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Obama's Second Term

Questions the GOP Must Answer to Win

January 16th 2013

Lobbyist

It’s time for the Republican Party to squarely answer some questions with honesty and candor.

Let’s get right to it. The first question is whether we won or lost the last election. This might strike some readers as a weird question. Aren’t the votes all in and counted? Yes, but what votes are we counting? Too many Republicans won their own elections — for congressional or state office — thereby making the basis for a response ambiguous for “winning” Republicans. Let me be quick to say that I think we lost the election, falling to an embattled incumbent president and giving up ground in the war for congressional control. But because so many “leading Republicans” secured victory, it’s hard to get some heads around the notion of our defeat. Unless we acknowledge our collective defeat, we cannot get organized for real victory in the next round. Denying our loss hinders a probing assessment of what steps need to be taken to win next time. Too many incumbents in safe seats and states assume that more of the same will do. Read more ..


Broken Education

Teacher Bar Exams Would Be a Huge Mistake

January 15th 2013

Education - Child at Blackboard

Bill the engineer wants to become a teacher.

He has 10 years of experience working in the engineering division of Lockheed Martin, and he'd like to share some of his extensive knowledge with high school students in Northern Virginia, where he lives. He'd prefer to take a couple of hours each day to teach a class on physics or calculus, which would enable him to stay in his current job. Bill imagines that this part-time teaching job will give him the opportunity not just to teach, but to mentor local students aspiring to science careers.

So Bill goes to the principal of the local public high school with his proposal. Before we detail the vast array of statutes and regulations governing who is allowed to teach in public schools, let's pretend--for a moment--that those regulations don't exist. Just consider how, in an ideal world, the principal would react to Bill's offer.

First, the principal needs to verify that Bill can be an effective teacher. How might the principal do that? Perhaps require him to give practice presentations of difficult material. Then maybe Bill should shadow seasoned teachers for a period of time to get a feel for classroom management and lesson planning. When Bill does get his own classroom, the principal will want to check each year that his students are learning what they're supposed to learn. Read more ..


Broken Government

The Perils of Political Paralysis

January 15th 2013

Juan Williams 02

Americans have a lower opinion of Congress than they do of the NFL replacement refs, head lice, traffic jams, cockroaches and even the group to which yours truly belongs — Washington political pundits. We know this because of a Public Policy Polling survey released last week. America is in real trouble when the people prefer talking heads to lawmakers.

According to Gallup, Congress’s average job approval rating last year of 15 percent was the lowest in 38 years of polling. The terrible judgment against the institution comes just two months after the last election and before the new Congress has taken its seats. How did the country reach this level of rage against Congress?

The answer is simple: The frustration has been building over the past two years of the Republican House majority’s failure to deal with the major challenges facing the nation from tax reform, to easy access to guns, to immigration reforms. The 112th Congress passed only 220 laws, the lowest number enacted by any Congress. In 1948, when President Truman called the 80th Congress a “Do-Nothing” Congress, it had passed more than 900 laws.

The heart of the problem is the endless political polarization on Capitol Hill. Republicans believed that their job was not governing but blocking any idea coming from President Obama and the Democrats, and wiping out Democrats in the 2012 election. At this point, with the president reelected and Democrats having picked up seats in the House and Senate, we can point to that political strategy as another failure of the 112th Congress.

This horror show reached a low-point last month when Congress came frighteningly close to not passing a new farm bill, risking a cut in subsidies and a spike in food prices. A last-minute deal had to be made to avoid panic in the milk aisle. Read more ..


Iran's Nukes

Only the US Can Effectively End the Iranian Nuclear Threat

January 15th 2013

B-2 Bomber

With Iran stubbornly spinning its nuclear centrifuges, despite nearly a decade of diplomatic efforts and sanctions, time is short to avoid another Middle East conflict that could spin disastrously out of control, leave many dead, and send oil prices skyrocketing. But the U.S. can still resolve this combustible crisis by using much bigger carrots and sticks to convince Iran to change course before it’s too late.

Only a credible threat of devastating force against Iran will peacefully prevent a potential doomsday scenario from becoming reality, and only the US can deliver such a threat. Unlike the Israeli military, the overwhelming power of the US military can completely destroy — rather than merely delay — Iran’s nuclear program and Iran’s ability to retaliate. Unfortunately the signals of weakness out of Washington have only emboldened Iran.

Last August, Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, sent a dangerously counterproductive message to Iran when he said, referring to an Israeli strike on Iran’s nuclear program, “I don’t want to be complicit if they choose to do it.” According to reports last summer, the US used diplomatic back channels to ask Iran not to attack the US should Israel choose to strike unilaterally. Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

The Strange Arrest of Zaki al-Sakani

January 14th 2013

Click to select Image

Much of the Palestinian-Israeli Oslo "peace process" mythology is grounded in the idea that if "the Palestinians" were treated as a single, responsible partner, they would behave like one. If "the Palestinians" got enough foreign aid, they would spend it to alleviate the poverty of their people. If "the Palestinians" had status, territory, taxation, and educational authority, they would govern. If "the Palestinians" had elections, they would have a democracy. If "the Palestinians" had a "security force," they would "dismantle the terrorist infrastructure."

