Egypt's Second Revolution
|Suzanne Maloney||July 14th 2013|
Iranians have been following the dramatic denouement of the Egyptian revolution with keen interest. Although Tehran ranks as merely an ancillary actor in the Egyptian drama, recent events have highlighted the profound – if imperfect – historical resonance in each state’s revolutionary upheaval. That historical perspective informs Iran’s view of events in Egypt, and compounds the impetus for circumspection that can be discerned in its leadership’s recent behavior.
Viewing the world through the lens of Iran is a tricky business. It can be tempting to make too much of the Iranian place in the world or to impose a preferred narrative as the overarching interpretation of all its actions and rhetoric. In Washington, Iran is perpetually judged as either emboldened or on the run – almost never anything in between. On Egypt today, as I’ll argue below, neither extreme is quite correct. Read more ..
Egypt's Second Revolution
|Eric Trager||July 13th 2013|
After only one year in power, during which its blatantly autocratic behavior alienated millions of Egyptians, the Muslim Brotherhood is back where it started. For six decades before the 2011 uprising, the group sat in the opposition, under fire from a military regime. This time, even after security forces unseated President Mohamed Morsi, detained top Muslim Brotherhood leaders and reportedly issued arrest warrants for about 300 more, shut down the group's television station, closed some of its offices, and then killed 53 and wounded hundreds at a demonstration outside of the Republican Guard headquarters in Cairo, the Muslim Brotherhood does not seem ready to go quietly. It has called for an intifada and has repeatedly vowed to escalate its protests until Morsi is reinstated. Read more ..
The Battle for Syria
|Beth Kanopsic||July 12th 2013|
As violence continues to brew in Egypt, the Syrian civil war has been overshadowed in the media. However, dramatic shifts have taken place in the leadership of both the opposition and al-Asad forces as fighting continues.
On the opposition side, Syrian National Coalition (SNC) leader Ghassan Hitto announced his resignation after only four months as prime minister. The rebel leader was tasked with creating an interim government to control rebel-held areas. Hitto remained mistrusted by many in the anti-Asad opposition, who saw him as being too close to the Muslim Brotherhood and Qatar. Hitto resigned on Monday, acknowledging insurmountable difficulties in forming the needed interim government. He explained in an online statement that although he will not continue as prime minister, he will continue working for the interests of the revolution. Read more ..
Egypt's Second Revolution
|Norman Bailey||July 10th 2013|
A stable and prosperous Egypt has to be among the top two or three foreign policy goals for Israel and the West, perhaps exceeded only by the potential threat posed by a nuclear-armed Iran. It would appear that Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Kuwait are going to chip in to cover Egypt's immediate foreign currency shortfalls which will postpone potential collapse and provide time for the new Egyptian government to prepare a meaningful economic plan for the medium- and long-term and for the Western countries and the international development agencies to realize what is at stake and offer generous support to the implementation of such a plan. It should include the following items, alluded to briefly in last week's column (this is not intended to be in any way exhaustive and omits such areas as transportation and communications):
(1) Egyptian agriculture MUST be rationalized, reorganized and modernized, which means that the basic units involved must be large enough to efficiently use inputs of machinery and equipment, fertilizers and insecticides. Read more ..
The Iranian Threat
Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center
During the campaign for president of Iran, Hassan Rowhani expressed views consistent with a liberal outlook on economy. The president-elect is an advocate of the economic policy pursued by former President Ali-Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, based on privatization, deregulation, and economic openness.
Reports published in the Iranian media in recent weeks indicate that some of Rowhani's top economic advisors are affiliated with the Niavaran school of thought, established on neo-liberal economic principles. Its adherents support a free-market economy and a reduction of government economic intervention. Major economists affiliated with that school of thought and considered close to Rowhani are Dr. Mohammad Baqer Nowbakht, Dr. Mohammad Tabibian, Dr. Ali-Naqi Mashayekhi, Dr. Mas'oud Nili, Mohammad-Ali Najafi, Dr. Mas'oud Roghani-Zanjani, Dr. Mohammad-Hossein Adeli, and Dr. Majid Qassemi. Read more ..
Egypt's Second Revolution
|Gideon Allon & Shlomo Cesana||July 7th 2013|
Israel should do all it can to help the new secular government in Egypt beat the Muslim Brotherhood, even if that means amending the Military Annex of the Camp David peace accords to allow more Egyptian military assets into the Sinai Peninsula, the former director of the Counter-Terrorism Bureau in the Prime Minister's Office Brig. Gen. (Res.) Nitzan Nuriel said Sunday.
