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The 2012 Vote

The Myths and Realities of the Ryan Medicare Plan

August 26th 2012

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Gov. Mitt Romney's selection of Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan as his vice presidential running mate has turned the 2012 presidential election into a referendum on Medicare reform. Ryan has sponsored multiple Medicare reform bills in Congress, with the Left charging that the Romney-Ryan ticket would "gut Medicare" by turning it into a "voucher system," and even "ending Medicare as we know it." Moreover, President Obama's supporters say, the Romney-Ryan approach would force seniors to pay an extra $6,400 per year toward their Medicare costs.  But would Ryan and Romney's reform ideas, known as "premium support," really do all of these terrifying things?

The Truth About Vouchers

To begin, is premium support for Medicare a "voucher system" as opponents claim? The label "vouchers" brings up frightful images of helpless seniors being handed a little cash and charged with entering the cut-throat private insurance marketplace to secure whatever coverage they can. The reality is much closer to the Federal Employees Health Benefits (FEHB) program for government workers than to this imagined horror story. Under the FEHB, the government pays a set amount toward employee health premiums, which can be applied to a range of approved health plans offered by a number of insurers. Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

Syrian Crisis Highlights Palestinian Priorities

August 25th 2012

Syrian Refugees

The PA has voiced concern over the fate of Palestinians in Syria. But it still isn't willing to negotiate in an effort to get a state that could succor them.

Last month, the Palestinian Authority (PA) took the rare step of publicly voicing concern over the fate of Palestinians living in Syria. About 300 (out of a population of over 500,000) have already been killed, PA officials said, and with some Palestinians supporting the Assad government while others supported the opposition, they feared the community would increasingly be targeted by both sides.

Those 300 slain Palestinians pale beside a total Syrian death toll of over 19,000. Yet the PA's concern is clearly justified, because Palestinians find it harder than other Syrians to gain asylum in neighboring states. Some Palestinians have reportedly been turned back at the Jordanian border. Jordan denies this, but doesn't deny that unlike other Syrians, those Palestinians whom Jordan has admitted are strictly confined to the camps where they are housed. Palestinians have also been denied entry to Lebanon, and those that succeed in entering say they live in hiding for fear of being sent back. Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

Fading Rock Star Obama

August 25th 2012

Obama and Israel

There are few things more uncomfortable to witness than a fading rock star in the process of slipping down the ladder he seemed to scale so adeptly and nimbly what seems like not so long ago.

Four years ago, presidential candidate Barack Obama took Berlin by storm with a soaring speech to some 200,000 adoring fans. Having next to nothing in the way of bona fides on foreign policy, given his scant experience in the United States Senate, Obama needed to score a lot of love on his world tour in an uphill battle to fill that void. He was adored — not for any accomplishment on his part, but rather by simply being him. The crowds cheered and it all was positively glorious.

Fast-forward to 2012, and we see the fading rock star reluctant and refusing to take the world stage, even while his competition takes an important lap around other nations.

While presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney prepares to step onto that stage with his upcoming trip to the United Kingdom, Poland and Israel, giving us all an opportunity to evaluate how he does in that arena and see how he measures up as a potential leader of the free world, President Obama stays put. His campaign understands that it is impossible to replicate or even approximate the 2008 Berlin love-fest, now that Obama has a record in office and that it has proven itself considerably less than stellar. Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

PA Voices Concern over Palestinians in Syria, but Isn't Willing to Negotiate for a State to Help Them

August 24th 2012


Last month, the Palestinian Authority (PA) took the rare step of publicly voicing concern over the fate of Palestinians living in Syria. About 300 (out of a population of over 500,000) have already been killed, PA officials said, and with some Palestinians supporting the Assad government while others supported the opposition, they feared the community would increasingly be targeted by both sides.


Those 300 slain Palestinians pale beside a total Syrian death toll of over 19,000. Yet the PA's concern is clearly justified, because Palestinians find it harder than other Syrians to gain asylum in neighboring states. Some Palestinians have reportedly been turned back at the Jordanian border. Jordan denies this, but doesn't deny that unlike other Syrians, those Palestinians whom Jordan has admitted are strictly confined to the camps where they are housed. Palestinians have also been denied entry to Lebanon, and those that succeed in entering say they live in hiding for fear of being sent back.


The Battle for Syria

Why Worry About Syria's WMD?

August 24th 2012

Syrian Chemical Weapons

Syria is the first country with weapons of mass destruction (WMD) to be ripped apart by civil war. The United States and Britain have both warned Damascus not to use its chemical weapons. Here are five things to know about Syria's WMD. 


What WMD does Syria have?

Western arms experts say Syria has one of the world's largest chemical weapon arsenals. Since Damascus began a WMD program with Soviet help in the 1980s, it has accumulated hundreds of tons of skin-blistering mustard gas and the fatal nerve agent sarin. It probably also has the nerve agent VX, which can linger in an area for weeks. The agents are stockpiled but ready for battlefield use in artillery shells, aerial bombs, and Scud missile warheads. 


It is not known whether Syria also has biological weapons. Leonard Spector, head of the Washington D.C. office of the Monterey Institute Center for Nonproliferation Studies, says "we know they have chemical weapons, including some of the most advanced, but the biological weapons issue is very unclear."


