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Guatemala on Edge

Landmark Ríos Montt Verdict Overturned

May 22nd 2013

Funeral in Guatemala

Justice has suffered a heavy blow in the hemisphere as Guatemala restores its mantle as the home of some of the hemisphere’s worst human rights violators. The international human rights community stands in awe and deep disappointment at this setback. On May 20, 2013 Guatemala’s five-member Constitutional Court voted three to two to overturn the guilty verdict issued just 10 days earlier by the First High Risk Court against former dictator General José Efraín Ríos Montt. Ríos Montt was sentenced to 80 years in prison for acts of genocide and crimes against humanity committed against the indigenous Ixil people during his relatively brief period as head of state (1982-1983). This trial is extremely significant in that it marks the first time in history that a former head of state has been tried for human rights violations in a national court rather than before an international court and the first time that Guatemala has officially acknowledged that acts of genocide were committed during its 36 year civil war. No doubt the legal struggle to bring Ríos Montt to justice will continue as the prosecution regroups and adjusts its strategy to the new ruling. Read more ..


The Way We Are

Conservative Case for Gay Marriage

May 21st 2013

Gay Marriage

"It became a cascade." Dale Carpenter, a friend who e-mailed those words from Minneapolis, was writing about the unexpectedly lopsided vote for same-sex marriage in the Minnesota House last week (the state Senate approved it Monday, and the governor has signed it), but he might have been writing about the whole marriage movement.

This month, Rhode Island and Delaware approved gay marriage. In June, the U.S. Supreme Court could restore it in California. If that happens, nearly 30 percent of the population will live in gay-marriage states.

The cascade extends beyond marriage. America is rethinking its whole relationship with its gay citizens. This month, a poll by ABC News and The Washington Post found not only a 55 percent majority supporting marriage equality, but also even bigger majorities in favor of allowing openly gay Boy Scouts and opposed to banning gay Scout leaders. As for NBA center Jason Collins' public announcement that he's gay, it isn't even controversial: It enjoys 68 percent approval. Read more ..


America and Turkey

Prime Minister Erdogan Praised at White House: Puts Knife In U.S.’s Back

May 21st 2013

Erdogan

Consider five factors that had no effect on the very warm reception given by  President Barack Obama to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan: –While the U.S. government has pressured Erdogan not to visit the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, Erdogan announced in the White House Rose Garden that he would do so. An alleged U.S. ally says publicly in front of Obama while being hosted by him that he is going to defy the United States.

This is not some routine matter. With previous presidents, if an ally was going to do something like that he would say nothing at the time and then months later would subvert U.S. policy. Or better yet the foreign leader would not do so. To announce defiance in such a way is a serious sign of how little respect Middle East leaders have for Obama—and U.S. policy nowadays—and how little Obama will do about it. Read more ..


Broken Healthcare

Hidden Influence-Peddling in Washington

May 20th 2013

medicine and money #2

I was not among those who believed the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision would open the floodgates of corporate money to influence elections and public policy. While the decision enables corporations to call for the election or defeat of federal candidates, those expenditures have to be reported and few corporations will take the risk of losing customers by getting involved in politics so publicly.

The reality is, the floodgates have been open for years, and the attention focused on Citizens United has actually been helpful to corporations, because it has diverted the public’s attention away from the deceptive yet perfectly legal ways corporations are able to deploy enormous sums of money to advance their political agendas.

The mainstream media, meanwhile, seems to willfully ignore what corporations and other moneyed interests do to get what they want in Washington. That was certainly the case last week after National Journal reporter Chris Frates disclosed how America’s Health Insurance Plans, the insurance industry biggest PR and lobbying group, funneled hundreds of thousands of dollars to a longtime ally with a better reputation to pay for an industry-serving communications campaign. The only media outlets I could find that picked up the story were The Huffington Post, Bloomberg Businessweek and ABC News online. Read more ..


After the Holocaust

Devastating New Claims Conference Scandal

May 19th 2013

Holocaust Tattoo

Last month I devoted a column to the ongoing disgrace of the Claims Conference and the failure by the management to take appropriate action to provide financial assistance to ailing survivors unable to afford food, medicine and other basic necessities to enable them to live out their remaining years with a modicum of dignity.

I also drew attention to the scandal of the $57 million embezzled over a 15 year period by Claims Conference employees in the New York head office. I maintained that it was outrageous that the management responsible for overseeing these funds, failed to accept any responsibility or accountability. Instead, they shamelessly manipulated the board to carry resolutions expressing “complete confidence in the leadership and management”, extolling their purported “commitment to the principles of transparency … integrity, fairness, accountability, dialogue and … the highest ethical standards”. Read more ..


The Cyber Edge

CyberSecurity Still Lagging Behind as Financial Times Knows

May 18th 2013

Shadowy Computer User

If you are one of some 600,000 subscribers to the Financial Times, you may wish to change your account's password. Recently, a few of the paper's Twitter accounts and a blog were compromised by Bashar Assad's thugs, bragging on their Twitter, "Hacked by the Syrian Electronic Army." Earlier the FT reported that a member of the Syrian Electronic Army was interviewed by the paper's reporters via email, and that the hacking was facilitated by phishing attacks on some of the FT's email accounts. Yet no link was made between that correspondence, which exposed FT email accounts, to today's hacking.  

