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Obama's Second Term

Obama's Chance to Lead

September 5th 2013

Standard Missile 3

No matter what leadership style President Obama has chosen, his responsibility lies not with removing Bashar Assad, but in securing Syria's chemical weapons arsenal. But Obama seems more concerned with his image and Washington politics than preventing an imminent global chemical disaster. Because he dislikes the leadership responsibilities that come with the job he was elected to do, he has passed the ball to Congress. Thus no one could blame him if Congress authorizes a "limited" attack and it boomerangs. Not surprisingly, a jubilant David Axelrod tweeted that "Congress is now the dog that caught the car."

Moreover, Secretary of State John Kerry hinted on CNN that the administration intends to stall when he trotted out that military action against Syria doesn't have to happen as soon as possible, "like previous situations." Kerry added that the situation in Syria is different than Libya, which was "an overnight emergency ... where people were about to be slaughtered."

What about more than 110,000 Syrians who have been slaughtered already, including those killed since Kerry made this astute comparison? And what about those who are being killed now and more who will lose their lives tomorrow, and the next day, and the day after next? Read more ..

Obama's Second Term

Shape-Shifting on Syria

September 4th 2013

Obama and Flag

The United States has not made the case that the national security interest of the United States requires the use of military force in Syria. Others have made the case for regime change, punishment, and deterrence against future use of non-conventional weapons by Syria, Iran or North Korea; and some of those cases are compelling. But the Administration has articulated no outcome toward which it is willing to commit substantial military resources and political capital.

The Administration has cast its goals primarily in the negative: no regime change, no tip toward the rebels, and no boots on the ground. In the affirmative: a shot across the bow and an exercise in American credibility presumably to influence both Syria and Iran. President Obama asserted that he would decide -- with or without Great Britain (now without), with or in defiance of the UN (now in defiance of), with or without Congress (now with) -- what he thinks is best. In fact, the Administration has been clearer, more definitive and more adamant about its prerogatives as than it has been about what outcome it seeks. Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

Replaying History, Both Political Parties Debate Acting Against Syria

September 3rd 2013

F-22s at Sunset

President Obama’s surprising decision to seek congressional authorization for a strike on Syria has set off an historically resonant debate in both political parties, the outcome of which will affect American politics and policy for years to come.

Since Ronald Reagan’s victory in 1980, a muscular internationalism (often with democratic overtones) has been the default position within the Republican Party.  But disappointments with George W. Bush’s handling of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have combined with public war weariness to spark a resurgence of quasi-isolationist sentiment in conservative ranks.  In the House, Speaker John Boehner has endorsed Obama’s call for action against Syria even as many rank-and-file Republicans have come out in opposition to it.  In the Senate, Republicans led by Rand Paul (R-KY) have reminded their colleagues that limited government at home and restraint overseas go together.  Heirs of Reagan such as John McCain (R-AZ) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) have pushed back vigorously and may well end up supporting a modified version of the authorizing resolution the Obama administration has proposed.   Read more ..

Obama's Second Term

Obama, the Syrian Crisis and Our Historic Retreat

September 2nd 2013

Obama Bowed Head

Pres. Barack Obama's sudden volte-face on a strike against the Syrian regime of Pres. Bashar al Assad has only put on hold the enormous stakes in the crisis' ultimate outcome. In one of those curious turns of history, an ugly, bloody, little conflict in an always fragile, volatile, artificial nation-state created in the last gasps of European colonialism now is determining the world's immediate fortunes:

For whatever the immediate effects of Obama's decision to go to the Congress for approval of a strike against Assad, the longer term importance of this contest in a corner of the chaotic Mideast has intensified. These concerns go far beyond the fortunes of Assad--or, for that matter, of Obama and his now crippled lame duck presidency.

* The pursuit of regional hegemony by Iran's mullahs is now (as it has been for some time) tied to Assad's continued survival, dependent as he is increasingly on their support.

* Russia's Vladimir Putin's attempt to regain a measure of the former Soviet Union's superpower status--with a threatening domestic economic crisis--is bound up in his commitment to Assad as a symbol of his growing antagonism to the U.S.

* The Arab elites' half-century jihad against Israel--if not its rhetoric--has abated in the interest of their now common fight against the new threat of nihilistic religious fanaticism, occasionally linked with Tehran's fanatics.

