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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


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


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


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


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.


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 ..

Israel and Palestine

The New Palestinian Realism

March 11th 2012

Salam Fayyad2
Salam Fayyad

In a recent interview in Ramallah, Palestinian prime minister Salam Fayyad warned that the fragile calm that prevails between Israel and the Palestinian Authority could be shaken at any moment. Several recent incidents have underscored Fayyad's concern. The killing of a Palestinian protester during a riot at the Qalandia refugee camp and the injury of several others during his funeral were among the most violent.

Fayyad seemed genuinely surprised and disturbed that the Palestinian issue is "more marginalized than ever" thanks to the attention being given to the Arab Spring. He noted that security cooperation with Israel was good but asked why these were no Israeli concessions regarding Palestinian "sheriff-like" security arrangements in the West Bank. These, he said, would not cost Israel anything and would strengthen the Palestinian Authority in practical and symbolic ways.

Fayyad expressed concerns that what he deemed Israeli violence toward nonviolent protesters at checkpoints and "settler violence" could spark a major incident. But other recent clashes have included a major incident of stone throwing down onto Jewish worshippers at the Western Wall and Christian tourists attempting to visit the Temple Mount, prompted by reports regarding an extremist Jewish website that called for Jews to exercise sovereignty over the area. A visiting group of U.S. Congressmen was also attacked by Palestinian stone throwers as they inspected vandalism at the Jewish cemetery on the Mount of Olives. Read more ..

2012 Vote

Reid Rocks, Pelosi Rolls

March 10th 2012

Barack Obama in Thought

In the golden days of newspapers, the great columnists, such as Walter Lippmann and James “Scotty” Reston, would step back and assess the panorama of unfolding events.

For the first time since November 2010, I now believe the most likely outcome of the 2012 elections is that Barack Obama will be reelected president, Harry Reid will be returned as Senate majority leader and Nancy Pelosi will regain the gavel as Speaker of the House.

It is far too early to predict the 2012 elections. But I suggest that Reid is rocking, Pelosi is rolling and Democrats are rising — they are now the only party that believes in the big-tent philosophy, while Republicans are hostage to Taliban-like factions that view politics as religious wars and cult conflicts, beginning with intolerance and ending with purges of demonized viewpoints.

For many years I have worked for, and been close to, Democratic leaders in Congress. An article of faith for both House and Senate Democrats has been a tolerance and welcoming of diversity of background and viewpoint, in the caucus and the country. This respect for diversity has been the core of what Democrats stand for. Read more ..

Iran's Nukes

Keeping U.S. and Israeli Red Lines Pink on Iran

March 10th 2012

B2 Momber Kitty Hawk

Iran's steady march towards building a nuclear weapon dominated the 2012 American Israel Public Affairs Committee's (AIPAC) policy convention in Washington, DC. It also was the focus of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's meeting with President Obama on Monday afternoon. A day earlier, Obama declared at the AIPAC conference that his administration was committed to a policy of prevention—stopping Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon, rather than containment—preventing Iran from deploying nuclear weapons after acquired. In working to prevent Iran from passing the nuclear threshold, the president said, "I will take no option off the table," including military efforts.

While on the surface it might appear that the U.S. and Israel finally view the Iranian nuclear threat through the same lens, the fact remains that they differ on their belief of what constitutes a red line—the point at which a military option against Iran must be exercised. No doubt these red lines were the topic of conversation in the Oval Office meeting. After all, the points of departure are stark. Read more ..

Israel on Edge

The Souls on the Land are the Only Reasons for the Land

March 8th 2012

Salim Joubran
Salim Joubran

It was May 7, 2004 when Salim Joubran was given a position on Israel's Supreme Court. The day that he became the first permanent member of the Court from the Israeli Arab community should have been the day the world realized that Israel was in fact, a democracy like none else in its region.

It would seem odd, or possibly some act of defiance - and the New York Times carried the story about Justice Joubran earlier this week - that he did not chant the Israeli national anthem, presumably because the words “Nefesh Yehudi homiyah,” which means, “A Jewish soul still yearns,” do not apply to him.

The anthem was not new to him when he became a lawyer, nor when he became a Supreme Court judge. It may indeed be an uncomfortable concept to sing, let alone believe by one who is not Jewish. It highlights the delicate tightrope Israel walks in its pursuit of peace and prosperity while safeguarding its democratic statehood.

