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Broken Government

Election Commissioners: SCOTUS Ruling Will Empower 'Megadonors'

April 5th 2014

Supreme Court

Members of the Federal Election Commissioners are lashing back at the Supreme Court’s decision this week to strip away a key campaign finance restriction, contending the ruling will only add to the influence of “megadonors.”

In a scathing statement, FEC Vice Chairwoman Ann Ravel and commissioner Ellen Weintraub said they were “troubled” about the high court’s decision to do away with overall individual contribution limits.

“This decision will not increase the number of voices able to participate in the political debate,” the Democratic commissioners said. “Instead, it amplifies the voices of the few to the detriment of the many.” Five of nine justices concluded in the ruling, handed down Wednesday, that aggregate contribution limits — the total amount donors can contribute to federal campaigns and party committees in an election cycle — violate the Constitution’s protections for free speech. Read more ..


Ukraine on Edge

The United States and Russia Parley over the Future of Ukraine

April 1st 2014

During the Cold War, U.S. secretaries of state and Soviet foreign ministers routinely negotiated the outcome of crises and the fate of countries. It has been a long time since such talks have occurred, but last week a feeling of deja vu overcame me. Americans and Russians negotiated over everyone's head to find a way to defuse the crisis in Ukraine and, in the course of that, shape its fate.

During the talks, U.S. President Barack Obama made it clear that Washington has no intention of expanding NATO into either Ukraine or Georgia. The Russians have stated that they have no intention of any further military operations in Ukraine. Conversations between Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry have been extensive and ongoing. For different reasons, neither side wants the crisis to continue, and each has a different read on the situation. Read more ..


Israel on Edge

The Failure of Religious Diplomacy in the Birth of Modern Israel

March 31st 2014

Before the UN launched it seemingly permanent relief effort for Palestinian refugees in 1950, UNRWA, it oversaw another, smaller program called United Nations Relief for Palestinian Refugees (UNRPR). In 1948 and 1949 aid was administered for the UN by the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), the International Committee of the Red Cross, and the League of Red Cross Societies.

AFSC and its leaders represented their participation in UNRPR as an outgrowth of relief work they had done in Europe and elsewhere during and after World War II. This work had, with some lobbying, earned a Nobel Peace Prize for the AFSC and its British counterpart in 1947. Read more ..


America on Edge

Inside the Koch Brother's Campus Crusade

March 30th 2014

Koch Think Tanks

The campus of Koch Brothers Academy spans a nation.

Learn about the “role of government institutions in a capitalistic society” at South Carolina’s College of Charleston.

Dive into the “integrated study of philosophy, politics and economics” at Duke University and University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.

And philosophize about the “moral imperatives of free markets and individual liberty” at the Manuel H. Johnson Center for Political Economy at Troy University in Alabama.

Billionaire industrialists David and Charles Koch may rank among the nation’s biggest bankrollers of conservative causes and Republican campaign vehicles. But Koch proselytizing of government deregulation and pro-business civics is increasingly targeted not just at creatures of Capitol Hill, or couch sitters in swing states, but at the hearts and minds of American college students, as well. Read more ..


The US and Russia

Kerry's Change of Course Signals Ukraine Talks

March 29th 2014

John Kerry

Possible negotiations between Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov over the Kremlin’s annexation of Crimea appeared more likely after the nation’s top diplomat abruptly scrapped his plans Saturday to return to the United States.

Kerry, who has been in Saudi Arabia with President Obama, opted instead to fly to Paris, signaling that a meeting with Lavrov could come as early as Monday. State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki said the meeting with Lavrov had not yet been scheduled, but that it would occur “early next week.”

According to a senior administration official, Kerry and Lavrov have been attempting to negotiate a solution that would de-escalate the situation in Ukraine. Russian military forces moved into the ethnically Russian Crimean peninsula late last month, in a move they described as a bid to protect Russian nationals from the new, pro-Europe interim government in Kiev. After a referendum vote within Crimea that heavily favored secession, Russia moved to formally annex the territory. Read more ..


Financing the Flames

Palestinian Terrorist Hatches Terror Plan to Get Palestinian Authority Terrorist Salary

March 28th 2014

Click to select Image

Imprisoned Palestinian terrorist Husni Najjar explained to Israeli Police that he planned a second terror attack in order to be captured and imprisoned by Israel a second time, so that he would receive the salaries the Palestinian Authority pays to prisoners while in jail and following their release.

