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Wednesday Morning Edition

The Front Page Cover
"I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened"
Is the US powerless
to stop the spread of al-Qaida?
James Rosen
"Know who you are standing with"
"Show me your friends and I'll show you your future"

Syria: The leader of the Western and Gulf Arab-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA) has been sacked and replaced by a more experienced field commander. Colonel Abd al-Ilah al-Bashir will succeed Brigadier General Salim Idriss as chief-of-staff of the FSA's Supreme Military Council. A spokesman said the decision was taken due to the "ineffectiveness" of the command and the need to "restructure."

Comment: Along with the collapse of talks in Geneva, the removal of Idriss signifies the failure of US policy at almost every level, or at least all initiatives reported in open sources. No parties profess to trust the US. The vote to remove Idriss signifies the rejection of US influence. The indicators point towards a strategic shift in which Russia and Iran now stand against Saudi Arabia and its Arab allies as the principle antagonists. The US might be working covertly to support Saudi Arabia, but the Saudis have the lead. That pretty much means their side will fail. The Russians and Iranians have more experience and success in fighting proxy wars. For now, the US is on the sidelines in the Middle East. The US administration has alienated all its historic allies; lost influence in Egypt, Tunisia and Syria; and has made dubious promises to Jordan which now is in danger of becoming a front line state, like Lebanon. - NightWatch

