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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 ..


Israel and Palestine

Israeli Arabs Don't Want to Live in a Palestinian State

January 6th 2014

Click to select Image

It is much easier for Palestinians to accuse Israel of racism than to admit they do not want to be part of a Palestinian state.

"This is an imaginary proposal that relates to the Arabs as if they were chess pieces that could be moved around according to the wish of the players." — Ahmed Tibi, Member of Knesset.

If the Arab Knesset members are so worried about becoming citizens of a Palestinian state, they should be working toward integration into, and not separation from, Israel, and listening more to their constituents rather than the voices of Fatah and Hamas.

Renewed talk of land swaps between Israel and a future Palestinian state has left many Israeli Arabs worried about losing their status as citizens of Israel.

According to the Israeli daily Ma'ariv, Israel has proposed to the Americans transferring Israeli Arab communities to the Palestinian Authority as part of a land swap that would place Jewish settlements in the West Bank under Israeli sovereignty. Read more ..


Inside Politics

Hispanic Vote Up for Grabs After Obama's Setbacks

January 6th 2014

Immigration Protest

It is widely accepted that Hispanics will become a larger share of the American electorate in the years to come.

This is a matter of simple arithmetic. Less than one-tenth of adults counted in the 2010 Census classified themselves as “Hispanic” (a term invented by the Census Bureau for the 1970 count).

But one-quarter of children were similarly classified, many of them the offspring of illegal aliens who were born in the U.S. and thus entitled to citizenship.

It's true that Hispanics may not be as large a share of voters as is sometimes projected. There has been zero net migration from Mexico to this country since 2007, and, given advances in Mexico, immigration at the 1982-2007 levels may never resume. Read more ..


The Digital Edge

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

January 5th 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 ..


History on Edge

How to Get Funding for Public History

January 4th 2014

Abraham Lincoln

In an age of budget cuts, how can public history programs emerge victorious in the continuous struggle for funding?

By doing what public history does best, says Paul Ortiz, associate professor of history at the University of Florida and director of the Samuel Proctor oral history project: sending students out into local communities, building bridges, emphasizing hard skills, and above all aggressively advocating for resources.

“We've made the argument to administrators,” he said Thursday in a session at the American Historical Association annual meeting, “that public history is actually a STEM field of sorts, because students learn skills about social networking, writing, researching, and audio/visual production.”

Ortiz was a presenter at a panel entitled “Public Universities and the Need to Rethink Public History,” where he discussed, along with his co-panelists, the various public history initiatives at his school and successful strategies to get funding and expand public history programs.

Ortiz's department at the University of Florida released in October Siempre Adelante a feature-length documentary on the lives of Latin American immigrants in Alachua County, Florida, which received funding from both local and national grants and significant support from the community in and around Gainsville. Students were heavily involved in the production.

Jennifer Brier, who teaches at the University of Illinois Chicago, takes a different approach. Her Chicago history project, History Moves, is still on the drawing board, but has received nearly $60,000 in funding. The concept is disarmingly simple: a public history project on wheels, likely housed in a converted cargo container. The project will document the history of segregation in twentieth-century Chicago. Read more ..


Broken Healthcare

Obamacare: Yes, There's Plenty in It For You

January 3rd 2014

Child with leukemia

The White House did not receive much holiday cheer about Obamacare last week from public opinion pollsters, even though millions of Americans already are benefiting from the law. The numbers show just how big the disconnect is between the reality of what’s occurred in health care since Congress passed the Affordable Care Act in 2010 and the perception that people have of the law resulting from the relentless campaign of misinformation from the president’s opponents.

According to an Associated Press online survey, more people had unfavorable opinions of the law than favorable ones, with many people who have insurance through their employers blaming the law for the hike in premiums and deductibles they’ve been told to expect for next year.

The one thing that was clear from the survey is that most Americans have not yet heard about how the law already is helping them. Many of the respondents also appear to have short-term memory problems. They seem to have forgotten that  premiums and deductibles have been going up, often by double digits, every year for at least a couple of decades.  The reality is that the rate of premium increases since Obama signed the Affordable Care Act has been lower than in many previous years. Read more ..


America on Edge

Thoughts on the Privilages of Capitalism and Hard work

January 2nd 2014

Armstrong_Williams

Communism is an economic construct that died because it had no incentives for anyone other than the politicians who, of course lived outside the economic rules of their society. The lack of incentives, combined with human nature, killed all work ethic. Money became worthless because there was nothing to buy. Laborers engaged in ever poorer workmanship. State owned and managed companies were able to survive only because the public was forced to buy their shoddy goods. In the end, many in Russia suffered. The Russian saying in the 1970’s that “we pretend to work and they pretend to pay us” was a very telling slogan.

