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Broken Government

Bipartisan Tax-Relief Effort for Struggling Homeowers

March 29th 2014

Home Foreclosure

Imagine two families.
  One family has paid off their mortgage and owns their home outright. They sell their home for a $75,000 gain. The tax code – as it should – exempts this gain from income tax.

The other family is struggling to make ends meet and is at risk of losing their home. Due to the historic downturn in the housing market a few years ago, they are still “underwater” on their mortgage and owe $75,000 more to the bank than their house is worth. They do the right thing and work with the bank to get part of their mortgage forgiven.

Things are looking up for our family. It looks like they will be able to keep their home. Then April 15 rolls around, and they get a huge tax bill from the IRS because that $75,000 in forgiven debt has been classified as “income.” Then they lose their home. That just isn’t right. Read more ..

The Bear is Back

America's 'Provocative Weakness'

March 28th 2014


As it continues its spiraling, across-the-board decline, the Russian Federation is becoming more relevant as a world power.

This development became most visible when President Barack Obama effectively placed Vladimir Putin in the driver's seat to resolve the crisis in Syria. The Russian strongman quickly used the opportunity to diminish the U.S. role even further. Somehow, before anyone seemed to realize it, the United States was opening the door to Putin's protectorate, the Islamic Republic of Iran, in a Cold War redux of economic incentives in exchange for talking about Teheran's Russian-supplied nuclear weapons program.

Meanwhile, Putin poised Russia to take advantage of the mess in Libya, with the Obama administration struggling to divert attention from the scandal surrounding the 2012 murder of the American ambassador and others in Benghazi.

The Russian leader continues to upstage the American president on the world diplomatic scene. His handlers portray him as virile and physically powerful; a man among men. Young people around the world share laughs at popular social media memes of a buff, shirtless, armed Putin versus a rather effeminate Obama posing cross-legged on "The View."

"Provocative Weakness"
"Russia's running out of about everything they need," former CIA director Michael Hayden tells inFOCUS. "Running out of oil, running out of gas, running out of entrepreneurship, running out of democracy, and most importantly, they're running out of Russians." Yet Putin has managed to place the United States on the defensive across several fronts.

The U.S. leadership's inept handling of the defection of NSA contractor Edward Snowden further empowered Moscow by showing it can act with impunity. The Putin regime moved carefully to permit Snowden's request for temporary asylum at a Moscow airport to become a full-fledged defection to Russian intelligence. At that point, the former KGB used Snowden's stolen classified materials to drive wedges between NATO allies and Washington.  Read more ..

Defense on Edge

Reverse the Defense Cuts

March 27th 2014

U.S. Naval Carrier

On January 23, 1980, Jimmy Carter delivered his final State of the Union address. It was a difficult time: Iran held American diplomats captive, and the Soviet Union had just invaded Afghanistan. “As we meet tonight,” the president told the assembled members of Congress, “it has never been more clear that the state of our Union depends on the state of the world.”

Carter, who had devoted the first part of his presidency to domestic reforms and arms control, was now prepared to act decisively; his eyes had been opened by the Russian move into Afghanistan, which he described as a “radical and aggressive step.” He imposed a number of stiff economic sanctions on the USSR, from denying fishing rights to shutting down access to high-technology equipment, and asked the Europeans not to “replace our embargoed items.” He articulated a “Carter Doctrine,” asserting that the United States would not countenance disproportionate Russian influence in the Middle East. But most of all, he moved to swiftly rebuild U.S. military strength, creating the Rapid Deployment Joint Task Force, the precursor to today’s U.S. Central Command, and proposing a 5 percent annual increase in defense spending — the precursor to the Reagan-era buildup. Read more ..

The 2016 Election

Hillary Uses Gender to Win

March 25th 2014

Hillary Clinton in blue

Throughout her political career, Hillary Clinton has used her gender and the still novel concept of a woman running for president to cloak her advances and shield her from losses. It is never about her. Her own merits, qualifications, defects, failures or shortcomings are never the issue. The question is always: How are we to treat women in politics?

Now that she is on the verge of running again for president, a Gallup poll shows that about one Clinton voter in five cites her gender as the leading reason to vote for her. Coming in second, mentioned by only half as many respondents, were her qualifications.

Clinton’s use of her gender as cover was evident when she conceded her battle for the Democratic Party’s nomination in 2008. Her line was that her candidacy had made “18 million cracks in the hardest and highest glass ceiling,” despite the prize of the presidency eluding her. It was not Barack Obama who beat her, nor her own limitations. She was defeated by the “glass ceiling,” and her campaign was a common effort of all feminists to crack it. Read more ..

Israelis and Palestinians

It's Always 'Groundhog Day' with the Israeli-Palestinian 'peace process'

March 23rd 2014

Obama meets Abbas

The 1993 movie "Groundhog Day," in which the character played by Bill Murray relives the same day over and over again, is an apt description of official Palestinian attitudes toward Israel and the peace process.

