Obama's Second Term
|Kristina Wong and Jeremy Herb||March 8th 2014|
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
|Martin Barillas||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
|Margaret Besheer||March 5th 2014|
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
|Bernard Banks||March 4th 2014|
from BBC and agencies
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
|Kyle Balluck and Russell Berman||March 2nd 2014|
Kyle Balluck and Russell Berman
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
|Rachel Ehrenfeld||March 2nd 2014|
"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
|Jeremy Herb||March 1st 2014|
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
|Thekla Hritz||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 ..
|Bernie Becker||February 26th 2014|
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
|George Friedman||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
|Douglas Birch||February 22nd 2014|
Center for Public Integrity
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
|Martin Barillas||February 21st 2014|
Cutting Edge Contributor
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
|Dan Robinson||February 20th 2014|
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
|George Friedman||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 ..
|George Friedman||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 ..
Ameria and France
|Walid Phares||February 12th 2014|
Cutting Edge Analyst
As French President Francois Hollande visits Washington and meets President Barack Obama and his administration, the talk in town by think tanks and media focuses on the declared joint interest between the two powers in fighting terrorism in Africa, particularly in North Africa and the Sahel region. Optimists claim Hollande and Obama, both on the left side of the political spectrum in their respective countries, can agree on many domestic social and economic issues but not on as many foreign policy matters. Paris and Washington have had several issues of disagreement regarding crises in the Greater Middle East over the past few years. The Hollande visit in 2014, however, seems to seek common ground in some areas—particularly in counterterrorism.
On Syria, France displayed more determination than the United States to support the opposition, particularly in the earliest stages of the revolt in 2011. Over the three years of the Arab Spring, Paris worked hard at the UN Security Council and with Arab moderates to support the opposition, mostly the Free Syria Army, to topple Assad. Last summer, the French stood staunchly by the Obama administration when it appeared to be readying for a strike on Syria’s chemical weapons, Paris was disappointed when Washington made an about face and asked the Russians to find a political solution. France found itself in the unattractive position of the only great power rooting for military strikes, a position it has retreated from since. Read more ..
The 2016 Race
|Ian Swason||February 11th 2014|
Members of Team Clinton started talking about a 2016 presidential bid months before the former first lady left the State Department. The night President Obama won his second term, Allida Black and Adam Parkhomenko, veterans of Clinton’s 2008 campaign for the White House, exchanged emails about plans to start Ready for Hillary — a super-PAC promoting another run for the White House.
While Clinton didn’t formally approve the political action committee, Black believed she had Clinton’s blessing, according to a book published Tuesday by The Hill’s Amie Parnes and Bloomberg’s Jonathan Allen.
The book, titled HRC, reports that just months after Clinton left the State Department, longtime adviser Cheryl Mills — who functions as Hillary Clinton’s consigliere — met with Guy Cecil, the executive director of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and a candidate to manage Clinton’s 2016 campaign. Read more ..
|Alexander Bolton||February 9th 2014|
Liberal groups are agitating for another round of filibuster reform after Senate Majority Harry Reid’s (D-Nev.) controversial triggering of the nuclear option last year has done little to alleviate Senate gridlock.
A coalition of labor and liberal groups have pressed Reid to make additional changes to the Senate rules this year, something that senior Democratic aides say is very possible.
“We strongly urge Majority Leader Reid and Chairman [Patrick] Leahy [D-Vt.] to consider reforms to floor and committee rules that will hasten the confirmation of President Obama’s talented and qualified set of nominees,” they said in a statement. The coalition, known as Fix the Senate Now, includes Alliance for Justice, the Communications Workers of America, Common Cause and the Sierra Club.
Reid is reluctant to provoke another confrontation with Republican colleagues over the rules but he’s frustrated with the continued obstruction and needs the help of outside groups to turn out voters in the midterm elections. “Reid is not afraid to go further and considers reform this year a real possibility,” said a senior Senate Democratic aide. Read more ..
