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The Obama Edge

Returning to an Economic Growth Agenda

November 2nd 2012

Mortgage foreclosure

The engine of growth that has fueled the U.S. economy for over 225 years appears idle. In the five-year period from the second half of 2007 through the first half of 2012, the U.S. GDP growth rate has averaged just 0.6 percent annually. In fact, as the accompanying chart indicates, the average annual growth rate of the U.S. economy has been below 1 percent during the last five years, far slower than its recent historical average.

Furthermore, a recent report by the U.S. Census Bureau indicates that the median household income in the United States in 2011 declined for the second consecutive year to $50,054. On an inflation-adjusted basis, the median household income in 2011 was 8.1 percent lower than in 2007. And finally, the average unemployment rate in the first nine months of 2012 has been 8.2 percent. While an improvement relative to 2010 and 2011, the labor market remains weak as 12 million workers are unemployed. Read more ..


The Iranian Threat

By Avoiding a Strike on Iran before U.S. Election, Israel Is Learning from History

November 2nd 2012

Netanyahu's redline

Israel's non-strike against Iran means it is keeping its options open while avoiding once-familiar tensions with the United States.

Just days before the U.S. presidential election, it is worth considering how -- barring an unforeseen development -- one of the most widely trailed military operations in recent years will not in fact have taken place: Israel will not have attacked Iran before Americans go to the polls.

We do not know with absolute certainty if Israel did not attack because it chose not to do so, or if it felt compelled not to attack because of the red light for the operation from Washington. In an interview with Britain's Daily Telegraph at the end of October, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said that the delay of the strike was due to Iran diverting uranium from its military to civilian programs. Yet, based on private conversations, one cannot preclude the possibility that Defense Minister Barak withdrew his support because he feared it would be viewed as interfering with the upcoming U.S. election. The premise of any pre-election strike was that Israel would be taking advantage of a time when it had maximum political influence in Washington, since President Obama would have been constrained in his reaction. The implication is that the pre-election period could be 'insulated', and therefore the consequences would not be felt after the election. Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

Unemployment Remains The Key Factor for US Voters

November 2nd 2012

Employee applications

Unemployment is a key issue in the U.S. presidential election, and on Friday the government publishes the last official jobless rate before voters go to the polls on November 6. More than 12 million Americans are out of work, another eight million have found only part-time jobs, and still others have stopped searching for work. There are different opinions about the job situation from voters in North Carolina, Ohio, and Washington, D.C. Jobless Americans are concerned about the high unemployment rate.

"If Mitt Romney gets into office he is going to have to get these young black men and old black men jobs,” said Jeff Smith, who currently is unemployed. Larry Guinn, a small business owner, said economic uncertainty makes him reluctant to hire new workers. “I just see more and more unemployment in the country, and that’s not good for America," said Guinn. Read more ..


Palestine on Edge

The Palestinian Strategy: War is Permanent

November 1st 2012

Palstinian refugee camp

In 1948 Secretary General of the Arab League Azzam Pasha articulated the Arab recipe for long term success when he stated, "we have a secret weapon which we can use better than guns and machine guns, and this is time. As long as we do not make peace with the Zionists, the war is not over, and as long as the war is not over, there is neither a victor nor vanquished. As soon as we recognize the existence of the State of Israel, we recognize by this act that we are conquered."

Of all the Arabs, Arab-Palestinians embraced Azzam Pasha's message and continue to follow it religiously today. Out waiting Israel is the Palestinian strategy. It is no coincidence that Mahmoud Abbas' trial balloon to see if the UN would consider upgrading the status of the Palestinian Authority to that of a state is set to be voted on November 29th 2012. Ironically, this will happen on the same date the partition of Palestine was voted on 65 years ago. Partition was flatly rejected by Palestinians and their Arab cousins. Read more ..


China on Edge

Why Haven’t Chinese Leaders Acted Decisively to Reduce Tobacco Use?

November 1st 2012

Chinese smoker

In mid-October, Russian Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev voiced support for a proposed ban on smoking in public places by 2015. “The government is not at war with smokers,” he said, “but we are making a stand against smoking.”

Compared to Russia, where about a third of the population smokes, China has “the biggest tobacco problem in the world.” As Cheng Li pointed out in a recent publication, China is “the world’s biggest tobacco producer, largest cigarette consumer, and gravest victim of the smoking-related health crisis.” About 350 million people smoke (which is approximately thirty percent of the world’s total smoking population), with 740 million people regularly exposed to second-hand smoke (including 180 million under the age of fifteen). Each year, more than 1.2 million people die of smoking related illness, which is twelve percent of the country’s total annual deaths. The numbers speak for themselves: the global anti-tobacco campaign cannot be successful without effective tobacco control in China. Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

The Best Ideas Will Win This Election

November 1st 2012

Obama-Romney

Many in the conservative movement are frustrated that, despite the president’s liberalism, and despite the failure of his policies, he remains a very likeable personality, and enjoys high favorability ratings. Most people with his record would be run out of town, tarred, and feathered. But he is capable of a magnetic charisma, and it is keeping him in this race.
Some try to attack this strength of his. Sometimes it is a good strategy to attack your opponent’s strength, but not in this case. Ad hominem attacks on the president are as fruitless as they are unnecessary: his record is bad enough; we shouldn’t need to change the subject from that. And besides, attacking someone personally looks a lot like admitting defeat. ​I know that Election Day is almost here. But that’s precisely why I say this: we need to stay focused on ideas, not on people. This is the most critical messaging time of all. And, like I’ve said in the past, when we talk about ideas, we conservatives win.
Read more ..

