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The Battle for Syria

Obama Can No Longer Hide Behind the U.N.’s Failed Efforts in Syria

May 30th 2012

Bombing Hits Syria March 18 2012

The United States joined many Western nations in expelling Syrian diplomats yesterday in a coordinated reprimand of the Syrian government, which has stepped up its bloody repression of its own people. Britain, Canada, France, Italy, Germany, the Netherlands, Spain, Switzerland, and Australia also joined a growing list of countries that have expelled Syrian diplomats.

The expulsions came after the U.N. Security Council on Sunday condemned the massacre of at least 108 Syrians, including 49 children and 34 women in Houla, a bastion of support for the Syrian opposition.

Former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan met with Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad yesterday and expressed “grave concern” about the escalating violence. Annan desperately is seeking to salvage his own increasingly irrelevant “peace plan” that Assad ostensibly agreed to six weeks ago, but still has failed to implement. The Annan plan’s illusory cease-fire unfortunately gave the Assad regime cover to continue its campaign of intimidation. Read more ..


Cuba on Edge

Cuban Dictator’s Daughter Predictably Bashes U.S., Endorses Obama

May 30th 2012

Cuba's Ladies in White

Mariela Castro Espin, daughter of Cuban dictator Raul Castro and director of the Cuban National Center for Sex Education (CENESEX), used a visit to the U.S. to criticize American policy and endorse President Obama. Last week, Castro received a U.S. visa for the first time in 10 years to attend the Latin American Studies Association Conference in San Francisco.

This at a time when Cubans who speak up against the misery, hopelessness, and repression on the island are repeatedly jailed, harassed or, like dissident blogger Yoani Sanchez, denied authorization to travel. Castro called those who support preserving the Cuban embargo until there is real democracy on the island “a Cuban mafia” and a “small group of delinquents” with ‘no scruples.” Castro defended the rights of all Americans to travel to Cuba but said nothing about the onerous controls and denial of exit visas routinely practiced by the Cuban regime. Castro has also been an active spokesperson for the Cuban regime in challenging the legality of the conviction and imprisonment of five Cuban intelligence operatives in Florida in the late 1990s. Read more ..


Turkey and Israel

Turkey Goes Insane over Flotilla

May 29th 2012

Gaza flotilla ship

Official Israeli reaction to Turkey's vicious insult has been notably defiant. Former IDF chief of staff Gabi Ashkenazi dismissed the indictment with utter contempt. "From the moment the affair broke out, I chose to stand up in every forum, often alone, to defend the IDF soldiers who performed their duty on the field for the Israeli nation," the former chief of staff noted. "If the price for standing my ground is that I can't visit Turkey – I'll pay that price too." Ashkenazi stated that he hopes "common sense" would prevail.

A foreign ministry official who spoke anonymously to Haaretz laid the blame squarely on Turkey's Islamist president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who he said is "systematically killing relations between the two states." The official further stated that the indictment constitutes a "tailspin" in Turkish-Israeli relations. It is a sad thing to watch an entire society collapse into madness and, as a result of wanton hatred and racism, disconnect itself completely from reality. Read more ..


The Problem of Coal

Coal Ash Bill Should Protect the Environment

May 29th 2012

Today our nation faces an economic climate in which our national debt is headed toward a record $17 trillion dollars. If we continue on this path, America will meet the fate countries like Greece, Italy and Portugal are now facing. Let’s put this into terms to which we all can relate:  $17 trillion is a debt that exceeds all the worth of our country’s production. If our government’s spending were like that of a family, the collection calls and overdue bills would have long ago caused families to cut spending. The country’s financial woes are severe and we don’t need to make it worse.

Consequently, the last thing we need is to add hundreds of thousands of workers to the unemployment lines and an increase in road, bridge and infrastructure costs. That’s what is being predicted to happen if coal ash is designated as a hazardous material by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Since 2009, the EPA and Obama Administration have been preparing a regulation to treat coal ash as a hazardous material. Such a move would increase the costs of building roads and bridges by $110 billion dollars, according to the American Road and Transportation Builders’ Association and, as stated in the Veritas Economic Report, the decision would cost the American economy 316,000 jobs. Read more ..


Russia on Edge

Putin's Icarus Moment

May 29th 2012

Putin

Let's take a brief trip into an parallel universe. At the September 24 United Russia congress, Dmitry Medvedev announces -- with Vladimir Putin's blessing -- that he will seek a second term as president. Putin, for his part, announces that he will step down as prime minister after the 2011-12 election cycle, but cryptically adds that he will remain in politics in some yet-to-be-determined capacity.

Just over a month later, in the December 4 State Duma elections, United Russia hangs on to its majority by a thread, but the big story of the day is that the newly configured Right Cause party, under the leadership of billionaire oligarch Mikhail Prokhorov, comes in a very strong third, just behind the Communists. The new Duma would have five parties, United Russia in the center, Right Cause on the center-right, A Just Russia on the center-left, and the Communists and Vladimir Zhirinovsky's LDPR on the flanks. Prokhorov, who enjoyed strong support from the growing urban professional class, is immediately touted as the leading candidate for premier. Read more ..


The Race for Evs

Huge Subsidies Give American Taxpayers High-Voltage Shocks

May 28th 2012

Chevy Volt w/Cord

It's tempting to call the shameful taxpayer subsidy for electric cars - vehicles that are unaffordable for all but a small number of wealthy Americans - this nation's costly little secret. But it's no secret, and that's the real shame. It's obvious now that electric vehicles can't compete with gasoline-powered cars, even with generous government subsidies.

And for years automotive engineers have documented that the performance of electric vehicles - particularly their short range and battery uncertainty under real traffic conditions - falls short in virtually every aspect. What's truly shameful is that such disparities have done nothing to change policy. Subsidizing electric vehicles has been a devil's bargain, making the development of other alternative technologies like conventional hybrids and advanced gasoline engines more difficult. Since 2008, taxpayers have spent or provided loan guarantees of $6.5 billion for electric vehicles. That includes $2.4 billion for battery and electric drive component manufacturing, $3.1 billion in loan guarantees for electric vehicle projects, and $1 billion in tax credits for the vehicles. Read more ..


