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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 ..


The 2012 Vote

Hoosier Tea Test

July 22nd 2012

Donnelly and Mourdock (Indiana)
Indiana Senate contendors Joe Donnelly (D) and Richard Mourdock (R)

Indiana Senate candidate Richard Mourdock made “The Colbert Report” last month when he hedged his bets on the eve of the Supreme Court’s historic ruling on healthcare reform and mistakenly released three videos declaring his reaction to three different outcomes, each delivered with an identical somber visage before a dimly lit brick wall. Mourdock’s opponent, Rep. Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.), bet big on one outcome a year ago—that Mourdock would defeat Sen. Dick Lugar in a GOP primary, then be defeated this fall, even as Hoosiers voted for Mitt Romney for president and Mike Pence for governor. Four months from Election Day, Romney and Pence hold solid leads but Mourdock and Donnelly are tied in the polls.

On May 8, Mourdock’s Tea Party-fueled victory over Lugar ended the legendary 36-year Senate career of a beloved Hoosier, bitterly dividing Indiana Republicans. Gov. Mitch Daniels supported Lugar, but endorsed Mourdock, Indiana’s state treasurer, after he won. Lugar was tagged a “liberal” and attacked by the Club for Growth and FreedomWorks, two groups he accused of targeting incumbents in a “purification exercise” to enhance their influence and scare other Republicans. Read more ..


The Defense Edge

The Drone Industry's Code of Conduct Skips Over Key Questions

July 21st 2012

MQ-1 Predator Drone

The last several months were supposed to be good times for the makers of unmanned aerial systems, popularly known as "drones." Business is booming and theirs is one of the few parts of the aerospace industry not shaking in its boots at impending defense budget cuts. And the $2.3 million spent on lobbying Congress finally seems to have paid off. In February, Congress ordered the FAA to figure out an action plan to open up the national air space to unmanned systems (currently, only those with special agreements, such as for Border Patrol, are allowed) by 2015, as well as set up six experimentation locales.

This will put an already strong business on steroids, akin to what the development of the Internet did for the computer industry. Rather than just selling to the Pentagon, the new clients might range from the more than 21,000 state and local law enforcement departments to farmers, journalists, and more, as they find new and innovative uses for unmanned systems, from overhead surveillance to crop-dusting. Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

Co-Sponsoring Your Success

July 21st 2012

Obama Campaign 2012

“If you’ve been successful, you didn’t get there on your own … If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.” – Barack Obama, Roanoke, Va., July 13

The president’s defenders have claimed he either misspoke last week at a Roanoke, Va., campaign event or that what he said is true. Both defenses have merit. Obama surely didn’t mean to say something that politically idiotic so plainly. And it’s true that no man’s accomplishments are entirely his own. We’re all indebted to others, and we all rely on government to provide some basic things. Only the straw-men conservatives of Obama’s imagination yearn for an America with no roads and bridges. Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

Terror Attack Kills Five Israelis in Bulgaria

July 20th 2012

Bus bombing, Bulgaria, 18 Jul 2012

Six people were killed and dozens injured July 18 in a terror attack directed against Israeli tourists in the resort city of Burgas, Bulgaria. The explosion occurred shortly after Israeli tourists boarded a bus at the airport after arriving from Tel Aviv. They were to be driven by four buses to hotels in the city. Of the dead, five people were Israeli and one a Bulgarian bus driver; the seventh casualty is the suicide bomber.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu quickly pointed an accusatory finger at Hezbollah and Iran: “For over a year, Iran, along with its protégé Hezbollah, has been waging an international terror campaign,” Netanyahu said, calling Iran “the world’s number one exporter of terror” and Hezbollah its “long arm.” The White House, though not explicitly accusing Tehran, is reportedly concerned with what it sees as an increase in terror activities abroad plotted by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard’s elite Qods Force in response to intensifying Western sanctions. Iran denied its involvement in the Bulgarian attack. Read more ..


The London Olympics

Why the Olympics Won't Memorialize Israel's 1972 Munich Terror Victims

July 18th 2012

Black September

Jewish Blood Is Cheap!

One minute... That's all the families of 11 Israeli terror victims want from this year's summer Olympics. One minute to memorialize the 11 Israeli athletes who were murdered at the hands of Palestinian terrorists at the 1972 Munich games.

