Thursday, April 14, 2011

It Is A Shame We Have Jerk For President!

Obama is a crass politician incapable of leading so he divides in the hope of conquering. In a word, we have a jerk for president. (See 1, 1a, 1b and 1c below.)

If you still believe Obama has the right prescription for our nation and that government should continue to crowd out the private sector and nurse maid everyone instead of allowing people to do for themselves, I urge you watch -"The Conversation: Obama's Budget: Tax the Rich, Tax the Rich, Tax the Rich (With Tax Code "Spending Reductions")

Tony Katz, Sonja Schmidt, Tom Dreesan and Fini Goodman analyze the President's budget remarks. The President says the Republicans offer a pessimistic vision of the future. What kind of vision does our President have?
Assad begins to worry big time! (See 2 below.)
So much for NATO! (See 3 below.)
Boehner has invited Netanyhu to address Congress and Netanyahu is willing to do so in order to take his case to the American people in the hope he can thwart Obama's efforts to press Israel into agreements that will neither advance peace nor serve the long term interests of the Middle East. (See 4 below.)
Off to Miami for a family wedding. Have a nice weekend. Happy Passover and Palm Sunday.
1)The Presidential Divider

Obama's toxic speech and even worse plan for deficits and debt.
Did someone move the 2012 election to June 1? We ask because President Obama's extraordinary response to Paul Ryan's budget yesterday—with its blistering partisanship and multiple distortions—was the kind Presidents usually outsource to some junior lieutenant. Mr. Obama's fundamentally political document would have been unusual even for a Vice President in the fervor of a campaign.
The immediate political goal was to inoculate the White House from criticism that it is not serious about the fiscal crisis, after ignoring its own deficit commission last year and tossing off a $3.73 trillion budget in February that increased spending amid a record deficit of $1.65 trillion. Mr. Obama was chased to George Washington University yesterday because Mr. Ryan and the Republicans outflanked him on fiscal discipline and are now setting the national political agenda.

Mr. Obama did not deign to propose an alternative to rival Mr. Ryan's plan, even as he categorically rejected all its reform ideas, repeatedly vilifying them as essentially un-American. "Their vision is less about reducing the deficit than it is about changing the basic social compact in America," he said, supposedly pitting "children with autism or Down's syndrome" against "every millionaire and billionaire in our society." The President was not attempting to join the debate Mr. Ryan has started, but to close it off just as it begins and banish House GOP ideas to political Siberia.

Mr. Obama then packaged his poison in the rhetoric of bipartisanship—which "starts," he said, "by being honest about what's causing our deficit." The speech he chose to deliver was dishonest even by modern political standards.

The great political challenge of the moment is how to update the 20th-century entitlement state so that it is affordable. With incremental change, Mr. Ryan is trying maintain a social safety net and the economic growth necessary to finance it. Mr. Obama presented what some might call the false choice of merely preserving the government we have with no realistic plan for doing so, aside from proposing $4 trillion in phantom deficit reduction over a gimmicky 12-year budget window that makes that reduction seem larger than it would be over the normal 10-year window.

Mr. Obama said that the typical political proposal to rationalize Medicare's gargantuan liabilities is that it is "just a matter of eliminating waste and abuse." His own plan is to double down on the program's price controls and central planning. All Medicare decisions will be turned over to and routed through an unelected commission created by ObamaCare—which will supposedly ferret out "unnecessary spending." Is that the same as "waste and abuse"?
Fifteen members will serve on the Independent Payment Advisory Board, all appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate. If per capita costs grow by more than GDP plus 0.5%, this board would get more power, including an automatic budget sequester to enforce its rulings. So 15 sages sitting in a room with the power of the purse will evidently find ways to control Medicare spending that no one has ever thought of before and that supposedly won't harm seniors' care, even as the largest cohort of the baby boom generation retires and starts to collect benefits.

Mr. Obama really went off on Mr. Ryan's plan to increase health-care competition and give consumers more control, barely stopping short of calling it murderous. It's hardly beyond criticism or debate, but the Ryan plan is neither Big Rock Candy Mountain nor some radical departure from American norms.

