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December 2014

Want to watch the ball drop? We've got you covered. Want to watch all the pre-midnight Times Square festivities? We've got you covered there too! We're happy to share the official web stream coverage of one of the best New Year's celebrations around. We tried to get a livestream of the Possum Drop, unfortunately, it wasn't available. So, New York City it is:
Official Host Allison Hagendorf and three correspondents will provide live, commercial-free, webcast coverage of the festivities leading up to the Ball Drop at midnight including backstage access, behind-the-scenes stories and interviews with revelers, performers and other celebrities. Additional highlights include the lighting and raising of the New Year’s Eve Ball at 6 p.m. EST, hourly countdowns, activities engaging the revelers, AP’s Year-End News video, live musical performances (TBA) and Special Guest the International Rescue Committee joined by the Mayor of New York City to push the Waterford Crystal button that signals the Ball Drop.

Broadcast live streaming video on Ustream

The problem with the "peace negotiations" that failed numerous times over the years is that the Palestinians cling to the hope that international organizations -- primarily the United Nations and its branches -- will force Israel into concessions that harm Israel's security, and will pave the way not for a lasting peace, but more war with Israel's position being weakened. Getting more by threats than negotiations is the tactic the Palestinians just can't seem to give up. This rejectionism, reinforced by those who think boycotting Israel will also force Israel to hang itself, has achieved nothing for the Palestinians. The State offered the Arabs of the British Mandate of Palestine in 1947 was rejected. Golda Meir's offer after the 1967 War was rejected. Offers at Camp David and later by Prime Minister Olmert were rejected. Always the threats. The threat of terrorism and more Intifadas. The threat of the Security Council forcing Israel back to the 1949 Armistice lines. The threat to join the International Criminal Court and put Israeli leaders on trial for war crimes. Always the threats, never the hard compromises. The threat of Security Council action failed yesterday, though it's likely to be tried again.. Today, Mahmoud Abbas and other Palestinian leaders announced that "Palestine" would join the ICC, via the Times of Israel:
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas signed a request Wednesday to join the International Criminal Court, a move that would establish a new avenue for action against Israel after the UN Security Council rejected a resolution which aimed to establish a timetable for a full Israeli pullout from the West Bank and East Jerusalem In a live broadcast from the West Bank city of Ramallah, Abbas signed 20 international treaties, including the Rome Statute, the ICC’s founding document.... The Palestinians planned to submit the paperwork for joining the ICC to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Wednesday afternoon, but postponed it, probably until Friday. Handing over the documents is the last formal step for Palestine to become a member of the ICC, which would happen in about 60 days.... Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in response to the announcement that it was the Palestinian Authority, not Israel, that had to worry about the ICC’s judgments because of its partners, Hamas, from whose Gaza territory over 4,500 rockets and other projectiles were fired at Israel during a 50-day war this summer. Abbas’s Fatah and the Islamist terror group Hamas are the joint backers of the current Palestinian “unity” government.

Al-Shabaab intelligence head Abdishakur Tahliil was killed during a targeted December 29 airstrike conducted by U.S. forces just outside of the Somali city of Saakow. The mission was conducted by unmanned aircraft and used Hellfire missiles to "microtarget" Tahliil's vehicle. Bloomberg reports:
The U.S. Defense Department in a statement today confirmed that Abdishakur Tahliil was killed Dec. 29 near Somalia’s southern town of Saakow by unmanned aircraft that fired several Hellfire missiles at a vehicle carrying him. Somalia’s National Intelligence and Security Agency, which reported the killing yesterday, said two other senior officials of the group also died in the attack. Tahliil “was responsible for al-Shabaab’s external operations,” according to the Pentagon statement. “His death will significantly impact al-Shabaab’s ability to conduct attacks against the government of the Federal Republic of Somalia, the Somali people, and U.S. allies and interests in the region.”
One of the most difficult aspects of battling groups like ISIS or al-Shabaab is that they're hard to root out once they've gone to ground; this makes Tahliil's death even more significant---and strategically beneficial. Tahliil, as mentioned above, handled all of al-Shabaab's "external operations." According to a report by the BBC, Tahliil had just replaced the group's former intel officer after that man was arrested earlier this week. This strategy---causing chaos within the upper ranks---has been used before. Military and African Union officials knew that when a U.S. drone strike took out former al-Shabaab figurehead and spiritual leader Ahmed Godane back in September, that his death would be the catalyst of yet another internal power struggle. Reuters adds:

