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Israel and Palestine

The Palestinian Culture of Slapping Israel

August 1st 2012

Gaza aerial shot 2011

Mitt Romney is being castigated for praising the culture that has allowed a democratic, (mainly) free market Israel, operating under the rule of law, to thrive amid decades of threat and periodic open warfare and a heavy defense burden.  Actually, he's being castigated for what his praise of Israel implies or says outright about Israel's neighbors -- not only the Palestinians, but mainly them.  So it is instructive to note the latest broadside by a West Bank youth group called "Palestinians for Dignity" (PDF).

PFD, which was instrumental in the protests against Mahmoud Abbas and PA corruption earlier in the summer, is now protesting the European Union's decision to upgrade a variety of trade and other ties with Israel.  In its release, published by the Palestinian news agency Ma'an, the PDF announced: Barring meaningful action [to reverse the upgrade] the Palestinian youth movement will organize to protest the latest manifestation of EU complicity and to challenge its presence and operations in Palestine...This latest move by the EU is nothing less than outrageous... this duplicitous behavior epitomizes the reasons why the Palestinian people have no faith in the EU. Read more ..


Religious Tolerance

Precious Little Religious Freedom

August 1st 2012

Tibetan prayer flags

Here’s a pretty gruesome story from Pakistan that began circulating on July 30:
At least 11 nurses, including three Christians, were poisoned at Civil Hospital Karachi for eating during Ramadan. During their afternoon break yesterday, the 11 nurses went to the hostel cafeteria for some tea and food. Rita, a Catholic nurse, collapsed first after drinking her tea. Now all the nurses are in the hospital’s intensive care unit, some in very serious conditions.

It was an appropriate day, then, for the State Department to publish its 2011 report on religious freedom around the globe. And the bottom line is that, throughout the Islamic world, as well as in the unreconstructed communist and authoritarian states, there’s precious little of it.

What kind of ranking does religious freedom hold in the conduct of American foreign policy? As of this morning, the State Department’s website had on prominent display the following declaration from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton: “For the United States, religious freedom is a cherished constitutional value, a strategic national interest, and a foreign policy priority.” No room for misinterpretation there, then. Read more ..


Israel on Edge

Understanding Real Israeli Politics

August 1st 2012

Binyamin Netanyahu and Shaul Mofaz

“Can’t anybody here play this game?” – Casey Stengel, great baseball coach

Stengel’s complaint is the precise description of Israeli politics nowadays. To a remarkable extent—and this has nothing to do with his views or policies—Bibi Netanyahu is the only functioning politician in Israel today. No wonder he is prime minister, will finish his current term, and will almost certainly be reelected in 2013.

Consider the alternatives. The number one such option is Shaul Mofaz who is head of Kadima. Mofaz was a competent general but is a dreadful politician. He may be the least charismatic man I’ve ever met. Tsippi Livni, his predecessor, was a disaster as leader of the self-described centrist party. Here is a list of her major failures:

• She did not take the opportunity to oust the smarmy party leader Prime Minister Ehud Olmert when the corruption charges against him piled up.

• She did a poor job in the dealing with the end-game in the Gaza war in January 2009.

• She mishandled the coalition negotiations when she did become acting prime minister, leading to the government’s fall. Read more ..


Healthcare on Edge

The Cost of Care for Colorado's Victims

July 31st 2012

Obamacare Protest

One of the reasons Americans seem so willing to tolerate the fact that 50 million of us are uninsured and almost 30 million more of us are underinsured is that most of us who have coverage assume we are OK. That nothing truly catastrophic will happen to us, and that, even if it did, our insurance policies will pay our bills and keep us whole.

Who would think that a decision to go see a movie on a Friday night could change our lives — and the lives of our families — forever? That we or a loved one, even with what we believed was decent coverage, might become a victim of violence that could leave us not only disabled for life but also potentially bankrupt and homeless?

That random act of violence in Aurora, Colo. earlier this month could have happened anywhere in America, of course — or in any other country, for that matter — but among the world’s developed nations, we live in the only one where the families of some of the injured would have to face begging for money to pay the doctors and hospitals and keep the sheriff and his foreclosure papers at bay. Talk about American exceptionalism. This is one area where, sadly, we truly are unique. Read more ..


Defense on Edge

The Problem with Predicting Defense Jobs and Sequestration

July 31st 2012

military convoy

As the threat of sequestration has grown closer, the level of noise surrounding the looming budget cuts has only grown louder. Last week, the volume reached a new level with the issue of a report prepared on the projected economic costs.

The report was prepared on behalf of the Aerospace Industries Association (AIA) by Stephen Fuller, a professor at George Mason University, and Chmura Economics & Analytics, a consulting company. It painted a particularly dismal picture of the jobs impact of the defense portion of the potential cuts.  “A total of 1,090,359 jobs with a total labor income of $46.5 billion would be lost due to DOD budget cuts in FY 2012-FY 2013.” It then broke down the figures on a state by state basis, noting that such key election battleground state like Virginia and Florida would experience severe job losses (136,191 and 41,905) at a time of already worrisome unemployment.

The report landed like a bombshell. A range of newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times and Washington Post, directly quoted the report’s jobs findings, while cable and online networks such as CNN and Fox News also devoted significant coverage to the mind-boggling numbers.  Similarly, policy leaders on both left and right cited it. For instance, both New Hampshire Senators Kelly Ayotte (R) and Jeanne Shaheen (D). And in testimony before the House Armed Services Committee, timed the day following the report’s release, senior defense industry executives echoed the report’s apocalyptic numbers, which furthered its spread and assumption as fact. Read more ..