In his signed statement given to the police following his second arrest, a copy of which is in the possession of Palestinian Media Watch, he explains that the money he received from the PA as salary during his first prison term amounted to only 45,000 shekels.

However, the salary he would receive following his second prison term and subsequent release would leave him with "135,000 shekels." "And thus I would cover my debts," the terrorist explained his motive for planning the attack. Read more ..


The Edge of Medicine

Edible, Biodegradable Batteries in the Offing

March 27th 2014

Baby Boomer

A biodegradable, implantable battery could help in the development of biomedical devices that monitor tissue or deliver treatments before being reabsorbed by the body after use.

“This is a really major advance,” says Jeffrey Borenstein, a biomedical engineer at Draper Laboratory, a non-profit research and development center in Cambridge, Massachusetts. “Until recently, there has not been a lot of progress in this area.”

In 2012, materials scientist John Rogers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign unveiled a range of biodegradable silicon chips that could monitor temperature or mechanical strain, radio the results to external devices, and even heat up tissue to prevent infection (see ‘Biodegradable electronics here today, gone tomorrow’). Some of those chips relied on induction coils to draw wireless power from an external source. Read more ..


Obama's Second Term

Obama Exorcises 'Darker Forces of the Past' on European Junket

March 26th 2014

President Obama sought to rally Europe to intensify Russia’s isolation in a sweeping speech Wednesday that cast the Kremlin’s takeover of Crimea in Cold War terms.

Even as Obama insisted the new fight with Russia was “not another Cold War,” the president described the annexation of Ukrainian territory as part of a decades-old battle with the “darker forces of the past.”

Obama hoped to use his speech capping a four-nation, three-day swing through Europe to unify European partners less comfortable with sanctioning Russia given their economic ties.
The case he made at the Palais Des Beaux Arts in Brussels was a moral one, as he acknowledged that if nations “applied a cold-hearted calculus,” they might shy away from responding to a crisis that did not directly affect their own borders. Read more ..


Ukraine on Edge

U.S. Strategy After Ukraine: From Estonia to Azerbaijan

March 25th 2014

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As I discussed last week, the fundamental problem that Ukraine poses for Russia, beyond a long-term geographical threat, is a crisis in internal legitimacy. Russian President Vladimir Putin has spent his time in power rebuilding the authority of the Russian state within Russia and the authority of Russia within the former Soviet Union. The events in Ukraine undermine the second strategy and potentially the first. If Putin cannot maintain at least Ukrainian neutrality, then the world's perception of him as a master strategist is shattered, and the legitimacy and authority he has built for the Russian state is, at best, shaken.

Whatever the origins of the events in Ukraine, the United States is now engaged in a confrontation with Russia. The Russians believe that the United States was the prime mover behind regime change in Ukraine. At the very least, the Russians intend to reverse events in Ukraine. At most, the Russians have reached the conclusion that the United States intends to undermine Russia's power. They will resist. The United States has the option of declining confrontation, engaging in meaningless sanctions against individuals and allowing events to take their course. Alternatively, the United States can choose to engage and confront the Russians. Read more ..


Financing the Flames

Fourteen Jewish Groups Come Together in New Jersey to Hear Edwin Black on the New Israel Fund and BDS

March 23rd 2014

Edwin Black
Author Edwin Black

Fourteen local and national Jewish organizations and synagogues will gather in Englewood, New Jersey, at 8 p.m. on Tuesday, March 25, 2014, to confront the BDS movement and 501(c)(3) groups who finance the movement and make it work. The community-wide event, to be live globally streamed with audience participation worldwide, is called “Time to Unite.” The extraordinary event is the brain child of Unity4Unity leader Lee Lasher. “Time to Unite” was specifically called to hear revelations by bestselling investigative author Edwin Black whose latest book, Financing the Flames, 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 terrorism in Israel. Black’s previous works include 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 Palestinian salaries for 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.”

Buy Financing the Flames
Learn More About Financing the Flames
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The fourteen Jewish organizations and synagogues supporting the event include Unite4Unity, Congregation Ahavath Torah, East Hill Synagogue, Temple Emanu-el, Temple Rishon, Temple Avodat Shalom, Congregation Bnai Yeshurun and The Glen Rock Jewish Center, as well as the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey, and the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey. Cosponsors include the American Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists, Institute for the Study of Global Antisemitism and Policy, and the Jewish Virtual Library.

