The New Egypt
|Michael Singh||June 8th 2014|
The Washington Institute
Abdul Fattah al-Sisi's apparent victory in Egypt's presidential election this week marks the beginning of a new chapter for his country, though not necessarily the end of its political and economic turmoil. The past three years have not only left Egypt gripped by domestic troubles and economic malaise, they have also resulted in further deterioration of bilateral relations. Cairo has looked inward, immune to advice or influence, while Washington has looked on in bewilderment. Although American officials continue to describe relations with Egypt as "strategic," they have in fact become transactional, with one side trading its immediate needs for the other's: the United States needs a stable and cooperative Israeli-Egyptian relationship and preferential access to the Suez Canal, while Egypt needs military hardware and international recognition. Paradoxically, Egypt has had the upper hand in the relationship despite its troubles, mainly because it believes it can turn to others to meet its needs in the short run -- Russia for military equipment, the Persian Gulf states for aid, and the international community for validation. Washington, in contrast, has no geopolitical substitute for Egypt. Read more ..
The Environment on Edge
|David Schoenbrod||June 7th 2014|
When the unlikely duo of Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and four other justices recently upheld the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) authority to require states to control interstate air pollution, it marked a small victory for clean air. The support from both liberal and conservative justices should also send a strong signal for needed bipartisan cooperation to remove three critical chokepoints that Congress built into the Clean Air Act 44-years ago. The chokepoints shorten the life span of the average American by a half year and increase the costs that we will bear to control pollution, including the controls on greenhouse gases that are currently underway.
While the statute dates back to 1970, the litigation began in 2005 when President George W. Bush’s EPA mandated the states to control interstate pollution. A lower court sent this mandate back to the agency and President Barack Obama’s EPA issued a revised mandate in 2011. After a lower court struck it down, the Supreme Court upheld it, but the high court could not remove the remaining chokepoints that Congress built into the original statute. Read more ..
Israel on Edge
|Susan St. Claire||June 5th 2014|
from AP and agencies
The Abbott government has ruled out using the term "occupied" when describing Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem, prompting suggestions about a shift in Australia's foreign policy.
The government on Thursday delivered a statement to clarify its stand on the controversial question of the legality of settlements after the issued flared up at a Senate hearing the night before.
The attorney general, George Brandis, on behalf of the minister for foreign affairs, Julie Bishop, said it was "unhelpful" to refer to historic events when describing these areas, given the ongoing Middle East peace process.
"The description of East Jerusalem as 'occupied' East Jerusalem is a term freighted with pejorative implications which is neither appropriate nor useful," Brandis told a Senate estimates hearing. Read more ..
EU on Edge
Anti-establishment parties from both the left and the right won big in the 28-nation European Parliament elections that ended on May 25.
Riding a wave of voter discontent over the existing political order in Europe, the electoral victories—especially those by euro-skeptic politicians in major EU countries such as Britain, France and Germany—mark a clear turning point in the debate over the future of the European Union.
The surge of anti-EU parties represents an important blow to the legitimacy of plans by the European establishment to transform the continent into a United States of Europe. Read more ..
|Christopher Barrett and Erin Lentz||May 30th 2014|
It's no secret that special interests regularly shape policy in Washington, costing taxpayers money and sacrificing honest policy debate to reward particular industries. The most recent example comes in the form of two objectionable provisions slipped into the Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Act of 2014, recently passed by the House and now in committee in the Senate. The passage of this bill with these sections would not only divert scarce U.S. food-aid resources toward a handful of cargo-ship owners and away from the 2 million or so hungry people abroad, but would also foreclose future public debate on the issue.
Using food-aid funds to support the maritime industry is so ridiculous that Jon Stewart's "The Daily Show" satirized the idea this past fall. Yet the maritime industry seeks to take advantage of the fact that this bill routinely passes Congress with little attention, and often by a voice vote, by inserting two sections aimed at protecting their interests. Read more ..
The Nuclear Edge
|Gabriel Scheinmann||May 29th 2014|
Fifty years ago, the CIA produced a Special National Intelligence Estimate (SNIE) on China's nuclear weapons program for President Lyndon Johnson. Overhead photography taken three weeks earlier revealed that a Chinese installation in Lop Nor was definitively a nuclear test site and would come online in two months. However, the CIA estimated, China would not have the necessary amount of fissionable material, which the United States assumed would come from a small plutonium reactor at Baotou, until mid-1965.
