Archive for July, 2014

Hamas-Israel: 72 Hour Humanitarian Cease-Fire Starts Friday

July 31, 2014

Breaking News: U.N. secretary Ban Ki-Moon and U.S. secretary of state Kerry say an unconditional humanitarian truce in Gaza has been agreed by all parties


Thursday, July 31

10:30 p.m. A White House spokesman held Israel responsible on Thursday for the shelling of a UN facility in Gaza this week, condemning the incident as “totally unacceptable and totally indefensible,” adding that Israel needs to do more to protect innocent civilians.

10:19 p.m. Code Red sirens sounded in the Sha’ar Hanegev Regional Council.

10:11 p.m. Residents of the southern community of Zikim and Yad Mordechai were instructed to stay in their homes on Thursday night in light of a possible security threat.

9:30 p.m. Four Rockets were intercepted above Ashkelon by the Iron Dome Missile Defense System shortly after sirens sounded in the Ashkelon and Eshkol regional councils on Thursday night.

9:10 p.m. Three rocket alert sirens sounded in Ashdod and one sounded in the Ashkelon Regional Council. Two rockets were intercepted above Ashkelon by the Iron Dome Missile Defense System.

9:05 p.m.
Three rocket alert sirens sounded in the Eshkol Regional Council in the span of five minutes.

8:43 p.m. Code red sirens sound in Eshkol Regional Council area

8:28 p.m. Police warned  the Israeli public against arriving to communities near the Gaza frontier, following a mortar attack in the Eshkol Regional Council that left eight hurt.

8:20 p.m. The shelling of a UN facility in Gaza this week by the Israeli military is “totally unacceptable and totally indefensible,” a White House spokesman said.

“The shelling of a UN facility that is housing innocent civilians who are fleeing violence is totally unacceptable and totally indefensible,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters.

7:48 p.m. Rocket sirens blared in Ashkelon and Eshkol Regional Council.

7:42 p.m. Six hurt in mortar file on Eshkol Regional Council, Channel 2 reported.

7:41 p.m. A mortar shell fired from Gaza exploded in the Eshkol Regional Council on Thursday evening, injuring six people, Channel 2 reported.

7:34 p.m. The Pentagon called on Israel on Thursday to do more to protect civilian life during its military operations in Gaza, saying the conflict was taking too high a toll on civilians.

“The civilian casualties in Gaza have been too high. And it’s become clear that the Israelis need to do more to live up to their very high standards – their very high and very public standards – for protecting civilian life,” Pentagon spokesman Colonel Steve Warren said at a news briefing.

Gaza officials say more than 1,370 Palestinians, most of them civilians, have been killed in the battered enclave. Israel says 56 of its soldiers and three civilians have been killed.

7:31 p.m. Code Red sirens sounded in the Ashkelon Coast Regional Council.

7:26 p.m. Code Red sirens sounded in the Sha’ar Hanegev Regional Council.

7:23 p.m. Code Red sirens sounded in the Ashkelon Coast Regional Council.

7:01 p.m. Rocket sirens sounded in the Eshkol Regional Council.

6:54 p.m. Code Red sirens sounded in the Ashkelon Coast Regional Council.

6:20 p.m.
Five rockets hit open areas in the Sha’ar Hanegev and Eshkol regional councils.

6:10 p.m. Rocket sirens sounded in Ashkelon and the Eshkol Regional Council.

6:05 p.m.  Iron Dome intercepts rocket over Tel Aviv area.

5:57 p.m. Rocket falls in Kiryat Gat.

5:55 p.m. Rocket alert sirens sounded in Ashdod, and the Ashkelon Coast and Sh’ar Hanegev regional councils.

5:40 p.m. The Iron Dome defense system intercepted two rockets over Asheklon that were fired in the latest barrage on Israel

5:32 p.m. UNRWA head Pierre Krahenbuhl called on the sides in the fighting in Gaza to respect the sanctity of UN premises in a message that he delivered to the UN Security Council on Thursday.

Krahenbuhl said eight of his colleagues lost their lives in Gaza since the conflict began 24 days ago.

“If we are not safe in an UNRWA school we are not safe anywhere,” Krahenbuhl said Palestinians in Gaza have told him over the past days.

Krahenbuhl strongly condemned armed groups for putting weapons in UNRWA facilities but said that this did not justify Israeli attacks on the schools.

5:31 p.m. Rocket alert sirens sounded in Ashkelon and the Ashkelon Coast Regional Council.

5:30 p.m. Three rockets fired from Gaza landed in open areas in the Eshkol region. No injuries were reported.

5:28 p.m. Code Red sirens sound in the Eshkol Regional Council.

5:02 p.m. Code Red sirens sound again in the Sha’ar Hanegev Regional Council.

4:58  p.m.  The Code Red siren sounded in the Sha’ar Hanegev Regional Council.

4:50 p.m. The Code Red siren sounded in the Eshkol Regional Council.

4:13 p.m.
Rocket alert sirens sound in Sha’ar Hanegev Regional Council.

3:35 p.m. Rocket alert sirens sound in Ashkelon and Eshkol Regional Council.

3:24 p.m.
Sirens sound in Hof Ashkelon Regional Council.

2:51 p.m. Sirens sound in Eshkol Regional Council.

2:22 p.m. Sirens sound in Eshkol Regional Council.

2:00 p.m. A soldier was lightly injured by sniper fire in the neighborhood of Shejaia in Gaza on Thursday, the IDF confirmed.

1:37 p.m.  Rocket sirens sound in the Ashkelon coastal area.

1:01 p.m.  Rocket sirens sound in Gaza border towns.

12:55 p.m. Police: Sirens sounds in Sderot after wave of rockets fired at the city. 3 rockets strike inside the city. Damage caused. One person injured lightly.

12:10 p.m. 
Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said Thursday that the damage done to Hamas by the IDF in Operation Protective Edge is “unprecedented in its scope.”

Speaking at the opening of a security cabinet meeting, Ya’alon said that Israel would not compromise on the security of its citizens in any truce to end fighting.

12:01 p.m.  Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said Thursday that he would not allow to any cease-fire that did not allow the IDF to destroy all of the infiltration tunnels in Gaza.

