|Shoshana Bryen||June 18th 2013|
Jewish Policy Center
The American people often prove to be more sophisticated about themselves, their rights, and their government than they get credit for. Even if they can't enumerate the clauses, most people know the Bill of Rights is designed to restrict the government's ability to curb their speech or religious practice; take their weapons; search their persons or property without a warrant; make them incriminate themselves; deny them a lawyer, a speedy trial, and a jury of their peers; or set excessive bail. Some people know that at least in peacetime, the Army can't live in your house without your permission. But they're not absolutists about it.
Even after the discovery that the Federal Government has been collecting voluminous data -- including aggregated information on credit card usage, e-mails, telephones and EZ-passes -- on American citizens, the Pew Research Company found that 56 percent of Americans consider it "acceptable" for the NSA to get "secret court orders to track calls of millions of Americans to investigate terrorism," while 41 percdent said it was not. In addition, 62 percent say, "it is more important for the government to investigate possible terrorist threats, even if that intrudes on personal privacy," while 34 percent reject government intrusion, "even if that limits its ability to investigate possible terrorist threats." Read more ..
|Wendell Potter||June 17th 2013|
Center for Public Integrity
Folks, there is reason to be hopeful that our lawmakers can put aside their ideological differences every now and then and do what makes sense for constituents.
In fact, last week some of the people we have elected to represent us — at least at the state level — even showed a willingness to put careers at risk by doing what they believe is the right thing.
One of the most contentious issues during state legislative sessions this year has been whether to expand the Medicaid program for low-income individuals and families, as Congress intended when it enacted health care reform three years ago.
The state-level debate was made necessary when the Supreme Court ruled last year that Congress can’t force the states to expand their Medicaid programs, even if the feds will always cover no less than 90 percent of the cost. Medicaid is jointly funded by the states and the federal government. Read more ..
Brazil on Edge
|Filippo Ponz de Leon||June 17th 2013|
In the last two years, media outlets have reported the actions of the so-called “Occupy” movement that began on Wall Street and subsequently spread across the globe. Beyond the individual episodes, occupying has nowadays become a way of life to raise voices against social and economic inequalities and injustices all over the world. Brazil is not an exception, nor is the phenomenon likely to disappear soon.
On June 3, 2013, the website of the Italian newspaper La Stampa included a piece titled “Occupy Mato Grosso—La Protesta Degli Indios Brasiliani” (“Occupy Mato Grosso—The Protest of Brazilian Indigenous Peoples”). But what is this protest about? Which injustices are the Brazilian Mato Grosso experiencing today? Read more ..
The Economy on Edge
|Joathan Rothwell||June 16th 2013|
To make it in this economy, you have to have skills that customers or employers value. The need for skilled workers is at the heart of debates about immigration policy, innovation, education, and opportunity. It raises questions about how to better prepare students, spark entrepreneurship, and spur innovation as part of the broader quest to revamp our stagnant economy and bring more Americans into the middle class.
But these questions can’t be answered without a proper definition of our skilled workforce, and we don’t have that. It is well established that knowledge in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) subjects leads to high-paying careers, but we have the misconception that all STEM workers are advanced degree holders.
As my new report shows, half of America’s highly-skilled technical workers do not possess a doctorate or even a bachelor’s degree. Instead their knowledge is acquired through a combination of on-the-job-training, experience, and relatively short periods of post-secondary education. These are unheralded STEM jobs, in the background of every city and town, far removed the public accolades, or support, reserved for scientists and tech workers. Read more ..
The Defense Edge
|Mackenzie Eaglen||June 15th 2013|
On increasingly rare occasions, the relentless cacophony inside the Beltway gives way to harmony. Such was the case last week when the doyens of DC’s think-tank community united their voices to urge painful yet necessary Pentagon reforms. On Monday, a group of 25 scholars from ten different think tanks released an open letter to Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and senior congressional leaders of the defense committees on June 3 in The Hill newspaper.
The authors issued a clarion call on the need for quick action on excess bases, the size and structure of the defense civilian workforce, and make-up of military compensation. Many of the necessary measures will face steep political resistance from entrenched interests in both branches of government as well as many communities and constituencies across America. While all of these concerns must be weighed equally, what should not get lost is the other key Pentagon priority to provide service members the cutting-edge tools and training, maintenance, and readiness they need to fight and win as safely, effectively, and quickly as possible. Yet this is increasingly a zero-sum outcome if policymakers continue to allow DoD structural costs to squeeze the defense budget from within. Read more ..
Obama's Second Term
|Jean-David Leitte||June 14th 2013|
As a diplomat for 42 years, 16 of which I spent at the Elysée, under three presidents (Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, Jacques Chirac and Nicolas Sarkozy), I’ve always believed that one of the most difficult tasks of an advisor involved in the action is to understand the long-term consequences of key events beyond their immediate impact, which can be misleading.
