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The North Korean Threat

North Korea’s Satellite Launch: Pyongyang Style Theater or Prelude to Crisis?

December 5th 2012

North Korean launch

North Korea’s announcement of plans to pursue another satellite launch between December 10 and 22 may have been unwelcome, but it should not have been entirely unanticipated. North Korea defiantly stated that it would continue to test long-range multi-stage rockets on its April 17 response to a UN Security Council Presidential statement condemning North Korea’s failed April 12 launch. Another launch will likely have a disproportionate political impact since it comes prior to national elections scheduled in Japan on December 16 and in South Korea on December 19. Here’s a rundown of the challenges a North Korean satellite launch poses during this political transition period:

A North Korean satellite launch may influence South Korean voters in the December presidential election to base their vote more on national security credentials and North Korea policies of the respective candidates than might have otherwise been the case. Both the ruling party conservative candidate Park Geun-hye and the opposition party progressive candidate Moon Jae-in have leaned toward reengaging North Korea. However, Moon has advocated a transformational approach involving more aggressive economic and political deal-making with North Korea, whereas Park’s position remains more cautious and conditions-based, even while seeking to unstick the dialogue failures of the Lee Myung-bak administration’s policy. Read more ..


Egypt's Second Revolution

Egypt Inches Closer to Shariah Law

December 4th 2012

Egyptian hijabi

The Egyptian government will hold a referendum on the controversial draft of that nation's constitution on Dec. 15, 2012, President Mohamed Morsi announced on Sunday. In response, the State Department's Victoria Nuland, on Monday, decried tactics used by Morsi in the Egypt's constitution-writing process.

However, the Obama White House and many lawmakers remained silent -- with the help of the U.S. news media -- regarding the reports that Egypt, much to the chagrin of U.S. liberals, is now on track to become an Islamic state, according to GOP lawmakers appearing on the Sunday news shows.

"While arguing for months that the Muslim Brotherhood is a moderate Islamic group, the latest news about Egypt's constitution removes the facade of religious moderation espoused by President Barack Obama and his minions," said a top counterterrorism official and expert on radical Islamic organizations. Read more ..


Israel on Edge

European Countries Summon Israeli Ambassadors After Development Announcement

December 4th 2012

Western/Wailing Wall

France, Sweden and the UK have all summoned the Israeli ambassadors in their countries to protest Israel’s recent announcement that it’s planning construction in the area near East Jerusalem known as E1. The countries downplayed speculation that they would recall their own ambassadors to Israel, with a French Foreign Ministry official telling Reuters, “There are other ways in which we can express our disapproval.”

“We don’t want to shift into sanctions mode,” French President Francois Hollande said at a news conference, according to Reuters. “We are more focused on convincing.”

“Any decision about any other measures the UK might take will depend on the outcome of our discussions with the Israeli government and with international partners including the US and European Union,” said Alistair Burt,
Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Read more ..


Mexico on Edge

Calderón Bids Farewell

December 3rd 2012

Felipe Calderon in 2009

Mexican President Felipe Calderón’s monumental six-year term will come to an end on November 30. His presidency was categorized by a crackdown on organized crime and a predictable surge of violence that at one time threatened Mexico’s internal security. During this time, Calderón’s hard-lined approach to organized crime sparked a backlash among the Mexican cartels resulting in as many as 60,000 drug-related deaths and often searing international criticism. On the other hand, he caused grave harm to the cartels operating within Mexico’s borders. If there is one lesson we can learn from the past, it is that political figures tend to be remembered more favorably after they are distantly gone. Therefore it might be prevalent to ask the question, how will Calderón’s legacy be remembered?

Calderón’s stepped up pursuit of Mexican drug cartels increased violence in a variety of ways. To combat the cartels’ hold on Mexico, Calderón deployed 50,000 military troops in an attempt to subdue the violence. However, this created an internal war that jeopardized the security of the Mexican people. Furthermore, Calderón can still be blamed for inadequatley addressing the ever-present theme of corruption within the Mexican government and security forces. Critics suggest this may have been a vital factor in the continuation of the drug cartels’ success.

Although, it would be far from just to conclude that Calderón’s pursuit of organized crime was entirely unsuccessful:

The drug war did have some successes, taking down many of the country’s biggest crime lords. With the death of Zetas boss Heriberto Lazcano in October, Calderón pointed out that the government had captured or killed 25 on a list of 37 cartel leaders which it published early in his term. Furthermore, during Calderón’s presidency the Mexican government has seized over 114 tons of cocaine, 11,000 tons of marijuana, 75 tons of methamphetamines, 100,000 drug-associated vehicles, and $1 billion USD in cash. These figures represent a cost to the cartels equaling at least $14.4 billion USD. The aforementioned increase in seizures represents an admirable attempt by the president to challenge a dangerous status quo that only worsened year after year. Read more ..


Europe on Edge

Muslims Pressing for Blasphemy Laws in Europe

December 3rd 2012

Islam vs Rome

The Organization of Islamic Cooperation, a bloc of 57 Muslim countries, is pressuring Western countries into making it an international crime to criticize Islam or Mohammed—all on the name of "religious tolerance." Where does Europe stand?

