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Broken Borders

Immigration Wimps

February 11th 2014

Immigration Protest

This is not complicated: There will be no immigration reform legislation this year.

Why? Because a minority of House Republicans believe that doing anything about immigration would only hurt them in this year’s Republican primaries. And under Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), the minority rules.

No, this is not complicated. But how we reached this point in the debate over immigration reform says a great deal about the lack of direction in today’s Republican Party.

Only a year ago, Republicans were the loudest voices for immigration reform. After watching the GOP share of the Latino vote sink from 44 percent in 2004 to 27 percent in 2012, many party leaders realized they had to do a better job of reaching out to the fastest-growing share of the electorate. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) even warned that Republicans were “in a demographic death spiral” and would fail to win the presidency again if their party were seen as blocking immigration reform. Read more ..


Broken Economy

Meet the 99.999999 Percent

February 10th 2014

American poverty

Forget about the 1 percent versus the 99 percent. It’s really more like the 0.000001 percent versus everybody else. A tiny group — mostly comprising the Obama White House, a bunch of Washington Democrats, progressive economists, and the media elite — continues to fixate on income inequality as America’s greatest challenge.

Most everybody else, the 99.999999 percent, sees things differently. Surveys continue to show Americans most worried about jobs and economic growth, not the income gap between the top and bottom. It’s a rational view given new employment data from the government. The January jobs report showed only 113,000 net new jobs created last month. It was the second straight month that job growth fell way short of both expectations and the level needed to return the U.S. economy to full employment. Now an alternative, less reliable jobs survey from the Labor Department shows much stronger employment gains. So perhaps reality lies somewhere in the merely mediocre middle. Read more ..


Obama' Second Term

Freedom for the Job-Locked

February 9th 2014

Obamacare

It’s only February, but it’s already my favorite word — or phrase, I guess — of the year. (Who knows, by December it may be shortened to “joblock.”) It’s not euphonious or edgy, but it does offer insight into the unreality of the Democrats’ predicament.

The Congressional Budget Office issued a politically explosive report this week, finding that Obamacare will reduce the number of hours Americans work by the equivalent of 2.5 million full-time jobs. This is different from killing 2.5 million jobs, Obamacare defenders are quick to insist. This will be a shortfall on the demand, not supply, side. In other words, people with health insurance will opt not to work in certain circumstances if they know they won’t lose their coverage. Democrats insist this is a boon. Indeed, many are talking about it as an act of liberation (which reminds me of an 11-year-old headline from the Onion: “IBM Emancipates 8,000 Wage Slaves”). Read more ..


Russia on Edge

No More Mr. Nice Putin

February 8th 2014

Putin

Vladimir Putin has been on his best behavior as the Sochi Olympic Games approach. He has granted amnesty to prisoners and political opponents, downplayed Russia's anti-gay law, lifted a blanket prohibition on demonstrations at Sochi and acted the welcoming host. The Olympics are a showcase for Russia and for him personally. He wants nothing to spoil the Games.

The Sochi Olympics will come and go, and the less kind, less gentle Putin will be back. He is likely to turn attention to Russia's neighbors that drew closer to the European Union last year — to punish them and to try to drag them back into Moscow's fold. Moldova and Georgia are prime targets, having initialed agreements with the EU in November. If a settlement of Ukraine's current crisis eventually puts it back on track to sign its association agreement with the EU, that country also will find itself in Putin's cross hairs. Washington and the European Union must consult and agree on a joint strategy in anticipation of such a development.

Putin does not want to re-create the Soviet Union. He wants deference from neighboring states. He knows that EU association agreements would pull states from Moscow's economic and geopolitical orbit. Keeping them in requires leverage. In past disputes with neighbors, Russia has used natural gas price increases and cutoffs, embargoed key imports and stoked inter-ethnic tension as a means of pressure or simply as payback. Each of the potential target countries has significant vulnerabilities.

Moldova remains dependent on Russia for natural gas. Many Moldovans work in Russia, remitting their pay back home. Moscow could move to recognize Transnistria, Moldova's breakaway eastern region, or exploit the upcoming Moldovan parliamentary elections to support candidates opposed to deepening links with Europe. Read more ..


The Diplomatic Edge

Rings of Fire

February 7th 2014

Sochi 2014 Olympic games torch

As Russia stumbles from one embarrassing snafu to the next in the lead-up to the Sochi games, at least one thing is certain: The 22nd Winter Olympics will be both the most controversial since 1980, when much of the free world boycotted the Moscow Games, and potentially the least peaceful since 1972, when Palestinian terrorists killed 11 members of the Israeli team. Amid the controversy over the Russian government's crackdown on gays and against the backdrop of threats by al Qaeda-affiliated groups, the Olympic Charter's promise to "place sport at the service of the harmonious development of humankind, with a view to promoting a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity," seems increasingly tenuous.