In a perfect world, where people are never selfish, communism and socialism might work. The problem with communism, socialism and Marxism is that none of them account for, or complement, Unfortunately, their view of human nature is incorrect. Each depletes economic virtue practically across the board. Those on the top are largely there because of cronies or having a strong family background with wealthy prominent members. They often stay in power via corruption and exploitation of the poor. Dynamic virtue will rarely be found in such a class of people. Then there are the majorities who hold the power of uprising. This group of people includes more than just those on the fringe of society; it contains the lower and fledgling middle classes. They have no incentive to work; rather their lives are caught up in an illusion. They are provided with the crafty ruse that the life that they are living is on par with the middle class of the rest of the world. They believe that their government is not buying them off, but that this system is actually more honorable. It is thought that communism is supposed to cure all of the ailments of capitalism. Communism is supposed to be an evolution of economic systems that is better than both socialism and capitalism. In a perfect world, where people are never selfish, communism might work. However, this is simply inconsistent with human nature. People, whether because of biology, evolution or God’s will, work to better their own lives and to provide for their own families and loved ones. No amount of evangelizing, idealizing or governmental coercion can change this simple fact about Economic Man. Read more ..


America on Edge

The Year the Doping of Duped Americans Began

January 1st 2014

victim

January 1, 2014, should be remembered as the day that legalized the doping of the American mind. But it's hard to tell how many Colorado residents, where "recreational" use of marijuana becomes legal at the stroke of midnight, will be able to remember the day because their "memory-related structure will shrivel and collapse."

Memory loss is but one effect caused by frequent marijuana use, as proven by researchers at Northwestern University. The study also found "evidence of brain alterations ... significant deterioration in the thalamus, a key structure for learning, memory and communications between brain regions."  If this were not enough, the study concluded, "chronic marijuana use could boost the underlying process driving schizophrenia.

This study is the latest to document scientifically the devastating long term harm caused by marijuana use. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), "marijuana smoke contains 50% to 70% more carcinogenic hydrocarbons than does tobacco smoke ... which further increases the lungs' exposure to carcinogenic smoke." Moreover, "marijuana users have a 4.8-fold increase in the risk of heart attack in the first hour after smoking the drug. ... This risk may be greater in aging populations or those with cardiac vulnerabilities." Read more ..


The Defense Edge

America's Love Affair With “Technowar“

December 31st 2013

Military Hardware on Display

Barack Obama has become the “drone warrior-in-chief.” As president, he has rejected bogging down U.S. ground forces in protracted, perhaps unwinnable wars, in favor of unleashing modern technology that kills terrorists without exposing American soldiers to peril. It is a controversial strategy. Conservatives accuse Obama of moral amnesia. They emphasize the hypocrisy of the Nobel Laureate directly controlling a campaign of “assassination by remote control.” Many liberals simply stress the immorality of his actions. They recoil from their president launching a rain of death from the skies, breaking international law and undermining the sovereignty of a supposed ally to boot.

Viewed outside the parameters of the today’s intense partisan politics, however, Obama’s emphasis on drones is not particularly novel. Presidents have often concentrated on “technowar”: using new innovations, from air power to smart bombs, in order to avoid the high casualties associated with deploying a massive ground army. They have invariably done so for one reason above all others: a clear sense that the public will no longer support a foreign policy dependent on a type of war that results in large numbers of U.S. casualties. Read more ..


Iran's Nukes

Five Weeks After Obama's Nuclear Deal with Iran

December 30th 2013

Simurgh booster

As the P5+1 nuclear negotiation with Iran was taking shape, Secretary of State John Kerry was irritated by the discomfort shown by Congress, Israel and the Gulf States of both Iran and of the Administration's decision making process. "We are not blind and I don't think we're stupid," he told "Meet the Press" on 10 November.

On 24 November, with the deal done, he crowed on CNN's "State of the Union," "I believe that from this day, Israel is safer." He added, "We are going to expand the amount of time in which they can break out… have insights to their program that we didn't have before. Israel, if you didn't have these things, would be seeing Iran to continue on a daily basis to narrow the breakdown (sic) time." Read more ..


Iran's Nukes

Obama Courts Iran's Atomic Mullahs

December 29th 2013

The United States’ policy toward Iran is seemingly dictated by Tehran. On December 7, Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif warned, “If Congress adopts sanctions … The entire deal is dead. We do not like to negotiate under duress.” Zarif’s threat worked magic. President Obama and his secretary of state John Kerry embarked on twisting Congress’s arms to stop the bipartisan amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act, which aimed to close “loopholes in the current sanctions on Iran.”

