Feed aggregator

How Martin O'Malley Begins His Day: Prayer, Solitude And Some Very Non-Political Reading

Huffingon Post Politics - Sun, 2015-03-29 15:45
NEW YORK -- He may be on the verge of seeking the world's most demanding job, but former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) prefers to begin his days with his mind about as far away as possible from the campaign trail.

"In the morning, I generally take time to pray and sometimes that's at Mass; other times it's just at home," O'Malley, who is Catholic, told The Huffington Post on Thursday. "At home, I try to take 20 minutes -- half hour, if I can -- to read what I call 'good stuff.'"

Potential candidates are prone to tick off a list of politically safe books they've been consuming -- usually vociferously -- as a means of emphasizing just how serious and intellectually ambitious they are. But O'Malley's interests seem almost too eclectic to be considered electorally calculated.

Among the Christian poets, theologians and authors whom O'Malley said he favors in his morning reading ritual are John O'Donohue, Ignatius of Loyola, Richard Rohr, Thomas Merton, Karl Rahner and C.S. Lewis. O'Malley also said he went on "a big kick" in which he was reading everything he could find by Jewish theologian and philosopher Abraham Heschel.

Over the last year, O'Malley has been positioning himself for a likely 2016 Democratic presidential bid and has been carrying on a hectic travel schedule around the country that will only become more rigorous if he jumps into the race officially this spring. But the man who served two terms as governor and previously was mayor of Baltimore said that his jam-packed days always turn out better when he takes time for himself in the mornings.

"I learned really just in the last several years how very, very important that is," O'Malley said. "When you're mayor, there are very few problems that can't be helped by working harder to tackle them. In the governor's office, I learned that you have to take time for that reflection and that solitude, out of which creativity is born. And so I developed a practice in the morning of becoming quiet and very centered at the beginning of the morning."

Others in politics have begun making similar commitments to greater work-life balance. Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio) is a big believer in meditation and has started a Quiet Time Caucus on the Hill.

O'Malley, likewise, seems to see some policy implications for these types of matters. He said that his 24-year-old daughter -- a Teach For America teacher in Baltimore--has been including yoga as part of her instruction to first-graders.

"I don't think there's any curriculum for that city-wide," he said. "But it has helped her kids learn, and it makes them feel better, and allows them to focus on what they need to focus on with the mindfulness of their own selves and the alignment that's required."

O'Malley singled out an address he had heard William Deresiewicz deliver to cadets at West Point, in which the author and essayist spoke about the importance of solitude in leadership.

"My sense is that we're on the verge of a new awareness of just how important the whole person is," O'Malley said. "I don't know that it's necessarily religious in the institutional sense, but it certainly has a spiritual dimension, without which life loses meaning."

American People Should Hold War Lobby Accountable for Libya Debacle

Huffingon Post Politics - Sun, 2015-03-29 14:32
Will America ever again be at peace? A new war always seems to start before the last one ends. The U.S. is bombing targets in Syria and sending troops back into Iraq. Yet Washington's involvement in Afghanistan persists as the administration slows the withdrawal of American forces.

Worse, pressure is building for the U.S. again to intervene in Libya. It took a decade before the sectarian flames fed by the invasion of Iraq lit the Islamic State. It took less than three years for the administration's intervention in Libya to blow up spectacularly. Observed Glenn Greenwald, "Libya has rapidly unraveled in much the way Iraq did following that invasion: swamped by militia rule, factional warfare, economic devastation, and complete lawlessness." The country of Libya has ceased to exist.

This debacle offers a clear lesson for American policymakers. But denizens of Washington never learn from the past. Indeed, Samantha Power, one of the most consistent advocates of a militarized foreign policy, complained that "one has to be careful about overdrawing lessons" from failed interventions. In her view the fact that America's constant wars have resulted in constant failures -- and constant pressure to intervene again to confront the new problems created -- is no reason to be more careful in the future.

Like many presidents in other conflicts, Barack Obama lied the American people into war. The administration presented the issue as one of humanitarian intervention, to save the people of Benghazi from slaughter. Moammar Khadafy, administration officials claimed, threatened murder and mayhem if he recaptured the city.

Ironically, for decades the West did not take his rants seriously -- only when they thought it to their advantage did the U.S. and Europe react. Although he was a nasty character, he had slaughtered no one when his forces reclaimed other territory. In Benghazi, he only threatened those who had taken up arms against him. In fact, the allies never believed their rhetoric. They immediately shifted their objective from civilian protection to regime change, providing just enough military support to upend the balance of forces but not enough to quickly oust him. The world's greatest alliance allowed the low-tech civil war to burn for months, killing thousands. Some humanitarian operation.

Still, the chief advocates of what has come to be called Hillary's war claimed success. Anne-Marie Slaughter, formerly with the Obama State Department, authored a celebratory Financial Times article entitled "Why Libya skeptics were proved badly wrong." Even before the fighting ended she was selling the conflict: "it clearly can be in the U.S. and the West's strategic interest to help social revolutions fighting for the values we espouse and proclaim." The New York Times ran a "news analysis" entitled: "U.S. Tactics in Libya May Be a Model for Other Efforts." Power then was silent about the danger of overdrawing lessons from the Libyan war.

The War Lobby imagined a beautiful democratic future. Slaughter cited the fact that "The National Transitional Council has a draft constitutional charter that is impressive in scope, aspirations and detail -- including 37 articles on rights, freedoms and governance arrangements." What more could be necessary?

Alas, Libya was an artificial nation. Khadafy held it together through personal rule, not a strong state. When he died political structure vanished. Khadafy was brutally executed; revenge killings and torture were common; black African workers were blamed for the old regime and abused. Khadafy's arsenals were looted, with weapons, including anti-aircraft missiles, flowing outward. The country split apart geographically, ethnically, ideologically, and theologically.

Libya quickly went from disappointment to mess to catastrophe. Wrote the Economist:

Libya has two rival governments, two parliaments, two sets of competing claims to run the central bank and the national oil company, no functioning national police or army, and an array of militias that terrorize the country's six million citizens, plunder what remains of the country's wealth, ruin what little is left of its infrastructure, and torture and kill wherever they are in the ascendency.

Today, these warring factions have divided the territory known as Libya into two broad coalitions.

"Operation Dignity" is a largely secular grouping including Gen. Khalifa Haftar's "Libyan National Army" and the internationally recognized government. The latter was pushed out of the capital of Tripoli last August and is headquartered in Tobruk and Bayda in the east. Haftar, a former Khadafy general, is a man of flexible loyalties who spent years in the U.S. and offered to run for president if "desired" by the people. Last May, he launched his campaign against the Islamist militias with covert support from Egypt and the United Arab Emirates.

"Libya Dawn" is a mix of Islamists, moderate to radical, and conservative merchants which now controls Tripoli. They are backed by Qatar, Sudan, and Turkey, and deny that the Islamic State poses much of a threat. Indeed, government spokesman Jamal Haji Zubia claimed that "these terrorists" merely pretended to be from ISIL, but instead were Khadafy supporters who "put on the mantle of the Islamic State."

The civil war has been intensifying, with combatants utilizing heavy weapons and even air power. Last year fighting forced the closure of the U.S. embassy. Even before the rise of the Islamic State radical jihadists flourished; the city of Derna sent many young men to Iraq and Syria. Some of these groups were responsible for the attack on U.S. consular compound and murder of U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three others in Benghazi more than two years ago.

Now Libya has become an ISIL outpost. Aref Ali Nayed, representing the official Libyan government in the UAE, said "Libya is becoming the gas station, ATM, and airport for ISIS." Three jihadist groups have formally claimed allegiance to the Islamic State. Benghazi, the city which helped trigger Western intervention, is now mostly in radical hands. Self-proclaimed Islamic State forces have attacked oil installations, killed journalists, and bombed embassies and a luxury hotel frequented by Westerners.

