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Inside Politics

Don't Underestimate Ted Cruz

October 23rd 2013

Ted Cruz

How many liberal pundits, bloggers and commentators have attacked first-term Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) in personal terms of contempt and ridicule? Almost all. 

There can be little doubt that the GOP congressional strategy of holding up approval of the budget and causing a government shutdown in return for repeal of ObamaCare was ill-founded. Forgive me, let me use a better word: It was stupid. On Tuesday The Washington Post/ABC poll found that 80 percent of the national sample opposed the shutdown, including 2 out of 3 Republicans or GOP-leaning independents and even a majority who support the Tea Party movement. And 53 percent of all respondents blame the GOP for the shutdown, versus 29 percent who blame President Obama.

But like Harvard Law professor Alan Dershowitz, who had Cruz in his class as a law student, I don’t impugn the Texas senator’s motives. He is wrong, but he can be sincerely wrong. Dershowitz reminded TV viewers during a recent interview that Cruz was brilliant and that his views were founded on strong conservative principles. 

Many Democrats joke that they are delighted that Cruz has become so popular, saying he would be the easiest Republican to beat. Maybe so. If he doesn’t expand his political base beyond the Tea Party, he surely is not electable in the general election. The Post/ABC poll found that unfavorable opinions of the Tea Party among the national sample of all parties exceed favorable opinions nationwide 59 percent to 26 percent, more than 2 to 1. Read more ..


Inside Politics

Primary Survival Guide

October 22nd 2013

US Capital Day

Congressman Tim Huelskamp warned last week that any Republican who voted to open up the government and extend the debt ceiling would face a primary challenge.

With all due respect to the Kansas congressman, with congressional approval ratings hovering around 10 percent, anyone who is up for reelection next year in either chamber should expect a primary challenge.

Here are some tips for how to survive a primary challenge:

• Under promise and over deliver. My old boss, former Speaker Denny Hastert (R-Ill.), preached this doctrine every day. The reverse is even truer. Promise to vote to defund ObamaCare, but don’t guarantee that ObamaCare will be defunded. Promise to vote to balance the budget, but don’t guarantee that the budget will be balanced. If you make outlandish promises that can never be met, you will lose credibility with your voters. Read more ..


Broken Government

Clouds of Dust Still to Settle

October 21st 2013

Obama pensive with flag

Out of the Washington political chaos of the past few weeks, two overwhelmingly critical questions have yet to be decided. Can a wily President Barack Obama, despite his Administration's repeatedly demonstrated incompetence in both domestic and foreign policy, rescue - by perhaps more constitutionally questionable executive orders - what he may eventually regard as the only monument to his presidency?

Has the fiery populist - if failed - campaign of the Tea Party mobilized an otherwise distracted electorate to the growing problem of debt and bankrupt federal government social welfare programs to an extent permitting tedious and torturous reform?

Answers are going to be long in coming. Read more ..


Ancient Days

Ancient Syria's Local Sourcing has Implications for Today's Electronics Industry

October 20th 2013

An archaeologist at the University of Sheffield has found evidence that, contrary to a widely held theory, ancient Syrians made their stone tools locally instead of importing finished tools from Turkey. The discovery, newly published online in Journal of Archaeological Science, has implications for our understanding of how early cities developed in these regions and how the geographic origins of raw materials affect developing states.

During the Early Bronze Age, around 5300 to 3100 years ago, blades made of chert and obsidian remained important despite the advent of metal tools. Much sharper than bronze tools, the stone blades were used for various cutting and scraping purposes, including agricultural activities, food processing, and crafts such as pottery and textile production. Read more ..


The Arab Winter

Law and Ideology

October 20th 2013

Wounded Egyptian Protester

In the spirit of the ancient Chinese curse, "May you live in interesting times," these are interesting times.

It is useful to talk about three places where the times are particularly "interesting"-in the Middle East in general, in Turkey in particular, and in the United States-and how they are connected. I will give it away at the beginning so there is no suspense about where I am going. We live in a dangerous world. Much of the danger comes from Islamist extremism, a force that has been directed at us in the past and will be in the future. But it is a force that in the years ahead will mainly be directed within and among Muslims, just as terrorist acts have killed more Muslims than non-Muslims in the past.

But some of it will come our way, just as it has in the past.

The Middle East

The Egyptian experiment in Islamist government, Muslim Brotherhood government, appears to be over. But much of the so-called "Arab Spring" in Egypt and the tenure of Mohammed Morsi would have been disturbing to Americans, if they had seen it in Western media. It would have clarified for many the difference between democratic government and Islamist government. As the revolution unfolded, Americans saw fascinating coverage from Tahrir Square of the modern, secular side of Egypt and the influence of Twitter and Facebook; not so much of the public rape of a CBS journalist in Tahrir Square to shouts of "Allahu Akhbar." Even less has been seen of the unfolding of undemocratic and dangerous trends. Read more ..


