Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Republicans Split Over Working with Iran on Iraq Crisis

Republicans Split Over Working with Iran on Iraq Crisis

Republicans Split Over Working with Iran on Iraq Crisis

Posted: 17 Jun 2014 12:24 PM PDT

The Obama Administration’s willingness to engage Iran in an effort to contain the spiraling Iraq crisis has exposed divisions between Republicans in Congress.

U.S. and Iranian diplomats talked Monday in Vienna about potentially cooperating in Iraq. The Administration is "open to any constructive process that could minimize the violence, hold Iraq together, the integrity of the country, and eliminate the presence of outside terrorist forces," Secretary of State John Kerry told Yahoo News.

Not everyone in Congress thinks that's a good idea.

South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham said Tuesday he supports the move given that the U.S. embassy is in the midst of an area thick with Shi’ite militia groups in Baghdad. "It's in our national security interests to protect our people to have a dialogue with Iran to make sure that they're doing whatever they can to keep the situation in bounds in terms of protecting our people," he said. "We've got Benghazi’s in the making all over Iraq and there are threats to our people on the ground."

But Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain, one of Graham's closest friends in Washington, disagreed. "It would be the height of folly to believe that the Iranian regime can be our partner in managing the deteriorating security situation in Iraq," McCain said in a statement Monday. "The reality is, U.S. and Iranian interests and goals do not align in Iraq, and greater Iranian intervention would only make the situation dramatically worse."

Wisconsin Republican Sen. Ron Johnson said that "Iran has no interest in stabilizing Iraq. … The last thing we need in Iraq is to have Iran have greater influence over Iraq. That would just further the tragedy that's occurring."

Iran and the U.S. have cooperated before. In the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, Iranian elite Quds Forces provided targeting information used by U.S. forces to bomb Taliban positions. Iran has little desire to see Iraq fall to the Sunni extremist group Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), which has captured Mosul and Tikrit in the past week and is within 60 miles of Baghdad.

“Whenever the United States makes a move on the ISIS, then we can think about cooperation with them in Iraq,” Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said over the weekend.

But in Washington, even Democrats were leery of full-fledged cooperation with Iran. "Our primary focus on Iran should be to make sure that they don't become a nuclear state," said Sen. Ben Cardin, a Maryland Democrat. "I think that we do have some common interests, but I think the primary focus has got to be the nuclear program."

The deadline for reaching a permanent agreement on Iran’s nuclear program is July 20, though many expect negotiators will not reach an agreement in time. "They may well have to extension but that was anticipated from the very beginning," said Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat. "It's more important to get it right." House Foreign Relations Committee members on Tuesday sent President Obama a letter on Tuesday reminding him that Congress must sign off on any final deal.

The one thing everyone in Congress did seem to agree upon is the idea that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki must go. Feinstein, New York Democrat Chuck Schumer, Graham, McCain, Rhode Island Democrat Jack Reed, McCain and Johnson all called for his resignation.

Maliki, a Shi’ite, is widely faulted for failing to form a government inclusive of the Sunni and Kurdish minorities in Iraq, leading to the sectarian collapse Iraq is experiencing today. But calling for his ouster might make any cooperation with Iran awkward as Tehran supports Maliki. The enemy of your enemy isn’t necessarily your friend.

IRS Commissioner on Email Scandal : ‘Nobody’s Hiding Anything’

Posted: 17 Jun 2014 12:21 PM PDT

IRS Commissioner John Koskinen defended his office’s conduct in the scandal over the tax agency’s alleged targeting of conservative groups Monday, after it admitted losing a trove of emails at the center of a congressional probe.

The IRS said that more than two years worth of e-mails disappeared as a consequence of a hard drive crashing in 2011. When asked by a CNN reporter about the missing emails and the crashed hard drive, Koskinen said: “I spent three weeks trying to restore it back in 2011, we’ve got 24,000 mails from that period so nobody’s hiding anything.”

Koskinen has been at the center of a House Ways and Means Committee investigation into how and why the Internal Revenue Service applied additional scrutiny on applications for tax-exempt status of political action groups. Last week, the IRS informed congressional investigators that it could not recover two years of emails from Lois Lerner, the former head of the agency’s tax-exempt status department.

