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Venezuela on Edge

The Strange Return of Hugo Chavez

February 18th 2013

Hugo Chavez infirm

“Hugo Chavez returns to Venezuela after Cuba cancer care,” announced the BBC. “Hugo Chavez returns home to Venezuela,” reported the Associated Press. “Chavez in surprise return from Cuba,” said Reuters. All these headlines make clear that after a two-month sojourn in Cuba for cancer treatment, Chavez is back.

Or is he? Buried in the Reuters story is the following sentence: “Unlike previous returns to Venezuela after treatment, state media showed no images of Chavez this time.” Even Venezuela’s state broadcaster was reduced to using an archive image showing Chavez on one of his previous returns from Cuba. Indeed, the only evidence we have of Chavez’s return are three tweets issued from the Comandante’s feed, which until today had been dormant since November 1st.

In quick succession, Chavez thanks God for returning him to his Venezuelan fatherland, thanks Fidel and Raul Castro for their hospitality in Cuba, and assures us that through his faith in both Christ and his medical team, Venezuelans are going “ever onward to victory!!” (“Hasta la victoria siempre!!”) Read more ..


The Edge of Justice

Jesse Jackson's Son to be Imprisoned for Corruption

February 17th 2013

Jesse Jackson, Jr

In what's being touted by Republicans as an example of liberal-left and Democratic Party hypocrisy, the son of civil-rights leader Jesse Jackson, Jesse, Jr., is facing federal jail time for turning his campaign war chest into a private slush fund for him and his wife, according to the Department of Justice on Friday.

Democratic Congressman Jesse Jackson, Jr., and his spouse Sandra, agreed to enter guilty pleas to felony charges stemming from Jackson's use of more than three-quarters of a million dollars in campaign funds for non-campaign items including celebrity memorabilia, a $50,000 wristwatch, and furs for Mrs. Jackson.

"Here we have a perfect example of hypocrisy in Washington: a liberal-left congressman who is on record complaining about businessmen who live lavish lifestyles and who 'don't pay their fair share.' It turns out that Mr. Fair Share is using campaign funds -- donated by voters who put their trust in him -- to put on the 'Ritz,'" said Michael Baker, a conservative political strategist and attorney. Read more ..


Israel on Edge

Israel's Challenging Diplomatic Predicament

February 16th 2013

Western/Wailing Wall

In light of developments over the last few years, there has been a growing realization in Israel that the chances of reaching a complete final status agreement with the Palestinians are presently extremely small. This is not just an ideological position coming out of certain quarters in Israel, but it is also the professional view of practitioners who have been involved in the political process itself.

Last June in an interview in Haaretz, Professor Itamar Rabinovich, Israel's former ambassador to Washington and head negotiator with Syria, reached this very conclusion. He added, as part of his proof of this point, that "the bold proposals" by former prime ministers Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert were not even responded to by the Palestinians. Looking back on Olmert's far-reaching proposals, Mahmoud Abbas himself told The Washington Post on May 29, 2009 that the gaps between the parties were just too wide. Read more ..


Obama's Second Term

State of the Union Carefully Conceals Foreign Policy Disasters

February 14th 2013

Obama and Flag

While the State of the Union message was overwhelmingly domestically oriented, the foreign policy sections were most interesting. I’ll review them here.

The president began in the same neo-patriotic mode used in the second inaugural address, with a special emphasis on thanking U.S. troops. He used the imagery of the end of World War Two paralleling the return of troops from Iraq to promote his idea that the American economy must be totally restructured.

Obama defined his main successes—careful to credit the military (whose budget he seeks to cut deeply and whose health benefits he’s already reduced) rather than his usual emphasis on taking the credit for himself—were the following points:

“For the first time in nine years, there are no Americans fighting in Iraq.

“For the first time in two decades, Osama bin Laden is not a threat to this country.

“Most of Al Qaida’s top lieutenants have been defeated. The Taliban’s momentum has been broken. And some troops in Afghanistan have begun to come home.” Read more ..


Broken Economy

Tim Geithner a Champion of Big Banks, But Not a Shill

February 13th 2013

Geithner

Some people were surprised this week when Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner announced his post-Obama job: distinguished fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.

There was, as Matt Yglesias noted at Slate, a widespread belief that Geithner would land a job on Wall Street. For one thing, everyone cashes out these days. But Geithner, particularly, was friendly to Wall Street.

At the NY Fed, Geithner was something of a mastermind of the Bear Stearns bailout and the AIG bailout, and a guiding force behind the TARP. In Obama’s Treasury, Geithner expanded TARP and made it more generous to the big banks. He presided over a bailout and regulatory regime that resulted in saving failed megabanks like Citigroup and increasing the market share of the five biggest banks. Read more ..


Obama's Second Term

Brennan Defends Obama Drone Program

February 12th 2013

MQ-1 Predator Drone

President Barack Obama's national security advisor and nominee to serve as Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) director defended the Obama administration's secretive drone assassination program this past weekend on the Sunday morning news shows.