The White House, on behalf of the mullahs, succeeded to kill the bill, which would have applied only “after the six-month negotiations period-specified in an interim deal reached last month with Iran-expired and only if Iran had been found in violation of its obligations.” Read more ..


Economic Jihad

The American Studies Association: Where Foolishness and Ignorance Collide

December 29th 2013

American Studies Association logo

The American Studies Association, a group of nearly 5,000 professors of the subject, has voted by a large margin to boycott all Israeli institutions of higher education, the New York Times reports. The path of the Boycott, Divest and Sanctions movement (BDS) is not exactly paved with significant victories, but the ASA, which apparently prides itself on its deep understanding of academic freedom and the details of international law, is very confident of its resolution’s importance:

“The resolution is in solidarity with scholars and students deprived of their academic freedom, and it aspires to enlarge that freedom for all, including Palestinians,” the American Studies Association said in a statement released Monday. The statement cited “Israel’s violations of international law and U.N. resolutions; the documented impact of the Israeli occupation on Palestinian scholars and students; the extent to which Israeli institutions of higher education are a party to state policies that violate human rights,” and other factors. Read more ..


Israel on Edge

Bargaining for Israel in the American Bazaar

December 28th 2013

Last week, in the context of the P5+1/Iran negotiations I wrote:

We're familiar with the rules for buying a rug in the souk. If you want the rug more than he wants the deal, you will overpay; if he wants the deal more than you want the rug, you win.

But either way, money and rug will change hands. Alternatively, if you want to buy a rug and he wants to sell a camel, no matter how ardently you bargain there will be no deal. Unless you change your mind and take the camel.

The P5+1 was negotiating an end to Iran's nuclear program; Iran was negotiating the conditions under which it would continue to enrich uranium. Then the White House changed sides, agreeing with Iran on future enrichment and undermining the now P4+1. Read more ..


Venezuela on Edge

Venezuela's Problem is that President Maduro is no Hugo Chavez

December 28th 2013

Nicolas Maduro

The other day, I asked a leading Venezuelan opposition figure what he thought was the main difference between Hugo Chavez, the late Venezuelan comandante, and his successor, Nicolas Maduro. "If Chavez was Frank Sinatra," came the reply, "then Maduro is the guy in the karaoke bar singing an out of tune version of My Way."

The point here is not that Chavez was a preferable alternative to Maduro; as Roger Noriega correctly points out in the New York Post, Chavez's "divisive, illegitimate regime polarized society and devastated the economy." It's that the uncharismatic, foul-tempered Maduro has, during the seven months that he's been in power, exposed the totalitarian tendencies implicit in the ideology of chavismo, with the result that he's fast losing support among those segments of Venezuelan society, like the three million Venezuelans now living in extreme poverty, who regarded Chavez as a savior not so long ago. Read more ..


The Iranian Threat

Under the Iran Deal

December 28th 2013

Iran-US Hatred

The Obama administration is entitled to be furious with Israel.  Although the U.S. got bragging rights for its (one-sided-not-in-our-favor) deal with Iran, Prime Minister Netanyahu remains determined publicly to say what the President wants to hide: Iran's nuclear program could not be negotiated away, rolled back significantly or inspected properly. The only means to a signed document was for the U.S. to abandon its principles and pressure its allies. The U.S. has done that.

It was hard to oppose negotiations, it always is hard. Churchill said, "Its better to jaw, jaw than war, war" (you need the accent to make it work).  But a deal that is not a capitulation by one side requires two conditions: the parties must equally value the process; and there has to be a compatible endgame.  The West invested the process with much more value than did Iran, providing the mullahs with instant leverage, but most important, there was no agreed-upon end game. Read more ..


Battle for Syria

An "Objects" Lesson from Syria

December 27th 2013

Syria fighting injured baby

The 2,000-year-old Jobar Synagogue in Damascus is said to be the site where the prophet Elijah concealed himself from persecution and anointed his successor, Elisha. It was a UNESCO World Heritage Site until last March when someone appeared to have blown it up. The Syrian government and the rebels blamed one another and most of the world -- including UNESCO -- yawned. Given the scale of human destruction in Syria, it may be understandable that the synagogue wasn't on anyone's priority list, except the world's Jewish community, for which it is patrimony.

