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Operation Pillar of Defense

What Was Hamas Thinking?

November 19th 2012

Hamas headquarters Gaza

Can Hamas win militarily against Israel? Of course not, and while Hamas’ leaders are certifiably bad men, they are not obviously stupid.  But their aim isn’t to win, it’s to be relevant in the modern Middle East.

Look at what’s happening in Gaza from Hamas’ perspective. If you don’t care about human life, governance or infrastructure – and that was manifest well before the outbreak of current hostilities – then Hamas’ decision to launch a war on Israel might look like a winner. Think about it this way: Hamas split from Iran and Syria after Bashar al Assad began killing his own people with abandon. A period of coolness between Hamas and Tehran, once an ardent sponsor, began. The Iranian leadership didn’t appreciate Hamas’ moralizing over Assad. That meant finding a new political sponsor; Iran was still ok with arming the Palestinian terrorist group. Et voila, a new sponsor has emerged in Cairo. Turkey too. And Qatar, which had been there all along, but quietly. Read more ..


Operation Pillar of Defense

Western Elites Are Baffled by the Middle East

November 19th 2012

Hamas head

The new war between Hamas and Israel has a lot of important lessons for international diplomacy and U.S. policy today. It once again shows that a country, especially one faced by a hostile adversary who cannot be turned away by words or compromises, has limited choices. And in that case a government must do what it must do.

A key to the problem of Western comprehension of international realities is admirably summarized by a New York Times editorial on the subject: "No country should have to endure the rocket attacks that Israel has endured from militants in Gaza, most recently over the past four days. The question is how to stop them permanently."

The answer to that question is simple to understand, if not easy to implement. The attacks can only be stopped if Hamas is removed from power and replaced, given contemporary circumstances, by the Palestinian Authority (PA). The PA is certainly no prize, but that’s a reasonable goal for what is often referred to as the international community. Read more ..


The Economy on Edge

Next Housing Bailout? Big Trouble Brewing at the FHA

November 18th 2012

Home Foreclosure

There's a growing consensus in America that the long-suffering housing market has reached bottom and is now mounting a recovery. Housing starts surged 15 percent in September to their highest level in four years. New home sales in the same month rose 5.7 percent to their highest level in two years. And the Zillow Home Price Index shows that home prices are up 3.4 percent from a year ago.

While these are welcome trends, figures released today from the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) throw a sobering splash of cold water. FHA's FY 2012 Actuarial Study for its main single family program shows that its capital position has turned negative, by $13.5 billion. That's a shift of $23 billion in economic value in a single year, and it puts the 78-year-old agency $34.5 billion short of its legal capital requirement. If it were a private company, it would be shut down. Read more ..


Obama's Second Term

We have a National Crisis in Character

November 17th 2012

Rahm Emanuel and Barry

Here's an excerpt from a letter I received the other day from a college professor:

"Throughout this election I discussed with students the differences between ideologies. The majority of them are on federal financial aid. They are fine with more taxes as long as they will be taken care of. It is disturbing to hear that they are willing to spend their own money on tattoos and cellphones but cannot buy the book for class until the financial aid comes in." For those who see social conservatism as an annoyance and argue that Republicans must purge this agenda from their party to survive, I say: "Think again." If Republicans want revival, we need an honest focus on what's really wrong in America and what must be done to assure that a great nation will be standing for our grandchildren and great grandchildren. Read more ..


The Vote Aftermath

Election Fraud? Obama Won More Than 99 Percent Of The Vote In More Than 100 Ohio Precincts

November 16th 2012

Vote Buttons

Barack Obama received more than 99% of the vote in more than 100 precincts in Cuyahoga County, Ohio on election day. In fact, there were a substantial number of precincts where Mitt Romney got exactly zero votes.So how in the world did this happen? Third world dictators don't even get 99% of the vote. Overall, Mitt Romney received 30.12% of the vote in Cuyahoga County. There were even a bunch of precincts in Cuyahoga County that Romney actually won. But everyone certainly expected that Cuyahoga County would be Obama territory.

And in most of the precincts that is exactly what we saw large numbers of votes for both candidates but a definite edge for Obama.  However, there are more than 100 precincts in Cuyahoga County where the voting results can only be described as truly bizarre.  Yes, we always knew that urban areas would lean very heavily toward Obama, but are we actually expected to believe that Obama got over 99% of the votes in those areas?  In more than 50 different precincts, Romney received 2 votes or less.  Considering how important the swing state of Ohio was to the national election, one would think that such improbable results would get the attention of somebody out there.  Could we be looking at evidence of election fraud hidden in plain sight? Read more ..


America on Edge

Secession Petitions Roil Across America

November 16th 2012

Paper Stack

Citizens in more and more U.S. states are petitioning the federal government to allow them to secede from the United States, according to news stories aired on Fox News Channel on Thursday. By the time President Barack Obama celebrates Inauguration Day, citizens in all 50 states will be in the process of compiling their petitions and submitting them to the Obama White House with an ultimate goal of being allowed to peacefully secede from the union. While liberal-left pundits are ridiculing these petitions calling them attempts by the "far-right" to create disharmony between conservatives and liberals, the mainstream news media are beginning to cover this quiet rebellion by Americans who believe in states' rights.