Last month, 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 ..


Broken Banking

Kleptocrats Hiding Money in US Warned 'We Will Find You'

March 22nd 2014

Money Bands=Happiness

On March 5, the US Department of Justice unsealed a complaint alleging a brazen pattern of high level corruption. A former president had manufactured phony national security expenses and directed his associates to stuff cash from the Central Bank into bags and boxes, which was then spirited through offshore companies in the British Virgin Islands into accounts in the world’s leading banks in New York and London.

The total amount looted through this scheme and other official acts, alleged the Justice Department, was more than half a billion dollars. What made the announcement even more unusual than the vast sums of money involved was its target. The former president whose family’s assets were frozen was not an American, but the late Nigerian dictator Sani Abacha. The roughly half billion dollars being held was a record haul for the recently established Justice Department unit prosecuting his case: the Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Initiative. Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

On 10th Anniversary of Madrid Al Qaeda 3-11 Bombing, Analysts Apply Lessons to Fight Terror in Israel

March 21st 2014

al Qaeda Fighters

Ten years ago, on March 11, 2004, at 7:37 AM, three bombs hidden in backpacks exploded on two commuter trains, one waiting at the platform at Madrid’s Atocha station, and the other a quarter mile down the track. Within the next three minutes, seven more bombs would explode on commuter trains arriving at El Pozo and Santa Eugenia, two stations further down the line. Three more bombs were later detonated by police.

“The dead were lying on the ground,” a thick-set Spaniard said into a mobile phone in front of the Atocha station. His eyes were glazed. It was as if he were trying to remember a nightmare. “I saw a girl with a hole in her kidney that you could have put your finger in. Five dead on the escalator. People without arms were asking for help. A woman asked me to call her husband. She was yelling the number, but I couldn’t understand. I had to get out.”

Read more ..

Malaysia on Edge

Malaysia Airlines Mystery Highlights Lack of International Cooperation

March 20th 2014

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As the search for the missing Malaysian plane enters its 13th day and possible sightings of wreckage are reported off Australia’s southwest coast, the Malaysian government is struggling to be responsive to families of the passengers and avoid diplomatic repercussions. Analysts say the incident highlights the need for better regional cooperation.

After families of missing passengers publicly lashed out against the Malaysian government's handling of the jetliner mystery, authorities in Kuala Lumpur announced they will send delegates to Beijing, where hundreds of next of kin anxiously await reliable findings.

The move is a further attempt by the Malaysian government to correct early missteps that have drawn criticism from China, home to the majority of the plane's passengers.

But more than focusing on how one country has handled the crisis, analysts say the struggle to find the plane shows the lack of a regionally coordinated response.
Read more ..


Obama's Second Term

Consumers' Obamacare Costs May Triple in Some States

March 19th 2014

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Health industry officials say ObamaCare-related premiums will double in some parts of the country, countering claims recently made by the administration.

The expected rate hikes will be announced in the coming months amid an intense election year, when control of the Senate is up for grabs. The sticker shock would likely bolster the GOP’s prospects in November and hamper ObamaCare insurance enrollment efforts in 2015.

The industry complaints come less than a week after Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius sought to downplay concerns about rising premiums in the healthcare sector. She told lawmakers rates would increase in 2015 but grow more slowly than in the past.
“The increases are far less significant than what they were prior to the Affordable Care Act,” the secretary said in testimony before the House Ways and Means Committee. Read more ..


The Battle for Ukraine

Putin Examines His Options for Responding to Ukraine Crisis

March 18th 2014

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The fall of the Ukrainian government and its replacement with one that appears to be oriented toward the West represents a major defeat for the Russian Federation. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia accepted the reality that the former Eastern European satellite states would be absorbed into the Western economic and political systems.

Moscow claims to have been assured that former Soviet republics would be left as a neutral buffer zone and not absorbed. Washington and others have disputed that this was promised. In any case, it was rendered meaningless when the Baltic states were admitted to NATO and the European Union. The result was that NATO, which had been almost 1,600 kilometers (1,000 miles) from St. Petersburg, was now less than approximately 160 kilometers away. Read more ..