John Brennan, who currently oversees the unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) program at the Obama White House, was faced with questions from lawmakers from both political parties during the confirmation hearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Brennan conceded that there continues to be intense debate over the Obama administration's counterterrorism efforts. But he claimed President Obama only used drone strikes as a preventative tool against imminent terrorist threats, not as a method of execution for past acts. Read more ..


Turkey on Edge

Obama Reluctant to Put His Hand into the Syrian 'Beehive'

February 11th 2013

Syria Pro-Assad demonstration

As the civil war in Syria grinds on, refugees flood into crowded camps. So far, the Obama administration has remained cautious about intervening militarily, even while humanitarian appeals have streamed from Syria and to the international community. In Turkey, political and terrorist activities on the part of Kurdish nationals continue to roil the political climate just as concerns over how the outcome of the Syrian conflict might affect the Kurds living in Turkey.

Iran and its Hezbollah proxies are involved on the ground in the conflict, while Russia continues to prop up its long-term ally in the person of dictator Bashr al-Assad and his regime. Israel looks on warily - largely because of the possibility that Syria's stockpile of chemical weapons might fall into the hands of terrorists. Read more ..


Obama's Second Term

Two Cheers for Rebranding

February 10th 2013

Paul Ryan

Ever since Mitt Romney lost the presidential election, there’s been a lot of talk about how the Republican party needs to “rebrand” itself.

Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal wants, among other things, for the GOP to stop being “the stupid party.” Representative Paul Ryan has concluded that the watchword for the Republican party needs to be “prudence.” Senator Marco Rubio is the frontman for the most tangible aspect of the rebranding effort: getting on the right side of the immigration issue. In the process, he’s become something of the de facto point person for the party.

The latest entrant into this effort: House Majority Leader Eric Cantor. On Tuesday, Cantor gave a well-received speech at the American Enterprise Institute (where I am a fellow), titled “Making Life Work.” In it, Cantor argued for utterly reasonable conservative solutions that would improve the plight of the working poor and the middle class. Read more ..


Broken Healthcare

Governors: Let US Build Flawed Healthcare, Then Duck

February 9th 2013

Docs and Tech

The post-election rollout of the Obama administration's plans to implement insurance exchanges in time for January 2014 enrollment has met substantial state government opposition, raised more questions than answers, and flashed warning signs of a train wreck ahead.

Thirty-three states — a clear majority — still are not fully on board with running their own exchanges to comply with the dictates of the Affordable Care Act. Most of those states — as many as 23 — would rather leave the daunting implementation process entirely in the hands of federal officials. The strong resistance of many state governors — who are being asked to build the key regulatory architecture for Obamacare — is fully justified.

While it may simply be good short-term politics for Republican state officials looking to avoid the blame for ongoing complications and contradictions that were made in Washington, it should also reinforce a more principled strategy to support a better version of choice and competition for diverse health insurance products. Read more ..


American Times

Reviving American Liberalism with a Dose of Anger

February 8th 2013

Koch carter moynihan
(L to R) Sen. Moynihan, Pres. Carter, Gov. Carey, Mayor Koch

The rapturous praise for the late New York Mayor Ed Koch tames his legacy, overlooking the fact that in 1988 the Atlantic called him “disgraceful” while the New York Times declared his “relentless … truculence” and “tantrum[s],” embarrassing and “inflammatory.” Beyond the kind sentiment, caricaturing Koch as a feisty lone gunslinger wisecracking his city back to health misses the deeper historical significance of Koch’s attempt to save liberalism from itself, as well as the broader ambivalence Americans have had with political anger.

Ed Koch, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, and other practitioners of the politics of patriotic indignation understood, especially in the 1970s, that sometimes anger is the rational response to challenges -- and can certainly pay off politically. They used flashes of anger -- and wit -- to inspire Americans while seeking to preserve a more muscular, patriotic liberalism under assault from the more self-critical, McGovernik, identity-politics-driven New Left. Read more ..


The Edge of Foreign Policy

Rand Paul's Side Effects

February 8th 2013

Rand Paul

It is hard to square the speech of Senator Rand Paul (R., Ky.) at the Heritage Foundation Wednesday with the global and political context in which he spoke. The speech was an erudite exposition of a foreign policy of restraint, retrenchment, and containment as described by George Kennan at the start of the Cold War. It was a warning against foreign entanglements and the threat posed to the separation of powers by the presidential practice of avoiding formal declarations of war when sending American troops overseas. It was, above all, a call to avoid backing ourselves into a corner that would make war with Iran inevitable. It was, in other words, a more artful defense of the foreign policy of the Obama administration than that administration has ever made itself.

