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The Diplomatic Edge

Secretary Kerry Spells Out the Obama Doctrine for Latin America

November 26th 2013

In a speech delivered on November 18 before the Organization of American States (OAS) and cosponsored by the Inter-American Dialogue, Secretary of State John Kerry did not exactly stun his audience by declaring “the era of the Monroe Doctrine is over.” At best, this grand gesture evoked a somewhat hesitant applause. Could it be that the audience was taken by surprise? After all, just seven months ago, Kerry referred to Latin America as “our back yard.” The use of such language engendered disbelief because this was not the first time a Secretary of State announced a significant shift in US policy towards Latin America. At the 1933 Pan-American Conference in Montevideo, Cordell Hull echoed President Franklin Roosevelt’s good neighbor policy by backing a credo that “No state has the right to intervene in the internal or external affairs of another.” But a long series of US interventions in Latin America has undermined the credibility of that promise and forever placed a burden of proof on any new such declarations of a change of course called for by a United States official. Read more ..

Iran's Nukes

Obama Modifies Relations with Israelis and Saudis by Negotiating with Iranians

November 26th 2013

Click to select Image

A deal between Iran and the P-5+1 (the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany) was reached on the night of November 23. The Iranians agreed to certain limitations on their nuclear program while the P-5+1 agreed to remove certain economic sanctions. The next negotiation, scheduled for six months from now depending on both sides' adherence to the current agreement, will seek a more permanent resolution. The key players in this were the United States and Iran. The mere fact that the U.S. secretary of state would meet openly with the Iranian foreign minister would have been difficult to imagine a few months ago, and unthinkable at the beginning of the Islamic republic.

The U.S. goal is to eliminate Iran's nuclear weapons before they are built, without the United States having to take military action to eliminate them. While it is commonly assumed that the United States could eliminate the Iranian nuclear program at will with airstrikes, as with most military actions, doing so would be more difficult and riskier than it might appear at first glance. The United States in effect has now traded a risky and unpredictable air campaign for some controls over the Iranian nuclear program. Read more ..

Islam on Edge

The Sunni-Shia Rapprochement: What Went Wrong?

November 23rd 2013

Iranian clerics

On November 20, 2013, news from Pakistan was replete with articles deploring the recent explosions of Sunni-Shia “sectarian violence.” Incidents were reported in Rawalpindi and Multan, two heavily populated provinces, and in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the troubled province that borders Afghanistan where a curfew had to be imposed in Kohat and Hangu districts. One newspaper editorialized that with regard to the potential for religious turmoil, “Pakistan is a powder keg and the slightest spark can set it off.”

Twenty years have passed since Pakistan’s Sunni Islamist leaders Amir Saeed and Qazi Hussein Ahmad rubbed shoulders with Lebanon’s Shiite warlord Imad Mugnahya at the 2nd Popular Arab and Islamic Conference (PAIC). Appearing in Khartoum, Sudan, from 2–4 December 1993, Saeed represented the jihadist Lashkar e-Taiba (“Army of the Righteous”) movement, and Hussein the more traditional Jamaat-e-Islami (“Islamic Party,”JI). Read more ..

Argentina on Edge

A Prosecutor’s Challenge to the Argentina-Iran Memorandum of Understanding

November 22nd 2013

Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner

As the United States forges ahead with its unpredictable negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program, President Cristina Kirchner of Argentina is doing her best to let the Iranians off the hook for the bombing of the Jewish Community Center in Argentina in 1994.

Even though this was described as the worst act of terrorism to have occurred on the South American continent resulting in the death of 83 individuals, and in spite of overwhelming evidence as to Iran’s complicity, the case has remained unsolved for almost twenty years.

However, earlier this year the Argentinean Government signed an agreement with Iran to establish a “Truth Commission” whose objectives were to find out the truth about the perpetrators of this heinous act. On November 14, Alberto Nisman, the prosecutor of the case of the bombing of the Jewish headquarters in Buenos Aires (AMIA) requested from the Argentinean judge in charge of the case to declare the Argentina-Iran memorandum of understanding “unconstitutional.” Read more ..

America's Darkest Edge

Connecticut Governor Malloy on Making Gun Control Work at the State Level

November 21st 2013

Sandy Hook Shooting

After the school shooting in Newtown last year, Connecticut passed comprehensive reforms to address gun violence. Last week, Governor Dannel Malloy discussed the implementation of those reforms in an interview with Brookings’ John Hudak.

The new laws comprise changes to gun control, mental health care, and school safety policies. They include commonly proposed reforms such as an expanded assault weapons ban, universal background checks, limits on the size of magazines, and grants to improve school security infrastructure. However, the laws also include innovative measures such as an ammunition certification system, expanded police seizure power in violent crime investigations, and a violent gun offender registry—to name a few.