Want to know why the president and his team are stampeding to talk about global warming despite increasing public disinterest in the topic, a bitterly cold and snowy winter and deepening skepticism about the costs of clamping down on industry as the economy again falters? It turns out that money talks. From the
NYT: “A billionaire retired investor is forging plans to spend as much as $100 million during the 2014 election, seeking to pressure federal and state officials to enact climate change measures through a hard-edge campaign of attack ads against governors and lawmakers. The donor, Tom Steyer, a Democrat who founded one of the world’s most successful hedge funds, burst onto the national political scene during last year’s elections, when he spent $11 million to help elect Terry McAuliffe governor of Virginia and millions more intervening in a Democratic congressional primary in Massachusetts. Now he is rallying other deep-pocketed donors, seeking to build a war chest that would make his political organization, NextGen Climate Action, among the largest outside groups in the country, similar in scale to the conservative political network overseen by Charles and David Koch.” - Fox News
You get what you pay for - The seemingly sudden rebirth of anti-global warming evangelism takes on a different tone when set against the backdrop of today’s announcement that the top Democratic benefactor has agreed to spend big to help limit the president’s party’s midterm losses. Whether it is good politics or not to again alarm moderate voters with scare words about man-made climate change and costly measures to combat it, money apparently matters more. Today, for example, President nObama will order the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Transportation to crack down on truck emissions by the end of his term. In a campaign appearance at a grocery store distribution center in suburban Maryland, the president will also propose a new $200 million tax credit for companies that make green vehicles, like those subsidized enterprises backed by Steyer and other top Democratic contributors. Voters in Arkansas, North Carolina or Alaska might be unhappy with spending more money on groceries to finance the new nObama-complaint fleets or resentful about subsidizing already rich folks like Steyer, but $100 million in midterm moola will buy you a lot of attention in nObamaland. - Fox News
“It seems to be sinking in across the media – today in the
New York Times – that Democratic control of the Senate is in real jeopardy. Democrats quoted both on the record and anonymously are waiting for Republicans to implode from within. While nasty Republican primary fights may produce the Democrats’ desired outcome, so far it seems the GOP has its eyes on the prize: the majority. With it, the equation in Washington would change dramatically and a president who began in office with his party in control of both chambers of Congress would leave with control of neither. We'll see. But clearly the concern in Democratic circles is growing. And how about this? Chief White House Correspondent Ed Henry points out this nuance from David Axelrod, longtime top strategist to President nObama, talking to the NYT about Republicans and the debt limit: ‘This is a serious threat. And it would behoove Democratic activists and donors who are whipped up about 2016 to shift their focus, or they may be sitting here in November, looking at a Republican Senate to go along with the House.’ Is there a note of some preemptive finger pointing here? Time will tell.” - Fox News
[The Hill: “Republicans are launching investigations into three state-run nObamaCare exchanges that are failing disastrously. Lawmakers are setting their sights on exchanges in Oregon, Maryland and Massachusetts where Democratic governors embraced the healthcare law, and are demanding to know why their expensive online portals remain useless more than four months after launch. … ‘The catastrophic breakdown of Cover Oregon is unacceptable, and taxpayers deserve accountability,” wrote the group of lawmakers led by Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.)’… Walden and the other lawmakers are laying the groundwork to claw-back some of the state’s $304 million in grants if Oregon decides to abandon its state-run exchange and join the federal system.”] - Fox News
 nObama Has Unilaterally Delayed nObamacare 24 Times 
President nObama has unilaterally changed or delayed nObamacare 24 times without going back to Congress, according to Fox News’ Chris Wallace...Members of Congress sparred Sunday over nObama’s decision last week to delay nObamacare’s employer mandate. “We have a government of one,” said Senator Mike Lee (R-UT). “We have a super executive and super legislator vested in the president of the United States. … The president knows this is wrong and it’s not defensible. He is violating the Constitution. He is exercising power that doesn’t belong to him. It belongs to the American people.”
 NBC's Mitchell Dismisses dHillarious Papers 
During her MSNBC show on Monday, host Andrea Mitchell tried to dismiss unflattering revelations about Bill and dHillarious Clinton...found in a series of documents from a close confidante: "...they're some of the same headlines we read fifteen years ago. The latest 'breaking news,' quote, excerpts from an archive belonging to a close friend of dHillarious Clinton, Diane Blair....So what is new here?" Mitchell directed that question to Time's Mark Halperin, who sneered: "...what we have so far, because we all need to go down and look at the original documents ourselves, are things out of context without corroboration, and it's not clear when she's – Diane Blair's quoting herself paraphrasing dHillarious Clinton versus what dHillarious Clinton said."
 Kansas City blues: Violent black mobs 
Congressman Emanuel Cleaver tried to warn them: “All we are going to do is make a lot of black kids angry,” he said last summer when the city council in Kansas City extended the city’s curfew. Cleaver was right...This weekend the angry kids returned. So did the black mob violence the curfew was supposed to stop.By now, locals know black mob violence at Country Club Plaza is a Kansas City tradition. Or even a rite of passage: Hundreds of black people go to the plaza and fight, destroy property, invade surrounding businesses, stop traffic, defy police, threaten tourists, get pepper sprayed, stay out past curfew, hurt people, blame it on the cops, then go home. And next week, or the week after, do it again.
