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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 ..


Broken Elections

Watchdog Groups Defend Florida’s Efforts to Purge Voter Lists

July 6th 2012

Voting

A top Inside-the-Beltway public-interest, watchdog group announced this week that it filed a Motion for Intervention with its client True the Vote to defend the State of Florida’s efforts to clean up voter registration lists against an Obama administration lawsuit.

This legal action is in addition to Judicial Watch (along with co-plaintiff True the Vote) filing a federal lawsuit against the State of Indiana in June, for failure to comply with voter list maintenance provisions of the NVRA.

J. Christian Adams, a former civil rights attorney with the Department of Justice, is counsel to the groups on these legal actions. Adams gained the attention of conservatives when he blew the whistle on the Attorney General and the Justice Department regarding their refusal to investigate voter intimidation by members of the New Black Panther Party during the 2008 presidential election.

Florida's Secretary of State's office initiated a full-court press in order to remove ineligible voters—including thousands of suspected illegal aliens—from its voter registration lists after Judicial Watch filed a letter of inquiry with Florida election officials earlier this year.

Judicial Watch alerted the State of Florida that failure to maintain clean voter registration lists violates Section 8 of the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA). In response to Florida’s efforts to comply with the NVRA, the Obama administration filed a lawsuit on June 12, 2012, asking a federal court to enjoin the state from continuing its purge of illegal voters.

According to Judicial Watch’s motion, filed jointly with Judicial Watch client True the Vote on June 26, 2012, with the United States District Court for the Northern District of Florida, Tallahassee Division: “[Judicial Watch and True the Vote] seek to enter this lawsuit in order to demonstrate that, not only are the State of Florida’s list maintenance activities valid, proper, and timely, but that they also are required under federal law. Intervention will ensure that the organizational interests of Proposed Intervener True the Vote and the rights and interest of the members of Proposed Intervener Judicial Watch, Inc. are adequately protected and preserved.” Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

GOP Hopes USA Fails

July 5th 2012

Ask Mitt

While most Americans were celebrating the birth of a nation of patriots, the Republican nominee for president, who made much of his fortune sending American prosperity abroad and sheltering much of his wealth in offshore tax shelters, and Republican leaders in Washington, who would make the practice of firing teachers and police the policy of the state, eagerly await a jobs report they fervently hope will be bad for America.

Mitt Romney is in trouble. The American people do not like him or trust him. They intuitively sense that he’s not on their side. They are right. He is not. And it shows. While the stampeding herd of the media were dramatically overstating the problems of the president, informing the nation about celebrity divorces rather than demanding that the Republican nominee stop hiding his tax returns for reasons that are obvious, Romney was failing to win the trust of the nation. Read more ..


The Way We Are

Why All the Fireworks on the Fourth?

July 4th 2012

lady liberty

I live in Colorado, where rainstorms don’t put out fires. Rainstorms start fires, at least in this parched endless summer of 2012. And the burning question in towns throughout the state, including my home town, is this: fireworks or no fireworks on the Fourth of July?

Common sense tells us to skip the pyrotechnics this year. So does half of most Coloradans’ hearts, the half that bleeds for the victims of the terrible fires we’ve already endured and the ones that are likely to come.

But there’s that other half of the heart -- call it the red, white, and blue half -- that says, “Yes, but, how can you have a Fourth of July without fireworks?”

For a good part of American history, the biggest Independence Day fireworks were verbal. Orations were the centerpiece of the public celebration, extolling the unique virtues of the republic born on July 4, 1776. But that tradition ended long ago. In my own childhood, during the darkest days of the Cold War, the highlight of the Fourth in many towns was a great parade, featuring a massive display of the nation’s military might. I still recall making a bit of pocket change by wandering through the crowd selling little American flags, while tanks rolled down (and chewed up) the streets. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

Jordan Turns Away Syrian-Palestinians

July 3rd 2012

King Abdullah of Jordan

According to a report released Wednesday by Human Rights Watch, Jordan recently turned away Syrians of Palestinian heritage seeking refuge in the Hashemite Kingdom, while threatening to deport Syrian Palestinians who arrived within the past year. Meanwhile, Jordan has laudably admitted 140,000 Syrian refugees into its country and given fleeing Syrians the right to move freely throughout the kingdom.

