|Henry Olsen and Vincent H. Smith||December 29th 2012|
The Washington Examiner
Finding common ground in the "fiscal cliff" negotiations will be hard for Republicans and Democrats. But there's one place they should be able to agree: farm subsidies.
Today's farm subsidies mainly make the rich richer and protect them from the economic risks that average Americans face every day. Over 80 percent of farm-targeted subsidy dollars are paid to the small number of large farms whose owners have, on average, more than $1 million in net worth and earn more than $120,000 a year. And the majority of that money goes to the very largest farms, whose families are many more times wealthier still. Why raise revenue from the wealthiest Americans through higher taxes, only to give the money right back through farm subsidies they don't really need? Read more ..
|John R. Bolton||December 29th 2012|
New York Post
The State Department’s Accountability Review Board last week issued a devastating report on the events leading up to the Sept. 11 assassination of four Americans at our Benghazi consulate. Unfortunately, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has still not faced questioning by Congress or the media more than three months after the tragedy. A series of excuses has conveniently allowed her to escape cross examination until after the ARB report was released. Clinton sails right along, now preparing the first steps for what is widely expected to be her 2016 presidential campaign.
Last week, however, Sen. Bob Corker asserted that no new secretary of state be confirmed until Clinton testifies. Corker, ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee starting in January, was joined by Sen. Lindsey Graham. Their idea provides a strong incentive to committee Chairman John Kerry, now tapped as Clinton’s successor, to schedule her testimony.
The starting point for questioning Clinton is realizing that the Benghazi debacle embodies both policy and management failures. The administration’s utterly wrong-headed view of the Middle East created an atmosphere that fostered tragically erroneous management decisions. Clinton’s blithe disregard of the actual political reality in Libya and four years of not attending to seemingly mundane management issues represented a palpable failure of leadership directly contributing to the Benghazi tragedy. Read more ..
The Battle for Syria
|Sam Orez||December 29th 2012|
from Asharq Al-Awsat and Agencies
Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat on the condition of anonymity, an opposition Alawite religious cleric who recently fled to the Turkish town of Antakya revealed that “the Alawite community is living in a state of great fear, after we have become aware that the collapse of the al-Assad regime is imminent, which will place us at the mercy of fierce reprisals from the Sunni majority.”
He added “many Alawite families have already fled their homes in Damascus and returned to their villages in the Lattakia countryside.”
The cleric also revealed that he, along with a number of other Alawite activists, have worked hard to convince many Alawite youth not to join Syria’s military reserves or heed military summons, calling on the Alawite community “not be become embroiled in killing their Syrian brothers.”
He added “the regime has embroiled us in a sectarian war against the Sunnis, and if the Alawites had participated in the revolution since the beginning the regime would have been toppled, whilst the Alawite community would have no reason to fear. However after all this bloodshed, it is very difficult.” Read more ..
Germany on Edge
|Soeren Kern||December 28th 2012|
The Gatestone Institute
Opinion polls consistently show that growing numbers of ordinary German citizens are worried about the consequences of decades of multicultural policies, as well the emergence of a parallel legal system based on Islamic Sharia law. Post-Christian Europe became noticeably more Islamized during 2012. As the rapidly growing Muslim population makes its presence felt in towns and cities across the continent, Islam is transforming the European way of life in ways unimaginable only a few years ago.
Some of the more notable Islam-related controversies during 2012 occurred in Germany, where the Muslim population has jumped from around 50,000 in the early 1980s to more than 4.5 million today. What follows is a brief chronological review of some of the main stories involving the rise of Islam in Germany during 2012. Read more ..
Obama and Israel
|Barry Rubin||December 27th 2012|
Reality, especially in 2012, is very hard to face. So many hopes dashed; so many bad things happening. So people can be forgiven for taking refuge in wishful thinking. Sometimes, not telling the truth has its value in public affairs, especially when you are looking at a president with four more years in office and no elections ahead of him.
Read more ..
Such is the story now gaining currency in some quarters that President Barack Obama has changed his view of Israel, now wants to get along with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and the two are closely cooperating. If you want to believe that idea it probably does no harm and makes you feel better. Maintaining this fiction may also encourage Obama supporters to think more kindly of Israel.
There is another factor here that should be mentioned. Many people overstated Obama’s active antagonism toward Israel as if he wanted to wipe it out or hurt it in any way possible. Obama dislikes Israel, disregards its strategic interests, and despises Netanyahu. That doesn’t mean, however, that he’s motivated to do much about it.
Egypt's Second Revolution
|Nonie Darwish||December 27th 2012|
The problem with Egypt and many other Islamic nations is that they are ignorant of what they are demanding, and are left ignorant by their own media and educational system. By now it seems apparent that Egyptians do not even want to learn the truth about Sharia, in case they might reject it -- an act that would turn them into apostates, eligible for death.