But they won't get it. The Olympic committee has refused to grant them their request, citing the "non-political" nature of the games. However, it has been widely reported that the committee is simply afraid that Arab nations will stage a walkout if the world is reminded that Arab terrorists killed Jewish athletes.

At Tablet, historian Deborah E. Lipstadt puts the issue into sharp focus.

    Why the IOC refusal? The Olympic Committee’s official explanation is that the games are apolitical. The families were repeatedly told by long-time IOC President Juan Samaranch that the Olympic movement avoided political issues. He seemed to have forgotten that at the 1996 opening ceremony he spoke about the Bosnian war. Read more ..


The Defense Edge

U.S. Pacific Focus Needs to Include Arctic

July 18th 2012

Army Acrctic

The Obama administration's intention to shift military resources to the Pacific satisfies American objectives, including enhancing stability and bilateral relations, and, perhaps most importantly, expanding economic opportunities.
 
Broadening the scope of this shift, or "pivot," as it is often called, to encompass the Arctic region furthers U.S. interests and is harmonious with existing national objectives. Indeed, the strategic doctrine underpinning the Pacific shift bolsters the compelling reasons for America to assert its rights and pursue its interests in the Arctic as well.
 
An invigorated Arctic focus would promote stability and the unfettered flow of global commerce to the great benefit of the U.S. economy - by far the world's largest - as well as the economies of its friends, partners and allies. Ocean-borne trade, which accounts for the vast majority of global commerce, has more than tripled over the past 40 years. Read more ..


Political Games

Who Will Carry the Torch for Munich? Not these Olympians!

July 18th 2012

Munich Memorial

In about a week from now, the world will tune in to watch the opening ceremonies of the London Olympic Games. With all of the fanfare it deserves, this event brings together most of the world in harmony unseen in almost every other part of international relations.  In principle, the Olympics were founded with the goal of placing “sport at the service of the harmonious development of man, with a view to promoting a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity.” 

A sports event intended to bring people together in harmony where politics and policies often fail is more than commendable, it merits deeper study toward replicating its influence in all parts of life.  What is it about competitive sports that inspires people to put aside political, religious and often deep seated hatreds and divides and just play the game, put in their all and walk away feeling camaraderie rather than enmity?

The opening games this year, however, come with a dark memory of 40 years ago in Munich. Not exactly the anniversary, as those games began on August 26 in 1972, but as the summer series begins on July 27 this year, it is hard not to recall Black September when 11 Israeli athletes and a policeman were killed by Palestinian terrorists trying to take a political stand. Read more ..


The Defense Edge

Europe Raises the White Flag on Defense Spending

July 18th 2012

NATO

In his exhaustive biography of Winston Churchill—which, incidentally, makes for splendid summer reading—the historian Roy Jenkins provides a gripping account of the future British Prime Minister’s lonely struggle during the 1930s to boost the defenses of the United Kingdom.

The main obstacle Churchill faced, Jenkins writes, was that “the climate of the time was profoundly anti-war and semi-pacifist.” While Hitler was energetically rearming Germany, British politicians of all stripes were worried that a corresponding shift on their part—to strengthen national security—would compromise them at the ballot box. The Nazi aggression that Churchill feared seemed too remote, given these day-to-day political pressures.

I thought of Churchill’s battle when I read, earlier this month, of British Defense Secretary Philip Hammond’s intention to transform British forces into a “smaller, integrated and more adaptable army than it is today.” Translated, that means massive, across-the-board cuts: once Hammond’s plans have been implemented—the target date is 2020—Britain will have just 82,000 soldiers available, and the British army will have shrunk to its smallest size since the Crimean War of 1853. Read more ..


Broken Borders

Obama, Napolitano Playing a Mexican Shell Game

July 18th 2012

Border Patrol shakedown

Following what President Barack Obama's critics call his "amnesty announcement," instead of hiring more Border Patrol agents to cover the U.S-Mexico border, several stations are being shut down, which Border Patrol agents, through their union, claim will make it easier for illegal aliens to enter and remain in the country. In addition, it is a reckless move that makes the U.S. more vulnerable to terrorists entering the U.S. with weapons of mass destruction, say law enforcement officials.

According to a Fox News Channel story on Friday, "[T]he Obama administration is moving to shut down nine Border Patrol stations across four states, triggering a backlash from local law enforcement, members of Congress and Border Patrol agents themselves."