Speaking prior to a security cabinet meeting, the prime minister stated that IDF soldiers are currently finishing off the job of destroying tunnels.

“We have destroyed dozens of tunnels and we will finish the rest with or without a cease-fire,” Netanyahu vowed.

12:00 p.m.  Rocket sirens sound in Gaza frontier communities, including Sderot.

11:37 a.m. Code Red rocket sirens alert in Gaza border communities.

10:00 a.m.
A rocket landed outside of a community in Eshkol, causing no injuries or damages.

9:30 a.m.
Prime Minister’s Office announces Cabinet meeting at 11:00 a.m.

8:31 a.m. Code Red siren alerts in Beersheba.

7:15 a.m. The IDF was permitted to mobilize 16,000 additional reserve forces as the Israel pushed forward with its campaign against Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

6:56 a.m. Rocket alert sirens sounded in Ashdod, Ashkelon and the surrounding areas.

6:45 a.m.
Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon spoke on Wednesday with his American counterpart Chuck Hagel, who called for a humanitarian cease-fire in Gaza that would lead to a permanent end in fighting and the disarmament of Hamas.

3:20 a.m. The funeral for fallen IDF soldier St.-Sgt. Guy Algranati, 20, was scheduled for Thursday at 1:30 p.m. at the military section of the Kiryat Shaul Cemetery in northern Tel Aviv.

Wednesday, July 30

11:45 a.m. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said on Wednesday Gaza has become a “humanitarian disaster area” and urged the UN and international aid agencies to assume responsibility for meeting the needs of the Palestinians in the coastal enclave.

11:35 p.m. Code Red siren sounds in Sha’ar Hanegev Regional Council.

10:25 p.m. Series of rocket sirens continue in Gaza frontier localities.

10:20 p.m. Rocket alert sirens were heard in Beersheba, Ashkelon, and the Shfela regionNess Ziona and Rehovot. Audible explosions heard overhead in Tel Aviv area, although no siren sounded.

10:13 p.m. The name of the third IDF soldier killed on Wednesday in southern Gaza was released by the army: 20-year-old St.-Sgt Guy Algranati was from Tel Aviv. He served in the elite Maglan infantry unit.


GREENSPAN: A ‘Significant’ Market Correction Has To Come

July 31, 2014

By Bob Wile

A week ago Wednesday, the S&P500 hit another new all-time high, continuing an incredible five-and-a-half-year run of average gains.

For former Fed chief Alan Greenspan, the surge will have to end at some point. Appearing on Bloomberg’s “In The Loop with Betty Liu,” Greenspan warned :

…the stock market has recovered so sharply for so long you have to assume somewhere along the line we’re going to get a significant correction. Where that is I do not know, but I would not say that we are grossly overpriced at this point in a historical context.

Greenspan pointed to the fact that the equity risk premium (ERP), which measures the rate of return on stocks versus returns on bonds, remains below the levels we saw in the run-up to Lehman. NYU’s Aswath Damodaran is known as the risk premium guru, and he has shown that with a risk premium of 5%, stocks aren’t significantly overvalued, though that level is above the historical median.

“It’s now come back to what I would see as closer to normal after being exceptionally high. And that means that, no, we are not yet in a stressful position,” Greenspan told Liu.


Here’s Damodaran’s chart, with the equity risk premium in green and Treasuries in red:


One problem is that there is no precedent for current Fed policy, Greenspan said.

“…None of the central banks have ever been anywhere near where we find we all are and where we have to move as a consequence of the crisis,” he said. “But what we do not know, and we can guess, but it is a guess and I shouldn’t – we shouldn’t parade it as some great intellectual insight. We just do not know how this thing is going to work out when we begin to tighten.”

The S&P was down 0.1% Wednesday.

Read more:

Prayer and Meditation for Friday, August 1, 2014 — “He did not work many mighty deeds there because of their lack of faith”

July 31, 2014


Jesus and the doctors of the Faith, a painting by a follower of Giuseppe Ribera

Prayer and Meditation for Friday, August 1, 2014

Memorial of Saint Alphonsus Liguori, Bishop and Doctor of the Church
Lectionary: 405

Reading 1 jer 26:1-9

In the beginning of the reign of Jehoiakim,
son of Josiah, king of Judah,
this message came from the LORD:
Thus says the LORD:
Stand in the court of the house of the LORD
and speak to the people of all the cities of Judah
who come to worship in the house of the LORD;
whatever I command you, tell them, and omit nothing.
Perhaps they will listen and turn back,
each from his evil way,
so that I may repent of the evil I have planned to inflict upon them
for their evil deeds.
Say to them: Thus says the LORD:
If you disobey me,
not living according to the law I placed before you
and not listening to the words of my servants the prophets,
whom I send you constantly though you do not obey them,
I will treat this house like Shiloh,
and make this the city to which all the nations of the earth
shall refer when cursing another.Now the priests, the prophets, and all the people
heard Jeremiah speak these words in the house of the LORD.
When Jeremiah finished speaking
all that the LORD bade him speak to all the people,
the priests and prophets laid hold of him, crying,
“You must be put to death!
Why do you prophesy in the name of the LORD:
‘This house shall be like Shiloh,’ and
‘This city shall be desolate and deserted’?”
And all the people gathered about Jeremiah in the house of the LORD.

Responsorial Psalm ps 69:5, 8-10, 14

R. (14c) Lord, in your great love, answer me.
Those outnumber the hairs of my head
who hate me without cause.
Too many for my strength
are they who wrongfully are my enemies.
Must I restore what I did not steal?
R. Lord, in your great love, answer me.
Since for your sake I bear insult,
and shame covers my face.
I have become an outcast to my brothers,
a stranger to my mother’s sons,
Because zeal for your house consumes me,
and the insults of those who blaspheme you fall upon me.
R. Lord, in your great love, answer me.
But I pray to you, O LORD,
for the time of your favor, O God!
In your great kindness answer me
with your constant help.
R. Lord, in your great love, answer me.

