|Michael Eisenstadt||July 12th 2012|
The Washington Institute
With the latest round of nuclear diplomacy ending inconclusively last week, the United States and the EU are poised to impose a new round of sanctions on Iran. Given Tehran's large cash and gold reserves and still-substantial oil income, however, sanctions alone may not make the regime more flexible in negotiations. To bolster diplomacy, and thereby diminish the prospects of military confrontation, the United States must intensify intelligence operations and use the military instrument in ways it has not been willing to thus far.
Since taking office, the Obama administration has been extremely reticent to employ the military instrument in dealing with Tehran, largely to avoid undermining nuclear diplomacy or sparking an unintended conflict. To its credit, the administration has built up the military capabilities of U.S. allies in the region, filled gaps in U.S. defenses in the Persian Gulf, and defined red lines regarding the use of force. Yet these steps do not seem to have altered Tehran's threat calculus. If diplomacy is to succeed, the United States must do just that. Read more ..
The Obama Edge
A Democratic Party caucus chairman and former Barack Obama campaign manager, MD Rabbi Alam, is not only running for secretary of state in Missouri, he is also an unabashed 9/11 Truther who believes that no Jews were killed during the al Qaeda attacks on the United States in 2001. “Why [was] 9/11 was a official holidy [sic] for all jewish [sic] people worked in the the [sic] WTC? Was 9/11 a conspiracy??” Alam wrote on a discussion forum online. “Tell me how many of the Jewish people died on the 9/11 tragedy?” he added.
The Free Beacon, a daily internet publication that interviewed the candidate at length, confronted Alam with State Department statistics showing that between 200 and 400 Jews, in addition to five Israelis, were killed on September 11. Alum questioned the validity of the numbers and stuck to his own beliefs.
But what is more startling, political strategists point out, is how someone with Alam’s views was able to climb the ranks of the Democratic Party so quickly. Alam, who also served in the U.S. military, is chairman of the National Democratic Party Asian American Caucus (NDPAAC) and he worked as a “satellite campaign manager” on the 2008 campaign that elected President Obama to office. And less than a year ago he received an invitation to the White House as a thank you. Alam also has known ties to radical Muslim clerics with extreme anti-Israel views. Read more ..
The 2012 Vote
|Mark S. Melman||July 11th 2012|
Over the next 113 days, lots of campaigns will be looking at lots of ads — nearly $10 billion worth, according to some estimates — trying to decide which are effective and which aren’t, which are worth airing and which shouldn’t be broadcast. The evidence suggests they will often be wrong, especially if they rely on instinct or focus-group testing.
A recent experiment demonstrates again that neither professionals nor the public (who constitute focus groups) can predict which ads will work and which won’t. Researchers from the Universities of Michigan and Oregon, as well as UCLA, asked members of the target population to rate the effectiveness of three anti-smoking ad campaigns. The semi-focus group consistently ranked ad campaign “B” as far and away the most effective, “C” as least effective, with A in between. Industry experts (akin to campaign consultants) ranked B and C as more effective than A. Read more ..
Kenya on Edge
|Kevin Watkins||July 11th 2012|
The Brookings Institution
Most governments around the world would declare their adherence to the principles of fairness and equity. But how should principles inform practical policies for allocating public spending? That question was at the heart of a two-day seminar held last week in Naivasha, Kenya.
Organised jointly by the Office of the Prime Minister, the Ministry of State for Development of Northern Kenya and other Arid lands, and the Commission on Revenue Allocation (CRA), and facilitated by the United Nation’s Millennium Campaign, the Naivasha seminar, Financing for a Fairer, Prosperous Kenya, addressed an ongoing public debate prompted by the adoption of a new constitution in 2010. The outcome of that debate will have profound consequences for poverty reduction in Kenya – and the issues raised have a resonance far beyond Kenya’s borders.
Adopted in 2010, the Kenyan constitution is a remarkable document. It shifts the locus of political authority away from what has been a highly centralized state toward 47 devolved counties. It enshrines far-reaching provisions on social and economic rights, including a new bill of rights. And it includes an injunction requiring all layers of government to apply the principle of “equitable sharing” to public spending, with an emphasis on “the need for affirmative action in respect of disadvantaged groups and areas.”
There are compelling grounds for policymakers in Kenya to prioritize greater equity. Wealth disparities are marked. The Gini co-efficient for wealth distribution is 0.44, which is higher than in neighboring countries like Ethiopia and Tanzania. Economic growth has been skewed toward urban centers and a narrow band of commercial farming areas, with the World Bank estimating that 80 percent of economic activity is generated in just half of the new counties. Read more ..
The 2012 Vote
Last year, a number of news outlets heralded the prediction that in his re-election bid in 2012 President Barack Obama's campaign would raise "an unprecedented" $1 billion in campaign contributions, but in the month of June the Obama re-election team was beaten for the second month in a row by Republican challenger Mitt Romney's team in the race for garnering campaign cash.
On Monday, Obama's re-election campaign claimed it raised a whopping $71 million in June. However, the Romney campaign brought in $106 million, in large part due to the U.S. Supreme Court upholding the unpopular Affordable Care Act, known to Americans as Obamacare.