To take the image of a game of chess, how can you think not just tactically but strategically, calculating not just the next move but the fifth or sixth one down the line, based on all the possible reactions of the other player? With an additional difficulty: In international relations, the number of players—both state and non-state—is considerable.
The demise of the Soviet Empire and reforms in China marked the end of a century of ideologies. The market economy now reigned supreme.
Without rewriting history, it’s possible to illustrate my remarks by looking at key moments in recent decades that eventually led to upheavals that were unsuspected at the time.
1979: Soviet troops invaded Afghanistan on Christmas day. The USSR was on the offensive, making gains in Africa, Angola and Ethiopia. Faced with this event, along with the loss of an ally, Iran, and bogged down in the Teheran hostage crisis, President Carter projected an image of America on the defensive. This was also true on the economic front, due to the meteoric rise of Japan, which was buying up Hollywood properties and the Empire State Building. According to a number of analysts, it was about to become the world’s leading economic power. Read more ..
The Mideast on Edge
|Yaakov Lappin||June 12th 2013|
At a time when news headlines from the Middle East are dominated by battles in Syria, growing Sunni-Shi'ite conflict in Iraq and Lebanon, and mass disturbances in Turkey, it is easy to forget about Iran's nuclear program; but early warning indicators are signaling an impending, explosive crisis over Iran's refusal to halt its covert nuclear weapons program. At enrichment facilities in Natanz and Fordow, Iran is continuing to inch closer to the point of nuclear breakout, as a report by the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) recently noted.
The report confirmed what defense analysts had been saying for months: that Iran installed hundreds of additional centrifuges for uranium enrichment, enhancing its nuclear program, while continuing enrichment activities. Tehran has also taken steps to create a parallel path to nuclear weapons through its plutonium plant at Arak. Iranian engineers are constructing a reactor at the heavy water plant at Arak, which could enable the production of a plutonium-based atomic bomb. Read more ..
|Martin Barillas||June 12th 2013|
Internal Revenue Service snoops are seeking to purchase surveillance equipment from an “undisclosed Corporation,” according to a solicitation the agency posted on June 6. The tax agency expects to close the deal on June 10. The purchase order includes cameras hidden in coffee trays, plants and clock radios. “The Internal Revenue Service intends to award a Purchase Order to an undisclosed Corporation,” reads the solicitation. Furthermore, it says “The following descriptions are vague due to the use and nature of the items.” Continuing, the solicitation says, “If you feel that you can provide the following equipment, please respond to this email no later than 4 days after the solicitation date.” Read more ..
The Race for EVs
|Bernie DeGroat||June 12th 2013|
Making cars more fuel-efficient is great for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, but rather than promoting sales of electric and other alternative-fuel vehicles, policymakers should turn their focus to cutting emissions in other energy sectors—from oil wells and power plants to farms and forests affected by biofuels production—says a University of Michigan researcher.
"While the rush to get alternative fuels on the road has become dogma in many policy circles, such haste cannot be justified by careful analysis," said John DeCicco, a research professor at the U-M Energy Institute and professor of practice at the School of Natural Resources and Environment.
Alternative fuel vehicles have been promoted for decades—plug-in electric cars as well as those powered by ethanol, natural gas, hydrogen or other nonpetroleum fuels. Federal tax credits for electric vehicles range up to $7,500 per car and many other alternative fuels are also subsidized. Read more ..
Israel and Palestine
Israel Behind the News
At the end of August 1967, shortly after the Six Day War, the heads of Arab states held a special conference in the Sudanese capital Khartoum, where the three famous "Nos" were decided on: No to peace with Israel; no to the recognition of Israel; and no to negotiations with Israel. The PLO representative at the conference, Ahmad Shukeiri, was even more extreme and called for an active military struggle against Israel. The heads of Arab states believed the superpowers would do their work for them and pressure Israel to withdraw.
Forty-six years have passed, and nothing has changed in relation to the Arabs who are dubbed Palestinians. Yasser Arafat replaced Shukeiri, and Mahmoud Abbas replaced Arafat, but the three "Nos" remained as they were. The chairman of the Palestinian Authority (which the Palestinians insist on calling a "state") is not willing to reach a peace agreement with Israel; he is not willing to recognize Israel as a Jewish state; and he is not willing to negotiate with it. Read more ..
The Way We Are
|Steve Hochstaldt||June 10th 2013|
I read an article the other day about a famous liar, Jonah Lehrer. Less than a year ago, Lehrer was a writer for the New Yorker, one of the most prestigious jobs in journalism. He was caught fabricating quotations and plagiarizing from other writers, and resigned in disgrace. Then in February, he got $20,000 from the Knight Foundation to give a talk about his lies and how he planned to redeem himself. The Knight Foundation claims it promotes quality journalism under the slogan “informed and engaged communities”. Now he has just scored a deal with Simon and Schuster for a book tentatively titled “A Book About Love”. Looks like lying can be a good career move.
