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The Way We Are

Marriage: What It Is, Why It Matters, and the Consequences of Redefining It

March 13th 2013

Man With Ring

At the heart of the current debates about same-sex marriage are three crucial questions: What is marriage, why does marriage matter for public policy, and what would be the consequences of redefining marriage to exclude sexual complementarity?

Marriage exists to bring a man and a woman together as husband and wife to be father and mother to any children their union produces. It is based on the anthropological truth that men and women are different and complementary, the biological fact that reproduction depends on a man and a woman, and the social reality that children need both a mother and a father. Marriage predates government. It is the fundamental building block of all human civilization. Marriage has public purposes that transcend its private purposes. This is why 41 states, with good reason, affirm that marriage is between a man and a woman. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

Training Syrian Rebels to Conquer the Golan Heights and Shoot Down Israeli Aircraft

March 13th 2013

Syrian Rebels

No, they don't say it quite like that. But after years of hypocrisy, the Obama administration has admitted that while it declined to arm Syrian rebels directly for fear that weapons would end up in the hands of al-Qaeda forces, it has been quietly vetting and training anti-Assad forces while others provided weapons all around. Now the training is out in the open, and Secretary of State Kerry has pledged $60 million in "non-lethal aid" to the rebels. (Plus $250 million to Egypt, while Israel may take a hit of $150 million from sequestration -- makes you wonder.)

American assistance is supposed to go only to "moderate" rebels, but arms have been flowing freely, paid for by American "allies" Qatar and Saudi Arabia and moving through Turkey. Recently, a source with ties to Israeli intelligence claimed that a supply line has been running from Bosnian extremist groups, outside the control, influence, or even vision of the U.S. and its allies. Libya and al-Qaeda in Iraq have also been conduits for weapons to rebel militias, and last week, 48 Syrian government soldiers and officials were killed in Anbar Province, an al-Qaeda stronghold. Israel expects to see any and all weapons, including some of the estimated 15,000 surface-to-air missiles the U.S. admits "disappeared" from Libya, aimed in its direction. Read more ..


The Iranian Threat

Getting Carrier Out of the Gulf Good for U.S. Iran Policy

March 12th 2013

USS Harry S Truman

Unlikely as it may seem, one of the possible unintended benefits of sequestration may be the decision to cancel the departure of the aircraft carrier Harry S. Truman to the Arabian Gulf. The U.S. Navy has had a carrier in the gulf, on and off, for more than 20 years now, and it has maintained a nearly continuous presence there since 2010, while a second carrier in the Gulf of Oman supports operations in Afghanistan.

Conventional wisdom says the presence of an American aircraft carrier in the gulf deters Iranian adventurism or aggression. But consider the fact that a U.S. carrier has never once launched aircraft against Iran in anger, despite Tehran's role in the death of 19 U.S. airmen in the 1996 bombing of Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia; its support for Shiite "special groups" that killed hundreds of U.S. service members in Iraq during the past decade; and Tehran's plotting to assassinate the Saudi ambassador in Washington in 2011. Read more ..


The North Korean Threat

Ferocious, Weak and Crazy: The North Korean Strategy

March 12th 2013

North Korean rocket Apr 2012

North Korea's state-run media reported Sunday that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has ordered the country's top security officials to take "substantial and high-profile important state measures," which has been widely interpreted to mean that North Korea is planning its third nuclear test. Kim said the orders were retaliation for the U.S.-led push to tighten U.N. sanctions on Pyongyang following North Korea's missile test in October. A few days before Kim's statement emerged, the North Koreans said future tests would target the United States, which North Korea regards as its key adversary along with Washington's tool, South Korea.

North Korea has been using the threat of tests and the tests themselves as weapons against its neighbors and the United States for years. On the surface, threatening to test weapons does not appear particularly sensible. If the test fails, you look weak. If it succeeds, you look dangerous without actually having a deliverable weapon. And the closer you come to having a weapon, the more likely someone is to attack you so you don't succeed in actually getting one. Developing a weapon in absolute secret would seem to make more sense. When the weapon is ready, you display it, and you have something solid to threaten enemies with. Read more ..


Inside Washington

In Taking a Drone Stand, Paul Showed Use, Abuse of Filibuster

March 11th 2013

Juan Williams 02

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) created an Internet sensation last week with his 13-hour filibuster. In a rare alliance, anti-big government types in the Tea Party and left-wing, anti-authoritarians in Code Pink celebrated him as a principled hero daring to demand answers from the president on his controversial use of drones to kill people. What a misguided view. In fact, Sen. Paul’s grandstanding is the latest illustration of how the GOP’s abuse of filibusters is crippling the Senate.

The real hero in the Senate these days is Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) who is leading the fight to get the institution back on track by limiting the use of the filibuster. He is pressing for reform to once again allow 51 votes, a simple majority, to pass bills and confirm nominees.

The real problem with filibusters — and the one Sen. Merkley is fighting against — was on display last week when Senate Republicans silently filibustered the nomination of Caitlin J. Halligan to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. Halligan won 51 votes in support of allowing a simple, “majority wins” vote on her nomination. But it takes a super-majority of 60 votes to end a filibuster.

