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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 ..

The New Egypt

Israel Wary as Morsi Curtails Egyptian Military's Power

August 16th 2012


Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi delivered a severe blow to the Egyptian military's political ambitions this week, and sent clear message to Egypt and beyond: his civilian Islamist government is now in charge.
Taking advantage of widespread shock in Egypt over the brutal gunning down of 15 Egyptian soldiers by jihadi terrorists in the Sinai desert last week, Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood made their move and eliminated the remnants of the old Mubarak order.
Morsi sacked Defense Minister Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, a towering figure in Egypt who served in his position for 22 years, as well as Chief of Staff Gen. Sami Enan. Morsi also fired the heads of the navy, the air force, and the air defense force.
By doing so, Morsi dealt a severe blow to the Egyptian military's quest to retain extensive political power in post-revolution Egypt.
To drive home the point, the Egyptian president cancelled a decree issued by the military's Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) that barred him from dealing with military appointments. No longer can the SCAF decide what powers an elected Egyptian president wields.
The Egyptian military's political goals may be in tatters but its control over large areas of the Egyptian economy remains intact, however. The military continues to monopolize a broad range of economic sectors, including manufacturing, management of businesses (such as gas stations), and is a major property owner. Undoubtedly, Morsi has set his sights on disbanding the army's economic empire as well.
The entire maneuver to depose the military chiefs was, of course, fully coordinated with the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, which rushed to praise Morsi afterwards. Read more ..

Israel on Edge

The Crisis of Imperiled Israel

August 15th 2012

Western/Wailing Wall

Crises are normally short, sharp and intense affairs. Israel's predicament has developed on a different time frame, is more diffuse than most crises and has not reached a decisive and intense moment. But it is still a crisis. It is not a crisis solely about Iran, although the Israeli government focuses on that issue. Rather, it is over Israel's strategic reality since 1978, when it signed the Camp David accords with Egypt.

Perhaps the deepest aspect of the crisis is that Israel has no internal consensus on whether it is in fact a crisis, or if so, what the crisis is about. The Israeli government speaks of an existential threat from Iranian nuclear weapons. I would argue that the existential threat is broader and deeper, part of it very new, and part of it embedded in the founding of Israel.

Israel now finds itself in a long-term crisis in which it is struggling to develop a strategy and foreign policy to deal with a new reality. This is causing substantial internal stress, since the domestic consensus on Israeli policy is fragmenting at the same time that the strategic reality is shifting. Though this happens periodically to nations, Israel sees itself in a weak position in the long run due to its size and population, despite its current military superiority. More precisely, it sees the evolution of events over time potentially undermining that military reality, and it therefore feels pressured to act to preserve it. How to preserve its superiority in the context of the emerging strategic reality is the core of the Israeli crisis. Read more ..

Iran's Nukes

If Hezbollah Acting for Iran Rains Missile Strikes in Israel, portions of Lebanon May be Destroyed

August 15th 2012

Iron Dome

Chatter in the U.S. and Israel over a possible attack by the Israeli military on Iran shifted this week following reports of factionalism within the Jewish state’s leadership and divisions in the U.S. over the appropriate response to Iran’s intransigence over its nuclear weaponization program. Should Israel attack Iran, so goes one possible scenario, the Islamic Republic could retaliate by instructing its Hezbollah and Hamas terrorist allies to send thousands of missiles into Israel.

Speaking in a radio interview in Israel, Vice Premier Silvan Shalom gave assurances that Iran does not have an “unlimited number of missiles.” He averred that Israel can stop massive rocket barrages within 24 hours by attacking the infrastructure in Lebanon and Gaza, thus bringing daily life there to a standstill. Possible targets include, he said, power plants, oil refineries and airports. Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

Syria’s Kurds Unite against Assad—but Not with Opposition

August 14th 2012

Syrian Kurdish protesters

While world attention focuses on bombings and clashes in Damascus and Aleppo, Syria’s Kurds buried their internal differences in mid-July, with Iraqi Kurdish help and Turkey’s blessing, and then promptly kicked Syrian regime forces out of their territory. This is a major blow to the regime, potentially clearing the northern approaches to Aleppo for opposition forces. But Kurdish relations with the rest of the Syrian opposition remain a deeply divisive issue.

Syria’s rival Kurdish movements

Syria’s Kurds have lately been sharply split between two major movements: the Party of Unity and Democracy (PYD), founded in 2003, which collaborated both with the Bashar al-Assad regime and with the violently anti-Turkish Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK); and the Kurdish National Council of Syria (KNC), an amalgam formed in October 2011 of fifteen local parties opposed to both Assad and the PKK. Over the past year, as the wider Syrian revolution intensified, these two movements often came to blows in Syria’s Kurdish regions. Previous attempts to reconcile them, notably in January and again in May 2012, came to naught; their differences were simply too deep, and their supporters too evenly matched, to make a lasting agreement possible. Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

Paul Ryan Potentially a Game Changer for the Presidential Campaigns

August 14th 2012

Paul Ryan

As a budget hawk who has spent a good part of the last decade writing and speaking (sometimes yelling) about the “unsustainable” federal deficit, I think Mitt Romney’s selection of Paul Ryan as his running mate could be exactly what is needed to turn this ugly, ad hominem election into an election fought over the greatest problem our nation has faced since the fall of the Soviet Union. For three reasons.

