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Latin America on Edge

Moscow and Washington Battle for Influence in the Western Hemisphere

September 4th 2012

Click to select Image

The current economic competition between the Russian Federation and the United States in the Western Hemisphere bears striking similarity to the political antagonism prevalent during the Cold War. This deep seated rivalry still influences world affairs, as the United Nations Security Council cannot enact any major decision without an agreement between those two powers. However, a pragmatic view of the world economy plays a greater role now in the determination of Russia’s priorities and strategies as it begins to catch up with the U.S. in its exposure to Latin American economic interests.

As of late, the Russian Federation has gained economic ground over the United States in various parts of the Latin American region. For example, Washington’s embargo on Cuba gives Russia the opportunity to fill in the economic hollows left by the “imperialist neighbor.” While Washington engages in very limited trade with its ancient foe, Russia-Cuban links have been growing stronger with each passing year. Recently, the Russian oil company Zarubezhneft announced its plan to invest $100 million USD in Cuba by 2025. Considering that deposits of Cuban oil are estimated to reach 20 billion barrels, the Russians’ investment plan appears as if it will bring considerable profits in the near future to both sides. Read more ..


Broken Labor

GAO Report Supports the Science Behind Black Lung Rule

September 3rd 2012

Coal miner

Research supports an Obama administration plan to reduce coal miners’ exposure to the dust that causes black lung, a much-anticipated Government Accountability Office report released Friday found. Last December, House Republicans inserted language into an appropriations bill requiring the study. No money could be used to implement a proposed coal mine dust rule until the GAO evaluated the research underpinning it, the rider said.

The GAO report lends support to one piece of the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration’s efforts to address a resurgence of black lung, particularly in parts of Appalachia. An investigation in July found that the disease has returned amid widespread cheating on required dust sampling by some mining companies and enforcement lapses by MSHA.

In October 2010, the agency proposed cutting in half the amount of dust to which miners could be exposed, but the proposal has drawn opposition from some in the mining industry and Congress. Some miners’ advocates worry the rule could die, as previous reform attempts have, if it isn’t finalized before the coming election. Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

Team Obama Predicts "Close" Race

September 2nd 2012

Obama

President Obama's campaign has downplayed expectations ahead of the Democratic National Convention next week, saying they expected to be locked in a close race against GOP nominee Mitt Romney until election day. "It's been a pretty steady race to date and we expect it will be in a pretty similar place following our convention," Obama campaign spokeswoman Jen Psaki told a press gaggle on Air Force One, en route to the president’s campaign rallies in Iowa. "We think it’s going to be close 'til the end. That's why we have such an active schedule. That's why the president is out there campaigning." Psaki’s comments about a packed campaign schedule between now and election day come after Obama reportedly complained last week about too much downtime. 

"Why am I having a short day?" he told adviser Valerie Jarrett on Wednesday, according to the Wall Street Journal. "There should be no short days." Psaki also said that the just completed Republican National Convention was more important for Romney than the Democratic meet would be for Obama. Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

Third-Party Candidates May Hurt Romney in Key States

September 1st 2012

Gary Johnson
Gary Johnson

Dark-horse presidential candidates Gary Johnson and Virgil Goode may not be household names, but with a little help from super PACs, they could peel away precious support from Republican Mitt Romney and possibly even President Barack Obama in some key state races.

The conservative Constitution Party, which seeks to “restore American jurisprudence to its Biblical foundations,” has nominated Goode, a former congressman from Virginia, for president, potentially taking votes away from Romney in what has become a presidential swing state.

Meanwhile, Johnson, a former two-term GOP governor of New Mexico who failed to win the 2012 Republican presidential nod, has been nominated by the Libertarian Party — a perch from which he could throw a wrench in the plans of both Obama and Romney in several swing states. Read more ..


Broken Economy

Indicators Show US Economic Recovery Slow and Uneven

September 1st 2012

Click to select Image

A look at some key industries in the United States shows that the economic recovery is a bit erratic and growth seems to be slowing down. Economists say trucks haul nearly 70 percent of the freight used in the United States. The American Trucking Association says freight is a measure of the economy, because manufacturers have to move raw materials, carry parts to factories, haul imports and exports and deliver goods to store shelves.

“We are actually a very good indicator, a leading economic indicator ((a way of looking at the economic future)) in fact. And so if tonnage starts to fall, we get nervous. If it’s going up, we are pretty happy,“ said Bob Costello, the group's chief economist.

Freight tonnage is going up at the moment, but the rate of growth is slowing down. "It is telling me that the economy is not falling into another recession. It will continue as a sort of a slow growth recovery," Costello said. Other clues about economic growth come from the volume of air freight.  The most recent data show demand for air freight fell more than three percent globally during July. Read more ..


The Iranian Threat

Iran’s Crusade to Remove the West from the World of Islam

September 1st 2012

Iran-US Hatred

Each year the Iranian regime marks international Jerusalem (Quds) Day on the last Friday of the month of Ramadan. This event, which has been held since a 1979 decision by Ayatollah Khomeini and the Iranian government, is aimed at expressing Islamic Iran’s ongoing support for the Palestinian issue and the “liberation of Jerusalem,” which it calls “the important and central problem of the Muslim world.” It is on this day that Iranian incitement against Israel and calls for its destruction reach their peak.

