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Inside Iran

Tehran Adds to the Pressure on Iran’s Economy

September 18th 2012

Tarjish bazar Teheran
Tarjish Bazaar, Tehran (credit: Mani Parsa)

Late in August, Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei called for an “economy of resistance,” which he described as “using the country’s full potential … [to] break the illusions of the arrogant powers” that Tehran will change its policies. Since then, the country’s currency has lost 27 percent of its value on the free market. Yet these and other deteriorating economic circumstances are due not just to ongoing international sanctions, but also to the accumulating impact of inappropriate Iranian government policies. And although the situation may eventually spill over into the nuclear impasse, there are no signs of that at present.

The collapsing rial and stagflation

Until recently, Iran’s economy had been doing rather well -- its growth was higher than that of either the United States or the European Union every year since 2008. But that may be changing. The Iranian rial has been nose-diving since September 2010, when for the first time since the 2002 currency reform, the free market rate fell appreciably below the official rate of about 10,000 rials per dollar (the official rate was periodically adjusted by small amounts). Read more ..

Inside North Korea

September Photo Hints at Kim Uncle’s Enhanced Influence

September 18th 2012

NK military leaders Sep 2012

A recent photograph of North Korea’s leader and his military entourage is stirring speculation that Kim Jong Un’s uncle may have a new role. In a country where the smallest details involving public appearances by North Korea’s leader are choreographed, a uniform change for a key insider is drawing notice. The vice chairman of the national defense commission, Jang Song Taek, has switched his military uniform from light to dark brown. All of the other top brass seen during a ceremony Sunday to mark the country’s 64th anniversary were clad in light brown.

The Chosun Ilbo newspaper in South Korea, quoting an intelligence official in Seoul, says this means Jang, a four-star general who is the uncle of the new, young leader, Kim Jong Un, is now in charge of the most elite bodyguard unit. The General Guard Bureau is at the core of the Kim family dynasty. Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

Obama Doesn't Waste Terrorist Crisis to Cut National Security Budget

September 17th 2012

Bomb explosion

An Obama White House report -- which was one of the topics of discussion during the weekend news shows -- describes the automatic and drastic spending cuts that will take effect at the end of 2012 should the congressional budget battle continue past election day.

The 394-page report highlights the $129 million a year budget that would have gone to maintaining and protecting U.S. embassies and consulates throughout the world that will be cut beginning on New Year's Day.

"We're talking about upwards of 400 State Department facilities, some of them located in the world's most dangerous nations," said Mike Baker a political consultant and attorney.

But the budget has nothing to do with embassy security. "Ambassador Chris Stevens did not have a Marine detail in Benghazi, Libya. But White House Senior Advisor and Obama confidante Valerie Jarrett has a full Secret Service detail on vacation in Martha’s Vineyard," Democratic pollster Pat Caddell told Big Government. Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

Obama Has Latino Edge over Romney

September 17th 2012


President Obama holds a commanding lead over his Republican challenger among Latino voters, with a particular advantage among women, according to a poll released Monday by Latino Decisions.

The survey finds Obama with a 68-26 percent lead over Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney among all Latinos. Among Hispanic women, Obama's lead is even larger. He leads Romney among this consituency by a 74-21 percent margin — a staggering 53-point advantage. Among men, the lead decreases to 61-32 percent in favor of Obama. Both Hispanic women and men give the president a 71 percent favorability rating, while Romney's favorability fails to crack 30 percent with either group. Romney is looking to chip away at that lead with a speech Monday afternoon to the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce in Los Angeles. Romney will hit the president on the economy and immigration, according to excerpts of his remarks released by his campaign. Read more ..

Broken Healthcare

Judgment Calls On Billing Make 'Upcoding' Prosecutions Rare

September 17th 2012

judge's gavel

There simply weren’t enough hours in the day to justify the fees Dr. Angel S. Martin collected from Medicare. On fifty-three separate days, the Newton, Iowa, general surgeon billed the government health plan for the elderly and other insurers for medical services that would have taken him more than 24 hours to complete, according to federal prosecutors.

The hours made the case a slam dunk for prosecutors. But they weren’t Martin’s only problem. Many patients recalled the briefest of visits with the doctor, even though Martin routinely billed Medicare for long, complicated treatments.

Every year, Medicare pays doctors more than $30 billion for treating patients. For office visits, doctors must choose one of five escalating billing scales — called Evaluation and Management codes — that most closely reflect the complexity of the treatment and the time it takes. The fees range from about $20 to about $140. Read more ..