Broken Borders

Starting All Over in Immigration Reform

October 31st 2012

US Border Patrol arrest

What do Americans really think about immigrants?
Consider the case of Sgt. Dan Zapalski. As he prepared to go into battle, his colonel berated him for acting like a "fathead Pollack ... typical of all stupid, emotional, first-generation Americans -- impractical, burdensome and unreasonable." What ticked off the colonel was Zapalski's refusal to be left behind. A leg wound suffered during the Normandy invasion had left him unfit for duty, but Zapalski didn't care. He wanted to go anyway.

The colonel begged the sergeant to think of his widowed, immigrant mother: What would she do if she lost her son?"I pointed out that my widowed mother was proof of why I was obligated to go," Zapalski recalled in "September Hope," John McManus' book about World War II's Operation Market Garden. "[T]he principal reason being the debt to my country for taking care of her and giving her the opportunity to raise three kids without much trouble." Read more ..


The Obama Edge

The Benghazi Scandal Will Not Go Away

October 31st 2012

Nonie Darwish headshot

Americans need answers as to why the Obama administration had no response to the eight-hour terror attack on the US consulate in Benghazi and who was involved in the decision not to go to their aid despite their repeated requests for help. And why is the producer of the "Innocence of Muslims" video still in a California jail cell, allegedly for violating his parole, while none of the people who refused to rescue Ambassador Christopher Stevens and these immensely courageous former Navy SEALS has been even been named and charged with negligent homicide, or even reckless endangerment?

From the Muslim world's viewpoint, the Obama administration's behavior makes perfect sense: The Muslim world is used to, and expects, victims of terror not to act. It is an unforgivable violation of Sharia law for non-Muslims to fight back against jihadi assaults. As Muslims interpret such passivity, those who want to appease the Muslim world and its Sharia law are expected to freeze when faced with Islamic terror -- freezing is the only acceptable response. Read more ..


Media on Edge

The Haaretz Poll Travesty, NIF Funding, and the Durban Strategy

October 31st 2012

Haaretz

There is now broad agreement in Israel that the pseudo-poll and headline published by Haaretz on Oct. 23 (“Majority of Israelis support apartheid regime in Israel”) was a mistake, to understate the case.

Haaretz published a correction (albeit a brief note on page 5, rather than as a major headline, as was the case for the original poll). Gideon Levy published a half-hearted retraction or explanation that primarily served to signal that even he, a hard-core warrior, realized the error. In columns and talk shows across the Israeli spectrum, the manipulative methodology and shallow questions were dissected.

However, a great deal of damage has been done outside Israel, where this farce was used to further the campaign of anti-Israel political warfare and demonization. The Guardian Independent, the Globe and Mail (Toronto) and the Sydney Morning Herald ran the story accompanied by headlines as misleading as that of the original Haaretz piece: “Many Israelis support apartheid-style state, poll suggests” and “The new Israeli apartheid.” Read more ..


America on Edge

State and Federal Disaster Relief: Expect the Best But Prepare for the Worst?

October 30th 2012

Hurricane Sandy Lashes Ocean City

As Hurricane Sandy bears down on the East Coast, it seems like an opportune time to revisit federal disaster relief. Even in an election year, this may be one of those rare topics where most Americans can agree. There is a strong argument for the federal government serving as a backstop against risk, and pitching in when natural and human induced catastrophes outstrip local capacities to respond.

The current federal disaster response system dates to the mid-20th century. Before that, Congress responded to floods, earthquakes, and fires on an ad hoc basis - usually by passing specific legislation authorizing the purchase and distribution of aid. (This legislation was not always popular: President Grover Cleveland vetoed a bill providing drought assistance to Texas. Backing him was Clara Barton, founder of the Red Cross, who thought local and private actors had the situation well in hand.) Read more ..


Myanmar on Edge

Myanmar’s Ethnic Violence: Where Is Suu Kyi?

October 30th 2012

Aung San Suu Kyi
Aung San Suu Kyi

Over the past week, violence between Buddhists and Muslims in Rakhine State, in the western part of Myanmar, has flared up badly once again. According to reports in local media and the news wires, over the past seven days at least sixty —and as many as one hundred— people have been killed in clashes. The local security forces allegedly have been firing on some crowds, and other reports suggest that the refugee camps set up for Muslims in the area have already become so overcrowded that they can no longer hold new arrivals.

The cause of the new violence is very murky, with reports and rumors suggesting that some local activists, or even the security forces, have been triggering the clashes in order to lead to a crackdown on Muslims. Other reports suggest that some local fights between young men sparked the violence.