Ukraine on Edge

Obama's Relations with Putin Reach a Nadir

March 18th 2014

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The relationship between President Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin appears to have reached the breaking point over the crisis in Ukraine.

Through a series of long telephone conversations, Obama and Putin have talked extensively behind the scenes about the fate of Crimea, with the United States repeatedly warning Russia against a grab for territory.
But Putin appears to be forging ahead, defying Obama’s calls for a diplomatic solution that would allow both sides to save face.

Now the United States and its allies are directly hitting some of Putin’s closest advisers with sanctions in a move intended to isolate and punish the Kremlin. Read more ..


Ukraine on Edge

Obama Moves to Impose Sanctions while Putin Moves On

March 17th 2014

Announcing that the U.S. and its allies have mobilized to isolate Russia, President Barack Obama has imposed sanctions on key individuals Washington deems responsible for a Moscow-backed referendum in Ukraine's Crimea aimed at putting the region under Russia's control.

Speaking at the White House, Obama announced that he ordered sanctions against 11 Russian and Ukrainian officials, including two top advisers to Russia's President Vladimir Putin, in addition to ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych. All will be subject to asset freezes.

In an executive order issued earlier, Obama said that the policies and actions of the Russian Federation have been found to “undermine democratic processes and institutions in Ukraine; threaten its peace, security, stability, sovereignty, and territorial integrity; and contribute to the misappropriation of its assets, and thereby constitute an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States.” Read more ..


Russia and Crimea

Exit Polls Show Lopsided Results in Crimea Referndum to Join Russia

March 16th 2014

Kremlin

The White House on Sunday was quick to dismiss a referendum that showed overwhelming support in Crimea for seceding from Ukraine and joining Russia.

Exit polls showed a vast majority of voters Sunday backed secession, but the Obama administration reiterated that it and the global community viewed the results as illegitimate, and the result of Russian intimidation.
“This referendum is contrary to Ukraine’s constitution, and the international community will not recognize the results of a poll administered under threats of violence and intimidation from a Russian military intervention that violates international law,” the White House said in a statement.

“No decisions should be made about the future of Ukraine without the Ukrainian government.”

Ninety-three percent of Crimean voters, a Russian-speaking region of Ukraine, voted in favor of secession, according to Agence France-Presse, citing exit polls.

The vote sets the stage for the United States and European allies to ramp up pressure on Russia.

After diplomatic talks and public criticism have failed to slow Russian military forces from amassing in and around Crimea, U.S. officials and allies are preparing to impose economic sanctions on Russia and several high-ranking officials in Russian government and industry. Read more ..


Palestinians on Edge

EU Pays Salaries of Tens of Thousands Phantom Palestinian Civil Servants

March 15th 2014

Abbas UN

European auditors say the EU should stop paying the salaries of thousands of Palestinian civil servants in the Gaza Strip who are not going to work. The auditors examined about 1bn euros (£840m; $1.3bn) of EU spending in Gaza between 2008 and 2012.

They called for a major review, saying money spent on civil servants there should go to the West Bank instead.

Many Gaza civil servants had not worked since the Islamist movement Hamas came to power in 2007, the auditors added.

Hamas, which won parliamentary elections the previous year, ousted forces loyal to Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah faction, and set up a rival government. Israel subsequently tightened its blockade of the territory, with Egypt's co-operation, to weaken Hamas and end rocket attacks. Read more ..


Aviation Edge

Malaysia Airline Flight Disappearance was 'Deliberate Action'

March 15th 2014

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Malaysian, American and other authorities investigating what happened to a missing jetliner en route to China one week ago are concluding that its disappearance was a deliberate action.

Malaysia's prime minister confirms that whatever took Flight 370 off course was not an accident.

Najib Razak told reporters Saturday the transponder of Flight 370 appears to have been deliberately switched off before the airliner turned back, flew west over peninsula Malaysia and then shifted to a northwest heading.

Najib said, "Up until the point at which it left military primary radar coverage these movements are consistent with deliberate action by someone on the plane."

But the prime minister emphasized that hijacking is not the only possibility authorities are considering for the suspicious actions.

The Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 with 239 people on board was en route to Beijing from Kuala Lumpur. Read more ..


Aviation Edge

Search Widens for Missing Malaysia Jet

March 13th 2014

cruisers lake erie and port royal

Some of the world's most advanced military technology is on display in Asian waters this week in the search for the missing Malaysian passenger jet, but the plane's whereabouts are still a mystery six days after it disappeared.