This should hardly come as a surprise. While International Olympic Committee (IOC) officials and diplomats the world over sing the praises of sporting diplomacy, the idea that athletics can break down barriers and advance peace is more myth than fact. Read more ..


Nigeria on Edge

Nigeria's Promise and Potential

February 6th 2014

Armstrong_Williams

While Americans celebrated the New Year on January 1, the date was a major milestone in the history of Nigeria.  It marked 100 years to the day since the separate protectorates of Southern and Northern Nigeria was united.  

There are many signs that Nigeria is increasingly catching the attention of the world and cementing its position as a leading force in Africa.  It possesses one of the strongest militaries on the continent, which it has been forced to rely upon as it combats the radical Islamic terrorists of Boko Haram. 

The group, which may be receiving help from al-Qaeda and al-Qaeda inspired fighters, has attempted to thwart Nigeria’s modern-day progress with sickening suicide attacks and the vicious targeting of Christians.  Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan has demonstrated an iron-clad resolve to safeguard his citizens and to take far-reaching steps to ensure that the jihadists do not succeed.

But when it comes to Nigeria and assessing its future, the focus should be on economic indicators that reveal enormous opportunity for Jonathan’s countrymen as well as outside investors and the nation’s allies. For the second year in a row, the U.N. Conference on Trade and Development has named Nigeria as the top destination for foreign direct investments in Africa with inflows of nearly $9 billion in foreign direct investment.

The influx of that degree of capital should help spur further economic growth and kick-start a new era of prosperity for Nigeria.  Further evidence of that positive momentum was the opening by GE of a $1 billion service and manufacturing facility in 2013. The American titan of industry has been active in Nigeria for decades, but this marks the largest-ever investment in sub-Saharan Africa to date. Other blue-chip American companies ranging from Coca Cola to Intel to Apple, Google and Microsoft have a presence in Nigeria and Procter and Gamble runs a factory there. Read more ..


Internet on Edge

Children Deserve Protection from On-Line Predators and Rogue ISPs

February 5th 2014

Child protection police working with Interpol and Europol have arrested hundreds of paedophiles in many countries: the UK, other EU countries, Australia, Canada and the United States, for ordering, paying, and viewing Philippine children forced to strip naked and do sexual acts live in front of video cameras connected to computers. These horrific and heinous crimes are generally ignored by the Philippine police, telecommunication companies and the government agencies that are mandated to protect the children. The children are victims of human trafficking for sexual exploitation and the telecommunications corporations, who are the Internet Service Providers (ISP) that allow it must be held responsible.

The recent revelations by Interpol and police raids on cyber sex dens in Cebu, Manila and Quezon city by the National Bureau of Investigation.(NBI) showed that these crimes are widespread and common practice in the Philippines. In Cordova, Cebu, the village of Ibabao has internet connections and several cyber-sex dens. Parents even sold their children to the cyber sex operators. Such is the level of economic and moral poverty there. Read more ..


Obama's Second Term

Republicans are Right to Keep the Fires of Benghazi Burning

February 4th 2014

It is hard to count all the investigations into the Benghazi, Libya, attack — the exhaustive hearings and extensive testimony, the State Department review, the Senate report, the House report, the piles of newspaper and television stories. All failed to reveal any cover-up, any orders for the military not to help, or any lies from administration officials.

Yet Mitt Romney, the GOP’s 2012 presidential nominee, told a conservative radio host last week that Americans still do not have the “full story” behind the deaths of the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans. Also last week, a Republican invited the father of one of the Americans killed in the terror attack to be his guest at the State of the Union address. And, by the end of last week, a House resolution to form a select committee to investigate the episode had more than 181 Republican co-sponsors. Read more ..


Russia on Edge

The Moscow Missile Mystery: Is Russia Actually Violating the INF Treaty?

February 3rd 2014

50 Minuteman

In December 1987, Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev signed the treaty on intermediate-range nuclear forces (INF), a landmark agreement that banned an entire class of U.S. and Soviet nuclear weapons. The agreement put the brakes on a spiraling arms race, but this week brings worrying news that -- just over two decades later -- Russia may be actively going back on its word. Questions have arisen as to whether Russia has tested missiles in violation of the treaty's terms, most recently in a Jan. 30 story in the New York Times. Some claims are spurious; others appear more serious.

If Moscow has developed a prohibited INF missile, it will have implications for U.S.-Russia arms control. But it will have even more important implications for Russia's relations with its neighbors in Europe and Asia, including China.

The INF Treaty banned all U.S. and Soviet land-based ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges between 500 and 5,500 kilometers (300 to 3,400 miles). When the treaty's reduction period concluded in June 1991, 846 American and 1,846 Soviet missiles had been eliminated, as well as their associated launchers and other equipment. The treaty's intrusive verification measures pioneered provisions incorporated into the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START I).