Halligan’s story is just one sad episode in a larger tragedy. The GOP minority in the Senate has used a quarter of all filibusters in history to block votes on President Obama’s nominees. Thirty-two judicial nominees are in the same limbo as Halligan due to abuse of filibuster rules.

In addition, several major agencies including Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, are being denied leadership as a result of the GOP blocking votes on nominees. And in recent weeks, the filibuster has been twisted to weaken Chuck Hagel, who survived a weeklong filibuster before winning confirmation as Defense secretary. The same threat was used against Jack Lew, the new secretary of the Treasury. Read more ..


Oil Addiction

Building Keystone Pipeline Will Cement US-Canada Relations

March 11th 2013

Energy

Canada and the United States are each other’s most important trading partners, sharing a 5,500-mile border and close ties in culture, language and values. We are vital allies and friends.

In 2010, our bilateral trade was close to $645 billion, which means more than $1.7 billion worth of goods and services cross the Canada-U.S. border every single day. Canada is the United States’s largest supplier of crude oil and refined products, natural gas, electricity and uranium. It is especially important to the U.S. that Canada has always been a reliable and secure energy supplier.

Today the Keystone XL oil pipeline offers a unique and promising opportunity for our two countries to deepen our partnership. The pipeline would carry heavy crude oil from oil sands formations in Alberta to refineries on the Gulf Coast. Last year, a bill I sponsored, the Protecting Investment in Oil Shale the Next Generation of Environmental, Energy, and Resource Security (Pioneers) Act, passed the House of Representatives. It would have required the president to greenlight the extension of the pipeline into the U.S. 

Just last week, the U.S. State Department released an environmental impact study finding that big-picture environmental concerns, such as those related to greenhouse gases and global warming, are irrelevant on grounds that Canada’s oil sands will eventually be developed and made into burnable fuel —not to mention the fact that transporting the oil sands by truck, rail or ship leaves a larger carbon footprint than a pipeline route. Read more ..


Over the Cliff

Payments to Elders Are Harming Our Future

March 10th 2013

People lined up for jobs

Foolish, indiscriminate and badly timed cuts in the federal budget have begun. The primary reason is that Republicans have refused to budge any further on taxes. Still, Democrats must share some of the blame. By failing to propose more specific cuts to entitlement spending, they have forfeited the high ground and allowed a small but critical set of programs to absorb all of the pain.

The “sequester” is just the latest chapter in the muddled thinking that has characterized the story of the federal budget for the past several years. Alarmists who call for immediate spending cuts and immediate reductions in our debt-to-GDP ratio (now at 73 percent) overstate the dangers of current levels of spending and debt, and they understate the damage to employment and economic growth that results from recently enacted belt-tightening. That tightening, including the effects of provisions enacted in both 2011 and 2013, is expected to halve the growth rate in the gross domestic product this year, according to the Congressional Budget Office. Read more ..


Broken Government

Droning on: Thoughts on the Rand Paul “Talking Filibuster”

March 10th 2013

Rand Paul

Sen. Rand Paul has just completed his nearly thirteen hour filibuster against John Brennan's nomination to head the CIA. Breaking off his filibuster (because, he inferred, he had to pee), Rand was heralded for bringing back the "talking filibuster." There was much written (and tweeted) about his filibuster, which began with Paul’s dramatic:

"I will speak until I can no longer speak…I will speak as long as it takes, until the alarm is sounded from coast to coast that our Constitution is important, that your rights to trial by jury are precious, that no American should be killed by a drone on American soil without first being charged with a crime, without first being found to be guilty by a court."

I thought I would add a few late-night thoughts in honor of this day spent with C-Span 2 humming in my ear.

First, I think Jon Bernstein’s reaction to the filibuster was right on the mark.  There’s been a lot of enthusiasm for the talking filibuster today, from Ezra Klein's "If more filibusters went like this, there’d be no reason to demand reform," to Josh Marshall’s, "This is a good example of why we should have the talking filibuster and just the talking filibuster." But Bernstein raises a critical point: "Today’s live filibuster shows again just how easy it is to hold the Senate floor for an extended period." The motivation of recent reformers has been to reduce filibustering by raising the costs of obstruction for the minority. Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

US Captures Al-Qaeda Senior Figure, But His Successors Roam Planet

March 9th 2013

Osama bin Laden

Earlier this week, Americans learned about the arrest and extradition to the US of Suleiman Abu Ghaith, a former al-Qaeda during the attacks on New York and Washington on 9/11. Abu Ghaith is also a son-in-law to the terrorist group’s late leader, Osama bin Laden. His arraignment on a series of counter-terrorism charges took place at the US District Court for the Southern District of New York. The indictment charged Abu Ghaith as an “associate of Bin Laden,” with participating in “a conspiracy to kill United States nationals, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 2332(b).”

Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI’s New York Field Office, George Venizelos lauded the arrest thus: "Suleiman Abu Ghaith held a key position in al-Qaeda, comparable to the consigliere in a mob family or propaganda minister in a totalitarian regime.” One might think Abu Ghaith was a postmodern Joseph Goebbels or Saddam Hussein’s “Baghdad Bob.” Read more ..