For example, according to Drew Zahn of Christianity Today, Louisiana's secession petition has more than 14,000 signatures, more than halfway to the threshold needed after which the White House has pledged to respond. Texas, is another state to join the secessionists with about 25,000 signatures.

Read more ..

Great Britain on Edge

Islamic Sharia Law Comes to Great Britain

November 15th 2012

Shariah demonstration

Stoning for adultery. Amputations for theft. Death for apostates. And second-class status for Christians and Jews. This is life under Sharia law, the Islamic system practiced in countries like Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Great Britain. Yes, Great Britain.

There are reportedly some 85 Sharia courts now operating there, with Islamic judges ruling on cases ranging from financial to marital disputes among British Muslims.

"We went into some proceedings and there were a couple of Islamic judges sitting up above the rest," said Alan Craig, who recently stepped down as leader of the Christian Peoples Alliance party. "And there was one Muslim woman who was suing for divorce." Craig is a former city councilor in East London, home to several Sharia courts where women face open discrimination.

"A woman's witness value is half that of a man," Craig told CBN News. "So [the courts] will tend, therefore, to take the man's position in a divorce." Craig is working with Baroness Caroline Cox to pass a bill in Britain's House of Lords protecting women from this Sharia oppression. Read more ..


The Vote Aftermath

We Will Never Win Unless....

November 15th 2012

Obama Bowed Head

All the discussion here and elsewhere dominating GOP/conservative issues is playing small-ball, I fear. Forget elections, the only thing that matters from now on is reclaiming as much of the culture as we can. Immigration, taxes, demographics are important, but in terms of electoral success, they are symptoms, not causes of GOP decline. Without getting too bogged down in esoterica, it seems uncontroversial to say that, at the end of the day, politics is culture (and of course, political systems reflect the cultures from which they grow). If that’s the case, then we will be in ever greater danger at the national level unless we start winning on the cultural battlefield. Losing five of the last six popular votes for the presidency should be a wake-up call.

As Irving Kristol noted, the culture war is over, and we lost. We were driven out of the universities, surrendered popular culture, and hunted from the mainstream media (from which most Americans continue to get their news). But we better start opening up some new fronts, conducting guerilla warfare, and investing in long-term strategy to have just the hope of keeping even. We need to fully accept the fact that nearly two generations have grown up in a dominantly liberal culture outside the home. It’s not simply that many don’t agree with conservative positions, it’s that they reflexively think in mainstream liberal terms. Moreover, conservatives, and the GOP in particular, have been vilified for so long that large swaths of the country see us as no less than dangerous to American society.

The campus conservative movement was an important, but small, push back, along with its campus media focus. Groups such as ISI continue to fight on, but we are holding small bridgeheads, at best. The majority of the time we are on the defensive, outside of churches and some synagogues. We start from a position of weakness and have to expend most of our energy just getting to even. The ratings success of Fox doesn’t translate into broader cultural appeal; instead we are increasingly in our own echo chamber. Read more ..


After the Election

All Tax Increases Are Not Created Equal

November 14th 2012

John Boehner

In a speech immediately following the election, House Speaker John Boehner offered President Obama an olive branch on taxes: Republicans are open to raising more taxes to help close the budget deficit, Boehner said, but it must be through tax reform rather than raising tax rates. "Tax reform" is almost certainly a euphemism for broadening the tax base by eliminating deductions, which leave trillions of dollars in income untaxed. Is this a deal in the making? Perhaps. If you have to raise taxes, this may be the way to do it. But both Democratic and Republican mindsets stand in the way.

Most conservatives and Republicans oppose raising tax rates because of their negative effects on individual incentives and the economy. Economists call this a "substitution effect"-that is, raising marginal tax rates induces individuals to substitute working with leisure time. If the government is taking a greater share of each additional dollar you earn, many people will simply choose to spend more time with their family, on the golf course, or whatever. And even those people who continue to work will make greater efforts to hide their income from taxation, in particular by exploiting tax deductions. Economists argue over how large these effects are, but no one claims that raising marginal tax rates won't hurt the economy. Read more ..


Heathcare on Edge

Behavioral Psychology Has Delivered Votes: Now Health?

November 13th 2012

Surgeons

Obama's most significant health care-related accomplishment this year may well have been his campaign's demonstration of the effective use of analytics and behavioral insight - strategies that also offer exceptional promise for the delivery of care and the maintenance of health.

For starters, of course, there's the widely-reported "big data" success of the Obama campaign.  In unprecedented fashioned, they collected, mined, analyzed, and actioned information, microtargeting voters in a remarkably individualized fashion. Imagine if health care interventions could be personalized as effectively (or pursued as passionately).

Another example: According to the NYT, the Obama campaign hired a "dream team" of behavioral psychologists to burnish their message and bring out the vote, using a range of techniques the field has developed over the years.
According to the article, the behavioral experts "said they knew of no such informal advisory committee on the Republican side." Read more ..