America's Leading Edge

Memorial Day Means Remembering that Freedom Isn't Free

May 28th 2012

statue of liberty

American Exceptionalism began when 56 brave patriots signed the Declaration of Independence, and has continued with the many thousands of Americans who paid the ultimate price to preserve the freedoms that make ours the greatest nation in the world. On Memorial Day, we remember and honor those who have made the ultimate sacrifice while serving our nation. In recent years, Americans have developed a renewed sense of appreciation for members of our Armed Forces. Spontaneous displays of affection and heartfelt thanks are witnessed at airports and around the country that are indicative of a renewed spirit of gratitude and respect toward our troops. This holiday is the time for us to reconnect with our country's history and our national values by honoring those who selflessly gave their lives for those cherished ideals.

To the generations of American warriors who drew their last breaths at Khe Sanh, the Chosin Reservoir, Normandy, and on hundreds of other battlefields, we have added the patriots of this century's battles in Iraq, Afghanistan, The Philippines and other terrorist-infested regions. Our Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen have died to prevent tyranny from spreading to America's shores. No one should ever forget that right now brave Americans are far from home serving our country, sacrificing and in some cases dying to preserve our freedoms and way of life. Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

JPMorgan Mess: Why Mitt Romney’s Wrong on Dodd-Frank

May 27th 2012

Economic Collapse

When financial giant JPMorgan Chase recently revealed that it had lost far more than $2 billion in a credit derivatives trade gone wrong, the news sent a clear message: Opponents of financial reform are wrong. Without the Dodd-Frank Act and the global reforms being led by the United States, the financial sector would go back to its old ways, eventually putting taxpayers and the economy at grave risk of harm.

Yet for the presumed GOP nominee Mitt Romney, the news sent a very different message. He repeated his call to repeal Dodd-Frank, though it made the system stronger, and though JPMorgan’s revelations demonstrated the need for robust rules.

Romney and many Republican lawmakers seem intent on going back to the financial casino that led to the worst economic crisis in 80 years. The financial industry has spent far more than $100 million trying to roll back Wall Street reform. Romney, meanwhile, has been clear about what he wanted to get rid of — a comprehensive financial reform package that passed Congress and was signed by the president. Yet he makes only the vaguest of promises about what he might do instead.

Romney’s reaction is the equivalent of putting out a small fire in your house, then deciding that the lesson is you need to stuff your house with matches, throw out your fire extinguisher and cancel your fire insurance. And doing all this after the house nearly burned to the ground less than four years ago. Read more ..


Latin America on Edge

Latin Left Remains a Work in Progress south of the Border

May 27th 2012

Latin American Leaders

When Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner recently expropriated the Spanish oil company YPF, condemnation quickly blared out from the usual quarters. In a subsequent piece for the Washington Post, Juan Forero declared that the Latin American “radical left” is at a “crossroads,” and rounded up a posse of commentators to articulate some fairly predictable claims. Arturo Porzecanski, an Uruguayan economist at American University, asserted that “Populism is running out of gas in Latin America.” Michael Shifter of the Inter-American Dialogue characterized policies in Argentina, Venezuela, and Ecuador as attempts to scrape the bottom of the populist/leftist policy barrel, and as signs that such movements are “in disarray.” Rather than standing at a simple crossroads, however, the Latin American Left most recently finds itself deep within a labyrinth of winding policy paths, and has set out to explore many of them simultaneously.

In the early 1990s, the lords of policy dwelling in the capitals of the Western Hemisphere declared a “consensus” about how to correct what Teddy Roosevelt might have called “chronic wrong-doing” in Latin America. These grandiose sins included populist and leftist politics, government interference in the sacred marketplace, and the economic nationalism of import substitution industrialization, among others.

Such policies, it was argued, resulted in political and social instability, inflation, and reactionary military regimes. This new general understanding, known as the “Washington Consensus,” championed neoliberal market “reforms” (a euphemism for privatization), and repeatedly insisted on the superiority of free trade policies. The neoliberal champions of the market also defended a bloodless and “institutionalized” version of democracy to provide “good governance.” The discussion was supposed to be over forever, amen. Read more ..


Campus Hate

Schools have Nothing to Fear from Title VI Protections for Students

May 27th 2012

Westboro hater

There has been a huge clamor over the use of Title VI. Let’s clear the air and explain what it really means to educational institutions. The 1964 Civil Rights Act was landmark legislation that prohibited major forms of discrimination: Race, color, religion or national origin. Its Title VI provision bars violations based on race, color, or national origin (religion is excluded), and programs that receive federal funding (such as schools) can lose funding for violations. Both K-12 schools and colleges and universities depend on federal funds.

The Federal Commission on Civil Rights said that campus anti-Semitism is a “serious problem” and the U.S. Office of Civil Rights (OCR) should protect college students from anti-Semitic and other discriminatory harassment by vigorously enforcing Title VI.” Yet, ominously in 2007, OCR said that it would not respond to a complaint filed by Jewish students at the University of California, Irvine, alleging severe, pervasive and persistent anti-Semitic harassment, intimidation and discrimination, because it “lacked jurisdiction” - because Title VI excluded religion as a protected class.

In 2010, persistent Jewish activism resulted, after a six-year campaign, with the U.S. Department of Education announcing that Title VI will be interpreted and enforced so that Jewish students will be protected from anti-Semitic discrimination under Title VI. The Zionist Organization of America should be applauded for leading this important fight. Read more ..