The repeated Palestinian rejection of Israeli overtures raises the stakes and draws ever more attention to seducing the Palestinians to participate in talks. The "peace process" movie plays like a repeating loop, with new scenes punctuated by years and shifts in the political winds but without progress. The fatigue associated with this demand for peace circumvents any historical knowledge of the Middle East.

Moreover, with the ongoing suffering in Syria, one has to wonder where the need for attention is greater; and why the constant focus is solely on the Israeli-Palestinian dynamic, ignoring the real tragedies in the region. Read more ..

Inside Politics

GOP Must Diversify to Win

March 20th 2014

us voters

Republicans anticipate a big election in November: the GOP is expected to hold its majority in the House of Representatives and possibly win control of the US Senate. Then, a divided party, struggling with critical demographic liabilities, will prepare to choose a nominee — and a direction — that can win the presidency for Republicans once more.

It’s not clear that the GOP will change in time to win in 2016, but the change required is all too clear: unless the party appeals to more minority voters, female voters and young voters, it won’t attract enough voters to take the White House.

That’s why candidates like Pablo Kleinman — a young, Jewish and Latino Republican entrepreneur running against Democratic Rep. Brad Sherman in Los Angeles — are so important.

Kleinman is the definition of a long shot — the California GOP is not exactly used to knocking off Democratic candidates. Sherman of course has been in the House since the last millennium, and successfully battled former Rep. Howard Berman in 2012 for the newly drawn 30th congressional district. Read more ..

Venezuela on Edge

Standing Up for Human Rights and Democracy in Strife-Torn Venezuela

March 19th 2014

Click to select Image

Many events have occurred since protests broke out in Venezuela several weeks ago, including the killing of 25 people by the government’s paramilitary. In addition, more than 1,000 people were arrested and others simply disappeared.

Contrary to the Venezuelan president’s pronouncements, this protest movement is composed mostly of young people, not of fascists or the old “oligarchy”. They are not rich and they are not spoiled. These are young people who see no future in a Venezuela that is turning more totalitarian and more repressive as time goes by.

These street mobilizations represent a social movement that could not find in the political system any expression. They are not demanding more food, salary increases, or personal advantage. They are fighting for their freedom and for their dignity. The slogan “Give me liberty or give me death” becomes very much a reality as these protestors find the status –quo in Venezuela increasingly unbearable. Read more ..

Russia on Edge

Not Your Father's Cold War

March 19th 2014

Vladimir Putin sunglasses

Will everyone please stop talking about a new Cold War?

However badly things work out between Russia and the United States and the West, a new Cold War isn't in the cards because Russia today isn't the Soviet Union. Sure, we are in a diplomatic and geostrategic conflict with Russia, which was the heart of the old Soviet Union. Also, Russia wants much of the real estate that belonged to the Soviet Union before it collapsed. And Vladimir Putin is a former KGB colonel who now waxes nostalgic for the good old days. That's about it.

That's hardly nothing, but the Cold War was far more than a conflict with Russia. Everyone should agree on that. Communism, anti-communism and anti-anti-communism divided Americans for decades, particularly among academic and media elites. Right and left may still argue over the merits of those divisions, but no informed person disputes that the topic of communism — the real version and the imagined ideal — incited riots of intellectual and political disagreement in the West for a half century. Read more ..

Russia and The Ukraine

Helping Ukraine is Punishing Russia

March 18th 2014

Ukraine protest

Sunday’s referendum in Crimea and provocative Russian troop maneuvers have raised the Ukraine crisis to new heights.

Congress has expressed strong support for Ukraine and condemned Russia’s seizure of Crimea. Unfortunately, some on Capitol Hill are pushing ideas that would do little to punish Moscow while undercutting U.S. and NATO security interests. Congress needs to be smart in how it seeks to help Ukraine and punish Russia.

A whirlwind has engulfed Ukraine since former President Viktor Yanukovich fled Kiev on February 21 and the Russian military occupied Crimea one week later. In response, Democrats and Republicans have backed Ukraine, called for Moscow’s international isolation, and supported steps to assure NATO allies in Central Europe.

Congress is now considering legislation to broaden sanctions against individual Russians. Senators John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) led a delegation to Kiev to underscore U.S. support. These are useful measures. Other ideas circulating on the Hill, however, make less sense. Read more ..

Obama's Second Term

The Most Cynical Generation

March 17th 2014

Young twenty-something people

In case you hadn’t heard, young people these days — a.k.a “the millennials” — are the most cynical and distrusting generation ever recorded. Only 19 percent think most people can be trusted. According to a big study from the Pew Research Center, they are less attached to marriage, religion, and political institutions than Gen Xers, Baby Boomers, and the other demographic flavors journalists love to use. They like their friends, their digital “social networks,” and their toys, and that’s about it. Not even a majority will call themselves “patriotic.” Probably more dismaying for liberals: Of any living generation, they are the least likely to call themselves environmentalists.

