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The Arab Winter of Rage

The FBI in Libya--a Very Cold Case

October 7th 2012


Close to three weeks after the deadly and destructive terrorist attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, a team of FBI investigators finally had boots of the ground in order to examine the crime scene, a police source said on Friday. But several forensics experts and former crime scene investigators called this latest display from the Obama administration a "dog and pony show" for consumption by U.S. voters.

The forensic team had hoped to gather information, investigative aids, and evidence on the terrorist attack that burned-down U.S. diplomatic compound and killed four Americans including U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens. “The FBI continues to coordinate with the U.S. Departments of State, Justice, and Defense, as well as the Libyan government, and other agencies in furtherance of the investigation into the deaths of Ambassador Stevens, Glen Doherty, Sean Smith, and Tyrone Woods,” the FBI said in a statement. “As this is an ongoing investigation, we have no further information to provide.” Read more ..

Iran on Edge

Corruption Scandal in Iran’s Central Bank

October 7th 2012

Iranian Moneychanger

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s final term as president will end in 2013. While Western audiences remember the Iranian president for his blustery rhetoric, his legacy in Iran may well revolve around economic failings.

Throughout the first decades of the Islamic Republic, war and revolution took its toll on the Iranian rial. Unable to stem its devaluation, Iranian officials imposed an official bank exchange rate, which differed from the black market rate offered by traders in the traditional Tehran bazaar. When this author visited Iran in the late 1990s the discrepancy between the bank rate and the black market rate for dollar exchange was almost 300 percent. A hotel room, therefore, might cost three times as much for foreigners as it would for Iranians, even if they were paying the same rial price. The black marketing was so blatant that Iranian financial newspapers would print the current black market currency exchange rates openly. Read more ..

Mexico on Edge

Coffee, Culture and Restoration in Mexico's Borderland

October 7th 2012

Juarez Mexico

As Ciudad Juarez lurches ahead in an uncertain recovery from years of extreme violence and economic decline, signs of renewed night life are stirring in the northern Mexican border city. Especially in the Pronaf and Gomez Morin zones, new bars and clubs, known as antros in Mexican lingo, are open for business. And across the street from the Rio Grande Mall near the Pronaf area, a different option now exists for people interested in more than just bouts of mindless drinking and dancing.

Open since August, Bumps Café Trilce proposes to be a center for creative connection, cultural revival and collective healing in a city traumatized by multiple crises. Housed in a former billiard joint, the new establishment is refurnished with comfy couches, several tables, a long liquor bar and decent space for artistic exhibitions and performances. A message on the wall behind the bar proclaims, “Life is Too Short for a Bad Coffee.” Fine cheeses, cold cuts and sandwiches round out the menu. Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

Health Care Reform and the 47 Percent

October 6th 2012


Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney's secretly videoed remarks regarding the number of Americans "dependent upon government" have sparked a great deal of debate over who in the public receives what from the state.

The Census Bureau's latest figures confirm that 49 percent of Americans received benefits from at least one federal program. This total, however, mixes apples and oranges insofar as it includes 35 percent of individuals who rely on means-tested benefits and those who might be viewed as having "earned" their benefits, including nearly 50 million recipients of Social Security and much smaller numbers of individuals who qualify for unemployment benefits, workers' compensation, veterans benefits, etc.

Let's examine one segment from the former category: the 80.5 million low-income Americans on Medicaid — 26.4 percent of the entire population. As discussed in previous posts, Medicaid is a seriously flawed program. From a beneficiary standpoint, it generally offers quite comprehensive benefits-rivaling or exceeding those available to most workers through employer-sponsored coverage. However, Medicaid also severely underpays providers. Consequently, only 53 percent of doctors accept all or most new Medicaid patients (compared to 87 percent who will accept all or most new patients with private insurance). This is why Medicaid ranks as "America's worst health care program" — in some cases, worse than no coverage at all. Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

How the Media are Spinning Romney's First Debate Victory

October 6th 2012

Ask Mitt

Did Romney win the debate, or did Obama lose it? To those who watched, the answer is obvious: both. In the media we hear endless explanations of why Obama lost but few comments on how effective and articulate Mitt Romney was.

Bob Woodward hypothesizes that Obama was, somehow, distracted — perhaps by some personal issues or maybe by a big international crisis about which we don’t know yet. Al Gore, ever focused on climate issues, posited that the high altitude in Denver had enervated the president since his handlers brought him out to the Mile-High City only a few hours before the debate.

These reasons may or may not have had anything to do with Obama’s terrible performance. But the point in floating them is to focus attention on something that may be repairable: Obama’s debating skills. They want to avoid having to zero in on Romney’s ability, knowledge, charm and charisma because these qualities are not likely to change and pose a permanent challenge to the liberal establishment. Read more ..

Venezuela on Edge

Election in Venezuela: Wild Card for US National Security

October 5th 2012

Chavez PDVSA

The upcoming October 7th elections in Venezuela do not constitute just another round of elections in another country. These elections are crucial for the future of Latin America and for the security of the United States. In fact, it is no exaggeration to point out that the Venezuelan drama should be as great a  concern as the  elections in the young democracies of the Middle East that emerged in the aftermath of the Arab spring.