In fact, liars are doing quite well these days. While he was Governor of South Carolina in 2009, Mark Sanford cheated on his wife and lied about it to his constituents. He lied about misusing state travel funds to finance his long distance affair. He admitted that he had “crossed the lines” with other women during his marriage. This May he was elected to Congress, with the endorsements of Speaker John Boehner and other conservative Republicans. His website headlines “Leadership”.
Another big public liar is Democrat Anthony Weiner, a married man who sent sexually explicit messages and photos to many women while he was in Congress, and then fervently denied it. He resigned from Congress just two years ago, but now he’s back in the political limelight. Weiner is running for mayor of New York. His website promotes his “ideas”. If you want to make a contribution to his campaign, you must check a box: “I confirm that the following statements are true and accurate.” Weiner does not have to confirm that his statements are true or accurate. A poll in late May showed Weiner running second in a crowded field, with 19 percent support. Read more ..
The US and Turkey
|Michael Rubin||June 9th 2013|
Tear gas continues to waft over Istanbul’s mosques and malls as protests have spread to dozens of cities. What began as a sit-in against the destruction of a small park has morphed into a country-wide revolt against authoritarianism. Turks have reason to be angry: Where liberals once applauded Erdogan’s efforts to rein in the Turkish military, he soon showed his vendettas would not stop there: minorities, secularists, and women all found themselves targets of his ire. Press freedom is in free fall. Turkey was a tinderbox in need of a spark. By attacking demonstrators, Erdogan lit a match.
The “Turkish Spring” puts President Barack Obama in a tough spot. Hosting Erdogan at the White House last month, Obama was effusive. “This visit reflects the importance that the United States places on our relationship with our ally, Turkey, and I value so much the partnership that I've been able to develop with Prime Minister Erdogan.” Never before has an American president struck up such friendship with a Turkish leader. In a January 2012 interview, Obama singled out Erdogan as among those leaders with whom he was able to forge "bonds of trust.” Read more ..
|Kent Paterson||June 8th 2013|
As the hottest time of year descends on the borderland, a new report sheds fresh light on the mass deaths of migrants crossing the deadly Sonora-Arizona desert. Co-authored by the University of Arizona’s Binational Migration Institute and the Pima County Office of the Medical Examiner (PCOME), the study examines the deaths of 2,238 migrants in the Tucson area between 1990 and 2012.
The researchers document the dramatic rise in border crossing deaths beginning in 1990, when the bodies of 8 undocumented migrants were recovered, and culminating in 2012, when 171 migrant deaths were recorded. With 225 migrant deaths registered in the zone examined, 2010 was rated the deadliest year.
According to the report: “Previous research has illustrated that segmented border militarization has resulted in the funnel effect, or the redistribution of migratory flows into remote and dangerous areas such as southern Arizona…” Read more ..
Obama's Second Term
|Shoshana Bryen||June 7th 2013|
Yesterday it was revealed that that the current US ("I've Got Israel's back") administration leaked to the media the specifications for the heretofore-secret US-Israel installation for Israel's Arrow 3 missiles. It was quickly called just another leak from an administration already reeling from leaks; someone apologized. But it was more likely a deliberate decision -- by someone. The constellation of players in the administration now contains a heavy contingent of those determined to bring "peace" to Israel. "Peace" is defined as the creation of the State of Palestine under whatever circumstances they can, and the operative question is how to bring Israel in line. Leaking military secrets is actually the second step in the process -- first was Secretary of State John Kerry last month positing the absurdity that because Israel is successful, democratic and increasingly energy independent, Israelis do not care about peace: "People in Israel aren't waking up every day and wondering if tomorrow there will be peace because there is a sense of security and a sense of accomplishment and of prosperity." The implication that Jews care more about money than peace comes ever so close to anti-Semitic caricature.
Read more ..
The War on Terror
Forty-five years ago, on June 6, 1968, New York Senator Robert F. Kennedy died of gunshot wounds. His assassination, coming five years after his brother Jack’s and two months after Martin Luther King’s, traumatized America. Amid the tumultuous 1960s, with youth rioting, crime soaring, blacks protesting, the Vietnam War souring, and these young, visionary leaders dying, Americans wondered: “is ours a sick society?” While America then needed reforming, the soul-searching around Robert Kennedy’s assassination was unmerited. The truth -- which most overlooked then -- was that this Kennedy assassination was the first major act of Palestinian terrorism targeting the United States.
No new evidence has emerged, we just understand the world better. At the time, Sirhan Sirhan, Kennedy’s murderer, was usually called a “Jordanian” -- there was minimal international awareness of the “Palestinians” as a factor in “the Arab-Israeli conflict." Read more ..