The chaos in Egypt today is an indication of an old culture that has lost its way and its connection to a great civilization over 3000 years old. Pure Islamists who hate their ancient history and are threatening to blow up the pyramids and sphinx as idols of the pharaohs are now back in full swing to stop any further weakening of Islam by a secular government. But is it the Islamists' fault or the fault of the Egyptian public who continually vote in favor of Sharia [Islamic law - "The Path"]? Read more ..
The Afghanistan War
|Gary J. Schmitt||December 26th 2012|
The Weekly Standard
When Senator Barack Obama was running for president back in 2008, he accused the Bush administration, his opponent Senator John McCain, and their supporters of taking their eyes off the ball by fighting a war in Iraq and ignoring the “necessary war”—the war in Afghanistan. Well, four short years later, by Obama’s lights, Afghanistan is no longer the necessary war but a war to be ignored, a war to be “ended” regardless of the strategic consequences of doing so precipitously. Read more ..
It’s now clear that Barack Obama’s only abiding interest in Afghanistan was rhetorical, allowing him political space to pull American troops out of Iraq as soon as possible and, once done, to begin the same process in Afghanistan. Even the surge of 30,000 more American troops that began in 2010 was, in hindsight, intended to be less a strategic game-changer (as the earlier surge in Iraq had been) than a stopgap measure to stabilize a deteriorating situation. Smaller than what had been requested by the generals on the ground and put fully in place for only one fighting season, the surge allowed the president to appear serious while, in fact, providing him cover for pulling the plug on the war effort altogether.
The Media on Edge
|Jonathan Easley||December 25th 2012|
A White House petition calling for the deportation of CNN personality Piers Morgan, a U.K. citizen, over his recent comments criticizing U.S. gun laws rocketed past the 25,000 signatures it needed for an official response Monday. As of this writing, nearly 40,000 people had signed a petition demanding “Mr. Morgan be deported immediately for his effort to undermine the Bill of Rights and for exploiting his position as a national network television host to stage attacks against the rights of American citizens.”
A petition on the White House's “We the People” website needs 25,000 signatures in the first month of being posted to earn an official administration response. “I don't care about petition to deport me,” Morgan tweeted Monday. “I do care about poor NY firefighters murdered/injured with an assault weapon today. #GunControlNow.” Morgan was referring to yet another high-profile shooting that took place Monday. In western New York, four firefighters were shot, two of them fatally, while responding to a fire near Rochester. Read more ..
The Battle for Syria
|Phillip Lohaus||December 24th 2012|
The timing of the Syrian Revolution could not have been better for Bashar al-Assad. During the Bush administration, he softened his approach with the United States for fear of facing the same fate as Saddam Hussein. Times have changed. Although Assad may lose sleep over the opposition groups that continue to wrest large chunks of Syria from his control, he can rest easy knowing that the US is distracted. In the past, he would have worried about the US taking decisive action. Now, however, he can use the time given him by US failure to engage in the crisis to establish a firm grasp of the Syrian coast or to ensure that his loyalists are well-placed throughout the country. The US is now working with its NATO allies to position Patriot missiles along the Syrian border. But this will merely prevent the conflict from spreading to Turkey, and will do little to affect change within Syria’s borders. In a different era, Assad might have been gone by now. But now, he has time and room to maneuver. For the United States, it is a case of less money, more problems. Read more ..
The Media on Edge
|Ariel Cohen, Ph.D. and Helle C. Dale||December 23rd 2012|
For over half a century, Radio Liberty (RL) has been a central part of the U.S. government’s efforts to support human rights and free expression in Russia and, before it, the Soviet Union. Today, tragically, Radio Liberty—or Radio Svoboda, as the Russians know it—is in turmoil, its Moscow-based staff decimated by deep cuts, and its future uncertain. And RL’s listeners are outraged. The damage done to a long-standing U.S. policy is profound.
Much repair work needs to be done, which should include finding ways to bring RL back on the air, restoring its venerable brand, and reversing the appalling treatment of its personnel.
(Lack of) Human Rights in Russia
Along with its sister broadcaster Radio Free Europe (RFE), RL is funded by the U.S. government and has a proposed budget for fiscal year 2013 of $92.5 million. It is, however, run as an independent broadcaster out of a main office in Prague. Its mandate, known as “surrogate broadcasting,” is to focus on local and domestic news coverage. RL gave voice to three generations of outstanding Soviet dissidents and built a leading brand in Russian and Eurasian broadcasting. Read more ..
Israel and Palestine
|Martin Barillas||December 23rd 2012|
Cutting Edge Senior Correspondent
|Alley way in Mar Elias refugee camp, Lebanon|
StandWithUs, which is a nonprofit advocacy group with a significant web presence, has released a video offering several interviews with Palestinians denouncing the refusal of the governments of Egypt, Lebanon, and other Arab Muslim-majority countries to provide healthcare and other development aid. The video seeks to demonstrate that governments of states surrounding Palestinian refugee camps effectively ostracize and discriminate against these fellow Arabs – both Christian and Muslim – in a form similar to the Apartheid system once practiced in South Africa.
