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The Ukraine on Edge

How Ukraine Crisis Went From Compromise To Bloodshed In Just Hours

February 19th 2014

Flames in Cairo

As recently as February 17, when an amnesty for hundreds of demonstrators went into effect, Ukraine's crisis looked like it was deescalating. But beginning on February 18 at least 25 people died.

Here are five things to know about why things went bad so fast, and where they might go from here.

What sparked the lethal violence Ukraine?
Tensions soared on February 18 when opposition lawmakers urged parliament to revert to Ukraine's 2004 constitution, which would offer President Viktor Yanukovych fewer powers, but were rebuffed. At the same time, some 20,000 protesters marched on the parliament building in support of the opposition deputies and were stopped by police in a violent confrontation. Read more ..

America on Edge

Americans' Focus on Private Affairs Leads to Indifference to Foreign Affairs

February 18th 2014

Recently, several events took place that were important to their respective regions and potentially to the world. Russian government officials suggested turning Ukraine into a federation, following weeks of renewed demonstrations in Kiev. The Venezuelan government was confronted with violent and deadly protests. Kazakhstan experienced a financial crisis that could have destabilized the economies of Central Asia. Russia and Egypt inked a significant arms deal. Right-wing groups in Europe continued their political gains.

Any of these events had the potential to affect the United States. At different times, lesser events have transfixed Americans. This week, Americans seemed to be indifferent to all of them. This may be part of a cycle that shapes American interest in public affairs. The decision to raise the debt ceiling, which in the last cycle gripped public attention, seemed to elicit a shrug. Read more ..

The Nuclear Edge

Don't Junk New START

February 17th 2014

Ballitic Missile

U.S. Representatives Trent Franks and Doug Lamborn, writing in The Moscow Times on Feb. 12, called for the U.S. to withdraw from the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, or New START. Their arguments do not stand up to serious scrutiny. Continued observance of New START is in the interest of the U.S. and Russia.

New START requires that each country reduce its strategic arms to no more than 1,550 deployed strategic warheads and no more than 700 deployed strategic missiles and bombers. These limits take full effect in February 2018.

The treaty constrains only deployed strategic weapons. It does not limit reserve strategic warheads or non-strategic (tactical) nuclear weapons. According to the Federation of American Scientists, the U.S. and Russia have total arsenals numbering about 4,500 nuclear weapons each. Read more ..

NAFTA on Edge

How to Strengthen NAFTA’s Next 20 Years

February 16th 2014

NAFTA demonstration Teamsters

Next week, President Obama will make his third trip to Mexico in as many years to attend the North American Leaders’ Summit alongside Canadian Prime Minister Harper and Mexican President Peña Nieto. Amidst a flurry of retrospectives on the 20th anniversary of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the summit offers a timely opportunity to ask two questions: 1) What is the current state of North American trade? and 2) What can the three countries do together to position the continent for success in the global economy over the next 20 years?

Our recent report, Metro North America, offers some answers to the first question. Trade volumes between the United States and Canada and Mexico are massive and growing, due in no small part to the fact that manufacturers now treat the continent as one seamless market for research, design, production, and distribution.   Read more ..

The 2016 Race

A Too-Early Look at the 2016 Presidential Race

February 15th 2014


Of course it’s too early to talk about 2016. Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way ... The most interesting dynamic about the presidential race so far is that the Democrats are behaving like Republicans — and vice versa.

Since 1940, with the arguable exception of Barry Goldwater, Republicans have nominated the guy next in line. Thomas Dewey almost beat Wendell Willkie for the nomination in 1940, so in 1944 — and 1948 — it was his turn. Dwight Eisenhower, whom both parties wanted as their nominee, was a special case, given that whole invading-Europe-and-defeating-Hitler thing.

But Richard Nixon had been Ike’s vice president in 1960, and in 1968 Republicans believed he had been the victim of John F. Kennedy’s stolen election, so they nominated him again. Gerald Ford was Nixon’s VP and the sitting president in 1976. Still, Ronald Reagan almost beat him in the primaries, so the next time around the Gipper got a shot.

In 1988, Reagan’s VP, George H. W. Bush, had his turn. Bob Dole (Ford’s running mate in ’76) had almost beaten Bush in ’88, so he got the nod in ’96. George W. Bush was nominated in 2000, in part because the rank and file felt nostalgic for his dad during the sordid Clinton years. In 2008, John McCain cashed in his runner-up coupon for the nomination. And in 2012, Mitt Romney did likewise. Read more ..