Now, I should say that I often find generational stereotyping pretty annoying. For instance, there was no “greatest generation.” Sure, there were a bunch of great Americans who stormed the beaches of Normandy. But is some guy who was in jail in 1943 for petty larceny deserving of special respect because he was born around the same time as a guy who won the Medal of Honor during WWII? Read more ..

Obama's Second Term

Obama Endangers Dems

March 16th 2014

Obama game face

As Democrats lost a special election in Florida because of the unpopularity of President Obama, the CIA under his administration is accused of spying on the Intelligence Committee of a Democratic Senate, and a new Wall Street Journal/NBC poll finds disapproval of the president among Democrats rising to 20 percent, The Washington Post headlines, incredibly, “Obama sounds midterm alarms for Democrats.”

Mr. President, Democrats are alarmed. About you.

The legacy of the Obama presidency could well include the destruction of Democratic control of the House, the Senate and a majority of governorships and state legislatures across America. Democrats can prevent this. My warning to Democrats and to Obama — whose presidency will effectively end if the outcome in 2014 is unfavorable — is that they must understand the gravity of the danger and the urgent need to improvise, adapt and do some things very differently. Read more ..

Palestinians on Edge

EU Report, EU Money Threaten Israel

March 15th 2014

EU flag

As Israelis in the southern part of the country have taken to shelters and safe rooms under a barrage of more than 60 (and counting) rockets from the Gaza Strip, and as the Israeli General Staff considers a response, it is worth a look at the just-released EU Heads of Mission report on Gaza. It got a few things right, including:

Criticism of Hamas rocket fire at Israel. "Whilst the number of rockets has been lower in 2013 than in previous years, indiscriminate firing of rockets towards Israel by extremist groups in Gaza has continued, in violation of international law." The report noted that 2013 was a quiet year, but Hamas is "nonetheless continuing to create fear for the population in southern Israel."

The EU couldn't have known about Wednesday's attacks, but it was also the committee's view that: "Despite Hamas' calls for a return to armed resistance, there is little evidence that Hamas has changed its policy on the ground. The ceasefire … has largely held." Though not for lack of trying. Hamas' "policy" was and remains to acquire ever more sophisticated rockets and missiles with which to threaten Israel. Consider what this week's attack might have looked like if Israel had not successfully intercepted the Iranian-sponsored shipment of Syrian missiles. Read more ..

Inside Politics

Rand Paul, Kingmaker

March 14th 2014

Rand Paul

Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul’s landslide win in the CPAC straw poll was predictably dismissed as insignificant and nearly rigged by the overwhelming majority of young voters who now dominate the Conservative Political Action Conference. True, they swoon for Paul’s outrage over the government takeover of their smartphones and aren’t representative of the voters who will ultimately decide the outcome of the GOP primary process two years from now. But underestimating Paul’s reach, determination and role in reshaping the GOP would be folly for Republicans and Democrats alike.

Paul currently crushes all Republican 2016 hopefuls in three critical categories: new ideas, fire in the belly and a clear strategy. His foray into African-American communities to press for the restoration of voting rights for criminals, his outreach to young voters on privacy issues, his bridge-building with Jewish voters on aid to Israel, his engagement with social conservatives and his refusal to draw hard lines on immigration and gay marriage are all designed to build a far broader coalition than not only that of his father, former Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), but of the other potential candidates as well. And while GOP primary voters aren’t likely ready to choose a candidate who makes Hillary Clinton look like a hawk, Paul’s hesitance on defense matters reflects a stark trend away from internationalism, not only among young voters but Americans in both parties and of all ages. Read more ..

The Ecology on Edge

With Carbon Emissions, American Interests Should Come First

March 13th 2014

carbon emissions

The White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) recently collected public comments on the social cost of carbon, a measure that federal agencies use in cost-benefit analyses of regulations that affect greenhouse gas emissions. The social cost of carbon is intended to measure the dollar value of the harm caused through climate change when an extra metric ton of carbon dioxide is emitted in the United States. Unfortunately, the executive branch has not properly answered the question: Harm to whom?

Federal agencies currently use a global measure of the social cost of carbon that includes the harm that U.S. emissions impose on everyone in the world. As I explained in my comment to OMB, however, the agencies should use a domestic cost measure that includes only harms to Americans, unless and until there's an international agreement to address climate change. Read more ..

The Battle for the Ukraine

Crimea and America's Responsibility to Lead

March 12th 2014

Ukraine protest

By the end of 2013, it appeared that a growing number of Americans and their elected leaders in Washington favored a reduction of America's role in the world. Yet after the successful uprising of the Ukrainian people and the aggressive, illegal response by Russia, no leader from either party has called for the United States to stay on the sidelines because the situation isn't relevant to America's security, prosperity or values. Good news indeed, and all the more because it contrasts so sharply with the prevailing anti-internationalist mood in Washington.

