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Obama's Second Term

It’s Called the Vietnam Syndrome, and It’s Back

January 25th 2013

John Kerry

It had never really left—what was widely referred to as the “Vietnam syndrome”--but it has now returned unmistakably, certain to exercise a major influence on American foreign policy during President Barack Obama’s second term in office. It is the belief, born of brutal experience during the Vietnam War, that never again will the United States gradually tiptoe into questionable wars without a clearcut objective, overwhelming military force, an endgame strategy and, most important, the support of Congress and the American people. In today’s world of terrorist threat and guerrilla war, the Vietnam syndrome means, if nothing else, a fundamental reluctance to commit American military power anywhere in the world, unless it is absolutely necessary to protect the national interests of the country. The Vietnam syndrome is a giant step away from hard-edged policies, such as President George W. Bush’s adventurous plunge into Iraq in 2003, and toward softer-edged policies, such as President Obama has pursued in his measured anti-Qaddafi approach to the Libyan revolution and his careful, arms-length-away attitude to the complicated mess in Syria. Read more ..

The Edeg fo Terrorism

Leading From Behind" and Al Qaeda's Spread

January 25th 2013

Rebel fighters

Hillary Clinton’s long-awaited Benghazi testimony has come and gone. As some wag said, the Secretary of State pitched a no-hitter in Congress.  The scandal is over, and truth no longer is of any real political consequence. But Clinton will be remembered for her combative sneer: "Was it because of a protest or was it because of guys out for a walk one night who decided they'd go kill some Americans? What difference, at this point, does it make?"

Of course, that statement will be interpreted by the major media as a fair response to her questioner, Rep. Ron Johnson (R. WI), for asking a “politically motivated” question.  What the question really was had to do with what intelligence the U.S. had prior to the event regarding the armed Islamists in Benghazi, and further, what the attack had to do with the administration’s policies toward Libya, as well as to the Arab Spring. It questions Obama’s “leading from behind” and the minimalistic and legalistic approach in dealing with rogue regimes, terrorists, Islamists, and the like. Read more ..

America on Edge

Civil Rights for All

January 24th 2013


As we mark the Second Inauguration of the first American black president, it is important to celebrate our successes in achieving the protection of civil rights for all people. But, sadly, this president has a terrible record on civil rights.

How about that contraception mandate? Millions and millions of Christians no longer have the right to exercise their religion, their First Amendment rights, thanks to this president.

After Obama got finished attacking the First Amendment, he’s now on to the Second Amendment. As Governor Mitt Romney predicted during his presidential campaign against this president, Obama might have more “flexibility” in a second term when it comes to deals with Russian dictators, but he will have less need for it when it comes to dealing with people in his own country who don’t happen to share his views. Governor Romney predicted correctly that, while Obama was accountable to the people, he would not go after people’s legal guns. But once he’s a lame duck—what a surprise—he attacks our Second Amendment rights.

​If he could find a way to strip away the Third Amendment, I’m sure he would. But that would involve supporting our military, which he’s too busy cutting. Not one of the president’s twenty-three proposals would have prevented the Newtown shooting, and just like welfare, just like redistributing wealth, just like every other liberal initiative, they do nothing to fix the problem. Their only purpose is to soothe the liberal conscience, to let them think that they are actually contributing something. Let’s take a look at a few of these proposals. Read more ..

Palestine on Edge

Palestinians are the First Victims of Their Own Reckless UN Bid

January 24th 2013

Click to select Image

When the Palestinian Authority (PA) obtained UN recognition as a nonmember observer state in November, many Israelis feared the consequences for Israel: After all, PA President Mahmoud Abbas stated openly that he sought recognition primarily "to pursue claims against Israel" in international forums. Those fears may yet prove justified. But so far, the biggest victim of Abbas's UN bid has been the PA itself.

