The powerful House Ways and Means Committee will get everything from disgraced former IRS official Lois Lerner’s email account since a few weeks before Barack Obama became president.
And Republican committee members are hoping they’ll find a smoking gun tying the Obama administration to the years-long scheme to play political favorites with nonprofit groups’ tax-exemption applications.
After eight months of back-and-forth stonewalling, the IRS has agreed to turn over the complete contents of Lerner’s email account, along with other documents that two congressional committees have been demanding.
‘If there’s not a Holy Grail email in this round of documents,’ a senior staffer to a Ways and Means committee member told MailOnline, ‘then we’re not going to find it.’
‘Whether that’s because Lerner covered her tracks or because the IRS is shredding documents, we’re probably never going to know.’
The committee’s chairman, Michigan Republican Rep. Dave Camp, seems eager to put his staff to work sifting through thousands of messages in search of an explanation for the program that has been a major embarrassment to the White House.
‘This is a significant step forward and will help us complete our investigation into the IRS’s targeting of conservative groups,’ Camp said Friday.
‘From the few Lerner documents we have received, we know that Washington, DC orchestrated the targeting of groups applying for tax-exempt status, surveillance of existing tax-exempt groups and formed the proposed 501(c)(4) rules designed to push conservative groups out of the public forum.’
Camp warned the IRS in a February 24 letter that he would start issuing subpoenas if the agency didn’t turn over the documents he wanted.
The IRS has proposed a rewrite of its regulations governing communications restrictions on ‘public benefit’ organizations that are exempt from paying federal income taxes.
That redesign of the rules began long before Lerner herself exposed the IRS’s pattern of holding up right-wing groups’ applications, often with dozens of intrusive questions over several years.
The effects of the agency’s desired rule change would be substantial: Organizations would be prohibited from emailing information, or publishing anything online, about candidates’ voting records during the last 60 days before an election.
Tea party groups, which began their rise to prominence five years ago, comprised most of the organizations that the IRS targeted beginning in 2010. Their political free-speech concerns have driven more than 146,000 public comments to the IRS, demanding that the regulatory revisions be scrapped.
Cleta Mitchell, a board member of the American Conservative Union Foundation, said Friday during that organization’s annual Conservative Political Action Conference that the new rules would affect the event where she was speaking.
‘It would mean that in even-numbered years, CPAC could have no speakers who are candidates for office,’ she said, dumbfounded.
Mitchell, an attorney, is representing some of the tea party groups in lawsuits related to the IRS targeting scheme.
The House Oversight Committee, chaired by California Rep. Darrell Issa, has cast a larger public shadow than Ways and Means has on the IRS targeting scandal.
Lerner has appeared before Issa-led hearings twice, both times invoking her Fifth Amendment rights and refusing to testify, despite President Obama’s insistence in a February interview that the IRS displayed ‘not a smidgen of corruption’ in the damaging episode.
Becca Glover Watkins, the Oversight Committee’s communications director, told MailOnline that Issa’s and Camp’s committee staffers are working hand-in-hand.
‘The Oversight Committee and the Ways and Means Committee have worked in partnership during the course of this investigation,’ Watkins said.
‘We expect the IRS will also be delivering a copy [of the complete Lerner files] to the Oversight Committee.’
A spokesperson for the Ways and Means Committee told MailOnline that it was the new IRS Commissioner, John Koskinen, who broke the inertia after months of requests.
‘We have been asking for the materials for months, and after many discussions the new IRS Commissioner has said the IRS will comply with the request,’ said the committee’s Sarah Swinehart.
Lerner ‘was clearly at the center of the IRS targeting and was running it out of the Washington, D.C. office,’ she added. ‘We expect her documents to provide a fuller picture of this.’
Koskinen took over the tax agency on December 23, ending a 13-month period during which two interim commissioners served as caretakers.
The IRS did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Taxpayers have paid more than $2.4 million to develop “origami condoms,” including male and female versions, and the “first of its kind anal condom.”
Out to “reinvent the condom,” Los Angeles businessman Danny Resnic has completed the first rounds of testing for three variations based on Japanese folding paper, courtesy of the National Institutes of Health.
The Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development initially spent $212,162 for a feasibility study on Resnic’s “new condom” in 2006. The idea was a non-rolled, silicone-based condom that “increases pleasure” and is more effective at preventing sexually transmitted diseases.
The issue is important to Resnic who said a broken condom in the 1990s changed his life.
“We all know that latex condoms don’t feel great. They break, they slip, and they interfere with intimacy,” Resnic said, sporting green neon shoes and sitting next to an outdoor fireplace for a promotional video on his website.
“From my perspective, the latex condom, designed in 1918, just got it wrong,” he said. “In 1993 I had a life-changing incident, a broken condom and an HIV diagnosis. This drastically changed my view about condoms.”
“Like many people, I don’t love condoms for the obvious reasons,” Resnic continued. “Do you know anyone who does? What if there was something new and radical that you loved using instead of latex condoms?”
Resnic says he has done just that, creating a design that gives the feeling of “sex without a condom: the real deal.”
Perfecting his condoms would not be possible without the U.S. taxpayers. “Generous research and development funding” provided by the NIH supported Resnic’s company’s research and development and four Phase I clinical trials. Since 2006, he has received $2,466,482 to test the three variations.
The NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases then began funding Resnic’s clinical trials in 2009, providing two grants worth $1,130,670 to design and test the Origami RAI condom for “receptive anal intercourse.”
The “feasibility and acceptability study” tested the anal condom, which is “worn internally by a receptive male or female partner,” on 24 couples.
The condom is intended to “provide better sensation and less breakage” and to “increase the acceptability of condoms among those who practice anal intercourse and are at risk of HIV / STIs.”
“Unlike the off-label use of the rolled latex male condom, the [origami anal condom] OAC creates direct tactile contact for the penis inside the internally lubricated condom,” the company said. “The Top partner does not need to wear a condom, creating an experience closer to ‘sex without a condom.’”
“You can walk around and do most any activity with the condom pre-inserted,” Resnic said.
The anal condom is expected to hit the market in late 2015. It is undergoing further clinical trials.
Additionally, Resnic received $591,950 to test his “Origami female condom” on 40 heterosexual couples.
The female condom’s design provides “maximum protection against breakage, slippage, and viral permeability.” It features a “unique patented reservoir designed to minimize semen backflow,” the grant said. A video demonstration is provided on Resnic’s website.
Finally, the initial study for the “Origami male condom” cost $531,700, beginning in 2011. The male and female versions, which can “accommodate a range of penis sizes,” are also expected to reach the market in 2015.
“I am grateful for the support from the epidemiology research community and the NIH, without whom these innovations would not be possible,” Resnic said on his website.
“We re-invented the condom,” a promotional video on the Origami condom website said. The video will be used on social media to market the products, since the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) restricts their advertising on television and radio.
Set to electronic dance music and neon colors, the 30-second promo begins with a song:
We’ve realized that people are still having sex
They’ve been told not to
Perhaps they are perplexed
When you see them holding hands
They’re making future plans to engage in the activity
Do you understand me?
People are still having sex
Lust keeps on lurking
Nothing makes them stop
“We did not anticipate the marketing challenge with FCC restrictions on media placement for the condom ads on TV and radio,” Resnic said. “The FCC will not allow a condom to be shown on TV, and radio messages have language restrictions. This makes it really difficult to market a product that cannot be seen or discussed.”
Resnic, who studied design at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, Calif., said the “strategic” promo works around the FCC rules. “Origami condoms won’t go viral, but our promo should,” he said.
The Origami condom has been praised by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which is also providing millions in research for new condom designs. The billionaire and Microsoft founder is a strong proponent for increasing contraceptive use in developing countries in response to “population growth.”
Resnic also sees his products as being used around the world.
“In the long term we believe we can make a sustainable and measurable difference to reduce incidence of HIV and unplanned pregnancies on a global scale,” he said.
Requests for comment from NIH were not returned.
Less than a year after suffering a major investment downgrade, Chicago has been downgraded again. Moody’s Investment Services announced Tuesday that it was lowering Chicago’s rating from A3 to Baa1, three levels above junk bond status.
Last July, Moody’s downgraded Chicago from Aa3 to A3. President Barack Obama’s adopted hometown now has the lowest municipal bond rating of any city in the U.S. except bankrupt Detroit.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who served as White House Chief of Staff for President Obama from 2009 to late 2010, and who is close to Bill and Hillary Clinton, has struggled to tackle the city’s looming pension crisis.
Through he reached an agreement with sanitation workers to reform the city’s garbage collection system, he has struggled to work with teachers’ unions and has not been able to rally the city behind broader municipal financial reforms.
In Fiscal Year 2013, the official federal deficit was $680 billion. Liberals have cheered this drop while subsequently ignoring how this deficit is both larger than all of Bush’s pre-recession deficits and is expected to grow dramatically over the next several decades.
However, the Treasury Department’s annual report on the finances of the U.S. federal government shows that not only is $680 billion an incomplete measure of the federal government’s finances, it’s off by nearly a factor of five.
The U.S. Treasury has just released its annual “Financial Report of the United States Government,” which provides an account of the federal government’s finances using accounting standards like those that the government requires of large corporations. Because the federal budget is not bound by these standards, it does not have to account for all of its fiscal obligations.
For example, the Treasury report reveals that the federal government owes $6.5 trillion in retirement and health benefits to federal employees and veterans. This legal responsibility amounts to $53,000 for every household in the United States, but none of these liabilities are reflected in the 2013 budget deficit or national debt.
During the federal government’s 2013 fiscal year, the official federal deficit was $680 billion, but this comprehensive accounting reveals that the federal government’s fiscal position deteriorated by $3.3 trillion or an average of $27,000 for every household in the U.S.
