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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 ..


Lybia on Edge

Is Libya Plunging Into Civil War?

August 29th 2014

Libyan rebels

Inter-militia fighting is wreaking havoc in Libya, which is witnessing the worst violence since the 2011 overthrow and killing of longtime dictator Muammar Qaddafi.

Fierce fighting is raging between powerful Islamist and nationalist militias in the capital, Tripoli, and in the eastern city of Benghazi. Without a functioning national army, the government has been unable to rein in the militias and contain the surging violence.

With a parallel political struggle for power between Libya's former and newly elected parliament, many fear the country could slide into all-out civil war.

The Main Players
In Tripoli, the two main players in the violence are Islamist-affiliated forces from Misurata and the Zintan militia brigades. The two groups, both from western Libya, have turned Tripoli into a battlefield, forcing the United Nations and embassies to evacuate their staff. Read more ..


The Caliphate

Terrorism as Theater

August 28th 2014

ISIS

The beheading of American journalist James Foley by the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq was much more than an altogether gruesome and tragic affair: rather, it was a very sophisticated and professional film production deliberately punctuated with powerful symbols. Foley was dressed in an orange jumpsuit reminiscent of the Muslim prisoners held by the United States at Guantanamo Bay. He made his confession forcefully, as if well rehearsed. His executioner, masked and clad in black, made an equally long statement in a calm, British accent, again, as if rehearsed. It was as if the killing was secondary to the message being sent. Read more ..


The Battle for Baghdad

Iraq and Syria Follow Precedents Set by Lebanon

August 26th 2014

Mark Sykes and Francois Georges Picot

Lebanon was created out of the Sykes-Picot Agreement. This agreement between Britain and France reshaped the collapsed Ottoman Empire south of Turkey into the states we know today -- Lebanon, Syria and Iraq, and to some extent the Arabian Peninsula as well. For nearly 100 years, Sykes-Picot defined the region. A strong case can be made that the nation-states Sykes-Picot created are now defunct, and that what is occurring in Syria and Iraq represents the emergence of those post-British/French maps that the United States has been trying to maintain since the collapse of Franco-British power.

The Invention of Middle East Nation-States

Sykes-Picot, named for French diplomat Francois Georges-Picot and his British counterpart, Sir Mark Sykes, did two things. First, it created a British-dominated Iraq. Second, it divided the Ottoman province of Syria on a line from the Mediterranean Sea east through Mount Hermon. Read more ..


The Way we Are

The Black and Whte Opinions about the Justice System in America

August 23rd 2014

Michael Brown RIP

Let’s step back for a moment to look at black and white attitudes before the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. Understanding the history of attitudes towards the criminal justice system and the police sheds light on views today.

In 1993, 68 percent of blacks told Gallup the American justice system was biased against black people, and twenty years later, in 2013, an identical 68 percent gave that response. Only a third of whites in 1993 and a quarter in 2013 thought the system was biased against blacks. In a question asked in August 2013 by the Pew Research Center, 68 percent of blacks said blacks in their community were treated less fairly than whites in the courts, and 70 percent gave this response about dealings with the police. Seventeen percent of blacks in a summer 2013 Gallup poll said they had been treated unfairly in dealings with the police in the last thirty days.

These long-standing views in the black community help to explain why 65 percent of blacks told Pew Research Center interviewers this past week that the police response in the aftermath of the shooting in Ferguson had gone too far. Twenty percent said it had been about right. Whites were less certain of their views. A third said the response had gone too far, 32 percent that it had been about right, but a large 35 percent volunteered they didn’t know or refused to answer. Read more ..


Ukraine on Edge

Has an End-Game Come for Russia in Ukraine?

August 21st 2014

It's a risky business, attempting to predict the outcome of the conflict in Ukraine. But this weekend's Kyiv visit by German Chancellor Angela Merkel has stirred hopes that a resolution to the Ukraine-Russia standoff and the bloody fighting in Donbas may finally be near. We look at five of the key factors in play.