Iraq on Edge

America's Sectarian Problem

March 9th 2013

Car bomb and kid Baghdad 2012

February was a bloody month for Iraq. A wave of bombings directed at Iraqi Shi‘ites killed 200 and wounded more than 550. The attacks come against the backdrop of political stalemate and increasingly violent protests which many journalists and diplomats date to the arrest of (former Deputy Prime Minister) Rafi al-Issawi’s bodyguards on terrorism charges.

Rather than blame the terrorists, too many American and regional figures blame the Iraqi government. Writing in Commentary Magazine, for example, one civilian advisor to General David Petraeus’ inner circle wrote, “the situation is now becoming volatile because of the vendetta that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is pursuing against senior Sunni politicians.”  And in The Washington Post on February 8, two other military analysts placed blame solely on Iraq’s prime minister. Such aspersions are unjust, unfair, and unwise.

It is ironic that when it comes to the schism between Sunnis and Shi‘ites, the United States has become as sectarian as Saudi Arabia or Turkey. America’s sectarian approach to the Middle East, however, is bad for both the region and bad for the United States. Read more ..


Israel On Edge

Netanyahu Forced to Rethink His Coalition

March 8th 2013

Bibi Netanyahu with Glasses

Israel's next government will likely come together on a platform of increasing ultraorthodox burden sharing and, perhaps, more short-term flexibility on Palestinian negotiations, but tensions regarding final disposition of the West Bank could tear it apart down the road.

For the first time since Israel's January 22 election, the probable contours of a new government led by incumbent Binyamin Netanyahu are finally coming into view. This weekend, President Shimon Peres granted him the maximal two-week extension to shape a new coalition, moving the legal deadline to March 16. It now seems increasingly likely that Netanyahu's Likud Party will form a coalition with the election's two most significant success stories: the center-left Yesh Atid ("There Is a Future") Party of journalist Yair Lapid and the far-right Jewish Home Party of Naftali Bennett. Read more ..


Obama's Second Term

Obama Must Lead

March 8th 2013

Obama and Flag

With the jobless rate at nearly 8 percent and the real jobless rate nearly double that; with our national GDP between zero percent and 2 percent over the last two quarters; with Europe continuing its painful recession while continuing on a grotesquely ill-advised austerity push; with child homelessness and poverty at crushing levels, it was economic malpractice and financial stupidity for the president and Congress to raise payroll taxes and enact the sequester.

Tomorrow, new jobless numbers will be announced. If the headline number hits 8 percent, there will be an intense and sustained public reaction. If it doesn’t happen this Friday, it will soon. Harsh economic austerity at a time of slow growth and allowing wages to fall and high unemployment ignores every lesson of history and promises to continue the war against workers and further punish the lost generation of laborers. Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

Home Grown Terrorists Living Amongst Us

March 7th 2013

Armstrong_Williams

New reports are released every single day in Washington, but one that could prove to be of life or death importance was recently unveiled by The Henry Jackson Society, a bipartisan think tank headquartered in London.  Al-Qaeda in the United States: A Complete Analysis of Terrorism Offenses holds up a mirror to America and provides us with a clear but terrifying image.
 
The report itself is more than 700 pages, and is a painstaking and meticulous review of all 171 al-Qaeda or al-Qaeda inspired terrorists who were either killed during their attacks or convicted in court here in the United States. Authored by Research Fellow Robin Simcox, the value of the data as a means of protecting Americans is underscored by the fact that the foreword was penned by General Michael Hayden, who previously led both the CIA and the NSA. The excellent report challenges the post September 11 conventional wisdom of who we thought al-Qaeda terrorists were—and are. It reveals that the bulk of the terrorists here are not highly trained foreign nationals infiltrating our borders to attack us, but our neighbors next door.

More than half of the terrorists were American citizens. A shocking 82% of the terrorists killed or convicted were U.S. residents. Ninety-five percent were men and they lived in states from coast to coast and all across the heartland. The highest numbers came from New York, Florida, New Jersey, Virginia, Minnesota and California. Another remarkable data point is that 52% of the attackers were college educated and nearly 60% were either pursing their education or employed at the time of their arrest. These facts punch gaping holes in the false and self-defeating assertion that those who hate America are driven to do so because they are ignorant or downtrodden. Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

U.S. & FATF's Impotence Cultivates Terrorist Financing

March 7th 2013

International Currency 3

The Financial Action Task Force (FATF) meeting on
February 20-22 in Paris, that had approved the new money laundering and terror financing legislations and enforcement mechanisms of Turkey, Ghana and Venezuela, to name a few, demonstrates how ineffectual and biased are such decision. Turkey continues to trade with Iran and fund Hamas, Ghana is not about to stop its gold smuggling to Iran, and Venezuela's assistance to Iran and Hezbollah are unlikely to diminish.

In 1986 the U.S, government The U.S established money laundering as a federal crime, as an effort to control the revenues from the burgeoning illegal drug trade. Additional amendments in 1988, 1992, 1994 and 1998 have expanded the definitions of the crime, increasing monitoring and reporting and required government agencies to develop a national money laundering strategy.

