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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.

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


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


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 ..

Jordan on Edge

As Jordan Stumbles, the U.S. Response Is Crucial

September 24th 2012

King Abdullah of Jordan

Yesterday, Jordan's King Abdullah approved a new and restrictive media law only two weeks after implementing -- and quickly canceling -- fuel price increases nationwide. The ill-advised price hike, the widespread protests it sparked, and the latest palace initiative to police the internet all come at a particularly sensitive time for the kingdom. In addition to the refugees and security pressures associated with the Syria crisis, Jordan has been racked by demonstrations since December 2011 due to the slow pace of political reform, endemic corruption, and the anemic economy. While reinstatement of the fuel subsidy may temporarily mollify the restive population, the media law will only add to the growing list of popular grievances, further complicating Abdullah's efforts to preserve stability.

Over the past year and a half, protests have become a ubiquitous feature of political life in Jordan. Unlike in Tunisia and Egypt, where demonstrators demanded an end to unpopular authoritarian regimes, Jordanian protests have largely focused on electoral reform, official accountability, and economic relief, albeit laced with criticism of the monarchy. Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

Five Myths About the 47 Percent

September 23rd 2012

IRS building

1. Forty-seven percent of Americans don’t pay taxes.

The most pernicious misconception about people who don’t pay federal income taxes is that they don’t pay any taxes. That oft-heard claim ignores all the other taxes Americans encounter in their daily lives. Almost two-thirds of the 47 percent work, for example, and their payroll taxes help finance Social Security and Medicare. Accounting for this, the share of households paying no net federal taxes falls to 28 percent.

And those aren’t the only other taxes they bear. According to economic research, the corporate income tax discourages domestic investment; that depresses wages, so workers are effectively paying some of the corporate tax. More directly, many households pay federal taxes on gasoline, beer and cigarettes. And then there are state and local sales, property and income taxes — all of which are often less progressive than the federal income tax. Putting all these together, a family of three with an income of $30,000 would owe no federal income tax (in fact, they would get money back). But they could easily pay more than $4,500, or 15 percent of their income, in taxes. Read more ..

China Rising

How to Talk to China

September 23rd 2012

Chinese soldier at Tienamen Square

The policy of the Obama administration toward China has been a failure. Secretary Clinton’s recent trip was a reminder of this, because it was filled with friction and achieved very little. Here is an account from the Los Angeles Times: "In a short, frustrating visit to Beijing, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton was stood up Wednesday by the future leader of China and delivered a stern lecture on China’s rights in the South China Sea…..During the third stop in her nearly two-week sweep of Asia, Clinton had hoped to meet with Vice President Xi Jinping, who is expected to get the nod next month to succeed Hu Jintao as China’s president. Xi also canceled meetings Wednesday with the Singapore prime minister and Russian officials, claiming a back injury. Nonetheless, the no-show at the session with Clinton was widely interpreted as a snub. Read more ..

The Arab Winter of Rage

Is There Really Democracy in the Middle East?

September 22nd 2012

Bahrain dead protester

As first Tunisia and then Egypt shed long-time dictators, the Obama administration drew parallels between the Arab Spring and the fall of the Berlin Wall. “In terms of moments in time when important democratic and economic transitions begin this is a comparable moment,” a senior White House aide declared on the sidelines of the May 2011 G8 Summit in Deauville, France.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton repeatedly described US strategy as based on America’s experience at the end of the Cold War. “We have a lot of experience around the world in helping countries that are moving to democracy, most recently after the fall of the Berlin Wall,” she told the Egyptian foreign minister last September.

Annoyed with analysts who suggested that Islamists might hijack the uprisings, Obama directed his aides to discount parallels to Iran and focus instead on comparisons to Eastern European transitions, the “People Power” revolution in the Philippines and the growth of democracy in his boyhood home of Indonesia. Read more ..

