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Obama's Second Term

Obama Health Officiial: The Obamacare 'Bailout' of Insurers Will Be Financed by a New Tax on Everyone's Health Plan

June 19th 2014

Obamacare

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

Deconstructing The Iraq And Syria Conflicts

June 18th 2014

ISIS

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.

Read more ..

The US on Edge

Why the DC Media Bubble Is So Dangerous to Democracy

June 17th 2014

Journalists at press conference

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 ..


Broken Government

Next Move for Democrats on Student Loans

June 16th 2014

College expenses

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

Obama Seeks Answers for Iraq Imbroglio

June 14th 2014

Obama pensive with flag

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

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

Da'wah for Dummies

June 14th 2014

Koran and prayer beads

     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

Stingray Evades Court Orders

June 13th 2014

ATF officers

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

The Figurative Wall is a Fictional Wall

June 13th 2014

Marc

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

How Israel Should Respond to Palestinian 'Unity' Government

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 ..


Hamas-PA Unity

Nita Lowey’s Leadership Moment on Israel and the Peace Process

June 12th 2014

Edwin Black

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

In Islamic Iran All Innovation is Unbelief, Including Baha'i Faith

June 10th 2014

Mona Mahmudinezhad

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

The Not-So-Special Relationship--Seventy Years After D-Day

June 9th 2014

British army privates on parade

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

Jews and Palestinians: A little history remembered

June 9th 2014

Palestinian Rock Attackers

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 ..


Broken Government

Changing Leadership Will Not Cure the VA

June 7th 2014

Soldier Crying

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 ..


Broken Government

Our Chicken Dinners At Stake

June 6th 2014

Chicken Flock

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

How to Tell When a Sewage Pipe Needs Repair -- Before it Bursts

June 5th 2014

Click to select Image

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

The Battle Over Obama's Legacy and the Democrats' Political Future

June 4th 2014

Click to select Image

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

States' Rights, Slavery & Symbolism of Cliven Bundy

June 2nd 2014

Armstrong_Williams

        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 ..


Broken Government

Pro-Israel Group’s Lawsuit Against IRS May be Tea Party Game Changer

June 1st 2014

IRS Bldg DC

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

The Republican Strategy Regarding VA Secretary Shinseki

May 30th 2014

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

The End of the Line for VA Secretary Erick Shinseki

May 30th 2014

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 ..


Broken Education

Anti-Jewish Books Still in Newton

May 29th 2014

Blackboard classroom

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

The Cool War Cometh

May 28th 2014

Putin

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

Connect the Dots . . . Please!

May 27th 2014

NYPD and flag

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 ..


Broken Bookselling

Is Amazon's Stock About to Burst its Bubble?

May 27th 2014

Amazon box

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 ..


Broken Healthcare

Forcing Healthcare Insurers to Do the Right Thing

May 26th 2014

Click to select Image

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 ..


Broken Healthcare

If We Can Cut the Leading Cause of Cancer Death, Shouldn't We?

May 25th 2014

Remy Elbiz UMichigan cancer cells

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 ..


Broken Bookselling

Amazon Blackmail and Bullying of Book Industry Escalates

May 24th 2014

Amazon box

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.

Read more ..

Campus Hate

Anti-Semitism on Campus

May 23rd 2014

Anti-Israel Protest at UC Irvine

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

New Responsibilities Come With the Age of Ownership

May 22nd 2014

Armstrong_Williams

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

A Month in the Life of Europa-stan

May 22nd 2014

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 ..


Broken Government

GOP Committee Chairman Declares War on Corporate Welfare

May 21st 2014

Washington K Street NW

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 ..


Inside Politics

The Coming 2016 Foreign Policy Brawl

May 20th 2014

Hillary Clinton in blue

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

Brown V. Board of Education - 60 Years Later

May 18th 2014

Students

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 ..


Education on Edge

Brown Vs. Board of Eduction Anniversary: Our Unfulfilled Promise to African-American Kids

May 17th 2014

parents teachers students

At the end of this school year, Saint Jude Educational Institute in Montgomery, Alabama will close its doors forever. The 70-years-old Catholic school announced that it no longer could subsidize its 7th to 12th grade students.

It is a cruel irony that as America celebrates this week the 60thanniversary of Brown v. Board of Education, the landmark Supreme Court case that ruled segregation in public schools unconstitutional, a school located in the heart of the African-American community of the city that was the cradle of the civil rights movement is closing.

It is also an unfortunate reminder that still too few low-income and minority families have high quality educational options for their children.Saint Jude played an important role in the civil rights movement. Since it first opened its doors to students in 1938 in the basement of the church, Saint Jude was always geared towards its African-American neighborhood. Read more ..


