I.R.S. to Recognize All Gay Marriages, Regardless of State

WASHINGTON — All legally married same-sex couples will be recognized for federal tax purposes, regardless of whether the state where they live recognizes the marriage, the Treasury Department and the Internal Revenue Service said Thursday.  The federal rules change is one of many stemming from the landmark Supreme Court decision in June that struck down the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act. That ruling found that same-sex couples were entitled to federal benefits, but left open the question of how the federal government would actually administer those benefits.  “Imagine a pair of women who marry in Albany and then move to Alabama,” Justice Antonin Scalia wrote at the time of the decision. “May they file a joint federal income tax return? Does the answer turn on where they were married or where they live?”

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Obama said willing to go it alone on Syria

WASHINGTON, Aug. 29 (UPI) — President Barack Obama is willing to order a military strike on Syria without the concurrence of allies or the United Nations, administration officials said.  Citing senior administration officials whose name it did not report, The New York Times said Thursday the president has not made a final decision on carrying out a limited military operation but a strike could come soon after U.N. inspectors leave Syria, possibly as early as Saturday.  The inspectors have been searching for evidence to determine who carried out a chemical weapons attack in which hundreds of Syrians were killed Aug. 21.  The administration officials said intelligence will show the attack was carried out by forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad although it does not tie Assad directly to the attack, the Times reported.  The officials said the White House believes the information justifies a limited strike that it expects would deter the Syrian government from further use of chemical weapons.

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‘Black budget’ document shows goals of U.S. intelligence agencies

WASHINGTON, Aug. 29 (UPI) — A summary of U.S. intelligence spending plans, the “black budget,” shows counter-terrorism remains the top priority, The Washington Post reported Thursday.  The 178-page summary of proposed spending of $52.6 billion in fiscal 2013 for the National Intelligence Program was leaked by fugitive contractor Edward Snowden, the Post said. The newspaper said it withheld some details because U.S. officials said their release could harm U.S. operations.  The spending is divided among 16 intelligence agencies with a total of more than 107,000 employees, the Post said.  The budget shows that efforts aimed at terrorism account for one-third of the spending and one in four employees at the Central Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency and other intelligence services. It shows the CIA has the biggest individual budget, about 50 percent above that for the NSA.

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NYPD designates mosques as terrorism organizations

NEW YORK (AP) — The New York Police Department has secretly labeled entire mosques as terrorist organizations, a designation that allows police to use informants to record sermons and spy on imams, often without specific evidence of criminal wrongdoing.  Designating an entire mosque as a terrorism enterprise means that anyone who attends prayer services there is a potential subject of an investigation and fair game for surveillance.  Since the 9/11 attacks, the NYPD has opened at least a dozen “terrorism enterprise investigations” into mosques, according to interviews and confidential police documents. The TEI, as it is known, is a police tool intended to help investigate terrorist cells and the like.  Many TEIs stretch for years, allowing surveillance to continue even though the NYPD has never criminally charged a mosque or Islamic organization with operating as a terrorism enterprise.

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How to Oust Assad

On Tuesday, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry spoke of the recent chemical attack in Syria as an “undeniable” fact — not a subject for debate. He called it “moral obscenity” and laid the blame squarely on the regime of Bashar al-Assad. The statement was an undisguised war speech. The only question now is what form that war might take and how long the battle will last.  There are several rumors swirling. One is that the Obama administration would prefer a mere “punitive” campaign. Some precision-timed leaks to the media seem to point in this direction. But such a strategy would accomplish nothing if the goal is to deter the Assad regime from ever using chemical agents again. Over the past year, Israel has waged half a dozen pinprick strikes on caches of advanced weapons inside Syria, likely because they were destined for Hezbollah in Lebanon. The very number of operations attests to how little they altered Assad’s mindset: he still imports high-tech hardware.

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Obama’s brother linked to Muslim Brotherhood

NEW YORK – President Obama’s half-brother in Kenya could cause the White House more headaches over new evidence linking him to the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and establishing that controversial IRS supervisor Lois Lerner signed his tax-exempt approval letter.  Malik Obama’s oversight of the Muslim Brotherhood’s international investments is one reason for the Obama administration’s support of the Muslim Brotherhood, according to an Egyptian report citing the vice president of the Supreme Constitutional Court of Egypt, Tehani al-Gebali.  In a news report on Egyptian television of a Gebali speech, translated by researcher Walid Shoebat, a former Palestinian Liberation Organization operative, Gebali said she would like “to inform the American people that their president’s brother Obama is one of the architects of the major investments of the Muslim Brotherhood.”

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Brzezinski: Syria strategy is a ‘well-kept secret’

In a DW interview, former US National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski denounces what appears to be imminent military action against Syria, saying the US administration lacks a strategy for the region.  Zbigniew Brzezinski served as National Security Adviser to President Jimmy Carter from 1977 to 1981 and is regarded as one of the preeminent US foreign policy scholars. He is currently professor of international relations at Johns Hopkins University and a counselor and trustee at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, DC.

DW: After the suspected large-scale chemical weapons attack against civilians it seems some sort of military action against the Assad regime is now inevitable. Do you support military action or what is your sense of it?

