|9:08 AM, Sep 22, 2014 • By SCOTT SMITH
With the announcement in Kabul of a power-sharing government between the two presidential candidates, Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah, the Afghan election comes closer to a resolution. What is missing, however, is an actual result. The “national unity government” was one part of a deal brokered by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry back in July, when preliminary official results gave Ghani a massive victory, and Abdullah threatened to pull out of the process, claiming massive fraud had taken place. After two months of an audit overseen by the UN, when every ballot box was re-examined—something unprecedented in electoral history—a final result was reached. The result was given last week in secret to the candidates, but not to the public.
This is a pity. Millions of people voted in both rounds of the presidential election, on April 5 and June 14. The pre-election campaign rallies were attended by tens of thousands of people. As post-election press accounts revealed, they voted consciously and in favor of the current constitutional and democratic system. In many places, voters seemed to defy local power brokers and vote for the candidate they wanted. It seemed that for the first time the Afghan voter was emerging as an independent actor.
When Abdullah, who had won the first round, appeared to have lost the second round, his supporters began rattling sabers, threatening to secede or to take the presidential palace by force. These threats rattled the Obama administration, and Kerry rushed to Kabul to negotiate a deal between the two candidates.
Fraud undoubtedly took place, as it has in the past. In order to remedy the fraud, the most comprehensive audit in democratic history took place. What surprised observers was that little evidence of massive, one-sided fraud was discovered. The audit suggested that the election was much cleaner than was assumed, and it was possible that Ghani won legitimately.
Ghani’s team claims that, apart from an effective get-out-the-vote effort, the ethnic Pashtun population in particular mobilized around his candidacy. In the first round, where eight candidates ran, the Pashtun vote was split among seven of them. When the Afghan constitution was being drafted, Western advisors recommended that if a presidential system of government was selected, it should ensure that the president wins with a majority and not a plurality of votes. This was why the two-round system was chosen. But now Western officials seem surprised that the system worked as intended.
Abdullah’s camp, refusing to accept defeat, have argued that the fraud was too sophisticated to be detected by audit. His supporters have claimed that the United Nations colluded with the electoral commission to skew the audit. Last week hundreds of Abdullah supporters demonstrated outside of the UN office in Kabul, claiming that the UN colluded with the Ghani camp to rig the results.
8:01 AM, Sep 22, 2014 • By DANIEL HALPER
Democratic senator Kirsten Gillibrand reportedly reveals in her memoir that one U.S. senator told her, "Don’t lose too much weight now. I like my girls chubby!"
It is now being reported that that line came from Senator Daniel K. Inouye, a Democrat and personal hero to President Barack Obama.
As Carl Hulse reports in the New York Times:
Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York caused a commotion this month when she revealed in a memoir how her male colleagues felt free to comment rather vividly on her weight. The senator came under pressure to reveal the names of the perpetrators, but declined, setting off a guessing game in Washington.
Probably the most egregious incident was when a senior senator squeezed her waist and told her: “Don’t lose too much weight now. I like my girls chubby!”
It turns out the senator was the late Daniel K. Inouye of Hawaii, the decorated veteran and civil rights hero, according to people with knowledge of the incident. ...
[I]n an all but forgotten chapter of his career, the senator had been accused of sexual misconduct: In 1992, his hairdresser said that Mr. Inouye had forced her to have sex with him.
Inouye died a couple years agao, and President Obama spoke at the long-serving senator's funeral in 2012. "[W]e remember a man who inspired all of us with his courage, and moved us with his compassion, that inspired us with his integrity, and who taught so many of us -- including a young kid growing up in Hawaii –-- that America has a place for everyone," said the president.
Consider this another wrinkle in the Democrat's War on Women.
7:26 AM, Sep 22, 2014 • By DANIEL HALPER
Thirty-one U.S. senators have sent a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry to express concern that the U.S. might sign a bad nuclear deal with Iran.