The Obama Edge

Change of Fools

September 22nd 2012

Armstrong Williams Headshot

It's astounding how quickly things can change over four years. Many people have accused our President of not keeping any of his promises, but he has kept his promise to "fundamentally" change things. The history of this president is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over these states. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

We no longer have a Triple AAA Credit Rating. That's a historic first. Just last week, the United States of America received another downgrade that the media largely ignored. Egan Jones cut its rating of the United States credit from AA to AA-. Do any Democrats remember what Standard and Poor's actually said when they downgraded us? They emphasized, not taxes on the wealthy, but reduction in spending, as gravely needed. Does the President think that this problem will magically go away? He has done nothing about this, and, sadly, I do not expect him to ever do anything about it.

We have lost respect in the eyes of many nations around the world. Even in comparison to the Bush Administration, which was, rightly or wrongly, despised at home and abroad by so many, the United States' reputation is in tatters. When did George Bush ever have eleven countries rioting outside American embassies?

The average family has lost 25-33% of their wealth. The President, of course, inherited a tough situation, but the recovery, as it turns out, has actually been worse to the average American than the financial crisis. Michael Fletcher of the Washington Post reports that "from June 2009 to June 2012, inflation-adjusted median household income fell 4.8 percent, to $50,964... Incomes have dropped more since the beginning of the recovery than they did during the recession itself, when they declined 2.6 percent." Yes, it's that bad. Read more ..

Religious Tolerance

HR 35 & the Boundaries of Academic Free Speech

September 21st 2012

Anti-Israel Protest at UC Irvine

No sooner had the California State Assembly voted on and passed House Resolution 35 (HR 35) that calls upon California public universities to “increase their efforts to swiftly and unequivocally condemn acts of anti-Semitism” than the University of California Students Association (UCSA), a system-wide student organization with representatives from each campus, hastily passed a resolution denouncing the resolution, contending that it compels educational institutions “to directly suppress legitimate criticism of Israeli policy and Palestine solidarity activism, and stifles robust political debate on public university campuses.”

Scheduled to be voted on the day before the Jewish holidays, and allowing no debate from pro-Israel students or those with opposing views, the UCSA resolution suggested that  “While HR 35 purports to oppose anti-Semitism, much of HR 35 is written to unfairly and falsely smear as ‘anti-Semites’ those who do human rights advocacy focusing on Israel’s illegal occupation, alleging that the UC faculty and staff involved in such work are motivated by anti-Semitism rather than by the political ideals of equality and respect for universal human rights they affirm, ideals UCSA and most California students share.”

Campus radicals who promote the Palestinian cause may purport to be guided by “political ideals of equality and respect for universal human rights,” but it will come as a surprise to no one that they are less than willing to extend those same rights and ideals of equality for Israelis or Jews, and for anyone on North American campuses—Jewish or not—who wishes to articulate his or her own support for the Middle East’s only democracy. Read more ..

The Arab Winter of Rage

Are Radical Imams Going to Redefine Freedom of Speech?

September 20th 2012

Alan Dershowitz

Now there are threats of violence directed against France for the publication of a cartoon depicting the prophet Mohammad in violation of Islamic law.  This is simply the most recent manifestation of a worldwide effort to censor freedom of expression and make it conform to the most radical interpretation of Islamic tradition.  The bounty on the head of Salman Rushdie was recently increased and this distinguished author remains in peril.  Theo Van Gogh was murdered for violating Islamic Law.  And numerous people have been killed as the result of cartoons being published in Denmark and a video shown on YouTube.

I have seen several minutes of the stupid little film that has, arguably, incited so much violence and the deaths of four distinguished public servants, including a United States Ambassador who was uniquely sympathetic to Islam and Arab interests.

There is nothing good that can be said about the low budget film.  It has little redeeming social value and the world would be a better place if it had never been made or shown.  Nevertheless, it would be wrong, and under American law unconstitutional, to censor or punish such despicable expression.  Freedom of speech means freedom for those who you despise, and freedom to express the most despicable views.  It also means that the government cannot pick and choose which expressions to authorize and which to prevent.

There are several exceptions recognized under American law to untrammeled freedom of expression. These include falsely shouting fire in a crowded theater, fighting words and speech that present a clear and present danger of inciting violence. Even if these exceptions were applied to anti-Islamic expressions that would not solve the problem. It is easy to argue that a video such as the one on YouTube could be banned without doing much damage to freedom of expression, but that would only be the tip of the iceberg. The radical Imams who incite the violence would not be satisfied until they could decide what could be seen and heard. Read more ..

