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Healthcare on Edge

Why the Insurance Industry Needs the ACA to Stay in Business

April 13th 2012

CIGNA building

If there is a group of people more anxious about how the Supreme Court will rule on the health care reform law than President Obama and the millions of Americans who are already benefiting from it, it is health insurance executives. Not only have their companies been spending millions of dollars implementing the parts of the law that pertains to them—and most of them do—but they also have been counting on the law as very possibly the only thing that can preserve the free market system of health insurance in this country. This is why it is so ironic that defenders of the free market are the most vocal critics of the law and the ones hoping most ardently that the Court will declare it unconstitutional.

Health insurers have known for years that their business practices of excluding growing numbers of Americans from coverage and shifting more and more of the cost of care to policyholders are not sustainable over the long haul. That’s why their top priority during the health care reform debate was to make sure whatever bill Congress passed included the much-vilified individual mandate. And it’s also why the big insurance companies have been working almost frantically to reinvent themselves lately.

Cigna and Aetna recently became the latest of the biggest national firms to rebrand themselves and roll out new logos and self-descriptions. Cigna is now “a global health service company“ while Aetna is now “one of the nation's leading health care benefits companies.” What this means is that these companies and their competitors have come to understand that the very policies that enabled them to make Wall Street-pleasing profits over several years has led to a health insurance marketplace that is shrinking. And as it continues to shrink, so will their profit margins. Read more ..


History on Edge

The Smog of War: Time to Lay to Rest the Vietnam Syndrome

April 12th 2012

Vietnamese hat in mud

Take off your hat. Taps is playing. Almost four decades late, the Vietnam War and its post-war spawn, the Vietnam Syndrome, are finally heading for their American grave. It may qualify as the longest attempted burial in history. Last words -- both eulogies and curses -- have been offered too many times to mention, and yet no American administration found the silver bullet that would put that war away for keeps.

Richard Nixon tried to get rid of it while it was still going on by “Vietnamizing” it. Seven years after it ended, Ronald Reagan tried to praise it into the dustbin of history, hailing it as “a noble cause.” Instead, it morphed from a defeat in the imperium into a “syndrome,” an unhealthy aversion to war-making believed to afflict the American people to their core.

A decade later, after the U.S. military smashed Saddam Hussein’s army in Kuwait in the First Gulf War, George H.W. Bush exulted that the country had finally “kicked the Vietnam Syndrome once and for all.” As it turned out, despite the organization of massive “victory parades” at home to prove that this hadn't been Vietnam redux, that war kicked back. Another decade passed and there were H.W.’s son W. and his advisors planning the invasion of Iraq through a haze of Vietnam-constrained obsessions. Read more ..


The Arab Winter in Egypt

The Muslim Brotherhood’s Mendacious Washington Charm Campaign

April 12th 2012

Khairat al-Shater
Khairat al-Shater, Muslim Brotherhood presidential candidate

The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace hosted a Muslim Brotherhood delegation in Washington last week to better understand how the Islamist group will govern Egypt. It was a noble attempt at promoting intercultural political dialogue—an engagement for which many in the American policy community, as well as academia, have long advocated. Yet the Brotherhood came to Washington with an agenda of its own: selling itself as a “moderate” organization to a highly skeptical American public. And it did so using one of the oldest sales tricks: It completely misrepresented itself.

In a certain sense, the Muslim Brotherhood’s representatives had no other choice. If they admitted, for example, that they intend to repeal the law that criminalizes sexual harassment—as one of their female parliamentarians declared earlier last week—they would have killed their chances at winning over an American public that embraces gender equality. Similarly, if the Brotherhood’s representatives used their time in Washington to reiterate their leaders’ calls for banning beach tourism, it would have destroyed any hopes of an American taxpayer-aided bailout for the nearly bankrupt Egyptian economy. And if they’d repeated their leaders’ 9/11 conspiracy theories, they would have been on the first plane back to Cairo, rather than invited for meetings at the White House and State Department. Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

Jihad in France is Just Beginning

April 11th 2012

Graffiti Supportive of Toulouse Killer
Graffiti Supporting the Toulouse Killings

The Congress of the French branch of the Muslim Brotherhood (UOIF) took place in the city of Le Bourget, near Paris, from April 6–9. Over 100,000 participants were expected. Six anti-Semitic Islamic preachers who were invited to speak were denied entry into France. Other anti-Semitic Islamic preachers will speak anyway; they are French, and they cannot be expelled. They will not be condemned. The French government knows that if it condemned them, it might be confronted by riots in many suburbs. Every year, openly anti-Semitic books are on sale at the Congress of the UOIF, among them the fabricated Protocols of the Elders of Zion. This year will be no different.

Several radical Islamist organizations openly advocate—without interference—jihad on French territory. One of them, Forsane Alizza (Pride Riders), was banned by the French government at the end of February; it had started to train fighters on French soil. Although officially the organization disappeared, its members are still active. Eighteen of them were arrested on March 30; they will probably soon be released. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

Speak Up In Support of Syrian People

April 11th 2012

Click to select Image

The Jewish community has always been outspoken in the face of massacres or genocides. The organized Jewish community played a remarkable role in speaking up on behalf of the victims of genocide in Bosnia-Herzegovina in the 1990s and on behalf of the victims of the Darfur area, who were being massacred by the Sudanese government. In both cases, the U.S. government and the international community eventually took action that succeeded in stopping or at least significantly diminishing the intensity of the tragedies.

The Bosnian and Darfur cases both demonstrated evidence of genocide while they were occurring. It made sense that the Jewish people, having been victims of genocide themselves, would speak up to make sure that the world is held accountable.

In Syria, the ruthless regime of Bashar Al Assad is carrying out a massacre against dissidents who dare to stand up and demand change from his arch-oppressive Baathist dictatorship. Some reports state that 10,000 people have been killed within the past year and that thousands more have been injured. The slaughter reportedly includes entire neighborhoods that have vanished in a generalized merciless murder that includes women and children. Read more ..


Election 2012

Obama and Romney Now Go at Each Other in Earnest

April 11th 2012

Obama: call me

The general election has begun for Mitt Romney and President Obama.
Rick Santorum's exit from the Republican presidential primary on Tuesday cemented Romney's status as the GOP nominee, which the former Massachusetts governor seemed to acknowledge.