The Obama Edge

White House Welcomes Known Terrorist, says New York Republican

July 30th 2012

Hani Nour Eldin
The "Blind Sheikh" Omar Abdel Rahman

Obama administration minions may have violated U.S. law last month by welcoming an Egyptian with ties to terrorism to the White House in order to lobby for the release of an imprisoned terrorist known as the Blind Sheik, claimed Rep. Pete King, current chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, in a statement on July 26.

Hani Nour Eldin -- an avowed member of Gama’a al-Islamiyya listed by the State Department as terror group -- was elected along with members of Islamist groups the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafists to Egypt’s parliament.

"Eldin was put through a stringent vetting process before he was given a U.S. visa to enter the U.S. and then gain admittance to the White House," claimed Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, who in the past has been criticized for her laxity in matters of national security.

But, according to Rep. King, the U.S. investigators involved in his vetting either ignored Hani’s Facebook page or didn’t check it at all. On Facebook he boasts of his membership in Gama’a al-Islamiyya. U.S. immigration laws require that both Secretaries of State and Homeland Security must authorize waivers before issuing visas to members of designated federal terrorist organizations, and they must notify the appropriate members of Congress. Read more ..


NATO on Edge

NATO Should Improve Relations with Its Southern Neighbors

July 29th 2012

NATO

In light of the uprisings across the Middle East and North Africa, the continued threat in the region from al-Qaeda, and the nuclear threat and state-sponsored terrorism from Iran, many in NATO have rightly decided to place a renewed focus on working with regional partners on its periphery. NATO already has structures in place to better cooperate with partners in this part of the world, but little has been done to enhance these relationships.

NATO and Its Southern Periphery
NATO’s 2010 Strategic Concept states that cooperative security is one of the alliance’s three essential core tasks. NATO carries out its cooperative security task with its southern partners through two mechanisms: the Mediterranean Dialogue and the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative.

The Mediterranean Dialogue . Launched in 1994, the Mediterranean Dialogue forms the basis of NATO’s relations with its Mediterranean partners, which include Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Mauritania, Morocco, and Tunisia. Although these talks are normally done on a bilateral basis (“NATO+1”), on occasion this forum meets as “NATO+7,” placing Israel at the same table as some of its regional neighbors, where it would not otherwise be. Read more ..


Defense on Edge

The Gusher of National Security Leaks--Who Done It?

July 29th 2012

Bin Laden with AK

No intellectually honest individual could examine the vast array of evidence and believe there has not been a spate of high-level national security leaks over the past months.
Intimate details of the SEAL team raid on Osama Bin Laden's compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan have been consumed by millions of Americans watching cable television and reading newspapers, and, soon enough, it will be seen in Hollywood films. Folks around the world now know, without a doubt, that Americans coupled with Israelis have been waging silent cyber warfare against the Iranians, infecting Iranian computers with crippling viruses that have, by some estimates, slightly set back the mullahs' march toward achieving nuclear capability.
 
And readers of the New York Times now know that President Barack Obama keeps close tabs on the terrorist "kill list," even deciding which terrorist will next be targeted by the fine men and women of America's armed services. That sensitive information has been passed along from sources in the know to members of the media is without dispute a fact -- it is perhaps the least disputed fact of the questions currently being considered regarding the leaks. Read more ..

Domestic Terrorism

Aurora Reminds Us to Raise Campaign Tone

July 28th 2012

Jim holmes

Early Friday morning in Aurora, Colo., we were reminded that there remains in the world the existence of pure, sociopathic evil — an inhuman monster who celebrates death and has no sensations from a beating heart of feelings, empathy or anything other than the glorification of death. The impulse to extrapolate, exploit and, yes, politicize such a tragedy is hard to overcome. As my Republican friend and fellow blogger Rich Galen wrote on Sunday night:

“I do not want to diminish, in any way, the gravity and horror of the event that occurred in Aurora, Colo., Friday morning … There are no easy answers. There are no black-and-white solutions. Sometimes bad people do bad things.”

Two men, however — one is our president; the other would like to be — came forward and reminded us who they really are and made us feel good about them, ourselves and our country again.  President Obama, talking to what was supposed to be a political rally in Fort Myers, Fla., on Friday morning, about 11 hours after the tragedy, spoke the right words with the right tone and made us proud that he was our president, regardless of party or partisan loyalties.

“If there’s anything to take away from this tragedy, it’s the reminder that life is very fragile. Our time here is limited and precious. “My daughters go to the movies. What if Malia and Sasha had been at the theater? “There are going to be other days for politics. This, I think, is a day for prayer and reflection.”

About an hour later, on the East Coast in Bow, N.H., Mitt Romney said:  “I stand before you not as a man running for office, but as a father and grandfather, a husband and American.” Romney also offered the serenity of a man of faith, and tried to provide a sense of hope even in the midst of the incomprehensible and senseless murders of innocent people.  Read more ..


The Coal Problem

The Assault on Coal and American Consumers

July 28th 2012

coal mine

For decades, coal has literally been the rock that has powered America with cheap, reliable energy. Yet the federal government is using every possible avenue to reduce coal’s role in American energy production by creating an environment in which coal production’s decline is inevitable. Congress should reform federal policies and regulations to enable the market—not federal politicians and bureaucrats—to determine the role of coal in U.S. electricity generation. This includes repealing, preventing, or freezing unnecessary regulations and empowering the states to appropriately balance economic growth and environmental protection.

Used to power nearly half of all electricity generation for years, coal is the single largest electricity source in America. With 497 billion tons of recoverable coal in the United States—enough to provide electricity for 500 years at current consumption rates—coal has the potential to be an important resource long into the future. Read more ..