Broken Banking

SEC’s Day of Reckoning on Transparency: Dodd-Frank Disclosure of Natural Resource Revenues

August 23rd 2012


On August 22, following a very lengthy delay, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is finally issuing the detailed implementing rules on natural resource transparency in Section 1504 of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, adopted by Congress in July 2010. Specifically, Section 1504 stipulated that companies in extractive industries listed in U.S. exchanges would be required to report payments made to governments around the world.

This may sound clear enough, but as often is the case the devil will be in the details. Tomorrow those details will be in the hands of the SEC and will determine whether ‘effective transparency’ is attained or continues to remain elusive. Namely the SEC will determine whether the information that needs to be disclosed by companies is sufficiently detailed, relevant and accessible, enabling effective monitoring and analysis by civil society, investors and government reformists. Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

The Politicization of Violence

August 23rd 2012

floyd corkins

If it hasn't completely vanished down the memory hole, you might recall that last week a man walked into the headquarters of the conservative Family Research Council with a backpack of Chick-fil-A sandwiches and bullets, said something like "I don't like your politics" and then shot the security guard.

The suspect, Floyd Lee Corkins (what is with would-be assassins and the three-part names?), had volunteered at a gay community center.

"Today's attack is the clearest sign we've seen that labeling pro-marriage groups as 'hateful' must end," proclaimed the head of the National Organization for Marriage, Brian Brown. It's certainly true that outfits like the Southern Poverty Law Center have carved out a great racket for themselves as the media-approved arbiter of what and who counts as a purveyor of "hate" these days. Read more ..

Israel and Iran

Israel’s Iran Offensive: News all Day Long

August 23rd 2012

Israeli Jets Parked

As the Republican and Democratic conventions draw near, the news media expends more of its time to election-related coverage.  The focus is either on gaffes made by Vice President Biden, the fiscal policies and the fitness regimen of Mitt Romney’s running mate Representative Paul Ryan, and the campaign battles between the two presidential candidates.  But there is also another piece of news that gets tossed into the election mix, and it has been heating up: The seeming timeline for Israel to attack Iran.

Almost as the Wag the Dog scenario dictates, the media seems to be pushing a story that may not be anything more than the information we have known about for close to two years now and trying to make it real.  Fox News and CNN were showing children being fitted for gas masks and suggesting that Israel is approaching the zero-barrier for an offensive attack.  They have pundits come on to reinforce that position, suggesting that Israel’s leaders have already determined the time and method of attack to get viewers sitting on the edge of their seats waiting for it to happen.  Read more ..

Israel's Looming Attack

Time to Authorize Use of Force Against Iran

August 23rd 2012

B-2 Bomber


Russia on Edge

Why The Kremlin Is Losing

August 22nd 2012

Putin poster

Remember when something called "the Family" dominated Russian politics and Boris Berezovsky looked invincible? It wasn't that long ago. Just over a decade back.

In late 1999, I was having dinner in a Moscow restaurant with some colleagues and we noticed Berezovsky and some hangers-on a few tables away. One colleague gestured to the uber-oligarch's entourage, which was flanked by the usual phalanx of bodyguards, and said: "Wouldn't you love to just approach him and ask: 'Boris Abramovich, what exact scheme are you working on right now?'"

It was conventional wisdom at the time that Berezovsky was the master of Russia's political universe. As the informal leader of the so-called "Family," the shadowy collection of tycoons, cronies, and bureaucrats surrounding the ailing President Boris Yeltsin, he had the Kremlin wired and was orchestrating the rise of Vladimir Putin -- who the media called "the Family's candidate." We assumed Berezovsky would keep Putin on a tight leash, too. We, of course, were dead wrong. Read more ..

Broken Government

Tax Extenders Bill a Good Start—Except for the Tax Increase

August 22nd 2012

Money Money Money

The tax extenders bill approved by the Senate Finance Committee on August 2 took important, albeit small, bipartisan baby steps: two forward followed by one big step back. The two steps forward were the committee working toward avoiding a component of Taxmageddon and making the effort to begin sorting through the long list of small, expiring tax provisions and dropping those of inadequate merit. The big step backward is that the bill would raise taxes. The committee approved the bill by a vote of 19–5, which means that five Republican Senators joined with the Democrats to raise taxes.

Finance Committee passage is just the first step, which leaves time for improvement. When the bill is brought to the Senate floor, Members should look to further pare the list of retained provisions. They should then expand one or more of the most meritorious remaining provisions, such as the deduction for higher education expenses, so that the overall product does not raise taxes. The tax extenders bill should be revenue neutral, which would make it an excellent model for tax reform in 2013. Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

New Proof That Business Elites Have Placed Their Bets on the Wrong Party

August 22nd 2012

Obama and Romney

Political polarization has become an obstacle to economic growth because it is increasing uncertainty, and delaying new private sector investment and hiring. That’s the view emerging from the business community and—increasingly—from the economics profession.