Unfortunately, the Venezuelan electoral process  has been characterized by intimidation of the opposition and the press, violence, and indiscriminate use of state resources, all this with the objective of providing an advantage to Hugo Chavez.

In fact,  two supporters of Henrique Capriles Radonsky, the opposition candidate  challenging the President,  were recently shot to death.

Although Chavez and his interior Minister pledged to make every effort to bring the killers to justice, the case seems to follow an environment of intimidation and fear that has characterized the Chavez campaign. Opposition rallies have been blocked and undermined by pro-Chavez supporters and fistfights have been very common. Even the last killings took place at the time Chavez supporters blocked a motorcade of Capriles supporters. In September, Chavez supporters blocked a motorcade and burned a truck that belonged to the Capriles campaign. Read more ..

Jewish Refugees from Arab Countries

Challenging Opponents of Jewish Refugee Status

October 5th 2012

Alan Dershowitz lecture

Mention the words “refugee” and “Middle East”—in the media, at universities, at the United Nations and elsewhere—and the image of a Palestinian living in a makeshift camp will immediately pop into one's mind.  That is because the world has neglected the plight of an equal or greater number of Jewish refugees from Arab and Muslim countries.  One rarely hears any discussion of the hundreds of thousands of Jews, whose families had lived throughout the Middle East and North Africa for thousands of years, and who were made refugees between 1947 and the early 1970s. 

There are differences, of course, between Palestinian and Jewish refugees.  Palestinian refugees have deliberately been kept in camps and not resettled so that they can be used as political footballs by Arab and Muslim states in their continuing effort to delegitimize Israel.  Jewish refugees were quickly resettled in Israel, in the United States and in several European countries.   Read more ..

Honduras on Edge

Murder and Corruption Taint a Model-City Program in Impoverished Honduras

October 5th 2012

Honduras - free speech - if I speak I die
Honduran protester bearing 'I will die if I speak' label.

MGK Group is lead by CEO Michael Strong, who the New York Times describes as an “activist” — “He promises that his investors include Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and Central American investors, but when pressed for details, named only one Guatemalan businessman.” The newspaper says that the lack of details has made even pro-government newspapers question the reality of the project. Honduras Culture and Politics says that the group’s “bare bones generic website grupomgk.com … was hastily erected in the last week.” El Heraldo reported on September 14 that the organization did not exist, and that no trace of it could be found online.

Honduras Culture and Politics reports that Strong has been involved in projects including Conscious Capitalism, Radical Social Entrepeneurs, and Peace Through Commerce, which all share the idea that poverty can be combatted through better legal systems that allow poor people to set up businesses free from restrictions. Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

DHS Intelligence Gathering & Analysis a Failure

October 4th 2012

Janet Napolitano

Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano appears to have another failure to add to her incompetency list, according to several experts in intelligence, law enforcement and counterterrorism. A new congressional report denigrates the Department of Homeland Security for not effectively and efficiently using its multi-billion dollar fusion centers supposedly created to provide actionable intelligence for counterterrorism operations within the U.S., according to former police counterterrorism expert Ronald Secord.

Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI) and Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) released their biting report on Tuesday evening. According to the Senators, DHS operatives assigned to various state and local fusion centers took taxpayer money and garnered information that was either a duplication of intelligence already gathered by other agencies or wasn't information that was not even connected to combating terrorism and terrorist groups operating within the United States. Read more ..

The Arab Winter of Rage

Aid To Egypt: What’s The Rush?

October 4th 2012

Cairo embassy protest Sep 2012

Texas Rep. Kay Granger has put a hold on $450 million in aid to Egypt, and this has caused consternation in the Obama administration.

Granger is a member of the Committee on Appropriations and chairs the subcommittee on foreign operations, so she is a powerful figure. Her brief explanation of the hold is this: "This proposal comes to Congress at a point when the U.S. – Egypt relationship has never been under more scrutiny, and rightly so. I am not convinced of the urgent need for this assistance and I cannot support it at this time.  As Chair of the Subcommittee, I have placed a hold on these funds."

The State Department took a dim view of the hold, as follows: "As the president made clear more than a year ago when he pledged a billion dollars in support from the American people to the people of Egypt if their transition stays on track and continues, and as the secretary said when we were in Cairo in July, on Friday we here at the State Department notified the Congress of our intention to disburse $450 million in budget support to the government of Egypt in two tranches,” she said. Read more ..

The Iranian Threat

Iran's Dark World Agenda

October 4th 2012

Iranian clerics

With the focus of the presidential race turning sharply toward foreign policy, the topic of Iran and competing visions for what to do about the rogue regime's pursuit of nuclear weapons are likely to take center stage in the coming days.

While Iran claims that its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes, the international community continues to unveil evidence that Tehran's atomic pursuits are anything but innocent.  Far from being harmless, the notion of the world's most destructive weapons in the hands of a terrorism-sponsoring regime represent a stark threat to the stability of the Middle East and the security of the entire world. If you have any doubts that Iran continues to play a dangerous game, then look no further than developments from just the past couple of weeks.  In a meeting ahead of the Iranian President's speech before the U.N. General Assembly, U.N. Secretary General Bank Ki-Moon warned Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of the dangers of inflammatory rhetoric.  Ignoring the suggestion, Ahmadinejad took the podium denouncing "uncivilized Zionists," and attacked Western nations as handmaidens of the devil.

