What’s In The News

Week in Review

Sweden’s government officially recognized the state of Palestine, becoming the first major European country to do so, Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom said.
Prime Minister Stefan Lofven told parliament in his inaugural address in October that his Social Democrat government would deliver on a manifesto promise to recognize a Palestinian state, drawing criticism from Israel and the United States.
“Today's recognition is a contribution to a better future for a region that has for too long been characterized by frozen negotiations, destruction and frustration,” Wallstrom wrote. “Some will state this decision comes too soon. I am afraid, rather, that it is too late.”
Palestinians seek statehood in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and the blockaded Gaza Strip, with East Jerusalem as their capital. They have sought to sidestep stalled peace talks by lobbying foreign powers to recognize their sovereignty claim.
Wallstrom said Sweden’s move aimed at supporting moderate Palestinians and making their status more equal with that of Israel in peace negotiations, as well as giving hope to young people on both sides.
The U.N. General Assembly approved the de facto recognition of the state of Palestine in 2012, but the European Union and most EU countries have yet to give official recognition.
“EU members confirmed in 2009 their readiness to recognize the state of Palestine when it was appropriate,” Wallstrom said. “We are now ready to take the lead. We hope this can show the way for others.”
Wallstrom said despite the fact that Palestinian authorities did not have full control of their land and the country did not have fixed borders, Palestine fulfilled the criteria in international law for recognition.
“Together with other European countries, as well as the United States and other regional and international organizations, the government will now work to support renewed negotiations to reach a final agreement,” Wallstrom said.
The sometimes acrimonious relationship between the Obama Administration and the current Israeli government was exposed when an anonymous U.S. official was quoted using a barnyard epithet to describe Israel’s leader.
Both the White House and the State Department said it was inappropriate to denigrate Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and emphasized the “unbreakable bond” between the two nations.
The slur was used by an unidentified U.S. official in an interview with the Atlantic magazine about strains between the United States and Israel over the building of settlements in the West Bank and negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program.
“The thing about Bibi is, he’s a chickens---,” the official said. The crude word was used to describe what the official characterized as Netanyahu’s lack of political courage in reaching an accommodation with the Palestinians.
Netanyahu’s only interest, the official told the Atlantic, is in “protecting himself from political defeat. .?.?. He’s got no guts.” Netanyahu treated the name-calling as a badge of honor.
“Our supreme interests, chiefly the security and unity of Jerusalem, are not the main concern of those anonymous officials who attack us and me personally, as the assault on me comes only because I defend the state of Israel,” he said.
Relations between President Obama and Netanyahu have been strained for some time, U.S. and Israeli officials have said. The announcement of a new round of settlement construction has added to the strain.The U.S. government issued a sharp condemnation of new building in Palestinian neighborhoods, saying it undermines Israel’s stated interest in achieving peace with the Palestinians.
Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon in January called Secretary of State John F. Kerry “obsessive and messianic.” When Yaalon came to Washington earlier this month, he reportedly was denied meetings with Vice President Biden, Kerry and national security adviser Susan E. Rice, though he did meet with his counterpart, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, and the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power.
A federal grand jury will meet in Orlando to hear testimony about whether Trayvon Martin's civil rights were violated when Neighborhood Watch volunteer George Zimmerman shot him in the chest, according to court paperwork.
A U.S. Department of Justice attorney from Washington, D.C., Mark Blumberg, has issued at least one subpoena in the case. Blumberg would not comment on the grand jury session, but the federal panel is to meet at the federal courts building in downtown Orlando to hear evidence in the case.
It’s not clear how many witnesses have been ordered to appear, but at least one, Frank Taaffe, Zimmerman's former friend and longtime defender, has been. Following Zimmerman’s acquittal on a murder charge, Taaffe has reversed his position and now says that he believes Zimmerman was motivated by race the night he followed then shot Martin in 2012.
Taaffe cites a phone conversation he had with Zimmerman in the days following the shooting but before Zimmerman was arrested and charged with second-degree murder.
When originally interviewed by federal investigators in the weeks following the shooting, Taaffe did not tell them about the phone call, he says, but earlier this year he did in interviews with Blumberg and FBI Agent John Weyrauch at the FBI office in Maitland FBI spokesman Dave Couvertier described the investigation as ongoing and said agents were "still talking to people." George Zimmerman would not comment.

