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Inside Politics

Are Reports of the Death of the Tea Party Greatly Exaggerated?

December 22nd 2013

Tea Party demonstator at Supreme Court

Start with the fact that 2013 has not been a great year for the movement.  It ended with the Speaker of the House, John Boehner, finally lashing out at the Tea Party for the tactics that led to the government shutdown.

That uncharacteristic outburst was preceded by a lackluster November.  Dean Young, a tea party candidate for Congress from Alabama’s first congressional district lost a primary to a more moderate Republican, Bradley Byrne, who was heavily backed by traditional big business groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Tea Party conservative Ken Cuccinelli lost the Virginia Governor’s race to Democrat Terry McAuliffe and mainstream Republican Chris Christie sailed to victory in the New Jersey Governor’s race. Read more ..


China on Edge

The Chinese Dream: Will China Become A Land of Opportunity?

December 21st 2013

Industrial and Commericial Bank of China

Living in China for the past nine years, my sense was that it was a nation with limited social mobility. Now I’ve seen data that confirms my impression.

If one father earns 100 percent more than another, then how much more on average will his children earn relative to the other father’s children?  Miles Corak answers this question by calculating the elasticity of inter-generational income.  In Denmark the answer is 15 percent: there’s an advantage to being born into a high-income family, but it’s pretty small.  The U.S. sustains a myth that anyone can get ahead, but in fact the U.S. has low social mobility among developed countries: here, the children of the higher-income dad will earn 47 percent more. In China the figure is 60 percent.  Read more ..


The Way We Are

Americans Sicker than Citizens of Other Developed Countries

December 20th 2013

MRI Machine

Americans have the most expensive health care system in the world, although they don't have the most efficient one. Additionally, they don't get the most for their money. That's the assessment of two recent studies of health care in the U.S. Now, researchers paying more attention to where the money goes and what changes can be made to improve health care.
 
U.S. health care costs have doubled in the last 30 years, but Americans are not necessarily healthier than they were in the 1980's. Hamilton Moses analyzed the changes and trends and published his findings in the Journal of the American Medical Association. “All of our information comes from publicly available sources. That’s a very important point. This is freely available information, although the challenge was to compile it in a way that was interpretable,” said Moses.
Read more ..

Broken Economy

A Failed Economic Recovery: Don’t Blame Consumers

December 19th 2013

Home Foreclosure

The U.S. economy is mired in the doldrums. Five years after the declared end of the recession, the economy is operating well below capacity and has made virtually no progress in narrowing the gap between actually and potential GDP. Given that household consumption accounts for more than two-thirds of total output, it is only naturally that measures of consumer spending are among the most closely watched economic indicators. But the problems of a weak recovery are not rooted in consumers’ behavior or their unwillingness to spend as in the past. The United States leads the world in the share of its GDP that is devoted to personal consumption -- it is, after all, a consumption-based society -- and the share continues to rise, even above the boom years of the mid-2000s. Consumer spending is not growing as rapidly as in the years prior to the Great Recession, but the explanation lies with the lack of growth in jobs and incomes. Read more ..


The Way We Are

The Economic Outlook for 2014

December 17th 2013

Wall Street Bull

The peak season for economic forecasting is here and the consensus outlook has been pretty upbeat. To judge from forecasts coming out of the financial sector, the consensus is for about 2.5 percent real GDP growth during 2014, compared with an average of 2 percent over the past three years. Three to 3.5 percent growth is an optimistic forecast at this point, and 4 percent is the outer fringe. So what would it take to reach these outcomes?

Somewhat faster growth should be expected just from the improved policy environment. A year ago the political stalemate in Washington threatened a severe and abrupt tightening of fiscal policy. A last-minute compromise avoided the worst case scenario, but fiscal policy still tightened sharply in the winter months and the expansion slowed. Today the budget stalemate has been moved to the back burner. The recent agreement to undo some of last year’s sequestration is itself a plus for the economy. And it also makes it less likely that the debt ceiling will be used to create a new fiscal crisis any time soon. These fiscal changes alone should be enough to achieve 2.5 percent growth during 2014. Read more ..


Inside Politics

ALEC & State Legislation: Who, What & Where

December 16th 2013

south carolina state capitol

Last week, I wrote an article describing new data that I collected on ALEC bills introduced in the U.S. states during the 2011-2012 legislative session.  The release of these data came on the heels of the ALEC policy summit in Washington, DC, where journalists caught a glimpse of the process by which corporations and state legislators collaborate to write ALEC model bills that can then be introduced in the states.  My data shed some light on just how much influence those model bills have on state policy.

Over the next few months, I look forward to digging deeper into these new data to answer the variety of questions that they raise – some of which have already been brought to my attention through email and social media.  Today, I’ll start by addressing one posed by Alexander Furnas of the Sunlight Foundation via Twitter.  One of the findings I reported was that 10% of the bills in my sample were sponsored by Democrats – a surprising result given ALEC’s strongly conservative ideology.  Mr. Furnas asked me to describe the subjects of those bills. Read more ..


