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Agiriculture on Edge

'Monsanto Protection Act'? Separating Facts from the Fury

April 3rd 2013

wheat fields

The past week has seen a tsunami of stories about the  so-called “Monsanto Protection Act,” more accurately known as Section 735 of HR 933. It’s a tiny provision attached to a massive agricultural spending bill signed into law by President Obama last week.

According to detractors, Section 735 is the “most dangerous food act ever” and a “terrifying piece of policy.” Why? Because, among other claims, it purportedly allows biotech companies to sell seeds that can cause serious consumer health problems. Here is how Gawker frames it:

Section 735 effectively shields large biotech companies, like Monsanto, from the federal courts in case something is found to be harmful in their genetically-modified seeds. Because of Section 735, federal courts would be powerless to stop Monsanto from selling their product Read more ..


The Defense Edge

Betraying One of the CIA's 'Band of Sisters

April 2nd 2013

John Brennan

Former CIA director Mike Hayden credits "an incredible band of sisters" for the success of the operation that found and brought down Osama bin Laden. Now one of those sisters has been appointed acting chief of the CIA's National Clandestine service. It is a major milestone for women at the CIA, the first time in the agency's history that a female officer has headed the clandestine service.

But The Post reports that CIA Director John Brennan is "hesitating" at giving her the position on a permanent basis, because of her past association with the CIA's rendition, detention and interrogation (RDI) program.

This is an outrage. According to several former senior CIA officials I spoke with, the officer is highly respected and unquestionably qualified for this post. Denying her this promotion because of her role in the RDI program would not only be a personal injustice, but also send a chilling message through the ranks of the CIA. It would effectively tell hundreds of talented officers who were involved in the program - who constitute the best and brightest of the agency's counterterrorism professionals - that their careers are over. It would push the agency back into a risk-averse, pre-Sept. 11, 2001, mindset, sending an unmistakable signal to CIA officers across the world: Don't take risks in the fight against the terrorists; if you want to advance, play it safe. Read more ..


Greece on Edge

Is Greece the New Germany?

April 1st 2013

Golden Dawn - Greece

The political situation in Greece has been of concern to Jews since the beginning of the economic meltdown in 2009 set the stage for the rise of xenophobic and racist political parties.

According to Abraham Cooper and Harold Brackman of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, however, the problem is much bigger than that. Virulent antisemitism, they say, is spreading across the Greek political spectrum: Left, Right, and Center.

The biggest problem is obviously the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party, which had a major breakthrough in the last elections. It permits "only Aryans in blood and Greeks in descent" to join, and its leader has openly denied the Holocaust. Its members include gangs of thugs who regularly use violence against ethnic and religious minorities.

But Golden Dawn is not alone. The Right-wing Popular Orthodox Party has been growing more popular, and its leader has "raised the question of Jewish complicity in the 9/11 attacks in Parliament, stating that 'the Jews have no right to provoke, because they have filled the world with crimes.'" Read more ..


Broken Economy

Is a New Housing Crisis In the Offing?

March 31st 2013

Home Foreclosure

Jim Carr's response to my Senate testimony contains a major misconception about the 2008 financial crisis that is at the bottom of the left's mistaken view of the crisis. Unfortunately, that mistake has also shaped the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau's definition of the Qualified Mortgage (QM), so that-unless QM is changed--we will again bring about a collapsed housing market at some time in the future.

The left's fundamental mistake is to believe that the low quality mortgages that became delinquent and failed in 2007 and 2008 were the result of predatory lending. We don't have a very good definition of predatory lending--some think it is defined as a high cost loan--but we can pretty well characterize what is not predatory lending.

A loan to someone who has a 580 FICO score is not predatory; a loan to someone who makes a 3 percent downpayment is not predatory; and a loan to someone who has a 50 percent debt-to-income ratio is not predatory. Yet loans like this--which are currently insured by FHA--have claim rates through the normal credit cycle of 8-10 years of 27 percent. Read more ..


Cyprus on Edge

Picking Up the Cyprus Geopolitical Pieces

March 30th 2013

Putin

It's early on but some new disturbing geopolitical trends are emerging or being emphasized from the Cyprus Financial Crisis that go far beyond continuing the very real threat to the Euro and the whole economic structure of the European Union. Offstage, it has exposed the growing deterioration of the Russian regime of Vladimir Putin, dramatizing the question of how the world is to cope with a rapidly diminishing former superpower but one still armed with nuclear weapons and intercontinental ballistic delivery systems.

The foolishness of the Main-Stream Media blather about Moscow using the crisis to reinstall itself as a Mediterranean power, or indeed a major force beyond the confines of Eastern Europe and Central Asia, became quickly self-evident. The fact is that the once vaunted Soviet Black Sea fleet is now a pile of rusting junk, still anchored in Sevastopol by permission of Ukraine. Moscow and Kyiv, where there is now a more Russian-friendly regime, talk of swapping the Kremlin's gas for Ukraine's refurbishing this fleet from Ukraine plants is wishful-thinking on both sides.  

