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The Mideast on Edge

Russia's New Middle Eastern Role

June 11th 2013


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

The Bernanke Difference

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

Is Starting College and Not Finishing Really That Bad?

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 ..

Broken Government

Lobbying Firm PACs Start 2013 Slow

June 8th 2013


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

Steady Employment Gains Offer Sign of Continued Expansion

June 7th 2013

Employee applications

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 ..

Israel on Edge

The Six Day War--How We Got There and What it Means

June 6th 2013

Wailing Wall 1967

In June 1967, the combined armies of Egypt, Syria, and Jordan attacked Israel with the clear purpose expressed by Egypt’s President: “Destruction of Israel.” At the end of what is now known as the Six-Day War, Israel, against all odds, was victorious and in possession of the territories of the West Bank, Sinai and the Golan Heights.

International law makes a clear distinction between defensive wars and wars of aggression. Egypt’s blockade of the waterway known as the Strait of Tiran, which prevented access to Israel’s southern port of Eilat, was an act of aggression that led to the Six-Day War in 1967. More than six decades after the 1948 War and four decades since the 1967 Six-Day War, it is hard to imagine the dire circumstances Israel faced and the price it paid to fend off its neighbors’ attacks.

In 1967, the combined Arab armies had approximately 465,000 troops, more than 2,880 tanks and 810 aircrafts, preparing to attack Israel at once. Israel, faced with the imminent threat of obliteration, was forced to invoke its right of self-defense, a basic tenet of international law, enshrined in Article 51 of the United Nations Charter. Israel launched a surprised pre-emptive air strike against Egypt on June 5, 1967.

Who Starts Wars Does Matter

UN Charter Article 51 clearly recognizes “the inherent right of individual or collective self-defense if an armed attack occurs against a Member of the United Nations” by anyone.

Arabs would like the world to believe that in 1967, Israel simply woke-up one morning and invaded them, and therefore Israel’s control of the Golan Heights, West Bank and Sinai is the illicit fruit of an illegal act – like Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in 1991. Read more ..

Education on Edge

The Postsecondary Education Conundrum

June 5th 2013

College expenses

Postsecondary education in the United States faces a conundrum: Can we preserve access, help students learn more and finish their degrees sooner and more often, and keep college affordable for families, all at the same time? And can the higher education reforms currently most in vogue—expanding the use of technology and making colleges more accountable—help us do these things?

Since the 1960s, colleges and universities have worked hard to increase access to higher education. Fifty years ago, with the industrial economy booming—as Sandy Baum, Charles Kurose, and Michael McPherson write in the latest issue of the Future of Children—only 45 percent of young people went to college when they graduated from high school. Today, they note, at least 70 percent enroll in some form of postsecondary education. Women, who once accounted for little more than a third of the college population, now outnumber men on campus, and minorities and the poor have also seen many barriers to a college education fall. Certainly, we still have work to do—for example, advantaged children are still much more likely than children living in poverty to go to college, and to attend elite institutions when they do. Yet the gains in access have been remarkable. Read more ..

Economic Jihad

TIAA-CREF Decision Sets Precedent to Block BDS Motions

June 4th 2013

Boycott Israel

A decision by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to allow a major financial services group to keep Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions off the agenda at their shareholders’ meeting, created new precedent to counter BDS assaults on the financial community, legal analysts stated.

The SEC’s decision on Thursday was a relief for TIAA-CREF, officially Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association – College Retirement Equities Fund, which manages $520 billion on behalf of millions of teachers and other union members, many of them Jewish. The BDS motion demanded divestment from Israel as part of a new human rights policy it wanted shareholders to adopt. The SEC chose to ignore the first part of the argument, simply ruling that the BDS motion would interfere with the company’s ordinary business.

The BDS motion was filed by Jewish Voice of Peace in the names of 200 signed shareholders requesting to be heard at TIAA-CREF’s annual shareholder meeting in July and put their motion to a proxy vote. Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

Excluding Iran From Syria Talks Will Backfire

June 3rd 2013

Syrian Missiles

Diplomatic wisdom holds that you make peace with your enemies, not your friends. This mantra has been intoned by such diverse figures as Moshe Dayan, Desmond Tutu, and James Baker. When they said it, it seemed almost self-evident, even trite. But it is nonetheless often repudiated in U.S. domestic debates, where a willingness to negotiate is seen as a sign of weakness or an inappropriate reward for bad behavior.

Negotiating with the United States is not a reward. Anyone who has ever spent long hours shut in a windowless conference room with Secretary of State John Kerry understands this basic truth at the core of his being.