Broken Government

Conservatives Change Tactics but Don't Retreat

October 19th 2013

Star Parker right crop

A number of years ago, I was between flights on a business trip and was sitting in an airport restaurant having lunch. It was right after the 2008 presidential election and I knew that the election of America's first black president, a man of the hard left, would make my job bringing a conservative message to black communities much more challenging and difficult.

As I ate my sandwich, I glanced at the wall and saw a sign with a quote from Gen. Douglas MacArthur. It said, "We are not retreating -- we are advancing in another direction."

I was immediately energized by this quote from the old general. It was exactly what I needed at the moment. It totally captured my state of mind. Perhaps my mission needed a change in tactics, but certainly there was no change in commitment and objectives.

Read more ..

The Way We Are

Born to be Mobile? Why Where You Grow Up Matters for How Much Money You Make

October 18th 2013

Science students

The influence of parental background on future earnings varies according to which metropolitan area you live in. That’s the message of the Harvard economists behind the Equality of Opportunity Project, who have spent years analyzing millions of IRS tax records. (Earlier this week, Brooking scholars enjoyed a presentation from Nathaniel Hendren, one of the authors).

Children born to low-income parents in Salt Lake City, for example, are much more likely to earn high incomes as adults, compared to children born to low-income parents in Atlanta regardless of the parent’s race. After examining the multiple correlations between the characteristics of metropolitan areas and their economic mobility outcomes, the Harvard team tentatively concludes that levels of neighborhood segregation, school quality, and single-parenthood in a metro area seem to matter most for kids’ eventual earnings (in the latter case, even to those born to married couples but in areas with large numbers of single parents). Those factors, in turn, may impact children’s life chances by influencing their behaviors and values; determining their parents’ access to good jobs and social services; and affecting levels of social capital, trust, and community engagement from which families may benefit. Read more ..


Broken Education

Returing to Teaching and Learning

October 17th 2013

Student at Blackboard-Togo

Teaching, or at least teaching well, should be thought of as a“trade” not a “job.” An everyday (or even complex) job requires training, experience, and steadiness to become successful. Teaching does as well but it’s more nuance. Teaching is essentially almost all interaction, and many aspects of life involve “teaching.” Corporations teach and train their employees, parents teach their children, and while it’s a skill that can be developed some are naturally better than others. Therefore you can’t train a teacher like you do a salesman at IBM, because there are a variety of different methods for a host of different subjects.

Despite the proliferation of education degrees (which supposedly perfect the art of teaching) growth in test scores have been tepid at best. These degrees have limited the playing field so a CEO, or accountant can’t become a teacher, bad teachers are believed to be able to overcome their missteps and become mediocre teachers, and schools don’t compete for their kids. Read more ..


Broken Government

The Case for Hostage-Taking

October 16th 2013

capitol building night #2

As the budget and debt ceiling-standoff continues in Washington, many are asking the wrong question: Which party will pay a political price for the government shutdown? Democrats are comparing Republicans to “hostage-takers”; Republicans complain that Democrats refuse to negotiate.

Here’s the right question: Can we afford not to have this fight? With federal expenditures running 30 percent higher than revenues, debt at nearly twice the historical average, and no significant improvement in sight, is it any wonder that a contingent of conservative legislators is willing to ignore political expediency and stand on principle instead?

Over the past 10 years, federal spending has grown twice as fast as GDP. Despite a top marginal tax rate higher than the rate under the Clinton administration, this level of spending has opened up a projected $650 billion-a-year deficit. Without an expected one-time increase in reimbursements from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the deficit would be $100 billion higher, and over $1 trillion at normalized interest rates. For perspective, we only raise $1.3 trillion a year in income taxes. Yes, the deficit is down from $1.4 trillion at depth of the crisis, but on a comparable basis, it’s still six times larger than it was in 2007 before the financial crisis. Read more ..


Broken Education

Uncle Sam Shouldn't Try to Manage School Staffing

October 15th 2013

High school classroom

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has been charged by critics, spanning from Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) to anti-school reform icon Diane Ravitch, with trying to turn the U.S. Department of Education into a “national school board.”  The charge has much merit.

The Obama administration has used its Race to the Top program and unprecedented, far-reaching conditions for states seeking “waivers” from the No Child Left Behind Act’s most destructive requirements as excuses to micromanage what states are doing on teacher evaluation, school turnarounds, and much else.  In a new, particularly troubling twist, the administration has announced that states will henceforth have to ensure that “effective” teachers are distributed in a manner Uncle Sam deems equitable.

On the one hand, sensible steps to encourage district and union officials to get more effective teachers in high-poverty schools is obviously a good thing. That said, skepticism is warranted when considering Uncle Sam's ability to start telling states where to assign teachers. There are three particular concerns.  Ill-conceived policies might move teachers from schools and classrooms where they are effective to situations when they are less effective.  Heavy-handed efforts to reallocate teachers could drive good teachers from the profession. And we are far less able to identify "effective" teachers in any cookie-cutter fashion than federal officials might think. Read more ..