Yeman on Edge

U.S.-Yemeni Terror Obsession Will Not Solve Yemen's Woes

November 13th 2012

Yemen Crisis

Among the world leaders who congratulated President Barack Obama for winning a second term last week was the Yemeni president, Abdrabu Mansur Hadi. From the Yemeni leader's point of view, the most important aspect of Mr Obama's reelection is perhaps the issue of the continuation of a U.S.-Yemeni war on terrorism.

In the congratulatory cable, President Hadi "reiterated that the Yemeni-American partnership will continue to advance and the cooperation in the fight against terrorism will progress." Mr. Hadi praised his American counterparts' "achievements in curtailing the threat of terrorism and highlighted the linkage between global interests with the performance of the U.S. administration". No other Yemeni subjects were raised in the cable. The prominence given to antiterrorism efforts in the U.S.-Yemeni relationship recalls the days of the old regime. Under Ali Abdullah Saleh, there was consistent controversy about whether the former president was sincere in his fight against Al Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula (AQAP), or was just manipulating the cause to secure more military aid and support to his regime. Read more ..


The UK on Edge

Man with Ties to Palestinian Islamic Jihad Set to Speak in UK House of Commons

November 12th 2012

Hamas head

A Palestinian man with alleged ties to terrorist organizations has been invited to speak in the UK House of Commons, and an opposition group has responded by calling for the UK to bar his entry into the country.

The event is being organized by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign and hosted by Jeremy Corbyn MP.

Mousa Abu Maria spent several years in prison in Israel because of his membership with the terrorist group Palestinian Islamic Jihad as well as for throwing stones and Molotov cocktails. In 2003 he was released as part of a prisoner exchange, and In 2008 he was placed in administrative detention, once again due to suspected connections to the PIJ.

Though Abu Maria claims he is no longer involved with Islamic Jihad, as recently as May he was pictured standing next to Khader Adnan, a member of Islamic Jihad, while holding a poster that declared support for Palestinian Islamic Jihad members Bilal Diab & Tha’er Hala. Read more ..


Obama and Israel

Israel and U.S. on a Collision Course?

November 11th 2012

Obama pointing finger at Netanyahu

Some 57 percent of Israeli Jews preferred Romney, only 22 percent Obama (in my sector of American Israelis it was even more lopsided, a full 85 percent having cast absentee ballots for the challenger, only 14 percent for the incumbent). So, naturally, for the most part, November 7, 2012 was not a day of celebration in Israel.

Israel, too, has elections coming up-on January 22. That has prompted speculations that Obama will now throw his weight behind Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s left-of-center challengers. There are precedents for it, most notably in 1999 when President Bill Clinton sent a team of PR strategists Stanley Greenberg, James Carville, and Robert Shrum to help out Ehud Barak, then challenging Netanyahu (in his earlier term) from the left. Barak won by a narrow margin.

The difference is that this time, according to all polls so far, the right-of-center bloc that Netanyahu heads will win at least as decisively as it did in 2009. The left-wing challengers (some of them again being helped by Greenberg ) are already crowing that the Netanyahu-Obama tensions are the former’s fault, and he thereby endangers Israeli-U.S. relations. Some say Obama will exploit this to stir fears among Israelis and shift the balance to the left. Read more ..


Islam on Edge

The Sunni-Shia Conflict Will Be The Major Feature of Middle East Politics for Decades

November 11th 2012

Mecca Hajj

Once upon a time, Arab nationalism ruled the Middle East. Its doctrine saw Arab identity as the key to political success. Some regarded Islam as important; others were secular. Yet there was no doubt that national identity was in charge. All Arabs should unite, said the radical nationalists who ruled in Egypt, Libya, Syria, Iraq, and elsewhere, to destroy Israel, expel Western influence, and create a utopian single state in the region.

Instead, of course, the period was characterized by battles among the radical Arab states for leadership. The less extreme ones sought survival through a combination of giving lip service to radical slogans, paying off the stronger regimes, and getting Western help. Read more ..


The Obama Edge

Seizing the Moment

November 10th 2012

Obama

Barack Obama, a historic president, defied history again Tuesday night to be reelected amid a climate of 7.9 percent unemployment, the kind that usually shows incumbent presidents the door. His records on healthcare reform and stimulus remain unpopular, and the anemic recovery convinced only 4 in 10 voters the country is on the right track. Obama won anyway.

Republicans are blaming Mitt Romney already for defeat. Tuesday morning he was the next president, a candidate so certain of victory he chose not to prepare a concession speech. But today he is a GOP punching bag, as Republicans, leaderless for four years running, search for someone to blame. Many conservatives were on the record months ago predicting Romney couldn’t make the sale: Ann Coulter and former Sen. Rick Santorum, for example. They will review Romney’s many mistakes, gaffes and missed opportunities, and the list is long. They will recall those days in the GOP primary race  in Romney’s sixth year of running for president — when Santorum, Herman Cain, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Rep. Michelle Bachmann  all enjoyed leads over Romney. Read more ..