Mr. Obama came out for further cuts in the defense budget, but where? His plan is to ask Defense Secretary Bob Gates and Joint Chiefs Chairman Mike Mullen "to find additional savings," whatever those might be, after a "fundamental review." These mystery cuts would follow two separate, recent rounds of deep cuts that were supposed to stave off further Pentagon triage amid several wars and escalating national security threats.

Mr. Obama rallied the left with a summons for major tax increases on "the rich." Every U.S. fiscal trouble, he claimed, flows from the Bush tax cuts "for the wealthiest 2%," conveniently passing over what he euphemistically called his own "series of emergency steps that saved millions of jobs." Apparently he means the $814 billion stimulus that failed and a new multitrillion-dollar entitlement in ObamaCare that harmed job creation.

Under the Obama tax plan, the Bush rates would be repealed for the top brackets. Yet the "cost" of extending all the Bush rates in 2011 over 10 years was about $3.7 trillion. Some $3 trillion of that was for everything but the top brackets—and Mr. Obama says he wants to extend those rates forever. According to Internal Revenue Service data, the entire taxable income of everyone earning over $100,000 in 2008 was about $1.582 trillion. Even if all these Americans—most of whom are far from wealthy—were taxed at 100%, it wouldn't cover Mr. Obama's deficit for this year.

Mr. Obama sought more tax-hike cover under his deficit commission, seeming to embrace its proposal to limit tax deductions and other loopholes. But the commission wanted to do so in order to lower rates for a more efficient and competitive code with a broader base. Mr. Obama wants to pocket the tax increase and devote the revenues to deficit reduction and therefore more spending. So that's three significant tax increases—via higher top brackets, the tax hikes in ObamaCare and fewer tax deductions.

Lastly, Mr. Obama came out for a debt "failsafe," which will require the White House and Congress to hash out a deal if by 2014 projected debt is not declining as a share of the economy. But under his plan any deal must exclude Social Security, Medicare or low-income programs. So that means more tax increases or else "making government smarter, leaner and more effective." Which, now that he mentioned it, sounds a lot like cutting "waste and abuse."

Mr. Obama ludicrously claimed that Mr. Ryan favors "a fundamentally different America than the one we've known throughout most of our history." Nothing is likelier to bring that future about than the President's political indifference in the midst of a fiscal crisis.

1a)Obama's Soak-the-Rich Tax Hikes Won't Work
Income tax revenues have been remarkably stable at 8% of GDP, regardless of tax rates. The way to increase revenue is to grow the economy

President Obama's response to congressional efforts to curb runaway federal spending is to emphasize, once again, his resolve to greatly increase tax rates on married couples whose joint incomes are above $250,000. This insistent desire to raise taxes—which he repeated in a speech yesterday while complaining about "trillions of dollars in . . . tax cuts that went to every millionaire and billionaire in the country"—is a distraction. It won't solve our nation's fiscal problem.

Preliminary estimates from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) project that federal spending under the president's 2012 budget plan would average 23.3% over the coming decade—up from 19.7% in 2007 and 18.2% in 2001.

Even if the president could persuade Congress to enact all of his proposed tax increases, in addition to surtaxes already included in ObamaCare, the CBO finds we would still face endless budget deficits averaging 4.8% of GDP.

"Federal debt held by the public would double under the President's budget," says the CBO, "growing from $10.4 trillion (69% of GDP) at the end of 2011 to $20.8 trillion (87% of GDP) at the end of 2021, adding $9.5 trillion to the nation's debt from 2012 to 2021."

And yet, enormous as they are, these deficit and debt estimates assume that the higher tax rates called for under the president's 2012 budget plan do no harm to the economy, that interest rates stay unusually low, and that the economy avoids recession for a dozen years. Those assumptions require taxpayers to behave much differently than they ever have before.

The revenue estimates are even more unbelievable. According to the Office of Management and Budget, total revenues would supposedly exceed 19% of GDP after 2015, rising to 20% by 2021—a level briefly reached only at the height of World War II (1944-45) and the pinnacle of the tech-stock boom (2000). Moreover, these unprecedented revenues would supposedly come from the individual income tax, which is even less plausible.