The question of whether to seek Iran’s involvement in the proposed Geneva talks on Syria illustrates how this concept of reward can lead us astray. The reason to involve Iran is not because Iran is a constructive actor on Syria. According to a recent report by The New York Times, Iran has been a key supporter of the Assad regime’s violent oppression and is a party to the conflict. It is not because U.S. officials believe that agreement with Iran on Syria could herald the dawn of a new era of U.S.-Iranian friendship. After more than ten years of dealing with the Iranian regime on the nuclear file, there are few illusions and even less trust left in the U.S. government when it comes to the Iran. The regime in Iran is, quite simply, our enemy. Read more ..

Legal Jihad

Manipulating International Law as Part of Anti-Israeli “Lawfare”

June 2nd 2013

Scales of Justice

The attempts to brand Israel as a state that violates rules of international law have become a recurrent feature of the “lawfare” being waged against Israel. Although no state has a perfect record in this regard, Israel’s record of compliance with international law is remarkably strong. Israeli courts enforce customary international law as part of the “law of the land” and in a long series of decisions, the Israeli High Court has ordered the Israeli government, army, and security services to change policies that, in the court’s view, were in violation of customary international law. Perhaps uniquely among national court systems, the court has even intervened in actual combat situations. The Israeli government has a near-impeccable record of complying with such court orders. In a personal vein, this author can attest to a not-very-friendly senior Egyptian negotiator telling him in a private conversation that although negotiating with Israel was “hell,” he was aware that once agreement was reached, Israel had a very good record of complying with its undertakings. Read more ..

Israel on Edge

The Al-Dura Affair and Its Implications for Morality and Ethics in France

June 1st 2013

al Dura Death

The report of Israel’s governmental inquiry committee on the al-Dura affair, written after a thorough examination of all the materials related to this unfortunate affair and published by the director-general of the Ministry of International Relations and Strategy, Yossi Kuperwasser, should set off red lights and serve as a lesson for all foreign reporters working in Israel. It should also be taught in journalism schools in Israel and throughout the world.

It is, of course, regrettable that the report only appeared thirteen years after the outbreak of the Second Intifada and the al-Dura affair, which caused grave damage to Israel’s image, but there is no early or late when it comes to the truth. We also owe profound gratitude and esteem to all those who tirelessly pursued justice in this affair despite the many difficulties that confronted them. Read more ..

The New Egypt

An Egyptian Summer of Discontent Follows the Arab Spring

May 31st 2013

Jump at Cops

Due to a moribund economy, fuel and food shortages, and a lack of political opportunities, Egypt faces a tumultuous summer, and conditions will likely continue to deteriorate thereafter. While Washington should encourage Cairo to undertake necessary political and economic reforms that might calm the situation and improve governance, the Obama administration should concentrate on preserving vital strategic interests in the event of renewed upheaval.

A summer of shortages

Since Egypt’s 2011 revolution, persistent political uncertainty and plummeting domestic security have undermined foreign investment and harmed the country’s once-vibrant tourism industry. According to the Interior Ministry, the past year has witnessed a 120 percent increase in murders, 350 percent increase in robberies, and 145 percent jump in kidnappings. Read more ..

Iran on Edge

Iran's Election: The Men Who May Be Also-Rans

May 31st 2013

Iran Missiles

In the span of the past week, the field of candidates for Iran’s presidential election has winnowed from 686 to 8, thanks to the theocratic system's heavy-handed vetting process, and now media speculation is converging even more narrowly around a single apparent front-runner— nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili. And yet as I pointed out in a previous post, the drumbeat of inevitability surrounding Jalili may well be overstated, at least for the moment. Much can happen over the course of the next 15 days, and recent Iranian history suggests that it’s worth the effort to learn a bit about the longshots. In the Islamic Republic, today’s unknown may be tomorrow’s upset winner of the presidency.

In addition to Jalili, the field includes 7 other political figures intended to satisfy various constituencies and present a veneer of competition and diversity to a deeply cynical and depoliticized public. There are at least two serious contenders who stand a credible prospect of gaining momentum in this race; two additional candidates who, despite limited public traction, could credibly fill out the office of the presidency while ensuring its absolute impotence; two candidates whose inclusion reflects a grudging nod toward assuaging relevant political constituencies; and finally, an independent candidate who is a political entrepreneur.  Read more ..

Pacific Islanders on Edge

Pacific Islanders Cope with Displacement from Natural Disasters and Climate Change

May 30th 2013

Pagasa Island

Like its neighbors in the Pacific, the Cook Islands is no stranger to severe natural disasters. Pacific island countries are highly susceptible to increasingly frequent and extreme events, such as cyclones, tsunamis and landslides, as well as the slower-onset effects of climate change, such as rising sea levels, increased temperatures and coastal erosion.

