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Obama's Second Term

It Wasn't an Accident--The Plan to Make Israel Nervous

June 7th 2013

Iron Dome

Yesterday it was revealed that that the current US ("I've Got Israel's back") administration leaked to the media the specifications for the heretofore-secret US-Israel installation for Israel's Arrow 3 missiles. It was quickly called just another leak from an administration already reeling from leaks; someone apologized. But it was more likely a deliberate decision -- by someone. The constellation of players in the administration now contains a heavy contingent of those determined to bring "peace" to Israel. "Peace" is defined as the creation of the State of Palestine under whatever circumstances they can, and the operative question is how to bring Israel in line. Leaking military secrets is actually the second step in the process -- first was Secretary of State John Kerry last month positing the absurdity that because Israel is successful, democratic and increasingly energy independent, Israelis do not care about peace: "People in Israel aren't waking up every day and wondering if tomorrow there will be peace because there is a sense of security and a sense of accomplishment and of prosperity." The implication that Jews care more about money than peace comes ever so close to anti-Semitic caricature.

Read more ..


The War on Terror

RFK Assassination: None Dare Call it Palestinian Terrorism

June 7th 2013

Robert F Kennedy assassination

Forty-five years ago, on June 6, 1968, New York Senator Robert F. Kennedy died of gunshot wounds. His assassination, coming five years after his brother Jack’s and two months after Martin Luther King’s, traumatized America. Amid the tumultuous 1960s, with youth rioting, crime soaring, blacks protesting, the Vietnam War souring, and these young, visionary leaders dying, Americans wondered: “is ours a sick society?” While America then needed reforming, the soul-searching around Robert Kennedy’s assassination was unmerited. The truth -- which most overlooked then -- was that this Kennedy assassination was the first major act of Palestinian terrorism targeting the United States.

No new evidence has emerged, we just understand the world better. At the time, Sirhan Sirhan, Kennedy’s murderer, was usually called a “Jordanian” -- there was minimal international awareness of the “Palestinians” as a factor in “the Arab-Israeli conflict." Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

Iran In Syria: Let Your Enemy Make A Mistake

June 7th 2013

Dead Syrians

The Syrian civil war, all acknowledge, is a humanitarian tragedy and a threat to regional stability. For many, however, it is also a proxy battle in a larger struggle between Iran and the United States. Worse, many say that the U.S. is losing that battle or as Vali Nasr, who is a Brookings non-resident senior fellow and dean of the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University, puts it in a recent op-ed, “Iran is beating the U.S. in Syria.” In an echo of the Cold War struggle between the United States and the Soviet Union, the U.S.-Iran rivalry will now play out in shadow wars and guerilla struggles across the Middle East. As we often heard during the Cold War, the United States must fight its enemy everywhere, lest it lose credibility—in Nasr’s words “the aura of power”—in the larger struggle. Read more ..


The Defense Edge

Hagel's Strategic Choices Study: Americans Need to See it Now

June 6th 2013

Chuck Hagel

Pentagon leaders have been working for months on a process Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has said will inform budget decisions should sequestration stay in place for the U.S. military next year (the top weapons buyer said Monday that it’s likely to continue).

The process, known as the Strategic Choices and Management Review, is apparently designed to “stress test” President Obama’s strategic guidance, from January 2012, calling for a pivot to Asia amid shrinking defense budgets.

The review is long overdue, given that sequestration — mandated budget cuts of roughly 10 percent — took effect more than three months ago. For that reason, Hagel should prepare to release some of its findings publicly. By keeping the budget-review findings secret, Hagel will instead allow speculation, rumors and select leaks to drive the debate. Read more ..


Afghanistan on Edge

U.S.-Pakistan Relationship and the Future of Afghanistan

June 5th 2013

Afgan Troops

The U.S. and Pakistan are fundamentally at odds over the future of Afghanistan. Washington and Islamabad back opposite sides in the war and want different outcomes. This despite a new civilian government in Islamabad and a somewhat new counter terrorism policy in Washington.

For twenty years Pakistan's army--the real power broker in the country--has backed the Afghan Taliban. It helped create the Taliban's Islamic Emirate in the 1990s and build the al Qaeda state within a state. The army has provided safe haven, arms, expertise and other help to the Taliban. It briefly pretended to abandon the Taliban to avoid American anger in 2001 misleading George Bush. By 2004 under the leadership of its then spy chief and today top general, Ashfaq Kayani, Pakistan's intelligence service, the ISI, was deeply engaged in helping the Taliban again. It still is. The senior Taliban leadership including Mullah Omar are protected by the ISI in Quetta and Karachi. Read more ..


The Edge of Jihad

Muslim Outreach Efforts and the Impact on U.S. Middle East Policy

June 5th 2013

Arab terrorist

The aftermath of the April 15, 2013 bombings in Boston, Massachusetts, has focused attention on the failure of the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) to carry out an adequate investigation of the suspected bombers despite warnings from Russian authorities. This failure has partially been attributed to a full scale campaign of political correctness waged inside the bureau and throughout the U.S. government under the Obama administration against any attempt to link jihadi terrorism with anything remotely connected to Islam of any variety (the most radical versions included). This has extended into other segments of the government as well, particularly the Department of Defense. One of the primary contributors to this widespread political correctness campaign has been the U.S. government’s disastrous Muslim outreach policies extending back to the Clinton administration and the 1993 World Trade Center bombings. Read more ..