Broken Government

Cutting the Federal Budget May Benefit the Economy

December 14th 2013

As the House and Senate budget conference meets to decide the fiscal course of the United States, lawmakers should focus on reducing federal spending. Federal spending is growing rapidly and will accelerate outside the 10-year budget window. Even though tax revenues are projected to grow faster than spending over the next decade, the nation faces chronic and increasing deficits. Research finds that high spending, high debt, and tax increases are harming economic growth and prosperity.

Putting the budget on a path to balance with spending cuts would spur economic growth by reducing uncertainty and freeing up resources for investment and job creation. As the European crisis demonstrates, the option of making gradual changes will expire, and Americans and the U.S. economy will suffer a self-inflicted wound from unavoidable austerity measures if lawmakers continue to procrastinate the inevitable. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

Assad’s North Korean Connection

December 13th 2013

Soldiers-marching

Reports have emerged this week indicating the presence of North Korean military personnel in Syria. They note that 15 North Korean helicopter pilots are operating on behalf of the Assad regime within the country.

The reports have been validated by the pro-rebel but usually reliable Syrian Observatory for Human Rights . They are also not the first evidence that Pyongyang is actively involved on the ground in the Assad regime’s war effort.

Earlier this year, the Saudi-based regional newspaper Sharq al-Awsat carried eyewitness reports revealing the presence of North Korean officers among the Syrian regime’s ground forces in the city of Aleppo. On this occasion, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights was itself the source of the report. Read more ..


The Palestinian Refugees – a Reality Check

December 13th 2013

Palstinian refugee camp

Western policy makers and media have misconstrued/misrepresented the Palestinian refugee issue, ignoring its global context and core data. Moreover, the Palestinian claim of dispossession – which impacts the US financial aid to UNRWA, and is defined as a key issue in the peace process - fails the reality test.

The Global Context

At the end of 2012, the UN High Commissioner of Refugees documented 15.4 million refugees worldwide - excluding Palestinian refugees who are administered by UNRWA - and 28.8 million internally displaced persons.  Four million of the refugees are from Afghanistan.  One of the results of the civil war in Sudan was five and a half million refugees. Fifteen million refugees (Hindu, Muslim and Sikh) were created by the 1947 partition of India, which created Pakistan. The Greco-Turkish war of 1919-1922 involved a forced population exchange of two million people. Read more ..


Brazil on Edge

Can Brazil Afford Economic Growth Without Foreign Infrastructure Investment?

December 12th 2013

As Brazil prepares to host the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics, the South American poster child is under pressure to conduct immense infrastructural reforms, an ambitious undertaking that will require a reversal of the economic stagnation that has plagued the nation since former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva left office in 2011.

Growth in Brazil, the world’s sixth-largest economy which had been seeing prosperity along with increases in the prices of the nation’s most important exports, slowed from 7.5 percent in 2010 to 2.9 percent in 2011, and finally to a startling 0.9 percent in 2012, with only 2.5 percent expected this year.

According to an unnamed Brazilian diplomat, the South American nation’s central government recognizes that it has the potential to become a highly developed nation, and is now taking the initiative to reach its potential. However, it will have to overcome significant obstacles before it can succeed. Read more ..


Book Review

Paying for Conflict -- Not Peace

December 11th 2013

Financing the Flames

Financing the Flames: How Tax-exempt and Public Money Fuel a Culture of Confrontation and Terror in Israel. Edwin Black. Dialog Press, 2013. 288 pp.

Americans tend to think of a 501(c)(3) tax exemption as a "Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval" from the U.S. Government, indicating that the organization does work of which the government approves. Not necessarily.

In Financing the Flames, Edwin Black reveals his meticulous research on "human rights" organizations that use charitable funds for distinctly non-charitable purposes. Incitement, promotion of boycotts, lobbying, and the delegitimization of the IDF and the state of Israel among both Israelis and the international community are their common characteristics. B'Tselem and the New Israel Fund (NIF) are thoroughly dissected financially and ideologically; NIF's open political lobbying in the U.S. is particularly well documented and should call its tax-exempt status into question.

At bottom, these organizations are part of a broader effort to undermine Israel. The most fascinating types of cases in Financing the Flames are frequently reported without elaboration in the Western press: the uprooting of "Palestinian" olive trees and the apparent abuse of Palestinian women and children, both by the IDF.

There is a Talmudic prohibition against destroying fruit trees during war, based on a verse in Deuteronomy, so images of the IDF uprooting hundreds, of not thousands, of trees make people who are otherwise sympathetic to Israel just a little bit uncomfortable -- actually, a lot uncomfortable. The violation of a Talmudic principle is enough to nurture seeds of doubt about the IDF even in non-religious Jews.

But from "Rami," a Palestinian in Deir Istiya, Black discovers the image manipulation of left-wing foreign organizations who are planting olive trees in a nature preserve, "which is not allowed just because it is a nature reserve. So these trees would have to be taken out -- uprooted by the Israelis … So why do they do it? They are encouraged to make trouble." Read more ..