Amman has a historically tense relationship with its Palestinian population. Palestinians are said to comprise a majority of the Jordanian population, but are ruled by the minority Hashemite tribe in Amman, which has forced some of its Palestinian population into low-caliber refugee camps, refusing to integrate them into greater society and revoking their Jordanian citizenship in order to perpetuate the "Palestinian question."

However, before Wednesday's report, it seemed that Jordan has recently been making amends with Palestinians. For one, Jordan promised to stop revoking citizenship for Jordanian Palestinians. Amman also recently discussed energy cooperation, specifically linking its electric grid with that of the territories. King Abdullah met with a Hamas delegation last week, and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas headed to Jordan Wednesday evening for diplomatic talks. In addition, at an Arab League summit in Cairo on Sunday, Jordan reiterated its support for a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital. Jordan in recent times has also sent delegations to visit the al-Aqsa mosque.
Read more ..


Edge of Bio-Fuel

New Entitlements May bring $14 Billion Windfall for Corn Farmers

July 1st 2012

Grown from Biofuel

The earth has failed to warm at all for 15 years now, and American farmers are afraid of losing the “renewable fuel” mandate for corn ethanol—which has given them record crop prices and incomes since 2007. So, they’re proposing a new entitlement designed to ensure that they’ll never lose money again. Their proposed new federal farm bill would guarantee that farmers’ incomes don’t decline—and if future farm prices rise even more, the Feds’ guarantee would ratchet up too.

Thus, if the congress should decide the planet isn’t parboiling itself after all, the taxpayers would be on the hook for even more farm subsidy than today. Forget about that federal debt problem. Everyone else can pitch in to cut government spending, but farmers shouldn’t have to. Never mind that they’re now earning more than the average American, and have far more net worth. Bruce Babcock at Iowa State says the new program could give farmers $8 to $14 billion per year, compared to the $5 billion they’ve been getting in direct subsidy payments— on top of their ethanol subsidies. And if they lose the ethanol mandate, and crop prices fall, the government direct payments will get even bigger. Read more ..


Environmentalism on Edge

Rio+20 Wrap-Up: How Do Human Beings Figure into Biodiversity Concerns?

June 29th 2012

Earth Day (Hands Holding Planet)

The Rio+20 World Environmental Conference has come and gone. The “Plus 20” comes from the fact that it took place twenty years after the first such conference, held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 1992. Between these dates, I was a delegate at the 2002 world environment conference in Johannesburg, South Africa. Ever since 1992 I have watched the eco-evolution taking place.

There is a good side and a bad side. The good side is that general world environmental awareness has been enhanced. That is definitely good. But there is still so much to be done, especially in poor countries where many people are always on the edge of survival, people must eke out a living off the land, and many will do whatever it takes to earn a little cash, to just survive another day.

Here in South Africa we see the daily international poaching attacks on our elephants and rhinos. It’s disgraceful. For us in the south, on midwinter’s day in June (our winters are the opposite of those in the Northern Hemisphere), the total rhinos shot this year stands at 251, just to get their horns, which are still viewed as aphrodisiacs and medicine in many Asian countries. Last year’s total was 448, more than one a day – so it’s getting worse. Poachers are now using helicopters and machine guns, and often taking chainsaws to still living rhinos. Read more ..


The Obama Edge

Bipartisan Votes for Holder Contempt

June 29th 2012

Eric holder

The U.S. House of Representatives voted on Thursday to find Attorney General Eric Holder, the nation's top cop, in contempt of Congress for his and his department's withholding of documents regarding a gun-running sting dubbed Operation Fast and Furious.