Last week I was privileged to attend the first-ever regional consultation of the Nansen Initiative on Disaster-Induced Cross-Border Displacement, held in the Cook Islands in the Pacific. The consultation, hosted by the Prime Minister of the Cook Islands, brought together government officials from ten Pacific countries, as well as representatives from regional and international organizations, academia and civil society.

The issue of cross-border migration is always a sensitive one, and even more so when the prospective, permanent movement of whole communities is contemplated. While a key message from the meeting was that Pacific peoples wish to remain in their homes for as long as possible, there was recognition that some displacement and migration is inevitable. As the Prime Minister of the Cook Islands observed: ‘If we fail to plan, then we plan to fail.’ Read more ..

Defense on Edge

Why this Defense Drawdown Must Be Different

May 29th 2013


Over two months in, deep and arbitrary budget cuts imposed by sequestration are popping up all over the US military with real consequences for those in uniform. This may be one reason the president’s budget request for next year virtually ignores sequestration. While Congress may be inclined to follow, the law remains unchanged and no grand bargain seems within reach at the moment.

This means that now is the time for policymakers at the Pentagon and on Capitol Hill to seize the opportunity to mobilize support for far-reaching changes to some of the key drivers of defense spending that are threatening other essential priorities. Unfortunately, while there is a growing consensus in DC that such structural reforms are needed at the Department of Defense (DoD), the political will is conspicuously absent. AEI defense analyst Mackenzie Eaglen has written extensively about this topic. AEIdeas recently sat down with Mackenzie and asked for her thoughts on the subject. Read more ..

Oil Addiction

To Drill or Not to Drill

May 28th 2013

Saudi Oil

The coming American oil boom is bad news for Saudi Arabia. How the kingdom responds could very well determine if it survives.

Current trends in the global energy market don't look good for Saudi Arabia. First, the International Energy Agency projected in November 2012 that the United States will surpass the Gulf petrogiant as the world's top energy producer by 2020. Then, last week, it revealed that North America, buoyed by the rapid development of its unconventional oil industry, is set to dominate global oil production over the next five years. These unforeseen developments not only represent a blow to Saudi Arabia's prestige but also a potential threat to the country's long term economic well-being -- particularly in the post-Arab Spring era of elevated per-capita government spending.

But if the kingdom's outlook is decidedly bleak, its official response has been muddled. Within a period of just five days last month, two senior Saudi Arabian officials laid out starkly different versions of their country's oil production plan. In an April 25 speech at Harvard University, Prince Turki al-Faisal, a former head of Saudi Arabia's top intelligence agency and the current chairman of the King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies, announced that the kingdom is set to increase its total production capacity from 12.5 million barrels per day (mbd) today to 15 mbd by 2020, an amount that would easily make it the world's top oil producer once again. But five days later, in a speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, DC, Saudi Arabian Minister of Petroleum and Mineral Resources Ali al-Naimi conveyed an entirely different message, rejecting Turki's statement out of hand. "We don't see anything like that, even by 2030 or 2040," he said. "We really don't need to even think about 15 million." Read more ..

The Defense Edge

All Three Budget Options Would Damage National Security

May 27th 2013

AC-130 Gunship

The Department of Defense (DOD) is now examining three revised budget options for presentation to the President. All three would impose significant damage. This is because even the highest of the three options would shrink the portion of the economy committed to defense, shrink force structure, reduce the number of people serving in the military, impose slower increases in military compensation, reduce the scope of training and maintenance, and deprive the military of significant portions of the new weapons and equipment it needs.

Most importantly, the budget reductions would result in a military of insufficient overall strength to meet the established security commitments the federal government has made to the American people and U.S. friends and allies around the world. Read more ..

Iran on Edge

Winners and Losers in Iran's Presidential Election

May 25th 2013

Iranian clerics

Although Iran will not hold its presidential election until June 14, the winners and losers are already clear. The biggest losers are Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and outgoing president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad; the biggest winner is former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani.


Earlier this week, the Guardian Council -- with Khamenei's consent, and perhaps even at his request -- disqualified Rafsanjani from running in the election. However difficult the decision may have been, it was also essential for Khamenei's plans. Since 2009, Rafsanjani has become known as a vocal critic of the Supreme Leader and Ahmadinejad. In recent months, reformists began to support his candidacy because they knew that the Guardian Council would prevent their own prominent candidates from running. Rafsanjani rapidly became a symbol for change among his former critics, who concluded that only he could alter the power equation to limit the Supreme Leader's authority and keep the military and intelligence forces from further expanding their control over nonmilitary life. He also received wide support from technocrats and other figures who want a more competent leadership in Tehran -- two traits sorely lacking in the current government. Had Rafsanjani been permitted to run, he could have converted the election into a referendum on Khamenei's leadership, so the Supreme Leader decided to stop the tsunami before it began. Read more ..

