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The Cyber Edge

Target Cyber-Oppressors, Not U.S. Businesses

April 30th 2012

Hackers

The Obama Administration has been heavily criticized for not acting forcefully to stem human rights abuses in the Middle East. Criticism of the Administration has largely focused on Iran and Syria, where Bashar al-Assad’s government is guilty of atrocious bloodshed against its own people. In response, President Obama announced several new initiatives on April 23, including an interagency Atrocities Prevention Board and a new presidential executive order to protect Internet freedom, taking effect the same day. In a speech at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, Obama explained that the order was aimed at curbing the abuse of information technology, targeting Syrian and Iranian cyber-activists. There is good news and bad news in this. The good news is that the Obama Administration, under pressure, is finally putting teeth into its two-year-old Internet freedom policy, showing seriousness by sanctioning regimes that perpetrate human rights abuses via the Internet. Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

Pay-Go’s a Pain

April 29th 2012

Obama working a crowd

In yet another election-year display of blatant presidential pandering, President Obama launched a nationwide college tour to erroneously claim that House Republicans were doubling student loan rates. Federally subsidized Stafford loan rates will double on July 1 of this year, from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent, if Congress fails to act. It’s unlikely the president is ignorant of the fact that Democrats and Republicans have been working on the issue so that it is remedied before the deadline. Instead, he chose to lie about what congressional Republicans intend. Republicans will fix the law put into place by Democrats that triggers the increase in the rate, and will adhere to the pay-as-you-go (pay-go) rules dictating that when Congress causes an increase in expenditures in one area, it must find the budget offset in another area to pay for it, rather than simply passing the cost on to future budgets and generations. President Obama is finding out that sometimes, pay-go’s a pain. Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

Who Won the War on Terror?

April 28th 2012

Leon Panetta and Hamid Karzai
DoD Secretary Leon Panetta and Afghan President Hamid Karzai

The Middle East has undergone systemic and radical change since the beginning of the so-called Arab Spring over a year ago. The leaders in Egypt and elsewhere are different-and in their place, well, there is not overwhelming evidence to suggest that the new guys are any friendlier to the West than the old ones.

But that's not all. The change has also had a major impact here, at home, as policymakers desperately try to cope with new realities, trying to figure out how U.S. policy can remain current.

Who, policymakers try to figure, will the United States be dealing with in these Arab countries over the next couple years? Should the U.S. support uprisings (as was done in Egypt, but not in Syria)? And, perhaps most challenging, how will the U.S. conduct its foreign policy if, as expected, members of Islamist parties, say in Egypt, take control? After all, these new partners might be members (or were in the past members) of parties designated as terrorists groups by the U.S. government.

These are all difficult questions.

So it's with that backdrop in mind that we try to understand the meaning behind an unnamed senior State Department official's statement to a reporter that, "The war on terror is over." Read more ..


Israel on Edge

Only Israel Can Make Peace

April 27th 2012

Abbas Hillary and Bibi

In the spirit of Yom Ha’atzmaot, Israel’s Independence Day, there has been a lot of talk about the bleak situation Israel finds herself in.  The lack of progress on the peace front, the looming threat of Iran, the discord across the religious divides within Israel and the tentative relationship Israel has now with the United States administration, all paint a picture of more of the same to come from the Israel and Middle East.  That does not bode well, and it will get to the point where stagnancy breeds indifference.

Just as the tribal wars, violence, and death in ominous African countries often get remanded to obscure mentions in the media and in people’s minds because nothing seems to make a difference, rendering it routine rather than unusual, the often clichéd sequence of events between Israel and its neighbors gets tired, too. 

The rockets fall into Israel, Israel retaliates; Israel hinders movement of Palestinians, PA leadership declares it will not yield in its demand for a right of return.  Israel expands its building of Judea and Samaria, and rockets fall into Israel.  In the process, American Jews lobby their government leaders, the Israel Prime Minister stands obstinate at the American President who time and again declares solidarity with Israel and pays lip-service to Jewish constituents, but does little to actually get invested in the real issues it faces.  Read more ..


The Defense Edge

Missile Defense Needed despite Attacks by Detractors

April 27th 2012

Iron Dome
Israeli 'Iron Dome' missile defense system

Today, missile defense is under attack. This is not a new thing, however. Opponents tried to eliminate funding for ballistic missile defense when Ronald Reagan was President, sneeringly calling it "Star Wars" to denote how foolish they thought the idea to be. Under President Bill Clinton, defenses against long-range missiles were zeroed out in his first defense budget, along with nearly 40 percent of defenses against rockets of shorter range.

After eight years, despite a new legislative requirement to deploy a missile defense for the continental United States, President Clinton decided not to go forward with a missile defense system to defend the U.S. population. In the 2000 presidential campaign, the Democratic Party platform warned about "ill-conceived" missile defenses, warning about a new arms race should they be pursued. Read more ..


The Edge of Lobbying

Trayvon Martin Case Sheds Light on Powerful ALEC Lobbying Group

April 27th 2012

Juan Williams 02
Juan Williams

The big news in the world of political lobbying last week was the flight of major corporations from the American Legislative Exchange Council. In recent years ALEC had become the model for coordinated, effective lobbying on Capitol Hill as well as in state capitols. ALEC pioneered thestrategy of creating one-size-fits all legislation on a wide range of issues and then pushing it into law across the country.