* Britain's political paralysis, thereby abandoning its traditional commitment to play Greece to America's Rome, plus Germany's ambivalence, is writing the death notice for NATO's short-lived "outside the theater" role. Read more ..

Broken Education

Liberal Colleges in Authoritarian Places

September 1st 2013

Yale University

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Robert O. Blake performed the diplomatic equivalent of gold-medal figure skating last April in a meeting at the authoritarian central Asian nation of Kazakhstan’s Nazarbayev University when a student asked him about warnings by American critics and human-rights monitors that “a democracy cannot have its universities making partnerships with authoritarian governments,” as the questioner put it.

How could Blake justify his enthusiasm for American universities’ extensive contracts in Kazakhstan, when his own department had reported that country’s “rampant and diverse” human-rights violations and “pervasive corruption.”? Similar assessments have been offered Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, Reporters Without Borders, and Freedom House, and also by The Economist magazine’s yearly Democracy Index for 2012, which ranked Kazakhstan 143rd among 167 nations (behind Iraq, Belarus, and Angola) in protecting civil liberties, press freedoms and other elements of liberal democracy. Read more ..

The Drug Wars

Narco-Politics: How Mexico Got There and How It Can Get Out

September 1st 2013

Mexico memorial

The arrest on August 17 of the leader of Cártel del Golfo (Gulf Cartel), Mario Ramirez Treviño, better known as X-20 as well as the capture this past July of the leader of Los Zetas (The Zetas), Miguel Ángel Treviño Morales, the Z-40, are nothing more than superficial achievements for Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto’s eight-month-old administration. As much as the U.S. and Mexican governments celebrate what is described as a successful blow to organized crime, in reality, the arrest will not significantly change Mexico’s current security problems.

The narco-business in the country is much more complex, unlike Colombia, where the 1993 elimination of Pablo Escobar meant the beginning of the disappearance of the power of the Medellin cartel; according to British journalist Ioan Grillo, in Mexico the problem is far more ingrained. Mexico is a dangerously fragmented country—one where a series of illegal networks have been historically intertwined with the government; where federal and military authorities are not always on the same side; and where drug traffic organizations (DTO’s) have been gaining more territory and becoming more powerful, particularly recent decades. Mexico’s geography has become its own curse due to its fertile land, where it is ideal to grow illegal substances and traffic them to U.S. consumers. Read more ..

Security Edge

Obama's Relations with Russia Need a 'Reset'

August 31st 2013

Click to select Image

From the first day he entered the White House, President Barack Obama has tried to make better relations with Russia a cornerstone of his foreign policy. That worked for a while, but relations with Moscow have been on a downward spiral lately and sharp disagreements over Syria could make matters even worse.

Foreign policy in Obama’s first administration was dominated by what his advisers called the “reset” – a program designed to improve relations between the Washington and Moscow that had reached a low point during the last few years of George W. Bush’s administration.

The “reset” did bring some concrete results, however, such as a major strategic arms control treaty. Moscow also allowed U.S. forces to transit through Russia to get in and out of Afghanistan. And Russia even voted along with Washington at the United Nations to impose tougher sanctions on Iran over its suspected nuclear weapons program. In addition, Washington played a key role in getting Russia admitted to the World Trade Organization. Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

No Simple Fix for the Horrors of Syria

August 30th 2013

Click to select Image

There are no simple solutions to the horrors unfolding in Syria. Had the West responded sooner, there might have been a remote chance for moderates within the rebel camp to form a functional political authority. Today, that possibility is inconceivable.

Now the forces of darkness and evil dominate the behavior of the government and rebels alike. The depths of unimaginable barbarism to which both parties have descended exceed the worst horror films.

Merely a few kilometers from Israel’s border in Damascus, President Bashar al-Assad has been butchering and massacring his own people for two years. He has now added chemical weapons to his arsenal. US Secretary of State John Kerry, who, until recently considered Assad a “reformer,” has condemned Assad’s chemical weapons attack as defying “any code of morality” and representing a “moral obscenity.” Read more ..