In September 2011, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas took the stage at the United Nations General Assembly after submitted an official request to General-Secretary Ban Ki-Moon for full membership for "Palestine" to the body of the United Nations. Abbas described the Palestinians as "Defenseless people only with their dreams, courage and hope.. against bullets, bombs and bulldozers." Read more ..
The UN on Edge
|Elliott Abrams||December 22nd 2012|
Council on Foreign Relations
The UN General Assembly is closing out 2012 in a blaze of glory. The UNGA adopted nine resolutions against Israel in one day, December 18. They are usefully summarized by Tom Gross in his web site, and I copy his list of them at the bottom of this blog post. More information about this important UN work for world peace can be found at the UN’s own web site.
Perhaps the most striking event in the Middle East this past week was the attack on a Palestinian refugee camp in Syria. UN Secretary General Ban ki-Moon did mention this in his own statement on December 16: ”Today’s reports of aerial bombing amid intense violence resulting in many casualties among the Palestinian refugee population in the Yarmouk camp in Damascus are a matter of grave concern.” Read more ..
The Darkest Edge
|Jim Sleeper||December 22nd 2012|
When a credibly hot-under-the-collar Piers Morgan told Larry Pratt, executive director of Gun Owners of America, on his CNN show, "You're an unbelievably stupid man, aren't you?", my first impulse was to gloat that, at last, the gun-lobby had gotten the big smack-down that it and its millions of credulous adherents deserve. Pratt had been skirting around the fact that countries that restrict gun ownership more tightly than we do are dramatically freer of gun violence.But Morgan's rebuke to him brought a sinuous comeback: "It seems to me you are morally obtuse," Pratt replied. "You seem to prefer being a victim to being able to prevail over the criminal element. I don't know why you want to be the criminal's friend." Read more ..
The Way We Are
|Armstrong Williams||December 21st 2012|
G.K. Chesterton once wrote, “Here ends another day, during which I have had eyes, ears, hands and the great world around me. Tomorrow begins another day. Why am I allowed two? “The shortest way to happiness that I know is gratitude, counting your blessings.
This country now sits around the table for Christmas, which is as good a time as any to recall our blessings. Even in this dark winter, even in bad economic times, there is so much to be grateful for that we cannot even count it.
I know a lot of parents will be hugging their children a little tighter after the Newtown shooting. But really this appreciation should not be limited to our children, but to all people. All are irreplaceable; all are contingent, and passing away.
If you want to be miserable, think of yourself as entitled to what you have. Then you will hate and blame anyone and anything that takes anything away. Inevitably, someone or something will take everything away, and you will have nothing but bitterness and resentment to show for it.
But if you want to be happy, think of everything as an unearned gift—grace—because, most importantly, that’s what it is. Did those children die in Sandy Hook because they were worse than the rest of us? Of course not. Do we have good things here in America while children starve in the Sudan because God loves us more than He loves them? Of course not. You do not have the blessings you have, which are more than you can count, because you deserve them: you don’t. And the sooner you admit that, the sooner you can really enjoy them. The Newtown shooting was terrible, despicable, and evil. But good can come out of tragedy if we take the right lessons from it. If it gives us perspective, then that is a good; it doesn’t make up for the loss, but it is a good nonetheless. If we take the wrong lesson from it, then that is yet another evil. Read more ..
Palestine on Edge
|Evelyn Gordon||December 21st 2012|
One of the saddest comments I’ve ever heard was Gaza resident Ziad Ashour’s statement to the New York Times last week. Ever since the first intifada erupted in 1987, the 43-year-old butcher said, “things have steadily declined in Gaza.”
Think about that for a moment: After 25 years of fighting Israel in every possible way-“popular resistance,” suicide bombings, rockets, diplomatic warfare, boycott/divestment/sanctions efforts-all the Palestinians have to show for it is 25 years of steady decline. Indeed, the facts bear out Ashour’s assessment: Despite massive international aid, Gaza’s per capita GDP has remained virtually flat, totaling $817 in 1987 and $876 in 2010. Unemployment, which was generally under 5 percent in the 1980s, had soared to 45 percent by the end of 2010. And to add insult to injury, neither the terror nor the diplomatic warfare succeeded in preventing Israel from flourishing over those 25 years. Read more ..
The Congo on Edge
|Morgan Lorraine Roach and Brett D. Schaefer||December 19th 2012|
The recent occupation and subsequent retreat by the rebel group M23 from the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s (DRC) city of Goma is the latest episode of the country's instability. Though M23 is just the newest rebel group among many, it is emblematic of the failure by the Congolese government and the international community to address the development and governance issues that undermine peace prospects.
The crisis occurred despite a United Nations peacekeeping mission for over a decade, billions of dollars in economic and humanitarian assistance, and ongoing diplomatic efforts. The United States should reassess its support for the U.N. peacekeeping mission, increase accountability for the inept government in Kinshasa, seek to secure Rwandan and Ugandan support, and emphasize the need for an African-led strategy. Read more ..
