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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 ..


The US and the Ukraine

Why the US Should Support Ukraine's Pro-EU Protesters

December 18th 2013

Euro Symbol

Without firing a shot, the United States and the European Union may deliver an embarrassing blow to Vladimir Putin’s imperial ambitions. Just over two weeks ago, the Ukrainian capital of Kiev erupted in massive protests when President Viktor Yanukovych submitted to Russian pressure and rejected an agreement with the EU widely expected to spur Ukrainian growth after years of stagnation. While focused on the EU pact, the protests are also a means of resistance to Yanukovych’s corruption and increasingly authoritarian behavior. The protesters’ top demand is that Yanukovych resign immediately.

The American decision to support the protesters seems like an easy call. They are pro-Western, have strong democratic credentials, and want to draw closer to the EU, rather than seeking security guarantees from NATO. Yet some conservatives have hoisted the banner of “realism” to argue that supporting the protesters amounts to yet another example of moralistic naïveté that will damage our true national interests. But they are wrong. In this instance, promoting democracy and civil liberty are integral to advancing our interest in a peaceful and independent Europe. Read more ..


Our Darkest Hour

Sons Of Divorce, School Shooters

December 17th 2013

Sandy Hook Shooting

Another shooting, another son of divorce. From Adam Lanza, who killed 26 children and adults a year ago at Sandy Hook School in Newtown, Conn., to Karl Pierson, who shot a teenage girl and killed himself this past Friday at Arapahoe High in Centennial, Colo., one common and largely unremarked thread tying together most of the school shooters that have struck the nation in the last year is that they came from homes marked by divorce or an absent father. From shootings at MIT (i.e., the Tsarnaev brothers) to the University of Central Florida to the Ronald E. McNair Discovery Learning Academy in Decatur, Ga., nearly every shooting over the last year in Wikipedia's "list of U.S. school attacks" involved a young man whose parents divorced or never married in the first place.

This is not to minimize the importance of debates about gun control or mental health when it comes to understanding these shootings. But as the nation seeks to make sense of these senseless shootings, we must also face the uncomfortable truth that turmoil at home all too often accounts for the turmoil we end up seeing spill onto our streets and schools. Read more ..


Broken Economy

A Conservative Volker Rule

December 16th 2013

I Bailed Out a Bank

Republicans generally don’t like the now-adopted Volcker rule, which prevents banks with federally insured deposits from trading for their own profit — or much else about the Dodd-Frank financial-reform law, for that matter. Recall that Mitt Romney pledged to repeal the whole magilla if he became president. Romney didn’t win, of course, and it’s no more likely that President Obama would ever sign a repeal of Dodd-Frank than it is that he would repeal the Affordable Care Act.

But that doesn’t mean Republicans don’t need an alternative financial-reform agenda, especially considering that the U.S. has averaged a financial crisis every half-dozen years the past few decades. So far for the GOP, it’s pretty much been about the three “Fs”: Fannie, Freddie, and “Feddie” — to prevent future bubbles, shutter the two government mortgage giants and shackle the U.S. central bank.  Read more ..


America and Cuba

What the Boycott of Cuba has Wrought So Far

December 15th 2013

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Commenting on the recent passing of Nelson Mandela, President Barack Obama referred to the legendary South African figure as “one of the most influential, courageous, and profoundly good human beings that any of us will share time with on this Earth.”

Yet, until just five years ago, Mr. Mandela was on the U.S. terror watch list, a grossly anachronistic Cold War absurdity equaled only by the continuation of Cuba on the same discredited list. Sadly, despite fundamental changes both in Cuba and the global geo-strategic balance, the Caribbean island will probably remain as an “enemy” for decades to come due to the rigidities of U.S. domestic politics and the lack of immediate incentives to propel change. Read more ..


Obama's Second Term

Ukaine's Drama, Obama's Weakness

December 14th 2013

Professor Obama at work

Ukraine's civil conflict strikes many Americans as a distant and unimportant dispute, one hardly connected to their daily lives. Such a lack of interest in international affairs is understandable, perhaps, because of the focus on economic recovery since 2008, but it's badly misplaced given the stakes involved, not just in eastern and central Europe but around the world.

