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The Way We Are

A Lack of Social Mobility May Foretell Rising Class Warfare

November 6th 2013

People lined up for jobs

I am going to write about John Rawls, the great liberal philosopher. But bear with me: I am also going to consider how much tax people want to pay. Rawls first: in 1971, the quiet, unassuming Harvard professor published a dry treatise, A Theory of Justice. Such a book might hope for a few thousand sales. In this case, it sold in the hundreds of thousands. It was a philosophical blockbuster.

Rawls' elegant thesis rested on an intuitive idea: a fair society is the one we would invent without knowing what position we will occupy within it. Decisions about tax, welfare, social insurance are made, in his thought experiment, by rational individuals acting behind ‘a veil of ignorance'. Rawls also gave pro-government liberals a firmer foundation on which to stand in their battles with the supply-siders in the 1980s. Read more ..


Obama's Second Term

A Dishonest Presidency

November 5th 2013

Obama in front of AMA

The Wall Street Journal broke the news this weekend that, even as President Obama was telling the American people they could keep their health plans, “some White House policy advisors objected to the breadth of Mr. Obama’s ‘keep your plan’ promise. They were overruled by political aides.” Overruled by political aides? This is simply damning.

It’s not easy to get a lie into a presidential speech. Every draft address is circulated to the White House senior staff and key Cabinet officials in something called the “staffing process.” Every line is reviewed by dozens of senior officials, who offer comments and factual corrections. During this process, it turns out, some of Obama’s policy advisers objected to the “you can keep your plan” pledge, pointing out that it was untrue. But it stayed in the speech. That does not happen by accident. It requires a willful intent to deceive. Read more ..


The War on Terror

America's Allies, Adversaries and the Right to Self-Defense

November 5th 2013

Click to select Image

Critics of those who defend the free world from its adversaries accuse governments and security forces of wiretapping public figures, including friendly governments, and of conducting drone-executed targeted killings as an accepted form of warfare.

But is anyone looking at who, exactly, is criticizing the Western world's actions that defend it against terrorism? Do they really believe that terrorism can be successfully fought without violence? Criticism, even if justified, can sabotage a just battle and people's right to self-defense.

According to the Arabic proverb, "If you honor and respect a noble man, he will become your friend, but if you honor and respect a villain, he will rise up against you."

One view of diplomacy, deemed misguided by leaders such as Churchill, is to abandon one's friends and court one's enemies in the assumption that the friend is yours and will not abandon you. The United States deserted the Shah for the Ayatollah's Revolutionary Guards; it abandoned Mubarak for the Muslim Brotherhood Islamist Mohamed Morsi, and it has abandoned Iraq and Afghanistan to domestic chaos, growing terrorism and the approaching Islamist takeover. Read more ..


Broken Education

AAUP and BDS

November 4th 2013

Boycott Israel

In 1915, John Dewey of Columbia University and Arthur Lovejoy of Johns Hopkins University came together with other educators to establish the American Association of University Professors, an organization designed to preserve academic freedom and professional values.

The association's 1915 Declaration of Principles set the guidelines for the foundation of what academic freedom should be stating that, "the freedom of the academic teacher entail[s] certain correlative obligations ... . The university teacher ... should, if he is fit for his position, be a person of a fair and judicial mind; he should, in dealing with such subjects, set forth justly, without suppression or innuendo, the divergent opinions of other investigators ... and he should, above all, remember that his business is not to provide his students with ready-made conclusions, but to train them to think for themselves."  Read more ..


Broken Intelligence

Overstepping Boundaries

November 3rd 2013

Angela Merkel

Remember “Reach out and touch someone?” Well, President Obama did reach out and touch someone. The problem is, the person he touched just happened to be Angela Merkel, chancellor of Germany. And she’s not happy about it.

When she learned from Der Spiegel that the National Security Agency had been tapping her personal cellphone, Merkel was so pissed she called Obama immediately and told him to knock it off. She’s probably even more upset now — it was reported over the weekend that we’ve been tapping her private phone since 2002, before she became chancellor, that spying operations are run from the rooftop of the American Embassy, less than 800 yards from the Chancellery, and that Obama was told about the practice in 2010 and did nothing to stop it. Read more ..


Broken Healthcare

Obama's 16 Words

November 2nd 2013

Obamacare Protest

Remember George W. Bush’s “16 words” in his 2003 State of the Union address making the case for military action in Iraq? Sen. John Kerry charged that Bush “hoodwinked the American people.” Sen. Hillary Clinton said Bush “misled” the country. And Sen. Barack Obama accused the White House of “shading intelligence reports to support its case.”

Well, now it seems President Obama has his own 16 words to answer for: “If you like your health care plan, you’ll be able to keep your health care plan.” (Actually, it was a little more than 16 words if you include what the president said next: “Period. No one will take it away. No matter what.”)