While June's $71 million is touted as being the best fundraising month for Obama and the Democratic National Committee, Mitt Romney's fundraising is said to be astounding considering in May he also beat Obama in the race for cash by hauling in $77 million to Obama and the DNC's $60 million. Read more ..
|Jeff Porter and David McCullough||July 9th 2012|
In December 1863, at the end of the bloodiest year the nation had ever seen, a different kind of struggle was ending in the nation’s capital. There, despite the grim march of war just miles away and the temptation to put every available resource into the war effort, the Statue of Freedom was hoisted atop the 8 million-pound cast-iron Capitol dome. It is said that President Lincoln drew inspiration from watching the dome rise, seeing in it a metaphor for a union that would not perish from the earth.
For a century and a half, the Capitol and its dome have served as a symbol of American democracy around the world, one of the most instantly recognizable structures on the planet, and as a stately backdrop to inaugurations, celebrations and state funerals. In a 2007 survey by the American Institute of Architects, the public ranked it as their sixth favorite piece of architecture in America.
Yet the dome is showing its age; cracks and leaks have formed, risking not only the beauty and integrity of the structure, but the safety and well-being of the thousands of people who work in and visit the Capitol every day. These problems will not go away by themselves. As Architect of the Capitol Stephen Ayers testified before the House Appropriations Committee last February, “The longer Capitol renewal projects are delayed, the conditions in these facilities will continue to deteriorate; deficiencies will grow more and more serious, and ultimately more costly to repair.” That is why the House’s recent approval of a legislative branch appropriations bill that blocks funding for dome repairs is so troubling. Read more ..
The 2012 Vote
|Karen Finney||July 8th 2012|
It’s an awkward time for former Gov. Mitt Romney to address the NAACP — whether it’s because of the “complicated” relationship between the African-American community and the Republican Party, or the voter ID laws implemented across our country by Republican-led legislatures and governors that will disenfranchise millions of minority voters in the 2012 election, or even the audience that, while polite, is also likely skeptical of Republican policy ideas in light of the disappointment of “No Child Left Behind” that followed former President George W. Bush’s soaring rhetoric about the “soft bigotry of low expectations” and fears about the impact of the GOP-backed budget by Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan (R) that could have devastating effects on communities of color.
Still, Romney walks into the room with a unique opportunity, steeped in his family’s credibility and the increasing diversity of the Mormon Church, to connect with the audience. Read more ..
After the Holocaust
|David Mermelstein||July 7th 2012|
The JTA recently published an op-ed by Menachem Rosensaft which gratuitously offers an “alternative” to the legislation that Holocaust survivors and children and grandchildren of survivors are seeking in Congress. The bills Rosensaft patronizingly calls “well-intentioned” are necessary to restore our rights to go to U.S. courts to recover insurance policies sold by Allianz, Generali, AXA, and other global insurers to our parents and grandparents which the companies dishonored after the Holocaust.
We don’t know who Mr. Rosensaft claims to represent in making this suggestion, but it most certainly is not speaking for Holocaust survivors or the families of Holocaust victims. We can speak and act for ourselves, and we demand the right to do so. This is something that over 100 members of Congress, on a bi-partisan basis, who are co-sponsoring HR 890 and S. 466, understand.
Let’s remember what this problem is all about. Insurance policies—private contracts that our parents and grandparents paid for with the sweat of their brows. Contracts that the companies charged and accepted money in exchange for the promise to pay our parents and grandparents if something happened, and needless to say our families did lose everything. Read more ..
Healthcare on Edge
|Wendell Potter||July 6th 2012|
Health insurers avoided their worst case scenario last week — the prospect of the Supreme Court striking down the individual mandate but letting the rest of the health care law, especially profit-threatening consumer protections, go forward. Now the industry can focus on a goal it has had all along: getting rid of those pesky consumer protections.
That goal was clear to me from the reaction statement issued by America’s Health Insurance Plans. The statement was jam-packed with feel-good phrases like “secure and affordable,” “peace of mind,” and “choice and competition.” Allow me to provide an interpretation of what AHIP, the industry’s biggest PR and lobbying group, was really saying and really planning. After twenty years as an industry PR guy, I’m all too familiar with prose written to obscure intentions.
Sentence by sentence, here’s what AHIP’s communications people crafted as soon as they realized the industry would not have to go nuclear to wipe out ObamaCare — that instead, it could conduct a stealth ground war to get rid of everything in the law that might threaten profits. Read more ..
Palestine on Edge
Yasir Arafat is still dead. True, he was once alive. I sat across from him in his Gaza office, for example. And he even had a copy of my history of the PLO on his bookshelf so he must have been of sound mind at the time. It’s not my fault. I told him to start jogging and cut down on sweets. But he didn’t listen. On November 4, 2004, he died, a fate he previously delivered to thousands of far more innocent people.
The effort now by various Palestinian factions to imply Israel killed him is the funniest thing in the Middle East since the U.S. director of national intelligence’s congressional briefing when he said the Muslim Brotherhood was a secular democratic organization. What’s dismaying is how much play Western media are giving this charge as if it should be taken seriously. When the West behaves in this way it signals at the least a dangerously naive credulousness and at worst a profound anti-Jewish and anti-Israel complex. The New York Times and Washington Post take this nonsense seriously. Read more ..