Gospel mt 13:54-58


Jesus came to his native place and taught the people in their synagogue.
They were astonished and said,
“Where did this man get such wisdom and mighty deeds?
Is he not the carpenter’s son?
Is not his mother named Mary
and his brothers James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas?
Are not his sisters all with us?
Where did this man get all this?”
And they took offense at him.
But Jesus said to them,
“A prophet is not without honor except in his native place
and in his own house.”
And he did not work many mighty deeds there
because of their lack of faith.
Lectio Divina from the Carmelites
.• The Gospel today tells us the visit of Jesus to Nazareth, his native community. Passing through Nazareth was painful for Jesus. What was his community at the beginning, now it is no longer so. Something has changed. Where there is no faith, Jesus can work no miracles.
• Matthew 13, 53-57ª: The reaction of the people of Nazareth before Jesus. It is always good for people to go back to their land. After a long absence, Jesus also returns, as usual, on a Saturday, and he goes to the meeting of the community. Jesus was not the head of the group, but just the same he speaks. This is a sign that persons could participate and express their own opinion. People were astonished. They did not understand Jesus’ attitude: “Where did the man get this wisdom and these miraculous powers?” Jesus, son of that place, whom they knew since he was a child, how is that now he is so different? The people of Nazareth were scandalized and do not accept him: “This is the carpenter’s son, surely?
The people do not accept the mystery of God present in a common man as they are, as they had known Jesus. In order to speak about God he should be different. As one can see, not everything was positive. The persons, who should have been the first ones to accept the Good News, are the first ones to refuse to accept it. The conflict is not only with foreigners, but also with his relatives and with the people of Nazareth. They do not accept because they cannot understand the mystery envelops Jesus: “Is not his mother, the woman called Mary, and his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Jude? And his sisters too, are they not all here with us? So where did the man get it all?” They are not able to believe.
• Matthew 13, 57b-58: Reaction of Jesus before the attitude of the people of Nazareth. Jesus knows very well that “no one is a prophet in his own country”. And he says: A prophet is despised only in his own country and in his own house”. In fact, where there is neither acceptance nor faith, people can do nothing. The prejudice prevents it. Jesus himself, even wanting, can do nothing. He was astonished before their lack of faith.
• The brothers and sisters of Jesus. The expression “brothers of Jesus” causes much polemics between Catholics and Protestants. Basing themselves in this and in other texts, the Protestants say that Jesus had many brothers and sisters and that Mary had more children! Catholics say that Mary did not have any other children. What can we think about this? In the first place, both positions, that of Catholics as well as that of Protestants, contain arguments taken from the Bible and from the Tradition of their respective Churches.
For this reason, it is not convenient to discuss this question with arguments which are only intellectual, because it is a question of profound convictions, which have something to do with faith and with the sentiments of both and of each one. The argument which is only intellectual cannot change a conviction of the heart! It only irritates and draws away! Even if I do not agree with the opinion of others, I have to respect it. In the second place, instead of discussing around texts, all of us, Catholics and Protestants, should unite ourselves much more to fight for the defence of life, created by God, a life so disfigured by poverty, injustice, lack of faith.
We should recall some other phrases of Jesus. “I have come so that they may have life and life to the full” (Jn 10, 10). “That all may be one, so that the world may believe that you, Father, has sent me” (Jn 17, 21). “Do not prevent them! Anyone who is not against us is for us” (Mk 10, 39.40)
Personal questions
• In Jesus something changed in his relationship with the Community of Nazareth. Since you began to participate in the community, has something changed in your relationship with the family? Why?
• Has participation in the community helped you to accept and to trust persons, especially the more simple and the poorest?
Concluding Prayer
For myself, wounded wretch that I am,
by your saving power raise me up!
I will praise God’s name in song,
I will extol him by thanksgiving. (Ps 69, 29-30)


Reflection by  The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore



“Where did the man get this wisdom and these miraculous powers?”  In asking this question, the townsfolk of Jesus were not really interested to know the source or origin of His wisdom and power.  Rather, they asked in skepticism, in disbelief that He had such powers since He was only one of them and furthermore, only the son of a carpenter.

At the beginning of chapter 13, we read how the disciples of Jesus and many others followed Him even to the seaside, gathering around Him to listen to Him and be healed.  The townsfolk of Jesus on the contrary were not hungry for the Word.  They were there at the synagogue merely out of convenience, habit, and probably out of curiosity.  They did not expect to get anything much from Him.  In the words of today’s gospel, “A prophet is only despised in his own country and in his own house.”  It was a case of over familiarity.

In contrast we have the situation of Jeremiah in the first reading.  He too was called by the Lord to prophesy.  But when he spoke the truth as instructed, they accused him of being a false prophet.  They did not want to hear the truth and the bad news.  They could not see how God could have spoken to him instead of speaking to them, the prophets and religious leaders appointed to serve at the temple.  It was a case of a lack of familiarity.  They were not used to hearing such prophesy against Judah and against the Temple.  It was simply unacceptable, more so from one not known to them.

So the question is whether familiarity is a bane or boon.  Is it good to be familiar with the Lord or to keep a distance from Him?  Familiarity with God implies that we are in a personal relationship with Him.  We know Him so well that we are comfortable with Him and can rely on Him.  We know that God can be trusted to act.  In such a relationship, familiarity brings true friendship and intimacy. 

Unfortunately, it is also equally true that familiarity has brought contempt for God and for others in our lives.  This is because when we are familiar with someone we become prisoners of history and our past.  We look at people whom we know with an old mindset.  We do not see that people are changing all the time, not only physically but also in character.  No one can remain the same all the time.  We are dynamic beings, changing for the better or for the worse.  But when we see them as fossilized beings, then we are not relating with who they are now but what they were.  This is so true especially in community living.  We often look at each other based on our past experiences with that person.  We do not look anew when we see each other.  We tend to label each other as arrogant, boastful, lazy etc.

Consequently, we must recognize that familiarity can make us prejudiced against others.  For this reason, our problems are never resolved because we are using old solutions to tackle a changed situation. This is certainly a great injustice to any relationship.  It is as good as condemning them.

