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Broken Government

Don't Let Them Fool You, We Still Have Debt Problems

June 3rd 2013

Financial reform now protest

Your uncle, Sam, has ignored his chronic health condition – let’s say he’s diabetic – for a long time. Then he suddenly has a heart attack, followed by a long, slow painful recovery. As he is recovering, he is feeling good about his health – after all, he got though a crisis. But he is not actually healthier than he was before. He’s still diabetic, and now he has to deal with the cautions of being a heart attack victim as well.

I think of a situation like that whenever I hear or read people saying that our debt problems are behind us. It’s true that there has been good news recently on a variety of fronts regarding the budget, but it is premature to say that we’ve solved the long-term fiscal imbalance. 

Fiscal optimism stems from the Congressional Budget Office’s most recent estimates, which place the deficit at 4 percent of GDP this year, falling as low as 2 percent of GDP by 2015, before rising to about 3.5 percent of GDP by 2023. These figures are way down from the deficit of 10 percent of GDP that prevailed a few years ago. Some of this reduction is due to the slowly improving economy. The rest is due to policy changes, slower health care cost growth, and various technical factors. But the fiscal problem isn’t gone. There are really two different deficits out there – the short-term and the long-term. Read more ..


Iran's Nukes

In Middle East Iran’s Nuclear Designs the Greater Threat

June 2nd 2013

The world is, understandably, focused on the Middle East. The map of the region — drawn a century ago by European powers to reflect imperial interests rather than ethnic realities — is unraveling. Syrians and Iraqis are being massacred, and Jordan is flooded with the half-million who have fled. Turkey, a formidable power, also struggles to meet the challenges of refugees and terrorist attacks. Russia, meanwhile, seems bent on supplying Syrian President Bashar al-Assad with deadly weapons such as the S-300 anti-aircraft system. This will enable Assad to enforce a no-fly zone over all of Syria and even parts of neighboring countries.

Given such seismic activity, it is easy to overlook the most explosive development of all. For the Iranian regime, the situation in the Middle East is a convenient distraction. As world leaders deliberate whether and how to intervene in Syria, how to grapple with Iraq, how to shore up Jordan and Turkey, and how to engage the Russians, the Iranian nuclear program advances unchecked.

While the Middle East roils, the Iranians have amassed some 182 kilograms of uranium enriched to a level easily enhanced to weapons grade. This stockpile stops short of the red line drawn by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but the Iranians are quietly preparing to cross it. Read more ..


Obama's Second Term

Secretary Kerry Fumbles at the African Union

June 1st 2013

John Kerry

At the 50th anniversary Summit for the African Union celebrations, Secretary Kerry referred to Boko Haram not as a “terrorist group” in typical State Department–approved terms but as an outright “terrorist organization.” The distinction between calling Boko Haram an “organization” and not a “group” may seem trivial, but it matters. The legal designation of “terrorist organization” allows the U.S. government to combat terrorism by naming and shaming violent actors and eliminating their sources for funding.

Most likely it was a slip of the tongue, since Boko Haram is currently not designated as a terrorist organization, but this mistake highlights how little credence is given to serious threats against our own national security and that of our partners. Boko Haram is a terrorist organization and should be legally designated as one. The magnitude of the security threat posed by terrorism in Africa is large and growing. Organizations such as Boko Haram, whose terrorist attacks since 2009 have resulted in thousands of deaths, seriously threaten regional stability in West Africa. The region is also enduring the spillover violence from terrorist activities in Mali and Libya. Last week, Niger became a victim of this violence when a terrorist attack on a French-owned mine killed 30 people. Read more ..


Internet Edge

Traditional Ideas of Privacy May no Longer be Relevant

June 1st 2013

Click to select Image

I am a very private person. I won’t tell the cashier at the sports equipment store my phone number. I am not interested in reading the details of people’s daily routines that make up so many blogs. I don’t understand the need to put revealing photographs on public websites. I don’t like to talk about myself, even to friends. So I am completely out of touch with the contemporary Facebook ethos.

Headlines have been made recently by young people who have put obviously incriminating information online for anyone to see. Using Facebook, an Oklahoma mother tried to sell her two babies, so she could bail out her boyfriend, and a Tennessee teacher demanded sex from a student. When a group of teenagers attacked another teen in Chicago last year, punching, kicking and then robbing him, they filmed themselves and posted the video on YouTube. Soon they were arrested. Read more ..