The Arab Winter of Rage

The YouTube Video Response a Dress Rehearsal?

October 3rd 2012

Libyan rioters at US consulate Sep 2012 #2

The Obama administration’s handling of the organized assaults on American Embassies and personnel on September 11, 2012—and later the other organized protests across the Middle East, North Africa, Afghanistan and Pakistan—is a window into its possible reaction should Israel conclude that the cost of facing a nuclear-armed Iran outweighs the cost of a military strike against Iranian facilities.

It was a “dress rehearsal,” so to speak, and frightening at many levels—not least of which is that there appears to be no understanding in the White House that there are those who need the United States as their enemy. President Obama said “the tide of war is receding,” but our withdrawal from Iraq and impending withdrawal from Afghanistan are understood by Iran, the Taliban, al Qaeda, the Muslim Brotherhood, and various Salafist groups as unilateral retreats in the face of their continuing expansion. This is not only true of Islamic organizations and governments; Vladimir Putin threw out USAID last week, undoing yet another part of the administration’s “reset” with Russia, and Hugo Chávez keeps “U.S. imperialism” on his teleprompter for every occasion. Read more ..

America on Edge

American Exceptionalism... Exposed

October 3rd 2012

Stature of Liberty Sunset

In 2010 Sarah Palin toured the United States promoting “Tea Party” candidates and her new book titled America by Heart: Reflections on Family, Faith, and Flag. Her persistent theme was American Exceptionalism, which she considered an article of faith to all patriots but an embarrassment to President Obama to judge from his notorious interview in the Financial Times. By 2012 it seemed the Republican presidential candidates openly vied for the mantle of most zealous defender of exceptionalism against Obama's suspiciously European values. What a surprise, therefore, when at the Democratic Convention the usually wooden John Kerry made a fiery speech that chanted “exceptional” fourteen times, branded his own party's values as such, and hurled the issue back in Republicans’ faces. Of course, it was demagogy-as-usual on both sides. But it also exposed the schism over U.S. identity that had been widening since the end of the Cold War. That is because exceptionalism, a concept that is not sui generis, not very old, and not even American in conception, has come to serve as code for the American Civil Religion that dare not speak its name. Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

After the 2012 Election, Is a Return to Sanity Possible?

October 2nd 2012

Obamacare Protest

Well, political junkies, only five weeks of the 2012 presidential campaign remain. But, don't despair. You have four years and five weeks until the end of the 2016 presidential campaign, which will almost surely start the day after the 2012 campaign ends. If, as now seems likely, President Obama wins four more years and Republicans retain control of the House, you will be exposed to four more years of Republican efforts to make a Democratic president fail, just like the last two. And, misguided fans of divided government, you will have your way—the election will not have changed a thing.

But, wait! Maybe, just maybe, enough representatives and senators will conclude that elections do, as the pundits say, have consequences. Republican leaders just might recognize that the Affordable Care Act is, and will remain, the law of the land, that closing the deficit while retaining government services Americans demand must include tax increases, and that trying to privatize Social Security and Medicare is a losing strategy. Read more ..

Israel's Looming Attack

Israel Stands Alone

October 1st 2012

soldiers pray at wailing wall

The world’s best-known secret has finally been revealed: the United States and Israel do not see eye-to-eye on Iran’s nuclear program. In an unusually public ping-pong, the Obama administration rebuffed an Israeli effort to clarify America’s Iranian “red lines,” the point at which it would agree that its negotiations-cum-sanctions strategy has failed and it would take military action to stop the Iranian nuclear project.

Rather than attempt to resolve the issue behind closed doors, Secretary Clinton brushed off the Israeli salvo, saying "we’re not setting deadlines," a message reiterated by her spokesperson, who called the setting of any redlines "not useful." Prime Minister Netanyahu was irate, implying that the United States didn’t "have a moral right to place a red light before Israel" if it was unwilling to set red lines. Israeli ambassador Michael Oren seemingly wondered if the administration thought Iranians were color-blind. On the dais of the UN General Assembly, Netanyahu actually brandished a Sharpie pen and literally drew a red line through a cartoon diagram of an Iranian bomb. The most Obama would muster was that "time is not unlimited." Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

When it Comes to Polls, Readers Beware

October 1st 2012

Obama Campaign 2012

As a recovering pollster (I worked for Democratic pollster Peter Hart from 1974 to 1981), let me weigh in on the controversy over whether the polls are accurate. Many conservatives are claiming that multiple polls have overly Democratic samples, and some charge that media pollsters are trying to discourage Republican voters.

First, some points about the limits of polls. Random-sample polling is an imprecise instrument. There's an error margin of 3 or 4 percent and polling theory tells us that one out of 20 polls is wrong, with results outside the margin of error. Sometimes it's easy to spot such an outlier; sometimes not.

In addition, it's getting much harder for pollsters to get people to respond to interviews. The Pew Research Center reports that it's getting only 9 percent of the people it contacts to respond to its questions. That's compared with 36 percent in 1997. Interestingly, response rates are much higher in new democracies. Americans, particularly in target states, may be getting poll fatigue. When a phone rings in New Hampshire, it might well be a pollster calling. Read more ..