Name a controversial conservative piece of legislation from the last two years — from South Carolina’s Voter ID law to Alabama’s “Papers Please” immigration law to Wisconsin’s effort to strip unions of collective bargaining rights — and ALEC had a hand in writing it.

The group counts Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), and Govs. Scott Walker (Wis.), Mitch Daniels (Ind.) and John Kasich (Ohio) as “alumni.” That means they attended private conferences put on by ALEC to write prospective legislation to be sent to Capitol Hill and state legislatures. ALEC is bankrolled by some of the wealthiest and most powerful corporate interests in the world. For instance, the Koch brothers have been among the group’s major benefactors for years.

Part of the key to ALEC’s success was that few Americans ever heard of the group. That all changed with the Trayvon Martin murder case. It was ALEC, working to advance the National Rifle Association’s (NRA) agenda, which expertly guided passage of the now infamous “Stand Your Ground” law.

When the unarmed Martin, 17, was shot dead, his assailant was initially not charged with any crime apparently because of the “Stand Your Ground” law. Prosecutors reasoned that the law made it legal to shoot any person viewed as being suspicious — even a teenager walking home after buying candy and iced tea. ALEC’s success in getting such a radical idea put into law has attracted far too much attention for any lobbyist.  Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

America Should Show Leadership in Stemming Violence in Syria

April 27th 2012

Bashar al Assad Stop Killing

Speaking at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, Nobel Laureate and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel turned to the president and said, “I cannot sleep at night after what I have seen. We must do something to stop the bloodshed in that country.”

The occasion was the opening of the Holocaust Memorial, the president was Bill Clinton and the country was Bosnia, in the former Yugoslavia. Nineteen years later, at the same location and to a different president, Wiesel said about Syria, “How is it that Assad is still in power? Have we not learned?”

American policy on Syria today seems paralyzed by the understandable fear of getting into another war like those in Afghanistan or Iraq. But no one, least of all the Syrian people, wants to see an American invasion and occupation of Syria.

On its present course, the United States is in danger of repeating a different bad experience — that of Bosnia, where three years of refusal to allow the Bosnian Muslims to have weapons to defend themselves resulted in the death of an estimated 200,000 people — mostly civilians — including 8,000 in the single terrible massacre at Srebrenica. Read more ..


After the Holocaust

Holocaust Survivors Deserve Equal Justice before the Law

April 25th 2012

Holocaust survivor and flag

They endured horrifying physical, emotional and psychological torture at the hands of the Nazis and, for almost seven decades, Holocaust survivors have been further victimized and denied their rights — first, by insurance companies demanding policy documents and death certificates in order to make claims on Holocaust-era insurance policies and subsequently, by opaque bureaucracies and red tape. This must not be allowed to continue.

For the past three Congresses, my colleagues and I have introduced legislation to address the lingering injustices of the Holocaust by restoring the rights of Holocaust survivors. The latest version of the bill that I introduced with my fellow Floridian, Rep. Ted Deutch, passed the House Committee on Foreign Affairs with unanimous support. However, as Holocaust survivors come closer to having their grievances heard, the propaganda and misinformation campaign against legislative efforts to make them whole intensifies. Read more ..


Egypt on Edge

It is Time for America to Condition Aid to Egypt

April 24th 2012

Egyptian Arms

Providing the Egyptian military with unrestricted military assistance no longer serves American goals. While conditional aid is a relatively weak diplomatic tool, it is the only approach left to the United States to alter meaningfully Egypt's negative trajectory that is propelled by an economy nearing collapse, ongoing human rights abuses, and a pronounced lack of individual liberties and protections for women and religious minorities.

Furthermore, the Egyptian military has demonstrated a clear lack of will to adequately police the Sinai, which is being lost to terrorist groups that threaten Israel.

Due to its paramount desire to continue receiving the $1.3 billion in annual U.S. defense funding and the fact that it has enormous equities in the economic sector, the Egyptian military is uniquely suited to be an agent for change. It is disciplined, centrally controlled and, through the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), plays the dominant role in the running of the country. The Muslim Brotherhood, on the other hand, prioritizes maximizing its political gains regardless of the national turmoil that is likely to ensue from the policies it would pursue. Read more ..


Oil Addiction

The Gold Price-Oil Price Nexus

April 22nd 2012

Oil Prices

A recent conversation with John Tamny of Forbes.com turned to an old, favorite issue of Ronald Reagan and Robert Bartley, among other great figures; namely, that some of the volatility in the price of oil represents the weakness of the dollar (since oil is priced and traded in dollars) and as such the relation between the price of oil and the price of gold is one possible proxy for understanding important aspects of the oil market. The clear implication here is that a strong dollar policy might do more to relieve pain at the pump than drilling for more oil. Here’s how the Gipper put it in his very second press conference in 1981:

One economist pointed out a couple of years ago—he didn’t state this as a theory, but he just said it’s something to look at—when we started buying the oil over there, the OPEC nations, 10 barrels of oil were sold for the price of an ounce of gold. And the price was pegged to the American dollar. And we were about the only country left that still were on a gold standard. And then a few years went by, and we left the gold standard. And as this man suggested, if you looked at the recurrent price rises, were the OPEC nations raising the price of oil or were they simply following the same pattern of an ounce of gold, that as gold in this inflationary age kept going up, they weren’t going to follow our paper money downhill? They stayed with the gold price. Of course, now, if we followed that, why, they should be coming down, because the price of gold’s coming down. But I think that that’s like the inflation-contributing factor that you’ll have sometimes simply because of a poor crop. That is not based on the economy, that’s simply supply and demand. And if there’s a crop failure and you’ve got a bigger demand than you have supply, the price goes up. Read more ..