Obama attempted to move the goal posts in his speech in Boston’s Faneuil Hall Wednesday, declaring that if you like your current health plan, “For the vast majority . . . you can keep it.” Sorry, he didn’t say “the vast majority” back in 2009. He said you can keep your plan. Period. No matter what. Read more ..


Broken Government

Food Stamp Scandals

November 1st 2013

Homeless in Cheap Motels

Nov. 1, 2013 — a date that will live in infamy — will bring a new monthly jobs report proving that the pain of the jobless is continuing unabated, as a cruel cut in the food stamp program is slated to take food off the tables of hungry children, elderly and disabled Americans.

While the Dow Jones industrial average soars to record highs and American elites prepare to celebrate a prosperous holiday season, it is a scandal that the jobless remain jobless, the hungry are becoming more hungry and official Washington is doing nothing.

It is scandalous that the hungriest Americans have been discarded from our public discourse and abandoned as nonpersons in our policy debates. They are treated like the disappeared in Pinochet’s Chile and the tortured in Stalin’s Gulag. They suffer in silence while politicians and the media ignore them. Read more ..


Financing the Flames

Financing the Flames on a Scorched Budget

October 31st 2013

Nabi Saleh Villagers with Rocks

Our country is wracked by one budget crisis after another. When the IRS permits an organization to enjoy 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status, every American must pay the difference. Knowledgeable tax experts tell us that for every one million dollars in donations received by a 501(c)(3) charity, $440,000 of it is subsidized by US taxpayers. That is why we must ensure that taxpayer dollars going to activities in Israel are working to achieve peace and reconciliation—which remains an American priority in the Middle East.

But now we learn in a powerful new book, Financing the Flames: How Tax-Exempt and Public Money Fuel a Culture of Confrontation and Terrorism in Israel, by New York Times bestselling investigative author Edwin Black, that some of the biggest tax-exempt organizations operating in Israel are doing the opposite. Black cites prominent critics in Israel who say these organizations are devoted not to charitable works but to political turmoil and confrontation between Palestinians and Israelis. And this agitation is powered by US taxpayer money. Read more ..


Broken Government

Regime Change - Home Edition

October 31st 2013

People lined up for jobs

A poll of 1,504 adult Americans taken nationwide earlier this month (Oct. 9-13) by the respected Pew Research Center found that just 14 percent of us are satisfied with “the way things are going in this country today.”

At about the same time, an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found similarly that only 14 percent of U.S. adults feel that “things in the nation are generally headed in the right direction.”

For both organizations, those are historically low figures.
Yes, things have been bad for some time now, but lately they are getting absolutely, positively worse. Let’s be honest — if we saw these sorts of numbers in a developing nation or Third World country, we’d be thinking that regime change or worse lies ahead. Numbers like these signal that a governmental collapse, military coup, civil war or worse could be in the offing. Read more ..


France on Edge

Anti-Semitism Goes Mainstream in France

October 30th 2013

Click to select Image

"You show that it is possible to be of the Jewish faith without being completely disgusting." — Standup comedian Sebastian Thoen introducing Elie Semoun on Canal Plus TV.

When a leading Jewish organization complained about "a dangerous trivialization of anti-Semitism," the President of the TV channel responded by saying that the Jewish community had "no sense of humor."

When a leading Jewish organization complained about "a dangerous trivialization of anti-Semitism," the President of the TV channel responded by saying that the Jewish community had "no sense of humor."

A few weeks ago, when French Jewish actor Elie Semoun was a prime-time guest on one of the main French television channels, Canal Plus, the words of Sebastian Thoen, a standup comedian who introduced him may have been meant to be to be laudatory, but took quite a different turn: "You never plunged into communitarianism [Jewish activism] ... You could have posted yourself in the street selling jeans and diamonds from the back of a minivan, saying 'Israel is always right, f*** Palestine, wallala.' You show that it is possible to be of the Jewish faith without being completely disgusting." Read more ..


Justice on Edge

The Supreme Court and the Perils of Advocacy Science: Examples from the Schuette Oral Argument on Affirmative Action

October 29th 2013

Supreme Court at the 2010 SOTU

The Supreme Court has a history of getting itself in trouble when it too readily turns to social science and statistics to bolster its legal decisions. The oral argument in the recently submitted Schuette case offers two examples of how the Court may be led astray. Citing the work of UCLA law professor Richard Sander, who submitted an amicus brief in Schuette, Chief Justice Roberts suggested that maybe in banning affirmative action Michigan’s voters were acting in the interest of the state’s minorities and saving them from the harm of “academic mismatch.” Later Michigan’s Solicitor General John Bursch, responding to a question about the harm to diversity that the ban on affirmative action is likely to bring about, gave answers that can only mislead a conscientious Court.

