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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 ..


The race for EVs

CODA Automotive Collapses - It's What We Have Always Said About Today's Electric Cars

May 7th 2013

Coda Car

CODA Automotive filed for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy Protection last week. Their electric 4-door 5-passenger sedan was perhaps the least glamorous of all electric vehicles presented over the past few years as illustrative of the promising new green-era of electric cars that featured exotic entries from Tesla, Fisker, Aptera and Koenigsegg. Its plain simple appearance was almost what we might have expected from a Soviet-designed electric car, had the Soviet Union continued to burden our planet and Lada tried their hand at an electric vehicle.

But CODA’s failure wasn’t due to its lack of sizzle; its demise is due to the artificial nature of the entire electric passenger vehicle market. Electric cars will, one day, represent an important and significant part of our transportation landscape, and it will represent a viable alternative to fossil fuel-powered cars. But that day is decades away…perhaps as long as nearly a century in the future. The technology and the cost are just not there (or here). Read more ..


Broken Government

Tea Party Trokia Rivals GOP Leadership in Senate

May 6th 2013

Ted Cruz

There are two power centers in the Senate Republican Conference. One is the official leadership under Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. The second is the Tea Party Troika of Ted Cruz, Mike Lee and Rand Paul.

It's not that there are two Republican parties. Nor is there a chasm running along ideological lines. The new dynamic is this: The official leadership has even less power than Senate leadership typically has, and the Tea Party Troika, mastering what's called the "inside-outside game," has more power to swing their colleagues than backbenchers normally have.

Senate floor leaders are typically called "cat herders." Individual senators always have much more power than individual congressmen, so party leaders in the upper chamber always have trouble corralling their flock. McConnell has even less leverage than his predecessors.

First, the GOP earmark ban in effect since the 2010 elections makes it harder for party leaders to buy off wavering members.

Second, the persistent anti-establishment sentiment among the GOP base blunts leadership threats involving committee assignments. Among the GOP base, it's a badge of honor to be whacked publicly by the leadership. Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich., became something of a Tea Party hero when the House leadership stripped him of committee spots because he wouldn't do the party's bidding.

Third, McConnell has lost many allies, often in contests with the Tea Party. Lee and Paul both came to the Senate by beating McConnell intimates. Lee ousted McConnell confidant Bob Bennett in a 2010 Utah GOP nominating fight, and Paul bested McConnell's handpicked candidate for the open Kentucky Senate seat that same year. Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

Terrorism Denial

May 5th 2013

Boston Marathon Massacre

On September 11, 2001 we watched in horror as terrorists toppled the Twin Towers in New York City.  They recently struck again with twin bombings in the heart of Boston.

The United States continues to mourn the dead from the Boston Marathon bombings and to pray for the recovery of those wounded in the attack.  The authorities charged with protecting and defending our homeland do not yet know the name of the person or persons who carried out the attacks.  They do not know the identity of the group who was ultimately responsible, who bankrolled the attack, or who did the planning.  But theywill.  And just as the long arm of American justice ultimately found Osama bin Laden in a compound in Pakistan, so too will it find those who created unspeakable carnage in Boston. Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

The Cost of Refusing to Call a Terrorist a Terrorist

May 5th 2013

Bomb-Boston-Marathon

The president of the United States is jeopardizing national security with his public and his executive team's cutting the umbilical cord of jihadist terrorism to Islam. 

By refusing to identify the terrorists as a part, however pernicious, of the overall Muslim community, he makes it difficult if not impossible for the kind of counterintelligence necessary to avoid such catastrophes as the Boston Marathon bombing.

Contrary to his characterization, the Boston episode was not a "tragedy" - that is, an event inevitably driven toward its awful conclusion. It was a plot by a group of psychopaths [we are increasingly learning it stretched beyond the two individuals directly involved] that could have been prevented. But those lunatics follow a particular set of leaders and teachings which, however twisted and misconstrued, arise out of the tenets of only one great modern and universal religion, Islam. Read more ..


The Gender Edge

Planned Parenthood Targets Black Women

May 4th 2013

Star Parker right crop

In 1854, Abraham Lincoln confronted America's first "pro-choice" U.S. senator, Stephen Douglas of Illinois, in a speech in Peoria. "Choice" then was about slavery, not abortion.