Broken Government

Too Small to Fail? The Case for Post Office Closures

April 21st 2012

The post office in Hope, Minnesota, is no doubt a quiet place. During a typical business day it sees eight customers, who require a total of seven minutes of service. The Postal Service wants to close the facility, and instead serve the 90 residents of Hope from the adjacent town of Ellendale, 10 minutes away. Home delivery of mail would not change. The closure is being appealed to the Postal Regulatory Commission (PRC).

Coyote, New Mexico, 70 miles from Santa Fe, may also be losing its post office. Open 42 hours per week, the two postal employees in Coyote see on average seven customers a day. The Postal Service wants to close the office, sending its business to the post office in Youngsville, just four miles away. This decision is also being appealed.

It is no secret that the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) is in financial trouble. Its business is shrinking, with first-class mail revenue dropping 25 percent since 2006. As a result, the government-run enterprise is facing a sea of red ink, losing some $25 billion in the past five years. Losses of up to $20 billion annually are predicted for coming years. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

Assad Must Be Forced to Allow Peaceful Assembly

April 21st 2012

anti-assad-demonstration

Videos and reports from Syria over the past week show that Bashar al-Assad's forces continue to violate the ceasefire outlined by UN special representative Kofi Annan on April 12. The regime has neither ended its use of heavy weapons in population centers nor -- an additional obligation -- pulled back its military. This suppression of dissent in centers of resistance has obviously constrained the people's right to freedom of peaceful expression and assembly, a key tenet of U.S. policy that is clearly outlined in point six of the Annan plan. As a result, Syrians are afraid to express their demands as part of the "Syrian-led political transition to a democratic, pluralist system" and have demonstrated in lesser numbers than expected over the past week. Even if a viable ceasefire can eventually be brokered, protests and other forms of civil resistance will be the key means to judge what the people want going forward. Read more ..

World Economy on Edge

Advancing Economic Freedom Through the World Bank: A Worthy Goal for Jim Yong Kim

April 21st 2012

Jim Yong Kim
Jim Yong Kim

On April 16, Dr. Jim Yong Kim, president of Dartmouth College, was elected as the next president of the World Bank. Kim, a physician with a background in public health, prevailed after an unusual race contested by two highly regarded economists from Nigeria and Colombia. Kim’s background raises plenty of questions regarding his suitability for the job and particularly his commitment to the free-market globalization that has so dramatically reduced poverty around the world. He will succeed only if he can rise above the outdated ideology he has espoused in the past and focus on what actually works in fostering economic growth and development.

Building on Robert Zoellick’s Legacy

In July, when Kim officially takes over the helm of the almost seven decades-old global development organization, he will inherit a multilateral institution that has already embarked upon far-reaching change under the leadership of his predecessor, Bob Zoellick. Read more ..


The Digital Edge

Technology is Neutral in a Political and Ideological World

April 17th 2012

Russian computer user

Technology is politically and ideologically neutral. It would be comforting to believe increasing levels of technology alone could solve social and political problems and make the world a better place. But history has proved that false, alas! again and again. When German scientists with their traditional leadership in chemistry invented a new gas to murder Jews more efficiently in Nazi death camp “showers”, we got new proof. Complexities of new technology present new opportunities which may or may not be used for moral or beneficial utilitarian purposes. We are currently in the throes of new tests, were they needed, of the phenomenon. North Korea, an unprecedented cruel and retrogressive regime, is trying to preserve its existence with technologically advanced weapons of mass destruction. With those it could continue to blackmail the world into tolerating -- and even supporting its continued existence, if nothing else, by feeding a starving population. Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

How Race May Affect This Year’s Elections

April 16th 2012

Obama and Romney

Last week, several political strategists predicted that every racial button is going to get pushed hard in this fall’s presidential campaign. Their forecast is based on racial fears that are already being exposed. White Republican men form the strongest block of opposition to reelection of a black president—who, in turn, has near-unanimous support from blacks, and overwhelming backing from Hispanics and Asians.

Their predictions come against the backdrop of two white male political writers, Pat Buchanan and John Derbyshire, losing their jobs at MSNBC and National Review, respectively, after writing racially charged pieces. Buchanan lamented in a book that immigration and high Hispanic birthrates were leading to the “end of white America.” Derbyshire, writing in a small magazine, advised his children to avoid “concentrations of blacks,” and to not settle in any place run by black politicians.

The 2012 election comes at a time when the country is in the middle of a seismic shift in its demographics. Racial attitudes are also changing, for better or worse, with rising numbers of minorities and immigrants now more than 30 percent of the population. Read more ..


Iran's Nukes

Another "Last Chance" for Iran

April 16th 2012

iran_nuclear_scientist

On the eve of the meeting between representatives of the Great Powers and Iran on the issue of its nuclear program, there are rumors of another "last chance" for the diplomatic process. According to US sources, President Barack Obama is again offering a carrot in the hope that Iran will prefer a diplomatic settlement over the biting sanctions scheduled for the summer.

