Obama's Second Term
|Scott Gottlieb||June 25th 2014|
The success of Obamacare always rested on getting enough “young invincibles” to enroll on the exchanges. Since the scheme bars health plans from pricing their insurance policies to the actual risk, Washington needs a lopsided share of cheaper young people paying too much in order to subsidize older people who are paying too little.
As many people expected, not enough young folks are signing up to pay the high premiums. But the structural problem could run much deeper. The young people who are enrolling also tend to have more serious (and costly) medical problems. In short, Obamacare’s young enrollees aren’t invincible enough to underwrite the law’s delicate scheme.
The most compelling proof of this paradox comes from Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina, which recently gave the first significant snapshot of the health status of its new enrollees. The data show that the younger people ages 18-34 enrolling in its exchange plans have much higher prevalence of chronic health problems than the same cohort enrolled in its comparable commercial (non Obamacare) plans. The results were based on a self-assessment survey sent to its beneficiaries. Read more ..
Obama's Second Term
|George Friedman||June 24th 2014|
In recent weeks, some of the international system's unfinished business has revealed itself. We have seen that Ukraine's fate is not yet settled, and with that, neither is Russia's relationship with the European Peninsula. In Iraq we learned that the withdrawal of U.S. forces and the creation of a new Iraqi political system did not answer the question of how the three parts of Iraq can live together. Geopolitical situations rarely resolve themselves neatly or permanently.
These events, in the end, pose a difficult question for the United States. For the past 13 years, the United States has been engaged in extensive, multidivisional warfare in two major theaters -- and several minor ones -- in the Islamic world. The United States is large and powerful enough to endure such extended conflicts, but given that neither conflict ended satisfactorily, the desire to raise the threshold for military involvement makes logical sense. Read more ..
The Way We Are
|Kent Paterson||June 23rd 2014|
|New Mexico police shooting of James Boyd|
Slightly more than three months after the police shooting of homeless camper James Boyd catapulted Albuquerque into the international spotlight, activists returned to the streets to advance their movement against police brutality.
On a blistering Summer Solstice Day, whose blazing mid-day sky was oddly crested by a half-moon , more than 200 people marched up Central Avenue near the University of New Mexico chanting “Justice Now” and “They say justified, we say homicide!” A big banner titled “Desert Sprits of New Mexico” bore the names of people shot to death by the Albuquerque Police Department (APD), as well as the 11 women and girls found murdered on the city’s West Mesa in 2009 in the largest unsolved crime of New Mexico history. T-shirts and placards remembered the dead: “Justice for Jonathan (Mitchell)” and “In Honor of Alfred Redwine.” Read more ..
Palestine on Edge
|Khaled Abu Toameh ||June 23rd 2014|
There already is an intifada against Israel. The Palestinians are close to declaring another intifada, this time against their president, Mahmoud Abbas, thus paving the way for a further escalation of the anti-Israeli Intifada.
Abbas has been diverting Palestinian anger toward Israel. The rhetorical attacks on Israel embolden Hamas and Palestinian extremists and drive more Palestinians into their open arms.
What happened in the center of Ramallah on the morning of June 22 could signal the beginning of an uprising, or intifada, against the Palestinian Authority [PA]. Read more ..
Education on Edge
|Andrew G. Biggs||June 22nd 2014|
California judge recently ruled that the state’s tenure, dismissal, and layoff rules for public-school teachers lead to “grossly ineffective teachers” being retained in the classroom, producing instruction so inadequate for poor and minority students as to be considered unconstitutional. Los Angeles County judge Rolf M. Treu’s ruling surely will be contested, and it is an open question how constitutional equal-protection clauses should be applied to school-personnel issues. But the ruling does raise important questions regarding the role that the firing of teachers should play in improving public education.
It’s been 30 years since the landmark report “A Nation at Risk” highlighted the dire state of America’s public schools. Since that time, education has undergone a series of supposed reforms, including massively increased spending, smaller classrooms, and higher pay for teachers with accreditation or master’s degrees. The number of students is barely greater today than it was in 1983, but there’s been a 57 percent increase in the number of school employees and a 40 percent rise in real per-employee compensation. The list of smaller-scale reforms would cover pages. Read more ..
The War on Terror
|Richard Kemp||June 20th 2014|
Just the day before the three boys were kidnapped, the EU's foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, welcomed Hamas into the Palestinian Authority government while lambasting Israel for detaining terrorists and taking action to prevent Hamas terrorist attacks from Gaza and the West Bank. Ashton, though never slow to condemn Israel, took five days to denounce this kidnapping. Both her words and her actions have legitimized and encouraged Hamas.
