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Israel and Palestine

The Palestinian Authority’s Responsibility for the Outbreak of the Second Intifada: Its Own Damning Testimony

February 26th 2013

Bethelem Protestors

On February 11, 2013, on Israel’s Channel 10 television program “The Source,” it was claimed that there was not even an “iota of evidence” that the Palestinian Authority leadership, and Yasser Arafat in particular, planned and initiated the Second Intifada, which began in September 2000 and resulted in the deaths of more than 1,000 Israelis by 2005.

Rather, it was claimed that this was a spontaneous popular uprising that ran counter to the interests of the Palestinian leadership. As a consequence, Arafat appears to be exonerated by the narrative presented. The program also reopened the old debate over whether the Second Intifada was ignited by Ariel Sharon’s September 2000 visit to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.

Yet, extensive testimony at the time and in retrospect demonstrates the Palestinian Authority’s role in initiating and managing the Second Intifada as an extensive terror onslaught, designed to impose a unilateral, unconditional withdrawal upon Israel, and improve conditions in anticipation of the battle for realizing Palestinian demands for the return of the refugees. Read more ..

The Way We Are

Primed for Controversy

February 25th 2013

Elderly couple

In 2005, the writer Malcolm Gladwell introduced readers to the phenomenon of “thinking without thinking” — the mental work we all do automatically — in his blockbuster book “Blink.” Since then, the unconscious has been on a roll. Scores of popular books and articles have chronicled the power of subtle cues to influence our attitudes and actions.

Typical of the genre is a reliance on the “goal-priming effect,” in which study subjects automatically and unintentionally alter their thoughts or behavior when prompted by various kinds of information.

But now, goal-priming experiments are coming under scrutiny — and in the process, revealing a problem at the heart of psychological research itself. In a classic experiment conducted in 1996, a team of psychologists at New York University “primed” students to walk more slowly by exposing them to words typically associated with older people, like “Florida,” “bingo” and “gray.” Read more ..

Israel on Edge

Chuck Hagel and the Jewish Leadership Crisis

February 24th 2013

Chuck Hagel

Jewish groups are seconding the call of Senate Republicans for further review of defense secretary nominee Chuck Hagel before a final vote is held on his confirmation. A 58-40 Senate vote on Feb. 14 delayed a final yes or no vote on the former Nebraska senator’s appointment. Sixty votes were needed to proceed.

“Chuck Hagel has served this country, and his state, with distinction, as we have had the privilege to tell him in person,” American Jewish Committee (AJC) Executive Director David Harris said in a statement Feb. 15. “But in light of his complex record in the Senate and controversial statements he has made since his public service on strategic and political affairs— notably grappling with the range of pressing Middle East issues—AJC believes that further Senate deliberation is called for before any final vote is taken.” Read more ..

The Diplomatic Edge

Secretary of State John Kerry Is Visiting Nine Countries but Not Israel. What’s Up?

February 23rd 2013

John Kerry

On February 24, 2013, the new secretary of state, John Kerry, leaves on his first trip abroad. He will visit nine countries, four in Western Europe and five in what is loosely defined as the Muslim, Arab world.  But he will not visit Israel, even after intense speculation in Washington that Israel was a certain stop on his itinerary. What’s up?

The question is relevant, because it immediately stirs memories of what happened in 2009. In June of that year, just a few months into his historic presidency, Barack Obama visited Cairo for good and important reasons but then refused to take advantage of geography and make the short hop to Jerusalem. He might at the time have been angry about Israel’s settlements policy. The upshot was that Obama got off on the wrong foot in his dealings with Israel, and nothing much happened in U.S.-Israel relations for the next four years, even as the Mideast neighborhood itself became engulfed in uncertain democracy-building, violent upheavals and what looked like a determined Iranian move toward nuclear weapons. Read more ..

The Political Edge

GOP Super Donor's Foundation Leans Left

February 22nd 2013

Money Money Money

Republican mega-donor Harold Simmons considers President Barack Obama to be “the most dangerous man in America,” and in a bid to unseat him, fueled conservative political groups with tens of millions of dollars. The Harold Simmons Foundation in 2011 most notably contributed a combined $600,000 to an arch political foe of Republicans, Planned Parenthood, and its North Texas affiliate, IRS records show.

Simmons’ foundation also bolstered several other organizations rarely associated with political conservatives or partisan Republicans, including public television, the League of Women Voters and even a Washington, D.C.-based organization dedicated to curbing the influence of big money in elections. The foundation’s 2011 funding came exclusively from the billionaire’s personal fortune and that of his holding company, Contran Corp. Together, they contributed more than $9.8 million in 2011 — the foundation’s only income aside from $5.6 million in investment and capital gains income. The foundation ended 2011 with nearly $52 million in reserve after distributing about $17.4 million during the year, IRS records show. Read more ..

