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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 ..


America and Israel

AIPAC at the Pinnacle of Success

March 30th 2012

Obama AIPAC

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), a uniquely American organization supported by the majority of American Jews, is the most important global Jewish association engaged in Israel advocacy.

Jews on the far left, like those associated with J Street, an organization created with the sole objective of discrediting AIPAC, seek to besmirch it. They accuse its leaders of being partisan right wing extremists out of synch with the attitudes of the majority of American Jews. On Sunday, Amos Oz the talented Israeli author whose political sophistication regrettably does not match his literary talent, told the J Street Conference: “I have been waiting for you all my adult life” and condemned AIPAC for being “militant”, “extremist” and “hawkish”.

Other detractors, highlighted by John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt in their book Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy, accuse AIPAC of imposing “a stranglehold on US Congress” and distorting American foreign policy.

Israeli fringe groups also try to demonize the organization which is committed to their security and wellbeing. Former Meretz Minister Yossi Sarid recently remarked pathetically that “AIPAC is a hostile organization: Those Jews are endangering our lives here, now more than ever. If only they would leave us alone, if only they would stick to their own affairs and release us from the punishment of their support…Why do you insist on being portrayed as the ones who are pushing your country into another war? Why are you doing this to yourselves? …Is it right for you to once again reawaken the question of dual loyalty?” Most Israelis would dismiss such remarks as demented ravings. Read more ..


The Obama Edge

Obama's 'Space' for Russia

March 30th 2012

Barack Obama in Thought

The sound bite went viral -- the president of the United States asking the Russian president to carry a message to Putin for "space" in dealing with contentious missile defense issues until after the election so the American president would have "more flexibility." The photos went viral as well: President Obama's hand on Medvedev's knee, the smiling president with his arm around Medvedev's shoulder, the two of them sipping tea.

It is bad, of course, on many levels, but historically consistent. The president is notoriously hostile to missile defense, as are the Russians. The Russians are particularly hostile to U.S. missile defenses, which they believe threaten their offensive missile programs, such as those planned by NATO for Europe during the Bush administration. In September 2009, Mr. Obama introduced his Russian "reset" in a speech at Moscow's New Economic School by adopting Russia's greatest concern as a point of bilateral agreement.

"America wants a strong, peaceful and prosperous Russia ... on the fundamental issues that will shape this century, Americans and Russians share common interests that form a basis for co-operation," he said. Including, it seems, cooperation on Iran, which the Russians had assisted with (allegedly peaceful) nuclear technology at Bushehr. The President promised, "If the threat from Iran's nuclear and ballistic missile program is eliminated, the driving force for missile defense in Europe will be eliminated." Something the U.S. wanted for something Russia wanted -- but at whose expense? It didn't take long to find out. Read more ..


Israel and Palestine

Where 8,000 Rocket Launches Are Not a Casus Belli

March 29th 2012

Iron Dome

The most chilling comment I’ve seen on the mid-March surge of violence from Gaza, when terrorists fired 300 rockets at Israel in four days, was made almost three weeks earlier. The rocket fire had been steadily increasing, indicating that the deterrent effect of Israel’s 2009 war in Gaza was fading, and Israel Defense Forces officers were discussing whether another large-scale operation in Gaza was needed. “The debate within the IDF,” the Jerusalem Post reported, “is whether it needs to wait for a successful attack by Gaza terrorists—be it a rocket attack that causes casualties or a successful cross border attack—or if the sporadic rocket fire is enough of a justification to launch an operation today.” Israel has allowed the world to think rocket fire from Gaza isn’t so terrible. Undoing that misperception is a crucial first step toward taking effective action to protect its population.

Think about that: Palestinian terrorists have fired more than 8,000 rockets at Israel since its mid-2005 pullout from Gaza, along with thousands of mortar shells; even in 2011, a “quiet” year, there were 680 rocket and mortar launches, almost two a day.

A million residents of Israel’s south live in permanent fear, punctuated every few months by more intensive bouts of violence that, like the one in mid-March, close schools for days and empty workplaces of parents, who must stay home with their kids. In Sderot, the town closest to Gaza, an incredible 45 percent of children under six have been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, as have 41 percent of mothers and 33 percent of fathers; these statistics will presumably be replicated elsewhere as the rockets’ increasing range brings ever more locales under regular fire. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

Kofi Annan's Plan Is Destined to Fail

March 28th 2012

Syria protests Apr 2011

President Bashar al-Assad has agreed to U.N. envoy and former Secretary-General Kofi Annan's six-point plan to end the bloodshed in Syria. Al-Assad was wise to do so. The U.N. initiative, which endorses al-Assad's oversight of a "political process to address the legitimate aspirations" of the Syrian people, is a boon to the dictator and a setback for the opposition.