It will not be easy for Iran to accept the package being formulated, which includes the closing of the underground nuclear facility at Fordu, near Qom, halting the enrichment of uranium to 20%, and transferring abroad any uranium already enriched, in exchange for a nuclear program for research purposes under international supervision. The Iranians have already rejected the proposal out of hand, but, as is their practice, they have not slammed the door to talks.

For the US and the West, and for President Obama who is the midst of a presidential election campaign, there is a clear advantage in offering these proposals. If Iran agrees to accept something close to what the Americans are offering, it will be a great achievement. If it does not, there are some advantages here too.

Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

Winning The Fight On 'Fairness'

April 15th 2012

Barack Obama Israel speech

For some months now, President Obama has increasingly been couching his rhetoric in the language of fairness. e used the word “fair” 14 times in his December speech in Osawatomie, Kan., where he implored us to “restore fairness.” He demanded tax reform that “makes sure everybody pays their fair share.” And it is only his policy proposals that ensure “everyone engages in fair play and everybody gets a fair shot and everybody does their fair share.”

From his proposed tax hike on high-income households--the so-called “Buffett Rule”--to health care reform efforts, the president has defined fairness largely in terms of government income redistribution. He has also set out to paint his political opponents as, at best, uninterested in fairness and, at worst, committed to making society less fair.

For months, free-market policymakers seemed willing to concede this term, preferring to argue against Obama's policies on the grounds of economic efficiency and constitutional first principles. Read more ..


Edge of Terrorism

It's Not Road Rage, It's Terrorism

April 14th 2012

Rachid Baz perp walk
Rashid Baz (center), 1994.

On February 25, 1994, Baruch Goldstein, an Israeli doctor of American origins, went to the mosque at the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron, and murdered twenty-nine Muslims with an automatic weapon before being overwhelmed and himself killed. This massacre prompted conspiracy theories and riots in Muslim circles, including accusations that the government of Israel stood behind Goldstein, an allegation that strenuous denunciations of his attack by the Israeli government did not fully deflect.

On March 1, four days later, Rashid Baz, a New York livery driver of Lebanese origins, fired two guns at a van carrying Hasidic Jewish boys on a ramp leading to the Brooklyn Bridge, killing Ari Halberstam, 16, a yeshiva student. Baz was quickly apprehended, convicted, and sentenced to 141 years in prison. Circumstantial evidence pointed to a link between the two events, for Baz was immersed in the Arabic-language media coverage of Goldstein's attack, he attended the incendiary Islamic Center of Bay Ridge, and he was surrounded by Muslims who condoned terrorism against Jews. More than that, friends indicated that Baz was obsessively angered by the attack in Hebron and the psychiatrist for his legal defense, Douglas Anderson, testified that Baz "was enraged" by it. "He was absolutely furious. ... Were it not for Hebron this whole tragedy [in New York] wouldn't have occurred." Read more ..


The North Korean Threat

North Korean Missile Launch Demands Strong U.S. Response

April 14th 2012

North Korean Rocket

North Korea defied international pressure and launched its Unha-3 missile on April 12. U.S. and South Korean officials indicate that the missile failed several minutes after launch. Although Pyongyang had characterized the launch as that of a peaceful civilian satellite, it is a blatant violation of existing U.N. Security Council (UNSC) resolutions that preclude any launch using “ballistic missile technology.” In addition, South Korean intelligence officials told reporters that satellite imagery showed Pyongyang may also be in the “final stages” of preparations for another nuclear test. 

The United States should press for another UNSC condemnatory statement that closes existing loopholes and imposes additional sanctions on North Korea. Ensuing escalating international tensions from Pyongyang’s missile launch and likely follow-on nuclear test could even spur North Korean leader Kim Jong-un to undertake more provocative military actions. The new, untested dictator is more likely than his father Kim Jong-il to miscalculate during a crisis, unaware that Seoul is more likely to retaliate to a military clash than in the past.  

North Korea’s actions are taking place as the Obama Administration is failing to adequately resource its much-vaunted Asia pivot. Drawdowns in U.S. forces in Europe and Afghanistan are not shifting to address growing Asian threats—a case of robbing Peter to not pay Paul. The planned cuts to the U.S. military undercut Washington’s ability to fulfill its security commitments, even as North Korea and China are acting more assertively.  Read more ..


America and the Philippines

A Win-Win for the U.S.–Philippines Alliance

April 14th 2012

Benigno Aquino

The Save Our Industries (SAVE) Act, introduced by Representative Jim McDermott (D–WA) and supported by 20 cosponsors in the House and by Senator Daniel Inouye (D–HI) and three cosponsors in the Senate, would grant duty-free treatment to apparel assembled in the Philippines from American-made fabrics. It is a win-win for the U.S.–Philippines Alliance.

Free Trade by Any Means

There are some easy ways for the U.S. to support its treaty alliances in Asia. Promoting free trade through as many different venues and mechanisms as possible is a major one. Free trade, in fact, is a perfect solution in that it benefits all parties concerned—including the U.S.