Counting Palestinians

Palestinians Counting on Refugees Forever

May 26th 2012

Palstinian refugee camp

Palestinian identity is founded in on three parts. One is that resistance to Israel is permanent and holy. Another is that Palestinians are, individually and communally, refugees, made so at the hands of Israel. The third part is that the world, specifically the United Nations and Western countries, must support these refugees until they can return to a future Palestine and to homes in what is now Israel.

Since 1950 the vehicle for Palestinian refugees to be supported has been the U.N. Relief and Works Agency. Costing almost $1 billion per year, with funding provided by the U.S. and European states, UNRWA is an open-ended, educational, social welfare system for millions of Palestinians, primarily in the West Bank, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan. But in what sense are any of these individuals refugees?

Publicly, UNRWA defines a Palestinian refugee as anyone whose "normal place of residence was Palestine during the period 1 June 1946 to 15 May 1948 and who lost both home and means of livelihood as a result of the 1948 conflict." Read more ..


Israel on Edge

The Anniversary of the Six-Day War and an Explosion of Jewish Pride

May 26th 2012

Wailing Wall victory

The anniversary of Israel’s Six Day War not only commemorates an unlikely military victory, resulting in the Jewish liberation of Jerusalem, Hebron and other ancient Jewish cities, but also one of the last modern day catalysts of near universal Jewish self-regard.

Just recently I heard a Siberian Jew reminisce about just how proud he felt, “our heads were held high,” he said. Words that are routinely used to describe this period include; euphoric, hope and confidence. “The Jewish explosion of pride came in the wake of the Six Day War of 1967,” wrote Patrick Ercolano in a Baltimore Sun column.

These sentiments do not appear to have been confined geographically, nor even politically, for the most part. They were not limited to Zionists, and impacted all Jews of many stripes and orientations. This unified high was a product of a victory, a hard fought vanquishing of sworn enemies, beaten into retreat and respectful submission; an absolute triumph over a mortal threat.

Forty-five years later, some feel that 1967 was a plateau in terms of global positive appreciation for the Jewish state and its position in the world. In a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed, Israel’s Ambassador to the United States Michael Oren bemoans, “Why has Israel’s image deteriorated?” and “why have anti-Israel libels once consigned to hate groups become media mainstays? How can we explain the assertion that an insidious “Israel Lobby” purchases votes in Congress, or that Israel oppresses Christians?” Read more ..


The Obama Edge

Mayor Cory Booker's Defense of Bain Capital Comes as No Surprise

May 26th 2012

Cory Booker
Newark Mayor Cory Booker

Winston Churchill captured what this presidential election is about when he observed, "The inherent vice of capitalism is the unequal sharing of blessings; the inherent virtue of socialism is the equal sharing of miseries."

It's why the young black Democratic mayor of Newark, N.J., Cory Booker, got high-level repudiation from the Barack Obama campaign, including from the president himself, when he insolently suggested that Bain Capital, the investment firm once headed by GOP nominee-apparent Mitt Romney, might actually do positive things.

Booker, an Obama campaign surrogate, went off script on NBC's "Meet the Press" Sunday when he refused to justify a campaign attack ad depicting the evils of Bain. "I'm not about to sit here and indict private equity," he said. "To me, it's just we're getting to a ridiculous point in America, especially that I know I live in a state where pension funds, unions and other people are investing in companies like Bain Capital. If you look at the totality of Bain Capital's record, they've done a lot to support businesses, to grow businesses."

After campaign heavy-hitters criticized him, Booker qualified his remarks. But his "MTP" comments were unmitigated heresy driving to the core of the Obama campaign message. The narrative, telescoping the theme of four years of this presidency, says that the American economy collapsed because of unbridled capitalism. To recover, the narrative continues, we must allow all-knowing, all-powerful, but compassionate political leadership in Washington to rearrange the American economy and make sure businesses never steamroll Americans again. Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

The Campaign From Hell

May 26th 2012

Grover Norquist Photo Credit: Bbsrock

Now here comes Grover Norquist, who compares the senior senator from New York to members of the political party of Heinrich Himmler and Adolf Eichmann.

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) believes that when the land of the free and the home of the brave gives an American the gift of being able to use his talents to become an extraordinarily wealthy man, it is wrong for that person to renounce his American citizenship to avoid paying his fair share of taxes. I cannot think of a proposal more worthy than the bill proposed by Sens. Schumer and Bob Casey Jr. (D-Pa.) to redress this wrong. I believe the overwhelming majority of patriotic Americans would strongly agree with Schumer. Grover Norquist has every right to disagree and rise in defense of tax evaders who renounce their Americanism to avoid their taxes. He even has the right to compare Schumer to the party of Himmler and Eichmann. But I would propose that this is Exhibit A of what I call the campaign from hell, an intolerance and vindictiveness unworthy of our nation, in which one party is exponentially more guilty than the other. I cannot recall a time in American history when so many members of one party questioned the American citizenship or Christian faith of a president, and when so many leaders of that party were incapable of saying in clear and decisive terms that such attacks have no place in American politics. Read more ..


The Arab Winter in Egypt

Presidential Elections Will Not End Egyptian Instability

May 24th 2012

Voting Woman

Despite the relative openness and unpredictability of Egypt's first post-Mubarak presidential election, the outcome will likely solidify two worrisome trends. First, radical ideologies will increasingly dominate Egyptian politics, steering the country in a theocratic, anti-Western direction. Second, Egypt may become more politically unstable, with the new president struggling against other power centers, including the military and the Islamist-dominated parliament.

The election is shaping up to be a competition between former Mubarak regime members and Islamists. Of the thirteen candidates, four are considered true contenders: former Arab League secretary-general Amr Mousa, who served as Hosni Mubarak's foreign minister from 1991 to 2001; former air force commander Ahmed Shafiq, who served as Mubarak's last prime minister; Muhammad Morsi, who chairs the Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated Freedom and Justice Party; and former Brotherhood Guidance Office member Abdel Monem Abouel Fetouh, who was ousted from the group last year when he announced his candidacy against the organization's wishes. (A fifth candidate, former Nasserist parliamentarian Hamdin Sabahi, finished second in the expatriate voting that concluded last week, but he is considered a long shot.) Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

After 'Citizens United,' Is Constitutional Amendment Needed?

