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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 ..


The Boston Massacre

All Terrorism is Connected

April 19th 2013

Boston Marathon Massacre

The Tarnaev brothers were cruelly successful, but they are far from the only terrorists over the past decade with big ideas about carnage in America. There is a temptation with each act of terror to see it as isolated, connected to the mental state of the actor, but not to larger forces. The FBI used to have theories about "Sudden Jihad Syndrome" and "Lone Wolves" that were not only wrong, but also pulled law enforcement off the track.

"Sudden Jihad Syndrome" was invented by the FBI to explain why people who lived quietly in the United States for some period of time "suddenly" went berserk and killed others. Why Naveed Haq shot six people at the Seattle Jewish Federation, killing one; why Hesham Hadayet, an Egyptian with a history of radical statements, shot up the El Al ticket counter in LA; why Derek Shareef, a convert to Islam, planned to firebomb a mall in Rockford, IL; and why Bosnian Sulejman Talovic killed five people in a shopping center in Salt Lake City. Read more ..


The Cyber Edge

Word to the Cyber Nervous

April 19th 2013

Smart phone

In the hands of the well trained, wireless digital devices have the potential to create many nightmare scenarios. Yet, the Federal Aviation Administration is considering more flexible rules to allow the use of e-readers during takeoff and landing, not only during flight.

To prevent interference with the cockpit information display or affect the auto-pilot, e-readers would be required to put the devices on "airplane mode," thus temporarily disabling wireless functions. This sounds reasonable enough, doesn't it?

Apparently those who are advocating the relaxation of the rules are expecting the flight crews to enforce the new rules and all passengers to comply. A more realistic scenario,  if the rules are relaxed, is of a wireless device used to interfere with the plane's avionics, causing it to crash. So why does the FAA even consider this?

Because the hysteria over defense against cyber attacks is rising, ignoring the dramatic escalation in cyber attacks against the U.S. In the first quarter of 2013, "40.68% of DDoS ...were believed to be from China,  compared with 30.59%" in 2012. "The next highest source countries were Germany (10.59%), Iran (5.51%) and India (5.01%)." Read more ..


Obama's Second Term

Don't Raise or Eliminate the Cap

April 18th 2013

US Capital Day

Under Roosevelt's original design for Social Security, high earners wouldn't even have participated. The eventual legislation included the rich, but with a contribution cap to distinguish Social Security from "the dole."

As a Social Security Administration report put it, "The upper limit on the tax was designed to assure that no one contributed directly more than the value of the protection he received." It also meant that lower earners must pay for their benefits, which the administration says is "one of the basic principles of the Social Security program and is largely responsible for its widespread public acceptance and support."

But by eliminating the cap, a person earning $225,000 would pay roughly four times more in taxes than he'll receive in benefits. A growing resemblance to a welfare plan would be inescapable. Today's payroll tax ceiling isn't unusually low. Currently, about 84 percent of all wages are taxed, almost precisely the average since 1935. While coverage has fallen from 90 percent since the mid-1980s, research points to health care as a major culprit. Read more ..


Venezuela on Edge

Domestic and Geo-Political Challenges Will Continue in Venezuela

April 17th 2013

Nicolas Maduro

 According to results reported by the national Elections Committee of Venezuela (CNE), Nicolas Maduro, Chavez’s chosen successor and protégé, won the Venezuelan presidential election by a skimpy margin of less than 2 percent.

Once again the Chavistas won because they took advantage of huge state resources that include mass media, intimidation of public employees and the use of the oil giant, PDVSA, to fund their political campaign.

Irregularities include claims that on Election Day about 535 voting machines were damaged and they affected almost 190,000 voters. Capriles refused to recognize the results, demanded a recount and mobilized his supporters to bang pots and pans. Protesters also burned trash and blocked highways but were chased by the Venezuelan national guard. Maduro reacted negatively by accusing Capriles of carrying a coup d’etat and called out his followers to defend the government. In this way, Maduro was indirectly inciting violence. Read more ..


Obama's Second Term

On the Budget, Obama's Opening Bid Was Reasonable

April 17th 2013

PBObama contemplative

It would be difficult to imagine an uglier process of enacting legislation on important issues than the last two years of attempts by federal policymakers to reduce the size of the nation's deficit. Although no single explanation would suffice to account for the difficulty of making bipartisan progress, a major philosophical difference between the political parties stands out as the major culprit.