On August 17, 2012, Jerusalem Day was marked by events staged all over Iran with the regime’s encouragement, and in the Muslim Arab world as well. As in previous years, the Iranian leadership (the Supreme Leader, the president, members of the government, and heads of the army and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps – IRGC) called for the destruction of Israel and of “world Zionism.” Demonstrating masses shouted slogans of “Death to America” and “Death to Israel.” Outside Iran, as every year, the day was also celebrated in Lebanon under the stewardship of Hizbullah secretary-general Hassan Nasrallah, who echoed his patrons with a sally of anti-Israel threats and boasts. Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

Tax Policy Center’s Findings on Romney's Tax Plan

August 31st 2012

Romney and Ryan--Virginia Announcement

In a recent paper, we showed that any revenue-neutral tax reform that included Governor Romney’s specific tax cuts and that met his stated goal of not raising taxes on saving and investment would cut taxes for households with income above $200,000 and would therefore necessarily have to raise taxes on taxpayers below $200,000. This was true even when we considered an unrealistically progressive way of financing the specified tax reductions, and even when we accounted for economic growth and revenue feedback.

Writing in Wednesday’s Wall Street Journal, Romney economic adviser Martin Feldstein attempts to contradict our finding. Instead, his analysis actually confirms our central result. Under the stated assumptions in Feldstein’s article, taxpayers with income between $100,000 and $200,000 would pay an average of at least $2,000 more. (Feldstein uses a different income measure than we do – see technical note at end.) Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

2008 Was a Major Aberration for Democrats

August 31st 2012

Obama and Romney

By itself, the state of the economy is enough to guarantee a close election, and every national survey during the past two weeks has put Obama and Romney in a statistical tie. Now another key factor points in the same direction—the shifting balance between the political parties. This matters because party preferences and voting patterns are more closely linked today than they have been in several generations—and two recent in-depth surveys of the party system document that a clean Democratic victory, of the sort the party enjoyed in 2008, is exceedingly unlikely. The surging Democratic tide of four years ago has ebbed, exposing a partisan shoreline that more closely resembles what prevailed in 2004. Read more ..


Palestine on Edge

Order for Beatings Came From Abbas's Office

August 31st 2012

Palestinian Authority police

A Palestinian commission of inquiry into the beating of Palestinian journalists and demonstrators in Ramallah has found that top officials in Mahmoud Abbas's office had ordered the assault.

The discovery did not come as a surprise to many Palestinians, who have long been accusing the Palestinian leadership in the West Bank of waging a campaign of intimidation and terror against journalists, bloggers and political opponents.

Western donors who are funding the Palestinian Authority are willing to turn a blind eye to human rights violations as long as Abbas and his aides remain "committed to the two-state solution" and do not believe in violence against Israel, as a Western diplomat based in Israel explained.

The commission of inquiry was established after Palestinian policemen and security personnel -- in civilian clothes -- attacked Palestinians who were demonstrating several weeks ago against a planned visit to Ramallah by then Israeli Vice Prime Minister Shaul Mofaz. Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

Club for Growth's Clout

August 30th 2012

Bundles of Money

As Republicans have battled for the soul of their party in primaries across the country, the deep-pocketed, anti-tax Club for Growth has proved itself a force to be reckoned with.

If heavily favored Rep. Jeff Flake prevails Tuesday in Arizona over businessman Wil Cardon, the Club will mark four wins against two losses among its favored candidates in U.S. Senate GOP primary races.

Of about five-dozen organizations that spent a combined $32 million on independent expenditures in Republican Senate primaries this year, Club for Growth ranks No. 1, having spent $10.8 million, according to a Center for Public Integrity analysis of Federal Election Commission records.

The Club’s super PAC, which is allowed to accept unlimited contributions and spend the funds on ads attacking or backing candidates, is responsible for nearly all of this spending.

Flake has cultivated a reputation in Washington as an anti-earmark crusader, routinely earning a 100 percent favorable rating from the Club for his voting record. He was also one of the first senators to sign the Club’s pledge to repeal President Barack Obama’s signature healthcare reform law. Read more ..


The Iranian Threat

Iran Struggles Unsuccessfully for Influence in Central Asia

August 30th 2012

Ahmadinejad

On the sidelines of the Non-Aligned Movement summit in Tehran, Iranian officials will consult with Central Asian republics in another failed attempt to strengthen the Islamic Republic's position and counter what they see as dangerous U.S. influence in the region.

In recent months, Tehran's diplomatic efforts in Central Asia have far surpassed their traditional level. Iranian officials have met with representatives of the region's ex-Soviet republics on numerous occasions, including on the sidelines of the June 6 Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit, at several events organized by the Tehran-influenced Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO), at bilateral trade commission meetings with Kazakhstan (June) and Turkmenistan (July 15), through exchanges of delegations, and in other multilateral and bilateral forums. Yet the actual impact of this flurry of activity is questionable.

FEARS OF GREATER U.S. INFLUENCE

A major reason for Tehran's intensified diplomacy in the region is Washington's planned military withdrawal from Afghanistan. Iran's ruling elites are practically unanimous in their belief that the announced departure is nothing but a cover for a strategic regrouping. According to this view, the United States may decide to not only remain in Afghanistan, but also increase its military presence in other Central Asian countries. Tehran's apprehensions became stronger in June-July, when Central Asian and Russian media sources began spreading rumors about U.S. assistance to the Tajikistan government in suppressing local insurgents, and about possible rapprochement between Washington and Uzbekistan.
Read more ..


