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Broken Politics

Mudslinging the New Normal in Judicial Elections

November 3rd 2013

judge's gavel

Out-of-state political organizations spent millions on mudslinging television ads in state supreme court elections in 2012, according to a new report, marking a new and worrisome trend, say some legal experts.

The report found that total spending in states where high court judges are elected reached $56 million in the 2012 election cycle with more than $24 million of it — 43 percent — coming from non-candidate organizations, many from out of state.

The report was released by the Brennan Center for Justice and Justice at Stake, groups that are highly critical of judicial elections. The conclusions were based on data from the National Institute on Money in State Politics and the Campaign Media Analysis Group.

A record $33.7 million was spent on television ads, much of which came from outside groups — including super PACs and nonprofits — attacking judicial candidates on the airwaves.

In Michigan, the Judicial Crisis Network spent between $600,000 and $1 million on a television ad equating incumbent Democratic justice Bridget McCormack’s previous legal work defending a detainee at Guantanamo Bay to volunteering to “help free a terrorist.”  Read more ..


The Edge of the Universe

Dark Matter Still Elusive as Latest Experimental Sweep Comes Up Empty

November 2nd 2013

Solar System Birth

The world’s most sensitive search for dark matter announced today that it has found—nothing. The first results from the Large Underground Xenon (LUX) detector are null, scientists say, indicating that the invisible matter thought to make up a large chunk of the universe is even more elusive than many experts thought.

Buried about a kilometer and a half underground in a repurposed South Dakota gold mine that is now the Sanford Underground Research Facility, the LUX experiment searches for signs of dark matter particles colliding with the atoms in a vat of liquid xenon. During its first three months of operation the detector found no such signals whatsoever. “We looked hard for these dark matter particles and we didn’t see anything,” says physicist Rick Gaitskell of Brown University, LUX co-spokesperson. The results, presented at a seminar today and submitted to Physical Review Letters for publication [pdf], rule out a number of possible masses and characteristics for the particles that make up dark matter. The null result also conflicts with earlier experiments that had reported possible dark matter signals. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

Hezbollah Readies for Qalamoun Battle, Deploys 15,000 Troops

November 1st 2013

hassan nasrallah - hezbollah

Hezbollah has deployed 15,000 fighters for an expected offensive on the mountainous al-Qalamoun area north of Damascus, Syrian opposition sources told Al Arabiya. The Syrian regime is also reportedly building up its forces in the area, located between Damascus and Homs, Syria’s third largest city to the north. Hezbollah last spring helped the Syrian regime retake the town of Qusair on the border with Lebanon. Hezbollah said it interfered to “protect” Shiite Lebanese people living in the border area with Lebanon against alleged attacked by the armed Sunni rebels.

Hezbollah also justifies his involvement in Syria with the need to protect Shiite religious sites. The Damascus-based Abu al-Fadl al-Abbas brigade, a close Hezbollah ally, said it will take part in the expected Qalamoun battle as a response to a recent attack on its headquarters in the capital’s Shiite district of Sayeda Zeinab. Read more ..


Broken Government

Dems Renew 'Nuclear Option' Talk

October 31st 2013

Capitol Senate

Senate Democrats are again threatening to change Senate rules after Republicans blocked a pair of the president’s nominees on Thursday.

The blockade of two of the president’s picks has renewed talk among Democrats about the “nuclear option," which would change Senate rules to allow a nominee to be confirmed with a majority vote.

Republicans on Thursday blocked motions to end debate on confirming Rep. Mel Watt (D-N.C.) as director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency and Patricia Millett to join the D.C. Circuit Court.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) called the obstruction “unprecedented,” and said changes must be made going forward. However, he said he hoped to make those changes “through cooperation” with Republicans.  Read more ..


Obama's Second Term

Majority Can Keep Plans

October 30th 2013

Obama in front of AMA

President Obama on Wednesday for the first time defended his claim that every American would be able to keep their health insurance plans under ObamaCare.

Obama accused his opponents of “grossly misleading” the public as Republicans seize on reports that hundreds of thousands of people have received letters notifying them that their plans will be cancelled by the end of the year.

Obama said Republicans weren't giving the full picture even as he acknowledged that some people will not be able to keep their health plans under the new law. Those forced from their plans, he said, represent a small portion of the population. He also said they would get a better deal. “For the vast majority of people who have health insurance that works, you can keep it," Obama said in a speech at Boston’s Fanueil Hall. “For the fewer than 5 percent of Americans who buy insurance on your own, you will be getting a better deal.”  Read more ..