The U.S. would ideally have free trade agreements (FTAs) with all of its security allies, as it now has with South Korea and Australia. The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP)—an agreement currently being negotiated by nine nations (Australia, Brunei, Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the U.S., and Vietnam) and hopefully soon Japan, has been in the works since late in the Bush Administration.  It could be expanded to include other U.S. allies in Asia. Of course, success in the current round of World Trade Organization negotiations would be helpful, and the TPP may help push negotiators toward that end. Read more ..


North Korea's Nukes

North Korea Rocket Launch Fails, So Does US Policy

April 13th 2012

Kim Jong Un
Kim Jung Un

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.

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 ..

The Battle for Syria

Syrian Violence Continues Amid Policy Conflicts

April 12th 2012

Syrian security forces

In some respects, U.S. policy remains at odds with the situation on the ground in Syria. First, there is enormous tension between the internal opposition and the Turkey-based Syrian National Council (SNC), and Washington’s policy of solely engaging the latter ignores the opposition as a whole. Opposition figures inside Syria do not believe the SNC represents their interests, and even certain SNC members complain about the organization’s allegedly secretive nature. Washington, to its credit, is now exploring its options with the entire opposition.

Second, Washington’s strict policy against speaking with the Free Syrian Army (FSA) has rendered this important group a political enigma. The FSA is composed of deserters from the Syrian military who have either remained in the country or crossed into Turkey, as well as local armed activists defending protestors. Both the civil and armed branches of the opposition want weapons; they believe that international intervention is not coming, and that only the combination of arms and civil resistance can bring down Assad. Read more ..


Russia on Edge

The Putin Agenda

April 12th 2012

putin

Striking a deal with Russia’s Vladimir Putin requires a certain amount of cunning, diplomacy and, more than anything else, a “correlation of forces” on your side. Unfortunately, the United States may not be in the strongest of positions to strike a cooperative deal with Russia on missile defense, and the Administration’s recent plea for “some space” from the Kremlin highlights America’s relatively weak position.

Though roundly criticized by nuclear freeze proponents at the time for not immediately putting on the table an expansive arms control agenda when he first took office, President Reagan immediately set out to rebuild the U.S. military and restore U.S. economic might. Then he would sit down with Moscow. This was known as “peace through strength.”

Then, as now, Moscow’s aim was to restrain U.S. power and undermine NATO unity. To its credit, the Administration has so far refused to restrict the numbers and location of interceptors to be deployed in Europe, as the Russians have demanded. And it has continued to resist proffering a written “guarantee” that U.S. missile defense systems are not “aimed” at Russia’s strategic capability. On the other hand, the elimination of the original missile defense radar and interceptor deployment sites in Poland and the Czech Republic was widely assumed to be a concession to the Kremlin that undercut the American alliance with these two nations. Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

A Message To GOP Candidates: Start Invoking Hope, Not Just Fear, In US Foreign Policy

April 12th 2012

Mitt Romney expansive

Throughout the countless Republican Presidential debates this election season, candidates were often asked about the greatest threats facing America.
Depending on how each contender answered, political pundits then resorted to identifying whether that potential Republican nominee was ‘strong’ or ‘weak’ on national security. Asking candidates to identify the most urgent challenges that America faces is not inappropriate; however, it only demonstrates one side of the debate. The fear debate.

Any politician should, of course, have a grasp on America’s main foreign policy issues. But as much as he should identify the threat, he should also identify the hope when it comes to dealing with countries abroad. Particularly those countries that do not necessarily have the interests of the United States at heart. Read more ..


Religious Tolerance

Israel's Ban of Gunter Grass is Foolish and Self-Defeating

April 11th 2012

Alan Dershowitz lecture

The decision by Israel's Interior Minister to bar German writer, Gunter Grass, from entering the Jewish state is both foolish and self-defeating. Grass wrote an absurdly ignorant and perversely bigoted poem comparing Israel to Iran and declaring Israel to pose a great danger to world peace. He also warned Germany that by selling submarines to Israel, it is becoming complicit in a crime against humanity.

These wrong-headed views deserve to be rebutted on their demerits, as Israel's Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, did quite effectively in his public response to Grass, by exposing his "shameful moral equivalence between Israel and Iran, a regime that denies the Holocaust and threatens to annihilate Israel," by pointing out that "it is Iran, not Israel, that threatens other states with annihilation," and that it is Iran who supports the Syrian regime's crackdown of its people and "stones women, hangs gays and brutally represses tens of millions of its own citizens."

Grass' poem has also been effectively critiqued by Israelis across the political and literary spectrum. That is as it should be in an open, vibrant democracy, accustomed to rancorous public debate. But a great nation, committed to freedom of expression and dissent, should not bar a critic, even a critic as bigoted as Grass, from its territory. Read more ..


Caribbean Edge

Time to End the 50-Year Embargo of Cuba

April 11th 2012

American and Cuban flags

This past February marked the 50th anniversary of Washington’s embargo against Cuba. The birthday, which went uncelebrated here and in the Caribbean, was a grim reminder of the persistence of one of Washington’s most egregious foreign policy blunders. Enacted less than a year after President Kennedy’s ill-fated attempt to unseat Fidel Castro’s fledgling communist government at the Bay of Pigs, the embargo was designed with the express purpose of ousting Castro and his fellow revolutionaries from power. Renewed on a yearly basis under the aegis of the Trading with the Enemy Act of 1917, the policy was last extended in September 2011 by President Obama, who stated, “I hereby determine that the continuation for 1 year of [the embargo] with respect to Cuba is in the national interest of the United States.”