Earlier this month, in a front-page New York Times story, a number of CEOs gave voice to their fears about the fiscal cliff and the broader policy impasse in Congress. According to Vincent Reinhart, chief U.S. economist at Morgan Stanley, more than 40 percent of companies in their monthly survey cited the fiscal cliff as a major reason for pulling about on hiring and investment, and he expects that percentage to rise. These concerns go well beyond the defense sector, whose stake in a speedy resolution of the controversy is direct and clear. Alexander Cutler, the CEO of a large Ohio-based maker of industrial equipment, put it this way: “We’re in economic purgatory. In the nondefense, nongovernment sectors, that’s where the caution is creeping in. We’re seeing it when we talk to dealers, distributors, and users.” Read more ..

Iran's Nukes

Obama Should Designate Nuclear Iran as an Impermissible Threat to the U.S.

August 22nd 2012

Iran-US Hatred

While noting in The Washington Post that Israel “cannot afford to outsource its security to another country,” Maj. Gen. (ret.) Amos Yadlin, former chief of Israeli Military Intelligence, contends that President Obama can/should frame “a nuclear-armed Iran as an impermissible threat to the national interests of the United States and its allies in the Persian Gulf.” This, he says, would have the effect of “cooling off” Israel and, presumably, permitting more time for U.S.-led diplomacy. He requests that the President:

* Notify the U.S. Congress in writing that he reserves the right to use military force to prevent Iran’s acquisition of a military nuclear capability.

* Signal its intentions via a heightened US military presence in the gulf, military exercises with Middle East allies and missile defense deployments in the region.

* Provide advanced military technology and intelligence to strengthen Israel’s military capabilities and extend the window in which Israel can mortally would Iran’s program.

* Speak publicly about the dangers of possible Iranian nuclear reconstitution in the wake of a military strike.
Publicly commit to the security of U.S. allies in the Gulf. Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

The Closer One Looks at Obamacare, the More it Looks Like Medicaid

August 21st 2012


Before November’s presidential election gives Americans a final vote on whether Obamacare survives, consumers should consider the kind of health insurance that they would get under the President’s plan. So far, President Obama is withholding the final set of regulations that describe just what health benefits the Obamacare plans will deliver. He may be waiting until after the election. But there’s enough detail already in the law to make decent estimates.

The answer turns out to get a lot worse, the closer one looks. There’s good reason to believe that in short order, the health plans sold in Obamacare’s heavily regulated, state-based insurance exchanges will degrade into something akin to today’s Medicaid managed care plans. If a lot of consumers who presently get their health coverage at work are dumped into these state exchanges (as many independent analysts predict), then tens of millions of Americans could find that they’re worse off under the new law and that their health benefits have been substantially devalued. Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

Why the Medicare Fight Matters to Americans Over 55

August 21st 2012

Obamacare Protest

Now that Mitt Romney has picked Paul Ryan to be his running mate, a major national debate on Representative Ryan’s so-called ‘premium support’ plan has become certain. Ryan’s plan would replace the current Medicare program for workers under the age of 55. When eligible, they would receive a flat dollar amount—or voucher—that would cover part of the cost of a health insurance plan. The value of the voucher would be adjusted annually according to a pre-specified index. If health care costs increased faster than that index, enrollees would have to pay the added cost themselves or accept narrowed insurance coverage.

Because that plan would not apply to anyone age 55 or older, supporters claim that older Americans don’t ‘have a dog in that fight.’ For reasons I explain below, that isn’t true, even if one looks only at Representative Ryan’s Medicare proposal. Other elements of the Romney/Ryan health care program have even larger implications for older Americans, but let’s start with the Ryan Medicare plan. Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

No-Fly Zone over Syria: Wrong Policy at the Wrong Time

August 20th 2012


In the aftermath of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s trip to Turkey last weekend, there has been speculation that the U.S. might support the idea of establishing a no-fly zone (NFZ) over Syria. Under the current conditions, an establishment of an NFZ would be a costly and risky action that would do little to stop the killing on the ground while entangling the U.S. in an intensifying civil war. While the U.S. and its partners have the military capability to establish and enforce an NFZ above Syria if they wanted to, an NFZ is the wrong policy at the wrong time. The U.S. should concentrate on determining which elements inside the opposition want a stable and secure Syria, marginalizing elements inside the opposition movement that promote an extremist agenda, and drumming up regional support against the Bashar al-Assad regime.

Syria Is Not Libya

Other than providing a very expensive psychological boost to the loose alliance of disparate Syrian opposition groupings, it is likely that a U.S.-backed NFZ would have minor impact. Most of the Assad regime’s killing is done on the ground. Although the regime has made limited use of fixed-wing aircraft and attack helicopters in recent weeks, most of the death toll is caused by artillery barrages and brutal paramilitary hit squads—all of which, including attack helicopters, an NFZ would have a negligible impact on. Read more ..

Egypt and Israel

Egypt Fully Remilitarizing Sinai - with U.S. Help

August 20th 2012

Egyptian Tanks on the Move

Egypt has moved forces into the Sinai beyond what was agreed to in the Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty. Getting them in wasn't that difficult – Israel agrees that security in the Sinai has deteriorated. Getting them out again later may be another matter. And how the U.S. positions itself to safeguard the treaty itself will be crucial.