May 24th 2012

US Capital Day

Since the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark Citizens United ruling in 2010, many Democratic lawmakers and advocacy groups have proposed constitutional amendments to overturn the controversial decision — or attempt to curb its impact. But not everyone who disagrees with the decision thinks that’s the right approach to reducing corporate influence in politics. Opponents of the decision — which held that unlimited expenditures by corporations to independently advocate for or against federal candidates did not pose a threat of corrupting politicians — gathered at a forum Tuesday in Washington, D.C.

There, the case was decried as a “product of judicial activism” by Kent Greenfield, a law professor at Boston College Law School. And Jamie Raskin, a Democratic state senator in Maryland who is also a law professor at American University’s Washington College of Law, said the ruling has helped move the nation toward a government “by, of and for the corporations.” But while both Greenfield and Raskin railed against the threats they see from the influence of corporate money in elections, the men were in opposite corners about whether a constitutional amendment was the best way to fight it. Read more ..


Oil Addiction

Al Gore and Jimmy Carter Were (and Are) Right

May 23rd 2012

Click to select Image

First things first. In a column I wrote a few months ago I advocated that the United States and others initiate a joint action to release oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, among other things. Since then I have advocated this behind the scenes, advocate this again today, and believe there is a fair chance it happens. This would support a lower price for oil, help stimulate the American economy, help stimulate the European economy and increase the prospects for a diplomatic solution with Iran.

Beyond this, I believe events have proven both Al Gore and Jimmy Carter correct. Gore is right that we need new sources of energy and an all-out campaign to reduce the dangers of climate change. Carter is right that we must reduce our dependence on oil with the passion, focus and commitment of what Carter called the moral equivalent of war, which also lessens the danger of real wars. Read more ..


Iran's Nukes

Too Early to Expect a Breakthrough on Iran

May 23rd 2012

Iran centrifuges

Another round of talks will take place between the United States, its negotiating partners in the P5+1 mechanism and Iran on May 23. While the venue of Baghdad is interesting -- and useful for an Iraqi government that would like to showcase its return to normalcy -- this round of talks will not be decisive. Nor should anyone expect that after two rounds of talks, Washington will suddenly be able to overcome its differences with Iran regarding nuclear ambitions.

This is not to say that Washington can afford to approach the talks with Iran without a sense of urgency. Iran continues to enrich uranium and has probably already accumulated four or five bombs' worth of material, and the United States has no interest in allowing this to continue under the guise of ongoing talks. Nor, of course, do the Israelis have such an interest. On the contrary, they fear Iran could drag out such talks to the point where, because of the depth, breadth, and redundancy of the Iranian nuclear infrastructure, Israel could lose its military option for setting back the Iranian nuclear program. Furthermore, no Israeli leadership is likely to accept the reality that it has surrendered its military ability to deal with an existential threat. Read more ..

The Obama Edge

The Danger of Article 82 and Obama’s Latest Treaty

May 22nd 2012

Stormy Seas

Back in 1982, President Ronald Reagan decided not to sign a treaty known as “Law of the Sea” (LOST), a United Nations convention that would raid America’s treasury for billions of dollars, then redistribute that wealth to the rest of the world by an international bureaucracy headquartered in Kingston, Jamaica. But today, the Obama Administration has revived that treaty, and tomorrow Senator John Kerry (D-MA) will hold hearings designed to illustrate its supposed benefits and generate support for its ratification. Without a doubt, Reagan’s decision should stand, and LOST should remain relegated to the trash bin of history.

The rationale for LOST is that it supposedly brings order to the world’s oceans, defines the rights and responsibilities of nations as they navigate and conduct business across the seas, protects the marine environment, and allows for the development of natural resources of the deep seabed. On the surface, these all sound like worthwhile goals. The thing is, the United States doesn’t need to join another United Nations treaty to make it happen.

For more than 200 years before LOST was adopted in 1982 and for 30 years since then, the U.S. Navy has successfully protected America’s maritime interests regardless of the fact that the United States has not signed on to the treaty. The United States’ navigational rights and freedoms have been secure, and they are best guaranteed by a strong Navy. Read more ..


Iran's Nukes

Nadarkhani and the Iranian Masters of Deception

May 21st 2012

Iran centrifuges

It’s been quite the month for the Iranian regime. Following a mid-April round of talks over its nuclear program with the European Union’s Foreign Policy chief, Catherine Ashton, the mullahs were basking in newly found credibility. The talks were “constructive and useful,” Ashton said, adding that any agreement would respect “Iran’s right to the peaceful use of nuclear energy.”

Nobody doubts that the Iranians are shrewd negotiators. The diplomatic twists of the last few years prove that the regime has genuine expertise when it comes to using procedural wrangling as a delaying tactic. Leading up to the latest nuclear talks on May 23 in Baghdad, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said it best: “It looks as though [the Iranians] see the talks as another opportunity to delay and deceive. Iran is very good in playing this kind of chess game.”

Away from the glare of the Baghdad parley, there is a different story percolating, one that hasn’t received anywhere near the kind of attention given to the nuclear talks, but which offers another telling illustration of how Iran’s leaders have become masters of deception.  Read more ..


The Defense Edge

The Price of Liberty Means Providing for the Common Defense

May 21st 2012

Washington Colonel

Throughout history, as in many other parts of the world today, political rule was the privilege of the strongest or the most powerful. Property was the possession of kings, barons, and lords. Each was born to his or her destiny, and almost all were subject to someone else.

America is different because it is uniquely dedicated to the universal principles of human liberty: that all are fundamentally equal and equally endowed with unalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Our government exists to secure these God-given rights, deriving its just powers from the consent of the governed. Our Constitution limits the power of government under the rule of law, creating a vigorous framework for expanding economic opportunity, protecting national independence, and securing liberty and justice for all.

