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Computer Edge

World Wide Web Potential Still Untouched After 25 Years

March 12th 2014

This week marks the 25th anniversary of the invention of the World Wide Web. What started as a way for scientists to share research has changed life worldwide forever.

In March 1989, British scientist Tim Berners-Lee was working at the European Organization for Nuclear Research, or CERN, in Switzerland.

Scientists would come to CERN from all over the world, but others could not view their research because their computers were not compatible. Berners-Lee thought it would be easier if all the computers could talk to one another and swap information directly. So he proposed linking the machines. The response from his bosses to his proposal, titled Information Management: A Proposal? Read more ..


The Diplomatic Edge

Kerry, the Warrior Diplomat

March 11th 2014

John Kerry

With the winds of Cold War blowing across Ukraine, time running short for peace in the Middle East, high-wire diplomacy seeking to avoid military options with Iran, China flexing its military muscle aggressively in the South China Sea, voices of militarism and nationalism being heard whispered in Japan, and a nuclear North Korea acting bellicose, the alliance of democracies is fortunate that President Obama had the wisdom to choose John Kerry as secretary of State.

As the danger of conflagration rises with the belligerence of Russian strongman Vladimir Putin against Ukraine, what makes Kerry so valuable in diplomacy today is that, like Gen. George Marshall, who served as secretary of State for former President Truman, Kerry is a student of history who has long played a part of history and applies the lessons of history to crises today. Read more ..


The Way We Are

Cross-Purposes

March 10th 2014

Gay Marriage

The good news coming out of the just-concluded legislative battle in Arizona is that religious freedom remains what it has been there, undiminished by Governor Jan Brewer’s veto of a bill meant to protect it. The bad news is that the debate over religious freedom has taken an ominous turn. Here are six takeaways from the controversy.

The media cannot be trusted to report accurately on social issues. I mention this first not because it is the most important part of the Arizona story — though it is very important — but because it has made understanding that story so difficult. The press leans to the left, as everyone knows, and especially on social issues. CNN anchors more or less openly advocated for a veto of the bill, which they would generally not do on tax legislation.

Political journalists tend to accept social liberals’ framing of issues, their terminology, and their claims, and to believe the worst about social conservatives. In the Arizona debate, these tendencies manifested in widespread reports that the bill authorized businesses to refuse to serve gay people who wanted to be their customers and in the labeling of the legislation as “anti-gay.” Read more ..


The Way We Are

An End to General Misconduct

March 9th 2014

Seal of DOD

Cheater, bribe taker, skirt chaser and drunk should not be the first words that come to mind when you think of the U.S. military.

Unfortunately, a series of scandals involving the military’s top brass has brought to light a bizarre and seemingly unethical culture that pervades what should be America’s finest institutions.

We’ve learned that “the wheels would come off” if Air Force Gen. David Uhrich didn’t have his vodka, and that he was engaged in other unlawful conduct. Army Brig. Gen. Martin P. Schweitzer was sending emails about the hotness of one member of Congress, and bragging to his superiors in an email about the number of times he masturbated after his meeting with her.

Air Force Nuclear Commander Maj. Gen. Michael Carey went on a drinking binge in Russia that would’ve been the envy of Lindsay Lohan. Too drunk to stand upright, the general’s subordinates found him consorting with beautiful Russian women who were oddly interested in his nuclear portfolio.

Their punishments? Uhrich received verbal counseling, and Schweitzer got a memorandum of concern in his personnel file. Only the nuclear commander was relieved of command, retaining his pension and all other benefits. Read more ..


Russia on Edge

The Front Lines on Russia's Home Front

March 8th 2014

Russian Paratroopers

In every country, all truly important foreign policy choices are, at their core, ultimately about domestic politics. And it's not just about creating a "rally 'round the flag" effect, or distracting from pesky domestic issues, although these are definitely relevant considerations for decision-makers. The right foreign policy move at the right time can boost a leader's ratings and the regime's popularity. This is doubly true for authoritarian regimes that lack democratic legitimacy, and it is true for Russia today.

In Putin's Russia, as one top pollster told me in Moscow a few weeks ago, "foreign policy is pretty much the only thing that works." What he meant was that, with the country's economy slowed to a crawl, and with the regime facing near-universal revulsion over the corruption, thievery, and incompetence of officials at every level, racking up foreign policy successes has become vital to maintaining Putin's popularity -- which, in turn, is key to the legitimacy of the whole enterprise. As the economy staggers along at 1.5 percent growth, as capital flees the country at a record pace, and even as nearly half of Russians agree that the ruling "United Russia" party is the "party of thieves and swindlers," Read more ..