Broken Healthcare

Failures Go Far Past the Obamacare Website

October 29th 2013

Obamacare

It’s not just the Web site that’s broken — the Obamacare marketplace itself is failing.

Despite much talk about using competition, the Obamacare law and the regulations that enable it are all but eliminating competition from the exchanges. In its zeal to micromanage every aspect of peoples’ health benefits and the profits that insurers can earn off these services, the administration guaranteed that few health insurers or care providers will show up to play.

Let’s start with private insurers, who’ve been extremely selective in the regions where they’ve stood up health plans. Obamacare largely outlaws charging less to younger or healthier people and more to older, less-healthy ones; insurers have gamed this rule by only offering plans in select areas, plainly those where they believe the underlying demographic and socioeconomic trends will allow them to come out ahead. Read more ..


Broken Government

Healthcare.gov Disaster Symptom of Larger Problem

October 28th 2013

No Obamacare

The glitch-plagued HealthCare.gov website has, as expected, given critics of health care reform another opportunity to persuade the American public that Obamacare is a failure and should be scuttled.

The House Energy and Commerce committee hearing last week was — surprise — little more than a forum for critics of the Affordable Care Act to use the pithiest sound bites their staffers could come up with to embarrass the Obama administration.

Let’s suspend disbelief for a moment and pretend that members of Congress care more about the health and well-being of the country and its citizens than in getting re-elected and amassing more power. In such a make-believe world, what should Congress really be trying to do in light of the fiasco surrounding the rollout of the HealthCare.gov  insurance marketplace website? Read more ..


Broken Government

Trump Would Spend Whatever it Takes to Win GOP Nomination

October 27th 2013

One Million Dollars

Donald Trump, who pegs his net worth at $10 billion, said on Sunday that he would spend whatever it takes to win the GOP nomination if he decides to run for the White House in 2016.

Trump visited Iowa this weekend to speak at the Family Leadership Summit in Ames along with former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), two other potential White House hopefuls. Trump flirted with a presidential run in 2012 and later helped Mitt Romney win the GOP nomination.

If he ran in 2016, he said he would spare no expense. “If I made a decision, I'd spend a lot,” he said in an interview with ABC News, acknowledging the race would likely cost half a billion dollars or more. “If I did it, I’d spend whatever it took.” Read more ..


Obama's Second Term

Obama Says He Doesn't Want to Hear About Spending Cuts

October 25th 2013

Obama with baseball bat

President Obama told Republicans in Congress that he doesn't want to hear about additional cuts to government programs after the 16-day shutdown.

The president said the country can afford to make investments in areas like education, and he noted that the shutdown cut into the economy.

“Don't tell me we can afford to shut down the government, which costs our government billions of dollars, but we can't afford to invest in our kids,” Obama said at a school in Brooklyn.

“This obsession with cutting for the sake of cutting hasn't helped our economy grow, it's held us back,” Obama said. Standard & Poor's has estimated that the shutdown took about $24 billion from U.S. economy. Obama blasted “a small group” of House Republicans for causing what he said was a “manufactured crisis.” Congress now faces a Jan. 15 deadline for funding the government, and a Feb. 7 deadline for raising the debt ceiling. Read more ..


Broken Government

Can the 'Disasterous Nexus' of Banks and Governments Be Contolled? No.

October 24th 2013

Lobbyist

The president of the Deutsche Bundesbank, Jens Weidmann, discussed in a recent essay, "Stop Encouraging Banks to Load Up on State Debt," what he calls the "disastrous sovereign-banking nexus" — in other words, the disastrous interaction of governments and banks. Governments can reduce their own solvency by bailing out insolvent banks — and can even become themselves insolvent and in need of bailouts by doing so, as in the cases of Ireland, Iceland, and Cyprus. On the other hand, banks can become insolvent by making excessive loans to, or investments in, their own or other governments, which turn out to be financial mistakes, as is exemplified in the European sovereign debt crisis and its ongoing travails.

Loans to sovereign governments are granted favored status by bank regulations and indeed are promoted by them, as having no risk-to-one-borrower limits for example, as well as very low or zero capital requirements, and being often referred to as "risk-free." But in fact nothing is more common in financial history right up to now than defaults by governments on their debt. There have been about 250 defaults on sovereign debt since 1800, including widespread government defaults in the 1980s and the 21st century defaults by Greece and Argentina. Of course, a possible default by the United States government has been talked about of late ad nauseam. Read more ..