The Battle for Syria
|Jeremy Shapiro||June 7th 2013|
The Syrian civil war, all acknowledge, is a humanitarian tragedy and a threat to regional stability. For many, however, it is also a proxy battle in a larger struggle between Iran and the United States. Worse, many say that the U.S. is losing that battle or as Vali Nasr, who is a Brookings non-resident senior fellow and dean of the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University, puts it in a recent op-ed, “Iran is beating the U.S. in Syria.” In an echo of the Cold War struggle between the United States and the Soviet Union, the U.S.-Iran rivalry will now play out in shadow wars and guerilla struggles across the Middle East. As we often heard during the Cold War, the United States must fight its enemy everywhere, lest it lose credibility—in Nasr’s words “the aura of power”—in the larger struggle. Read more ..
The Defense Edge
|Mackenzie Eaglen||June 6th 2013|
Pentagon leaders have been working for months on a process Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has said will inform budget decisions should sequestration stay in place for the U.S. military next year (the top weapons buyer said Monday that it’s likely to continue).
The process, known as the Strategic Choices and Management Review, is apparently designed to “stress test” President Obama’s strategic guidance, from January 2012, calling for a pivot to Asia amid shrinking defense budgets.
The review is long overdue, given that sequestration — mandated budget cuts of roughly 10 percent — took effect more than three months ago. For that reason, Hagel should prepare to release some of its findings publicly. By keeping the budget-review findings secret, Hagel will instead allow speculation, rumors and select leaks to drive the debate. Read more ..
Afghanistan on Edge
|Bruce Riedel||June 5th 2013|
The U.S. and Pakistan are fundamentally at odds over the future of Afghanistan. Washington and Islamabad back opposite sides in the war and want different outcomes. This despite a new civilian government in Islamabad and a somewhat new counter terrorism policy in Washington.
For twenty years Pakistan's army--the real power broker in the country--has backed the Afghan Taliban. It helped create the Taliban's Islamic Emirate in the 1990s and build the al Qaeda state within a state. The army has provided safe haven, arms, expertise and other help to the Taliban. It briefly pretended to abandon the Taliban to avoid American anger in 2001 misleading George Bush. By 2004 under the leadership of its then spy chief and today top general, Ashfaq Kayani, Pakistan's intelligence service, the ISI, was deeply engaged in helping the Taliban again. It still is. The senior Taliban leadership including Mullah Omar are protected by the ISI in Quetta and Karachi. Read more ..
The Edge of Jihad
|Patrick S. Poole||June 5th 2013|
The aftermath of the April 15, 2013 bombings in Boston, Massachusetts, has focused attention on the failure of the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) to carry out an adequate investigation of the suspected bombers despite warnings from Russian authorities. This failure has partially been attributed to a full scale campaign of political correctness waged inside the bureau and throughout the U.S. government under the Obama administration against any attempt to link jihadi terrorism with anything remotely connected to Islam of any variety (the most radical versions included). This has extended into other segments of the government as well, particularly the Department of Defense. One of the primary contributors to this widespread political correctness campaign has been the U.S. government’s disastrous Muslim outreach policies extending back to the Clinton administration and the 1993 World Trade Center bombings. Read more ..
Turkey on Edge
|Michael Auslin||June 4th 2013|
American Enterprise Institute
Twitter is lighting up with reports of mass protests spreading in major Turkish cities, and apparently increasing use of force by Turkish police and paramilitary forces to break them up. The major confrontation is taking place in Istanbul, with at least two deaths and dozens of injuries reported on Twitter. Pictures of police literally blowing protesters off their feet with water/gas cannons are making the rounds, as well as grainy images of huge bonfires in the middle of the streets. The spark apparently was a protest in central Istanbul against Prime Minister Erdogan’s plans to remove iconic Taksim Square and replace it with another shopping mall. Protests spread to nearby parks and along the pedestrial shopping street, Istiklal. Accuracy of reports about protests in other cities need to be checked. Read more ..
Education on Edge
|Jacob L. Vigor||June 2nd 2013|
If you are a parent of one of the 50 million public schoolchildren in the United States, the odds are your child has taken a standardized test within the past few weeks. The odds also suggest that you took such a test yourself once upon a time, though probably not as early or as often as your kids. You and your children have the federal No Child Left Behind Act to thank for the modern ubiquity of standardized testing.
No Child Left Behind is something of a forgotten stepchild now, having been expired without formal reauthorization longer than it was actually in effect. The Obama administration has moved on to its “Race to the Top” initiative; most states have applied for waivers from many of the law’s requirements. One might be tempted to conclude that NCLB was a failed experiment, a quixotic effort to attain noble yet patently unrealistic ideals. A new American Enterprise Institute report I’ve authored, along with Thomas Ahn of the University of Kentucky, argues the opposite: that there were, in fact, many positive lessons to take from No Child Left Behind. Read more ..