The 2016 Election

What Won't Bother Voters About Hillary Clinton If She Runs

March 7th 2014

Hillary

Repeat after us: The 2016 election is more than two and a half years away. Hillary Clinton may be a candidate. If she is, Benghazi or Bill Clinton may or may not be issues. Who could possibly know?

Now that that's out of the way, let's look at something more interesting - how much resistance there may be to a female presidential candidate and to Hillary Clinton in particular. Here we have a plethora of polls to provide some tentative answers. Let's start at the beginning.

In the late 1930s, when the Gallup Organization asked people about voting for a woman for president, more than six in 10 said they would not do so. Widespread doubts about a female president were evident even in the question itself: in 1937, respondents were asked whether they would vote for a woman president "if she qualified in every other respect!" Fortunately, things have changed a great deal since then. Resistance dropped to around 25 percent by the early 1970s. In 2012, the last time Gallup asked the question, 5 percent said they would not vote for a qualified woman their party nominated. Read more ..


The Way We Are

A Social Justice Fight

March 6th 2014

family with teenagers

Who owns the term "social justice," conservatives or liberals? Whatever your own politics, you probably said "liberals." After all, most progressive policies — raising the minimum wage, expanding entitlements, increasing taxes on the wealthy as outlined in President Obama's budget proposal this week — are framed as steps towards greater fairness and compassion.

But as the past five years have shown, intentions do not equal results. Since Obama took office, stock markets have soared and the wealthy have regained their economic footing. But the most vulnerable people have fallen further and further behind. The percentage of Americans in the workforce has fallen to its lowest level since the 1970s. Food stamp enrollment has risen by 50% since January 2009; one in six citizens in the world's wealthiest country now rely on nutrition assistance from their government. Economists calculate that income inequality has actually grown under this administration. Read more ..


The Way We Are

The Path to Responsibility Can Start With a Broom and a Paycheck

March 5th 2014

Southside of Chicago

It is hard to be a young black male in the United States today. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate for African-American men between 16 and 24 is 30.5 percent. That rate is more than twice what it is for whites in the same age group. Among African-American men over 20, more than 33 percent are not in the labor force. In addition, young African-American men are also more likely to be poor and to not graduate from high school. Sadly, the disparities these numbers reveal have not changed much since President Obama was elected in 2008.

On Thursday, Mr. Obama announced an initiative called My Brother's Keeper intended to "unlock the full potential of boys and young men of color," aiming to help them avoid the pitfalls of unemployment and criminality by focusing on education and personal responsibility. A White House task force will work on the matter, and Mr. Obama has recruited foundations and businesses pledging $200 million over five years to find solutions. Read more ..


Obama's Second Term

Could Obamacare Win 'Lie of the Year' Two times in a Row?

March 4th 2014

No Obamacare

In December, President Obama’s claim that “if you like your health care plan, you can keep it” was named the 2013 Lie of the Year by Politifact. This came shortly after even the barely accessible exchange websites made it clear that for many people, their old plans were no longer available due to the new regulatory environment imposed by Obamacare.

Now fast forward a few months to the glorious new year of 2014, and let’s see what has become of the president’s other central claim in the debate over health care reform: that it would “bring down premiums by $2,500 for the typical family.” (Here’s a compilation of the president making this claim over and over again before his law was enacted.) Has that claim materialized now that the parts of the law the president decided not to delay for partisan political purposes are in full effect? Was it a reasonable claim to make at the time? Let’s have a look at the evidence. Read more ..


Mexico on Edge

Mexican Apple Growers are Incensed over U.S. Price Supports

March 3rd 2014

Click to select Image

Facing ruin, apple producers in the Mexican border state of Chihuahua are mulling an anti-dumpring complaint against U.S. imports. Ricardo Marquez Prieto, president of the Chihuahua Regional Union of Fruit Growers, charged that unfair competition from Mexico's partner in the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) threatens the viability of the local apple industry, which could see tens of thousands of tons of warehoused apples valued in the neighborhood of $65 million go to rot.

"We are going to file a suit against dumping if (Mexican) federal authorities don't get on the ball and move to our side," Marquez vowed late last week, after meeting with federal officials.

Historically an important crop in Chihuahua, locally-grown apples confront a deluge of U.S. imports, which reached 237,000 tons in 2012. Hammered by unusual freezes, Chihuahua's orchards chalked up a 55 percent production decline in the same year. Read more ..


Russia on Edge

How to Understand Putin's Ukraine Strategy

March 3rd 2014

putin

To understand what motivates Russian President Vladimir Putin in the Ukrainian crisis and how he will proceed, we have to recall two key things about his strategy and his tactics.

First, Russian foreign policy — whether under Brezhnev, Yeltsin, Putin or anyone after him — is informed by three imperatives: Russia as a nuclear superpower, Russia as the world’s great power, and Russia as the central power in the post-Soviet geopolitical space. And a power that is political, economic, cultural, diplomatic and most certainly military.