There have been periodic charges -- often made by critics of the Obama administration's arms control policy -- that Russia has violated the INF Treaty's terms. (Russia took on Soviet treaty obligations after the USSR's collapse at the end of 1991.) Up until now, most charges have focused on the RS-26 ballistic missile. Those charges have no basis.  Read more ..


Obama's Second Term

The Obama Complex

February 2nd 2014

Obama with baseball bat

President Obama couldn’t resist confiding to a recent interviewer, “I am comfortable with complexity.” In fact, he is comfortable with a kind of pseudo-complexity that lends itself to pseudo-thoughtful formulations.

Thus, in his State of the Union address last week the president explained to his benighted and presumably bellicose fellow citizens: “You see, in a world of complex threats, our security and leadership depends on all elements of our power​—​including strong and principled diplomacy.” (The “you see” is particularly condescending, even by Obama’s standards.) The point is, with respect to Iran, “we must give diplomacy a chance to succeed.”

The trouble is that, in a world of complex threats, diplomacy won’t succeed unless backed up by the other elements of our power. And Obama has abandoned everything but diplomacy. Sanctions are being dismantled. The threat of military action has virtually disappeared. Obama’s Iran policy now rests exclusively on diplomacy and will therefore fail. Read more ..


Inside Politics

The Cowardice of Wendy Davis

January 31st 2014

Jonah Goldberg

Wendy Davis, a Democratic state senator running to replace Rick Perry as governor of Texas, owes her political stardom to two things: a pair of pink sneakers and her unstinting support for a woman’s right to terminate a late-term pregnancy in a substandard clinic. Yay, feminism!

Last year, Davis led an eleven-hour filibuster — that’s where the sneakers came in handy — to block legislation that would ban abortion after 20 weeks and require abortion clinics to meet the same standards that hospital-style surgical centers do.

This was all going on against the backdrop of the sensational Kermit Gosnell case in Pennsylvania. Gosnell ran a bloody, filthy “clinic” where he performed late-term abortions with a barbarity you’d expect to find in a Saw movie. Sometimes he’d “snip” the spines of fully-delivered babies with a pair of scissors. His instruments were so unsanitary that some women got STDs from them. Cat feces was a common sight on the procedure-room floors.

In short, you didn’t need to be an abortion-rights activist to find the story of interest, but you’d certainly expect an activist to be up to speed on it. Working on that theory, The Weekly Standard’s John McCormack caught up with Davis last August to ask her a few questions. Read more ..


Obama's Second Term

Order Boosting Federal Salaries Means Real Action on Economic Mobility

January 29th 2014

Click to select Image

When it comes to boosting economic opportunity, President Obama isn’t going to wait for Congress anymore.

In his State of the Union Address last night, the President made a powerful statement about employers’ obligation to reward work -- starting with his own obligation as the executive in charge of millions of federal contracts.

In a study my colleagues Robert Hiltonsmith and Amy Traub released last May, Demos found that nearly two million private sector employees paid with federal tax dollars through contracts, loans, grants, leases and health spending, earn wages too low to support a family. These are people working on behalf of America, doing jobs that we have decided are worthy of public funds—yet they’re being treated in a very un-American way. That’s why federal workers have been walking off the job for the last year, organizing with Good Jobs Nation to call on President Obama to raise their wages. Read more ..


Obama's Second Term

Obama versus Hobby Lobby

January 28th 2014

Senior advisor to President Obama, Valerie Jarrett, wrote for the White House blog and the Huffington Post that, "A Woman's Health Care Decisions Should Be in Her Own Hands, Not Her Boss's." I couldn't agree more.

Odd then that the administration is trying to insert bosses, many of them against their deeply held religious beliefs, into the private health care decisions of women. Ms. Jarrett writes that, "The ACA (Affordable Care Act) was designed to ensure that health care decisions are made between a woman and her doctor, and not by her boss, or Washington politicians."

In fact, the administration has done the opposite. It has forced employers to act as middlemen between women and their doctors by forcing them to participate in providing four potentially life terminating drugs and the whole gamut of FDA-approved contraceptives, even when they object on religious grounds. And then it thrust the issue right into the portfolio of Washington politicians by making it an election wedge issue, by using it to stoke partisan bickering, and by peddling lies about a "war on women." Read more ..


The Digital Edge

Preserving Freedom Online: The U.S. Should Reject the U.N.’s Authoritarian Control of the Internet

January 28th 2014

Starbucks Wireless

The explosion of Internet capabilities, specifically over the past seven years, has engendered seismic shifts in societies around the globe. This dynamic game changer challenges the economic and political status quo by providing a venue for sharing ideas and practicing innovation. According to a 2011 report by the McKinsey Global Institute, the Internet “accounted for 21 percent of the GDP growth in mature economies” from 2007 to 2011, and greatly benefited “consumers and small, upstart entrepreneurs.” Together with other economic, political, and social benefits, the value of an unchained Internet is apparent.

