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The Cyber Edge

Cyber Security Concerns Soar in 2014

January 3rd 2014

Cyber Warfare

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

Geopolitics and the Gregorian Calendar: Time for a Change

January 2nd 2014

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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 ..


Inside Politics

Tea Party Faces 2014 Challenge

December 31st 2013

Vote Buttons

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

Could The Universe Really Be a Hologram?

December 30th 2013

protoplanetary disk

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

Bleak Prospects for Egypt's Forthcoming New Constitution

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

Author Edwin Black Answers Questions About Financing the Flames

December 29th 2013

Edwin Black

Investigative author Edwin Black details how American taxpayers help fund Palestinian terrorists in his new book, â€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.

Read more ..

Broken Economy

More than One Million Americans Lose Unemployment Insurance

December 28th 2013

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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

Lauded Public Health Researcher Also Worked for Industry

December 28th 2013

Peeling lead paint

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 ..


Broken Government

2013 was Memorable for Obama in More Ways than One

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

Rising rivalry with China Increasingly Concerns U.S. Senate

December 26th 2013

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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

The Terrorist Threat to the Sochi Olympics

December 24th 2013

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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 ..


Broken Healthcare

Deadline for ObamaCare Signups Pushed Back to Christmas Eve

December 23rd 2013

Obamacare

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

Is US Losing Global Influence?

December 22nd 2013

Nimitz

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 ..


Broken Government

Reid Asserts House Republicans will Concede on Immigration Reform

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

Obama Names Healthcare Rollout His Biggest Mistake of Dismal Year

December 20th 2013

Obamacare Protest

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 ..


Broken Government

Obama Weighs Changes for NSA Snoops

December 19th 2013

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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

Senate Sends Budget to Obama

December 18th 2013

Obama game face

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

Ukraine Dwelling On the Edge of Empires

December 17th 2013

Yuliya Timoshenko

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 ..


Broken Government

NSA Spying Likely Unconstitutional

December 16th 2013

NSA

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

Ukraine Protesters Warn Against Trade Pact with Moscow

December 15th 2013

victor Yanukovich

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

Al-Qaeda's Shadow Government in Yemen

December 14th 2013

al Qaeda Fighters

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

Resounding House Vote Quashes Senate Opposition to Budget Deal

December 13th 2013

US Capital Day

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

Flip-Flops Point To Splits In Yanukovych's Circle

December 12th 2013

victor Yanukovich

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 ..


Broken Government

Credit Union Watchdog is Already Tight with Credit Unions

December 11th 2013

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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 ..


Broken Government

Congress Squeaks Out a Budget Deal

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

World Leaders Pay Tribute to Mandela

December 10th 2013

Nelson Mandela 1995

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

Lawmakers Hope to Make Quick Strike on $607B Defense Bill

December 9th 2013

B-2 Bomber

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

3-D Printing--A Counterfeiter's Best Friend

December 8th 2013

Beretta 90TWO

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 ..


Broken Government

Obama Selectively Releases Data to Boost Healthcare Launch

December 7th 2013

The Obama administration is selectively releasing data and metrics on ObamaCare to bolster its case that the rollout is going better in the month of December.

Tidbits of information from federal health officials — especially figures that show improvements at HealthCare.gov — have become a key tool in the effort to “reboot” the law in the eyes of the public. But the limited nature of the releases has created conflict with the media and put the spotlight on outstanding areas of concern for the rollout, such as the enrollment site's back end.

It’s not unusual for politicians to put out numbers that bolster their case. Democrats, for example, have been infuriated with House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), who they say has selectively dripped a series of redacted documents about the rollout. Read more ..


Obama's Second Term

Patriot Act Author Seeks Prosecution for Obama's National Intelligence Czar

December 6th 2013

Rep. James Sensenbrenner Jr., the original author of the Patriot Act, says Director of National Intelligence James Clapper should be prosecuted for lying to Congress.

"Lying to Congress is a federal offense, and Clapper ought to be fired and prosecuted for it," the Wisconsin Republican said in an interview with The Hill. He said the Justice Department should prosecute Clapper for giving false testimony during a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing in March.

During that hearing, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) asked Clapper whether the National Security Agency (NSA) collects data on millions of Americans. Clapper insisted that the NSA does not — or at least does "not wittingly" — collect information on Americans in bulk. Read more ..