Inside Islam

The Saudis, the Muslim Brotherhood, and Islamic Banking

February 20th 2013


The early successes of Arab/Muslim-owned banking in Europe and the Arabian Peninsula, and the establishment of an economic foundation that modernized the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, were both the work of Faisal bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud (1906-1975). Prince Faisal served as Saudi Arabia's de facto ruler during the last years of King Saud's reign, and then as King Faisal he led Saudi Arabia from 1964 until his assassination by a family member in March 1975.

As king, Faisal rescued the country from bankruptcy. He instituted banking reforms and helped modernize and expand the nation's economy by opening commerce to Saudi families outside the Royal family. During Faisal's lifetime, both the incipient Arab banking sector and the international Muslim Brotherhood (Ikhwan al Muslimun) benefitted immeasurably from his patronage Read more ..

The Defence Edge

The Morality, Strategy and Danger of Drone Strikes

February 19th 2013

Click to select Image

Airstrikes by unmanned aerial vehicles have become a matter of serious dispute lately. The controversy focuses on the United States, which has the biggest fleet of these weapons and which employs them more frequently than any other country. On one side of this dispute are those who regard them simply as another weapon of war whose virtue is the precision with which they strike targets. On the other side are those who argue that in general, unmanned aerial vehicles are used to kill specific individuals, frequently civilians, thus denying the targeted individuals their basic right to some form of legal due process.

Let's begin with the weapons systems, the MQ-1 Predator and the MQ-9 Reaper. The media call them drones, but they are actually remotely piloted aircraft. Rather than being in the cockpit, the pilot is at a ground station, receiving flight data and visual images from the aircraft and sending command signals back to it via a satellite data link. Read more ..

Colombia on Edge

Issues Facing Colombia's Negotiations with FARC Narco-Terrorists

February 18th 2013

Colombia FARC leadership

“We didn’t come here to waste time.” A defensive Iván Márquez, spokesman of the decades-old Colombian FARC revolutionary group uttered these words on January 31, during the latest round of peace talks between Bogotá and the insurgent movement. Now, some media outlets routinely have latched onto the automatic narrative that the negotiations are floundering in Havana. As such, a general cynicism surrounds the latest attempt at peace, as well as the likelihood of a substantial agreement before the November deadline of this year. Despite the formidable odds that are at stake, Márquez has insisted that the guerilla movement remains committed “toward ending the conflict and reaching peace.” Read more ..

The Iranian Threat

The Sources of Iranian Negotiating Behavior

February 16th 2013

Iranian clerics

This analysis identifies patterns exhibited by the Iranian government and the Iranian people since ancient times. Most importantly, it identifies critical elements of Iranian culture that have been systematically ignored by policymakers for decades. It is a precise understanding of these cultural cues that should guide policy objectives toward the Iranian government.

Iranians expect a ruler to demonstrate resolve and strength, and do whatever it takes to remain in power. The Western concept of demanding that a leader subscribe to a moral and ethical code does not resonate with Iranians. Telling Iranians that their ruler is cruel will not convince the public that they need a new leader. To the contrary, this will reinforce the idea that their ruler is strong. It is only when Iranians become convinced that either their rulers lack the resolve to do what is necessary to remain in power or that a stronger power will protect them against their current tyrannical rulers, that they will speak out and try to overthrow leaders. Read more ..

Palestine on Edge

How US Military Aid to Fatah Actually Bolsters the Hamas

February 15th 2013

Hamas Terrorist with Rocket

On February 5, 2013, the reconstituted US House of Representatives Subcommittee on Middle East and North Africa held a subcommittee hearing on the subject of "Fatah-Hamas Reconciliation: Threatening Peace Prospects”.

Two senior expert witnesses from The Washington Institute for Near East Policy testified and expressed optimism that US trained Palestinian Security Forces, affiliated with the Fatah, will combat the Hamas terror group which competes for power in the nascent Palestinian Arab entity. Such optimisim defies reality.

Let us take a dispassionate look at the past and present reality of the Fatah- dominated Palestinian Authority armed forces, known as the PSF, the Palestinian Security Forces When the Palestinian Authority was founded in 1994, President Yasser Arafat, by design, established a multiplicity of security forces with overlapping authority and in competition with one another. Read more ..

Obama's Second Term

In Undisclosed Speech, Hagel Said State Department Is Controlled by Israel

February 15th 2013

Chuck Hagel

Chuck Hagel, whose nomination is currently being filibustered by Republicans, reportedly argued in a previously unknown speech that the U.S. State Department is controlled by the Israeli foreign ministry. In documents he delivered to Senate investigators as a part of his confirmation process, Hagel was required to inform the Senate Armed Services Committee of any formal speech he had delivered since January 1, 2008. Though Fox News reported that Hagel failed to disclose two speeches, the remarks in question, which were delivered in March 2007, preceded that time period. 