The Economy on Edge

The Gap Between Metropolitan Job Openings and Educational Attainment

August 29th 2012

Graduates

For the first time since World War II, there are fewer jobs three years after the end of a recession than before it began. Our new Brookings report suggests that most of this flat recovery can be attributed to severe losses in housing wealth and jobs in industries such as manufacturing and construction.

Yet education--especially the balance between the demand and supply of educated workers--is the most important factor explaining long-run unemployment in metropolitan and national labor markets.

First, consider the short-run picture. As of the first quarter of 2012, the economy was down 5.1 million jobs from the first quarter of 2008. 71 percent of that jobs deficit--3.7 million jobs--is attributable to just two sectors: construction and manufacturing, which made up only 15 percent of all jobs in 2008. The massive losses in construction jobs devastated metro areas like Las Vegas, while manufacturing losses crippled Detroit and Wichita. Since manufacturing is so export-oriented, it has not helped that growth in Europe--a large trading partner--has been dismal in recent years. Read more ..


Iran's Nukes

The Geography of Iranian Power

August 29th 2012

Iranian Warships
Naval vessels in the Strait of Hormuz

The most important facts about Iran go unstated because they are so obvious. Any glance at a map would tell us what they are. And these facts explain how regime change or evolution in Tehran -- when, not if, it comes -- will dramatically alter geopolitics from the Mediterranean to the Indian subcontinent and beyond.

Virtually all of the Greater Middle East's oil and natural gas lies either in the Persian Gulf or the Caspian Sea regions. Just as shipping lanes radiate from the Persian Gulf, pipelines will increasingly radiate from the Caspian region to the Mediterranean, the Black Sea, China and the Indian Ocean. The only country that straddles both energy-producing areas is Iran, stretching as it does from the Caspian to the Persian Gulf. In a raw materials' sense, Iran is the Greater Middle East's universal joint.

The Persian Gulf possesses by some accounts 55 percent of the world's crude oil reserves, and Iran dominates the whole Gulf, from the Shatt al-Arab on the Iraqi border to the Strait of Hormuz 990 kilometers (615 miles) away. Because of its bays, inlets, coves and islands -- excellent places for hiding suicide, tanker-ramming speed boats -- Iran's coastline inside the Strait of Hormuz is 1,356 nautical miles; the next longest, that of the United Arab Emirates, is only 733 nautical miles. Iran also has 480 kilometers of Arabian Sea frontage, including the port of Chabahar near the Pakistani border. This makes Iran vital to providing warm water, Indian Ocean access to the landlocked Central Asian countries of the former Soviet Union. Meanwhile, the Iranian coast of the Caspian in the far north, wreathed by thickly forested mountains, stretches for nearly 650 kilometers from Astara in the west, on the border with former Soviet Azerbaijan, around to Bandar-e Torkaman in the east, by the border with natural gas-rich Turkmenistan. Read more ..


Politics on Edge

Poland's Dire Choices for a Strategy of National Identity

August 28th 2012

Polish soldiers in Chad

Polish national strategy pivots around a single, existential issue: how to preserve its national identity and independence. Located on the oft-invaded North European Plain, Poland's existence is heavily susceptible to the moves of major Eurasian powers. Therefore, Polish history has been erratic, with Poland moving from independence -- even regional dominance -- to simply disappearing from the map, surviving only in language and memory before emerging once again.

For some countries, geopolitics is a marginal issue. Win or lose, life goes on. But for Poland, geopolitics is an existential issue; losing begets national catastrophe. Therefore, Poland's national strategy inevitably is designed with an underlying sense of fear and desperation. Nothing in Polish history would indicate that disaster is impossible.

To begin thinking about Poland's strategy, we must consider that in the 17th century, Poland, aligned with Lithuania, was one of the major European powers. It stretched from the Baltic Sea almost to the Black Sea, from western Ukraine into the Germanic regions. By 1795, it had ceased to exist as an independent country, divided among three emerging powers: Prussia, Russia and Austria. Read more ..


The New Egypt

Brother President: The Islamist Agenda for Governing Egypt

August 27th 2012

Mohammed Morsi

It was looking bleak for Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood. The region’s oldest and most influential Islamist movement had underperformed and overreached in parliament, alienating leftists and liberals in the process. When, in April, the Muslim Brotherhood announced that Mohammed Morsi would be its presidential candidate, after its first choice had been disqualified, the sense of policy drift was unmistakable. The Brotherhood was losing ground. Predictions of its demise, however, were premature. Despite numerous missteps, the movement has proved its resilience. It has not, to be sure, become what many Egyptians hoped it might be—the leader of a unified, national movement that would push Egypt, however haltingly, toward democracy. But by its own particular standards, the Brotherhood has succeeded.

