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Russia on Edge

A View from the Inside of Putin's Russia

December 16th 2014

Last week I flew into Moscow, arriving at 4:30 p.m. on Dec. 8. It gets dark in Moscow around that time, and the sun doesn't rise until about 10 a.m. at this time of the year — the so-called Black Days versus White Nights. For anyone used to life closer to the equator, this is unsettling. It is the first sign that you are not only in a foreign country, which I am used to, but also in a foreign environment. Yet as we drove toward downtown Moscow, well over an hour away, the traffic, the road work, were all commonplace. Moscow has three airports, and we flew into the farthest one from downtown, Domodedovo — the primary international airport. There is endless renovation going on in Moscow, and while it holds up traffic, it indicates that prosperity continues, at least in the capital. Read more ..


Europe on Edge

Seeking the Future of Europe in the Ancient Hanseatic League

December 11th 2014

euro flags

A bargain, forged in the fires of 2012's economic emergency, has defined the European Union for the past two years. It was an agreement made between two sides that can be defined in several terms — the center and the periphery, the north and the south, the producers and the consumers — but essentially one side, led by Germany, provided finance, while the other, fronted by Spain, Portugal, Ireland and Greece, promised change. In order to gauge this arrangement's chances of ultimately succeeding, it is important to understand what Germany was hoping to achieve with its conditional financing. The answer to that question lies in Germany's own history. 

Last week, the Governing Council of the European Central Bank's monthly meeting left financial markets feeling frustrated. Instead of announcing the beginning of a highly anticipated bond-buying program known as quantitative easing, the European Central Bank, or ECB, only slightly changed the vocabulary it used to describe its plans: "We expect" became "we intend." Pulses did not race with excitement. Read more ..


The Caliphate

Islamist Attack at Ottawa is the Tip of the Iceberg

December 2nd 2014

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My new book is entitled Hatred: Islam's War on Christianity. The day before it was published a soldier in my country of Canada was run down and killed by a convert to Islam who had wanted to travel to Syria to murder infidels but decided after the security services confiscated his passport to commit the crime closer to home.

The day after my book was published another soldier, standing guard by the war memorial in Ottawa with an unloaded gun, was also killed by a convert to Islam who had wanted to conduct slaughter in Syria.

From the bottom of my heart I wish the book was not so timely. But as grotesque as these crimes were, they are mere daily and sometimes hourly occurrences in countries where Muslims form a majority and Christians the minority. In Egypt, Pakistan, post-Saddam Iraq, Sudan, Iran, Saudi Arabia, northern Nigeria, even Indonesia and Turkey, Christians are never treated equally and are often persecuted, beaten, raped, forcibly converted, arrested, killed.

Let us take the example of just one country. Read more ..


The Caliphate

How ISIS is Re-Shaping the Mideast and the World

November 25th 2014

Nuclear talks with Iran have failed to yield an agreement, but the deadline for a deal has been extended without a hitch. What would have been a significant crisis a year ago, replete with threats and anxiety, has been handled without drama or difficulty. This new response to yet another failure to reach an accord marks a shift in the relationship between the United States and Iran, a shift that can’t be understood without first considering the massive geopolitical shifts that have taken place in the Middle East, redefining the urgency of the nuclear issue.

These shifts are rooted in the emergence of the Islamic State. Ideologically, there is little difference between the Islamic State and other radical Islamic jihadist movements. But in terms of geographical presence, the Islamic State has set itself apart from the rest. While al Qaeda might have longed to take control of a significant nation-state, it primarily remained a sparse, if widespread, terrorist organization. It held no significant territory permanently; it was a movement, not a place. Read more ..


Israelis and Palestinians

The Lethality of De-Judaizing Jerusalem

November 21st 2014

Western Wall

As an example of what the insightful commentator Melanie Phillips referred to as a “dialogue of the demented” in her book The World Turned Upside Down, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is continuing a long tradition of attempting to de-Judaize Jerusalem by expressing his mendacious notion that, as he put it, “Jerusalem has a special flavor and taste not only in our hearts, but also in the hearts of all Arabs and Muslims and Christians,” and “Jerusalem is the eternal capital of the Palestinian state and without it there will be no state.”

The same scholar of history who wrote a doctoral dissertation that questioned the extent and truthfulness of the Holocaust was now making his own historical claim that there had never been a Jewish presence and history in the world's holiest city. Read more ..


