Edge of the Cliff
|Patrick Louis Knudsen||January 11th 2013|
Because most of the fiscal cliff debate focused compulsively on how much Congress would raise taxes, the spending side of the argument nearly became an afterthought. This resulted in another shell game that added net spending and set up another confrontation in less than two months.
The agreement delays until March 1 $110 billion in 2013 across-the-board spending cuts (sequestration) that would, among other things, slash base national defense spending by 10 percent ($55 billion). To replace the lost savings, the legislation shifts future revenue from private retirement accounts within the 10-year budget window and lowers the caps on annually appropriated spending over the next two years, with no specific policies identified. The legislation then adds enough new spending to more than wipe out these alleged savings.
Thus the ostensible pursuit of “balanced” deficit reduction has once again yielded hefty tax hikes and no spending reductions. Read more ..
Israel on the Edge
|Robert Satloff||January 10th 2013|
The growing threat of Arab-Israeli war, the Iranian nuclear issue, and the potential for Palestinian political meltdown could make this year a precarious one for Israel. The many dangers lurking in the Middle East are likely to spell conflict, not peace. Characterizing the coming year as "critical" for Israel's security has been a staple of Middle East analysts for the past 64 years. Sometimes it is, sometimes it isn't. With Israel facing a perfect storm of potentially catastrophic regional trends, 2013 definitely is.
First, Israel finds itself as the place where the Middle East's two mega-trends -- the threat of Iran's hegemonic ambitions and the spread of radical Sunni extremism -- find common cause. While these two trends battle against each other in Syria, Bahrain and elsewhere, the recent Gaza conflict highlighted a neat, if sometimes competitive, division of labor -- with Iran providing rockets to Hamas and Sunni states such as Qatar, Egypt and Turkey providing Hamas with vital political support. It is not a cause for celebration that jihad against Israel has succeeded in unifying the region's radical Shiites and radical Sunnis. Read more ..
The Battle for Syria
|Soner Cagaptay||January 10th 2013|
Syria promises to be a major headache for the Obama administration during its second term. But if Washington works with Ankara effectively, Turkey can help the U.S. achieve an endgame in Damascus. To facilitate this coordination, Washington should assign a full-time, high-level White House envoy to work with Ankara on Syria.
Escalating clashes along the Syrian-Turkish border have raised fears that Turkey, a NATO ally, might prematurely get pulled into the Syria conflict. Policymakers and the Turkish public held their breath following the downing of a Turkish fighter jet in June 2012, and escalating artillery duels have raised fears of imminent Turkish intervention.
To avoid this risky scenario, Washington must be able to anticipate Ankara's next steps, and find ways to pull Ankara back when necessary. This is where a White House envoy could play a crucial role. The Turks, reveling in their post-imperial glory, would greatly appreciate a specially-designated White House representative who would talk to them, and they would listen to this envoy, too. Read more ..
Israel on Edge
|Evelyn Gordon||January 9th 2013|
In an interview with The Jerusalem Post last month, Czech Ambassador to Israel Tomas Pojar was asked to comment on recent remarks by Israel's then-foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, who compared European countries' oft-proclaimed commitment to Israel's security to their commitments to Czechoslovakia in the 1930s. Pojar replied, correctly, that the parallel isn't exact; there are many differences between Israel's situation today and Czechoslovakia's in 1938.
Nevertheless, Pojar warned, there is one important similarity: "There are parallels about how much guarantees you can get from outside, and how much you should rely on them."
Judging by the results of a new poll conducted by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs in late November, it seems the Israeli public has internalized this warning. When asked how the country could best ensure its security, 61 percent of Jewish Israelis (and 52 percent of all Israelis) said that defensible borders were preferable to a peace treaty - i.e., a document enshrining commitments by another country or countries. Just 26 percent preferred a peace treaty. This constitutes a noticeable shift from 2005, when only 49 percent preferred defensible borders. Read more ..
|George Friedman||January 8th 2013|
The United States faces a potentially significant but longer-term geopolitical problem deriving from economic trends. The threat to the United States is the persistent decline in the middle class' standard of living, a problem that is reshaping the social order that has been in place since World War II and that, if it continues, poses a threat to American power.