Significant Lives

Nelson Mandela, A Man "Who Bent The Arc of All Humans Toward Justice," Dies At 95

December 5th 2013

Mandela
Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela, the man who led South Africa's transition from white-minority rule in the 1990s, after 27 years in prison, and who became South Africa's first black president, died today. He was 95 years old.

Mandela had been battling health issues in recent years, and had recently been repeatedly hospitalized with a chronic lung infection.  Since his last release, he had been receiving home-based medical care for his infection; he passed peacefully in his home.

As a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, he was among the most revered statesmen. His warm methods of preaching reconciliation despite his nearly three decade imprisonment, won him not only world acclaim, but prominence and his historic presidency. His mantra as written in his 1994 work, Long Walk to Freedom, "If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner," was the essence of who he was as a leader and an inspiration.

Mandela, who has rarely been seen in public since officially retiring in 2004, will be mourned and memorialized by a grateful nation and a world of fans. Read more ..


Broken Government

Despite Earlier Disavowals, Obama Admits Knowing his Kenyan Uncle

December 5th 2013

President Obama acknowledged on Thursday that he lived with his Kenyan uncle for a brief period in the 1980s while preparing to attend Harvard Law School, contradicting a statement more than a year ago that the White House had no record of the two ever meeting.

Their relationship came into question on Tuesday at the deportation hearing of his uncle, Onyango Obama, in Boston immigration court. His uncle had lived in the United States illegally since the 1970s and revealed in testimony for the first time that his famous nephew had stayed at his Cambridge apartment for about three weeks. At the time, Onyango Obama was here illegally and fighting deportation.

On Thursday, a White House official said the press office had not fully researched the relationship between the president and his uncle before telling the Globe that they had no record of the two meeting. This time, the press office asked the president directly, which they had not done in 2011. Read more ..


Broken Government

Congress Blows its Own Budget Deadline and Ponders Increased Revenue

December 3rd 2013

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Congressional budget conferees on December 2 failed to meet a deadline set by appropriators for a top-line budget number.

The blown deadline raises the odds that Congress will need at least a stopgap spending bill to keep the government running after Jan. 15.

Appropriators had called on the House-Senate conference to get a deal by Dec. 2 to ensure they had time to complete detailed spending bills, but the informal deadline was never endorsed by the leaders of the conference.

Sources say a small budget deal remains possible before the committee’s official deadline on Dec. 13, though this week is pivotal. Read more ..


Broken Government

Obama is 'Extraordinarily Proud' as He Declares Victory for HealthCare.gov

December 1st 2013

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The Obama administration claimed victory Sunday for making HealthCare.gov workable for the vast majority of users, a standard that will be tested as millions of people flood the site in the next three weeks. Sunday marked the passage of the administration's self-imposed deadline for fixing the broken ObamaCare enrollment website, which serves consumers in 36 states.

The agency that oversees HealthCare.gov said "we believe we have met the goal" of making the system navigable for most people, but cautioned that more problems may lie ahead. "Dramatic progress has been made," the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) stated in a report released Sunday morning. "[But] there is more work to be done to continue to improve and enhance the website." Read more ..


Broken Government

D-Day for HealthCare.gov Fixes

November 30th 2013

No Obamacare

Today marks the deadline for federal health officials to fix massive problems with ObamaCare’s enrollment website.

Meeting the Nov. 30 deadline would provide a major boost for the administration, which has been mired in unprecedented conflict over its healthcare rollout for two straight months. It would also help push back against criticism surrounding the administration's decision to delay the law's online sign-up system for small businesses.

Another month of serious problems at HealthCare.gov would be disastrous. Without a smoothly running site, it will be difficult for the administration to enroll the millions of people necessary for stability on the new insurance exchanges. A paltry enrollment number would likely raise next year's prices on the marketplaces and cause insurers to withdraw their plans. Read more ..


Iran's Nukes

The Next Steps for Washington and Tehran in a Nuclear Negotiation

November 28th 2013

What was unthinkable for many people over many years happened in the early hours of Nov. 24 in Geneva: The United States and the Islamic Republic of Iran struck a deal. After a decadelong struggle, the two reached an accord that seeks to ensure that Iran's nuclear program remains a civilian one. It is a preliminary deal, and both sides face months of work to batten down domestic opposition, build convincing mechanisms to assure compliance and unthread complicated global sanctions.