 Chuck Schumer Calls for Violating the Constitution 
The New York Times reported late last week that New York Sen. Chuck-U-Schumer is suggesting a “legislative maneuver known as a discharge petition...that would allow supporters of overhauling the nation’s immigration laws to circumvent the Republican majority in the House by bringing the measure directly to the house floor, bypassing the regular committee process.” Let's call this "maneuver" what it is -- a violation of the Constitution. The Times continued, “Lawmakers and aides in both parties say that a discharge position, especially one coming from Mr. Schumer, whose views are strongly opposed by many House conservatives, is unlikely to succeed. Even if all House Democrats supported the measure, it would still require more than a dozen Republican signatures.”
 Free Housing Mkt from Govt - Lower Mortgage Payments 
The main thing holding America back from a better housing market is the fact that people are afraid of what would happen if the taxpayer-backed guarantees of the GSEs went away...So Heritage economists modeled what would happen to housing and the economy to find out. We found that removing the government guarantee from housing finance should have a minimal impact on the overall U.S. economy—and it would likely result in lower housing costs, less personal debt, and higher personal income and savings. It could also bring down monthly mortgage payments over time.So why the fear of getting rid of Fannie and Freddie? Many people are convinced that the GSEs are integral to homeownership and lower interest rates. But here’s the truth:
 nObama’s Foreign Policy: Enemy Action 
It’s often hard to determine whether a series of bad policies results from stupidity or malicious intent. Occam’s razor suggests that the former is the more likely conspiracies assume a high degree of intelligence, complex organization, and secrecy among a large number of people, qualities that usually are much less frequent than the simple stupidity, disorganization, and inability to keep a secret more typical of our species. Yet surveying the nearly 6 years of nObama’s disastrous foreign policy blunders, I’m starting to lean towards Goldfinger’s Chicago mob-wisdom: “Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. Three times, it’s enemy action.”
 GOP Weekly Address 
Rep. Rooney talks about the health care law's impact on seniors, which was the subject of a letter House Republican leaders sent to President nObama on Thursday, February 13... "Seniors in my district are experiencing firsthand higher costs and lost access to their doctors as a direct consequence of nObamacare," Rep. Rooney said. "I look forward to using this opportunity in the Weekly Republican Address to call attention to the devastating impact that nObamacare is having on seniors in Florida and across the country, and to urge the President to work with Congress to find a replacement solution."
 Democrats May Be Full Of BS, But It's Our Fault 
So let me get this straight. The Congressional Budget Office says that the net impact of nObamacare will be the loss of 2,300,000 full time workers because the subsidies will encourage people not to make over a specific amount of money and lose those subsidies...Which is like saying that we will assess you a penalty if you want to be a productive citizen, but we’ll pay for your healthcare if you wish to sleep in. Real American Dream. Or a Franco-American Dream. The immediate response from the Democrat Party up to and including the President is equal nonsense. “That’s good. That gives people a “choice” of not working at a job just to have healthcare.” That’s so stupid that even Chuck Schumer must have been blushing under his makeup on Press the Meat last Sunday when he said exactly that. Imagine that. It’s good to encourage people not to work. Maybe in France, but not here. And even that’s not completely true because what you get with those subsidies isn’t worth much since there is a $5,000 deductable before it pays for much of anything.
 DOJ Argues Against Rules to Prevent Foreigners from Voting 
Justice Department lawyer Bradley Heard was in court today trying to stop Kansas from ensuring that only citizens register to vote...Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, relying on a United States Supreme Court opinion of last year, asked the federal Election Assistance Commission to permit him to ensure that only citizens were registering to vote. The Election Assistance Commission said no, so Kris Kobach went to federal court. Enter Eric Holder's Justice Department, as usual, opposing election integrity measures. Despite harping about resource concerns (which apparently means that the DOJ can do nothing about corrupted voter rolls), Holder found the time and money to send Bradley Heard to a hearing in Kansas to argue against Kobach's election integrity measures. Things didn't go well for Bradley Heard before Judge Eric Melgren today. The Wichita Eagle:
 Bully EPA's Air Rules Over All 
With breathtaking mountains, constant wind and a tiny carbon footprint, Wyoming has some of the prettiest scenery and cleanest air in the nation...Wyoming ranks 10th among the states in size, but with only 580,000 people -- fewer than the city of Las Vegas -- it's only 49th in population density. You can throw a lot of rocks and not hit anybody -- for miles. You might think that it would be the last place that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) would play the federal bully by using air-quality mandates. You'd be wrong. In December, the EPA effectively seized about 1 million acres of land, including the entire central Wyoming town of Riverton, and put it under the authority of the Wind River Indian Reservation.
Is the US powerless
to stop the spread of al-Qaida?
James Rosen
    There was bipartisan consensus after the 9/11 attacks, in Congress and among Americans, that the United States would never again ignore rising threats in distant lands and allow al-Qaida or other terrorist groups to gain sanctuary as it had in Afghanistan.