This was a tough year. We lost two of Legal Insurrection's biggest fans, my in-laws, who after 68 years of marriage died a couple of months apart this summer. Our friend, reader, commenter and one-time photoshop "director" Patricia also lost her husband John. We also lost two of our dogs in a tragic incident two months ago. We're big dog lovers, and it's hard to get over. Mandy's severe stroke in early September, just two days before she was to come on board at Legal Insurrection full time to run the place, has left a cloud over everything that has happened since. The latest update from Mandy's mother:
This New Year’s Eve Mandy is home. Different therapists come to the home to provide rehab. She can walk short distances with my help and a left handed walker. She still has no use of her right arm but can feel some sensation. In addition to her IPad that has Apps on it, she is now using a speech recognition device which will help her to communicate. She understands most of what is said to her but cannot respond verbally. Surgery to re-attach her skull is scheduled for Jan. 8th. She is deeply touched and so very grateful to everyone who has donated, sent notes and gifts, prayers and good wishes. I believe 2015 is going to be a good year. Happy and healthy New Year to everyone.
I spoke with Mandy almost daily in the 18 months after joining us but before her stroke, and I was so looking forward to handing off many of the administrative and editorial responsibilities to someone I trusted and whose blog strategy and thinking were intuitively aligned with mine. Based on the updates from her mom, I don't expect that Mandy can return to us anytime in the foreseeable future, although there always will be a place here for her to do whatever she wants and can. It wasn't a bad year as relates to the blog activity itself.

Hysteria among anti-cop protesters reached a fever pitch in Pennsylvania last night when a man tried to run down cops with his car and was ultimately shot dead. FOX News reported:
Man tries to run over Pa. police, shot dead A man who had posted an online video threatening to kill police and FBI agents tried to use his car to run down officers seeking to arrest him on Tuesday so, fearing for their lives, they shot and killed him, authorities said. Police did not immediately identify the man, who was killed in Upper Darby, in suburban Philadelphia, as officers ordered him out of the car and he appeared ready to accelerate at them as they manned a blockade. Police Superintendent Michael Chitwood said the officers feared the man would kill them and they "did what they had to do." He said five officers fired at the man and no officers were injured.
Kimberly Guilfoyle reported live:

The label "Sick Man of Europe" has been awarded to many a European nation and empire since it was first used to describe the decrepit Ottoman Empire in the mid-19th century. Today, it seems the entirety of Europe, save the United Kingdom and Switzerland, is worthy of the "sick man" title. The Eurozone is teetering on the brink of yet another economic crisis thanks to continued low growth, high debt, and the rise of populist political parties in the weaker Euro economies. The euro currency dropped 11% against the dollar this year, falling to its lowest levels in two years. Russia, as I have already covered, is reeling in the face of 2014's plummet in oil prices and faces a crisis in its own currency; in fact, Russia's GDP contracted 0.5% in November, marking the first Russian decline since 2009, and is expected to decline 0.8% in 2015. Even Scandinavian economies, like those in Denmark, Norway, and Sweden, are positioned for trouble in 2015. With its economy tanking, there is little consensus on what Russia will look like politically in 2015. Basically, Putin has three choices: 1) Weather the storm hoping for a speedy recovery in oil prices, 2) Militaristic voyeurism (to boost domestic popularity, power, and perhaps induce a crisis that would prop up oil prices), or 3) Commit to real economic reforms along the lines of divesting state assets, weeding out corruption, and promoting a diversified economy. But right now most analysts and pundits are nervously looking at the political situation in Greece. On Monday, the Greek Parliament failed to elect a president, forcing a snap election, which will be held on Jan. 25. The current center-right coalition, led by Prime Minister Antonis Samaras's New Democracy Party, is expected to lose to the far-left populist party Syriza. Syriza's economic platform seeks to reverse austerity measures put in place after the first round of bailouts in 2010 and to repudiate much of Greece's debt, which currently sits at over 174% of GDP.

