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The 2012 Vote

Paul Ryan: A Good Choice for Republicans and Democrats?

August 13th 2012

Paul Ryan

There will be no Sarah Palin style debate about the qualifications of Wisconsin Representative Paul Ryan for vice president.  The guy is smart and knowledgeable about public policy issues and is exceptionally thoughtful about federal budget issues.  He is the author of a very detailed plan for deficit reduction and entitlement reform.  He answers the call of critics who say Mitt Romney has no fiscal plan.

The downside of that substantive depth is the choice will enable Democrats to run against Republicans as cold-hearted conservatives who want to downsize government and end Medicare as we know it.  Up to this point, there hasn’t been a serious national discussion about what actually is involved in deficit reduction and which programs need to be changed and in what manner.  The specificity of Ryan’s budget plan guarantees we now will have that debate this Fall. Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

Lessons Al Smith could teach Mitt Romney

August 13th 2012

Al Smith campaign pin

Those following Mitt Romney in the news may have noticed the frequency with which the former Massachusetts governor’s name has been linked to former New York governor Al Smith.

Eighty-four years ago, Smith was the Democratic candidate in the 1928 presidential election, which he lost in a landslide to his Republican opponent, Herbert Hoover. Looking forward to this November’s contest, more than a few historically-minded journalists have suggested that Smith’s miserable showing might augur something for Romney when he challenges Barack Obama for the presidency in a few months’ time.

Why the comparison is relevant is that it allegedly set the precedent for first-of-their-kind religious outsiders seeking the Oval Office, and Smith, the first Roman Catholic in American history to headline a major party’s presidential nomination, saw his campaign wilt under a glare of virulent anti-Catholic hysteria. As a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (better known as the Mormons), Romney may have to endure something similar, and, we are told, is probably doomed to suffer the same outcome as Smith.

Yet a closer look at the last presidential tilt of the Roaring Twenties reveals that the fable of Smith as the capable candidate stymied by a bigoted electorate simply doesn’t fit the facts. Ascribing Smith’s defeat to his religion ignores his opponent’s considerable electoral appeal and assumes, wrongly, that religious bigotry worked in only one direction. Read more ..


Healthcare on Edge

With Health Care Costs, the U.S. Is a Huge Outlier

August 11th 2012

medicine and money

In any comparison of healthcare costs in rich countries, the United States is an extreme outlier. This is true both in terms of the percentage of its income devoted to health and the absolute level of our health spending per person.

The U.S. has always been a high-spending country, but the difference with other countries has widened over time. International statistics on health outlays suggest the share of our GDP devoted to health was about 40 percent higher than the average for other rich countries in the 1970s. The differential increased substantially during the 1980s and early 1990s and then continued to widen, though more slowly, in later decades. By 2010 the U.S. health share was almost 7.2 percentage points of GDP (or 70 percent) higher than the health spending share in countries with comparable incomes. We can describe that estimate in a slightly different way: The United States spent about $7,500 per capita on health care compared to an average of $3,300 in other rich countries.

If the nation obtained better-than-average health outcomes in exchange for its much-higher-than-average health spending, we would have little reason to complain. However, there is almost no evidence U.S. health outcomes are better than those in other rich countries. A variety of statistics on mortality and morbidity suggest outcomes may be worse in this country than they are elsewhere.

The nation's ever-increasing health bill has had a little-noticed impact on our income distribution statistics. That's because of the way we pay for most health care and the way most income statistics are reported. Less than a quarter of the cost of the health care we consume is paid for with our cash incomes. Most is financed by the government or reimbursed through insurance purchased by our employers. Read more ..


The Race for AgriFuels

US Must Take Action on Biofuels to Prevent a Food Crisis

August 10th 2012

The worst drought for 50 years is inflicting huge damage on the US maize crop, with serious consequences for the overall international food supply. The situation reminds us that even the most advanced agricultural systems are subject to the vagaries of the weather, leading to volatility in supplies and prices not just on domestic markets but also internationally. Climate change and extreme weather events will further complicate the picture. US maize production had been expected to increase to record levels this year. That view will prove optimistic. Much of the reduced crop will be claimed by biofuel production in line with US federal mandates, leaving even less for food and feed markets. The August US Department of Agriculture estimates, announced on Friday, will give a more precise idea for just how much the maize crop is reduced. Few people are expecting good news.

Maize prices have already gone higher than their 2008 and 2011 peaks, increasing by 23 per cent during July alone. Wheat prices have followed maize prices upwards. Repercussions are already being felt in the US livestock sector.

Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

Dismantling the GOP’s Odious Philosophy of Voter Suppression

August 10th 2012

Martin Luther King Parade

Republicans should not be surprised if voter laws becomes a major topic of debate this election season—they will be the ones responsible for making it so. Over the past two years, the GOP has made a concerted attempt in a number of states to tighten voter registration procedures, cut back on alternatives such as early voting, and—most controversially—require would-be voters to show state-issued photo IDs as proof of identity. Because there’s such little evidence that these changes are needed to eliminate widespread voter fraud, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that many Republican legislators want to discourage voting among groups—especially minorities and the poor—that cast their ballots mainly for Democrats.

But it’s worth remarking that beneath these crass political motives are some deeper moral issues. Proponents and opponents of these changes agree on one thing: Voting will be harder, and turnout will be lower. But is that necessarily a bad thing? Proponents think not. Speaking for many others, Florida State Senator Mike Bennett said, “I don’t have a problem making [voting] harder. I want people in Florida to want to vote as bad as that person in Africa who walks 200 miles across the desert. This should be something you do with a passion.” Read more ..