The mismatch hypothesis that Roberts is willing to buy has an intuitive appeal. It makes sense that students admitted to competitive schools with academic credentials (mainly test scores and grades) considerably lower than those of their peers would feel overmatched and flounder as a result, and affirmative action students get, on average, worse grades than their peers. Read more ..


The US and Pakistan

Divided They Stand

October 28th 2013

Pakistani protest Nov 2011

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's visit to Washington and his meeting with President Barack Obama reopened lines of communication broken over the last few years by drones and commando raids. The atmospherics were good; the two had a longer than planned one-on-one. But the visit produced no breakthroughs in what has become an increasingly dysfunctional relationship. The United States and Pakistan are more opponents than allies, but it is important to keep the lines of communication open and Sharif's visit will provide a base for future efforts to find common areas of cooperation, especially as the situation in Afghanistan clarifies in 2014.

A decade ago, George W. Bush embraced Pervez Musharraf as America's top ally in the war against terror. In the years that followed, Bush and Obama provided Pakistan with over $25 billion in military and economic aid, including 18 F-16 jet fighters and a Perry Class frigate. The goal was to fight al-Qaeda. Only Israel got more aid from America in the last decade. Read more ..


US and Afghanistan

Common Cause between America, Afghanistan

October 27th 2013

Afghanis protest after NATO raid

The basic character of the future U.S.-Afghan relationship is in doubt — and will continue to be even if a security agreement is reached — because the talks over that agreement and other elements of the bilateral relationship have at times played into the hands of those who seek to profoundly limit or even sever it. That could lead to a general defeat for all we have collectively tried to accomplish over the past dozen years.

Technical details are the focus of much discussion regarding an agreement to govern U.S.-Afghan security cooperation after the current international mission ends next year. Will U.S. forces be liable in Afghan courts for any crimes they might commit against Afghans? Will the United States promise to help protect Afghanistan from its neighbors? Will U.S. forces, in certain circumstances, be authorized by Kabul to strike at al-Qaeda affiliates in Afghanistan or Pakistan? Read more ..


Egypt's Second Revolution

The Four Fingers Holding Up The Muslim Brotherhood

October 26th 2013

ProMorsi Demo Post-Coup

At a recent Ghana vs. Egypt World Cup qualifying match, Ghanaian soccer fans wore yellow t-shirts and held signs featuring a dark black hand holding up four fingers. The clear attempt to taunt the Egyptian fans is the latest appearance of what has become an increasingly important symbol of the sharp divisions in Egypt — and broader regional fault lines between Islamist and secular forces. Backers of the Brotherhood inside Egypt and abroad have been displaying the four-fingered hand to commemorate the Egyptian security forces' August massacre of more than 600 supporters of deposed President Mohamed Morsi. 

The four-finger sign, also know as the "R4bia" salute, is a reference to the name of the Cairo mosque that held the largest pro-Morsi sit-in protest: Rabaa Al-Adawiya, as the word rabaa means "fourth" in Arabic. More and more images of the four-fingered hand are appearing, and have been accompanied on social media by hashtags like "#anti-coup," and have popped up elsewhere among those supporting the Brotherhood, from Turkey to Tunisia. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

The Confluence of Events in Syria

October 25th 2013

Civil war

Not saying that it will happen -- not even that it might.  But if you don't watch the confluence of events in Syria, you'll miss the possibility that it could.

Now that Washington is finished with last summer's Elizabeth O'Bagy kerfuffle over the percentage of the Syrian opposition comprising jihadist militias, it is time to admit that the war is not what the romantics wanted it to be -- doctors and teachers who rose up against the tyrant and won.  To be sure, there were doctors and teachers, and to be sure, Assad is a tyrant, but war is conducted by fighters -- and in Syria, the fighters are well-armed, well-trained, and forcing the hand of the Free Syrian Army (FSA).  Reports of local FSA commanders and local Syrian government commanders making ceasefire deals in the field could be false.  But they could also be harbingers of changing fates. Read more ..


The Edge of Sport

Redskins Name Should Stay, But Personal Attacks Should Go

October 24th 2013

Armstrong_Williams

Watching the current debate swirl around the Washington Redskins I can’t help but shake my head.  The issue of a name change is a tired issue which we have heard about before.  Yet something seems different this time, and much of that has to do with the liberal leaning mainstream media jumping on the bandwagon to help fuel the fire.

The Redskins name should stay.  The team has a historical attachment to Redskins that goes back over 80 years.  The team has declared that its intention is to honor Native Americans and not to demean them, so we should take them at their word.  If ever there were an example of political correctness run amok, then demanding the Redskins give up their name is it.

I respect Redskins owner Dan Snyder as a successful businessman and at the end of the day the team is his investment.  It’s not our place to tell him how to run his business.  He can call it whatever he pleases.  If some people choose to be thin-skinned and take offense, then that is their problem.