The Arab Winter of Rage

How to Send Egypt a Message

September 20th 2012

Cairo embassy protest Sep 2012

The Morsi government is encouraging anti-American unrest; the Obama administration must now send a clear signal back.

The image of a black Al Qaeda flag flying above the United States Embassy in Cairo on Sept. 11 shocked Americans. It should have shaken the Egyptian Government as well. Egypt receives $1.5 billion annually from the U.S., and Washington is about to forgive $1 billion in the ailing state's debt.

But Egypt's government is charting a different course. Rather than denouncing the egregious violation of U.S. sovereignty, Egypt's ruling party, the Muslim Brotherhood, is doubling down. This Friday, the Brotherhood is slated to hold a mass demonstration just two blocks from the U.S. compound in Cairo. In Egypt and the U.S., the attack is widely being attributed to an obscure anti-Islamic movie. But in fact, Al Gamaa Al Islamiyya, a U.S.-designated terrorist organization, announced weeks ago that it would protest in front of the U.S. Embassy on 9/11 to demand the release of Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman, the blind cleric mastermind of the first World Trade Center Bombing in 1993. Read more ..

The Defense Edge

Obama, Romney Playing Same Defense

September 19th 2012

Kitty Hawk

The new turmoil in the Middle East, including the recent killing of our U.S. ambassador in Libya, has raised the profile, and the rhetoric, on foreign policy and national security in the presidential race.

But an examination of two central issues in the race, proper levels of U.S. military spending and the use of military force, suggests a more nuanced and intelligent debate between the two men. And the differences between them are far narrower than the rhetoric suggests:

Defense spending. President Obama wants to cut the size of the U.S. ground forces to nearly where they were just before 9/11. That is one way he will seek to save almost $500 billion over the next decade on defense costs. War costs would also decline as troops gradually leave Afghanistan. Obama strongly opposes further cuts, including the additional $500 billion over a decade that would result from so-called sequestration.

Mitt Romney, in turn, opposes that first $500 billion in 10-year cuts that the president favors (and opposes sequestration, too). He wants to increase the Navy shipbuilding budget to 15 ships a year from Obama's nine and keep ground forces near where they are, about 100,000 more troops than the president forecasts. Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

Romney Slammed for Telling the Truth--Do Palestinians Really want Peace with Israel?

September 19th 2012

Mitt Romney

There they go again.

In the latest version of "the-liberal-media-tars-a Republican-candidate-to improve-the-electoral-chances-of-Barack-Obama" Mitt Romney has been "outed" as saying (horror of horrors) that the Palestinians aren't really interested in making peace with Israel.

For the record, here's his statement at a May Florida fundraiser, first published by ultra-liberal Mother Jones magazine. Romney stated:

I'm torn by two perspectives in this regard. One is the one which I've had for some time, which is that the Palestinians have no interest whatsoever in establishing peace. And that the pathway to peace is almost unthinkable to accomplish. Now, why do I say that? Some might say well just let the Palestinians have the West Bank and have security and set up a separate nation for the Palestinians. And then come a couple of thorny questions. And I don't have a map here to look at the geography. But the border between Israel and the West Bank is obviously right there, right next to Tel Aviv, which is the financial capital, the industrial capital of Israel. The center of Israel. It's, uh—what? The border would be maybe seven miles from Tel Aviv to what would be the West Bank? Read more ..

The Winter of Arab Rage

How to Send Egypt a Message

September 18th 2012

Cairo burning US embassy

The Morsi government is encouraging anti-American unrest; the Obama administration must now send a clear signal back.

The image of a black Al Qaeda flag flying above the United States Embassy in Cairo on Sept. 11 shocked Americans. It should have shaken the Egyptian Government as well. Egypt receives $1.5 billion annually from the U.S., and Washington is about to forgive $1 billion in the ailing state's debt.

