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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

Click to select Image

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 ..

Edge of the Fiscal Cliff

No Halt to Budget Sequestration in Sight

February 28th 2013

Click to select Image

The sequester is here to stay — at least for a while. Lawmakers and aides say they do not expect Congress to turn off budget sequestration before April and that negotiations to freeze the automatic spending cuts could drag into May or beyond. Over the last few weeks, there has been increased speculation that the sequester would go into effect Friday but be addressed in a March deal to keep the government funded.

Don’t bet on it.

Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), a member of the Finance Committee, predicted sequestration would last through the end of the year. “Are we going to roll back the size of the cuts? No. I can promise you that,” said Burr.

President Obama has invited congressional leaders to meet at the White House on Friday, the same day $85 billion in automatic cuts are due to begin. However, congressional sources do not anticipate a deal at that gathering or any time soon. “It’s going to be one last attempt at trying to convince Republicans of the need for a balanced approach to sequester before the deadline,” said a senior Senate Democratic aide. Read more ..

Broken Economy

The Jobs Crisis is Much More Than Unemployment

February 27th 2013

Emplyment Application

President Obama has positioned himself as champion of the middle class. In his State of the Union speech, he declared that it was "our generation's task" to "reignite the true engine of America's economic growth-a rising, thriving middle class." Repeatedly, he has appealed to the middle class as a means of justifying tax increases, rolling back the sequester, or expanding government programs. But how have middle class workers fared since the start of the recession in 2007?

A typical measure of middle class labor market health is the unemployment rate, which currently stands at 7.8 percent. But even for those who are fortunate enough to have jobs, the labor market has exacted a toll on their standards of living. Since 2007, the real median income of American families has dropped by over $5,000 per family, while the BLS reports that the average employed person spends 8.3 hours per day working, up from 7.6 hours per day in 2007. In other words, American employees are working more and earning less. Read more ..

Europe on Edge

Europe: Ignoring a Disappearing La Dolce Vita

February 27th 2013

Euro Symbol

Europeans seem determined to ignore the depth of an approaching economic and political crisis which will end its longest period of prosperity and peace in history and threatens the very foundations of post-World War II democratic progression. In the fleshpots of Vienna and Zurich I have just visited, for example, even seemingly well-informed journalists and academics are determined to reject the obvious: the European economy is grinding down, with the growing double digit unemployment of youth and the unfunded deficits of southern Europe only the first signs of what is to come.

It's worth recalling that it was just that sort of phenomena which nurtured authoritarian and totalitarian governments in the 1920s and 1930s and the onset of World War II.
But for those who can afford it, the exaggerated vulgarity of conspicuous consumption continues, whether a shop in Zurich's fashionable Bellevue selling outrageous young men's shirt designs or deliberately worn denims or an equally outrageously overpriced American-style steakhouse with frozen meat, lumpy purée des pommes de terre [mashed potatoes to you] and over salted lobster bisque. Read more ..

The New Egypt

Morsi's Fouls

February 26th 2013

Mohammed Morsi

Military troops are protecting factories and government offices on the fifth day of a general strike in the Suez Canal city of Port Said that has brought together two groups with working class roots that played key roles in the toppling of former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak: militant, highly politicized, street-battled hardened soccer fans and the labor movement.

Operating independently both groups constituted key centers of resistance to the repression of Mr. Mubarak’s regime during the years that preceded his downfall. The fans fought police and security forces in the stadiums in a battle for control of one of the country’s most crucial public spaces while workers in industrial towns like Mahalla organized strikes against Mr. Mubarak’s economic liberalization policy and corrupt and nepotistic privatization of state-owned assets. Read more ..

Obama's Second Term

Secretary Kerry's Maiden Speech

February 25th 2013

John Kerry

Stipulating that foreign aid can be an important part of American foreign policy, and further that trade is an important component of U.S. foreign policy; Secretary of State John Kerry made two really important mistakes in his maiden speech, delivered to a fawning audience of American university students.