1. This Is Germany We're Talking About

A number of Western officials have already visited Ukraine since fighting erupted between the Ukrainian military and pro-Russian separatists in April. Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen. Read more ..


War Against the Weak

Back in the Day When Eugenics was Cool

August 19th 2014

Click to select Image

In the minds of many, eugenic policies -- strategies aimed at positively influencing the genetic heritage of a community -- will always be associated with the abuses of Nazi Germany. What is little known, however, was the influence of Scottish thinkers who backed such policies during the 19th and 20th centuries. Their collective support has recently been revealed in a new book entitled the The Ethics of the New Eugenics published on behalf of the Scottish Council on Human Bioethics.

Eugenics, as a specific discipline emerged during the 1860s with Englishman, Francis Galton who was greatly influenced by his cousin Charles Darwin, arguing that since many human societies sought to protect the sick and the weak, they were contravening natural selection. Indeed, because of the development of medical care and other social policies, the weakest individuals were now surviving well into a reproductive age which enabled them to pass on their dysfunctions to their children. Galton indicated that only through eugenic programs could society be saved from a genetic degeneration towards mediocrity. Read more ..


The Way We Are

Richard Nixon's Dual Legacy to the Republican Party

August 17th 2014

Click to select Image

The fortieth anniversary of Richard Nixon’s resignation from the presidency last week passed without much attention to the question of the former president's historical significance and his role in the history of the modern Republican party. Twenty years after his death, it is apparent that Nixon shaped the political world in which we now live, and the last fifty years of the twentieth century are properly seen as The Age of Nixon. In race relations and the fundamental beliefs of the modern Republican party, Nixon was a more consequential historical figure than Ronald Reagan.

In the 1950s, Nixon was sympathetic to African-American aspirations and was someone who impressed Martin Luther King with his understanding of the civil rights impulse. The 1960 election changed all that as black voters helped put John Kennedy in the White House. Read more ..


Defense on Edge

A Line in the Sand on American Leadership

August 16th 2014

U.S. Naval Carrier

A bipartisan group of defense heavyweights has issued a stark warning for presidential candidates of both parties. As the National Defense Panel report outlines, American internationalism has produced such incredible and unprecedented gains that anyone calling for less than robust engagement overseas must shoulder the burden of proof.

The panel was led by senior statesmen from both political parties, as well as an array of retired military leaders. It was co-chaired by President Bill Clinton’s former Secretary of Defense William Perry and former Central Command boss Army General John Abizaid. It also featured former Obama administration Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Michèle Flournoy, as well as her counterpart from the Bush administration, Ambassador Eric Edelman, and former Missouri Sen. Jim Talent.

Given the breadth of experience on the panel, the report draws a clear line in the sand for the debate over U.S. national security policy. Following the commission’s findings, the starting point of a national debate about national security must be that the U.S. military is too small and under-resourced to carry out the nation’s defense strategy. Sooner or later, this growing problem will directly impact Americans. As former Sens. Jon Kyl and Joseph Lieberman have argued, defense cuts “don’t only harm national security, they will weaken the economy.” This is a sobering assessment for politicians on both sides of the aisle. Read more ..


Russia on Edge

Engaging with Russia Before the Snow Falls in Europe

August 15th 2014

Click to select Image

John Kenneth Galbraith once termed foreign policy a choice between the merely unpalatable and the disastrous. As the U.S. launches multiple rounds of airstrikes against Iraq, in an attempt to halt Islamic State militants who have captured the country’s largest dam and embarked on a rash of blood-curdling atrocities – their strength fueled, incredibly enough, by the seizure of U.S. military equipment abandoned by a retreating Iraqi Army – U.S. leaders and public intellectuals must weigh some very difficult decisions. August, normally a sleepy vacation month, has been packed with one overseas disaster after another. Read more ..


