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The Defense Edge

Drastic Defense Cuts Will Undermine Diplomacy

April 9th 2013

Obama Pentagon

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

The Drug Wars

The Politics of Using Mycoherbicides to Control Illicit Drug Crops

April 9th 2013

Afghan Poppy Fields

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

North Korea's Nukes

Calling the North Korean Dictator's Bluff

April 8th 2013

North Korean rocket Apr 2012

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

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

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


Broken Government

Obama Running Out of Time to Burnish His Image

PBObama contemplative

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

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

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

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

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


The Economy on Edge

It's the Jobs, Stupid

April 7th 2013

Unemployed Claimants

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

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

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


Society on Edge

Defining 'Tolerance' According to Progressives

April 6th 2013

Armstrong Williams Headshot

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

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

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

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

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

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


The Israel-Turkey Edge

Turkey Gives Politics a Chance

Obama and Erdogan

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


Obama's Second Term

Obama Learns the Value of the Military Toolbox

April 5th 2013

B-2 Bomber

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

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

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


Broken Government

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

April 4th 2013

IRS building

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

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

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


The Darkest Edge

Applauding Connecticut’s Gun Control Legislation

April 4th 2013

Sandy Hook Shooting

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

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

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


The Iranian Threat

The Iran Sanctions Charade

April 3rd 2013

Iran centrifuges

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

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

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


America on Edge

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

April 3rd 2013

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

—“Okie from Muskogee,” Merle Haggard, 1969

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

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


America on Edge

Witnessing the End of the GOP as We Know It

April 2nd 2013

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

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


Obama and Israel

In Mideast, Obama Must Make a Move

April 1st 2013

Obama

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

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

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


Russia on Edge

Will Russia Take ‘Yes’ for an Answer?

March 31st 2013

THAAD Missile Intercept

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

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

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

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

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


GOP What Next

Post–Iraq War Lessons for the GOP

March 30th 2013

US troops in Iraq

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

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


India on Edge

Brahmanism in Manipur: A Perspective on Social Stigma

March 29th 2013

Dalit Woman in native dress

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

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


The Media on Edge

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

March 29th 2013

Israeli Flag being burned

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

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


Oil Addiction

Where Energy and Security Collide

March 29th 2013

Iranian oil port

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

 

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


Broken Healthcare

Healthy Choices for a Strong America

March 28th 2013

blood test

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

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

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


The Race for Natural Gas

America's Oil and Gas Revolution

March 27th 2013

Fracking gas well

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

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

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


Kandahar on Edge

Kandahar and Hope

March 27th 2013

Afghanistan Fighters

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

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

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


The War on Terror

America Faces Challenges in Combating Transnational Terrorist Threats

March 27th 2013

Guantanamo prisoner

The United States spends north of seven hundred billion dollars annually in the name of defense. No non-state actor let alone another state power comes close to parity with the United States armed forces. Given the preponderance of American military power most any military threat could be described as asymmetric. Perhaps there is no better manifestation of an asymmetric and yet still existentially threatening actor than that of transnational terrorism. At any place and at any time the transnational terrorist threat is real regardless of the dollar figure America spends on its military.

Examining the United States military and transnational terrorist organizations we find the relationship to be defined by asymmetry. How can the United States defend against the threat of terrorism when terrorist organizations often seem intangible and nebulous? It should be exceedingly simple to defend against a “lesser” enemy, but it is not, it is asymmetry that makes it more difficult. Asymmetry exists in multiple senses between the United States military and our terrorist enemy, in funding, relative capabilities, and of course tactics. Read more ..


Obama's Second Term

The Escalating Cost of Leading from Behind

March 26th 2013

Barack Obama in Thought

Leading from behind in Libya cost the lives of four Americans. That U.S. policy may end up costing many more than the reported 80,000-130,000 lives that have already been lost in Syria.

A basic misconception of the Arab/ Islamic world has for decades been ruling U.S. policy regarding the Middle East.