Brazil on Edge

New Research on Brazil’s Rise as a Global Power

May 24th 2013

biblioteca nacional brasilia

The selection of Ambassador Roberto Azevêdo as Director General of the World Trade Organization (WTO) has once again put Brazilian diplomacy on the front pages of the world’s newspapers. While without a doubt superbly prepared and qualified for this new post, Azevêdo’s appointment also owes much to Brazil’s international reputation as a critical bridge between old and new powers. But is this really the case?

New research by the Australian National University’s Dr. Sean W. Burges published in the London-based Royal Institute of International Affairs’ journal International Affairs suggests that Brazil is not quite the international good citizen and selfless consensus builder it seems. As Burges notes: “Brazil is blessed with enormously clever and capable diplomats who consistently advance their own country’s national interest while making others think they are acting for the global good.” The point the paper makes is that Brazil is able to do this partly because it is trying to gain a greater voice in international affairs, not tear the global governance system down: “The current international system is quite a comfortable place for Brazil. What Brazil wants is to have more of a say about where the world is going and how it is going to be run in the future.”


Azerbaijan on Edge

Offshore Companies Provide Link BetweenCorporate Mogul and Azerbaijan's President

May 22nd 2013

Azerbaijani President Allyea

Members of Azerbaijan’s first family have had been shareholders in at least four offshore companies, newly revealed records show.

A corporate mogul whose business empire has won building contracts worth billions of dollars amid Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev’s massive construction spree is tied to the president’s family through secretive offshore companies.

The businessman, Hassan Gozal, is the director of three British Virgin Islands (BVI) companies set up in 2008 in the name of the president’s daughters, according to secret documents obtained by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. The daughters were 19 and 23 years old at the time. The documents obtained by ICIJ also show that the president and his wife, Mehriban, a member of Parliament, acquired their own BVI company in 2003, Rosamund International Ltd. Read more ..

The Education Edge

Focus on Sustainable Development: Education and Learning Can Play a Role

May 21st 2013

African school kids

While the theme of the third meeting of the High-Level Panel on Post-2015 in Bali was on global partnerships, the meeting’s communiqué set up the handover from the high-level panel to the intergovernmental Open Working Group on the Sustainable Development Goals (OWG). The communiqué calls for “a single and coherent post-2015 development agenda that integrates economic growth, social inclusion and environmental sustainability”, and with good reason since the two development frameworks for post-2015—poverty alleviation and sustainable development—are not separate. Rather, they are interlinked challenges that need to inform each other and ultimately must be addressed together in one framework.

Moreover, the role of education and equitable learning in achieving sustainable development needs to figure prominently in these discussions. Sustainable development cannot be attained without education that provides learners with 21st century skills that equip them for healthy, safe, and productive lives, while also safeguarding the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. Read more ..

Venezuela After Chavez

Brazil and the Bolivarian Revolution

May 20th 2013

Hugo Chavez

The late Venezuelan president, Hugo Chavez was known for having started and spread what is called the Bolivarian revolution, a kind of anti-American, dictatorial type of socialism. His success in spreading his revolution and his influence in the region would not have been so successful without the support of the moderate-left countries of Latin America as well as the ALBA block made up of Cuba, Nicaragua, Ecuador and Bolivia. In my last article I pointed out the role that countries in the region have played and continue to play in the perpetuation of the Bolivarian revolution in Venezuela.

However, of all the countries in the region, Brazil is a crucial piece in the support of the Bolivarian revolution. At this point is probably a more effective source of support than Cuba or any other member of ALBA, despite having openly distanced itself from the Venezuelan model. Indeed, Brazil has supported Chavez in the international arena thus helping prolong the agony of the Venezuelan people, the authoritarian practices of its government, and the geo-political threats to the region. Read more ..

America on Edge

Widening the Panama Canal and the Future of Global Trade Mapping

May 18th 2013

Panama Canal-dreging

Up and down the Atlantic coast, US ports are abuzz. Dredging machines, tunnel excavators, and highway pavers from Miami to New York are preparing metropolitan economies and their ports for a newly expanded Panama Canal. As the thinking goes, an expanded Canal promises bigger ships, bigger cargo loads--and each metro wants a piece of the bigger business.

But lost in this port-related arms race is what the newly-widened Panama Canal means for the US economy . Too many metropolitan areas simply assume they’ll immediately acquire new freight business when the expanded Canal opens, or that there will be more business at all. These billion-dollar assumptions ignore a more fundamental question: how and where will the Panama Canal affect US’ global goods trade? Read more ..