If only. The Palestinians are not a single political unit, nor even a single government. Hamas and Fatah, for all their recent talk of "unity" (including a meeting in Cairo), remain no more reconciled to one another than they do to Israel.

Consider the odd tale of Zaki al-Sakani; the poor guy only wanted to blow up people. Read more ..


Broken Healthcare

What Insurers Aren't Telling You Can be Bad for Your Health

January 14th 2013

File folders

The culprits in this case are health insurance companies that want to change ObamaCare so they can keep selling highly profitable junk insurance to young people and keep charging older folks so much in premiums they have little money left over for anything else.

What’s happening now is a repeat of the tactics insurers employed during the final weeks of the health care reform debate. Back then, they papered Washington with a flawed “study” warning that premiums would soar if lawmakers ignored their recommendations. And now insurers are once again disseminating a new study with similar predictions. This time they’re trying to convince us that coverage for all young adults will become unaffordable next year if Congress doesn’t gut an important consumer protection in the reform law. Read more ..


Venezuela on Edge

End Game Approaches for Chavez and the Future of Washington’s Ties to Caracas

January 13th 2013

Hugo Chavez infirm

Demonstrably one of the giant Latin American figures of this age, Hugo Chavez, has delegated a number of the responsibilities of his office to Vice President Nicolas Maduro and is, at this writing, fighting a battle with cancer in a hospital bed in Cuba, a country he frequently has turned to in moments of dire medical needs. In the past few weeks, as his medical condition has worsened, some elements of the opposition have called for Chavez to forfeit his office or urged that new elections should be staged if Chavez is unable to be sworn in by the official January 10th inauguration date. However, both the Attorney General, Cilia Flores, and even the opposition leader, Henrique Capriles, have argued that the inauguration date should be seen as a mere formality and may be postponed, though not indefinitely. In the meantime the country’s National Assembly has taken a sobering step of granting the ailing Chavez a leave of absence.

Dramatically different assessments of the nature of his impact on the region have already begun. Whatever form the debate over his legacy takes, it is beyond doubt that the Bolivarian Revolution has already transformed Venezuela and much of the hemisphere into a different kind of place than it was before the advent of the Hugo Chavez era. Here an attempt is being made to preface the inquiry into the Chavez legacy, which is still unfolding in its historical, political, international, and domestic contexts. Read more ..


Palestine on Edge

Abbas Reinstates a Radical Political Doctrine

January 13th 2013

Abbas UN

Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen), chairman of the Palestinian Authority and leader of the PLO and the Fatah movement, who lately has also been exalted with the title “president of the state of Palestine,” presented a radical political doctrine in his speech on January 4, 2013, honoring the anniversary of Fatah’s establishment. Abbas spoke by telephone from Ramallah to a crowd of thousands gathered in Gaza’s Al-Saraya Square.

Abbas’ speech is of great importance because he directly addresses the activists of the movement, who are the main prop of the Palestinian Authority, and the Palestinian people as a whole. The messages Abbas conveys in his speech to the nation express more than any other statement the political and national vision that he bequeaths to the Palestinian people, in terms of which he asks them to proceed. Read more ..


The Economy on Edge

Changing of Lagarde

January 12th 2013

Christine Lagarde

This week, the president of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso, declared the euro crisis over. On Jan. 7, he told reporters, "I think we can say that the existential threat against the euro has essentially been overcome." It was a shocking expression of denial, even for a member of the European policymaking establishment that has had its head in the sand since the beginning of the crisis. Fortunately, a new voice has emerged to disrupt the European echo chamber, that of International Monetary Fund chief Christine Lagarde.

Under Lagarde's refreshingly bold, imaginative, and courageous leadership, the IMF is at last proving to be an effective force in counterbalancing the excessive budget policy orthodoxy of the European Central Bank (ECB) and the European Commission (EC) in the search for ultimate solutions to the European economic crisis. She has delivered a desperately-needed reality check.

It's quite a turnaround. In the pre-Lagarde era, the IMF's record on Europe was nothing short of abysmal. In the run-up to the crisis, the IMF failed miserably in its oversight of the European economy, despite the fact that balance-of-payments problems were supposed to be its main area of expertise. Rather than sounding the alarm about outsized external current account deficits in the European periphery, the IMF bought into ECB President Jean Claude Trichet's now demonstrably mistaken view that balance-of-payments imbalances were of little concern in a monetary union with a single currency. That failure blinded the IMF to a crisis of epic proportions that still constitutes the most significant threat to the global economic recovery. Read more ..


