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47 Percent Myth Revisited

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I've heard a lot about this supposed dichotomy between takers and payers in the United States, usually with an implicit or explicit assumption about how the "two halves" vote. But I haven't seen any reference to data that suggests in detail whether it's in fact true that the recipients of federal tax largess principally vote for Democrats. I suspect it isn't, especially if you include all federal spending and not just entitlements.

Reliably Republican enclaves such as Wyoming, South Carolina, Alaska, Texas etc. are among the largest per capita recipients of federal money; if people were truly voting in favor of the spigot faced their way, you might expect to see them turn away from those making the most noise about radically slashing the budget.

Here's a great graphic about voting and spending patterns, with federal spending aggregated: 

If you exclude all non-entitlement spending, I'm still not convinced (due to the complete lack of compelling data…

United States and the Israel-Palestinian conflict

The U.S. is no longer the ideal broker for the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, and no longer in a position to bring the two sides towards an acceptable resolution. The role of a mediator requires a degree of neutrality; the role of guarantor supposes a willingness to hold both parties to their commitments. Whether the U.S. was ever the best choice for these roles is questionable, but the last 15 years has seen a deterioration in the prospects for peace as the circumstances in Palestine have changed, the relationship between Israel and the United States has evolved and – perhaps more importantly – a reduced sense of urgency has prevailed among the Israeli and American voters who have traditionally pressured their respective leaders towards peace. The security situation in Israel, the political conditions among the Palestinians and the focus of the United States on other areas of the Middle East are factors which, combined, portend an uncertain future for the two-state s…

Intervention in Syria: Challenges and Lessons Learned

Syria is gripped with unrest and rebellion. Rebels and government forces fight city by city, exchanging weapons and mortar fire. On the surface, these circumstances seem quite similar to those in Libya ahead of the overthrow of Muammar el-Qaddafi. Compared to the full-scale ground invasion and occupation of Iraq, the conflict in Libya seems like a blueprint for how Western nations should help local dissent coalesce into regime change. Overthrowing the Syrian government might weaken the influence of Iran in the Middle East and replace a hostile government with a more democratic one indebted to the West, but it also may aid in the dispersal of deadly chemical weapons, small arms and unemployed combatants throughout the region. Many other factors make an intervention in Syria more difficult to mount: limited international support, including adamant opposition in the Security Council; the threat to Israel of a destabilized Syrian border; the military power of the Assad regime, and the nat…

Al-Qaeda, the franchise

The 9/11 attacks in New York burned the name Al-Qaeda into the minds of many Westerners as the source of militant Islamism and the root of fundamentalist Islamic terrorism worldwide. In the years that followed, seemingly every region and nation with a significant Islamist presence has acquired a declared branch of Al-Qaeda. The different offshoots seem to share an affinity for militancy and a deep belief in a universal and fundamentalist version of Islam. Beyond tactics and a religious cant, however, it's not clear what these often geographically isolated units share. Other Islamic organizations such as Hamas, Hezbollah or the Muslim Brotherhood, are bound internally by common elements: leadership, goals, literature, communications, funding, etc. In contrast, Al-Qaeda is more like an ideological trademark; a moniker or brand that implies certain broad motives and tactics, but little else in the way of cooperation or shared purpose.

To the extent that the original Al-Qaeda was a c…