China on Edge

China's Credit Slowdown Raises Concerns About Overall Economic Health

August 14th 2014

New economic data released by China's National Bureau of Statistics on Aug. 13 shows the supply of credit to the Chinese economy expanded by only $44.3 billion in July, the slowest pace in almost six years. To be precise, credit expanded at the slowest pace since October 2008, the month after Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy and the month before the Chinese government launched an economic stimulus program that sheltered China's economy from the worst effects of the global financial crisis.

That program also locked China into a growth model grounded in the intimate bond between government-led credit expansion and housing and infrastructure construction -- one that the Chinese government is now struggling, against time and at the risk of crisis, to escape. Read more ..


The Edge of Climate Change

The Climate-Change Money Machine

August 13th 2014

Glaciers

The period of atmospheric and surface warming that began in the late 1970s ended in the mid- to late 1990s, but the climate change industry is hot. Witness a new effort by Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) to use unsupported assertions about the hugely adverse effects of greenhouse gas emissions purportedly now looming large to justify federal auctions of "carbon" permits, with the revenue inevitably used by the political class for purposes of redistribution to favored interest groups.

Van Hollen has introduced The Healthy Climate and Family Security Act of 2014, which would impose steadily declining limits on "carbon pollution" — a classic example of the political propaganda at which the climate change industry is so practiced — by auctioning permits to the "first sellers" of oil, coal and natural gas in the U.S. market. The goal would be an 80 percent reduction in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions below 2005 levels by 2050.

Let us begin with the central congressional "finding" (that is, bland assertion) in the Van Hollen legislation: "The warming of our planet has led to more frequent, dangerous, and expensive extreme weather events, including heat waves, storms, fires, droughts, floods, and tornadoes." Read more ..


Operation Protective Edge

A Saudi Challenge to Israel

August 12th 2014

Western Wall - Wailing Wall Jerusalem

The Saudi English-language newspaper Asharq al-Awsat published a thought -provoking op-ed regarding the latest round of Hamas's confrontation with Israel.  In an article titled No Longer an Arab-­Israeli Conflict, Mamoun Fandy, opines that Hamas's attacks on Israel from Gaza is Iran's doing with the help of the Muslim Brotherhood and its champions Qatar and Turkey.  

Indeed, Fars News reported today that the deputy Chief of Staff of the Iranian Armed Forces Brigadier General Massoud Jazzayeri announced: "The countdown has started for a change in the model of confrontation in the West Bank." He went on to denounce "the rulers of certain Arab states, complaining that the Arab reactionary leaders have been acting on behalf of the US and Britain for tens of years." He reiterated that there was "no limit for Iran's humanitarian and other type assistance to the Palestinian people...and arms aid," sparing no efforts, he added. 

This is but the latest attempt to lure the PLO's Mahmoud Abbas-led Palestinian Authority to the Iranian camp, and to undermine the Saudi and Gulf Sunni influence in the Middle East.  Last week the commander of the Basij (paramilitary force), Brigadier General Modhammad Reza Naqdi, offered the same support to the Palestinians while claiming to represent the Muslim world and calling for "for the annihilation of the Zionist regime."

Fandy challenges Israel to take advantage of Saudi influence to reach an agreement with the Palestinians. However, he neglected to consider Iran's latest offer to the PA, as well as Abbas's double-crossing nature.  Read more ..


Turkey on Edge

The Ambitions of Turkey and Prime Minister Erdogan

August 12th 2014

At a time when Europe and other parts of the world are governed by forgettable mediocrities, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey's prime minister for a decade now, seethes with ambition. Perhaps the only other leader of a major world nation who emanates such a dynamic force field around him is Russia's Vladimir Putin, with whom the West is also supremely uncomfortable.

Erdogan and Putin are ambitious because they are men who unrepentantly grasp geopolitics. Putin knows that any responsible Russian leader ensures that Russia has buffer zones of some sort in places like Eastern Europe and the Caucasus; Erdogan knows that Turkey must become a substantial power in the Near East in order to give him leverage in Europe. Erdogan's problem is that Turkey's geography between East and West contains as many vulnerabilities as it does benefits. This makes Erdogan at times overreach. But there is a historical and geographical logic to his excesses. Read more ..