Passing for the moment the wisdom of the foreign policy Senator Paul is proposing, we note that the shrillness of his warnings against war are bizarre at a moment when the president — with no meaningful opposition from Congress — has completely withdrawn U.S. troops from Iraq, allowed his intention to withdraw almost completely (or perhaps completely) from Afghanistan to be leaked, refused to support Syrian rebels in any meaningful way, removed the U.S. from playing any significant role in the unraveling of Egypt, and indicated his intention to reduce the American military dramatically. Read more ..


Broken Economy

Tax Hikes You May Have Forgotten About

February 8th 2013

Obamacare

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) has a lot to do with tax policy, and the new taxes it created are starting to add up. A 2.3 percent medical device excise tax will raise $1.7 billion in revenues this year, while the new unearned income Medicare contribution tax on high-income savers will raise $20.5 billion. A tax on pharmaceuticals that took effect in 2011 will also raise $2.9 billion this year.

One of the next ACA taxes scheduled to take effect is a health insurance tax that will hit small businesses and their employees particularly hard. The tax is officially imposed on health insurance companies, but the greatest effect will be felt by their customers because the insurance companies will pass most of the burden on through higher premiums. An analysis by the nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation found that the tax will raise insurance premiums on average by $350-$400 per affected family in 2016. Read more ..


Obama's Second Term

Rocky Reboot for GOP

February 7th 2013

Obama

Reset. Rebrand. Reframe. Reposition. Renew. Call it what you want, Republicans are exhausted. It has been three months since the bruising election of 2012, when political rehabilitation began anew for the GOP. After wandering the wilderness for a few years then winning a historic House majority in 2010, another makeover wasn’t exactly what the party had in mind. With the White House in their sights but out of reach until they overcome certain demographic liabilities, Republicans are searching once again.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) mounted the most conspicuous public relations effort yet with a major speech this week, defending GOP principles as those best suited for opportunity and economic growth for the middle class. Not much new there, but it was wrapped in soothing aspirational calls for the fulfillment of dreams in a speech Cantor titled “Making Life Work.” Similarly, newly reelected Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus has told the Republicans they need to be the “happy party.” Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal was more direct: Republicans need to stop being the “stupid party,” he said. And GOP pollster Kellyanne Conway has instructed House Republicans to stop talking about rape. Read more ..


Broken Economy

Which Depositors Should Suffer Losses When a Bank Fails?

February 7th 2013

I Bailed Out a Bank

As the Europeans busily discuss how to provide bailouts from the "European Stability Mechanism" directly to banks, Jyrki Katainen, the prime minister of Finland (a country whose government has triple-A bond ratings), has asserted that the "mind-set" must be changed "from bail-out to bail-in."

When it comes to sharing in the losses of failing banks, Katainen asserts, in particular, that shareholders and bondholders should take losses – absolutely right — and that "only in rare, exceptional occasions, public money should be used" —again right, although the historical record demonstrates that such occasions are not a rare as one might hope. 

But Katainen did not mention depositors. What about them? Depositors are lenders to banks by another name. A remarkable feature of virtually all discussions of banking crises these days is that they simply assume depositors should always be protected, and that money should be taken from taxpayers to give to depositors to enforce this proposition, if need be. In the U.S., large depositors are theoretically at risk, but usually the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. arranges mergers of failed banks so that all depositors are, in fact, protected. Moreover, in the financial crisis of the 2000s, all size limits for deposit insurance were increased and the FDIC model was widely praised. Read more ..


The Media on Edge

Reporting on Mali War Reveals Media Bias about Gaza

February 6th 2013

French troops Mali

I support France’s military action in Mali. But the media’s reaction to it – when contrasted with coverage of Israel’s military actions in Gaza – reveals flagrant double standards. More on that after my reasons for supporting France’s Mali operation.

Islamists – like those who overran Mali last March – reverse human progress and bring misery to those they subjugate: women, religious minorities, moderate Muslims, secularists, gays, and anyone else who doesn’t accept their primitive worldview. Islamists vitiate Islam, twisting its meaning and practice to advance their real aim: brute power. To that end, they break whatever Islamic and non-Islamic laws they please, engaging in drug smuggling, kidnapping, human trafficking, victimizing perceived opponents, and murdering innocents. Read more ..


Significant Lives

Despite the Contrarians, Mayor Koch was a True Liberal

February 6th 2013

Ed Koch RIP

Ed Koch was laid to rest with applause for leading his city out of the despair of the 1970s with bluff, bluster and chutzpah. Yet the Koch mayoralty, for all its theater, was also a turning point. In complex and contradictory ways, Koch hastened the shift from a liberal New York that dates to the 1930s to the more conservative city of today. His record bears marks of both.

When I interviewed Koch in 2010 for a book about New York City from LaGuardia to Bloomberg, he said he wanted to be remembered as the mayor who restored the city’s confidence after the fiscal crisis; balanced the city’s budget; built affordable housing on a massive scale; and reformed the process of selecting judges to take the politics out. All three were measures (excepting perhaps the pride in budget balancing) that any liberal Democrat could endorse. Yet his style and policies gave him a reputation as a conservative. Read more ..


