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Venezuela on Edge

Chavez Wins—So Does the Opposition

October 8th 2012

Hugo Chavez

Had Hugo Chavez won yesterday’s presidential election in Venezuela by a landslide, the opposition would have justifiably accused him of committing massive electoral fraud. Especially over the last two weeks, support for the opposition candidate, Henrique Capriles, swelled to the extent that many local pollsters believed he would pull off a narrow win at the last moment.

Instead Chavez garnered 54 percent of the vote, against 46 percent for Capriles. That margin of victory helps Chavez insofar as it staves off charges of electoral manipulation. At the same time, it confirms that Venezuela is seriously divided, with almost half the country rejecting the ideology of Chavismo pushed by the regime, along with the corruption, incompetence, and contempt for democratic rights inherent to this system of government.

The other half, as the Venezuelan dissident blogger Daniel Duquenal observed this morning, feels empowered by the social envy (el resentimiento social) that Chavez has turned into a revolutionary dogma. Says Duquenal. "[They]…hate people like me. Maybe not to the point of killing me, but to the point of trying to screw me any way they can…Now in Venezuela you will have all the trouble in the world to manage employees…to demand that public servants do the job they are appointed to do. Because if you feel that you have rights, then they will see you as a direct impingement on their comfort." Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

Mitt Romney's Tax Proposals: Understanding the Debate

October 8th 2012

Mitt Romney

For months, Mitt Romney had been advocating tax cut proposals that would reduce revenues by about $5 trillion over the next decade, and that were heavily tilted toward the rich. Yet he did not explain how he would pay for these cuts, just that he somehow would.

In a recent paper I wrote with two colleagues, we showed that a revenue-neutral plan that met five specific goals that Governor Romney had put forth (reducing income tax rates by 20 percent, repealing the estate tax, the alternative minimum tax, and capital income taxes for middle class households, and enhancing saving and investment) would cut taxes for households with income above $200,000, and—as a result of revenue-neutrality—would therefore necessarily have to raise taxes on taxpayers below $200,000.

This was true even when we bent over backwards to make the plan as favorable to Romney as possible. We considered an unrealistically progressive way of financing the specified tax reductions. We accounted for revenue feedback coming from potential economic growth estimates as estimated by Romney advisor Greg Mankiw. We even ignored the need to finance about a trillion dollars in Romney's proposed corporate cuts. Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

Republicans Facing Longer Odds in Bid to Gain Senate Control

October 8th 2012

Juan Williams

As the old Negro League pitcher Satchel Paige once told reporters after his team faded in September and lost the pennant: “The future isn’t what it used to be.” What’s true in baseball is also true in politics.

At the start of this political cycle, basic math favored Republicans claiming the Senate majority in November and joining the Republican House majority to turn all of Capitol Hill into GOP territory. Back then, the math showed 33 seats being contested — with Democrats defending 23 of those seats. Republicans only had to protect 10 incumbents. The odds indicated the GOP was likely to win the four seats they need to become the majority of the Senate. But with a month to go before the election, that math is upside down.

The new math in the Senate indicates that Democrats and Republicans basically have an even shot at winning the majority. The GOP advantage began to disappear when Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) decided there was no place for a centrist in today’s Republican Party. That once-sure Republican seat is now up for grabs, with an Independent, former Gov. Angus King, holding the lead. The new math is also the result of fading GOP prospects in states such as Hawaii. Popular Republican Gov. Linda Lingle has not been able to overcome her state’s deep blue politics in her Senate campaign.

Similarly, centrist former Rep. Heather Wilson (R) has not been able to appeal to Hispanic and independent voters through her Senate campaign in New Mexico. In Missouri, Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) has a good chance to win reelection because her Republican opponent is Rep. Todd Akin, now famous for his comment on “legitimate rape.” In Arizona, Dr. Richard Carmona, a doctor and a Democrat, is the surprise leader in the Senate contest ahead of GOP Rep. Jeff Flake. Meanwhile, former Virginia Gov. George Allen (R) has seen his prospects for reclaiming his old Senate seat go from a sure bet to — at best — a toss up. He is running against fellow former Gov. Tim Kaine (D).The new numbers are also informed by problems facing former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson — who is by far the most popular Republican in the state. He was thought to be a shoo-in to take the seat of retiring Sen. Herb Kohl (D), but the polls now show him locked in a dead heat with Democrat Rep. Tammy Baldwin. As the numbers keep changing, political analysts now say it is a toss-up as to which party claims the Senate. Read more ..


The Obama Edge

Obama Sends Anti-American, Anti-Israel Islamist To Speak Overseas on Human Rights

October 7th 2012

Barack Obama

It was, unfortunately, no surprise when the Obama Administration selected Salam Al-Marayati to join the U.S. delegation at a human rights conference being held in Warsaw by the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). No surprise, because Marayati, the director of the Islamist Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC), had already been dispatched by the Obama Administration in 2010 to speak on human rights on behalf of the U.S. to UNESCO in Paris and at the U.S. mission to the United Nations in Geneva. Yet, the bill of particulars against Marayati’s appointment to the delegation is large and, indeed, had resulted in 1999 in Marayati’s appointment to a Congressional committee on terrorism being actually rescinded, once his record of extremism to that date had been publicized by the ZOA.