Obama and Israel
|Saul Roth||December 18th 2012|
World Jewish Daily
Bret Stephens at the Wall Street Journal believes the appointment of Chuck Hagel as defense secretary would represent an ominous turn for Israel and send a worrying signal about President Obama's intentions in his second term. Numbers of news outlets have now documented Hagel's critical attitude toward the Jewish state, starting with his warnings about the "Jewish lobby" and including his refusal to call Hezbollah a terrorist organization. In 2006, Hagel described Israel's war against Hezbollah as: "the systematic destruction of an American friend, the country and people of Lebanon." He later refused to sign a letter calling on the European Union to designate Hezbollah as a terrorist organization. In 2007, he voted against designating Iran's Revolutionary Guards Corps as a terrorist organization, and also urged President Bush to open "direct, unconditional" talks with Iran to create "a historic new dynamic in U.S.-Iran relations." In 2009, Mr. Hagel urged the Obama administration to open direct talks with Hamas. Read more ..
The Darkest Edge
|Joe Eaton||December 18th 2012|
Center for Public Integrity
Read more ..
The National Rifle Association is keeping silent in response to calls for gun control measures in the wake of the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. Yet the massive trail of political money spent by the group shows the potent force any proposals for new restrictions will likely face when the anger and dismay over Sandy Hook recedes.
Since President Barack Obama took office, the NRA has spent millions to lobby Congress on gun legislation and bankroll the campaigns of supportive candidates. From 2009 through the first three quarters of 2012, the NRA spent more than $8.5 million to lobby on gun bills, according to mandated federal lobby disclosure records, most often to block proposed limits on weapons and ammunition access or support efforts to expand the right to carry concealed weapons in public. Direct federal lobbying accounts for only a small portion of the association’s total spending to influence state and federal gun policy; according the NRA’s 2010 tax return, it spent more than $20 million on “legislation action” that year. Much of the recent legislation on concealed weapons, in particular, has been at the state level.
|Michael Levi||December 17th 2012|
A new term has been getting a lot of play in recent weeks. The International Energy Agency (IEA) kicked things off when it projected that the United States will be “almost self-sufficient in energy, in net terms” by 2035. The idea of “net energy self sufficiency” has shown up everywhere from The Economist to Scientific American. Even a State department blog has trumpeted projected developments using similar words.
All of this is enough to make one wonder what net energy self sufficiency means. These reports and analyses all define it the same way: the energy content of whatever energy the United States imports will be less than (or equal to) the energy content of whatever energy the United States exports. “Net imports” will thus be zero or lower.
This sounds lovely but doesn’t actually mean much. I’ve written more than once in this space and elsewhere that oil independence (or oil self-sufficiency) is often overrated. But at least there’s a coherent theory of why the idea might make sense. In an extreme case, if cut off from imports, the United States would still be able to run its economy. Short of that, some will argue, if the United States produces the oil it consumes, its economy will be less vulnerable to price shocks. Whether one agrees or disagrees, there’s a real story to tell. Read more ..
Jewry on Edge
|Elliott Abrams||December 16th 2012|
The Weekly Standard
Denmark has long been regarded as one of the world's most attractive nations, for citizens and tourists alike. My own visits there, years ago as a student, were delightful. And the Danes have a wonderful history of civic virtue, not least during the Holocaust. As the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum notes in a web site dedicated to "The Rescue of the Jews of Denmark."
The Danish resistance movement, assisted by many ordinary citizens, coordinated the flight of some 7,200 Jews to safety in nearby neutral Sweden. Thanks to this remarkable mass rescue effort, at war's end, Denmark had one of the highest Jewish survival rates for any European country.
Times change. The latest news out of Denmark bore this headline: "Jews Warned Not to Wear Kipot, Stars of David in Copenhagen." Here is an excerpt: Read more ..
|Blake Clayton||December 16th 2012|
Council on Foreign Relations
OPEC ministers met in Vienna on Wednesday to discuss the current oil market outlook and make a decision about future production levels, as well as to select a new secretary general. After deliberating, the group opted not to alter the current production ceiling of 30 million barrels per day (though they are currently pumping more than that). Nor could they agree on a replacement for the current secretary general, Abdalla Salem el-Badr, a Libyan national, choosing instead to extend his tenure an additional year starting next month.
As with any OPEC meeting, what was not decided—and at times not even mentioned, at least publicly—can be as revealing as what was. So what did this week’s events tell us? Here are three quick takeaways.
1. The question of how to accommodate soaring output from Iraq is becoming more and more pressing for the rest of OPEC. Currently outside the collective output target, Iraq’s 3+ million barrels per day of crude production is becoming an increasingly significant force in the global market. Iraqi production is widely expected to increase by several thousand barrels a day next year. Its ascent may force its OPEC peers to give way—but that won’t happen without a fight. Some member countries, including Saudi Arabia, think it’s time to give the country a firm target; others, notably Iran and Venezuela, disagree. Read more ..