Moscow, increasingly feeling the heat of competitive lower cost gas producers for its northern monopoly European markets, is being left even further high and dry by the shale revolution's dynamiting of long-term energy prices. And Stalin did his work well: the dispersal of the Soviet military industrial complex for internal security reasons left a decapitated post-Soviet Moscow vulnerable with its various military manufacturing and test units in a half dozen independent countries now disorganized, disconnected and not always cooperative. Furthermore, the brief Yeltsin Boom detoured young workers out of the former all-powerful Soviet weapons complex and even the Indians are complaining of the quality of Russian exports as the Soviet overinvestment in military technology winds down. Read more ..


Mauritania on Edge

Arab Apartheid and Enslavement Continues in Mauritania

March 29th 2013

Slaving

Israel Apartheid Week has come and gone this year on many American campuses. It was, of course, a hoax: However much Arabs in Israel suffer, and whoever is to blame for it, there is no apartheid in Israel. Meanwhile, however, in Sudan and Mauritania, racist Arab societies enslave blacks. Today. Most of the slaves are African Muslims. Yet there is no Arab Apartheid Week on American campuses. Why not?

One might think American student activists would be upset about Mauritania, the West African country with the largest population of black slaves in the world – estimates range from 100,000 to more than a half-million. In Mauritania, slaves are used for labor, sex and breeding. The wholly owned property of their masters, they are passed down through generations, given as wedding gifts or exchanged for camels, trucks, guns or money.  Read more ..


Israel's Next Northern War

Israel's Insightful Cynicism

March 28th 2013

Soldiers-vehicle

Israel is in the process of watching a peace treaty unravel. I don't mean the one with Egypt, but the one with Syria. No, I'm not crazy. Since Henry Kissinger's shuttle diplomacy in 1974, the Israelis have had a de facto peace agreement of sorts with the al Assad family. After all, there were clear red lines that both sides knew they shouldn't cross, as well as reasonable predictability on both sides. Forget about the uplifting rhetoric, the requirement to exchange ambassadors and the other public policy frills that normally define peace treaties. What counts in this case is that both sides observed limits and constraints, so that the contested border between them was secure. Even better, because there was no formal peace agreement in writing, neither side had to make inconvenient public and strategic concessions. Israel did not have to give up the Golan Heights, for example. And if Syria stepped over a red line in Lebanon, or say, sought a nuclear capacity as it did, Israel was free to punish it through targeted military strikes. There was usefully no peace treaty that Israel would have had to violate.     Read more ..


America on Edge

Detroit's Financial Debacle Holds Lessons

March 28th 2013

Panic in Detroit

If we are going to save our cities, we need to get back to what built them in the first place: Freedom, enterprise and entrepreneurship. We are now hearing the usual voices of protest in Detroit in the wake of Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder appointing an outside expert to take over financial management of the near-bankrupt city. Detroit is the largest city in American history to be seized in this fashion and turned over to an outside manager. The city's reported deficit is $327 million and long-term liabilities are in the range of $14 billion.

But no matter to the unions, politicians and bureaucrats who have been at the helm for years as the city has spiraled into the depths of the black hole in which it now finds itself. These interest groups, which have been the driving force behind this fiscal travesty, have one interest: to keep their respective beds feathered. Citizens and public welfare be damned. So they cry foul when adult supervision is sent in to take on the formidable rescue task. Read more ..


Broken Healthcare

Medicare Stopped Paying Bills for Diagnostic Tests

March 27th 2013

Cat Scan

The Obama Administration has stopped the paying bills from hundreds of health care companies, and it has nothing to do with sequestration. This is a story of bureaucratic mismanagement at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, and the harm it’s visiting on the diagnostic testing industry.

At issue is the way that Medicare reimburses everyone from the big laboratory companies such as the Laboratory Corp of America (LH:NYSE) and Quest Diagnostics Inc. (DGX:NYSE), to the molecular diagnostic labs inside academic hospitals, and especially smaller firms that make proprietary tests used by doctors to more effectively target treatments to patients with conditions like cancer.

Some of these proprietary tests — focused around the more accurate diagnosis of prostate cancer — areprofiled in today’s edition of the New York Times. The incompetent manner in which Medicare has handled a change in the reimbursement of similar tests has the potential to stymie one of the most important and potentially cost-saving technologies in the pipeline. Read more ..


The Architectural Edge

Architectural Pornography: Saudi Arabia’s Kingdom Tower

March 27th 2013

skyscraper

Saudi Arabia announced its Kingdom Tower, a skyscraper aiming for a new world height record of over 1 kilometer high in the sky.

