|John Feehery||June 25th 2012|
Unlike Thomas Jefferson and John Marshall, Barack Obama and John Roberts are not cousins. But like the famous cousins, the current president and chief justice don’t seem to like each other much, and their rivalry has already had a profound impact on our national political discussion.
The whole relationship got off to a rocky start when Chief Justice Roberts had to take a mulligan when he swore in Obama. Because Roberts so badly muffed the words, he had to readminister the oath in private, giving the conspiracy buffs ample ammunition for the theory that Obama didn’t use a Bible to swear himself in.
Obama returned the favor when he used his State of the Union address in 2010 to publicly lambaste the Roberts court for its decision to throw out restrictions on free speech in the Citizens United case. “Last week, the Supreme Court reversed a century of law to open the floodgates for special interests — including foreign companies — to spend without limit in our elections,” he said at the time. “Well, I don’t think American elections should be bankrolled by America’s most powerful interests, and worse, by foreign entities.” Ouch. Read more ..
The New Egypt
|Hafez Ghanem||June 25th 2012|
The Brookings Institution
Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) has been elected president of Egypt after a long period of uncertainty as the announcement of official results kept being postponed. The chaotic post-election scene was a reflection of the absence of credible democratic institutions as well as the absence of a culture of democracy in a country that has been for all practical purposes under military rule for 60 years. Mr. Morsi’s election is just the beginning of what appears to be shaping up as a long and difficult transition that may be occasionally marred by political instability.
Egypt is sharply divided between Islamists and secularists, it has no constitution, and no one knows exactly what Mr. Morsi’s prerogatives will be. The country has a very strong military establishment that wields enormous powers and its first ever freely elected parliament was recently disbanded by the constitutional court. Under such circumstances, democracy and stability can only be achieved gradually as the institutions that are crucial for democracy (the constitution, the judiciary, free press, civil society, political parties, etc.) are strengthened and in some cases built from scratch. Read more ..
The New Egypt
|Barry Rubin||June 25th 2012|
“I just can’t do what I done before/I just can’t beg you anymore/I’m gonna let you pass/And I’ll go last/Then time will tell just who fell/And who’s been left behind/When you go your way and I go mine.”
–Bob Dylan, “Most Likely You Go Your Way and I’ll Go Mine”
Muhammad al-Mursi, the Muslim Brotherhood candidate, has become president of Egypt. But what does it mean to be president of Egypt? That’s the current question. Let me divide the discussion into two parts: What does this tell about “us” and what does this tell about Egypt and its future?
First, what does it tell about the West? The answer is that there are things that can be learned and understood, leading to some predictive power, but unfortunately the current hegemonic elite and its worldview refuse to learn.
What could be more revealing of that fact than the words off Jacqueline Stevens in the New York Times: “Chimps randomly throwing darts at the possible outcomes would have done almost as well as the experts”? Well, it depends on which experts. Martin Kramer, one of those who was right all along about Egypt, has a choice selection of quotes from a certain kind of Middle East expert who was dead wrong. A near-infinite number of such quotes can be gathered from the pages of America’s most august newspapers.
These people all share the current left-wing ideology; the refusal to understand the menace of revolutionary Islamism; the general belief that President Barack Obama is doing a great job; and the tendency to blame either Israel or America for the region’s problems. So if a big mistake has been made, it is that approach that has proven to be in the chimp category. Read more ..
The Middle East on Edge
|Shadi Hamid||June 22nd 2012|
The Brookings Institution
It seems unlikely that U.S. policy toward the Middle East will get much attention during the 2012 presidential campaign, especially when it comes to the epochal transformations under way in the Arab world, colloquially referred to as the “Arab Spring.” It received painfully little airtime as the various Republican contenders jostled for their party nomination. There may be some discussion of how best to confront Iran. If Iraq slides back into civil war, as seems ever more possible, there may be some painful debates over who “lost” it. And Republicans have routinely attacked Barack Obama for being insufficiently supportive of Israel, and will continue to do so. But there is seemingly little desire to address what are likely to prove the most influential events of all those currently transpiring across the region. This is in stark contrast to the 2008 contest, where Middle East policy figured prominently in the campaigns of most major candidates. Read more ..
The 2012 Vote
|Walter G. Moss ||June 22nd 2012|
In a recent opinion piece (“How Racist Are We? Ask Google”) on The New York Times “Campaign Stops” blog by Harvard Ph.D. candidate Seth Stephens-Davidowitz, he writes of his use of Google Insights to determine “racially charged search rates ... in different parts of the United States.” Two “media markets” he compared were Denver, which had one of the lowest such rates, and Wheeling, West Virginia, which had one of the highest.
Based on the presidential votes John Kerry received in 2004 plus the average gain made by Democratic congressional candidates in 2008, he concluded that “Mr. Obama should have received about 57 percent of votes in both Denver and Wheeling.” In fact, however, while winning 57 percent in the Denver area, Obama obtained less than 48 percent of the Wheeling vote. The discrepancy, Stephens-Davidowitz believes, is mainly due to racism.
Because of a personal experience four decades earlier, his conclusion came as no surprise to me.