But why are these called "money laundering strategies"? And why when calling any government agency that handles the problem, the response on the phone is always: "Money Laundering"...!? After all, the legislation is aimed at ANTI MONEY LAUNDERNIG and ANTI TERROR FINANCING, and that's how the offices that are mandated to monitor the implementation of the legislation should be identified. Perhaps then they'll do better enforcing their mandate to curb such crimes. Not surprisingly, the U.S. relaxed attitude is reflected in FATF's decisions. Read more ..


The Edge of Poverty

The Saudi-Chinese Shopping Spree that Leaves the Poor in the Dust

March 7th 2013

Chinese smoker

Over the past decade, Saudi Arabia's GDP more than tripled. China's increased by a factor of 6. In the same time frame, both countries reported between 3 and 5 percent unemployment annually. Or so they (and the World Bank) tell us.

These two countries are vested with incredible wealth, which they use not to invest in their subjects (known in the West as citizens), but mostly to buy financial and media institutions, sensitive technologies, natural resources, land and influence around the world. If the GDP numbers above are more or less accurate, the unemployment figures are a total deception.

Some Chinese economists claim the unemployment is at least double the official figure. But in October 2012, when China's population was estimated at 1.354.04 billion people, former International Monetary Fund economist Eswar Parsad stated that China's official unemployment rate "has no credibility at all." Read more ..


Venezuela on Edge

Death of Another Tyrant

March 6th 2013

Hugo Chavez

Finally, after weeks of speculation, the news is official: Hugo Chavez is dead. Venezuela’s Comandante, who kept an iron grip on power for 14 years, left this world, appropriately enough, on the 60th anniversary of Joseph Stalin’s death.

The similarities between the two dictators are compelling. Both Stalin and Chavez profoundly believed in a new, revolutionary morality that dispensed with such trifles as a free press and an independent judiciary. Even more pertinently, just as Stalin was, in his final months, obsessive to the point of paranoia about doctors in the pay of Zionism and Western imperialism poisoning him and his closest colleagues, so are Chavez’s cohorts. His appointed successor and vice president, Nicolas Maduro, ventured earlier today that the cancer which afflicted Chavez was somehow planted in his body–a suggestion the American government has already dismissed as “absurd.” Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

U.S. Aid Could End Up in the Hands of Syria's Jihadis

March 5th 2013

Rebel fighters

The new Secretary of State John Kerry has proposed $60 million in aid to the Syrian Opposition Council in order to provide basic services in areas they control as well as medical and food supplies for their military. This announcement was met with skepticism by some backers of the Syrian opposition affiliated with the secular forces and also by a number of military and Middle East experts.

Farid Ghadri, leader of the Syria Reform Party and a secular supporter of the Syrian opposition, has been arguing that "since the bulk of the opposition, the one recognized by the United States, is dominated by the Islamists the funds will be used by the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafists to ensure a political influence in the zones controlled by the rebels." Over the past few months, other opposition leaders, including former MP Ma'moun Homsi, who attended the opposition conferences in Turkey and Egypt and worked with the Muslim Brotherhood, told us "if Washington earmarks financial help strictly to the Brotherhood, they will get a Brotherhood dominated Syria after Assad." Read more ..


The New Egypt

Politicizing Security Sector Reform in Egypt

March 4th 2013

Cairo Violence Dec 2012

A couple of weeks ago, Egypt’s renowned intellectual Dr. Fahmy Howeidy summarized a study I conducted earlier on security sector reform (SSR) in Egypt. Howeidy was trying to highlight an important fact: the availability of the SSR “know-how” in Egypt, whether in this study or in others. What Dr. Howeidy probably did not know was that the study and other related initiatives were earlier submitted to several Egyptian officials. Interest in such studies/initiative was definitely there. Capacity to implement them is another story.

It is well-established by now that tourism, foreign direct investments, political stability, social justice, and probably the success of Egypt’s democratic transition, rest on the security conditions in the country. The two questions usually asked: is the security sector effective in containing real threats? And is that sector accountable to the people, represented by their elected civilians? So far, the answer in Egypt is probably a “no” to both questions. Read more ..


Broken Economy

The Ongoing and Hugely Risky Bailout of the Housing Market

March 3rd 2013

Home Foreclosure

After a long and wrenching plunge, the housing sector has finally bottomed out and seems to be recovering. According to the latest S&P/Case-Shiller index, home prices rose in nearly every metropolitan area during 2012 and turned in a solid gain of 7 percent nationally. Celebration would be premature, however. The human cost of the housing crash has been fearful. Trillions of dollars of household wealth have evaporated, 5 million people have lost their homes, and 22 percent of the remaining homeowners still have mortgages exceeding the value of their properties. With housing prices still 30 percent below their (admittedly unrealistic) 2006 peak, it will take average homeowners many years to rebuild the savings that their home equity once represented.