Broadly speaking, Republicans want smaller government and lower taxes; Democrats want more government and higher taxes. Since enactment of the Social Security Act in 1935, the story of the federal government has been one of expanding programs, increasing federal spending, and increasing taxes. Republican denials notwithstanding, Republicans have often supported the thousands of laws that expanded government relentlessly over the years and even in raising taxes to support the programs, although they have often kept in check the higher levels of spending proposed by Democrats. Even so, for the last several years Republicans have talked more vigorously about the philosophy of small government and low taxes. Necessity met opportunity when the nation entered a slow-burning deficit mess, aggravated by a severe recession that soon convinced almost everyone that the federal government had to balance its books by cutting spending, raising taxes, or both. Roughly speaking, the need to reduce the deficit, combined with the fact that cutting spending would move the nation toward the Republican goal of smaller government, has given Republicans an opportunity to cut spending to an extent that would have otherwise been impossible. Read more ..


The North Korean Threat

Maybe Kerry's Mind is Too Open on North Korea

April 16th 2013

John Kerry

Secretary of State John Kerry has decided to boldly go where all men have gone before: back to the negotiating table with North Korea. Despite years of broken promises, bad-faith negotiations, cunning violations of both the spirit and letter of agreements, Kerry and the Obama administration have shown they have no new ideas for dealing with Kim Jong Un and his rogue regime.

The diplomatists will always chastise those who question their time-honored dependency on face-to-face dialogue. They will retort: “What’s the alternative?” implying a false choice between meaningless talking and war. There is no gray in their world, only the white of negotiations and the black of non-engagement. Kerry gave a crystal-clear lesson in striped-pants thinking in his Tokyo press conference, telling reporters:  I’m not going to be so stuck in the mud that an opportunity to actually get something done is flagrantly wasted because of a kind of predetermined stubbornness. . . . You have to keep your mind open. Read more ..


Venezuela on Edge

Nicolas Maduro’s “Hand of God” Victory in Venezuela

April 15th 2013

Chavez PDVSA

One of the celebrities given star billing at a Nicolas Maduro election rally last week in Caracas was Diego Maradona, the former Argentine soccer star. Maradona scored perhaps the most notorious goal in the history of the game during the 1986 World Cup Finals in Mexico, when, during a match against England, he tipped the ball into the net with the outside of his fist (an unlawful play). The referee looked the other way and the goal stood. Maradona later ascribed his good fortune to divine intervention: it was the “hand of God,” he said, that was responsible for his goal.

Much the same metaphor can be applied to Maduro’s paper-thin victory in yesterday’s presidential election. When Venezuelans went to the polls last October, the now-deceased Hugo Chavez won by 11 points, a margin comfortable enough to prevent his opponent, Henrique Capriles, from challenging the result. But last night, it was a very different story; according to the official returns, Maduro won 50.66 percent of the vote against 49.1 percent for Capriles. In a normal democracy, a result as close as this one would automatically trigger a recount. Venezuela, however, is not a normal democracy, and its chavista-controlled National Electoral Council, or CNE, has already declared the outcome to be “irreversible,” despite angry demands from the opposition MUD coalition for a proper audit of the votes. Read more ..


The North Korean Threat

Getting Kim Jong Un's Attention

April 14th 2013

Un-review troops

Nothing about the international response to North Korea's third nuclear test in February or subsequent provocations has been unreasonable. The crisis is entirely of Pyongyang's making. But it is possible that the hard-line approach taken by Washington, Seoul and other capitals to the North Korean bluster, brinkmanship and bombast has been far less than optimal.

We need a firm policy. North Korea must pay a price for its irresponsible and dangerous behavior, and know that the world is united in standing against it. The resolve must begin with the U.S.-South Korean military alliance but extend to other nations, most notably China, North Korea's only ally and main benefactor. Read more ..


Broken Economy

Excessive Bank Equity Rules Would Slow the Economy

April 12th 2013

I Bailed Out a Bank

There are serious proposals to force banks to fund themselves with considerably less debt and far more money from their shareholders. This would protect the rest of us, by leaving more of the risk with shareholders and reducing the potential need for taxpayer bailouts. However, there is a trade-off for the greater safety; loans would become more expensive and the economy would slow.