The Media on Edge

Why Everything Reported from Gaza is Crazy Twisted

August 11th 2014

Close-up Hamas terrorist balaclava bullets AK-47

You’re seeing civilians dying and suffering in Gaza. You’re seeing the destruction Israel’s military operation against Hamas has caused. You’re hearing from Israel that Hamas is firing rockets from crowded neighborhoods, using helpless Gaza civilians as human shields, forcing them to stay in their neighborhoods in defiance of Israeli warnings to leave. Why aren’t you hearing that from Gaza? Often, it’s because reporters are afraid to tell you.

True, in some cases, it’s anti-Israel bias. In others, it’s bad journalism—covering the story you can easily see above ground, like destruction, misery, death and funerals, instead of digging for the real story: Why this is happening and how the powerful are operating behind the scenes or underground—again, literally. It’s the scourge of 21st century “journalism,” with its instant deadlines, the demands to tweet and blog constantly, the need to get something out there that’s more spectacular than the competition, and check the facts later, if at all. Read more ..


Iraq and the ISIL

There's No Such Thing as a Non-Military Solution to Problem Like ISIL

August 10th 2014

Iraq ISIL double file of militants

President Obama has returned to Iraq with the same slogan that paved the way for his departure: “There is no military solution.” It was misleading then, and it’s misleading now. There is no clear division between military and non-military solutions, especially when the enemy is a genocidal terrorist organization like ISIL. Unless the White House can come to terms with this reality, there is no reason to expect that today’s airstrikes will become part of an overall strategy that addresses ISIL’s threat to both Americans and Iraqis.

Yesterday evening, the president offered a slight variation on his familiar line about the absence of military solutions. He said, “American combat troops will not be returning to fight in Iraq, because there’s no American military solution to the larger crisis in Iraq.” In part, this is a political message. The president wants the American public to know that he isn’t relaunching the intervention he promised so many times to end. While the US is now employing air power as well as advisers on the ground, Obama doesn’t want anyone to infer that he made a historic mistake when he pulled out every last one of our troops in 2011. Read more ..


Turkey on Edge

Turkey's First Direct Presidential Election: What To Watch

August 9th 2014

Erdogan

Turks go to the polls on August 10 to vote in the first direct presidential election in their country's history. Since the founding of the Republic of Turkey more than 90 years ago, the president had been chosen by parliament.

Outgoing Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a dominant figure in Turkish politics for over a decade, is widely expected to win the election. Erdogan has served three terms in office and is barred from running again as prime minister according to the rules of his party, the Islamist-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP).

Around 55 million people are eligible to vote in the historic election, which could shift the nature of political power in Turkey if Erdogan indeed wins and fulfills his stated intention to expand the powers of the presidential office.

Weak Rivals
Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu is the joint candidate of the main opposition parties in parliament. But the 71-year-old -- an academic and veteran diplomat -- is relatively unknown as a political figure. Ihsanoglu has presented himself as a moderate, and has sought to attract youths and middle-class liberals who have become disaffected with Erdogan's stewardship of the government, which critics say has bordered on authoritarianism. Read more ..


Defense on Edge

Cold War Deterrent Poses New World Safety Concerns

August 8th 2014

Misslle in Silo

When the United States dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan on August 6, 1945, it marked the beginning of the age of nuclear weapons.  Although the development and deployment of these weapons peaked during the Cold War, large arsenals still exist in the United States and Russia - and are on a a heightened state of alert.  Recent scandals involving those responsible for handling nuclear weapons in the U.S. military have renewed debate about the risk, and the need, for such weapons.

Below the surface of the Oscar Zero launch facility outside Cooperstown, North Dakota, the fate of millions hinged on a simple decision to turn a nuclear missile launch key.
 