Obama's Second Term

Obama and the Nature of Failed Presidencies

November 18th 2014

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We do not normally comment on domestic political affairs unless they affect international affairs. However, it is necessary to consider American political affairs because they are likely to have a particular effect on international relations. We have now entered the final phase of Barack Obama's presidency, and like those of several other presidents since World War II, it is ending in what we call a state of failure. This is not a judgment on his presidency so much as on the political configuration within it and surrounding it.

The midterm elections are over, and Congress and the president are in gridlock. This in itself is not significant; presidents as popular as Dwight Eisenhower found themselves in this condition. Read more ..


Russia on Edge

The Struggle over Russia's Ominous Interior Ministry

November 13th 2014

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In recent weeks, rumors that Russian Interior Minister Vladimir Kolokoltsev will be replaced have been circulating among Russian media and pundits who watch Moscow. Stratfor has been monitoring the Russian government's coherence and the strength of its leader, President Vladimir Putin, as the country faces a series of crises involving its faltering economy and tensions with the West over Ukraine. Although Kolokoltsev is of little consequence as a personality, the office he holds oversees one of the most powerful tools for anyone seeking political power in Russia: a significant part of the country's internal surveillance apparatus. Read more ..


The Way Ahead

What the Fall of the Berlin Wall Did and Didn't Change

November 11th 2014

Twenty-five years ago, a crowd filled with an uneasy mixture of joy and rage tore down the Berlin Wall. There was joy for the end of Germany's partition and the end of tyranny. There was rage against generations of fear. One fear was of communist oppression.

The other fear was of the threat of a war, which had loomed over Europe and Germany since 1945. One fear was moral and ideological, while the other was prudential and geopolitical. As in all defining political moments, fear and rage, ideology and geopolitics, blended together in an intoxicating mix.

Marxism's Sway

Twenty-five years later, we take for granted the moral bankruptcy of Soviet communism, along with its geopolitical weakness. It is difficult for us to remember how seductive Marxism was, and how frightening Soviet power was. For my generation, at the better universities, Marxism was not an exotic form of oriental despotism but a persuasive explanation of the world and how it worked, as well as a moral imperative that a stunning number of students and faculty were committed to. Read more ..


Islam in Europe

Football Hooligan Alliance Declares War on Islamic Radicals in Germany

November 10th 2014

Hooligans from rival football clubs have temporarily set aside their mutual hatred for each other in order to unite against a common enemy: radical Salafists who are bringing Islamic Sharia law to Germany.

After police predicted that more than 10,000 hooligans would show up at an anti-Salafist rally in Berlin, authorities cancelled the event. Similar rallies planned for Frankfurt, Hamburg and Hannover have also been banned.

Vogel, a former professional boxer who often depicts himself as the embodiment invincible Islam, is now portraying himself as a helpless and fearful victim of the football hooligans

A group of nearly 5,000 football hooligans from across Germany gathered in the western city of Cologne on October 26 to protest the spread of radical Islam in the country. Read more ..


The 2014 Vote

Outgoing Majority Leader Reid Looks to His Future in the Senate

November 7th 2014

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Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) hopes to confirm 50 of President Obama’s nominees and move an omnibus spending bill in a last hurrah before Democrats give up power in the Senate.

The nominees are part of a packed lame-duck schedule that Reid is furiously planning, and that will be a topic at Friday’s White House lunch meeting between Obama and congressional leaders.

Reid also wants to move a package of expiring tax provisions, the annual Defense Department authorization bill and an extension of a tax moratorium on Internet purchases in the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

That will be a challenge not only because of the tight schedule, but because of expected clashes between Democrats over what should be prioritized before Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) takes over the Senate’s agenda in January. Read more ..


Brazil on Edge

Narrow Re-election of Rousseff confirms Brazil's Role in World Politics

November 2nd 2014

The presidential elections in Brazil on October 26 resulted in a narrow win by incumbent president Dilma Rousseff, from the Workers’ Party (PT, Partido dos Trabalhadores). Her opponent, Aécio Neves from the center right Brazilian Social Democratic Party (PSDB, Partido da Social Democracia Brasileira), was ahead in the polls by a narrow 51 to 49 percent margin until mid-October. However, as the election date approached, Rousseff took over this narrow lead with a 53-47 percent advantage in the late polls and won with a 51.6 percent support against 48.4 percent for Neves.

The campaigns run by both candidates were negative and aggressive with continuing mutual accusations of corruption. Big mainstream media tended to be on the side of Neves. This was exemplified with the early publication of the weekend issue of the weekly magazine Veja. Its cover accused president Rousseff and ex-president Lula of knowing about the on-going, major corruption scandal involving the improper use of Petrobrás funds for election campaigning. Read more ..