Speaking on Army Radio, Nuriel said a defeat for the Muslim Brotherhood and its supporters in the Sinai would reverberate across the Middle East, and would be of huge strategic importance to Israel. The Egyptian army is currently engaged in battle with Islamists across the Sinai. According to Al Gomhuria [The Republic], an Egyptian newspaper, the Egyptian military, accompanied by warplanes, are battling "terrorists and jihadists elements" in the Sinai. Al Gomhuria reported that the military presented its planned operation to Mohammed Morsi when he was still president, but that the latter rejected the idea "without offering an explanation." Read more ..
Egypt's Second Revolution
|Hillel Frisch||July 6th 2013|
The Egyptian army’s announcement of an ultimatum “to heed the will of the people” in retrospect said it all. Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the Minister of Defense appointed by the democratically-elected president he was about to ouster, talked about “the will of the people” in the typical manner of dictators, as if the people were united. In fact, the people were deeply divided between an opposition that wanted President Mohamed Morsi’s head and his supporters who believed that the first president in Egypt’s history to be elected in free elections should be allowed to remain for the full four years in office, as stipulated by the constitution. This constitution, they argued, was supported by 63 percent of voters in a national referendum.
The army’s moves on the ground clearly showed that it sided completely with the opposition. All of their demands were met and more: Morsi was ousted and placed under arrest, the constitution was suspended, a government that included the military was set to take over, and new presidential and parliamentary elections were called for the distant future. Just to make sure, the military refrained from committing itself to any timetable. Read more ..
Egypt's Second Revolution
|George Friedman||July 5th 2013|
Egypt's Tamarod movement succeeded in its attempt to pressure the Egyptian military to expel former President Mohammed Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood-led government from office. Now the question is whether Tamarod and the other elements of the former opposition can avoid the kind of fragmentation and divisive infighting that played a significant role in catapulting the Muslim Brotherhood to power in the first place. There are many challenges to overcome, not the least of which is that the military ultimately holds the keys to power -- something the Muslim Brotherhood learned the hard way July 3. Going forward, it will be difficult for the disparate blend of liberal, secular and Islamist parties united in their shared desire to see Morsi deposed to maintain their cohesion. Read more ..
Egypt on Edge
|George Friedman||July 4th 2013|
Egypt's crisis goes much deeper than the recent political chaos. With the leader of the Supreme Constitutional Court taking over the presidency at the behest of the military, the new government will likely represent a coalition of interests facing many of the same challenges that brought about Mohammed Morsi's downfall.
Egypt's population has grown well beyond the means of the state to support its needs, and even a strong state will struggle to ensure sufficient supplies of basic staples, particularly fuel and wheat. Read more ..
Egypt on Edge
|George Friedman||July 4th 2013|
Egyptian military chief Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi announced July 3 that the country's president, Mohammed Morsi, had been removed from office in the wake of popular unrest. In a short media statement, al-Sisi, who was flanked by the three armed services chiefs, opposition leaders, the sheikh of al-Azhar Mosque and the pope of the Coptic Church, announced that Adly Mansour, chief justice of the Constitutional Court, has replaced Morsi as interim president.
He also announced that the constitution has been suspended. Mansour's appointment is notable in that one of the key demands of the Tamarod protest movement was that he become president. The provisional government will be holding fresh parliamentary and presidential elections. Read more ..
Egypt's Second Revolution
|George Friedman||July 3rd 2013|
There is a great debate underway in Egypt on whether the move to oust President Mohammed Morsi is tantamount to a military coup. Considering that the Egyptian army is forcibly removing a democratically elected president in the wake of nation-wide unrest, the military intervention is indeed a coup. However, it differs from other coups in that direct military rule will not be imposed.
There is considerable public support for Morsi's removal, so the provisional authority that will replace him likely will be a broad-based entity that includes representatives of the nation's main political stakeholders. Indeed, the interim government likely will differ greatly from the one run by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, which governed the state after former President Hosni Mubarak was forced from office in 2011 and until Morsi came to power in June 2012. Read more ..