Distant familiarity too can be used as an excuse for not changing.  We say to ourselves, “Oh, God understands us.  God knows what we are doing.  He knows why I am not praying.”  Isn’t this what we say of our friends too?  We take them for granted.  We are not serious in growing in that relationship.  Complacency in relationship simply means that we are relying on old times, again implying that people never change, that those relationships never change.

Perhaps, at the root of it is our fear of the future.  We do not want to change.  We do not like the unknown.  We want to control our lives and our future.  Fear is thus connected with pride and ego.  We do not want to feel vulnerable.  We want to be in charge of the situation.  So when we are challenged to go beyond our comfort zone, we become nervous and threatened.  Consequently our self-defense mechanism operates by making us reject whatever is new and unfamiliar.

But what is even more tragic is that when familiarity also enters into our relationship with God, especially in prayer and worship, we truly suffer.  The greatest obstacle in coming to know God more deeply and to experience the power of His miracles working in our lives is simply because we are too familiar, or ritualistic in the way we relate with God or talk about Him.  We become irreverent in the way we relate with Him.  We lose the sense of awe and sacredness before God.

Our relationship with the Lord is but a memory of the past.  In itself, it is not wrong.  We must know the past in order to ground our present reflection and openness.  However, we must go beyond such past knowledge to a personal knowledge.  Indeed, only when we are able to go beyond ourselves, can we allow fresh experiences to happen.  On the basis of the past, Jeremiah could trust in the Lord to help him.

There is of course a price to pay for failing to take God or our relationships with others seriously.  Indeed, as St Matthew noted, Jesus “did not work many miracles there because of their lack of faith.”  We will never be able to see the transformation in the lives of our fellowmen when we are not open to the fact that we are meeting a new person.  Similarly, because we are not open to a new relationship with the Lord, we will miss out the opportunity to experience Him powerfully in our lives.  By clinging to our fixated relationship with God, we imprison and restrict the ways the Spirit works in the world.

Consequently, we must pray for faith, so that we can say truly that we know “where did the man get this wisdom and these miraculous powers” from; and we know that a person has been transformed because God is at work in his/her life. Let us pray that we can “accept God’s message for what it really is; God’s message and not some human thinking.”  We must with faith cling to the promise of God in the scriptures.  We must pray and relate with Him in faith, believing that God is always working in new ways in our lives.  If we remember the past, it is in order that we can pray with confidence that just as in the past, He will manifest His power again, albeit in ever new and marvelous ways.  God is the I Am.

– See more at:


Born into Neapolitan nobility, Ligouri had a successful law career before becoming a priest. He founded the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer (the Redemptorists) to work among the poor. In 1762 he was appointed Bishop of Sant’Agata dei Goti. He was a prolific writer, publishing nine editions of his Moral Theology in his lifetime, in addition to other devotional and ascetic works and letters. Among his best known works are The Glories of Mary and The Way of the Cross, the latter still used in parishes during Lenten devotions.

He was canonized in 1839 by Pope Gregory XVI. Pope Pius IX proclaimed him a Doctor of the Church in 1871. One of the most widely read Catholic authors, Alphonsus Ligouri is the patron saint of confessors.’_Liguori

Saint Alphonsus Maria de Liguori (1696-1787)

Republican House Leadership Hasn’t The Votes For the Border Bill

July 31, 2014

Leadership as Border Bill Falters

Even Moderate Alcohol Consumption Can Harm Memory Later in Life, Lead to Dementia and Alzheimer’s

July 31, 2014

From the BBC

Patterns of alcohol consumption may have an impact on dementia risk

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Problem drinking in middle age doubles the risk of memory loss in later life, research suggests.

A US study found men and women in their 50s and 60s with a history of alcohol abuse were more likely to have memory problems up to two decades later.

The study, in The American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, adds to growing evidence that excessive drinking can impair mental processing later.

Researchers say it is a public health issue that needs to be addressed.

Scientists questioned 6,500 US middle-aged adults about their past alcohol consumption.

They were asked three specific questions:

  • Had people annoyed them by criticising their drinking?
  • Had they ever felt guilty or bad about their drinking?
  • Had they ever had a drink first thing in the morning to steady nerves or get over a hangover?

Those who answered yes to one of these questions were considered to have a problem with alcohol.

They had more than double the risk of developing severe memory impairment, the study found.

“We know that alcohol is bad for the brain in general, but it’s not just how much you drink but how it affects you,” lead researcher, Dr Iain Lang, from the University of Exeter Medical School, told the BBC.

“The amount that you drink is important – what is also important is if you experience any problems in your drinking or if other people tell you you have a problem.”

He advised drinking within recommended daily and weekly amounts and to cut down if affected by any of the items in the questionnaire, as this could increase dementia risk.

Hidden cost

Dr Doug Brown, director of research and development at the Alzheimer’s Society charity, said there was a hidden cost of alcohol abuse, given mounting evidence that alcohol misuse can impact on cognition later in life.

“This small study shows that people who admitted to alcohol abuse at some point in their lives were twice as likely to have severe memory problems, and as the research relied on self-reporting that number may be even higher.

“This isn’t to say that people need to abstain from alcohol altogether. As well as eating a healthy diet, not smoking and maintaining a healthy weight, the odd glass of red wine could even help reduce your risk of developing dementia.”

Dr Eric Karran, science director at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said: “Although studies such as this one can be very useful for observing health trends, it’s important to note that they are not able to show cause and effect, and it’s not clear whether other factors may also have influenced these results.”

More on This Story

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For Putin and Russia, All Options in Ukraine Look Bad

July 31, 2014



Russian President Vladimir Putin looks on during a meeting outside the Tzar Pushka ( Tzar Cannon) in Moscow’s Kremlin, Russia, Thursday, July 31, 2014. Putin on Thursday presented state awards to cosmonauts, lawmakers, journalists and others. (AP Photo/RIA Novosti Kremlin, Mikhail Klimentyev, Presidential Press Service)

MOSCOW (AP) — For Russian President Vladimir Putin, there are few options left in the Ukraine crisis and they all look bad.

He is caught between a determined West demanding that he disavow the pro-Russian insurgents in Ukraine and increasingly assertive nationalists at home urging him to champion the mutiny and send in the Russian army.