The Dutch parliament has approved a motion to revoke a law that makes it a crime to insult God. Free speech activists say the move represents a significant victory at a time when Muslim groups are stepping up pressure on European governments to make it a crime to criticize of Islam or the prophet Mohammed.

Article 147 of the Dutch Penal Code was drafted in the 1930s and had not been used for half a century; leading legislators said there was no longer a need for it. The decision to abolish the law follows national elections in September 2012, in which two liberal parties (the People's Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) and the Labour Party (PvdA) emerged victorious. Read more ..


Palestine on Edge

The United Nations Does Not Create States

December 2nd 2012

Abbas UN statehood vote

The passage of U.N. General Assembly Resolution 181, also known as the Partition Plan, on Nov. 29, 1947, marked an enormous moral victory for the Jewish people in their effort to gain international recognition for their right to Jewish state. Five months later, David Ben-Gurion declared Israel’s independence, referring to the U.N. General Assembly’s partition resolution from Nov. 29.

But was it true that Israel owed its very existence to the U.N., as it became popularly perceived years later? According to a legal study commissioned in the late 1970s by the U.N. Secretariat’s Special Unit on Palestinian Rights, Resolution 181 was the “juridicial basis” of the State of Israel according to international law. This same line of argument was repeated just this week by an Israeli analyst in the opinion section of the New York Times, who wrote that the vote on Nov. 29 was the “legal basis for the establishment of the State of Israel.” Read more ..


The Nuclear Edge

Deterrence and Nuclear Targeting in the 21st Century

December 2nd 2012

Bomb blast

News reports indicate the Obama Administration is seeking to further reduce the number of deployed warheads in the U.S. long-range nuclear force to between 300 and 1,100. In contrast, this analysis concludes that the appropriate number of operationally deployed warheads should range between 2,700 and 3,000.

The targeting policy recommended in this report responds to the multiplying strategic threats that the U.S. will likely face as result of the spread of ballistic missile and weapons of mass destruction technologies. It reflects U.S. values and strengthens credibility of U.S. deterrence. The targeting policy and the targeting requirements that follow from that policy fundamentally drive the number of nuclear weapons in the U.S. arsenal. Further, the analysis provides a general description of the targeting requirements that follow from this policy. Read more ..


Obama's Second Term

Obama's Latest Charm Offensive with CEOs Pays Some Dividends

November 30th 2012

Obama

President Obama is mounting his most concerted charm offensive yet toward the business community as he strives to build support for a debt deal and, more generally, assuage concerns that he is disdainful of corporate interests.

A meeting Wednesday with a group of leading CEOs at the White House was only one manifestation of an ongoing effort to ease the distrust that marked interactions between the administration and commerce during Obama’s first term.
There are some signs that the push is working, at least in terms of improving the mood music.

After the White House meeting, Marriott CEO Arne Sorenson praised the White House as “resoundingly reasonable” in its approach to the "fiscal cliff" negotiations. The sentiment was particularly notable because Sorenson had donated to Mitt Romney’s campaign and to the Republican National Committee during this year’s election cycle. Joe Echevarria, the CEO of Deloitte, told reporters that Obama “clearly wanted to embrace business and all business leaders.” Read more ..


The Congo on Edge

The Geopolitical Quagmire of the Eastern Congo

November 30th 2012

Congolese child

The situation in the eastern Congo is no less obscure than before the regional leaders met for negotiations over the weekend. M23 stated they would leave the city of Goma, captured on November 20, by November 27. They are still there. Now they claim they will hold a handover ceremony and pull back to Rutshuru, their original stronghold, on Friday, November 30; but only so long as M23 troops remain at the Goma airport. And possibly, that their political wing remain in Goma itself.

Rwanda and Uganda continue to vehemently deny that they back the M23 rebel group. This line becomes thinner each time they use it. Kris Berwouts provides a succinct analysis of the recent Rwandan/Congolese relationship.

Another player in the arena however is the UN, who stood by after the Congo army fled and watched M23 rebels march into Goma. Many are asking why the UN Mission in the Congo (MONUSCO) doesn’t push the rebels out. After all, the Christian Science Monitor and the Economist estimate that M23 numbers in the range of only 1,000-1,500 while there are 19,000 UN troops supported by 3,800 civilian staff in Congo, including 6,700 troops in North Kivu, of which Goma is the capital. As the Economist says, “the UN…has once again been humiliated.” Read more ..


Gaza and Israel

Gaza is Not the Key, Philadelphi Is

November 29th 2012

Rafah crossing

The Second Hamas-Israel War, of November 10 to 21, inspired a mighty debate over rights and wrongs, with each side appealing to the large undecided bloc (19 percent of Americans according to CNN/ORC, 38 percent according to Rasmussen ). Is Israel a criminal state that has no right to exist, much less to deploy force? Or is it a modern liberal democracy with the rule of law that justifiably protects innocent civilians? Morality drives this debate.

To any sentient person, it is obvious that Israelis are 100 percent justified in protecting themselves from wanton attacks. A cartoon from the First Hamas-Israel War, of 2008 to 2009, symbolically showed a Palestinian terrorist shooting from behind a baby carriage at an Israeli soldier in front of a baby carriage.