The added safety is well worth the cost when raising equity levels from the risky pre-crisis levels to those being mandated by global regulators under the “Basel III” rules. It might be good to go somewhat further, but not to the extreme levels advocated by some. My fear is that drastic actions may be taken in this area because some argue that it would be economically costless to do so. This idea is wrong in the real world, even if it makes sense under very specific theoretical conditions. There is only space in this column for a high-level discussion of this complex topic. Please see my recent paper on bank capital requirements for a somewhat more detailed explanation. Read more ..


Vote 2016

Hillary ’16, Obama ’14

April 11th 2013

Hillary Clinton

There is a powerful and profound convergence of interest between Team Obama, Team Clinton and Democratic leaders in the House and Senate. The prime directive for the leadership strata of Democrats in Washington and the Democratic base nationally is clear and well understood by most national political players, if not yet the political media. This three-stage convergence of interest is as follows:

First, the goal is to elect a Democratic House and preserve the Democratic Senate in 2014. This would effectively power-start a third term for President Obama that would begin after the election of a Democratic House and Senate in 2014 and conclude with the inauguration of the next president in January 2017, which would set the stage for a ground-shaking, history-making and FDR-magnitude-realigning Democratic campaign in 2016 and a power-started Hillary Clinton presidency with even more House and Senate Democrats by January 2017. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

What Do We Want Done in Syria?

April 10th 2013

Syria fighting injured baby

A maxim in the United States Army is, "Don't tell a soldier to do something; tell him what you want done." President Roosevelt didn't tell General Eisenhower to cross the English Channel; he told him to obtain the unconditional surrender of Nazi Germany. A counter-example can be found in the way that the United States has squandered American influence because the Obama Administration failed to determine what it wanted done in Syria. In an odd twist, given the president's desire to boost U.S.-Russian relations, the Russians might have helped, but we didn't ask. There is no shortage of voices yelling, "Do something!" Calls to train and/or arm "the rebels"; establish "no fly" zones and/or safe havens; provide non-lethal and/or humanitarian aid; eliminate Syrian air defenses and/or take direct action under the rubric of R2P are all permutations of "doing." It would have been legitimate for the U.S. to do any of those things, or all or none of them -- whichever advanced our goals. But American goals have been mixed, at best. Read more ..


The Way We Are

The Virtue of Tolerance

April 9th 2013

Armstrong_Williams

The cases recently brought before the Supreme Court have once again brought a focus on the idea of tolerance in our country. Tolerance is a funny thing in the political sphere and is increasingly used by the left to denigrate anyone who opposes them.
 
If we were to open up the New Progressive’s Dictionary and Thesaurus, you would probably see the following definitions:
Knuckledragger- a Christian Conservative.
Racist- anyone that did not vote for Obama or even disagrees with an Obama administration policy.
Bigot- everyone in the GOP; also every Christian
Pro-life- Conservative code-word for justifiable misogyny
2nd Amendment Proponents- slack jawed yokels who hate children.
Intolerance- Anyone that believes something we do not.
 
That’s not to say Conservatives are not guilty of similar arguments, but I’ve noticed recently that as the right is trying to reassess and address its problems, the left’s talking heads cynically dismiss the debate and reassert hateful stereotypes. When discussing the politics of hate, we must be careful that we are not simply using an ad hominem attack- attacking the character rather than the substance. Of course, political operatives know very well that they are making ad hominem attacks. The problem comes when the character assassinations are internalized by society to the detriment of honest debate. Read more ..

The Defense Edge

Drastic Defense Cuts Will Undermine Diplomacy

April 9th 2013

Obama Pentagon

The United States is engaging in a major debate over the appropriate size of the Defense Department. At its heart are two issues. First, should we continue to reduce our military spending by roughly $947 billion over the next decade, as was agreed to in the Budget Control Act of 2011? Second, should the cuts occur across the board, excluding military pay, leaving military planners little discretion? Currently, both the cuts and the lack of discretion will go forward. Over the next decade, the U.S. government will spend $44.8 trillion. At the same time, it is expected to add another $7 to $10 trillion to the current national debt of $16.6 trillion. This will happen even after all the budget cuts have been completed. Annual government spending will, therefore, climb from $3.6 trillion today to close to $6 trillion over those 10 years. Two years ago, the Obama administration and Congress agreed to borrow another $2.5 trillion to pay for it all. The agreement came with a caveat - the borrowing would be offset by future spending reductions, spread out over the next decade. Read more ..

