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American Jewry on Edge

Conference of Presidents Had Good Reasons to Reject the Extremist Group J-Street’s Bid

May 2nd 2014

There were very good reasons why the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations (the Conference) clearly voted against the membership application of J-Street, an extremist group whose activities are hostile to Israel.

The key stated missions of the Conference are “mobilizing support to halt Iran’s nuclear program,” “counter[ing] the global campaign to delegitimize Israel and the Jewish people,” “bolster[ing] Israel’s security” and combating terrorism and anti-Semitism.  J-Street’s actions are clearly at odds with these policies.

J-Street lobbies against sanctions and against military action to stop Iran’s nuclear weapons program.  J-Street works closely with NIAC (National Iranian American Council), a notorious apparent agent of the Iranian regime.  NIAC board member Genevieve Lynch is a significant J-Street donor.  J-Street brings to its conferences and college campuses leading NIAC pro-Iranian regime speakers, including NIAC head and leading Iran apologist Trita Parsi, and Hillary Mann Leverett, who, during a J-Street event condemned as “fundamentally racist” anyone who did not “trust” the Iranian regime.  J-Street likewise urges U.S. Congresspersons to simply “believe in Iran.” Read more ..


Obama's Second Term

Can Barack Obama Get Back into the Groove?

May 2nd 2014

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It’s been more than a year since President Obama saw his approval rating hit 50 percent, and his still-souring numbers have Democrats fretting about his toxic effect in November.

Party strategists say the solution is for the White House to shake up a messaging campaign that’s grown stagnant if he hopes to rebuild his flagging approval rating before the midterm elections.

One year and one week ago was last time the RealClearPolitics polling average put the president at 50 percent, and it hasn’t exactly been smooth sailing for Obama since then. The botched rollout of ObamaCare, the government shutdown, an ongoing crisis in Ukraine and the fading glow of his reelection have each taken their toll on the president’s ratings, leaving Obama mired in the low 40s. Read more ..


Israelis and Palestinians

The Zero-Sum Game for Palestinians' Suffering and Sympathy for Suffering

May 1st 2014

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For Palestinians, suffering -- and sympathy for suffering -- is a zero-sum game. Sympathy used up on the Holocaust means less for Palestinians in the territories. Even among Palestinian groups, while thousands suffer and die in Syria -- most heinously starved in the Yarmouk refugee camp -- Israelis joined relief efforts while Abu Mazen and Ismail Haniya have said hardly a word, lest it detract from the sympathy needed to support Fatah and Hamas.

What accounts for Abu Mazen's denunciation of the Holocaust as "the most heinous crime to have occurred against humanity in the modern era"? First, it was designed to keep the sympathies of Secretary Kerry. It worked; although Abbas has done everything he could think of to scuttle the "peace talks," Kerry still sees hope -- and money -- in the pipeline. Second, it was to continue to appropriate Jewish history and Jewish suffering for the purpose of increasing sympathy for the Palestinians. Read more ..


Obama's Second Term

Imagining a World Without America

April 30th 2014

"You’ve been given a great gift, George. A chance to see what the world would be like without you.”

So said George Bailey’s guardian angel, Clarence, in the 1946 classic Christmas movie It’s a Wonderful Life. Bailey, contemplating suicide, wishes he’d never been born. To demonstrate the value of the life he would so quickly trade away, the angel lets him see what the world would be like if he’d never existed.

Of course, without the influence of one good and virtuous man, George Bailey’s flawed but lovely little town full of oddballs turns into a nightmarish Babylon called “Pottersville,” run by a sadistic miser and populated by drunks, hookers, and toughs. At the end (spoiler alert, as if you’ve never seen it), George realizes that his problems are trivial and his life is indeed wonderful. He returns to face his responsibilities, come what may.

It’s not a “great gift,” but we’re now getting a chance to see what the world would be like without America. Read more ..


The Edge of Intolerance

Rancher Bundy is No Patriot

April 28th 2014

Tea Party demonstator at Supreme Court

Nothing demonstrates the ignorance and danger of the Tea Party movement more than its leaders’ immediate, knee-jerk embrace of Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy.

No sooner had armed vigilantes around the country rushed to Bundy’s side than Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) defended him. Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) called him and his armed thugs “patriots.” Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) praised his resistance to federal authority. Sean Hannity and other Fox News hosts extolled him as a “folk hero” and the poster boy of standing up to a “government gone wild.” At which point, all this praise having obviously gone to his head, Bundy compared himself to Rosa Parks. Read more ..