In what can best be described as English subtlety, the article describing the attack did not even made headlines on the FT's home page. "We have now locked those accounts," announced the FT official, who praised Twitter's help. Nothing was said about the paper's subscribers' accounts. Clearly, the new two-step authentication that Twitter was supposed to establish, after the Associated Press account was hacked last month, failed. Read more ..


Broken Goverment

Time to Stop Funding Unemployment Benefits

May 17th 2013

Employee applications

More than 4 million people in the U.S. are long-term unemployed, a number that has more than tripled in the last five years. Because the probability of reemployment drops significantly the longer someone is out of work, this situation suggests the possibility that the U.S. economy will suffer a permanent increase in structural unemployment.

Perhaps counter-intuitively, to avoid this becoming reality, Congress would do well to let the current extended unemployment benefits wind down and in the future refrain from leaping to fund nearly two years of benefits for unemployed workers.

Economists and pundits alike have been discussing the plight of the long-term unemployed and proposing policies to assist this group. Notably absent from these discussions is an attempt to understand how we ended up in this dire situation. Read more ..


Turkey on Edge

Syria to Top Erdogan's Washington Agenda

May 16th 2013

Turk flags

This week's summit between President Barack Obama and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan reflects the extraordinary development of relations between the United States and Turkey.

Ankara faces a civil war in Syria that is forcing Turkey to contend with a weak and divided state on its borders. This disintegration brings the dangers of chemical weapons proliferation and al Qaeda infiltration on Turkey's doorstep. Coping with these challenges will be near impossible without U.S. support, particularly after the May 11 bombings that devastated Reyhanli, a Turkish border town near Syria. Erdogan is therefore sure to make the Syria issue one of his key "asks" during his conversations with Obama on Thursday.

The fact is that Turkey has not faced a threat on the scale of the Syrian crisis since Stalin demanded territory from the Turks in 1945. In 2011, hoping to oust the al-Assad regime, Turkey began to support the Syrian opposition. But, thus far, this policy has failed, and exposed Turkey to growing risks. Read more ..


Broken Banking

Treat Community Banks Differently

May 15th 2013

I Bailed Out a Bank

In the 1946 classic It’s a Wonderful Life, James Stewart stars as George Bailey, the director of the Bailey Building and Loan Association in the fictional community of Bedford Falls, N.Y. Bailey faces numerous challenges to keep the Building and Loan afloat in order to continue supporting the people and businesses of his hometown. His chief challenge is Mr. Potter, the wealthy slumlord who repeatedly schemes to force Bailey out of business.

Although It’s a Wonderful Life is fictional, the Building and Loan is a prototype of a real, modern institution, the community bank. And in 2013, community banks are finding themselves under significant threats to their existence. Instead of being Pottered, they’re being Franked. Real towns, like the fictional Bedford Falls, will suffer if a miraculous change in policy doesn’t occur quickly.

The Dodd-Frank Act was intended to fix the perceived inefficiencies and failures in the American banking system that supposedly led to the financial crisis. However, my new research with the American Enterprise Institute suggests that it’s having at least one detrimental effect: The act is placing unwarranted and unsustainable pressure on community banks. Read more ..


Broken Government

Federal Tax Reform? Don't Bet The Rent Money On It

May 14th 2013

IRS building

In some years there are no budgets. This year we have been presented with thre dueling budgets, one from each house and one from the president. Neither house has picked conferees, and neither has any current inclination to do so. Each prefers to glare at the other until the next election day.

The “Grand Bargain” on the Federal budget this year is still possible, but it seems less and less likely. The prospect is for another year of small deals, recurring crises, and several continuing resolutions.

As hopes for the big fiscal fix recede, tax reform moves to center stage. Ideally, tax reform ought to be a part of a larger budget agreement. But, with that agreement now slipping out of reach for 2013, tax reform seems to some observers to be a more promising suspect.

Tax reform appeals to both parties for different reasons. Democrats need it for new spending to stimulate growth. Republicans want to use it for lowering tax rates for the same reason. Those differences may be irreconcilable, but members of Congress seem to want to give tax reform a try. Read more ..


Obama's Second Term

Is 2014 Merely a Repeat of 2010

May 12th 2013

Obamacare

If the mere idea of ObamaCare fueled an historic GOP victory in 2010, just wait until reality sets in next year. That year, Democrats in swing districts were swept from office, so those who kept their jobs are running as fast and as far from the reform law as they can this year. Not only did Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), who helped write the bill, recently call it a “train wreck,” but Elizabeth Colbert Busch, who lost Tuesday’s special election in South Carolina to former Gov. Mark Sanford, called the law “extremely problematic,” blaming it for cutting Medicare benefits and causing companies to lay off employees in anticipation of the program’s high costs.