"As nuclear talks with Iran resume in New York this week, we have learned that the United States and its P5+1 negotiating partners may now be offering troubling nuclear concessions to Iran in the hopes of rapidly concluding negotiations for a 'deal,'" the letter reads.
"Given that a nuclear Iran poses the greatest long-term threat to the security of the United States, Israel, and other allies, we are gravely concerned about the possibility of any new agreement that, in return for further relief of U.S.-led international sanctions, would allow Iran to produce explosive nuclear material."
The 31 signers of the letter are all Republicans.
Here's the full letter:
The Honorable John Kerry
Secretary of State
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street NW
Washington, DC 20520
Dear Secretary Kerry:
As nuclear talks with Iran resume in New York this week, we have learned that the United States and its P5+1 negotiating partners may now be offering troubling nuclear concessions to Iran in the hopes of rapidly concluding negotiations for a “deal.”
Given that a nuclear Iran poses the greatest long-term threat to the security of the United States, Israel, and other allies, we are gravely concerned about the possibility of any new agreement that, in return for further relief of U.S.-led international sanctions, would allow Iran to produce explosive nuclear material. We therefore ask that you provide immediate answers to the following questions.
(1) Will the Administration propose or accept an alternative to dismantlement of Iranian centrifuges for uranium enrichment? Is the so-called “disconnection” of centrifuges or centrifuge cascades acceptable to the Administration as part of a deal with Iran?
(2) Will the Administration propose or accept an alternative to the elimination of Iranian centrifuges? Is it instead considering limits on the annual output of Iran’s fleet of centrifuges, as measured in annual separative work units (“annual SWU”) caps, as part of a deal with Iran?
(3) Will the Administration propose or accept anything less than the dismantlement of the heavy water reactor at Arak, a nuclear facility that a former high-ranking U.S. State Department official once dubbed a “plutonium bomb factory”?
(4) Will the Administration propose or accept a new nuclear agreement with Iran that would have a duration of 20 years or less?
We look forward to your prompt reply.
Mark KIRK (R-IL)
Ron JOHNSON (R-WI)
John BOOZMAN (R-AR)
John HOEVEN (R-ND)
Lisa MURKOWSKI (R-AK)
Daniel COATS (R-IN)
Pat ROBERTS (R-KS)
John BARRASSO (R-WY)
Ted CRUZ (R-TX)
John CORNYN (R-TX)
Johnny ISAKSON (R-GA)
1:42 PM, Sep 21, 2014 • By DANIEL HALPER
At the United Nations General Assembly, Secretary of State John Kerry will make "climate change ... a foreign policy priority," the State Department announced in press release. "Secretary Kerry Elevates Climate Change at UN General Assembly," the press release is titled.
"Secretary of State John Kerry will participate in several high-level events to reinforce U.S. leadership on climate change action this coming week during the UN General Assembly in New York," reads the release.
On September 21, Secretary Kerry will host the first-ever Major Economies Forum Foreign Ministers meeting. The meeting seeks to build political will and a sense of common cause to address climate change as a foreign policy priority. He will encourage countries to put forward robust climate targets next year to help reach an ambitious international climate change agreement in 2015 and explore fresh ideas to capture climate co-benefits.
On September 22, Secretary Kerry will deliver keynote remarks at the opening event of Climate Week NYC, “Toward a Vibrant, Low Carbon Economy.” He will showcase the bold climate action that the United States is taking at home and present his vision for advancing a global low carbon economy.
On September 24, Secretary Kerry will deliver remarks at a reception celebrating the launch of the Global Alliance for Climate-Smart Agriculture. He will discuss the Alliance’s efforts to respond to climate change impacts in the agriculture sector, while increasing food production and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Secretary Kerry previously announced the United States’ commitment to join the Alliance at a signature event during the Africa Leaders Summit in Washington on August 4, 2014.
