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By Jan C. Ting

Obama should make Chuck Hagel our Secretary of Defense

Having lofted Chuck Hagel's trial balloon for Secretary of Defense, and having taken political fire for it, President Obama needs to move forward with that nomination and make it a key test for his administration to get Chuck Hagel confirmed by the U.S. Senate.

President Obama can't afford the political cost of backing down again in the face of partisan criticism of his favored nominee, as he did with Susan Rice, whom he had planned to name successor to Hillary Clinton for Secretary of State. Having failed thus far to achieve any sort of grand bargain on the budget deficit, and with the prospects for gun control he promised after the Sandy Hook massacre uncertain at best, the President needs to take a stand on something that he should and can win.

Chuck Hagel will be a great Secretary of Defense. He's a combat veteran of Vietnam where he attained the rank of sergeant and received two Purple Hearts, later earning his college degree on the GI Bill. This is important because he knows first-hand the human cost of war.

A lifelong Republican, he campaigned for Ronald Reagan, and served briefly in the Veterans Administration under President Reagan until resigning over policy and budget differences. He became a successful businessman, and then achieved political success serving from 1997 to 2009, as a popular United States Senator from Nebraska, keeping the two-term pledge he made in his first campaign.

From 2005 to the end of his term in the Senate, Hagel was the most outspoken Republican critic of the Bush administration's military intervention in Iraq. Since 2009 he has served as Chairperson of President Obama's Intelligence Advisory Board and as a Distinguished Professor at the School of Foreign Service of Georgetown University.

Many of Hagel's fellow Republicans have never forgiven his criticism of the Bush administration's war in Iraq. They charge him now with being soft on Iran or insufficiently supportive of Israel. He is neither. But by experience he is skeptical of the kind of provocative, interventionist military action that got us into Vietnam and Iraq.

Hagel also doesn't regard the Defense Department as a sacred cow. He has publicly described it as "bloated" and suggested it could be "pared down". Sounds like the taxpayer's Secretary of Defense to me.

If President Obama is looking for an independent thinker on defense policy, who can manage, lead, and inspire the military and its civilian staff, Chuck Hagel is a great candidate. And as long as he enjoys the President's confidence, the President should put some of his political capital on the line to see his choice for the critical position of Secretary of Defense confirmed.

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Boehner and House Republicans lack mandate to oppose Obama

On November 6, Republican House Speaker John Boehner noted that while the American people re-elected President Obama and a Democratic majority in the U.S. Senate, they were also, "renewing our House Republican majority." Boehner added. "With this vote, the American people have also made clear that there is no mandate for raising tax rates."

But here's the problem: Most American voters cast their ballots for the Democratic candidates for the U.S. House of Representatives. The most recent tabulation has 59,318,160 votes for Democratic candidates, and only 58,143,273 votes cast for Republican candidates for the U.S. House.

So how come the Republicans retain control of the U.S. House with 234 representatives to only 201 representatives for the Democrats? The answer is gerrymandering, the drawing of congressional district lines to create the maximum number of Republican majority districts while concentrating Democratic voters in a few districts which are then overwhelmingly Democratic (or vice versa).

Pennsylvania is a good example. Because Republicans elected a Republican governor and a Republican majority in both houses of the state legislature in the Republican landslide year of 2010, they alone controlled the reapportionment of congressional districts based on the 2010 census.

As a result, in the 2012 election, Republican candidates won most of Pennsylvania's 18 congressional districts, although most Pennsylvania voters supported Democratic candidates for the U.S. House of Representatives. The actual vote in Pennsylvania was 2,710,827 votes for Democratic candidates, and 2,642,952 votes for Republican candidates, though the result was only 5 Democratic members of Congress and 13 Republican members of Congress from Pennsylvania.

Readers should google and examine the 2012 maps of Pennsylvania's 7th and 6th congressional districts for especially egregious examples of gerrymandering.

Republicans argue with some justification that Democrats often do the same kind of gerrymandering when they control state government after a national census. Consequently, Republicans argue that the 2012 election result, that leaves them in control of the U.S. House of Representatives although most voters supported Democrats, is not unusual. If fact, the 2012 outcome was rare and anomalous, reflecting the extreme degree of political polarization and gerrymandering in the U.S. today.

Republicans say the same thing happened in 1996 when they retained control of the House despite a national majority of votes for Democratic House candidates. Sharp-eyed observers, however, have noted that Louisiana elections concluded that September would have given the Republicans a national popular vote majority if counted together with the November results.