Obama and Israel

How the U.S. Government Should Deal With the Jerusalem As Israel’s Capital Issue

August 9th 2012

Jerusalem-Temple and Wall

Recently there has been a controversy when State Department spokespeople refused to say what they thought to be Israel’s capital. To understand this issue we need to understand that there are two different issues involved: that of 1947 and that of 1967.

I’m not going to discuss ancient history, religious factors, and the merits of varying claims here but rather will merely point out some simple facts of practical diplomacy.

The U.S. embassy, like others, is located in Tel Aviv. When diplomats need to meet with Israeli officials they pile into their vans and drive up to Jerusalem. There are other restrictions on just where these diplomats can go and under what conditions, to avoid any implication that they recognize Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights or east Jerusalem.

Presidents have repeatedly promised to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, but have never made the tiniest move toward doing so because that would make Muslims and Arabs angry. In his speeches to AIPAC, President Barack Obama has said - to thunderous applause - that Jerusalem was the capital of Israel and should remain undivided. But of course this was a totally cynical gesture. Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

Carville the Carnival Barker

August 9th 2012

James Carville
James Carville

The latest James Carville-inspired Democracy Corps polling in so-called battleground congressional districts is entertaining, as is most everything the Ragin’ Cajun touches. We learn that Republican incumbents are on the verge of being gunned down like Pickett’s men charging up that hill at Gettysburg. The poll’s summary memorandum’s headlines are relentless. “Republican vote falling.” “Republican incumbents out of touch with districts.” “Republicans now lose the healthcare debate.” “The Ryan budget: Vulnerability.” Can’t catch a break, can we? And we learn that Democrats are going to scare seniors on Medicare after they frighten recently poor folks with threats of being “pushed back into poverty” by Republicans. 

I can just see the Carville Democrats laughing and giving themselves high-fives as they celebrate the pending total evisceration of the Republican brand they so abhor, along with the motley members of Congress who march under that banner. The poll proves it. We Republicans should negotiate surrender before the Democrats come for our spouses and children. There is no love for Republicans.

Do they really believe all this stuff? Or do they realize it’s mostly what the Good Book calls “the noisy gong or clanging cymbal” of those who have no love in their hearts? This is vintage propaganda. Page after page of mind-numbing tables compare the past two or three elections with this one, arriving at favorable conclusions while ignoring equally plausible conclusions to the contrary. Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

PACs Losing Ground in Crucial Ohio

August 8th 2012

Sherrod Brown
Sen. Sherrod Brown

Pity poor conservative billionaires. The ultra-rich didn’t get that way by burning their dollars, but that’s exactly what they appear to be doing in this new era of the super-PAC. Nowhere did they expect to have a greater impact than in Ohio, where first-term Democratic incumbent Sen. Sherrod Brown is at his most vulnerable — his first reelection campaign. Conservatives are convinced that Brown, a populist firebrand, is too liberal for the evenly divided battleground state he represents. So big right-wing donors staked their money behind those beliefs — sinking over $10.5 million into attack ads as of early July.

No non-presidential candidate has been on the receiving end of more super-PAC sludge than Brown. Yet Brown’s numbers haven’t exactly suffered. In January, the Ohio senator had a polling average, as compiled by Talking Points Memo (TPM)’s poll tracker, of 46.9 percent (his Republican opponent, Josh Mandel, trailed at 33.2 percent).

Now, seven months and $10.5 million later, Brown is up to 47.8 percent. Read more ..


Economic Recovery on Edge

The Dynamics of Market Credit for Low-end Consumers

August 8th 2012

Armstrong_Williams

A recent Wall Street Journal article examined how the Fed’s use of low interest rate policies has failed to reach those in need the most. Aptly calling it the “credit divide,” the article finds that “Fed officials have been frustrated in the past year that low interest rate policies haven’t reached enough Americans to spur stronger growth, the way economics textbooks say low rates should.” That conclusion is of no surprise to many, especially to the 73 million unbanked and under banked Americans who don’t even figure into the Fed’s equation. That’s because extending credit to these individuals has never been seen as a meaningful contributing factor to the overall health of the economy. Sure there have been special initiatives like the FDIC’s small dollar loan program a few years back, which by all measurable accounts failed. Not because banks weren’t willing to participate in the pilot program, but at the end of the day, without FDIC incentives banks simply couldn’t make money.

Yet, we have 73 million men and women who live with the constant fear that a financial hiccup will trigger a need for money that they don’t have and most likely can’t get. While the Feds are making easy credit, it’s going to those with near perfect credit scores&—which leaves many of these 73 million Americans scrambling for other options. In other words, while interest rates are at an all time low, money still isn’t available to those that need it the most.

In a recent study, Serving Consumers’ Needs for Loans in the 21st Century, author Michael Flores finds that neither banks nor alternative financial services providers are extending loans in the $750 to $5,000 range. It’s not complicated to understand; despite benefiting from the Fed’s easy money, loans of under $5,000 simply aren’t profitable for banks. Even if such loans were to exist, many customers wouldn’t qualify. On the other hand, alternative financial services (AFS) providers can’t fill the space because of the burdensome costs of complying with 50 distinct sets of state regulations. Read more ..


Iran's Nukes

Time Is Short For Iran Diplomacy

August 7th 2012

Michael Oren
Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren

Nearly two decades ago, Israel started alerting the world about Iran's nuclear program. But the world ignored our warnings, wasting 10 years until the secret nuclear enrichment plant at Natanz was exposed in 2002. Then eight more invaluable years were lost before much of the international community imposed serious sanctions on Iran.

