Russia rebels down Ukraine army plane

From The L.A. Times:

A Ukraine military transport plane was shot down by pro-Russia rebels near the industrial city of Luhansk late Friday, killing 49 servicemen in the most tragic incident yet in over two months of fighting in southeastern Ukraine, officials said. “On the night of June 13-14, firing from an anti-aircraft gun and a large-caliber machine gun, terrorists cynically and treacherously shot down a Ukraine armed forces transport plane IL-76 which was bringing personnel for rotation,” said a statement posted on the Defense Ministry’s official website Saturday.

“The plane fell in a farm field near the airport, exploded and burned,” said Vladislav Seleznev, spokesman for the anti-terrorist operation conducted jointly by the Interior and Defense ministries and the Security Service. “There were 40 servicemen and nine crew members on board.”

(Read Full Article)

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State budget: Governor, lawmakers expected to finalize deal

State lawmakers reached a tentative agreement on the state budget Thursday, after Gov. Jerry Brown caved to Democratic lawmakers’ demands over more funding for in-home support services for elderly and disabled Californians.

“We are at this point prepared to bring the full budget to the floors of both houses,” said Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, who has been overseeing budget negotiations in the conference committee, according to the Sacramento Bee.

Republican legislators, whose votes aren’t needed to pass the state’s spending plan for the next fiscal year, were left out of the budget negotiations. Consequently, Brown acted as the lone voice for fiscal restraint as Democratic lawmakers looked to help their core constituencies with billions of dollars in additional spending.

The tentative agreement would provide additional funding to social service programs — as long as certain revenue triggers are met during the next year.

Legislators win overtime for in-home servicesJerryBrownSchwAmong the budget agreement’s key points: additional money for California’s In-Home Supportive Services program, which provides assistance to elderly and disabled Californians. Considered an alternative to nursing homes and board and care facilities, the program was dealt a blow with new federal regulations set to take effect next year that changed overtime rules for workers.

The governor’s original budget proposal eliminated overtime, which, in turn, avoided as much as $600 million in additional spending by 2015. The proposed deal, according to the Sacramento Bee, relies on unspecified ways to curb abuse of overtime and is expected to cost “$180 million in 2014-15 and $350 million in future years.” Although the governor rolled over to legislators’ demands on overtime rules, he secured a 7 percent reduction in service hours for the 2014-15 budget year.

“I’m glad that the administration is with us on this,” Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, told the San Jose Mercury News. “The idea that we would cap the amount of hours to get around the federal requirement that we pay overtime was a non-starter. It didn’t work in the real world.”

Deal on funding Brown’s high-speed train

But Brown’s frugality on social service spending was balanced by an equally spendthrift tone in funding the state’s much-aligned high-speed rail program. As part of the tentative budget agreement, Brown secured up to $250 million in funding for the California High-Speed Rail Authority. But as the Sacramento Business Journal points out, that’s still “far less than the agency expects it will need to cover construction costs at that time, which is roughly $4 billion a year.”

As reported by CalWatchdog.com’s Chris Reed, the state’s high-speed rail program has been plagued by a pattern of problems and follies. Most recently, a report released in May found that an independent consultant had been pressured to hide a $1 billion increase in project costs.

Despite serious questions surrounding the legality and viability of the state’s high-speed rail plan, Brown went to great lengths to save his pet project, urging lawmakers to raid funds from the state’s cap-and-trade program. Those funds are legally earmarked to pay for offsets to carbon emissions. Some Democratic lawmakers questioned the governor’s plan to raid cap-and-trade funds.

“I think it’s a bad idea,” Sen. Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord, said of the governor’s high-speed rail funding proposal. “I don’t support what we’re doing on high-speed rail. I don’t support the authority using the cap-and-trade funds.”

That could provide an opening for GOP gubernatorial candidate Neel Kashkari, who has lambasted Brown for spending money on “a crazy train.”

More $ for Democratic lawmakers projects

But, the biggest winner in the state budget deal may be Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg. The Democrat, who has represented Sacramento in the legislature since 1998, secured $264 million in funding for preschools and $250 million in funding for the Career Pathways Trust program.

“The Career Pathways Trust now doubles our investment in the workforce that will lift our rising economy,” Steinberg said in a statement. “It provides critical support for school and college partnerships with businesses that provide work-based learning opportunities to young people. It brings tangible meaning to education, investing students in their own futures.”

