Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

2 Ukraine fighter jets shot down by pro-Russian rebels

July 23, 2014

Pro-Russian rebels have shot down two Ukrainian fighter jets, a spokesman for Ukraine’s military operations said on Wednesday.

The spokesman said the two were downed near Savur Mogila in eastern Ukraine. No details were known about the pilots.


Sukhoi Su-25 fighter planes

Sukhoi Su-25 fighter planes in flight. Photograph: REUTERS

ObamaCare: We had to pass the bill to find out what’s in it — We don’t like it. Now what? The lost art of making good law in America….

July 23, 2014
The Wall Street Journal
July 22, 2014
President Obama’s penchant for treating laws as unlimited grants of power to his Administration is catching up with him. The irony is that on Tuesday the nation’s second highest court ruled that ObamaCare is defined by what Congress enacted, not how his Administration has rewritten it.
.In Halbig v. Burwell, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals held that the Administration violated the Affordable Care Act by expanding subsidies to the 36 insurance exchanges run by the federal government. The plain statutory language of ObamaCare repeatedly stipulates that these credits shall flow only through “an Exchange established by the State.” The 2-1 panel majority thus did not “strike down” part of ObamaCare, as liberals and the media claim. Using straightforward textual construction, the court upheld the law the President signed but it vacated the illegitimate federal-exchange subsidies he tried to sneak in via regulation.

Distinguishing between state and federal exchanges was no glitch or drafting error. In 2010 Democrats assumed that the unpopularity of ObamaCare would melt away and all states would run their own exchanges. Conditioning the subsidies was meant to pressure Governors to participate. To evade this language, the Internal Revenue Service simply pumped out a rule in 2012 dispensing the subsidies to all. The taxmen did not elaborate on niceties such as legal justification.

The courts usually defer to executive interpretation when statutes are ambiguous, but Mr. Obama’s lawyers argued that the law unambiguously means the opposite of the words its drafters used. Judge Thomas Griffith knocked this argument away by noting in his ruling that, “After all, the federal government is not a ‘State,’” and therefore “a federal Exchange is not an ‘Exchange established by the State.’”

The White House also argued that the court should ignore the law’s literal words because Congress intended all along to subsidize everybody, calling the contrary conclusion an “absurd result.” Yet this is merely ex post facto regret for the recklessness and improvisation of the way ObamaCare became law, when no trick was too dirty after Democrats lost their 60-vote Senate supermajority. Nancy Pelosi said we had to pass the bill to find out what’s in it. Now we know.

Judge Griffith, a George W. Bush appointee known as a moderate, writes that he and Judge Ray Randolph reached their conclusion “frankly, with reluctance,” given the practical consequences. “But, high as those stakes are, the principle of legislative supremacy that guides us is higher still. Within constitutional limits, Congress is supreme in matters of policy, and the consequence of that supremacy is that our duty when interpreting a statute is to ascertain the meaning of the words of the statute duly enacted through the formal legislative process.”

About two-thirds of the U.S. population lives in one of the 36 federal-exchange states, and about 4.7 million people are receiving subsidies for which they are not legally eligible. The White House is making much of these lost subsidies if the ruling stands, but the fault is with the Democrats who drafted the bill, not the courts or scholars like Case Western Reserve law professor Jonathan Adler and Michael Cannon of the Cato Institute who first noticed the IRS abuse.

Getty Images

Another irony is that ObamaCare’s own architecture could thwart its goal of evolving into national health care. By attempting to coerce the Governors into joining, Democrats also handed them a veto. If Halbig survives on appeal, then Mr. Obama will have no choice but to ask Congress to rewrite the law if he wants subsidies for the 36 states with federal exchanges. And that would open up the law to a larger rewrite.

As it happens, the White House got lucky on Tuesday and a different appellate court, the Fourth Circuit, ruled in favor of the federal subsidies in a separate lawsuit—even if the White House position prevailed “only slightly,” as Judge Roger Gregory wrote.

“There can be no question that there is a certain sense to the plaintiffs’ position,” he continued. “If Congress did in fact intend to make the tax credits available to consumers on both state and federal Exchanges, it would have been easy to write in broader language, as it did in other places in the statute.”


The competing decisions increase the likelihood that the Supreme Court will eventually agree to hear the cases. If it is serious about its claims of damage, the White House could even seek an expedited High Court hearing. But the White House may be more worried that it will lose at the Supreme Court, so it will try to dodge a split appellate judgment by first seeking review by the entire D.C. Circuit.

Senate Democrats broke the filibuster in a rush last year to pack the D.C. Circuit with three more liberals, precisely in anticipation of this Halbig result. The liberal majority may well overturn Judge Griffith.

But our guess is that the Supreme Court will still take Halbig, and it should. The case is part of a growing body of jurisprudence on executive overreach, the separation of powers and political accountability. Mr. Obama’s profound disdain for Congress is inspiring a healthy legal counteroffensive that goes to the heart of American self-government.

In perhaps the greatest irony of all, Chief Justice John Roberts would then get a chance to honor his words from his famous—or infamous—2012 ruling upholding ObamaCare. He wrote then that, “It is not our job to protect the people from the consequences of their political choices.” Indeed.


Reining in ObamaCare—and the President

Halbig v. Burwell is about determining whether the president, like an autocrat, can levy taxes on his own.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit—a tribunal second only to the Supreme Court—ruled on Tuesday that the Obama administration broke the law. The panel found that President Obama spent billions of taxpayer dollars he had no authority to spend, and subjected millions of employers and individuals to taxes he had no authority to impose.The ruling came in Halbig v. Burwell , one of four lawsuits aimed at stopping those unlawful taxes and expenditures. It is a decision likely to have far-reaching repercussions for the health-care law.

