Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Obama suggests value-added tax may be an option


WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama suggested Wednesday that a new value-added tax on Americans is still on the table, seeming to show more openness to the idea than his aides have expressed in recent days.

Before deciding what revenue options are best for dealing with the deficit and the economy, Obama said in an interview with CNBC, "I want to get a better picture of what our options are."

After Obama adviser Paul Volcker recently raised the prospect of a value-added tax, or VAT, the Senate voted 85-13 last week for a nonbinding "sense of the Senate" resolution that calls the such a tax "a massive tax increase that will cripple families on fixed income and only further push back America's economic recovery."

For days, White House spokesmen have said the president has not proposed and is not considering a VAT.

"I think I directly answered this the other day by saying that it wasn't something that the president had under consideration," White House press secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters shortly before Obama spoke with CNBC.

After the interview, White House deputy communications director Jen Psaki said nothing has changed and the White House is "not considering" a VAT.

Many European countries impose a VAT, which taxes the value that is added at each stage of production of certain commodities. It could apply, for instance, to raw products delivered to a mill, the mill's production work and so on up the line to the retailer.

In the CNBC interview, Obama said he was waiting for recommendations from a bipartisan fiscal advisory commission on ways to tackle the deficit and other problems.

When asked if he could see a potential VAT in this nation, the president said: "I know that there's been a lot of talk around town lately about the value-added tax. That is something that has worked for some countries. It's something that would be novel for the United States."

"And before, you know, I start saying 'this makes sense or that makes sense,' I want to get a better picture of what our options are," Obama said.

He said his first priority "is to figure out how can we reduce wasteful spending so that, you know, we have a baseline of the core services that we need and the government should provide. And then we decide how do we pay for that."

Volcker has said taxes might have to be raised to slow the deficit's growth. He said a value-added tax "was not as toxic an idea" as it had been in the past.

Since then, some GOP lawmakers and conservative commentators have said the Obama administration is edging toward a VAT.


Appeasing the Muslim Brotherhood

When President Obama spoke to the Muslim world in Cairo last June, a large portion of his guests were leaders and members of the Muslim Brotherhood. The speech was designed to please them more than supporting the reformist movement in Egypt and across the Muslim world.

The Obama administration has hired the first White House Muslim advisor, Dalia Mogahed, who helped with writing Obama’s speech. Mogahed is herself an Islamic ideologue who supports Islamic Sharia and denies any connection between radical Islam and terrorism. Mogahed, who was born in Egypt, has also been a firm defender of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA). Both of these US groups are tied to the Muslim Brotherhood.

As an American of Egyptian origin myself, I can tell who is a reformist and who is a radical Muslim sympathizer, and I do not think that Ms. Mogahed’s views are in any way supportive of a reformation in Islam or of its concept of jihad. To the contrary, she denies the existence of any problem with Islamic ideology and she acts in total harmony with the ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood. Her excuses are the same old excuses we Egyptians learned day in and day out in defense of Islamic jihad and in blaming others for misunderstanding of Islam. Her answers are always given with total confidence and conviction, as she tells her audience that any violent actions by Muslims have nothing to do with Islam. Never mind that Islamic mosques, education, art and songs all glorify jihad as a holy war for the sake of Allah.

Mogahed brings nothing new to Islamic propaganda but she certainly sounds interesting to Americans who are unfamiliar with this same old Islamic propaganda and who find it hard to question a religion. The truth about Mogahed is that she combines the good old Muslim sheikhs rhetoric with a better presentation that Americans can understand. Sheikhs never take any kind of criticism of Islam and they ridicule those who question Islam with statements like: “Who are you to speak for Islam? Leave the analysis to the experts on Islam.” Mogahed’s logic is very similar and, coincidentally, her book is entitled: “Who Speaks for Islam.” It is a meaningless title showing statistics that are designed to show that Muslims are different and are not all terrorists, which is no news.

Of course among Muslims there are good and bad people, like in any other group. What Mohahed refuses to admit is that reputable critics of Islam have nothing against Muslim people, but they correctly decipher that the problem stems from the ideology of Islam and its scriptures and commandments. What Mogahed refuses to discuss are the actual laws of Sharia, the history of jihad, the ideology and education that produced 9/11, Islamic imperialism, oppression of human rights, women and minorities. Her answers are usually simplistic, such as the argument that Sharia cannot be bad to women because the majority of Muslim women allegedly support Sharia? The bottom line of Mogahed’s propaganda is the same old complaint: that Islam is misunderstood and that Muslim people’s anger and violence is triggered by politics and not by religion. The problem with the West is all a misunderstanding, she argues, and with some education and sensitivity training the West will accept Islam as a religion of peace. Her position in the White House has given her a powerful opportunity to enhance the standing of radical Islamist groups in the eyes of our government instead of the reformists and anti-Sharia Mulsims.

I have recently heard a former Muslim critic of Islam state that he is no longer confident that the US government will protect his civil rights as long as there are people in our government such as Mogahed and others.

The empowerment of Radical Islam under the Obama administration has also emboldened the Muslim Student Association (MSA), which is merely an extension of the Muslim Brotherhood. The MSA has recently accelerated their efforts to silence any speakers who criticize jihad, Sharia or Radical Islam. Anti-Semitism is on the rise on our college campus, resulting in total disregard for freedom of speech aiming and the silencing of any pro-Israel speakers. This is achieved through constant unruly disruptions, such as what happened to the Ambassador of Israel, Michael Oren, at UC Irvine last February. Last October, students opposed to my views went as far as setting a fire in a bathroom next to the hall I was supposed to give my presentation in at Boston University. As a result, my lecture was cancelled.