First, as Ryan has shown repeatedly, he has vast knowledge of the federal budget and can argue the particulars of his case. Budget hawks of both parties have been yearning for a national candidate who knows the budget issues in detail and talks about the deficit at every opportunity. If Ryan is allowed to continue in this vein, the Presidential election of 2012 could turn into a national seminar with the American people coming to understand as they never have before why we can’t go on accumulating annual trillion dollar deficits and remain a strong nation. Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

Romney-Ryan: Entitlement Crisis Center of Campaign

August 13th 2012

Romney and Ryan--Virginia Announcement

In front of the USS Wisconsin in Norfolk harbor, a coatless Mitt Romney named a tieless Paul Ryan as his vice presidential nominee.

Romney's choice was not much of a surprise after he told NBC's Chuck Todd on Thursday that he wanted someone with "a vision for the country, that adds something to the political discourse about the direction of the country. I mean I happen to believe that this is a defining election for America, that we're going to be voting for what kind of America we're going to have."

This arguably describes some of the others mentioned as possible nominees, but it clearly fits Paul Ryan. He doesn't fit some of the standard criteria for vice president. He hasn't won a statewide election, held an executive position or become well known nationally or even in much of Wisconsin. Read more ..

Iran's Nukes

Iran Attack Decision Countdown Begins, Israeli Media Reports

August 12th 2012

IDF F-16s

Israel may be only a short time away from one of the most fateful moments in its history. Friday evening, Israeli television reported that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Barak have all but finalized their decision to attack Iran's nuclear program.

The reasons outlined for their decision make for chilling reading. Most importantly, the two men believe that the Obama administration does not and will never consider an Iranian nuke a threat serious enough to justify military action.

"The US," reports the Times of Israel: "has not provided Israel with details of an attack plan. President Obama has not promised to attack Iran if all else fails. Conditions cited by Defense Secretary Leon Panetta for an American attack do not calm Israeli concerns. And Obama has a record of seeking UN and Arab League approval before action. Obama does not want to intervene militarily before the presidential elections in November, and it is doubtful that he would act afterwards, runs the Israeli assessment, the TV report said. Obama may believe that the US can live with a nuclear Iran, but Israel cannot." Read more ..

The New Egypt

The Beginnings of Accountability in Egypt?

August 12th 2012

Egyptian bannerman

Here’s an odd story: On August 2nd, the government of Israel publicly warned Israelis to leave the Sinai because it had information about potential terrorist activity. On the 4th, the U.S. government followed suit. On the evening of the 6th, the attack came—not against Israel at first, or against Americans, but against an Egyptian military outpost where soldiers were having their Iftar dinner. Sixteen Egyptian soldiers were killed and their vehicles commandeered, and the terrorists set off for an Israeli Bedouin military base in the Negev, hoping to draw Israel and Egypt into war. Israel thwarted the attack.

That’s not the odd part.

In the aftermath, one of the most interesting developments came from Egyptian blogger Dalia Ziada. Ziada, a liberal political analyst and activist in Cairo, is Executive Director of the Ibn Khaldun Center for Development Studies, one of the oldest and largest human rights/civil liberties NGOs in the Arab world. She wrote in her blog that Israeli authorities had shared their information with Egyptian intelligence, but the intelligence agency had failed to act. Why, she wondered aloud, did the Israeli government take care of its citizens and the Egyptian government did not? Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

Terrorism in Sinai: Tests for President Morsi and the Egyptian Military

August 11th 2012

Apache Helicopters

The recent deadly attack in the Sinai Peninsula, in which militants killed sixteen Egyptian soldiers while wounding seven others, was as predictable as it was devastating. Since last year's revolution, terrorists have worked continuously to manufacture tensions between Egypt and Israel, attacking the gas pipeline to Israel and Jordan fifteen times and launching a deadly cross-border raid on Israel last August that catalyzed a near-crisis in bilateral relations. Given the severe threat that Sinai's instability poses to regional peace, Washington should emphasize two points to Egypt's military and Islamist rulers.

First, it should inform President Muhammad Morsi that his response to this crisis will provide the first real evidence of his oft-stated commitment to foreign diplomats that he will respect Egypt's international agreements, that is, maintain the peace treaty with Israel. Unlike last week's flap over whether or not Morsi had responded to a letter from Israeli president Shimon Peres, yesterday's Sinai attack carries severe security ramifications for regional peace.