Lerner was directly involved in questioning the tax-exempt status of conservative political groups applying for tax-exempt status, documents showed. The House Ways and Means Committee has urged prosecutors to pursue criminal charges against Lerner, who has repeatedly refused to testify on Fifth Amendment grounds. But evidence suggests that liberal groups were also targeted by IRS investigators, and a congressional probe has so far failed to show a connection to the White House.

Koskinen suggested on Monday that many of Lerner’s emails might still be retrievable from other computers within the IRS. “Even though her hard drive crashed, didn’t mean that their hard drive crashed so they have those emails.”

The IRS claim that it had lost the electronic correspondence sparked outrage among congressional investigators, as they were hoping that the emails would shed light on whether anyone outside the tax agency was involved in the alleged targeting of conservative groups. “We are simply not going to accept the IRS claim that these documents are not recoverable,” said House Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp.

Koskinen agreed Monday to testify to two House committees about the e-mails.


Top 10 Rewards for Terrorists

Posted: 17 Jun 2014 12:19 PM PDT

The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, a group of Sunni extremists causing global panic as it seizes major Iraqi cities or small towns in the north with its sights set on Baghdad, is headed by a man who has spent years with a $10 million bounty over his head, from the United States. The Rewards for Justice Program, administered by the State Department, offers compensation for information leading to the arrest or conviction of anyone who either attempts, commits or even plans an act of terrorism against American people or property. Established in 1984, the program has nabbed half of the top 10 bounties ever offered. Here is the list.

USA Goes Back to its Roots to Drum Up Winning World Cup Formula vs. Ghana

Posted: 17 Jun 2014 12:13 PM PDT


NATAL, Brazil – In Brazil, soccer's spiritual home, the U.S. national team returned to its roots to secure a dramatic, historic and somewhat unlikely World Cup triumph.

Gallery: Best Shots from USA 2, Ghana 1

Coach Jurgen Klinsmann's ambition to reshape the American game, from player development and professionalism to technique and tactics, remains the long-term aim. But it took a back seat Monday night here at the Arenas das Dunas in the colorful city on Brazil's northeast coast where the U.S. opened the 2014 World Cup.

The proactive panache with which Klinsmann hopes to play would have to wait. The opponent, Ghana, and the circumstances required pragmatism, grit and commitment. Those are qualities the Americans have boasted for years, and they carried them to a 2-1 victory that might be tough to explain on paper but made perfect sense to the men who engineered it.

"It's just something that's written in our DNA," said midfielder Graham Zusi, who hit the corner kick that led to reserve defender John Brooks' 86th-minute match-winner. "It's just the U.S. mentality. It's the best I can describe it."

WAHL: Brooks literally makes his World Cup dream come true

Klinsmann's effort to build a team that can possess the ball and dictate tempo has been met with mixed results. Taking the game to CONCACAF rivals is one thing, but the World Cup represents a different level. Ghana had come to embody that next step, eliminating the U.S. with 2-1 wins in both the 2006 and 2010 tournaments.

A sound American game plan would have to account for Ghana's speed and ruthless attacking efficiency, and, to Klinsmann's credit, he opted for the practical over the proactive. The squad's most conservative central midfielder, Kyle Beckerman, anchored a quartet that featured Michael Bradley in a more withdrawn role than he's played in recent games, along with Jermaine Jones and Alejandro Bedoya on the flanks.

The mission was clear: clog the middle and force Ghana either to play the extra pass through the midfield thicket or launch crosses from the wings. What resulted was a U.S. team that, aside from Clint Dempsey's stunning first-minute goal, resembled its predecessors more than Klinsmann's ideal.

WAHL: Three Thoughts on USA 2, Ghana 1

"We switched to a 4-4-2 just straight up, a flat 4-4-2, and when you're playing that, you're pretty much going to play a counterattack," Beckerman explained. "So I thought mainly the dangerous things that they had were getting it wide and crossing it in, a lot of half chances. But I thought we had some good blocks of four [midfielders and defenders]."

Ghana handled Dempsey's early goal well, put the U.S. on the defensive and spent a significant majority of the next 80 minutes in the American end. Bradley called it a "tailspin." The Black Stars won the possession battle, 59-41 percent, completed a far greater number of passes and outshot the U.S. 21-8. Yet that advantage didn't translate to the sort of point-blank scoring chances that might unhinge the U.S.

An equalizer seemed likely but not inevitable, and the Americans adapted after losing target man Jozy Altidore and central defender Matt Besler to first-half hamstring injuries. Dempsey, who had his nose broken by a Ghanaian boot in the 33rd minute, continued despite breathing issues and blood in his throat.