The median household income of Americans in 2011 was $49,103. Adjusted for inflation, the median income is just below what it was in 1989 and is $4,000 less than it was in 2000. Take-home income is a bit less than $40,000 when Social Security and state and federal taxes are included. That means a monthly income, per household, of about $3,300. It is urgent to bear in mind that half of all American households earn less than this. It is also vital to consider not the difference between 1990 and 2011, but the difference between the 1950s and 1960s and the 21st century. This is where the difference in the meaning of middle class becomes most apparent. Read more ..
|Michael Barone||January 7th 2013|
Over the next year, we will probably see much controversy over the implementation of Obamacare. Health insurance is something that almost every adult is acquainted with, and there seem to be glitches aplenty in the legislation, much delay in issuing regulations and some possible changes resulting from litigation.
We're likely to see or hear less about the burdens of the Dodd-Frank financial regulation legislation, passed four months after Obamacare. Most of us don't work at the banks or financial institutions that will have to grapple with its myriad provisions and resulting regulations, and we tend to toss out disclosure forms sent by our banks.
But Dodd-Frank may produce more problems than it solves. That is the thesis of David Skeel, professor at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, in his new book "The New Financial Deal: Understanding the Dodd-Frank Act and Its (Unintended) Consequences. "
Skeel does not find fault in Dodd-Frank's effort to regulate derivatives -- contracts in which one party agrees to pay another in case of changes in interest rates, currency exchange rates, oil prices or just about anything else -- with provisions encouraging them to be conducted through clearinghouses. Read more ..
|Pat Madjal||January 7th 2013|
The stampede of critics concluding Barnes and Noble is finished, along with its ill-fated Nook, continues unabated.
The tech site BGR headlined "Amazon is Gutting Barnes & Noble" and went on to conclude: "we knew things were heading south. Yet the numbers still have the power to shock. As a Nook owner, I am now starting to get that queasy Betamax feeling; Nook volumes actually declined year-on-year. The true horror here is that Nook revenues declined by more than 12% — a steeper slide than what B&N’s total sales showed. This means that combined digital content and Nook device sales are now shrinking faster than traditional hardcover and paperback sales.
This is fairly disastrous. ... This was the Christmas when the earlier collapse of the Borders chain should have boosted Barnes & Noble’s fortunes. Instead, Nook volumes declined and retail segment revenue crashed by 10.9% compared to the previous Christmas. Now, both brick and mortar as well as digital sales are spiraling down. It is now clear that Barnes & Noble is about to be demolished by Amazon ... It simply cannot afford a price war against deep-pocketed Amazon. Read more ..
The Battle for Syria
|Asaf Romirowsky and Anat Berko||January 6th 2013|
What does it mean when Bashar Assad's regime bombs the Yarmouk -- Syria's largest Palestinian refugee neighborhood? Driving dozens of formerly pro-government Palestinian fighters to defect and join the rebels. All of this begs a closer look at the Palestinians in Syria.
In September, following the death of an staff member of the U.N. Relief and Works Agency in Syria, UNRWA spokesman Christopher Gunness stated: "An UNRWA staff member in Syria, aged 28 years, was killed while on his way to catch a bus to work. The death occurred in the area of Or'uba just outside the southern border of Yarmouk residential area. Yarmouk is home to approximately 1 million Syrians and more than 150,000 Palestine refugees."
The majority of Syria's 500,000 U.N.-registered Palestinian refugees are descends of original refugees of 1948. While not citizens, Palestinians in Syria have had more than their brethren in other Arab countries. They have been able to hold government jobs, attend state universities for free and serve in the military. As such, the Assad's regime has long painted itself as champion of the Palestinian cause. Read more ..
The Edge of the Cliff
|J. D. Foster||January 6th 2013|
The federal government has once again hit its statutory debt limit. For the next few weeks, Washington will be funding its budget shortfalls through the Treasury Department’s traditional “extraordinary” measures. This confirms the bad news that government continues to overspend to the tune of over a trillion dollars per year. The good news is that hitting the debt limit creates yet another opportunity for President Obama to lead and Congress to act to control federal spending.
The traditional extraordinary measures will not last long, so Treasury may need a new, unconventional, last-ditch budget tool—prioritizing spending so outflows match inflows—and Congress may need to act quickly to make it all legal. The Full Faith and Credit Act introduced by Senator Pat Toomey (R–PA) in the last Congress would be a good place to start. Read more ..
The Muslim Brotherhood in America
|J. Millard Burr ||January 6th 2013|
American Center for Democracy
“To Hell with Anyone who Does Not Accept Islamic Rule,” Mahdi Akef, Cairo, 11 August 2012, MEMRI, 15 August 2012)
From the founding of the Muslim Student Association in 1963 until 9/11/2001 the US government paid little attention to the international Muslim Brotherhood (Ikhwan al-Muslimun) and its various arms active in the United States. Given that lack of interest it was quite easy for major Ikhwan figures to visit or even live in North America without being noticed.