    More than a dozen years ago, nine days after the World Trade Center towers fell and the Pentagon burned, President George W. Bush told a joint session of Congress: "The only way to defeat terrorism as a threat to our way of life is to stop it, eliminate it and destroy it where it grows."

    Lawmakers leapt to their feet and burst into applause; Bush's approval rating soared.

    Now the black flag of al-Qaida flies in Fallujah, the group and its offshoots are spreading across the Middle East and Africa, and their fighters are battling for control of cities not only in Iraq but also in Syria, Lebanon and beyond.

    "Harbor no illusions: Al-Qaida is not on its heels or even on the run," Rep. Mike Rogers, a Michigan Republican who chairs the House Intelligence Committee, told McClatchy.

    "Their operations in Iraq, Syria, Pakistan and large portions of Africa indicate that al-Qaida is alive and well," Rogers said. "The group and its affiliates continue to metastasize, establishing new safe havens from which to attack the United States and our interests around the world. Now is the time to redouble our efforts to defeat this enemy."

But it might not be so simple.

    Spending constraints, questionable outcomes of the long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, anti-democratic backlashes across the Middle East and the broader turbulence unleashed by the Arab Spring have left U.S. leaders uncertain of how to counter a new wave of Islamic extremism.

    After nearly 6,600 American deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan, at a cost of more than $2 trillion there and in the broader "war on terror," the United States may lack the money, the policy know-how and the political will to respond aggressively to the al-Qaida resurgence.

    The Pentagon's budget is down substantially from its 2011 high-water mark, with more cuts in store.

U.S. combat troops have left Iraq and are leaving Afghanistan.

    When President Barack nObama tried to rally public and congressional support last September for a military strike against Syria — even one with no American boots on the ground — his appeals fell flat.

    Fifty-two percent of Americans think that the United States has "mostly failed" to achieve its goals in Iraq and Afghanistan, while 37 percent think it's "mostly succeeded" in Iraq and 38 percent see mainly success in Afghanistan, according to a Pew Research Center poll released last month.

    Jeremiah Pam, a visiting scholar at Columbia University, served as a financial attache at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad during the height of the Iraq War. He later completed major governance assessments in Iraq and Afghanistan for retired Army Gen. David Petraeus and former Ambassador Ryan Crocker when they led U.S. military and diplomatic efforts in the two countries.

    Pam said the current unwillingness of American political leaders to respond forcefully to the al-Qaida comeback reflected doubt among counterinsurgency experts after the failure of massive military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan to create long-term stability.

    "We've seen that large-scale occupation is not a very effective or sustainable way to deny safe havens to terrorist groups," Pam said. "So we're left in a very difficult position. The policy solutions that we thought worked have been shown in practice to be imperfect. We certainly have less confidence in them than we did even four years ago."

    Stephen Long, a national security professor at the University of Richmond in Virginia, said he saw a backslide that went back more than just a few years.

    Under the pressure of rapidly changing and unforeseen events unleashed by the Arab Spring, Long said, nObama is moving away from Bush's ringing pledges to support democracy and oppose tyranny around the globe.

    "The idealism of the Bush 'freedom agenda' has finally bumped up against the realities of global politics," Long said. "We're not likely to see blossoming democracies in Afghanistan or Iraq anytime soon, so we have been backed into a corner where we've had to exchange stability for some of the more lofty promises of democratization."

    From Iraq and Afghanistan to Egypt, Syria, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, the United States is supporting autocratic governments in a manner that recalls the Cold War stance of backing anti-communist despots.

    Then, the overriding goal was to prevent the advance of Soviet influence; today, the mission is to stop the spread of al-Qaida-style terrorism.

    The nObama administration is shipping Hellfire missiles and providing intelligence, training and logistics to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who American analysts say is helping to fuel the al-Qaida resurgence through repressive measures against Sunni Muslims from his Shiite Muslim-dominated government.