Inside Politics

Billionaires Boost Republican Governors Group Past Democrates in Fundraising

February 14th 2014

Chris Christie

The Republican Governors Association heads into a crucial election year having outraised its Democratic counterpart $50.3 million to $28 million in 2013, thanks largely to donations from corporations and billionaires like industrialist David Koch.

Koch, hedge fund chief Paul Singer, casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, and Leslie Wexner, CEO of the Limited Brands, each donated more than $1 million to the group last year while tobacco company Reynolds American, Koch Industries and health insurer Wellpoint each contributed more than $500,000, according to Internal Revenue Service records posted Friday.

The cash advantage is welcome given the challenges facing the RGA’s leader.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, the RGA chairman, is embroiled in an ongoing scandal in his home state that could make it hard for him to bring in cash and votes in a year when 36 governors’ races are on the ballot.

With members of his party calling for him to step down, Christie may have trouble matching the Midas touch of former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, who raised a staggering $87 million to help the party capture five new governorships in 2010.

In addition, two of the RGA’s most reliable and generous donors — Texans Bob Perry and Harold Simmons — died in 2013. Perry was the RGA’s most generous benefactor, contributing more than $12 million over the past five years, half the total in 2010 alone.

While the RGA will likely still outraise the Democratic Governors Association, it will have to contend with a motivated union political machine that combined with the DGA actually accounted for more outside spending than the RGA in 2012. And money certainly doesn’t guarantee success at the ballot box. Read more ..

Taiwan and China

5 Faulty Assumptions about Taiwan

February 13th 2014

taiwanese semiconductor plant

The government-to-government talks between Wang Yu-chi, head of Taiwan's Mainland Affairs Council, and Zhang Zhijun, head of China's Taiwan Affairs Office, are significant, but not for reasons many think. Indeed, the talks are most noteworthy because they happened at all. A key element of China's Taiwan policy has been to isolate the island and get all countries to accept the Chinese position that Taiwan is not a country, but a province of China.

Now Taiwan and China have had government-to-government talks. China has moved a step closer to accepting Taiwan's de facto independent status as a country with its own national government. The substance of the talks will be far less noteworthy as Taiwan does not want to make any concessions or agreements on political issues such as its international status. Read more ..

Iran's Nukes

Iranian Navy and Its Largely Symbolic Display in the Atlantic Ocean

February 13th 2014

Tehran announced Feb. 8 that it had dispatched a frigate and a supply ship to the North Atlantic Ocean, where they will approach U.S. maritime borders. This is not the first time the Iranians have announced their intent to deploy naval vessels close to the United States. Iran made two such declarations in 2011 but never followed through.

However, following the most recent announcement, Iranian Adm. Afshin Rezayee Haddad said the Iranian fleet is actually underway, already approaching the South Atlantic Ocean through waters off the coast of South Africa. The Iranian decision to deploy naval vessels to the North Atlantic is largely symbolic; it does not pose any real military risk. Iran will use the deployment to show the flag in a non-threatening manner, looking to appease its hard-liners who are dubious about the U.S.-Iran nuclear talks. Read more ..

Broken Government

Potholed U.S. Roads Are a Creation of Washington

February 12th 2014

Bridge Failure

Another winter storm is slated to bury the nation's capital in snow and ice later this week. It's likely to shut down the federal government and schools, and make road conditions dangerous. The bigger problem, however, will become clear when the snow clears: fresh potholes and frost heaves will make driving more hazardous and expensive.

Americans already pay $67 billion in extra repairs due to poorly-maintained roads, and weather is partially to blame. But mostly it's Washington itself-where an outdated funding approach and political inaction ensure the continued deterioration of roads, bridges, and tunnels.

Funding for the expansive U.S. Interstate Highway System is falling dramatically while maintenance needs are rising. From its inception in 1956, the network has relied on revenue from state and federal gasoline and diesel taxes, which are levied on a cents-per-gallon basis. Read more ..

Palestinians on Edge

Why Jordanians Worry about the Two-State Solution

February 11th 2014

King Abdullah

It has been said that Jordan is the only Arab country in which Palestinians have "full citizenship." That is less than a complete truth. As Secretary of State John Kerry pursues his plan for a "two state solution," the insecurity of Palestinian legal status in Jordan is emerging.

Israel's vociferous objection to removing the IDF from the Jordan River line in the West Bank is easy to understand. Maj. Gen. Ya'akov Amidror, former National Security Advisor said bluntly, "Only Israeli forces can make us sure that we will not find ourselves living with another Gaza Strip in Ramallah, which is five miles from the Israeli parliament in the city of Jerusalem. This is so important for us that we are not going to give it away."

