Friday, December 19, 2014

US kills ISIS leaders

The United States announced last night that several high-ranking ISIS leaders were killed in airstrikes in Iraq. The attacks took place over the last several weeks and are known to have killed three of the top-ranking members of the terrorist group according to the Pentagon.

Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the Wall St. Journal that U.S. airstrikes were having a heavy impact on ISIS. “It is disruptive to their planning and command and control,” said Gen. Dempsey. “These are high-value targets, senior leadership.”

Two of the strikes took place in early December killed Abd al Basit, the military commander of ISIS in Iraq, and Haji Mutazz, a right-hand man of ISIS leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. An earlier strike in November killed Radwin Talib, the ISIS governor of Mosul, the second largest city in Iraq. These killings bring the total number of high-value ISIS leaders killed to seven.

Another defense official told the Journal, “We’ve bombed their oil production, we struck the Humvees and MRAPs they stole from us and now we are targeting their leadership.”

Lt. Gen. James Terry, the commander of the Combined Joint Task Force, Operation Inherent Resolve, told ABC News that a total of 1,361 airstrikes have been conducted in Iraq and Syria. More than 50 airstrikes have been conducted since Tuesday in support of a counteroffensive by the Kurdish Peshmerga. The offensive has reclaimed more than 100 square kilometers of territory in northwestern Iraq from ISIS.

In all, the airstrikes have killed more than 1,000 ISIS fighters, but some analysts question the effectiveness of the strategy. Critics point out that ISIS, like other terrorist groups, can replace many leaders and soldiers killed in combat. ISIS is well known for recruiting fighters from around the world. Many have come from western countries, including the United States.

Nevertheless, Ahmed Ali, an analyst from the Institute of the Study of War, told the Journal that he believes the impact of the strikes has been significant. “These are big hits and eliminating these figures always temporarily disrupts the organization,” he said, but acknowledged that the losses were unlikely to cripple ISIS permanently.

“We will continue to be persistent in this regard and we will strike Daesh at every possible opportunity,” said Gen. Terry. According to ABC, Terry used the Arabic acronym for ISIS rather than the English one to avoid legitimizing the group’s claim to be a formal Islamic State, and because it sounds like another Arabic word “that means to crush underneath the foot.”

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Thursday, December 18, 2014

Cromnibus compromise shows GOP is ready for primetime

Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Cromnibus

temporary3While some conservatives have denounced the passage of the “cromnibus,” a combination of the abbreviation for “continuing resolution” and omnibus, the passage of the annual appropriations bill is a good thing for the Republican Party and the country. It shows that most Republicans are serious about governing, and that they can work with Democrats to find common ground for the good of the country. Since the new Republican congressional class has not yet taken office, the cromnibus compromise should be viewed as the last hurrah of Harry Reid’s (D-NV) Democratic Senate rather than a bill that sets the tone on policy for the incoming Republican majority.

Déjà vu all over again

Many conservatives opposed the cromnibus because they saw it as an opportunity to defund President Obama’s executive amnesty. Others wanted to begin the process of cutting government spending after the huge success in this year’s elections. The problem with these strategies is the same problem that led to the defeat of the Obamacare defunding attempt; Harry Reid’s Senate will not pass such a bill.

A showdown over the cromnibus would have had the same result as the disastrous attempt to defund Obamacare last year. The government shutdown that resulted from the defunding attempt was overwhelmingly blamed on Republicans and it cost the party dearly in terms of approval ratings. The Republican success in November was not due to their role in the shutdown; it was in spite of it. The Democratic collapse on issues ranging from Obamacare to the economy to foreign policy was the driver for the midterm elections.

The fact that another government shutdown would have been a bad idea for Republicans is underscored by two facts. First, the combative Republican candidates who challenged GOP incumbents in primaries lost. In several cases, they lost by slim margins, but Republican voters clearly rejected the shut-it-down, take-no-prisoners mentality of the Senate Conservatives Fund. Second, a Gallup poll from just before the election confirms that American voters want their congressional representatives to get things done, not stand in the way. A McClatchy-Marist poll released December 16 found that 70 percent of voters want the parties to compromise. Only 26 percent favor a stand that might lead to a government shutdown.