Palestine on the Edge

Gaza Prepares to Declare Independence (From Palestine)

September 14th 2012

Gaza Tunnel Smuggler

It's no secret that Hamas, the Palestinian Islamist faction that controls Gaza, has long considered exchanging its underground smuggling tunnels to Egypt for a policy of above-board trade. What has only recently begun to register is that Hamas may be contemplating a bolder political gambit still: Cutting its financial ties to both Israel and the Palestinian Authority government in the West Bank, in preparations for declaring full independence on behalf of Gaza.

Al-Hayat first reported the story on July 22. The London-based Arabic daily noted that Hamas was poised to sever its limited economic ties with Israel, open a free trade zone with Egypt at the Rafah border crossing, and declare itself liberated. Before the story could gain traction, however, senior Hamas leaders Mahmoud al-Zahhar and Salah al-Bardawil quickly disavowed the reports.

But senior Gazans quietly acknowledged to me in recent meetings that Hamas, a Muslim Brotherhood splinter group, and President Mohamed Morsi's new Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt, are actively discussing this controversial idea. Hamas has approached the question patiently since conquering the Gaza Strip from the Palestinian Authority in 2007. Now, after a half decade of economic hardship resulting from the Gaza embargo, the Hamas government appears to believe that 1.7 million Gazans would welcome the free flow of goods above nearly all else. Read more ..

Argentina on Edge

President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner: Don't Cry for Me Argentina

September 14th 2012

Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner

Cristina Fernández de Kirchner was elected to presidential office in 2007 with the assumption she would be a mere puppet to her husband, Néstor, the previous president. Since then, after being unexpectedly widowed, she has proven those criticisms to be grossly off the mark.

Cristina has proven herself to be a strong and determined leader of Argentina, comparable to the iconic female political figures of Eva Perón and Hillary Clinton, recognizable women who have shaped the political process of a continent. In 2012, Forbes magazine named Kirchner 16th on its list of the world’s 100 most powerful women. She has shown that her decisive changes to Argentine politics have rippled throughout Latin America. This is perhaps most evident in the nationalization of the formerly private Spanish oil company YPF, done in the hope of revitalizing the Argentine economic sector. While foreign critics have dismissed this reform as a desperate move, Argentina’s economy appears to be growing with the country greatly supporting the measure. Read more ..

Edge of Terrorism

What to Do When Things Go Really Badly

September 13th 2012

Bomb explosion

Over the past several weeks, we have discussed a number of different situations that can present a common problem to people caught up in them. First, we discussed how domestic terrorism remains a persistent threat in the United States, and that despite improvements in security measures since 2001, soft targets still remain vulnerable to attack by terrorist actors driven by a variety of motivations. Due to the devolution of the jihadist threat toward the grassroots, there is also a growing trend of jihadist actors using armed assaults instead of bombing attacks. We also discussed the continuing problem of workplace violence, and finally, we discussed last week evacuation plans for expatriates due to natural disaster, civil unrest or war.

People caught in any of these situations could find themselves either confronted by an armed assailant or actually coming under fire in an active shooter scenario. Of course, there are other situations where people can find themselves confronted by armed assailants, from street muggings and carjackings to bank robberies. Because of this, we thought it might be useful to our readers to discuss such situations and how to react when caught in one. Read more ..

The Iranian Threat

Iran's Quds Force Mission: Destroy the Jewish state

September 13th 2012

Quds Force

The ongoing series of terrorist attacks and attempted terrorist attacks in countries throughout the world in recent years is prima facie evidence that Israel is being singled out for total destruction using any means necessary by Iran's global terrorism network. The Iranian government's tool for the annihilation of the Jewish State is the Iranian Revolutionary Guard's elite unit the Quds Force, analysts at the Israeli terrorism think-tank the Meir Amit Information Center said.

The terrorist attacks are planned and directed by the Quds Force, while the Lebanese-based terrorist group Hezbollah carries out the actual attacks performing the function of the Quds Force's main proxy-militia abroad.

"In our assessment, the terrorist attack targeting the bus of Israeli tourists in Bulgaria was carried out by Hezbollah as part of the Iranian campaign and from their point of view was the most successful to date. Five Israelis, the Bulgarian bus driver and the terrorist were killed and 36 Israeli tourists were wounded," stated the Meir Amit analysts. Read more ..

The Edge of Medicine

Indian Case Could Impact Availability of Generic Drugs

September 12th 2012

India Doctor

India’s generic drug industry began to flourish in the 1970s when India disallowed the patenting of medicines, enabling domestic companies, which did not have to invest in research, to make copies of branded drugs at a far lower cost. In 2005, India allowed patenting, but set the bar higher for patents than other countries.

