Obama's Second Term
|A.B. Stoddard||May 17th 2013|
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
|James F. Jeffery||May 16th 2013|
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 ..
|Richard Burkhauser||May 15th 2013|
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 ..
|Scott Gottlieb||May 14th 2013|
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 ..
|Richard Vedder||May 13th 2013|
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 ..
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 ..
|Matthew M. Chingos and Beth Akerrs||May 12th 2013|
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
“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 ..
|Alan Dershowitz||May 10th 2013|
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
|Desmond Lachman||May 10th 2013|
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
|Carney P. Carney||May 9th 2013|
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
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
|Michael Rubin||May 7th 2013|
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
|Marc J. Rauch ||May 7th 2013|
The Auto Channel
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 ..
|Timothy P. Carney||May 6th 2013|
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
|Armstrong Williams||May 5th 2013|
Cutting Edge Commentator
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
Economic Warfare Institute
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
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 ..
|Matthew RJ Brodsky||May 3rd 2013|
Jewish Policy Center
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
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
|Timothy P. Carney||May 1st 2013|
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
|Marc A. Thiessen||April 30th 2013|
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 ..
|James Pethokoukis||April 29th 2013|
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
|Martin Barillas||April 28th 2013|
Cutting Edge Senior Correspondent
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
|John Kyle and Joseph Lieberman||April 27th 2013|
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 ..
The Way We Are
|Julian Castro and Paul Wolfowitz||April 26th 2013|
We stand together, the Democratic mayor of San Antonio and a senior appointee in three Republican presidential administrations, united in our support for the freedom to marry and an end to the discrimination caused by the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) which treats one legally married couple differently from another.
On the surface, we might seem an odd mix: One of us leads a city in what has been a predictably red state; the other hopes to see the Republican Party and the nation focus on the critical issues that will determine the future strength and prosperity of this great country. One of us sits on the edge of the millennial generation as the youngest mayor of a top 50 U.S. city; the other, a former head of the World Bank, senior Bush administration official and ambassador to Indonesia.
To us, this simply speaks to the growing bipartisan support for same-sex marriage. We already know 62 percent of independents are behind the freedom to marry, according to a recent ABC/Washington Post poll. And the support from young Americans couldn't be more dramatic, with 81 percent, regardless of political affiliation, in favor of the freedom to marry. Read more ..
The Way We Are
|Stan Veuger||April 25th 2013|
The National Park Service currently offers seniors over the age of 61 the opportunity to purchase lifetime passes for $10. That is $10 for perennial access to 410 national parks as well hundreds and hundreds of recreation sites managed by the Forest Service, the Fish and Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Land Management, and the Bureau of Reclamation.
To put this into perspective, a one-time ticket to the Grand Canyon, just one of the National Parks, costs everyone else $25. This policy illustrates a number of frustrating features of federal government policymaking. First of all, it caters to a specific special-interest group that is chosen to receive benefits no one else receives, in this case the elderly.
Second, much like programs such as Social Security and Medicare, which provide benefits to senior citizens that far exceed the contributions they made to them, it redistributes funds from poor to old under the assumption that Ponzi schemes never fall apart. Read more ..
Venezuela on Edge
One of the Hugo Chavez-era ministers retained in the new cabinet of Nicolas Maduro is Iris Varela, who holds the portfolio for Venezuela’s rotting prison system. This morning, she repaid Maduro’s vote of confidence in her by threatening to incarcerate Henrique Capriles, the opposition leader who has been doggedly insisting that the votes cast in the April 14 presidential election, which Maduro won by a razor-thin margin of 1.8 percent, should be recounted.
In the days immediately following the vote, Venezuela was convulsed by protests alleging electoral fraud. Seven people were reported to have died and more than 60 injured in clashes the chavista regime immediately blamed on the opposition. Maduro himself accused opposition supporters of attacking health clinics run by the government, as well as the home of Tibisay Lucena, the president of the National Electoral Council (CNE), who called the election for Maduro in record time and then declared the results to be “irreversible.” Read more ..
The Boston Massacre
|Scott Stewart||April 23rd 2013|
When seeking to place an attack like the April 15 Boston Marathon bombing into context, it is helpful to classify the actors responsible, if possible. Such a classification can help us understand how an attack fits into the analytical narrative of what is happening and what is likely to come. These classifications will consider such factors as ideology, state sponsorship and perhaps most important, the kind of operative involved.
In a case where we are dealing with an apparent jihadist operative, before we can classify him or her we must first have a clear taxonomy of the jihadist movement. At Stratfor, we generally consider the jihadist movement to be divided into three basic elements: the al Qaeda core organization, the regional jihadist franchises, such as al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, and grassroots operatives who are radicalized, inspired and perhaps equipped by the other two tiers but who are not members of either. Read more ..