The Drug Wars

The Politics of Using Mycoherbicides to Control Illicit Drug Crops

April 9th 2013

Afghan Poppy Fields

In utilizing the rapid increase of scientific knowledge in the control of illicit narcotics, technology is available. The most discussed method has been the USG funded effort to find naturally occurring fungi (the fancy word is mycoherbicides) that could effectively cause plant disease on certain illicit crops, vastly reducing commercial yield potential. Since most people never heard this word, mycoherbicides are living organisms, not chemical pesticides. They are not intended to kill plants, but to greatly reduce their yield, and thus the cost/value relationships. Delivery systems also now exist for distribution of carefully treated live seeds carrying the selected organism, thus establishing the chosen control pathogen into the pre-selected target soil. It is vaccination--of the soil. Read more ..

North Korea's Nukes

Calling the North Korean Dictator's Bluff

April 8th 2013

North Korean rocket Apr 2012

A bitter and unresolved struggle behind the scenes for control of North Korea, the world’s most regressive regime, is the likeliest explanation for Pyongyang’s unprecedented deluge of threats against South Korea, the U.S. and Japan.

For heavy hangs the head of Kim Jong-un, heir to the world’s only Communist monarchy, a novice never reared to manage the complex game of maintaining control of a starving population and pursue blackmail of aid-givers to sustain the regime. Kim may be the spokesman.

But it seems unlikely the 30-year-old could be calling the shots for the carefully programmed rising level of attempted intimidation of North Korea’s neighbors. Nor does it seem likely his generals, whatever their personal ambitions and relationship to the throne, are not aware of the ultimate imbalance which exists between their warmaking capability and the U.S. and its allies if conflict does lead to miscalculation. Read more ..


Broken Government

Obama Running Out of Time to Burnish His Image

PBObama contemplative

The next 10 weeks are a make-or-break period for President Obama’s second-term agenda. He needs quick victories in the Senate on gun control and immigration if he is to build momentum for a fight in the Republican-controlled House — the chief obstacle to his agenda.

Obama and his allies are counting on the Senate to deliver strong bipartisan votes for gun violence and immigration bills to build pressure on Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to bring the legislation to the House floor for votes. The House is waiting for the Senate to act first before deciding its course of action.

The stakes are high for Obama; David Axelrod, his former chief political adviser, last week called immigration reform a “legacy item” for the president.

As the gun control fight has gone on and Obama’s initial talk of wide-ranging reform has been trimmed and trimmed again, the president has faced renewed criticism over his ability — or inability — to shepherd meaningful legislation through Congress.

On immigration, there are doubts as to whether he seriously wants a deal; many Republicans fear he would prefer to point a finger of blame at GOP lawmakers during the 2014 elections — and thus perhaps win the House back for Democrats — than actually achieve real progress with their help. They note that Obama last week was fundraising on the West Coast, speaking of the importance of returning California Democrat Nancy Pelosi to the Speakership. Read more ..


The Economy on Edge

It's the Jobs, Stupid

April 7th 2013

Unemployed Claimants

On Thursday, the weekly jobless claims number ballooned to an unacceptable 385,000. On Friday the monthly jobs report showed a collapse in job creation to an anemic and unacceptable 88,000. The actual unemployment rate went down to 7.6 percent because the labor participation rate collapsed to the lowest level since 1979. Perhaps we can have full employment if every jobless worker gave up and stopped looking for work.

From President Obama’s perspective, the headlines throughout the weekend will highlight the latest jobless pain with his leaked plan to cut Social Security and Medicare. The fact is that since the president began his outreach to Republicans during the last month and job creation tanked, his Gallup poll numbers have tanked with the low job creation.

From the Republican point of view, I would not want to be an incumbent House Republican running against Democratic challengers at a time of high joblessness while they fight for cuts to Medicare and Social Security. Read more ..


Society on Edge

Defining 'Tolerance' According to Progressives

April 6th 2013

Armstrong Williams Headshot

The cases recently brought before the Supreme Court have once again brought a focus on the idea of tolerance in our country. Tolerance is a funny thing in the political sphere and is increasingly used by the left to denigrate anyone who opposes them.