The invasion of Crimea struck a deep chord in the United States because it represents a threat to both American interests and values. One of the foundations of stability in the world is the absolute prohibition of employing force to adjust borders or annex the territory of another state. This is both a moral and a practical stance, because the wars of the previous century illustrated how a cascade of violence can be unleashed when borders are not respected. Read more ..

The Edge of Humanity

States Show the Way

March 11th 2014


The next time you see a chicken with a smile on its face, thank California. And thank the great liberal Justice Louis Brandeis.

No wonder there are so many happy chickens these days. Responding to a ballot initiative approved in 2008 with 63 percent of the vote, the California legislature has enacted new restrictions on egg-production farms. Under the new rules, egg-laying hens are required to have at least 116 square inches of space each, up from 67 square inches, which is now the case in so-called “battery” cages.

For caged hens, that’s good news. For the first time ever, they’re able to stand up, lie down, turn around, and even flap their wings. It’s still a hell of a life, but now, it’s a little more tolerable. And not just for California chickens: The law also requires that all eggs sold in California must come from equally well-treated, and equally happy, chickens in any other state.

For both liberals and conservatives, California’s new egg rules are the latest practical application of the wisdom first expressed by Brandeis in his famous 1932 dissent in New State Ice Co. v. Liebmann. Disagreeing with the majority over the right of a state to require a license for selling ice, Brandeis fully embraced the spirit of the 10th Amendment: “that a single courageous State may, if its citizens choose, serve as a laboratory; and try novel social and economic experiments without risk to the rest of the country.” Read more ..

Campaign 2016

The Left Moves on From Obama and Decides Upon Hillary Clinton

March 10th 2014

I walked by a bookstore a couple of days ago and there it was: the unequivocal statement that the left has abandoned President Obama. They have “moved on.”

HRC was the simple title of the book, presented in the boldest of letters, and repeated over and over in the copies which were set forth to dominate the window of the store.
The person in question is no longer “Hillary” or “Madam Secretary” or “the former first lady,” but “HRC.” (Editors’ note: The co-author of HRC is Amie Parnes, White House correspondent for The Hill.)

This label identifies Clinton as the next in line to personify the essence of the American dream as conceived by the liberal movement. FDR, JFK and LBJ are the icons. Now comes HRC. Read more ..

The Way We Are

Reauthorize Older Americans Act

March 9th 2014

Elderly couple

The Older Americans Act (OAA) was passed nearly 50 years ago to address the overwhelming number of seniors who fell into poverty as they aged. Like Social Security and Medicare, it made a solemn promise to our seniors that they will have access to the services and support they need as they live out their golden years. We are committed to continuing and improving the vital services that the OAA provides in our communities and in communities across this great nation.

Our policies must reflect the fact that more seniors are living longer, fuller lives. There are currently more than 41 million Americans ages 65 or older, about 13 percent of the U.S. population. As baby boomers continue to retire, the number will grow exponentially, according to the Health and Human Services Department. Read more ..

Broken Government

Some Light at the End of Tunnel in Congressional Fiscal Debates

March 8th 2014

After much ado and little done in Washington, is that a glimmer of light we see coming down the tracks? It could be, maybe.

There have been three items of good news during this last week or so. Three. Count them.

Let’s take a moment to say a small — but not excessive — hallelujah.

First and not necessarily foremost, but still truly significant: Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), the incoming chairman of the all-powerful Finance Committee of the Senate, implied that the Congressional Budget Office and Joint Tax Staff may be turning rational. For years, the CBO and Joint Tax Staff have subscribed to a counter-intuitive method of scoring tax law changes. Read more ..

Obama's Second Term

Obama's Mistaken Belief that Others See the World as He Sees It

March 7th 2014

Obama game face

Solipsism. It’s a fancy word which means that you assume others see the world as you do and will behave as you would.

It’s a quality often found in narcissists, people who greatly admire themselves — like a presidential candidate confident that he is a better speechwriter than his speechwriters, knows more about policy than his policy directors and is a better political director than his political director.

If that sounds familiar, it's a paraphrase of what President Obama told top political aide Patrick Gaspard in 2008, according to the New Yorker's Ryan Lizza. More recently, Obama’s solipsism has been painfully apparent as the United States suffers one reversal after another in world affairs. But it has been apparent ever since he started running for president in 2007. Read more ..

The 2014 Election

Just the Facts on 2014

March 6th 2014

us voters

The enrollment numbers for the Affordable Care Act skyrocket while unemployment plummets? A rash of ethics and sex scandals breaks out in the Republican conferences of both the House and Senate? President Obama brokers Middle East peace and disarms Iran? It’s hard to imagine a scenario, or “opportunity,” as it is called in politics, that could help Democrats alter their fortunes in the midterm elections this fall.