Edging Toward the Fiscal Cliff
|Richard Alden||December 16th 2012|
A new study released this week by the Pew Center for the States is further proof of the folly of state tax incentives as a way to attract job-creating business – though in its usual even-handed fashion Pew is careful not to say as much. The report shows that surprisingly few states make serious estimates of the potential cost of tax incentives they offer companies, and very few cap the total benefits, leaving the government exposed to large losses.
The results can be shocking. According to Pew, Louisiana’s tax break for horizontal oil and gas drilling, which cost just $285,000 in 2007 before the technology was fully developed, cost the state $239 million in 2010. Hawaii’s tax credits for renewable energy leapt from $34 million in 2010 to an estimated $260 million next year. Read more ..
The Darkest Edge
|Jim Sleeper||December 16th 2012|
When Lyndon Johnson, standing before a joint session of Congress and a national television audience to propose the Voting Rights Act, said, "We shall overcome," he risked his party's political future to defy long-entrenched interests and arrangements. Progress would require more than laws and federal marshals and troops. It would depend on nothing less than a long, wrenching reconfiguration of many Americans' national myths and viscera.
Now President Obama should urge a joint session of Congress and a national audience to overcome the delusion that arming ourselves as we do has made the United States a safer or freer country in which to raise children with hope.
We're far less safe -- or free -- than other western countries that prohibit or restrict guns. We're certainly no safer or freer than the regime of racial segregation that Johnson ended. And yesterday Newtown, CT, like a growing list of other communities, felt like Iraq or Afghanistan after our heavily armed invasions of them. We have forgotten where power really comes from and how it really flows or is drained. Since the middle of the last century, vast empires and national-security regimes, armed to the teeth, have been brought down by unarmed peoples in British India, apartheid South Africa, the Soviet-ruled nations of Eastern Europe. Read more ..
The Vote Aftermath
|Star Parker||December 15th 2012|
Now, suddenly, the Tea Party is everybody's whipping boy.Liberals, in the wake of the election, gloat about what they see as liberalism's return to the mainstream and good riddance to the end of the Republican "extremists." And, despite the spin, which never stops in Washington, it is not accidental that four prominent Tea Party congressmen have been purged from key committee posts by House Speaker John Boehner.
So as the Washington "establishment" cozies up to the mindset that America will go on no matter what and that a bloated, debt-ridden America can go on just fine as long as there is political compromise in Washington, here are a few things to think about.
The Economist Intelligence Unit, a sister company of The Economist magazine, publishes each year a "quality of life" index. It ranks 50 countries around the world according to which has the best prospects for the highest quality of life in the upcoming year. It looks at 11 factors, including economic (GDP per capita, GDP growth, inflation) and socio-political (life expectancy, literacy, human rights) considerations. When the Index was first published in 1988, the United States was No. 1 in the world. This year, the United States has dropped to number 16. Read more ..
Islam's War on Christianity
|Ben Cohen||December 14th 2012|
Who, you ask? Were it not for the valiant agency Morning Star News, which specializes in documenting the persecution of Christians around the world, even fewer news consumers would know the name of this angelic-looking, 71-year-old Swedish lady who was gunned down in the Pakistani city of Lahore:
Shot by two armed men outside her house in Lahore’s upscale Model Town as she returned from her Full Gospel Assemblies (FGA) office in the Kot Lakhpat area, Almby died at about 10 p.m. Pakistan Standard Time at Karolinska Hospital in Stockholm, FGA Bible School Principal Liaqat Qaiser told Morning Star News. Almby, director at the FGA Technical Training Institute and also a teacher at the FGA Bible School, was shot in the chest, and the bullet damaged her left lung. Initially she was taken to Lahore’s Jinnah Hospital, where doctors removed the bullet and said her condition was critical because of excessive bleeding.
She had served the Pakistani Christian community for 38 years. “Almby will be missed dearly,” Qaiser said. “She spent a long time serving the poor and downtrodden Christians in Pakistan, and every Christian is very sad at her demise. But she is in a much better place now.” Who would commit such a monstrous act? According to the local police superintendent, Ijaz Shafi Dogar, the lack of witnesses means that it’s hard to figure out the motive behind Almby’s murder.
But Qaiser, Almeby’s colleague, is in no doubt that the responsibility lies with Islamist terrorists. “Who else would want to murder someone as apolitical and harmless as Almby, who had dedicated her life to serving humanity?” he asked. Superintendent Dogar, meanwhile, is making every effort to dampen speculation over the Punjabi Taliban’s involvement in the murder, on the grounds that “there was no word from them regarding the attack on the Swede.” Read more ..
Turkey on Edge
|Eli E. Hertz||December 14th 2012|
Myths and Facts
The leniency with which the European Union (EU) judges Palestinians’ reforms compared to the strictness of EU demands for reform by the Turks reveal Europeans’ duplicity and lack of integrity, and should disqualify the European Union from playing any significant role in the Middle East peace process, under the guise of being an honest broker.