As a result, governments—both autocratic and democratic—around the world recognize the power of information to affect citizens’ economic, political, and social fortunes. Fearing the Internet’s power, cyber censorship and surveillance is common under many of the world’s brutal regimes, such as Cuba, North Korea, China, and Iran. As the Internet is a powerful medium of expression and innovation, the U.S. needs to reject government control of the Internet. Read more ..


The Digital Edge

Is Nokia's Decline a Lesson for Samsung?

January 28th 2014

Smart phone

In the results posted Friday for the fourth quarter of 2013, Samsung Electronics reported an operating profit of 8.31 trillion won ($7.7 billion), which missed analyst expectations by a whopping 20%.


Samsung also reported its first quarterly operating profit decline in two years - an 18% drop from the $9.4 billion it reported for the third quarter. Though it posted a record $54.95 billion of revenue, the industry is focused now on its potential growth limits in the coming quarters.

Read more ..

Ukraine on Edge

A Conflict of Visions of the Ukrainian Imbroglio

January 28th 2014

Vladimir Putin and Viktor Yanukovych

A few months ago, Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich was expected to sign some agreements that could eventually integrate Ukraine with the European Union economically. Ultimately, Yanukovich refused to sign the agreements, a decision thousands of his countrymen immediately protested. The demonstrations later evolved, as they often do. Protesters started calling for political change, and when Yanukovich resisted their calls, they demanded new elections.

Some protesters wanted Ukraine to have a European orientation rather than a Russian one. Others felt that the government was corrupt and should thus be replaced. These kinds of demonstrations occur in many countries. Sometimes they're successful; sometimes they're not. In most cases, the outcome matters only to the country's citizens or to the citizens of neighboring states. But Ukraine is exceptional because it is enormously important. Since the breakup of the Soviet Union, Ukraine has had to pursue a delicate balance between the tenuous promises of a liberal, wealthy and somewhat aloof Europe and the fact that its very existence and independence can be a source of strategic vulnerability for Russia. Read more ..


Broken Government

Rule of Law or Lawlessness: the Choice is Up to Obama

January 27th 2014

As Edward Snowden has continued to slowly release more information about the widespread intelligence gathering techniques of the National Security Agency (NSA), there have been more calls for him to be granted an amnesty and further calls for placing limits on intelligence gathering by the NSA and other intelligence agencies.

Der Spiegel has reported that NSA has a hacker unit, in the fine tradition of intelligence operatives labelled the Tailored Access Operations (TAO), which has developed techniques to exploit the weaknesses and hardware of computers.

According to Der Speigel, TAO has developed computer-monitor cables to record what appears on the screen, USB sticks with radio transmitters and fake base stations to obtain mobile phone signals, as well as attaching espionage software to computers that were intercepted on their way from the factory to customers! Another NSA unit is trying to build a “quantum computer” to break any type of encryption used by banks, businesses, hospitals, lawyers, and governments all over the world to protect their records. Read more ..


The Iranian Threat

Be Angry with the Iranians, Mr. President, and Yourself

January 27th 2014

Obama-Limo

The Obama administration is angry that Senate proponents of additional sanctions against Iran (to be instituted if the interim accord expires without a final agreement) appear to be more skeptical of Iranian promises than the president and Secretary Kerry are.  The administration is angry as well that signers, particularly Democratic senators, of the Kirk-Menendez Amendment find themselves in accord with the security concerns of the government of Israel.  And finally, the administration is angry with American Jews.

The Jerusalem Post this week cited an Israel Radio report of an American official saying the president and Secretary of State Kerry are "disturbed over what is being perceived in their inner circle as 'Jewish activism in Congress' that they think is being encouraged by the Israeli government."  According to the Israel Radio report, the Israeli government is increasingly being viewed as "fanning the flames" among American Jews by encouraging them to promote the Israeli government position specifically on Iran sanctions. Read more ..


America on Edge

Contradictions in California Dreamin' on Such a Winter's Day

January 26th 2014

For better or worse, if something happens in California please be assured it will soon come to a neighborhood theater near you. Hollywood, Silicon Valley, Pleasant Valley Sunday suburban sprawl, the car culture, LSD, and acid rock all launched or took hold in the Golden State.

Politically, California was the birthplace of the 1960s student revolt, the Black Panther Party and La Causa, the great movement of the farmworkers spearheaded by Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta. California also gave rise to the modern tax revolt, the Reagan Revolution and state immigration battles like the 1994 fight over Proposition 187. Read more ..


Iran's Nukes

Processing Lies and Cheating of the U.S. Engagement in the Mideast

January 25th 2014

Mirable dictu! Even Fareed Zakaria says the P5+1 deal with Iran is a “train wreck.” Why? Because “They talked about dismantling the heavy water reactor at Arak. But he [Rouhani] made clear, categorically, specifically and unequivocally, none of that is going to happen.”