"Critics of the move warn the closures will undercut efforts to intercept drug and human traffickers in well-traveled corridors north of the U.S.-Mexico border. Though the affected stations are scattered throughout northern and central Texas, and three other states, the coverage areas still see plenty of illegal immigrant activity -- one soon-to-be-shuttered station in Amarillo, Texas, is right in the middle of the I-40 corridor; another in Riverside, Calif., is outside Los Angeles," said the Fox News report. Read more ..


The Iranian Threat

The Common Misconception about Iran's Persecution of Non-Muslims

July 18th 2012

ahmadinejad and zion
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

There is a common misconception that Iran’s restrictions on the right to worship freely apply only to members of the Baha’i religion. But while the Islamic republic has reserved the most vicious forms of persecution for the adherents of this gentle faith — whose numbers, according to some estimates, have dwindled from around 500,000 at the time of the 1979 revolution to just 150,000 now — the situation of Iranian Christians is little better.

Through its treatment of its Christian and Jewish minorities, Iran’s policies underscore that mythology behind the oft-heard claim that the followers of the “Abrahamic” faiths are accorded dignity and respect. Just last week, Iran’s millenarian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, told an Islamic conference in Tehran that Islam is the only true religion, denying at the same time the divine provenance of both Judaism and Christianity. “My dear ones!” Ahmadinejad declared munificently, “Islam is a world religion and God has only one religion, that of Islam, he did not send Judaism or Christianity; Abraham was a harbinger of Islam, as were Moses and Jesus!”

The majority of Iran’s 300,000 Christians belong to established churches like the Armenian and the Assyrian; for the time being, their fate is to walk on eggshells around the regime, which means they can’t say or do anything that the mullahs might interpret as proselytizing. By contrast, it is open season on the followers of the smaller, evangelical denominations, all of whom risk being charged with the crime of moharebeh, or apostasy. Read more ..


Healthcare on Edge

The Community-based Beginnings of Health Insurance Reveal the True Bottom Line

July 18th 2012

Baylor University Hospital 1938
Baylor University Hospital, 1938 (credit: Baylor Health Care System)

Back during the debate on the Clinton health care reform proposal, insurance executives tried to convince lawmakers that they were on the same side of health care reform as consumers were, so they embraced the idea of “community rating” in which insurers charge everyone in a given community the same premium regardless of age, gender or health status. In testimony before a House committee in 1993, the president of Cigna’s health care business assured lawmakers that all the big insurers were on board with a return to community rating.

Insurance executives have changed their tune, now that they’re actually being required to go back to the days when community rating was the norm. Today’s health insurers want nothing to do with it. There’s just not enough profit in it.

Community rating was the original way insurance companies set prices for their policies. The practice began in the late 1920s when the administrator of Baylor University Hospital in Dallas came up with a strategy to deal with his hospital’s mounting expenses. His idea was to have groups of local residents, beginning with the city’s teachers, pay fifty cents a month and receive up to 21 days of hospital care—if needed—during any year. If you were a 21-year-old man who was as healthy as a bear, you paid the same each month as a 42-year-old woman who was not nearly as healthy. It made everybody happy, subscribers and cash-strapped hospital officials alike. Read more ..


Palestine on Edge

Welfare Dependency Harms the Palestinian People

July 17th 2012

Palestinian Refugees

Following a recent meeting between Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr and Filippo Grandi, commissioner-general of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees, Canberra agreed to contribute $90 million for additional teachers and doctors working for UNRWA.

Australia will provide these funds over five years to support Palestinian refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.

But why is Australia, like so many other Western countries, so ready to write large cheques to the UNRWA?

UNRWA is an open-ended educational and social welfare system for millions of Palestinians, primarily in the West Bank, Gaza, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan. But in what sense are these individuals truly refugees who should fall within UNRWA's remit? Publicly, UNRWA defines a Palestinian refugee as anyone whose "normal place of residence was Palestine during the period 1 June 1946 to 15 May 1948 and who lost both home and means of livelihood as a result of the 1948 conflict". Read more ..