Broken Government

Fannie, Freddie Overhaul Must Eliminate Conflicts of Interest

April 27th 2014

Home Foreclosure

There is a glaring problem with proposals to dismantle Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and “bring private capital back” to the mortgage market: Investors got mugged once and are not likely to walk down the same alley again.

From 2002 to 2006, Wall Street banks overtook Fannie and Freddie and issued the majority of mortgage-backed securities. The market for “private-label” mortgage-backed securities, the securities issued by Wall Street banks, collapsed in 2007 and remains comatose. In 2013, Fannie and Freddie issued 99 percent of new mortgage-backed securities.

The unchallenged assumption in Washington is that the overhaul of the housing finance system should drastically reduce the role of government and revive the private-label mortgage-backed securities market. Investors are not likely to buy new mortgage-backed securities from Wall Street banks if the new securities are like the old ones. Read more ..


The Battle for Venezuela

Standing Up for Human Rights and Democracy in Venezuela

April 26th 2014

Venezuela protests

Many events have occurred since protests broke out in Venezuela several weeks ago, including the killing of 25 people by the government’s paramilitary. In addition, more than 1,000 people were arrested and others simply disappeared.

Contrary to the Venezuelan president’s pronouncements, this protest movement is composed mostly of  young people, not of  fascists or the old “oligarchy”. They are not rich and they are not spoiled. These are young people who see no future in a Venezuela that is turning more totalitarian and more repressive as time goes by. 

These street mobilizations represent a social movement that could not find in the political system any expression. They are not demanding more food, salary increases, or personal advantage. They are fighting for their freedom and for their dignity. The slogan “Give me liberty or give me death” becomes very much a reality as these protestors find the status –quo in Venezuela increasingly unbearable. Read more ..


After the Mideast Peace Process

The Trap of Even-Handedness in the Mideast

April 25th 2014

It is clear that by the end of the month the Obama-Kerry peace initiative will be declared a failure. While the efforts may have been sincere, the lack of historical understanding and reading of the signs doomed these efforts from the beginning.

Historically, what is prevalent among American foreign policy makers is the view that both parties in the negotiations, Israelis and Palestinians, are equal; ergo, they are equally responsible and equally to blame. In itself this is a flawed reading of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Instead, one must start with the fact that the majority of the Arab-Muslim world has always seen the Jewish state as an abomination. Read more ..


After the Holocaust

Anti-Semitism from Ukraine to the U.S.

April 24th 2014

Holocaust survivor

Few recent news articles captured more attention than reports that Jews in Ukraine were being ordered to register. Then it turned out that the pamphlets ordering Jews to register might be something of a hoax or a political stunt.Either

way, it appears that Ukrainian Jews are being treated as pawns. Moreover, the story would not have gotten such play if it hadn’t hit a nerve.

Ukraine has lately seen a string of anti-Semitic vandalism. The Holocaust Memorial in Sevastopol, which had previously been vandalized by neo-Nazis, was recently spray-painted with a hammer and sickle. In Dnepropetrovsk, swastikas were sprayed on the tomb of the late Lubavicher Rebbe Menahem Mendel Schneerson’s brother, Dov Ber Schneerson.  There has also been a recent stabbing and the attempted arson of two synagogues, one last week in Nikolayev. But the problem is not limited to Ukraine. Read more ..


Broken Government

Detroit Should Sell Some Paintings and Balance its Books

April 23rd 2014

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As the prospect draws closer of a state bailout of Detroit at the expense of other critical needs, voters might want to examine more closely politicians’ skittishness toward selling off city assets. In particular, artwork owned by the city’s museum, an institution sustained by tax dollars (including a regional property tax favored by many of those same politicians in 2010).

Lawmakers should reject a bailout and instead insist that Detroit — whose problems are the product of its own fiscal malpractice — take responsibility for cleaning itself up. It is fundamentally unfair to make other Michigan residents pay for such infamous mismanagement. If avoiding this inequity requires the city to sell some assets, including paintings from the museum, so be it. Read more ..


The Battle for Ukraine

Don’t Send America’s Natural Gas to Ukraine

April 22nd 2014

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Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has given a boost to those calling for the United States to expedite natural gas exports to help allies overseas. In this thinking, American gas exports — in the form of liquefied natural gas, or LNG — are not only a boon to the domestic economy but also a potent geopolitical tool to be wielded against the Kremlin.
Never mind that the United States won’t have its first LNG export terminal in operation until late 2015 at the very earliest; that all of its approved gas exports are already committed to long-term contracts; and that Ukraine does not even have a single terminal for receiving LNG.