The Iranian Threat

To Stop Iran, Get a New Saudi King

January 12th 2013

Saudi princes

On December 25, while many Americans were eating turkey or Chinese meals and otherwise distracted from the rest of the world, leaders of the Arab states of the Persian Gulf met in Manama, the capital of the island state of Bahrain, for their annual summit.

The meeting was scarcely noticed by American newspapers and other media, which is a pity. The countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) are on the frontline of one of the likely top news stories of 2013 -- Iran's nuclear program. And Saudi Arabia, the GCC's largest, richest and dominant member, is facing a succession crisis.

If the United States and the rest of the international community are ever going to succeed in persuading Tehran to stick to peaceful use of nuclear technology, Saudi Arabia is likely a crucial player. But, right now, Riyadh is increasingly politically incapacitated. The world's largest oil exporter and the self-declared leader of the Islamic world is almost rudderless. Read more ..


Venezuela on Edge

Some Reflections over Speculations on Venezuela's Future

January 11th 2013

Hugo Chavez

There is a great deal of speculation these days about the immediate political future after Chavez’ expected death.
Some analysts, like Amherst University professor Javier Corrales argue that regardless of what happens, the next government will have to deal with a serious problem left behind by Chavez.

This problem centers on the previous irrational approach to government spending in which money was used as an instrument of political influence domestically and abroad.  Government officials never worried or valuated whether these expenditures made sense or whether they were creating a huge deficit and debt.  Therefore, Corrales believes that the main challenge for Venezuelan leaders will be economic adjustment and that no successor will have the same level of largesse or fiscal irrationality as Chavez  had. Read more ..


Obama's Second Term

Where the Pressure Lies

January 11th 2013

Obama pointing finger at Netanyahu

The United States is about to get new secretaries of state and defense and a new director of Central Intelligence. It is devoutly to be hoped that they will not travel in the well-worn grooves of the Israel-Palestinian "peace process." The "two-state solution," beloved of the United States and the Quartet and accepted with qualifications by Israel, is dead. Far from dying over Israeli intransigence and even less the result of houses for Jewish people on the "wrong" side of an imaginary line, it foundered over concessions required of the Palestinians that were simply impossible for them. Mahmoud Abbas and Fatah were asked:

1) To concede sovereignty over their part of the larger Arab/Muslim patrimony to the Jews and -- perhaps more important -- to agree that Palestinian national aspirations would be forever satisfied with a split rump state squeezed in between a hostile Israel and a hostile Jordan; and

2) To concede that Palestinians who left the areas that became Israel in 1948 (and their descendants) would accept citizenship in the abovementioned rump state instead of having what they believe is their original property restored as promised. Read more ..


Afganistan on Edge

Karzai Visit a Time for Tough Talk on Security, Corruption

January 10th 2013

Obama - Karzai

Afghan President Hamid Karzai is meeting this week with President Obama in Washington amid increasing ambivalence in the United States about what to do about the war in Afghanistan.

Americans are tired of the war. Too much blood and treasure has been spent. The White House is grappling with troop numbers for 2013 and with the nature and scope of any U.S. mission after 2014. With the persisting corruption and poor governance of the Afghan government and Karzai's fear that the United States is preparing to abandon him, the relationship between Kabul and Washington has steadily deteriorated.

As the United States radically reduces its mission in Afghanistan, it will leave behind a stalled and perilous security situation and a likely severe economic downturn. Many Afghans expect a collapse into civil war, and few see their political system as legitimate. Read more ..


Edging Towards the Fiscal Cliff

Where Is the Urgency on the Debt Ceiling?

January 9th 2013

Congress-senate

The degree to which words can distort our view of reality is remarkable and ominous.  For some time, debate on public policy has been debased and misdirected by terms that bear little relation to reality. Exhibit 1 in this indictment is the term "entitlement crisis"; exhibit 2 is "fiscal cliff."

"Entitlement crisis" conjures up an "oh God, we have to do something" mentality that is appropriate to emergencies. In fact, the challenges of paying for Social Security and Medicare unfold slowly. In the case of health care, we are well on our way to solving them. The term, fiscal cliff, focused public attention on a non-event, the various legislative provisions expiring on January 1, 2013. But it obscured what threatens to become an economic and constitutional crisis of historical proportions, the potentially catastrophic deadlock over the debt ceiling.

Misplaced Urgency?
The simple fact is that there is no "entitlement crisis." "How can you say that?" you ask.  Everyone talks about it. Are they deluded?” The answer is “yes, if one is focusing on Social Security and Medicare, they are deluded.” Read more ..


Obama and Israel

President’s Nomination of Hagel May Encourage Iran’s Nuclear Ambitions

January 8th 2013

Iran Nuclear Equipment centrifuges

President Obama’s nomination of Chuck Hagel as Secretary of Defense risks increasing the likelihood that Iran will develop nuclear weapons.  It poses that risk because Hagel is well known for his opposition both to sanctions against Iran and to employing the military option if necessary.