Douglas had sponsored the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which repealed the Missouri Compromise of 1820 and addressed the sticky question of slavery in new territories entering the union. The Kansas-Nebraska Act resolved this by "choice:" Residents would vote to decide if slavery would be legal in their territory.

Lincoln, morally opposed to slavery, challenged Douglas's "pro-choice" position. According to Douglas, said Lincoln, "the principle of the Nebraska bill was very old; that it originated when God made man and placed good and evil before him, allowing him to choose for himself, being responsible for the choice he should make."

No, said Lincoln. "God did not place good and evil before man, telling him to make his choice. On the contrary, he did tell him there was one tree, of the fruit of which he should not eat, upon pain of certain death." Our constitution, conveyed by the nation's founders 65 years before Lincoln spoke those words, circumvented the question of slavery, permitting the great paradox of a nation founded on the ideals of freedom, which allowed slavery. Read more ..


Iran's Nukes

Never Mind that Red Line in Syria

May 3rd 2013

Iran Nuclear Equipment centrifuges

At first blush, it appeared that the Obama administration finally agreed with the intelligence assessments of its allies—Britain, France, and Israel—namely, that the Syrian regime used chemical weapons against the opposition. After all, on April 25 the White House sent a letter to Congressional leaders stating: "Our intelligence community does assess with varying degrees of confidence that the Syrian regime has used chemical weapons on a small scale in Syria, specifically the chemical agent sarin." This would mean that the regime has violated President Obama's "red line", where if the Syrian government began moving or using chemical weapons, it would constitute a "game-changer" for U.S. policy that would be met with "enormous consequences." But no sooner had the letter been delivered did the administration begin walking away from its own assessment.

"There is much more to be done to verify conclusively that the red line that the president has talked about has been crossed," White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said Monday. "We are continuing to assess what happened — when, where," Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel agreed separately. "I think we should wait to get the facts before we make any judgments on what action, if any should be taken, and what kind of action." Read more ..


The Darkest Edge

Searching for Answers on Gun Bill

May 2nd 2013

Guns for sale

Many are asking how senators — elected officials, who are supposed to represent the public and are required to garner voters’ support — could so flagrantly disregard public opinion in opposing the background checks for gun buyers that some 90 percent of Americans embrace.

The most common explanation rests on the presumption that opponents of gun safety harbor more intense views than supporters. While this argument points in a useful direction, it is oversimple to the point of being inaccurate.

When 90 percent support a particular policy, it is almost mathematically impossible to find a larger number of intense opponents within the 10 percent than intense supporters within the 90 percent who favor the idea — and in fact, there isn’t an intensity gap favoring opponents. The simplest measure of intensity asks how strongly respondents hold their view. Like others, an ABC/Washington Post poll found 76 percent strongly favoring background checks on gun buyers and a mere 9 percent strongly opposed. Here, intensity is overwhelmingly with supporters, not opponents. Read more ..


The Way We Are

Libertarians Must Stand Up to Corporate Greed

May 1st 2013

General Electric

The Republican attack on President Obama's economic policy has changed subtly, but significantly, in the last three years. In 2009, he was allegedly a "socialist" and a "Marxist" who lusted for government control of the entire economy. But lately, that has given way to more nuanced charges of "crony capitalism" -- of giving special, friendly treatment to certain companies and industries, or allowing powerful corporations to essentially write the laws, themselves.

Republicans shouted about Obama's green energy handouts and industry bailouts. Mitt Romney assailed him for picking winners and losers. "Free enterprise works," Romney said in early 2012. "Crony capitalism does not." The anti-cronies expanded their focus beyond the White House, voting out government officials seen as cozying up to businesses, like Sen. Bob Bennett of Utah and Rep. Bob Ingliss (a.k.a.: "Bailout Bob"). Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

Why Did Eric Holder Drop the Ball on Miranda Reform?

April 30th 2013

Eric holder

Attorney General Eric Holder is defending the decision to read Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the surviving Boston Marathon bombing suspect, his Miranda warning, telling CNN that cutting off his questioning “was totally consistent with the laws that we have.”

That may be true. But three years ago, Holder admitted that “the laws we have” are insufficient for questioning suspected terrorists, and he promised to a major push to change them.