Turkey on Edge

Turkey’s Tiananmen Square Moment?

June 4th 2013

Turkey Protest Riot

Twitter is lighting up with reports of mass protests spreading in major Turkish cities, and apparently increasing use of force by Turkish police and paramilitary forces to break them up. The major confrontation is taking place in Istanbul, with at least two deaths and dozens of injuries reported on Twitter. Pictures of police literally blowing protesters off their feet with water/gas cannons are making the rounds, as well as grainy images of huge bonfires in the middle of the streets. The spark apparently was a protest in central Istanbul against Prime Minister Erdogan’s plans to remove iconic Taksim Square and replace it with another shopping mall. Protests spread to nearby parks and along the pedestrial shopping street, Istiklal. Accuracy of reports about protests in other cities need to be checked. Read more ..

Education on Edge

No Child Left Behind: Pass or Fail?

June 2nd 2013

school kids

If you are a parent of one of the 50 million public schoolchildren in the United States, the odds are your child has taken a standardized test within the past few weeks. The odds also suggest that you took such a test yourself once upon a time, though probably not as early or as often as your kids. You and your children have the federal No Child Left Behind Act to thank for the modern ubiquity of standardized testing.

No Child Left Behind is something of a forgotten stepchild now, having been expired without formal reauthorization longer than it was actually in effect. The Obama administration has moved on to its “Race to the Top” initiative; most states have applied for waivers from many of the law’s requirements. One might be tempted to conclude that NCLB was a failed experiment, a quixotic effort to attain noble yet patently unrealistic ideals. A new American Enterprise Institute report I’ve authored, along with Thomas Ahn of the University of Kentucky, argues the opposite: that there were, in fact, many positive lessons to take from No Child Left Behind. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

US and EU Must Arm the Syrian Rebels

June 2nd 2013

Syrian Fighters w/RPGs

For much of the past two years, Europe and the United States have taken only diplomatic and humanitarian measures as Syria's Assad regime has killed nearly 80,000 civilians and forced another million to seek refuge in neighboring states. Despite overwhelming odds and this heavy toll, Syrian rebels made some remarkable gains on the battlefield.

Lately, however, opposition forces experienced setbacks as Assad's allies -- Russia, Iran and the Lebanese Shiite terrorist organization Hezbollah -- have reinforced the regime. The European Union's decision to lift the arms embargo will not immediately reverse momentum in favor of the rebels, but it is an important first move away from the ambivalence that has characterized western policy toward the Syrian conflict for too long. Read more ..


Islam on Edge

Britain's Islamic Future is Here

June 2nd 2013

Shariah demonstration

Islam is on track to become the dominant religion in Britain within the next generation, according to new census data published by the British government.The numbers show that although Christianity is still the main religion in Britain -- over 50% of the population describe themselves as such -- nearly half of all Christians in Britain are over the age of 50, and, for the first time ever, fewer than half under the age of 25 describe themselves as Christian.

By contrast, the number of people under 25 who describe themselves as Muslim has doubled over the past ten years: one in ten under the age of 25 are Muslim, up from one in 20 in 2001. If current trends continue -- a Muslim population boom, combined with an aging Christian demographic and the increasing secularization of British natives -- Islam is set to overtake Christianity in Britain within the next 20 years, according to demographers. A new report published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) on May 16 offers additional analyses of the 2011 census data previously published in December 2012. Read more ..


Broken Government

Social Security Trust Fund Reports Massive Deficits, Benefit Cuts by 2033

June 1st 2013

Capitol Hill

Social Security ran a $55 billion deficit in 2012, closing out three years of consecutive cash-flow deficits as the program’s unfunded obligations continue to grow. The combined 75-year unfunded obligation of the Social Security and Disability trust funds (referred to as the OASDI trust fund) is $12.3 trillion. This is a $1 trillion increase from last year’s unfunded obligation of $11.3 trillion.

The combined Social Security and Disability programs are projected to remain solvent—that is, they are expected to have enough revenue from payroll taxes, interest on the trust fund balance, and repayment of borrowed trust fund dollars to pay out scheduled benefits—through 2033. This is the same date as projected in last year’s report. If no action is taken to improve the program’s solvency before 2033, benefits will be reduced across the board by 23 percent. Read more ..


Obama's Second Term

A Hidden Tax in Obamacare

May 31st 2013

Surgeons

The central provisions of the Affordable Care Act require younger and healthier Americans to buy insurance policies that will, in essence, subsidize the health care of older and sicker Americans. But one of Obamacare's hidden taxes — a new limit on contributions to health flexible spending accounts, or FSAs — will hit older and chronically ill individuals hardest.

