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Broken Government

A Wrong Purple Moment for Obama and Boehner

March 24th 2013


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


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


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


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


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 ..

Pakistan on Edge

Christian Man Knee-Capped and Stabbed with Impunity in Pakistan

March 7th 2013

Pakistan religious minorities

Khalid Masih 35, a disabled resident of district of Faisalabad, Punjab province in Pakistan cries out for justice, but unfortunately the police and the concerned authorities refuse to investigate or register a case. On February w, Kalid Masih was a witness of a trade between Babar Masih and Irshad Gujjar a local business man: the trade was a moped (scooter) in exchange for a horse. This was agreed by both parties and a formal deed was signed to make it official.

But the next day Irshad Gujjar returned furious and claimed that the horse is worth more than the moped, so he demanded more money. Babar Masih left the village with the moped the same day the agreement was signed. Gujjar threatened and threw away his crunches.

On February 6, Irshad Gujjar along his cousin Aslam Gujjar forcefully took Khalid Masih a few miles away from the village, dragged him from the car and stabbed him several times with a knife, injuring his hands and lips, and shot his knee caps twice. Read more ..

Israel on Edge

What if They Mean What they Say?

March 7th 2013


The U.S. generally makes allowance for verbal excesses from foreign governments, but if expressions of hatred and incitement to violence are actually harbingers of behavior, destruction and murderousness cannot be far behind.

At the UN Alliance of Civilizations [sic], Turkey's Prime Minister equated Zionism with crimes against humanity. The American response was swift; speaking for himself and the administration, Kerry called the remark "objectionable." But after expressing dismay, he called for nicer play. "That said, Turkey and Israel are both vital allies. We want to see them work together to go beyond rhetoric and take concrete steps to change their relationship." A State Department official concurred, saying the comment was "particularly offensive" and "complicates our ability to do all the things we want to do together." Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

Leading from Farther Behind in Mali

March 6th 2013


The U.S. continues to pretend that al Qaeda is no longer an existential threat to Americans, that our "leading from behind policy" on terrorism and its state- and nonstate sponsors needs to be "leading from even farther behind," and that, by all means, we should never be seen as an effective enemy of terrorist groups larger than those that can be taken care of by a single drone.

The U.S. policy regarding al Qaeda in Africa and, especially, in Mali, is nothing short of tragi-comic.  We learned just the other day that U.S. drones are now helping target militants in northern Mali. Also, the Obama administration has agreed to provide tankers to refuel French warplanes taking out rebels. This is described as "sharply expanding the level of U.S. involvement in the [French] campaign." Reporting on these developments, the Western media says this came after a "lengthy" and "agonizing" debate inside the Obama administration on what to do next regarding Mali. Read more ..

Edge of the Cliff

With the Sequester, Obama Gets His 'Balanced' Approach

March 5th 2013


Congressional Republicans have had quite a comeback. In January, the GOP was forced to vote for a major tax hike with zero spending cuts. Now it is President Obama who has been forced to accept spending cuts with no tax hike. Who says divided government doesn’t work?

Obama continues to complain the sequester does not represent a balanced approach to deficit reduction, and wants to replace some of the spending cuts with tax increases. But the Simpson-Bowles Commission laid out what a “balanced” approach should entail: $3 of spending cuts for every $1 dollar in tax increases. Well according to Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), by that standard Congress and the president have nearly met that mark.

Just a few weeks ago, as part of the fiscal-cliff deal, Congress approved $620 billion in tax hikes over ten years with no spending cuts. That means that to meet the 3-to-1 ratio, we should have a corresponding $1.86 trillion in spending cuts. But the sequester cuts just $1.72 trillion in spending over 10 years, according to Portman’s office. That is a ratio of just 2.78-to-1. We would need to cut an additional $138 billion, Portman calculates, in order to meet the 3-to-1 ratio recommended by Simpson-Bowles. If anything, the spending cuts Congress enacted in the sequester are not too deep — they are not deep enough. Read more ..