The Obama Edge

Top Aide to Secretary Clinton has Alleged Ties to Muslim Brotherhood

July 27th 2012

HIllary and Huma pals
Secretary Hillary Clinton and assistant Huma Abedin

Former Congressman Anthony Weiner's sex scandal may be nothing compared to a number of allegations that his Egyptian-born wife, Huma Abedin, has ties to the Muslim Brotherhood and it's female off-shoot, the Muslim Sisterhood. Even more disturbing is the fact that Mrs. Weiner works closely with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and has access to confidential, even secret, intelligence, according to several homeland security experts.

A list of members of the Muslim Brotherhood’s secret women’s division, which is known as the Muslim Sisterhood, a/k/a the International Women’s Organization (IWO), includes the name of disgraced Congressman Anthony Weiner's mother-in-law, according to a column written by Walid Shoebat and Ben Barrack.

The list, which was partially published by Al Jazeera and major Arab news outlets, has the name of Weiner's wife's mother, Saleha Abedin, on it, according to Shoebat and Barrack.

According to former U.S. federal prosecutor, Andrew McCarthy, Huma Abedin actively worked as an assistant editor for a publication headed by suspected al-Qaeda associate Omar Naseef. McCarthy gained national attention in his prosecution of the perpetrators of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. Read more ..


Obama and Israel

Back to the U.S.-Israel Future

July 27th 2012

Romney Israel

As Governor Romney leaves for overseas travel that includes Israel, he doesn't have to be ready to solve the problems of the region, or have a "peace plan" in his pocket. A few basic principles -- previously observed by both Republican and Democratic presidents -- will serve him well.

1. Israel is a sovereign country. The government of Israel should not be asked (or told) to substitute American policy positions for its own positions. Whether on strategic or day-to-day issues -- including housing policy, blockades, and the disposition of checkpoints -- Israel is responsible for and to its citizens; the U.S. is not. If the Israeli government is wrong about a security matter, Israelis will pay the price; if the U.S. is wrong, Israelis will likewise pay the price.

2. Israel is our friend and ally. When the government of Israel makes a big decision, the U.S. doesn't have to agree with it -- and certainly can express itself (preferably privately) -- but under the terms above, the U.S. should plan to be helpful to the extent possible, even if it wasn't our idea. It's what allies do. Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

Who Done It?

July 27th 2012

Security Leaks

No intellectually honest individual could examine the vast array of evidence and believe there has not been a spate of high-level national security leaks over the past months.

Intimate details of the SEAL team raid on Osama Bin Laden's compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan have been consumed by millions of Americans watching cable television and reading newspapers, and, soon enough, it will be seen in Hollywood films.

Folks around the world now know, without a doubt, that Americans coupled with Israelis have been waging silent cyber warfare against the Iranians, infecting Iranian computers with crippling viruses that have, by some estimates, slightly set back the mullahs' march toward achieving nuclear capability.

And readers of the New York Times now know that President Barack Obama keeps close tabs on the terrorist "kill list," even deciding which terrorist will next be targeted by the fine men and women of America's armed services. That sensitive information has been passed along from sources in the know to members of the media is without dispute a fact—it is perhaps the least disputed fact of the questions currently being considered regarding the leaks. Read more ..


Domestic Terror

Politicizing Grief

July 27th 2012

Armstrong_Williams

Anyone who reads my columns can tell you that it is one of my mantras that politics should take up as little space in your life as possible. If it doesn’t, it’s only out of necessity occasioned by bad government, something we have in surplus.

A normal, healthy person with a functioning conscience should recoil with horror at the gruesome murder of a dozen Americans and the wounding of seventy others in a crowded movie theater in Aurora, Colorado. If you don’t feel that, there’s something wrong with you.

If your first reaction is, say, to get political, to condescend to our nation’s Founding Fathers about the fact that guns are instruments of violence, then there is most certainly something wrong with you. Sir Salman Rushdie, one of our greatest living novelists, contributed to the world this brilliant thought: “The ’right to bear arms’ is the real Bane of America.” It irks me even to have to repeat it. Who doesn’t joke around about a national tragedy a few hours after it happens?

His vulgarity was only matched by his pettiness. Rushdie went on to attack perfect strangers ad hominem for bringing up his transgression of basic decency. He mocked Michelle Malkin for her perfectly understandable outrage at his comments, and posted what only he must think are pithy comments, such as, “Don’t like puns? Fine. I don’t like guns.” Who doesn’t see an equivalence there?

One would think that a man who has been pursued for decades by the Iranian government for speaking freely about Islam would be a bit more charitable toward those with whom he disagrees. Instead, he revealed himself to have a personality and sense of humor as childish as his political beliefs, as selective and hypocritical a reverence for free speech as that of the Iranian government. It was an unwanted confirmation of what I had suspected from reading Mr. Rushdie’s previous commentaries about religion, namely that he seems to have stopped thinking about the big issues somewhere around his nineteenth birthday. Whatever will impress the cool kids at the Daily Show. Read more ..


Domestic Terror

Elected Offiicials Must Stand up to NRA on Gun Safety

July 27th 2012

Rep Jan Schakowsky (D-IL 9)
Rep Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.)

After the horrifying mass shooting in the Aurora, Colorado movie theater, politicians were warned not to “politicize” the tragedy by daring to mention the word "guns". We are told it would be an insult to the dead and wounded, an insult to the American people, to suggest the shooter’s lethal arsenal of weapons – all legally purchased, it seems – contributed to this horrifying tragedy.

Talk I will. The reality is few issues have been more politicized than guns. The National Rifle Association has managed to take the non-political issue of public safety and turn it into one of the most political issues in Congress and state legislatures throughout the country.It now holds hostage the majority of the US Congress. They don’t do it at gunpoint, but their weapon of choice is just as effective. It’s called “scoring.”