The Defense Edge

The US Can't Afford Not to Lead

November 9th 2012

Barack Obama in Thought

President Obama may believe he can abandon “nation-building abroad” to focus on “nation-building at home,” but that is what he would normally call a “false choice.”

In his next term he will face major challenges abroad, not just challenges of “nation-building” but threats to our national security: an unstable and nuclear-armed Pakistan; a possible Taliban take-over in Afghanistan; a potential Iranian nuclear capability threatening vital U.S. interests in the Persian Gulf and the security of Israel; the growing strength of anti‑American Islamist extremists in Syria in the absence of meaningful support for the non-Islamist opposition.

Libya does present a challenge of nation-building, but the U.S. has already suffered a major setback -- including the murder of a U.S. ambassador and three other Americans -- by leaving the new pro-American Libyan government unable to provide for that country’s security. Read more ..


Palestine on Edge

The Palestinian Conflict with Israel is Not the Core of the Middle East Conflict

November 9th 2012

Contreras
Syrian Carnage

As Syria's civil war drags on, it is increasingly destabilizing its neighbors. First, hundreds of thousands of refugees poured over their borders; now, violence has as well. Turkey and Syria have repeatedly exchanged deadly cross-border fire; in Jordan, a soldier was killed in clashes with militants heading for Syria to join the fighting; in Lebanon, the assassination of a senior intelligence official considered close to the Syrian opposition sparked violent clashes in Beirut. Ironically, in fact, Syria's quietest border nowadays is with Israel - the one neighbor it's officially at war with. Despite occasional accidents (tanks straying into the demilitarized zone during the ongoing civil war, errant bullets and mortars), there has been no intentional violence across this border, and no casualties.

Yet in reality, this shouldn't be surprising; it's the logical outgrowth of a basic fact about the Middle East that is too often overlooked: Contrary to the popular perception that the region revolves around the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the truth is that Israel is irrelevant to most of the region most of the time, because it isn't a player in the nonstop jockeying for power among the Mideast's various Muslim sects and countries. Read more ..


The Vote Aftermath

Republicans Engage in Navel-Gazing Following Obama Victory

November 8th 2012

romney buttons

Republicans were in a soul-searching mood Wednesday, pondering their political future after President Obama won a resounding victory despite the stagnant economy and an approval rating routinely south of 50 percent. The 2012 election seemed to underscore the point many in the GOP most feared in 2008: Without improving numbers among Hispanic voters and women, and with a younger population becoming more socially liberal each year, the Republican Party risks marginalization in future presidential elections.

Further complicating efforts for Republicans was the one bright spot in an otherwise gloomy night: The party easily retained the House of Representatives on the back of their incumbents — a large faction of whom were elected by appealing to strongly conservative voters in home districts that have become increasingly polarized through the redistricting process. Read more ..


Education on Edge

Study Student Aid Before You Reform It

November 7th 2012

Graduates

After four years of significant growth, the Pell Grant program faces in 2014 what has been called a "funding cliff." The looming shortfall has set off a heated debate about how to put the program—and our entire student-financial-aid system—on a path that is more sustainable and better serves students.

Behind the sound bites of the presidential election, many researchers, wonks, advocates, and foundations have become involved. This fall, for instance, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation awarded grants to an array of organizations tasked with reimagining the design and delivery of financial-aid programs. (I am a part of one project, organized by HCM Strategists.)

The discussions under way go beyond temporary fixes to financing issues; they are asking important questions about the future shape of financial aid. How can scarce money be allocated more efficiently? Can reforms help more students complete college while maintaining a commitment to ensuring them access to postsecondary education? Read more ..


Broken Government

Extend Bush-Era Tax Cuts to Spur Economy

November 7th 2012

Employee applications

There is a sharp contrast between the Republican and Democratic views when it comes to the issue of job creation. Upon taking office in 2009, President Obama signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which was predicted to provide a Keynesian or demand-side stimulus to the economy, spurring growth and job creation.

One could argue endlessly about whether the $814 billion injection into the economy created or saved millions of jobs. The fact is that three years down the line, the lofty prediction that the Recovery Act would result in average unemployment rates of 6 percent or less has not worked out. It's time to try a different approach.

Supply-side economics makes several common-sense predictions about ways to stimulate economic growth and job creation. Tax cuts are important for businesses of all sizes - large and small - and for individuals. Lower tax burdens mean everyone has more money to spend, invest, and expand the economy. If that logic holds for those earning less than $250,000, why wouldn't it hold for those making more than that arbitrarily picked amount? Read more ..


The Vote Aftermath

Dismayed Tea Party Calls for Wholesale Reassessment of DC Politicians

November 7th 2012

Obama and Romney dreamin

Leaders of the Tea Party News Network (TPNN) and TheTeaParty.net offered an unflinching assessment of Election Day results. Todd Cefaratti, editor of the Tea Party News Network said, "We're disappointed in Governor Romney's loss. But this goes to the heart of what we have been saying all along. Bob Dole didn't win. John McCain didn't win. And now Mitt Romney hasn't won. The lesson the GOP and Americans need to learn is that weak-kneed Republicans do not get elected. Conservatives do."