On September 25, Secretary Kerry will host an event, “Our Ocean: Next Steps on Sustainable Fishing and Marine Protected Areas.” The event will forge a path forward on a range of ocean conservation measures including sustainable fishing and its relationship to food security, promoting marine protected areas and coastal adaptation, and resilience to climate change.
Additionally, U.S. Special Envoy Todd Stern will participate in several climate change-related events, including the Major Economies Forum and the Climate and Clean Air Coalition High Level Assembly, which will discuss international actions to reduce short-lived climate pollutants and launch a new partnership of oil and gas companies to reduce harmful methane pollution.
1:23 PM, Sep 21, 2014 • By DANIEL HALPER
Secretary of State John Kerry will meet with Iran's foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, later this afternoon at the Waldorf Astoria hotel in New York City. Matt Lee of Associated Press reports on Twitter:
Zarif is New York City for the United Nations General Assembly. He told NPR last week that he was optimistic he'd be able to get a nuclear deal with America:
STEVE INSKEEP: Let me begin with the nuclear negotiations. Obviously there are many tactical details to work out, but I'd like to get your sense of the attitude. Do you believe, after all the years that you've worked on this issue, that you've arrived in a moment when both countries — the United States and Iran — are ready to make a deal?
MOHAMMED JAVAD ZARIF: Well, I thought everybody was ready to make a deal. And the primary reason that I thought that was the case was that we had all tried all the wrong options. And as Churchill said after having trying all the wrong options, I'd hoped that we would use the right option. And I still believe that's a possibility. The only problem is how this could be presented to some domestic constituencies — primarily in the United States, but even in places in Europe — that could please them, or some may say could appease them because some of them are not interested in any deal.
You're talking about people in the United States who feel that a deal with Iran is a bad idea.
10:19 AM, Sep 21, 2014 • By DANIEL HALPER
Vice President Joe Biden spent the weekend in Aspen at a private equity conference. That's a fact the White House tried to downplay.
This is his how Biden's official public schedule read:
Saturday, September 20, 2014
On Saturday, the Vice President will attend a private conference in Aspen. This event is closed press.
But Biden's presence at the private equity conference was picked up by local press. "Vice President Joe Biden is in town through this evening for an event sponsored by the private equity firm Forstmann Little & Co.," reports aspendailynews.com.
The invite-only gathering is an annual autumn affair in Aspen, and typically attracts big names from the worlds of politics, business and entertainment for off-the-record discussions. A sitting vice president would be one of the bigger gets in recent memory.
Biden’s 40-car motorcade sped to Aspen after landing at the Eagle County Regional Airport, arriving in town around 8:30 p.m. Law enforcement personnel escorting the motorcade blocked every intersection as the caravan passed along the 70-mile route using Interstate 70 and Highway 82. The operation, which a Pitkin County sheriff’s deputy said went smoothly, will be repeated in reverse this evening when Biden leaves town.
“I’ve never got here that fast from Vail before,” said a local who was hired to drive one of the cars and asked not to be identified because they are not authorized to speak to the press.
The area around the St. Regis hotel was crawling with Secret Service agents, local cops and private security shortly after the vice president’s arrival. Around 9:45 p.m., a second motorcade left the St. Regis for the Hotel Jerome.
Of course, the 2012 Barack Obama reelection campaign made an issue of Mitt Romney's work in private equity. So perhaps that's one reason the White House didn't publicly announce the vice president's attendance.
It does not appear a pool reporter from the White House press corps was along with the vice president for his trip.
9:24 AM, Sep 21, 2014 • By DANIEL HALPER
Matthew Continetti, writing for the Washington Free Beacon:
Foreign governments and their citizens are forbidden from contributing to U.S. elections. If a foreign government hires a lobbyist to influence the legislative or executive branches of the United States, that lobbyist must disclose his contracts and activities with the Justice Department in compliance with the Foreign Agents Registration Act. FARA is so strict that it applies not only to lobbyists, but to any American who works within the United States to influence our politics on behalf of a foreign interest. Break the law, and you go to jail.