One of the lesser-known American military deployments is as part of the Multinational Force & Observers in the Sinai (MFO), inserted in 1981. Its mission is to "supervise the implementation of the security provisions of the Egyptian-Israeli Treaty of Peace and employ best efforts to prevent violations of its terms." The MFO consists of 1,656 soldiers from 12 nations.1 and, according to its website, operates checkpoints, reconnaissance patrols and observation posts; verifies the continued implementation of various arms limitations in the Sinai; ensures freedom of navigation through the Strait of Tiran; and monitors the deployment of border guards along the Egyptian side of the Gaza/Egypt border to ensure that it meets the terms agreed to by Israel and Egypt in 2005. Read more ..

Energy vs Environment

Carbon-Tax Will Hobble Our Already Challenged Economy

August 20th 2012

Koch Pine Bend Refinery

Even if a carbon tax could significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions, should it be implemented if it would undermine the economic recovery and stall short-term growth?

Under one possible approach, all countries would agree to penalize carbon emissions at an internationally harmonized carbon tax. But let’s be realistic: Because of the huge economic and political imbalances between the industrialized and developing world, the carbon-tax approach to emissions reduction is a pipe dream.

As much as 85 percent of the projected increase in man-made global emissions of carbon dioxide will come from developing countries, as a result of growing electric power use and automobile ownership that accompany economic growth. The United States and other advanced countries won’t sacrifice their living standards, and the developing ones aren’t going to worry about climate change while their incomes are a fraction of those in advanced nations. Read more ..

Israel's Looming Attack

New U.S. Tone on Iran

August 19th 2012

Obama and flags

Earlier this week, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Joint Chiefs chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey continued a months-long pattern of tougher U.S. statements about Iran. To be sure, both were still uncomfortable about the prospect of an Israeli strike when addressing reporters on August 14 -- Dempsey noted that such a move would only "delay, not destroy, Iran's nuclear capabilities," while Panetta stated "there is room to continue to negotiate." Yet neither repeated their pre-March warnings about the potential negative consequences of an attack. In fact, Panetta emphasized that it is up to Israel to decide whether or not to strike.


Until early March, U.S. officials speaking about Iran tended to include warnings about the risks of resorting to force. On February 5, President Obama stated, "Any kind of additional military activity inside the Gulf is disruptive and has a big effect on us. It could have a big effect on oil prices. We've still got troops in Afghanistan, which borders Iran." Three days earlier, Dempsey had argued that "a conflict with Iran would be really destabilizing, and I'm not just talking from the security perspective. It would be economically destabilizing...I personally believe that we should be in the business of deterring as the first priority." Most striking was Panetta's December 2 warning: "At best [a military attack] might postpone [Iran from getting a bomb] maybe one, possibly two years...Of greater concern to me are the unintended consequences." In his view, these consequences included increasing the risk of "retaliation from Iran," allowing an isolated regime "to suddenly reestablish itself," ushering in "severe economic consequences," and sparking "an escalation that could consume the Middle East in a confrontation." Read more ..

Israel's Looming Strike

How America Can Slow Israel's March to War

August 18th 2012

Israeli Jet Dive Bombing

Obama administration officials have made it clear that they believe there is still time and space for diplomatic efforts to succeed in stopping Iran from achieving a nuclear weapons capability. But Israel's deputy foreign minister, Danny Ayalon, has said it is time to declare that "diplomacy has failed."

While Israel's prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has not yet declared the failure of diplomacy, he has spoken about its inability to alter the course of Iran's nuclear program. In addition, he has told his cabinet that the nuclear threat from Iran dwarfs all the other threats Israel faces and pointedly added, "Iran cannot be allowed to have nuclear weapons."

The words of Israeli leaders are signaling not just increasing impatience with the pace of diplomacy but also Israel's growing readiness to act militarily on its own against Iranian nuclear facilities.

Although the United States and Israel share the same objective of preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons capability, the two differ on the point at which it may become necessary to act militarily to forestall the Iranian nuclear advance. I say "forestall" because neither America nor Israel can fully destroy the Iranian capability to build a nuclear weapon. Each country could set Iran back militarily, but neither could destroy Iran's skill or technical and engineering capacity to develop nuclear weapons. Since 2007, when Iran mastered the full nuclear fuel cycle and the means to enrich uranium on its own, it has been too late for that. Their differences on the possible timing of military action are a function of both capabilities and perspective. The United States has significantly greater military might than Israel and therefore feels that it can wait substantially longer than Israel before resorting to force.


The Wikileaks Case

London and Quito Navigate Uncertain Waters in the Julian Assange Quandary

August 18th 2012

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Wikileaks Founder Julian Assange

Recently, the Ecuadorian Foreign Minister Ricardo Patiño announced that Quito would grant political Asylum to Julian Assange, the founder of Wikileaks, who currently faces extradition to Sweden on charges of sexual assault. Assange has rejected the charges and expressed his fear that if London indeed extradites him, he will subsequently be sent to the United States where he could face the death penalty for espionage or treason.

