|George Friedman||November 28th 2013|
What was unthinkable for many people over many years happened in the early hours of Nov. 24 in Geneva: The United States and the Islamic Republic of Iran struck a deal. After a decadelong struggle, the two reached an accord that seeks to ensure that Iran's nuclear program remains a civilian one. It is a preliminary deal, and both sides face months of work to batten down domestic opposition, build convincing mechanisms to assure compliance and unthread complicated global sanctions.
That is the easy part. More difficult will be the process to reshape bilateral relations while virtually every regional player in the Middle East seeks ways to cope with an Iran that is no longer geopolitically encumbered.
The foreign ministers of Iran and the six Western powers that constitute the so-called P-5+1 Group clinched a six-month deal that begins the curtailment of Iran's nuclear program while relaxing as much as $6 billion in sanctions -- basically those embargoes that do not require President Barack Obama to secure approval from Congress. Allowing Iran to enrich uranium to "civilian" levels while making sure the know-how is not diverted to military purposes will be complex. Read more ..
|Jeremy Herb||November 27th 2013|
China said Wednesday that it would take action against aircraft in its new defense zone based on the threat level.
The comments came a day after two U.S. B-52 bombers flew through the newly defined Chinese air zone in a direct rebuke of Beijing’s claim for the air space. China’s government said it monitored the two bombers and chose not to respond to the move, despite its threat to take defensive measures against unidentified foreign aircraft.
The air space had previously been seen as international space.
A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said at a briefing Wednesday that the reaction to the U.S. bombers was “in accordance” with its new rules.
It said its response to flights in the air space going forward would depend on “how big the threat was,” The New York Times reported. Read more ..
|Julian Hattem||November 26th 2013|
The Obama administration faces a tough task in convincing the Supreme Court to rule in favor of ObamaCare’s contraception mandate, according to legal experts. They say Chief Justice John Roberts’s court, which upheld the health law in a landmark 2012 decision, has generally set a high bar for limiting religious rights. In addition, Justice Anthony Kennedy, often the court’s swing vote, authored a 1993 decision that exempted a religious group from following laws it said were contradictory with its beliefs.
The Supreme Court announced on Tuesday that it would consider the case, possibly in its spring term. While Hobby Lobby and other businesses opposed to the mandate don’t have a slam dunk case, experts said it will be tough to convince the court that the federal government can order businesses to pay for contraception coverage that goes against their owners' religious beliefs. Read more ..
|Elise Vliebeck||November 25th 2013|
Kathleen Sebelius may become the biggest loser in the Senate's approval of filibuster reform. The Health and Human Services (HHS) secretary has kept her job despite the botched rollout of ObamaCare's insurance exchanges, but it will now be easier for Obama to replace her. After the Senate’s vote, confirming an executive-branch nominee now takes just 51 Senate votes. Some think that raises the likelihood Sebelius will soon be a former Cabinet member.
“The president's hands were previously tied,” said John Hudak, a fellow in governance studies at the Brookings Institution, who wrote a piece on the topic Thursday. “Now, he has more breathing room and he is able to fire whoever he wants at HHS. That's a very, very appealing approach, whether it fixes the problems with ObamaCare's rollout or not.”
The filibuster vote could also make it easier for Obama to fill the healthcare law's controversial cost-cutting board, another big advantage for the president. Read more ..
The US and Iran
|Michael Bowman||November 24th 2013|
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry says a nuclear accord with Iran will halt Tehran’s march to atomic weapons capacity and provide a window to negotiate a final agreement. The Obama administration is attempting to convince skeptics at home and abroad that the preliminary deal is good for America and its allies.
In a media blitz on U.S. airwaves Sunday, Secretary Kerry described the accord as a first step towards a possible peaceful resolution of Iran's nuclear ambitions. Appearing on CBS’ Face the Nation program, Kerry detailed restrictions Tehran has agreed to.
"They will have to destroy the higher-enriched uranium they have, which is critical to being able to build a bomb," he said. "Once they have destroyed that, they only have lower-enriched uranium. They are not allowed under this agreement to build additional enrichment facilities. We will have restrictions on the centrifuges, which are critical for enrichment.” The secretary stressed the agreement mandates rigorous verification. Read more ..
Financing the Flames
|Edwin Black||November 23rd 2013|
At a time of ceaseless budget crises, it may astound many that American taxpayers are deploying their precious dollars not to pay for peace in Israel, but to achieve the exact opposite: confrontation.
Each year, American aid, taxpayer subsidies of 501(c)(3) organizations, and other financial programs richly support political confrontation between Palestinians and Israelis, vocal critics say. Tax experts estimate that for every one million dollars in donations received by a 501(c)(3), US taxpayers must subsidize approximately $440,000.