Beginning in the summer of 1967, wife Nancy, I, and our growing family lived in Wheeling for three years, where I taught history at Wheeling College (now Wheeling Jesuit University). Following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King in April 1968, some of us in the town formed a human rights council. Through it I and Nancy became involved in Wheeling civil rights activities, including helping a few blacks obtain scholarships to Wheeling College, which in 1967 had zero black students. Read more ..
Asia on Edge
|Avi Jorisch||June 21st 2012|
Cutting Edge Commentator
Law enforcement officials in China, Taiwan, Burma, Thailand, and the Philippines have launched a blitzkrieg targeting money launderers who have been swindling and blackmailing average citizens throughout Asia to the tune of millions of dollars.
The criminals, part of a transnational syndicate, began squeezing funds from companies and individuals in 2007. Phoning their intended victims and claiming to be speaking on behalf of the police, they informed them that their bank accounts were being abused by money launderers and terrorist organizations, then instructed them to transfer funds to “safe accounts“ that were in fact controlled and owned by the syndicate. According to Liu Ancheng, deputy director of China’s Criminal Investigation Bureau (CIB), they then withdrew the money via local ATMs in Taiwan and Thailand.
In late May, after a two-year investigation, law enforcement authorities arrested 482 people from Burma, China, Taiwan, and Thailand. Ultimately, they will be accused of defrauding victims of funds totaling CNY 73 million (USD 11.5 million) in at least 510 cases.
Originally, the group operated out of the Chinese mainland. But following a crackdown by China in 2010, operations were move to various locations throughout Asia, including Burma, Cambodia, Indonesia, Fiji, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, and Thailand. According to the CIB, the group attracted recruits by promising high salaries and tourist visas and supplying specialized fraud training.
According to the Philippines police, authorities got one of their big breaks in the case when they tracked and geospatially located the IP addresses of the gang, which made its calls using voice over IP. The criminals reportedly worked in cells that carried out the various aspects of the operation: phone calls; maintenance of the telecom network’s servers and equipment; and withdrawing, transferring, and eventually, laundering money. Read more ..
|Ron Haskins||June 21st 2012|
The Brookings Institution
The basic principle on which negotiations to reduce the nation's towering debt should be based is "Everything on the Table." Even so, powerful forces are trying to keep three major parts of the budget off the table. The refusal by Republicans to increase tax revenue and by Democrats to reduce spending on Medicare are major obstacles to a deal that must be overcome. Another potential source of deficit reduction that receives less attention is spending on means-tested programs. Here is the case for including all three in a grand bargain to reduce the deficit.
Although nearly all Republicans in the House and Senate have signed a pledge not to increase taxes, there are cracks in the dike holding back Republican support for tax increases. The first was the agreement of Senators Coburn and Crapo to increase tax revenue as part of the Simpson-Bowles Commission's deficit reduction plan last year. A second crack was the agreement by Speaker Boehner to increase revenues by $800 billion over ten years as part of another grand bargain on the deficit negotiated last summer between the Speaker, President Obama, and their staffs. We will never know whether Boehner could have convinced his House Republican caucus to go along with the tax increases because the deal blew up prematurely. Read more ..
|Rick Santorum||June 21st 2012|
The Obama presidency has been disastrous on so many levels. From unemployment to rising energy prices to an appeasing foreign policy, this Administration has exhibited a multitude of failures. Yet, if we’re to talk about the lack of forward vision that keeps us in this economic recession, look no further than Obamacare. Of all legislation developed from the president’s left-wing ideology, Obamacare is the defining policy of his first, and hopefully only, term.
As we await the Supreme Court’s decision on the individual mandate, I write today as concerned about the economic and religious freedom ramifications as I am about the individual mandate. Don’t get me wrong. I firmly believe the individual mandate is an undeniable infringement on our constitutional rights. Our Founding Fathers devised a system of government in which individual liberty is protected with restraints on the government. The Constitution enumerated powers that Congress possesses with most of the authority reserved for the states.
The Founders never intended that those powers would grow and expand to the point where Congress could one day force Americans to purchase health insurance. Obamacare is an unprecedented exodus from our system of limited government. It was the president’s important legislative priority because he has a fundamentally different view than conservatives have of the proper relationship between the government and individuals. Read more ..
The 2012 Vote
|Lanny J. Davis||June 20th 2012|
OK, Gov. Romney — regarding your refusal to endorse President Obama’s executive order on immigration relief for illegal high school graduates — I have a bunch of questions for you.
How do you explain that you are now farther to the right on immigration than the following conservative Republican leaders of your party: Texas Gov. Rick Perry, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Arizona Sen. John McCain, former President George W. Bush, former Florida Gov. (and brother of that president) Jeb Bush and one of the leading prospects to be on your ticket, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio? Where does that place you on the political spectrum?
Certainly not in the mainstream of the general electorate; not even the mainstream of the major conservative leaders of the Republican Party listed above. Of course, you did this to yourself. During the GOP presidential debates, for example, you criticized Perry for legislation that he supported, along with most Republicans and Democrats in the Texas State Legislature, that allowed Texas students whose parents were illegal aliens to pay in-state tuition rates at Texas public universities. Read more ..
|Brent Budowsky||June 20th 2012|
President Obama and Democratic leaders, voters, workers and donors must understand with brutal clarity that: Republicans, right-wing billionaires whose extremism is alien to traditional American values, special interests with Gilded Age-magnitude greed and five Supreme Court justices who proved their contempt for 200 years of American jurisprudence in the Citizens United case are within reach of turning a corrupted system into a near-permanent dictatorship of dollars that could destroy the dream of July 4, 1776.