Indeed, a new tax on health insurance plans will cost small businesses an estimated $8 billion in 2014 and then $14.3 billion in 2018. According to a study by the National Federation of Independent Business, 262,000 jobs could be lost as a result. Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) noted on the Senate floor Tuesday that the city of Long Beach, Calif., is keeping most of its 1,600 employees limited to 27 hours per week or less in order to avoid an estimated $2 million increase in healthcare costs that would cut jobs. Read more ..


Economic Jihad

Hawking the Hypocrite Boycotts Israel But Depends Upon its Technology for his Life

May 11th 2013

Stephen Hawking space background

Stephen Hawking, the famous scientist who said he would abide by an academic boycott of Israel, owes his life to the Jewish state. Hawking had been invited to speak at Israel's annual Presidential Conference in June. Hawking, who suffers from motor neurone disease, uses an Israeli-designed chip to keep him alive.

According to Shurat Hadin, an Israel legal advocacy group: "Hawking's decision to join the boycott of Israel is quite hypocritical for an individual who prides himself on his whole intellectual accomplishment. His whole computer-based communications system runs on a chip designed by Israel's Intel team. I suggest if he truly wants to pull out of Israel he should also pull out his Intel Core i7 from his tablet," said Nitsana Darshan-Leitner of Shurat HaDin.

Hawking defended his actions by pointing to the advice of Palestinian academics, who urged his boycott. Conference organizers called his decision "outrageous." Read more ..


The Race for Solar

Georgia's Time in the Sun is Now

May 10th 2013

Sunrise or Sunset

If you could check a box on your monthly electric bill that could save you extra money, would you? You may soon have the chance, thanks to a new bill we introduced the last week of the 2013 Legislative Session: the Rural Georgia Economic Recovery and Solar Resource Act of 2014, also known as HB 657.

The bill creates a 100% voluntary program for Georgia Power customers to “sign up for solar,” even those who can’t install solar themselves. Customers simply choose to use more solar energy, and they will see their rates reduced over time because the sun never sends a bill for fuel.

Times have changed for solar in Georgia. For years, as solar technologies improved and prices fell, we have watched opportunities for solar energy grow in our state. Today, affordable home-grown solar is ready for harvest. Read more ..


Benghazigate

What Should Have Happened as Benghazi Unfolded

May 10th 2013

Amb Chris Stevens

Democratic politicos, the press, and the liberal punditocracy have decried the “witch hunt” over Benghazi.  But this “witch hunt” --  more properly called the responsible exercise of checks and balances in our government -- is rooted in what is the almost inexplicable and ongoing efforts of the Obama administration to obfuscate what happened in Libya on that terrible day of September 11, 2012.

Here’s what should have happened on September 11, 2012: Hillary Clinton should have put out a press release acknowledging the death of U.S. personnel in Libya.  She should not have mentioned “inflammatory material posted on the internet”, because she had no reason to do so.  But that mistake can be forgiven in light of ongoing demonstrations in Cairo, purportedly over an obscure video that defamed Muslims. Read more ..


The Defense Edge

Sequester is Here to Stay

May 9th 2013

StennisB

The sequester has been law for almost two years. But the Pentagon’s delayed planning for implementing it has now made it easier for Congress to keep massive defense cuts on the books.

The military wasn’t given their marching orders from the White House to begin formal planning for sequestration until the end of December 2012, just days before it was set to become law. This political calculation – wait, wait, wait, never mind -- on the part of the administration is now hurting our troops and setting back efforts to undo sequestration for the remainder of the decade.

Think about it this way: The White House first loved sequestration (remember the president threatening to veto any efforts to undo it?), and then decided it was a bad idea.  As a result, planning for the on-again/off-again cuts that have never really been off has been an exercise in political contortionism.  Read more ..


Broken Education

Students Need Better Information

May 8th 2013

Graduates

On May 1, millions of Americans made the second-largest investment decision of their lives: they chose a college. After years of late-night homework, weekends spent in test prep and complex application forms, these prospective students get to punch what we’ve told them is a sure-fire ticket to the middle class.

For many, it will be. College graduates still enjoy sizable advantages in the labor market. A recent Georgetown study found that workers with a bachelor’s degree gained 2.2 million jobs during the recession and recovery, while those with a high-school diploma or less lost 5.8 million.

For others, though, this decision will lead to a crippling mixture of student loan debt and labor market uncertainty. First off, just half of the students who start a degree or certificate finish one within six years. And even those who graduate face mounting costs and stagnant returns. According to the College Board, tuition and fees at public, four-year colleges grew 66 percent over the past decade, more quickly than in either of the prior two decades. Pell Grants and tuition discounts help to defray these sticker prices for many students, though they have been hard-pressed to keep up with tuition increases. Read more ..


Education on Edge

Five Ways Teachers Can Use Technology to Help Students

May 7th 2013

Students

Thomas Edison once said, "Books will soon be obsolete in the public schools...our school system will be completely changed inside of ten years." Amazingly enough, however, one of our nation's most important inventors was proven quite wrong. The American education system has a remarkable resistance to innovation and the classroom experience has changed very little in the 100 years since Edison's prediction.