Japan on Edge

Shinzo Abe's Surprising Victory

October 1st 2012

Shinzo Abe

The election of Shinzo Abe as president of the Liberal Democratic Party caught many by surprise – in an informal poll of seasoned Japan-watchers in fact no one picked Abe as the likely winner in this intra-party contest. That the outcome was unusual can be readily appreciated by the fact that the selection of the LDP’s president had not been decided in a runoff election in over 40 years, and that it had been close to 56 years since there had been an upset between the first and second place candidates in the two rounds of voting (coincidentally Abe’s grandfather Nobosuke Kishi lost that run-off election in 1956). The victory of Abe is even more surprising if one takes into account that his competitors had strong bases of support: Mr. Nobuteru Ishihara from the party elders and Mr. Shigeru Ishiba from the party’s base in the prefectural branches. Moreover, since Mr. Abe resigned abruptly as Prime Minister in September 2007 after just one year in office, few thought he would be given a second chance to head the LDP and aspire again to the top political office in the country.

In the weeks to come, we will be scratching our heads trying to figure out this unlikely outcome. Some possible explanations are already circulating: the divisions and increasing weakness of the party factions in deciding party presidential elections, the perception that the Japanese population is so disenchanted with the DPJ, that the party can still win the election without choosing its most popular candidate, and of course the appeal of the “deliverables” Mr. Abe has put on the table: securing an early general election, reaching out to popular Osaka Mayor Tōru Hashimoto’s party (the Japan Restoration Association) to set up the basis of a future coalition government, and standing firm with China. Read more ..

America on Edge

The Tribe of Liberty

September 30th 2012

Cairo burning US embassy

We like tribalism for the same reason we like fatty foods: We evolved that way.

Homo sapiens didn’t survive long on the African savannas as rugged individualists. Alone, they couldn’t scare away the scarier animals, and, for the most part, they couldn’t catch and kill the tastier ones. But in groups, humans rose to the top of the food chain thousands of years ago and have been passing down their tribe-loving genes ever since.

Customs and practices that ensured the survival of the species were worked out through trial and error and passed from one generation to the next. Over time, and with many setbacks, the knowledge accumulated until we hit the critical mass required for modernity. Indeed, the story of modernity is the story of how we moved away from traditional, non-voluntary forms of tribalism based on familial, ethnic, or even nationalistic lines and toward voluntary forms of tribalism. Read more ..

Islam on Edge

America Was Warned from the Beginning of the Dangers of Islamic Terrorism

September 29th 2012

Stephen Decatur boards a Libyan vessel
'Decatur boards the Tripolitan Gunboat' by Dennis M. Carter

The American founding fathers and early scholars—since the 18th century—were aware of deeply-rooted Islamic violence, terrorism, intolerance and hatred toward other Muslims, as well as non-Muslims.

Early American leaders and thinkers were endowed with deep appreciation and unique knowledge of global history, international relations, ancient cultures, ideologies and religions. They spoke and wrote candidly about global threats, including the Islamic threat.

In 1830, New York University Prof. George Bush, the great-granduncle of G.H.W. Bush, considered one of the most profound American scholars of the mid-19th century, published The Life of Mohammed. He was not concerned about political correctness, and was low on delusion and top heavy on realism. His 1830 reference to the Islamic threat was consistent with the 2012 state of intra-Muslim atrocities, hate-education, tyranny, anti-US stormy Arab winter, intolerance of criticism, global Islamic terrorism in general and suicide bombing in particular. Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

U.S. Elections: Ignoring Climate Agenda Is a Mistake

September 29th 2012

NASA ICESCAPE Arctic melt pools

Whichever way you run the numbers about climate change, 2012 looks set to go into the record-books. In America alone, this year's heat wave broke over 40,000 temperature records. In the 1980s, the US weather-related insurance cost was around $3bn a year, compared to $20bn (and rising) today. Hurricane Katrina alone cost more than £200bn, representing over 1 percent of GDP. And then there are little things like West Nile virus, unknown in the US before 1988, but now spreading as a result of rising temperatures – resulting in a record 2,000 cases by August 2012, and 87 deaths.

But how many of us expect climate change to be central to the debates between Obama and Romney in the final stages of the US presidential elections? I, for one, am not holding my breath. And yet the degree to which this rising challenge is debated should be seen by the wider world as a key indicator of whether America is fit for purpose – and fit to lead – in the 21st century. Read more ..

The Obama Edge

Obama Does Little on Mideast Foreign Policy

September 29th 2012

Obama UN
Credit: White House/Sonya Hebert

In 2008, then-Sen. Hillary Clinton questioned whether then- Sen. Barack Obama would be prepared for the unexpected 3 a.m. phone call should he become president. The voters concluded he would be. When that call came with the Arab Spring, Obama put it on hold.

Indecisiveness has cost. Like a gambler who demands to see the cards on the table before he makes a move, Obama waited as first the Tunisian, then Egyptian, and the Yemeni governments teetered. Only when protestors sealed the autocrats' fate did he place his bet. The cynicism is self-defeating: Protestors doubt U.S. commitment, while surviving kings and strongman question whether their decades-long U.S. partnership has value.