Throughout that time, the ayatollahs systematically lied about their nuclear operations, installing more than 10,000 centrifuges, a significant number of them in a once-secret underground facility at Qom. Iran has blocked International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors from visiting its nuclear sites, refused to answer questions about the military aspects of its program, and rejected all confidence-building measures. Iran has tested long-range missiles capable of reaching any city in the Middle East and, in the future, beyond.

Iran is also the world's leading state sponsor of terror. It has supplied more than 70,000 rockets to terrorist organizations deployed on Israel's borders and has tried to murder civilians across five continents and 25 countries, including in the United States. In July, Iranian-backed Hezbollah terrorists killed five Israeli tourists, among them a pregnant woman, in Bulgaria. Iran's forces have attacked American troops in Afghanistan and Iraq. Its agents are operating in Yemen, Africa and South America. By providing fighters and funds, Iran is enabling Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad to massacre his own people. Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

The Politics of Geneaology and Obama's Slave Ancestor

August 6th 2012

Stanley Dunham, Ann Dunham, Maya Soetoro, Barry Obama Soetoro
Stanley Dunham, Stanley Ann Dunham, Maya Soetoro, Barack Obama

On July 30, the New York Times broke a story about the Obama family’s ties to slavery. Not Michelle Obama. Her family connection to slavery has been extensively covered by the Times and documented in Rachel Swarn’s American Tapestry. Rather, the story revealed the history of Barack Obama’s ties to slavery through his mother’s side. The article announced that genealogists have traced the family history of Obama’s mother, Stanley Ann Dunham, to seventeenth-century Virginia, where they claim it is possible she may have descended from an African servant named John Punch. Using ancestral databases and DNA evidence, researchers have linked Dunham’s history to the “mixed-race Bunch line,” a family who became wealthy colonial landholders and were racially considered white despite their ties to Africans like John Punch.

The story of John Punch occupies an important place in the history of slavery in North America. When the English imported Punch to the Virginia colony in the mid-seventeenth century, he became an indentured servant. The primary source of labor in the Virginia colony for the better part of the seventeenth century was servitude. The colony imported workers from Europe to work in tobacco fields. They had little interest in utilizing African slaves. African imports were comparatively expensive next to the cheap imports they could scoop off the streets or out of the jails of London. At the time John Punch arrived in the English colony, he was one of a relatively small population of Africans. Read more ..


Israel and Palestine

A Chance to Regain Lost Diplomatic Ground

August 6th 2012

Arafat, Rabin, and Peres Peace Prizes

When a blue-ribbon panel of Israeli legal experts issued a report this July declaring that the West Bank isn't "occupied territory," but territory to which Israel has a legitimate claim, and that settlements therefore cannot be considered ipso facto illegal, it raised an outcry both in Israel and overseas. A group of prominent American Jews even wrote Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to urge him against adopting the report, arguing that it would imperil both "the two-state solution, and the prestige of Israel as a democratic member of the international community," because the latter depends on persuading the world that Israel is "committed to a two-state vision." Many Israeli pundits voiced similar concerns.
 
Since the Levy Report essentially reiterates the official position of all Israeli governments, this concern seems strange. Nevertheless, its opponents are right to see it as a potential game changer. Where they err is in deeming it a negative one. In reality, the report offers Israel a golden opportunity to start regaining the diplomatic ground it has lost over the last two decades. Read more ..

China on Edge

Reform by Stealth is Reason for Optimism about China

August 6th 2012

China democracy demonstration

China pessimists are claiming vindication as growth slows in the world’s second-largest economy. Optimists point out that Beijing has fiscal room to respond but there are risks to any short-term policy measures. A surge in bank-financed investment, for example, could boost growth but it is also likely to increase the stock of non-performing loans in the banking system and set back the goal of rebalancing growth by promoting private consumption. An aging population and a rocky leadership transition strengthen the bears’ case.

However, there are grounds for hope. Recent political turmoil, including the Bo Xilai affair, put reactionary forces in the Communist Party of China on the defensive. Meanwhile, reform-minded officials pushed through some modest but significant financial market reforms.

The government has long recognised that reforming the financial sector is needed to improve the balance and sustainability of growth. Why has it not acted more forcefully before? The present system works well – for some. State-owned banks provide cheap financing for state enterprises, which are key fiefdoms of political patronage. Banks also provide financing to powerful provincial officials through shell corporations that bankroll pet investment projects. This is financed by paying Chinese households low or negative inflation-adjusted returns on their voluminous bank deposits. Read more ..


Broken Banking

The Dynamics of Market Credit for Low-End Consumers

August 5th 2012

Armstrong_Williams

A recent Wall Street Journal article examined how the Feds use of low interest rate policies has failed to reach those in need the most. Aptly calling it the "credit divide," the article finds that "Fed officials have been frustrated in the past year that low interest rate policies haven't reached enough Americans to spur stronger growth, the way economics textbooks say low rates should." That conclusion is of no surprise to many, especially to the 73 million unbanked and under banked Americans who don't even figure into the Feds' equation. That's because extending credit to these individuals has never been seen as a meaningful contributing factor to the overall health of the economy. Sure there have been special initiatives like the FDIC's small dollar loan program a few years back, which by all measurable accounts failed.  Not because banks weren't willing to participate in the pilot program, but at the end of the day, without FDIC incentives banks simply couldn't make money. 

