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Broken Education

How to Make Schools Better for Boys

September 13th 2013

school kids

I recently appeared on MSNBC’s The Cycle to discuss the new edition of my book The War Against Boys. The four hosts were having none of it. A war on boys? They countered with the wage gap and the prominence of men across the professions. One of them concluded, “I don’t think the patriarchy is under any threat.”

The MSNBC skeptics are hardly alone in dismissing the plight of boys and young men. Even those who acknowledge that boys are losing in school argue that they’re winning in life. But the facts are otherwise. American boys across the ability spectrum are struggling in the nation’s schools, with teachers and administrators failing to engage their specific interests and needs. This neglect has ominous implications not only for the boy's social and intellectual development but for the national economy, as policy analysts are just beginning to calculate. Read more ..


The Arab Winter of Rage

An Uncertain New Era in the Arab World

September 12th 2013

Egypt-Protest

The Arab Spring is a series of events of truly world-historical importance. It has already reshaped the Arab World and the Middle East more fundamentally and more rapidly than any event in the past several centuries. Even the emergence of the modern Arab states after the fall of the Ottoman Empire was more protracted and gradual. The suddenness and scale of the events of the past three years has a disruptive and transformative power all its own. The outcome of that transformation is far from clear at this point. It is, in fact, highly contingent on a series of unpredictable events and interactions within the Arab World, between the Arab World and the wider Middle East community, and with external powers, including especially the United States. Two things are already clear, however. The world as we knew it before the Arab Spring is gone forever and will not return. And the nature of the order that replaces it will have profound and lasting impacts on the entire world. Read more ..

Egypt's Second Revolution

Cairo Regime Continues Crackdown on Muslim Brotherhood

September 11th 2013

Ahmad Mahmoud Abdullah Salafist Cleric

While the world's attention is on Obama's twists and turns on Syria, there are important developments in Egypt. It appears that the military, with help from Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states, is busy successfully suppressing the Muslim Brotherhood.

Egypt's interim government has announced that 40,000-55,000 unlicensed imams who deliver the "khotba" (Friday sermons) have been stripped of their right to preach and will have to reapply for their licenses.  All those without preaching certification from Al Azhar University will not be allowed to preach. Al Azhar, depoliticized but operating under government pressure, will serve as the arbiter of which religious voices will be heard in Egypt on Fridays, and those who are Brotherhood advocates will be ousted. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

A Humbled Obama Faces Putin's Bluff in Syria

September 10th 2013

In recent weeks I've written about U.S. President Barack Obama's bluff on Syria and the tightrope he is now walking on military intervention. There is another bluff going on that has to be understood, this one from Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Putin is bluffing that Russia has emerged as a major world power. In reality, Russia is merely a regional power, but mainly because its periphery is in shambles. He has tried to project a strength that that he doesn't have, and he has done it well. For him, Syria poses a problem because the United States is about to call his bluff, and he is not holding strong cards. To understand his game we need to start with the recent G-20 meeting in St. Petersburg, Russia.

Putin and Obama held a 20-minute meeting there that appeared to be cold and inconclusive. The United States seems to be committed to some undefined military action in Syria, and the Russians are vehemently opposed. Read more ..


Broken Economy

The White House's Economic Distortions

September 9th 2013

Obamacare Protest

It’s always Christmas but never winter for Team Obama. Their economic schemes work exactly as planned and never generate unintended consequences. And when reality inconveniently pops in, they ignore it — or at least try to persuade the rest of America to.

After the Labor Department released the unexpectedly weak August jobs report last Friday, top Obama economic adviser Jason Furman took to the White House blog and declared that “incoming economic data broadly suggest that the recovery continues to make progress.”

That was in the morning. Then, in the afternoon, Furman, with fellow staff economist Betsey Stevenson in tow, returned to the blog to dispel the notion that Obamacare might be turning the American labor force into a bunch of part-timers. Rather, the duo explained, the Affordable Care Act “continues to improve the functioning of labor markets.” Let’s take those claims in order. Read more ..


Obama's Second Term

U.S. Credibility on Iran at Stake in Syria

September 8th 2013

Stop using--Obama pensive

American officials like to say that Iran's defiance of international demands that it limit its nuclear activities, its support for terrorism, and the like have led to Tehran's growing isolation. Iranian regime officials see things differently. The Iranian regime has a strategy in the Middle East and believes it is succeeding.

Nowhere in the Middle East is Iran's strategy clearer at the moment than in Syria. Recently, Maj. Gen. Yahya Rahim Safavi, the military advisor to Iran's supreme leader, asserted that Syria is a "confrontation between the strategic policies of the world's great powers and regional powers," with Iran and its foreign allies on one side, and the United States and its regional allies on the other, per a translation by the American Enterprise Institute.