Obama's Second Term

Obama, Sharif Discuss Drones, Extremism, Afghanistan

October 23rd 2013

Obama pensive with flag

At the White House, President Barack Obama and Pakistan's prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, have agreed on the importance of rebuilding the U.S.-Pakistan relationship.  They discussed the issue of U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan, extremist threats, the transition in Afghanistan and Pakistan's relations with India.

It was the first meeting between President Obama and Prime Minister Sharif, who was last at the White House in 1999, and came as both countries move to repair relations severely strained during Obama's first term.

The U.S. commando raid in Pakistan that killed al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden in 2011 contributed to tensions, along with a mistaken NATO raid on a Pakistani border post the same year. Neither leader specifically mentioned these events in remarks.  President Obama called the peaceful democratic transition in Pakistan "an enormous milestone" and described Pakistan as a very important strategic partner. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

Chemical Belly of the Syrian Beast

October 22nd 2013

Corpses in Homs

With civil war raging, Syria, a state sponsor of terror, has attacked its own people with chemical weapons and attempted to skirt international sanctions. The United States, the EU, Russia and the UN must identify the full extent of the threat and eliminate Syria's chemical weapons capacity.

Syria's Centre D'Etudes et de Recherches Scientifiques (CERS), the Scientific Studies and Research Center, is apparently at the heart of Syria's efforts to produce and disseminate weapons of mass destruction.Established in 1971 to advance and coordinate scientific endeavors, it serves as Syria's Los Alamos. It is believed to be responsible for research and development of Syria's chemical and biological weapons (CBW) arsenal. It also played a central role in Syria's pursuit of nuclear weapons, which, thanks to Israel, is no longer active. According to U.S. and European officials, CERS answers to President Bashar al-Assad and the most senior members of his Alawi clan. Read more ..


Broken Healthcare

Obama: 'No One Is Madder Than Me' About Healthcare Website

October 21st 2013

Obama perplexed

President Obama said Monday his administration was spearheading a "tech surge" to fix the problems plaguing the online ObamaCare insurance exchanges.

"We are doing everything we can possibly do to get the websites working better, faster, sooner," the president said, adding that the White House had recruited the "best and brightest" from the private sector to help tackle the technical problems.

"No one is madder than me that the website isn't working as it should — which means it's going to get fixed," Obama declared. The president's reassurances come at a critical time for the president's signature program. Fear is growing among the administration and Democratic allies that a steady beat of stories detailing problems with the website could lead many Americans to just give up on trying to secure coverage, undermining the potential of the healthcare reform law. Read more ..


Obama's Second Term

Obama Campaign Kept Stanford's Ponzi-Scheme Cash

October 20th 2013

Obama-Limo

President Barack Obama received $4,600 in campaign contributions from R. Allen Stanford less than a year before the Texan was arrested in 2009 for running one of the biggest Ponzi schemes in U.S. history. Despite repeated requests, the Obama campaign has not returned the money to the court-appointed receiver tasked with recovering money from the fraud and returning it to Stanford’s victims. The campaign still has $5.4 million in its coffers even though the president won't be running in another election. (Update, Oct. 16, 2013, 1:39 p.m.: The Obama campaign's new 3rd quarter filing indicates it has $372,549 remaining.)

Obama isn’t the only politician who has declined to return Stanford campaign contributions to help make Stanford’s defrauded investors whole. A total of 39 candidates and committees have kept their campaign funds despite the pleas by the receiver, Texas Lawyer Ralph Janvey, to return the money. A spokesman for the Democratic National Committee, which now speaks for the Obama campaign, did not immediately comment. Read more ..


Broken Government

US Debt Spikes to $17T After Debt Ceiling Lifted

October 18th 2013

One Million Dollars

The public debt of the United States has spiked in the wake of the congressional decision to raise the nation's debt ceiling.

The Treasury Department on Friday reported that the public debt stands at $17.076 trillion — that is a jump of $329 billion from $16.747 trillion on Wednesday, the day the ceiling was lifted.

The large jump was caused by the fact that Treasury has been forced to use extraordinary measures such as deferring certain payments to avoid hitting the debt ceiling since May.

Under the debt-ceiling deal signed this week, Treasury can borrow as much money as it wants through Feb. 7. At that point it can then use months of extraordinary measures once again to keep the government running if Congress again were to refuse to raise the debt ceiling. On the day President Obama took office, the debt stood at $10.627 trillion, meaning that $6.5 trillion has been added to the nation's credit card under the current administration. Read more ..