Mexico on Edge

Indigenous Peoples of Mexico Commemorate 500 Years of Resistance

October 14th 2013

Tens of thousands of indigenous protestors and their allies in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas took to the streets on Saturday, October 12. While the date is officially called Dia de La Raza and celebrated as the Latin American equivalent of the Columbus Day holiday in the United States, indigenous Mayans in Chiapas tagged another name on the day: 521 Years of Indigenous, Black, Campesino and Popular Resistance.

In different zones of Chiapas, from the cool highlands of San Cristobal de las Casas to the tropical rainforest around the ancient ruins of Palenque, residents blockaded highways and large commercial stores, participated in massive demonstrations and, in the case of Palenque, draped a red and black flag on city hall.

“We stress the importance of sharing our thinking and participating with our voice and concrete actions in the destiny of our country,” the protestors declared in a statement. “That’s why we say, here we are.”
Read more ..


Education on Edge

The Nobel Peace Prize Announcement: Why the Education Community Should Not be Discouraged

October 14th 2013

Malala Yousafzai

Within the education community, we often lament that we do not have the equivalent of a malaria net or polio vaccine that can rapidly focus policymakers on the task of getting all children into school and learning well.  Yet, we may have finally found our answer in a 16-year-old Pakistani girl.

Malala Yousafzai has catapulted education onto the international stage.  Since her brutal attack last October, she has spoken twice on the floor of the United Nations alongside U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, was featured on  the cover of Time Magazine as one of the "The 100 Most Influential People in the World,”  and was the recipient of Pakistan's first National Youth Peace Prize and the 2013 Sakharov Prize.  She has come to symbolize the reprehensible injustice that millions of children—and girls in particular—face in merely trying to exercise their basic human right to go to school.  She represents the determination that so many children and young people demonstrate each and every day to overcome enormous barriers to attend school.  In short, her eloquence and influence is a reminder to all of us of the transformative power of education.  Read more ..


Iran's Nukes

Appeasement Won't Reduce the Iranian Nuclear Peril

October 13th 2013

Iran holy missiles

Tomorrow morning, more than seven years after the United Nations Security Council first ordered Iran to halt all aspects of its illicit nuclear programme, British and American diplomats – along with representatives of other global powers – will sit down with Iranian nuclear negotiators in Geneva to try, once again, to resolve this crisis. This could be a seminal moment in world history – for what we choose to do about Iran will have consequences for generations.

In the run-up to the negotiations, there has been much talk of a new spirit of détente between Iran and the West. The election of President Hassan Rouhani in June has been followed by a series of diplomatic overtures, including a meeting between the British Foreign Secretary, William Hague, and his Iranian counterpart. There have even been discussions about Britain and Iran reopening embassies in each other’s capitals. Read more ..


The Edge of Security

ATF: Lost Guns, Lost Cigarettes, Lost Credibility

October 13th 2013

Guns for sale

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) had a great idea: facilitate the sale of weapons to gun runners near the Mexican border, then follow the guns to the higher echelon of criminals in Mexico. American and Mexican authorities would arrest the kingpins. Foolproof?

No. Project Gunrunner began in 2005 as an effort to use electronic tracking to trace guns sold illegally in Mexico and the Caribbean. It led to Fast and Furious (2009-11), Wide Receiver (2006-2007), the Hernandez case (2007), and the Medrano case (2008). In these latter operations, rather than create an intelligence trail with the eTrace software, the U.S. simply let straw buyers purchase guns to transport to Mexico. Mexican authorities were not notified. In the case of Fast and Furious, the ATF attaché at the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City was not notified. Read more ..


Media on Edge

The Paper Which Hates Britain? Guardian Leaks ‘Worst Blow to British Intel Ever’

October 12th 2013

Big Ben

The title doesn’t represent the hyperbole of a partisan commentator, but the sober warnings of Sir David Omand, the former head of GCHQ (the UK’s counterpart to the NSA) and homeland security adviser to 10 Downing St.

The theft and leak of tens of thousands of top-secret NSA files by Edward Snowden, procured by Glenn Greenwald and published by the Guardian, Oman said, “eclipses the Cambridge spy ring as the most catastrophic loss suffered by British intelligence” in history. He added that ‘The Guardian and others in possession of Mr Snowden’s leaked files had gone on to publish information that was invaluable to foreign spies, terrorists and criminal networks’.

But, that’s not all. Read more ..


Egypt's Second Revolution

Shall We Kiss Egypt Goodbye

October 11th 2013

Egyptian Court Protests Dec 2012

"You left the Egyptians, you turned your back on the Egyptians, and they won't forget that." Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.  Quoted by Kelly McParland, National Post (Canada), 8 August 2013.

In mid-August 2013 Egyptian newspapers reported that following a "hurried session" the Kremlin had offered its own military facilities to the Egyptian military.  The offer came in response to the Obama administration's cancelling of the annual joint military exercises held in Egypt's Western Desert that involved military units of the United States and Egypt.