Even without the newly concocted geopolitical rationale for exports, though, Washington seems favorably disposed to permitting much of America’s surplus gas to migrate overseas. Since the beginning of the shale gas revolution, which kicked off in 2005, the U.S. Department of Energy has approved six LNG export terminals with a combined export capacity of 8.5 billion cubic feet a day, and more projects are in the works. Read more ..


Vote 2014

There's Still Hope for Democrats in 2014

April 22nd 2014

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Is there anyway Democrats can win the 17 seats they need to capture the House majority this November?

In one word: Yes.

Democrats picked up 8 seats two years ago despite widespread predictions of losses. They lost 12 seats in 2012 by less than five percentage points and another 18 seats by less than 10 percentage points.

Also keep in mind that every poll shows the public agrees with Democrats on the big issues – gay marriage, pay equity for women, immigration, gun control and budget cuts.

Meanwhile, the GOP brand remains unpopular. The biggest advantage for House Democrats is that they are running against Republicans. That party’s good name suffered from last fall’s government shutdown, a strategy of obstruction that has paralyzed the Congress, and the recent vote in support of a budget that privatizes Medicare. Read more ..


Israel on Edge

Obama's Unfulfilled Wishes for Peace in the Mideast

April 21st 2014

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Early on March 4, the Israeli Defense Forces intercepted a shipment of Syrian-made M-302 rockets with a range of up to 200 kilometers (125 miles). The missiles, which apparently went through Iraqi airspace to Iran and then by ship to the Red Sea, were likely headed to Sudan. From there, they would have gone by truck through the (mostly unguarded) Sinai to Gaza, from which they would have been capable of reaching nearly all of Israel.

That makes this a very bad week for the annual "Obama slashes Israeli missile defense programs and Congress puts the money back" dance. For years, the Obama Administration has sent a budget to Capitol Hill that included steep reductions in prior year spending for cooperative U.S.-Israel missile defense programs. Congress complains loudly then puts in the money it believes the programs merit. With the release of the budget figures two years ago, Defense News noted: Read more ..


Broken Economy

How to Get Americans to Save More at Tax Time

April 20th 2014

Citibank

The worst of the recent economic crisis seems to be behind us, and although slow, the recovery is underway and Americans are feeling more optimistic about the future. For most, the lesson learned during the crisis was that they didn't have enough savings to weather a financial storm without sacrifice, worry, and sleepless nights. Saving money is a difficult challenge for people at all income levels, and especially for those with the least. With little disposable income, even the small amounts these households try to put into savings are often diverted by unexpected needs and routine price increases in goods and services.

For many households, the biggest lump sum of money they receive all year comes in the form of their income tax refund check. While savvy economists and accountants caution any refund indicates a person's withholding rate should be adjusted, for many households getting a refund is preferable to getting hit with a big bill at tax time. More importantly, these tax refunds can provide a unique opportunity for tax filers to save money and build financial security. Read more ..


Edge of Human Rights

Passover Prayers for Captive Alan Gross

April 19th 2014

I never met Alan Gross. But on Monday night, when I gather with 700 other American Jews in Phoenix to celebrate the Passover Seder, his plight will be one of the hot-button issues, along with the post-mortem on Secretary of State John Kerry’s Mideast peace talks and Iran’s imminent nuclear breakout.

That’s because it is increasingly clear that Gross, an American, is caught in a no-man’s land between the U.S. and Havana, a hostage to the Cuban authorities’ desperate desire to free five of their freedom fighter/terrorists from U.S. custody.

Gross, 64, was not convicted of espionage, but of bringing computers and satellite phones paid for by a grant from a U.S. agency to a Jewish group serving the tiny Jewish community in the communist island nation 90 miles from Florida. Read more ..


Obama's Second Term

Obama Must Defend NATO's Real Red Lines From Putin's Aggression in Ukraine

April 18th 2014

Vladimir Putin sunglasses

Last week masked men, in camouflage garb with no insignia, dressed and equipped like Russian special forces, started taking over police stations and other government buildings in the Donets basin in eastern Ukraine. They appeared to be working in tandem with local militias in defying the Ukrainian government.

This week the Ukraine government has responded by sending in military forces to counter these actions. There has been shooting and violence. But Ukraine's military doesn't seem capable of asserting control.

So Vladimir Putin's Russia, with some 40,000 troops massed just outside Ukraine, seems to have taken effective control of a significant chunk of that country -- or at least denying effective control to the Ukraine government.

Whether Putin will follow up with an explicit occupation and annexation, as he did with Crimea, is unclear. Polling and previous referendum results suggest much less support for absorption into Russia in eastern Ukraine than in Crimea. Read more ..