The New Egypt
|George Friedman||July 3rd 2013|
Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohammed Kamel Amr resigned Tuesday, becoming the most high-profile minister to step down since protests against the rule of President Mohammed Morsi began over the weekend. Amr's resignation came after the Egyptian military issued an ultimatum Monday, demanding that Morsi and the ruling Muslim Brotherhood start a dialogue with opposition members within 48 hours, or risk the military stepping in to impose a "political roadmap" on all parties. This move comes amid the latest in a series of political crises in Egypt since the ouster of former President Hosni Mubarak in February 2011. The political turmoil facing Egypt, its political class and its powerful military has become almost a given, with all sides turning to public displays of unrest and emotion as often as they do to the democratic process. Read more ..
Defense on Edge
|Marc A. Thiessen||July 2nd 2013|
Since fleeing the United States, National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden has publicly disclosed top-secret information that has aided America’s enemies and damaged relations with America’s allies. But the real danger may be the classified information he has not publicly disclosed.
Snowden’s revelations have been damaging to be sure. He has exposed details of U.S. intelligence collection efforts against China, including the fact that the NSA had infiltrated the computer networks of Tsinghua University in Beijing, which houses one of China’s six major backbone networks through whichInternet data for millions of Chinese citizens pass. He has exposed our intelligence collection efforts on our allies, including the fact that the United States bugged the offices of the European Union and infiltrated its internal computer networks. He has revealed to a German newsmagazine that the NSA has been using data from Internet hubs in south and west Germany to monitor Internet traffic to Syria and Mali — two hotbeds of al-Qaeda activity — tipping off our enemies to these vital U.S. intelligence operations. Read more ..
The New Egypt
The Washington Institute
Yesterday's mass protests against the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, which were reportedly among the largest in recorded history, represent a critical juncture for U.S. policy. While the Obama administration has until now viewed President Muhammad Morsi's emergence through relatively fair and free elections as an important step toward institutionalizing democracy in Egypt, the outpouring of public antipathy against the Islamist government serves as an important reminder that elections alone cannot yield stability. Washington should therefore try to limit the damage to Egypt's state institutions. The protests reflect Egyptians' deep and widespread frustrations with Morsi's management of the post-Mubarak transition. His noninclusive governing style -- punctuated by a November 22 constitutional declaration through which he temporarily asserted unchecked executive authority, and his subsequent ramming through of an Islamist constitution -- led opposition activists to call for his ouster months ago. Read more ..
Spain on Edge
While Spanish Muslims are busy trying to Islamize Spain, Spanish politicians are busy removing all references to Christianity from public discourse…The requirement which will be enshrined in Spain's legal code law, represents an unprecedented encroachment of Islamic Sharia law within Spanish jurisprudence.
Spanish police have arrested a Muslim immigrant in Mallorca after he claimed to have been sent by Allah to "kill all the Spanish."
The arrest follows a series of other Islam-related incidents in recent weeks and months which reflect the mounting challenge that radical Islam is posing to Spain.
In the latest incident, police on the Mediterranean island of Mallorca arrested a German national of Tunisian descent on June 13 after he repeatedly threatened to carry out terror attacks in the name of Allah. Read more ..
Israel and Palestine
|Aryeh Savir||June 30th 2013|
Tazpit News Agency
Palestinian Authority officials have adopted the questionable norm of refusing to meet with Israeli or Jewish journalists, according to veteran journalist Khaled Abu Toameh, in a recent article published by Gatestone Institute.
According to Toameh, Palestinian journalists who try to arrange meetings or interviews with Palestinian Authority representatives for Western colleagues frequently verify that there will be no Jews or Israelis present at the meetings before giving the go ahead.
Just last week, Toameh reports, a journalist who requested a meeting between Western journalists and a top Palestinian Authority official was told "to make sure there were no Jews or Israelis" among the visitors. The official's aide went on to explain: "We are sorry, but we do not meet with Jews or Israelis." Read more ..
Europe on Edge
|Jakub Grygiel||June 28th 2013|
The European Union's unfolding crisis tends to be seen as purely economic in nature and consequence. The EU is a common market, with a common currency adopted by most of its members and with fiscal problems of one kind or another facing almost all of its capitals. Most analyses of the euro crisis focus, therefore, on the economic and financial impact of whatever "euro exit" may occur or of a European fiscal centralization. In the worst case, they project a full-fledged breakup of the common currency and perhaps even the EU itself. Not much can be added to this sea of analysis except a pinch of skepticism: nobody really knows the full economic impact, positive or negative, of such potential developments. In fact, not even European leaders seem to have a clear idea of how to mitigate the economic and political morass of the Continent. While it is certain that the EU of the future will be different, it isn't clear just how. Read more ..