More alarming, and far less justifiable, as a cause for such inattention is the failure of America's national political leadership. President Obama's inattention to national security distinguishes him from his predecessors, Republican and Democrat alike, since Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Unlike them, his first thought every morning seems to be not the international threats facing the United States and its allies; rather, as he said in the 2008 campaign, his aim is to "fundamentally transform" America. Only when international affairs cannot be avoided or where potential domestic political gains are manifest (such as the killing of Osama bin Laden) does Obama emerge from his domestic policy bubble. Read more ..


Broken Government

The New Leisure Class

December 13th 2013

Capitol Hill

Running for reelection in 1948 — and written off as a sure loser — Harry Truman had a field day. He crisscrossed the country by train with just one strategy, according to historian David McCullough: “Attack, attack, attack.” And the chief target of his attacks was the 80th Congress, which he branded the “Do Nothing Congress.”

In Reno, Nev., Truman claimed Congress was still run by a “bunch of old mossbacks still living back in 1890.” He warned residents of Roseville, Calif., outside of Sacramento, that a “do-nothing Congress tried to choke you to death in this valley.” But if ol’ Harry thought the 80th Congress was bad, it’s a good thing he didn’t live to see the 113th.

For all its faults, the gridlocked 80th Congress still managed to pass more than 900 bills. By contrast, in 2013, the first year of the 113th’s two-year session, Congress passed only 52 bills, making 2013 the least productive single year in congressional history and, unless things change dramatically in 2014, signaling the 113th Congress as the least effective two-year session ever. Read more ..


Colombia on Edge

Dangers of Negotiating with the FARC

December 12th 2013

Colombia FARC leadership

In spite of its geographical proximity to the U.S. homeland, events in Latin America usually get sparse coverage in the American press, making it unsurprising that the early December visit to Washington by Colombia’s president Manuel Santos and his meeting with president Obama was hardly noticed. The main highlight of their visit was president Obama’s reiteration of his support for Colombia’s “peace process,” namely the negotiations with the guerilla group the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

President Obama’s support was not surprising given his inclination to always endorse negotiations. This is particularly relevant when the meeting with Santos took place a little more than a week after the signing of the interim agreement with Iran.

We agree with the president that negotiations should always be the first resort and should be fully exhausted before the next step is taken. However, it is vitally important to check if the other side has undergone an evolution that can make a negotiation successful. Read more ..


The Way We Are

Seeing People Based on Color is not Always Racist

December 12th 2013

Armstrong_Williams

There are some aspects of seeing people based on color that we simply are not going to ever eradicate from the human race, even though we would like to be able to. Some people don’t want to hear this – people who would even consider such a statement racist – so let me start in a gingerly way by discussing other forms of discrimination that don’t provoke the same reaction.
 
No one seems to have a problem with Jews who prefer to date and marry other Jews, or Catholics who prefer to do the same (or Mormons, atheists, Democrats, Republicans, and so on). Why? Be- cause it makes sense that people naturally gravitate towards those who share their world view – or, in the case of religion, the same Other World view. If, as a devout Catholic, you believe that those who don’t accept Jesus as their savior are going to hell, you’d naturally prefer to marry someone not destined for fire and brimstone, and whose presence won’t risk hellfire for the children you have to- gether. Some people might consider such thinking kooky, especially if they’re not religious, but at the very least, they would probably respect the right to see the world this way and not judge them as bigoted. Most reasonable people consider it perfectly legitimate for someone to “discriminate” in his or her dating choices by limiting options to those with the same religious beliefs.
 
Then there are the practical mechanics of making a lifelong marriage work. Marriage is hard enough – there are struggles about finances, parenting philosophy, personality differences and whether to watch the ball game or “Scandal” – without adding an even bigger struggle over the basic questions of who we are, where we come from, and where we’re going when it all comes to an end. So, from a practical standpoint, marriage and dating are simply easier with people with whom you have all this in common. Read more ..

