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The Edge of Terrorism

The Devolution of Jihadism: From Al Qaeda to the Wider Movement

July 5th 2011

Terrorism - Fort Hood

On June 22 in a Seattle warehouse, Abu Khalid Abdul-Latif pulled an unloaded M16 rifle to his shoulder, aimed it, and pulled the trigger repeatedly as he imagined himself gunning down young U.S. military recruits. His longtime friend Walli Mujahidh did likewise with an identical rifle, assuming a kneeling position as he engaged his notional targets. The two men had come to the warehouse with another man to inspect the firearms the latter had purchased with money Abdul-Latif had provided him. The rifles and a small number of hand grenades were to be used in an upcoming mission: an attack on a U.S. Military Entrance Processing Station (MEPS) in an industrial area south of downtown Seattle.

After confirming that the rifles were capable of automatic fire and discussing the capacity of the magazines they had purchased, the men placed the rifles back into a storage bag intending to transport them to a temporary cache location. Read more ..

Egypt after Mubarak

Egypt’s Enduring Challenges: The Economic Priority

July 5th 2011

Egypt - Egyptian Kid at Rally

Unlike Tunisia’s Jasmine Revolution, Egypt’s Papyrus Revolution was not sparked primarily by economic grievances. Dissatisfaction with authoritarian government—and especially with Hosni Mubarak— served as the chief mobilizing factor in the demonstrations. While the economy was not the primary issue galvanizing these particular protests, however, it does animate much of today’s popular discontent in Egypt.

Hosni Mubarak’s thirty-year rule was not characterized by innovative or dynamic policies. But in 2004—for reasons that remain unclear—he took a risk, appointing a new cabinet, the composition of which signaled a change in approach on economic policy, at least. The fourteen new members of the thirty-four-member cabinet were not old National Democratic Party (NDP) warhorses but rather younger businessmen and technocrats. Read more ..

Russia on Edge

Under the Appearance of Democracy, Putin's Russia Advances towards Two-Track Policy of Power

July 5th 2011

Russian Topics - Vladimir Putin seriously

Russia has entered election season, with parliamentary elections in December and presidential elections in March 2012. Typically, this is not an issue of concern, as most Russian elections have been designed to usher a chosen candidate and political party into office since 2000. Interesting shifts are under way this election season, however. While on the surface they may resemble political squabbles and instability, they actually represent the next step in the Russian leadership’s consolidation of the state.

In the past decade, one person has consolidated and run Russia’s political system: former president and current Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. Putin’s ascension to the leadership of the Kremlin marked the start of the reconsolidation of the Russian state after the decade of chaos that followed the fall of the Soviet Union. Read more ..

Europe on Edge

No More United States of Europe

June 29th 2011

Europe Topics - European spheres of influence

Europe continues to be engulfed by economic crisis. The global focus returns to Athens on June 28 as Greek parliamentarians debate austerity measures imposed on them by eurozone partners. If the Greeks vote down these measures, Athens will not receive its second bailout, which could create an even worse crisis in Europe and the world.

It is important to understand that the crisis is not fundamentally about Greece or even about the indebtedness of the entire currency bloc. After all, Greece represents only 2.5 percent of the eurozone’s gross domestic product (GDP), and the bloc’s fiscal numbers are not that bad when looked at in the aggregate. Its overall deficit and debt figures are in a better shape than those of the United States—the U.S. budget deficit stood at 10.6 percent of GDP in 2010, compared to 6.4 percent for the European Union—yet the focus continues to be on Europe. Read more ..

Egypt after Mubarak

Egypt’s Enduring Challenges: Politics in Egypt

June 29th 2011

Egypt - Members of Muslim Brotherhood

As the Ahmed Ezz and Hisham Talaat Mustafa examples amply show, the narrative propagated by the National Democratic Party (NDP) of a government run by technocratic and competent businessmen was not widely embraced in Egypt. Instead, despite overwhelming obstacles, a dedicated opposition developed over the years. While fragmented, infiltrated, and periodically brutalized by the government, secular and Islamist dissidents protested, remonstrated, signed petitions, and worked to embarrass the authoritarian leadership. These adversaries of the NDP hoped to capitalize on popular anti-regime sentiment, even as the security state continuously targeted them as emerging political threats. Read more ..

Egypt after the Revolt

Emboldened Muslim Brotherhood May Emerge from Egypt's Spring Power Transition

June 27th 2011

Islamic Topics - Egyptian Muslim bros

The June 22 announcement that a youth wing of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood (MB) is splitting off to form its own secular party is emblematic of the unprecedented political activity in post-Mubarak Egypt. June 21 saw the second meeting of the National Democratic Alliance for Egypt, with fourteen smaller parties agreeing to join the coalition's founders, the MB's newly formed Freedom and Justice Party and the liberal Wafd Party. Although the alliance is unsustainable in its current form, its mere existence points to two disturbing trends in Egyptian politics: first, parties are negotiating over the distribution of candidates to predetermine electoral outcomes and, second, anti-Western foreign policy views are uniting parties with wildly divergent views on domestic issues. Read more ..

