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Lawmakers Travel The World On Lobbyists’ Dime

By Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. lawmakers are once again taking advantage of their summer recess to race around the globe on privately financed tours to places like China, the Middle East and Scotland – trips watchdog groups cite as evidence that congressional ethics reforms are unraveling.

Critics of such trips say it is unseemly for members of the House and Senate to take trips bankrolled by people and organizations with specific legislative desires.

“It’s money well spent by lobbying groups, but for the American public, there is no benefit,” said Craig Holman, a lobbyist for the consumer group Public Citizen.

Congress clamped down on such travel in 2007 after disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff’s influence-peddling scandal tainted many Republicans with close ties to him, contributing to their 2006 election losses in the House of Representatives.

Abramoff – convicted and imprisoned on fraud and conspiracy charges – paid for lawmakers he was trying to sway on legislative matters, among these casino gambling, to fly away for lavish junkets, including golf outings in Scotland.



Payrolls Rose in 32 U.S. States in July, Led by California

Source: Bloomberg

Payrolls increased in 32 U.S. states in July, and the unemployment rate climbed in 28, indicating progress in the labor market remains uneven.

California led the nation with a 38,100 gain in payrolls, followed by Georgia with 30,900 more jobs, figures from the Labor Department showed today in Washington.

Economic growth is projected to accelerate in the final six months of 2013 as the effects of federal budget cuts and higher taxes fade and job- and home-price gains spread across wider swathes of the U.S. Faster hiring would help spur consumer spending, which accounts for about 70 percent of the economy.

“There’s demand for workers,” Stuart Hoffman, chief economist at PNC Financial Services Group in Pittsburgh, said before the report. “We’ll see some pickup in the economy as the fiscal drag fades in the second half.”

Read more: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-08-19/payrolls-rose-in-32-u-s-states-in-july-led-by-california.html

Obama Caught in Egypt Response Between Allies From Saudi Arabia to Turkey

By Terry Atlas - Aug 19, 2013

U.S. regional allies such as Saudi Arabia and Turkey are backing opposite sides in the violent power struggle in Egypt, complicating U.S. diplomacy as the most populous Arab nation is torn by conflict.

In pressing Egypt’s interim government -- and the military leaders who hold the real power -- for political reconciliation with Islamist protesters, President Barack Obama is finding that U.S. influence is being challenged by financial and political support from Middle East countries pursuing their own stakes in Egypt’s future.

“What we’re seeing in the Middle East is a competition for power and influence among the key states that are wealthier and have more resources” and fewer internal problems than others in the region, said Brian Katulis, a foreign policy analyst at the Center for American Progress, a Washington policy research group.

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait have pledged billions of dollars in aid to the new Egyptian government. Qatar was a financial backer of ousted Islamist President Mohamed Mursi’s administration, and Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan denounced last week’s government crackdown on pro-Mursi protesters as a “massacre.”

“What Qatar and Turkey say is almost a 180-degree opposite of what the Emirates and the Saudis are saying publicly,” Katulis said.



Oklahoma Judge Allows Teens Over-Counter Birth-Control

Source: Bloomberg

An Oklahoma law requiring people under 17 to get a prescription for an emergency “morning-after” contraceptive pill was temporarily blocked by a state-court judge.

Judge Lisa T. Davis in Oklahoma City today granted a request by the New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights to enjoin enforcement of the measure, according to the court’s electronic docket.

Lawyers for the center argued in court papers that the law discriminated against women and attacked it on procedural grounds. Because it was the second topic in a bill signed into law by Governor Mary Fallin on May 29, it violated the state constitution’s “single subject” rule, the center said.

“Oklahoma women may rest assured that they will not be denied access to this important means of preventing unintended pregnancy,” an attorney for the center, David Brown, said in a statement after the court’s ruling.

Read more: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-08-19/oklahoma-judge-allows-teens-over-counter-birth-control.html

Israel Boosts Ties With Egyptian Army as U.S. Mulls Cuts

By Calev Ben-David - Aug 19, 2013

Israel is working closer with Egyptian forces to fight militants in Sinai even as top ally U.S. weighs cutting aid to Egypt over a crackdown against Islamists that has killed almost 1,000, former diplomats and officials said.

Attacks on Egyptian security personnel in Sinai on the border of Israel’s southern tip have intensified in the weeks following Islamist President Mohamed Mursi’s July 3 overthrow, with gunmen killing 26 policemen there today alone. Islamist militants also claimed responsibility for a rocket attack on Israel’s resort city of Eilat.

“Over the last month we’ve seen both a rise in Jihadist elements operating in Sinai and improved cooperation between the Israeli and Egyptian militaries to counter this,” Ephraim Kam, a retired Israeli army intelligence colonel and senior research fellow at Tel Aviv University’s Institute for National Security Studies, said in an interview.

Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, a wedge of mountainous desert bounded on the west by the Suez Canal, has attracted militants in recent years. Their attacks on Israeli and Egyptian targets have had economic as well as military consequences because the area is home to Red Sea resorts and is a transit route for gas.

Shared Interests

Israel’s relationship with the Egyptian military “is clearly going very well at the moment, especially as regards Sinai,” said Eli Shaked, a former Israeli ambassador to Cairo. A crackdown “is as much in Egypt’s interest as ours. Their security forces are also being targeted, and they have to be worried by the possibility that rockets being fired on Israel could the next day be aimed at the Suez Canal,” he said.