Yet there is a loophole for foreign contributions to U.S. think tanks. And today that loophole is being exploited to an extent that mocks the very purpose of FARA. Earlier this month, the New York Timespublished a blockbuster report on foreign influence over D.C. nonprofits. Its conclusion: “Since 2011, at least 64 governments, state-controlled entities, or government officials have contributed to a group of 28 major United States-based research organizations, according to disclosures by the institutions and government documents.”
These institutions, the Times suggests, have received “a minimum of $92 million in contributions or commitments from overseas government interests over the last four years.” But who knows. “The total is certainly more.”
The report generated well-deserved outrage. A rule change has been introduced in the House to require think tanks to disclose sources of foreign funding when they testify before Congress. It’s a solid proposal. But it does not go far enough. Congress should pass a law making contributions to think tanks by foreign governments and foreign nationals subject to FARA. What else could that money be for, if not to influence policy and public opinion to further foreign interests? Here is one area where transparency is vital. Let the money be disclosed. Or let it dry up.
This is not a trivial matter. The Times investigation raised serious questions regarding national security. Among the nations attempting to influence U.S. politics by funding think tanks is China. No doubt Russia, which has been supporting anti-fracking campaigns in Europe and operates a propaganda outfit in the United States, is also involved. We won’t know for sure until the recipients of money from Beijing and the Kremlin complete their FARA forms.
Whole thing here.
10:10 AM, Sep 20, 2014 • By IRWIN M. STELZER
If you know how many months there are in a “considerable time,” you will know exactly when Janet Yellen and her colleagues on the Federal Reserve Board’s monetary policy committee plan to begin raising interest rates. If not, you can add your guess to those of professional Fed watchers who are predicting the date will fall somewhere between early 2015 to mid-2016.
In fact, the Fed’s adherence to its “considerable time” language is the least interesting news to come out of this week’s Fed meeting. More interesting is the central bank’s latest prediction. The Fed’s economists expect real GDP growth to total 2.1 percent this year, 2.8 percent next year, 2.75 percent in 2016, and 2.4 percent in 2017, before settling into a “longer run” rate of 2.15 percent.
Those growth rates are hardly high enough to set pulses pounding in anticipation, and are more likely to have set teeth gnashing in some policy circles in Washington, circles in which rapid growth is seen as a cure for a multitude of ills, ranging from a low labor-force participation rate to rising inequality. They represent a lowering of earlier forecasts, which proved excessively optimistic, and in my view ignore the growth prospects for major sectors of the economy. Consider, for example, the housing sector, which recorded a 14.4 percent decline in August. Home builders know that most of that fall was accounted for by the volatile multi-family sector, and that even the low August figure was up 8 percent above last year’s. So they remain cheerful.
The index of homebuilders’ sentiment rose this month to a level not seen since 2005. Goldman Sachs Kim Dawsey notes that Goldman has found the index “to be a decent leading indicator for housing starts….We expect a solid positive contribution to GDP growth from residential investment in Q3.” With reason. Americans overwhelmingly believe that a home is a good investment. But 53 percent think their income is too low, and 41 percent say their credit isn’t good enough to qualify for a mortgage. That might be changing. Pulte, a major builder, reports that sales of its lower-priced homes, in the $200,000 range, rose 29 percent and 26 percent in the first and second quarters, respectively, compared with last year.
At the high end of the market, Toll Brothers (average price of homes it recently delivered is $732,000) reports increases of 53 percent and 36 percent in revenues and number of homes sold, respectively, compared with its third quarter last year. And sales of previously owned homes, the bulk of the market, climbed steadily during the summer. Lawrence Yun, chief economist with the National Association of Realtors, says, “We are in a multi-year housing recovery.”