Yet, we have 73 million men and women who live with the constant fear that a financial hiccup will trigger a need for money that they don't have and most likely can't get.  While the Feds are making easy money, it's going to those with near perfect credit scores which leave many of these 73 million Americans scrambling for other options.  In other words, while interest rates are at an all time low, money still isn't available to those that need it the most. 

In a recent study, Serving Consumers' Needs for Loans in the 21st Century, author Michael Flores finds that neither banks nor alternative financial services providers are extending loans in the $750 to $5,000 range.  It's not complicated to understand, despite benefiting from the Feds' easy money, loans of under $5,000 simply aren't profitable for banks.  Even if such loans were to exist, many customers wouldn't qualify.  On the other hand, alternative financial services (AFS) providers can't fill the space because of the burdensome costs of complying with 50 distinct sets of state regulations. Read more ..


The Iranian Threat

Sobering Reports of Iran Issued by State Department

August 4th 2012

Iran Missiles

The State Department issued two reports this week, one on patterns on global terrorism and the other on religious freedom and oppression around the world. In both reports, one country took a preeminent and shameful place – Iran. I would urge readers to take a look at these reports in detail. They are both available in full on the State Department’s website and they provide a graphic warning about the nature of this regime which is trying to acquire nuclear weapons.

The report on religious freedom made sobering reading. Iran’s population is 89 percent Shia Muslim and 9 percent Sunni. An estimated two to five million persons practice Sufism. The largest non-Muslim minority is the Baha’is, who number 300,000 to 350,000. Unofficial estimates of the Jewish community’s size varied from 20,000 to 30,000.

The report cataloged persecution by the regime of Baha’is, Christians, Zoroastrians, Sufis, Sunni clerics, Muslim converts to Christianity and even Shia religious leaders who did not fully support government policies or the supreme leader’s views.The regime also fosters open antisemitism. Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

Obama Camp Facing Cash Crisis

August 4th 2012

Juan Williams 02

Get ready for this year’s “October Surprise” — the news event in the weeks before the presidential election that has the potential to push the remaining undecided voters behind one candidate and decide the outcome. Here’s a sneak peek at the “surprise.”

In late October, President Obama announces his campaign is tapped out of money and unable to answer the final round of attack ads from his opponent, Mitt Romney. This scenario is no longer outside the realm of possibility. On a recent conference call with potential donors, President Obama said: “If things continue as they have so far, I’ll be the first sitting president in modern history to be outspent in his reelection campaign.”

The president then asked his donors “to meet or exceed what you did in 2008.” That is a pretty high bar to clear.

In 2008, Obama shattered all campaign fundraising records by bringing in more than $700 million. His GOP opponent, John McCain, raised only $316 million, giving the Democrat a tremendous advantage.

It is a different ball game this time around. At the moment, President Obama’s campaign has $170 million in the bank while his GOP opponent, Mitt Romney, has $144 million. But the Romney money machine is gaining momentum.

It raised more money than the Obama campaign in May and June. Romney’s donors also appear to have more money: Only 17 percent of Romney’s donations have been less than $200, compared to 40 percent of Obama’s donations that came in at less than $200. The big money going to Romney also has more ways than ever to avoid limits on donations. Keep in mind this is the first presidential election since the Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United, which opened the floodgates for unlimited contributions to outside groups and created the super-PACs. Read more ..


The 2912 Vote

De-Bushing Romney

August 3rd 2012

Ask Mitt

This is shaping up to be the second election in a row that’s about someone who isn’t on the ballot: George W. Bush. In 2008, Barack Obama won in no small part by turning the election into a referendum on President Bush and by claiming that a John McCain presidency would amount to a third Bush term. Since then, Obama’s presidency has been one long run-on sentence of blaming his predecessor, only occasionally punctuated with complaints about Europe, ATMs, the GOP Congress, Fox News, and tsunamis.

Like a general fighting the last war, Obama is going with what’s worked for him in the past. And the thing is, it might work for him in the future.

Whatever character flaws Obama’s relentless buck-passing might reveal, and whether or not it’s fair to Bush, the simple fact is that it may well be good politics. The Obama campaign has spent millions on polls and market research. If Bush-bashing was really hurting Obama’s numbers, he’d stop doing it. Instead, he relentlessly insists in ads and speeches that Mitt Romney represents a return to the Bush years. Read more ..


America on Edge

Colorado Mayhem Calls for Re-Thinking Treatment of the Criminally Insane

August 3rd 2012

James Holmes and counsel

Amid the national and international horror at the slaughter in Colorado, attention once again has been rightly focused on our weak gun laws and the odious influence and power of the National Rifle Association. But there’s another issue that seldom if ever gets raised on occasions like this: characters like James Holmes, the accused mass murderer, should not be allowed to run loose, at least if they exhibit the kind of behavior that reveals their mental state before they kill.

In the case of Holmes, the evidence is not yet in: we will have to wait (perhaps a long time), to know the full truth about the “Batman” butcher in the days before he terminated the lives of all those helpless people. Read more ..


Obama and Israel

Obama and Israel: Degrees of separation

August 2nd 2012

Obama and flags

American foreign policy, and specifically its Middle Eastern dimension, came back into play last week in a presidential election campaign that has largely focused on domestic issues. The big dispute centered around which candidate had outflanked the other in reaching out to Israel—as Mitt Romney prepared for his arrival in Israel, President Obama announced that he would sign a bill enhancing cooperation between the United States and Israel.