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Tax-exempt charitable organizations are supposed to be just that: charitable. But prominent Israeli critics claim that highly politicized American charitable organizations, including several operated by some of America’s most prominent Jewish personalities, are actually working hard to destabilize the Israel Defense Forces and erase Israel’s identity as a Jewish State. Rather than engaging in charitable programs, outspoken critics say, these charitable groups are focused on massive political lobbying and fomenting internal political upheaval that make peace between Arab and Jew seemingly impossible. Not a few of these critics point to the prestigious New Israel Fund (NIF) as the chief culprit.
NIF grants steer millions of US dollars to scores of confrontation-oriented Israeli NGOs. Among the controversial NGOs is one called B’Tselem, which circulates video cameras to Arab villages that are hotbeds for confrontation. Israeli military officials assure that they rely upon B'Tselem’s help to document IDF infractions. But many critics in the ranks charge the cameras are calculated to capture the scene after soldiers are taunted into finally reacting.
One such critic is Colonel Benny Yanay, who represents Consensus, an organization of several hundred IDF officers. "The New Israel Fund,” insists Yanay, “acts against Israel—against the soldiers of our country. It is important to me that people recognize the New Israel Fund for what it is. It is supported by foreign governments and organizations so that Israeli soldiers will be weakened." Yanay adds, "Their budget is more than anything we have—so it is not a fair fight. We are not a political organization. They are political." Read more ..
Egypt and Russia
|Col. (Ret.) Dr. Jacques Neriah||November 22nd 2013|
American Center for Democracy
In one of my encounters with the Soviet military attaché in Paris in the late 1980s, I was asked how many staff members were assigned to me at the Israeli Embassy. I answered that I was the only officer and was assisted by two secretaries. I asked my Soviet counterpart how many people he had working with him, and he said "16." I was shocked at the high number. "What are you doing with so many officers and staff?" I asked. I remember his answer as if it was yesterday: "We are still waiting for better times!"
This episode can easily apply to Egyptian-Russian relations as they emerge today. It seems indeed that "better times" is the proper way to describe the latest developments in Russian-Egyptian relations after almost 30 years of strained, always problematic, and sometimes hostile relations. This is happening not because of a deliberate choice made by the Egyptian regime, but rather as an option of last resort, mainly because of what the current Egyptian leadership and probably half of the Egyptian body-politic feel is a betrayal by their American ally. Read more ..
Iran on Edge
|Joshua Levitt||November 22nd 2013|
Reports of an imminent deal to rein in Iran’s nuclear program seemed unlikely to materialize on Friday, as most of the foreign ministers of the six nations leading the talks have cancelled plans to travel to Geneva, as would be required for the signing of an agreement, with the work left to diplomatic staffers, Israeli daily Ma’ariv reported from Geneva. Of the foreign ministers, only Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was expected to make an appearance in Geneva, Ma’ariv said early on Friday.
Ma’ariv outlined the sticking points in the negotiations, the main obstacle still being Iran’s refusal to budge on calls to forfeit the ability to enrich uranium, which it has claimed as a “right.” Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister, Abbas Arkag’i said, “The principle that Iran has the right to enrich uranium is not debatable, even if you can argue over the quantities, the level of enrichment of uranium, and its location.” Read more ..
|Alexander Bolton||November 21st 2013|
The Senate voted Thursday to change its rules to prevent the minority party from filibustering any nominations other than nods to the Supreme Court.
The change was approved after Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) triggered the “nuclear option,” which allows a change to Senate rules by majority vote.
The 52-48 vote dramatically changes the rules of the Senate and limits the minority party's ability to prevent confirmation of presidential nominees. Sens. Carl Levin (Mich.), Mark Pryor (Ark.) and Joe Manchin (W.Va.) were the only Democrats to vote against Reid's rules change.
It will allow all three of President Obama's nominees to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals to go forward, as well as his nomination of Rep. Mel Watt (D-N.C.) to lead a housing regulatory agency. Obama praised the action. “The gears of government have to work and the step that a majority of senators took today I think will help make those gears work just a little bit better,” he said in a statement from the White House briefing room. Read more ..
Financing the Flames
|Martin Barillas||November 20th 2013|
New York Times bestselling author Edwin Black will be the featured speaker at the IBC-TV Special Event being hosted in the Beverly Hills City Council Chambers by the Beverly Hills Forum November 25, 2013. He will reveal new information from his latest investigative book, Financing the Flames: How Tax-Exempt and Public Money Fuel a Culture of Confrontation and Terror in Israel. The IBC-TV Special Event accompanies a special 10-part broadcast series on Financing the Flames produced as part of the Edwin Black Show on the IBC-TV network.