What differs from one Russian political regime to another is interpretation and implementation, that is, the policies that support these objectives.  Putin’s have been far more assertive and at times riskier than those of his predecessors. The nuclear “superpowership” has been translated into a vehement opposition to missile defense in Europe.  Russia as a great power has been defined largely in opposition to the U.S. and the West in general. And the centrality of Russia in the post-Soviet space has been reinterpreted as dominance and hegemony. Read more ..


Ukraine on Edge

Ukraine's Perpetual East-West Balancing Act

March 2nd 2014

Svoboda

Striking the right balance between relations with the West and relations with Russia has always been Ukraine’s central foreign policy challenge. Ukraine’s leaders have sought to have it both ways: to grow relations with the United States, European Union and NATO while also trying to maintain a stable relationship with Russia.

Kyiv pulled off this balancing act in the 1990s. Its first steps to engage the West did not appear to threaten key Russian interests. Boris Yeltsin accepted Ukraine as an independent state. Vladimir Putin, however, is not Boris Yeltsin, and today’s Russia is not the Russia of the 1990s. The current Russian president wants to prevent Ukraine from slipping too far toward the West, has significant leverage over Kyiv and is prepared to use it. The Russians’ spectacularly ill-timed February 26 decision to launch a snap military exercise is not an encouraging sign, nor are the February 27-28 developments in Crimea. Read more ..


The Emissions Problem

Emissions: A Cool Assessment of a Hot-Botton Issue

March 1st 2014

John Kerry

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry attracted some attention last week by describing climate change as “perhaps the world’s most fearsome weapon of mass destruction.” Another part of his remarks, though, was just as revealing.

After saying we should not listen to those who deny that human activity is warming the globe, he said: “Nor should we allow any room for those who think that the costs associated with doing the right thing outweigh the benefits. There are people who say, ‘Oh, it’s too expensive, we can’t do this.’ No. No, folks.”

For Kerry, then, the benefits of reducing carbon emissions so obviously exceed the costs that no debate on the question is necessary or even tolerable. But he’s wrong. The cost-benefit calculation is the weak point in the case for reducing carbon emissions. It's possible to reject that case without questioning the science behind it. Read more ..


Obama and Israel

Obamacare Navigator Revealed as Convicted Palestinian Terrorist Bomber

February 28th 2014

A terrorist from Jordan briefly worked as an Obamacare navigator in Illinois while authorities remained unaware of her conviction for involvement in a deadly grocery store bombing and two other attacks.

Rasmieh Yousef Odeh was convicted in Israel for her role in several bombings, including the 1969 attack on an upscale Shufersol grocery store, which killed two Hebrew University students who had stopped in to buy groceries for a hiking trip in the Jerusalem hills. Leon Kanner and Eddie Joffe were killed by a bomb hidden in a candy box tucked on a shelf, which also injured nine or 10 others, according to a website maintained by the Israeli government to commemorate terror victims.

The Illinois Department of Insurance quietly revoked Odeh’s certification as a Navigator In-Person Counselor on November 24, explaining in a disciplinary report that the decision was “based on an investigation which revealed that she had been convicted in Israel for her role in the bombings of a supermarket and the British Consulate in Jerusalem and failed to reveal the conviction on her application.” Read more ..


Defense on Edge

Waking Up to Defense Cuts

February 27th 2014

B-2-Refueling

If you are surprised by this week's announcement of major manpower cuts to the U.S. Army, you haven't been paying attention. For a long time.

There are two components to understanding America's defense spending choices -- the political and the budgetary; they are not the same. The Administration has made the political case clear.

     Beginning in 2011, President Obama pronounced himself committed to "ending the wars" in Iraq and Afghanistan "responsibly."
     The president committed to a turn inward, beginning with a 2011 statement that "the nation we need to build is our own," coupled with the promise to cut troops deployed abroad in half.
     The refrain "no boots on the ground," is the mantra of many administration officials, resurrected again last weekend by Susan Rice regarding limits to U.S. support of rebels in Syria -- although no one appears to have suggested so much as a huarache.
     Secretary Kerry's visit to Indonesia prompted him to declare global "climate change" as big a threat in Asia as "terrorism, poverty and WMDs." He skipped China's increasingly bold assertions of hegemony in Asian waters and increasingly large defense budget (still miniscule compared to ours, but one heads one way, the other the other way).  Read more ..


