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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 ..


Israel and America

Should Israel be American Jewry’s Football Team?

April 3rd 2012

Cheering for Israel

We get excited over our sports teams, don’t we? We go to games and scalp tickets to get great seats. We buy hot dogs, peanuts and beer, and spend ridiculous amounts at the stadiums. We wear the jerseys; hang the pennants on our walls, and get custom license plates to demonstrate our pride. We call in to radio shows or write in blogs opining over a player’s action or a referee’s call. We are loud, boisterous and passionate.

There is little we won’t do, and few expenses we won’t incur. Yet that is all we do, because we have no real say in how a team is managed, or which players are traded. Team owners and coaches may hear or read our opinions, but they make their own choices.

For many Jews and Christian Zionists in America, Israel is the team we love. We rush to visit, bring planeloads of people, like a busload of children arriving at Yankee Stadium; if they’re from an influential school, they may even step onto the field to shake Derek Jeter’s hand. Zion-seekers with the right organization might get to the Knesset floor or be welcomed at the home of Israel’s president. Read more ..


The Digital Edge

The Steve Jobs Legacy

April 2nd 2012

Click to select Image

The legacy of Steve Jobs appears to be following the inevitable adoption arc from bleeding edge to Successories; today’s WSJ describes managers’ often excruciating attempts to channel their inner Steve Jobs, and apply his management secrets to their parochial situations.
As the authors note, “Mimicking Mr. Jobs’s keynote style and adopting catch phrases like ‘one more thing’—the words Mr. Jobs often used to introduce products—may make bosses think they’re operating more like the genius himself. But it has provoked plenty of eye-rolling among staffers.”
This isn’t new, of course; in consulting, an innovation deck wasn’t complete without the obligatory references to Apple and Google.  It’s also very common within companies for advocates of ideas (occasionally profound, more often not) to invoke Jobs, especially when presented with contradictory information.  Common response: “Well, as Steve Jobs said, ‘customers don’t always know what they want.’”

Perhaps the most awkward example I’ve seen – albeit involving Apple rather than Jobs directly – was an academic speaker at an innovation conference pointedly emphasize his use of an Apple laptop “like most of the other creatives in this room.”  So uncomfortable.  So bad, in the Paul Fussell sense of the term.
The obvious problem here, of course, is that while adding “in bed” may make bland comments amusing, adding “like Steve Jobs” certainly doesn’t make dumb ideas interesting – or executable.
I suspect this trend is likely to be self-limited, however, given that the misappropriation is generally as painful as it is evident. Read more ..


Obama and Israel

Obama's Cut to Israeli Missile Defense Aid Reflects Larger Policy

April 2nd 2012

Obama and Israel

Why is the Obama administration cutting funding to Israeli missile defense just as talk of an Israeli attack on Iranian nuclear facilities is reaching a crescendo?

As it did last year, Congress, frustrated with the administration's reduced request, has already moved to supplement the funding. Reps. Howard Berman,D-Calif., and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen,R-Fla., have introduced the bipartisan Iron Dome Support Act, which would provide funding, as of yet unspecified, for more Iron Dome systems, which the administration's budget had zeroed out. Only now that Congress has moved to boost support for Iron Dome has the Pentagon followed behind and responded with a funding request of its own. Far from seeking to cow Israel into political concessions, however, the president's budget merely reflects his disenchantment with missile defense. Israeli missile defense is merely a pawn in his greater budgetary chess game. Read more ..


Immigration Reform on Edge

Immigration Detention is No “Holiday”

April 1st 2012

detention facility interior

In his recent op-ed, “Alleged illegal and criminal immigrants should not be taxpayer-supported guests,” Rep. Lamar Smith gets several things wrong. While attacking the newest detention facility opened by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Rep. Smith complains that the facility’s cost was “[over] $30 million taxpayer dollars.”

To quote Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.” Rep. Smith’s claim is completely false. The $32 million facility was built at the expense of the Geo Group, Inc., a private prison company that no doubt expects to make a profit on the venture. The facility, with grim bunk beds eight to a room and prison-like walls is far from plush.The actual cost to taxpayers of holding detainees at this facility is about half as much, on average, as at other facilities. The truth is this facility actually saves taxpayer dollars.

Rep. Smith has been wrong on this point before. At Wednesday’s Immigration Subcommittee detention standards hearing derisively titled, “Holiday on ICE,” Rep. Smith made this claim even though his own witness testified correctly that taxpayers did not fund the construction. Read more ..


Inside America

A Plea For Beauty: A Manifesto For A New Urbanism

April 1st 2012

Baltimore Corner

In a free market, prices are reliable signals of the scarcity of products, goods flow from those who do not want them to those who do, and order arises by an “invisible hand” from the free dealings of the many participants. That these facts are all common knowledge does not detract from their truth.