But somewhere along the way this issue regarding the Redskins also became about personal attacks and that is a far more serious problem than some sports team’s nickname. The Daily Caller website ran a recent story that purported to be about the leader of the campaign to change the mascot, but it amounted to little more than a smear against him.

I have never met or even spoken with the Oneida Nation’s representative Ray Halbritter. But I’m willing to bet that the Daily Caller reporter didn’t either; certainly the article gives no indication he did, with only a brief notice at the end that the Oneidas “did not return a request for comment.” Yet that did not stop them from publishing an “article” that relied on quotes from a detractor of Mr. Halbritter and “documents” that suggest he is not a legitimate member of the Indian tribe that he leads. Read more ..


Broken Philanthropy

Philanthropy’s Original Sin

October 23rd 2013

Twins-Height-Verschuer

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.

And yet, in all this deafening clamor of self-approbation, we rarely hear from these foundations about another undertaking that bears all the strategic hallmarks of American philanthropy’s much-touted successes, with far more significant results: that the first American foundations were deeply immersed in eugenics — the effort to promote the reproduction of the “fit” and to suppress the reproduction of the “unfit.” Read more ..


Broken Government

Democrats and the Media Do a Number on the American People

October 22nd 2013

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The idiomatic expression “doing a number” doesn’t require a number, but let’s start with a number: $24 billion.

Standard & Poor’s (S&P), known for its credit ratings of various securities, including the mortgage-backed securities for which it is being sued for fraud by the U.S. Department of Justice, put out a press release within hours after the partial government shutdown ended late on the evening of October 16. The press release was picked up by many media outlets, Democratic Party leadership (Nancy Pelosi on This Week October 20, also used in that program’s interview of members of public in Lima, Ohio), and Beth Ann Bovino, U.S. Chief Economist for S&P’s Rating Services, was interviewed on the evening of October 17 on PBS’ NewsHour. The headline was that the 16-day partial government shutdown cost the U.S. economy $24 billion. Read more ..


Inside Politics

Money War for the GOP's Soul

October 22nd 2013

Juan Williams 02

In a political street-fight for control of the Republican brand between big business on one side and Tea Party extremists on the other, who do you put your on money on?

Where do Republicans put their money?
As a very high-ranking Republican told me last week: “We have a total split between people who give us $30 and the people who give us $30,000.”

The $30 donors are the Tea Party donors. The $30,000 donors are business groups.

The Tea Party donors are the red-face folks listening to right-wing radio while buying Sen. Ted Cruz’s (R-Texas) promise that he could end ObamaCare with a government shutdown.

They are the people who clicked “donate” on websites last week to give to the Senate Conservatives Fund as the group trumpeted its decision to oppose Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). The SCF endorsed Matt Bevin, McConnell’s Tea Party opponent in the Kentucky primary.

According to a spokesman for the SCF, McConnell has “a long record of siding with Democrats and supporting liberal policies.” In fact, McConnell has one of the strongest conservative voting records in Congress. But for some, it is not conservative enough. By whipping up the far-right Republican base, the SCF raised $2.6 million in the last three months, according to its latest financial statements. But as conservative columnist Kimberley Strassel recent wrote in the Wall Street Journal, the SCF “has not spent one dollar this year in support of a Senate candidate.” Read more ..


Broken Economy

AARP's Fuzzy Math on Social Security

October 21st 2013

Social Security Protest1

AARP—formerly known as the American Association of Retired Persons—recently released a report proclaiming that "Social Security Generates Nearly $1.4 Trillion in Economic Activity and Supports More Than Nine Million Jobs." As great as that sounds, AARP's study is fundamentally flawed.

Last year, Social Security paid out almost $715 billion in retirement, survivors and disability benefits. This money supports seniors, but according to AARP the gains don't stop there. Retirees spend their benefits on food, for example, creating incomes for the supermarket owner and employees, who then spend these incomes, and so on. The report concludes: "Because of the multiplier effect, every dollar of Social Security paid out translates to almost two dollars in spending in the United States." Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

Hamas: Benevolent Savior Of Syrian Refugees?

October 20th 2013

Syrian Refugees

Fiction and reality are often indistinguishably juxtaposed in the Middle East. This week, when Hamas called on Palestinians fleeing Syria to come to the Gaza instead of risking their lives at sea, it seemed a surreal caricature.

The call — made by Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh — came after the Libyan coast guard opened fire at a boat carrying 374 Palestinian refugees from Syria. The irony is that the Syrian refugees are indeed facing a real human tragedy, but it's not just the Palestinians among them. The Hamas offer — on the surface a generous humanitarian gesture — is in fact a none-too-subtle attempt to refocus global attention on the Palestinian refugee issue while turning a blind eye to the plight of non-Palestinians fleeing from Syria. Read more ..


The Iranian Threat

Whose Interests Are Served by the Iran Rapprochement?