Financing the Flames

PA and Hamas Honor Sbarro Suicide Bomber Who Murdered 15

May 16th 2014

Suicide Bombing--Sbarro

The terrorist who murdered 15 in the Sbarro pizza shop suicide bombing in 2001 was given a military funeral by the PA after his body was transferred to the PA last week.

On Aug. 9, 2001 suicide bomber Izz Al-Din Al-Masri detonated himself in a Sbarro pizza shop in Jerusalem, killing 15, 7 of them children. 5 members of one family were killed in the attack. (See names below.) Palestinian Media Watch has reported that the PA in the past has honored Ahlam Tamimi, the terrorist who picked the Sbarro restaurant as the place for the bombing "because many people entered it," and later led the bomber there. Official PA TV has also glorified her.

Last week, Israel transferred the body of the suicide bomber to the PA and both the PA and Hamas took the opportunity to honor the murderer once again. Reporting from the official military funeral, PA TV News called him a "Martyr," the highest religious level a Muslim can reach. In calling the terrorist a Martyr - a Shahid - the PA continues to teach its people that according to its interpretation of Islam, killers of Israeli civilians in suicide terror attacks are doing such a positive act, that it overrules the general Islamic prohibition against committing suicide. Read more ..


The Battle for the Ukraine

How to Hit Putin Where It Hurts

May 15th 2014

Oil Barrels

As Russia's Ukrainian incursion sends a chill through the Baltic states, diplomatic fecklessness and the lack of adequate collective defense capabilities on the ground seems to leave the U.S. and Europe with economic sanctions as the only lever against Vladimir Putin's imperialism. Yet asset freezes and travel bans on Putin buddies garner yawns in the Kremlin and almost no public support among NATO or European Union members.
 
There is, however, another approach that would undermine Russia's (and like-minded oil autocracies') efforts at regional domination while strengthening Western economies.
Russia's geopolitical influence in Europe derives in part from its hand on the natural-gas tap, but its Achilles' heel is the price of oil. A successful effort to drive the price of oil down to, say, $60 a barrel—far below the $117 per barrel that Russia requires to balance its national budget—would benefit the West, as well as China and India. Neither of the latter two countries, on the other hand, is likely to cooperate with sanctioning major energy exporters.
Read more ..

Germany on Edge

Islam Increasingly Grows in Germany Through the Schools

May 14th 2014

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Muslim radicals are imposing Islamic norms and values in primary and secondary public schools in Hamburg, the second-largest city in Germany, say school officials, who are asking for stepped-up monitoring of the Salafist groups thought to be behind the Islamization efforts.

At least 25 schools across Hamburg are believed to have been infiltrated by Salafists and other fundamentalist Muslim groups, according to German media reports. But local politicians from the ruling Social Democratic Party (SPD)—a party committed to enforcing multiculturalism in Hamburg—have refused to disclose precisely which schools are affected.

Now, for the first time, a confidential report leaked to the German newspaper Bild identifies seven of the problem schools by name. The schools where Islamist fanatics are "waging a religious war" against non-Muslim teachers and classmates are located in districts across the city, the document says, but the situation in Mümmelmannsberg in eastern Hamburg is "particularly appalling" and "the focus of an organized strategy" by Islamists to recruit new followers. Read more ..


France on Edge

Jews Increasingly Emigrate as Islam in France Grows

May 14th 2014

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Polls show that more than 70% of the French... expect that France will become a country under submission to Islam.

Last month, between April 18-21, the Union of Islamic Organizations of France [UOIF], the French branch of the European Council for Fatwa and Research (presided over by Yusuf al Qaradawi) held its thirty-first annual conference in Le Bourget, north of Paris. As usual, jihadist and anti-Semitic books, which are banned in French bookstores but tolerated there, were offered in several booths.

As usual also, speakers were invited to deliver fiery speeches. In 2012, the keynote speaker was supposed to be Qaradawi himself, but faced with protests from the Jewish community, France denied Qaradawi a visa to enter French territory, and he was replaced by Tariq Ramadan, a Muslim Brotherhood operative who works with Qaradawi in Doha, Qatar, at the Center for Islamic Legislation and Ethics. Read more ..


The Violent Roads of Mexico

A Mother's Quest for Justice Sheds Light on Mexico's Violence Against Women

May 14th 2014

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In September 1998, the van Nierop family of Holland was enjoying a family vacation in the mountains of northern Mexico. Oldest daughter Hester had just graduated with a degree in architecture and was on her way to the United States to seek employment or an internship.

Studying a map, the family determined that the easiest way to cross the border from their vantage point in Chihuahua state’s Sierra Tarahumara would be a “little” place named Ciudad Juarez. Bidding good bye to Hester, parents Arsene and Roeland van Nierop then headed to Mexico City for the flight back to the Netherlands. But Hester never made it to the United States or fulfilled her dream of becoming a professional architect. Read more ..



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