Inside Politics

Rand Paul’s Putin Problem

April 17th 2014

Rand Paul

If former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton runs against Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) for president in November 2016, and Russian strongman-for-life Vladimir Putin remains in power, Clinton could win a victory approaching a 50-state landslide, including reluctant support from many conservatives and Republicans alarmed by Paul’s policies on national security.

As Republicans engage in presidential debates during the primary season and the party nominees square off in presidential debates in the fall of 2016, there will be an empty but crucial chair in the debates for Putin.

Rand Paul has a Vladimir Putin problem, a national security problem, a presidential stature problem and a commander in chief problem. Paul began his short national career by staking out nonintervention positions so extreme that reasonable people might worry Paul as president would be the Neville Chamberlain appeaser of our time, guaranteeing a green light for aggression to bad guys such as Bashar Assad as he mass murders Syrians and Putin as he bullies and bludgeons Ukraine.

Apparently realizing that his earlier isolationist philosophy had poorly positioned him in a dangerous world, Paul has shape-shifted to a new opportunism of incoherence and vacillation. One moment Paul says he might support a military attack against Iran. Then he implies he might accept a nuclear-armed Iran and follow a policy of containment. Then he says he won’t tell us what policy he prefers, comparing himself to Ronald Reagan. Read more ..


Vote 2016

Looking Ahead to the Real Debate between Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush

April 16th 2014

Hillary Clinton

This past Sunday I joined a panel of distinguished pundits on “This Week with George Stephanopoulos,” and to the surprise of no viewers we spent a considerable amount of time discussing the prospects of a presidential race between Hillary Clinton, former secretary of State and former first lady, and Jeb Bush, former Florida governor and brother to former President George W. Bush, in 2016. A debate ensued about how each candidate might overcome or utilize their respective last names to their advantage.

The one thing that I know — and I’m sure Secretary Clinton knows — is that come 2016, the voters will not really be looking for an election to rehash old debates. It is not going to be about former President Bill Clinton’s record, just as it is not going to be about Bush 43’s record. Frankly, as highly regarded as Bill Clinton’s presidency was, it was better than you think. Similarly, the way we loathed George W. Bush’s time in office, it was worse than you think.

Any long discussions of these issues will turn voters away in droves. Believe it or not, given the trauma of the finance-induced horrific recession, voters are going to be looking for an election about their lives and about their futures. The truth of the matter is that there is an actual shovel-ready message for Secretary Clinton on how we can make Washington work to rebuild America’s devastated middle class. Read more ..


The Digital Edge

Lost in Big Data: Digital Zombies

April 15th 2014

cloud computing

The Internet-of-Things (IoT) is what gets everyone excited these days, with double digit market growth expectations for an industry that could see tens of billions of connected nodes in the shape of remote sensors, actuators or wearable and mobile devices. The latest estimates from market research firm IHS Technology hint at over 6 billion Internet-enabled devices to be produced in 2014 alone, with another 19.42 billion such devices literally flooding the planet between 2015 and 2017.

From whatever angle you look at it, it is a promising market for providers or low-power microcontrollers, sensors, RF modules of many sorts, GPS chips, energy harvesting units, supercapacitors and batteries just to name a few of the component categories that will invariably find their way to landfills if not decommissioned properly or lost in nature. Read more ..


The Edge of Health

CVS Caremark Pulling Tobacco Products - A Public Health Game-Changer

April 15th 2014

cigarette in ashtray

For the past 30 years, I've fought for lung health with the American Lung Association. Our organization has been a leader in the battle against tobacco, which is the leading cause of preventable illness and death in the U.S. Over the years, this battle has experienced dramatic highs and disappointing lows. 

CVS Caremark’s recent announcement that they will no longer sell tobacco products at CVS/pharmacy locations represents a great milestone in efforts to move toward becoming a healthier, smokefree nation.

CVS Caremark took a bold step in making the health and well-being of current and future customers and employees a top priority. We at the American Lung Association commend the company’s leaders for their decision and urge more retailers to follow CVS Caremark’s brave lead, and help eliminate tobacco-caused deaths and disease by pulling tobacco products from their own shelves  Read more ..


Israelis and Palestinians

The Peace Process Is Dead. Let It Lie Down

April 14th 2014

Obama meets Abbas

The April 29th deadline has not yet been reached, but it may be said with confidence that the initiative by Secretary of State John Kerry to revive the ‘peace process’ between Israelis and Palestinians has already reached its final destination: failure.