The New Egypt

The Muslim Brotherhood: From Opposition to Power

May 17th 2013

Jump at Cops

In the decade following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Western analysts' search for a 'moderate Islamist' alternative to Al-Qaeda often brought them to the Muslim Brotherhood, whose rhetorical rejection of terrorism and embrace of electoral politics was seductive. Much of the resulting literature thus touted the Brotherhood's supposedly 'democratic' and 'non-violent' nature, all of which left the international community wholly unprepared for the very undemocratic and violent reality now emerging in Brotherhood-ruled Egypt.

Thankfully, however, not all analysts were so deluded. In her excellent book, The Muslim Brotherhood: From Opposition to Power, Alison Pargeter offers a much-needed dose of realism, weighing the Brotherhood's lofty assertions against its aggressive actions. Through her examination of the Brotherhood's early history in Egypt and subsequent spread throughout the Middle East and Europe, Pargeter depicts an organisation that faces the constant dilemma of either widening its base through pragmatic outreach or solidifying its base through a more hardline approach. And, as Pargeter tells it, the Brotherhood has almost always embraced the latter, favouring its 'conservative' tendencies over its more 'reformist' ones. Read more ..

The Drug Wars

Understanding Pena Nieto's Approach to the Cartels

May 16th 2013

Mexican Drug Police2

Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto's approach to combating Mexican drug cartels has been a much-discussed topic since well before he was elected. Indeed, in June 2011 -- more than a year before the July 2012 Mexican presidential election -- I wrote an analysis discussing rumors that, if elected, Pena Nieto was going to attempt to reach some sort of accommodation with Mexico's drug cartels in order to bring down the level of violence.

Such rumors were certainly understandable, given the arrangement that had existed for many years between some senior members of Pena Nieto's Institutional Revolutionary Party and some powerful cartel figures during the Institutional Revolutionary Party's long reign in Mexico prior to the election of Vicente Fox of the National Action Party in 2000. However, as we argued in 2011 and repeated in March 2013, much has changed in Mexico since 2000, and the new reality in Mexico means that it would be impossible for the Pena Nieto administration to reach any sort of deal with the cartels even if it made an attempt. Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

Is Assad Winning?

May 15th 2013

al-Assad and Generals

The imminent demise of the Assad regime has been announced on numerous occasions over the last two years of civil war in Syria. But the regime has held on. Despite some advances by rebels in the south of the country in the early months of 2013, Assad shows no signs of cracking.

Indeed, in the last few weeks, the momentum of the fighting has somewhat shifted. Regime forces have clawed back areas of recent rebel advance. The government side, evidently under Iranian tutelage, has showed an impressive and unexpected ability to adapt itself to the changing demands of the war. As long ago as the summer of 2012,the government side demonstrated that it was able to adjust creatively, if ruthlessly, to events. When it became apparent that determined attempts by the regime army to crush the revolt in the northern Syrian countryside were proving fruitless, Assad’s forces carried out a strategic withdrawal. Read more ..

Broken Economy

Strengthening U.S. Manufacturing, Region by Region

May 14th 2013

Obama - Energy April '11

Last week President Obama used his trip to Austin, TX to announce the creation of three more public-private manufacturing research institutes as nodes of a $1 billion National Network for Manufacturing Innovation (NNMI).  On the same day, though, there was another intriguing if lower-key announcement on the Obama administration’s manufacturing agenda.

That’s the new Investing in Manufacturing Communities Partnership, the first phase of a two-phase effort aimed squarely at communities and regions, announced by the Commerce Department’s Economic Development Administration (EDA).

Focused squarely on the fact that the locus of U.S. manufacturing prowess is emphatically local and regional, the new competitive solicitation will allow as many as 25 local communities to be awarded $200,000 this year to create smart strategies for leveraging and aligning their public- and private-sector assets to provide a promising environment for advanced manufacturing. These awards will in the near term allow ambitious communities to develop “bottom-up” plans for strengthening their regions’ intellectual, human, and physical infrastructure.  Read more ..

Iran on Edge

The Campaign for a New Iranian President Has Begun

May 13th 2013

Ahmadinejad pointing

The race to replace Iran’s deeply polarizing president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, officially opened last week with the registration of prospective candidates, and already the campaign promises an utterly fascinating ride through the unpredictable politics of the Islamic Republic. The shock and awe surrounding the last-minute decision by Iran’s iconic former president, Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, to throw his hat into yet another race has only been topped for drama by the latest antics of the current incumbent aimed apparently at elevating a controversial protégé to succeed him. At least at the outset, these sensational developments have overshadowed the emerging shape of the real race among an array of regime functionaries, most notably nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili.

