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Israel on Edge

Stopping Extremist Settlers

August 18th 2012

West Bank Settlement

Late this past June, a group of Israeli settlers in the West Bank defaced and burned a mosque in the small West Bank village of Jabaa. Graffiti sprayed by the vandals warned of a “war” over the planned evacuation, ordered by the Israeli Supreme Court, of a handful of houses illegally built on private Palestinian land near the settlement of Beit El. The torching of the mosque was part of a wider trend of routine violence committed by radical settlers against innocent Palestinians, Israeli security personnel, and even mainstream settler leaders — all aimed at intimidating perceived enemies of the settlement project.

In the past, settlers who opposed attacks against Palestinian civilians or the Israeli state (the vast majority of them) could exert control over radical elements, or work with the Israeli authorities to do so. Recently, however, several factors have contributed to a rise in unchecked settler radicalism: the dramatic growth over the past generation in the size of the settler population, the diversification of religious and ideological strands within it, and the sense of betrayal felt by settlers following Israel’s evacuation of the settlements in the Gaza Strip in 2005. Read more ..

Energy Policy on Edge

Implementing AB 32 Will Increase Unemployment, Household Expenses

August 17th 2012

Oil Refinery

With the passage of California's Assembly Bill 32, the Golden State has embarked upon an experiment in energy policy that has no modern parallel. Several recent studies have shown that the consequences to the state could be dire, and that California faces a choice between continuing on its current trajectory toward a future of reduced economic growth and opportunity, or changing course and adopting less draconian climate and energy policies.

For the sake of California, and the national economy that prospers when California prospers, one can only hope lawmakers are paying attention to the possible consequences of their hasty actions.

In 2006, the California Legislature passed Assembly Bill 32, also known as the Global Warming Solutions Act. The bill was signed into law by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Sept. 27, 2006. AB 32 represents the most aggressive greenhouse gas control regime implemented by any of the states and imposes a vast array of controls on the use of energy. Its goal is nothing less than the remaking of California's entire energy economy. Read more ..

Wikileaks Case

Julian Assange and Ecuador’s Gesture Politics

August 17th 2012

Julian Assange

Ecuador’s decision to grant political asylum to Julian Assange, the founder of Wikileaks, is a spectacular example of the gesture politics beloved by the far left. It is gesture politics because Assange, an Australian citizen who has spent the last two months camping in the Ecuadorean embassy in London, will have to smuggle himself past a phalanx of armed police officers if he is to make it to Quito in one piece.

While Assange and his supporters are portraying his current status as the consequence of politically motivated persecution, the truth is considerably more sordid. Assange fled to the Ecuadorean embassy after the British government decided to extradite him to Sweden, where he is wanted on sexual assault charges. To go by a recent op-ed penned for the Guardian by the dreadful Glenn Greenwald, you’d think that Sweden was a slightly milder version of North Korea, where prisoners are held in “oppressive pre-trial conditions,” and where someone like Assange could quickly find himself in American custody in order to face trial for espionage, given the release by Wikileaks of several thousand confidential American diplomatic and military cables. Read more ..

After the Holocaust

Hungary Drops Charges against Nazi War Criminal

August 17th 2012


Another sorry chapter in Europe's inability to come to terms with the Holocaust appears to be starting in Hungary, with the news that charges against recently captured war criminal Laszlo Csatary are being dropped by prosecutors. Csatary fled prosecution after World War II and lived for years in Canada under an assumed name. After he was exposed, he fled back to his native Hungary, where he disappeared. Not long ago, however, the Simon Wiesenthal Center and reporters from the UK's Sun magazine tracked him down in Budapest.

“I was young, but I remember the name Csatary,” witness Marika Weinberger, now over 80 years old, told an interviewer. “It surfaced when my father was trying to find out what happened to my uncles.” Weinberger's nine uncles were rounded up and deported to death camps on Csatary's orders. Of the night they were taken, Weinberger says, “I remember it better than I remember what happened yesterday.” It now appears that Ms. Weinberger will never get her day in court. Budapest prosecutors claim that Csatary was not present when the deportations took place and have dropped their charges against him.

Ms. Weinberger believes that the proverbial fix was in, and she seems to be correct. Astoundingly, the prosecutors never questioned her about Csatary's crimes. “No one bothered to ask me what I know," Ms. Weinberger says. "Now he’s off the hook.” Martin Kornfeld, CEO of the Federation of Jewish Communities in Slovakia agrees. “Hungarian authorities are trying to avoid a decision on Csatary in court," he told the Times of Israel, "and are trying to find points that make the trial positive for Csatary.” Kornfeld and his organization may hold out the last hope for justice in the Csatary case. Csatary was convicted in absentia for war crimes in what was then Czechoslovakia. Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

Ryan's War on Women

August 16th 2012

Paul Ryan

Here is one ad I propose for Democrats:
"My name is Lilly Ledbetter. I passionately support pay equity for women. Paul Ryan voted against me. I will be voting against him. President Obama and Democrats are fighting for pay equity for all women. I will be voting for them.”