In explaining why Iran is engaged in this confrontation, Safavi noted that "Iran has pursued power and influence out to the Mediterranean three times." Two of these instances, in Safavi's recounting, occurred during the reigns of ancient Iranian kings. The third, however, was the present. He explained that Iran currently uses Hezbollah as "the long arm of Iranian defensive power...to confront a possible Zionist attack against Iran's nuclear energy facilities." Safavi also explained how successful Iranian approaches to Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as to Syria, have made Iran a "regional power" in defiance of Western efforts to thwart its ambitions. Read more ..


Broken Economy

Does a Strong Middle Class Predict Upward Social Mobility for the Poor?

September 7th 2013

American poverty

Low levels of upward social mobility and high levels of economic inequality pose a serious challenge to the American Dream. Policy-makers need to understand the relationship between these trends in order to design interventions that promote mobility and opportunity.

In an intriguing new analysis, Ben Olinsky and Sasha Post at the Center for American Progress conclude that the size of a region's middle class is strongly correlated with the probability of upward mobility for a child born poor in that region. The implication is that inequality is linked to mobility, i.e. children who grow up in regions where incomes cluster around the middle of the distribution have higher rates of movement out of poverty, as compared to those who grow up in areas where incomes are clustered at the tails of the distribution: Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

What Do We Know About Al-Qaeda In Syria?

September 6th 2013

Car Bomb

Secretary of State John Kerry has told U.S. lawmakers that limited military strikes against Syrian regime assets are not likely to strengthen Al-Qaeda militants in Syria. Kerry said Syria's opposition had "increasingly become more defined by its moderation."

But Russian President Vladimir Putin called Kerry a liar who "knows that he is lying." Taking a closer look at what is known about Al-Qaeda fighters in Syria.

Why has the strength of Al-Qaeda within Syria's opposition movement become a significant issue?

U.S. lawmakers are debating whether limited strikes should be carried out against assets of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime in response to alleged chemical attacks in the suburbs of Damascus. One argument against U.S. strikes is the claim that Al-Qaeda would be the main benefactor and gain strength within Syria's opposition. Read more ..


Guatemala on Edge

Guatemalan Journalists are an Endangered Species

September 5th 2013

Click to select Image
President Otto Perez Molina of Guatemala

On August 19, Guatemalan television and radio journalist Carlos Alberto Orellana Chávez was abducted from his car in the department of Suchitepéquez and murdered shortly thereafter, a mere seven days after another journalist, Fredy Rodas, was shot in the same state. These assaults, amounting to four murders of journalists so far this year, come as part of a new wave of violence against reporters in Guatemala. A Guatemalan NGO, the Human Rights Defenders Protection Unit (UDEFEGUA), has recorded 19 instances of aggression against journalists this year, ranging from intimidation to murder. 

The motive for these murders seems to be an attempt to silence the public debate on corruption, incompetence, and drug-related violence. This rampant aggression against the exercise of free speech, and the seeming lack of response on the part of the state, hints at a deterioration of democracy and the growth of what UDEFEGUA calls “a context of un-governability and impunity” within the country. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

The Chemical Attack in Syria is Different from Other Aggression Against Civilians in the Civil War

September 5th 2013

Syria fighting injured baby

President Obama has decided on punitive action of limited scope and duration in order to deter the Assad regime from making further use of chemical weapons. Many commentators in Israel and abroad are criticizing him for this decision, noting that over 110,000 people, most of them civilians, have already been killed in the Syrian civil war, and the US took no military action whatsoever to stop the slaughter. They assert that there is no reason why the fact that civilians on the outskirts of Damascus were killed with chemical weapons should change the attitude toward the war, when it makes no difference to the dead and their families what killed them. These critics fall essentially into two groups.

Some contend that just as there were many good reasons why the US took no military action until now in response to the extensive killing, it should similarly take no military action at present. Others argue that the US should undertake much more extensive military intervention in the civil war in order to overthrow the regime and stop the killing. The purpose of this article is to explain why the use of chemical weapons is indeed a different form of aggression, and why it requires a special response. Read more ..


Broken Government

GI Bill Covered Tuition for Nearly a Million Post-9/11 Veterans Without Tracking Progress

September 4th 2013

Army in Afghanistan

The Post-9/11 GI Bill has paid for nearly 1 million veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars to go to school at a cost of about $30 billion since 2009, but the federal government has yet to document how many of those students graduated, much less whether they stayed in school.

