A video posted online on Saturday purports to show the leader of the Islamic State extremist group that has overrun much of Syria and Iraq delivering a sermon at a mosque in Iraq, in what would be a rare — if not the first — public appearance by the shadowy militant.
The video was released on at least two websites known to be used by the group, but it was not possible to independently verify whether the person shown was indeed the group's leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. It bore the logo of al-Furqan, the group's media arm. Through brute force and guile, the Islamic State group has seized control of a vast swath of land straddling Syria and Iraq, and has declared the establishment of an Islamic state, or caliphate, in those territories. It proclaimed al-Baghdadi the leader of its state and demanded that all Muslims pledge allegiance to him.
"The mujahedeen have been rewarded victory by God after years of jihad, and they were able to achieve their aim and hurried to announce the caliphate and choose the Imam," he says in the video, referring to the leader. Read more ..
America on Edge
|Cherise Charleswell||July 4th 2014|
Before one even begins to discuss the root causes of rape-- the personal motivations, the sociocultural beliefs and practices that may attribute to the act; one has to realize and acknowledge that rape is a brutal act of violence. Rape, which can be defined as, penetration no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without consent of the victim (Per the FBI's Uniform Crime Reporting Program), can affect victims for many years after initial contact, and after any physical wounds have healed. Many rape victims subsequently have to cope with a form of post-traumatic stress disorder referred to as post traumatic rape syndrome; and the hallmark of this disorder is that it is psychological reaction to being exposed to an event (a brutal act of sexual violence) which is outside the range of normal human experience. The assault and trauma impacts the brain in such a way that it often leave victim's with impaired verbal skills, short term memory loss, memory fragmentation, and delayed recall,
which exemplifies why rape victims have a great difficulty functioning and responding to a line of questioning in a courtroom setting. The following symptoms are often present in Rape Trauma Syndrome
: Read more ..
The Edge of Nature
|Alexandra Witze||July 3rd 2014|
Huge volcanic blasts occur less frequently than scientists would expect, and now volcanologists think they can explain why: super-eruptions and smaller eruptions are triggered by fundamentally different processes.
Small volcanoes, such as Italy’s Stromboli, erupt when molten rock rises from deep within Earth and then stalls in an underground chamber until enough pressure builds to blast it out to the surface. But the magma chambers of giant volcanoes—such as the one that erupted 2 million years ago beneath what is now Yellowstone National Park in the western U.S.—are too large for pressure from magma squirts to cause an eruption. Instead, the molten rock accumulates until its sheer buoyancy creates a different kind of stress, one that cracks open the top of the chamber and starts an eruption, researchers report. Read more ..
Israel on Edge
|Dave Bender||June 30th 2014|
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday night said that “Hamas is responsible, and will pay the price” for the deaths of the three youths abducted on June 12. Hamas officials warned that if Israel strikes Gaza in retaliation for the deaths, or for the past two weeks of rocket fire into Israel, then “the gates of hell” will open.
“If the occupiers carry out an escalation or a war, they will open the gates of hell on themselves,” Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri told AFP, according to the Palestinian Ma’an News Agency.
“The body of three settlers discovered,” Hamas MP Mushir Al-Masri wrote on his Facebook page, according to The Times of Israel. “Better luck next time, God willing,” Al-Masri wrote, mockingly. Read more ..
The New Caliphate
The al-Qaida breakaway group that has seized much of northeastern Syria and huge tracts of neighboring Iraq formally declared the establishment of a new Islamic state on Sunday and demanded allegiance from Muslims worldwide.
With brutal efficiency, the Sunni extremist group has carved out a large chunk of territory that has effectively erased the border between Iraq and Syria and laid the foundations of its proto-state. But the declaration, made on the first day of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, could trigger a wave of infighting among the Sunni militant factions that formed a loose alliance in the blitz across Iraq and impact the broader international jihadist movement, especially the future of a-Qaida. Read more ..
Obama's Second Term
|Bernie Becker ||June 29th 2014|
President Obama said that the U.S. has been seriously threatened by terrorists for his entire time in office and even since before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
“They’re gaining strength in some places,” Obama said on ABC’s “This Week.”
