Malaysia on Edge
|Rebecca Valli||March 20th 2014|
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
|Elise Vliebeck||March 19th 2014|
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
|George Friedman||March 18th 2014|
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
|Jeremy Herb and Kristina Wong||March 18th 2014|
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
|Al Pessin and Daniel Schaerf||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
|Peter Schroeder||March 16th 2014|
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
|Bernard Banks||March 15th 2014|
from BBC and other agncis
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 ..
|Steve Herman||March 15th 2014|
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 ..
|Theara Khoun||March 13th 2014|
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
|Benjamin Goad ||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
|Alexander Bolton||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
|Douglas Birch, R. Jeffery Smith and Jake Adelstein||March 11th 2014|
Center for Public Integrity
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
|Jonathan Easley||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
|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 ..
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