Democrats knew all along they couldn’t win the House by flipping 17 seats this fall; after redistricting there simply aren’t enough competitive seats, though the party’s leadership has asked members not to acknowledge this publicly. Winning six seats to flip control of the Senate, however, is now within reach for Republicans.

With West Virginia, Montana and South Dakota most likely takeovers at this point, Republicans are looking for more pickups in Arkansas, Michigan, Colorado, North Carolina, Alaska and Louisiana. The GOP could actually win between 10-13 seats, by some estimates, if a wave opened up. That’s not likely, but the bad news for Democrats is that losses in South Dakota, Montana, West Virginia, Arkansas, Louisiana or Alaska could mean Democrats won’t win those seats back for a generation. Read more ..

Broken Government

Dave Camp's Tax Reform Riles Special Interests: Especially Real Estate

March 5th 2014


Special interests of every species and subspecies populate the office towers of downtown Washington, D.C. And the Republicans’ top tax writer just sent a threatening letter to all of them.

Rep. Dave Camp, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, recently rolled out his proposal for reforming the federal tax code. Tax reform means lowering rates and closing loopholes - that is, repealing deductions, exemptions and credits. The arguments for tax reform are plentiful and powerful.

Our gnarled tax code drags on the economy. Consider General Electric's battalion of nearly 1,000 tax experts working to reduce the company's bill to Uncle Sam. There's nothing wrong with GE doing this. The shame is that it's worth it for GE to do this. Corporate America's army of tax experts are good people with families to feed, but our economy would be better off if they were creating value rather than navigating arcane statutes, codes and rules. Read more ..

Russia and the Ukraine

Why Did Russia Invade Ukraine? Because the West is Weak

March 4th 2014

Russian M17 Helos

This is the lesson the liberal world needs to relearn, a quarter-century after the fall of the Berlin Wall: none of its choices, be it military cuts, inaction, or diplomatic posturing, happens in a vacuum. While perceptions of Western irresolve or weakness don’t necessarily create conditions of instability by themselves, their real danger is that they make aggressive opportunism seem a more attractive path for revanchists like Putin or revisionist powers like Beijing.

The toxic brew of negative perceptions of Western/liberal military capability and political will is rapidly undermining the post-1945 order around the world. Reduced military budgets, global perceptions of American and European weakness, the outright dismissal of presidential redlines, and memories of total inaction like during the 2008 Georgian invasion or Syrian civil war have set the stage for future opportunism. Read more ..

Ukraine's Crisis

Made in EU: The Mess in Ukraine

March 3rd 2014


The situation might have been different if in April 2008 the West had extended NATO membership to Ukraine and Georgia. Russia would never have dared to deploy troops on NATO territory. Given that Europe opposed the admission of Ukraine to NATO, it should not then have tempted the Ukrainians with EU membership, exacerbating the divisions between the Ukrainians and their ethnic Russian minority.

It seems to be a tragic but hard lesson of history that Jews are often forced to play the role of canary in the mineshaft. Today, we are witnessing that phenomenon in Ukraine. As the situation in Ukraine, where nationalists last week deposed pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovych, is worsening, Jews are receiving blows from both sides. They are distrusted by the Ukrainian nationalists as well as the pro-Russian separatists.

With Ukraine descending into civil war, people on both sides are blaming "Jewish conspiracies" and attacking Jewish targets. The Jews, however, are not to blame for the crisis in Ukraine. The European Union is to a large extent to blame. Ukraine is an ethnically mixed country, with a large Russian minority. Preserving the balance succeeded relatively well until the EU began to foment trouble. Read more ..

Ukraine's Crisis

Ukraine: The Lies of Empire and the Smokescreen of Democracy

March 3rd 2014

John Herbst, US ambassador to Ukraine from 2003 to 2006, last week gave an interview to the RT television channel about current developments in Ukraine . According to Herbst, what we are witnessing is a peaceful uprising against an authoritarian, oppressive regime. He is unequivocal about this. He said that the protests and protesters are being smeared and discredited, and the only ones wanting to portray the opposition in Ukraine as being ultra nationalist, neo Nazis and violent are those who fear democracy on their own doorstep (i.e. Russia).

Herbst says the protests are a reaction to four years of oppressive government. While admitting that Yanokovych won a free and fair election in 2010, Herbst argues since that time he has put increasingly authoritarian strictures on the opposition and asserts that Yanokovych authorised the use of armed snipers against unarmed protesters. Read more ..

Defense on Edge

How Much Army is Enough?

March 2nd 2014

The Pentagon

The Pentagon's new strategy calls for an active-duty Army of 450,000 soldiers — the fewest number of full-time soldiers since before World War II.

That would be just 10% less than the average since the mid-1990s to halfway through the Bush years — not a huge change. Marines and Army Guardsmen and Reservists would be cut slightly less, in percentage terms.