The Battle for Syria
|David Schenker||June 2nd 2013|
The Washington Institute
For much of the past two years, Europe and the United States have taken only diplomatic and humanitarian measures as Syria's Assad regime has killed nearly 80,000 civilians and forced another million to seek refuge in neighboring states. Despite overwhelming odds and this heavy toll, Syrian rebels made some remarkable gains on the battlefield.
Lately, however, opposition forces experienced setbacks as Assad's allies -- Russia, Iran and the Lebanese Shiite terrorist organization Hezbollah -- have reinforced the regime. The European Union's decision to lift the arms embargo will not immediately reverse momentum in favor of the rebels, but it is an important first move away from the ambivalence that has characterized western policy toward the Syrian conflict for too long. Read more ..
Islam on Edge
The Gatestone Institute
Islam is on track to become the dominant religion in Britain within the next generation, according to new census data published by the British government.The numbers show that although Christianity is still the main religion in Britain -- over 50% of the population describe themselves as such -- nearly half of all Christians in Britain are over the age of 50, and, for the first time ever, fewer than half under the age of 25 describe themselves as Christian.
By contrast, the number of people under 25 who describe themselves as Muslim has doubled over the past ten years: one in ten under the age of 25 are Muslim, up from one in 20 in 2001. If current trends continue -- a Muslim population boom, combined with an aging Christian demographic and the increasing secularization of British natives -- Islam is set to overtake Christianity in Britain within the next 20 years, according to demographers. A new report published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) on May 16 offers additional analyses of the 2011 census data previously published in December 2012. Read more ..
|Romina Boccia and Rachel Greszler||June 1st 2013|
Social Security ran a $55 billion deficit in 2012, closing out three years of consecutive cash-flow deficits as the program’s unfunded obligations continue to grow. The combined 75-year unfunded obligation of the Social Security and Disability trust funds (referred to as the OASDI trust fund) is $12.3 trillion. This is a $1 trillion increase from last year’s unfunded obligation of $11.3 trillion.
The combined Social Security and Disability programs are projected to remain solvent—that is, they are expected to have enough revenue from payroll taxes, interest on the trust fund balance, and repayment of borrowed trust fund dollars to pay out scheduled benefits—through 2033. This is the same date as projected in last year’s report. If no action is taken to improve the program’s solvency before 2033, benefits will be reduced across the board by 23 percent. Read more ..
Obama's Second Term
|Thomas P. Miller||May 31st 2013|
The central provisions of the Affordable Care Act require younger and healthier Americans to buy insurance policies that will, in essence, subsidize the health care of older and sicker Americans. But one of Obamacare's hidden taxes — a new limit on contributions to health flexible spending accounts, or FSAs — will hit older and chronically ill individuals hardest.
Starting this year, the health care law imposes a $2,500 annual cap on an individual's contribution to an FSA that is part of an employer's "cafeteria" benefits plan. Such contributions, diverted directly from one's paycheck, are not subject to federal income and payroll taxes. The money in an FSA can then be used to pay for qualified medical expenses such as deductibles, co-insurance and co-payments, as well as services not covered by insurance.
Before Obamacare, there were no FSA contribution limits for workers under federal tax law. Employers set their own annual limits, and many chose amounts well above $2,500. The federal government, as one example, allowed FSA contributions of up to $5,000 a year. Read more ..
Healthcare on Edge
The decision by Angelina Jolie to undergo a double mastectomy after tests determined she carried a genetic mutation that elevated her chances of developing breast or ovarian cancer has led to renewed calls for expanded genetic screening. It has also raised a disconcerting question-could genetic testing actually be harmful to your health?
As is the case for many people with a family history of breast cancer, the Jolie story is very personal. She carried one of three mutations, specifically BRACA 1, that is linked to ancient Jewish communities. I can relate: My two sisters and I all carry one of these genetic mistakes (in our case, it's BRCA2). I face a higher likelihood of contracting male breast cancer, as well as ocular and prostate cancers. Many of my family members, including my mother, developed breast or ovarian cancers. My mother died as a consequence of carrying this mutation. My young, female family members worry whether they should have their breasts and ovaries removed as a precaution.
It's estimated that one in forty-three Jews (about 2.5 percent) carry one of these three genetic faults. Because humans move around and fool around, the BRCA mutations are also found in non-Jews like Jolie. It's estimated that overall, one in nine women will develop breast cancer in their lifetime-although only a fraction can be definitively linked to a specific mutation like BRCA1 or BRCA2.
The Jolie revelation has sparked a welcomed public discussion about the benefits of testing. But it's also raised questions about the need for counseling that often accompanies genetic screening-and calls by some to make counseling mandatory, regardless of cost or effectiveness.