Advances in information technology have revolutionized how people communicate and learn in nearly every aspect of modern life except for education. The education system operates under the antiquated needs of an agrarian and industrial America. The short school day and the break in the summer were meant to allow children to work on family farms. Schools have an enduring industrial mentality placing students in arbitrary groups based on their age regardless of their competencies.

Technology has failed to transform our schools because the education governance system insulates them from the disruptions that technology creates in other organizations. The government regulates schools perhaps more than any other organization. Rules govern where students study, how they will learn, and who will teach them. Education regulation governs the relationships of actors in the system and stymies the impact of innovative technologies. Furthermore the diffuse system of governance creates numerous veto points to limit innovation. Read more ..


After the Holocaust

Orban Whitewashes Hungarian Anti-Semitism

May 7th 2013

Holocaust Tattoo

As I read Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s speech to the delegates of the World Jewish Congress, who assembled in Budapest this past weekend, I found myself visualizing the furrowed eyebrows and anxious seat shuffling going on in the audience. For not only was Orban’s speech a chain of platitudes from beginning to end, it was downright dishonest.

The WJC says it held its conference in Budapest as a gesture of solidarity with Hungary’s Jews, who are once again the targets of the kind of vicious anti-Semitism for which Eastern Europe is renowned. The direct source of the poison is the extreme right-wing Jobbik Party, which is these days the third-largest party in the Hungarian parliament, having won 17 per cent of the vote during the April 2010 elections. But several observers of the Hungarian scene have argued that Orban’s ruling Fidesz Party variously ignores, plays down or even encourages the anti-Semitism of Jobbik; Orban’s speech to the WJC, therefore, was his opportunity to clearly explain whether he considers Jobbik a threat, as well as his chance to make amends for his close friendship with Zsolt Bayer, an anti-Semitic writer who has compared Jews to “stinking excrement” and has opined that “a significant part” of the Roma gypsy population are “unfit for existence.” Read more ..


Privacy on Edge

How “Drone” Safety Rules can also Help Protect Privacy

May 6th 2013

MQ-1 Predator Drone

For most of the 20th century, obtaining overhead images was difficult and expensive. Now, thanks to advances in unmanned aircraft systems—people in the aviation field tend to dislike the word drone—it has become easy and inexpensive, raising new and important privacy issues [PDF]. These issues need to be addressed primarily through legal frameworks: The Constitution, existing and new federal and state laws, and legal precedents regarding invasion of privacy will all play key roles in determining the bounds of acceptable information-gathering from UAS. But safety regulations will have an important and less widely appreciated secondary privacy role.

Why? Because safety regulations, which aim to ensure that aircraft do not pose a danger in the airspace or to people and property on the ground, obviously place restrictions on where and in what manner aircraft can be operated. Those same restrictions can also affect privacy from overhead observations from both government and nongovernment UAS. Read more ..


Privacy on Edge

Gas Tax on Milage Shatters Right to Privacy

May 5th 2013

Traffic Jam

The idea of a vehicle miles traveled (VMT) tax is being discussed — and actually tested in states like Oregon and Iowa.

 It would be an alternative to the federal gas tax, which is under review by Congress and could lead to a new system for funding highway construction and repairs when the measure comes up for reauthorization in 2014.

One feature of the VMT tax is that it would require some way to measure travel, creating the possibility that the government will use advanced technology to track movements of every car and truck.

Under one scenario, automobile manufacturers would be required to install a GPS system - a "black box" - in every vehicle to measure miles traveled. The government would then track your vehicle by satellite to follow each vehicle's total travel and calculate the tax. A large-scale retrofit of existing cars would be necessary, requiring a massive and costly effort, since every car owner would be required to take their car to a station annually to have a black box installed and then read. Motorists would pick up the tab for the GPS, which would cost more than $200 each, plus installation. The alternatives aren't much better! Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

Bosnia Lends Clue To Syria Strategy

May 4th 2013

Bosnia mourner in cemetery

The recent hullabaloo over Syria's alleged use of chemical weapons is appropriate at one level but surreal at another. When a dictator such as Syrian President Bashar Assad has already killed tens of thousands of his own people with the most brutal and indiscriminate of tactics, the fact that he might have harmed a few dozen more with sarin gas, while horrible, does not radically change the complexion of the conflict.

That President Obama has said Syria's use of chemical weapons would constitute crossing a "red line," means he will have to act. If U.S. intelligence eliminates any remaining doubts about the use of chemical weapons, the United States will probably have to retaliate -- perhaps with cruise missile strikes against whatever Syrian army unit did the deed. But what about the broader problem? Is the United States, already weary of wars, burdened by debt, and chastised by the Iraq and Afghanistan experiences, going to stand aside indefinitely in this war? Read more ..


Obama's Second Term

The GOP's Obama Problem

May 3rd 2013

Obama with baseball bat

Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) recently said that the reason the gun background check bill did not pass the Senate, despite that the fact that nearly 90 percent of voters support it, is that many Republican senators refuse to support anything that would give President Obama a legislative victory.