The Iranian Threat

George W. Bush, Surprise Guest at Jewish Gala, Says Unlikely Iran Intentions Towards Israel Have Changed

October 17th 2013

GW Bush

Former U.S. President George W. Bush told guests at a Jewish gathering Tuesday night that he believes it is unlikely that Iran’s hostile intentions towards Israel have changed, despite a recent charm offensive initiated by the Islamic Republic’s new president Hassan Rouhani.

“The United States’ foreign policy must be clear eyed; and understand that until the form of government changes in Iran, it is unlikely that their intentions toward Israel will change,” he said.

Addressing the current ongoing negotiations between Iran and Western powers, the former President said that he does “not believe in Iran’s peaceful intentions until they can irrevocably prove that it’s true.”

Bush delighted guests at the gala event at New York’s Waldorf Astoria hotel when he was revealed to be the evening’s surprise guest speaker, attendees told The Algemeiner. Photography and recording during Bush’s speech was prohibited, and he reiterated his longstanding policy not to comment on public policy matters out of respect for the sitting president. Read more ..


Broken Government

Obama Tells GOP: 'Win an Election'

October 17th 2013

Obama and Flag

President Obama scolded lawmakers for playing political brinksmanship with the economy hours after the government reopened Thursday after a 16-day shutdown. The president, viewed by most as the victor in the weekslong fight over funding the government and raising the debt ceiling, said the way business is done in Washington has to change.

Obama, who gave up no notable concessions in a battle that started with House Republicans pressing to defund ObamaCare, scolded the GOP with his comments and reminded them of their defeat in the 2012 election.

He said legislative change should be won at the polls, not through procedural hostage-taking that threatened the economy. “You don’t like a particular policy or a particular president, then argue for your position,” Obama said. “Go out there and win an election.” The comments are likely to have many Republicans complaining that Obama is spiking the football after a victory. Read more ..


Oil Addiction

The Myth of U.S. Energy Dependence

October 16th 2013

Saudi Oil

The first U.S. energy secretary, James Schlesinger, observed in 1977 that when it comes to energy, the United States has “only two modes -- complacency and panic.” Today, with the country in the middle of an oil and gas boom that could one day crown it the world’s largest oil producer, the pendulum has swung toward complacency. But 40 years ago this week, panic ruled the day, as petroleum prices quadrupled in a matter of months and Americans endured a traumatic gasoline shortage, waiting for hours in long lines only to be greeted by signs reading “Sorry, no gas.”

The cause of these ills, Americans explained to themselves, was the Arab oil embargo -- the decision by Iran and the Arab members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) to cut off oil exports to the United States and its allies as punishment for their support of Israel in the 1973 Yom Kippur War. And the lessons they drew were far-reaching. The fear that, at any given moment, the United States’ oil supply could be interrupted by a foreign country convinced Washington that its entire approach to energy security should center on one goal: reducing oil imports from that volatile region. Read more ..


Broken Government

House Republicans May Not Have Votes to Move their Debt Plan

October 15th 2013

House Republicans said they hoped to vote Tuesday on a new fiscal plan, but doubts immediately sprouted up over whether they can muster the votes to pass it.
The new House GOP plan would modify an emerging Senate fiscal deal that would end the government shutdown, fund the government through Jan. 15 and raise the debt ceiling until Feb. 7.

It would do so by delaying ObamaCare’s medical device tax for two years and scrapping the law's tax subsidies for members of Congress and top Cabinet officials, lawmakers and aides said.

Republican leaders presented the plan to House members with just two days to go before a Treasury Department deadline for lifting the nation’s borrowing limit and avoiding a potentially catastrophic default on the nation's debts. Senior House Republicans had hoped to jump out in front of the Senate plan, but a two-hour, closed-door Republican conference meeting that began with a collective rendition of “Amazing Grace” ended without consensus, and lawmakers said conservatives were demanding changes to the plan. Read more ..


Broken Government

White House Warns: We're Far from a Deal

October 15th 2013

Whitehouse

White House press secretary Jay Carney on Tuesday warned congressional leaders are “far from a deal” to raise the debt ceiling and end the government shutdown.

"We're encouraged by the progress that we've seen in the Senate, but we're far from a deal at this point," Carney told reporters. "So we hope that progress continues."

The White House spokesman said that "we certainly believe there's a potential there for a resolution" and that President Obama was "pleased with the progress" toward a bill in the Senate.