Boys, boys, boys, when will you learn that size doesn’t matter as much as performance? Next Azerbaijan broadcast plans to top that with their own mile-high cloud-puncher. Then Pakistan upstaged both with their own biggest building boast. And performance brings us full circle back to Team Saudi who just commissioned the project delivery team for their kilometer-high Kingdom Tower. Is this engineering ingenuity or architectural porn? Actions speak louder than empty press releases. Obama may have scratched another trip to the moon, but, regrettably, the terrestrial race towards the heavens is on. Saudi Arabia’s Kingdom Tower was first conceived years back. Geological testing commenced in 2008 for the planned one-mile-high structure. That initial engineering resulted in a down-sizing of tower height, which still bests Dubai’s Burj Khalifa. Read more ..


Cyprus on Edge

Cyprus Crisis Show Considerable Improvement, but Serious Risks Remain

March 26th 2013

Euro money

We can heave a sigh of relief about the revised Cyprus deal. Early this morning, Cyprus, the various European authorities, and the IMF found common ground on the outline of a deal that is much better than the very flawed agreement of the previous weekend. At the same time, the earlier botched proposal will carry some long-term costs and the actions taken now, while necessary, create real risks of their own.

The best news is simply that an agreement of any kind was reached, allowing European support to flow to Cyprus and preventing, for now anyway, the possibility of an exit from the eurozone. It is also very good news that insured bank depositors in Cyprus will be protected after all, eliminating a terrible precedent with repercussions across Europe. Further, there are real advantages to inflicting large losses on the uninsured depositors and the bondholders of the two largest Cypriot banks. This is by far the strongest message Europe has ever sent that people must pay attention to the strength of the banks with which they deal. It brings the hope that market discipline will finally be a significant aid to outright regulation in ensuring that European banks act prudently at all times. Read more ..


Iran's Nukes

In Iran Stand-off, Energy Market Believes U.S. is Bluffing

March 25th 2013

Iran centrifuges

The Obama administration has utterly failed to convince the world that it is serious when it says the U.S. would attack Iran if it does not halt its nuclear weapons program. Analysis of energy markets reveals that crude oil is trading today with no greater risk than stocks and currency. Even China, notoriously conservative when it comes to the energy imports upon which its economy depends, demonstrates little concern over the prospect that Gulf oil flows might be interrupted by American military action against Iran.

Do oil prices reflect the risk of a military strike against Iran's nuclear weapons program? This is not an academic question. If oil buyers ignore President Obama's claim that he is not bluffing about Iran, it is likely that the Iranian government will ignore it as well. Measurement of a risk premium in the oil price indirectly gauges the credibility of the Obama administration's stance towards Iran. The oil price has fallen by 16 percent during the past 12 months (from $107 to $90 for the benchmark West Texas Intermediate) as the Iranian nuclear threat has escalated. That suggests that the oil market does not assign a high probability that military force will be used against Iran. Read more ..


Broken Government

A Wrong Purple Moment for Obama and Boehner

March 24th 2013

Congress-senate

I have been writing this “Purple Nation” column for a long time, waiting for the “purple moment” when President Obama and Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) would agree on an important position on the budget and deficits. Little did I know that when it finally happened, I would be disappointed, to say the least.

“We don’t have an immediate crisis in terms of debt,” President Obama told ABC’s “Good Morning America” host George Stephanopoulos, in an interview that aired March 13. “In fact, in the next 10 years, it’s gonna be in a sustainable place.” Then a day or so later, Boehner said he agreed with the president!

Instead of cheering this as a magic purple moment, I could only think of this metaphor, which I believe is apt: There’s a ticking time bomb in your living room. You know the bomb will certainly explode in 10 to 15 years, and you choose only to reassure your family, “There is no ‘immediate’ danger. Read more ..


Israel and Turkey

Did Israel `Apologize’ to Turkey? Well, No, Not Exactly

March 24th 2013

Obama Bibi

Israel apologizes to Turkey, reads every headline. That simply isn’t true in the sense it is taken to imply. To understand what happened one must examine the long negotiations on this issue.

The issue began when several ships were sent to break the Israeli sanctions on the Gaza Strip in May 2010. These sanctions were put on by Israel—Egypt, then under the government of President Husni Mubarak, had its own restrictions—against a radical Islamist regime in the Gaza Strip that openly rejected peace, used terrorism, and called for genocide against the Jews and the elimination of Israel.

This flotilla was not interested in helping the people of Gaza. It refused to land the cargos in Israel and have them passed across the border after inspection. Rather, the goal was to help Hamas. A key role in the flotilla was played by the IHH, an Islamist group that has been involved in terrorism, backed by Turkey’s government. Read more ..


Cyprus on Edge

The Cyprus Farce

March 24th 2013

Euro Symbol

Cyprus's efficient money laundering services were a common knowledge, almost as the lore of Aphrodite's frolicking on the Island's sunny shores. Yet, until the bottom fell from under the banks that weren't smart enough to better invest the money, no one called out "the king is naked."

How much money was laundered? "Depending on how you count it," said Cyprus Central Bank governor Panicos Demetriades.