Central Asia on Edge

Militarism in Central Asia Reflects More than Religious Extremism

August 10th 2012

Uzbekistan mosque

Since 2010, Central Asia has become increasingly volatile, a trend many have attributed to a rise in militant Islamism. Militancy has indeed risen since 2010, but the notion that militant Islamists primarily are responsible for Central Asia's volatility is shortsighted because it ignores other political and economic dynamics at play in the region.

But if these dynamics, not jihadist designs, inspired much of the region's recent militant activity, the impending U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2014 could put Central Asia at greater risk for militant Islamism in the future. Combined with upcoming leadership changes in several Central Asian states, the withdrawal could complicate an already complex militant landscape in the region.

Regional Militancy: Late 1990s and Early 2000s

Central Asia was an important region for Islamist militancy in the late 1990s and early 2000s. The region is predominantly Muslim, though like all religious practices, Islam was suppressed during the Soviet era. Given the region's secularization under Soviet rule, many religious groups and figures either went underground or practiced openly to the extent that the Soviets would allow.

These groups and individuals were concentrated in the Fergana Valley, the demographic core of Central Asia that encompasses parts of Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. Islamists were particularly prevalent in Uzbekistan, which is home to several important religious and cultural cites in areas such as Samarkand and Bukhara. Read more ..

Iran on Edge

Iran and the Human Rights Opening

August 10th 2012

Iran protest

Action on Iran's domestic brutality can prevent the Islamic Republic from labeling sanctions as something they are not intended to be: an attack on the Iranian public.

With tensions mounting over Iran's nuclear program, the West has dealt the Tehran regime crippling blows on several fronts, including through sanctions, the targeted killing of scientists, and cyber operations such as the Stuxnet virus. Tehran is no doubt reeling, but regime leaders have spotted a silver lining: The West's single-minded focus on the nuclear dossier has permitted them to widen their violations of human rights.

Indeed, since the protests that followed the 2009 election, Iran's human-rights abuses have worsened substantially -- a development that has gone largely unnoticed in the U.S. and Europe. This is a tragedy with profound strategic implications for the West.

The Iranian legal system allows numerous human-rights violations, including discrimination against women and ethno-sectarian minorities, and the imposition of brutal penal sentences, such as stoning. Tehran's ruling theocrats view human rights as a Western invention used to undermine Islamic culture and sovereignty as part of what Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei considers a soft war against Iran. They therefore do not believe themselves duty-bound to uphold their basic human-rights obligations, including those under international agreements to which they are party.


The 2012 Vote

Akin Wins Missouri Senate Primary, Dems Happy

August 9th 2012

Rep Todd Akin (R-Mo)
Missouri senate candidate Representative Todd Akin (R)

Rep. Todd Akin, a six-term lawmaker and evangelical Christian with the support of former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, won a hotly contested Republican U.S. Senate primary in Missouri, meaning he will face incumbent Claire McCaskill, a Democrat the GOP considers beatable. Unlike his two main opponents, Akin was spared from millions of dollars worth of attack ads paid for by outside groups. Super PACs and politically active nonprofits targeted former state treasurer Sarah Steelman, who was endorsed by former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, and millionaire businessman John Brunner.

With all precincts reporting, Akin won 36 percent of the vote, Brunner finished second with 30 percent and Steelman was a close third at 29.2 percent, according to the Missouri Secretary of State's offfice. Steelman called Akin to concede a little after 10 p.m., according to news reports.

Brunner, a self-funder who enjoyed favorable advertising paid for by the powerful U.S. Chamber of Commerce, was the target of more than $1.1 million in attack ads paid for by Majority PAC, the main super PAC focused on helping Democrats retain control of the Senate. Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

Spending Reported by Nondisclosing Groups Well Ahead of 2010

August 8th 2012

One Million Dollars

As of today, spending reported to the Federal Election Commission by groups that aren't required to disclose the sources of their funding has nearly tripled over where it stood at the same point in the 2010 election cycle, according to research by the Center for Responsive Politics. By Aug. 6, 2010, groups registered as social welfare organizations, or 501(c)(4)s, as well as super PACs funded entirely by them, had reported spending $8.5 million. That figure has soared to $24.9 million in this cycle. In 2008, nondisclosing groups reported spending $8.3 million at this point in the campaign season.

In addition, the numbers show a clear break from those of previous cycles in that independent expenditures (ads explicitly calling for the election or defeat of a particular candidate) make up the vast majority of the spending reported by nondisclosing groups. Spending for electioneering communications -- "issue ads" that name a federal candidate and are run within a 60-day window before a general election, or 30 days before a primary or a national party nominating convention -- has fallen as a share of the total.

