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Broken Government

Jim DeMint Was the Libertarian Hero of the Senate

December 11th 2012

Jim DeMint

For libertarians, Christian conservative pro-lifer Jim DeMint was the best thing to come through the Senate in decades. DeMint, quitting early to run the conservative Heritage Foundation, embodied an underappreciated fact of life in Washington: The politicians who most consistently defend economic liberty are the cultural conservatives.

The National Taxpayers Union gave DeMint a 93 percent rating last year, putting him third out of 100. DeMint scored 100 percent from the Club for Growth, whose sole focus is economic conservatism.

Until last year, DeMint was the only senator with a lifetime 100 percent from the Club for Growth. He still has a perfect record, but now he has company: Rand Paul, Mike Lee and Ron Johnson -- all pro-life conservative freshmen derided as "Jim DeMint disciples" by the likes of lobbyist Trent Lott.

Many libertarians realize that DeMint has been one of their best allies in the U.S. Senate. Nick Gillespie and Matt Welch, editors of Reason magazine, are libertarians with social liberal tendencies. When they interviewed him in May, they pointed out how much this Christian social conservative had to offer their ilk.

DeMint's 2012 book, "Now or Never," is a fiscal conservative book from cover to cover. Who wrote the foreword? Rand Paul, probably the most libertarian senator in a generation -- and Paul probably wouldn't be in the Senate if DeMint hadn't backed him in his 2010 primary. And DeMint boosts Rand's father, libertarian hero Ron Paul. Gillespie wrote last week: "DeMint is a social con's social con, but ... amazingly, he praised Rep. Ron Paul's libertarian influence on the GOP base." Read more ..


Benghazigate

In Defense of Susan Rice—Again

December 11th 2012

Susan Rice

The accusations against UN ambassador and potential nominee for Secretary of State, Susan Rice, continue. Today they have taken a new turn as an Eritrean-American, Salem Solomon, wrote prominently in the New York Times about Rice’s supposed affections for a new generation of strongmen of Africa.

This article comes at a particularly inopportune time, as Rice is being hammered for all sorts of reasons, many of them specious in my eyes, and this article feels like piling on more than like fair-minded criticism. It is especially unfortunate since emotionalism and partisanship are complicating efforts at fair-minded assessment about whether Rice would be a strong choice as secretary of state.

I have written before about Ambassador Rice, a friend and former colleague. While an admirer of her work, I do not mean to suggest that she would necessarily be a better choice for secretary of state than Senator John Kerry or someone else. But she is a very capable government servant and a serious candidate for the secretary job. And the criticisms of her are often unfair. Today’s column belongs in that category. Read more ..


Edging Toward the Fiscal Cliff

The Fiscal Cliff and the Perils of Grand Budget Deals

December 10th 2012

Cliff Face West Wales

One of the major complications in the current fiscal cliff debate is that both sides are overreaching, trying to tie a near-term resolution to a sweeping deficit reduction plan that would address the longer-term budgetary crisis looming in the years ahead. They see the cliff negotiations as a stage for a “grand bargain” on the budget between the President and Congress.

The tight time frame of the cliff’s approach makes such an aim increasingly impractical. Furthermore, history shows that broad bipartisan compromises between the White House and Congress have typically just yielded higher taxes, while the promised spending restraint (except in national defense) and deficit reduction have failed to materialize. Given the current state of divided government, these risks prevail today. More broadly, they also offer a warning to budget process reformers who seek to institutionalize regular budget negotiations between Capitol Hill and the President. Read more ..


China on Edge

Human Rights Day Arrives in China: The “Shadow of the Future”

December 10th 2012

Chinese soldier at Tienamen Square

December 10 is Human Rights Day, and the International Committee for Liu Xiaobo along with Chinese advocates of human rights have organized a petition of 134 Nobel Prize winners demanding the release of Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo. Their letter to Xi Jinping, the new General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party, as well as the list of Nobel Prize winners, can be found here. They have also launched a citizens’ petition drive aimed at the Chinese government, and it has gathered 200,000 signatures so far. These drives have a second goal as well: the release from years of house arrest of Liu’s wife Liu Xia. And today we have a remarkable Associated Press (AP) report on Liu Xia, because two AP reporters managed to get to her apartment when the policemen outside her home went off to lunch. An account and a video of the interview can be found at China Digital Times. Here is an excerpt:

Stunned that reporters were able to visit her, Liu Xia trembled uncontrollably and cried as she described how absurd and emotionally draining her confinement under house arrest has been in the two years since her jailed activist husband, Liu Xiaobo, was named a Nobel Peace laureate. Her voice shook and she was breathless from disbelief at receiving unexpected visitors.

Liu said her continuing house arrest has been painfully surreal and in stark….Liu said she has been confined to her duplex apartment in downtown Beijing with no Internet or outside phone line and is only allowed weekly trips to buy groceries and visit her parents. Read more ..