Spy Limits Gain Momentum as NSA Violations Spur Congress

By Derek Wallbank - Aug 19, 2013

Disclosure that the U.S. National Security Agency broke privacy rules thousands of times in a year is adding momentum to efforts in Congress to curb the top-secret surveillance programs made public by Edward Snowden.

“People are feeling the heat, and I think there will be meaningful change,” Bruce Schneier, a fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University, said in an interview after the latest disclosure. Schneier, a critic of the NSA, said it’s become a “rogue agency” that’s ripe for legislative restrictions.

An internal audit by the NSA found 2,776 cases of violations in the preceding year in collecting voice and data communications of both Americans and foreigners. The violations were reported last week by the Washington Post, which cited the May 2012 audit and other documents provided to it earlier this year by Snowden, the former NSA contractor who faces U.S. espionage charges and was granted temporary asylum in Russia.

Even before the latest leak, Congress was preparing for its most extensive review of surveillance programs since the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Lawmakers have filed at least 10 bills on the issue, including measures to increase the openness of the NSA’s data-collection programs, change the makeup of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court that oversees them and expand congressional oversight of the intelligence operations.

Last month, the Republican-controlled House rejected by seven votes a measure by Republican Representative Justin Amash of Michigan that would have denied the NSA funding to collect telephone records on millions of Americans.



Obama Focuses on Risk of New Bubble Undermining Broad Recovery

By David J. Lynch - Aug 19, 2013
President Barack Obama, who took office amid the collapse of the last financial bubble, wants to make sure his economic recovery doesn’t generate the next one.

Obama this month spoke four times in five days of the need to avoid what he called “artificial bubbles,” even in an economy that’s growing at just a 1.7 percent rate and where employment and factory usage remain below pre-recession highs.

“We have to turn the page on the bubble-and-bust mentality that created this mess,” he said in his Aug. 10 weekly radio address.

Obama’s cautionary notes call attention to the risk that the lessons of the financial crisis, which was spawned by a speculator-driven surge in asset values, will be forgotten, widening the income gap and undermining a broad-based recovery.

“Clearly, this is a growing concern both in the administration and at the Fed,” said Adam Posen, a former member of the Bank of England’s monetary policy committee.



Syria Claims Military Successes In Assad's Home Province

BEIRUT — Two weeks after rebels overran the area, the Syrian government said Sunday that the army had regained control of a swath of villages in Latakia province, the ancestral home of President Bashar Assad and his minority Alawite sect.

The official news agency said seven villages had been recaptured in the mountainous northern reaches of Latakia, adding to two others that the army had taken back Friday.

An opposition media activist in the area, who goes by the nickname Abu Faisal, confirmed that the government had taken seven villages but said the rebels had subsequently recaptured five of the hamlets in fierce fighting.

Syrian troops, backed by tanks, helicopter gunships and aircraft, have been engaged in a sustained offensive designed to regain control of a dozen or so mountain villages in Latakia overrun early this month by rebels. Opposition fighters apparently infiltrated Latakia from neighboring Idlib province, a rebel stronghold.

The rebel sweep into Latakia provided a propaganda coup for the opposition at a time when insurgents have been losing ground in more strategically critical areas, such as near Damascus, the capital, and in the central city of Homs.



Noam Chomsky: Israel's West Bank Plans Will Leave Palestinians Very Little

(CNN) -- The Israeli-Palestinian peace talks beginning in Jerusalem proceed within a framework of assumptions that merit careful thought.'

One prevailing assumption is that there are two options: either a two-state settlement will be reached, or there will be a "shift to a nearly inevitable outcome of the one remaining reality -- a state 'from the sea to the river'," an outcome posing "an immediate existential threat of the erasure of the identity of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state" because of what is termed "the demographic problem," a future Palestinian majority in the single state.

This particular formulation is by former Israeli Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) chief Yuval Diskin, but the basic assumptions are near universal in political commentary and scholarship. They are, however, crucially incomplete. There is a third option, the most realistic one: Israel will carry forward its current policies with full U.S. economic, military, and diplomatic support, sprinkled with some mild phrases of disapproval.

The policies are quite clear. Their roots go back to the 1967 war and they have been pursued with particular dedication since the Oslo Accords of September 1993.



PLO Charges Israel With ‘War Crimes, Anti-Human, Racist Acts’

The PLO leadership on Sunday launched a scathing attack on Israel and threatened to go to international agencies to punish it for its “war crimes, anti-human, racist acts and violations of international laws.”

The attack came during a meeting in Ramallah of the PLO Executive Committee under the chairmanship of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

The PLO leaders said they would not accept a situation where the peace talks with Israel, which resumed recently, would become a “political cover for the implementation of the largest settlement project.”

They accused the government of working toward undermining “all prospects for peace.”

Referring to recent Israeli plans to build housing units in settlements and east Jerusalem neighborhoods, the PLO leaders said: “The PLO Executive Committee considers the unprecedented settler decisions which were announced by the occupation government as conclusive proof that Israel’s first and last option remains expansionism, Judaization and theft of Palestinian land, and not ending occupation and implementing the two-state solution on the basis of the 1967 borders.”


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