The Edge of Terror

Looming U.S.-Iraqi Confrontation over Decision to Release Hizballah Commander

August 8th 2012

Daqduq's false IDs

Early in August, the Iraqi Central Criminal Court rejected Washington’s formal request to extradite Hizballah commander Ali Musa Daqduq to the United States to face charges of murder, terrorism, spying, and other offenses filed by a U.S. military commission. Iraqi courts had dropped similar charges against him on May 29 and then again on June 25 when the decision was appealed, seemingly giving the central court cause to reject the extradition request and approve his release. “It is not possible to hand him over because the charges were dropped in the same case,” the judges ruled. But the cases are not the same, and the ruling means Baghdad could soon release one of the most senior and dangerous Hizballah commanders ever apprehended. In the words of one former CIA officer, Daqduq is “the worst of the worst. He has American blood on his hands. If released, he’ll go back to shedding more of it.”

Background: attack in Karbala

In the early evening of January 20, 2007, American and Iraqi military officers met at the Provincial Joint Coordination Center in Karbala, about thirty miles south of Baghdad, to discuss local security operations. A short time later, a convoy of five black SUVs was waved through three checkpoints and allowed to access the base; the trucks were carrying about a dozen English-speaking militants dressed in U.S. military fatigues and carrying American-type weapons and fake identity cards. Read more ..

The Weapon’s Edge

Counter-IED Efforts Still Beset by Poor Oversight and Duplication

August 8th 2012

IED 1; Humvee 0

The Pentagon has pumped billions of dollars into programs to counter the dangers of improvised explosive devices over the last decade but still lacks a way to track whether its initiatives are meeting their goals—a circumstance that a government watchdog warns could lead to overlap and wasted taxpayer funds. Poor recordkeeping has hindered the Defense Department’s ability to monitor more than 1,300 individual anti-IED projects, complicating any effort by outsiders to assess whether the funds have been well spent, an August report by the Government Accountability Office said.

“DOD has not determined, and does not have a ready means for determining,” just how many anti-IED projects it is currently funding, the report said. Although GAO accounted for $4.8 billion in Pentagon spending, it called that estimate “understated,” because many anti-IED initiatives weren’t properly recorded. “DOD has funded hundreds of C-IED initiatives but has not developed a comprehensive database of these initiatives or the organizations conducting them,” the report stated. The report is a follow up to a February 2012 GAO study that concluded DOD does not have “full visibility” over its anti-IED projects. Read more ..

Obama and Israel

U.S.–Israeli Missile Defense Cooperation

August 7th 2012

THAAD Weapon system

On July 27, President Obama signed into law the United States–Israel Enhanced Security Cooperation Act, which is designed to strengthen the qualitative edge of Israeli military forces over its current and future enemies. While the law serves to strengthen this edge in a variety of areas, it pays special attention to improving Israel’s capabilities for defending its civilian population against rocket and missile attacks.

Not coincidentally, this special focus has come on the heels of the demonstrated success of the Israeli Iron Dome system for countering rockets and short-range missiles against attacks with such weapons launched by Hamas terrorists in Gaza. Accordingly, Congress needs to take additional actions to expand cooperation with Israel in the area of missile defense.The act is accompanied by still incomplete actions by Congress regarding U.S.–Israeli missile defense cooperation. The House version of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which passed the House on May 18, includes a provision to provide an additional $168 million to general missile defense cooperation with Israel above the Administration’s roughly $100 million request.

The Edge of Crime

Organized Criminals Won't Fade Away

August 7th 2012

Drug War

Policies that focus on suppressing drug flows are often ineffective in suppressing organized crime. Under the worst circumstances, such as in Mexico or Afghanistan, policing policies, such as high-value targeting or eradication of illicit crops, can trigger intense criminal violence or strengthen insurgencies. But neither is legalization an effective shortcut to law enforcement. On its own, it is unlikely to address a host of problems associated with organized crime.

Illicit economies exist in some form virtually everywhere. For example, some part of the illegal drug economy – production, trafficking, or distribution – is present in almost every country. Although the drug trade is widely believed to be the most profitable illicit economy, dwarfing others such as the illegal trade in wildlife or logging, its impact on society and the intensity of violence and corruption it generates vary in different regions and over time.

Like Colombia in the 1980s, Mexico today is blighted by violence. But although many of the same drug trafficking groups operate in both Mexico and the United States, their behaviour is strikingly different north of the border where their capacity to corrupt state institutions is limited and the level of violence they generate is small. Read more ..

The Race for Natural Gas

Fracking, Legislation and the Court

August 7th 2012

Hydrolic Fracking pollution

The ink was barely dry on far-reaching new Pennsylvania legislation to regulate hydraulic fracking practices before a state appellate court recently overturned key provisions as an unconstitutional encroachment on traditional land-use policies.

This ruling serves as a reminder that few governance issues are as contentious as governmental battles over land-use decisions. Federal and state policies that restrict land-use preferences have routinely been assaulted by waves of litigation, many aiming to return authority to private and local hands.