The 2014 Vote

Hollywood Pumps Cash to Candidates

October 31st 2014

Money Bands=Happiness

Celebrities are putting on a money-raising show, digging into their wallets in a last ditch effort to help Democrats and Republicans before Election Day. 

David Letterman, Ben Affleck, former NFL quarterback John Elway, and “Scandal’s” Shonda Rhimes were among those pitching in to help their candidates of choice with cash right before next week’s midterm elections. The donations made in this past fundraising cycle are largely being funneled to high-stakes matchups that could either keep the Senate in Democratic hands or tilt it to GOP control.

But in some cases, A-listers may be opening their checkbooks for old pals.

“Late Show” host Letterman was one of several high-profile donors to Sen. Al Franken’s reelection campaign. The Minnesota Democrat had worked to fend off Republican businessman Mike McFadden but is expected to survive.

Read more ..

Egypt on Edge

Egypt Creates a Buffer Zone with Gaza

October 30th 2014

Egyptian Mil. Police Alexandria

Egypt has once again sealed its Rafah border crossing abutting Gaza, declaring the closure is a response to a suicide bombing carried out October 24th in the Sinai. The bombing killed 33 Egyptian soldiers and triggered widespread national mourning in the nation of some 87 million. 

In recent days, Egyptian security forces have discovered and destroyed hundreds of additional smuggling tunnels that lace into the Sinai. Egyptian officials claim to have located and disabled more than 1,600 smuggling tunnels since Mohammed Morsi was deposed on July 3, 2013.

More than just tunnels, the Egyptian army has also begun razing homes on the Rafah border with Gaza. Reports from homeowners indicate often they only have 3 days to relocate before the bulldozers arrive. Thus far, about 800 homes have been targetted for demolition, the purpose being to create a cleared buffer zone on the Gaza border. 

Read more ..

Broken Banking

Building a Banking Union in Europe

October 30th 2014

Euro Symbol

The recent stress tests by the European Central Bank offered few surprises and did not cause any significant political or financial reactions in the Continent. However, these tests were only the beginning of a complex process to build a banking union in the European Union. Unlike the stress tests, the next steps in this project could create more divisions in Europe because national parliaments will be involved at a time when Euroskepticism is on the rise. More important, the stress tests will not have a particular impact on Europe's main problem: tight credit conditions for households and businesses. Without a substantial improvement in credit conditions, there cannot be a substantial economic recovery, particularly in the eurozone periphery.

The European Central Bank had two basic short-term goals for this year's stress tests. On one hand, it had to come up with a test that was tough enough to be credible after tests held in 2010 and 2011 were widely seen as too soft and lacking in credibility. On the other hand, the tests could not produce results dire enough to generate panic. The European Union is going through a phase of relative calm in financial markets, and the European Central Bank was not interested in creating a new wave of uncertainty over the future of Europe's banks.

Read more ..

The Way We Are

America's Wealthy are Remarkably Well-Off

October 29th 2014

Rising Sun - owned by Larry Ellison

In the supposedly classless society of the United States, the wealthiest Americans are doing remarkably well.

According to Forbes, a leading business magazine, the combined wealth of the 400 richest Americans has now reached the staggering total of $2.3 trillion. This gives them an average net worth of $5.7 billion―an increase of 14 percent over the previous year.

With fortunes far beyond the dreams of past kings and potentates, these super-wealthy individuals enjoy extraordinary lifestyles. Larry Ellison, the third wealthiest man in the United States (with $50 billion, an increase of 22 percent) reportedly has “15 or so homes scattered all around the world.” Among his yachts are two exceptionally big ones, each over half as long as a football field. In fact, they’re large enough for him to play basketball while on board. If a ball bounces over the rail, Ellison has a powerboat following along to retrieve it. Read more ..


Obama's Second Term

Growing Disappointment with Obama's Handling of Foreign Policy

October 29th 2014

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President Barack Obama has come under intense criticism for his foreign policy, along with many other things. This is not unprecedented. Former President George W. Bush was similarly attacked. Stratfor has always maintained that the behavior of nations has much to do with the impersonal forces driving it, and little to do with the leaders who are currently passing through office. To what extent should American presidents be held accountable for events in the world, and what should they be held accountable for?

Expectations and Reality

I have always been amazed when presidents take credit for creating jobs or are blamed for high interest rates. Under our Constitution, and in practice, presidents have precious little influence on either. They cannot act without Congress or the Federal Reserve concurring, and both are outside presidential control. Nor can presidents overcome the realities of the market. They are prisoners of institutional constraints and the realities of the world. Read more ..