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Financing the Flames pulls the cover off the robust use of US tax-exempt, tax-subsidized, and public monies to foment agitation, systematically destabilize the Israel Defense Forces, and finance terrorists in Israel. In a far-flung investigation in the United States, Israel, and the West Bank, human-rights investigative reporter Edwin Black documents that it is actually the highly politicized human rights organizations and NGOs themselves—all American taxpayer supported—which are financing the flames that make peace in Israel difficult if not impossible.
Black spotlights key charitable organizations such as the Ford Foundation, George Soros’s Open Society Foundations, the New Israel Fund, and many others, as well as American taxpayers as a group. Instead of promoting peace and reconciliation between Arabs and Israelis, he writes, a variety of taxpayer-subsidized organizations have funded a culture where peace does not pay, but warfare and confrontation do.
Financing the Flames has received a cascade of accolades since it was unleashed upon the public last month. Rick Halperin director of Southern Methodist University Embrey Human Rights Program and former chairman of the board of Amnesty International USA called the book “a jolt.” Halperin wrote, “Most people should and will be appalled to read the revelations in Financing the Flames. It is a jolt!” Read more ..
The Iranian Threat
|Adiv Sterman||November 20th 2013|
The Times of Israel
Authorities in Azerbaijan’s capital recently jailed an Iranian man for allegedly plotting a terrorist attack against the Israeli embassy, and found photos of the embassy and blueprints in his home, Channel 10 reported Wednesday.
Hasan Faraji, 31, was arrested in late October after he was seen wandering near the embassy, Azeri news site APA reported. A security guard stopped him for questioning and, after refusing to cooperate, Faraji was detained and taken to a nearby police station. He was later sentenced to 30 days in prison, but there was no indication from the report why he was incarcerated. According to a Channel 10 News report on Wednesday, Azeri police claimed they had discovered photos and blueprints of the Israeli embassy in Faraji’s apartment. Read more ..
The Iranian Threat
|Simon Henderson and Olli Heinonen||November 20th 2013|
The International Atomic Energy Agency's latest report on Iran's nuclear program, released November 14, has generated a profusion of optimistic news reports and editorials. According to the IAEA, Tehran has not increased the number of centrifuges installed at declared installations or put more advanced centrifuges into operation, and its stockpile of 20 percent enriched uranium hexafluoride remains below a crucial red line. Meanwhile, work has been proceeding slowly at the Arak reactor, which will be capable of producing plutonium, an alternative nuclear explosive. And three days before releasing the report, the IAEA announced that Iran had agreed to give the agency access to information on some previously blocked aspects of its nuclear program.
Much less emphasized in the report, and the coverage of it, are the IAEA's persistent suspicions of Iran's true motives, as detailed under the heading "Possible Military Dimensions." As page 10 of the thirteen-page report noted, "Since 2002, the Agency has become increasingly concerned about the possible existence in Iran of undisclosed nuclear related organizations, including activities related to the development of a payload for a missile." The agency also received information indicating that Iran has carried out activities "relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device." The report deemed this intelligence to be "credible," noting that the IAEA has obtained more information since November 2011 that "further corroborates" its analysis. Read more ..
The Edge of Mars
|Kristin Roberts||November 19th 2013|
As NASA prepares to launch a new Martian probe, a Florida State University scientist has uncovered what may be the first recognized example of ancient Martian crust.
The work of Munir Humayun — a professor in FSU's Department of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Science and a researcher at the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory (MagLab) — is based on an analysis of a 4.4 billion-year-old Martian meteorite that was unearthed by Bedouin tribesmen in the Sahara desert. The rock (NWA 7533) may be the first recognized sample of ancient Martian crust and holds a wealth of information about the origin and age of the Red Planet's crust. Read more ..
Financing The Flames
|Edwin Black||November 17th 2013|
Times of Israel
Evyatar Borovsky, age thirty-one, was devoted to helping people across Israel—people of any background. His way was psychodrama and other role-playing techniques calculated to coax victims, especially children, out of their traumatic fog. Often the children were survivors of terrorism. Evyatar was part of a so-called therapeutic theatrical troupe. On April 30, 2013, Evyatar went to Tapuach Junction to catch a ride.
Salam Zaghal came from an impoverished Arab family in Shuka, a village near Tulkarm. Once, Salam tried to plant a bomb. That landed him in an Israeli prison for more than three years. When Salam was released earlier this year, he had no job and no economic prospects. His family lived on the edge. Money was scarce. As Salam became more disconsolate, his brother Abdulfattah remembered that his brother increasingly began "talking more and more about the martyrdom of the prisoners in Israeli jails."
April 30, 2013, shortly after dawn, Zaghal jumped onto a bus for the long drive to Tapuach Junction. He carried a blue plastic bag. Two items were secreted inside the bag. Zaghal asked to be dropped about sixty meters down the way from the intersection. When he stepped off the bus, he lit a cigarette. Then Zaghal texted his brother Abdulfattah. "My dear brother, take care of dad, mom and my sister, and keep your head up." Zaghal sent a second text to his family: "Forgive me in life, in death, and in the end of days." Then he broke his phone so no one could call back and dissuade him.