There are two basic ways the federal government calculates its obligations. The first does not account for the obligations of Social Security, Medicare, and other programs in the same way the federal government requires of private corporations.
The method the Treasury report uses is far more complete. It includes long-term obligations and liabilites unaccounted for in the deficit and debt measurements.
In this year’s report, Treasury says the government should initiate deficit reduction measures (cuts and/or tax increases) equivalent to 1.7 percent of GDP every year for 75 years. This means, just in 2014, Treasury is recommending a cut in deficits of approximately $274 billion just to prevent a fiscal crisis – and these cuts will grow in size every year for the time period Treasury examined. Waiting 10 or 20 years makes things even worse.
And even these cuts are grossly undersized. First, this would still leave America’s publicly held debt-to-GDP ratio the same as it was in 2013, which the Congressional Budget Office has said is problematic.
Additionally, Treasury assumes in its report that the Affordable Care Act will reduce long-term health care costs. And, finally, these cuts are recommended to reduce “primary” deficits, those that do not include the enormous interest payments the federal government is expected to incur.
In short, not only is the federal government in financial trouble, it’s in worse shape than we ever realized. After compiling all of the data in the Treasury Report, Just Facts found that the full obligations of the U.S. federal government total $71 trillion, or $580,000 per household.
More consequences of Obamacare – this time potentially killing an outpatient substance abuse service that many people rely on:
Another day, another illegal Obamacare delay.
Via The Hill:
The Obama administration is set to announce another major delay in implementing the Affordable Care Act, easing election pressure on Democrats.
As early as this week, according to two sources, the White House will announce a new directive allowing insurers to continue offering health plans that do not meet ObamaCare’s minimum coverage requirements.
Prolonging the “keep your plan” fix will avoid another wave of health policy cancellations otherwise expected this fall.
The cancellations would have created a firestorm for Democratic candidates in the last, crucial weeks before Election Day.
The White House is intent on protecting its allies in the Senate, where Democrats face a battle to keep control of the chamber.
“I don’t see how they could have a bunch of these announcements going out in September,” one consultant in the health insurance industry said. “Not when they’re trying to defend the Senate and keep their losses at a minimum in the House. This is not something to have out there right before the election.”
The Butcher of Benghazi, Hillary Rodham Clinton, has blood on her hands: the blood of Chris Stevens, Sean Smith, Ty Woods, and Glen Doherty.
This according to a scathing report entitled “Breach of Duty: Hillary Clinton and Catastrophic Failure in Benghazi,” put together by Special Ops OPSEC, the same group that produced the viral documentary Dishonorable Disclosures.
Western Center for Journalism has analyzed this groundbreaking report and found that Hillary Rodham Clinton has indeed been implicated in murder.
Watch our exclusive video for all the details about “The Butcher of Benghazi Hillary Rodham Clinton.”
The Romike family doesn’t have the values the Administration wants for legal immigration.
Via Fox News
Uwe and Hannelore Romeike came to the United States in 2008 seeking political asylum. They fled their German homeland in the face of religious persecution for homeschooling their children.
They wanted to live in a country where they could raise their children in accordance with their Christian beliefs.
The Romeikes were initially given asylum, but the Obama administration objected – claiming that German laws that outlaw homeschooling do not constitute persecution.
“The goal in Germany is for an open, pluralistic society,” the Justice Department wrote in a legal brief last year. “Teaching tolerance to children of all backgrounds helps to develop the ability to interact as a fully functioning citizen in Germany.”
On Monday, the Supreme Court declined to hear the Romeike’s appeal – paving the way for the Christian family of eight to be deported.
“I think this is a part of the Obama administration’s overall campaign to crush religious freedom in this country,” said Michael Farris, chairman of the Home School Legal Defense Association. His organization is representing family.
Christians in an east Tennessee community are vowing to engage in civil disobedience if the Obama administration initiates deportation proceedings against a Southern Baptist family from Germany who sought asylum in the United States so that they could home school their children.
“It may require civil disobedience with this bunch,” said Rep. Phil Roe (R-Tenn.), who represents the congressional district where the Romeike family lives.
“I am furious about this,” the congressman told me. “You’ve got law-abiding people who did everything right who simply want to home school their kids. We used to be that great shining city on a hill. There’s some rust on that city if we are doing free people this way.”
Roe was among many Tennesseans outraged over the Supreme Court decision not to hear the Romeike’s appeal to stay in the United States. The Christian couple sought asylum in 2008 after they fled Germany so they could home school their children.
The family was initially granted asylum, but the Obama administration objected – claiming that German laws that outlaw homeschooling do not constitute persecution.
“The goal in Germany is for an open, pluralistic society,” The Justice Department wrote in a 2013 legal brief. “Teaching tolerance to children of all backgrounds helps to develop the ability to interact as a fully functioning citizen in Germany.”
Rep. Roe told me the Justice Department needs to “butt out.”
“I don’t know what the Germans are thinking, but we’re not Germany,” he said. “I don’t want to be Germany. I don’t want to be Europe. I want to be America. And right now we’re not acting very much like the America I know with the administration we have.”
Roe called Attorney General Eric Holder “one of the most dangerous people in the country” and called his department’s assault on the Romeike family “appalling and worrisome.”
“I don’t see this as a Democrat or Republican issue,” he said. “It’s an issue of religious freedom. By golly, if we don’t stand for what, what do we stand for?”
Michael Farris, the chairman of the Home School Legal Defense Association, is representing the family. He said their future in the United States rests with the Obama administration.
“President Obama has the ability to say they can stay,” Farris said. “He can take that pen and piece of paper and make this right today.”
But since that hasn’t happened there are two possible outcomes for the Romeikes and their six children.
Farris said the administration could just ignore the family and let them live in peace. But the government could also file an order of deportation. If that happens, Farris promised a vigorous fight.
“If they come after this family and seek deportation orders, we will be there with our litigation team fighting every step of the way,” he said. “It sounds like their friends and neighbors will be there in a show of solidarity and stand in the gate and prohibit the government from acting.”
And Farris isn’t speaking figuratively. A number of the Romeike’s neighbors in Morristown, Tenn. told me they are prepared to engage in civil disobedience should government agents try to deport the family.
“The Romeikes have become a part of our family,” said Dean Haun, the pastor of First Baptist Church of Morristown, where the family attends. “I don’t think there’s any question that there will be some people who will be willing to stand with them to the very end – even if it means our imprisonment.”
The Southern Baptist pastor said should that day come, he would be counted among the local residents willing to go to jail to save the family from deportation.
“If that’s what it took, yes,” the pastor said. “This is an assault in the face of Christianity in America.”
“This is one of those situations where we are just outraged,” he said. “We are angered.”
He said the Romeikes are beloved in the east Tennessee town – where Uwe is the church pianist as well as an ordained deacon.
“They are not on welfare,” he said. ‘They are not trying to live off our system. They are very productive, godly, Christian people.”
Roger “Sing” Oldham, a spokesman for the Southern Baptist Convention, told me he was deep distressed by the Obama administration’s actions.
“I’m not sure what’s more chilling – that this administration views their presence in rural east Tennessee as a threat to our nation’s economic and political well being or that this administration lobbied to deport this family to a nation determined to coercively indoctrinate the children in government sanctioned ‘tolerance’ training,” Oldham said.
Oldham said the case is simply perplexing.
“This family is the antithesis of this administration’s political agenda – a heterosexual married Christian couple desiring to teach their biblical values to well-grounded children,” he said. “For whatever reason, our government does not want them in our nation.”
State Rep. Tillman Goins told me the community is “up in arms.”
“Everybody in Morristown knows the Romeike family,” he said. “You have a family who is doing it the legal way, taking every legal step they can to ask to come to this country and to participate as citizens in this country – only to be persecuted by the United States.”
Goins introduced a resolution calling on Tennessee’s congressional delegation to defend the family.
“I don’t know if all religious liberty is under attack in this country,” he said. “It seems like Christian values are under attack more than any other religion.”
Should the day come when the immigration agents show up to take the family away, Goins said he would meet them at the front door.
“Let’s hope that it doesn’t get to that point,” he said. “(But) should it come down to it – absolutely.”
And Morristown Mayor Danny Thomas would be standing alongside the state lawmaker.
“I can tell you this – I would stand with them,” he said. “There has to be a way to work this out before it ever comes to that.”
The mayor said there are no finer folks in his town than the Romeikes.
“They are good citizens without a doubt,” he said. ‘I don’t think you’ll find anyone with a better work ethic – kind, gentle people. I know that he has deep religious beliefs and he wants to stay and so does his family. I would hope our country would be able to accommodate them. They are an asset to our country.”
Farris predicted that if the Romeikes are deported, it would spark a movement among religious liberty supporters.
“If they come for this family, it’s going to ignite a movement that’s going to be the same as when they told courageous Rosa Parks to go to the back of the bus and she wouldn’t go,” Farris said.
“I think we may be approaching a similar moment in our country.”
Already, one in three American voters say they’ve been personally hurt by Obamacare.
One-in-three U.S. voters now says his or her health insurance coverage has changed as a result of Obamacare, and the same number say the new national health care law had a negative personal impact on them.
Forty percent (40%) of Likely U.S. Voters have at least a somewhat favorable opinion of the health care law, while 56% regard it unfavorably, according to a new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey. This includes 16% who view the law Very Favorably and 41% who have a Very Unfavorable opinion of it. (To see survey question wording, click here.)
Favorable opinions of the law are down from 45% two weeks ago and are the lowest measured since late December. Unfavorables hit an all-time high of 58% in mid-November. Favorables fell to a record low of 36% in that same survey.
