TAKE ACTION: Republican Immigration Reform will lead to 8 million more Anti-gun Voters

“[A] Pew poll suggests that illegal immigrants, if given citizenship, would vote for liberal, anti-gun candidates by an 8-to-1 margin.” – GOA’s Erich Pratt, commenting on Pew poll findings as reported in The Washington Post (7/22/13)

Gun Owners of America (GOA) in an email states, “Next Wednesday, the House Republican leadership will announce a set of “principles” for immigration reform.  Supposedly, if these ‘principles’ are not well-received, the House will shelve the issue for the remainder of the year. To be blunt:  The health of the Second Amendment relies on demolishing these ‘principles’.”

“Immigration reform will add over 8,000,000 anti-gun voters to the voting rolls.  There may be as many as 11.5 million persons illegally in the United States.  And, a Pew poll from last year indicated that if illegal immigrants were given citizenship, they would vote for liberal, anti-gun candidates by an 8-to-1 margin,” notes GOA

Pratt notes, “This is exactly what happened to California — which was once a Red State.  Because of the Simpson-Mazzoli amnesty bill of 1986, the state lurched violently to the left and now can’t pass gun control restrictions fast enough. If this were to happen at the national level, we would lose the ability to stop massive gun bans and gun registration schemes.  And all of this occurs at a time when a Fox poll shows the American people oppose Obama’s immigration policies by a margin of 36% to 54%.”

The first reality is this:  If the House passes ANYTHING, the Senate will tack on its amnesty bill and send it to conference.  And the national conversation will turn off of ObamaCare and onto immigration.

And guess what?  Every gun-hating institution which moved heaven and earth to pass gun control will move heaven and earth to get the House to retreat — if not to a “pathway to citizenship,” to a “pathway to legalization.”

They will have created the biggest and most motivated Obama-loving movement in the country — devoted to electing anti-gun politicians and retaining Harry Reid’s control of the Senate.

What will Republicans get, in exchange for creating an army of pro-Obama election warriors?

Very little.  (Be sure to read GOA legislative counsel Michael Hammond’s analysis, which shows, in great detail, how the Republican leadership’s “principles” will end up backfiring on gun owners.)

The bottom line is that there is a reason why Barack Obama and his “puppet press” have been campaigning for a year to force the Republican House to wade into “immigration reform.”  It is nothing but benefits for anti-gun politicians, and nothing but pain for pro-gun legislators.

Who would be stupid enough to inflict that level of pain on themselves?

ACTION:   Contact your Representative.  If he is a Republican, the pre-written letter will ask him to reject the ridiculous “immigration principles” being hawked by the leadership — principles that will eventually destroy the pro-gun movement in America.  The pre-written letter for Democrats is a generic opposition letter.

ADMINISTRATIVE NOTE:  Remember that clicking on the first “submit” button on the GOA Engage site (where you input your name and address), only submits your information so that your correct legislators can be identified. Hence, the first “submit” button does not actually send your letter.  Instead, it brings you to the next page where you can actually review the pre-written letter. The second “submit” button actually sends the letter.

RELATED COLUMNS:

‘Homeland’ Head: Illegals Have Earned Right to be Citizens…

Republicans ready to roll dice on amnesty…

NRA-ILA: California’s Most Ambitious Handgun Ban Now Underway

In 1976, the Brady Campaign, then known as the National Council to Control Handguns, said that the first part of its three-part plan to get handguns and handgun ammunition made “totally illegal” was to “slow down the increasing number of handguns being produced and sold in this country.”  This month, anti-gunners finally got that wish in California.

America’s two largest handgun manufacturers–Smith & Wesson and Sturm, Ruger–have announced that they will stop selling new semi-automatic handguns in California, rather than comply with the state’s “microstamping” law.  The law applies not only to entirely new models of handguns, but also to any current-production handgun approved by the state’s Roster Board, if such handgun is modified with any new feature or characteristic, however minor or superficial.

According to the Los Angeles Times, the law was “intended to help police investigators link shell casings found at crime scenes to a specific gun.”  That’s pure spin, however. In reality, the law, signed in 2007 by then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, is intended to terminate semi-automatic handgun sales and, over time, semi-automatic handgun ownership in the state.  “Microstamping” will solve few, if any crimes and it is only a matter of time before a proposal to expand the law to include other firearms will follow.

Meanwhile, the National Shooting Sports Foundation has announced that it and the Sporting Arms and Ammunition Manufacturers’ Institute have filed suit against the law in Fresno Superior Court “seeking both declaratory and injunctive relief against this back-door attempt to prevent the sale of new semiautomatic handguns to law-abiding citizens in California.”

Anti-gun activists often refer to California as the test bed for gun control laws they would like to have imposed throughout the country.  Thus, it goes without saying that gun owners outside California should anticipate “microstamping” efforts in their states, and do what it takes to elect pro-Second Amendment governors and state legislators to deny the anti-gunners additional victories.

However, making sure that what has happened in California doesn’t happen elsewhere is not the only reason to step up our election year efforts.  California accounts for 12 percent of the nation’s population and approximately eight percent of its handgun owners.  We owe it to our fellow countrymen–our Second Amendment brothers and sisters–to elect a pro-Second Amendment president and senators who will approve that president’s nominations to the federal courts, where California’s “microstamping” law might one day be challenged.  What is true in football is also true in the effort to keep America’s most popular type of handguns legal and affordable: the best defense is a good offense.

FairTax Friday: “No idea of the [tax code] benefits”!

It’s January and Americans are looking for receipts and lost documentation in their annual quest to prepare their yearly tax return. Arguments will ensure, relationships will sour and health will decline. Are you having fun yet?

Have you started dealing with the significant changes that went into effect for 2013? Not to worry though, National Taxpayer Advocate Nina Olson said, “The complexities of the tax code are only affecting those of us trying to read it. Tax software makes a lot of those complexities invisible to the average taxpayer.” I’m comforted, aren’t you?

She went on to say, “As a result, taxpayers might not realize they’re being helped by a wide array of deductions and credits. “They have no idea of the benefits they are getting through the tax code.”

Wow, now we are getting benefits from the tax code!

I’m continually amazed at the way Washington “spins” tax code changes. First, Congressional leaders point to the code’s growing complexity. Congress then passes changes (you’ll have to read the legislation to know what’s in it because they are too busy to read it themselves), followed by the executive branch spinning the “benefits”.

You know better, though, don’t you? After all, you are FairTax® smart. You know the only benefits in the tax code are those carved out by special interests. You know that taxpayers are always the perennial losers when it comes to America’s income tax code.

That’s why a group of dedicated FairTax supporters are on their way to Washington this weekend to meet with Members of Congress and their staff. For two days, they plan to further educate them about the benefits of HR 25, the FairTax Act of 2013.

That’s also why the Letters to the Editor/Opinion Editorial team, led by Glen Terrell, has redoubled their efforts in making sure that the FairTax message is spread far and wide in newspapers, magazines and bogs.

Members of the House Ways and Means Committee will soon vote on tax reform. We await their vote on HR 25. It is imperative that every member of Congress knows the magnitude of support the FairTax has across America.

Have you contacted your elected representatives to share with them where you stand on the FairTax? If so, did you only contact their Washington office?

We know that Member’s district directors (DD’s) also report on what issues constituents are contacting them about at the local level. Some DD’s have told us they rarely hear about the FairTax, yet we know you are contacting the Representative’s Washington office.

Have you gone on your Member’s Facebook page and weighed in on the “benefits” you derive from the tax code versus why you support the FairTax plan? Please take 5 extra minutes and call your Representative’s Washington and district offices.

Is President Obama questioning the loyalty of American Jews?

The Jerusalem Post published an article with a comment allegedly attributable to an Obama White House senior official that has caught the ire of American Jews and Israelis, “US perceives Israel as encouraging anti-Obama backlash among Jews”.  The JP article noted:

A US official close to President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry said both men are disturbed over what is being perceived in their inner circle as “Jewish activism in Congress” that they think is being encouraged by the Israeli government, Israel Radio reported on Thursday.