Republican political consultant George Ajjan wrote about the 2007 speech — delivered at Rutgers University’s Center for Middle East Studies and cosponsored by the American Iranian Council — on his website the following day. Ajjan told the Washington Free Beacon that he was taking notes as Hagel was speaking. “If I wrote it, that’s what happened at the time,” he said.


Obama's Second Term

Details Emerge on Obama's Drone Doctrine

February 14th 2013

John Brennan (Counterterrorism)

Last week John Brennan testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee as President Obama's nominee for CIA director and was repeatedly questioned about the White House's use of drone strikes. Brennan's testimony and a policy memo recently obtained by NBC News highlight how unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are an increasingly important, if not controversial, weapon of war for the White House.

Brennan, who has been central in counterterror operations using drones, took criticism from both sides of the aisle during his testimony. Republican Senator Saxby Chambliss questioned the Obama Administration's use of drone strikes over capturing terrorist suspects and asked why only one high value al-Qaeda target has been detained since Obama became president. California Senator Dianne Feinstein challenged Brennan about the killing of Americans abroad in U.S. drone strikes, asking how such behavior could be justified. Read more ..

Iran's Nukes

A North Korean Nuclear Test for Iran?

February 13th 2013

Iran centrifuges

Might Iran simply buy nuclear technology from North Korea, thereby bypassing their own strained efforts to build a nuclear weapon? At least one expert believes North Korea's recent nuclear test, its third since 2006, may have in part benefited Iran, a terror-sponsoring state that has worked for years to build a nuclear device.

 Dr. Alon Levkowitz, coordinator of Bar-Ilan University’s Asian Studies Program and a member of the BESA Center for Strategic Studies, said Tuesday's N. Korean nuclear test may have been carried out in the presence of Iranian nuclear scientists.

“The most disturbing question is whether the Iranians are using North Korea as a backdoor plan for their own nuclear program. The Iranians didn’t carry out a nuclear test in Iran, but they may have done so in North Korea,” Levkowitz said. “There is no official information on this... but Iran may have bypassed inspections via North Korea. If true, this is a very worrying development.”  Read more ..

The Nuclear Edge

Iran and North Korea are Immune from Traditional Arms Controls

February 12th 2013

Iran Nuclear Equipment centrifuges

Since the end of the Cold War, every U.S. administration made deterring, preventing, or eliminating the threat of nuclear terrorism a top priority. Americans are rightly worried that a terror sponsoring state such as Iran or North Korea, in cooperation with a terrorist group, might seek to detonate a nuclear device in an American city.

Thus, by default, considerable focus has been on the nuclear threat and preventing such an attack from occurring in the first place. Toward that end, the United States has adopted a four-year plan to sequester as much nuclear material as possible, both domestically and abroad. For too long, however, conventional wisdom assumed keeping nuclear materials out of the hands of terrorists meant primarily safeguarding nuclear material produced as part of the nuclear energy fuel cycle and safely storing or eliminating nuclear weapons material in the former Soviet Union. (The Defense Threat Reduction Agency has done extraordinary work in this area since 1991.) Read more ..

Broken Government

Current Debate over Guns Does Nothing to Help a Beleaguered ATF

February 11th 2013

ATF officers

The massacre of 20 schoolchildren and six adults at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., has placed gun violence squarely at the front of the national agenda. Long-skeptical legislators have expressed a new openness to at least consider laws that might keep guns out of the hands of criminals and the mentally ill. Polls show increased support for some new restraints on guns. And just a month after the massacre, President Obama signed nearly two dozen executive actions and proposed a package of legislative initiatives that together represent the most comprehensive effort in decades to reduce what he called “the broader epidemic of gun violence in this country.”

Conspicuously absent from the president’s agenda, however, is much of anything that might address the stunning and widespread weaknesses that have for years crippled the federal agency responsible for enforcing the nation’s gun laws — the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Yes, the president announced his nomination of a full-time director for the long-leaderless agency —widely known as ATF — and some of the new proposals do tacitly acknowledge a number of the agency’s long-standing challenges. But the initiatives are modest, and Congress may not go along with any of them. So for now, the bureau remains systematically hobbled by purposeful restrictions, flimsy laws, impotent leadership and paltry budgets. And it’s not at all clear there’s anything on the horizon that would change that situation. Read more ..

Islam on Edge

A Sign of Change: Maliki Ulema Partners Against Sahel Extremism

February 11th 2013


Extremism halts charity, and creates fear of religion; [it puts] pressure on Muslims and occupies people with controversies at the expense of work and construction in life.
Algerian imam, Magharebia 02 February 1913

In late January religious leaders from Algeria, Mali, Niger and Mauritania met at Algiers to found The League of Ulemas of the Sahel.  A regional body of religious scholars of the Maliki rite, its aim is to discourage Sahelian youth from taking the path of Salafist radicalism.  According to Algerian imam Youcef Mechri, the new body's secretary-general., they plan  to work with mosques and youth centers to educate youth about the dangers of extremism. 