For Jews, living in Israel ironically often removes Jewish identity from the everyday life of the average Jew. Unlike most places, where for many, Jewish identity is worn on our sleeves so to speak; on our heads actually for some, but also with the often uncomfortable vacation requests at work and exclusion of eating at non-Kosher restaurants, Israeli Jews to do have to face these issues. In Israel, Jewish holidays are the State holidays and no one feels out of place donning a skullcap.

With Judaism all around as it is, maybe the overtly Jewish words or other ubiquitous Jewish symbolisms should be removed to make those not of one of the 12 Tribes feel more comfortable. Read more ..

Iran's Nukes

Israel’s Legal Case for Stopping Iran

March 6th 2012

Iran Nuclear Equipment
Iranian nuclear efforts

In a world where nuclear weapons could soon be in the hands of a rogue nation like Iran, an Israeli preemptive strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities would be fully justified.  Despite its ban on aggressive war, Article 51 of the United Nations Charter clearly recognizes a state’s inherent right of self-defense against another state.  Thus, Israel has full authority to act unilaterally or collectively in its self-defense.

Yet, Article 51 does not actually create the right to self-defense; it is an inherent right of all states under customary international law.  Further, determining when self-defense is appropriate lies, as it always has, with each state.  Under the Charter, however, the UN Security Council is charged with responsibility to lift the burden of individual national self-defense and take appropriate steps to restore international peace and security.  Having said that, one must recognize that the muscular Security Council originally envisioned in the UN Charter has never materialized.  As such, threatened states are almost always required to make their own decisions and bear their own burdens when threatened. Read more ..

The Edge of Hate

Facebook and its Refusal to Confront Holocaust Denial and Anti-Semitism

March 6th 2012

Russian computer user

On Tuesday, March 6, 2012, President Shimon Peres will visit Facebook, a company which refuses to recognize Holocaust denial as a form of incitement to hatred. While there, he will launch two Facebook pages for the President of Israel and meet with Facebook CEO and co-founder Mark Zuckerberg.

See the Peres Facebook event live

Dare he raise the issue of Holocaust denial? Facebook’s position on Holocaust denial is arbitrary and confused. It does not regard Holocaust denial as hateful in its own right, but recognizes many of the comments posted in denial groups, such as calls for a new genocide of the Jews, as hateful.

Facebook defends its current policy by arguing it regularly shuts down Holocaust denial groups because of these comments. The anti-Semitic groups, however, persist. Read more ..

Oil Addiction

Natural Gas and Other Alt Fuels Can Trump OPEC

March 6th 2012

Oil Barrels 400px

The current election cycle and the rising price of gasoline have rekindled interest in energy security and how best to achieve it. We've had these spasms of interest and hand-wringing before—many times. And each time we believed we had identified a way to overcome our vulnerability to the disruption or unaffordable pricing of oil, the price would decline, we would become complacent again, and effective, long-term solutions were forgotten.
This time, however, the stakes go well beyond the price of a fill-up at the pump. They involve a predictable renewed recession and prolonged, severe economic hardship for all Americans. Read more ..

Religious Tolerance

Bosnian Grand Mufti Ceric is No Peacemaker and Should Not receive Ducci Foundation Peace Prize

March 6th 2012

Mustafa Ceric Bosnian mufti
Bosnian Grand Mufit Mustafa Ceric

The decision by Italy’s Ducci Foundation to award Grand Mufti Cerić its peace prize for his contribution to reconciliation in Bosnia-Herzegovina has sparked a wave of protests from those opposed to his divisive and provocative statements.His name is Mustafa Cerić. He is the highest Muslim religious authority in Bosnia-Herzegovina. A prominent Italian institution, the Ducci Foundation, has decided to honour him for his “contribution to peace and reconciliation” by granting him its peace prize next March, at Rome’s Campidoglio. But there is a setback – according to some Bosnian human rights activists, Cerić is nothing less that a fundamentalist, hidden under a fake image of tolerance.