That is not to say all is clear sailing for this key industry. Interest rates are likely to rise; young people saddled with debts from student loans, and with incomes (adjusted for inflation) that remain 6 percent below 1989 levels, are lingering on their parents’ couches, rather than starting new households; shortages of skilled construction labor are holding back the industry’s growth; the slow pace of the recovery and continued uncertainty favor renting rather than buying. Despite such negatives, the overall outlook for the housing sector has to be considered sunny, with spotty clouds.
9:55 AM, Sep 20, 2014 • By JEFFREY H. ANDERSON
A new poll from Public Opinion Strategies, commissioned by Independent Women’s Voice, finds that people who care about the issue of Obamacare really don’t like Obamacare. On the flip side, people who like Obamacare really don’t care about it very much. That’s a bad combination for pro-Obamacare candidates.
The poll found that likely voters in battleground districts who consider Obamacare to be the “most important” issue in the upcoming election oppose it by the overwhelming tally of 70 to 30 percent (see slide 9). Likely voters who consider Obamacare to be a “very important” issue (but not the “most important” one) oppose it by more than 2 to 1 — 67 to 32 percent. Those who consider it to be “somewhat important” somewhat like it — but still oppose it by 51 to 47 percent. And those who consider it to be “not at all important” love it — favoring it by 70 to 17 percent.
In all, the 80 percent of likely voters in battleground districts who consider the issue of Obamacare to be at least “somewhat” important oppose it by the tally of 61 to 37 percent. The 20 percent who consider it to be either “not that important” or “not at all important” support it by the tally of 65 to 27 percent.
Wonder why you aren’t seeing many pro-Obamacare ads from pro-Obamacare candidates?
When likely voters who don’t like Obamacare were asked to give open-ended responses as to why they don’t like it, their most common answer (29 percent) was that it raises people’s health costs or premiums. Their second-most-common answer (20 percent) was that it involves undue government intrusion or coercion and therefore undermines freedom.
The poll also found that most people (58 percent) have either been personally affected by Obamacare or else have a family member or friend who has been. By an almost 2-1 margin, such people said Obamacare’s effect on the person (or persons) in question has been “very negative” (46 percent) rather than “very positive” (24 percent).
7:42 AM, Sep 20, 2014 • By JERYL BIER
Although President Obama has been unequivocal that US forces will not return to Iraq for "boots on the ground" combat, some in his administration (Gen. Martin Dempsey, John Kerry, Joe Biden) have dropped hints that future events may change that. Friday, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno joined the chorus, telling the Defense Writers Group, according to the Army News Service (ANS), that "all options are open. 'I never rule anything out,' he added."
Odierno also said that while air strikes have proved effective in the short term in slowing ISIL's gains, concern about civilians casualties will blunt their effectiveness down the road. He added that the military will be carefully "vetting" the anti-ISIL forces that are due to receive training and support, including weapons, to make sure "they are who they [say they] are and won't be part of some extremist group."
For the present, however, the ground forces will come from local nations, according to the ANS report:
"Airstrikes have slowed the advances of ISIL. But airstrikes alone won't defeat ISIL," Odierno cautioned. "You need a complementary ground capability that will go in and do that."
These boots on the ground will be moderates in Syria and Iraq, as well as troops from other Arab nations who would like to assist, he said, adding that the U.S. will train, equip and advise them as needed.
"We all agree with the current strategy we're executing," he said, referring to the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the president. "We've got to give this time to work. It's important they're the ones who will defeat ISIL."
Odierno added that as is the case in any operation, assessments will continue to be made as events unfold, and that with input from his commanders, he will continue to provide the chairman and the president with candid advice.
All options are open, he said. "I never rule anything out," he added.
3:26 PM, Sep 19, 2014 • By GEOFFREY NORMAN
Ben Casselman and Reuben Fischer-Baum of 538 have gone inside the numbers (as they say) of the economic recovery and their findings are not comforting.
… particularly troubling is how weak the recovery has been in many of the places hardest hit by the recession. In past business cycles, the worst-hit places also tended to have the strongest rebounds. But that hasn’t been the case this time around. The Cape Coral-Fort Myers, Florida, area, which sustained the biggest income decline of any big metro area during the recession, saw its median income fall even further in 2013. Overall, there is almost no correlation (R < 0.1) between an area’s income loss during the recession and its gains or losses since then.