Obama added that his administration is trying to boost its response to terrorists trained in Iraq and Syria who, because of European passports, would have little trouble getting to the U.S.
“We’re spending a lot of time, and we have been for years, making sure that we are improving intelligence so that we can respond to that,” Obama said. “There are going to be times where we take strikes against organizations that could do us harm.” Read more ..
Obama's Second Term
|Benjamin Goad and Tim Devaney||June 27th 2014|
The Supreme Court's rebuke Thursday of President Obama's appointments to the National Labor Relations Board has thrown hundreds of decisions made while the agency was unconstitutionally constructed into doubt.
Having to revisit those verdicts could draw the labor board away from its agenda, to the delight of Republicans and business groups who have assailed it as a tool of Democrats and big unions, especially under the current administration.
The NLRB is now scrambling to determine what is required following the finding that the board contained members whose appointments exceeded presidential authority under the Constitution’s Recess Appointment Clause. Read more ..
Obama's Second Term
|George Friedman||June 26th 2014|
A breakthrough in U.S.-Cuba relations may be in the offing. On June 14, Uruguayan President Jose Mujica delivered a letter from U.S. President Barack Obama to Cuban President Raul Castro, according to Uruguayan media June 20, containing an offer to begin talks on a variety of issues, most prominently Washington's longstanding economic embargo.
According to Uruguayan media, Obama had asked Mujica to help him improve relations with the island nation when Mujica was in Washington in mid-May. If the report is true, the transaction could be the first step toward reconciliation. Read more ..
|James F. Jeffery and David Pollock||June 25th 2014|
Assuming a final Iranian nuclear agreement is achieved, whatever the details, the task of the United States, the rest of the P5+1 (Britain, China, France, Russia, and Germany), and U.S. allies and friends in the region to manage the threat of an Iranian nuclear program will not slacken. Thus, the arrangements to encourage Iran to stick with an agreement will be every bit as important as the specifics of an agreement itself. It is thus important to begin thinking about these arrangements now.
Furthermore, even with an agreement, the United States and its partners will face a long-term Iranian push for hegemony in the Middle East. That fact, plus analogous recent Russian and Chinese behavior and questions about U.S. responses, offers the context within which any nuclear deal, and plans to maintain it, must be considered. Read more ..
|Cameron Joseph||June 25th 2014|
The Associated Press has called the race for Rangel nearly a day after polls closed, with him leading New York state Sen. Adriano Espaillat (D) by 47 percent to 44 percent with 100 percent of precincts reporting.
Rangel declared victory Tuesday night, but Espaillat refused to throw in the towel, citing outstanding absentee ballots.
The win means Rangel, 84, is all but guaranteed a return to Congress after one of the toughest challenges of his career.
"Words cannot describe my overwhelming gratitude to the voters of the 13th congressional district of our great state for standing with me to the very end and giving this veteran his one last fight," Rangel said in a statement released after the AP call. "I am grateful for this special privilege to continue serving my beloved community and friends, both my dearest old friends in Upper Manhattan and new ones in the Bronx, whom I have had the greatest honor of representing in Congress. I've got a lot of fight in me and will not let them down."
Rangel faced a tough reelection battle in a district that became significantly more Hispanic and less African-American after 2010's redistricting, and has been rapidly changing due to gentrification.
Espaillat, a hard-charging young lawmaker, had held him to a slim victory in 2012 and was back with more name recognition this time around. The changing district and questions about Rangel's ethics set up a tough race. Read more ..
Obama's Second Term
|George Friedman||June 24th 2014|
In recent weeks, some of the international system's unfinished business has revealed itself. We have seen that Ukraine's fate is not yet settled, and with that, neither is Russia's relationship with the European Peninsula. In Iraq we learned that the withdrawal of U.S. forces and the creation of a new Iraqi political system did not answer the question of how the three parts of Iraq can live together. Geopolitical situations rarely resolve themselves neatly or permanently.