October 19th 2013

Iran-US Hatred

The White House strategy to renew relations with Iran is advancing whether it's in the U.S. interest or not. While the latest "negotiations" in Geneva ended as most previous meetings, with an agreement to meet again, the Obama administration let it be known that it is considering unfreezing Iranian assets.  Anonymous Washington officials revealed that "Iran would be able to access money from oil sales overseas that it currently can only barter with because of U.S. and international sanctions. Senate aides put the total between $50 billion and $75 billion." "What Iran would have to do in return to prompt the Obama administration to allow banks to release the money" wasn't leaked.

In true Obama-speak, the leaker argued that this arrangement "would also give President Obama the flexibility to respond to Iranian offers that emerge from the negotiations without unraveling the global sanctions regime the administration has spent years cobbling together." In other words, while the U.S. pretends it's holding the cake to tempt Teheran to compliance, the Iranians would be eating the cake. Read more ..


Broken Healthcare

Health Reform: We Know That It Can be Done, Because It Has Been Done

October 18th 2013

Obamacare

The first two weeks of the Affordable Care Act have not gone smoothly. Newspapers and TV news reports have been filled with reports of computer glitches and crashes. A mixture of gloating and faux surprise has been heard from some quarters. Other observers have shown genuine concern about whether all would-be purchasers will be successfully enrolled by January 1 when coverage through the new marketplaces—or "exchanges"—begins.

Surprise at the glitches is unwarranted. Concern about design flaws is legitimate. The gloating is contemptible.

Problems attend the roll-out of every complex law. The start of the drug benefit under Medicare in 2006 is illustrative. Many feared that the array of choices was so bewildering that enrollees would make costly mistakes. The start was marked by confusion and sluggish take-up. Eventually, people selected plans—not always optimally, according to various studies—but well enough so that millions of enrollees gained access to new coverage that helped made drugs affordable. Read more ..


Broken Economy

Okun's Law Says We're Growing Well Below Our Economic Potential

October 17th 2013

Unemployment

Half a century ago, when business cycle research was blossoming, Arthur Okun explored the relation between GDP and unemployment during periods of recession and recovery. As a first approximation, one might have assumed that a one percent decline in output would be associated with roughly a one percent decline in employment and a one point rise in the unemployment rate. However Okun showed that this approximation was very wide of the mark. In what came to be known as Okun's Law, he estimated that a one percentage point higher unemployment rate was associated with three percent less GDP. Thus if unemployment was 2 points above its full employment level, GDP would be 6 percent below its potential level-defined as the level of GDP at full employment.

The building blocks of Okun's Law were several cyclical features of the economy and its job market. In a weak job market, many discouraged workers stop looking for jobs and thereby leave the labor force. So a cyclical decline in employment does not produce a corresponding increase in measured unemployment. Read more ..


Defense on Edge

Saving Defense Dollars: From Base Realignment and Closure to Overhead Realignment and Closure

October 16th 2013

The Pentagon

While the government shutdown continues because of the Democrats’ and Republicans’ profound disagreement, the real issue facing the nation is something that both parties agree on, in principle: the need to reduce the size of the federal deficit.

The Budget Control Act of 2011 and sequestration have made some steps in this direction, though aiming indiscriminately at certain parts of government far more than others. Half of all cuts, for example, come from the Defense Department.

There are a wide range of options for domestic spending reduction. But military spending cuts are more narrow and difficult. They can be done responsibly, however. Sequestration’s reductions are severe, perhaps excessive (especially early on), with $500 billion in 10-year cuts, on top of the $500 billion already accepted back in 2011. That said, tens of billions can undoubtedly be saved through smart economies and business practices — without cutting muscle or breaking faith with the men and women in uniform. Read more ..


Broken Economy

The U.S. Debt Ceiling Impasse and Consequences for the Global Economy

October 15th 2013

Frantic Wall Street denizen

If the U.S. Congress cannot act to increase the debt limit before this Thursday, the U.S. Treasury’s ability to manage its cash would be severely strained and could lead to delays of payments and possibly a default.

At this weekend’s IMF-World Bank Annual Meetings, many leaders from all corners of the globe appealed to the United States government to raise its debt ceiling. The African governors in their Communique expressed their worry about the “threat of potentially devastating budgetary challenges in the U.S. which if left unaddressed could derail the fragile recovery.” 

Recall that in August 2011, Standard & Poor’s downgraded for the first time the AAA credit rating the U.S. had held for 70 years. The agency cited its concerns about the weakening of “the effectiveness, stability, and predictability of American policymaking and political institutions at a time of ongoing fiscal and economic challenges.” As a result, U.S. equity markets fell by 20 percent and between the second and third quarter of 2011, household wealth fell $2.4 trillion (according to a U.S. Treasury report).  Read more ..