Thirty-three percent (33%) now say their insurance coverage has changed because of the new law, up a point from January and the highest finding since last July.
President Obama’s mendacious political promise, “If you like your health care plan, you can keep it,” continues to cast a long and disturbing shadow of doubt and confusion over millions of Americans who have lost coverage as a result of Obamacare. As 2014 unfolds, the most vulnerable senior citizens – those who receive home health care services – are about to learn they are out of luck. Obamacare opens a trap door under them, leaving this elderly population in freefall – with many citizens losing access to home health care.
Add another compelling reason to reverse Obamacare. Whether by accident or intention, the “Affordable Care Act” empirically strips America’s oldest and poorest cohort, all part of the World War II generation, of this basic coverage. Here is how.
On Jan. 1, Medicare’s home health care services, formerly serving 3.5 million elderly beneficiaries across the country, were cut under Obamacare. The cut deleted exactly 14 percent, or an estimated $22 billion, from these lowest-income Americans over four years. News of the forthcoming cut only trickled out the Friday before Thanksgiving, yet another stunning attempt by the Obama White House to reduce Medicare benefits without attracting notice.
Guess what? We noticed. This cut does irreparable damage to recipients of Medicare’s home health care services, those who are aged, homebound and sicker than the average Medicare population. Indeed, nearly two-thirds of Medicare home health care users live at or below the federal poverty level, meaning they are the most economically compromised of America’s precious senior citizens.
This cut is an indictment of White House policies. Home health care agencies have always provided services to homebound Medicare beneficiaries. No hoopla, but when these Americans needed skilled care, they got it. In contrast to expensive hospital care, critical health care services got into millions of American homes via clinicians. Home health care was – and still is – vital. It is also now effectively gone for these Americans.
How did home health care save money for taxpayers? Using 2009 as a reference year, Medicare’s average Part A and Part B payment for a home health care visit was $145, compared to $373 per day in a skilled nursing facility or a whopping $1,805 per day in a hospital. In addition, according to one leading expert, skilled home health care services saved the Medicare program $2.8 billion during the most recent three-year period. Approximately $670 million of that savings is attributable to 20,000 fewer hospital readmissions.
Given these facts, one would conclude that the value of home health care in driving down Medicare costs should be obvious, if this – and not a single-payer system – were the real goal of Obamacare. How did we lose sight of common sense? Just keep patients in a familiar surrounding – their homes, not in an expensive hospital – keep sound disease management programs that deliver better and more cost-effective outcomes, and continue to coordinate care for patients. That was working. Now we have the reverse – markedly higher medical and insurance costs, with absolutely no institutional connection, support or continuing benefits for these especially needy Americans, the ones who depended – with their families – on critical home health care benefits. The president and his Democratic surrogates in the House and Senate have done it again: They have wiped out another critical, working system with this Obamacare monstrosity.
What else will this home health care cut achieve? It will hit the small businesses that provide home health care nationwide, and is already doing so. More than 90 percent of those providing home health care are small businesses. According to the U.S. Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, 40 percent of these companies will be operating “at a loss” – that is, they will likely fold or end up in bankruptcy – by 2017 as a result of the cut. What does that mean? It means nearly 5,000 more Medicare home health care providers may go out of business, and nearly 500,000 more jobs within this flogged industry may be wiped out to fund Obamacare. Those who care about such things should put that into their future unemployment calculations – and then thank Mr. Obama and his congressional friends, who all got a waiver and probably do not worry about home health care anyway.
Attacking our weakest senior citizens is no way to run a country. It is, in a word, reprehensible. This abomination devastates another existing and essential Medicare promise, while throwing one more gut-wrenching punch at this job sector. Does the truth no longer matter? Do these lives no longer matter? Do these businesses and jobs no longer matter? When will Mr. Obama and his allies in Congress let up and allow Americans to look after themselves again, as we used to quite well?
In a bombshell interview with Bloomberg’s Jeffrey Goldberg, President Obama issued his most direct public threats ever against Israel and its Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
‘Bibi’, the President all but said, ‘If you don’t accept the peace plan that my Secretary of State hasn’t even released yet, you will ruin your country.’ The interview was released for publication almost the very moment as Netanyahu’s plane departed to meet with Obama in Washington.
In addition to droning on about the growing dangers posed by increasing Israeli settlement ‘expansion’, the “rights” of Palestinian refugees, the historic “moderation” of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, and the reasonableness of the Iranian regime, President Obama used the interview with Goldberg to issue ominous new threats and dire warnings against the Jewish state if it did not agree to accept his plan to shrink Israel back inside the 1949 armistice lines.
Obama tells Goldberg that it isn’t really the Palestinians who need to change. It is Israel. Palestinian terrorism against Israeli civilians is essentially the result of steps Israel takes to prevent such terrorism. The best way to change the Palestinian Authority’s incitement to – and celebration of blood curdling violence against Jews – is for Israel to change its housing policy.
Nothing new here. This has been the President Obama’s basic position since long before he ever ran for public office; and a position shared by most of the international community.
What is new about Obama’s latest interview are his threats. If Israel doesn’t do what Obama decides Israel should do, then Israel should no longer expect the U.S. to support it: “If you see no peace deal and continued aggressive settlement construction – and we have seen more aggressive settlement construction over the past couple of years – if Palestinians come to believe that the possibility of a contiguously sovereign Palestinian state is no longer within reach, then our ability to manage the fallout is going to be limited.”
If Israel accepts that Obama knows best, that his proposed solutions to Israel’s problems are superior to its own, then Israel will faced increased isolation and threats. On supporting Israel, Obama says: “It is getting harder every day”. He explains that Israel faces ‘increasing international isolation’ because there is a “genuine sense on the part of a lot of countries that this issue continues to fester and that nobody is willing to take the leap to bring it to closure.”
Back in January, Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon was forced to publicly apologise for comments he made to an Israeli newspaper stating his belief that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s all-consuming efforts to forge an Israeli-Palestinian “peace agreement” might be born out of a “misplaced obsession and messianic fervor”. His comments provoked an unusually ferocious firestorm of outrage from both the White House and State Department. It was outrageous, the State Department and White House told the world in strikingly harsh language, for anyone to question the wisdom of John Kerry’s unshakeable belief that “solving” the Israeli-Palestinian still remains the foremost challenge of U.S. foreign policy. Rarely, if ever, have administration officials used such sharp and pointed language towards the actions or statements of Iran or North Korea.
In the past four days, Russian forces have seized the Crimean Peninsula, another 150,000 troops are mobilizing on Ukraine’s eastern border. North Korea successfully test fired two medium range ballistic missiles. Hundreds of Christian civilians in Nigeria have slaughtered by Islamist terrorists that Obama and Kerry have pressured the Nigerian government to ‘accommodate’; UN nuclear inspectors reported that Iran is accelerating development of its nuclear program thus violating last November’s agreement with America. In our own hemisphere, Venezuela’s leftist regime escalated its brutal crackdown against opposition protestors, Russia announced plans to establish permanent basis in Venezuela and Cuba. In response, President Obama intensifies his rhetoric against Israel.
Maybe it is time that somebody important demand that Moshe Ya’alon retract his apology? If anything, Ya’alon’s “misplaced obsession and messianic fervor” comments might now subject him to charges of ‘understatement’.
The source of all this foolishness is much harder to accept than it is to identify. The Obama-Kerry (i.e. established Western) approach to peace in the Middle East is doomed to fail because it is built upon a false premise. It isn’t Israel’s current size, nor is it Israel’s current housing policy, nor is it even the current Israeli Prime Minister that is the source of the problem. The problem is Israel itself. It shouldn’t exist, argue its enemies. Until those who reject that existence either die off or genuinely accept the Jewish people’s right to a Jewish and sovereign state of their own, there is nothing Obama, Kerry, the UN or even Israel itself can do to “fix” the “problem.”
The Middle East “Peace Industry” is much too vested to allow itself to see any perspective other than the one it has spent 60 years constructing. Since it wants peace (and most of it does), then obviously everyone else must want peace too. Since President Obama and Secretary Kerry want peace, (and they almost surely do) then obviously the Palestinian people and the PA and Hamas who claim to represent them must want peace too. Since the Palestinians want peace, their continued resorts to violence must be the result of something Israel has forced upon them. War can not be a goal in itself for Israel’s enemies because it is not a goal for the Peace Industry.
Like Ptolemists struggling to defend geocentrism after Galileo, Obama can’t focus on Palestinian media incitement for the same reasons none of his predecessors did. Focusing on Palestinian incitement or terrorism would make those doing the inciting and the terrorising look bad. That might drive them away from the negotiating table. Without negotiating partners, there is no need for negotiating tables and the UN, the EU and the US have bought far too many negotiating tables to turn back now.
Obama can’t remind himself, let alone the world, that it was President Abbas who urged Arafat to reject Israel’s acceptance of nearly every Arafat demand in 1999 with a gruesome terror war against Israeli civilians because that would expose the falsity of his premise that the Palestinians truly want peace. He can’t point to opinion poll after opinion poll that shows an overwhelming majority of Palestinians reject the two state solution because that might undermine the carefully crafted image created by the West that Mahmoud Abbas represents a people who Obama says “yearn for peace with Israel.”
The President is hardly alone. Nearly the whole world has now developed an interest in ignoring Palestinian incitement. None more so than the world’s media. Focusing on Palestinian incitement would make the media look not just foolish but dishonest. It would threaten the entire foundation upon which Middle East peace making has been built over the past 60 years. Jettisoning the current approach to ‘Middle East peace making’ would upend an entire industry. It would spell the end for lavishly funded Washington peace institutes; it would mean no more glamorous global conferences, no more UN confabs and worst of all, perish the thought, no more Nobel Prizes for Middle East Peace Making.