"This has been a good day for me," he said at his first public appearance on April 10 after Santorum left the race.

Obama, too, has seemed to drop all pretense about who he'll face in November, referring to Romney by name for the first time earlier this month. Although Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul remain in the GOP primary, both have scaled back their campaigns immensely, and Gingrich has acknowledged that Romney’s nomination is now essentially a fait accompli. But, despite the air of inevitability surrounding this match-up, both Obama and Romney are beginning the general-election phase of the campaign on new ground. Read more ..


Religious Tolerance

Toulouse Tragedy is More Spilling of Jewish Blood

April 10th 2012

Elie Wiesel
Elie Wiesel

Will the hatred of the Jews ever finally vanish? Will Jewish children always be in danger? This time, a murderer slew four Jews: a teacher and three young children. When a blood-thirsty Jew-hater wants to kill Jews, he goes first to the Jewish schools. Jewish children are his primary target. It’s always been this way. This is what Pharaoh, King of Egypt did, what Hitler did. And this is what happened now.

This is the background to the tragedy that occurred in the French city, Toulouse.

I have visited that city many times. The Jewish community there is old and well-established – it dates back to the Middle Ages – but it is dynamic. In the streets, you can see Jews wearing yarmulkas. Nobody thinks of anti-Semitism. Spiritually, it is one of richest Jewish communities in France. Obviously, the terrible murderous attack evoked tears and rage among both Jews and non-Jews. The President, his ministers, and other political figures in France, as well as all the newspapers, have demanded that the murderer be found and punished. It often happens like this. Jewish blood is spilled and, temporarily, sympathy for Jews grows; the world warms to them. Read more ..


The Obama Edge

U.S.–Brazil Summit: Time for a Bold Policy Vision

April 9th 2012

Barack Obama with Flag

An optimistic view of the April 9 meeting between U.S. President Barack Obama and Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff is that it will produce a stronger relationship with an emerging global power here in the Americas. Despite significant differences on key democracy, human rights, and foreign policy issues, the U.S. must elevate its game with Brazil. If it is a U.S. priority to build a substantive rather than merely amicable relationship, the Obama Administration and policy shapers in general should develop a coordinated ensemble of initiatives that provide real incentives, as well as a strategy for achieving a closer, enduring, and mutually beneficial association. These initiatives must be sufficiently bold to appeal to Brazilian pride and self-interest and overcome a Brazilian desire to play global counterweight or foil to U.S. policy. 

Many in Brazil, especially independent-minded foreign policy elites, run with the global pack—they like independence from the U.S. and enjoy the ability to cherry-pick stances in a competitive, multipolar world. To challenge this position, the U.S. needs a weighty, strategic-minded approach that spans a spectrum of trade, energy, aerospace, and security possibilities. 

Freeing Trade

The U.S. and Brazil aim to steer their economies toward higher, broader-based growth tracks. Brazil is the U.S.’s 10th-largest trading partner, acquiring $39 billion in U.S. goods and $12.7 billion in U.S. services (figures from 2010). The U.S. ran an $11 billion trade surplus with Brazil in 2010.

Nearer than Asian markets, much closer in mores and cultural affinities, Brazil is a major purchaser of goods from high-tech, value-producing industries, particularly machinery and aircraft parts. While China has surpassed the U.S. as Brazil’s largest trade partner, that economic relationship is linked to volatile commodities, a form of neo-dependency that Brazil wishes to address. Read more ..


Election 2012

Obama Apparently Abandons Push to Require Disclosure of Donations by Federal Contractors

April 8th 2012

Dollar Polity

The Obama administration has all but abandoned its push to require federal contractors to disclose their political donations.

A year ago, the White House composed a draft executive order that would have forced potential government contractors to reveal their political spending as a condition of submitting bids. But roughly 12 months later, no final order has been issued, and supporters and critics alike say they've seen no signs such a change is forthcoming.

"The executive order can potentially come back after the 2012 elections," said Craig Holman, lobbyist for Public Citizen, a government watchdog group that has been urging the greater transparency. "But I don't consider it still being contemplated [now]." Holman said Obama sent clear signals the issue has been pushed to the backburner in January when the president declined to pitch it in his State of the Union address.

"Obama neglected to even mention it," Holman said with disappointment. "I consider it not to be even on the agenda." That doesn’t mean campaign finance won’t be a high-profile issue this election year.

Democrats in both chambers have introduced legislation on campaign spending that’s broader than the administration's draft executive order. The Disclose Act — sponsored by Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) — would force corporations, including government contractors, to reveal all political contributions above $10,000 and take public credit for the political ads they sponsor.

Backed by Obama, the bills are designed to nibble away at the Supreme Court's 2010 "Citizens United" decision, which cleared the way for unlimited, often anonymous campaign spending by corporations, unions and other well-heeled interests. Read more ..


The Budget Battle

Rep. Ryan’s Budget Proposal Walks GOP into Another Political Trap

April 7th 2012

Juan Williams 02

Here is Joel Benenson, President Obama’s top campaign pollster, speaking to reporters last week about his view of the 2012 race for the White House: “This election has fundamentally shaped up—and rightly so—as a battle over contrasts of economic values and economic vision.”

Here is Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), a man high on the list of Republican vice presidential possibilities, last week offering me, in a Fox News Latino interview, a similar view of the heart of the fall campaign: “I think we Republicans have an opportunity to offer a very clear contrast to the direction that Barack Obama has taken the … U.S.” In Rubio’s opinion, President Obama is “undermining” the American free enterprise system, which Rubio said is “the best system in the world for upward mobility and economic empowerment.”

Absent some foreign policy crisis, Benenson and Rubio have it exactly right—this fall’s presidential campaign will be another replay of “It’s the Economy, Stupid.” And the blueprint for campaigns can be found in the recent budget proposal from Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), chairman of the House Budget Committee.

David Plouffe, the president’s senior adviser, is already calling the Ryan budget “the Romney-Ryan plan.” And Mitt Romney is cooperating by endorsing Ryan’s proposal as “an excellent piece of work.”