Seeking to make sense of the conflicting timelines, the CIA began to speculate: perhaps the Soviets had transferred additional fissionable material, perhaps the CIA was unaware of other enrichment sites, or, perhaps, as is often the case in large undertakings, progress among the different elements of China's nuclear program had merely become uneven. In conclusion, the SNIE reads, the available facts "do not permit a very confident estimate of the chances of a Chinese Communist nuclear detonation in the next few months. Clearly the possibility of such a detonation before the end of the year cannot be ruled out—the test may occur during this period. On balance, however, we believe that it will not occur until sometime after the end of 1964." Seven weeks later, China tested its first nuclear bomb on October 16, 1964, a highly enriched uranium implosion device. Read more ..
Afghanistan on Edge
|Frederick W. Kagen||May 28th 2014|
Troops don’t matter. The Afghan “surge” didn’t work so there’s no reason to keep many US troops there. The Afghan “surge” actually did work—as far as it was allowed to. Although violence levels remained high (unlike in Iraq, where they plummeted), the partial surge President Obama authorized in 2009 took back Helmand and Kandahar Provinces from Taliban domination. Afghan troops have held on to most of the key gains in that critical area with much more limited assistance. But Obama called the surge home before it could shift to the east, as was planned and required. The Afghan surge demonstrated quite clearly how important US troops can be.
Al Qaeda is “on the ropes.” No, it just isn’t. Al Qaeda affiliates have grown dramatically in reach, strength, combat power, and territory controlled. Most notably, the al Qaeda franchise in Iraq rebounded from near-defeat in 2011 to a force that now controls significant areas in Iraq while also operating in Syria. Bin Laden’s successor, Ayman al Zawahiri, continues to mediate between dueling al Qaeda franchises in Syria from his hideout in Pakistan. He’s certainly not too busy running from us to concern himself with such matters. Read more ..
Europe on Edge
|Joshua Levitt||May 27th 2014|
Jewish groups expressed concern on Monday over the surge in support for far-right parties in the European Union’s parliamentary elections, with fears that hate speech will now feature more prominently in European politics.
On Monday, the EU said that of the 751 seats, the center-right European People’s Party won 214, followed by the center-left Socialists and Democrats with 189, while the far-right parties surged to win a combined 36 seats, giving them enough weight to influence debate and decision making in the EU body.
France’s National Front won 25 seats, Hungary’s notorious Jobbik party won four seats, Greece’s Golden Dawn, under criminal investigation and with several party leaders in prison, entered the European Parliament for the first time, with an expected three seats, and the far-right FPÖ in Austria won four seats. Read more ..
The Edge of Terrorism
|Gordon N. Bardos||May 26th 2014|
Since the fall of communism two and a half decades ago, militant Islamism has been planting seeds and spreading roots in various parts of southeastern Europe, particularly the former Yugoslavia. With the help of local allies, militant Islamists have established training bases, recruiting stations, and safe-havens for would-be terrorists and terrorists on the run. The extent of the problem became obvious when the late Richard Holbrooke noted that “if it had not been for the Dayton Peace Accords, 9/11 would probably have been planned in Bosnia, not in Afghanistan.” Indeed, almost every major terrorist action of the recent past has roots or connections to the Balkans.
Given the Balkans’ emergence as a new front for militant Islamists, understanding the ideology and beliefs driving the movement has become important for western security interests, and for the ramifications they may have on plans to integrate the region into Euro-Atlantic political and economic structures. Read more ..
|Tim Worstall||May 25th 2014|
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The real economic story behind that lovely fight that’s going on between Amazon and Hachette that is. What we’re really seeing is a battle between the people who make the product and the people who distribute it as to who should be getting the economic surplus that the consumer is willing to hand over. Like all such fights it’s both brutal and petty. Amazon is apparently delaying shipment of Hachette produced books, insisting that some upcoming ones won’t be available and so on. Hachette is complaining very loudly about what Amazon is doing, entirely naturally. The bigger question is what should we do, if anything, about it? To which the answer is almost certainly let them fight it out and see who wins.
The detail of who is doing what to whom is well laid out in the WSJ here: In the wake of the federal government’s e-book antitrust pricing settlement with publishers, publishers supply e-books to retailers at a price set by the publishers but which retailers are able to discount.