Bitter pills for Democrats

The cromnibus may not have been popular with conservatives, but that doesn’t mean that the Republicans didn’t gain from it. The American Spectator noted that “Republicans came out on top” in the negotiations. Provisions in the bill that conservatives should applaud include:

· Higher limits on political donations, a roll back of campaign finance reform laws

· Repeal of some Dodd-Frank restrictions on banks

· Exemption of farm ponds and irrigation ditches from EPA regulation under the Clean Water Act

· Repeal of EPA regulations that count cattle farts as greenhouse gases

· Extension of the federal moratorium on internet taxes

· Delay of enforcement of federal light bulb restrictions

· Ban on use of tax money to bail out insurance companies for Obamacare losses

· A $346 million dollar cut to the IRS budget

· Relaxation of the school lunch standards favored by Michelle Obama

Laying groundwork for the amnesty battle

Some conservatives have complained about the fact that the cromnibus extends most of the government funding through the end of the fiscal year in September, but this criticism is misplaced as well. Federal budgets, normally an annual matter, have rarely been passed in the Obama era. Funding the government through the end of the year will give lawmakers time to properly address and negotiate the 2016 budget, rather than spending their first few months dealing with matters that should have been handled last year.
The budget for the Department of Homeland Security is the exception. The budget for the DHS, the agency tasked with implementing President Obama’s executive amnesty, is only funded through February according to Forbes’ analysis of the bill. The DHS budget will be where the battle over Obama’s actions takes place early next year. Republicans will have the advantage of a majority in both houses of Congress at that point.

No Cruz control

The cromnibus vote gives an indication of the ability of John Boehner and Mitch McConnell to assemble a working bipartisan majority on at least some issues. This will allow some of the more independent Republicans to defect on certain issues - perhaps immigration, for instance – without killing the entire bill.

Cobbling together a majority will be even easier in the next term because the incoming GOP freshmen are unlikely to join the rogue faction led by Sens. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Mike Lee (R-UT). The Washington Examiner reported in November that the new senators had broad support from the various factions of the Republican Party and called them “political hybrids,” while Mitch McConnell (R-KY), the incoming majority leader, said, “The vast majority of them don’t feel they were sent to Washington to just fight all the time.” The Tea Party conservatives, most of who lost in the primaries, would have been much more likely to follow Cruz’s lead.

The cromnibus has also shown that when Cruz and company split from the rest of the Republicans, Democrats may be willing to cross the aisle. As Obama’s agenda becomes less popular, more and more Democrats may be willing to go their separate ways from the president. This was evident in the cromnibus votes as Elizabeth Warren, the progressive left’s new standard bearer, led a faction to oppose the compromise supported by President Obama.

Meeting in the middle

Even if Cruz and his allies stand with the rest of the GOP, it will be necessary to court disaffected and vulnerable Democrats. As the Republicans advance their agenda, it is likely that President Obama will veto much of their legislation. The new Republican caucus can pass bills, but falls short of the 67 votes needed to override a presidential veto. Compromise with Democrats will be necessary to enact many major reforms, including but not limited to repealing and replacing Obamacare.

The biggest boon to the Republican Party may be that the cromnibus shows that the party is mature enough to build a bipartisan majority that can get things done. In the House, a majority of Democrats opposed the bill although a many voted in favor. In the Senate, the bill passed with a majority of both parties. This was in spite of strong opposition from both the Cruz and Warren wings of their respective parties. In essence, the two parties met in the middle to form a workable consensus.

As long as the Republicans are able to work with moderate Democrats to find a consensus, they will be able to advance at least part of their agenda. While repealing Obamacare is probably not in the cards, repealing particularly odious part of it, such as the medical device tax and the individual mandate, might be. There are many examples of such low-hanging fruit where Republicans and Democrats can find common ground for the good of the country. Showing that Congress can function again will, in turn, help Republicans in 2016.