But Egypt's government is charting a different course. Rather than denouncing the egregious violation of U.S. sovereignty, Egypt's ruling party, the Muslim Brotherhood, is doubling down. This Friday, the Brotherhood is slated to hold a mass demonstration just two blocks from the U.S. compound in Cairo.

In Egypt and the U.S., the attack is widely being attributed to an obscure anti-Islamic movie. But in fact, Al Gamaa Al Islamiyya, a U.S.-designated terrorist organization, announced weeks ago that it would protest in front of the U.S. Embassy on 9/11 to demand the release of Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman, the blind cleric mastermind of the first World Trade Center Bombing in 1993. No doubt, the appearance of the video led to a spike in support for the Gamaa demonstration, notably among Salafists and Egypt's infamously drugged-up soccer fans known as "Ultras." Read more ..

The Obama Edge

The Myth of Barack the Liberator

September 18th 2012

Obama Pentagon

The anti-American violence spreading across the Middle East is not, as some suggest, blowback for President Obama supporting the overthrow of friendly dictators — irresponsibly pushing out autocrats who kept a lid on the forces of Islamic radicalism. The current unrest is indeed a result of Obama’s feckless policies in the Middle East — but overthrowing dictators is not one of them.

When tens of thousands of Egyptians poured into Tahrir Square last year to demand an end to dictatorship, the Obama administration stood with the Egyptian regime. Obama’s handpicked envoy, Frank Wisner, declared that Hosni Mubarak “must stay in office” to implement reforms. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton the United States announced, “Our assessment is that the Egyptian government is stable and is looking for ways to respond to the legitimate needs and interests of the Egyptian people.” The hopes of ordinary Egyptians that Obama might stand with them soon gave way to disappointment and anger. Demonstrators began carrying signs that declared “Shame on you Obama!” and showed Mubarak depicted as Obama in his iconic “hope” image — with a caption that read “No You Can’t.” Read more ..

Winter of Arab Rage

Brace Yourself for More, but Panic is Not a Policy

September 18th 2012

Libyan rioters at US consulate Sep 2012 #1

With all the protests and violence in Arab and Muslim countries generated by a despicable and demeaning film about Islam, here is a sobering prediction: There will be more such films and clips, they will be even more provocative, and they will generate even more violent reaction among Arabs and Muslims. And no matter who is behind them, many will see the hands of Israel and the United States. Yet this is not time for panic but for steady and intensive diplomacy.

This is an easy prediction to make. In the era of the information revolution, any 12-year-old can produce a short film and post it online. There is no shortage of racists, bigots or individuals with sinister goals.

And consider this payoff of a relatively cheap product with minor efforts: disruption of regional and global priorities, affecting U.S. relations with Arab and Muslim countries, influencing internal dynamics in the Middle East and possibly even affecting the outcome of U.S. elections. It is too easy and too tempting, even for those with low personal stakes — and especially for those with higher stakes. Read more ..

Broken Education

Mayor Emanuel of Chicago Fights the Good Fight for Education Reform

September 18th 2012

Rahm Emanuel and Barry

The most consequential political fight in the United States took place in Chicago last week. The one-week teachers' strike continues for now, with a tentative contract yet to be approved by union members. But this titanic struggle is as important as the fight against racial segregation in the 1950s and 1960s.

It is time for all Americans, Democrats and Republicans, to stand up and fight for children desperate for good schools.
The beachhead in this war is in Chicago. Mayor Rahm Emanuel (D) risked his political neck in a heroic fight to reform the nation’s third largest school system. The political risk is great because of the money the teachers’ union has invested in Democratic politicians. Add to the drama the fact that the nation is weeks from a presidential election. President Obama is another Democrat from Chicago. Emanuel is his former chief of staff. Obama’s Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, used to be the CEO of the Chicago Public Schools. The Chicago trio has risked alienating the unions by championing national school reform. Read more ..

The Winter of Arab Rage

Libya’s Jihadist Minority

September 17th 2012

Libyan riot at US consulate Sep 2012 #3

“They are armed I am not going to fight a losing battle and kill my men over a demolished shrine,” said Fawzi Abd al-‘Aali, the former Libyan interior minister, before he “resigned” last August. He was referring to the armed Salafi groups that were accused of destroying Sufi shrines. One of the accused groups was the Ansar al-Shariah Brigade, which was quick to support the demolition, but denied any responsibility for it.