Congress already passed that bill, the U.S.-Israel Enhanced Security Cooperation Act, with strong bipartisan support. As an expression of policy, it is a welcome reaffirmation of American objectives with regard to a final settlement between Israel and the Palestinians. That there needs to be a two-state solution is pretty much the global consensus, but the bill places strong emphasis on the requirement that Israel’s neighbors recognize its right “to exist as a Jewish state,” an inflection that, with the exception of Canada, most of the other parties with regional influence tend to downplay. The bill also quotes former President George W. Bush’s elegant 2008 summation of what makes the U.S.-Israel relationship distinctive: “The alliance between our governments is unbreakable, yet the source of our friendship runs deeper than any treaty.” Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

Weak Economy, Yes, But Not a Death Knell for Obama

August 2nd 2012

Barack Obama Israel speech

Presidents running for reelection are hard to beat. Since World War II, a period over which Democrats and Republicans have each occupied the White House about half the time, incumbents have won reelection 70 percent of the time. Other things equal, a clear advantage for Obama this year.

On the other hand, it is accepted political wisdom that the state of the economy is what matters most for voters. Fairly or unfairly, the president gets the credit for good times and the blame for bad. Obama initially got high marks for moving aggressively to stop the economic freefall he inherited. His approval ratings were high. But by the summer of 2010, the overhang of the credit and real estate bubbles got in the way of normal recovery and the resulting weak expansion had become a political liability for the president.

So how compelling is the idea that the state of the economy determines the election winner? And is there evidence of a separate incumbency effect? Five of the 7 incumbents who won did so in years with both good job markets and no serious inflation worries. The other two had good job growth but inflationary problems. Harry Truman won in 1948 despite serious labor unrest and inflationary wage increases. And Richard Nixon won in 1972 despite clumsy wage and price controls that suppressed inflation. Read more ..


The Defense Edge

Global Zero Running on Empty

August 2nd 2012

Misslle in Silo

A small group of nuclear abolitionists are pushing for the United States to dramatically reduce its nuclear weapons and eliminate the strategic nuclear triad, which for half a century has maintained the peace. Global Zero, which bills itself as an international movement for the elimination of all nuclear weapons and counts among its supporters a raft of former and current policy elites, recently released a report calling for steep reductions in the U.S. nuclear arsenal.
 
Global Zero claims that the enhancement of ballistic missile defenses, long-range conventional prompt strike, and overall conventional military capabilities allow the United States to reduce its deployed nuclear forces to a level roughly double that of Pakistan and India combined or half that of China.

Unfortunately, if adopted, such a force structure would make the world a far more dangerous place and highly unstable. In fact, nuclear weapons use would be more likely. Let us go through the numbers. Global Zero proposes the United States reduce to 450 warheads deployed day-to-day from the current 1,550, and dramatically reduce the number of nuclear-armed platforms upon which the warheads rest. Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

Romney Is Right: Israel’s Economic Success is Due to Culture

August 2nd 2012

Romney in Jerusalem 7-31-12

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has been assailed for saying at a fundraiser in Jerusalem that “culture” plays a large part in Israel’s superior “economic vitality” over the Palestinians, just as it does “between other countries that are near or next to each other. Chile and Ecuador, Mexico and the United States.” For this commonsensical statement of the obvious, he has been pilloried, not least by the Palestinian Authority (PA)’s Saeb Erekat, who described his remarks as “racist.”

There was, of course, no reference in Governor Romney’s comparison of Israel and the Palestinians to religion or ethnicity, let alone race. He referred to culture, which indeed makes a major difference, in this case and the others he cited. He was right to note that this has produced widely divergent results in economic performance between Israel and the PA. Read more ..


Religious Tolerance

Churches Silent on Christian Persecution

August 1st 2012

Youcef Nadarkhani

In July, Christian pastor Youcef Nadarkhani marked his 1,000th day of incarceration in Lakan, a notorious prison in northern Iran. Charged with the crime of apostasy, Mr. Nadarkhani faces a death sentence for refusing to recant the Christian faith he embraced as a child. He embodies piety and represents millions more suffering from repression—but his story is barely known.

Mr. Nadarkhani’s courage and the tenacity of his supporters, many of them ordinary churchgoers who have crowded Twitter and other social media to alert the world to his plight, bring to mind the great human-rights campaigns of recent years: the fight against apartheid in South Africa, or the movement to assist Soviet Jews seeking to emigrate from behind the Iron Curtain. As Nelson Mandela represented the opposition to South African racism, and Anatoly Sharansky exemplified the just demands of Soviet Jews, so Mr. Nadarkhani symbolizes the emergency that church leaders say is facing 100 million Christians around the world. Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

Let Americans Vote

July 31st 2012

us voters

Our democracy is under attack from within. Republicans (and it seems to be just Republicans) appear determined to deny citizens their constitutional right to vote. Oddly enough, those whose rights are being curtailed are disproportionately Democratic. The GOP view seems to be, “If you can’t win fair and square, change the rules — even cheat.”

Since 2010, 16 states have passed restrictions that could affect Election 2012. The abuses of democracy come in several forms. Ohio and Florida, among others, reduced early voting just as more and more citizens were availing themselves of that opportunity. Both states cut the number of early-voting days almost in half. Why? Florida’s former Republican chairman swore in court documents that suppressing the African-American vote was discussed by officials.

Perhaps the most insidious weapon in the arsenal of those seeking to undermine the legitimacy of our elections is so-called “voter ID laws,” which require citizens to show government-issued (usually photo) identification in order to cast a ballot. Read more ..