The organization (including its political arm, the Freedom and Justice Party) does not operate as a traditional party might be expected to. It cares, of course, about winning elections. But it cares even more about the unity and integrity of the organization, in Arabic, tanzim. In the early days of Egypt’s transition, the Brotherhood showed its more ruthless side—not necessarily out of discomfort with internal democracy but out of its longstanding concern, some would say obsession, with self-preservation. To the extent that dissent within the Brotherhood undermined the tanzim, it had to be quashed. Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

GOP Seeks to Hit Reset with Hispanic Voters

August 27th 2012

Voting 2012

Republicans this week will look to push the reset button with Hispanic voters by featuring a slew of prominent Latino GOP speakers in Tampa. The Republicans’ goal, according to a top campaign official, is to win 38 percent of the Hispanic vote on Election Day. Mitt Romney’s campaign has chosen a number of influential Latinos to be the public face of the convention.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), a home-state favorite, will introduce Romney on the convention’s final night. And Ann Romney will be preceded by Lucé Vela Gutiérrez, Puerto Rico’s first lady on Tuesday. Puerto Rico Gov. Luis Fortuño, New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez, Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval and Texas Senate hopeful Ted Cruz will also speak. “There are Hispanic-specific events every day at the convention,” said Jose Fuentes, a co-chairman of Romney’s national Hispanic leadership team and former Puerto Rico attorney general. “I don’t think you’ve ever in the past seen a Republican convention where so many primetime speakers are Hispanics.” Fuentes said of the campaign’s 38 percent goal, 7 percent higher than the 31 percent Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) pulled in 2008 and a slight decrease from the approximately 40 percent former President George W. Bush won in 2004. Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

A Qualitative Reading of the July Jobs Report

August 26th 2012

Employee applications

There was considerable confusion recently around the July jobs report. The payroll survey reported an addition of 163,000 jobs, but at the same time the unemployment rate ticked up a tenth of a percentage point? We added jobs, but at the same time the number of employed persons shrank by 195,000? How could these things be true at the same time? More generally, how should you read and interpret a jobs report? Here's our advice: read it as a qualitative story representing a coherent narrative, not as a list of facts.

The most important key is not to latch on to any of the specifics. The unemployment rate increased to 8.3 percent, as was widely reported in the press? Yes ... but barely. In fact, the unemployment rate was 8.217 percent in June and 8.254 percent in July. So it didn't increase by 0.1 - it increased by 0.037. The economy added 163,000 jobs, as was splashed all over the headlines? Yes ... kind of.  The economy actually lost over 1.2 million jobs moving from June to July. How do you get from a loss of 1.2 million to a gain of 163,000? Read more ..


the 2012 Vote

Planned Parenthood’s Action Fund Planning Revenge on Mitt Romney

August 25th 2012

Planned Parenthood

Planned Parenthood’s Action Fund plans to spend more than $3 million in Ohio and Virginia against Mitt Romney in the wake of his pledge to “get rid” of the women’s health advocacy group. The group is one of several liberal-leaning women’s organizations planning to spend millions of dollars in crucial election states to swing undecided female voters toward President Obama.

Joining them are NARAL Pro-Choice America and EMILY’s List, two abortion-rights groups who are also planning aggressive campaigns. Their message is in line with Obama’s increased courtship of female voters. Several women will address the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte. And the campaign announced on Friday a “Romney/Ryan: Wrong For Women” tour for next week that will feature prominent female supporters traveling to swing states to promote the president’s record on women issues. Read more ..


The New Egypt

Egypt's Outreach to China and Iran Is Troubling for U.S. Policy

August 25th 2012

Mohamed Morsi Speaks at Press Conference
Mohamed Morsi

Next week, Egypt's Islamist president, Mohamed Morsi, will visit China at the invitation of President Hu Jintao. He will seek investments there that will enable Egypt to "dispense of loans and aid," according to Morsi's party vice chairman. From China, Morsi will travel to Tehran to attend the Non-Aligned Movement summit. Just two months after coming to power, Morsi is pursuing a rapprochement with Tehran and articulating a newfound ambition to jettison billions in U.S. foreign assistance dollars and financing from Western financial institutions. Taken together, these steps suggest that Morsi's Egypt may be headed for a foreign policy shift rivaling the scope of President Anwar Sadat's expulsion of the Soviets in 1972 and subsequent reorientation to the West.

Cairo's burgeoning rapprochement with Tehran is the most obvious of Morsi's foreign policy pivots. An Egyptian president hadn't visited Iran since the 1979 revolution, and the clerical regime there continues to celebrate Sadat's assassination. While the notion of a major long-standing U.S. ally self-identifying as "non-aligned" is odious, it was perhaps more tolerable for Washington during the tenure of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. Given the heightened tension over Iran's nuclear program, the timing of the Morsi visit seems deliberately provocative. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

Turkey's Split with Syria

August 24th 2012

Turk flags

Turkey is divided on what course to pursue in Syria, and the AKP's ability to sell a more muscular policy is by no means guaranteed.

Following this week's suicide bombing in the Turkish city of Gaziantep, Turkey's government has hinted at Syrian complicity in the attacks, with Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu noting, for example, parallels between the bombing and the Syrian regime's tactics.

Such a mindset brings Turkey a step closer to taking action against Damascus. Yet despite such comments, the country is far from united around a policy for taking down Bashar al-Assad's regime anytime soon. These domestic differences have some interesting echoes from almost a decade ago, when Turkey was torn over involvement in another conflict -- the Iraq war. In 2003, Turkey's recently elected Justice and Development Party (AKP) government supported U.S. efforts in the Iraq war despite significant domestic opposition. In doing so, the Islamist-rooted organization was apparently keen to enamor itself with Washington, thereby gaining leverage against the then powerful Turkish military. Read more ..