The tougher question is how to prevent further Hamas-Israel wars. Some background: If Israelis are 100 percent justified in protecting themselves, their government also bears complete responsibility for creating this crisis. Specifically, it made two misguided unilateral withdrawals in 2005. Read more ..


Egypt's Second Revolution

Beyond Gaza: The Foreign-Policy Implications of Morsi's Power Grab

November 28th 2012

Morsi

Following Cairo's successful mediation of a ceasefire between Hamas and Israel last week, Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi won high praise in Washington and abroad. Many interpreted Egypt's negotiations with Israel to conclude the Gaza crisis as a sign that Morsi -- despite his well-documented antipathy for Israel during his years as a Muslim Brotherhood leader -- would uphold the 1979 Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty. As one Obama administration official told the New York Times, "This was somebody focused on solving problems."

Yet on closer inspection, Morsi isn't nearly as focused on solving the Middle East's problems as Washington wants to believe. He has merely deferred pursuing the Muslim Brotherhood's hostile foreign policy agenda for now, focusing instead on consolidating his -- and the Brotherhood's -- political power domestically. Read more ..


The Congo on Edge

Regional Ultimatum to M23 Rebels Expires

November 27th 2012

Soldiers

A regional leaders’ ultimatum to the M23 rebels in the Democratic Republic of Congo to withdraw from North Kivu’s capital, Goma, expires Monday, according to a spokesman for Uganda’s government. The heads of state met in an extraordinary summit over the weekend in Kampala to try to resolve the rebel crisis. They called on the rebels to “stop all war activities.” 

“Among the key decisions they made was that the M23 leave Goma [within] 48 hours from Saturday, which means the deadline is today Monday, whereby they should leave Goma, and disembark 20 kilometers from Goma,” said spokesman Fred Opolot, who is also the executive director for Uganda’s Media Center.

“We are obviously observing how the situation will unfold on the ground in eastern DRC,” he continued. Opolot says the regional leaders are hopeful that the Kinshasa government and representatives of the rebels could find a solution to resolve the conflict. Read more ..


The Media on Edge

BBC’s Jon Donnison Displays Professional and Ethical Conflicts of Interest

November 27th 2012

Jon Donnison, BBC

On Saturday, November 24th 2012, BBC Radio 4 broadcast an edition of ‘From Our Own Correspondent’ (also scheduled to be broadcast on the BBC World Service), which included a piece by Jon Donnison. The broadcast can be heard here or here, or downloaded here.

Frankly, this is a subject I would have preferred not to have had to write about. Donnison’s broadcast concerns the death of the son of his BBC colleague, Jihad Masharawi, on November 14th and of course any death—but perhaps particularly that of a baby—is tragic and bound to evoke understandable emotional reactions—especially among those who know the family personally.

But as is the case with professionals in any field, journalists should be able to separate their personal storm of emotions from the task of carrying out their job. It is Jon Donnison’s inability to do that (along with many of his colleagues) which leaves no choice but to address the subject. Read more ..


The Environment on Edge

Doha Climate Conference: Key Issues Up for Negotiation

November 26th 2012

NASA ICESCAPE Arctic melt pools

For the next two weeks, delegates will meet in Doha, Qatar to attend the annual round of negotiations on the climate change agreements under the United Nations Framework Agreement on Climate Change (UNFCCC). While there are a number of issues under discussion, the primary objective of the Doha meeting is to wrap up discussions on the future of the Kyoto Protocol and to consolidate talks on a new post-2020 global climate treaty under the Durban Platform process launched last year.

Moderate progress across these tracks is expected at Doha, but with contentious political issues unresolved and major negotiating Parties (i.e., China and the U.S.) unprepared to enter into serious negotiations, no major breakthroughs are expected. Given recent indications that the world is on a trajectory to reach temperature increases from 4°C to above 6°C with current emission reduction pledges, observers are arguing that filling this “mitigation gap” by raising the level of ambition between 2013 and 2020 is crucial. Another key issue at Doha is addressing the difference between the level of new and additional finance for climate mitigation and adaptation for the post-2020 regime. The so-called “Fast Start Finance” will finish at the end of this year, and countries have so far contributed or committed about 80 percent of the pledged $30 billion by 2013. At the same time, long term finance pledges of $100 billion by 2020 have yet to materialize, and the new Green Climate Fund remains an empty pot. Finally, measuring, reporting and verifying (MRV) both emissions and funding contributions for developed and developing countries remains a contentious issue as well, with technical negotiations ongoing. Read more ..


Edging Towards the Fiscal Cliff

GOP, Dem Lawmakers See Room for Compromise on Fiscal Talks

November 26th 2012

Lobbyist

As they return to Washington this week, lawmakers from both parties are talking compromise to avoid the impending “fiscal cliff,” showing a willingness to put once inviolable positions on the negotiating table.

More senior Republicans distanced themselves from conservative activist Grover Norquist’s anti-tax pledge this weekend in an apparent effort to signal their willingness to broker a deficit-reduction plan and move past the expiring tax rates and automatic spending cuts set to take effect next year. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who has indicated in the past that he and Norquist might not see eye to eye on new revenues, became the latest GOP lawmaker to loudly break from the pledge. Graham said on Sunday that he is willing to “violate” the pledge to secure a deficit deal “for the good of the country.” Read more ..