I have been so vigorous in advocating that President Obama run with Hillary Clinton as vice president, as part of a grand Obama-Clinton alliance, because this great transforming chessboard move would powerfully mobilize the people and money of progressives, and profoundly appeal to the good sense of moderates and independents. Read more ..
The Obama Edge
|Kenneth P. Green||June 19th 2012|
Three fallacies underpin the green job agenda: The first fallacy is that there is a compelling reason for the government to re-order the private-sector economy to make things more “green,” more quickly; the second fallacy is that the government can intervene in the economy to create new jobs on net; and the third fallacy is that bureaucrats make good venture capitalists.
I will take them in order.
In the United States, and in virtually every other developed country, we have seen the very same trends play out while people engaged in ordinary non-green jobs, using non-green technologies to pursue their development: at first they degrade their environment, but as they meet their basic needs, they clean up their environment.
Environmental improvement in the United States has been spectacular in virtually all parameters. Our air and water pollution levels are bare fractions of what they were; the burden of persistent chemicals in the environment is down; deforestation was reversed; wildlife is protected; and the US leads the world in reducing the emissions of greenhouse gases without, I might add, being part of either an international coalition or even having national greenhouse gas control legislation.
To be sure, some of these improvements were driven by regulations, particularly local regulations, but what made them possible was the underlying reality that free-market economies naturally seek to use less energy and resources per unit of production, and democratic market-economies follow a predictable cycle of environmental repair. Our existing regulatory regime and our efficient market-economy will see us into a green future: no government re-ordering of the energy economy is necessary. Read more ..
Europe on Edge
|George Friedman||June 19th 2012|
Europe and the financial markets watched intently June 17 as Greece held general elections. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Francois Hollande and Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti all delayed their flights to the June 18 G-20 summit in Mexico to await the results.
The two leading contenders in the elections were the center-right New Democracy Party (ND), which pledged to uphold Greece's commitments to austerity and honor the country's financial agreements with the European Union and the International Monetary Fund, and the Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA), a group of far-left politicians who pledged to reject Greece's existing agreements, end austerity and maintain the country's position in the eurozone. A third major party, the center-left Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK), shares the ND's position of maintaining Greece's bailout agreement. PASOK had been Greece's ruling party until it formed a unity government with the ND late in 2011.
For a while it seemed these elections would be definitive. Either Greece would reject the country's agreement with its international lenders, potentially being forced out of the eurozone, or it wouldn't. If Greece rejected austerity and forcibly or voluntarily left the eurozone, the country might set a precedent for other troubled states and precipitate a financial crisis -- a eurozone exit and default would likely go hand in hand. Europe would be tested as never before, and it would find out how resilient it is to a wider financial crisis. Read more ..
|Vincent H. Smith,Barry K. Goodwin, Bruce A. Babcock||June 18th 2012|
Shallow-loss programs are costly: Depending on structure and crop prices, these programs could cost the taxpayer as much as or more than the direct payments program they would replace, averaging as much as $8 to $14 billion a year over the next five years.
Shallow-loss programs amount to a new entitlement: Payments would be automatically triggered by revenue shortfalls and would be linked to average revenues over the past five years. So, when prices and yields increase, payment triggers will also increase, creating a new, partially disguised entitlement program that locks farmers into near-record incomes at the taxpayer’s expense.
Shallow-loss programs based on farm-level yields create incentives for the wasteful use of economic resources by buying down deductibles associated with federal crop insurance: Farmers would reap the benefits of record crop yields and prices. However, because a high percentage of revenues are guaranteed, farmers may adopt more risky farming techniques. Read more ..
The Edge of Healthcare
|Juan Williams||June 18th 2012|
Every political strategist working the fall elections sees a game changer coming by the end of the month. That’s when the Supreme Court rules on the constitutionality of President Obama’s signature legislative accomplishment, the Affordable Care Act.
The Democrats have a nuclear option in this political game if the high court throws out the healthcare law as unconstitutional. That blowup-the-system button, not pushed since FDR’s attempt to stack the court with Democrats during the New Deal, is for Obama to use the bully pulpit of the White House, and the national stage of a presidential campaign, to launch a bitter attack on the current court as a corrupt tool of the Republican right wing. It is a move that could energize Democrats and independents even as Republicans celebrate a major legal victory.
Some Democrats, sensing a political windfall, can’t wait to start the offensive. Nebraska’s Sen. Ben Nelson, a retiring Democrat, sent out a news release last week condemning the “activist Supreme Court,” for potentially dismantling a healthcare law. The senator said without the new law, health insurance premiums will be “skyrocketing,” and endanger “healthcare for more than 100,000 Nebraska kids with pre-existing medical conditions such as asthma or diabetes.” Read more ..
Suriname on Edge
|Sarah Slater and Ellicott Dandy||June 18th 2012|
|President Desi Bouterse of Suriname|
Last month the judge overseeing the trial to determine the full extent of Surinamese President Dési Bouterse’s involvement in the 1982 December Murders put the proceedings on hold. In light of the National Assembly’s retroactive Amnesty Act granting immunity to Bouterse and his political henchmen, whether the Public Prosecutor’s office can legally carry on the trial is now uncertain.