The imams "unanimously" denounced crimes committed in Islam.  As Niger's imam Boureima Abdou Daouda, the League president put it: "We are convinced that only religion can provide a moral solution to the  multidimensional crisis and the evils that threaten us. We must defend religious references in our region to cut off the preachers of violence and destruction,"Sheikh Mouadou Sufi of Burkina Faso added: "Everybody knows that our religion teaches us neither violence nor terrorism, but the love of others and tolerance. What is happening in northern Mali [are] serious violations such as forced marriage, amputation of hands and stoning. [They] are a result of misinterpretation of the Qur'an."      Read more ..

Edge of Terrorism

Narco-Terrorists Trafficking Cocaine in the Name of Allah

February 10th 2013

Cocaine intercepted in Europe in rice sacks from Africa
Cocaine intercepted in Europe inside rice sacks from Africa.

“Terrorism and drugs go together like rats and the bubonic plague,” stated Attorney General John Ashcroft (March 2002). “They thrive in the same conditions, support each other, and feed off each other.”

The nexus of terrorist groups and international criminal organizations is complex, linking money, geography, politics, arms, and tactics to create a mutually beneficial relationship. This nexus yields hundreds of billions of dollars in revenues worldwide—for 1992 alone, the figure was close to $1 trillion. A decade later, with the exponential growth in drug consumption, U.S. experts estimated the profits to be as high as $2 trillion. Since then, a staggering supply of heroin from Afghanistan, Iran and Mexico, and cocaine from South America, have created millions of new drug addicts the world over and filled the coffers of Islamist warlords. Read more ..

The Iranian Threat

The Illusory Sanctions on Nuclear Iran

February 10th 2013

Iran Nuclear Equipment centrifuges
Iranian nuclear centrifuges

While the U.S. declares more sanctions on Iran, the EU, which had ratified the UN sanctions resolution against Iran on June 9, 2010, has been steadily removing Iranian banks from its sanction list. The EU's recent removal of Bank Sederat, Bank Sina and Bank Mellat helps to bolster Iran's economy, facilitates European purchase of Iranian oil and gas and other trade with Iran, and eases Tehran's funding of those who advance its agenda.

American statements of the hardship caused to the Iranian economy seem to have little effect on the Revolutionary Guards. ECASB.COM reports that they are busy building the world's tallest double-curvature arc dam on the Bakhtiari River in southwestern Iran.

Last week, Pakistan announced a $250 million loan from Iran to help finance the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline "exporting 21.5 million cubic meters of Iranian natural gas per day to Pakistan." In addition, Iran will pay "$500 million to complete the Pakistani section of the project...the rest will be provided by the Pakistani government." Would that come from the $1.4 billion the U.S. is giving to Pakistan for economic development? Read more ..

Indonesia on Edge

Urban Gangs in Indonesia

February 7th 2013

Indonesian security forces

Following a wave of violent confrontations and tit-for-tat killings, the leaders of five mass organizations-cum-urban gangs in Greater Jakarta – Pemuda Pancasila (PP), Pemuda Panca Marga (PPM), the Betawi Brotherhood Forum (FBR), the Betawi People’s Forum (Forkabi), and Badan Pembina Provinsi Keluarga Banten (BPPKB) -- agreed to a ceasefire in June 2012. The violence to be shut down had erupted in the late winter and early spring of 2012, escalating and taking on ethnic overtones in March 2012 when the leader of another gang John Refra, a.k.a. John Kei, was arrested on murder charges. Fronting as a debt-collecting business, Kei’s Key Youth Force (Amkei) was centered on Moluccan migrants in Jakarta and had been clashing with rival gangs from Flores. The June gang truce, facilitated by police negotiations and mediation, for a moment seemed to turn the violence off. The gang truce paralleled a ceasefire announced by two large gangs in El Salvador --an ocean away. Read more ..

Education on Edge

Consumption Amenities in Higher Education

February 6th 2013


A great deal of attention has been paid to the issue of rising costs in higher education. A variety of explanations are in the public discourse, but the media often mentions luxurious campus amenities as a major culprit. Climbing walls, spending on athletic facilities and luxurious housing have all been offered as explanation for the rapid increases in tuition. Despite all of the discussion on this topic, a couple key points remain unclear. First, what do we know about trends in non-instruction spending on college campuses? Second, how should we think about amenities in higher education?