 The failure of this initiative was obvious from the beginning.  To everyone except, apparently, Kerry himself.  This reality lent an element of low farce to the entire proceedings.

 By now, it should really be obvious to any serious observer that there is no chance that the Israeli-Palestinian negotiating process will produce a comprehensive peace between the two sides.

There are two core reasons for this.  One of them is of long-standing, the other is a development of the last decade. Read more ..


The Way We Are

Discussing Race is a Necessary Discussion

April 14th 2014

Mitch Landrieu, the white liberal Democratic mayor of 60- percent-black New Orleans, had this to say about white conservative Rep. Paul Ryan’s (R-Wis.) trouble after Ryan spoke out about the “inner city” culture that does not value work:

“So, Paul Ryan said something people took issue with and it became a huge battle. It was not a thoughtful [debate]…it all got to be about condemnation. ‘I condemn him for saying this.’ ‘No I condemn you because he did not say that... And all this yelling across headlines. No wonder people who want to be thoughtful [are afraid to say anything about real problems.] They want to say ‘I think this, I don’t really know how to say this, but I want to deal with the issue and get past race.’” Read more ..


Broken Government

The Art of Compromise

April 13th 2014

Congress-senate

Last week, as Republicans questioned the administration’s new ObamaCare enrollment numbers and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid attacked the Koch brothers on the Senate floor, Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) celebrated a triumph, when a bill he has been working on with Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) for two years passed out of the Senate Finance Committee unanimously. The idea of his legislation — giving startup companies access to the research and development tax credit — getting approved made Coons “so excited I can hardly stand it,” he said before the vote.

While gridlock and partisanship go into overdrive in an election year, Coons is continuing his quiet mission that has made him fourth among all senators writing bipartisan bills, according to govtrack.us, the government transparency website. In only three years, Coons has doggedly built working relationships resulting in cowritten and cointroduced bills with nearly half the Senate Republican Conference. Read more ..


America on Edge

History will Impeach Justice Roberts

April 12th 2014

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In the greatest judicial scandal since an earlier Supreme Court treated blacks as the property of whites, the current Supreme Court treats democracy as the property of those with the money to buy it.

Democrats, liberals and populists should promote a constitutional amendment to reverse Supreme Court decisions, propose statewide ballot initiatives to take back America from special interests, and make corruption in Washington a defining issue to mobilize the Democratic base, rally political independents and transform the 2014 and 2016 elections.

Five conservative Republican men serving on the Supreme Court, led by a chief justice who has violated 200 years of judicial precedent, despite pledging under oath during his confirmation hearings to respect judicial precedent, are waging a legal war of mass destruction against core principles of American democracy established by our Founding Fathers. Read more ..


Financing the Flames

Europe's Unaccountable Palestinian Aid Openly Funds Terrorism

April 10th 2014

Hamas-Fatah handshake

At a time of austerity and belt-tightening, the European Union remains the biggest donor to Third World countries. EU assistance to the developing world serves European values and objectives—but only if EU institutions abide by the highest standards of accountability in managing European taxpayers' money. As a recent report by the European Court of Auditors found, that hasn't always been the case with respect to EU aid to the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority.

Since the 1994 Oslo Agreement, which created the Palestinian Authority, the EU has offered generous financial assistance to Ramallah to help advance a just and lasting peace between Palestinians and Israelis. The EU is today the largest donor to the Palestinian Authority, which relies mainly on foreign donations. But European lawmakers have a duty to ensure that EU funds aren't diverted from the noble purpose for which they're intended. Read more ..


China on Edge

There Won't Be Any Sort of "Hard Landing" In China

April 10th 2014

Bank of China

It is difficult to go a day without reading scary headlines about China's economy. The reality is that it is going through major adjustments, and has some serious structural flaws, but that its even greater strengths will almost certainly prevent economic calamity. Troubles will come, and they will be handled with greater or lesser effectiveness, but the system, and those who run it, have the capability to manage the problems without serious risk of the disaster scenarios that some purvey.

China's economy faces two related types of serious challenges. The most basic, which will continue for years, is that it needs to rebalance the economy. China has relied excessively on massive investment and large trade surpluses, although the latter has moderated from earlier years. Consumption, the other key part of the economy, has been squeezed to low levels by the focus on investment and exports. Read more ..


The Way We Are

America Needs a New Voting Rights Act

April 9th 2014

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The only time I ever saw Martin Luther King Jr. shed tears was when President Lyndon B. Johnson stood before Congress on March 15, 1965, and declared, “We shall overcome.” But these tears were tears of joy and hope.