If we were to open up the New Progressive’s Dictionary and Thesaurus, you would probably see the following definitions:

Knuckledragger- a Christian Conservative.
Racist - anyone that did not vote for Obama or even disagrees with an Obama administration policy.
Bigot - everyone in the GOP; also every Christian
Pro-life - Conservative code-word for justifiable misogyny
2nd Amendment Proponents - slack jawed yokels who hate children.
Intolerance - Anyone that believes something we do not.

That’s not to say Conservatives are not guilty of similar arguments, but I’ve noticed recently that as the right is trying to reassess and address its problems, the left’s talking heads cynically dismiss the debate and reassert hateful stereotypes.

When discussing the politics of hate, we must be careful that we are not simply using an ad hominem attack- attacking the character rather than the substance.

Of course, political operatives know very well that they are making ad hominem attacks. The problem comes when the character assassinations are internalized by society to the detriment of honest debate. Read more ..


The Israel-Turkey Edge

Turkey Gives Politics a Chance

Obama and Erdogan

Late last month, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu called to apologize to his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan for the death of Turkish citizens during a military operation against the ship Mavi Marmara in 2010. The call came within a day of Kurdish separatist leader Abdullah Öcalan’s declaration of truce and call for “the guns [to] be silenced and politics dominate.” These two developments are clearly independent of each other. But they point to the possibility of a very different Middle East, one that breaks with the violent conflicts that are spreading across the region, including in Syria, Gaza, Egypt and Iran. One striking common denominator in all these persistent conflicts is the absence of negotiations, let alone negotiated settlements. It is against the background of such a picture that Netanyahu’s apology and Öcalan’s truce acquire significance—and may raise the prospect of an alternative Middle East where conflicting parties become capable again of talking to each other to resolve their differences. Read more ..


Obama's Second Term

Obama Learns the Value of the Military Toolbox

April 5th 2013

B-2 Bomber

Last month, the Obama administration began noticeably increasing military shows of force on or near the Korean peninsula, as the North’s young leader increasingly took steps of his own to increase tensions. Some of the earliest high-profile decisions by the president included bolstering missile defense capabilities in order to protect the American homeland, deployment of B-52 and B-2 bombers in military exercises, and the mobilization of stealthy fifth-generation F-22 fighter jets.

The moves are designed to highlight American military technological supremacy and power, warn the North and show support for our treaty ally. But the biggest irony of all is that the Obama administration has targeted many of these weapons and capabilities for budget cuts and cancellations previously.

Early on in President Obama’s first term — before sequestration and debt reduction started chipping away at the defense budget — missile defense was singled out for major reductions.  In 2010, the administration cut $1.4 billion from the Missile Defense Agency. This included eliminating 14 planned ground-based interceptors in Alaska, cancelling the second Airborne Laser prototype aircraft, and terminating the Multiple Kill Vehicle. The president also reversed course, backing away from Bush Administration efforts to deploy elements of a missile defense network in Poland and the Czech Republic, and killing the Kinetic Energy Interceptor. Read more ..


Broken Government

The Tax Code Is A Hopeless Complex, Economy-Suffocating Mess

April 4th 2013

IRS building

Throughout our population, experts and non-experts alike, the verdict is nearly unanimous. The U.S. tax code is a hopelessly complex mess, antithetical to growth, and is crammed with conflicting incentives, which screams for reform. But there is little agreement on how to repair it. My preferences are necessary, just, and ordained in heaven. Your preferences are unnecessary, unjust and counter-productive.

Tax reform is the most difficult and complicated piece in the U.S. budget battle. It is integral to both the Republican House and the Democratic Senate budgets. As in every budget item, there is a conservative vs. liberal confrontation, but tax reform is loaded with more confusing detail, and it adds extra layers of difficulty to the budget debate.

Some liberal and conservative inclinations tend to intersect when the conversation focuses on elimination of tax preferences. But, both sides have their favorite exceptions. Democrats love tax expenditures for the less affluent. Republicans love the preferences they suspect will stimulate growth. Read more ..


The Darkest Edge

Applauding Connecticut’s Gun Control Legislation

April 4th 2013

Sandy Hook Shooting

The Connecticut General Assembly and Governor Dannel Malloy have proposed and passed a legislative package addressing gun control, school safety, and mental health care. Are they controversial? Yes. Are they motivated by a horrific act of school violence? Yes. Do they provide a prime opportunity to improve public policy? Absolutely. The latter is what is missing from the national conversation.