Russia on Edge
|Julian Pecquet||February 8th 2014|
The Olympic Games, created to bring countries together around sports, appear to be having the opposite effect on U.S.-Russia relations.
Rising animosity between the former Cold War powers was on full display Friday when Russia chose a former figure skater who tweeted out a racially charged picture of President Obama for the symbolic lighting of the Olympic cauldron.
That came just a day after the world found out that a personal phone call between State Department official Victoria Nuland and the U.S. ambassador to Kiev where she can be heard saying “F—k the EU” had been intercepted and leaked on You Tube.
The Obama administration immediately pointed the finger at Moscow, which did little to signal a denial over an incident that embarrassed Washington. Read more ..
Obama's Second Term
|Alex Finkelstein||February 7th 2014|
Jewish Policy Center
Last week Saudi officials rejected an invitation to meet with a bipartisan congressional delegation. The snub was an especially pointed rebuke because the Saudis already paid the travel expenses of the delegation, however, they would not let them meet with Foreign Affairs or Defense Ministry officials once they arrived. Around the same time as this diplomatic fracas, unnamed sources revealed that President Obama plans to visit Saudi Arabia and meet with King Abdullah in March. The goal of the meeting is to ease tensions over differences regarding the conflict in Syria and nuclear diplomacy with Iran. This will be Obama's first visit to the Middle East region since March of last year, however, he is planning to meet with the King Abdullah II of Jordan in California in two weeks.
The main issue for the Saudis is what they perceive of as the lack of communication from the White House. The administration had denied that talks with Iran were ongoing earlier in 2013. When it was disclosed that talks had begun in March of last year, the Saudis felt deceived. Officials in Riyadh said they do not have a close personal relationship with the current administration, a sentiment echoed by many US allies in the region. The Obama summit in March is a potential step to rebuild the broken connection. Read more ..
|Alexander Bolton||February 5th 2014|
Eyeing a new majority, Senate Republicans are seeking to trample the immigration reform blueprint crafted by their counterparts in the House.
They are careful not to criticize the substance of the House GOP’s new set of principles by simply saying the chances of crafting a new immigration law this year are remote. Should the thorny debate continue in the months ahead, it could hurt the chances of GOP senators facing primaries and jeopardize the party’s chances of winning the majority in November.
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) said Tuesday that he doesn’t see any way the Democratic-controlled Senate and GOP-led House will agree on immigration reform legislation in 2014. Read more ..
|Justin Sink, Amie Parnes and Mike Lillis ||February 4th 2014|
A mood of anxiety hangs over President Obama and congressional Democrats as they conduct a series of meetings this week to coordinate their 2014 political and legislative agendas.
While their outlook has improved since last fall, Democrats on Capitol Hill are worried the party is in danger of repeating its disastrous midterm performance of 2010 — and that this time, it could cost them the Senate.
“Let’s face it, not everyone is on the same page,” said one senior Democratic aide.
While the White House and congressional Democrats have sought to present a unified front on raising the minimum wage and extending federal unemployment benefits, divisions over an array of issues including trade, the Keystone XL oil pipeline and how to contain Iran have repeatedly burst to the surface.
That’s made it difficult to calm tempers still hot over the bumbled rollout of ObamaCare. Read more ..
Financing the Flames
|Martin Barillas||February 2nd 2014|
New York Times bestselling author Edwin Black has departed for a un international parliamentary tour to brief legislators overseas about the revelations in his latest investigative book, Financing the Flames: How Tax-Exempt and Public Money Fuel a Culture of Confrontation and Terror in Israel. Black is due to brief lawmakers in the House of Commons February 5, then the European Parliament in Brussels February 12, and finally the Israeli Knesset in Jerusalem on Febnruary 19. Financing the Flames blows the cover off of U.S. tax-exempt, tax-subsidized, and public monies that foment agitation, systematically destabilize the Israel Defense Forces, and finance terrorism in Israel. In a far-ranging international investigation, Black documents that it is actually 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.