The New Egypt
|Eric Trager||June 28th 2013|
Washington Institute for Near East Policy
Given the opposition's growing rage and the Brotherhood's increasingly confrontational stance, the upcoming nationwide protests are unlikely to end well.
The Middle Egypt governorate of Beni Suef, an agricultural province located 70 miles south of Cairo, is an Islamist stronghold. Islamists won 14 of Beni Suef's 18 seats during the first post-Mubarak parliamentary elections in December 2011, and Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohamed Morsi won nearly two-thirds of Beni Suef's votes in the second round of the 2012 presidential elections en route to an otherwise narrow victory.
Yet Brotherhood Supreme Guide Mohamed Badie, who teaches in the veterinary school of Beni Suef University, hasn't visited his home in the governorate since late March, when activists hoisted anti-Brotherhood banners and surrounded the mosque where he was scheduled to deliver a Friday sermon. "The people planned to attack him and hold him in the mosque," Waleed Abdel Monem, a former Muslim Brother who owns a socialist-themed cafe up the street from Badie's home, told me. The Supreme Guide's son now holds down the fort, and Brotherhood cadres are occasionally called upon to protect his home whenever demonstrations are announced on Facebook. Read more ..
The Way We Are
|Jonathan Rauch||June 26th 2013|
What will be the effects of the Supreme Court's twin rulings on gay marriage? My first-blush take is that the rulings will have a modest effect on legal doctrine but a major effect on cultural momentum.
The Supreme Court did two things today. First, it overturned the federal Defense of Marriage Act. The federal government will now have to recognize states' same-sex marriages--mine among them--as valid for federal purposes. But, second, the court declined to make same-sex marriage a federal constitutional right. It punted on that issue. As a result, gay marriage will go back into effect in California (after a four-year hiatus), but nothing will change in other states.
California, however, is a big change all by itself. The state is so big that it takes the percentage of Americans living in gay-marriage states up to 30 percent, from 18 percent. Soon, when Illinois or a few other states come in, more than a third of the country, by population, will allow gay marriage. If that is not mainstream, nothing is. Read more ..
The Nuclear Edge
|Douglas Birch and R. Jeffery Smith||June 25th 2013|
Center for Public Integrity
A half-finished monolith of raw concrete and rebar rises suddenly from slash pine forests as the public tour bus crests a hill at this heavily-secured site south of rural Aiken.
Dozens of hard-hatted workers in bright green and orange vests slog through the damp clay and clamber over a half-finished roof five floors up. Others filter in and out of openings cut into the windowless, half-a-million square-foot box, where towering construction cranes are clustered.
Guide Laurie Posey uses the bus loudspeaker to describe the project’s 6,800 miles of cable, 80 miles of radiation-resistant piping and double walls of reinforced concrete. Recently, she said the government factory would cost $4.86 billion, then coughed into her fist and shot a glance at the bus’ driver.
“Do you think they picked up on that?” she asked, shaking her head. The estimate she cited — $4.86 billion — is a fiction the government used well after its lead contractor said the real number was likely to be $3 billion higher.
Dark clouds hover over this ambitious federal project, 17 years in the making and at least six more from completion — if, indeed, it is ever completed. It lies at the center of one of the United States’ most troubled, technically complex, costly, and controversial efforts to secure nuclear explosive materials left stranded by the end of the Cold War. Read more ..
|Bernie Becker||June 24th 2013|
The acting head of the IRS said Monday that the agency was still giving improper scrutiny to groups seeking tax-exempt status when he arrived in May, suggesting that the probe into the IRS’s treatment of conservative groups could widen.
Danny Werfel, the acting chief, said that the IRS division overseeing tax-exempt applications used other “be on the lookout” lists as they tried to flag cases that needed more attention.
The so-called BOLO list has proven to be a key detail in the current investigation over the IRS’s singling out of conservative groups, with agency officials searching for groups with the name “Tea Party,” “patriots” and “9/12.” In a Monday conference call, Werfel gave little detail about the ideology or interests of groups receiving additional scrutiny, though he added that the IRS hopes to circulate more information soon after it takes more steps to protect confidential information. Read more ..
The Weapon's Edge
|Richard H.P. Sia||June 23rd 2013|
Center for Public Integrity
The troubled F-35 fighter jet, which is supposed to serve as the backbone of the U.S. military’s future air combat forces, may cost much more than the nation can afford, a federal auditor told a Senate panel Wednesday.