Iran's Nukes

Iran Sanctions Are Dangerously Ineffective

July 17th 2012

Iran Nuclear

When it comes to compelling Tehran to end its nuclear weapons program, sanctions - as employed by the U.S. government and our European partners - amount to little more than a time-consuming exercise with scant possibility of success. Moreover, the latest round of negotiations, which went nowhere, is just the most recent illustration of how the mullahs play for time, convinced that their sanctions-induced economic slowdown can be weathered and that the world will line up to purchase their oil once Iran's status as a nuclear power is secure.

Much has been made of the latest round of sanctions; they have been described as the toughest ever levied against Iran. As of June 28, the United States can bar foreign banks that participate in oil-related business with the Central Bank of Iran from access to American financial markets. Since July 1, European Union members are prohibited from buying Iranian oil as well as insuring ships that carry Iranian oil. It has been reported that these new sanctions could cost Iran some $4 billion a month. That is far from enough.

Iran's significant monetary and gold reserves (foreign currency reserves estimates run from $60 billion to $100 billion) however, coupled with a reduced but still substantial oil income, will continue to buffer the Tehran government from the degree of economic pain that even the most optimistic sanctions supporter believes would force a change in policy. Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

Republicans Jab Obama on Jobs, But No Plan

July 16th 2012

Juan Williams 02

Last week, as Mitt Romney tried to defend himself against attacks on his record at Bain Capital, Republicans complained the Obama campaign is guilty of distracting Americans from the central issues of the 2012 presidential race — jobs and the economy.

In fact, fixing the economy is the entire basis of Romney’s campaign. So what plans does the GOP candidate have to rev up the economy? His best-known idea is cutting taxes. But there is no way to specify how many jobs that will create. After-tax profits for corporations are already high.

His most concrete idea for creating jobs is to approve construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico. The idea has political potency because President Obama, citing environmental concerns, denied a permit for TransCanada Corp. to construct the 1,700-mile pipeline.

However, the number of jobs that would be created by Keystone could generously be described as modest. TransCanada initially estimated the project would create 20,000 jobs — 13,000 for the actual construction and 7,000 for manufacturing steel and other equipment.

In subsequent interviews the firm’s executives and economists who consulted on the study clarified that each of those “jobs” actually represents one “job year” — that is a job that lasts for one year.  This means that for a single worker who works on the pipeline for the two years the project requires his tenure is counted as two “jobs.”  That reduces the maximum number of jobs created by Keystone to between 10,000 and 15,000. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

The UN’s Handling of Syria: Another Horrific Episode of Ineptitude?

July 16th 2012

Syria burning

Members of the UN Security Council continue to bicker over what to do in Syria while the country burns. They are locked in a heated debate over what to do to keep alive the UN-Arab League Joint envoy, Kofi Annan’s six-point plan, the UN observer mission and indeed, Kofi Annan. Russia and China continue to resist any resolution under Chapter 7 that would have “consequences” – even the relatively weak economic and financial ones that are being proposed - for those who continue to flout Annan’s plan. To make matters worse, protestors in Syria have dubbed this Friday as the “Friday of toppling Annan, the Servant of Assad and Iran.”

Annan has said that he is “shocked and appalled” by the latest massacre in Tremsieh, just outside Hama, which has reportedly killed over 200 civilians, including women and children and singled out the Assad regime for not ceasing the use of heavy weapons in populated areas. Read more ..


Latin America on Edge

Peace over Profit in Latin America

July 15th 2012

Vultures

On June 25, Washington set an important precedent in the ongoing battle between hedge funds and the Argentine government. Hidden in the busy final two weeks of the U.S. Supreme Court’s judicial season, the high court ruled in Argentina’s favor to unfreeze over $100 million USD in Argentine assets shored up in the New York Federal Deposit Bank and claimed by Elliott Associates and Dart Management during lawsuits surrounding defaulted bonds. This monumental decision will hopefully allow the Argentine government to gain momentum against the vulture funds that still refuse to participate in restructuring agreements.

With the ongoing fiscal uncertainty surrounding litigation, Argentina cannot fully focus on its own recovery effort, but rather must prepare to defend itself against the work of international financial houses that continue to profit from Argentina’s past chronic financial instability. Nevertheless, Argentina did not have the most to gain in this court ruling, as Buenos Aires still faces considerable obstacles before it can leave the sovereign debt default battle squarely in the past. Indeed, U.S. regional policy goals may have triumphed by aligning itself with the Argentine cause. In this decision, the Obama administration clearly stated that state-to-state international relations would continue to stand above corporate influence. Read more ..