But amidst the murkiness and the chaos, a larger question has arisen: Who in Myanmar’s leadership is going to take a serious, progressive approach to solving this ethnic tension? Though President Thein Sein has passed laudable economic and political reforms, his government has been mostly silent on the violence in Rakhine state, refusing to allow the Organization of the Islamic Conference to open offices to help investigate and potentially resolve the violence. It remains unclear whether the security forces are directly involved in the violence, and whether Thein Sein has tried to restrain local commanders, or even has total control over them. Read more ..


Palestine on Edge

Washington's Failure to Rein in UNRWA

October 30th 2012

UNRWA Refugee Camp

General Assembly resolution 194 of December 11, 1948, offers two options, repatriation and resettlement, to achieve the reintegration of the Palestinian Arab refugees "into the economic life of the Near East." Yet, U.S. Department of State documents from 1949 through the early 1950s reveal that despite the lip service paid to repatriation, Washington and its allies effectively equated reintegration with the resettlement of the refugees in the neighboring Arab states.

Historical Context
Economic development has been viewed by successive U.S. administrations as the key to integrating regions and peoples, and since the 1930s, their vision of this endeavor was largely modeled on the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) project.

Created by an act of the U.S. Congress in 1933, the TVA was conceived as a regional economic development agency. It was tasked with responsibilities for flood control, electrification, reforestation, fertilizer production, agricultural education, and river navigation throughout the Tennessee Valley, an area that includes the state of Tennessee, parts of Kentucky, Mississippi, and Alabama, and smaller portions of Georgia, North Carolina, and Virginia. Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

Obama and the Women’s Lobby

October 30th 2012

No Obamacare

The Affordable Care Act mentions “breast” 44 times, “prostate” not once. It also establishes an elaborate and expensive network of special programs to promote women’s health. Programs for men are nowhere to be found. What explains the imbalance? 

When President Obama took office, he promised to insulate his administration from organized lobbyists. Yet, from day one, he granted the women’s lobby unprecedented influence. The results should trouble fair-minded feminists.

The 2009 stimulus program set the pattern. The president had originally called for a two-year “shovel-ready” plan to modernize roads, bridges, electrical grids, and dams. Women’s activists were appalled. Op-eds appeared with titles like “Where Are the New Jobs for Women?” and “The Macho Stimulus Plan.” More than 1,000 feminist historians signed an open letter urging Mr. Obama not to favor a “heavily male-dominated field” like construction: “We need to rebuild not only concrete and steel bridges but also human bridges.”

Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

Romney’s Strategy not Obama’s Doctrine will Advance Freedom in the Middle East

October 29th 2012

Romney in Jerusalem 7-31-12

As Governor Romney and President Obama continue to debate foreign policy and national security, voters would be wise to evaluate the “Obama Doctrine” against the current combustible state of affairs that it has led to in the Greater Middle East. In less than four years, the Obama administration’s policies have transformed the region into a powder keg with a hairpin detonator that could be set off by the slightest diplomatic misstep, engulfing the region and the world in war.  And, as if an economy on the brink wasn’t daunting enough, the current administration’s feckless diplomacy in the Arab world have begotten a near-impossible foreign policy conundrum that Mitt Romney will be forced to attend to from the moment he is sworn in as the forty-fifth President of the United States. In order to help voters see clearly where unfolding events in the region are headed, I have summarized the salient facts and provided a brief analysis below.

Read more ..

The Obama Edge

A Doomed Strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan

October 29th 2012

Barack Obama in Thought

President Obama said, referring to Osama bin Laden's killing, "If we had asked Pakistan permission, we would not have gotten him." But if Pakistan can't be trusted, the president owes the American people an explanation of how he'd deal with a nuclear-armed impoverished country over the next four years.

Mr. Romney seems committed to changing Pakistani behavior. And although he claims he wouldn't "divorce" Pakistan, Mr. Romney's answer showed that he would downgrade Pakistan's status as an American ally. Demanding policy changes from Pakistan in return for American support and friendship is a sound idea but neither candidate has spelled out what specific instruments of persuasion or coercion the United States might successfully deploy to that end.

The discussion over Afghanistan and Pakistan needs to be put in the context of the wider issue of containing Islamist extremism. Mr. Obama defines success against Al Qaeda very narrowly, glossing over how jihadist networks are already preparing to regroup in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region after the withdrawal of American combat forces in 2014. Mr. Obama has not articulated a plan to deal with that challenge. Read more ..


The Iranian Threat

Interrupting Iran's Oil: The Price The West Can Now Afford

October 29th 2012

Iranian oil tanker

For many years, it seemed as if the West’s real plan for dealing with the Iranian regime was to talk it to death. Occasionally, a new round of sanctions would be announced, but they were never really very serious sanctions. Sure, they angered their targets in Tehran, but not enough to stop them from doing anything they really wanted to do. The world was willing to pay any price, bear any burden, to stop Iran from getting nuclear weapons. Any price, that is, except the only one which would have made a difference: interrupting the flow of Iranian oil.
 