The conflict has seeped out of Libya. Warned the Economist:

Arab tribes and other ethnic groups in the country's rugged south are running amok, smuggling arms, trafficking people and providing havens and succor to assorted ne'er-do-wells and jihadists pledging allegiance to al-Qaeda and even to the murderous Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

ISIL's murder of 21 kidnapped Egyptian Coptic workers triggered retaliatory airstrikes by Cairo, and then, in turn, Islamic State attacks on an airport and the Iranian ambassador's residence as well as several car bombings. Thomas Joscelyn of the Long War Journal noted that ISIL's power has been overrated. But the group is gaining influence as the national wreckage known as Libya is being pulled into the regional sectarian maelstrom.

So much for Hillary Clinton's splendid little war.

Obviously, Khadafy's continued rule would have been no picnic. Nevertheless, he offered an ugly stability which in retrospect looks better than chaos, civil war, and terrorism. And worse may come. UN envoy Bernardino Leon worried: "Libya has the same features of potentially becoming as bad as what we're seeing in Iraq and Syria. The difference is that Libya is just a few miles away from Europe." British envoy Jonathan Powell warned of the emergence of "Somalia by the Med."

Although Islamic State bluster about "conquering" Rome obviously is just that, Libyans have been fleeing across the Mediterranean in search of safety and work. European officials now worry about larger refugee flows, drug and weapons smuggling, and new terrorist attacks. After more than a year of unsuccessful attempts at mediation between the warring factions, Powell warned: "Libya is far too big to contain."

In Libya, as with most other failed interventions, war advocates say the problem was that America didn't stick around. They enthusiastically, even gaily, blew up another country, only to blame the rescue personnel for not showing up fast enough. The Washington Post, one of the war's cheerleaders, complained that NATO "abandoned Libya." But exactly what could the alliance have done? The allies only played a supporting role; the Libyans liberated themselves through their own boots on the ground. The militias fighting now would have resisted any foreign occupation, even if organized by the Pentagon rather than the Post.

Alas, this disastrous history hasn't precluded new proposals for Western involvement. Abdullah al-Thinni, Libya's official prime minister, wants the West to come back. He asked that the "world powers stand by Libya and launch military strikes against" the Islamic State and al-Qaeda affiliates.

Egypt and France urged the UN Security Council to meet on the issue. "What is happening in Libya is a threat to international peace and security," explained Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi. Italy also is demanding unspecified action. Prime Minister Matteo Renzi advocated that the UN run a "stronger mission." Defense Minister Roberta Pinotti said, "We have been discussing this for months but now it has become urgent. The risk is imminent, we cannot wait any longer. Italy has national defense needs and cannot have a caliphate ruling across the shores from us." Interior Minister Angelino Alfano warned of the potential for an attack on the Vatican.

Unfortunately, there's no reason to believe that the second (or third) time would be the charm. The Atlantic Council's Karim Mezran observed: "There are no good guys or bad guys there -- both sides have been acting in bad faith."

The West naturally favors the internationally recognized government. But these forces are divided and Haftar, the dominant figure, is a dubious ally. Although better armed than the Islamist forces, he probably has fewer fighters and less popular support. Worse, an unnamed administration staffer told New Yorker's Jon Lee Anderson:

The U.S. government has nothing to do with General Khalifa Haftar. Haftar is killing people, and he says he is targeting terrorists, but his definition is way too broad. Haftar is a vigilante. And the predictable result of his vigilantism is to unite the others.

Intervening against the Islamist-oriented government would make enemies of many people not linked to the Islamic State. The former denounced the Egyptian airstrikes as a "treacherous aggression" and "terrorism." Egypt's retaliatory attacks were directed at militants in camps different from those who murdered the Copts. Warned the Post:

Just as [Egypt's al-Sisi] makes no distinction between terrorists operating in the Sinai Peninsula and the democratically elected Muslim Brotherhood politicians he deposed in a 2013 military coup, Mr. Sisi does not acknowledge a difference between the Islamic State militants and the Libya Dawn faction in Tripoli.

The best outcome would be a national unity government as backed by the U.S. and five European governments. They said in a recent statement that those opposing a democratic transition "will not be allowed to condemn Libya to chaos and extremism." Alas, Libya already is there. The Post urged "concerted pressure" on Libya's two major factions to create an effective government. However, it's not clear what more the Western powers can do. Anonymous UN officials told Fox News that NATO was ready "to support Libya with advice on defense and security institution-building." But lack of knowledge is not the problem.

Who is able to act on such knowledge? Libyan blogger Mohamed Eljarh urged international support for "Libyan partners ... who stand for inclusion, democracy, and the rule of law. Such Libyan voices are indispensable to any international or regional solution." But where are they and, more important, what can they do? The Economist called for diplomacy to produce a national unity government and federal system with substantial autonomy for cities and regions. Yet in the next breath the magazine acknowledged: "it has to be admitted that such schemes have rarely worked in the winter-takes-all Arab world."

More practical would be to acquiesce in the partition of what never was an organic nation. In the meantime, the West should consider selectively lifting the arms embargo to aid groups likely to combat jihadist forces. Official Libya's UN ambassador Ibrahim Dabbashi indicated interest in international aid, but explained: "We must have the arms to not only be able to fight the terrorists, but need to be able to destroy them if they try to re-establish in our country." Doing so might fuel the ongoing civil war, but with no settlement in sight Washington's highest priority should be enabling local parties to defeat groups of greatest concern to America.

Moreover, Libya's neighbors should act rather than wait helplessly for Washington to do something. America's security dependents might be no more effective than the U.S. -- indeed, retired Egyptian military officers warn against their nation being drawn into combating an insurgency -- but the region's stability is these nations' business. They should put their arsenals filled with expensive American-made weapons to practical use.

Libya's collapse has been almost total. Alas, the consequences will linger for years if not decades. The Obama administration's greatest foreign policy mistake can't be undone.

Yet, complained Daniel Larison of the American Conservative, so far "the supporters of this disgraceful and unnecessary war have faced no backlash or even much serious criticism."

As the problems metastasize with the rise of ISIL in Libya, however, the American people may be more inclined, contra Samantha Power, to critically assess the judgment and competence of Washington policymakers. When war-happy politicians, including Hillary Clinton and her gaggle of Republican rivals, next stand before America, voters should hold these pitiful policymakers accountable for the disaster they created in Libya.

This post first appeared at Forbes online.

Can We Bring a Glimmer of Hope to Syrians?

Huffingon Post Politics - Sun, 2015-03-29 14:26

In the cold nights of the northern Syrian spring, can you imagine the perils of giving birth in a hospital with no electricity? Newborns stood little chance of survival amid the chaos and carnage in eastern Aleppo, until the ICRC and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent managed to get an electricity generator across the city's frontline to the only paediatric hospital. A few days later, our Head of Delegation in Syria received an email with a picture of rows of incubators warming hours-old babies.

"It was risky getting the generator to hospital but it really saved lives," our delegation chief, Marianne Gasser, told me after Red Crescent volunteers braved sniper fire to help restore power.

Every new life is of course a moment of joy for its mother and father, and who could deny parents their hopes for a child, even in Syria as the country begins the fifth year of its devastating conflict? But the child's prospects are bleak. In Aleppo, it will grow up amid the rubble from months of heavy fighting and will sleep amid the unceasing noise of shellfire and shooting. If it flees with its parents it will join the 4 million Syrians who have sought refuge abroad, or become one of the seven million Syrians seeking safety with friends, family, in camps or in rudimentary shelters.

Every child born in Syria is touched by the conflict. Medical services are crumbling, the economy is on its knees, and the multitudes of jobless have few savings left to live on. The child's relatives will have been killed or injured. When the child falls ill its parents will struggle to get adequate treatment since the hospitals have shut down or been destroyed and the doctors have fled or been killed. The parents must worry about where to find food, how to stay warm and whether the water that still sometimes flows from the taps is safe to drink.