The Iranian Threat

Iran, Nuclear Weapons, and Tehran’s Regional Role

July 15th 2012

Iran Missiles

Months ago, when it was at its height, I wrote that the hysteria about Israel allegedly being about to attack Iran and the argument by some that Israel should do so were nonsense. Now it is clear that there was never any chance that such a thing would happen. And that idea was a bad one, expressed by non-Israelis who didn’t know what they were talking about.

Now, former Mossad head Meir Dagan, identified, along with former Israel Security Agency director Yuval Diskin, as the main critic of any such preemptive attack, has made some interesting remarks.

Dagan explained that he agreed that the international community wasn’t doing enough to stop the Iranian nuclear project. Israeli threats were made to prompt more action, not as a signal of an imminent attack.

While sanctions are high against Iran, the Obama administration is also granting exemptions to key countries like China, Russia, and Turkey. While the burden on Iran’s economy remains onerous, a regime like that in Tehran is not going to buckle to such pressure, especially since it believes that once it has nuclear weapons that will secure the government’s safety from foreign threats. The ongoing negotiations, which seem eternally able to trigger naive hopes in Western circles, will go nowhere. Read more ..


Counting Palestinians

The UN’s Refugee Machine

July 14th 2012

UNRWA Refugee Camp

The relations between Israel and the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA ) have known ups and downs. It’s a story that features familiar UN politics, and most of all, plenty of money. A few weeks ago, UNRWA officials decided to call off summer camps for Gaza Strip children. Israeli officials raised an eyebrow. Every year, the organization runs a loud campaign regarding the need for Gaza summer camps, Israel’s indifference that prevents the transfer of “summer camp goods” and the risk that children will end up turning to radical Islamic camps. Yet summer arrived and UNRWA is silent. The summer camps evaporated, along with the campaigns. I approached the agency recently and asked what happened. They said they ran out of money but asked that I won’t quote the conversation or mention any names. And who’s at fault according to UNRWA? Everyone. The occupation, the blockade, the donors who cut down their aid, and mostly us, the Israelis, who prompted UNRWA to spend so much money to the point where nothing was left of the agency’s annual billion dollar budget. The problem is that this very same organization that called off Gaza summer camps recently started to invest large sums of money in monitoring the security fence; the same fence that on July 9, 2004 was declared illegal by the UN, while suicide bombers were making their way into Israel. Read more ..

Iran on Edge

Is Iran Afraid of A 12-Year-Old Girl?

July 14th 2012

12 Year-old girl

A court in Tehran has banned the 12-year-old daughter of jailed Iranian human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh from leaving Iran. Sotoudeh's husband, Reza Khandan, who was also banned from traveling abroad, states the court did not provide any reason for its decision. It can be appealed within 20 days.

Khandan argues that even if his daughter, Mehraveh, has committed a crime, she should have been summoned to a court for minors. He describes the ruling as "unexpected," especially since he and his daughter were not planning to travel outside the Islamic republic.

"During the week I spend three of four days going to the prison and to different judicial authorities to follow up on the case of my wife," Khandan says. "Once a week we visit her at the prison, so we really don't even have time for a longer trip inside the country, let alone traveling outside the country. Also, as long my wife is here, we don't have any [reason] to travel outside Iran. Read more ..


Ukraine on Edge

The Coming 'Belarus Situation' in Ukraine

July 14th 2012

Viktor Yanukovich Ukraine, Vladimir Putin Russia
Vladimir Putin (L) and Viktor Yanukovich

If the EU plays its cards badly, a "Belarus scenario" in which Russia would regain influence over the former Soviet Republic is possible in Ukraine, Darius Semaška, a chief government advisor for Lithuania, told journalists on July 10. "Unfortunately, the developments in Ukraine are not those that we wanted to see," Semaška said, speaking to a small number of Brussels journalists invited for a press trip to Vilnius.

Semaška, who leads the foreign policy group advising Lithuania's president, evoked a variety of topics, including the EU's sensitive relations with Ukraine ahead of it parliamentary elections to be held on October 28.

Speaking of Ukraine, the Lithuanian government advisor referred in particular to the "selective justice" against political opponents and the conviction and imprisonment of former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko for abuse of office. "There is less and less patience left in the West," Semaška said. "And we might really see the Belarus scenario. We had no patience with Belarus, we had no patience with Lukashenko, we shut the door for the dialogue," the high official said, referring to the fact that the EU didn't recognise the election result back then, shutting the door for further contacts. Read more ..


