Beltway Insider: President Signs Budget, Defense Law; Snowden Satisfied; Beirut, Russia Suicide Bombs

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President Barack Obama, in Hawaii with his family for the annual holiday break, has signed the defense law which calls for harsher penalties for sexual assault within the military and begins the process of closing Guantanamo Bay.

According to Gallup, President Obama’s job approval, over the past week gained four percentage points to 44% of those polled who approve of his effectiveness as President and those who disapprove of his effectiveness as President dropped four percentage points to 49%.

President Signs Budget; UI Emergency Benefits End

President Barack Obama, from his Honolulu retreat, also signed into law the bi-partisan Ryan-Murray budget that did not include the much anticipated and hoped for emergency unemployment benefit extensions.  

The Ryan-Murray Budget was lauded by lawmakers as a genuine effort as it cut the federal deficit by 23 billion while scaling back the automatic second year sequester cuts which would have gone into effect March 1, 2014. Those cuts were automatically scheduled to take effect unless other measures were proposed and passed.

Led by House Republican Paul Ryan and Senator Democrat Patty Murray, the budget addressed the sequester cuts and eased, somewhat, the squeeze which will still be felt.

The budget passed the senate with 36 Republican senators voting against it and twelve crossing the aisle, joining a fully united democratic Congress, to support the passage.

UI Emergency Benefits End

Emergency Unemployment Insurance benefits for over 1.3 million Americans, the initial 20 week extension and subsequent extensions, which have been in place throughout the past five years, have lapsed.

“As the President has repeatedly made clear, it defies economic sense, precedent and our values,” said Gene Sperling Director of National Economic Council, “especially in the middle of the holiday season.”

Congress failed to pass any additional measure, before the holiday break, that would ensure these benefits remain in place and they were not included the recent bi-partisan budget.

“Never before have we abruptly cut off emergency unemployment insurance when we faced this level of long-term unemployment,” Sperling said.

With the number of long term unemployed virtually unchanged throughout the past year, the denial of these benefits can cause an economic ripple which will reverberate and create long term residual effects destroying the small fiscal strides the economy has made throughout the last year.

Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) and Senator Dean Heller (R-NV), have agreed with the president and “have put forward bipartisan legislation [Reed-Heller Bill] to extend emergency unemployment insurance for three months which would prevent these 1.3 million workers and their families from losing benefits while giving more time for consideration of further extension through 2014,” Sperling said.

The bill is expected to be voted on immediately after the holiday break.

National Security Agency Leaker, Edward Snowden, Announces “Mission Accomplished”

NSA leaker Edward Snowden has recently completed a public relations blitz declaring this year, in which he revealed several top secret surveillance programs removed from the NSA during his time as a government contractor, a success.

Snowden, after petitioning 20 nations for political asylum and spending 39 days in a Russian airport awaiting word on his global asylum petitions, has been granted temporary asylum in Russia where he has been living since June 2013.

President Obama, in his pre-holiday press conference, was questioned repeatedly regarding the Snowden leaks and specifically Program 215, the mass collection of names and phone numbers from Verizon and other phone carriers, and defended the gathering technique.

“The 215 program is the metadata, the bulk collection of phone numbers and exchanges that have taken place that has probably gotten the most attention, at least with respect to domestic audiences.  And what I've said in the past continues to be the case, which is that the NSA, in executing this program, believed, based on experiences from 9/11, that it was important for us to be able to track if there was a phone number of a known terrorist outside of the United States calling into the United States, where that call might have gone, and that having that data in one place and retained for a certain period of time allowed them to be confident in pursuing various investigations of terrorist threats,” he said.

Since the June leaks became public Snowden, 29 and a former NSA contractor, has gained global attention and support from privacy advocates, intellectuals, celebrities and others who see the NSA and information gathering techniques a direct violation of privacy rights.

"A child born today will never know what it means to have a private moment to themselves, an unrecorded, un-analyzed thought. That's a problem because privacy matters; it allows us to determine who we are, and who we want to be," Snowden said in a televised statement on Britain’s Alternative Christmas Message.