Broken Government

You Get What You Pay For: Lessons From the IRS Scandal

May 31st 2013

IRS building

Everyone is outraged by the IRS scandal—Republicans and Democrats, members of Congress and the president, alike. Outrage is a good clean emotion to have when one encounters outrageous behavior. But after a good fist-clenching growl, serious people need to decide what to do to prevent a repetition of such misbehavior.

Here are three suggestions. First, implement the specific reform suggestions put forward by the Inspector General whose report documents the misdeeds. Next, tighten the law under which organizations are granted tax exempt status. The third suggestion—and this may surprise you—raise the budget of the Internal Revenue Service—a lot!

Before explaining the suggestions, let’s start with the facts. As far as tax exemption is concerned, organizations claiming tax exempt status don’t have to apply to the IRS, but most do to avoid challenge later on. Tax exempt status under section 501(c)(4) of the Internal Revenue Code is supposed to be granted to an applicant only if it is a ‘social welfare’ organization. That means that no income of such organizations is taxable and that the names of contributors may be kept secret. Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

U.S. Should Support Nigeria in Its Fight Against Islamists

May 30th 2013

Boko Haram

During Secretary of State John Kerry’s first official trip to sub-Saharan he had the opportunity to publicly bolster a key U.S. ally.   Instead, he singled out Nigeria for criticism at the very time the country is engaged in a pitched battle to defend itself against radical Islamic terrorists who have pledged to overthrow the government and replace it with an Islamic state.

It was a puzzling choice by the United States, coming at the very moment that Nigeria is reporting major progress in combating the group Boko Haram.  Nigeria has deployed 2,000 soldiers to its northern regions to destroy well-equipped terrorist training camps utilized by the radical Islamic terrorists. Public chiding is not what Nigeria needs.  It doesn’t help Nigeria in its fight and ultimately does not best serve American interests. Nigeria is presently at war and on the other side are terrorists who may be receiving help from al-Qaeda and al-Qaeda linked fighters.  Nigeria’s goal is to retain its grip on three northern states, preventing Boko Haram from solidifying its grip on the region and fundamentally destabilizing Nigeria through terrorism that aims to strike fear in the hearts of its citizens. Read more ..


Cities on the Edge

A Big City Growth Revival?

May 29th 2013

Atlanta-GA

Big cities could be making a growth comeback after a rocky decade. Their growth rates are rising and, for the second year in a row, they are growing faster than their surrounding suburbs.

The Census Bureau’s new release of population estimates for cities through July 2012 offer some surprises in light of recent trends. After plummeting to postwar lows during the Great Recession and its immediate aftermath, national migration rates have begun to increase again as the economy recovers. As a result, the traditional Snowbelt-to-Sunbelt shift has resumed as well. Many assumed that large cities, especially in the Snowbelt, might also release their hold on seemingly “stuck in place” residents who, due to the housing market stall, might have been prevented from moving to the suburbs or other regions of the country.

Instead, these new numbers raise the prospect that large cities may be in store for something of a demographic comeback. During the 2000-2010 decade, including the pre-recession housing boom years, many big cities grew slowly or even lost population as residents decamped for growing smaller cities and suburbs. From 2010 to 2012, however, cities with over one-half million population grew considerably more rapidly than they did, on average, over the previous ten years. Read more ..


After the Holocaust

A Global Tsunami of Anti-Semitism

May 28th 2013

Isi Libler

Participants at the fourth conference of the Global Forum for Combating anti-Semitism, held under the auspices of the Foreign Ministry this week in Jerusalem, will be provided with data highlighting the accelerated global erosion of the status of Jews and Israel.

In the post-Holocaust era, many had predicted, mistakenly, that the world’s oldest hatred would recede, even anticipating that anti-Semites would soon become an extinct species. Instead, defaming Jews has emerged as the greatest global political growth industry - a virtual tsunami. In fact we are witnessing a resurrection of the medieval paranoia which effectively blamed Jews for all the disasters of mankind.

The most concentrated venom is relentlessly directed against ‘the state of the Jews’ (anti-Israelism) which is now the principal vehicle employed to demonize Jews. It dominates debates at the UN and other international organizations where rogue states and barbaric regimes seek to delegitimize the state of the Jews.