Egypt's Second Revolution

Is Morsi the New Pharaoh?

November 25th 2012

Morsi
Egyptian President Morsi

The French press agency headline says it all: “Egypt’s [President] Morsi assumes sweeping powers, branded new pharaoh.” Mursi has issued a decree giving himself virtually dictatorial powers and contradicting the assumption that he—and his Muslim Brotherhood organization—intend to rule democratically. Opposition forces said this constituted a coup.

Mursi’s spokesman explained the decree in these terms: the president can issue any decree he wishes to protect the revolution. “The constitutional declarations, decisions and laws issued by the president are final and not subject to appeal.”

It seems apparent that this is another step in the process toward the fundamental transformation of Egypt into an Islamist, Sharia-ruled state. If one views the 2011 revolution as a democratic one, then Mursi is destroying it. But of course he and the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafists see it as an Islamist revolution, parallel to the 1979 Iranian revolution — though in Egyptian terms, of course. Read more ..


Operation Pillar of Defense

Hamas Arsenal Hit, but Rocket Know-how Persists

November 25th 2012

Rocket Fajr-5

The distinctive whoosh of a longer-range rocket leaving Gaza set sirens wailing in Tel Aviv or Jerusalem within minutes, as Hamas militants broke new ground in the fight against Israel.

And although the Islamists' firepower was hard hit during its eight-day confrontation with Israel, Hamas has valuable technical knowledge at its fingertips which could be used to rebuild its arsenal.

In the first hours of Israel's eight-day bombardment of the Hamas-run Gaza Strip, officials said the air force had destroyed the lion's share of the enclave's arsenal of rockets with a range longer than 40 kilometres (25 miles). But Hamas and Islamic Jihad still managed to fire at least half a dozen rockets at metropolitan Tel Aviv, one of which hit a block of flats in Rishon Letzion, and at least two at Jerusalem, which struck south of the city in the occupied West Bank. Read more ..


The Arab Winter of Rage in Cairo

Cairo Continues in Upheaval Over Morsi Power Grab

November 24th 2012

Tahrir Square 22 nov 2011

Egyptian security forces have dispersed protesters in Cairo's Tahrir Square with rounds of tear gas. Security personnel fired the tear gas Saturday morning on the protesters, many of whom spent the night on the iconic protest hub. On Friday, protesters in several Egyptian cities attacked the offices of the ruling Muslim Brotherhood, as rival pro- and anti-government groups demonstrated in Cairo about a new presidential decree. The protests came a day after Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi put himself above oversight and declared that his decisions cannot be appealed by the courts or any other authority. In a speech to supporters Friday at the presidential palace, Morsi said he wants to move Egypt forward as a stable and safe nation and does not want sole control of the country.

Thousands of opposition supporters gathered in Tahrir Square Friday to protest the president's decision, while police fired tear gas at the crowds. In the cities of Port Said, Ismailia and Alexandria, crowds of protesters lobbed stones and explosives and set fire to Muslim Brotherhood offices. Read more ..


Operation Pillar of Defense

Photos of Syrian Massacres Recycled As Gaza Tragedies

November 22nd 2012

Fake Gaza Casualty Picture actually from Syria
Fake Gaza Casualty Picture actually from Syria

Yet another fake “Gaza” photo has incited a flurry of comments on Facebook against Israel during the fifth day of Israel’s Pillar of Defense operation in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip. An Arab news site called Alarab Net released the photo, which shows a family who was allegedly “massacred” in Gaza on its Facebook page on Sunday, November 18. The caption in Arabic roughly translates into English as “martyred massacred family in Gaza shortly before...” It appears that the photo has been taken down.

Thanks to investigative work, it was found that the photo had been originally published on a news site based in Dubai, United Arab Emirates called Moheet one month earlier, on October 19. On the Moheet website, the photo was titled “Syria killed 122 Friday … Assad Used Cluster Bombs.”

Uploaded to Facebook the evening of the 18th by Alarab Net, the recaptioned Syrian photo, which depicts three bloodied children and their mother lying on a floor, quickly attracted over 1,200 likes, close to 500 comments and 420 shares within an hour. Alarab Net appears to be a news website based in Israel that offers a wide range news coverage from pop culture to politics and anti-Israel coverage. Read more ..


Operation Pillar of Defense

Palestinian Media on Gaza: Contrasting the PA and Hamas

November 22nd 2012

Click to select Image

Analysis of Palestinian media over the past week of fighting in Gaza shows a vast difference between Palestinian Authority and Hamas coverage. In the West Bank, print and broadcast media controlled or influenced by the PA are emphasizing Palestinian suffering, but generally avoiding hate speech, calls to arms, or boasting about damage to Israel. In Gaza, by contrast, Hamas media are relentlessly inciting violence, indulging in venomous hate speech, and gloating about imaginary hits on Israeli civilian targets.

The official PA newspaper, al-Hayat al-Jadidah, consistently refers to the late Hamas commander Ahmed Jabari and other Palestinian casualties, both military and civilian, as "martyrs." It does not, however, feature demands for retaliation. On the contrary, it has highlighted diplomacy and other nonviolent reactions, such as President Mahmoud Abbas's intention to request upgraded status at the UN General Assembly on November 29, his call for "peaceful resistance" to occupation, and PA humanitarian aid shipments to Gaza. The paper even carried an online poll about whether there should be "continued negotiations during the current political climate" (59 percent answered "no") rather than questions about rockets or suicide bombings. Read more ..