The Aleppo child will be particularly vulnerable in a conflict that has broken almost all the rules meant to spare those taking no part in fighting. Four years of destructive violence do not make it acceptable to attack medical facilities, indiscriminately target civilians or mistreat captives. Where you are born, your parent's beliefs or your ethnic background should not make you a target. The young, the old, women, the disabled, the sick and the wounded are entitled to protection under international law. Too often the ICRC's calls for those laws to be respected are ignored.

The conflict is having such an impact that the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement must repair more and more of Syria's basic infrastructure. Our engineers are fixing pumps, renewing pipelines, distributing bottles and trucking water to ensure that 16 million Syrians have drinkable water, a basic necessity of life. In Aleppo the electricity network is so damaged that there is little more than an hour of power a day. Our teams are replacing high-tension cables so that essential services, such as hospitals, have the electricity they need to operate.

Buildings are shattered by violence, but so are people. In Aleppo alone, the authorities estimate an extraordinary 70-100,000 people have suffered amputations since the conflict began. Each of those traumatized individuals needs rehabilitation to recover physically and mentally. Wheelchairs are needed, and so are prosthetic limbs. By the summer the ICRC and the SARC will have two large orthopaedic clinics running, in Aleppo and Damascus, to provide artificial limbs and therapy.

It is projects like our water services and our physical rehabilitation clinics that make a difference in Syria. Marianne has recently returned to Syria after 18 months away. When I asked her what had changed she remarked that many of her old friends had lost hope. It is up to the politicians to make peace but the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, supported strongly by its donors in the Middle East, can help maintain hope.

Through a patient process of negotiation, and by insisting that aid be distributed solely on the basis of need, the Movement has increased those moments of hope. Every week, 200 trucks of aid leave our warehouses inside Syria and last year we doubled the number of times we crossed frontlines to reach those in need. Red Cross and Red Crescent societies in Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan are offering food and shelter to the most vulnerable, transporting and treating the war wounded and providing basic health services to refugees. Governments and citizens have proved generous hosts for thousands of Syrians who would simply like to go safely home. In Syria itself many of those who have a little seek to share it. The ICRC provides food and pays for cooking gas for collective kitchens that feed thousands of people. But these kitchens are run by local charities and would not survive without the admirable generosity of fellow Syrians.

The nature of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, a partnership of international and local response that is independent and impartial, gives it a unique ability to sustain hope for years to come. The Movement is ready to double its current level of response in Syria and its help for refugees and hard-hit host communities in neighboring countries.

The conflict will not stop tomorrow and we are planning ahead. There will be at least five more years of intense humanitarian activity required.

We are on the eve of the third annual conference in Kuwait to generate pledges of financial support for the Syria humanitarian effort, hosted by the Emir of Kuwait, His Highness Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, who has generously supported the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement in the past.

If this Kuwait meeting can generate long-term partnerships between donors and the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement it will be an extra glimmer of hope for every child born in Aleppo and across the region.

Indiana Takes on America: Discrimination Against Gays, Religious Freedom and Rewriting the Constitution

Huffingon Post Politics - Sun, 2015-03-29 13:48
The easy part is over. Americans now understand what the Indiana "Religious Freedom" law was intended to do: legalize discrimination by private businesses against homosexuals. It's not a secret, as Eric Miller of Advance America said. Indiana acted "to help protect churches, Christian businesses and individuals from those who want to punish them because of their Biblical beliefs! Christian businesses and individuals deserve protection from those who support homosexual marriages. A Christian business should not be punished for refusing to allow a man to use the women's restroom!"

Anti-gay bias and intent to discriminate are itself reasons to oppose the new law. But there's much more at stake. The organized Right is re-writing the Constitution and the impact will not be limited to gay Americans.

The supporters of the Indiana law are more diverse, intellectually capable, and more widely found across America than we think. Nineteen states have such laws, and not just the Old Confederacy. Liberal Rhode Island has one. The Indiana Catholic Conference supported the law (It "is very important to secure its passage"). The Indiana legislature considered it carefully, had hearings and received pages of testimony from distinguished legal scholars. (The Bill and the Testimony can be found at: The Bill; The Testimony)

There are elements of their argument that most Americans would support. We widely accept that religious organizations and places of worship should be free to practice what they believe. Should a church have to marry people outside its faith and beliefs? Should a Catholic church be legally required to perform a same-sex marriage? Should an Orthodox shul or a mosque be legally required to hire female rabbis and imams? Probably not.

It makes you think. Most Americans would say that some laws, even good ones, don't apply inside a place of worship. If that is all the Indiana law did, it would not have stirred up the current commotion.

But Indiana went well beyond that. The law extends the inside-the-church exemption to commercial enterprises. Business corporations get the same protection that a church gets.

If you think you've heard this before, you're right. It's the same argument used to attack Obamacare in the "Hobby Lobby" lawsuit. That time is was about insurance coverage for contraception, but the argument was the same.

And you also heard a variant in Citizens United, where the Supreme Court conservative majority said corporations have the same constitutional free speech rights as do living, breathing people.

The traditional view was that by engaging in business, you agreed to live by the laws of commerce. If not, then religious belief could justify segregation, or refusal to hire or serve women, or Muslims, or Catholics, or Jews. Or gays. There were, and are, a lot of sincerely religious people who would jump at that opportunity. The Indiana law re-establishes the right to commercially discriminate, especially against gays, if that's your religious teaching.

The Indiana brouhaha illuminates the broader, and more dangerous legal strategy at the heart of Tea Party, right-wing ideology, the personification of corporations. By enlarging the constitutional rights of powerful, wealthy and largely conservative corporations, the Right is diminishing the constitutional rights of most Americans.

It isn't the least bit "conservative". It is a radical, un-American, reactionary re-writing of our basic freedoms. We had struck a constitutional balance between private religious observance and public commercial activity. Real conservatives would be looking for a way to reasonably accommodate both interests.

With any luck, what's going on in Indiana will provoke a better understanding of what the Right is attempting. In the end, Tea Party skepticism of government intrusion on personal liberty is perfectly reasonable. But in this century, our liberties can be equally threatened by rewriting the Constitution to empower corporations that impinge on our liberty with equal effect.

Practice your religion in peace and dignity. Do business without discrimination and bigotry. Sounds easy.

The Rock Obama Returned To 'SNL' This Weekend To Go After Ted Cruz

Huffingon Post Politics - Sun, 2015-03-29 13:45
The Rock Obama is back, and he means business as usual.

Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson reprised his role this weekend on "Saturday Night Live" as President Barack Obama's alter-ego, The Rock Obama, a super-aggressive version of the real-life POTUS. As Johnson explains, The Rock Obama is just like Barack Obama -- except larger and more violent.

In a meeting with government leaders in the sketch, he casually throws Speaker of the House John Boehner (Taran Killam) out a window, rips off Sen. Tom Cotton's (Kyle Mooney) hand, and attempts to crush Sen. Ted Cruz's (Bobby Moynihan) head.

And, as it turns out, Michelle Obama (Sasheer Zamata) has her own alter-ego when she gets aggravated, too.

US and Europe's Economic and Security Threats: US Leadership is Vital to Investigate Prince Michael von Liechtenstein, Iran, Austria, Croatia, Montenegro and the Balkans

Huffingon Post Politics - Sun, 2015-03-29 12:55
The current war in Ukraine and the Balkan wars of the 90s could have been avoided if principled leaders in the West had focused on building the vital foundation of the rule of law and independent judiciaries at the time of the fall of the Berlin Wall. The lives of hundreds of millions of people in Eastern Europe could have been more prosperous and their future more certain. Instead, millions of Europeans live under oppression.