But many of the very organizations so outraged by top-down governmental control have been remarkably quiet as the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania enacted far-reaching legislation that dramatically shifted one major form of land-use from local to near-total state control. This is why last week’s decision by the Commonwealth Court to overturn key legislative provisions will only serve to draw more attention to this issue, as a larger national debate likely begins on all facets of governance related to fracking. Read more ..

Mali on Edge

A Second Afganistan in Mali?

August 5th 2012

Taureg dude

Mali, like other sub-Saharan countries, has been facing growing attacks from al-Qaeda’s North African branch – Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). Islamists are involved in a multi-million-dollar ransom industry fuelled by kidnapping Westerners and drug-trafficking in Northern Mali, where al-Qaeda militants and other Islamist combatants share ground with the Tuareg, a minority of perhaps 1 million of Mali’s 15 million people and about a third of the population of Northern Mali.

In March 2012 the country collapsed into chaos after soldiers toppled the president, leaving a power vacuum that enabled the rebels to take control of the northern part of Mali, approximately two-thirds of the country. This is the fourth rebellion led by Tuareg nomads since independence in 1960. The last ended only in 2008.

In October 2011 the Tuareg fighters gathered in the oasis settlement of Zakak in the hills by the border of Algeria. They were joined by career rebels, Malian army deserters, and young activists in a conclave that gave birth to the MNLA (National Movement for the Liberation of the Azawad). Read more ..

The New Egypt

Seven Ways America Can Get Its Bridge Rebuilt Back in Egypt

August 5th 2012


With its initial attempts at building bridges in Cairo having backfired, the Obama administration is looking for new ways to improve America's image in Egypt.

Egypt's President Mohammed Morsy is trying to get down to business, but the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) isn't making things easy. The Muslim Brotherhood leader's newly appointed cabinet keeps holdovers from the previous cabinet in top positions, which suggests that the military junta is preventing Morsy from radically reshaping Egyptian policy, at least for the time being. Indeed, the power struggle between the Muslim Brotherhood and SCAF continues to define Egypt's post-Mubarak transition -- and it could be years before either emerges victorious.

This is a messy political environment for the United States to try to improve its relationship with the Egyptian people, and it is not going well. Just last month, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's motorcade was showered with rotten vegetables upon her visit to Egypt, and thousands-strong crowds protested her appearances in both Cairo and Alexandria.


Economy on Edge

Employment Gains, But Job Deficit Unchanged

August 3rd 2012

Unemployment Line in California

Employer payrolls climbed faster in July than in any month since February, but households reported that fewer members were at work in July than in June. The mixed employment report reinforces the message from earlier reports that the economy continues to grow modestly. Since January labor market gains have been fast enough to keep pace with population growth, but not fast enough to put a dent in the nation’s unemployment rate. The number of unemployed and the unemployment rate were essentially the same in July as they were in January.

The employer survey offers a brighter picture of job gains than the household survey. Private sector employment grew for the 29th straight month in June. It increased 172,000, far faster than the rate of growth in the previous three months. Since January private payrolls have climbed 141,000 a month. A wide variety of industries saw job gains in July, including manufacturing, wholesale and retail trade, finance, professional and business services, and education and health. The temporary help services industry continued to add to payrolls in July. Since the start of the year, employment in the temporary help industry has climbed 6 percent. Read more ..

Broken Borders

U.S. Must Evaluate Mexican Border Tactics

August 2nd 2012

US Border Patrol arrest

Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano's recent visit to the U.S.-Mexican border was less than admirable when she accused local officials and others of exaggerating the danger and violence within border states such as Arizona, California and New Mexico, according to several lawmakers and enforcement officials on Monday.

Congressman Connie Mack (R-FL) responded to Napolitano's comments with outrage, calling for an all-encompassing strategy to provide for U.S. national security through what he termed "bold steps and bold solutions." Mack believes that U.S. foreign policy has neglected this reality and now must reestablish its authority of the United States over illegal organizations which threaten U.S. security at the Mexican border.

Mack stated, "A counterinsurgency strategy from our government that includes civil society, law enforcement, civil authorities and military personnel at the U.S. border is urgently needed. Repeated calls on the Administration have not gotten ahead of this plague and the lives of more U.S. citizens have been taken in the meantime, adding to the tens of thousands of people who have been killed in a drug war, [while]expanding the influence of terrorists." Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

The Election, the Presidency and Foreign Policy

August 1st 2012

Barack Obama in Thought

The American presidency is designed to disappoint. Each candidate must promise things that are beyond his power to deliver. No candidate could expect to be elected by emphasizing how little power the office actually has and how voters should therefore expect little from him. So candidates promise great, transformative programs. What the winner actually can deliver depends upon what other institutions, nations and reality will allow him. Though the gap between promises and realities destroys immodest candidates, from the founding fathers' point of view, it protects the republic. They distrusted government in general and the office of the president in particular.