Michael J. Sullivan, acquisitions director of the Government Accountability Office, told the Senate defense appropriations subcommittee that current projections call for $316 billion in F-35 development and purchases from now through 2037, an average of $12.6 billion a year. Operations and maintenance costs alone will exceed $1 trillion over the fleet’s 35-year lifespan.
“Congress may want to consider whether the funding assumptions are reasonable in our current fiscal environment,” Sullivan said, responding to questions from Subcommittee Chairman Dick Durbin, D-Ill. Sullivan told the panel maintaining this sustained level of funding “will be difficult in a period of declining or flat defense budgets and competition with other ‘big ticket items’ such as the KC-45 tanker and a new bomber program.” Read more ..
The Education Edge
|Joshua Bleiberg and Darrell M. West||June 22nd 2013|
In 2002, when President George W. Bush signed the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), few would have predicted the law would last. Yet persist it did, and the controversial legislation remains on the books more than a decade later. Now that Democrats and Republicans have recently started its reauthorization process, it is time to examine one particular aspect, special education, that raises several different challenges.
Assessment of students with disabilities is perhaps the thorniest issue in education policy. For decades students with disabilities were not assessed or educated along with their peers. Schools, like all organizations, value what they can measure. The education system did not value students with disabilities because their success or failure was not counted. Read more ..
Iran on Edge
|Suzanne Maloney||June 21st 2013|
The election of Hassan Rouhani as Iran’s next president has rightfully elicited the first real optimism in years about the possibility of diplomatic progress in curbing Iran’s nuclear ambitions. As I’ve written repeatedly now, I believe that the campaign and its outcome have bestowed upon Rouhani some measure of mandate, both from the political establishment and from a population that desperately wants a reprieve from sanctions, to advance constructive solutions on Iran’s nuclear program at the negotiating table.
However, as Rouhani’s opening press conference made clear, Iran has no intention of simply capitulating to international demands for a suspension of its uranium enrichment activities. And Rouhani’s previous tenure as the nuclear negotiator – combined with the continuing influence of the hard-liners who now control the security bureaucracy – suggests that it is far too soon to declare victory on one of the world’s most urgent (and yet oddly enduring) crises. While no one should downplay the significance of the election and the apparent emergence of a new consensus around moderation rather than resistance within Iran’s leadership, it’s also important to hedge against any irrational exuberance either in Washington or within Iran. Read more ..
|Peter Vincent Pry||June 20th 2013|
Electronic Warfare Institute of the American Center for Democracy
On June 18, the Congressional EMP Caucus held a public event to launch the SHIELD Act that would protect the national electric grid from a natural or manmade electromagnetic pulse (EMP) It works like a super-energetic radio wave that can damage and destroy all electronic systems across vast regions, potentially across the entire continental United States. EMP is harmless to people in its direct effects. But it would create the failure of critical infrastructures that sustain our lives, such as electricity , water, communication and literately everything we depend on today; trains will collide, planes could crash and ships could sink. Anyone with an implanted medical devise could die, banks will shut down as will their ATMs…and on and on. Clearly, the indirect effects of EMP would be genocidal. EMP is a high-tech means of killing millions of people the old fashioned way–through starvation, disease, and societal collapse. Read more ..
The Iranian Threat
|Irwin Cotler||June 19th 2013|
Israel Behind the News
In elections heralded as being neither free nor fair - with the candidates preselected for their loyalty to the supreme leader, and the voters suffering under massive domestic repression - Iranians overwhelmingly elected a “moderate” cleric, Hassan Rohani, as president, an outcome that has been hailed as a harbinger of positive change.
It is true that, during the campaign, Rohani appeared to reject the hard line favored by his predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. He spoke in debates of improving relations with the West, of establishing a ministry for women’s affairs, and of creating more opportunities and freedoms for the country’s youth. His tone is undoubtedly less incendiary than that to which the world has become accustomed from Iranian leadership, and his message has been one of responsiveness, inclusiveness and accountability.