There was mention that Egypt would soon benefit from Russian arms sales paid for by Saudi Arabia -- a move that resulted from the waning of United States support for an Egyptian government in the wake of the 3 July ouster of President Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood (Ikhwan al-Muslimun).  Read more ..


Broken Government

No Compromises on a Ship of Fools

October 10th 2013

Armstrong Williams Headshot

Usually when two sides cannot come to an agreement, they can let an arbiter weigh their arguments and settle the dispute. Some arbiters try to find the optimum compromise, while others simple rule in favor of one side over the other. Unfortunately for America, we have no arbitrator. Instead we have two groups of buffoons flinging muck at each other.
 
On one side we have a group of Republicans in the House refusing to do anything unless Obamacare’s individual mandate in delayed or, better yet, defunded. On the other side you have the Democrat Senate refusing to vote on any bills. Traditionally, the President tries to act as the arbiter in such disputes, but Obama refuses to entertain negotiations. He insists that the House GOP drop all their demands and give him free reign. Does neither side understand what a compromise is? In a negotiation, unless you are dealing with a fool, you never get everything you want. You must make concessions in order to move forward.
 
I am a businessman and can tell you that time and again I have to compromise to make a deal. By finding areas of agreement and contention, we can iron out those issues and find some kind of middle-ground. I may not get everything I want, but I get enough to make the deal worthwhile for both my associates and me. The biggest difference between my business deals and the current shutdown squabble is that I can walk away if I think the deal is skewed too against me. President Obama, Boehner, and Reid cannot walk away. The GOP’s idea of a compromise is to offer a delay rather than liquidate the Affordable Healthcare Act (ACA). This notion was the strategy behind passing both bills and sending them to the Senate, figuring that the Senate would obviously reject defunding and negotiate on the delay. Read more ..


Obama's Second Term

New Extremist Foxes Welcomed into U.S. Chicken Coop

October 10th 2013

Iraq: blood spattered church

Imagine that in recent weeks alone, dozens of Muslims around the world had been murdered by Christian extremists armed with suicide belts and similar paraphernalia. Imagine that at the same time, around other parts of the world, Christian mobs had set fire to, and burned to the ground, the holy places of some of the oldest and most established Muslim communities in the world.

Do you think there would be a reaction to such events? Probably yes. Would that reaction be wholly negative and unceasing in its condemnation? Probably yes. Would it be remotely conceivable that a senior U.S. government official or advisor would have used the opportunity to claim that Muslims who had been targeted had brought it upon themselves? Probably no. Welcome then to the mirror-image of the real-world persecution of Christians that is going on across the globe today. And say hello again to two of the most appallingly over-promoted and sinister figures involved with the current U.S. government: Mohamed Elibiary and Dalia Mogahed. Read more ..


Broken Government

The Government Shutdown: Politics as War by Other Means

October 9th 2013

Bomb blast

With the shutdown of the federal government, we are a nation at war. While the vast majority of citizens would be content with almost any peaceable resolution, their elected leaders at the barricades keep the country in wartime footing. War emerges when political or diplomatic means fail; and war brings destruction. Witness the hardships that have already emerged from even a few days of shutdown, and there is no end in sight.

The political war of the present is a reminder of a larger, bloodier war of a century ago. The First World War was also a standoff in which almost every individual actor felt the absurdity of continuing the slaughter, even as the dynamics of the whole kept pulling them into the morass. The opposing powers in the war that began in 1914 each had advantages that locked them into continuing combat. In particular, the British and French on the Western Front had a long-term advantage with their colonial wealth and manpower, especially with the British navy. The pressures of war spoke to them: why give up now? Meanwhile, Germany had made striking initial gains in the first months of fighting before the descent into prolonged trench warfare; they now controlled Belgium and one-fifth of France. The pressures of war spoke to them: why give up those gains? Read more ..


Broken Government

Yes, Fighting Over the Debt Ceiling Hurts the Economy

October 8th 2013

Congress-senate

Senators Coburn and Paul took to the airwaves to argue that going past the so-called X date – the date beyond which the Treasury cannot honor all U.S. financial obligations, believed to be sometime in the second half of October – does not automatically mean that the U.S. will default on our debt. Other prominent conservatives have advanced this argument as well.

They are correct. The U.S. could in theory honor our debt obligations while not honoring other obligations, such as Social Security payments, federal-employee salaries, and payments to government contractors. The Treasury could still conduct auctions to roll over maturing securities past the X date, and the Treasury probably could ensure that it has enough cash to pay interest payments on the debt. But this strategy is not as rosy as many conservatives believe, for a number of reasons. Read more ..


Israel and Palestine

Palestinians Prepare for War

October 7th 2013

Click to select Image

"The continuation of settlement construction is the main obstacle to the success of the peace process," the PLO leadership said in a statement that completely ignored the calls for jihad by several Palestinian terror groups.