Also crippling American influence is Obama's desire to lead from behind. Multilateralism builds legitimacy, but not all multilateralism is the same: American leadership influences outcomes. When the White House works through allies, the United States becomes a slave to their agendas. Read more ..

The Arab Winter of Rage

To Counter Islamist Threat, America Should Practice American Values

September 28th 2012

Star Parker

Baseball player Yogi Berra once said, "You can see a lot just by looking" -- simple wisdom that President Barack Obama is not likely to heed. In order to see, you have to want to look at the truth that's actually out there. With reality so different from how our president wishes to portray it, he has little interest in seeing things as they really are.

The president delivered a "Kumbaya" appeal this past week to the current session of the United Nations General Assembly. The pitch, about peaceful resolution of disputes, tolerance, and free speech, was clearly aimed at Muslim nations.

The following day, Egypt's newly elected Muslim Brotherhood President Mohamed Morsi stood before the General Assembly and gave his reply. No thanks.

Sure, Egypt will respect free speech, as long as it does not offend "one specific religion or culture." The message we got from candidate Obama in 2008 was that the rift between the Muslim world and the West was one of misunderstanding, of lack of empathy on our part toward them. Candidate Obama said he was the man, given his personal history, who could bridge that gap. In 2009, the first year of the Obama presidency, the Pew Research Center reported that the favorability rating in Egypt toward the United States was 27 percent. Now in 2012 it is 19 percent, down eight points.

More misunderstanding? I don't think so. Egyptians are quite clear about who they are and quite clear about their distaste for the moral relativism Barack Obama peddles as freedom. Conflicting attitudes and worldviews emerge from different beliefs, not misunderstanding. In the same Pew survey of last June, 11 percent of Egyptians agreed with the statement: "It is good that American ideas and customs are spreading here." Has Obama just not had enough time, as with producing an economic recovery at home, to get Muslims to learn the words to "Kumbaya"? Read more ..

Islam on Edge

Boykinism is Something Joe McCarthy Would Understand

September 28th 2012

LtG William G Boykin
Army Lt General William G. Boykin (ret.)

First came the hullaballoo over the “Mosque at Ground Zero.” Then there was Pastor Terry Jones of Gainesville, Florida, grabbing headlines as he promoted “International Burn-a-Koran Day.” Most recently, we have an American posting a slanderous anti-Muslim video on the Internet with all the ensuing turmoil. Throughout, the official U.S. position has remained fixed: the United States government condemns Islamophobia. Americans respect Islam as a religion of peace. Incidents suggesting otherwise are the work of a tiny minority -- whackos, hatemongers, and publicity-seekers.

Among Muslims from Benghazi to Islamabad, the argument has proven to be a tough sell. And not without reason: although it might be comforting to dismiss anti-Islamic outbursts in the U.S. as the work of a few fanatics, the picture is actually far more complicated. Those complications in turn help explain why religion, once considered a foreign policy asset, has in recent years become a net liability.

Let’s begin with a brief history lesson. From the late 1940s to the late 1980s, when communism provided the overarching ideological rationale for American globalism, religion figured prominently as a theme of U.S. foreign policy. Communist antipathy toward religion helped invest the Cold War foreign policy consensus with its remarkable durability. That communists were godless sufficed to place them beyond the pale. For many Americans, the Cold War derived its moral clarity from the conviction that here was a contest pitting the God-fearing against the God-denying. Since we were on God’s side, it appeared axiomatic that God should repay the compliment. Read more ..

Africa on Edge

Poverty, Inequality and Africa’s Education Crisis

September 28th 2012

African school kids

The Africa Learning Barometer, a new interactive produced by our colleagues at the Brookings Center for Universal Education, indicates that only about half of sub-Saharan Africa’s 128 million school-aged children currently attending school are likely to acquire the basic skills needed for them to live healthy and productive lives. The center’s research further suggests that if you are a poor, female child currently attending school in a rural region you are far more likely to not be learning the critical skills, such as reading, writing and math. While these gender, income and regional learning gaps exist in most sub-Saharan African countries, they are most salient in South Africa, Uganda, Malawi, Zimbabwe, Lesotho and Botswana.

Taking aside the legacy of colonialism and racial and ethnic inequalities in some of these countries, a number of other factors explain the continuing disparities in learning between rural and urban schoolchildren in sub-Saharan Africa. Considering the significance of rural poverty across the continent, it should come as no surprise that rural schoolchildren are the most disadvantaged from a socioeconomic perspective when it comes to access to a quality education. Rural schools generally have less qualified teachers and not enough teachers for the number of children enrolled in school. This is clearly evident in the low teachers-per-school ratios and teacher-to-pupil ratios in most rural African regions. The reasons for these low numbers in rural Africa are many and very much linked to poverty and other inequalities and socioeconomic conditions. For example, teachers generally prefer urban to rural schools because urban areas offer greater opportunities and higher incomes. There is also a better quality of life in urban areas, with better access to good infrastructure, other services (such as healthcare) and general public goods. Read more ..

America on Edge

Pamela Hall to Sue Mona Eltahawy over New York Anti-Jihad Poster Incident

September 28th 2012

Following an incident on the 25th in the Times Square subway station, where an Egyptian-born American activist spray painted an anti-Jihad poster designed to garner support for Israel, the woman who attempted to stop the vandalism is suing for damage to her property.