Healthcare on Edge
|Daniel R. Ernst||July 4th 2012|
I'm not going to pretend that I know exactly why Chief Justice John Roberts left the four other Republican appointees on the Supreme Court and joined the four Democratic appointees to uphold the individual mandate in the Affordable Care Act -- after all, after seventy-five years, we still don't know exactly why Chief Justice Charles Evan Hughes broke with the four implacably conservative members of his Court and, bringing Owen Roberts with him, joined three liberal justices to uphold landmark New Deal legislation. Still, I would be very surprised if (John) Roberts was not moved by the same concern for legitimacy of the institution over which he and Hughes have presided. Although he could not bring Justices Alito, Kennedy, Scalia or Thomas with him, he nonetheless avoided what Jeffrey Rosen of the George Washington University Law School called on Thursday’s Diane Rehm Show “the kind of partisan, polarized, five-to-four, Republicans-versus-Democrats” outcome that was the great “fear of many people who care about the bipartisan legitimacy of the Court.”
Read more ..
Roberts, no less than Hughes, has had a life “spent in work conditioned upon respect for the courts.” He clerked for two eminent federal judges, Henry Friendly and William Rehnquist, he worked in the Solicitor General’s office; he became one of the leading Supreme Court advocates of his generation while at the law firm of Hogan & Hartson, and he served on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. While his nomination as Associate Justice was pending, Rehnquist died, and President George W. Bush named him to succeed his judicial mentor as Chief Justice. After his confirmation, Roberts told Rosen, in an interview published in The Atlantic, that in times of great political division, “[t]here ought to be some sense of some stability, if the government is not going to polarize completely. It’s a high priority to keep any kind of partisan divide out of the judiciary as well.”
Obama and Israel
|Shoshana Bryen||July 4th 2012|
The Jewish Policy Center/Gatestone Institute
The Founders in their wisdom divided the powers of government; some to the Executive, some to the Legislative. The power of the purse went to Congress; diplomacy to the Executive.
How that shakes out matters to the U.S. and our democratic allies.
The democracy of Israel, for example, had a good week with Congress. The Senate adopted, by unanimous consent (and 69 sponsors), a bill increasing coordination in the fields of missile defense, homeland security, energy, intelligence and cyber-security. It also called for enhancing Israel's qualitative military edge (QME), a difficult-to-measure state of affairs, but a concept that friends of Israel appreciate. The House already passed its version of the same legislation.
The practicality of the bill is striking: do things, share things, develop things, produce things, and protect things. These are security enhancements that can only be done with an ally. Congress wants to do them with Israel. Read more ..
The Obama Edge
Scripps Howard News Service
When the House voted Thursday to find Attorney General Eric Holder in criminal contempt of Congress, members of the Congressional Black Caucus walked out.
Why is the Black Caucus trying to make this about race? It's about Holder's refusal to turn over Justice Department documents requested by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform in its investigation of the "Fast and Furious" operation.
Fast and Furious was a "gun-walking" operation conducted by the department's Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. ATF would allow known smugglers to purchase arms from dealers in Arizona, intending to trace them to their destination with operatives in drug cartels in Mexico.
Before the vote, the Black Caucus' chairman, Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, D-Mo., appeared on CNN calling the House contempt vote "silly and detrimental to one human being." On MSNBC's "Politics Nation," he told host Rev. Al Sharpton, "This is partisanship at its most base level." Sure, it's an election year. And if you had to stretch to appreciate the complaint against Holder being made by Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., chairman of the House committee doing the investigation, you might buy Cleaver's claim that this was just Republican political grandstanding.
But you don't have to stretch to appreciate the case against Holder. It seems pretty clear that Fast and Furious was a botched operation. The ATF lost track of some 2,000 weapons that disappeared into the hands of criminals in Mexico. In December 2010, weapons traced to this operation were found on smugglers who murdered U.S. Border Patrol agent Brian Terry. Others were tied to the murder of at least 200 Mexican citizens. Read more ..
Healthcare on Edge
|Karen Finney||July 2nd 2012|
As the Supreme Court upheld ObamaCare last week, the AIDS Memorial Quilt returned to Washington, D.C., for the first time in 16 years, and a new study from the D.C. Department of Health showed that African-Americans — consistent with national trends — are more likely to be infected with HIV/AIDS, with rates of heterosexual African-American women in D.C.’s poorest neighborhoods nearly doubling in two years, while an estimated 20 to 30 percent of the District’s HIV-positive population are unaware they are infected.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates there are 1.2 million people living with AIDS in the United States, and that one five don’t know they are positive. While 56,000 Americans are infected with HIV every year, nearly half of all new HIV/AIDS diagnoses are in the southern states of Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee; the South leads the nation in the number of people living with and dying from AIDS. Read more ..
|Andrew Kahrl||July 1st 2012|
During these dog days of summer, millions of Americans will flock to the nation’s shores for comfort and relief. Who will go, where they will go, and who they can expect to find there speaks volumes about class in America. Now more so than ever, the distribution of people on America’s beaches each summer mirrors those bar graphs that illustrate the distribution of wealth in the nation as a whole. Long stretches of shore are the exclusive dominion of America’s super rich. A substantial segment is fenced off for the enjoyment of a shrinking upper middle class who can still afford to go on vacations or own second homes. What little remains is for the rest of us; and of that, a dwindling amount could be considered safe for bathing.
My neighborhood in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, for instance, hugs the western shore of Lake Michigan. Yet few of my mostly white, well-to-do neighbors can be found bathing or picnicking on this urban shoreline (voted for the second year in a row as one of the nation’s most polluted). Those of us who can afford to will rent a cottage along a secluded, sometimes privately owned, beach, or stay in an expensive seaside hotel in one of America’s vacation destinations, where the price of admission includes exclusive access to a spacious, well-manicured beach. Meanwhile, our neighborhood beach plays host to the city’s working poor, mostly black and Hispanic, who come despite the occasional water quality alert, and despite the sorely neglected state of the beach itself, another victim of our city’s struggle to maintain basic public services in our age of austerity. Read more ..