Even worse, the federal government’s response to the housing crisis is now becoming part of the problem. When the sector crashed, destroying the balance sheets of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the government had no choice but to take them over, at a net cost to the taxpayer (so far) of $141 billion—by far the costliest bailout in the Great Recession. Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

Hezbollah's Next Move

March 2nd 2013

Hezbollah rally

The escalating war between Assad's and the rebels' forces in Syria have dramatically increased the number of Iranian Revolutionary Guard and Hezbollah martyrs.  Dismayed, the Party of God's leader, Hassan Nasrallah, expressing his sorrow last week over the killing of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps' Quds Force's senior representative in Lebanon, Gen. Hassan Shateri. Nasrallah noted that Shateri was not the first Iranian to be killed in Syria while on a mission with Hezbollah. Their fighting along Assad's forces was noted last December, in the U.N. report on human rights violations committed by the groups fighting in Syria. Even the New Yorker magazine reported last week:"Hezbollah's direct involvement [in Syria] has led to new martyrs, who are buried privately and quickly." However, the scope and the exact number of Hezbollah casualties in Syriais unknown to outsiders. Read more ..


Catholicism on Edge

Will the Next Pope be an Anti-Semite?

March 1st 2013

Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga

Among those being considered to succeed Pope Benedict XVI is a notorious anti-Semite, Cardinal Andres Rodriguez Maradiaga of Honduras. His name has appeared on various media short lists and his photograph was featured, along with other possible candidates, on the front page of the Miami Herald. He was also under consideration the last time around, and his Latin American heritage is considered a plus this time. He is very charismatic and popular in his home country and was recently invited to speak to Latino Catholics in the United States.

To put it most simply, Rodriguez Maradiaga is an out and out Jew-hater. He has said that "the Jews" are to blame for the scandal surrounding the sexual misconduct of priests toward young parishioners! The Jews? How did Rodriguez Maradiaga ever come up with this hair-brained idea? Here is his "logic." He begins by asserting that the Vatican is anti-Israel and pro-Palestinian (as he says it should be). It follows, therefore, that "the Jews" had to get even with the Catholic Church, while at the same time deflecting attention away from Israeli injustices against the Palestinians. The Jews managed to do this by arranging for the media—which he says they control—to give disproportionate attention on the Vatican sex scandal. Read more ..


Edge of the Cliff

Sequestration's Devastating Effects Will Be Felt at Home and Abroad

February 28th 2013

Tank

Unless Congress and President Obama agree to change the current law, $42 billion in mandatory cuts to the U.S. defense budget will go into effect immediately. On March 27, an additional $6 billion in defense cuts from the Administration’s budget request will also go into effect. These reductions, which will be applied retroactively to this year's defense budget, do not apply to military personnel and overseas operations; therefore, they are to be taken out of only a portion of the defense budget including readiness funding and equipment acquisition. This will have devastating effects on current military operations. These cuts come in addition to the unprecedented $487 billion in defense cuts to be carried out over the next ten years as required by the Budget Control Act of 2011.

Outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has called this budget sequestration, a "meat ax" approach to budget cutting that will force the Administration to reexamine its entire national defense strategy, announced only one year ago. Not only would the half a trillion dollars in cuts over the next decade "hollow out the force," it would reduce the United States to a "second-rate power," Panetta said. Read more ..


Inside Judaism

The Pope is not the Only Cleric to Watch: Pay Attention to the Rabbinate, for it is the Heart of Israel’s Existence

February 27th 2013

Dovid Stav
Chief Rabbi Candidate Dovid Stav

Anyone following politics in Israel over the past few months, and especially the campaigns for Knesset mandates, saw the true face of Israel’s complicated internal predicament. To those outside of Israel’s daily life, its story is one of existentialism because of an ever-looming threat from seemingly trigger-happy neighbors. And not just Hamas in the south and Hizbullah in the north. There also is the nuclear threat posed by Iran, and whether Syria will launch attacks on Israel as a way of giving its rebellious citizens a different outlet for their anger.

If we accept the current world view of events, Israel is a country mired in a muck of its own making: an unwillingness to come to a peaceful coexistence with the hundreds of millions Arabs living alongside and within missile-shot of the small state. This is an absurd view, of course, but that is for another column to address. Read more ..


Russia and America

U.S. Policy on Russia for Obama’s Second Term

February 27th 2013

Putin

Since Vladimir Putin’s third inauguration as Russian president last May, U.S.–Russian relations have deteriorated sharply. Officials on both sides have moved past the “reset” honeymoon as disagreements over geopolitics and human rights abound.

Spanning two continents and with a veto on the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), Russia is uniquely positioned to play a prominent role in U.S. foreign policy. However, the United States needs a new course of action for the next four years to prevent Russia from negatively affecting U.S. interests across the globe.

Anti-Americanism
The current Russian ruling elite has not overcome the anti-Americanism imbued in their Soviet upbringing. State-controlled media and government officials openly perpetuate it. Russian politicians have sought a ban on American English “foreign words” in the media, have forbidden Russian nongovernmental organizations from taking U.S. donations, and banned Americans from adopting Russian orphans. Anti-Americanism is part of a concerted effort to secure the regime against dissent, counter Western influence, and undermine already brittle U.S.–Russian relations.