The 2014 Vote

With One Week to Go, Republican Confidence Builds

October 28th 2014

Vote Buttons

The final week in a two-year war for control of the Senate is going down to the wire, with Republicans confident they’ll net at least the six seats they need to gain a majority during President Obama’s final two years in office.

Republicans are all but assured of winning the open seats vacated by retiring Democrats in Montana, South Dakota and West Virginia and have a very good chance of ousting Democratic incumbents in Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado and Louisiana.

The GOP also believes it will win an open seat in Iowa, where Republican state Sen. Joni Ernst is in a dogfight with Rep. Bruce Braley (D).

Democratic incumbent Sens. Kay Hagan and Jeanne Shaheen are polling better in North Carolina and New Hampshire, respectively, but those races aren’t sure things for the party either. Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

Brothers Killing Brothers - The Current Infighting Will Test al Qaeda's Brand

October 26th 2014

Syrian Sunni jihadis

Terrorists often resolve internal disputes the old-fashioned way: They kill each other.

This was demonstrated on February 22, 2014, when members of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) are believed to have carried out the suicide attack that killed Abu Khaled al-Suri, a founding member and leader of Ahrar al-Sham, a rival coalition of Islamist rebel groups in Syria. ISIL denied responsibility in a formal press release, and factional killings are not uncommon among Syria's rebels, but ISIL had already acquired a reputation for killing its rivals.

(In November 2013, ISIL apologized for beheading another al-Sham leader, claiming that it mistakenly thought he was a Shiite militiaman, and it has publicly announced executing rival commanders since then.) Read more ..


Obama's Second Term

Americans' Short Attention Span has Generated a Shiny-Object Election

October 26th 2014

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The short-attention span generation has birthed the shiny-object election.

The theme of the 2014 midterms — to whatever extent one is discernable — has been an explosion of one crisis after another, each of which demands an enormous amount of media attention before fading for the next one.

From the Secret Service to ISIS, Ebola to immigration, mistreated veterans to Ferguson and race relations, candidates and the president have been forced to react to the controversy du jour.

Strategists and experts say the result has been bad news for Democrats, who have had a tougher time underscoring their preferred campaign messages on their party’s support for women and the middle class. Instead, each shiny object captivating a media that craves the hottest story has helped Republicans making the elections for the House and Senate all about President Obama. Read more ..


The Mideast On Edge

Sandstorm in the Middle East

October 24th 2014

Iraqi Soldiers voting

The great medieval historian Ibn Khaldun centered his understanding of history on asabiyya, which is perhaps best translated as esprit de corps mixed with the will to power. In his masterpiece, the Muqaddima, or Prolegomena, the Arab historian saw as the primary locus of asabiyya the tribe—a smaller unit than the ethnic group, and the most powerful military unit in Islamic history until the Mameluks perfected the use of slave soldiers. The concept of asabiyya is helpful in trying to understand the Middle East today, after the second Iraq war (2003-09) and the Arab Spring (2010-12) together unhinged a dying political order throughout the region.

Today, no Muslim state in the Middle East has an asabiyya that peacefully and happily binds its citizens together. Unless new organizing ideas are embraced, we are likely to see the persistence of the Islamic militancy that has shaken the region. The prognosis isn’t good, in part because of highly counterproductive American actions.

Read more ..

The Future of Warfare

Ebola as a Biological Weapon

October 23rd 2014

Over the past few weeks, I've had people at speaking engagements ask me if I thought the Islamic State or some other militant group is using Ebola as a biological weapon, or if such a group could do so in the future. Such questions and concerns are not surprising given the intense media hype that surrounds the disease, even though only one person has died from Ebola out of the three confirmed cases in the United States. The media hype about the threat posed by the Islamic State to the United States and the West is almost as bad. Both subjects of all this hype were combined into a tidy package on Oct. 20, when the Washington Post published an editorial by columnist Mark Thiessen in which he claimed it would be easy for a group such as the Islamic State to use Ebola in a terrorist attack. Despite Thiessen's claims, using Ebola as a biological warfare agent is much more difficult than it might appear at first blush. Read more ..


The 2014 Vote

Obama Missteps Boost GOP Chances

October 22nd 2014

Vote Buttons

Political missteps by President Obama are unnerving Democrats just two weeks before the midterm elections.

The GOP could hardly contain its glee at what it viewed as Obama’s latest mistake: his comments that voters should support red-state Democrats who “vote with me” and “have supported my agenda in Congress.”