 But he also cautioned that "we are very close to a very important deadline." The Treasury Department has said that the nation will hit the debt ceiling on Thursday, leading to the danger of default if Treasury's $30 billion cash balance proves inadequate.  Carney's comments came shortly after the White House rejected a proposal floated by House Republican leaders that would fund the government until Jan. 15 and extend the debt ceiling until Feb. 7. Read more ..


Broken Government

Hopes Rise for Budget Deal as Leaders Head to White House

October 14th 2013

john Boehner

President Obama will meet top congressional leaders on Monday at the White House amid signs that senators could be nearing a deal to end the government shutdown and raise the debt ceiling.

Obama will meet with House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) at 3 p.m., a White House official said. Vice President Biden will attend as well.

Reid and McConnell, who took the reins of the fiscal talks over the weekend, huddled for 30 minutes on Monday morning. Asked after the meeting whether Senate leaders would have an agreement to present to Obama, Reid said, “[I] sure hope so.”  “We’re working on everything,” Reid said when asked about the scope of the negotiations. “We continue to work on it. It’s not done yet.” Read more ..


India on Edge

Mass Evacuations in India as Monster Cyclone Approaches

October 12th 2013

Population Boom

A monstrous cyclone that may be among the most powerful storms ever recorded in the Bay of Bengal started to bear down on the eastern coast of India on Saturday with heavy rains and high winds.

Indian authorities warned late Saturday morning that the storm, called Cyclone Phailin, would probably make landfall by 6 p.m. Saturday near Gopalpur, Odisha, a largely rural area. They called Phailin a “very severe cyclonic storm” with sustained winds of 136 miles per hour and gusts reaching nearly 150 m.p.h.

Some 440,000 people have already been evacuated from the path of the storm, M. Shashidhar Reddy, vice chairman of the National Disaster Management Authority, said at a news conference in New Delhi on Saturday afternoon.

Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

Libyan PM Kidnapped and Released

October 10th 2013

Lybian Gunmen

Armed militiamen abducted Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zeidan at dawn on Thursday from the Tripoli hotel in which he lives. After six hours, the gunman released Zeidan unharmed, but the kidnapping further underscored Libya's lawlessness since the 2011 revolution - with an odd political twist.

The Libyan Revolutionaries Operations Room (LROR) militia, which is paid by the government to provide security for government officials, said it had captured the PM under direction of the Libyan Prosecutor General. The LROR spokesman said the arrest came after a report that Prime Minister Zeidan knew in advance about the U.S. raid against Abu Anas al-Libi last weekend in Benghazi. Justice ministry officials have denied involvement in Zeidan's arrest, but the LROR remains close to the ministry. Read more ..


Broken Government

GOP Considers Six-Week Debt Limit Extension That Won't End Shutdown

October 10th 2013

Statue of Liberty

House Republicans are discussing a six-week extension of the nation’s debt limit as a way to buy time for more negotiations with President Obama. It is not clear if the hike Republicans are considering to the $16.7 trillion debt limit would be completely "clean," meaning it would not demand concessions from Democrats.

A clean hike would mark a significant concession to the White House. But the legislation would not end the government shutdown, which could give Republicans continued leverage in the fight. Stocks soared on the news, with the Dow Jones average rising more than 180 points in early trading. The administration had set an Oct. 17 deadline for raising the debt ceiling. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew on Thursday warned senators a new recession could set in if the limit is not raised.  Read more ..


Inside Politics

Ryan Sells Conservatives on Plan to End Shutdown, Debt Standoff

October 9th 2013

Paul Ryan

House conservatives are discussing a two-step plan outlined by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) to lift the debt ceiling and reopen the government long enough for Congress to pass long-term entitlement reforms.

Ryan, the House Budget Committee chairman, presented the idea Wednesday afternoon at a meeting of the conservative Republican Study Committee. Lawmakers leaving the confab said the influential group had not reached a consensus position on the debt ceiling or an end to the government shutdown.

The plan appeared to be a more detailed version of a proposal that Ryan made Wednesday in an op-ed he penned in The Wall Street Journal. He called for “modest” structural changes to Medicare and Social Security to resolve the fiscal crisis. The article made no mention of delaying or defunding President Obama’s healthcare law, which had been a central Republican demand leading to the government shutdown nine days ago. Read more ..