Even so, how much is enough? Since 1992, the U.S. has based its planning for ground forces around the possibility of fighting two large regional wars at once. We thought they'd be Iraq and North Korea. They turned out to be Iraq and Afghanistan.

Now, Saddam Hussein is gone, Iraq is violent but not looking to invade anybody and all the military buzz is about drones, cyberspace, SEALs and long-range strike systems. And the Pentagon, since 2012, has declared the end of any interest in large-scale counterinsurgency and stabilization missions. Most Americans, chastened and fatigued by the Iraq and Afghanistan experiences, might happily go along with this new way of thinking.  Read more ..

The Way We Are

Let Authority of 'Hidden Law' Rule in Arizona

March 1st 2014

Gay Marriage

Future historians will likely be flummoxed by the moment we're living in. In what amounts to less than a blink of an eye in the history of Western civilization, homosexuality has gone from a diagnosed mental disorder to something to be celebrated -- or else.

Indeed, the rush to mandatory celebration is so intense, refusal is now considered tantamount to a crime. And, in some rare instances, an actual crime if the right constable or bureaucrat concludes that you have uttered "hate speech."Or, if you refuse to bake a gay couple a cake for their wedding. That was the horror story that sparked much of this foofaraw.

Arizona's proposed SB 1062 would have amended the state's 15-year-old Religious Freedom Restoration Act in a few minor ways so as to cover businesses the way it already covers government. Arizona's religious freedom statute was modeled on a similar federal law signed by Bill Clinton with large bipartisan majorities in both houses. It would have allowed small businesses to decline work that violated their consciences, unless the government could show a compelling reason why such refusal was unreasonable or unjust. Read more ..

Inside Politics

Bill Clinton's Rescue Ride

February 28th 2014

Bill & Hillary Clinton

Springtime is coming, baseball teams have reassembled for training, Robert Redford is back on cable playing Roy Hobbs in “The Natural” and Bill Clinton has begun his ride to rescue Democrats in the 2014 midterm elections.

In politics, the trick is to know the difference between the noise and the music. What passes for discourse in Washington is noise, which most Americans deplore, while the Democratic call to arms of Clinton, who reminds Americans of a time when jobs were plentiful and politics was not a dirty word, is pure music.

The 2014 midterm elections will be decided by votes in about 40 races for the House and Senate, which could well be won by either party with razor-thin margins. What distinguishes 2014 from midterm elections in 2006 and 2010 is that power in Washington today is divided between the two parties, and voters are unhappy with both of them.

Enter the former president, who began his rescue ride for Democrats this week in Kentucky, a state he carried in 1992 and 1996, which is now led by a widely respected Democratic governor, Steve Beshear. Read more ..

Asia Rising

The Asian Status Quo

February 27th 2014


Arguably the greatest book on political realism in the 20th century was University of Chicago Professor Hans J. Morgenthau's Politics Among Nations: The Struggle for Power and Peace, published in 1948. In that seminal work, Morgenthau defines the status quo as "the maintenance of the distribution of power that exists at a particular moment in history." In other words, things shall stay as they are. But it is not quite that clear. For as Morgenthau also explains, "the concept of the 'status quo' derives from status quo ante bellum," which, in turn, implies a return to the distribution of power before a war. The war's aggressor shall give up his conquered territory, and everything will return to how it was.

The status quo also connotes the victors' peace: a peace that may be unfair, or even oppressive, but at the same time stands for stability. For a change in the distribution of power, while at times just in a moral sense, simply introduces a measure of instability into the geopolitical equation. And because stability has a moral value all its own, the status quo is sanctified in the international system. Let us apply this to Asia. Read more ..

Inside Politics

Democrats' Enemy No. 1

February 26th 2014

Hillary Clinton in blue

Democrats have a big job in 2014: they need to hold onto control of the Senate, win back leadership of the House, and elect Democratic governors and state legislators in key states. But to get there, they face one big obstacle.

Arrayed against them will be an obscene amount of money. The dreaded Koch brothers alone, who spent $400 million in 2012 bashing President Obama and Democratic candidates, are expected to raise and spend just as much, if not more, in 2014. They’re already running TV spots against several incumbent senators and House members they deem vulnerable.

But Republican opponents and outside groups like the Koch brothers are not the Democrats’ biggest problem. Their No. 1 obstacle: themselves. As Pogo once famously said, “We have met the enemy — and he is us.” Here’s the problem: Too many Democrats, and too many members of the media, are spending too much time talking and scheming about 2016. Read more ..

The World on Edge

A World Ablaze - But Different Fuels

February 25th 2014

Ukrainian armed protesters

A bane of modern military studies (let's eschew the term "science") is the concept of counter-insurgency--the idea that indigenous revolts around the world can be analyzed with "the scientific method" and that a set of general principles, if implemented, could cure the problem. Common sense tells us that the essence of any dissidence/armed insurrection is its particularity, its basis in specific local conditions. They differ not only in geography but in the characteristics of individual societies. So, yes, that the army should not steal the peasants' chickens is a good maxim--but such bromides do not go far to tell you how to prevent civil war.