It is not as though we have never tried high tax rates before. From 1951 to 1963, the lowest tax rate was 20% to 22% and the highest was 91% to 92%. The top capital gains tax rate approached 40% in 1976-77. Aside from cyclical swings, however, the ratio of individual income tax receipts to GDP has always remained about 8% of GDP.

The individual income tax brought in 7.8% of GDP from 1952 to 1979 when the top tax rate ranged from 70% to 92%, 8% of GDP from 1993 to 1996 when the top tax rate was 39.6%, and 8.1% from 1988 to 1990 when the highest individual income tax rate was 28%. Mr. Obama's hope that raising only the highest tax rates could keep individual tax receipts well above 9% of GDP has been repeatedly tested for more than six decades. It has always failed.

Federal revenue from the individual income tax exceeded 9% of GDP only eight times in U.S. history—during World War II (9.4% in 1944), the recessions of 1969-70, 1981-82 and 1991-92, and the tech-stock boom-bust of 1998-2001. Revenues were a high share of GDP during the three recessions because GDP fell.

The situation of 1997-2000 was unique. Individual income tax revenues reached an unprecedented 9.6% of GDP from 1997 to 2000 for reasons quite unlikely to be repeated. An astonishing quintupling of Nasdaq stock prices coincided with an extraordinary proliferation of stock options, which the Federal Reserve's Survey of Consumer Finances found were granted to 11% of U.S. families by 2001, and with a reduction in the capital gains tax to 20% from 28%, which encouraged much greater realization of taxable gains through stock sales. Revenues from the capital gains tax rose to 10.8% of all individual income tax receipts in 1997 and 13% by 2000. The unexpected revenue windfalls in President Bill Clinton's second term were largely a consequence of lower tax rates on capital gains.

Using IRS data, Thomas Piketty of the Paris School of Economics and Emmanuel Saez of the University of California at Berkeley have estimated that realized capital gains accounted for just 13%-22% of reported income among the top 1% of taxpayers from 1988 to 2006, when gains were taxed at 28%—but that fraction swiftly reached 29%-32% in 1998-2000, when the capital gains tax fell to 20%.

The average tax rate of such top taxpayers was mechanically diluted by the greatly increased realizations of capital gains after 1997 and 2003, since a larger share of reported income consisted of capital gains. Yet the amount of taxes paid by top taxpayers reached record highs for the same reason—there was more revenue to be had from taxing many gains at a low rate than from taxing fewer gains a high rate. Nobody can be forced to sell assets in taxable accounts. To complain that a low tax on realized capital gains is "unfair" is to suggest it would be fairer for affluent investors to sit on unrealized gains, as though an unpaid tax is morally superior to one that collects billions.

As a result of the conventional confusion between tax rates and revenues, some stories in the media have abetted the delusion that the huge gap between spending and likely revenues could be narrowed by simply increasing the highest tax rates on capital gains and/or dividends.

A recent cover story in Bloomberg Businessweek by Jesse Drucker, "The More You Make, the Less You Pay," reported that, "For the well-off, this could be the best tax day since the early 1930s. . . . For the 400 U.S. taxpayers with the highest adjusted gross income, the effective federal income tax rate—what they actually pay—fell from almost 30% in 1995 to just under 17% in 2007, according to the IRS."

Among the top 400 taxpayers (rarely the same people from one year to the next), the average tax rate fell to 22.3% in 2000, when the capital gains tax was 20%, from 29.9% in 1995 when the capital gains tax was 28%. But that same IRS report also shows that real tax revenues from the top 400 more than doubled after the capital gains tax fell, rising to $11.8 billion in 2000 from $5.2 billion in 1995, measured in 1990 dollars.

The same thing happened after 2003, when the capital gains tax was further reduced to 15%. The average tax rate of the top 400 fell to 16.6% in 2007 from 22.9% in 2002. Even though there was no stock market boom as in 1997-2000, real revenues of the top 400 nevertheless doubled again—to $14.5 billion in 2007 from $6.9 billion in 2002. Instead of paying less when the capital gains tax rate went down in 1997 and 2003, the top 400 instead paid much, much more.