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In his explosive revelations about non-profits and Israel, Black sheds new light on key charitable organizations such as the the New Israel Fund, the Ford Foundation, George Soros’s Open Society Foundations, 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.
Black chronicles how some rioting protestors are actually compensated by charitable organizations when they riot—riots that can and do occur on a scheduled basis in a highly orchestrated fashion. In this enterprise, sponsored American and European activists frequently provoke, incite, and harass Israeli soldiers as they video the choreographed riots, he writes. According to documentation in Financing the Flames, taxpayer money is being used to further entrench a human-rights double standard where abuses and mistreatment of Jews by Palestinians are tolerated, ignored, and even promoted. In this system, Jews are singled out for discrimination in their own country in a fashion that taxpayers would never tolerate in America. Read more ..
|Mohammed Aly Sergie||February 1st 2014|
Council on Foreign Relations
Global Islamic financial assets have soared from less than $600 billion in 2007 to more than $1.3 trillion in 2012, an expansion rooted in the growing pool of financial assets in Muslim-majority countries driven by consumer demand for products that comply with religious codes. Assets are concentrated in Muslim countries of the Middle East and Southeast Asia, but the sector appears poised to enter Western markets and complement conventional financing. Prime Minister David Cameron announced in 2013 that the United Kingdom will issue a £200 million ($327 million) Islamic bond, or sukuk, making it the first non-Muslim country to tap into Islamic financing. Companies in the United States are also considering Islamic finance to fund business ventures and infrastructure projects. Demand for new Islamic investments is expected to outstrip supply by as much as $100 billion by 2015, an imbalance that could translate to much-needed liquidity in some tight markets. But the industry remains small and will need to expand considerably to have a significant impact on global financial markets. Read more ..
The Battle for Syria
|Ehud Yaari||January 31st 2014|
As the fighting in Syria rages, Israel has been moving cautiously and often reluctantly toward assuming a modest role in the civil war, restricted to areas along the Golan Heights frontier line. What began as a purely humanitarian step -- extending emergency medical aid to injured and sick Syrians from neighboring villages -- has by now reportedly expanded into a well-developed mechanism for providing a whole range of items, from medications to food, fuel, clothes, heaters, and more. One should assume that the same understandings which allowed over 600 wounded Syrians to be evacuated for treatment in Israeli hospitals -- including a special military field hospital on the Golan -- are facilitating other forms of assistance as well. A significant operation of this type indicates that a system of communications and frequent contacts have been established with the local rebel militias, since the evacuation of the injured and their return to Syria seem to function flawlessly. Read more ..
Obama's Second Term
|Alexander Bolton||January 29th 2014|
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) on Wednesday suggested he will not bring legislation to the floor that would grant President Obama greater trade powers.
Reid said he is “against” trade promotion authority (TPA) legislation — often called “fast track” — that, if passed, would make it easier for Obama to negotiate trade deals by preventing Congress from amending them.
“I’m against fast track,” said Reid, who told reporters he would not guarantee floor time for legislation by Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.), who is set to leave the Senate upon his confirmation as ambassador to China. “We’ll see,” Reid said of the bill. “Everyone would be well advised just to not push this right now.” Read more ..
|Kevin Bogardus and Erick Wasson||January 28th 2014|
Lobbyists are seeing dollar signs with the return of “regular order” to Capitol Hill.
They are brimming with anticipation for a year of hearings, markups and floor votes on appropriations legislation that would decide how the government divvies up around $1.1 trillion in federal cash.
“In terms of morale on K Street, it’s great. In terms of business, yeah, if bills are moving, that creates opportunities,” said former Rep. Jim Walsh (R-N.Y.), a government affairs counselor at K&L Gates.
Work on the 12 annual appropriations bills has been largely fruitless since 2011, as Congress careened from one crisis to the next. Lawmakers passed a series of continuing resolutions (CR) that extended government funding but left spending on autopilot. Read more ..