This was repeated for Il Piccolo by Refik Hodžić, an influential activist for human rights and a leading documentary film-maker. Cerić “has been and is playing an increasingly important political role among Bosniaks, that often surpasses that of any politician”, explains Hodžić. “He is perfectly aware of that power and uses it often to present himself as a counterpart to the president of Republika Srpska, Milorad Dodik, in the continuation of wartime-like discourse of division and mistrust between Serbs and Bosniaks. Cerić uses populist rhetoric identical to Dodik’s, portraying Bosniaks as constantly under threat of repression and physical elimination, drawing on the suffering they endured during the nineties, and the Islamic Community and himself as their sole defenders”, illustrates the activist. Read more ..

The Iranian Threat

Between Iran and a Hard Place: Obama Could Remake Himself into a War President.

March 5th 2012

Barack Obama in Thought

When U.S. President Barack Obama entered his White House meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu today -- angling to dissuade Israel from attacking Iran’s nuclear facilities -- there was one seemingly mundane issue on his mind that he may be too uncomfortable to share with his guest: gasoline prices.

There is no gainsaying the corrosive political impact that high gasoline prices have on an incumbent president’s chances of getting reelected. With prices projected to hit a national average of $4.25 a gallon by Memorial Day, and with a new poll finding that seven in 10 Americans find the gas price issue “deeply important,” the president should be concerned. The tension with Iran has already pushed crude prices to their highest level since the onset of the Arab Spring, adding at least 30 cents to a gallon of regular gasoline. Investors, concerned about potential escalation in the Persian Gulf, are likely to push oil prices even higher. Other factors -- a decline in the dollar, tensions and supply disruptions in oil-producing nations such as Nigeria and Sudan, stocks building up in refineries in preparation for the summer driving season, and a sense that the American economy is improving, to name a few -- have also contributed to the upswing. Read more ..

The Mideast on Edge

The Future of Land-For-Peace Accords Depends on Egypt, not Palestinians

March 5th 2012

Dan Meridor
Israeli Intelligence Minister Dan Meridor

Amid the din of debate over a possible Israeli strike on Iran, perhaps it is unsurprising that Israeli Intelligence Minister Dan Meridor's press conference on February 20 attracted so little international attention. But in a world that claims to view an Israeli-Palestinian deal as a top priority, it should have sounded alarm bells. Israelis, warned Meridor, may never again sign another land-for-peace deal if Egypt unilaterally alters or abrogates its treaty with Israel.

Meridor is not the first Israeli to issue this warning in recent months, but he is one of the most prominent. Moreover, despite serving in a government usually dismissed overseas as "hard-line" or "right-wing," he is a politician far more popular on the left than on the right, an outspoken advocate of an Israeli-Palestinian treaty who even supports freezing construction in the settlements (outside the major settlement blocs). When someone like that warns that the entire land-for-peace paradigm is in danger, it is worth paying attention. Read more ..

Iran's Nukes

The Need for Consistent U.S. and Israeli Public Messaging on Iran

March 4th 2012

Obama and Netanyau

Iran seems certain to be the main topic of discussion during Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu's March 5 White House meeting with President Obama. Whatever the substantive content of their conversations on the Iranian nuclear program, they need to address their public messaging, which has undermined mutual trust and efforts to achieve their common objective: a diplomatic solution to the nuclear crisis with Tehran.

For its part, the Obama administration must spend less time messaging Israel and Congress, and more time messaging Iran. It also needs to iron out contradictory elements in its public messaging that undermine ongoing efforts to reach a diplomatic solution with Iran and risk bringing about the very outcomes it hopes to avoid: an Israeli preventive strike or a fateful miscalculation by Tehran that could lead to war. Specifically, these contradictory elements pertain to U.S. policy objectives (no nuclear weapons capability, or no nuclear weapons), the red lines that flow from these policy objectives (achieving a capability to rapidly build a bomb, or the actual decision to build one), and U.S. attitudes toward the use of force (as a last resort, or never). Read more ..

The War in Afghanistan

US Policy in Afghanistan: Imperative Considerations Need to be Addressed

March 3rd 2012

Afghani Taliban
Afghani Taliban

Although the situation in Afghanistan has spiraled downward over the past 10 days, before making hasty decisions on next steps, U.S. policymakers need to consider what has contributed to this ominous turn of events and what options there are for adjusting the U.S. strategy to avoid further such incidents. U.S. policymakers should also be aware that leaving Afghanistan prematurely would likely lead to the revival of al-Qaeda and increase the threat of further attacks on the U.S. homeland. President Obama’s laser-like focus on timelines for troop withdrawals over the past two years has signaled that the U.S. is more interested in getting its troops out of the country than in achieving its goals. This has led Afghan President Hamid Karzai to become a less reliable partner for the U.S. as he seeks to hedge against an early U.S. drawdown. As events over the past 10 days demonstrate, America cannot carry out the mission in Afghanistan without reliable Afghan partners.