Since the massacre in Newtown 111 days ago, gun control advocates have begged for policy solutions. Gun rights advocates have argued that legislative proposals will not work and thus should not be implemented. Connecticut offers something for everyone. First, this legislation is the most comprehensive, aggressive policy response in the United States since the tragedy. This move will please those clamoring for tighter restrictions on guns, for safer schools, and improved mental health care.

Second, gun rights advocates should see this as an opportunity. If gun owners, conservatives, libertarians, NRA officials and others truly believe such legislation will fail, these laws give them a chance to demonstrate it. If their convictions are firm and true and these laws will only lead to more violence, there will be proof. If their fears that such laws will make honest, law-abiding citizens the defenseless victims of criminals and an expansive government, the Nutmeg State will show us. For those in favor of unfettered access to firearms, you should let Connecticut prove your point. Read more ..


The Iranian Threat

The Iran Sanctions Charade

April 3rd 2013

Iran centrifuges

The rugs under President Obama’s vows to stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons are being pulled out constantly. Last Monday, former EU High Representative for Foreign and Security Policy, Javier Solana, pointed out that the negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 group (Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States), scheduled to begin this week in Almaty, Kazakhstan, are in fact, a waste of time.

The Iranian leadership is facing elections in June and “It will be very difficult to get something going before those elections,” noted Solana. Fully aware of this, the administration will be in Almaty. And if the past is any precedent, further concessions will be made to give Iran more time. After all, Obama had already announced that he had pulled back the red line on Iran’s nuclear weapons development for a year or so.

Meanwhile, the sanctions regime continues to slip. As the past few years have shown, the Iranians are extraordinarily capable of evading the sanctions. Despite the spiraling inflation, and imposed restrictions to acquire the goods in kind, the Mullahs persist. Read more ..


America on Edge

Is This the End of the 'Christian' Moment in American Politics?

April 3rd 2013

We don’t smoke marijuana in Muskogee /
We don’t take our trips on LSD /
We don’t burn our draft cards down on Main Street /
We like livin’ right, and bein’ free.”

—“Okie from Muskogee,” Merle Haggard, 1969

These days, The Hag likes to suggest that he and Willie Nelson fired up a jumbo with Hillary Clinton, but back in 1969 they were on opposite ends. Right-thinking Oklahomans — Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren would have been a teenager in the mid '60s and a waitress in Oklahoma City — did not do these things “like the hippies out in San Francisco do.” But today, I’m not sure the distinction holds up.

The perceptive Ross Douthat, conservative columnist for the New York Times, has written recently of the end of “a Catholic Moment” in public life. “At the time of John Paul’s death, the Republican Party’s agenda was still stamped by George W. Bush’s ‘compassionate conservatism,’ which offered a right-of-center approach to Catholic ideas about social justice.” But that was a “long eight years ago.” Read more ..


America on Edge

Witnessing the End of the GOP as We Know It

April 2nd 2013

This is an extraordinary moment in American politics. The possibility that the Supreme Court will declare some or all of the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional is already sufficient reason for that label. But that is just one piece of a larger shift, a movement in the tectonic plates of national politics.

In 1996, 27 percent of Americans said they favored gay marriage. By 2006, that proportion had risen to 35 percent. In 2010 it was 41 percent. The latest poll last month showed 49 percent. This shift applies to every possible grouping, from the most opposed (white conservative evangelical Protestants over 65) to the most in favor (liberals under 30). Read more ..


Obama and Israel

In Mideast, Obama Must Make a Move

April 1st 2013

Obama

Is Barack Obama learning from history by avoiding the crucial errors of his first visit to the Middle East shortly after becoming president?

In 2009, when he visited Cairo to speak directly to the Arab world, Obama anticipated engagement, rather than confrontation, with Iran, which threatened the survival of pro-U.S. Arab regimes in the Persian Gulf and beyond.

That year Obama anticipated an Arab Spring march toward pro-U.S. democracies, not the stormy anti-U.S. Arab Winter that has arrived. Not unlike President Jimmy Carter's reckless abandonment of the Iranian shah and his courting of Ayatollah Khomeini, Obama turned his back on America's ally in Egypt, Hosni Mubarak, and extended instead his hand to America's inherent enemy, the subversive Muslim Brotherhood. Read more ..