Neither the Department of Veterans Affairs nor other agencies maintains data that tracks retention and graduation rates among students under the Post-9/11 GI Bill. Without that data, some worry those benefits could be in danger.

“We need to track these numbers to defend the Post-9/11 GI Bill,” said Michael Dakduk, executive director of the Student Veterans of America, a Washington, D.C.-based organization. "It's an investment into our military. It's an investment into our country."

Every previous version of the GI Bill has faced elimination or reduction, Dakduk said. The World War II GI Bill expired after 12 years, and educational benefits during the Korean and Vietnam War eras were reduced as those conflicts ended. “History proves to me that it’s a very, very real threat,” Dakduk said. “This is a benefit that could definitely be scaled back as involvement winds down overseas — unless we can prove a return on investment.” Read more ..


Obama's Second Term

U.S. Relations with Brazil and Mexico Shaken over NSA Spying

September 3rd 2013

Click to select Image

The Brazilian government summoned the U.S. ambassador in Brasilia on September 2 over new allegations that the U.S. National Security Agency spy program targeted President Dilma Rousseff. Ambassador Thomas Shannon met with Brazilian Foreign Minister Luiz Alberto Figueiredo, following a report on Brazil's Globo TV that the United States spied on Rousseff and Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto. The U.S. Embassy in Brasilia declined to comment on the meeting.

The U.S. National Security Agency spied on emails, phone calls and text messages of the presidents of Brazil and Mexico, a Brazilian news program reported, a revelation that could strain Washington's relations with Latin America's two biggest nations. The September 1 report by Globo's news program “Fantastico” was based on documents that journalist Glenn Greenwald obtained from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. Greenwald, who lives in Rio de Janeiro, was listed as a co-contributor to the report. Read more ..


Obama's Second Term

Obama's Tightrope Walk

September 3rd 2013

Obama perplexed

Last week began with certainty that an attack on Syria was inevitable and even imminent. It ended with the coalition supporting the attack somewhere between falling apart and not coming together, and with U.S. President Barack Obama making it clear that an attack was inevitable, maybe in a month or so, if Congress approves, after Sept. 9 when it reconvenes. This is a comedy in three parts: the reluctant warrior turning into the raging general and finding his followers drifting away, becoming the reluctant warrior again. 

Begin with the fact that the United States was not the first country calling for military intervention in Syria after pictures of what appeared to be the dead from a chemical attack surfaced. That honor went to France, Turkey and Britain, each of whom called for action. Much as with Libya, where France and Italy were the first and most eager to intervene, the United States came late to the feast. Read more ..


Broken Government

Congress Should Reform Social Security Disability Insurance

September 2nd 2013

Congress-senate

The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, ratified 23 years ago last month, is based on what was then a radical idea: that the physical and social environment people with disabilities face is as much responsible for their inability to fully integrate into society as their health-based impairments. But despite the improvements mandated by the ADA, the employment rate of working-age Americans with disabilities (aged 16-64) hit an all-time low of 14.5 percent in March 2012 (latest number available) — by comparison, it was 28.6 percent in March 1990 and 18.7 percent in March 2007, just before the Great Recession.

Congress must recognize that this precipitous drop in employment is not the result of an increase in the severity of work limitations or of growing discrimination in our society. Rather, it is the unintended consequence of their failure to reform Social Security Disability Insurance — a program that discourages Americans with disabilities from working. Despite the physical and environmental benefits obtained by the ADA (which created a physical and social environment geared to fully integrate disabled Americans into society) SSDI forces individuals to prove they are unable to work before providing them with the assistance needed to return to work. And even then, many disabled Americans are reluctant to re-engage in work for fear that their health coverage and benefits will be lost if their work efforts fail. It is bad policy, and Congress must reform it. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

Chemical Weapons And Claims of Hypocrisy: Iran's Facebook Foreign Minister Tackles Syria

September 1st 2013

Dead Syrians

Iran’s new foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, has taken to social media to publish a brief, stinging missive castigating the prospect of American intervention in Syria. The statement underscores Iran’s residual bitterness over its own experience with chemical weapons and its leadership’s indignation over what it sees as the profoundly destabilizing application of American power and international law to the Middle East.

I won’t indulge in debating Zarif’s points here, although I think it is both fascinating and heartening that thousands of others (mostly Iranians) already have engaged him from seemingly every possible angle, in what has transformed into an unprecedented back-and-forth. If you are not one of the more than 98,000 who have "liked" Zarif's Facebook page, you can find a reprint of the statement here, or read an initial recap of the social media debate that it spawned prepared by the indispensable Iranwire. And I give credit to the foreign minister for using Facebook — which like other social media sites is heavily filtered in Iran and has been denounced by some within the regime as a mode of subversion — to extend and expand the lively debate over foreign policy that took place during Iran’s recent presidential election. I hope it is yet another sign of that moderation is returning to the driver’s seat of Iranian policymaking. (It also seems a clever way to sidestep the Friday prayers’ monopoly during the weekend publishing lull in Iran.) Read more ..