The Republicans are falling into a trap. The Ryan plan calls for reducing individual income tax rates to 10 percent and 25 percent from the current top rate of 35 percent and he also reduces the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 25 percent. The Wisconsin Republican claims his budget offsets the tax dollars lost to the tax cuts for upper-income Americans by eliminating tax loopholes, tax shelters and many tax deductions estimated at an incredible $4.6 trillion over 10 years. But while Ryan specifies the cuts in tax rates, he never identifies these giant tax breaks he wants to kill. Read more ..


The Edge of Nature

Should Polar Bears Lose Endangered Species Status?

April 7th 2012

Back in 2008, when the Bush administration was on the threshold of declaring polar bears “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act, I pointed out that claims of polar bear endangerment were highly speculative: Predictions of polar bear endangerment are based on two sets of computer models: one set predicts how much Arctic sea ice will melt as a result of global warming, and the other predicts how polar bear populations will respond.

But computer models of climate change are known to be fraught with problems, and the ecological models used to predict polar bears’ response to climate shifts are equally limited. It is essentially impossible to know whether polar bears are endangered and whether their habitat is threatened by manmade global warming or other natural climate cycles. What we do know about polar bears is that, contrary to media portrayals, they are not fragile, “canary in the coal mine” animals, but are robust creatures that have survived past periods of extensive deglaciation. Polar bear fossils have been dated to over 100,000 years ago, which means that polar bears have already survived an interglacial period when temperatures were considerably warmer than they are at present and when, quite probably, levels of summertime Arctic sea ice were correspondingly low.

Read more ..

The Obama Edge

Obama's Auto-Bailout Fiction

April 6th 2012

Auto Bailout

As the president has ramped up into campaign mode, he has studiously avoided mentioning most of his signature accomplishments. One can see why. The health care legislation is unpopular, as is the stimulus. The one thing President Obama always seems to mention is the auto bailout. Given that automakers are profitable now, he asserts, his actions, which were purportedly opposed by Republicans, have been proven wise.

There is much about this line of argument that is objectionable. The auto bailout began in earnest when President Bush, in 2008, allocated part of the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) to the automotive industry. That decision was not without controversy in Republican circles, since there was arguably no legal basis for this use of the funds designated to help financial firms. But Obama's assertions about widespread Republican recalcitrance are incorrect.

President Obama did support the bailout once he assumed the presidency, and he bailed away with gusto. At the end of 2008, the Treasury had agreed to lend only $17.4 billion to General Motors and Chrysler, but by June 2009 the size of the bailout had grown to $55 billion, and by the end of 2009 it had reached $80 billion. Read more ..


Broken Government

Three Strikes, You’re Out!

April 5th 2012

baseball glove bat ball

Happy spring! The cherry blossoms are gone, Congress is on Easter break, and the Major League Baseball season is under way. But the Nats stadium is not the only place where “three strikes and you’re out” is being heard. It’s also echoing on Capitol Hill, where Congress had three chances to do the right thing before leaving town—and struck out on all three.

The first was House passage of the Paul Ryan budget. Instead of working with Democrats to craft a serious budget package that could pass the Senate, House Republicans forced through a Mickey Mouse measure that everybody knows is going nowhere. For the second year in a row, Republicans lined up to gut food stamps, cut Medicaid in half, and end Medicare as we know it—all while giving big corporations and the wealthiest of Americans another big, fat tax break.

Not only that, on deficit reduction, the Ryan plan doesn’t add up, which is the first thing you expect from any budget. It would not balance the budget until 2022—and even then, only by promising to eliminate an estimated $700 billion a year in certain tax loopholes—which he refuses to identify. How anyone could swallow this is bad enough. Why Republicans in Congress would vote for such a total fraud is stunning. Read more ..


Media Manipulation

PLO, Abbas Honor Helen Thomas

April 5th 2012

Helen Thomas

The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), headed by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, honored former White House correspondent Helen Thomas in an award ceremony on Sunday. Maen Erekat, the PLO representative in Washington, hosted a dinner at his residence in an event that recognized Thomas for her "stand against the occupation" and "long career in the field of journalism, during which she defended the Palestinian position every step of the way." In addition, Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the PLO's Executive Committee, presented Thomas with an award on behalf of Abbas for "all of her actions supporting Palestine in the West."

Of course, Helen Thomas is most remembered as the correspondent who was captured on video saying that Israelis should "get the hell out of Palestine" and "go home" to "Poland, Germany . . . and America and everywhere else." She soon apologized, but later told an interviewer that she said "exactly what I thought."

At the time, her remarks were praised by Hamas: "No doubt that Thomas Helen [sic] has told the truth that everybody in the world knows," Hamas's website read. "[The] Peace process will be successful, only when Israel get[s] out of Arab Areas, Golan and occupied Palestine, then we can say that peace is happily achieved..."

Apparently Mahmoud Abbas and the PLO, Israel's supposed partner in peace, agrees. Read more ..


After the Holocaust

Claims Conference Substitutes Self-Aggrandizement for Substance

April 5th 2012

Isi Leibler headshot

The management of the Conference on Material Claims against Germany (Claims Conference) is ecstatic after having successfully forced two Israeli journalists to publicly apologize and praise them.

In 2008, Israeli TV aired a program titled “Moral Reparations—The Struggle Continues,” which bitterly condemned the management of the Claims Conference for refusing to prioritize financial disbursements to ameliorate the desperate plight of aging Holocaust survivors unable to live out their remaining years in dignity.

The program was partly based on a report commissioned by the Jewish Agency from forensic accountant Yehuda Barlev, but never released after the Claims Conference stated that it would review its allotments towards the Agency. The Claims Conference sued the producers, Orly Vilnai and Guy Meroz, for libel, alleging that the program was ”anti-Semitic” and presented “a cruel and distorted calumny”. In order to intimidate future potential critics, they demanded the exorbitant amount of NIS 4 million in damages. Ultimately, presumably at the behest of the insurance company reluctant to remain engaged in lengthy and costly court proceedings, a settlement was negotiated for a much smaller amount—NIS 150,000—which it was agreed would be donated to a Holocaust survivor fund chosen by the journalists. In addition, the Claims Conference obtained a written apology praising them for “acting tirelessly on behalf of the Jewish people” and its “unprecedented contribution to assisting Holocaust survivors.”