Starting this year, the health care law imposes a $2,500 annual cap on an individual's contribution to an FSA that is part of an employer's "cafeteria" benefits plan. Such contributions, diverted directly from one's paycheck, are not subject to federal income and payroll taxes. The money in an FSA can then be used to pay for qualified medical expenses such as deductibles, co-insurance and co-payments, as well as services not covered by insurance.

Before Obamacare, there were no FSA contribution limits for workers under federal tax law. Employers set their own annual limits, and many chose amounts well above $2,500. The federal government, as one example, allowed FSA contributions of up to $5,000 a year. Read more ..


Healthcare on Edge

Should Counseling be Required with DNA Screenings?

May 30th 2013

Angelina Jolie

The decision by Angelina Jolie to undergo a double mastectomy after tests determined she carried a genetic mutation that elevated her chances of developing breast or ovarian cancer has led to renewed calls for expanded genetic screening. It has also raised a disconcerting question-could genetic testing actually be harmful to your health?

As is the case for many people with a family history of breast cancer, the Jolie story is very personal. She carried one of three mutations, specifically BRACA 1, that is linked to ancient Jewish communities. I can relate: My two sisters and I all carry one of these genetic mistakes (in our case, it's BRCA2). I face a higher likelihood of contracting male breast cancer, as well as ocular and prostate cancers. Many of my family members, including my mother, developed breast or ovarian cancers. My mother died as a consequence of carrying this mutation. My young, female family members worry whether they should have their breasts and ovaries removed as a precaution.

It's estimated that one in forty-three Jews (about 2.5 percent) carry one of these three genetic faults. Because humans move around and fool around, the BRCA mutations are also found in non-Jews like Jolie. It's estimated that overall, one in nine women will develop breast cancer in their lifetime-although only a fraction can be definitively linked to a specific mutation like BRCA1 or BRCA2.

The Jolie revelation has sparked a welcomed public discussion about the benefits of testing. But it's also raised questions about the need for counseling that often accompanies genetic screening-and calls by some to make counseling mandatory, regardless of cost or effectiveness.

The costs of mandated genetic counseling
     I found out I was a potential carrier for one of the three "Jewish" breast cancer mutations in 2001, when I received a terrifying call from my oldest sister: she had been diagnosed with breast cancer.  Gratefully, she defeated the cancer but the issue of genetic screening-it's costs and implications-took on personal significance. Read more ..


Food Safety on Edge

Americans Should be Alarmed by Smithfield Acquisition

May 29th 2013

Smithfield Foods pigs

Shuanghui International’s blockbuster acquisition of Smithfield Foods raises major concerns over food safety, Rep. Rosa DeLauro said Wednesday, pointing to the Chinese company's troubled history. "This potential merger raises real food safety concerns that should alarm consumers,” the Connecticut Democrat said in a written statement. “We know that Chinese food products have been a threat to public health and that Shuanghui was found to have produced and sold tainted pork.” DeLauro’s reference was to 2011 revelations that Shuanghui products contained a hazardous and banned chemical used to make meat leaner. The case was just one part of an ongoing scandal involving tainted or fake Chinese meat. Read more ..


The Edge of Reform

Unintended Consequences Often Bedevil Reformers

May 29th 2013

Congress-senate

A thoughtful reformer targets the traditional rules of an aging institution that has retarded progress in the past. Time to modernize those rules, the reformer says, and prevent obstruction in the future. The trouble is that such reform efforts often prove counterproductive. New rules strengthen rather than weaken the aging institution. Unintended consequences abound.

Three examples come to mind, the first from far away -- the British House of Lords.

After Tony Blair's Labor Party was swept into office in 1997, it decided to reform the House of Lords. Its hereditary members were overwhelmingly Conservative and could outvote the appointed life peers of various parties. The Lords could not veto legislation -- it threatened to do so in 1910 and the power was taken away -- but could delay or amend it, sometimes obstructing or frustrating the democratically elected House of Commons. Read more ..


Broken Government

Democrat-Heavy IRS Will Always Distrust Tea Parties

May 28th 2013

IRS building

If you take a group of Democrats who are also unionized government employees, and put them in charge of policing political speech, it doesn't matter how professional and well-intentioned they are. The result will be much like the debacle in the Cincinnati office of the IRS.

The IRS's targeting of Tea Party groups doesn't look like a Nixonian abuse of power by the Obama White House. And there's no reason to even posit evil intent by the IRS officials who formulated, approved or executed the inappropriate guidelines for picking groups to scrutinize most closely.

There's a fairly innocent -- and fairly probable -- explanation for what the IRS did, and it boils down to the natural suspicion people have of those with opposing views. The public servants figuring out which groups qualified for 501(c)4 "social welfare" non-profit status were mostly Democrats surrounded by mostly Democrats. Read more ..