The late Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov all but predicted the consequences of the UN’s infamous 1975 “Zionism is Racism” Resolution when he said: “It will only contribute to anti-semitism by giving it the appearance of international legality”.
Even years after its repeal, the sentiment that resolution validated lives on. It created a moral and legal justification for those who seek to destroy the very state created as a consequence of genocide and an antidote to future race-murder.
What would Hillary say?
Former President Bill Clinton raised eyebrows on Friday night when he paused to snap a photo with two prostitutes at the star-studded charity ball Unite4Charity.
Clinton, 67, was working the crowd at the fancy LA gala when he paused to take a picture with two young fans, Ava Adora and Barbie Girl, two sex workers from the Moonlite Bunny Ranch brothel in Moundhouse, Nevada.
The working girls were the invited guests of Dennis Hof, the 68-year-old proprietor of the brothel made famous by HBO’s series “Cathouse.”
“These two girls are just incredible fans of Bill Clinton,” Hof told the Daily News. “They kept saying, ‘Please take me, Daddy.’”
Hof brought 23-year-old Adora and 22-year-old Barbie to the event along with longtime pal, porn superstar Ron Jeremy.
On her website, Adora describes herself as a “passionate lover.” Barbie Girl’s bio boasts that she specializes in “devirginizing parties.
Clinton gave the event’s keynote address, and also received the gala’s Unity Award from Forest Whitaker.
“Clinton was going through there pretty fast, and the girls happened to get up front. They told Clinton that they were big fans and they took the photo,” Hof continued.
Clinton, Hoff confirmed, was busily snapping photos with well-wishers, and didn’t realize that he had posed for a picture with ladies of the evening.
“He didn’t know they were hookers,” Hof said. “But I guess when you’re a President, you like pretty girls too.”
Hof also contradicted a previous TMZ report that the girls had snuck in and were thrown out after snapping the picture.
“There’s no truth to that,” Hof said. “They stayed for the entire event and enjoyed it. The girls were enthusiastic about the event, and thrilled to meet Clinton. It was a great night for a great cause.”
The ex-commander-in-chief was one of the honored guests at the charity event, which also featured Robert De Niro and Martin Scorsese. But Ava Adora and Barbie Girl only had eyes for Clinton.
“They didn’t have any interest in Sean Penn or Robert DeNiro,” Hof said. “But Clinton they loved meeting.”
When the FBI finally fires up its criminal investigation of the IRS targeting of Tea Party groups, there is one person the special agent in charge better be sure to interview – former White House Counsel Robert Bauer. The FBI may discover the whole IRS mess leads through the land of campaign finance “reform” and an obsession with speech regulation, an obsession shared by Bauer.
Any criminal investigation identifies for further scrutiny those with motive, opportunity, and means, and Bauer deserves no quarter from FBI investigators on those three counts.
Without any doubt, crimes were committed by IRS employees, not the least of which was the fact that IRS employees disclosed confidential information from IRS forms to the political enemies of the groups seeking tax-exempt status.
For example, Cindy Thomas, the Cincinnati unit manager for exempt organizations at the IRS, illegally released the tax applications of nine separate conservative organizations to the left-wing group ProPublica. The IRS claims that Thomas’ illegal release of private tax information was an “accident,” but the excuse is absurd.
Thomas wasn’t the only IRS employee leaking the tax information of conservative groups to their enemies. Pro-marriage groups found their confidential information in the hands of gay marriage advocacy organizations.
The FBI can start by finding out whether Thomas and her fellow IRS travelers in fact released the private information. If the FBI says Thomas cannot be prosecuted because she claims it was an accident, then Congress needs to step in and impose mandatory minimum prison sentences for any IRS employee that releases private information, accidental or not.
The bigger question the FBI must get to the bottom of is who hatched the policy of targeting Tea Party groups that led to these crimes? For that they should turn back to Robert Bauer.
Robert Bauer had the motive to direct IRS policy against Tea Party groups. He is a longtime opponent of First Amendment freedoms and an advocate of government-speech regulation. He also can’t stand the work the Tea Party is conducting to monitor and eradicate voter fraud, work the Republican Party and national campaigns have utterly failed to perform.
During the 2008 election, while representing the Obama campaign, Bauer sent a threatening letter to the Justice Department demanding criminal investigations of people who had the audacity to speak about voter fraud. Bauer even singled out Sarah Palin in the letter. Anyone who “developed or disseminated” information about voter fraud, to Bauer, deserved the heavy boot of a criminal investigation. Read the letter; it reveals a nasty, thuggish, and lawless attitude toward political opposition.
To Bauer, those merely speaking about voter fraud were worthy of criminal investigation. Sound familiar?
Hindsight reveals why Bauer was so agitated. Two Obama campaign staffers, Amy Little and Yolanda Hippensteele, later pleaded guilty to voter fraud. We also know, courtesy of John Fund and Hans von Spakovsky, that a Minnesota election for U.S. Senate was decided by voter fraud in 2008. And who can forget Melowese Richardson, the Obama activist and poll official in Ohio who said on camera that she voted multiple times for President Obama in 2008? I could go on and on with multiple examples of voter fraud from 2008 where candidate Obama was the beneficiary.
No wonder Bauer was so anxious back in 2008 to shut everyone up.
Fast forward to 2012. Again, Mr. Bauer was up to his old tricks in his second stint as Obama campaign counsel, this time targeting Tea Party groups fighting for election integrity. Bauer and his campaign hench-lawyers called state election officials, seeking to unleash state criminal investigations of Tea Party groups working for election integrity. I have spoken with state election officials in at least three states which describe Obama campaign efforts to prompt state officials to target Tea Party groups.
I’m happy to share with the FBI special agents the names of those states if Mr. Bauer won’t.
Bauer even published this memo, specifically targeting True the Vote with outright lies so egregious he should be ashamed of himself.
After the Obama campaign voter fraud of 2008, in 2012 Bauer was anxious to remove election integrity groups from the polls as observers. If the IRS couldn’t slow the Tea Party watchdogs down, Bauer threatened them in other ways.
If the FBI special agents interview Mr. Bauer, it won’t be hard to conclude he had the motive to launch the Tea Party shakedown.
President Obama’s campaign counsel certainly had the motive to target the Tea Party, but did Bauer have the means as campaign counsel? Remember, Bauer served as White House counsel from November 2009 to June 2011, right during the time this IRS shakedown was hatched.
Anybody who has worked in the White House will tell you that the White House counsel enjoys a position of power like few others. They can make things happen with a phone call. One former West Wing staffer told me that “any department’s staff who received directions from Bauer would think they were getting directions from the president. The White House counsel has the power to make policy with a phone call.”
Something important happened two months after Bauer became White House counsel – the Supreme Court decided Citizens United vs. FEC, a decision that caused the left to go batty. They feared the decision might cost them the White House. President Obama boorishly (and inaccurately) addressed the decision in the 2010 State of the Union.
The FBI special agents should ask Bauer some simple questions: With whom did you speak at the IRS about conservative and Tea Party groups post-Citizens United? Did you direct anyone on your staff to do the same? Did you hear about anyone speaking with the IRS about Tea Party groups? Who hatched the IRS harassment, which started on your watch? Did you meet with Doug Shulman any of the 157 times he visited the White House, and did you discuss exempt status of conservative groups?
The FBI agents might ask Bauer why a parade of Citizens United-obsessed speech-regulation zealots visited the West Wing just before the Tea Party shakedown went into effect.
Tova Wang, of the leftist Soros-funded group Demos, visited the White House and met with Bauer’s staff on June 2, 2010. In fact she hovered around the White House on multiple occasions during the critical time period the IRS policy was being crafted.
Perhaps she was there for the Easter Egg roll. Perhaps not. Either way, the FBI can ask.
Notorious speech-regulation advocate Richard Hasen also visited the White House and met with White House Counsel Robert Bauer on June 24, 2010. (See this absurd screed at Slate saying the post-Citizens United world is “worse than Watergate.” Freedom just rubs some people the wrong way.)
Perhaps Hasen was at the White House with Bauer to watch the longest match in Wimbledon history which occurred that day.
Perhaps not, especially since he previously met with Nicholas Colvin in the White House Counsel’s office on June 21 and 23. Again, the FBI can find out if they ask.
Bauer or his staff met with a number of other ivory tower academics and activists interested in controlling free political speech through the spring of 2010. These also include the noisy reformer Meredith McGehee.
We don’t yet know who engineered the illegal, criminal, and disgusting IRS shakedown of Tea Party and conservative groups. But one thing is certain: Robert Bauer had the motive, the opportunity, and the means to do it. The good folks at the FBI are now busy preparing names of people to interview. They better not leave Mr. Bauer off the list, or his stream of visitors.
The parties better not coordinate stories ahead of time. These days, I hear the Justice Department has adopted an aggressive approach to email and phone records, at least for Fox News.
Maryland could end up spending as much as $30.5 million as a result of a glitch in its ObamaCare website, as the Obama administration steps in to help states with problematic exchanges.
Because of Maryland’s defective exchange, the state cannot determine whether customers remain eligible for Medicaid, according to a report by state budget analysts released Thursday.
As a result, the state has agreed with the federal government to a six-month delay in determining eligibility, meaning that payments will continue to be made to customers who are not eligible until the system is fixed. The delay will cost the state $17.8 million in fiscal 2014 and $12.7 million in fiscal 2015, the analysts estimated.
On Friday, the Obama administration said it would suspend some Affordable Care Act rules to help the 14 states with their own ObamaCare sites, particularly Maryland, Massachusetts, Hawaii and Oregon, which have had the most problems.
The federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services plan, completed a day earlier, states the federal government will help pay for “qualified” health-insurance plans for customers in those states who because of “exceptional circumstances” had to buy plans outside of ObamaCare exchanges, as reported first by The Washington Post.
The administration made the change before the end-of-March deadline for Americans to enroll in ObamaCare this year.
In Maryland, the exchange cannot convert income data from the existing Medicaid enrollment system into a calculation needed to review whether enrollees are qualified “because of a variety of system architectural flaws,” according to budge analysts.
The exchange has been plagued by computer problems that have made it difficult for people to enroll in private health care plans since its debut Oct. 1.
State officials have decided to stick with the exchange through the open enrollment period that ends March 31 but is evaluating alternatives with an eye toward the next enrollment period that begins in November.
Among the possibilities is adopting technology developed by another state, joining a consortium of other states, partnering with the federal exchange or making major fixes to the existing system.
Thirty-six states use the federal HealthCare.gov site, which crashed and had other major problems in the first two months of enrollment.
The Maryland report said the state may need to develop an interim solution while a long-term solution is being developed. However, that process would likely take at least nine to 12 months, pushing up against the next open-enrollment period.
The report also states the development of the exchange was “a high risk undertaking” from the outset, in large part because of contractors woes, tight deadlines, constantly evolving requirement and its need to interface with work-in-progress federal databases.
The administration changes this week are not the first to ObamaCare, to be sure.
In November, Obama helped Americans about to lose policies because they didn’t meet new minimum requirements by allow the substandard plans to be sold through the end of this year.
And administration officials has twice this year given medium- and large-sized employers more time to offer health insurance to most full-time workers.
However, the change this week is significant because it marks the first time the federal government has agreed to help pay for policies bought outside the new exchanges.
The coverage in the outside policies would have to be comparable to those offered on the exchange. And customers would have to start paying premiums, then get the subsidies after the state exchanges could determine their income eligibility.
Maryland Health Benefit Exchange official told The Post earlier this week that roughly 7,000 applications are stuck in state’s system, but all of them might not need insurance and that officials were still looking over the administration’s offer.
A new and comprehensive comparison of health insurance options offered by Obamacare versus private websites finds that President Obama’s program offers less choice and higher prices than promised by the White House and leading Democrats.
Adding to the list of broken health care promises, the study from the National Center for Public Policy Research found that there were more and cheaper options available on websites outside the health insurance exchange in 2013 than on healthcare.gov and state Obamacare exchanges.
The report, “Obamacare Exchanges: Less Choice, Higher Prices,” looked at options available for a 27-year-old single person and a 57-year-old couple in metropolitan areas across 45 states.
The report found that a 27-year-old male had about 10 more policies to choose from on eHealthinsurance.com and finder.healthcare versus the exchange. The older couple had about nine more policy choices.
Ditto for the cost findings, with the 27-year-old male having access to 32 policies that cost less than the cheapest Obamacare offering, and the 57-year-old couple access to 29 cheaper policies.
“In general, consumers had substantially more policies to choose from on private websites such as eHealthinsurance.com and Finder.healthcare.gov than they presently have on the exchanges,” said the study.
“Obamacare supporters, including the president himself and Nancy Pelosi, claimed the exchanges would yield more choice and lower prices,” said the study’s author, David Hogberg. “This study shows those claims do not stand up.”
The National Center for Public Policy Research, founded in 1982, describes itself f as a “non-partisan, free-market, independent conservative think-tank.”
The Obama administration’s new proposed rule for Medicare Part D would eliminate half of all Medicare Part D plans and raise prescription drug premiums for millions of seniors by up to 20 percent, according to a U.S. House subcommittee chairman.
“Today, the average senior has 35 different [Medicare Part D] plans to choose from this year. This rule would reduce that choice to two plans. 50% of the plans offered today will be gone, and the health care that seniors like may go with it,” House Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee chairman Rep. Joe Pitts said in a statement at a Feb. 26 hearing attended by a top administration health official.
“Limiting seniors’ choices like this will inevitably lead to higher costs. By some estimates, the restriction on the number of plans that can be offered could cause premiums to rise by 10%-20%. Costs to the federal government may increase by $1.2-1.6 billion according to a study by Milliman,” Pitts said. “… I urge Secretary Sebelius and Administrator Tavenner to rescind this rule.”
The study Pitts cited also showed that the new rule would increase out-of-pocket drug costs for 6.9 million seniors who do not qualify for low-income subsidies, and would raise federal taxpayer costs for six million seniors who do qualify.
President Bush signed Medicare Part D into law in 2003 to subsidize prescription drug costs for Medicare beneficiaries.
The Daily Caller reported that the administration’s Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), a division of Kathleen Sebelius’ Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), recently introduced a new proposed rule on the Federal Register called “Medicare Program: Contract Year 2015 Policy and Technical Changes to the Medicare Advantage and the Medicare Prescription Drug Benefit Programs.”
The new rule “would revise the Medicare Advantage (MA) program (Part C) regulations and prescription drug benefit program (Part D) regulations to implement statutory requirements; strengthen beneficiary protections; exclude plans that perform poorly; improve program efficiencies; and clarify program requirements,” according to the Federal Register.
The rule states that it also aims “to implement certain provisions of the Affordable Care Act.”
The new rule’s stated desire to “strengthen our ability to identify strong applicants for Part C and Part D program participation and remove consistently poor performers” would give the Obama administration new authority to limit health insurance and prescription drug providers under the Medicare Advantage and Medicare Part D programs.
The rule would also violate the Medicare Part D’s law’s “non-interference provision that prohibits the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) from interfering with the negotiations between drug manufacturers and pharmacies and sponsors of prescription drug plans,” according to testimony by American Action Forum president Douglas Holtz-Eakin, violating “congressional intent.”
Rep. Pitts expressed confusion and anger at CMS’ new rule.
“CMS itself says that 96% of the Part D claims it reviewed showed seniors saved money at preferred pharmacies, and nearly 25,500 seniors in my district have chosen Part D plans with a preferred pharmacy network. Yet CMS would take that away from them,” Pitts said.
“The Medicare Part D prescription drug benefit is a government success story. Last year, nearly 39 million beneficiaries were enrolled in a Part D prescription drug plan,” Pitts said.
“Competition and choice have kept premiums stable. In fact, in 2006, the first year the program was in effect, the base beneficiary premium was $32.20 a month. In 2014, the base beneficiary premium is $32.42 – a 22-cent increase over 9 years – and still roughly half of what was originally predicted,” Pitts added. “More than 90% of seniors are satisfied with their Part D drug coverage because of this. African-American and Hispanic seniors report even higher levels of satisfaction, at 95% and 94%, respectively.”
“The program has worked so well because it forces prescription drug plans and providers to compete for Medicare beneficiaries – putting seniors, not Washington, in the driver’s seat. Part D should be the model for future reforms to the Medicare program,” Pitts said.
House Energy and Commerce committee chairman Rep. Fred Upton joined with Pitts at the hearing in criticizing the new rule.
“The proposed rule, issued on January 6, 2014, appears to be a direct assault on the competitive structure of the program. It inhibits the ability of plans to obtain discounts for beneficiaries, limits the range of market segments in which they may compete, and usurps the responsibility of states to license those able to prescribe. This 700-page proposal makes numerous changes,” Upton said.
CMS principal deputy administrator Jonathan Blum testified that limiting Part D sponsors to providing only two plans per region will “promote needed clarity of plan choices for beneficiaries.”
Editor’s Note: This is the third in a series of stories about Common Core, the controversial new educational agenda aimed at imposing federal government standards on every aspect of public and private education in America, which some are even calling “ObamaCore.” The first part spelled out the high stakes for parents, students and education. The second part followed the money trail behind Common Core.
The battle over the deceptively titled Common Core State Standards Initiative, or CCSSI, is raging, and the rhetoric is fierce. Supporters of the national standards have called their opponents “right-wing nuts” and “black helicopter” types.
“All of us get lumped together as ‘the fringe,’ ‘the far right,’ tea partiers,’ etc.,” said Jane Robbins, co-author of the report “Controlling Education from the Top: Why the Common Core is Bad for America.”
“When they don’t have the facts on their side they resort to ad-hominem,” she said.
Opponents of Common Core claim it is the product of progressive elitists who want to put all children under control of federal government bureaucrats. That view was reinforced when a panelist at the liberal think-tank Center for American Progress discounted the opposition as only a “tiny minority,” claiming such views should be ignored because “the children belong to all of us.”
The term “Common Core” has become “toxic,” according to former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee. He continues to support the standards in spite of a unanimous resolution by the Republican National Committee in April 2013 to oppose them. Huckabee told state education leaders at a meeting of the Council of Chief State School Officers: “Rebrand it, refocus it, but don’t retreat.”
So far, Arizona, Iowa, Florida and Pennsylvania have followed his advice, eliminating the name “Common Core” from their state standards.
‘White suburban moms’
Education Secretary Arne Duncan claims opposition to Common Core is coming from “white, suburban moms” who are suddenly discovering their children are not “as brilliant as they thought they were.” When Duncan’s comments went viral, “white, suburban moms” quickly found many defenders in the blogosphere and opinion columns.
In January, Duncan spoke to a gathering of curriculum professionals. As he lectured them on the distinction between standards and curricula, he asserted that “not a word, not a single semi-colon of curriculum [sic] will be created, encouraged, or prescribed by the federal government.”
But Duncan’s pep talk to curriculum specialists about their role in implementing the standards only increased the perception that it is indeed a federal, not a state, initiative. George Will noted in his Washington Post article “Doubts Over Common Core” that when the federal government initiates top-down “reforms” in education, any mistakes that result are “continental mistakes.”