    "The primary and empowering causes of Iraq's current violence are not extremist movements or sectarian and ethnic divisions, but its failed politics and system of governance," Anthony H. Cordesman and Sam Khazai, analysts with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, wrote in a draft e-book that the Washington research center is circulating. "These failures are led by the current Maliki government."

    Afghan President Hamid Karzai has reneged on promises to sign an accord that would enable some 10,000 U.S. troops to remain in his country as a safeguard against al-Qaida's growth there and in neighboring Pakistan.

    nObama recently summoned his top military commanders to the White House to discuss the way forward in Afghanistan. White House press secretary Jay Carney said that whether U.S. forces stayed there beyond this year was "contingent upon the Afghan government signing the bilateral security agreement that we negotiated last year in good faith."

    In Egypt, the administration is working with the caretaker regime of Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi seven months after he joined a military coup that deposed the democratically elected government led by the Muslim Brotherhood, which el-Sissi has since branded a terrorist group.

    U.S. political leaders are having second thoughts about providing arms and other aid to Syrian rebels as al-Qaida fighters and other Muslim extremists have moved to dominate the movement opposing President Bashar Assad.

    "I must reluctantly conclude that of the possible outcomes, Assad winning (the Syrian civil war) is not the worst one," retired Air Force Gen. Michael Hayden, who was the CIA director under Bush, recently told Al-Jazeera, the Qatar-based TV network.

    As local groups across the region vie to use its name because of the cachet, Tamara Cofman Wittes, the Middle East policy director at the Brookings Institution in Washington, cautioned against exaggerating the strength of al-Qaida.

    "There are a lot of localized violent extremists who for one reason or another may see an advantage in embracing the al-Qaida brand, but whose concerns, whose sources of support and whose targets are primarily localized," she said. "And it's very important that the United States, as it pursues these threats, continue to carefully make distinctions and differentiation."

    Hayden, though, painted a nightmare alternative scenario in which al-Qaida-linked warriors control a 400-mile swath of territory stretching westward from Fallujah and Ramadi, near Baghdad, across Iraq and into Syria.

    "The Syrian revolution has been hijacked by Islamist extremists, by al-Qaida," he said. "They've become the controlling element in the opposition. Left unchecked, what we could end up with is a pre-9/11 Afghanistan-like state comprised of (Iraq's) Anbar province and the eastern Syrian desert. But unlike Afghanistan, not in the middle of nowhere but in the middle of the Middle East and 100 or 150 miles from major urban centers: Damascus and Beirut and Jerusalem."

    In a candid and at times contentious interview with Al-Jazeera analyst Marwan Bishara, Hayden acknowledged that the increased Islamic sectarian warfare in Syria, Iraq and beyond may be in the United States' interests.

    "To have Sunni extremists battling with Shia extremists in a fight to the death in a way that consumes their energies so that they are not focused on other potential enemies or targets in a very practical, realpolitik sort of way is probably not the worst of all possible worlds," Hayden said.

    Hayden bristled at Bishara's attempts to compel him to admit that the United States has failed to defeat al-Qaida. Osama bin Laden is dead, Hayden said, and most of its other top leaders have been captured or killed.

    "We are now, in my view, relatively safer here in North America from that threat from al-Qaida prime," Hayden said.

    Marie Harf, State Department deputy spokeswoman, almost mocked bin Laden's successor, Ayman al-Zawahiri, on Jan. 23 in downplaying the threat from the remaining core al-Qaida organization in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

    "Essentially the entire leadership has been decimated by the U.S. counterterrorism effort," she said. "He's the only one left. I think he spends, at this point, probably more time worrying about his own personal security than propaganda."

    Gen. Ray Odierno, the Army chief of staff, is concerned lest today's local threats in Iraq and Syria become tomorrow's broader dangers to the United States.

    "The biggest threat to our national security is (if) this ungoverned territory becomes areas where we have terrorist organizations that become dominant and then try to export their terrorism outside of the Middle East and into several other countries, including the United States," Odierno told the National Press Club last month.

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