At the moment, we have one bitter internecine war in Syria, and three incipient revolts between two or more elements in Ukraine, Venezuela, and Thailand. Other conflicts, even messier to define, are growing in the Central African Republic and Nigeria. The question, of course, is whether there is anything that connects all these conflicts? And, if so, what if anything can be done to lessen tension and conflict?


The World on Edge

Why So Much Anarchy?

February 24th 2014

Ukraine protest

Twenty years ago, in February 1994, I published a lengthy cover story in The Atlantic Monthly, "The Coming Anarchy: How Scarcity, Crime, Overpopulation, Tribalism, and Disease are Rapidly Destroying the Social Fabric of Our Planet." I argued that the combination of resource depletion (like water), demographic youth bulges and the proliferation of shanty towns throughout the developing world would enflame ethnic and sectarian divides, creating the conditions for domestic political breakdown and the transformation of war into increasingly irregular forms -- making it often indistinguishable from terrorism. I wrote about the erosion of national borders and the rise of the environment as the principal security issues of the 21st century. I accurately predicted the collapse of certain African states in the late 1990s and the rise of political Islam in Turkey and other places. Islam, I wrote, was a religion ideally suited for the badly urbanized poor who were willing to fight. I also got things wrong, such as the probable intensification of racial divisions in the United States; in fact, such divisions have been impressively ameliorated. Read more ..

Russia and the West

Geopolitical Fight Between Russia and the West for Ukraine

February 23rd 2014

Protest in Ukraine

A geopolitical battle of sorts is being waged between Russia and the West over Ukraine—but it’s an uneven struggle. By all appearances, Russia cares more about losing Ukraine than Europe and the West care about gaining it. Moscow has fought hard to slow Ukraine’s effort to draw closer to the European Union, even imposing trade sanctions last summer as a foretaste of what Kyiv could expect if it signed an EU association agreement. Why the hard ball tactics? Vladimir Putin’s image of Moscow includes a sphere of influence in the post-Soviet space. If Ukraine draws closer to Europe, that leaves a huge hole. Moreover, pulling Ukraine closer to Russia matters to Putin in domestic political terms; it appeals to the conservative Russian constituency that forms the center of his political base. In December, Putin thus offered Ukraine $15 billion in credits and a whopping 30 percent cut in the price of Russian natural gas sold to Ukraine, a thinly veiled bribe to persuade President Victor Yanukovych to slow Ukraine’s relationship with Europe. Read more ..

Retirement on Edge

Why myRA is Not the Way to Save for Retirement

February 22nd 2014

Elderly couple

President Obama recently proposed to help more workers save for retirement through an executive order creating the myRA. The plan is being billed as the ROTH IRA for every man or woman with neither access to a 401(k) plan at their workplace nor the lump-sum deposit to open an IRA on their own.

Though well-intentioned, this isn't the best way to encourage workers to save more—it's just a politically easier route. A better way is to automatically enroll workers with a retirement plan through payroll deductions and give them the option to opt out. Congress has considered such a plan for years, but it has never gone anywhere and it's tough to see how things could turn around given the partisan bikering we've seen in Washington.

Nonetheless, an automatic Individual Retirement Account (IRA) is worth re-evaluating as the president makes his pitch for myRa. Half of America's full-time employees, about 75 million, arenot offered any type of retirement plan at work (except for Social Security).  Although many work at small firms with fewer than 10 employees, some work at larger firms. Over 20percent of American employers with 100 or more employees—mainly in agricultural, construction and retail sectors --do not offer any type of retirement plan at work. Read more ..

Obama's Second Term

Obama, the Shriking Imperialist President

February 21st 2014


Of all the time-honored failings for which we criticize sitting presidents — by "we" I mean pundits, academics and other members of the chattering phylum — two charges stand out: imperialism and shrinkage. Usually it's one or the other.

When the president is unpopular or when he's lost control of his agenda or when he just seems inadequate to the demands of the job, the headline "The Incredible Shrinking Presidency" proliferates like kudzu. When the Republicans lost control of Congress in 2006, the Economist proclaimed "The Incredible Shrinking Presidency" of George W. Bush on its cover. Barack Obama has been diagnosed with presidential shrinkage many times, including in Politico, the New York Times and my own National Review. The flip side of the shrinking presidency is the imperial presidency, something we've been fretting by name since at least Franklin Roosevelt and in principle since the founding. Read more ..

The 2016 Race

GOP in a Mess for 2016

February 20th 2014

Chris Christie

Democrats are busy changing the subject these days: to the minimum wage, climate change, income inequality, the 2016 presidential election — anything but ObamaCare. So you can imagine their excitement over the release of 25,000 pages of emails involving Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker.