The trendy talking point of blaming projected deficits on "tax cuts for the rich" is flatly absurd.

Both individual income taxes and overall federal taxes have long been a surprisingly constant percentage of GDP—8% and 18%, respectively— regardless of top tax rates on salaries, small business and investors. It follows that the only reliable way to raise real federal revenues over time is to raise real GDP.

Mr. Reynolds is a senior fellow with the Cato Institute and the author of "Income and Wealth" (Greenwood Press 2006).

1b) Who Do You Trust? Obama and Ryan agree: This is a "defining moment."

They say America is politically divided. But in the days following the appearance of Paul Ryan's GOP budget in the firmament last week, the planets of political debate finally aligned. We were all agreed: The issues before us were the future of federal spending, the future of federal entitlement programs, and the future of federal taxes. The terms set, the debate would proceed—after the president of the United States addressed the subject in a major speech on the nation's fiscal future.

Instead, Barack Obama at George Washington University poisoned the well. Where is Rahm Emanuel when we need him? Mr. Emanuel was Little Lord Fauntleroy compared to the tone of discourse Bill Daley loosed on the body politic. What Mr. Obama delivered yesterday was a campaign speech, and a petty rank one at that.

After Republicans won the House in November, the question was whether a standard-issue politician named John Boehner had it in him to rise to the responsibility of being Speaker of the House. There's near universal agreement he has.

The expectation in Washington was that the president would offer a kind of "white paper" of his views on spending and deficits. What he delivered instead was an invitation to the Gunfight at the OK Corral. So be it. And maybe just as well.

In all the pages Paul Ryan produced for his budget, its most important five words were: "This is a defining moment." The president proved that yesterday.

The question voters are going to have to come to grips with between now and November 2012 is, Who do they trust to take the U.S. forward into the 21st century?

After spending about a decade getting a feel for the realities of a new century—itself defined by a constant state of financial and physical vulnerability—Americans next year have to decide which of their institutions are most likely to take the nation forward to a successful result. Is it Democrats or Republicans, Washington or the states, the public sector or private sector?

The Ryan-GOP budget's core goal is to pare spending as a percentage of GDP to 20%. Mr. Obama, referring obliquely yesterday to his two successive $3-trillion-plus budgets as "emergency steps," has reset federal spending at 24% of GDP.

With annual national output now at $14 trillion, within those four points of GDP are trillions of dollars of public spending and taxation decisions. Inside those four points, you can define and decide the nation's future.

At 24%, you are entrusting the trillions to Washington, the Democratic Party and the public sector—a triumvirate Mr. Obama yesterday referred to as "we," as in, "we will not abandon the fundamental commitment this country has kept for generations."

At 20%, you're entrusting that wealth to someone else. That someone else is either the private sector or the 50 separate states. This would expand the meaning of "we."

The Ryan Medicaid proposal illuminates the choice. He'd allow individual states to decide how to spend their share of federal Medicaid trillions. Nearly everyone agrees that Medicaid needs rehab. It's destroying state budgets, doctors shun it, and the poor are driven to the mayhem of emergency rooms for routine care.

Someone has to decide how to spend those Medicaid trillions and repair the program. That someone will continue to be whoever shows up for work every day at the offices of HHS's Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services at 200 Independence Ave. in Washington—aka "we." Or it will be 50 different teams assigned to figure out a fix appropriate to their states. The left says that "they," the states, would throw the poor into the streets. This is 2011. Either you believe that the states are stuck in 1933, or you don't.

The central trust issue is taxes. The Ryan budget proposes a maximum tax rate of 25% for individuals and corporations. The president dragged the "millionaires and billionaires" onto the stage yesterday for another round of pistol-whipping (three mentions of the shameless duo).