Inside the Catholic Church

How Pope Francis is Changing the Catholic Church

August 31st 2013

Click to select Image

“How many poor people there still are in the world! And what great suffering they have to endure!” – Pope Francis, 2013

On March 13, the Catholic Church’s elective body, the conclave of Cardinals, selected Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, formerly Archbishop of Buenos Aires, as the new pope. Bergoglio, now Pope Francis, is the first non-European, as well as the first Latin American, to serve as pope.

His election demonstrated the Church’s acknowledgement of Latin America’s 425 million Catholics, the largest Catholic population of any region in the world. This development brings great hope, as Pope Francis’ actions and speeches seem to be setting forth a new agenda for the Catholic Church that incorporates the world’s poorest, especially those in Latin America. Read more ..


Broken Education

Access Plus Learning: Age Matters

August 31st 2013

Student at Blackboard-Togo

Age matters for learning.  Most, if not all, education systems in the world are organized by cycles and grades that are intended to correspond with different moments in the developmental process of children.  While other methods for organizing learning can be effective, the fact is that this key organizing principle of education systems should be taken into account when assessing the extent to which these systems are effectively ensuring people's right to a quality education.

From a very simple point of view, one can assume that educational policy should ensure that every child enters the school system on time, moves through it without being held behind and achieves the expected learning objectives.  Thus, a straightforward way of monitoring the extent to which education systems are doing their job should involve looking at levels of access, progress, completion and learning for specific cohorts of children. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

How Would US Attack on Syria Affect Washington's Asia Pivot?

August 30th 2013

USAF Desert Storm

What does a possible U.S. attack on Syria mean for the Obama administration's pivot to Asia, which Washington is presenting as part of its disengagement from wars in Iraq and Afghanistan?  

Preparations for a possible U.S. attack on Syria were part of Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel's talks with Asian allies in Brunei. "I think it was made clear by President Obama, and I have said it on a number of occasions, that if any action would be taken against Syria it would be an international collaboration," he said.

Hagel meeting with Asian defense ministers amid U.S. preparations for attacking Syria is an important sign for the region, according to Asia analyst Patrick Cronin. "These are countries that really look to the United States, not just for economic influence but ultimately for the security insurance," Cronin said. "And for the United States not to show up at a meeting like this, not to take a trip that has long been planned, would send the completely wrong signal." Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

U.S.-Iran Rapprochement: Over Before It Started?

August 29th 2013

Assad and Ahmadinejad

A U.S.-led military attack on Syria will inevitably cause collateral damage, and one casualty could be rising optimism for rapprochement between Tehran and Washington.

President Hassan Rohani's election victory in July was widely seen as an opening for improved relations between Iran and the United States. Rohani took a relatively moderate position on policy issues during his campaign, pledging to improve ties with the West and try a different approach in negotiations over Iran's contentious nuclear program.

That was welcomed by Iranian voters keen on seeing international economic sanctions lifted, and by many U.S. lawmakers open to talks that could prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. Patrick Clawson, director of research at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, says a U.S. intervention in Syria would considerably complicate such efforts.

"A military strike is likely to highlight the serious differences between the United States and Iran about developments in Syria," Clawson says. "That is more likely than not to complicate matters for reaching an agreement between the United States and its international partners with Iran about the nuclear impasse."

'A Disaster'
In turn, Iran's continued backing of the Syrian government, its main regional ally, could abruptly end any talk of lifting economic sanctions. This is because military intervention in Syria would be retaliation to a toxic gas attack the West believes was carried out by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's forces.

"It would be very difficult for the United States to agree to a lifting of sanctions on Iran if Iran is perceived as providing vital support to a regime that uses chemical weapons," Clawson says. The Iranian leadership has denounced possible military action against the Assad government, which is also a lifeline for the militant Shi'ite group Hizballah, Iran's proxy in neighboring Lebanon. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

Obama's Actions in Syria are His Defining Event

August 29th 2013

Because so many war plans simply do not survive the reality of war itself, each war is a unique universe unto its own and thus comparisons with previous wars, while useful, may also prove illusory. One of the many wrong assumptions about the Second Gulf War before it started was that it would somehow be like the First Gulf War, in which the pessimists had been humiliated by the ease of the victory. Indeed, the Second Gulf War unfolded in vastly different ways, this time proving the pessimists right. That is why the recent media refrain comparing a military operation in Syria with the one in Kosovo in 1999 worries me.

