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Iraq on Edge

The Resurgence of Al-Qaeda in Iraq

January 4th 2014

Oil fields near Ramadi

I have paid close attantion to the subject of Al-Qaeda in Iraq throughout the last decade. Like others, I was disheartened to watch the group grow from 2003-2006 and relieved to see it crash and burn in 2006-2009. I was saddened but not surprised to watch it rebound strongly from 2010 onwards. Indeed since the autumn of 2010 I have been warning all who would listen that the group was poised to make a comeback.

Since 2004, I have worked in all the Iraqi provinces and most of the country’s hundred districts, including some of those where Al-Qaeda is strongest. I have worked alongside the Iraqi security forces, the U.S. military and the reconstruction community as they battled Al-Qaeda. It is my firm belief that Al-Qaeda’s resurgence was both predictable and preventable. I believe just as firmly that the counter-terrorism situation in Iraq is still recoverable. We defeated Al-Qaeda in Iraq just five years ago, comprehensively dismantling their networks and propaganda campaigns. In the coming years the United States can help Iraq to do it again. Read more ..


Iraq on Edge

What's Behind The Fighting In Iraq?

January 3rd 2014

Iraqi Forces

Iraqi security forces have been waging a fierce battle with Al-Qaeda-linked militants in the lawless west of the country.

Militants have seized control of large parts of Ramadi and Fallujah, two Sunni cities in Anbar Province that were once strongholds for militants fighting against U.S. forces. Sunni tribesmen in the region have taken up arms and have been fighting on both sides.

Militants have overrun police stations, seized military posts, freed prisoners, and swept through the streets of the two cities. Government forces have pounded militant positions, but have met stiff resistance.

The heavy fighting, which has left dozens dead, comes amid mounting sectarian tensions between minority Sunnis and the Shi'ite-led government. Violence in the country has surged to levels not witnessed since 2007, during the height of sectarian fighting.

Who are the main actors in the fighting?
Several players are involved in the current fighting in Anbar Province. The Iraqi national security forces are clearly on one side, while the local Al-Qaeda branch -- known as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant -- and its allies are on the other. Read more ..


The US and China

US-China Tensions Overshadow 2013 Bid for ‘New Model’ Relations

January 2nd 2014

The Pentagon

China and the United States faced several major sources of tension in their relations in 2013, overshadowing their efforts to build what they called a "new model" of ties between two major powers.

The Woodrow Wilson Center, a Washington-based research institute, examined those tensions this month as part of a panel discussion reviewing key developments in the U.S.-China relationship over the past year.

One prominent development was the inauguration of Chinese President Xi Jinping in March.

Assessing China’s new leader
President Barack Obama hosted Mr. Xi at California’s Sunnylands resort for an informal summit in June. It was their first meeting as the leaders of their countries. U.S. President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping walk the grounds at The Annenberg Retreat at Sunnylands in Rancho Mirage, California Wilson Center panelist. Read more ..


The Way We Are

Geopolitics and the Gregorian Calendar: Time for a Change

January 2nd 2014

Click to select Image

When England adopted the Gregorian calendar in 1752, some 170 years after it was introduced by Pope Gregory XIII, Benjamin Franklin wrote, "It is pleasant for an old man to be able to go to bed on Sept. 2, and not have to get up until Sept. 14." Indeed, nearly two weeks evaporated into thin air in England when it transitioned from the Julian calendar, which had left the country 11 days behind much of Europe. Such calendrical acrobatics are not unusual. The year 46 B.C., a year before Julius Caesar implemented his namesake system, lasted 445 days and later became known as the "final year of confusion."

In other words, the systems used by mankind to track, organize and manipulate time have often been arbitrary, uneven and disruptive, especially when designed poorly or foisted upon an unwilling society. The history of calendrical reform has been shaped by the egos of emperors, disputes among churches, the insights of astronomers and mathematicians, and immutable geopolitical realities. Attempts at improvements have sparked political turmoil and commercial chaos, and seemingly rational changes have consistently failed to take root. Read more ..


The Way We Are

Novice Teen Drivers Easily Distracted Causing Accidents

January 1st 2014

family with teenagers

Teens may begin their driving habits with great caution, but as months behind the wheel pass, they begin to multi-task at higher frequency rates – dialing cell phones, eating, and talking to passengers, etc. – and therefore greatly raise their risk of crashes and/or near-crash incidents.

These are the findings from a study conducted by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute and the National Institutes of Child Health and Human Development  "Novice drivers are more likely to engage in high-risk secondary tasks more frequently over time as they became more comfortable with driving," said Charlie Klauer. "The increasingly high rates of secondary task engagement among newly licensed novice drivers in our study are worrisome as this appears to be an important contributing factor to crashes or near-crashes." Read more ..


The Pentagon on Edge

5 Lessons for the Pentagon from 2013

December 31st 2013

Pentagon aerial shot

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey asked Congress this year: "What do you want your military to do?"