President Barack Obama is about to do what no president has done in the past 50 years: Have two terrible midterm elections in a row.
Based on early projections Obama is likely to have the worst midterm numbers of any two-term president going back to Democrat Harry S. Truman. Truman lost a total of 83 House seats during his two midterms (55 seats in 1946 and 28 seats in 1950), while Republican Dwight Eisenhower lost a combined 66 House seats in the 1954 and 1958 midterms.

Obama had one midterm where his party lost 63 House seats, and Democrats are expected to lose another 5 to possibly 12 House seats (or more), taking the sitting president's total midterm House loses to the 68 seat to 75 seat range. Most recent presidents have one disastrous midterm and another midterm that was not terrible.
The GOP lost 30 House seats in George W. Bush's second midterm, but gained 8 seats in his first midterm for a net loss of 22 seats. The party lost 26 seats in Ronald Reagan's first midterm, but a mere 5 seats in his second midterm for a net loss of 31 seats.
Democrats in 1994, lost 54 seats in Bill Clinton's first midterm, but the party gained 5 House seats in 1998, Clinton's for a net Clinton loss of 49 House seats.

Democrats lost 6 Senate seats in 2012 and may lose from 5 to 10 seats in this midterm election. That would add up to Obama midterm Senate losses of from 11 seats to as many as 16 seats. Democrats will likely not exceed the number of Senate losses they incurred during the two Truman midterms, in 1946 and 1950, when the party lost a remarkable net of 17 seats.
Are the Democrats’ losses due to the increasingly partisan nature of our elections and the makeup of the past two Senate classes, or is the president at least partially to blame: because he failed to successfully moved to the political center?

The Obama Administration released new rules intended to hold “career colleges” accountable for the future well-being of their students.
Known as “ regulations, the framework intends to hold certain career-oriented programs at nonprofit, for-profit, public and private institutions accountable for whether their students find jobs and earn a living wage after graduating.
The rules have a long history of legal complications and heavy opposition from the for-profit college sector, which will be the hardest hit by their requirements. But a key measure in draft regulations cohort student loan default rates for different programs – has disappeared from the final draft, largely after community colleges lobbied against the requirement, which they said would unfairly punish their programs.
“Career colleges must be a steppingstone to the middle class. But too many hardworking students find themselves buried in debt with little to show for it. That is simply unacceptable,” Education Secretary Arne Duncan said in a statement.
“These regulations are a necessary step to ensure that colleges accepting federal funds protect students, cut costs and improve outcomes. We will continue to take action as needed.”
Microsoft announced a long-expected wearable that will plug into a new Microsoft Health fitness tracking service.
Microsoft Band, as the product is known, will be available at Microsoft’s physical and online stores. The device is designed to last 48 hours on a single charge and to be worn all day to track both sleep and exercise as well as receive smartphone notifications.
The band has 10 sensors to track the usual things like heart rate as well as more novel detectors, including a UV sensor for sun exposure and a galvanic skin response measurement which can help identify stress.
The Microsoft Health cloud-based service will be able to analyze data gathered from either Microsoft’s band as well as data from other devices, including rival smartphones and fitness bands.
A companion app for iOS, Android and Windows Phone offers a deeper look at the data gathered by the band.
Microsoft says the new service can plug into HealthVault, which is more focused on medical records than personal fitness data. Microsoft is not alone in this technology, with Apple having its HealthKit initiative and Google having its Google Fit effort. Samsung also announced a similar effort to Microsoft’s earlier this year.
Microsoft is leaning on the fact that it works with all the major mobile ecosystems as a key selling point. “We are as open as you get,” Matt Barlow, GM, new devices marketing.
“We are iOS we are Android and we are windows phone.”
With Windows Phone you also get voice access to Microsoft’s Cortana assistant, but otherwise Band works similarly across platforms, Barlow said. The company also notes that–if customers want to – Microsoft Health can combine work and personal data and gather insights such as how a big meeting with the boss affects that night’s sleep. Other features include access to Facebook and Twitter feeds, as well as weather and stock data.
Microsoft hopes the features will grow over time. It is working with a bunch of partners, including fitness tracking app makers MapMyFitness and RunKeeper, hardware maker Jawbone and Starbucks, with the last one allowing users to pay for their coffee using only a gift card barcode on the watch.


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