There are profound differences.

Syria has a population ten times the size of Kosovo's in 1999. Because everything in Syria is on a much vaster scale, deciding the outcome by military means could be that much harder. Read more ..


Broken Government

Veterans Affairs, Defense Depts. Spend Billions in Effort to Coordinate Records

August 28th 2013

Paper Stack

The Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Defense spent at least $1.3 billion during the last four years trying unsuccessfully to develop a single electronic health-records system between the two departments — leaving veterans’ disability claims to continue piling up in paper files across the country, a News21 investigation shows.

This does not include billions of other dollars wasted during the last three decades, including $2 billion spent on a failed upgrade to the DOD’s existing electronic health-records system.

For a veteran in the disability claims process, these records are critical: They include DOD service and health records needed by the VA to decide veterans’ disability ratings and the compensation they will receive for their injuries. Stacks of paper files — including veterans’ evidence from DOD of their military service and injuries — sit at VA regional offices waiting to be processed instead of being readily accessible in electronic files. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

Calling Obama's Bluff in Syria

August 27th 2013

Click to select Image

Images of multiple dead bodies emerged from Syria last week. It was asserted that poison gas killed the victims, who according to some numbered in the hundreds. Others claimed the photos were faked while others said the rebels were at fault. The dominant view, however, maintains that the al Assad regime carried out the attack.

The United States has so far avoided involvement in Syria's civil war. This is not to say Washington has any love for the al Assad regime. Damascus' close ties to Iran and Russia give the United States reason to be hostile toward Syria, and Washington participated in the campaign to force Syrian troops out of Lebanon. Still, the United States has learned to be concerned not just with unfriendly regimes, but also with what could follow such regimes. Read more ..


Israel on Edge

The EU Targets the Settlements--Against International Law

August 27th 2013

Western Wall - Wailing Wall Jerusalem

The current dispute between the European Union and Israel emanates from the publication on June 30, 2013, of guidelines by the European Commission on the eligibility of Israeli entities, in territories administered by Israel since June 1967 as a result of the Six-Day War, for grants, prizes and financial instruments funded by the EU from 2014 onwards. The current commission notice reflects a number of decisions taken recently by EU bodies on how past EU-Israel agreements are to be applied.

On December 10, 2012, the EU Foreign Affairs Council determined that “all agreements between the State of Israel and the EU must unequivocally and explicitly indicate their inapplicability to the territories occupied by Israel in 1967.”

The EU statement added that the determination also conforms to the EU’s long-standing position that “Israeli settlements are illegal under international law and with the non-recognition by the EU of Israel’s sovereignty over the occupied territories, irrespective of their legal status under domestic Israeli law.”

Pursuant to the European Commission’s June 30 notice, the EU published a directive to its 28 member states, effective July 19, 2013, forbidding funding, cooperation, scholarships, research funds, or prizes to anyone residing in the Jewish settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The regulation requires that any agreement or contract signed by an EU country with Israel include a clause stating that the settlements are not part of the State of Israel and therefore are not part of the agreement.

The directive includes a territorial clause stating that all agreements will be valid only within Israeli borders recognized by the European Union, meaning the borders prior to the 1967 Six-Day War. Read more ..


Broken Government

Claims Processors Received Bonuses While Backlog More Than Doubled

August 26th 2013

Soldier Crying

While veterans waited longer than ever in recent years for their wartime disability compensation, the Department of Veterans Affairs gave its workers millions of dollars in bonuses for “excellent” performances that effectively encouraged them to avoid claims that needed extra work to document veterans’ injuries, a News21 investigation has found.

In 2011, a year in which the claims backlog ballooned by 155 percent, more than two-thirds of claims processors shared $5.5 million in bonuses, according to salary data from the Office of Personnel Management.

The more complex claims were often set aside by workers so they could keep their jobs, meet performance standards, or, in some cases, collect extra pay, said VA claims processors and union representatives. Those claims now make up much of VA’s widely scrutinized disability claims backlog, defined by the agency as claims pending more than 125 days. Read more ..