The War on Terror

No Way Out of Guantanamo, says former Bush Appointee

May 28th 2013

Click to select Image

“I continue to believe that right now these prisoners are receiving all the rights that they are entitled to. They are receiving good treatment – certainly the treatment that they are entitled to under international and domestic law.” – Alberto R. Gonzales

A hunger strike by Guantanamo Bay detainees has now passed the 100-day mark, increasing pressure on President Barack Obama to shut down the controversial detention facility – something he promised to do even before he took his first oath of office. During an April 30 press briefing, Obama reiterated that promise, telling reporters that Guantanamo not only hurts U.S. international standing but impacts America’s ability to coordinate counterterrorism efforts with its allies.

Judge Alberto R. Gonzales served as United States attorney general under and counsel to President George W. Bush. Today he holds the Doyle Rogers Distinguished Chair of Law at Belmont University and serves as counsel at the Weller law firm in Nashville, Tennessee. VOA reporter Cecily Hilleary spoke to him by phone and asked him whether he agrees with President Obama on the need to close down Guantanamo. Below please find the transcribed interview. You can also listen to it using the audio player at the bottom of this post. Read more ..


The Defense Edge

Top 10 To-Do List for the National Defense Authorization Act

May 27th 2013

Afghanistan us army dustoff

The federal National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) annually specifies the budget and expenditures of the Department of Defense (DOD). The law can be a vehicle for both good and bad policies.

As Congress prepares to craft this legislation, it should seriously consider policy issues that can improve U.S. security and advance international partnerships:

1) Maintain permanent U.S. military presence in Europe. It is in the strategic interest of the U.S. to maintain a permanent military presence in Europe. Having U.S. troops in Europe provides flexible and resilient rapid deployment options to northern Africa and the Middle East as well. Permanent bases also strengthen critical alliances in Europe. Read more ..


The Race for EVs

Better Place Goes Belly Up--Sorry We Told You So

May 26th 2013

Shai Agassi, former Better Place CEO

Better Place, the innovative initiative founded by Shai Shai Agassi, has filed for liquidation this morning in Israel. According to the company’s motion, the action is a result its failure to raise additional funds and in the absence of sufficient resources for the continued operation of the business, the company is asking for the court’s assistance in protecting the rights of its employees, customers and creditors. There was no word how the Israeli filing will affect Better Place’s operations in other parts of the world.

“Project BETTER PLACE” made international headlines several years ago with an imaginative solution to the primary problem of electric cars (range and charging time) by quickly swapping out batteries at roadside service stations, as is done with propane tanks, rather than recharging them. Read more ..


Israel on Edge

The US Government's Muslim journey

May 25th 2013

Daniel Pipes bw

At this moment of sequester and belt-tightening, the U.S. government has delivered a reading list on Islam. The National Endowment for the Humanities has joined with two private foundations, Carnegie and Duke, to fund "Muslim Journeys," a project that aims to present "new and diverse perspectives on the people, places, histories, beliefs, practices, and cultures of Muslims in the United States and around the world." Its main component is the "Muslim Journeys Bookshelf" a selection of 25 books and 3 films on Islam sent to nearly 1,000 libraries as well as a website and some other activities. Marvin Olasky, who brought this project to public attention, estimates the whole project cost about $1 million.

As one of the taxpayers who unwittingly contributed to this project as well as the compiler of my own bibliography on Islam and the Middle East, I take interest in the 25 books NEH selected for glory, spreading them around the country. Softness characterizes its list: The 25 books quietly ignore current headlines so as to accentuate the attractive side of Islamic civilization, especially its medieval expression, and gently promote the Muslim religion. It's not so exuberant an exercise as the British 1976 World of Islam Festival, described at the time as "a unique cultural event that … was no less than an attempt to present one civilization -- in all its depth and variety -- to another." But then, how can one aspire to such grandeur with all that's happened in the intervening years?  Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

Boko Haram’s Spirit Comes to London

May 24th 2013

Woolich Beheading

Details are still emerging about the life and habits of Michael Adebolajo, the Islamist butcher who displayed the blood-drenched palms of his hands to a passing cameraman just moments after he and an accomplice murdered 25-year-old Lee Rigby, a soldier in the British Army’s Royal Fusiliers regiment, on a south London street this week.

As is common with any terrorism investigation, the focus is upon who Adebolajo was mixing with and which organizations he approached. A much-tweeted photo shows a stony-faced Adebolajo standing behind Anjem Choudary, a founder of the now banned Islamist organization Al Muhajiroun, at rally in London. It was Choudary who, in 2010, led a ceremony in which he and other supporters of al-Qaeda burned the poppies which many Britons pin to their lapels every November in commemoration of the British and Allied soldiers who fell in two world wars. And it was the same Choudary who justified Adebolajo’s barbarous act by citing “the presence of British forces in Muslim countries and the atrocities they’ve committed.” Read more ..


Obama's Second Term

President Obama and the End of Excuses

May 23rd 2013

Obama-Limo

It is inevitable that we all make excuses. The biggest problem with excuses is that we use them to pass the blame to anyone but ourselves.
“It wasn’t me.”
“I didn’t see the stop sign.”
“I didn’t grow up with a father.”
On and on and on.