That is the easy part. More difficult will be the process to reshape bilateral relations while virtually every regional player in the Middle East seeks ways to cope with an Iran that is no longer geopolitically encumbered.

The foreign ministers of Iran and the six Western powers that constitute the so-called P-5+1 Group clinched a six-month deal that begins the curtailment of Iran's nuclear program while relaxing as much as $6 billion in sanctions -- basically those embargoes that do not require President Barack Obama to secure approval from Congress. Allowing Iran to enrich uranium to "civilian" levels while making sure the know-how is not diverted to military purposes will be complex. Read more ..


Assertive China

China Warns of Military Action in its Self-Declared Asian Defense Zone

November 27th 2013

China said Wednesday that it would take action against aircraft in its new defense zone based on the threat level.

The comments came a day after two U.S. B-52 bombers flew through the newly defined Chinese air zone in a direct rebuke of Beijing’s claim for the air space. China’s government said it monitored the two bombers and chose not to respond to the move, despite its threat to take defensive measures against unidentified foreign aircraft.
The air space had previously been seen as international space.

A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said at a briefing Wednesday that the reaction to the U.S. bombers was “in accordance” with its new rules.

It said its response to flights in the air space going forward would depend on “how big the threat was,” The New York Times reported. Read more ..


Broken Government

Obama Faces tough Fight with Supremes over Obamacare Mandate

November 26th 2013

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The Obama administration faces a tough task in convincing the Supreme Court to rule in favor of ObamaCare’s contraception mandate, according to legal experts. They say Chief Justice John Roberts’s court, which upheld the health law in a landmark 2012 decision, has generally set a high bar for limiting religious rights. In addition, Justice Anthony Kennedy, often the court’s swing vote, authored a 1993 decision that exempted a religious group from following laws it said were contradictory with its beliefs.

The Supreme Court announced on Tuesday that it would consider the case, possibly in its spring term. While Hobby Lobby and other businesses opposed to the mandate don’t have a slam dunk case, experts said it will be tough to convince the court that the federal government can order businesses to pay for contraception coverage that goes against their owners' religious beliefs. Read more ..


Broken Government

HHS Secretary Sebelius Appears Ready to Topple

November 25th 2013

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Kathleen Sebelius may become the biggest loser in the Senate's approval of filibuster reform. The Health and Human Services (HHS) secretary has kept her job despite the botched rollout of ObamaCare's insurance exchanges, but it will now be easier for Obama to replace her. After the Senate’s vote, confirming an executive-branch nominee now takes just 51 Senate votes. Some think that raises the likelihood Sebelius will soon be a former Cabinet member.

“The president's hands were previously tied,” said John Hudak, a fellow in governance studies at the Brookings Institution, who wrote a piece on the topic Thursday. “Now, he has more breathing room and he is able to fire whoever he wants at HHS. That's a very, very appealing approach, whether it fixes the problems with ObamaCare's rollout or not.”

The filibuster vote could also make it easier for Obama to fill the healthcare law's controversial cost-cutting board, another big advantage for the president. Read more ..


The US and Iran

Kerry Tries to Argue Iran Nuke Deal a Good First Step

November 24th 2013

Iran Nuclear Equipment centrifuges

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry says a nuclear accord with Iran will halt Tehran’s march to atomic weapons capacity and provide a window to negotiate a final agreement.  The Obama administration is attempting to convince skeptics at home and abroad that the preliminary deal is good for America and its allies.

In a media blitz on U.S. airwaves Sunday, Secretary Kerry described the accord as a first step towards a possible peaceful resolution of Iran's nuclear ambitions.  Appearing on CBS’ Face the Nation program, Kerry detailed restrictions Tehran has agreed to.

"They will have to destroy the higher-enriched uranium they have, which is critical to being able to build a bomb," he said. "Once they have destroyed that, they only have lower-enriched uranium.  They are not allowed under this agreement to build additional enrichment facilities.  We will have restrictions on the centrifuges, which are critical for enrichment.” The secretary stressed the agreement mandates rigorous verification. Read more ..



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