Inside Politics

Shining a Light on ALEC's Power to Shape Victory

December 10th 2013

$1B US Currency

It’s amazing how a little sunlight will change the behavior of some of the biggest names in corporate America — sunlight here meaning greater transparency and accountability.

It’s also amazing how the U.K.’s The Guardian is covering this changed behavior — and its potential consequences for every American — without much competition from U.S.-based media. It seems that reporters in Washington in particular can’t be bothered.

Over the past several decades, one of the country’s most influential political organizations — the 40-year-old American Legislative Exchange Council — was able to operate largely under the radar. Never heard of it? That’s by design. Founded in 1973 by conservative political operatives, ALEC has been successful in shaping  public policy to benefit its corporate patrons in part because few people — including reporters — knew anything about the organization, much less how it went about getting virtually identical laws passed in a multitude of states. Read more ..


Anatolia on Edge

A Letter from Kurdistan: the Land at the Edge of Empires

December 10th 2013

At the edge of empires lies Kurdistan, the land of the Kurds. The jagged landscape has long been the scene of imperial aggression. For centuries, Turks, Persians, Arabs, Russians and Europeans looked to the mountains to buffer their territorial prizes farther afield, depriving the local mountain dwellers a say in whose throne they would ultimately bow to.

The hot temperament of this borderland was evident in an exchange of letters between Ottoman Sultan Selim I and Safavid Shah Ismail I shortly before the rival Turkic and Persian empires came to blows at the 1514 Battle of Chaldiran in northern Kurdistan. The Ottoman sultan, brimming with confidence that his artillery-equipped janissaries would hold the technological advantage on the battlefield, elegantly denigrated his Persian foes:

Ask of the sun about the dazzle of my reign;

Inquire of Mars about the brilliance of my arms.

Although you wear a Sufi crown, I bear a trenchant sword,

And he who holds the sword will soon possess the crown. Read more ..


The Edge of Medicine

The Real Statin Controversy

December 9th 2013

Pills

Twice as many Americans are likely to be eligible for cholesterol-lowering drugs called statins, if doctors follow new heart guidelines issued by the American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association. Statins are widely prescribed to reduce the risk of heart attacks, but the new guidelines recommend that they also be considered for people at high risk of stroke.

Mariell Jessup, President of the American Heart Association, acknowledged that the recommendations "may be very controversial-which is fine. Controversy means discussion." And they have indeed caused a stir in the health community, more so because the calculations may be flawed. But whatever the actual recommendations should be, there is a deeper and more pervasive controversy that no one is discussing: the quality of the statins Americans are already ingesting.

It's far from common knowledge, but many cardiologists will tell you in confidence that they routinely switch patients from a generic statin back to the brand original or to another generic because of clinical problems. As one cardiologist put it to me in view of the new guidelines, "the new heart recommendation may put tens of millions of more US patients on statins, and this may be the correct advice, but only if the statins work properly." But doctors are skittish about saying these things on the record for at least three reasons. Read more ..


The Economy on Edge

What Do Today’s Jobs Numbers Tell Us? (Hint: It’s Not What You Think.)

December 8th 2013

Unemployed Claimants

Friday’s jobs numbers provide a reminder of the continued challenges facing Americans seeking work in today’s bi-polar recovery. While the Dow hit an all-time high last month, over 10 million Americans remain out of work – and 37 percent of them have been looking for a job for six or more months. One obvious policy implication is to extend federal unemployment benefits, which are scheduled to expire for 1.3 million jobless workers a few days after Christmas. Amongst the less obvious implications of the continued challenges facing the labor market is the need to get serious about job training policy, an area where federal policy remains outdated and ill-equipped to meet the challenges of the contemporary economic climate.

Joblessness remains too high because there (still) simply aren’t enough jobs for all of the folks looking for work. But many of those folks looking for work could be profitably using their time to upgrade their skills in order to better meet the demands of a rapidly changing economy. The skills gap isn’t a new problem. The absence of a coherent national strategy for developing human capital means that American workers – particularly low-income, minority, and other disadvantaged groups – have long struggled to obtain the skills necessary for economic security and upward career mobility. Funding for existing workforce development programs has never been sufficient to meet demand, even in the best of times, and demand today is way up. The current economic climate has laid bare some long-persisting problems, and opened up an opportunity to actually come up with some solutions. Read more ..


Broken Bookselling

Barnes and Noble Nook Revenue Drops A Third--Once More

December 7th 2013

Barnes and Noble Closing

On Christmas morning children will unwrap their gifts to find a shiny new tablets and e-readers, but this year the Nook is not likely to be one of them. Revenues for Barnes and Noble’s Nook e-reader division went down 32 percent to $109 million, according to its most recent earnings report. That’s not good for a business that it competing against both Amazon’s Kindle and the general tablet market. Barnes and Noble only sold $51 million worth of the e-readers, which in itself represents a fall of 41 percent year over year.