Novartis went to court in 2006 after India turned down a patent for Gleevek - a medicine used to treat leukemia. Indian authorities argue it is not a new medicine, but a modification of an earlier one, and therefore not eligible for a patent under Indian law.

The head of the Swiss pharmaceutical company in India, Ranjit Shahani, says the legal challenge is about protecting intellectual property rights. “Novartis is seeking clarity to see how innovation will be valued and protected in India," said Shahani. "Now Gleevek has received patent protection in 40 countries across the world including China, Taiwan and Russia. And truly you know, protecting intellectual property advances the practice of medicines and brings hope to patients.” Read more ..

Iran's Nukes

Did Canada Close Iran Embassy to Protect Its Diplomats Should Israel Strike?

September 12th 2012

Iran Nuclear

One theory of why Canada now decided to close its Embassy down in Tehran is that it wants its diplomats out of the country in the event of an Israeli military strike, which may be getting closer (although Israeli media has been reporting that Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak is now in favur of holding off.)

I have no way of knowing if the possibility of a military strike is a factor in Canada's decision, but it is interesting to note that Canada's decision comes shortly after Israeli and American media reported that Prime Minister Netanyahu had a row with U.S. Ambassador Dan Shapiro, expressing his frusteration at what he sees as President Obama's dropping the ball and not defining clearly enough what the "red lines" are, such if Iran breaches them the United States would be willing to respond militarily. It it possible that the Harper government, on seeing that Netanyahu lost it with Shapiro has made the assessment, (or has inside knowledge) that an Israeli strike is pending ? For anyone who wants to get an inside view of the undiplomatic and "explosive" tones that were heard between Netanyahu and Dan shapiro, read in full Jeffrey Goldberg's piece about what Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers said occured at the meeting. Read more ..

Iran's Nukes

Redlines and Iran's Beating of War Drums

September 11th 2012

Simurgh booster

For the past several months, the Israelis have been threatening to attack Iranian nuclear sites as the United States has pursued a complex policy of avoiding complete opposition to such strikes while making clear it doesn't feel such strikes are necessary. At the same time, the United States has carried out maneuvers meant to demonstrate its ability to prevent the Iranian counter to an attack -- namely blocking the Strait of Hormuz. While these maneuvers were under way, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said no "redline" exists that once crossed by Iran would compel an attack on Iran's nuclear facilities. The Israeli government has long contended that Tehran eventually will reach the point where it will be too costly for outsiders to stop the Iranian nuclear program.

The Israeli and American positions are intimately connected, but the precise nature of the connection is less clear. Israel publicly casts itself as eager to strike Iran but restrained by the United States, though unable to guarantee it will respect American wishes if Israel sees an existential threat emanating from Iran. The United States publicly decries Iran as a threat to Israel and to other countries in the region, particularly Saudi Arabia, but expresses reservations about military action out of fears that Iran would respond to a strike by destabilizing the region and because it does not believe the Iranian nuclear program is as advanced as the Israelis say it is. Read more ..

Palestine on Edge

Why Indeed Has There Not Been Another Palestinian Intifada?

September 10th 2012

Bank of Palestine

Is the Arab Spring an 'intifada'? And why haven't the Palestinians joined in?

The intifada or 'throwing off' was the spontaneous Palestinians grassroots rebellion against Israel that began in the fall of 1987. Much like the beginnings of the Arab Spring in Tunisia, the rebellion spread quickly in the pre-internet days across the Palestinian territories and Gaza and captured the world's attention. Within a few short years, however, it was usurped by the PLO and Yasir Arafat. As befitting the Internet age, the Arab Spring has now largely been usurped more quickly by Islamists around the Arab world.

For the Palestinians the Arab Spring has produced hard choices. While the star of Arab nationalism has fallen everywhere, among the Palestinians in the West Bank it is still alive, kept on life support by international aid, the Israeli military, and an unquantifiable sense of dread at the prospect of a Hamas takeover. Hamas has been regnant in Gaza since 2007. Repression and immiseration have resulted. The choice for Palestinians in the West Bank is stark and all stakeholders have made the Faustian bargain to retain the repressive and kleptocratic Palestinian Authority over the murderous and theocratic Hamas. An intifada by choice seems unlikely there, but an accidental one cannot be dismissed. Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

The Presidential Candidates’ Solutions to Making College More Affordable

September 9th 2012

College expenses

 "Help us work with colleges and universities to cut in half the growth of tuition costs over the next ten years. We can meet that goal together,” declared President Barack Obama last night at the Democratic National Convention.

The discussion about the rising costs of higher education in this country has been heating up with prices across all categories of institutions rising at a rate that is well above the rate of inflation for other goods.