Battle for Syria

Large-Scale Chemical Weapons Use Against Syrian Civilians: Military Implications

August 25th 2013

Syrian Chemical Weapons

Based on extensive video, photo, and eyewitness accounts, it seems clear that something major and terrible happened today in Syria. Thousands of people were reportedly killed or wounded, nearly all in the Damascus vicinity. No previous action by the regime or the opposition has produced casualties on this scale or in this geographical concentration. This appears to have been a calculated act, likely intended to change the military situation around the capital in a decisive way. It also coincides with the anniversaries of two ineffectual U.S. policy pronouncements: President Obama's August 18, 2011, declaration that Bashar al-Assad must "step aside," and his August 20, 2012, statement that the use of chemical weapons (CW) would be a game changer.

The obvious explanation for what occurred is that the regime decided to resort to large-scale CW use against civilians. Of course, care must be taken to rule out other possibilities, such as rebels employing CW or a local regime commander deciding to use them on his own initiative. Yet if this assessment reasonably concludes that the regime leadership is responsible for massacres on this scale, then the United States and its allies must give an appropriate and telling response. That means direct military action against regime forces and, if CW use continues, against the regime's leadership and associated targets. Read more ..


The Battle for Egypt

The Islamist Clash with Egyptian Society--A View from Cairo

August 24th 2013

Cairo Violence Dec 2012

In mediaeval Europe, the clash between the Church and the Enlightenment was one between the religious establishment and the new ideas and perceptions espoused by philosophers and theologians. The conflict only assumed a broader societal form with the elimination of the Church from the political realm and the gradual assimilation by society of Enlightenment thought. This evolution prepared the ground for the major revolutions of the 18th century that ushered in new systems of government. I speak here of the French and American revolutions, among the chief achievements of which was that they instituted political reforms that gave prevalence to such values as freedom and liberty and enshrined these principles — and guarantees for these principles — in their constitutions.

Read more ..

The Battle for Egypt

Strategic Interests in the Region Should Guide U.S. Policy in Egypt

August 23rd 2013

Cairo embassy protest Sep 2012

The debate in the United States over policy toward Egypt has become mired in the principle of the democratic process. But the moral issues involved are complicated, and U.S. policy should be guided by our larger strategic interests across the Middle East.
 
The Obama Administration's approach toward Egypt in recent years has damaged America's position there and throughout the Middle East. Having first supported longstanding ally Hosni Mubarak, then calling for him to resign amid rising protests, and then supporting the newly elected Muslim Brotherhood Mohammed Morsi until he was overthrown, and now seemingly supporting the military and the Brotherhood, the Obama Administration has managed to alienate all sides and undermine U.S. credibility across the region. Read more ..

Broken Economy

When Lenders Are Not Paid Back

August 21st 2013

Home Foreclosure

Much of the lending done in the United States relies on having both collateral and contractual obligations (loan covenants) that together provide the lender with assurance that the funds lent out will be repaid.  Drivers falling behind on an auto loan, for example, will eventually find themselves without wheels — the car is the collateral.  The house is likewise the collateral for a mortgage; lenders can foreclose on borrowers in default, though with rules that differ across states.

In financial markets, borrowers might pledge instruments like mortgage-backed securities as collateral for cash loans, whether for a term of years or just overnight. Rather than putting up physical assets as collateral, governments often instead promise to repay bondholders out of a dedicated stream of income like the tolls on a bridge or out of unspecified revenue from future taxes. The attraction of such collateralized borrowing is obvious for both sides, since the borrower generally can obtain funds at a lower interest rate than with an unsecured loan, in which lenders would typically find themselves back in the line for recovery in a bankruptcy proceeding if the borrower defaulted. Read more ..


Broken Healthcare

Obamacare's Hidden Battle: Insurance Agents Push State Regulation of Guides

August 20th 2013

Obamacare

Early in the summer of 2009, when lawmakers were starting work on what would become the largest health care overhaul in decades, the industry associations that represent insurance agents and brokers caught wind of an obscure provision.

The plan called for state and federal governments to hire so-called “navigators” — members of social service organizations, advocacy groups, even chambers of commerce — to help people use the new online marketplaces created by the law to choose among insurance plans and enroll in coverage.

The navigator program garnered little attention in the midst of the larger legislative battle. But agents and brokers, worried that navigators would cut into their business, immediately took aim, labeling the initiative “reckless” and “ill-advised.”

When President Obama finally signed the law in March 2010, the Affordable Care Act did include a navigator program — but that hasn’t stopped insurance agents and brokers from fighting against it. Over the past three years, the groups have waged an intense but little-noticed lobbying effort to regulate navigators in the states, leading to the passage of 16 state laws over the past year and a half. Most of the laws contain language that closely resembles recommendations that agents and brokers have been pushing in statehouses nationwide — a push receiving crucial aid from a legislators’ group focused on insurance policy that is supported with industry funds. Read more ..