On Friday - calling the government scheme to tax all bank depositors big and small "bank robbery" -  the parliament nixed the plan. To prevent capital flight and a run on the banks when (if) they open on Tuesday, the government now has powers to control capital, close or reconstruct "bad banks," and other measures. Read more ..


Broken Healthcare

Medicare’s Outdated Structure—and the Urgent Need for Reform

March 23rd 2013

emergency room

Traditional Medicare, which liberals once envisioned as the foundation for national health insurance for all ages, is a fee-for-service model rooted in the 1960s. Its outdated structure makes the program fundamentally flawed, as the editors of The Washington Post remarked recently: “Medicare as we know it is not sustainable” and the “ultimate solution” is structural reform.

Medicare’s current structure determines the way it functions. It also entails certain undesirable consequences. For example, it requires Medicare beneficiaries to pay additional premiums and purchase supplemental coverage; employs price controls to control costs that often result in underpayment or overpayment for medical goods and services; places massive levels of detailed regulation on doctors, hospitals, and other medical professionals; generates tens of billions of dollars annually in waste, fraud, and abuse; and uses an administrative payment system that, as an arena for special interest lobbying, results in the politicization of decisions over health care financing and delivery for America’s senior and disabled citizens. Read more ..


Obama and Israel

Where Was The President When He Was Supposedly In Israel?

March 22nd 2013

Western Wall - Wailing Wall Jerusalem

What a week it has been for Jerusalem. The President of the United States arrived, transformed the King David Hotel into his (and his entourage’s) home away from home, and then began a series of meetings and visits – to the official residences of President Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu, to the Israel Museum and the Shrine of the Book, to the Jerusalem Convention Center, to Mount Herzl, Yad Vashem, and to the grave of former Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin.  All of these sites are in Jerusalem.  But are they in Israel?

According to the U.S. State Department they are not.  The State Department refuses to recognize Jerusalem as being in Israel and says that the city’s status must be determined in future peace negotiations.

My father, Nathan Lewin, and I were in court this week – the day before President Obama arrived in the Middle East – on a case that concerns this very issue.  The case is Zivotofsky v. Secretary of State, and it involves the right of a Jerusalem-born American citizen to self-identify as born in “Israel” on his or her U.S. passport and birth certificate.

The general rule for American citizens born abroad is that their U.S. passports list their country of birth as their place of birth.  So American citizens born in Paris, have “France” listed as their place of birth on their passports.  Citizens born in Rome list “Italy.”  Those born in Tel Aviv or Haifa list “Israel.”  But because the U.S. does not recognize Jerusalem as being in Israel, the State Department lists the city – “Jerusalem” – instead of the country as the place of birth for Jerusalem-born American citizens. Read more ..


Israel and Obama

The Uneasiness that Belies the Smiles

March 22nd 2013

Obama-Peres

Officials from Obama's inner circle are trying to lower the expectations of the Israeli and American publics. The visit's value lies in the fact that it is taking place, they say, to avoid any possibility that it will be perceived as a failure.

But they also realize this is a good time to do business with the Israeli government. Netanyahu is no longer "King Bibi" after the defeat in the elections and the humiliating coalition talks, while Obama is relatively free of pressures in his second and final term as president. Therefore, it is clear that Netanyahu will go to great lengths to erase the disputes of the past and provide a new boost for strategic cooperation.

On Monday we specified America's short-term goals in the Middle East: To ensure a constant supply of energy to the global market; stop the killing of civilians; prevent a regional nuclear arms race and the collapse of the Non-Proliferation Treaty; and to prevent the spread of radical Islam so it does not pose a real threat to Israel and the moderate, pro-Western Islamic regimes in the region. Another important goal is to preserve Washington's influence in the region in the face of Russia's attempts to diminish it. Read more ..


The Way We Are

Shame and Teen Pregnancy

March 21st 2013

Pregnant and alone

Does shame perform a useful social function? Is it legitimate for the state to engender feelings of shame to further public goals? Is the answer to either of these questions affirmative, in the case of teen pregnancy?

These are the key questions raised by the decision by New York officials to use controversial advertisements that highlight the impact of teen pregnancy on the life chances of the child. The apparently ‘liberal’ response has been to rail against Mayor Michael Bloomberg for shaming teen parents. The very idea of passing moral judgment makes many people of a liberal orientation queasy, especially in the U.S.

I have argued, by contrast, that there is a liberal case for shame as a form of non-coercive regulation towards better choices – including avoiding teen pregnancy. So, question 1: does shame ever have any positive role to play in a liberal society? Yes: it is in fact a valuable form of non-coercive regulation of behavior. As a general rule, we hope that illegal activities are also shameful ones. In many cases the shame might do more work than the sheriff. Drunk driving is a case in point. Read more ..


Obama and the Arabs

Hitler Praised in Official Palestinian Media as Obama Tours

March 20th 2013

Abbas UN

The official PA daily welcomed Barack Obama ahead of his visit to the region with a scathing anti-semitic and anti-American op-ed Monday.