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Amazon alters strategy to win landmark CIA contract

It was a contract that Amazon.com’s business-technology group wasn’t supposed to get.  The CIA, an organization whose data is among the most protected in the world, asked for bids last year on a contract to provide the agency Web-based tech infrastructure. Longtime government contractors — IBM, among others — seemed likely winners.  So when Amazon Web Services, or AWS, won the $600 million contract in January, IBM cried foul. Big Blue argued that the agency did not properly evaluate IBM’s bid, and the General Accountability Office, which reviewed the contract, agreed in part.  Now, Amazon is bidding again for the contract while also challenging in federal court the CIA’s ability to reopen the bidding.  Both winning the contract and sparking IBM’s ire are coming-of-age moments for AWS. The division, which Amazon launched in 2006, rents data storage and computer-server time to corporations and agencies to run core business processes.

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China and Japan REALLY Don’t Like Each Other

Having friends in both China and Japan, I have often been asked to explain both sides’ actions since the Diaoyu/Senkakus crisis began in September 2012. For example, my Chinese friends cannot understand why the Abe government is so “stubborn” and isn’t willingly trying to repair relations with China, while my Japanese friends wonder the same thing about the Chinese government.  A recent survey of Chinese and Japanese citizens views of each other’s countries helps shed light on these issues.  The results of the survey could provide answers to the questions of my friends.  This survey, which was commissioned by the Japanese think tank Genron NPO and China Daily, asked 1,805 Japanese citizens and 1,540 Chinese citizens about their views of the other country.

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Syria, Iran issue first explicit warning to Israel if US attacks

A senior Syrian official on Monday issued a first direct warning that if attacked, his country would retaliate against Israel. Khalaf Muftah, a senior Baath Party official who used to serve as Syria’s assistant information minister, said in a radio interview that Damascus would consider Israel “behind the [Western] aggression and [it] will therefore come under fire.”  “We have strategic weapons and we’re capable of responding,” he said. “Normally the strategic weapons are aimed at Israel.”  Muftah concluded with a warning that “If the US or Israel make the mistake of taking advantage of the chemical issue… the region will go up in flames… that will affect security not only in the region but across the world.”

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The Confidential Memo at the Heart of the Global Financial Crisis

When a little birdie dropped the End Game memo through my window, its content was so explosive, so sick and plain evil, I just couldn’t believe it.  The Memo confirmed every conspiracy freak’s fantasy: that in the late 1990s, the top US Treasury officials secretly conspired with a small cabal of banker big-shots to rip apart financial regulation across the planet. When you see 26.3 percent unemployment in Spain, desperation and hunger in Greece, riots in Indonesia and Detroit in bankruptcy, go back to this End Game memo, the genesis of the blood and tears.  The Treasury official playing the bankers’ secret End Game was Larry Summers. Today, Summers is Barack Obama’s leading choice for Chairman of the US Federal Reserve, the world’s central bank. If the confidential memo is authentic, then Summers shouldn’t be serving on the Fed, he should be serving hard time in some dungeon reserved for the criminally insane of the finance world.

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Hate-crimes hypocrisy

I would agree that pointlessly dwelling on the race of the perpetrators in the recent spate of black-on-white crimes would be wrong, Joel, but I don’t think it’s “pointless” at all.  For one thing, unlike the phatasmagorical politically-conjured boogeyman of trigger-happy white and “white Hispanic” neighborhood watch guys hunting down black youth for sport, gang violence is a very real menace, to young people of every racial background.  It is highly likely that the murders of both Chris Lane and Delbert Belton had gang connections.  In Lane’s case, the local man who turned in the perps is convinced they were gangster initiates, and believes his own son would have been the next victim.

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Jobs, Robots, Capitalism, Inequality, And You

Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe everything will be fine. Maybe the “widening gap between rich and poor” is temporary. Maybe the steady growth in the proportion of jobs that are part-time and/or low-paid will soon reverse.  Or maybe the idea that all the homeless need are old laptops and a few JavaScript textbooks is not unlike the claim that new technologies automatically create new jobs for everyone. Maybe, unless something drastic changes, most people are totally screwed.  This has not been a great decade for the average American. The recession ended in 2009, but median household income remains 6.1% below what it was in December 2007…while the income of the top 10% rose. Meanwhile, productivity growth has been exceedingly sluggish on both sides of the Atlantic. The Economist explains, and theorizes:

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Putin Is the Victor in Egypt as Obama Stumbles

We can legitimately debate whether there ever was such a thing as American exceptionalism, but today, it would be difficult to argue that there is not such a thing as American irrelevance.  Favoring the Muslim Brotherhood and speaking in patently naïve and platitudinous rhetoric calling for reconciliation between the Egyptian military and the Brotherhood, the Obama administration suspended aid to the military regime in Egypt.  Within hours, the Saudis stepped in to replace the suspended aid and showed that the administration’s threats were as meaningless as they were stupid.  In the meantime, Russian President Vladimir Putin has slid into the great-power vacuum to call an extraordinary meeting of the Kremlin and announce that Russia is putting all her military facilities at Egypt’s disposal.  Putin also announced Russia’s willingness to replace America in the joint military exercises the Obama administration cancelled as part of its escalating sanctions against the Egyptian military.