The United Nations Security Council just voted against a controversial Palestinian Authority proposal, introduced by Jordan, requiring Israel to pull back to the 1967 lines (the 1949 Armistice line), including designating all of East Jerusalem (which includes the ancient Jewish Quarter of the Old City). The vote failed to get sufficient votes to force a U.S. veto. Aljazeera reports:
The UN Security Council has rejected a Palestinian resolution calling for peace with Israel within a year and an end to Israel's occupation by 2017. The resolution failed to muster the minimum nine "yes" votes required in the council for adoption. It received eight "yes" votes, two "no" votes from the United States and Australia, and five abstentions, from the UK, Lithuania, Nigeria, South Korea and Rwanda. The US, Israel's closest ally, had reiterated its opposition to the draft resolution earlier on Tuesday. Washington said it could not support the draft because it was not constructive and failed to address Israel's security needs.
Samantha Power US votes No Palestinian Statehood The Times of Israel adds that the result surprised the Palestinians:

Forget the New Year's ball drop in Times Square. Brasstown, North Carolina celebrates with their annual Possum Drop. A plexiglass box containing a live possum is lowered when the clock strikes twelve and then there is much rejoicing. Or at least there was before PETA came to town. Participating possums were released back to the wild after their fifteen minutes of fame. Yet PETA claimed the annual Possum Drop would create a "zone of lawlessness" wherein anything could happen to the possum of the hour. According to the Wall Street Journal:
The community of Brasstown, population 240, has been lowering a plexiglass box containing a live opossum from a pole at Clay’s Corner Convenience Store at midnight on Dec. 31 for the better part of 20 years. Organizers call the Brasstown Possum Drop a hillbilly homage to the ball drop in Times Square. Animal-rights advocates say it is a cruel act to a shy creature that not only must be left out in the cold mountain air but also can be easily startled by the festival’s fireworks and brass band.

United Airlines and the popular travel site Orbitz, joined mega corporation forces to sue a 22-year-old Brooklynite. Aktarer Zaman created and runs the site Skiplagged.com. He claims he makes no money on the venture. Skiplagged utilizes hidden city ticketing. While not always the cheapest way to fly, often times hidden city ticketing can produce a significantly cheaper flight. Suppose you want to fly to Denver. A direct flight might be pricey depending on where you're coming from. But, if you were to book a flight to San Francisco that connects in Denver, and simply get off in Denver (hence, "hidden city") ditching the last leg of your flight, you may find you are able to reach your desired destination with a little extra cash in your pocket. Caveats do apply. For hidden city ticketing to work, flights must be booked one-way, and unless you want your bags to have their own vacation, checking a bag isn't optional either. Needless to say, airlines are not fans of the gimmick. All kinds of stipulations and contractual obligations listed in the fine print of plane tickets explain why. Hidden city ticketing is an old trick, but Skiplagged succeeded in making the little known 'discount' readily available. So much so, air travel behemoths are out to crush the site. CBS This Morning reports:

Obama recently sat down for an interview with National Public Radio during which he was asked how he is going to work with the new Republican controlled congress for the remainder of his presidency. His response was rather telling. Brendan Bordelon of National Review has the story:
Obama: ‘I’m Obviously Frustrated’ Dems Didn’t Run on My ‘Great Record’ in November In an interview released Monday by National Public Radio, President Obama made clear what’s long been suspected by White House observers — he believes Democratic politicians sowed the seeds of their own defeat in November by failing to support his “great record” as president... “I’m obviously frustrated with the results of the midterm election,” he said. “I think we had a great record for members of Congress to run on. And I don’t think we — myself, and the Democratic Party — made as good of a case as we should have. And, you know, as a consequence we had really low voter turnout, and the results were bad.”
Watch the segment below: Of course, some liberal media types are already trying to correct the mistake the American people made in November.