The costs of mandated genetic counseling
I found out I was a potential carrier for one of the three "Jewish" breast cancer mutations in 2001, when I received a terrifying call from my oldest sister: she had been diagnosed with breast cancer. Gratefully, she defeated the cancer but the issue of genetic screening-it's costs and implications-took on personal significance. Read more ..
Food Safety on Edge
Shuanghui International’s blockbuster acquisition of Smithfield Foods raises major concerns over food safety, Rep. Rosa DeLauro said Wednesday, pointing to the Chinese company's troubled history. "This potential merger raises real food safety concerns that should alarm consumers,” the Connecticut Democrat said in a written statement. “We know that Chinese food products have been a threat to public health and that Shuanghui was found to have produced and sold tainted pork.” DeLauro’s reference was to 2011 revelations that Shuanghui products contained a hazardous and banned chemical used to make meat leaner. The case was just one part of an ongoing scandal involving tainted or fake Chinese meat. Read more ..
The Edge of Reform
|Michael Barone||May 29th 2013|
A thoughtful reformer targets the traditional rules of an aging institution that has retarded progress in the past. Time to modernize those rules, the reformer says, and prevent obstruction in the future. The trouble is that such reform efforts often prove counterproductive. New rules strengthen rather than weaken the aging institution. Unintended consequences abound.
Three examples come to mind, the first from far away -- the British House of Lords.
After Tony Blair's Labor Party was swept into office in 1997, it decided to reform the House of Lords. Its hereditary members were overwhelmingly Conservative and could outvote the appointed life peers of various parties. The Lords could not veto legislation -- it threatened to do so in 1910 and the power was taken away -- but could delay or amend it, sometimes obstructing or frustrating the democratically elected House of Commons. Read more ..
|Timothy P. Carney||May 28th 2013|
If you take a group of Democrats who are also unionized government employees, and put them in charge of policing political speech, it doesn't matter how professional and well-intentioned they are. The result will be much like the debacle in the Cincinnati office of the IRS.
The IRS's targeting of Tea Party groups doesn't look like a Nixonian abuse of power by the Obama White House. And there's no reason to even posit evil intent by the IRS officials who formulated, approved or executed the inappropriate guidelines for picking groups to scrutinize most closely.
There's a fairly innocent -- and fairly probable -- explanation for what the IRS did, and it boils down to the natural suspicion people have of those with opposing views. The public servants figuring out which groups qualified for 501(c)4 "social welfare" non-profit status were mostly Democrats surrounded by mostly Democrats. Read more ..
The War on Terror
|Cecily Hilleary||May 28th 2013|
“I continue to believe that right now these prisoners are receiving all the rights that they are entitled to. They are receiving good treatment – certainly the treatment that they are entitled to under international and domestic law.” – Alberto R. Gonzales
A hunger strike by Guantanamo Bay detainees has now passed the 100-day mark, increasing pressure on President Barack Obama to shut down the controversial detention facility – something he promised to do even before he took his first oath of office. During an April 30 press briefing, Obama reiterated that promise, telling reporters that Guantanamo not only hurts U.S. international standing but impacts America’s ability to coordinate counterterrorism efforts with its allies.
Judge Alberto R. Gonzales served as United States attorney general under and counsel to President George W. Bush. Today he holds the Doyle Rogers Distinguished Chair of Law at Belmont University and serves as counsel at the Weller law firm in Nashville, Tennessee. VOA reporter Cecily Hilleary spoke to him by phone and asked him whether he agrees with President Obama on the need to close down Guantanamo. Below please find the transcribed interview. You can also listen to it using the audio player at the bottom of this post. Read more ..
The Defense Edge
|Michaela Dodge||May 27th 2013|
The federal National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) annually specifies the budget and expenditures of the Department of Defense (DOD). The law can be a vehicle for both good and bad policies.
As Congress prepares to craft this legislation, it should seriously consider policy issues that can improve U.S. security and advance international partnerships:
1) Maintain permanent U.S. military presence in Europe. It is in the strategic interest of the U.S. to maintain a permanent military presence in Europe. Having U.S. troops in Europe provides flexible and resilient rapid deployment options to northern Africa and the Middle East as well. Permanent bases also strengthen critical alliances in Europe. Read more ..
The Race for EVs
The Auto Channel
Better Place, the innovative initiative founded by Shai Shai Agassi, has filed for liquidation this morning in Israel. According to the company’s motion, the action is a result its failure to raise additional funds and in the absence of sufficient resources for the continued operation of the business, the company is asking for the court’s assistance in protecting the rights of its employees, customers and creditors. There was no word how the Israeli filing will affect Better Place’s operations in other parts of the world.
“Project BETTER PLACE” made international headlines several years ago with an imaginative solution to the primary problem of electric cars (range and charging time) by quickly swapping out batteries at roadside service stations, as is done with propane tanks, rather than recharging them. Read more ..
