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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

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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 ..

America and Mexico

Evolving U.S.-Mexico Relations and Obama's Visit

May 2nd 2013


As the first member of Mexico's Institutional Revolutionary Party to win the presidency this century, Pena Nieto has set about reconsolidating the party's control over the government while attempting to turn attention away from the country's entrenched security issues and toward its economic opportunities. The pace of reform and political cooperation since the new government was elected July 1 has been unusually high for Mexico.

Labor and education overhauls passed through the legislature relatively easily, and banking reforms intended to broadly increase access to credit are set to be proposed once the legislature reconvenes in September. The administration still has an aggressive to-do list remaining, with planned overhauls ranging from the telecommunications and energy sectors to issues such as taxation. The majority of the reforms has been structural in nature and driven by economic imperatives, representing a notable shift in tempo and character from the previous government, which saw its legislative efforts largely stall for years prior to the 2012 election. Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

The Cost of Inaction in Syria

April 30th 2013

Syria fighting injured baby

Pressure is mounting on the Obama Administration to respond more decisively to the situation in Syria after the White House conceded that it believes the Syrian regime has used chemical weapons against its people. After all, on Aug. 20, 2012, the president said, "a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized. That would change my calculus." He reiterated his warning on March 21, 2013: "I've made it clear to Bashar al-Assad and all who follow his orders: We will not tolerate the use of chemical weapons against the Syrian people, or the transfer of those weapons to terrorists. The world is watching; we will hold you accountable."

The result of Washington spending more than two years on the sideline, watching as the death toll tops 80,000, is that the most effective options for dealing with the crisis have evaporated, leaving few good choices on the table. At the start of the uprising in March 2011, U.S. intelligence agencies could have been vetting potential partners in the Syrian opposition and providing them with lethal assistance. When in August 2011, President Obama called on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to "step aside," he could have worked with NATO to create a "no-fly zone" or establish a safe zone for those fleeing Assad's forces. But the president decided against offering assistance to the non-Islamist opposition -- whose protests provided the spark that ignited the Syrian conflict. Read more ..

Broken Banking

After Multi-Million Inheritance, Playboy Sachs Goes Offshore

April 29th 2013

International Currency 2

He's known as Brigitte Bardot’s husband, photographer, director, art collector. Now another aspect has come to light:  a man who set up an intricate offshore scheme to manage his vast fortune, a scheme that remained inscrutable to the fiscal authorities until the end.

The hand that governs everything must remain invisible. It certainly must not sign anything. That is why Hanswerner Schwenk, a private secretary in his 50s, sets off for the Pacific island of Rarotonga.

Meanwhile, the man behind the scenes can relax: in London, Paris or St. Tropez, on one of his many estates. His name must not appear in any official document, for such is the nature of an anonymous enterprise. Otherwise one would not need to bother with all the hassle, after all: the South Seas, the lawyers and all that secretiveness.

It is a strenuous trip for Schwenk, who lives in Munich. Rarotonga is situated about halfway between New Zealand and Hawaii, and it takes him more than 40 hours to get there from Germany. At least his local partner, the International Trust Corporation Ltd., has arranged for a hotel and a rental car. Hanswerner Schwenk’s mission: confirm with his signature that the share issue of the recently founded company Triton Ltd. proceeded in a lawful way. Read more ..

Broken Government

Graham's Campaign Collects Bundle from Lobbyists

April 28th 2013

Sen Lindsey Graham

South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham raised more money from lobbyists ahead of the 2012 election than any other member of Congress save one — an impressive feat considering he wasn’t on the ballot.

Roughly 10 percent of Graham’s $2.2 million haul, about $223,000, came from lobbyists acting as “bundlers,” a higher percentage than any other member. Bundlers raise money from friends and associates and deliver the checks in a “bundle.”

Only New Jersey Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez, who did face opposition in 2012, received more bundled campaign cash from lobbyists — about $227,100 — less than 2 percent of his total contributions, according to a Center for Public Integrity analysis of Federal Election Commission filings.

Graham’s bundlers include organizations and lobbyists whose positions Graham has supported. Among them are an energy giant, the film industry’s main trade association and a former U.S. ambassador who represents clients that would benefit from the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline.

Tops on the list, however, were GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney and his “victory fund,” which accepted more than $17 million from lobbyist-bundlers. Six individuals raised at least $1 million apiece for Romney’s unsuccessful efforts, as the Center for Public Integrity previously reported. In all, a dozen candidates and political committees raised at least $100,000 from lobbyist-bundlers ahead of the 2012 election, including the leadership PAC of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

Thwarted Canadian Terrorist Plot Shows Continuing Threat from Al-Qaeda and Iran

April 25th 2013

Hamas head

Canadian police arrested Chiheb Esseghaier and Raed Jaser on Monday on suspicion of planning an attack on VIA Rail, Canada's national railway system. The two non-Canadian citizens had been under surveillance for a year as they planned to target Toronto, Canada's most populous city.

Esseghaier, the Tunisian-born student, appeared in Canadian court on Wednesday. The 30 year old questioned the court's legitimacy and the criminal code saying it is "not (a) holy book." He faces a number of charges including conspiracy to murder and working with a terrorist group. On Tuesday the other suspect in the case, Raed Jaser, was remanded to stay in police custody. While no date has been set for their bail hearings, both suspects will be in court again on May 23rd for a procedural hearing.

Local media reports officials first became alerted to the two after a Toronto imam saw one of them spreading extremist propaganda. Moreover, Royal Canadian Mounted Police Assistant Commissioner James Malizia told reporters at a press conference the suspects took "direction and guidance" from al-Qaeda operatives in Iran. However, he contended the attacks did not appear to be "state-sponsored." Read more ..

Broken Banking

Faux Corporate Directors Stand in for Fraudsters, Despots and Spies

April 23rd 2013

International Currency 3

On November 14, 2006, a man going by the name Paul William Hampel was arrested at a Canadian airport on charges of being a Russian spy. Hampel’s carefully constructed identity portrayed him as a successful businessman, yet for a decade his company did no business.

Only months before his capture, the same apparatus used to create his alias was also employed by a very different spy agency - the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency —to build a secret prison in Lithuania, where U.S. agents interrogated suspected al-Qaeda terrorists.

Earlier again, it was used by the regime of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein to cheat the Oil for Food program.

All three deceptions employed a common subterfuge: far-flung corporate entities used as anonymous fronts, with “executives” who lacked knowledge of what the firms were up to. The activities of these so-called nominee directors are a little noticed part of the world of secretive offshore finance that’s grown so vast that it touches more than 170 of the globe’s 206 countries, but it’s one that’s often drenched in intrigue. Read more ..

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