Because the ruling forces the Obama administration to implement the Affordable Care Act as written, consumers in 36 states would face the full cost of its overpriced health insurance. According to one brief filed in the case, overall premiums in those states would be double what they are under the administration’s rewrite, and typical enrollees would see their out-of-pocket payments jump sevenfold. The resulting backlash against how ObamaCare actually works could finally convince even Democrats to reopen the statute.

At its heart, though, Halbig is not just about ObamaCare. It is about determining whether the president, like an autocrat, can levy taxes on his own authority.



Getty Images

The president’s defenders often concede that he is doing the opposite of what federal law says. Yet he claims that he is merely implementing the law as Congress intended.

Such claims should be met with more than the usual skepticism when made by a president who openly advocates unilateral action—”I’ve got a pen, and I’ve got a phone”—when the legislative process doesn’t produce the result he wants, and when they are made by a president whose expansive view of his powers the Supreme Court has unanimously rejected 13 times. Unfortunately, the abuse of power exposed in Halbig may trump them all.

Here’s where the president broke bad. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act directs states to establish “exchanges” to regulate the sale of health insurance. If a state declines to do so, as 36 states have, the health-care law directs the federal government to “establish and operate such Exchange within the State.” But here’s the rub: Certain taxpayers can receive subsidized coverage, the law says, if they enroll “through an Exchange established by the State.” The law nowhere authorizes subsidies through exchanges established by the federal government.

This is common practice. The Medicaid program has operated on the same principle for nearly 50 years. Only residents of cooperating states get assistance. When Congress debated health reform in 2009, both Republicans and Democrats introduced legislation conditioning health-insurance subsidies on states establishing exchanges. Senate Democrats advanced two leading health-care bills. Both allowed federal exchanges to operate without subsidies. One of them became law.

The only thing that is uncommon about the Affordable Care Act is that two-thirds of the states refused to comply. Yet federal law is clear, consistent and unambiguous: The Obama administration has no authority to issue subsidies outside “an Exchange established by the State.” According to congressional investigators, Treasury Department and Internal Revenue Service personnel even admitted they knew the statute did not authorize them to dispense subsidies in states with exchanges established by the federal government. Yet the IRS still promulgated a rule authorizing subsidies in states with federal exchanges.

We were the first to draw attention to the president’s actions, on these pages in November 2011. In January 2014, despite years of criticism from members of Congress and others, the Obama administration began spending taxpayer dollars to buy coverage for an estimated five million people who enrolled through federal exchanges. If eight million people enrolled in federal-exchange coverage, as we are told they have, it is because the president was unlawfully subsidizing more than half of them.

Subsidies for policies purchased on an exchange automatically trigger taxes against both employers and individuals who do not purchase the mandated level of coverage. So when the president issued those subsidies in states where he had no authority to do so, he also imposed, on millions of employers and individuals, taxes that no Congress ever authorized. Two states, dozens of public-school districts, and several private-sector employers and individual taxpayers filed Halbig and three other lawsuits to block that unlawful spending and the illegal taxes it triggers.

The president’s supporters claim that Halbig is meritless because Congress clearly intended to authorize subsidies through federal exchanges. If that were Congress’s intent, certainly one should be able to find some statutory language to that effect. Or contemporaneous quotes from the law’s authors explaining that they intended the Affordable Care Act to authorize subsidies in federal exchanges. The president’s supporters have had three years to find such evidence supporting their theory of congressional intent. They have come up empty.

The administration’s legal strategy is therefore, of necessity, bizarre. The president’s representatives argue in court that Congress intended to use the words limiting subsidies to exchanges “established by the State,” and intended to authorize subsidies through exchanges established by the federal government, without ever explicitly reconciling the contradiction. Also on Tuesday, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the Internal Revenue Service rule as a permissible interpretation of an ambiguous statute, as if there were anything ambiguous about the difference between a state and the federal government.

The D.C. Circuit saw through this nonsense. One by one, it rejected the government’s many arguments. The court held the Affordable Care Act “does not authorize the IRS to provide tax credits for insurance purchased on federal Exchanges” and “the government offers no textual basis . . . for concluding that a federally-established Exchange is, in fact or legal fiction, established by a state.” The administration’s decision to issue those subsidies anyway is thus contrary to the statute and “gives the individual and employer mandates . . . broader effect than they would have” if the government followed the law.

While the dissent in Halbig highlighted the plaintiff’s motives, the majority opinion came from Judge Thomas B. Griffith, whose nomination in 2005 was supported by prominent Democrats including Seth Waxman, David Kendall, and even then-Sen. Barack Obama. Judge Griffith noted that while the court’s ruling could have a significant impact on the Affordable Care Act, “high as those stakes are, the principle of legislative supremacy that guides us is higher still.”

Mr. Adler is a law professor and director of the Center for Business Law and Regulation at Case Western Reserve University. Mr. Cannon is director of health-policy studies at the Cato Institute.

Caliphate: Ultra-radical young militants in Iraq and Syria takes leadership role as al Qaeda fades

July 23, 2014

Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi addressing Isis fighters in Mosul Photo: REX

DUBAI Wed Jul 23, 2014 5:03am EDT

(Reuters) – In hiding, targeted by drone strikes and unable to land a blow in the West, al Qaeda’s ageing leaders are losing a power struggle with ultra-radical young militants in Iraq and Syria who see themselves as the true successors to Osama bin Laden.

The shadowy network that targeted the West and its Arab allies for almost a generation is increasingly seen as stale, tired and ineffectual on the hardcore jihadi social media forums and Twitter accounts that incubate potential militant recruits.

Western officials insist the network is still a top threat, in part because turmoil in Arab states gives it scope to organize: Its affiliates in Syria and Yemen include experienced guerrillas and expert bomb makers.