Israel on Edge
|Daniel Pipes||May 25th 2013|
At this moment of sequester and belt-tightening, the U.S. government has delivered a reading list on Islam. The National Endowment for the Humanities has joined with two private foundations, Carnegie and Duke, to fund "Muslim Journeys," a project that aims to present "new and diverse perspectives on the people, places, histories, beliefs, practices, and cultures of Muslims in the United States and around the world." Its main component is the "Muslim Journeys Bookshelf" a selection of 25 books and 3 films on Islam sent to nearly 1,000 libraries as well as a website and some other activities. Marvin Olasky, who brought this project to public attention, estimates the whole project cost about $1 million.
As one of the taxpayers who unwittingly contributed to this project as well as the compiler of my own bibliography on Islam and the Middle East, I take interest in the 25 books NEH selected for glory, spreading them around the country. Softness characterizes its list: The 25 books quietly ignore current headlines so as to accentuate the attractive side of Islamic civilization, especially its medieval expression, and gently promote the Muslim religion. It's not so exuberant an exercise as the British 1976 World of Islam Festival, described at the time as "a unique cultural event that … was no less than an attempt to present one civilization -- in all its depth and variety -- to another." But then, how can one aspire to such grandeur with all that's happened in the intervening years? Read more ..
The Edge of Terrorism
Details are still emerging about the life and habits of Michael Adebolajo, the Islamist butcher who displayed the blood-drenched palms of his hands to a passing cameraman just moments after he and an accomplice murdered 25-year-old Lee Rigby, a soldier in the British Army’s Royal Fusiliers regiment, on a south London street this week.
As is common with any terrorism investigation, the focus is upon who Adebolajo was mixing with and which organizations he approached. A much-tweeted photo shows a stony-faced Adebolajo standing behind Anjem Choudary, a founder of the now banned Islamist organization Al Muhajiroun, at rally in London. It was Choudary who, in 2010, led a ceremony in which he and other supporters of al-Qaeda burned the poppies which many Britons pin to their lapels every November in commemoration of the British and Allied soldiers who fell in two world wars. And it was the same Choudary who justified Adebolajo’s barbarous act by citing “the presence of British forces in Muslim countries and the atrocities they’ve committed.” Read more ..
Obama's Second Term
|Armstrong Williams||May 23rd 2013|
It is inevitable that we all make excuses. The biggest problem with excuses is that we use them to pass the blame to anyone but ourselves.
“It wasn’t me.”
“I didn’t see the stop sign.”
“I didn’t grow up with a father.”
On and on and on.
The differences between people that succeed and those that fail is that- losers look for excuses and winners look for reasons. I know some are wondering what the difference is. Reasons for failure means you look at how something went wrong and, most importantly, what you yourself did wrong. You then learn from that mistake and try not to repeat it the next time. Then you project that idea out to others. What are the unsuccessful people doing over and over that I can avoid? What are the prosperous people doing that I can emulate? It seems so simple, but over and over again I hear excuses coming from many in the black community. “I can’t succeed because of a legacy of slavery and Jim Crow.” “The system is keeping me down.” “Selling drugs is the only way I can pay for my family.” On and on and on. Read more ..
|Aspen Gorry and Sita Nataraj Slavov||May 22nd 2013|
Both advocates and opponents of same-sex marriage eagerly await the Supreme Court's decisions on two cases challenging the constitutionality of laws - one federal and one state - that deny recognition for same-sex marriage. These court cases come in the wake of increasing public support for same sex marriage: according to a recent Gallup poll, half of Americans now support same-sex marriage. Last week, Minnesota adopted legislation to allow same-sex marriage, joining the 11 states and the District of Columbia that had already taken that step.
This subject divides Americans, pitting cultural conservatives against cultural liberals. Part of the reason that same-sex marriage is such a divisive issue is that many existing government policies treat families as a single unit, collecting taxes and providing government benefits on a household rather than individual basis. A switch to taxing individuals rather than families - as many other industrialized countries do - has the potential to both improve tax fairness and reduce the government's role in defining the family. Moreover, because a family-based tax system penalizes work done by secondary earners, this change can also increase economic output. Read more ..
|Richard Breitman and Allan J. Lichtman||May 21st 2013|
Critics of Franklin Delano Roosevelt often use the ship the St. Louis as an emblem of FDR’s alleged indifference toward the Holocaust. In Hollywood’s version, now deeply engrained in American popular culture, the 937 German-Jewish passengers of the MS St. Louis undertook the “voyage of the damned.” The president could have saved them and did nothing. As a result, most of them perished.
In our new book FDR and the Jews, we noted in passing that American officials did not order the Coast Guard to prevent the St. Louis from landing in the United States. Since our book appeared a few months ago our critics in the press -- and some surviving St. Louis passengers -- have complained about this particular statement.
