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Broken Philanthropy

Philanthropy’s Original Sin

October 23rd 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.

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

Click to select Image

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


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


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


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


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 ..

Obama's Second Term

Our Outlaw President? Obama Should Ignore the Debt Ceiling

September 30th 2013


The United States government is likely to shut down nonessential services tomorrow, after House Republicans voted before dawn yesterday to attach a one-year delay of President Obama’s health care law (and a repeal of a tax to pay for it) to legislation to keep the government running. The Democratic-led Senate is expected to refuse.

House Republicans also said last week that they would not agree to lift the debt ceiling unless implementation of the health law was delayed by one year. So the government is also headed toward a mid-October default on its debts — and a full-blown constitutional crisis.

Failure to raise the debt will force the president to break a law — the only question is which one. The Constitution requires the president to spend what Congress has instructed him to spend, to raise only those taxes Congress has authorized him to impose and to borrow no more than Congress authorizes. Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

Hezbollah's Military and Politics: Any Difference?

September 29th 2013

Hezbollah Troops

Is Hezbollah a social welfare organization with a military wing, or a terrorist organization that takes care of the social welfare of its people?

The European Union’s recent decision to include Hezbollah’s military wing on its terrorist list raises questions regarding the nature of a terrorist organization and international politics. Even if one agrees with the dichotomy between a military and political wing, the fact that the EU did not blacklist Hezbollah’s military wing until July 2013 itself is telling; Bahrain, the first Arab country to blacklist Hezbollah as a terrorist organization, did so in April 2013.  Read more ..

Broken Government

Opposing Obamacare Isn't Anarchy

September 28th 2013


‘It’s the law of the land.”

This is rapidly becoming the preferred shorthand argument for why criticism of Obamacare is just so, so wrong. It also serves as the lead sentence of a larger claim that all attempts to overturn the Affordable Care Act are really symptoms of a kind of extremist right-wing lunacy.

For instance, here’s Senate majority leader Harry Reid, who walked out of the painting American Gothic to deliver this homespun wisdom: “We’re not going to bow to tea-party anarchists who deny the mere fact that Obamacare is the law. We will not bow to tea-party anarchists who refuse to accept that the Supreme Court ruled that Obamacare is constitutional.”

Where to begin? For starters, I know a great many self-described members of the Tea Party, and I’ve yet to meet one who would not acknowledge — admittedly with dismay — that Obamacare is the law. Nor have I met one unwilling to concede that the Supreme Court ruled that Obamacare is constitutional. Though from my informal polling, I can report that most think the Court’s reasoning left much to be desired (logic, persuasiveness, consistency, etc.). Read more ..

Latin America on Edge

Suriname and the Nefarious Case of the Union of South American Nations (NASUR)

September 27th 2013

biblioteca nacional brasilia

Suriname is the smallest country in South America. With a territory of 64,000 square miles and a population slightly larger than half a million residents, whose official language is Dutch, Surinam is a country mostly ignored by students of Latin America and observers in general. Though considered politically inconsequential and rarely mentioned, Suriname is now playing a big role involving many of the countries of the hemisphere.

Most recently Suriname served as the host country for the annual conference of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR).  UNASUR is an organization founded with the objective of promoting regional integration, the development of a single Latin American market and cooperation on military matters between the different countries. Read more ..

Broken Government

Banana Republicans 2013

September 26th 2013


Americans recently witnessed two contrasting images of our political parties that represent why GOP dysfunction in Washington will be a powerful weapon for House and Senate Democrats in 2014.

At the annual meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative, President Obama (44), President Clinton (42) and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (45?) joined business leaders and globally respected luminaries to discuss the world economy and healthcare. They offered the nation a portrait of serious leaders, discussing serious matters, addressing serious citizens.

By contrast, voters witnessed a portrait of a Republican fiasco led by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) that threatens another government shutdown, which is deplored by 80 percent of Americans in a new New York Times/CBS poll. Republicans lack any credible or coherent national leader. They are dominated by extreme factions pursuing banana republic tactics. They threaten a government shutdown and U.S. default that could trigger a new financial crash. Read more ..

Broken Government

Shutdown Threat a Bad Idea - Again

September 25th 2013

US Capitol through trees

Republicans are once again careening toward shutting down the U.S. government.
I feel a bit lame adding my voice to the mix of those decrying the insanity of this move, with GOP pollsters and Karl Rove already having led the way. You can hardly find a professional political operative who thinks this will be good for the GOP — and they’re sacrificing their professional advice on the altar of ideology.