Heathcare on Edge
|Darrell M. West||June 29th 2012|
The Brookings Institution
Democrats celebrated the Supreme Court decision upholding President Obama’s health care law. Commentators focused on the surprising support by Chief Justice John Roberts for the individual mandate and the victory for Democrats.
But beneath the surface, the ruling is less liberal than it looks. Two provisions limit the scope of the law’s impact. First, the Medicaid ruling limits the power of the federal government to encourage states to extend medical care. This gives states the authority to resist national efforts to expand health insurance coverage for the uninsured. With the dire fiscal straits of many states, many places will be unlikely to extend coverage and the result will be fewer uninsured will receive coverage than was expected when the legislation passed.
Second, although Chief Justice Roberts supported the constitutionality of the individual mandate, his opinion limited the ability of the federal government to regulate interstate commerce through tactics other than taxes. This part of the decision will restrict the ability of future Congresses to regulate commerce.
As with many policy decisions, the ultimate assessment of the court’s decision is in the details. Liberals should applaud the overall decision, but fear how the ruling with affect health care implementation. Read more ..
|Darya Vakulenko||June 29th 2012|
The Mexican presidential elections on July 1 appear to be a fait accompli for front-runner Enrique Peña Nieto of The Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), who currently enjoys a 15 percent lead in the polls. However, beneath the illusion of a smooth return to the party’s traditional position lie the significant political actions of the student-led Yosoy132 movement. Peña Nieto currently leads well ahead of Josefina Vazquez Mota, a head of the ruling National Action Party (PAN), Andrés Manuel López Obrador or AMLO (The Party of the Democratic Revolution) and Gabriel Quadri de la Torre (The New Alliance Party).
According to the Consulta Mitofsky polling firm, only one third of Mexican voters appear to be interested in the political debates, reflecting wide spread disillusionment with the Mexico’s political situation. The political efforts of Yosoy132 have the potential to reverse this political apathy. A little over a month ago, 132 students started the Yosoy132 movement in Mexico City in an effort to promote the democratization of media and communication channels, thus nurturing a thoughtful and informed vote. National networks did not plan to broadcast the debates until Yosoy132 protested the lack of coverage. Read more ..
Paraguay on Edge
|Luis Fleischman||June 29th 2012|
The Americas Report
The ouster of Paraguay’s president, Fernando Lugo, after a brief impeachment and the reactions it has generated provide a lot of food for thought. The event that took place in Paraguay disclosed a number of problems that not only concern Paraguay, itself, but the region as a whole.
I am in agreement with all those who claim that the impeachment process by the Paraguayan Senate was too fast and did not allow Lugo the opportunity to properly defend himself in what was supposed to be a fair congressional trial.
It is interesting to note that had Paraguayan democracy been a parliamentary system, the same action would have constituted a vote of non- confidence in the prime minister who would have had to step down immediately. In other words, in a parliamentary system the ouster of Lugo would have constituted a legitimate step. Historically, in countries such as Italy, this case has been the rule rather than the exception. One of the problems in the Latin American presidential system is that presidents historically have had more power than Congress—and have used it and abused it. This is very much in contrast with the American system where presidential powers are more limited. Read more ..
The Iranian Threat
|Alan M. Dershowitz||June 28th 2012|
The Iranian government, long known for its Holocaust denial and anti-Zionism, has now declared war against the Jewish people. In a speech delivered in Tehran, Vice President Mohammad-Reza Rahimi accused the Jewish people of spreading illegal drugs around the world, killing Black babies, starting the Bolshevik Revolution and causing many of the world’s other ills. His “proof”: “The Islamic Republic of Iran will pay for anyone who can research and find one single Zionist who is an addict. They do not exist. This is the proof of their involvement in drugs trade.”
There are, of course, numerous addicts among Jews and Zionists, as there are among all groups. Israel has several treatment centers for drug addicts as do Jewish communities throughout the world. He also cited “proof” that the Jews caused the Bolshevik Revolution: not a single Jew was killed during that Revolution. Of course, thousands of Jews were murdered during the Bolshevik Revolution as well as during Stalin’s purges in the decades following the establishment of the Soviet Union. Read more ..
|Niall Stanage||June 28th 2012|
The Supreme Court’s healthcare ruling on June 28 will deliver a definitive judgment on President Obama’s effectiveness as a leader. If the law is upheld, Obama’s victory — which came after he ignored the counsel of those who argued for a more incremental approach — will be preserved and bolstered. But if the law is struck down or gutted, it will provide ammunition to those who argue Obama’s aloofness and relative lack of experience in Washington policymaking amount to debilitating weaknesses.
Republicans like strategist Ron Bonjean are eagerly hoping the second scenario comes to pass because of its implications for the 2012 election: It would suggest to voters, perhaps more strongly than anything else in his first term as president, that “while he campaigned as an outsider, he did not know how to make the change he promised from the inside,” Bonjean said.
But political scientist Norman Ornstein noted that the reverse was also true. “A victory won’t end the contentiousness” over the specifics of the law, he said, but “it will be a vindication” for Obama’s leadership abilities and style.
These tensions are especially pivotal in Obama’s case because he has long sought to make a political asset out of his lack of connection to Washington culture. His desire to distance himself has often carried a note of visceral disdain.