Al-Assad had little to lose by signing on to the plan. The concessions he made in the deal -- the ceasefire, the ensuring of humanitarian assistance, a release of political prisoners, allowing entry to journalists, and permitting demonstrations -- can all be reversed relatively quickly.

Meanwhile, the benefits for al-Assad are significant. Notwithstanding the fact that the regime has killed nearly 10,000 Syrian citizens, some U.N. member states will likely view the president's acceptance of the plan as a positive step providing evidence of the regime's new willingness to compromise with the opposition. More importantly, Annan's plan says nothing about al-Assad having to leave, much less face trial for crimes against humanity. To wit, when queried on March 27 about whether al-Assad would step down, Annan said "it's up to the Syrian people." Read more ..


Religious Tolerance

Lessons of the Beren Accommodation

March 28th 2012

Beren BBall team

On the morning of February 28, Alyza Lewin of the law firm Lewin & Lewin, invited me to participate in a conference call to discuss the controversy involving the basketball team of the Robert M. Beren Academy, an Orthodox Jewish School in Houston. Alyza and her father, constitutional lawyer Nathan Lewin, had been informed the preceding evening by Etan Mirwis, whose son is the Beren team captain, that Beren was on the verge of forfeiting eligibility for a Texas state championship slotted to be played over the upcoming Shabbat.

In 2009, I had enlisted the Lewins’ help to secure a scheduling accommodation for members of the mock trial team at the Maimonides School of Brookline, Mass. to participate in the National High School Mock Trial Championship. The Beren situation would mirror the Maimonides experience in many ways, with the Lewins ultimately instituting legal action that enabled the Beren basketball players to be accommodated.

Many are proud that Beren competed, but the school publicly declared opposition to the legal action. In 2009, Maimonides was also against a legal challenge. In other words, both schools thought it inappropriate to pursue a forceful response, preferring only to make respectful requests. Both schools recognized that, without the legal option, the students would not participate because the associations administering the competitions would not alter schedules—even minimally—unless ordered to do so. Read more ..


Oil Addiction

Whitfield Stands Up to EPA for Lower Gas Prices

March 27th 2012

Oil Barrels 400px

Congressman Ed Whitfield (R–KY) released legislation yesterday that would force the Obama Administration to reveal how its environmental regulations impact gasoline prices.

Specifically, the Gasoline Regulations Act of 2012 would create a Transportation Fuels Regulatory Committee consisting of officials from the Departments of Energy, Transportation, Commerce, Labor, and Treasury, plus representatives of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the International Trade Commission, and the Energy Information Agency. The purpose of the committee would be to report on the full economic impact of a series of EPA actions on gasoline prices.

Energy Accountability

The legislation requires that the final report be completed within just over six months and places a freeze on related EPA action for another 180 days after that.  By slowing the Obama regulatory juggernaut, the act gives both policymakers and the public an opportunity to fully understand the economic impact of pending regulations and adjust policy accordingly. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

Not Supporting the Opposition "Within Syria" Is Supporting Assad

March 27th 2012

Syrian protests 2011

During their March 25 meeting, President Obama and Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan agreed that part of the agenda of the April 1 "Friends of Syria" summit in Istanbul will concern "nonlethal assistance" to the opposition "within Syria." This indicates that the administration is beginning to accept a "tragic truth": without much greater U.S. support for the opposition on the ground, Bashar al-Assad's regime will certainly massacre many more civilians all over Syria, and Assad himself will almost certainly remain in power for the foreseeable future.

Civil Protest and Armed Opposition

The Assad regime's bloody military crackdown in Homs and Idlib governorates has not driven people from the streets, a fact that the daily protest map continues to lay bare. But for Syria's civil protest movement to survive in the long term and consolidate its political gains, it will need to regroup tactically. Instead of relying solely on street demonstrations that make protestors vulnerable to the worst regime violence, they might wish to intensify what civil resistance experts refer to as "methods of dispersion" -- boycotts, general strikes, slowdowns, and other kinds of noncooperation -- to keep out of the line of fire and keep up political and economic pressure on the regime. Read more ..


East Asia on Edge

Kremlinology in Beijing and Pyongyang

March 26th 2012

kremlinology in beijing

Let’s face it, compared with the Arab Spring, euro-zone drama, and even the roller-coaster GOP primary season, East Asia is pretty boring. Sure, there was a flurry of excitement when Dear Leader Kim Jong Il “died” two years after probably actually dying, but hey, everything turned out for the best, what with Number Three Son, Kim Jong Un smoothly becoming the figurehead of Kim, Inc. As for China, their economic growth has lagged a bit, but no moment of doom has befallen the regime, whose decennial turnovers of power are predictably staid. For East Asian politicos, there’s not that much to grab headline attention in the world’s most economically dynamic region. Or maybe there is. Washington Asia watchers are tantalized, and some are quite worried, over recent events in both Beijing and Pyongyang that may indicate hitherto unrecognized levels of dissension and possibly tension within the secretive ruling circles of both nations.