In 1993, Marayati called Israel’s creation a “crime” which he vowed to “work to overturn.” In 1996, following the killing of a Palestinian terrorist, Muhammad Hamida, as he chanted ‘Alahu Akbar (‘Allah is Great’) and carried out an attack in Jerusalem that killed one Israeli civilian and injured 23 others, Marayati didn’t deplore Hamida’s act of terror – he deplored the killing of Hamida as a “provocative act” and demanded the extradition to America of those who had killed him “to be tried in a U.S. court on terrorism charges.”

In 1997, providing anticipatory defense for Islamist terrorist assaults on Americans, Marayati claimed that the Clinton Administration was in the pocket of Israel and pondered “whether the American people are aware of and ready for the consequences.” In 1998, following the slaughter of hundreds in the al-Qaeda bombings of U.S. embassies in east Africa, Marayati condemned military strikes launched upon al-Qaeda by the Clinton Administration as “illegal, immoral and illogical.” The same year, he defended the French Holocaust denier, Roger Garaudy, describing his prosecution and fining in France as “persecution of his right to express an opinion.” Marayati has also complained of “having the Holocaust shoved down [his] throat.” Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

The Domestic Counterterrorism Enterprise: Time to Streamline

October 7th 2012

FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force

Over the last decade, the domestic counterterrorism enterprise in the United States has added a significant amount of much-needed capacity. From the expansion of Joint Terrorism Task Forces (JTTFs) by the FBI to the development of intelligence fusion centers by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the resources now dedicated to gathering information, analyzing it, developing actionable intelligence, and acting upon it are substantial.

With that being said, the domestic intelligence enterprise should base future improvements on the reality that governments at all levels are fiscally in crisis. Rather than add additional components to the system, law enforcement officials should streamline the domestic counterterrorism enterprise by improving current capabilities, leveraging state and local law enforcement resources and authorities, and, in some cases, reducing components where the terrorist threat is not high and the financial support is too thin or could be allocated more effectively. Read more ..


The Economy on Edge

Global Economic Recovery Hits the Ropes

October 7th 2012

Spanish unemployed

The global economic recovery is on the ropes, battered by political conflicts within and across countries, lack of decisive policy actions, and governments’ inability to tackle deep-seated problems such as unsustainable public finances that are stifling growth. Growth in global trade has weakened and the spectre of currency wars, with countries looking to maintain export competitiveness by keeping their currencies weak, has returned to the fore.

The Brookings-FT Tiger index shows growth momentum has dissipated in nearly all major advanced and emerging market economies. Central banks of the major advanced economies have responded with a range of conventional and unconventional policy monetary policy actions. These measures have put a floor on short-term financial market risks but have been unable to reverse declining growth momentum. As a result, financial markets continue to go through short-term cycles of angst and euphoria even as indicators of real economic activity remain mired in weakness. Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

How the Media are Trying to Spin the First Presidential Debate

October 6th 2012

Obama

Did Romney win the debate, or did Obama lose it? To those who watched, the answer is obvious: both. In the media we hear endless explanations of why Obama lost but few comments on how effective and articulate Mitt Romney was.

Bob Woodward hypothesizes that Obama was, somehow, distracted — perhaps by some personal issues or maybe by a big international crisis about which we don’t know yet. Al Gore, ever focused on climate issues, posited that the high altitude in Denver had enervated the president since his handlers brought him out to the Mile-High City only a few hours before the debate.

These reasons may or may not have had anything to do with Obama’s terrible performance. But the point in floating them is to focus attention on something that may be repairable: Obama’s debating skills. They want to avoid having to zero in on Romney’s ability, knowledge, charm and charisma because these qualities are not likely to change and pose a permanent challenge to the liberal establishment. Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

Romney Starts to Fill in Blanks on His Tax Plan

October 6th 2012

Mitt Romney

For months, voters have been in the dark about key details of Mitt Romney's tax plans. He specified $5 trillion in tax cuts, a 20 percent cut in income tax rates, a 40 percent cut in the corporate tax rate, repeal of the estate tax and alternative minimum tax and elimination of taxes on interest, dividends and capital gains for households with incomes below $200,000.

He did not want his changes to raise the deficit, but he was utterly mum on how to raise $5 trillion to offset the tax cuts.

During the summer, two colleagues and I showed that if Romney did not want to add new taxes on savings and investments -- and raising savings and investments is the second of four main planks in Romney's overall economic package -- he could not finance his tax cuts without generating a net tax cut for households with income above $200,000. Read more ..


The Edge of Hunger

Three Keys to Ending Hunger

October 6th 2012

Hungry African Widow/Children

Hunger and malnutrition is the No. 1 risk to prosperity worldwide. The private sector is starting to invest in this generation-defining issue, while governments around the world, including our own, are struggling to keep pace. 

This month, President Obama’s Feed the Future initiative received a $1 billion pledge from U.S. organizations to address the root causes of hunger and poverty. This pledge came on the heels of a $4 billion pledge by more than 60 companies from Africa and other continents. As co-chairman of the Congressional Ethiopia Caucus and the Congressional Out of Poverty Caucus, I commend these pledges and look forward to working with the administration as they are implemented. These are short-term fixes, however, to the long-term issues of chronic food insecurity and malnutrition facing millions.  Read more ..