The Obama Edge

Business Owners Battle Obamacare for Religious Freedom

July 30th 2012

Obamacare Protest

Two days from now, employers across America will become vulnerable to crushing government penalties for exercising their religious freedom. This isn’t exactly what lawmakers advertised when they pushed Obamacare, but it is part of the Obama Administration’s agenda—forcing nearly all employers to pay for abortion-inducing drugs, contraception, and sterilization services.

Beginning August 1, employers must amend their health insurance offerings to include these drugs and services. And if they don’t? How about a fine of $100 per employee per day for non-compliance. This outrageous policy makes it impossible for employers to afford the fine—meaning they must change their insurance policies or stop offering health coverage to their workers.

But for many employers, offering the types of services required under the HHS mandate violates their consciences. It conflicts with their deeply held religious beliefs. And the government is telling them that doesn’t matter—what’s more, it’s telling them that their beliefs are inconsequential, and they must pay. Read more ..


Broken Economy

Why Capitalism Has an Image Problem

July 30th 2012

Frantic Wall Street denizen

Mitt Romney's résumé at Bain should be a slam dunk. He has been a successful capitalist, and capitalism is the best thing that has ever happened to the material condition of the human race. From the dawn of history until the 18th century, every society in the world was impoverished, with only the thinnest film of wealth on top. Then came capitalism and the Industrial Revolution. Everywhere that capitalism subsequently took hold, national wealth began to increase and poverty began to fall. Everywhere that capitalism didn't take hold, people remained impoverished. Everywhere that capitalism has been rejected since then, poverty has increased.

Capitalism has lifted the world out of poverty because it gives people a chance to get rich by creating value and reaping the rewards. Who better to be president of the greatest of all capitalist nations than a man who got rich by being a brilliant capitalist? Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

Al Qaeda’s Arab Comeback

July 30th 2012

Bin Laden with AK

Al Qaeda has exploited the Arab Spring to create its largest safe havens and operational bases in more than a decade across the Arab world. In the 18 months since the Arab revolutions first began, al Qaeda has grown stronger, despite founder Osama bin Laden’s death and a lack of mass appeal.

Like the rest of the world, the terror organization was surprised by the revolutions that toppled dictators in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and Yemen. Its ideology of violence and jihad initially was challenged by the largely nonviolent revolutionary movements that swept across North Africa and the Middle East. But al Qaeda is adaptive, and it has exploited the chaos and turmoil of revolutionary change to create bases and new strongholds from one end of the Arab world to the other.

In North Africa, al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, a franchise of the global organization, has successfully aligned itself with a local extremist group in Mali named Ansar al Dine, or Defenders of the Faith, and together they have effectively taken control of the northern two thirds of Mali. Together they are destroying the Islamic heritage of the fabled city of Timbuktu, much as al Qaeda and the Taliban destroyed Afghanistan’s historical treasures in the years before 9/11. Read more ..


Broken Government

Helping Workers RAISE Themselves

July 29th 2012

Unions

“I want every man to have the chance . . . in which he can better his condition; when he may look forward and hope to be a hired laborer this year and the next, work for himself afterwards, and finally to hire men to work for him. That is the true system.”
 — Abraham Lincoln

How better to encourage Lincoln’s “true system” of upward mobility than by allowing hard-working employees to receive pay raises and spot bonuses when they deserve them? That, in a nutshell, is the philosophy behind the RAISE (Rewarding Achievement and Incentivizing Successful Employees) Act. It would lift the restrictions that bar employers subject to collective-bargaining agreements from rewarding their best workers with pay increases or bonuses based solely on merit.

That’s right. Federal labor law — specifically, the National Labor Relations Act — actually prohibits employers from rewarding employees in this manner without permission from union officials. The Heritage Foundation’s labor expert James Sherk explains:
Most Americans know that unions set a floor for workers’ wages: An employer may not pay individual union members less than the amount bargained for by the union. Few Americans know that unions also set a ceiling for workers’ wages: Businesses may also not pay individual workers more than the amount for which their union bargained.

Unions are exclusive bargaining representatives. They represent all employees in a bargaining unit as a group, and they negotiate a collective contract that applies to all workers. Employers may not pay individuals more than the contract allows without first negotiating such an increase with the union. Read more ..


The New Egypt

No Illusions About Egypt

July 27th 2012

Click to select Image

The government of Israel is making all the right noises and appropriate statements expressing hope that the new government of Egypt will maintain the cold peace.

But we should be under no illusions. Even the greatest optimists cannot gloss over the reality that the Islamic forces of the Muslim Brotherhood seeking to control Egypt are committed to ultimately revoking the peace treaty. Their motives stem not merely from nationalist xenophobia but are deeply rooted in fanatical extremist Islamic ideology which is infinitely more intense and inflexible. Although Mubarak treated Israel like a pariah and exploited popular anti-Semitism, in comparison to these Islamic zealots, he would be considered a “liberal.”

The Moslem Brotherhood is the organization which spawned Hamas and remains adamantly committed to wiping the “Zionist entity” off the face of the map. This was reiterated last month by its leader Mohammed Badie, who called for “imposing Muslim rule throughout Palestine” and “freeing it from the filth of Zionism”. Read more ..


Broken Government

Our Tax Reform Plan Deserves Another Look

July 27th 2012

IRS building

In this age of political polarization, agreement across party lines on any subject is almost miraculous. And yet one thing everyone agrees on is this: America’s tax code is a mess.