Broken Government

Fiscal Cliff Could Cause Potitical Revolution

December 9th 2012

Fiscal Cliff Meeting

There is no doubt that there will be serious, adverse consequences to ordinary Americans if, on Jan. 1, 2013, the nation goes over the “fiscal cliff” — meaning, on that day, $1.2 trillion in cuts in federal domestic and defense spending over the next eight years will begin, combined with immediate substantial tax increases and less money in paychecks for all taxpayers, especially hurting the middle class, as the Bush tax cuts are rescinded.

Any Democrat who thinks there is a tactical advantage to going over the cliff is probably someone who isn’t about to lose a job or remain out of a job and whose family is suffering.
But just for the sake of it, if this awful thing happens, is there any good that could come out of it? I would say yes — three things, with the first two leading (I hope) to the most positive third result. Read more ..


Uruguay on Edge

Uruguay’s Decriminalization of Abortion Sets a Progressive Precedent

December 9th 2012

Post Aboriton Women

On October 17, Uruguay’s doughty government decriminalized abortion, joining the ranks of Cuba and Guyana as the only countries in Latin America to have a legal measure on the procedure. Former President Tabare Vazquez vetoed the last attempt to legalize abortion in November of 2008. This time around, the decriminalization of first trimester abortions received more public support, encouraging lawmakers to battle for its passage. Despite lingering but formidable opposition, President Jose Mujica was able to sign the bill into law on October 23. Uruguay’s president spoke positively on the bill’s passage, calling it a step toward “a bright future for women’s rights.”

Deviating from the Original Plan

Uruguay’s senate passed the legislation with a 17-14 vote, although not without serious debate and a number of compromises. The bill’s original structure and its controversial content required extensive altering in order to secure its narrow passage from hesitant lawmakers. According to the revised legislation, pregnant women must acknowledge to their doctor their intention of seeking out an abortion. The women are then required to justify their decision in front of a panel of medical experts prior to the actual aborting of the fetus. The interdisciplinary team of experts must meet with the intended patient to inform her about the law, the process of abortion, and any inherent risks of the procedure. The panel will also inform her of alternatives to abortion and offer psycho-social support. Read more ..


The Clinton Edge

Hillary: The Next FDR

December 8th 2012

Hillary

It is time to resume discussion about the possibility of a political realignment that would make Democrats the leading national political party for a generation.

Analyzing the results of three out of the last four national elections, the sweeping demographic changes that will define future national elections, the fact that national Republicans are dominated by fear of primary challenges from the right (which moves them further from mainstream national opinion), the positioning of the two parties in the debate surrounding the fiscal cliff, the fact that polls show Republicans will be widely blamed if current negotiations fail and the possibility that Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton could seek the Democratic nomination in 2016, the possibility of an FDR-magnitude Democratic realignment comes clearly into view.

Secretary Clinton will have two years to enjoy her liberation from the demands of national office before she needs to decide whether she runs for president. The possibility of an FDR realignment exists regardless of Clinton’s decision but will be powerfully advanced if she runs. My advice to the Clintons will be to consider not merely whether she should run but the kind of candidacy she could create, the kind of presidency she could lead, and the kind of legacy she could leave for the policies and people she cares about deeply. Read more ..


Broken Economy

Let’s All Jump Off the Cliff

December 8th 2012

Tax Haven Protesters

With less than four weeks left, reaching an agreement to avoid the negative short-term economic impact of the so-called fiscal cliff might be beyond the ability of the strained U.S. political system.

Just kicking the can down the road, averting the more than $600 billion in automatic spending cuts and tax increases scheduled to take effect in January, requires one side to give ground on a core belief: either for Democrats to allow an extension of lower tax rates on top earners or for Republicans to accept a return to higher rates for those taxpayers. It is time to consider a backup plan.

Both parties agree that any deal will include increased revenue. They disagree over the form of that revenue.

Republicans look to limit deductions that mainly benefit people with high incomes, while extending the current 35 percent top income-tax rate. This could raise about $800 billion over 10 years if the deduction cap is broadly applied, but considerably less if tax breaks such as for charitable giving are left untouched or if the cap is phased in gradually to avoid a huge penalty for couples crossing the $250,000 income threshold. President Barack Obama’s plan raises twice that much through higher tax rates and limits on deductions for households with the top 2 percent of incomes. He would extend current tax rates for lower-income groups. Read more ..


Israel and Palestine

Islamist Rejectionism Trumps Palestinian State-Building

December 7th 2012

Abbas UN

Sixty-five years ago on Nov. 29, 1947, the Arab world rejected partition of Palestine in favor of Zionist annihilation. That rejection has become the backbone of the Palestinian culture and decision-making throughout all the years of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Carl von Clausewitz's famously described war as a "continuation of politics (Politik) by other means" and indeed for Palestinians all negotiations with Israel have served as a springboard to propagate their on-going war against Israel.

Now Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is yet again attempting to go to the United Nations in an attempt to establish a Palestinian state. In essence, Abbas is really no different that Hamas; they have similar goals but Abbas uses so-called diplomacy to disguise it. For him, it is simply a case of war by other means. The problem is that the West still would like to believe that the two-state model works. This is illustrated by countless statements made by the White House and the U.S. State Department. Read more ..