To show more support to the Muslim brotherhood, last January, Secretary of State Clinton quietly signed an order admitting entry to the US to the grandson of the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, Tariq Ramadan. The controversial Ramadan was formerly banned from entering the US by the previous administration. Among those who welcomed Ramada and participated in his first public appearance in the US was none other than Dalia Mogahed.

While the Obama administration went out of its way to show goodwill to radical Muslim groups, it has consistently ignored extending any support to the reform movements across the Middle East and that includes the student reform movement in Iran. The message from the US to reformists and pro-democracy and peace groups in the Middle East is not encouraging.

I am in contact with some Muslim reformists in Egypt who believe that the Muslim Brotherhood now has a friend in the White House. Totalitarian radical leaders such as Moammar Gaddafi of Libya, calls Obama ‘our son’ and urges support for Obama as a wise leader who is of Muslim descent. I guess it is nice to have the support of radicals and dictators in the Middle East, which might temporarily save us from another 9/11, but at what cost could that be? They will never abandon their jihadist aspirations. Radical Islamists will not accept anything less than for the US to abandon Israel and they now believe that Obama will do nothing if Israel is attacked. Because of this change in US policy, the head of the Arab League, Amr Moussa (from Egypt), has recently suggested improving relations with Iran as a new strategy in the region. This confirms that American power in the region is diminishing. America’s perceived weakness in the region brought by Obama will have serious and lasting consequences.

The Mulsim Brotherhood in Egypt has been empowered. This does not look good for Egypt’s future, especially at a time when Mubarak’s health is deteriorating. Egypt could fall to the Muslim Brotherhood rule, which will cement radical Islam in the whole region and which will empower Iran and radical Islam for generations to come.

President Jimmy Carter abandoned the Shah, which paved the way for the radical Islamist regime to take over. Obama is falling in the same footsteps of appeasing the Muslim Brotherhood and empowering it to take over Egypt.

The next US administration might find it very hard to please the Muslim world after the pro-Islamic Obama policies. How can an American Republican President be viewed in the future by the Muslim world when he does not bow to the Saudi King like Obama? If he or she has a policy with America’s best interests being a number one priority, will he or she be called Hitler by Islamists and by our media? Are we going to cheer when Islamists throw their shoes at our future American President simply for not supporting radical Islam? Will Western media call those U.S. leaders who want to protect America racists and bigots for not accepting the Muslim Brotherhood and welcoming them to shape policy in the White House? In terms of what Obama is doing today, that is something real to think about.

The Disarming of America

On the presidential campaign trail, Barack Obama was often critical of the Bush doctrine of preemptive war. But apparently preemptive disarmament is just fine in the president’s dossier. How else to describe the administration’s infinitely naïve decision yesterday to, in effect, fold up the American nuclear umbrella?

Henceforth, on the administration’s initiative, the United States must desist from using nuclear weapons against officially non-nuclear countries – even if they use such weapons first against the United States – while halting the development of new nuclear weapons. The reasoning seems to be that even if this ends up emboldening America’s enemies and endangering global security, we can all sleep better at night knowing that we’ve “done the right thing.”

To soft-peddle the perils of this monumental concession, the administration has made exemptions for rogue states like North Korea and Iran, for whom “all options” will still be available. But even with this modest nod to the reality of a dangerous world it’s hard to see how surrendering the nuclear option is anything but a setback for U.S. security – especially when it comes on the heels of defense budget cuts; reductions in domestic missile defense spending; and the abandonment of missile defense shields in Poland and the Czech Republic. The last of these can already be judged a failure since it was part of a strategic gambit to buy goodwill from Russia and win Moscow’s support for stiffer measures against Iran. Both have yet to materialize.

Most troubling is the operative principle in these concessions. The administration truly seems to believe that if the United States leads the way in reducing its nuclear stockpiles, the world will follow its shining example. That fantasy is embarrassing enough when expressed by bongo-beating college peaceniks, but it is downright dangerous when it becomes the basis for the country’s national security. If the Iranian experience has taught any lesson, it is that rogue states will be more – not less – emboldened by perceived concessions on the part of the United States. Repeated offers of diplomacy have only encouraged the mullahs to pursue the nuclear weapon more relentlessly, with the consequence that Iran is expected to have an operational nuclear bomb any day now.

Not to worry: The president and his defenders point out that the United States would reserve the right to retaliate militarily in the aftermath of a nuclear attack on its soil. That the administration has not completely signed away the country’s right to self-defense is comforting. But given the staggering devastation of a nuclear attack and the increasing sophistication of nuclear weaponry, the threat of conventional militarily reprisal sounds like the geopolitical equivalent of bringing a knife to a gunfight – after one has been fatally shot.

That highlights yet another flaw in the administration’s plan. While the United States will drop out of the nuclear race, other countries will continue to develop and modernize nuclear technology. Two consequences will follow: First, America’s already aging nuclear arsenal – nuclear and Asia expert Gordon Chang points out the average age of an American nuke is now 26 years – will become even more antiquated. At the same time, other nuclear and aspiring nuclear powers will continue to increase the size and superiority of their nuclear capabilities, with the U.S. falling ever farther behind. China, for instance, has reportedly expanded the size and scope of its nuclear program in recent years, and shows no signs of scaling down its arms buildup: the 7.5 percent spending surge in China’s 2010 military budget was modest only compared to the double-digit increases that have been the norm in recent decades.

What the Obama administration views as virtue looks to the rest of the world like weakness. It is a hard but ineradicable feature of foreign affairs that strength is respected more than surrender, might more than good intentions. President Obama may not agree with that. But so long as he is commander-in-chief, and entrusted with the country’s national security, he has an obligation to act as if he does.