The Iranian Threat
When Hassan Rouhani was elected as Iran’s president in June 2013, you could hear the sighs of relief in Washington, in Brussels, at U.N. Headquarters, and across key European capitals. Finally, we were told, the terrorism-supporting, human rights-abusing, Holocaust-denying Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had left the political stage. Finally, a moderate, rational leader with whom we could conduct business was in power. Finally, there was a real chance of securing an enduring deal to thwart Iran’s dangerous nuclear ambitions.
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Almost a year later, we’re still hearing that refrain, thanks to the optimism that the new round of talks on Iran’s nuclear capabilities, inaugurated by the Joint Plan of Action agreed by the Tehran regime and world powers last November, continues to generate. Iran’s own foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, has spoken warmly of the “unexpectedly fast pace of progress in the negotiations so far,” even offering the reassurance that his government is keen to avoid the perception that it is seeking to weaponize the nuclear program.
The Battle for Ukraine
|Robert Coalson||May 22nd 2014|
Russia's aggressive policies in Ukraine since the fall of 2013 have resulted in some remarkable gains for Moscow.
Kyiv's European-integration plans have been derailed. The strategically important Crimean Peninsula has been annexed.
And the destabilization caused by pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine threatens to continue casting doubt over the legitimacy of the government in Kyiv and to give Moscow strong tools for further interference in Ukrainian affairs.
But the costs of these tactical victories could be steep -- even unbearable -- for Russian President Vladimir Putin's government if the West is able to come together in its response and to keep up the pressure into the long term.
"Russia has damaged itself on many levels," Jan Techau, director of Carnegie Europe in Brussels, says. "There are only very few real partners and allies they still have left, and even the most hard-core defenders have now realized that Russia will probably never be the kind of partner that they thought Russia would be." Techau adds that Russia's international isolation as a result of Ukraine is likely to grow. Read more ..
Healthcare on Edge
|Joseph Anos, Mark V. Pauly, James C. Capretta and Robrt Doar||May 21st 2014|
Healthcare reform has largely ignored the poor. The healthcare safety net has far too many holes, and the Affordable Care Act builds on a flawed system of health insurance. Lower income families, especially those enrolled in Medicaid, have a difficult time finding doctors who will accept their coverage. Insurance is of little value if doctors will not work with your insurer.
About one-third of physicians refuse to see new Medicaid patients. Referrals to specialists are especially difficult. In Washington State primary care physicians had 75 percent more problems obtaining a specialty referral for Medicaid patients than for those with commercial coverage.
States buy health services for the poor, but at less-than-market prices. According to the government’s health actuaries, Medicaid pays about 60 percent of what private insurers pay for medical care. Who can blame physicians for avoiding this kind of insurance? Read more ..
The Bear is Back
|George Friedman||May 20th 2014|
I am writing this from Budapest, the city in which I was born. I went to the United States so young that all my memories of Hungary were acquired later in life or through my family, whose memories bridged both world wars and the Cold War, all with their attendant horrors. My own deepest memory of Hungary comes from my parents' living room in the Bronx. My older sister was married in November 1956. There was an uprising against the Soviets at the same time, and many of our family members were still there. After the wedding, we returned home and saw the early newspapers and reports on television. My parents discovered that some of the heaviest fighting between the revolutionaries and Soviets had taken place on the street where my aunts lived. A joyous marriage, followed by another catastrophe -- the contrast between America and Hungary. That night, my father asked no one in particular, "Does it ever end?" The answer is no, not here. Which is why I am back in Budapest. Read more ..
The Edge of Terrorism
|Jonathan Spyer||May 19th 2014|
With Syrian presidential elections scheduled for June, the incumbent and shoo-in for reelection, Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, is campaigning on the promise that 2014 will be the year in which military operations in Syria end. However, the situation in northern Syria, exemplified by the conflict in the canton of Kobani, an area stretching from the Turkish border to south of Kobani city, and from Tell Abyad in the east to Jarabulus in the west, casts doubt on Assad’s optimism.
Kobani is under Kurdish control, but cuts into a larger section of territory controlled by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, a jihadist organization. ISIS aims to hold a clear, contiguous area stretching from Syria’s border with Turkey into western Iraq, where it controls territory in the provinces of Ninewah and Anbar. The existence of the Kurdish canton of Kobani interferes with this plan, and since March ISIS has launched daily attacks against positions held by the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) at the edges of the enclave. The Kobani situation offers a window into the Syrian conflict, a fragmented reality where in large parts of the country the regime is little more than a memory, and well-organized rival militias representing starkly different political projects are clashing. Last month, I traveled to the Kobani enclave, entering from the Turkish border with Kurdish smugglers. The road was short but perilous—a sprint toward the border fence in the dark and a rapid, fumbling climb over it. Read more ..