Will stated the obvious: “National standards must breed ineluctable pressure to standardize educational content. Targets, metrics, guidelines and curriculum models all induce conformity in instructional materials.”
Indeed, textbook companies now advertise “Common Core Editions,” and educational testing companies provide “Common Core-aligned” standardized tests.
The link between the national SAT test and Common Core was forged when the College Board, which puts out the placement test for college-bound students, hired David Coleman as president. The Gates and Mott foundations gave Coleman’s nonprofit, Student Achievement Partners, money to write the standards, which were commissioned by the Council of Chief State School Officers and the National Governors Association.
The new College Board assessments will start rolling out this year with the redesigned PSAT. The new SAT is scheduled for 2015. The once-venerable Iowa Test of Basic Skills is now Common Core-aligned, and even the GED is getting its first makeover since 2002 so it will line up with the standards.
Teachers withdraw support
Fearing this link between the national standards and high-stakes testing, the board of New York’s teachers union voted unanimously Jan. 25 to withdraw its support for the national standards “as they are being implemented.” The union board also declared no confidence in Education Commissioner John King Jr., a Common Core backer, and asked the Board of Regents to remove him. Union leaders urged the state education department to make “major course corrections to its failed implementation plan” and enact a three-year moratorium on the testing.
The Board of Regents responded to the concerns by giving public schools five more years to implement Common Core. Public school teachers will not be held accountable for student test scores for two years.
There is some movement in Congress to oppose the CCSSI. On Jan. 30, Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., introduced Senate Bill 1974. It is now in the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, on which Roberts sits.
The bill, titled the “Learning Opportunities Created at the Local Level Act,” would prohibit the federal government from coercing states to adopt education standards like Common Core. The act would forbid the federal government from intervening in a state’s education standards, curricula and assessments through the use of incentives, mandates, grants, waivers or any other form of manipulation.
Roberts opposed the Obama administration’s Race to the Top grant program, and he and nine other senators have gone on record against spending any federal funds to develop education curriculum or standards, including the Common Core. Given the present make-up of the Senate, Roberts’ efforts may not gain much headway in Congress.
The real battle against Common Core is being waged in the states. As of Feb. 8, edu-blogger Mercedes Schneider had identified legislative action on the Common Core in 30 states.
“Legislators in most of these 30 states are advancing bills to halt the testing consequences of a CCSS that they admittedly do not understand – and for which they must now count the cost,” Schneider wrote.
Initially, the only states that didn’t compete for Race to the Top funds were Alaska, North Dakota, Texas and Vermont. For Texas legislators, that wasn’t enough. They wanted to ensure the State Board of Education would not follow Alaska’s example and adopt Common Core anyway. In June, Texas Gov. Rick Perry signed H.B. 462, effectively banning the Common Core State Standards from Texas schools. The bill had passed by a 140-2 vote in the Texas House.
Some states are now delaying implementation of the standards, such as New York. Illinois has bills in both legislative chambers to delay implementation. Colorado’s legislation would delay them until public hearings have been held. Rhode Island wants to study and evaluate the standards.
After its Board of Education voted in 2010 to adopt the CCSSI, Indiana became the first to align its teacher preparation standards to Common Core. However, even members of the state legislature’s education committees didn’t know much about what the adoption entailed until they started hearing from alarmed parents when the standards began to impact school curricula.
As opposition to the standards spread, former Indiana Superintendent of Instruction Tony Bennett visited tea-party meetings around the state to defend them. His Democrat opponent in the 2012 election, Glenda Ritz, told parents she wanted to “pause” adoption of the Common Core.
When election results came in, Bennett was out, in spite of the $90,000 reportedly given by the Gates Foundation to fund pro-Common Core advertising on Indiana TV and radio. Last May, newly elected Indiana Gov. Mike Pence signed a bill delaying adoption of the Common Core. In January, the Indiana Senate Education and Career Development Committee voted to send a measure to the Senate floor to repeal the Common Core Standards. If the state legislature passes the bill, it would charge the State Board of Education with developing by July 1 new “college- and-career-ready standards,” a favorite phrase with the pro-Common Core faction.
Erin Tuttle, founder of the grassroots Hoosiers Against Common Core, told the Indy Star that the State Board of Education should not make a few tweaks and slap the label “Indiana Standards” on any new guidelines. She said parents will notice if their children are assigned homework that looks like Common Core.
“Parents will be outraged. They will feel tricked,” he said.
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush has been an active advocate of Common Core, not only in Florida but across the country. His nonprofit, Foundation for Educational Excellence, which received $500,000 from the Gates Foundation in 2010, has lobbied for the Core and sent letters to state legislators in embattled states.
Jane Robbins, senior fellow at the American Principles Project, said Jeb Bush “is the ‘big gorilla’ behind the Common Core movement.”
“Bill Gates is the financier, but Jeb Bush is the one who is twisting the arms of all of these Republican governors and legislators around the country not to do the right thing and regain local control,” Robbins said.
In 2013, after he was voted out as Indiana school chief, Bush’s protégé, Tony Bennett, was appointed Florida’s Education Commissioner. His tenure didn’t last long. He resigned after eight months when it was discovered he had been involved in a plan to improve the school evaluation grade of an Indiana charter school run by Christel DeHaan, a major donor to the Republican Party and to Bennett.
Now the question is whether Bush’s influence in Florida is strong enough to stop efforts there to repeal Common Core. A bill to prohibit the State Board of Education from continuing to implement the Common Core Standards has been introduced in the Florida House, which convenes March 4. The bill (H.B. 25) would stop implementation until certain requirements are met for the adoption or revision of state curricular standards. It also would prohibit Florida from implementing Common Core-aligned assessments.
Common Core supporters are hoping H.B.25 won’t go anywhere. It’s being held in the House and Senate education committees until a companion bill is offered in the Senate. Karen Effrem, co-founder of the Florida Stop Common Core Coalition, said a Senate companion bill has been written and will be submitted.
Effrem said that since Florida is “the land of Jeb Bush,” if these bills pass “it would be a huge shot in the arm to the anti-Common Core movement not only in Florida, but in the rest of the country.”
“And that is why ‘the powers that be’ are fighting us so hard.”
The Heritage Foundation, Heartland Foundation, Pioneer Institute and the American Principles Project, which produced the scathing report on Common Core, “Controlling Education from the Top: Why Common Core Is Bad for America,” are all providing intellectual bullets and moral support to those on the battle lines. Co-authors of the APP report, Emmett McGroarty and Jane Robbins, have been traveling around the country to speak to groups that are fighting the standards.
Robbins said proponents of Common Core did not anticipate how much opposition they would face.
“They thought people would be sheep and roll over and accept what the experts told them to do; but it hasn’t turned out that way,” she said.
Arizona, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Tennessee now have bills in their state legislatures to halt or abolish the standards.
Russia declared Crimea an “autonomous” region on Monday. Five top pro-Russian military and security commanders took an oath to Crimea.
Crimean leader Sergey Aksyonov appealed to Russia for assistance.
It appears that Russia has taken control of Crimea without firing a shot and is referring to it as the “Autonomous Republic of Crimea,” presumably with the intention of making it a puppet state of Moscow.
Ukraine’s government in Kiev is only a few days old and seems to be in disarray. So far, it’s avoiding any strong military overreaction that would provide Russia with an excuse for a further military invasion, perhaps into eastern Ukraine beyond Crimea. However, the government warned Sunday it was on the brink of disaster and called up military reservists to counter Russia’s threat to Ukraine.
Russia has appointed Sergey Aksyonov to prime minister of Crimea, and on Sunday he announced:
I believe that this day will go down in history of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea as the day that all law enforcement agencies were established in the autonomy. We will prove that the Crimeans are capable of protecting themselves and ensure the safety and freedom of our citizens.
Today the Autonomous Republic of Crimea is formed as an independent, integral public authority. I am sure that all of us will prove that we did not just come into power and that we can give Crimeans what they expect from us.
We will never see ‘Maidan’ with their black smoke and burned tires here. I responsibly promise that Crimea by May will be calm, quiet, friendly. People of all nationalities will live here happily.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said the decision to send in troops was only to protect human rights.
Russia has reportedly given Ukrainian forces in Crimea a deadline of 3am on Tuesday to surrender or face military action after troops seized key strategic sites in the peninsula.
The ultimatum came from Alexander Vitko, commander of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, which has a base in Crimea where Russian forces are now in control.
According to Russia’s Interfax agency, it reads: “If they do not surrender before 5am (3am UK time) tomorrow, a real assault will be started against units and divisions of the armed forces across Crimea.”
But in a conflicting report, Interfax quoted an official representative for the Russian Ministry of Defence as saying the ultimatum was “total nonsense”.
The US said any threat by Russia to Ukraine forces would represent a “dangerous escalation” in the crisis, and Moscow would be responsible.
It came as Russian President Vladimir Putin watched tanks and armoured vehicles taking part in military exercises at a training ground in north-west Russia.
Mr Putin attended the final day of war games he ordered on February 26 to test the combat-readiness of his armed forces in western and central parts of Russia, regions adjacent to Ukraine, a spokesman said.
The Russian foreign ministry said Nato’s criticism of its actions in Crimea “will not help stabilise” the situation in Ukraine.
British Prime Minister David Cameron said Russia will face “diplomatic, political, economic and other pressures” to send a “clear message” about its actions in the Ukraine.
Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev discussed the escalating crisis in Ukraine with US Vice President Joe Biden by telephone on Monday.
Mr Medvedev “declared that it is necessary to protect the interests of all Ukrainian citizens, including residents of Crimea, and citizens of Russia who are located in Ukraine,” according to Interfax.