With 686 would-be candidates and an array of insidious regime mechanisms for influencing the outcome, it is literally impossible to predict today who the ultimate contenders will be, much less who will win the race. However, what is clear is that Iran’s presidential election represents the opening salvo in another historic turning point in the volatile evolution of the revolutionary theocracy. Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

Iran’s Plans to Take Over Syria

May 12th 2013

Assad and Ahmadinejad

In mid-April, Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah paid a secret visit to Tehran where he met with the top Iranian officials headed by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and Gen. Qasem Suleimani, the commander of the Quds Force of the Revolutionary Guard Corps. Suleimani prepared an operational plan named after him based upon the establishment of a 150,000-man force for Syria, the majority of whom will come from Iran, Iraq, and a smaller number from Hizbullah and the Gulf states.

Suleimani’s involvement was significant. He has been the spearhead of Iranian military activism in the Middle East. In January 2012, he declared that the Islamic Republic controlled “one way or another” Iraq and South Lebanon. Even before recent events in Syria, observers in the Arab world have been warning for years about growing evidence of “Iranian expansionism.”

An important expression of Syria’s centrality in Iranian strategy was voiced by Mehdi Taaib, who heads Khamenei’s think tank. He recently stated that “Syria is the 35th district of Iran and it has greater strategic importance for Iran than Khuzestan [an Arab-populated district inside Iran].” Significantly, Taaib was drawing a comparison between Syria and a district that is under full Iranian sovereignty.

Tehran has had political ambitions with respect to Syria for years and has indeed invested huge resources in making Syria a Shiite state. The Syrian regime let Iranian missionaries work freely to strengthen the Shiite faith in Damascus and the cities of the Alawite coast, as well as the smaller towns and villages. In both urban and rural parts of Syria, Sunnis and others who adopted the Shiite faith received privileges and preferential treatment in the disbursement of Iranian aid money.

Iran is also recruiting Shiite forces in Iraq for the warfare in Syria. These are organized in a sister framework of Lebanese Hizbullah. Known as the League of the Righteous People and Kateeb Hizbullah, its mission is to defend the Shiite centers in Damascus. It is likely that Tehran will make every effort to recruit additional Shiite elements from Iraq, the Persian Gulf, and even from Pakistan.

Iran Cannot Afford to Lose Syria
In mid-April, Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah paid a secret visit to Tehran where he met with the top Iranian officials headed by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and the commander of the Quds Force of the Revolutionary Guard Corps, Gen. Qasem Suleimani, who is in charge of Iranian policy in Lebanon and Syria. The visit was clandestine and no details were divulged on an official level – except for the exclusive posting on Hizbullah’s official website of a photograph of Khamenei with Nasrallah beside him in the former’s private library, with a picture of Ayatollah Khomeini above them. Read more ..

Obama's Second Term

Minority Turnout Determined the 2012 Election

May 12th 2013

us voters

While it may seem like the 2012 presidential election has been analyzed to death, the recent release of the Census Bureau’s November election survey points out the key role that minority voter turnout, especially for blacks, played in  determining the outcome.

Until now, most of what we knew came from the National Election Pool exit poll which elicited Election Day candidate preferences of voters. The new, larger survey from the Census Bureau permits an examination of the voting-eligible population and the extent to which they turned out to vote. These turnout rates tell us a lot more about the enthusiasm, or lack thereof, among different groups.

Already, the Census Bureau’s report trumpeted the historically noteworthy finding that black turnout rates in 2012 exceeded that of whites for the first time. This, in an election when white turnout declined significantly and Hispanic and Asian turnout inched down modestly from 2008. Read more ..

Obama's Second Term

For American Foreign Policy, No Good Options

May 11th 2013

Obama and Flag

One feels sympathy for U.S. President Barack Obama. Whatever he does in Syria, he is doomed. Had he intervened a year ago, as many pundits demanded, he might presently be in the midst of a quagmire with even more pundits angry at him, and with his approval ratings far lower than they are. If he intervenes now, the results might be even worse. Journalists often demand action for action's sake, seemingly unaware that many international problems have no solution, given the limits of U.S. power. The United States can topple regimes; it cannot even modestly remake societies unless, perhaps, it commits itself to the level of time and expense it did in post-war Germany and Japan.

Indeed, Obama has onerous calculations: If I intervene, which group do I arm? Am I assured the weapons won't fall into the wrong hands? Am I assured the group or groups I choose to help really are acceptable to the West, and even if they are, will they matter in Damascus in the long run? And, by the way, what if toppling Syrian leader Bashar al Assad through the establishment of a no-fly zone leads to even more chaos, and therefore results in an even worse human rights situation? Do I really want to own that mess? And even were I to come out of it successfully, do I want to devote my entire second term to Syria? Because that's what getting more deeply involved militarily there might entail. Read more ..