In his Farewell Address, George Washington wrote that early United States foreign policy was designed “to gain time for our country to settle and mature its recent institutions, and to progress, without interruption, to that degree of strength and consistency, which is necessary to give it, humanly speaking, command of its own fortunes.” But then, as well as now, we could not command our fortunes in the world, protect national independence, and secure liberty without first providing for the nation’s security. Read more ..


Cuba on Edge

Time for a Freedom and Solidarity Agenda for Cuba

May 20th 2012

Castro Looking Distinguished

May 20 marks 110 years of Cuba’s independence from Spanish rule and America’s temporary occupation of the island. It also marks more than 53 years since Cuban revolutionaries—led by Fidel Castro (1927– ) and his brother Raul (1930– )—toppled the Batista regime and installed a one-party, Communist dictatorship on the island. The revolutionary generation of the Castro brothers is on the verge of extinction. A difficult period of succession or transition looms. Failure to stand with the advocates of genuine economic and political change in Cuba and to press for a policy of true transition and genuine democracy could condemn yet another generation of Cubans to lives without freedom, opportunity, or hope.   

The object of the Cuban regime under Raul Castro is to engineer a succession capable of carrying Cuba’s revolutionary model forward into the post-Castro era. The succession model will reserve political power and central control of the economy for the dictatorship and its supporters while reducing the scope of the state’s role in the economy. The regime calculates that it will be able to survive future economic tests by allowing a closely regulated private sector comprised of small-scale farmers, service providers, and the self-employed. There are currently 181 carefully prescribed categories, none of which involves larger enterprises, information technology, or professional services. Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

Why Republicans Aren’t the Only Ones to Blame For Polarization

May 20th 2012

Clenched Fists

The working assumption of many political commentators in Washington is that politics is more polarized than it has been in decades and that it’s the Republican Party’s rightward drift that’s to blame. The evidence bears this out—in part. But it also suggests a more complex story.

First, the electorate has polarized. Over the past two decades, the public’s ideological self-description has changed significantly. In 1992, when Bill Clinton campaigned for president as a reform-minded New Democrat, fully 43 percent of adults thought of themselves as moderate, compared to 36 percent conservative and 17 percent liberal. As the 2012 election got underway, the picture looked quite different. Moderates had declined by 8 points, to 35 percent, while conservatives and liberals had each gained 4 points, to 40 and 21 percent respectively.

As Alan Abramowitz has recently shown, a similar shift occurred among voters in presidential elections. In 1972, fully 71 percent placed themselves at or near the ideological midpoint, compared to 29 percent at or near the extremes. By 2008, the share of the electorate at or near the mid-point had fallen by 17 points—to 54 percent—while the share at the extremes rose to 46 percent. Read more ..


The Edge on Terrorism

Saving Somalia: The Next Steps for the Obama Administration

May 20th 2012

Click to select Image

In the past twenty years, the African continent has made progress toward democratic governance. Civilians now govern many countries once under military rule; political parties have emerged in what were previously single-party states; observance of civil liberties and political rights has strengthened; and inter-state conflict has diminished. However, some African countries have bucked this trend and either maintained an undemocratic status quo or plunged into chaos. Somalia, more so than any other African state, continues to be synonymous with intractable anarchy—a well-earned distinction, given that, for two decades, Somalia has lacked a functioning central government while serving as a haven for terrorism and piracy.

Since the infamous Battle for Mogadishu in 1993, the United States has constrained its engagement in the Horn of Africa. While Somalia’s challenges impact the United States, it is not considered a U.S. foreign policy priority—an unfortunate relegation that has undermined national security. With the United States and its allies under constant threat from terrorists, Somalia poses an international security risk not only to U.S. interests in the region, but also to the broader international community. Piracy, another condition of Somalia’s failed state status, imperils the flow of commerce and costs the shipping industry and consumers billions of dollars per year. Furthermore, the ongoing anarchy has prevented the Somali people from receiving the most basic services. Read more ..


The Economic Edge

Preventing Taxmageddon Is Congress’s Summer Job

May 19th 2012

Tax Protest

Conventional wisdom says that Congress and the President will get nothing done in 2012 until after the elections. Conventional wisdom appears to be at least mostly correct, but in one respect Congress should not fall prey to conventional wisdom: preventing Taxmageddon. Too much is at stake for families, jobs, and restoring limited government: Congress should heed the advice of House Speaker John Boehner (R–OH) and Senator Jon Kyl (R–AZ) to act before the November election—and preferably this summer—to prevent Taxmageddon, the nearly $500 billion tax hike bearing down on America’s families and businesses.

One of Washington’s most apt expressions is the “lame duck Congress.” This is a failed or feckless Congress that must finish its work for the year after an election. Having squandered the 10 preceding months, and with almost two years to go before another, Congress then finally takes on the tough jobs it should have completed earlier. In a lame duck, Members who have retired, Members who have been defeated, and others who have moved on to other offices must finally complete the nation’s business in an environment of holiday- and transition-laden chaos. Conventional wisdom says that Congress will wait until the lame duck to finish its work on spending bills, short-circuiting a sequester that would devastate national security spending, likely yet another debt ceiling vote, and preventing Taxmageddon.
Read more ..


The Defense Edge

U.S. Doing Special Ops Exercise with Egypt and Pakistan

May 18th 2012

American-Pakistan-Egypt

NATO's snub of Israel -- a "major non-NATO ally" and member of NATO's Mediterranean Dialogue -- in its Chicago summit this weekend was simply waved away.  "Israel is neither a participant in ISAF nor in KFOR (Afghanistan and Kosovo missions)," said NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen.  Israel didn't belong there, and that's that.  In the same press conference, however, Rasmussen acknowledged that thirteen other "partner" nations would attend because "[i]n today's world security challenges know no borders, and no country or alliance can deal with most of them on their own." Perhaps he, or someone, believes that Israel has nothing to contribute to meeting "today's security challenges."