The Broken Economy

The Unemployment Trap

February 26th 2014

People lined up for jobs

In his State of the Union address last month, President Obama called on Congress to extend federal emergency unemployment benefits that expired in December 2013. “I’m also convinced we can help Americans return to the work force faster by reforming unemployment insurance so that it’s more effective in today’s economy. But first, this Congress needs to restore the unemployment insurance you just let expire for 1.6 million people.” The president didn’t seem to recognize the internal contradiction in his speech: The extended insurance was surely a significant cause of the surge in long-term unemployment that has left us with a lingering unemployment problem.

Extended unemployment benefits lower workers’ incentives to search for jobs and to take jobs that may not be a perfect fit, and they may also lower firms’ incentives to hire new workers. It might seem intuitive that these incentives sometimes lead workers to delay their return to work, but many on the left dispute this. Read more ..


Ukraine on Edge

Ukraine's President Yanukovych is At-Large and So Are His Secrets

February 25th 2014

Someone wanted the records to disappear without a trace under the gray waves of the Kyiv Reservoir. Instead, they are ending up on the Internet for everyone in the world to see. When ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych and his entourage were fleeing the lavish presidential residence at Mezhyhirya, outside of Kyiv, on the night of February 21-22, they dumped hundreds of documents into the reservoir in an amateurish attempt to conceal the information they contain.

But journalists and scuba divers showed up on the scene just hours later and began recovering the soggy papers. Some were floating surreally along the edges of the water; others were recovered in stuffed file folders from the depths. Read more ..


Broken Economy

Obama's War on Oppurtunity

February 25th 2014

Minimum wage protest

The “opportunity agenda” was supposed to be the signature initiative of President Obama’s second term. But recent data suggest his administration is waging a war on opportunity instead.

First, came the Congressional Budget Office report, which found that Obamacare will reduce overall employment by the equivalent of 2.5 million workers by 2021 and will reduce aggregate labor compensation for Americans by 1 percent during the same period — a $70 billion-a-year pay cut for lower- and middle-income American workers.

Then the New York Times reported that, substitute teachers, school bus drivers, police dispatchers, prison guards, coaches, janitors, cafeteria workers and other low-wage public workers are all seeing their hours cut because of Obamacare. As one local official told the paper, “Our choice was to cut the hours or give them health care, and we could not afford the latter.” Obama promised in his State of the Union to “build new ladders of opportunity into the middle class,” but for many part-time and low-income workers, Obamacare is reducing their hours and their wages — knocking them off the ladder of opportunity. Read more ..


Counting Palestinians

The Artificiality of the Historical Palestinian Identity

February 24th 2014

Abbas UN

The artificiality of a Palestinian identity is reflected in the attitudes and actions of neighboring Arab states that never established a Palestinian state or advocated one prior to the Six-Day War in 1967. What unites Palestinian Arabs has been their opposition to Jewish nationalism and the desire to stamp it out, not aspirations for their own state. Local patriotic feelings are generated only when a non-Islamic entity takes charge – such as Israel did in 1967 after the Six-Day War, and dissipates under Arab rule, as it was under the rule of Jordan prior to 1967.

Culturally, Palestinians are not distinct from other Arabs. The sole contributions Palestinians can take credit for are the invention of skyjacking for political purposes in the 1960s, and a special brand of suicidal terrorism that uses their own youth as delivery systems for bombing pizza parlors, discos, and public commuter buses. Read more ..


The Economic Edge

Trade Pacts Are a Tonic for the Economy

February 23rd 2014

Home Foreclosure

A new debate is emerging regarding the economic impact of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and trade promotion authority (TPA) -- that is, presidential "fast-track" power -- on middle and lower income Americans.  Opponents have argued that these trade measures will only exacerbate our country’s growing income inequality. They assert, therefore, that the president must be forced to choose between these two critical administration priorities. But it is a false choice.

Inequality reflects a number of factors, including technological advancements that have increased productivity.  The reality is that little of this has to do with trade agreements.

That’s because the United States already has one of the most open economies in the world.  Our average tariffs on foreign goods are around 3.5 percent.  We have few non-tariff barriers, and we don’t use our regulatory processes to discriminate against foreigners.  That’s not the case for the vast majority of countries. Read more ..


The Way We Are

Attacking Diversity of Thought

February 22nd 2014

university students and laptops

Cancel the philosophy courses, people. Oh, and we’re going to be shuttering the political science, religion, and pre-law departments too. We’ll keep some of the English and history folks on for a while longer, but they should probably keep their résumés handy.

Because, you see, they are of no use anymore. We have the answers to the big questions, so why keep pretending there’s anything left to discuss?

At least that’s where Erin Ching, a student at Swarthmore College, seems to be coming down. Her school invited a famous left-wing Princeton professor, Cornel West, and a famous right-wing Princeton professor, Robert George, to have a debate. The two men are friends, and by all accounts they had an utterly civil exchange of ideas. But that only made the whole thing even more outrageous.