The bias and double standards against Israel became so intense that the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) decided to explicitly define such behavior as anti-Semitic (see page 29).

The escalation of Jew hatred over recent years has been greatly accelerated by the economic meltdown and surge in unemployment throughout Europe. Such an environment breeds xenophobia which, since time immemorial, was always directed against Jews, exploiting them as scapegoats. The era of the internet and electronic global communications has been a boon to Jew baiters, enabling them to globally disseminate their hatred instantly and effectively. Read more ..


The Race for Natural Gas

A Level Road for CNG Vehicles Could Energize Americans' Vacation Drives

May 28th 2013

Click to select Image

Every Memorial Day, as sure as barbeques and baseball games, Americans can count on the familiar tradition of watching gasoline prices rise. The Energy Information Agency summer cost forecast estimates that gasoline prices this summer will average $3.63 per gallon. While this price is down from last summer’s average of $3.69 per gallon, it still burdens the average driver.

AAA predicted that Memorial Day weekend average gasoline prices will top the 2012 $3.64 level and even the 2011 $3.79 price. This follows AAA’s April survey showing that two-thirds of Americans say gasoline prices strain their budgets at $3.64, and half of Americans say gasoline is too high at $3.40.

In Europe, government policies support high gasoline and diesel prices to encourage fuel economy and reduce petroleum demand. Here’s the good news: America has a better option. We have an abundant, accessible resource of clean natural gas that can drive us where we need to go at nearly half the cost of gasoline. Read more ..


Edge of Genocide

Like the Genocidal Gen. Rios Montt, Kissinger Deserves Scrutiny in Court

May 28th 2013

Nixon and Kissinger

Despite the May 20 ruling by Guatemala’s Constitutional Court, which overturned the original verdict on procedural grounds, the May 10 conviction of that country’s former head of state, General Efrain Rios Montt, for the genocide of Guatemala’s Mayan people, could be a defining event in modern history.

For now, the original trial will pick up where it stood on April 19, when the court had heard all of the prosecution’s evidence, and most of the defense’s. Guatemala’s unrepentant oligarchy, and the lawyers (and judges) who represent them, will do everything they can to derail final resolution and sentencing. Read more ..


The Defense Edge

Withdrawing U.S. Forces from Europe Weakens America

May 27th 2013

military convoy

In the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year (FY) 2013, the House of Representatives passed an amendment that called for the removal of all four U.S. Army Brigade Combat Teams (BCTs) currently based in Europe. It is likely that a similar amendment will be considered in the upcoming FY 2014 NDAA.

The sponsors of the amendment, Representatives Mike Coffman (R–CO) and Jared Polis (D–CO), argue that the U.S. should not be subsidizing the defense of its European partners at a time when many European nations are cutting their own defense budgets. However, basing American troops in Europe is first and foremost in the U.S. national security interest. It is true that the presence of U.S. forces in Europe contributes to the collective defense of European allies, but this is a consequence of, not the reason for, maintaining a robust military presence. The alternative—replacing permanent U.S. forces with rotational troops—would reduce American capabilities and influence in the region. Read more ..


The Way We Are

Memorial Day Proposals

May 26th 2013

Bunch of American flags

This weekend, America celebrates Memorial Day and honors its men and women who serve. Many of these great patriots remain under fire today, however. Meanwhile, too many Washington politicians are continuing what many Americans consider a battle of the buffoons, and the media herd looks more like Abbott and Costello than Woodward and Bernstein. By contrast, I suggest two Memorial Day proposals:

First, let’s enact a one-time bonus payment to those who have served our country since Sept. 11, 2001. This would be a well-earned expression of thanks to those who assume great burdens on our behalf and would support the national economy and create jobs. Second, let’s escalate the effort to eliminate the backlog of benefits due to wounded warriors and disabled vets by devoting whatever resources are necessary to complete this mission, and enlisting a major business leader such as former General Electric CEO Jack Welch or Microsoft founder Bill Gates as a special consultant, to bring “fresh eyes” and management expertise to the task. Read more ..