In China, as I talk about on the homepage, one of the more colorful and controversial leaders, Bo Xilai, was fired from his job as party boss of massive Chongqing city. This almost certainly derailed his chances of becoming one of China’s “Supremes,” the nine-member Politburo Standing Committee. Read more ..


Healthcare on Edge

Setting the Record Straight on Obamacare

March 26th 2012

Obama in front of AMA

On March 23, 2009, President Barack Obama signed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) into law, which reformed the health insurance industry to expand access to insurance to over 30 million Americans while lowering projected Medicare spending.

Often referred to as Obamacare, the PPACA will establish new competitive insurance marketplaces. These marketplaces will include state-run health insurance exchanges where millions of Americans and small businesses will be able to purchase affordable coverage, and have the same choices of insurance as Members of Congress. Here in Maryland, we are focusing on getting our Health Benefit Exchange ready for 2014. This open marketplace will help increase coverage while reducing costs for all Americans.

Today, the Supreme Court of the United States began hearing oral arguments on the PPACA. I want to share with you some of the benefits of this landmark legislation, while also correcting some of the incorrect statements that have been spread.

Fact: The PPACA closes the Medicare “donut hole”
Under Medicare Part D, patients were responsible for 100 percent of prescription drug costs up to $310 and 25 percent of the cost up to $2,800. After that point, you have reached the “donut hole” and are again responsible for 100 percent of prescription drug costs until reaching the yearly out-of-pocket limit of $4,550. The PPACA will change this. More than 4 million rebate checks have already been mailed to seniors who reached the “donut hole” and certain brand name drugs are available at 50 percent of their usual cost and by 2020 the “donut hole” will be completely eliminated. Read more ..


The Defense Edge

Ryan's Path to Prosperity Can be Trusted to Keep America Strong

March 26th 2012

F15 in Afghanistan

Rep. Paul Ryan calls his budget plan the “Path to Prosperity,” but it could be termed as well a “Path to Security.” In reclaiming more than $200 billion of the nearly $500 billion in military cuts made in last year’s Budget Control Act (BCA), the House Budget Committee chairman takes national security more seriously than does our commander in chief.

To be sure, these are only first steps toward undoing the damage of the Obama years. In 2009, President Obama’s first year in office—and while ramming an $800 billion “stimulus” bill through Congress—the White House directed $330 billion in defense cuts. The next year, Defense Secretary Robert Gates went looking for “efficiencies” to reinvest in priority programs; thank you, said the president, I’ll take another $100 billion from your budget. And under the 2011 BCA, Obama harvested $487 billion from the Pentagon, charging it with the full bill for cuts needed from all “security” accounts, as the law described them. So Barack Obama has racked up about $920 billion in defense cuts to date.

But the president wants more. Because the congressional “supercommittee” could not agree to the larger savings mandated in the budget control law, the president’s 2013 budget does nothing to keep the sequestration guillotine from coming down on October 1, chopping an automatic $55 billion per year out of defense budgets, allocated across each and every program. That would push the administration’s defense-cut total past $1.4 trillion. Read more ..


Healthcare on Edge

Ripple Effects of Uncompensated Medical Care

March 25th 2012

medicine and money #2

If I were trying to persuade the Supreme Court that the Affordable Care Act—“Obamacare”—should not be declared unconstitutional, I would tell the story of the woman who was the original named plaintiff in the lawsuit filed by the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB), one of the fiercest critics of the health care reform law.

The NFIB thought it had found the perfect person when one of its members, Mary Brown, a 56-year-old owner of an automobile repair shop in Panama City, Florida, volunteered to lend her name to the lawsuit.

Brown was outspoken in her belief that Congress had gone beyond what the U.S. Constitution allows when it included in the reform law a requirement that, beginning in 2014, most Americans will have to obtain health insurance or pay a fine to the IRS. She said she was uninsured and was that way by choice.

“She firmly believes that no one should have the right to tell her she has to use her own money to pay for health insurance,” Karen Harned, executive director of the NFIB legal center, said when the NFIB filed its lawsuit in 2010.

She turned out not to be such a perfect choice after all. Read more ..


The Weapon's Edge

U.S. Needs Red Lines for Arms Trade Treaty Negotiations

March 24th 2012

Damn the Koregal Valley

The final Preparatory Committee (PrepCom) for the U.N. Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) in February decided that, in preparation for the July 2–27 conference in New York that will finalize the ATT, U.N. member states should by March 31 submit short statements on the provisions that they believe should define any ATT.