"The Tea Party has not yet begun to fight. It's time for a wholesale reassessment of the D.C. establishment politicians and party grandees who have no commitment or courage to reduce the size of government. We now have another four years ahead of us with Barack Obama leading the charge against liberty,"  TPNN News Director Scottie Hughes said.  "There were some bright spots tonight from Ted Cruz to Jeff Flake, to a decisive win in the U.S. House where Tea Partiers have a mandate to stand against Obama's big government second-term agenda."

Read more ..

Obama and Benghazi

Media Scandal in the Making: CBS Posts Still More of President’s Benghazi Interview

November 6th 2012

Amb. Christopher Stevens, killed in Libya #2

On Sunday night, a full 54 days after the terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya, CBS finally posted a critically important segment of the 60 Minutes interview with President Obama conducted on September 12.

Unbelievably, it was left on the cutting room floor even as 60 Minutes aired a long segment with President Obama criticizing presidential challenger Mitt Romney over his remarks on protests in Egypt. Given the substance of what was left out, this editorial decision shows CBS as either shamelessly biased in favor of the President or hopelessly incompetent as a news organization.

Central to the newly released segment is President Obama’s failure to describe the Benghazi attack as terrorism in his Rose Garden statement made earlier the same day. It will be recalled that he was pressed hard by Mitt Romney on this point in the second presidential debate. Read more ..


The Defense Edge

In the Face of Sequestration Military Must Be Kept Strong

November 6th 2012

USS Abraham Lincoln Flight Deck

Retired Admiral Gary Roughead, former chief of naval operations, recently expressed concerns over looming defense cuts caused by sequestration.

He joins a chorus that includes the current service chiefs, the Secretary of Defense, and the former chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in urging political leaders to find a way to stop these debilitating cuts.

Speaking at the Hoover Institution, Roughead reiterated Defense Secretary Leon Panetta’s comment that sequestration’s cuts to defense would be “shooting ourselves in the head.” Rather than discuss the dramatic reductions that the Navy’s fleet faces under budget cuts, the retired four-star admiral made the case for why a robust U.S. naval force is necessary: When people [in Iran] talk about closing the Straits of Hormuz, in the Arabian Gulf, no one can guarantee passage in that critical strait other than the United States. When we talk about the South China Sea and the East China Sea and causing cooler heads to prevail, so that some of these issues [between China and its neighbors] can be worked out, it’s the United States that provides the credible presence. No one else can do that. Read more ..


Broken Education

Five Myths About Education

November 5th 2012

parents teachers students

MARK TWAIN observed that "it's not what you don't know that kills you, it's what you know for sure that ain't true." After 15 years doing fieldwork in more than 100 public schools and interviewing more than 1,000 students, parents, and educators, we're convinced that no area is more fraught with myths and misconceptions than education policy, especially during election seasons like this one. Indeed our friend Jay Greene wrote a whole book, "Education Myths," devoted to debunking them.

With apologies to Jay, here are our own favorite myths about public education.

1. The Cutback Myth. Most Americans believe that their public schools are underfunded, and struggling to get by on declining resources. Certainly among 14,000 school districts and roughly 100,000 public schools some are under-resourced, but on the whole this is simply not true. In constant dollars, education spending rose from $1,214 in 1945 to just under $10,500 in 2008. The St. Louis public schools, for example, spend more than $14,000 per student per year, so if it has problems, money is not one of them. What's far more important is how that money is spent. Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

I Didn't Leave the Democrats. They Left Me

November 5th 2012

sheldon adelson

When members of the Democratic Party booed the inclusion of God and Jerusalem in their party platform this year, I thought of my parents. They would have been astounded.

The immigrant family in which I grew up was, in the matter of politics, typical of the Jews of Boston in the 1930s and '40s. Of the two major parties, the Democrats were in those days the more supportive of Jewish causes. Indeed, only liberal politicians campaigned in our underprivileged neighborhood. Boston's Republicans, insofar as we knew them, were remote, wealthy elites ("Boston Brahmins"), some of whose fancy country clubs didn't accept Jews. It therefore went without saying that we were Democrats. Like most Jews around the country, being Democrat was part of our identity, as much a feature of our collective personality as our religion. So why did I leave the party? Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

Syrian Rebels and the War Crimes they Commit

November 5th 2012

Free Syrian Army

Before embracing the Syrian rebellion, American leaders would be wise to investigate allegations of war crimes committed by some of the rebels fighting the Assad regime. A graphic video examined by officials from the United Nations on Saturday appears to show Syrian rebels beating and murdering soldiers or pro-Assad militiamen, and is possibly evidence of war crimes, according to a counterterrorism source in Israel.

The source emailed an Internet hyperlink of the video on Saturday, but believes the actual incident occurred on Thursday. The video shows gunmen beating and shooting a group of prisoners who are seen cowering on the floor. It has been alleged that radical Islamist carried out the attack after seizing several security checkpoints.