Chinese media are describing Bejing's deployment of four naval vessels, four civilian search ships and multiple aircraft as the biggest Chinese rescue effort ever assembled. State-run television said two ships were using underwater sonar and robots to try to find the missing Boeing 777 with 239 people aboard.

Chinese helicopter teams say they are carrying out airborne searches in a methodical fashion. Yet one commander, Zhou Zun, said that spotting someone still alive in the water would be difficult. Read more ..


America and Israel

Sen. Schumer Takes Obama Administration to Task over Feud with Israel

March 12th 2014

Sen. Charles Schumer (D) and the State Department are at odds over whether the American government is systematically denying Israeli visa applications.

The New York Democrat points to a dramatic increase in refusals of Israeli visas and recent discussions between his office and the State Department in arguing there has been a policy shift at Foggy Bottom, while the State Department maintains there has been no change.

“All visa applications are reviewed individually in accordance with the requirements of U.S. immigration law,” State Department spokeswoman Pooja Jhunjhunwala told The Hill. “When any individual makes a U.S. visa application anywhere in the world, a consular officer reviews the facts of the case and makes a determination of eligibility based on U.S. law.”

But Schumer argues the State Department is summarily rejecting applications for young Israelis planning to travel in the United States after the completion of their compulsory military service, but before they complete their educations. Read more ..


Obama's Second Term

Obama Administration Feuds with Congress Over CIA Snooping

March 12th 2014

President Obama is caught in the middle of an increasingly bitter feud between the Central Intelligence Agency and Democratic allies on Capitol Hill.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s (D-Calif.) stunning accusation that the CIA spied on her panel plunged the president into a controversy over the separation of powers that threatens to become a major headache for his administration.

The White House did its best to steer clear of the storm on Tuesday, but Obama could soon be forced to take sides. Democrats are pushing to release their investigation into interrogation techniques used during the George W. Bush administration and have been fighting for months with the CIA over declassifying its contents. Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

Japan Could be Building an Irresistable Terrorist Site

March 11th 2014

Atomic Weapon Test Shot

Sporting turquoise-striped walls and massive steel cooling towers, the new industrial complex rising from bluffs astride the Pacific Ocean here looks like it might produce consumer electronics or bath salts.

But in reality it is one of the world’s newest, largest, and most controversial production plants for a nuclear explosive.

The factory’s private owners said three months ago that after several decades of construction, it will be ready to open in October, as part of a government-supported effort to create special fuel for the country’s future nuclear power plants.

Japan’s leaders affirmed last month they intend to proceed with that effort, a decision that has stoked anxiety in East Asia and set off alarms among Western experts who worry about the spread of nuclear weapons technology — including some inside the Obama administration. Read more ..


Obama's Second Term

Democrats See Light at the End of the Obamacare Tunnel

March 10th 2014

States run by Republican governors and legislatures are slowly adopting the Medicaid expansion under ObamaCare, boosting Democratic hopes they can run on the issue in the midterm elections.

Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) has launched a petition on her website urging Gov. Bobby Jindal (R-La.) to agree to the expansion, which she argues would bring health insurance to more people who cannot afford it.

The issue is giving Landrieu a chance to run not only against her GOP opponent Rep. Bill Cassidy (R-La.), who opposes the extension, but against Jindall as well. She argues the expansion would close “the Jindal Gap.”
Read more ..


Obama's Second Term

Is US Losing New Cold War?

March 8th 2014

Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin meeting

If there is a new cold war with Russia, many observers believe the U.S. is losing it.

First under President George W. Bush and now under President Obama, the U.S. and Vladimir Putin’s Russia have engaged in a series of foreign policy battles — and Putin has repeatedly got his way.

The Russian president’s objective is clear. He wants to reassert Russia’s influence in Eastern Europe while preventing NATO’s further expansion toward Russia, said Erik Brattberg, a resident fellow at the Atlantic Council. Diplomatic fights over Syria in 2013 and Russian’s military clash with Georgia in 2008 have given Putin confidence in the current fight over Russia’s invasion of Crimea, a region in eastern Ukraine with long ties to Moscow. Read more ..