The takeaway for defense leaders is that policymakers want to fund a defense budget that does less but a military that is just as engaged around the world, ready to act when needed and fully capable when ordered to fight and win.

1. Sequestration's slow burn will continue, even with the recent budget deal

While the recent budget deal signed into law will soften the blow of sequestration's steep cuts in fiscal year 2014, it does not do away with them altogether. As predicted, policymakers opted for defense cuts that decline in a graduated, staircase manner rather than off a cliff. But the defense budget will still fall over the next decade. The budget simply gives Pentagon leaders more time to make judicious decisions about tradeoffs. Read more ..


Counting Palestinians

Correcting the Facts about Palestinian Refugees

December 29th 2013

UNRWA Refugee Camp

The Palestinian refugee issue has been dramatically misrepresented, distorting circumstances and numbers, in order to delegitimize the Jewish state.

According to the German Middle East expert, Fritz Grobba (Men and Powers in the Orient, pp. 194-7, 207-8, Berlin, 1957), the 1948 Palestinian leadership, headed by the Grand Mufti, Haj Amin Al-Husseini, wanted to apply Nazi methods to massacre Jews throughout the Middle East. In1941,the Mufti drafted a proposal requesting that Germany and Italy acknowledge the Arab right to settle “the Jewish problem” in Palestine and the Arab countries in accordance with national and racial Arab interests, similar to the practice employed to solve “the Jewish problem” in Germany and Italy. On Nov. 24, 1947, Acting Chairman of the (Palestinian) Arab Higher Committee, Jamal Al-Husseini, threatened: "Palestine shall be consumed with fire and blood," if the Jews get any part of it.  On April 16, 1948 Jamal Husseini told the UN Security Council: “The representative of the Jewish Agency told us yesterday that they were not the attackers, that the Arabs had begun the fighting. We did not deny this. We told the whole world that we were going to fight.” Read more ..


Israel on Edge

Morocco Plays with Anti-Normalization

December 29th 2013

Dome-of-the-Rock

Last weekend, the Moroccan parliament put forth a bill to outlaw "normalization" with Israel. If passed, it would ban trade and criminalize official or business interactions between the two countries, banish Israeli firms from Morocco, and bar individuals with Israeli passports from entering the kingdom. Further restrictions would cover culture, politics, sports, and the economy, with violations punishable by fines and up to two years in prison.

Although Morocco projects itself as a moderate bridge between East and West, including between Israelis and Palestinians, its domestic politics have long shown a streak of opposition to the “maverick” slant of royal policies toward Israel. Yet the latest anti-normalization bill is unusual in that it was originally sponsored by a broad coalition that included two parties in the governing bloc -- the Islamist Justice and Development Party (PJD) and the leftist Party for Progress and Socialism (PPS) -- along with monarchist factions such as the Party of Authenticity and Modernity (PAM), generally recognized as the party of the "king's men." At present, parliamentary support for the bill appears to be waning and final approval is highly unlikely. Yet the fact that it progressed as far as it did with the support of parties so close to the throne raises questions about the initiative's motivations. Read more ..


Palestinians on Edge

The Unique Tragedy of the Palestinian Refugees

December 29th 2013

Palstinian refugee camp

UNRWA, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, is tasked with assisting Palestinian refugees. The films, pictures, slides and prints the organization has collected on the refugees' plight will now be displayed in Jerusalem's Old City in an exhibit entitled "The Long Journey," which will then tour Europe and North America. The images, available online, are heartbreakingly powerful and emotive.

Like all refugee stories, Palestinian stories of displacement and loss needs to be told. The question is what lessons one takes out of it. For Israel, as many prominent Israeli intellectuals, historians and politicians have argued for decades, the Palestinian plight is one that must be confronted and acknowledged with honesty. What about the rest of the world, and particularly Muslims, Arabs and the Palestinians themselves? Read more ..


Iran's Nukes

Was the West Duped in the Iran Nukes Deal?

December 28th 2013

Click to select Image

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." Read more ..


Israel on Edge

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee says Israel has 'License' to Act on Iran

December 28th 2013

Now that the U.S. and other P5+1 powers made an interim nuclear deal with Iran without Israel’s involvement, the Jewish state is free to act as it sees fit on the Iranian issue without consulting America, former Arkansas governor and 2008 presidential candidate Mike Huckabee said in an exclusive interview with JNS.org.

The U.S. “has indicated that they are going to act independently of Israel as it relates to Iran,” Huckabee said, calling that a “very foolish policy.”

“I think now [the Israelis] have really a license to act without having to be scolded for not having consulted the U.S. for their plans,” he said.