The Jordanians, too, are adamant about rejecting the proposal. There is close security cooperation between the Israeli and Jordanian security services. The Jordanians are capable and dedicated to preventing infiltration of operatives and weapons into the West Bank through its territory. The Israelis are equally dedicated to border security along the Jordan River that helps keep the Kingdom secure. But more is at work.  Read more ..

Russia on Edge

Russia's Interesting Twists and Turns in the Geopolitical Dance

February 11th 2014

The struggle for some of the most strategic territory in the world took an interesting twist this week. Last week we discussed what appeared to be a significant shift in German national strategy in which Berlin seemed to declare a new doctrine of increased assertiveness in the world -- a shift that followed intense German interest in Ukraine. This week, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland, in a now-famous cell phone conversation, declared her strong contempt for the European Union and its weakness and counseled the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine to proceed quickly and without the Europeans to piece together a specific opposition coalition before the Russians saw what was happening and took action. Read more ..

Broken Healthcare

An Obamacare Report Card

February 10th 2014

No Obamacare

Perhaps the most unpleasant aspect of my otherwise quite enjoyable job as a college professor has been the requirement to assign grades to students. Given that we’re now about halfway through implementation of the Affordable Care Act—which even President Obama is happy to call “Obamacare”—it seems appropriate to assign midterm grades. These are not intended as a forecast of the final grade; moreover, implementation of Obamacare is the responsibility of many thousands of individuals, not just one. Nevertheless, as President Truman’s legendary Oval Office desk sign reminds us, “The buck stops here” when it comes to presidential leadership. So whether President Obama likes it or not, the public and historians are likely to base their assessment of his performance on how well his “signature piece of domestic legislation” is implemented. Read more ..

The Defense Edge

Drones: Old, New, Borrowed, Blue

February 9th 2014

MQ-1 Predator Drone

In 1907, just four years after the Wright Brothers had flown a few hundred yards across the beaches of North Carolina, H. G. Wells imagined The War in the Air. In Wells’ dark fantasy, the German Empire employs a fleet of airships to preemptively attack the United States, its only potential scientific, industrial, and geopolitical peer. The German target was New York.

Something had dropped from the aeroplane, something that looked small and flimsy. A little man was sprinting along the sidewalk within half a dozen yards, and two or three others and one woman were bolting across the roadway. They were odd little figures, so very small were they about the heads, so very active about the elbows and legs. It was really funny to see their legs going. Foreshortened, humanity has no dignity....

Then blinding flames squirted out in all directions from the point of impact, and the little man who had jumped became, for an instant, a flash of fire and vanished—vanished absolutely. The people running out into the road took preposterous clumsy leaps, then flopped down and lay still, with their torn clothes smouldering into flame.... In this manner the massacre of New York began. She was the first of the great cities of the Scientific Age to suffer by the enormous powers and grotesque limitations of aerial warfare. Read more ..

Egypt on Edge

Arab Media Exposes Terrorist Connection of Al Qaeda to Muslim Brotherhood

February 8th 2014

Mohammed Morsi

As former Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi's trials continue, it's enlightening to consider what is likely to be one of the centerpieces: longstanding accusations that Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood party worked with foreign terrorist organizations, including Al Qaeda, against the national security of Egypt. According to a story circulated by Morning Star News (http://morningstarnews.org), based on these accusations of high treason, Morsi and others could face the death penalty. Concerning some of the more severe allegations, one of Egypt's most widely distributed and read newspapers, Al Watan, recently published what it said were recorded conversations between Morsi and Muhammad Zawahiri, Al Qaeda leader Ayman Zawahiri's brother.

In these reports, Watan repeatedly asserts that Egyptian security and intelligence agencies confirmed (or perhaps leaked out) the recordings. Much of the substance of the alleged conversations is further corroborated by events that occurred during Morsi's one-year-rule, most of which were reported by a variety of Arabic media outlets, though not by Western media. Read more ..

Brazil on Edge

Brazil Revamps an Aircraft Carrier and Sets Sail on an Uncertain Geopolitical Course

February 8th 2014

An obscure fact of Latin American military affairs is that the Brazilian Navy possesses its own aircraft carrier. The vessel, now five decades old, is currently undergoing repairs so that it can serve for at least a decade more. Nevertheless, given the fast pace of South American geopolitics and geosecurity affairs, serious questions should be raised whether or not Brazil actually needs a carrier in its fleet.