Along with Social Security and Medicare, pay equity for women will be a paramount issue in November. Mitt Romney's selection of Paul Ryan is nationalizing public opinion about the extremist, influence-peddling brand of crony capitalism of today's Republicans. They have abandoned the GOP's heritage and will be pinned to the mat by Paul Ryan's record, which belies Mitt Romney's endless equivocations. There is a new wind behind the sails of Democrats. Sweeping Republican hostility to the interests of women could be decisive. Read more ..

Iran's Nukes

J Street Makes Strike by Israel or U.S. on Iran More Likely

August 16th 2012

Bibi arguing

J Street, which calls itself “pro-Israel and pro-peace”, is now making it more likely that Israel and/or the United States will have no choice but to take military action against Iran’s nuclear weapons program.

The Israeli government is facing what may be its most daunting existential challenge since the founding of the State and certainly since the eve of the 1967 War. There are no perfect solutions to the problem posed by Iran’s determination to develop nuclear weapons capable of destroying Israel. It has become clear that sanctions, coupled with diplomatic efforts, may hurt Iran, but will never pressure them into giving up their quest for nuclear weapons. It has also become clear, as President Obama has stated, that containment of a nuclear Iran is not an option. The only thing that will deter Iran from moving forward with its nuclear program is a credible threat of military action by the United States. Read more ..

Healthcare on Edge

Medicare 2035: Older, Sicker, Poorer

August 16th 2012

Elderly couple

We baby boomers are beginning to realize that the future of Medicare matters — to us, not just to our grandchildren. Most of us will still be around in 25 years, and we’re beginning to wonder whether Medicare will be there for us. It will be, but we will not like what we get unless Washington gets serious about overhauling the program.

Some may think that the president’s Affordable Care Act (ACA) already reformed Medicare. Congress reduced Medicare spending by $700 billion over the next decade by cutting provider payments rather than reducing benefits, or so the politicians claim. That money was not used to shore up Medicare for the future. It was used to fund new federal health programs, leaving Medicare in no better financial shape than before. Worse yet, those savings did not come from any significant change in the way Medicare operates. It is business as usual, and that business is obviously failing. Read more ..

The Defense Edge

Absent Leadership, Sequestration Could Be Tragic

August 16th 2012

USS Abraham Lincoln Flight Deck

The specter of the January 2, 2013 sequestration has created rare unanimity here in Washington. Just about everyone both in the defense establishment and Congress maintains it would have disastrous consequences if implemented.

This new round of budget cuts was mandated by the U.S. Budget Control Act after the failure of a super committee - the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction - to reach an agreement on a balance between taxes and spending. The Act was part of a compromise between Democrats and Republicans to permit raising the Federal debt ceiling. This translates into a $55 billion cut in fiscal year 2013 from the roughly $511 billion base defense budget, $93 billion from the war budget and $82 billion from unobligated funding.

These cuts, mandated by the sequester, would be on top of the $487 billion in budget reductions already scheduled over the next decade, because Congress could not find another $1.2 trillion in Federal savings over the same period. With the Administration's decision to exempt military personnel from the cuts, the rest of the defense budget would be looking at an 11.2 percent reduction and could mean an estimated 89,000 job cuts at the Department of Defense and a hiring freeze. Non-defense spending would also be sequestered, but at a lower rate. Read more ..

The New Egypt

Sinai Offensive is no Reason to Trust Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood

August 16th 2012


If you are seeking to understand what motivates the jihadists who have swarmed into the Sinai Peninsula in recent months, their own words are the best guide available.

“Every outing with rockets is a life-and-death adventure. It is one we love,” a terrorist who belongs to a Palestinian Islamist faction told Reuters last week. “If we live we will be back to fire more, and if we die we go to heaven as martyrs.”

If there’s one thing that can be said for jihadists, it’s that they are honest. In Sinai, as in Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, Lebanon and all the other territories where the Islamists have emerged as a destabilizing influence, they are frank about their devotion to continuing the conflict against western encroachment—of which Israel’s existence is a particularly hated example—and they do not fear death or capture in the process. Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

An Urgent Plan of Action for Syria

August 16th 2012

Syria Damascus fighting injured baby

Aleppo – Syria’s second-largest city, its commercial hub and an ancient heritage site – is under relentless assault. This siege follows what has been called “Assad’s pattern of depravity”: first, cutting off electricity, water, and the inhabitants’ food supply; second, intensifying indiscriminate bombardment through tank, artillery, helicopter gunships, and even fighter jets; third, warning inhabitants that Syrian forces would “purge” the city of its “armed terrorists” – the euphemism for Assad’s Scorched Earth policy – the whole as prologue to massacres foretold, as have happened so many times before.