The U.S. should use this opportunity to establish firm red lines for the July conference and to make it clear that it will reject an unacceptable ATT that originates in either the July conference or in any other venue.

The Obama Administration wants to achieve two incompatible objectives. It wants the ATT to embody what it describes as a “strong international standard.” It also wants to avoid playing the role of treaty spoiler in the hope that this will prevent the U.S. from becoming the rallying point for the nations and activist NGOs that support an ATT. But the more the Administration urges other nations to adopt export controls on arms that are comparable to the high existing U.S. standards, the more the U.S. will be perceived as the spoiler, because it will be the nation rejecting the consensus on lower standards. Read more ..


The Arab Winter in Egypt

Caught in Egypt's Political Cross-Fire

March 23rd 2012

NGO workers detained in Egypt

The Egyptian government's prosecution this winter of seven American democracy workers catalyzed a two-month crisis in American-Egyptian relations.

But after Washington threatened to withhold $1.3 billion in annual military aid to Egypt, the standoff swiftly subsided. The presiding judge resigned from the case, travel bans on the Americans were lifted, and most of the Americans were on their way home by the beginning of March. This rapid turn of events surprised many Americans, but it shouldn't have. The prosecutions targeted the Americans, but they weren't really about them. The democracy workers had merely become pawns in a bitter domestic power struggle over Egypt's future, in which rival groups competed by appealing to anti-Americanism. For that reason, the crisis didn't change America's core interests in Egypt. But it should prompt Washington to develop a strategy for persuading the various political forces in Egypt to cooperate in pursuit of those interests rather than allowing American-sponsored efforts to become political footballs there. Read more ..


Islam's War with Christians

A Bleak Future Unveiled for Christians in Islamic Countries

March 23rd 2012

Coptic Christian prays at blood splattered wall
Egyptian prays at bloodspattered mural of a Coptic Church in Cairo

Wearing a frown that creased his unreasonably handsome features, Georg Clooney was handcuffed by police outside the gates of the Sudanese Embassy in Washington, DC on March 16, during a protest against a renewed military offensive by the Khartoum regime in the border areas of newly independent South Sudan. The Hollywood actor was shepherded to a waiting patrol car along with a troupe of civil rights leaders, including several Jewish representatives, who were also detained.

The spectacle was a timely reminder that the coalition which crystallized around the genocide in Sudan's Darfur region -- in which Jewish communal organizations were heavily involved, together with assorted celebrities and civil rights groups -- has endured. South Sudan is the site of a bloody and seemingly endless conflict that has already claimed upwards of two million lives. The country now faces a new round of murder and mass displacement at the hands of its northern neighbor.

How should these latest horrors be contextualized? In a recent interview, Clooney discussed his visit to the Nuba Mountains, the inhospitable terrain that lies at the heart of the current conflict. "Religion is not an issue," he said, when asked about the causes of the war. "In the camps you will find Christians and Muslims hiding together. It is ethnic in nature." Read more ..


Middle East on Edge

The Volatile Middle East

March 22nd 2012

Iran holy missiles

This is an incredibly tenuous time in the Middle East: the al-Assad regime is killing its own citizens in Syria; Hezbollah has tens of thousands of rockets aimed at Israel that could be launched on orders from its patron Iran; Iran is racing toward nuclear capability in defiance of the world; the Muslim Brotherhood in power in Egypt; et cetera. The Arab Spring has created great uncertainty rather than pacifying the region. The U.S. has finally brought most of its troops home from Iraq, but Iraq’s democracy is tenuous at best and Iran continues to pull many strings within its long-time rival. All this uncertainty has made Israel are the more a target of regional derision. Without the Mubarak regime to keep Egypt calm, and King Abullah of Jordan facing increased pressure to reform (i.e., become for radically Islamic), Israel is increasingly alone. However, we know that Israel will ultimately do whatever it feels it has to do in order to protect itself.

It is not surprising that Israel told the U.S. that it is not going to update the U.S. as to its actions and intention. This makes sense so that Israel is not in a position of having to ask permission, as well as making it clear that the Obama Administration is not seen as having given a green light if Israel does decide to launch a pre-emptive strike. We call this having your cake and eating it to. Diplomacy demands that we not openly support Israel bombing Iran, yet we continue to hope they will solve the problem for us. Read more ..


Israel and Palestine

Does Israel Support Humanitarian Development in the Palestinian Territories?

March 22nd 2012

Gaza aerial shot 2011
Downtown Gaza

Despite intolerable security threats, a surge in terrorism, and a stymied peace process, the government of Israel continues to support the Palestinian people and invest in their future by providing crucial medical, security, and economic assistance aimed at enhancing their quality of life.