These views are inconsistent with the very different views expressed by President Obama.  The President has emphasized on numerous occasions that he will never allow Iran to develop nuclear weapons and will use military force if necessary to prevent that “game changer.”

The nomination of Hagel thus sends a mixed message to the mullahs in Tehran, who will likely interpret it as a change from a red light to a yellow or green one when it comes to their desire to develop nuclear weapons.  Sending a mixed message at this point can increase the chances that Iran will miscalculate and act in a foolheartedly manner thus requiring the actual use of the military option—an eventuality that nobody wants.

Read more ..

Venezuela on Edge

What Do You Do when There is a Coup?

January 7th 2013

Hugo Chavez sick

How does a secretary of state decide whether and when to put the United States on record regarding what appears to be a coup -- the decision of a sitting ruler to remain in place in contravention of the terms of the country's constitution?

The Venezuelan Constitution is clear.

The oath of office has to be administered on 10 January before the National Assembly. If the president-elect "cannot be sworn in before the National Assembly [suggesting that the Assembly cannot meet, not that the President doesn't show up], he shall take the oath of office before the Supreme Tribunal of Justice." Article 231.

If the president is temporarily unavailable, the executive vice president can serve as president for up to 90 days, extendable by the National Assembly for another 90. "If the temporarily unavailability continues for more than 90 consecutive days, the National Assembly shall have the power to decide ... whether the unavailability to serve should be considered permanent." Article 234

"Permanent physical or mental disability [must be] certified by a medical board designated by the Supreme Tribunal of Justice with the approval of the National Assembly[.]" Article 233

"When an elected President becomes permanently unavailable to serve prior to his inauguration [emphasis added] a new election ... shall be held within 30 consecutive days," during which time the president of the National Assembly will serve as president. Article 233 Read more ..


The Arab Winter of Rage

A Prophecy Worthy of Recognition

January 7th 2013

Cairo Violence Dec 2012

Two and a half weeks before a Tunisian street vendor ignited a popular revolt in Tunisia that would sweep across North Africa and the Levant, Middle East expert and global strategist extraordinaire Walid Phares demonstrated why his penetrating insight and peerless foresight are so highly sought after by policymakers and national security officials both at home and abroad. In a guest piece that appeared in Steven Levingston's Washington Post blog, Political Bookworm on December 2, 2010, Phares reiterated the predictions he had logged several months earlier while writing the manuscript of The Coming Revolution: Struggle for Freedom in the Middle East, predictions that would become international front page headlines less than two weeks after the ink had dried on the first print run of his latest book. Read more ..


After the Holocaust

Bursting Taittinger's Bubble

January 7th 2013

Taittinger 2002

It took 50 years after the war ended for President Chirac to issue an apology for France's actions against the Jews during the Vichy government and the German occupation. As we are witnessing today, anti-Jewish sentiments have not disappeared. The current role of the French press in France's growing anti-Semitism is similar to the part that the French press played before and during World War II, especially newspapers that were controlled by Pierre Taittinger.

In 1943, in Le Journal de Saintes, the well-known champagne maker and hotelier called for "the creation of a new European order upon which France must work in close collaboration with Germany." At the same year, his papers celebrated both the 10th anniversary of Adolf Hitler's rise to power and Hitler's 54th birthday. His papers also carried advertisements proclaiming "Germany will prevail, France will, and Europe will unite through work," as well as "For a clean France rid of Jews and Freemasons." Read more ..


The Edge of Film

Senators Slam CIA For Allegedly Misleading Bin Laden Filmmakers

January 6th 2013

Zero Dark Thirty

Members of the U.S. Congress on Friday accused Central Intelligence Agency officials of providing misleading information to the makers of the Osama bin Laden raid motion picture "Zero Dark Thirty." The lawmakers allege that the CIA told movie director Kathryn Bigalow and her writers that harsh interrogation techniques helped counterterrorists in tracking down the iconic terrorist, according to a number of news organizations including the Miami Herald .

Scenes from Bigalow's thriller show waterboarding and similar techniques and insinuates they were important in the eventual locating of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan, where he was killed by Navy SEAL Team Six in May 2011. A Senate Intelligence Committee investigation into the CIA's detainee program asserts that the U.S. use of "torture" produced no useful intelligence, despite military, intelligence and law enforcement officials who've claimed waterboarding and threats of violence against suspects helped gain intelligence. Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

The Poisonous New Coalition

January 6th 2013

Twin Towers 9/11

In the decade since the attacks of 9/11, the United States and its allies have portrayed terrorism as primarily al Qaeda-centric. This, in turn, has led, logically, to a search for the origin of the terrorism aimed at us. Thus, after 9/11, many American analysts wondered, "Why do they hate us?" One top State Department official, in February 2002, was even tasked with producing commercials to convince Muslims that, "they do not have to kill us to get our attention."

The most common assumption is that the absence of a Palestinian state was the primary origin of terrorism. One top Pakistani, known as the "Father of the Taliban," explained that the "atrocity of terrorism" would stop "once solutions to Palestine are found." This is the widely held "grievance theory of terrorism."