The company has otherwise suffered personnel losses while dealing with its Nook failures. In July, then chief executive William Lynch quit after having served the company for three years. He left saying that he believed there was a good executive team in place and that he looked “forward to the many innovations the company will be bringing to its million of physical and digital media customers in the future.” Read more ..


The Edge of Inequality

How Mayors Can Grapple with Inequality

December 6th 2013

Detroit abandoned house

This week, in a speech many are calling the blueprint for the remainder of his term, President Obama advocated raising the minimum wage, establishing universal pre-school and reforming immigration laws—all in the name of reducing income inequality.

These proposals aren’t new, but with congressional action required, they are likely to continue to languish.

The question remains whether leaders closer to the issue and with more autonomy—America’s mayors—can address inequality of both income and opportunity.

In last Sunday's New York Times Magazine, Adam Davidson argues that while incoming mayors like New York's Bill de Blasio (see also: Ed Murray in Seattle and Marty Walsh in Boston) might have been elected on a platform around combating urban inequality, it's folly to think they can do much about it.

Global economic forces coursing through Wall Street and local amenities like public transit, Davidson and some experts contend, combine such that New York and other similar cities will always have more than their share of rich and poor, and thus high levels of inequality. Read more ..


Iran's Nukes

Was the West Skinned by Iran in the Nuclear Deal?

December 5th 2013

The nuclear-related agreement signed between the P5+1 and the Iranian government is, on its face, one-sided. In essence, according to Senator Mark Kirk (R-IL), they get: billions in sanctions relief, 3,000 new centrifuges, a plutonium reactor and enough enriched uranium for one nuclear bomb. We get, essentially, nothing: no centrifuges dismantled; no uranium shipped out of the country; no facilities closed; no delay at the Arak plutonium plant; and no stop to missile testing, terrorism or human rights abuses. But it is, actually, worse than that.

The administration's position is that the nuclear deal is separate from any other conversation with Iran, including the fate of Americans imprisoned there. Asked whether retired FBI agent Robert Levinson, former U.S. Marine Amir Hekmati, and Iranian-American Pastor Saeed Abedini were discussed in Geneva, State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki said, "The P5+1 talks focused exclusively on nuclear issues, but we have raised – repeatedly raised [these cases] in our bilateral discussions with Iran."

In fact, the Obama administration appears to have paved the way to the nuclear talks with two steps in the direction of Iranian interests: Read more ..


Cuban American Relations

Obama Masters a Mixed Message about Cuba

December 4th 2013

President Barack Obama, who has been consistently inconsistent in his dealings with Cuba, demonstrated once again his mastery of the mixed message.

The president was in Miami on November 8th for an important fundraising event. There he met with the head of the Cuban American National Foundation (CANF) Jorge Mas Santos, as well as a number of pro-embargo Cuban dissidents including Guillermo Farinas. This informal gathering in the house of Santos resulted in a lengthy debate on the current state of affairs in Cuba and the impact of Obama’s policies since his election in 2008.

The president’s comments elicited positive reaction from both sides of the Cuban question — from the pro-embargo proponents who took his words to mean a commitment to stay the course, and from those who claimed Obama indicated a desire to change American strategy, to possibly accelerate a process of engagement. And there were many who observed it was exactly what Obama wanted to accomplish — giving hope to all. Read more ..


Iran's Nukes

American Checkers v Iranian Chess in the Nuclear Arena

December 3rd 2013

Rowhani

In the deal between Iran and the six world powers, it appears that a rogue regime marching towards nuclearization has outmaneuvered the West. In disarming the sanctions regime so painstakingly put together over the last few years, the Iranians have given almost nothing meaningful in return. Instead, they are employing the same playbook that brought the mullahcracy to power and the very strategy that allowed North Korea to get the bomb. Above all, Iran now has an international mechanism that will allow it to effectively play for time.

Since the Islamic revolution in 1979, the West has tried using covert and public negotiations with Iran, arms deals, direct confrontation, cyber-warfare, containment and indirect action against Iran's terrorist proxies. Most recently, the United States and its Western allies have strenuously employed sanctions to punish the banks, corporations and charities that have actively assisted Iran in its attempts to secure the bomb, and by all accounts, it was the sanctions that finally brought Iran to the negotiation table. Read more ..


Iran's Nukes

Reconverting Iran's Enriched Triuranium Octoxide Back into UF6 Feedstock

November 28th 2013

Click to select Image

What do we really know about Iran’s capability to reconvert triuranium octoxide (U3O8) enriched to 20% U-235 back into UF6 feedstock that can be further enriched to produce weapon-grade uranium? Can Iran do it? And if so, how fast? The answer matters considerably, as Iran, Israel, and the P5+1 will make decisions this year, based in part on their assessment of risk, about the fate of current efforts to negotiate a comprehensive crisis settlement.

In the policy world, there are two opposing views being expressed, whether they are informed by the facts on the ground in Iran–or not.