When asked about the possibility of making another presidential run in 2016, Huckabee, the runner-up to U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) in the 2008 Republican primary, said, “I’m looking at it very seriously.” Huckabee—an ordained Southern Baptist minister who currently hosts the talk show “Huckabee” on Fox News—said he is having exploratory meetings to determine “whether people who I trust, and people whose views I have confidence in, believe that there is a pathway forward for me through the primary.” Read more ..


Israel on Edge

Israel's Water Challenge

December 28th 2013

tap water

While Israel enjoys relative national security compared to its neighbors, which are struggling with internal fragmentation, this will probably change eventually. Because concerted military efforts have been required in the past to secure water resources, Israel has had a strong incentive to develop technological solutions to improve water security. Additional domestic water resources -- including increasing desalination capacity and continued efforts to recycle water -- allow Israel to mitigate one of its inherent geographic constraints.

Israel has substantially increased its capacity to desalinize water over the last decade. The arid country of roughly 8 million already has a number of desalination plants -- including the Sorek plant, the world's largest desalination plant of its kind, which became fully operational in October. Israel has plans to increase total desalination capacity through 2020 such that it approaches the estimated annual amount of internally generated natural water resources. Read more ..


America's Darkest Edge

“Nonpartisan” Gun Rights Group Boosted by Democratic-aligned America Votes

December 27th 2013

Gun collection

Amid Capitol Hill’s gun control debates this year, the Denver-based Bull Moose Sportsmen ranked among the few advocacy groups to chart a centrist course when working with lawmakers and the White House to craft firearm laws.

Its funding, however, is anything but middle of the road. The Democratic-aligned nonprofit America Votes provided the self-described “nonpartisan” Bull Moose Sportsmen with the overwhelming majority of its funding in 2012, according to a review of documents recently filed with the Internal Revenue Service. In all, contributions from America Votes represent at least 95 percent of the $963,000 raised by the Bull Moose Sportsmen from its launch in 2010 through the end 2012, IRS records show.

Washington, D.C.-based America Votes -- which has spent millions of dollars promoting Democrats and attempting to defeat Republicans such as Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker -- was created in 2004 by a group of liberal political operatives. Among them: EMILY’s List founder Ellen Malcolm, former Sierra Club executive director Carl Pope, and Harold Ickes, a longtime adviser to Bill and Hillary Clinton. Read more ..


Korea on Edge

North Korea: Dangerous, Weak and Crazy

December 24th 2013

North Korea's state-run media reported last December that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has ordered the country's top security officials to take "substantial and high-profile important state measures," which has been widely interpreted to mean that North Korea is planning its third nuclear test. Kim said the orders were retaliation for the U.S.-led push to tighten U.N. sanctions on Pyongyang following North Korea's missile test in October. A few days before Kim's statement emerged, the North Koreans said future tests would target the United States, which North Korea regards as its key adversary along with Washington's tool, South Korea.

North Korea has been using the threat of tests and the tests themselves as weapons against its neighbors and the United States for years. On the surface, threatening to test weapons does not appear particularly sensible. If the test fails, you look weak. If it succeeds, you look dangerous without actually having a deliverable weapon. And the closer you come to having a weapon, the more likely someone is to attack you so you don't succeed in actually getting one. Developing a weapon in absolute secret would seem to make more sense. When the weapon is ready, you display it, and you have something solid to threaten enemies with. Read more ..


Economic Jihad

Dozens of Universities Reject ASA Boycott of Israeli Academics; None Known to Support It

December 24th 2013

Graduates

Dozens of universities have rejected a decision by the American Studies Association last week to boycott Israeli academics, according to William Jacobson, a legal scholar who authors the Legal Insurrection blog. In fact, not one university or American studies department is known to support the ASA boycott. The ASA did not respond to The Algemeiner’s request for further comment on Monday. Last Wednesday, Brandeis University and Penn State Harrisburg were the first to reject the boycott, going as far as withdrawing their ASA memberships.

Since then, the Association of American Universities, the umbrella organization for 62 major universities and university-systems, rejected the boycott, along with the presidents of the following major universities: Read more ..


Africa on Edge

Save South Sudan Now, or Lose Africa

December 23rd 2013

South Sudan soldier

South Sudan is the newest country in the world and unfortunately seems to be on the edge of the newest civil war in the region. For the past week, clashes and killings have ravaged the capital and other areas of that young African country, yet all that comes from Washington is a heavy silence. Some observers believe that the U.S. administration is silent on purpose, allowing the confrontation to spread until the country no longer able to govern itself, ultimately leading the northern Jihadi regime to recapture influence over the south and restore itself as an Islamist power in the region after the loss of the Muslim Brotherhood regime in Cairo. While there is no hard evidence to directly blame the Obama administration for this looming new disaster, we certainly can see that the protracted U.S. absence from the scene as indirect proof that pressure groups within the Beltway might want to see free South Sudan go down in flames. But is the drama only due to U.S. policies, or are there also local disastrous politics to indict? A full review is warranted to see clearer through the fog of war.
Read more ..

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

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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

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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 ..



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