The Obama Edge

Insights on the Conflict as Obama Draws Down Afghanistan Troop Levels

June 23rd 2011

Afghan Topics - Afghanistan casualty

U.S. President Barack Obama announced June 22 that the long process of drawing down forces in Afghanistan would begin on schedule in July. Though the initial phase of the drawdown appears limited, minimizing the tactical and operational impact on the ground in the immediate future, the United States and its allies are now beginning the inevitable process of removing their forces from Afghanistan. This will entail the risk of greater Taliban battlefield successes.

Afghanistan, a landlocked country in the heart of Central Asia, is one of the most isolated places on Earth. This isolation has posed huge logistical challenges for the United States. Hundreds of shipping containers and fuel trucks must enter the country every day from Pakistan and from the north to sustain the nearly 150,000 U.S. and allied forces stationed in Afghanistan, about half the total number of Afghan security forces. Supplying a single gallon of gasoline in Afghanistan reportedly costs the U.S. military an average of $400, while sustaining a single U.S. soldier runs around $1 million a year (by contrast, sustaining an Afghan soldier costs about $12,000 a year). Read more ..

Egypt after Mubarak

Egypt’s Enduring Challenges: Frustrations with Governance

June 22nd 2011

Egypt - Bye bye Mubarak

The end of 2010 and beginning of 2011 marked a watershed for the Middle East. Revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya—and the attendant unrest directed toward other autocrats and their corrupt and cruel regimes—shook the region to its core, raising popular expectations and challenging status quo politics. While the longer-term trajectory of these developments remains unclear, the uprisings and their reverberations are the region’s most consequential such events since 1979, when the Islamic Revolution ushered in theocratic rule in Iran.

Among these remarkable developments, the toppling of Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak stands out. While Mubarak’s tenure in office did not match the longevity of Libyan strongman Muammar Qadhafi or the brutality of Tunisian president “for life” Zine al- Abidine Ben Ali, compared with other regional shifts, the ramifications of regime change in Cairo are potentially more profound. With 83 million people, Egypt is the most populous Arab state and historically has served as a regional trendsetter.

More important still, Egypt has served as a pillar of Washington’s security architecture in the Middle East since the late 1970s. What happens in Egypt will have an impact both on the region and on U.S. interests. In the short term, it is not clear that Washington will benefit. Read more ..

Mexico's Wars

Political Gamesmanship in Mexico's Destructive War on Drugs

June 16th 2011

Mexican Topics - Mexican perp walk

We talk to a lot of people in our effort to track Mexico’s criminal cartels and to help our readers understand the dynamics that shape the violence in Mexico. Our contacts include a wide range of people, from Mexican and U.S. government officials, journalists and business owners to taxi drivers and street vendors. Lately, as we’ve been talking with people, we’ve been hearing chatter about the 2012 presidential election in Mexico and how the cartel war will impact that election.

In any democratic election, opposition parties always criticize the policies of the incumbent. This tactic is especially true when the country is involved in a long and costly war. Recall, for example, the 2008 U.S. elections and then-candidate Barack Obama’s criticism of the Bush administration’s policies regarding Iraq and Afghanistan. This strategy is what we are seeing now in Mexico with the opposition Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) and Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD) criticizing the way the administration of Felipe Calderon, who belongs to the National Action Party (PAN), has prosecuted its war against the Mexican cartels. Read more ..

After the Arab Spring

The Coming Crisis in the Middle East

June 13th 2011

Egypt - Egyptian women protesting

The gap between dominant Western perceptions of the Middle East and the region’s reality is dangerously wide. While the “Arab Spring” is celebrated as an advance for moderation and democracy, in fact the advance is going to revolutionary Islamists. Developments in Turkey and Egypt especially threaten to plunge the Middle East back into an era of conflict, instability, and the worst threats to Western interests in decades.

There are several things very much predictable about the future of the Middle East area during the next year. First, on June 12, 2011, Turkey had its election. That election will probably be won by the government, whether or not it gets a two-thirds majority. The current rulers will interpret this as a signal to take a much tougher line toward Israel and the United States. It is possible that the extent of the increase of Turkey’s enmity toward Israel after that election will astonish the world.

If the governing Justice and Development Party (AKP) wins a two-thirds majority, this means it will have control of rewriting the Turkish constitution. They will try to create a presidential regime, Erdoğan will run for president, and Turkey will move into an increasingly visible alliance with Iran, Syria, Hamas, and Hizballah. This is not alarmism, it is a serious analysis. Read more ..