This theory has unfortunately blinded us to the real import of the terrorism facing the West. An accurate explanation of the origin for this terrorism has been available for some time. Over a decade ago, the legendary head of the Northern Alliance, Ahmad Shah Massoud, leader of the primary force that defeated the Soviets in Afghanistan, said: "Al Qaeda...was just one element in a 'poisonous coalition'...that included Pakistani and Arab intelligence agencies; impoverished young students bused to their deaths as volunteer fighters from Pakistani religious schools; exiled Central Asian Islamic radicals; ... and wealthy sheikhs and preachers who jetted in from the Persian Gulf." Read more ..


Europe on Edge

The Demise of 'la Francophonie' in the European Union

January 6th 2013

Frenchmen in red berets at Eiffel Tower

Even while there are 22 official languages in the European Union, English has become the lingua franca there by default. This is true even though English was not among the languages of the founding of the European Union, which dates back to trade agreements enacted after the Second World War by Belgium, The Netherlands, Luxembourg, which were later joined by France and Germany. Since the EU headquarters is located in Belgium, the French language enjoyed some early preeminence since it is the majority language in Brussels, the Belgian capital.

The power of the French tradition of governance and administration, coupled with fact that EU located in the Franco-phone region of Belgium at the beginning of the EU, determined that official meetings were conducted in French. Even while officials came from non-Francophone countries, it was taken for granted that French was the working language. Read more ..


The New Egypt

Press Freedom in Egypt: Back to the Bad Old Days

January 6th 2013

Morsi

Cuba? Chavez’s Venezuela? Putin’s Russia? No, Mohammed Morsi’s Egypt. Here is the story from Al Jazeera: An Egyptian satirist who has made fun of President Mohamed Morsi on television will be investigated by prosecutors following an accusation that he undermined the leader’s standing, a judicial source has said. Bassem Youssef’s case will likely increase concerns over freedom of speech in the post-Hosni Mubarak era, especially when the country’s new constitution includes provisions criticised by rights activists for, among other things, said the source on Tuesday, forbidding insults. In a separate case, one of Egypt’s leading independent newspapers said it was being investigated by the prosecutor following a complaint from the presidency, which accused it of publishing false news. Read more ..


India's Darkest Edge

To Learn from the Delhi Gang Rape, Dig into the Roots of the Problem

January 5th 2013

India Rape Protest

As the Delhi rape murder focusses collective attention on violence against women, demands for drastic punishment abound. At the public rallies to express support for the young woman while she clung on to life, and then to honour her memory, many of the placards were direct: 'Mandatory death penalty', 'Hang the rapist', 'Hang the law” shoot all rapists'.

It's an unsurprising response to an act so beastly, and it's echoed by many politicians, from Sushma Swaraj to Jayalalithaa. Yet, for reasons not just moral but bitterly practical, it's a dangerous reaction too. If we really want to reduce the incidence of rape across India, we need to draw different lessons from last month's horrific end to a young girl's life” lessons which demand a far greater effort of us as a society and polity than passing a few new laws.

Read more ..

The Edge of the Cliff

The Cliff Is Dead, Long Live the Cliff

January 4th 2013

Cliff Face West Wales

Tuesday’s fiscal agreement defuses the fiscal cliff by deferring most tax hikes and pushing back the sequester.  A deal has been made, a financial crash avoided, and near-term growth prospects look rosier.  Markets have cheered news of the agreement.

Is such cheer warranted? That depends on what happens next.  By itself, the package raises little revenue, creates new cliffs, leaves hard choices for the future, and by separating revenue and spending debates may make the next showdown over the debt limit more difficult to resolve.  If subsequent agreements make sustained progress towards addressing our long-term fiscal challenges, this deal may be seen as a significant first step; if not, it’s further evidence of dysfunctional government.  Either way, uncertainty around fiscal policy seems here to stay.  The next key dates are end February, when the debt ceiling becomes binding, and March 27th, when funding for the government expires. Read more ..


America on Edge

More Leadership and Less Politics Needed in Immigration Debate

January 4th 2013

Stop the Raids immigration protest
Amnesty applicants.

With “fiscal cliff” drama coming to an close, new issues are set to take center stage in the 113th Congress. At the same time, both parties are still responding to the demographic changes in the country that gave President Obama a resounding victory. Democrats feel comfortable that Latinos, who came out strong for the party down ticket, will once again play a vital role in the 2014 midterm cycle. Republican leadership, likewise, is reexamining messaging and policy to ensure they remain competitive in national elections.

At the heart of this recalibration of both parties is immigration; the country is demanding common sense immigration reform that entails both genuine policy discussions and compromise. One can be sure there will be finger pointing from party leaders as the fiscal cliff negotiations evinced. Latinos, however, have a sharp warning to both parties: Do not play politics with immigration. Read more ..