As the U.S.-sponsored peace talks between the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority continue, Palestinian terror groups are preparing for jihad against Israel. At the negotiations, the Palestinian Authority representatives are talking about the establishment of a Palestinian state along the pre-1967 lines, namely the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem. But the voices coming out of the Gaza Strip's various terror groups are talking about preparations to "liberate all Palestine, from the river to the sea." Read more ..


Broken Economy

Recession Looms in 2014

October 6th 2013

Bernanke headache

The level of uncertainty among investors about the direction of U.S. fiscal and monetary policy is startling. At a recent gathering of top investors in New York, few displayed much conviction about the future path of the Federal Reserve’s monetary stance after its Sept. 18 decision not to wind down a slew of stimulus measures in the face of a weaker-than-expected U.S. economy. On the fiscal policy front, incessant congressional wrangling over federal spending and borrowing baffled financiers from around the world.

Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke has made no secret of his concerns about the negative effects of fiscal policy uncertainty. During his Sept. 18 press conference, he cited the economic drag tied to what has become a government shutdown-cum-possible debt crisis as a reason for the central bank’s move. More recently, in an Oct. 2 speech, he acknowledged, “Community bankers today confront a frustratingly slow recovery, stiff competition from larger banks and other financial institutions, and the responsibility of complying with new and existing regulations.” Read more ..


Obama's Second Term

Obama Rewrites Debt Limit History

October 5th 2013

Obama-Limo

As the government shutdown continues, the nation gets closer and closer to the day—probably Oct. 17—when Washington hits the debt limit, and with it the specter of default. President Obama may be getting nervous about what will happen to his negotiating position as that day approaches.

He keeps asserting that the debt limit has never been used "to extort a president or a government party." Treasury Secretary Jack Lew is selling the same story, saying "until very recently, Congress typically raised the debt ceiling on a routine basis . . . the threat of default was not a bargaining chip in the negotiations." This is simply untrue. Consider the shenanigans of congressional Democrats in 1989 over Medicare's catastrophic health coverage provision.

In this case, the problem was political infighting within the Democratic Party between the House and the Senate. "Weeks of political maneuvering brought the government to the brink of financial default," the New York Times wrote on Nov. 8 of that year. The debt limit was raised just hours before all extraordinary measures to avoid default were exhausted. The final bill dropped any action on Medicare but included a measure to repeal 1986 tax rules barring discrimination in employer-paid health insurance plans. Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

UK Charity Commission Permits Hamas Charity

October 4th 2013

Abbas Haniyeh

Since the time that the UK Charity Commission chairman promised to punish groups which promote extremism, Interpal has nevertheless organized a number of events that--once again--demonstrate that extremist organizations continue with impunity to abuse their charitable status.

On 12 September, William Shawcross, chairman of Britain's Charity Commission, addressed a crowd of leading experts and representatives from the British charitable and financial sectors, and announced that:

"We are stepping up our work to prevent and tackle terrorist abuse of charities. The misuse of charities for terrorist purposes represents a despicable inversion of everything charity stands for and we will fight that without quarter. And we have put out very clear guidance to charities about extremist and controversial speakers. It is unacceptable for charities to promote the views of individuals who promote violence and terrorism."

We should welcome, then, the promise by Shawcross that pro-terror organizations will no longer be free to employ the moral monopoly afforded by charitable status to shroud their extremist activities. Read more ..


The Media on Edge

Netanyahu’s Powerful UN Speech is Being Distorted by the Media

October 3rd 2013

Bibi arguing

I was in the General Assembly when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivered his speech about Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Iran’s nuclear program.  I heard a very different speech from the one described by The New York Times and other media outlets. Not surprisingly, the Iranians described it as “inflammatory.” More surprisingly, the Times described Netanyahu’s speech as aggressive, combative, sarcastic, and sabotaging diplomacy, while the only expert it quoted called the speech ineffective and pushing the limits of credibility.

What I heard in that chamber bore little relationship either to the Iranian or the Times characterizations.  What the people listening to Netanyahu heard was a compellingly persuasive speech using Rouhani’s own words to prove convincingly that his friendly smile is a cover for far more malignant intentions. Herein are a few excerpts not quoted in the Times report. Read more ..


Obama's Second Term

The Nuclear Tide Comes In

October 2nd 2013

Professor Obama at work

President Obama's speech to the U.N. General Assembly contained his annual diplomatic overtures to the government of Iran, pointing to letters he has written to Iran's supreme leader and to President Rouhani and disavowing "regime change."  Declaring "our" preference for the diplomatic path, President Obama enjoined Secretary of State Kerry to meet directly with Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif to begin the process of improving relations.  His own attempt at diplomacy, however, was rebuffed when Iranian President Rouhani declined the American president's offer of a meeting at the U.N., calling it "complicated."