Israel on Edge

The Palestinian Move

June 8th 2011

Israel Topics - mossad dude
Meir Dagan

A former head of Mossad, Meir Dagan, has publicly criticized the current Israeli government for a lack of flexibility, judgment and foresight, calling it “reckless and irresponsible” in the handling of Israel’s foreign and security policies. In various recent interviews and speeches, he has made it clear that he regards the decision to ignore the 2002 Saudi proposal for a peace settlement on the pre-1967 lines as a mistake and the focus on Iran as a diversion from the real issue — the likely recognition of an independent Palestinian state by a large segment of the international community, something Dagan considers a greater threat. What is important in Dagan’s statements is that, having been head of Mossad from 2002 to 2010, he is not considered in any way to be ideologically inclined toward accommodation.

When Dagan was selected by Ariel Sharon to be head of Mossad, Sharon told him that he wanted a Mossad with “a knife between its teeth.” There were charges that he was too aggressive, but rarely were there charges that he was too soft. Dagan was as much a member of the Israeli governing establishment as anyone. Therefore, his statements, and the statements of some other senior figures, represent a split not so much within Israel but within the Israeli national security establishment, which has been seen as being as hard-line as the Likud.

In addition, over the weekend, when pro-Palestinian demonstrators on the Golan Heights tried to force their way into Israeli-held territory, Israeli troops opened fire. Eleven protesters were killed in the Golan, and six were killed in a separate but similar protest in the West Bank. The demonstrations, like the Nakba-day protests, were clearly intended by the Syrians to redirect anti-government protests to some other issue. They were also meant to be a provocation, and the government in Damascus undoubtedly hoped that the Israelis would open fire. Dagan’s statements seem to point at this paradox. There are two factions that want an extremely aggressive Israeli security policy: the Israeli right and countries and militant proxies like Hamas that are actively hostile to Israel. The issue is which benefits more. Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

Iran’s Syria Strategy: Heavy Meddle

June 6th 2011

Syrian Issues - Syria protests Apr 2011

Mohsen Chizari gets around.

A top commander of the Quds Force of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, Chizari was hit with sanctions last week by the Obama administration. Given his nationality, one might assume that he was sanctioned in relation to the Iranian regime’s nuclear pursuits or its crackdown on dissidents. In fact, Chizari, the Quds Force Chief Qasem Soleimani, and the organization itself were targeted for abetting oppression somewhere else: Syria.

According to the U.S. government, the Iranians are complicit in the Assad regime’s “human rights abuses and repression of the Syrian people.” Read more ..

Palestine and Israel

Is Israel’s Blockade Causing a Humanitarian Crisis in Gaza?

June 5th 2011

Palestine Topics - Gaza aerial shot 2011

Hamas would have the world believe that Gaza does not receive necessary humanitarian supplies due to Israel’s blockade.

Though Hamas attempts to assert that Israel is making Gaza into the world’s “largest open-air prison,” the facts paint a completely different story. In 2010, both the International Red Cross (ICRC) and the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) publicly reported that there were no shortages of food or supplies in Gaza. Even when Hamas resumed bombarding Israel with mortars and rockets, Israel continued to provide humanitarian assistance, electricity, and even waste disposal to Gaza. Read more ..

Latin America on Edge

Hillary Clinton's Failed Attempt to Act the Hostess in Latin America

June 4th 2011

Latin American Topics - Hillary Clinton and Central american prez

Following in the wake of President Barack Obama’s trip to Brazil, Chile, and El Salvador in March, Secretary of State Hilary Rodham Clinton held a private dinner party on Wednesday, May 18, where she hosted six former Latin American presidents coming from Mexico, Colombia, Brazil, Peru, Panama, and El Salvador. The dinner was part of Clinton’s newly hatched offensive in which she hoped to further mend regional relations that could, up to this point, be described as disastrous.

Although this country has always had some kind of presence in Latin America, as exemplified by free trade pacts such as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the Caribbean Basin Initiative (CBI), it is perhaps better known for its infamous military intervention in countries such as Nicaragua, Chile, El Salvador, Grenada, and Guatemala. However, in recent years, the U.S. has become increasingly involved in the Middle East and Latin America has dropped from the nation’s list of priorities. Read more ..

After the Arab Revolt

Muslim Brotherhood Rides the Crest of the Wave of Arab Protests

June 3rd 2011

Contributors / Staff - Walid Phares new

In my most recent book, The Coming Revolution: Struggle for Freedom in the Middle East (completed July 4, 2010), I argue that civil societies in the Greater Middle East and Arab world had reached a “critical stage” in their repudiation of all authoritarian forms of government: regime, theocracy, military, and ultra-nationalist. The projections therein were based on a thorough study of antecedent Cedars and Green Revolutions in Lebanon (2005) and Iran (2009) respectively, both with limpid narratives, particularly online, and both auguring a continuation of bottom-up, regime-crumbling uprisings in the region. Even before the region’s revolutionary meltdowns began, our findings were accompanied by a sober warning—a grueling contest would ensue between the dispersed and disorganized proponents of liberal democratic reform and the Islamists, led by the Muslim Brotherhood.