At 8:15 a.m., Evyatar was standing about, looking somewhere over there, oblivious to the nearby Arab hitchhikers congregated about. Zaghal approached, carrying his blue plastic bag, which contained a piece of paper—a prosecution notice from a previous run-in with Israeli security, and a kitchen knife almost eight inches long.
Suddenly, Zaghal screamed, "Allahu Akbar!" and "There is no God but Allah and Muhammad is his messenger." Zaghal plunged the metal blade directly into Evyatar’s stomach and then again deep into his chest. A moment later, the medical clown lay on the ground, his life leaking quickly onto the asphalt. Salam then grabbed Evyatar’s gun, but before he could inflict more carnage, nearby Border Guards shot him. The killer was not shot in the head or upper body, but in the leg. In an instant, Evyatar—the clown with the big heart—was gone, stabbed to death. As for Salam, he was rushed to an Israeli hospital with a non-life-threatening leg wound. There, Salam received Israel’s world-renowned medical attention. Read more ..
|Michael Beckel||November 16th 2013|
Center for Public Integrity
Read more ..
Americans for Prosperity — the main political arm of billionaire industrialist brothers Charles and David Koch — spent a staggering $122 million last year as it unsuccessfully attempted to defeat President Barack Obama and congressional Democrats, according to a Center for Public Integrity review of documents filed in Colorado.
That's more than the total amount the group had previously spent from its formation in 2004 through 2011. During its previous eight years of existence, Americans for Prosperity spent a combined $72 million, a review of Internal Revenue Service records indicates.
The group’s unprecedented spending in 2012 is a fivefold increase over 2010, a year when a surge of conservative voters helped Republicans regain control of the U.S. House of Representatives. And it represents a more than 1,600 percent increase above the $7 million it spent in 2008, when voters first elected Obama to the White House.
|Pete Kasperowicz||November 15th 2013|
The House passed legislation on Friday that allows insurance companies to offer health plans that were cancelled for not meeting new requirements under ObamaCare.
Thirty-nine Democrats broke with their party's leaders and backed the bill despite a veto threat by the White House, highlighting the political problem the issue has come for President Obama’s party. Only four Republicans opposed it. The House approved the "Keep Your Health Plan Act" in a 261-157 vote.
Obama on Thursday announced he would take executive action that would allow insurance companies to offer the old plans for an additional year. That likely prevented a larger wave of Democratic votes in favor of the bill sponsored by Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.).
The vote is a further blow to Obama, who was forced on Thursday to admit that new standards under the healthcare law are forcing millions of people into new and often more expensive health insurance plans. Obama repeatedly said that under ObamaCare people could keep their plans if they liked them. Read more ..
The Weapon's Edge
|Denise Chow||November 12th 2013|
In the final years of his nearly 30-year career in the U.S. Air Force, Slim spent 10 to 12 hours a day in a cool, dark room in the Arizona desert, stationed in front of monitors that beamed back aerial footage from Afghanistan. Slim's unit operated around the clock, flying Predator drones thousands of miles away over Afghanistan, to monitor — and sometimes eliminate — "targets" across the war-ridden country. As a sensor operator for these remotely piloted aircraft, or RPAs, it was his job to coordinate the drones' onboard cameras, and, if a missile was released, to laser-guide the weapon to its destination.
These types of missions are part of the military's expanding drone program, which has developed a reputation for carrying out shadowy and highly classified operations — ones that sometimes blur legal or moral lines. As such, their use in warfare has been steeped in controversy.
Critics say firing weapons from behind a computer screen, while safely sitting thousands of miles away, could desensitize pilots to the act of killing. What separates this, they argue, from a battlefield video game? Read more ..
The Cyber Edge
|Rachel Ehrenfeld||November 10th 2013|
To fully comprehend the vulnerability of the United States' infrastructure, business and the public to cyber threats, read the October 24 audit report from the Department of Homeland Security's inspector general, "DHS' Efforts to Coordinate the Activities of Federal Cyber Operations Centers." It's real gobbeltygook.
The key office at DHS for coordinating cyber security is ICS-CERT (Industrial Control Systems-Cyber Emergency Response Team). It has nothing to do with U.S. business and cyber, but, rather, with cyber and public infrastructure. Its mission is described as follows:
"The Industrial Control Systems Cyber Emergency Response Team (ICS-CERT) works to reduce risks within and across all critical infrastructure sectors by partnering with law enforcement agencies and the intelligence community and coordinating efforts among Federal, state, local, and tribal governments and control systems owners, operators, and vendors. Additionally, ICS-CERT collaborates with international and private sector Computer Emergency Response Teams (CERTs) to share control systems-related security incidents and mitigation measures." Read more ..
|George Friedman||November 7th 2013|
The United States's inland waterways system -- more than 19,000 kilometers (12,000 miles) of navigable routes maintained by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers overlaid with expansive farmlands -- has contributed greatly to the country's success. Ongoing use of the waterway system requires the maintenance of infrastructure to meet usage demand, including dredging of ports and rivers, and the operation and maintenance of dams, levees and locks.