At the same time, the president told the General Assembly, "We are determined to prevent [Iran] from developing a nuclear weapon."  But his "determination" carries little weight following the on-again-off-again American response to Syria's use of chemical weapons and the broad sense that Russia is the rising power in an area that had been America's domain.  With a weakened United States, the impact of its newest diplomatic overture is likely to be a scramble for nuclear weapons -- with important consequences for global stability. Read more ..


Broken Government

The Federal Government Shutdown: A Marriage Of Bad Policy And Toxic Economics

October 1st 2013

john Boehner

I do not want to be writing this column about the likely shutdown of the federal government. The shutdown will create costly inefficiencies, distract our leaders from more important tasks, and reduce our influence in a dangerous world by making us look incompetent and divided. It’s not even good politics for the Republican party that is forcing the issue and will be blamed by most Americans for the result, even if it serves the ideology and the political agenda of a minority within that party.

I want to be writing about the crucial German elections and their impact on the Euro Crisis. There are also fascinating and potentially quite important new reforms in China that establish a free trade zone in Shanghai with much less regulation. It may signal nationwide reforms transforming the size and shape of the Chinese economy and affecting all of us. I am sure my foreign policy colleagues would rather be writing about the potential for a deal with Iran and other issues of life and death. The list of real issues goes on and on.  Read more ..


Broken Politics

Ted Cruz Filled Republican Leadership Vacuum, Then Burned his Bridges

September 30th 2013

Ted Cruz

Can anyone lead this Republican Party? The official party leadership hasn’t figured out how to lead in the current political environment. And Sen. Ted Cruz learned this week that he doesn’t know how to call the shots, either. To understand the Republican leadership vacuum, consider what's different today compared to five years ago.

The 2010 Citizens United ruling has spawned super PACs that offset the power of the political parties and K Street. The Republican earmark ban has taken away a vote-whipping tool. The Internet’s advances have turned the grassroots into kudzu vines. The committee process has grown feeble. And all of these changes have injected an anti-establishment fervor into the GOP base.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker John Boehner don’t know how to lead in this environment. Sen. Tom Coburn in mid-September told the GOP Conference that the fractious state of the party stemmed from a lack of leadership – a lack of clear goals and strategies – according to GOP Senate aides. Sen. Ron Johnson – also not a Cruz minion – has loudly and regularly complained about this leadership gap, too.

The guy who figured out how to lead in the new environment also helped create it: Jim DeMint. DeMint first beat McConnell on the campaign trail: His Senate Conservatives Fund got Marco Rubio, Cruz and Rand Paul elected in 2010 and 2012 over the GOP leadership’s picks in those states. Allied groups elected Mike Lee over incumbent McConnell ally Bob Bennett. Read more ..


Obama' Second Term

Poor America

September 30th 2013

Professor Obama at work

As he waited in the wings at the United Nations, President Obama was struck with this sledgehammer from Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff:

Tampering... in the affairs of other countries is a breach of international law and is an affront of the principles that must guide the relations among them, especially among friendly nations. A sovereign nation can never establish itself to the detriment of another sovereign nation. The right to safety of citizens of one country can never be guaranteed by violating fundamental human rights of citizens of another country.

This impassioned defense of national sovereignty and fundamental human rights (self-serving as it might have been) was followed by a speech from Mr. Obama that was almost a parody of how other countries see the United States -- self-referential, militaristic, whiny, petulant, and riddled with faux humility and underlying threats. Read more ..


Broken Government

If You Liked Sequestration 'One', You'll Love 'Two'

September 29th 2013

Congress-senate

Sequestration was proposed from the beginning to be a hostage in larger and more complex political fights. Two years after the Budget Control Act was signed into law, sequestration remains a favored pawn in negotiations. This dynamic is one of the fundamental reasons that despite the fact that so many members of Congress dislike sequestration, it remains in effect.

In Washington, upcoming debates about government funding and the debt ceiling increasingly feel like Groundhog Day. Yet time has not altered or softened either side’s position on the size, scope or role of government. Unfortunately, this means the Defense Department seems on track for yet another “fiscal cliff”-like redux, which -- if so -- will result in sequestration sticking for a second year in a row. Read more ..


Iran on Edge

The Rouhani Tsunami: A Presidential Phone Call Offers Another Iranian Surprise

September 28th 2013

Rowhani

Capping a week full of headlines, controversy, spectacle and schmoozing, Iran's new president Hassan Rouhani made history on Friday by concluding his inaugural visit to the United States with an unprecedented telephone conversation with U.S. President Barack Obama. In a perfect diplomatic minuet, the call was invited by Iranian officials and initiated by the White House. The conversation ended nearly 35 years of silence between the two leaderships and inspired hopes, as expressed by President Obama, that "we can reach a comprehensive solution" to the Iranian nuclear crisis and potentially even more — the start of a new relationship between America and Iran.