Inside Latin America

The Deepening and Widening of Europe's Ties to Latin America

November 22nd 2012

Iberoamerican conference king juan carlos
Spanish King Juan Carlos flanked by Latin American heads of state.

European nations have had deep economic connections with many Latin American countries since independence, though most of the news today centers on how they are losing economic ground to China. Similar to my other posts on China’s and the United States’ economic ties with Latin America, this one will examine the European Union’s economic ties with the region through its trade, investments, and loans.

The European Union has long been Latin America’s number two trading partner after the United States, with merchandise exports and imports totaling $202 billion in 2011. The two largest European trading partners with Latin America are Germany (US$60 billion) and the Netherlands (US$38 billion), followed closely by Spain (US$35 billion) and Italy (US$31 billion). Commodities—food products, minerals, and fuel—are again (similar to the United States and China) the major products going to Europe, making up 70 percent of Latin America’s exports. But manufacturing and higher technology exports are also moving east across the Atlantic, as Mexico leads the way in exporting automobiles and telecommunications equipment, and Costa Rica is increasingly sending micro-chips. Read more ..


Mexico on Edge

Challenges and Constraints for Mexico's Incoming President

November 22nd 2012

President Enrique Pena Nieto
Enrique Peña Nieto

Enrique Peña Nieto will be sworn in as Mexico's next president Dec. 1. He will take office at a very interesting point in Mexican history. Mexico is experiencing an economic upturn that may become even more pronounced if Peña Nieto's Institutional Revolutionary Party administration is able to work with its rivals in the National Action Party to enact needed reforms to Mexico's labor, financial and energy laws.

Another arrestor to further expanding Mexico's economy has been the ongoing cartel violence in Mexico and the dampening effect it has had on outside investment and tourism. Peña Nieto realizes that Mexico's economy would be doing even better were it not for the chilling effect of the violence. During his campaign, he pledged to cut Mexico's murder rate in half by the end of his six-year term, to increase the number of federal police officers and to create a new gendarmerie to use in place of military troops to combat heavily armed criminals in Mexico's most violent locations. Read more ..


Operation Pillar of Defense

Why a Cease Fire Will Not Last

November 22nd 2012

Hamas Kid

A cease fire between Israel and Hamas may end the immediate exchange of rockets, but it is not likely to be of long duration. That is because every time Hamas fires rockets into Israel, it creates a win-win-win situation for itself.

The first win is that it terrorizes Israeli civilians, killing some, wounding others and creating panic among millions of Israelis who fear being hit. This show of strength enhances Hamas’s standing within much of the Muslim world. The second win is that by firing these rockets from densely populated areas in Gaza City, rather than from the many open fields outside of the populated areas in the Gaza Strip, Hamas provokes Israel into targeting the rockets and the terrorists who fire them. As soon as the terrorists fire the rockets, they run to special underground bunkers that are open only to the terrorists, thereby leaving civilians above ground and vulnerable to Israeli rockets. This is a deliberate tactic employed by Hamas over many years and designed to bring about international condemnation of Israel for inadvertently killing Palestinian civilians. Israel’s only other options would be to allow Hamas rockets to be fired unanswered into Israel, or to conduct a ground war which would result in even greater international condemnation.

The third win for Hamas is that every time it fires rockets into Israel and provokes Israel into returning fire, it weakens the Palestinian Authority—its arch enemy in the West Bank. The Palestinian Authority has renounced violence, but it has no choice other than to support Hamas’s violence against Israel, which is popular among many Palestinians. The end result is a strengthened Hamas, which is seen as doing something and a weakened Palestinian Authority, which is seen as doing nothing. Read more ..


Broken Elections

Gridlocked Election Commission Awaits Action by Obama

November 21st 2012

Click to select Image

The nation’s enforcer of election laws was largely paralyzed during the 2012 election, despite a Supreme Court ruling that left several key money-in-politics issues open to interpretation. With five of six Federal Election Commission members working on expired terms (one since 2007), President Barack Obama had an opportunity to remake the agency with members more inclined to enforce campaign finance rules, say reformers. But that hasn’t happened. The situation hasn’t done much for the agency’s reputation.

“The Federal Election Commission is itself a campaign-finance scandal,” said longtime FEC critic and campaign finance reformer Fred Wertheimer, founder and president of Democracy 21.

“None of the players in the political arena had any reason to believe that the campaign finance laws would be enforced,” Wertheimer said. “The White House needs to address it or else must bear responsibility for this campaign-finance scandal continuing.”

As both Obama and GOP rival Mitt Romney raised hundreds of millions of dollars for their campaigns, long-time allies of each man launched supposedly independent super PACs that served as attack dogs during the long slog of the election. Former White House aides Bill Burton and Sean Sweeney created the pro-Obama super PAC Priorities USA Action, while former Romney campaign advisers Carl Forti, Charles Spies and Larry McCarthy created the Restore Our Future super PAC to boost the former Massachusetts governor’s candidacy. Both groups raised tens of millions of dollars, often from donors who also gave the legal maximum to the campaign committee of their preferred presidential candidate. Read more ..