War Against the Weak

Philanthropic Foundations’ Arrogance and Insularity on Eugenics Offer Cautionary Tale

December 7th 2012

Library at CSH

One sure way to ruffle feathers at the normally staid Council on Foundations—the nation’s largest philanthropic membership organization—is to remind it of American philanthropy’s neck-deep involvement in eugenics. Yet now is the time for our foundations not only to acknowledge that involvement but to officially apologize for it as well. They have shown no sign of doing so, however, nor of appreciating its cautionary tale for contemporary philanthropy: Whenever an arrogant, insulated, wealthy elite begins to treat human beings as experimental subjects, the results are often disastrous, no matter how noble the intentions.

Evidence of philanthropy’s reluctance to confront its past came several months ago in the council’s reaction to one of my speeches printed by Nonprofit Quarterly magazine.

The speech described philanthropy’s active promotion of eugenics, a pseudo-science popular early in the 20th century that sought to upgrade the human race by encouraging the breeding of “superior stocks” while discouraging, even forcibly preventing, the propagation of “inferior stocks.” Read more ..


Edging Toward the Fiscal Cliff

Cut to Invest to Restore Growth

December 6th 2012

Home Foreclosure

With Monday’s counter-proposal from House Speaker Boehner the bargaining has begun. At last it appears the deficit-reduction talks are gearing up. Why, then, are we underwhelmed?

The problem is that while the negotiation has begun it remains one-dimensional and narrowly focused on the debt. However, America in fact faces a three-part crisis: the current fiscal mess, but also a massive jobs deficit and a disturbing opportunity shortfall, all of which need resolution just as much as our deficit woes.

Forty-one months since the Great Recession, the economy still needs 11.1 million jobs to make up for the jobs lost during the downturn and to keep pace with labor market dynamics. At same time, the nation faces an opportunity gap with 107 million people either poor or near-poor—the product of an economy that routinely creates jobs that don't make work pay. Read more ..


The Armenian Genocide

Turkey Continues to Obfuscate Genocide

December 6th 2012

Armenian genocide

In 1915, when stories of the systematic extermination of the Armenian minority in Anatolia by the Ottoman authorities started to surface in the Western press, Turkish diplomats were rapidly mobilized to deny the reports. “All those who have been killed were of that rebellious element,” the Turkish consul in New York, Djelal Munif Bey, told the New York Times, “who were caught red-handed or while otherwise committing traitorous acts against the Turkish Government, and not women and children, as some of these fabricated reports would have the Americans believe.”

As the sun began to set on the Ottoman Empire, its leaders–and their secular successors–laid the foundations of a gruesome template that remains with us today. Ever since the slaughter of the Armenians, each episode of genocide and mass killing has been accompanied by voices who willfully deny that such horrors actually took place. Read more ..


Egypt's Second Revolution

Why Won't Morsi Back Down? Read His Resume

December 5th 2012

Morsi

From the moment that tens of thousands of Egyptians took to the streets to protest President Mohamed Morsi's power-grabbing constitutional declaration, western journalists largely assumed that Morsi would back down. From their vantage point, criticism of Morsi's move from within his own government, threats of judicial strikes, and the sheer magnitude of popular anger could force Morsi, in the words of The New York Times, "to engage in the kind of give and take that democratic government requires." So when Morsi met with judges on Monday evening and promised that his newly declared powers only applied to ill-defined "acts of sovereignty," both the Times and The Washington Post reported that Morsi had accepted limits on his power.

But it was not to be: Morsi's assurances were only verbal and, as his colleagues in the Muslim Brotherhood emphasized, the original declaration remained unchanged. And rather than conceding anything, Morsi doubled down on Wednesday, commanding the Islamist-dominated constitution-writing body, which non-Islamists had almost entirely abandoned, to finish its work within 24 hours despite secularists' mounting protests. Read more ..


Palestine on Edge

So, is there a "Palestinian State" or Not?

December 5th 2012

Abbas UN statehood vote

Since the signature of the Oslo Agreements, the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) has often threatened to unilaterally declare statehood, even though it did just that in 1988 in Algiers. Abbas himself never formerly declared independence. In his speech at the UN General Assembly in September 2011, he clarified that a Palestinian state had already been declared by Arafat in Algiers in 1988. After the vote of the UN General Assembly on 29 November 2012, Abbas claimed that an independent Palestinian state now exists. It doesn’t.

For a start, General Assembly resolutions are mere recommendations. Resolution 181 recommended the partition of the British Mandate but it did not establish the State of Israel. Likewise, last week’s resolution did not establish a State of Palestine. The General Assembly does not and cannot establish states. Read more ..


Israel on Edge

Don't Believe the Hype: The Truth About E-1

December 4th 2012

Wailing Wall in Jerusalem

Israel is destroying any chance for a "viable" Palestinian state!

Is is really?

This charge, broadcast the world over on television and the Internet over the last two days, comes in reaction to an Israeli plan to build in the area known as E-1, west of Ma'ale Adumim and east of Jerusalem. Israel announced the plans following a vote at the United Nations last Thursday that granted the Palestinians non-member observer status, a move that breaks every interim peace agreement signed between Israel and the Palestinians over the last two decades.