The official has informed Israeli government figures that the president and secretary of state are disappointed over repeated attacks made against them by leading members of the Jewish community in the US.

According to Israel Radio, Israeli diplomats and foreign officers have warned against this trend. According to officials based in foreign missions, the Israeli government is increasingly being viewed as fanning the flames among American Jews by encouraging them to promote the official government position while making no room for opposing viewpoints.

Earlier this month, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon apologized after it was reported that he called Kerry “obsessive” and “messianic.”

In response to this JP report Stuart Kaufman sent an email to me and other colleagues with this comment:

This is dangerously close to the old anti-Semitic accusation of dual loyalty.  We are now on seriously perilous ground.  The rulers of the land are beginning the effort to isolate Jews – to set us apart.  I can’t stress how dangerous this is.  We Jews and those who are our friends must strike back hard.  This serpent can’t be permitted to grow without a major response.

What Kaufman was referring to was the emergence in 19th Century Europe of die Judenfrage, the Jewish question, criticizing Jewish subjects or citizens of being disloyal because of conflicts between nationalism and Zionism; the return of the Jewish people to what is now Israel.  It was from this well of hatred that anti-Semitism arose in the Vienna of the Habsburg Empire, Wilhelmine Germany and the fin de siècle France during the Dreyfus Affair.  It would become transformed into the international Jewish conspiracy forgery of the Czarist secret police, The Elders of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.  Later it becomes embedded in Hitler’s anti-Semitic tract Mein Kampf that lit the match for the Holocaust of Six Million European Jewish Men, Women and Children during World War Two. Mein Kampf is today one of the most popular books in the Arab Muslim world promoted by the Muslim Brotherhood, whose founder Hassan al Banna was an acolyte of Hitler.

Watch this Youtube video of  Julius Streicher, the notorious publisher of the Nazi tabloid Der Sturmer, ranting about Anti-Semitic judenfrage:

In light of that, how callous was this alleged comment from the Senior White House aide in the Administration.  Is the White House really questioning the loyalty of American Jews? Or are the President and Secretary of State simply complaining about Israeli cabinet members and some “American Jews” criticizing them? Are the President and Secretary of State really against Americans, Jews and others, supporting Israel defending its hard won sovereignty against people who would destroy it?

Yesterday, we saw clear evidence of that threat with the World Economic Forum interview of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani by Fareed Zakaria of CNN.  We heard translations of Rouhani  saying he would neither destroy 15,000 centrifuges nor stop building or swap  plutonium producing heavy water reactors at Arak for energy producing light water ones. He was also telling the West that sanctions were illegal.  The Obama White House  Press Spokesman Jay Carney said , in response to  reporters’ questions about President Rouhani’s CNN interview, that  Rouhani’s comments were for domestic consumption back home in Tehran.  AIPAC didn’t think so. They sent out a blast email containing  a link to the CNN interview with Rouhani for its members and others to view.

Rouhani’s CNN interview was a deliberate poke in the eyes of the P5+1 and the denizens of the West Wing at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. To warn American Jews they better not defend their Jewish cousins in Israel from this threat was both dangerous and a blatant display of ingratitude towards an ally protecting our assets in the Middle East. Some thanks for Shin Bet saving Amb. Dan Shapiro and his striped pants and skirts brigade in Tel Aviv at the US Embassy and others at the Jerusalem conference center from Al Qaeda attacks orchestrated by Ayman al-Zawahiri’s local henchman in Gaza.  Even peace mongering nonagenarian Israeli President Peres at Davos in response to Rouhani’s interview called  for a boycott of Iran.

Perhaps Members of Congress concerned about these White House follies, both domestic and foreign can express their disdain for accusations like this from the Administration. They could politely sit on their hands and not applaud at the President’s State of the Union Address next Tuesday, the 28th when the President inevitably will do a victory lap about engagement with Iran over its nuclear program.  That would send a visual rebuke captured on national and international TV.  An image that would convey a message that even Iran’s President Rouhani, Foreign Minister Zarif and Supreme Ruler Ayatollah Khamenei wouldn’t require a Farsi translation. The more courageous among US Senate members in the audience of the Joint Session could immediately take up the Nuclear Weapons Free Iran Act, S. 1881 and pass it resoundingly next Wednesday.

After this episode we can understand former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates’ criticism of the mind numbing political apparatchiks in the West Wing inner circle portrayed in his memoir, Duty. Gates has been unfairly maligned by the liberal media reviewers for betraying his trust with the Obama team while Secretary of Defense by releasing his book prior to the end of the President’s term.  In sharp contrast Thomas Ricks published a praiseworthy review of Gates’ memoir, “In Command”, in the New York Times Sunday Book Review.  Note Ricks’ conclusion that provides a measure of the author:

But Gates is doing far more than just scoring points in this revealing volume. The key to reading it is understanding that he was profoundly affected by his role in sending American soldiers overseas to fight and be killed or maimed. During his four years as defense secretary, he states twice, he wept almost every night as he signed letters of condolence and then lay in bed and meditated on the dead and wounded. He was angry and disappointed with White House officials and members of Congress who appeared to him to put political gain ahead of the interests of American soldiers. Fittingly, he concludes the book by revealing that he has requested to be buried in Section 60 of Arlington National Cemetery, the resting place of many of those we lost in Iraq and Afghanistan.

More  than 10,000 American Jews serve in our military.  American Jewish servicemen and women have fought and died in both Iraq and Afghanistan.  Perhaps they are buried in Section 60 of Arlington National Cemetery that Secretary Gates wrote about in his memoir.  Watch this Forward  Vimeo video about two  valiant American Jews who served honorably and fell  in Iraq and Afghanistan.

EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared on The New English Review.

Friedman Foundation ranks America’s School Choice programs

Paul DiPerna, Research Director, Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, and the Friedman Foundation team have ranked every U.S. school choice program based on eligibility and purchasing power in conjunction with today’s release of the 2014 edition of The ABCs of School Choice.

Which types of school choice programs offer the broadest eligibility for students and greatest financial flexibility for families? Choose your favorite color below to access the matched rankings. We’d be interested to know what you think of our new publication.

2014 ABCs BLUE 2014 ABCs GREEN 2014 ABCs YELLOW 2014 ABCs ORANGE 2014 ABCs PINK

Comprehensive list of States that have pulled out of Common Core

Stephanie Zimmerman of Idahoans for Local Education provides a complete list of all the states that have pulled out of either Smarter Balanced or PARCC, as well as, states that are considering it. Visit Idahoans for Local Education for future updates.

States that have pulled out of their Assessment Consortium:

  1. Utah (Smarter Balanced) – http://www.sltrib.com/sltrib/mobile/54627081-68/utah-state-standards-consortium.html.csp
  2. Oklahoma (PARCC) – http://truthinamericaneducation.com/common-core-assessments/oklahoma-pulls-out-of-parcc/ (the Tulsa World article is no longer on the website).
  3. Georgia (PARCC) – http://www.ajc.com/news/news/breaking-news/georgia-decides-against-offering-common-core-stand/nYzDr/
  4. Alabama (Smarter Balanced & PARCC – they were an advisory state) –http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/curriculum/2013/02/alabama_withdraws_from_both_te.html
  5. Indiana (PARCC) – http://truthinamericaneducation.com/common-core-assessments/pence-pulls-indiana-out-of-parcc/  andhttp://indianapublicmedia.org/stateimpact/2013/07/29/gov-pence-signals-intent-to-withdraw-from-common-core-consortium-parcc/  As of December PARCC still had them listed though – http://hoosiersagainstcommoncore.com/indianas-withdraw-parcc-real-show/
  6. Kansas (Smarter Balanced) – http://m.cjonline.com/news/2013-12-10/kansas-opts-create-its-own-common-core-tests
  7. Pennsylvania (Smarter Balanced & PARCC) –http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/curriculum/2013/06/pennsylvania_signals_departure_from_test_consortia.html
  8. Alaska (Smarter Balanced) – http://www.newsminer.com/news/education/alaska-changes-school-testing-consortium/article_05509298-7d77-11e3-9606-001a4bcf6878.html
  9. Florida (PARCC) – http://truthinamericaneducation.com/common-core-assessments/rick-scott-pulls-florida-out-of-parcc/

States Actively Considering Withdrawing

  1. Michigan (Smarter Balanced) –http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/curriculum/2013/12/consortium_watch_kansas_drops_.html
  2. Kentucky (PARCC) –http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/curriculum/2013/12/consortium_watch_kansas_drops_.html
  3. North Carolina (Smarter Balanced) –http://www.newsobserver.com/2014/01/02/3502892/common-core-backlash-casts-shadow.html
  4. Iowa (Smarter Balanced) – The Iowa Legislature actually has to approve its use –http://caffeinatedthoughts.com/2013/05/iowa-puts-common-core-assessments-on-hold/

States that never joined.