The differences between people that succeed and those that fail is that- losers look for excuses and winners look for reasons. I know some are wondering what the difference is. Reasons for failure means you look at how something went wrong and, most importantly, what you yourself did wrong. You then learn from that mistake and try not to repeat it the next time. Then you project that idea out to others. What are the unsuccessful people doing over and over that I can avoid? What are the prosperous people doing that I can emulate? It seems so simple, but over and over again I hear excuses coming from many in the black community.  “I can’t succeed because of a legacy of slavery and Jim Crow.” “The system is keeping me down.”  “Selling drugs is the only way I can pay for my family.” On and on and on. Read more ..


Broken Government

Tax Individuals not Couples

May 22nd 2013

IRS building

Both advocates and opponents of same-sex marriage eagerly await the Supreme Court's decisions on two cases challenging the constitutionality of laws - one federal and one state - that deny recognition for same-sex marriage. These court cases come in the wake of increasing public support for same sex marriage: according to a recent Gallup poll, half of Americans now support same-sex marriage. Last week, Minnesota adopted legislation to allow same-sex marriage, joining the 11 states and the District of Columbia that had already taken that step.

This subject divides Americans, pitting cultural conservatives against cultural liberals. Part of the reason that same-sex marriage is such a divisive issue is that many existing government policies treat families as a single unit, collecting taxes and providing government benefits on a household rather than individual basis. A switch to taxing individuals rather than families - as many other industrialized countries do - has the potential to both improve tax fairness and reduce the government's role in defining the family. Moreover, because a family-based tax system penalizes work done by secondary earners, this change can also increase economic output. Read more ..


The Holocaust

The Real Story of the MS St. Louis, FDR and the Jews

May 21st 2013

MS St Louis at Havana

Critics of Franklin Delano Roosevelt often use the ship the St. Louis as an emblem of FDR’s alleged indifference toward the Holocaust. In Hollywood’s version, now deeply engrained in American popular culture, the 937 German-Jewish passengers of the MS St. Louis undertook the “voyage of the damned.” The president could have saved them and did nothing. As a result, most of them perished.

In our new book FDR and the Jews, we noted in passing that American officials did not order the Coast Guard to prevent the St. Louis from landing in the United States. Since our book appeared a few months ago our critics in the press -- and some surviving St. Louis passengers -- have complained about this particular statement.

We do not dispute the recollections of St. Louis survivors that they saw and heard Coast Guard vessels while the ship steamed in waters near Florida. But the survivors could not have known the real mission of the Coast Guard. See video here. Read more ..


The Bear is Back

Playing a Losing Hand like a Winner

May 21st 2013

Putin

History is back and so are the Russians.
    After an interregnum of twenty years, during which the communist Soviet Union was demolished and a crony capitalist, Russian kleptocracy turned inward to establish firm control of journalists (oh wait, that might have been the Obama Administration), civil society practitioners including lawyers, businessmen, and little girl punk bands, Vladimir Putin has laid down a marker in the Middle East. The suggestion that advanced SS300 air defense missiles are already in Syria and that Yakhont ship-to-ship missiles are coming, plus Russian warships steaming toward the region along with obstruction in the UN are all steps toward establishing Russia as the "go to" imperial power to control or end the Syrian civil war.

The Russian interest is twofold. First is to be the master of the diplomatic front. Whether the Russian-touted "peace conference" results in "peace" or a change of government in Damascus is less relevant than whether the Putin is in the driver's seat. Second is to stop the spread of Sunni expansionist Islam that threatens Russia with the potential to reignite the Caucasus. Chechnya, Dagestan, and Ossetia are historically restive, but now are increasingly Islamic rather than nationalistic in their hatred of Orthodox Russia.

Two things make this really interesting. First, Putin is dealing with Israel much more forthrightly than he is with the United States, something that should be considered less a sign of respect for Israel's red lines than disdain for the Obama Administration. Second, he has taken a narrow view of a broad problem -- and thus is playing a losing hand.

On the American side, neither Secretary of State Kerry nor the president he serves seem to understand Russia's goals in the region, and thus neither is prepared to uphold our own interests. When Kerry flew off to Moscow in early May to find a mechanism for an international conference on Syria, Putin kept him waiting three hours and, according to the London Daily Mail, "continuously fiddled with his pen as the top American diplomat spoke about the ongoing crisis." Ever the good guest, Kerry told Putin, "The United States believes that we share some very significant common interests with respect to Syria -- stability in the region, not having extremists creating problems throughout the region and elsewhere." Read more ..


Venezuela after Chavez

U.S. Should Reject Venezuela’s Overtures

May 20th 2013

Nicolas Maduro

Ever since the death of former Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez back in March, his successors have been flinging insult after insult at the United States. The volley began at the very moment of Chavez’s death, when his anointed heir Nicolas Maduro, pointing an accusatory finger at the U.S., claimed that Chavez had been “assassinated.” Maduro then accused the U.S. of plotting to kill his opposition rival, Henrique Capriles, in order to engineer a coup. Finally, after weeks of blaming the U.S. for everything from food shortages to the violence that followed the disputed April 14 presidential election, Maduro recycled a barb that Chavez had previously deployed against George W. Bush, when he declared that President Obama was the “grand chief of devils.”