The video appears to show agitated rebels kicking and pushing the soldiers or pro-government militiamen, known locally as "Shabiha", to the ground inside one of the seized buildings. Shots are then fired into the cowering mass of bodies.

Read more ..

Russia on Edge

Cashing in on the Pussy Riot Brand

November 5th 2012

pussy riot hoosegow
Members of Pussy Riot at trial

An ugly dispute over the ownership of Pussy Riot's name has flared up in Russia, with lawyers and members accusing each other of seeking to cash in on the group's notoriety.

The all-women punk collective shot to global fame earlier this year after staging a provocative anti-Kremlin performance in a Moscow cathedral. Three members of the group were sentenced to two years in prison over the stunt, although one of them, Yekaterina Samutsevich, was later released on probation.

Samutsevich is now accusing her former lawyer, Mark Feigin, of applying for the Pussy Riot trademark without the group's knowledge. In comments published November 2 in the Russian "Kommersant" daily, she said she was "shocked" and "very surprised" to learn that Feigin had applied to register the brand under his wife's film company, Web Bio. Read more ..


Nigeria on Edge

Boko Haram Offers Cease Fire Opportunity?

November 4th 2012

Helpless Nigerian man

A phone call to journalists on November 1st may have put a cease fire with Boko Haram on the table. Abu Muhammad Ibn Abdulazeez, who claims to be a spokesman for the group, and “amir” (lieutenant) to leader Abubakar Shekau, laid out conditions for a cease fire and named acceptable mediators. These included former presidential candidate General Muhammadu Buhari (Ret).  Talks with the government would take place in Saudi Arabia.

Ibn Abdulazeez’s credibility as a Boko Haram spokesman is not yet established. If he does speak for Shekau, his disavowal of certain recent terrorist attacks in Maiduguri might be a sign that Boko Haram is fragmenting, or merely reflect a highly decentralized structure. The three major Nigerian newspapers reporting the story are treating it with caution. So should we. The preconditions are broadly familiar: the government should compensate Boko Haram and rebuild its mosques and other facilities destroyed during the 2009 uprising; release all Boko Haram members in detention; “rehabilitate” the families of Boko Haram members; and prosecute and punish former governor of Borno state Ali Sheriff, whom Boko Haram holds responsible for the 2009 massacre. Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

Mega Storm Saves Obama from himself

November 4th 2012

Obama-Limo

If President Obama had the time for some introspection on the campaign trail, he might take offense at all the media speculation (and in many cases wishful thinking gussied up as speculation) that his response to Hurricane Sandy will give him the edge going into Election Day. In effect, people are saying: “Obama is doing the minimum requirements of his job, what a game-changer!”

Now, one could quibble about whether he’s really doing what a president should. He’s handing out a bunch of checks, which is warranted, but he has staff to do that. Moreover, presidential photo ops at disaster sites aren’t all that helpful. In his remarks Wednesday, the president thanked some local politicians and told people to visit the FEMA website, if they have electricity. The imperative for him to be the one delivering that message is no doubt obvious to all. Read more ..


Broken Economy

Welfare Under Obama Hits $1 Trillion

November 3rd 2012

Unemployment Line in California

Under President Barack Obama, the U.S. government is distributing a record amount of public assistance and a new report reveals that it’s much worse than previously imagined because the Obama administration is spending more than the median national income to provide each impoverished household with welfare, a public-interest watchdog group reported on Halloween, the day of trick-or-treat.

According to Judicial Watch, a disturbing report was released by the Congressional Research Service (CRS), a group with a staff of about 900 lawyers, economists and scientists who conduct research and analysis for the United States Congress.

The report reveals that in 2011 the U.S. government spent $1 trillion for welfare benefits, including $746 billion in federal funds and $254 in state matching funds. The incredible amount of taxpayer money doesn't include Medicare and Social Security, which are paid for by recipients throughout the working years, but only handouts like food stamps, cash welfare, Section 8 housing, and medical insurance known as Medicaid, the report indicates. Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

Obama’s Medicare Plan: Seniors Will Pay More

November 3rd 2012

medicine and money #2

Today’s seniors are facing higher Medicare costs. Over the next five years, current law, as amended by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA, also known as “Obamacare”), and President Obama’s budget proposals guarantee higher costs for today’s seniors.

Status Quo Hikes

The 2012 Medicare trustees report says that, over the period 2012 to 2017, seniors’ standard Medicare Part B monthly premiums will jump from $99.90 to $128.20, while their Part B deductibles will rise from $140 to $180. Seniors’ Medicare hospital deductible will increase from $1,156 to $1,336, while their daily hospital coinsurance will climb from $289 to $334. And for seniors in the hospital beyond 90 days (lifetime reserve days), the per diem coinsurance costs are estimated to reach $668 by 2017. In other words, under current law, anyone over 65 who fails to buy private catastrophic insurance coverage is taking a huge risk. Read more ..


America After Sandy

In Hurricane Sandy Aftermath, Why Has New Jersey Been Forsaken?