The phone call followed another historic first, a meeting between Iran's foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. The news sparked giddiness among many Iranians on social media, where an account linked to Rouhani announced the call and recounted the details only moments before Obama spoke before a hastily-organized press conference in Washington, D.C. to do the same. However, upon his arrival at Tehran's Mehrbad airport, Iran's president was greeted with a more dissonant tone, as his effusive supporters were joined by a small group of hardliners hurling shoes and eggs in protest. It was a small but stark reminder of the obstacles the Iranian regime will have to navigate if it is to amend even slightly one of the defining elements of its raison d’être, antagonism toward America. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

Syrian Rebels: Demand Radical Islamism; U. S.: We Can’t Hear You!

September 27th 2013

Syrian Rebels

Can it be more obvious? Thirteen Syrian rebel groups–including the most important in Aleppo and Damascus–demand an Islamist state in Syria and say they don’t care what the official rebel, U.S.-backed politicians say.

By the way, only one of these groups is an al-Qaida group, Jabhat al-Nusra. There is also the large Salafi Islamist group, Harakat Ahrar al-Sham al-Islamiya. The others include the powerful Liwa al-Tawhid (Aleppo) and Liwa al-Islam. Both groups operated as part of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) umbrella.

What about the U.S-backed Free Syrian Army? As the GLORIA Center’s Syria expert Dr. Jonathan Spyer put it: “This is much of the Free Syrian Army.”

The Syrian rebel statement, distancing these militias from the FSA’s leadership said, “These forces call on all military and civilian groups to unite in a clear Islamic context that… is based on sharia (Islamic) law, making it the sole source of legislation”. “The [Syrian] National Coalition and the proposed government under Ahmad Tomeh [the Obama Administration- supported “moderate” Muslim Brotherhood puppet who wields little power] does not represent us, nor do we recognize it,” said 13 of Syria’s most powerful Islamist rebel groups. Read more ..


Broken Government

Cruz Ruse

September 26th 2013

Ted Cruz

If only Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) had been correct last March when he criticized House Republicans for their “meaningless show votes” to repeal ObamaCare, insisting that Congress could defund it with the votes of Republican lawmakers in the House and Senate alone. “We don’t need a single Democrat vote,” the freshman senator said, knowing it wasn’t true.

If only his Don’t Fund Obamacare website was telling the truth with its declaration that “Republicans in Congress can stop Obamacare if they refuse to fund it.” If only his marathon Senate floor speech this week was actually a filibuster that could stop a vote, instead of a show Cruz sought permission for from the Senate Democratic leader. Not only would it have been less inauthentic and goofy, but then his website would have actually been correct with its headline urging visitors to “Watch the Obamacare filibuster live.”

How many of the 1.7 million petition signers on the website, many of whom have clicked on the green bar that reads “donate,” actually believe the Affordable Care Act is about to be stopped with their support? If only all those supporters could be rewarded with results — or at least the truth — instead of being had.

But as Cruz succeeded in snookering the grass roots, he built his brand, his email list and his donor list. Along the way, he also deliberately threw House Republicans under the bus. He and the outside groups that are supporting his Cruz-ade to shut down the government if any spending bill funds the new healthcare law barraged House Republicans with letters, emails and phone calls, urging them to do something they couldn’t do. Nowhere in his speeches at town halls this summer, or on his website, has he informed the public that it would take supermajorities of two-thirds of the House and Senate to override a veto the president would surely sign after any attempt to defund his signature legislative accomplishment. Read more ..


Broken Goverment

DC Ignores Jobs and The Economy

September 25th 2013

Employee applications

There are two interrelated myths of politics today that drive me crazy. The first is that Republicans spend all their time catering to Wall Street and the financiers of the economy. The other fairy tale is that politicians in both parties are guided by poll results.

Neither of these legends is true, and recent weeks have shown this to be the case more than ever before. Wall Street wants Republicans to do something — anything — to get this economy going.

Polls are consistently showing that “job creation and the economy” top every list of the most important issues or problems facing the states and the nation as a whole. Yet Republicans are dogging other rabbits. We need to get back to chasing the issue that has been our nation’s top priority for several years running: jobs. Read more ..


The World on Edge

The Myth of a United Nations

September 24th 2013

UN HQ NYC

The U.N. General Assembly’s 68th session will open its annual “general debate” in New York on Tuesday, with leadoff speakers including President Obama and Iranian President Hasan Rouhani. There is every prospect that Mr. Obama and Mr. Rouhani will exchange the handshake Mr. Obama has longed for ever since his 2009 inaugural address.

For some, that handshake alone justifies the U.N.’s existence, as though the financial costs the United States bear (assessed contributions of 22 percent of most U.N. agency budgets), relentless political attacks against us and close friends such as Israel, assaults on free expression under the guise of religious tolerance, endless treaty negotiations where the hidden agenda is constraining America’s flexibility and influence, and countless other intrusions on issues properly decided by our own constitutional system were of little consequence. Read more ..