As Stabroek News of neighboring Guyana reported on June 6, the government has pressured the trial’s judges to bury the case by threatening their safety. The act, an affront to justice, is part of a long pattern of abuses by Bouterse and his colleagues. Regrettably, the suspension of the trial likely means that the Public Prosecutor’s office will be unable to obtain a guilty verdict against Bouterse. Meanwhile, relatives of the December Murder victims and the Surinamese nation await the justice that has been delayed for the past 30 years. Read more ..
The Arab Winter
|Shoshana Bryen||June 17th 2012|
Amid the Arab upheaval of past 18 months, a question has crept among the speeches, demonstrations, riots, elections, battles and massacres – Is Israel better off, or worse off, for the revolution among its neighbors?
Certainly Wael Ghonim of Google, and the positive nature of the short-lived "Arab Spring" raised people's hopes. The West convinced itself that education and modern social media had created an Arab body politic ready for democratic governance. Very quickly, however, what we got was:
"Moderate" Islamists -- looking less moderate every day -- ruling Tunisia; A split in the Egyptian Parliament between the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafists (with "Google people" barely noticeable in the constellation); A horrific war in Syria where Saudi Arabia and Qatar are arming an increasingly Islamist-looking opposition (which is what you get when they are armed by a Wahabi regime); Sectarian fighting in an increasingly fragile Lebanon; Turkey looking increasingly stridently Islamist; Muslim Brotherhood demonstrations on a regular basis in Jordan; Read more ..
Europe on Edge
|Kemal Derviş||June 16th 2012|
The Brookings Institution
The German government’s reaction to newly elected French President François Hollande’s call for more growth-oriented policies was to say that there should be no change in the eurozone’s austerity programs. Rather, growth-supporting measures, such as more lending by the European Investment Bank or issuance of jointly guaranteed project bonds to finance specific investments, could be “added” to these programs.
Many inside and outside of Germany declare that both austerity and more growth are needed, and that more emphasis on growth does not mean any decrease in austerity. The drama of the ongoing eurozone crisis has focused attention on Europe, but how the austerity-growth debate plays out there is more broadly relevant, including for the United States.
Three essential points need to be established. First, in a situation of widespread unemployment and excess capacity, short-run output is determined primarily by demand, not supply. In the eurozone’s member countries, only fiscal policy is possible at the national level, because the European Central Bank controls monetary policy. So, yes, more immediate growth does require slower reduction in fiscal deficits. Read more ..
Obama and Israel
|Alan Dershowitz||June 15th 2012|
President Obama recently invited me to the Oval Office for a discussion about Iran. The President reiterated to me in private what he had previously said in public: namely, that he would not allow Iran to develop nuclear weapons; that containment of a nuclear Iran was not an option; that sanctions and diplomatic pressures would be applied and increased first; but that, as a last recourse, the military option would not be taken off the table.
What the President said is now the official American policy with regard to the threat of a nuclear Iran. It is clear that sanctions and diplomacy alone will not convince the Iranian mullahs to halt their progress toward their goal of an Iran with nuclear weapons. The only realistic possibility of persuading the Iranians to give up their nuclear ambitions is for them to believe that there is a credible threat of an American military attack on their nuclear facilities. Unless this threat is credible, the Iranians will persist. And if the Iranians persist, and the Israelis do not believe that the American threat is credible, the Israelis will undertake a military strike against Iranian nuclear facilities. It is crucial, therefore, for America’s military threat to be credible and to be perceived as credible by both the Israelis and the Iranians. Read more ..
The Arab Winter in Egypt
|Barry Rubin||June 15th 2012|
The Egyptian Supreme Constitutional Court has just invalidated the parliamentary election there. The parliament, 75 percent of whose members were Islamists, is being dissolved. The military junta has taken over total authority. The presidential election is still scheduled for a few dozen hours from now.
In short, everything is confused and everything is a mess. All calculations are thrown to the wind. What this appears to be is a new military coup. What is the underlying theme? The armed forces concluded that an Islamist takeover was so dangerous for Egypt and for its own interests that it is better to risk civil war, a bloodbath, and tremendous unpopularity than to remain passive and turn over power. I believe this decision was made very reluctantly and not out of some lust for power by the generals. They have decided that they had no choice. Read more ..
|Ronn Torossian||June 13th 2012|
Reading a recent Haaretz article was stupefying - headlined: “The settler behind shadowy purchases of Palestinian land in the West Bank” one may think that Ha’aretz had discovered a mass scandal worthy of a “shadowy” headline. In reality, the sad truth the newspaper “exposed” was the Jews who work to purchase homes for Jews to live in – because Arabs won’t sell to Jews. Sad that Ha’aretz proudly exposing patriots is a headline in the Jewish State – while anywhere else in the world not selling to someone because they are Jewish would be deemed racism.
Unfortunately, in the 21st Century Jews can’t use their real names to purchase homes because Arabs kill other Arabs if they dare sell to the Jewish infidel. Reporting the story - Uri Blau (who was recently charged by Israel’s Attorney General with unauthorized possession of stolen classified documents from the Israel Defense Forces) who proudly ran the first photo of a Jewish patriot who does the valiant work of ensuring Jews live in all areas of the holy State of Israel. Exposing a man who works privately to defeat racism would win awards in many countries - in Ha’aretz it’s deemed “shadowy” and “mysterious”. What’s glossed over is that every single activity they mention is completely 100% legal. Read more ..