The Edge of Healthcare
|Scott Gottlieb||May 18th 2014|
About the same time that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services was botching the rollout of healthcare.gov, the agency also announced its successful creation of two mobile apps designed to help doctors keep track the stuff they get from drug makers. It lets doctors electronically tabulate (and report to the Feds) each consulting fee, pen, and jelly doughnut that they receive, right on their iPhone.
The aim of this de rigueur is to help doctors comply with a new federal law passed as part of the Affordable Care Act. Starting this year, drug and medical device companies must report to CMS nearly every transaction they have with individual doctors and how much the physicians received. CMS will post the data on a searchable, public website that goes live September 2014. Read more ..
The Battle for Syria
|Andrew J. Taber||May 17th 2014|
The United States and the international community have spent the better part of the last year backing peace talks in Geneva to bring about a "political transition that meets the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people," and ultimately end the war between the Alawite-dominated regime of President Bashar al-Assad and the Sunni and Kurdish-dominated opposition. But Assad has his own transition in mind: running for a third seven-year term as president. On April 28, the Syrian president nominated himself as a candidate in Syria's June 3 presidential poll, "hoping the parliament would endorse it."
This was hardly a surprise. Assad has hinted at his candidacy for months, and "spontaneous rallies" calling for him to run -- many complete with images of Assad beside Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah -- have sprung up across regime-controlled areas of the country, while shopkeepers have been encouraged to paint their storefronts with Syrian flags and slogans supporting the leader. Read more ..
America on Edge
|Caroline Kitchens||May 14th 2014|
Jezebel’s Erin Gloria Ryan recently declared, “Being terrible about rape appears as endemic to American high education as barfing on the quad.” Ryan had just heard the news that 55 American universities are facing federal Title IX investigations for possibly mishandling cases of sexual misconduct. Jezebel seems to think that the Department of Education (DOE) investigations are evidence of a sexual-assault epidemic and insidious “rape culture” plaguing our college campuses.
Actually, the investigations show no such thing. The DOE has made it clear that a college’s investigation “in no way indicates at this stage that the college or university is violating or has violated the law.” What the investigations actually reveal is just the beginning of the messy results of three years of federal overreach into campus rape policies. Read more ..
The Race for Natural Gas
Washington’s eyes may be on the latest developments in the Keystone pipeline dispute and the Crimean Peninsula crisis, but a bigger story is unfolding, involving an entirely different pipeline and an entirely different peninsula. In a swift move to conquer another square on its geopolitical chess board Russia has just written off 90 percent of North Korea’s debt, a gesture estimated at $10 billion, in exchange for Pyongyang’s agreement to build a natural gas pipeline that would run from Sakhalin through North Korea to South Korea, the world’s second largest gas importer, with the goal of supplying South Korea with 10 billion cubic meters of gas annually, potentially raising its dependence on Russian gas from 6 to 30 percent. Indeed, while the U.S. invests a great deal of political capital on reducing Ukraine’s dependence on Gazprom its key ally in Asia might soon be heading in the opposite direction. Read more ..
The UN on Edge
Richard Falk, the current Rapporteur for Palestine of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), is set to step down in the coming days. Falk's primary legacy will be his consistent hounding of Israel, which he has accused, among other things, of engaging in genocide and apartheid against the Palestinians. Unfortunately, Falk never placed the Palestinian-Israeli conflict in its proper context, nor did he properly compare Israel's actions to those of the more serious violators of human rights, including Syria, North Korea and Sudan. He has thus made a mockery of the UN and done a disservice to the Palestinian people.
Falk has consistently miscategorized and distorted Israel's behavior. For example, this past December, he accused Israel of targeting Palestinians with "genocidal intent." And for his final report in his present capacity, he accused Israel of "inhuman acts," calling on the UN to wage a legitimacy war against the Jewish State. He has also demanded that the World Court examine whether Israel is guilty of ethnic cleansing. Read more ..