Obama's Second Term

Don't Edit The First Amendment

May 25th 2013

AG Holder B4 Congress

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

That’s the full text of the First Amendment. But (with apologies to the old Far Side comic), this is what many in the press, academia, and government would hear if you read it aloud: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, blah blah blah, or abridging the freedom of the press, blah blah blah blah.” Don’t get me wrong: The revelation that the Obama Justice Department has gone to unprecedented lengths to hamper or punish journalists is real news. DOJ trawlers dropped a gill net over the Associated Press in the hope of landing a single fish. Read more ..


Israel on Edge

Israel's Prosperity a Problem

May 24th 2013

Israel-Center

At first blush, it might have sounded like praise, but it wasn't. Before meeting with Israeli President Shimon Peres, Secretary of State John Kerry pronounced Israel's prosperity an impediment to "peace" with the Palestinians. "I think there is an opportunity [for peace], but for many reasons it's not on the tips of everyone's tongue. People in Israel aren't waking up every day and wondering if tomorrow there will be peace because there is a sense of security and a sense of accomplishment and of prosperity."

So, Secretary Kerry thinks it would be better for Israel to approach negotiations from a position of precarious poverty? Does he think Israel's quest for legitimacy and security in an unstable, over-armed and hostile region would be better received if Israel were a needy, insecure supplicant to Palestinian and Arab interests? Or that the Palestinians would have pity on an unnerved and anxious Israel struggling with a bankrupt, aid-dependent economy?

There are people – not necessary Secretary Kerry – who prefer their Jews as needy supplicants, but that is not a role Israel is prepared to play, thank you. The entire Zionist enterprise is designed precisely to ensure that Jews in the State of Israel are able to wake up every day with a "sense of security" and determine their own interests. The fact that Israelis also wake up with a hard-earned and well-deserved "sense of accomplishment and of prosperity" is icing on the cake. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

The Saudi-Syria-Lebanon Tangle

May 23rd 2013

Free Syrian Army fighters

The Saudi drumbeat that questioned the Assad family's legitimacy, Syria's royalty, can be dated from 2006. Then, Saudi-sponsored newspapers began a stinging criticism of Syria in response to the role its Lebanese allies played during their recent conflict with Israel.  Specifically, Saudi Arabia chose to criticize Syrian support for Hezbollah--the Shiite movement supported by Iran, which had come to dominate southern Lebanon--and its leader Hassan Nasrallah.  Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, a member of the minority Alwaite sect and leader of a secular polity anathema to the Saudi Wahhabis, responded that Arabs--clearly including senior members of the Saudi royal family opposing Hezbollah, and were only "half-men".

It was a mortal insult.  The war of words that followed appeared to stimulate ever more dangerous events.  While Syria moved closer to Iran, Saudi Arabia sought to create a Sunni militia in Lebanon to counter Hezbollah. In Syria itself, the government media responded with claims that Saudi funds were being used to destabilize the Assad regime.  Read more ..


Obama's Second Term

A Week of Scandals Proves the Incompetence of Liberalism

May 23rd 2013

Barack Obama

Scandals are nothing new in Washington. Just about every president has faced an accusation of misconduct, whether moral or criminal. It should be no surprise that the Obama Administration would find itself in the midst of one, well actually 3 at present.

Many Republicans have been quick to declare this the end of Obama, even calling for impeachment. However, these scandals are not the personal failings of the President himself, rather they are the failings of the liberal philosophy which he and his entire administration espouse.

In case you were out camping without a cell phone for the past week, here is a brief recap in order of appearance:

Benghazi- the White House has been accused of failure to act and misleading the public about the events surrounding the 9/11/12 attack on the US consulate resulting in the death of Ambassador Stevens.

IRS- Conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status were targeted for extra scrutiny, beginning shortly after Scott Brown special election victory in 2010 through the 2012 presidential campaign. Also, confidential tax documents of prominent conservatives were leaked to the media.

Associated Press (AP) wiretapped- the Department of Justice tapped the phones of AP reporters and offices for two months in an effort to locate an administration leak. APgate is troubling, but the problem for the Republicans it is legal and part of the Patriot Act. Any attempts to role this particular part of the legislation back has been convincingly voted down by both parties. Suddenly, the Republicans realize that an overreaching Patriot Act may not have been a good thing, but it feels politically rather than ideologically driven. Read more ..


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 ..



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