But many young Islamists who were of school age at the time of the Sept. 11 2001 attacks on the United States now look for inspiration not to al Qaeda, whose leader, Ayman al-Zawahri, is in his mid-60s, but to a Sunni Muslim group styling itself a caliphate.

Supporters of the so-called Islamic State admire its sectarian attacks on Shi’ites in Iraq and government forces in Syria, confident such violence is part of a broader war with the West advocated by bin Laden, killed by U.S. troops in 2011.

The generational divide opening up in radical Islamist ranks threatens to topple al Qaeda from its primacy in trans national militancy, a stunning loss of prestige for a group whose hijacked plane attacks killed nearly 3,000 people in New York’s World Trade Center, Washington and Pennsylvania.


Militant Islamist fighters on a tank take part in a military parade along the streets of northern Raqqa province June 30, 2014.REUTERS/Stringer

Militant Islamist fighters on a tank in northern Raqqa province June 30, 2014. Credit: Reuters/Stringer

The Islamic State, known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) until the June 29 declaration of the caliphate, has galvanized young followers by carving out swathes of territory in Iraq in a rapid advance last month.

U.S. intelligence agencies estimate around 7,000 of the 23,000 violent extremists operating in neighboring Syria are foreign fighters, mostly from Europe. Diplomats in the region say many of these foreigners are fighting for the Islamic State, which also deploys them Iraq.


The group, whose leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi calls himself a “Caliph” or head of state, fell out with al Qaeda in 2013 over its expansion into Syria, where his followers have carried out beheadings, crucifixions, and mass executions.

Saudi dissident Saad al-Faqih told Reuters that the declaration of a caliphate was not as important for the militants’ prestige as the lightening military advance that preceded it, beginning with the capture of Mosul on June 10.

“The declaration is a very loud noise, but not as effective as the success in conquering vast areas of Iraq,” he said.

“That conquest has had a huge psychological effect in the whole region,” the exiled dissident said.

No al Qaeda affiliate has officially endorsed the Islamic State, and scholars sympathetic to al Qaeda have denounced it, pointing to what they see as ISIL’s willingness to use violence in turf disputes with al Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria.

But their disapproval is cold comfort for al Qaeda. The caliphate, analysts say, was declared with potential recruits in mind, not to win kudos from leading scholars.

For many, ISIL’s creation of a jihadi bastion spanning western Iraq and eastern Syria, and the slick online presence that publicizes it, compare favorably with al Qaeda’s failure for almost a decade to land a big attack in the West.

The contrast is not lost on Islamists such as Abdul Majeed al-Heetari, a Yemeni cleric who reproached al Qaeda in a message on his Twitter and Facebook pages on July 15.

Noting al-Qaeda leaders were in hiding in Asia, he asked: “Who is worthier and stronger in the Shariah (Islamic law) and worthy of obedience: a secret organization whose people and leadership are on the run, or a clear regime and a state that is empowered on the ground with people and reasons?”


Raising the rhetorical temperature, he said al Qaeda sought an Islamic State in a “fantasy world”, even as its leaders languished in “deserts, wastelands, mountaintops, and valleys”.

Even among al Qaeda’s closest friends in South Asia, sentiment appears mixed.

The Afghan Taliban, which gave bin Laden sanctuary in the 1990s, posted a message urging Muslims to avoid extremism and remain united, a message apparently aimed at the Islamic State.

Privately, some Taliban commanders told Reuters they did not want to anger al Qaeda, who they considered a long-time ally in the fight against NATO troops in the region. [ID: nL4N0PM23D]

But some Taliban commanders were enthusiastic about ISIL. One militant in his thirties said “dozens of my colleagues from here are with them.”

The buzz around the Islamic State is reflected not only by the flood of recruits it has attracted in Syria and Iraq.

It is also seen in a propaganda war waged online by scholars supporting and opposing the Islamic State.

Cole Bunzel, a doctoral student at Princeton University, wrote that Islamic State’s most effective voice was a Bahraini cleric, Turki al-Bin’ali, who he said was just 29 years old.

He “represents the assured spirit of a younger generation of jihadis ready and willing to break with an established cadre of jihadi intellectuals and carve their own path.”


High profile spats have highlighted the generational split. Bin Ali is a former follower of Abu Mohammed al-Maqdisi, a Jordanian scholar and influential jihadist thinker.

When the two men fell out over Maqdisi’s denunciation of the Islamic state, Maqdisi suggested young ultra-radical scholars like Bin’Ali were disrespecting their elders.

“Take heed of seniority,” Maqdisi warned the young preachers, accusing them of “wanting to stand upon the shoulders of our best and brightest and then discredit their intellects.”

Earlier Bin’ali had attributed another elderly militant’s criticism of the Islamic State to “confusion” likely caused by age.

Some counter-terrorism officials worry that al Qaeda’s affiliates may redouble efforts to stage a spectacular attack in the West to try to salvage their reputation.

But in the meantime, its propaganda efforts seem lackluster.

Al Qaeda long ago disowned al-Baghdadi, but its leader Zawahri has not commented on the new caliphate, instead posting nostalgic videos memorializing bin Laden.

Some Islamists are not impressed.

“The silence of the … leaders and their branches on the announcement of a new caliphate is not wise,” said London-based Egyptian Islamic scholar Hani al-Sibai.

“Hinting and insinuation will not be of use … There needs to be a clear, comprehensive and prohibitive statement.”

(Additional reporting by Saud Mehsud and Katharine Houreld in Islamabad, Jack Stubbs in London; editing by Anna Willard)


Bubonic-Plague Death Triggers Quarantine of Chinese City

July 23, 2014

By Denver Nicks @DenverNicks

The 38-year-old victim may have come into contact with a dead marmot carrying infected fleas

Parts of a city in northwestern China are under quarantine after a local man died of bubonic plague, according to a state media report Tuesday.