Paraguay on Edge

Election Process Roiled in Paraguay Following Death of Populist Candidate

February 5th 2013

Paraguay Filizzola (L) Alegre (R)
Rafael Filizzola, wearing scarf, and Efrain Alegre.

Lino Oviedo, a polarizing political figure and candidate in Paraguay’s April presidential election, died in a helicopter crash on February 2 while returning from the country’s Chaco region. The death of the 69-year-old former army officer throws the current political process wide open and has increased uncertainty in a country where in 2012 former President Fernando Lugo was impeached and removed from office.

Even while the Paraguayan government has ruled that the helicopter crash was an accident, members of Oviedo’s National Union of Ethical Colorados (UNACE) party openly questioned whether their favourite had been assassinated. Paraguay was officially commemorating the 1989 overthrow of long-term dictator Alfredo Stroessner on the day of the crash which also killed Oviedo’s aide and the pilot. Aviation authorities said the helicopter crashed during a storm in northern Paraguay but averred that an investigation will continue. Read more ..


Obama's Second Term

Why Today’s American Foreign Policy Is So Unrealistic

February 3rd 2013

obama binocular

One of the main features of this misguided contemporary foreign policy debate is the corruption of the concept of Realism.  In some ways, the school called Realism was simply a way of teaching principles long regarded as obvious in Europe to Americans, whose idealism about the world had both good and bad implications. Both isolationism and the idea that America’s mission is to spread democracy are typical non-Realist patterns of how American exceptionalism plays into foreign policy thinking. That’s why the concepts that made up Realism were introduced to the United States by Hans Morgenthau, a refugee from Germany, and most clearly practiced in office by Henry Kissinger, ditto.

But American policymakers–with notable and often disastrous exceptions–have mostly used a Realist approach in their work to the point that they take it for granted. At times, of course, ideology has overridden Realism, with the two most obvious cases being Jimmy Carter and Barack Obama. Republican presidents, for a reason we will see in a moment, have tended to be more universally Realist because they have accepted the idea of the predominance of national interest and power. The one who was probably least so was George W. Bush. Read more ..


Obama's Second Term

A Not-So-Doomed GOP

February 2nd 2013

Obama

The Republicans are doomed. Conservatism is over. President Obama is conducting a mop-up operation at this point. That’s the basic consensus in places like New York City; Washington, D.C.; and other citadels of blue America.

And let’s be fair, liberals have every reason to gloat — a little. The GOP has its troubles. Long-term demographic trends; often-irrational animosity from Hollywood, the media, and academia; a thumbless grasp of the culture on the part of many Republicans: All of these things create a headwind for the party and the broader conservative movement.

But here’s the weird part. That’s all true of presidential politics, but less so when it comes to state politics or even other federal races. In 2010, the GOP had its best performance in congressional races since 1938. In North Carolina, a state that is supposed to represent the trends benefitting Democrats — it’s attracting liberal northern transplants, immigrants, high-tech workers, etc. — the GOP now has veto-proof majorities in the state house and senate. Last November, North Carolina became the 30th state with a GOP governor. What gives? Read more ..


Obama's Second Term

Say No To Hagel

February 1st 2013

Chuck Hagel

Now that leading Jewish Democrats have endorsed the Hagel nomination for defense secretary, his confirmation is likely to be approved, despite the fact that a liberal newspaper such as The Washington Post challenged the appropriateness of the nomination. Even The New York Times at one stage conceded that “some Obama aides had doubts about the wisdom of the choice.”

Christians United for Israel this week brought over 400 of its members to Washington to lobby against the appointment. However major Jewish organizations such as the ADL and the American Jewish Committee have withdrawn from the controversy and the only Jewish group continuing to battle against the nomination is the Zionist Organization of America. Individual Jewish Democrats such as Alan Dershowitz and Ed Koch have also become silent. Read more ..


Broken Healthcare

Delay, Repeal, Replace

January 31st 2013

Obamacare Protest

Watching Congress take the final steps to pass Obamacare in March 2010 was a bitterly disappointing moment for the law’s opponents. They didn’t have to be told that what was being rammed through the House and Senate was the largest power grab by the federal government in at least a generation, with immense consequences for the nation’s economic vitality and political health. Opponents understandably redoubled their efforts to see the law repealed and replaced, and Republicans rode the popular revolt against the excesses of Obamacare all the way to a landslide midterm victory.

Unfortunately, the two best opportunities to stop the law in its tracks were missed. At the Supreme Court, Chief Justice John Roberts twisted himself into a pretzel to conclude that the law’s centerpiece, the individual mandate, was constitutional (but only as a “tax”), and President Obama beat back the campaign of former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, securing a second term. As a consequence, outright repeal is off the table for at least four years. Read more ..