Many advocacy organizations across the political and issue spectrum “score” or rate members of Congress based on their votes. The punishment for a low score can be very harsh. Elected officials fear voting against the NRA will bring retribution come election time.

These days and for most of my 14 years in Congress when the NRA scores a bill, its position prevails. Despite the valiant efforts of members like Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-N.Y.) who ran for Congress in 1996 after her husband was shot and killed and son wounded on the Long Island Railroad, gun safety advocates in Congress find little support.

In 2004, the assault weapons ban quietly expired, and with it restrictions on purchases of the AR-15, one of the weapons used by the shooter. The sale of those weapons exploded, inspiring Mexican President Felipe Calderon, no flaming liberal, to bluntly say in April, “The expiring of the assault weapons ban … coincided almost exactly with the beginning of the harshest—the harshest—period of violence we’ve ever seen.” Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

Voter ID Experience in Kansas

July 26th 2012

us voters

The latest data compiled by the Secretary of State of Kansas, Kris Kobach, about the state’s experience with voter ID once again shows that the claims by opponents of voter identification are wrong. Kobach reported that just 32 of the state’s 1.7 million voters requested free IDs from the state so they could vote under the Secure and Fair Elections Act of 2011, which took effect January 1. Contrary to the assertions of opponents to voter ID laws that there are large numbers of American voters without a government-issued photo ID, Kansas has had to issue a remarkably small number of IDs to individuals who did not already have one since its new law became effective—just 0.002 percent of registered voters.

The Kansas Experience
Kansas’s law requires voters who cast ballots in person to present any of nine forms of acceptable photo ID. It requires those who vote absentee to submit a verified signature and include either a photocopy of one of the nine forms of ID or a Kansas driver’s license number with the absentee ballot. Read more ..


Olympics on Edge

Christians Call for Olympic Moment of Silence to Honor Slain Israelis of 1972

July 25th 2012

Munich athletes slain
Israeli athletes slain by Palestinian terrorist at the 1972 Munich Olympics.

Bill Donohue, the voluble president of the Catholic League - a civil rights organization based in New York City - criticized the decision of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) not to allow a moment of silence at the opening of the Olympic Games on July 27 to recall the murder of Israeli athletes by Palestinian Liberation Front terrorists during the Olympics Games in Munich in 1972. On July 24, Olympic officials did allow a small gathering of persons to observe a moment of silence in memory of the innocent athletes who fell during the Munich massacre.

Donohue stated, "If they were truly interested in honoring the 11 Israelis who were murdered by terrorists 40 years ago, they would not have chosen a pre-Olympic event: they would have chosen the opening ceremonies on Friday. The official reason given for not doing so is that such an event would be 'political.'” Read more ..


The Obama Edge

Obama Bypasses American Manufacturers to Buy Russian Helicopters

July 25th 2012

Kickin back in the Situation room

The Pentagon ordered a couple of MI-17 helicopters earlier this year to replace severely damaged aircraft, and in recent days it purchased 10 more helicopters to replace aging Afghan aircraft. The helicopters were purchased from Russia for over a half-billion dollars, according to Defense Department officials.

The monetary value of the 12 Russian-built helicopters, including warranty services and replacement parts, is reported to be $217.7 million, a Pentagon official said, according Senator John Cornyn (R-TX).

The purchases this year are part of a larger helicopter contract President Barack Obama's Pentagon signed in May 2011 with the Rosoboron Export Corporation.

With all the accusation regarding outsourcing emanating from the Obama White House and his re-election campaign team, the Pentagon may be embarressed over the outsourcing of jobs and money to a Russian arms exporter because of concerns that the firm is also selling attack helicopters to the government of Syrian President Bashar al Assad. Read more ..


Domestic Terrorism

Brian Ross' Brain Cramp

July 25th 2012

Jim holmes

If ABC News does fire Brian Ross, he could always find a job working for Aaron Sorkin. Ross, a veteran investigative reporter for ABC News, blew it Friday morning when he suggested that the Aurora, Colo., shooting suspect, Jim Holmes, might be connected with the "tea party."

"There is a Jim Holmes of Aurora, Colorado, page on the Colorado tea party site as well. Talking about him joining the tea party last year. Now, we don't know if this the same Jim Holmes," Ross ominously informed "Good Morning America" host George Stephanopoulos, who thought the news "might be significant." Or it might not.

Actually, it definitely isn't significant. The fifty-something tea party Holmes, we soon learned, wasn't the same guy as the twenty-something mass-slaying suspect. Brent Bozell of the conservative watchdog outfit the Media Research Center calls Ross' statement a "brazen attempt to smear the tea party."

And other conservatives, particularly tea party members, have every right to be angry. The list of calumnies and distortions about them is too lengthy to recount here. They've been cast as dangerous, racist, fascistic and murderous. The most famous example is the seemingly instantaneous effort — ginned up by partisans but given ample credence by the mainstream media — to turn Jared Lee Loughner, the suspect in the 2011 Tucson shootings that killed six people and wounded former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, into a right-wing golem conjured by Fox News, Sarah Palin and the tea parties.

That said, I still don't think Bozell & Co. are quite right when they see Ross' "reporting" as deliberate. For that, Ross would have needed to know what he was saying was untrue. I have to believe Ross didn't want to get the story wrong. It would be nice to know if Ross checked to see if there were any Jim Holmes around Aurora who were connected to the Occupy Wall Street movement or any who were Muslims. Or was the tea party simply the first place he looked? And if so, why? Read more ..