With the Palestinian Authority facing dire financial difficulties in 2011 due to a shortfall in international donations and budget mismanagement, Israel stepped up its economic collaboration to help sustain and stabilize the Palestinian economy. In concrete terms, Israel transferred more than 5 million shekels in tax revenues to the PA—an increase of nearly 6 percent from 2010. Israeli purchases from the PA rose by almost 20 percent to $815.9 million, and Israeli trade with the PA grew to nearly $4.4 billion.

Additionally, Israel provided more than 57,000 permits for Palestinians to work in Israel and for Israeli companies in the West Bank. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also adopted measures, together with the Middle East Quartet, that will help the PA better balance their budget, increase tax collection from Gaza, and reform its revenue collection system to minimize losses. Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

Bravo to Italian Police (and a Warning)

March 20th 2012

Italian anti-terror squad

The New York Police Department (NYPD) has been subject to harsh criticism for doing surveillance on certain Muslim organizations and neighborhoods in an effort to stay ahead of people plotting terrorism in New York. Typical is the Huffington Post blogger who wanted "tough" police surveillance, but not, mind you, of actual people or actual places that people gather; just kind of "watching" public places to see if anything develops in front of them. "The NYPD should monitor websites and publications... have officers and surveillance cameras watching in public places... radiological devices and other detection devices on our subways and bridges. And when there is a real, specific lead that suggests criminal behavior, they should follow up swiftly to investigate."

However, the terror threat (it is not "criminal behavior") morphs, and intrusive police work is necessary precisely because you don't always get a "real specific lead" before the deed is done. Italian police, for example, monitor not only websites and publications, but also individual Internet usage in ways American police do not, and yesterday it paid off. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

Why the West Should Intervene in Syria

March 19th 2012

syrian-uprising

In recent days the world has witnessed the Assad regime in Syria pretending to inquire as to its citizens’ opinion in a referendum on constitutional reform, while enthusiastically slaughtering the opposition with advanced artillery. About 100 civilians were shot or blown up by the security forces in the 48-hour period during which the vote was conducted.

This simultaneous referendum and bloodbath was a uniquely Assad-type production. It combined the clunky, very 20th-century and transparent propaganda methods of the regime with the relentless willingness for savage violence against opponents that has characterised the Assad family dictatorship throughout its existence.

These methods may appear old-fashioned. President Bashar al-Assad is determined to prove his government is sufficiently strong to hold back the wave of change that began last year with the Arab Spring uprisings. A united and anti-Western international coalition stands behind Assad. The rebels, as I saw on a recent trip into northern Syria, are determined and brave, but under-equipped, badly organised and lacking real external help. Which means that unless the West sharply changes its approach to the crisis in Syria, Assad may well succeed and survive. However, no change in the Western approach looks to be on the horizon. Read more ..


Washington on Edge

Defanging the Lacey Act: The Freedom from Over-Criminalization and Unjust Seizures Act of 2012

March 18th 2012

Justice

No one likes a perennial naysayer. Or an inveterate complainer. Or a killjoy. Critics of the Overcriminalization Project at The Heritage Foundation—a project that enjoys support from organizations across the political and policy spectrums, such as the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and the Manhattan Institute—might say that its participants are just that. The project members complain about all the criminal laws that Congress passes, the argument would go, without ever giving Congress credit for other legislation in the criminal justice field.

Such criticism, however, can be headed off at the proverbial pass: Members of the Overcriminalization Project do believe in giving credit where credit is due in the policy arena. Senator Rand Paul (R–KY) and Representative Paul C. Broun (R–GA) are due credit for a recent policy judgment. Over the past month, each has introduced a bill entitled the Freedom from Over-Criminalization and Unjust Seizures Act of 2012 (FOCUS Act). The FOCUS Act would amend the Lacey Act in several ways, one of which would make it enforceable only through the civil process. Read more ..


The Iranian Threat

Do Australian Telcom Companies Cooperate with China in Iran?

March 16th 2012

Huawei Australia execs

Huawei Technologies has an aggressive plan to become the No. 1 provider of telecommunications services, Down Under and across the globe, in less than five years. Unfortunately, in the recent past, this Asian giant has played a key role in helping the Iranian government, the world's most dangerous state sponsor of terror, to monitor, track, and kill those who oppose it.

The Australian government should consider forcing Huawei and other Asian companies to make a choice: trade with Iran or trade with Australia, but they cannot do both. Huawei is a Chinese multinational corporation that is soon expected to surpass Sweden's Ericsson as the largest telecommunications infrastructure supplier in the world. Founded two decades ago by Ren Zhengfei, a former People's Liberation Army soldier, with just $4000 in seed capital, the company has annual revenues of $32 billion and more than 110,000 employees. Huawei's products and services are deployed in most of the largest telecom markets, and the company recently ranked 352 on Fortune magazine's global 500 list. Read more ..