When Mona Eltahawy took out a can of pink spray paint and began to deface an advertisement that reads “In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man. Support Israel. Defeat Jihad,” a woman named Pamela Hall stepped in front of Eltahawy and began questioning her right to spray paint the sign.

“Mona, do you think you have the right to do this?” Hall asked. “What right do you have to violate free speech?” Read more ..

Broken Government

Washington Sent Billions in Medicaid Overpayments to New York

September 28th 2012

medicine and money #2

House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) has released a new report, “The Federal Government’s Failure to Prevent and End Medicaid Overpayments,” which examines outrageous abuses of federal tax dollars within the Medicaid program, specifically regarding payments made to New York State developmental centers.

“New York’s residential centers for the developmentally disabled cost Medicaid about $1.9 million a year for each patient, and federal overpayments that total $15 billion since 1990 should end immediately, according to a congressional oversight committee,“ said Michael Virtanen in an AP report last week.

The report reveals that for the past 20 years, New York State has received billions of dollars in Medicaid reimbursements through mismanaged overpayments, and that the overpayments are continuing. Further, the report documents that as Medicaid payment rates increased, Federal officials failed to question the rising cost or implement measures that would bring the rates in line with actual costs, according to Rep. Issa. Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

Campaigner in Chief

September 27th 2012

Barack Obama in Thought

With one week until the first critical presidential debate and just five weeks until the election, President Obama is so confident of victory he no longer feels compelled to show up at work and do his job. As polls show him solidifying a significant lead in the battleground states that will decide the election, Obama distanced himself from numerous crises abroad by refusing to meet with his counterparts from the Middle East — the presidents of Israel, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Egypt and Libya — as unrest, terrorism, war or the threat of war threaten their countries, the entire region and the security of the United States as well.

Grim stuff, to be sure, but Obama and his team would rather focus on the good news, and send Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to honcho such tense and somber discussions. After all, Obama is up in every poll, in every state that matters, and has succeeded in complicating Mitt Romney’s path to 270 electoral votes in ways neither campaign ever expected. Support for Obama is surging in surprising ways, as he has not only erased the advantage Romney had on the question of who was better prepared to fix the economy but watched as economic optimism and confidence that the country is now on the right track reach their highest levels in years. Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

Obama Could Prevent a Made-in-Washington Recession

September 26th 2012

Obama Campaign 2012

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) forecasts a recession for 2013. Forecasters rarely anticipate a recession. Almost by definition, recessions surprise. Some unexpected force or forces conspire to so disrupt the economy that it contracts.

What makes this recession different, and predictable, is that the disruptive force is Washington policies and, even more, Washington behaviors—policies and behaviors for which the nation can thank the Congress and especially President Obama. The policy is Taxmageddon. The behavior is intentional, insistent inaction. The consequence is recession. The response should and will be outrage.

This recession is not yet inevitable. Though Congress has recessed until mid-November, President Obama could and should immediately call it back to finish its bare minimum tasks for the year. At no time this year has President Obama made the resolution of Taxmageddon a priority, and in this he has joined with Congress in a conspiracy of inertia. But time remains to change course, to prevent the recessionary job loss and wealth destruction threatening the nation. If a slowdown or even a recession unfolds as CBO predicts, the blame will lie with President Obama. As he said in his recent 60 Minutes interview, “I think that, you know, as President I bear responsibility for everything, to some degree.” Absolutely. Read more ..

Broken Healthcare

The Great Pharmaceutical Scam

September 26th 2012


Eight years ago, I was emailed by a whistle-blower at the big Indian pharmaceutical company Ranbaxy who claimed that the company had falsified data on drugs destined to be purchased with U.S. tax dollars. Most of the problems were with HIV medication sold to Western donors for use in Africa. But the more I probed, the more problems I found.

I was obviously not alone in my concerns. In 2010, after several years of investigations, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) restricted the sale of some 30 Ranbaxy pharmaceuticals in U.S. markets. This was embarrassing for all concerned because Ranbaxy had been granted the exclusive six-month generic license to produce Lipitor, Pfizer's blockbusting anti-cholesterol drug, when it came off patent last November.

Ranbaxy says it has cleaned up its act, and perhaps it has. But the case raises a broader question -- one likely to become increasingly troubling as emerging-market pharmaceutical companies that manufacture generics expand their market shares in both developed and developing countries: How can we know for certain? Read more ..

The Obama Edge

Obama in Denial about Islam's War against the United States

September 25th 2012

Professor Obama at work

The Obama administration was wrong when first it said that what happened in Cairo and Benghazi was a spontaneous gush of righteous Muslim indignation. After days of insisting that a snippet of YouTube trash was responsible -- not U.S. policy and certainly not the U.S. government -- and that Susan Rice had better intelligence than the president of Libya and Jay Carney had magic insights, the administration backtracked and called it terrorism. Mr. Carney now says it is "self-evident" that the attacks were terrorism.

Wrong twice; the attacks were acts of war against Americans on American soil. The distinction is important if we plan to protect ourselves and our interests.