Income isn’t the only measure by which the recovery has lagged. Household net worth, the value of a family’s assets minus its debts, has fallen during the recovery as well. One big reason for that is the weakness in the housing market, as Thursday’s data made clear.
There’s more. And while it is not encouraging, you might want to read the whole thing.
2:08 PM, Sep 19, 2014 • By JERYL BIER
Secretary of State John Kerry spoke at U.S. Aid's 2014 Frontiers in Development Forum Friday and gave a stark warning about "500-year" drought conditions around the world that he says are a result of climate change. He went so far as to say that "[t]here are people killing each other over water in certain parts of the world," and part of the solution lies in a "low-carbon economy" [emphasis added]:
Climate change means the heatwaves we’re already seeing, the extraordinary level of fires because of drought that is beyond the hundred-year mark. It’s the 500-year mark. Water shortages also way beyond hundred-year marks. All of this means conflicts over resources and serious implications for feeding the world’s growing population. Development is the only possible way, and it’s only possible if we grow more sustainably, if we reduce greenhouse gas emissions, if we transition to a low-carbon economy.
One of the privileges of traveling as I do or Mary Robinson does or Raj does is we see this. We see it now happening. There are people killing each other over water in certain parts of the world. There are people who are refugees because of the lack of food and the changes and the absence of adequate agricultural policies in parts of the world. So this is a critical moment. This is not conjecture. This is not pie in the sky. This is not some time down the road; it’s now, and we are compelled to respond.
Kerry's complete remarks can be found here.
1:32 PM, Sep 19, 2014 • By DANIEL HALPER
As the military prepares to take on the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is ordering a review ... of the military's ties to the National Football League. This comes "in the wake of the scandal over how the league is handling domestic-abuse allegations against players," reports CNN.
News of the Pentagon review comes on the same day a senior Obama administration official decried recent domestic abuse episodes within the NFL and said the league needs to "get a handle on" the situation since so many professional athletes are considered role models to younger players.
The Pentagon is increasingly sensitive to any suggestion it is supporting a major sports organization that is perceived to tolerate domestic violence.
An anonymous official tells the news network, "The secretary wants to fully understand that relationship, in case he decides to make some changes to it."
The military has a zero-tolerance policy in the ranks for domestic abuse, but it also has a high-profile relationship with the NFL that goes back decades. Any Pentagon action to cut back support for the NFL would be the most direct involvement by the Obama administration yet in the scandal.
11:13 AM, Sep 19, 2014 • By DANIEL HALPER
At a women's conference in Washington, Vice President Joe Biden touted Bob Packwood, a politician brought down by a sexual harassment scandal:
"It was Republicans who expanded access to the polls. It was Republicans in the Judiciary Committee that did motor voter. It's Republicans that were involved -- guys like Mac Mathias and Packwood and so many others," Biden said, praising politicians Democrats were once able to work with. "It wasn't Democrats alone. Republicans were the sponsors of raises in the minimum wage. I could go on and on. So I'm not joking -- this is not your father's Republican party or your mother's Republican party."
Packwood of course is Senator Bob Packwood.
"After Republican Robert W. Packwood was narrowly reelected to the Senate by Oregon voters in 1992, The Washington Post published a lengthy front-page story outlining the senator's unwanted sexual advances as reported by 10 women, mainly former staff members and lobbyists," the Washington Post writes of Packwood.
"The extremely detailed and convincing accounts of Packwood's gross misbehavior were appalling. Outrage toward Packwood in his home state of Oregon and across the nation grew by day. The scandal and legal entanglements surrounding it would lead the senator to tearfully end his political career in 1995."
Hosted by Michael Graham.10:35 AM, Sep 19, 2014 • By TWS PODCAST
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