A quarantine has been put in place for Yumen, a city of about 100,000 in Gansu province. No one but the original victim has shown signs of infection, Reuters reports.

The victim, 38, died July 16, apparently after coming into contact with a dead marmot, a rodent. Plague is a bacterial disease typically carried by fleas hosted by rodents. The disease is extremely deadly if not treated immediately.

Plague is very rare but still exists, primarily in rural areas. The Yumen quarantine comes after three new cases of bubonic plague were confirmed in the U.S. state of Colorado on Friday.


Chinese Officials Seal Off ‘Plague’ City, Puzzling US Experts

By Rachael Rettner
Live Science

A city in China has reportedly been sealed off after one resident died from bubonic plague, but this way of trying to contain the disease is puzzling to infectious disease experts, who say the response seems extreme given the information released about the case.

According to news reports, Chinese officials have blocked off parts of Yumen, a city in northwest China, preventing about 30,000 of the city’s people from leaving.

A man in the city became ill after he handled a dead marmot (a large wild rodent), and died last week from bubonic plague. No other cases of the plague have been reported, according to the Guardian. About 150 people who had contact with the plague victim have been placed under quarantine.

Plague is an infectious disease caused by the bacteria Yersinia pestis that is carried by rodents, and can be transmitted to people through flea bites or by direct contact with the tissues or fluids of an animal with plague, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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Day 16, Israel-Hamas Fighting: Israel reports meeting stiff resistance from Hamas Islamists, John Kerry arrives

July 23, 2014


U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry talks with U.S. Embassy Deputy Chief of Mission Bill Grant as he arrives in Tel Aviv, July 23, 2014.   REUTERS/Charles Dharapak/Pool

GAZA/JERUSALEM Wed Jul 23, 2014 5:13am

(Reuters) – Israeli forces pounded the Gaza Strip on Wednesday, sending thousands of residents fleeing, and said it was meeting stiff resistance from Hamas Islamists, as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry flew to Tel Aviv to push ceasefire talks.

In a blow to Israel’s economy, U.S. and many European air carriers halted flights to the country citing security worries after a militant rocket from Gaza hit a house near Ben Gurion airport. Israel urged a re-think, saying its airspace was safe.

Making an unannounced, one-day visit, Kerry was due to see Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, signaling an intensification of efforts to end the bloodshed.

Israel launched its offensive on July 8 to halt missile salvoes by Hamas Islamists, who were struggling under the weight of an Israeli-Egyptian economic blockade and angered by a crackdown on their supporters in the nearby occupied West Bank.

After failing to halt the militant rocket barrage through days of aerial bombardment, Israel sent ground troops into Gaza last Thursday, looking to knock out Hamas’s missile stores and destroy a vast, underground network of tunnels.

Some 643 Palestinians, many of them children and civilians have died in the conflagration, including a seven-year-old hit by a shell in southern Gaza early Wednesday, a medic said.

Some 29 Israeli soldiers have been killed, including a tank officer shot by a Palestinian sniper overnight. Two civilians have been slain by rocket fire. The military says one of its soldiers is also missing and believes he might be dead. Hamas says it has captured him, but has not released his picture.

Clouds of black smoke hung over the densely populated Mediterranean enclave, with the regular thud of artillery and tank shells filling the air.

“We are meeting resistance around the tunnels … they are constantly trying to attack us around and in the tunnels. That is the trend,” said Israeli military spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Peter Lerner.

He said 30 militant gunman had been killed overnight, bringing the total to 210 since the offensive started.

Hamas’s armed wing, the Izz el-Deen Al-Qassam, said its fighters had detonated an anti-personnel bomb as an Israeli army patrol passed, killing several troops. There was no immediate confirmation from Israel.

There was also violence in the occupied West Bank, where a Palestinian was shot dead by Israeli troops near Bethlehem. The army said soldiers fired a rubber bullet at him during clashes with Palestinians hurling rocks and Molotov cocktails.


The Palestinian decision-making body led by U.S.-backed Abbas on Wednesday endorsed demands by Hamas for halting Gaza hostilities with Israel, a closing of ranks that may help Egyptian-mediated truce efforts.

Egypt has tried to get both sides to hold fire and then negotiate terms for protracted calm in Gaza, which has been rocked by regular bouts of violence since Israel unilaterally pulled out of the territory in 2005.

Hamas, which refuses to recognize Israel’s right to exist, has baulked at Cairo’s offer, saying it wanted assurances of relief from an Israeli-Egyptian blockade and other concessions. The dispute was further complicated by distrust between Egypt under President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Hamas.

In a move that could effectively turn Abbas into the main Palestinian point person for a Gaza truce, his umbrella Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) on Wednesday formally supported core conditions set by the Hamas-led fighters.

Egyptian sources said a unified Palestinian position could help achieve a deal. Unlike Hamas, the PLO has pursued peacemaking for two decades.

Israel faced mounting international alarm at the civilian death toll, as well as increased economic pressure from lost tourism revenues after the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) took the rare step on Tuesday of banning flights to Tel Aviv’s Ben-Gurion International Airport for at least 24 hours.

European airlines also canceled flights to Israel, whose own carriers continued to operate.

An Israeli official said Netanyahu had asked Kerry to help restore the U.S. flights. A U.S. official said the Obama administration would not “overrule the FAA” on a security precaution but noted the ban would be reviewed after 24 hours.


Gaza’s Health Ministry said 18 Palestinians were killed on Wednesday, many of them in the southern town of Khan Younis — one of the focal points of Israel’s recent assault.