Once that key activated a nuclear tipped Minuteman Intercontinental Ballistic Missile, or ICBM, there would have been no turning back - and no limit to the death and destruction it would cause. “The people that had these jobs, these missileers, took their jobs very seriously," said Gwen Hinman. Read more ..


The US and Gaza

Jimmy Carter Calls for Recognizing Hamas' Legitimacy

August 7th 2014

Hamas Missiles

Once upon a time, the architect of the 1979 Camp David accords had some credibility as an observer of the Middle East. Yet the depth of his anti-Israel prejudice was already on display eight-years ago when he insisted that the Israeli occupation of the West Bank “perpetrates even worse instances of apartness, or apartheid, than we witnessed even in South Africa.” His book on that subject was naturally called Palestine: Peace, Not Apartheid.

If he weren’t a former president of the United States, Mr. Carter could safely be ignored. Yet his authority as a former commander-in-chief validates the anti-Israel sentiment that is widespread in Europe, at the United Nations, and within significant parts of the American left.

     Carter: Hamas Deserves “Legitimacy As A Political Actor”
This morning, Carter demanded recognition of Hamas’ “legitimacy as a political actor”. He did so on the grounds that Hamas “represents a substantial portion of the Palestinian people”. He did not suggest that Hamas should lay down its weapons or indicate any interest in peace before being granted such recognition. Rather, recognition would “begin to provide the right incentives for Hamas to lay down its weapons.” Read more ..


Broken Education

The Race to Nowhere

August 6th 2014

school kids

July marked the fifth anniversary of Race to the Top, the Obama administration's signature education initiative. Enacted during President Obama's honeymoon, the $4.35 billion competition drew bipartisan hosannas and was hailed as an example of getting school reform right. In truth, Race to the Top presaged much that Obama has gotten wrong when it comes to education. The administration's missteps included turning the Common Core into a quasi-national program, igniting partisan opposition in the states while prodding pliant states to move reforms on Obama's politically driven timeline. A monument to paper promises and bureaucratic ineptitude, Race to the Top was more a cautionary tale than a model to be emulated.

The Department of Education launched the "race" as a grant program in 2009, with funds from that year's $900 billion stimulus bill. Of the $120 billion set aside for education, the administration was able to carve out that $4.35 billion to promote reform. The other $100 billion-plus in education spending went to help states and districts duck hard choices, for a year or two, and maintain unsustainable outlays. Read more ..


The Caucasus on Edge

The Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict

August 5th 2014

Azerbaijani Tank

Deadly skirmishes have erupted recently between Azerbaijani and Armenian forces over the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh, with each side blaming the other for the escalation in violence. Here are answers to five central questions about the conflict.

Why Are They Fighting
Azerbaijan and Armenia have been at loggerheads for decades over the status of Nagorno-Karabakh, a mountainous region inhabited almost entirely by ethnic Armenians but which is located within Azerbaijan’s internationally recognized borders.

The Soviet government designated the territory an autonomous region within Soviet Azerbaijan in the 1920s. Under Moscow’s iron rule, violence between the Armenians and Azerbaijanis that predated their incorporation into the Soviet Union was kept largely in check.

But as the Soviet Union began to wobble in the late 1980s, simmering tensions boiled over into a six-year war after Nagorno-Karabakh sought to formally join Armenia. The region’s self-styled government declared unilateral independence in 1991, and an estimated 30,000 people died in the conflict before Russia brokered a cease-fire in 1994. Read more ..