The Iranian Threat

Iran's Unlikely Surrogate Assassins

August 24th 2012

Ahmadinejad hipster
Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

In addition to elite Iranian and Hizballah operatives, Tehran has a long history of employing unlikely surrogates to target dissidents abroad, including in the United States.

Over the past few months, Iran has demonstrated a renewed willingness to carry out attacks targeting its enemies. From India and Azerbaijan to Cyprus and Thailand, recent Iran directed plots have targeted diplomats and civilians, Israelis, Americans, Saudis, and more. To execute these attacks, Iran has sometimes dispatched its own agents, such as members of its elite IRGC Quds Force. Other times Iran has relied on trusted proxies like Hezbollah. In a number of cases Quds Force and Hezbollah operatives have worked together to execute attacks abroad.

Now, evidence has emerged indicating Tehran is employing another type of agent -- the unlikely surrogate assassin -- to target Iranian dissidents abroad, including here in the United States. Last October, dual U.S.-Iranian citizen Manssor Arbabsiar and Gholam Shakuri, a commander in Iran's Quds Force, the special-operations unit of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), were charged in New York for their roles in an alleged plot to murder the Saudi ambassador to the United States, Adel al-Jubeir. Read more ..


The New Egypt

Egypt's Economic Journey Between the IMF, FMF and the MFO

August 24th 2012

Mohamed Morsi - Vivat Rex

"President Barack Obama himself, among other personnel from the US administration, promised Egypt $2 billion in the form of debt swaps and credit guarantees in 2011, shortly after Mubarak was unseated. These promises, however, have yet to materialise."

IMF TO THE RESCUE
On 15 August the Egyptian Finance Minister Momtaz El Said met with U.S. Ambassador to Egypt Anne Patterson to discuss previously promised U.S. foreign aid funding. Also discussed were Egypt government efforts to restore Egypt's national economy and prospects for an International Monetary Fund (IMF) loan.
 
Regarding the IMF loan, Patterson agreed that given the political stability it was a "good time" for Egypt to resume negotiations with the IMF. In fact, new negotiations were pending and on 22 August IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde was to visit Cairo to re-open discussions that were initiated shortly after protests erupted across Egypt in January 2011.
Read more ..


Egypt and Israel

Sinai, the New Egypt, and the Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty

August 23rd 2012

Mohammed Morsi

The transfer of leadership in Egypt into the hands of the Muslim Brotherhood, the consequent effects on its internal political, social, economic and religious orientation and stability, its status within the Middle East region, and the standing, strength, and influence of its military – all pose a serious quandary to the international community, in general, and to those countries within Egypt’s own neighborhood, in particular.

The continued integrity of the relationship between Egypt and Israel, based on the Treaty of Peace between them signed over 33 years ago, which has served the strategic interests of both states as well as of the international community, is perhaps the major test of how the new Egypt chooses to see itself and its status in the region.

An integral component of this quandary is the Sinai Peninsula which has served as a buffer between the two countries, where the presence of Egyptian military personnel, equipment, and fortifications was limited by mutual agreement in the Treaty of Peace. Read more ..


The Wikileaks Case

The Assange Case and Ecuador: Correa Positions Himself as Chávez’s International Successor

August 22nd 2012

Julian Assange

Ecuador’s decision to grant political asylum to computer hacker Julian Assange is very revealing in relation to the character and aspirations of Ecuadorian president Rafael Correa.

Assange was the man who succeeded in disclosing American state officials’ and diplomats’ conversations through Wikileaks as well as releasing thousands of pages of top secret documents. However, Assange, besides being suspected of having raped two women in Sweden, is also a man that has become an ideological symbol. This is why Assange was granted political asylum. Such status is usually given to people who have been persecuted for political or ethnic reasons. Assange, although the disclosure of secrets would make him an offender under U.S. laws if so charged, sought asylum over alleged sex crimes committed in Sweden.

Yet, Assange has become a political symbol as elements in the left have seen him as a man who mocked the great power, the United States. This is why several left-wing groups such as the 99 percenters, and other anti-capitalist groups, and civic libertarian groups have turned strongly in favor of Assange, with total disregard for the allegations of sexual assault, which they interpret as an excuse. Read more ..


Israel on Edge

The War Against the Jews

August 22nd 2012

Western/Wailing Wall

The sustained anti-Israel de-legitimization campaign is a corollary of the millenarian obsession with the Jews in the Christian and the Muslim worlds. Since Israel is the world’s only Jewish state, and since Zionism is the Jewish people’s national liberation movement, anti-Zionism—as opposed to criticism of specific Israeli policies or actions—means denial of the Jewish right to national self-determination. Such a discriminatory denial of this basic right to only one nation (and one of the few that can trace their corporate identity and territorial attachment to antiquity) while allowing it to all other groups and communities, however new and tenuous their claim to nationhood, is pure and unadulterated anti-Jewish racism, or anti-Semitism as it is commonly known.