Strategic Disagreements
Differences over Syria and Iran continue to prevent strategic action on two of the world’s most pressing issues. Russia has not wavered in its support for Bashar al-Assad’s regime, vetoing any meaningful sanctions at the UNSC. While Russian officials do not support an Iranian pursuit of nuclear weapons, their selective commitment to the principle of noninterference in internal affairs of state causes resistance to potent sanctions and opposition to the potential use of force. High-level talks have not solved these issues, and as each one moves to a breaking point, Russia only hardens its resolve. Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

Why Bulgaria? Why Now?

February 27th 2013

Hezbollah

The announcement by Bulgaria that the airport bus bombing there last July was likely the handiwork of Hezbollah operatives now has European officials scrambling to decide what, if anything, to do about the fact that the group has now resumed executing attacks on European soil.

In the 1980s, Hezbollah carried out attacks across the continent, and since then it has used Europe as a near-abroad where it could conveniently raise money, procure weapons and provide logistical support for attacks to be carried out elsewhere. But the Bulgarian investigation raises as many questions as it answers. In particular, why would Hezbollah specifically choose to carry out an attack there? And why now?

While it kept up its relentless campaign of military and terrorist activities targeting Israel, and despite unabated tensions with the West, Hezbollah had not carried out a successful spectacular attack targeting Western interests beyond Israel since the 1996 Khobar Towers bombing in Saudi Arabia. Read more ..


Broken Government

A Bad Sequester Is Worlds Better Than No Budget Deal At All

February 26th 2013

US Capital Day

Barring an unexpected breakthrough agreement between the Democratic Senate and the Republican House, the federal budget will be subjected to a sequester which will reduce discretionary spending by about $86 billion in calendar 2013.

That $86 billion is only a bit more than 10 percent of the “fiscal cliff” that faced the country at the end of the year. It’s a painful cliff, but not a large one. The American Taxpayer Relief Act resolved most the cliff problem, but the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) says that the sequester will reduce short-term growth in an already slow economy. On the other hand, no sequester at all would mean an even greater reduction in long-term growth. 

The worst feature of the sequester is that it is the wrong way to reduce spending. The cuts are mandated across-the-board in most discretionary spending areas. The good programs will be cut along with the bad. The most hard-hit casualty will be the Defense Department (DOD). It can stand cuts, but they need to be carefully selected. The sequester does not select. The sequester meat-axe slices muscle along with the fat. Read more ..


Iran's Nukes

Iran Can't Agree to a Damn Thing

February 25th 2013

Iran centrifuges

During the chaotic days of Iran's Islamic revolution, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the country's emerging "supreme leader," assured Iranians that their supposed oppressor, the United States, would not be able to put the hated shah back on his throne. "America can't do a damn thing against us," he inveighed, a winning line that became the uprising's unofficial slogan. It's a catchphrase Iran has deployed time and again since, most recently in a taunting billboard along the Iran-Iraq border and in a banner hung in front of a captured American drone (though hilariously, in the latter case, the hapless banner-makers mistranslated the phrase as "America Can Do No Wrong").

Khomeini's slogan was true enough at the time: There wasn't much U.S. President Jimmy Carter could do to intervene in one of the most stunning uprisings in history. But today, when it comes to Iran's endless nuclear impasse with the West, one might turn the phrase back on the Iranians: The problem, in a nutshell, is that Iran can't agree to a damn thing. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

A Hard Rain is Going to Fall on Syria's Bashar al-Assad

February 25th 2013

syria-killing

Bashar Assad faces a hard reckoning. Not the one that comes from rebels battling for control of key Syrian assets, or the one that may come some day from charges of genocide at the International Criminal Court. The reckoning that comes from understanding that your key ally, Iran, has interests in your country other than you, and regional interests bigger than you.

Iran connects with a variety of countries and non-state actors to advance its worldwide interests; Assad's Syria is only part of the equation. Iran continues to supply the Syrian army and has military forces of its own there, but Iran is also moving to protect and preserve its Mediterranean proxy Hezbollah. Read more ..


Edge of the Cliff

Sequestration Impact on Defense Capabilities and National Security

February 25th 2013

USAF Desert Storm

The last four years seem now as the preamble to downgrade the U.S. intelligence and defense capabilities. While leading from behind on the world stage, the Obama administration is confidently emasculating the U.S. ability to protect its interests abroad and use force do defend the homeland. Apparently, the Administration does not consider the destabilization of the Middle East, or the Iranian and North Korean rapidly growing nuclear ability, and China's growing defense and attack capabilities as serious threats. Otherwise, the President would have not even suggested sequestration of our defense complex.

Along with the Defense sequester, there are other ominous signs regarding our retreat from sensible national security. First, there was the dismissal in December of Marine Gen. James Mattis as commander of Central Command, because the White House didn't like Mattis's efforts to change the strategic framework regarding Iran. Gen. Mattis thought we should be planning for what Iran is capable of doing -- such as closing the Strait of Hormuz, or attacking Israel-- instead of gambling that it lacks the teeth to match its bite with its loud bark. Read more ..


Healthcare on Edge

Drug Firms Say No to Rebates

February 24th 2013

Lots of Pills

If you watched President Obama’s State of the Union address last week, you might have missed the scheme he unveiled that will lead to the ruination of the Medicare prescription drug program, destroy pharmaceutical companies’ incentive to develop new life-saving medicines and even imperil our country’s economic growth. I know I missed it.