"It will happen to all teams: injuries, problems, issues. That's why you have a roster of 23 players and they have to understand exactly their role," Klinsmann said.

Added Beckerman: "It's tough to be not starting and having to come in early like Aron[Johannsson] did [for Altidore], and then you never really think a center back is going to go down and Brooks was focused and that was really good to see. And everybody fought for each other. We watched each other's back."

John Brooks Emerges as Unlikely World Cup Hero for the USA vs. Ghana

The U.S. continued defending vigorously in the Natal humidity, two of three substitutes having already been used. Center back Geoff Cameron was a monster in front of goalkeeper Tim Howard and in the second half, the Americans shored up the leaky left thanks to a robust effort from Jones.

"Tactically they're really disciplined, and I knew it was never going to be an easy game," Black Stars coach James Kwesi Appiah said.

The U.S. actually enjoyed its first decent stretch in some time just before Ghana leveled the score in the 82nd. At that point, it felt like Dempsey's goal had been scored during the pre-World Cup sendoff series. Legs were heavy, and, considering the injuries and prevailing run of play, a draw would have been a respectable result.

But the thousands of U.S. fans who filled the Arenas das Dunas chanted "I believe that we will win!" for a reason. This is a team with a tradition of late heroics – look no further than the 2010 World Cup – and there was a sense among the U.S. players that there somehow was another goal in a game that almost got away from them.

"The commitment, the mentality, the determination, just the willingness to fight, the response after they got to 1-1 was really good – positive body language – everything was exactly what you'd want. In the end, to get the winner is deserved reward in a lot of ways," Bradley said. "After they scored we made a real point of now attacking and seeing now if there wasn't another chance left for us."

Said Zusi, who replaced Bedoya: "It's the mentality of us to never be satisfied with just getting out of there with something. We always want to push. Obviously if we're in a situation where we're up, we're going to be smart. But in that situation we were in, we wanted all three [points]. We felt like we needed all three."

So they went and got them. Right back Fabian Johnson took a chance, pushed forward and earned a corner kick. Zusi delivered it, and Brooks, the towering 21-year-old with just four caps to his credit, headed the ball home.

"When a set piece comes like a corner kick, we always have a little more hope, because we are very good in that," Klinsmann said. "We have players who are determined to get onto those balls."

Set pieces, defend with discipline and counter, believe despite the odds: this was old fashioned American soccer. It isn't nearly enough to win a World Cup, and Bradley, who didn't have his best game, knows it.

"We're certainly honest with ourselves and know that we can and need to get better," he said.

Easy passes were missed, runs were cut short and on occasion, the U.S. pulled the ball back and gave Ghana time to re-establish its defensive shape. Possession and build-up must improve and Klinsmann's ultimate goal — to build a squad that can keep the ball and put the top teams on their heels – won't be abandoned.

But Monday's win, the Americans fifth in a World Cup in the past six decades, sends a couple of critical messages. One is that Klinsmann won't sacrifice short-term results for long-term ideals. The other is that, when necessary, an evolving U.S. team still has some deep-rooted traditions it can count on. Pretty or not, three points is three points.

"We didn't play our best game, but we grabbed a result and showed a lot of character," Dempsey said.

This article originally appeared on

TaskRabbit Is About to Change Dramatically

Posted: 17 Jun 2014 12:11 PM PDT

TaskRabbit, the website that lets people pay others to run errands for them, is getting a big overhaul next month. The service will shift away from the auction system it currently uses, in which contractors seek out and bid on tasks they'd like to complete. Instead, it will move to a system that matches people assigning tasks and workers seeking to complete odd jobs through an algorithm.

The revamped site will boast a transparent pricing system as well as the ability to choose a contractor with a single click.

The new approach is aimed at boosting the efficiency of TaskRabbit's task-assigning process and boosting the company's stagnant growth rate. The number of completed tasks on the site began to decline last year even though the number of users was rising. The company added 1.25 million new users in 2013 and expects to double that figure this year.

More than 25,000 people currently earn income by completing jobs through TaskRabbit.

Leonardo DiCaprio Pledges to Help Save World’s Oceans

Posted: 17 Jun 2014 12:11 PM PDT

Foggy Bottom got a little taste of Hollywood Tuesday, when Leonardo DiCaprio appeared at a State Department event to pledge $7 million to ocean conservation.