The first was in the definition of America's challenges in the second decade of the 21st Century.  Mr. Kerry posited: "Our challenge is to tame the worst impulses of globalization even as we harness its ability to spread information and possibility, to offer even the most remote place on Earth the same choices that have made us strong and free."

"Our challenge" is, in fact, to defeat the forces of Islamic radicalism that threaten us at home sometimes, and that threaten our friends in the Middle East, Southwest and East Asia all the time.  Secular people, Christian people, Jews, women and progressive people in those regions -- including Afghanistan, Pakistan, Indonesia, North Africa, Egypt, Jordan, Nigeria, Mali, Iraq and Turkey, and more -- feel the pressure of the Muslim Brotherhood, Salafists, al Qaeda and Taliban forces snuffing out the tentative whiffs of freedom and equality presaged by President Bush's "democracy agenda" and the now-cold "Arab Spring."  The less-than-optimal "impulses of globalization" are far more benign than the less-than-optimal impulses of a political-religious philosophy that holds the 7th Century to be the apex of human endeavor. Read more ..

The Iranian Threat

Iran's Upper Hand

February 25th 2013

Iran holy missiles

The United States participation in the Kazakhstan negotiations with Iran, as part of the P5+1 (five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council: China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and Germany) creates the impression that the Obama administration is determined to end the U.S. role as the super power it once was.

Nothing seems to deter the administration's determination to negotiate with the Ayatollahs. Not the IAEA report that Tehran has already begun to install advanced centrifuges at its nuclear plant at Natanz to increase the pace of uranium enrichment, or Iran's "skyjacking" of American drones, cyber attacks on American financial institutions, or support of the Assad regime, Hezbollah and other jihadist groups. Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

Latin America Puts a Monkey Wrench in Washington Extraordinary Renditions

February 23rd 2013

Guantanamo prisoner

The map tells the story. To illustrate a damning new report, “Globalizing Torture: CIA Secret Detentions and Extraordinary Rendition,” recently published by the Open Society Institute, the Washington Post put together an equally damning graphic: it’s soaked in red, as if with blood, showing that in the years after 9/11, the CIA turned just about the whole world into a gulag archipelago.

Back in the early twentieth century, a similar red-hued map was used to indicate the global reach of the British Empire, on which, it was said, the sun never set. It seems that, between 9/11 and the day George W. Bush left the White House, CIA-brokered torture never saw a sunset either.

All told, of the 190-odd countries on this planet, a staggering 54 participated in various ways in this American torture system, hosting CIA “black site” prisons, allowing their airspace and airports to be used for secret flights, providing intelligence, kidnapping foreign nationals or their own citizens and handing them over to U.S. agents to be “rendered” to third-party countries like Egypt and Syria. The hallmark of this network, Open Society writes, has been torture. Its report documents the names of 136 individuals swept up in what it says is an ongoing operation, though its authors make clear that the total number, implicitly far higher, “will remain unknown” because of the “extraordinary level of government secrecy associated with secret detention and extraordinary rendition.” Read more ..

Broken Healthcare

Florida Medicaid: A Concession on a Program Too Few Care About

February 22nd 2013


Governor Rick Scott’s decision to take federal Obamacare money to expand his state’s Medicaid program was unsurprising. Amidst declining political fortunes, he was under intense pressure by local health care firms to accept the new cash.

Florida health care businesses, perhaps more than any other state, feed off of the Medicaid program. Many health care plans refuse to do business in the state precisely because it’s so rife with corruption. The breadth of government financing in Florida, and the state’s poor supervision, enables a lot of fraud.

This new expansion should help those businesses' concepts expand. How much? JP Morgan is out with a research note this morning that estimates the largesse paid to the legitimate side of the state’s health care market. Read more ..