Now, however, conciliatory noises are emerging from Caracas. Over the weekend, Maduro’s foreign minister, Elias Jaua, announced that Venezuela wanted to mend diplomatic fences with the United States. “We are going to remain open to normalizing relations with the United States,” Jaua said during a television interview. “The first thing would be to resume diplomatic representation at the highest level.” Read more ..


Obama's Second Term

Daschle for Obama

May 18th 2013

Barack Obama with Flag

When Joe Klein writes of President Obama in ways that read like Sean Hannity talks, and when Maureen Dowd writes of Hillary Clinton in ways that read like Sarah Palin thinks, we might ask: What would the great columnists such as Walter Lippmann and James “Scotty” Reston write about the president at a moment like this?

My guess is that Lippmann and Reston might remind readers that when former President Reagan reached a crisis point in his presidency, he named former Senate Majority Leader Howard Baker (R-Tenn.) to be his chief of staff.

Lippmann and Reston might also remind readers, who today read much verbiage about “the second-term curse,” that Reagan, in his second term, achieved breakthroughs in Cold War history that historians will be praising in 100 years, and that former President Clinton, in his second term, created vast prosperity and tidal waves of jobs for which Americans remain greatly thankful today.

If a column could whisper into the ear of a president, my whisper to Obama would include this: name former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.), one of the most experienced and connected figures in the modern history of our government and politics, to a very high-level position in your White House.

I am not suggesting a “White House shake-up,” which would be unnecessary and unwise. The stampeding herd of the media will ultimately grow tired of the current chase. The gathering storm of overheated rhetoric will soon subside. The taxpayer-financed inquisitions of House Republicans will soon inspire a backlash, as they did for Clinton.

The Joe Kleins of the media herd and the Maureen Dowds of the media mob will calm down and realize that Obama’s name should not be mixed with Nixon’s on the dignified pages of Time magazine, and that implying a moral equivalence of Hillary Clinton and the Republican attack dogs hungrily seeking to hunt her down does not elevate the standards of The New York Times. Read more ..


Obama's Second Term

A Time for Humility

May 17th 2013

Obama

As a record three scandals engulf Barack Obama’s presidency at once, the three-pronged effect of their damage — a corrosion of the public’s trust in our government and its trust in him, as well as any prospects for leadership in the rest of his term — seems lost upon him. The president doesn’t get it, or he doesn’t really care. Neither response is acceptable.

The bungled, incomplete and political reaction to the attack on our diplomatic outpost in Benghazi, Libya, last September that killed four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens, the revelation that Internal Revenue Service employees singled out conservative groups for heightened scrutiny, and the Department of Justice seizure of the records of nearly 100 people at The Associated Press have outraged Republicans and Democrats alike, but inexplicably these scandals appear to have upset President Obama the least of anyone. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

Intervention Escalation

May 16th 2013

Free Syrian Army fighters

Ever more credible claims by France, Britain, and some Israeli officials that the Bashar al-Assad regime has used chemical weapons have upped the pressure on the Obama administration to respond more decisively to the situation in Syria, and specifically to act on the president's chemical weapons "red line" warning. And the administration appears to be reconsidering its previous hesitancy. During a recent hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Secretary Chuck Hagel announced that the United States would be sending some 200 troops to Jordan from the 1st Armored Division at Fort Bliss, Texas, to work alongside Jordanian personnel to "improve readiness and prepare for a number of scenarios" relating to the conflict in neighboring Syria. The Los Angeles Times reports that the Pentagon has drawn up plans to possibly expand the force significantly. Read more ..


Broken Government

America's Growing Social Security Disability Problem

May 15th 2013

walking-cane

The latest Social Security Administration data document that Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) rolls reached a record high of 8.85 million in March 2013, an increase of 1.6 million or 21 percent since the start of the Great Recession in 2007.

This recession-induced growth exacerbates the long time trend in SSDI program growth that has resulted in its real expenditures increasing sevenfold, from $18 billion (2010 dollars) in 1970 to $128 billion in 2010, a trend the CBO reports will result in program insolvency as early as 2016.

This long running disability epidemic, which hit its pandemic stage in the aftermath of the 2007 recession, has almost nothing to do with a decline in the overall health of working age Americans or in the severity of their health-based impairments. Rather, it is primarily the consequence of fundamental flaws in the SSDI program and its administration which have increasingly made it a long term unemployment program rather than the last resort transfer program for those unable to work due to their health-based impairments that Congress intended it to be. These flaws become most evident during severe during economic downturns but will remain long after we recover from the Great Recession. Read more ..


Broken Healthcare

The IRS is Accessing your Health Records

May 14th 2013

Obamacare Protest

So how do you feel about turning over access to some of your most sensitive healthcare information to the Internal Revenue Service? In the wake of running disclosures of the agency’s nefarious snooping and political targeting, its new role as chief health insurance enforcer should give us heartburn.