Israel and Palestine

Congress Hears Testimony on How U.S. Taxes Fund Palestinian Terror

March 6th 2014

Hearings were held on Capitol Hill on March 5 by the Subcommittee on Terrorism, Non-Proliferation, and Trade of the House Foreign Affairs committee about growing threats to Israel, including the funding of international terrorism by non-profit organizations in the United States and elsewhere. The subcommittee hearing was chaired by Rep. Ted Poe (R-TX). Members of Congress were briefed by award-winning investigative journalist Edwin Black, attorney Steven R. Perles, and Dr. David Pollock of the Washington Institute on Near East Policy.

Congressman Poe opened the hearing by noting the long-standing alliance of the United States with Israel, and extolled “common values of liberty and democracy that unite us, among other things.” Referring to the Obama administration, which has had differences with Israeli premier Benjamin Netanyahu, Poe said “This administration sometimes forgets this. Be it the Iranian nuclear program or pressuring Israel over peace talks with the Palestinians, our recent relations have damaged our relationship.” The hearing came just two days after President Barack Obama and Netanyahu met at the White House to discuss the ongoing negotiations for Mideast peace, as well as Iran’s nuclear weaponization program. Read more ..


The US and Russia

US Envoy to UN Samantha Power Warns Russia on Ukraine

March 5th 2014

Samantha Power

The U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, said in an exclusive interview Wednesday that the United States will vigorously pursue economic isolation of Russia if it does not back down on Ukraine intervention. "The issue is whether Russia is prepared to deescalate," she said in a television interview.

Power urged Russia to ease its military posture and embrace mediation to solve the deepening crisis. She said Russia has made a number of claims about the poor treatment of ethnic Russians and Russian speakers that Washington finds baseless. And she urged the quick dispatch of monitors to eastern Ukraine and the Crimea to report on the situation.

“Our point to the Russians is, if you have these claims and you are saying to the international community that certain things happened, what are you afraid of?" she asked. "Why not allow monitors in on a large-scale to offer assurance that ethnic Russians will be protected? We have been rebuffed up to this point, but we are still pushing that," she added. Read more ..


The Battle for the Ukraine

Russia Reports Scheduled ICBM test Amid Crimea Tension

March 4th 2014

Russian ICBMs

The Russian military says it has test-fired an intercontinental ballistic missile, as tension continues over Ukraine's Crimea region. A Topol RS-12M missile was launched from Russia's Kapustin Yar test range near the Caspian Sea to the Sary Shagan range in Kazakhstan, it said. It comes after the US accused Russia of an "act of aggression" in Crimea. The US said it was notified of the launch before it took place, as required by arms treaties.

Moscow is in de facto control of the Crimean peninsula after troops thought to be Russian or pro-Russian took control of strategic points in recent days. US Secretary of State John Kerry, visiting the Ukrainian capital Kiev, praised the "restraint" of the new government there, which took power after the overthrow of Russian ally President Viktor Yanukovych last month. Read more ..


Ukraine on Edge

Secretary Kerry says Putin is Weak and Desperate

March 2nd 2014

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Secretary of State John Kerry on March 2 blasted Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “stunning, willful” choice to invade Ukrainian territory and warned of possible sanctions.

“You just don’t in the 21st century behave in 19th century fashion by invading another country,” Kerry said on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” one of several appearances on network interview shows.

“It’s serious in terms of the modern manner in which countries resolve problems,” Kerry said.
“That’s not the act of somebody who’s strong, “ Kerry added, saying Putin is acting out of “weakness” and “desperation.”

On ABC’s “This Week,” Kerry called Putin’s move a “brazen act of aggression” and raised the possibility that allied nations would move to kick Russia out of the Group of 8 in addition to boycotting the G8 summit in Sochi this summer. Read more ..


The Battle for the Ukraine

Putin's "Show of Power" in Ukraine

March 2nd 2014

Russian Paratroopers

"Ukraine Must Reject Roots of Violence. If Ukrainians seek a brighter future, they must recognize, isolate and reject the inclinations to use violence that are now (emphasis added) deeply rooted in the country's political culture..." said a recent publication by the Wilson Center. But violence in Ukraine is nothing new. Ukrainian history is riddled with massacre, pogroms and war. Peacefulness has never been a Ukrainian trait. Violence was and is.