However, while acknowledging that “in the course of our struggle to correct what we saw as a historical and inhuman injustice … we failed to present the whole picture”, there was no acknowledgement by the journalists of any specific factual error in their film. Moreover, as part of the settlement, Vilnai and Meroz insisted on including a sentence stating that “the frustrating gap between the desire to help Holocaust survivors which is shared by the entire Jewish people, and the actual condition of Holocaust survivors requires criticism—on occasion harsh if deserved—directed at those who set policy in this area, as well as of those who implement it, since this is a sacred task.” Read more ..


Obama and Israel

The U.S. Can Meet Israel Halfway on Iran

April 5th 2012

Fighter Jets

There is no daylight between the United States and Israel on the objective and the preferred means for dealing with Iranian nuclear ambitions. Much has been written about possible differences, but the recent meeting between President Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu highlighted key points of convergence: Both agree that the objective is prevention, not containment, and that a nuclear Iran could set off an arms race in an already-dangerous region. The heightened risk of a nuclear war in the Middle East is, in essence, why Obama has indicated that the issue is in the "American national interest."

The two leaders agree that a peaceful solution to ensuring that Iran does not achieve nuclear weapons is preferable. Iran faces sanctions that are tougher than ever before, giving diplomacy a chance to succeed in a way that it has not.

Any differences between the two countries stem from a basic reality: The United States, given its significantly greater military capability, can afford to wait longer than Israel to give diplomacy time to succeed. From Israel's perspective, as Defense Minister Ehud Barak has explained, there will come a point when, if no action is taken, the depth and breadth of the Iranian nuclear program will force Israel to forgo its military option. Forgoing the use of force against an existential threat would be a historic decision for any Israeli prime minister and goes against that country's ethos of self-reliance. Read more ..


The Iranian Threat

Iran: A Threat Inside America?

April 5th 2012

The 12th Imam

Within a few weeks of becoming Chief of Counter Terrorism at the FBI, I was presented with the draft of a speech I was to deliver before a national meeting of a major Jewish Organization in Florida. My attention was drawn to a sentence that asserted, in essence, that every single Middle East terrorist organization of any consequence had some sort of presence in the United States. Being new to my position I challenged that statement and was presented with information that confirmed its accuracy. The nature and scope of each organization's presence in this country was different and ranged from those which only propagandized and fund raised here to others who actually had a secret cell structure in America.

Also during my tenure in this position, I was called to testify before Congress about the threat of terrorism from within our shores. Although I cited a range of concerns, at the top of the list was the danger of attack carried out at the direction of the Iranian government by assets already in place in our country. I cited very specifically the estimated 40,000 Iranian students then studying in our country, many of whom belonged to an Iranian student organization known for its loyalty to the Iranian government and its hostility to the U.S. I also pointed out that Iran had the distinction of being the single most significant state sponsor of terrorism in the world, besting both Libya and Syria, among others, for this dubious distinction. Read more ..


Broken Government

Highway Bill’s Pension Language Makes Taxpayer Bailout Likely

April 4th 2012

Broken Road

Serious pension funding issues have no place being hidden in a transportation funding bill. This is especially true if the pension language could cause an even greater taxpayer bailout of the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC). 

Taxpayers are already likely to have to send $23 billion to the PBGC, and the Senate’s Highway Investment, Job Creation, and Economic Growth Act of 2012 (S. 1813), which reauthorizes transportation programs for the next two years, would almost certainly increase that amount significantly. The PBGC insures corporate defined-benefit (“traditional”) pensions and must make payments to retirees (up to a limit) if those plans are underfunded and the sponsoring company files for bankruptcy. A small provision hidden in S. 1813 would enable companies to contribute less money to their defined-benefit pension plans. This would increase the chance that the PBGC would have to take over many of these plans and would endanger the retirement security of their present and future retirees. One reason that the provision was added to the Senate transportation bill is that the reduced pension contributions, which are tax deductible, would increase corporate profits so much that it would increase federal corporate tax collections by about $7 billion.

That money would help offset the cost of the bill, but such a significant reduction in pension contributions should send a strong warning. If contributions to defined-benefit pension plans fall that much while pension benefit promises continue to be stable or to grow, someone else may end up paying the difference. And that someone else is almost certain to be the taxpayers. Read more ..


The Arab Winter in Egypt

What's on That Ship, and Where Is It Going?

April 3rd 2012

Egyptian Arms

Once more, it is a tough choice between standing with Amnesty International or with the Obama administration. Once more, Amnesty International wins. Ouch.

U.S. arms transfers to third parties are regulated by the Arms Export Control Act (AECA), which provides export licenses only in cases that "will strengthen U.S. national security, promote foreign policy goals, or foster world peace. The Arms Export Control Act is administered by the Department of State."

Egypt is a major recipient of U.S. military aid and equipment, and to this point the Secretary of State has always certified that arms to Egypt meet the test. In addition, the administration is required to aver that Egypt is meeting its obligations under the peace treaty with Israel, and to this point, it has done so. However, since the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak, the Egyptian government has been extremely heavy-handed in its management of internal security -- with American weapons in its arsenal -- and overtly anti-Israel. Read more ..


The Iranian Threat

The Threat of Iran Hangs over Passovers Everywhere

April 2nd 2012

Michele Bachmann
Michele Bachman

As millions around the world begin to celebrate the feast of Passover at sundown on Friday, April 6, it is important to remember why this celebration exemplifies God’s mercy on His people. When the children of Israel cried out to the Lord because of their great suffering at the hands of the Egyptians, we know "God looked upon the children of Israel, and God acknowledged them (Exodus 2:25)."God responded with 10 plagues sent to do unimaginable damage on Egypt in order to deliver His people. When the first nine plagues did not soften the heart of Pharaoh, the Lord sent his tenth and final plague: the slaughter of the first-born males in each family. By believing and obeying specific instructions from the Lord, the Israelites were spared this horrific plague and ultimately the destruction led to their freedom from Egyptian tyranny. God foretold the liberation of the children of Israel when he told Moses "I am the Lord; I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, I will rescue you from their bondage (Exodus 6:6)."