Obama's Second Term

It Isn't Time to Thank President Obama for Helping Charities

January 31st 2013

Obama

With tax law changes swirling around us every day, nonprofit executives like me lie awake nights wondering how these changes will affect the charitable giving on which we depend. Will the recent tax increases hurt us, as so many journalists and commentators have warned? And what will be the effect of the changes President Obama still plans to seek?

We don’t have to speculate. We have data about which fears are legitimate and which ones are not. And some may find the truth surprising.

Predictably, the deal that emerged over the holidays featured President Obama’s promised tax-rate comeuppance for America’s dreaded “millionaires and billionaires,” raising the top marginal income-tax rate from 35 percent to 39.6 percent It also reintroduced an old law (the so-called “Pease” provision) that slightly lowers the value of all deductions.

In these policies, some observers predict a hard blow to charitable giving. In the long run, it is true that the best way to ensure healthy giving is a stable and growing economy in which Americans have an incentive to earn more money—and that will happen only if they can keep what they earn. In the short run, however, the tax changes just adopted will actually raise giving slightly. Read more ..


Obama's Second Term

Newspaper Proves Hagel in 2003 Insisted that Israel Keeps ‘Palestinians Caged Up Like Animals’

January 30th 2013

Chuck Hagel

The Washington Free Beacon has reported quotations by Defense secretary nominee Chuck Hagel that reflect flammable opinions that minimize the actions of terrorists and castigate Israel in no uncertain terms. Read the artcle here. Using videotaped speeches, the Beacon countered Hagels' protests of "what he called the “completely distorted” record on Israel that his critics are promoting in an interview earlier this month with his hometown newspaper." The Beacon wrote: "The former Nebraska senator said an accurate assessment would show “unequivocal, total support for Israel.” Yet a decade earlier, the same newspaper–the Lincoln Journal Star–quoted Hagel making a startling accusation against Israel in a Jan. 12, 2003 article. Israel, Hagel declared, was “keep[ing] Palestinians caged up like animals.” Read more ..


The New Egypt

Failure Is an Option in Egypt

January 30th 2013

Flames in Cairo

It is an axiom of the bi-partisan foreign policy consensus that failure in Egypt is not an option. America has invested nearly $60 billion in aid to Egypt since Egypt and Israel signed a peace treaty in 1977, and the Egyptian-American relationship has remained a pillar of U.S. foreign policy for nearly half a century. As Sen. John McCain said in a Jan. 17 statement on behalf of a Congressional delegation in Cairo,

Among our group here, Democrats and Republicans, there is plenty that we disagree about. But when it comes to Egypt, we largely speak with one voice. We all believe that what happens in Egypt will have a decisive impact on the future of this entire region. We all believe in the continued importance of the U.S.-Egypt relationship. We were all early supporters of the peaceful aspirations of the Egyptian people that inspired your revolution nearly two years ago - for democracy, for economic opportunity, for the protection of justice and human rights under the rule of law. And we have come to Cairo with one major message: For us in the United States, especially in the Congress, the promise of Egyptian revolution is the opportunity is has presented us to recast our relationship with Egypt - to make it a truly strategic partnership between our peoples, our nations, and our elected governments, not one that rests narrowly on one person or one party. Read more ..


Economic Jihad

Taxpayer Funded BDS at CUNY Is Illegitimate, Racist and Anti-Semitic

January 30th 2013

Boycott Israel

In my 13 years as a trustee of CUNY, I’ve had plenty of opportunity to observe the intellectual corruption and anti-Semitism of many in America’s academic elite. I hear about it from trustees in colleges and universities across America and it’s become more common at CUNY, with Brooklyn College as an unexpected hotbed. The current plans for an anti-Israel BDS conference with the school’s co-sponsorship by the political science department raises new questions.

If an individual professor engages in selective hatred of Israel and the resulting intimidation of Jewish students, that is bad enough. If branches of the MSA (Muslin Students Association, all chapters of which are affiliated with ISNA – the Islamic Society of North America, which is the Muslim Brotherhood on our soil), that is bad enough. I’ll be damned however, if I were to be silent on the official co-sponsorship by an entire academic department of a Nuremberg-like conference on a CUNY campus. This is a misuse of tax-levy funds. This is NOT an academic conference in any sense. Furthermore, other than through the intimidation of liberal arts professors who might support Israel, how do we know that EVERY professor in that department supports this drivel? Read more ..


Palestine on Edge

Hamas's Talibanization of the Gaza Strip

January 29th 2013

Palestinian Authority police

Those who thought that Hamas would ever establish a modern and liberal regime in the Gaza Strip received another reminder this week of how the radical Islamist movement is pursuing its effort to create a Taliban-style entity in the territory that has been under its control since 2007. The reminder came in the form of a decision taken by the Al-Aqsa University administration in the Gaza Strip to force female students to dress in accordance with Islamic teachings.