Fortunately, the top PR guy at the drug companies’ big trade association in Washington quickly issued a press release to clue us in on what the President is really up to and what will happen if he can follow through on his pledge to curtail Medicare spending by reducing “taxpayer subsidies to prescription drug companies.” Here’s what Matthew D. Bennett, senior vice president of communications and public affairs at Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), wrote within hours of the speech: Read more ..


Israel and Palestine

Hamas Terrorists Prepare a Greeting for Obama

February 23rd 2013

Hamas head

As Jonathan Halevi demonstrates, Hamas rules Gaza. And it is now ready to assume its role as the leader also of the Palestinians in the West Bank. Given its support by the Muslim Brotherhood, Iran, and Turkey, Qatar and UNRWA, Hamas is unlikely to face opposition it couldn't overtake.

Hamas, the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, won the PA 'Democratic" election in the 2006. While designated as a terrorist organization, the world community allowed Hamas to participate in the election under the name "List of Change and Reform." In June 2007, Hamas took control over the Gaza Strip from the PA. Since then, despite repeated promises to cut off funds to Hamas, international aid organizations and many countries have continued funneling money to Gaza, purportedly for humanitarian aid, but more recently to fund the "Gaza Administration." Hamas rule over Gaza does not seem to be an obstacle to funding it. Read more ..


Edge of Terrorism

Hamas Holds All the Cards in Rocket Launches from Gaza

February 23rd 2013

Hamas Rocket

Israel military's Operation Pillar of Defense in the Gaza Strip, which began on November 14, 2012, and ended on the 21st of that month with an unwritten ceasefire agreement between Israel and Hamas, has produced a new security reality, if transitory, in Israel's south.

According to data released by the Israel Security Agency (Shin Bet) and the Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center, since the ceasefire agreement (as of January 22, 2013), there has not been even one missile launching from the Gaza Strip toward Israel, and only a single report of a mortar shell being fired.

The reasons for this calm in the South can be attributed mainly to Hamas's interest to maximize its diplomatic gains from the ceasefire, by upgrading the status of the Gaza Strip, which it rules, to a legitimate political entity representing the Palestinians. According to the Hamas, the Prime Minister and the Parliament are working to strengthen the Gaza economy, [enforcing sharia in the name of democracy (latest example is that women students has to cover up completely)] while simultaneously developing Hamas's military capabilities in advance of future military conflicts. Read more ..


Edge of the Cliff

Blame Game Rages on Over Looming Sequester

February 22nd 2013

US Capital Day

We are just days away from a cataclysm of biblical proportions. The cuts foretold in the Budget Control Act of 2011 are young as far as prophecies go, but apparently they are every bit as terrifying as rivers of blood and plagues of locusts. Any day now we can expect White House spokesman Jay Carney to take to the podium and read a prepared statement: “And when he opened the seventh seal, there was a small decrease in the rate of increase in federal spending.”

The great game in Washington is who will get the blame for something both House Speaker John Boehner and President Obama agree will be calamitous for the country. It is an argument so idiotic, it could pass for seriousness only in Washington. The Republicans correctly note that the president proposed the sequester. In fact, back when the president believed that Republicans were more terrified of these automatic budget cuts than Democrats were, he pretended that he would veto any attempts to get rid of them that didn’t give him even more of the tax hikes he holds so dear. Now that Republicans have already agreed to a tax hike, they’ll be damned if they’ll raise them even more. Read more ..


The Edge of Immigration

U.S.–Mexico Border: Tighter Border Security Requires Mexico’s Cooperation

February 22nd 2013

US Border Patrol arrest

As the debate over immigration reform heats up, the topic of border security—especially on the southwest border with Mexico—looms larger. Washington policymakers ask: How many miles of fence, how many Border Patrol agents, how many billions of tax dollars will be enough to finally “secure” the border?

There is no easy answer. Airtight border security is more an abstract concept than a practical goal. It is difficult to envision a system of airport-like security or 100 percent “operational control” of 2,000 miles of often rugged and inhospitable terrain.

Ultimately, an effective border security policy requires a reliable security partner in Mexico. Thankfully, the objectives of Mexico’s new government are to engineer a more secure, more prosperous, and more rule-of-law-oriented future. Read more ..


Broken Borders

Let's Have More Immigrants, Not More Babies

February 21st 2013

Immigration Protest

Fertility has fallen in all advanced countries and will almost surely continue to fall in the future. In the United States, the fertility rate is now 1.93 children per women, a little below the replacement level of 2.1. It waxes and wanes with the state of the economy and other factors, but the long-term trend is pretty clear: women have fewer children as their own opportunities, along with their ability to control their reproductive destinies, expand.

Bear in mind that right now roughly a quarter of all childbearing in the U.S. is unintended. As women's employment opportunities continue to grow, as marriage rates continue to decline, and as the promise of newer and more effective long-acting contraceptives is realized, women will almost surely have even fewer children than they do today with some ,opting out of childbearing altogether. As one indicator of where we may be headed consider the data on the number of women who have remained childless by the age of 40-44. It was 18 percent in 2008, up from 10 percent in 1976, an increase of 80 percent. Should this be a concern? Read more ..