One example was Muhammad Mahdi Othman Akef (1931- ). This Muslim Brother powerhouse, who was placed under constant surveillance for more than a half-century while residing in Egypt, found the freedoms of movement and speech in the United States much to his liking.
After joining the Ikhwan in 1948 Akef had soon graduated to become a member of its "Secret Apparatus, a special section, involved in assassinations. He was later sentenced to death following the attempted assassination of Egypt’s President Gamal Abdel Nasser in 1954. His death sentence was eventually commuted to twenty years in prison, which time he served. Read more ..
The Battle for Syria
|Bilal Y. Saab and Andrew J. Tabler||January 5th 2013|
In recent weeks, the argument that a decisive Syrian rebel victory would not necessarily be a good thing has gained ground in U.S. foreign policy circles. A negotiated settlement between Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad and the rebels, the argument goes, would be preferable. Such an ending would have a better chance of stanching the violence and preventing outright sectarian war between the mostly Sunni rebels -- hungry for revenge against the Alawites -- and the rest of the country.
Yet after almost two years of bloodletting by the Syrian government, there is little chance that splitting the difference between the factions would end the conflict. Even worse, a negotiated outcome would perpetuate Assad's favorite strategy -- honed over decades -- of using the threat of sectarian war to make his adversaries in the international community wary of getting involved. Instead, the end of the Assad regime should be decisive and complete. Read more ..
The Edge of the Cliff
|Jonathan Masters||January 4th 2013|
Council on Foreign Relations
The U.S. Treasury has borrowed trillions of dollars over the past decade, much of it from foreign investors, to help finance two long wars, rescue its financial system, and promote economic growth via fiscal stimulus. The country's ability to borrow is restricted by statute, and Congress has perennially been called upon to authorize the issuance of new debt space. However, the federal government reached its borrowing capacity of $16.39 trillion in December 2012, and, in the absence of new borrowing authority from Congress, Treasury is taking extraordinary measures to meet its financial obligations. The United States has always been able to raise its debt limit in a timely fashion, and many economists assert that a failure to do so in early 2013 would plunge the government into default and precipitate an acute fiscal crisis.
What is the federal debt limit?
The government must be able to issue new debt as long as it continues to run a budget deficit. The debt limit, or "ceiling," sets the maximum amount of outstanding federal debt the U.S. government can incur by law. As of January 2012, this number stands at $16.39 trillion. Increasing the debt limit does not enlarge the nation's financial commitments, but allows the government to fund obligations already legislated by Congress. Read more ..
Europe on Edge
|George Friedman||January 3rd 2013|
The end of the year always prompts questions about what the most important issue of the next year may be. It's a simplistic question, since every year sees many things happen and for each of us a different one might be important. But it is still worth considering what single issue could cause the world to change course. In my view, the most important place to watch in 2013 is Europe.
Taken as a single geographic entity, Europe has the largest economy in the world. Should it choose to do so, it could become a military rival to the United States. Europe is one of the pillars of the global system, and what happens to Europe is going to define how the world works. I would argue that in 2013 we will begin to get clarity on the future of Europe.
The question is whether the European Union will stabilize itself, stop its fragmentation and begin preparing for more integration and expansion. Alternatively, the tensions could intensify within the European Union, the institutions could further lose legitimacy and its component states could increase the pace with which they pursue their own policies, both domestic and foreign. Read more ..
Edge of the Fiscal Cliff
|Russell Berman||January 2nd 2013|
Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) is signaling that at least one thing will change about his leadership during the 113th Congress: he’s telling Republicans he is done with private, one-on-one negotiations with President Obama.
During both 2011 and 2012, the Speaker spent weeks shuttling between the Capitol and the White House for meetings with the president in the hopes of striking a grand bargain on the deficit. Those efforts ended in failure, leaving Boehner feeling burned by Obama and, at times, isolated within his conference.
In closed-door meetings since leaving the “fiscal cliff” talks two weeks ago, lawmakers and aides say the Speaker has indicated he is abandoning that approach for good and will return fully to the normal legislative process in 2013 — seeking to pass bills through the House that can then be adopted, amended or reconciled by the Senate. Read more ..
|Stephen D. Oliner||January 2nd 2013|
Real Clear Markets
The final lap of the Bernanke era at the Fed has begun. His current term as Chairman ends next January, and the odds that he would stay on for four more years are close to zero. The job has been absolutely exhausting since the onset of the financial crisis in 2007, and Bernanke has a very able successor waiting in the wings - the current Vice Chair, Janet Yellen. Bernanke is now a short-timer, barring a shocking turn of events.