Broken Government

What Congress Must Do to Control Spending and Create Jobs

March 16th 2012

ss card and cash

As the national debt races toward $17 trillion and nearly 13 million Americans search fruitlessly for work, America needs bold changes from its leaders. Congress must get federal spending and borrowing under control and get out of the way of job creation in the private sector. Congress should drive down federal spending, including by fixing entitlement programs, toward a balanced budget; maintain our ability to protect America; and do so without raising taxes. Congress should revise the tax code so that it encourages saving and investment, allowing the private sector to create the jobs that millions of Americans seek. The Heritage Foundation showed how best to achieve these goals with Saving the American Dream: The Heritage Plan to Fix the Debt, Cut Spending, and Restore Prosperity. The Heritage plan achieves a balanced federal budget within ten years and keeps it balanced thereafter, without raising taxes. The plan moves Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid toward the principle of insurance against the risk of poverty and away from the principle of open-ended entitlement to government-guaranteed income and benefits. Read more ..


Russia on Edge

How the U.S. Should Respond to Russia's Unhelpful Role in the Middle East

March 16th 2012

Kremlin

The U.S. and Russia have come to diplomatic blows in the U.N. Security Council over Syria as political upheavals and transformations irrevocably alter the strategic landscape in the Middle East and North Africa. In an unprecedented rhetorical escalation, U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice announced that the United States was “disgusted” with Russia’s veto of a Security Council resolution that condemned the Syrian government: “The international community must protect the Syrian people from this abhorrent brutality, but a couple members of this council remain steadfast in their willingness to sell out the Syrian people and shield a craven tyrant.” According to State Department spokesman Victoria Nuland, prior to the crucial vote, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton tried repeatedly to reach her Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov. He avoided her calls for 24 hours. He was in Australia and said that the State Department gave him an inconvenient time frame for the conversation. When asked why the Americans were complaining, he replied, “Probably this is due to her manners.” Hillary Clinton called the Russian and Chinese vetoes a “travesty.” As the diplomatic fights escalate, new actors and old rivals will compete for influence in the critical geopolitical landscape from the Atlantic to Iran. These include old neighbors, such as Iran and Turkey, and outside powers, China and Russia. Attempting to support its two allies Iran and Syria, keep lucrative arms contracts, and rattle American influence, Russia is playing a hardball, realpolitik game in the Middle East. U.S. decision makers need to be fully aware of Moscow’s motivation and modus operandi. Read more ..


Edge of Terrorism

Is Israel's Policy of Targeted Killings Immoral and Counterproductive?

March 16th 2012

Destroyed terrorist vehicle
Destroyed terrorist vehicle

On March 9, 2012, the Israeli Air Force targeted and killed two members of the Popular Resistance Committee's terror organization in the Gaza Strip, Zuhair al-Qaissi and a collaborator, Mahmud Ahmed Hananni, who were preparing an attack against Israel. Al-Qaissi was also responsible for planning the infiltration of Eilat from the Egyptian Sinai in August 2011, and the subsequent attack in which eight Israelis, including six civilians, were brutally murdered; as well as Gilad Shalit's kidnapping in 2006.

 
Israel is faced with the difficult task of protecting its civilian population from Palestinians who are prepared to blow themselves up to murder innocent Jews as well as terror groups that indiscriminately fire rockets into Israeli towns. One strategy for dealing with the problem has been to pursue negotiations to resolve all of the conflicts with the Palestinians and offer to trade land for peace and security. After Israel gave up most of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and offered virtually all of the remainder, however, the Palestinians chose to use violence to try to force Israel to capitulate to all their demands. 

A second strategy is for Israel to "exercise restraint," that is, not respond to Palestinian terror. The international community lauds Israel when it turns the other cheek after heinous attacks. While this restraint might win praise from world leaders, it does nothing to assuage the pain of the victims or to prevent further attacks. Read more ..


Iran's Nukes

Netanyahu Preparing Israel for War

March 15th 2012

Israeli Jets Parked

Bibi Netanyahu is preparing Israel for war.

That's the opinion of Ha'aretz editor-in-chief Aluf Benn, a long-time observer of Israeli politicians and diplomats. Though Israelis by and large oppose an attack on Iran without U.S. assistance, Netanyahu, Benn writes, acts like a man who has been given the tentative green light by the U.S. president, Barack Obama.