“What really bothered me is, the whole idea is that at a liberal arts college, we need to be hearing a diversity of opinion,” Ching told the Daily Gazette, the school’s newspaper. “I don’t think we should be tolerating [George’s] conservative views because that dominant culture embeds these deep inequalities in our society.” Swarthmore must be so proud. Read more ..


Healthcare on Edge

How E-Cigarettes Could Save Lives

February 21st 2014

cigarette in ashtray

Should electronic cigarettes be regulated like tobacco products, emblazoned with warnings and subject to tight marketing restrictions? Those are among the questions before the Food and Drug Administration as it decides in the coming weeks how to handle the battery-powered cigarette mimics that have become a $1.5 billion business in the United States.

Groups promoting intensive regulation include the American Lung Association and the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. They worry that the health risks haven’t been fully established and that e-cigarettes will make smoking commonplace again, especially among teens. They are quick to push back in response to anything that might make e-cigarettes more attractive, such as the NJOY King ad that aired during the Super Bowl or when actors Leonardo DiCaprio and Julia Louis-Dreyfus were shown “vaping” at the Golden Globes.

A surgeon general’s report released last month, on the 50th anniversary of the office’s first warning about the dangers of smoking, had little to say about e-cigarettes. Its suggestions for further reducing tobacco use were familiar, including: increase taxes on cigarettes, prohibit indoor smoking, launch media campaigns and reduce the nicotine content of cigarettes. Read more ..


Afghanistan on Edge

History Not Repeating Itself In Afghanistan

February 20th 2014

Afgan Police

Twenty five years ago this month, the last Soviet soldier marched out of Afghanistan, bringing an end to a nine year occupation that cost the lives of 15,000 Soviet troops and more than a million Afghans. With the close of the Cold War, the West lost interest in the region and Afghanistan became a proxy battlefield for subversive regional power play. Infighting between competing Afghan mujahedeen factions brought anarchy, paving the way for the Taliban and al Qaeda. And now, as the drawdown of international forces approaches, there’s growing fear that history might repeat itself. It doesn’t have to work out the same way.

For a start, while the political system in Afghanistan is far from perfect, it enjoys far greater support and legitimacy among the Afghan people than the communist regime did in the 1980s. While Afghan presidents back then were effectively appointed by the Kremlin, Afghans today have elected their own leader – and will head to the polls in April to pick a successor to Hamid Karzai. And despite growing pessimism in the West about Afghanistan, Afghans generally remain optimistic about their future: an Asia Foundation survey last year found that a majority of Afghans (57 percent) believed their country was moving in the right direction. Read more ..


Broken Economy

Raising the Minimum Wage is Still a Bad Idea

February 19th 2014

Minimum wage protest

Raising the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour, as President Barack Obama urged in his State of the Union address last month, is as popular an idea as ever. It’s also a worse idea than ever.

Obama presented it as a way to help struggling families: “Americans overwhelmingly agree that no one who works full time should ever have to raise a family in poverty.” That comment provides a misleading picture of who minimum-wage earners are. The White House’s own graph promoting the idea shows that only 26 percent of minimum-wage earners have kids. Thirty percent either have spouses and no kids or are kids themselves. Read more ..


Obama's Second Term

The High Price of Negotiating With Bad Guys

February 18th 2014

Barack Obama in Thought

It was during a 2007 Democratic primary debate that Sen. Barack Obama first declared “ridiculous” the idea that “not talking to countries is punishment to them.” Eighteen months later, with the world watching his historic inauguration, he reiterated his openness to dialogue with America’s enemies: “We will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.”

Since then, his administration has talked with North Korea and the Taliban, defied cynicism at home and abroad with efforts to jump-start ­Israeli-Palestinian talks , sought to bring Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood in from the cold, and, after 35 years, brought the United States and Iran to the verge of a nuclear deal. And retired American diplomats Thomas Pickering and Rob Malley — as well as Rachel Schneller, a State Department official who was on leave at the time — have met with Hamas, a terrorist group implicated in scores of bombings and suicide attacks in Israel. Read more ..


The Defense Edge

Getting to Yes on Defense Spending

February 17th 2014

B-2 Bomber

Borrowing a smart move from Robert Gates’ playbook, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel will preview the major changes in President Obama’s forthcoming defense budget request for 2015 in advance of their official release. While the president’s budget is not arriving on Capitol Hill until March 4, Hagel will hold a public press conference a week prior to present highlights from the massive document.

The secretary will continue laying the groundwork for many difficult trade-offs that Congress will have to consider as sequestration-lite budget cuts continue. The services have been busy broadcastingexpected forthcoming controversial decisions to policymakers since work on the now-complete 2014 omnibus spending bill began.