He added that Russia would press ahead with plans to build a bridge linking Russia directly with the Crimea region – providing a vital transport link to the Black Sea peninsula.
Mr Medvedev told deputies the two countries had signed “documents related to a project for construction of a transport corridor across the Kerch Strait” in December, when now-ousted Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych was still in power.
Hundreds of Russian soldiers have surrounded a military base in Crimea, preventing Ukrainian soldiers from going in or out.
The convoy blockading the site, near the Crimean capital Simferopol, includes at least 17 military vehicles.
Russian troops have also reportedly taken control of a ferry terminal in the city of Kerch, on the eastern tip of Crimea, which has a majority Russian-speaking population.
Ukraine’s defence ministry said two Russian fighter jets violated the country’s air space in the Black Sea on Sunday night and that it had scrambled an interceptor aircraft to prevent the “provocative actions”.
Elsewhere, pro-Russian protesters have taken over a floor of the regional government building in Donetsk, say reports. The 11-storey building has been flying the Russian flag for the last three days.
The crisis has had a huge effect on global stock markets, with Moscow’s stock exchange plunging more than 10% on Monday.
Russia’s central bank raised its rate to 7% from 5.5% as the ruble hit an historic low against the dollar and the euro.
Senior US politicians from both parties criticized President Barack Obama’s threats to Russian President Vladimir Putin and called for immediate sanctions if troops are not immediately withdrawn from Ukraine
Republican Senators John McCain (AZ), Marco Rubio (FL) and Bob Corker (TN) and others, as well as some Democrats, reached across the aisle to call for immediate sanctions against Russia and aid to Ukraine before Putin becomes even more emboldened.
McCain was quick to criticize the president’s threats in an interview with the Daily Beast, calling them ‘laughable’ and partly blaming former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for thinking she and Obama could ‘reset’ relations with Russia back in 2009.
‘She believed that somehow there would be a reset with a guy who was a KGB colonel who always had ambitions to restore the Russian empire,’ said McCain. ‘That’s what this is all about.’
The Senator called for the Obama administration to more liberally enforce the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law and Accountability Act, which has allowed the US government to sanction Russian officials for human rights violations since being signed into law in 2009.
On Sunday morning, Secretary of State John Kerry called Russia’s military incursion into Ukraine ‘an incredible act of aggression’ and said President Vladimir Putin has made ‘a stunning, willful’ choice to invade another country.
Kerry says Russia should respect the democratic process through which the Ukrainian people ousted their pro-Russian president and assembled a new government.
Kerry is raising the possibility of boycotting the June meeting of the Group of Eight leading industrialized countries in Sochi, Russia.
He’s also discussing visa bans, asset freezes, and trade and investment penalties.
Kerry said he spoke with foreign ministers for G-8 and other nations on Saturday, and says everyone is prepared ‘to go to the hilt’ to isolate Russia.
Any Russian officials, Putin included, involved in sending troops to Ukraine should be sanctioned, McCain argued – such action would result in asset freezing, visa bans and a wagging of the collective international finger, Daily Beast noted.
‘We must consider legislation to respond to this,’ McCain continued. ‘The Magnitsky bill can be expanded for holding people responsible for these acts of aggression.’
The longtime Senator also called for economic sanctions and other actions against Russia.
Corker also hammered away at the situation, calling Russia ‘a nation still smarting from the breakup of the Soviet Union with a leader who is nothing but an autocrat’ and called for immediate sanctions during a CNN interview.
‘We need to do everything we can to isolate them,’ Corker continued. ‘We’ve got to work with [Europe] to do the necessary things… to mitigate conduct.’
He later said in a statement ‘Vladimir Putin is seizing a neighboring territory – again – so President Obama must lead a meaningful, unified response.’
Rubio called for Obama to deploy Secretary of State John Kerry and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to the Ukrainian capital, according to USA Today.
He also called for a prohibition of Russian officials traveling to the US, and to convene an emergency meeting of NATO to allow Georgia into the fold.
Kerry, in a statement, said the ‘United States condemns the Russian Federation’s invasion and occupation of Ukrainian territory… we call for Russia to withdraw its forces back to bases [and] refrain from interference elsewhere in Ukraine.’
Unless immediate and concrete steps are taken by Russia to deescalate tensions, the effect on U.S.-Russian relations and on Russia’s international standing will be profound,’ Kerry threatened.
The president also informed Putin that the US has pulled out of preparatory meetings for an upcoming G-8 summit in Sochi, as the UN mulled over possible sanctions and Ukraine warned that it’s troops are ‘at the ready,’ a government official told CNN.
‘The United States condemns Russia’s military intervention into Ukrainian territory,’ a White House statement said.
New York Democratic Rep Eliot Engel called for a ‘robust international economic assistance package’ including loan guarantees for Ukraine in a statement released Saturday.
Arkansas Republican Rep Tom Cotton demanded the president recall the US Ambassador to Russia from Moscow and revoke visas and freeze the assets of Putin’s cronies, provide military assistance to Ukraine and sack Russia from the G-8 group of nations, according to USA Today.
Russia has military bases in Crimea, but those personnel are in violation of international law by entering Ukraine despite Russia’s Duma willfully granting Putin permission to deploy troops into Ukraine as the country grows further divided.
It appears further liberties were already being taken by Russian troops early Sunday morning, they took weapons from a Ukraine radar facility near Crimea and urged people there to side with ‘legitimate leaders,’ iTV reported, citing Interfax.
Former House Intelligence Committee Chairman Pete Hoekstra told Newsmax only hours earlier that ‘there’s not a whole lot the United States can do’ to bring Putin and Russia in line.
Putin expressed his concern for the Russian citizens in Russia and said that the deployment of troops into the country was to protect them, according to a Kremlin statement.
‘Vladimir Putin stressed that in case of any further spread of violence to Eastern Ukraine and Crimea, Russia retains the right to protect its interests and the Russian-speaking population of those areas,’ the statement said.
Obama strongly urged Putin to immediately de-escalate and to use peaceful means to address concerns including through talks with the new Ukrainian government or through the US of international observers sent under the UN umbrella, the White House countered.
The president also offered to broker talks between Russian and the Ukraine to prevent the countries from war as the former Soviet bloc country’s new government warned it is being ‘provoked’ by Russia’s actions.
A Ukraine government spokesperson told CNN there are an estimated 15,000 troops in Crimea, a small country separating mainland Ukraine from Sevastopol.
‘The troops are already there, and their number is increasing every hour,’ the spokesperson explained.
Russia has also maintained a naval base in Sevastopol per a 1997 treaty signed shortly after Ukraine gained independence.
The Ukrainian city sits on a small peninsula that is not connected to the rest country, making it particularly vulnerable to the kind of military action undertaken by Russia.
Putin further blamed ultra-nationalists in the Ukraine for Russia’s further encroachment into Ukrainian sovereign territory, according to the Kremlin.
Eastern Ukraine leans more heavily towards Russia than the western part of the country, whee the capital Kiev is located. Many international observers fear the country will plunge into a civil war that might break it up into two or more countries if conditions further deteriorate.
The dramatic eleventh-hour call came as the United Nations Security Council met in an emergency session less than a week after the Sochi Olympics to mull over possible economic sanctions to enact against the rogue permanet Security Council member.
After meeting behind closed doors, the council agreed to hold the open, televised meeting despite objections from permanent member Russia. Ukraine has accused Russia of ‘a military invasion and occupation’ of strategic points in the Crimean peninsula.
Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin scoffed at the notion, saying the US and other European nations are overreacting and that his country cannot agree to end all military actions.
Some reports have suggested Russia may even recall its ambassador to the US in protest of western involvement in the crisis.
Ukraine has asked the other four permanent council members – the U.S., Britain, France and China – for help in stopping Russia’s ‘aggression.’
Ukrainian Ambassador to the UN Yuriy Sergeyev said Russia has rejected Ukraine’s proposal to hold immediate bilateral consultations, and vowed his country would not be drawn into military conflict.
‘Ukraine will not be provoked, we will not use force, we demand that the government of the Russian Federation immediately withdraw its troops and return to their home bases,’ he said.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said earlier Saturday that he is ‘gravely concerned about the deterioration of the situation’ in Ukraine. He spoke later by telephone with Putin.
‘I am gravely concerned by some of the recent events in particular those that could in any way compromise the unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity of the [Ukraine],’ Ban said in a statement about the call.
‘It is crucial to restore calm and proceed to an immediate de-escalation of the situation,’ Ban continued. ‘Cool heads must prevail and dialogue must be the only tool in ending this crisis.’
A Ban spokesman delivered the statement Saturday afternoon as members of the Security Council met in an emergency closed-door session for the second straight day on the rapidly developing events in Ukraine’s Crimea region.
Obama later spoke with President Francois Hollande and Australian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, the White House announced.
All three ‘leaders agreed that Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity must be respected, and expressed their grave concern over Russia’s intervention in Ukraine,’ said a separate White House statement.
‘The leaders affirmed the importance of unity within the international community in support of international law, and the future of Ukraine and its democracy.’
The Security Council decided to hold the open meeting after struggling behind closed doors to reach agreement on how to meet. Some members wanted open, or public consultations, on Ukraine, which Russia initially opposed.
Ban’s statement called for ‘full respect for and preservation of the independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine’ and demanded the ‘immediate restoration of calm and direct dialogue between all concerned.’
British Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant said the meeting is to determine ‘what justification Russia claims to have’ for its de facto military takeover of the strategic Crimea region.
As a permanent member of the Security Council, Russia has veto power and can block the U.N.’s most powerful body from adopting any resolution criticizing or sanctioning Moscow.