Broken Education

H-1B Visas and the STEM Shortage

May 10th 2013

Education - Child at Blackboard

Last month, a landmark immigration reform bill was introduced in the U.S. Senate that has the potential to both increase the number of available H-1B visas for foreigners working in specialty occupations and shift the U.S. employment-based visa system to a more merit-based scheme favoring science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) workers.

As it stands today, businesses say they cannot find the skills they need in the domestic labor pool and need access to a global pool of STEM workers.  Bolstering their contention are a number of studies that suggest that STEM jobs exhibit characteristics of under-supply: high wages and low unemployment.

Yet, some analysts have argued that there are plenty of U.S. native-born workers who can do these jobs. They claim that H-1B workers do not have special skills but instead are preferred because they are paid lower wages. Without attempting to fully resolve this complex issue, new detailed data on H-1B wages by occupation, presented more fully here, suggests that the H-1B program helps to fill a shortage of workers in STEM occupations. Read more ..

Education on Edge

Obama’s Early Education Proposals Leave Federal Efforts Fragmented and Incoherent

May 9th 2013

school kids

The release of President Obama’s budget reignited the debate over the potential benefits of public investment in early childhood education. The centerpiece of his proposal is a $75 billion federal-state partnership to provide all low- and moderate-income four-year-olds with high-quality, full-day pre-K. But equally important is what the President proposed—or, rather, didn’t propose—for the Child Care and Development Fund (CCDF), a vital child care subsidy program serving 1.7 million low-income children each month at a cost of $10 billion per annum. By comparison, Head Start spends about $7 billion on 900,000 children each year. 

As I will explain below, the President’s budget is disappointing because it misses an opportunity to fix two structural flaws with the CCDF: its lack of integration with the larger early care and education system and its disproportionate emphasis on supporting parental employment.   Read more ..

Broken Government

Controversy Ensnaring Governor Raises New Questions about Virginia Laws

May 8th 2013

Bob McDonnell-va-gov

A series of revelations and stinging media reports about Virginia Gov. Robert McDonnell’s relationship with a corporate executive is bringing new attention to the state’s forgiving accountability laws — a subject highlighted last year by the State Integrity Investigation.

The root of the uproar is a $15,000 catering tab for the wedding of McDonnell’s daughter back in 2011, quietly paid by Jonnie Williams Sr., the CEO of Star Scientific, a Glen Allen, Va.-based dietary supplement company. Now the news, first reported in late March by the Washington Post, is dominating conversation in the state’s political circles and raising questions about Virginia’s liberal allowances for gifts to politicians: there is no limit.

Through a series of reports, the Post has detailed a close relationship between Williams and McDonnell’s family. Three days before the wedding, McDonnell’s wife, Maureen, flew to Florida to promote Star Scientific’s new product at a gathering of scientists and investors. Three months later, the company held its launch party for the product at the governor’s mansion. The McDonnells have also vacationed at Williams’ home, flown on his corporate jet and received more than a hundred thousand dollars to the governor’s campaign and PAC. Read more ..

The Edge of terror

Specter of Islamist Terror

May 7th 2013

Hamas Rocket

In the immediate hours and days after September 11, 2001 it became clear to most Americans that the values of tolerance and democracy - cornerstones of the "American dream " - for which countless immigrants have journeyed to this land are at risk. In the 12 years since 9/11, and in the wake of combat fatigue from Afghanistan and the Iraq wars, many have become complacent - arguing that there is no longer a threat to our values or our lives.

Yet, the seeming period of homeland tranquility is only a result of internal security measures designed to prevent similar attacks. The threat to American domestic security is real and what appear to be isolated violent incidents over time are in fact part of a more insidious pattern that can be traced back to the influence of al-Qaeda and Islamist extremist infiltration.

On the flawless bright spring day of April 15, 2013 - Patriot's Day in Massachusetts - explosions rocked the peaceful and festive finish line of the Boston Marathon, where hundreds of spectators and runners celebrated on Boylston Street. Two homemade bombs using pressure cookers had one goal – killing and injuring as many in the crowd as possible. Read more ..

The Economy on Edge

Some Good News on April Job Growth

May 6th 2013

Apply for Employment

Gloomy news in last month’s jobs report was partially erased by better news in this month’s report. Employers reported payroll gains of 165,000 in April, a considerable improvement compared with the initial estimate that payrolls grew just 88,000 in March. That initial estimate of March job gains turns out to have been too low and was revised in this month’s report. The BLS now estimates that March payroll gains were 138,000—not a terrific number, but 50,000 better than the initial estimate.