Indeed, as soon as the uprisings erupted on the streets of Tunis and Cairo, the Islamist political machine went into high gear. With Al-Jazeera’s influential backing and the support of Qatar’s “diplomatic duo” and Turkey’s Adalet ve Kalkinma Partisi (AKP—Justice and Development Party), the region’s mostly-Sunni Islamist movements gradually rose from the bottom and seized the initiative. The first of three tactics the Islamists have pursued in their protest-infiltration strategy was avoidance of any statement or action that might associate the demonstrations with long-term Muslim Brotherhood goals. Members were put on notice—no mention of Sharia or the caliphate. Read more ..

Israel and Obama

Obama's Lack of Clarity on Diplomatic Posture towards Israel

June 1st 2011

Israel Topics - Israel pre 1967

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said May 30 that Israel could not prevent the United Nations from recognizing a Palestinian state, in the sense of adopting a resolution on the subject. Two weeks ago, U.S. President Barack Obama, in a speech, called on Israel to return to some variation of its pre-1967 borders. The practical significance of these and other diplomatic evolutions in relation to Israel is questionable. Historically, U.N. declarations have had variable meanings, depending on the willingness of great powers to enforce them. Obama’s speech on Israel, and his subsequent statements, created enough ambiguity to make exactly what he was saying unclear. Nevertheless, it is clear that the diplomatic atmosphere on Israel is shifting.

There are many questions concerning this shift, ranging from the competing moral and historical claims of the Israelis and Palestinians to the internal politics of each side to whether the Palestinians would be satisfied with a return to the pre-1967 borders. All of these must be addressed, but this analysis is confined to a single issue: whether a return to the 1967 borders would increase the danger to Israel’s national security. Later analyses will focus on Palestinian national security issues and those of others. Read more ..

The Arab Spring

Obama and the Arab Spring

May 30th 2011

Arab Topics - Map of Middle East

U.S. President Barack Obama gave a May speech on the Middle East. Presidents make many speeches. Some are meant to be taken casually, others are made to address an immediate crisis, and still others are intended to be a statement of broad American policy. As in any country, U.S. presidents follow rituals indicating which category their speeches fall into. Obama clearly intended his recent Middle East speech to fall into the last category, as reflecting a shift in strategy if not the declaration of a new doctrine.

While events in the region drove Obama’s speech, politics also played a strong part, as with any presidential speech. Devising and implementing policy are the president’s job. To do so, presidents must be able to lead—and leading requires having public support. After the 2010 election, I said that presidents who lose control of one house of Congress in midterm elections turn to foreign policy because it is a place in which they retain the power to act. The U.S. presidential campaign season has begun, and the United States is engaged in wars that are not going well. Within this framework, Obama thus sought to make both a strategic and a political speech. Read more ..

Egypt After the Revolt

Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood on the March—Cautiously

May 29th 2011

Egypt - Members of Muslim Brotherhood

The Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood (MB) officially registered on May18 for the formation of a new political wing, paving the way for the establishment of the Freedom and Justice Party. With parliamentary elections scheduled in September, Freedom and Justice is expected to do well at the first polls of the post-Mubarak era. Just how well is the main question on the minds of the country’s ruling military council, which would prefer to hand off the day-to-day responsibilities of governing Egypt, while holding onto real power behind the scenes.

Leading MB official Saad al-Katatny, one of the founders of Freedom and Justice, said he hopes for the party to officially begin its activities June 17, and to begin selecting its executive authority and top leaders one month later. Members of Egypt’s Political Parties Affairs Committee will convene Sunday to discuss the application and will announce their decision the next day. They are expected to approve the request. Three and a half months after the fall of Hosni Mubarak, Egypt’s leading Islamist group is on the verge of forming an official political party for the first time in its history. Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

Dem Special Election Win Buoys Party’s Prospects

May 26th 2011

Politics - Kathy Hochul D-NY
Kathy Hochul

The Democrats’ surprise May 24 win in the GOP stronghold of upstate New York Tuesday has wide-ranging ramifications on the 2012 battles for control of Congress and the White House.

The first major election of the cycle has given Democrats confidence that winning back control of the sssHouse next year is within reach. While the 2012 general election is a political eternity away, Tuesday’s result ensures Democrats will be talking about Medicare for the next year and a half.

Months ago, a divided House Democratic Caucus was struggling to shake off the after-effects of the drubbing it took last November. Read more ..