These events, in the end, pose a difficult question for the United States. For the past 13 years, the United States has been engaged in extensive, multidivisional warfare in two major theaters -- and several minor ones -- in the Islamic world. The United States is large and powerful enough to endure such extended conflicts, but given that neither conflict ended satisfactorily, the desire to raise the threshold for military involvement makes logical sense. Read more ..
Obama's Second Term
|Bernie Becker ||June 23rd 2014|
The House Oversight Committee has subpoenaed a White House lawyer to testify Tuesday about the IRS’s inability to recover Lois Lerner’s missing emails.
The administration declined to make Jennifer O’Connor available for testimony, prompting the subpoena from Oversight Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.).
Issa said O’Connor is a key witness because she helped the IRS respond to document requests about its targeting controversy. O’Connor started at the IRS in May 2013, shortly after the controversy broke, before later joining the White House counsel’s office. Read more ..
The Battle of Iraq
|Susan St. Claire||June 22nd 2014|
Sunni fighters led by the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) have expanded their offensive in Iraq, capturing more territory from the government. ISIL, an al-Qaeda breakaway group active in Syria and Iraq, has taken the towns of Qaim, Rawah and Anah in Anbar province. Qaim, located on the border with Syria, hosts a key crossing between the two countries. Fighters also claim to be in full control of the northern city of Baiji, which hosts Iraq's biggest oil refinery, though the military denies the rebels control the refinery itself.
The Associated Press news agency, citing Iraqi miltary officials, reported that Sunni fighters captured two border crossings, the Turaibil crossing with Jordan and the al-Walid crossing with Syria, on Sunday. Read more ..
|Reity O'Brien||June 21st 2014|
Center for Public Integrity
Between legalizing gay marriage and sparring over campaign finance limits, the U.S. Supreme Court kept busy — and made money — outside the marbled halls of One First Street last year.
All but one of the nine high court justices earned teaching income or book royalties in 2013, hauling in a quarter of a million dollars for their work shaping young legal minds in the classroom or through the written word.
Top earner Justice Antonin Scalia raked in more than $100,000 in book royalties for his 2012 tome "Reading Law: Interpretation of Legal Texts" and teaching wages from Southern Methodist University, Duke University, Tufts University and Pennsylvania State University, according to new financial disclosure reports just released . Read more ..
|Bernie Becker||June 20th 2014|
IRS Commissioner John Koskinen on Friday denied that his agency is covering up Lois Lerner’s emails and told Republicans his agency has nothing to apologize for.
“I don’t think an apology is owed,” Koskinen said at a hearing of the House Ways and Means Committee.
The hearing quickly grew heated, with Republicans audibly gasping when Koskinen said that Lerner’s crashed hard drive — which kept her archived emails — had been “recycled and destroyed,” something the commissioner said was standard procedure.
Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) told Koskinen he found it too convenient that an unknowable number of emails from the central figure in the agency’s targeting controversy can't be found during a time span, from 2009-2011, that Republicans believe is crucial to their investigation.
“It is no wonder I have heard the word ‘cover-up’ thrown about a lot this week,” Camp said at a Ways and Means Committee hearing that was Koskinen’s first public reply to the lost emails. Read more ..
|Julian Hattem and Bernie Becker ||June 19th 2014|
Congressional Republicans are hunting for hard drives, smartphones and maintenance logs that they think could yield emails from former IRS official Lois Lerner.
Two House committees — Ways and Means and Oversight — are investigating IRS claims that Lerner’s hard drive failed in 2011, likely erasing emails they believe to be relevant to their probe of the scrutiny that was given to Tea Party groups.
The IRS says backup copies of the emails no longer exist because until last year, it only kept such tapes for six months before recycling them. The agency has yet to say what became of Lerner’s hard drive, though Sen. Orrin Hatch (Utah), the top Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, and several GOP aides say they have been told the drive no longer exists. Lerner, the central figure in the IRS controversy, and other agency staffers discussed the drive going to the “hard drive cemetery” in 2011 if its contents couldn’t be saved, according to emails released Friday. Read more ..
The Battle for Baghdad
|Reva Bhalla||June 17th 2014|
Events in Iraq over the past week were perhaps best crystallized in a series of photos produced by the jihadist group the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant. Sensationally called The Destruction of Sykes-Picot, the pictures confirmed the group's intent to upend nearly a century of history in the Middle East.