Pundits quickly assumed that Turkey -- a full NATO member -- had vetoed Israel's participation, as it vetoed IDF participation in NATO exercises in the Mediterranean.  Rasmussen denied it--and maybe he's right, because that's not the only place where Israel is having trouble with its presumed military partners.

The Obama administration claims a special relationship with Israel.  The State Department says the "security relationship with Israel is broader, deeper, and more intense than ever before."  Assistant Secretary of Sate Andrew Shapiro told a Washington audience, "One of my primary responsibilities is to preserve Israel's Qualitative Military Edge [QME][.]"  QME is generally defined as Israel's ability to defeat any likely constellation of conventionally armed adversaries. Read more ..


Broken Banking

A Catholic's Vision of True Banking Reform

May 18th 2012

Loan applcation denied

Last Thursday, JP Morgan Chase's CEO Jamie Dimon announced that the company lost $2 billion in a risky trading scheme that had been implemented over the past few months. Mr. Dimon has long opposed increasingly strict government regulations of banking practices but, to his likely dismay, this latest blunder has reignited the debate on how strict government regulation should be.

Mr. Dimon, in an attempt to send a clear message about the company's ability to address the issue internally, has taken decisive action. He forced the early retirement of Ina Drew—the executive who oversaw the faulty trading strategy--and appointed industry expert Mike Cavanagh to ensure that the organization’s risk is handled appropriately.

For Wall Street critics, however, the move was not sufficient. White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said this incident showed why it is necessary “to fully implement Wall Street reform.” Sadly, the moral dimension of this banking mishap is strangely missing from the media’s post-fall out discussion. As we learned so profoundly during the 2008 financial crisis, the victims of big banks’ poor trading practices are not simply the direct investors of those particular banks.With the size and complexity of world financial markets, the victims are often far away from the initial decisions. Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

This Year, the Real Winner will be the National Security State

May 17th 2012

FBI dudes

Now that Mitt Romney is the presumptive nominee of the Republican Party, the media is already handicapping the presidential election big time, and the neck-and-neck opinion polls are pouring in. But whether President Obama gets his second term or Romney enters the Oval Office, there’s a third candidate no one’s paying much attention to, and that candidate is guaranteed to be the one clear winner of election 2012: the U.S. military and our ever-surging national security state.

The reasons are easy enough to explain. Despite his record as a “warrior-president,” despite the breathless “Obama got Osama” campaign boosterism, common inside-the-Beltway wisdom has it that the president has backed himself into a national security corner. He must continue to appear strong and uncompromising on defense or else he’ll get the usual Democrat-as-war-wimp label tattooed on his arm by the Republicans.

Similarly, to have a realistic chance of defeating him -- so goes American political thinking -- candidate Romney must be seen as even stronger and more uncompromising, a hawk among hawks. Whatever military spending Obama calls for, however much he caters to neo-conservative agendas, however often he confesses his undying love for and extols the virtues of our troops, Romney will surpass him with promises of even more military spending, an even more muscular and interventionist foreign policy, and an even deeper love of our troops. Read more ..


The Media on Edge

PR Firms Assist In Selling Arab Terror And Brutality

May 16th 2012

Syrian first lady Asma al-Assad in Vogue
Vogue Story now removed from its website

The U.S. Public Relations industry is one which is very high profile, but is a tiny, close knit industry, with only perhaps 75 American PR firms having more than 50 employees (i.e. enough scope/influence to represent a foreign government or foreign interests). Over lunch this week, one of my peers, who like me, owns 1 of the 25 largest US PR Agencies explained why his firm would no longer work with Jewish organizations and Pro-Israel concerns.  He explained there is simply too much money working for Arab organizations and interests, and between front groups, organizations and projects from a business perspective he was no longer working for Pro-Israel or Jewish organizations. It’s a trend which will grow – and will see Arab interests even more positively portrayed in American media.

In the latest news, Bahrain in the last 12 months has hired at least ten public relations companies since last year.  Yes, you read it right – 10 – including Qorvis, the Washington company hired by Saudi Arabia to salvage that kingdom's reputation abroad after the 9/11 terrorist attack. The regime of Bahrain which tortures its own citizens has an awful human rights record and doesn’t recognize the existence of Israel, also hired Joe Trippi, former campaign manager for Howard Dean’s 2004 presidential bid, Sanitas International, whose partner Christopher Harvin is a former Bush White House aide. Read more ..


Religious Tolerance

Anti-Semitism is Alive and Well in Academia

May 16th 2012

Johan Galtung
Johan Galtung

In a recent lecture at the University of Oslo, Norwegian sociologist Professor Johan Galtung claimed there was a possible connection between the terrorist responsible for the massacre of youths in Norway last summer and the Mossad. "The Jews control US media, and divert for the sake of Israel," he said. Galtung added that one of the factors behind the anti-Semitic sentiment that led to Auschwitz was the fact that Jews held influential positions in German society. He also recommended reading the infamous Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

Coming from one of the founders of the discipline called "Peace Studies and Conflict Resolution," as well as a founder of the international Peace Research Institute in Oslo, Galtung's remarks were both shocking and depressingly familiar.

It is under the guise of peace that Galtung launched a ferocious ongoing campaign to delegitimize Israel. A neo-Marxist scholar, he has spent much of his career perpetuating the notion that Israel is a colonial state, a concept that was later adopted and popularized by the late Palestinian scholar Edward Said.

In a 1971 article "The Middle East and Theory of Conflict," published in the Journal of Peace Research, Galtung wrote that "Israel was conceived in sin, born in sin and grew up in sin." He described the Balfour Declaration (and the UN Partition Proposal) as one of "the most tragic mistakes of recent history," and blamed Israel for starting and fueling the conflict. His views have not deviated from this but have only become more hostile, not to mention bizarre and conspiratorial. Read more ..