The coexistence of rampant political corruption and organized crime in post-communist Eastern Europe combined with money laundering which is facilitated by banking and corporate entities of rogue states such as Liechtenstein and Austria - have been major factors in regional conflicts and economic instability. Sanctions against Iran, "most active state-sponsor of terrorism", have been regularly obstructed by the same Western actors. Criminal enterprises and transnational organized crime fuel terrorism financing. Reports indicate that Balkan heroin trafficking brings in more than $20 billion annually, providing financing for Al Qaeda and Hezbollah. Kalashnikovs from the Balkans were used in the January 2015 Paris attacks killing 17 people.

US jurisdiction is indispensable to investigate the obstruction of justice on the European continent and clarify the role of another member of Liechtenstein's royal family - Prince Michael von Liechtenstein:

1. Money laundering for organized crime - Balkans, Croatia and Iran.
2. Money laundering for corrupt politicians - Hypo Alpe Adria Bank.
3. Money laundering for cocaine ring and Montenegro's criminal networks.
4. Immoeast real estate scandal in Eastern Europe.
5. Baltinvestbank in St. Petersburg, Russia.
6. Cross-directorships and funding of US and Europe's think tanks - concerns highlighted in an earlier piece titled, "FATCA - Are Transnational Criminal Networks Influencing US Policy?"

Money Laundering For Organized Crime - Balkans, Croatia and Iran

While the US imposed sanctions on Iran in efforts to curtail Iran's nuclear program, Iran's regime has been filling up the government coffers with proceeds from excise taxes and profits from regular tobacco sale. Additional benefit for Iran comes through its Croatian partner's core competence in smuggling (as reported by the media) with direct access to Liechtenstein's money laundering machine.

Croatia's tobacco company - Tvornica Duhana Rovinj (TDR) aka Adris was exposed by investigative journalists, whistleblowers and NGOs for alleged cigarette smuggling with connections to the Balkan region's organized crime networks and the Balkan Route - which was not investigated by Croatia's authorities.

According to the published articles, TDR started its business cooperation with state-owned Iranian Tobacco Company in the beginning of 2008. This initial partnership eventually grew into a formal joint venture and a jointly owned factory which started operating in September 2013.

In an Open Letter to Michael Liechtenstein sent by Roger Helmer, Member of the European Parliament representing UK, and co-founders of Adriatic Institute, Joel Anand Samy and I in January 2015, we asked Prince Michael von Liechtenstein about his role as a board member of Rovita, Liechtenstein-based branch of TDR, launched in 1991. Rovita was liquidated on July 3, 2008, coincidentally, just two weeks prior to the US Senate hearing on LGT bank.

Money Laundering For Corrupt Politicians - Hypo Alpe Adria Bank

Why did a company controlled by Michael Liechtenstein take majority ownership of Hypo Alpe Adria Bank Liechtenstein's branch at the time of Hypo Alpe Adria Bank Group International's (HGAA) sale to German-based BayernLB in 2007? Was it to shelter corrupt Balkan politicians (it seems also Austrian and German politicians) and their private partners in crime with Liechtenstein's bank secrecy and complex off-shore structures? Was it to give them time to clean up the accounts before Liechtenstein's branch got nationalized by Austria's government? How many billions of dollars were stashed in Liechtenstein accounts of HGAA?

Called the largest banking scandal of post-war Europe, HGAA scandal is hiding billions of dollars of illicit financial outflows via crime and corruption that hemorrhaged government budgets of the countries in the Balkans since 1991. It cost Austria and German's taxpayers $11.93 billion by August 2014. In its latest move, Austria's government just refused to guarantee HAAG's debt.

The unresolved HGAA scandal is keeping entire nations in Southeast Europe hostage by corrupt politicians and organized crime. From a small bank in Austria's province of Carinthia, HGAA grew with politicians from the Balkan region siphoning off taxpayer money and charitable donations during the UN arms embargo in the early 90s. Proceeds from criminal privatizations during the 90s and 2000s in the Balkan nations continued to increase deposits of corrupt politicians in HGAA Liechtenstein. Consequently, many of HGAA's 'loans' were approved to politicians and 'connected individuals' without any collateral. Were these loans designed never to be repaid?

Did TDR use Rovita, its Liechtenstein branch, for illicit financial outflows? TDR's privatization process in the 1990s was considered, by independent voices, as another criminal privatization scheme without transparency and with cooked books. Additionally, TDR's senior management was allegedly involved in criminal privatizations of Croatia's other state-owned assets.

Money Laundering For Cocaine Ring and Montenegro's Criminal Networks

As a board member of Vienna-based F. A. Hayek Institute, Prince Michael von Liechtenstein is a welcomed guest in Podgorica, Montenegro. Among his hosts is Petar Ivanovic, the current Minister of Agriculture and former vice president and board member of Hypo Alpe Adria Montenegro (2007-2008).

According to local media reports, Ivanovic was close to "Balkan Cocaine King" Darko Saric and on a private plane together with Saric who was fleeing from Podgorica to Geneva in 2009.

Based on the research by Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project and published by BBC, among the recipients of the large Prva Banka's ("First Bank" - controlled by Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic's family) loans was Darko Saric. Local media reports claim that Hypo in Montenegro acted as a branch office of Djukanovic's Prva banka during Petar Ivanovic's tenure.

Robert Matijevic, former assistant to Croatia's Customs Director and Department Chief for Combatting Trafficking discovered in TDR premises 1.6 million excise tax stamps of the same serial number, issued by Montenegro's finance ministry in 2002. Instead of investigating this case, Croatia's prosecutor discredited the whistleblower.

Immoeast Real Estate Scandal in Eastern Europe

Immoeast, claiming to be the largest real estate company in Central and Eastern Europe, with properties in Moscow and Kiev, ended with €520 million "missing" in 2008. The cross-directorship of companies surrounding this scandal had Prince Michael von Liechtenstein in leadership and an alleged conflict of interest position.

Baltinvestbank in St. Petersburg, Russia

St. Petersburg-based Baltinvestbank (formerly known as BaltOneksimBank) is owned 17% by Prince Michael von Liechtenstein. With many Russian banks suspected of money laundering, Baltinvest bank's 74% ownership tied to off-shore jurisdictions, and Liechtenstein's track-record in sheltering dirty money do not bode well. A piece by Dr. Gordon Hahn in 2002, exposed financial machinations of BaltOneksimBank, and its then and current chairman and shareholder Yurii Rydnik of alleged ties to the infamous Tambov organized crime group.

EU Has "No Competence" and National Authorities Have No Rule Of Law

With billions of Euros spent by EU taxpayers through various forms of aid to Eastern Europe and bank bailouts, Roger Helmer, Member of the European Parliament representing the UK asked two questions of the European Commission in regard to the Money Laundering Scheme with the Hypo Alpe Adria Bank in the Balkan region and asked about Prince Michael von Liechtenstein's involvement, in April 2012 and March 2013, respectively. The European Commission responded:

While significant illicit financial outflows hemorrhaged the budgets of the nations where Hypo Alpe Adria Bank and other Austria-based banks operated, the respective national authorities have not attempted to retrieve the stolen monies.

Open letter to Croatia's Prime Minister Milanovic co-signed by Monica Macovei, Member of the European Parliament (MEP) and former Romania's justice minister, Roger Helmer, UK MEP, Natasha Srdoc and Joel Anand Samy, co-founders of the Adriatic Institute.

Liechtenstein has a provision which allows a tax deduction for corruption related expenses. Both Austria and Liechtenstein use the Austria Criminal Code which allows "Persons found guilty of serious corruption offenses to hold a leading position in a legal entity."

The US Should Lead the Way in Establishing the Rule of Law and Confiscating Illicit Enrichment

The fall of the Berlin Wall was exploited by Western corporate and financial entities that rushed to embrace ex-communists - a political class of criminals who are above the law, intertwined with unreformed intelligence structures, governing former communist states through transition. They jointly plundered the nations in Eastern Europe and are maintaining a status quo with a new generation of loyalists.