The Carrier

Brazil acquired its carrier from France in November 2000: the vessel is a non-nuclear, 36,000 ton, Clemenceau-type carrier, which was constructed in the early 1960s.The carrier, originally known as the Foch while it flew the French flag, “entered the dry-dock stage in Saint-Nazaire in 1957 and was launched three years later. It was towed to the Brest arsenal for completion. It entered active service in 1963 and ceased to be armed by the French Navy in 2000, when the Charles de Gaulle CVN came into service.” Read more ..

Broken Government

Once More Unto the Breach…of the Still-Useless Debt Ceiling

February 7th 2014


If you have fond memories of summer 2011 or fall 2013, do we have a treat for you: in February 2014 our nation will be taking a walk down recent-memory lane by asking, yet again, whether Congress will derail our economic recovery by convincing the world there is a serious possibility that we might fail to pay our debts as promised.

The compromise reached to end the shutdown back in October suspended the debt ceiling until today—February 7.  Most observers originally expected that we would have at least a couple more months to muddle through with “extraordinary measures” (Treasury accounting tricks of various sorts), especially since the last time around they bought us nearly 5 months after the reinstatement of the debt ceiling (from May 18, 2013, to mid-October).  But Treasury Secretary Jack Lew has now said that we only have until the end of February before we run into real trouble, since refunds for early tax filers flow out of the Treasury during this month. Read more ..

Germany on Edge

Germany Gets Cozier with Islam

February 6th 2014

Click to select Image

Germany's new coalition government is signaling that it wants better relations with the country's Muslim community.

In a series of newspaper, television and radio interviews, Thomas de Maizière—who was recently sworn in as Germany's new interior minister—has announced a series of pro-Muslim initiatives apparently designed to defuse escalating tensions between Muslims and non-Muslims there.

Among other policy initiatives, Maizière says the government plans to change German immigration laws to make it easier for Muslim immigrants to obtain dual-citizenship and thus to maintain religious and cultural links to their countries of origin. Read more ..

Argentina on Edge

Buenos Aires: A Tale of Two Cities

February 5th 2014

Inequality is nothing new in Latin America; the region has long occupied the unenviable position of being considered the most unequal area in the world. However, the human face of inequality is nowhere more apparent than in Buenos Aires, the capital of Argentina. Buenos Aires is a study in contrasts: the splendid Libertador Street, punctuated with art museums, luxury malls, and expensive apartments, stands at points directly across the train tracks from the improvised housing of the villas miserias, or shantytowns. Below Rivadavia Street, as the noted Argentine novelist Jorge Luis Borges put it, “the South begins,” a land of impoverished suburbs and slums.

Buenos Aires is a maze of overlapping jurisdictions. The metro area numbers some 13 million people, nearly 40 percent of the country’s population, but the city’s mayor, Mauricio Macri, presides over a jurisdiction which includes just 3 million residents. Read more ..

Geopolitical Edge

Germany Takes a More Assertive Role in Foreign Policy

February 4th 2014


The Ukrainian crisis is important in itself, but the behavior it has elicited from Germany is perhaps more important. Berlin directly challenged Ukraine's elected president for refusing to tighten relations with the European Union and for mistreating Ukrainians who protested his decision. In challenging President Viktor Yanukovich, Berlin also challenged Russia, a reflection of Germany's recent brazen foreign policy.

Since the end of World War II, Germany has pursued a relatively tame foreign policy. But over the past week, Berlin appeared to have acknowledged the need for a fairly dramatic change. German leaders, including the chancellor, the president, the foreign minister and the defense minister, have called for a new framework that contravenes the restraint Germany has practiced for so long. They want Germany to assume a greater international role by becoming more involved outside its borders politically and militarily. Read more ..

Israelis and Palestinians

US Security Assurances and the End of UN Resolution 242

February 3rd 2014

Jerusalem-Temple and Wall

Secretary of State John Kerry and special envoy Martin Indyk have been meeting and talking with groups of American Jews in an effort to "sell" the interim deal Mr. Kerry plans to put on the table for Israel and the Palestinians. With Mr. Kerry acting as the "bad cop" and Mr. Indyk as the "good," they want the Americans to press the democratically elected government of Israel to accept the deal even if the Netanyahu government doesn't find it secure and responsible to do so. This is in keeping with the apparent belief in the administration that American Jews are both responsible for Israeli policy decisions and subject to them, but it is a poor way to approach American citizens and a very poor way to understand the independence of the government of Israel, which answers to its citizens. And here is why they are doing it. Read more ..

Battle for Syria

Syria Cheats

February 2nd 2014

Syria fighting injured baby

Tuesday, during the State of the Union Address, President Obama boasted that "American diplomacy, backed by the threat of force, is why Syria's chemical weapons are being eliminated." The assertion was premature. In early January, Syria's Bashar Assad regime indeed started the process of transferring its chemical weapons arsenal abroad. To date it's destroyed only 5 percent of its unconventional arsenal and it's unlikely Damascus will finish the job. Despite international commitments to the contrary, precedent suggests that Assad will retain a residual supply for future contingencies.