Broken Government

Ryan's Ride

December 12th 2013

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Leaders aren’t necessarily those we find in the highest office, or those who campaign for it, or those we see on television the most. True leaders make unpopular choices. They have the guts to take the heat for tough decisions but also to call out those who take easy cheap shots from the sidelines.

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), chairman of the House Budget Committee, 2012 vice presidential nominee, author of “The Roadmap” for fiscal solvency, chief doer among talkers, got slapped around this week for doing something. The bipartisan budget he helped draft, which would fund the government for two years, remove the threat of shutdowns and reduce the deficit without any new taxes, made him the latest punching bag Wednesday among Tea Party conservatives who deemed the deal a sellout. Read more ..


Hunger in America

Pope Francis and American Support to End Hunger

December 11th 2013

As people of faith with deep and long-held commitments to helping poor and hungry people, we have been following the ministry of Pope Francis since his election last March with a deep sense of awe and gratitude for his leadership. The Pope’s commitment to the most vulnerable members of society is evident from both his words and his actions.

An inspiring example of this commitment is the Pope’s support for an upcoming campaign seeking an end to hunger. Led by Caritas Internationalis, the humanitarian arm of the Catholic Church, this campaign will kick off with a global wave of prayer today, December 10, 2013. In communities all over the world, Roman Catholics will unite with believers of all faiths to pray for the end of hunger at noon in local time zones—meaning that the “wave of prayer” will flow around the world as each time zone adds its voice. Read more ..


Inside Congress

Democrat Jeff Merkley: A Top Congressional Player

December 10th 2013

The 2013 winner of top political player on Capitol Hill is…

Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.).

The senator stands out as the leader of the Democrats’ historic move to go to the “nuclear option,” ending the paralysis by threat of filibuster that tied the Senate in knots for the last five years.

The junior senator from the Beaver State showed a lot of political bite, in the form of persistence, and has become a left-wing hero as a result. Merkley, with a big assist from Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.), won the biggest vote of the year on Capitol Hill by convincing Democrats they were being trapped by Senate tradition into acquiescing to GOP obstruction. Read more ..


Healthy Edge

Physicians Should Focus on Patient Outcomes instead of their Wallets

December 9th 2013

Those wanting an expanded governmental role and those opposing it are fighting the wrong battle in the wrong way. The battle over a national healthcare policy has raged since the early 1990s. It has always been about coverage, liability, and finance, never about care protocols and patients. If making health affordable is everyone’s stated goal then why not focus on the actual care, health, and wellness of Americans?

America remains the best place on Earth to have an acute illness or shock-trauma injury. Our nation’s emergency rooms and first responder protocols are unequaled. Princess Diana may have lived had her car accident happened in New York City instead of Paris. America’s diagnostic methods and equipment are unequaled. That is why patients from all over the globe seek answers to complex symptoms by visiting the Mayo Clinic, the Cleveland Clinic, Johns Hopkins, Sloan Kettering and countless other world class facilities. Read more ..


Japan on Edge

Japan's Unseen Revolution

December 9th 2013

Rising Sun Shinto Island

In a world of moldering journalism, nothing quite equals the inadequacies of Japan reporting. Despite this short shrift, Japan remains the United States' most important relationship in Asia -- especially as China is increasingly seen as an adversary and with an unpredictable North Korea.

It is an important trading partner -- $170 billion through October this year with a $61 billion deficit in Japan's favor. Even though that is dwarfed by China's $468 billion for the same period, with a staggering $268 deficit in Beijing's favor, it has heft beyond the numbers. Japan is rapidly becoming a major scientific center with the third largest budget for research and development at $130 billion with 677,731 world-class researchers. Most important, Japan's civil society, despite its unique characteristics, is a major partner in the world democratic alliance. Read more ..


The Defense Edge

Pentagon Moves Slowly in the Right Direction

December 8th 2013

Chuck Hagel

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel made headlines Wednesday when he unveiled a plan to shrink his office by about 200 employees and reduce its budget by about 20 percent over the next five years.