The magnitude, intensity, and obsession of rightist hatred of the president is unprecedented in the history of American politics because it has poisoned the ability of Republican leaders in Congress to work in good faith with a twice-elected American president.

This GOP leadership's fear and sanction of rightist hatred towards the president foments a near total obstruction against anything the president and Democrats propose, creates a near total gridlock of government in Washington and demonstrates a contempt for long-held notions of American civic life that have traditionally been accepted by all major political parties. Read more ..


After the Holocaust

Survivors Languish as Claims Conference issues Unresolved

May 2nd 2013

Holocaust survivor

Every day we hear additional heartbreaking stories depicting the appalling suffering of destitute elderly Holocaust survivors denied elementary needs such as food, medicine and other basic services to enable them to live out their remaining years with dignity.

Yet despite the public clamor, the Conference on Material Claims against Germany (Claims Conference) has ignored appeals to consider temporarily freezing a number of projects and diverting the funds to survivors in desperate need of support.Every day we hear additional heartbreaking stories depicting the appalling suffering of destitute elderly Holocaust survivors denied elementary needs such as food, medicine and other basic services to enable them to live out their remaining years with dignity. In addition, the scandal of the $57 million embezzled by Claims Conference employees seems unending. Read more ..


The Gender Edge

We Shouldn't Care Nor Is It Our Business Who Jason Collins Has Sex With

May 2nd 2013

Armstrong_Williams

Jason Collins coming out as gay is on the cover of Sports Illustrated as big news. I know this because all the talking heads in the media tell us that. They also tell us that anyone that says “Who Cares?” is a homophobe.

I am being told that he is the first “active” player to come out publicly- even though he is a free agent and was unlikely to get picked up next year.

The fact that scores of female athletes and several Eutopeans/International athletes are out of the closet is ignored because Collins plays for one of America’s big 4 sports. Other American males came out after they officially retired, or it was known in the locker room but not announced to the media. There is so much hype and push for a great narrative in the media that I believe many issues are getting lost in the hoopla.

With that said, let me congratulate Jason Collins on coming out so he can openly be who he is with no shame. Being who you are takes great personal courage. The relief he must feel with his friends and family has to be immense. But for me personally, I do not care about Jason Collins’s sexuality, and neither should you. Rather, I care that Jason is a good person, son, brother, and teammate. That is all that really matters.

That is what conservatives mean when we talk about the need to move past affirmative action and identity politics. Collins’s character, work ethic, and ability are the only factors that should matter in his professional and personal life, not the categories and labels he can check off on some form. I see many people attacked for this viewpoint, accused of homophobia and greedily absorbing any gossip about other athletes’ sex lives. This intolerance confuses indifference for bigotry. Read more ..


The Way We Are

How Much Do Americans Care About Income Inequality?

May 1st 2013

American poverty

Since the financial crisis, income inequality has been a topic of obsession in many journalistic and advocacy quarters. There is some irony in this, because the crash brought about the first reversal of inequality between "the 99 percent" and richer Americans in years, and there was much less concern about the subject during the period in which inequality was rising steadily. A very visible group of academic, policy, and media elites is convinced that rising inequality is the problem of our time, and many of them struggle to understand why the issue has not inspired an outcry from the broad middle class and poor.

The head-scratching and excuse-making was recently put on display in an unintentionally revealing way in a recent op-ed attempting to explain Americans' views toward economic inequality. In it, the authors, Ilyana Kuziemko and Stefanie Stantcheva, laid out what they believe to be a paradox: Americans care about inequality but do not want government to address it. Kuziemko and Stantcheva go on to describe research they have conducted with famed inequality scholars Emmanuel Saez and Michael Norton that they believe explains the "complicated" views of Americans. Their conclusion: rising inequality may have weakened faith in government. Read more ..


Obama on Edge

Liberals Should hold President Obama Accountable

May 1st 2013

Click to select Image

Sandy Levinson took Maureen Dowd to task for her column last week, “No Bully in the Pulpit,” which criticized President Obama for failing to pull the votes together to get the gun control bill through the Senate. “Now it's Maureen Dowd who can't connect the dots,” he said.

She thinks he should have played hardball with the holdout Democrats and attempted to recruit more Republican support. In particular, he shouldn't have left the cajoling up to Joe Biden. For her, it's always personalities, and never structures, that explain the American political system. So she's my latest candidate among Times' columnists who simply cannot connect the dots between political outcomes and the structures established in the Constitution. For Sandy, “the egregious outcome is best explained by our egregious Constitution and the allocation of voting power in the Senate.”

Sandy is, of course, right that structure matters. But Dowd is also right that a president’s effectiveness in using the powers of his office also matters. Other presidents have faced structural barriers to achieving their goals. Some presidents have been more successful than others at moving forward in the face of opposition. Structure alone does not determine political outcomes. Read more ..