In the far north, residents continued to flee Beit Hanoun as Israeli tanks thrust deeper into the border town and destroyed nearby orchards in their search for hidden Hamas tunnels.

“Columns of people are heading west of Beit Hanoun, looking for a safe shelter. This is not war, this is annihilation,” said 17-year-old Hamed Ayman.

“I once dreamt of becoming a doctor. Today I am homeless. They should watch out for what I could become next,” the youth told Reuters.

Gaza officials said that so far in the 16-day conflict, 475 houses had been totally destroyed by Israeli fire and 2,644 partially damaged. Some 46 schools, 56 mosques and seven hospitals had also suffered varying degrees of destruction.

Israel has said it is not targeting civilians and is issuing warnings to residents to quit certain neighborhoods to prevent them from getting engulfed in the fighting. Many locals say they have no place to flee in the narrow, besieged territory.

Because Washington, like Israel and the European Union, deems Hamas a terrorist group, they have no direct contact and Washington must rely on proxies such as Egypt, Qatar and Turkey.

In a sign of the intensity of the U.S. diplomacy, Kerry spoke to Qatari and Turkish foreign ministers after meeting Sisi for two hours, a senior U.S. official said.

“The Egyptians have provided a framework and a forum for them to be able to come to the table to have a serious discussion together with other factions of the Palestinians,” Kerry said. “Hamas has a fundamental choice to make and it is a choice that will have a profound impact for the people of Gaza.”

Hamas says it will keep fighting until its demands are met, including the release of several hundred supporters recently arrested in the West Bank and a freeing up of Gaza’s borders.

Adding to the enclave’s woes, residents said Israel shelled their power plant which provides electricity to half the people of Gaza. Electricity supplies from Israel were hit last week, with Israel saying militant rockets had damaged infrastructure.

(Additional reporting by Arshad Mohammed in Cairo and Amena Bakr in Doha; Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Anna Willard)

Kerry arrives in Israel for talks on Gaza cease-fire — Day 16 of Hamas-Israel Clash

July 23, 2014

Published July 23, 2014

July 23, 2014: U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry arrives in Tel Aviv, Israel. Kerry is meeting with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas as efforts for a cease-fire between Hamas and Israel continues. (AP Photo/Pool)

On Tuesday, Kerry held talks with Egyptian officials in Cairo, while UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon met with leaders in Jerusalem and Ramallah.

US Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Tel Aviv on Wednesday to seek ways of ending the deadliest violence in years between Israel and Gaza’s Islamist Hamas.

“Secretary Kerry arrived in Tel Aviv, Israel, this morning to meet with officials to discuss the ongoing cease-fire efforts,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.

“He will also travel to Jerusalem and the West Bank, and will be meeting with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, Palestinian Authority President [Mahmoud] Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister [Binyamin] Netanyahu.”

On Tuesday, Kerry held talks with Egyptian officials in Cairo, while UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon met with leaders in Jerusalem and Ramallah. As of Tuesday night, there was no sign that a cease-fire was imminent.

Ban did not mention any cease-fire proposal at a press conference in Tel Aviv alongside Netanyahu, while Kerry said in Cairo that the Egyptian cease-fire proposal – which Hamas rejected last week – was the “framework” to end the violence.

“Hamas has a fundamental choice to make, and it is a choice that will have a profound impact for the people of Gaza,” Kerry said after a meeting with Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry.

He added that “the Egyptians have provided a framework and a forum for them to be able to come to the table to have a serious discussion together with other factions of the Palestinians.”

The Egyptian proposal calls for a complete halt to violence, followed 48 hours later by the beginning of negotiations over a long-term arrangement for the Gaza Strip. The proposal also calls for eventually reopening Gaza’s closed border crossings and placing PA security officers there.

Kerry has been in continuous contact with Netanyahu, and a senior State Department official said the objective of Kerry’s visit to the region was “to get the fastest possible cease-fire.”

Ban arrived Tuesday afternoon and went immediately to the IAF headquarters in Tel Aviv for his meeting with Netanyahu.

Before the meeting, at the press conference with Ban, the prime minister said that the international community must take a “clear stand” and hold Hamas accountable for consistently rejecting various cease-fire proposals, and for “starting and prolonging this conflict.”

Ban expressed understanding for Israel’s position, saying that no country would accept rockets raining down on its civilians, and that all countries and parties had an international obligation to protect civilians.

The UN position was clear, he said: “We condemn strongly the rocket attacks, and these must stop immediately.”

Furthermore, he said, “we condemn the use of civilian sites, schools, hospitals and other civilian facilities for military purposes.” These comments contrasted starkly with remarks he made Sunday in Doha, after meeting with Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Qatari Foreign Minister Khaled al-Attiya.

“I know that while I was en route to Doha, dozens more civilians, including children, have been killed in Israeli military strikes in the Shejaia neighborhood in Gaza,” he said. “I condemn this atrocious action. Israel must exercise maximum restraint and do far more to protect civilians. I repeat my demand to all sides that they must respect international humanitarian law.”

Ban said in Doha that Qatar and its leadership, which Israel views as key Hamas enablers, “are vital to regional efforts to resolve the crisis.”

It later emerged that Qatar had paid for the plane that is currently shuttling Ban around the Middle East.

In Tel Aviv, he said that his message to Israelis and Palestinians was the same: “Stop fighting, start talking, and take on the root causes of the conflict so we are not back in the same situation in another six months or a year.”

He defined those issues as including “mutual recognition, occupation, despair and denial of dignity.”

Ban said that he “fully shares” and appreciates Israel’s legitimate concern and its right to defend itself. He also urged to Israel to “exercise maximum restraint.”

Herb Keinon contributed to this story.