Ahmed Jibril, Libya’s deputy ambassador to London, has now accused the Brigade, headed by Muhammed Ali Al-Zahawy, of perpetrating the attack on the US Consulate in Benghazi, which killed the American ambassador, Christopher Stevens, and three other U.S. personnel, as well as Libyan guards. Others have quickly embraced and promoted Jibril’s allegation. But the picture is more complex. Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

Palestinian Statehood and Terrorism

September 17th 2012

Hamas Terrorists

As the Palestinian Authority continues to seek recognition by the United Nations as a "state," the world should consider the implications.

If the U.N. now recognizes Palestine as a state without requiring its leaders to negotiate a compromise peace with Israel, it would send a clear message to other groups seeking recognition and statehood: Terrorism will earn you the sympathy of the world and get you your way.

Palestinian terrorism has a decades-long pedigree that far predates Israel's nationhood. In 1929, Haj Amin al Husseini—the grand Mufti of Jerusalem and the official leader of the Palestinian people—ordered his followers to murder hundreds of elderly Jews in Hebron and other cities and towns where Jews had lived for millennia. During World War II, Husseini moved to Berlin where he met with Adolf Hitler and Adolf Eichmann. At Eichmann's trial for war crimes in 1961, it came out that Husseini had personally prevented nearly 1,000 Hungarian-Jewish children from being sent to neutral countries. Instead he insisted that they be sent to Auschwitz, where they died.

In 1948, Palestinians refused to accept the compromise two-state solution proposed by the U.N., and instead they engaged in the Arab states' genocidal war in which 1 percent of Israel's population, including many civilians, were killed.In 1968, a Jordanian-born Palestinian, Sirhan Sirhan, educated to hate anything associated with Jews or Israel, assassinated New York Sen. and presidential candidate Robert Kennedy. Five years later, Palestine Liberation Organization head Yasser Arafat arranged to have three American diplomats kidnapped and offered in exchange for Kennedy's assassin. When the U.S. refused to release Sirhan, Arafat personally ordered the torture and murder of the Americans. Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

ObamaCare's Crucial Benefits

September 17th 2012

Obama in front of AMA

Politicians who are promising to repeal ObamaCare won’t find any evidence in the Kaiser Family Foundation’s analysis of health insurance costs that the law has caused premiums to skyrocket, as many of those politicians have contended.

On the contrary, premiums have increased on average only 4 percent over the past year, the lowest rate of increase in years, according to Kaiser’s 2012 Employer Health Benefits Survey, which was released last week. Double-digit premium increases were once the norm, especially during the George W. Bush administration. Premiums increased 10 percent in 2004 and 13 percent in 2003.

So the good news is that premiums increased only 4 percent. The not so good news is that, because of all those past double-digit increases, the average premium for employer-sponsored health coverage has reached a record high of $15,745. And because employers have been shifting more and more of the cost of coverage to workers, employees are now paying, on average, nearly 30 percent of that total, much more than they used to. The hike in worker contributions has far outstripped the overall rise in premiums.    Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

Misplaced Blame for the Embassy Attacks

September 16th 2012

Libya protesters

An incendiary video about the prophet Mohammad, Innocence of Muslims, was blamed for the mob attacks on our embassies in Libya and Egypt (and, later, Yemen). In Libya, Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans were murdered. The video stirred some passion here in America as well.

Over at MSNBC, a riot of consensus broke out when contributors Mike Barnicle and Donny Deutsch as well as University of Pennsylvania professor Anthea Butler all agreed that the people behind the video should be indicted as accessories to murder. “Good morning,” declared Butler, “How soon is Sam Bacile [the alleged creator of the film] going to be in jail folks? I need him to go now.”