Operation Pillar of Defense

Terrorist Bomb in Tel Aviv Dampens Cease-Fire Hopes

November 21st 2012

Israel bus bomb november 2012

While Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu conferred with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on November 21, a terrorist bomb exploded on a civilian bus in Tel Aviv as Israeli jets bombarded terrorist cells in Gaza. At least 10 people were injured by the bomb blast in Tel Aviv, near the Israeli defense ministry headquarters. The bomb had been placed on the bus. The blast was followed by celebratory gunfire among the Hamas militants controlling the Gaza Strip. Clinton also met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas before sitting down to another pow-wow with Netanyahu.

Secretary Clinton flew to the Mideast following a summit of Asian countries where she accompanied President Barack Obama. In remarks following the November 20 meeting Netanyahu, she said that it is "essential to de-escalate the situation." Read more ..


Operation Pillar of Defense

Iron Dome’s Battlefield Successes Point to Greater American Involvement

November 20th 2012

Iron Dome

The performance of the revolutionary Iron Dome system in the ongoing defense of Israel from Hamas rocket attacks, dubbed Operation Pillar of Defense, has been so extraordinary as to be considered by all but the most hardline critics to have proven the efficacy of missile defense. By November 20, six days since Hamas dramatically increased the volume of rocket fire against Israel, 340 intercepts had been made, with the Iron Dome system achieving a greater than 80 percent success rate. For Israel, this capability not only saves lives but also provides the government with precious time to contemplate a response to each attack.

Iron Dome’s proven effectiveness has greatly increased expectations that it will be a popular product on the world market and has drawn considerable attention to possible co-production in the United States.

Developed by the Israeli firms Elta, mPrest Systems, and Rafael, the relatively low-cost Iron Dome system (estimated to be $85,000 per Tamir interceptor missile and $20 million per battery), enjoyed an unprecedentedly rapid development cycle going from drawing board to operational system in five years. Read more ..


Obama's Second Term

Trying to De-Polarize Congress

November 20th 2012

Capitol Senate

Congressional polarization has steadily increased over the last twenty-five years, according to research by political scientists Howard Rosenthal and Keith Poole. Their analysis indicates that the U.S. House and Senate are more polarized today than at any other time since the end of Reconstruction. The 2012 election continued this trend.

Polarization matters because starker differences between the parties normally make problem solving more difficult. Party leaders become increasingly beholden to the collective will of more extreme caucuses and less able to compromise and build consensus for balanced legislation. “Everybody is afraid to give an inch,” according to Ohio representative Steven C. LaTourette.

There are a variety of explanations for rising polarization; a commonly cited one is gerrymandering. Gerrymandering is drawing political boundaries to secure an advantage, and it has a long and ignominious history. Read more ..


Operation Pillar of Defense

Hamas’ Tactic: Require Israel to Cause Civilian Casualties

November 19th 2012

Gaza baby death

As the rockets continue to fall in Israel and Gaza, it is important to understand Hamas’s tactic and how the international community and the media are encouraging it.  Hamas’s tactic is as simple as it is criminal and brutal. Its leaders know that by repeatedly firing rockets at Israeli civilian areas, they will give Israel no choice but to respond.  Israel’s response will target the rockets and those sending them. In order to maximize their own civilian casualties, and thereby earn the sympathy of the international community and media, Hamas leaders deliberately fire their rockets from densely populated civilian areas. The Hamas fighters hide in underground bunkers but Hamas refuses to provide any shelter for its own civilians, who they use as “human shields.” This unlawful tactic puts Israel to a tragic choice: simply allow Hamas rockets to continue to target Israeli cities and towns; or respond to the rockets, with inevitable civilian casualties among the Palestinian “human shields.” Read more ..


The Defense Edge

Major Fight Looms Over Defense Spending

November 19th 2012

Missiles on jet

President Obama and Congress now have just over seven weeks to reach an agreement on the federal budget that would avert a round of automatic tax hikes and spending cuts in defense and social programs that members of both parties have depicted as draconian.

Jan. 1 is the deadline set by the so-called “sequestration” law of 2010 that imposes substantial cuts automatically – over a ten-year period – if the government fails to whack away at the federal deficit. Front and center in the punishment will be the Defense Department, which accounts for a fifth of all federal spending and about a half of so-called “discretionary” funds, or those that lawmakers review and approve annually.

Fifty program areas at the Pentagon would collectively take a roughly $500 billion hit, which seems like a lot but would actually be less than ten percent of the $5.8 trillion that the Obama administration wants the Pentagon to spend from 2013 to 2021. Military leaders have complained fiercely, partly because the Obama administration last year chose to halt a planned 16 percent increase in defense spending, keeping the military’s budget essentially level after a decade of steep growth. Read more ..


Operation Pillar of Defense

Israel: Then and Now

November 19th 2012

Israeli Jets Parked

Four years ago on Nov. 4, while Americans were going to the polls to elect a new president, Israeli infantry, tanks and bulldozers entered the Gaza Strip to dismantle an extensive tunnel network used by Hamas to smuggle in weapons. An already tenuous truce mediated by the Egyptian government of Hosni Mubarak had been broken. Hamas responded with a barrage of mortar and rocket fire lasting several weeks, and on Dec. 27, 2008, Israel began Operation Cast Lead. The military campaign began with seven days of heavy air strikes on Gaza, followed by a 15-day ground incursion.