In a series of pictures set to a purring jihadist chant, the mouth of a bulldozer is shown bursting through an earthen berm forming Iraq's northern border with Syria. Keffiyeh-wrapped rebels, drained by the hot sun, peer around the edges of the barrier to observe the results of their work. The breach they carved was just wide enough for the U.S.-made, Iraqi army-owned and now jihadist-purloined Humvees to pass through in single file. Read more ..
The Battle for Iraq
Armed terrorists from the organization that fights in Northern Iraq and Syria claim that 1700 Iraqi soldiers were executed and also pictures of the executions was published, according to a report in the American newspaper New York Times.
The Islamist revolt is being orchestrated by a terror group called the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, a radical terrorist organization that is connected with Al Qaeda that in recent weeks took over a great part of Iraq and now it is 150 kilometers north of Baghdad. There is a doubt to the authenticity of the report and there is no proof to what they stated. Senior level officials in the Iraqi leadership have a doubt related to what the organization stated and they claim have no idea about a massive execution of Iraqi soldiers. Read more ..
The Battle for Iraq
|Kate Tummarello||June 14th 2014|
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is bringing U.S. military forces closer to Iraq as anti-government insurgents gain ground in the fight against Iraqi troops.
On Saturday, Hagel ordered aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush to be moved into the Persian Gulf, bringing it closer to Iraq, Pentagon press secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby said in a statement.
“The order will provide the Commander-in-Chief additional flexibility should military options be required to protect American lives, citizens and interests in Iraq,” according to the spokesman.
The spokesman said the aircraft carrier, currently located in the North Arabian Sea, is being accompanied by a guided-missile cruiser and a guided-missile destroyer and is expected to reach its destination “later this evening.” The navy’s movement comes as militants led by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria attack Iraqi troops. Read more ..
|Martin Barillas||June 13th 2014|
Cutting Edge Contributor
|Khaled Mashaal of Hamas and Mahmoud Abbas of Palestinian Authority|
Senators Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) issued a statement in which they called upon the Obama administration to halt and then review U.S. aid to the Palestinian Authority following President Abbas’ announcement of a new Hamas-backed transitional government. The statement said, "Israel has gone to great lengths in recent months to negotiate in good faith with the Palestinian Authority, but President Abbas’ announcement earlier today of a Hamas-backed Palestinian transitional government makes clear once again that Israel does not have a viable partner for peace."
Making clear the stakes for U.S. taxpayers, the senators said “The United States has given more than $5 billion to the Palestinians over the last several decades. U.S. assistance to the Palestinians has played an important role in helping to ensure Israel’s security and promoting stability in Palestinian controlled areas. Current U.S. law is clear – any government over which an unreformed Hamas exercises undue influence and which emerges from a Fatah/Hamas deal is not an appropriate recipient of U.S. assistance. The naming of a technocratic slate of ministers by President Abbas seems to be an attempted end run around these obligations." Read more ..
Obama's Second Term
|Alexander Bolton||June 13th 2014|
President Obama’s team of national security advisers is under attack on Capitol Hill for not foreseeing the collapse of Iraq’s Army forces who have been routed by Sunni jihadists.
Republicans are calling for heads to roll and Democrats have been slow to defend Obama’s national security team after a string of questionable performances.
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have second-guessed Obama’s decision to release five senior Taliban commanders from Guantanamo Bay and his handling of the civil war in Syria. Now they’re concerned the insurgent’s lightening war across Iraq has taken the administration by surprise. Read more ..
The Battle for Iraq
|George Friedman||June 12th 2014|
|Rebecca Shabad ||June 10th 2014|
Hillary Clinton on Tuesday defended, but clarified recent comments she made about leaving the White House in debt in 2001.
“Let me just clarify that I fully appreciate how hard life is for so many Americans today,” Clinton said in a live interview on ABC’s “Good Morning America.” “I want to use the talents and resources I have to make sure people get the same chances.”
Host Robin Roberts asked Clinton if she can understand why people are questioning why she’d describe her family's finances as a struggle.