Iraq on Edge

In Bloody Iraq, Not All Hope is Lost

October 14th 2013

Iraqi Militia

Nearly two years have passed since the last U.S. combat troops associated with the war effort left Iraq. And on balance, it has been a very difficult two years, with a substantial increase in violence and much worse relations across Sunni-Shia lines than at any time since before the surge of 2007/2008. That said, there is reason for hope in Iraq — though it will require substantially better decision-making by Iraqi politicians than has been witnessed in the recent past.

Three chief factors account for the reversals in Iraq. First, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki increased his autocratic ways, arresting Sunni politicians and otherwise setting back efforts at cross-sectarian peacemaking. Second, the departure of U.S. forces left Iraq less well prepared to handle the infiltration or recruitment of new al-Qaida operatives. Third, the conflict next door in Syria provided a new source of such operatives as well as weaponry and organizational structure. Syria's internal crisis has also provided sanctuary for al-Qaida. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, among the three most wanted terrorists globally and leader of al-Qaida in Iraq, is presently believed by the State Department to be overseeing operations from a hideout in country. Read more ..


Broken Government

The Debt Ceiling: Pros and Cons

October 13th 2013

Congress-senate

The House issued a challenge to the Obama Administration this week. It passed a budget resolution that funds the government into December, but defunds Obama’s signature legislation, the Affordable Care Act.

The Senate won’t pass the House bill, nor will President Obama sign it. If a continuing resolution isn’t passed and signed by the start of Fiscal 2014 on October 1, the government may be forced to “shut down.”

If Congress doesn’t raise the debt ceiling by mid-October, the government may again be forced to shut down. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew says that the Treasury will exhaust all its tricks to stay under the current debt ceiling within four weeks. The current jockeying over spending and the debt ceiling has put the GOP under attack for risking the government’s credit. The two issues aren’t the same, but they are fundamentally linked. President Obama refuses to negotiate on the debt ceiling, and has said that he will not allow Republicans to tie it to the budget.  Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

The Jihadists' Move on Syria

October 12th 2013

Corpses in Homs

Assad's chemical weapons that inspectors from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) - the latest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize - are supposed to destroy are not as poisonous as the contagious Islamization of the Syrian rebels. Despite Bashar Assad's growing dependency on Iran, he managed to maintain the secular Islamic nature of the country. That began to change when Iraq's al Qaeda and al Nusra joined the rebel forces. The growing number of reports ab

out the atrocities the Sunni radical groups committed forced Secretary of State John Kerry last month to acknowledge the problem, though claiming that only 15-25 percent of the rebels were jihadis, while ignoring the battles going on between the jihadis and the secularist opposition groups.  Yet, President Obama agreed to Putin's unattainable chemical weapons "deal" that forced the West to treat Bashar Assad as the legitimate ruler, while promoting the fiction that the rebels groups are a united secular front. Read more ..


Eugenic America

Euthanizing Trans-Sexuals, Children and Alzheimer's Patients

October 11th 2013

In 2002 Belgium became the second country in the world, after The Netherlands, to legalize euthanasia.

“Euthanasia” (or “mercy killing”) means intentionally killing a person in order to relieve suffering. This is slightly different from “physician assisted suicide” (legal in Oregon, Vermont, Washington and Montana), where a doctor prescribes a lethal cocktail of drugs, but the patient must self-administer the cocktail.

The Belgian law permits adults (18+) who claim to be undergoing “unbearable psychological or physical suffering” to be killed by lethal injection with the consent of two physicians.

In 2002, 24 deaths were recorded under the new law. The number rose to 500 in 2008; and to 1,432 in 2012. Euthanasia now represents about two per cent of all deaths in the country.

“The girl that nobody wanted” Belgium’s ten-year old experiment with euthanasia came under fire last week when a woman was voluntarily put to death after a botched sex change operation left her feeling like a “monster.”

Nancy Verhelst was born in 1969. Her mother already had two sons. When she got pregnant again she dreamed of a third. But Nancy was born. “When I first saw ‘Nancy’, my dream was shattered,” the mother told a Belgium newspaper last week after the suicide; “she was so ugly.”

The two never bonded and Nancy predictably came to despise her biological sex. In the hours before her death, she referred to herself as “the girl that nobody wanted.” Between 2009 and 2012 Nancy underwent three operations to transform her body into the body of a male. After the third—penis construction surgery—the 44 year old, now called Nathan, was so disgusted with her body and herself that she requested death on the grounds of “unbearable psychological suffering”. Read more ..


Fatah on Edge

Is Abbas Losing Control Over Fatah?

October 10th 2013

Abbas UN

A series of incidents over the past few weeks indicate that the Palestinian Fatah faction, headed by Mahmoud Abbas, is witnessing a sharp power struggle between some of its top leaders. The infighting in Fatah is a sign of the growing challenges facing Abbas as he continues to conduct peace talks with Israel. Moreover, the internal squabbling raises questions about Abbas's ability to reach any agreement with Israel that would be acceptable to most Palestinians.