The unfinished work of establishing the rule of law and creating independent judiciaries in post-communist Eastern Europe has allowed corrupt politicians and their private partners in crime to work with transnational organized crime and terrorist networks. Today, they pose a real threat to the West and our rule of law civilization.

Citizens and leaders of strong rule of law nations must correct what we ignored in 1989 after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Principled leaders from the US should lead the way in assisting Eastern Europe's nations to:

1. Establish the rule of law and independent judiciaries.
2. Retrieve hundreds of billions of dollars in illicit financial outflows that hemorrhaged the budgets of Eastern Europe's nations through crime, corruption and tax evasion (source: Global Financial Integrity).
3. Confiscate unexplained wealth/illicit enrichment amassed by corrupt politicians and their private partners in crime.

Until the rule of law becomes irreversible, the post-communist region of Europe will continue to attract bad actors, rogue states, and perpetuate rampant corruption, transnational organized crime and terrorism financing - an imminent threat to the West and our citizens. The responsibility and moral obligation to act now should be a high priority for US leaders.

Creating the History You Want to Share

Huffingon Post Politics - Sun, 2015-03-29 04:46
I have a secret weapon when I engage complete strangers in political conversations as I often do. It's my U.S. Congressman, John Lewis. First I must say, this weekend there's a big party in Atlanta, celebrating Rep. Lewis' 75th birthday. It will be a momentous occasion for every person there, each in her or his own way.

Alas, we'll have to be there in spirit, but that's OK. John Lewis has a lifetime of experience with things of the spirit. He speaks of "the Spirit of History," which he says leads ordinary people -- of which he considers himself one -- to do extraordinary things. Despite being theologically trained this wonderful Representative of all his constituents does not flaunt his personal religious beliefs. Imagine that!

For almost 30 years, people in Georgia's Fifth District -- and all of America -- have been able to count on this person of unquestionable integrity, someone who shares our hunger for justice and love of the planet. Personally, when we decided to move to Atlanta in the late '80s, we chose an "iffy" neighborhood (now decidedly trendy,) relieved to know that even living in the Very Deep South, John Lewis' voice would be echoing ours in the nation's capitol.

As our Congressman, we experienced John Lewis to be the same intense, fearless adult that he'd been as one of The Children. That's what the luminous journalist David Halberstam titled his remarkable book about the revolutionary 1960 Nashville students whose lunch counter sit-ins he'd covered as a young newspaper reporter. In our conversation with him, Mr. Halberstam described them somewhat differently, "...a community of conscience that ended the last vestiges of legal feudalism in this society."

Representative Lewis always makes one feel special. When he published his memoir Walking With The Wind, it was an honor to explore that book with him at Atlanta's prestigious downtown Commerce Club. It was a lifetime high for me to "M.C." the Interdenominational Theological Center's presentation of their "Distinguished Public Servant" award to Congressman Lewis. But the marvel of Rep. Lewis is that he makes all of his constituents feel special.

And he is always sincere when he urges us to keep him informed about our concerns and opinions. While he has never veered from his commitment to nonviolence, he is stalwart in the face of conflict. Two examples suffice. When America attacked Iraq, Representative Lewis used one of his regular town halls to make clear to us the motivation: "O-I-L!" Nor did he mince words announcing his decision not to attend Israel's Prime Minister Netanyahu recent campaign speech before Congress.

So, inspired by my Congressman, I do go looking for what friends call trouble and I call democratic dialogue (thank you, Cornel West). When I hear a defensive "...but I'm just one person" or a wimped-out "what I do doesn't matter," I invoke the justly famous image of John Lewis on the Pettus Bridge: a physically slight, very young man looking as if he were Daniel leading the stalwart many into the lions' den: the sinister void between them and the wall of Alabama State Troopers defending an abominable status quo? That's where history gets made.

Then, if I've ignited a conversation, I invite my fellow citizen to the next level: the amazing experience of having a representative in Congress who actually represents the people of his own district and also -- in President Lincoln's words -- America's "better angels."

So it is with immense gratitude that we share the world's admiration and laud our Congressman. Our small gift to him for this celebration is to share his exemplary everyman (and woman) story. His essential wit and quiet humor is manifest in my favorite among the stories he tells on himself. As a child deep in Alabama's back-of-beyond, young John practiced his preaching to his sharecropping family's chickens. And, the Congressman now says with a twinkle, "... sometimes they said 'Amen!'"

Happy Birthday, John Lewis, who represents me!


Sunday Roundup

Huffingon Post Politics - Sun, 2015-03-29 00:17
This was a week of both progress and regression. First, Sen. Ted Cruz kicked off his presidential campaign and wasted no time showing what kind of candidate he'll be by claiming that, in the wake of 9/11, he stopped listening to rock and switched to country music. Finding a way, 14 years later, to use 9/11 to pander and divide is as impressive as it is cynical. Next, Indiana Governor Mike Pence found an even older way to divide, signing into law a bill that would, essentially, legalize anti-gay discrimination. On the other side of the progress/regression ledger, the five-year anniversary of Obamacare saw the percentage of uninsured adults fall to 12.9 percent. And, in case you missed it (though your daughter might not have), One Direction member Zayn Malik announced his retirement from the mega-group, citing his desire to relax. When even a One Direction member can choose to go in another direction, it's a reminder that we can all break with the past for a happier, healthier future.

To Avert Repeat Of 2008, Clinton Team Hopes To Keep Bill At His Best

Huffingon Post Politics - Sun, 2015-03-29 00:13
Bill Clinton’s hearing has faded. With his head of white hair and frail frame, he looks older than his 68 years — “truly grandfatherly,” as one friend said. He often jokes about what would happen if he were to “drop dead.”

Indiana Governor Mike Pence Seeks To 'Clarify' 'Religious Freedom' Law

Huffingon Post Politics - Sat, 2015-03-28 21:55

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Indiana Gov. Mike Pence says he would support legislation to "clarify the intent" of a new state law that has attracted widespread criticism over concerns it could allow discrimination against gay people.

In an interview Saturday with the Indianapolis Star (http://indy.st/1MhuY1d), the Republican governor said he's been in discussions with legislative leaders this weekend. He expects that a clarification bill will be introduced this coming week to the religious objections law he signed Thursday.

He declined to provide details but told the newspaper that making gay and lesbian Indiana residents a protected legal class is "not on my agenda."

Pence disputes the law allows state-sanctioned anti-gay discrimination, as some Indiana businesses, convention organizers and others have argued. He says he didn't anticipate "the hostility that's been directed at our state."


Information from: The Indianapolis Star, http://www.indystar.com

NBA Promises 'Inclusion' In Face Of New Indiana 'Religious Freedom' Law

Huffingon Post Politics - Sat, 2015-03-28 21:44
WASHINGTON -- The backlash to Indiana's new "religious freedom" law grew stronger Saturday, with professional basketball organizations and teams condemning the measure.

“The game of basketball is grounded in long established principles of inclusion and mutual respect. We will continue to ensure that all fans, players and employees feel welcome at all NBA and WNBA events in Indiana and elsewhere," said a joint statement issued by the National Basketball Association, the Women's National Basketball Association, the Indiana Pacers and the Indiana Fever.

Indiana Pacers and Fever owner Herb Simon added that all fans and players will continue to be welcome at his games.

“The Indiana Pacers, Indiana Fever and Bankers Life Fieldhouse have the strongest possible commitment to inclusion and non-discrimination on any basis," he said. "Everyone is always welcome at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. That has always been the policy from the very beginning of the Simon family’s involvement and it always will be."

Indiana's new Religious Freedom Restoration Act will allow any individual or corporation to cite its religious beliefs as a defense when sued by a private party. But what most troubles opponents of the legislation is that it could open the door to widespread discrimination. Business owners who don't want to serve same-sex couples, for example, may now have legal protections to discriminate.

