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The Battle for Syria

The Price of America Not Leading in the Conflict in Syria

June 12th 2013


This story has generated a buzz here at Doha, Qatar, where I've been attending the Brookings Institution's U.S.-Islamic World Forum. A number of well-informed people believe that President Obama is indeed inclined to begin arming the Syrian opposition.

Let's hope so. The hour is getting late. Last Wednesday, Hezbollah conquered the Syrian town of Qusayr. The week before, Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah, appeared on television and vowed to save the regime of Bashar al-Assad. The timing of the speech made it clear that taking Qusayr was crucial to that goal. The town sits on the most important route between the Hezbollah-controlled areas of Lebanon and the Assad-controlled parts of Syria. In rebel hands it was a wedge driving the two apart.  Read more ..

Broken Government

PRISM is Indeed a Really, Really Big Deal

June 12th 2013

Click to select Image

By now nearly everyone has heard of the National Security Agency (NSA) spy program called PRISM, in which the spooks are scooping up all the metadata of telephone calls from the United States overseas along with many within the U.S. itself. A related collection program, we are told, captures the actual content of emails sent abroad. Seeing the figure 97 billion for the pieces of data recorded merely during the month of March 2013 certainly raised my eyebrows. In an editorial today, June 11, 2013, the Washington Post declares that the spy programs result from “a checked, deliberative process across three branches of government.” This issue is far too important to permit rhetoric to drive the debate. The Post's assertion goes to the heart of the controversy and demands our attention.

“Checked” in this formulation suggests that NSA requests for authorization, along with any from the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) or other entities of the intelligence community, are carefully examined before approval. Carried out by an agency of the Executive Branch, the locus of approval for PRISM is clearly the White House. These are secret operations, but we know already from a controversy that arose during the Bush administration over an earlier version of this same surveillance, when President Bush was not aware of the extent of the spying and Justice Department officials were ready to resign over its continuation, that White House knowledge was limited at best. Read more ..

The Defense Edge

Leaking Secrets Empowers Terrorists

June 11th 2013

Smart Phone in hand

Once again, the tanks-have-rolled left and the black-helicopters right have joined together in howls of protest. They were set off by last week's revelations that the U.S. government has been collecting data that disclose the fact, but not the content, of electronic communications within the country, as well as some content data outside the U.S. that does not focus on American citizens. Once again, the outrage of the left-right coalition is misdirected.

Libertarian Republicans and liberal-progressive, if you prefer-Democrats see the specter of George Orwell's "1984" in what they claim is pervasive and unlawful government spying. These same groups summoned "1984" in 2001 after passage of the Patriot Act, in 2008 after renewal of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA, and many times in between and since. Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

The Arab World Fears the ‘Safavid’

June 10th 2013

Syrian Jihadis

In an interview on Al-Jazeera this past May, the commander of the Free Syrian Army, Brig. Gen. Salim Idris, explained that the diversion of Hezbollah forces from Lebanon to Syria to take part in the civil war was part of a “Safavid” plan for the Middle East region.

This past January, an article in the influential Lebanese daily As-Safir accused Iraq’s Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki of receiving assistance from his “Safavid allies.” After the powerful Sunni Muslim leader, Sheikh Yousuf al-Qaradawi, condemned Iran for its actions in Syria, the Muslim Scholars Association of Lebanon warned that the Sunni Arabs were facing “the spreading Safawi project.”

Indeed, over the last decade, the term “Safavid” has become a commonly used derogatory word among Arab leaders for the Iranians. American journalist Bob Woodward describes a harsh diplomatic exchange in one of his books between King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and a high-level U.S. official about the 2003 Iraq War, in which the Saudi leader states: “You have allowed the Persians, the Safavids, to take over Iraq.” By using the term Safavid, Arab leaders were making reference to the Safavid Empire and imputing hegemonic motivations to the current Iranian government, suggesting that Iran is seeking to re-establish their country’s former imperial borders. Read more ..