It may be that Mr. Obama is obsessed by this subject, but that misses what he really wants. Since FDR, the Democrats (and Washington) have depended on maintaining a tax system with no identifiable ceiling. Taxes can always "rise." Simpson-Bowles or anything likely to emerge from Rep. Dave Camp's Ways and Means Committee would formalize a rate ceiling. Reviling "the wealthiest" is most of all a tactic to prevent what would be a Democratic catastrophe. Simpson-Bowles would reorder economic and political power away from Washington and out toward the states and their millions of non-millionaire citizens.

Simpson-Bowles was clear about that. Paul Ryan was explicit. So yesterday was Barack Obama. "We," Washington, gotta have that money.

It was a useful speech. A defining moment.

1c)Obama's Dreamland
By Victor Davis Hanson

Barack Obama just gave a belated but stern warning about escalating debt - a few weeks after he presented a 2011 budget with a $1.6 trillion deficit, the largest shortfall in American history. Congressional Republicans are now crowing about reducing Obama's red ink by forcing some $38 billion in cuts. Such supposed slashing means America would borrow just $1,562 billion this year rather than the scheduled full $1,600 billion.

The administration expects that someone will have enough money to float us $4 billion to $5 billion a day in loans - either foreigners such as the Chinese, whom we are accustomed to lecturing about their illiberal habits, or our own wealthy, whom President Obama so often chides and threatens with higher taxes. Meanwhile, shrill critics of Congress's modest cuts claim that the elderly, poor, sick, and helpless will be cast adrift if their government dares to trim its massive borrowing by less than 3 percent - or just about 1 percent of this year's projected $3.7 trillion budget.

Obama borrowed more in the month of February alone ($223 billion) than did the spendthrift George W. Bush during the entire 2007 budgetary year ($163 billion). Obama recently asserted that not authorizing a lofty new national-debt ceiling would be partisan recklessness. He should know. In 2006, then-senator Barack Obama voted not to raise the debt ceiling and railed against out-of-control government spending under the Bush administration. But then, the annual deficit was one-fifth of what it is today. Apparently President Obama lives in an alternative universe from the one Senator Obama used to inhabit.

Gas is heading toward $4 a gallon nationwide - and might reach $5 by Labor Day. The world price for a barrel of oil is well over $100 - and climbing. In response, Obama praised Brazil for developing a vast new offshore oilfield and promised that the United States would readily buy the oil it produces.

The Obama administration has made it clear, however, that such messy drilling is for others. So, much of Alaska, the American West, and our coastal waters will remain off limits. The logic is that Americans can borrow to buy oil from foreign nations that are willing to drill in their fragile tundra, offshore seas, and natural preserves. Apparently the White House has not much concern about where we are going to get the cash, or how other nations are going to recover oil offshore more cleanly than we would.

Instead of a detailed plan for developing more sources of natural gas, oil, and coal, including tar sands and oil shale, we still hear infantile chants about "wind, solar, and millions of new green jobs." But solar panels and windmills will not be up to fueling the nation's 250 million passenger cars and trucks any time soon.

The president announced that he would support the Libyan rebels. He pointed to United Nations and Arab League authorizations to establish a no-fly zone and stop Qaddafi from killing his opponents. Helping the rebels win means using force to remove Qaddafi. Yet regime change is a mission that we insist is not our goal and would not be authorized by the international bodies to which we subordinate ourselves.

In truth, the Obama administration intervened without knowing who or what the Libyan rebels were, apparently on the theory that they were close to winning and seemed a far better option than Qaddafi. The first premise proved wrong; the second could be true but is still subject to debate. So we took a breather and quit military operations, hoping the Libyan mess would just go away, in the same way that dictators voluntarily stepped down in Egypt and Tunisia.

The U.S. government is no longer supposed to use hurtful vocabulary like "War on Terror," "Islamic terrorism," or "jihadist." But some unnamed groups are still apparently trying to kill us. Otherwise, why would the White House keep the demonized Guantanamo Bay facility open? And for what purpose, and against whom, are we still employing the once-hated military tribunals, renditions, and preventive detention?

Fantasy apparently seems preferable to reality. In our new dream world, borrowed money need not be paid back. Cars may run on nasty gas, but only if it is produced in faraway places. Mean dictators should flee when told to leave. And radical Muslims are not really trying to kill us.