The Massacres in Syria
|Tamara Cofman Wittes||June 13th 2012|
The Brookings Institution
Secretary of State Clinton revealed Tuesday that Russia is sending helicopter gunships to Syria and called Moscow’s claims that its arms are not used against Syrian civilians “patently untrue.” Russia’s support for the Syrian regime is not new. Yet even as the Obama administration ups its pressure on Vladimir Putin to abandon Bashar al-Assad, it is still struggling to find a path that can end the violence in Syria and begin a political transition without demanding deeper American engagement. But as the helicopter headline indicates, violence is taking a tighter hold on the Syrian crisis. The time may quickly be drawing near when U.S. interests in regional stability will demand more than diplomacy.
The current situation is a diplomatic and military stalemate, albeit a bloody one. U.N. envoy Kofi Annan has had zero success in establishing a real cease-fire or moving Assad into negotiations with the opposition. The U.N. monitors sent into Syria have not even been able to visit sites of recent suspected massacres and are themselves now targets of attack. The armed rebellion has been unable so far to dislodge the regime, but neither has the regime’s violence crushed the rebellion. Russia is still blocking stronger action at the U.N. Security Council. But more direct action, such as working with those who are arming the Syrian opposition, creating safe-zones on the borders of Syria, or threatening military intervention by a U.S.-led coalition, are risky endeavors and not saleable to a war-weary U.S. public—or a war-weary U.S. president. Read more ..
The Massacres in Syria
|Barry Rubin||June 12th 2012|
Spain 1936. An army revolt against the democratically elected government sets off a civil war. On one side are the Fascists, led by General Francisco Franco. On the other side is a coalition of democrats both social democratic and liberal; communal nationalists; anarchists, Communists, and independent Marxists. The Western democracies declare an embargo: no arms to be sold to the Loyalist side. But Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy help the Rebels, while Stalin’s USSR helps the Communists, increasing their power within the Loyalist coalition. In the end, the Fascists win and rule Spain for decades.
Syria 2012. The people revolt against the dictatorship setting off a civil war. On one side is the anti-American repressive Syrian regime that has been a champion of revolutionary Islamism; its ally, Iran; and Hizballah. On the other side is a coalition of democrats, communal nationalists, and Islamists. The Western democracies declare an embargo: no arms to be sold to the rebels. But Shia Islamist Iran and Russia help the regime, while Turkey and the Muslim Brotherhood help the Islamists, increasing their power within the rebel coalition. In the end, either the regime wins or the Islamist component among the rebels is more likely to win. Read more ..
Obama and Israel
|Barry Rubin||June 12th 2012|
By now it’s clear that President Barack Obama isn’t going to visit Israel in his term of office. And yet that’s pretty curious, isn’t it? After all, American politicians who seek Jewish support usually find a trip to Israel a pretty good way to claim pro-Israel credentials. And Obama has been desperate to do so, especially this year.
Why, then, isn’t Obama going to visit Israel? Of course, we cannot definitively answer that question, but here are some thoughts:
1. His personal distaste for Israel is so great that he doesn’t want to come here. Of course, he did do so once as a senator but now Obama may feel he can give freer rein to his feelings. While it is silly to say that Obama hates Israel and wants to destroy it, if you believe that he has a single warm feeling toward the Jewish state I have a bridge in Brooklyn you might want to buy. Certainly, Obama has an extreme personal dislike for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as he revealed to a microphone he didn’t know was on when meeting with French President Sarkozy. And while some of Obama’s best friends were Jewish, they were also anti-Israel or, at best, in the we-know-better-than-those-dumb-Israelis camp. Read more ..
Healthcare on Edge
|Wendell Potter||June 12th 2012|
In 2007, a few months before I left the health insurance industry, I was tasked to write a “white paper” designed to help convince media folks and politicians that the problem of the uninsured wasn’t much of a problem after all. If demographic data was sliced just so, I was expected to write, it was easy to conclude that many of the uninsured — some 46 million at the time — were that way by choice.
I was told to point out, for example, that a significant percentage of people without coverage were in families with annual incomes of $75,000 or more. The implication: That those folks were simply shirking their responsibilities. A crucial fact that I was not to disclose, of course, was that many Americans, including wealthy ones, couldn’t buy coverage at any price because of pre-existing conditions. These are the “untouchables” as far as insurance companies were concerned. (That’s my term, not the industry’s. The underwriters prefer the term “uninsurable.”) Read more ..
The 2012 Vote
Most presidential elections are seen as watershed events that will have a significant and determinative effect on our nation’s future and culture, and to some extent on the world’s future.
This view is often an overstated projection reflecting the fact that people — especially politicians and pundits — view their point in time as uniquely important to history and the fate of the nation. It is the natural narcissism of those who run for office and the people who cover them. This year, however, they may be right.
The November election actually will mark a decisive point — a transitional event in the future of our country, the character of our political experience and the direction of world progress. There probably hasn’t been a presidential election since the contest between Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan in which the outcome — the current that will carry the nation forward — will have such a dramatically different impact or involve such a fundamental reshaping of how we are defined. Read more ..