A full assessment of the Bernanke Fed is still years away. That said, a favorable judgment can be rendered already on the changes the Fed has made in how it communicates with the public about monetary policy. With a strong push from Bernanke, the Fed has moved a long way toward greater transparency. But there is still important unfinished business on the communication agenda that relates to the Fed's tolerance for inflation. I hope this issue will be addressed in Bernanke's final year. Read more ..
Israel and Palestine
|Shlomo Cesana and Daniel Siryoti||January 1st 2013|
Read more ..
This week President Shimon Peres urged the Israeli government to embrace Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, calling him a "partner for peace." But a renewed look at the so-called Palestine Papers that were leaked about a year ago paints a completely different picture of the Palestinian leader.
The documents, which detail the behind-the-scenes deliberations on the Palestinian side between 1999 and 2010 over the peace process, were obtained by the pan-Arab news channel Al Jazeera last January, although their content was partially exposed by WikiLeaks before that. Through these documents, one can also learn how far the Israeli leaders were willing to go in the negotiations and how their peace proposals were received by the other party. In light of Peres' comments, it is useful to revisit the controversial aspects of the Palestine Papers.
Iran on Edge
Taking over the presidency in a country where decisions are ultimately made by the supreme leader is challenging enough. Having to begin that task by clearing colossal hurdles left by your predecessor is nearly mission impossible.
Immediately upon being sworn in as Iran's president at a public inauguration on August 4, Hassan Rohani must scale a mountain of challenges inherited from Mahmud Ahmadinejad's eight years in office, including an ailing economy, crippling international sanctions, troubled international relations, tricky nuclear negotiations, and an increasingly repressive and politically intolerant domestic atmosphere at home.
On his way to winning the presidency, Rohani pledged to tackle such big-ticket issues head on. But, in doing so, he risks suffering the same fate as his predecessors, whose aims conflicted with the conservative establishment and ultimately undermined their efforts to enact changes and implement their plans. Read more ..
Inside Latin America
|Shannon K. O'Neill||December 31st 2012|
Looking back at the past year, many of the posts on Latin America’s Moment touch on the region’s economic development, and its trade and investment ties with the rest of the world. Here is a recap of some of the main themes.
Overall, 2012 was a year of economic optimism for most Latin American economies. The IMF’s Latin America Economic Outlook report, which I write about here, was quite bullish. And ECLAC announced that Latin America hit an all-time $150 billion high in foreign direct investment, led by Brazil. Also crucial in the region’s economic development were the growing number of women in the workforce.
Brazil’s economy still dominated the headlines, though the positive near consensus faded, as analysts grappled with slow growth. I argue here and here that, while Brazil’s hype may have been initially overdone, the country still boasts a solid consumer base, a relatively high GDP per capita, and a successful conditional cash program that is helping to pull many into the middle class. Read more ..
The Battle for Syria
|Jonathan Spyer||December 31st 2012|
In Syria, the Assad regime’s retreat back to Damascus and the Alawi heartlands in the west of the country has made possible the emergence of a Kurdish autonomous area in the country’s northeast. This area shares a border with Kurdish- controlled northern Iraq. As a result, a contiguous area of Kurdish control, stretching along the southern border of Turkey, has come into being. This emergent reality is raising again a question long dismissed from serious strategic discussion: namely, that of the establishment of a Kurdish state. However, the obstacles on the path to Kurdish sovereignty remain formidable, and the geo-politics of the situation are fraught and complex.
The Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) in northern Iraq, led by Massoud Barzani, possesses its own armed forces, political system, capacity for oil production, public services and Kurdish-language education system and media. Its capital, Erbil, has the feel of a boomtown, with construction cranes along the skyline and new malls and hotels emerging from the dust. Read more ..
Edging Toard the Fiscal Cliff
|Reps. Howard L. Berman and Gerald E. Connolly||December 31st 2012|
At a time when competing government priorities face the chopping block, advocates of effective foreign aid have a responsibility to make the case that aid directly serves our country’s long-term national-security and economic interests, and in a cost-effective way.