In May 2010, the Obama administration was under fire after delivering Miranda warnings to both the underwear bomber and the Times Square bomber. Initially, Holder defended the decision to Mirandize these suspects after 50 minutes and three hours respectively. But then, suddenly, the attorney general reversed course. In a series of coordinated Sunday show interviews, Holder announced a change in policy: The Obama administration would work with Congress to change the Miranda law to give interrogators greater flexibility in questioning suspected terrorists.

On ABC’s “This Week” Holder declared, “I think we have to give serious consideration to at least modifying that public safety exception,” which gives interrogators time to question suspects without a Miranda warning. “And that’s one of the things that I think we’re going to be reaching out to Congress to do, to come up with a proposal that is both constitutional, but that is also relevant to our time and the threat that we now face.”

On NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Holder called his proposed Miranda changes a “new priority” and “big news,” declaring, “We’re now dealing with international terrorists, and I think that we have to think about perhaps modifying the rules that interrogators have and somehow coming up with something that is flexible and is more consistent with the threat that we now face.” So what happened? Read more ..


Broken Economy

The Upside of Economic Pessimism

April 29th 2013

Green Jobs

The disappointing first-quarter GDP report dashed hopes that 2013 might prove a breakout year for the U.S. economy. Even worse, the same-old-same-old anemic results provide another disturbing data point for gloomy New Normal theorists. Yes, economic statistics get revised. And last Friday’s output report was just government’s first pass. It wasn’t so long ago, however, that some Wall Street analysts were whispering about growth of nearly 4 percent. Instead the economy slogged again rather than surged, growing only 2.5 percent.

Caveat: Drilling down into the data reveals a tale of two economies. The public sector is in a depression. Government has subtracted from GDP for ten of the past eleven quarters, with spending falling at an annual pace of 5.6 percent over the past two periods. It’s better times for the bit of the economy that creates “actual consumer-relevant value,” as economist Tyler Cowen puts it. Private-sector GDP — excluding government consumption and investment — grew 4 percent in the first quarter and has averaged 3 percent growth over the past six months. Still, these should be the dragon years for the recovery. Even private-sector GDP is growing only at trend, its three-decade average. The anemic first quarter might be as good as it gets for 2013. If so, it will be another twelve months gone by without closing the massive shortfall between GDP’s pre-recession trajectory and where we are now. The growth gap continues. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

No Word Yet on the Fate of Two Syrian Christian Bishops Kidnapped by Jihadis

April 28th 2013

Bishop Boulos Yzigi and Bishop John Ibrahim

For the first time in their history, the patriarch of the Antiochian Orthodox Church has asked Christians to adorn their traditional Palm Sunday processions with black ribbons tied on candles rather than the usual white ribbons expressing their sadness over the fat of two abducted church leaders from Aleppo, Syria. Alluding to the wave of anti-Christian persecution in Muslim-dominated countries, the patriarch said that the date on which Orthodox Christians celebrate Easter comes “at a time when we are being surrounded by much pain and suffering”.

It was on April 22 that the Greek Orthodox Archbishop Paul Yazigi of Aleppo and Alexandretta and Syriac Orthodox Archbishop Yohanna Ibrahim of Aleppo were abducted while travelling en route to Aleppo by unknown assailants after returning from a humanitarian mission near the Turkish border region. Their driver, Fatha’ Allah Kabboud, a deacon in the Syriac Orthodox Church, was killed in the incident. Read more ..


America on Edge

The Danger of Repeating the Cycle of American Isolationism

April 27th 2013

Bunch of American flags

The case for American retrenchment has gained new traction in Washington. Much as in the past, economic problems and public war-weariness have spurred calls from Democrats and Republicans alike for neo-isolationist policies — demands for retreat from the world clothed in the language of fiscal prudence and disinterested realism. Although there may be short-term political benefits in calling for a diminished U.S. role in the world, history shows that retreat comes with substantial long-term costs for our country.

After World War I, disillusionment with war and then the Great Depression brought a widely popular U.S. retreat from internationalism, economic as well as political. But the attack on Pearl Harbor demonstrated that the United States could not avoid the responsibility of engagement with the world in the cause of freedom and democracy. Read more ..



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