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Voters want Obama to work with Congress… and vice versa

Two new polls show that voters do not want the governmental gridlock to continue next year. The most recent poll, released on December 17 by Rasmussen, shows that an overwhelming majority of voters think that President Obama and Congress should work together to achieve what is best for the country. Eighty-two percent told Rasmussen that they would prefer that Democrats and Republicans work together rather than to stand firm on their principles.

The Rasmussen poll mirrors a McClatchy-Marist poll from earlier in the week that found similar results. The McClatchy poll, taken before negotiations on the cromnibus were completed, found that 70 percent favored compromise. As some members of both parties pushed for a government shutdown over the budget battle, only 26 percent of voters approved of shutting the government down over a stand on principle.

The new polling is substantially unchanged from a Gallup poll taken before the election and several polls that preceded the 2013 government shutdown. Voters have consistently valued functional government over strict principles.

This is contrary to the view of many partisans on both sides of the aisle. Most notably, conservative radio host, Rush Limbaugh, said after the election, “You do not have election results like we had yesterday with the intent being that the voters intend the winners to work with the losers. This election was about stopping the losers, in this case the Democrats.”

While Limbaugh is correct that most voters (48 percent according to McClatchy) favor an agenda in Washington that is set by Republicans, they clearly reject obstructionism. The compromise on the cromnibus was a reflection of voter desires bypass partisan difference and repair dysfunctional government.


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Thursday, December 4, 2014

The Myster of the Shemitah by Jonathan Cahn

What would you do if you knew that divine judgment on your country and the world was imminent? If you are Jonathan Cahn, you write two best-selling books that detail the revelations that you have received about how the United States is already undergoing judgment and has been for more than a decade. Like a latter day prophet of the Bible, Cahn is issuing his warning that September 13, 2015 might be the next key date in the ongoing series of judgments using a variety of mediums, from television to the internet, that were not available to the prophets of old.

  Cahn’s first book, “The Harbinger,” dealt with clues that linked the September 11 attacks and the 2008 financial crisis to the prophetic judgments found in the Book of Isaiah as well as to an ancient Jewish custom of forgiving all debts and letting fields lie fallow every seventh year. It is the story of this Sabbath year that Cahn expounds upon in his newest book, “The Mystery of the Shemitah,” the Jewish term for the Sabbath year.

Cahn’s analysis of the relationship between the terrorist attacks of September 11 and the 2008 economic collapse turned up the astounding fact that stock market collapses in both years, which currently rank as the two largest stock market point crashes in U.S. history, occurred on the same day of the Jewish calendar. Even more remarkable is the fact that the Jewish date on which the markets collapsed was the last day of the Shemitah year, the day in which all debts were wiped away. This action would result in a situation much like a modern recession as the accumulated wealth of seven years was blotted out and agricultural production plummeted.

When Cahn looked back at previous Shemitah years, he found that the pattern extended even farther back into U.S. history. The Shemitah of September 1993 through September 1994 (the Jewish New Year starts in September on the Gregorian calendar used by the U.S.) saw a selloff in the bond market that swept around the world. In 1987, a stock market crash occurred that held the record for largest point drop in a single day until the post-9/11 crash of 2001. In 1980, the U.S. suffered a severe recession that lasted until 1982. In 1973, an oil shock brought on by the Arab oil embargo sparked another recession. In 1966, the U.S. experienced a credit crisis. In 1958, the Eisenhower Recession was a sharp, worldwide downturn. For more than 50 years, every Shemitah year has seen the U.S. experience financial upheaval.

In addition, the Shemitah was linked to the Great Depression as well. Although the initial stock market crash of 1929 was not in a Shemitah year, the decade of the 1930s contained two Shemitahs, 1930-31 and 1937-38. As a chart of the Dow Jones Industrial Average of the 1930s shows, 1932 was the darkest year of the Great Depression. By 1937, the recovery had begun, but country experienced a second recession within the Depression.