Like all the "Bloodlands" between Russia and Germany, there is a long history of violence in Ukraine. According to the 2001 census, the country's ethnic groups consisted of 77.8% Ukrainians, 17.3% Russians and relatively small percentages of Jews, Belarusians, Moldovans, Crimean Tatars, Bulgarians, Hungarians, Romanians, and Poles. These ethnic groups (especially Jews and those who call themselves Ukrainians) have seen the multitude of political, economic, religious and racial attacks, pogroms and provocations that accompany both military and non-military struggles for outside control and hegemony. Read more ..


Defense on Edge

Hawk vs. Hawk on Pentagon

March 1st 2014

Pentagon aerial shot

It's hawk vs. hawk when it comes to the new defense budget cuts.

Defense hawks are decrying reductions in Pentagon spending, but their budget hawk brethren see more fat to be trimmed.

Both sides are gearing themselves up for a prolonged fight over the size and shape of the military as the war in Afghanistan winds down and more sequester cuts loom.

The intra-party fight among Republican factions will play out in the coming months as lawmakers decide whether to try to boost the Pentagon’s budget this year. They also must decide whether to roll back additional automatic cuts known as the sequester that are planned in 2016.

The Pentagon this week announced plans to reduce the size of the Army to its lowest level since 1940, a year before the nation entered World War II. It also wants to cut benefits for troops and to retire fleets of planes. The cuts were made to fit the Pentagon’s 2015 base budget under a $496 billion spending ceiling. Read more ..


Ukraine on Edge

Russia Stirs the Water with Invasion of Crimea

February 28th 2014

Ukraine's new interior minister says Russian naval soldiers are blocking Crimea's Sevastopol airport, while other Russian forces are patrolling the airport in the regional capital, Simferopol. Arsen Avakov described the airport seizures as "a military invasion and occupation." Interfax quoted military sources in the region as saying that the soldiers had gone to Sevastopol's airport to stop "militants" from flying in.

Ukraine's UNIAN news agency said six military trucks full of armed soldiers had arrived at the airport, which also doubles as a Ukrainian Air Force facility. Russia's Black Sea Fleet, which has a base in Sevastopol, denied its forces were involved in seizing or blockading the airport.

Ukraine's parliament, meanwhile, on February 28 urged Moscow to stop any moves that could undermine the country's sovereignty.

The Verkhovna Rada called on the United States, Britain, and Russia to uphold Ukraine's territorial integrity in line with a memorandum they signed in 1994. It also suggested the UN Security Council meet to consider the crisis. Read more ..


Tax Reform

GOP Way and Means Chairman Unveils Mammoth Tax Reform Bill

February 26th 2014

Congress-senate

The House’s top tax writer rolled out a broad tax reform plan on Wednesday that would pare back tax breaks once thought untouchable and affect practically every part of American life.

The nearly 1,000-page plan unveiled by Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) would pull back on the cherished deduction for home mortgage interest and embraces some ideas touted by Democrats, like scrapping the “carried interest” tax break used by hedge fund managers.

Camp said a discussion on making the tax code fairer and a more positive force for the economy was long overdue in Washington, given that the last successful tax reform effort was in 1986. But the discussion draft, which included a summary that along ran almost 200 pages, quickly found detractors both on and off Capitol Hill, as trade groups and lobbyists found out who were the losers in the chairman’s outline. Read more ..


Ukraine on Edge

Turning Revolution to Recovery in Tumultuous Ukraine

February 25th 2014

The uprising in Kiev has apparently reached its conclusion. President Viktor Yanukovich and the opposition reached an agreement, negotiated by the Polish, German and French foreign ministers. The parliament is now effectively in charge, deciding who will be ministers and when elections will be held, whether to dismiss judges and so on. It isn't clear whether the parliament can fire the sitting president without impeachment and trial, but all of this is now moot. What is interesting is that the Polish, French and German foreign ministers negotiated an outcome that, for practical purposes, ignored the Constitution of Ukraine. It sets an interesting precedent. But for Ukraine, the constitution didn't have the patina of tradition that a true constitution requires, and few will miss Yanukovich.

The question now is whether all of this makes any real difference in Ukraine or the world. There is a new temporary leadership, although it is still factionalized and the leaders of the factions have not fully emerged. The effect of hostile gunfire will forge unity in Kiev for a while, but in due course, ideology, ambition and animosity will re-emerge. That will make governing Ukraine as difficult as in the past, particularly because the differences among the neo-Nazis, the liberals and groups in between -- all of which manned the barricades -- are profound. A government of national unity will be difficult to form. Read more ..