By the end of the campaign, nearly 1,000 poorly guided shorter-range rockets and mortar shells hit southern Israel, reaching as far as Beersheba and Yavne. Several senior Hamas commanders and hundreds of militants were killed in the fighting. Israel Defense Forces figures showed that 10 IDF soldiers died (four from friendly fire), three Israeli civilians died from Palestinian rocket fire and 1,166 Palestinians were killed -- 709 of them combatants. Read more ..


Obama and Israel

Obama's Support For Israel Has Been Surprisingly Strong During Current Conflict

November 19th 2012

Obama and Israel

Even U.S. President Barack Obama's strongest critics would have to admit that he has proved remarkably supportive of Israel over the past week of conflict. Certainly, there have been a few signs of the old tension between Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The initial call to Obama when the military action began was reportedly made by President Shimon Peres rather than Netanyahu; and on Sunday, Obama made a statement to the effect that he would prefer Israel refrain from a ground operation against Hamas. Read more ..


Operation Pillar of Defense

Hezbollah Remains Wary amid Israeli Operations in Gaza

November 18th 2012

Hezbollah

While Hamas is preparing for an Israeli ground assault into Gaza, Hezbollah's movements on Israel's northern frontier bear close watching. Iranian Defense Minister Ahmad Vahidi on Nov. 17 called on the Muslim world to retaliate against Israeli actions in Gaza. Naturally, many are looking in the direction of Lebanon, where Hezbollah, Iran's most capable militant proxy, could open a second front against Israel.

Though Iran would welcome the opportunity to demonstrate the spectrum of its militant proxy strength, especially after supplying Hamas with the long-range Fajr-5 rockets that have been targeting Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, Hezbollah will likely be extremely cautious in deciding whether to participate in this war. The group's fate is linked to that of the embattled regime of Syrian President Bashar al Assad; should Syria fracture along sectarian lines, Lebanon is likely to descend into civil war, and Hezbollah will have to conserve its strength and resources for a battle at home against its sectarian rivals. Indeed, Hezbollah has already been preparing for such a scenario by seizing control of villages along the Orontes River Basin in order to maintain connectivity with Syria's Alawite community. Read more ..


The Petraeus Scandal

Five Questions After Petraeus Hearings

November 18th 2012

Petraeus-Kelly

The testimony this week of former CIA director David Petraeus left a number of unanswered questions about his resignation and the deadly attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya.

Petraeus was grilled by lawmakers behind closed doors on Friday, one week after he resigned as the nation’s top spy over an extra-martial affair he conducted with the author Paula Broadwell.

Lawmakers pressed Petraeus for more information about the Sept. 11 attack in Libya, which the Obama administration initially blamed on an anti-Islam movie before later labeling it terrorist attack. Officials say the early account reflected the intelligence that officials were given by the CIA and other agencies. Democrats and Republicans remained at odds over the Obama administration’s characterization of the attack after being brief by Petraeus, sparking a new round of questions about who in the administration knew what, and when. Read more ..


Operation Pillar of Success

The Gaza Invasion: Will It Destroy Israel's Relationship with Egypt?

November 17th 2012

Soldiers-vehicles

The fact that Israel endured over 800 rocket attacks from Gaza in the past year before commencing yesterday's military operation against Hamas suggests that Jerusalem hoped to avoid the current flare-up. Among other concerns, the Israeli government knew that another Gaza war would ignite the neighboring Egyptian "street," and since Egypt's post-revolutionary government would have to be more responsive to popular sentiments, a downgrade in Israeli-Egyptian relations would be likely. The rise of the Muslim Brotherhood -- Hamas' Egyptian cousin -- as Egypt's new ruling party exacerbated those qualms, given the Brotherhood's longtime opposition to the 1979 Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty and refusal to acknowledge Israel's rightful existence. Read more ..


Operation Pillar of Defense

Egypt's Role in the Israel-Gaza Conflict

November 17th 2012

Israel Egypt Rafah border crossing and flags

The conflict in Gaza comes at an interesting time in Egyptian-Israeli relations. Cairo recently saw the Muslim Brotherhood candidate assume the Egyptian presidency, while in the past two years Israel has approved two Egyptian military increases "in the Sinai Peninsula above levels set in the Camp David Accords. The disposition of the forces in Sinai coupled with the presence of the U.N.-mandated Multinational Force and Observers mean at present, Egyptian forces do not pose a significant threat to Israel. How Egypt will respond to the conflict between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip remains to be seen, but should the Morsi government or Egypt's military decide to support Gaza, such support would likely consist of turning a blind eye toward militant activities and smuggling in the Sinai Peninsula.

Egypt is one of Israel's most powerful neighbors. Initially hostile to Israel, the two countries have been at peace for nearly 40 years. Following the 1973 Yom Kippur war, the 1978 Camp David Peace Accords between Israel and Egypt established guidelines for what Egypt could do in the Sinai Peninsula in a bid to keep the peace. Read more ..