“Yes, I can, but everything in life has to be put into context. As I recall, we were something like in $12 million in debt,” said Clinton, adding that she soon entered the Senate and couldn’t do much to help reverse that at the time.
Her husband, former President Bill Clinton, she said, was born poor and has worked hard after receiving opportunities like a good education. Read more ..
|Fred Schulte, David Donald & Erin Durkin||June 8th 2014|
Center for Public Integrity
Read more ..
In South Florida, one of the nation’s top privately-run Medicare insurance plans faces a federal investigation into allegations that it overbilled the government by exaggerating how sick some of its patients were.
In the Las Vegas area, private health care plans for seniors ran up more than $100 million in added Medicare charges after asserting patients they signed up also were much sicker than normal — a claim many experts have challenged. In Rochester, New York, a Medicare plan was paid $41 million to treat people with serious diseases — even though the plan couldn’t prove the patients in fact had those diseases.
These health plans and hundreds of others are part of Medicare Advantage, a program created by Congress in 2003 to help stabilize health care spending on the elderly. But the plans have sharply driven up costs in many parts of the United States — larding on tens of billions of dollars in overcharges and other suspect billings based in part on inflated assessments of how sick patients are, an investigation by the Center for Public Integrity has found.
|Sheera Frenkel||June 5th 2014|
United States officials have been holding secret back-channel talks with Hamas over the last six months to discuss their role in the newly formed unity government, according to two senior diplomatic sources with direct knowledge of the talks.
The meetings were held between U.S. intermediaries and Hamas’ leadership, which lives outside the Gaza Strip in third-party countries ranging from Egypt to Qatar and Jordan. Topics included the ceasefire agreement with Israel and the recently formed unity government between Hamas and Fatah.
During the talks, Hamas gave assurances that allowed the U.S. to support the unity government, despite heavy pressure by the Israeli government for them to condemn it, the diplomatic officials — one American and one Palestinian — said. They said those assurances including a commitment to maintaining a ceasefire with Israel. Read more ..
Obama's Second Term
|Rebecca Shabad||June 4th 2014|
The Israeli ambassador to the United States late Monday slammed the Obama administration for its willingness to work with the new Palestinian unity government formed earlier that day.
Ambassador Ron Dermer expressed in a series of statements on Twitter that Israel is “deeply disappointed.”
Dermer said Hamas, which has united with the Fatah party, is a terrorist organization that has murdered hundreds of Israelis, and launched thousands of rockets at Israeli cities. Read more ..
Financing the Flames
On April 29, 2014, it rained in Manhattan. Beneath a tortoise shell of congregated umbrellas, several dozen American Jewish protestors kept their word, despite the drizzle and despite the criticism. On cue, at 5:30 in the afternoon — they did promise “rain or shine,” — all those assembled raised their curved rams’ horns, long and short, organic and plastic, personal and borrowed, and wailed to the heavens in visceral unison. Their cacophonous alarums continued until the shofar blowers felt they had made their point.
Who were they protesting? This outcry was staged not in front of the Iranian consulate or the United Nations but in front of the 59th Street headquarters of the UJA-Federation of New York.
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The Federation’s beneficiary, the Jewish Community Relations Council, was the chief organizer of the June 1st “Celebrate Israel” Parade. The upbeat procession of floats, runners, and marchers is normally a public show of Jewish unity in support of Israel. But this year, the parade became a maelstrom of disunity over the repeat participation of the controversial New Israel Fund (NIF) and other groups which recent revelations now vibrantly link to the Boycott, Sanctions and Divestment (BDS) movement and the campaign to delegitimize Israel internationally.
The outrage in some American, Jewish, and Israeli circles over the NIF’s inclusion in the highly visible parade, formerly known as the Israel Day Parade, may be more than just a passing horn blast. The discontent may be energizing a historic decision among American Jews. Just what constitutes the Jewish mainstream? Is American Jewry about to set limits on its open tent of inclusion, a precept the community wears as a badge of honor? Read more ..
