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Benghazigate

What Should Have Happened as Benghazi Unfolded

May 10th 2013

Amb Chris Stevens

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

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


The Defense Edge

Sequester is Here to Stay

May 9th 2013

StennisB

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

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

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


Broken Education

Students Need Better Information

May 8th 2013

Graduates

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

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

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


Education on Edge

Five Ways Teachers Can Use Technology to Help Students

May 7th 2013

Students

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

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

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


After the Holocaust

Orban Whitewashes Hungarian Anti-Semitism

May 7th 2013

Holocaust Tattoo

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

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


Privacy on Edge

How “Drone” Safety Rules can also Help Protect Privacy

May 6th 2013

MQ-1 Predator Drone

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

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


Privacy on Edge

Gas Tax on Milage Shatters Right to Privacy

May 5th 2013

Traffic Jam

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

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

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

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


The Battle for Syria

Bosnia Lends Clue To Syria Strategy

May 4th 2013

Bosnia mourner in cemetery

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

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


Obama's Second Term

The GOP's Obama Problem

May 3rd 2013

Obama with baseball bat

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

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

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


After the Holocaust

Survivors Languish as Claims Conference issues Unresolved

May 2nd 2013

Holocaust survivor

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

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


The Gender Edge

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

May 2nd 2013

Armstrong_Williams

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

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

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

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

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


The Way We Are

How Much Do Americans Care About Income Inequality?

May 1st 2013

American poverty

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

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


Obama on Edge

Liberals Should hold President Obama Accountable

May 1st 2013

Click to select Image

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

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

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


Broken Economy

In the Longer Run, the Short Run Matters

April 30th 2013

Unemployment Line in California

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

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


The Darkest Edge

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

April 29th 2013

Sandy Hook Shooting

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

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

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

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


Defense on Edge

Doing More with Zero

April 28th 2013

F-22s

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

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


The Economy on Edge

Atlanta Can Flourish in Global Economy

April 28th 2013

International Currency 2

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

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

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


Broken Government

RNC Needs Binders

April 27th 2013

romney buttons

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

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


The Boston Massacre

Boston’s “Knock-Off Jihadis”

April 26th 2013

Boston Massacre

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

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

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


The Way We Are

Anarchy and Hegemony

April 25th 2013

Occupy Wall St Oct 2011

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

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

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


Obama and Israel

The Secretary's Epiphany

April 24th 2013

Chuck Hagel

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

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


Inside America

Nurtring Black Entrepreneurship

April 23rd 2013

Armstrong Williams Headshot

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

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

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

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

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


Iran's Nukes

Shut that Window of Opportunity

April 23rd 2013

Iran Nuclear Equipment centrifuges

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

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


The Battle for Syria

Kerry Promises $123 million to Syrian Jihadists Fighting Assad

April 22nd 2013

Syrian Jihadis

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

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

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

Read more ..

Islam on Edge

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

April 22nd 2013

Egyptian hijabi

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

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

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

Consider the ongoing subjugation of women throughout the Middle East.

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


The Edge of Terrorism

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

April 21st 2013

FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force

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

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

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


The Edge of Terrorism

Al Qaeda is Probably Pleased with Boston Bombing

April 20th 2013

Bomb-Boston-Marathon

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

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


The Boston Massacre

All Terrorism is Connected

April 19th 2013

Boston Marathon Massacre

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

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


The Cyber Edge

Word to the Cyber Nervous

April 19th 2013

Smart phone

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

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

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

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


Obama's Second Term

Don't Raise or Eliminate the Cap

April 18th 2013

US Capital Day

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

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

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


Venezuela on Edge

Domestic and Geo-Political Challenges Will Continue in Venezuela

April 17th 2013

Nicolas Maduro

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

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

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


Obama's Second Term

On the Budget, Obama's Opening Bid Was Reasonable

April 17th 2013

PBObama contemplative

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

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


The North Korean Threat

Maybe Kerry's Mind is Too Open on North Korea

April 16th 2013

John Kerry

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

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


Venezuela on Edge

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

April 15th 2013

Chavez PDVSA

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

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


The North Korean Threat

Getting Kim Jong Un's Attention

April 14th 2013

Un-review troops

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

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


Broken Economy

Excessive Bank Equity Rules Would Slow the Economy

April 12th 2013

I Bailed Out a Bank

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

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


Vote 2016

Hillary ’16, Obama ’14

April 11th 2013

Hillary Clinton

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

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


The Battle for Syria

What Do We Want Done in Syria?

April 10th 2013

Syria fighting injured baby

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


The Way We Are

The Virtue of Tolerance

April 9th 2013

Armstrong_Williams

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

The Defense Edge

Drastic Defense Cuts Will Undermine Diplomacy

April 9th 2013

Obama Pentagon

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


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