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Member since: 2003 before July 6th
Number of posts: 29,876

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In Congress, Legislation and Scandals Vie for Attention

WASHINGTON — Lawmakers will return to the Capitol on Monday from a weeklong recess, facing a critical juncture on immigration legislation and controversies at the Internal Revenue Service and the Justice Department that will test Congress’s ability to balance its twin responsibilities of legislating and investigating.

For President Obama, how those competing priorities balance out could mean the difference between securing a landmark accomplishment — the first overhaul of the nation’s immigration laws since 1986 — or becoming consumed by charges of scandal.

Invigorated by the uproars, House Republicans are setting their sights more firmly this week on the I.R.S. and Mr. Obama’s embattled attorney general. After weeks of trying to leaven the House’s growing investigatory zeal with serious legislating, House leaders and committee chairmen appear to be giving themselves over to an expanding and aggressive oversight effort — on the I.R.S., the Justice Department’s targeting of reporters, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr.’s statements to Congress on that targeting and the Sept. 11 attack on the United States Mission in Benghazi, Libya.

House leaders including Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio have acknowledged the risk if voters see the investigations as driven primarily by politics. But with the legislative season moving toward the routine task of passing spending bills, oversight appears to be the biggest splash that the House hopes to make.



Chuck Hagel Rebuked By Chinese General Over US Buildup In Asia

US defence secretary Chuck Hagel was challenged by a Chinese general Saturday to better explain the US military's Asia pivot, just moments after the Pentagon chief warned Beijing over cyberwarfare.

In a speech at a high-profile security conference in Singapore, Hagel said the US administration has concerns about "the growing threat of cyberintrusions, some of which appear to be tied to the Chinese government and military".

The rebuke – coming in China's backyard and in front of a Chinese delegation – was countered by questioning of America's intent in the region, following a reposition of its military strategy.

Major General Yao Yunzhu, director of the Center for China-America Defense Relations at the People's Liberation Army's Academy of Military Science, challenged Hagel to better explain America's military buildup across the region.

"Thank you for mentioning China several times," she said in the question-and-answer session after Hagel's speech.



Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) Opposes Equal Pay Laws Because Women Just Want To Be ‘Recognized’

Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) on Sunday said that Washington should stay out of the business of ensuring equal pay because “what women want” is just to be “recognized.”

During a panel discussion on NBC about a recent Pew report that found women had become the primary source of income in 40 percent of U.S. households, Blackburn said that it was “up to companies to make sure there is a level playing field and that women are not shortchanged as they try to get on that latter to success.”

“How about pay equity laws to ensure that women are treated fairly in the workplace?” former White House senior adviser David Axelrod asked the Tennessee Republican.

“I think that more important than that is making certain that women are recognized by those companies,” Blackburn replied. “You know, I’ve always said that I didn’t want to be given a job because I was a female, I wanted it because I was the most well-qualified person for the job.”

“And making certain that companies are going to move forward in that vein — that is what women want,” she added. “They don’t want the decisions made in Washington.”



Push For FBI Internet ‘Wiretap’ Law Faces Tough Criticism From Civil Liberties Groups

By Agence France-Presse
Sunday, June 2, 2013 7:24 EDT

The FBI is stepping up its effort to get broader authority to put “wiretaps” on the Internet to catch criminals and terrorists.

But the move is drawing fire from civil liberties groups, technology firms and others who claim the effort could be counterproductive, by harming online security and imposing hefty costs on makers of hardware and software.

US law enforcement has for years complained about the problem of “going dark,” or being unable to monitor Internet communications in the same manner as wiretaps, for which officials get a court order to tap into a local phone company.

President Barack Obama said in a May 23 speech his administration is “reviewing the authorities of law enforcement, so we can intercept new types of communication.”

FBI general counsel Andrew Weissmann told a recent Washington forum it would be “a top priority this year” to get expanded authority to tap communications such as “Gmail, Google voice (and) Dropbox.”



Weather Agency Spared From Furloughs After Rash Of Tornadoes

Forecasters at the National Weather Service (NWS) will not be forced to take furloughs during the summer hurricane season following the recent destruction caused by tornadoes in Oklahoma, CNN reported on Saturday.

The NWS was part of the initial plan by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to impose as many as 20 mandatory days off without pay for its 12,000 employees in July and September, a move caused by federal budget cuts.

The cuts would have taken effect during what forecasters predicted would be an abnormally severe hurricane season.

But according to the Washington Post, Kathryn Sullivan, the NOAA’s acting administrator, did not discount future cost-cutting measures in an email sent to employees late Friday night.

“While this new plan allows us to avoid furloughs, sequestration remains an ongoing challenge,” Sullivan advised in her message. “We must all continue to scrutinize every expense and prioritize our most critical missions and essential operations.”



'Germany Backs Labels For Goods From Settlements'

German gov't document gives backing to EU efforts to put "Made in Israel" label only on products from within pre-1967 lines.

By JPOST.COM STAFF06/02/2013

The German government has given its tacit approval of European Union efforts to label products manufactured in Israeli-controlled territory beyond the Green Line, Army Radio reported on Sunday morning.

The IDF-run radio station said it obtained an official German government document that was produced in response to a parliamentary motion by opposition lawmakers in Berlin. The document reportedly enunciates Germany’s stance on the issue.

“In our view, it is permissible to label products with the ‘Made in Israel’ sticker only if those products are manufactured within the 1967 borders,” reads the document obtained by Army Radio.

The Jerusalem Post obtained a letter which confirms the Army Radio report.