The Mississippi and Ohio rivers and the Illinois waterways, the busiest avenues for commercial traffic on inland waterways, all have expansive lock systems. The locks make navigating a river easier, sequestering vessels before raising or lowering the water level in a chamber in order to compensate for changes in the river's level. Most of these locks were constructed in the early 20th century, with an expected lifetime of 50 years. Seventy or 80 years later, many of these locks are still in operation. Unplanned delays due to mechanical breakdowns have been on the rise for more than a decade. Read more ..
|Alexander Jaffe||November 6th 2013|
His reelection fight might be over, but the real race is just beginning for New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, as he prepares to weave a careful path to the 2016 presidential nomination.
With a blowout win under his belt Tuesday night, Christie has solid proof he can win where many Republicans haven’t been able to: among female and minority voters.
Preliminary exit polling showed him improving his showing among those key demographic groups. He increased his share of the female vote by 11 percent from 2009, the black vote by 12 percent and the Hispanic vote by 13 percent.
The strong showing came after he made a concerted effort to reach out to those demographic groups in an attempt to build a strategy he and his advisors believe is replicable for other Republicans facing tough races nationwide. He also gained donations from Democrats, including some affiliated with liberal financier George Soros and donors of President Obama. Read more ..
|Roger Baker and John Minnich||November 5th 2013|
The Central Committee of the Communist Party of China will convene its Third Plenum meeting Nov. 9. During the three-day session, President Xi Jinping's administration will outline core reforms to guide its policymaking for the next decade. The Chinese government would have the world believe that Xi's will be the most momentous Third Plenary Session since December 1978, when former supreme leader Deng Xiaoping first put China on the path of economic reform and opening.
Whether or not Xi's policies will be as decisive as Deng's -- or as disappointing as those of former President Hu Jintao -- the president has little choice but to implement them. China's current economic model, and by extension its political and social model, is reaching its limits just as it had prior to Deng's administration. The importance of the upcoming meeting is that it comes at an inflection point for China, one that its leaders can hardly afford to ignore. Read more ..
Financing the Flames
|Edwin Black||November 4th 2013|
Times of Israel
A regular feature of West Bank confrontation between Israeli soldiers and Palestinians seems to be a corps of intrepid young women that villagers call “internationals.” They specialize in upfront and personal, in-your-face, and often nose-to-nose verbal taunting hoping to provoke a reaction that video cameras can record. If and when soldiers finally do react, these incidents are then uploaded to the Internet to prove “the brutality of the IDF.” These “internationals” often seem to appear out of nowhere at a village flashpoint. Just as suddenly, they melt into the background.
Using false names and seemingly untrackable movements, the skilled and stealthy internationals have managed to inspire and encourage videographed confrontation far beyond their numbers. Who are they? What is the font of their financial wherewithal? Who is financing these flames?
Searching for answers, one night in early May 2013, I traveled to the tiny West Bank town of Deir Itsiya where the internationals quietly maintain a base of operations. The women are known to many in that local Arab community, where they are provided logistical assistance and deferential hospitality. They receive many European guests. When I asked my taxi driver, "Do you know where the house is?" he answered, "Yes, Sheik Haider (neighborhood)." He took me there.
At an elbow in a dusty road, I found their compound behind long, ornate iron fencing. I knocked on all the doors, the ones with knockers and the ones without. No answer. I called out for anyone who was home. A neighbor strolled by to remark. The driver translated: "He said the European girls are not sleeping in town tonight. But he knows how to reach them. I will take you where he said." Read more ..
|Reity O'Brian||November 3rd 2013|
Center for Public Integrity
Out-of-state political organizations spent millions on mudslinging television ads in state supreme court elections in 2012, according to a new report, marking a new and worrisome trend, say some legal experts.
The report found that total spending in states where high court judges are elected reached $56 million in the 2012 election cycle with more than $24 million of it — 43 percent — coming from non-candidate organizations, many from out of state.
The report was released by the Brennan Center for Justice and Justice at Stake, groups that are highly critical of judicial elections. The conclusions were based on data from the National Institute on Money in State Politics and the Campaign Media Analysis Group.
A record $33.7 million was spent on television ads, much of which came from outside groups — including super PACs and nonprofits — attacking judicial candidates on the airwaves.
In Michigan, the Judicial Crisis Network spent between $600,000 and $1 million on a television ad equating incumbent Democratic justice Bridget McCormack’s previous legal work defending a detainee at Guantanamo Bay to volunteering to “help free a terrorist.” Read more ..