The Iranian Threat
|Jonathan Schanzer and Mark Dubowitz||May 13th 2014|
Foundation for Defense of Democracies
With a new round of talks underway this week in Vienna, American officials are brimming with optimism concerning the possibility of a nuclear deal by the summer. Worryingly, Iran appears poised to retain essential elements of its military-nuclear infrastructure. But because Tehran will provide just enough in the way of technical concessions to delay its ability to breakout to a nuclear bomb, it’s likely that the White House will unravel the complex sanctions architecture that has kept Iran’s economy on its heels.
History will judge whether the president was right to compromise with a regime that has a long track record of nuclear mendacity. But with sanctions relief already granted to Iran in exchange for a nuclear pause, and still more to come, Mr. Obama has already undermined the original rationale for the U.S.-led financial sanctions. Read more ..
|George Friedman||May 12th 2014|
I arrive in Azerbaijan as the country celebrates Victory Day, the day successor states of the former Soviet Union celebrate the defeat of Germany in World War II. No one knows how many Soviet citizens died in that war -- perhaps 22 million. The number is staggering and represents both the incompetence and magnificence of Russia, which led the Soviets in war. Any understanding of Russia that speaks of one without the other is flawed.
As I write, fireworks are going off over the Caspian Sea. The pyrotechnics are long and elaborate, sounding like an artillery barrage. They are a reminder that Baku was perhaps the most important place in the Nazi-Soviet war. It produced almost all of the Soviet Union's petroleum. The Germans were desperate for it and wanted to deny it to Moscow. Germany's strategy after 1942, including the infamous battle of Stalingrad, turned on Baku's oil. Read more ..
The Hamas-PLO Union
|Shoshana Bryen||May 8th 2014|
Jewish Policy Center
Sometimes it is braggadocio. Sometimes it is the last rhetorical shot before making a political change previously thought impossible. But sometimes, just sometimes, it is truth as the teller sees it.
Hamas released a video for Israel's 66th anniversary, entitled "No Hope," (a play on Israel's national anthem, Hatikva, or "Hope"). It is vile, putrid and an absolutely true rendering of Hamas thinking, breathing, and being. The Times of Israel described it in all its slavish devotion to death, delusion and Hamas imperialism:
"The army of the Zionists was built of wax and now it is melted and has no hope," the singer croons as a computer generated militant character smashes Israel's state symbols into rubble. The song says that smart Israelis will be allowed to leave the country and return "to their homelands" while those who are stubborn and remain will have their fates "sealed beneath the dirt." The YouTube clip intersperses various historical photos of the conflict with computer-generated Hamas gunmen who are seen driving the Jews out of Jerusalem and onto ships and celebrating on top of the al-Aqsa mosque, as the bodies of IDF soldiers riddle the streets. "The Holy city will return to its former name," the singer warbles as the distorted anthem draws to a close. "My capital Beyt al-Maqdis, not Jerusalem." Read more ..
|Asaf Romirowsky||May 7th 2014|
Perhaps the most insurmountable and explosive issue in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the so-called "right of return"—the demand that millions of Palestinians must be allowed to "return" to the State of Israel under any peace agreement. While Israel has made clear that it cannot agree to this, since it would effectively destroy Israel as a Jewish state, the Palestinians have steadfastly refused to compromise on the issue. This has made the "right of return" the primary obstacle to any peace agreement.
Despite the latest round of peace talks, there is little sign that the Palestinians are willing to change their stance. Indeed, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has unequivocally stated, "Let me put it simply: the right of return is a personal decision. What does this mean? That neither the PA, nor the state, nor the PLO, nor Abu Mazen [Abbas' nom de guerre], nor any Palestinian or Arab leader has the right to deprive someone from his right to return." Abbas is by no means alone in this. In fact, whenever it appears that Abbas might waver, the reaction tends to be swift and ferocious. Read more ..
The Battle for Ukraine
|George Friedman||May 6th 2014|
In The Guns of August, Barbara Tuchman wrote a superb and accurate story about how World War I began. For her it was a confluence of perception, misperception, personality and decisions. It was about the leaders, and implicit in her story was the idea that World War I was the result of miscalculation and misunderstanding. I suppose that if you focus on the details, then the war might seem unfortunate and avoidable. I take a different view: It was inevitable from the moment Germany united in 1871. When it happened and exactly how it happened was perhaps up to decision-makers. That it would happen was a geopolitical necessity. And understanding that geopolitical necessity gives us a framework for understanding what is happening in Ukraine, and what is likely to happen next. Read more ..