These promises to the ancient Israelites were near to my heart as I grew up, which is why I took the first opportunity to go to Israel when I was a young woman. The day after I graduated from high school in 1974, I took a flight to Israel. I went to work for the summer on Kibbutz Be’eri near Beer Sheva. Aside from the beauty of the country and deep cultural and spiritual appreciation of the Jewish people, the experience gave me a clear realization: Israel is under a constant external threat. During my time, we worked on the kibbutz from four in the morning until noon, and at all times we were accompanied by soldiers carrying machine guns. While we were working, they were making sure there were no land mines in the fields. As a recent high school graduate, I knew very little of the complex geopolitical threat that Israel faced from all sides of its borders. Today, Israel still faces those threats and more. For this reason, the United States must declare, in no uncertain terms, that it is our policy to utilize all military strength to support and defend our strongest ally in the Middle East, Israel. Read more ..


Broken Government

The Highest Taxes in the World

April 2nd 2012

One Million Dollars

There aren’t many American-owned companies more iconic than Anheuser-Busch, the famous producer of Budweiser beer based in St. Louis, Missouri. That was true up until 2008, when the Brazilian-Belgian company InBev executed a hostile takeover of the historic brewer, leading to layoffs of more than 1,800 workers. Unfortunately, conditions in the United States are growing ripe for even more takeovers like these to occur, especially now that the nation’s corporate tax rate is officially the highest in the world. As of yesterday, the U.S. corporate tax rate of 39.2 percent claimed the world’s top spot, edging out Japan which recently lowered its rate from 39.5 percent to 36.8 percent. (The U.S. rate includes the 35 percent federal rate plus the average rate the states add on.) That’s well above the 25 percent average of other developed nations.

Heritage’s Curtis Dubay explains the impact on companies based in the United States: "This gaping disparity means every other country that we compete with for new investment is better situated to land that new investment and the jobs that come with it, because the after-tax return from that investment promises to be higher in those lower-taxed nations. Our high rate also makes our businesses prime targets for takeovers by businesses headquartered in foreign countries, because their worldwide profits are no longer subject to the highest-in-the-world U.S. corporate tax rate. Until Congress cuts the rate, more and more iconic U.S. businesses such as Anheuser-Busch will be bought by their foreign competitors." Read more ..


Edge on Mexico

The Deadly and Growing Mexican Pre-Electoral Syndrome

April 1st 2012

Mexico election

Call it the Michoacan Plus Syndrome. Exposed during last fall’s elections in the Mexican state of Michoacan, kidnappings and other crimes against actual or potential political candidates are now surfacing in Mexico’s state and federal elections scheduled for July 1.

In a recent meeting with the Interior Ministry, leaders of the Progressive Movement coalition denounced violent attacks and threats against their members and candidates in seven of Mexico’s states including Quintana Roo, Guerrero, Durango, Nuevo Leon, Jalisco, Morelos and Michoacan. Made up of the PRD, Labor and Citizen Movement parties, the Progressive Movement is running former Mexico City mayor and 2006 presidential candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador for president.

Together with Manuel Camacho Solis of the Dialogue for the Reconstruction of Mexico, Progressive Movement leaders Jesus Zambrano, Ricardo Monreal and Luis Walton laid out details of attacks and threats against their candidates in a meeting with Interior Minister Alejandro Poire, according to Mexican media. Read more ..


The Edge of Defense

Cutting Navy While Obama Pivots To Asia Does Not Add Up

April 1st 2012

Kitty Hawk
Kitty Hawk

You know it’s bad when the President’s own national security adviser calls the Secretary of Defense over for a meeting at the White House to explain exactly how the administration is “pivoting” to Asia yet shrinking the Navy and the Air Force. But that’s what happened earlier this year. It is no surprise given the administration’s budget-strategy mismatch. When President Obama unveiled his new strategic guidance in January, highlighted by a pivot to Asia, many assumed (incorrectly) that the Navy and Air Force would reap the benefits. But if the president’s own 2013 defense budget request did not make it clear to policymakers already, the release of the Navy’s 30-year shipbuilding plan confirms this is a pivot in name only.

The Navy would have fared better merely holding steady at last year’s resource levels before the pivot and budget cuts shrank the sea service. Five months later, the administration’s new plan stops paying even lip service to a 313-ship Navy, the same 313-ship plan that was considered the minimum needed by the last Chief of Naval Operations. Read more ..


The Digital Edge

Who's Talking To Mary Bono Mack About Internet Privacy?

March 31st 2012

LectureTools student user

At a hearing yesterday on a proposed new law that would limit on how easily advertisers could track Internet users, Rep. Mary Bono Mack (R-Calif.) seemed confused about what all the fuss was about:

"Before we do any possible harm to the Internet, we need to understand what harm is actually being done to consumers," Mack said. "Where is the public outcry for legislation? Today, I'm simply not hearing it. I haven't gotten a single letter from anyone back home urging me to pass a privacy bill." As Slate pointed out, this is strange, because a recent study by the Pew Internet and American Life Project, found that 65 percent of Americans do have serious reservations about their private data being collected on the Internet to help advertisers target them. Maybe Bono Mack really hasn't received any letters of support for the Don't Track Me Online Act of 2011, which would direct the Federal Trade Commission to set guidelines on what information can be collected from Internet users and how it may be used.

But what she definitely has received are tens of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from companies opposed to the new legislation.

Read more ..

The Edge of Justice

Supreme Court Scandals

March 31st 2012

Supreme Court at the 2010 SOTU

As the Supreme Court considers the healthcare law — and in so doing, possibly dominates a national election for the third time since since 2000 — Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) warns that a wave of corruption and scandal will result from the earlier high court decision in Citizens United.

As judicial precedent was abandoned in the Bush v. Gore and Citizens United cases, which transformed the Supreme Court into a protagonist in partisan and ideological wars, it is time to consider the dangers to the republic of a court whose majority — which could be on the brink of another election-changing party-line vote — increasingly acts as a partisan faction rather than a disinterested adjudicator of the law.

I supported the final healthcare bill, though I never compared it to landmark achievements such as Medicare and Social Security. It made the world a little bit better, but not as much as it should have, after the money-dominated meat grinder that destroyed the more profound reforms that I (and a majority of voters) supported, such as Medicare-for-all and the public option.