The 2012 Vote
|Juan Williams||June 11th 2012|
Congress has a long “To Do” list for the rest of the year, beginning with pumping up the economy. But the calendar of working days on the Republican majority leader’s website shows Congress is scheduled to be in session only 52 more days this year. That allows little time to address the debt ceiling again, extend the payroll tax cuts, prevent student loan interest rates from doubling and decide whether to extend the Bush tax cuts.
Speaker John Boehner reportedly told a meeting of the House GOP last week: “Let’s call bulls--t, bulls--t! This election is going to be all about the economy.” The Speaker is right, but the joke may be on him. President Obama is already blaming lack of action from Boehner’s Republican majority in the House of Representatives for the poor economy. And that campaign strategy is just getting started. The question is how much political power accusations of “Republican obstructionism” will have with voters in the final stretch of the campaign. What is certain is that as the House, Senate and presidential campaigns enter the summer months, every argument from now on will center on what the politically paralyzed Congress has failed to do on economic issues. Read more ..
The Massacres in Syria
|Robert Satloff||June 10th 2012|
Speaking Thursday before the U.N. General Assembly, just one day after the latest massacre of civilians by government-affiliated forces, Kofi Annan warned that the crisis in Syria was on a disastrous course. “If things do not change, the future is likely to be one of brutal repression, massacres, sectarian violence and even all-out civil war,” he said. “All Syrians will lose.”
Annan, of course, is not the first to evoke the term “civil war” in reference to the crisis in Syria, which has already resulted in more than 10,000 dead and 50,000 missing. The term has become a favorite of opponents of intervention in Syria, who use it to conjure up the image of a human swamp of chaos, destruction and mayhem that is bloodier than what Syria has suffered over the past sixteen months, less tractable to resolution, and violently inhospitable to outsiders. The unspoken assumption is that while such a scenario may be horrible for Syrian civilians, it would not rise to the level of an international crisis -- at least not one that would have much impact on the United States. Read more ..
The 2012 Vote
|William Beach||June 9th 2012|
President Obama took to the national stage today and again repeated his claims that administration policies are producing a robust economic recovery. However, public opinion polls and recent election results underscore a very different perception: working Americans see an economy still deeply depressed in key sectors and much slower everywhere than it should be. In short, according to the perception at least, the president’s policies have not turned the economy around as fast they expect.
So who are you going to believe, the President or your lying eyes? Where are we today compared to the other, big recession of the post World War II period, the early 1980s? One way to answer that important question is to compare the two recessions calendar quarter by calendar quarter. At its worst point, or seven quarters after the start of the recession in 1981, the economy was just as weak as the worst days of the recent recession.
Today, we are 17 quarters from the beginning of the last recession that started in December 2007. At this point in the 1980s, the economy was well on its way to normal levels: output stormed back to near normal levels: GDP growth without inflation averaged 4.9 percent during the recovery period. The unemployment rate was in the low 6 percent range by the 17th quarter and would get to 5.6 percent by the end of that year, 1987. Read more ..
|Asaf Romirowsky||June 9th 2012|
A couple of weeks ago the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee unanimously passed the Kirk Amendment as part of the State Department and Foreign Operations Appropriations Bill for 2013. The bill requires the State Department to specify to Congress, for the first time, what proportion of the five million Palestinians who are supported by UNWRA, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees, are refugees who were actually displaced from their homes and what number are descendant of those refugees.
Every year, a sum of $240 million of US public is channeled to the assistance of Palestinian refugees via UNRWA. The Kirk Amendment challenges the notion that being a Palestinian refugee can be passed down through the generations, and thereby questions the ever-expanding numbers of Palestinians that are UNRWA's target group. The original proposal by Senator Mark Kirk (R-IL), would have made personal displacement from one's home necessarily for the definition "refugee" as well as the absence of any other citizenship. Read more ..
The 2012 Vote
|Cheri Jacobus||June 8th 2012|
While many Democrats are stammering around looking for an excuse — any excuse at all — for their embarrassing defeat as Wisconsin roundly rejected their recall efforts of Republican Gov. Scott Walker, the Obama White House is breathing a sigh of relief.
Had Milwaukee’s Democrat Mayor Tom Barrett, the challenger to Walker, lost by a slim margin instead of by an even greater margin than his original loss to Walker in 2010, President Obama would be in a world of political hurt right now — from his own party. He needed Barrett to lose big. Obama cynically took care of himself first, throwing yet another ally under the bus by not campaigning for Barrett. Not only did he signal he was relatively certain Walker would win, but he showed Democrats that he has no loyalty to them and looks out for No. 1. Always. And, some might argue — only.
Adding to the discomfort is the fact that Barrett, a public figure whose résumé includes a decade in Congress, was a very, very early supporter of Obama in the presidential primary, publicly endorsing him in April 2007 over Democratic primary rivals Hillary Clinton and John Edwards. Yet, while former President Bill Clinton went to campaign by Barrett’s side last week (despite the fact that Barrett endorsed Obama over Hillary), Obama merely “tweeted” his support for Barrett, assuming 140 characters or fewer would somehow get him off the hook. Read more ..