The PA currently faces the worst financial crisis of its crisis-filled history. According to PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, it's in "extreme jeopardy," and on the "verge of being completely incapacitated." Its 150,000 employees have received only half their November salaries and nothing for December. It "owes local banks more than $1.3 billion and can't get more loans," the Associated Press reported. It "also owes hundreds of millions of dollars to private businesses, including suppliers to hospitals, some of whom have stopped doing business with the government." And it expects the poverty rate to double, to a whopping 50 percent of the total Palestinian population in the territories, if the crisis isn't resolved soon.

Israel on Edge

Changing the Guard in Israel

January 24th 2013

Binyamin Netanyahu and flag

Israel had a party on Election Day. The weather was beautiful and people went to the beach and the parks by the tens of thousands. They were in a very good mood. And why not? For all the gloom and doom about Israel, its neighbors and its neighborhood, Israel celebrated its place in the very exclusive club of free and vibrant democracies. There are multiple parties (including the Pirate Party) and a free press to air the issues and the candidates. Women vote, ultra-Orthodox Jews -- including ultra-Orthodox women -- vote, poor people and rich people vote, Arab citizens vote. The Arab League, which explicitly rejects the legitimacy of the State of Israel, encouraged Israeli Arabs to get out the vote, something they didn't do for the Saudi or Yemeni or Omani election. Oh, yeah, right -- Arabs in those countries don't get to vote; they have no elections.

The Google Doodle celebrated Israel at the polls.

The votes haven't all been tallied, but a few things are clear about Israel and its electorate.

Nearly 70% of Israelis voted. Remember, this is a country in which there is no early voting and there are virtually NO absentee ballots. (Diplomats stationed abroad and members of Israel's Merchant Marine only.) If you want to vote, you go to the polls on Election Day. And they did. Read more ..

Inside Israel

Possible Election Upset Signals Change in the Wind for Israel

January 23rd 2013

Yair Lapid

Yair Lapid the new prime minister? What seemed absurd two days ago is now a remote possibility. There is the chance that Israel's president, Shimon Peres, might turn to the former television journalist to form the next governing coalition. His Yesh Atid party garnered 19 votes in Tuesday's election, making him not only a kingmaker, but perhaps a king himself.

Lapid's stunning success is symbolic of the election at large. From out of nowhere, the center-left candidate drew votes from all sectors of Israeli society. A party that did not even exist two years ago will now play a leading role in forming the next government.

Israelis voted for change, electing a stunning 53 new members to Knesset. While Naftali Bennett and Habayit Hayehudi did not perform as well as some had expected, his party nonetheless increased its representation by 400 percent from the last Knesset. Tzipi Livni's Hatnua party -- also a newly formed party -- won six seats, while Meretz also doubled its mandates from the last Knesset.

In that context, Binyamin Netanyahu, Israel's prime minister, may be the biggest loser of all. Surely, he expected to increase his power through the polls, not lose seats. And yet, Israelis told Netanyahu they wanted more. They want a greater effort in making Israel an affordable place to live and they want more in sharing Israel's national service burden. They perhaps even want more in terms of security and diplomacy. In which direction -- left or right -- is unclear at this juncture. Read more ..

The New Egypt

What did Obama know about Egypt's President Morsi and When did He know It?

January 22nd 2013


For days now, the twittersphere and even the mainstream media have been agog at the anti-Semitism spewing in a now-viral video by Mohammed Morsi in 2010 when he was head of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. He called President Obama a liar as well, but the administration is doing its best not to let it matter.

It's not as if they didn't know. The Muslim Brotherhood is more than 80 years old and is organized around anti-Israel, anti-Christian and anti-Semitic claptrap. It also does not hide its anti-Western, anti-imperialist rhetoric that shares the stage with an interpretation of Islam that is homophobic and misogynistic.

Last summer, the Brotherhood's leader, Mohammed Badie, accused Jews of corrupting the world and slaughtering Palestinians. Essem al Erian, Vice President of the Brotherhood's political party, last month invited Jews to return to Egypt -- not because he likes them, but, as he said, "Why stay in a racist entity, an occupation, and be tainted with war crimes that will be punished? All occupation leaders will be punished." The "Zionist project," he added, will end. Read more ..