Editor’s note: Aaron David Miller is a vice president and distinguished scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and was a Middle East negotiator in Democratic and Republican administrations. Follow him on Twitter. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN) — Woody Allen famously said that 80% of success in life is about just showing up. He’s wrong. Success in life — as in diplomacy — is about showing up at the right time. So Is John Kerry coming to the Israeli-Hamas crisis too early, too late or just at the right time?

The secretary of state has been eager to get into the middle of this almost since it started. He considered going last weekend from Vienna, Austria, where he had joined five other world powers in negotiations with Iran on the nuclear deal. But he smartly decided — or was discouraged by the Egyptians who were in the middle of their own cease-fire mediation — not to go.

Still, the rising number of deaths primarily on the Palestinian side and the real danger of escalation of a ground incursion left him little choice. Regardless of the outcome, after Syria and Iraq, both President Barack Obama and Kerry realized that the United States couldn’t sit on the sidelines like a potted plant.

Aaron David Miller

By Aaron David Miller

Moreover, Kerry’s hot mic comments showing his irritation at Israel’s supposed “pinpoint” airstrikes in Gaza revealed a good deal more frustration than simply a desire to collect more frequent flier miles. Kerry is an activist and simply couldn’t abide the fact that people were dying and the United States wasn’t at least trying to stop it.

But desire and passion won’t produce a deal. Kerry proved that in his nine-month effort to negotiate an agreed framework for peace between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

So what will it take to negotiate a cease-fire, and is Kerry the guy to do it?

A key question is whether the combatants now believe it is urgent to reach a cease-fire: You would think that with more than 600 Palestinians dead, thousands wounded and displaced, and Israel soldiers’ casualties rising, the conflict would have created an imperative for de-escalation. And it may eventually bring both Hamas and Israel to the point that a cease-fire is a top priority.

At the same time, Israel’s successful Iron Dome missile defense system has insulated the government to a degree from popular pressure to stand down, and the United States generally has been supportive of Israel’s right to defend itself.

But Palestinian civilian casualties have increased international pressure. And Tuesday’s Federal Aviation Administration decision to stop flights to and from Israel temporarily will remind Israelis about the costs of the continuing confrontation.

As for Hamas, it’s not easy to read its calculations, in part because it’s not clear whether the military or political wing is in charge. But it is evident that having entered this conflict financially strapped and politically weak, Hamas leaders believe they need to show something tangible for the death and destruction their missiles have produced in Gaza. And, by infiltrating Israel through tunnels and confrontation with Israelis in Gaza, they have inflicted more fatalities on the Israel Defense Forces than they did in the entire three-week war of 2008/9.

Indeed, Hamas seems convinced this fight could continue for a while longer. Bottom line: Both sides may be reaching a tipping point when pain outweighs gain. But they just may not be there quite yet.

A second key question is who is in a position to mediate the deal. Kerry’s formidable energy and talent notwithstanding, he cannot do this deal on his own. Washington has plenty of influence with Israel under the right circumstances but none with Hamas. And that means relying on regional partners who do. But that poses a variety of complications.

Egypt wants to maintain the key role here while keeping Qatar and Turkey at bay to limit their pro-Hamas leanings. Still the deal will likely require payment of Hamas employee salaries and the Qataris may be the banker on that one. Egypt and Hamas will also need to work out some new arrangement to ease crossings from Rafah — the largest pedestrian crossing from Gaza to Egypt.

Israel also wants to limit the gains Hamas makes. It wants a clean cease-fire first and only then arrangements that might satisfy some of what Hamas is seeking.

In the middle of this is a secretary of state who’s very much improvising in an effort to determine who has the most influence with Hamas and how best to go about using it.

At the end of the day, it’s no coincidence that Kerry stopped in Egypt first. Cairo will remain the fulcrum of this process.

The final question is what kind of deal could be achieved. The simplest way to conclude this round would be quiet for quiet: no more Hamas rockets and no more Israeli military action. But it’s probably too late for that kind of a cease-fire, and it would likely only be a temporary respite.

At the other extreme are a variety of proposals from demilitarization to reoccupation of Gaza by Israel to eliminating Hamas as an organization. But none of these are realistic. The best that can be hoped for is a kind of stability for stability in which a long-term cease-fire would be followed by a number of arrangements to open up Gaza economically in exchange for Hamas’ commitment to stand down and ensure that there would be no attacks against Israel via tunnels and rockets. Indeed Israel may well demand the border with Gaza be supervised to prevent reconstruction and reuse of Hamas’ terror tunnels.

In exchange, a number of parties would be asked to deliver on certain commitments: Qatar would pay promised salaries for Hamas employees under the Fatah-Hamas unity accord; Egypt would allow the Rafah crossing to be opened under terms to be negotiated; Israel would agree to open its crossings with Gaza, perhaps with the return — even in a symbolic manner — of Palestinian Authority officials in some role in Gaza.

Egypt would continue to crack down on military contraband, slowing Hamas’ capacity to rearm. And the United Nations — together with international donors — would work to deal with the humanitarian costs of the current crisis.

Sooner or later, something along these lines will be put together. And Kerry can work to assemble part of it. But it will be Egypt that will drive the train, not just because of its desire to be the key actor, but also to limit the outside influences of others.

And of all the potential mediators, including the United States, Israel would likely prefer Cairo, which shares its objective of limiting Hamas gains. None of this will provide a long-term solution to an Israel-Hamas rivalry, let alone to the broader question of how to reach a two-state solution of the Israeli-Palestinian problem. But it will bring to an end another costly round of Israeli-Palestinian violence. And the time for that is long overdue.

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Living By Faith and John Henry Newman — “We are answerable for what we choose to believe.”