Too bad neither he nor many others wonder about the root cause for the different understandings of what was agreed to on November 24 in Geneva. Or, why when Iran is allowed to decide, a posteriori, which parts of the agreement it will adhere to, there is no reaction from Washington apart from “oh, they’re only speaking for domestic political consumption.” Delay easing sanctions as a response? Not a chance. Shhh! We’re still negotiating! Read more ..


America on Edge

American War Weariness? Think Again!

January 24th 2014

US Troops in Afghanistan

Over and over again we hear that Americans have lost their traditional willingness to use military force in places like Syria and Iran for a simple reason: They are war weary. This is often stated as an obvious, undeniable truth connected to the winding down of two long wars in Afghanistan (begun in 2001) and Iraq (begun in 2003). Yet, few bother to see if this is actually true and, if so, what it means for the United States.

If the connection were that simple, how can we explain American behavior after World War I and World War II? For the United States did not even enter World War I until April 1917, 32 months after the war started, and seriously engage in combat until September 1918, only two months before the end of the war. Its 55,000 battle losses were far less than 1% of total fatalities (9.5 million) suffered in the war. And none of the war was fought on American soil but rather it devastated significant areas of northern France, Eastern Europe and even part of Turkey. Read more ..


Broken Government

A State Bailout for Detroit is Costly for the Rest of Michigan

January 23rd 2014

Click to select Image

At a press conference January 22, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder explained why he wants to give $350 million in state money — which he insists is not a bailout — to Detroit. Details are lacking, but Gov. Snyder says he wants an "investment" from state tobacco revenue settlement funds to match a generous offer of support from private foundations. He says this would protect Detroit pensioners and the Detroit Institute of Arts collection.

Gov. Snyder says this is not a "bailout" but a "settlement" because a bailout (I am paraphrasing) involves giving money to bankers and not getting anything in return. This seems a bit of a stretch. Dictionary.com’s second entry on "bailout" reads: "an instance of coming to the rescue, especially financially: a government bailout of a large company." (Emphasis in the original.) Read more ..


Israel on Edge

From Hubris Shall Come Contempt

January 22nd 2014

Jews reading from a Sephardi Torah
Reading from a Sephardic Torah Scroll (Stands Upright in a Solid Box)

Israel currently has two chief rabbis—an Ashkenazi one and the Rishon L’tzion, the official title of the Sephardi chief rabbi. A bill making its way through Israel’s legislative process would end that division in 2023 by creating a single chief rabbi for the country.

The legislation is the brainchild of Justice Minister Tzipi Livni of Hatnua, and is co-sponsored by two Bayit Hayehudi leaders—Religious Affairs Minister Naftali Bennett and Member of Knesset Eli Ben-Dahan.

Livni’s goal appears laudable. “In a state where there is only one president, one Supreme Court president, one prime minister, and one chief of general staff,” she said, “there is no way to justify the doubling of the position of chief rabbi. We have to rid ourselves of the old-fashioned division of ancestral congregations and start bringing the country together.”

How noble that sounds, and how so on point it seems. Jews are one people, after all, so maintaining two chief rabbis does seem divisive. The real question, however, is whether Livni’s stated motivation—and Bennet’s and Ben-Dahan’s for joining in—is less about unity and more about something insidious, namely the homogenization of Judaism at the expense of Sephardi and Mizrachi standards, practices, and culture. (The Mizrachi, often confused with the Sephardi, with whom they share many customs and practices, are Jews from Arab lands and North Africa. True Sephardim trace their origins to pre-expulsion Spain and Portugal.) Read more ..


The Economy on Edge

A National Strategy for Industry Investment

January 22nd 2014

university students and laptops

With the State of the Union less than a week away, the strength of the U.S. and our competitiveness in the global economy are front and center. We are a nation of invention and discovery, but to retain that global edge, we must have the best and the brightest well-trained minds in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).

We are falling far behind other countries, as recent data show Shanghai 9th graders rank first in science and math literacy while U.S. students rank in the bottom half of member countries of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).  With a projected need for 1 million new STEM workers in the U.S. over the next decade, the private and public sectors must work together to reduce the STEM gap and keep key R&D and manufacturing in the U.S. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

Syrian Jihadis Demand Conversion of Armenian Christians to Islam, or Death

January 21st 2014

Arabic language websites reported earlier this month that the al-Qaeda-linked Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant—which, throughout the course of the war against the Syrian Bashar al-Assad government has committed any number of atrocities, from decapitating “infidels” to burning churches—has successfully “forced” two Armenian Christian families to convert to Islam.