“Our history is replete with lies… [including] the lie about Al-Qaeda and the September 11 events, which asserted that Muslim terrorists committed it, and that it was not an internal American action by the Freemasons,” the article states, while later calling former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt “alcoholics,” unlike Hitler who “hated alcohol and was not addicted to it.”

An op-ed in Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, March 18, 2013 by Hassan Ouda Abu Zaher stated: ‘History is a great lie written by the victors’ – said Napoleon Bonaparte, the source of dubious historical writing and father of Freemasonry in France. If so, is the history planted in us through TV and the standard educational curriculum indeed true? Read more ..


Obama's Second Term

Judiciary Committee Chairman Expresses Shock Over Perez Nomination

March 19th 2013

PBObama contemplative

Immediately following President Barack Obama's official nomination of Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez as the new Secretary of Labor in an announcement on Monday, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) bluntly stated, "I am shocked!"

Perez’s Justice Department division has overseen several voting rights cases against South Carolina and Texas, as well as numerous probes of police and sheriff’s departments including that of Arizona's Sheriff Joe Arpaio.

During the official nomination of Perez, Obama claimed, "Tom's knowledge and experience will make him an outstanding Secretary of Labor. And there's plenty of work to do."

However, Perez had been singled out by citizens groups and even fellow Justice Department staff members for his alleged improper conduct during an investigation of voter intimidation committed by the New Black Panther Party during the 2008 presidential election. Read more ..


Broken Government

The Postal Union Dilemma: Shirk to Survive or Corporatize

March 18th 2013

Post Office closed

Thursday's National Academy of Public Administration report on the United States Postal Service highlighted the need for reform. However, the proposal - which essentially recommends increased postal "worksharing," or greater private participation in such activities as mail collection, processing, and local mail transportation - might not work well for one of its key stakeholders: postal unions.

Many labor groups have already voiced their opposition to the concept. What they have not done is stepped back and pushed for a third way that promises growth opportunities for their members while addressing budgetary and business concerns. Yet there is a third way that allows the Postal Service, postal unions, and American taxpayers to emerge as winners.

First the context: Postal Service news continues to be grim. The USPS lost another $1.3 billion for the first quarter of its 2013 fiscal year, on top of the $16 billion lost in its 2012 fiscal year. The Postal Service's core business - the delivery of first-class letter mail - was down by 4.5 percent relative to the same quarter in 2012. Though standard mail was up 3.6 percent, fueled by the fall elections, and parcels were up 4 percent, the numbers are worse than they appear at first, since first-class mail is by far the Postal Service's most profitable business. Read more ..


The Iranian Threat

U.S. Challenges in North Korea

March 18th 2013

Launch with Un insert

As with Iran, talks and lax sanctions regimes have failed to prevent North Korea's nuclear buildup. Congratulating China's new president Xi Jingping, President Obama called Xi's attention to North Korea's nuclear and missile programs that increasingly threaten the United States and its allies. Obama "stressed the need for close coordination with China to ensure North Korea meets its denuclearization commitments."

The Chinese however, have their own agenda. "Whether China - which holds and manages life-support for Pyongyang with massive food and energy aid in exchange, in part, for metals imports - would or could force Pyongyang to back off is a moot point. There is evidence the new Chinese leadership like its predecessors is conflicted, especially with reported support for Pyongyang in the People's Liberation Army with its growing influence over all Beijing decision-making," observed Sol Sanders. Read more ..


Broken Healthcare

The Doctor Won't See You Now. He's Clocked Out.

March 17th 2013

echocardiogram on child

Big government likes big providers. That's why Obamacare is gradually making the local doctor-owned medical practice a relic. In the not too distant future, most physicians will be hourly wage earners, likely employed by a hospital chain.

Why? Because when doctors practice in small offices, it is hard for Washington to regulate what they do. There are too many of them, and the government is too remote. It is far easier for federal agencies to regulate physicians if they work for big hospitals. So Obamacare shifts money to favor the delivery of outpatient care through hospital-owned networks.

The irony is that in the name of lowering costs, Obamacare will almost certainly make the practice of medicine more expensive. It turns out that when doctors become salaried hospital employees, their overall productivity falls.

Obamacare's main vehicle for ending the autonomous, private delivery of medicine is the hospital-owned "accountable care organization." The idea is to turn doctors into hospital employees and pay them flat rates that uncouple their income from how much care they deliver. (Ending the fee-for-service payment model is supposed to eliminate doctors' financial incentives to perform extraneous procedures.)The Obama administration also imposes new costs on physicians who remain independent—for example, mandating that all medical offices install expensive information-technology systems. Read more ..


Obama's Second Term

Empty Charm Offensive

March 16th 2013

Obama

Last week, it was bipartisan fine dining, optimism and hope for change. This week, forget about it. Sarah Palin and Donald Trump are swooping into town for the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), President Obama’s top donors have assembled for a high-priced meeting to learn how to “advance his agenda” and unseat GOP lawmakers through Organizing for Action, and both sides have issued budgets premised on policies that drive the other party up the wall. Is this really how you get to a grand bargain?