He went on to encourage the end of government surveillance and violations of privacy rights worldwide.

Snowden has been lauded internationally as numerous whistleblower organizations have presented him with the awards.  

He has been named as The Guardian’s person of the year 2013, Time Magazine’s runner up for person of the year and Tech Magazines man of the year

Snowden has cited Whistleblower Protections and references to the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights as he continues to encourage others to feel more secure about coming forward with information.

Monitoring systems, such as described by Snowden, have long been in place in the Pentagon and through DARPA and are rarely, if ever, publicized.

While developed as anti-terrorism software, the original revelations occurred in June 2003 in the Associated Press article titled, Pentagon’s Diary gets Personal,” which described the full immersion necessary for the anti-terrorism training tool that when implanted would be a breakthrough in military training, ground, and enemy weapon, reconnaissance.

The United States has indicted Edward Snowden with espionage and he is considered a fugitive.

Snowden has since been warned by Russian President Vladimir Putin that he must stop talking about the United States.

Suicide Bombers Strike in Beirut, Russia

The Middle Eastern terror organization, Hezbollah has denied all responsibility in the Beirut blast that assassinated former U.S. Ambassador Mohammad Bahaa Chetah.

Chetah, who earned a doctorate from the University of Texas and was at one time head of the International Monetary Fund, was killed when a car bomb detonated under his motorcade sending debris flying into the crowds killing seven and injuring as many as 70.

The powerful explosion rocked the usually tranquil and secluded area of downtown Beirut, Lebanon home to many luxury high rises, western influenced boutiques and high end shopping.

Politically outspoken, Chetah staunchly opposed the Hezbollah, Iran and Syrian union and Assad’s continued leadership. Chetah’s last blog post dated September 5, 2013, detailed why Assad could no longer rule Syria.

President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry have condemned the assassination in the strongest possible terms and called it a terrorist attack.

Russia Volgogard Station

In a separate incident, Volgograd in Southern Russia was rocked by a suicide bomber which left nearly two dozen dead and bodies strewn in the street.

The Sunday, December 29, 2013 blast, within driving distance from the site of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, has increased concerns over terror attacks as the athletes of the world are ready to converge on the small costal city.

The bomb was loaded with 22lbs of TNT and shrapnel and detonated outside the security checkpoint inside the Volgograd Railroad Station. Surveillance video shows a law enforcement officer rushing toward a suspicious person before the explosion that killed both bomber and the police officer as well as a dozen others waiting inside the underground railway station.

No determination has been made on the gender of the bomber as news reports have suggested both. The rise of female suicide bombers, retaliating for the loss of loved ones in the Chechnya war, has become alarming.

“Earlier in the day, Lifenews.ru, a Russian news portal that reportedly has close links to security agencies, even posted what it claimed was an image of the severed head of the female's attacker. It even said the attacker appeared to have been a woman whose two successive rebel husbands had been killed by Russian security forces in the Caucasus,” according to the Associated Press.

ObamaCare Website Hits Peak

After a dismal rollout the government’s health care portal, The Marketplace or Healthcare.gov, has recorded an increase in website traffic processing up to 1million visitors per day.

The Affordable Care Act has reached the midway point of the initial six month open enrollment season as medically uninsured Americans are beginning to adapt to the changing obligations under the ObamaCare laws.

For citizens expecting health care benefits to begin January 1, 2014 the deadline to initiate coverage has passed.

All citizens are required to purchase, through the government marketplace exchanges, minimal medical coverage mandated by the federal government.

The final deadline for those who are uninsured is now March 31, 2014.

 

For more information on President Obama: www.whitehouse.gov   

For more information on the Affordable Care Act: https://www.healthcare.gov/

For more on Mohammad Chetah: http://mohamadchatah.blogspot.com/

Sources: Gallup, Wikipedia, Whitehouse.gov

 

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