The Bear is Back
|Luis Fleischman ||May 5th 2014|
As Russian control of Crimea consolidates and the fear of a potential invasion of continental Ukraine increases, Russian activities closer to home in the Western Hemisphere have been largely overlooked or perhaps just disregarded. There have been reports of increasing Russian military cooperation with countries in Latin America that are hostile to the United States, mainly Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua. This includes agreements between Russia and the above named countries that would enable Russia to place their naval logistic facilities in Venezuelan, Cuban and Nicaraguan territory. According to Russia’s Secretary of Defense, those facilities could serve long-range aircraft. The motive, according to Russia expert, Stephen Blank is that Russia seeks access to ports and air bases for refueling purposes as well as great power influence.
The Russian invasion of Crimea raises the question of whether or not the old cold war logic remains relevant. Read more ..
The Defense Edge
|Alexander Bolton||May 5th 2014|
Rand Paul has warned Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) that he will place a hold on one of President Obama’s appellate court nominees because of his role in crafting the legal basis for Obama’s drone policy.
Paul, the junior Republican senator from Kentucky, has informed Reid he will object to David Barron’s nomination to the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals unless the Justice Department makes public the memos he authored justifying the killing of an American citizen in Yemen.The American Civil Liberties Union supports Paul’s objection, giving some Democratic lawmakers extra incentive to support a delay to Barron’s nomination, which could come to the floor in the next two weeks. Read more ..
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A clear-cut case of conflict of interest is swirling about at CBS News over the smoking gun emails revealed Tuesday by Judicial Watch. The emails tied the White House to directing then-UN Ambassador Susan Rice to ensure the narrative credited an anti-Islamic video for spawning the 2012 Benghazi attack and "not a broader failure or policy."
As Judicial Watch revealed the emails they sued to obtain through the Freedom of Information Act on Tuesday, not a single network covered the story other than Fox News. It wasn't until Wednesday that CBS This Morning ran anything about the emails, and the evening CBS newscast did not make mention of them. It may be of no small consequence that the email igniting the present firestorm was written by White House aide Ben Rhodes, brother of CBS News President David Rhodes.
Obama's Second Term
|The Hill staff||May 2nd 2014|
Republicans are turning up the heat on the White House over the terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya, questioning whether the administration violated a congressional subpoena by withholding documents.
GOP lawmakers on both sides of the Capitol have assailed the administration over emails obtained by Judicial Watch under a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request.
One of the emails details national security adviser Ben Rhodes’s “goals” for the talk-show appearances of Susan Rice the weekend after the deadly assault in Libya. In the email, Rhodes said Rice should “underscore that these protests are rooted in an Internet video, and not a broader failure of policy.”
Rice argued in series of Sunday show appearances that the violence in Benghazi appeared to have happened spontaneously following protests over an anti-Islam YouTube video. The administration later conceded that the Benghazi attack, which left four Americans dead, was preplanned. Read more ..
The Battle for Ukraine
|Andre de Nesnera||May 1st 2014|
An estimated 40,000 Russian troops are deployed on the Ukrainian border, poised to invade if the order comes from Moscow. These forces are part of a much larger military that has been modernizing its forces over the past several years.
Western estimates say the Russian Defense Ministry has between 800,000 and one million men under arms. These include strategic rocket forces as well as the various uniformed services: air, air defense, ground and naval. And there are various kinds of special forces, such as the Spetsnaz belonging to Russia’s military intelligence or GRU. Stephen Blank, an expert on the Russian military at the American Foreign Policy Council, said there are also paramilitary forces.
“The other forces belong to other ministries: the Ministry of the Interior, which are the internal forces of the MVD. The FSB has forces - that’s the intelligence [service],” said Blank. “There are border troops and then there are paramilitaries like the Cossack formations. So there are lots of people involved here, probably something like one million men total in the regular armed forces, several hundred thousand more in these auxiliaries of the MVD, FSB, Cossacks and so on.” Read more ..
Obama's Second Term
|Frederick M. Hess||April 28th 2014|
The Obama administration has been remarkable in its casual disregard for statutes and the niceties of federalism. But even those quick to note this in terms of health care, immigration, or criminal justice have often regarded education as something of an administration bright spot. Last week provided another illustration of just how misguided such assessments are.