July 23, 2014

John Henry Newman (1801-1890) an Oxford trained priest in the Church of England, left the Church of England and was received into the Roman Catholic Church in 1845. His sermons and writings are internationally known and respected.

He was beatified  in  September 2010 by Pope Benedict XVI and a case for his canonisation is before the Vatican.

In the sermon below he speaks of man’s struggle between good and evil and how Christians are trained to deal with temptation and sin.

“For there seems to be an iron law built into the Christian encounter with modern life and culture: Christian communities that maintain a clear sense of their doctrinal and moral borders flourish, while Christian communities whose borders become so porous that it’s hard to tell who’s in and who’s out wither and die.”

“We can believe what we choose,” wrote Newman. Then he added, “We are answerable for what we choose to believe.” Our choices have real world consequences.


A man who loves sin does not wish the Gospel to be true, and therefore is not a fair judge of it; a mere man of the world, a selfish and covetous man, or a drunkard, or an extortioner, is, from a sense of interest, against that Bible which condemns him, and would account that man indeed a messenger of good tidings of peace who could prove to him that Christ’s doctrine was not from God. “Every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved.” [John iii. 20.] I do not mean to say that such men necessarily reject the word of God, as if we could dare to conclude that all who do not reject it are therefore sure to be not covetous, drunkards, extortioners, and the like; for it is often a man’s interest not openly to reject it, though it be against him; and the bulk of men are inconsistent, and have some good feelings left, even amid their sins and vices, which keep them from going all lengths. But, while they still profess to honour, at least they try to pervert and misinterpret Scripture, and that comes to the same thing. They try to persuade themselves that Christ will save them, though they continue in sin; or they wish to believe that future punishment will not last for ever; or they conceive that their good deeds or habits, few and miserable as they are at best, will make up for the sins of which they are too conscious. Whereas such men as have been taught betimes to work with God their Saviour—in ruling their hearts, and curbing their sinful passions, and changing their wills—though they are still sinners, have not within them that treacherous enemy of the truth which misleads the judgments of irreligious men.

Here, then, are two very good reasons at first sight, why men who obey the Scripture precepts are more likely to arrive at religious truth, than those who neglect them; first, because such men are teachable men; secondly, because they are pure in heart; such shall see God, whereas the proud provoke His anger, and the carnal are His abhorrence.

But to proceed. Consider, moreover, that those who try to obey God evidently gain a knowledge of themselves at least; and this may be shown to be the first and principal step towards knowing God. For let us suppose a child, under God’s blessing, profiting by his teacher’s guidance, and trying to do his duty and please God. He will perceive that there is much in him which ought not to be in him. His own natural sense of right and wrong tells him that peevishness, sullenness, deceit, and self-will, are tempers and principles of which he has cause to be ashamed, and he feels that these bad tempers and principles are in his heart. As he grows older, he will understand this more and more. Wishing, then, and striving to act up to the law of conscience, he will yet find that, with his utmost efforts, and after his most earnest prayers, he still falls short of what he knows to be right, and what he aims at. Conscience, however, being respected, will become a more powerful and enlightened guide than before; it will become more refined and hard to please; and he will understand and perceive more clearly the distance that exists between his own conduct and thoughts, and perfection. He will admire and take pleasure in the holy law of God, of which he reads in Scripture; but he will be humbled withal, as understanding himself to be a continual transgressor against it. Thus he will learn from experience the doctrine of original sin, before he knows the actual name of it. He will, in fact, say to himself, what St. Paul describes all beginners in religion as saying, “What I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I. I delight in the law of God after the inward man, but I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity. I know that in my flesh dwelleth no good thing.” [Rom. vii. 15, 18, 22, 23.] The effect of this experience will be to make him take it for granted, as an elementary truth, that he cannot gain heaven for himself; to make him feel himself guilty before God; and to feel, moreover, that even were he admitted into the Divine presence, yet, till his heart be (so to say) made over again, he cannot perfectly enjoy God. This, surely, is the state of self-knowledge; these are the convictions to which every one is brought on, who attempts honestly to obey the precepts of God. I do not mean that all that I have been saying will necessarily pass through his mind, and in the same order, or that he will be conscious of it, or be able to speak of it, but that on the whole thus he will feel.

When, then, even an unlearned person thus trained—from his own heart, from the action of his mind upon itself, from struggles with self, from an attempt to follow those impulses of his own nature which he feels to be highest and noblest, from a vivid natural perception (natural, though cherished and strengthened by prayer; natural, though unfolded and diversified by practice; natural, though of that new and second nature which God the Holy Ghost gives), from an innate, though supernatural perception of the great vision of Truth which is external to him (a perception of it, not indeed in its fulness, but in glimpses, and by fits and seasons, and in its persuasive influences, and through a courageous following on after it, as a man in the dark might follow after some dim and distant light)—I say, when a person thus trained from his own heart, reads the declarations and promises of the Gospel, are we to be told that he believes in them merely because he has been bid believe in them? Do we not see he has besides this a something in his own breast which bears a confirming testimony to their truth? He reads that the heart is “deceitful above all things and desperately wicked,” [Jer. xvii. 9.] and that he inherits an evil nature from Adam, and that he is still under its power, except so far as he has been renewed. Here is a mystery; but his own actual and too bitter experience bears witness to the truth of the declaration; he feels the mystery of iniquity within him. He reads, that “without holiness no man shall see the Lord;” [Heb. xii. 14.] and his own love of what is true and lovely and pure, approves and embraces the doctrine as coming from God. He reads, that God is angry at sin, and will punish the sinner, and that it is {119} a hard matter, nay, an impossibility, for us to appease His wrath. Here, again, is a mystery: but here, too, his conscience anticipates the mystery, and convicts him; his mouth is stopped. And when he goes on to read that the Son of God has Himself come into the world in our flesh, and died upon the Cross for us, does he not, amid the awful mysteriousness of the doctrine, find those words fulfilled in him which that gracious Saviour uttered, “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto Me”? He cannot choose but believe in Him. He says, “O Lord, Thou art stronger than I, and hast prevailed.”