By any conceivable standard, Israel has been an extraordinary success story: national rebirth in the ancestral homeland after millennia of exile and dispersion; resuscitation of a dormant biblical language; the creation of a modern, highly educated, technologically advanced, and culturally and economically thriving society, as well as a vibrant liberal democracy in one of the world’s least democratic areas. It is a world leader in agricultural, medical, military, and solar energy technologies, among others; a high-tech superpower attracting more venture capital investment per capita than the United States and Europe; home to one of the world’s best health systems and philharmonic orchestras, as well as to ten Nobel Prize laureates. And so on and so forth. Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

Obama may not Feel the Love at Democratic National Convention that He did in 2008

August 22nd 2012

Obama

The Democratic National Convention in Charlotte is expected to be far less star-studded than in 2008, when a rock-star-like President Obama first accepted his party’s nomination. There will be fewer parties celebrating Obama’s nomination and a smaller number of celebrities to watch him accept his party’s blessing, according to an early events list. Compared to the Democratic convention four years ago, this year’s gathering has a noticeably toned-down list of events and a much smaller A-list presence than Denver.

That could change.

Some organizations may be waiting to announce their festivities at a date closer to th convention. Celebrities, for their part, are notoriously fickle, and Hollywood stars could decide to jet to Charlotte at the last minute. The convention committee has yet to release its official schedule too. Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

Republicans are Tops in the List of Wealthiest Members of Congress

August 21st 2012

Lobbyist

Republicans dominate The Hill’s annual rankings of the 50 wealthiest lawmakers for the second year in a row, with Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas) retaining the crown as the richest member of Congress.

This year’s wealthy list tilts decisively once again toward the right side of the aisle, with 31 of the 50 richest coming from the GOP. Thirty-one of the lawmakers on the list are from the House, with the remaining 19 coming from the Senate.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.), at No. 37, is the only GOP leader to make the top 50. The Republican Party’s fastest-rising star, GOP vice-presidential candidate and Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, comes nowhere near making the list, having a net worth of at least $2.2 million, a modest sum among members of Congress. McCaul reported a minimum net worth of $290.5 million for 2011, a more than $3 million jump from 2010 that kept him nearly $100 million ahead of his nearest challenger, Democratic Sen. John Kerry (Mass.). Read more ..


America and Asia

Who Benefits Most from the Trans-Pacific Partnership?

August 21st 2012

TPP and Obama

In November 2011, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced Washington’s official pivot to Asia. Outlining a vision for an Asia-Pacific Century, Secretary Clinton described a desired symbiotic and unfettered relationship between the two regions that will provide “unprecedented opportunities for investment, trade, and access to cutting-edge technology.” Washington hopes this engagement will help in “strengthening bilateral security alliances, deepening working relationships with emerging powers, engaging with relational multilateral institutions, expanding trade and investment, forging a broad-based military presence, and advancing democracy and human rights.” With the TPP as a first step, the ultimate goal is to “build a web of partnerships and institutions across the Pacific that is durable and consistent with American interests and values.”

At the center of this pivot has been the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), an enigmatic trade pact that has been hailed as a true “21st century agreement.” In negotiation since 2008, the TPP would link the United States with Australia, Brunei, Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam (the TPP-9) across a variety of economic platforms. Mexico, Canada, and Japan are all looking to join the agreement (the TPP-12), which would make the TPP the largest trade bloc in the world, encompassing some 700 million people and about $26 trillion USD in various forms of economic activity. Read more ..


Mexico on Edge

A Brighter Future Emerges for Embattled Mexico

August 21st 2012

Mexican girls on parade

A few years ago, I wrote about Mexico possibly becoming a failed state because of the effect of the cartels on the country. Mexico may have come close to that, but it stabilized itself and took a different course instead -- one of impressive economic growth in the face of instability.

Mexican Economics

Discussion of national strategy normally begins with the question of national security. But a discussion of Mexico's strategy must begin with economics. This is because Mexico's neighbor is the United States, whose military power in North America denies Mexico military options that other nations might have. But proximity to the United States does not deny Mexico economic options. Indeed, while the United States overwhelms Mexico from a national security standpoint, it offers possibilities for economic growth.

Mexico is now the world's 14th-largest economy, just above South Korea and just below Australia. Its gross domestic product was $1.16 trillion in 2011. It grew by 3.8 percent in 2011 and 5.5 percent in 2010. Before a major contraction of 6.9 percent in 2009 following the 2008 crisis, Mexico's GDP grew by an average of 3.3 percent in the five years between 2004 and 2008. When looked at in terms of purchasing power parity, a measure of GDP in terms of actual purchasing power, Mexico is the 11th-largest economy in the world, just behind France and Italy. It is also forecast to grow at just below 4 percent again this year, despite slowing global economic trends, thanks in part to rising U.S. consumption. Read more ..


Israel's Looming Attack

Joint Chief Admits to U.S.-Israel Disagreement on Iran threat

August 20th 2012

Obama and Netanyau

After a week of media speculation and Israeli denials of a gap between American and Israeli policy on Iran, America's top military man has publicly admitted that such a gap does indeed exist. Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters on Sunday that "You can take two countries, give them the same intelligence and reach two different conclusions. I think that's what’s happening here." The chairman also admitted that the U.S. does not believe that a nuclear Iran would represent an immediate threat to American interests or security.