Border Wars

Mexico In Crisis: Lost Borders and the Struggle for Regional Status

May 25th 2011

Mexican Topics - Mexico City mounted police

As one studies Mexico’s cartel war, it is not uncommon to hear Mexican politicians — and some people in the United States — claim that Mexico’s problems of violence and corruption stem largely from the country’s proximity to the United States. According to this narrative, the United States is the world’s largest illicit narcotics market, and the inexorable force of economic demand means that the countries supplying the demand, and those that are positioned between the source countries and the huge U.S. market, are trapped in a very bad position. Because of this market and the illicit trade it creates, billions of dollars worth of drugs flow northward through Mexico (or are produced there) and billions of dollars in cash flow back southward into Mexico. The guns that flow southward along with the cash, according to the narrative, are largely responsible for Mexico’s violence. As one looks at other countries lying to the south of Mexico along the smuggling routes from South America to the United States, they too seem to suffer from the same maladies. Read more ..

Israel and Palestine

Israel's Netanyahu Rejects Obama's Call for Returning to Pre-1967 Borders as Indefensible

May 22nd 2011

Israel Topics - Netanyahu and Obama

On May 19, President Barack Obama gave an address at the State Department in Washington DC in which he laid out his vision for US policy following the blur of events unleashed since late 2010 and into what is now regarded as the "Arab Spring." The upsurge of street demonstrations, fueled by social networking at websites such as Facebook, saw mass demonstrations and bloodshed in Tunisia, Egypt, Jordan, Yemen, and Syria. While the dictators of Tunisia and Egypt have fallen, and those of Yemen and Syria have been stirred, there is much uncertainty in the Mideast region, and Israel and its supporters fear that the future may be bleak. The decades-long arrangement, under which peace has been sustained between Israel and its immediate neighbors, is now challenged by ever louder calls from the Muslim Brotherhood and irredentists among the Palestinians to put an end to the state of Israel. Read more ..

Israel on Edge

“Nakba Day” is Just the Beginning

May 18th 2011

Syrian Issues - Nakba Protests

May 15th’s events on the northern border caught IDF off guard, and Israel must learn lessons quickly, ahead of September.

Events that involve enraged masses have a dynamic of their own, especially in the Middle East. They are akin to molten lava, shot out from the belly of a volcano with unexpected force and a destination unknown.

This is what Sunday’s “Nakba Day” events—that even the Palestinian Authority, Hamas and Lebanon never intended to see spin out of control—have demonstrated.

The IDF and police, who recognized the volatile potential, geared for escalation with mass deployments and crowd-control measures—despite the PA’s repeated calming messages; but when spirits are fervid, serious incidents can take place where you least expect them to—the normally quiet Syrian border. Read more ..

Guatemala on Edge

Guatemala Finds Difficulty in Shaking off a Violent Past as Elections Loom

May 18th 2011

Latin American Topics - Guatemalan army and protesters

On March 16, 2011, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon demonstrated his support for Guatemala’s peace process by announcing a $10 million contribution from the United Nations Peacebuilding Fund. The contribution aimed to help Guatemala address its human rights issues and strengthen its justice and security system. The occasion also provided an opportunity for the United Nations to work with the country’s civil society to end the country’s military hostilities and resolve lingering tensions left over from the country’s 36-year civil war. In his speech, Ban commended Guatemala on its recent peacebuilding efforts and its longstanding commitment towards implementing the 1996 Peace Accords. The Peace Accords in reality are a collection of eleven agreements that outline Guatemala’s commitments to the observance of human and indigenous rights, socio-economic reforms, and the restoration of democracy.

Even with years of attention by the United Nations, Guatemala continues to be far from achieving the stability envisioned in the original peace agreement. As Guatemala approaches the fifteen year anniversary of the Peace Accords this December, the country remains just as far from implementing the Peace Accords as it had been when the agreement was first signed. The Peace Accords supposedly marked a new era of democracy and rule of law for Guatemala, but the country still has yet to meet most of the sweeping development goals outlined in the agreement. While the Peace Accords have barely managed to stall Guatemala from falling back into a full scale civil war, it has failed to bring the country any closer to a democratic and egalitarian society. Read more ..

Palestine and Israel

Does Hamas-Fatah Reconciliation Pave the Way to Peace Negotiations with Israel?

May 18th 2011

Palestine Topics - Hamas-Fatah handshake

In uniting for the first time since 2007, Hamas and Fatah, rulers of the Gaza Strip and West Bank, respectively, have theoretically made negotiating a final peace deal with Israel more realistic. Previously, Israel negotiated exclusively with Fatah, which, even if willing to do so, could not sign an agreement that would end the conflict because Hamas opposed peace with Israel.

The reconciliation pact, signed in Egypt on May 4, 2011, joins the two leading Palestinian parties in a caretaker government until long overdue parliamentary elections can be held. Former President Jimmy Carter and others contend the pact “will help Palestinian democracy and establish the basis for a unified Palestinian state … that can make a secure peace with Israel.” Practically, however, the reconciliation agreement does little to create the framework for a democratic Palestinian state and makes peace with Israel virtually impossible to achieve. Read more ..