Advocates of stepped-up diplomacy with Iran argue that Iran, by not accumulating 20%-enriched EUP from the Fordo enrichment plant as UF6 but instead converting some of it to U3O8, is signaling to the powers its willingness to compromise and de-escalate the crisis. In U3O8 form, they argue, the material would be less directly usable should Iran want to dash to a bomb, because Iran would have difficulty reconverting the oxide to UF6, especially if the oxide had been fabricated into finished research-reactor fuel. Iran's determined adversaries assert to the contrary that there is no nonproliferation benefit in Iran converting its 20%-enriched Fordo output to U3O8 because Iran could reconvert the material back to UF6 easily and in a hurry. Read more ..


The Diplomatic Edge

Secretary Kerry Spells Out the Obama Doctrine for Latin America

November 26th 2013

In a speech delivered on November 18 before the Organization of American States (OAS) and cosponsored by the Inter-American Dialogue, Secretary of State John Kerry did not exactly stun his audience by declaring “the era of the Monroe Doctrine is over.” At best, this grand gesture evoked a somewhat hesitant applause. Could it be that the audience was taken by surprise? After all, just seven months ago, Kerry referred to Latin America as “our back yard.” The use of such language engendered disbelief because this was not the first time a Secretary of State announced a significant shift in US policy towards Latin America. At the 1933 Pan-American Conference in Montevideo, Cordell Hull echoed President Franklin Roosevelt’s good neighbor policy by backing a credo that “No state has the right to intervene in the internal or external affairs of another.” But a long series of US interventions in Latin America has undermined the credibility of that promise and forever placed a burden of proof on any new such declarations of a change of course called for by a United States official. Read more ..


Iran's Nukes

Obama Modifies Relations with Israelis and Saudis by Negotiating with Iranians

November 26th 2013

Click to select Image

A deal between Iran and the P-5+1 (the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany) was reached on the night of November 23. The Iranians agreed to certain limitations on their nuclear program while the P-5+1 agreed to remove certain economic sanctions. The next negotiation, scheduled for six months from now depending on both sides' adherence to the current agreement, will seek a more permanent resolution. The key players in this were the United States and Iran. The mere fact that the U.S. secretary of state would meet openly with the Iranian foreign minister would have been difficult to imagine a few months ago, and unthinkable at the beginning of the Islamic republic.

The U.S. goal is to eliminate Iran's nuclear weapons before they are built, without the United States having to take military action to eliminate them. While it is commonly assumed that the United States could eliminate the Iranian nuclear program at will with airstrikes, as with most military actions, doing so would be more difficult and riskier than it might appear at first glance. The United States in effect has now traded a risky and unpredictable air campaign for some controls over the Iranian nuclear program. Read more ..


Islam on Edge

The Sunni-Shia Rapprochement: What Went Wrong?

November 23rd 2013

Iranian clerics

On November 20, 2013, news from Pakistan was replete with articles deploring the recent explosions of Sunni-Shia “sectarian violence.” Incidents were reported in Rawalpindi and Multan, two heavily populated provinces, and in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the troubled province that borders Afghanistan where a curfew had to be imposed in Kohat and Hangu districts. One newspaper editorialized that with regard to the potential for religious turmoil, “Pakistan is a powder keg and the slightest spark can set it off.”

Twenty years have passed since Pakistan’s Sunni Islamist leaders Amir Saeed and Qazi Hussein Ahmad rubbed shoulders with Lebanon’s Shiite warlord Imad Mugnahya at the 2nd Popular Arab and Islamic Conference (PAIC). Appearing in Khartoum, Sudan, from 2–4 December 1993, Saeed represented the jihadist Lashkar e-Taiba (“Army of the Righteous”) movement, and Hussein the more traditional Jamaat-e-Islami (“Islamic Party,”JI). Read more ..


Argentina on Edge

A Prosecutor’s Challenge to the Argentina-Iran Memorandum of Understanding

November 22nd 2013

Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner

As the United States forges ahead with its unpredictable negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program, President Cristina Kirchner of Argentina is doing her best to let the Iranians off the hook for the bombing of the Jewish Community Center in Argentina in 1994.

Even though this was described as the worst act of terrorism to have occurred on the South American continent resulting in the death of 83 individuals, and in spite of overwhelming evidence as to Iran’s complicity, the case has remained unsolved for almost twenty years.

However, earlier this year the Argentinean Government signed an agreement with Iran to establish a “Truth Commission” whose objectives were to find out the truth about the perpetrators of this heinous act. On November 14, Alberto Nisman, the prosecutor of the case of the bombing of the Jewish headquarters in Buenos Aires (AMIA) requested from the Argentinean judge in charge of the case to declare the Argentina-Iran memorandum of understanding “unconstitutional.” Read more ..


America's Darkest Edge

Connecticut Governor Malloy on Making Gun Control Work at the State Level

November 21st 2013

Sandy Hook Shooting

After the school shooting in Newtown last year, Connecticut passed comprehensive reforms to address gun violence. Last week, Governor Dannel Malloy discussed the implementation of those reforms in an interview with Brookings’ John Hudak.