By trying to get out in front of Congress, control the narrative and provide extra time that will surely be needed for greater education of members, Hagel is seeking a better partnership with the Hill than in previous years when it comes to accepting controversial decisions. Read more ..


Election 2016

Let Clinton Burn Out

February 16th 2014

Hillary Clinton

There is always a risk in going early as a political candidate, because it can result in burnout with the voters. Hillary Clinton, the former first lady, former senator of New York and former secretary of State, certainly runs this risk.

Whatever she does or says, or even that others do on her behalf, is certain to make news, and the signs are there that she’s preparing to build a ground game.

Political action committee Ready for Hillary, which recruited more than 1.6 million supporters in 2013 and raised more than $4 million according to Federal Election Commission filings, is holding a fundraiser in Columbia, S.C., this month with a price of admission of just $20.16. The Democratic super-PAC Priorities USA Action has been reported as staffing up for a Clinton 2016 fundraising effort, and EMILY’s List launched its “Madam President” campaign back in May of 2013. Read more ..


Education on Edge

De Blasio Cracks Down on Education Reform

February 15th 2014

school kids

Last week, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio told a local radio station that there would be a “moratorium” on co-locating charter schools in New York City Public Schools. Under the previous mayor, Michael Bloomberg, public charter schools could use excess space in traditional public-school buildings for free. Charter schools do not receive facilities funding from the state of New York, unlike their traditional public counterparts, and many public schools had excess space, so the administration saw it as a win-win. According to the Manhattan Institute, two-thirds of charter schools in New York are co-located.

This arrangement seems fair so long as charter schools are in the shared enterprise of educating New York’s children and do not otherwise receive funding for buildings. The buildings were built with taxpayer money to educate children, after all. Removing this support could risk successful schools going under and would certainly raise barriers to entry for new schools to crop up in New York. But what is perhaps more troubling is that screwy building-use policies are by no means confined to the Big Apple. Read more ..


Broken Economy

A $4 Minimum Wage Can Get People Back to Work

February 14th 2014

Unemployment Line in California

The fate of the long-term unemployed is arguably the most immediate social and economic challenge facing the U.S. today. How have our leaders in Washington responded to it?

The left wants to extend the maximum duration of unemployment benefits for the long-term unemployed. This is helpful, but not nearly sufficient. And President Barack Obama recently held a meeting with chief executives urging them not to discriminate against this group -- maybe a little helpful, maybe not. If anything, the right has been worse -- with a few notable exceptions -- offering its usual menu of tax cuts, less federal spending and less regulation.

Society owes these workers better -- creative public policies to help increase their chance of staying in the labor force. They want to work; they want to earn their own successes, to help the economy grow, and to support themselves and their families. But they can’t, in large part because they happen to be alive and working during a once-in-a-generation economic downturn. Read more ..


Egypt After Morsi

A ‘Yes’ for Egypt’s Future

February 13th 2014

Egypt-Protest

The approval of a new Constitution in a referendum that took place on January 14-15, 2014 is an important step in implementing the roadmap announced by the current interim authorities in Egypt. The authorities feel that it provides them with greater legitimacy. After all, the participation rate of nearly 39 percent and the 98 percent yes vote are higher than those obtained by the Muslim Brotherhood-backed 2012 Constitution, which had a participation rate of 33 percent and a yes vote of 64 percent.

According to the preliminary assessment of Transparency International “…the political context in the run-up to the referendum impaired conditions to hold a fair and free referendum when compared with international standards.” The assessment pointed out that the interim authorities took some steps that limited freedom of expression, association and assembly, and that the space for civil society to represent the voice of the people has been greatly reduced. The Muslim Brotherhood was declared a terrorist organisation in December 2013. According to Transparency International, government officials as well as public and private media outlets campaigned vigorously for a ‘yes’ vote and did not provide an opportunity for the opposition to express their views. Moreover, activists who called for a ‘no’ vote or for boycotting the referendum faced repression. Read more ..


Diplomacy on Edge

Pivot on the Rocks

February 12th 2014

John Kerry

Max's questions about why John Kerry is paying far less attention to helping tamp down the tension in Asia are echoed throughout the region. On Thursday, Kerry is leaving for his fifth visit to Asia since taking office last year. The State Department claims this is proof of his commitment to the administration's pivot. Yet the White House continues to believe that merely showing up is 90 percent of success. This Woody Allen approach has worn thin with countries looking at Washington's continuing refusal to confront China head-on over its increasingly coercive behavior. Nor were our partners in Asia appeased by once-regular statements that D.C. budget battles would not reduce the American presence in the Pacific.