November 2nd 2012

Hurricane Sandy Lashes Ocean City

Is there anyone who can tell us what the heck is going on? We in New Jersey have no power, no heat, no lights, in some places little food, and no gas. Yes, I know these are mere inconveniences compared to those who have suffered the unspeakable tragedy of losing family members. At least 50 are dead from Sandy, and those lives are irreplaceable. We mourn their loss. But nothing should excuse New York and New Jersey looking like Armageddon.

Aren’t we the nation that rebuilt Iraq and have done tons of nation-building in Afghanistan? Can’t we put the lights and heat back on New Jersey? Is it asking too much to bring a bunch of fuel tankers here and end the 100 vehicle long lines that are growing larger by the day? Just getting from point A to point B has been like navigating an labyrinth since the gas lines have cut off so many of the streets. President Obama declared this area to be a Federal Disaster Area. But where is FEMA? Where are the troops? Where are the gas tankers? Read more ..


Obama and Benghazi

Recovered Document Reveals Al-Qaeda ‘Brother’ in Control of U.S. Embassy in Tripoli

November 2nd 2012

Libya protesters

A treasure trove of secret documents has been obtained by a Libyan source who says that secularists in his country are increasingly wanting to see Mitt Romney defeat Barack Obama on November 6th. This charge is being made despite Muslim Brotherhood losses in Libyan elections last July which resulted in victory for the secularists. One of those documents may help explain this sentiment.

It shows that in supporting the removal of Gadhafi, the Obama administration seemed to sign on to an arrangement that left forces loyal to Al-Qaeda in charge of security at the U.S. embassy in Tripoli from 2011 through at least the spring of 2012.

The National Transitional Council, which represented the political apparatus that opposed Gadhafi in 2011 and served as the interim government after his removal, made an extremely curious appointment in August of 2011. Read more ..


Obama and Israel

The Failure of the American Jewish Left

November 2nd 2012

David Brog

In early September 2012, many in the pro-Israel camp were disturbed by a series of events at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte. First, the committee drafting the party platform eliminated traditional language recognizing Jerusalem as Israel's capital. Next, the party elders chose to restore the language and called for a pro forma voice vote from the delegates in support of this amendment. Instead, what looked and sounded like an angry majority of the delegates voted against recognizing Jerusalem as Israel's capital.

This hostility should not have come as a surprise. For many years, the liberal base of the Democratic Party has been steadily turning against the Jewish state. So much so that for the first time since 1948, one of America's two major parties has begun to abandon its commitment to Israel. This trend has less to do with the behavior of President Obama or other national party leaders than with the far more troubling phenomenon of changing opinions at the grassroots. The Jerusalem flap at the Democratic convention was not a warning sign. It was the final bell.

The Democratic Decline
Freeze the frame right now, and you could still imagine that all is well. True, President Obama seems to identify with Israel less passionately than the Republican who preceded him, George W. Bush. But then again, Republican George H.W. Bush also seemed to lack the warmth toward Israel of his Republican predecessor, Ronald Reagan. And even if one believes that Obama has erred in ways that have endangered Israel, this alone is not evidence of a more permanent grassroots shift. Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

The Curious Creation (and Unintended Consequences) of the Electoral College

November 2nd 2012

Vote Buttons

What were the framers of the Constitution even thinking? Why did they bequeath to us the Electoral College, which grants the people of Ohio the power to choose the nation’s president and which has produced four winners who actually lost the popular vote?

The short answer: the men who wrote the Constitution believed they were producing a system not only different from but antithetical to the one that soon emerged.

Their first thought was that Congress should choose the executive, but in that case the president would be subject to the “intrigue & faction” they knew would characterize that body. (These are Gouverneur Morris’s words, echoed often by other framers.) Pennsylvania’s James Wilson suggested that the people, the source of all authority, should make the selection, but this radical notion was rejected overwhelmingly three times. Virginia’s George Mason spoke for many when he said that allowing the people to elect the chief executive would be as “unnatural” as referring “a trial of colours to a blind man.” Popular election also ran counter to the interests of states with small populations and those with large numbers of slaves, who added to a state’s representation in Congress but who of course would not be voting in presidential elections. Read more ..


America After Sandy

Let's Make Sure this Natural Disaster Doesn't Become a Political Disaster

November 1st 2012

Bridge Failure

As Hurricane Sandy pounds the East Coast, endangering as many as 60 million Americans, just days before Election Day, it is reasonable to worry about possible disruptions next Tuesday. States have a responsibility to protect their citizens, while democracies have a responsibility to hold fair elections. And especially after such a high stakes campaign, every voter who wishes to vote should be able to cast a ballot safely and comfortably. L.V. Anderson on Slate offers a thoughtful overview of the legal issues involved if areas are out of power, roads are blocked or polling stations are inaccessible. I hope, however, that Election Day goes off smoothly, with no postponements, no disruptions -- as it did in 1864 during the Civil War, as it did in 1944, during World War II.