On Wednesday, August 15, Patiño charged that London had all but threatened in a diplomatic letter to storm the British embassy in order to arrest Assange.  Further, following a meeting with President Rafael Correa, he declared, “The colonial times are over.” London countered, however, saying that the letter simply pointed out that it would have a “legal base” to enter the embassy and make an arrest if Britain decided to revoke Ecuador’s diplomatic immunity under the Diplomatic and Consular Premises Act of 1987. Ecuador, as well as many international observers, have pointed out that if London took such an action, it would violate the Vienna Convention. London has reiterated that it wants to find a diplomatic solution to this quandary, a wise strategy given the dangerous diplomatic precedent that revoking the Ecuadorian embassy’s diplomatic immunity could establish.

Recently, Correa asserted, “no one is going to terrorize us!” London, however, eventually countered declaring that it would arrest Assange the moment he sets foot on British soil, or in other words: steps out of the embassy. Ecuadorians, for their part, are understandably divided on the matter of Assange’s asylum, but certainly have their qualms with the British handling of the situation. Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

We Live in the Age of Ron Paul

August 18th 2012

Juan Williams 02
Juan Williams

Last year in this column I wrote: “If you have not been paying attention, it is time to look around and realize that we are living in the political age of Rep. Ron Paul.”The  first section of the Wikipedia page entry for the Tea Party Movement even quotes a sentence from that column, where I argued the Tea Party dynamic that won the House majority for the GOP in 2010 “grew largely out of the ashes of (Paul’s) 2008 presidential campaign” by emphasizing “limited government and a return to constitutional principles.”

Now, the 76-year-old Texan is retiring at the end of this Congress after 12 terms in the House of Representatives. During his latest run for the Republican presidential nomination, Paul tangled with Mitt Romney, particularly over civil liberties.

But unlike other candidates, he did not attack Romney harshly. Paul and Romney remain friendly but Paul was never on the short list – or any other list – of people who were considered as Romney’s running mate. Just last month, well after Romney had wrapped up enough delegates to win the Republican race, Paul continued to try to get enough unpledged GOP delegates to commit to vote for him so he could get his own name placed in nomination. The idea was to give him a moment of national recognition at the Tampa convention and assure him one final platform before a national audience.

But the effort failed. Now he will leave the national political scene quietly, although he probably had a hand in getting a coveted convention speech slot for his son, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky). Sen. Paul may give his dad a final shout out from the podium. Ron Paul deserves more. In presidential debates, and until his last days in Congress, Paul has continued to stir revolution in the Republican Party by fighting the GOP establishment. Read more ..

Israel on Edge

Stopping Extremist Settlers

August 18th 2012

West Bank Settlement

Late this past June, a group of Israeli settlers in the West Bank defaced and burned a mosque in the small West Bank village of Jabaa. Graffiti sprayed by the vandals warned of a “war” over the planned evacuation, ordered by the Israeli Supreme Court, of a handful of houses illegally built on private Palestinian land near the settlement of Beit El. The torching of the mosque was part of a wider trend of routine violence committed by radical settlers against innocent Palestinians, Israeli security personnel, and even mainstream settler leaders — all aimed at intimidating perceived enemies of the settlement project.

In the past, settlers who opposed attacks against Palestinian civilians or the Israeli state (the vast majority of them) could exert control over radical elements, or work with the Israeli authorities to do so. Recently, however, several factors have contributed to a rise in unchecked settler radicalism: the dramatic growth over the past generation in the size of the settler population, the diversification of religious and ideological strands within it, and the sense of betrayal felt by settlers following Israel’s evacuation of the settlements in the Gaza Strip in 2005. Read more ..

Energy Policy on Edge

Implementing AB 32 Will Increase Unemployment, Household Expenses

August 17th 2012

Oil Refinery

With the passage of California's Assembly Bill 32, the Golden State has embarked upon an experiment in energy policy that has no modern parallel. Several recent studies have shown that the consequences to the state could be dire, and that California faces a choice between continuing on its current trajectory toward a future of reduced economic growth and opportunity, or changing course and adopting less draconian climate and energy policies.

For the sake of California, and the national economy that prospers when California prospers, one can only hope lawmakers are paying attention to the possible consequences of their hasty actions.

In 2006, the California Legislature passed Assembly Bill 32, also known as the Global Warming Solutions Act. The bill was signed into law by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Sept. 27, 2006. AB 32 represents the most aggressive greenhouse gas control regime implemented by any of the states and imposes a vast array of controls on the use of energy. Its goal is nothing less than the remaking of California's entire energy economy. Read more ..

Wikileaks Case

Julian Assange and Ecuador’s Gesture Politics

August 17th 2012

Julian Assange

Ecuador’s decision to grant political asylum to Julian Assange, the founder of Wikileaks, is a spectacular example of the gesture politics beloved by the far left. It is gesture politics because Assange, an Australian citizen who has spent the last two months camping in the Ecuadorean embassy in London, will have to smuggle himself past a phalanx of armed police officers if he is to make it to Quito in one piece.

While Assange and his supporters are portraying his current status as the consequence of politically motivated persecution, the truth is considerably more sordid. Assange fled to the Ecuadorean embassy after the British government decided to extradite him to Sweden, where he is wanted on sexual assault charges. To go by a recent op-ed penned for the Guardian by the dreadful Glenn Greenwald, you’d think that Sweden was a slightly milder version of North Korea, where prisoners are held in “oppressive pre-trial conditions,” and where someone like Assange could quickly find himself in American custody in order to face trial for espionage, given the release by Wikileaks of several thousand confidential American diplomatic and military cables. Read more ..