The two sides disliked each other, but they were dependent on each other, so they attacked each other in relatively minor ways in public, while continuing to do business in private. This latest round of sanctions, however, which included cutting Iran off from the global banking system, has been serious. Turkey has been forced to pay for Iranian oil by physically moving gold bars across the border in trucks, but most buyers have found it easier to simply buy their oil elsewhere. Over the course of the last year, Iranian oil exports have fallen by about 1.5 million barrels a day to under 1 million, less than half their previous level of roughly 2.5 million barrels a day.
Read more ..

Afghanistan on Edge

Predicting Gloom In Afghanistan An Inexact Science

October 29th 2012

Afghanistan Fighters

Predicting a troubled future for Afghanistan appears to be the new trend in some of the Western writing about the country. Think tanks, newspaper op-eds, and blogs in Europe and North America are warning about a range of scenarios, from a division of the country to a Taliban takeover, a civil war, and increased ethnic strife among the country's various groups.

The most discussed among these is a report called "Afghanistan: The Long, Hard Road to the 2014 Transition" by the Brussels-based International Crisis Group (ICG). It warns that Kabul is heading towards a potentially devastating crisis is 2014 when most NATO forces would leave the country: "Plagued by factionalism and corruption, Afghanistan is far from ready to assume responsibility for security when U.S. and NATO forces withdraw in 2014. That makes the political challenge of organizing a credible presidential election and transfer of power from President Karzai to a successor that year all the more daunting. A repeat of previous elections' chaos and chicanery would trigger a constitutional crisis, lessening chances the present political dispensation can survive the transition." Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

A Dysfunctional Political System and Contentious Elections

October 29th 2012

Juan Williams 02

In the 2000 presidential election, Al Gore got more votes than George W. Bush, but still lost the election. The Supreme Court’s ruling in Florida gave Bush that pivotal state, and doomed Gore to lose the Electoral College. That odd scenario — where the candidate with the most votes loses — has happened three times in U.S. history.

Will 2012 become the fourth time it has happened?

At the moment, Republican Mitt Romney leads among likely voters nationwide in several polls. But President Obama’s campaign remains confident because he leads in enough states to assure him the 270 electoral votes needed to capture a second term. “We [would] win the election if it were held today,” said senior White House adviser David Plouffe. “In the battleground states, we think we’ve got many more pathways to 270 electoral votes.”

Romney senior campaign advisor Eric Fehrnstrom was similarly blunt in his assessment last week. “The cake is baked,” he said. “Something structural changed in that first debate, and all the movement has been toward Gov. Romney.”

Yet, according to statistical guru Nate Silver, of The New York Times, President Obama has about a 74 percent chance of being reelected. Mitt Romney has only roughly a 26 percent chance of becoming the 45th U.S. president. According to Silver, President Obama will win 295 electoral votes and Romney will net 243 electoral votes. Of the seven battleground states — Ohio, Florida, Virginia, New Hampshire, Colorado, Nevada and Wisconsin — Silver projects Obama will win all of them with the exception of Florida. Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

Romney’s Structural Handicap: An In-Depth Analysis of The Foreign Policy Issue in the Presidential Election

October 28th 2012

Obama-Romney

We have yet to receive a full analysis on the foreign policy aspects of the third debate between President Barack Obama and Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney. Remember that the idea that someone “won” the debate in terms of an outside observer’s standpoint or even based on a poll is misleading. The only important thing is whether either candidate swayed additional voters to his side. Since I’m writing this to provide a detailed assessment, I’m not going to try to be short. So for your convenience let me begin by briefly explaining how Romney is so handicapped in dealing with foreign policy:

–He either cannot (or has decided for strategic reasons not to) name the enemy, revolutionary Islamism.

–He either cannot (or has decided for strategic reasons not to) discuss in sharp terms how Obama has objectively helped this enemy become stronger while weakening America’s allies.

–It is not politically profitable for him to explain that America faces a long struggle, since this would make voters unhappy and prefer Obama’s promise that he has brought peace.

–It is not politically profitable for him to explain that democracy and economic development are not panaceas for the Middle East. Read more ..


Venezuela on Edge

Latin America Reacts to Watershed Chavez Electoral Victory in Venezuela

October 27th 2012

Viva Chavez poster

Two days prior to the Venezuelan presidential election, Francisco Toro, a Venezuelan journalist and blogger, wrote an op-ed in the New York Times stating that Chavez and his movement have become irrelevant. As Chavez’s socialism is becoming increasingly authoritarian and has failed to reduce poverty, Toro claims that it is no longer an exemplary to other Latin American states; in his opinion, it is Brazil’s template—combining free enterprise and democracy with social programs aimed at reducing poverty—that is what everyone in the region hopes to follow.

To illustrate his point, Toro uses the examples of Ollanta Humala in Peru and Venezuelan presidential opposition candidate, Henrique Capriles Radonski. (To this list, we could also add Fernando Lugo in Paraguay). All of them ran on a “Brazilian” platform based on the social democratic principles established by former Brazilian president Lula Da Silva. Toro also points out that, in public, the authoritarian and the social-democratic Left are united but, behind closed doors, they are divided to the point of being “viciously dismissive of each other.” Read more ..