But is the charge correct? Is Israel actually "bifurcating" any "future" Palestinian state by building a corridor of housing between Ma'ale Adumim and Jerusalem?

The truth is that every Israeli prime minister since Yitzhak Rabin has supported Israeli control over E-1 in any possible future peace agreement. E-1 is part of the mythical territory that "everyone agrees" will become part of Israel once the parties agree to a peace deal.  Read more ..


The Vote Aftermath

The Republican Hispanic Challenge

December 4th 2012

Star Parker

Although Mitt Romney took flak for his statement that he lost the election because President Barack Obama bestowed "gifts" on key parts of the electorate, what he said is basically true. We're stuck in a deadly spiral where economic growth is retarded because the economy is larded with enormous and ever increasing government spending and debt. Yet, more and more Americans want the lard.

Obama got re-elected by promising to continue to serve it up.

Romney's failure, and the failure of the Republican Party, is not that Obama is pulling this off, but that they can't get their act together to explain the problem to enough Americans to stop it. There seems some hope that this disaster of an election is waking up Republicans that there are major, growing constituencies in the country that they must stop ignoring -- one major one being Hispanics. But the big challenge is that, although these constituencies would be far better off in a nation with limited government and conservative values, they by and large have already bought into the welfare state. This includes Hispanics, and many Republicans seem to be dangerously clueless about this.

For example, Republicans like former Kellogg CEO Carlos Gutierrez, who served as Commerce secretary in the George W. Bush administration and who oversaw Romney's Hispanic outreach. Gutierrez expressed "shock" at Romney's candor and offered his own take on what happened: "We lost the election because the far right of this party has taken the party to a place where it doesn't belong." Somehow, many Republicans have bought the myth that the immigration issue is the main barrier between Hispanics and the Republican Party. No doubt the immigration issue is a factor. But this misses the point by many, many miles. The rapidly growing Hispanic sector of our nation is, on average, a low-income population -- with many of the deep social problems similar to those of blacks -- who already have come to love the welfare state. Read more ..


Israel on Edge

Did Israel Kill Yasser Arafat? And if so, Was it Justified?

December 4th 2012

Click to select Image

Did Israel kill Yasser Arafat? That is the question being discussed as the Palestinian Authority exhumes his body for French prosecutors investigating his death. This follows the announcement by a Swiss institute that they found remnants of the poison polonium on Arafat’s clothes.

However, the more fundamental questions are why would Israel have wanted to kill Arafat and would it have been justified. The assessment must be based on the objective data as to Arafat’s role at the time. Was he just a political leader or was he also an archterrorist leading the most systematic and deadly terror war that Israel ever faced? Yasser Arafat died in November 2004 after four years of a PA terror campaign, also called the second intifada. One thousand Israelis had already been murdered in attacks coming from PA territory under Arafat’s leadership. Read more ..


Obama's Second Term

The Behind-The-Scenes Battle That Could Subvert Obamacare

December 3rd 2012

Obamacare

I’ve written before about the tight relationships between health insurance companies and organizations that claim to represent the interests of small employers, specifically the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Federation of Independent Business.

Those two groups have accepted hundreds of millions of dollars over the past two decades from the insurance industry in an effort to kill or weaken health reform initiatives designed to protect consumers, including those who work for small businesses. The Chamber was the insurers’ organization of choice to derail Obamacare. During 2009 and 2010, America’s Health Insurance Plans —the major industry trade group— funneled more than $100 million of policyholders’ money to the Chamber’s anti-reform advertising campaign.

Read more ..

Palestine on Edge

Legal Implication of the United Nations Resolution on Palestine

December 2nd 2012

Abbas UN statehood vote

The General Assembly vote declaring that Palestine, within the pre-1967 borders, is a “state”, at least for some purposes, would have nasty legal implications, if it were ever to be taken seriously by the international community.  It would mean that Israel, which captured some Jordanian territory after Jordan attacked West Jerusalem in 1967, is illegally occupying the Western Wall (Judaism’s holiest site), the Jewish Quarter of old Jerusalem (where Jews have lived for thousands of years), the access road to the Hebrew University (which was established well before Israel even became a state) and other areas necessary to the security of its citizens.  It would also mean that Security Council Resolution 242, whose purpose it was to allow Israel to hold onto some of the territories captured during its defensive 1967 war, would be overruled by a General Assembly vote—something the United Nations Charter explicitly forbids. It would be the first time in history that a nation was required to return all land lawfully captured in a defensive war. Read more ..


Benghazigate

Benghazi Terrorist Attack Requires a Select Committee Needed to Investigate

December 2nd 2012

libya-consulate

Almost three months after the September 11 attack on the U.S. facility in Benghazi, there are still many unanswered questions about what led to the deaths of four Americans. Despite Congress’s efforts to investigate the events surrounding the attack, little has been learned about how the United States can respond to similar attacks in the future. It is therefore necessary for Congress to establish a select committee, preferably bicameral, to examine the attack and determine what should be done to improve U.S. diplomatic security.