This means that all female students would be required to wear the hijab or niqab which cover their heads and faces. This latest measure is part of a Hamas campaign aimed at "inculcating [Islamic] values and virtues" in the Gaza Strip, Hamas officials explained. As part of this campaign, Hamas last week imposed a ban on low-waist trousers, Western-style haircuts and tight gowns. Read more ..


Israel and Palestine

Allah Does not Break His Promises: Jerusalem is the Capital of Israel

January 29th 2013

Click to select Image

Jerusalem is the capital of the Children of Israel, now called the Jews; and it is forbidden for Muslims to demand it, just as a married woman belongs only to her husband. Is it possible that Allah, who on His infinite mercy, calls them the Chosen People, and promises them the Holy Land, also plans to murder them, using the Muslims in Palestine as His intermediary? Every Muslim knows that Allah does not break His promises.

If you listen in Arabic to the hate-speeches made by Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi; or to Turkish President Erdogan; or to the calls made from Qatar by Muslim Brotherhood leader Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi and from the Gaza Strip by the head of Hamas, Khaled Mashaal for the killing of the Jews, you will understand why Arabs and Muslims believe Allah is punishing them by having them kill each other: It is because His prophecies are not being fulfilled. Read more ..


Broken Government

Total Tax -Code Termination

January 28th 2013

Congress-senate

It would be the ultimate fiscal cliff. A group of House Republicans wants to put an expiration date on the 75,000-page U.S. tax code. The Tax Code Termination Act would require the repeal of the entire code in 2017 — except for the bits dealing with Social Security and Medicare — with a new system ready to go for the following year.

Of course, the U.S. economy would benefit from major tax reform that eliminated the current bias against investment, axed crony-capitalist tax breaks, and lowered marginal rates on individuals and business as much as possible. But Republicans can put aside any fantasies of starting 2018 with a flat income tax or a national sales tax such as the Fair Tax, two popular right-of-center alternatives to the status quo.

First, both of those sweeping reforms would likely either raise taxes on middle-class voters — including millions who currently pay no income tax — or be huge revenue losers. This is a big reason that the Romney campaign passed on these ideas. Read more ..


Broken Government

Tales of the Red Tape #38: OSHA Advances Worker Risk—and Not Much Else

January 27th 2013

EMS with injured worker

If the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) regulated its own doings in the manner it does private business, the agency’s doors would surely be shuttered. So lousy is its record of accrediting workplace safety examiners that some applicants have waited 10 years for their paperwork to be processed.

It’s gotten so bad, in fact, that OSHA officials actually jettisoned their internal performance measures rather than even attempt to make the grade. In other words, the agency stopped tracking its operations because the results were so dismal.

All of which came to light during a recent investigation by the Government Accountability Office (GAO). According to the report, nearly half of the applications for accreditation under consideration as of June 2012 had been pending for between five and 10 years. With characteristic restraint, the GAO concluded that this dysfunctional bureaucracy “has potentially negative economic consequences.” Read more ..


Book Review

Sandy Tolan’s The Lemon Tree--Bias and Misinformation Cloaked as Fact

January 26th 2013

Lemon Tree

We should be deeply concerned that some secondary schools are using Sandy Tolan’s The Lemon Tree (2006) to educate students about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Despite its thin veneer of balance, the book distorts history and context, makes systematic factual errors, uncritically repeats propagandistic anti-Israel claims, and either justifies, sanitizes, or even heroicizes Palestinian extremism and terrorism. Through these distortions, Tolan tries to convince the reader that the conflict is caused solely by Israel’s alleged expulsion of Palestinians in 1948 and refusal to grant them the “right of return.” Propaganda rather than history, this book should not be recommended as a guide for understanding the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

Tolan tries to tell the history through the real-life stories of Israeli Dalia Eshkenazi Landau and Palestinian Bashir Khariri. The Khariris, a prominent Arab family, built a home in Ramla in 1936 but became refugees during the 1948 war when Bashir was six years old, and they relocated to Ramallah, where Bashir became a lawyer. The Eshkenazis, Jewish refugees from Bulgaria, moved to Israel near the end of the 1948 war, and the then-empty Khariri house became their new home and the place where Dalia grew up. After the 1967 war, Bashir was able to visit his old home and meet Dalia. They developed a long friendship even though Bashir became associated with a terrorist group, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), and was frequently imprisoned. Disturbed by Bashir’s grievances about his “lost” home, Dalia tried to right things by donating the house as a kindergarten for Arab children in Ramla in 1991. The house, named “Open House,” is still operating as a peace and educational center.

The very structure of the book poses problems. Bashir and his family present the extremist Palestinian case against Israel, while Dalia is simply not informed enough to counter their claims, and Tolan’s narrative constantly reinforces Bashir’s version. The second problem is that by focusing on Dalia, Tolan gives the impression that the Holocaust was the reason Israel was founded. Dalia’s frequent refrain justifying the Jewish presence—that Jews had to have a refuge and their own state—erases the deep historical roots of Zionism, the Jews’ 3,000-year presence, and the backbreaking labor of early Zionists who returned to join Jews already there and restore the land during the 19th and 20th centuries. Read more ..