Russia on Edge

Will Russia Take ‘Yes’ for an Answer?

March 31st 2013

THAAD Missile Intercept

When Secretary of State Chuck Hagel announced this month that the Pentagon would increase the number of missile interceptors in Alaska, he noted that the U.S. missile defense program in Europe would be restructured. This means cancellation of Phase 4 of the plan, which called for the deployment of upgraded interceptors in Eastern Europe.

The decision could open the way for resolving U.S.-Russian differences over missile defense, one of the thorniest problems on the bilateral agenda, and remove an obstacle to further nuclear arms reductions — if Moscow can say something other than “nyet.”

The initial Russian reaction gave little ground for optimism. But Russian officials often react slowly to new ideas, so we may not yet have the final word.

The Obama administration unveiled its “European Phased Adaptive Approach” in 2009 with the goal of deploying increasingly capable SM-3 missile interceptors in anticipation that Iran would develop missiles with increasingly longer ranges. Moscow initially appeared to welcome the approach.

In November 2010, NATO and Russia agreed to explore a cooperative missile defense for Europe. Talks between U.S. and Russian officials in early 2011 yielded significant convergence on questions such as transparency, joint exercises and jointly manned NATO-Russia centers to share early warning data and plan how NATO and Russia missile defense systems would work together. Read more ..


GOP What Next

Post–Iraq War Lessons for the GOP

March 30th 2013

US troops in Iraq

Is the Iraq War to blame for the mess we are in? Now, I should qualify that question by explaining “mess” and “we.” By “mess,” I mean the dawn of Barack Obama’s second term, the predictably catastrophic rollout of Obamacare, the exploding debt and deficit, the stimulus boondoggles, etc. By “we,” I mean conservatives (particularly those, like me, who supported the war), but also anyone else who doesn’t think Obama has done a bang-up job.

There seems to be a growing consensus that the answer to that question is “yes.” In a recent column, the Washington Examiner’s Philip Klein writes, “It’s hard to see how Obamacare would have become law if Bush had never invaded Iraq.” New York Times columnist Ross Douthat says the war is “responsible for liberalism’s current political and cultural ascendance.” In the Wall Street Journal, Peggy Noonan laments that the war “muddied up the meaning of conservatism and bloodied up its reputation.” She even goes so far as to assert that the war “ended the Republican political ascendance that had begun in 1980.” Read more ..


India on Edge

Brahmanism in Manipur: A Perspective on Social Stigma

March 29th 2013

Dalit Woman in native dress

The Indian concept of racism cannot be understood without understanding caste and caste that includes the Manu Smriti, a sacred handbook for Brahmins. Racism is known as apartheid or xenophobia in western societies. This form of racism is based on one’s class, race, and color, whereas in India, caste is based on Brahmanical philosophy and is religiously sanctioned. The changes in the economic, educational, and political condition in western societies led them to help eliminate apartheid in South Africa and similarly in America these conditions led to a beginning of social justice for the African Americans. Whereas, the changes of the economic, educational, and political opportunities in India have not made any difference for India’s marginalised people.

In the western concept of apartheid and racism, no person is defiled or polluted by touching or being touched by a black, but in India even the shadow of an untouchable upon a person of the upper caste defiles. They need to go through a ceremonial cleansing ritual. No white home or church is polluted when a black person enters, but among Indian societies, if a Dalit enters the home of Brahmans then the upper caste is polluted. Caste runs and controls every aspect of Indian society from birth to death, and no one has been able to expunge its pervasive influence. Read more ..


The Media on Edge

A Little Village in The Hills, and The Monsters It Spawns

March 29th 2013

Israeli Flag being burned

If you want to affect how people think about an issue, putting your case onto the cover of the New York Times Magazine must be one of the most effective things to do. And, given the intense competition, one of the hardest.

So if the editors of the NYT (108 Pulitzer Prizes, more than any other news organization; 30 million unique visitors per month to its website; the largest local metropolitan newspaper in the United States – according to Wikipedia) give you the cover of the prestigious Magazine, it’s a massive vote of confidence, a huge privilege, a platform of the most effective kind that (probably) can't be bought for money. Friends have pointed us to this week’s NYT Magazine cover story, published today. It’s devoted to a Palestinian Arab village set in the hills a few kilometers north of where we live in Jerusalem. Read more ..