Thanks to the initiative led by the Delta Cost Project, data on spending are now available to help answer these questions. A report released in December by the American Institutes for Research explains that over the past decade the average share of spending on instruction across all institutions has declined. They also find that in 2010, the most recent year for which data is available, all types of institutions cut spending on activities that support academics. While the shift of resources away from instruction has not been dramatic, it does seem that spending patterns reflect changing priorities. However, the magnitudes identified in the report suggest that increases in spending account for a relatively small fraction of tuition inflation. Between the years 2000 and 2010 the average annual tuition for private bachelors degree programs increased by $8,290 (approximately 30 percent). During that same period spending per full-time student student on all core activities (including instructional and non-instructional) increased by only $2316(approximately 11 percent). Read more ..

Algeria on Edge

Algeria a Complex Ally in War Against al Qaeda

February 5th 2013

Islamic terrorists Algeria

David Cameron’s visit to Algiers last week, the first ever by a British Prime Minister, underscores Algeria’s growing importance in the war against al-Qaeda. But it is an extraordinarily complex ally in the war. The generals who run Algeria, the Arab world’s largest remaining police state, were surprised and embarrassed by the al-Qaeda attack on the Amenas gas facility in January. Their worry now is that the attack will raise questions about their one strong competency, providing stability and fighting terror. They are the West’s ally but a difficult and very suspicious partner.

Cameron and his hosts agreed to develop a strategic partnership to fight terrorism, and especially al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, now that the French have driven it out of Mali’s cities. In practice, this will mean closer ties with Algeria’s Departement du Renseignement et de la Securite, DRS, one of the world’s most feared intelligence services. Read more ..

Israel on Edge

Inappropriate Use of the Fourth Geneva Convention

February 4th 2013


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

Critics and enemies of Israel, including members of the UN and organs such as the International Court of Justice (ICJ) have come to use the Geneva Convention as a weapon against Israel, even when statements by authoritative analysts, scholars and drafters of the document contradict everything said by those who distort history for politically motivated reasons. It is common knowledge that from its birth, Israel customarily follows international humanitarian law without being told or forced to do so by outside authorities.
"Occupied Territory"
The term "occupied territory," which appears in the Fourth Geneva Convention, originated as a result of the Nazi occupation of Europe. Though it has become common parlance to describe the West Bank and Gaza as "occupied territories," there is no legal basis for using this term in connection to the Arab-Israeli conflict. Professor Julius Stone, a leading authority on the Law of Nations, categorically rejected the use of the term "occupied territory" to describe the territories controlled by Israel on the following counts: Read more ..

China Rising

China's Economic Warfare

February 4th 2013


The acceleration in Chinese hacking into U.S. government agencies, major financial institutions, businesses and media outlets seems to match China's growing investments in this country. Both began to intensify since the economic crisis of 2008.

The statements issued by The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg News, and the Washington Post, implied the hackers went only after the passwords and files of reporters who took part in investigations on the wealth accumulated by China's political elite and spying facilitated by Chinese communication devices used in the U.S. and elsewhere. 

Apparently, to calm their subscribers, the papers' ridiculous message was, that "the hacking was not an attempt to "gain commercial advantage or to misappropriate customer information." However, the FBI, which, has been investigating the attacks on media outlets for more than a year considers the activity a national-security threat. Surely, the access to financial and commercial information stored in the papers' computers has eased China's growing investment acquisitions in the U.S. and elsewhere. Read more ..

China Rising

Selling US Technological Secrets to the Highest Bidder

February 4th 2013


If your offer is high enough, you could purchase U.S. technological secrets. Rest assured, the Obama Administration will not block the sale. Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel and Fox News revealed that “the U.S. government has approved the sale of bankrupt, stimulus-fund recipient A123 Systems, Inc., to China’s Wanxiang Group Corp., with a North American business based in Elgin, Ill.

Apparently Wanxiang bid was $5 million higher that that of the Milwaukee-based Johnson Controls. “The Chinese company created “a new independent trust to buy A123’s civilian unit. The civilian arm makes up the bulk of the company’s operations. The idea would then be for Wanxiang to buy the business from the trust.” Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

Assad's Fall and Iraqi Stability

February 3rd 2013

Syrian Jihadis

As a fragile postconflict state, Iraq can ill afford the chaos currently roiling in neighboring Syria. If President Bashar al-Assad's regime collapses, large segments of north-central and western Iraq could become deeply unstable, with local factions opening a de facto civil war against federal forces, whether temporarily or indefinitely. For the United States, keeping Iraq on an even keel would be a supreme test of diplomatic skill at a moment when attention would understandably be focused on Syria itself. But such a crisis could also open a window of opportunity to reestablish influence over Baghdad.