Israel on Edge

UN Chief Admits Bias Against Israel

August 19th 2013

Human Rights Council Meeting

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon met with students at the UN headquarters in Jerusalem on Friday afternoon, and admitted that his organization was biased against Israel. Responding to a student who said Israelis felt their country was discriminated against in the international organization, Ban confirmed that there was a biased attitude towards the Israeli people and Israeli government, stressing that it was "an unfortunate situation." Ban met with the students as part of the UN Model international academic convention initiated by students at the College of Management.

He told them he had come to the region for the sixth time to express his support for the renewed peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians. "I have never been this optimist," he said, adding that the international community had never had such expectations and hope that the peace process would reach a solution. Read more ..


The Battle for Egypt

Egypt Prepares for the Next Wave of Muslim Brotherhood Unrest

August 18th 2013

Egypt-Protest

Egypt's military rulers have threatened to ban the Muslim Brotherhood, after fighting in Egypt has left hundreds dead. The military says it is fighting a "terrorist" group. 'There will be no reconciliation with those whose hands have been stained with blood and who turned weapons against the state and its institutions.'

Violence between supporters of deposed Egyptian president Muhammad Morsi and the military government intensified on Saturday, as the threat of civil war loomed ever larger over the streets of Cairo.

Security forces stormed one of the last major redoubts of Brotherhood activists, who fought running battles with the army throughout the weekend. According to the Telegraph, the al-Fateh mosque was the site of an hours-long gun battle between Morsi supporters and the army, with security forces finally breaking through and clearing the site. The death toll from the fighting is unclear. Read more ..


Broken Borders

Immigration Facts: Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA)

August 17th 2013

Amnesty Applicants

As Congress debates the fate of the “DREAMers”—those undocumented immigrants who arrived in the United States as children—the one-year anniversary of the start of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program occurs on August 15. The DACA program—an initiative of the Obama administration—does not provide permanent lawful status to applicants. However, it confers two important advantages to approved applicants: a temporary suspension of deportation and the authorization to work in the United States. The program also provides researchers and policymakers a glimpse into the “DREAMer” cohort. Some 900,000 individuals were estimated to be immediately eligible for deferred action at the date of the announcement. Read more ..


Egypt’s Second Revolution

Increasing US Irrelevance in Egypt

August 16th 2013

Brotherhood Demo Post-Coup

While the loss of life in Cairo over the past days is deeply to be regretted, President Obama’s tepid statement on the “cycle of violence” in Egypt and cancellation of the biannual U.S.-Egypt Bright Star military exercise evidence a lack of strategic awareness. The result is increasing American irrelevance in Egypt and the broader Middle East.

For the President to demand that Cairo lift the state of emergency and the Muslim Brotherhood engage only in peaceful protest is at best naive. To posit that national reconciliation, respect for the rights of women and religious minorities, constitutional reforms and democratic elections are the immediate American objectives is to ignore the reality of armed conflict between the Muslim Brotherhood and the government.

The Muslim Brotherhood is not a political party, it is a violent, radical transnational movement that used the format of elections to acquire the levers of state power in Egypt. Having been deposed, it is not leaving peacefully. Brotherhood attacks on churches, government assets and individuals require a response from the State. There is no immaculate way to put down an insurrection driven by those for whom death has long term political utility. Read more ..


The Economy Today

US Eyes Competition with Europe for Africa Trade

August 16th 2013

Fruit

The United States is keeping a close watch on potential European trade deals with African nations as Washington reviews its own preferential trade initiative with the continent. African ministers and U.S. officials discussed trade relations at a forum Monday in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa.

The U.S. is considering an extension to the popular African Growth and Opportunity Act, known as AGOA, an American law that allows sub-Saharan African countries to export certain products to the United States duty free. First signed into law in 2000, the act has already been renewed once, and is set to expire in 2015.

U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman has been meeting with African ministers at an AGOA forum in Addis Ababa to work through the details of a new deal. In a conference call with reporters Monday, Froman said one of the big questions is about the impact of African trade talks with the European Union.

“I do think there is a challenging issue before the African partner countries about how to work with us on the renewal of AGOA and how it relates to the negotiations that are ongoing with the European Union for economic partnership agreements,” he said. Read more ..


Kuwait on Edge

Has Kuwait Reached the Sectarian Tipping Point?

August 15th 2013

Kuwaiti Smokes

Kuwait is perhaps America’s closest Arab ally; it remains the only country in the Middle East on whose behalf the United States went to war. Although the Islamic Republic of Iran has at times tried to leverage Kuwait’s large Shi’ite minority against the Kuwaiti state, it has mostly been unsuccessful. Indeed, Kuwait’s Shi’ite ­community has repeatedly worked to prove its loyalty to Kuwait. Recent political instability, however, is again opening the door for sectarian forces to undermine Kuwait and, by extension, an important pillar of US defense strategy.