Governor Malloy noted, “implementation is going to be very important.” He explained that the state has spent time and resources to ensure that communication systems were refined, backlogs were minimized, and coordination among state agencies was solidified. As citizens, businesses, health care providers, schools, and state agencies begin complying with new regulations, the success of the policies depends largely on the planning and communication of state officials. Read more ..

Greece on Edge

Greece: Taxpayer-Funded Mosque Planned in Athens

November 20th 2013


The Greek government has awarded a tender to build the first taxpayer-funded mosque in Athens, one of the few remaining capitals in the European Union that lacks a state-funded mosque. The Ministry of Infrastructure, Transport and Networks said on November 14 that it had finally chosen a consortium of four construction companies to build the mosque. Four previous tenders had failed due to a lack of interest amid mounting public opposition to the mosque. Construction of the 600 square meter (6,500 square foot) mosque—which will cost Greek taxpayers at least €950,000 ($1.3 million)—is due to begin within the next two months. Once the contracts are signed, the tender calls for the project to be completed within six months.

The plan calls for renovating an existing government-owned building on a disused naval base in the industrial district of Votanikos near the center of Athens. The mosque—which will not have minarets—will have a capacity for around 500 worshippers. Read more ..

Broken Healthcare

Why Do Insurers Cancel Policies?

November 20th 2013

cancelled health insurance policy

Now that President Obama has said it’s OK with him if insurance companies keep their policyholders in health plans that don’t meet the standards established by the Affordable Care Act, at least for another year, the big question is whether insurers will take him up on the offer. The answer: it depends.

Some insurance executives will view the offer as one they can’t turn down. Even though Karen Ignagni, president of America’s Health Insurance Plans, the industry’s big PR and lobbying group, had nothing good to say about Obama’s proposal, keep in mind that she doesn’t run an insurance company. While industry executives look to her to comment on what politicians do, they make their own decisions when it comes to their companies’ bottom lines.

Here’s what Ignagni was quoted as saying in a FOX News story Friday: “The only reason consumers are getting notices about their current coverage changing is because the ACA (Affordable Care Act) requires all polices to cover a broad range of benefits that go beyond what many people choose to purchase today.” Read more ..

Israel on Edge

Inappropriate Use of the Fourth Geneva Convention--Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War

November 19th 2013


The language of Article 49 was crafted in the wake of World War II and the Nazi occupation – an occupation that led to a war of aggression in which Nazi Germany attacked its neighbors with impunity, committing a host of atrocities against civilian populations, including deportation and displacement of local populations in occupied Europe. Millions were sent to forced labor camps and those of particular ethnic origin, most notably the Jews, were sent to their deaths in the gas chambers. The drafters of Article 49 were concerned with preventing future genocide against humanity.

Critics and enemies of Israel, including members of the UN and organs such as the International Court of Justice (ICJ) have come to use the Geneva Convention as a weapon against Israel, even when statements by authoritative analysts, scholars and drafters of the document contradict everything said by those who distort history for politically motivated reasons. Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

With Morsi Gone, Hamas Turns Back to Iran

November 18th 2013

Hamas head

A number of recent reports have noted the revival of Iranian financial backing for Hamas, the Palestinian Islamist movement which rules the Gaza Strip. The Iranian decision appears to follow a series of meetings between officials of the Islamic Republic and senior Hamas members in recent days. It is not yet clear what this apparent Iranian rapprochement with Hamas will mean in practice. Iranian arming and support of Hamas never entirely ended, though its levels were drastically reduced after Hamas departed Damascus in November 2012.

But the reason for the rekindled romance between Tehran and Gaza is very clear — this is the latest fallout from the July coup in Egypt. As time goes on, it is becoming clear that the military coup was a historic moment. Prior to it, there was a growing sense that the onward march of the Muslim Brotherhood and its Sunni Islamism was unstoppable. Indeed, the “Arab Spring” is best understood as beginning not with the self-immolation of the Tunisian Mohamed Bouazizi in December 2010, but rather with the Hamas coup against Fatah in Gaza in June 2007, the first political victory of Muslim Brotherhood-type Islamists against their nationalist rivals. Read more ..

The Iranian Threat

The U.S.-Iran Talks: Ideology and Necessity

November 17th 2013

Iran Nuclear Equipment centrifuges

The talks between Iran and the Western powers have ended but have not failed. They will reconvene next week. That in itself is a dramatic change from the past, when such talks invariably began in failure. In the book The Next Decade, it was argued that the United States and Iran would move toward strategic alignment, and I think that is what we are seeing take shape. Of course, there is no guarantee that the talks will yield a settlement or that they will evolve into anything more meaningful. But the mere possibility requires us to consider three questions: Why is this happening now, what would a settlement look like, and how will it affect the region if it happens?