The Edge of the Universe
|Clara Moskowitz||June 1st 2014|
What if the universe had no beginning, and time stretched back infinitely without a big bang to start things off? That's one possible consequence of an idea called "rainbow gravity," so-named because it posits that gravity's effects on spacetime are felt differently by different wavelengths of light, aka different colors in the rainbow.
Rainbow gravity was first proposed 10 years ago as a possible step toward repairing the rifts between the theories of general relativity (covering the very big) and quantum mechanics (concerning the realm of the very small). The idea is not a complete theory for describing quantum effects on gravity, and is not widely accepted. Nevertheless, physicists have now applied the concept to the question of how the universe began, and found that if rainbow gravity is correct, spacetime may have a drastically different origin story than the widely accepted picture of the big bang. Read more ..
Jewry on Edge
Times of Israel
The fractious public reaction to the April 30 rejection of J Street’s membership by the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations has been based on widespread dissemination of false information about the process, according to exclusive interviews with sources close to the Presidents Conference process. The sources declined to be named because, while fully conversant with all aspects of the J Street vote, they were not authorized to speak publicly. But they emphasize that J Street was rejected not by the “Left or Right” or a “right-wing minority” but by the overwhelming voting consensus of the 50-member organization. Moreover, the sources say, J Street supporters were in a smaller minority than initially apparent because just two voting blocs controlled 8 of the 17 yes votes.
By way of background, after a year of trying, the controversial lobby J Street was rejected by a wide margin for membership in the Presidents Conference, the umbrella group for 50 American Jewish communal organizations. The lopsided vote rang in at only 17 for, and 22 against in a process that required 34 yes ballots out of 50 voting member groups. But digging into the numbers reveals more than previously apparent about who voted yes and who did not, Conference sources say.
J Street bills itself as pro-Israel, but has engendered controversy among the pro-Israel community about its true intentions. Since its April 30, 2014 membership rejection vote, public vitriol by J Street and its supporters in the Conference and the Jewish media has been directed at the Conference as an organization, and, in a few instances, its executive vice chairman, Malcolm Hoenlein, personally. The fallout included a threat by a Reform Judaism leader to break away as well as sarcastic jibes on J Street’s website, which are still live at press time more than a month after the vote.
Read more ..
The Edge of Science
|Christoph Hammerschmidt||May 28th 2014|
Scientists from the Technical Universities of Berlin and Munich have demonstrated that an airplane can be flown without touching the yoke - controlled only by the brain of the pilot. In an experiment, the scientists wired the brain of the test person with an electroencephalograph through a dozens of electrodes. An algorithm developed at the Berlin TU deciphered the electrical signals from the brain and transformed them into control instructions for an airplane - actually it was a flight simulator with a rather realistic visual representation of the environment and with real control elements. However, the test person did not even touch these control elements, instead he "flew" the plane by means of the signals right from his brain in a demonstration. Read more ..
|Hillel Italie||May 27th 2014|
If you're hoping to preorder books by J.K. Rowling, Michael Connelly, and other Hachette Book Group authors, you'll have to go somewhere besides Amazon.com.
A simmering standoff between Amazon and one of the leading New York publishers has intensified. The online retailer, which already had been slowing delivery on a wide range of Hachette titles, has removed preorder buttons for such books as Connelly's The Burning Room and Rowling's The Silkworm, a detective story she wrote under the pen name Robert Galbraith.
Previous changes had been more subtle. The listing for the paperback of J.D. Salinger's Nine Stories says delivery will take three to five weeks and offers "Similar items at a lower price," including a collection of Ernest Hemingway stories published by Scribner. Read more ..
Broken Campaign Financing
|Michael Beckel||May 26th 2014|
Center for Public Integrity
Read more ..
Even as top Democrats denounce Charles and David Koch’s political “dark money” organizations, party operatives have built a secretive nonprofit network of their own — albeit a much smaller one — to advance liberal policies and win votes. America Votes, which seeks to build “a permanent advocacy and campaign infrastructure” to “promote progressive issues,” raised $12.7 million during its most recent fiscal year, according to new tax documents reviewed by the Center for Public Integrity.
The sources of America Votes’ funding are not clear.