In that speech, Johnson began the legislative push for the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The landmark bill, signed shortly thereafter on Aug. 6, never would have happened without compromise from all sides. The bill was jointly sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield, a Democrat from Montana, and Senate Minority Leader Everett Dirksen, a Republican from Illinois. Read more ..


The Digital Edge

Time to Bring Cloud Computing to Aviation Safety

April 8th 2014

Boeing 787

It is shocking when a jumbo jet loaded with hundreds of people disappears from the sky. The case of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 has galvanized bystanders around the world due to its apparent vanishing act. Was it an act of murder by the pilot or co-pilot? Did a hijacker overpower the crew? Was there some mysterious mechanical act that led to the plane’s sharp turn and disappearance?

Why just a Black Box?
In a world of instantaneous communications and geo-positioning systems, it is astonishing that something like this could happen without leaving clear digital fingerprints. Both businesses and governments pride themselves on deploying the latest in tracking technology. Officials are used to being able to recreate modern life through electronic communications, satellite technology, and tracking devices. Unless officials recover physical debris and the plane’s black box containing the flight recorder for this trip, though, we may never know what happened in the final hours of the flight. Read more ..


Obama's Second Term

Obama's Stand-Up Routine is Laughable Indeed

April 6th 2014

obama

President Obama was doing his favorite thing this week: talking to crowds of adoring young people who already agree with him while acting like he persuaded them about something.

They also seemed to give Obama the impression that he’s a really funny guy. On Wednesday, he told a crowd of 1,400 at the University of Michigan that he visited a local deli, Zingerman’s. He proceeded to tell a long story about ordering the small Reuben sandwich, which he said was “killer.” That description got a good laugh. Then he explained how he thought the sandwich was too big, so he shared it with his adviser, Valerie Jarrett. “After I finished [my] half, I wanted [her] half back,” Obama said. “But it was too late, all she had was the pickle – so I took the pickle.” “Took the pickle” was a huge laugh line.

Pickle is a funny word, but still; when an audience thinks this is a knee-slapper, you know it’s not a rough crowd. But Obama had a serious point to make as well. Zingerman’s “is a business that treats its workers well and rewards honest work with honest wages. And that’s what I’m here to talk about today.” He then segued into a pitch for raising the minimum wage.
Read more ..


Obama's Second Term

Obama Harrows Republican Ryan's Budget

April 5th 2014

President Obama is coming out swinging against the GOP budget unveiled earlier this week, contending the proposal would kill jobs and slash spending for vital federal programs.

Obama used his weekly address to contrast his own budget proposal with the legislation penned by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.). The latter, he said, is chock full of tax cuts for the wealthy and funding cuts that would hit the lower and middle classes.

“Policies that benefit a fortunate few while making it harder for working Americans to succeed are not what we need right now,” Obama said. “Our economy doesn’t grow best from the top-down; it grows best from the middle-out.” Read more ..


Broken Economy

The Long-Lasting Damage of a National Wage

April 4th 2014

Minimum wage protest

Progressives are practically united in supporting an increase in the national minimum wage. The only disagreement is by how much: President Obama proposes raising the national minimum wage by almost 40 percent over the next few years to $10.10 per hour and indexing it to inflation thereafter. Other progressives favor a higher $15 "living wage." Conservatives and most economists oppose raising the minimum wage because it will price low-skilled workers out of the job market, cutting the bottom rung on the ladder of economic opportunity. But there is one important issue that both groups may have overlooked - and that's the "one-size-fits-all" nature of the minimum wage.

Note that we call it the national minimum wage. It's a federally-mandated minimum wage that applies universally across the country; in cities, suburbs and rural communities; in places where the cost of living is high, such as Washington and New York, and in the countless small towns where the cost of living is far lower. And it's partly this uniform, "one-size-fits-all" feature of a national minimum wage that guarantees that it won't work well at all in thousands of America's low-cost communities Read more ..


Inside Politics

Make Voting Easier

April 3rd 2014

Voter Line

Call it patriotism or call it pride, but everybody who’s ever been elected to any office, be it dogcatcher, mayor or member of Congress, thinks about his or her legacy. “What will I be remembered for?”

So, will somebody please explain to me what tormented logic would lead anyone to conclude: “I want to be remembered for making it harder for Americans to vote?”

That’s exactly what’s going on today, in state after state, as red-state Republican legislators place new restrictions on voting, while a misguided Congress either enables their efforts or looks the other way.

Let’s start with the fact that voting is our most sacred right as Americans. We can’t all run for office, walk precincts in election season or make a campaign contribution. But we can all vote. It’s how we exercise our responsibility as citizens. How sad, then, that on average, only 60 percent of Americans bother to vote in presidential elections. Only 40 percent vote in midterm races. In most other developed nations, it’s 80-90 percent. Read more ..