  1. Virginia
  2. Texas
  3. Nebraska
  4. Minnesota

Photo credit: Barbara Day

Credit: Stephanie Zimmerman of Idahoans for Local Education put the original list together in an email.  Shane Vander Hart from Truth in American Education expanded Zimmerman’s list and added some additional news stories.

State Budget Solutions’ Releases “Fourth Annual State Debt Report”

State Budget Solutions’ (SBS) fourth annual State Debt Study reveals that state governments face a combined $5.1 trillion in debt. This total equals roughly $16,178 per capita, or 33 percent of annual gross state product. Another telling way to view the problem – state debt is equal to 469% of all fiscal year state general and other fund expenditures.

Since 2010, SBS has conducted a comprehensive examination of debt facing the 50 state governments. These reports have repeatedly found trillions in combined debt that stand in stark contrast to officials’ proclamations of balanced budgets and belt-tightening. This year’s update, and those in the past, show unfunded public pension liabilities’ incredible contribution to state debt. In fact, these liabilities make up 79 percent of all state debt.

SBS’ unique and comprehensive approach to calculating state debt includes four separate components. The components are market-valued unfunded public pension liabilities, outstanding government debt, unfunded other post employment benefit (OPEB) liabilities, and outstanding unemployment trust fund loans. Together, these four factors present an all-inclusive view of state obligations not conventionally presented but that both lawmakers and taxpayers nonetheless must confront.

The table below shows each state’s total debt, along with details breaking down that debt into its four contributing components. Per capita details and state rankings can be found in tabs along the bottom. Click here to view the spreadsheet in a separate page.

California leads the pack with $778 billion in state debt, mostly as a result of the state’s $584 billion unfunded public pension liability.  New York ($388 billion), Texas ($341 billion), Illinois ($321 billion), and Ohio ($321 billion) round out the top 5 states with the largest amounts of state debt. While each figure is staggering in its own right, this perspective does seem to highlight those states with the largest populations.

A more alarming fiscal situation is revealed when state debt totals are broken down according to a series of factors that reflect the toll that eventually reducing that debt may take on citizens, the local economy, and state budgets.

The first way to break down the data is by look at the debt on a per capita basis. Using the United States Census Bureau’s 2012 population estimates, the study reveals that combined, state debt is equal to $16,178 for every resident of a U.S. state. That figure does not adequately portray the dire situation in some states, though.

In terms of per capita, Alaska’s state debt is equal to $40,714 per person, followed by Hawaii ($33,111), Connecticut ($31,298), Ohio ($27,836), and Illinois ($24,959).

 

Top 5 State Debt Per Capita Bottom 5 State Debt Per Capita
Alaska $40,714 Tennessee $6,358
Hawaii $33,111 Indiana $7,094
Connecticut $31,298 Wisconsin $7,863
Ohio $27,836 South Dakota $9,249
Illinois $24,959 Arizona $9,321

 

State debt as a percentage of gross state product is another possible measure. Across the spectrum of states, this figure varies widely. Hawaii (64 percent), Ohio (63 percent), New Mexico (62 percent), Alaska (57 percent), and Mississippi (54 percent) all face a state debt that totals more than 50 percent of their entire 2012 gross state product.

 

Top 5 State Debt as a Percentage of Gross State Product Bottom 5 State Debt as a Percentage of Gross State Product
Hawaii 64% Nebraska 13%
Ohio 63% Tennessee 15%
New Mexico 62% Indiana 16%
Alaska 57% Wisconsin 17%
Mississippi 54% South Dakota 18%

 

Over time, state debt will exact a toll on state budgets. Money once expected to fund vital services like education and healthcare will have to be redirected to debt service, increased contributions to public pension systems, and more. Based on this, it is illustrative to examine state debt as it relates to state expenditures.

The National Association of State Budget Officers’ annual State Expenditure Report compiles total state expenditures. Excluding bonds and federal funds from fiscal year 2012 expenditures in order to focus on state resources, total state debt is equal to 469 percent of state spending.

Nevada stands out with a state debt equal to 1,048 percent of its own spending. It is followed, albeit not too closely, by Ohio (742 percent), Illinois (727 percent), California (647 percent), and Georgia (633 percent).

 

Top 5 State Debt as a Percentage of FY2012 Spending Bottom 5 State Debt as a Percentage of FY2012 Spending
Nevada 1,048% West Virginia 141%
Ohio 742% Wisconsin 146%
Illinois 727% Nebraska 191%
California 647% Wyoming 222%
Georgia 633% North Dakota 224%

 

Components of Debt

SBS calculates state debt by combining four separate components. This approach marks a slight adjustment from previous years’ reports, which also included projected fiscal year budget gaps. Due to a lack of surveyed data, this figure was not factored into the current report.

State Debt Pie Chart 2013

 

Components of State Debt (thousands)
Unfunded Public Pension Liabilities $3,900,823,389
Outstanding Debt $618,832,092
Unfunded OPEB Liabilities $528,787,000
Unemployment Trust Fund Loans $19,921,682
Total $5,068,364,163

 

Unfunded public pension liabilities

The largest single amount of the states’ combined $5.07 trillion in debt comes from unfunded public pension liabilities. These total over $3.9 trillion. The following table shows the 5 states with the largest total and per capita public pension unfunded liabilities.

 

Top 5 Unfunded Pension Liability (thousands) Top 5 Unfunded Pension Liability Per Capita
California $583,627,395 Alaska $32,454
Ohio $287,373,800 Ohio $24,893
New York $260,075,662 Connecticut $20,726
Illinois $254,872,560 New Mexico $20,517
Texas $244,164,239 Illinois $19,796

 

SBS’ calculation of over $3.9 trillion in unfunded public pension liabilities is based on data originally published in September 2013 in the report “Promises Made, Promises Broken – The Betrayal of Pensioners and Taxpayers,” which relied on the most recent actuarial data available from over 250 state-administered defined benefit pension plans. That report took a market-valued approach to calculate plan funded levels by discounting liabilities according to a risk free rate. This approach reflects the nearly risk-free nature of public pension benefits. That is, once promised, the risk that they will not have to be paid is quite low.

The State Debt Report’s examination of unfunded public pension liabilities includes over $2.46 trillion in plan assets. Based on state-reported liabilities, the total funded ratio of these plans was 73 percent. However, discounting plan liabilities according to a risk-free rate of 3.225 percent, based on the 15 year Treasury yield reveals a funded ratio of just 39 percent and $3.9 trillion in unfunded obligations.

SBS has slightly modified the list of included pension plans in the State Debt Report to ensure that the plans are at least partially attributable to state government. To that end, included plans were based on Loop Capital Markets’ “Eleventh Annual Public Pension Funding Review.”

Outstanding Debt

This component is made up of bonds, leases, and other traditional aspects of government debt as listed in each states’ comprehensive annual financial report. This year’s report, which used figures from the latest available CAFR, shows a combined $620 billion in debt. That represents an increase of roughly $13 billion over the previous year’s report. The following table shows the 5 states with the largest total and per capita outstanding debt.