Even during his 2008 primary battle with then-Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), Obama asserted time after time that long service in the corridors of power did not lead to wisdom, but to a kind of groupthink. Read more ..
The Way We Are
|Armstrong Williams||June 28th 2012|
Cutting Edge Conservative Commentator
The Jamaican Ambassador to the United States, Audrey Marks, announced this year that she would step down from her position to return to the business world-a decision that reminded me of what our priorities as free people ought to be.
Here is someone who was the first woman to achieve one of the most important and most coveted diplomatic positions in her country; she chose to leave her position not because anything was wrong with it or unsatisfying, but because she wanted to return to her other successful life as an entrepreneur. She is a well-respected mother; a woman of immense integrity, character, keen intellect, class, and grace—all qualities of a natural diplomat. But I had to ask: why stop doing something that you’re so good at?
It reminded me of what we conservatives believe at a foundational level: while public service is noble, it is equally noble to pursue success in the private sector because everyone benefits from good products, good service, and increased productivity. It reminded me that the diplomacy is the servant of government, and that government is the servant of free people.
She’s got the right priorities, and always has. The respect and admiration among her colleagues in the diplomatic and entrepreneurial community is unprecedented.
Audrey Marks became Jamaica’s tenth Ambassador to the United States in May 2010. Her background is entirely in business, as she holds a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in Business Administration from the University of the West Indies, Mona, Jamaica, and Nova University. She went on to found Paymaster Limited, a multi-transaction company. The company has spawned others, and served millions of people around the world. Read more ..
Mexico on Edge
|Kent Paterson||June 27th 2012|
The impact of a social movement can often be gauged not only by the societal reception it gets, but also by the reaction it engenders. And Mexico’s “ I am 132 Movement” is no exception.
Born only several weeks ago as a Mexico City protest of private university students against the media imposition of presidential candidate Enrique Pena Nieto of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) and Green Party (PVEM) electoral alliance, the movement has since spread to large cities and small towns across the country. In the Pacific coast tourist town of Zihuatanejo, Guerrero, an estimated 250 young people and their supporters took to the streets earlier this month to demonstrate against Pena Nieto and to call for the democratization of an electronic media dominated by two networks, Televisa and TV Azteca.
“This was the first march that was done by young people in the history of the municipality,” Alondra Garcia, 132 organizer, told Frontera NorteSur. Acknowledging that members of anti-Pena political parties participated in the action, Garcia nonetheless rejected charges by Pena’s PRI party that the 132 Movement is a front for rival candidates, especially the Progressive Movement’s Andres Lopez Obrador. Read more ..
The Race for Natural Gas
|Norman J Ornstein||June 27th 2012|
I was going to write this week about the post-Supreme Court landscape on health care policy, but the court’s schedule took that one off the table. I thought about covering the farm bill saga or the transportation bill debacle or the showdown over student loan rates or even the court’s decision on union dues that took a narrowly drawn case and had a five-vote majority trample precedent to establish its own political preferences.
But I decided to write about energy, motivated in part by a Floyd Norris column last week in The New York Times about the compelling reasons to have a major program promoting natural gas vehicles. We have abundant natural gas, which is far cleaner than oil and could provide a better balance over the long term than electric vehicles. But there is no infrastructure to support natural gas cars and trucks in a major way. Norris makes the case for a federal program to help create that infrastructure, which means things such as natural gas stations along highways. Read more ..
The Economic Edge
|Kevin A. Hassett and Aparna Mathur||June 26th 2012|
In recent times, the debate surrounding middle-class welfare has tended to focus on the issue of income inequality. In a popular 2006 paper, economists Thomas Piketty and Emmanuel Saez use tax return data from the Internal Revenue Service to suggest that income inequality has widened significantly over the period 1913 to 2010. Another frequently cited statistic is that in 2010, approximately half of all reported income went to the top 10 percent of earners.
We argue in this paper that income data are not the best measure of overall welfare. What matters for household well-being is consumption, since households are better able to smooth consumption rather than income over their lifetime. To that end, we use two alternative sources of data to assess changes in consumption inequality. Our first source, the Consumer Expenditure (CEX) Survey, shows aggregated changes in consumption expenditures for households at all levels of the income distribution. Using these data, we find that consumption inequality has increased only marginally since the 1980s. Read more ..
|Karen Finney||June 26th 2012|
Congressman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), along with the National Rifle Association, Rush Limbaugh and others, are trying to save Americans from an evil plot. Forget the economy. They believe the administration’s “Fast and Furious” gun-tracking program was used to flood Mexico with guns from America, foment violence and create political pressure to re-instate the assault weapons ban and weaken Second Amendment rights.
Over the weekend, Issa reaffirmed that belief on ABC’s “This Week” but admitted there is no evidence of such a plot or a White House cover-up of Fast and Furious. Back in April, Issa suggested the lack of evidence is the “smoking gun,” saying in an interview: “Could it be that what they really were thinking of was in fact to use this walking of guns in order to promote an assault weapons ban? Many think so. And [the administration] hasn’t come up with an explanation that would cause any of us not to agree.” Read more ..
The Battle for Syria
|Shoshana Bryen||June 25th 2012|
Jewish Policy Center
Here are the questions on Syria: what is the American obligation? What is the American interest? What is the American capability?