Perhaps the most dangerous error in judgment has been the U.S. tacit acceptance of the Assad regimes’ decades-long growing WMD arsenal.

The salafist terror group, Jabhat al-Nusra, an extension of al Qaeda in Iraq, joined the Syrian Sunni jihadist groups in January 2012. However, it took the State Department almost a year to designate the group as terrorist. Perhaps Obama’s repeated assertions that al Qaeda has been decimated as a result of killing bin Laden, slowed the designation. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

Syria's Meltdown Requires a U.S.-Led Response

March 25th 2013

Corpses in Homs

Two years after it began as a protest movement, the Syrian uprising has long since turned into a full-blown armed insurrection, with Sunni Arab rebel battalions fighting the Alawite regime while Kurdish factions show mixed hostility to both. Given the lack of a visible political solution, the reported use of chemical agents, the increasing spillover to and from neighboring countries, and the growing belief that Syria may already be a failed state, Washington must take a leading role in decisively dealing with the disease -- namely, the Assad regime's brutal assault on its citizens -- not just the humanitarian symptoms.

SYRIA'S MELTDOWN
The news from Syria is grimmer than ever, with over 70,000 people killed and over 130,000 either missing or held prisoner. The core of the conflict remains internal: Bashar al-Assad's attempt to shoot, bomb, missile, and perhaps even gas the population into submission. Unlike the 1979-1982 uprising, however, Syria's demographics are now much more skewed against the regime: in the ten years following the February 1982 Hama massacre, Syrians largely stayed home and procreated, making them one of the twenty fastest-growing populations on earth. Those born during that period constitute the majority of the forces currently fighting the regime. Read more ..


The Edge of Hate

Branding Facebook: Power and Impact

March 25th 2013

Click to select Image

When updating the Online Hate Prevention Institute's Facebook page to announce the new report into antisemitism on Facebook,  OHPI were automatically offered the option of making the announcement a promoted post in return for paying Facebook a fee. Given the importance of the announcement, we opted to pay the fee.

A short time late OHPI received notification from Facebook our ‘advertising’ had been rejected. They posted the rejection notice online along with information about the launch of the report. This rejection came just days after OHPI’s page was itself, for the first time, suspended by Facebook, presumably in order to be reviewed in response to complaints. While OHPI believe the systems involved can be improved, we also commend Facebook on their response. The page was restored within hours of being taken down for review. OHPI believes the suspension of a page under investigation, at least the first time it is reviewed, is the correct response. Read more ..


Inside Washington

Democrats Must Resist Republican Filibusters

March 24th 2013

Click to select Image

As a brazen political strategy to make Democrats’ 54-vote control of the Senate meaningless, the filibuster continues working to perfection for Senate Republicans. There is no reason for them to stop because Democrats, despite their majority, are afraid to use their powers to fix the broken rule.

But just as spring brings cherry blossoms to D.C., Democrats in the leadership are now showing budding signs of being willing to fight the GOP’s corrupt use of filibusters. At a forum hosted by the Wall Street Journal last Wednesday, Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin (Ill.) for the first time spoke with deep regret about having failed to back filibuster reform in January at the start of the new Congress. Read more ..


The Edge of Climate Change

Is the Climate the Biggest Threat?

March 23rd 2013

Rain

The commander of American forces in the Pacific, Admiral Samuel Locklear, told a Boston Globe reporter last week that the most serious long-term security threat to the Asia-Pacific region is climate change.

Locklear said in the interview that instability stemming from a warming planet “is probably the most likely thing that is going to happen . . . that will cripple the security environment, probably more likely than the other scenarios we all often talk about.” Apparently having faced some raised eyebrows in previous conversations on the matter, the admiral admitted that “People are surprised sometimes” to hear him say climate change is the biggest threat to peace in the Pacific.