On Thursday, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan informed Washington State that he was revoking the waiver that had freed it from impossible-to-meet requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), including the quixotic mandate that 100 percent of students be proficient in reading and math. In return for the waiver, Washington had been required to implement a number of the administration’s preferred education initiatives — and, as Duncan noted in the letter yanking the waiver, the state’s legislature failed to pass one of the required laws, a measure tying teacher evaluations to student performance. Thus, Washington became the first state to lose its waiver. This is a stunning misuse of executive discretion. Read more ..
|Edward Conrad||April 27th 2014|
Liberal and conservative economists disagree sharply over the extent to which a lower marginal tax rate motivates talented workers to take the risks and suffer the consequences necessary to earn more money. The strongly held belief that higher tax rates do not create significant disincentive for risk-taking is central to the liberal argument. Imagine the shock, then, when two pillars of liberal economics—Paul Krugman and Paris School of Economics professor Thomas Piketty—conceded that a lower U.S. marginal tax rates had a profound effect on the economy precisely through its motivational effects on the most productive workers.
In his review of Piketty's new book, "Capital in the 21st Century," Krugman admits that he is "more or less persuaded by Piketty's explanation of the surge in wage inequality," which Krugman summarizes as the following: Read more ..
The Urban Edge
|Robert Puentes and Adie Tomer||April 26th 2014|
Over the last five years, the concept of the technology-driven “smart city” has captured the imagination of public, private, and nonprofit leaders alike. Yet for the rapid rise in interest, smart city deployments have failed to meet both private sector firms’ adoption ambitions and the public sector's expectations for impact. Against this backdrop, the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program and Barcelona’s ESADE Business School brought together officials from cities throughout Europe, Canada, and the United States to better understand the promise and practice for smart cities around the world today.
The discussion is timely as cities are responding to myriad pressures (e.g. population growth, climate change, fiscal stress) by seeking new more efficient ways of operating through the use of information and communications technologies. These investments in digital infrastructure are designed to improve the way we manage the built environment and confront the challenges of urbanization. From mandating the construction of energy efficient buildings to creating intelligent transport networks, cities are seeking to become “smarter.” Read more ..
Financing the Flames
|Martin Barillas||April 24th 2014|
from Reuters and agencies
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Angry Administration officials and lawmakers are warning they will reconsider financial assistance to the Palestinians if Islamist group Hamas and the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) form a unity government, according to a senior U.S. administration official.
"Any Palestinian government must unambiguously and explicitly commit to nonviolence, recognition of the State of Israel, and acceptance of previous agreements and obligations between the parties," the official said, speaking to Reuters on condition of anonymity.
"If a new Palestinian government is formed, we will assess it based on its adherence to the stipulations above, its policies and actions, and will determine any implications for our assistance based on U.S. law," the official said.
The Iranian Threat
|Walid Phares||April 23rd 2014|
As a reader of Khomeinist global strategies since the early 1980s, and as I have argued over decades in books and articles, Tehran’s regime possesses a much larger nuclear strategy than the simple acquisition of mass destruction weapons. Over the last few years, the United States and its Western allies have been led to focus on the visible part of the Iranian buildup, missing the much greater construct undertaken over several generations of rulers of the same Iranian regime. Since the so-called “Iran nuclear deal” was inked last fall, Washington acts as if it has somewhat halted (or at least slowed) the strategic program of Tehran and thus has been rewarding the Ayatollahs, but the reality flies in the face of this assumption and agreement. Iran’s regime is employing a much larger strategy in order to reach the level of an armed nuclear power, and – perhaps ironically – one of the regime’s strategic policies is to mislead the international community, particularly the U.S., in its campaign to irreversibly transform itself into a nuclear power.
The Iranian global construct can be perceived as a “Khomeinist Dome.” Iran’s strategy has been twofold—and sustained over decades, not simply implemented over the past few years and months. The regime has two simultaneous goals. One is to create a defensive sphere over the forthcoming strategic weapon before it is unveiled, and two is to suppress any internal opposition to the regime’s policies. The “dome” is a complex integration of Iranian foreign policy: Terrorism backing, using financial luring, exploiting Western weaknesses while at the same time expanding influence in the region so that by the time the greater shield is established, most U.S. and allied measures will be useless.