Operation Pillar of Defence

Israeli Incursion into Gaza is a Game-Changer

November 16th 2012

Hellicopter & troops

The recent flare up of violence between Israel and the Hamas, dubbed Operation Pillars of Defense by the Israelis, has highlighted three specific game changes from wars past. The first is that there is no longer any part of Israel that is guaranteed to be immune from war. The second is that what happens in Israel now affects Jewish communities around the world. The third is that Israel’s peace with Egypt has been stripped down to the bare minimum. All three of these changes have been long in the making, and have now been cemented.

Israel’s lack of strategic depth has never been a secret – without the West Bank, it is a mere nine miles wide at its narrowest point. Yet for much of its history, the majority of Israel’s population remained shielded from wars because the Jewish state quickly took the fight to its enemies and pushed the battlefield away from its population centers. That veracity first showed signs of wear back in the 1991 Gulf War, when over 40 Iraqi scud missiles were fired at Israel, and namely the Tel Aviv area known as Gush Dan, forcing millions of its citizens to hunker down in sealed rooms and don gas masks. Read more ..


Operation Pillar of Defense

Egypt, Gaza and the Sinai Peninsula

November 16th 2012

IDF Soldiers

The conflict in Gaza comes at an interesting time in Egyptian-Israeli relations. Cairo recently saw the Muslim Brotherhood candidate assume the Egyptian presidency, while in the past two years Israel has approved two Egyptian military increases "in the Sinai Peninsula above levels set in the Camp David Accords. The disposition of the forces in Sinai coupled with the presence of the U.N.-mandated Multinational Force and Observers mean at present, Egyptian forces do not pose a significant threat to Israel. How Egypt will respond to the conflict between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip remains to be seen, but should the Morsi government or Egypt's military decide to support Gaza, such support would likely consist of turning a blind eye toward militant activities and smuggling in the Sinai Peninsula.

Egypt is one of Israel's most powerful neighbors. Initially hostile to Israel, the two countries have been at peace for nearly 40 years. Following the 1973 Yom Kippur war, the 1978 Camp David Peace Accords between Israel and Egypt established guidelines for what Egypt could do in the Sinai Peninsula in a bid to keep the peace. Strategically, the peace agreement made the peninsula a buffer between Israel and Egypt. It permitted only enough forces in Sinai to enforce security. Read more ..


Islam on Edge

The Battle for the Soul of Shi'ism

November 16th 2012

Khameni and Khomeini

It has been noted that, “By and large, the intellectual landscape of present-day Twelver Shi’ism is much more polymorphic than at any time in the past.” The level of political involvement exerted by Shi’i clerics has been a hotly debated topic since the establishment of the sect. Yet after Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution, the generally demure and apolitical nature of Shi’i Islam, especially at its higher levels, was forever altered, resulting in a new and more politicized facet of Shi’i Islam. For the Shi’i establishment, Khomeini’s new ideology was and is an extremely radical split.

Contemporarily, a broad generalization could be made saying, on one side, there are those following “Quietist” traditionalism, a principle of abstention from involvement in politics. On the other end of the divide are clerics who feel they should take a more active role in politics. However, the situation inside Shi’i clerical circles is far more complicated than a black vs. white, politicized vs. unpoliticized conflict. As Denis McEoin correctly assessed, “Religious movements commonly embrace mutually contradictory attitudes, and attempts to classify them along the lines of simple dichotomies (such as ‘activist’ or ‘quietist’) are seldom very successful.” Read more ..


Operation Pillar of Defense

Considerations for an Israeli Ground Offensive on Gaza

November 15th 2012

Israeli tank and crew

The Israeli air force continues to bombard targets within the Gaza Strip, but thus far ground forces have not yet begun an incursion into the territory. Whether the current air campaign escalates to a ground assault will largely depend on the mission that the Israeli military is trying to accomplish.

Israel Defense Forces' official statements have emphasized that the goal is the severe degradation of Gaza militants' ability to launch rocket strikes, particularly the new Fajr-5 rockets that are purportedly capable of striking Tel Aviv.

Halting rocket attacks was also the mission during Operation Cast Lead, Israel's most recent large-scale military operation involving Gaza, which took place in late 2008 and early 2009 and consisted of an air campaign similar to the current one followed by a ground invasion. Examining how Operation Cast Lead developed could provide useful context for how an Israeli ground invasion of Gaza could unfold. Read more ..


Broken Borders

Prospects Improve for US Immigration Reform

November 15th 2012

US-Mexico Border

If elections are meant as an articulation of national will, then last week’s vote appears to have sent a message on the need for immigration reform - specifically what should be done about the estimated 12 million foreign nationals residing in the United States who entered the country illegally or overstayed their visas.

No, Americans did not vote directly on immigration reform, and the topic was barely mentioned on the campaign trail by President Barack Obama or his Republican challenger, Mitt Romney. But the Republican Party clearly suffered at the ballot box as a result of its resistance to immigration reform.

During the presidential primaries, several Republican contenders took a hard line on the matter, blasting any measure that would provide a path to legal status as an amnesty for law breakers. Romney advocated a strategy of making life in America so difficult for illegals that they would opt to leave the country, or "self-deport." Read more ..



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