It turns out that we have to go back 60 years to 1952 to find another example of one party (Republicans) controlling the U.S. House of Representatives although the candidates of the other party (Democrats) received a majority of the votes. (Similar anomalies occurred in 1942 and 1914 when Democrats ended up in control of the House, although most votes were cast for Republican candidates.)

The solution to this imperfection in our democracy is obvious. In California where Democrats dominate state government, they have created a non-partisan commission to re-apportion congressional and legislative districts according to clear and transparent guidelines, as is also done in Iowa, Australia, Canada, and many European democracies.

Non-partisan reapportionment commissions won't guarantee a correlation between the popular vote for House candidates and party control of the U.S. House of Representatives. But they can guarantee that if a mismatch ever happens again, it won't be because of deliberate political manipulation of congressional district lines by one political party in order to achieve a gerrymandered majority.

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Villanova Law School put on 2-year probation by Association of American Law Schools

I take no pleasure in reporting this news about a local law school.

Villanova Law School admitted in 2011 that under its previous dean it had intentionally submitted false data to the American Bar Association (ABA) regarding the grades and Law School Admissions Test scores of its incoming classes. This revelation resulted in censure of Villanova Law School by the American Bar Association. Now another regulatory body has weighed in on the Villanova Law School scandal.

In a public letter dated November 28, 2012, addressed to the President of Villanova University and the Dean of the Villanova Law School, the Association of American Law Schools (AALS), a voluntary association of member law schools, announced that it was placing Villanova Law School on probation for two years, commencing when the school posts the letter on its website. The American Bar Association had also required Villanova Law School to prominently post a copy of the ABA censure on the law school website. Villanova Law School's home page now has links at the bottom of the page to the ABA and AALS letters of reprimand.

The AALS explained its delay in responding to the scandal by noting, "The AALS had no precedent for responding to conduct of this kind by a member school." It said that, "the serious nature of the unethical behavior, and the continuing nature of the harm done, calls for a strong response on the part of this Association." It found that, "The Law School's intentional submission of false data over a period of several years... constitutes 'a material failure to comply with the requirements of (AALS) membership,' warranting sanctions."

In other writing I have tried to make the connection between this particular scandal and the larger crisis in American legal education resulting from too many law schools, having to charge higher tuition to stay competitive, competing for too few tuition-paying law students, many of whom incur enormous student loan debt, only to find fewer and more limited job opportunities after graduation than they expected.

I think it's entirely fair for Villanova Law School's students, faculty and alumni to wonder in the midst of this legal education crisis, if, and how many, other American law schools may have done the same thing as Villanova, in an effort to market themselves to tuition-paying students, but not admitted it as Villanova has done.

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Obama and Democrats should support Republican STEM Jobs Act immigration reform bill

The Republican controlled U.S. House of Representatives by a bi-partisan vote of 245-139, has passed the STEM Jobs Act which makes 55,000 additional immigrant visas available to foreigners who have earned advanced degrees from U.S. universities in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), and whom U.S. employers want to hire. Twenty-seven Democrats joined 218 Republicans in supporting the bill. Five Republicans joined 134 Democrats in voting "no".

The 55,000 visas were added by the new act without increasing the overall level of immigration by abolishing the so-called Diversity Visa Lottery, which purports to award 55,000 prized immigrant visas each year in an on-line lottery. Also known as the "green card lottery", it discriminates on the basis of ethnicity in order to steer visas to politically favored races and nationalities. It completely excludes, for example, people from Mexico, Haiti, Jamaica, the Dominican Republic, China, the Philippines, South Korea, India, and 11 other countries from even applying.

Originally created to bring more white immigrants to the U.S., particularly from Ireland, it was sometimes referred to as "the Anti-Diversity Lottery". Currently the largest group of Diversity immigrants come from Africa, which is why some Democrats opposed the STEM Jobs Act, despite claiming to support more immigrant visas for those holding advanced degrees in the STEM fields.

Besides being discriminatory, the so-called Diversity Visa Lottery is rife with fraud. Because applications are accepted over the internet, people can apply multiple times using different names to increase their chance of winning. When I testified to Congress in 2004 in favor of abolishing the Visa Lottery, I was joined by other witnesses and former government officials who testified that fraud in the program is widespread.

A third important part of the STEM Jobs Act makes temporary visas available to the spouses and minor children of legal permanent residents of the U.S. This allows family reunification while spouses and children await their permanent immigrant visas. Over 300,000 are on this waiting list, mainly from Mexico and the Dominican Republic. Refusal of Senate Democrats and President Obama to support this bill means that these families of legal permanent residents already in the U.S. will continue to be separated.

Democrats are holding the STEM Jobs Act hostage until they get what they want, which is a big amnesty for all the millions of aliens who have entered the U.S. in violation of our immigration laws. They don't like to use the word "amnesty", and prefer the vague, ambiguous, and meaningless phrase "comprehensive immigration reform".