Obama's Second Term

How Obama Killed the Grand Bargain

June 9th 2013

Barack Obama with Flag

Prospects for a “grand bargain” on the budget finally seem dead, and, we’re told, the reason is the improved budget outlook. While it is certainly true that the Congressional Budget Office’s latest projections of federal deficits over the coming decade are less dismal than they were previously, that’s not the main reason Washington has lost interest in a bipartisan compromise on the budget. The chances of such a compromise have been low all year, and are due to the tactical choices made by the one person with the most to gain from a deal — the president.

There was a period when the prospects for a “grand bargain” were on the rise — right after President Obama’s reelection in November 2012. The president was riding high and had campaigned on a “balanced approach” to deficit reduction, by which he meant any deal to reform entitlements and cut spending must also increase taxes, especially on the rich. In the weeks after his reelection, the president might have been able to press a demoralized congressional GOP into agreeing to a large, multiyear budget framework along these lines.

That certainly would have been in his interests. Based on where things now stand, his presidency will be defined in part by the $7 trillion in debt he will run up during his time in office. A “grand bargain” on the budget at the beginning of his second term could have fundamentally altered the legacy of his budgetary performance in office, turning what is sure to be viewed as a rather large failure into perhaps a modest achievement. Moreover, a multiyear budget deal would have taken fiscal issues, including the sequester the administration despises, off the table for the remaining years of the president’s time in office, freeing up his administration to press for agenda items he clearly is more passionate about. But for some unfathomable reason, the president decided to pursue a different strategic approach. Instead of moving quickly to do what was necessary to create the conditions for a budget deal, he chose instead to pursue a two-part strategy on taxes and spending. That was a huge mistake. Read more ..

The Race For EVs

Better Place is Dead, the Electric Car Isn't

June 8th 2013

Gal Luft

The bankruptcy of the electric car company Better Place is a major setback for the growing community of electric vehicle enthusiasts. Since its establishment in 2007, the company projected the allure of a world changing enterprise which could transform not only the automotive business but the entire concept of personal mobility. Better Place offered its clients to bid farewell to the gas station by purchasing a package of electric miles just like one buys minutes from a cell phone provider. The company also committed to seed its markets -- Israel, Denmark, U.S., and Australia to name a few - with charging poles and battery switching stations where drivers could extend their driving range by replacing an empty battery with a fully charged one.

Better Place deserves high marks for messaging much to the credit of its charismatic founder Shai Agassi who was named one of Time Magazine’s 100 most influential people.  But when it comes to execution, the results were underwhelming. The company, which raised $850 million from its investors and lured French automaker Renault into manufacturing 150,000 dedicated cars, was able to sell less than one percent of this number. Worse, it failed to persuade other automakers to design and produce cars that fit its battery switching system. With only one car model in its offering there was very little chance to succeed.  

The Better Place bankruptcy is one of several recently failed electrification ventures including Fisker, Coda Automotive, and A123 Systems, some of them recipients of federal grants. But it would be wrong to draw the conclusion from those fiascos that the electrification of transportation is a hopeless, unworthy goal.  Better Place may be dead but the electric car is very much alive. Read more ..

Palestine on Edge

New Palestinian Prime Minister Is a Victory for Fatah

June 8th 2013

Rami Hamdallah-Prime-Minister

This week, Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas appointed academic Rami Hamdallah as prime minister, replacing internationally respected economist Salam Fayyad, who resigned in April. As a political outsider, Hamdallah lacks Fayyad's independent power base, so Abbas and the ruling Fatah Party will likely have greater control over his activities. Yet his low profile could also help him pursue his predecessor's economic and security initiatives with fewer political impediments.

Born in the West Bank city of Tulkarem in 1958, Hamdallah has served as president of al-Najah National University in Nablus since 1998. A linguist, he received his doctorate from Britain's University of Lancaster. Until now, he has not been involved in PA political life, though he once headed the Palestinian stock exchange and has served as secretary-general of the PA Central Elections Commission since 2005. Read more ..

Obama's Second Term

Susan Rice: Team Player

June 7th 2013

Susan Rice

Susan Rice, who President Barack Obama today named his new national security advisor, will do well in her new role. I am confident of that. She will of course face challenges, often on problems where there are no good or easy answers—starting with Syria and Iran. She will be helping a president who is leading a war-weary nation with a nearly trillion dollar deficit and numerous domestic woes that compete for his time and attention, as well as the country’s resources. And the partisan problems in Washington won’t make life any easier.