It is important to recognize that despite all of the other actors on the stage, this negotiation is between the United States and Iran. It is also important to understand that while this phase of the discussion is entirely focused on Iran's nuclear development and sanctions, an eventual settlement would address U.S. and Iranian relations and how those relations affect the region. If the nuclear issue were resolved and the sanctions removed, then matters such as controlling Sunni extremists, investment in Iran, and maintaining the regional balance of power would all be on the table. In solving these two outstanding problems, the prospect of a new U.S.-Iranian relationship would have to be taken seriously. Read more ..

The Cyber Edge

Cyber Insecurity Unchallenged

November 16th 2013

Brooklyn from the Air

A recent report on U.S. business community's acute vulnerability to cyber attacks - 96 percent according to Ernst & Young - is alarming. This report is troubling not only because of its findings - lack of proper cyber defense capabilities - but because it reflects the prevalence of a passive approach that keeps the best cyber defense systems a few steps behind.

It is hard to imagine that 96 percent of Ernst & Young's 1,909 polled executives would deliberately choose to expose their businesses to cyber attacks because of budget constraints. Interestingly, 70 percent of those surveyed indicated that their security policies are now handled at the highest level in the business, "with the person in charge of security reporting directly to the CEO in 1 in 10 companies." This begs the question of what the 70 percent really means. One in ten is not 70 percent.  Generally speaking, the businesses surveyed wish to be seen as "doing something" about cyber, when, in fact, they are doing very little.  The survey found that only 23 percent of the businesses put cyber security in their top two priorities. However, 32 percent considered it the least important item among their security concerns. Read more ..

Oil Addiction

Iraqi Kurdistan Pursues Oil Exports to Turkey

November 15th 2013

Oil well

The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) will build a new oil pipeline linking northern Iraq with the Mediterranean port of Ceyhan in Turkey. Iraqi Kurdistan's natural resources minister, Ashti Hawrami, announced the agreement with the Turkish government at an Istanbul energy conference in late October. The new pipeline could carry up to a million barrels (mbp) of oil per day by the end of 2014 and would completely bypass Iraq's existing pipeline network controlled by the central government in Baghdad.

Washington has expressed concern that such activity would increase Kurdish autonomy, which could lead to calls for independence in the north. The Kurdish enclave already operates with substantial independence from Baghdad, having its own defense forces and public services. Kurdish non-energy exports are also decreasing the KRG's dependence on the central government for its regional budget. According to Iraq's constitution, all oil export revenue must go through the central government, but Exxon, Chevron, and the French company Total signed exploration agreements separately with the KRG. Read more ..

The Way We Are

Typhoon Haiyan: Four Questions About This Super Storm and Major Humanitarian Disaster

November 13th 2013

Sumatra village after tsunami

The images of coming out of the Philippines are shocking – the scope of the devastation and the depth of the humanitarian crisis left in Typhoon Haiyan’s wake is seemingly immeasurable. As I wait in airport lounges between flights, I am glued to television reports and Twitter posts coming from cities like Tacloban, which was largely flattened by the super storm. While the horrific first images bring tears to my eyes, my Twitter feed mostly reassures me — Oxfam, PACOM, World Vision, UNHCR, USAID and many aid groups are on their way. I receive regular bulletins from the U.N.'s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). This is a disaster of enormous proportions, but OCHA is doing what it is supposed to do — coordinating donor contributions, sending regular updates, reporting on the establishment of humanitarian hubs, etc.

As I talk with reporters and try to put this tragedy into perspective, I'm struck by how some in the media see this disaster as a totally new phenomenon. So far, in the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan — and after years of working on human displacement caused by major natural disasters — I don't see anything new, although this disaster is certainly much larger than others resulting from the 20 or so cyclones the Philippines experiences every year. Read more ..

The Edge of Poverty

How Shipping Unions Sunk Food Aid Reform

November 11th 2013

Hungry African Widow/Children

As members of the U.S. House and Senate meet this week to hammer out a farm bill, they are likely to consider changes to the way the United States delivers food aid to hungry and impoverished nations. The debate will reprise an intense legislative battle that flared in June when food aid reforms were proposed in the House.

That struggle had a startling and little-noticed result: a plan to reshape the way in which the U.S. delivers half of the world’s food aid was dealt a decisive blow by a small but determined group of maritime unions.

Unlike other developed nations, which purchase most food aid in the regions that receive it, the U.S. buys food from American farms, ships it on American vessels, and gives away much of the goods free of cost for humanitarian groups to distribute. Although the Government Accountability Office has concluded that this system is “inherently inefficient” and can be harmful to farmers in recipient nations, for decades the setup has been politically untouchable. A powerful coalition including agriculture companies, the military, the shipping industry and humanitarian aid groups ensured that any changes were dead on arrival in Congress. Read more ..