 

Top 5 Outstanding Debt (thousands) Top 5 Outstanding Debt Per Capita
California $199,680,625 Connecticut $5,246
New York $58,060,000 Hawaii $5,346
New Jersey $41,433,010 New Jersey $4,674
Texas $41,344,000 Massachusetts $3,816
Illinois $33,186,555 Washington $3,150

 

Unfunded Other Post Employment Benefit Liabilities

Like unfunded pension liabilities, unfunded OPEB liabilities (mainly retiree healthcare benefits) are a threat to state finances driven by a combination of promises made to an aging public employee workforce and the states’ failure to properly fund those promises. The State Debt Report includes $529 billion in unfunded OPEB liabilities as reported by Standard & Poor’s Ratings Services (S&P) in a 2013 report “U.S. State OPEB Liabilities Decline Slightly, But Vary Widely.” The following table shows the 5 states with the largest total and per capita OPEB unfunded liabilities.

 

Top 5 Unfunded OPEB Liability (thousands) Top 5 Unfunded OPEB Liability Per Capita
New York $66,479,000 Hawaii $8,408
California $65,210,000 New Jersey $7,206
New Jersey $63,881,000 Delaware $6,152
Texas $55,436,000 Alaska $5,533
Illinois $33,295,000 Connecticut $4,987

 

While S&P’s report did find a 2 percent decrease in unfunded liabilities, it remains both revealing and distressing that, according to their research, only Indiana, Utah, and Rhode Island made their full actuarially determined OPEB contributions in fiscal year 2012. Further, only seven states currently have an OPEB trust funded beyond 20 percent of liabilities.

Outstanding Unemployment Trust Fund Loans

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), “The Federal Unemployment Account (FUA) provides for a loan fund for state unemployment programs to ensure a continued flow of benefits during times of economic downturn.” This fund was tapped frequently and by many states during the recent economic crisis. NCSL’s reporting, based on Department of Labor data, showed that 14 states had outstanding unemployment trust fund loans as of December 3, 2013.

 

Top 5 Outstanding Unemployment Trust Fund Loans (thousands) Top 5 Outstanding Unemployment Trust Fund Loans Per Capita
California $9,400,383 California $247
New York $2,851,005 Indiana $206
North Carolina $1,894,163 North Carolina $194
Ohio $1,552,419 Connecticut $160
Indiana $1,343,674 New York $146

 

State Budget Solutions’ Fourth Annual State Debt report shows staggering and growing levels of state debt. These figures should serve as a wake up call for citizens and policymakers alike.

Sources

Outstanding unemployment trust fund loans were obtained from the National of Conference of State Legislatures as of December 3, 2013. Outstanding debt figures were compiled based on figures from each state’s respective fiscal year 2012 comprehensive annual financial report. Unfunded other post employment benefit liabilities are based on figures from Standard & Poor’s 2013 report “U.S. State OPEB Liabilities Decline Slightly, But Vary Widely.” Unfunded public pension liabilities are based on data originally reported in State Budget Solutions’ “Promises Made, Promises Broken – The Betrayal of Pensioners and Taxpayers,” although modified to include those pension plans listed in Loop Capital Markets’ “Eleventh Annual Public Pension Funding Review.” Total population figures were obtained from the United States Census Bureau’s 2012 Population Estimates, and Gross State Product figures are from the Bureau of Economic Analysis’ regional economic index for the year 2012. State expenditure figures are based on those listed in National Association of State Budget Officers’ “State Expenditure Report,” and include actual expenditures from state general and other funds for fiscal year 2012.

Read more by clicking here.

RELATED COLUMN: The New Debt Ceiling Deadline Is Going To Be Earlier Than We Thought

Should We Raise the Minimum Wage?

Kelsey Harris and Amy Payne from the Heritage Foundation asked themselves this question. They created a revealing infographic to answer this important political issue. The minimum wage has little to do with helping people earn more, rather it is a progressive tool to create a conflict between classes in the lead up to the 2014 elections. It is political pandering to those who believe the government is here to help them.

It is income redistribution at best and economically destructive at the worst. The progressive ideal is “income equality” for all, except the ruling class, of course.

“In last year’s State of the Union address, President Obama called for an increase in the minimum wage. Since then, Democrats in Congress have argued that the President didn’t go far enough, proposing even more of an increase. The question is: Would this actually help the entry-level workers it is supposed to help?” ask Harris and Payne.

Check out and share our infographic.

minwage_v4

RELATED COLUMN: The New Debt Ceiling Deadline Is Going To Be Earlier Than We Thought

High Energy Prices Has Europe Rethinking Energy Strategy

Europe is realizing that reliable, affordable energy is critical to economic competitiveness, and policies that pick energy winners and losers can have unintended consequences. This stems from a New York Times story on how the European Union (EU) is rethinking how it deals with greenhouse gas emissions:

On Wednesday, the European Union proposed an end to binding national targets for renewable energy production after 2020. Instead, it substituted an overall European goal that is likely to be much harder to enforce.

It also decided against proposing laws on environmental damage and safety during the extraction of shale gas by a controversial drilling process known as fracking. It opted instead for a series of minimum principles it said it would monitor.

Europe pressed ahead on other fronts, aiming for a cut of 40 percent in Europe’s carbon emissions by 2030, double the current target of 20 percent by 2020. Officials said the new proposals were not evidence of diminished commitment to environmental discipline but reflected the complicated reality of bringing the 28 countries of the European Union together behind a policy.

The “complication” being that high energy prices is one factor that’s holding back Europe’s economic competitiveness.

Take Germany, which is undergoing a energiewende or “energy revolution,” an attempt to drop both nuclear and fossil-fuel energy use from its economy and rely primarily on renewable energy. The Economist explains this audacious goal:

Germany’s last nuclear plant is to be switched off in 2022. The share of renewable energy from sun, wind and biomass is meant to rise to 80% of electricity production, and 60% of overall energy use, by 2050. And emissions of greenhouse gases are supposed to fall, relative to those in 1990, by 70% in 2040 and 80-95% by 2050.

In order to ramp up electricity production, renewable energy is heavily subsidized. So much so that Germany has the highest electricity prices in Europe. As the London Telegraph reports, the result is that  German companies are becoming less competitive:

Energy prices are 40% more expensive than in France and the Netherlands, and the bills are 15% higher than the EU average. Even though Germany’s energy-intensive manufacturing sector is given a break with reduced levies, industries such as chemicals and steel are among the hardest hit, with energiewende costs of up to €740m a year.

Ironically, since Germany is giving up nuclear energy, it must turn to new coal-fired power plants for baseload electricity when the wind isn’t blowing and the sun isn’t shining.

These kinds of unintended consequences happen when government stacks the deck for one type of energy source, especially one that’s not yet market competitive.

While Europe wades through its self-inflicted morass, this is also a lesson for environmental groups demanding that the Obama administration stop pushing an “all of the above” energy strategy (which has been lip service) and go solely down the renewable energy path.

Renewable energy has a role in a country’s economy. However, renewable energy that’s more reliable and competitive doesn’t come out of thin air; it needs innovation and investment, and both require a growing economy; and a growing economy needs dependable and affordable energy.

A sound energy policy is one that embraces America’s energy abundance and diversity. America’s energy security needs nuclear, coal, natural gas, and renewables, and a robust energy mix means more certainty for businesses to invest and grow.

Visit Energy Works for US to learn more about the Institute for 21st Century Energy’s proposals on making renewable energy more competitive and making America more energy secure.

Massachusetts abortion clinic “buffer zone” law now before U.S. Supreme Court

Could likely be overturned, despite “big lie” strategy by activists. National implications. Could a big defeat for the national abortion lobby be coming?

Last week the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments on the case that could overturn the so-called“buffer zone” law in Massachusetts. Experts across the political spectrum are saying that the Court is very likely to strike it down — affecting similar laws across the country. It would also be a victory for a group of unbelievably dedicated pro-life activists in one of the most pro-abortion states in America.

Pro-lifers stand behind yellow line 35 feet from abortion clinic entrance as uniformed Planned Parenthood guard (left) watches.

