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Israel and Palestine

Collaborators Blaming Israel: Then and Now

December 17th 2012

Mahmoud Abbas and Yassir Arafat
Palestinian Premier Mahmoud Abbas

The war against the Jews – and against the State of Israel – continues unabated.

For the past year, Israel has been subjected to rocket bombardments directed at its cities including Jerusalem and Tel-Aviv. A million Israeli civilians in Southern Israel had their lives disrupted as 8,000 rockets rained down on them since 2005. The Israeli government decided to respond militarily against Hamas which governs Gaza and has its own prime minister, Ismail Haniyeh.

The Israeli army, the Israeli Defense Force (IDF), is made up of reserves that can be called up within 48 hours. Approximately 75,000 Israeli soldiers were sent to the Israeli frontier with Gaza. They didn’t cross the border, relying instead on the Israeli Air Force to wreak havoc. The IDF was successful in killing a significant number of Hamas terrorists including its major battle commander, Ahmed Jabari, responsible for the rocketing barrages, as well as numerous other acts of terrorism. Read more ..

Japan on Edge

Never Normal Nippon: Japan Faces Elections and Possible Decline

December 17th 2012

sunset in japan

For some reason we scholars, policy analysts, and journalists seem unable to see Japan as normal. No matter what Japan does, people view it through the lens of extremes. In the 1970s and ‘80s, when Japan’s economy grew rapidly, we concluded that Japan had created a miraculous strain of capitalism that would propel it to overtake the United States and achieve global supremacy. Then Japan’s bubble burst, and the slide began. Analysts now suggest that Japan is in terminal decline. Reading the news, one might conclude that in 100 years, there will only be eleven Japanese people left, all octogenarians.

Japan’s foreign policy is also cast in extremes. After World War II, the country pursued a restrained national security policy nested within an alliance with the United States; it built an impressive military with which to assist in Soviet containment. Many analysts and international relations scholars observed Tokyo’s restraint, disregarded the impressive military, and declared Japan to be a disarmed pacifist nation whose postwar norms and institutions had led it to eschew military statecraft. Read more ..

The Darkest Edge

The Metaphysics and Evil of the Newtown Massacre

December 16th 2012

Sandy Hook Shooting

The recent tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut initiated a predictable array of “solutions” in the public square. Advocates claim that gun laws need to be stricter, that the government needs to put more funding into mental health, that teachers should be armed. Many people, certainly, turned to prayer and looked for solace in community vigils and remembrances. But most looked toward pragmatic or political solutions to what is essentially a metaphysical problem, the problem of evil.

Thinkers of the twentieth century, however, generally concluded that “metaphysics is dead.” And along with metaphysics, they also declared God to be absent, weak: dead enough, if not completely dead. As a result, we, as a culture, have looked to psychotropic drugs, policy, and, above all, politics as ways to address the problem of evil. I don’t think it’s working. Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

Exclusion of Colombian Women from Peace Process

December 16th 2012


Earlier this year, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia-FARC) expressed its willingness to negotiate a peace treaty with the government of President Juan Manuel Santos. Santos, an ardent supporter of peace in Colombia, has defended this decision to pursue peace negotiations with the militant group, fending off opposition from detractors such as his alienated predecessor, Alvaro Uribe. At the same time, Santos has reminded his fellow Colombians that the original goal of the revolutionary forces, including those that have already rejoined civic life, was to achieve social parity through a selective and democratic process. This important goal cannot be accomplished without the participation and impact of women on peace negotiations and the development of social and economic reforms.

Both parties have pursued the negotiations with enthusiasm and optimism. Norway and Cuba have offered themselves as facilitators, while Chile and Venezuela are participating as witnesses. The original official agenda consisted of land reform, political participation, drug trafficking, recognition of victims, and ultimately a solution to one of the most bitter and prolonged armed conflicts in the Western Hemisphere. Read more ..

Kuwait on Edge

Echoes of the "Kuwait 17" Still Vibrant 29 Years Later

December 15th 2012

Kuwaiti Smokes

Twenty-nine years ago yesterday, December 12, 1983, Hezbollah and operatives of the Iranian-backed Iraqi Shiite group Da'wa carried out a series of seven coordinated bombings in Kuwait, killing six people and wounding nearly ninety more. The targets included the American and French embassies, the Kuwait airport, the grounds of the Raytheon Corporation, a Kuwait National Petroleum Company oil rig, and a government-owned power station. An attack outside a post office was thwarted.