Benghazi was well-planned and executed with weapons that require military training. The Washington Post had one of the best reports:

The attackers stormed the main building and set it on fire. One U.S. official described the militants striking the front of the building first, distracting security, while a second group struck then from the rear. Many people escaped and fled to an annex to the east. Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

Romney’s ER Care

September 25th 2012

ER Entrance

For months, Mitt Romney’s strategy has been to attack the specifics of President Obama’s policies while offering none of his own. On healthcare reform, Romney continuously says he would repeal ObamaCare while awkwardly trying to Etch A Sketch away from the similar plan he championed as governor of Massachusetts, or “RomneyCare,” on which the president’s Affordable Care Act is based. Facing dropping poll numbers and ongoing criticism from Republicans and Democrats alike about the need to offer specifics, Romney finally told us how he would deal with the more than 48 million Americans without health insurance: Get thee to an emergency room!

Responding to a question from CBS’s Scott Pelley on “60 Minutes” this weekend about whether the government has any responsibility to provide healthcare for those who don’t have it Romney said, “Well, we do provide care for people who don’t have insurance, people — we — if someone has a heart attack, they don’t sit in their apartment and die. We pick them up in an ambulance  and take them to the hospital and give them care. And different states have different ways of providing for that care.” In other words, forget about having access to affordable preventive care, mammograms, check-ups or blood pressure monitoring to prevent a heart attack, just go to the emergency room when it happens. Romney’s response also falsely assumes that all of the uninsured live in neighborhoods where one can actually get an ambulance in timely manner. Read more ..

Arab Winter of Rage

Riots, Rage, Videos, Politics, and Free Speech

September 25th 2012

Cairo burning US embassy

How should Americans, and the U.S. government, react when some statement (in a book, video, tweet, or whatever medium) is made that insults a religion–and violence follows?

Even this soon after the events of the last two weeks some conclusions can be drawn.

First, there should be absolutely no compromise on the issue of freedom of speech. To many Americans this will seem obvious, but there is a huge drive around the world to prevent and criminalize any criticism of religion. As Salman Rushdie, who has lived under threat of death for his book Satanic Verses, recently said: “I think it’s very important that we hold our ground. It’s very important to say, ‘We live like this.’” And as that New York Times interview notes, Rushdie has been living in the United States because we have indeed held that ground when many other countries have ceded it.

Second, the United States government should not apologize for stupid or offensive comments made by private citizens. Here again Rushdie is right: “It’s not for the American government to regret what American citizens do. They should just say, ‘This is not our affair and the [violent] response is completely inappropriate.’” The reaction of our government in the recent case was wrong, and made us look fearful and weak. For one thing, I don’t believe such apologies work, and there is no evidence they did in the recent cases. But beyond the question of efficacy is the question of fairness and fear. Read more ..

Mexico on Edge

Women and Girls 'Disappeared' in Central Mexico

September 24th 2012

Mexico crosses

Long touting the central Mexican state of Queretaro as a tranquil enclave, local officials are now on the defensive in the aftermath of growing reports of missing girls and women hitting the national press. State Attorney General Arsenio Duran Becerra was quoted this week acknowledging that investigations proceed in an undisclosed (and disputed) number of cases that could involve human trafficking.

Still, Duran insisted, the issue of disappearance does not signify an “important problem” for a state that until now has not suffered the levels of violence witnessed in other regions of the country. Situated about three hours north of Mexico City, Queretaro has attracted a battery of foreign-owned factories in recent years.

Duran told non-governmental organizations this month that his office has “active reports” of 53 disappeared women in Queretaro, including 48 minors. The state attorney general’s office (PGJQ) maintains a web page that lists nine missing males (including three juveniles), three adult females and 15 underage females. Read more ..

The Arab Winter of Rage

It's Not Just the Sparks That Caused This Fire in the Middle East

September 24th 2012

Yemeni Protestor

Precisely eleven years after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the question of U.S. relations with Islamic countries and communities is once again at the top of the foreign policy agenda. As violent anti-American protests rage around the world, the Obama administration has focused on safeguarding U.S. citizens and installations on one hand, and seeking to dampen the fury of the protests on the other by pointing out that the U.S. government had nothing to do with the anti-Islamic video that ignited this burst of anger.

While this immediate focus on quelling the crisis is prudent, the U.S. response cannot stop there. While the video in question may have catalyzed these protests, it cannot accurately be described as the cause of them. In any event, any effort to quash future provocations of this sort is bound to be futile -- given the ease by which such media can now be produced and distributed -- as well as profoundly contrary to the American belief in the right to free expression.


The Weapons Edge

The Folly of the State Department’s Assessment of U.S. Arms Control Compliance

September 23rd 2012

ULA Atlas V liftoff, June 2012

The State Department recently released its 2012 report, Adherence to and Compliance with Arms Control, Nonproliferation, and Disarmament Agreements and Commitments, or Annual Compliance Report. It informs Congress and the public about how the United States and other countries are fulfilling their multilateral and bilateral treaty obligations regarding arms control and nonproliferation.

Regrettably, the report is not an objective assessment of U.S. or foreign compliance with these obligations. Accordingly, it serves to undermine the legitimacy and effectiveness of the arms control process.