As Cahn points out, the law of averages would dictate that there is only a one-in-seven chance, less than a 15 percent, of a recession or crash occurring within a Shemitah. When the statistics are examined, the relationship between financial upheaval and the Shemitah is far stronger than can be explained by random chance.

The Wall St. Journal’s list of the 20 largest one day stock market crashes includes 10 that are in a Shemitah year. Nine of these crashes were in Elul, the last month of the Shemitah, or Tishri, the first month of the year that follows the Shemitah (late September or October on our calendar). A further three crashes were in months that followed (November and December). The total of 13 crashes, more than half of the crashes, is far more than the 15 percent expected.

The same list also shows that many of the largest stock market gains come in the wake of the Shemitah. If the Shemitah culminates in a recession, the recovery would be expected to begin in the first months of the new Jewish year. In all, five of the largest 20 gains occurred during a Shemitah year, which is close to the random distribution. Seven of the largest gains occurred in the wake of the Shemitah. This may reflect the extreme volatility of the markets in the Shemitah. Many economists note that sudden, sharp crashes are often followed by equally quick recoveries.
Many stock market analysts have noted the tendency of the stock market to falter in the fall of the year. This correlation may be explained by the end of Shemitah, which occurs in September, and the recovery that follows.

Additionally, the National Bureau of Economic Analysis lists 33 business cycles that have impacted the U.S. economy. A comparison of the list of business cycles to Shemitah years shows that in four cases the cycle was entirely contained within a Shemitah. In 14 cases, the cycle was partly contained within the Shemitah including three cycles which completed before the culmination of the Shemitah. The 18 cycles which were linked to the Shemitah is more than half of the U.S. business cycles.
Cahn goes further. In “The Harbinger” Cahn discussed the link between the towers of the World Trade Center and an obscure Bible verse quoted by Sen. Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) on the Senate floor on September 12, 2001. The same verse, defiantly vowing to rebuild the towers, symbols of pride, was echoed repeatedly in the following years by other government officials.

Cahn relates that the World Trade Center was conceived in the Shemitah year of 1945 when it was proposed by developer David Scholz. Groundbreaking for the World Trade Center was in the Shemitah year of 1966. In the Shemitah year of 1973, the twin towers opened as the world’s tallest buildings. In the Shemitah year of 1993, terrorists exploded a car bomb in the basement garage of the north tower, killing six people and injuring more than a thousand. Seven years later, in the Shemitah year of 2001, another group of terrorists succeeded in destroying the World Trade Center. The new tower on the World Trade Center site, One World Trade Center, also called the Freedom Tower, opened six weeks into the current Shemitah on Nov. 3, 2014.

Cahn also discusses the seventh Shemitah, the Jubilee. The 50th year, the year following the seventh Shemitah, was a “super Shemitah” that restored lands to their previous owners and set captives free. According to Cahn, no one today is sure when the Jubilee occurs, but there is another startling pattern. On November 2, 1917, British Foreign Secretary James Balfour signed the Balfour Declaration, which began the process of restoring a Jewish homeland in Palestine. This followed the 1916-17 Shemitah. Fast forward 50 years to June 7, 1967. This was the day that Israeli forces recaptured the city of Jerusalem in the Six Day War. This momentous event followed the Shemitah of 1965-66. This pattern suggests the possibility that these restorations both took place in Jubilee years.

If Cahn’s assumption is correct, the next Jubilee would follow the current Shemitah. The current Shemitah runs from September 25, 2014 through September 13, 2015 and the possible Jubilee would begin on September 14, 2015 through October 2, 2016.

Cahn points out the confluence of astronomical signs in the current Shemitah as well. The current Shemitah is associated with four blood moons, partial lunar eclipses, all of which fall on Jewish holidays. Additionally, there will be two solar eclipses. The first occurs exactly halfway through the Shemitah and the other on September 13, the last day of the Shemitah. Eclipses are often associated with judgment in the Bible.