While President Barack Obama continuously tells audiences he desires bipartisan cooperation with his Republican rivals, the House contempt vote against Holder was probably not what Obama the campaigner had in mind, said conservative political consultant William Fitzpatrick.

Although the talking points emanating from the White House and the Democrat Party blames the Republicans for playing politics in the Holder case, 17 Democratic congressmen voted for criminal charges to be brought against the Attorney General and 23 Democrats voted for civil charges.

The case involves an operation in which the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) allowed guns -- some of them military-grade weapons -- to be smuggled across the U.S.-Mexico border into the hands of Mexican drug cartel members, according to House and Senate investigators. The ATF agents claim they lost track of the weapons and the firearms were used to kill more than 150 Mexicans and at least one American law enforcement officer -- 40-year-old Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry -- before the operation was terminated by Holder's Justice Department subordinates, according to testimony given during the House Oversight Committee probe.

For more than a year, members of the House Oversight Committee, especially its chairman Rep. Darrell Issa, and the Senate Judiciary Committee's ranking Republican Sen. Charles Grassley, had verbally requested documents, written letters of request to the Attorney General, and have gone to the news media in their attempt to garner information on the gun-running operation and the identities of those responsible for the snafu. Read more ..


The Edge of Justice

For WikiLeaks' Julian Assange, Ecuador is an Odd Place to Hide

June 29th 2012

Julian Assange

On a personal level, I can understand why WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has chosen Ecuador for his asylum bid. If the request is granted, Assange is likely to be stuck in the country for years.

Ecuador is a great choice. The scenery is stunning, the food fantastic, and the people warm and welcoming. But is this enough to risk being seen as compromising the core WikiLeaks principle of press freedom?

I wonder if, before he walked through the doors of the embassy, Assange had done his homework on the kind of country he was walking into, so that he could understand the damaging effect that this asylum bid could eventually have on his credibility.

Over the last 20 years Ecuador has been marked by serious political instability. A succession of presidents of all political stripes have been ousted from office through a potent blend of popular protest, congressional conspiracy, and military manipulation. It is safe to say that when current President Rafael Correa took office in 2007, the political systems in his country were fundamentally dysfunctional and desperately in need of reform.

Correa has since undertaken a massive and much-needed program to reshape Ecuador’s political institutions, including a new constitution in 2008 that was approved by a two-thirds majority in a national vote. The end goal is laudable and needed: make the country more democratic and inclusive. Debate about Correa’s ideas and the direction he is taking the country has been vibrant. Not surprisingly, the harshest criticism has come from the right, which conveniently owns the major media outlets and actively controls their editorial direction. Unfortunately, the response from Correa to his opposition has been aggressive to the point where organisations such as Reporters Without Borders are raising serious questions about active government repression of the media. Read more ..


Healthcare on Edge

The Best of All Worlds: The SCOTUS Ruling on Obamacare and the Real Victory for its Opponents

June 28th 2012

stethoscope

By now there are many on the right of the aisle who are likely frustrated or angry at the United States Supreme Court’s ruling on the Affordable Care Act – the healthcare mandate.  Similarly, just about everyone on the left is elated at the decision today.  The President declared a huge victory today, and said it in his remarks, and those remarks will be repeated on his road show now throughout the campaign until November.  He did indeed win a PR victory for now and the immediate future, yet there is a possible long term detrimental effect on the so called victory.

President Obama did as expected and touted the decision as a boon for him and the country, and avoided the tax issue completely.  He ignored it, clearly sensing that the news of the law being upheld trumps the nasty matter of the imposition of a new tax on poorer Americans.  The highest court in the land said it was indeed a tax increase, and that will resonate soon with the public. Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

Use the Facts, Don't Stretch the Truth

June 28th 2012

Ballot Box

There is a cynical view of American voters that they don’t care about the truth — that they can be bamboozled into being persuaded by negative ads. “Negative ads work,” is the trite expression that gets an almost unanimous nod of the head, even among those who hate them.