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence (R) signed the legislation despite opposition from business leaders, convention organizers and even the Republican mayor of the state's largest city.

The National Collegiate Athletic Association, which is set to hold its men's Final Four game in Indianapolis next week, also came out Thursday and condemned the new law. Reggie Miller, the former NBA star who played for the Pacers for 18 years, tweeted his disappointment Friday:


— Reggie Miller (@ReggieMillerTNT) March 27, 2015

Other businesses that have criticized Pence for signing the law include tech giant Salesforce -- whose CEO said the company will be cancelling events in the state -- and Angie's List -- whose Republican CEO said he will not be moving forward with a $40 million expansion of the company's headquarters in Indianapolis.

"Angie's List is open to all and discriminates against none," Bill Oesterle said, "and we are hugely disappointed in what this bill represents."

Under pressure, Pence told the Indianapolis Star Saturday that he will back the introduction of a bill to "clarify" that the law does not promote discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals. Such a measure could come next week.

“I support religious liberty, and I support this law,” Pence said. “But we are in discussions with legislative leaders this weekend to see if there’s a way to clarify the intent of the law.”

But gay rights advocates greeted Pence's announcement skeptically. Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin tweeted that legislation would need to include explicit LGBT protections -- something that Pence has already said is not on his "agenda."

Note to @GovPenceIN: 'clarification' is phony unless it has explicit LGBT nondiscrim protections & RFRA civilrights carveout. @JohnRussell99

— Chad Griffin (@ChadHGriffin) March 29, 2015

"You can't 'clarify' discrimination. Indiana now has billions of dollars and thousands of jobs on the line, all because the Governor wouldn't stop this dangerous bill," added Katie Blair, campaign manager of Freedom Indiana. "He has a second chance to save our reputation for Hoosier hospitality, but he has to stand up and protect LGBT Hoosiers."

Want more updates from Amanda? Sign up for her newsletter, Piping Hot Truth.

Enter your email address:

Bill Maher Slams Liberals For Slamming Liberals

Huffingon Post Politics - Sat, 2015-03-28 21:12
"Don't throw the synthetic baby out with the bathwater," said Bill Maher on Friday.

During his "New Rules" segment on "Real Time with Bill Maher," the talk show host took some time to call out liberals for attacking other liberals. Maher ran through a number of topics, including Elton John's boycott of Dolce and Gabbana over comments on gay adoption and in vitro fertilization, backlash The Economist got over a cover and a college president who was forced to apologize for sending out an email that said "all lives matter" instead of "Black lives matter."

"What is the point of attacking people who are 95 percent on your side?" said Maher, later adding, "I see atheists and agnostics bitching at each other. Why is this even a thing? Do you believe in a talking snake? Me neither. We're on the same team."

"Real Time with Bill Maher" airs Fridays at 10:00 p.m. ET on HBO.

Gov. Mike Pence To Push For Clarification Of ‘Religious Freedom' Law

Huffingon Post Politics - Sat, 2015-03-28 20:40
Gov. Mike Pence, scorched by a fast-spreading political firestorm, told The Star on Saturday that he will support the introduction of legislation to “clarify” that Indiana’s controversial Religious Freedom Restoration Act does not promote discrimination against gays and lesbians.

Australia To Join Negotiations On Chinese-Led Bank

Huffingon Post Politics - Sat, 2015-03-28 19:45
CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Australia announced on Sunday that it would join negotiations to establish a new a Chinese-led Asian regional bank that has emerged as a potential challenge to United States influence in a part of the world where the Obama administration has tried to forge stronger ties.

The U.S. has expressed concern the new Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, or AIIB, will allow looser lending standards for financial transparency, the environment and labor rights. The U.S. also worries the new bank will undercut the World Bank, where the U.S. has the most clout, and the Asian Development Bank, where it is the second-largest shareholder after Japan. Prime Minister Tony Abbott, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop and Treasurer Joe Hockey said in a joint statement that the government will sign a memorandum of understanding that will allow Australia to participate as a prospective founding member in negotiations to set up the bank.

"Good progress has been made on the bank's design, governance and transparency over the past few months, but we still have issues that we will address through ongoing consultations," the statement said.

"Key matters to be resolved before Australia considers joining the AIIB include the bank's board of directors having authority over key investment decisions, and that no one country control the bank," it added.

Beijing has pledged to put up most of the initial $50 billion in capital for the bank, which is expected to be set up by year's end. It is intended to help finance construction of roads and other infrastructure.

Working with institutions such as the World Bank and the Asia Development Bank, the AIIB has the potential to play a valuable role in addressing infrastructure needs and boosting economic growth in the region, with potential benefits for Australia, the joint statement said.

India and all 10 members of Southeast Asia's regional bloc are among the more than 30 governments that have so far sought to join the bank before a March 31 deadline.

While Japan, which has tense relations with China, is still holding out, the Obama administration appears increasingly at odds with sentiment in the very region where it has tried to strengthen its relationships over the past five years.

Abbott said last week that he expected skeptical countries including the United States and Japan would also join if China gave required assurances on transparency and board management.

WATCH: Nebraska Man Asks Oil Commission Just One Question: 'Would You Drink It?'

Huffingon Post Politics - Sat, 2015-03-28 17:55
James Osborn has just one question: "Would you drink it?"

"It" being a mysterious brown sludge -- allegedly fracking fluid -- that Osborn brought in a foam cup to a public hearing in Sidney, Nebraska, in front of the state Oil and Gas Conservation Commission on Tuesday.

And no, it wasn't a hypothetical question.

Osborn, the first of more than 50 people to speak out Tuesday on a proposed fracking wastewater storage well in the western part of the state, chatted amiably to the commissioners as he produced three plastic cups and poured a little bottled water into each. He then topped off each of the cups with a healthy portion of the mystery fluid, and offered them to the commissioners to drink.

"You told me this morning when I was in here... that you would drink this water," Osborn can be heard saying in a video posted to YouTube. He then gestures to the cups and calmly asks, "So, would you drink it?"

A pregnant silence follows, broken only when one of the commissioners cautions, "Sir, we [can't] comment on this."

Osborn spoke for several more minutes, then thanked the commissioners and the audience for their time and left the room.

According to the Omaha World-Herald, the three cups sat "untouched" for the remainder of the two-and-a-half-hour meeting.

(h/t Reddit)

Tesla's Self-Driving Feature Leaves Insurers Idling As States Scramble

Huffingon Post Politics - Sat, 2015-03-28 17:34
Tesla Motors’ plan to roll out a self-driving feature on some cars this summer has regulators, especially in its home state of California, scrambling to write new rules.

Current California law allows automakers to operate autonomous vehicles -- but not regular drivers.

“We have been trying to get a handle on what they are planning to do,” Bernard Soriano, deputy director of California’s Department of Motor Vehicles, told The Wall Street Journal. “We are knee-deep in it.”

Auto insurance is regulated on a state level, so any new policies must await a ruling by the states.

That leaves auto insurers, who represent the next hurdle in the push for driverless cars, idling with the engine on.

“This is so new, there’s really no track record upon which to assess what’s the likelihood that there will be a crash or lawsuit resulting from a crash,” Michael Barry, vice president of media relations at the Insurance Information Institute, an industry-funded nonprofit, told The Huffington Post on Saturday. “It’s in its infancy.”

Tesla did not respond to a request for comment.

On the bright side, the insurance industry has nimbly adjusted to other new technologies in recent years, Barry said.

He pointed to new programs created for drivers at car-hailing services, allowing them to get a dual policy that separately covers time spent driving for personal and commercial use.

“The auto insurance industry has adapted to technological changes in the past, and will continue to do so in the future,” Barry said. “Look at what’s going on with Uber and Lyft.”