The new laws comprise changes to gun control, mental health care, and school safety policies. They include commonly proposed reforms such as an expanded assault weapons ban, universal background checks, limits on the size of magazines, and grants to improve school security infrastructure. However, the laws also include innovative measures such as an ammunition certification system, expanded police seizure power in violent crime investigations, and a violent gun offender registry—to name a few.

Governor Malloy noted, “implementation is going to be very important.” He explained that the state has spent time and resources to ensure that communication systems were refined, backlogs were minimized, and coordination among state agencies was solidified. As citizens, businesses, health care providers, schools, and state agencies begin complying with new regulations, the success of the policies depends largely on the planning and communication of state officials. Read more ..


Greece on Edge

Greece: Taxpayer-Funded Mosque Planned in Athens

November 20th 2013

PARTHENON

The Greek government has awarded a tender to build the first taxpayer-funded mosque in Athens, one of the few remaining capitals in the European Union that lacks a state-funded mosque. The Ministry of Infrastructure, Transport and Networks said on November 14 that it had finally chosen a consortium of four construction companies to build the mosque. Four previous tenders had failed due to a lack of interest amid mounting public opposition to the mosque. Construction of the 600 square meter (6,500 square foot) mosque—which will cost Greek taxpayers at least €950,000 ($1.3 million)—is due to begin within the next two months. Once the contracts are signed, the tender calls for the project to be completed within six months.

The plan calls for renovating an existing government-owned building on a disused naval base in the industrial district of Votanikos near the center of Athens. The mosque—which will not have minarets—will have a capacity for around 500 worshippers. Read more ..


Broken Healthcare

Why Do Insurers Cancel Policies?

November 20th 2013

cancelled health insurance policy

Now that President Obama has said it’s OK with him if insurance companies keep their policyholders in health plans that don’t meet the standards established by the Affordable Care Act, at least for another year, the big question is whether insurers will take him up on the offer. The answer: it depends.

Some insurance executives will view the offer as one they can’t turn down. Even though Karen Ignagni, president of America’s Health Insurance Plans, the industry’s big PR and lobbying group, had nothing good to say about Obama’s proposal, keep in mind that she doesn’t run an insurance company. While industry executives look to her to comment on what politicians do, they make their own decisions when it comes to their companies’ bottom lines.

Here’s what Ignagni was quoted as saying in a FOX News story Friday: “The only reason consumers are getting notices about their current coverage changing is because the ACA (Affordable Care Act) requires all polices to cover a broad range of benefits that go beyond what many people choose to purchase today.” Read more ..


Israel on Edge

Inappropriate Use of the Fourth Geneva Convention--Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War

November 19th 2013

Shomron

The language of Article 49 was crafted in the wake of World War II and the Nazi occupation – an occupation that led to a war of aggression in which Nazi Germany attacked its neighbors with impunity, committing a host of atrocities against civilian populations, including deportation and displacement of local populations in occupied Europe. Millions were sent to forced labor camps and those of particular ethnic origin, most notably the Jews, were sent to their deaths in the gas chambers. The drafters of Article 49 were concerned with preventing future genocide against humanity.

Critics and enemies of Israel, including members of the UN and organs such as the International Court of Justice (ICJ) have come to use the Geneva Convention as a weapon against Israel, even when statements by authoritative analysts, scholars and drafters of the document contradict everything said by those who distort history for politically motivated reasons. Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

With Morsi Gone, Hamas Turns Back to Iran

November 18th 2013

Hamas head

A number of recent reports have noted the revival of Iranian financial backing for Hamas, the Palestinian Islamist movement which rules the Gaza Strip. The Iranian decision appears to follow a series of meetings between officials of the Islamic Republic and senior Hamas members in recent days. It is not yet clear what this apparent Iranian rapprochement with Hamas will mean in practice. Iranian arming and support of Hamas never entirely ended, though its levels were drastically reduced after Hamas departed Damascus in November 2012.

But the reason for the rekindled romance between Tehran and Gaza is very clear — this is the latest fallout from the July coup in Egypt. As time goes on, it is becoming clear that the military coup was a historic moment. Prior to it, there was a growing sense that the onward march of the Muslim Brotherhood and its Sunni Islamism was unstoppable. Indeed, the “Arab Spring” is best understood as beginning not with the self-immolation of the Tunisian Mohamed Bouazizi in December 2010, but rather with the Hamas coup against Fatah in Gaza in June 2007, the first political victory of Muslim Brotherhood-type Islamists against their nationalist rivals. Read more ..


The Iranian Threat

The U.S.-Iran Talks: Ideology and Necessity

November 17th 2013

Iran Nuclear Equipment centrifuges

The talks between Iran and the Western powers have ended but have not failed. They will reconvene next week. That in itself is a dramatic change from the past, when such talks invariably began in failure. In the book The Next Decade, it was argued that the United States and Iran would move toward strategic alignment, and I think that is what we are seeing take shape. Of course, there is no guarantee that the talks will yield a settlement or that they will evolve into anything more meaningful. But the mere possibility requires us to consider three questions: Why is this happening now, what would a settlement look like, and how will it affect the region if it happens?