Economic Recovery on Edge

April Jobs Report: Showers, not Flowers

May 9th 2011

Economy - People lined up for jobs

In April the economy added 244,000 jobs and the unemployment rate rose to 9.0 percent, the first increase in four months. While the household survey was gloomy, the payroll survey showed decent growth. Revisions to earlier job reports were + 41,000 jobs in February and + 5,000 in March.

The April Report

The household survey reported that while the labor force participation rate remained flat for the fourth straight month, the unemployment rate rose by 0.2 percent, from 8.8 percent to 9.0 percent. The unemployment rate grew because of an increase in those unemployed as well as a decline in the number of workers reporting employment.

The household survey had shown a sharp decline in the unemployment rate from 9.8 percent in November to 8.8 percent in March. The unemployment increase in April is hopefully a convergence of the two labor surveys since the household survey has been extremely optimistic on the state of the labor market. This report is likely a return to a trend of slightly slower growth in the labor market that has been reflected in the payroll survey’s job growth over the last quarter. Read more ..

Hamas and Fatah

Will PA-Hamas Reconciliation Threaten Other Palestinian Commitments?

May 8th 2011

Palestine Topics - Hamas-Fatah handshake

On May 4, Palestinian Authority (PA) president Mahmoud Abbas is slated to sign a reconciliation agreement with Hamas leaders in Cairo, a development first announced last week. The move will mark an end to the period of estrangement between the two factions, which began in summer 2007 when Hamas expelled PA security services and Fatah officials from Gaza. Given their acrimonious past, the extent to which the parties will work together going forward is questionable.

The Agreement

At the core of the agreement is a commitment by an interim government of technocrats, affiliated with neither Fatah nor Hamas, to pave the way for PA elections in May 2012. Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

Making Sense of the Syrian Crisis

May 8th 2011

Syrian Issues - Syrian security forces

Syria is clearly in a state of internal crisis. Protests organized on Facebook were quickly stamped out in early February, but by mid-March, a faceless opposition had emerged from the flashpoint city of Daraa in Syria’s largely conservative Sunni southwest. From Daraa, demonstrations spread to the Kurdish northeast, the coastal Latakia area, urban Sunni strongholds in Hama and Homs, and to Aleppo and the suburbs of Damascus.

Feeling overwhelmed, the regime experimented with rhetoric on reforms while relying on much more familiar iron-fist methods in cracking down, arresting hundreds of men, cutting off water and electricity to the most rebellious areas, and making clear to the population that, with or without emergency rule in place, the price for dissent does not exclude death. (Activists claim more than 500 civilians have been killed in Syria since the demonstrations began, but that figure has not been independently verified.) Read more ..

Healthcare on Edge

Medical Device Industry Lobbies to Dodge Health Law Excise Tax

May 2nd 2011

Health/Medicine - medicine and money #2

Like many other interest groups, the medical device industry met with White House officials in the run-up to the health care battle in Congress. But while insurers, pharmaceutical firms and even the American Medical Association made agreements trading their support for specific concessions, the device makers were not able to close a similar deal.

As a result, the final health care reform bill included a 2.3 percent excise tax on device makers that’s expected to produce $20 billion over a decade to help pay for expanded health coverage.

That’s the law—or so it would seem.

But in Washington, it’s never over until it’s over. And like other medical interests who are scrambling to influence the implementation of health care reform, medical device makers are showering cash on friends in Congress and working the halls, hoping that one of five bills that would overturn the excise tax might actually make it into law. Read more ..

Edge on Health Care

Health Insurance Corporate Profits Spiked Despite Dire Predictions

May 2nd 2011

Health/Medicine - medicine and money

If I had stayed in the insurance industry, my net worth would have spiked between 4 p.m. Wednesday, April 27 and 4 p.m. Thursday, April 28—and I wouldn’t even have had to show up for work.

I’m betting that just about every executive of a for-profit health insurance company, whose total compensation ultimately depends on the value of their stock options, woke up on Good Friday considerably wealthier than they were 24 hours earlier. Why? Because of the spectacular profits that one of those companies reported Thursday morning.

Among those suddenly wealthier executives, by the way, are the corporate medical directors who decide whether or not patients will get coverage for treatments their doctors believe might save their lives.

UnitedHealth Group, the biggest health insurer in terms of revenue and market value, earned so much more during the first three months of this year than Wall Street expected that investors rushed to buy shares of every one of the seven health insurers that comprise the managed care sector. In my view, it would be more accurate to call it the managed care cartel.

UnitedHealth is always the first of the big seven to announce earnings every quarter, so investors consider it a bellwether. If UnitedHealth exceeds Wall Street’s expectations, as it has been doing consistently, investors assume that the other six will do likewise. Sure enough, all seven—Aetna, CIGNA, Coventry, Health Net, Humana, United and WellPoint—saw their stock prices close Thursday afternoon at or near 52-week highs. Read more ..