Cahn makes no predictions about what to expect during the Shemitah and the possible Jubilee. As financial forecasts note, past performance is not indicative of future results. Nevertheless, the statistical correlation between the Shemitah and financial upheaval is a strong one. It may be worthy to note that shortly after the current Shemitah rang in, the stock market suffered a sharp downturn. At the same time, the US experienced a small panic over Ebola. What surprises does the rest of the Shemitah hold in store?

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Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Obama admits: “I changed the law”

When President Obama announced his executive actions on immigration before Thanksgiving, he claimed that his position on using presidential authority to change US immigration policy had not changed. The president had repeatedly denied that he had the authority to take such action in the past according to a Politifact analysis. Last week the president openly admitted that his executive actions changed US immigration law, a power that rests solely with Congress according to the Constitution.

The moment of clarity took place on Nov. 25 as the president spoke at an event in Chicago. As reported by NBC Chicago, three hecklers in the audience interrupted Mr. Obama’s speech to protest the deportation of immigrant families.

The president listened to the protesters for some time and then responded. The NBC video cuts short the president’s response, but a CSPAN video captures the Obama’s complete answer. After pleading for quiet, the president says:

I understand you may disagree, but we’ve got to be able to talk honestly about these issues. Now you are absolutely right that there have been significant numbers of deportations. That’s true. But what you are not paying attention to is the fact that I just took an action to change the law. Now... so that’s point number one. Point number two, the way the change in the law works is that we are reprioritizing how we enforce our immigration laws generally.

Where the defenders of the president’s actions justified them on the grounds of “prosecutorial discretion,” a decision not to prosecute offenders, the president openly acknowledged that he “changed the law.” Under the Constitution, “all legislative powers” are “vested in a Congress.” Since changing the law is a legislative function, the president’s statement is tantamount to an admission that he exceeded his authority.

Moreover, there are limits to prosecutorial discretion. A White House Office of Legal Counsel memo that was released to provide legal cover for Obama’s actions stipulates that the president “cannot, under the guise of exercising enforcement discretion, attempt to effectively rewrite the laws to match its policy preferences.” The memo also states that to be lawful, non-enforcement decisions must be made on a case-by-case basis.

The president’s off-the-cuff comments in Chicago explicitly violate the parameters set by the White House memo. The president admits that he is changing immigration law “generally” in a manner that will affect “everyone.”


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Monday, December 1, 2014

This obscure law may prevent a Rand Paul presidency


An accident of the calendar may prevent Rand from running in 2016

Election Day 2014 brought a lot of good news for Republicans, but for one Republican, it wasn’t quite good enough. Rand Paul, the junior senator from Kentucky, had to be disappointed that the Republican sweep didn’t extend to Kentucky’s House of Representatives. For Paul, this means more than partisan disappointment; it may well destroy any chance he has of becoming president.

Rand Paul, the son of libertarian and sometimes Republican, Ron Paul, was elected to the U.S. Senate in the Tea Party victories of 2010. Like his father, a perennial presidential candidate in his own right, the younger Paul seems to have had his eyes set on the White House from his first days in the Senate. He was a founder of the Senate Tea Party caucus and, perhaps following his father’s lead, has emerged as a vocal critic of U.S. foreign policy. He emerged as a political star in March 2013 with a 12 hour filibuster of President Obama’s nomination of John Brennan as CIA director. The filibuster, inspired by Paul’s opposition to President Obama’s use of drones, lasted 12 hours and 52 minutes on a slow news day and catapulted Sen. Paul into the limelight.

The Kentucky problem

The problem for Rand Paul’s presidential aspirations is that he was elected to the Senate in 2010. That means that he will face reelection in 2016 as the country is choosing a successor to Barack Obama. In most states this would not present a problem. For example, 2012 saw sitting Congressman Michele Bachmann run for reelection at the same time that she ran for president while Paul Ryan was on the ballot as both a candidate for Congress and vice president. In 2008, Joe Biden won as a Senate and vice presidential candidate simultaneously. Kentucky is not most states however.

In 1990, Kentucky passed a statute that prohibits any candidate from appearing on the ballot twice. This means that, under current law, Rand Paul could not run for reelection as a senator while at the same time running for president. The only exception to the law is for a candidate in a special election to fill a vacancy:

118.405 Name of candidate to appear on ballot but once -- Exceptions for

filling of vacancy.