Venezuela on Edge

Maduro’s Empty Call for “Dialogue”

April 2nd 2014

Nicolas Maduro

Nicolas Maduro’s ghost writer should be commended for making the Venezuelan dictator sound, in his op-ed in today’s New York Times, like a reasonable man in search of a reasonable solution. You would never know, on the basis of this article alone, that this is the same Maduro who claims to have encountered the ghost of his predecessor, Hugo Chavez, on the Caracas subway system; who instinctively denounces his opponents as “Nazis” and “fascists”; who alleged a conspiracy involving former Bush administration officials to assassinate a senior opposition leader to “create chaos” in Venezuela.

What the piece–written in reaction to a stirring Times op-ed by Leopoldo Lopez, a senior opposition leader incarcerated by the Maduro regime on charges of “terrorism”–attempts to do is persuade the reader that Venezuela is really a socialist paradise warmed by the Caribbean sun. Hence, Maduro trots out the some of the standard themes which are familiar to observers of chavismo, for example that the revolution inaugurated by Chavez has shattered income inequality, along with former President Jimmy Carter’s belief that Venezuela’s electoral process “is the best in the world” (an old but much utilized quote that will serve as an eternal reminder of Carter’s obsequious stance toward the chavistas). Read more ..


Financing the Flames

Terrorist Salaries not Spotlighted by New York Times

March 31st 2014

The Dome of the Rock from Atop

The New York Times did a valuable public service today by profiling the life of Muqdad Salah. But the story, which demonstrated how unlikely peace between Israelis and the Palestinians is, wasn’t intended as an indictment of Palestinian society. Salah, 47, is, as the Times reported, doing his best to make up for lost time. You see, he lost 20 years of his life to a prison sentence in an Israeli jail from which he was liberated last year. To help ease his transition back to society, the resident of Burqa in the West Bank got a generous settlement from the Palestinian Authority, an honorary rank of brigadier general in the PA military, and praise from his neighbors and fellow Palestinians. In the seven months since he got out, he has married a much younger woman, remodeled a family home, and bought a business. He’s now the picture of a successful Palestinian, but he’s got a couple of problems. One is that the no-show salary of $1,800 a month he’s collecting from the PA (which gave him $100,000 at his release) isn’t enough to live the life of ease he craves. The other is that his travel is restricted. And oh, yes: some Israelis are really mad about the fact that a terrorist with blood on his hands like Salah is walking around free and enjoying life. Read more ..


Pakistan on Edge

On Talks and Peace

March 30th 2014

Taliban

Two baffling months have passed since Mr Sharif began his push for peace talks with the Taliban. Nothing — no number of terror attacks, no list of unreasonable demands from the other side — seems to be big enough or bad enough to derail the government’s singular commitment to these talks. It is safe to say now that Mr Sharif is not just engaging in the spectre of talks just to win over public support for a military operation. If that were indeed his motivation, talks would have remained suspended after the Taliban brutally killed 23 FC personnel.

But despite the government’s dogged insistence on peace through talks, we are no clearer on the terms of engagement with the Taliban: the major issues on the negotiating table, the common ground for negotiation, and so on. The million-dollar question is: do even Mr Sharif and his government have clarity on these issues? Since Mr Sharif is, to put it mildly, relatively uncommunicative in terms of substantive policy decisions with the populace that elected him, we are left guessing about his thinking and reasoning. There are four explanations, in my mind, of the reasons Mr Sharif is going down this path, with no end in sight and no counter-narrative to offer. Read more ..


Broken Government

Bipartisan Tax-Relief Effort for Struggling Homeowers

March 29th 2014

Home Foreclosure

Imagine two families.
  One family has paid off their mortgage and owns their home outright. They sell their home for a $75,000 gain. The tax code – as it should – exempts this gain from income tax.

The other family is struggling to make ends meet and is at risk of losing their home. Due to the historic downturn in the housing market a few years ago, they are still “underwater” on their mortgage and owe $75,000 more to the bank than their house is worth. They do the right thing and work with the bank to get part of their mortgage forgiven.

Things are looking up for our family. It looks like they will be able to keep their home. Then April 15 rolls around, and they get a huge tax bill from the IRS because that $75,000 in forgiven debt has been classified as “income.” Then they lose their home. That just isn’t right. Read more ..


The Bear is Back

America's 'Provocative Weakness'

March 28th 2014

Putin

As it continues its spiraling, across-the-board decline, the Russian Federation is becoming more relevant as a world power.