The bombings shocked Kuwaiti officials, but the damage could have been much worse had the bombs been properly wired. As it happened, faulty engineering prevented three quarters of the explosives planted at the American embassy compound from detonating, saving many lives. Shoddy planning also reduced the destructiveness of the attacks: a truck carrying two hundred gas cylinders primed to explode at the National Petroleum Company site went off 150 yards from a refinery and just a few yards shy of a pile of flammable chemicals. More adept operational planning might also have resulted in the destruction of Kuwait's primary water-desalination plant, located within the premises, leaving the desert nation nearly devoid of fresh water. Read more ..

Palestine on Edge

Radical and Moderate Palestinians

December 14th 2012

Hamas Kid

When Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas returned from New York to Ramallah and told the Palestinians that he obtained UN recognition of a Palestinian state within the pre-1967 lines -- namely, the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem -- fewer than 5,000 Palestinians, many of them civil servants who receive their salaries from the Palestinian Authority government, turned out to greet him in Ramallah.

When Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal came last week to the Gaza Strip and told Palestinians that armed struggle and jihad were the only way to liberate all Palestine, "from the river to the sea," and that there was no room for the Zionists in Palestine because the country belonged only to Muslim and Arabs, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians showed up to welcome Mashaal and voice support for his plan to eliminate Israel and replace it with an Islamic state.

Even many Palestinians in the West Bank expressed support for Mashaal, especially when he said that the Palestinians would never "give up one inch of Palestine." The Palestinian Authority's official TV station in the West Bank broadcast Mashaal's speech live, as well as Hamas celebrations marking the 25th anniversary of the founding of the Islamist movement. If anything, the widespread support for Hamas's position is a sign of how much the Palestinians have been radicalized over the past few decades. Read more ..

America on Edge

The Decline of Black America

December 14th 2012


The economic progress of black America has stalled or declined in the past twenty years. Blacks have failed to narrow the wage and employment gap during this period, even controlling for educational attainment. More critically, the wealth gap between blacks and whites is now wider than ever—by some estimates, the average white American has over twenty times the wealth of the average black American. Furthermore, Blacks constitute about twelve percent of the U.S. population, yet account for less than 1 percent of GDP—and declining.

This is a surprising state of affairs given the progress blacks have made in other aspects of American life: blacks have made many valuable contributions in politics, art, religion and entertainment. For the most part, they can vote freely and are no longer subjected to de jure discrimination. What then accounts for their stalled economic progress?

To address the first question, it might perhaps be useful to triangulate a bit. When adrift upon a sea of uncertainty, it’s often useful to pick two points on land and point your ship between them. For sake of argument, let’s pick as our two points of reference the age-old debate as to whether black American culture is essentially a surviving African culture or a wholly separate culture born of their experience in this country.

On one point, anthropologists such as the liberal Melville Herskovits and the structural-functional school studied African culture, came to believe that black Americans are essentially Africans. People in the Herskovits school point to surviving traits in African language patterns, religion and music as evidence of a “cultural focus” that is strong in some areas. On the surface, this might appear to be true, as music, religion, sports and entertainment are areas in which blacks have most successfully excelled in this country. Business and commerce, Herskovits believed, were not part of that cultural strength Africans brought to America. Read more ..

America on Edge

Happy Chanukah or Happy Holiday? That is the Question

December 13th 2012

Happy Holidays

Something interesting occurred on Monday when a good friend of mine had the fortune of being interviewed on Fox News about his business. When we were younger, Jonathan Greenstein and I tore up the roads of Sullivan County and had a lot of fun, caused some trouble, and served food to the summer vacationers in the hotels and bungalow communities off New York State's Routes 42, 52 and 17.

Some tales are better left to memory; others go down better after a few drinks with good friends, but no matter what happened, I always knew that with Jonathan everything would work out. One thing was sure then and still strikes true today, and from his appearance with Stuart Varney this week, anyone who watched it saw it, too; Jonathan is likely among the most pragmatically poised people I have met, and someone who represents the very best of Jews and Judaism. Read more ..

Broken Healthcare

The Need for Tougher Regulation

December 13th 2012

File folders

I’ve often said that the Affordable Care Act is the end of the beginning of health reform. It addresses many problems associated with health insurance, but more must be done to control costs and access real universal coverage. And flaws in the law need to be fixed.

However, the reform law will end some of the most abusive insurance industry practices, such as blackballing folks with pre-existing conditions and cancelling policyholders’ coverage when they get sick. And health insurance companies now have to spend at least 80 percent of our premiums on actual health care. If they devote more than 20 percent to administrative overhead and profits, they are supposed to send rebate checks to their policyholders. Since that 80/20 rule went into effect last year, consumers have saved almost $1.5 billion, mostly in the form of those rebates, according to a new study by the Commonwealth Fund.