While the remarks on the Rev. Al Sharpton’s radio show were intended to move black voters to the polls, they bolstered GOP attacks that a vote for Michelle Nunn in Georgia or Sen. Mark Pryor in Arkansas is essentially a vote for Obama.

“Democrats running in the midterms have continually tried to distance themselves from Obama to no avail,” noted Republican National Committee spokeswoman Kirsten Kukowski, who said Democratic candidates should “be straight with voters about their relationship with Obama.”

The Sharpton comments were just the latest in a series of fumbles by Obama that has fueled Democratic worries the party will lose control of the Senate in the midterms. Read more ..


Obama's Second Term

Here We Go Again

October 15th 2014

Armstrong_Williams

The flames of conflict in the Middle East never go out, but in recent weeks they have been growing red hot with increasingly dangerous implications for the United States.  And President Obama is leading the United States headlong into the flames, but without a clear strategy in place that will avoid us from getting burned.  Here we go again. 

Somehow within just the last couple of weeks, the Administration evolved from inaction and utter befuddlement about what to do about Islamic State to our armed forces carrying out large-scale air bombing campaigns in both Iraq and Syria.  In a moment of unscripted honesty, President Obama told reporters during a September 4 news briefing who asked about Islamic State, “We don’t have a strategy yet.” 

That comment was a huge blunder, which made the President look like he was once again in over his head, without a solid strategy in place.  Apparently the strategy of “leading from behind” that the President championed in the past related to Libya has evolved to mean “falling behind” in terms of staying one step ahead of our country’s enemies.

Somehow, just weeks later, the White House is trying to sell the American public on the idea that we have a strategy in the Middle East to defeat groups that pose an imminent threat to our national security.  The President campaigned on a promise to withdraw our troops from Iraq, and many Middle East analysts believe that America’s swift disengagement from the country emboldened the radial Islamists who have now become entrenched in the vacuum that our withdrawal created. Read more ..


The Caliphate

Obama Should Not Expect Help from Turkey in the Fight Against ISIS

October 7th 2014

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Last week, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden had to zigzag between the truth that accidentally spilled out of him and Washington's pragmatism. In a speech at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, Biden said: "[Turkish] President (Recep Tayyip) Erdogan, he is an old friend, said you were right, we let too many people through, now we are trying to seal the border."

The "people," however, whom Erdogan said Ankara had "let through" were the jihadists whom Turkey had supported with arms and money, and who have now become an international nightmare.

In other words, the U.S. vice president was publicly saying that the Turkish president had confessed to supporting terrorists.

Then Erdogan threatened: "If he [Biden] really said that, he would become history for me." Finally, a White House statement announced: "The vice president apologized for any implication that Turkey or other allies and partners in the region had intentionally supplied and facilitated the growth of ISIL or other extremists in Syria." Read more ..


The Caliphate

The Kurds, Turkey, and Iraq: the Prize and Peril of Kirkuk

October 7th 2014

In June 1919, aboard an Allied warship en route to Paris, sat Damat Ferid Pasha, the Grand Vizier of a crumbling Ottoman Empire. The elderly statesman, donning an iconic red fez and boasting an impeccably groomed mustache, held in his hands a memorandum that he was to present to the Allied powers at the Quai d'Orsay.

The negotiations on postwar reparations started five months earlier, but the Ottoman delegation was prepared to make the most of its tardy invitation to the talks. As he journeyed across the Mediterranean that summer toward the French shore, Damat Ferid mentally rehearsed the list of demands he would make to the Allied powers during his last-ditch effort to hold the empire together. Read more ..


The Ebola Pandemic

Health Officials Mum about Ebola Contagion in the United States

October 3rd 2014

Emergency Medical

Health officials are refusing to answer growing questions about their response to the first Ebola case in the United States.

Under intense questioning from reporters, officials with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Texas health department and the City of Dallas repeatedly declined Thursday to provide details about the steps being taken to prevent an outbreak.

Texas Health Commissioner David Lakey, who participated in one press call Thursday, would not identify or describe the four individuals who have been quarantined due to possible exposure to Ebola. They were later referred to as "family members" at a separate press conference.

Officials confirmed that roughly 100 people are being questioned about possible exposure to the virus — up from reports of more than 80 earlier in the day. Only a "handful" likely could have caught the virus, they said, and no one but the patient is showing symptoms. Read more ..


United Kingdom on Edge

Secessionist Salmond's Legacy to Scotland is Civil War

October 2nd 2014

By a 10% majority, the inhabitants of Scotland voted No to the question: "Should Scotland be an independent country?" The first reaction of Alex Salmond, the leader of the Yes campaign, was to admit defeat and resign as head of the Scottish National Party (SNP) and as First Minister of the devolved Scottish government. Within a day or two, however, he began urging the minority of Yes voters to delegitimize the majority and to work for a seizure of independence in the future by any available maneuvers.

The Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) and the Greek Civil War (1954-1949), not to mention the whole history of Yugoslavia, showed that Europeans are as capable of treating one another vilely as Muslim fanatics in the Middle East. Some five times more Spaniards perished then than all the victims to date of the current fighting in Syria. The red terror and the white terror in Spain were as murderous as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. Salmond's legacy may turn out to be the spark that kindles similar misery in Scotland. Read more ..


Germany on Edge

Germany Fights on Two Fronts to Preserve the Eurozone

September 30th 2014

Euro Symbol

The European Court of Justice announced Sept. 22 that hearings in the case against the European Central Bank's (ECB) bond-buying scheme known as Outright Monetary Transactions (OMT) will begin Oct. 14. Though the process is likely to be lengthy, with a judgment not due until mid-2015, the ruling will have serious implications for Germany's relationship with the rest of the eurozone. The timing could hardly be worse, coming as an anti-euro party has recently been making strides in the German political scene, steadily undermining the government's room for maneuver.

The roots of the case go back to late 2011, when Italian and Spanish sovereign bond yields were following their Greek counterparts to sky-high levels as the markets showed that they had lost confidence in the eurozone's most troubled economies' ability to turn themselves around. By summer 2012 the situation in Europe was desperate. Bailouts had been undertaken in Greece, Ireland and Portugal, while Italy was getting dangerously close to needing one. But Italy's economy, and particularly its gargantuan levels of government debt, meant that it would be too big to receive similar treatment. In any event, the previous bailouts were not calming financial markets. Read more ..


The Caliphate

Panetta says US Paying the Price for Not Arming Syrian Rebels Earlier

September 27th 2014

IS Caliphate victory parade

Former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta said in an interview broadcast late Sunday that the threat from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) can be tied in part to President Obama’s decision not to arm moderate Syrian rebels.

“The real key was how can we develop a leadership group among the opposition that would be able to take control,” Panetta said on “60 Minutes,” reflecting on a recommendation from top administration officials in 2012 to arm the rebels against President Bashar Assad. “And my view was to have leverage to do that, we would have to provide the weapons and the training in order for them to really be willing to work with us in that effort.”

“I think the president's concern, and I understand it, was that he had a fear that if we started providing weapons, we wouldn't know where those weapons would wind up,” he said. “My view was, ‘You have to begin somewhere.’" Read more ..


United Kingdom on Edge

Class Divisions Influence Scotland Independence Referendum

September 17th 2014

This week the people of Scotland will take part in one of the most important events in the history of the United Kingdom, a referendum on independence.

As "Yes" and "No" campaigners race to persuade those who have not yet made up their minds, one significant factor in the possible outcome is income.

One of the best known images of Scotland is its capital city, Edinburgh, with its iconic castle and ubiquitous bagpipe players.

But Edinburgh represents Scotland in other ways, too. It is home to some of the country’s most affluent residents living alongside impoverished communities. Read more ..


Broken Economy

Rave Reviews for Wealth Building Home Loan

September 15th 2014

Home Foreclosure

The Wealth Building Home Loan (WBHL), a new approach to home finance, opened to rave reviews at the American Mortgage Conference held September 8-10.  Six leaders of national stature made favorable comments from the podium.  Lewis Ranieri, considered the "godfather" of mortgage finance, in his keynote address praised theWBHL: 

Fundamentally, what I find exciting is the wealth building nature of the product.  Anyone who knows me knows how concerned I am that too often the mortgage has been utilized as an ATM for a boat or big screen TV, as opposed to building equity; if we’re to meet the needs of Americans who desire a home, this type of SAFE experimentation will be critical.

Carol Galante, FHA commissioner, David Stevens, Mortgage Bankers Association CEO and former FHA commissioner, Joseph Smith, monitor of the National Mortgage Settlement of the State Attorneys General and Lenders, and James Lockhart, former director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency also made note of the innovative approach taken by the WBHL. Bruce Marks, CEO of the Neighborhood Assistance Corporation of America (NACA), announced that the WBHL, which provides low-income borrowers a straight, broad highway to building wealth based on a 15-year, fully amortizing, fixed-rate loan, will be available in an initial rollout undertaken by NACA and the Bank of America within 60 days. Long-time industry observer Tom LaMalfa, in an email, stated: “In an industry in which few agree on much, there was remarkable agreement on the value of the WBHL among an array of industry leaders speaking at the AMC this week.”  Stephen Oliner (codirector of AEI’s International Center on Housing Risk) and I announced that additional WBHL pilots are in the works with lenders around the country. Read more ..