Overall, he predicted that driverless cars will eventually lead to fewer crashes. But it's still far from clear who will actually be responsible if and when a crash does occur.

“Liability is going to become an issue,” Barry said. “The burden might be on the manufacturer of the driverless vehicle to prove that it is not responsible for what happened in the event of a crash.”

Tesla’s autopilot feature will only be available on interstate highways, as CEO Elon Musk has said the technology is not yet “safe on suburban streets.”

Fully automated vehicles are still a ways off from becoming the norm. If a circumstance arises where an accident is unavoidable -- say, for instance, a child runs out into the street -- the computers that control the car do not yet have the ethical reasoning to deduce whether they should sacrifice the driver by suddenly swerving away, or run down the child. Last September, Ron Medford, Google’s safety chief on its driverless car project, said the company had not yet begun to study that issue.

Either way, even when self-driving cars do become widely available, the rate of turnover in the U.S. car market will delay their widespread adoption.

“The average car on the road is about 11 years old, so it takes decades for the U.S. fleet to turn over,” Barry said. “I think we’re far away from seeing a lot of driverless cars on the roadways.”

Saudi-Led Coalition Bombs Yemen As Houthi Rebels Advance On Aden

Huffingon Post Politics - Sat, 2015-03-28 17:06
ADEN, March 28 (Reuters) - Saudi Arabia's navy evacuated dozens of diplomats from Yemen on Saturday and the United Nations pulled out international staff after a third night of Saudi-led air strikes trying to stem advances by Iranian-allied Houthi fighters.

Residents reported heavy clashes between the Houthis and mainly Sunni tribal fighters in the south of the country, while the air campaign sought to stall a fresh offensive by the Shi'ite Muslim group on Aden from the east.

Riyadh's intervention, a surprise move from a conservative monarchy better known for flexing its muscle in oil markets than through military might, is planned to last a month but could extend for five or six, a Gulf diplomatic source said.

He said satellite imagery had shown in January that the Houthis had repositioned long-range Scud missiles in the north, close to the Saudi border and aimed at Saudi territory. A Yemeni official said Iran, which says it has not armed the Houthis, was providing parts for the missiles.

Buildings at the Jabal al-Hadid military camp burn as smoke rises in Aden, Yemen, March 28, 2015. (AP Photo/Yassir Hassan)

Eighty-six foreign diplomats and Saudi nationals were shipped out of Aden to the Red Sea port of Jeddah, a Saudi military officer said, escaping the city where President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi had taken refuge until Thursday, when he left for Egypt to shore up Arab support for his crumbling authority.

The director general of Yemen's Health Ministry, al-Khadher Laswar, said more than 62 people had been killed and 452 wounded in the city since Wednesday. Explosions at Aden's largest ammunition depot on Saturday wounded nine people, he said.

In the capital Sanaa, which has been under Houthi control since September, the United Nations said most of its 100 international staff were evacuated. Airport officials said dozens of other foreigners working for international oil companies and NGOs also flew out to Ethiopia and Djibouti.

Houthi fighters seeking to overthrow the Western- and Saudi-backed Hadi have continued to make gains since the Saudi-led coalition launched air strikes against them on Thursday.

On Friday, the Houthis and allied army units gained their first foothold on Yemen's Arabian Sea coast by seizing Shaqra, 100 km (60 miles) east of Aden, allowing them to open a new front to march on the south's main city.


Residents said a Houthi convoy of armored vehicles, tanks and military trucks heading along the coastal road to Aden from Shaqra was attacked by warplanes before dawn on Saturday, and a number of vehicles were hit.

Local residents said the convoy had been stopped, but the Houthis were sending reinforcements to Shaqra and the advance along the main al-Mukalla-Aden road was expected to resume.

At an Arab summit in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheik, Hadi urged Yemen's army to protect state institutions and obey the orders of Yemen's "legitimate leadership."

He also underlined the regional dimensions of the conflict, calling the Houthis "Iran's puppet."

Yemeni President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi speaks during the Arab League summit in Egypt's Red Sea resort of Sharm El-Sheikh on March 28, 2015. (STR/AFP/Getty Images)

Saudi Arabia's intervention is the latest front in its widening contest with Iran for power in the region. Their proxy struggle is also playing out in Syria, where Tehran backs Bashar al-Assad's government against mainly Sunni rebels, and Iraq, where Iranian-backed Shi'ite militias are playing a major role.

Saudi Arabia's King Salman told the summit the operation would continue until Yemen achieved peace and security, while Kuwait's emir, Sheik Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah, said the Houthi advances "pose a threat to our security."

After the summit, Hadi flew with King Salman to Riyadh, rather than trying to return to Aden. Yemeni Foreign Minister Riyadh Yaseen said he would remain in an Arab capital until conditions allowed his return.

Iran has denied giving the Houthis military support, but Alaeddin Boroujerdi, head of the Iranian parliament's national security and foreign policy committee, added to the sense of confrontation, saying: "Saudi Arabia is too small to be able to threaten Iran" and condemning what he described as a Saudi attack on Yemen.

A Gulf diplomatic source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the Arab alliance initially planned a month-long campaign, but it could last up to six months.


The source said Yemen's military had about 300 Scuds, the bulk of them believed to be in the hands of the Houthis and allied military units loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, and that the campaign so far had destroyed 21 of them.

A spokesman for the Saudi-led operations said the air strikes had destroyed most of the Houthis' ballistic missile capabilities, but gave no details.

A Yemeni official in Sharm el-Sheik said Yemeni authorities had received information that Iranian experts had brought in parts for long-range missiles held at a base south of Sanaa. He said the air strikes had targeted these missiles, some of which had been pointing towards Aden or neighboring countries.

Armed members of Shiite Houthi militia walk on the tarmac of the Sanaa International Airport in Sanaa, on March 28, 2015. (MOHAMMED HUWAIS/AFP/Getty Images)

In the northern city of Saada, a Houthi stronghold near the Saudi border, witnesses said a power station was knocked out by the air strikes. The local prison director also said more than 400 prisoners escaped when their jail was hit.

Yemen, by far the poorest country on the Arabian peninsula, has struggled to regain stability since mass protests in 2011 that eventually unseated Saleh after 33 years in power.

Hadi led a U.N.- and Gulf-backed national dialog that was discussing a new constitution when the Houthis took the capital and pushed him aside. The Gulf official said the aim of the Saudi-led intervention was to restore that process, and that the Houthis could have a role in it.

In comments addressed to Arab heads of state meeting in Cairo, Saleh called on the coalition to stop "the aggression and return to the negotiating table," saying Hadi had failed to run the country.

"Let's go to dialog and elections, and I promise you that neither I nor any of my relatives will run for the presidency," he said. "Air strikes against Yemen have no justification except Hadi's failure to manage the state. I hope the brothers will not bet on a losing horse."

Charles Barkley Calls Indiana's New 'Religious Freedom' Law 'Unacceptable'

Huffingon Post Politics - Sat, 2015-03-28 16:50
A new "religious freedom" law in Indiana has NCAA basketball analyst and NBA legend Charles Barkley calling foul -- and calling on officials to move next week's March Madness Final Four tournament out of the state.

"Discrimination in any form is unacceptable to me,” Barkley said in a statement Friday afternoon. “As long as anti-gay legislation exists in any state, I strongly believe big events such as the Final Four and Super Bowl should not be held in those states’ cities.”

The legislation, signed into law Thursday by Indiana Gov. Mike Pence (R), does not explicitly mention discrimination against gays or anyone else. Rather, it "prohibits state or local governments from substantially burdening a person's ability to exercise their religion," according to The Indianapolis Star.

But critics say the bill could give businesses a legal foothold to refuse service to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals in the name of religious freedom.

Barkley's remarks echo the NCAA's own position, which President Mark Emmert voiced Thursday in a prepared statement.