Like children, we turn on any spoilsport parent who nags us to stop borrowing, cut entitlements and government spending, start drilling and building power plants, get real about dictators in the Middle East, and keep vigilant against radical Islamic terrorists.

So we will keep dreaming until creditors, oil exporters, enemies, or terrorists wake us up.

Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist and historian at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and author, most recently, of "A War Like No Other: How the Athenians and Spartans Fought the Peloponnesian War."
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------2)First panic in Assad regime: High Syrian officials evacuate families

US intelligence officials has disclosed Iran has secretly helping Assad crack down on his own people, providing gear to suppress crowds and assistance in blocking and monitoring protesters' Internet and cell phones.

Those officials did not refer to the Iran-backed Hizballah's active aid in the government crackdown. However, as the anti-government demonstrations pervade dozens of Syrian towns, even the second largest Aleppo, Assad is relying for survival less on the army and police and increasingly on the 10,000-strong armed Shabbiha gangs drawn from the Assad tribe of the minority Alawite community and trained in urban combat by Hizballah and Iran. In normal times, the Shabbiha are regularly employed by the Iran-Hizballah arms and drug smuggling rings.

Sources report increasing signs of desperation at the center of the Assad regime. One was a new allegation claiming that the Saad Hariri, who was ousted as Lebanese prime minister by Hizballah, was deploying armed gangs in Syrian cities to increase the bloodshed by shooting at anti-Assad protesters and security forces alike. Hariri makes an improbable scapegoat; he has neither the ability nor manpower to operate on any scale in Syria.

But the Syrian ruler is clearly at his wits' end for means to stem the onrushing threat to his regime after live ammunition failed to deter the protesters and halt the spread of their uprising.

Wednesday night, the government banned demonstrations of any kind in the country, but no one expects the decree to be obeyed. For now, Syrian authorities and opposition are bracing for Friday, April 15, when they stage their next major test of strength on the streets of dozens of cities. Bashar Assad's grip on power is clearly loosening under the constant battering of protest.

The popular uprising against Syrian President Bashar Assad is still spreading. Tuesday, April 12, one of the Assad family's own Alawite tribes and the key Sunni city of Aleppo joined the movement demanding the president and his kin's removal. Assad fought back against the expanding threat to his survival by mobilizing all his military and security resources, including the loyal young thugs of the shabbiha gangs. They have orders to shoot to kill and not permit ambulances to collect the wounded. Tanks seal the most restive towns of Teraa, Bania,s Latakia and Hama.

Alawite unrest centers on the impoverished Knaan tribe centered in the village of Bhamra in the mountains of northern Syria. A second immediate danger to the regime comes from Aleppo, Syria's commercial hub, where for the first time more than 10,000 protesters marched. The Druze mountain inhabitants are up in arms. So too are the Kurdish towns of the north such as Kamishli and the Shammar tribes of southeastern Syria around the border town of Abu Kamal.

Damascus University has been under siege for four days, although security forces have not been able to breach it.

A grave humanitarian crisis is spreading with the unrest. Army outposts and roadblocks have cut off main roads linking the north to southern and central Syria, as well as telephone and internet services and even food deliveries in many places. Mass arrests of thousands take place nightly including, according to debkafile's sources, members of the Syrian ruling establishment for the crime of appealing to Assad to abandon his violent methods of repression and meet some of the protesters demands for reforms. Some are journalists who support the regime but who wrote articles to this effect. They were not published.

For the first time protesters began returning the fire against security forces on Monday, April 11, in a number of places, especially Deraa in the south and Banias in the north. A well-laid ambush was laid on the main coastal road linking Latakia and Banias and nine Syrian officers and troops killed.

Middle East and intelligence sources report a three-way shooting war currently in progress in Syria, in which the army and security forces, the protesters, and the shabbiha gangs are taking part. The and bloody mayhem is such that the number of casualties is almost impossible to assess.

The troops open fire at protesters as soon as a few people gather in the street without waiting for a demonstration to form. The wounded are denied medical care and allowed to die in the streets as a deterrent to protesters. Tuesday night, the White House finally issued a harsh denunciation of the Syrian "government."