Both the U.S. and the EU have paid the salaries of Palestinian terrorists by means of grants to the PA; they also fund this propaganda and incitement.
Like every government, Israel has an absolute duty to protect its citizens, and undermining this terrorist threat is an essential part of that responsibility. Read more ..
Obama's Second Term
|Scott Gottlieb||June 19th 2014|
For months, there have been assertions that the mechanisms embedded in Obamacare, designed to offset losses that insurance companies will take this year on their exchange business, amount to a bailout of the insurance industry.
At the same time, it wasn’t clear where the money to pay for these “risk adjustments” would come from in the first place.
One scheme had the Obama Administration using money that it clawed away from profitable health plans to offset the losses incurred by the less fortunate insurers.
This, at least, was the way the so-called “risk corridors” were supposed to work, according to the original legislation. Problem is, it’s not clear that there will be enough health plans this year (or any at all) with excess profits that could be used to offset the losses incurred by insurers who were less fortunate. Read more ..
The Battle for Iraq
|Alon Ben-Meir||June 18th 2014|
Read more ..
The current escalating sectarian violence between the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and Iraqi forces and the unending civil war in Syria are now intertwined and neither can be resolved without the other, which requires a dramatic change in the political and military landscape in Syria and Iraq.
What is happening in Iraq today, and how the unfolding events may play out in the coming months or years, is directly related to three central developments:
First is President Bush’s misguided Iraq war, which has precipitated the violent conflict between the Shiites and the Sunnis in the region. Second is President Obama’s failure to reach a security arrangement with Iraq before the complete withdrawal of American forces and conditioning continued American support of Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki on the establishment of an inclusive government of reconciliation. Finally is the unwillingness of the US to provide the rebels in Syria early on with the kind of military hardware needed to blunt Assad’s onslaught. All combined have brought about the convergence of Al-Qaeda and Islamic jihadist groups into Iraq and subsequently into Syria, causing the unfolding horror we are witnessing today.
The US on Edge
|Michael Auslin||June 17th 2014|
As Iraq implodes, as the White House looks to bury even deeper the scandals surrounding the VA and (still) Benghazi, and as the country begins to contemplate the presidency of someone (Hillary Clinton) who has been at the center of Washington since 1993, the gulf between the American public and the D.C. permanent ruling class grows dangerously deeper. The most recent Economist/YouGov poll has Congress's approval rating at just 10 percent (it's getting to be a stale joke to ask who in the world those 10 percent could be), while President Obama's hovers in the low 40s.
Yet Washington itself remains insouciantly, defiantly self-obsessed and self-satisfied. Yes, individual congressmen, like Eric Cantor, can get knocked off by their constituents, but as a corporate body, Washington is invulnerable and impermeable to change. It forestalls any threats to its real power (fiscal extraction) by continually expanding the scope of its powers, far beyond what the Founding Fathers intended. The form of American democracy may remain intact, but its functioning is increasingly disconnected from the will of the people. From Washington's perspective, business is great: Income is up, credit is limitless, and the customer base is growing. There can and will be no reform coming from inside Washington because that is manifestly not in Washington's interest or in the interest of those who benefit from its largesse. Read more ..
|Matthew M. Chingos||June 16th 2014|
Senator Elizabeth Warren’s proposal to offer borrowers lower interest rates on their existing student loans died in the Senate yesterday after it failed to pick up enough Republican support. The bill includes a tax increase on high-income households, ensuring that the Republican-controlled House would have ignored it even if it had passed the Senate.
The bill was little more than a “glorified talking point” and a poorly designed policy to boot. Reducing rates on existing federal loans carried an estimated price tag of $63 billion, which would likely have gone disproportionately to more affluent households. And borrowers of federal loans are already protected from unaffordable monthly payments by various programs that allow them to make payments based on their incomes. The bill, despite being titled the “Bank on Students Emergency Loan Refinancing Act,” would have mostly covered non-emergencies.
Where do President Obama and Congressional Democrats go from here? They could drop the legislative effort and make their case to voters, although it’s not clear that they would change the votes of enough borrowers to make a difference in the fall elections. Alternatively, they could seize upon a piece of the Warren bill that actually might help struggling borrowers, and not require any tax increases to do so: allowing some borrowers to convert their private student loans into federal loans. Read more ..
The Battle for Iraq
|Justin Sink ||June 14th 2014|
There is no simple answer for the White House in dealing with the sweeping offensive by al Qaeda-affiliated militants in Iraq.
The domestic and international politics of the situation are both complicated, and even critics of the administration agree there are few good options.
Here are five problems that make this foreign policy crisis especially difficult for President Obama.