But is it? Read more ..


Foreign Affairs on Edge

Brazil: The India of Latin America?

April 11th 2012

biblioteca nacional brasilia
Biblioteca Nacional Brasília (credit: Antonio Cruz/Agência Brasil)

In 2001, Goldman Sachs economist Jim O’Neill famously coined the acronym “BRIC” to describe four of the world’s most populous countries—Brazil, Russia, India, and China. At the time, each boasted great economic potential. Since then, China has enjoyed breakneck GDP growth while making very little progress on economic or political reform, and Russia has devolved into a petro-autocracy dangerously reliant on global oil prices. As for Brazil and India, they have reaped consistent accolades for their commitment to democracy and economic stability.

The differences between Brazil (population: 195 million) and India (home to 1.2 billion) are too numerous to count, yet the countries also share certain broad similarities. Both are rising democracies with rapidly growing middle classes. Both have a history of promoting dialogue and cooperation with developing countries. Both have a foreign policy establishment that has traditionally been somewhat hostile to the United States. Both remain reluctant to speak out for democracy and human rights abroad. Both have aroused suspicion and resentment among their smaller neighbors. Both continue to embrace protectionist economic policies.

And, of course, both are critically important to U.S. interests in their respective regions. Read more ..


China on Edge

Is China Slowing Down?

April 10th 2012

The East is Red

China’s economy is slowing down, from a reported 9.2 percent annual rate of growth at the end of last year to approximately 7 percent during the first quarter of this year. Whether China’s growth will reaccelerate later this year depends on the global growth driving Chinese exports and on Chinese government policies—especially credit policies impacting China’s housing market and fiscal measures aimed at spending on infrastructure.

The tangible signs of slowing Chinese growth include a March drop in a manufacturing index that accurately tracks overall gross domestic product (GDP) growth. The March purchasing manager’s index (PMI) estimate from HSBC Holdings was reported at 48.3 in late March, a four-month low that is down substantially from last year’s level of 52. Interestingly, in contrast to the HSBC index, the official Chinese March PMI index (which was reported at the same time as HSBC’s) rose sharply to 53.1. Most analysts attributed the rise in the official index to seasonal factors that will subsequently be reversed. The fact that most Chinese stocks were down slightly after HSBC’s PMI index was announced suggests that the official PMI figure is not being taken at face value. Read more ..


Religious Tolerance

TAPPS Board Can Learn from Children

April 9th 2012

Beren BBall team

The recent controversy involving a Houston Jewish high school basketball team and the Texas Association of Parochial and Private Schools, or TAPPS, has died down. But there's still some unfinished business.

The kids at Beren Academy take both their religion and their basketball seriously. How seriously? They got all the way to the state championship semifinals wearing their yarmulkes while competing.

The Beren boys were temporarily stymied when the TAPPS board brought national ridicule upon itself by unanimously voting not to allow the boys to change the semifinal game from Saturday afternoon until Saturday night in order to honor their Sabbath, even though their opponents had no problem with the switch. The players voted to forfeit the game rather than violate their religious beliefs, but some of their parents went to court. Only then did TAPPS agree to allow the game to start a few hours later than scheduled. Beren lost the game by two baskets, but they had a great season and generated a great story.

Read more ..

The War on Drugs

When Saying 'No' to the War on Drugs May Mean 'Yes'

April 8th 2012

Mexican Drug Police2
Mexican anti-narcotics police squad

Just say no? It is not only a viable statement to make; it should also be imperative when seeking alternatives for the drug-trafficking problem. Countries’ national spirits have been asphyxiated due to drug violence. In some instances, a number of towns and cities throughout northern Mexico exist under a near perpetual state of siege, with drug cartels serving as the arbiter of the rule of law. Nonetheless, as long as the demand for drugs exists, there is always a provider. For instance, in the early 1990s, the slaying of Colombian drug kingpin Pablo Escobar did not eliminate the problem.

Today, narcotrafficking is alive and well in Colombia. In addition, the yawning void Escobar left was filled by the Mexican cartels, which have become the main suppliers of illicit drugs in the hemisphere. To counter this, in 2008 the American and Mexican governments signed the Merida Initiative, a plan that would provide Mexico with predictable amounts of economic and military assistance.  Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

Campaigns Are Up for The Highest Bidder

April 8th 2012

Bundles of Cash

Our elections should be a marketplace of ideas. Instead, they increasingly look like an auction that rewards the highest bidder. The damaging influence of money on our campaigns dates back decades, but the Supreme Court opened up the floodgates with its woefully misguided Citizens United v. FEC decision. Powerful special interests and corporations now enjoy the same free-speech protections as individual Americans.

The result? Huge sums of unregulated, unaccountable money by super-PACs are flooding the airwaves. An endless wave of attack ads, paid for by billionaires hovering in dark corners, is poisoning our political discourse. The American public, rightly so, looks on in dismay and disgust. As this election year unfolds, the checkbooks are out and the money is gushing. And too often we don’t even know whose hand is on the faucet. Today, a corporation can push “dark money” into a 501(c)(4) “social welfare” organization anonymously. And then the 501(c)(4) slips the money into a super-PAC to run campaign ads.