Both President Obama and presidential hopeful Mitt Romney have expressed a commitment to making college more affordable for American students. However, the candidates have very different ideas about how best to reform the federal student aid program to achieve this common goal.

The reforms that Romney would likely put in place reflect a market based solution to this problem. He supports reforms that would make information about school quality more readily available to prospective students. Policies of this nature would allow prospective students to have a better understanding of the value that different programs provide.  Since informed students are less likely to over-pay for a degree this will coerce colleges to charge prices that reflect the actual value of their services. (The value of a degree should be measured in terms of the additional future earnings that it provides.)  An advantage of this system is that it keeps the government out of the game of policing schools. However, it also relies on students taking the responsibility to make decisions that are best for them. Read more ..

Islam's War Against Christianity

Nadarkhani Released, but Iranian Christians Still Persecuted

September 9th 2012

Pastor Nadarkhani Released

 Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani

After nearly three years of incarceration in an Iranian jail, where he awaited a death sentence for the charge of apostasy, Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani was finally released earlier today. The American Center for Law and Justice, an advocacy group that has done extraordinary work in raising Nadarkhani’s profile in the U.S. and internationally, published a photograph of the pastor emerging from the gates of the notorious Lakan prison in the north of Iran. As Nadarkhani’s children greeted him with flowers, he wore the bewildered smile of someone who can’t quite believe that his luck has suddenly changed.

The Iranian regime’s apologists in the United States, among them Trita Parsi, head of the National Iranian American Council, and Hillary Mann Leverett, a former Clinton administration advisor, will certainly trumpet Nadarkhani’s release as proof that Tehran is amenable to outside overtures. That is why we should remember, before we get too carried away with the image of a kinder, softer Iran, that Nadarkhani is not the only Christian who has been imprisoned for his beliefs. Read more ..

The New Egypt

The Current Egyptian Government: A Fragile Stability

September 8th 2012

Moslem Brotherhood

Egypt’s recently elected president, Mohamed Morsi, has been facing great difficulties, bringing to question his ability to govern. This all changed, however, after the terrorist incident in which 16 Egyptian soldiers on border patrol fell victim in the city of Rafah on the Israeli border. The president used this incident as an excuse to dismiss the key figures in the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), as well as the General Intelligence Service who were running the country’s affairs.

Where there previously had been doubts as to the new president’s competency, he came out of this a modern pharaoh, more competent and powerful that his predecessor Hosni Mubarak, especially after he nullified the constitutional declaration supplemented by SCAF, and announced a new declaration, without the approval of the people, giving himself the right to legislate.

There are those who believe that Morsi’s decisions were made within the framework of a conflict between the military council and the president as a member of the Muslim Brotherhood for control of the country. It is my conviction, however, that the struggle is essentially among army institutions, between those who supported Lt. Gen. Ahmed Shafiq’s presidential campaign, and those who supported the Muslim Brotherhood’s campaign as a way to diffuse the expected popular protests had a military candidate been elected. Had the military united behind Shafiq and threatened to try SCAF leaders, it might have restored the revolution to its rightful path. The Brotherhood was merely the spearhead in this conflict. Read more ..

Europe on Edge

Understanding the Radical Right in Europe

September 8th 2012

Golden Dawn - Greece

There is a continuing problem for researchers of the far right: namely, to define the terms and differentiate between the far right, the radical right, and the extreme right. However, in a sense, these definitions may be somewhat static and limiting as they can fail to reflect process and complexity.

The contemporary far right in Europe is rapidly moving away from the narrow ultranationalism that characterized it in the twentieth century toward a genuine and distinctive European agenda. This is evidenced in similar demands, growing liaison and coordination between national groups, and attempts to build supranational caucuses like that of the now defunct Identity, Tradition and Sovereignty group in the European Parliament, and the more recent European Social Movement.

The far right increasingly presents a transnational phenomenon, with some common, national, basic features. Two elements in particular are aiding these developments: the Schengen Agreement, which allows free access within the European Union, enabling all forms of cross-border travel, and the ever-increasing penetration of information and communication technologies, in particular the use of Web 2.0 social networking. Read more ..

Iran's Nukes

Israel May Defer on Attack if Obama Issues Red Lines

September 7th 2012

Obama and Nettanyahu

The Netanyahu government appears to be making a slow climbdown from recent talk of an imminent attack on Iran. Israeli television reported on Thursday night that if U.S. President Barack Obama sets out clear "red lines" on the Iran issue, it is unlikely that Israel will attack in the near future.