Broken Healthcare

Obamacare Insurance Plans Will Bare Bones and Expensive

March 5th 2013


There's mounting evidence that come fall, the health plans sold through the Obamacare exchanges will be bare bones affairs - with narrow networks of providers to select from, and heavy co-insurance once patients go "out of network."

In many ways these plans will be a throwback to insurance schemes of the late 1990s, when managed care was dominant and restrictive networks standard fare. With one difference: The Obamacare plans won't be cheap. Quality of coverage is just one issue. Price is the other. There's mounting evidence that even though the new health coverage will be austere, it'll still be pricey.

Health plans have ample incentives to price the Obamacare coverage high, which is precisely what they're likely to do. For one thing, insurers will want to protect against the risk that individuals entering the exchanges are those who most need health insurance because of pre-existing illness. If this sort of "adverse selection" occurs, it will raise costs to insurers. To guard against this, insurers are likely to price the coverage at a premium. Read more ..

Broken Economy

New Qualified Mortgage Rule Setting Up for Another Meltdown

March 4th 2013


Despite the claim that it is “protecting consumers from irresponsible mortgage lenders,” the new Qualified Mortgage rule finalized in January by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau turns out to be simply another and more direct way for the government to keep mortgage underwriting standards low. This sets the country up for a repetition of the mortgage meltdown of 2007 and 2008.

Simply put, government housing policies, implemented by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), caused the 2008 financial crisis. Before 1992, the vast majority of  mortgages in the United States were prime loans. Yet a 1992 law required the government-sponsored enterprises (GSEs) Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac—then the dominant players in the U.S. mortgage market—to purchase an increasing quota of loans that were made to borrowers at or below the median income in their communities.

Finding prime loans among borrowers who were below the median income was difficult, especially when, by 2000, HUD had raised the quota from 30 percent to 50 percent. To meet this goal, Fannie and Freddie had to reduce their underwriting standards. In 1995, they were acquiring loans with 3 percent downpayments, and five years later they were advertising mortgages with no downpayment at all. The credit scores required of borrowers were also reduced. Read more ..

The Way We Are

Republicans an Their Faulty Moral Arithmetic

March 4th 2013

family with teenagers

In the waning days of the 1992 presidential campaign, President George H.W. Bush trailed Bill Clinton in the polls. The conventional wisdom was that Mr. Bush seemed too aloof from voters struggling economically. At a rally in New Hampshire, the exhausted president started what was probably the fourth campaign speech of the day by reading aloud what may have been handed to him as a stage direction: "Message: I care."

How little things have changed for Republicans in 20 years. There is only one statistic needed to explain the outcome of the 2012 presidential election. An April YouGov.com poll—which mirrored every other poll on the subject—found that only 33 percent of Americans said that Mitt Romney "cares about people like me." Only 38 percent said he cared about the poor.

Conservatives rightly complain that this perception was inflamed by President Obama's class-warfare campaign theme. But perception is political reality, and over the decades many Americans have become convinced that conservatives care only about the rich and powerful. Read more ..

Edge of the Cliff

5 Myths About the Sequester

March 3rd 2013

Capitol Senate

Our political system was not designed to be efficient, but it wasn’t supposed to be self-destructive, either. After a near-default on the public debt and a fiscal cliff that threatened a new recession, we are facing another man-made crisis: the sequester, across-the-board cuts in discretionary domestic and defense spending that are set to begin Friday and extend over a decade. Let’s separate fact from fiction about the sequester and its impact.

1. Blame Obama — the sequester was his White House’s idea.

Identifying the origins of the sequester has become a major Washington fight. Bob Woodward weighed in recently with a Washington Post op-ed making the case that the idea began in the White House. He’s right in a narrow sense, mainly because he focuses on the middle of the 2011 negotiations between Obama and Republican lawmakers. If you look before and after, a different picture emerges. Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

New Issue of Al Qaeda Magazine Quotes Yours Truly

March 2nd 2013

Erick Stakelbeck

I'm not sure if I should be flattered or appalled. I just learned that the new issue of Al Qaeda's official, English-language magazine, called Inspire (and published by Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula), features quotes from your humble correspondent. It appears that a CBN report from last May featuring my analysis of Inspire and the lingering influence of deceased jihadi cleric Anwar al-Awlaki caught Al Qaeda's attention. The terror group features my comments, along with those of other journalists, on page 9 of the new issue of the magazine.