A Coordinated Approach

Following the attack, Congress undertook to investigate the events through committee hearings, briefings, and letters to Administration officials, but these efforts have proven to be disjointed and have resulted in contrasting accounts, muddling the investigative process. Additionally, because the issues surrounding the attack involve the jurisdictions of multiple congressional committees (e.g., the Committee on Intelligence, the Committee on Foreign Affairs, the Committee on the Judiciary, the Committee on Armed Services, and the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform), the risk of stove-piping has emerged. Read more ..


Broken Economy

A Debt Strategy for the Next 30 Years

December 1st 2012

Economic Collapse

The United States is on an unsustainable fiscal course. This year marks the fourth in a row that the U.S. federal deficit will exceed $1.1 trillion. Since the end of 2007, the federal debt, now $11 trillion, has doubled as a share of annual GDP-from 36 percent to 73 percent. The long-term outlook is even worse. The deficit is likely to improve in the next few years, but it will then turn upward again due to the projected rise in federal spending on Medicare and Social Security. According to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), spending on those two programs will rise from 8.7 percent to 12.2 percent of GDP by 2037.

The good news is that U.S. lawmakers and policy experts from across the political spectrum have begun in earnest to outline possible strategies for tackling this looming debt crisis. Unsurprisingly, many suggestions-from the Left and the Right-are misguided or not particularly constructive. For example, a number of left-leaning think tanks have recently supported a "financial transactions" tax that would cause huge distortions, raise far less revenue than projected, and push more of the industry offshore. Similarly unhelpful, some conservative groups have advocated abolishing various small spending programs on the grounds that such cuts will improve the fiscal outlook, even though their elimination would have only a trivial impact on the overall federal budget. Read more ..


Palestine and Israel

The PLO's Next Step

December 1st 2012

Mahmoud Abbas and Big Bro Arafat

On Thursday, 29 November 2012, the chairman of the Palestinian Authority requested to the UN General Assembly to upgrade the status of the Palestinians in the UN from an 'observer entity' to that of a 'non-member observer state'. The Palestinian move has historic symbolism and enormous significance for the future.

On 29 November 1947, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution recommending the termination of the British Mandate and creation of independent Arab and Jewish States and a Special International Regime for the City of Jerusalem. (The Partition Plan). This resolution paved the way for the establishment of the state of Israel.

At present there are 193 member states in the UN. The Palestinian Authority will win a majority of votes in the UN General Assembly and Palestine will become the 194th member state. The Palestinians ascribe immense symbolic significance to this number, in view of UN resolution 194 from December 1948, dealing with the Palestinian refugee issue during Israel's war of independence. Read more ..


Israel on Edge

Israel's Right to Defend Itself: Implications on Security and US Interests

November 30th 2012

Israeli Jet Dive Bombing

Madame Chairman, Members of the Committee,  it is my pleasure to join you for this timely hearing on the regional and national security implications of the recent hostilities between Hamas and the State of Israel. 

Over the last decade, the Middle East has undergone a transformation as dramatic as the one that shaped the post-war independence era in the Arab world.  While those changes are all familiar to the members of this Committee, it is worth reviewing them quickly if only to underscore their breadth and depth. Consider that a dictator has been ousted in Iraq and a new and democratically elected government has come to power. That from Tunisia to Libya to Yemen to Egypt, Bahrain and Syria, the people of the region have turned on their tormentors and – where they are able -- voted in new leaders.  That Iran has gone from nuclear ambitions to the threshold of a nuclear weapon. That Hezbollah now controls the government of Lebanon.  That the Hashemite dynasty in Jordan is at risk. And that the Arab League has taken a position against not one but two of its own for the first time in history.

And where is the United States in today’s Middle Eastern maelstrom? Unfortunately, largely on the sidelines, wringing its hands, hoping to restore, if not the status quo ante, then at least the pseudo stability of the age of Arab dictators. What should we be doing?  Read more ..


Argentina on Edge

The Argentine Debt Saga Continues

November 30th 2012

Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner

In an alarming turn of events in the long-running Argentine debt saga, a U.S. appellate court “granted an emergency stay.”1 In doing so, the court has allowed itself the opportunity to fully examine the case appealed by Argentina, a case in which the country had been ordered to deposit $1.3. billion USD in order to realize payment to its holdout creditors. This is a critical development in what has become a decade-long fight between Argentina and its vulture funds creditors, financial entities that have twice failed to agree to terms with the sovereign in regard to debt restructuring. Yesterday’s stay by the appellate court of New York will not only give the court time to adequately examine the case, but will also function to permit Argentina to pay the next installment on its exchanged bonds that is scheduled for December 15.  Argentina did not see itself forced to cancel its debt with the primary vulture funds Elliot Management Corporation and Aurelius Capital Management; had the situation remained unaltered, a likely scenario would have reflected an expectation for Argentina to fall into technical default. However, the importance of this most recent move by the U.S. Judiciary is anything but final. While indeed Argentina has momentarily been saved from financial disaster, the country still must await a decision by the appeals court. The court is scheduled to make a ruling sometime after February 27, 2013, on the legitimacy of the district court’s decision, which in February of this year deemed Argentina responsible for all outstanding debt owed to its vulture fund creditors. Read more ..