EU hypocrisy is undoubtedly noticed when one examines and compares the own benchmarks of the EU as applied to a country-candidate [for example Turkey] waiting to join the European Union on the one-hand, and the benchmarks the EU is applying toward the Palestinians who seek to have a state, on the other hand.
European yardsticks for Palestinians, a hostile society, joining the Family of Nations amounts to praise for fabricated non-existent reforms and calls to drop the required incremental progress from the Roadmap. An end to violence and democratic reform that Palestinians have not even begun is tolerable. All of this in order to forge the way for immediate establishment of a Palestinian state, one which will endanger the very survival of a free and democratic Israel. Read more ..
|Elliott Abrams ||December 13th 2012|
Council on Foreign Relations
What do elected officials owe voters? The debate over the theory of representation is an old and distinguished one, asking whether elected representatives should vote as they believe their constituents would wish or vote as they think best.
But this assumes that the elected parliamentarians stick around long enough to vote at all. In recent weeks we’ve seen examples of a newer phenomenon: the person who is elected and then walks away.
The worst example is that of Jo Ann Emerson, re-elected just five weeks ago in Missouri. Within days of that victory she quit, announcing that she will resign from Congress to head up the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association. Her resignation statement says “I am going to miss the constituents I work with every day, the thousands of small business owners, compassionate families, community leaders, students and servicemembers who define the character of Southern Missouri….I am not leaving Congress because I have lost my heart for service — to the contrary — I see a new way to serve.” This is pretty much nonsense, as the Washington Post pointed out in a sharp editorial that noted how much more money she will be earning in her “new way to serve.” Read more ..
Israel on Edge
|Barry Rubin||December 12th 2012|
The Palestinian leadership, abetted by many Western governments, has now torn up every agreement it made with Israel. Once the efforts of two decades of negotiations—including irrevocable Israeli compromises in giving the Palestinian Authority control over territory, its own armed forces, dismantling settlements, and permitting billions of dollars of foreign aid to the Palestinians—were destroyed, the world has decided to focus the blame on Israel approving the construction of 3,000 apartments.
In 1993, Israel signed an agreement with the PLO to make peace in the Israel-Palestinian conflict. The accord, known as the Oslo agreement, included the following passage in Article 31: “Neither side shall initiate or take any step that will change the status of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip pending the outcome of the permanent status negotiations.” By essentially unilaterally declaring the existence of an Arab Palestine, the world has abrogated that agreement. Read more ..
Gaza on Edge
|A. Jay Adler||December 12th 2012|
It is a term we hear a lot in the twenty-first century anti-Israel propaganda storm, flung wildly against the truth – that Gaza is an “open-air” prison. We hear it not only from Arab and Muslim anti-Semites and the committed anti-Israel ideologues, but from well meaning people on the left who speak out of compassion. They know of a densely populated land area with significant poverty, an area the borders of which are controlled by third parties – Israel and Egypt, though most of these people purposely or ignorantly neglect to remember Egypt – and they are moved by what seem to be longstanding and intractably oppressive living conditions. It is simply inconceivable to them that these conditions – the density, the poverty, the external controls – are conditions that the people who live in them, in fact, choose for themselves rather than opt to alleviate . Who would act so against reason and manifest self-interest? An alternative historical narrative is thus required to render such hateful self-destructiveness more comprehensibly as pitiable oppression. Read more ..
Edging Toward the Fiscal Cliff
|Mackenzie Eaglen||December 11th 2012|
For nearly a year and a half, sequestration has been the law of the land. But few treated it that way, including the White House. The Obama administration was supposedly so confident sequestration would never happen that the Department of Labor encouraged defense manufacturers to ignore another law leading up to the election … and sequestration with the WARN Act. This basically mandates 60 days' notice in advance of predictable mass layoffs for certain larger companies.
Then the Pentagon went so far as to offer and foot the bill for contractors if they followed the government's advice and subsequently were sued by their laid-off employees. While Pentagon leaders never had the authority to bind the hands of a future Congress's spending, leadership of these major companies took Obama's Cabinet at its word. Finally, President Obama dismissed the prospect of sequestration during the final presidential debate, saying flat-out, "It will not happen." Read more ..
The Battle for Syria
|Thomas Donnelly||December 10th 2012|
The flurry of excitement over Syria’s “moving” of chemical weapons highlights yet again the paralysis gripping U.S. Middle East strategy. “We’re kind of boxed in,” an administration official confessed to the New York Times. “There’s an issue of presidential credibility here, but our options are quite limited.”
Indeed, there is a credibility issue. President Obama said at an August 20 news conference that it was a “red line for us [if] we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized.” That would “change my calculus,” he declared. But what has changed is the definition of “move.” Apparently, it doesn’t mean the Syrian Army moving chemical rounds in order to use them on rebel forces or mixing the “precursor” elements that give a chemical warhead its lethality, but, in the clarifying words of National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor, “ ‘moving around’ means proliferation,” as in transferring them to Hezbollah. Read more ..