Mideast on Edge

Witnessing the Disintegration of the Levant

January 26th 2013

Syrian refugees

One hundred years after the Levant embarked on a journey to build modern political societies, our experiment has failed and we are now back to square one. Lebanon collapsed in the 1970s, Iraq disintegrated in the 1990s and 2000s, and Syria is in the process of tearing itself apart. Unlike Egypt, Tunisia, and several other Arab countries, we have managed to keep neither nation nor state intact. As we in the Levant – or what we refer to in Arabic as the Mashrek – enter a period of profound division and uncertainty, will we be able to find a path to national unity and modern statehood? Or is our decline into disunity and conflict inexorable? Read more ..


Obama's Second Term

The North Korean Dance Begins, Again

January 25th 2013

Kim Jong-Un

With most countries, one remembers dates, such as 1066 or 1776; with North Korea, one remembers U.N. resolutions. Tuesday, the U.N. Security Council passed Resolution 2087, the seventh since 1993 concerning North Korea’s illicit nuclear weapons and ballistic missile program. Like the other resolutions, it is empty and meaningless, and will do nothing to resolve a growing crisis on the Korean Peninsula. It’s time for Washington to grow up and either decide to put real pressure on North Korea or to admit diplomatic defeat and reserve the right to retaliate for any unprovoked North Korean aggression in the future.

There’s nothing new, either, in North Korea’s strident denunciations of the U.N. resolution, except perhaps its clarifying reiteration of the United States as a “hostile power” and enemy of the Korean people. Nor must any observers delude themselves into thinking that, simply because Beijing decided to support this resolution, China is in any way serious about crimping Kim Jong Un’s style. The Kim regime long ago figured out that China would much rather have an obstreperous and unbalanced quasi-theocratic totalitarian state controlling the northern half of the Korean Peninsula than trust that a reunified Korea would not somehow decide to side with the United States and possibly even Japan in the game of global geopolitics in Northeast Asia. Read more ..


Obama's Second Term

Yes, Mr. President, We Are a Nation of Takers

January 25th 2013

Obama

In President Obama's second inaugural address, he not only outlined an ambitious agenda for his second term but also seemed intent on shutting down debate about the social-welfare state and its impact on American life.

"The commitments we make to each other—through Medicare, and Medicaid, and Social Security—these things do not sap our initiative; they strengthen us," Mr. Obama said. "They do not make us a nation of takers; they free us to take the risks that make this country great." In other words, the president is tired of listening to critics of America's entitlement programs, and as far as he is concerned, the discussion is now over.

It is not over—and won't be anytime soon, because the country's social-welfare spending is generating severe and mounting hazards for the nation. These hazards are not only fiscal but moral. A growing body of empirical evidence points to increasing dependency on state largess. The evidence documents as well a number of perverse and disturbing changes that this entitlement state is imposing on society. Read more ..


Japan on Edge

Japanese Finance Minister Taro Aso Tell Elderly "Hurry up and Die"

January 25th 2013

sunset in japan

Once again, Finance Minister Taro Aso find himself in hot water after saying that people should give elderly people the freedom to “hurry up and die” instead of allowing the government to take care of the costs for their end-of-life medical care.

Reports say that the 72 year old Aso, who’s also the deputy prime minister, said this during a meeting of the National Council on Social Security Reforms: “Heaven forbid if you are forced to live on when you want to die. You cannot sleep well when you think it’s all paid by the government.” He also shared that he has left instructions that when he reaches that stage, he doesn’t want his life artificially prolonged. “I don’t need that kind of care. I will die quickly.” But after reports about his statements in this meeting came out, he clarified that he was just talking about his personal wishes and not dictating what the government policy should be for end-of-life medical care. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

Won’t Syria Be Obama’s Main Middle East Crisis in 2013?

January 24th 2013

Contreras

While President Barack Obama has been inaugurated for a second term and made his speech, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is still in power in Syria, making speeches that he will not give in politically. The Syrian civil war will go on until one side wins and the other loses. And a lot more people are going to die. The idea of some kind of compromise or diplomatic process has always been ridiculous. These two sides—the government and rebels—have nothing to talk about. On one hand, they thoroughly distrust each other with good reason. On the other hand, they both want power and that’s something which cannot be shared.

Incidentally, please forgive me when I point out that in 2010 I said that Egypt would be the big story of 2011, and that in 2011 I said that the Muslim Brotherhood takeover of Egypt would be the big story of 2012. For those who are asking why I’m not saying Iran will be the main crisis, that’s possible but 2013 is more likely to be a year of endless talk between the Washington and Tehran, punctuated mid-year by Iran’s election of its own new president. Iran will buy time, the election of a new president alone will be good for about three months or so since he’ll need to get into office, appoint his cabinet, and formulate his “new” policy. So 2014 is more likely to be the year of Iran. Read more ..