Congress, the Supreme Court and the Federal Reserve Board all circumscribe the president's power over domestic life. This and the authority of the states greatly limit the president's power, just as the country's founders intended. To achieve anything substantial, the president must create a coalition of political interests to shape decision-making in other branches of the government. Yet at the same time -- and this is the main paradox of American political culture -- the presidency is seen as a decisive institution and the person holding that office is seen as being of overriding importance. Read more ..

Israel and Palestine

Reinvigorating the Discussion of Israel’s Rights in the West Bank

August 1st 2012

West Bank Construction

The Commission to Examine the Status of Building in Judea and Samaria (the "Levy report") has drawn a flurry of overwrought criticism due to its inclusion of a section concerning the lawfulness of Israeli settlement activity. But the report’s argument is surprisingly modest in substance; it does little more than endorse the traditional official Israeli position that the Fourth Geneva Convention does not apply de jure to the West Bank, and in any event does not bar Israeli settlements. Some have argued that the Levy report is foolish politically, arguing that by asserting its legal rights, Israel will signal that it is unwilling to entertain "land for peace" compromises. This seems a doubtful thesis. Israel has asserted its legal rights to Jerusalem for decades, but yet repeatedly offered compromises on its rights in the city. What the Levy report has done is to reinvigorate the discussion of the legitimacy of Israel’s position under international law after many years in which Israel has been silent about its legal rights. That is a welcome development.

Earlier this month, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was presented with the report of the Commission to Examine the Status of Building in Judea and Samaria, headed by former Supreme Court Justice Edmond Levy (the "Levy report"). The report has drawn a flurry of overwrought criticism due to its inclusion of a section concerning the lawfulness of Israeli settlement activity.

The Battle for Syria

Is The War in Syria Undermining Palestinian Claim to Right of Return?

August 1st 2012

Palestinian Refugee Camp
Palestinian Refugee Camp

The fate of the Assad regime in Syria has been the main focus of media attention in recent months. Yet, another crisis has quietly developed on the sidelines of the Syrian calamity which may greatly affect the Palestinian refugees and the coveted “right of return”.

Over the past year, the Palestinians have challenged Israel by organizing mass marches of refugees to the Jewish state’s northern borders in order to breach its defenses and “return” to their homes. These attempts ended in a debacle, prompting the angry marchers, who felt betrayed by PLO organizers, to storm and set fire to the headquarters of Ahmad Jibril – one of the founders of the PLO – located in the Syrian Palestinian capital refugee camp of al-Yarmuk, situated in Damascus. The collapse of the "return marches" became the precursor of a process accelerated by the Syrian crisis, whereby the destruction of the refugee camps is leading to the dissolution of the right of return.

Reports indicate that the Yarmuk camp lies in ruins and its Palestinian inhabitants have joined the convoy of an estimated one million Syrian refugees fleeing to Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon and Iraq, no longer concerned with forcing their way to Israel. Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

A Battle for Two Cities

August 1st 2012

Syrian security forces

The Syrian regime is pouring all available resources into its defense of the two main cities of Syria: Damascus and Aleppo.

While simultaneously constructing an Alawi enclave in the northwest, the Assads understand that maintaining control of these central urban areas is vital to maintain their claim to constitute the government of Syria. Lose the cities, and Bashar Assad’s regime will come to constitute just another sectarian force in a Syrian civil war.

As of now, the dictator’s forces appear to have largely succeeded in their mission in Damascus. In Aleppo, the battle is still on. Those who began last week to prepare eulogies for the Assad regime have once again spoken too soon. This is because while the balance of power in Syria is slowly shifting in the rebels’ favor, the essential cause of the stalemate between the sides remains.

The rebels are now far too numerous and powerful for the regime to entertain hopes of re-imposing its authority throughout the entirety of the country in the foreseeable future. Assad simply does not have sufficient manpower to carry out an effective campaign of counter-insurgency throughout the country. Read more ..

Afganistan on Edge

Millions of Dollars in U.S. Aid Wasted in Afghanistan

July 31st 2012

Afganistan construction

In the Nangarhar province near Afghanistan’s eastern border sits an abandoned police base, built with $4.5 million of U.S. taxpayer dollars and completed just 13 months ago. The base, known as Lal Por 2, is badly needed but remains empty because it lacks any viable water supply. No efforts are underway to add one.

A neighboring base on the border, also built with U.S. funds, has some Afghan police, but lacks a fully-functioning septic system or air conditioning. Those shortcomings, along with drainage problems in the main buildings, put the base at risk for abandonment as well, according to a new report by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction.

John Sopko, a former deputy director at Homeland Security and prosecutor who just filled the inspector general role July 2, says in his quarterly report published Monday that these two bases are prime examples of rampant waste throughout the Afghan reconstruction effort. Costing a total of $19 million, the bases, along with two others in the Nangahar province facing their own problems, are meant to give Afghan police a watchful eye along the nation’s militarily-significant border with Pakistan. Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

Swing States Give Obama the Edge

July 30th 2012

Obama Campaign 2012

President Obama has an overall edge in the 12 decisive battleground states that is measurably greater than his advantage in national polling. The dynamic, which may reflect a combination of lower swing-state unemployment rates and demographic advantages for the president, is causing stirrings of unease among Republicans, even as they emphasize that it is important not to read too much into the state of the race right now.