The manner in which the Administration has sought to engage the Taliban has raised further questions about U.S. strategy. The U.S. needs to take into account the views of Afghan civil society and coordinate its peace moves more closely with the Karzai administration. The public disagreement between U.S. and Afghan officials over the opening of a Taliban office in Doha, Qatar, revealed weakness in the strategy and gave the impression that talking with the Taliban was leading to splits between Washington and Kabul. Moving forward, the U.S. should be more transparent about the negotiations with the Taliban and reassure Afghans that it will not sacrifice the progress on human rights, including for women, made over the past decade. Read more ..

Israel's Advocate

Israel would have no Conflict if its Neighbors Were not Predators

March 2nd 2012

John Batchelor

He categorically said, “Jews are very good neighbors; you can't say any more about them.”  When I had the opportunity to sit with John Batchelor earlier this week, he was sanguine about his opportunity to speak before the One Israel Fund 18th Gala Anniversary Dinner on Wednesday, March 14 where he will also be honored.  Batchelor, the nationally syndicated radio talk show host will address the audience of the organization dedicated to not only supporting Israel, but promoting the unification of Judaea and Samaria as a pivotal mainstay of the Jewish State.

The distinction of advancing the eternal attachment of the West Bank to the Greater Israel, makes the support of someone like Mr. Batchelor unique among non Jewish advocates for the only Democracy in the Middle East.  However, while raised as a Protestant in the Presbyterian church and married to a pastor, he does not attribute his attitude toward Israel as so much a religious consideration as it is a practical levelheaded belief in the people. Read more ..

The Race for Alt Fuel

"Freedom" Makes Strong Case for Ethanol: Viable Energy Source

March 2nd 2012

Biofuel Field

Several years ago, as we at The Auto Channel opened our eyes to the potential of alternative fuel and energy sources, we championed the entire suite of domestic solutions: wind, solar, compressed natural gas, propane, alcohol (ethanol and methanol), electric, the variety of algae-based fuels, and even some really exotic ideas such as compressed air-powered motors. We liked them all. At the earliest stage we also subscribed to the common notion that there was not one single bullet solution to ending our energy dependency by replacing gasoline. However, as my business partner, Bob Gordon, and I delved further into our studies on the issues we realized two key things: First, that maturation of some of the solutions, like electric, was decades away from practical reality. Moreover, battery production and the dependence upon rare earth elements from foreign sources to make the batteries left us in the same vulnerable supply position as dealing with the OPEC terrorists.The second key point was that supporting a myriad of solutions was actually tantamount to inaction because it insured that nothing would get done. We came to understand that the main advocate for multiple solutions was the petroleum oil industry itself. If nothing would be accomplished in finding a serious alternative to gasoline it means that the oil and gasoline producers would remain in firm control of the world’s economies.

As we learned more and more we recognized that there really is one single bullet solution: alcohol. Referring, of course, to ethanol and/or methanol, both of which are produced by distilling alcohol. We were extremely fortunate to make the acquaintance of some very experienced and knowledgeable ethanol proponents, most notably David Blume (permaculture expert and author of “Alcohol Can Be A Gas”) and Ted Chipner, president of Ohio BioSystems Cooperative.

This isn’t to say that CNG or propane are not also important candidates in their own right to be single bullet solutions, but you have to keep in mind that even gasoline is not truly a single bullet fuel source. We still need diesel to power heavy vehicles and large stationary machines, and home heating oil or gases are needed for residential uses. Therefore, the so-called single bullet only really refers to the primary fuel used to power the overwhelming number of vehicles on the road: passenger cars, light trucks and motorcycles. If we can decide on one fuel to replace gasoline for these vehicles then everything else would fall into place because our domestic supply of petroleum oil would be more than adequate to provide us with all the diesel we need; particularly when we add in or replace petroleum oil-based diesel with bio-diesels. Consequently, as the supply of domestic natural gas and propane increases, home heating oil becomes unnecessary. Read more ..

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