Now they read comments by the commander of Pacific Air Forces, Gen. Hawk Carlisle, that "resources have not followed the ... rebalance." They see that U.S. Pacific Command has cut back on travel throughout the region and joint exercises, and that the U.S. Navy is planning on dropping down to just two carriers deployed globally. Far better than most in Washington, our friends and allies in Asia understand the immense distances separating the U.S. homeland from the areas in which it has rather daunting commitments. Read more ..


Inside Politics

Using the Debt Ceiling as a Politcal Pawn is Bad for America

February 11th 2014

$1B US Currency

The United States hit its debt ceiling last week. Now the government is deploying “extraordinary measures,” such as reducing the debt held by the federal employee pension fund, until policymakers can figure out how to pay its bills on time. If this sounds like déjà vu, it should. Washington faced the same scenario last October, only to come to a short-term resolution that suspended the borrowing limit. Months later policymakers are more or less back to square one, and using the same old backroom negotiations to achieve temporary debt solutions in conjunction with unrelated ideological victories. Unfortunately, the debt ceiling, and the ongoing negotiations, are just the tip of the iceberg.America faces a tremendous fiscal challenge today and in the decades going forward. As the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) notes, fiscal deficits are expected to start rising in the near future, as national spending is expected to far outstrip GDP’s anticipated growth. These large deficits will contribute to substantial increases in federal debt. CBO estimates that federal debt held by the public will equal 74 percent of GDP at the end of this year and 79 percent in 2024, which is when it will begin to rise quickly. Such large and growing federal debt could have serious negative consequences, including restraining economic growth in the long term, giving policymakers less flexibility to respond to unexpected challenges, and eventually increasing the risk of a fiscal crisis wherein investors would demand high interest rates to purchase government debt. Read more ..

Broken Government

Unequal to the Challenge

February 10th 2014

Congress-senate

America these days faces a daunting array of economic challenges. Still in the midst of a weak recovery from a recession that technically ended more than four years ago, the economy continues to suffer from high unemployment and weak income growth. Americans are anxious about their own and their children’s economic prospects, and they are unsatisfied with what their political leaders have offered them.

The Democrats think they know how to address these problems and anxieties. To hear them tell it, income inequality is at the core of what ails us. “Income inequality is a threat to the strength of our middle class, the health of our businesses, the security of our workers, and the growth of our economy,” Nancy Pelosi argued last spring. President Obama has repeatedly called rising inequality “the defining challenge of our time.” Liberal commentators insist on a tight link between increasing inequality, declining growth, and weak social mobility. And for the left, the centrality of inequality among our economic woes demands an agenda of redistribution: higher taxes, higher spending on our existing assortment of social-welfare programs, new programs (such as universal preschool), and, most prominently just now, a higher minimum wage. Read more ..


Broken Government

Using the IRS to Suppress Free Speech

February 9th 2014

Star Parker right crop

The latest round of the IRS scandal, in which Tea Party and conservative groups have been selectively targeted for harassment by our tax collection agency, is now unfolding,

This comes in the form of proposed new rules from the IRS regarding the operation of organizations falling under the 501c4 provision of the tax code.

These are organizations whose purpose is to promote “social welfare” and therefore their income is tax-free.

Because promoting a cause or agenda in our free and democratic country cannot be isolated from political activity associated with that agenda, such activity is permitted by 501c4 organizations, as long as politics does not become its main purpose.

These are the rules of the game that have existed since 1959. But now the IRS wants to change the game.

The new rules they propose expand the definition of “candidate related activity” so broadly – to include voter education campaigns and grass roots lobbying campaigns – and to forbid even the mention of a candidate in any context 30 days before a primary or 60 days before a general election – that it will make it impossible for these organizations to function. Read more ..


The Way We Are

Heroin and Painkillers Come Together

February 8th 2014

injectable drugs

Using the tragic death of a celebrity as a basis to discuss national drug problems is usually pointless. For one thing, the actor Philip Seymour Hoffman, who died with a syringe in his arm and packets of drugs found nearby, had the wealth and access to insulate himself from some mundane forces -- price and availability -- that affect so many people struggling with addiction.

Yet his death is calling attention to the ways in which many individuals can be helped.

A definitive cause of what killed Hoffman hasn’t been determined yet. If he moved from prescription pills to heroin (he entered a rehabilitation program last May after a reported reliance on painkillers led him back to heroin briefly), he was following a familiar path. Many individuals who have become addicted to prescription painkillers (a group that includes OxyContin, Vicodin, Percocet and Roxicodone) at some point realize that, depending on where they live, heroin, which is pharmacologically similar, is cheaper and easier to get. Read more ..


Broken Government

Farewell to Henry Waxman, Maker of Bad Laws

February 7th 2014

Henry Waxman 2

After 40 years in Congress, California Democrat Henry Waxman is calling it quits. His legacy includes a toxic fuel additive (a boondoggle known as ethanol), a failed pork-fest of a climate bill and the devastation of small businesses -- to name a few of his legislative accomplishments.