“Obama is concentrating his considerable early resources and messaging in the swing states, and it’s had an impact,” said Mark McKinnon, who served as a media adviser for President George W. Bush’s presidential campaigns.

But McKinnon added that Republican candidate Mitt Romney was “raising and saving his money to ensure he won’t be out-punched in the final rounds.” The crucial battleground states number about a dozen: Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin. Read more ..

Europe on Edge

The Radical Right in Europe

July 29th 2012

french riot police toulouse mar 2012

The rise in radical-right social and populist movements over the past ten years has been remarkable. While once these were on the political fringes, they now carry political weight in the parliaments of Austria, Bulgaria, Denmark, Hungary, the Netherlands, Sweden, Greece, Latvia, and Slovakia among others, as well as in the European Parliament.

These groups oppose ethnic and cultural diversity. They foment public disorder with marches and rallies to harass and intimidate Muslims and other migrants, and there is growing liaison and even coordination among them. Their street violence provokes reactions from Muslims, especially Islamists, and an escalating spiral of action and counteraction is emerging.

The radicals do not target Jews, and several even profess to be pro-Israel. The reality, though, is that their members are sometimes former neo-Nazis. It is important not to exaggerate these groups’ successes. So far, the radical right is represented in only a minority of national parliaments, and some researchers believe that their share of the vote may even have peaked in some countries. Read more ..

Broken Taxes

Two Steps Toward Reforming the Tax Code

July 28th 2012

Tax Haven Protesters

State governors are eyeing the federal tax reform debate closely, as potential reforms to broaden the income tax base could curtail a set of subsidies they currently enjoy -- the deductibility of state and local taxes. But there is another policy debate underway that would have the opposite effect for states -- permitting the collection of sales tax on out-of-state Internet and catalog sales just as they are collected on goods from brick-and-mortar retailers. Combining these two ideas could improve the U.S. tax system on both the state and federal level by creating a level playing field for state and local governments, businesses and taxpayers.

Under current law, taxpayers who itemize their deductions can deduct their state and local income taxes and property taxes. (A temporary provision set to expire this year permits taxpayers to deduct their sales taxes instead of their income taxes if they choose.) The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) says that the "deduction for state and local taxes is effectively a federal subsidy to state and local governments. As such, it indirectly finances spending by those governments at the expense of other uses of federal revenues."

But the policy is worse than just a subsidy to states; it also distorts decision-making by state governments by inducing states to finance activities through higher income-tax rates on high-income individuals (those most likely to itemize). As CBO notes, "The deductibility of taxes could deter states and localities from financing services with nondeductible fees, which could be more efficient." Read more ..

Economy on Edge

Long-Term Unemployment: Anatomy of the Scourge

July 28th 2012

Unemployment Line in California

When unemployment rose during the Great Recession, so did long-term unemployment – defined here as joblessness lasting at least six months. This is the norm in recessions, but the gravity of the problem after 2008 was unprecedented.

In the 11 recessions since World War II, unemployment reached 9 percent in just three (1974-75, 1981-82, 2008-9). Only in the most recent slump, though, did the rate of longterm unemployment exceed 3 percent. Indeed, it reached 4.5 percent in April 2010, almost two percentage points higher than the peak in any previous postwar business cycle. And the problem is worryingly persistent: by April 2012, the long-term rate had exceeded 3 percent of the labor force for 34 successive months.

Between 2007 and 2011, the fraction of the nation's unemployed who were unemployed six months or longer increased from 18 percent to 44 percent. What’s going on here – and what can we do about it? Read more ..

Broken Elections

Million-dollar Donation in Indiana Race May Skirt Limits on Corporate Giving

July 27th 2012

Bundles of Cash

The RGA Right Direction PAC is a Washington, D.C.-based super PAC, registered with federal regulators to make independent expenditures supporting or opposing candidates. So what is it doing giving $1 million directly to the Republican running for governor of Indiana?

The donation to Mike Pence, the largest to his campaign, appears to be a way around state laws limiting corporate contributions to candidates. “In one way, it’s legal,” said Andrew Downs of the Center for Indiana Politics, at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne. “But if you say this is a way to give in excess of corporate limits, that’s also absolutely true.”

Right Direction is funded entirely by the Republican Governors Association, a so-called 527 organization dedicated to electing as many Republicans to governorships as possible—a mission fueled by contributions from some of the largest corporations in the country. In Indiana, candidates can accept unlimited donations from individuals and political action committees but only $5,000 from corporations and unions. Corporations and unions can also give to PACs, but only in small sums. Whether the check to Pence was drawn on a bank account that contained corporate money is not a matter of public record. Read more ..