Israel and Gaza

Israel and Gaza

October 27th 2012

DomeOfTheRock

The recent upsurge of mortars and rockets being fired into Israel from Gaza, the strong Israeli military reaction, and the possibility that a stronger reaction may yet come, have raised once again the issue of Israel’s relationship with the small area many Israelis call Hamastan. The visit to Gaza this week of the Emir of Qatar, who was the first foreign head of state to go there since Hamas took over in 2007 and who pledged $400 million in aid to Gaza, has also put the region back on the front pages.

One view suggests that the Emir’s visit is simply a disaster. The money will be very helpful to Hamas and its continued rule. The visit by a head of state itself accords Gaza almost the status of a state—and thereby helps Hamas in its continuing struggle with Fatah and the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank. It legitimizes Hamas and its rule in Gaza, which is obviously bad for Israel, bad for the PA, and bad for the United States and all others who view Hamas as a terrorist group.

But there is another view, put forward this week by the former Israeli National Security Advisor, retired Major General Giora Eiland.

He thinks the visit and the aid were perfectly acceptable. He does not believe Israel has any particular interest in reuniting the West Bank and Gaza, rather than seeking a greater integration of Gaza with Egypt. He also notes that efforts by Israel to strengthen the PA and its leader, President Abbas, against Hamas quite often have the opposite effect. He also believes that weakening Hamas does not strengthen Abbas and Fatah in Gaza, because they are so weak there and unable to improve their situation. Instead, weakening Hamas strengthens even more extreme salafist and jihadi groups. He argues that to the extent that Hamas comes to be more like a stable government for Gaza, with a decent economy, it will have that much more to lose from confrontations with Israel. When many more valuable targets are at risk, he believes, Hamas will be more careful. Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

Ryan and the Poverty Question

October 27th 2012

Paul Ryan

Paul Ryan has earned a reputation for making Americans confront fiscal deficits many would prefer to ignore. Yesterday in Cleveland, the chairman of the House Budget Committee was at it again, forcing liberals and conservatives alike to look at their respective antipoverty deficits.

Ryan exposed the moral and fiscal bankruptcy of the liberal welfare state, driving dependency on more than 80 federal means-tested programs to the tune of $1 trillion annually. The Wisconsin Republican also owned up to conservatives’ leadership deficit when it comes to fighting poverty — and made a big down payment toward erasing it.

It’s not that conservatives don’t have answers to the question of poverty. To the contrary, we’ve had striking successes in the 1996 welfare reform and school choice for low-income students, for starters. But we’ve lacked the coherent framing, leadership, and initiative to convey the conservative antipoverty vision in a way that would capture Americans’ imagination and dislodge the default welfare-state paradigm.

Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

Obama's Failed Foreign Policy is an Opportunity to Address Real National Security

October 26th 2012

Obama

Presidential candidates usually frame national security in terms of foreign policy -- relations between nations, including their treaties, military agreements, arms sales, foreign aid and military action. But if a president’s most important job is to protect the welfare of his nation’s citizens, then this foreign policy frame is actually a narrow, militaristic, euphemistic way of avoiding talking about our real need for national security.

The greatest threats to our nation and our people are the growing wealth inequity that stifles economic growth and pushes millions into poverty; our dependence on energy sources that ignite wars and pollute the planet; our lack of universal health care; and a failure to provide educational opportunity for millions of children stuck in low-performing schools. Read more ..


Inside Afghanistan

Afghani Special Forces May Offer a Ray of Hope

October 26th 2012

Afghanistan Spec Forces

Eleven years after U.S.-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) troops first drove the Taliban out of Afghanistan, more questions than answers litter the landscape of a country that has been reeling under the burden of war for over 30 years. Most of those questions ask essentially the same thing: Is there any good news out of Afghanistan?

That question most often revolves around the state of the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF), comprised of three main groups: the Afghan National Army (ANA), Afghan Air Force (AAF), and the Afghan National Police (ANP). Critics charge that if the ANSF is not prepared to secure Afghanistan after the planned major drawdown of U.S. combat forces in 2014, then all of the blood and treasure poured into this country over the last several years was wasted. Read more ..


Iran on Edge

In Saudi Arabia and Israel, Signals That Iran Has Retaliation in Works

October 26th 2012

Shadowy Computer User

The Iranians and their Hizbullah ally are sending warning signals about how they might fight a future war with the United States and Israel. The signals aren’t subtle—Tehran intends to retaliate for any attack on its nuclear facilities with blows against America’s allies in the region, hitting their most sensitive oil and nuclear facilities.

The U.S and Iran have been adversaries since 1979; we fought an undeclared naval war in the late 1980s. The American presidential election has seen both candidates threaten Iran with military action if it does not forsake development of a nuclear arsenal and halt its nuclear enrichment program. Iran has long threatened it will retaliate dramatically and decisively if it is attacked by the U.S., Israel or both. Now it is showing some of its plans for doing just that.