Iran is seen as a U.S. enemy, but it is aligned with Iraq’s embattled prime minister, a fellow Shiite Muslim under siege by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, a Sunni Muslim group. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has sent hundreds of members of the Revolutionary Guard to Iraq to assist its government, and Iran has signaled that it would be willing to coordinate with the U.S. if Obama opts to tack military action. That will give Washington pause, says Steven Cook, a fellow for Middle Eastern Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. Read more ..
Islam on Edge
|David Bukay||June 14th 2014|
Part One: The Importance of Da'wah
From its very beginning, Islam was spread politically and occupied territories by two arms: Jihad, the violent arms of occupation, violence and war-mongering, and Da'wah, the diplomatic and propaganda arm with the aim of Islamization. We are all well acquainted with Jihad, with its varied manifestations of violence, how it originated from Qur'anic commandments, and we have put our most attention, energies and resources on preventing it. From Islamic perspective, it is critical to internalize that killing and being killed is the utmost of Islamic ideals. This is a win-win situation and it means even killing the Mujahid's parents, brothers and sisters if they are not Muslims. This is a win-win situation: if the Muslim is killed on the battleground, he becomes Shahid and enjoys all the glories of Paradise; and if he wins on the battleground, he becomes master of the infidels and gets booty.
However, though Jihad is the notorious instrument of all Muslim doctrines, Islam means first and foremost conquering the world by Da'wah, by propaganda, by proselytizing, by winning the hearts of all human beings to believe in Islam as the supreme religion. Da'wah is the important arm with the aim to submit and to capitulate. All through Islamic history it has served as the religious legitimization basis to invite all human beings to accept Islam as the only supreme religion. The operational order was always Da'wah first, and if it fails, than Jihad: Da'wah Qablal-Jihad. Read more ..
The Digital Edge
Behind the Headlines
Stingray. That's the generic name of an electronic device that invades your privacy. And collects data on you. I'm not talking about identity thieves. This is much worse.
Stingray devices are being used with increasing frequency by law enforcement at federal, state and local levels. Generally, law enforcement would get a search warrant so that a phone company could be ordered to provide data on your cell phone, tablet device or cellular broadband card you plug into a laptop. A judge would issue a search warrant when presented with probable cause that a crime has been committed.
But some law enforcement are skipping the search warrant. And are using stingray devices. These devices masquerade as a cell phone tower causing cell phones, tablets and laptops to ping the tower. Giving away their locations. Then law enforcement proceed with collecting more data. Read more ..
The Race for Ethanol
|Marc J. Rauch||June 13th 2014|
My business partner just called my attention to a story that recently appeared on the online publication TheCuttingEdgeNews.com*, titled "Corn Based Ethanol Hits A Figurative Wall." The story was written by Steve Baragona, a science and health reporter for the Voice Of America. The story takes a swipe at the so-called ethanol "blend wall" and then touches on a couple of other negative myths about ethanol, which I can only presume were added in because there was no real information as to why or how corn based ethanol has hit this figurative wall. Rread the story here.
As an aside, I'm sort of puzzled as to why Mr. Baragona chose to bother writing this story, even though it's relatively short length must have taken no more than a few minutes to compose. If I wanted to be really suspicious I would say that he must have received a missive from someone in the oil lobby that said they were paying a few hundred dollars to anyone in the media who wanted to write something negative about ethanol. And with the advent of summer, he figured it would be nice to have some extra walking-around money. However, I hope he only tackled the topic because he or his editors felt it was news-worthy. In any event, whatever the reason for the story, the headline as well as the negative comments about ethanol are incorrect; that's why my headline states that the "figurative wall" is a fictional wall.
The essence of the ethanol blend wall argument posed by Big Oil is that with the decline in gasoline usage in America (due to improved engine MPG and less driving) that government regulations calling for increased national ethanol usage can't be safely met. And the reason that the increased national ethanol usage can't be safely met - according to the oil lobby - is that the only way to comply with the Federal regulations is to increase the blend level of ethanol in every gallon of gasoline, which they claim can damage a vehicle's engine. Read more ..
Palestine on Edge
|Malcolm Lowe ||June 13th 2014|
The essential point that Israel needs to grasp, and to make understood internationally at every opportunity, is this: President Abbas will not become responsible for rockets in Gaza only when they are fired; he has made himself responsible for those rockets – and for their elimination – now.
Let the US Congress, too, tell the new Palestinian government: "Since you now rule over Gaza, you will not get any more money from us until you agree to surrender all those rockets in Gaza to be destroyed under international control."