The Edge of Physics

Higgs Boson and God

July 13th 2012

Higgs Boson

In 1964 the physicist Peter Higgs suggested that there had to be a crucial particle (a boson) that helped explain how matter could emerge from the “Big Bang” explosion of gases that is the most popular scientific theory as to how our world came about. Higgs said the so-called “God particle”, which is the building block of the universe, only has a lifespan of a millionth of a millionth of a millionth of a millionth of a second and I guess that’s why it takes billion dollar accelerators to go looking for it. Now I admit I am a complete dud as far as physics or math are concerned. I can understand atoms and neutrons and protons, but when it gets to bosons and fermions I am lost.

I enjoy reading scientists like Stephen Jay Gould (1941-2002) the paleontologist, evolutionary biologist, and science historian. I am fascinated by science because it makes our world go round. Thanks to it, we have cellphones, the internet, space travel, and all the technological advances we take for granted. And I believe we have an obligation to try to understand our universe. The Talmud itself insists that if anyone can calculate the way the universe functions and does not, it is as though he cares nothing for the God who made it all. The more we understand, the more we can do. Science is an essential part of our lives. But it is not the only essential element. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

How President Obama Should Start Leading on Syria

July 13th 2012

syria-killing

Here’s a novel notion: Considering what’s at stake in Syria for U.S. interests, how about Team Obama leading for once from the front, rather than from “behind”? After 16 months and nearly 20,000 deaths, it’s past time.

Sure, some don’t mind seeing Syrians spar with each other for nearly a year and a half; it keeps the roguish regime of strongman Bashar Assad from causing tons of trouble outside its borders.

But framing Syria’s future is pretty darn important for us. The country is strategically located in the Middle East’s Levant; that’s why plenty of world leaders have been fawning over the Assad regime for several decades now. Read more ..


The Arab Winter

Is Israel the Winner of the Arab Spring?

July 12th 2012

Israeli Military

Israelis understandably feel imperiled by the misnamed "Arab Spring." Their country's three-decade peace treaty with Egypt is under assault, its strategic alliance with Turkey has dissolved, and its closest regional ally, Jordan, is withering from domestic protests.

The breakdown in political authority has flooded Israel's borders with a slew of dangerous weapons, from Libyan missiles in Gaza to Syrian Scuds in southern Lebanon. Meanwhile, the Iranian nuclear program progresses unabated. Individually, each of these developments is cause for great concern; taken together, Israelis see the walls closing in.

Although the initial flickers of liberalism have been subsumed by the Islamist bonfire, the so-called "Arab Spring" has, paradoxically, made Israel stronger as Israel's enemies have turned on each other. While Arab capitals burn, Jerusalem has calmly and carefully steeled itself against the possible immediate deleterious effects, building fences along its Egyptian and Jordanian borders and accelerating the deployment of its Iron Dome anti-missile system. Whereas Arab states remain mired in internal political, economic, and military turmoil, Israel hums along, its economy intact - tourism is at an all-time high  - its military untested, and its government united. Read more ..


The Economy on Edge

The Real National Security Threat: America's Debt

July 11th 2012

Bundles of Money

Drones, kill lists, computer viruses and administration leaks are all the rage in the current political debate. They indeed merit serious scrutiny at a time when the rules of war, and technologies available for war, are changing fast. That said, these issues are not the foreign policy centerpiece of the 2012 presidential race.

Economic renewal and fiscal reform have become the preeminent issues, not only for domestic and economic policy but for foreign policy as well. As the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Michael G. Mullen, was fond of saying, national debt has become perhaps our top national security threat. And neither major presidential candidate is doing enough about it. This issue needs to be framed as crucial not just for our future prosperity but for international stability as well.