The Heart of Newman

The Heart of Newman

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In the wake of the attack on Flight MH17, Putin’s Russian Oligarchs face complications as sanctions loom

July 23, 2014

Aftermath of MH17: Allies of Vladimir Putin are understood to be moving assets after British demands to punish the Russian president’s ‘cronies’ in the wake of the Malaysia Airlines disaster in Ukraine

MH17: Russian oligarchs shift assets out of London as sanctions loom

Allies of Vladimir Putin are understood to be reacting after British demands to punish the Russian president’s ”cronies”. Photo: Alexander Zemlianichenko Jr/Bloomberg News

Russian oligarchs are moving money out of London following threats of tough financial sanctions in the wake of the attack on Flight MH17, Downing Street has said.

Allies of Vladimir Putin are understood to be reacting after British demands to punish the Russian president’s “cronies”.

The European Union on Tuesday agreed to draw up a list of Russians who will face sanctions following the downing of the Malaysia Airlines plane, which killed 298 people.

No 10 refused to say which oligarchs were being targeted because of the risk of “asset flight”.

David Cameron welcomed the EU agreement but the Prime Minister called on European countries including France and Germany “to do more” and agree the toughest possible economic penalties against Russia as a whole. EU officials will meet on Thursday to discuss imposing “Tier 3 sanctions” that could include blocks on financial services as well as trade and energy exports.

Asked whether oligarchs were already moving assets out of London, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “The measures that have been taken with regard to individuals and entities has got a correlation with some of the financial flows we have seen across Europe including here in London. That’s certainly the case.”

Mark Rutte, the Dutch prime minister, announced on Tuesday that a train carrying some of the passengers and crew killed last Thursday – which included 10 Britons – had arrived in the Ukrainian government-controlled city of Kharkiv. The first bodies have now been flown to Holland.

‘Meet the Press’ host David Gregory to be replaced after elections

July 23, 2014


By Emily Smith

David Gregory’s time is nearly up at “Meet the Press,” sources told Page Six, and he could be replaced as moderator of the nation’s longest-running TV show soon after the November midterm elections.

While NBC News President Deborah Turness has publicly supported the embattled Gregory, there are serious concerns about the losing battle to turn around the show’s sinking ratings.

Viewership is down a whopping 43 percent compared to when Gregory ascended to the moderator’s chair in December 2008, after the death of Tim Russert. The show finished in third place behind CBS’s “Face the Nation” and ABC’s “This Week” in the second quarter of 2014.

David Gregory on the set of “Meet the Press,” in Washington. (AP Photo/NBC, William B. Plowman) AP

An NBC source said, “The discussion is whether to make a change before or after the midterm elections. Just after the midterms would give the new moderator time to settle in.”

According to insiders, NBC political director and chief White House correspondent Chuck Todd is the rightful heir to Gregory, but he has not been officially offered the job.

Other names said to be in the frame include “Today” anchor Savannah Guthrie, who comes from a political background but is unlikely to be released from the flagship morning show where she’s hugely popular. Guthrie is also due to give birth to her first child next month and will return to “Today” after maternity leave.

MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” team Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski have also been said be angling for a Sunday slot, but NBC insiders said there are concerns about putting a partisan host in charge of “Meet the Press,” as Scarborough is a former Republican congressman.

After the Washington Post recently reported that NBC had commissioned a “psychological consultant” to interview Gregory’s wife and friends, NBC publicly stood by Gregory, who denounced the psychologist claim as “gossip reporting gone wild.”

An NBC spokesperson told us Tuesday night, “We heard the same false rumors and suggest you take them with a grain of salt, as we did.”

Government of the Philippines in Sea Dispute: Caught Between Moro Islamic Liberation Front and Sardine Fishermen

July 23, 2014

By Roel Pareño ( 

ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines – Canning operators in Zamboanga City see the proposed extended territorial waters in the Bangsamoro region to cause the displacement of the industry which operates in the southern port city.

The apprehension was raised by Edgar Lim, former president of the sardines canning industry in this city, during a peace forum. Lim asked the member of the government peace panel, Senen Bacani, on the basis of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front’s (MILF) territorial water limits for the Bangsamoro.

Lim said with the provision in the proposed Bangsamoro law, the new region’s territorial water is extended to 22.2 kilometers, and the canning industry will be affected.

“We’re concerned that if the commercial fishing will be dislocated this will be the downfall of the sardine industry in Zamboanga City that will affect 30,000 workers, not to mention their dependents,” Lim added.

Zamboanga City, dubbed as the sardines capital of the Philippines, has been strongly opposing its inclusion in the Bangsamoro region.

Bacani said the territorial water for the Bangsamoro was a result of the compromise agreement that was arrived at by the GPH and MILF peace panel.


However, Bacani declined to elaborate further citing that the provisions remained as a draft and have yet to be finalized and mutually agreed upon before it will be presented to the Congress as part of the Bangsamoro Basic Law.

Rep. Celso Lobregat, 1st district representative, said while the city is not mentioned in the proposed Bangsamoro region, many areas will be affected by the possible predicament of the canning industry.

Lobregat said the Bangsamoro law must be subjected to the national law, citing the provision of the Constitution particularly section 20 of the Article 10 that calls for territorial jurisdiction and national laws such as the fishery law and the local government code.

“So whatever law is passed giving powers to the Bangsamoro will have to be subjected also to this provision,” Lobregat said.


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