The Arab Winter in Egypt
Egypt’s fate, I think, will not be settled by the June 16-17 presidential election (second round). It has already been set by the parliamentary election which has given a large majority to the Islamists as well as the ability to write the constitution. If Ahmad Shafiq defeats the Brotherhood candidate, Muhammad al-Mursi, parliament will simply make a strong prime minister (appointed by the Muslim Brotherhood) and a weak president.
But, of course, a victory for Shafiq would be significant, indicating that a lot of those who voted for Islamists in the parliamentary voting — as many as one-third of them, about 25 percent of the total population — are not eager for a Sharia state. That could be added to another 25 percent (40 percent of them Christians) who are anti-Islamist. Shafiq, a former general and prime minister, is widely seen as a man of the old regime. Think of it this way. Suppose President Husni Mubarak had died or been disabled prior to 2011, or that the establishment had revolted and gotten rid of Mubarak on its own and chosen a successor. Shafiq might have become the new president and there would never have been a “revolution” in Tahrir Square. Read more ..
The Edge of Terrorism
|Zachary Fisher||June 7th 2012|
The Jewish Policy Center
Abu Yahya al-Libi, al-Qaeda's second-in-command behind only Ayman al-Zawahri, was killed Monday by a targeted CIA drone strike in northern Pakistan, according to American officials. The fatal drone strike killed 15 Islamic militants along with al-Libi, who was responsible for al-Qaeda's propaganda, appearing in 39 videos and using his background as an Islamic cleric to justify the terrorist group's acts of jihad. Al-Libi had a 1 million dollar bounty on his head, and narrowly escaped death by drone strike more than once before meeting his end. The Taliban and the White House agree that al-Libi's death is a major defeat for al-Qaeda.
The deputy leader's demise, compounded by the death of Osama bin Laden and influential al-Qaeda imam Anwar al-Awlaki both last year, has left a void in al-Qaeda's ranks; the organization now lacks a member with the religious education or credibility with the Arab World necessary to justify al-Qaeda's jihadist actions -- crucial to the success of the terror group. Some sources have indicated that Ayman al-Zawahri is the only remaining noteworthy al-Qaeda leader. But, if he attempts to fill the propaganda void left by al-Libi, he will be forced to come out of hiding and possibly expose himself to the line of fire. Read more ..
|Jerold Auerbach||June 7th 2012|
A showdown is brewing in Washington over how the number of Palestinian Arab refugees is being counted, and it could be explosive. This is because numerical accuracy would undermine claims by the Palestinians that before long, if their demands are not granted, Jews will become a demographic minority between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean. Arithmetical distortions by the Palestinian Arabs have mesmerized the United Nations, the State Department, NGOs whose identities derive from the Palestinian determination to be permanent victims, and Israeli politicians who eagerly incorporate Palestinian misinformation into their critique of Jewish settlements.
Upon completion of the first Palestinian census 15 years ago, the head of the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics conceded that it was “a civil intifada,” a demographic weapon against Israel that specifically targeted Jewish settlers. Last December the Bureau fired its guns once again, reporting that 2.6 million Palestinian Arabs inhabit Judea and Samaria, the biblical homeland of the Jewish people where more than 300,000 Israelis now live. Read more ..
The 2012 Vote
|Brent Budowsky||June 6th 2012|
If President Obama makes the bold and historic decision to run with Hillary Clinton in 2012, an Obama-Clinton ticket would launch a rocket of enthusiasm throughout a rejuvenated and mobilized Democratic base. He would send a powerful message of reassurance and confidence to political independents, seniors, blue-collar workers and all women who deserve and should win equal pay for honest work after an Obama-Clinton campaign that would champion this cause throughout every corner of the nation.
An Obama-Clinton ticket would increase the president’s popular and electoral votes. It would increase voter turnout for Democrats and elect more Democrats to the House and Senate. An Obama-Clinton team would bring a powerful new momentum to Democratic fundraising. It would rally small donors to a campaign that would regain the spirit of a powerful cause for historic, continuing and lasting change. It would motivate the wealthiest Democratic donors, who are now being dominated by their competitors among power-hungry Republicans, super-wealthy special interests and far-right billionaires who would destroy the legacy of every enlightened president since Teddy Roosevelt. Read more ..
Broken Mideast Peace
|Shoshsana Bryen||June 6th 2012|
The Jewish Policy Center
The International Crisis Group defines itself as an "independent, non-partisan, [sic] source of analysis ... on the prevention and resolution of deadly conflict." While presidents and secretaries of state have relied it upon for analysis in places as disparate as Sudan, Iraq, Sri Lanka, and Burundi, it proves to be one-sided and ahistorical in its recent review of the Israel-Palestinian "peace process." Noting that the world is currently preoccupied elsewhere, the ICG suggests that that might be a good thing:
Not to discard the two-state solution, for no other option can possibly attract mutual assent; nor to give up on negotiations, for no outcome will be imposed from outside. But to incorporate new issues and constituencies; rethink Palestinian strategy to alter the balance of power; and put in place a more effective international architecture. Read more ..
The world is aware of Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons and its sponsorship of terrorist organizations. What is less understood is Tehran’s abuse of the financial sector, banks, front companies, and other deceptive techniques to evade the controls responsible countries have instituted to stop it from achieving nuclearization. Yet it is precisely these techniques that make Iran vulnerable to economic warfare, and such warfare, if deployed intelligently and strategically, could hurt the regime where it is weakest—its pocketbook.