Oil Addiction

Where Energy and Security Collide

March 29th 2013

Iranian oil port

America is facing an energy-security paradox. Our domestic oil production is on the rise; the cars that roll onto our roads are more efficient than ever, and net oil imports are at their lowest level since the days when President George Herbert Walker Bush lived in the White House. Yet none of this has reined in the price of gasoline. This runs counter to U.S. conventional wisdom over the past forty years, touted by every president since Richard Nixon. The conventional wisdom had it that, if we just lessened our oil imports by drilling more domestic oil and by learning how to use less, we would pay less at the pump. We have done both and we are paying more. Something is wrong with our method.

 

The reason both domestic drilling and increased fuel efficiency have not reduced the global price of oil, and hence gasoline prices (the cost of crude accounts for about two-thirds the price of gasoline) is that global conventional-oil reserves are dominated by a cartel, OPEC, which comprises nations that are heavily dependent on oil revenues for their economic well being. When the price of oil goes below a certain level those countries cannot meet their budgetary requirements and are forced to accumulate debt or cut entitlement spending at the risk of social discontent. Following the so-called Arab Spring, those budgetary needs have risen sharply as rulers of the Gulf monarchies effectively bought stability from their citizens with salary raises, subsidies and other perks – all paid for by oil revenues. Read more ..


Broken Healthcare

Healthy Choices for a Strong America

March 28th 2013

blood test

Obesity and unhealthy living are as much a problem in this country as government over-regulation. Lately, we’ve seen several prominent politicians weigh in (no pun intended) on this topic.

It is typical of politicians to enter in to a policy with the best intentions, even if those intentions are at odds with higher ideals. In the case of political figures tackling obesity, what can start out as an effort to give consumers better information and choices, turns into making the choices for you.

Mayor Bloomberg has been the poster child for this behavior. Bloomberg, the anti-fat crusader, was at his best in 2008, requiring restaurants to disclose the caloric value of their foods. Here the consumer could make a choice- get the grilled chicken and veggies with 400 calories or the Bloomin’ Onion with 2210 calories. That’s no typo—it’s almost a full day’s worth of calories in one appetizer. But you still had the choice to eat it, as well as the choice to get up in the morning and exercise to work it off. Read more ..


The Race for Natural Gas

America's Oil and Gas Revolution

March 27th 2013

Fracking gas well

To grasp the importance of the revolutionary change in oil and gas drilling sweeping across the United States -- and its significance for our economy -- just consider how far behind the rest of the world is lagging.

America's innovative use of energy technology by "petropreneurs" is rejuvenating oil and gas production. Thanks to the combination of hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling in shale deposits, along with advances in seismic imaging that allow geologists to examine deposits more than a mile underground, energy resources long presumed to be beyond reach are now being tapped, or at least will be eventually. And it's happening as a result of something unique about America.

"In most of the world, if people are living on the land and there's hydrocarbons underneath it, they will fight it," Bob Dudley, group chief executive of BP, said recently in an interview with the Wall Street Journal. Private ownership of mineral rights in the U.S., along with an existing network of pipelines, enables oil and gas to find their way to market. And this, Dudley said, has given America its big head start. Read more ..


Kandahar on Edge

Kandahar and Hope

March 27th 2013

Afghanistan Fighters

Kandahar. Ancient crossroads of Central Asia. Home province of Taliban leader Mullah Omar, and the site from which Osama bin Laden began to prepare the Sept. 11 attacks. Epicenter of the fight pitting Afghan and NATO forces against the Taliban over the past dozen years. Region where patronage networks led by the likes of the late Ahmed Wali Karzai, together with centuries-old tribal rivalries, have greatly complicated our counterinsurgency campaign and efforts to help Afghans establish good, or at least better, governance.

Now, Kandahar gives hope to the war effort. The struggle is far from won. But it is much closer to a success than a failure at present, as we saw on a recent trip sponsored by NATO’s International Security Assistance Force.

This is not meant to be happy talk. Kandahar was the sixth day of our trip and the first five days included plenty of discouraging news in Kabul. The tensions between Afghan President Hamid Karzai and the United States have intensified to one of their worst levels ever, the corruption problems in the Afghan government remain serious, Pakistan is still playing a largely unhelpful role in the conflict, and uncertainty about America’s and NATO’s future presence in Afghanistan after the end of the current mission in 2014 looms large in every conversation. Read more ..



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