The Edge of the Universe
|Clara Moskowitz||November 2nd 2013|
The world’s most sensitive search for dark matter announced today that it has found—nothing. The first results from the Large Underground Xenon (LUX) detector are null, scientists say, indicating that the invisible matter thought to make up a large chunk of the universe is even more elusive than many experts thought.
Buried about a kilometer and a half underground in a repurposed South Dakota gold mine that is now the Sanford Underground Research Facility, the LUX experiment searches for signs of dark matter particles colliding with the atoms in a vat of liquid xenon. During its first three months of operation the detector found no such signals whatsoever. “We looked hard for these dark matter particles and we didn’t see anything,” says physicist Rick Gaitskell of Brown University, LUX co-spokesperson. The results, presented at a seminar today and submitted to Physical Review Letters for publication [pdf], rule out a number of possible masses and characteristics for the particles that make up dark matter. The null result also conflicts with earlier experiments that had reported possible dark matter signals. Read more ..
The Battle for Syria
|Sam Orez||November 1st 2013|
Hezbollah has deployed 15,000 fighters for an expected offensive on the mountainous al-Qalamoun area north of Damascus, Syrian opposition sources told Al Arabiya. The Syrian regime is also reportedly building up its forces in the area, located between Damascus and Homs, Syria’s third largest city to the north. Hezbollah last spring helped the Syrian regime retake the town of Qusair on the border with Lebanon. Hezbollah said it interfered to “protect” Shiite Lebanese people living in the border area with Lebanon against alleged attacked by the armed Sunni rebels.
Hezbollah also justifies his involvement in Syria with the need to protect Shiite religious sites. The Damascus-based Abu al-Fadl al-Abbas brigade, a close Hezbollah ally, said it will take part in the expected Qalamoun battle as a response to a recent attack on its headquarters in the capital’s Shiite district of Sayeda Zeinab. Read more ..
|Peter Schroeder||October 31st 2013|
Senate Democrats are again threatening to change Senate rules after Republicans blocked a pair of the president’s nominees on Thursday.
The blockade of two of the president’s picks has renewed talk among Democrats about the “nuclear option," which would change Senate rules to allow a nominee to be confirmed with a majority vote.
Republicans on Thursday blocked motions to end debate on confirming Rep. Mel Watt (D-N.C.) as director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency and Patricia Millett to join the D.C. Circuit Court.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) called the obstruction “unprecedented,” and said changes must be made going forward. However, he said he hoped to make those changes “through cooperation” with Republicans. Read more ..
Obama's Second Term
|Justin Sink||October 30th 2013|
President Obama on Wednesday for the first time defended his claim that every American would be able to keep their health insurance plans under ObamaCare.
Obama accused his opponents of “grossly misleading” the public as Republicans seize on reports that hundreds of thousands of people have received letters notifying them that their plans will be cancelled by the end of the year.
Obama said Republicans weren't giving the full picture even as he acknowledged that some people will not be able to keep their health plans under the new law. Those forced from their plans, he said, represent a small portion of the population. He also said they would get a better deal. “For the vast majority of people who have health insurance that works, you can keep it," Obama said in a speech at Boston’s Fanueil Hall. “For the fewer than 5 percent of Americans who buy insurance on your own, you will be getting a better deal.” Read more ..
|Scott Gottlieb||October 29th 2013|
It’s not just the Web site that’s broken — the Obamacare marketplace itself is failing.
Despite much talk about using competition, the Obamacare law and the regulations that enable it are all but eliminating competition from the exchanges. In its zeal to micromanage every aspect of peoples’ health benefits and the profits that insurers can earn off these services, the administration guaranteed that few health insurers or care providers will show up to play.
Let’s start with private insurers, who’ve been extremely selective in the regions where they’ve stood up health plans. Obamacare largely outlaws charging less to younger or healthier people and more to older, less-healthy ones; insurers have gamed this rule by only offering plans in select areas, plainly those where they believe the underlying demographic and socioeconomic trends will allow them to come out ahead. Read more ..
|Wendell Potter||October 28th 2013|
Center for Public Integrity
The glitch-plagued HealthCare.gov website has, as expected, given critics of health care reform another opportunity to persuade the American public that Obamacare is a failure and should be scuttled.
The House Energy and Commerce committee hearing last week was — surprise — little more than a forum for critics of the Affordable Care Act to use the pithiest sound bites their staffers could come up with to embarrass the Obama administration.
Let’s suspend disbelief for a moment and pretend that members of Congress care more about the health and well-being of the country and its citizens than in getting re-elected and amassing more power. In such a make-believe world, what should Congress really be trying to do in light of the fiasco surrounding the rollout of the HealthCare.gov insurance marketplace website? Read more ..
|Alexander Bolton||October 27th 2013|
Donald Trump, who pegs his net worth at $10 billion, said on Sunday that he would spend whatever it takes to win the GOP nomination if he decides to run for the White House in 2016.