Broken Healthcare

Bowles-Simpson Doesn't Address Unsustainable Health Care Spending

February 21st 2013

Obamacare Protest

Erskine Bowles and former Sen. Alan Simpson are back, advocating once again for lawmakers to reduce discretionary and mandatory spending, increase tax revenues, and shift focus to a simple but powerful metric: our federal debt burden relative to the size of our economy.

The new proposal credits Congress with as much as $2.7 trillion in deficit reduction, owing to caps on discretionary spending and recent increased taxes on high-income earners. This math leads Simpson and Bowles to call for $2.4 trillion in additional deficit reductions in the coming decade: $600 billion from new revenues and the rest from spending reforms and limits and interest expense savings. The proposal, while admirable, has two shortcomings.

First, while I commend them for their tireless efforts to right our fiscal ship by pursuing a "leave no stone unturned" approach that seeks to squeeze efficiencies from across all of government and reform both sides of the ledger, their "balanced" approach overlooks one key fact: Federal health care spending is the only government spending that is truly on an ever-increasing and completely unsustainable path. And while they list various ways to curb health care spending, they seem not to realize that it is not a lack of ideas but a lack of willpower holding back lawmakers. Read more ..

Islam on Edge

Let's Protest the Real Apartheid State

February 21st 2013

Afgan Women in Burka

With the Middle East in turmoil, as Arabs from North Africa to the Persian Gulf seek to escape decades of authoritarian rule and the denial of their civil and political rights, students around the world will spend a week in March denouncing the one democracy in the region that offers equal rights to all -- Israel. Through films, lectures and demonstrations students will attempt to smear Israel with comparisons to the discriminatory policies of South Africa in what has become an annual campus hate fest directed at Jews and Israel. Israeli policy has nothing to do with South Africa's; however, if the demonstrators were really interested in human rights, they'd be campaigning against every Arab regime and, especially, apartheid Saudi Arabia.

Women's rights are virtually non-existent throughout the Arab world, but the situation in Saudi Arabia may be the worst. For example, Saudi women may not marry non-Saudis without government permission (which is rarely given); are forbidden to drive motor vehicles or bicycles; may not use public facilities when men are present; and are forced to sit in the backs of public buses, segregated from men. Women must cover their entire body and face in public, and those who do not are subject to physical harassment from the Saudi religious police. Read more ..

Obama and Israel

Obama at Ramallah

February 20th 2013

Obama and Flag

President Obama's plans in the Middle East include three and a half hours in Ramallah to meet with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas. The president's hope is to find a mechanism for advancing Israeli-Palestinian "peace." The appearance of the President of the United States in "Palestine" is calculated to provide Abbas with a tangible benefit in hopes of moderating/modifying his behavior vis a vis Israel and strengthen him vis a vis Hamas. If President Obama succeeds, however, the result will be to strengthen a dictator by betraying his people on behalf of their enemy, Israel.

It won't be the first time the United States has tried to entice -- OK, bribe -- dictatorial governments into doing what we want. Bribery didn't work in Iraq or in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Libya, or Tunisia. It hasn't moved Iran or North Korea, and it didn't keep U.S.-armed and trained Malian troops from overthrowing their elected civilian leadership. In none of those cases was Israel a factor. But Ramallah will be more like Egypt, where President Obama did it twice. Read more ..

Edging Toward the Cliff

Budget Cuts Would Not Harm the Economy

February 19th 2013

One Million Dollars

The Congressional Budget Office projects that the federal budget deficit will exceed three-quarters of $1 trillion in 2013. The U.S. economy continues to badly underperform, leaving millions of Americans out of work, depressing wage gains, and restricting opportunities. Despite a broad consensus favoring deficit reduction, some worry that reducing the budget deficit too rapidly might further weaken the recovery. These concerns are misplaced.

Steady, sustained deficit reduction would not hamper the recovery and may well provide modest near-term support for growth by whittling away at the debilitating uncertainty restraining growth. President Obama and Congress should work toward cutting spending in 2013 as part of a credible plan to balance the budget in 10 years in full confidence that the economy would benefit thereby. Read more ..

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 ..

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