“We do not disclose that information to the public,” said America Votes spokeswoman Liz Accola, adding that her group was “in full compliance” with the law. The new tax records show that a dozen anonymous donors provided the lion’s share of the budget for America Votes during its most recent fiscal year, with each giving between $300,000 and $1.1 million. Together, these 12 donors accounted for 60 percent of the group’s funds.
The scandal involving a potential cover up of medical mistreatment of military veterans by the Department of Veterans Affairs dominated discussion on the Sunday morning political talk shows.
Lawmakers from both parties appeared on every channel to discuss the still-emerging VA scandal, calling for responses ranging from a Department of Justice investigation to the firing of VA Secretary Eric Shinseki.
Even Democrats said the scandal was unlikely to go away anytime soon. “We’re talking now about…credible and specific evidence of criminal wrongdoing across the country in more than 30 places,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said during an appearance on CBS’s “Face The Nation.” Blumenthal said the Obama administration should allow the Department of Justice to conduct a separate investigation of the complaints against the VA. Read more ..
The UN on Edge
The April reconciliation agreement between the Palestinian Authority’s dominant Fatah faction and the Islamist Hamas movement has come as a shock to many. It shouldn’t have. In the weeks before the deal, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas had already taken steps with a profoundly negative impact on the U.S.-sponsored peace talks. Building on his modest success in winning a 2012 UN General Assembly vote to upgrade the Palestinian Authority’s status to that of a non-member state—a designation it shares only with the Vatican—Abbas returned to this unilateralist strategy of peace avoidance by signing 15 applications for membership in a variety of international agencies, conventions, and treaties. Read more ..
Thailand on Edge
Thailand's army chief announced a military takeover of the government Thursday, saying the coup was necessary to restore stability after six months of political deadlock and turmoil.
Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha said in a statement broadcast on national television that the same military commission that had imposed martial law Tuesday would now take control of the country's administration. Prayuth will head the body, a deputy spokesman said late Thursday.
The army also announced a nationwide curfew from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. and a suspension of the country's constitution.
"In order for the country to return to normal quickly, the National Peace Keeping Committee comprised of the army, the Thai armed forces, the Royal Air Force and the police need to seize power as of May 22 at 4:30 p.m.,” Prayuth said. Read more ..
|Jonathan D. Halevi||May 21st 2014|
Representatives of the Fatah and Hamas movements are continuing to talk at both senior and junior levels in an attempt to translate the reconciliation agreement, signed between the sides on April 23, 2014, into a series of operative steps. These primarily involve integrating Hamas and Islamic Jihad into the PLO institutions, setting up a unity government, and preparing for new parliamentary and presidential elections. The Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen), met with Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal and the emir of Qatar in Doha on May 6. Fatah Central Committee member Azzam al-Ahmed is expected to come to Gaza for continued reconciliation talks, and discussions are also being held in joint committees. The following are the main points of the agreements that are emerging on various issues: Read more ..
Setting up a technocrat government: By the end of May, the new government is to be composed of ministers who are not identified with any political party. Its main tasks will be managing daily affairs in the West Bank and Gaza, synchronizing the activities of ministries of a government that currently is divided between Ramallah and Gaza, preparing for parliamentary and presidential elections, implementing the terms of the reconciliation agreement (including putting a halt to “political arrests” and arranging for the employment of those public-sector workers hired since the summer of 2007 when Hamas took control of Gaza in a violent overthrow), rehabilitating Gaza, and assuming control of the Rafiah crossing that links Gaza and Egypt. The Palestinian government will have no authority over relations with Israel.
Obama's Second Term
|Kristine Wong||May 19th 2014|
President Obama is relying less on drones and more on foreign governments in the global fight against terrorists.
The shift, which also includes fewer unilateral special operations raids of the type that killed Osama bin Laden, is prompting criticism that Washington depends on unstable governments such as in Nigeria, where Boko Haram, an extremist group, has emerged as a new threat.
The Pentagon has hiked its budget for “Section 1206” counterterrorism programs to train and equip foreign militaries from $218.6 million in 2012 to a requested $290.2 million in 2014, according to a recent Congressional Research Service report.