The plan was billed as the first step in a larger effort to reduce the Department of Defense’s headquarters budgets by 20 percent. As the Secretary is leading by example in cutting costs and personnel, the announcement is an important step in the right direction. However, despite this good news, the Pentagon still has a long way to go in restructuring its costs away from bureaucratic bloat and towards hard combat power.

For one, the Pentagon must reverse years of backwards priorities. Since entering office, the Obama administration has set in motion a plan to shrink the active duty military (mostly in the Army and Marine Corps) by about 7 percent, while at the same time growing the Pentagon’s civilian workforce by about 13 percent. Read more ..


Significant Lives

The Day I Met Nelson Mandela: A Life-Changing Experience

December 6th 2013

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In February and March of 1990, I had a profoundly life-changing experience.

At the time, I was working for Robert J. Brown, former aide to President Richard M. Nixon, as a vice president for the international division of Mr. Brown’s B&C Associates. The position required my spending many months in South Africa. Never in America, before or since, had I felt and seen such racism, raw and ugly, as was laid bare in South Africa, where blacks were treated as chattel and subhuman.

I was treated that way myself until they heard my accent or saw my passport. Suddenly, I was OK to the racist throngs and treated with all respect. Only my U.S. passport differentiated me from other blacks, but apparently that was enough.

Very quickly, this exposure started to harden me and for the first time, hate began to seep within my heart. Read more ..


Transparency in Government

Costa Ricans' Political Enthusiasm Dampened by Corruption Woes

December 6th 2013

Costa Rica President Laura Chinchilla

Along with Costa Rica current slow economic growth, many Costa Ricans are also discontented with rampant corruption that has affected the country’s entire civic society. On November 11th, Fulton Armstrong, an experienced analyst of Inter-American policy and a highly regarded CLALS Research Fellow at American University, posted a blog in which he provided an insightful analysis of Costa Rica’s stumbling political system.

Although Costa Rican officials present their country as a democratic success, Mr. Armstrong responded by writing “Costa Rica is approaching February’s presidential and legislative elections with a distinct lack of enthusiasm, if not with dread.” Many Costa Rican citizens are using the elections as an opportunity to manifest their large-scale discontent, through massive protests,with the government’s inability to adequately provide for the nation’s dispossessed and address the country’s runaway corruption cases. 

President Laura Chinchilla contends that her government is now clean and that it has taken giant steps in curbing corruption, yet some local polls find that 95 percent of the population believe that many officials within her administration are corrupt. Read more ..


The Media on Edge

A Press Shield Law's Strange Bedfellows

December 3rd 2013

Newspapers

Luckily, previous 'Free Flow of Information' bills went nowhere. But a new one is picking up steam. Why?

Anyone looking for proof that bad policy begets more bad policy need look no further than the all-too-aptly-named Free Flow of Information Act of 2013. The bill may be taken up on the Senate floor as early as this week.

The proposed legislation has had predecessors that failed to become law: the Free Flow of Information Acts of 2007, 2008 and 2009. Each, like the current bill, was said by its proponents to provide urgently needed protection for reporters seeking to shield confidential sources from discovery through federal subpoenas-thereby promoting disclosure of important information, particularly from government whistleblowers. Each of those earlier bills was firmly opposed by members of the intelligence community, including by me when I served as U.S. attorney general in 2007-09. We thought that the bills were not merely unnecessary but also a potential source of mischief that would empower those who lost policy arguments within the government, or who were simply out to do harm, to leak with impunity. Read more ..


Broken Philanthropy

The Dark Background of American Philanthropists

December 1st 2013

Philanthropy has many wonderful qualities — and never tires of proclaiming them, for one quality it sorely lacks is humility. It regularly thumps itself on the back, for instance, for devoting some $300 billion a year to good causes. And though philanthropic spending on social causes is dwarfed by that of the government, foundations proudly claim that dollar for dollar their spending is in fact more effective than the government’s. While government tends to stick with the safe and the routine, philanthropy regularly and energetically seeks out the next new thing; it claims it is at the cutting edge of social change, being innovative, scientific, and progressive. Philanthropy, as legendary Ford Foundation program officer Paul Ylvisaker once claimed, is society’s “passing gear.”