When we focused on tax reform during the work of the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Debt Reduction Task Force, we kept hearing the same themes, which have been repeated by Senate Finance Committee Chairmen Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and House Ways and Means Committee Dave Camp (R-Mich.) before and since: the code is too complex, too hard to enforce, it costs growth and jobs and it contains countless special interest loopholes and favorable treatment for some taxpayers at the expense of others.

The “gee whiz” aspects of the tax code emerge daily: U.S. taxpayers and businesses spend 6.1 billion hours per year complying with the code. The instruction booklet for the basic Form 1040 now runs at 189 pages, whereas in the 1940s it took only two. The entire tax code stands at 5,296 pages. As the Internal Revenue Service notes, if tax compliance were considered an industry, it would take approximately 3,000,000 workers annually. And estimates show that individuals and companies shell out about $160 billion each year — equal to 11 percent of all income tax receipts — to comply with the tax code. Read more ..


The London Olympics

Minute’s Silence Campaign Should be Directed at Olympic Sponsors

July 27th 2012

Munich athletes slain

It wasn’t the Israelis that brought politics to the Olympic Games; it was the terror thugs of the PLO who in 1972 slaughtered 11 members of Israel’s Olympic team. It certainly wasn’t a decision that lay in the hands of the International Olympic Committee President at the time, although his successor Jacques Rogge has taken it upon himself to resolve that the commemoration of the victims is not befitting of the Olympic Games opening ceremony.

Rogge’s claim that his rationale is because, “We feel the opening ceremony is an atmosphere that is not fit to remember such a tragic incident,” is simply drivel. A number of other tragedies have been commemorated at past opening ceremonies, including at the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics where the victims of the September 11 World Trade Center attacks were remembered. Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

Obama-Clinton Wins Big

July 26th 2012

Obama Campaign 2012

Ernest Hemingway advised young writers to write one true sentence. For the 2012 campaign one true sentence is this: A great nightmare for Republican strategists is that President Obama might pull a “JFK in 1960” and run with Hillary Clinton for vice president. If he does, it will lift the chances of Democrats substantially, bend the curve of history dramatically and give him a chance to reach for historical greatness in his second term.

I have focused on this matter so intensely because I believe the possibilities of this decision are so momentous, the consequences for this election are so enormous, and the state of the union is so precarious as America and the world sail again into stormy economic seas. Consider this column, on this matter, my final summation to the jury of one.

My thesis about the 2012 election is this: The election will not ultimately be won by the candidate who most aggressively charges: You would be even worse off with my opponent than with me. It will not be won by the candidate who most cleverly asks: Are you better off than you were four years ago? It will be won by the candidate who most convincingly answers: Here is how you will be better off four years from now. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

What Must Be Done in Syria

July 25th 2012

Assad Poster on Fire

More than a year into the Syrian uprising, the regime of Bashar al-Assad finally appears to be approaching the demise that Western leaders have long insisted is inevitable. The assassination last week of senior Assad lieutenants, the increasing number of high-level regime defections, and the mounting achievements of opposition forces have contributed to the sense that the endgame in Syria is near.

Yet Assad is not yet finished. While his inner circle has suffered a grievous blow, he is far from isolated. Key advisors, including his younger brother and key military official Maher al-Assad, remain by all accounts loyal. So too do entire segments of the Syrian populace, such as Assad’s own Alawite community, other ethnic minorities who fear an Islamist takeover of Syria, and wealthy businessmen who have prospered under the regime’s patronage. Assad also retains support of foreign allies, such as Iran, Hezbollah, and Russia and China, which recently vetoed for the third time a UN Security Council resolution which would have imposed stronger sanctions on the Syrian regime. Read more ..


Jewry on Edge

Is the World Yet Safe for Israel and Jews?

July 25th 2012

Juda Engelmayer

It was just about two weeks ago that New Yorkers woke to news stories on radio and television about anti-Israel ads that were posted in train stations along commuter routes to New York City. In a slow news week, many news stations covered the “outrage” over what the Anti-Defamation League referred to as the “deliberately misleading and biased” messages that graphically demonstrated how Israel has been consuming “Palestine” since 1948. These ads were the work of a wealthy ex-Wall Street financier, Henry Clifford, who is now the chairman of The Committee for Peace in Israel and Palestine.

During the broadcast reports, Jewish commuters were asked about the ads, and all of them expressed outrage. One, I recall, called the ads a form of terrorism and urged the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) to take them down. A local Jewish weekly newspaper also called for the ads to be taken down, claiming that they were offensive, and that they painted Israel and Israelis in a bad light.

When asked, Aaron Donovan of the MTA said, “We do not decide to accept or reject a proposed ad based on the viewpoint that it expresses, or because the ad might be controversial.”

Now, only a few days ago, U.S. District Judge Paul Engelmayer in Manhattan ruled on another set of ads, this time on the other side of the Arab-Israel equation. (In the interest of full disclosure, neither of us have ever spoken to one another and it is yet uncertain how, if at all, we are related.) His finding was that a 15-year-old rule by the MTA that barred demeaning language in advertisements was a violation of free speech. Donovan may not have been aware of that old rule when he commented on Clifford’s ads.

In the case Engelmayer decided, the advocacy group American Freedom Defense Initiative (AFDI) sought to run ads that stated, "In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man. Support Israel/Defeat Jihad."