This case, McCullen v Coakley, has generated a lot of high-profile emotion among the pro-abortion Left. After the Court heard the arguments the case made the front pages of the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and the Boston Globe.

The Massachusetts buffer zone law requires people with a pro-life message to stay at least 35 feet from the entrance of an abortion clinic, even if that includes a public sidewalk or street. But pro-abortion people affiliated with the abortion clinics can go in as close as they want.

The law is the Massachusetts liberal establishment’s effort to silence the opposition at a critical point in a woman’s decision whetherto abort her child. It allows one type of speech on a public sidewalk, but prohibits opposing speech. Thus it’s considered a major First Amendment case.

Montana and Colorado have both have statewide buffer zone laws, and many cities and towns across the country have passed municipal buffer zone laws similar to the Massachusetts law.

Why the Massachusetts law was passed

More than anything else, pro-lifers in front of abortion clinics such as Operation Rescue in Boston (OR-Boston), run by Bill Cotter since the late 1980s, is the reason the buffer zone law in Massachusetts was passed. Several days a week throughout the year, pro-lifers conduct prayer vigils and informational counseling outside of abortion clinics in Boston, Brookline, Haverhill, Worcester, Springfield, and North Attleborough. They don’t let up.

And they are very effective. Since 2003, OR-Boston has saved 875 babies from death through their counseling efforts. That is a breathtaking achievement. Most pro-family groups do very good work, but how many can say they actually save lives? Hundreds of people are walking this earth who would have faced a violent death in the womb had it not been for these people. And that’s what makes OR-Boston’s efforts so despised by the pro-abortion Left and the mainstream media.

VIDEO: Bill Cotter of Operation Rescue Boston talks about the organization and its ministry. [Life Matters TV
10 min 6 sec]

There’s no question that if there was no pro-life presence at these abortion clinics there would be no buffer zone law in Massachusetts.

Like much of Operation Rescue around the country, OR-Boston is primarily Catholic. The people who undertake this mission tend to be deeply spiritual, tireless and dedicated people. Many, like 77-year-old Eleanor McCullen (lead plaintiff in the suit), have been doing this for decades in every season, in all kinds of weather.

Eleanor McMullen is the lead plaintiff in the case. At 77 years old, she is still out there with OR-Boston saving young lives.

History of the law

Prior to 2000, there were some attempts by the abortion lobby to pass a 25-foot buffer zone bill, but it was blocked by pro-lifers in the Legislature’s leadership.

In 2000 the US Supreme Court ruled 6-3 in the Hill v. Colorado case, upholding a Colorado law establishing an 8-foot “bubble” around abortion customers within 100 feet of the facility, from which pro-life counselors were banned. Shortly after that, the remaining pro-life leadership compromised under pressure from the abortion lobby and Massachusetts passed a law similar to Colorado’s.

But even that was not satisfactory for the abortion lobby. So in 2007 the Legislature, by then dominated by pro-abortion politicians, passed the current law banning any pro-life counselors from entering an area 35 feet from an abortion clinic entrance, demarcated by a bold painted line. Not surprisingly, the liberal federal courts have upheld the law, despite its obvious constitutional issues.

However, the makeup of the Supreme Court has changed considerably since 2000 and it has agreed to revisit this. Many veteran court-watchers think that the current judges will likely reverse the position taken in the 2000 ruling and side with the plaintiffs.

In addition, noted First Amendment experts across the political spectrum have said the Court got it wrong in 2000. As the New York Times described the situation:

The Supreme Court’s 2000 decision has been harshly criticized, including by prominent supporters of abortion rights.

Laurence H. Tribe, the Harvard law professor, said the decision was “right up there” among the candidates for the worst blunders the Supreme Court committed that term.

“I don’t think it was a difficult case,” he said at the time. “I think it was slam-dunk simple and slam-dunk wrong.”

Floyd Abrams, a First Amendment lawyer, said the Massachusetts law was no better than the one upheld in 2000.

“The protections of the First Amendment do not evaporate the closer one comes to an abortion clinic,” he wrote in an email. “Access must be protected; so must speech.”

The 2000 decision was decided by a 6-to-3 vote, with Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist and Justice Sandra Day O’Connor in the majority. They have been replaced by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., and their votes may alter the balance.

In his dissent in 2000 in the Hill case, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy said the majority opinion contradicted “more than a half-century of well-established First Amendment principles” and for the first time approved “a law which bars a private citizen from passing a message, in a peaceful manner and on a profound moral issue, to a fellow citizen on a public sidewalk.”

Operation Rescue Boston activists (left and below) outside of abortion clinics.

Also fighting it in the Massachusetts Legislature

In each of the last few legislative sessions, MassResistance has filed a bill to repeal the buffer zone law. The current bill is H1478. It was heard before the Judiciary Committee on July 9, 2013. It’s still alive, but admittedly repealing it is an uphill fight on Beacon Hill.

So for any effective change, it’s really up to the Supreme Court.

Defending the buffer zone

Reading the broad news coverage of this case and the “PR campaign” surrounding it, one can quickly see why the Massachusetts buffer zone bill has continued to be supported despite its obvious constitutional problems, and why the lower courts have bowed down before it.

The public and political support of the buffer zone law in Massachusetts has been extremely well crafted by Planned Parenthood the abortion lobby. To put it bluntly, this is a textbook case of how the lies of liberals, when repeated constantly, become institutionalized and virtually immune to challenge.

Basically, the constitutional issues are pushed aside and instead the public is constantly reminded about the alleged necessity of stopping violence and vicious harassment directed at abortion facilities and the women coming there for abortions. That is the mantra that is repeated over and over again to the point that it has become accepted as if it were fact.

The 1994 Salvi incident

Virtually the entire “buffer zone” strategy grows out of one incident nearly twenty years ago.

On December 30, 1994, John C. Salvi III, a 22-year-old man who was not affiliated with any Massachusetts pro-life group, entered two Brookline abortion clinics and opened fire, killing a receptionist. He was subsequently diagnosed as a schizophrenic and claimed that “the Mafia and KKK” were out to get him. He stood trial and was convicted of murder in 1996. Later that year he committed suicide in prison.

At the time it was a major media event in Boston, was obsessed over for months from every angle, generated a considerable amount of hysteria against all pro-lifers, and thus became seared into the collective psyche of the region.

(Ironically, say the pro-life advocates, no one gets convicted for the violent murders that routinely take place inside the abortion clinics — of the pre-born children.)

Since then, Salvi’s name has been continuously brought up by pro-abortion activists to psychologically connect him with the (often elderly) Catholic sidewalk counselors, who in fact had nothing to do with him. As Saul Alinsky would point out, never let a crisis go to waste.

A strategy of dishonest scare tactics

That false “guilt by association” has opened the door to the abortion lobby’s unending dishonest but very effective scare tactics. It has leveraged the Salvi violence from two decades ago into a complete mischaracterization of all pro-life activists today.

Any time the buffer zone law is discussed, the abortion lobby talks in emotional terms about intimidation, violence, and screaming that supposedly goes on in front of abortion clinics which women seeking abortions and the staff must endure. It’s certainly enough to make a reasonable person who doesn’t know the truth agree that something must be done.

But it’s all a lie. There is no documented evidence that any violence, assaults, harassment, etc., by pro-lifers has taken place. Nor has the pro-abortion lobby ever presented any actual evidence. There haven’t been any arrests of pro-lifers for assault or similar harassment. As Bill Cotter points out, each abortion facility has numerous video cameras constantly trained on the pro-lifers outside. But they’ve never been able to come up with any video proving their claims against the OR-Boston people.

Moreover, we’ve been told that police records show that the police consider the pro-lifers to be extremely well-behaved — especially compared to Occupy Boston and the like.

Such hostile behavior would actually be counter-productive for pro-lifers. Yes, they sometimes show graphic signs of aborted babies (which is the truth; they are dealing with murder and death, after all). But pro-lifers realize that a certain demeanor is necessary or they will not save any babies.