The thicket of state and country regulations -- and the relative irrelevance of the federal government here -- reminds us that these are 50 state-by-state elections, thanks to the Electoral College. True, presidents have wide emergency powers, and Congress could enact an emergency law, but any decision about extending polling hours, postponing Election Day, or other improvisations will most probably be made by governors, state judges, secretaries of state, or even county election officials. Read more ..


Nigeria on Edge

Nigeria and Norway: Accountability Dilemmas and Jet Travel

November 1st 2012

Nigeria Oil

Nigeria and Norway have little in common except the first letter of their names and the fact that they produce about the same amount of oil each day. Norway on a per capita basis may be the richest country in the world, while Nigeria is among the poorest. Norway has among the world’s best social statistics, while Nigeria has among the worst. Norway has been a democracy for a long time, while Nigeria is still struggling to attain it.

I was therefore startled to learn that an official spokesman for Rivers State, one of the Nigeria’s principal oil producing states, confirmed the purchase of a new Bombardier jet for Governor Chibulke Amaechi. It cost U.S. $45 million. The jet is for the governor’s “exclusive” use and replaces an older aircraft, which will be sold.

And, just out of interest, what would be the travel arrangements for the King of Norway and the prime minister? I learned from a good authority that the King flies commercial. The seat next to him, however, is left vacant. The prime minister is not accorded the privilege of a vacant seat next to him when he flies commercial. It is true that the King of Norway can use a military aircraft on official (usually state) visits. And the prime minister can hire a plane. These occasions are relatively rare.

It is an illustration of how the Norwegian leadership is accountable to the parliament, and through it to the Norwegian people. Nigeria cannot yet hold its leaders to that standard of accountability. Read more ..


The Obama Edge

SEAL Team Community Disputes Osama Movies Based on Obama Narrative

November 1st 2012

Special-Ops

In a Hollywood Reporter news story by Tim Goodwin on Monday night, readers were told about the two motion pictures that depict the hunt and killing of radical-Islamist icon Osama bin Laden by President Barack Obama and members of the U.S. Navy SEAL Team Six being released. Goodwin mentions Katherine Bigalow's big screen release Zero Dark Thirty, which will be released after election day, and the National Geographic cable-TV channel's SEAL Team Six: The Raid on Osama bin Laden scheduled to air at 8 p.m. on Sunday, two days before Election Day.

The NatGeo film comes from The Weinstein Company, a big contributor to the Obama campaign, and is directed by John Stockwell (Into the Blue, Turistas, Crazy/Beautiful) and produced by Nicolas Chartier, who was a producer on The Hurt Locker, Bigelow’s best picture Oscar winner.

But a former high-ranking Army officer and television news military analyst said that the Barack Obama telling of the Osama bin Laden killing is full of discrepancies geared towards helping Obama's re-election bid. Read more ..


The Obama Edge

Leaving No One Behnd

October 31st 2012

Barack Obama

Remember when Barak Obama had a silver tongue? Was a great orator - maybe so much so that it didn't matter what he said, it just mattered that he was the coolest guy in the room, or on the platform, or in front of adoring crowds in front of some phony Greek columns in Denver? Remember that, because it's over.

He's not cool. He's not hip. He's not even terribly articulate; the teleprompter has become the butt of jokes people don't want to make about the President himself. But this really couldn't have been an accident, a slip of the tongue, could it? Could the President of the United States really have said in the wake of Hurricane Sandy that "Americans leave nobody behind?" After Benghazi, did he really have the nerve to use the words that soldiers use to reassure themselves that their comrades will do everything they can to support them?

At a Red Cross relief/campaign stop, President Obama told the audience and the video camera that Sandy was tough, but, "America's tougher. And we're tougher because we pull together, we leave nobody behind, we make sure we respond as a nation and remind ourselves that whenever an American is in need, all of us stand together to make sure we're providing the help that's necessary." From the man who left American soldiers on the battlefield.

The President is the Commander in Chief of the United States Armed Forces. It was bad enough that he and his minions -- Secretary of State Clinton, UN Ambassador Susan Rice, Press Secretary Jay Carney -- all spun a knowing lie about "the video," made a show of asking Google to take it down and had the videographer arrested in the dead of night and clapped into jail. They knew better then and now. But it all pales in comparison to what we now know about the failure of the commander in chief to respond to the call of soldiers in battle -- when the battle started, how long it was running, where the enemy was and what was needed on the ground. Read more ..


America After Sandy

Hurricane Sandy: A Lesson in Why Governments Really Matter

October 31st 2012

Hurricane Sandy Lashes Ocean City

Grover Norquist, the anti-tax crusader, has famously said that he has no wish to eliminate government, but only to “shrink it to the size where we can drown it in a bathtub.” Americans up and down the east coast can be grateful in the wake of Hurricane Sandy that he has not yet succeeded, or they might well have drowned in their own homes.

For those who wonder just what it is our tax dollars pay for, consider just a small list of government actions before and during the storm that made it far less catastrophic than it might have been:

    The Commerce Department’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which is responsible for tracking the path of hurricanes and other storms, predicted days in advance – and with astonishing accuracy – both the path and strength of Hurricane Sandy. That gave governments throughout the region time to plan a response. Read more ..



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