Obama's Second Term

GOP'S Latest Gimmick

January 22nd 2013

John Boehner

Congressional Republicans are getting credit for temporarily abandoning their insistence on holding America’s economy hostage, but their latest proposal is more shrewd politics borne out of political necessity than serious policy. Americans haven’t been buying the GOP spin that it’s OK not to pay our bills, like a deadbeat, shutting down the government and potentially endangering the global economy in order to force cuts to programs like Social Security and Medicare while protecting corporate welfare in the form of tax cuts for oil companies.

As the latest NBC news/Wall Street Journal poll indicated, 49 percent of Americans view the GOP negatively, compared to only 26 percent positively; additionally, a plurality says it will blame the GOP if talks fail. According to the latest CBS News/New York Times poll, 47 percent of Americans blame congressional Republicans for the difficulties of the “fiscal cliff” deal than they do President Obama (31 percent); only 30 percent of Republicans approve of the job congressional Republicans are doing, with 65 percent opposed, versus 59 percent of Democrats who approve of the job of congressional Democrats are doing, with 31 percent opposed. Pressure has mounted on the GOP as concerns about America defaulting on its debt have raised growing concerns from Wall Street to Main Street. Read more ..

Obama's Second Term

Not a 'Nation of Takers,' Mr. President? Check the Numbers

January 22nd 2013


It is official: America is *not* a nation of takers. How do we know? Because the president of the United States just said so. President Obama used the occasion of his second inaugural address to take on the question of moral hazard emanating from our burgeoning entitlement state. In his estimate, there is no such risk — or at least none worth mentioning.

Here is the inaugural passage in question: "We recognize that no matter how responsibly we live our lives, any one of us, at any time, may face a job loss, or a sudden illness, or a home swept away in a terrible storm. The commitments we make to each other — through Medicare, and Medicaid, and Social Security — these things do not sap our initiative; they strengthen us. They do not make us a nation of takers; they free us to take the risks that make this country great." [emphasis added]

With these words, the president 1) made it clear he is aware many Americans are troubled by the seemingly relentless expansion of government entitlement benefits, and) 2 also made it clear that he totally dismisses their concerns. Read more ..

Broken Healthcare

Differing Notions of 'Affordability'

January 22nd 2013

medicine and money

For the first time in a long time, my former insurance colleagues and I agree on something: it’s time for affordability.

Health insurers’ big PR and lobbying group, America’s Health Insurance Plans, has launched a slick new campaign, complete with compelling graphics and pithy sound bites, to persuade lawmakers that they need to take immediate action to prevent insurance premiums from going up more than usual.

But while we agree that lawmakers do indeed need to focus on affordability, we disagree on what they should do. Insurance executives want Congress to get rid of some of the most important consumer protections in the Affordable Care Act, a.k.a. ObamaCare. I believe it’s time to focus on the value—or lack thereof—that private health insurance companies actually add to our health care system.

Several years ago, a co-worker asked our CEO during a staff meeting what kept him up at night. He responded with a single word: disintermediation.

Merriam-Webster defines disintermediation as “the elimination of an intermediary in a transaction between two parties.” So what my boss was saying was that sooner or later, Americans might reach the conclusion that private insurers are no more essential than travel agents (remember them?), and that by dispatching health insurers to the history books, we could reduce spending on health care by billions if not trillions of dollars. Read more ..

Israel and Palestine

Murdered Diplomacy: How the Israel-Palastinian Conflict Has Been Totally Transformed

January 21st 2013

Abbas UN

If the Israel-Palestinian situation were to be considered to be like a hand grenade, the "international community" has just pulled the pin and thrown it away. Or, to put it another way, it has just taken a sledgehammer to two decades of fragile diplomacy and smashed all the diplomatic options to bits.