The United States has been running trillion-dollar deficits, resulting in a huge explosion in the country's indebtedness. Publicly held debt now equals 70 percent of gross domestic product, a threshold many economists consider significant and highly worrisome. Making matters worse, half of our current deficit financing is being provided by foreigners. We are getting by with low interest rates and tolerable levels of domestic investment only because they find U.S. debt attractive, which may not last. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

Syria's Eastern Front: The Iraq Factor

July 10th 2012

Syrian security forces

For most of the first sixteen months of the Syrian uprising, the eastern border governorate of Deir al-Zour witnessed lower levels of violence than the main western battlegrounds in Homs, Idlib, Hama, Deraa, and Damascus. Since late May, however, escalating regime bombardment has shifted Deir al-Zour to the front lines, accentuating the Iraqi factor in the uprising and opening new options for the antigovernment rebels and their foreign backers. Yet many factors are restraining Iraq's Sunni Arab tribes from fully backing the Syrian uprising, not least Baghdad's opposition to foreign intervention in the conflict. Al-Qaeda in Iraq's potential role is also cause for concern.

Despite being located some 280 miles from Damascus, Deir al-Zour is a key strategic outpost for the Assad regime. The governorate contains oil fields and pipeline infrastructure that feed western Syria's refineries and power stations. Read more ..


Iran's Nukes

Oil Sanctions Against Iran Will Not Be Enough

July 10th 2012

Iran Missiles

Predictably, last week's "expert level" talks between Iran and world powers were no more fruitful than previous rounds, leaving little optimism for a negotiated resolution to the nuclear crisis anytime soon. Western policymakers, buoyed by their success in reducing Iran's oil exports, appear content to give sanctions more time to work, in the hope that once Tehran feels their full effect negotiators will return to the table, more ready to compromise.

The evidence, however, suggests that sanctions' effect on oil exports will not increase over time.

First, Western policymakers tend to focus more on what Iran has lost than what it has retained or gained. That's fine for a political debate but bad for making sensible policy. It is true that Iran's oil exports have declined from 2.5 million barrels per day to 1.5 million. But that reduced level is hardly meager: Iran is still one of the world's top oil exporters, from which it earns billions in hard currency. And nothing suggests that the drop in earnings has stunted Iran's nuclear program, which is the target of Western ire. Iran is enriching uranium faster and to higher levels than ever before. Read more ..


Broken Government

NRA Pushes Limits of Power

July 10th 2012

Juan Williams 02

Washington got hit by a storm two weeks ago with the first House vote in history to hold an attorney general in contempt of Congress, and the town is still cleaning up. Most of the talk centers on the successful, brass knuckle, unapologetic politics played by the National Rifle Association (NRA).

The key legislative tactic used by the NRA was keeping score of every House member’s vote — for or against the contempt resolution for the Attorney General. Until now, NRA scorecards focused on bills directly tied to guns, such as bans on assault weapons, shielding gun manufacturers from liability in lawsuits, and expanding the right to carry guns in national parks.

Of the 21 Democrats who voted for the civil contempt resolution, 19 accepted money from the NRA in the last two House elections. Of the 17 House Democrats who voted in favor of criminal contempt, each one got campaign contributions from the NRA in the last two election cycles.

And every one of those Democrats is in a House district identified by the National Republican Congressional Committee as having a Republican or conservative majority of voters, and thus a likely pick-up for Republicans in the fall elections.

The website Real Clear Politics has pinpointed five House Democrats who it describes as being the most likely Democrats to lose their seats in the fall. Four of those five voted with the NRA position. Rep. John Barrow, of Georgia, one of the last remaining white Democrats in the House from the South, got $9,900 from the NRA in the 2010 mid-term election. He received another $4,000 this year from the NRA for his political action committee.

The NRA’s power to punish politicians who defy them was evident earlier this year when the group threw its money against six-term GOP Sen. Richard Lugar. In the Indiana primary, the NRA supported a Tea Party favorite, Richard Mourdock, because Lugar had voted to ban assault weapons. Read more ..


Israel and Palestine

Is the Israeli-Palestinian Peace Process Dead?

July 10th 2012

Arafat, Rabin, and Peres Peace Prizes

Western governments, experts, and journalists have long assumed that an Israel-Palestinian or comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace agreement ending the conflict was near at hand and easily achieved. In fact, the truth is the exact opposite. Indeed, there has not been any real “peace process” or real chance for a diplomatic solution since the Palestinian leadership rejected a deal in 2000. This article examines the factors that, on one hand, make the “peace process” deceased and, on the other hand, inhibit recognition of the fact that a formal Israel-Palestinian peace that ends the conflict is unlikely for many years to come.