Obama, just days ago, hosted dinner at D.C.’s Jefferson Hotel for a dozen Republicans critical to a fiscal deal who have demonstrated not only the most knowledge of the federal budget but a willingness to compromise. There he not only listened to their pleas but made his own about the timing and necessity for a deal. Then Wednesday morning, he told ABC News’s George Stephanopoulos that none of this is a big deal. “We don’t have an immediate crisis in terms of debt,” he said. “In fact, for the next 10 years, it’s gonna be in a sustainable place.” Really? Just ask anyone familiar with the trajectory for Medicare solvency. Read more ..


Islam's War Against Christianity

Israel a Christian Haven Amid Islamic Persecution

March 15th 2013

Egyptian Coptic Persecution

The so-called Arab Spring has given a big boost to radical Islamists like the Muslim Brotherhood. For Christians, it's been a much different story. Believers in Jesus are suffering major persecution throughout the Middle East and North Africa. 

But there is one place left in the region where they don't have to fear: Israel. Before Islam's prophet Muhammad died in 632 AD, he declared that no two religions could co-exist on the Arabian Peninsula, meaning Islam must reign supreme in the region. 

Muslim leaders there today take Muhammad's words seriously. Saudi Arabia's Grand Mufti recently issued a fatwa, or religious ruling, that all churches on the peninsula must be destroyed. The decree was a stunning statement by Saudi Arabia's top religious authority. Yet it received little attention in the mainstream press and the Obama administration has yet to comment.

"This is giving license to the destruction of churches, by the way, at a time when churches are being burnt in Egypt, in Nigeria, Iraq, Pakistan, Indonesia, country after country -- sometimes with the worshipers inside them," Cliff May, president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, said. May told CBN News the Saudi mufti's statements are part of a troubling pattern. Read more ..


Arab World on Edge

Polling 'Arab Street' in Qatar

March 15th 2013

Qatar road sign with Muslim garb

The "Arab street" is a popular cliché used to describe what people are thinking in the Middle East. But it's rarely clear how opinions are collected on this proverbial street.

One thing is obvious: There is serious need for a better understanding of the public's views in the Arab world as the region copes with ongoing social, economic and political challenges.

The University of Michigan is making a significant contribution to meeting this need. Partnering with Qatar University, U-M has helped create an institute that is doing the most rigorous, state-of-the-art social science research in the Arab Gulf. It's also among the very best research centers of its kind in the entire Arab region.

"There's no place that comes close to what we and our Qatari partners are doing," said Mark Tessler, a U-M political science professor and one of the principal investigators in the initiative. Read more ..


The New Egypt

The Brotherhood are the Real Egyptian Locust

March 14th 2013

Egypt's Locust

Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood should adopt the locust as the national symbol. Like the locust, the Muslim Brotherhood eats up everything, devastates the land's economy, turning sprouts of reform into scorching oppression.

As each day passes, the MB resembles more and more a plague of locusts swarming the country.  As the disorder and tenuousness of the Egyptians' existence gets worse and worse, the notion that "once in power" the Muslim Bothers will chose pragmatism over radicalism is fast eroding.

During months of on-again,off- again negotiations with the IMF, Egypt has turned down a $4.8 billion loan several times for different reasons, including pending approval by shari'a experts. On Sunday, Minister of Planning and International Cooperation Ashraf El-Araby said that Egypt does not need a bridge loan. Read more ..


Edge of the Cliff

Tuition Assistance to End for Military, but not for Illegal Immigrants

March 14th 2013

Soldier Crying

Across the board budget cuts, a/k/a sequestration, has forced the Army, Marine Corps and Air Force to halt their tuition assistance programs which are important to America's warriors, according to Pentagon Press Secretary George Little on Tuesday. However, this week the state of Colorado announced it was extending in-state tuition to illegal aliens, which amounts to thousands of dollars per student.

Little echoed others in the Obama administration who blame “sequestration” that kicked in March 1, 2013, dictating spending cuts that Pentagon officials repeatedly warned Americans would harm the nation’s military readiness.

“Let me be clear: we’re here because of sequestration,” Little said. “If sequestration were averted, we may be facing a different set of choices on these and other programs.” Read more ..


Broken Banking

Faux Outrage Over 'Too Big to Jail'

March 14th 2013

Eric holder

Attorney General Eric Holder's statement that some U.S. banks have grown so large that they cannot be prosecuted was apparently an exciting moment for proponents of breaking up the big banks. "Too big to jail!" has almost overnight become this group's battle cry. Unfortunately, like most of the chatter in this area, it is ill-informed and reeks of ideological motivations instead of common sense.

Corporations or banks do not violate the law. Their officers, employees—sometimes even their boards of directors—violate the law. This includes money laundering, fraud, theft and every other crime known to the justice system. That means the proper defendants when an institution of any kind has violated the law are those who conspired to direct it in that path, not the firm itself.