Venezuela on Edge

Hugo Chavez Prefers Fruit Juice over Imperialist Coca-Cola and Pepsi

July 24th 2012

Hugo Chavez infirm

New York City isn’t the only place in the world where preventing the consumption of sugary sodas has become a political imperative. In his televised broadcast yesterday, Venezuela’s Comandante, Hugo Chavez, urged his viewers to safeguard their waistlines by ditching Coca-Cola and Pepsi in favor of a locally-produced fruit juice.

Reports the Associated Press:

Chavez says consumers should buy “Uvita,” a grape juice made by state-run Corpozulia as a means of increasing the consumption of Venezuelan-made products instead of buying sugary sodas made by foreign companies.

Venezuela’s socialist leader often dispenses advice to supporters during his marathon televised speeches, calling on them to eat healthy foods, get plenty of exercise, and avoid drugs and alcohol.
Read more ..


Obama and Israel

Hillary’s Slap to Israel

July 24th 2012

Hillary in Israel

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton took 24 hours of her international tour to stop in Israel, her first visit in two years. Her trip was mostly dedicated to uttering meaningless platitudes about Obama’s commitment to Israel’s security, mainly as a preemptive defense against Republican contender Mitt Romney’s visit to Israel next week. Obama, whose pro-Israel credentials have been lacking, sent Clinton to reassure his liberal Jewish supporters before the November elections. Clinton’s trip, which should have been centered along simple niceties, will instead be remembered for the painful and insulting slap she delivered to the entire Israeli people.

Speaking at press conference on Monday night, Clinton essentially rejected any possibility of Israeli agent Jonathan Pollard ever getting out of prison. "With respect to Mr. Pollard, he was convicted of spying in 1987," Clinton said. "He was sentenced to life in prison, he is serving that sentence, and I do not have any expectations that that is going to change." The heads of the Knesset Pollard Lobby revealed that Clinton’s staffers prevented them from delivering a letter signing by all Jewish faction heads pleading for Pollard’s freedom.  These harsh rebuffs come in the midst of ever increasing calls from American and Israeli officials for Pollard’s release, among them Israeli President Peres. Last month, before being awarded by Obama with the US Presidential Medal of Freedom, Peres presented Obama with a petition signed by over 70,000 Israelis, among them distinguished figures, in support of clemency for Pollard. Since then, the only official response from the Obama administration has been a cold silence, even as Pollard’s health continues to decline. Read more ..


Heathcare on Edge

One Small-print Benefit of Health Reform

July 24th 2012

medicine and money #2

I’ve often said the U.S. health care system is so complex that trying to understand it makes your hair hurt. Case in point: the Affordable Care Act runs more than 2,000 pages. I’ll grant you that it’s a massive piece of legislation—but lawmakers felt that’s what was needed to fix at least some of the problems that resulted from the helter-skelter way our health care system developed.

This complexity also helps explain why it has been so difficult for the Obama administration to communicate how the numerous provisions of the law will likely benefit average Americans. And it also explains why so many journalists covering health care often do little more than “he said, she said” reporting. Going deeper requires a willingness to figure out how to make arcane but important parts of the system interesting and relevant.

I’ll never forget being told by a reporter for a major financial publication while I was still at Cigna that her editor would not let her use the term “reinsurance” in a story she was writing about my firm—even though the company had just disclosed having to take a big charge against earnings because of problems within the company’s reinsurance operations. She said her editor believed readers simply couldn’t wrap their heads around the concept of reinsurance. As part of their risk management efforts, insurers buy “reinsurance” from other insurance firms to reduce their exposure to unexpected high claims from policyholders. The resinsurer assumes a portion of the risk. Read more ..


The New Egypt

“Yankee Go Home!”—from the Good Guys

July 24th 2012

Clinton in Egypt

The interesting news was not that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was pelted with stuff while visiting Cairo, the important issue was who was doing the pelting. Once upon a time, anti-American radicals threw things at U.S. leaders. But now…

Reportedly, the hurlers of objects were people from the Free Egyptians Party and other Egyptian liberals. At the same time, leading Christians, including Naguib Sawiris who is the man behind that party and perhaps the most outspoken anti-Islamist figure in Egypt today, refused to meet with Clinton. Why? Because these people see the Obama Administration as an ally of the Muslim Brotherhood. That might sound far-fetched to the mainstream media, but it is taken for granted in much of the Middle East. In the articles of liberal Arabs; the statements of Persian Gulf Arab establishment figures; the conversations of Syrian, Turkish, Iranian, and Lebanese oppositionists, the idea that the U.S. government is now helping the Islamists is taken for granted.

Let me repeat that: It is taken for granted. Read more ..


Healthcare on Edge

States Should Wait Before Accepting Obamacare

July 23rd 2012

obamacare

The Supreme Court upheld Obamacare’s individual mandate to purchase health insurance, but it also struck down part of the law. That part—forcing states to expand their Medicaid programs—offers governors some much-needed relief.

Expanding Medicaid, the government health insurance program for the poor and disabled, was one of President Obama’s main ways to increase the number of insured people through Obamacare. This was no magic solution for the uninsured, especially since Medicaid is in need of reform, not expansion.

States’ share of the cost of Medicaid is already crushing state budgets. “In the past decade, Medicaid spending has increased at nearly twice the rate of states’ tax revenue,” according to a new report.The only ways to expand Medicaid are to raise taxes, cut other state programs, or slash health care providers’ reimbursements in Medicaid even more. And so far, the majority of America’s governors have said they won’t do it. Read more ..