Broken Economy

Want a Stronger Economic Recovery? Encourage More Home Refinancing

February 21st 2013

Home Foreclosure

In last week’s State of the Union address, President Obama urged Congress to pass legislation that would help more homeowners refinance. Much of the policy focus in this area has been on proposals that would modify the government’s Home Affordable Refinance Program, which helps borrowers with loans insured by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac. However, other proposals would go further, such as one that is reportedly being developed to facilitate the refinancing of mortgage loans that are not backed by the government.

Finding ways to encourage refinancing is good policy. The Federal Reserve has done its part: Its asset purchase programs have helped to lower long-term interest rates to historically low levels. The interest rate on new 30-year fixed-rate mortgages is now around 3.5 percent, down from more than 6 percent prior to the financial crisis. Yet, many homeowners appear to have been blocked from refinancing into lower-rate mortgages. Indeed, data from the Commerce Department suggest that the average home mortgage has an interest rate of around 5 percent right now—much higher than the rate available on new loans. Read more ..


Edge of the Cliff

Defense Sequestration Targets Small Business

February 20th 2013

B-1 Bomber

Washington lawmakers have failed to reach a compromise over how to reduce the national debt, and the automatic budget cuts of the 2011 Budget Control Act are set to take force on January 2, 2013. These automatic cuts, known as sequestration, are inflexible, across-the-board cuts that were designed to be so harmful that no politician would ever let them occur. Unfortunately, the White House and Congress have yet to reach a deal that would prevent their implementation.

Sequestration is particularly harmful for national defense, as it would cut another half trillion from the military's budget on top of nearly $900 billion in cuts already under the Obama administration.

Contrary to public perception, most defense dollars today go to small and medium-sized businesses rather than large firms. In a recent letter to Ohio's congressional delegation, concerned small businesses wrote, "[b]etween two-thirds and three-quarters of defense industrial purchases go to smaller suppliers, and three-quarters of all defense related manufacturing jobs are at supply chain firms." This means the real harm of sequestration will fall disproportionately on small business owners and entrepreneurs. Read more ..


Broken Borders

Dispensing With a New 'Dagger' Against Immigration Reform

February 19th 2013

Juan Williams 02

There’s a new “Dagger” of an argument against immigration reform being heard on Capitol Hill and it needs to be dispensed with quickly.
But first some history: In 2007, the “Dagger” of an idea that killed President Bush’s effort at reforming the immigration system was lax border security. Talk radio fired up the opposition by claiming that the borders were so porous that reform was just a reward for people who had already broken the law and a magnet for others to follow them and illegally enter the U.S.

In 2013, that argument has lost its edge. There are a record number of border patrol agents in place, along with electronic surveillance and even walls to seal off the borders. Illegal border crossings are now so low that some estimate more people are leaving than arriving.

So opponents of reform have turned to a new argument to fire up the far-right talk show crowd, scare Tea Party politicians and block GOP support for reform. It goes like this: Immigrants, both legal and illegal, are “Takers” not “Makers.”

This latest “Dagger” aimed at killing reform is a pointed look at the cost of allowing the 11 million estimated illegal immigrants in the U.S. to have a pathway to citizenship. “When you legalize those who are in the country illegally, it costs taxpayers millions of dollars, costs American workers thousands of jobs and encourages more illegal immigration,” said U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith [R-Texas]. Or as one visitor to my Facebook page described illegal immigrants last week: They are “just more liberals leeches looking for handouts. Typical democRAT voters.” He also added: “Screw ‘em.” Read more ..


India and America

U.S. Should Back India’s Membership in APEC

February 17th 2013

Population Boom

It has been a bad half-decade for American foreign economic policy. The World Trade Organization’s (WTO) Doha round was mortally wounded in 2008. The last three bilateral trade agreements were stalled and then renegotiated. The next one is not even on the radar screen. While the 11-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and a possible agreement with the 27-nation European Union are potentially transformative, the trend suggests they could also fizzle.

In such an environment, the U.S. should worry a little less about short-term trade policy problems—there are plenty of those already—and more about long-term gains. With sustained free-market reforms, India offers a source of huge long-term economic gain. One step in a corresponding long-term approach to maximize this gain would be to invite India into the Asia–Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum. Read more ..


Venezuela on Edge

Revealing Photos of Venezuela's Hugo Chavez Emerge

February 16th 2013

Hugo chavez and daughters

At Chavista demonstrations in Caracas recently, images of Hugo Chavez juxtaposed with icons of Jesus Christ have been a common sight. In part, that’s because Venezuelans are a devoutly Catholic people, and Chavez’s health has been the subject of many prayers. But there is also a sinister messianism around Chavez, which his cohorts, none of whom remotely enjoy the same level of popularity as he does, have eagerly stoked.

Today, then, amounts to a resurrection of sorts. More than two months after disappearing from view, following his return to Havana to seek medical treatment for cancer, the Cuban regime released photos of Chavez lying in his hospital bed, flanked by his two smiling daughters, Rosa and Maria. Read more ..



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