Inside Qatar

Qatar: Small Nation, Large Schemes

August 4th 2014

LNG Tanker

One could wager that these days few recall the works of Bismarck, Mahan, Haushofer, or the once puissant geopolitical theories of the Rimland and Heartland. And more recently, one wonders if even the study and evaluation of Realpolitik is anathema in academe.  With apologies to William James, an amorphous political pragmatism seems to be all the rage.  It is perhaps so because, like many subjects that are now de rigueur, it has no lasting value. While natural resources have played a peripheral part in geopolitical studies (the location of world-wide coaling stations that serviced the British fleet are an exception), today one could write a very interesting study of the geopolitics of natural resources with chapters on hydrocarbons, copper, gold and silver, and, yes, even that red-headed step-son, coal. And if one considers the role of nations in that thesis, if there is one nation on earth that seems to have absorbed the study of geopolitics to its great advantage, it is the Qatar micro-state. Read more ..


Russia on Edge

New Western Sanctions May Severely Hurt Russian Economy

August 2nd 2014

EU flag

The latest round of EU and U.S. sanctions over Ukraine will restrict Moscow's access to what Russia arguably needs most: Western financing and new technology. Here are five things to know about the sanctions and their impact.

How much could the sanctions hurt Russia?
This batch of sanctions comes at a time when Russia is already in a fragile economic state. The turmoil over Ukraine has made investors nervous and sparked massive capital outflows -- some $75 billion from Russia so far this year, or more than for all of 2013. That has sent the value of the ruble tumbling by some 9 percent and raised the price of imported goods.

But the new sanctions, which for the first time target Russian economic sectors rather than only individuals or entities, have the power to weaken Russia's economy even more. They will dramatically reduce the country's access to Western capital markets and to new Western technology -- two things the economy needs to stimulate growth. Read more ..


The Caliphate

IS Cleanses Mosul of Christians

August 1st 2014

ISIL execution crucifixion Iraq

Following a 2,000 year history in the city, the last Christians left Mosul this week according to reports from local observers. The exodus comes as Islamic State (IS) militants, who captured Mosul last month, announced they would impose Sharia law in the city. The group began painting the letter N, for Nassarah, on the homes of Christians in area so they could be easily identified. Those who failed to convert to Islam or leave were threatened with the death penalty, their remanding property would be seized by IS. The extremists also blew up a sacred tomb that was believed to be the biblical prophet Jonah's burial place last week.

More than a decade ago, 60,000 Christians lived and worshiped in and around Mosul, Iraq's second largest city. Following the advance of IS last month, only about 20 Christian families remained in the area, according to the UN. Overall, Iraq's Christian population has decreased from one million in the early 1990s to less than 300,000 in the past decade. Read more ..


Operation Protective Edge

Operation Protective Edge Enters Military Junction--Stop or Broaden

July 30th 2014

Soldier-tank

Operation ‘Protective Edge’ is currently at a point where it is unclear if it will stop completely or if it will be broadened to further areas in Gaza. The IDF is demanding Israel's political leadership reach a decision regarding the next steps of the ground offensive in the Gaza Strip. A high ranking military official spoke Tuesday with journalists about the next stages of the operation and said that "the political leadership must decided now – either we push deeper (into Gaza) or we backtrack."

In the meantime, IDF have become more static, a dangerous situation for forces facing guerrilla fighters. Israel is continuing its massive strikes against terror targets in Gaza, as rockets continued to hit Israeli civilian targets last night and early this morning. For the second time in 24 hours the IDF dropped warning flyers over the Gaza areas of Al-Jarara, Bnei-Sahila, Abasan al-Kabira & Khirbat Ikhza'ah, an indication of a possible broadening of the operation.

Rocket warning sirens were heard in communities in the Sderot and Netivot regions, east of the Gaza Strip early this morning. The early morning attack came after a fairly quiet night, with no reports of rockets between midnight and 5 a.m. before then two rockets fired from Gaza last night hit southern Israel. In addition, the Iron Dome intercepted one rocket over the Tel Aviv area and one rocket in the Jerusalem area. Read more ..


Operation Protective Edge

Ismail Haniyeh’s House Was Bombed--Sends a Message

July 29th 2014

Missiles on jet

A message was sent to senior level officials in Gazan terrorist organizations. The Israeli Air Force attacked last night the homes of senior level Hamas members in Gaza and former Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh. According to news agency reports, the hit caused much damage, but there were no reports of injuries from the explosion.