He’s right on this account: Many would be surprised—or even shocked—to hear our senior warfighter in the Pacific say that. It’s likely that his listeners would expect him to talk about nuclear North Korea or China’s military build-up, cyber or space warfare or even the ongoing sovereignty disputes in the East and South China Seas, which involves some of our allies and friends. Read more ..


America and Venuzuela

Hugo Chavez and the Skewed Future Direction of U.S. Relations with Latin America

March 23rd 2013

Viva Chavez poster

The spirit of Hugo Chávez, in death as in life, has inspired a region-wide movement to overcome five centuries of rampant inequality and eliminate crippling poverty. At the same time, much of Latin America has witnessed an upturn of experiments in more participatory forms of democracy that extend the concept of human rights to include intrinsic social and economic benefits. There is a clear call for further equality as a greater good derived from public accessibility, rather than from private property.

Instead of seeking to subvert such rare periods of enlightenment, the Obama administration, which might have displayed an act of grandeur and generosity, ought to have engaged in an act of bonafide change and in a spirit of mutual respect. It is time to abandon a long history of ill-serving hemispheric policy driven by what has been called the Washington Consensus. Now is the moment to put aside the strategy of containment and subversion of democratic revolutions. Such an approach has fewer and fewer converts and belongs with the rubble the Berlin wall. Read more ..


Broken Healthcare

'Obamacare' May Make Coverage More Affordable For All

March 22nd 2013

Medical bag

Recently I was one of three witnesses to testify before a House committee hearing on whether the cost of health insurance will be higher or lower for people who cannot obtain it through their employer when important provisions of the Affordable Care Act go into effect in a few months.

I cited studies that indicate the overall cost of coverage — premiums plus out-of-pocket obligations — will be lower. The others on the panel — Douglas Holtz-Eakin, who was director of the Congressional Budget Office during the Bush Administration, and Christopher Carlson of the actuarial firm Oliver Wyman, cited their own studies that indicate costs could be higher for some young adults who have benefited over the years from the prevalent insurance industry practice of charging older people up to 10 times as much as they charge younger folks. Read more ..


Jordan on Edge

Saving Jordan's King Abdullah Must Be a U.S. Priority

March 22nd 2013

King Abdullah

When President Obama meets Jordan's King Abdullah on Friday, the agenda is likely to focus on the spillover from Syria's civil war (including 400,000 refugees on Jordanian soil) and efforts to jump-start the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Given recent developments in the kingdom, however, Mr. Obama would do well to make Jordanian domestic politics the centerpiece of the discussion.

Until recently, the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan -- perhaps Washington's best Arab ally and Israel's last remaining reliable peace partner -- had weathered the region's political turbulence. Lately the tense calm has given way to what could be a prolonged period of unrest.

For decades, analysts have predicted the imminent demise of the insolvent monarchy. When the Arab Spring began in 2011 Jordanians warily joined the movement, launching limited but persistent protests over corruption, political reform and economic stagnation. Then demonstrations spiked last year, spurred by a government decision to decrease oil and food subsidies. Read more ..


Cyprus on Edge

Moscow by the Sea

March 22nd 2013

Euro Bills

Cyprus's crisis may have been prevented had the Cypriot banks used the billions of dollars they laundered for the Russians to buy assets other than Greek sovereign bonds.

Good thing Cyprus Central Bank governor Panicos Demetriades did not lose his sense of humor; "In an interview with Russian business daily Vedomosti, [he] said the amount of Russian deposits in Cyprus was lower than previously thought, putting the figure at between €5bn and €10bn - "depending on how you count it".

The levy on Cyprus's depositors scheme was bound to fail as it has. The plan would have taken 9.9 percent of the deposits over 100,000 euros and 6.5 percent of lesser deposits.Cyprus's parliament has rejected the idea. The scheme was odious in that it would have allowed Cyprus to maintain its ability to attract offshore money it can't back if put in banks, Russia would continue to have a Cypriot laundromat. Read more ..