Its budget for “Section 1208” counterterrorism programs, which train and equip foreign militaries and also include more specific operational activities, is classified, but defense officials say that while the amount has stayed stable, money has shifted from Afghanistan to North Africa and the Middle East. Read more ..
Financing the Flames
|Martin Barillas||May 18th 2014|
American Jewish groups concerned with the anti-Israel BDS movement, as well as other issues surrounding agitation NGOs in Israel, have scheduled lectures by renowned human rights author Edwin Black. The groups have summoned Black to hear revelations from his latest bestselling investigative book, Financing the Flames. That book has ignited international repercussions about the role of tax-exempt and taxpayer monies, as well as the human rights movement, in creating a culture of violence, confrontation, and paid terrorism in Israel.
Black’s previous works include the million-copy international seller IBM and the Holocaust and the award-winning JTA series “Funding Hate.”
In Financing the Flames, Black spotlights American taxpayer-supported monies funding salaries of Palestinian terrorists in Israeli prisons, as well as the organic connection of the New Israel Fund to the BDS movement, and the NIF's robust funding of “agitation human rights NGOs.”
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Learn More About Financing the Flames
Black kicks off a three-event New York scholar-in residence beginning with a presentation May 19 at 7 p.m. at the StandWithUs-New York headquarters. StandWithUs is the lead sponsor of the tour. The next day, May 20, Black addresses a group of attorneys in a lunch-and-learn session co-sponsored by SWU and the American Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists, Institute for the Study of Global Antisemitism and Policy, and other groups. He wraps up his visit with a school-wide assembly lecture to Ramban Mesivta High School in Lawrence, Long Island.
In February, Black embarked upon a parliamentary tour of four legislatures in four weeks: The House of Commons in London, the European Parliament in Brussels, the Israeli Knesset in Jerusalem, and the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee in Washington, D.C. At each stop along the way, Black astonished lawmakers with details of donor nation funding for specific terrorists under a Palestinian law called the Law of the Prisoner under the aegis of the Palestinian Ministry of Prisoners. The author also spotlighted how the New Israel Fund has marshaled hundreds of millions of dollars to help establish the BDS movement and to finance confrontation NGOs, which, according to Israeli Knesset leaders and a broad swatch of Israeli military men, seem devoted to destabilizing the Israel Defense Forces and erasing the Jewish identity from the State of Israel. Read more ..
The Battle for the Ukraine
|Bernard Banks||May 16th 2014|
Vice President Biden's son Hunter has emerged in a key position in the Ukranian gas industry now at the center of the conflict in the Ukraine. According to USA Today: Vice President Biden's son Hunter is joining the board of a gas company that operates in Ukraine. Burisma Holdings, Ukraine's largest private gas producer, said Hunter Biden -- an attorney -- will be in charge of its legal unit and help the company with other international organizations. "I believe that my assistance in consulting the Company on matters of transparency, corporate governance and responsibility, international expansion and other priorities will contribute to the economy and benefit the people of Ukraine," the younger Biden said in a statement. The Biden appointment comes as the United States and allied nations try to help Ukraine reduce its dependence on Russian energy by developing other sources. Kendra Barkoff, spokesperson for Vice President Biden, said that "Hunter Biden is a private citizen and a lawyer. The Vice President does not endorse any particular company and has no involvement with this company." Read more ..
The Battle for Ukraine
|Martin Barillas||May 13th 2014|
Cutting Edge Contributor
The European Union has expanded its sanctions over Ukraine’s crisis after pro-Russian separatists in Donetsk and Luhansk declared independence from Ukraine and separatists in Donetsk asked Moscow to allow their self-declared “republic” to join the Russian Federation. The separatists’ appeal to Moscow was in a May 12 statement read out at a news conference by Denis Pushilin, a separatist leader in the self-declared "Donetsk People's Republic."
The move came a day after the Donetsk and Luhansk regions held so-called self-rule referendums. The self-styled separatist officials – some of whom are now being targeted by EU sanctions -- claimed a high voter turnout and an overwhelming support for independence in the May 11 votes. Read more ..
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