The April jobs report also contains a major revision to earlier estimates of job growth in February. The BLS initially estimated that February’s job gains were 246,000, certainly a welcome piece of news. In its March report it revised February’s job gains up to 268,000. And in its latest report, February job gains are now estimated to have totaled 342,000, the fastest rate of job gain we have seen in three years. Read more ..

Israel's Next Northern War

As Israel Strikes A Dozen Targets, Syria & Hezbollah Acknowledge Blows For First Time

May 5th 2013

Israeli Jet Diving

The latest overnight airstrikes targeting reportedly targeting a dozen military bases, weapons depots and sensitive facilities across Syria, including in the heart of Damascus, may have redrafted the unwritten code of silence between Israel and Syria, at least temporarily.

Unlike the earlier strike on Friday, this time Syria dropped its quiet game and pointed the finger directly at its southwest neighbor, even publishing photos of the damage. Hezbollah’s Al-Manar TV channel has also changed its tune, after previously and dutifully taking to regurgitating Syrian denials that a strike had even taken place.

This change in tactics could be cause for concern in Israel. Until now, Syria’s silence fit well with Israel’s desire to maintain plausible deniability, and made it easier for Damascus to pursue a policy of restraint. Now, pressure from Arabic media could all but force Bashar Assad’s hand. Speaking of the attack in Arabic media this morning, Syrian opposition members could hear scarcely contain their elation. Read more ..

The New Egypt

Egypt's Economy, The Muslim Brotherhood and the U.S.

May 4th 2013

Jump at Cops

Under Muslim Brother Morsi's inept economic team more than 4,500 factories have shut down. Egypt's unemployment rate in the fourth quarter of 2012, have reached 13 percent, most of which, (77.5 percent) is among the 15-24 years old. Inflation has climbed much above the official 7.5 percent (March 2013), and foreign currency reserves declined to US $ 13,424 billion. The country spends about $14.5 billion subsidizing fuel and $4 billion subsidizing food each year.  Nearly half of Egypt's 90 million people live at or below the poverty line of $2 per day.   The Egyptian Centre for Economic and Social Rights (ECESR), reports of "3,817 labor strikes and economically motivated social protests" following Morsi's election, and more than 2,400 "between January and March" 2013.

Campuses all over the country are rocked by violent demonstrations, and "it's getting worse by the day," a student is quoted saying by Al-Hayat. Bloody clashes between students affiliated with Brotherhood and independent and opposition groups have been reported in Cairo's Ain Shams University, and ongoing demonstrations in Al-Azhar University have gotten more violent after tainted food made dozen of students ill. Read more ..

Russia and America

Under The Guise Of 'Human Rights,' Russia And U.S. Pursue Tit-For-Tat Blacklisting

May 3rd 2013

Putin Gesticulates

In mid-April, Washington and Moscow each published blacklists of suspected human rights violators in the other's jurisdiction. The moves were rife with symbolism, and clear signs of a deteriorating bilateral relationship between the U.S. and Russia. But while it is clearly essential to make real efforts to promote human rights, using what appears to be politicized sanctions to secure them might not be the best strategy.

The current round of recriminations began in December 2012, when the Obama administration signed into law the Magnitsky Act, imposing a sanctions regime against individuals connected to the death of lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, a whistleblower who uncovered the largest known tax fraud case in Russian history, while in official custody. On April 12 of this year, the United States also imposed travel bans on eighteen Russians linked to the case—including senior Interior Ministry officials, prosecutors, judges, prison officials and tax officers—and froze any assets they hold in the United States. Read more ..

Israel's Next Northern War

Hezbollah, Syria Likely to Stay Mum on Strike by Israel Air Force

May 3rd 2013

Israeli Jet Dive Bombing

It is far from certain the Iran-backed Assad regime in Syria or the Lebanese based Iran-backed terrorist army Hezbollah will clear the fog surrounding the air strike that struck Syria between Thursday night and Friday.

One might expect decision-makers in Damascus or Hezbollah’s south Beirut headquarters to respond to U.S. media reports (echoed in the Arabic press) over the strike on a convoy of advanced missiles capable of carrying both chemical and conventional payloads that Syria was transferring to Hezbollah in Lebanon.

But despite what logic might dictate, neither Syria nor Hezbollah has any interest in doing so. Admitting that an Israeli air strike occurred would place the Syrian or Hezbollah leadership in a familiar dilemma of whether to respond or stay mum.

From the perspective of the “Arab street,” Bashar Al-Assad and Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah are required to respond to this latest “Israeli aggression.” Over the years both have gone to great lengths to brand themselves as the torchbearers of the “Resistance” to Israel, and ignoring the strike would prompt a torrent of criticism in anti-Syrian pan-Arab news outlets like Al Jazeera and Al-Arabiya. Read more ..

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