Iranian influence has ebbed and flowed in Kuwait, but Kuwaiti Shi’ites have traditionally rejected Iranian excesses because of Kuwaiti rulers’ efforts to treat them as full members of society. Kuwait represents an important US ally in the Middle East, and the United States should recognize that its stability depends upon outreach to Kuwaiti moderates, both Sunni and Shi’ite. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

The Sunni Divide

August 14th 2013

Muslim-Prayers

Watching the Syrians kill each other, one can get the impression from the media that there are two sides—the Assad regime and "the opposition." The latter would be comprised of Arabic-speaking Sunnis who want to overthrow the Alawi-controlled regime, giving the subtle impression that there is a united Sunni opposition. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Arabic-speaking Sunnis may loathe Assad, but they also hate each other. Read more ..

Brazil and Turkey

Protests in Brazil and Turkey and Geo-Political Projections

August 13th 2013

Istanbul Riots June 2013

Since last May there have been large, grassroots protests in both Brazil and Turkey.

There are similarities between both countries in that each   enjoys economic prosperity. In addition, the political parties that both Brazilian president  Rousseff and Turkish president, represent have been ruling with overwhelming majorities for 10 years or more. 

By the same token, the unprecedented period of economic growth both countries share is translated into national pride and a sense of triumphalism. That feeling of victory and glory leads them to also pursue international ambitions and independent foreign policies. Brazil aspires to obtain a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council, as well as becoming a regional leader and enhancing its world status by deepening relations with the Arab and African world (the South-South alliance).  Brazil’s conduct of foreign policy intentionally opposes the one conducted by the United States and the West. Likewise, Turkey aspires to become a regional leader in the Middle East as it aspires to establish a sort of Neo-Ottomanism.  Turkey would like to become the most dominant and powerful country capable of influencing other countries in the Middle East, particularly the Arab world (which was part of the Turkish-Ottoman empire until WWI). Read more ..


Iran on Edge

Iranian Public Opinion Polling and Rouhani's Electoral Victory

August 12th 2013

Hassan Rowhani

Last Wednesday, University of Tehran lecturer and University of Maryland doctoral candidate Ebrahim Mohseni presented the results of a series of polls taken before and after the Iranian presidential election of June 14 at the New America Foundation, in a panel moderated by Shibley Telhami, a Saban Center nonresident senior fellow.  Among the highlights of the presentation – which can be viewed in full – was data indicating extremely late-breaking momentum for Hassan Rouhani, who only surpassed Tehran Mayor Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf in the polls the day before the election.  Mohseni noted that 20 percent of Rouhani voters polled said they made their decision on the final day of the election, albeit for a multitude of different reasons.  Economic concerns also overwhelmingly topped the list of respondent’s priorities for the new president, as voters wanted better domestic management and progress against international sanctions. Read more ..


Broken Intelligence

Edward Snowden in Moscow: A Case Study in Diplomatic Mismanagement

August 11th 2013

NSA

Since former NSA contractor Edward Snowden arrived in Moscow in late June, he appears to have wreaked havoc on U.S.-Russia relations.  The White House cancelled the planned Moscow summit between Presidents Obama and Putin primarily due to lack of progress on key issues, but many nevertheless think Snowden was the main reason that Washington pulled the plug.

This sorry affair has come to pose an outsized problem for an already troubled bilateral relationship.  While Moscow’s handling showed no particular skill, Washington seems to have forgotten how the game is played in such cases.  The administration unwisely fueled an expectation that the Russians might send Snowden back—which Moscow was never going to do.

Snowden landed at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport on June 23 and took up residence in the transit area.  Initially, President Putin sounded like he wanted Snowden to leave.  He told the press that “the faster he [Snowden] chooses his final destination point, the better it will be for us and for him.” Read more ..


The Iranian Threat

Implications for Rowhani's New Government

August 10th 2013

Hassan Rouhani votes

Before his June election as Iran's new president, Hassan Rowhani promised reform domestically and a new, more "moderate policy" to help establish better foreign relations. But these, as Rowhani's own election, will reflect the will of Iran's supreme leader, Ali Khamenei. The Western educated and sophisticated Rowhani was an excellent choice. His background and familiarity with the West make him more appealing both domestically and internationally. 

Some care appears to have been taken in balancing political interests among the "electorate." How the Mullahs and the president manage the government must have a good deal to do with Iranian social control. Read more ..



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