Recently, a story emerged that Al Qaeda rebels appear to be in possession of Torah scrolls and other Judaica, which they wish to barter to the Assad government for a prisoner release. Jewish artifacts from a country with no Jews, bartered between Sunni fanatics and Shiite mass murderers. Read more ..


Broken Politics

A GOP Identity Crisis

December 25th 2013

Juan Williams 02

Speaker John Boehner’s (R-Ohio) recent outburst against far-right conservative groups kicks off a political identity crisis for the GOP that will define the 2014 campaign.

Putting aside Boehner’s rare show of anger, he is accusing Heritage Action and other conservative fundraisers of caring more about money than sending more Republicans to Congress. Thanks to the Speaker the two sides are now clearly defined.

Will GOP voters side with Republicans such as Boehner, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.), New York’s Rep. Peter King and Tennessee’s Sen. Bob Corker alongside groups such as the Chamber of Commerce?

This is the conservative political establishment, willing to make deals with Democrats on the budget, tax reform and even immigration reform. They want more voters, especially independent voters, to be comfortable with a reasonable, pragmatic conservative party in the midterms and the presidential race of 2016.

On the other side of this divided GOP is an alternative establishment of right-wing talk show hosts and ideologically extreme groups such as Heritage Action and FreedomWorks.

Those groups continue to stir Tea Party passions and donations by insisting on shutting down government, opposing budget deals and arguing that Republicans in Congress have the power to end ObamaCare. This is the same GOP civil war that led to the October government shutdown – which was a fiasco for the party’s poll numbers but a winner for far-right fundraisers. The big money in donations is why Heritage and the others have condemned the new budget deal.  Read more ..


Broken Intelligence

The Air of Unreality in NSA Reform

December 24th 2013

NSA

The president's panel found no official malfeasance but recommends overhauling surveillance programs anyway.

Grope through the Styrofoam pellets of rhetoric that surround the 46 recommendations in the report issued last week by the president's Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies, and you will discover that the authors "have not uncovered any official efforts to suppress dissent or any intent to intrude into people's private lives without legal justification." The panel's investigation of the National Security Agency found-as the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court found before them-that the occasional unintentional violations of guidelines were stopped once they were detected.
 
Yet in a Dec. 20 White House news conference, President Obama vowed that next month he will make a "pretty definitive statement" about surveillance reform based on the panel's recommendations. The five-member group, including University of Chicago law professor Geoffrey Stone and Harvard Law School professor Cass Sunstein, was appointed by the president in August amid the continuing fallout from the theft of national-security secrets by former government contractor Edward Snowden. Read more ..


Environment on Edge

Environmental Cleanup and Free Markets

December 24th 2013

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Everywhere we see examples of the damage caused by atmospheric pollution and consequent climate change. And unless we change our habits pretty quickly, we shall suffer a great deal more damage. Last October, an agency of the World Health Organization issued a report showing that ‘outdoor air pollution’ is a major cause of cancers, predominantly in the lungs but also in the bladder. The report states that the main causes of this pollution are diesel fumes, industrial and agricultural emissions, and energy generation.

In September, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issued a summary of its report Climate Change 2013. Among its conclusions are:

In the Northern Hemisphere, 1983 – 2012 was likely the warmest 30-year period in the last 1400 years.

The rate of sea level rise since the mid-nineteenth century has been larger than the previous two millennia.

It is extremely likely that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-twentieth century.

Limiting climate change will require substantial and sustained reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. Read more ..


The Way We Are

Charles Dickens' Christmas Carol: A Morality Tale For Our Times?

December 23rd 2013

American poverty

In Charles Dickens' classic tale, Ebenezer Scrooge refuses to take part in the joys of the Christmas season and only finds redemption after a ghost warns him that he will die, scorned by all, if he continues in his miserly ways. Perhaps "The Christmas Carol" has lessons for our own times.

Right now, the shops are full, office parties are in full swing, trees and buildings are all dressed up in their holiday finery, and airports are jammed with people heading home for Christmas. But behind the glitter and the conviviality, all is not well.

The ranks of the long-term jobless have swelled to unprecedented levels; the proportion of the population participating in the labor market has shrunk, the real earnings of men have declined, and the poverty rate is at peak levels. The Great Recession is partly to blame but there are signs of deeper, longer-lasting problems as well. Read more ..


Inside Washington

Democrats Don't Appreciate the Benefits of Risk

December 22nd 2013

One of the great disconnects occurring today revolves around the concept and purposes of “risk.” On one side of the divide are those who govern, especially those who populate President Obama’s party.

On the other are those who are governed and still participate in the private sector. The present Democratic Party is now dominated by those who have a natural inclination to not have much confidence in their fellow Americans’ ability to choose for themselves.