The statement read: "We are deeply concerned by reports that Syrians who have been wounded by their government are being denied access to medical care. The escalating repression by the Syrian government is outrageous, and the United States strongly condemns the continued efforts to suppress peaceful protesters. President Assad and the Syrian government must respect the universal rights of the Syrian people, who are rightly demanding the basic freedoms that they have been denied."

Sources in Washington say that the language used in this statement from the Obama administration continues to skirt the protesters' most pressing demand for the Syrian president to step down, because of the still unresolved internal debate on how to handle Assad.

Despite the mounting brutality of the Syrian ruler's methods to crush the revolt against his regime, some White House circles in Washington are warning that Assad's fall would open the door for radical Muslim elements to take over, even suggesting that this would put Israel in "mortal danger."

This argument was never heard in Washington when Hosni Mubarak was toppled in Egypt. And it by no means relates to the Assad regime's eight-year long record as primary accomplice and abettor of radical Muslim organizations such as Al Qaeda, the Lebanese Hizballah and Palestinian Hamas. Starting from the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, Damascus gave sanctuary and launching-pads for Muslim groups to strike American forces fighting in Iraq, including training camps and logistical aid for smuggling weapons and explosives for that purpose. Syria also facilitates the passage of arms and other support to the Hizballah radicals.

The extreme measures to which Assad has resorted as the revolt against him enters its fourth week have led to firefights within the army. Many cases are now reported of Syrian officers opening fire on other Syrian officers, killing them when they refuse to shoot protesters. There have been incidents of Shabbiha gangs shooting two ways – on demonstrators and at times on army forces. In one such incident in Ras al-Naba'a, a quarter of Banias – the irregulars appeared to be goading the soldiers into using more force to disperse the protesters. In others, these pro-Assad street gangs appear to be shooting from demonstrations to make it look as though the protesters were killing the soldiers.

Contrary to the image the Assads have always presented that "the Alawites are the ruling class in Syria," it is worth pointing out that they in fact rule Damascus, while the rest of those minority tribes, which number 1.4 million (8 percent of the 26 million population) live in abject poverty with no electricity or running water in their villages and no ties to the Assads. The paradox is that though lacking influence in the capital, their revolt against the regime could be the last straw for Asad.

These villages are now rising up for fear of being stigmatized, however unjustly, by the Sunni majority of collaboration with the Assads and targeted for revenge. In any case, they are so penurious and neglected that they have little to lose by the regime's fall.

The Shabbiha: This well-armed, roughly organized group derives most of its 9-11,000 members from Assad clans within the Alawite community and its allies. Their fighting skills were imparted by the Lebanese Hizballah or Iranian Revolutionary Guards instructors, but their loyalty to the Assad family is undivided. As smugglers, their strongholds are mostly along the coastal region, some of whose communities rely on the Shabbiha for their livelihood.
3)The Libya Stalemate
What happens when America hedges its bets in a war

NATO's internal debate over Libya has now broken into public view, with Britain and France publicly blaming other members for the slow pace of the bombing campaign. The Brits and French are right, but the real problem here is a military intervention with half-hearted U.S. involvement and incompatible goals. Moammar Gadhafi must be smiling at his luck.

The U.N. Security Council last month approved a no-fly zone and air strikes for the humanitarian purpose of stopping assaults on rebel forces and civilians in Benghazi and other cities. The U.S., Britain and France still say their other goal is to topple Gadhafi, but the refusal of the NATO-led coalition to make his ouster central to the military effort has only made Gadhafi more likely to resist. International support is already flagging, with growing calls for a cease-fire, and Gadhafi has reason to doubt the West has the will to bomb indefinitely.

Gadhafi's forces have already changed their military tactics to avoid NATO air power, using trucks of the kind the rebels use and fighting near civilians. The Brother Leader and his sons have little to lose, knowing that their alternative to fighting is a ticket to the International Criminal Court.