The Malaysian plane disaster this week triggered another round of U.S. and EU sanctions, which for the first time targeted entire sectors of the Russian economy, severely limiting Putin’s room for maneuver. He may be eager to sever ties with the rebels, but he would need to find a way to do so that would allow him to save face — an exceedingly hard task amid growing Western pressure.

Bowing to Western demands would potentially spell political suicide for the Russian leader, who has built his popularity on standing up to the West. Under pressure, he may choose instead to escalate the crisis and risk an all-out confrontation.

Putin didn’t plan for it to happen this way.

Last fall, he used a combination of pressure and subsidies to prevent Ukraine from signing an association agreement with the EU and lure it into a Moscow-led alliance. When mass protests chased the Russian-leaning Ukrainian president from power in February, Putin saw it as a Western plot against Russia and quickly moved to annex Ukraine’s Black Sea peninsula of Crimea to head off what he said was the imminent threat of Ukraine joining NATO.

Putin then sought to maintain pressure on the West by fomenting a pro-Russian insurgency that flared up in Ukraine’s mostly Russian-speaking industrial east in April, apparently hoping that a slow-burning conflict would help persuade the West to strike a compromise that would allow Russia to keep Ukraine in its orbit.

That strategy has failed. The West, especially Europe, long showed unwillingness to take a strong punitive stand against Putin. But the downing of the Malaysian passenger plane was the unforeseen event that overturned the dynamic, and compelled the West to act.

It appears that the Russian leader now is desperately looking for a way out from the crisis in hopes of containing the gravest threat to his rule to date. Here are some possible scenarios that may play out:


From the start, Putin wanted to a deal with a West that would allow Russia to maintain its leverage over Ukraine, and he has steadily tempered his ambitions.

At the onset of the turmoil, Putin hoped that Ukraine would join a Russia-dominated economic alliance. When such hopes evaporated with the ouster of President Viktor Yanukovych, Moscow began pushing for a “federalization” of Ukraine that would give broad powers to its provinces and allow them to deal directly with Moscow. Rebels later backed those demands by conducting independence referendums that both Ukraine and the West declared a sham.

The Kremlin then softened its rhetoric and started calling vaguely for a “dialogue” between the central government and the regions that would give the provinces a bigger say over local issues.

Now with his hand weakened by the plane disaster, Putin may be eager to accept any vague deal that would allow Moscow to maintain just a symbolic degree of influence. Such a deal, however, would have to involve concessions by both parties, something that is hard to achieve amid continuing fighting and growing distrust.

The West has demanded that the Kremlin disown the rebellion in eastern Ukraine. While Putin may despise the ragtag band of retired Russian officers and Moscow political consultants that have helped foment the mutiny, it would be hard for him to distance himself from them without denting his support base.

The Malaysian plane disaster, however, could offer a face-saving way of publicly condemning the rebel leadership. If an international investigation confirms that the missile that downed the plane on July 17 was launched by the rebels, Putin may say that Russia can’t support those who were responsible for the tragic death of nearly 300 innocent people. Such a statement could pave the way for talks.


Putin possibly fears that any concessions would only lead to more Western pressure and may choose to remain defiant. If he keeps refusing to distance himself from the rebels, the West will remain reluctant to engage in any talks. Fighting in the east, which already involves heavy artillery and rockets pummeling residential areas, will raise the pressure on Putin to intervene militarily.

Putin is already facing scathing criticism in Russian nationalist publications and online forums for betraying Russian speakers in Ukraine by failing to send in the army.

At some point, fearing that the damage to his popularity could become irreparable, Putin may send more weapons to the rebels. More Western sanctions will not stop his hand, but rather may push him into a situation where any compromise would look like kowtowing to the West.

Pressed against the wall, Putin may even decide to send troops into Ukraine. They would likely crush the weak and disorganized Ukrainian military within days. The West would be unlikely to intervene militarily, but it would freeze virtually all ties with Moscow, sending the Russian economy into a tailspin. Living standards will plummet quickly, possibly spawning social unrest.


Some in the West may hope that the sanctions will encourage members of the Russian elites as well as the broad public to demand a change of course.

However, the tightly controlled Russian political system leaves little room for dissent. Billionaire tycoons, some of whom have close personal links to Putin, stand to lose a lot from Western sanctions and would like Putin to soften his policy. But hopes that they may somehow persuade the president to pull out of confrontation seem futile, as the oligarchs are too scared to form any kind of united group, and official loyalties are closely controlled by Putin’s fellow KGB veterans who dominate the officialdom.

Many in Washington expected Putin’s businessmen friends who were hit by U.S. sanctions in March to push him toward de-escalation. The opposite has happened. Instead of encouraging a pro-Western opposition, more sanctions will likely further strengthen the Kremlin hawks, who may push Putin toward an even more confrontational and isolationist course.

In a sense, the Russian leader has become hostage to his own propaganda that has cast the West as an enemy of Russia.

Putin’s approval ratings so far have remained high, but if the economy starts collapsing under the brunt of Western sanctions his popularity would dwindle quickly. It doesn’t mean, though, that pro-Western democratic forces would have any chance to expand their presence on Russia’s political scene.

Amid the war in Ukraine and Western sanctions, the weak and disorganized Russian liberals have become increasingly marginalized, while extreme nationalist forces have strengthened considerably.

Economic meltdown would further allow nationalist groups to expand their sway, and Russian volunteers now fighting in eastern Ukraine may become an explosive element in a changing political equation.

The prospect of potential unrest could re-ignite fears that accompanied the 1991 Soviet collapse. Thousands of nuclear warheads, smoldering conflicts between a myriad of ethnic groups, separatist movements and crumbling industrial infrastructure that could lead to technological disasters make any instability in Russia deadly dangerous for the rest of the world.


Isachenkov has covered Russia and other ex-Soviet nations for the AP since 1992.

Vietnamese communists call for end to… Vietnamese communism

July 31, 2014

We don’t spend much time talking about Vietnam, other than its allure as a holiday destination. But the time has come to talk about politics in this sickle-shaped nation.