It is important to recognize that despite all of the other actors on the stage, this negotiation is between the United States and Iran. It is also important to understand that while this phase of the discussion is entirely focused on Iran's nuclear development and sanctions, an eventual settlement would address U.S. and Iranian relations and how those relations affect the region. If the nuclear issue were resolved and the sanctions removed, then matters such as controlling Sunni extremists, investment in Iran, and maintaining the regional balance of power would all be on the table. In solving these two outstanding problems, the prospect of a new U.S.-Iranian relationship would have to be taken seriously. Read more ..


The Cyber Edge

Cyber Insecurity Unchallenged

November 16th 2013

Brooklyn from the Air

A recent report on U.S. business community's acute vulnerability to cyber attacks - 96 percent according to Ernst & Young - is alarming. This report is troubling not only because of its findings - lack of proper cyber defense capabilities - but because it reflects the prevalence of a passive approach that keeps the best cyber defense systems a few steps behind.

It is hard to imagine that 96 percent of Ernst & Young's 1,909 polled executives would deliberately choose to expose their businesses to cyber attacks because of budget constraints. Interestingly, 70 percent of those surveyed indicated that their security policies are now handled at the highest level in the business, "with the person in charge of security reporting directly to the CEO in 1 in 10 companies." This begs the question of what the 70 percent really means. One in ten is not 70 percent.  Generally speaking, the businesses surveyed wish to be seen as "doing something" about cyber, when, in fact, they are doing very little.  The survey found that only 23 percent of the businesses put cyber security in their top two priorities. However, 32 percent considered it the least important item among their security concerns. Read more ..


Oil Addiction

Iraqi Kurdistan Pursues Oil Exports to Turkey

November 15th 2013

Oil well

The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) will build a new oil pipeline linking northern Iraq with the Mediterranean port of Ceyhan in Turkey. Iraqi Kurdistan's natural resources minister, Ashti Hawrami, announced the agreement with the Turkish government at an Istanbul energy conference in late October. The new pipeline could carry up to a million barrels (mbp) of oil per day by the end of 2014 and would completely bypass Iraq's existing pipeline network controlled by the central government in Baghdad.

Washington has expressed concern that such activity would increase Kurdish autonomy, which could lead to calls for independence in the north. The Kurdish enclave already operates with substantial independence from Baghdad, having its own defense forces and public services. Kurdish non-energy exports are also decreasing the KRG's dependence on the central government for its regional budget. According to Iraq's constitution, all oil export revenue must go through the central government, but Exxon, Chevron, and the French company Total signed exploration agreements separately with the KRG. Read more ..


The Way We Are

Typhoon Haiyan: Four Questions About This Super Storm and Major Humanitarian Disaster

November 13th 2013

Sumatra village after tsunami

The images of coming out of the Philippines are shocking – the scope of the devastation and the depth of the humanitarian crisis left in Typhoon Haiyan’s wake is seemingly immeasurable. As I wait in airport lounges between flights, I am glued to television reports and Twitter posts coming from cities like Tacloban, which was largely flattened by the super storm. While the horrific first images bring tears to my eyes, my Twitter feed mostly reassures me — Oxfam, PACOM, World Vision, UNHCR, USAID and many aid groups are on their way. I receive regular bulletins from the U.N.'s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). This is a disaster of enormous proportions, but OCHA is doing what it is supposed to do — coordinating donor contributions, sending regular updates, reporting on the establishment of humanitarian hubs, etc.

As I talk with reporters and try to put this tragedy into perspective, I'm struck by how some in the media see this disaster as a totally new phenomenon. So far, in the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan — and after years of working on human displacement caused by major natural disasters — I don't see anything new, although this disaster is certainly much larger than others resulting from the 20 or so cyclones the Philippines experiences every year. Read more ..


The Edge of Poverty

How Shipping Unions Sunk Food Aid Reform

November 11th 2013

Hungry African Widow/Children

As members of the U.S. House and Senate meet this week to hammer out a farm bill, they are likely to consider changes to the way the United States delivers food aid to hungry and impoverished nations. The debate will reprise an intense legislative battle that flared in June when food aid reforms were proposed in the House.

That struggle had a startling and little-noticed result: a plan to reshape the way in which the U.S. delivers half of the world’s food aid was dealt a decisive blow by a small but determined group of maritime unions.

Unlike other developed nations, which purchase most food aid in the regions that receive it, the U.S. buys food from American farms, ships it on American vessels, and gives away much of the goods free of cost for humanitarian groups to distribute. Although the Government Accountability Office has concluded that this system is “inherently inefficient” and can be harmful to farmers in recipient nations, for decades the setup has been politically untouchable. A powerful coalition including agriculture companies, the military, the shipping industry and humanitarian aid groups ensured that any changes were dead on arrival in Congress. Read more ..