"The NCAA national office and our members are deeply committed to providing an inclusive environment for all our events," said Emmert. "We are especially concerned about how this legislation could affect our student-athletes and employees. We will work diligently to assure student-athletes competing in, and visitors attending, next week’s Men’s Final Four in Indianapolis are not impacted negatively by this bill."

"Moving forward, we intend to closely examine the implications of this bill and how it might affect future events as well as our workforce," Emmert's statement continued.

Reggie Miller, a former NBA star who spent 18 years playing for the Indiana Pacers, also voiced concerns over the law, sending this message Friday to his 651,000 followers on Twitter:


— Reggie Miller (@ReggieMillerTNT) March 27, 2015

Many other prominent figures have spoken out against the law, including Apple CEO Tim Cook, likely 2016 Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff, who promptly canceled the company's planned events in the state following the bill's passage.

Finland's Schools Are Overhauling The Way They Do Things. Here's How

Huffingon Post Politics - Sat, 2015-03-28 16:37
Finland’s education system, often held up as an exemplary model for the rest of the world, is on the verge of making some major changes.

For years, Finland has led the pack in international test scores, becoming a source of fascination for education policymakers and experts. Now, the country is changing the way it teaches students. Going forward, Finnish schools will be placing less emphasis on individual subjects like math and history, and will instead focus on broader, more interdisciplinary topics. The goal, according to Finnish leaders, is to provide students with the necessary skills for a more technological, global society.

Here are three things you need to know about Finland’s changing education system:

1. Finland Is Instituting “Phenomenon-Based Teaching”

Finnish schools will begin reorganizing their classrooms during the 2016-2017 school year based on the country's new National Curriculum Framework. Some classrooms in Helsinki, the country’s largest city, have already begun the process, according to The Independent.

The National Curriculum Framework serves as a broad outline for educators, and requires that for at least a couple of weeks each year, educators use “phenomenon-based teaching" -- an approach that emphasizes broad interdisciplinary topics rather than single-subject classes. Instead of teaching about history or economics, for example, educators could give lessons on the European Union, blending aspects of history and economics, according to The Independent. Schools and localities will be given some degree of freedom over how they implement this method of teaching.

In a video posted to the website of the Finnish National Board of Education, Irmeli Halinen, the board's head of curriculum development, says that Finnish students will need to keep up with a changing world that is more technological and global and that faces challenges associated with sustainability.

“We are often asked, 'Why improve the system that has been ranked as top quality?' The answer is, 'Because the world is changing around the school,'” Halinen says in the video. “We have to think and rethink everything connected to school. We also have to understand that competencies needed in society and working life have changed and they are changing rapidly."

Later in the video, Halinen explains that being good at one specific subject is not enough in the changing world, and that students must be able to apply their skills and knowledge to a multitude of contexts.

“It is great if you’re good in math or in music, but it’s not good enough,” says Halinen. “It’s not enough, not in today's world and not in the future.”

2. Students Will Be Involved In Helping To Plan Lessons

Finland’s students will be involved in planning these new, interdisciplinary projects, and will be expected to evaluate their success.

“Some teachers in Finland see this current reform as a threat and the wrong way to improve teaching and learning in schools," wrote Pasi Sahlberg, a Finnish education expert, in a blog post reprinted in The Washington Post Thursday. "Other teachers think that breaking down the dominance of traditional subjects and isolation of teaching is an opportunity to [effect] more fundamental change in schools."

3. There Will Be An Emphasis On Student Collaboration

Finnish classrooms will literally be redesigned under the new curriculum framework. Instead of a traditional classroom, where kids sit in rows of desks in front of a teacher, students in the near future will work in clusters to promote communication skills, says The Independent.

A press release from the Finnish National Board of Education also notes that the new approach will emphasize the "joy of learning."

“The core curriculum is based on the learning conception that positive emotional experiences, collaborative working and interaction as well as creative activity enhance learning,” says the press release.

10 States That Volunteer The Most

Huffingon Post Politics - Sat, 2015-03-28 15:54
This story was originally published on 24/7 Wall St.

Nearly 63 million Americans volunteered a total of roughly 7.7 billion hours in 2013, a contribution estimated to be worth approximately $173 billion. Despite the economic and community benefits of volunteering, the percentage of Americans who volunteer fell from its peak of 28.8% in 2005 to 25.4% in 2013.

“Volunteers are the lifeblood of our nonprofits and schools and shelters and neighborhood organization, hospitals, hotlines,” said Sandy Scott, senior advisor at the Corporation for National and Community Service in an interview with 24/7 Wall St. “They provide enormous social and economic value for our country.”

Based on data from the CNCS, Utah leads the nation with 45.3% of its residents 16 and older volunteering in 2013. State residents also volunteered by far the most hours, with each volunteer contributing 85 hours in 2013 on average. Louisiana, on the other hand, had the lowest volunteer rate at just 16.7%. And each volunteer in the state contributed just 21.4 hours on average, the lowest figure nationwide.

Click here to see the states volunteering the most.

The volunteer rate only accounts for formal volunteerism and may overlook other ways people help their communities, said Scott. The CNCS also looked at the proportion of state residents who did favors for a neighbor. More than 20% of residents in six of the states with the highest volunteer rates reported doing a favor for a neighbor a few times a month, higher than the national proportion of 17.7%.

Although volunteering requires the commitment of often valuable, unpaid hours, an abundance of free time among state residents does not necessarily lead to higher volunteerism rates. For example, one might expect volunteer rates to be higher among unemployed individuals, especially since volunteering dramatically increases the chances of getting hired. However, this is not the case.

“If you’re unemployed and volunteering,” Scott said, “you’re honing your job skills, you’re making contacts, you’re showing a can-do attitude, and you’re increasing your social capital, your skills and doing all the things you should be doing to help find a job.”

Yet, unemployment rates in all of the 10 states with the highest volunteerism were lower than the national rate of 7.3% in 2013. Meanwhile, unemployment rates in the 10 states with the lowest volunteerism tended to be higher than the national rate. This suggests that a stable economy, despite requiring perhaps more of the residents’ labor and time, helps promote volunteerism.

The time available to an individual still plays a role in whether a resident will volunteer. Residents in states with long average commute times were the least likely to volunteer, while residents in states with relatively low commuting times were far more likely to volunteer.

Counterintuitively, Scott observed, “The most typical volunteer is actually a working mother, which might surprise you because who’s the busiest person around? It’s a working mother.”

Click here to see the states volunteering the least.

Volunteers work in a wide range of places, including religious organizations, schools, and civic institutions. Just over 4% of volunteers devoted most of their volunteer time at sport or art related organizations, the least popular volunteer outlet nationwide. Religious institutions, on the other hand, were the most popular, attracting more than 34% of American volunteers.

Homeownership is strongly associated with volunteering. Owning a home is usually a commitment to stay and live in the home’s location. Perhaps as a result, homeowners are more invested in their communities and tend to volunteer more. More than 65% of housing units in all but one top state for volunteering were owner-occupied, higher than the national homeownership rate of 63.5% in 2013. The opposite tended to be true in the housing markets of the states with the lowest volunteerism.

To identify the states with the highest and lowest volunteer rates, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the percent of state residents 16 and older who volunteered with an organization in 2013 from the Corporation for National and Community Service. The survey also included state data on historical volunteer rates, where individuals volunteered primarily, the types of volunteering activities, and the volunteer retention rate. In addition, survey respondents were asked whether they did favors for neighbors, voted in local elections, had confidence in public schools, and whether they trusted their neighbor. We also looked at state educational attainment rates, poverty rates, age cohorts by state, homeownership rates, and household median income from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2013 American Community Survey. The number of nonprofit organizations per 100,000 state residents also came from the U.S. Census. Annual unemployment rates are for 2013 and came from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. 24/7 Wall St. also considered Gallup’s 2013 well-being index.

These are the states with the highest (and lowest) volunteer rates.