"Israel sees the Iranian threat more seriously than the US," he said, "because a nuclear Iran poses a threat to Israel's very existence." Speaking of his Israeli counterpart, IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz, Dempsey said that he speaks to Gantz twice a month, but "we admit that our clocks ticking at different paces." Nonetheless, the Chairman did express an understanding of Israel's concerns. "We have to understand the Israelis," he said, "they live with a constant suspicion with which we do not have to deal." Read more ..


Manufacturing on Edge

Hubs of Manufacturing: Let’s Get Started

August 20th 2012

Youngstown Ohio

Hubs and clusters, institutes and ecosystems: In recent years, we and others have talked a lot about the morphology of innovation systems, which are frequently anchored by major centers of research and comprised of related regional clouds of entrepreneurs, orbiting firms, industry actors, and educational institutions.

Strengthening that optimal structure was the idea behind our companion proposals for the creation of a network of regional energy discovery-innovation institutes and the establishment of a program to aid and abet nascent clusters with competitive grants. And it is also the point of the Department of Energy’s Energy Innovation Hubs program as well as the several regional innovation cluster programs now running, including at the Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration, that have moved along these lines. Now, it’s great to see the Obama administration moving to pilot another proposed national network of innovation hubs aimed at catalyzing regional growth ecosystems, this time in manufacturing. Read more ..


Egypt and Israel

Cautious Suspense in Israel Amid Egyptian President’s Power Play

August 19th 2012

Mohammed Morsi

Israel was cautiously monitoring its relationship with Egypt following Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi’s stunning decision to dismiss Cairo’s two top generals and quash a military order that had curbed the new leader’s powers.

The Jewish state was reportedly surprised by the decision to dismiss Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces and Minister of Defence Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, and Chief of Staff Sami Enan, and is watching the evolving situation with some concern. Morsi stunned the world on Sunday, when he announced that he would be replacing them—in essence dismissing the most powerful figures of the post-Mubarak era in Egypt.

A senior government source told Israel Radio on Monday morning that the incoming heads of the Egyptian military are well-aware of the importance of cooperation with Israel over the situation in the Sinai Peninsula and along the border between Israel and Egypt. However, the source added, that it was as yet unclear whether they fully appreciated the vital necessity of military cooperation between the two countries. Morsi’s current position of no direct communication with Israel makes it very difficult to establish any sort of dialogue and cooperation, and also makes it more difficult to formally assess the plans of the new Egyptian government. Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

With Ryan On Ticket, Right’s Worries Over His Business Tax Plans Ease

August 19th 2012

Paul Ryan

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) may have included a business consumption tax in his budget vision several years ago, but conservatives don’t appear to be holding that against Mitt Romney’s new running mate.

Consumption taxes – especially the dreaded value added tax (VAT) – can make conservatives queasy. But some economic thinkers on the right say the consumption tax that Ryan included in his “Roadmap for America’s Future” had key differences with VATs. And, they add, Ryan moved to more feasible and politically palatable corporate tax reforms after the 2010 elections, when Republicans took over the House and he became Budget Committee chairman. Douglas Holtz-Eakin, the chief economic adviser to Sen. John McCain’s (R-Ariz.) 2008 presidential campaign, said Ryan realized that it would be easier to fix the existing way businesses are taxed than to substitute in an entire new system.  Read more ..


Israel's Looming Strike

Israel Debates Strike on Iran

August 19th 2012

F21 kfir jet

Israelis agree that Iran's nuclear program must be stopped, and their debate regarding a strike's cost-effectiveness, urgency, and impact on relations with the United States is coming to a head.

With the heat of the summer has come an unprecedented flare-up in Israel's public debate on whether and when to unilaterally strike the advancing Iranian nuclear program. Broadly speaking, Defense Minister Ehud Barak seems to advocates early Israeli action, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu appears inclined to act but remains undecided, President Shimon Peres and most of the current and former defense establishment oppose an independent Israeli strike in the near future, and the rest of the government and the public at large are divided or uncertain. Peres has gone public with his opposition in recent days, further elevating the flames.

Following a wave of press reports pitting the bulk of the defense establishment against political decisionmakers on this issue, senior officials launched a media counteroffensive in a bid to defend the unilateral military option, prepare the public for a possible strike, and influence Washington and Tehran's calculus. First, Netanyahu publicly emphasized that threats directed at Israel's home front are "dwarfed" by the danger of Iran attaining nuclear weapons. In private, he reportedly stated, "If there is an inquiry commission [after a strike], I will say that I am responsible." Read more ..


The Digital Edge

Verizon Learned from AT&T’s Mistakes

August 18th 2012

Verizon Wireless Store

In winning approval for a $3.6 billion deal with leading cable companies, Verizon showed that it learned from the mistakes of its chief rival, AT&T.

Whereas AT&T rolled out a splashy public relations campaign last year to try and push through a $39 billion acquisition of T-Mobile, Verizon kept its cable proposal under the radar while offering concessions to regulators. Verizon's strategy proved more effective. The Justice Department filed a lawsuit claiming AT&T's purchase of T-Mobile would stifle competition, stopping the merger in its tracks.

On Thursday, those same regulators gave the Verizon cable deal their seal of approval. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has yet to formally complete its review of Verizon's deal, but Chairman Julius Genachowski said he plans to circulate an order with his fellow commissioners to give it the final go-ahead.  Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

Syrian Refugee Exodus Escalates

August 18th 2012

Syrian Refugees in unhcr

The United Nations Refugee Agency says that the Syrian refugee exodus continues to escalate. It says the exodus is particularly significant from Syria's most populous city of Aleppo where fighting continues between government and opposition forces.