The regime knew all too well, years ago, that if they produced one atomic weapon (or even two) without being able to protect it, they would run into the almost certainty of military action by the West and/or by Israel to disable it. They were unable to circumvent this strategic theorem for decades, at least since the end of the Iraq-Iran war of 1980-1987. The issue for them was not about obtaining the nuclear weapon, but how to deter their enemies from destroying it. Iran did not have the geopolitical or economic capacities, nor the international stature of either India or Pakistan, to produce large scale numbers of bombs and later announce them the way south Asia’s nuclear powers detonated their devices in 1999. Hence Iran’s grand strategy to equip itself with the ultimate weapon was different—and thus far successful. Read more ..
|Roger Bale||April 23rd 2014|
With most product lines everyone is used to the idea that the more we pay the better the product. A $40,000 Cadillac is probably better in every way than a $10,000 Honda. The Honda gets you from points A to B adequately, but few would consider their quality to be the same. But what about medicines? Some patients may well suspect that the brand name original will be better made and, hence, maybe work better than a generic version. But I suspect most people do not assume this, or at least never even think about it. When they get a doctor’s prescription, they don’t ask which generic? Or what is the evidence that it works as well as the branded original?
They may well compare car performance figures before buying, but I doubt many patients even think of doing so when it comes to medicines and drugs. The reason is that they trust, directly or tacitly, the regulators (and their doctor) to ensure that all products work properly on the market. But why should a regulator of medicines be better than any other bureaucrat in any other field? Maybe we trust the companies making the products -- assuming that both their desire to please customers, and the fear of the loss of business, or even the prospect of facing jail if they poison customers, mean the products will work. Read more ..
Russia on Edge
|Stephen Blank||April 22nd 2014|
A permanent legitimacy and capacity crisis exists today in Russia and the state's nature ensures that this cannot be otherwise. Indeed, we have arguably entered into what Soviet historians called a revolutionary crisis, i.e. a long-term crisis of the state culminating in a revolution or fundamental transformation because that system cannot function any longer and collapses under the combined stresses of domestic failure and international competition. But understanding this state is particularly difficult. Western analysts are trapped in a self-imposed labyrinth of an ethnocentric American or Western approach to politics that sees Russia merely as an authoritarian construct. But to call Russia authoritarian is tantamount to observing that the sun rises in the East. Read more ..
The Iranian Threat
|Alon Ben-Meir||April 22nd 2014|
Given the strong likelihood that Iran will acquire nuclear weapons, why and how to prevent it from achieving its goal must be based on the assumption that the consequences will be dire should Iran realize its objective. There are two intertwined implications for the Gulf States and Israel in particular that a nuclear Iran presents: the physical and the psychological.
Whereas Iran’s physical possession of nuclear weapons can be neutralized through deterrence and containment, the psychological aspect will linger as it will constantly bear a high degree of uncertainty. Together they radically change the geopolitical calculations of the countries in the region as well as outside powers, especially the US, who have significant strategic interests and security obligations to its allies in the region. Read more ..
Venezuela on Edge
|Luis Fleischman ||April 21st 2014|
|Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro|
The violence that began between the Venezuelan government and large segments of the opposition last February has now resulted in a dialogue between the opposing sides.
Although there is much wishful thinking on the side of the opposition represented by the Mesa de Unidad (MUD) coalition, a group that includes most opposition parties, the future is far from certain.
In the two meetings that have taken place between the government and the opposition an agreement was reached to create a Truth Commission to investigate the events of the last two months where 41 people lost their lives, hundreds were wounded, more than 2,000 were arrested, and many were tortured. In principle, the Truth Commission would integrate members of the Assembly with recognized public personalities that are not necessarily from the political arena. However, it has not yet been decided who these individuals will be.
The opposition also agreed to be part of the Pacification Plan aimed (Plan de Pacificacion) at improving citizens’ security in light of increasing crime. Read more ..
Afganistan After the Pull-Out
|Marc Simms||April 21st 2014|
With the proposed NATO pull-out at the end of 2014, the security situation in Afghanistan is once again under scrutiny – and with good reason. A long-term security agreement between Washington and Kabul looks increasingly unlikely, raising the possibility of a full NATO withdrawal that would leave Afghanistan to stand alone without direct American or European security assistance. This article will examine the stability prospects for Afghanistan should NATO leave without some kind of permanent military deployment being left behind.
The Afghan Security Forces: Ready or Not?
Since taking greater responsibility for the security of their country, the Afghan security forces have not performed well. Though they now carry out the vast majority of military and security operations, this increase has been marked by a spike in casualties, both for Afghan military forces and civilians caught in the crossfire with the Taliban. Poor training is also evident in the increasing number of beatings, lootings, and extrajudicial executions being reported by the UNAMA. Read more ..
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