01/30/13: The LA Times reports the Senate voted overwhelmingly Tuesday to confirm Senator John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) as Secretary of State, filling a crucial national security spot in President Obama’s second-term Cabinet. Kerry, the Democratic nominee for President in 2004, will replace Hillary Clinton, who will step down Friday. After the 94-3 vote, Kerry submitted a letter of resignation, effective Friday, to give up the Senate seat he has held since 1985. He will take the oath of office in a private ceremony. President Obama praised Kerry as “a champion of American global leadership” in a statement. “John has earned the respect of leaders around the world and the confidence of Democrats and Republicans in the Senate, and I am confident he will make an extraordinary secretary of State,” Obama said.
01/28/13: NPR reports a bipartisan group of leading senators has reached agreement on the principles of sweeping legislation to retool the nation’s immigration laws. The deal covers border security, guest workers and employer verification, as well as a path to citizenship for the 11 million illegal immigrants already in this country. Although thorny details remain to be negotiated and success is far from certain, the development heralds the start of what could be the most significant effort in years toward overhauling the nation's inefficient patchwork of immigration laws. The eight senators expected to endorse the new principles Monday are Democrats Charles Schumer (N.Y.), Dick Durbin (Ill.), Robert Menendez (N.J.) and Michael Bennet (Colo.); and Republicans John McCain (Ariz.), Lindsey Graham (S.C.), Marco Rubio (Fla.) and Jeff Flake (Ariz.) Several of these lawmakers have worked for years on the issue. McCain collaborated with the late Senator Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) on comprehensive immigration legislation pushed by then-President George W. Bush in 2007, only to see it collapse in the Senate when it couldn’t get enough GOP support. Comprehensive immigration reform has not been seriously attempted since.
• Denis McDonough – White House Chief of Staff
• Rob Nabors – Assistant to the President and Deputy White House Chief of Staff for Policy
• Antony Blinken – Assistant to the President and Deputy National Security Advisor
• Danielle Gray – Assistant to the President and Cabinet Secretary
• Katy Kale – Assistant to the President for Management and Administration
• Lisa Monaco – Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism and Deputy National Security Advisor
• Jennifer Palmieri – Assistant to the President and Communications Director
• Dan Pfeiffer – Assistant to the President and Senior Advisor
• Miguel Rodriguez –Assistant to the President and Director of Legislative Affairs
• David Simas – Assistant to the President and Deputy Senior Advisor for Communications and Strategy
01/23/13: BBC News reports General John Allen, the top US commander in Afghanistan, has been cleared of misconduct by the Pentagon for e-mails sent to Florida socialite Jill Kelley. His nomination to head NATO in Europe had been put on hold amid reports the e-mails were inappropriate. General Allen is due to relinquish command of his Afghanistan post in February. Kelley’s complaints of harassment led the FBI to unmask an affair between CIA chief David Petraeus and his biographer Paula Broadwell. Petraeus later resigned. Defense Department officials said the White House had not decided whether to go forward with General Allen’s nomination to be Supreme Allied Commander in Europe.
01/11/13: The New York Times published an article by Jennifer Daskal arguing that we should keep Guantánamo open. Guantánamo in 2013 is a far cry from Guantánamo in 2002. Thanks to the spotlight placed on the facility by human rights groups, international observers and detainees’ lawyers, there has been a significant, if not uniform, improvement in conditions. The political reality is that closure of Guantánamo is unlikely to happen anytime soon, and if it did, it would do more harm than good. We should instead focus on finding places to transfer those cleared to leave the facility and, more important, on defining the end to the war.
11/26/12: The New York Times features an op-ed by former Israeli diplomat Yossi Beilin arguing that the United States and Israel should support the Palestinian Authority's expected bid for recognition by the United Nations General Assembly, and ultimately their drive for statehood. Beilin points out that Palestinian President Mahmous Abbas' Fatah faction, which governs the West Bank, favors the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel - ostensibly Israel's goal - and that opposing him will only strengthen the extremist group Hamas, which rules Gaza and aims to destroy Israel. "It is paradoxical that Israel’s current government is so vehemently opposed to Mr. Abbas’s bid for recognition," Beilin says. "After all, it was 65 years ago this week that the Palestinians and their friends in the Arab world expressly rejected United Nations General Assembly Resolution 181, which recognized the need to establish a Jewish state alongside an Arab state in the former British Mandate territory of Palestine. Now, the Palestinians are admitting their mistake and asking the same assembly to recognize a state of Palestine alongside Israel." Supporting that bid will serve the interests of both Israel and the United States.