The Wolf of Wall Street star unveiled the pledge at the State Department's "Our Ocean" conference, saying the sum would go toward “meaningful” ocean conservation projects over the next two years, funding organizations and communities that are establishing marine reserves.

DiCaprio spoke on the same day it emerged President Obama would significantly expand marine sanctuary protections in the Pacific Ocean. While the actor applauded the Obama administration’s work on marine conservation, he said more needed to be done by the world’s governments to protect the fragile ocean environment.

"It's the Wild West on the high seas," DiCaprio said. "These last remaining underwater bio gems are being destroyed because there isn't proper enforcement or sufficient cooperation among governments to protect them."

DiCaprio, a diving enthusiast, described the environmental devastation that he had witnessed firsthand over the past 20 years in his dives in the Australian Great Barrier Reef. The "endless underwater utopia," he said, is now filled with bleached coral reefs and massive dead zones. During a diving trip to Costa Rica's Cocos Island, he witnessed illegal fishing vessels invade the waters of one of the world's few shark sanctuaries.

"We're plundering the ocean and its vital resources, and just because we can't see the devastation from dry land doesn't mean it's any less dangerous," he said. "It needs to stop."

DiCaprio has been a longtime ocean conservation advocate. Earlier this year, he gave a $3 million grant to Oceana, an international ocean conservation organization, through his Leonardo DiCaprio foundation.

New Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare Trailer Tells the Story of Its Story

Posted: 17 Jun 2014 12:10 PM PDT

It’s short and splashy and won’t tell you any more about Kevin Spacey’s heavily hyped role in Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, but Sledgehammer creative director Bret Robbins does clarify a few details about the futuristic arsenal you’ll be wielding in the game. That’s actually kind of important to understand for the following reason.

When I spoke with Sledgehammer co-founders Glen Schofield and Michael Condrey at E3 last week, they were keen to point out that Advanced Warfare isn’t a science fiction game. I told them that in fact it was, and that they’d stumbled into a debate that’s been raging for years over whether science fiction equals speculative fiction, say novels like Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake or Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, or the file drawer that Kurt Vonnegut quipped “so many serious critics regularly mistake … for a urinal.” Advanced Warfare takes place 40 years in the future and employs tech extrapolated from existing and near-future military concepts. That makes it the epitome of science fiction in my book.

I’m not sure what to make of Advanced Warfare‘s story at this point. Sledgehammer wasn’t talking at E3, and I didn’t really want to know. I know I haven’t enjoyed a Call of Duty story-wise for…well, maybe ever. But I did get the sense while watching the stealth demo at the show (you haven’t seen it, but when you do, you’ll understand), that the interactive narrative — the one you’ll create on the fly as you creep through the world in your tricked out exoskeletal suit — was much more than just the multiplayer tutorial these campaigns too often become.

Ronald Weasley Is Heading to Broadway

Posted: 17 Jun 2014 12:08 PM PDT

Another Broadway show is in for some magic.

Rupert Grint, best known for playing the lovable Ronald Weasley in the Harry Potter film franchise, is making his Broadway debut this fall in Terrence McNally’s It’s Only A Play.

The comedy offers quite a list of big names in addition to Grint. Matthew Broderick, Nathan Lane, Stockard Channing, Megan Mullally, F. Murrary Abraham and newcomer Micah Stock will also join the cast.

The Harry Potter alum will play Frank Finger, a successful young director of a new play by an anxious writer (Broderick). The comedy takes place on opening night of the writer’s play, and shows the cast passing the time as the writer eagerly awaits his first reviews.

It’s Only A Play first premiered in New Yorkin 1986 at the Manhattan Theatre Club. McNally has revised the play for this 2014 run, according to Entertainment Weekly. Jack O'Brien will direct the 17-week limited engagement, which opens at the Schoenfeld Theatre on October 9.

This won’t be the first theater credit for Grint. After the Potter films, he made his West End stage debut in the revival of Jez Butterworth's Mojo last year. His former co-star Daniel Radcliffe returned to Broadway this year in The Cripple of Inishmaan—but he’ll finish in July before Grint arrives on the scene.