Well, that might be true if candidates accept the conventional wisdom from their top strategists to ignore the ads (“don’t dignify them — stay on message,” was the advice reportedly given to Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry in 2004 about the “Swift Boat” ads.)

Since most candidates follow this advice, it’s hard to find examples to prove that it is the wrong counsel and that negative ads, when successfully challenged as false or misleading, can be made to backfire. But I have one very good one. In 2005, then-Virginia Lt. Gov. Timothy Kaine (now running for the U.S. Senate) was subjected to a series of attacks by his Republican opponent in their race for the Virginia governorship.

Beginning in early October, then-Virginia Attorney General Jerry Kilgore, consistently ahead in the polls, focused most of his TV ad spending on attacking Kaine for his opposition to the death penalty, which was favored by Virginia voters by more than 2-to-1. Kaine explained that his opposition was based on religious conviction, but that as governor he would follow the law and would exercise his clemency powers sparingly. Nevertheless, Kilgore deluged the TV airwaves with ads, stating that Kaine had said not even Adolf Hitler deserved the death penalty. But Kaine immediately published a full transcript of the interview from which the reference to Hitler was derived, and the transcript said just the opposite — that Hitler “deserve[d] the death penalty.” Then Kaine took to the airwaves with his own ads, making Kilgore’s lies the issue. Read more ..


Counting Refugees

How Many Refugees?

June 28th 2012

Palestinian Refugee Camp

Today the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (or PCBS) commemorated World Refugee Day by releasing new statistics on Palestinian refugees. Therein lies a tale. The PCBS reported that there are now 5.1 million Palestinian refugees. Here is what it said about their age:

The Palestinian Refugees are characterized as young population where 41.7 percent of them are under the age of 15 years for Palestinian refugees in Palestinian territory, 35.9 percent of Palestinian  refugees in Jordan in 2007, and 33.1 percent for Palestinian refugees in Syria in 2009, while 30.4 percent for Palestinian refugees in Lebanon in 2010.

This means, for example, that more than a third of Palestinian “refugees” in Jordan were born after 1997. That is either thirty years (if after the 1967 war) or almost fifty years (if they fled when Israel was established in 1948) after their parents or more likely grandparents arrived in Jordan. Those in Jordan have full Jordanian citizenship and vote in Jordan, which means this: a young Jordanian of Palestinian origin, whose family has lived in Jordan for thirty years and who has himself or herself always lived in Jordan, is still considered a “refugee.” Read more ..


Obama and Israel

The Incredible Shrinking U.S.-Israel Security Cooperation

June 27th 2012

Netanyahu and Obama
President Obama with Prime Minister Netanyahu

In light of increased sensitivity to intelligence leaks, it seemed innocuous – or even admirable – when the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) asked the Senate to remove a few words from the US-Israel Enhanced Security Cooperation Act: the "sense of the Senate" part of the bill included the sentence, "Expand already close intelligence cooperation, including satellite intelligence, with the Government of Israel;" ODNI wanted the words "including satellite intelligence" to go.

An ODNI spokesman said it was "simply a matter of clarifying the intelligence aspects of the bill and being sensitive to the level of specificity of the language…nothing nefarious here, just more clear language."

Yeah, right.

This is just the latest example of the Obama Administration making clear that it does not want to be seen as Israel's partner in regional affairs – several of them predicated on Turkish desires. Despite Israel's status as a Major Non-NATO ally, a NATO "partner" country, and a member of NATO's Mediterranean Dialogue, Turkey is increasingly insistent that Israel be isolated and cut out. This surrender to Turkey -- which Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has for years been aggressively making ever more fundamentalist -- coincides nicely with the Administration's increasingly open courtship of Turkey's Islamist-leaning and virulently anti-Israel Prime Minister and what appears to be the desire of the Administration to enhance security relations in the Arab-Muslim world as it dials back visible cooperation with Israel. Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

Immigration Thorn for Mitt

June 27th 2012

Ask Mitt

For a Romney presidential campaign hoping to limit damage with Latinos, these past two weeks have been less than kind.