Puerto Rico on Edge

Puerto Rico's Tentative Mission to the Anglo-Sphere

July 23rd 2012

Gov Luis Fortuno
Gov. Luis Fortuño of Puerto Rico

With an electoral season approaching, the islands comprising Puerto Rico have once more become the center of debate and conflict. Recently, the current Governor of Puerto Rico and statehood advocate Luis Fortuño introduced a mandatory bilingual public-education program for all students on the islands. The initiative, called “Generation Bilingual,” emphasizes the importance of English proficiency among the islanders. Ultimately, his ambitious program aims to graduate a 100 percent English-Spanish bilingual class from secondary schools by 2022.

Given the economic upheaval and rise in violent crime on the island, Fortuño’s proposition is rather timely, and may reflect his efforts to regain popularity as many islanders lose faith in his conservative administration. The unemployment rate of roughly 14.2 percent has driven the local population to search for a desperate solution to its lingual and other woes.

As a member of the local New Progressive Party (PNP) and U.S. Republican Party, Fortuño has had his motives for this program called into question. Los Penepes, or PNP party members, are generally associated with statehood advocacy, and members of the Republican Party have emphasized English proficiency as a prerequisite for island statehood. To this end, there is concern for underlying political intentions. Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

Entrepreneurs—Not Politicians—Build Prosperity

July 22nd 2012

Star Parker

I think it’s a sport for President Barack Obama to make outrageous statements like “If you’ve got a business—you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen,” which he said in a recent campaign trip to Roanoke, Va.—and then watch Republicans go predictably bananas. Certainly the multimillionaire business supporters of the president on Wall Street and in Hollywood know this is absurd. Anyone with the mildest understanding of business and capitalism knows this is absurd.

Yet the president struck at the heart of what makes capitalism tick—individual freedom and personal responsibility—without having his polling numbers in the week that followed budge. His re-election probability on Intrade.com actually ticked up two and half points. We are reaching dangerous critical mass of those in our country who have enough stake in big government—whether they are employed by it, collecting benefits from it, or businesses getting favors from it—that political protection is commanding a higher premium than freedom. If Americans want prosperity, we need a grand reawakening to the incontrovertible fact that its source is entrepreneurs unfettered by meddling politicians.

Apple Inc. is now the most valuable company in the world. Its recent stock price puts its valuation at around $560 billion, more than $150 billion more than America’s biggest oil company, ExxonMobil. Fifteen years ago, in 1997, when Steve Jobs returned as CEO of Apple, the company was worth less than $3 billion—about half a percent of its worth today. Estimates then were that Apple was several months away from bankruptcy.

John Lilly, a former Apple employee, now a Silicon Valley venture capitalist, blogged after Jobs’s death about a talk that Jobs gave to employees shortly after his return. Apple was losing money, its stock was languishing, there were rumors about the company being acquired, and Jobs was asked about a suggestion that the company should just shut down. He concluded his response with: “If you want to make Apple great again, let’s get going. If not, get the hell out.” The blogger continues, “I think it’s not an overstatement to say that just about everyone in the room loved him at that point, would have followed him off a cliff if that’s where he led.” Read more ..


America on Edge

The Essence of Hypocrisy on Abortion

July 22nd 2012

Armstrong_Williams

Essence magazine claims to have a “motivating message” for black women, and to “speak directly to a Black woman's spirit, her heart and her unique concerns. Every month black women rely on Essence for editorial content designed to help them move their lives forward personally, professionally, intellectually and spiritually.” The magazine must think that black women will be moved forward spiritually by Planned Parenthood, because the largest abortion provider in the United States, one that kills 300,000 American babies annually, is sponsoring the 2012 Essence Music Festival in New Orleans.

According to Planned Parenthood executive vice-president Dawn Laguens, one of organization's goals in sponsoring this event is “to educate festival attendees about health disparities in the African-American community.” I'm guessing one of those disparities isn't the shocking, shocking, shocking abortion rate. According to the Guttmacher Institute—Planned Parenthood's very own research and propaganda wing—African-Americans, roughly 13 percent of the population, have 30 percent of all abortions in the United States, the highest rate of any racial group. Statistics from 2010 show that in New York City, blacks, who make up roughly one-quarter of the population, get 45 percent of the abortions.

No, that disparity doesn't bother anyone at Planned Parenthood. The organization probably sees it as a good thing. Not only is it more business and more money for the organization, but to it, abortion is not only healthy, but empowering. If it is right, then blacks have a higher empowerment rate than whites, the highest among any group. Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

Senate Dems Up in 2014 Become ‘Hostages’ in Tax Battle

July 21st 2012

Norquist USE CAPTION
Credit: Gage Skidmore

Conservative anti-tax advocate Grover Norquist says the 20 Senate Democrats facing re-election in 2014 will be the “hostages” who will ensure that President Obama does not raise the Bush-era tax rates. Democrats have been talking tough in recent days about drawing a hard line on extending the Bush tax rates only for families making below $250,000.

Sen. Patty Murray (Wash.), the Democratic co-chairman of the 2011 deficit-reduction supercommittee, said Monday that Democrats would let income tax rates rise across the board if Republicans refuse to drop their opposition to raising new taxes. Senate Democratic leaders have endorsed her declaration.

But Norquist thinks vulnerable senators up for re-election in two years will force Democrats to back down, as they did in 2010 by extending virtually all of the Bush tax cuts for two years.
“Last time Republicans won the House and [were] a little strengthened in the Senate and Obama folded completely. We’re going to be stronger this time than after last time; our hostages are the 20 Democrats up in ’14. We’ll send them either piece by piece or one at a time over to the White House to negotiate,” Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform and author of the Taxpayer Protection Pledge stated. Read more ..