A video accompanies some of these reports. In it, what appears to be an elderly Armenian man stands alongside an Islamic cleric who announces the Christian man’s conversion to Islam—to thunderous cries of “Allahu Akbar!” In his exultation, the cleric makes exuberant statements like “You see, we have no honor without Islam—without proclaiming aloud that ‘There is no god but Allah and Muhammad is his prophet!’” (Without the religious jargon, this is simply another way of saying, “Only by joining our team can you ever escape dishonor,” the lot of all non-Muslim, subhuman “infidels.”) Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

The Anti-Jihadist Revolt in Syria

January 20th 2014

Car Bomb damage

Since early on January 3, Syrian insurgents have engaged the extremist group, the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) in intense battles across 5 of the country’s 14 governorates, forcing ISIS out of at least 28 separate municipalities. So far, forces combating ISIS’ control of territory across areas of Idlib, Aleppo, Hama, Al-Raqqa, and Deir ez Zour governorates have included members of three insurgent fronts – the largely nationalist Syrian Revolutionaries Front (SRF); the newly formed moderately Islamist Jaish al-Mujahideen; and the Salafist Islamic Front (IF).

This was an entirely expected development. For months tensions had been rising between ISIS and Syria’s various opposition groups, not to mention among large sectors of the Syrian population. Since its emergence in Syria in April and May 2013, ISIS has steadily asserted its hardline and uncompromising ideological norms in areas under its control. Syrians have perceived ISIS as a singularly self-interested actor. ISIS has proven increasingly disinclined to work alongside pre-existing multi-group structures established in order to coordinate operations against the government, administer effective opposition governance in “liberated” territory, and resolve legal disputes. Read more ..


Paraguay on Edge

The Case of Paraguay: A Challenging Ally

January 19th 2014

City

The land-locked country of Paraguay, neatly tucked between Argentina, Brazil and Bolivia is seldom given much notice. However, there are elements of the country that are worth taking a look at.  Last April Paraguay elected a new president, Horacio Cartes.

Cartes is a member of the Colorado party, a party that held Paraguay’s presidency for 60 years. Thirty five of those years were ones   of dictatorship. Cartes, however, joined the Colorado Party only four years ago.

Cartes’s election took place ten months after former President Fernando Lugo (2008-2012) was impeached and deposed by the Paraguayan congress.  That move by the Paraguayan legislature was seen by many countries in the region as a coup and as a result of that Paraguay was suspended from the South American Free Trade zone (Mercosur) as well as from the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) and faced regional isolation. Read more ..


Obama's Second Term

Rebuking the 'New' New Deal

January 18th 2014

Obama

It wasn’t supposed to be like this.

At the end of 2013, the Washington Post’s electoral number-crunchers calculated that the Democrats had a 1 percent chance to win back the House of Representatives. Barely into 2014, that already seems pretty optimistic. In the last week, several Democratic representatives saw the writing on the wall and voted with their feet — or with their seat — and announced they will be retiring.

Even a popular president can usually expect disappointing midterm results for his party. What makes things particularly dire for Democrats is that a president’s approval rating has a significant impact on his party’s prospects. Obama’s approval rating is in the low 40s, and, while things can change, few would bet it will improve all that much between now and November. Read more ..


The Iranian Threat

The Iranian Kabuki Dance

January 17th 2014

Iran Missiles

Starting next Monday, Iran will formally implement an interim agreement with the West. President Rohani has described the accord as the world "bowing to Iran's might, power and resistance." The Islamic Republic has agreed to limit certain aspects of its nuclear activities for six months in return for what has been called "modest" relief from the crippling international sanctions imposed for most of the last decade. But the West, by rolling back the sanctions regime, has given Tehran an opportunity to reinvigorate its economic and diplomatic ties with the rest of the world, and Western countries have eagerly exploited the opening to do business with Iran. Re-legitimizing business as usual before Iran makes any significant concessions on its nuclear program not only sends the wrong message, but impairs the West's ability to negotiate effectively.

Iran has made a full court press to rehabilitate its economy following the relaxing of sanctions. In the last six weeks, Tehran has been working its charm offensive, principally with Europe, but also with Japan, Turkey and Azerbaijan. In addition, it has begun rebuilding the critical infrastructure necessary to transact global business, including in the banking and energy sectors. Read more ..


Egypt After Morsi

Egypt is Not a Democracy

January 16th 2014

Anti-Morsi Protests June 2013

Warning: The following isn't nice.

The liberal moaning and wailing has begun.  The circumstances of the referendum on Egypt's new constitution, the crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood, and what appears to be the impending crackdown on Hamas have produced calls for "inclusion" and "democratic norms," and the denunciation of the military-backed government.  TIME Magazine intones, "Egyptians are Voting Away their Freedom."  The Washington Post called for a suspension of U.S. military aid to Egypt over its "bogus democracy."

That's a rather high hand.  What if Egypt doesn't have a "bogus democracy," but an insurgency that needs redress?  What if, to Egyptians, the Muslim Brotherhood resembles the Taliban more than it does the Democratic Party of the United States?  Remember, the Taliban wasn't entirely unwelcome in Afghanistan in the chaos of the Russian withdrawal.  What if Egyptians are driven by the specter of Libyan militias, Iraqi dissolution, Syrian civil war, and the wreckage produced by a single year of Muslim Brotherhood rule?  What if Egyptians value perceived security over what they understand about democracy? Read more ..