In any world other than the shadowy world of campaign finance, that would be called money laundering. And yet, so far in the 2012 primaries, about 40 percent of TV ads — worth more than $24 million— are funded by nonprofit groups that don’t reveal their contributors. Read more ..


The Obama Edge

Obama Economy Leaves Little Changed

April 7th 2012

Click to select Image

America is at a crossroads. Today’s jobs report shows that two years into recovery the U.S. economy is still woefully underperforming, adding only 120,000 new jobs in March, about half the rate of job growth of the previous three months which were, themselves, somewhat disappointing for this stage of recovery. Perhaps the most striking aspect of the jobs report is the extent to which the labor market was “little changed,” an impression the report returns to repeatedly. For example, the unemployment rate at 8.2 percent, still two full percentage points higher than the peak during the 2001 recession, was “little changed.” Other examples, with italics added:

The number of unemployed persons (12.7 million) was “little changed in March.”

“Among the major worker groups, the unemployment rate for adult men (7.6 percent), adult women (7.4 percent), teenagers (25.0 percent), whites (7.3 percent), blacks (14.0 percent), and Hispanics (10.3 percent) showed little or no change.” Read more ..


Edge of Rare Earth

Dangerous Dependence: US Beholden to Imported Raw Material

April 6th 2012

Rare Earth Minerals
A collection of rare earth minerals

Despite China's emergence as an economic power and all the talk about how America has become a service economy, U.S. manufacturing is alive and well.

Judging by impressive gains in productivity and America's high-tech advantage, manufacturing in the United States has shown surprising resiliency. While the nation's overall economy grew only 1.7 percent last year, the manufacturing sector of U.S. industrial production increased at almost three times that rate, rising 4.7 percent. And manufacturing output in the Midwest rose by a robust 8.4 percent last year, indicating that America's manufacturing heartland is leading the industrial comeback.

But there is a fly in the ointment.In recent years, the United States has become dangerously dependent on imports of raw materials that are needed to keep our economy moving. U.S. manufacturers are now more than 40 percent dependent on imports of many commodity and rare earth metals. For example, import reliance on gallium is at 94 percent, cobalt and titanium 81 percent, chromium 56 percent, silicon 44 percent and nickel 43 percent. These minerals are critical for defense and energy technologies and many high-tech consumer products. Read more ..


Inside Israel

Israel's Resilient Democracy: Flawed, yet True

April 6th 2012

Michael Oren
Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren

At 64, Israel is older than more than half of the democracies in the world. The Jewish state, moreover, belongs to a tiny group of countries -- the United States, Britain, and Canada among them -- never to have suffered intervals of non-democratic governance. Since its inception, Israel has been threatened ceaselessly with destruction. Yet it never once succumbed to the wartime pressures that often crush democracies.

On the contrary, conflict has only tempered an Israeli democracy that affords equal rights even to those Arabs and Jews who deny the state's legitimacy. Is there another democracy that would uphold the immunity of legislators who praise the terrorists sworn to destroy it? Where else could more than 5 percent of the population -- the equivalent of 15 million Americans -- rally in protest without incident and be protected by the police. And which country could rival the commitment to the rule of law displayed by the Jewish state, whose former president was convicted and jailed for sexual offenses by three Supreme Court justices -- two women and an Arab? Israeli democracy, according to pollster Khalil Shikaki, topped the United States as the most admired government in the world -- by the Palestinians.

These facts are incontestable, and yet recent media reports suggest that democracy in Israel is endangered. The Washington Post was "shock[ed] to see Israel's democratic government propose measures that could silence its own critics" after several Israeli ministers proposed limiting contributions to political NGOs by foreign governments. Citing "sickening reports of ultra-Orthodox men spitting on school girls whose attire they consider insufficiently demure, and demanding that women sit at the back of public buses," New Yorker editor David Remnick warned that the dream of a democratic, Jewish state "may be painfully, even fatally, deferred." In response to legislation sanctioning civil suits against those who boycott Israelis living in the West Bank, the New York Times concluded that "Israel's reputation as a vibrant democracy has been seriously tarnished." Read more ..


Edge of Reality

Jews Must Pass Over their Search for World Approval

April 5th 2012

Tom Lehrer
Tom Lehrer

Oh, the Protestants hate the Catholics,

And the Catholics hate the Protestants,

And the Hindus hate the Moslems,

And everybody hates the Jews.

More apt lyrics have yet to be found on the matter than these which comedian, mathematician and lecturer Tom Lehrer wrote in his satirical "National Brotherhood Week" in 1965.

That was before the Six Day War of 1967 and the Yom Kippur War of 1973, before Israel was attacked from all sides by its peace-seeking neighbors, and before Israel seized the land near its borders to protect its population and keep her enemies even further away from its larger cities.

Even though Lehrer was being sardonic, his “joke” is only funny because it rings with some truth. Comedy is often inspired by the truths that we have a harder time coping with on a serious level.  Lehrer knew something back then that so many fail to recognize today, and it is that intentional disregard for the facts that help some Jews cope with their guilt for being who they are; it helps the cause of those who would see Israel fall. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

The Free Syrian Army vs. the Syrian National Council -- Which Should We Support?