However, Rohani is the same person who struck a conciliatory posture as Iran’s top nuclear negotiator, under another reformist president, Mohammed Khatami, while presiding over the secret advance of the nuclear program. Rohani was the one who boasted that, even when Iran had suspended uranium enrichment, it was able to make its greatest nuclear advances, saying, “While we were talking with the Europeans in Tehran, we were installing equipment in parts of the facility in Isfahan,” a crucial nuclear site. “In fact, by creating a calm environment, we were able to complete the work in Isfahan.” Read more ..
|Sabine Guinsbourg||June 18th 2013|
Controversies are taking a toll on U.S. President Barack Obama's popularity with Americans, according to a public opinion poll published by CNN. The data show Obama's approval rating fell eight percentage points over the past month, to 45 percent. CNN said that is the lowest approval rating in a year and a half.
The poll follows revelations about government surveillance of Americans, unfair treatment of conservative groups by the tax agency, government snooping into reporters' phone records, and questions about the way the administration handled an attack on a U.S. diplomatic facility in Libya. Read more ..
The Iranian Threat
|Kamran Bokhari & Michael Nayebi-Oskoui||June 18th 2013|
Iranians went to the polls Friday to elect outgoing President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's successor. Candidates reported few serious problems with the process, and the losers sent congratulations to the eventual winner, Hassan Rouhani. Compared to the political instability that followed Ahmadinejad's 2009 re-election, this process was relatively boring. But however the news media felt about the election, Iran needs domestic stability if it is going to change its foreign policy in a very challenging geopolitical environment. Domestic stability has been the first goal for any regime that would project power from Iran's central highlands. The Persian Empire first emerged only after a central power subjugated the various groups of Indo-Iranian, Turkic and Semitic peoples within its borders. Read more ..
Iran on Edge
|Shoshana Bryen||June 17th 2013|
The 686 men who expressed their desire to run in Iran's presidential election were whittled down to 8 -- not by primaries, debates and polls, but by the six theologians and six jurists on the Guardian Council. The candidates had to be Iranian-born, over 21, and believe in "God, Islam and the Iranian Constitution." Education, military service and "public service" were also taken into account by the Council. So while in the West much has been made of the differences among them, similarities rule.
Nevertheless, the Iranian people used their franchise to vote for the man on the ballot most opposed by the Mullahs. They made their statement in overwhelming numbers, proving the existence of the much-sought-after "Iranian moderates." That is the good news. Read more ..
The Defense Edge
|John Villasenor||June 16th 2013|
What happens when an American economy built in significant part on intellectual property collides with overt second-class treatment of foreigners who entrust their data to American networks and systems? We’re about to find out.
On June 5, the world learned from the Guardian of an order from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court requiring Verizon to provide NSA with “metadata” for all Verizon phone calls involving at least one party within the United States. Metadata can include the calling and receiving phone numbers, location of the parties, and call time and duration, but not the actual audio content. A day later, the Washington Post described an NSA program called PRISM, which reportedly enables NSA to access data carried by “nine leading U.S. Internet companies” to extract “audio and video chats, photographs, e-mails, documents, and connection logs that enable analysts to track foreign targets.”
In a pair of statements on June 6 and June 8, Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper explained that the “collection of communications pursuant to Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act” includes “extensive procedures . . . to ensure that only non-U.S. persons outside the U.S. are targeted,” and that “Section 702 cannot be used to intentionally target any U.S. citizen, or any other U.S. person, or to intentionally target any person known to be in the United States.” Read more ..
|James C. Capretta||June 15th 2013|
It is a mistake to think of the nation's budgetary challenge as something associated solely with the size of near-term deficits. That was never the case.
Since the financial crash, the U.S. has run up extraordinary amounts of debt. Between 2009 and 2012, the U.S. ran a cumulative $5 trillion deficit. These enormous deficits were always going to recede when the nation's economy moved closer to normalcy again; it was just a matter of time.
It is also the case that some policy decisions have reduced the near-term deficit modestly as well. The president and Congress agreed to a tax deal earlier this year that raised revenue relative to the full extension of the Bush-era tax schedule, and the spending cuts associated with the sequester have been allowed to go fully into effect in 2013. The result is that the short-term outlook is now slightly less bad that it was a year ago. The Congressional Budget Office now projects that the federal budget deficit will total $642 billion in 2013 and $560 billion in 2014. Last summer, CBO was projecting that the deficit would remain over $1 trillion in 2013 and reach $924 billion in 2014. Those earlier CBO projections assumed full extension of the Bush-era tax schedule and elimination of the spending cuts required by the sequester. Read more ..