Overnight, an important piece of news emerged on various social media outlets: 61 senior members of Vietnam’s ruling Communist Party have written a letter openly denouncing the country’s leadership and accusing them of taking the “wrong path”.  They also issued a series of demands including an end to the socialist system and a “decisive shift” from dictatorship to democracy.

Let’s just recap. A band of top communist party officials, including policy makers and former advisors to the prime minister, want to scrap communism. In one-party states like Vietnam, unsanctioned interventions of this variety are frowned upon. But the fact that an influential group have come forward to challenge their peers at the top says something important about discontent within the party and in the nation as a whole.

30 vietnam 2 g w Vietnamese communists call for end to... Vietnamese communism

Public criticism of the Vietnamese establishment, including the Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung is unusual

There is of course, plenty to complain about in Vietnam. The country suffers from widespread corruption, a paucity of jobs for graduates, a wobbly banking sector and scores of over-leveraged state-owned companies. To top it off, there’s also China.

In May, the Chinese towed an oil rig into waters claimed by Vietnam and dispatched a flotilla of more than one hundred ships to protect it. Enraged, thousands of Vietnamese took to the streets, burning Chinese flags and several foreign-owned factories. Two Chinese workers were killed and more than one hundred injured.

The authors of the open letter say their own leaders are to blame, accusing them of weakness and collusion in their dealings with Chinese officials. They want the Vietnamese government to “come clean” about a secret summit in which Vietnam is alleged to have secretly handed over territory to its giant neighbour.

It is difficult to know where the open letter will lead but Hoi Trinh of advocacy group Voice, says it will encourage a small, growing and increasingly emboldened band of pro-democracy activists in Vietnam. “What is surprising about the letter is that it was made public,” says Trinh. “It’s not the way things are done in Vietnam. You can criticise the government within your family. You can even criticise them in the coffee shop. You don’t do it publicly – but these people did exactly that.”

The government will almost certainly use the state media to denounce those involved but where these well-known critics of the Communist regime go, many more may follow.


Among the 61 prominent signatories to the letter, were the following:

Lieutenant-General Nguyen Trong Vinh -former Vietnam ambassador to China

Nguyen Khac Mai – Dean of of Vietnamese Philosophy Institute

Dao Xuan Sam – former member of the Prime Minister Research Committee

Tran Duc Nguyen -former Chair of the Prime Minister Research Committee

Lieutenant-General Le Duy Mat

Vu Quoc Tuan- adviser to former Prime Minister Vo Van Kiet

To Hoa – former editor-in-chief of major Party paper Saigon Giai Phong

Ta Dinh Thinh – Bureau Chief – Central Party Head Office

Nguyen Ngoc – famous author, former Party secretary [of state-controlled Vietnam Writers’s Association]

Nguyen Trung -former Vietnam ambassador to Thailand

Le Than- former CEO of state-owned company SG-Riversite

Ms Kim Chi – famous actress (recently expelled from the Party membership after her trip to the US to take part in a forum about freedom of expression)

Former editors-in-chief of major Party newspapers, magazines such as Song Huong (Perfume River), Thanh Nien (Youth), Lao Dong (Labour)…

[Note: journalist Pham Chi Dung, a leading member of the civil society movement, is also a former Party member]

– See more at:

China: After Current Corruption Probe, Elite May Never Be Able To Escape The Law Again

July 31, 2014

Takedown of Zhou Yongkang Sets Potential Precedent as It Goes After His Relatives

James T. Areddy in Shanghai and  Brian Spegele in Beijing
The Wall Street Journal

China announced a probe into ex-security chief Zhou Yongkang, making him the highest-ranking official to be placed under formal investigation in 20 years. Jeremy Page tells Ramy Inocencio about the accusations of “serious disciplinary violations.”

China has broken new ground with its takedown of former security chief Zhou Yongkang : In addition to targeting the once-lofty Communist Party insider, it has also gone after his family.

On Tuesday, the central leadership of China’s Communist Party said it had sanctioned an internal investigation of Mr. Zhou for possible violations of discipline, making him the most senior political figure to be subjected to such a probe in more than 25 years.

Then China’s Public Security Minister Zhou Yongkang reacts as he attends the Hebei delegation discussion sessions at the 17th National Congress of the Communist Party of China at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing in this October 16, 2007 file photo.   REUTERS/Jason Lee/Files

It follows a slow-burning and similarly rare investigation—and disappearance from view—of some of his family members. This group includes his businessman son, Zhou Bin, and Zhou Bin’s wife, according to the younger Mr. Zhou’s mother-in-law.

Neither the elder or younger Mr. Zhou has been charged with a crime and neither could be reached directly or through a lawyer for comment.



That shift appears to have cracked an immunity enjoyed by the families of the elite. The effort, part of the president’s running strategy to combat high-level corruption, breaks two taboos long considered unspoken sources of stability for China’s consensus-based political system: guarantees of a peaceful retirement for top politicians and a hands-off approach to their family members.

Family members of senior officials have figured into past corruption probes. For instance, the government alleged corrupt dealings by the son and brother of former Shanghai Party Secretary Chen Liangyu were core reasons for his removal from power in 2006 and subsequent jailing for 18 years. It is unclear whether the family members were convicted.

But none has been as much of an insider as Mr. Zhou, who when he retired in 2012 had occupied one of nine seats on the party’s highest committee, the Politburo Standing Committee.

The new approach adds to the political risks Chinese President Xi Jinping already faces by endeavoring to take down Mr. Zhou and his associates, as well as other potential networks.

“This is actually unknown territory not only for retired leaders but for Xi Jinping as well,” said Bo Zhiyue, an expert on Chinese politics at the National University of Singapore.

Mr. Xi’s corruption drive increasingly features dimensions not seen in previous efforts to reduce malfeasance and some of them appear to focus on the family members of officials.

This month the Ministry of Public Security—the police agency formerly headed by the elder Mr. Zhou—inaugurated a campaign it dubbed Fox Hunt 2014 to locate overseas pools of illicitly gained money. Experts and government officials say corrupt leaders often squirrel away money in other countries, frequently with the help of family members. While the sums aren’t clear, China’s central bank estimated in a report that it briefly posted on its website three years ago that the amount totaled about 800 billion yuan up to 2008, or $129 billion at current exchange rates.