A key goal of foreign aid is to make the right investments that reinforce America’s priorities. Unfortunately, the current foreign aid process and the underlying statute are encrusted with legislative barnacles built up over half a century that are messy, conflicting and outdated, and that actually hinder our ability to deliver foreign aid effectively and efficiently. It is time for a complete overhaul. The 21st century requires a foreign aid program that recognizes today’s priorities and streamlines the process in the post-Cold War era. For instance, do we still need language in current law, passed in 1961, that requires the president to assure Congress that foreign aid recipients are not “controlled by the international Communist conspiracy”? Read more ..
Nigeria on Edge
|Jim Sanders||December 30th 2012|
Council on Foreign Relations
According to Fortune Magazine, investments in foreign held assets are decreasing. Joshua Cooper Ramo points out that, “figures on investment in assets held overseas, probably the best indicator of enthusiasm for globalism, are drifting down toward 40 percent from more than 50 percent in 2008.” Ramo further notes that during “most of the past twenty years trade has raced ahead of global economic growth,” but in the last twenty-four months, it has slowed and, “this year, globally we’ll be below the twenty year average rate of trade growth yet again.” According to Ramo, “We find everywhere signs of a world turning inward and of an era when the inside will define success and deliver growth—for companies, for nations, even for your career—in the way the outside once did.”
If true, and if sustained, where would such a trend toward an “inside world” leave Nigeria? The country has, and does, depend heavily on export markets and foreign investment to maintain its oil industry, which provides 95 percent of the country’s foreign exchange earnings and 80 percent of its budgetary revenue. Moreover, trade integration is believed to contribute to economic performance. Nigerian officials have considered “deeper trade integration as a means to foster economic growth and alleviate poverty,” according to some researchers. Yet the country’s National Bureau of Statistics reports unemployment at 21 percent, implying, says the Leadership newspaper, “policy failure.” Read more ..
Edging Toward the Fiscal Cliff
|Amie Parnes and Daniel Strauss||December 30th 2012|
Congressional leaders and senior aides huddled on Saturday in a last-minute attempt to iron out a resolution in the so-called "fiscal cliff" crisis. But a deal -- at least for the time being -- seemed far from certain. The rare weekend negotiations come on the heels of a meeting held at the White House on Friday as part of a last-ditch effort to resolve the looming fiscal crisis. If lawmakers do not come to an agreement in the next few days, taxpayers in all income brackets would see an increase in taxes and a slew of spending cuts would kick in.
A Senate aide with knowledge of the talks said late Saturday afternoon there is "no major progress." One sticking point in the talks continues to be on taxes, according to aides. President Obama has reiterated that tax cuts should extend to the middle class, asking top earners to pay more in taxes. But Republicans have insisted that tax cuts be extended for all taxpayers. Read more ..
Israel on Edge
|Yaakov Lappin||December 30th 2012|
Senior Israeli officials have indicated this month that any round of future fighting with Hezbollah will make last month's Gaza conflict seem minor by comparison. Offense, not defense, is still preferred.
Israel is redefining its concept of military victory in a Middle East dominated by terrorist organizations turned quasi-state actors.
Once, decisive, unmistakable victories, accompanied by conquests of territory that had been used to stage attacks against Israel, provided all parties concerned with a "knockout" image. Victory was seen by the Israel Defense Forces as a clear-cut event, which ended when the enemy raised a white flag. Today, however, the IDF considers this thinking out of date in the 21st century battle arenas of the region, where a terror organization such as Hamas will continue firing rockets into Israel right up until the last day of a conflict, and claim victory despite absorbing the majority of damages and casualties. Read more ..
The Battle for Syria
|Jacques Neriah||December 29th 2012|
Based on events on the ground, one can safely state that the Syrian regime is steadily losing ground to rebel forces, since as much as 60 to 70 percent of the territory has fallen into their hands.
Yet, while rebel forces have seized parts of Aleppo and are fighting on the outskirts of Damascus, even cutting, at times, the main road to the city’s international airport, most of the main bastions of the Syrian regime, including the bulk of the big cities, are still in Assad’s hands. The Syrian army is still fighting like a united force and the main institutions of the regime are still functioning. Objectively speaking, even though there have been defections from the Syrian ruling elite, the main corps of the body politic is still loyal to Assad and is aligned behind him. Read more ..
Israel on Edge
|Elliott Abrams||December 28th 2012|
Council on Foreign Relations
The newest threat to peace in the Middle East is a college–at least according to the government of the United Kingdom.