Obama's Second Term

Obama's Counterterrorism Strategy is Already Failing

September 12th 2014

Iraq ISIL double file of militants

On Wednesday night, President Obama announced his strategy against the Islamic State. It's based on what the U.S. is doing in Yemen, combining targeted airstrikes with support for a local partner, a counterterrorism strategy which Obama claims has been successful and has made the U.S. safer. Unfortunately, those claims are not accurate. The strategy in Yemen is failing, and it is unlikely to succeed in the more dire circumstances of Iraq and Syria. More importantly, the administration's overall counterterrorism strategy has allowed al Qaeda affiliates to grow and expand to an unprecedented degree, likely spelling immense danger for the U.S. today and in the future.

The Islamic State, the president has said, is unique in its brutality and poses a threat to Americans in the broader Middle East. It has evolved beyond a terrorist organization, now fielding a conventional army and running a "state," carved off from Iraq and Syria. The Islamic State is behind mass killings in both countries and the barbaric, public murder of two Americans, Jim Foley and Steven Sotloff. The extremist group has eliminated the border between Iraq and Syria and challenges the established international state system. The president's insistence that a counterterrorism strategy is the optimal response to the threat posed by a group that has moved beyond being a simple terrorist organization is bizarre. Read more ..


The Way We Are

Global Diets Affect Climate

September 8th 2014

Congo Forest

A new study says the growing popularity of the Western diet could help worsen climate change. As more people make meat a principle part of their diet, the authors say it will be very difficult to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The global population is forecast to grow to over nine billion by 2050. And as the population rises, so does the need for more food.  The demand for meat is rising especially fast in many of the world's emerging economies. The Western diet has become fashionable there.

Many studies have warned that the Western diet - filled with fat, sugar and salt - is triggering more non-communicable diseases -- diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer and obesity. But the new study published in Nature Climate Change considers the health of the planet, not just the body. Co-author Chris Gilligan, professor of mathematical biology at the University of Cambridge, said much of the study focuses on how greater food production will affect land use. Read more ..


The Pentagon on Edge

Pentagon Program Under Scrutiny Amid Ferguson Crisis

September 7th 2014

Paramilitary police Ferguson Missouri

It's an unusual scene in the United States. Protesters in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson, Missouri, angered by the shooting of an unarmed teen, are confronted by police with armored vehicles and holding assault rifles. Now, a Department of Defense program that gives military equipment to local law enforcement agencies has come under scrutiny.

It's called the Pentagon's Excess Property Program. Pentagon spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby says the Congressionally-mandated system allows the Defense Department to donate surplus military equipment and weapons to law enforcement agencies that apply for it.

"We don't push equipment on anybody. This is excess equipment the taxpayers have paid for. And it is made available to law enforcement agencies if they want it and if they qualify for it," said Kirby. You can find request forms online for everything from aircraft to weapons to combat boots. The Pentagon says it has given police in the town of Ferguson and St. Louis County six pistols, 12 rifles, a bomb disposal robot, three helicopters and seven Humvees.  Read more ..


The Edge of Medicine

Can Ebola Become Airborne?

September 6th 2014

Ebola health workers and corpse

A study in the journal Science, released last week, shows that the Ebola strain spreading across Western Africa has undergone a surprisingly high amount of genetic drift during the current outbreak. Experts say the mutations could eventually make the virus harder to diagnose and perhaps treat with a new therapeutic, should one come along.

In yesterday’s Wall Street Journal, I wrote that in response to the crisis, the Obama administration has stressed that the disease is unlikely to spread inside America. We will certainly see cases diagnosed here, and perhaps even experience some isolated clusters of disease. For now, though, the administration’s assurances are generally correct: Health-care workers in advanced Western nations maintain infection controls that can curtail the spread of non-airborne diseases like Ebola.

But our relative comfort in the U.S. is based on our belief that our public health tools could easily contain a virus spread only through direct contact. That would change radically if Ebola were to alter its mode of spread. We know the virus is mutating. Could it adapt in a way that makes it airborne? Read more ..


The Cailphate

The Islamic State Has no Interest in Negotiating with the Obama Administration

September 5th 2014

Steven Sotloff, center of photo, with backpack

In releasing a video showing the murder of a second American journalist, the militants of the Islamic State made clear that they have no interest in negotiating with Barack Obama's administration or its allies over the fate of other missing Westerners despite implying that they'd release those prisoners if Washington stopped its intensifying air campaign against the group.