Broken Government

Roots of the Shutdown

October 8th 2013

Washington K Street NW

It originated in a political dispute. U.S. President Barack Obama proposed and Congress approved a massive set of changes in U.S. healthcare. These changes were upheld in court after legal challenges. There appears to be significant opposition to this legislation according to polls, but the legislation's opponents in Congress lack the ability to repeal it and override a presidential veto. Therefore, opponents attached amendments to legislation funding government operations, and basically said that legislation would only be passed if implementation of healthcare reform were blocked or at least delayed. Opponents of healthcare reform had enough power to block legislation on funding the government. Proponents of healthcare reform refused to abandon their commitment for reform, and therefore the legislation to fund the government failed and the government shut down. Read more ..


Obama's Second Term

Obama Dares Boehner to Hold Vote on 'Clean' Funding Bill

October 7th 2013

Obama with baseball bat

President Obama dared Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) on Monday to prove there aren’t enough votes in the House to pass a “clean” bill to reopen the government. "The House should hold that vote today," Obama said during a visit to the Federal Emergency Management Agency on Monday. "If Republicans and Speaker Boehner are saying there are not enough votes, they should prove it."

The move is in response to Boehner’s assertion Sunday on ABC’s “This Week” that there aren’t enough votes in the House to pass a government funding bill without additional concessions to Republicans, and is meant to raise public pressure on the Speaker to end the shutdown.

The White House immediately questioned Boehner's comments, noting media reports that more than 20 Republicans had voiced a willingness to vote for that type of bill. Most Democrats in the House also say they would vote for a clean government-funding bill. On Monday, Obama said his "very strong suspicion" was that "there are enough votes there." Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

US Forces Hit Shabbab After Nairobi Mall Attack

October 6th 2013

Navy Seal Team 6

In a stealthy seaside assault in Somalia and in a raid in Libya's capital, U.S. special forces on Saturday struck out against Islamic extremists who have carried out terrorist attacks in East Africa, snatching a Libyan al-Qaida leader allegedly involved in the bombings of U.S. embassies 15 years ago but aborting a mission to capture a terrorist suspect linked to last month's Nairobi shopping mall attack after a fierce firefight.

A U.S. Navy SEAL team swam ashore near a town in southern Somalia before militants of the al-Qaida-linked terrorist group al-Shabab rose for dawn prayers, U.S. and Somali officials told The Associated Press. The raid on a house in the town of Barawe targeted a specific al-Qaida suspect related to the mall attack, but the operation did not get its target, one current and one former U.S. military official told AP. Read more ..


The Defense Edge

Pentagon Calls Most Civilians Back to Work

October 5th 2013

Marines

The Pentagon has ordered roughly 400,000 furloughed civilian employees back to work. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel ordered the worker recall in a department-wide memorandum issued Saturday.

After consulting with the Justice Department and Department of Defense legal counsel, Hagel noted furloughed employees could be brought back to the Pentagon, while still complying with federal guidelines governing the shutdown, according to the memo.

Civilian workers at DOD shown to play a role in the "morale, well-being [and]...readiness" of U.S. forces could be brought back, under federal rules, Hagel wrote. Pentagon Comptroller Bob Hale is scheduled to hold a briefing on the details of the recall later today. Read more ..


The Iranian Threat

The Sources of Iranian Negotiating Behavior

October 3rd 2013

Rowhani

Iran's new president Hassan Rohani, who for years led-on the West as Iran's chief nuclear negotiator, skillfuly demonstrated by his conduct during his visit to New York, and speech at the U.N. General Assembly, that Iran didn't veer off the path laid by the Mullahs and the Supreme Leader.

This analysis identifies patterns exhibited by the Iranian government and the Iranian people since ancient times. Most importantly, it identifies critical elements of Iranian culture that have been systematically ignored by policymakers for decades. It is a precise understanding of these cultural cues that should guide policy objectives toward the Iranian government.

Iranians expect a ruler to demonstrate resolve and strength, and do whatever it takes to remain in power. The Western concept of demanding that a leader subscribe to a moral and ethical code does not resonate with Iranians. Telling Iranians that their ruler is cruel will not convince the public that they need a new leader. To the contrary, this will reinforce the idea that their ruler is strong. It is only when Iranians become convinced that either their rulers lack the resolve to do what is necessary to remain in power or that a stronger power will protect them against their current tyrannical rulers, that they will speak out and try to overthrow leaders. Read more ..