The educational institution in question is Ariel College, now Ariel University, in the Israeli settlement of Ariel in the West Bank. Ariel was founded in 1978 and now has about 20,000 residents. Ariel College was founded in 1982 as a branch of Bar Ilan University, became independent in 2005, and now has a remarkable 14,000 students from all over Israel and even a branch in Tel Aviv. It also has the largest group of Ethiopian-born immigrant students of any university in Israel, and hundreds of Israeli Arab students. The university has five faculties as of now: architecture, natural science, engineering, health sciences, and humanities and social sciences, and plans to add more. In 2008 Ariel College applied for upgrading from college to university, and despite strong opposition in some parts of Israel’s educational establishment, that change was just approved. Read more ..
Spain on Edge
|Soeren Kern||December 28th 2012|
The Gatestone Institute
|Synagogue in Cordoba, Spain.|
The Spanish government has announced that it will grant automatic citizenship to Jews of Sephardic descent, whose ancestors were expelled from Spain in 1492. The measure has been welcomed by Jewish groups, who say the move is long overdue and that it rights a historic wrong. But Muslim groups are now clamoring for reciprocity, and are demanding that the Spanish government grant instant citizenship to millions of descendants of Muslims who were also expelled from Spain during the Middle Ages.
The so-called Right of Return for Sephardic Jews (Sepharad means Spain in Hebrew) was announced in Madrid on November 22 by the Spanish Justice Minister, Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón, and the Foreign Minister, José Manuel García-Margallo.
Under existing Spanish law, Sephardic Jews already benefit from a preferential naturalization procedure that allows them to claim Spanish citizenship after having lived in Spain for only two years, a privilege that is also available to citizens of Spain's former colonies in Latin America and elsewhere. Read more ..
Edging Toward the Fiscal Cliff
|Jonathan Easley and Peter Schroeder ||December 27th 2012|
With little time left for action, President Obama and members of the Senate will return to Washington on Thursday in search of a scaled-back agreement to lessen the economic pain of the “fiscal cliff.” Lawmakers are under pressure to pass some kind of legislation that reverses or delays the tax increases and spending cuts slated for January, but they find themselves without a clear path forward after the breakdown in negotiations between Obama and Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio).
The president is scheduled to fly back from Hawaii on Wednesday night to return to work on a fiscal deal. The Senate is also expected to be back in business Thursday, though flight delays from a winter storm could prevent the upper chamber from reassembling quickly.
Republican leaders in the House, meanwhile, have yet to notify members of any plans to reconvene. GOP leaders held a private conference call Wednesday to discuss their plans, a chat that a Boehner spokesman described as "routine." Read more ..
The Iranian Threat
|Evelyn Gordon||December 27th 2012|
If there were a prize for the Arab country that has done most to promote Arab-Israeli peace recently, I'd seriously consider nominating Saudi Arabia. Admittedly, that's a counterintuitive choice: Riyadh doesn't even recognize Israel and shows no signs of doing so anytime soon; moreover, it finances the spread of extremist Islamic ideology. But Saudi-funded papers have been doing something that may be far more important than another handshake on the White House lawn: providing a platform for Arab journalists and public figures to challenge the dominant Middle Eastern narrative of Israel as the root of all evil.
Consider, for instance, a column published last month in Asharq Al-Awsat, a paper owned by a member of the Saudi royal family and known for its support of the Saudi monarchy. Written by the paper's then-deputy editor-in-chief, Adel Al Toraifi, and titled "Who holds Hamas' terrorism to account?" the column blamed not Israel, but Hamas, for Palestinian casualties during both the second intifada and the recent fighting in Gaza. Read more ..
Peru and Chile
|Larry Birns||December 27th 2012|
In January 2008, Peru called Chile before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague in order to resolve a maritime dispute between the two countries. Both belligerents, dispute the exact metrics of the current maritime border that for decades has embittered relations between both countries; the area of the maritime zone that is being contested is roughly 37 thousand square kilometers of water. While a verdict is not expected before 2013, the trial has currently entered a critical stage as delegations from both countries recently finished presenting their oral arguments before the court. The proceedings are being followed closely not only by the two immediate claimants, but also by a broader community, with social media, as well as conventional news organs being used to distribute information on new developments that may occur. Read more ..
The Darkest Edge
|Cameron Joseph||December 27th 2012|
Top GOP pollster Frank Luntz said the National Rifle Association's call for armed guards in schools shows it is not listening to the public response to the shooting in Newtown, Conn.
"The public wants guns out of the schools, not in the schools," Luntz said Wednesday morning on CBS. "And they are not asking for a security official or someone else."
"I don’t think the NRA is listening. I don’t think they understand most Americans would protect the Second Amendment rights and yet agree with the idea that not every human being should own a gun, not every gun should be available at anytime, anywhere, for anyone. At gun shows, you should not be able to buy something there without any kind of check whatsoever."