America after Sandy
|Scott Gabriel Knowles and Patrick S. Roberts||December 10th 2012|
Ten years ago this month, a sweeping bipartisan consensus helped create the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Today, the nation is unarguably better prepared for a terrorist attack than it was on September 10, 2011. However, preparing for a terrorist attack doesn’t help prepare for a natural disaster. The United States now needs an aggressive effort against the threat of natural disasters similar to the one it mounted against terrorism. This means reform at the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
After September 11, everything changed at FEMA. The government was under pressure to do something—anything, really—to prepare for terrorism. Congress and the president created the mammoth 180,000-employee DHS, which swallowed the relatively small 3,000-employee FEMA and 21 other agencies, from the Coast Guard to the Customs Service. The new department divided FEMA’s attention between its core work of natural-disaster response, and the new counter-terrorism mission. Read more ..
Jewry on Edge
|Giulio Meotti||December 9th 2012|
Slapping history squarely in the face, UNESCO has accepted Arab propaganda and expropriated Jewish sites. In May 2011 the village of Battir in Judea, called “occupied Palestinian territory”, won the “Safeguarding and Management of Cultural Landscapes” award from the United Nations’cultural agency, UNESCO.
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Now the UN has informed the Palestinian Authority that it will accelerate the process of recognizing the ancient terraces near the village of Battir as a “world heritage site”. These terraces are the oldest in the Biblical Judean Hills and if the Palestinian Arabs’ strategy succeeds, the place is expected to be recognized as both a natural and a human heritage site, which is very rare (only five sites worldwide received such recognition). UNESCO is pursuing a diabolical Arabized geography which opens the door to a Jüdenrein Judea, a de-Judaized “holy land”, as the anti-Semitic semanticists call it.
China on Edge
|Elliot Abrams||December 9th 2012|
Council on Foreign Relations
December 10 is Human Rights Day, and the International Committee for Liu Xiaobo along with Chinese advocates of human rights have organized a petition of 134 Nobel Prize winners demanding the release of Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo. Their letter to Xi Jinping, the new General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party, as well as the list of Nobel Prize winners, can be found here. They have also launched a citizens’ petition drive aimed at the Chinese government, and it has gathered 200,000 signatures so far. These drives have a second goal as well: the release from years of house arrest of Liu’s wife Liu Xia. And today we have a remarkable Associated Press (AP) report on Liu Xia, because two AP reporters managed to get to her apartment when the policemen outside her home went off to lunch. An account and a video of the interview can be found at China Digital Times. Here is an excerpt: Read more ..
After the Holocaust
|Esther Toporek Finder||December 9th 2012|
Washington Jewish Week
There is not much similarity between the fiscal cliff most Americans face and what is ahead for many Holocaust survivors. The commonality is that both crises are man-made and within man's power to remedy.
Jewish social service agencies around the U.S. are dealing with shortfalls with regard to funds for needy Holocaust survivors. What is not widely known is that almost half the survivors in the U.S. live at or below poverty level. Though the number of survivors diminishes daily, those still with us have increasing needs. People who went through the bottomless evil that was the Shoah are dealing with the ravages of poverty in old age.
The German government has provided monies to help the survivors but not all the money collected in the name of survivors ever reached them. The organization responsible for distributing this money, the Claims Conference, has failed in several major respects and has quite a checkered history.
The Claims Conference took it upon itself to decide that not all the German funds were needed for survivor care so they initiated a system where some of the monies would go to projects they deemed worthy. They decided that about $18 million of the money they distributed annually would not be used for survivors. Instead it would be used for educational and other nonsurvivor programs including many programs of Claims Conference board members and their affiliates. As the public outcry got louder because the needs of the survivors were not always being met, the Claims Conference raised the amounts devoted to survivors but refused to cut nonsurvivor grants to various Jewish organizations. The aggregate amount of these diverted funds for over a decade exceeds $250 million. Read more ..
The Way We Are
|Christina Hoff Sommers||December 8th 2012|
Is it discriminatory and degrading for toy catalogs to show girls playing with tea sets and boys with Nerf guns? A Swedish regulatory group says yes. The Reklamombudsmannen (RO) has reprimanded Top-Toy, a licensee of Toys"R"Us and one of the largest toy companies in Northern Europe, for its "outdated" advertisements and has pressured it to mend its "narrow-minded" ways. After receiving "training and guidance" from RO equity experts, Top-Toy introduced gender neutrality in its 2012 Christmas catalogue. The catalog shows little boys playing with a Barbie Dream House and girls with guns and gory action figures. As its marketing director explains, "For several years, we have found that the gender debate has grown so strong in the Swedish market that we have had to adjust."