The Media on Edge

Al Gore Sells Current TV to Al-Jazeera

January 3rd 2013

al-Jazeera

On the matters of quality television, Al Gore and Current TV, I think of the great movie line from Marlon Brando: "I could have been a contender.” Gore could have been. In the end, he was not.

We now learn that Gore and Co. sold Current TV to Al-Jazeera. Gore with Current TV could have made landmark television, but instead Gore treated Current TV as a cross between a hobby and a stock trade (buy low, sell high). What aired on Current TV was fine, though I must confess when I tuned in early Thursday to watch how Current TV today was playing the story of Current TV tomorrow, Current TV was airing a show about the death of punk rock star Sid Vicious, not the vicious treatment of Sandy victims by House Republicans, or the demise of Current TV as we know it. The latest movement of television from Al Gore to Al-Jazeera is a fitting occasion to reconsider the state of television today. Newton Minow, whom I interviewed for this column on the 50th anniversary of his famous speech, called television "the vast wasteland.” Edward R. Murrow warned that bad television could sink the medium to a useless box of wires and lights. Read more ..


Broken Healthcare

Healthcare Insurance Markets are Coming Soon

January 2nd 2013

Click to select Image

Online health-insurance exchange is coming to your state. How effective will it be? That is an increasingly important question in the United States. In June 2012, the Supreme Court upheld the legality of the country’s Affordable Care Act, passed by Congress and signed into law by President Barack Obama in 2010.

The program mandates private-sector health insurance for all citizens, and provides subsidies for those who otherwise could not afford it. Insurance-plan choices will be available through exchanges, or marketplaces; most people will be able to study plans and sign up for one online. As of December, nearly 20 states have elected to run exchanges themselves; the federal government will run the exchanges in other states. Read more ..


Broken Government

Government Regulators Were too Busy in 2012

January 2nd 2013

SEC

During 2012, virtually every aspect of American life was subjected to government meddling, ranging from how many calories you consumed to how efficient your dishwasher was. These rules affect us in a variety of ways. Most increase the cost of living, others hinder job creation and many erode our freedom.

Not all regulations are unwarranted, of course. But increasingly, the rules imposed upon us by the government have less to do with health and safety and more to do with lifestyle; substituting the judgment of bureaucrats for our own. Which are the worst? There is no objective standard to measure such things, but here is our own take on 2012's bottom 10. Read more ..


Oil Addiction

Don't Divest from Energy Stocks

January 2nd 2013

Oil well

In the mid-1980s, racial segregation in South Africa became one of the most heated issues on American college campuses. Student activists demanded that their universities divest themselves of stocks in companies doing business in South Africa. Quite a few complied, withdrawing their investments. South African President Nelson Mandela credited the divestment campaign with having helped turn the tide against apartheid.

Now, college students are once again at the vanguard of a national movement to force colleges and public pension funds to participate in a political cause, this time against global warming, by diverting all their endowment holdings away from large fossil-fuel companies.

What we have here is a divestiture target that's altogether different than apartheid, which was clearly evil. Indeed, the differences in the two campaigns could not be more distinct. In the current case, the burden of a war on fossil-fuel companies would fall disproportionately on those who can least afford higher energy costs. By driving cars and trucks off the road, older power plants out of business, and curtailing production of oil and natural gas, while mandating the use of costly "green" energy, the playing field would be rigged against the economically disadvantaged poor and the middle class. Read more ..


Oil Addiction

Time to Stop the EIB’s Carbon Subsidies

January 1st 2013

Oil Barrels

The European Investment Bank (EIB) is greener than it used to be – it now lends half its annual energy pot to energy efficiency and renewables. But it is still lending to coal projects. This is inconsistent with EU climate policies, and must stop now.

Some leading politicians, such as UK Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne, are arguing that, given the continuing economic crisis, we cannot afford to ‘go green’ at the moment. This is a serious mistake.  Climate change is not only an environmental problem; it is already causing death and want. A recent report on vulnerability to the effects of climate change found that climate change is already killing nearly 400,000 people annually world-wide each year. And it is already costing the global economy €930 billion each year. Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

America’s Failing Drone War in Yemen

January 1st 2013

 The General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper

In February, Eric Schmitt wrote in the New York Times about the Obama administration’s emerging Yemen strategy, whereby U.S. and Yemeni intelligence and military officials would “work together to kill or capture about two dozen of al Qaeda’s most dangerous operatives, who are focused on attacking America and its interests.” Like all previous objectives of America’s Long Third War of drone strikes, the scope of intended targets has expanded far beyond those two dozen individuals, who should have been killed at least nine times over by now.  According to the Long Wars Journal database, there have been forty U.S. airstrikes (drone or fixed-wing) in Yemen this year, up from ten in 2011. These have killed 223 people, an estimated 19 percent of them were civilians.