Palestine on Edge

Palestine at the UN: Mixed Messages

November 29th 2012

Mahmoud Abbas at parliament

On November 29, the anniversary of the 1947 UN General Assembly vote to partition the British Mandate of Palestine into "an Arab state and Jewish state," the assembly will vote on a new draft resolution recognizing Palestine as a nonmember observer state. A majority vote in favor is all but guaranteed given the near-automatic support from the nonaligned and Islamic blocs and some other delegations.

But in presenting the draft, Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority are defying U.S. and Israeli objections to this unilateral move. It fails the test of resolving all issues only by mutual agreement with Israel and could further complicate future negotiations. In addition, enhanced UN status could open the door to attempts at pressing Palestinian demands through such bodies as the International Criminal Court and International Court of Justice rather than through peace talks with Israel. Read more ..


The Edge of Corruption

Rethinking the Fight Against Corruption

November 29th 2012

Money Bands=Happiness

Fighting corruption requires a new understanding of how the global problem has evolved, for it is bigger and broader than petty bribery or crooked deals in developing countries. Merely adopting a new anti-corruption law, creating another commission, or launching another 'campaign' will not get the job done. We can no longer fight corruption by simply fighting corruption alone.

Corruption is a symptom of a larger disease -- the failure of institutions and governance, resulting in poor management of revenues and resources and an absence of delivery of public goods and services. We must think beyond anti-corruption rhetoric and traditional tactics. We need to be more strategic and rigorous, identifying and addressing corruption's underlying causes and examining the weaknesses in key institutions and government policies and practices. We have to focus our efforts on the broader context of governance and accountability. Only then can we see the many other shapes and forms corruption can take and address this epidemic. Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

Indonesia's Anti-Terror Arsenal

November 29th 2012

Indonesian security forces

The swift and near-simultaneous arrests late last month of 11 individuals allegedly preparing to bomb U.S. and other Western targets throughout Java, Indonesia's most populated island, should serve as a wake-up call to Asia's national security establishment, lawmakers and leaders. The foiled plot would have been just the latest in a flurry of terrorist activity by members of Islamist organizations, all of which are registered and legally sanctioned by the Indonesian government.

During the arrests, Indonesia's elite counter-terrorism squad found explosive material, a bomb-making manual, detonators and a list of targets that included the American and Australian embassies in Jakarta and the American consulate in Surabaya, according to Indonesian government officials. Each of those arrested appears to be a card-carrying member of the Sunni Movement for Indonesian Society, also known as Hasmi, an obscure Islamist organization few had heard of previously. Read more ..


Egypt's Second Revolution

President Morsi Acts Out Egypt's Tragedy

November 28th 2012

Morsi

How should we understand the apparently erratic behavior of Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi? In September, he seemed an unreliable ally, if an ally at all, after his tardy and diffident response to mob attacks on America's Cairo embassy. Morsi rose sharply in Western esteem after the November 21 Gaza ceasefire, only to earn the world's opprobrium by asserting dictatorial powers on November 23. Tahrir Square was filled with demonstrators for a seventh day at this writing and members of Morsi's cabinet have broken with the president's attempt to eliminate judicial review of executive actions.
 
It is possible that the Egyptian leader has a Jeykll-and-Hyde political personality, to be sure. But it is also possible that the exigent circumstances of Egyptian governance have pushed Morsi towards risky postures. In this reading, Egypt's present crisis is less a black comedy than a tragedy in which all available choices lead to a bad outcome.   Read more ..


Broken Government

Kick the Cliff Down the Road, Then Start Negotiating

November 28th 2012

Home Foreclosure

With the election and Thanksgiving out of the way, the rest of the year is shaping up to be an epic showdown between Democrats and Republicans over tax policy and how to avoid going over the fiscal cliff. At this point there appears to be little room for optimism that either side will give enough ground to avert the spending cuts and tax hikes that will otherwise go into effect within weeks. How markets—and voters—will react to the resulting contractionary pressure will likely depend on the extent to which the "cliff" is recognized to be potentially no more than a slope and on the actions Democrats and Republicans take to make the downward slide a gentle one.

One thing is clear at this point, however: Democrats have won the game to frame the debate. Ostensibly, the 2011 budget deal that brought us to this point was about the proper size of government and about calibrating spending and revenues in order to stabilize long-term federal finances. However, the positions staked out by both sides have effectively narrowed the debate considerably. One side wants continued low taxes for the vast majority of Americans and higher taxes on top earners. The other prioritizes continued low taxes for rich and poor alike. Democrats want higher revenues and see little upside to propose spending cuts. Republicans want lower revenues and lower spending but would rather hold the line on taxes than emphasize the spending cuts laid out in their recent House budgets. Read more ..


Obama and the Middle East

America's Responsibility in the New Middle East

November 28th 2012

The ceasefire struck last week between Israel and Hamas after eight days of conflict seems to be holding. But that's not to suggest that the time for diplomacy is over. To the contrary, it's precisely now that the United States needs to survey the new landscape that has emerged in the Middle East, and determine how it can shape it going forward.

The place to start is with the most obvious question of all: who won and who lost? In this particular case, there is an irony: Israel, Hamas, and Egypt all gained something.