Swedes can be remarkably thorough in their pursuit of gender parity. A few years ago, a feminist political party proposed a law requiring men to sit while urinating—less messy and more equal. In 2004, the leader of the Sweden's Left Party Feminist Council, Gudrun Schyman,proposed a "man tax"—a special tariff to be levied on men to pay for all the violence and mayhem wrought by their sex. In April 2012, following the celebration of International Women's Day, the Swedes formally introduced the genderless pronoun "hen" to be used in place of he and she (han and hon). Read more ..
Edging Toward the Fiscal Cliff
|Star Parker||December 8th 2012|
Scripps Howard News Service
The crisis du jour in Washington now dominating the news, the so-called "fiscal cliff," is but the latest in seemingly endless political crises that we shouldn't be having. We get two different kinds of problems in life: the real ones -- the struggle to work and improve the quality of our lives -- and the ones we bring on ourselves through poor behavior. The more time we must deal with the latter type, the less time and energy we have to tackle life's real problems and challenges. The political crises that emanate from Washington are invariably problems of the type that result from poor behavior. And this latest, the fiscal cliff, is no exception.
Let's recall that the automatic tax hikes and spending cuts scheduled to occur in January -- the fiscal cliff -- are the result of the failure of Republicans and President Barack Obama to agree on a budget deal as a condition for raising the debt ceiling last year. Why do we have to keep raising the debt ceiling? Because politicians are afraid to be honest with the American people and immediately raise taxes to pay for all their new spending. So instead of raising taxes and paying for our new bills when we incur them, they just borrow the money. Anybody who doesn't pay the full balance on a credit card bill each month knows what this is about.
Except there's one big difference. You run up your credit card bill on your own account. You are the one who is on the line for your own bills. Politicians run up bills on our account. We're on the line for what they spend. They could just be honest. When they have their wonderful ideas about what they want to spend our money on, they could go right to taxpayers and say, "We are going to spend X for Y, so we will raise your taxes by Z to pay for it, OK?"
They don't do this because they know it is not OK. Politicians know that the money they are spending ultimately will come out of every American household. And if they go to those households, to those actually responsible for paying the bills, and the heads of those households know they don't have the money, they will say, "No. Don't spend the money and don't raise my taxes." Read more ..
Healthcare on Edge
|James C. Capretta||December 7th 2012|
The nation's fiscal problems are mainly the result of the rapid growth in spending on entitlement programs. In 1972, the federal government spent 4.4 percent of the nation's gross domestic product on Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. By 2011, spending on these three programs had jumped to 10.3 percent of GDP. The added spending on the "big three" entitlements—5.9 percent of GDP more in 2011 compared to 1972—exceeds the size of the entire budget for national defense.
Over the next 20 years, spending on the major entitlement programs (including the new spending from the 2010 health care law) is projected to continue to rise very rapidly, reaching 15.1 percent of GDP in 2030 under plausible assumptions used by the Congressional Budget Office. The historical rate of tax collection is 18.5 percent of GDP. Even assuming that were to rise, there's no prospect of raising taxes high enough or fast enough to cover the coming entitlement spending explosion. Read more ..
The Arab Winter of Rage
|Samir Khalil Samir||December 7th 2012|
Sadness prevails in the Middle East over the turn that the Arab Spring is taking. The most significant image is that of young people these days peacefully besieging Mohamed Morsi's presidential palace in Heliopolis.
After nearly two years we are still at the starting point, faced with a fresh attempt at dictatorship. It seems that the Arab Spring has been swept away. In addition, there is an increasingly clear bias towards Islam. This is evident in Cairo, but also in Tunisia, Libya and Syria.
The Arab Spring was the first rebellion against regimes that were born from a military revolution which gradually gave way to full scale dictatorships. The protest movements that have emerged in the past two years are a sign that there is a consciousness among the Arabs that says: We are fed up, and the force was such that it overthrew these dictatorships. It was an improvised protest against poverty and unemployment, and for more freedom and dignity. Read more ..
Edging Toward the Fiscal Cliff
|William G. Gale||December 6th 2012|
The Brookings Institution
Middle-class households will eventually have to see their taxes rise and some of their benefits fall as part of a long-term fiscal solution. The projected budget shortfalls in coming decades are too substantial for any large group to escape unscathed.
But increased tax revenue from high-income households alone could go a long way toward stabilizing the medium-term debt relative to the economy – a policy that could be achieved with about $2 trillion in deficit reduction over the next decade.
The administration has already proposed $1.6 trillion in tax increases on high-income households. The top two rates would return to Clinton-era levels, 36 and 39.6 percent. Tax benefits would be capped at 28 percent per dollar of itemized deductions, health insurance premiums, retirement contributions and tax exempt interest. These changes would have no effect on anyone currently in the 28 percent bracket or below, about 98 percent of households. A plan that is not yet on the table would be to reform the alternative minimum tax. The A.M.T, originally intended to assure that the richest Americans pay taxes, applies to a broader income base than the regular tax. But it has an almost flat rate structure of 26 and 28 percent. Read more ..
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