One of the Obama administration’s core principles of its counterterrorism policies is that the use of force should not radicalize populations, or increase recruits for terrorist organizations, in the countries where the United States drops bombs. As the State Department’s coordinator for counterterrorism, Daniel Benjamin, emphasized in 2010: “We are eager to ensure that whatever policies we pursue do not result in one terrorist being taken off the street while ten more are galvanized to take action.” Read more ..


Islam's War on Christians

Obama Accomodates Evil as Islamists Murder African Christians

January 1st 2013

Nigerians murdered in 2011 Islamist attack
Nigerian victims of 2011 Boko Haram terrorist attack.

We had warned that Boko Haram would continue its tradition of killing Nigerian Christians on Christmas day. Last week marked the third straight year that the terror group has murdered Nigerian Christians in the church on a Christmas day.

But the problem is worse than that. This year alone Boko Haram has killed almost 800 Nigerians, most of whom are Christians. In the last three years, over 3000 have been sent to tragic deaths. Victims also include people from several other countries.

The Nigerian President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan again over the weekend acknowledged his government's inability so far to quell the Boko Haram attacks. According to the Associated Press, Jonathan's remarks offer a glimpse into "the worried leader's mind as his weak government remains unable to stop attacks by the Boko Haram." Read more ..


Education On Edge

Is Federal Student Debt the Sequel to Housing?

January 1st 2013

Graduates

Back in March, we showed that the $1.4 trillion in U.S. direct federal student loans that will be outstanding by 2020 will amount to roughly 7.7% of the country’s gross debt. This is 6.3 percentage points higher than it would have been had the scheme not been nationalized in President Obama’s first term.

The government’s net debt was not directly affected by the move, as the government acquires assets when it issues student loans. The problem is that projected default rates on such loans have been climbing as the volume issued has increased, as shown in the graphic above.

If we apply the projected default rate on loans originated in 2009 to the amount of student loans outstanding in 2012, we find that defaults on federal student loans currently outstanding are likely to cost taxpayers almost $80 billion. And the cost is projected to increase rapidly over the next decade as default rates continue to rise and the amount of student debt the federal government owns soars. Read more ..


Islam's War on Christianity

The Carnage of Christians in 'Schedule 2' Countries

December 31st 2012

Coptic Girl

Author Lela Gilbert, a Christian who lived for years in Israel, spoke for many of Israel's supporters when she said she finds the international community's attacks on the Jewish State "puzzling, especially when atrocities are taking place every day in Syria" and elsewhere in the Middle East. In an interview in The Daily Caller, Gilbert doesn't discount anti-Semitism, but thinks some of it is also ideological. "Israel is categorized as a pariah state, a 'colonial' outpost in a post-colonial world, or an infidel trespasser in pan-Islamic utopia."

Or, perhaps, Israel is simply a "schedule one" country. In 1982, The Guardian (U.K.) ran an odd -- and currently timely -- short piece called "Carnage in Schedule Two," an adjunct to a story on Hafez Assad's massacre of Syrians in the Muslim Brotherhood stronghold of Hama. Read more ..


Obama and Israel

A Paradox of U.S. Middle East Policy: The Friend Who Acts like an Enemy is an Enemy

December 31st 2012

The expression, “With friends like you who needs enemies?” is an apt summary of a major problem for U.S. foreign policy during Obama’s second term.

Here’s the issue: a number of supposed allies of the United States don’t act as friends. In fact, they are major headaches, often subverting U.S. goals and interests. But to avoid conflict and, for Obama, to look successful to the domestic audience, Washington pretends that everything is fine.

Consider, for example, Pakistan. The United States has given billions of dollars to that country in exchange for supposedly helping keeping the lid on Afghanistan—and especially to ensure the Taliban does not return to power—and to fight terrorism, especially al-Qaida.

In reality, Pakistan supports the Taliban, wages a terrorist war on India, and hasn’t been all that helpful in fighting al-Qaida. It would be interesting to see the U.S. intelligence document evaluating how high up in Pakistan’s government was their knowledge that Usama bin Ladin was “hiding out” a few blocks from a Pakistani military complex. The fact that Pakistan threw into prison a local doctor whose work helped find bin Ladin indicates which side that regime is on.

Moreover, Pakistan’s regime is ferociously oppressing the Christian minority, becoming more Islamist, and giving women the usual treatment existing in such societies. Obama claims to be protecting women and religious minorities yet lifts not a finger in Pakistan. And rather than be a force against terrorism, the Pakistani government has been sponsoring a terrorist war against India. Read more ..


The Defense Edge

We Need Balance in Defense Cuts

December 31st 2012

Osprey

As the president and Speaker Boehner seek agreement to avoid the fiscal cliff, avoiding damaging across-the-board slashes in funding for defense is vital. The administration has already reduced defense expenditures by $500 billion over the next decade, cuts balanced in their application. The sequester would require additional and unbalanced cuts of an equal size. Even if applied selectively, that would severely damage national security.