In the words of Nabil Elaraby, secretary general of the Arab League, speaking one week ago: “The massacres that are happening in Aleppo and other places in Syria amount to war crimes that are punishable under international law.” Indeed, the situation has only deteriorated since, as some 1,000 have been killed in the last 10 days alone, and over 20,000 since the peaceful beginnings of the “dignity and freedom revolution” in Daara in March 2011. Read more ..

The Economy on Edge

The Premeditated Attack on the Prime Mortgage

August 15th 2012

Fannie Mae

With the Romney/Ryan ticket now in place, the debate moves to fundamental questions about the economy. The big issue which Governor Romney continues to focus on is the contrast between the government-centered society embraced by President Obama, and the Romney/Ryan vision for a society centered on freedom of choice, and free markets.

When it comes to a government centered society and its deleterious consequences, our Government Mortgage Complex is the undisputed poster child. There has been no greater economic failure than the collapse of the housing market due to decades of government intervention and crony capitalism.

Voters need to be reminded about how this disaster came about. It began with the premeditated assault on high-quality, credit-worthy prime mortgages. The perpetrators were Fannie Mae, community groups, and Congress, each of which had the means, motive and opportunity for undertaking this assault.

As early as 1991, community activist Gale Cincotta, was laying the path for undertaking such an assault in her testimony before the Senate Banking Committee. "Lenders will respond to the most conservative standards unless [Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac] are aggressive and convincing in their efforts to expand historically narrow underwriting," she stressed. Read more ..

Broken Government

Is the Budget Coast Clear for State and Local Governments?

August 15th 2012

State capital

States and localities are often cast as the unsung heroes of American government: They spend more than the federal government on direct public goods and services, employ twice as many workers as the manufacturing sector, and generate about $1.8 trillion (12 percent) of GDP. But most people only really think about state and local governments when enrolling their kids in public school or visiting the DMV.

This narrative changed in the Great Recession and its aftermath. Casual observers became concerned about payroll and service cuts at state and local levels and what they meant for aggregate unemployment and growth. Although the federal government distributed unprecedented fiscal relief to states and localities through the Recovery Act, some have suggested it ought to do more.

The latest news is upbeat, however. Census Bureau figures show state revenues are up for the ninth consecutive quarter, although growth is slower than last year and uneven across states. The National Conference of State Legislatures reports that no states are projecting deficits at the end of fiscal 2013 and many expect modest surpluses. The July jobs report suggests state and local job losses, although continuing, are abating. So is the coast clear? Not yet. For one thing, local governments are still contending with lower property tax revenues as assessed values catch up with depressed home values. Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

Why Demagoguing Paul Ryan is Bad For Democrats

August 14th 2012

Paul Ryan

Many observers are working overtime to figure out which party benefits from Mitt Romney’s selection of Paul Ryan. I don’t mean to sound holier than thou, but I’m more interested in a different question: will it benefit the country?

The case that it will is straightforward and familiar. Before Ryan’s selection, the 2012 presidential contest was the worst that most of us had ever seen. Although the country faces massive economic and fiscal challenges, the presidential campaigns weren’t talking about them. Instead, they were trading low blows about tertiary issues. Ryan’s entrance, it is said, will “elevate” the debate by forcing the real issue back onto the agenda. The candidates will be arguing about Medicare and tax reform and the role of government in our society. We’ll get the real debate we need, and whoever wins, the country will be better off. Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

How, When and Whether to End the War in Syria

August 13th 2012

Syria burning

“The beginning of wisdom,” a Chinese saying goes, “is to call things by their right names.” And the right name for what is happening in Syria — and has been for more than a year — is an all-out civil war.

Syria is Lebanon of the 1970s and ’80s. It is Afghanistan, Congo or the Balkans of the 1990s. It is Iraq of 2005-2007. It is not an insurgency. It is not a rebellion. It is not Yemen. It is certainly not Egypt or Tunisia.

It is important to accept this simple fact, because civil wars — especially ethno-sectarian civil wars such as the one burning in Syria — both reflect and unleash powerful forces that constrain what can be done about them. These forces can’t be turned off or ignored; they must be dealt with directly if there is to be any chance of ending the conflict. Read more ..

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.


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


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


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 ..

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