The Arab Winter of Rage

Even When the Arabs Benefit From Us They Can’t Say So

October 6th 2012

Egyptian women protesting

t is always amazing to me that the depth of the Arab world’s unhappiness with our presence in this part of the world makes it impossible for them to recognize the benefits that some Arab governments have received as a direct result of our being here. A case in point is the Qualified Industrial Zones (QIZ) which exist in both Jordan and Israel as a result of the peace agreements we signed with both countries and through the cooperation, as well, of the United States government.

In principle, the QIZ concept developed during the Clinton-Rabin years, allows for products manufactured in both countries to be exported to the US duty free as long as there is a small percentage of the product with “Israeli content.”  So, for example, Standard Textile Inc. of Cincinnati produces hospital linen in their plant in Jordan.  The fabric is cut in their factory in Israel then shipped to Jordan for finishing, where the operational costs are significantly lower than they are here in Israel.  The Jordanians then get to export these garments with a “made in Israel” label so that they can enter the US duty free in accordance with the terms of the Free Trade Agreement between the US and Israel.
Read more ..

Edge of Terrorism

Obama Purchases Prison to House Gitmo Terrorists

October 5th 2012

Obama

On Thursday, the day after Obama's poor showing during his debate with GOP opponent Mitt Romney, Rep. Peter T. King (R-NY), Chairman of the Committee on Homeland Security, slammed President Barack Obama over his Administration’s decision to purchase a Thomson, Illinois, correctional facility where the Administration seeks to transfer the remainder of the incarcerated Guantanamo Bay terrorists.

In a formal letter to President Obama, Chairman King suggested five alternative uses for the estimated $165 million that the Obama Administration will spend to acquire the prison in Barack Obama's home state. "Besides the obvious reasons for being against this latest attempt at closing Gitmo, I believe there should be a full investigation into Obama's choice for the location of a terrorist prison. It's no secret Obama is connected to some shady characters in Illinois and any purchase by this administration in that particular state should be investigated," said former police and corrections officer Eugene D'Amato. Read more ..


Israel and Palestine

Rethinking Palestine 2012

October 5th 2012

Wailing Wall in Jerusalem

In 2011, Mahmoud Abbas, head of the Palestinian Authority (PA), failed to win U.N. acceptance of Palestine as an independent state1.  This year, he lowered the bar to upgraded status within the U.N.  In the intervening year, Palestinian finances have collapsed, Palestinians have taken to the street to denounce PA corruption rather than Israel, and Hamas in Gaza has begun a new relationship with Muslim Brotherhood-led Egypt.  By going the "more than territory but less than statehood" route, Abbas has essentially slipped the bonds of the Oslo Accords. It's about time.

The Oslo Accords, negotiated without U.S. participation and signed in 1993, were founded on the mistaken belief that Palestinians and Israelis were trying to solve the same problem -- namely, how to fit "two states for two people" in the space between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea.  The Israelis, joined by the Americans, based their participation in the process on three mistaken principles: Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

Height of Hypocrisy: Turkey Orders Military Action in Syria

October 5th 2012

Turkish Soldiers on patrol

This morning, Turkey’s Parliament ratified military action in Syria in response to a mortar attack from the war torn country which killed Turkish civilians. The New York Times reports: "Turkey’s Parliament approved a motion Thursday that authorizes further military action against Syria, as Turkey began its second day of shelling targets within Syria in response to a mortar attack that killed five civilians."

CNN has more, quoting a statement from Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan’s office: “Our armed forces on the border responded immediately to this atrocious attack within the rules of engagement, and points in Syria determined by radar were hit with artillery fire,” it said. “Turkey, within the confines of the rules of engagement and international law, will never leave these types of provocations aimed at our national security unanswered.”

Read more ..

The Race for Natural Gas

The New York Times Blunders Into Advocacy Role on the Fracking Debate

October 4th 2012

Hydrolic Fracking pollution

Over the past two years, The New York Times has stumbled badly in its coverage of the natural gas revolution and fracking debate. Jon Entine, senior fellow at the Center for Health & Risk Communication at George Mason University, reports. Displaying little of the contextualized reporting that the paper, at its best, is renowned for, the Times has run numerous articles in its “Drilling Down” series and elsewhere, simplistically framing shale gas extraction as an environmental disaster-in-progress.

Newly-minted natural gas beat reporter Ian Urbina has focused exclusively on the negative — “the risks of natural-gas drilling” the descriptor on the series page notes — rather than examining both the risks and benefits of the shale gas bonanza.

The questionable reporting kicked off in spring 2011 when the Times hyped the research of once obscure Cornell University professor Robert Howarth whose anti-shale gas activism and out-of-the-mainstream findings have been sharply contested by independent researchers, including at environmental groups such as the Natural Resources Defense Fund and the Environmental Defense Council; a research team at MIT; the National Energy Technology Lab, and independent energy commentators such as Michael Levi at the Council on Foreign Relations. Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

Could Obama's Debate Performance Deflate His Base?