There is no obligation. Where there is a treaty, the United States has an obligation to spend American blood and treasure. The seriousness of the commitment is why Congress has to ratify a president's desire to create new ones. "Responsibility to Protect" (R2P) doesn't exist. It was created as a stick with which to beat people into using the military for non-strategic purposes and used to justify the president's desire to join the French and the British in/over Libya without engaging in a discussion of war powers or treaty obligations. It worked, but the attempt to pursue American obligations based on the emotional tug of potential victims has failed in the face of more than 12,000 actual dead people.
It surely is in the U.S.'s interest to discomfit Iran, Hezb'allah, and Russia. Overthrowing Assad would do that, but continued fighting does it as well. No country in the region wants to be Russia's friend as heterodox Shiite Alawite Assad kills Sunni children. Iran and Turkey have fallen out over it. Iran may not get along with a replacement Syrian government, but the current one isn't much of an ally, either. Hezb'allah fears the next war with Israel because it won't be able to resupply overland and because Syria won't be the threat behind the curtain. Hezb'allah fears the seepage of sectarian fighting into Lebanon as well. Read more ..
The Economy on Edge
|Neil Ruiz and Shyamali Choudhury||June 25th 2012|
The Brookings Institution
Last Thursday, presidential candidate Mitt Romney announced his new “softened” immigration plan, and called for lifting the cap on visas for high-skilled temporary workers. This year, the H-1B high-skilled worker visa cap was reached within two months after the application period opened. Changing those limits would require an act of Congress--unlikely in the current political environment.
With gridlock in Washington acting as a constant barrier to comprehensive change, a piecemeal approach to reform has already entered the conversation--and it may hold promise. President Obama recently issued a directive to halt deportation of young immigrants brought to the United States illegally—a small step toward the goals of the much more extensive DREAM act.
So, can something similar be done for high-skilled immigration? One route is to simply adjust Optional Practical Training (OPT)--a program that allows foreign students holding F-1 visas to work for a limited period of time while waiting to receive temporary worker visas. This program was originally designed to provide relief for foreign students with pending H-1B visa petitions by allowing 12 months of work authorization while they wait.
In 2008, when the H-1B cap was reached within one day after the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) began accepting applications, President Bush extended F-1 visas an additional 17 months for foreign students who graduated with bachelors, masters, or doctoral degrees in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields. Earlier this month, President Obama recently maintained Bush’s 29 month OPT term limit for STEM fields and increased the number of fields eligible for extension. Read more ..
The Afganistan War
|Shuja Nawaz and Abigail Friedman||June 24th 2012|
Now that the dust has settled on the Chicago Summit, it might be time to see what truly emerged from all the noise and celebration about the cooperation among NATO allies and with Afghanistan. One issue got lost in that hoopla: Afghanistan’s regional context.
As NATO troops come home, a diplomatic strategy for the region must be put into place. It isn’t a stable Afghanistan that is key to generating regional stability and prosperity — rather, the opposite is true: if the region cooperates to maintain wider stability, then Afghanistan stands a better chance of becoming stable and prosperous.
Interestingly, even the Chinese seem to have understood this issue. According to a Reuters report out of the recent Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit, President Hu Jintao told the official People’s Daily, “We will continue to manage regional affairs by ourselves, guarding against shocks from turbulence outside the region, and will play a bigger role in Afghanistan’s peaceful reconstruction.” He added: “We’ll strengthen communication, coordination and cooperation in dealing with major international and regional issues.” Read more ..
The 2012 Vote
|Cameron Joseph||June 23rd 2012|
Mitt Romney has kept his cards close to the vest about who he'll pick for his presidential running mate — but that hasn't stopped a number of Republican kingmakers from saying who they think Romney should pick.
A number have mentioned Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) as their top choice. Others mentioned at least once include GOP Sens. Rob Portman (Ohio) and Rand Paul (Ky.), Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R), former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (R) and New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez (R).No one touted former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R), who has loyally worked for Romney since his own campaign ended and is said to be in the running. Here's a list of some top Republican movers and shakers — and who they want to see as Romney's vice presidential pick. Read more ..
|Jeremy Herb||June 23rd 2012|
Lawmakers are struggling to head off $500 billion in automatic defense cuts before the end of the year despite a shared desire in both parties to reverse them.
Key senators on defense issues are beginning to press for action now on sequestration and have started meeting in small groups to try and find some way to cancel, delay or otherwise avoid the reductions to the Pentagon budget. But the two sides have yet to find much common ground on alternative cuts to federal spending, or even on the proper size and cost of the military itself.
The failure of the supercommittee last year set in motion the $1 trillion in automatic cuts to defense and non-defense spending. At the time, the consensus was that the two sides would likely come together on an agreement to change the policy in the lame-duck session after the election. But some lawmakers are growing pessimistic about the chances for addressing the issue this Congress. House Armed Services Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.), who has a bill to delay sequestration for one year, told reporters Thursday that the idea of a lame-duck deal was always far-fetched. Read more ..
The Obama Edge
|Hans A. von Spakovsky||June 22nd 2012|
So President Obama has now asserted executive privilege in the congressional investigation of “Operation Fast and Furious.” Executive privilege is an important constitutional power that protects the office of the president from legislative encroachment. It is essential to the separation of powers — but it is not carte blanche for presidential secrecy. A president must have a legitimate reason to assert executive privilege; it cannot be used for the purpose of hiding wrongdoing by administration officials, especially to block a contempt citation.
Fast and Furious was a “felony stupid” law-enforcement operation that wound up putting thousands of weapons into the hands of dangerous criminals and major drug cartels. It continued until January 2011, when two weapons that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) had allowed across the Mexican border were found at the murder scene of Border Patrol agent Brian Terry. As testimony from several ATF whistleblowers showed, letting weapons “walk” was against all ATF rules and procedures— the Justice Department drums into all prosecutors the rule that you never let guns or drugs get away from you in any undercover operation. Read more ..