Indeed, philanthropy increasingly prides itself on its ability to shape and guide government spending, testing out potential solutions for social problems and then aggressively advocating for their replication by government. Any employee of a philanthropic organization can immediately tick off a list of major accomplishments of American foundations, all of which followed this pattern of bold experimentation leading to government adoption.

For example, Andrew Carnegie’s library program pledged funding to construct the buildings, if the local municipalities would provide the sites and help pay for the libraries’ operation. The Rockefeller Foundation funded a moderately successful hookworm abatement program in the southern United States, which strongly involved local governments. The Ford Foundation’s “gray areas” project in the 1960s experimented with new approaches to urban poverty that then became the basis for the Great Society’s War on Poverty. Read more ..


Uruguay on Edge

Uruguay's First Lady Should Condemn All Perpetrators of Political Violence

November 30th 2013

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In an October 3 interview with The Associated Press, Uruguayan First Lady and former guerrilla activist Lucía Topolansky was asked about the past justification for the execution of unarmed prisoners at the hands of urban guerrillas, known as Tupamaros, during their turbulent uprising against the Uruguayan government in the 1970′s and 1980′s. Topolansky, while being detained at the hands of the military junta (1973-1985), replied, “[h]istory is what it is. We are not going to go back and analyze it.”

While there is no denying that egregious human rights violations were systematically perpetrated by Southern Cone military regimes, Topolansky’s rather lukewarm and evasive remark echoes sentiments often resorted to by supporters of the regional dictatorships that sprung up in order to combat guerrilla movements throughout the 1970′s and 1980′s.  Read more ..


After the Holocaust

Nazi Gun Bans Precipitated Infamous 'Kristallnacht'

November 30th 2013

Parabellum Luger 9mm

This month marks the seventy-fifth anniversary of the Night of the Broken Glass, or Kristallnacht, the Nazi pogrom against Germany’s Jews in November 1938. Historians have documented everything about it except what made it so easy to attack the defenseless Jews without fear of resistance. Their guns were registered and were easily confiscated in the weeks before the onslaught.

How this was possible can be seen through the eyes of one of the countless victims, who happened to be a renowned German athlete. Alfred Flatow won first place in gymnastics at the 1896 Olympics. In 1932, he dutifully registered three handguns as required by a decree of the Weimar Republic. The decree also provided that, if “public safety” so required, the guns could be confiscated. Officials gullibly neglected to consider that only law-abiding citizens would register, while political extremists and criminals would not. But the interior minister warned that the gun registration records must be carefully secured so they would not fall into the hands of extremist elements. Read more ..


Obama's Second Term

Obamacare is Driving Costs Up, Not Down

November 30th 2013

Obamacare

The past two months have laid bare the emptiness of the president’s most prominent Obamacare promises.  Millions are losing the plans they have and like against their wishes, contrary to the president’s oft-repeated pledge.  And those being forced into Obamacare could lose access to the doctors and hospitals they trust, also contrary to assurances from the president.  The evidence demonstrating that these commitments cannot be met is so overwhelming that even the administration has abandoned defense of the president’s previous statements.

But there’s still one claim the Obama administration hasn’t yet admitted will not come true, which is that Obamacare will drive overall health costs down, rather than up.  More precisely, the administration continues to insist that the law is responsible for slowing the pace of rapidly rising health costs and will continue to slow the growth of such costs in the future, with great economic benefits for families and the entire country. Read more ..


The Way We Are

Human Rights Groups Criticize U.S. Drone Strikes

November 29th 2013

MQ-1 Predator Drone

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch (HRW), two influential human rights organizations, released separate reports on Tuesday criticizing the Obama administration's use of drones in the fight against al Qaeda terrorists. The reports detail instances of where secret drone strikes killed civilians and violated international law in Pakistan and Yemen.