October 4th 2012

Obama

For last night’s debate, one could argue that President Obama brought talking points to a knife fight. Though, I don’t think he was even that well-prepared. His performance ranged from scattered to irritated to meek and stood in stark contrast to Mr. Romney. The governor appeared calm, confident and ready which helped gloss over what was a truly breathtaking reinvention of his policy positions.

One question remains: will it affect voters and do the numbers shift? My colleague Bill Galston wrote last night that he expects the race to tighten, and I agree. Last night’s debate likely pushes some undecided voters toward Romney, while Obama’s numbers remain (statistically) unchanged. A much more critical question hasn’t been asked but must: Was Obama’s performance deflating for his core supporters? In the short term, I argue yes. Having watched the debate with a group of people, among them what can be described as core supporters, “deflated” may be the most positive description. Read more ..


Iran's Looming Attack

Netanyahu Speaks for the Vast Majority of Israelis

October 4th 2012

Netanyhu-UN

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s skilled oratory last week at the UN (click here to watch the speech), climaxed his highly successful global campaign to convince the Western world that a nuclear Iran controlled by messianic mullahs would not merely impact on Israel but would have catastrophic consequences for the entire civilized world.

It was largely due to his unremitting warnings and threats of unilateral preemptive action, that the US and Europe belatedly imposed sanctions and began paying lip service to utilizing military force as a last resort should sanctions fail to impact.

Unfortunately in the midst of this, a number of disgruntled former Israeli intelligence chiefs began publicly casting doubt about Israel’s capacity to confront Iran alone. Whether they were right or wrong cannot be confirmed. But their irresponsible outbursts did reassure the Iranians that Netanyahu was bluffing and discouraged the US from adopting a tougher stand. Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

Obama Health Law Would 'Outperform' Romney Proposals

October 3rd 2012

Obamacare Protest

Mitt Romney's healthcare proposals would dramatically increase the uninsured population compared to the Affordable Care Act, according to a new study. The Commonwealth Fund, a nonprofit research foundation that supports President Obama's signature reform law, evaluated the candidates' healthcare policies and found Obama's proposals "outperform" Romney's when it comes to expanding coverage and lowering costs.

Even compared against a baseline scenario in which the Affordable Care Act had not been implemented, Romney's plans "are estimated to increase the number of uninsured people by 12 million," researchers wrote. Romney, the GOP presidential nominee, has made repealing healthcare reform a cornerstone of his campaign, but is sometimes criticized for a lack of detail on what reforms he would enact in the law's stead. Responding to the Commonwealth study, Romney's campaign said researchers were wrong on the former Massachusetts governor's proposals and their implications — and said the report overestimated the likelihood that the president's bill will be effective. Read more ..


Obama and Israel

What Does Israel Do if Obama Is Reelected?

October 3rd 2012

Obama with baseball bat

I’m going to try to analyze what Israeli strategy might look like if Obama were to be reelected. I don’t want to write a partisan piece - predicting every type of the most horrible disaster and open hatred from the White House - but a serious analytical effort. This involves speculation, but policymakers have to develop the most likely scenarios in order to plan ahead.

Let me start, though, with a joke. An asteroid hits the ocean, producing a giant tidal wave so powerful that within an hour all land will be covered by water. Television networks put on a variety of politicians, alleged wise people, and religious figures to speak with the doomed population. The rabbi among them explains: “All I can say is that you have one hour to learn to breathe underwater.” That is Israel’s mission. To survive a second Obama term brought on it by the American - including a large majority of American Jewish - voters.

The first thing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu does is send a warm message of congratulations to the reelected president. He is going to be president for four years, like it or not, and Israeli leaders will work hard to minimize any antagonism. At least with Netanyahu strongly entrenched, Obama will understand that he cannot subvert the Israeli government to get some other prime minister more to his liking (i.e., someone ready to make unilateral concessions in exchange for getting nothing in return). Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

Like Reagan, Romney Can Still Win

October 2nd 2012

Mitt Romney

Here’s snapshot of the race heading into the first presidential debate: Amid anti-American turmoil in the Middle East, Gallup finds the president leading his GOP challenger 45 to 42 percent. Despite continuing bad economic news, Gallup also reports that 48 percent of American say they have confidence in the president’s ability to deal with the economy — up five points since June — while confidence in his opponent’s economic stewardship has dropped nine points in the same period.

Good news for the Democratic incumbent? Think again. Those were the findings of the Gallup poll on Oct. 28, 1980 — one week before Ronald Reagan defeated Jimmy Carter in a landslide. A late October CBS News/New York Times poll gave Carter a similar lead over Reagan, 42-39 percent. So what changed the trajectory of the 1980 election — and what lessons does Ronald Reagan’s experience hold for Mitt Romney today? Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

Deficit Reduction: Three Tips For Obama’s Second Term

October 2nd 2012

Obama

It’s easy to find surveys purporting to show that Americans want a smaller government offering fewer services.  It’s even easier to find conservatives who believe them.  But it’s not true, or if it is true, only with a implicit qualification—fewer services for someone else.