Trump visited Iowa this weekend to speak at the Family Leadership Summit in Ames along with former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), two other potential White House hopefuls. Trump flirted with a presidential run in 2012 and later helped Mitt Romney win the GOP nomination.
If he ran in 2016, he said he would spare no expense. “If I made a decision, I'd spend a lot,” he said in an interview with ABC News, acknowledging the race would likely cost half a billion dollars or more. “If I did it, I’d spend whatever it took.” Read more ..
Obama's Second Term
|Justin Sink||October 25th 2013|
President Obama told Republicans in Congress that he doesn't want to hear about additional cuts to government programs after the 16-day shutdown.
The president said the country can afford to make investments in areas like education, and he noted that the shutdown cut into the economy.
“Don't tell me we can afford to shut down the government, which costs our government billions of dollars, but we can't afford to invest in our kids,” Obama said at a school in Brooklyn.
“This obsession with cutting for the sake of cutting hasn't helped our economy grow, it's held us back,” Obama said. Standard & Poor's has estimated that the shutdown took about $24 billion from U.S. economy. Obama blasted “a small group” of House Republicans for causing what he said was a “manufactured crisis.” Congress now faces a Jan. 15 deadline for funding the government, and a Feb. 7 deadline for raising the debt ceiling. Read more ..
|Alex J. Pollock||October 24th 2013|
The president of the Deutsche Bundesbank, Jens Weidmann, discussed in a recent essay, "Stop Encouraging Banks to Load Up on State Debt," what he calls the "disastrous sovereign-banking nexus" — in other words, the disastrous interaction of governments and banks. Governments can reduce their own solvency by bailing out insolvent banks — and can even become themselves insolvent and in need of bailouts by doing so, as in the cases of Ireland, Iceland, and Cyprus. On the other hand, banks can become insolvent by making excessive loans to, or investments in, their own or other governments, which turn out to be financial mistakes, as is exemplified in the European sovereign debt crisis and its ongoing travails.
Loans to sovereign governments are granted favored status by bank regulations and indeed are promoted by them, as having no risk-to-one-borrower limits for example, as well as very low or zero capital requirements, and being often referred to as "risk-free." But in fact nothing is more common in financial history right up to now than defaults by governments on their debt. There have been about 250 defaults on sovereign debt since 1800, including widespread government defaults in the 1980s and the 21st century defaults by Greece and Argentina. Of course, a possible default by the United States government has been talked about of late ad nauseam. Read more ..
Obama's Second Term
|Dan Robinson||October 23rd 2013|
At the White House, President Barack Obama and Pakistan's prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, have agreed on the importance of rebuilding the U.S.-Pakistan relationship. They discussed the issue of U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan, extremist threats, the transition in Afghanistan and Pakistan's relations with India.
It was the first meeting between President Obama and Prime Minister Sharif, who was last at the White House in 1999, and came as both countries move to repair relations severely strained during Obama's first term.
The U.S. commando raid in Pakistan that killed al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden in 2011 contributed to tensions, along with a mistaken NATO raid on a Pakistani border post the same year. Neither leader specifically mentioned these events in remarks. President Obama called the peaceful democratic transition in Pakistan "an enormous milestone" and described Pakistan as a very important strategic partner. Read more ..
The Battle for Syria
|Avi Jorisch||October 22nd 2013|
With civil war raging, Syria, a state sponsor of terror, has attacked its own people with chemical weapons and attempted to skirt international sanctions. The United States, the EU, Russia and the UN must identify the full extent of the threat and eliminate Syria's chemical weapons capacity.
Syria's Centre D'Etudes et de Recherches Scientifiques (CERS), the Scientific Studies and Research Center, is apparently at the heart of Syria's efforts to produce and disseminate weapons of mass destruction.Established in 1971 to advance and coordinate scientific endeavors, it serves as Syria's Los Alamos. It is believed to be responsible for research and development of Syria's chemical and biological weapons (CBW) arsenal. It also played a central role in Syria's pursuit of nuclear weapons, which, thanks to Israel, is no longer active. According to U.S. and European officials, CERS answers to President Bashar al-Assad and the most senior members of his Alawi clan. Read more ..
|Justin Sink||October 21st 2013|
President Obama said Monday his administration was spearheading a "tech surge" to fix the problems plaguing the online ObamaCare insurance exchanges.
"We are doing everything we can possibly do to get the websites working better, faster, sooner," the president said, adding that the White House had recruited the "best and brightest" from the private sector to help tackle the technical problems.