The key to understanding the Middle East is to recognize when things change. Alongside the “Arab Spring,” the Turkish campaign to be a regional power, and Iran’s drive to get nuclear weapons is another important development that is, internationally at least, the least recognized of all: Any hope for Israel-Palestinian or Arab-Israeli peace agreements ending the conflict is dead. There is no more “peace process;” or if you prefer, the possibility of a formal Israel-Palestinian peace that ends the conflict is dormant for a long historical era.

Western, especially European, political leaders, intellectuals, and journalists simply do not in most cases grasp this reality. A fantasy continues to direct their policies, writings, and much of the debate. Yet it is vital to understand that this is a fantasy, why that is so, and how policies should be adjusted in the face of these circumstances.

This article will examine the psychological and structural factors that, on one hand, make the “peace process” deceased and, on the other hand, inhibit recognition of that reality. Read more ..


Healthcare on Edge

Health Care's Community-Based Beginnings

July 9th 2012

medicine and money #2

Back during the debate on the Clinton health care reform proposal, insurance executives tried to convince lawmakers that they were on the same side of health care reform as consumers were, so they embraced the idea of “community rating” in which insurers charge everyone in a given community the same premium regardless of age, gender or health status. In testimony before a House committee in 1993, the president of Cigna’s health care business assured lawmakers that all the big insurers were on board with a return to community rating.

Fast forward nearly two decades and you’ll find that insurance executives have changed their tune, now that they’re actually being required to go back to the good old days when community rating was the norm. Today’s health insurers want nothing to do with it. There’s just not enough profit in it.

Community rating was the original way insurance companies set prices for their policies. The practice began in the late 1920s when the administrator of Baylor University Hospital in Dallas came up with a strategy to deal with his hospital’s mounting expenses. His idea was to have groups of local residents, beginning with the city’s teachers, pay fifty cents a month and receive up to 21 days of hospital care — if needed — during any year. If you were a 21-year-old man who was as healthy as a bear, you paid the same each month as a 42-year-old woman who was not nearly as healthy. Read more ..


Broken Economy

Middle Class Wealth--It's Not as Bad as It Looks

July 8th 2012

Home Foreclosure

Last month, the Census Bureau released its latest data on wealth, updating earlier figures from 2005 to 2010. The numbers confirm findings from a Federal Reserve Board survey showing unprecedented declines in the net worth of the typical American household. The Census figures indicate a drop of 35 percent between 2005 and 2010 in median wealth-the wealth of the household right in the middle-from $103,000 to $67,000. The estimates from the Federal Reserve show a decline of 28 percent between 2004 and 2010. From 2007 to 2010, median net worth declined by an astonishing 39 percent in three years.

This loss of wealth surely hurt many people counting on these funds to pay for retirement, children's schooling, and other needs. Others counted on being able to sell their homes to take advantage of opportunities in other parts of the country but are now underwater on their mortgage and stuck in place. Viewed in context, however, the wealth levels of middle-class Americans are in better shape than these dramatic figures would suggest, though they have not improved markedly over several decades. Read more ..


The Philippines on Edge

Government Corruption and Corporate Greed degrade Human Rights and Environment of the Philippines

July 7th 2012

Subanen people of Philippines

Some thousands of indigenous people all over the Philippines, especially in Mindanao, especially the Subaanen people, on the Zamboanga Peninsula have struggle for years to stop mining corporations from moving in to explore and mine the mountains and hills. They are victims of corrupt government officials and even judges who are captivated by the vested interest of the mining industry.

Some Indigenous people are sadly being forced to turn to armed resistance as the mining corporations move into their lands. The Subaanen people have remained steadfastly non-violent and turned to the rule of law and trust in the constitution to protect them and their rights. But is it enough?

Hundreds of thousands of hectares of ancestral land has been threatened by the illegal and corrupt acts of some officials of the Department of the Environment and Natural Resources (DENR). Allegedly some of these officials are not on the side of the people in Mindanao but are for the rich and powerful mining interests and the banks that fund them. They allegedly enrich themselves by giving mining permits to companies over ancestral lands which is forbidden by law. It is at this level in the provinces where the anti-corruption campaign of President Aquino is weakest. He has deposed a former president and a chief Justice but not yet the corrupt officials in Mindanao. While the president is dedicated and honestly trying to clean up the stinking garbage of corruption he cannot seemingly oust these entrenched officials, the henchmen and women of powerful political families. Read more ..



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