If Barack Obama wins reelection in the face of a mediocre economy, it will be hard not to interpret his victory as a rejection of the massive domestic spending cuts at the heart of the Ryan budget.  Premium support for Medicare?  Block grants for Medicaid?  Repealing Obamacare?  Massive reductions in food stamps?  Private accounts in Social Security?  Forget about them.

In five weeks, the American people may well ratify a view of the role of government that implies federal spending averaging 22 percent over the next decade, and considerably more after that.  If so, the question before them will be how—or whether--to pay for all the government they collectively say they want. I say “or whether” because there is a respectable view that they need not, at least for quite some time. Read more ..


Arab Winter of Rage

5 Ways to Fix Afganistan

October 1st 2012

Afgan Troops

The U.S. mission in Afghanistan has suffered serious setbacks recently. The Taliban’s audacious September 14 attack on a major coalition base in Helmand Province suggested that the security gains in the south remain fragile and reversible, and that the insurgents are trying to make a comeback as foreign troops are withdrawing. Moreover, the alarming rise in insider attacks forced the U.S. and its allies to restrict joint operations with Afghan troops. These developments should alarm Washington as they undermine the security transition to the Afghan lead and the U.S. exit strategy. But on really placating war weary voters, both presidential candidates remain silent on America’s longest war. Mitt Romney made no mention of Afghanistan in his nomination speech, while President Obama only talks about his exit plan.

Yet there is much at stake in Afghanistan. A precipitous U.S. disengagement would allow the Taliban and al-Qaeda to reconstitute in southern and eastern provinces and plot against America and its allies. The United States can succeed in Afghanistan, but it needs to pursue a strategy that focuses more on success than just the endgame and withdrawal. There are five things the next president should do to sustain the gains of the past decade and ensure that Afghanistan will not become a safe haven for global terrorism once again: Read more ..


Broken Healthcare

Escape Fire: A Documentary Indictment of the U.S. Healthcare System

October 1st 2012

Escape Fire still

If you want to get a clearer understanding not only of why the U.S. health care system fails so many of us but, more importantly, how we can transform it to make it the best in the world, go to the movies this weekend.

Regardless of your political affiliation or your opinion of Obamacare, you will find “Escape Fire: The Fight to Rescue American Health Care,” a compelling and convincing indictment of a health care system controlled by special interests that profit from the status quo and that spend millions of dollars every year to make sure nothing happens in Washington that would be harmful to their bottom lines.

You will also find that it offers some common sense ideas of how to fix many of the things about our system that are badly broken, including fixes that won’t require an act of Congress but that will require some innovative thinking and risk-taking on the part of health care providers, employers and other stakeholders in the private sector. Read more ..


Venezuela on Edge

Cuba Anxiously Eyes Venezuelan Election

October 1st 2012

Chavez PDVSA

Over the last week, indications have emerged from Venezuela that the fourteen year rule of President Hugo Chavez may be coming to an end this Sunday, when voters will choose between El Comandante and his dynamic opposition rival, Henrique Capriles. There are the polls from local companies like Datanalisis and Consultores 21 which show that Capriles has slashed Chavez’s lead, and may even be edging ahead. There is the large pool of “undecided” voters—anywhere between 10 and 20 percent—who will probably vote for Capriles, but are too afraid to let a pollster know. And there was the opposition rally in Caracas yesterday which drew tens of thousands onto the streets of the capital, all chanting “You See It! You Feel It! President Capriles!”

Perhaps the most striking suggestion that change is in the air came from a group of Cuban doctors who were sent to Venezuela under the Misión Barrio Adentro, a Chavez-financed social welfare program whose core purpose is to lock up the votes of poorer Venezuelans for the current regime. Back in 2006, the George W. Bush administration, having registered the large number of Cuban medical personnel working on such solidarity missions in countries like Venezuela, created the Cuban Medical Professional Parole program to assist those wishing to defect. Now, the Venezuelan newspaper El Universal reports (English translation here) that the Cubans are deserting their posts at a rate of 80 per month, in large part because they anticipate a Capriles victory in Sunday’s election.
Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

The Candidates' Positioins on Medicare Advantage

September 30th 2012

Obamacare Protest

President Obama and his allies continue to repeat attacks on Gov. Mitt Romney and his running mate Rep. Paul Ryan that were long ago discredited as completely false. That Republicans want to “end Medicare as we know it” is a popular line from the Democrats, but there’s nothing in the Romney-Ryan plan that ends Medicare as anyone has known it. Indeed, the whole point of the Romney-Ryan reform is to preserve Medicare for future generations. We are also told that the Republican plan would force seniors to pay $6,400 more per year for their care. This too is false. The Romney-Ryan plan guarantees that every senior will have the choice of at least two plans which will cost no more than current Medicare.

To see what the candidates really think about Medicare, voters need to set aside the overheated campaign rhetoric and look at the facts, starting with the candidates’ policies for Medicare Advantage. The differences are stark, and revealing. Medicare Advantage is the popular private plan option in Medicare. Twenty-five percent of Medicare beneficiaries have chosen to get their Medicare benefits from a Medicare Advantage plan. Read more ..