Broken Economy

In the Longer Run, the Short Run Matters

April 30th 2013

Unemployment Line in California

The worst of the deadlock between the House and the White House has passed, and there are even signs that a compromise may now be reached addressing long-run budget issues. We are in a better place politically than we were late last year, but still in no position to get complacent about near term economic prospects. Chances of renewed recession are low, but so are prospects for vigorous expansion.

For the past two years, the need for fiscal and monetary stimulus has been debated both in Washington and Wall Street. One thing that has been missing from these debates is the potential for longer run damage if the sluggish economy persists. When a recession is brief and the economy returns promptly to high rates of employment, the long-run costs are minimal. But when recovery is weak and joblessness persists for many workers, the long-run costs become meaningful. And they include worsening the long-run fiscal problems that concern everyone. Read more ..


The Darkest Edge

Obama Should Blame Tea Party Not NRA, For Gun Control Defeat

April 29th 2013

Sandy Hook Shooting

President Obama, according to his own telling, would have passed a gun control bill supported by nearly every American, but the National Rifle Association drove in trucks full of money and lobbyists, buying off senators.

Obama's story isn't true. The NRA doesn't work like the lobbies Obama is coziest with. And the NRA also wasn't the tip of the spear in the gun-rights fight this month. Here is the way things really went down:

The gun-rights resistance on Capitol Hill began in late March with two first-term Tea Party senators declaring they would filibuster consideration of the gun-control bill. Sens. Mike Lee, R-Utah, and Ted Cruz, R-Texas, wrote a letter to Majority Leader Harry Reid explaining they would oppose invoking cloture on the "motion to proceed" to the bill. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., soon joined them.

That rump of three senators expanded to a platoon of 18 who eventually signed onto the letter. In the end, 29 Republicans and two Democrats opposed proceeding to the bill -- well short of the 41 needed for a filibuster. Many allies criticized this failed filibuster, but its leaders argue it was crucial to eventual victory. Read more ..


Defense on Edge

Doing More with Zero

April 28th 2013

F-22s

Last month, in a show of force, President Obama sent America’s most advanced aircraft here to the Korean peninsula. The same week, U.S. Air Force officials began grounding one-third of America’s combat fleet, thanks to budget cuts imposed by the president and Congress. Air Combat Command, which controls the Air Force’s fighters and bombers, announced that it will stand down 17 combat squadrons, to absorb a loss of 44,000 hours of flying time and a reduction of funding for operations and maintenance. While some thought that cost-cutting and sequestration threats would have little effect on the U.S. military, with its $500 billion budget, the reality has turned out to be quite different. This is the new normal for the U.S. military: Keep fighting and working, but do it on the cheap.

Air Force officials say the grounding is necessary to allow other, “mission critical” squadrons to maintain their flying hours and full operational status. Those no longer flying include reconnaissance units and squadrons of F-22s, F-16s, F-15s, B-1s, and B-52s. Other units are being kept at what is known as “basic mission capable,” meaning they can do basic flying and maintenance but cannot perform combat missions. The commander of Air Combat Command, General Mike Hostage, said bluntly in announcing the groundings, “We’re accepting the risk that combat airpower may not be ready to respond immediately to new contingencies as they occur.” Read more ..


The Economy on Edge

Atlanta Can Flourish in Global Economy

April 28th 2013

International Currency 2

"The economic foundation of cities is trade," proclaimed the great urbanist Jane Jacobs in her book, "The Death and Life of Great American Cities." Jacobs’ statement remains just as – if not more – relevant for cities and metropolitan areas as it was a half-century ago.

The Great Recession revealed the limitations of an inward-focused, debt-fueled U.S. economy. It coincided with a structural shift in the global economic order towards rapidly industrializing and urbanizing nations like Brazil, India and China. By 2012, a majority of the 50 top performing metropolitan economies worldwide were in developing Asia-Pacific countries. U.S. metros must take advantage of growing demand abroad by developing export and engagement strategies that build on their special assets in the global economy.

Atlanta is well positioned to thrive in a more export-oriented economy. Metro Atlanta – the 13th largest metro exporter in the United States – sent $20 billion worth of goods and services abroad in 2010, which supported nearly 152,000 jobs in the region. It houses many multi-national corporations such as Home Depot, Coca-Cola and UPS; innovative small and medium-sized firms; and several world-class research universities, and it maintains a strong international brand from its hosting of the 1996 Summer Olympics. Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport and the Port of Savannah form an important U.S. logistics hub and a gateway to world markets. Read more ..


Broken Government

RNC Needs Binders

April 27th 2013

romney buttons

Holding my nose, I engaged in RNC bean counting. It isn’t pretty. What prompted this? Yet another Republican National Committee  (RNC) cringe-worthy press release proudly patting itself on the back with the announcement of a mid-level job created to “reach out” to African-American media and the hiring of (presumably) an African-American to fill the post, who will report to another mid-level ethnic minority hire charged with reaching out to minorities. This comes on the heels of a press release announcing the addition of two men of Asian ethnicity whose mid-level job description is outreach to Asian ethnic voters and media. Women are also included in that part of the RNC’s website for “coalitions,” though we comprise more than half of all voters.