'Iran Strike Won't Lead To Civilian Disaster'

Israeli expert challenges claim radioactive fallout from strike on nuclear sites will lead to humanitarian catastrophe.

An Israeli nuclear expert has challenged claims by an Iranian-American philanthropist and industrialist that a military strike on Iran will lead to an environmental and humanitarian catastrophe.

Ephraim Asculai, a senior research fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv, published a response essay to a paper by Khosrow Bayegan Semnani, based in Salt Lake City, who claimed last year that radioactive fallout from military strikes on Iranian nuclear sites could leave up to 70,000 Iranians dead.

Asculai, who worked for the Israel Atomic Energy Commission for over 40 years, mainly on issues of nuclear and environmental safety, said the rubble produced by air strikes, combined with the fact that the targeted facilities are underground, would minimize damage to the site’s surroundings.

“Although it is not possible to foresee the consequences of direct hits on Iranian underground facilities, it is reasonable to assess that either the underground facilities will be penetrated and exploded from within, or hit, and collapse into the inner cavities and turn into piles of rubble, or with their innards at least gravely harmed. These piles of rubble would act as filters, with their greater surface areas holding onto or reacting with the materials released within, and thus preventing the major contents from escaping to the atmosphere and causing grave environmental harm,” Asculai said in his essay published last week.



Top Israeli, US Generals Draw Up Iran Strike Plan

Two top retired Israeli and American generals last week published an unofficial theoretical sequence of events that is likely to precede any strike against Iran's nuclear program.

American general James Cartwright, most recently chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Maj.-Gen. (res.) Amos Yadlin, former head of the Israel Defense Forces Military Intelligence and Israel Air Force chief of staff, used the exercise to determine what set of events would justify military action against Iran, and, if it comes to that, which nation - Israel or America - should lead the charge.

Generals Cartwright and Yadlin published the report simultaneously to the websites of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and Israel's Institute for National Security Studies (of which Yadlin is the current director) in hopes of sparking more concerted discussion between the two nations' political and defense establishments over the topic.

The narrative of the Cartwright-Yadlin document follows more or less what Israel and its supporters increasingly expect to see happen. Iran will continue to rebuff all international efforts to curb its quest for nuclear arms, necessitating a difficult decision by Washington and Jerusalem to implement preemptive military strikes.

Despite a deep desire to avoid yet another Middle East war, US President Barack Obama will, according to the two generals, feel compelled to take action, acknowledging that allowing Iran to "go nuclear" would be far more dangerous to American interests in the long run.



A Double Standard: Alicia Keys And Sanctions On Iran

There seems to be a bit of a double standard in this country on the subject of BDS. For instance, we’re all supposed to be sneering in triumph over Alicia Keys’ decision to resist calls to cancel her Tel Aviv concert next month. No sane Israeli can support a boycott of this country, can he? Over what, the occupation? Out of the question.

But at the same time, no sane Israeli is supposed to oppose the UN sanctions on Iran, unless of course he thinks they’re too lenient or that they’re delaying the bombing of that country. For an Israeli to say he’s against the sanctions because they’re immoral, because they harm masses of innocent people – who’s ever heard of such a thing?

This is the Israeli mentality: Sanctions that cause massive, life-threatening medical and food shortages to the citizens of an enemy country are great, but a boycott that denies Alicia Keys’ local fans the chance to see her is evil. (I know the callousness toward the effect of the Iran sanctions isn’t limited to Israel, but that callousness combined with the steaming outrage over the merest symbolic boycott of this country – the stone-blind hypocrisy of that reaction – is what makes it distinctively Israeli.)

People will say: How can you compare sanctions on Iran to a boycott on Israel – Iran is a totalitarian, nightmarish country, an Islamic police state. That’s true, but that’s not why the sanctions are in place – they’re in place because Iran is en route to getting nuclear weapons, and the nuclear powers on the UN Security Council (egged on by Israel) do not have the right to wreak hell on the lives of Iranians because their regime wants a few nukes, too. Also, while Iran is a monstrous country for anyone who doesn’t toe the mullahs’ line, an incomparably worse violator of human rights than Israel, that doesn’t mean Israel is good, or morally immune from boycotts.

Let’s take a closer look at the effect of sanctions on Iran. From The Guardian in January:



'Superland' And The Normalization Of Segregation In Israel

“Superland” – the Israeli amusement park exposed for segregating Arab and Jewish citizens this week – is the most fittingly tragic and ironic title for how I see the current Israeli zeitgeist. No screenwriter or playwright could have come up with a better concept for a tragic comedy about this place.

It captures the two most dominant concepts of politics and life here: that land is the most precious, contested and painful commodity around which the conflict revolves, and that there is nothing “amusing” about the situation we find ourselves in. It’s not all that “super,” despite the most earnest attempts to sell it as such by Israeli government and PR professionals.

While the Israeli government continues to try and “super-size” the land of Greater Israel beyond the pre-1967 borders, the story of segregation at Superland is a perfect indicator that no matter what your politics are, no matter your position on settlements, your notion of security, how you judge Palestinian resistance or any other issue, the political reality remains undeniably the same. Everyone living on this tiny piece of land — Arabs and Jews, Palestinians and Israelis — is in a perennial situation of state-sponsored division, segregation and separation that trickles down — not just in Hebron’s Shuhada Street, or in East Jerusalem, but everywhere.

After the Jaffa school teacher was unable to make a reservation for a class trip to Superland because they are Arab, management explained that many schools – both Arab and Jewish – request to visit the park on days when only other schools of the same ethnic group will be there. According to a statement by the park’s management, this makes sense for them considering they are interested in ensuring the safety of all visitors:


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