The City Edge

A Post-Election Agenda for Mayors

November 9th 2013

Downtown LA Neighborhood

On Election Day, voters in 22 of America’s 100 largest cities decided who will lead their city by either electing new mayors or extending the tenure of incumbents. As cities and metropolitan areas fill the policy vacuum left by a dysfunctional Washington, the mayor’s job is bigger than ever. Here are three things that should be at the top of a mayoral agenda

Engage the Greater Metropolitan Area
First, a mayor has to engage the greater metropolitan area, and help other elected officials in the region set a bold agenda on economic development. Cities and suburbs can’t go it alone in the global economy. They have to, as former mayor of Denver John Hickenlooper says, “Collaborate to compete.” Projects ripe for collaboration include major infrastructure and transit projects or a regional economic development plan that draws on the unique strengths of their region. Read more ..

Iran's Nukes

Obama's Back-Door Dealing with Iran

November 8th 2013

Iran Nuclear Equipment centrifuges

On the first day of the second round of negotiations in Geneva between Iran and the P5+1, the U.S. offering of a "reverse sanctions program" in return for the suspension of part of Tehran's uranium enrichment has been leaked.  Described as a process of steps towards total abandonment of Iran's bomb ambitions, this would translate to the a major dropping of some sanctions for a finite term, (6 months?) when Iran takes the first step. But Iran's position on its nuclear program has remained the same, enriching as much uranium as they wish and keeping it, along with claiming the freedom to expand its nuclear capabilities in any way it sees fit. So, why this public offerning?
On November 3, AP reported that Khamenei had admonished hardliners not to undermine negotiators engaged in talks with the West. However, Khamenei also said on the same day that he was not optimistic about the negotiations "and called America the most hated power in the world."  He also reiterated his regime's view of Israel: "We have said since the very first day (of the Islamic Revolution), and we do say it now and we will say it in the future as well, that we believe the Zionist regime is an illegitimate and bastard regime."   Read more ..

Argentina on Edge

Is the Defeat of Kirchner’s Party a Small Step Towards the Extreme Left’s Gradual Retreat?

November 7th 2013

Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner

President Cristina Kirchner’s party suffered a major setback in the legislative elections that took place on October 27th. Indeed, one half of the House of Representatives and one third of the Senate was up for election. While Kirchner’s sector, also called “Frente Para La Victoria” (Front for Victory) still maintains a majority in both houses of Congress, it was defeated in the main urban centers of the country, particularly in the province of Buenos Aires where 15 out of 40 million Argentineans live. This result could have implications for the 2015 presidential elections.

Kirchner, an admirer of Hugo Chavez, most likely lost the election due to the country’s high inflation rates, her semi-authoritarian governing style, her vice-president’s corruption scandal, and the split within the Peronist party.

Kirchner has not only tried to concentrate her power throughout the government but also within her own party. She refused to name a successor that could run in the next presidential election (since according to the constitution she cannot run for a third term) while also planning to reform the constitution in order to be able to run for a third time. Read more ..

Inside Politics

Some Reflections on the Virginia and New Jersey Elections

November 6th 2013

Voter Line

1. The Obamacare rollout fiasco and Obama's lies hurt Democrats.

You only have to look at Democrat Terry McAuliffe's narrow 48 percent to 46 percent margin in Virginia to see that. McAuliffe outspent Republican Ken Cuccinelli by a wide margin (as much as 10-to-1, some bloggers suggested) and was leading 46 percent to 37 percent in the last days of October in the Real Clear Politics average of recent polls on Oct. 31. In Virginia, the state that voted closest to the national average in the last two presidential elections, McAuliffe ended up with 48 percent, 3 percentage points behind Barack Obama's 2012 percentage of the state, while Cuccinelli's 46 percent was just 1 percentage point behind Mitt Romney's showing. Did Obamacare hurt? Well, the exit poll showed Virginia voters opposed rather than favored it by a 53 percent to 45 percent margin. Read more ..

The Economy on Edge

Colorado Amendment 66: Using the Ballot Box to Advance Economy-Shaping Investments

November 5th 2013

Green Jobs

Coloradans headed to the polls today will decide the fate of Amendment 66, a legislatively referred ballot measure that would significantly increase annual funding for the state’s P-12 education system. If approved, this constitutional amendment would provide almost $1 billion in its first year alone to fund a whole host of investments, including prekindergarten and all-day kindergarten, professional development for teachers, facilities improvements, technology purchases, and additional support for low-income students.

The Colorado measure offers one example of how states and metro areas are using the ballot box to drive economy-shaping investments, a subject that we’ll be exploring further in a paper out next month. In recent years, ballot measure use has grown in popularity, most notably for issues such as marriage equality and marijuana legalization. But ballot measures can also be used to secure funds for needed investments in economically critical areas like education, innovation, and infrastructure.    Read more ..

Palestinians and Israel

Hamas and the "Peace Process"

November 4th 2013

Hamas Terrorists

The Palestinians have thrown a monkey wrench in the works again –  as they have a pattern of doing every time the "peace process" is supposed to be close to "solving" the problem.