It was not long ago that the Justice Department, foolishly, indicted the auditing firm Arthur Andersen for its employees' behavior in the Enron matter. The result was the destruction of the firm's practice and a reduction in the number of global U.S. auditing firms from five to four, severely limiting competition where it was already weak.

After this happened, people in Washington looked at one another and asked why DOJ would do such a dumb thing. The people in Arthur Andersen who were responsible for the audit of Enron were known. They could have been indicted instead of the firm. There were thousands of Andersen employees and firm leaders who were entirely innocent of any wrongdoing in Enron; all of them lost their jobs. Read more ..


Gaza On Edge

Of Course Hamas Killed the Baby

March 13th 2013

Gaza baby death

The recent disclosure that Omar Misharawi, the baby son of BBC reporter Jihad Misharawi, was actually killed by an errant Hamas rocket rather than by an Israeli missile, should have absolutely no moral implications. Of course the baby was killed by Hamas. He would have been killed by Hamas even if the missile that ended his life had been fired by Israel. Hamas is totally and wholly responsible for this death, as it is responsible for every civilian death in Gaza and in Israel. It is Hamas that always begins the battle by firing rockets at Israeli civilians. Generally Israel does not respond. When it does, its rockets occasionally kill Palestinian civilians. That's because Hamas wants Palestinians civilians, especially babies, to be killed by Israelis rockets. They want Palestinian babies to be killed precisely so that they can display the kind of photographs that were shown around the world: a grieving father holding his dead baby, presumably killed by an Israeli rocket. For years, I have called this Hamas' "dead baby strategy." The recent United Nations finding simply confirms the reality of this cynical strategy.  Read more ..


Broken Economy

Are Low Appraisal Values a Problem in Housing?

March 12th 2013

Home Foreclosure

Headlines such as Unrealistically Low Appraisal Values in Up Markets a Problem and Low Valuation in Home Appraisals Causing Steady Level of Contract Glitches are commonly used by the National Association Realtors (NAR).

Consider this statement: “Although 65 percent of Realtors® surveyed in September report no contract problems relating to home appraisals over the past three months, 11 percent said a contract was cancelled because an appraised value came in below the price negotiated between the buyer and seller, 9 percent reported a contract was delayed, and 15 percent said a contract was renegotiated to a lower sales price as a result of a low valuation.”

This gives the distinct impression that low appraisals are endemic since 35 percent of Realtors had at least one instance of a contract problem relating to a home appraisal. However, the fact that 35 percent experienced an instance of a low appraisal tells us nothing about the actual prevalence or rate of low appraisals being experienced in the marketplace. For that we would need to know the total number of appraisals covered by the survey and the number that came in low. Of course, information on the distribution of the lows and highs would also be helpful. Read more ..


Broken Healthcare

Taking Advantage of Medicare Advantage

March 12th 2013

medicine and money #2

Facing government cuts to one of their cash cows—private Medicare plans—health insurance companies have launched a multi-pronged campaign, financed by the customer premiums, to persuade Congress to keep the cuts from going into effect next month.

The industry’s big PR and lobbying group, America’s Health Insurance Plans, is deploying the tactics I described in Deadly Spin to scare seniors into believing that if the federal government stops overpaying insurers that offer Medicare Advantage plans (the private alternative to the traditional government-run Medicare program) seniors will “pay more, get less and lose choices.”

“U.S. Health Insurers Launch TV War Over Medicare Advantage Cuts,” read the headline of a Reuters story last week when AHIP’s ads started running. At issue is a 2.3 percent cut in payments to Medicare Advantage plans by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) that are scheduled to go into effect on April 1. Read more ..


The New Egypt

Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood Angry at Hamas, Cuts Off Weapons

March 11th 2013

Morsi

Something both positive and revealing has just happened and while it undermines one prediction of mine it reinforces another. I’m delighted to see it.

I predicted that since Egypt’s ruling Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt is a radical, Islamist group that wants to wipe Israel off the map and the ruling Hamas group in the Gaza Strip is part of the Muslim Brotherhood as well as also being a radical Islamist group and wants to wipe Israel off the map that the Egyptian regime would cooperate with Hamas in fomenting terrorism against Israel by facilitating the flow of arms, money and terrorists to the Gaza Strip. for that purpose.

In fact, though, it has now become clear that the Brotherhood regime is stopping weapons and other things from entering the Gaza Strip. (As did its predecessor, the Mubarak regime.) Read more ..


Broken Healthcare

The Affordable Care Act Negatively Impacts the Supply of Labor

March 11th 2013

Premature Baby

Labor market distortions are common within the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA/Obamacare). Employers are faced with uncertainty at every turn. As observed from the recently released Federal Reserve beige book, this uncertainty restrains hiring.

While substantial attention has been given to the employer side, the employee side also experiences many distortionary effects. Some of these distortions include incentives to reduce hours, not seek work, drop insurance coverage, drop dependent coverage, become divorced, or avoid marriage. It is apparent that Obamacare’s effects extend far past the number of employees a business will employ, or how many hours a week an employee will be allowed to work. Read more ..