Last September, after the MTA denied the ads, the group sued the public authority for violating its right to free speech. The ads would have been posted on 318 city buses for four weeks. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

America and Allies Must Prepare to Secure Syria's Weapons of Mass Destruction

July 25th 2012

syrian explosion

The killings of Syria’s Defense Minister and other key officials last week by opposition forces threaten to shatter Bashir al-Assad’s regime.  Without a devastating response, his days are numbered.  Sergei Lavrov, Foreign Minister of Russia, Syria’s closest ally, warned darkly that “the battle for the capital, the decisive fight” for the country, was underway.
Final collapse of the Ba’ath Party dictatorship will have profound, if still unpredictable, consequences.  One absolutely critical issue is Assad’s weapons of mass destruction (“WMD”).  Even before the deadly bomb attack, the regime, for unknown reasons, had begun moving stockpiles of chemical weapons from secure storage locations.

The most immediate question is whether Damascus will use chemical weapons (“CW”) against the opposition, as Amnesty International reported his father did during the 1982 Hama massacre. If Bashar concludes his regime will collapse and expose his fellow Alawites and other supporters to a bloodbath, he may calculate that resorting to CW is his only hope. Read more ..


The Automotive Edge

Paving the Way for Driverless Cars

July 24th 2012

Highway

California's proposed bullet train between Los Angeles and San Francisco—which Gov. Jerry Brown is likely to sign off on soon—has been characterized by the Obama administration and its other supporters as an effective way to reduce highway congestion. These costs amount to more than $100 billion annually in wasted time and higher fuel expenses.

In fact, a much better technological solution is on the horizon, if we pave the way by getting rid of obsolete highway design. It is already possible to imagine a world in which you could predict exactly how long it would take to drive in your car from one point to another. No worries about rush hour, vacation congestion, bad drivers, speed traps and accidents. You could also text while you drive with no safety implications.

All this may be possible thanks to a "driverless" car that does a human driver's normal job and much more. The car is operated by a computer that obtains information 10 times per second from short-range transmitters on surrounding road conditions, including where other cars are and what they are doing. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

Counter-Proliferation Contingency Planning for Syrian WMD

July 24th 2012

syrian explosion

My name is Dr. Steven P. Bucci. I am a Senior Research Fellow for Defense and Homeland Security in the Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies at The Heritage Foundation. The views I express in this testimony are my own, and should not be construed as representing any official position of The Heritage Foundation. Prior to coming to The Heritage Foundation I served as an Army Special Forces officer for three decades and led deployments to eastern Africa, South Asia, and the Persian Gulf. I have participated in joint exercises with regional militaries in the geographic vicinity of Syria. I also oversaw operations dealing with weapons of mass destruction (WMD) while serving in the Army and at the DoD level.

Thank you for the opportunity to appear before the committee and address this vital subject. My responsibilities at The Heritage Foundation involve research and analysis for the foundation’s public policy work concerning defense and homeland security. Read more ..


The New Egypt

Egypt: Democratic Transition in Trouble

July 23rd 2012

Voting Woman

Elections are supposed to, among other things, bestow legitimacy to fledging institutions. In Egypt, the opposite seems to have occurred. After seemingly endless voting – the polls have been open no less than 17 days over eight election rounds – Egypt’s first democratically-elected parliament was dissolved, while the presidency was stripped of many of its powers. The early mistakes of what some have called the “stupidest transition in history” have accumulated. Each competing power – the military, the Brotherhood, and so-called ‘third way’ liberals – believes in its own set of rules, backed by its own set of legal interpretations. What a transition needs more than anything else is legitimacy, but this is precisely what Egypt lacks the most.

Take, for example, President Mohamed Morsi’s recent move to reinstate parliament, which had just weeks before been invalidated by the Supreme Constitutional Court. No one knows for sure whether Morsi’s move was, in fact, ‘legal’. The court, for its part, held an emergency meeting and found that Morsi’s decree was not legal. Of course, coming to a different conclusion would have been tantamount to ruling against itself, something which the court was unlikely to do. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

The US Must Help Syria

July 23rd 2012

syria-killing

After months of bloodshed, some in Washington continue to suggest that Syria’s fight has little to do with the United States. They’re wrong. Principle aside, we have interests in ensuring the stability of a pivotal country in the Middle East — and not simply because Bashar al-Assad’s regime has nuclear- and chemical-weapons programs.

The question is: How does the United States make a difference, in spite of the international community’s paralysis and the Obama administration’s reluctance to support the Syrian opposition?

First, Washington must stop subcontracting Syria policy to the Turks, Saudis and Qataris. They are clearly part of the anti-Assad effort, but the United States cannot tolerate Syria becoming a proxy state for yet another regional power. If we have an interest, we have an interest in helping to lead Syria toward a stable future, not beholden to any nation. Read more ..


The Edge of Physics

Is There Another Higgs Boson Out There?

July 22nd 2012

Tired, and rushing to meet a looming deadline,  Dr. Pierre Savard and his colleagues didn’t realize what they’d found when they first came across a particle that looked a lot like the long-sought-after Higgs boson.

But it didn’t take long for them to realize their hard work had paid off. “When we looked at it, we kind of saw it,” Savard says. “It was unbelievable.” The University of Toronto  professor belongs to ATLAS, one of two teams tasked with finding whether the mystery subatomic particle – which is believed to give all objects mass ­- actually exists. The team’s excitement about finding the new particle grew when it discovered the second team, CMS, had found virtually the same thing.

“It’s a big thing.  Essentially, it’s as if we discovered a new fundamental force of nature,” Savard says. “So we know about, for instance, electromagnetism, electricity and magnetism. We know about gravity… but now we’ve found something new and it also plays a key role in our current theory for how we understand how matter interacts with particles and forces. It’s a big deal.” Read more ..



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