The formation of a Palestinian "unity" government, endorsed jointly by Fatah and Hamas, completely wrong-footed the government of Israel. This should not have happened. Unlike earlier schemes for Palestinian unity, it had been clear long enough that this one was going to bear fruit. There was ample time for Israel to have planned a response that went beyond an unqualified rejection. Read more ..
|Edwin Black||June 12th 2014|
America grants the Palestinian Authority about $500 million annually. The fast-spinning money meter has already broken the $5 billion mark over the years. The annual financial infusion has been on autopilot as Israelis and Palestinians negotiated over the meters and metrics of a two-state solution. American money has been lavishly spent on Palestinians for one purpose: to encourage the peace process.
Recently something changed. The Palestinian Authority unified with Hamas, making it the largest, best organized, and best armed terrorist entity in the world. Hamas, long designated a Foreign Terrorist Organization, is well-known for showering Israeli civilians with rockets. Quickly dashing any hopes of change, Hamas did not disband its highly-armed and trained militias, vowed to never recognize Israel, and barred pursuing joint peace.
Newspapers have been filled with headlines recently about how Congress is preparing to defund the Palestinian Authority because various federal laws make continued cash infusions under present conditions illegal, and because further money would be antithetical to America’s pro-peace and anti-terrorism policy.
While many of the names of House and Senate leaders have been bandied about, most Congressional sources arguably agree that the most important lawmaker is Rep. Nita Lowey, the ranking Democrat from Westchester County, NY. Lowey sits on both the full Appropriations Committee and the key subcommittee governing State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs. Foreign assistance begins and dies in this subcommittee. The Republican side of the aisle has been lining up staunchly against continuing funding and invoking the mandatory legal brakes. This includes subcommittee chairwoman Kay Granger from Dallas, who has asserted that unification “puts in jeopardy future U.S. assistance to the Palestinian Authority.” Read more ..
Iran on Edge
|Dennis MacEoin||June 10th 2014|
Liberalization is a constant threat to today's Islamists.
Anyone who takes an interest in human rights issues in Iran -- and there are many who do -- probably knows about the Baha'is. They are a small religious minority (perhaps as many as 300,000), but nonetheless the largest in the country. The largest, yet painfully small and the most hated. If Jews and Christians have a rough time in Iran, the Baha'i experience has been worse.
Over 200 members of the religion, including many of its leaders (there are no priests) have been executed, and others have been and still are in prison. In 1983, a seventeen-year-old girl, Mona Mahmudinezhad, was hanged in Shiraz along with nine older women, mostly in their 20s. Their crime was, apparently, teaching "morality lessons" to Baha'i children who had been expelled from school.
All the Baha'i holy places in Iran have been reduced to rubble, including the beautiful House of the Bab, a small treasure of Iranian architecture which the author visited often with its custodian. All Baha'i cemeteries have been dug up and bodies exhumed. No young Baha'i is permitted to enter university. Older Baha'is have had their pensions removed. Jobs are hard to come by. Many linger in prison. There are serious plans to rid the country of the Baha'is altogether. Read more ..
America and Great Britain
|Gabriel Scheinmann and Raphael Cohen||June 9th 2014|
Seventy years after Allied troops landed on the beaches of Normandy, D-Day remains etched in American minds. Even as the "Greatest Generation" passes away, the iconic images of Allied forces landing on the beaches to free Europe from the clutches of Nazi Germany live on in movies, history, and even politics. Only in 2006 did the British finish repaying Lend-Lease, the crucial American military aid that ensured Britain's survival during the war. The invasion of France and the subsequent liberation of Europe defined the Anglo-American bond—the Old and New Worlds uniting to defeat tyranny. Since then, however, a lot has changed, and the "special relationship" has lost some of its luster.
Superficially, at least, the state of the "special relationship" is strong. At the United Nations, only a handful of countries, like Canada and the Marshall Islands, vote more frequently with the United States than the United Kingdom. With trade topping $100 billion in 2013, the State Department considers the United Kingdom as "one of the largest markets for U.S. goods exports [sic] and one of the largest suppliers of U.S. imports." Read more ..
Palestinians on Edge
|Jonathan Adelman and Asaf Romirowsky||June 9th 2014|
The failure of American-mediated peace talks between the Israelis and the Palestinians and the likely creation of a Hamas-Fatah government in the Palestinian West Bank and Gaza Strip have cast deep shadows over the Middle East.
Harry Truman once said that the only new history is the history that we have forgotten. This is especially true of the Palestinians, whose history has been forgotten by many.