The Economy on Edge

Raising Minimum Wage to Create More Jobless Young Americans

September 30th 2012

Teenager texting

The unemployment rate for 16 to 19 year olds was an astonishingly high 23.8 percent last month. The United States is facing a youth employment crisis. Young workers are finding it increasingly difficult to enter the labor market, get their first job and work their way up the career ladder. Yet, during this time of persistently high youth unemployment, there have been calls to increase the minimum wage from $7.25 to as high as $10 per hour.

America's youth are having a hard time reaching the first rung on their career ladders. Now is a bad time to increase minimum wages and make that important step more difficult. Higher minimum wages generate a tradeoff between higher wages for the employed and higher rates of unemployment. When minimum wages increase, many workers who earn less than the new higher minimum wage lose their jobs. Firms often decide that they can get by with fewer workers instead of paying higher wages. Read more ..


Iran’s Nukes

The Case for a Red Line

September 29th 2012

Simurgh booster

In his address to the UN General Assembly, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reminded the world that all attempts to persuade Iran to halt its progress toward developing a nuclear weapon have failed. He urged the world to impose a strict red line on Iran. “At this late hour, there is only one way to peacefully prevent Iran from getting atomic bombs. That’s by placing a clear red line on Iran’s nuclear weapons program.”

The prime minister made a strong case that red lines prevent war and that when they were not declared, aggression was invited. He listed historical examples to illustrate the point, but it was his observation of recent events that should cause those who doubt their efficacy to pay closer attention. “Clear red lines have also worked with Iran. Earlier this year, Iran threatened to close the Straits of Hormuz. The United States drew a clear red line and Iran backed off,” he said. JINSA has long argued that the United States must affirm the credibility of a military threat against Iran’s nuclear weapons program. As necessary and important as other tools of statecraft—such as economic sanctions and diplomatic efforts—are, those who speak against military action undermine all other strategies. Read more ..


The Iranian Threat

Ahmadinejad's Marginal Moment at the United Nations

September 29th 2012

Ahmadinejad Nuclear

These days, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad seems relevant only to the global media outlets that are still transfixed by his pronouncements and are still intrigued by his unconventional conduct. In contrast to the international media, Ahmadinejad is viewed in Iran as a marginal figure whose relevance shrinks by the day as his tumultuous presidential tenure draws to a close.

Even Ahmadinejad seems to appreciate his diminished importance, as his last speech to the UN General Assembly was largely devoid of the bombast and provocation that has characterized previous speeches.

The essential theme of Ahmadinejad's meandering valedictory address was how the hegemony of the great powers was deforming the international order. In his view, by pursuing their material interests, the rapacious Western powers were busy exploiting and abusing the developing world. The miscalculations and misjudgments of world capitalism are to be blamed for the downturn in the global economy with grave consequences for the poor nations. American came in for its share of criticism, as its invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq were subject to the usual indictments. In search of markets and resources, Washington waged war under the banner of combating terrorism and tyrrany. Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

Why Designating Boko Haram as an FTO could be Counterproductive

September 29th 2012

Nigeria Boko Haram

In recent years, the militant group Boko Haram has increasingly engaged in deadly attacks on civilians. The wave of violence and protests in the Muslim world that have been triggered by the American-made anti-Islam film and the killing of the American ambassador to Libya have heightened concerns that similar violence could spread in parts of Nigeria with broader consequences to the stability of that country and the region. While Nigeria did see peaceful anti-Islam film protests earlier this week, they were not in any way associated with Boko Haram. In fact, recent headlines on the group have actually focused on the Nigerian government’s progress in combating them. As Nigeria continues to advance its fight against Boko Haram, it is important to understand how the U.S. can best aid the government in doing so, which may be less apparent than recent solutions suggest. Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

What Has Obama Learned?

September 28th 2012

Obama

The Oval Office isn't the place to learn on the job. That was the line from both Hillary Rodham Clinton and John McCain in 2008. In fairness, that's always the argument the more experienced candidate uses against the less experienced candidate (just ask Mitt Romney).

But Barack Obama seemed a special case, easily among the least experienced major party nominees in U.S. history. A Pew poll in August 2008 found that the biggest concern voters had with Obama fell under the category of "personal abilities and experience." In a "change" year, Americans swallowed those concerns and voted for the change candidate.

Four years later, it's worth asking, "What has Obama learned?" Several journalists have asked that exact question. And Obama's answers raise another question: Can Obama learn? In July, CBS News' Charlie Rose asked Obama what the biggest mistake of his first term was. Obama replied it "was thinking that this job was just about getting the policy right." Getting the policy right is important, Obama continued, "but the nature of this office is also to tell a story to the American people that gives them a sense of unity and purpose and optimism, especially during tough times." Read more ..


Islam on Edge

Obama and Clinton in Defense of Islam

September 28th 2012

Obama at Cairo

On June 4, 2009, addressing an audience in Cairo, Egypt, Barack Obama declared that “America is not—and never will be—at war with Islam” and that “I consider it part of my responsibility as President of the United States to fight against negative stereotypes of Islam wherever they appear.” True to his word, Obama has now carried his struggle against defamation of Islam to Pakistani television, where, in an official U.S. government film, he and his Secretary of State have recently been denouncing the Mohammed-mocking short video called “Innocence of Muslims.” They have excoriated this YouTube trailer frequently enough to reinforce the mad belief that every film produced, every book printed in this country comes within the purview of the government.  On the State Department film critique, the president declares that “we reject the efforts to denigrate the religious beliefs of others.” Read more ..