Securing Uranium Ore
Iran is scouring the earth in search of countries that possess uranium deposits, searching in Asia, Latin America, and Africa. Iranian engineers have reportedly mapped out all of the world’s uranium deposits to assess countries most likely to sell them the coveted mineral. Iran has reportedly decided that Congo, Nigeria, Senegal, and Zimbabwe are the countries with uranium most likely to do business with it.
If Iran secures large quantities of uranium that can ultimately be converted into yellowcake, this would likely be the nail in the coffin in preventing Iran from achieving nuclearization. Policymakers around the world must be vigilant in tracking Iran’s efforts to secure uranium Read more ..
America's Leading Edge
The Brookings Institution
Is Dallas a “global region?” It would sure seem that way. The region is the sixth largest metropolitan economy in the United States, and according to Brookings’ Global MetroMonitor, the 12th largest in the world. By virtue of size alone, Dallas appears to be a powerful force in the global marketplace.
Move beyond size, however, and the global status of the Dallas area seems to be in the eye of the beholder. Different observers have different definitions of what it means to be “global.” Various studies attempt to index the global-ness of major metropolitan areas on measures that combine the presence of major global corporations, human capital, cultural institutions, environment, quality of life, and economic growth. Not surprisingly, the Dallas metropolis comes out in different places on different indexes: 25th (Economist Intelligence Unit), 28th (Global Urban Competitiveness Report), 36th (Brookings’ Global MetroMonitor), as an “Alpha-minus” city (Globalization and World Cities Research Network), or not at all (A.T. Kearney Global Cities Index). Read more ..
The Battle For Syria
Kofi Annan was jointly-appointed by the UN and the Arab League this February as their
envoy to Syria.
The horrors currently unfolding in Syria offer further proof of what might reasonably be described as Kofi Annan’s law of international relations: Wherever Kofi Annan turns up, bloodshed is sure to follow. During and after his scandal-ridden decade as UN secretary-general, Annan smoothed the ruffled feathers of brutal dictators like Saddam Hussein in Iraq and Kim Jong Il in North Korea.
In October 1995, Annan remained at the UN’s peacekeeping helm as Serb forces seized control of the Srebrenica enclave in Bosnia, slaughtering the entire male population, including young boys. When he stepped down from the secretary-general’s post in 2006, he lambasted not Russia or China—the two states that did the most to prevent the UN’s lofty human rights principles from actually being implemented—but the United States, for allegedly “seeking supremacy over all others.”
Despite this shameful record, the UN and the Arab League jointly appointed Annan as their envoy to Syria in February of this year, as Bashar al Assad’s assault upon his own people grew in intensity. Sure enough, with Annan on the spot promoting a six-point peace plan that Assad assented to in public but violated on the ground, the “violence”—a lily-livered euphemism for the carnage orchestrated by the Damascus regime—got worse. Read more ..
If you think the idea of privatizing Medicare has gone away, that the health insurance industry has thrown in the towel on one of its biggest goals, there was fresh evidence last week that you would be wrong.
As I wrote more than a year ago — when Rep. Paul Ryan (R.-Wis.) unveiled his plan to replace the Medicare system with one that would essentially be run by private insurers — Democrats would be foolish to think that Ryan couldn’t get the public to support the concept. I noted then that insurers would be investing heavily in efforts to convince people that Ryan’s plan represented the only way to save the Medicare program from insolvency.
One of the tried-and-true tactics insurers have used many times to influence public opinion is the enlistment of “third-party advocates” to disseminate industry talking points. Last week an industry friend in high places — Thomas Scully, who headed the Medicare program during much of the George W. Bush administration — weighed in on the matter. It is only a matter of time, Scully told Kaiser Health News, before politicians on both sides of the aisle endorse Ryan’s proposal of providing Medicare beneficiaries with a set amount of money every year to buy coverage from private insurers. Read more ..
Labor on Edge
|Juan Williams||June 4th 2012|
Ann Coulter on the right and Rachel Maddow on the left agree Wisconsin’s vote this Tuesday on recalling Gov. Scott Walker is going to have national implications. They’ve got that right.
If Walker wins, it will encourage Republican governors around the nation to enact more laws that diminish the power of public worker unions. Those efforts usually involve stripping unions of collective bargaining rights in an effort to shut off the money flowing from unions to Democrats.
Since the 2010 midterm elections, GOP governors have been intent on closing off the flow of cash from taxpayers to public sector unions which then support Democratic candidates.
In trying to choke the life out of unions, those governors have had varied degrees of success. But if Walker wins, governors like Michigan’s Rick Snyder, Ohio’s John Kasich and Pennsylvania’s Tom Corbett will find new pockets of money and political support for their anti-union fight.
By the same logic, if the unions cannot defeat an unpopular GOP governor whose policies have threatened their power – and their very existence in one of the most pro-union states in the country - Republicans and Democrats alike will perceive them as weak. The state’s labor unions – including the AFL-CIO, AFSCME and the SEIU – could not get their favorite candidate, Kathleen Falk, nominated as the candidate to run against Walker. That was a loss among fellow Democrats. Meanwhile the unions are being outspent by Walker’s camp, which is playing with a bankroll of $30 million compared to his challenger’s $4 million. The Democratic Party and left-wing groups have not matched the financial punch from the right. Read more ..
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