Under Obamacare, the principal responsibility for verifying eligibility for the healthcare program, and monitoring whether you carry qualifying health coverage (and are exempt from the law’s penalties) will fall principally to the IRS.

And the agency’s reach only grows: Former IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman told Congress last year that the agency would need another $13.1 billion to implement Obamacare in 2014, on top of the billion it has already spent. Officials at the U.S. Treasury, the parent of the IRS, have estimated that the IRS now has about 700 full-time staffers working on Obamacare implementation. Read more ..


Broken Education

How to Tell if College Presidents are Overpaid

May 13th 2013

Bundles of Money

Enter the IntroThe Chronicle of Higher Education tells us the median salary of public university presidents rose 4.7 percent in 2011-12 to more than $440,000 a year. This increase vastly outpaced the rate of inflation, as well as the earnings of the typical worker in the U.S. economy. Perhaps, most relevant for this community, it also surpassed the compensation growth for university professors.

Moreover, the median statistic masks that several presidents earned more than double that amount. Pennsylvania State University’s Graham Spanier, best known for presiding over the worst athletic scandal in collegiate history, topped the list, earning $2,906,721 in total compensation. (He was forced to resign in November 2011 and was indicted in November 2012 on charges related to the Jerry Sandusky sex-abuse scandal.)

Spanier’s package will get the attention. But the outrage should be spread around. University presidents are becoming ever more plutocratic even as the students find it harder and harder to pay for their studies. University leaders claim institutional poverty as they enrich themselves. A perennial leader of the highest-paid list, Gordon Gee of Ohio State University (more than $1.8 million last year), paid $532 for a shower curtain for the presidential mansion. Read more ..


Benghazigate

The Honor of the U.S. Military at Risk in Deliberations over Benghazi Debacle

May 13th 2013

Lybian Gunmen

Despite the distractions of a continuing unemployment crisis and the media’s concentration on stories of human depravity, the scandal of the death of four Americans including an ambassador in Benghazi-”a long time ago” according to the Administration’s spokesman-will not be put down.

Three sets of issues follow the testimony of three whistleblowers from the Department of State appearing before the early May meeting of the House Committee of Oversight and Government Reform:

Why were proper preparations not made to defend American personnel and territory (the embassies and consulates) in the chaos of newly liberated Libya, especially on the anniversary of 9/11?

Why did the Obama Administration feed explanations of the origins of the event which were boldfaced lies–a “cover-up” for which we now have confirmation from U.S. government documents?

Why were American military forces in the region ordered not to go to the aid of the embattled American ambassador and his handful of ad hoc defenders, even including that additional small Special Forces group available in Tripoli? Read more ..


Broken Government

Policymakers Get Serious About Student Loan Interest Rates

May 12th 2013

College expenses

At about this time last year, we saw President Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney engage in a pandering contest on student loan interest rates. Cheap political theater produced a shortsighted political solution—a one-year extension of the 3.4 percent interest rate on subsidized federal student loans.

That one-year “fix” is due to expire on July 1, setting up another round of debate about whether to extend the lower rate once again or come up with a permanent solution. Under current law, Congress sets the interest rates on loans (which are then fixed for the life of the loan). This leads to political fights over the interest rate on a regular basis, especially when market rates become out-of-sync with the rate set by Congress.

This time around, the Obama administration and several members of Congress have produced serious proposals, most of which propose allowing the interest rates on federal student loans to vary with market conditions rather than having a fixed rate that is set by Congress. Read more ..


Palestine on Edge

How the Palestinians Have Trapped Themselves and Dragged the West Along

May 11th 2013

Bethelem Protestors

“Everything reactionary is the same; if you don’t hit it, it won’t fall. This is also like sweeping the floor; as a rule, where the broom does not reach, the dust will not vanish of itself.” –Mao Zedong, The Little Red Book

It is amazing how many massive revelations pass people by completely. Consider this new gleaning from the British Archives from early 1948, which sheds much light on current events.  British officials in the Palestine Mandate were reporting as follows:

”The [Palestine] Arabs have suffered a series of overwhelming defeats….”Jewish victories … have reduced Arab morale to zero and, following the cowardly example of their inept leaders, they are fleeing from the mixed areas in their thousands. It is now obvious that the only hope of regaining their position lies in the regular armies of the Arab states.” Read more ..


Economic Jihad

Stephen Hawking Endorses Iranian and Chinese Repression

May 10th 2013

Alan Dershowitz

The only logical conclusion that can be derived from Stephen Hawking’s decision to join the academic boycott of Israel, coupled with his enthusiastic visits to Iran and China, is that he actively endorses and supports the repression practiced by the Iranian mullahs and the Chinese party bosses. Why else would he single out the world’s only Jewish state for his academic boycott?