Like North Korea and Libya -- which famously violated international obligations on weapons of mass destruction -- there is good reason to believe that Syria will cheat on its own agreement with the United Nations to fully dispose of its chemical weapons arsenal.  Read more ..

Broken Healthcare

Much Better than Obamacare

January 31st 2014


The introduction of an Obamacare replacement plan by Republican senators Richard Burr (N.C.), Tom Coburn (Okla.), and Orrin Hatch (Utah) has given Obamacare’s apologists — who admittedly have had very tough duty over the past four years — a rare opportunity to get out of their defensive crouches and go on the attack. Not surprisingly, fast out of the gate has been Ezekiel Emanuel, who has a piece up at theNew York Times website claiming that the fatal flaw of the Republican senators’ plan is that it would raise taxes on millions of American households.

There are a couple of problems with Emanuel’s analysis. The first is not Emanuel’s fault: He based his assessment of the tax consequences on an imprecise description of the tax policy in the original write-up of the plan. That description said an upper limit would be placed on the tax preference for employer-paid health premiums at 65 percent of the average employer plan. But the policy the senators have actually adopted, as explained in a clarification, would place the upper limit at 65 percent of the cost of a very high-cost employer plan. In Obamacare terms, think of the fully loaded benefit package with very low cost-sharing. Setting the upper limit at this level would mean most employer plans would fall well below the cap, and only a relatively small percentage of the work force would see any changes in job-based coverage. Those who today have expensive employer plans that would be over the upper limit would see adjustments, of course, such as higher deductibles; but those adjustments wouldn’t take away their employer plans but would only bring them more in line with the coverage an average worker experiences. Read more ..

The Economy on Edge

What's Driving Turbulence In Emerging Markets?

January 30th 2014

Wall Street Meltdown

If there is one common denominator these days in emerging markets, it is turbulence, with many of these countries' economies having to contend with sliding currencies and stockmarket volatility. Here are five things to know about what's behind the turmoil.

How widespread is the turbulence in emerging markets?
Since the start of the year, investors have been fleeing emerging markets worldwide amid concerns about faltering economies and political unrest.

The turbulence is not felt in every emerging market but is widespread enough to talk of a global phenomenon.

Last week offered particularly dramatic examples. On January 24, Russia's ruble fell to its lowest level in almost five years against the US. dollar, while Turkey's lira fell by 1.6 percent in a single day.  At the same time, South Africa's rand slid to its weakest level since October 2008. And even Mexico’s peso, one of the stronger currencies in emerging markets, fell to its weakest level against the U.S. dollar since June. Read more ..

America's Darkest Edge

New Study Details Gun Injuries Suffered by Children

January 29th 2014

Sandy Hook Shooting

Every day in the United States, about 20 children are injured by firearms and require hospitalization, according to new research.

The research said that in 2009, there were 7,391 hospitalizations of victims under the age of 20 and that six percent of those admitted die as a result of their injuries.

“This study is a stark reminder of the devastating effects of gun violence,” said Adam Winkler, a law professor at UCLA and author of the book Gunfight. “Too often, we focus only on the number of people who die from gun violence. But so many who escape death also suffer lifelong injuries.”

The study says assaults accounted for the majority of hospitalizations, while the fewest were suicide attempts. Suicide attempts were the most likely to result in death. The most common types of firearm injuries were open wounds (52 percent); fractures (50 percent); and internal injuries of the thorax, abdomen or pelvis (34 percent), according to the study. Read more ..

Israel on Edge

The Legitimization of Terrorism

January 28th 2014

The tremendous success of the Palestinian propaganda machine is underexposed. No other refugee group has been as violent, or attracted such active political and financial support as the Palestinians. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons they refuse to stop their violence against Israel.  Taking advantage of wide-spread anti-Semitic (aka anti-Israeli) sentiments, the Palestinian propaganda machine has succeeded over more than five decades to live off many  hundreds of billions of dollars of outside support.

The millions of Syrian and Sudanese refugees, the survivors of the 2004 Tsunami, and the 17 million affected by super typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines in 2013, and millions of other displaced people who are trying to survive and rebuild get the headlines couple of days, sometimes weeks, get some token money and are then forgotten. Read more ..