Despite the secrecy surrounding the current U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry-sponsored talks, a Palestinian leak Sunday put positions on the table: a 1.9 percent land swap; no Israeli military presence in the Jordan Valley and no Israeli presence at all in East Jerusalem; control over water sources and resources; control of the Dead Sea and border crossings; the right to sign agreements with other states (Iran?); release of all Palestinian prisoners; and the right of Palestinian refugees and their descendants to choose to live in Israel or the Palestinian territories.

The Palestinians know that all of these will be unacceptable to Israel. The process on the Palestinian side appears to be a fraud, designed to produce failure because the Palestinian Authority (PA) cannot afford a success with Israel in the absence of an agreement with Hamas.  The PA fears exposing the fact that it does not have functional control of the Gaza Strip and 1.66 million people it claims to represent. And not only does it NOT represent them, the government of Gaza – Hamas – explicitly rejects rule by the PA. Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

Hamas Strategy: Manipulate Human Rights Groups

November 3rd 2013

Hamas head

Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh delivered a speech at the Rashad a-Shawa Center in Gaza on October 19, 2013, detailing Hamas’ positions on various issues, including adhering to the armed struggle to liberate all of Palestine and pleading for a third intifada (armed insurrection), as well as discussing inter-Palestinian relations and Hamas’ ties with Arab states, especially Egypt and Syria.

In his address, Haniyeh expounded the strategy of Hamas, the largest Palestinian terrorist organization and offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood movement. Hamas has established a political entity in the Gaza Strip, and supports a long list of terrorist groups, among them those ideologically identified with al-Qaeda.

One of the significant means for attaining Hamas’ goals, according to Haniyeh, is a reliance on human rights organizations and Western left-wing groups whom he termed “liberals,” which, in his view, help the Palestinian people tackle the State of Israel in the political, legal, and public affairs arenas. Read more ..

Broken Healthcare

The Right Health Reform: Putting Patients First

November 2nd 2013


There is no question that there were—and are—serious problems in our health sector that need reform. But after a year-long battle to enact the Affordable Care Act and more than three years of efforts to implement it, it is becoming ever more clear that its top-down, government-centric approach does not work. The law is no more popular today than the day it passed, and many of those who originally supported passage are finding that it is doing much more harm than good, with ripple effects throughout the economy.

The cost of insurance that will be offered to the uninsured and others applying for coverage under the law is higher than in the private marketplace before it passed; businesses have put workers on part-time status to avoid huge fines under the employer mandate, and patients across the country are finding it more and more difficult to find a doctor to see them. It is clear we need to begin planning a step-by-step approach to sensible, sustainable, and responsible reform. Read more ..

The Iranian Threat

The Need for Speed in Negotiations with Iran

November 1st 2013

Iran Nuclear Equipment centrifuges

Today, two days of talks begin in Vienna between experts from the P5+1 (the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France, and Germany) and their Iranian counterparts, who will discuss technical issues relating to Tehran's nuclear program and international sanctions. The meeting will help lay the groundwork for the next round of diplomatic negotiations, scheduled to take place in Geneva on November 7-8.

Expectations of progress were reinforced earlier this week by comments made after separate talks between Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency. In a rare joint statement, both sides called the talks "very productive" -- a departure from their eleven previous meetings in recent years, which failed to make progress in resolving what the IAEA has called the "possible military dimensions" of Iran's nuclear program. The statement also indicated that a document discussed in past meetings has been set aside and a new approach has been taken. Read more ..

Fatah on Edge

Palestinians: The War Between Mahmoud and Mohamed

November 1st 2013

Mahmoud Abbas and Yassir Arafat

After a prolonged lull, the ongoing war between Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and ousted Fatah operative Mohamed Dahlan erupted once again over the past few days. The two men are now accusing each other of treason, corruption and conspiracy, prompting some Palestinians to wonder whether the time has come for U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to make an effort to hold "peace talks" between Abbas and Dahlan.

The Abbas-Dahlan rivalry reflects growing tensions in the ruling Fatah faction, which dominates the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank. But the war is not only between two figures. Rather, it is between two camps in Fatah representing the old guard and new guard. There were days when Abbas and Dahlan were considered close allies and friends. When Abbas served as prime minister under Yasser Arafat, in 2003, he appointed Dahlan as Minister of Security. Read more ..

Broken Government

U.S. Foreign Policy from the Founders’ Perspective

October 31st 2013

US Capitol through trees

Recently, I discussed how the Founding Fathers might view the American debt crisis and the government shutdown. This week, we consider how the founders might view foreign policy. It was argued that on domestic policy they had clear principles, but unlike their ideology, those principles were never mechanistic or inflexible. For them, principles dictated that a gentleman pays his debts and does not casually increase his debts, the constitutional provision that debt is sometimes necessary notwithstanding. They feared excessive debt and abhorred nonpayment, but their principles were never completely rigid.