This week the party’s internal corruption watchdog said it is streamlining its strategy for targeting corrupt money abroad by forming an international cooperation bureau. The government also recently said that officials are unlikely to be promoted if their immediate families live abroad.

Political analysts point to some signs of pushback against Mr. Xi’s strategy in the form of public appearances by retired officials and princelings that appear aimed at reminding the president that others hold power bases as well.

The offspring of China’s leaders are dubbed princelings because it is perceived that they can enjoy lifestyles befitting royalty, like the best educations and access to riches. Like Chinese politicians themselves, princelings have traditionally been assured certain protections, in particular against unwanted scrutiny in state-run media about their business interests.

Many princelings excel in business by capitalizing early on planned shifts in economic policy-making or by using their family name to open doors in the politicized bureaucracy, according to people who have dealt with them and who point out that such actions are typically perfectly legal.

Books on China’s former defense chief Zhou Yongkang are displayed at a Hong Kong newsstand Wednesday. Reuters

The 42-year-old U.S.-educated younger Mr. Zhou, for instance, amassed a fortune along with intermediaries by forming businesses in sectors where his 71-year-old father once held sway like the oil business, The Wall Street Journal reported in March.

Starting last year, some reports in China’s tightly controlled media questioned deals that he had been involved with, though they didn’t explicitly identify him as the son of the elder Mr. Zhou. The unusual reports appeared to crack the immunity traditionally enjoyed by China’s princelings as well as point to the elder Mr. Zhou’s weakening grip on power. On Tuesday, after the party leadership said it had sanctioned the probe of the elder Mr. Zhou, more Chinese media outlets published what they said were details of the son’s business interests.

Political analysts say a key goal for President Xi is to put China’s substantial population of former top politicians on notice that he is firmly in control. “What he’s trying to do is stop these retired leaders from intervening in his policy-making,” said Mr. Bo.

Little is known about the probe of the younger Mr. Zhou. Chinese government investigators are holding him and his wife, the wife’s mother said in a series of interviews earlier this year. The woman, Mary Zhan Minli, had seen both last October and said that even as rumors swirled that the elder Mr. Zhou faced political trouble there was little sign of concern by the son. On Tuesday, she said she had no fresh information.

She had earlier said her daughter and the younger Mr. Zhou had done nothing wrong. Any business interests they had were modest, she said.

Mr. Zhou’s case may be an exception, rather than a sign that more princelings will face investigation. Willy Lam, an expert on elite politics at the Chinese University of Hong Kong’s Centre for China Studies, said the son’s detention can be used by state prosecutors as a bargaining chip with the father to minimize defiance. “He will cooperate as he wants to save his son and his other relatives,” said Mr. Lam.

—Yang Jie in Beijing contributed to this article.

Write to James T. Areddy at and Brian Spegele at


Corruption is hot topic at Chinese Communist Party congress


A protester reacts as she is dragged away by policewomen in Hong Kong. Photo credit Reuters

Former Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao’s extended family has controlled assets worth at least $2.7 billion, the New York Times reported, citing corporate and regulatory records and unidentified people familiar with the family’s investments.


ObamaCare website failures, cost growth almost entirely the fault of Obama administration

July 31, 2014

By Alex Wayne

Obamacare Web Cost Approaches $1 Billion as Fixes Still Needed

Year two of Obamacare “won’t be perfect,” a top Obama administration official said today as the government’s website to sell health insurance plans continues to be developed.

Andy Slavitt, the principle deputy administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, would not promise that the site,, will be “fully ready” in November, when people can start buying insurance plans for 2015.

“It’s a bumpy process at times,” Slavitt, a former UnitedHealth Group Inc. executive, said at a congressional hearing. “We’ve got committed people who by-and-large are doing a good job. There will certainly be bumps.”

The budget to get the site ready for the next round of enrollments, starting in November, jumped to $840 million as of March, according to the Government Accountability Office. That’s a $163 million increase since December.

Accenture Plc (ACN:US), which took over building the site that failed at its introduction this past October, is expected to be paid $175 million as of June, an $84 million increase from the estimate in January when it signed a contract.

The data are part of testimony from the Government Accountability Office prepared for today’s hearing in the Republican-led House. The GAO places blame for the site’s rising price on poor planning and supervision of contractors who built the federal health exchange.

‘Significant Risks’

If the management doesn’t improve “significant risks remain that upcoming open enrollment periods could encounter challenges,” William Woods, the GAO’s director of acquisition and sourcing management, is scheduled to testify according to prepared remarks released by the Energy and Commerce Committee.

After frantic repairs to in October and November last year, about 8 million people signed up for coverage by the end of the first enrollment period in April. Enrollment for 2015 begins Nov. 15.

“We are keenly aware of the challenges of Year Two in a new program of this scale, particularly one that faced significant challenges in its first year,” Slavitt said in prepared testimony. “We are still working with brand new processes and technology, we are still establishing an understanding of unique consumer behavior and needs, and we are reacting to and solving new problems.”

UnitedHealth Hire

Slavitt was hired from UnitedHealth Group Inc. in June by the then new Health and Human Services secretary, Sylvia Mathews Burwell, to oversee development of the site, among other jobs. His remarks at the hearing are his first as a public official.

He told lawmakers that while he is generally prohibited from communicating with his former employer for two years, he has a “narrow” waiver from ethics rules in order to supervise work on by UnitedHealth’s Optum unit, which holds a contract for the project. was built primarily by CGI Group Inc. (GIB/A) of Montreal. While top Obama administration officials publicly blamed CGI for not meeting the terms of its contract, the company wasn’t severely punished, losing only about $267,000 of their fees, Woods is scheduled to testify.

Spokesmen for CGI didn’t immediately respond to an e-mail seeking comment. Cheryl Campbell, senior vice president for CGI’s U.S. government business, said in October that changing requirements from the Obama administration and a piece of built by another contractor contributed to the site’s collapse.

The company “has worked diligently to develop the site,” she said, and passed eight technical reviews before it opened for business.