This development became most visible when President Barack Obama effectively placed Vladimir Putin in the driver's seat to resolve the crisis in Syria. The Russian strongman quickly used the opportunity to diminish the U.S. role even further. Somehow, before anyone seemed to realize it, the United States was opening the door to Putin's protectorate, the Islamic Republic of Iran, in a Cold War redux of economic incentives in exchange for talking about Teheran's Russian-supplied nuclear weapons program.

Meanwhile, Putin poised Russia to take advantage of the mess in Libya, with the Obama administration struggling to divert attention from the scandal surrounding the 2012 murder of the American ambassador and others in Benghazi.

The Russian leader continues to upstage the American president on the world diplomatic scene. His handlers portray him as virile and physically powerful; a man among men. Young people around the world share laughs at popular social media memes of a buff, shirtless, armed Putin versus a rather effeminate Obama posing cross-legged on "The View."

"Provocative Weakness"
"Russia's running out of about everything they need," former CIA director Michael Hayden tells inFOCUS. "Running out of oil, running out of gas, running out of entrepreneurship, running out of democracy, and most importantly, they're running out of Russians." Yet Putin has managed to place the United States on the defensive across several fronts.

The U.S. leadership's inept handling of the defection of NSA contractor Edward Snowden further empowered Moscow by showing it can act with impunity. The Putin regime moved carefully to permit Snowden's request for temporary asylum at a Moscow airport to become a full-fledged defection to Russian intelligence. At that point, the former KGB used Snowden's stolen classified materials to drive wedges between NATO allies and Washington.  Read more ..


Defense on Edge

Reverse the Defense Cuts

March 27th 2014

U.S. Naval Carrier

On January 23, 1980, Jimmy Carter delivered his final State of the Union address. It was a difficult time: Iran held American diplomats captive, and the Soviet Union had just invaded Afghanistan. “As we meet tonight,” the president told the assembled members of Congress, “it has never been more clear that the state of our Union depends on the state of the world.”

Carter, who had devoted the first part of his presidency to domestic reforms and arms control, was now prepared to act decisively; his eyes had been opened by the Russian move into Afghanistan, which he described as a “radical and aggressive step.” He imposed a number of stiff economic sanctions on the USSR, from denying fishing rights to shutting down access to high-technology equipment, and asked the Europeans not to “replace our embargoed items.” He articulated a “Carter Doctrine,” asserting that the United States would not countenance disproportionate Russian influence in the Middle East. But most of all, he moved to swiftly rebuild U.S. military strength, creating the Rapid Deployment Joint Task Force, the precursor to today’s U.S. Central Command, and proposing a 5 percent annual increase in defense spending — the precursor to the Reagan-era buildup. Read more ..


The 2016 Election

Hillary Uses Gender to Win

March 25th 2014

Hillary Clinton in blue

Throughout her political career, Hillary Clinton has used her gender and the still novel concept of a woman running for president to cloak her advances and shield her from losses. It is never about her. Her own merits, qualifications, defects, failures or shortcomings are never the issue. The question is always: How are we to treat women in politics?

Now that she is on the verge of running again for president, a Gallup poll shows that about one Clinton voter in five cites her gender as the leading reason to vote for her. Coming in second, mentioned by only half as many respondents, were her qualifications.

Clinton’s use of her gender as cover was evident when she conceded her battle for the Democratic Party’s nomination in 2008. Her line was that her candidacy had made “18 million cracks in the hardest and highest glass ceiling,” despite the prize of the presidency eluding her. It was not Barack Obama who beat her, nor her own limitations. She was defeated by the “glass ceiling,” and her campaign was a common effort of all feminists to crack it. Read more ..


Israelis and Palestinians

It's Always 'Groundhog Day' with the Israeli-Palestinian 'peace process'

March 23rd 2014

Obama meets Abbas

The 1993 movie "Groundhog Day," in which the character played by Bill Murray relives the same day over and over again, is an apt description of official Palestinian attitudes toward Israel and the peace process.

The repeated Palestinian rejection of Israeli overtures raises the stakes and draws ever more attention to seducing the Palestinians to participate in talks. The "peace process" movie plays like a repeating loop, with new scenes punctuated by years and shifts in the political winds but without progress. The fatigue associated with this demand for peace circumvents any historical knowledge of the Middle East.

Moreover, with the ongoing suffering in Syria, one has to wonder where the need for attention is greater; and why the constant focus is solely on the Israeli-Palestinian dynamic, ignoring the real tragedies in the region. Read more ..



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