I believe the entire healthcare negotiation, the Supreme Court arguments in the Citizens United and healthcare cases and the ex parte speeches to interested parties by Justices Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia before they voted on Citizens United should all have been open to C-SPAN cameras and public review in real time. Read more ..


Obama and Israel

The State Department knows the Capital of Israel

March 30th 2012

Knesset
Knesset (credit: Beny Shlevich)

American students are often ridiculed for their poor knowledge of geography, but the government institution responsible for U.S. foreign policy would be expected to have a better handle on such basic questions as the capitals of the nations of the world. Apparently, however, the State Department is unable to identify the capital of the State of Israel.

The following exchange took place on March 28, 2012, between State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland and a reporter:

QUESTION: Yesterday there was a bit of a kerfuffle over an announcement that was made by the department about the travel of your boss ... Is it the State Department's position that Jerusalem is not part of Israel?
 
MS. NULAND: Well, you know that our position on Jerusalem has not changed .... With regard to our Jerusalem policy, it's a permanent-status issue; it's got to be resolved through the negotiations between the parties. Read more ..


America on Edge

Undertanding the 1 Percent

March 30th 2012

Armstrong_Williams

I have often asked myself, and heard it asked by others, why so many wealthy people support liberal causes (this is the flip-side of the usual election-year frustration of the liberals with the working classes' clinging to their guns and religion). In this presidential election, as in 2008, the Democratic Party, who claim with less and less credibility to be the champions of the poor, have far more money to spend than the Republican Party, who are said to be the party of the greedy upper classes; how could this be?

The simple answer is this: wealthy liberals blatantly use social liberalism and big government regulation to protect their relative position in society. Big government regulation and taxation thwarts the economic mobility of those trying to move up, allowing the elites to remain elite, while still seeming pious for all their apparent efforts to help the little people.
 
Note that their idea of political action deals always with outcomes, never with principles: they see the federal government as a charitable organization, or a tool which they can use to reshape society-I'm not impugning motives; this is what they openly profess. Conservatives have an ideal government in mind, one that sticks to the principles of the Founders; liberals have an ideal society in mind, and they will tinker with the government until it creates one.
 
It's not hard to find examples: wealthy liberals fortifying their positions with their Robin Hood policies are in the news every day.  One we're all sick of hearing about is multibillionaire investor Warren Buffet, who supports raising capital gains and dividend taxes, despite having made his fortune this way. While I respect Warren Buffett, and do not begrudge him his wealth and success, he makes a highly disingenuous case for some very destructive policies. Not only has Buffett made the moral argument that it is "fair" or, just, to impose an alternative minimum tax of 30 percent on millionaires, but he has misrepresented both the salary of his secretary (who has allowed herself to be enlisted for his and the president's political purposes), and about the total percentage tax that he actually pays. What could explain such bizarre behavior from an octogenarian billionaire? Why would a self-made man want to punish success and reward failure? Read more ..


The Budget Battle

Defense Industry Needs to Bear its Share

March 30th 2012

The Pentagon

As indicated by the recent rollout of the House Republican budget strategy, the gloves are off in the battle to define the country’s spending priorities in the run-up to the November elections. But neither party adequately addresses the largest item in the discretionary budget: the Pentagon. The Obama Administration’s approach to curbing runaway defense spending has been far too timid, while Republicans—from Paul Ryan to Mitt Romney—actually want to increase spending substantially beyond current levels.

A key player in this debate is the defense industry, which is pulling out all the stops to get the Pentagon a free pass from future budget cutting. The industry’s main trade group, the Aerospace Industries Association (AIA), has financed two studies raising the specter of a million jobs lost from planned Pentagon cuts.

But in fact, maintaining Pentagon spending at current high levels while pushing the burden of budget cuts on domestic programs would result in a net loss of jobs nationwide. That’s because arms spending produces substantially fewer jobs than virtually any other use of the same money, including a tax cut. Structured properly, Pentagon spending cuts could actually give a boost to the economy. Read more ..


El Salvador on Edge

Oscar Romero and the Political Dimension of Opting for the Poor

March 29th 2012

Oscar Romero icon

One of the reasons for Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero’s continuing broad appeal has been his embodiment of both a liberation theology and a politics of emancipation. In a speech Romero gave less than two months before his death, he focused on how these two dimensions of praxis are related. 

Romero’s address, “La Dimensión Política de La Fe desde La Opción por Los Pobres” was delivered at the University of Louvain, Belgium, February 2, 1980, on the occasion of his acceptance of an honorary doctorate.  His address defined three central concepts within his vision of theological practice.  I will attempt to interpret the main categories of acercamiento, encarnación, and conversión in a way that makes them accessible to humanists generally, but at the same time honors Romero’s faith-based Christian point of view.

Opting for the Poor

The premise of “La Dimensión Política” is that the faithful and the church itself may enter into history through a “preferential option for the poor”. The opting for the poor urged by Romero is not, at first, motivated by any profound understanding of the experience of the poor. And one should concede right at the start that there is no guarantee that even an intimate experience of poverty puts one on the side of the poor. Indeed, one may have such experience and yet betray the interests of the community in order to obtain some personal benefit. In the El Salvador of 1980 there was no shortage of those willing to inform on their neighbors and collaborate with ORDEN and its death squads.

The distinguishing factor for champions of the poor is not a narrow self-interest, but faith, or, more generally, a good will, a will that seeks to realize the potential of our common humanity. The faithful one has some intuition, based on the moral law, that opting for the poor is consistent with willing the good, but this intuition, and its object, the good, remains as yet undeveloped. We are focused by Romero, then, on those who opt for the poor even before they have experienced or come to empathize with their situation. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

The Human Rights Crisis in Syria--A First Hand Look

March 28th 2012

Syrian security forces

With the help of the Turkish authorities, who have done a solid job of taking care of Syrians fleeing to their country, I was able to enter the refugee camp at Yayladagi, one of seven Syrian refugee camps near the Turkish-Syrian frontier in Turkey's Hatay province. The Yayladagi camp, which once was a tobacco factory, hosted around 4,500 residents in makeshift tents, each warmed with an electric heater provided by the Turkish Red Crescent. The residents seemed well taken care of, and Turkish control over entry and exit to the camp was complete.