Healthcare on Edge

The End of Welfare Reform As We Know It

July 21st 2012

Work training

The Obama Administration made yet another end run around Congress last week—this time, to gut the successful welfare reform law of 1996. If this is allowed to stand, it will mean rewinding years of progress that lifted millions out of poverty.

Before the 1996 reform, welfare was a one-way handout: Government mailed checks to recipients who did nothing in return. The new program the reform law established, Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), changed all that. It required able-bodied welfare recipients to work, prepare for work, or at least look for work as a condition of receiving aid. Welfare reform turned “welfare” into “workfare.”

At the time, liberals denounced the new law and predicted dire consequences for America’s needy. They said the reform would do “serious injury to American children” and “substantially increase poverty and destitution.” There was “absolutely no evidence that this radical idea has even the slightest chance of success,” they said, crying that “No piece of legislation in U.S. history has increased the severity of poverty so sharply.” Read more ..


Healthcare on Edge

Obama Pans the Private Equity that Will Save Our Lives

July 21st 2012

Obamacare Protest

Today, most patients needing long-term dialysis no longer get it in hospitals but go to less costly, more convenient outpatient clinics. Routine problems like hernias are fixed in outpatient surgery offices; while complex issues like cancer are handled in specialized centers with expertise to better manage these problems, at lower cost.

These and other innovations in delivering medical care, from the advent of outpatient rehabilitation to creation of the first HMO, were pioneered in the last few decades through a common origin: they were incubated in start-ups that were headed by entrepreneurs and backed by venture capital.

Advances in the way that health care services are delivered, most now taken for granted, arose the same way as progress in other spheres of commerce -- as a result of innovators who risked capital in search of profits. These new ideas are essential if we're going to solve our long-term fiscal woes by increasing productivity in the healthcare sector to get more medical care for each dollar we spend. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

What Comes After Assad in Syria?

July 20th 2012

President Bashir al-Assad of Syria

The fighting and bombings in Damascus suggest the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is finally coming to an end. It will likely be ugly and dangerous. Some kind of international peacekeeping force is probably going to be needed, perhaps sooner rather than later.

The brutal and violent civil war between Assad loyalists and the rebels has served to inflame bitter sectarian tensions in Syria. Many Sunnis hated the long dominant Alawite minority and its Christian supporters before the conflict began in March 2011. After all, Bashar’s father, Hafez al-Assad, killed up to 20,000 Sunnis in Hama in February 1982. It was an appalling mass slaughter. The legacy of Hama terrified Syrians for 30 years. After the many massacres of the last year, the Sunni desire for revenge has only become stronger.

So, paradoxically, one of the priorities of the international community after Assad falls will be to protect the Alawite community and its allies from vengeance. Most live along the mountainous coast bordering the Mediterranean Sea, and they may try to set up a ministate there, an Alawi fortress to protect themselves. Read more ..


Books on Edge

Memo to DOJ: Drop the Apple E-Books Suit

July 20th 2012

E-book readers

Recently the Department of Justice filed suit against Apple and major publishers, alleging that they colluded to raise prices in the digital books market. While the claim sounds plausible on its face, the suit could wipe out the publishing industry as we know it, making it much harder for young authors to get published.

The suit will restore Amazon to the dominant position atop the e-books market it occupied for years before competition arrived in the form of Apple. If that happens, consumers will be forced to accept whatever prices Amazon sets.

All of us will lose the vibrant resources a diverse publishing universe provides. As Scott Turow, president of the Author's Guild, has explained, the Justice Department's suit is "grim news for everyone who cherishes a rich literary culture." These losses will be particularly felt in New York, which is home not only to many publishers, but also to a burgeoning digital innovation industry. Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

Republicans Slam Obama on Syria After Defeat of UN Resolution

July 19th 2012

Bombing Hits Syria March 18 2012

Republican lawmakers renewed their criticism of President Obama's handling of the crisis in Syria after a U.S.-backed sanctions resolution failed again at the United Nations.

Thursday's vote was the third time that Russia and China had vetoed sanctions against President Bashar Assad's government since a revolt against his regime erupted 17 months ago. Senate hawks have been pushing the Obama administration to arm the rebels or take other unilateral measures to stop the bloodshed and replace Assad.

“And the President watches the massacre continue...,” Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the top Republican on the Senate Armed Forces Committee, said in a tweet. Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), who is viewed as a contender to be Mitt Romney's running mate, also expressed his disapproval. “UN Security Council vote on Syria shows that the need for US leadership is more urgent than ever,” he wrote in a tweet. “Now is not the time to lead from behind.” Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

Romney's Taxes: Tell it Early, Tell it All, Tell it Yourself

July 19th 2012

Ask Mitt

Yes, Gov. Romney — that subtitle to my memoir concerning the rules we learned the hard way at the Clinton White House in 1996-98 about getting the truth out yourself proactively, even if it is a bad-news story, applies to you and the issue of your tax returns.

Yes, Gov. Romney — that subtitle to my memoir concerning the rules we learned the hard way at the Clinton White House in 1996-98 about getting the truth out yourself proactively, even if it is a bad-news story, applies to you and the issue of your tax returns.

It applies to everyone facing bad news — in business, politics and life. The only exception is if putting the facts out can land you in jail. In that case, I recommend forgetting about crisis management rules and relying on the advice of a good criminal lawyer. If you stay where you are, you are defying history — in both parties. As my favorite source of truth, Glenn Kessler, pointed out in his Monday “Fact-Checker” column for the Washington Post, virtually every other presidential candidate in both parties going back to FDR released many years of tax returns when they ran for president against the incumbent. Why wouldn’t you too? Read more ..