After the Holocaust

Hungary Drops Charges against Nazi War Criminal

August 17th 2012


Another sorry chapter in Europe's inability to come to terms with the Holocaust appears to be starting in Hungary, with the news that charges against recently captured war criminal Laszlo Csatary are being dropped by prosecutors. Csatary fled prosecution after World War II and lived for years in Canada under an assumed name. After he was exposed, he fled back to his native Hungary, where he disappeared. Not long ago, however, the Simon Wiesenthal Center and reporters from the UK's Sun magazine tracked him down in Budapest.

“I was young, but I remember the name Csatary,” witness Marika Weinberger, now over 80 years old, told an interviewer. “It surfaced when my father was trying to find out what happened to my uncles.” Weinberger's nine uncles were rounded up and deported to death camps on Csatary's orders. Of the night they were taken, Weinberger says, “I remember it better than I remember what happened yesterday.” It now appears that Ms. Weinberger will never get her day in court. Budapest prosecutors claim that Csatary was not present when the deportations took place and have dropped their charges against him.

Ms. Weinberger believes that the proverbial fix was in, and she seems to be correct. Astoundingly, the prosecutors never questioned her about Csatary's crimes. “No one bothered to ask me what I know," Ms. Weinberger says. "Now he’s off the hook.” Martin Kornfeld, CEO of the Federation of Jewish Communities in Slovakia agrees. “Hungarian authorities are trying to avoid a decision on Csatary in court," he told the Times of Israel, "and are trying to find points that make the trial positive for Csatary.” Kornfeld and his organization may hold out the last hope for justice in the Csatary case. Csatary was convicted in absentia for war crimes in what was then Czechoslovakia. Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

Ryan's War on Women

August 16th 2012

Paul Ryan

Here is one ad I propose for Democrats:
"My name is Lilly Ledbetter. I passionately support pay equity for women. Paul Ryan voted against me. I will be voting against him. President Obama and Democrats are fighting for pay equity for all women. I will be voting for them.”

Along with Social Security and Medicare, pay equity for women will be a paramount issue in November. Mitt Romney's selection of Paul Ryan is nationalizing public opinion about the extremist, influence-peddling brand of crony capitalism of today's Republicans. They have abandoned the GOP's heritage and will be pinned to the mat by Paul Ryan's record, which belies Mitt Romney's endless equivocations. There is a new wind behind the sails of Democrats. Sweeping Republican hostility to the interests of women could be decisive. Read more ..

Iran's Nukes

J Street Makes Strike by Israel or U.S. on Iran More Likely

August 16th 2012

Bibi arguing

J Street, which calls itself “pro-Israel and pro-peace”, is now making it more likely that Israel and/or the United States will have no choice but to take military action against Iran’s nuclear weapons program.

The Israeli government is facing what may be its most daunting existential challenge since the founding of the State and certainly since the eve of the 1967 War. There are no perfect solutions to the problem posed by Iran’s determination to develop nuclear weapons capable of destroying Israel. It has become clear that sanctions, coupled with diplomatic efforts, may hurt Iran, but will never pressure them into giving up their quest for nuclear weapons. It has also become clear, as President Obama has stated, that containment of a nuclear Iran is not an option. The only thing that will deter Iran from moving forward with its nuclear program is a credible threat of military action by the United States. Read more ..

Healthcare on Edge

Medicare 2035: Older, Sicker, Poorer

August 16th 2012

Elderly couple

We baby boomers are beginning to realize that the future of Medicare matters — to us, not just to our grandchildren. Most of us will still be around in 25 years, and we’re beginning to wonder whether Medicare will be there for us. It will be, but we will not like what we get unless Washington gets serious about overhauling the program.

Some may think that the president’s Affordable Care Act (ACA) already reformed Medicare. Congress reduced Medicare spending by $700 billion over the next decade by cutting provider payments rather than reducing benefits, or so the politicians claim. That money was not used to shore up Medicare for the future. It was used to fund new federal health programs, leaving Medicare in no better financial shape than before. Worse yet, those savings did not come from any significant change in the way Medicare operates. It is business as usual, and that business is obviously failing. Read more ..

The Defense Edge

Absent Leadership, Sequestration Could Be Tragic

August 16th 2012

USS Abraham Lincoln Flight Deck

The specter of the January 2, 2013 sequestration has created rare unanimity here in Washington. Just about everyone both in the defense establishment and Congress maintains it would have disastrous consequences if implemented.

This new round of budget cuts was mandated by the U.S. Budget Control Act after the failure of a super committee - the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction - to reach an agreement on a balance between taxes and spending. The Act was part of a compromise between Democrats and Republicans to permit raising the Federal debt ceiling. This translates into a $55 billion cut in fiscal year 2013 from the roughly $511 billion base defense budget, $93 billion from the war budget and $82 billion from unobligated funding.