Pakistan on Edge

Pakistan's Arab-Muslim Culture of Denial

January 28th 2014

Since 9/11, Islamist culture is seen to be synonymous with violence, misogyny and a pathological hatred for others; and, ironically, it has made Muslims themselves its most numerous victims. "Impure," or non-authentic Muslims, meant those whose Islam had been weakened by un-Islamic or non-Islamic values imported from the West, or contaminated by the Hindu culture of India.

Eventually political differences came to be viewed, by the measure of Islam, in terms of the "purity" and "impurity" of people. In the "Land of the Pure" [Urdu for Pakistan], those suspected of impurity must be cleansed, purged or driven out.

For Osama bin Laden there was a clear and unmistakable cultural divide separating the Arab-Muslim world from the West. The idea that there is a difference, perhaps even qualitative, in terms of culture between the West and the East is considered a scandal by those who are convinced that our highly interdependent world is headed in a direction where, at some point, cultures will converge, or their significance be so diminished that cultural differences will be merely a matter of curiosity. Read more ..

Security Edge

Chile and Peru Anxiously Await Far-Reaching International Court Decision

January 26th 2014

The events of this upcoming January 27, 2014 are likely to determine the short and long-term future regarding the relations between Peru and Chile. On that date, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague will announce its ruling on a long-standing maritime dispute between the two South American coastal states.

The Dispute

In dispute is an area of approximately 38,000 square kilometers of the Pacific Ocean. The nation that controls it will see great benefits to its fishing industry – the Peruvian media explains that this area is rich with sea life like the jurel and the anchoveta (of the anchovy family).The association of artisanal fishermen of Arica in Chile have claimed that if the aforementioned disputed territory is surrendered to Peru, they could lose 40% of their fishing territory.

Peru went to the ICJ to resolve this dispute in 2008; six years later, the court will finally give its verdict. A December 2013 ICJ press release solemnly declares that, “It is recalled that the judgements of the Court have binding force and are without appeal for the parties concerned.” Read more ..

Russia on Edge

Russia's Growing Regional Debts Threaten Stability

January 25th 2014


Since the 2009 financial crisis, the Kremlin has allowed Russia's regions to take the brunt of the country's economic decline in order to keep the federal government seemingly healthy, with a nominally small budget deficit and large currency reserves. But now most of Russia's regional governments' debts are so high, it is becoming dangerous for the federal government and big banks and could soon become unmanageable.

Russia is so large that the Kremlin lacks the resources to run each region of the country directly. Currently Russia is split into 83 regions of all shapes and sizes, which fall into categories of oblasts, republics, krais, federal cities and autonomous okrugs. Historically, the Kremlin has given regional leaders (mayors, governors, heads or republic presidents) the power to run their own regions and ensure loyalty to the Kremlin and stability for the country.

However, the Kremlin is constantly concerned with its control over the regions. The federal government's ability to maintain the loyalty of each region has been tested often throughout history. For instance, dozens of regions attempted to break away after the fall of the Soviet Union, occasionally leading to wars such as those in Chechnya.

The central government's control over the regions was demolished during the devastating financial crisis in 1998. Many of the regional heads defied the federal government in order to look out for their own regions' survival. It was the second-worst regional breakdown in Russia following the collapse of the Soviet Union, and it was related directly to the chaos caused by that collapse. This is why the currently growing economic strains in the regions will be of great concern for the Kremlin. Read more ..

The Edge of Obamacare

In Obamacare Go for Bronze Health Plans

January 24th 2014


For those who find themselves shopping for health coverage through Obamacare, here’s a general tip: save cash on your premiums and buy the bronze health plan. For most consumers, the gold and platinum options will be a waste of money.

We analyzed dozens of Obamacare plans, and found one striking result. The networks of providers, and in many cases the drug formularies, are the same whether you’re buying a particular insurer’s bronze plan, or purchasing the same insurance option in a gold or platinum offering. My American Enterprise Institute colleague Kelly Funderburk and I posted some of our data here.

The bottom line is this. When you’re choosing a particular insurance offering, you typically can’t trade up to a better benefit by buying the gold or platinum variety of that plan. It’s usually the exact same benefit regardless of the metal you choose. Read more ..

China On Edge

China's GDP Growth Says Little

January 23rd 2014

Bank of China

China announced its 2013 economic results Monday. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) grew 7.7 percent to RMB56.9 trillion - about US$9.3 trillion. It may seem odd that GDP and other statistics measuring the actions of 1.3 billion people can be compiled in barely three weeks, but it's comparatively normal. After all, the inflation rate was compiled in nine days.