We do not dispute the recollections of St. Louis survivors that they saw and heard Coast Guard vessels while the ship steamed in waters near Florida. But the survivors could not have known the real mission of the Coast Guard. See video here. Read more ..
The Bear is Back
|Shoshana Bryen||May 21st 2013|
Jewish Policy Center
History is back and so are the Russians.
After an interregnum of twenty years, during which the communist Soviet Union was demolished and a crony capitalist, Russian kleptocracy turned inward to establish firm control of journalists (oh wait, that might have been the Obama Administration), civil society practitioners including lawyers, businessmen, and little girl punk bands, Vladimir Putin has laid down a marker in the Middle East. The suggestion that advanced SS300 air defense missiles are already in Syria and that Yakhont ship-to-ship missiles are coming, plus Russian warships steaming toward the region along with obstruction in the UN are all steps toward establishing Russia as the "go to" imperial power to control or end the Syrian civil war.
The Russian interest is twofold. First is to be the master of the diplomatic front. Whether the Russian-touted "peace conference" results in "peace" or a change of government in Damascus is less relevant than whether the Putin is in the driver's seat. Second is to stop the spread of Sunni expansionist Islam that threatens Russia with the potential to reignite the Caucasus. Chechnya, Dagestan, and Ossetia are historically restive, but now are increasingly Islamic rather than nationalistic in their hatred of Orthodox Russia.
Two things make this really interesting. First, Putin is dealing with Israel much more forthrightly than he is with the United States, something that should be considered less a sign of respect for Israel's red lines than disdain for the Obama Administration. Second, he has taken a narrow view of a broad problem -- and thus is playing a losing hand.
On the American side, neither Secretary of State Kerry nor the president he serves seem to understand Russia's goals in the region, and thus neither is prepared to uphold our own interests. When Kerry flew off to Moscow in early May to find a mechanism for an international conference on Syria, Putin kept him waiting three hours and, according to the London Daily Mail, "continuously fiddled with his pen as the top American diplomat spoke about the ongoing crisis." Ever the good guest, Kerry told Putin, "The United States believes that we share some very significant common interests with respect to Syria -- stability in the region, not having extremists creating problems throughout the region and elsewhere." Read more ..
Venezuela after Chavez
Ever since the death of former Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez back in March, his successors have been flinging insult after insult at the United States. The volley began at the very moment of Chavez’s death, when his anointed heir Nicolas Maduro, pointing an accusatory finger at the U.S., claimed that Chavez had been “assassinated.” Maduro then accused the U.S. of plotting to kill his opposition rival, Henrique Capriles, in order to engineer a coup. Finally, after weeks of blaming the U.S. for everything from food shortages to the violence that followed the disputed April 14 presidential election, Maduro recycled a barb that Chavez had previously deployed against George W. Bush, when he declared that President Obama was the “grand chief of devils.”
Now, however, conciliatory noises are emerging from Caracas. Over the weekend, Maduro’s foreign minister, Elias Jaua, announced that Venezuela wanted to mend diplomatic fences with the United States. “We are going to remain open to normalizing relations with the United States,” Jaua said during a television interview. “The first thing would be to resume diplomatic representation at the highest level.” Read more ..
Obama's Second Term
|Brent Budowsky||May 18th 2013|
When Joe Klein writes of President Obama in ways that read like Sean Hannity talks, and when Maureen Dowd writes of Hillary Clinton in ways that read like Sarah Palin thinks, we might ask: What would the great columnists such as Walter Lippmann and James “Scotty” Reston write about the president at a moment like this?
My guess is that Lippmann and Reston might remind readers that when former President Reagan reached a crisis point in his presidency, he named former Senate Majority Leader Howard Baker (R-Tenn.) to be his chief of staff.
Lippmann and Reston might also remind readers, who today read much verbiage about “the second-term curse,” that Reagan, in his second term, achieved breakthroughs in Cold War history that historians will be praising in 100 years, and that former President Clinton, in his second term, created vast prosperity and tidal waves of jobs for which Americans remain greatly thankful today.
If a column could whisper into the ear of a president, my whisper to Obama would include this: name former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.), one of the most experienced and connected figures in the modern history of our government and politics, to a very high-level position in your White House.
I am not suggesting a “White House shake-up,” which would be unnecessary and unwise. The stampeding herd of the media will ultimately grow tired of the current chase. The gathering storm of overheated rhetoric will soon subside. The taxpayer-financed inquisitions of House Republicans will soon inspire a backlash, as they did for Clinton.
The Joe Kleins of the media herd and the Maureen Dowds of the media mob will calm down and realize that Obama’s name should not be mixed with Nixon’s on the dignified pages of Time magazine, and that implying a moral equivalence of Hillary Clinton and the Republican attack dogs hungrily seeking to hunt her down does not elevate the standards of The New York Times. Read more ..
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