UNHCR says it has registered more than 170,000 Syrian refugees in Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon, and Iraq.  It says it has recorded the sharpest rises in Turkey, which is close to Syria's besieged northern city of Aleppo. The agency says Turkey hosts almost 65,000 Syrians in nine camps, about 40 percent of them include people who have arrived this month. The UNHCR says it is scaling up its humanitarian assistance in Turkey.

The UNHCR says the number of refugees formally registered in Turkey and other neighboring countries does not reflect the actual magnitude of the exodus from Syria because many Syrians are fearful of being identified. ​​Refugee numbers also are climbing in Jordan.  The agency says on Thursday night, more than 1,000 people arrived at Jordanian border areas. The Jordanian government estimates some 150,000 Syrians have crossed into the country since the Syrian uprising began nearly 18 months ago. UNHCR spokesman, Adrian Edwards, says refugees are being housed in shelters and schools throughout the region. Read more ..


The Edge of Defense

Dissent among Republicans over Defense Spending

August 17th 2012

B-2 Bomber

Grover Norquist, influential Republican Washington lobbyist, is advising his party’s lawmakers to cut the defense budget deeply to avoid a major federal tax hike. His remarks this week were another sign of splintering views in Republican ranks about spending on national defense, that presently consumes about half of the discretionary federal budget—with Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney going in one direction and some Republican lawmakers and lobbyists headed in a different direction.

Norquist, a long-time anti-tax crusader in Washington, said in a talk at the Center for The National Interest that Republicans should not be pushing for increased spending on defense when the national deficit has ballooned. Instead, he said, lawmakers should embrace the need to balance the budget and cut wasteful projects, which he said could be done without negatively impacting national security. “You need to decide what your real defense needs are,” said Norquist. “That doesn’t mean chairmen of certain committees get to build bases in their states. That’s not a defense need ... [but] a political desire.” The debate so far, he said, has been marked by a lack of “serious conversation” on the Hill. However, he predicted that many of the Republicans unwilling to cut defense spending would either retire or be replaced in the November elections. Read more ..


The New Egypt

Egypt’s New President Moves Against Democracy

August 16th 2012

Mohamed Morsi - Vivat Rex

Egypt’s “full transition to civilian rule,” long sought by the Obama administration, has finally come to fruition. But it is neither liberal nor democratic.

On August 12, having purged top military officials, Muslim Brotherhood veteran and new President Mohammed Morsi issued a sweeping constitutional declaration. It grants him complete executive and legislative power, plus the authority to select the writers of Egypt’s new constitution. Eighteen months after Hosni Mubarak’s ouster, Egypt has a new dictator—and the way in which Mr. Morsi grabbed power says much about what he will do with it.

These moves follow an attack last week in the notoriously unstable Sinai peninsula, where militants killed 16 Egyptian soldiers, stole a military vehicle, and attempted to breach Israel’s borders. The incident gave Mr. Morsi an excuse to sack the security officials who posed the greatest threat to his domestic authority—particularly the leaders of Egypt’s now-defunct military junta, which in June had issued its own constitutional declaration limiting the newly elected president’s powers. Read more ..


Education on Edge

Is Retaining Students in the Early Grades Self-Defeating?

August 16th 2012

School kids

Whether a child is a proficient reader by the third grade is an important indicator of their future academic success. Indeed, substantial evidence indicates that unless students establish basic reading skills by that time, the rest of their education will be an uphill struggle. This evidence has spurred efforts to ensure that all students receive high-quality reading instruction in and even before the early grades. It has also raised the uncomfortable question of how to respond when those efforts fail to occur or prove unsuccessful: Should students who have not acquired a basic level of reading proficiency by grade three be promoted along with their peers? Or should they be retained and provided with intensive interventions before moving on to the next grade?

Several states and school districts have recently enacted policies requiring that students who do not demonstrate basic reading proficiency at the end of third grade be retained and provided with remedial services. Similar policies are under debate in state legislatures around the nation. Although these policies aim to provide incentives for educators and parents to ensure that students meet performance expectations, they can also be expected to increase the incidence of retention in the early grades. Their enactment has therefore renewed a longstanding debate about retention’s consequences for low-achieving students. Read more ..


Healthcare on Edge

Medicare Cuts: What Is the Fight About?

August 16th 2012

Obamacare Protest

Mitt Romney's selection of Paul Ryan as his running mate has moved Medicare to the center of the 2012 presidential campaign. Democrats have accused the Republican ticket of planning to "end Medicare as we know it" by turning it into a voucher plan that would leave seniors exposed to large and rising out-of-pocket costs. For their part, Republicans have accused President Obama of cutting Medicare by $716 billion to expand Medicaid and fund other provisions of the Affordable Care Act. Democrats have retorted that House Republicans overwhelmingly voted for a budget, drafted by Paul Ryan, that cut Medicare by the same amount and diverted the funds to purposes other than health care.

This brief lays out the basic facts about the Medicare cuts. A subsequent brief will discuss the issues raised by the broader structural changes to the program that Republicans have proposed. Read more ..



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