This is ironic since the Democrats accuse the Republicans of holding hostage the extension of the expiring Bush tax cuts for middle-class taxpayers, until they also get a tax cut extension for the richest 2% of American taxpayers.

How's this for a deal: Democrats agree to allow the STEM Jobs Act to become law. And in exchange, Republicans allow the middle-class tax cut extension to become law. All other legislative ideas get considered separately and on their own merits.

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Fear not the fiscal cliff!

The so-called "fiscal cliff" is the confluence of three separate legal events on January 1, 2013: expiration of a temporary payroll tax cut, expiration of the so-called "Bush" income and estate tax cuts enacted in 2001 and 2003, and mandatory spending cuts also known as "sequestration".

Many commentators are expressing concern that unless Congress intervenes by January 1, the economy will suffer a serious setback. But I don't think that's the worst thing that could happen.

First, the expiration of the payroll tax cut is going to happen in any event. The payroll tax was lowered in 2011 and 2012 as a temporary economic stimulus. But there is bi-partisan agreement that the payroll tax should be restored to pre-2011 levels to adequately fund Social Security. No controversy here. Payroll taxes will increase in 2013.

The so-called "Bush tax cuts" of 2001 and 2003 were enacted as temporary responses to the economic recession triggered first by the collapse of the internet bubble and then the September 11 terrorist attacks. The Republican sponsors of those tax cuts agreed that they would expire at the end of 2010. As that deadline approached, and President Obama and congressional Republicans continued to argue over whose taxes should be allowed to go up, the President and his political adversaries agreed to extend the tax cuts for two more years, until the end of 2012.

President Obama campaigned on allowing the Bush tax cuts to expire for households earning $250,000 or more, but extending the tax cuts for households earning less than that amount. Republicans advocate making the tax cuts permanent for all taxpayers regardless of income, and also making permanent the elimination of the federal estate tax on decedent millionaires, which they call the "death tax". Unless Congress acts, all the Bush tax cuts will expire on December 31, and both income and estate tax rates will be restored to the levels that applied before 2001.

As part of the 2011 agreement to increase the debt ceiling, Congress pledged to cut federal spending by $1.2 trillion over 10 years, with specific cuts to be determined by a joint select deficit-reduction "super committee". To insure that the cuts would happen, Congress specified that if by the super committee failed to designate sufficient spending cuts, and Congress failed to take any superseding action by December 31, 2012, those $1.2 trillion cuts would happen automatically, spread equally between defense and non-defense spending. These automatic, across-the-board spending cuts have been labeled "sequestration".

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke coined the worrisome phrase "fiscal cliff" to describe the consequences if Congress fails to act by December 31, and the Bush tax cuts all expire, and sequestration spending cuts begin. But that's not the worst scenario.

The worst scenario would be for Congress to extend all the Bush tax cuts and repeal its commitment to cut federal spending by $1.2 trillion over 10 years. That worst case scenario would mean growth of the federal government's $1 trillion annual budget deficit would continue to accelerate, and the now $16 trillion national debt would continue to expand in excess of gross domestic product, the total value of all goods and services produced in the U.S.

The political reality is that it's very difficult for elected officials who want to be re-elected to either cut spending or raise taxes. But cutting spending and raising taxes are both what is needed to reduce the deficit and slow the growth of the national debt. It is both irresponsible and dangerous for us to burden future generations of Americans with the obligation to pay for our accelerating current spending.

It would be nice if Democrats and Republicans could get together and reach agreement on exactly how to reduce spending and raise taxes. But in the current gridlocked political environment, that is a fantasy.

Anyone who recognizes that should understand that the so-called fiscal cliff is not so bad. Allowing all the Bush tax cuts to expire will raise everyone's taxes, but only to the levels that applied during President Clinton's administration when the economy was strong and expanding. Sequestration is a blunt instrument to reduce federal spending, but there does not appear to be a better way. Does anyone seriously doubt that there is tremendous unnecessary spending and waste which can and should be cut from the federal budget?

There's nothing irrevocable about the fiscal cliff. Congress could act any time before or after January 1, 2013, to fine tune the already mandated spending cuts and tax increases.

Republicans deserve both the credit and the blame for making the Bush tax cuts expire and requiring spending cuts as a condition for increasing the debt ceiling. President Obama should be willing to allow those events to happen if that's the only way to address our growing deficit and national debt. He will be in a stronger position after January 1, to make a better and fairer deal than he could negotiate this year.

And if he can't? Bring on the fiscal cliff!

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