Luntz is a prominent Republican pollster, though he's also worked for Mayors Against Illegal Guns, a group backed by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg (I) that calls for stricter gun-control laws. Luntz conducted a poll for the group in May that found many NRA members would support some restrictions on firearms. Read more ..
The Battle for Syria
|Yoav Limor||December 26th 2012|
Read more ..
One does not need a trained ear to hear the sounds of concern emanating from Jerusalem. The intensification of the fighting in Syria and concerns about that country's advanced weapons arsenal (particularly its chemical weapons stock) are keeping Israeli leaders up at night.
The really bad news in this story is that everything could devolve very quickly. For the last two years, we have been told that President Bashar al-Assad's fall was imminent. In July, after the bombing that killed several high-level Syrian officials, Assad's end really did seem to be at hand. He managed to overcame this and clung to power, as he has done after every strike to his security establishment.
But since the July bombing, several major changes have occurred. Rebel forces have strengthened and the Syrian military has weakened. Assad controls only limited areas of territory, mainly Damascus and the Alawite strongholds along the coast and in the mountains of northwestern Syria.
|Alex J. Pollock||December 25th 2012|
Read more ..
North American housing markets present an interesting contrast between the U.S. and Canada.
It now appears that the U.S. has passed the bottom of its housing markets at long last. After falling for six years from the 2006 high in a terrific bust, house prices are now widely rising from their lows, and house sales are increasing. So the U.S. is starting to come up from the bottom.
Canada is at the opposite end of the cycle. Having weathered the crisis of 2007-09 far better, it looks like Canada's housing markets have just gone over the top, a top of very high house prices and household debt levels, and now are starting down.
The U.S. Federal Housing Finance Agency's house price index for the third quarter of 2012, counting house purchases financed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, was up 4% over a year ago, partially reflecting a lower proportion of distressed sales. This house price index rose in 39 of the 50 states. The widely followed S&P/ Case-Shiller National House Price Index was up 3.6% year-over-year in September.
Japan on Edge
|Michael Auslin||December 24th 2012|
An Xinhua editorial that also appeared in the U.S. edition of the China Daily asserts that the impending premiership of Japan’s Shinzo Abe would “destabilize” East Asia. Yet the piece in reality makes a case for why Abe’s next term in office would be a good thing. To quote from the article:
"…Abe has called for an increase in Japan's defense spending, easing constitutional restrictions on the military and even changing Japan's so-called Self Defense Forces into a full-fledged military.
Abe is likely to push through several changes with little opposition, including abolishing the requirement for a separate new law each time Japan wants to send peacekeepers abroad and establishing a National Security Council to streamline decision-making, which was a primary, though eventually unrealized, goal of Abe's previous administration."
The editorial also rightly notes that “for the first time in decades, national defense played a significant role in Japan's general election,” yet refrains from listing the reasons for this, namely North Korea’s renewed belligerence and the on-going crisis over the Senkaku (Diaoyu) Islands between China and Japan. Read more ..
Yemen on Edge
|Daniel Green||December 24th 2012|
The Washington Institute
The ongoing process of stabilizing Yemen's political, military, financial, administrative, and economic spheres will require expanded U.S. governance and development efforts.
In a series of decrees signed on December 19, Yemeni president Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi announced a fundamental reorganization of the country's military. Although these initiatives address many of the opposition's demands for reform, various challenges will persist as the process of political consolidation and stability moves incrementally forward.
In 2011, Yemen became embroiled in a political crisis between then president Ali Saleh, who had ruled for over thirty years, and opponents who criticized his regime's corruption, leadership failings, and lack of services. As the crisis unfolded, opponents mounted a series of protests; Saleh responded by initiating limited reforms, but his efforts did not satisfy the opposition's demands. Read more ..
Venezuela on Edge
|Luis Fleischman||December 23rd 2012|
Chavez continues to be the hero in Venezuela and the region. In the last elections for state governors that took place on Sunday, December 16th, Chavez’s party, the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), won overwhelmingly and now holds 20 out of the 23 state governments in the nation.
The opposition lost important states such as Zulia that it had controlled for more than eight years. Likewise, the opposition lost the state of Carabobo, a state that has never been in the hands of a pro-Chavez government. Even in the state of Tachira, which was the only state the opposition won in the October 7th presidential election, was lost to Chavez’s political loyalists.