On one hand, I guess the fact that the bad guys are noticing my work (this isn't the first time: see here and here) must mean I'm doing something right. On the other hand, Al Qaeda loves publicity of any kind, and the fact that Inspire is in the news and making headlines surely galvanizes them and makes them think they are having an impact. In a perfect world, I and others would just ignore Inspire.

But as things stand, I don't think that would be a wise move. We need to know our enemy and its strategy, and the AQ mag lays it out in chilling detail. As you'll see, it is extremely slick and well produced--the perfect diabolical recruiting tool to attract disaffected, young American Muslims. For example, in a section called "Open Source Jihad" (beginning on page 49), AQ gives instructions for aspiring jihadists on how to torch parked vehicles and cause road accidents. Read more ..

Edge of the Cliff

Obama: Failure to Prevent Sequester 'Inexcusable' and 'Dumb'

March 1st 2013

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President Barack Obama has called lawmakers' failure to prevent across-the-board budget cuts "inexcusable." Speaking at the White House on March 1, President Obama called the $85 billion in automatic spending cuts "dumb" and "arbitrary" and said they will hurt the economy and cost jobs. The cuts are due to take effect at midnight Friday, and the president said the longer they are in effect, the greater the impact will be.

Obama spoke after meeting with top Republican and Democratic lawmakers this morning to discuss efforts to avoid the spending cuts, known as the "sequester." The White House meeting was largely viewed as symbolic, after dueling bills to avoid the cuts were defeated in the Senate on February 28. After meeting with President Obama, Republican John Boehner, Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, said there was nothing new to report on efforts to avoid the cuts before the Friday deadline. He reiterated Republicans' stance that higher taxes will not be part of any budget deal. Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

US Aid to Syria’s Revolution Not to the Jihadists

March 1st 2013

Syrian Jihadis

The new Secretary of State John Kerry has proposed $60 million in aid to the Syrian Opposition Council in order to provide basic services in areas they control as well as medical and food supplies for their military. This announcement was met with skepticism by some backers of the Syrian opposition affiliated with the secular forces and also by a number of military and Middle East experts.

Farid Ghadri, leader of the Syria Reform Party and a secular supporter of the Syrian opposition, has been arguing that "since the bulk of the opposition, the one recognized by the United States, is dominated by the Islamists the funds will be used by the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafists to ensure a political influence in the zones controlled by the rebels." Read more ..

Broken Borders

Immigration Revisted

February 28th 2013


You know why immigration brings people to a boiling point, separates races, and creates classes in our society? It’s simple, really: OWNERSHIP. Hard line Mexican and Latin Americans coming across the border to Texas and California believe the states belong to them. Because of the United States’ contentious history with its southern neighbors, these extremist Mexican immigrant groups coming across the border couldn’t care less about assimilating with American society, and in fact prefer not to. For they believe that it’s their land and that Americans better leave or get used to their presence.

The great irony that is overlooked in the immigration debate is that the typical political players in this fight are absent. Where are the unions and their leaders who pounce at every opportunity to protect wages and worker rights? Why aren’t they railing against the notion of unskilled, cheap labor flooding into this country? Where are the liberals who cry against "big business" at any chance they get? How come they aren’t deriding corporations for supporting amnesty to continue the cheap labor pool? Why do liberals support the immigrants and their “we just want a job to provide for our families” story, yet rally against tax relief and the minimum wage? The simple fact is that in this case business is seen as an ally, so unions, leftists, and an entire political party are hopping on board because its suits their agenda. This is another example of the Obama White house and Democratic Party moving forward with no clear agenda, no real leadership, and no real stance. Read more ..

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