The Environmental Edge

Environmental Lobby Uses Green to Promote Causes

April 27th 2011

Environment Topics - Earth Day (Hands Holding Planet)

On the 41st anniversary of Earth Day, the global celebration of all things green, Washington was once again a target of environmental activism, as environment-focused special interest groups tried to sway Congress to support their efforts. But even the biggest green thumb can’t deny that the legislative landscape for environmental groups has changed dramatically during the past year—and not in a manner favorable to their causes.

A congressional effort to pass comprehensive climate change legislation went down in flames early in 2010 after environmental groups found themselves thoroughly out-lobbied, mainly by electric utilities and the oil and gas industry. And since watching independent voters turn to Republicans in droves during the 2010 election—and the House of Representatives subsequently flip from blue to red—Democrats in the 112th Congress have hardly uttered the words “cap” and “trade” in the same sentence (unless, of course, it was coupled with the word “oppose”). Read more ..

The Military Edge

Iran, Iraq, and America's Next Move

April 27th 2011

Iran - Iranian clerics and sailors

The United States told the Iraqi government last week that if it wants U.S. troops to remain in Iraq beyond the deadline of Dec. 31, 2011, as stipulated by the current Status of Forces Agreement between Washington and Baghdad, it would have to inform the United States quickly. Unless a new agreement is reached soon, the United States will be unable to remain. The implication in the U.S. position is that a complex planning process must be initiated to leave troops there and delays will not allow that process to take place.

What is actually going on is that the United States is urging the Iraqi government to change its mind on U.S. withdrawal, and it would like Iraq to change its mind right now in order to influence some of the events taking place in the Persian Gulf. Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

Assad’s Taqiyya Against his Own People

April 25th 2011

Syrian Issues - Day of Rage in Syria Urged

Although the origins of al-Taqiyya are found in fundamentalist dogma regarding propaganda, Ba’athists and other authoritarian regimes in the region have used the practice for decades. In short, once widespread opposition to his one-party regime became evident, Assad needed to shield himself from international retribution. In an effort to buy time, the Syrian dictator announced that he would cancel “emergency law” which forbids demonstrations and limits free speech.

Assad’s lack of credibility immunizes Syrian protesters to his “Taqiyya.” No deception will convince them that the Syrian President’s intentions are good. Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

Democrats Desperately seek Their own Rove

April 25th 2011

Travel - Laguna Beach Resort
Laguna Beach Rsort

For chastened Democrats, ‘a lesson and a beating’; Republicans hone tactics that brought in secretive millions last year

The palatial Montage resort in sunny Laguna Beach provided a luxurious spot for wealthy liberal donors to relax and listen to pitches from Democratic activists seeking big bucks.

Little wonder that leaders of four fledgling Democratic groups aiming to raise tens of millions for the 2012 elections flew out west earlier this month to woo dozens of donors and advisers to the rich. Read more ..

Egypt After the Revolt

Increasing Concern Over Connections between Muslim Brotherhood and Egypt's Leading Presidential Contender

April 18th 2011

Egypt - Mohamed el-Baradei headshot
Mohammad ElBaradei

Mohammad ElBaradei, the Nobel Prize winning diplomat and former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said in an April 4 interview with the Al-Watan Arab newspaper that, “if Israel attacked Gaza we would declare war against the Zionist regime.” ElBaradei is a leading candidate in the September Egyptian presidential election, and was touted as a reformist during the revolution that swept dictator Hosni Mubarak from power. ElBaradei elaborated that “In case of any future Israeli attack on Gaza—as the next president of Egypt—I will open the Rafah border crossing and will consider different ways to implement the joint Arab defense agreement.”

Last year, ElBaradei publicly expressed support for the “Palestinian Resistance,” including Hamas violence against Israel, saying that Gaza was the “world's biggest jail,” and explained that Palestinian violence was the only path open to the Palestinian people because “the Israeli occupation only understands the language of violence.” In the Al-Watan interview, ElBaradei added, “Israel controls the Palestinian soil and there has been no tangible breakthrough in the process of reconciliation because of the imbalance of power in the region and the situation there is a kind of one-way peace.”

Last week, Gaza Palestinian militants launched a mortar attack at Israel, and Israeli forces killed an armed Palestinian near the Israel-Gaza border. Pressure has been mounting along Israel’s border with the coastal enclave in recent weeks, as Gaza militants and Israeli forces traded blows in what some fear are signs of a large-scale military escalation. And Israel is still reeling from the murder of a rabbi and members of his family by Palestinian terrorists in March. Rabbi Ehud Fogel, along with his wife and two children were repeatedly stabbed by a pair of teenaged Palestinian assasins who stole into their home in the middle of the night. Read more ..