As the conflict drags on, Gadhafi is playing for a stalemate that leaves him in control of Tripoli and other coastal cities, buying time to fight another day. The Gadhafis last week put forward a peace entreaty, and Sunday's peace mission by South Africa's Jacob Zuma and four other African presidents plays directly into Gadhafi's hands. The opposition Transitional National Council rejected this laughable plan outright, but one of these days the rebels may be pressured to strike a deal.

That would mean a de facto partition of Libya, with periodic outbreaks of fighting or civil war. Who knows what a vengeful Gadhafi clan might attempt if they stay in power, especially if they get access to oil revenues again?

Whether the Obama Administration and NATO like it or not, they have already taken sides in this conflict and need to see it through until Gadhafi is gone. We can do more for the rebels short of ground troops, helping them with communications, arms from elsewhere if not from the U.S., military training and tactics, and above all formal recognition.

France and Qatar have recognized the transitional council in Benghazi as the rightful rulers of Libya, but the U.S. is still the world's most important voice. The U.S. reluctance to recognize the rebels sends a message that we are hedging our bets in the war. That only reinforces Gadhafi's willingness to fight and makes it less likely that more members of his inner circle will follow former Foreign Minister Moussa Koussa into exile.

U.S. recognition would also open the way for other support to the rebels. As the Journal reported Saturday, the interim government wants to tap $34 billion in Gadhafi holdings that are frozen in American financial institutions. The Administration can't release this money for food, medicine or other supplies without formally recognizing the rebels.

The Libyan conflict started after Libyans peacefully came out in protests on February 17, and Gadhafi turned his guns on them. We can't have full confidence in the democratic credentials of every rebel leader, and the concerns about Islamic extremists among the Benghazi government can't be dismissed. But the longer this conflict drags out, the better the opportunities for Islamic radicals, including al Qaeda, to insert themselves on the side of the rebels or the Gadhafi regime. We'll have more leverage with the rebels or some post-Gadhafi government the more we're seen as having been crucial to their victory.

However reluctantly President Obama went along with this intervention, the U.S. and NATO are now committed. The longer the war goes on, the more Libyan civilians will suffer despite the humanitarian justification of the original U.N. resolution. If the U.S., France and Britain can't topple a tinhorn despot like Gadhafi who is loathed by most of his own people, the damage to Western credibility will be severe and long-lasting.
4)Netanyahu: I'll address Iran, 'secure peace' in US speech

US House speaker says he'll extend formal invitation for PM to address a joint meeting of US Congress once Congress approves resolution.

In a Likud faction meeting Thursday evening, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said that he greatly appreciates an invitation extended - less than an hour before - to speak in front of a joint session of the US Congress.

Netanyahu said that he will speak to the US Congress about the Iranian threat and the need for a "secure peace" between the Israeli and Palestinian peoples.

US House Speaker John Boehner will invite Netanyahu to address a joint session of the US Congress during a visit to Washington next month, Boehner's office announced on Thursday.

The prime minister praised his party's achievements in the area of security and said, "there are those who talk and those who act - they speak and we act ." In a defiant tone, he added, "this is our land and it always will be."

"Before our party came into power, the security policy was bad. The policy that I have introduced, however, is very clear," Netanyahu said. "We are doing a lot. We are not just reacting to the situation but instead we are carrying out preventative actions," the prime minister continued.

Netanyahu is widely expected to deliver a new diplomatic initiative during his visit to the US, after sources close to the prime minister floated the idea that a major speech would be given in front of the US Congress. The move would come ahead of a Palestinian initiative scheduled for September, when the Palestinian Authority will ask the United Nations to recognize its statehood within pre-1967 borders.

Until Monday, Netanyahu had said he was yet to decide when to deliver the speech, or what to say in it.

Speaking in Jerusalem at a biannual luncheon with the ambassadors from EU countries posted in Israel, the prime minister – when asked about the speech and its content – said, “I have not decided what and when. But two questions needed to be answered: First, can we get back to direct negotiations with the Palestinians, and I am doubtful. And second, what can you do if there are no negotiations?”

The “stumbling block” to movement in the diplomatic process was that the Palestinian Authority was working on the assumption that it didn’t need to negotiate, and that it had a “free pass” from the world not to negotiate, Netanyahu said.

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