Still Not Working

While Accenture has been working since January to improve the site, parts of it still don’t work, according to prepared remarks for the hearing, including features intended to allow health insurers to easily exchange financial information with the government.

The result is “hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars wasted on an exchange that is still not ready for prime time,” Representative Fred Upton, a Michigan Republican and the Energy and Commerce Committee chairman.

A spokesman for Accenture, James McAvoy, said in an e-mail that the increase in the value of the company’s contract is the result of CMS assigning it more work. “Accenture is delivering all of our work for CMS on-time and on-budget,” he said.

Slavitt defended Accenture at the hearing, telling lawmakers that the company is under close supervision and has “skin in the game” because of its contract, which allows for greater penalties if there are shortcomings.

Project Management

“It is very clear now who can give work to Accenture, how that work gets approved, how that work gets managed,” Slavitt said. “Now there is daily intensive management of the project.”

CMS, which is in charge of the site, said it agreed with most of the GAO’s recommendations to improve management.

“CMS takes its responsibility for contracting oversight seriously and has already implemented contracting reforms that are more extensive than the recommendations in the report, including ending its contract with CGI and moving to a new type of contract with Accenture that rewards performance,” Kevin Griffis, a spokesman for the agency, said in an e-mail.

To contact the reporter on this story: Alex Wayne in Washington at

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Reg Gale at Drew Armstrong


Fox News

A failure of management by the Obama administration led to the disastrous rollout of the ObamaCare website and caused the government to incur tens of millions in additional costs, according to a congressional watchdog report released Wednesday.

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) concluded after a months-long investigation into the rocky rollout of that the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services’ failure to establish “effective planning or oversight practices” was to blame for website’s myriad problems after it was launched.

Among the issues, investigators found that the administration kept changing the contractors’ marching orders for the website, creating widespread confusion and adding tens of millions of dollars in costs. Changes were ordered seemingly willy-nilly, including 40 times when government officials did not have the initial authority to incur additional costs.

As a result, the government has spent $840 million on and its supporting systems, according to the report.

“The rollout of the Affordable Care Act was an unmitigated disaster,” Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Pa., said Thursday at a hearing on the matter held by a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee.

Testifying at the same hearing, Andy Slavitt, principal deputy administrator at CMS, said the agency has since implemented changes to improve the management of the ACA exchanges.

“We’ve created clear, top-down accountability,” he said.

William Woods, a GAO contracting expert, said in prepared testimony that the government incurred “significant cost increases, schedule slips and delayed system functionality.”

The “cost increases” include those for the glitchy computerized sign-up system for consumers, which ballooned from $56 million to more than $209 million from Sept. 2011 to Feb. 2014. The cost of the electronic backroom for verifying applicants’ information jumped from $30 million to almost $85 million. A contract for fixes to the website, also grew from $91 million in January to $175 million as of last month.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, one of the lawmakers who requested the investigation, said in a statement Wednesday that the report “confirms our worst fears.”

“Millions of taxpayer dollars were wasted to build a website that didn’t work, all because of bureaucratic incompetence,” he said.

Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services spokesman Aaron Albright told the Associated Press that the administration takes its responsibility for contract oversight seriously and has already started carrying out improvements that go beyond GAO’s recommendations. The congressional investigators recommended a cost control plan and other changes to establish clear procedures and improve oversight.

According to the report, the two contractors that initially took the lead building the system were Virginia-based CGI Federal, which built, and Maryland-based QSSI, which was responsible for an electronic back office that helps verify personal and financial information.

The consumer end of the system locked up the day it was launched, Oct. 1, and was down most of that initial month. The electronic back office had fewer problems.

A few months before the launch, the CMS agency notified CGI it was so dissatisfied that it would start withholding payments. Then it rescinded that decision.

CMS ultimately paid nearly all of CGI’s $12.5 million in fees, withholding only $267,000, the report said. The agency later ended its contract with CGI. Another contractor, Accenture, was brought in to make website fixes.

Confronted with a public relations disaster, the White House sent in a troubleshooter, management consultant Jeff Zients. He removed CMS as project leader, relegating it to a supporting role. CMS administrator Marilyn Tavenner later personally apologized to Congress saying that “the website has not worked as well as it should.”

Zients’ rescue operation got the site working by early December. Eventually, some 8 million people managed to sign up, far exceeding expectations.

Nonetheless, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius stepped down amid complaints by White House officials that the president was blind-sided by the problems.

The original contractors testified to Congress that they did not have nearly enough time to test the system before it went live.

Indeed, Tavenner took the unusual step of signing the operational security certificate for herself, after CMS security professionals balked. The site has since passed full security testing.

The GAO’s findings added to earlier conclusions in a report by Zients after his team got the website to work.

Beyond a maze of technical problems, Zients said he found “inadequate management oversight and coordination” that “prevented real-time decision making and efficient responses.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report

Netanyahu: Israel won’t agree to a truce that doesn’t allow IDF to destroy all Gaza tunnels

July 31, 2014

At Cabinet meeting, PM says mission on track and progress being made in destroying tunnels, eliminating Hamas terrorists; calls on nation to stand united for soldiers.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said Thursday that he would not agree to any cease-fire that did not allow the IDF to destroy all of the infiltration tunnels in Gaza.

Speaking prior to a security cabinet meeting, the prime minister stated that IDF soldiers are currently finishing off the job of destroying tunnels.

“We have destroyed dozens of tunnels and we will finish the rest with or without a cease-fire,” Netanyahu vowed.

Netanyahu stated that thousands of terror sites had been destroyed and hundreds of terrorists had been killed.  

“Hamas has taken hard hits,” Netanyahu said. He continued and stressed that the operation has a planned course of action and the completion of the mission is on track.

He also called on the people of Israel to stand together during these tense and tough times.

“At this time I call on the people and the MKs to stand behind the mission. In the days that our soldiers are fighting the enemy and endangering themselves, we owe it to them… if we are together we are stronger.”

Also at the Cabinet meeting, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said the damage done to Hamas by the IDF in Operation Protective Edge is “unprecedented in its scope.”

Ya’alon said Israel would not compromise on the security of its citizens in any truce to end fighting.

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