Barnicle set his sights on Terry Jones, the pastor who wanted to burn the Koran a while back and who was allegedly involved in the video as well. “Given this supposed minister’s role in last year’s riots in Afghanistan, where people died, and given his apparent or his alleged role in this film, where . . . at least one American, perhaps the American ambassador, is dead, it might be time for the Department of Justice to start viewing his role as an accessory before or after the fact.” Deutsch helpfully added: “I was thinking the same thing, yeah.” Read more ..

The Economy on Edge

Move the Housing Market Forward: Return FHA to its Traditional Mission

September 16th 2012

Home Foreclosure

Set up in 1934, it insured fully amortizing 20 year term loans combined with a 20 percent down payment.  As a result homebuyers accumulated nearly 30 percent equity after 4 years without relying on inflation.  By 1954 the FHA had insured 2.9 million mortgages, yet had only paid claims on 5,712 properties for a cumulative claims rate of 0.2 percent.  Today the FHA has 7.5 million loans outstanding and pays 12,000 claims per month.  This is not your great-grandmother’s FHA.  

The FHA needs to return to its traditional mission of being a targeted provider of mortgage credit for low- and moderate-income Americans and first-time homebuyers. It performs a disservice to American families and communities by continuing practices that result in a high proportion of families losing their homes. Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

America Should Not Be AWOL in the Middle East

September 15th 2012

Barack Obama in Thought

It should not require the murder of an ambassador and three of his American colleagues to inform the Obama administration that there are extremists in the new Middle East (as in the old), and that we have an interest in ensuring they find no purchase in the new Arab democracies of the region. Yet the history of American involvement in the region since the president reluctantly ordered the military into NATO's operations to support anti-Qaddafi rebels has been one of steady retreat.

It is not the job of the United States to reeducate the populace of the Islamic world, nor to rig voting to ensure the election of congenial dictators. It is the job of the United States to promote American values, and to reward those parties and those countries that honor those principles by protecting political and religious freedom, minority rights and free enterprise. The United States remains the most powerful nation in the world, notwithstanding efforts to absent ourselves from the global stage. We have ample tools -- in our diplomats, in our aid dollars, in our moral suasion and, yes, in our military might -- to help affect the course of events. Read more ..

The Emissions Edge

Prohibiting Compliance with the EU Emissions Trading Scheme: Not a Good Idea

September 15th 2012

airplanes shadows

On January 1 this year, the European Union included aviation within its cap-and-trade system (known as ETS), which prices carbon and caps the amount of CO2 that can be emitted annually. According to the legislation that extended the EU ETS to include CO2 emissions from aviation, all planes entering and departing EU airspace must now account for their CO2 emissions over EU airspace, the high seas and third country territories. Applying the EU ETS to both EU and non-EU airlines, however, has led to significant push-back from the U.S. Both U.S. Secretary of State Clinton and U.S. Secretary of Transportation LaHood have stated that they “strongly object on legal and policy grounds” to the application of the EU ETS to U.S. airlines and urged the EU to halt, suspend or delay its application.

Congress has also been actively involved, threatening to make it illegal for U.S. airlines to comply with the EU ETS. Prohibiting compliance with another country’s laws is something the U.S. rarely does – the two most significant cases related to laws prohibiting compliance with the South African apartheid regime and the 1973 Arab boycott of Israel. In both these examples, compliance by U.S. persons would have breached domestic U.S. anti-discrimination laws. The U.S. position could therefore be understood as an effort to prevent U.S. companies complying with the laws of regimes that were, from a domestic view point, not only illegal but also particularly morally repellant. Read more ..

Broken Labor

Chicago Strike Tell Us Answer is School Choice

September 14th 2012

Chicago Teachers

It says something about today's public education reality that the two sides in the teachers' union dispute in Chicago are the union and the mayor.

Allegedly, the point of schools is to educate children. But which side in this dispute has sole interest in children and their parents? The answer, of course, is neither side.

Unions are about the economic interests of the teachers. The mayor is about his budget and the economic interests of the city. No one solely represents the interests of the kids. It's not to say that the union or the mayor has no interest in the quality of education being delivered. But this is just part of their agenda. Do union members have to worry that their jobs will be gone if children don't get the best possible education? No. Does the mayor have to worry that his job will be gone or his career over if children don't get the best possible education? No. Read more ..

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