Iran's Nukes

Israel’s Channel 10: U.S. Officials Believe Israel Will Strike Iran at End of Summer

July 27th 2012

Israeli Jets Parked

According to Israel’s channel 10 news, “many U.S. officials” believe that Israel is tired of diplomacy with Iran, and in the estimation of the officials, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has already decided on an Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities in the fall, right at the conclusion of the summer.

The report, by journalists Emmanuel Rosen, Or Heller and Omri Nehemias adds that Israel’s ‘Octet’ -the name given to the Prime Minister’s inner cabinet that would be responsible for the initial decision over an Iran strike – has not met in two months, which they say raises the possibility that Netanyahu and Barak are working alone, and will adopt a decision on the matter with limited consultation.

According to the report, it is still unclear whether the talk of action in the near future will materialize or whether Netanyahu and Barak are only interested in creating such an impression. “Only the future will tell whether this is a diplomatic game or a real option,” they conclude. Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

Big Business Prefers GOPs’ Super PACs to Democrats’

July 26th 2012

Mitt Romney expansive

Republican-aligned super PACs have benefited from far more corporate cash than their Democratic counterpartsca revenue stream created in the wake of the controversial Citizens United U.S. Supreme Court decision two years ago.

The top two super PACs—the pro-Mitt Romney Restore Our Future and Karl Rove’s American Crossroads—have raised nearly $24 million in contributions from companies so far this election cycle, an analysis has found. Donors include hedge funds, energy companies, dietary supplement makers, and even a popcorn manufacturer.

The list includes a handful of Fortune 500 and other publicly traded corporations, but donors are more likely to be privately held businesses, often organized as limited partnerships or limited liability companies. Read more ..

Saudi Arabia on Edge

The Prince and the Revolution

July 25th 2012

Bandar bin Sultan

Saudi Arabia is bringing back its most talented operator to manage the Arab Spring. But can Bandar stem the rot in Riyadh?

On July 19, the eve of the Saudi weekend and the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, the Saudi government orchestrated its equivalent of Washington's Friday afternoon news dump: Prince Bandar bin Sultan, son of the late crown prince and defense minister, Sultan, was appointed the new intelligence chief.

The kingdom may want minimal coverage and analysis of Bandar's appointment, but it is bound to be disappointed. Bandar used to be one of Saudi Arabia's flashiest diplomats, a longtime ambassador to the United States renowned for manipulating people and policy in the kingdom's favor, and sometimes also in favor of the U.S. government. At the very least, his appointment is a reflection of King Abdullah's concerns about developments in the Middle East, particularly Syria, and the limited talent pool in the House of Saud to meet the challenges. Frankly, it suggests panic in Riyadh. Read more ..

Middle East on Edge

Democracy, Salafi Style

July 25th 2012

Sheikh Salman al-Awdah, Salafi Cleric

One of Saudi Arabia's most popular hardline clerics has embraced democracy. Should we worry, or applaud?

The Muslim Brotherhood has so far emerged as the clear political winner from the popular uprisings that have seized the Arab world. In Egypt and Tunisia, its affiliated political parties have each won power outright in democratic elections. But the Brotherhood isn't the only movement mixing faith and politics in the new Middle East: Salafis—hardline conservatives who model their lives on Prophet Mohamed and the first three generation of Muslim leaders following his death—are setting aside years of theological opposition to democracy to participate in the political game.

This sea change was driven home earlier this week when Saudi Salafi heavyweight Sheikh Salman al-Awdah took to his Twitter feed and Facebook page to proclaim: “Democracy might not be an ideal system, but it is the least harmful, and it can be developed and adapted to respond to local needs and circumstances.” Although Awdah notably made his announcement on his English—not Arabic—social media platforms, where his audience numbers in the millions rather than the tens of thousands, the sentiment is still positively Churchillian—echoing as it does the late British prime minister's maxim: “It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried.” Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

Syrian Displacement: The Human Consequence of the Continuing War

July 25th 2012

Bombing Hits Syria March 18 2012

An estimated 19,000 people have died in Syria since the conflict began in March 2011. But well over a million Syrians have been forced to flee their homes and the number is increasing. In fact, people are reportedly being displaced multiple times within Syria as they search for safety. If history is any guide, the displacement crisis in Syria is likely to create further tensions and to last much longer than anyone now anticipates.

The United Nations refugee agency reports that it has registered over 117,000 Syrian refugees in the neighboring countries of Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq. These numbers probably underestimate the number of Syrian refugees in the region as many are staying with family or friends and simply do not register. While the largest number of registered refugees are in Turkey, it is telling that over 7,000 Syrians have sought safety in Iraq; the two countries only normalized relations in early 2011 and it wasn’t that long ago that hundreds of thousands of Iraqis sought protection from their country’s violence by moving to Syria. Read more ..

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