These cuts, mandated by the sequester, would be on top of the $487 billion in budget reductions already scheduled over the next decade, because Congress could not find another $1.2 trillion in Federal savings over the same period. With the Administration's decision to exempt military personnel from the cuts, the rest of the defense budget would be looking at an 11.2 percent reduction and could mean an estimated 89,000 job cuts at the Department of Defense and a hiring freeze. Non-defense spending would also be sequestered, but at a lower rate. Read more ..

The New Egypt

Sinai Offensive is no Reason to Trust Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood

August 16th 2012


If you are seeking to understand what motivates the jihadists who have swarmed into the Sinai Peninsula in recent months, their own words are the best guide available.

“Every outing with rockets is a life-and-death adventure. It is one we love,” a terrorist who belongs to a Palestinian Islamist faction told Reuters last week. “If we live we will be back to fire more, and if we die we go to heaven as martyrs.”

If there’s one thing that can be said for jihadists, it’s that they are honest. In Sinai, as in Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, Lebanon and all the other territories where the Islamists have emerged as a destabilizing influence, they are frank about their devotion to continuing the conflict against western encroachment—of which Israel’s existence is a particularly hated example—and they do not fear death or capture in the process. Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

An Urgent Plan of Action for Syria

August 16th 2012

Syria Damascus fighting injured baby

Aleppo – Syria’s second-largest city, its commercial hub and an ancient heritage site – is under relentless assault. This siege follows what has been called “Assad’s pattern of depravity”: first, cutting off electricity, water, and the inhabitants’ food supply; second, intensifying indiscriminate bombardment through tank, artillery, helicopter gunships, and even fighter jets; third, warning inhabitants that Syrian forces would “purge” the city of its “armed terrorists” – the euphemism for Assad’s Scorched Earth policy – the whole as prologue to massacres foretold, as have happened so many times before.

In the words of Nabil Elaraby, secretary general of the Arab League, speaking one week ago: “The massacres that are happening in Aleppo and other places in Syria amount to war crimes that are punishable under international law.” Indeed, the situation has only deteriorated since, as some 1,000 have been killed in the last 10 days alone, and over 20,000 since the peaceful beginnings of the “dignity and freedom revolution” in Daara in March 2011. Read more ..

The Economy on Edge

The Premeditated Attack on the Prime Mortgage

August 15th 2012

Fannie Mae

With the Romney/Ryan ticket now in place, the debate moves to fundamental questions about the economy. The big issue which Governor Romney continues to focus on is the contrast between the government-centered society embraced by President Obama, and the Romney/Ryan vision for a society centered on freedom of choice, and free markets.

When it comes to a government centered society and its deleterious consequences, our Government Mortgage Complex is the undisputed poster child. There has been no greater economic failure than the collapse of the housing market due to decades of government intervention and crony capitalism.

Voters need to be reminded about how this disaster came about. It began with the premeditated assault on high-quality, credit-worthy prime mortgages. The perpetrators were Fannie Mae, community groups, and Congress, each of which had the means, motive and opportunity for undertaking this assault.

As early as 1991, community activist Gale Cincotta, was laying the path for undertaking such an assault in her testimony before the Senate Banking Committee. "Lenders will respond to the most conservative standards unless [Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac] are aggressive and convincing in their efforts to expand historically narrow underwriting," she stressed. Read more ..

Broken Government

Is the Budget Coast Clear for State and Local Governments?

August 15th 2012

State capital

States and localities are often cast as the unsung heroes of American government: They spend more than the federal government on direct public goods and services, employ twice as many workers as the manufacturing sector, and generate about $1.8 trillion (12 percent) of GDP. But most people only really think about state and local governments when enrolling their kids in public school or visiting the DMV.

This narrative changed in the Great Recession and its aftermath. Casual observers became concerned about payroll and service cuts at state and local levels and what they meant for aggregate unemployment and growth. Although the federal government distributed unprecedented fiscal relief to states and localities through the Recovery Act, some have suggested it ought to do more.

The latest news is upbeat, however. Census Bureau figures show state revenues are up for the ninth consecutive quarter, although growth is slower than last year and uneven across states. The National Conference of State Legislatures reports that no states are projecting deficits at the end of fiscal 2013 and many expect modest surpluses. The July jobs report suggests state and local job losses, although continuing, are abating. So is the coast clear? Not yet. For one thing, local governments are still contending with lower property tax revenues as assessed values catch up with depressed home values. Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

Why Demagoguing Paul Ryan is Bad For Democrats

August 14th 2012

Paul Ryan

Many observers are working overtime to figure out which party benefits from Mitt Romney’s selection of Paul Ryan. I don’t mean to sound holier than thou, but I’m more interested in a different question: will it benefit the country?

The case that it will is straightforward and familiar. Before Ryan’s selection, the 2012 presidential contest was the worst that most of us had ever seen. Although the country faces massive economic and fiscal challenges, the presidential campaigns weren’t talking about them. Instead, they were trading low blows about tertiary issues. Ryan’s entrance, it is said, will “elevate” the debate by forcing the real issue back onto the agenda. The candidates will be arguing about Medicare and tax reform and the role of government in our society. We’ll get the real debate we need, and whoever wins, the country will be better off. Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

How, When and Whether to End the War in Syria

August 13th 2012

Syria burning

“The beginning of wisdom,” a Chinese saying goes, “is to call things by their right names.” And the right name for what is happening in Syria — and has been for more than a year — is an all-out civil war.