When the 1948 war between Israelis and Arabs is bathed in the color of a Palestinian "nakba" (catastrophe), few remember that the United Nations in November 1947 by a 33-12 vote adopted Resolution 181 that called for the creation of a Jewish state and a Palestinian state. The 650,000 Jews in British Palestine declared independence in May, 1948 and won their battle for statehood. Read more ..
|Joseph Antos and Cotton M. Lindsay||June 7th 2014|
Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Secretary Eric Shinseki's resignation will not solve the crisis in the VA health system. Veterans have had trouble accessing the healthcare they need for decades — and over many changes in agency leadership. We need to open the system to competition. Let veterans, not bureaucrats, decide how they get their healthcare.
The VA's inspector general reported last week that 1,700 veterans in the Phoenix area who were waiting for a primary care appointment were not even included on the electronic wait list. Veterans waited 115 days on average for their first primary care appointment.
Today's problems are not new. They go back at least as far as the early 1970s, when the VA was seeing an influx of Vietnam veterans with serious war-related injuries. Failure to recognize exposure to Agent Orange as a cause of serious health conditions stirred public protest over inadequate care. Then, as now, the VA head resigned, but the system did not change. Read more ..
|Dina Fine Maron||June 6th 2014|
Most of the meat on our dinner plates comes from cows and chickens treated with a battery of drugs that helped them grow quickly in dismal, cramped conditions that would otherwise make them sick. The drugs are blended into their food and water without any requirement for a veterinary prescription.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has issued long-awaited guidance, asking drug companies to voluntarily curb the use of drugs that are also essential for human health—such as tetracyclines, penicillins, and azithromycin. The guidance calls for pharmaceutical companies to voluntarily alter their drug labels to exclude growth promotion as a listed use, and that would make it illegal to use the drugs for such growth promotion uses in the future. Read more ..
Science and Environment
|Michael Bernstein||June 5th 2014|
The nation's sewer system is a topic most people would prefer to avoid, but its aging infrastructure is wearing out, and broken pipes leaking raw sewage into streets and living rooms are forcing the issue. To better predict which pipes need to be fixed, scientists report in the ACS journal Environmental Science & Technology that certain conditions in the pipes can clue utilities in to which ones need repair — before it's too late.
Mark T. Hernandez and colleagues note that the maintenance of U.S. wastewater collection systems costs an estimated $4.5 billion every year, much of which goes toward fixing or replacing 8,000 miles of sewers. Read more ..
Obama's Second Term
President Obama’s second-term focus on legacy building is coming into direct conflict with the Democratic Party’s pursuit of victory in the midterm elections.
While Obama has been fundraising for his party at a steady clip, some Democrats fear the president is more concerned about the history books than in helping his party in 2014.
“I think he’s always been concerned with his legacy,” said one Democratic strategist who has consulted with the White House. “One of the big misconceptions is that the president is concerned about short-term politics. I think he’s focused on what it will look like to the next Robert Caro,” the strategist said, referring to President Lyndon B. Johnson’s biographer.
Democrats point to Obama’s announcement last week about removing troops from Afghanistan by the end of his presidency as an example of the White House’s focus on Obama’s legacy. Others point to Monday’s announcement by the Environmental Protection Agency of sweeping new climate change rules aimed at cutting carbon emissions. Read more ..
The Way We Are
|Armstrong Williams||June 2nd 2014|
America is a land of stories. We love to use stories about individuals to extract general principals about society as a whole. The story of Cliven Bundy is no exception. His story about an armed standoff versus the Federal Government this past April was illustrative to many of the principles that we are a government of the people, that individual rights are sacrosanct, and that states have the right to decide how to govern the lands and people within their territories. But the story didn’t end there unfortunately.
Given the bully pulpit for the first time in his life, Mr. Bundy foolishly squandered his opportunity to have America hear his story. Instead, he launched into a misguided and racist diatribe about African Americans, stating that he believed the fact that “they never learned to pick cotton,” accounted for the social ills of single motherhood and high black male incarceration rates. He went on to speculate, “I’ve wondered, are they better off as slaves, picking cotton and having a family…?” The entirety of his rant has been relentlessly reported, and the real principles undergirding his story have been lost in the ensuing media feeding frenzy.
But that does not mean there is not a story to be told here, and an important one. In fact, Bundy meandered right into one of the essential fault lines of American society: the relationship between states’ rights and slavery, and more generally the relationship of majority rule to the protection of individual civil rights. A cursory review of the history reveals inextricable links between early states’ rights advocates and proponents of slavery. In fact, some would say that the Civil War, called by some the War between the States, was not over slavery per se, but whether States had the rights to enact laws governing slavery within their territory. That might seem to be a minor distinction for some, but the issue continues to rear its’ head in American law and politics to this day, and not just when it comes to issues of race. Read more ..
|Daniel Greenfield||June 1st 2014|
If the IRS had behaved itself, Z Street would rarely have ever made the headlines outside of the small world in which anti-Israel and pro-Israel groups argue with each other. But then the IRS, following the lead of the New York Times, decided to be overt about Obama’s policy of political intimidation. And now a crack has opened.