Broken Healthcare

A PTSD Knighthood, and Narrative

March 10th 2013

I wanna go home

Simon Wessely, esteemed British psychiatrist and researcher, is now Sir Simon. Last month, the Queen bestowed knighthood upon the 57-year-old King’s College professor for his pioneering work to improve mental health services in the British armed forces.

News of this glorious honor should promote the work of Sir Simon — who is both my friend and colleague — far and wide. Within the field of psychiatry, his studies on the history of combat-related post-traumatic stress disorder, its features and treatment should be mandatory reading.

Among his most powerful findings is the vast role that social and psychological contexts play in the manifestation of postwar distress. This holds great significance for how the military and clinicians think about the psychological casaulty of war, address the problem of suicide among veterans, and ease soldiers’ re-entry into civilian life. Read more ..


Venezuela on Edge

Igniting the Post-Chavez Explosion

March 10th 2013

Chavez-Supporters

Hugo Chavez’s death could very well result in an uncertain and unstable succession battle that will define Venezuela’s future for better or worse. With that country one of the world’s largest exporters of crude oil and the fourth-largest supplier of crude oil and petroleum products to the United States, the Obama administration needs to get active in helping to shape events in a positive direction.

It will not be easy, given the levels of acrimony and polarization that Mr. Chavez leaves in his wake. Still, it presents an extraordinary opportunity to pull Venezuela back into the peaceful community of regional nations, after more than a decade of Mr. Chavez’s troublemaking that has set back regional prospects for stability and economic development. Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

Meeting Tunisia's Ansar al-Sharia

March 9th 2013

Ansar al-Sharia

An expert on jihadist groups travels to Tunisia to see how one key faction is using a potent social-welfare approach to win hearts and minds.

I walk through a Tunisian market around midday, at the entrance to the fortress of Sousse, a town about 90 minutes southeast of the capital Tunis on the coast. A man is selling Salafi books and copies of the Quran from a maple wood table, 12 feet long, in front of a small masjid inside the old fortress walls, which were built in the ninth century by the Aghlabid caliph Ziyadat Allah I.

Two men are sitting nearby, at the edge of a dry, broken-down fountain, enjoying the sunny and mild weather. I approach them, along with three Tunisian friends, to ask for an interview. One dismisses me outright, gets up and leaves. He thinks I am in the American mukhabarat (intelligence). The other accepts. I sit next to him, shake his hand, and we both exchange salam alaykum pleasantries. "Are You Muslim or a non-Muslim?" he asks. Read more ..


The Way We Are

A Class Act

March 9th 2013

Michelle Obama

Something happened last week that was political, gratuitous and embarrassing for our country — and it actually can’t be blamed on the sequester. Out of nowhere, the first lady of the United States appeared at the Academy Awards and announced the winner for Best Picture. Not landing by helicopter, not inside an egg like Lady Gaga, but via satellite from the White House, where she was hosting the nation’s governors for dinner, surrounded by smiling military personnel.

Immediately, the appearance — not her idea, but an invitation — became a national subject of scorn. Most of the first lady’s detractors were conservatives, like Michelle Malkin, who slammed “the White House-Hollywood industrial complex.” Jennifer Rubin of The Washington Post blogged: “It is not enough that President Obama pops up at every sporting event in the nation. Now the first lady feels entitled, with military personnel as props, to intrude on other forms of entertaining (this time for the benefit of the Hollywood glitterati who so lavishly paid for her husband’s election) ... it makes both the president and the first lady seem small and grasping.” Read more ..


Broken Government

FDA's New Tobacco Scheme: Success or Failure

March 8th 2013

Several years ago, the federal government entered into a Faustian bargain with the tobacco industry — and the cigarette makers with the government. It was legislation borne of mutual antipathy.

Under the scheme, Washington brought the tobacco industry under the thumb of federal regulation. FDA now oversees everything from the way cigarettes are marketed, to the manner in which they are made. In exchange, the tobacco industry was promised a regulatory track out of their current (declining) business model.

FDA was to create a path to enable cigarette makers to transition away from smoked tobacco and win government approval of consumable products that used tobacco but presumably harbored less, and perhaps even none of the health risks posed by smoking. When this quid pro quo was pushed through Congress, the industry’s critics and allies each positioned it as a win-win. But it was dependent on FDA being able to establish – and maintain – a regulatory path that let tobacco get approval for new products that posed a “reduced harm” over traditional smoked cigarettes.

One of the tobacco industry’s biggest backers of the bill was Altria Group [NYSE:MO]. It has perhaps the most to gain from the legislation, and to lose. It always seemed a naïve aspiration — that FDA would ever sanction such products – and even more uncertain that the anti-tobacco crowd would let this paradigm advance. Now, each side’s ambitions (and the law’s spirit) are being tested. Read more ..



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