Iraqi Sunnis and Shiites perceive the Syrian conflict very differently. The majority Shiite population sees it as a frightening, negative development. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's administration is the first modern Arab government to be led by Shiites, and in their view, major Sunni states such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, and Turkey will not tolerate this state of affairs in the long term. Reflecting their historical sense of victimization, the newly dominant Iraqi Shiites see the Syria crisis as the beginning of a revanchist Sunni backlash, and they fear their hold on Baghdad may be the next domino to fall. Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

Syria's War Affecting Turkey in Unexpected Ways

February 3rd 2013

Syrian Refugees

On January 21, members of the Turkish Youth Union (TGB), a far-left nationalist group, attacked German Patriot missile teams dispatched to help defend Turkey against threats from Syria. The incident served as a reminder of the unexpected ways in which the Syrian war could impact Turkey's stability. Ankara has become a direct player in the conflict through its support for armed and unarmed groups battling Bashar al-Assad's regime. Yet Turkey is also embroiled in the war in broader strategic terms, through its vulnerability to spillover along the 510-mile border with Syria. Washington should watch these spillover effects closely, as they risk straining Turkey's economy, accentuating its sectarian and political divisions, and compromising its overall stability. Read more ..

Obama's Second Term

Democratic Super PACs Start Year With Cash Advantage

February 3rd 2013

Money Stack

Prominent super PACs are already preparing for their next act — the 2014 midterm elections — with Democratic-aligned groups leading the way.

Of the five super PACs with the most money in the bank through the end of 2012, all support Democrats, according to a Center for Public Integrity analysis of campaign finance reports released Thursday.

The United Auto Workers’ super PAC, launched last September, reported the most money in the bank at $8.9 million. The group spent almost $2.7 million ahead of Election Day.

Priorities USA Action, the main super PAC that backed the re-election of President Barack Obama, ranks second, ending the year with $3.7 million in the bank after spending $65 million on ads that pounded Obama’s GOP rival, Mitt Romney.

Rounding out the top five: the super PAC of the Service Employees International Union, which reported $3.2 million on hand; Fair Share Action, which reported $1.8 million; and American Bridge 21st Century, a Democratic-aligned super PAC that specializes in opposition research, which reported $1.3 million. Read more ..

Israel's New Northern War

The New Red Line for Israel

February 2nd 2013

Israeli Jets Parked

Israel has adopted new defense procedures in response to regional instability, a Times of Israel analyst wrote on Thursday. Wednesday's dawn attack on what appears to have been a shipment of Syrian missiles is the first result of this new policy.

Analyst Mitch Ginsburg refers to this change in policy as "new red lines." Previously, Israel's "red lines," - events that would automatically trigger military action - have concentrated only on unconventional weapons.

Now, however, not only nuclear or chemical weapons are included, but also what Ginsburg calls "strategic weapons." This is mostly the result of the Syrian regime's instability and the possible acquisition of these weapons by the Lebanese terrorist group Hezbollah. Read more ..

Israel on Edge

Israelis Vote for Continuity on Foreign and Defense Policy

February 1st 2013

Israeli Jet Diving

It was an election whose results stunned pundits both in Israel and abroad, a "wide and deep repudiation" of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as some hastened to claim. And elections, as we know, have consequences. So are major changes expected in Israel's foreign and defense policy? In a word, no.

First, though both his own party and the larger bloc he heads lost seats to parties on their left, Netanyahu will remain prime minister. And his views haven't changed.  

Second, he didn't just win on a technicality. Though voters arguably did repudiate his domestic policies, they actually backed his foreign and defense policies overwhelmingly.

A striking pre-election poll commissioned by the anti-Netanyahu daily Haaretz asked voters which party leader they most trusted to handle various issues. On diplomatic negotiations, an area where many non-Israelis deem him an unmitigated failure, Netanyahu beat his rivals by a margin of more than 2 to 1. On security, his margin of preference was more than 4 to 1 - a tribute to the last four remarkably peaceful years despite the chaos engulfing Israel's northern and southern neighbors. Read more ..

The Nuclear Edge

North Korea is Ferocious, Weak and Crazy

January 31st 2013

North Korean soldier and goat friends

North Korea's state-run media reported Sunday that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has ordered the country's top security officials to take "substantial and high-profile important state measures," which has been widely interpreted to mean that North Korea is planning its third nuclear test. Kim said the orders were retaliation for the U.S.-led push to tighten U.N. sanctions on Pyongyang following North Korea's missile test in October. A few days before Kim's statement emerged, the North Koreans said future tests would target the United States, which North Korea regards as its key adversary along with Washington's tool, South Korea.