Many long months before a midterm election and two years until primary contests begin, any Republican who is thinking of running or is thought of as running will be the subject of endless discussion by Democrats, who can pretty much lump candidates into two camps: the Christie wing, which they will label “corrupt,” or the Cruz wing, which they will label “crazy.”

After the New Jersey governor, recently the Republican front-runner, found himself in a whole mess of trouble with a home-state scandal involving political retribution he still says he knew nothing about, Chris Christie is no longer the darling he was on the national stage. So all eyes turned to Walker, whom establishment types hoped could win his third statewide election this year to become a top contender in the 2016 line-up, running as a successful reformer from an Obama state.

The honeymoon lasted only weeks before the news hit that Walker also had sullied himself in a political mess, which, if not illegal, is at least embarrassing. Dating back to when Walker was county executive and running for governor in 2010, two investigations have led to convictions for six former allies and staffers; emails reveal Walker not only knew of coordination between staff in his public county office and campaign staff but that he directed them to hold a daily conference call to facilitate it.

Should the county executive investigation impair Walker’s path to a second term, in what promises to be a challenging campaign this year, his presidential hopes are over. And if Walker gets reelected, the story could still dog him in a run for the White House. Read more ..

Inside Politics

Clinton's Ups and Downs

February 19th 2014

Hillary Clinton in blue

Last fall I read an analysis of a poll, conducted by Franklin & Marshall College, that used the survey’s findings to anoint Hillary Clinton the “most popular politician in Pennsylvania.”

Despite this glittering title, the bar for this Keystone moniker seemed surprising low. Her favorable rating was just 57 percent. The lynchpin of the enthusiastic analysis was ostensibly her “very favorable” numbers. At 38 percent, her most admiring slice of the electorate was said to be within a single percentage point of President Obama’s 39 percent “very favorable” apex, in his post-first-inauguration days.

I’m still not impressed, but the Legions of Hillary will continue to swoon over numbers like these, preparing the way for her ascendency to the Democrats’ throne room in 2016.

In nationwide polls conducted by well-respected public pollsters over the past four months, Clinton’s favorables have varied weirdly widely, from only 51 percent in two polls (NBC/Marist and Quinnipiac) to 59 percent in a CNN/ORC study and 58 percent in an ABC/Washington Poll survey. More recently, CNN/ORC asked for retrospective job approval of her performance as secretary of State, which showed 62 percent approval. Read more ..

Financial Edge

Eighty-Five Billionaires and the Better Half

February 18th 2014

The world's 85 richest individuals possess as much wealth as the 3.5 billion souls who compose the poorer half of the world's population, or so it was announced in a report by Oxfam International. The assertion sounds implausible to me. I think the 85 richest individuals, who together are worth many hundreds of billions of dollars, must have far more wealth than the poorest half of our global population.

How could these two cohorts, the 85 richest and 3.5 billion poorest, have the same amount of wealth? The great majority of the 3.5 billion have no net wealth at all. Hundreds of millions of them have jobs that hardly pay enough to feed their families. Millions of them rely on supplements from private charity and public assistance when they can. Hundreds of millions are undernourished, suffer food insecurity, or go hungry each month, including many among the very poorest in the United States. Read more ..

Inside Politics

Bill de Blasio Lifts the Left

February 17th 2014

New York skyline dusk

On great matters of income inequality and social justice for what is called the 99 percent, a new star is born from the streets of New York, who has lifted the spirits of progressives everywhere. The election of Bill de Blasio as mayor of New York City creates a powerful opportunity to turn the core vision of the Occupy Wall Street movement, as well as the core teachings of Pope Francis about economic justice, into the daily workings of city government in the global center of media and finance.

Already, during his short tenure at City Hall and with his rising stature on the national stage, de Blasio has applied his “tale of two cities” campaign to real-time governing initiatives to promote a higher minimum wage for workers, improved education for the young, better treatment of immigrants, more affordable housing for the homeless and the poor, and a more just contribution from the 1 percent who prospered so greatly before the financial crash, so inequitably from the financial bailouts, and so disproportionately from the so-called recovery. Read more ..

The Coal Problem

Coal is Good for Taxpayers and Everyone Who Pays an Electric Bill

February 16th 2014

coal mine

Fifty years after President Lyndon Johnson announced a “War on Poverty,” some Democrats in Washington and environmental extremists are more focused on winning the “War on Coal.” These two battles coincide because without the good jobs and affordable energy coal provides, more Americans would have a lower standard of living. If environmental extremists win the war on coal, we will certainly lose the war on poverty.

Just recently, some of our anti-coal colleagues tried to strike another blow against coal with a report on the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) federal coal leasing program.  Coal opponents asked the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to find something wrong with the program.

To their disappointment, the report actually highlights how vital coal from these leases is as part of our energy supply and economy.  The GAO report found that more than 40 percent of the nation’s coal production in 2012 came from federal leases generating roughly $1 billion annually for the Treasury.  Read more ..

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