Israel's declared goal was to re-establish its deterrent. In fact, Israel sought to prevent Hamas from defining a new normal -- where Israel would tolerate periodic rocket attacks into the south, with the lulls between attacks shorter and shorter, life for a million Israelis frequently disrupted, and the IDF unable to preserve a buffer along the border. In the weeks leading up to the conflict, Hamas did less and less to prevent Jihadi groups from firing rockets into Israel and also began to conduct its own attacks against the IDF on the Israeli side of border. Three Hamas attacks, in particular, set off the Israeli alarm bells: an IED attack, a tunnel dug under the fence and packed with explosives and ignited, and an anti-tank missile attack on an Israeli jeep. It was as if Hamas's leaders thought the new Egypt, Israel's concerns about not threatening its relationship with its post-Mubarak neighbor, and Israel's election preoccupation, all combined to allow Hamas to establish a new baseline for attacks against Israel and have it tolerated. Read more ..


The Edge of Climate Change

Paralysis by Analysis Should not Delay Decisions on Climate Change

November 27th 2012

Stormy Seas

Uncertainty about how much the climate is changing is not a reason to delay preparing for the harmful impacts of climate change says Professor Jim Hall of the Environmental Change Institute at the University of Oxford and colleagues at the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, writing today in Nature Climate Change.

The costs of adapting to climate change, sea-level and flooding include the upfront expenses of upgrading infrastructure, installing early-warning systems, and effective organisations, as well as the costs of reducing risk, such as not building on flood plains.

Robert Nicholls, Professor of Coastal Engineering at the University of Southampton and the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, says: "Some impacts of climate change are now inevitable, so it is widely agreed that we must adapt. But selecting and funding adaptation remains a challenge." Read more ..


Spain on Edge

Gaza, Catalonia and Romantic Nationalism

November 27th 2012

Catalonia is not Spain

Last week was spent obsessed with Gaza. In the end, nothing changed. A war was fought without an Israeli ground assault but with massive air and rocket attacks on both sides. Israel did not have the appetite and perhaps the power to crush Hamas.

Hamas did not have the power to compel Israel to change its policies but wanted to achieve a symbolic victory against Israel. Both decided that continued fighting made little sense and allowed the Americans and Egyptians to bless a settlement. Everyone from Iran to the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood played a role, and then the curtain on this act went down. It will come up again. It was not trivial for those who lived through the conflict, but in the end it changed little. In this context, focusing on Catalonian elections would seem frivolous, but it is the nature of geopolitics that the quiet and odd may have more significance in the long run than the events that carry noisy headlines. Read more ..


Afganistan on Edge

Why US Troops Must Stay in Afghanistan

November 27th 2012

Afgan Troops

Will the United States continue to conduct counterterrorism operations in South Asia? That question is central to any discussion about U.S. troop presence and mission in Afghanistan. The answer can be yes only if we pursue and support the current strategy, retaining roughly 68,000 troops in Afghanistan into 2014 and about half that number thereafter.

Amateurs can discuss imaginary, over-the-horizon “light footprint” strategies. Professionals must consider logistics. Physics and military reality dictate the minimum number of troops needed to have any U.S. presence in Afghanistan without inviting calamities worse than the events in Benghazi, Libya. The presence of U.S. forces in Afghanistan alone permits counterterrorism operations in Pakistan. It’s this simple: Either we keep the necessary number of troops in Afghanistan or operations against al Qaeda and its affiliates in Afghanistan and Pakistan cease. Read more ..


Greece on Edge

The IMF in Greece: Marking New Territory

November 27th 2012

Greek Protesters

Next week we will find out whether or not the growing political gap that has distanced the International Monetary Fund from its key European shareholders for months can be partially bridged.

The need to reach a common agreement for Greece—a major agenda item at the Eurogroup meeting in Brussels next Monday (December 3rd)—reflects the “joint” nature of the Greek assistance program. This implies that a veto by even one of the creditors, like the IMF, would make the disbursement of the subsequent tranches of the Greek bailout program technically impossible.

In fact, there has been significant tension for some time at the heart of the Troika. Their report on Greece, due this past summer, has still not been finalized, so as not to make public the stark differences between the IMF’s position and that of the European creditors. The apparent source of friction is the sustainability of the Greek public debt. The IMF maintains that debt should be on the order of 120 percent of GDP by the end of 2020, as previously agreed, and expects that further resources be mobilized, if necessary, for the credible attainment of this objective. Read more ..


Broken Government

States Choose Own Paths with One-Party Governments

November 26th 2012

Caifornia State House

In Washington, Americans have two-party government, with a Democratic president and Senate and a Republican House. We had it before November's election and will have it again for the next two years.

Looking back from 2014, we will have had two-party government for most of the preceding two decades, for six years of Bill Clinton's presidency, three and a half years of George W. Bush's and four years of Barack Obama's. But in most of the 50 states, American voters seem to have opted for something very much like one-party government.