On Aug. 15, a cyberattack hit Saudi oil giant Aramco with devastating results. According to U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, 30,000 computer workstations were rendered useless and had to be replaced. Aramco, which Forbes magazine ranks as the world’s largest oil company and is the key to Saudi Arabia’s production, had data on many of its hard drives erased and replaced with photos of a burning U.S. flag. Panetta did not directly accuse Iran of responsibility, but other U.S. officials have pointed right at Tehran. Panetta concluded that Iran has “undertaken a concerted effort to use cyberspace to its advantage.” Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

No Transfer for the Blind Sheik

October 26th 2012

Blind Sheikh

In last month’s Wall Street Journal, Michael Mukasey — the last of President George W. Bush’s three attorneys general, and, before that, a federal judge — wondered ominously:

Are senior Obama administration officials considering transferring to Egypt a poisonously influential Islamist cleric serving a life term in federal prison for trying to unleash a war of urban terrorism in the United States? That's the impression several officials have given over the past three months, apparently out of fear that if the cleric dies in U.S. custody, American outposts in the Middle East could be overrun by vengeful mobs.

The Islamist in question is Omar Abdel Rahman, or the “Blind Sheik,” as he is better known.  As a district judge, Mukasey presided over the latter’s trial, and imposed a life sentence for the Blind Sheik’s role in a conspiracy that included, among other things, the murder of a conservative New York rabbi and the World Trade Center bombing. Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

Thoughts About the Upcoming Election From a Holocaust Survivor

October 26th 2012

Obama-Romney

Over the past few months I have read many articles and listened to many speeches by many prominent and educated people concerning the upcoming Presidential election. I am also an educated person, though I doubt that my education came from the same place of wisdom that these writers and speakers received theirs. They were fortunate to receive their education, and I am unfortunate in mine. I was educated with Holocaust wisdom and it is from my unique perspective that I would like to share my thoughts about the upcoming election.

I am a Holocaust survivor, the only one from my large family to endure this horrible period of world history. I remember life before the political tides turned in Eastern Europe and also the horrors of the regime change when Hitler (may his name be erased) came to power. Read more ..


The Edge of Climate Change

Energy, Security, and Climate

October 25th 2012

Smokestack pollution

When the Waxman-Markey cap-and-trade bill collapsed a few year back, advocates of aggressive action on climate change despaired. But a fascinating and provocative new analysis from Dallas Butraw and Matt Woerman at Resources for the Future suggests that people might want to revisit that judgment: by 2020, they write, domestic emissions will “probably [be] less than would have occurred if the Waxman-Markey cap-and-trade proposal had become law”. Whether you believe that depends on some important details.

The underlying logic is relatively simple. Butraw and Woerman identify three main sources of emissions reductions over the next decade: changes in the economy (notably cheap natural gas), state and regional policies, and regulation of carbon dioxide under the Clean Air Act (CAA). They project that those will collectively lead to a 16.3 percent reduction in carbon dioxide emissions below 2005 levels by 2020, with standards under the CAA contributing more than ten percentage points of that. That is close to the target the United States announced at Copenhagen. Read more ..


Nigeria on Edge

Nigerian Army Guilt?

October 25th 2012

Nigeria joint military task force

Sunday’s New York Times carried an Agence France Presse piece reporting on the alleged Boko Haram killing of at least thirty people over a three day period in Potiskum, Yobe state. 

The piece also notes that it was “not clear whether soldiers were responsible for any of the destruction.” The Nigerian army has been widely accused of indiscriminate killings in northern Nigeria as part of its campaign against Boko Haram.  Some political leaders have urged the Jonathan government to withdraw the military, especially from Maiduguri, arguing that it feeds popular support for Boko Haram.  I have blogged on a Human Rights Watch report that raises the question of whether the International criminal Court has jurisdiction over crimes committed both by Boko Haram and the military.

But it is too easy to lay responsibility for alleged security service atrocities solely at the feet of the Nigerian military.  As in many countries, the army in Nigeria is not responsible for maintaining domestic order.  That is the function of the police, which, like the army, is a national–not local or state–institution. The army is not trained for domestic policing.  Nonetheless the army has moved to the forefront in the struggle against Boko Haram because of the inadequacies of the police.  The latter are so poorly paid they often support their families by shaking down travelers at the ubiquitous check points and indulge in other forms of petty corruption.  The upper reaches of the police also appear riddled with corruption, sometimes of spectacular magnitude.  And they are very badly trained.  Anecdotes abound of indiscriminate police killings. A consequence of these shortcomings is that the police are widely (if not universally) despised.  Popular regard for the military is marginally better, if seemingly in decline because of recent abuse allegations. Read more ..


Israel's Looming Attack

The Ostrich Syndrome: Understanding the World’s Reluctance to Take Action Against Iran

October 24th 2012

The international community appears unlikely to take military action against the Iranian nuclear weapons program because of the “Ostrich Syndrome” – a reluctance to deal with difficult problems and a preference to ignore them. The historical record shows that failure to respond to Iranian actions only leads to more aggression from Iran, and inaction in the current situation will lead to dangerous global repercussions.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s September 27 speech to the UN General Assembly in which he delineated a red line for the Iranian nuclear program was widely reported. But its impact will soon dissipate, because the international community suffers from what might be called the “Ostrich Syndrome.” Most global leaders prefer to ignore the bad news of nuclear proliferation and stick their heads in the sand, as was the case with the way they dealt with (or failed to seriously deal with) North Korea’s nuclear program. Members of the international community are similarly reluctant to acknowledge the current reality in Iran because doing so would require action – probably military action – which they are far from ready to take.