The big lie: Some recent examples

Nevertheless, the mainstream media continues to repeat the outrageous disinformation from the pro-abortion activists without any challenge whatsoever.

Here are some recent quotes from newspaper articles about the U.S. Supreme Court case:

Boston Globe 6/24/2013:
Rosanna Cavallaro, a law professor at Suffolk University, said the court probably would focus on the “competing interests” between protesters’ right to free speech and clinic patients’ right to be left alone. “Do you have the right to speak with a bullhorn right up to someone’s face?” she asked. “At some point, speech becomes intimidation and harassment.”

Boston Globe 12/29/2013
“Someone should be able to go to a health care clinic, without being yelled at, screamed at, without being harassed,” said [Massachusetts] Attorney General Martha Coakley,

Boston Globe editorial, 1/20/2014
The protests that buffer zones are designed to contain are the loud, intimidating, and physical demonstrations that tend to surround abortion clinics just as often as, say, the Supreme Court.

Boston Globe editorial (quoted above). The mantra gets repeated. “It’s like an echo chamber,” says Bill Cotter.

New York Times, 1-15-2014
Massachusetts has “a long history of crowds around these [abortion clinic] doors or even of violence,” replied [Jennifer] Miller, an assistant [Massachusetts] attorney general.

New York Times, 1/12/2014
The state’s attorney general, Martha Coakley, who is the lead defendant in the suit, said the 35-foot buffer zone created by the 2007 law was a necessary response to an ugly history of harassment and violence at abortion clinics in Massachusetts, including a shooting rampage at two facilities in 1994.

The Guardian (UK) 1/15/2014
Lawyers representing Massachusetts said the buffer zones werenecessary to stop women from being harassed or prevented from entering clinics by crowds of protestors, and insisted it was impractical to draft legislation that differentiated this from “peaceful conversation”.

Boston Globe 12/29/2013
[Planned Parenthood CEO Marty] Walz said the “bubble” zone law was difficult to enforce, and that protesters aggressively approached anyone who entered the zone. She said she visited the Boston clinic in 2007, only to be confronted and intimidated by a large protester. “I had one of the protesters literally standing inches from my face, screaming at me, at full volume,” she said.

Planned Parenthood CEO Marty Walz (quoted above) was previously a Mass. State Representative. In 2007 she sponsored the Buffer Zone bill for Planned Parenthood. In 2012 she left the State House to work full time for Planned Parenthood.She also carried water for the homosexual lobby and other radical Left causes. At left, as a State Rep, Walz applauds during Governor’s signing ceremony for the Transgender Rights and Hate Crimes bill on Jan. 19, 2012.
[MassResistance photo]

There’s plenty of harassment and intimidation — against pro-lifers!

On the other hand, there is plenty of harassment, intimidation, and occasional violence in front of abortion clinics that isn’t ever covered in the media. It’s directed at the pro-lifers — by abortion supporters.

Pro-lifers often get horrible, vulgar things screamed them, things thrown at them from cars, and occasionally even cars careening toward them. There’s plenty of evidence of that. They are also treated badly by pro-abortion cops.

This is an example of the anger directed at pro-life counselors.

But the media is psychologically wrapped up in the myth of pro-life violence.  Bill Cotter relates that a few years ago a Boston Herald columnist wrote about an ugly scene where an angry man at an abortion clinic was arrested and began kicking in the police car doors until he could be restrained. The Herald article portrayed him as a pro-life activist. But the Boston Police Department’s police report said that the man was actually a companion of a Planned Parenthood customer, who had gotten into a heated argument with the Planned Parenthood staff.

Court’s decision months away

It’s expected that the Court’s decision will come sometime in June.

We’ll stay on top of this. We sense a victory is in the works.

Justin Bieber: Poster Boy for anti-Marijuana legalization in Florida?

The Democrats, and some Republicans, are pushing to legalize marijuana for medical use in Florida. These politicians are seeing more revenue from taxing this noxious weed and could care less about the human costs or social consequences. For you see, legalization for medical use is not the end game. The end game is legalization of marijuana, period. Just look at Colorado. It is a government and corporate cash cow but at what cost?

Florida Representative Katie Edwards (D-FL District 98) sent out an email quoting an article by the Sun Sentinel’s Susannah Bryan. The article states, “Two Florida representatives, Katie Edwards and Matt Gaetz, are taking steps to help families statewide gain access to a strain of marijuana that’s shown promise in treating children who suffer from seizures.” Representative Matt Gaetz is a Republican representing District 4. Gaetz is Chair of the House Criminal Justice Committee.

According to the Drug Enforcement Administration:

Schedule I drugs, substances, or chemicals are defined as drugs with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse. Schedule I drugs are the most dangerous drugs of all the drug schedules with potentially severe psychological or physical dependence. Some examples of Schedule I drugs are: heroin, lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), marijuana (cannabis), 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (ecstasy), methaqualone, and peyote.

Floridians must realize that what Edwards and Gaetz are really pushing: Drug addiction in minors. Perhaps Floridians need to look at what happened in Miami with Justin Bieber to see what the outcome of legalization will lead to.

Khalil_Sharief

Khalil Amir Sharieff

bieberfrontmug

Justin Bieber mugshot.

The Sun Sentinel‘s Linda Trischitta and Mike Clary reported, “During the investigation, Mr. Bieber made statements that he had consumed some alcohol, had been smoking marijuana and consumed some prescription medication,” Martinez said.”

Trischitta and Clary note, “Bieber, 19, was charged with driving under the influence, resisting arrest without violence and having an expired driver’s license from the state of Georgia, Miami Beach Police Detective Vivian Hernandez said. Bieber and a friend, singer Khalil Amir Sharieff, 19, of Calabasas, Cal., were in separate sports cars when they were stopped by police at 4:10 a.m. near Pine Tree Drive on Miami Beach. Sharieff was charged with DUI, police said.”

The Smoking Gun has more to the story. According to SMG, “Singer Justin Bieber–belligerent and apparently stoned on a mixture of beer, pot, and prescription drugs–cursed out a cop who had stopped his Lamborghini, demanding, ‘Why the fuck are you doing this?’ and ‘What the fuck did I do. Why did you stop me?’ according to a police arrest report.” Oh, by the way this is not Bieber’s first run in with using drugs and smoking weed. Here is another Bieber possession of weed story in California.

Marshall Frank, a retired South Florida police officer, writes in his column “Marijuana is a Dangerous Drug: Let Children Know the Truth“:

In a nutshell, here are the main reasons marijuana is harmful.

  • It impairs judgment for driving that cannot be detected like alcohol.
  • The National Institute on Drug Abuse cites long term use deters IQ, especially when adolescents begin using in the teen years.
  • Regular use causes lethargy, lack of ambition and memory problems.
  • Long term use is linked to mental problems, such as paranoia and schizophrenia.
  • Marijuana is addictive to people who have a predisposition to addictions

Casual marijuana is still illegal in 48 states, which results in the arrests of nearly one million people a year, giving them criminal records that affect their lives.

Gateway drug? Some say yes, some no. Here’s the truth: If you’re prone to enjoying drugs, marijuana will likely be your first, but not your last.

Perhaps Morgan & Morgan, the Tampa law firm pushing for the legalization of marijuana for medical use will hire Justin to be their spokesperson?

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Report: DEA Chief Rips Obama’s Pot Remarks | The Weekly Standard

FL Reps. Edwards (D) and Gaetz (R) pushers of Drug Addiction in Children?

FL Legislature: Adultery, Cohabitation & Marijuana are fine but Texting while Driving is a Crime?

Marijuana is a Dangerous Drug: Let Children Know the Truth

Mother seeks medical marijuana for 3-year-old twins with rare disorder…

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Lawmaker proposes marijuana exports to pay off Hawaii debt…

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The Syrian Constellation before the Geneva 2 Peace Talks

Pinhas Inbari  published this timely Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs (JCPA) brief on the issues and dramatis personae at the opening round of the Geneva II talks in Montreux, Switzerland that began today.