First off was President Obama’s decision to stop deporting the so-called DREAMers — the children of undocumented immigrants who lacked a criminal record and either went to college or joined the military. A top issue in the Latino community, Gallup polling found that more than 80 percent of Hispanics supported the president’s decision. Yet a week later, Mitt Romney has been unwilling or unable to offer any coherent response beyond “I’ll fix the problem when elected!”

Those problems compounded Monday when the Supreme Court invalidated the bulk of Arizona’s detestable S.B. 1070, the law that (among other things) allowed law enforcement to demand papers from people merely suspected of being undocumented (i.e., being brown). On the Romney campaign plane, a spokesman refused a clear answer on the ruling when asked 22 separate times over seven minutes. Read more ..


Philippines on Edge

The Killing Grounds of Coal-Mining in the Philippines

June 27th 2012

filipino coal miner

Death came swiftly suddenly but not it was not unexpected. One day in October 2011the motor bike pulled into the open entrance in front of the church rectory of Italian missionary, environmentalist and human rights defender Father Fausto Tentorio. When he came out of the rectory the killer pulled out his gun and shot the priest dead and drove away. Another shocking murder of a man who gave his life defending the ancestral lands of the indigenous people wanted by the mining company. Crime solved, the trigger was most likely pulled by a unknown mining tycoon.

Hundreds of environmentalists defending the rights of the people to their ancestral homelands forests and agricultural lands that are being stolen by the rich and the powerful, have been killed according to Global Witness, a non-government agency. In the Philippines, as many as fifty Filipino environmental defenders have been killed in recent years allegedly by the money moguls behind the logging, mining and power plant industries.

The UN environmental summit in Rio De Janeiro in Brazil has been declared a failure fizzling out like a damp squib with an insignificant document that failed to reach a clear binding agreement to curb global warming and end fossil fuel for energy production. It has achieved practically nothing to curb CO2 gasses and other harmful human activity that is causing global warming.

It was supposed to get national leaders to agree to a sustainable green energy agenda for the future. The super rich industrialists and multinational oil and fossil fuel corporations have played a sinister role behind the scenes to stymie any progress towards a cleaner safer and happier world. Most come from a financial culture where "Greed is Good" and the only green they want to see is on a thousand dollar bill. Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

Some Dems Turning on Obama

June 26th 2012

Juan Williams 02

Last week the three most powerful Democrats in the state of West Virginia — Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, Senator Joe Manchin and Rep. Nick Rahall – made a public display of turning their backs on President Obama by announcing plans to skip the Democratic National Convention.

The president lost West Virginia in 2008 and his polling there remains weak. So local Democrats have decided they have no problem embarrassing the man whose name will be on the top of their ticket in November.

The same political distancing act is on display in Pennsylvania’s 12th congressional district. Conservative Democrat Mark Critz also says he has better things to do than go to the convention. Rep. Critz said he will be working in his district instead of  “focusing on the agendas of the political parties.” In the harsh, polarized world of Washington politics, Republicans take delight in opposing every legislative proposal from President Obama. But when the history of Obama’s first term is written, conservative Democrats will also be remembered for regularly throwing wrenches into any plans coming from this president.

The conservative Democrats — mostly elected from swing states in the anti-President George W. Bush wave elections of 2006 and 2008 — gave the president headaches even when Democrats controlled the House and Senate.

The best example was the fight over healthcare reform. Republicans did not give the president a single vote despite a plan that followed previous GOP proposals — most notably Mitt Romney’s Massachusetts law — and excludes a public option for insurance. That left the president in need of every Democrat’s vote. Note that liberal Democrats who wanted a public option did not abandon the president. But those conservative Democrats squeezed the Obama Team for concessions and amendments that allowed Republican critics to disparage the negotiations as “Chicago-style” bribery used to win support for a bad proposal. Read more ..