Prior to the cancelation of his academic talk in Israel, it might have been argued that his visits to Iran and China reflected not support for the regimes but rather a neutral approach to academics, or a refusal to participate in academic boycotts.  No longer can this justification work.  The only possible justification for distinguishing between Israel on the one hand and Iran and China on the other hand would be if Israel’s actions were worse than those of Iran and China.  Only a knave or a fool would believe that to be so.  Israel’s academies are among the most open, diverse and free in the world.  Israeli universities have affirmative action programs for Palestinians and other minorities.  Political dissenters receive tenure and thrive at Israeli universities.

The very concept of an Iranian university is an oxymoron.  There are no free and open places of learning in that repressive theocracy.  Dissenters are not given tenure; they are murdered, after first being tortured.  Blasphemy, which is broadly defined, is punished.  Gays are not only excluded from Iranian universities, but are imprisoned and killed.  Women are oppressed.  Baha’is are persecuted and killed.  There is no freedom in Iran—a country that is seeking to develop nuclear weapons so that they can wipe the State of Israel off the map. Read more ..


Japan on Edge

Japan May Regret Starting a Difficult Inflation Fire

May 10th 2013

Japan money

Japanese policymakers might learn the hard way that one must be very careful about what you wish for. Having engaged in the most unorthodox monetary policy experiments to engender some inflation into the Japanese economy, they might find it difficult to get the inflation genie back into the bottle once the inflation process has been restarted. Indeed, as markets become increasingly alert to the very real risk of long-run monetary financing of Japan's highly compromised public finances, there might be no turning back on the road to high Japanese inflation.

Since taking office last Christmas, Shinzo Abe, Japan's new prime minister, has vowed to do whatever it takes to extricate the Japanese economy from the chronic deflation from which it has long suffered. To that end, he has pledged to increase Japanese inflation to 2 percent within the next two years, and he has shaken up the leadership of the Bank of Japan to ensure that Japanese monetary policy is pursued in a manner consistent with that inflation goal. At the same time, despite the truly appalling state of Japan's public finances, Mr. Abe's government is engaging in a short-run Keynesian-style fiscal stimulus with the aim of reviving flagging consumer and investment demand. Read more ..


The Lobbying Edge

Big Businesses and Localities Win Online Sales Tax

May 9th 2013

Lobbyist

When do 21 Republican senators vote for higher taxes? Answer: When the biggest businesses and local politicians hire top K Street lobbyists to push for the tax-hike legislation.

A bipartisan majority of senators on Monday passed the "Marketplace Fairness Act," which forces large and mid-sized online retailers to collect and remit sales taxes for every state, county, city, or town where a customer lives. (Currently, consumers don't pay taxes on most online sales, unless the buyer and seller are in the same state.)

Many Republican Senate staffers told me that revenue-hungry local politicians -- mayors, governors and state legislators -- successfully wooed some GOP senators and are making progress on House Republicans. One lobbyist who represented local governments said his firm sicced state lawmakers on congressmen and senators -- often their former colleagues -- to back this bill. But to lock up GOP votes, the support of big business always helps. Read more ..


Israel and Palestine

Arab Terror Strikes the Heart of the City of Peace

May 8th 2013

Click to select Image

Palestinian Arabs have concentrated many of their terrorist attacks on Jews in Jerusalem, hoping to win the city by an onslaught of terror who seek to make life in the City of Peace unbearable. But this is not a new tactic. Arab strategy to turn Jerusalem into a battleground began in 1920.

Unfortunately, Arab leaders often turn to violence to gain what they were unable to achieve at the negotiating table. When talks broke down at Camp David in 2000, Palestinian Arab leaders unleashed the al-Aqsa Intifada, which amounted to a full-blown guerrilla war against Israel.

It began the day before Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, when Arab mobs hurled rocks from the Temple Mount onto Jewish worshipers praying at the Western Wall below. That rock attack turned into a steady campaign of terrorist attacks. Read more ..


Africa on Edge

'Forgotten' Africa Turns to Iran

May 7th 2013

Ahmadinejad triumphant

Western diplomats should not dismiss Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's West African tour last month as the last gasp of Iran's lame duck president. While the west seeks to isolate Iran against the backdrop of nuclear sanctions and concerns regarding Iranian terror sponsorship, the Islamic Republic has crafted a broad-based Africa strategy that will last long after Ahmadinejad's final days as president.

Diplomatic rhetoric aside, for both European and American statesman, Africa is a forgotten continent. European government might work to prevent illegal migration and provide occasional aid but most African countries - even former colonies - receive nowhere near the European diplomatic or trade attention that the Middle East or East Asian countries do.

Tehran sees many of Africa's 54 countries as diplomatic easy picking in a zero-sum game for influence. For much of the last decade, Iran's leadership has reached out to their African counterparts not simply to win new friends but in a multifaceted strategy to stymie western pressure. European and American leaders seldom travel to Sub-Saharan Africa. In her eight years as German Chancellor Angela Merkel has visited sub-Saharan Africa only twice, touching down in five countries. And British Prime Minister David Cameron has visited only South Africa, Nigeria, and Liberia in his three year tenure. In contrast, Ahmadinejad visits Africa at annually if not more often, while the Supreme Leader dispatches representatives with even greater frequency. Read more ..



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