It seems that the army decided to send private messages to harm Hamas leaders in the Gaza Strip and for this reason, the home of Ismail Haniyeh was bombed. According to reports, the son of Ismail Haniyeh confirmed the report on his facebook page. He noted that the house was emptied before the missile hit. It is unclear whether the missile completely destroyed the home or only caused partial damage. Read more ..


Operation Protective Edge

Gaming Israel and Palestine

July 29th 2014

We have long argued that the Arab-Israeli conflict is inherently insoluble. Now, for the third time in recent years, a war is being fought in Gaza. The Palestinians are firing rockets into Israel with minimal effect. The Israelis are carrying out a broader operation to seal tunnels along the Gaza-Israel boundary. Like the previous wars, the current one will settle nothing.

The Israelis want to destroy Hamas' rockets. They can do so only if they occupy Gaza and remain there for an extended period while engineers search for tunnels and bunkers throughout the territory. This would generate Israeli casualties from Hamas guerrillas fighting on their own turf with no room for retreat. So Hamas will continue to launch rockets, but between the extreme inaccuracy of the rockets and Israel's Iron Dome defense system, the group will inflict little damage to the Israelis. Read more ..


Broken Government

Tackling Our Nations Budget Problems, Head On

July 28th 2014

Congress-senate

Each year, Washington spends billions of dollars more than it takes in, and the problem will only get worse. The recent Congressional Budget Office (CBO) long-term budget outlook shows a $40 trillion increase in debt over the next two decades. Even soaring tax receipts will not be able to keep up with surging spending, which has put us on the road to fiscal calamity. So why aren’t more people talking about it, and why aren’t we doing anything to fix it?

     It’s a bipartisan failing.
On the left, many argue that our soaring debt is not a problem. They point to a temporary decline in the deficit—saying it’s “only” $500 billion this year—as evidence that the budget will take care of itself. But demography is destiny. With 10,000 baby boomers retiring into Medicare and Social Security every day, annual deficits are projected to be back over $1 trillion within eight years, and the debt explodes over the next few decades. Read more ..


Operation Protective Edge

Kerry Plan Weirdly Empowers Qatar & Turkey while Undercutting Israel and Arab Allies

July 27th 2014

Hamas Terrorists

Friday night, the Israeli security cabinet unanimously rejected the latest ceasefire proposed by Secretary of State John Kerry. Bizarrely, it is emerging that Kerry’s plan comes in the wake of apparent efforts to appease Hamas’ biggest financial backer, Qatar–which has also been bankrolling some of the most problematic anti-Western elements in the region such as ISIS and the Muslim Brotherhood–as well as Turkey, which has been openly supportive of Hamas’ terror regime and has been viciously attacking Israeli efforts to defend itself.

Qatar, it should be noted, has been host to a number of leading terror luminaries, including Hamas leader Haled Mashal as well as Muslim Brotherhood cleric Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, who has called for increased ritual circumcision of Muslim girls, and described the Holocaust as Allah’s way of punishing the Jews. Read more ..


Thailand on Edge

Thailand's Junta Moving Further Away From Democratic Rule

July 26th 2014

Thai Coup

Critics of Thailand's new interim charter are saying it does just the opposite of what the military claims: paving the way for a return to democratic civil rule. Further reaction to the temporary constitution, which was issued this week.

A former cabinet minister, considered a fugitive by Thailand's military leaders, is calling the country's new interim constitution one of the most repressive decrees yet from the junta.

New Interim contstitution
Jakrapob Penkair, among those who has set up in exile the Organization of Free Thais for Human Rights and Democracy (FT-HD), spoke to VOA via Skype from an undisclosed location outside Thailand.   “This military regime puts itself in the constitution above the whole system," he said. "Even if you have the national assembly elected or appointed or you have a government elected or appointed, the final say would be them, would be the military regime.” Read more ..



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