Whenever there is a discussion of the guidelines laid down by the founders for American foreign policy, Thomas Jefferson’s admonition to avoid foreign entanglements and alliances is seen as the founding principle. That seems reasonable to me inasmuch as George Washington expressed a similar sentiment. So while there were some who favored France over Britain during the French Revolutionary Wars, the main thrust of American foreign policy was neutrality. The question is: How does this principle guide the United States now? Read more ..

Broken Economy

The Beginning of the End of the Financial Crisis

October 30th 2013


Five years later, it is clear that the decisive actions to stabilize the financial system were those of Oct. 14, 2008, when the United States government put taxpayer money into banks and guaranteed their lending. With American markets closed for the Columbus Day holiday, the chief executives of nine large banks trooped past waiting television cameras into the Treasury to be told — or in a few cases, persuaded — that they would receive $125 billion in taxpayer money from the $700 billion TARP fund and that the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation would use emergency authority to guarantee bank debt and business checking accounts, neither of which were covered by the F.D.I.C.’s usual deposit insurance. The nine firms together accounted for about half of the assets and deposits in the United States banking system; another $125 billion was to be allocated to the 8,000-plus institutions that made up the rest of the system. Read more ..

Broken Education

What Schools Can Do To Help Boys Succeed

October 29th 2013

school kids

Being a boy can be a serious liability in today’s classroom. As a group, boys are noisy, rowdy and hard to manage. Many are messy, disorganized and won’t sit still. Young male rambunctiousness, according to a recent study, leads teachers to underestimate their intellectual and academic abilities. “Girl behavior is the gold standard in schools,” says psychologist Michael Thompson. “Boys are treated like defective girls.”

These “defective girls” are not faring well academically. Compared with girls, boys earn lower grades, win fewer honors and are less likely to go to college. One education expert has quipped that, if current trends continue, the last male will graduate from college in 2068. In today’s knowledge-based economy, success in the classroom has never been more crucial to a young person’s life prospects. Women are adapting; men are not. Read more ..

Inside Politics

Business Groups Assail Political Transparency

October 28th 2013


Three of the nation's most prominent trade associations are striking back at a corporate disclosure study that concludes large companies are increasingly more transparent about their politicking.

In a letter dated Oct. 17, obtained by the Center for Public Integrity, the groups slams the CPA-Zicklin Index of Corporate Political Accountability and Disclosure as peddling false information aimed at quieting big business.

They argue that most large companies' shareholders have not supported proxy resolutions meant to enhance corporate political disclosure and that the CPA-Zicklin Index's methodology is flawed.

"Corporations do NOT support increased political and lobbying 'disclosure,'" reads the letter, which is signed by U.S. Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Tom Donohue, Business Roundtable President John Engler and National Association of Manufacturers President and CEO Jay Timmons. Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

Shift on Syria Angers Saudi Arabia, Derails Obama’s Mideast Plans

October 27th 2013

King Abdullah and sword 2

Saudi Arabia’s ire at the United States risks complicating President Obama’s second-term agenda across the Middle East. Saudi officials over the past few days have decried U.S. policy in the region as “dithering” and refused to take a United Nations Security Council seat in protest.

The backlash risks setting the two peculiar allies on a collision course on a range of issues that involve Egypt, Syria and Iran. The Saudis’ change of strategy was precipitated by Obama’s decision last month to call off military strikes against Syria and instead throw in his lot behind a Russia-backed effort to have Syrian President Bashar Assad turn his chemical weapons over to the international community. The Saudis want Assad deposed, in large part because he is allied with their regional rival, Iran. In response to Obama’s move, Saudi Arabia took the highly unusual step of turning down a two-year stint on the U.N. Security Council, a decision the former director of Saudi intelligence said was “based on the ineffectual experience of that body.” Read more ..

Broken Government

Republicans are the Reason Secretary Sebelius Won't Resign

October 26th 2013

Kathleen Sebelius

As Congress begins investigations into the Affordable Care Act rollout and the healthcare.gov flaws, Republicans are calling for resignations as far up as the Secretary of Health and Human Services. The logic goes: if managerial issues were behind failures to test the website component of the federal health care exchange, we need new management.

That concern is a valid one. In the private sector and often times in the public sector, when misakes happen—particularly in an area critical to the executive's interests—heads roll.

Yet, Kathleen Sebelius will stay, and Republicans have no one to blame but themselves.

Why is this? In an ironic twist of fate the Republican Party's obsession with filibustering, delaying, or holding executive branch nominations will finally have negative consequences for the GOP instead of the president.

Over the past several years, Republicans in Congress had refused to confirm a director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau because they did not like the law that authorized the agency. They refused to confirm nominees to the National Labor Relations Board because of opposition to unions. They put a hold on the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission for fear he may require more transparency in campaign activity. The examples go on.