However, on the theory that everything has been said but not everyone has said it, I’ll add my two cents. To quote Mel Brooks’s immortal paraphrase of the Roman philosophers in his 1981 “History of the World: Part 1” comedy, “It’s N-V-T-S, nuts.” Few Americans think this is a good idea.

The latest CNBC poll addressed the issue head on and found only 19 percent who favor defunding ObamaCare if it means shutting down the government. A somewhat earlier ABC/Washington Post poll posed a more circumscribed question and found just 27 percent in support of “shutting down major activities of the federal government in order to try to prevent implementation of the health care law.” Read more ..

Iran's Nukes

Will Obama Fall for Rowhani's Deception

September 24th 2013


He’s been portrayed by the mainstream media as the anti-Ahmadenijad—a pragmatic moderate who’s set to strike a grand bargain with the United States and save the world from a looming military showdown over Iran’s nuclear weapons program.

But as Iranian president Hassan Rowhani takes center stage at the U.N. General Assembly this week, full of reassuring smiles and promises of peace, the Obama administration would be wise to keep a peculiar-sounding Arabic word in mind. That word is taqiyya (pronounced ta-kee-ah). Translated into English, it means “deception.”

Taqiyya has long been a favorite tactic utilized by radical Shia Islamists—like those that comprise the current Iranian regime—to confound their enemies and lull them into a false sense of security, even complacency. If President Obama ends up meeting with Rowhani on Tuesday when both men speak before the General Assembly, expect nothing less than a full-on taqiyya-fest. Read more ..

Broken Goverment

Defunders Are Playing Russian Roulette with GOP

September 23rd 2013


Most Americans these days are simply ignoring Republicans. And they should.
The self-promotional babble of a few has become the mainstream of Republican political thought. It has marginalized the influence of the party to an appalling degree.

An approach to the debt ceiling that says one will not vote for its extension unless ObamaCare is defunded is the political equivalent of playing Russian roulette with all the chambers of the gun loaded. It is the ultimate no-win strategy. You cannot in politics take a hostage you cannot shoot. That is what the debt ceiling is. At some point, the debt ceiling will have to be increased not because it is a good idea but because it is the only idea.

Defaulting on the nation’s obligations, which is the alternative to not increasing the debt ceiling, is not an option either substantively or politically. A default would lead to some level of chaos in the debt markets, which would lead to a significant contraction in economic activity, which would lead to job losses, which would lead to higher spending by the federal government and lower tax revenues, which would lead to more debt. Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

Jews, Germans, Poison Gas and More

September 23rd 2013

Dead Syrians

Jewish organizational support for President Obama's temporary determination to enforce international norms and his own red line on Syrian use of chemical weapons brought out the nasty legions. DavidDuke.com and Blacklistednews.com, among others, were vociferous in their condemnation of Jewish "warmongering." Even Jewish media outlets -- Tablet Magazine, The Forward and JPost.com -- seemed surprised that the left, right, and center of the Jewish political spectrum gave the president support. They shouldn't have been. Visceral horror of poison gas is part of the collective Jewish psyche; also dead children. An estimated 1 million Jewish children died at the hands of the Nazis, along with half a million other children, including Roma and the mentally and physically disabled. In all, 2,700,000 Jews of the 6 million total are believed to have been killed either by poison gas in trucks, gas chambers, or by shooting.  Read more ..


Truth and Consequences for Benghazi

September 22nd 2013

Libyan riot at US consulate Sep 2012 #3

The only real accountability for the Benghazi scandal will have to come in 2016.

Reading through the competing partisan reports and listening to the congressional testimony of various officials this week, it seems fair to say that no actual crimes were committed (though you never know what you don’t know).

There were, in at least a figurative sense, criminal lapses in judgment by senior officials. Many of those lapses are recounted in the Accountability Review Board report. It found “systemic failures and leadership and management deficiencies at senior levels within two bureaus of the State Department” that “resulted in a special mission security posture that was inadequate for Benghazi and grossly inadequate to deal with the attack that took place.” Read more ..

The Iranian Threat

Iran Stalemate End?

September 21st 2013

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei

The moment of truth is coming. All the optics from Tehran -- even from Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei -- indicate that Iran is gearing up for a new attempt at a nuclear deal. If a deal can't be made in the next few months, it's hard to see another opportunity when the chances would ever be this good again.