Starting next month, Americans in 25 states will have Republican governors and Republicans in control of both houses of the state legislatures. They aren't all small states either. They include about 53 percent of the nation's population. At the same time, Americans in 15 states will have Democratic governors and Democrats in control of both houses of the state legislatures. They include about 37 percent of the nation's population. That leaves only 10 percent in states in which neither party is in control. Read more ..


Operation Pillar of Defense

Was Gaza Outcome: Victory, Stalemate or Defeat?

November 26th 2012

Sodiers on patrol

Castigating the government for the ceasefire agreement and implying that Operation Pillar of Defense was a failure is misguided and merely provides credibility to the distorted Hamas narrative of the conflict. Under current adverse geopolitical conditions, it was unrealistic to anticipate that this campaign would end the conflict as eliminating Hamas was unfeasible.

A “pyrrhic victory” could have been achieved with a long and bitter ground invasion but Israel would have been obliged to withdraw very quickly and the IDF would have suffered heavy casualties. In addition, a ground offensive, aside from possibly leading to a military confrontation with the Egyptian Moslem Brotherhood regime and Turkey, would have diverted attention from the Iranian nuclear threat. Collateral casualties in Gaza may also have undermined prevailing favorable public opinion including crucial support from the American people. Read more ..


Operation Pillar of Defense

Who Won the Last Israel-Gaza War?

November 25th 2012

Iron Dome

Naturally the question of who won any given war preoccupies people’s minds. And I’m amused by those who think that Hamas won the recent conflict. Winning has to mean something real, not just bragging to reassure oneself. Let’s begin by examining the causes and goals of each side. Hamas’s goal was to be able to attack Israel as much as it wanted without significant retaliation. This time, as in late 2008, the war began because Hamas escalated the level of its attacks on Israel to unacceptable levels (more on that phrase in a moment). The same might be said of Hizballah in 2006.

Israel’s goal was to force Hamas to the lowest possible level of attacks and to make such attacks as ineffective as possible. Incidentally, that was also Israel’s strategy in dealing with the PLO. Attempts to “solve” the problem once and for all, varying from the 1982 invasion of Lebanon to the Oslo peace process of the 1990s didn’t work too well.
Read more ..

The Vote Aftermath

An Immigration Solution Equals Salvation For The Republicans

November 25th 2012

Immigration Protest

By now, we all know the facts. Among Hispanics, the fastest-growing segment of the American population, Mitt Romney won just 27 percent of the 2012 vote for president, compared to 44 percent won by former President George W. Bush in 2004. Some commentators suggest the GOP is outdated and irrelevant. Others predict the GOP will not win the White House again unless it abandons certain fundamental tenets. Both are wrong.

For reasons of political survival, Romney adopted a hard-line position against undocumented immigrants during the Republican primary. That was unfortunate and unnecessary. President Bush also believed deeply in border security and the rule of law. However, he spoke about the challenges of illegal immigration in a way that recognized we are a nation of immigrants. I believe with the right messenger, message and tone, the GOP will rebound and capture a larger percentage of the Hispanic vote in the future. Read more ..


The Obama Edge

Don't Go There

November 24th 2012

Kremlin

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov announced last week that President Vladimir Putin had called to congratulate Barack Obama on his reelection and claimed that the American president accepted an invitation from Putin to come to Russia. Obama's plans, which have not yet been publicly announced, seem truly puzzling.

In the past 12 months, Putin's foreign and domestic policies have been nothing but a brazen, in-your-face challenge to U.S. interests and values. Russia has sided with Bashar al-Assad's regime in Syria as it slaughtered tens of thousands of its own citizens, casting three vetoes in the U.N. Security Council to shield Damascus from international sanctions. Moreover, it has signaled the end of its already limited and caveat-ridden support for international efforts to contain a nuclear-bound Iran.

Closer to home, Kremlin-sponsored goons have heckled and hounded Obama's own ambassador to Moscow, Michael McFaul, and Kremlin-controlled television networks have aired vile, Soviet-style propaganda "documentaries" accusing McFaul, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and, the United States more broadly, of organizing and funding Russia's anti-Putin, pro-democracy opposition. Read more ..


After the Arab Winter of Rage

Changing Middle East Looks Like What it Replaces

November 23rd 2012

Israel fire

This small war between Hamas and Israel will pass. The just announced ceasefire may be sustained. Or Israel may move from aerial bombardment to a ground incursion, which will deter Hamas from relighting the fuse for some time. But not forever, because Hamas exists only to fight with Israel. It has no other purpose. Those who counter that Hamas governs need only look at Gaza to understand that governance is far from Hamas’ aims or abilities. Will this late 2012 battle end differently for the Palestinians? Advance a two state solution? Heal the ills of the Palestinians? Allow Israel to live in peace and security? No.

Another question:  Will the realignment of the Middle East to an order more congenial to Hamas matter? Clearly, Hamas believed that with its Muslim Brotherhood brethren at the helm in Egypt and the new spiritual leader of the region’s Sunni Islamists at the helm in Turkey, this adventure would end differently. Of course, Hamas’ hope was not to destroy the state of Israel. Rather, it was to gain the upper hand in its endless and fruitless battle against Fatah for the Palestinian political mantle, ideally with the wind of the Arab world’s Islamist revolutions at its back. Read more ..



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