The Boston Massacre
|Michael B. Mukasey||April 23rd 2013|
If your concern about the threat posed by the Tsarnaev brothers is limited to assuring that they will never be in a position to repeat their grisly acts, rest easy.
The elder, Tamerlan—apparently named for the 14th-century Muslim conqueror famous for building pyramids of his victims' skulls to commemorate his triumphs over infidels—is dead. The younger, Dzhokhar, will stand trial when his wounds heal, in a proceeding where the most likely uncertainty will be the penalty. No doubt there will be some legal swordplay over his interrogation by the FBI's High-Value Interrogation Group without receiving Miranda warnings.
But the only downside for the government in that duel is that his statements may not be used against him at trial. This is not much of a risk when you consider the other available evidence, including photo images of him at the scene of the bombings and his own reported confession to the victim whose car he helped hijack during last week's terror in Boston. Read more ..
The Darkest Edge
|John Hudak||April 22nd 2013|
Whither Representation? Yesterday’s failure to advance the Toomey-Manchin Amendment to expand background checks on gun purchases showed the American people that regardless of their preferences, regardless of what a majority of Senators want, regardless of the amount of compromise, some Senators refuse to represent their states.
Public polling is clear, and those who argue that polling is non-scientific, not truly capturing public opinion, are liberal machinations, or are biased in sampling and question wording remind us of those who expected a decisive Romney victory in November because all the polls were wrong. One poll could be off; two polls could fall victim to poor question wording. Yet, the reality of public opinion on background checks is well-established by a variety of sources including universities (here, here and here); in blue states, red states, and swing states; liberal sources and conservative sources; and the most well-regarded polling firms in the world (here and here). Read more ..
Islam's War Against Christianity
|Raymond Ibrahim||April 22nd 2013|
Middle East Forum
While it is easy to confuse the recent jihadi attack on Egypt’s St. Mark Cathedral in Cairo as just more of the usual, this attack has great symbolic significance, and in many ways bodes great evil for Egypt’s millions of Christians.
Consider some facts: St. Mark Cathedral—named after the author of the Gospel of the same name who brought Christianity to Egypt some 600 years before Amr bin al-As brought Islam by the sword—is not simply “just another” Coptic church to be attacked and/or set aflame by a Muslim mob (see my forthcoming book, Crucified Again: Exposing Islam’s New War on Christians, for a comprehensive idea of past and present Muslim attacks on Coptic churches). Read more ..
Edge of Terrorism
|A.B. Stoddard||April 21st 2013|
After more than 11 years, the fear is fresh but familiar: a shocking new attack has reminded us that no matter where we gather, someone somewhere wants to tell us we truly are not free. On a spring day at the Boston marathon — warmed by the big-ness of strangers cheering strangers, of endurance and of triumph — a small act shattered lives with explosions designed to kill, or at least to destroy the legs that had enabled people to travel great distances in body and in soul.
This time, the killer or killers are silent, not gloating or taking credit for their crime as we work to find the justice we so impatiently crave. And now poisonous letters and suspicious packages sent to the President and U.S. lawmakers, though likely unrelated, are eerily similar to the anthrax attacks in the mail that followed the airplane attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. We have all remembered that old worry that a new and different attack could come anywhere anytime — we just haven’t felt it in so long. Read more ..
Obama's Second Term
|Jonah Goldberg||April 20th 2013|
‘You know, I actually believe my own bull****.” That’s what President Obama once told a reporter. If the man ever uttered a statement that spoke more to his approach to politics, I haven’t heard it.
Whether it stems from a grandiose overconfidence in his own powers of persuasion, or the lessons he took from his years as a community organizer, or his own messianic conviction that he is on the right side of everything, including history itself, the president has always operated under the theory that he can move the American people to his causes. And he can’t. He just can’t.
Yes, he got elected and reelected, and that’s saying something. But whatever personal popularity the man has doesn’t transfer to domestic policy. It’s as if the American people are saying, “Mr. President, we’re just not that into you.” “What about health-care reform!?” his fans invariably respond. Read more ..
Asia and America
|Michael Auslin||April 19th 2013|
President Obama has billed his “pivot to Asia” as a diplomatic maneuver, but it is just as much a decision of military and defense policy. Without fears over the rise of China, along with continuing irritants such as North Korea, there would be little reason for the U.S. to announce such a decision, which raises expectations and puts its credibility on the line. Unfortunately the pivot has been not just a risk, but potentially a failure as well: too little done to shift the dangerous trends in Asia, and too little rethinking of America’s interests in the region.
What was once lauded as a smart decision to reorient America’s security priorities to the world’s most dynamic area has now been doubted, derided, and dismissed. This is in part because the initiative has not followed through on its bold aims, in part because there has been little in it to change substantially the U.S. position in Asia, and in part because it has coincided with serious challenges to the region’s equilibrium. America’s defense policy in Asia requires a far more serious reassessment. Read more ..