Obama's Second Term

Obama's Supports "Democracy" a la Brotherhood

January 24th 2013

Mohamed Morsi Speaks at Press Conference

In his second inaugural address Obama's brief comment on foreign policy promised to support "democracy" in the Middle East and elsewhere. But as his inaugural celebration was taking place at the White House, the State Department delivered four F-16 fighters to the autocratic Brotherhood led government of Egypt. Senator James Inhofe (R., Okla.) request to cancel or delay of the "shipment" (or, rather, "fly in"), was refused by the State Department in early January, on grounds that the arms deal with Egypt "serves U.S. regional security interests."

But Egypt's regional interest, as voiced by its Muslim Brother President Mohammed Morsi, is to end the "Zionist" project. Does the State Department's declaration signals a departure from the U.S. long standing support of the "Zionist" project, the Jewish State of Israel? This statement all but assures the delivery of remaining twelve F-16s and 200 Abrams tanks that are to be given to Egypt before the end of 2013 under a 2010 deal with then-president Hosni Mubarak. Read more ..


Edge of Film

What's Right, and Wrong, about 'Zero Dark Thirty'

January 23rd 2013

Click to select Image

The critical commentary about the Bigelow-Boal movie “Zero Dark Thirty,” about the search for and killing of Osama bin Laden, is wrong. The chief criticism is that the movie condones torture. I think its portrayal of torture is likely to repel most viewers, to force them to look away from it. How is that condonation? As director Bigelow remarked, a movie’s showing something is not necessarily endorsing it. Exposure in drama is often, in the best cases, the best argument against it. Think of “Gentleman’s Agreement” or “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.”

Portraying cultural anti-Semitism or racism did more to condemn it than condone it. The brilliance of “Dead Man Walking” was that it even-handedly dramatized both sides of the death penalty issue. It isn’t clear in this movie, or in any accepted historical evidence, that torture led to Osama bin Laden’s assassination. Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

A Pattern of Deception at Clinton's Department of State

January 23rd 2013

Hillary Clinton in blue

The gruesome murders of Ambassador Christopher Stevens and 3 other Americans at the US consulate in Benghazi, Libya have deservedly attracted much attention. But it is the latest, not the first, in a pattern of disregard for the safety of American diplomats as is evidenced in other African diplomatic stations.

On August 26th, 2011 a suicide bomber blew up the United Nation’s headquarters in Abuja, Nigeria literally a couple of blocks from the US embassy. At the end of the day, more than 2 dozen people from different countries lost their lives. A US government official and an American working for the UN were fortunate to survive this bold strike by the jihadist terror group Boko Haram.

While current news headlines are filled with the travails of American oilworkers kidnapped by Islamist terrorists in Algeria, not a whimper emerged from the State Department on the Americans including one of their own, caught up in this bombing. That was 2011. Read more ..


The Edge of the Cliff

We Cannot Forget National Security

January 22nd 2013

Stealth Jet

During the presidential campaign, there was a striking lack of debate on homeland security. Given the country’s economic problems, the public understandably wasn’t focused on terrorism, and President Obama and GOP nominee Mitt Romney may have been satisfied that the government’s reforms since the 9/11 attacks enhanced our safety and left little to debate.

The silence is eerily reminiscent of the 2000 presidential campaign, when, despite a horrific attack on a U.S. warship during the height of the campaign and the bombings of two U.S. embassies only two years before, neither candidate had much to say about terrorism. As then, we cannot afford to forego an ongoing debate on our security.

We are undoubtedly safer since the pre-9/11 days, and our political leaders and the thousands of dedicated government security professionals deserve our thanks. New government counterterrorism organizations have been created, including the Department of Homeland Security, Director of National Intelligence and National Counterterrorism Center. The “no fly” list has grown from 16 names to more than 20,000 — a change that has immeasurably increased the security of commercial flights. Read more ..


Obama's Second Term

Reflections on President Obama’s Inaugural Address, His Second Term and Presidential Leadership Style

January 22nd 2013

Obama

The parades and the parties are over. As the nation’s capitol returns to the routines of governance, everyone wants to know – how will President Obama change in his second term? Will he be a different leader? A better leader?

Presidential leadership exists in a special, charmed section of the universe where substance and style intersect. It’s no secret that Obama’s first term leadership drove both his friends and his enemies to distraction on both counts. From time to time, the left wing of the Democratic Party was beside itself, convinced that what they were getting was Clintonism without the love. And from time to time, the centrists in the party were convinced that he was an old fashioned liberal in high-tech clothing. Among his enemies, especially on Capitol Hill, his detachment from the intimate, personal, in-your-face persuasion of politics made it easy for them to demonize him as some kind of alien elitist whose existence was dangerous to the Republic. Read more ..



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