The New Libya

Widespread Libyan Torture

October 2nd 2013

Libyan freedom fighter

Widespread torture of jailed Libyans by so-called Brigades is routinely occurring in detention centers throughout the North African nation, according to a report released by the United Nations' Geneva office on Oct. 1, 2013. The Libyan Brigades is merely a new term to describe the country's numerous militias. Libyan detention facilities being run by independent Brigades began during the 2011 revolution that culminated in the overthrow of the dictatorship of Moamar Khadhafi. The U.N. report urges the Libyan government headquartered in Tripoli to control all of the detention or prison facilities within the country.

Tuesday's report was issued by the U.N. Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) and the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

Heart of Darkness: Inside Syria's Los Alamos

October 1st 2013

pro-Assad Rally Damascus

The implications were chilling. In the summer of 2012, as murder and mayhem reigned on both sides of Syria's civil war, someone—likely from the opposition—released a list of 32 names on Facebook. These weren't people invited to a wedding; they weren't members of the Syrian national soccer team; and they weren't guests for a weekend jaunt to a fancy seaside resort in Latakia. These were people someone wanted dead.

"This is a last warning," the list read. "If you don't stop executing your criminal projects against the Syrian people and announce your defection from the regime by July 20, 2012, we'll start giving away specific details on each and every one of you to the FSA [Free Syrian Army]."

The details included names of neighborhoods where people lived and the models of cars they drove. "Janan Lhussein," one entry read. "Resides in Assad's suburb and drives a white Kia Forte." Read more ..


Broken Government

Senate Rejects House Funding Bill, Shutdown in Clear Sight

September 30th 2013

Harry Reid

Congress took another step toward a government shutdown Monday as the Senate voted 54-46 to strip language from a House funding bill that delayed ObamaCare by a year.

Senate Democrats called on House Republicans to pass a clean government funding resolution and warned the GOP would take the brunt of the public backlash if government services become severely curtailed.

Democrats also eliminated language allowing employers to opt out of providing insurance coverage of contraception if doing so violates their moral or religious principles.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) needed only a simple majority vote to cut the House language delaying ObamaCare and repealing the medical device tax because the amended stopgap came from across the Capitol as a message to the Senate. Monday's vote was strictly on party lines. Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

What If Insurgents Close the Suez Canal?

September 28th 2013

Container Ship at Sea

Most of the attention these days is on Syria, but there is also a growing problem in Egypt with global implications. Nine Egyptian policemen were wounded by a bomb in the northern Sinai Peninsula on Monday. The week before, suicide bombers killed nine soldiers in the peninsula. Shootings, kidnappings and bombings -- roadside, car and suicide -- have become routine occurrences in Sinai. And the burgeoning Islamist insurgency is spreading to other parts of Egypt. In early September, the interior minister narrowly survived a car-bomb attack in Cairo reportedly perpetrated by a Sinai-based jihadist group.

Already reeling from more than two years of civil insurrection, a spike in crime, an epidemic of sexual assault and the military's killing in August of nearly 1,000 Islamists protesting the coup that removed the elected Muslim Brotherhood president from office, the insurgency is bad news for Egypt.

But things could get worse. Read more ..


Broken Government

Shutdown Looms as House Seeks One-Year ObamaCare Delay

September 28th 2013

john boehner

House Republicans plan to attach a one-year delay of ObamaCare and a repeal of its medical device tax to a stopgap spending bill on Saturday, a move that could ensure much of the federal government shuts down on Tuesday.

GOP leaders set a second conference meeting for 8:30 p.m. on Saturday to update their members on the timing of the vote, which was expected late at night. Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) outlined the maneuver to Republicans in a closed-door conference meeting on Saturday; members could be heard cheering outside the room in a Capitol basement.

Republican lawmakers inside the meeting chanted, "Vote! Vote! Vote!" after hearing the plan, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) said. Republicans exiting the meeting applauded Boehner's decision and said the ball was in Senate Democrats' court. Read more ..


The Edge of Climate Change

Scientists 95% Certain Climate Change Is Man-made

September 27th 2013

NASA ICESCAPE Arctic melt pools

Scientists are more certain than ever that the planet is warming and that humans are to blame. That’s the finding of a new report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The assessment will help inform policy makers and the public as they consider what action to take on climate change.

One hundred and ten governments adopted the scientific consensus that, “It is extremely likely that human influence has been the dominant cause of observed warming since the mid-20th century.”

At a news conference in Stockholm Friday, World Meteorological Organization Secretary General Michael Jarraud underscored the importance of the finding. “It should serve as another wake-up call that our activities today will have a profound impact on society, not only for us, but for many generations to come,” Jarraud said.  Read more ..