Inside the Muslim Brotherhood
|Clare M. Lopez||April 18th 2013|
The upheavals of 2011-2012 across the Middle East and North Africa swept aside secular rulers and the established political order with startling speed, and continue to focus world attention on the revolutionary forces driving these far-reaching events. Poverty, oppression, inequality, and lack of individual freedom are all hallmarks of the societal stagnation that has gripped the Islamic world for the better part of fourteen centuries, but the driving force of the so-called "Arab Spring" is a resurgent Islam, dominated by the forces of al-Qa'eda and the Muslim Brotherhood. Energized as Islam may be at this time, however, without the active involvement of the United States to help arm, fund, support, and train the region's Islamic rebels, it is questionable whether they could have gotten this far, this fast.
This report describes how the Muslim Brotherhood infiltrated and suborned the U.S. government to actively assist, whether knowingly or not, the mission of its grand jihad. Its hard-won position at the forefront of the 21st century Islamic Awakening is possible only because of decades of patient infiltration and political indoctrination (Da'wa) in the West, and especially the United States of America, even as the grassroots work of building an organizational structure advanced steadily in the land of its origin as well. It is important to recognize the sophistication of the Brotherhood's international strategy and how the takedown of U.S. national security defenses from within was critical to the current Middle East-North Africa (MENA) campaign to re-establish the Caliphate and enforce Islamic Law (shariah). Read more ..
The Edge of Terrorism
|Armstrong Williams||April 18th 2013|
Right Side Wire
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.
It is clear that a certain degree of preparation was undertaken by those who concocted and executed this wicked plot. The near simultaneous explosion of the bombs tell us that much. The bombs were placed at a time after the police patrols and bomb-sniffing dogs had already completed sweeps of the area. The terrorists were watching, lurking, and waiting for their opportunity to spring.
Additionally, we already know that the terrorists were aiming to cause maximum casualties. They placed the bombs near the finish line, where the spouses, children and friends crowd together to cheer on their loved ones as they approach the ending point for a 26.2 mile journey by foot. They timed them to detonate at a time when the greatest number of runners was expected to be finishing. And the pressure cooker bombs were packed with ball bearing and nails so that the flying shrapnel would wound the greatest number possible. Read more ..
The Edge of Terrorism
|Scott Gottlieb||April 17th 2013|
The ghastly bombings in Boston, followed by an envelope laced with the lethal poison ricin that was sent to the U.S Capitol, renews fear about our vulnerability to these kinds of terrorist acts. It invites unwelcome memories of 9-11.
Speculation is widespread about the potential origins of these attacks, and whether they could be related (seems unlikely). Investigations are underway. In time, we also must ask how much safer we’ve made ourselves based on the lessons we learned after 9-11. And whether there are still precautions we should heed.
When it comes to bioterrorism, it’s at best a mixed bag. Programs enacted after 9-11 helped shore up our defenses. But they’re not equipped to promote development of the kinds of technologies that we need to thwart modern day threats. These threats may not come from established agents of bioterror, but new strains of bugs engineered for deadly purposes. Read more ..
Obama's Second Term
|John Feehery||April 16th 2013|
Sens. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) were the highest-profile stars of the Tea Party Class of 2010. They successfully scared two centrists out of the Republican Party before a primary vote was even cast, and were held out as examples of conservative leadership, dedicated to stopping President Obama at all costs.
Less than three years later, they no longer seem to be so extreme. Instead of being content to vote “no” and go home, they are in the middle of the various Senate gangs. Toomey is working with Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) to enact some common-sense gun measures, while Rubio is laboring within the Gang of Eight to bring comprehensive immigration reform to the Senate floor. They are no longer deal-breakers. They are deal-makers.
For a movement that heartily applauded a Senate candidate (Richard Mourdock) who said that his definition of compromise was Democrats agreeing with the Republican position, the fact that its two biggest heroes are now in the mood to find compromise must be shocking. While Tea Party activists might be shocked, nobody else should be. Read more ..
The Way We Are
|Michal Grinstein-Weiss||April 15th 2013|
If you’re a smart money manager, you’ll take time on Tax Day to fill out one more form—a savings deposit form. With a healthier economy and less overall debt among U.S. households this year, tax time is an excellent opportunity to start or add to a savings account because the hard work of saving has already been done.
Saving money is hard. To save even small amounts, you have to deny yourself or your family the immediate pleasure of spending. That’s not easy to do when you’ve already been putting off purchases to stay on budget. But having savings is important to individual families’ security as well as our national security. Most Americans already participate in a national savings plan called “federal withholding tax.” Although frequently maligned, withholding tax is relatively painless because the money comes out of your paycheck before you see it, touch it, or have to hand it over to the tax collector. Once you file your taxes, the extra money you saved in your withholding account is returned to you (without interest). Read more ..
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