Broken Government

A Look at Cordray

March 21st 2013

richard cordray, cfpb-designate

Senate Republicans are on the brink of launching a filibuster against the nomination of Richard Cordray to lead the new consumer agency that will rouse the progressive base of America, inspire a chorus of demands to reform Senate filibuster rules and propel Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) to a national stature from the Senate reminiscent of Robert F. Kennedy.

Since his recess appointment to lead the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, it is universally agreed that Cordray has served beyond the call of duty by acting fairly, thoughtfully and honorably to protect consumers in ways respectful to business. But that is not enough for Republicans, who are punch-drunk by the power of obstructing presidential nominees to agencies and courts by abusing the rules of the Senate.

The GOP attack against consumer protection that would be embodied by a filibuster against Cordray is one more example of the abuse of democratic values and practices I wrote about in my column last week: “Scalia: Recuse or resign."

In the case of Cordray, the consumer agency was created after passing both houses of Congress and being signed by the president and enacted into law in the same manner as the Voting Rights Act and the McCain-Feingold campaign reform law. The Republican agenda in a Cordray filibuster would be to destroy the consumer agency itself and attack the financial well-being of consumers it protects by seeking to blackmail the Senate into rewriting the law by threatening — again — to abuse the filibuster rules. Read more ..


Obama and Israel

Five Things President Obama Can Do to Win Israel

March 21st 2013

Obama pointing finger at Netanyahu

As President Barack Obama begins his first official visit to Israel, here are five things he can do to make his trip worthwhile.

1. Reintroduce himself to the Israeli public.
This is the most important thing Obama needs to do during this trip. It will be a central aspect of this visit because the Israeli public has the impression that he doesn’t like them very much. In his first term they felt his coolness—he didn’t talk to them, he didn’t visit them, and he seemed to them to want to distance the United States from Israel in order to curry favor with the Arab world.

This is an unfair perception of him, but it is one that persists in Israel. Last Friday, a reputable poll in Ma'ariv (an Israeli Hebrew daily) showed that Obama has a 10 percent approval rating among the Israeli public. He doesn’t deserve that. And with such a low approval rating, he loses leverage on Bibi Netanyahu. An Israeli prime minister who confronts a popular American president will be punished politically by the Israeli public—but one who stands up to a president who is unpopular will actually go up in the polls, and that is precisely what has happened in the past four years. Read more ..


Obama and Israel

Peace Maker or Peace Breaker?

March 19th 2013

Obama pensive with flag

As President Barack Obama prepares for his first trip to Israel as president, no one doubts we will see a strong push to get both Israelis and Palestinians to the negotiating table. Yet, doves on both sides acknowledge it would take nothing short of a miracle to get down to the business of building a real peace.

Understanding the true barriers are key to predicting where the pressure to compromise will be coming from. Counter to popular belief, despite the significant demands put on Jerusalem by Washington over the past five years which resulted in a 10-month moratorium on settlement building, the core of the conflict is neither the settlements nor Jerusalem. A closer look at the situation on the ground will allow Obama to understand two major realities before he attempts to jump-start any peace process. The first is that the two-state model today is only applicable to Israel and the West Bank; there can be no contiguous Palestine State in West Bank and Gaza with Hamas in power in the latter territory. Read more ..


Broken Economy

A Weaker America Faces the Next Financial Crisis

March 18th 2013

Home Foreclosure

Earth got a taste of its planetary mortality last month, when the largest meteorite to strike in a century plowed into central Russia with the force of 33 Hiroshima atomic bombs. The celestial pyrotechnics showed that stuff happens, and you may be helpless even when you know it's coming.

Something similar can be said about economic crises. We can expect one roughly every 10 years. The S&L scandal came in the late 1980s, the Asian financial crisis in 1997-98, and of course the Great Recession starting in 2007-08. If such history is any guide, we're now just five years away from the next financial and/or equities crisis at most. It could come from the eurozone, from China's property asset bubble, or from America's own overheated stock market. Even if we dodge those bullets, the global economic track record is pretty good in pinpointing 2018 or so as a year to fear. Read more ..