It is a party that has as one of its primary tenets that a government led by well-intentioned and better-educated people should decide how average folks should live their lives. Whether it is through having the government set the parameters regarding healthcare needs and insurance coverage for everyone, or through restricting the private sector activity at all levels, the goal is to allow a few (that is, those who govern) to choose for the many (that is, those who are governed) as to how things should be. Read more ..


Broken Government

War Against the Jobless

December 21st 2013

Unemployment Line in California

It is the sin of Republicans, and the shame of Democrats, that as the president who praises Mandela heads for the sun of Hawaii, the least productive and most unpopular Congress in history is skipping town for yet another long vacation, leaving the hungry and jobless behind to endure a cold and bitter Christmas.

There is a war against the jobless in America, and a war against the poor, and there is shame to be shared by both political parties. The president and Democrats should have fought for — not merely talked about — far larger jobs programs. They should have fought for — not weakly surrendered — extending jobless benefits. Democrats should have pledged to keep the Senate in session and force Republicans to vote against jobless benefits on Christmas Eve if necessary, which would probably have led to a deal. Read more ..


Broken Government

Time is Now for Immigration Reform

December 20th 2013

As our members of Congress head home to enjoy the holiday recess and start of the New Year, I look back at all the progress we’ve made on immigration in 2013 — building a nationwide coalition of leaders who carry a bible, wear a badge or own a business — and I look forward to what 2014 holds in store for reform.

Wide acknowledgement from Republican House leadership — and support among Republican constituents — shows that immigration reform is definitely not a “dead” issue, but one with great opportunity in 2014.

Every member of the House leadership team has expressed commitment to move reform forward in 2014, and each week the number of rank and file Republicans in favor of reform grows. In 2013 we made great strides toward a successful 2014 for immigration. Considering that just over a year ago this issue was on the sidelines, the fact that the home stretch is in sight is no small accomplishment. Read more ..


The Way We Are

Financially Struggling at XMAS Time

December 19th 2013

Armstrong_Williams

The very best gift of all this Christmas will be my being able to count my blessings in a multitude of varying fashions. As we endure a season of economic repression, our traditionally bountiful holiday season has cultivated the remnants of manger scenes in chain department stores and Christmas trees in schools. By refining this year's Christmas celebrations to appeal less towards material things and more so reawakening the virtues faith and family, we will once again find ourselves remembering the true joy and meaning of Christmas.

Jesus Christ can easily be considered the top blessing this world has ever come to receive. The combination of extraordinary birth, life, and death freed many believers from the troublesome burdens of sin – past, present, and for years to come. Living in today's age is difficult enough as it is and without Christ’s gift of forgiveness, times like these would be tremendously impossible to maneuver. Moreover, Christ has graciously been given to this world to free us from all of our very worst transgressions. One of which being our obsession with possessions and worldly objects, we often find ourselves entangled in the things in the world which the Apostle John so pre-cautioned us clearly not to.

Somewhere throughout the history of mankind's technological advances and Hollywood appetite Christmas has transformed into much more than a mere religious celebratory holiday. It has morphed into being about gifts and gadgets as opposed to faith and family. Christmas dismally has lost its real meaning once we became enamored with the idea of receiving presents. As the day became more about giving and receiving the perfect present and considering our blessings based upon the caliber of our material possessions, it has drastically warped into a season of stress in both a financial and emotional fashion. In lieu of humanity's frequency to disappoint, billions of people around the world experience more strain and loneliness 'celebrating' Christmas more so than any other celebrated holiday. How sad is it that we have taken the greatest gift this world has ever been so fortunate to receive and let it consume and enervate us towards a path of destruction.   Ironically the very same capitalistic nature of man that has afforded & introduced humanity with some of the greatest innovations and opportunities has an indiscernible characteristic to seize the opportunity to monetize even within the religious community.  Read more ..


Edge of Healthcare

Bigger Challenges Await Obamacare after Glitchy Roll-Out

December 19th 2013

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The “glitchy” launch of HealthCare.gov is an obvious front-page story. But when it comes to health and information technology, we face much bigger challenges than the website for ObamaCare. Though electronic medical records (EMRs) are often viewed as the best way to bring health technology into the 21st century, they are just a part of a vitally needed health technology infrastructure.

Health information technology is notoriously behind the times. To put things into perspective, health sectors are just starting to use technology on a large scale that other industries adopted in the 1980s. Back then, businesses started moving paper-based processes, like HR forms and payroll, to separate systems that simply collected information electronically. Read more ..



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