Even though almost nobody in the West recognizes it yet absolutely everything about the Israel-Palestinian conflict has changed. Or at least everything from the material realities which leaves Israel still stronger, in possession of part of the West Bank, and with the ability to act as needed to defend its security. But any talk of Israel-Palestinian negotiations, peace process activity, compromise diplomacy, and all that stuff is meaningless now and here's why: Read more ..

The Iranian Threat

Obama Should Offer Iran a Generous Deal

January 21st 2013

Iranian clerics

The main issue regarding Iran is what nuclear offer to make. While most attention has focused on how to step up pressure on Tehran, the bigger sticks should be matched with juicier carrots, in a change from the past strategy of focusing on small confidence-building measures while leaving vague the end game. Neither Iranian leaders nor public opinion -- in Iran or around the world -- has been impressed by the very modest incentives offered Iran during the 2012 Baghdad talks. The "refreshed" offer that the big powers known as the P5+1 (Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia, and the U.S.) are said to have agreed to is not much more generous. Not surprisingly, the reaction has been: Why should Iran make a deal if that is all it gets? Iran has insisted on two benefits from a deal: sanctions relief and nuclear enrichment. An agreement is more likely if these issues are addressed with a generous offer. Surprisingly, the sanctions relief may be harder to do than nuclear enrichment. Read more ..

Obama's Second Term

Young People After Four Years of President Obama

January 20th 2013


On Monday, young people across the country will watch, cheer and tweet as they celebrate the inauguration of the man they helped reelect president of the United States. The enthusiasm will be reminiscent of the excitement four years ago when President Obama was sworn in as the 44th president.

Only this time, we know what young people get after four years of Obama's policies. He no longer has the luxury of being judged just on the promise of hope and change. After four years of Obama, young people now face high unemployment and underemployment, increased health care costs and most recently, less take home pay compared to last year due to higher payroll taxes.

Obama's policies have weakened our economy, and the opportunities for graduating seniors are not getting better. Ask today's college senior who voted for Obama in 2008 how strong their job prospects are, and their answer will be virtually unchanged to a college senior's answer four years ago-not strong at all. Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

Syria On The Verge Of Massacre: The World Must Intervene

January 19th 2013


Inspired by the democratic movements all across the Greater Middle East region, known as the “Arab Spring,” the Syrians, though cautiously at the beginning, took to the streets demanding further political and social reforms and greater freedoms. Launched in March 2011, the Syrian uprising was a first major sign of popular resentment against the authoritarian Ba’ath party rule since the bloody clampdown on a revolt back in 1982 in Hama.
With the escalation of the civil casualties turning into a human tragedy of the uprising, few countries and organizations, including Russia, Iran and its proxy Hezbollah, could afford to remain indifferent in what was happening inside Syria. Even Tehran’s mercenaries such as Hamas sided with the Syrian opposition. Having nothing to lose itself, Iran burned the credit of its ally Hezbollah – gained after Israeli forces retreated from southern Lebanon and strengthened by the 33-day war with Israel in 2006 – and severely damaged the reputation and popularity of the so-called resistance front.

Edge of the Fiscal Cliff

Republicans Will Face Peril If They Hold Debt Ceiling Hostage

January 18th 2013

Cliff Face West Wales

There appears to be a certain quality of self-immolation to the way the Republicans in Congress are approaching their legitimate effort to get the country’s — and the president’s — attention on the need to cut spending so we can reduce our massive debt and deficits.
One gets the feeling that many members of the party see political martyrdom as a means to progress on the honorable purpose of seeking fiscal responsibility. Unfortunately, the course they are considering will lead to little progress, a great number of self-inflicted wounds and a lot of glee on the other side of the aisle. The “fiscal cliff” experience should have shown the House Republicans that taking a hostage you cannot shoot is not a good tactic.

In the fiscal-cliff drama, it led to the opposite result from what Republicans wanted. They ended up having to pass a bill that did not cut spending and raised taxes. They ran themselves up a boxed canyon, being chased by the likes of Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and David Axelrod. It was a bad day. Read more ..