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Military Jury Convicts Army Psychiatrist on All 45 Counts in Fort Hood Rampage

KILLEEN, Tex. — A military jury on Friday found Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan guilty of carrying out the largest mass murder at a military installation in American history.   The verdict, delivered by 13 senior Army officers, came 17 days after Major Hasan’s court-martial trial began on Aug. 6, and nearly four years after the day in November 2009 that he killed or wounded dozens of unarmed soldiers at a medical deployment center at Fort Hood here.  Major Hasan, a psychiatrist who turned on the very soldiers he devoted much of his 15-year military career to helping, sat in a wheelchair in combat fatigues, an American flag patch on his upper right sleeve. Inside a Fort Hood courtroom filled with soldiers, military police and the relatives of those he killed, but none of his own family members, he had no visible reaction and sat motionless as the jury foreman, a female Army colonel, stood and read the unanimous verdict.

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The World’s Most Dangerous Place; Al Shabaab in Somalia

When Somalia won its independence in 1960, experts hailed it as one of the few countries in sub-Saharan Africa with a bright future because it lacked ethnic divisions and thus constituted one of the region’s few genuine nation-states. But several decades of corrupt and inept rule led to economic collapse and growing divisions within the complex mosaic of clans that form Somali society. State collapse in the early 1990s led to civil war, piracy off the Somali coast, international interventions of varying degrees of success, and eventually the emergence of militant Islamism. By 2010, al Shabab, the most militant of several Islamist groups that claim loyalty to al Qaeda, had gained control of the southern half of the country. It was soon routed by an international force assembled by the African Union. But for a couple of years, al Shabab represented the only al Qaeda affiliate in control of a sizable territory.  This story has not yet been adequately told, so these two exceptional books deserve a broad readership. Fergusson vividly recounts the grotesque horrors of the endless war in Somalia while leavening his account with the gallows humor of some of the war’s participants.

Facebook co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg aims to add immigration reform to his long list of accomplishments.

Since forming a public interest group with other leading tech CEOs back in April, he has intensified lobbying efforts for comprehensive immigration reform.  When asked why would he get involved with such a controversial matter, Zuckerberg said during an exclusive TV interview with CNN’s Chris Cuomo on “New Day” that it was an “important” issue for the country.”  He admitted that not everyone at Facebook was happy about his involvement. “When we were first talking about doing this, a lot of people actually were worried that it was going to be a problem for Facebook.”  He decided to tackle the issue regardless. “There are 11 million undocumented people who came here to work hard and contribute to the country, and I don’t think it’s quite as polarized as people always say.”

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China Takes Aim at Western Ideas

HONG KONG — Communist Party cadres have filled meeting halls around China to hear a somber, secretive warning issued by senior leaders. Power could escape their grip, they have been told, unless the party eradicates seven subversive currents coursing through Chinese society.  These seven perils were enumerated in a memo, referred to as Document No. 9, that bears the unmistakable imprimatur of Xi Jinping, China’s new top leader. The first was “Western constitutional democracy”; others included promoting “universal values” of human rights, Western-inspired notions of media independence and civic participation, ardently pro-market “neo-liberalism,” and “nihilist” criticisms of the party’s traumatic past.

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How The NSA Scours 75% Of The Nation’s Internet Traffic

The NSA – which possesses only limited legal authority to spy on U.S. citizens – has, according to the Wall Street Journal, built a surveillance network that covers more Americans’ Internet communications than officials have publicly disclosed, current and former officials say. The system has the capacity to reach roughly 75% of all U.S. Internet traffic. The NSA’s filtering, carried out with telecom companies, is designed to look for communications that either originate or end abroad, or are entirely foreign but happen to be passing through the U.S. But the WSJ reports that officials say the system’s broad reach makes it more likely that purely domestic communications will be incidentally intercepted and collected in the hunt for foreign ones. Details of these surveillance programs were gathered from interviews with current and former intelligence and government officials and people from companies that help build or operate the systems, or provide data. Most have direct knowledge of the work. Here is how the system operates…

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What The US And Russia Are Really Quarreling Over: Pipelines

Nearly two months ago, former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor-turned-whistleblower Edward Snowden handed smoking-gun documents on the international surveillance apparatus to The Guardian and The Washington Post in what’s become one of the most captivating stories in recent memory.  Snowden now lives in Russia after a Hollywood-like nearly six-week-long stint in a Moscow airport waiting for a country to grant him asylum.  Journalists and pundits have spent countless articles and news segments conveying the intrigue and intensity of the standoff that eventually resulted in Russia granting Snowden one year of asylum. Attention now has shifted to his father, Lon Snowden, and his announced visit of Edward in Russia.  Lost in the excitement of this “White Bronco Moment,” many have missed the elephant in the room: the “Great Game”-style geopolitical standoff between the U.S. and Russia underlying it all, and which may have served as the impetus for Russia to grant Snowden asylum to begin with. What’s at stake? Natural gas.

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