The first problem with Chinese numbers, then, is they are frequently hard to credit. The second is the conventional view of GDP and its relationship to more jobs, greater wealth and other beneficial outcomes is deeply flawed. The combined outcome is a serious mischaracterization of how China is doing. The oft-used line that "the economy" is slowing but still boasts the world's fastest rate of growth is inaccurate and misleading. What matters most is that available data indicate debt accumulation will induce economic stagnation. Read more ..

Africa's Leading Edge

Africa Improves Despite Wars, Corruption

January 22nd 2014

Nigerian baby with cap

Africa is discovering a new spirit of optimism, reminiscent of the first decade of its post-colonial era. Despite inadequate infrastructure and at times even poorer governance, the continent has been attracting more and more interest from American and European investors, as well as Chinese, targeting such countries as Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, Angola, Tanzania, and Rwanda to name a few. Today, half of the world’s 30 fastest-growing countries are in Africa, which is quickly losing its image of hopelessness and despair. Unfortunately, economic growth, while significant, rarely benefits the impoverished majority, even amid scenes of bustling business taking place from Dakar to Nairobi, and statistics indicating an emerging African middle class of some 150 million -- which could quickly rise to 300 million by 2015, barring any "black swan" events.

Politically, there is optimism as almost all 55 African countries have some kind of constitution with an active civil society that is contributing to more democratic or pluralistic political engagement. Read more ..

The Use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles Drones on in Latin America

January 22nd 2014

Over the past several years, drone usage has become increasingly widespread, not solely among global military powers but also among rising mid-level military powerhouses and even among less-economically developed nations. The combination of increasingly inexpensive drones and the intention by countries that manufacture them to sell this technology to friendly governments are two critical factors that are fomenting drone usage across the globe.

In recent years, the Council on Hemispheric Affairs has issued a number of reports about drone usage in Latin America. This analysis aims to highlight the main aspects of this intriguing piece of military technology. Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

The Geopolitics of Civil War in Syria

January 21st 2014

International diplomats will gather Jan. 22 in the Swiss town of Montreux to hammer out a settlement designed to end Syria's three-year civil war. The conference, however, will be far removed from the reality on the Syrian battleground. Only days before the conference was scheduled to begin, a controversy threatened to engulf the proceedings after the United Nations invited Iran to participate, and Syrian rebel representatives successfully pushed for the offer to be rescinded. The inability to agree upon even who would be attending the negotiations is an inauspicious sign for a diplomatic effort that was never likely to prove very fruitful.

There are good reasons for deep skepticism. As Syrian President Bashar al Assad's forces continue their fight to recover ground against the increasingly fratricidal rebel forces, there is little incentive for the regime, heavily backed by Iran and Russia, to concede power to its sectarian rivals at the behest of Washington, especially when the United States is already negotiating with Iran. Read more ..

The Economy on Edge

Three Ways We Can Improve the Economy in 2014

January 20th 2014

Home Foreclosure

An improving economy and a fiscal truce together signal the possibility of making progress on at least some of the economic challenges facing the United States. Don't expect a grand bargain with entitlement changes to address the structural fiscal imbalance, or a pro-growth tax reform aimed at putting the U.S. economy back onto a permanently better trajectory. The administration's policy horizon has shrunk, meaning that these long-term challenges will be left for the next president. But there is still a chance of movement this year on immigration, trade, and housing finance reform, all of which would constitute meaningful progress toward a stronger U.S. economy.

Even with last Friday's underwhelming jobs report for December, the United States entered the New Year on a roll of good economic news. GDP growth strengthened in the second half of 2013 and looks to stay at 2.5 to 3 percent in the first half of 2014. Indicators for consumer spending, business investment, and international trade all signal a continued expansion, suggesting that job creation will rebound (especially when the subpar December figures include a weather-related construction slowdown and a pause in health care hiring, perhaps reflecting the impact of the botched Obamacare launch). This is not a sizzling recovery, but the pace of growth and job creation in 2014 will be strong enough for Americans to take notice. Read more ..

The North Korea Edge

North Korea's Rare Earths Could be Game Changer

January 18th 2014

Rare Earth Minerals

A recent geological study indicates North Korea could hold some 216 million tons of rare earths, minerals used in electronics such as smartphones and high definition televisions.

If verified, the discovery would more than double global known sources and be six times the reserves in China, the market leader.

British Islands-based private equity firm SRE Minerals Limited announced the study results in December, along with a 25-year deal to develop the deposits in Jongju, northwest of the capital, Pyongyang.

The joint venture, called Pacific Century Rare Earth Mineral Limited, is with state-owned Korea Natural Resources Trading Corporation. The potential bonanza could offer the isolated and impoverished North a game-changing stake in the rare earths industry. Read more ..