The Obama Edge

Labor Department: Disappointing 'Green Jobs' Creation

July 18th 2012

Solyndra HQ 02

The U.S. Department of Labor promised Americans it would train close to 125,000 Americans for new "green jobs," but less than half that number actually received any training. Of those, about 8,000 were placed in jobs, yet only 1,300 workers had jobs lasting more than six months, according to the Obama Labor Department's own internal study that's been all but ignored during the current election cycle.

The Solyndra scandal ignited a firestorm on Capitol Hill among congressional leaders who chastised President Barack Obama for responding to an economic recession with a failed “green energy subsidy experiment.” But the firestorm seems to have been extinguished by Democrat Party operatives and their allies who've infiltrated the news media in order to prop up a failed president, claims a political strategist and attorney, Michael S. Baker. Read more ..


America on Edge

Bring Back the American Dream? It’s Not That Hard.

July 18th 2012

Graduates

Restoring opportunity in the United States is not terribly complicated. It will require an activist government and individual responsibility. That means a strong focus on job creation right now, combined with efforts to reduce debt, improve education, and strengthen families over the longer-run.

Success on these fronts is undermined not by a lack of knowledge about what to do, but by partisan arguments that ignore the kind of common-sense consensus that might otherwise prevail.

An update of my earlier work on economic mobility in the US, coauthored with Julia Isaacs and Ron Haskins and recently released by the Pew Charitable Trusts, confirms that there is less economic mobility in America than many believe, especially at the top and bottom of the distribution of income and wealth. Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

Sodomy "For the Sake of Islam"

July 17th 2012

Hamas head

As a possibly convenient way of rationalizing what one desires while still being able to feel "pure," anything and everything that is otherwise banned becomes permissible. All that supposedly matters is one's intention, or niyya. --

Not only did the original "underwear bomber" Abdullah Hassan al-Asiri hide explosives in his rectum to assassinate Saudi Prince Muhammad bin Nayef—they met in 2009 after the 22-year-old holy warrior "feigned repentance for his jihadi views"—but al-Asiri apparently had fellow jihadis repeatedly sodomize him to "widen" his anus in order to accommodate the explosives— all in accordance with the fatwas [religious edicts] of Islamic clerics.

A 2010 Arabic news video that is making the rounds on the Internet gives the details. Apparently a cleric, one Abu al-Dema al-Qasab, informed jihadis of an "innovative and unprecedented way to execute martyrdom operations: place explosive capsules in your anus. However, to undertake this jihadi approach you must agree to be sodomized for a while to widen your anus so it can hold the explosives." Read more ..


Healthcare on Edge

Why Insurers Want ObamaCare’s Medicaid Business

July 17th 2012

obamacare

The House of Representatives voted for the 33rd time last week to repeal ObamaCare, and for the 33rd time it was an exercise in futility. The Senate will ignore the House vote and allow the reform law to move forward, just as the Supreme Court did last month.

House members are well aware of all that, so the vote was all for show. And GOP leaders have no intention of repealing the Affordable Care Act because their friends in the health insurance industry are counting on major provisions of the law going forward, especially the expansion of Medicaid. Don’t be fooled by Republican governors like Florida’s Rick Scott and Texas’s Rick Perry, who are saying they’ll opt out of the Medicaid expansion now that the Supreme Court says that’s allowable. When the Feds start doling out billions in 2014 to bring an additional 16 million Americans into the Medicaid program, they’ll be on board. Trust me.

Want proof that Big Insurance has figured out how to make a lot of money off reform? WellPoint announced on July 9 that it will pay nearly $5 billion to buy the country’s largest private Medicaid managed care company, AmeriGroup. Rest assured that lobbyists for WellPoint and other firms wanting to get their hands on that new Medicaid money will have a “here’s how it has to be” talk with their buddies on Capitol Hill. Read more ..


Middle East on Edge

Israel is in Good Shape Because So Many Others Decided Not to Be

July 17th 2012

Israel Airport

The more I think about Israel’s security situation at this moment, the better it looks. Obviously, this is counter-intuitive given the media bias, academic distortions, and campaigns for sanctions of various kinds. And, of course, Israel starts from a basis of facing far more security challenges than any other modern state. Still, by Israeli standards, the outlook is good.

On the surface, the “Arab Spring” along with the surge of revolutionary Islamism certainly looks bad but let’s examine the shorter-term implications. By reentering a period of instability and continuing conflict within each country, the Arabic-speaking world is committing a self-induced setback. Internal battles will disrupt Arab armies and economies, reducing their ability to fight against Israel. Indeed, nothing could be more likely to handicap development than Islamist policies.

While one shouldn’t depend too much on expecting Arab regimes to be too busy dealing with domestic transformation to want to stage foreign adventures against Israel, this is far more true than in past decades. And even if they would like to attack Israel they are less able to do so effectively given their disrupted societies, weakened armies, uncertain alliances, and lack of Western sponsorship. Read more ..


Education on Edge

Like Charter Schools, Britain's Academies Aim High

July 17th 2012

British public school

Seventeen seventy-six is a number with great resonance for Americans, but you wouldn’t expect it to be featured on a British-government website. But there it is, on the home page of the United Kingdom’s Department of Education: “As of 1 April 2012, there are 1,776 academies open in England.”

“Academies,” as you might expect, means something different in Britain than in the United States. They are, approximately, what we would call charter schools. And there are 1,776 of them largely because of the energy and determination of British education secretary Michael Gove.

Britain, like America, has gotten pretty dismal results for years from its public schools — “state schools,” in their terminology. (British “public schools” are expensive boarding schools; they include Eton, which produced David Cameron and twelve other prime ministers, and Fettes, its Scottish equivalent, which graduated former prime minister Tony Blair.) Read more ..



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