Broken Economy

The Emerging Conservative Effort to Help the Poor

January 15th 2014

Homeless in Cheap Motels

President Obama has signaled that he plans to use income inequality as a political wedge issue in the 2014 midterm election. The idea is to shine a spotlight on the large disparity between the economic gains for those at the top of the income ladder and those on the bottom rungs, and then to blame Republicans for blocking efforts which are supposedly aimed at narrowing the gap. Think of Bill de Blasio-style populism on a national scale.

The battle lines in this emerging debate are becoming visible over the extension of long-term unemployment benefits and raising the federal minimum wage requirement. Much like the 2012 presidential contest, the president and his allies want to advance proposals that poll very well and which many Republicans oppose for principled reasons in an attempt to paint GOP candidates as insensitive to the plight of those struggling in today’s still sluggish economy. Read more ..


Obama's Second Term

The President's Recess-Appointment Overreach

January 14th 2014

US Supreme Court

Today, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Noel Canning v. NLRB in which the D.C. Circuit struck down President Obama’s recess appointments to the National Labor Relations Board. The question is whether the president’s power under Article II of the Constitution “to fill up all Vacancies that may happen during the Recess of the Senate” allows appointments for (a) vacancies that came open while the Senate was in session and while (b) the Senate is in pro forma session (i.e., it is open but not transacting any legislative business).

In Noel Canning, President Obama appointed officers to the NLRB to positions that came open while the Senate was in session. He also appointed them while the Senate was in a pro forma session. Critics have rightly attacked President Obama for aggrandizing presidential power. The original understanding of the Clause appears to support the D.C. Circuit’s position, but by practice presidents had made recess appointments while the Senate was out of session for more than three days (or any time in between sessions), without Senate pushback. Read more ..


Broken Government

Gov. Christie's 'Bridgegate': Political Rhetoric is No Substitute for Personal Morality

January 13th 2014

It’s too early to predict where N.J. Governor Chris Christie’s “bridgegate” scandal will lead.

What did Christie know and when did he know it about actions of operatives in his administration who engineered the closing of key traffic lanes, leading onto the George Washington bridge outside Fort Lee, New Jersey, as political punishment for a Democratic mayor who did not endorse Christie’s reelection.

The lane closings caused horrendous traffic jams that might have caused the death of one elderly woman.

But whichever players in this horrible game of political vindictiveness are implicated, there is an important lesson.

Despite our obsession with political systems and processes, the quality of our lives ultimately flows from the behavior of individual human beings and not from any meticulously designed political system.

The best any political system can do is to assure political freedom. But it cannot assure what individuals choose to do with their freedom and the values that will define their lives.

The more we believe that politics alone can make our lives better, and that moral standards are just private matters with no import on the quality of our national life, the deeper we will dig the hole in which we are burying ourselves.

We just marked the 50th anniversary of President Lyndon Johnson’s declaration of “an unconditional war on poverty.”

But Johnson’s lofty political language about eradication of social injustice and poverty and who the man actually was and how he lived is a study in contrasts. Read more ..


Broken Government

Student Loan System Needs an Overhal

January 13th 2014

College expenses

The student loan system is broken, and we need new ideas for fixing it.

Student debt now totals more than $1 trillion, and students are borrowing some $113 billion a year. With this year’s college graduates owing $32,500 on average, these debts threaten to be dead weights on their financial futures.

The nation is moving toward a mobile information and transaction paradigm, with purchases and payments online. Students bank electronically, shop electronically and study electronically. They should be able to repay their loans electronically, especially the large percentage of borrowers who are non-banked or under-banked.

The Obama administration is starting to make student loans more transparent and repayment more affordable. The new online “scorecard” measures colleges based on tuition, graduation rates, debt levels and graduates’ earnings. The Department of Education is reaching out to struggling borrowers, informing them of their options. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is scrutinizing the largest loan servicers. And Congress is holding hearings on the student debt crisis. Read more ..


The War on Drugs

Congress Needs to Change Federal Nonviolent Drug Sentencing Policy

January 12th 2014

jail door closeup

The Capitol steps might be literally frozen, but inside Congress, we’re seeing a bit of a thaw.

From federal spending bills to farm and nutrition programs, Congress appears poised to pass long-awaited bipartisan legislation this winter.

But before they head out to the campaign trail later this year, lawmakers should take up another measure that enjoys wide bipartisan support: legislation to reform drug sentencing.

In recent months, bold leaders have come together from both parties to craft legislation to reform the way we address federal nonviolent drug offenses. Buttressed by states that have downsized prison populations while continuing to experience crime reductions, cross-aisle alliances in both the House and Senate have sought to scale back the overly punitive and fiscally irresponsible policies of the past. Read more ..