North Korea has been using the threat of tests and the tests themselves as weapons against its neighbors and the United States for years. On the surface, threatening to test weapons does not appear particularly sensible. If the test fails, you look weak. If it succeeds, you look dangerous without actually having a deliverable weapon. And the closer you come to having a weapon, the more likely someone is to attack you so you don't succeed in actually getting one. Developing a weapon in absolute secret would seem to make more sense. When the weapon is ready, you display it, and you have something solid to threaten enemies with. Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

Russia's Interests and Syria's Turmoil in the Mideast

January 31st 2013

Assad and Putin Syria and Russia

On January 20, the Russian Emergency Situations Ministry announced that it will evacuate approximately one hundred Russian citizens from Syria, mostly women and children. However, the ministry downplayed the importance of the evacuation, with those leaving representing a mere fraction of the many thousands of Russian citizens residing in Syria. Indeed, the hopes that President Vladimir Putin will finally budge on his support for the Syrian regime are unwarranted. Russia is unlikely to change its position given that its interests in Syria are not only military and strategic, but also commercial and cultural.

Cultural connections

Moscow has counted an Assad-led Syria as its closest ally in the Arab world for more than forty years. During the Cold War, many Russians moved to Syria and, in turn, many Syrian elites studied at top Russian schools such as Moscow State University and the Peoples’ Friendship University. Intermarriage occurred in both countries. The Soviet leadership, for its part, sought to groom top students from allied countries whom it could later rely on for support. Because Syria was key to the Soviet position in the Middle East, Syrians were referred to as “allies” and “friends” in public broadcasts and statements. Read more ..

Broken Education

Class Size Tradeoffs in the Court of Public Opinion

January 30th 2013

Chinese-American kids

Budget cuts have caused increases in class size in states across the nation in recent years.  Between 2009 and 2010, the pupil-teacher ratio in the U.S. increased by more than half a student for the first time since the Great Depression.  The nationwide increase is quite small, but some states have experienced larger changes than others.  A notable outlier is California, where the pupil-teacher ratio increased by more than 4 students between 2009 and 2010, an increase of more than 20 percent.

Times of fiscal austerity renew debates about the best way to spend limited educational resources.  Class size is at the center of these debates because the size of the classes in which students are educated is one of the most important drivers of educational costs.  Smaller classes mean that more teachers must be hired and more classrooms built.  Conversely, allowing class sizes to increase can be a way to absorb budget cuts without cutting other programs such as athletics and the arts. Read more ..

The Arab Winter of Rage

As Goes Egypt, So Does the Rest of the Arab Spring

January 29th 2013

Jump at Cops

The U.S. appears to acknowledge the economic and political mess that the last two years have brought to the Arab world and Africa generally in high-flown rhetoric devoid of reference to American interests. But things appear to be getting much worse quickly.  We have been watching it accelerating in Libya and Syria, the Maghreb and Sahel, and now in Arab-Spring “poster-child” Egypt.

Charles Holmes, writing for Foreign Policy, calls what’s going on “a confrontation with modernity.” Arab regimes have been repressing political opposition for a very long time, and neither Arab nationalism nor Arab socialism or Baathism has yielded an antidote to the region’s economic primitivism and potential for violence created by economic failure. Holmes likes to blame former Egyptian president, Gamal Abdel Nasser (1956-1970), and sees Morsi’s regime as the end of the line for all things Nasserite. He may be right in a way, but Morsi’s imposition of Shari’a, is unlikely to be challenged simply for being “unmodern.” Read more ..

The Edge of Immigration

Big Hurdles Ahead in Congress for Immigration Reform

January 29th 2013

Immigration Protest

Despite the momentum growing behind comprehensive immigration reform, advocates face high hurdles in their fight for changes on an issue that has been a political third rail on Capitol Hill for more than a decade.

While President Obama and congressional leaders on both sides of the aisle are optimistic they can enact the reforms that have eluded Washington policymakers for years, the immediate push-back from some conservatives is a clear signal that the debate will be fierce and no changes will come easy – if at all. To be sure, November's elections – which saw Hispanic voters come out in heavy favor of Obama and the Democrats – have made the political environment much more conducive to reform than the last time Congress took up a comprehensive immigration package roughly eight years ago. Read more ..

Broken Borders

Time to Address Immigration Reform

January 28th 2013

US Border Patrol arrest

The announcement that six key Democratic and Republican Senators have reached agreement on a sweeping overhaul of U.S. immigration policy is the latest sign of how dramatically the landscape has shifted. With President Obama getting 72 percent of the Latino vote in the 2012 election and Hispanics becoming a larger percentage of the electorate in crucial swing states, it is time for legislators to step up and address this issue. For the first time in many years, both parties have clear incentives to take meaningful action.