Amnesty International's investigation into nine strikes in Pakistan's North Waziristan region between January 2012 and August 2013 finds civilians were disproportionately killed by U.S. drone attacks. In one incident, Amnesty reported that the U.S. killed 18 laborers as they waited to eat dinner. According to locals, who often fear of reprisals from Taliban in the area, the men were not engaged in militant activities. Amnesty believes more justification, other than "association" with a terrorist group, is needed to carry out a strike. "[We have] serious concerns that this attack violated the prohibition of the arbitrary deprivation of life and may constitute war crimes or extrajudicial executions," said the report. HRW focused on six drone strikes in Yemen in which 57 civilians were killed. Read more ..


The Way We Are

The Curse of Longevity

November 28th 2013

Armstrong_Williams

The Social Security Act was passed in 1935 guaranteeing retirement pensions to all Americans over the age of 65. Sounds like a good deal… except for the fact that the average American life expectancy back in 1935 was 61.7 years. FDR and his administration were as far-sighted as any politician in America, meaning not-at-all. Everything was supposed to remain the same so their plan would work perfectly -- get the young and poor to pay for the federal pensions of the old and wealthy.

As time marched on, access to food and healthcare, as well as the automation of labor, granted longevity to even the poorest in America. In 2010, the average lifespan was 78.7 years. The number of centenarians (people over 100 years old) in the US that year was more than 53,000. Interestingly enough, there were more centenarians in 2010 then there were Social Security recipients in 1937, the first year benefits were distributed. Those first recipients received a total of $1.278 million in 1937. The Class of 2010 centenarians had received no less than $18 billon at the time of the 2010 census. That is $18 billion -- with a B.

There is absolutely no way that FDR thought social security would pay 53,364 people a monthly stipend for over 35 years. Less than 1 percent of the U.S. population was 65 or older in 1940; by 2011, that figure had exceeded 18 percent. To give those percentages a number, 222,488 people in 1940 versus over 56 million in 2011.

The lifespan of the average American in 1935 was already unprecedented in the history of the world. In 1900, the average lifespan was 31 years, which was the norm for every advanced civilization at their peaks. Hobbes may have been describing the State of Nature when he said life was “… nasty, brutish, and short,” but it just as much describes life in civilization until the last half of the 20th Century. Read more ..


Antisemitic Europe

How Fear of Muslims Leads to Hatred of Jews in Europe

November 27th 2013

When European history teachers omit the Holocaust from their curriculum, they do not do this because they hate their Jewish students more than their Muslim students. They omit it because they are afraid of their Muslim students. They might also believe they do it to be "nice," but then how come this same "niceness" is not afforded to the Jews?

In the "Stockholm Syndrome," now seen, ironically, in Sweden, victims start bonding with their abusers in the wish that if they share the same values as their abusers, their abusers might stop abusing them. "We must be open and tolerant toward Islam and Muslims because when we become a minority, they will be so toward us." — Jens Orback, former Swedish government minister. Read more ..


Iran's Nukes

Obama's Deal with Wayward Iran is a Losing Proposition

November 26th 2013

“Always believe the threats of your enemies, more than the promises of your friends,” Holocaust survivor and Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel has said.

This wise advice is becoming a cold reality for many of America’s longtime allies in the Middle East amid an unprecedented breakdown in U.S. foreign policy and credibility in the region.

Indeed, America’s allies in an extremely volatile part of the world have been left stunned by a foreign policy – from Egypt to Syria and now to Iran -- which has been bumbling at best and damaging at worst. This foreign policy fumble has serious long term implications for U.S. national security.

But today, with Iran within reach of the technical capacity to build a nuclear weapon, the U.S. itself is nearing a point of no return. There is grave concern in Congress, (and across America) that an emerging agreement being brokered by the U.S. and world powers with Iran in Geneva will irrevocably weaken sanctions against Iran without doing anything about the infrastructure of their nuclear program. Read more ..



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