"No one is madder than me that the website isn't working as it should — which means it's going to get fixed," Obama declared. The president's reassurances come at a critical time for the president's signature program. Fear is growing among the administration and Democratic allies that a steady beat of stories detailing problems with the website could lead many Americans to just give up on trying to secure coverage, undermining the potential of the healthcare reform law. Read more ..
Obama's Second Term
|Allison Fitzgerald||October 20th 2013|
The Center for Public Integrity
President Barack Obama received $4,600 in campaign contributions from R. Allen Stanford less than a year before the Texan was arrested in 2009 for running one of the biggest Ponzi schemes in U.S. history. Despite repeated requests, the Obama campaign has not returned the money to the court-appointed receiver tasked with recovering money from the fraud and returning it to Stanford’s victims. The campaign still has $5.4 million in its coffers even though the president won't be running in another election. (Update, Oct. 16, 2013, 1:39 p.m.: The Obama campaign's new 3rd quarter filing indicates it has $372,549 remaining.)
Obama isn’t the only politician who has declined to return Stanford campaign contributions to help make Stanford’s defrauded investors whole. A total of 39 candidates and committees have kept their campaign funds despite the pleas by the receiver, Texas Lawyer Ralph Janvey, to return the money. A spokesman for the Democratic National Committee, which now speaks for the Obama campaign, did not immediately comment. Read more ..
|Erik Wasson||October 18th 2013|
The public debt of the United States has spiked in the wake of the congressional decision to raise the nation's debt ceiling.
The Treasury Department on Friday reported that the public debt stands at $17.076 trillion — that is a jump of $329 billion from $16.747 trillion on Wednesday, the day the ceiling was lifted.
The large jump was caused by the fact that Treasury has been forced to use extraordinary measures such as deferring certain payments to avoid hitting the debt ceiling since May.
Under the debt-ceiling deal signed this week, Treasury can borrow as much money as it wants through Feb. 7. At that point it can then use months of extraordinary measures once again to keep the government running if Congress again were to refuse to raise the debt ceiling. On the day President Obama took office, the debt stood at $10.627 trillion, meaning that $6.5 trillion has been added to the nation's credit card under the current administration. Read more ..
The Iranian Threat
|Eric Pontz||October 17th 2013|
Former U.S. President George W. Bush told guests at a Jewish gathering Tuesday night that he believes it is unlikely that Iran’s hostile intentions towards Israel have changed, despite a recent charm offensive initiated by the Islamic Republic’s new president Hassan Rouhani.
“The United States’ foreign policy must be clear eyed; and understand that until the form of government changes in Iran, it is unlikely that their intentions toward Israel will change,” he said.
Addressing the current ongoing negotiations between Iran and Western powers, the former President said that he does “not believe in Iran’s peaceful intentions until they can irrevocably prove that it’s true.”
Bush delighted guests at the gala event at New York’s Waldorf Astoria hotel when he was revealed to be the evening’s surprise guest speaker, attendees told The Algemeiner. Photography and recording during Bush’s speech was prohibited, and he reiterated his longstanding policy not to comment on public policy matters out of respect for the sitting president. Read more ..
|Justin Sink||October 17th 2013|
President Obama scolded lawmakers for playing political brinksmanship with the economy hours after the government reopened Thursday after a 16-day shutdown. The president, viewed by most as the victor in the weekslong fight over funding the government and raising the debt ceiling, said the way business is done in Washington has to change.
Obama, who gave up no notable concessions in a battle that started with House Republicans pressing to defund ObamaCare, scolded the GOP with his comments and reminded them of their defeat in the 2012 election.
He said legislative change should be won at the polls, not through procedural hostage-taking that threatened the economy. “You don’t like a particular policy or a particular president, then argue for your position,” Obama said. “Go out there and win an election.” The comments are likely to have many Republicans complaining that Obama is spiking the football after a victory. Read more ..
|Gal Luft and Anne Korin||October 16th 2013|
The first U.S. energy secretary, James Schlesinger, observed in 1977 that when it comes to energy, the United States has “only two modes -- complacency and panic.” Today, with the country in the middle of an oil and gas boom that could one day crown it the world’s largest oil producer, the pendulum has swung toward complacency. But 40 years ago this week, panic ruled the day, as petroleum prices quadrupled in a matter of months and Americans endured a traumatic gasoline shortage, waiting for hours in long lines only to be greeted by signs reading “Sorry, no gas.”
The cause of these ills, Americans explained to themselves, was the Arab oil embargo -- the decision by Iran and the Arab members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) to cut off oil exports to the United States and its allies as punishment for their support of Israel in the 1973 Yom Kippur War. And the lessons they drew were far-reaching. The fear that, at any given moment, the United States’ oil supply could be interrupted by a foreign country convinced Washington that its entire approach to energy security should center on one goal: reducing oil imports from that volatile region. Read more ..
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