Other items contained in the tentative budget deal are:

  • $40 million in a one-time budget allocation for court construction
  • $2.5 million to renovate the governor’s mansion in Sacramento
  • $50 million each for the University of California and California State University systems
  • $100 million for state-deferred maintenance projects
  • $20 million for homeless programs operated at the county-level
  • $3 million in funding for health care for unionized farm workers

Republican lawmakers generally praised Brown for holding the line on spending, while criticizing his high-speed rail budget.

“I think Republicans would focus more on public education, public safety and infrastructure,” Assembly Budget Vice-Chair Jeff Gorell, R-Camarillo, told Capitol Public Radio. “And we wouldn’t have invested as much in some of the social programmatic spending, and we wouldn’t have spent money on the high-speed rail.”

John Hrabe is a columnist for Calwatchdog. This article was originally posted on Calwatchdog.com.

Generals Defend Common Core

As another state debates whether to withdraw from the controversial Common Core multi-state education standards, input is coming from a surprising source: the military.

In North Carolina, where a bill potentially pulling the state out of Common Core is being hashed out between the state house and senate, a group called Mission: Readiness deployed several retired generals to make the case that Common Core isn’t merely sound educational policy, but also vital to the nation’s defense interests.download

While serving military officers are generally expected to avoid politics, retired generals have no such limitations, and several were in Raleigh Thursday for a press conference urging the state to stay the course. The standards, they said, provided high standards as well as accountability and consistency for the state’s students, teachers, and parents.

One of the generals speaking was Lt. General Marvin Covault, a former chief of staff for NATO forces in Southern Europe who now lives in North Carolina. The standards, he said, would be invaluable for ensuring the U.S. military has the largest possible pool of qualified recruits.

“The education that this nation is providing to its youth is, in my opinion, a national disgrace,” Covault told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “The military has a vested interest in this, because we need to have a continuous pool of talented young people to fill the ranks.”

Among America’s young adults, Covault argued, as many as 75 percent are unsuitable for federal service, whether due to criminal records, lack of personal fitness, or the failure to graduate high school.

Even among high school graduates, however, Covault noted that 20 percent are unable to pass the Army’s entrance exam.

“And I’m telling you, that’s not a very difficult exam,” Covault said.

By implementing tougher standards that are uniform across the country, Covault said Common Core would help ensure better human capital for America’s armed forces. He likened the possible improvements to education with similar improvement the Army made in the 1970s.

“[In the 70s,] there was a period where the U.S. Army was about as bad as it could get,” Covault said. Part of what turned the tide, he said, was creating rigorous common standards that all soldiers of a particular rank were expected to live up to.

Covault says that opposition to Common Core based on fears of federal intervention in education are totally misguided, and bolstered his claim by expressing his own strong distaste for large federal endeavors. The federal government, he said, has “zero track record” of effectively running anything at a large scale.

“If you track the decline of education in this country over the last 3-4 decades, you can track that with the rise and size of the institution of the Department of Education at the federal level,” Covault said. One virtue of Common Core, he said, is that it specifically did not begin with the Department of Education.

“It didn’t come from the federal government, and that’s a big big plus,” he said. “None of this other garbage that has come out of the Department of Education every four years has worked.” Common Core, however, began as a shared effort by different state governors who were convinced that repeated federal efforts weren’t getting the job done of ensuring high educational standards, Covault said. If people believe it was dictated by the federal government, he added, it’s likely as assumption based on what has driven educational change in the past.

Covault also emphasized that Common Core did not dictate how teachers ought to teach.

“That’s a common misconception, that it’s gonna tell teachers how to suck eggs,” he said. Actually, however, he said the key decisions about how to teach material remained at the local level.

“Innovation has not and never will come down from above. Innovation bubble up from below,” he said.

Mission: Readiness is a non-partisan group of over 400 retired generals and admirals that promotes various investments in America’s youth with the stated goal of improving America’s military preparedness. The group is one of five sub-groups within the umbrella organization Council for a Strong America.

Blake Neff is a columnist for The Daily Caller News Foundation. This article was originally posted on thedailycallernewsfoundation.org.

Was Biden right?

From Politico:

The advance of Islamic militants across Iraq has brought fresh criticism for the Obama administration — but may also deliver a grim measure of vindication to one very prominent White House official: Vice President Joe Biden.

In recent months, former officials and pundits questioned and even ridiculed Biden’s foreign policy acumen.Former Defense Secretary Bob Gates wrote in his memoir that Biden “was wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue of the past four decades.”