Egypt after Morsi
|Edward Yeranian||January 25th 2014|
Egyptian officials say at least 29 people were killed in violence Saturday along the fringes of celebrations marking the third anniversary of the uprising that toppled former president Hosni Mubarak.
Both supporters and opponents of Egypt's interim government clashed on side streets leading to Cairo's iconic Tahrir Square, waving clubs and hurling rocks and bottles at each other.
Government officials say fatalities occurred at anti-government protests that coincided with government sanctioned celebrations that were staged to show support for the current military-installed leadership.
Throughout the afternoon and into the evening, thousands of pro-government supporters flooded Tahrir Square, chanting and waving flags and posters as they pledged support for General Abdel Fatah el-Sissi, Egypt's current defense minister and de facto leader, whom supporters are urging to run for president. Egypt's interim government has hinted several times in recent weeks that presidential elections will take place later this year before parliamentary elections.
Read more ..
|R. Jeffrey Smith and Mattie Quinn||January 24th 2014|
The Center for Public Integrity
Shelves are as clean as they could get. Flushed everything like a dead goldfish.”
That’s what a key supervisor in charge of reviewing federal security clearances told a superior in April 2010, in a message boasting about how he and his colleagues had approved numerous clearances and sent them on to the federal Office of Personnel Management without conducting required quality reviews.
The quote, which federal prosecutors say appeared in an email sent between two senior employees at a federal contractor called US Investigative Services (USIS), appears in a court filing by the Justice Department on Jan. 22 that supports and adds startling detail to a whistleblower’s previous legal claim against the firm.
The filing bluntly accuses USIS, which OPM pays to review security clearance applications for more than 100 federal agencies and departments, of deliberately defrauding the government from March 2008 through at least Sept. 2012 by pretending it conducted quality reviews that actually never occurred. Read more ..
|Rebecca Shabad and Cameron Joseph||January 21st 2014|
Former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) and his wife were charged on Tuesday in federal court with illegally accepting large loans, luxury vacations and expensive gifts from a businessman and prominent political donor.
A federal grand jury indicted the couple on 14 counts related to their decision to receive thousands of gifts and loans from Jonnie R. Williams Sr., an executive at dietary supplement company Star Scientific.
McDonnell and his wife, Maureen, could face prison sentences that amount to decades and fines of more than $1 million. Prosecutors accuse McDonnell and his wife of receiving items from Williams, who in return got special treatment from the governor’s office to help his company.
In a statement Tuesday afternoon, McDonnell said he "deeply" regrets accepting gifts and loans from Williams, which were repaid with interest. The former governor, however, denied doing anything illegal for Williams. Read more ..
|Bernie Becker||January 20th 2014|
House Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) faces a crucial test in his longstanding quest to overhaul the tax code at the upcoming House GOP retreat.
GOP tax writers, seeking to be the first lawmakers in a generation to rewrite the code, already feel buoyed by what they see as newfound energy from rank-and-file conservatives on tax reform.
But while those conservatives want to make tax reform a centerpiece of the GOP’s 2014 agenda, Camp still faces many obstacles in actually getting a tax revamp into law this year – scheduled to be his last with the Ways and Means gavel.
In fact, other tax writers say Camp is unlikely to delve too deeply into the nitty-gritty of his tax reform bill – which he has been crafting, with much difficulty, for months – at the retreat scheduled for the end of January in Cambridge, Md. Read more ..
Egypt After Morsi
|Walid Phares||January 18th 2014|
Cutting Edge Middle East Analyst
A miracle on the Nile has been accomplished this week. Tens of millions of Egyptian citizens from all walks of life, Muslims and Christians, conservatives and liberals, seculars and religious, young and old, and in some instances, healthy and sick, have come out to cast a vote in the referendum of the century: either to say yes to new moderate constitution, relatively democratic, or to say no and revert to an Islamist constitution adopted by the previous Muslim Brotherhood regime.