America on Edge

The Cloudy Sunshine Week

March 17th 2013

File Folders

Announcing "Sunshine Week: In Celebration of Open Government," the administration's effort to highlight progress in improving the administration openness, particularly regading the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). 

The announcement reads:
"In our democracy, FOIA, which encourages accountability through transparency, is the most prominent expression of a profound national commitment to ensuring an open government."

It should be. Yet Americans requesting documents under FOIA are getting less information because of an executive order issued by the president on December 29, 2009. It allows the government to classify certain types of information related to national security after it has been requested. Presumably, since then anything-old or new-the government doesn't want out there can be made non-FOIAble.

It seems that this Sunshine Week was for Chinese, Russian and Iranian hackers to celebrate the open windows to our national secrets. The General Services Administration (GSA) warned U.S. government vendors earlier today that it has "recently identified a security vulnerability in the System for Award Management (SAM), which is part of the cross-government Integrated Award Environment (IAE) managed by GSA."   Read more ..


Broken Government

Scalia: Recuse or Resign

March 16th 2013

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia

Nothing is more important to “equal justice under law” than an unelected, life-tenured judiciary respecting the fact and appearance of impartiality in a system of separation of powers, checks and balances, and one person, one vote. With important electoral decisions involving repeat offenders against fair elections in Alabama and Texas pending before the Supreme Court, the court stands on the brink of a historic usurpation of power against the elected branches, while one justice, Antonin Scalia, conducts himself in a manner appropriate to a political speaker at a conservative meeting but not an impartial adjudicator of law.

In the 2010 Citizens United case, the Supreme Court virtually legalized the buying of elections by wealthy factions that the Founding Fathers warned us against in the Federalist Papers. Two justices voting with the majority — Scalia and Justice Clarence Thomas — engaged in discussions with interested conservative parties that, regardless of the topic of discussion, raise profound questions among large numbers of Americans about their impartiality. Read more ..


Iran's Nukes

Forget the Fatwa

March 16th 2013

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei

Iranian experts are set to meet their P5+1 counterparts in Istanbul next week to discuss the Islamic Republic's nuclear program. They are likely to reprise a long-standing claim: Iran will never build nuclear weapons, because Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has issued a fatwa banning "the bomb." (In fact, Khamenei restated his position on this matter just a few weeks ago.) They will explain that this fatwa is an important confidence-building measure that the P5+1 have yet to adequately acknowledge. But there is more to consider than what will likely be conveyed during these expert-level talks.

Khamenei has spoken on this topic numerous times in the past decade, and such oral pronouncements do indeed have the same legal standing as a written fatwa. Khamenei's precise formulation, however, has varied. He has at times appeared to tacitly permit the development and stockpiling of nuclear weapons, but not their use. On other occasions, he has categorically forbidden stockpiling and development, as well as the use of nuclear weapons. Read more ..


Obama and Israel

Israel has a Government, Mr. President

March 15th 2013

Obama

That's something to remember when you arrive there next week. Israel has a government, elected by its people in a free, fair, open and democratic election. Multiple parties representing widely divergent points of view met a wildly diverse electorate through free media and open debate. This is no stultified two-party affair with a libertarian insurgency.

Israel will be the only country you visit in the region, this time or any other, that has a fully democratic system. Do not be swayed by the "apartheid" slander. Citizens of Israel are Jews, Moslems, Christians, and Druze, each with religious and non-religious elements. Their background is Ethiopian, Russian, North and South American, European, and derived from every country of the Arab world plus Persia; watch Rita before you go. There are left and right-wingers, socialists and capitalists. (Surprise: some of the socialists are right wing and some of the capitalists are left wing, since left and right in Israel are not only economic values, but relate to land and security. Some of the security hawks are economic leftists.) Every single one of them has a vote -- and they use it. Read more ..



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