On Tuesday, a federal judge refused to dismiss a suit brought by a pro-Israel group against the IRS. In her ruling, Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson demanded that the agency stop “attempting to thwart this action’s advancement,” and ordered the IRS to respond to the complaint within thirty days. Read more ..
Obama's Second Term
It’s not that House Republican leaders think Eric Shinseki is doing a good job as secretary of the scandal-ridden Department of Veterans Affairs. It’s that they think his ouster could give President Obama an easy way out of a widening crisis.
Over the last several days, Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) have resisted an increasingly bipartisan chorus of calls for Shinseki’s resignation following reports of concealed waiting lists and preventable patient deaths at VA healthcare facilities.
Their position has been noteworthy, particularly as Shinseki has lost support among even Democratic stalwarts like Rep. Steve Israel (N.Y.), the party’s campaign chief and a confidante of Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.).
While Boehner said last week he is “getting closer” to calling for Shinseki to step down, he has argued that the secretary’s ouster would follow a predictable pattern of political scandals: anger grows, a top official gets the boot, the administration can say it took action, and public attention would quickly dissipate. Read more ..
Obama's Second Term
Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki is widely expected to lose his job as the White House seeks to quell a rising controversy over mismanagement at his agency.
White House press secretary Jay Carney offered little support for Shinseki’s position on Thursday, repeatedly brushing aside questions about whether President Obama had the four-star general’s back.
Instead, Carney reiterated the president's pledge to seek “accountability” for secret waiting lists at VA facilities that may have contributed to the deaths of veterans.
Carney said Obama expected a preliminary report from Shinseki “by the end of this week,” setting up Friday as a possible time for Shinseki’s dismissal. Read more ..
|Charles Jacobs and Ilya Feoktistov||May 29th 2014|
New information has surfaced regarding the Newton Public School controversy. Compelled to comply with state law, the school’s administrators recently were forced to release an initial batch of 9th- and 10th-grade history lesson plans used to teach about the Middle East. Most of the information, initially withheld from the public despite requests from parents, taxpayers and even a Newton alderman, was delivered to Americans for Peace and Tolerance (APT’s) offices in response to a public records request. Once our request is completed, we will post the records on this website. Newton citizens, especially those who are Jewish, will not be pleased.
For two years, we have been told by Superintendent David Fleishman and others that the Arab World Studies Notebook (ASWN) was removed from all classrooms and has not been used to teach Newton students since 2011. But the official documents we received show that Newton South High School assigned readings from the AWSN to 9th-grade students in at least three separate classes in the last school year – months after claims that it was “eliminated.” Read more ..
The Bear is Back
|Sol W. Sanders||May 28th 2014|
No, Russian President Vladimir Putin has not ushered in the return to The Cold War with his assault on the integrity of Ukraine. But he has confirmed that the United States and his Russian regime–very likely as long as he lasts–is engaged in a bitter new geopolitical contest. The Obama Administration–and its predecessor Bush II–had refused to acknowledge the onset of this conflict. Washington now finds itself wrong-footed in Ukraine, a crowning blow to an already growing perception of U.S. foreign policy failure and general retreat across a worldwide screen. That’s leading to a replay of old rivalries, if on a more temperate scale.
But the situations of both countries–especially Russia–has changed dramatically in the almost three decades since the Soviet Union imploded. But its hold on Germany and the rest of Central and Eastern Europe under Communist domination is gone if not forgotten. Moscow retains a huge nuclear arsenal and missile delivery systems that make it one of the world’s greatest potential purveyors of weapons of mass destruction. But there are multiple signs that the overinvestment in the Soviet military-industrial complex on which post-Soviet Russia has been coasting is about played out. Putin’s repeated effort to rebuild Russia’s limping conventional military has largely failed. And his economy, while rewarding a new urban class, still cannot cope with a collapsed agriculture and an almost total dependence on fossil fuel exports is eroding rapidly under the impact of the American shale gas revolution Read more ..
Edge of Terrorism
|Henry F. Cooper||May 27th 2014|
Recent press accounts illustrate the mainstream media’s growing awareness of threats to the electric power grid and the need to counter them. These threats extend from physical attacks, to cyber attacks, to natural and manmade electromagnetic pulse events that could take down the grid for an indefinite period of time, during which several hundred Americans could perish. We must connect the dots and deploy needed countermeasures!