The rule has also resulted in lower premiums for many and elimination of hundreds of millions of dollars in administrative waste. That’s the good news. The no-so-good news is that because the reform law does not give the federal government the authority to regulate rates, many health plans used their administrative savings to boost profits instead of reducing premiums. Read more ..

Africa on Edge

Revitalizing Africa's Rural Future

December 13th 2012

African ancestry

This is a guest post by Owen Cylke. Mr. Cylke is a development professional and a retired senior foreign service officer with USAID.

Dr. Ibrahim Hassane Mayaki, Executive Secretary of New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), this week declared his organization’s intent to “revitalize” development efforts in Africa. Recognizing the successful and well-supported efforts of the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP), which has been the foundation for development efforts in Africa since its launch in 2003, Dr. Mayaki was careful to describe his intention as a natural next step in the CAADP process.

CAADP itself has all the indicia of success. Following years of neglect, agriculture is once again central to the development agenda in Africa; and this African-led initiative has found affirmation and substantial support from the G8, donor communities, and not-for-profits such as the Gates Foundation. Indeed, Gates’ “End Hunger in Africa” and USAID’s “Feed the Future” programs define the central themes of international engagement in Africa’s development today. Read more ..

Egypt's Second Revolution

The Way Out for Restless Egypt

December 13th 2012

Cairo Violence Dec 2012

Nearly two years after the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak, here we are once again with protesters back in the Egyptian streets, facing army tanks and tear gas, and this time with human rights defenders openly expressing concerns about the possibility of civil war.

There’s only one way out of this: Egypt has to build a new political future based on respect for human rights. The proposed constitution falls short of this, and if President Mohamed Morsi wants to back his claim to be president “for all Egyptians,” he must demand accountability for past human rights abuses and add constitutional protections for fundamental freedoms, particularly for women, before the document is submitted to voters for ratification. For the U.S. government, the crisis presents a difficult situation, but officials really have only one choice. They must insist on the primary importance of a constitution that will protect human rights. The U.S. has also had other priorities with regards to Egypt – maintaining stability in the Middle East’s most populous nation, supporting its role in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and deterring armed Islamist groups. Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

What Does Hamas Want?

December 12th 2012

Hamas Terrorist with Rocket

Frequently I have found that when I mention the odious Hamas “Charter” as the best insight into the group’s current goals, the response is that the Charter is nearly 25 years old and doesn’t mean much nowadays. In that context the words of Hamas’s two top leaders in the past few weeks deserve attention.

On November 26, Mahmoud al-Zahhar (a Hamas co-founder and influential leader) said this: “Anyone who wants to liberate Palestine by complaining [to the International Criminal Court] – I will send him handkerchiefs to wipe his tears. Whoever wants to really liberate Palestine should pick up a gun.”

Khaled Meshal is the top political leader of Hamas, and entered Gaza for the first time this weekend. Here are some of his remarks to a mass rally celebrating Hamas’s 25th anniversary: Palestine, from the river to the sea, from north to south, is our land. Not an inch of it can be conceded. We cannot recognize the legitimacy of Israel’s occupation of Palestine. There is no legitimacy to occupation, and therefore no legitimacy for Israel, no matter how long it will take. Liberating Palestine, all of Palestine, is a duty, a right and a goal….we will liberate [Jerusalem] inch by inch, stone by stone, Islamic and Christian holy places. Israel has no right in Jerusalem…. Read more ..

Broken Banking

Global Shariah Banking to Hit $1.8 Trillion by 2013

December 11th 2012

Dollar to Rial Exchange

Financial instruments -- cash, bearer bonds, etc. -- in line with Islamic law or Shariah are predicted to hit $1.8 trillion (U.S.) globally by 2013, up 38.5 percent year on year, according to American corporate auditors Ernst & Young's World Islamic Banking Competitiveness Report 2013 released Monday. But some wonder if this growth will help radical Islamist groups.

According to the report, the top 20 Islamic banks have registered an annual growth of 16 percent over the last 3 years.

The Saudi Kingdom emerged as the largest market for Islamic assets, with an estimated $207 billion in 2011, was ranked first by the report. Saudi Arabia is followed by Malaysia, with $106 billion that are "Shariah-compliant assets," while the United Arab Emirates ranked third with total assets of $75 billion (U. S.).

The 20 largest Islamic banks hold about 57 percent of the total international Islamic assets and are concentrated in the seven core markets for Islamic banking which include Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Qatar, Malaysia and Turkey, said the Global Islamic Banking Center of Excellence at global consultancy and corporate audit firm Ernst & Young. Read more ..

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 ..


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


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


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

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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


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.


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 ..


Benghazi Terrorist Attack Requires a Select Committee Needed to Investigate

December 2nd 2012


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 ..

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