Those who think that Chavez’s movement will not survive his death should be dissuaded from this belief given the results of this gubernatorial election which proves exactly the opposite. Populism and the government’s massive use of state resources were key to winning those elections. Read more ..
Palestine on Edge
|Saul Roth||December 23rd 2012|
World Jewish Daily
The terror group Hamas is plotting a Gaza-style takeover of the West Bank, the Sunday Times reports. The Iranian-backed terror group is planning a putsch much like the one that brought it to power in the Gaza Strip in 2007. In that conflict, which lasted just eight days, Hamas fighters soundly defeated the Fatah security services aligned with Mahmoud Abbas.
This time, both Israel and Fatah are preparing for any attempt by Hamas to seize the West Bank's military and political institutions. The Times of Israel, quoting the Sunday Times, reports: "Jerusalem fears that a Hamas takeover of the West Bank would give Iran, which is allied with the group, a foothold on the border of Israel’s heartland, the report said. Reportedly, Iran is the driving force behind Hamas’s push to control the West Bank. A source close to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the paper that the prime minister is maneuvering to halt Iran and Hamas from gaining dominion of the territory. "[Netanyahu] understands the geopolitical changes in the Middle East. No way would [he] give up an inch of the West Bank — he is convinced that the intelligence assessment about a [Hamas] takeover is solid,” the source said. Read more ..
The Edge of Health
|Susan Jongeneel||December 23rd 2012|
University of Illinois
Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) may have affected humans for much longer than is currently believed. Alfred Roca, an assistant professor in the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences at the University of Illinois, thinks that the genomes of an isolated West African human population provide important clues about how the disease has evolved.
HIV is thought to have originated from chimpanzees in central Africa that were infected with simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV), a retrovirus. "If you look at the diversity present across SIV in chimpanzees, it suggests that they have had it for tens of thousands of years," Roca said.
HIV-1 Type M, which accounts for 90 percent of human infections, is believed to have crossed the species barrier into human populations between 1884 and 1924. Roca said that it may have crossed much earlier and many times, selecting for genetic resistance in isolated rural populations while remaining undetected. Read more ..
|Daniel Halper||December 22nd 2012|
The Weekly Standard
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Earlier this week, on Monday, the advocacy group USA*Engage sent a letter to each of the 100 Senate offices. The organization’s intention was clear: to prevent the U.S. from imposing economic sanctions on Iran. USA*Engage’s efforts, however, failed last night when every office to receive such a letter did the exact opposite. The sanctions amendment offered by Senator Bob Menendez (D, New Jersey) and Senator Mark Kirk (R, Illinois), which passed by a 100-0 vote in the Senate.
According to Kirk’s Senate office, “The sanctions would prohibit financial institutions that do business with the bank of Iran from opening or maintaining correspondent banking accounts in the United States.” The goal? “The amendment seeks to deny Iran the resources for its nuclear weapons program.”
So why would USA*Engage actively seek to block a measure that would hopefully prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon?
|Molly K. Hooper||December 22nd 2012|
|House Speaker John Boehner|
Many House Republicans refused to vote for Speaker John Boehner’s (R-Ohio) Plan B bill because they were “gun shy” about drawing primary challengers in the 2014, according to several lawmakers.
A number of members involved in the intense whipping operation that took place over the past two days tsaid that entrenched no votes were more concerned with perception than principle. “I think that there were members that are so gun shy about primaries that they weren't willing to take a risk ... some members told me that it was just too hard to explain how it wasn't a tax increase,” Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Colo.) said shortly following Thursday night’s abrupt conference meeting where Boehner told his colleagues they wouldn’t vote on the bill. Read more ..
Israel on Edge
|Saul Roth||December 21st 2012|
Wolrd Jewish Daily
Following a day of blustering threats from the Palestinian Authority, Israel's foreign ministry responded in kind, calling "The 'new rules' the Palestinians are talking about... no different than the old rules that have always resulted in conflict, hatred, violence and their defeat."
The P.A. threatened on Thursday to do everything from seek sanctions against Israel to fomenting violence on the ground in the West Bank, claiming that their rise to non-member state status at the U.N. had changed the rules of their conflict with Israel.
According to YNet, Foreign Ministry Spokesman Yigal Palmor hit back hard on Friday, saying that: The Palestinians' tragedy is that instead of dedicating efforts to building themselves, they are focusing on trying to harm Israel. Instead of building their future they are immersed in attempts to ruin ours. This strategy has led to nothing but failure after failure for them. They continue digging in their heels out of some delusional, suicidal power drunkenness. Read more ..
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