On Tuesday, Sept. 2, the Islamic State released a video that purports to show the beheading of reporter Steven Sotloff, whom the group threatened to kill exactly two weeks ago when it released another video showing the murder of journalist James Foley. In that message, the group said that Sotloff would die unless the United States halted airstrikes.

But some U.S. defense and intelligence officials believe that Sotloff may have been killed at the same time as Foley, meaning the group never intended to release the Florida native or negotiate for his freedom. Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

Competing Jihad: The Islamic State and al Qaeda

September 2nd 2014

Iraq ISIL double file of militants

The Islamic State poses the greatest medium-term threat to the United States of any violent Islamist group today. It controls contiguous territory from eastern Iraq to central Syria, the foundation of its own state. It has unmatched expertise in terrorist attacks inside of Iraq and now fields an insurgent army of several thousands. Its leaders have threatened retaliation for U.S. airstrikes in Iraq, following through on that threat with the barbaric execution of American journalist James Foley. The Islamic State's success is energizing the entire global jihadist movement, including al Qaeda, to compete with one another in violent conquest and terror. The U.S. must act decisively against the Islamic State. Waiting for it to try to attack the U.S. homeland, as some suggest, would be irresponsible folly.

President Barack Obama made clear that American objectives remain limited to containing the Islamic State in Iraq to protect American personnel there and to address the humanitarian situation. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey then suggested on August 21 that dealing with the Islamic State would require operating in Syria. He seems to have received some pushback in response, for he clarified three days later that there are no indications the Islamic State is plotting against the U.S. "If that threat existed inside of Syria," Dempsey said, "it would certainly be my strong recommendation that we would deal with it." Read more ..


The Battle for Ukraine

China May Be Biggest Winner From Ukraine Crisis

September 1st 2014

Protest in Ukraine

Thousands of miles away from the Ukrainian battlefields of Donetsk and Novoazovsk sits the country that may end up being the largest beneficiary of the turmoil along Russia’s southwest border: China.

With Russian President Vladimir Putin rewriting the playbook on security in post-Cold War Europe, Beijing has watched warily 3,700 miles to the east, though without protest or interference.

Its abstention from a U.N. Security Council resolution vote in March that condemned Russia’s annexation of Crimea was unusual, given Beijing’s traditional stance on such votes, but it comes as bilateral ties have been on the upswing for years now.

Two generations ago, ties between Leonid Brezhnev’s Russia and Mao Zedong’s China were fraught. The two fought small-scale skirmishes in 1969 along the Ussuri River border (the Wusuli in Chinese) that almost resulted in war.  

That’s a distant memory now. “China may win out” from the Ukraine crisis? asked Martha Brill Olcott, a longtime scholar of Russia and Central Asian politics. “I think the word is ‘will.’ China ‘will’ absolutely benefit.” Read more ..


The Battle for Ukraine

How to Define What's Going on in Ukraine

August 31st 2014

Click to select Image

Aleksandr Chernov, a doctor and journalist from eastern Ukraine, spent 10 days as a captive of pro-Russian separatists based in Slovyansk.

During that time he was blindfolded, brutally beaten, and interrogated by separatist leader Igor Strelkov. He watched a hardened militant break down in tears after accidentally shooting a stray dog. And he heard countless examples of how the months of violence in Donbas had taken a deadly personal toll.

"Some people's houses had been bombed, or their children's schools. Some of their wives had been seriously injured. So they picked up their weapons and went out to fight," Chernov says. "This is a war, after all." Read more ..


The Iranian Threat

Iran's Strategic Role in the Global Jihadist Movement

August 30th 2014

Iranian navy ship and guard

When the last of the Soviet military departed Afghanistan in 1988-1989,in1988-1989, thousands of well-trained "Afghan-Arab"in1988-1989, thousands of well-trained "Afghan-Arab" mujahideen already indoctrinated in Salafist concepts began to return home.  Soon, from Algiers to Jakarta and from Cairo to Khartoum there emerged the backroom and storefront preachers of an Islamist future. In general, they were recognized for their opposition to governments that either did not implement or directly opposed the institution of Islamic law, the Sharia. 

Because they tended to congregate in mosques whose leadership held analogous convictions, the returnees were soon watched closely by intelligence services. The more Islamist they appeared in dress, personal appearance and discourse, the more dangerous they were considered. Obviously unwelcome at home, the pariahs lacked a dependable venue where the Islamist cause could thrive. Read more ..



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