Venezuela After Chavez
|Luis Fleischman ||June 14th 2013|
The Americas Report
A week ago, during the annual general assembly of the Organization of American States (OAS), Secretary of State John Kerry met with his Venezuelan counterpart, Elias Jaua, to discuss improvement of relations between the two countries. Relations between the two have been severely strained during the 14- year rule of Hugo Chavez.
The meeting took place when the United States government had not yet officially recognized the legitimacy of President Nicolas Maduro whose election on April 14th raised suspicions of fraud. The Obama Administration also supported a recount. The recount was conducted but without checking paper ballots which the opposition had specifically requested. Since this was not done the opposition refused to recognize Maduro‘s victory. Yet, the meeting between the two diplomats took place in a “positive” atmosphere. Secretary Kerry declared that both countries agreed to “find a new way” forward. Venezuela, as a gesture, released from jail an American documentary filmmaker who had been accused of conspiring against the government. Read more ..
|Asaf Romirowsky||June 14th 2013|
This year's National Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) conference took place at Bethlehem University where we witnessed a strong dose of Palestinian realism when a dispute occurred between the Palestinian Minister of Economy Jawad Al-Naji, and BDS participant, Nizar Banat, resulting in Al-Naji storming out of the room. The argument was triggered when Banat questioned Mahmoud Abbas and his tactics of normalization with Israel as the conference also aimed at combating such relations with Israel.
Consequently, Banat later found himself in the hospital after he was attacked when leaving the conference by PA security officers and Fatah "thugs." So while according to the schedule there were featured BDS solidarity messages from celebrities like Desmond Tutu and Roger Waters and of course, a live presentation by BDS leader and founder Omar Barghouti all paled in the face of Palestinian censorship. Read more ..
Turkey on Edge
|Harold Rhode||June 13th 2013|
Turkey, although nominally part of the West, is in most ways culturally closer to the Middle East. Turks live with pent-up grievances -- as do we all -- but with virtually no way to resolve them. People in a supposedly democratic Turkey are reluctant to air their grievances even in public surveys out of fear their government might take revenge on them. During the past few years, people in Turkey have been saying that they are petrified to speak to others, write things, or talk freely on the telephone for fear they will be arrested. At present, Turkey has more journalists in jail than any other country.
The ruling AKP government has set up countless apparatuses to monitor dissent; these cause those who disagree with the government to fear not just arrest but interrogation. People and groups have therefore chosen largely to suffer in silence. Moreover, in the culture of the Middle East, there is no such thing as a win-win compromise. Turks, like their neighbors, consider backing down or apologizing dishonorable. Read more ..
|Nicholas Kusnetz||June 12th 2013|
The Center for Public Integrity
When investigators examined the operations of a sprawling New York social service organization, what they uncovered was deeply troubling. Board members of the Ridgewood Bushwick Senior Citizens Council had almost no experience in nonprofit management. Several couldn’t name any of the group’s programs. Two of them could not identify the executive director, who in turn told investigators she was unaware of a fraudulent scheme carried out under her watch: Employees had squandered or stolen most of an $80,000 city grant.
As a result of that July 2010 report by New York City’s Department of Investigation, both the city and state quickly pulled the plug, suspending the organization’s grants, which provide practically all of its funding. But just as quick, the Brooklyn-based group won back it’s government support on the condition that it enact corrective measures, and today, the council has active grants from the city and the state totaling more than $50 million. Maybe that’s because the organization provides critical services, such as senior care and affordable housing, as a city spokeswoman said when funding was restored. But the council may also be thriving because its founder, Vito Lopez, was for years one of New York’s most powerful politicians — a state legislator who spent much of his career channeling that power through Ridgewood Bushwick. Read more ..
The Mideast on Edge
|David P. Goldman||June 11th 2013|
Israel Behind the News
Russia has thrown a monkey wrench into Western plans for Syria by promising to deliver its top-of-the-line S300 surface-to-air missile system to the Bashar al-Assad government. Exactly when the missiles might arrive remains unclear; the last word from Moscow is that the missiles are not yet in place, which means the matter is up for bargaining.
It is humiliating for the West to trip over a game-changing Russian technology nearly a quarter of a century after the fall of the Berlin Wall. The larger scandal is that the West lacks countermeasures against the Russian system, the result of misguided defense priorities over the past dozen years. If the United States had spent a fraction of the resources it wasted in nation-building in Iraq and Afghanistan on anti-missile technology, Russia would lack the bargaining chip in the first place. That's spilt milk, however, and the pressing question is: what should the West do now? Read more ..