We consider insightful Inbari’s analysis of the roiling seemingly intractable, inconclusive  civil war in Syria now in its 35 month. Israel is concerned about what may arise from these fractious discussions given the presence of both Assad regime and Syrian opposition, including  potentially intrusive  Al Qaeda-affiliates operating in the demilitarized zone on the Golan plateau. Further, as Inbari points out in this brief, should , mirabile dictu, should  an agreement  be reached and a new government installed in Damascus  are the be renewal of demands for return of the Golan, annexed by Israel in December 1981.

There have also been reports of both Israeli Arab Muslim extremists and Palestinians from Gaza  joining those al Qaeda opposition militias in Syria.  The Syrian Kurds have abiding concerns regarding attainment of possible hard fought  regional autonomy that has apparently vanquished Al Qaeda militia threatening their Rojava heartland in Syria’s North East.

This post should assist you in identifying the contending parties, including the Islamic regime in Tehran and its proxy Hezbollah, whose presence at the meeting was considered unhelpful. vigorous objections raised by the Syrian opposition, the US, UK and others forced  UN Secretary Ban Ki-Moon  to abruptly ‘disinvite’ the Iranian delegation from attending this session.  Nevertheless, Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov, who lauded the UN Secretary General’s invitation extended to Iran, may be both the assad regime;s and its  Shiite hegemon’s diplomatic proxy auditing the proceedings for the Islamic Regime.

The Syrian Constellation before the Geneva 2 Peace Talks

by
Pinhas Inbari
Vol. 14, No. 2    22 January 2014

* This report is based on telephone conversations with members of the Syrian opposition.

  • The Geneva 2 peace conference was convened after an agreement between the United States and Russia that the main danger posed by the situation in Syria is that of al-Qaeda, and that the course of events should be steered in order to obviate this danger.
  • The Syrian opposition sees a danger that the two powers will prefer to leave Assad in place since, if the choice is between him and al-Qaeda, then Assad is the better option.
  • The powers’ need to convene the Geneva 2 conference stemmed primarily from the failure of the Free Syrian Army under General Idris to defeat Assad’s army and bring about regime change.
  • Ironically, the success of the al-Qaeda groups against the Syrian army and the Free Syrian Army helped Russia convince the United States that, at least for the time being, Assad should be left standing. The result is that Assad’s loyalists will be in attendance at the conference.
  • If the Syrian opposition has trouble accepting the presence of Assad loyalists at the peace conference, it cannot accept an Iranian presence at all. They say their real opponent on the Syrian battlefield is the Iranian army, and they view Iran as an invading country that is also deploying Hizbullah against them.
  • Israel must pay attention to two possible outcomes: A Middle Eastern inter-bloc agreement may at some stage include the Palestinian issue. Another possible scenario may involve renewed pressure on Israel to give up the Golan Heights in order to “strengthen” the new Syrian government.

A U.S.-Russian Agreement

Geneva 2, the international peace conference on the future of Syria, began on January 22, 2014, in Montreux, Switzerland. Sources in the Syrian opposition say the conference has come about because of agreement between the United States and Russia that the main danger posed by the situation in Syria is that of al-Qaeda, and that the course of events should be steered in order to obviate this danger.

This inter-bloc agreement has put most of the Syrian opposition under great pressure. They see a danger that the two powers will meanwhile prefer to leave Assad in place since, if the choice is between him and al-Qaeda, then Assad is the better option.

The problem is that the opposition is very fragmented and the two powers can force it to accept their dictates. On the issue of Geneva 2, there indeed is such a dictate. Whereas, at first, the Syrian opposition refused to participate in the conference with Assad loyalists, after heavy pressure that included American threats to cease assistance to them, much of the Syrian opposition acceded to the two powers’ demand that they attend.

Who’s Who in the Syrian Opposition

What elements make up the Syrian opposition, what do they seek, and who stands behind them?

First, the Geneva conference will not represent the fighters on the battlefield; neither the different al-Qaeda groups nor the Free Syrian Army will be in attendance. Al-Qaeda will not be there because the talks are aimed at counteracting it, and in any case al-Qaeda does not ordinarily take part in gatherings of this kind. As for the Free Syrian Army and its commander Salim Idris, they still are not prepared to sit in the same room with Assad’s loyalists, though there are reports of enormous pressure on Idris to attend.

Basically, however, the talks will be attended by parties that are not active on the Syrian battlefield. Who are they?

One large body, known as the National Coalition of Syrian and Regional Forces (also called the Syrian National Coalition), will be representing the opposition that is based outside of Syria. It is headed by Ahmed al-Jarba, a scion of the leading families of the large Shammar Bedouin tribe, which migrates among Syria, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia, and is considered pro-Saudi. Saudi Arabia indeed supports this organization.

Another group within the “coalition” is the representative body of the Syrian opposition before the “coalition” was formed. Called the Syrian National Council (SNC), it includes the Muslim Brotherhood and pan-Arab nationalists and is supported by Turkey and Qatar. Although it is formally within the “coalition” framework, the competition between Qatar and Saudi Arabia influences its relations with the coalition. All this was evident when decisions had to be made on whether to attend Geneva 2. After al-Jarba announced that he would go, his rivals in the SNC declared that they would not. The reasons for al-Jarba’s decision are not clear. Whereas one would have expected that, given the Saudis’ anger at Washington, the pro-Saudi faction would try to impede the conference, the opposite is what happened. Sources in the Syrian opposition said the Saudis did not want to bring tensions with the United States out in the open, and perhaps also did not want to be associated with al-Qaeda; instead the talks could always be undermined from within.

Russia, too, has its favored groups, and there is no surprise in the fact that they agreed to attend. These groups are old leftist factions that were part of the Syrian Ba’ath party. Syrian opposition sources point to the “Internal Opposition Group” headed by Kadri Jamil and Ali Haidar, two veteran Ba’athists who abandoned Assad. Alongside them is another group of veteran Arab nationalists headed by Haitham Mana’a and Hassan Abd al-Azim, called the “Coordinated Administration,” an array of coordinating committees for the rebels in the field. This group maintains its independence and does not receive aid from any party; it opposes Assad and will not attend Geneva 2.

The powers’ need to convene the Geneva 2 conference stemmed primarily from the failure of the Free Syrian Army under General Idris to defeat Assad’s army and bring about regime change. Instead, the different al-Qaeda organizations have now prevailed in the local arena, and not long ago they handed Idris a defeat near Aleppo, taking over his main arms depot. The Free Syrian Army is also supported by Turkey and Qatar.

Al-Qaeda Forces in Syria

Who are the al-Qaeda forces operating in Syria? There are about forty groups with numerous names, but two are playing the main role on the ground. One is the Al-Nusra group led by Abu Muhammad al-Jawlani; the other is “Daash” – the Islamic State of Iraq and Ash-Sham (the Levant), also called ISIS. Al-Nusra is made up of Syrian and Jordanian mujahideen, while the Syria and Iraq group has an Iraqi leadership.

Ironically, the success of the Salafi groups has worked in Assad’s favor. He claimed from the start that he was not dealing with a rebellion but with “terror,” and the al-Qaeda groups’ successes against the Syrian army and the Free Syrian Army helped Russia convince the United States that, at least for the time being, Assad should be left standing. The result is that Assad’s loyalists will be in attendance at the conference.

The opposition groups claim, however, that at least the ISIS organization is actually in league with Assad. They say the al-Qaeda fighters in this group were originally Syrian intelligence agents who were infiltrated into Iraq to operate against U.S. forces there, and after the revolt in Syria erupted, Assad’s intelligence service implanted them among the rebels as a way of proving that the revolt is nothing more than terror. These al-Qaeda groups have also acted against the Free Syrian Army and diverted it from the anti-Assad struggle.

The Kurds of Syria

The Kurds of Syria are a special case. They, too, are fragmented into many groups; among the leading ones is the Democratic Union Party (PYD). A radical-left organization that is a twin sister of the Turkish PKK, it is close to Assad’s Ba’ath regime and loyal to it. The Syrian army was able to withdraw from Kurdish areas and concentrate its forces against the rebels because the PYD managed Kurdish affairs on Syria’s behalf. There are now reports that under the PYD’s “administrative autonomy,” pictures of Assad have again appeared in the streets.