The Race for Nuclear

Nuclear Waste: Continuing Mismanagement at Nuclear Fuel Plant

February 22nd 2014

Davis Bessee nuke plant Ohio

The Energy Department has repeatedly and substantially underestimated the costs of building a South Carolina plant meant to turn surplus plutonium from nuclear weapons into fuel for power plants, federal auditors declared in a new report on Feb. 20.

The Government Accountability Office said the DOE’s National Nuclear Security Administration moreover has never completed “root cause analyses” of why the cost of the two construction projects at the heart of the effort have ballooned over the past decade. 

Providing a new window on what it depicted as the agency’s continuing mismanagement of the program, the GAO said that without such analyses, those in charge can’t correct existing problems, weigh any alternatives and learn from past mistakes.

The department failed to take a deep dive into the numbers, the report said, even when NNSA officials decided last April to slow construction of the Mixed Oxide or MOX fuel plant, which is located at DOE’s Savannah River Site, pending a review of alternatives for disposing of the plutonium. Read more ..


Ukraine on Edge

A Tentative Truce Reached in Ukraine Following EU Diplomatic Talks

February 21st 2014

A senior European Union diplomat said Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych and opposition representatives are expected to sign an agreement on February 21 aimed at ending months of bloody political unrest. According to VOA News, the diplomat said the pact would provide for some constitutional reforms. Yanukovych announced the preliminary agreement today on his website but the opposition has yet to comment.

Live video feeds on February 21 from Kiev's Maidan Square, which protesters have occupied for weeks and where clashes with security forces have harvested perhaps dozens of deaths and hundreds of wounded, showed relative calm after several days and nights of violence. Orthodox and Catholic clergy led services at around noon local time in which they and the thousands of participants chanted and asked for God's forgiveness for the violence. Several priests asked for divine blessings on Ukraine, which has been caught in a struggle that has pitted distinct regions of the country against each other. Read more ..


Ukraine on Edge

White House Considers Sanctions on Ukraine as EU Talks Continue

February 20th 2014

Cairo burning US embassy

President Obama is considering a range of sanctions options in response to mounting violence and deaths in Ukraine.

The White House Thursday expressed outrage at what it called "images of Ukrainian security forces firing automatic weapons on their own people."

A White House statement called on President Yanukovych to immediately withdraw security forces and respect the right of peaceful protest.  Washington also is urging protesters to express themselves peacefully. 

There are strong indications the Obama administration will announce additional steps, including possible financial sanctions, which the president would impose through executive order. This would be on top of visa restrictions announced on Wednesday targeting 20 Ukrainian government officials. Read more ..


America on Edge

Americans' Focus on Private Affairs Leads to Indifference to Foreign Affairs

February 18th 2014

Recently, several events took place that were important to their respective regions and potentially to the world. Russian government officials suggested turning Ukraine into a federation, following weeks of renewed demonstrations in Kiev. The Venezuelan government was confronted with violent and deadly protests. Kazakhstan experienced a financial crisis that could have destabilized the economies of Central Asia. Russia and Egypt inked a significant arms deal. Right-wing groups in Europe continued their political gains.

Any of these events had the potential to affect the United States. At different times, lesser events have transfixed Americans. This week, Americans seemed to be indifferent to all of them. This may be part of a cycle that shapes American interest in public affairs. The decision to raise the debt ceiling, which in the last cycle gripped public attention, seemed to elicit a shrug. Read more ..


Iran's Nukes

Iranian Navy and Its Largely Symbolic Display in the Atlantic Ocean

February 13th 2014

Tehran announced Feb. 8 that it had dispatched a frigate and a supply ship to the North Atlantic Ocean, where they will approach U.S. maritime borders. This is not the first time the Iranians have announced their intent to deploy naval vessels close to the United States. Iran made two such declarations in 2011 but never followed through.

However, following the most recent announcement, Iranian Adm. Afshin Rezayee Haddad said the Iranian fleet is actually underway, already approaching the South Atlantic Ocean through waters off the coast of South Africa. The Iranian decision to deploy naval vessels to the North Atlantic is largely symbolic; it does not pose any real military risk. Iran will use the deployment to show the flag in a non-threatening manner, looking to appease its hard-liners who are dubious about the U.S.-Iran nuclear talks. Read more ..



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