Washington Post correspondent Karen Tumulty praised Waxman, calling him “one of the last to whom the word ‘lawmaker’ still applied.”
But here’s the thing: If you spend four decades making laws, you’re going to make some bad laws. And Henry Waxman made a lot of bad laws. Waxman deserves praise for many things. Together with Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch, Waxman passed a reform that improved the prescription drug patent system. He also passed a postal reform. Read more ..


Russia on Edge

A Teettering Ukraine—Putin’s Nightmare As the Sochi Games Begin

February 6th 2014

putin

When the Olympic Games began in Beijing in 2008, Russian and Georgian troops began to fight for control of a north Caucasus province called Ossetia. Now, as the Olympic Games begin in Sochi (not too far away from Ossetia) Ukraine totters towards an economic and political collapse, a condition so potentially contagious to Russia that a concerned President Putin has begun a crackdown.

So far, he has not moved Russian forces into Ukraine, but he has urged Ukrainian President Yanukovich to contain and stop the popular insurrection that started more than two months ago. Putin has taken three other actions that could be a prelude to military intervention. First, he has imposed a blockade of Ukrainian goods into Russia, devastating to the already weak Ukrainian economy. Second, he has frozen a promised $15 billion aid package for Ukraine, leaving Ukraine without any outside financial support, which is desperately needed. And third, he has opened a propaganda war blaming the United States for the crisis now spreading through Ukraine. When in trouble, Putin starts following an old Russian pattern: Don’t address the problem—blame the United States. Read more ..


Edge of Climate Change

Climate Change May Cause Trillions in Damage to Coastal Regions

February 4th 2014

New research predicts that coastal regions may face massive increases in damages from storm surge flooding over the course of the 21st century. According to the study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, global average storm surge damages could increase from about $10-$40 billion per year today to up to $100,000 billion per year by the end of century, if no adaptation action is taken.

The study, led by the Berlin-based think-tank Global Climate Forum (GCF) and involving the University of Southampton, presents, for the first time, comprehensive global simulation results on future flood damages to buildings and infrastructure in coastal flood plains. Drastic increases in these damages are expected due to both rising sea levels and population and economic growth in the coastal zone. Asia and Africa may be particularly hard hit because of their rapidly growing coastal mega-cities, such as Shanghai, Manila and Lagos. Read more ..


The Way We Are

The Gender Wage Gap Myth

February 3rd 2014

Green Jobs

President Obama repeated the spurious gender wage gap statistic in his State of the Union address. “Today,” he said, “women make up about half our workforce. But they still make 77 cents for every dollar a man earns. That is wrong, and in 2014, it’s an embarrassment.”

What is wrong and embarrassing is the President of the United States reciting a massively discredited factoid. The 23-cent gender pay gap is simply the difference between the average earnings of all men and women working full-time. It does not account for differences in occupations, positions, education, job tenure, or hours worked per week. When all these relevant factors are taken into consideration, the wage gap narrows to about five cents. And no one knows if the five cents is a result of discrimination or some other subtle, hard-to-measure difference between male and female workers. In its fact-checking column on the State of the Union, the Washington Post included the president’s mention of the wage gap in its list of dubious claims. “There is clearly a wage gap, but differences in the life choices of men and women… make it difficult to make simple comparisons.” Read more ..


The Digital Edge

Do Senators Fear the Internet

February 2nd 2014

Hand on Mouse

Despite millions in potential cost savings to taxpayers, the U.S. Senate has still yet to pass a requirement that it file campaign finance reports electronically.

By Friday, presidential candidates, House candidates, political action committees and super PACs must file their fourth-quarter financial reports with the Federal Election Commission electronically.

Senate campaigns, however, must submit their reports on paper to the secretary of the Senate, where they are scanned and sent to the FEC. The agency then prints the documents, collates them and delivers them to a private contractor to type into an electronic database.

The process costs taxpayers roughly $500,000 a year, according to the Congressional Budget Office. And as a result, it can take weeks or even months for the public to know who is bankrolling senators’ campaigns.

A requirement that senators e-file their campaign finance reports was included in the Senate version of a financial services bill that was folded into the larger budget bill passed earlier this month. However, the e-filing measure didn’t appear in the final budget.

The disappearance disappointed advocates for the practice, such as Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., who has championed e-filing legislation. His stand-alone bill requiring Senate e-filing has yet to receive a vote.

Nothing, however, prohibits senators from e-filing voluntarily with the FEC — in addition to filing on paper with the Senate — and an increasing number are doing so. Yet as many as 80 senators are not, including about 20 who backed a bill requiring the practice. Read more ..



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