The PYD is opposed by the Yakiti party, which is close to Kurdnas – a large coalition of Kurdish parties that triggered the Kurdish revolt against Assad in the previous century. In contrast to the PYD’s radical leftism, Yakiti and Kurdnas are pro-Western parties that advocate a federal regime in Syria. The space between the PYD, at one end, and Yakiti and Kurdnas, at the other, is filled by numerous other parties. These, however, were concocted by Syrian intelligence as a means of fragmenting the Kurds. One “real” group that is not an invention of Syrian intelligence is the Azadi party.

All the Kurdish parties are demanding autonomy within the framework of the Syrian state. The difference between them and the Sunni parties (the Muslim Brotherhood, former Ba’athists, Arab nationalists) is that, whereas the Kurdish groups call for a decentralized regime of autonomous districts for the ethnic communities and minorities, most of the Sunnis favor retaining the centralized regime in Damascus.

Whereas the Kurds demanded to come to Geneva 2 as a separate delegation, the United States insisted that they attend as part of the “coalition.” The Kurds refused and will not be at Geneva. They see the U.S. refusal to recognize their separate delegation as stemming from its support for a centralized Syrian regime even after Assad’s departure.

If the Syrian opposition has trouble accepting the presence of Assad loyalists at the peace conference, it cannot accept an Iranian presence at all. They say their real opponent on the Syrian battlefield is the Iranian army, and they view Iran as an invading country that is also deploying Hizbullah against them. Saudi Arabia, too, can barely tolerate the Assad loyalists and rejects any Iranian role at the conference altogether.

The Question of Assad’s Future

Regarding Assad’s future, while the first Geneva peace conference in June 2012 came up with a plan for a temporary government and elections for a new president, Assad insisted on his right to run in these elections. Geneva 2, as well, will likely propose a temporary government and elections while offering Assad an honorable departure from political life in return for his physical survival. Whether such elections can be held, however, is in doubt since forces on the ground will reject any such plan.

Meanwhile, there are initial signs of a deal taking shape outside the framework of the conference, in which Iran, Russia, and the United States would agree on a new president while forcing Assad to acquiesce. But such an initiative – if it takes shape at all – will have to wait until Assad hands over all his chemical weapons.

Israel must pay attention to two matters. First, a Middle Eastern inter-bloc agreement may at some stage include the Palestinian issue; Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas will fly to Moscow to clarify this option with the Russians. Israel must prepare for a scenario where a new central government is established in Damascus and the powers begin to pressure Israel to give up the Golan Heights in order to “strengthen” the new Syrian government.

About Pinhas Inbari

Pinhas Inbari is a veteran Arab affairs correspondent who formerly reported for Israel Radio and Al Hamishmar newspaper, and currently serves as an analyst for the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.

EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared on The New English Review.

DOJ: Terrorists now control terrorist investigations, no-religious profiling!

I receive all Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) and the Council of American Islamic Relations (CAIR) newsletters. Today ISNA sent out a newsletter pertaining to their petitioning the Department of Justice (DOJ) to no longer consider religion in their investigations.

What does this mean? It means Islamic based terrorist supporters such as ISNA and CAIR continue to control Islamic terrorist investigations by our top investigative agencies.

Whether on 9/11, at Ft. Hood, the Trolley Square Mall Murders, the Boston Marathon bombing and a dozen other murderous attacks by Islamic terrorists in the name of Islam have soiled our beautiful country with the blood of thousands of Americans through their hate and violence. Hate and violence is Islam.

As a former U.S. Federal Agent my hands would be tied if I were investigating for instance the Ft. Hood murders by a Muslim named Major Malik Hasan. Although Hasan shouted throughout his court hearings he acted in the name of Islam, I would not be able to report this in my investigation.

U.S. Federal Agents cannot protect our country from Islamic based terrorist attacks if they have to ignore and omit the name of Islam in their investigations.

One need only look around the world at the violence and wars being fought. Islamic murderers are killing innocent people around the world as they have done for 1400 years.

During the ‘Mapping Sharia Project‘ and on my own research I have been to over 250 mosques in America. They are putting out violent material in over 75% of the 2300 mosques scattered across our country. This is just one example of what is put out from Brooklyn, NY at the mosque bookstore of Imam Siraj Wahhaj. He is often called by Congress to provide their opening prayers!

Read below what ISNA put out today.

From ISNA: 22 Jan 2014…ISNA Cautiously Hopeful on New DOJ Position on Racial Profiling:

(PLAINFIELD, IN, 1/20/14)The Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) said it is cautiously hopeful with the recent announcement from U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) that it will revise its policies of profiling to include prohibiting agents from considering religion in their investigations.

“The Quran says, ‘God commands justice and fair dealing…’ (16:90),” says ISNA President Imam Mohamed Magid. “On the occasion of the holiday celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who dreamed one day that ‘people will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character,’ we are cautiously hopeful that the Justice Department’s new policy will put this into practice by ending racial and religious profiling.”

In 2012, ISNA was among 35 organizations to send a joint letter to the Senate Subcommittee in support of the hearing to “End Racial Profiling in America.”

SEE: Senate Holds Hearing to Discuss “Ending Racial Profiling in America

ISNA previously submitted testimony for the Subcommittee’s hearing on the issue of broad-based discrimination against American Muslims the year before.

The Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) is the largest and oldest Islamic umbrella organization in North America. Its mission is to foster the development of the Muslim community, interfaith relations, civic engagement, and better understanding of Islam.

I urge every American to call law enforcement agencies assigned to DOJ and demand they return to protecting innocent Americans and stop standing up for Islamic terror supporters like CAIR and ISNA.  Call your Senators and Congressmen.  You do not have to be nice and respectful to them as many conservative action leaders urge you to do.  These people work for you…the American citizen.  They do not work for non profit IRS sponsored Islamic organizations.

Scream at the top of your lungs demanding they protect America and our children’s future.  If you don’t, no one will.

RELATED COLUMNS: 

Toronto: Muslim slit girlfriend’s throat from ear to ear, set her on fire
Pentagon to relax uniform rules to make religious allowances; beards, turbans, jewelry OK
Florida: Muslim arrested after runaway Illinois teen found – pregnant & committed to Islam
Connecticut: Muslim pours hot oil on sleeping wife (video)

ACTION ALERT: “Keep 8-Year Term Limits” bumper stickers now available for free!

Polling suggests an overwhelming majority of Floridians opposed the weakening of our state’s voter-approved term limits from eight to 12 years.

Nonetheless, Gainesville Republican Rep. Keith Perry has introduced new legislation to do just that. His personal interest as a legislator apparently is a higher priority than your interests as a citizen.

Floridians spoke in 1992 when they approved 8-year legislative term limits with a 77 percent vote. It is time for the people to speak again.  One way to do it is with this tasteful, high-quality vinyl bumper sticker: KEEP 8-YEAR TERM LIMITS. This sticker is easily removable without any damage to your vehicle. And, they’re free.

To get one, go here and include your contact info including mailing address and you’ll find one in your mailbox promptly. Thanks.

19 Photo Reminders of Why Americans March for Life

Today, tens of thousands of people from around the country will gather in Washington to brave the cold for a cause they believe in. Some are marching for the first time, and others have been traveling to the nation’s capital since the Roe v. Wade decision in 1973. For the 41st year, they’ll meet again for the same reason — the sanctity of life.

“We’re also celebrating life today, and we hope you will, too,” states Kelsey Harris from the Heritage Foundation. Here are 19 moving reminders of the beauty of new life:

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proud sister

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brothers

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twins

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sister

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Learn more: “How to Speak Up for Life,” produced by Heritage in collaboration with Alliance Defending Freedom, Americans United for Life, Concerned Women for America, Focus on the Family, March for Life Education and Defense Fund, and the Susan B. Anthony List Education Fund