Not surprisingly, conservatives tend to look to markets as proof that effective social order can exist without the state and that freedom and order are not opposites but two sides of the same coin. When it comes to the difficult problems faced by our ever-growing societies, conservatives tend to favor market solutions. This is especially true of conservatives in America, who have inherited the American spirit of enterprise and self-reliance and refuse to be dictated to by people who have not proven their right to take charge. Confronted by problems like environmental degradation, educational decline, health care inefficiencies, or crime, American conservatives’ first response is to look to the free actions of individuals rather than to the state for a solution. Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

Appeal helps Obama

March 31st 2012

Barack Obama

Irony alert — President Obama gets a boost no matter what the Supreme Court decides on his politically toxic healthcare reform law.

The high court either upholds Obama’s signature domestic accomplishment, imprinting it for history, or it overturns the law, thereby breaking a big stick with which the GOP planned to beat Obama this fall. Should front-runner Mitt Romney become the GOP nominee, what’s left of the stick would more likely resemble a Q-Tip.

Although a final ruling is nearly four months away, oral arguments at the Supreme Court on Tuesday called into question the constitutionality of a mandate to purchase insurance. But recall that four years ago, then-Sen. Barack Obama opposed a mandate for the purchase of healthcare insurance when he was running against Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primary. Four years ago, Romney, on the other hand, admitted his support for mandates.

Obama ultimately changed his mind, and followed the example then-Gov. Romney had set when he signed healthcare reform into law in Massachusetts in 2006. Both men concluded that conservative think tank Heritage Foundation was correct decades ago in deciding there was no way, without a mandate to buy coverage, to control prices or to protect the taxpayer from uninsured free riders who leech off the government every time they go to the emergency room. Read more ..


Venezuela on Edge

Golden Boy Could Put Abrupt Stop to Chavez’s Winning Streak

March 31st 2012

Henrique Capriles Radonski

In February, a lively contender emerged with an unanticipated and unprecedented confidence in his ability to go hand to hand with Venezuela’s longtime president Hugo Chávez. Henrique Capriles Radonski, the governor of the Miranda state seeks to defeat Chávez in the upcoming October presidential election. The recent commotion and continuous media coverage surrounding the upcoming Presidential election has incited interest among the more politically conscious Venezuelan people, who have grown accustomed to Chávez’s seemingly perpetual reign and eternal blusters. Capriles’s oppositional primary victory in February has given him riveting momentum in taking on the daunting task of wrapping up Hugo Chávez’s 13-year rule.

The recent oppositional presidential primary attracted nearly 3 million voters, a landmark in terms of Venezuelan voter turnout. Capriles captured around 2/3 of all votes in the primary election within his party, routing Governor Pablo Perez of the Zulia state by an imposing margin. The youthful and enthusiastic Capriles has been more than willing to appear in front of a media hungry for an anti-Chávez spin.

Capriles has been packaged as a youthful and worthy alternative to Hugo Chávez, who has made the public slowly aware of the true nature of his fragile physical state. Though Chávez has augmented his public appearances following his short-lived convalescence, there still exists a lingering uncertainty regarding the stability of his health. Apparently, Chávez’s battle with cancer is far from over. Read more ..


Edge on Afghanistan

How America Can Learn from the Case of Staff Sgt. Robert Bales

March 31st 2012

Staff Sgt Robert Bales
Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, U.S. Army

It was only a matter of time until the tragic incident attributed to Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales occurred. That doesn’t dismiss or excuse it, just acknowledges the consequences of more than 10 years of hard combat. Forty years ago, the trial over the events at My Lai startled the country as the Vietnam War was winding down. It fed even more anti-war sentiment. In this case, the conduct of a soldier on the ground has the capacity to unravel the end game for Afghanistan. Stepping aside from the impending trial and personal tragedy, Bales and his actions focus attention on lessons to be learned for the All-Volunteer Force (AVF) coming out of the longest engagement ever in its history, not withstanding its higher quality and tremendous capability.

Once again, the nation faces tough choices in sustaining and rebuilding a strong military in the midst of a weak economy and huge deficits. The Army is projected to downsize from a high of 570,000 to 490,000 troops and must still be ready to meet unpredictable and growing threats to national security. Its equipment and resources are worn and need repair and modernization. The food fight has commenced in the halls of the Pentagon and Congress over investing in weapons or personnel. But limited funding might not allow for both equipping the military and refitting its warriors. Historically, personnel requirements have been subordinated to lobbying for bigger and better weapons systems. Read more ..


The Iranian Threat

Iran Must Be Stopped

March 30th 2012

ahmadinejad and zion

Recent advances in Iran’s nuclear weapons  program show that  events  are  moving extraordinarily swiftly, as Tehran nears  the end  of its decades-long quest  to possess  a lethal  WMD capability.

One  thing  is certain: If Iran  succeeds, the Middle  East  – and  the world – will be far more dangerous  and  unstable, with  substantially  increased prospects for further nuclear  proliferation. That is why we are facing difficult, risky, and uncertain decisions. Iran has pursued nuclear weapons since the Islamic Revolution of 1979 overthrew the shah, replacing the monarchy with an authoritarian, theocratic regime. The mullahs placed the nuclear program (camouflaged as a “civil nuclear power” project) under the increasingly powerful Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps  (IRGC),  a force independent of lran’s regular army, devoted  passionately to preserving the revolution. Read more ..



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