Battle for Bahrain

Iran Casts Shadow over Reform in Bahrain

April 18th 2011

Bahrain Topics - Bahrain enraged protesters

On April 11, President Obama dispatched his national security advisor, Tom Donilon, on a three-day trip to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). During the trip, the United States will likely discuss the crises in Egypt, Libya, Yemen, and Syria, as well as the situation in Bahrain, where last month both Saudi Arabia and the UAE acted against U.S. wishes by sending forces to support the government of King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa. The Gulf leaders will focus on the growing threat posed by Iran. The issue is straining an otherwise excellent regional security relationship.

Bahrain’s State of Emergency

The timing of the visit places a highly unflattering spotlight on the leadership in Bahrain, where a month ago authorities declared a state of emergency after weeks of rioting by members of the majority Shiite Muslim community, whose protests targeted the lack of economic opportunities and political freedoms under the Sunni Arab monarchy. Read more ..

Edge on Food Safety

U.S. Food Safety Labs May Not Have Capacity to Handle a Crisis Like Japan's

April 18th 2011

Farming - FDA food safety lab

As Japan struggles with a radiation emergency, the network of laboratories in charge of keeping nuclear contamination out of American food is coming under fire for being unprepared and understaffed.

The Department of Agriculture inspector general found that while the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) has provided training and equipment, and established protocols for the Food Emergency Response Network (FERN), it has yet to implement it.

After the 9/11 attacks, President George W. Bush signed a presidential directive to protect food supplies. FERN is the national laboratory network charged with responding to biological, chemical, or radiological contamination of food—essentially the front line in making sure Americans’ food is safe to eat in case of an emergency. Read more ..

Egypt After the Revolt

Prospects for Post-Mubarak Egypt: An Early Assessment

April 18th 2011

Egypt - Bye bye Mubarak

It is already a truism of Egypt’s post-Mubarak politics that liberal activists were responsible for the takeoff of the revolution but, so far, Islamists and the military have been defining the landing. That is to say that the spark of revolutionary activity came largely from secular youth, who rather ingeniously organized the massive protests that caught the regime—and themselves—by surprise on Police Day, January 25. Islamists were slow to the fray. However, sensing an opportunity, Islamists grabbed it. When, over the next ten days, the regime tested the option of using real military force to quash the protests, the protestors’ most effective and best organized manpower came from two sources—first, the Muslim Brotherhood and its Islamist allies and second, the well-oiled machines of soccer fan clubs and soccer team security forces. Only the former, of course, had a strategic political agenda, and from the moment the Islamists committed themselves to the fight, their goal has been to capture, exploit and inherit the revolution. Read more ..

Edge on Environment

Peruvian Presidential Election May decide Amazon Future

April 11th 2011

Energy / Environment - Oil spill Maranon River Peru
Oil spill on the Maranon River, 2011.

The enormous segment of Amazonian rainforest that covers over half of the country has always been an issue of contention for Peru due to the number of indigenous tribes that inhabit it. As early as the 16th century, the Peruvian Amazon has been linked to the world market, providing such products as timber, rubber, and quinine to an increasing global market. Ever since the region first became an attractive venue for resource extraction, the government’s economic ambitions have wantonly grown in spite of the ecological importance of preserving the Amazonian rainforest for Peru, its neighbors, and the international community. Read more ..

Kenya on Edge

International Criminal Court Investigation of Kenyans is Perceived as Mixed Blessing

April 11th 2011

Africa Topics - Kenya anti-Ocampo protesters

Airport send-offs were common in Africa in the 60’s and 70’s, when some lucky young man had received a scholarship to study abroad: the U.S.A, the U.K. or somewhere in the eastern Bloc of Cold War times.

The extended family would turn out to wish him Godspeed; there would be speeches in the departure area, even traditional dancers. But this was before 9/11; and now that air travel is much more common, and subject to checks the moment you reach the terminal buildings, such treats have become quite rare. Nowadays they seem reserved for political figures returning from exile, or Kenyan athletes loaded down with medals returning from the Olympic or Commonwealth Games. Read more ..

Arab World Unrest

The Arab Revolutions: An Israeli Perspective

April 4th 2011

Arab Topics - Bahrain enraged protesters

Israel has been watching the ongoing upheaval in the Arab world with steadily growing concern. While they hope to see a happy, democratic end to the popular eruptions of protest and discontent against dictatorial regimes, Israelis are bracing themselves for a series of less optimistic outcomes.

A different Middle East is emerging, one that may be temporarily called "square-ocracy," or the transfer of power from governments to masses of demonstrators in the streets. Rulers are bowing to popular demands, fearing the fate of former Tunisian president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali and former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak. But it is still unclear who will lead these countries in the long term, in which direction they will move, and what type of "freedom" will emerge. An extended period of uncertainty and instability may lie ahead, forcing Israel to cope with a highly volatile environment and reassess some of its longstanding assumptions about the nature of its relationships with some neighboring states. Read more ..

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