The Defense Edge

Widespread Problems in Security System Used by Navy

September 25th 2013

File Folders

For years, hundreds of thousands of contractors seeking regular access to key Navy installations have merely paid a fee and typed identifying information into ATM-like machines installed on those bases. They were then able to gain temporary access without first going through a background check, even though Navy and White House regulations require such checks be completed beforehand.

Known as Rapidgate, the access control system is now in operation for contractors, vendors, service workers, and suppliers who regularly pass through not just Navy checkpoints — but also those at more than 150 military and government installations around the country, including the Washington Navy Yard, the site of the Sept. 16 shooting rampage.

Last week, an internal Pentagon report called into question how the Rapidgate system became so widely used by the Navy and urged its immediate cancellation at those sites, saying it provides a false sense of security that puts government personnel at risk. The Navy, it said, had contracted for the system through irregular acquisition practices. Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

Five Things To Know About Al-Shabab

September 23rd 2013

Al Shabaab

The Islamist fundamentalist Al-Shabab group in Somalia is little known outside Eastern Africa. But its attack on a Nairobi mall reveals it to be one of the strongest and most capable Al-Qaeda affiliates.

What Is Al-Shabab?
Al-Shabab, which means "The Youth" in Arabic, emerged in war-torn Somalia in 2006.

It is a radical Sunni group, which, at its peak of power, ran much of southern Somalia but has now been pushed back into rural areas by African Union forces, predominantly Kenyan, which are trying to stabilize Somalia and support its weak government.

The group enforces strict Shari'a law in the areas it controls, including stoning to death women accused of adultery and amputating the hands of thieves.

Al-Shabab has twice struck back at neighboring countries supplying forces to stabilize Somalia. It coordinated a bombing attack against Uganda that killed 76 people in Kampala in 2010. Now it is claiming responsibility for this week’s attack on a mall in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, which has killed at least 69 people. Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

Israeli Special Forces Enter Nairobi Mall to End Massacre

September 22nd 2013

Hellicopter & troops

Israeli forces on Sunday joined Kenyan efforts to end a deadly siege by Somali militants at a Nairobi shopping mall, a security source has told AFP. "The Israelis have just entered and they are rescuing the hostages and the injured," the source told AFP on condition he not be named. In Israel, foreign ministry spokesman Paul Hirschson refused to confirm or deny that its forces were involved. "We don't make a habit of commenting on security cooperation of any kind that there may or may not be," he told AFP. The attack on the part Israeli-owned upmarket mall has left at least 59 dead and around 200 wounded, Kenyan officials said. The intervention came 26 hours after gunmen walked into the complex, tossing grenades and spraying gunfire at shoppers and staff. Somalia's Al Qaeda-linked Shebab rebels have claimed responsibility for the attack. Read more ..


Significant Events

Pivotal Jewish Group Toasts its Fifty Year Existence

September 20th 2013

Malcolm Hoenlein
Malcom Hoenlein

An historic gala will soon unfold in New York, when on October 15, 2013, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations holds its fiftieth anniversary commemoration. The so-called “President’s Conference” is the pivotal Jewish communal organization in the United States. The October 15 gala night will honor past presidents of the pivotal Conference, each of whom has had to juggle a demanding personal and communal identity. The select group includes Melvin Salberg, Amb. Ronald S. Lauder, Alan P. Solow, Richard B. Stone, Harold Tanner, James S. Tisch, June Walker, and Mortimer B. Zuckerman. The body has been led for four decades by executive vice chairman Malcolm Hoenlein, who will be honored in a special tribute. Hoenlein has eloquently enunciated the Jewish communal voice like none other in America.

Many people do not know the President’s Conference by name—but it has played a key role in American and world Jewish history. From mass public events to private diplomacy, the Conference has been in the forefront of mobilizing support for Israel and educating the public in times of war and conflict, and in the pursuit of peace.

Today, the Conference of Presidents remains American Jewry’s recognized locus for consensus policy, collective action, and maximizing the resources of the American Jewish community. When events in the U.S., Israel and elsewhere affect the American Jewish community, the Conference of Presidents take the lead to explain and analyze issues, provide a link between American Jewry and the U.S. government, and marshal a coordinated community response.

The pivotal and authoritative advocate for organized American Jewry for more than half a century, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations Fund advances the interests of the American Jewish community, sustains broad-based public and diplomatic support for the State of Israel and addresses the critical concerns facing world Jewry. Read more ..



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