Judaism on Edge
|Juda Engelmayer||June 22nd 2012|
Cutting Edge Contributor
Is it just me or is there indeed more discord within the Jewish community than in recent times? Jews proclaim with fervor "Kol Yisrael arevim zeh la-zeh” that every Jewish soul is responsible for every other. Yet it seems as if there are more internal challenges now than in recent memory: bitter rivalries that could make instances of persecution by gentiles seem as mere playground brawls. It is hard to imagine that anyone really believes peace and harmony for Israel and Jews worldwide is possible while they violently disagree with one another more than they do with any other people - even the Palestinians.
You need only to look at the huge wasted opportunity and money spent on the so called Asifa (gathering), to enact an Internet ban for religious Jews. The effort that cost more than $2 million and brought ultra orthodox Jewish men together, mostly by coercion, to hear unscripted and uncoordinated messages about why the Internet was evil. Rather than demand that people take personal responsibility for one’s actions, the weak leadership would just turn off progress and the future to preserve their failed policies of poor education, abject naivety and searing control that dictates marital prospects, communal acceptance and even much needed financial support.
Curiously enough, as the Hebrew and Arabic language share common roots, the late Palestinian terrorist leader Yasser Arafat used a similar name for his Palestinian political and military organization in 1958 called Al-Asifa (The Gathering). In the 1960s and 1970s, it trained terrorist and insurgent groups and began a jihadist movement that has only grown, splintered and become even more global, fanatical and deadly. Read more ..
The Obama Edge
|Armstrong Williams||June 21st 2012|
Cutting Edge Conservative Commentator
President Obama’s latest refusal to execute the laws is granting de facto amnesty to millions of illegal immigrants under the age of thirty. Every American, no matter their race, should be furious at him for this.
It comes at a time of a level of long-term unemployment for legal Americans under thirty never before seen. The Obama generation—Gen 44—has paid the heaviest price of all for Obama’s policies. They are the ones who cannot find jobs right now, who are delaying the most important moments of their lives—weddings, mortgages, children—because of a crushing decline in income and household worth, and, worst of all, who will “never get out until [they] pay the last penny.”
Any businessman will tell you that when you borrow, ultimately, you are borrowing from yourself. When you save, you pay your future self. When a country does it, one generation takes from another. The young have gained absolutely nothing from the Obama presidency, but they have already paid five trillion dollars to their elders, whether or not they know it.
Obama’s amnesty decree also comes after four years of taking the black vote for granted. The president again panders to yet another group. Black Americans, and in particular young blacks, have the highest unemployment rates of any group in the country. And now the president wants to allow young illegal immigrants to openly break the law, and also receive the largesse of affirmative action that they never fought or suffered for. It’s another in a long line of insults to their community, after having promised so much as a candidate. Read more ..
|Juan Williams||June 21st 2012|
Every political strategist working the fall elections sees a game changer coming by the end of the month. That’s when the Supreme Court rules on the constitutionality of President Obama’s signature legislative accomplishment, the Affordable Care Act.
The Democrats have a nuclear option in this political game if the high court throws out the healthcare law as unconstitutional. That blowup-the-system button, not pushed since FDR’s attempt to stack the court with Democrats during the New Deal, is for Obama to use the bully pulpit of the White House, and the national stage of a presidential campaign, to launch a bitter attack on the current court as a corrupt tool of the Republican right wing. It is a move that could energize Democrats and independents even as Republicans celebrate a major legal victory.
Some Democrats, sensing a political windfall, can’t wait to start the offensive.
Nebraska’s Sen. Ben Nelson, a retiring Democrat, sent out a news release last week condemning the “activist Supreme Court,” for potentially dismantling the healthcare law. The senator said without the new law, health insurance premiums will be “skyrocketing,” and endanger “healthcare for more than 100,000 Nebraska kids with pre-existing medical conditions such as asthma or diabetes.” That protest comes from a conservative Democrat who held back his vote for the bill until the White House awarded his state a special Medicaid deal. The deal was rescinded—but not before the GOP memorably labeled it an attempted bribe, “The Cornhusker Kickback.”
Now even Nelson is climbing the political ramparts on the side of the Democrats. Read more ..
Education on the Edge
|Justin W. van Fleet||June 21st 2012|
The Brookings Institution
The B-20, the private sector forum that feeds into to the G-20, has been quite active in developing thematic task forces and recommendations for government and business to contribute to global economic growth and social development. However, in the final set of top-line policy requests for the G-20, there is no serious inclusion of investments in education and learning to advance economic growth and social development. Given that quality education is a core component for sustained economic growth, I am surprised by the “light touch” attention it receives in the B-20’s recommendations.
Maybe businesses did not give these recommendations to the G-20 because they have a lot of work to do themselves. While evidence last year showed that corporate social investments and philanthropic contributions to education in developing countries are relatively small, short-term, uncoordinated and not directed to address the needs of the most marginalized, many companies are working to improve the effectiveness of these activities. Read more ..