What has been happening in Fatah lately is more than differences of opinion among the faction's top brass. Some Palestinians have gone as far as saying that the infighting marks the beginning of a revolt against Abbas's leadership. Fatah gunmen have returned to the streets of some West Bank cities and refugee camps are openly challenging Abbas's leadership. Read more ..


The Default Edge

The Costs of Debt Default Are Sobering

October 9th 2013

Out of Business

The Treasury Department's report of the consequences of default should be sobering: a credit market freeze, a plunging stock market, and a falling dollar. Worse, unlike past fiscal crises, this one doesn't seem to have a resolution. Democrats and the president are insisting that they will not negotiate. Their view is simple and understandable: if you negotiate with hostage takers you just encourage more hostage taking. No party can govern if the opposition party in one house can regularly get their way by threatening economic calamity. Indeed, institutionalizing such a practice would prevent Republicans from governing should they take over the Senate in 2014 and the White House in 2016. Put another way, this is not your usual partisan bickering. This is behavior that undermines democracy itself. Read more ..


Inside Politics

The GOP is Adrift, Floundering

October 8th 2013

Ted Cruz

After roughly a week of the government shutdown, most of the negative fallout is landing on the heads of the Republicans, as many of us predicted it would.

It is appropriate to assess the causes of this less-than-optimal management of the issues from the standpoint of conservatives and those who actually would like our government to be more fiscally responsible.

A small group of Republican legislators led by the junior senator from Texas, decided to take as hostages government operations and the raising of the debt ceiling. The price of release was to be the death of ObamaCare. This approach never had a snowball’s chance in Texas of succeeding, since two-thirds of the government — the Senate and the presidency — are controlled by people who are totally invested in instituting ObamaCare. But this salient fact did not appear to be in the script these Republicans were acting out.

This oversight might, just possibly, be related to the significant amount of money raised by these folks for PACs they controlled. Meanwhile, the liberal elements of the media were more than happy to use the actions of a few to caricature the entire Republican Party as dysfunctional and chaotic. Next came a game-plan that assumed the opening of the government could be done piecemeal. First defense would be funded, then veterans’ affairs, then the parks and so forth. But this tactic once again seemed to be inherently self-defeating. By the end of the day, one would have essentially ended up with the kind of clean continuing resolution to which these folks had earlier claimed to be totally opposed. Read more ..


Broken Government

Boehner is a Leader in Name Only

October 7th 2013

Juan Williams 02

The sparks flying from the polarized politics that shut down the government make it hard to see how history will record these events. Only one fact will clearly hold over time: Never before in American history has the Speaker lost control of his caucus to people who are not elected members of the House.

National Review reported last week that Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) told key members of the GOP House caucus to oppose Speaker John Boehner’s (R-Ohio) plan to move away from stalled efforts to derail the Affordable Care Act and instead begin negotiations on the debt ceiling.

The conservative publication’s story described the Speaker’s leadership team as “startled by Cruz’s attempt to shape House strategy and work against the Speaker.” It was more than an attempt. The House members followed Cruz’s instructions. The more liberal New Yorker also appeared stunned at the ability of people not in the House to undercut the chamber’s Republican leadership.

“In previous eras, ideologically extreme minorities could be controlled by party leaders,” wrote Ryan Lizza. “What’s new about the current House of Representatives is that party discipline has broken down on the Republican side … Boehner has lost his ability to control his caucus and … outside interest groups can now set the national agenda.” Read more ..


Broken Government

Time to Change the Way We Elect Congressional Leaders

October 6th 2013

john boehner

To end the shutdown, we need a coalition of the willing. Right now, with 200 Democratic votes in the House of Representatives, less than twenty Republicans would be needed to pass – first a discharge petition to get the motion onto the floor and then a clean continuing resolution. With that this whole mess could be over.

So what’s keeping this from happening? Congress has lost the habit of making coalitions. It used to be that different coalitions regularly formed around different issues. Democrats would break ranks to vote with Republicans on trade issues; pro-labor Democrats and nativist Republicans teamed up to defeat immigration reform; suburban Republicans often sided with Democrats on women’s rights issues. This hasn’t entirely ended, of course. But today’s hyper-polarization puts a higher premium on sticking with the “team,” which too often means gridlock when control of the government is divided between the parties. Read more ..


Broken Government

Far Right Dooms the GOP

October 5th 2013

Ted Cruz

It is now possible that the Republican Party in the House of Representatives, dominated by a highly unpopular Tea Party that is far outside the mainstream of American political life, will trigger a global market crash by refusing to extend the debt ceiling and driving the nation to financial default.

In my column last week titled “Banana Republicans 2013,” I warned the GOP about the danger of their party acting like an extremist and obstructionist faction.

The GOP fiasco of the government shutdown should be a warning of the catastrophic devastation — to the nation and the GOP — of a Republican-induced U.S. default that would drive America back to recession, sink the world economy into a global financial crisis and doom the GOP to long-term minority party status.