Most likely, an overwhelming majority of voters will chose to move away from the 2012 Islamist regime of Mohammed Morsi and select a more liberating draft, one that reinforces fundamental rights to women and minorities. The referendum will seal a popular uprising that exploded almost a year ago, and culminated in two gigantic peaceful demonstrations last summer against the political oppression of the Ikhwan regime. Read more ..
The Digital Edge
|Jonathan Cassell||January 17th 2014|
With just four short months left before publicly traded electronics component manufacturers doing business in the United States must report to the U.S. federal government any use of so-called conflict minerals sourced from Africa, many global companies are still without a concrete plan for compliance, according to new information gathered by research firm IHS Inc.
In a December IHS webinar on the subject, fully 42 percent of participating companies in a survey professed uncertainty on what to do, or appear unprepared for the May 2014 deadline on conflict minerals.
Of the 42 percent of the respondents, at least 22 percent said they were “unsure” on how to go about meeting the new regulations on conflict minerals. Meanwhile, 20 percent admitted they were just in the process of putting a plan together or “determining that approach now.” Read more ..
|Pete Kasperowicz||January 16th 2014|
The Senate approved the $1 trillion omnibus spending bill Thursday, sending it to the White House for President Obama's signature and sparing the government from another government shutdown.
Senators voted 72-26 in favor of the bill, and all "no" votes came from Senate Republicans, including GOP Leader Mitch McConnell and Minority Whip John Cornyn (Texas). That followed a 72-26 vote to end debate, which needed 60 votes.
With the Senate's passage, Obama has until the end of Saturday to sign it into law — Saturday is when federal funding runs out.
A day earlier, the House passed the omnibus bill 359-67, with 64 "no" votes coming from Republicans who argued that it spent too much and complaining that Congress had just a few days to assess the 1,500-page bill. Read more ..
|Jeremy Herb||January 15th 2014|
A new report from the Senate Intelligence Committee says the September 2012 terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya, could have been prevented.
The bipartisan report released Wednesday concludes that the State Department failed to increase security in Benghazi, despite intelligence reports on the deteriorating security situation and warnings that U.S. facilities were at risk ahead of the Sept. 11, 2012, attack, where U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans were killed.
“The committee found the attacks were preventable, based on extensive intelligence reporting on the terrorist activity in Libya — to include prior threats and attacks against Western targets — and given the known security shortfalls at the U.S. Mission,” the panel said in a statement on the report. Read more ..
|Alexandra Jaffe||January 14th 2014|
During his State of the State address on Tuesday, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) again accepted full responsibility for last year's George Washington Bridge lane closures, which have grown into a full-blown scandal for the potential presidential candidate.
“The last week has certainly tested this administration. Mistakes were clearly made. And as a result, we let down the people we are entrusted to serve. I know our citizens deserve better. Much better,” the Republican governor said.
“I am the governor and I am ultimately responsible for all that happens on my watch — both good and bad,” he added.
Christie promised to cooperate with ongoing investigations into the scandal, but insisted that "what occurred does not define our state."
Christie’s aides privately admit his only chance to move past the controversy lies in refocusing on governing New Jersey. His Tuesday address was the first step down that path.
The governor spent the rest of the speech touting the accomplishments of his first term and outlining proposals for school and tax reform and crime reduction that he plans to pursue during his second term.
But the bipartisan accomplishments of his first term might not be so easy to come by in the next — Democrats in the state could be wary to work with someone tainted by scandal, something Christie advisers privately admit the governor is aware of.
And the renewed focus on New Jersey might not be enough to move past the scandal. New details are emerging about the extent of his administration’s involvement in the bridge closures as payback against a Democratic mayor who refused to endorse his reelection, and another New Jersey elected official has come forward to accuse the Christie administration of further political retribution. Read more ..
|Pat Madgal||January 13th 2014|
The media is abuzz with the portended demise of Barnes and Noble lead by the collapse of Nook.