Islam on Edge

Wave of Islamic Mass Murder Strikes Across the World

September 23rd 2013

Pakistan religious minorities

While Islamist terror groups attacked targets in Kenya, Yemen and Iraq over the weekend, the Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for two suicide bombers killing upwards of 75 Pakistani Christians as they left church services on Sunday. "The double-suicide bombing outside a Catholic church [in Peshawar, Pakistan] has killed about 75 Pakistanis. It's considered one of the worst attacks on Christians in that predominately Islamic nation," said Hettinger, a former member of the police intelligence unit.

The two bombers detonated their explosive-laden vests as churchgoers exited All Saints Church on Sunday morning following a Catholic Mass, police reported. As if police weren't busy enough dealing with the casualties and the crime scene investigation, they also had to contend with a protest by relatives and friends of the victims who complained about their government's inability to protect them from radical Muslims such as the Taliban and al-Qaeda.

Read more ..

Broken Government

No Surrenders

September 22nd 2013

Ted Cruz

Earlier this week, there were reports and commentary to the effect that the House Republican leadership had surrendered and fallen in with those conservatives who think that the continuing resolution to fund the government can be used to stop funding for Obamacare. Then there were claims that Senator Cruz had given up on fighting Obamacare in the Senate. Both of these perceptions were false, and they’re related.

Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor are just as convinced as ever that a partial government shutdown would not advance any conservative goal, and just as determined to avoid one. They have merely made a tactical retreat in that effort. They want to pass a continuing resolution that denies funding to Obamacare, thus demonstrating that it’s the outcome House Republicans favor. If, as expected, the Senate defeats it, they then want to pass another continuing resolution that leaves Obamacare alone: Shutdown avoided. Boehner and Cantor would like to see Obamacare defunded, but they are not willing to let the government shut down over it–and even as they announced that they would go ahead with a vote on the resolution that Senator Cruz et al are promoting, they said nothing to the contrary.

Senator Cruz understood what Boehner and Cantor intended even if some reporters did not. (Standard disclaimer.) That’s the context for his much-criticized statement that if the Senate passes funds for Obamacare, it will be up to the House to hold firm. That didn’t mean that he was going to “wave the white flag of surrender,” as Rep. Sean Duffy (R., Wisc.) put it. (Anonymous aides to House leaders were quoted making similar points in nastier terms.) Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

Iran and Syria: Peace in Our Time

September 21st 2013

Hassan Rowhani

Rumor has it that big things are going to happen between the United States and Iran next week at the United Nations General Assembly. Count me among the really excited for what promises to be a new world of openness and communication between the freshly minted Rouhani government and the slightly less fresh Obama administration. Because, after all, what could go wrong?

But I have a little confession: Something is gnawing away on the periphery of my diplomatic euphoria. I’m a little worried about the Syria precedent. What’s that, you ask? Isn’t that last week’s problem? So…I dunno…August? It’s true, we have a deal with the Russians. The Syrians are going to cough up a comprehensive list of their chemical weapons this week soonish. It’s true, Assad signed the Chemical Weapons Convention. And he is a man who, once an international obligation is made, really sticks to it. I mean, look at how strictly Syria has adhered to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. (What were the Israelis doing there in 2007 anyway?) Read more ..


Broken Government

We Have the Tools to Prevent Another Shooting Spree

September 20th 2013

Sandy Hook Shooting

As a psychiatrist, I have frequently seen psychotic patients brought into the emergency room by police, only to be released into the night because of a toxic combination of restrictive commitment laws and a desperate shortage of psychiatric beds. For the most part, such sad stories affect only the patients themselves and their families. On a few horrific occasions, they are a missed opportunity to prevent a larger, bloodier tragedy.

We will never know his precise motivations, yet it is becoming increasingly clear how Aaron Alexis, who police say shot and killed 12 people at the Navy Yard in Washington this week, fell through some cracks in our mental health system.

On Aug. 7, police in Newport, Rhode Island, responded to a call from Alexis, who was staying at a Marriott hotel. According to the police, Alexis said he had an argument at the airport with a stranger who had sent three people to follow him and who were keeping him awake by talking to him through the walls and by sending vibrations to his body from a microwave machine. He said he had already switched hotels twice to escape them. Read more ..


Europe on Edge

The German Elections and the Euro Crisis

September 19th 2013

Spanish protesters

The German federal elections on September 22nd will have importance well beyond Germany’s borders, particularly in Europe. However, the effects on the rest of Europe are likely to be subtle rather than constituting a decisive turning point. There is also considerable uncertainty about the outcome and its immediate consequences.

What we know
Merkel will remain in charge.
To be fair, this is not an absolute certainty but rather a very high probability. Polls clearly show that her parliamentary faction will be the single largest, with over a third of the seats. That lead, combined with the increasing fragmentation of the party structure in Germany, makes it difficult at this point to envision a viable coalition without her faction, although it is not impossible. Her status as the current Chancellor, her personal popularity, and control of the largest parliamentary faction effectively would guarantee her the Chancellorship yet again in any such coalition. This would give her a great deal of control over government policy, even if she is forced to share power with the Social Democrats rather than her much weaker current partner, the Free Democrats. Read more ..



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