Indeed, most states continue to downplay the extreme revolutionary nature of the Iranian regime, which seeks to export its radical jihadist version of Shiite Islam. When Israel seeks to warn of this, Israel is reassured by Western leaders that the Iranians are rational actors “just like us.” Is this really so? Are Iranian leaders rational actors “just like us”? The Iranian leadership is responsible for killing Westerners in Lebanon and Saudi Arabia…and yet Israel is supposed to believe that Iran is rational “just like us.” Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

Obamacare vs. Women

October 23rd 2012

medicine and money #2

President Obama is campaigning hard on his promise to give women access to free oral contraceptives and surgical sterilization, benefits that are guaranteed under ObamaCare. But women should also know about all of the health services they stand to lose.

ObamaCare empowers a host of new boards and committees to arbitrate over what insurance will pay for, and what remains uncovered. They’ll rule over not just health plans sold inside the ObamaCare exchanges, but even private insurance.

One such board, the US Preventive Services Task Force, will evaluate preventive health services like contraception and decide which benefits must be part of the coverage that insurance plans offer — indeed, which services must be covered in full, with no co-pays.

But requiring first-dollar coverage for those services is expensive, so health plans will have to offset those costly mandates by dropping coverage for things that don’tmake the board’s grade. Problem is, what the board deems essential is often out of sync with patient preferences, conventional medical practice and even experts like the Centers for Disease Control — which has clashed with the Preventive Services Task Force over recommendations like screening for HIV and hepatitis C. Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

Debates Go into Foreign Territory

October 23rd 2012

Armstrong_Williams

During the debate, we went into some foreign territory. The election is going to be about the economy and the size of government, not foreign policy, but the task of a president—and, let’s not forget, a government—is most essentially to protect Americans. It is, at the most basic level, not as a manager or prophet or pop star, but as a commander-in-chief. And that was what the debate was: a clear view for all of the two prospective commanders-in-chief. While they are similar in many ways, there were some minor differences that might have major consequences in the future.
 
As with the economy, the American people already know Obama’s foreign policy. We’ve lived through it for the past four years, and so it is to be expected that more focus has been put on Governor Romney. Romney kept the gloves on, and passed up numerous opportunities for attacks, but, to his credit, looked more reasonable; he looked calm, cool, and collected. Obama, on the other hand, looked the way he did in the second debate: irate. Romney treated the debate as a professional performance; the President seemed to take it personal.
 
Let’s face it: Romney had a lot of red meat that he could have thrown to his base. We know that the Obama Administration has lied to us about Benghazi; this is all in the public record. But Romney did not even mention it, never mind pressing him on it. Romney was presidential: he had a staggering number of statistics available off the top of his head. The President didn’t have many of his own (any, actually, that I can recall), and couldn’t challenge Romney’s factual assertions.
Read more ..

The Iranian Threat

What to do With Sanctions

October 23rd 2012

Ahmadinejad pointing

Western Iran-watchers have been pleased these past few weeks to see evidence that international sanctions against the Islamic Republic appear to have precipitated the collapse of local currency and demonstrations in the marketplace.  The EU added a new sanctions package last week.  Finally, they seem to be saying, we're getting having an impact -- more sanctions, better sanctions, "crippling sanctions" are better than military operations. Certainly they are different from military operations.

Sanctions drive up prices, so they have an impact on people who are price-sensitive -- people without government protection.  But those whose behavior the international community is trying to modify are much less sensitive to economic or social cost than a) regular people and b) the international community itself. Read more ..


The Obama Edge

How Not to Help Lebanon

October 23rd 2012

Barack Obama in Thought

The White House has now issued the following statement. "Statement by NSC Spokesman Tommy Vietor on Attack in Beirut: The United States condemns in the strongest terms the terrorist attack today in Beirut that killed Lebanese Internal Security Forces Information Bureau Director Wissam al-Hassan and at least seven others, and wounded dozens more.  Our thoughts and prayers are with the families and friends of those killed and injured in this heinous attack and with the Lebanese people, who have sacrificed greatly to overcome war and violence.  Lebanon’s security and stability are vital both for the Lebanese people and their neighbors.  There is no justification for using assassination as a political tool.  The United States will stand by the Government of Lebanon and the people of Lebanon as they work to bring those responsible for this barbaric attack to justice and build a future where all Lebanese can live in security and dignity."

What’s wrong with this statement? Read more ..


The Iranian Threat

America's Credibility Problem with Iran

October 22nd 2012

Iranian Qiam missile launch

In recent weeks, Iran has been ratcheting up pressure on the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), accusing its inspectors of spying and sabotage, and threatening to further restrict the agency's access to its nuclear facilities. The target of the regime's finger pointing has typically been Israel and the United States. Its new focus on the IAEA likely reflects a continuation of its current strategy, namely, to keep stalling for time as unending diplomatic rounds continue, all the while continuing to expand its nuclear program.

Much of Tehran's decision to focus on the IAEA appears as a response to the agency's latest report, which reveals that Iran has doubled down on its uranium enrichment activities in recent months, doubling the number of centrifuges at its Fordo nuclear site while blocking the agency's access to the Parchin military installation where nuclear-related experiments were believed to be carried out. Read more ..