Where are the announcements of women and minorities being appointed to the top-level posts? If someone is good enough to be tasked with pulling in the most difficult and most important voters, isn’t he or she then good enough to run the entire department tasked with pulling in the hard-to-get voters and media, as well as the low-hanging fruit? Read more ..


The Boston Massacre

Boston’s “Knock-Off Jihadis”

April 26th 2013

Boston Massacre

Turns out the White House has already been hard at work “to Counter Online Radicalization to Violence in the United States.”

A White House blog with the above title, dated February 15, 2013, stated that “Violent extremist groups ─ like al-Qa’ida and its affiliates and adherents, violent supremacist groups, and violent ‘sovereign citizens‘” are using the Internet “to propagate messages of violence and division.” The 1,055 word Blog never mentioned anything related to Islam, Muslims or Jihad. However, an ongoing study by the New America Foundation has found that since 2001 the majority (188) of 362 ideologically motivated violent attacks in the U.S. were committed by Islamists, often shouting “Allah Akbar.”  

To counter the use of the Internet by “violent extremist groups … to disseminate propaganda, identify and groom potential recruits,” the White House declared just two months ago, “as a point to prevent online radicalization to violence in the homeland, the Federal Government initially will focus on raising awareness about the threat.” Read more ..


The Way We Are

Anarchy and Hegemony

April 25th 2013

Occupy Wall St Oct 2011

Everyone loves equality: equality of races, of ethnic groups, of sexual orientations, and so on. The problem is, however, that in geopolitics equality usually does not work very well. For centuries Europe had a rough equality between major states that is often referred to as the balance-of-power system. And that led to frequent wars. East Asia, by contrast, from the 14th to the early 19th centuries, had its relations ordered by a tribute system in which China was roughly dominant. The result, according to political scientist David C. Kang of the University of Southern California, was a generally more peaceful climate in Asia than in Europe.

The fact is that domination of one sort or another, tyrannical or not, has a better chance of preventing the outbreak of war than a system in which no one is really in charge; where no one is the top dog, so to speak. That is why Columbia University's Kenneth Waltz, arguably America's pre-eminent realist, says that the opposite of "anarchy" is not stability, but "hierarchy."

Hierarchy eviscerates equality; hierarchy implies that some are frankly "more equal" than others, and it is this formal inequality -- where someone, or some state or group, has more authority and power than others -- that prevents chaos. For it is inequality itself that often creates the conditions for peace. Read more ..


Obama and Israel

The Secretary's Epiphany

April 24th 2013

Chuck Hagel

As a U.S. senator, Chuck Hagel went to great lengths to assure people he was not the "Senator from Israel," and HE seemed surprised when people objected to his remark, "The political reality is ... that the Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people up here."  It was never clear who should have been offended -- Jews and/or Israelis, or the colleagues Hagel implied were "intimidated" or were in fact "Senators from Israel."

It is that same Chuck Hagel -- now secretary of defense -- who is in Israel to conclude details of a proposed U.S. arms package including the KC135 refueling aircraft and Osprey V22 transport aircraft.  The Osprey had not previously been released for sale abroad.  And the KC135 had been denied to Israel by the Bush administration for fear it would appear that the U.S. was encouraging Israel to consider an attack on Iran.  The Obama administration is selling it for precisely that reason.  "Iran presents a threat in its nuclear program and Israel will make the decisions that Israel must make to protect itself and defend itself," Hagel said. Read more ..


Inside America

Nurtring Black Entrepreneurship

April 23rd 2013

Armstrong Williams Headshot

If you do a search of the wealthiest black businessmen, the results may not come as a surprise to you. The list is dominated by athletes and entertainment figures; in fact, only 2 names consistently come up that are what you would consider traditional businessmen- Robert Johnson (worth $550 million) and Donahue Peebles ($350 million). 

Oprah Winfrey heads the list with a net worth of 2.8 billion, followed by the likes of Sean Combs -$550 million; Tiger Woods, Michael Jordan, and Magic Johnson each clocking in at around $500 million; and Jay-Z is estimated to be worth around $460 million.

Those numbers may seem impressive, and this is not to take away the business acumen of Sean Combs and Jay-Z but if you compare them to the richest, they are paltry. Oprah is only the 502nd richest person. The big names at the top of the list include Carlos Slim Helu ($78 billion), Bill Gates ($67 billion), and Warren Buffet ($53.5 billion). In looking at the list, I cannot help but notice not only a huge difference in the amount of wealth, but also the industries- telecom, tech, fashion, investing, energy, etc. vs. entertainments professions.

This tells me several things:
First, there is a lack of role models in the black business community. When athletes, musicians, and Oprah dominate your list, they are representing fields of employment that are not only extremely hard to break into, but the chances for success are rare as well. It is almost akin to winning the lottery because there is no real formula you can follow to become Michael Jordan--you either have the genetics to supplement the drive or you don't. 