Syria is Lebanon of the 1970s and ’80s. It is Afghanistan, Congo or the Balkans of the 1990s. It is Iraq of 2005-2007. It is not an insurgency. It is not a rebellion. It is not Yemen. It is certainly not Egypt or Tunisia.

It is important to accept this simple fact, because civil wars — especially ethno-sectarian civil wars such as the one burning in Syria — both reflect and unleash powerful forces that constrain what can be done about them. These forces can’t be turned off or ignored; they must be dealt with directly if there is to be any chance of ending the conflict. Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

Paul Ryan: A Good Choice for Republicans and Democrats?

August 13th 2012

Paul Ryan

There will be no Sarah Palin style debate about the qualifications of Wisconsin Representative Paul Ryan for vice president.  The guy is smart and knowledgeable about public policy issues and is exceptionally thoughtful about federal budget issues.  He is the author of a very detailed plan for deficit reduction and entitlement reform.  He answers the call of critics who say Mitt Romney has no fiscal plan.

The downside of that substantive depth is the choice will enable Democrats to run against Republicans as cold-hearted conservatives who want to downsize government and end Medicare as we know it.  Up to this point, there hasn’t been a serious national discussion about what actually is involved in deficit reduction and which programs need to be changed and in what manner.  The specificity of Ryan’s budget plan guarantees we now will have that debate this Fall. Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

Lessons Al Smith could teach Mitt Romney

August 13th 2012

Al Smith campaign pin

Those following Mitt Romney in the news may have noticed the frequency with which the former Massachusetts governor’s name has been linked to former New York governor Al Smith.

Eighty-four years ago, Smith was the Democratic candidate in the 1928 presidential election, which he lost in a landslide to his Republican opponent, Herbert Hoover. Looking forward to this November’s contest, more than a few historically-minded journalists have suggested that Smith’s miserable showing might augur something for Romney when he challenges Barack Obama for the presidency in a few months’ time.

Why the comparison is relevant is that it allegedly set the precedent for first-of-their-kind religious outsiders seeking the Oval Office, and Smith, the first Roman Catholic in American history to headline a major party’s presidential nomination, saw his campaign wilt under a glare of virulent anti-Catholic hysteria. As a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (better known as the Mormons), Romney may have to endure something similar, and, we are told, is probably doomed to suffer the same outcome as Smith.

Yet a closer look at the last presidential tilt of the Roaring Twenties reveals that the fable of Smith as the capable candidate stymied by a bigoted electorate simply doesn’t fit the facts. Ascribing Smith’s defeat to his religion ignores his opponent’s considerable electoral appeal and assumes, wrongly, that religious bigotry worked in only one direction. Read more ..

Healthcare on Edge

With Health Care Costs, the U.S. Is a Huge Outlier

August 11th 2012

medicine and money

In any comparison of healthcare costs in rich countries, the United States is an extreme outlier. This is true both in terms of the percentage of its income devoted to health and the absolute level of our health spending per person.

The U.S. has always been a high-spending country, but the difference with other countries has widened over time. International statistics on health outlays suggest the share of our GDP devoted to health was about 40 percent higher than the average for other rich countries in the 1970s. The differential increased substantially during the 1980s and early 1990s and then continued to widen, though more slowly, in later decades. By 2010 the U.S. health share was almost 7.2 percentage points of GDP (or 70 percent) higher than the health spending share in countries with comparable incomes. We can describe that estimate in a slightly different way: The United States spent about $7,500 per capita on health care compared to an average of $3,300 in other rich countries.

If the nation obtained better-than-average health outcomes in exchange for its much-higher-than-average health spending, we would have little reason to complain. However, there is almost no evidence U.S. health outcomes are better than those in other rich countries. A variety of statistics on mortality and morbidity suggest outcomes may be worse in this country than they are elsewhere.

The nation's ever-increasing health bill has had a little-noticed impact on our income distribution statistics. That's because of the way we pay for most health care and the way most income statistics are reported. Less than a quarter of the cost of the health care we consume is paid for with our cash incomes. Most is financed by the government or reimbursed through insurance purchased by our employers. Read more ..

The Race for AgriFuels

US Must Take Action on Biofuels to Prevent a Food Crisis

August 10th 2012

The worst drought for 50 years is inflicting huge damage on the US maize crop, with serious consequences for the overall international food supply. The situation reminds us that even the most advanced agricultural systems are subject to the vagaries of the weather, leading to volatility in supplies and prices not just on domestic markets but also internationally. Climate change and extreme weather events will further complicate the picture. US maize production had been expected to increase to record levels this year. That view will prove optimistic. Much of the reduced crop will be claimed by biofuel production in line with US federal mandates, leaving even less for food and feed markets. The August US Department of Agriculture estimates, announced on Friday, will give a more precise idea for just how much the maize crop is reduced. Few people are expecting good news.

Maize prices have already gone higher than their 2008 and 2011 peaks, increasing by 23 per cent during July alone. Wheat prices have followed maize prices upwards. Repercussions are already being felt in the US livestock sector.


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