The residents I interviewed hailed from either communities along the Syrian coast -- the ancestral homeland of the Alawites, the minority that dominates the Syrian regime -- or the conservative Idlib province. Like most if not all Syrian refugees in Turkey, they were Sunni; all those I interviewed were a mix of ethnic Arabs and Turkmens. All shared with me harrowing stories of their plight against regime forces in Syria, including in many cases having to flee in the wake of attacks by shabbiha -- armed gangs primarily of Alawites who terrorize Sunni villagers throughout the Syrian coast. Others from Idlib -- all of whom had already spent up to a decade of their lives imprisoned under the Assad regime -- spoke of the regime's brutal raid into their community of Jisr al-Shughour and their hurried exit across the border to Turkey for safety. None imagined returning to Syria unless the Assad regime collapses. And no one I met believed that would happen -- sooner or later -- without force. Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

What is to be Learned by the Terror of Toulouse?

March 28th 2012

Terror in Toulouse

Mohammed Merah, the 24-year-old French Algerian jihadist who murdered three French paratroopers, three Jewish schoolchildren, and a rabbi during a week-long terror spree, has been killed by police in a firefight after a 30-hour siege at his apartment in Toulouse.

A few thoughts on what it all means in terms of the bigger picture:

1) Merah's reign of terror represents the quintessential "Chip Away" style attack. As I describe in detail in my book, The Terrorist Next Door, we've seen a tactical shift by the jihadists these past few years in the West. While massive, 9/11-style attacks remain the ultimate goal and would obviously be ideal, Al Qaeda and its sympathizers in the U.S. and Europe have come to the realization that such history-altering terror events are becoming harder and harder to come by, for a variety of reasons. So, for now, the focus has shifted to smaller scale, low-tech, inexpensive attacks, often carried out, as we saw in France, by a lone actor.

  Read more ..


Russia on Edge

Russian Politics Moves Online

March 27th 2012

Putin Ad

Social media today is becoming such a powerful political force that it might be called the fifth estate. And that fifth estate played an important role in Russia during the run up to the March 4 elections for that country's parliament and presidency. Georgians-who sustained combined Russian kinetic and cyber attacks in 2008-watched with more than passing interest. The Putin regime, it seems, turned some of the cyber techniques employed against Georgia against its own domestic opposition. The Kremlin openly wondered whether the Runet-as the Russian portion of the Internet is called-could become the fuse that ignited a Russian autumn to match the so-called Arab Spring.
 
"Look at the situation that has unfolded in the Middle East and the Arab world," Russian President Dmitry Medvedev told the National Antiterrorist Committee in February 2011. "It is extremely bad. There are major difficulties ahead...We need to look the truth in the eyes.  This is the kind of scenario that they were preparing for us, and now they will be trying even harder to bring it about." Read more ..

The Edge of Justice

George Zimmerman Is Casey Anthony – Only Question is will Zimmerman be Convicted?

March 27th 2012

Martin-Zimmerman

I am sure Iranian madman Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Syrian tyrant Bashar al-Assad are enjoying the distraction this week due to potentially the most hated man in America right now, George Zimmerman.  In many high-profile stories there are two courts – the court of law, and the court of public opinion. No matter what transpired recently in that Sanford, Florida gated community where Trayvon Martin was killed by Zimmerman, the self-appointed neighborhood watchman is guilty in the court of public opinion  Now, he is in hiding and under attack by just about everyone.

The facts almost no longer matter, as churches and civil rights activists from coast to coast organize “hoodie” days and marches to show solidarity and empathy for young Trayvon Martin.  If Zimmerman did indeed shoot the teenager for racist or other malicious reasons, when the truth is finally known, he will be properly vilified and sentenced.  If, however, the facts prove that he at the very least acted in accordance with Florida’s probably well intentioned, but poorly planned, “stand your ground” Statute 776.013 (3), Mr. Zimmerman will find himself even more vilified by an even angrier public that cannot understand how a hoodie and a pack of Skittles posed a mortal threat to a seemingly large man at 250 pounds, in comparison to the 140 pound young man. Read more ..


The Digital Edge

Getting Cybersecurity Right in Light of Mass Attacks

March 27th 2012

guy fawkes masks

Our nation’s computer systems are vulnerable to online attack. This is a growing threat to our economy and our national security. American businesses understand this threat — this is why last year they invested more than $80 billion in the security of their computer networks.

I came to Washington as the CEO of a manufacturing company. I know firsthand that the private sector is choking on a torrent of federal regulations. Job creators face a $1.75 trillion — and growing — regulatory burden. In his first three years, President Obama issued 106 regulations that each had more than a $100 million impact on the private sector, and hundreds more that imposed smaller but still heavy burdens. These days, businesses are more likely to hire a lawyer than a new employee.

Yet proposals in Congress, advocated by the White House, would give the federal government, namely the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), power to dictate cyber-regulations to the private sector. Such regulations would create a maze of assessments, audits and standards that must be obeyed by companies deemed by DHS to be “covered critical infrastructure.” I do not believe this is the right strategy because I have little faith in the ability of the federal government to be the leader on cybersecurity. First, the federal government’s “cyberhouse” is not in order. According to the Office of Management and Budget, there were 41,776 reported cyberattacks against federal networks in 2010 — a 39 percent increase from 2009. Over the same time frame, the number of incidents on private networks decreased by 1 percent. Even DHS has been the victim of high-profile hackings. Yet businesses are now supposed to trust government regulators to tell them how to do their security better? Read more ..


The Iranian Threat

MTN Has No Business Aiding Terror in Iran

March 26th 2012

Iranian women with mobile

MTN has a corporate responsibility to cease doing business with Iran and colluding with a state sponsor of terror that uses its technology to track, silence and kill its people. The South African government should take immediate action to prevent this abuse of the telecommunications industry.

MTN's business ties to Iran are significant and represent approximately a fifth of the company's revenue. It has a 49% stake in Iran's second-largest cellphone operator, MTN-Irancell, which has cornered almost half of the Iranian cellphone market. The remaining 51% is owned by the Iran Electronic Development Company (IEDC), a company affiliated with the Iranian government. Its principal shareholder, Iran Electronic Industries, has been blacklisted by both the US Treasury and the European Union for its role in proliferating weapons of mass destruction.