Second, potential business role models are not making themselves visible enough to the youth to show an alternate and more viable path. You see Bill Gates and Warren Buffet in the news all the time; Robert and Shelia Johnson rarely appear on mainstream news outlets to publicize their efforts and beliefs.   Read more ..


Iran's Nukes

Shut that Window of Opportunity

April 23rd 2013

Iran Nuclear Equipment centrifuges

Almost lost in the terrible events in Boston is the Obama administration's dire warning last week that the window for diplomatic success in the Middle East is closing -- not on Iran's quest for nuclear capability; not on the Syrian war; not on sectarian violence in Iraq; not on the spread of al-Qaeda in North Africa; not on the devolution of the Pakistani government or rising discontent in Jordan or the rapid downward spiral of Egyptian finances and civil liberties.  No, the diplomatic problem that engages the administration -- as it has prior administrations -- is the Israeli-Palestinian "two state solution."

President Obama dragged out the old "window of opportunity" saw in a meeting with U.N. President Ban Ki Moon. And Secretary of State John Kerry told Congress that the U.S. has about two years to achieve a "two-state solution" between Israelis and Palestinians before the opportunity is lost. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

Kerry Promises $123 million to Syrian Jihadists Fighting Assad

April 22nd 2013

Syrian Jihadis

In spite of Middle East experts and counterterrorism professionals advising government officials, including President Barack Obama, that many of the rebels fighting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime are connected to terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda and the Nusra Front, the U.S. State Department is preparing to fork over another $123 million in aid to those rebels, according to an official announcement on Saturday.

During his visit to Turkey on Saturday, Secretary of State John Kerry announced that the Obama Administration will provide another $123 million in so-called "non-lethal assistance" to Syria's rebel forces.

Kerry announced this latest foreign-aid package at a press briefing after his meeting in Istanbul with 11 foreign ministers from Western and Arab nations.

Read more ..

Islam on Edge

'Honor Killings': the Most Egregious Example of Islamist Oppression

April 22nd 2013

Egyptian hijabi

Anti-Israel activists spin tales about alleged Israeli human rights abuses to instill hostility against the Jewish state. They have had an impact, but not one desired by most fair-minded people.

The false allegations have served as a decoy, distracting the UN, NGOs, churches, students and the wider public from the real human rights abuses occurring in the Middle East.

The activists invoke and misapply human rights principles to accuse Israel of abuses that are rare in pluralistic, democratic Israel, but are rampant elsewhere in the region. Their hostility to Israel trumps their commitment to the very human rights values they claim to uphold, and gives a pass to real human rights violators in the region.

Consider the ongoing subjugation of women throughout the Middle East.

“Honor killings” – the barbaric murder of women who “shame” their families through unapproved relations with males, by violating codes of behavior or dress, or by being victims of rape – are the most egregious example of women’s oppression. Honor killings are prevalent in Iraq, Jordan, Turkey, the Palestinian Authority (Gaza and the West Bank), Yemen and elsewhere in the region. In Israel, honor killings are outlawed and treated as murder. Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

How U.S. Cities Can Protect Themselves Against Bombing Attacks

April 21st 2013

FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force

Roughly a decade ago, in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks, FBI director Robert Mueller predicted that the United States would soon face the kinds of frequent small-scale bombings perpetrated frequently abroad by Hamas and Hezbollah. He considered the attacks nearly certain.

For a decade, Mueller was wrong--and I’m sure he was more than happy about it. Boston, however, has sadly and belatedly proven him right, at least to a degree. But how can we lower the odds of similar attacks in the future?

Of course, other attacks big and small have occurred in the western world during the past 10 years—above and beyond the very frequent ones in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and now Syria. There was the train attack in Spain in 2003, and then the London subway bombings in 2005. There have been various attempted attacks in the United States, particularly during the past five years, most of them thwarted—the Zazi New York subway attempt of 2009, and the “underwear” bomber" later that year on a plane approaching Detroit; the 2010 Times Square bombing; the printer-cartridge attempted bombing on cargo aircraft. And of course we have had numerous mass shootings, America’s own form of large-scale terroristic violence. Of these, the Ft. Hood shootings in 2009 were linked to al Qaeda but others generally were not. Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

Al Qaeda is Probably Pleased with Boston Bombing

April 20th 2013

Bomb-Boston-Marathon

The two Chechen immigrants apparently responsible for the terror attack on the Boston Marathon may never have had any contact with al Qaeda—or even a single member of al Qaeda—but they are likely soon to be lauded as “heroes” of the global jihad.

It is much too soon to come to any hard conclusions about the motives and intentions of Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the alleged perpetrators, but it is not too soon to understand how al Qaeda and associated jihadists see the Chechen struggle against Russia in the context of their own ideology and narrative. Al Qaeda has long seen the Chechen struggle as part of the global war between Islam and its enemies. For the extremists who run al Qaeda and related movements, Russia’s actions in Chechnya are no different than Israeli actions in Gaza, French actions in Mali, or American actions in Afghanistan. All are allegedly part of a global conspiracy against Islam that ranges from the Caucasus to Kashmir to Bali. Read more ..



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