Israel on Edge

What Happened to Israel's Reputation?

May 15th 2012

soldiers pray at wailing wall

This year Israel is celebrating . . . a series of accomplishments that have surely exceeded the expectations of its most visionary founders. It is one of the most powerful small nations in history. . . . [It] has tamed an arid wilderness [and] welcomed 1.25 million immigrants. . . . The Israelis themselves did the fighting, the struggling, the sacrificing in order to perform the greatest feat of all—forging a new society . . . in which pride and confidence have replaced the despair engendered by age-long suffering and persecution.

So Life magazine described Israel on the occasion of its 25th birthday in May 1973. In a 92-page special issue, "The Spirit of Israel," the magazine extolled the Jewish state as enlightened, robustly democratic and hip, a land of "astonishing achievement" that dared "to dream the dream and make that dream come alive."

Life told the story of Israel's birth from the Bible through the Holocaust and the battle for independence. "The Arabs' bloodthirsty threats," the editors wrote, "lend a deadly seriousness to the vow: Never Again." Four pages documented "Arab terrorist attacks" and the three paragraphs on the West Bank commended Israeli administrators for respecting "Arab community leaders" and hiring "tens of thousands of Arabs." The word "Palestinian" scarcely appeared. Read more ..


Mexico on Edge

Could Mexico's Elections this year Affect the Country's Progress?

May 14th 2012

Mexico presidential debate 2012

On Sunday, May 6, Mexican voters got a rare chance to compare presidential contenders Enrique Peña Nieto (Institutional Revolutionary Party—PRI), Andrés Manuel López Obrador (Democratic Revolutionary Party—PRD), Josefina Vázquez Mota (National Action Party—PAN), and Gabriel Quadri de la Torre (New Alliance Party—PANAL) in the first of two national televised debates.

Rare indeed, as the major networks skipped the debate for a soccer match and regular programming, forcing viewers to go to cable or the Internet. Even at that, it was difficult to tell where the candidates stood on important issues, as they came with carefully prepared statements, answered only prearranged questions, and launched verbal attacks at each other.

This was sad, because important course changes for the next six-year presidential term will be determined on July 1 when voters head to the ballot boxes. And as Mexico borders the United States, what happens there will affect U.S. citizens in terms of security, economics, and politics. Read more ..


States on Edge

California’s High-Speed Spending Spree

May 14th 2012

Hollywood

The State of California keeps sinking into a deeper hole of debt, with reports showing that the state’s budget shortfall is projected to be $16 billion , up from $9.2 billion in January. But despite all the red ink, the state is still going ahead with a high-speed rail boondoggle that would cost billions.

The LA Times reports: If California starts building a 130-mile segment of high-speed rail late this year as planned, it will enter into a risky race against a deadline set up under federal law.

The bullet train track through the Central Valley would cost $6 billion and have to be completed by September 2017, or else potentially lose some of its federal funding. It would mean spending as much as $3.5 million every calendar day, holidays and weekends included — the fastest rate of transportation construction known in U.S. history, according to industry and academic experts.

That $6 billion is for just part of the project, which has been estimated to cost as much as $98.5 billion. But note the perverse incentive to spend. California stands to receive as much as $4 billion in federal funds that have either been provided or set aside for the project. If they don’t complete it on time, the LA Times reports, that money disappears. Now the race is on to spend. Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

Splits in the Democratic Party May Plague Obama

May 13th 2012

Barack Obama Israel speech

The West Virginia Democrats who voted for an imprisoned felon instead of President Obama are accused of being racists by at least one national Democrat, according to ABC News, which declined to name the high-profile Dem. Forty-two percent of Democrats voting in Tuesday’s primary voted for Keith Judd, or rather, Federal Inmate No. 11593-051, who won 10 counties in the Mountain State and, like Obama, didn’t campaign there. He’s not even incarcerated in West Virginia, but Texas. He merely met the most minimum of standards, paying the $2,500 filing fee and submitting a notarized “certificate of announcement.” No campaign manager, no pollster, no endorsements — it literally took nothing to get 42 percent against Obama among Democrats, now making it rather difficult for them to tout the alleged “split” in the Republican Party.

Obama also lost 21 percent of the primary vote in North Carolina against someone named “no preference.” No word yet if “no preference” will have a speaking role at the Democratic convention this summer in … North Carolina. Read more ..


America on Edge

Rights for Indigenous Peoples and the Rest of Us

May 12th 2012

Mount Rushmore

In early 2011, President Obama announced that the United States would sign the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Now the U.N. wants us to give Mt. Rushmore to the Indians. James Anaya, U.N. special rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, spent twelve days in the U.S. meeting with representatives of Native Americans. Returning to Geneva, he urged the government to turn over control of lands considered sacred to the tribes, including the Mt. Rushmore site.

It was bound to happen.

With typical overstatement, the president said as he announced U.S. participation in the Declaration, "The aspiration it affirms, including respect for the institutions and rich cultures of native peoples, are ones we must always seek to fulfill."

Always? Americans happily adapt and adopt parts of other people's cultures (Chinese food unlike anything served in Beijing, pizza Italians wouldn't recognize, St. Patrick's Day and Cinco de Mayo parties) and respect other parts (forms of dress, holy days and fasting for Ramadan). But there are aspects of "native" cultures that simply do not warrant respect: honor killings, female genital mutilation, slavery, stripping trees for cooking fuel, clubbing baby seals, and governance by the sword come to mind. Read more ..


Mideast Peace on Edge

The Myths of Past Middle East Peace Negotiations

May 11th 2012

Abbas Hillary and Bibi

Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was interviewed last Friday by CNN’s Christiana Ammanpour and sought to give his audience the impression that he had been on the verge of a historical peace agreement with Mahmoud Abbas in 2008, and only because of the interference of individuals from the US that brought in outside money, an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement was not reached. Whatever his political motives, Olmert was feeding the international myth machine that Israelis and Palestinians were close to a historic breakthrough which needed to be bridged by muscular American diplomacy.