But immigration reform is not just a question of shifting political dynamics. A paradox of the contemporary situation is that in a time of high unemployment, a number of fields report a shortage of American workers and problems filling key positions. For example, even as the country as a whole experiences nearly 8 percent unemployment, high-tech fields, advanced manufacturing, and medical specialties have unemployment rates as low as 3, 4, or 5 percent. And on the labor-intensive side of the economy, agricultural companies report difficulty finding workers to pick vegetables and fruits, and hotels and restaurants indicate they have problems filling key positions. Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

The North African Threat to Europe

January 27th 2013


Not long after the French offensive against African jihadists in Mali got underway, a leader of one of the offshoots of al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) declared that his organization would "strike at the heart of France." AQIM attacked French embassies and most recently a gas facility in Algeria, where it took hostages. But was it ready to move its war against the West to the territories of the European states as well and thus pose a real threat to their security?

The fact is that for some time European leaders have been looking at the growth of al-Qaida in North Africa with real concern. After Islamist extremists took control of northern Mali last year, converting it into a terrorist sanctuary, EU heads of state met in Oct. 2012, and issued a statement characterizing the crisis in Mali as "an immediate threat" to Europe itself. French President Francois Hollande said he believed that AQIM was planning to use Mali as a launching pad for an attack on French soil. This month German Chancellor Angela Merkel added her voice to this view of the crisis in Mali, saying that "terrorism in Mali, or in the north of Mali, is a threat not just to Africa but also to Europe." Read more ..

The Arab Winter of Rage

The Arab Spring's Economic Drought

January 27th 2013

Tunisia wailing woman

Two years after the Arab Spring erupted violently in Tunisia and Egypt, both countries' economy is much worse off than it was before. The saplings of hope for liberalization and reform have been violently wrenched. 

In Tunisia, secular opposition parties complain that instead of the promised economic reforms, the ruling Islamist Ennahadha party is "bent on setting up a theocracy." As a result, Tunisia now faces an 18 percent national unemployment rate and has been downgraded by Fitch due to "slow transition to a free economy" and unsustainable twin deficits. In addition, Standard & Poor's has downgraded the country to "junk." As if growing economic hardship was not enough, "Courts [are] accused of targeting opponents of the dominant political party, Ennahadha," reports al Jazeera. According to Amnesty International free speech has been curtailed and critics of the regime are facing "public morals" violation charges. And if you expect the new Tunisian Constitution to better protect human rights, don't hold your breath. Human Rights Watch protested last week that the National Constituent Assembly (NCA) second draft, "threaten human rights." Read more ..

India and Pakistan

Indo–Pakistani Tension: Pakistan Should Crack Down on Militant Infiltration

January 25th 2013

Pakistan Nukes Guarded

Tensions between India and Pakistan are heating up along the Line of Control (LoC) that divides Kashmir. A series of border incidents in early January left three Pakistani and two Indian soldiers dead. One of the Indian soldiers was beheaded and another severely mutilated, provoking Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to say that India’s ties with Pakistan would not be “business as usual” until those responsible for the mutilation of the bodies were punished.

While the U.S. needs to urge restraint on both sides to prevent escalation between the nuclear-armed neighbors, the onus is on Pakistan to demonstrate that it is cracking down on militants on its side of the border. The U.S. should pay close attention to developments along the Indo–Pakistani border in order to help prevent a breakout of hostilities, but it should resist any temptation to try to directly mediate between the historical foes. Read more ..

Broken Bookselling

Barnes and Noble Landlords Placed on Alert as Bookseller Weakens

January 25th 2013

Barnes and Noble Closing dated

Weakened revenue and an increase in store closures by Barnes & Noble Inc. calls the bookseller’s stability into question, say leading business analysts. Agha Nawazish Ali Khan, a securities analyst for SNL Financial, a San Francisco financial services firm, flags Barnes & Noble’s disappointing holiday sales in a report highlighting its role as an important tenant for some of the country’s top mall operators. The retailer’s top landlords are Simon Property Group (25 stores), DDR Corp. (18 stores), CBL & Associates properties (16 stores) and General Growth Properties Inc. (14 stores, including Clackamas Town Center).

Barnes & Noble operates 689 bookstores and its bn.com e-commerce site. On Jan. 2, it reported comparable store sales fell 8.2 percent in the fourth quarter. Read more ..

America's Darkest Edge

Sen. Feinstein to Push Assault Weapons Ban

January 24th 2013

Shooter shooting AR15

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) will introduce a bill banning assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition clips on Thursday, according to reports.

Feinstein’s bill will expand the criteria for classifying military-style assault weapons from a 1994 law, which lapsed a decade later. Her new measure will ban the sale of about 150 types of firearms, including some rifles and handguns, as well as the sale of high-capacity magazines, according to USA Today. The bill will exempt firearms used for hunting and will grandfather in guns and magazines owned before the law’s potential enactment. However, the grandfathered weapons will be logged in a national registry.

The measure is expected to face a tough fight in the Senate, with many GOP lawmakers and the nation’s gun lobby vowing to oppose any new restrictions on gun ownership. Read more ..

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