In a speech before the Knesset on Wednesday, Netanyahu outlined three instances in which Israeli politicians ignored the advice of U.S. presidents and pursued military agendas: 1948, 1967 and 1981, when Menachem Begin attacked the Iraqi nuclear program at Osirak.

Though Benn argues that Netanyahu is reading history wrong, he nonetheless suggests that Netanyahu's Knesset speech was revealing:

    ... Netanyahu is hinting that in his Washington visit, he received Obama's tacit approval for an Israeli attack against Iran – under the guise of opposition. Obama will speak out against it but act for it, just as the past U.S. administrations speak against the settlements in the territories but allow their expansion. And in this manner Netanyahu summarized the visit: "I presented before my hosts the examples that I just noted before you, and I believe that the first objective that I presented – to fortify the recognition of Israel's right to defend itself – I think that objective has been achieved." Read more ..


War Against the Weak

What is Appropriate Redress for North Carolina's Eugenic Program?

March 13th 2012

Verschuer-Twins-Height

Eugenics — "the science of improving a human population by controlled breeding" — has a bad name. Today in North Carolina we are faced with the challenge of doing the right thing. Unfortunately, the work of the Governor's Eugenics Compensation Task Force was to "recommend possible methods or forms of compensation" to those forcibly sterilized. Its result, therefore, was preordained. While justice, compassion and a plain sense of wanting to do what's right would seem to demand compensation, it is not clear that taxes and fees paid today by the populace, most of whom neither were responsible for nor beneficiaries of the eugenics program, ought to be used for this purpose, especially if such money might be redirected from more broadly targeted social-welfare initiatives.

The task force concludes that compensation serves two purposes: (i) providing meaning assistance to survivors; and (ii) sending a clear message that "we … pay for our mistakes and ... do not tolerate bureaucracies that trample on basic human rights." It is not clear how the $50,000 lump sum payment for each survivor does either.

A lump sum used to buy non-essentials in no way compensates. It is a windfall. This should be contrasted with the task force's additional recommendations of medical care and mental-health services. More can and should be debated about providing a cash lump sum. Not much consideration has been given to the obligations of those who directly benefited both financially and in other ways from this horrific program. For example, doctors and medical institutions undoubtedly received money and other compensation. Locally, procedures were performed by the Forsyth County health department; but, one private institution acknowledges that its participation constituted a "breach of ethics and moral principle." Available evidence indicates that, in 1943, as "few" as 30 sterilizations were performed locally with genetic work-ups and medical affidavits supplied by the institution and all expense borne by the county. A doctor claimed that he had performed as many as six sterilizations in one week. And, the county supplied funds for an institution to hire a department head. In return, the doctor performed sterilizations.

Read more ..

Diplomacy on Edge

UN Convention Could Expose US to Baseless Climate Change Suits

March 13th 2012

Stormy Seas

Among the many reasons why the U.S. should not accede to the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) is the reality that it would expose the United States to international environmental lawsuits that would harm its environmental, economic, and military interests. Having failed to impose their agenda on the U.S., climate change alarmists and other environmental activists are preparing the legal ground and claimants to sue the U.S. if it joins UNCLOS. Even the threat of such suits or failed suits will affect the U.S. by imposing unnecessary legal and political costs. The best option for the U.S. is simply not to open the door to such frivolous lawsuits.

With the support and encouragement of environmental activists and legal academics, some nations are actively exploring the possible use of international litigation to impose their favored environmental standards on large emitters of greenhouse gases, particularly the United States.

Major international conferences held in recent years in Denmark, Mexico, and most recently Durban, South Africa, have failed to produce a legally binding climate change convention. The continued failure of efforts to regulate greenhouse gases (GHG) through comprehensive treaty commitments has led some proponents of the theory of anthropogenic climate change to seek alternate avenues of enforcement. As one international law professor put it in 2007, “In light of this regulatory failure, victims of climate change have started to think of ways to bring the worst emitters of greenhouse gases to justice.” Read more ..


Edge of Africa

American Taxpayers Deserve to Know how African Union Funds are Spent

March 13th 2012

POTUS w/African leaders
President Obama meets in 2011 with African leaders.

Since the establishment of the African Union (AU) in 2002, the United States has provided millions in taxpayer dollars to support the organization and its activities. Regrettably, the AU makes it impossible to determine the success of this effort. The AU does not publish an annual report on its activities, make its budget publicly available, or conduct audits or other independent evaluation of its work or activities.

The lack of transparency and accountability in the AU compares dismally with the practices of other international organizations that receive American funding, which are themselves often criticized for inadequate standards. U.S. ambivalence toward the AU’s opacity is at odds with the well-established U.S. policy of maximizing transparency in international organizations receiving U.S. funding. Congress should make U.S. contributions to the African Union contingent on the AU’s immediate adoption of practices to improve transparency and accountability. Read more ..