The GOP is a party without leaders living in an asylum run by the inmates. Their nominee for president in 2008 opposes the outrages I deplore here. Their nominee in 2012 has largely disappeared. Their leader in the Senate is immobilized, trapped between a rightist primary opponent and a strong Democratic challenger. And last, but not least, Republican Sen. Ted Cruz (Texas) is waging a political war against Republican Speaker John Boehner (Ohio), and a majority of House Republicans — incredibly — are helping Cruz to undermine him. Read more ..


Obama's Second Term

Obama Is Ducking a Leader's Duty

October 4th 2013

Obama pensive with flag

A vast scholarly literature spanning more than six decades exists on the subject of leadership. The characteristics of effective leaders have been pored over, cataloged and debated. Among them, one trait stands out as axiomatic: Effective leaders take responsibility for problems around them; they do not shift blame to others. As Winston Churchill put it, "The price of greatness is responsibility."

Indeed, studies show that taking responsibility is one of the key traits people expect from a leader. In one 2006 study, two researchers at the University of Kent in England conducted a laboratory experiment in which human subjects in a group were given money and a choice: They could either keep it all or contribute some portion to a "group fund" that would be doubled and divided equally between all participants. Some people cooperated for the good of all, while others did not. Read more ..


The Way We Are

The Age of False Sincerity

October 3rd 2013

Armstrong_Williams

Whenever something, anything bad happens in the world, Facebook and Twitter become ground zero for false compassion. Every Tom, Dick, and Harry has to let everyone else know how sorry he feels for insert “tragedy” here. Some events are, indeed, calamities. Even so, I do not for one minute believe that many people are actually “deeply sorry” or that their “hearts go out to the victims” as the latest trending hashtag would have you believe.

Before social media, some might make the “those poor people” comment, but most folks would simply talk about the tragedy itself. Those that truly felt sympathy or empathy would donate time, money, or goods. Usually that donation was done privately other than a few loud-mouths that always had to let everyone else know just how generous they were.

Nowadays, anyone with an internet connection feels the need to let everyone else know just how much they care.

“No really guys, I spent 2 minutes watching the YouTube clip about the Colorado floods, and spent 20 seconds updating my status about how sad I am for those poor people. By the way, did you watch the Kardashians last night?!”

I find, that when you strip away the façade of sincerity, most people honestly do not care; rather, they feel they are supposed to say such things. Sure, everyone quickly thinks the Nairobi Mall incident awful, but past that they are just glad it was not them.

Or take the Rwanda massacre, for example. The United Nations adopted a resolution on December 9, 1948 following World War II and the Holocaust which stated that “The Contracting Parties confirm that genocide, whether committed in time of peace or in in time of war, is a crime under international law which they undertake to prevent and to punish.” The massacres in Rwanda clearly constituted genocide, so why didn’t the world step in to stop the slaughter? Instead, the world just watched. Where were all the tweeters of the world then? Read more ..


The Cyber Edge

Next-Generation Space & Cyber War

October 2nd 2013

RBSPs deploy solar panels

John Kenneth Galbraith once said, "Only a fool tries to predict the future." If that's so, there's an abundance of well-paid jokers in prestigious think tanks and on cable TV talk shows. However, a much larger-and less-well-paid-group of hopelessly afflicted prognosticators can be found in the ranks of fiction writers. Science fiction and techno-thriller authors, in particular, can't resist future-gazing; it's in our DNA to dream up an engaging story by starting with a simple question: "What if...?" 

History suggests that writers have a better track record of foreseeing world events and technological advancements than think-tankers and TV talking heads do. Or maybe not. One school of thought says fiction writers don't really predict the future; their stories merely prompt policymakers or scientists and engineers to think differently about a problem, and events unfold along the same lines sketched by authors. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

Kurdish Independence Now

October 1st 2013

Syrian Kurdish protesters

The civil war in Syria and the increasing fragility of Iraq have thrown the long-term future of these states into question. For years, they were ruled by brutal regimes that held power in the name of Arab nationalism; as a result, they failed to knit together the populations they ruled into a coherent national identity. With the decline of repressive centralized authority in Syria and Iraq, however, older nationalities and identities are reemerging. Chief among them are the Kurds. Indeed, current regional developments make Kurdish statehood a realistic possibility for the first time in living memory.

I have reported on a number of occasions from both Iraqi and Syrian Kurdistan. I last visited these areas four months ago, and have an extensive network of friends and contacts there and in the wider Kurdish world. And it has become overwhelmingly clear to me that Kurdish sovereignty would be of benefit to the Kurds, the region as a whole, and Western interests in the Middle East. I find it unfortunate that the emerging Kurdish success story receives so little attention in the West—both among policymakers and the general public. Kurdish statehood is good for the Kurds. It’s also good for the West. Read more ..



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