(Read Full Article

Photo courtesy Barack Obama, flickr

Photo courtesy Barack Obama, flickr

Iraq Unrest


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June 15, 2014

4 Takeaways From Hillary Clinton’s ‘Fresh Air’ Interview

From NPR:

So when exactly did Hillary Clinton change her mind on same-sex marriage? That question was left unanswered in the former secretary of state’s lively exchange with Fresh Air host Terry Gross. The same-sex marriage portion of the interview made for compelling listening because of how much Clinton bridled at Terry’s suggestion that she privately supported it long before she publicly endorsed it, and how much Terry kept asking the question. It was like a prizefight with two battlers refusing to back up.

The interview displayed a strength and vulnerability Clinton will have as a candidate if she decides to make another run for the Democratic presidential nomination. They’re one and the same: her experience. That experience, combined with her obvious smarts, is what makes her such a challenging interview for a journalist.

(Read Full Article)

Photo courtesy of stevegarfield, Flickr.

Photo courtesy of stevegarfield, Flickr.

Obama’s Response to Iraq

From the New York Times:

WASHINGTON — President Obama said Friday that he would make a decision “in the days ahead” about whether to use American military power to help the besieged Iraqi government stave off collapse at the hands of Islamist insurgents, but he ruled out using ground forces.

“This poses a danger to Iraq and its people and, given the nature of these terrorists, it could pose a threat eventually to American interests as well,” Mr. Obama said of the offensive now threatening Baghdad. “We will not be sending U.S. troops back into combat in Iraq, but I have asked my national security team to prepare a range of other options.” The president cautioned against expecting quick action, saying the planning would take “several days” to make sure any airstrikes were effective.

(Read Full Article)

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F.C.C. to Investigate Agreements Between Content Companies and Net Service Providers

From the New York Times:

WASHINGTON — The Federal Communications Commission is looking into the relationships between content companies like Netflix and Internet service providers like Comcast and Verizon to see whether consumers are getting the speed and quality of service they are being promised. Tom Wheeler, the F.C.C. chairman, said Friday that the decision to conduct the inquiry resulted in part from more than 19,000 public comments submitted to the F.C.C. asking it to look at the agreements and how they affect net neutrality — the concept that Internet service providers should not favor any content over another in delivering service to Internet users.

The F.C.C. separately is studying net neutrality with the goal of developing new rules to police it. Two previous attempts by the F.C.C. to do so were blocked by a federal appeals court. Netflix recently has accused Comcast of allowing congestion on its network to interfere with Netflix’s ability to deliver content to customers effectively. That led to an agreement by Netflix to pay Comcast for direct access to its network, a deal that many net neutrality supporters said was a violation of the principal, and one that Netflix quickly turned around and called unfair.

(Read Full Article)

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Chinese Hack of U.S. Utility Exposes Cyberwar Threat

From Bloomberg:

Somewhere in China, a man typed his user name, “ghost,” and password, “hijack,” and proceeded to rifle the computers of a utility in the Northeastern U.S. He plucked schematics of its pipelines. He copied security-guard patrol memos. He sought access to systems that regulate the flow of natural gas. He cruised channels where keystrokes could cut off a city’s heat, or make a pipeline explode.

That didn’t appear to be his intention, and neither was economic espionage. While he was one of the Chinese officers the U.S. charged last month with infiltrating computers to steal corporate secrets, this raid was different. The hacker called UglyGorilla invaded the utility on what was probably a scouting mission, looking for information China could use to wage war.

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House of Kevin McCarthy

From Politico:

He hangs out with billionaire Elon Musk, rides bikes with actor Kevin Spacey and counts Arnold Schwarzenegger and Condoleezza Rice as buddies.

He visits Silicon Valley almost every month, and flies from Washington to his district in Bakersfield, Calif., virtually every weekend to see his family, even if he stays for just 12 hours. When schmoozing with celebrities, the onetime deli owner often snaps a selfie on his iPhone — he’ll show his collection to anyone who wants to see it. He gushes about the painting of President Abraham Lincoln in his office or the modernized version of “Washington Crossing the Delaware” displayed in his conference room. But don’t let the affability and toothy smile fool you. Kevin Owen McCarthy lives and breathes the House of Representatives. He even sleeps in his office.

In roughly 48 hours, McCarthy of California put a stranglehold on the race to replace Eric Cantor as majority leader with a swift, efficient and aggressive whip operation — demonstrating an impressive display of insider muscle. By late Thursday, Texas Rep. Pete Sessions — McCarthy’s main rival for majority leader — dropped out of the race.

(Read Full Article)

Photo courtesy of Rob Crawley, flickr

Photo courtesy of Rob Crawley, flickr