The Iranian Threat

Iran Has Plans for America

January 18th 2013

Iranian clerics

The Iranian mullahs are rolling the Obama administration, just as they have rolled every White House since 1979. Media reports of deals and imminent meetings with Tehran are bogus — covert meetings between Iran and the U.S. have been held for years and are being held right now. A man who was in those meetings during the Reagan years, Dr. Michael Ledeen, gives us unreported news of secret White House hostage negotiations with Iran — and in Syria, no less! But today’s story is what Iran has in store for us, and that story is bad news indeed.

Reza Khalili, a former Iranian CIA spy, maintains contacts with high-level sources in Iran. He reports that Tehran plans to spark terror attacks across the United States if Washington further interferes with Iran’s nuclear program. According to Khalili’s highly placed informants, the mullahs set a deadline. If America increases sanctions or conducts a military strike on Iranian nuclear sites in the next six months, the mullahs will unleash terror teams in the United States. Read more ..

The Defense Edge

We're Leaving Now; The Wars Remain

January 17th 2013

Barack Obama in Thought

As President Obama stood with Afghan President Karzai to announce the "Afghanization" of the war, it seems appropriate to weigh the president's words on the way out against his words on the way in. We were in Afghanistan, of course, long before he got there, but the president's 2009 address at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point announcedthe "surge" of 33,000 additional American troops to the war and he used the word "I" 321 times out of a total of 3,507 words. That qualifies as ownership.

In 2009, going in, the president made three points:

• What: "Our overarching goal remains the same: to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and to prevent its capacity to threaten America and our allies in the future."

• Why: "There is no imminent threat of the government being overthrown, but the Taliban has gained momentum. Al Qaeda has not reemerged in Afghanistan in the same numbers as before 9/11, but they retain their safe-havens along the border...I am convinced that our security is at stake in Afghanistan and Pakistan."

• How: "These are the three core elements of our strategy: a military effort to create the conditions for a transition; a civilian surge that reinforces positive action; and an effective partnership with Pakistan." Read more ..

Broken Labor

Why Ports Are the New Factories

January 17th 2013

Workers Memorial Day protest

Last month, union activists across the country celebrated what they saw as the latest opportunity to kickstart the moribund labor movement: a strike at Walmart on Black Friday. Retail workers, or as Walmart calls them, "associates," across the country were to walk out on the greatest shopping day of the year. The walkout was to signal the national unity of retail workers and strike a blow that would stagger the giant from Bentonville. At the same time, it would galvanize liberal consumers who would support the walk-out by their refusal to shop. Bringing together consumers and workers, they believed, would force America's largest retailer to the negotiating table.

It failed.

Walkouts were erratic. Shoppers, most of whom were hard-pressed workers themselves, thought more about the presents under the tree than the picket lines, if there were any. It turns out, as one might expect, that coordinating a walkout at thousands of locations across the country was hard, even in this age of social media. Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

Al Qaeda’s Dangerous Play in Mali

January 16th 2013


When France took up the challenge of defeating al Qaeda's franchise in northern Mali, it took on a very well-armed and well-funded group. Since the fall of the Taliban in Afghanistan in 2001, al Qaeda hasn't had a foothold this significant, and its offshoot in Africa poses a serious threat to not only Africa but the West, too. While Washington, for now, has elected to take the backseat in this fight, the United States has a big stake in the outcome.

Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb is a group with ambitions. Similar to its partnership with the Taliban in Afghanistan, the group last year successfully gained the support of Ansar al Dine, a local jihadist group in Mali, and together they now control a huge expanse of territory. In the same way that al Qaeda and the Taliban destroyed Afghanistan's historical treasures in the years leading up to 9/11, they are destroying the cultural heritage in the fabled city of Timbuktu. And as it happened in Afghanistan, jihadists from across the region are now flocking to Mali to get access to training, money, and weapons. Read more ..

Obama's Second Term

Questions the GOP Must Answer to Win

January 16th 2013


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


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.


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 ..

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