calls on their mobile network within the United States. Political analysts point out that though the (classified) warrant served upon Verizon--which issued from the FISA court on April 12, 2013--is the only one of which we are aware, it is highly unlikely that the NSA's requests were limited to Verizon's network alone. The warrant gives the NSA unfettered access to the records of millions of subscribers without regard for their lack of any involvement in suspect activities. The White House on Thursday defended the National Security Agency’s use of a secret court order to collect telephone records from millions of Verizon customers.  

An administration official called the phone data a “critical tool in protecting the nation from terrorist threats to the United States. It allows counter terrorism personnel to discover whether known or suspected terrorists have been in contact with other persons who may be engaged in terrorist activities, particularly people located inside the United States,” the official added. Read more ..

Turkey on Edge

What is Driving the Violent Protests in Turkey?

June 4th 2013

Turkey Protester 6.13

The rapid escalation of anti-government protests in Turkey in recent days has exposed a number of long-dormant fault lines in the country's complex political landscape. But even as the appeal of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's ruling Justice and Development Party (also known by its Turkish acronym, AKP) is beginning to erode, it will remain a powerful force in Turkish politics for some time to come, with its still-significant base of support throughout the country and the lack of a credible political alternative in the next elections.

The foundation for the current unrest was laid May 28, when a small group of mostly young environmentalists gathered in Istanbul's Taksim Square for a sit-in to protest a planned demolition of walls, uprooting of trees and the perceived desecration of historical sites in the square's Gezi Park. The initially peaceful demonstration turned violent the night of May 30, when police tried to break up what had grown to more than 100 protesters.

The environmental protesters were joined the next day by high-level representatives of the Justice and Development Party's main opposition, the secular Republican People's Party (known as CHP). The message of the protests soon evolved from saving Gezi Park's trees to condemning Erdogan and his party for a litany of complaints. Anti-government chants included "Down with the dictator," "Tayyip, resign," and "Unite against fascism."


The Battle for Syria

Testing Turkey--Will Syria Bring It Closer to the US?

June 2nd 2013

Obama & Erdogan

For all the talk of Turkey's "zero problems with neighbors," no amount of soft power has been able to protect the country from the protracted civil war in Syria. Now over two years old, that conflict has laid bare Ankara's inability to match Tehran's influence in the region -- or even to secure itself against violence as the conflict has spilled over its borders. After years of trying to go it alone in the Middle East, Turkey's leaders and public must face the fact that their country needs the United States and NATO for security and stability.

Soft power was not supposed to work this way: When Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) came to power in 2002, the conventional wisdom in Ankara was that it was time for Turkey to stop looking to Europe, which continually snubbed it, and instead focus on regaining the regional leadership role it had lost with the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire in 1923. That, the AKP maintained, would best be accomplished not through displays of military force, but by building up soft power. The new style would be an antidote to the traditional way of doing business in the Middle East -- officials believed the 2003 U.S. war in Iraq was a perfect example -- which had resulted in tumult. Read more ..

The Cyber Edge

Hagel Rebukes China on Cyberattacks against the U.S.

June 1st 2013

Chinese hacker at computer

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel called out China on Saturday for alleged cyberattacks against the U.S. government and several industries.

Speaking at the Shangri-La Security Dialogue, where Chinese officials were present, Hagel urged China to work with the United States to establish "international norms of responsible behavior in cyberspace."

"The United States has expressed our concerns about the growing threat of cyber intrusions, some of which appear to be tied to the Chinese government and military," Hagel said.

The remarks addressed what U.S. officials say is a growing threat from international cyberattacks seeking state and industry secrets that are stored online. The Pentagon has blamed China for many of the attacks, allegations China has denied. Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

Military Implications of Hezbollah's Declaration of War in Syria

May 31st 2013


Hezbollah's commitment to the Syrian conflict will likely change the course of the war.

On May 25, Hezbollah secretary-general Hassan Nasrallah made what amounts to a declaration of war against the Syrian revolution. He committed his group to defeating the rebellion and preserving the regime of Bashar al-Assad, declaring that "Syria is the resistance's main supporter, and the resistance cannot stand still and let takfiris [extremist Sunnis] break its backbone."

No one can fault him for lack of clarity; this was not a speech cloaked in ambiguity. Assuming he follows through on his commitment to protect Assad's regime, both the speech and Hezbollah actions already underway in Syria could profoundly affect the war's military course, the security situation in Lebanon, and the group's military contest with Israel.

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