No candidate's name shall appear on any voting machine or absentee ballot more

than once, except that a candidate's name may appear twice if he is a candidate for

a primary or a regular election and also a candidate to fill a vacancy in the same

office required to be filled at a special election, when the special election to fill a

vacancy is scheduled for the regular election day.

Republican wave crashed on the Kentucky House

If the Republican victories had extended to the Kentucky House, Paul’s problem could have been easily solved. In March 2014, the Lexington Herald-Leader reported that the state senate had passed a bill that would allow Paul to run for the Senate and the presidency at the same time. The bill was passed with only two Democratic votes and foundered on the rocks of the Democrat-controlled House.

Greg Stumbo, Kentucky’s speaker of the house and a Democrat, is not eager to help Paul. Stumbo told NPR that changing a law to benefit one person is a violation of Kentucky’s constitution and “There's only one guy who's talking about holding onto his Senate seat and also running for United States president.”

Stumbo was even more blunt in the Wall St. Journal. “I’m not a fan of Sen. Paul,” Stumbo said, “and I’m not eager to see my country turned over to him.”

Rand Paul’s best hope for a simple solution was for Republicans to capture the Kentucky House this year. This was not to be, however. The Louisville Courier-Journal reported that, when the smoke cleared, the Democrats had retained a 54-46 majority in the chamber. Paul’s hope for amending the law died along with Republican hopes for a majority.

More than one path to the top of the mountain

If Paul truly wants to be president, he must find a way to run since missing the 2016 window might kill his chances permanently. A failure to run in 2016 might mean missing his moment. If a Republican wins that year, it might be eight years before Paul has another chance to run for an open Oval Office. Even if he mounted a losing campaign in 2016, he might position himself for a successful run later since Republicans often nominate the runners up from previous campaigns.

There might be other options that would allow Paul to run for president without giving up his Senate seat. First, if he has the backing of Kentucky Republicans, the party might change its nominating process from a primary to a caucus. This would render the statute meaningless since it doesn’t address caucuses. Kentucky Democrats would not be involved in changes to the party nominating process.

Another option would be for the Paul presidential campaign to choose to stay off the ballot in Kentucky. This way Paul could run for reelection in Kentucky as a senator without running afoul of the ballot law. Paul supporters could mount a write-in campaign in the state primary, but even if Paul conceded his home state, he would only lose 44 delegates according to the Green Papers. This is a drop in the bucket compared to the 1,205 delegates needed to nominate a candidate out of 2,409 total delegates.

Finally, Paul could “lawyer up.” It appears that Paul may take the position that the Kentucky law is unconstitutional. Doug Stafford, a senior advisor to Paul, told the Lexington Herald-Leader, “Federal law governs federal elections, and the Supreme Court has made it clear that states cannot impose additional qualifications beyond those in the Constitution.”

In 1992, the Supreme Court ruled in U.S. Term Limits v. Thornton that states could not impose additional qualifications on candidates for federal office that are not enumerated in the Constitution. The Court would have to determine whether Kentucky’s law is an additional qualification for federal office or a state issue dealing with ballots.

Et tu, Florida?

Ironically, the issue may affect another potential Republican candidate for 2016 as well. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, also a member of congressional class of 2010, is subject to a similar law that prohibits running for separate offices on the same ballot. Unlike Paul, who has said that he will definitely stand for reelection in the Senate, Rubio has made clear that if he decides to run for president, he won’t seek reelection as a Senator. Last April, Rubio told talk show host, Hugh Hewitt, that he thinks the Florida ballot law “is the right law.”

“I think, by and large," Rubio added, "when you choose to do something as big as [seeking the presidency], you've really got to be focused on that and not have an exit strategy.”

At this point, Rand Paul’s strategy for dealing with Kentucky’s ballot law is uncertain. What is certain, however, is that the 2016 race for the White House is already beginning. For Paul, the clock is ticking.


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