But in taking on all of this, Rice has a number of strengths. Some are well known—her experience at the United Nations, her expertise on handling Iran and North Korea sanctions issues there (and thus working with Europeans, Russians, Chinese, and others on such problems), her previous service in government. To me, however, one set of strengths stands out as a major and often underappreciated aspect of Rice’s character and personality—the ability to build and lead a team.

I saw this firsthand when Susan led then-Senator Obama’s foreign policy team in 2007 and 2008 during his first campaign for president. I was her colleague down the hall—but also a Hillary supporter, as well as a supporter of the surge in Iraq. So we were not by any stretch of the imagination aligned on all matters.

And that’s one of the reasons my admiration for her efforts grew by the month over that period. Even though Hillary was the juggernaut within the Democratic Party, and the presumed nominee, Susan helped create a network of top-notch foreign policy analysts and advisors to help a freshman senator prepare himself for a severe set of tests in taking on the former first lady and New York senator. Indeed, rather than try to run away from foreign policy, Obama decided to try to make it one of his strengths. I did not agree with him (or with Susan) on every issue, starting with the surge in Iraq. But they were very well prepared, well-disciplined in their messaging, and generally cogent in their worldview. After defeating Hillary, they then took on and defeated a great American, war hero, and extremely impressive senator, John McCain, in the general election. Read more ..

Obama and Israel

Obama's Plan to Make Israel Nervous

June 6th 2013

On June 5 it was revealed that that the current US ("I've got Israel's back") administration leaked to the media the specifications for the heretofore-secret US-Israel installation for Israel's Arrow 3 missiles. It was quickly called just another leak from an administration already reeling from leaks; someone apologized. But it was more likely a deliberate decision -- by someone. The constellation of players in the administration now contains a heavy contingent of those determined to bring "peace" to Israel. "Peace" is defined as the creation of the State of Palestine under whatever circumstances they can, and the operative question is how to bring Israel in line.

Leaking military secrets is actually the second step in the process -- first was Secretary of State Kerry last month positing the absurdity that because Israel is successful, democratic, and increasingly energy independent, Israelis don't care about peace. "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." Read more ..

The Election Edge

Here Come Rhonda, Rex Resentful

June 5th 2013

us voters

It’s never too early to try identifying the next big demographic that will play a significant role in the outcome of the next round of elections.
Think about archetypes from past elections, like soccer moms, NASCAR dads, waitress moms, office park dads, security moms and the ever-incendiary angry white men.

These creative demographics are likely to become even more important in future elections as big data and precise online targeting allow campaigns to home in on microtargets. My initial targeting for 2014 will be to focus on what I refer to as “The Resentfuls” — Rhonda and Rex Resentful (if you need cutesy) — the newly graduated couple that cannot find full-time jobs, has a combined $35,000 in student debt and is underwater on the town home Rhonda’s parents helped them buy with a downpayment. Rhonda and Rex are in a really, really bad place, and likely susceptible to political entreaties. Read more ..

Chile on Edge

Chilean Student Protests

June 4th 2013


Over the past few weeks, Chilean students in major cities, including Santiago, Valparaiso, Concepción, and Temuco, have returned to the streets in full force in order to protest recent changes implemented by the Education Ministry and demand “free education for all.” The dramatic protests, which began back in early April, highlight the extreme discontent in regards to Chile’s entire approach to the education sector. Chile has one of the most privatized education systems in the world, and frustration has reached a boiling point.

Chile first implemented drastic changes to its public school system during the rise of Augusto Pinochet, who overthrew the socialist administration of former President Salvador Allende in 1973. Under Pinochet, a neoliberal economic agenda was enacted in which large sectors of Chile’s economy were privatized. University funding declined, because the dictator viewed universities as potential sources of dissent, and schools were forced to raise tuition rates and cut the number of students accepted. In 1981, Pinochet enacted sweeping education reforms that called for greater autonomy to regional campuses and encouraged the establishment of private universities. Read more ..

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


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


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


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


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 ..

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