11/25/12: Al Jazeera reports Egypt’s highest judicial authority has criticized President Mohamed Morsi’s move to grant himself sweeping new powers that would protect his decisions from being challenged. In an emergency meeting on Saturday, the Supreme Judicial Council urged Morsi “to distance this decree from everything that violates the judicial authority.” Morsi has also given himself sweeping powers that allowed him to sack the unpopular prosecutor-general and opened the door for a retrial for former President Hosni Mubarak and his aides. Former prosecutor-general Abdel-Meguid Mahmoud said Saturday he is willing to go to court to dispute Morsi’s decision and warned “against any attempt to disrupt the work of the judicial system.” The judges also called for a “suspension of work all in courts and prosecution administrations” in protest against the decree.
11/21/12: The Miami Herald reports Egyptian protesters firebombed one of the offices of satellite broadcaster Al-Jazeera on Wednesday and attacked a police chief who tried to negotiate an end to three days of violent protests in central Cairo. The protesters hit the studio overlooking Tahrir Square with Molotov cocktails, engulfing it in flames. Reporter Ahmed el-Dassouki said around 300 protesters approached the building before noon, shouting obscenities, and set the place on fire, stormed the building, and looted the studio. “They accuse our network of being biased and not objective,” he said. Many protesters have accused the channel of supporting the country’s most powerful political force, the Muslim Brotherhood. After the attack, a crowd beat up Cairo Police Chief Osama el-Saghir, who had traveled to Tahrir Square to diffuse the situation.
11/21/12: The New York Times reports on the changing dynamics in the uncomfortable relationship between US President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who all but openly opposed Obama’s reelection in November. After more than a year of Obama needing – and not getting – much support from his Israeli counterpart in his efforts to woo American Jewish voters at home ahead of his reelection, it is now Netanyahu who needs Obama to help shore up his support at home. The Israeli leader is facing an election in January, and if there is one thing that Israeli voters do not like it is any kind of daylight between their Prime Minister and the American President in times of strife.
11/19/12: The New York Times reports Syrian officials lashed out Sunday at foreign governments that have formally recognized the newly formed opposition coalition. Information Minister Omran al-Zoubi accused France, Turkey and Qatar of supporting “terrorism” in Syria by extending diplomatic recognition to the new National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, including the acceptance of an official envoy in Paris. Zoubi said the new coalition is a creation of foreign states and thus ineligible to participate in any national dialogue. The government of President Bashar al-Assad has said from the start of the crisis in March 2011 that it would engage with its opposition, but it has sought to handpick the participants in any negotiations.
11/19/12: The New York Times reports Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Cal.), the chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee said Sunday that she planned to investigate why the CIA’s quick determination of a terrorist role in the attack on the American consulate in Benghazi, Libya, was not reflected in the “talking points” used days later on television by Susan Rice, the ambassador to the United Nations. But Feinstein also said the White House was not behind any change in the language used. “The allegation that the White House changed those talking points, that is false,” she said Sunday. But she said a transcript of testimony given a day after the attack by then-CIA Director David Petraeus showed that “Petraeus very clearly said that it was a terrorist attack.”
11/19/12: The Miami Herald reports a group of Islamic extremist factions in Syria have posted a video rejecting the country’s new opposition coalition. The statement was posted on a militant website Monday. The opposition coalition was formed November 11 in Qatar to unite factions opposed to President Bashar al-Assad. The new group is also seen as a way to counter the growing influence of Islamic extremists in the rebellion. But the statement suggests the extremist elements, including the al-Qaeda-inspired Jabhat al-Nusra, want nothing to do with the new, Western-backed bloc. The statement also called the embattled city of Aleppo, where many radical groups are fighting, an “Islamic state.” The authenticity of the video could not be independently confirmed, but it was released on a website that carries al-Qaeda and other militant statements.
11/12/12: Al Jazeera reports the Palestinian Authority (PA) says it will be proceeding in its bid to obtain non-member state status at the United Nations, despite objections from the United States and Israeli. Mohammad Shtayyeh, a member of the Palestinian team working on the UN bid, said in Ramallah on Monday that the application will be made no later than November 29, with a final date to be announced on Tuesday by the Arab League. Shtayyeh said US President Barack Obama called Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Sunday to reiterate his opposition to the UN move, but Abbas made it clear the decision was final. “The train has left the station,” Shtayyeh said.