Activision’s Eric Hirshberg Explains Why His Company Is Disruptive

Posted: 17 Jun 2014 12:08 PM PDT

Activision CEO Eric Hirshberg is at ease in the spotlight, four years after leaving ad company Deutsch LA to fill then-resigning Activision CEO Mike Griffith’s shoes. Hirshberg’s arrival at one of the largest publishers in the gaming industry came on the heels of sudden departures and legal brouhaha between Activision and esteemed members of its rainmaking Infinity Ward Call of Duty development studio. Many at the time worried Call of Duty, absent two of its studio founders and dozens of others, was in deep franchise-threatening trouble.

But since then, Activision—founded in 1979 by a bunch of ex-Atari programmers and responsible for some of the industry’s most recognized games—has grown by leaps and bounds, its stock price more than doubling since Hirshberg started. The Call of Duty series alone has become one of the top 10 game franchises with more than 120 million units sold worldwide, and the Skylanders toy-game series surpassed the $2 billion sales mark earlier this year, moving 175 million tiny plastic figurines (and seven games, with an eighth due this October) since launching just over two years ago.

At the end of the summer, Activision will ship one of 2014′s most anticipated games, Destiny, from the makers of Halo. Bungie’s sci-fi multiplayer-angled opus will ship for last- as well as current-generation consoles on Sept. 9. In early May, Reuters reported that the development and marketing expenditures for Destiny alone would top $500 million—another Hollywood-stomping record. If Hirshberg has his way, the returns (he’s anticipating revenue in the billions) will dwarf that investment.

Suggest that the company’s stifling its competition or leaning too heavily on safe moneymaking bets, and Hirshberg will claim otherwise. He may have a point: Of the company’s top three tentpole games at E3 2014—Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, Skylanders: Trap Team and Destiny—one of those franchises didn’t exist three years ago and the other has yet to appear on stage.

For more on Activision’s lineup, take a look at the video above.

Earthquake Insurance Becomes Boom Industry in Oklahoma

Posted: 17 Jun 2014 12:06 PM PDT

Just a few years ago earthquake insurance wasn't something many thought much about in Oklahoma. That's changed with the outbreak of tremors that has rattled the state in recent years, which many blame on increased oil and gas drilling activity.

"Every time there's a decent size earthquake there's a spike in interest," said Matthew Ramirez, an agent for Farmer's Insurance in Edmond, which has been affected by many of the recent quakes. So far in 2014, Oklahoma has seen 200 earthquakes of magnitude 3.0 or stronger.

Standard homeowner policies generally don't cover damage caused directly by earthquakes (to a building's foundation, for instance), though they usually do cover the damage that earthquakes can cause, such as burst pipes or fire. Before Nov. 2011 Ramirez insured "three or four homes" for earthquake coverage, "including mine," he said. On Nov. 6, that all changed. A magnitude 5.6 earthquake—the largest ever recorded in Oklahoma—destroyed 14 homes and injured two people. "In the days that followed, we were flooded with earthquake calls, about 20 per day for 2 weeks," Ramirez said.

Roughly 1% of the homes Ramirez insured in October 2011 had earthquake insurance. Today, he says, more than 40% of the homes he insures are covered for earthquake damage. Statewide, according to the Insurance Information Institute, the number of homes with earthquake policies has more than doubled between 2009 and 2013, to 12,407.

According to Amberlee Darold, a seismologist with the Oklahoma Geological Survey, it's no longer a matter of debate that hydraulic fracturing of oil and gas wells, or "fracking," causes earthquakes. "It's known that fracking can cause earthquakes and has caused earthquakes,” she said. Whether or not the injection of fracking wastewater into old wells for storage leads to earthquakes is a matter still up for debate, she said, but "there's no question with fracking."

Fracking, due to the nature of setting off underground explosions, is by its nature a seismic event and the American Petroleum Institute does not dispute that fracking can contribute to small-scale seismic activity. But the industry group rejects the idea that fracking causes earthquakes of a strength that can lead to a damaged home, for example. “A review of published research shows no cases of injuries or damage as a result of the very low level of seismicity related to this well-completion technique, which has been used in more than one million applications,” says an API report on the question.

Attributing any single seismic event to fracking is tricky, in the same way attributing any single weather event to climate change is problematic. But taken on the whole, it's hard not to link the notable increase in earthquake activity in Oklahoma with the boom in oil and gas drilling driven by advances in fracking technology. That boom shows no sign of slowing down, which may mean more earthquakes—and for the people selling earthquake insurance, more sales.


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