On February 1, 2014, a Los Angeles Times article described the threat posed by solar storms that will one day occur…Lloyds of London reported on a 2012 near miss that they say, had it hit, could have left 20-40 million Americans without electricity for a year or two; and 2) On February 4, 2014, the Wall Street Journal front page article on a sniper attack in the early morning hours on April 16, 2013, which shut down a power plant near Jan Jose, California for 27 days. Read more ..
|Jeffrey Dorfman||May 27th 2014|
Amazon has been a phenomenal stock since its 1997 IPO with cumulative gains of 600 percent in the past decade (down from a 900 percent gain at its peak a few months ago). Amazon has also been a fantastic business success in terms of revenue growth, now grossing around $80 billion per year. Yet, where Amazon has fallen short is in earning a profit. That is normally a severe shortcoming for a business, but until the past few months it had not seemed to hurt Amazon. The question now is, are investors finally starting to evaluate Amazon’s stock price according to normal metrics or will they continue to award the company a stock price with no relationship to business fundamentals?
Amazon’s revenue growth is quite high (23 percent in the last quarter), but even growth that rapid does not generally lead a stock to trade at a price to earnings (P/E) ratio of over 400 as Amazon has done in recent times. Amazon’s trends don’t warrant the stock price as revenue and profit growth both have been declining recently. Read more ..
|Wendell Potter ||May 26th 2014|
Center for Public Integrity
The first time I blew the whistle on health insurance companies was during a Senate Commerce Committee hearing in June 2009. Last Wednesday, almost five years later, I appeared before that committee again to give a progress report on how Americans have been benefiting since Congress enacted reforms in 2010 that changed the way insurance companies operate.
Among the practices I brought to the panel’s attention back in 2009 were those insurers engaged in to meet the profit expectations of shareholders and Wall Street financial analysts.
I explained that one of the ways insurers kept Wall Street happy was to spend as small a percentage of our premium dollars as possible on actual medical care. I told them that analysts and investors pay close attention to an obscure mathematical equation called the medical loss ratio (MLR for short), which measures the percentage of premium revenue insurers pay out in claims. Read more ..
|Charles Boustany, Jr, Richard E. Neal, John Barrow and Jim Renacci||May 25th 2014|
What if we told you a proven cancer-screening method could save more lives than any prior screening technology or existing cancer medications? Or that studies show it is a more cost-effective screening tool, compared to breast and colon cancer screening programs, or even compared to automobile seatbelts and airbags? What if we then told you that while most private insurance plans will cover the test with no copay, Medicare does not cover it at all, even though seniors need it most? We think you’d agree this has to change.
The largest government sponsored and designed lung-cancer screening trial in history demonstrates that using low-dose CT scans to screen patients at high risk for developing lung cancer significantly reduces lung-cancer deaths. The trial worked and the New England Journal of Medicine announced the results early in order to save lives. As the leading cause of cancer deaths, lung cancer takes nearly 160,000 lives each year (more than breast, prostate and colon cancer combined) and if adopted could help save at least 30,000 patients annually. Read more ..
|Author's Guild||May 24th 2014|
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Blackmail works best. That seems to be Amazon’s negotiating strategy, at least. The online retailer is now refusing orders on some Hachette Book Group titles in an attempt to extort better contract terms from the publisher.
We reported earlier this week on Amazon’s “slow walking” of Hachette Book Group titles. Amazon was putting pressure on the smallest of the Big Five publishers as the two firms try to negotiate a new contract.
Now the online retail giant has tightened its grip. The New York Times reports that Amazon is preventing the purchase of some Hachette books and listing others as unavailable.
Amazon’s strategy is designed both to show its market dominance and to engineer a rift between Hachette and its authors. But is it working? In a letter to authors, Hachette CEO Michael Pietsch relates that “it is extremely encouraging to see our retail partners—thousands of chain, online and independent bookstores—showing their support for HBG and its authors.” Despite Amazon’s foul play, Hachette still boasts the #1 Hardcover Fiction and Advice/How-To titles, and two of the Top 10 Nonfiction books in the most recent New York Times bestseller list.
|Tammi Rossman-Benjamin||May 23rd 2014|
As soon as an African American student at San Jose State University who was racially harassed and bullied by his dormitory roommates came forward, university, county, and state officials began an investigation. Within days, prosecutors labeled it a hate crime, battery charges were filed against three of the roommates, and the university had suspended them. Within weeks, California State Assembly Speaker John Perez announced the creation of a Select Committee on Campus Climate, and its first task was to look into this incident and find a way to prevent others like it.
When a white male threw a beer at Trinity College sophomore Juan Hernandez and yelled, “Get off our campus,” Trinity launched an investigation and charges were brought against the perpetrator. When anti-gay remarks were written on message boards that hang on dorm-room doors, Elizabethtown College began an investigation, engaged the FBI, and disciplinary action was taken.