The Iranian Threat

A Battle Between Modernism and Medievalism

September 27th 2012

Netanyhu-UN

In all the traffic and confusion that is New York on the week the United Nations General Assembly is in town, there were some very important events that occurred that few may have paid attention to.  Some people have become all worked up over the timing of the final address of Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to the General Assembly, for it was on Yom Kippur; the highest and most solemn of the Jewish holidays.  Echoing the war that was launched on October 6, 1973, while Jews prayed for the future and took stock of their past; some saw the timing as an affront.

I saw it differently; who cares what Ahmadinejad has to say. It is better that we give as little credence to him as possible.  We know what he thinks, we understand his hatred for the west and for Israel, and nothing he said came as a shock.  We are prepared for his vitriol and appreciate the risks that his regime poses whether or not we heard him speak. Those who sat in  the U.N.'s assembly hall yesterday for the most part are among those who want to see him succeed. Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

Romney’s Miserable Campaign Has One Last Chance

September 27th 2012

Ask Mitt

Mitt Romney has run a miserable campaign. If the election were held tomorrow, he would lose—a stunning situation, given our continuing economic woes. Absent a catastrophe at home or abroad that shifts public perceptions, he has only one opportunity to turn things around—the first presidential debate. But if the past is any guide, the opening is wider than many now believe.

In 2004, on the eve of the Republican convention, George W. Bush and John Kerry were essentially tied. On August 30, to be precise, Bush’s support averaged 45.7 percent, Kerry’s, 45.0 percent. The Democratic convention had failed to give the party’s nominee much of a bounce, and many observers expected the same result for the Republicans.

Nonetheless, the Republican convention successfully rallied the public behind its nominee. Within a week, Bush’s margin had soared to 7.6 points (50.4 to 42.8), a gain that was slow to erode. For the four weeks between the end of his convention and the first debate, his support averaged 49.2 percent, and his margin averaged 5.9 points. Despite the mounting unpopularity of the war in Iraq, Kerry was having difficulty establishing his bona fides as an alternative, and Bush seemed to be on course to a comfortable reelection victory. Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

Why Romney is Losing

September 27th 2012

Obama Campaign 2012

History may well record that Barack Obama and Democrats won the 2012 elections, and Mitt Romney and Republicans lost the 2012 elections, in the period that began with Bill Clinton's speech to the Democratic convention and ended with the leak of Mitt Romney's private speech to wealthy donors during which he insulted giant swaths of the American electorate.

The Clinton speech validated President Obama as having improved the catastrophic economy he inherited because it was given by the only living former president identified by a large majority of voters as having brought about a great and fondly remembered era of American prosperity.

The leaked Romney video was a major and potentially epochal blunder because it reinforced the pre-existing condition of Romney and Republicans being viewed by voters as favoring elites and feeling contempt for large masses of voters. In the most profound political sense the Romney video created a "reverse Rorschach,” by which I mean this: Read more ..


Arab Winter in Rage

America Under Attack Again in Mideast

September 26th 2012

Libyan riot at US consulate Sep 2012 #3

The September 11 assassination of four American diplomats in Benghazi, Libya, and the assault on Washington’s embassy in Cairo was a complete surprise to the White House. Immediately thereafter, violent demonstrations in other Middle Eastern countries quickly resulted in the deployment of Marine anti-terrorism security units, and the drawdown of non-essential personnel from U.S. embassies in Tunisia and the Sudan.

Undoubtedly, the violence will ebb and flow, as it did throughout the region in 1979, culminating in the seizure of our Tehran embassy, where the Iranian ayatollahs held Americans hostage for 444 days. Important questions about why the United States did not see the terrorism of this second September 11 coming, and what to do in response, should prompt a wide-ranging political debate in the weeks before the November 6 presidential election. Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

Fiscal Cliff: The 900 Pound Gorilla in the 2012 Campaigns

September 26th 2012

US Capital Day

There are not a lot of issues of more critical importance in the 2012 elections than the fiscal cliff. It is the near-term manifestation of the U.S.'s debt/deficit problem, and its threatened $500 billion jolt to the economy could push the country into another recession unless Congress and the President act.

Yet this issue is seldom acknowledged and never dwelt upon in the U.S. presidential campaigns. It makes sense for candidates to stay "on message" and try to avoid direct answers to tough questions. But it does not make sense that the public and the press seem to care more about tax returns, or how many rounds of golf the candidates have played. The 900 pound gorilla stands quietly in the corner. People see it, but they take little notice.

Soon we will be watching the first presidential debate. Could it be possible that that the debate's specially chosen, highly experienced interrogators will continue to avoid mention of the fiscal cliff? And will it be possible for the candidates to continue promising to increase jobs when another recession looms? Based on the 2012 campaigns so far, the answers appear to be yes. Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

Why the Stimulus Failed

September 25th 2012

Unemployed Claimants

Ask most Americans about the big-spending government policies of the last few years, and they will tell you the programs have failed. In a February 2012 poll from the nonpartisan Pew Research Center, 66 percent of Americans said the federal government is having a negative impact on the way things are going in this country (versus 22 percent who say the impact is positive). A majority disapproves of the president’s 2009 stimulus, and according to a 2010 CNN poll, about three-quarters of Americans believe the money was mostly wasted.