Inside Politics

Tea Party Big Loser in Budget Battle

January 17th 2014

Tea Party demonstator at Supreme Court

There was a bit of a sea change in Washington this week.  The Republican-controlled House of Representatives easily passed a $1.1 trillion budget bill that will keep the government funded through September.  Yes, the very same Republican House that led last October’s 16 day government shutdown that was hugely unpopular with voters.

Republicans got the lion’s share of the blame for the shutdown and it looks as though Republican congressional leaders got the message.  House Speaker John Boehner started blasting some independent conservative groups last month that had supported the shutdown, and it was clear that a national shift in public opinion about the Tea Party was having an impact. Read more ..

Broken Education

Can We Fix Undermatching in Higher Ed? Would it Matter if We Did?

January 16th 2014

university students and laptops

College access for low-income students is back in the news this week with a White House summit (postponed from last month) on higher education.  Tomorrow’s summit follows a November announcement that First Lady Michelle Obama is going to be a key advocate for the President’s higher education agenda, with a focus on encouraging and supporting low-income students to enroll and succeed in college.

News reports indicate that the White House effort will focus on preventing undermatching, i.e. students attending less challenging colleges than their academic credentials would allow them to.  This behavior is troubling not because it happens at all but because it disproportionately occurs among disadvantaged students.  In our 2009 book, Bill Bowen, Mike McPherson, and I examine data on a cohort of North Carolina high school seniors who have test scores and grades that give them a 90 percent or better chance of being admitted to a selective university.  Among students from high-income families, only about a quarter (27 percent) undermatch by attending a less selective college.  But among lower-income students, a clear majority (54-59 percent) undermatch.  Our work and other studies show that students who undermatch are less likely to graduate from college. Read more ..

The Way We Are

Masculinity is More Than a Mask

January 15th 2014

Student Backpack

Are school shooters and mass murderers born out of an aggressive emphasis on masculinity in our society? The trailer  for filmmaker and feminist activist Jennifer Siebel Newsom’s new documentary, “The Mask You Live In,” would have us think so.

The recently released trailer has attracted 1 million views on YouTube. It argues that American boys are captive to a rigid and harmful social code of masculinity. From the earliest age, they are told to “Be a Man!” “Don’t Cry!” “Stop with the emotion!” and “Man up!” This “guy code” suppresses their humanity, excites their drive for dominance, and renders many of them dangerous. The trailer features adolescent men describing their isolation, despair, and thoughts of suicide, artfully interspersed with terrifying images of school shooters and mass murderers.

I admire Newsom for using her considerable talent to advocate for boys. But I worry that she is less concerned with helping boys than with re-engineering their masculinity according to specifications from some out-of-date gender studies textbook. The trailer is suffused with “males-are-toxic” ideology but shows little appreciation for how boys’ nature can be distinctively good. “The Mask You Live In” is scheduled to be released later this year. Let’s hope there is still time for edits. Read more ..

Displaced Persons on the Edge

Four Years After the Haiti Earthquake, the Search for Solutions to Displacement Continues

January 14th 2014

Haiti in ruins

Four years ago today, residents of Port-au-Prince, Haiti awoke to a city destroyed. The earthquake of January 12, 2010 killed as many as 220,000 people. 105,000 homes were destroyed and over 188,000 badly damaged, sparking a displacement crisis the country was particularly ill-equipped to handle. Even before the disaster, Haiti ranked 145 out of 169 countries on the UN’s Human Development Index, the lowest in the western hemisphere, and was facing a major housing shortage. At the height of the crisis, more than 1.5 million Haitians were living in some 1,500 camps in Port-au-Prince and surrounding towns. Thousands more of the displaced were never really counted, as they sought shelter with friends and family members. To put all this in context, the population of the Port-au-Prince metropolitan area at the time was 2.8 million. Read more ..

Islam and Europe

2013 was a Year of Islamization in Belgium and the Netherlands

January 13th 2014

In January, the gangland shootings of two young Moroccan men in downtown Amsterdam drew renewed attention to the growing problem of violent crime among Muslim immigrants. The two men were gunned down with AK-47 assault rifles in a shooting the mayor of Amsterdam, Eberhard van der Laan, described as reminiscent of "the Wild West."

In March, the Dutch public broadcasting system NOS television reported that the Netherlands has become one of the major European suppliers of Islamic jihadists. According to NOS, about 100 Dutch Muslims are active as jihadists in Syria; most have joined the notorious Jabhat al-Nusra rebel group.

Belgium and the Netherlands have some of the largest Muslim communities in the European Union, in percentage terms. Read more ..

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