April 5th 2012

Syrian uprising

A year into the Syrian uprising against Bashar Al-Assad, the dysfunctional nature of Syrian opposition politics isn't exactly news. But the resignation last month of Syrian dissident Kamal Labwani fro2012m the Syrian National Council (SNC) -- which he accused not only of being "undemocratic" and incompetent, but intent on undermining the secular basis of the revolution -- is an especially troubling indictment of the opposition's hapless government in exile. The Obama administration should heed Labwani's testimony, and reassess its diplomacy accordingly. Indeed, taking a cue from Labwani's experience, Washington should refocus its attention away from the SNC, in favor of providing more active support for the less centralized, but potentially more effective Free Syrian Army (FSA).

I can personally attest to the depth of Labwani's commitment to a free Syria. I first met him in 2005, when he was in Washington for meetings with Bush administration officials. During a meeting at the Pentagon that I attended, Labwani, a medical doctor who was a prominent member of the "Damascus Spring" reform movement in 2001, did not ask for U.S. assistance in toppling Syria's Assad regime. Instead, he spoke eloquently about the need for political reform in his country. When I asked him whether he feared being jailed on his return, he said he knew he would be arrested, but nonetheless believed it was important for U.S. officials to hear this message. As anticipated, Labwani was arrested upon his arrival in Damascus, and subsequently sentenced to twelve years of hard labor. He had spent five years in prison when he was released early last November, eight months after the start of the current uprising against the Assad regime. Read more ..


International Justice

Peace Must Not Be the Victim of International Justice

April 4th 2012

International Court The Hague

An African proverb states, “Peace is costly but it is worth the expense.” This week the International Criminal Court delivered its first guilty verdict in its nearly 10-year existence, with the conviction of the warlord Thomas Lubanga for the coercion of children as soldiers in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The court to date has spent around $1 billion. Justice has been done, but there is no peace in that country.

The court’s success as a vehicle for delivering justice continues to be debated. The I.C.C. was founded amid much fanfare, but its track record — with only this single conviction — has been poor. Arguably, the cases before it are complex, and it was always going to take time for a new institution to complete them.

But this misses the point. The I.C.C. was intended as an instrument for delivering peace. In this respect it has not been a success. It will continue to falter because its current methods go against the experience of many places in Africa and around the world where peace has been delivered through political negotiations and reconciliation efforts, not the imposition of international justice. Read more ..


America and Palestine

U.S. Complicit with Palestinian Authority Budgeting Mischief

April 3rd 2012

Palestinian Finance

The Palestinian Authority is crying poverty again, complaining about a decrease in expected levels of foreign aid that will force Palestinians into penury or — heaven forbid — tax increases. The Palestinian public is in no mood for that, according to the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research.

In a recent poll, 48% of the respondents rejected solving Palestinian fiscal problems by increasing taxes or by forcing the early retirement of public sector employees. Asked what they would do, 27% would dissolve the PA itself and 52% would enter negotiations with Israel "in order to obtain greater international financial support." The poll notes, however, that half of those choosing negotiations would do so only if Israel agreed first to a settlement freeze and the 1967 borders.

The PA is unlikely to dissolve itself and Israel is unlikely to acquiesce. So a look at the phantasmagorical system of Palestinian budget building — and American complicity — is in order. Read more ..


Religious Tolerance

One Academic’s Breathtakingly Dishonest Attack on Israel’s Press Freedoms

April 3rd 2012

U of Maine

It’s easy to find examples of anti-Israel partisans, having run out of actual Israeli imperfections over which to obsess, literally inventing Israeli behavior to condemn. Last January, U.K. diplomats attacked Israel over an East Jerusalem construction announcement that they made up. The most generous interpretation is that they made a genuine albeit revelatory mistake: already suspecting the worst about Israel, they had their suspicions confirmed.

This week’s example of anti-Israel partisanship in search of a pretext doesn’t have that excuse. University of Maine journalism professor Justin D. Martin posted an article in the Columbia Journalism Review (CJR) asserting that it “is a powerful statement” to note that Israel is second only to Eritrea in “per capita” jailed reporters. He defined “per capita” as the number of imprisoned journalists per the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), divided by a country’s size in millions (for Israel, 4 divided by 7). The attack collapses so quickly, and is such a transparent hatchet job, that it raises legitimate questions of intellectual and academic integrity. Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

"Targeted Assassination" by the U.S. Security Establishment?

April 3rd 2012

Israeli Jet

When President Obama wants to impress Jewish audiences, such as AIPAC, he frequently casts U.S.-Israel relations in a military context. How much military aid Israel receives (although he had nothing to do with the level; President Bush set the level in a 10-year deal), how many exercises the two militaries do together (the last one was canceled; previous ones were on a regular multi-year schedule); provision of the X-Band radar to Israel (done single-handedly by now-Sen. Mark Kirk during the Bush Administration) and missile defense cooperation (for which the Administration has reduced its financial request for 2013). Intelligence cooperation is assumed. "I've got Israel's back," he says.

But how good is the Obama administration on security for Israel? And how does that impact upon American security interests in the Middle East and Southwest Asia? There have been a series of media reports recently suggesting that intelligence cooperation has been reduced, in part because of a "trust gap" that developed when Israel became concerned that the U.S. did not share Israel's sense of urgency on Iran. A visit to Israel by National Security Advisor Tom Donilon and Donilon's subsequent report to Capitol Hill did not help. Testimony by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff called Israel's strategic security choices "imprudent" – a line repeated and expanded upon by other American military officers, both active and retired. Read more ..



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