In a recent essay, Jonathan Spyer identified the likely approach the anti-Netanyahu coalition - specifically Isaac Herzog of Labor and Tzipi Livni of Hatnua - will take in preparation for the Israeli elections on March 17. Spyer writes, "The belief underlying the Israeli center-left’s campaign is evidently that if Israel is 'boxed in' it is because of its own 'extremists' and that the solution to this is greater accommodation to the U.S. administration." There's a problem with this approach, though: it may not resonate well with Israeli voters.
But if this is indeed to be the thrust of the center-left’s campaign in the elections, success is likely to continue to elude it. Israelis are deeply aware both of the threats that surround them, and of the cold attitude of the current U.S. administration toward their country. A campaign which seeks to blur or obscure these or to claim that they are largely of Israel’s own making is likely to win its proponents a further term in the opposition.
We only have to go back to last week, when Roger Cohen of the The New York Times published an interview with former Israeli peace negotiator Tzipi Livni, to see how true Spyer's assessment is. Livni, in the column, identifies Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud  Abbas as the one who torpedoed the American-sponsored peace process by failing to accept an American framework agreement, attempting to bolster a unilateral bid for statehood by signing international treaties and finally by agreeing to a unity government with Hamas. Yet even as Livni recounted Abbas refusal to negotiate in the middle of the op-ed, at the beginning and end of the article she asserts that only she and those aligned with her are moderates seeking peace. The problem is the disconnect between her accounting of Abbas' intransigence and her insistence that Likud is what's preventing peace is rather obvious. She can't convincingly claim that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is the major obstacle to peace when she herself has documented how Abbas scuttled the American peace efforts.

Ordinarily one wouldn't think that news of wreckage and multiple bodies being pulled from the sea could be classified as "good." But given what we already very strongly suspected---which was that AirAsia Flight QZ8501 had crashed, and that the likelihood of survivors was very poor---and given the continued unknown whereabouts of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, the news that the wreckage of QZ8501 has been found and that 40 bodies have been recovered so far can be considered "good" in the relative sense, despite its horrific nature. There was always more hope of finding this plane than of locating Flight 370. We didn't know much about QZ8591, but at least we knew that it had encountered bad weather, and that it had probably gone down suddenly in waters that were less than 150 feet deep. Had it not been for the mystery of Flight 370, it would have assumed that QZ8501 would have been found in due time. That is what has happened, and there is every reason to suppose that the flight data recorder and cockpit voice recorder will be recovered and we will learn the most likely cause of the disaster. The plane was found about six miles from where it lost radio contact with the ground, and there are reports that a plane-shaped "shadow" can be seen under the water. In addition:
The aircraft's last request - to climb higher to avoid a storm - was turned down... Geoffrey Thomas, editor of AirlineRatings.com, told Sky News: "We have a radar plot which shows the plane actually climbing through 36,300ft - it wasn't given permission to do that. "It also shows that its speed had decayed by 134mph and dropped dramatically to a level where it couldn't sustain flight."

Yesterday, the United States Military launched targeted airstrikes against the insurgent group al-Shabaab in Somalia. From the Washington Post:
“The target of the strike was a senior al-Shabab leader,” Kirby said in a statement. “At this time, we do not assess there to be any civilian or bystander casualties.” A U.S. defense official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss the ongoing analysis of the strike, said officials were not fully certain whether the strike had hit the militant. But he added: “We think the targeting was done precisely and accurately.” The official said that Monday’s attack on al-Shabab did not include any U.S. operations on the ground against the militant leader, whom he declined to name.
Multiple news outlets are reporting that the target was a "senior leader" of the al-Qaida affiliate, but American officials have not yet confirmed a name, or if the strike was successful. This is familiar territory for the U.S. Military, whose targeted drone strikes in southern Somalia this past September deposed former al-Shabaab front man and spiritual leader Ahmed Abdi Godane. After those strikes, Abu Ubeid Ahmed Omar rose to power within the organization, and although officials' lips are sealed (for now) about who this latest target was, it would make sense for the U.S. to target Omar.
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