Policy Preferences Versus Objective Truths

The State Department wants to extend its own policy preferences to the compliance reporting process, even for America’s compliance with its treaty obligations. The Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) are two prominent examples. A disconnect exists between the report’s assertion of U.S. NPT compliance and the Administration’s interpretation of the treaty’s requirements. During the 2010 NPT review conference, the Administration reinterpreted the U.S.’s obligations by raising the lesser treaty provision related to negotiations on both nuclear disarmament and complete disarmament (Article VI) to equal status with the treaty’s purpose of nonproliferation. Read more ..

The Obama Edge

White House Displays Rapid Fire Flip-Flops on Libya

September 23rd 2012

Libyan rioters at US consulate Sep 2012 #2

After almost one week of blaming the terrorist attack of a U.S. consulate in Libya and the killing of the American ambassador on an obscure YouTube.com video and denying a terrorist connection to the attack, the President Barack Obama, the White House and the Obama administration on Thursday and Friday slowly changed their tune with a near-perfect example of a political flip-flop.

The administration on Thursday slowly moved away from their first report and talking points about the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi calling it "a spontaneous reaction" to an anti-Islamic movie, and the allegation that the attack was a terrorist act planned in advance was unlikely. "The Obama administration were certain that most of the mainstream news media would echo the 'party line' but they weren't able to prevent people such as Fox News Channel's top national security correspondent, Catherine Herridge, who exposed the deceitful comments emanating from the White House and the State Department," said former U.S. Marine scout-sniper and NYPD sergeant Harold McCallister. Read more ..

Costa Rica on Edge

New Corruption Allegations Emerge about Costa Rican President

September 22nd 2012

Broken Road

The fallout from a 2010 incident over a historical territory in dispute between Nicaragua and Costa Rica continues to be a compass of relations between the administrations of Costa Rican president Laura Chinchilla and Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega. The dispute is heavy on nationalistic sentiment but littered with corruption and administrational malfeasance.

The latest development comes as Chinchilla presently faces a hearing on her contracting the construction of a large, costly transportation route known as Ruta 1856, straddling a sizable swath of the Nicaraguan border. As a result, los ticos (as Costa Ricans are commonly known) have good reason to question their government’s commitment to transparency and accountability, which inherently suggests it has none. Indeed, Chinchilla’s term continues a long line of Costa Rican presidencies ending in indictment. Read more ..

The Edge for Food

Scientist Savages Study of Monsanto's Genetically Modified Corn

September 22nd 2012

Iowa corn field

Are GM foods harmful or nutritionally less beneficial when compared to conventional or organic foods? Scientists and regulators almost universally say “no.” That’s why a study published this week claiming that GM corn causes cancer in rats is creating such a furor. What’s the story behind the story? Jon Entine, executive director of the Genetic Literacy Project, reports.

Does Monsanto’s Roundup Ready corn (Europeans call it maize) cause health problems? It’s a reasonable question. It’s been asked and answered, at least to the satisfaction of most researchers.

There have been more than 100 peer-reviewed studies over the years—many by independent, non-industry scientists—that have demonstrated the safety of GM crops and food. This study by a team of French researchers in the journal Food and Chemical Toxicology is the first to seriously challenge the scientific consensus—and its release comes just in time to play a disruptive role in the upcoming California vote on Proposition 37, which would require mandatory labeling of all food products that include any biotech component. Read more ..

Education on Edge

Innovation Is the Key to Better Education

September 22nd 2012

School kids

In the modern economy, innovation drives growth. From the telegraph to the telephone to the Internet, new technologies increase productivity and allow Americans to prosper. But while innovation has revolutionized the American economy as a whole over the last century, the education sector has benefitted relatively little from these advances.

Although computers and Smartboards are becoming increasingly common in the nation’s classrooms, over the past three decades average math and reading test scores of American seventeen-year-olds have remained largely unchanged. Meanwhile per-pupil spending has almost doubled. This increase in spending partially reflects that schools must compete to hire college-educated teachers in a labor market where well-educated workers command higher and higher salaries, but it also indicates that innovation and increases in productivity have occurred faster and been more effective in the broader economy than in the field of education. Read more ..

Africa on Edge

The Human Development Cost of the King of Swaziland’s Lifestyle

September 22nd 2012

airplanes shadows

I have now had it with the extravagancies of the King of Swaziland—King Mswati III. Aside from accumulating a “bevy” (for no better word) of 14 wives—plus or minus a few, but who is counting—he has taken on an obnoxiously luxurious lifestyle, including a large fleet of the most expensive vehicles (some said to cost up to $500,000), many expansive mansions and, to crown it all off for the good king, a top-of-the-line personal jet. The lifestyles of his ever-increasing household —thanks to the frequent addition of young wives—dwindles that of many Western millionaires and is financially supported by the poor people of Swaziland. In the recent past, the king and his fun-loving entourage have taken expensive trips oversees to visit other royals and to luxurious resorts abroad. His wives frequently tour Western countries for shopping sprees. King Mswati III is, to an extent, following the footsteps of his father King Sobhuza II who had accumulated 70 wives and over 200 children. Mswati is only 44 years old and, at this rate, he is likely to surpass his father in the department of wife accumulation. For an impoverished country like Swaziland, the behavior of the king resembles that of a roving bandit—one who has no interest in the welfare of the citizenry. Read more ..

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