Why, then, would President Obama remove Secretary Sebelius and nominate a replacement? The HHS Secretary oversees the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. And GOP opposition to CFPB or NLRB or FCC pales in comparison to the visceral and existential contempt the party feels toward Obamacare. Given such opposition, the president would be foolish to make such a change in HHS leadership. Read more ..

The Iranian Threat

Rowhani--From the Family Grocery to Nuclear Talks

October 25th 2013

Hassan Rowhani

On October 10, the Asr-e Iran website published extensive excerpts from an interview granted by Iranian President Hassan Rowhani a few years ago to the author of the book Young Politicians. The book, which included conversations with several Iranian politicians, was published in 2007 by Ettelaat, in a limited edition. The interview with Rowhani that appeared in the book took place in 2004 or 2005, when he served as secretary of the Supreme National Security Council and head of Iran’s nuclear talks team.

In the interview, Rowhani provided biographical information about his childhood, private life, studies at school, religious seminary and university, and about his political activity before and after the Islamic revolution. In the interview, Rowhani also spoke at length about the nuclear talks that he was in charge of under the Khatami administration and defended the conciliatory policy adopted by Iran in 2003. He also expressed his well-known views in recent years on the nuclear talks. Read more ..

Broken Economy

Unemployment Ticks down but Not All Good News: 3.4 Million Are Missing from the Labor Force

October 24th 2013

Employee applications

The U.S. unemployment rate dipped to 7.2 percent in September, the lowest rate since November 2008. The composition of the unemployed differed significantly in the two months, however. In November 2008 the median duration of an unemployment spell in progress was a bit less than 10 weeks. In September of this year it was 16.3 weeks. Just 21 percent of the unemployed in November 2008 had been out of work for 6 months or longer. This September about 37 percent of the unemployed had been jobless that long. The longer spells of unemployment combined with cutbacks in the duration of unemployment benefits over the past two years mean that many more of the unemployed face acute financial hardship.

One of the most striking differences between the two months is the sharp decline in labor force participation. In November 2008 the adult participation rate was 65.9 percent. By last month it had dropped to just 63.2 percent, a fall of 2.7 percent. The “missing” labor force participants number about 6.6 million adults. Not all of these missing participants would rejoin the labor force if the nation were to return to full employment by the end of the year. I estimate that an aging U.S. population has reduced the participation rate to about 64.5 percent, even assuming we had full employment. Of course, this still means the labor force is missing about 3.4 million adults who would have been employed or looking for work if the nation enjoyed full employment. Read more ..

The Pentagon on Edge

Exporting Mismanagement to Afghanistan

October 23rd 2013

Pentagon aerial shot

The purchase of spare parts by the U.S. military is a big business, with more than $25 billion worth of screws and widgets kept in storerooms. It is also a notoriously sloppy one. Pentagon auditors have found that, due to poor bookkeeping, the military services regularly buy parts that they already have plenty of. Due to poor oversight, moreover, they frequently pay too much for them.

A partly-plastic roller wheel for an aircraft ramp worth a bit more than $7 is billed to the Pentagon at $1,678. “Commander” seats for Stryker armored vehicles are purchased long after they became obsolete. A 38-year supply of parts is stocked for an aircraft with a much shorter lifespan. “Do we have enormous warehouses sitting around with stuff that no one is going to use?” asked a senior defense official who briefed reporters over breakfast on these and other episodes earlier this year. “Yes.”

Now, in an act of generosity, the Pentagon has successfully exported its spare parts mismanagement to Afghanistan. It seems that a multinational, U.S.-led military office called the Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan spent $370 million from 2004 through the middle of this year on spare parts for vehicles operated by the Afghan National Army. But last year, it confirmed that it could not account for $230 million worth of the spare parts, according to an Oct. 16 report by the Special Inspector for Afghanistan Reconstruction.  Read more ..

Broken Government

Demilitarize the Debt Ceiling

October 21st 2013


And there we are: Victory! The debt limit has been raised. After weeks and weeks of open conflict, intense infighting, and yes, some passive-aggressive sitting around as well, the president and Congress have managed to avert U.S. default and reopen the federal government. The PandaCam is back! Plus, a global financial crisis has been averted or at least postponed, and all should be pleased.

Or should they?
Republicans, of course, fought tooth and nail to gain concessions from the president in this combined standoff over government funding and the debt limit. The federal government went into slimdown, and GOP poll numbers took a sizable hit.

What have Republicans gotten out of this?
A clean continuing resolution, a clean debt-limit increase, and a budget conference committee. The first two of those three items were certainly not the object of heated desire burning in the hearts of Tea Party members everywhere. The third item, going to conference on the budget, had been readily available since May, and House Republicans steadfastly rejected it. Read more ..