Such "red lines," which would, by definition, involve the threat of military force, have been rumored for several days, though Obama has yet to make any official announcement to that effect.

Israel's Channel 10 claimed in its Thursday night report that a source close to Netanyahu said that if, when Obama and Netanyahu meet in New York after Yom Kippur "Obama gives Israel the promised 'red lines' and his personal commitments, Israel will not attack Iran." It appears that Netanyahu expects to receive such commitments, as the source also said that an Israeli attack is "less and less likely." Read more ..

The Defense Edge

Is the Democratic Platform in Synch with the Public on National Defense?

September 6th 2012

Apache Helicopters

The Democratic party platform released in early September suggests that national security officials in a second Obama administration will attempt to leave outdated military projects behind, try to bolster the country’s international leadership, and try to control nuclear weapons materials—policies that match some but not all of the preferences expressed by members of both political parties in a May survey.

The platform, released September 4th, leaves plenty of wiggle room for the administration, eschewing hard numbers or strategic decisions in favor of generalities—a practice typical in platforms released at convention time that are heavy on rhetoric but light on specifics.

The 2012 platform is even more general than the Democrats’ 2008 version, which contained highly specific pledges of new aid to Afghanistan ($1 billion) and Israel ($30 billion) and called for increasing “the Army by 65,000 troops and the Marines by 27,000 troops.” Instead of looking forward, the focus of this year’s document is on what the Obama administration has already accomplished. Read more ..

The Iranian Threat

The Burning Oil Platform: Iran’s Threat to The West

September 6th 2012

It has become a commonplace that the United States and its allies went to war for a second time with Iraq not so much to relieve the Iraqi people of the yoke imposed by dictator Saddam Hussein but for oil, that fungible commodity on which modern life depends. Getting the oil to the United States is dependent on vital sea lanes and chokepoints in often unstable and dangerous parts of the world, thereby necessitating monitoring by the U.S. naval fleet and dozens of military installations overseas.

Consider what an interruption of the foreign oil supply could mean to the United States: Americans use approximately 19 million to 20 million barrels of oil per day, of which approximately half is imported. If 1 million barrels per day are lost, or suffer the type of havoc sustained from Hurricane Katrina, the federal government would open the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, which offers a mere six- to eight-week supply of unrefined crude oil. If the U.S. loses 1.5 million barrels per day, or approximately 7.5 percent, the government would ask allies in the 28-member International Energy Agency to tap their own Strategic Petroleum Reserves and provide other assistance. If 2 million barrels per day are lost for a protracted period, experts believe that the chaos in the country would be so astronomic as to beg estimation. Read more ..

Obama and Israel

Romney vs. Obama vis-a-vis Israel

September 5th 2012

Obama pointing finger at Netanyahu

"President Obama has thrown allies like Israel under the bus." That's what Mitt Romney, Republican candidate for president, said in the high-profile speech accepting his party's nomination last week, repeating a slang phrase for sacrificing a friend for selfish reasons. Romney had deployed this phrase before, for example in May 2011 and Jan. 2012. This criticism of Obama fits a persistent Republican critique. Specifically, several other recent presidential candidates used or endorsed the same "bus" formulation vis-à-vis Obama and Israel, including Herman Cain in May 2011, Rick Perry in Sept. 2011, Newt Gingrich in Jan. 2012, and Rick Santorum in Feb. 2012.

These Republican attacks on Obama's relations with Israel have several important implications for U.S. foreign policy. First, out of the many Middle East-related issues, Israel, and Israel alone, retains a permanent role in U.S. electoral politics, influencing how a significant number of voters - not just Jews but also Arabs, Muslims, Evangelical Christians, conservatives and liberals - vote for president. Read more ..

The Economy on Edge

Bleak Outlook for Youth Employment

September 4th 2012

Employee applications

A new report finds that 75 million young people are unemployed around the world. The study by the International Labor Organization suggests jobless rates among young people will worsen globally as the spillover of the euro crisis spreads from advanced to emerging economies. 

The International Labor Organization reports the global economic crisis is having a particularly devastating affect on people between the ages of 15 and 24 trying to enter the labor market.

The study finds the impact of the euro crisis is spreading beyond Europe and slowing down economies from East Asia to Latin America. It notes the situation is particularly severe in the Middle East and North Africa, where youth unemployment is above 25 percent and rising. Lead author of the report and head of the ILO Global Employment Trends Unit, Ekkehard Ernst, says the situation in the Middle East is projected to become even worse in the next five years. Read more ..

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


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


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.


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.

The Economy on Edge

The Gap Between Metropolitan Job Openings and Educational Attainment

August 29th 2012


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 ..

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