Healthcare on Edge
|Wendell Potter||June 21st 2012|
Several years ago, when I was still a health insurance company PR guy, I was accused by a furious CNBC producer of withholding important information when I cajoled her into having my CEO on “Squawk Box” to talk about some new initiative we were rolling out. “You played us like a Stradivarius!” she screamed at me when she realized that while my CEO was fielding softball questions from her show’s host, our chief financial officer was signing off on a disclosure the company was obligated by the SEC to make by the close of business. Because the news we had to announce was so bad it would have a “material effect on earnings” (translation: cost shareholders a bundle), the big bosses ordered us to wait until after the New York Stock Exchange closed at 4:00pm—and many hours after the Squawk Box interview—to release it. They wanted to postpone the trauma it would cause the company.
Sure enough, when the markets opened the next morning, the company’s stock price began a long slide. The CEO was quoted in the bad-news news release about how the company was taking steps to make sure nothing like that would ever happen again, a statement written for him by the company’s lawyers and PR people, but he was nowhere near a TV camera. Every time he was asked for an interview, we “declined” to make him available. We were not about to make him answer what we referred to as “rude” questions from a reporter.
That episode came to mind as I read story after story in the mainstream media last week about the decision by UnitedHealth Group to “honor” some of the provisions of ObamaCare even if the Supreme Court declares the law unconstitutional. Read more ..
The 2012 Vote
|Michael Beckel||June 20th 2012|
While super PACs were cast as the big, bad wolves during the last election, the groups were outspent by “social welfare” organizations by a 3-2 margin, a trend that may continue amid reports that major donors are giving tens of millions of dollars to the secretive nonprofit groups.
A joint investigation by the Center for Public Integrity and the Center for Responsive Politics has found that more than 100 nonprofits organized under section 501(c)(4) of the U.S. tax code spent roughly $95 million on political expenditures in the 2010 election compared with $65 million by super PACs.
Nearly 90 percent of the spending by these nonprofits — more than $84 million — came from groups that never publicly disclosed their funders, the joint analysis of Federal Election Commission data found. Another $8 million came from groups that only partially revealed their donors. Unlike the nonprofits, super PACs are required to release the names of their contributors.
In terms of party allegiance, conservative “social welfare” groups outspent liberal groups $78 million to $16 million, nearly 5-to-1, according to the analysis. So far in the 2012 election cycle, super PACs have far outspent nonprofits, thanks mainly to candidate-specific committees that were active during the GOP primaries. Super PACs have spent more than $120 million compared to about $9 million by 501(c)(4)s. But with clearly defined candidates for both the White House and in most congressional races, nonprofits are expected to become more active. Read more ..
The Obama Edge
|Andrew McCarthy||June 19th 2012|
In continuing the dramatic shift from American constitutional democracy to rule by executive fiat that has marked his tenure, President Barack Obama now claims that the illegal aliens, to whom he purports to grant what effectively is amnesty, are "Americans ... in every single way but one - on paper." That is false. They are not Americans under the only thing that matters, the thing the Obama administration has chanted like a mantra - while riding roughshod over - since its very first day in power: the rule of law.
The Constitution and congressional statutes are written on parchment. That is the only relevance of "paper" in this equation - as the "hard copy" of our social contract and of the laws enacted pursuant to it. Under the Constitution, Congress, not the president, is endowed with such a power: "To establish an uniform Rule of Naturalization."
Congress exercises this power by passing laws. Under the Constitution, which Obama took an oath to preserve, protect, and defend, and under the laws it is his duty to execute faithfully, illegal aliens - no matter how sympathetic their plight, no matter how blameless they may be for the illegality of their status - are not citizens of the United States. They are not Americans. Period. It is not "paper" that separates them from our body politic, it is the law, of which Obama is supposed to be servant, not master - as I argued in this September 2011 essay for The New Criterion: "The Ruler of Law - On ‘Justice' in the Age of Obama." Read more ..
|Audrey Singer||June 18th 2012|
The Brookings Institution
Last week, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano announced big news: Effective immediately, eligible undocumented youth are granted deferred action from deportation (a form of administrative relief).
This important and sensible step by the Obama administration provides immigrants under the age of 30 who have been in the United States for at least five years and are currently enrolled or have graduated from high school or have been honorably discharged from the U.S. military and do not have a felony or misdemeanor the right to live and work in the United States. This change in policy is similar to the proposed Dream Act that would have offered legal status and a path to citizenship for the same population that was blocked by Congress in 2010.
With no hope at the end of the term for congressional action on immigration reform, this action is being lauded by immigrant advocates and supporters. For the most part, these youth were brought to the United States as young children by their parents and have grown up and been educated in U.S. communities. By their own accounts, they feel very American, and many have few ties to their country of birth. Read more ..
Greece on Edge
|Douglas J. Elliot||June 18th 2012|
The Brookings Institution
Europe dodged a bullet yesterday, as Greek voters narrowly resisted the temptation to elect a government committed to ripping up the agreement with Europe which provides funding for much of their budget. Instead, New Democracy, the center-right party, should be able to form a coalition government with a narrow majority, with the participation of the other traditionally dominant Greek party, the socialist party PASOK. (It is a sign of how far they have fallen that the two parties gained only a bit over 40% of the vote when, for years, they garnered about three-quarters.)
Greeks are torn between several profound but conflicting feelings. On the one hand, they hate the austerity measures contained in the agreement with the “troika” of institutions that provide the bailout funding. They also are very disappointed in the two traditionally dominant parties that got them into this mess and remain quite flawed. These factors pushed many voters to go with Syriza, a coalition of left-wing parties led by the charismatic Alexis Tsipras. Syriza promised to force sharp changes in the agreement with the troika. Read more ..
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