Economy on Edge

'Time Out' Needed for Congressional Debate over Insider Trading Laws

March 13th 2012

Bundles of Money

Last month, the House and Senate passed, by overwhelming majorities, different versions of a bill entitled the Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge Act (STOCK Act). The bills would acknowledge that the insider trading laws apply to federal officials. The Senate version would also reach other perceived public corruption problems. An earlier Issue Brief discussed the provisions of the STOCK Act dealing with gratuities. This Issue Brief discusses the anti-fraud components of the Senate version. Here, too, the House’s policy choice is the better one.

Historically, the mail fraud statute applied only to deceptive schemes to obtain a victim’s property. Beginning in the 1970s, the Justice Department persuaded the lower federal courts to treat the concept of “property” as including the “honest and faithful services” that state and local politicians owe the public. The theory was that politicians who line their pockets at the public’s expense effectively defraud the citizenry.

The Supreme Court, however, rejected that theory in McNally v. United States, limiting the fraud statutes to their original understanding. Congress reacted to McNally by redefining the phrase “scheme or artifice to defraud” to include “a scheme or artifice to deprive another of the intangible right of honest services.” But in Skilling v. United States, the Supreme Court again rejected the government’s effort to expand the fraud laws, limiting the “intangible right of honest services” to kickbacks and bribery. Read more ..


Oil Addiction

Uneven Exchange with Saudis

March 12th 2012

Saudi Prince in Meeting

Since the discovery of oil in the Arabian Peninsula, Saudi Arabia has literally had us over a barrel. Though the Saudis need the United States more than we need them, they have succeeded in coercing every American administration to look the other way while they undermine our values, our interests and our security. Now, the Saudis are aiding President Obama's reelection in exchange for keeping silent about their repressive society.

The House of Saud cares about one thing, and one thing only, and that is to ensure the perpetuation of the monarchy. The Saudis concluded long ago that the United States was the only country that could guarantee that their royal heads stay on their royal shoulders. In exchange, the Saudis provide America with oil. It is not an even trade, however, because the Saudis act like drug pushers who want to keep us addicted to their oil. They keep the price of oil high enough to fill the royal coffers, but low enough to discourage significant investments in alternative sources of energy.  Read more ..


Inside Washington

Sharp Differences Divide Congress as More Americans become Independents

March 12th 2012

Juan Williams 02

The Founding Fathers designed Congress to represent the will of the majority of Americans. Yet, even as more Americans identify themselves as independents — not Democrats or Republicans — there is a painfully sharp decline in moderate and independent voices in both houses of Congress. It is also true that everywhere but Capitol Hill more people are moving away from conservative or liberal labels in favor of calling themselves moderates.

The death of the political middle is the defining shift taking place in American politics today. It is ending the tradition of political leadership that rises above ideology, region, party, religion and even race to attain statesmanship. And it is weakening the two-party system.

Here are the numbers:

According to a Pew Poll from last month, 26 percent of Americans identify as Republican, 32 percent say they are Democrats and a plurality of 36 percent call themselves independents. A January 2012 Gallup poll found that 40 percent of Americans self-identify as conservative, 35 percent as moderate and 21 percent as liberal.

Yet even as more citizens go to the middle, the politicians are marching to the political extremes. According to an analysis of congressional voting records by Professor Keith Poole of the University of Georgia’s Political Science Department, the Republican caucuses in Congress have become dramatically more conservative since the 1960s. At the same time, he says, the Democratic caucuses have remained largely unchanged in their moderate, left-of-center leanings. His comprehensive research is available online at www.voteview.com. Read more ..


The Obama Edge

February Brings Good News for Employment Statistics

March 11th 2012

construction workers

The Bureau of Labor Statistics has reported that businesses and governments increased payrolls by 227,000 jobs in February and that the unemployment rate remained at 8.3 percent. The unemployment rate remained flat even as the labor market increased by 476,000 potential workers.

Job creation was robust enough that the labor market absorbed these new workers without an increase in the unemployment rate. There were also other positive signs of job growth throughout the February report. However, the economic recovery continues to be slower than previous recoveries, and better policies are needed to return economic activity to its full potential.

The February Report

In February, the labor market saw 233,000 new private-sector jobs and 6,000 fewer government jobs. The job numbers for December and January were revised upward by 61,000 jobs. While construction (–13,000) and retail trade (–7,400) shed jobs, most other sectors saw job growth. Manufacturing (31,000), leisure and hospitality (44,000), health care (61,100), and professional and business services (82,000) had some of the strongest job growth. Temporary services, part of business services, grew sharply (45,200), which bodes well for continued job growth in the next few months. Read more ..



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