On January 27 an MTN spokesman said that while the company was monitoring events in Iran, it was conducting "business as usual" in the country. Minister of Communications Dina Pule further emphasised that there would be no pressure on MTN to pull out of Iran.

MTN has played a critical role in helping the Iranian regime to hunt down its opposition. In 2009, when Iranians took to the streets to protest President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's election, MTN-Irancell, along with Iran's other cellphone carriers, reportedly followed government instructions to suspend text messaging and block internet phone services such as Skype, which were used extensively by the opposition movement. Read more ..


The Defense Edge

Global Reach and Flexibility of U.S. Air Force at Risk

March 26th 2012

KC-135, A-10s, and F-16s

For the men and women of the U.S. Air Force, March 2011—while slightly different than the NCAA men's division I basketball championship—is also known as "March Madness."

Why?

Because for the first time, according to the Pentagon’s Transportation Command chief, every combatant commander had a priority one mission requiring the help of the Air Force.
First, a tragic earthquake and tsunami crippled Japan last March—requiring vast support from American military forces, including airmen.

A week later, the U.S. military began its air war over Libya by enforcing a no-fly zone, consuming a large amount of resources and effort by America’s Air Force. Also last March, President Obama visited South America—a trip that required significant support from the Air Force. Then, while all of this was underway, U.S. forces were surging in Afghanistan and the Air Force helped them get there, kept the skies safe, and provided additional support for ground forces in combat.  Read more ..


The Budget Battle

The 2013 Homeland Security Budget: Misplaced Priorities

March 25th 2012

TSA Checkpoint

On February 13, President Barack Obama released his fiscal year (FY) 2013 budget request. The President’s request of $59 billion for the Department of Homeland Security represents a 1.5 percent decrease in total budget authority from FY 2012 enacted levels.

FY 2013 will take the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) into its tenth year of existence. As the 10-year anniversary of DHS approaches, the President’s FY 2013 budget provides an apt opportunity to assess where the department now stands in terms of the development of key capabilities and the advancement of the nation’s homeland security enterprise.

Evolution of the Homeland Security Enterprise

On November 25, 2002, Congress passed the Homeland Security Act of 2002, calling for the establishment of a Department of Homeland Security with a primary mission to: prevent terrorist attacks within the United States; reduce the vulnerability of the United States to terrorism; and minimize the damage, and assist in the recovery, from terrorist attacks that do occur within the United States.

The concept of homeland security has since expanded from the specific focus of the Homeland Security Act’s mandate, and has come to embody an “all-hazards” approach, focusing on measures to protect the nation from natural disasters and technological or other incidents caused by human error. Read more ..


The North Korean Threat

U.S. Should Allow South Korea to Extend Its Missile Range

March 24th 2012

Kim Jong Ul

As President Obama travels to South Korea for next week’s nuclear summit, North Korea’s threat to launch a missile in mid-April will overshadow the gathering of world leaders. The United States and South Korea should work the room to prepare a strong international response to yet another North Korean violation of U.N. resolutions. China will resist a stern U.N. Security Council response, but Washington and Seoul must make clear that Pyongyang’s increasingly dangerous actions and commensurately stronger allied responses are due partly to Beijing’s timid efforts to control its belligerent ally.

But there is another important Korean missile issue that merits President Obama’s attention: accepting Seoul’s entreaty to remove U.S. restrictions on South Korea’s ballistic missiles. At present, under the terms of a bilateral agreement with the United States, Seoul is precluded from developing any ballistic missile with a range greater than 300 kilometers (186 miles). The only way for South Korea to reach North Korean targets in the rear areas—including some of Pyongyang’s 700 Scud missiles—with ballistic missiles would be to place them along the demilitarized zone, well within range of North Korea’s artillery. Read more ..


The Budget Battle

It’s Time to End the Hidden Green Stimulus

March 24th 2012

Pres. Obama at Solyndra

Government spending has increased considerably over the past decade, and, unless a dramatic shift occurs, spending will continue to grow at unsustainable rates. Alleviating the huge debt burden that the government is placing on future generations, that is, reining in federal spending, must be a priority for Congress. Congress must make prudent cuts in the fiscal year (FY) 2013 budget and examine the role of each government agency. One good place to start is to cut the wasteful, inefficient, and unnecessary spending at the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).

Congress’s ultimate objective should be to eliminate any Department of Energy function that does not support a critical national interest unmet by the private sector. This objective will require a broad reorganization, and could very well result in the elimination of the entire department. Elimination, however, should not be the immediate policy goal. A graduated approach that begins with reining in spending would likely enjoy bipartisan support and provide a foundation for further reform.

The Department of Energy’s budget grew from $15 billion in FY 2000 to $25.7 billion in FY 2011—a staggering 71 percent increase in only one decade. Many government programs included in various Presidents’ annual DOE budgets evolved from basic research and development to attempts at commercialization better left to the private sector. Other programs are politically correct pet projects of various Members of Congress that have little business being supported by taxpayers. Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

Does It Matter if He Was Neo-Nazi or Muslim?

March 23rd 2012

french cops

It was, it appears, a Muslim radical behind the massacre in Toulouse -- a French-born petty thief who traveled in Afghanistan and Pakistan and was already under surveillance by French authorities. It was not, as first thought, French neo-Nazis. To which the question arises, "Does it matter which?" Yes, it does, because the response of both governments and individuals differ depending on the culprit.

Neo-Nazis are part of the woodwork in Europe, but official society treats their outbursts like a social disease. Wealthy or important people given to ranting are like relatives with a drinking problem - fashion guru John Galliano was fired from Dior, fined and shuffled off to "rehab." Unwashed Nazis are punished. The original three suspects in the Toulouse shooting were cashiered from an elite unit of the French Army for appearing in a photograph in a private house draped in a Nazi flag.

There is no official tolerance for Nazis; this is not a complaint.

Radical Muslims, however, present Europe with a different sort of problem, one that frightens governments enough to make them treat their increasingly large, loud and sometimes violent minorities very, very gently. It would be unfair to say Muslim terrorism is tolerated, but Muslim crime certainly is and the French are not always clear on the difference. President Sarkozy immediately ordered additional police protection for Jewish and Muslim schools, as if it were a matter of crime targeting schools, not terrorists targeting Jews. Read more ..



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