The Broken Economy
|James Pethokoukia||June 10th 2013|
The mild May jobs report should serve as yet another reminder to President Obama and Congress that the U.S. labor market is suffering a Long Emergency. A smaller share of the adult male population has a job than at any time since the Great Depression. And there's still a job shortfall of nearly 12 million between current employment levels and the pre-Great Recession job-growth trend. It's long past time for Washington to launch a full-spectrum response - including cutting investment tax rates and modifying unemployment insurance to support work sharing and relocation to areas of lower unemployment.
But things could be so much worse. For instance: The euro zone is suffering a double-dip recession. The region's economy has contracted for six straight quarters through the first three months of this year. And euro zone unemployment has risen for 24 straight months and stands at 12.2 percent. "It still looks highly probable that the [jobless] rate will reach 12.5 percent in the latter months of 2013, and there is a grave danger that it could continue rising into 2014," consultancy IHS Global Insight predicts. Read more ..
Education on Edge
|Michael Greenstone and Adam Looney||June 9th 2013|
Employers added 175,000 jobs in May, according to today’s employment report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, about the same average pace of job creation over the prior year. All of the job increases were in the private service-providing sector; employment edged down in both the goods-production sector, which includes construction and manufacturing, and in government. This reflects a longer-term pattern: over the prior year, employment in the service sector has increased by almost 2 million jobs, while employment in the goods-producing sector has been essentially flat, and public employment has declined. Also in May, the unemployment rate edged up to 7.6 percent. The broadest measure of employment—the employment-to-population ratio—was 58.6 percent, the same as a year ago. It has remained roughly at the same level since late-2009.
These latest jobs and unemployment statistics, however, do not tell the full story of how all Americans are faring in today’s economic climate, as workers with more education continue to be employed at higher rates and earn more than their less-educated counterparts. Indeed, as previous Hamilton Project work has shown, the rates of return to a two- or four-year college degree are high. In recent years, however, there has been increasing concern about students who begin two- and four-year colleges but fail to complete a degree—particularly in light of the large increase in student debt and growing talk about the high costs of college. Read more ..
|Dave Levinthal||June 8th 2013|
Center for Public Integrity
Most lobbying firms are not in a hurry to pad politicians' political coffers early this election cycle, with only a few either raising or spending significant cash, a Center for Public Integrity analysis of Federal Election Commission records indicates.
And that's for the lobby shops that have PACs: More than half of the nation's top 40 firms, ranked by 2012 lobbying income, do not sponsor one at all, the analysis shows. While this doesn't represent a major shift from the lobbying world status quo, the trend stands in stark contrast to the actions of other industries' largest corporations, which generally sponsor PACs as a means to support and interact with politicians and candidates.
Among the PAC-less government affairs powerhouses are Podesta Group; Ogilvy Government Relations; Peck, Madigan & Jones; Prime Policy Group and Dutko Worldwide. For top lobbying firms that do sponsor PACs, only four — Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld; K&L Gates; Ernst & Young and DLA Piper — have reported spending more than $100,000 during the year's first four months, mostly on donations to political candidates and committees. This figure could rise slightly in July, as eight of the nation's top 40 PACs have chosen to report their finances semiannually this year. Read more ..
Obama's Second Term
|Gary Burtless||June 7th 2013|
Private payrolls grew for the 39th consecutive month in May, increasing by 178,000. Perhaps coincidentally, this is exactly the same pace of job growth we have seen since March 2010 when the streak of private-sector employment gains began. Payrolls in the public sector, driven by a sizeable drop in federal employment, fell 3,000 in May. In the 39 months of private-sector job gains, federal, state, and local government payrolls have shrunk a total of 622,000—about 16,000 a month—offsetting 9 percent of the job gains in the private sector.
To put these numbers in perspective, the Census Bureau’s estimates of the working-age population suggest that about 80,000 new jobs a month are needed to keep the unemployment rate steady. If employment gains are faster than 80,000 a month we should expect to see a trend toward a lower unemployment rate. Of course, the unemployment rate is also affected by trends in the percentage of adults who want to hold a job. The deep recession caused the labor force participation rate to fall sharply in 2009, and the decline has continued through this year. Even though a sizeable part of the decline can be traced to population aging, we will nonetheless see some rebound in participation rates if Americans who are currently outside the workforce become more optimistic about their chances of finding a job. Read more ..
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