Palestine on Edge

PLO: Battle for Succession Has Begun

October 20th 2013

Mahmoud Abbas and father

Over the past few months, a succession battle has been quietly raging in the Palestinian Authority [PA]. This behind-the-scenes battle is continuing even as the PA leadership conducts secret peace talks with Israel. In fact, the U.S.-sponsored peace negotiations have served as a catalyst for increased calls by senior PLO and Fatah officials to start planning for the day after Mahmoud Abbas's departure from the scene.

Like his predecessor Yasser Arafat, the 78-year-old Abbas has been running the PA in an autocratic fashion since his election as president in January 2005. And like Arafat, Abbas has since managed to keep many of his critics silent by providing them with funds, luxurious offices and vehicles, secretaries, bodyguards and assistants. Many senior members of the PLO and Fatah, for example, each receive from Abbas tens of thousands of dollars every month to enable them to cover the costs of office rentals and vehicles, as well as salaries for their secretaries and henchmen. Still, the funds have not been able to buy Abbas 100% quiet. Read more ..

Obama's Second Term

That Other Crippling Government Problem

October 20th 2013

Soldier Crying

“It’s a slow-moving train wreck.” Not the government shutdown, nor the looming government default. Rather, the train wreck is the ongoing toll from sequestration. The across-the-board budget cuts continue to hobble scientific research, shrink Head Start and other anti-poverty programs, and squeeze communities from Alaska to Florida. According to the Financial Times, initial warnings of catastrophic effects around the country from sequestration failed to materialize. The cuts themselves average about 5% for most programs and many have found ways to get by.  But the FT did find that the effects are gradually becoming more and more pronounced.

Many communities “are starting to really feel it,” says Steve Bell, senior director of the economic policy project of the Bipartisan Policy Center, and the source for the train-wreck quote. Read more ..

The Iranian Threat

Iran vs. the West: Endgame?

October 19th 2013

Simurgh booster

Unlike in earlier rounds, this time there have been direct negotiations between the United States and Iran. Today Iran comes to the negotiations with the West in incomparably better geostrategic circumstances than in 2003, when it temporarily suspended uranium enrichment to further advance its nuclear program, then in its infancy. Iran is not entering the nuclear negotiations out of weakness, but, rather, from a position of strength.

In Iran's view (which some of the Gulf States share), America's regional status and deterrence power are in continuing decline. Given Iran's sense of power linked with both domestic and regional stability, it comes to the negotiations in a mood of confidence verging on hubris. Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

Chemical Weapons Mission in Syria Unlikely to Succeed

October 18th 2013

Syria's chemicals

The first reports emerging from the effort to relieve the Assad regime of its chemical weapons capacity suggest that the regime is cooperating with the inspectors from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). The latter organization has been tasked by the United Nations with overseeing the process of destroying Assad’s CW capability.

The process is set to involve two distinct stages. In the first and more straightforward phase, Syria’s ability to produce chemical weapons will be removed. In the second phase, Syria’s actual stockpiles of chemical weaponry are to be destroyed. The first phase of the mission is intended to be completed by November 1. The second phase is likely to take a lot longer. Read more ..

Palestine on Edge

Palestinian Corruption - Again

October 17th 2013

Gaza aerial shot 2011

If the Palestinian movement believes it lives outside the laws of politics, nature and economics, it may be right.

The PA and Hamas occupy a split territory with two feuding governments -- both dictatorships with all the arbitrariness and lack of accountability implied by that; multiple armed services that fight each other and, occasionally, kill Israelis; a school system that teaches children that the IDF ate Mickey Mouse and Jews have no history in the land of the Bible; a civic culture that venerates suicide bombers and the mothers who seem to revel in their children's bloody demise; and an economy that produces nothing of export value. Yet it operates on the principle that it will be bailed out by European and American political support and international largesse. And that Israel will be blamed for the Palestinian failure to thrive. Read more ..

Broken Government

The U.S. Debt Crisis from the Founders' Perspective

October 16th 2013

One Million Dollars

The U.S. government is paralyzed, and we now face the possibility that the United States will default on its debt. Congress is unable to resolve the issue, and President Obama is as obstinate as the legislators who oppose him. To some extent, our political system is functioning as intended -- the Founding Fathers meant for it to be cumbersome. But as they set out to form a more perfect union, they probably did not anticipate the extent to which we have been able to cripple ourselves.

Striving for ineffectiveness seems counterintuitive. But there was a method to the founders' madness, and we first need to consider their rationale before we apply it to the current dilemma afflicting Washington.

Fear and Moderation
The founders did not want an efficient government. They feared tyranny and created a regime that made governance difficult. Power was diffused among local, state and federal governments, each with their own rights and privileges. Even the legislative branch was divided into two houses. It was a government created to do little, and what little it could do was meant to be done slowly. Read more ..

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