Leaving aside his dramatic accusations about millions of dollars that were transferred from what he called “the extreme right wing” in the US to hamper his peace initiative, Olmert was not even close to a final agreement, as he implied to his CNN audience. In fact, when carefully examined, Olmert’s secret talks with Abbas should be seen as the latest proof that the fundamental gaps between the most maximal concession made by an Israeli prime minister did not meet the minimal requirements of Abbas for an agreement. This was not the first time that the myth of an impending Israeli-Palestinian breakthrough, that never happened, was widely promoted. Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

DOJ Lawsuit Against Arizona Sheriff is Blatantly Political

May 11th 2012

Joe Arpaio

The U.S. Department of Justice on Thursday announced the intent of Attorney General Eric Holder and Assistant Attorney General for the DOJ's Civil Rights Division, Thomas Perez to file a civil suit against Maricopa County, Arizona, Sheriff Joe Arpaio for alleged racial profiling, according to the DOJ press office. Holder had previously requested that Arpaio  cooperate in the implementation of a court monitor inside Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office who would have the authority to clear the activities of the patrol officers and the sheriff's deputies assigned to the county jail and detention facilities.

Arpaio categorically denies all of the profiling allegations and said he will never allow the Obama Administration to "call the shots in his department."

DOJ officials stated that Arpaio’s refusal to agree to a court monitor ended those negotiations. "I do not tolerate racist attitudes or behaviors. We at the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office do not foster a 'culture of cruelty,'” Arpaio stated. Many of Arpaio's colleagues nationwide claim that this latest action by Holder and the DOJ is political in nature and an abuse of power by a supposedly federal law enforcement official. 

"Ever since Eric Holder first became Attorney General, after hiding information about his own background during confirmation, he's been harassing Sheriff Joe Arpaio. Now Holder is using the DOJ to attack someone he sees as a political threat to President Barack Obama," said former New York police lieutenant Thomas Bruno.   Read more ..


The North Korea Threat

North Korea Rocket Launch Fails, So Does US Policy

May 9th 2012

NK Military Parade Apr 2012

Speaking in 2009 about America’s approach to North Korea, then-Secretary of Defense Robert Gates famously remarked, “I’m tired of buying the same horse twice.” President Obama just repurchased that horse — and it’s a scrub. North Korea’s uncontested rocket launch marks a gross failure of Washington’s North Korea policy. That the launch was ultimately a failure itself is no consolation. Pyongyang may have collected valuable data (though fortunately not much given the length of the flight), which it will use to further its missile technology. More importantly, Kim Jong-un learned that in the face of North Korean provocations, the United States remains unwilling to use force, one of the very few tools that the North respects.

That the launch was ultimately a failure itself is no consolation. Failing to take advantage of a potential opportunity, U.S. forces did not shoot down the missile, an act which would have signaled American resolve both to North Korea and U.S. allies alike and would have finally changed the rules of the game in America’s favor. (If it is the case that the military lacked the wherewithal to intercept the rocket, the administration has only itself to blame, having quashed promising missile defense programs like the airborne laser several years ago). Nor do we know if any attempt was made to use cyber-sabotage to prevent the launch or if the administration even considered the admittedly provocative act of striking the rocket on the launch pad, as Ashton Carter and former defense secretary William Perry recommended doing in 2006. Read more ..


Broken Healthcare

The Obama Health Plan Will Squeeze the Middle Class

May 9th 2012

Obama in front of AMA

President Obama promised that the brunt of any financial reckoning will fall mostly only on those making more than $250,000 annually. Under his healthcare plan, the economic agony starts at income levels that fall much lower than that.
Middle class families take note. A family of four with an aggregate income of more than $88,000 annually or an individual earning around $44,000 could find themselves badly strained by healthcare costs under the Obama plan.

Many of these folks currently get their health coverage from work. They benefit from an implicit subsidy built into that workplace coverage that lets them spend pre-tax dollars through their employer to purchase health insurance. Depending on their tax rate, that subsidy helps offset some of the premium costs.

Under the Obama plan, many of these families could instead find themselves buying their health insurance on the new state-based exchanges that get started in January 2014. For a family of four, premiums on even one of the lower priced "silver" options could still cost more than $15,000 annually on the exchanges. Read more ..


Religious Tolerance

The So-Called 'Arab Spring' Has brought No Democracy for Christians

May 9th 2012

Egyptian Coptic Persecution

A seminar was held at the European Parliament in Brussels today to consider the effects that the so-called Arab Spring has had upon the Christian communities living in the Muslim-majority countries of the Mideast. On May 9, European parliamentarians met with representatives of advocacy groups and churches to examine questions such as the following: To what extent is the 'Arab Spring' meeting the demands for more liberal values such as democracy and human rights? Will the diverse communities and cultures be respected?

The session was organized by representatives of the EP and ECR blocs in the parliament, and the Commission of the (Catholic) Bishops Conferences of Europe. Also attending were Middle Eastern diplomats, and representatives from Aid to the Church in Need, Open Doors International, and Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.

"The European Union, when cooperating with and supporting the democratic movements, shall condition its involvement upon the respect for democratic rules, such as religious freedom", underlined Jan Olbrycht MEP, EPP Group Vice-Chairman responsible for intercultural relations. "Democratisation of the Middle East does not bring relief to the people who live there; it is a very bitter truth a year after the Arab Spring. The EU, if it wishes to remain credible as a defender of human rights, of which it is widely teaching the world, has to take a clear stance in defence of Christians in the Middle East. We demand reaction to every single act of discrimination and also expect that this problem is always present in political or trade talks between the EU and the Arab World", said Konrad Szymański MEP of the ECR Group. Read more ..



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