Deadline NY wrote: The company’s position appears to be, it could have been worse. Barnes & Noble’s bookstores and online service generated revenues of $1.1B in the nine weeks ending December 28, it says today. That’s down 6.6% vs the period last year. But most of the decline is due to store closures. At stores open at least a year, revenues just fell 0.2% not including Nook tablets and e-readers. “We are pleased with our holiday sales results, especially our core comparable bookstore sales, which were essentially flat and an improvement as compared to the first half of the year,” newly named CEO Michael Huseby says. It’s harder to sugar-coat the story at Nook. Its revenues – which include digital content, devices and accessories — fell 60.5% to $125M. Devices and accessories fell 66.7% to $88.7M which the company attributes to “lower unit selling volume and lower average selling prices.” Digital content fell 27.3% to $36.5M “due to lower device unit sales and lower average selling prices.” Read more ..
|Luis Ramirez||January 11th 2014|
Former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has died from complications associated with a massive stroke that he suffered eight years ago. He was 85.
Israeli news reports say Sharon died Saturday at a hospital near Tel Aviv. A week ago, medical officials said his kidneys and other vital organs had begun to fail.
As a soldier, he was known for his daring heroics on the battlefield in the decades following the creation of the State of Israel, most notably during the Yom Kippur War of 1973. In a brilliant tactical display, he led Israeli troops across the Suez Canal, cutting off Egypt's third army. Read more ..
|Erik Wasson||January 10th 2014|
The House will vote next week on a three-day stopgap spending bill to prevent a new government shutdown and buy time to finish a $1 trillion omnibus.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said the House would vote early next week on the continuing resolution under a suspension of House rules, which would require it to be approved by a two-thirds vote.
House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said he would urge his members to back it.
“I will support it on suspension, I urge my colleagues to support it on suspension,” Hoyer said.
House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) said negotiators are aiming to introduce a giant $1 trillion omnibus spending bill on Sunday or Monday.
But Congress will have to approve the stopgap measure first to avoid a shutdown, since Congress won’t have time to consider and pass the omnibus to meet a Jan. 15 deadline.
The stopgap measure would simply extend current spending, which is based on a $987 billion annual budget for discretionary spending. It would run through Saturday, Jan. 18.
Appropriators are working to write an omnibus with a top-line spending level of $1.012 trillion, based on the two-year budget deal Congress approved last month.
Rogers is slated to talk to Senate Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) to try to finalize the bill later on Friday but plans to work through the weekend in Washington. Read more ..
|Alexandra Jaffe||January 9th 2014|
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R-N.J.) has fired a top staffer involved in a growing controversy over a bridge closing last year, apologizing Thursday morning for the conduct of his staff.
In a lengthy press conference, the possible 2016 presidential candidate continued to assert that he knew nothing about the closures, pledging to fully comply with ongoing investigations into the scandal.
“I am embarrassed and humiliated by the conduct of some of the people on my team,” Christie said Thursday morning. “There’s no doubt in my mind that the conduct that they exhibited is completely unacceptable and showed an inappropriate respect for the role of government.”
Christie said he had fired his deputy chief of staff, Bridget Ann Kelly, for her role in instigating closures on the George Washington Bridge as an act of political retribution for the Democratic mayor Fort Lee, N.J., refusing to endorse Christie’s reelection bid.
He said that, to his knowledge, he had never met or pursued the endorsement of Fort Lee Mayor Mike Sokolich, but planned to meet personally with him and travel to Fort Lee and to personally apologize to the residents of Fort Lee for the situation. However, NBC News reported that Sokolich doesn't want Christie to visit on Wednesday. "If the mayor doesn't want me to meet with him, that's certainly his choice," said Christie. "I'll still go up to Fort Lee today, because I think it's important for me to be on the ground there."
The governor also said he was taking action against his former campaign manager and top political advisor, Bill Stepien, for his involvement in an email chain unearthed in the investigation. Read more ..
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