Outside the council chamber, Ukraine’s U.N. ambassador called on countries to do everything possible to stop Russia’s “aggression.”
‘The Russian Federation brutally violated the basic principles of the Charter of the United Nations,’ Sergeyev told reporters..
During a break, an exasperated Russian U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin told reporters, ‘We are ready for serious discussions.’
Ban was flying to Geneva on Saturday where he planned to meet the following day with his special envoy Robert Serry, the Netherlands’ first ambassador to Ukraine.
After Friday’s closed-door Security Council consultations, Ban asked Serry to go to Crimea as part of a fact-finding mission. However, after consulting with authorities in the autonomous region, Serry decided that a visit to Crimea was not possible and headed to Geneva.
NBC’s David Gregory pressed Secretary of State John Kerry on the status of the U.S.-Russia “reset” during an interview Sunday on Meet the Press.
“Well, I don’t know what you mean by the reset,” Kerry oddly responded.
The question was asked as Sen. Marco Rubio (R., Fla.) among others have argued U.S.-Russia relations are deteriorating and have asked the administration to publicly acknowledge this.
“The Obama administration must publicly acknowledge that its “reset” with Russia is dead. The president must now accept that the only way to deal with tyrants like Vladimir Putin is with a clear understanding that they can’t be trusted and that only decisive action will deter their provocative moves,” Rubio wrote in Politico Magazine.
When pressed further by Gregory, Kerry weakly responded, “We’ve entered into a different phase with Russia. I don’t think this is a moment to be proclaiming one thing or the other.”
The full exchange is available below:
DAVID GREGORY: Before I get to my final question on Israel with a big meeting with Benjamin Netanyahu, the prime minister, coming to meet with President Obama, Marco Rubio is on this program in just a few minutes saying it’s time for the administration to publicly acknowledge that the reset with Russia is dead. Do you acknowledge that?
JOHN KERRY: Well, I don’t know what you mean by the reset.
GREGORY: The reset in relations that this administration called for.
KERRY: I know, but long ago, we’ve entered into a different phase with Russia. I don’t think this is a moment to be proclaiming one thing or the other. We’ve had difficulties with Russia with respect to certain issues, and even as we have, we’ve managed to do the Start treaty. They’ve cooperated on Afghanistan, they’ve cooperated on Iran. So, it’s not a zero-sum, dead-alive. It’s a question of differences, very profound differences on certain issues and certain approaches, and we’ve made those very clear over the course of the last months.
The past two days have revealed the dangerous ramifications of the narrow-minded foreign policy elite in Washington, and a media establishment that has for so much of President Obama’s tenure accepted the statements of the administration as gospel. Just as we learned the dangers of the lack of a questioning element – a healthy, serious, skeptical voice in the room – within the administration of George W. Bush, so too we see the consequences of a narrow viewpoint on global affairs which now exists within the Obama administration.
As Eli Lake outlines, the decision of Vladimir Putin to invade Ukraine came as a sudden shock to a Washington that less than a day earlier had dismissed such possibilities:
On Thursday night, the best assessment from the U.S. intelligence community – and for that matter most experts observing events in Ukraine – was that Vladimir Putin’s military would not invade Ukraine. Less than 24 hours later, however, there are reports from the ground of Russian troops pushing into the Ukrainian province of Crimea; the newly-installed Crimean prime minister has appealed to Putin to help him secure the country; Putin, in turn, is officially asking for parliament’s permission to send Russian forces into Ukraine. It’s not a full-blown invasion – at least, not yet. But it’s not the picture U.S. analysts were painting just a day before, either… U.S. officials familiar with the intelligence on the fast moving situation in Ukraine tell The Daily Beast that analytic products from the intelligence community this week did not discount the prospect of Russian provocations and even light incursions in the Russian majority province of Crimea, the home of Russia’s fleet in the Black Sea. Nonetheless, until Friday, no one anticipated a Russian invasion of Ukrainian territory.
These officials were not alone. At Foreign Affairs, the headline was “Why Russia Won’t Invade Ukraine”; at The New York Times, “Why Russia Won’t Interfere”; and at Time, “No, Russia Will Not Intervene in Ukraine”. Joshua Tucker at The Washington Post has already had to change the now-ludicrous title of his post, explaining:
Those who have already read this post (including the first 15 commentators below) will know that I originally posted with the title “5 reasons for everyone to calm down about Crimea”. Developments in the ensuing hours have shown how poor a title that turned out to be.
It’s no surprise that, given the echo chamber of the media, the administration itself gives all the signs of being caught flat-footed, unable to adjust to the situation that runs against their preconceived notions and those of the chattering class:
U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel spoke with Russian defense minister Sergei Shoigu on March 1, telling him that there was ‘no change’ in the U.S.’s military posture toward Ukraine in the hours after Russia’s parliament approved a Russian military presence in Ukraine.
If this is the sort of foreign policy anticipation that the establishment delivers, it’s little surprise that no one trusts America’s self-styled policy elites any more. They are too used to judging the world according to the patterns toward which they are already biased, as opposed to seeing it as it is.
As for the situation in Crimea itself: while the 1994 Budapest Memorandum does not require that the United States enter into this current conflict, as it is not a formal treaty, it does make the situation for the Obama administration a great deal more complicated than, say, the 2008 situation in Georgia. The Ukrainian situation has a nuclear subtext which matters in the broader context: because Ukraine had to surrender its nuclear arsenal as part of the 1994 agreement, U.S. inaction now sends a signal that nations ought to maintain their nuclear arsenal as opposed to trusting the Americans to defend their legitimacy. The mix of Polish, Turkish, and Russian interests here make for an all the more dangerous situation given the spillover potential of a major crisis.
What ought to be a first priority in this context is the administration’s opportunity to position itself as ready to use the leverage of international economic policy and energy policy to dissuade the Russians from their current trajectory or, at least, loosen Putin’s stranglehold on European energy markets. U.S. law currently prevents American energy producers from freely exporting natural gas or crude oil to anywhere even remotely near Europe. To remedy this glaring economic and geopolitical mistake, the president (who has shown no qualms about using sweeping definitions of executive power in other areas) could issue blanket executive orders declaring all US natural gas exports to be in the “public interest” and all crude oil exports to be in the “national interest”, the applicable legal standards for both commodities.
While immediate gas exports directly to Europe would be limited by a lack of U.S. export facilities (thanks, again, to glacial government policy), crude exports could begin instantly and US gas could be exported thru Canada and Mexico. At the very least, these moves would serve as a significant signal to global energy markets and to the Russians that the United States fully intends to use its newfound energy abundance to stabilize global markets and counterbalance Russian influence across the Atlantic. At best, they might actually help to weaken Russian energy oligarchs and, by extension, Putin himself.
Senators Rand Paul and Ted Cruz, who have both recently expressed support for US energy export liberalization (Cruz especially), should take up this message at once. It represents an opportunity to use expanded trade freedom and American economic might to prevent further loss of life and signal the United States’ seriousness on the matter, without firing a single American bullet. And, unlike the United Nations or the World Trade Organization, it is a step that can be done unilaterally with, quite literally, the stroke of the President’s pen.
In the meantime, at least the president himself is taking it seriously.
Obama did not attend the meeting, but WH official says he has been briefed by Susan Rice and his national security team.
3:34 PM – 1 Mar 2014
221 Retweets – 31 favorites
Smart power, indeed.
Following a 150bps rate hike by the central bank – the largest since the 1998 default -desperate to halt capital outflows and a collapsing currency, Russian stocks have crashed 11% led by some of the country’s largest banks. USDRUB rose to just shy of 37 – the weakest RUB rate on record – but rallied back a little on the rate hike but the MICEX stock index tumbled 11% to almost 2-year lows with Sberbank (Russia’s largest bank) down 17% and VTB (2nd largest bank) down 20%. Between the threat of economic sanctions from the West and simple risk-aversion-based capital flight, as one analyst noted, “uncertainty risks a further escalation in domestic capital outflow.”
MICEX is down 11% today alone…
Ruble at record lows against the USD…
It was the biggest increase in a Russian benchmark rate since June 1998, less than two months before Russia defaulted on domestic sovereign bonds and devalued the currency. The refinancing rate used to be the central bank’s main reference.
The Banks have been battered…
* Sberbank, Russia’s biggest bank, drops 17%, loses most since 2008
* VTB, Russia’s second-bigest lender, tumbles 20%
* Bank St. Petersburg falls 16%
* Bank Vozrozhdenie declines 10%
* Nomos Bank slides 12%
European and U.S. leaders have threatened sanctions against Russia, creating risks that economic growth will stall, demand for the country’s assets will dry up and a selloff in the currency will deepen. “There is a risk of international backlash against Russia at a time when the economy faces an increasing need for foreign capital inflows… This uncertainty risks a further escalation in domestic capital outflow.”
Around the world, stock markets are tumbling with Europe down around 2% – almost its largest drop in 7 months; and Japan down 600 from Friday’s highs.
These incredible photographs show a huge tank graveyard in the Ukraine – home to hundreds of the abandoned vehicles which the country may desperately need it tensions with Russia continue to escalate.
Filled with rows upon rows of slowly rusting relics, the once deadly war machines now lie dormant in a secret depot in the town of Kharkov in the Slobozhanshchyna region of eastern Ukraine – just 20 miles from the border with Russia.
After hearing about the strange Soviet-era tank cemetery from a friend, photographer Patvel Itkin, 18, spent months trying find its whereabouts.
Despite the disused area being heavily monitored by guards, Mr Itkin managed to sneak in and spend several hours taking dozens of photographs.
Once a thriving tank repair plant, the depot has since become redundant, meaning all the vehicles are now abandoned.