11/01/12: The New York Times reports China on Thursday called for a phased-in cease-fire and negotiations on a gradual political transition to end the ongoing bloodshed in Syria. A four-point proposal issued by the Foreign Ministry stopped short of calling for the ouster of President Bashar Assad and omitted mention of any measures to compel compliance. Alongside Russia, China has steadfastly blocked any outside intervention that could force Assad from power, much to the consternation of the U.S. and other countries seeking a swift end to the 19-month-old conflict, which has killed more than 35,000 people.
10/28/12: The Washington Times reports Obama Administration officials defended their response to the September attack on the US Consulate in Benghazi Saturday amid new claims that the White House failed to send help quickly enough as militants overran the mission. US Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans died in the hours-long battle. It was reported Friday that CIA officers heard the attack on the consulate but were twice told to wait before rushing to the compound, and that US officials refused when the security team asked for warplanes to bomb their attackers, which would have meant violating Libyan airspace. CIA spokeswoman Jennifer Youngblood denied this, saying, “[N]o one at any level in the CIA told anybody not to help those in need; claims to the contrary are simply inaccurate.”
10/24/12: Reuters reports e-mails show that officials at the White House and State Department were advised two hours after attackers assaulted the US diplomatic mission in Benghazi on September 11, 2012 that an Islamic militant group had claimed credit for the attack. The emails specifically mention that a Libyan group called Ansar al-Sharia had asserted responsibility for the attacks. US Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans were killed in the Benghazi assault, which President Obama and other US officials ultimately acknowledged was a terrorist attack carried out by militants with suspected links to al-Qaeda. Administration spokesmen, including White House spokesman Jay Carney, citing an unclassified assessment prepared by the CIA, maintained for days that the attacks likely were a spontaneous protest against an anti-Muslim film.
10/24/12: The Washington Times reports more than 8,500 US Customs and Border Protection officers and Immigration and Customs and Enforcement (ICE) personnel face termination in January under the automatic spending cuts scheduled to take effect next year in a bid to attack the spiraling fiscal deficit. The job losses, in the wake of massive efforts by the Border Patrol to significantly beef up security along the US-Mexico border, would be the result of a “sequestration” in the federal budget, automatic spending cuts of 9.4 percent in 2013 for discretionary defense appropriations and 8.2 percent in 2013 for discretionary nondefense spending. Representative Norman D. Dicks (D-Wash.) noted in a letter earlier this month that the scheduled cuts at the Department of Homeland Security would roll back “significant progress” in securing the nation’s borders.
10/24/12: The Miami Herald reports Iran’s intelligence chief says up to fifty people have been arrested in connection with the decline in the value of the national currency and the chaos that followed the slide. Heidar Moslehi says those detained have been accused of cooperating with the country”s enemies to create currency “disruptions” and economic instability. He spoke after a Cabinet meeting Wednesday. Iran’s rial has lost nearly 40 percent of its value against the US dollar this month. The rate Wednesday – about 31,500 rials to the dollar – was a bit better than the record low of 35,500 rials to the dollar earlier this month. The rial’s decline has been blamed on a combination of government mismanagement and the bite from Western sanctions imposed over Iran’s nuclear program.
10/21/12: CNN reports an Obama Administration official whose now controversial comment that the attack on the US mission in Libya was “spontaneous” relied on talking points provided by the CIA based on its assessment that an intelligence official said on Friday was updated days later with new information. Republicans have seized on televised remarks made five days after the attack by UN Ambassador Susan Rice, who said an assessment based on the best information available indicated a spontaneous reaction to demonstrations over an anti-Muslim film produced in the United States. Several senior administration officials said Rice’s use of the word “spontaneous” came directly from an assessment provided to Congress by the CIA and was not edited by the White House.
10/21/12: Reuters reports an online election to choose a “shadow parliament” opposed to Russian President Vladimir Putin was disrupted on Saturday by a cyberattack. “Today we already know that there are some problems with the server, there are some attacks,” Sergei Udaltsov, a prominent protest leader, said at rally on Saturday. Opponents of Putin say elections in Russia are rigged in favor of his ruling party and are instead holding their own online vote which they hope will reinvigorate the flagging opposition movement. Information on their website, www.cvk2012.org, told visitors there could be problems casting their votes and to try again later. Organizers and activists did not suggest who was behind the attacks. The Kremlin has said it will ignore the results of the separate poll.