Of course, the measure of economic success is not public opinion, but the factual effects of policy. The emerging evidence on various spending programs shows that Americans’ intuition is correct: The Keynesian deficit spending has been poorly designed and badly executed, and it has had little benefit for our economy. Read more ..


Europe on Edge

The European Central Bank’s Bond Buying: Is Berlin the Greatest Beneficiary?

September 25th 2012

Greek and Euro flags

The euro crisis has just entered a new stage. The European Central Bank’s establishment of the Outright Monetary Transactions program, the new bond buying program, has been greeted by Italy and Spain as manna sent from heaven. However, the real political beneficiary of the program is the government of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, just as she prepares to enter the battleground for reelection.

It became clear over the past few weeks that Spain was about to request another program of assistance, in addition to the one needed for recapitalizing its banks— a request that would have put the German chancellor in a politically fragile situation. Since the European rescue fund, officially known as the European Financial Stability Facility, only has €150 billion, net of existing commitments, a new program with Spain would have forced Merkel to ask the Bundestag for an increase in the financial capacity of the fund itself. Should Spain’s difficulties have spilled over into Italy, the Italians would have most likely also needed to request a program of assistance. Even assuming that the Bundestag had, in the end, given the green light, the political cost for the German chancellor would have been huge. It was still uncertain only a few days ago whether the European Stability Mechanism, the permanent rescue mechanism for Europe, would be ratified by Germany with a pending decision by the constitutional court on the matter. Read more ..


Edge of Terrorism

Islamists Cannot Be Defeated by the Military Alone

September 25th 2012

Bomb explosion

Recent events unfolding across the Islamic world underscore the fact that we live in challenging and unpredictable times. Governments can fall in weeks. Embassy compounds built like fortresses can be breached in hours. With the third-largest population of Muslims in the world, Nigeria has a stake in these wide-reaching developments.

Our government is working hard to defeat the motley band of criminals popularly known as Boko Haram, a group that is likely to try to capitalize on the recent wave of unrest. In order to effectively combat Boko Haram, we need American help to be complementary — not contradictory — to our own efforts. The current well-intentioned efforts by a few members of Congress to classify the Boko Haram as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) actually risk deepening and entrenching the Boko Haram movement, thereby endangering more lives.

The campaign of violence waged by Boko Haram across Nigeria has been tragic. The government is responding to this challenge, and the people of Nigeria, both Muslims and Christians, are galvanized against this threat. Above all, we are taking a balanced approach: using military means to root out terrorists and bring them to justice, while also recognizing the need for dialogue with local leaders and affected populations. As we’ve learned from our long experience with insurgents in the Niger Delta, the fight cannot be won on the battlefield alone. Our partners in the United States have also recognized this, and the U.S.-Nigeria Binational Commission has already made great strides in advancing a comprehensive counterterrorism strategy for Nigeria and supporting the civil affairs capacity of our military. Read more ..


The Race for Bio-Fuel

Most Bio-Fuels are Not 'Green'

September 24th 2012

Brazilian Methanol-Ethanol

First tops, then flops. That is one way of summing up the history of biofuels so far. A new study led by the Empa research institute of Switzerland gives an up-to-date picture of the ecobalance of various biofuels and their production processes. Only a few are overall more environmentally friendly than petrol.

In recent years, the demand for supposedly environmentally friendly biofuels has increased significantly worldwide; on the one hand, this has resulted in the increased cultivation of so-called energy plants and, on the other hand, innovative production methods for the second generation of biofuels have been developed. Parallel to this, ecobalance experts have refined and developed methods for environmental assessment. Since biofuels stem predominantly from agricultural products, the, in part, controversial discussion about their environmental sustainability revolves principally around whether the production of biofuels is defensible from an ecological viewpoint or whether there are possible negative effects, for example on the supply of foodstuff in times of drought, or whether eutrophication of arable land occurs. Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb: North African Menace

September 24th 2012

al Qaeda Fighters

Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, long the global jihad’s weakest link, is now thriving across North and West Africa. Its exact role in the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi on the 11th anniversary of 9/11 is still unclear. But the perception that it was involved in the revenge killing of an American ambassador is already developed in the jihadist underworld. 

AQIM was created about five years ago from the remnants of an Algerian terrorist group dating back to the 1990s. It started with a big bang, blowing up a United Nations building in Algiers. Then it faded into a small terror gang engaged in kidnapping and extortion in Mali, Niger, and other Saharan states. AQIM had no role in sparking the Arab Spring in Tunisia in early 2011. But it has skillfully exploited the chaotic openings that followed in Libya and Mali.

In northern Mali, AQIM is building a base for orchestrating more such carnage. AQIM has built alliances with other jihadist groups in Mali to take control of an area the size of France or Texas. European intelligence services are already detecting the migration of European Muslim jihadists to training bases in Mali, just as earlier generations of jihadis went to Pakistan and Afghanistan to train with al Qaeda’s core. Read more ..



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