Compare that to the situation for Jewish students. Over the last several years, Jewish students on campuses across the country have been physically, emotionally, and intellectually harassed, intimidated, threatened, and bullied, not only by their fellow students but also by some of their professors. Anti-Israel student activists at the University of Michigan last month hurled death threats at Jewish student council members and called them “dirty Jew” and “kike.” At University of California, Berkeley, a Jewish girl holding an “Israel Wants Peace” sign was ramrodded with a shopping cart by the head of Students for Justice in Palestine. Read more ..
America on Edge
|Armstrong Williams||May 22nd 2014|
Donald Sterling’s publicly disclosed comments depict an anachronistic view of race relations in this country. His interview tour is beyond incomprehensible, sad, ignorant, and completely shows that he has lost touch with reality. His media revelations are undoubtedly hurtful, not only to the African-American players and staff of the NBA, but really hurtful to many Americans regardless of their race, who feel that finally (as partially symbolized by the ascension of President Barack Obama and others) we have evolved as a society beyond a preoccupation with race. These are people who are proud to live in a nation that has moved closer to an ideal urges us to judge our fellow human by their competence and character instead of their ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation.
It was and remains an embarrassing moment, not only for the NBA and society, but surely as well for the Sterling family, who now must live under the stigma or suspicion that deep within their hearts they condone such sentiments by their patriarch. Hopefully the candid peek behind the curtain into the private life of Mr. Sterling can also help us air some of the laundry about race in this country and speak a bit more frankly than civil discourse usually permits. In response to an interviewer question about “whether something good can come out of this,” NBA clippers’ coach Doc Rivers stated, “I think something good comes out of everything.” And that something “good” might be that some wealthy African-Americans might put their money where their race is, and step up to become part of an ownership group that ultimately purchases the LA Clippers. Read more ..
Edge of Islam
The American Embassy in Prague is financing a new project aimed at promoting Islam in public elementary and secondary schools across the Czech Republic.
The new law removes the requirement that there must be a special reason to sue for defamation or insult. Swedish thought police will be able to prosecute anyone who expresses an opinion about Muslim immigration and much else if that opinion is deemed to be defamation or slander. The Swedish government is also spending 60 million krona ($9 million) to boost voter turnout in Muslim neighborhoods.
"The influx of immigrants is reaching biblical proportions. Italy is fighting a losing battle." — Admiral Giuseppe De Giorgi, Head of the Italian Navy Read more ..
|Timothy P. Carney||May 21st 2014|
A Republican congressman bashing “crony capitalism” and “corporate welfare” is no longer a new thing. A Republican congressman actually trying to do something about corporate welfare, however, is nearly unprecedented.
So it's a sign that the GOP could go in a new direction when the Republican chairman of the House Financial Services Committee sets out to derail some of Wall Street's favorite federal gravy trains and “reform the corporate welfare state.”
Texas Republican Jeb Hensarling, who chairs the House banking panel, gave a call to arms at the conservative Heritage Foundation on Tuesday afternoon, imploring his colleagues to “reject the Washington insider economy and embrace the Main Street competitive economy.” Read more ..
|Marc A. Thiessen||May 20th 2014|
Conservative national security hawks should be rooting for Hillary Rodham Clinton to throw her hat in the ring in 2016. That’s because a Clinton campaign would spark the first major foreign policy battle in a presidential election in decades — and the first GOP primary fight over national security since the 1970s.
Polls show that just 2 percent of Americans say foreign policy is their top priority — far behind the economy, jobs and health care. But if Clinton is the Democratic nominee, then the GOP will have to run against her record — and central to that record was her tenure as secretary of state.
Even Clinton’s most ardent defenders can’t name a single accomplishment she had during her four years at the helm of the State Department. And given Benghazi, don’t look for Clinton to brag, as President Obama did in 2012, about how Osama bin Laden is dead and al-Qaeda is on the run. Read more ..
Education on Edge
|Eleanor Holmes Norton and Randi Weigarten||May 18th 2014|
On May 17, 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Brown v. Board of Education became a watershed moment in our nation’s history. By mandating that Americans cannot be equal without equal access to education, the decision breathed new momentum into the movement for civil rights. The ensuing years saw one barrier after another destroyed as we pushed and pulled our way to a more just and equal society.
Across the South, the tidal wave of change was staggering. In 1963, about 1 percent of African-American children in the South attended school with white children. By the early 1970s, that number had nearly reversed itself; 90 percent of African-American children in the South attended desegregated schools. At the same time, the racial achievement gap was cut in half. And then, in the decades to follow, something happened. Read more ..
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