The Race for Biofuels

EPA: Right on Ethanol, But Wrong on Other

January 11th 2014

E85 Pump

Serving as chairman of the House Intelligence Committee for four years was one of the most rewarding experiences I had in Congress. In my role as chairman, I had a front-row seat to the most serious threats that faced this nation and what the intelligence and military branches of government were doing to confront those challenges.

While much of what I learned remains classified, I am not revealing any state secrets by saying that our addiction to foreign sources of oil is a serious concern for our national security.

Even with that in mind, the recent proposal by the Environmental Protection Agency to reduce the amount of ethanol in our fuel supply is the right decision.

Ethanol is a mature industry that has grown so quickly there are concerns about damage to engines when it is used in higher blends. Also, because U.S. ethanol continues to rely almost entirely on corn for production, it has limited environmental benefits and creates impacts on livestock producers that are of grave concern in Texas. Read more ..


The Middle East on Edge

The Unmaking of the Middle East

January 10th 2014

al Qaeda Fighters

The first, the supreme, the most far-reaching act of judgment that the statesman and commander have to make is to establish .  .  . the kind of war on which they are embarking, neither mistaking it for, nor -trying to turn it into, something that is alien to its nature. — Carl von Clausewitz

Far beyond the question of al Qaeda participation in the September 11, 2012, attacks on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, that killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens and others, David Kirkpatrick’s notorious New York Times article—claiming no international terror group had a role in the assault—is evidence that, 12 years after 9/11, we still don’t understand the enemy. More fatally, even after seven decades of direct engagement and involvement in the greater Middle East, we do not understand the nature of the war. Read more ..


Egypt on Edge

In Egypt, Religion Must be Used as a Positive Force

January 9th 2014

Egypt Flag @ 6.2013 Anti-Morsi Protests

In a single week, Arabs of the Christian and the Islamic faiths commemorate the births of their most significant religious figures. The past year has seen their faiths deployed on many an occasion for various gains – sometimes laudable ones, but often otherwise. Will 2014 see a change in how religion is used in Egypt and Syria? Will it be used to bring people together, instead of forcing them apart? Or will it merely continue to be a tool for partisanship, bigotry and violence?

Christian Arabs who follow the different Orthodox calendars rejoiced in the birth of Christ earlier this week. In Egypt, they did so under close guard, amid fears that violent opponents of the government might target Christians. Radical Islamists have promoted sectarianism in Egypt for a long time, including in this current phase where many of them believe that the Coptic Church is disproportionally responsible for the ousting of Mohammed Morsi. Certainly, religion in this context is not being used to bring people together.

In a few days time, Muslim Arabs celebrate the birth of the final Prophet of Islam during Mawlid al-Nabi (the Birthday of the Prophet). They will do so the day before the much-anticipated referendum on amendments to the country’s constitution. In the run-up to that referendum, Egyptians have seen religious functionaries deploy religious language to support a “yes” vote. Former grand muftis of the republic have issued clear statements where they encouraged a “yes” vote on the basis that this was religiously commendable. Religion in this context is also not being used to bring people together – but rather to build support for a partisan position on a legal document that is a genuine point of contention between Egyptians. Read more ..


Broken Government

Extended Unemployment Benefits: Not What the Labor Market Needs

January 8th 2014

Employee applications

For more than five years, the federal government has provided extended unemployment benefits to workers who have lost their jobs through no fault of their own and remained out of work beyond the standard 26 weeks of unemployment benefits. This program expired on December 28, 2013, ending extended unemployment benefits for 1.3 million Americans. The White House claims that the expiration of this program is "unprecedented in the context of previous extensions to earlier unemployment insurance programs." In his weekly radio address, President Obama declared, "Instead of punishing families who can least afford it, Republicans should make it their New Year's resolution to do the right thing, and restore this vital economic security for their constituents right now." If only the economic reality of the extended unemployment benefits program was as potent as the political rhetoric. Read more ..


Obama's Second Term

The HHS Mandate Goes Live

January 7th 2014

Bible

In the final weeks of 2013, most of the Obamacare focus was on the disastrous launch of the federal and state exchanges, followed by the frenzied effort to get the websites up to a minimum level of functionality before December 1. Almost forgotten in the tumult was the unpleasant reality that the highly controversial “HHS mandate” was about to go live on January 1, along with the rest of Obamacare. The mandate is the requirement that all employer-sponsored insurance plans, including those offered by employers with strong religious objections to the mandate, must provide “free”contraceptives, abortifacient drugs, and sterilization procedures to their workers and their workers’ families.

Employers who object to the mandate hadn’t forgotten about it, of course. They had been looking ahead to January 1, 2014, with dread for nearly three years, knowing that this might be the moment when they would have to choose between violating their consciences and accepting large financial penalties for sticking to their principles. The scores of lawsuits filed in federal court since the mandate was finalized last year are an indication of how seriously these employers are taking the issue. Read more ..



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