In practical political terms, some budget reductions beyond those already adopted are certain. However, they must be applied in ways that pose the least risk to national security. We need to shrink force structure carefully, reduce or delay procurement of some weapons systems, streamline management and cut personnel costs. For example, we can reduce U.S. military forces in Europe. Their purpose is principally to reassure our NATO allies, especially those near Russia. Read more ..


The Way We Are

Who were the Remarkable Women of 2012?

December 30th 2012

Malala Yousafzai

Among the many compelling stories of 2012 have been those of remarkable women fighting for rights and opportunities—for themselves, their communities, and their countries. In this post I highlight several such women and their courageous struggles.

1. Malala Yousafzai and Sakena Yacoobi

Malala Yousafzai is the 15-year-old Pakistani student who inspired headlines around the world when she survived a Taliban assassination attempt in October. The reason for the attack? Malala’s advocacy of girls’ education. Now recovering from her injuries in the United Kingdom, Malala has become an international figure. Time made her runner-up for its Person of the Year. As the magazine wrote, the Taliban “wanted to silence her. Instead, they amplified her voice.” The question is how she will wield her formidable power in the future—in particular, whether she will try to return to Pakistan or exercise influence from abroad. Although the government recently launched a “Malala Fund for Girls” in conjunction with the UN, the fatwa against her announced last month by Pakistani extremists shows the danger she continues to face. She and her family will need to weigh carefully how they can stay safe while still making a difference for girls and women in Pakistan and around the world. Read more ..


Kosovo on Edge

"Privatizing" Kosovo--The Madeleine Albright Way

December 29th 2012

Kosovo

Properties were being offered for sale as if they were the holdings of politicians, rather than the resources of all Kosovo residents. The "Self Determination" representatives argued that Kosovo's leaders aim to drive down the value of state assets so that they may be expropriated and sold: "Privatization is the name behind which these officials hide."

The Balkan states of Albania and Kosovo are, without doubt, the most pro-American Muslim-majority countries in the world.

According to a new census including religious affiliation – the first since 1930 – Albania now counts 57% of its total population of 2.8 million as Muslim, down from 70% eighty-two years ago. Its Catholic population has remained stable at 10%, and Albanian citizens identifying themselves as Orthodox Christians have fallen from 20% in 1930 to about 7%. Although Kosovo does not tally figures for religious communities, the Muslim share of the population is thought to be larger, at around 80%. Both republics are secular.

Americans are beloved in Albania thanks to a significant history of Albanian immigration and success in America, and early contributions by Albanians in the U.S. to the national movement for freedom from the Ottoman Empire. At the end of November, the Albanian government of Prime Minister Sali Berisha was prepared to vote with the U.S. against a Palestinian observer seat in the United Nations, and, following unsuccessful pressure to vote "yes," from the Turkish Islamist prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Albania became the sole Muslim-majority UN member to abstain on the Palestinian issue. Read more ..


The Darkest Edge

Comprehensive Approach To End Gun Violence

December 29th 2012

Sandy Hook Shooting

Reacting to the shooting last week in Newtown, Conn., some Americans are calling for more gun control, including a ban on assault weapons.

However, before jumping to a solution, we should first define the problem. Just one week removed from the Sandy Hook attacks, the public still lacks a full understanding of the facts and an appreciation of the motivation that drove a 20-year-old to kill. The reasons for mass shootings are complex, and, most experts agree, cannot be addressed solely through gun control. The circumstances and motivation behind these types of killings require an examination of our mental-health regulations and practice, internal security at schools and the influence on young teens of violence in movies and videos, to name just a few of the contributing factors most often cited.

Many of my former colleagues in law enforcement have long supported further regulation of assault weapons. As attorney general, I worried over my agents confronting criminal organizations armed with such powerful weapons. I also worried over the safety of my younger brother, who served on the police force in Houston for over 20 years. Like millions of Americans, I own firearms. I have a right to protect and to provide for my family.  Read more ..


The Arab Winter of Rage

How to Use American Influence

December 28th 2012

Cairo embassy protest Sep 2012

Colonial powers – France, Britain, Belgium and Russia, in particular – believed there was no substitute for their own armies and officials to ensure that their colonies stayed in line. Instead of colonial occupation forces, the U.S. takes its money, arms, training and agenda abroad. It is a specifically American conceit that people in other countries and other societies want our social and governmental blueprint as well as our money, medicine and weapons.

As the Syrian civil war expands, a U.N. Commission of Inquiry finally determined that "The conflict has been overtly sectarian... government forces and its militias, dominated by Alawites, have been attacking Sunnis -- who are "broadly (but not uniformly)" backing the armed groups opposing President Bashar al-Assad's government. And anti-government armed groups have been targeting Alawites."

 

This is not news. It has, however, prompted another spasm of the belief that U.S. support for this side or that, this person or that, could have or would have produced in Syria a secular, moderate and tolerant revolution, led by those who would be America's friends. Read more ..



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