Education on Edge

Republicans Missing Chances on Education Reform

June 25th 2012

school kids

Education is one area where blacks realize they need freedom from government control. The chronic failure of public schools to notably improve dismal test scores and high dropout rates of black children has made it clear to many black citizens of good will that there has got to be a better way. Polls show black support for school choice. For example, in a poll done last year in New Jersey by The Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling at Rutgers University, 54 percent of blacks expressed support for school vouchers compared to 36 percent of whites.

Growing grass-roots support among blacks for education alternatives surely influenced the Obama administration's agreement, this past week, to keep the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program. The administration opposes the program and would have been perfectly happy to see its funding spigot turned off.

This is a modest program, with federal funds available now for 1,615 scholarships for kids in D.C.'s public schools to attend private schools. Its existence and potential for growth was at stake, with House Speaker John Boehner and Sen. Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn., carrying the ball for it. The new agreement will allow it to continue, with a small provision for 85 new scholarships. Read more ..


Israel on Edge

Egypt's Lesson: Incitement is Not a Secondary Issue

June 25th 2012

PLO Flags

On May 31, Israel delivered 91 bodies to the Palestinian Authority. The PA gave them full military funerals, complete with coffins draped in Palestinian flags and a 21-gun salute. While PA President Mahmoud Abbas didn't speak, he laid wreaths on the coffins and presided over the ceremony. The secretary-general of his office, Tayeb Abd Al-Rahim, and the PA's state-appointed mufti, Muhammad Hussein, both gave eulogies, in which they declared that the souls of the dead were urging other Palestinians to "follow in their path."

It could have been any state ceremony for fallen heroes anywhere—except that many of the "heroes" whose path Palestinians were being urged to follow were vicious terrorists who collectively killed more than 100 Israeli civilians. But this blatant state-sponsored incitement elicited no protests from either Israel, the U.S., or the European Union. Read more ..


Broken Government

Judicial Review

June 25th 2012

Obama and Flag

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

Two Economic Priorities for Post-Election Egypt: Macro-stabilization and Corruption Control

June 25th 2012

Egyptian Muslim bros

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

A Muslim Brotherhood President Doesn't Prove that We are All 'Chimps'

June 25th 2012

Egyptian bannerman

“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

How the Next President Should Re-Orient U.S. Policy in the Middle East

June 22nd 2012

Barack Obama

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

The Role of Racism and Conservative Media in Small-Town America

June 22nd 2012

West Virginia demo

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

Asian Money Launderers Sent Region-wide Warning

June 21st 2012

money laundering

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 ..


Broken Government

GOP Must Give In on Taxes, Democrats on Spending to Address the Debt

June 21st 2012

Lobbyist

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 ..


Broken Government

Obama's Lack of Forward Vision Revealed in Obamacare

June 21st 2012

stethoscope

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

Romney Remains in the Far Right Corner on Immigration

June 20th 2012

Mitt Romney

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 ..


Broken Elections

Dictatorship of Dollars

June 20th 2012

Koch Think Tanks

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

The Federal Green Jobs Agenda

June 19th 2012

Green Jobs

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

The Futility of Elections in Broken Europe

June 19th 2012

Europe and Korean Peninsula

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 ..


Broken Government

Field of Schemes: The Costs of Shallow-Loss Farming Programs

June 18th 2012

wheat fields

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

Defeat of Healthcare Law Would Erode Voters’ Trust in Supreme Court

June 18th 2012

Face Transplant Surgery

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

International Pressure on Suriname Needed to See Justice Done

June 18th 2012

Desi Bouterse of Suriname
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

Variations on the Theme of The Arab War Against Israel

June 17th 2012

6 day war

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

Austere Growth?

June 16th 2012

French Presiident Francois Hollande

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

J Street Undercuts Obama Policy on Iran

June 15th 2012

obama-dershowitz

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 ..



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