And yet skepticism about the ability of Iran's new president, Hasan Rouhani, to cut a deal is certainly warranted. Iranian presidents have much less power -- especially on foreign and security affairs -- than the supreme leader. And yes, Khamenei's recent public statements remain full of suspicion and enmity toward the West. But even Khamenei seems to be signaling his desire to find an end to the nuclear stalemate. On Sept. 17, in a meeting with senior Revolutionary Guard commanders, he addressed them on the question of "flexibility": "A wrestler can even show flexibility sometimes, but he does not forget who his rival is and what his main goal is." Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

Why Syria's Chemical Weapons Agreement Will Succeed

September 20th 2013

Syria fighting injured baby

Much of the current debate on Syria of the current debate on Syria centers on whether Assad will in fact give up his chemical weapons. Not to worry. The chemical weapons agreement will be a resounding success. This is not because all or most of the weapons themselves will be found and destroyed. The odds are high that critics are right in suspecting Assad will lead inspectors on a dance similar to that pioneered by Saddam Hussein. It will be a success because it is in the interest of all parties to the agreement to pretend that it is.

Obviously it is in Russia's interest, since Putin presides over the entire scheme, at the center of the world stage like Jimmy Carter who knocked heads together to cobble together the Camp David agreement. It is in Assad's interest to appear compliant because while the U.S. focuses on chemical weapons, he is free to pursue the war (with growing Iranian help on the ground) by conventional means. Read more ..

The Race for Natural Gas

Study Unmasks Politics of Anti-Fracking Cornell Scientists

September 19th 2013


A University of Texas-Austin study released Monday found that methane emissions from new wells being prepared for production, a process known as completion, captured 99 percent of the escaping methane—on average 97 percent lower than estimates released in 2011 by the Environmental Protection Agency. It is the most comprehensive shale gas emissions study ever undertaken on methane leakage, covering 190 well pads around the United States. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas, so leaks could theoretically wipe out the documented climate benefits with respect to reduced carbon emissions of natural gas, a comparatively clean fossil fuel.

Energy experts and environmentalists celebrated the finding that almost all the escaping methane could be captured by state of the art equipment. “Can we control it? Thanks to new EPA regulations coming online, the answer to that is good news,” Eric Pooley, a senior vice president at the Environmental Defense Fund, told the New York Times. Read more ..

The Media on Edge

Manufacturing and Exploiting Compassion: Abuse of the Media by Palestinian Propaganda

September 18th 2013

Israel border crossing Eilat

Israel, a liberal democracy caught between tyrannies and sectarian violence, is increasingly perceived as uniquely evil.

In the struggle for hearts and minds, feelings trump facts. Imagery and accusations that automatically trigger public compassion are incomparably more compelling than dry, defensive argumentation. We are “wired” by evolution to support those we perceive as innocent victims in distress, even when the facts do not mandate such support.

The portrayal of Palestinians as innocent victims in distress has been the key to Palestinian propaganda’s popular success. Through the mass-production of heartrending imagery centered on children, staged “news,” manipulative rhetoric, and rigid censorship, Palestinian propaganda has successfully used the media to recast Palestinians as entirely blameless victims. Read more ..

Broken Economy

The Next Fed Chairman’s Global Clout

September 17th 2013

Federal Reserve

The U.S. Federal Reserve remains the most powerful central bank in the world. Its policy actions reverberate in every corner of the globe, something no other central bank can claim. Even the hint of a “taper” — the withdrawal of easy money policies — has roiled emerging markets. The prospect of rising interest rates in the United States has led investors to pull back from riskier investments in those countries. Emerging markets like Brazil, India and Indonesia are facing plunging currencies and declining stock markets.

Low interest rates in the United States had led investors to look to emerging markets for better returns on their money, fueling booms in equity and real estate markets as well as higher inflation in some countries. For the previous two years, emerging markets had been complaining about how these inflows fueled by cheap money in the United States caused their currencies to appreciate too rapidly, hurting their export competitiveness. The fact that those same currencies are now tumbling has led to the opposite complaint — that the Fed should back off more slowly from its earlier policies and better communicate its intentions to financial markets. Read more ..

Obama and Putin

Putin’s Russia Now a Force in the Middle East

September 17th 2013


President Obama’s abysmal failure to provide leadership during the Syrian crisis represents a turning point in the Middle East and has paved the way for President Putin’s Russia to emerge as the dominant regional force, a position it had surrendered after the breakup of the Soviet Union.

To avert abject humiliation, Obama has absurdly spun the situation into a victory achieved by the American threat of military force. Instead, it was Putin who played the role of international statesman and masterminded a watershed moment for the Middle East, in which Russia effectively supplanted the US as world leader.

Were Assad to actually dismantle his chemical stockpiles, Putin would have made an important contribution to regional peace and stability. Alas, the likelihood of this happening is exceedingly remote. Given the barbaric civil war raging throughout Syria, and the history of Syrian lies and deceit, it is virtually impossible to establish any meaningful form of surveillance or control. Nonetheless, Putin has established a significant role for himself in the Mideast region.


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