Energy Policy

Local Public Service Commissions Are Pivotal in our Nation's Energy Use

October 22nd 2012

rural electric lines

Energy is a driving force behind our nation –– our dependence on it and our ability to develop new ways for harnessing and producing it are all pivotal forces behind our strength as a nation. Current energy policies for transportation fuels like oil are set largely by national policies, such as mileage efficiency standards and requirements for blending bio-fuels. By contrast, energy for other uses is governed mainly at the state level. If we want to use energy more wisely in the United States, we must pay attention to the individual 50 states where Public Service Commissions regulate the use of electricity and natural gas and often provide policy guidance for their state legislatures.
 
To adopt policies favorable to national security, economic growth and a cleaner environment, all states should be actively promoting energy conservation and efficiency, the most cost-effective "new" energy.  States should also promote fuel diversity –– including the use of renewable energy like bio-fuels, wind and solar –– and they should be creating environments where the energy of the future can grow and strive in ways that contribute to local economies.
 
My home state, Georgia, has some of the nation's best resources for addressing these problems. Currently, the University of Georgia and others are conducting innovative work on bio-fuels, Georgia Tech is providing leadership on a wide variety of energy technologies and Emory University's commitment to sustainable development has led to buildings that must be LEED certified and ambitious programs to reduce its carbon footprint. All of these programs stand out nationally for their accomplishments. Read more ..


Broken Economy

Time to Address the Retirement Savings Crisis

October 22nd 2012

Click to select Image

Americans’ ability to build a secure retirement is increasingly in danger. In addition to Social Security’s rapidly approaching fiscal problems and underfunded traditional defined-benefit pensions, the retirement savings system is available to only about half of the workforce and needs other improvements before today’s workers can create sufficient retirement income. The longer this situation goes unaddressed, the greater the probability that millions of future retirees will face poverty or other financial hardships.

This is not a small issue. Social Security, the foundation of retirement income, is so underfunded that every retiree faces 25 percent benefit cuts in just over 20 years. In addition, many taxpayers face massive tax increases to pay for underfunded state and local government pension plans. However, the biggest problem may be the retirement savings system, and the need to improve this crucial aspect of retirement security receives scant press and virtually no legislative action. Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

Medicare’s Status Quo: No, We Can’t

October 22nd 2012

medicine and money #2

Politicians have promised Medicare benefits worth $37 trillion over the next 75 years. But that huge amount of benefits isn’t paid for, and so those promises will not be kept. 

That is why Republicans and Democrats agree — albeit usually in private — that a major reform of this healthcare program for the elderly is necessary. And on one narrow point, there is bipartisan consensus: Medicare must be put on a budget. President Obama has established the precedent. His Affordable Care Act phases in a hard cap on Medicare spending, indexed to the growth of the general economy (GDP) plus 1 percent. To enforce the cap, the national healthcare reform law creates a presidentially appointed Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB) to make cuts to Medicare provider payments. This is the law of the land, not merely a proposal. 

Even before the IPAB starts cutting, the Affordable Care Act barrels ahead with massive reductions to Medicare provider payments — mostly to hospitals, health plans, nursing homes, home health agencies and even hospice care. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) says they will amount to $716 billion in net spending reductions over the next 10 years. Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

Obama and Romney on Foreign Policy: Beyond the Rhetoric, Some Genuine Differences

October 21st 2012

Obama and Romney road show

Presidential campaigns should come with a disclaimer: “past promises are no guarantee of future policies.” Candidates are notorious for exaggerating modest differences with opponents, then doing precisely the same thing once elected. Remember Bill Clinton, blasting George H. W. Bush for toasting the “butchers of Beijing,” later cozying up to China. Or a junior senator from Illinois, Senator Obama, who condemned George W. Bush’s “global war on terrorism,” but adopted aggressive homeland security and counterterrorism measures of his own, from extending provisions of the Patriot Act to expanding targeted killings via drone strikes.

The lesson is that the realities of governance constrain a president’s freedom of action. Fiscal realities intrude; Congress proves obstructionist; strategic imperatives force unexpected continuity; and unanticipated events upset the best-laid plans. Read more ..


Iran's Nukes

Obama Reported Ready for One-on-One Talks with Iran Over Nukes

October 21st 2012

ahmadinejad_iran-nuclear.jpg

The New York Times reported on Sunday that the Obama administration has chosen to open face-to-face, one-on-one negotiations with the genocidal and antisemitic government of Iran for the first time. The Times called the negotiations "a last-ditch diplomatic effort to avert a military strike on Iran" and the "result of intense, secret exchanges between American and Iranian officials that date almost to the beginning of President Obama’s term."

The talks will apparently not be held until after the American presidential elections. Iran insisted upon this precondition. The talks are being spun by the Times' sources as a major breakthrough, and a sign that sanctions have forced Iran into talks that will end with Iran giving up its nuclear program. Unfortunately, this is likely not the case. According to the Times, allowing the Iranians to enrich uranium to some degree is "a concession that experts say will probably figure in any deal on the nuclear program." Read more ..



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