The City Edge

A Post-Election Agenda for Mayors

November 9th 2013

Downtown LA Neighborhood

On Election Day, voters in 22 of America’s 100 largest cities decided who will lead their city by either electing new mayors or extending the tenure of incumbents. As cities and metropolitan areas fill the policy vacuum left by a dysfunctional Washington, the mayor’s job is bigger than ever. Here are three things that should be at the top of a mayoral agenda

Engage the Greater Metropolitan Area
First, a mayor has to engage the greater metropolitan area, and help other elected officials in the region set a bold agenda on economic development. Cities and suburbs can’t go it alone in the global economy. They have to, as former mayor of Denver John Hickenlooper says, “Collaborate to compete.” Projects ripe for collaboration include major infrastructure and transit projects or a regional economic development plan that draws on the unique strengths of their region. Read more ..


Iran's Nukes

Obama's Back-Door Dealing with Iran

November 8th 2013

Iran Nuclear Equipment centrifuges

On the first day of the second round of negotiations in Geneva between Iran and the P5+1, the U.S. offering of a "reverse sanctions program" in return for the suspension of part of Tehran's uranium enrichment has been leaked.  Described as a process of steps towards total abandonment of Iran's bomb ambitions, this would translate to the a major dropping of some sanctions for a finite term, (6 months?) when Iran takes the first step. But Iran's position on its nuclear program has remained the same, enriching as much uranium as they wish and keeping it, along with claiming the freedom to expand its nuclear capabilities in any way it sees fit. So, why this public offerning?
 
On November 3, AP reported that Khamenei had admonished hardliners not to undermine negotiators engaged in talks with the West. However, Khamenei also said on the same day that he was not optimistic about the negotiations "and called America the most hated power in the world."  He also reiterated his regime's view of Israel: "We have said since the very first day (of the Islamic Revolution), and we do say it now and we will say it in the future as well, that we believe the Zionist regime is an illegitimate and bastard regime."   Read more ..


Argentina on Edge

Is the Defeat of Kirchner’s Party a Small Step Towards the Extreme Left’s Gradual Retreat?

November 7th 2013

Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner

President Cristina Kirchner’s party suffered a major setback in the legislative elections that took place on October 27th. Indeed, one half of the House of Representatives and one third of the Senate was up for election. While Kirchner’s sector, also called “Frente Para La Victoria” (Front for Victory) still maintains a majority in both houses of Congress, it was defeated in the main urban centers of the country, particularly in the province of Buenos Aires where 15 out of 40 million Argentineans live. This result could have implications for the 2015 presidential elections.

Kirchner, an admirer of Hugo Chavez, most likely lost the election due to the country’s high inflation rates, her semi-authoritarian governing style, her vice-president’s corruption scandal, and the split within the Peronist party.

Kirchner has not only tried to concentrate her power throughout the government but also within her own party. She refused to name a successor that could run in the next presidential election (since according to the constitution she cannot run for a third term) while also planning to reform the constitution in order to be able to run for a third time. Read more ..


Inside Politics

Some Reflections on the Virginia and New Jersey Elections

November 6th 2013

Voter Line

1. The Obamacare rollout fiasco and Obama's lies hurt Democrats.

You only have to look at Democrat Terry McAuliffe's narrow 48 percent to 46 percent margin in Virginia to see that. McAuliffe outspent Republican Ken Cuccinelli by a wide margin (as much as 10-to-1, some bloggers suggested) and was leading 46 percent to 37 percent in the last days of October in the Real Clear Politics average of recent polls on Oct. 31. In Virginia, the state that voted closest to the national average in the last two presidential elections, McAuliffe ended up with 48 percent, 3 percentage points behind Barack Obama's 2012 percentage of the state, while Cuccinelli's 46 percent was just 1 percentage point behind Mitt Romney's showing. Did Obamacare hurt? Well, the exit poll showed Virginia voters opposed rather than favored it by a 53 percent to 45 percent margin. Read more ..


The Economy on Edge

Colorado Amendment 66: Using the Ballot Box to Advance Economy-Shaping Investments

November 5th 2013

Green Jobs

Coloradans headed to the polls today will decide the fate of Amendment 66, a legislatively referred ballot measure that would significantly increase annual funding for the state’s P-12 education system. If approved, this constitutional amendment would provide almost $1 billion in its first year alone to fund a whole host of investments, including prekindergarten and all-day kindergarten, professional development for teachers, facilities improvements, technology purchases, and additional support for low-income students.

The Colorado measure offers one example of how states and metro areas are using the ballot box to drive economy-shaping investments, a subject that we’ll be exploring further in a paper out next month. In recent years, ballot measure use has grown in popularity, most notably for issues such as marriage equality and marijuana legalization. But ballot measures can also be used to secure funds for needed investments in economically critical areas like education, innovation, and infrastructure.    Read more ..



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