Afghanistan on Edge

Pakistan, Taliban and the Afghan Quagmire

August 29th 2013

Taliban soldiers

With American and NATO combat troops scheduled to depart Afghanistan next year, the relationship between the Afghan Taliban and Pakistan has become more important than ever. It is a complex and complicated nexus. Without doubt, Pakistan and its intelligence service, the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate of the army (ISI), have more influence over the Taliban than any other country or intelligence service. It provides critical safe haven and sanctuary to the groups’ leadership, advice on military and diplomatic issues, and assistance with fund raising. But its influence is not complete, and whether it could persuade the Taliban to settle for a political settlement in Afghanistan, is unclear at best.

Pakistan’s Support for Survival and Revival of the Taliban
Pakistan has been intimately associated with the Taliban since its birth in the mid-1990s. The ISI provided support to Mullah Omar when he founded the organisation in Kandahar. It had trained Omar even earlier in the 1980s at one of its training camps for the mujahedin that fought the Soviet occupation of the country. Pakistan was one of only three countries that recognised the Taliban’s Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan as the legitimate government of Afghanistan in the late 1990s (Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates were the other two). Read more ..

The Battle for Egypt

The Implications of Obama’s Failure in Egypt

August 29th 2013

Isi Libler

To date, US President Barack Obama’s efforts to appease or engage Islamists have either failed or backfired. US influence in the Mideast is at an all-time low and Islamic fundamentalism continues to gain strength at an alarming pace.

Egypt, which until a year ago was regarded by the US as an ally, is perhaps the most dramatic example of Obama’s complete failure to understand the nature of the region and the steps that must be taken to stabilize it. The current horrors and barbarism in Syria should not divert attention from events in Egypt, the outcome of which is likely to have a major impact on the entire region.

Obama’s first blunder in Egypt was the antagonism he displayed toward President Hosni Mubarak. Immediately following his first election, Obama insisted on inviting members of the outlawed Moslem Brotherhood to his Cairo address. As a result, Mubarak boycotted the event.

Obama displayed the full extent of his contempt for Mubarak when the public riots first erupted against the Egyptian regime when he called on him to step down immediately. This provided an opening to the Islamists and sent shock waves throughout those Arab regimes that regarded themselves as US allies.

While there is no disputing that Mubarak was an odious authoritarian leader, he was considered a moderate within the context of the Arab world, a loyal ally of the US, and a combatant of Islamic terrorism -- facts whose implications Obama either inexplicably failed to grasp or naively chose to ignore.

The Obama administration’s greatest failure with regard to Egypt has been its inexcusable and naive mischaracterization of the Moslem Brotherhood. The Moslem Brotherhood is a fanatical Islamist organization, established in 1928 with the objective of imposing medieval Islamic sharia law throughout the world, employing violence and terror to achieve the goal. The organization was suppressed for most of its 85-year history, and many of its leaders were jailed in Egypt during the Mubarak era. Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

The Time for Action in Syria is Now

August 28th 2013

Bashar al Assad Stop Killing

The announcement of the summit in Jordan this week, after the use of chemical weapons in Syria, is very welcome. Western policy is at a crossroads: commentary or action; shaping events or reacting to them. After the long and painful campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan, I understand every impulse to stay clear of the turmoil, to watch but not to intervene, to ratchet up language but not to engage in the hard, even harsh business of changing reality on the ground. But we have collectively to understand the consequences of wringing our hands instead of putting them to work.

People wince at the thought of intervention. But contemplate the future consequence of inaction and shudder: Syria mired in carnage between the brutality of Assad and various affiliates of al-Qaeda, a breeding ground of extremism infinitely more dangerous than Afghanistan in the 1990s; Egypt in chaos, with the West, however unfairly, looking as if it is giving succour to those who would turn it into a Sunni version of Iran. Iran still — despite its new president — a theocratic dictatorship, with a nuclear bomb. Our allies dismayed. Our enemies emboldened. Ourselves in confusion. This is a nightmare scenario but it is not far-fetched. Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

What Obama Can Learn from Past Airstrikes

August 28th 2013

Click to select Image

Sending clear signals using punitive airstrikes is difficult but not impossible, and learning lessons from past operations can help maximize the chances of success if Washington decides to strike Syria.

As speculation mounts about potential U.S. or international military action against the Syrian regime, some aspects of the prospective operation can be guessed at with reasonable certainty. It would probably involve air- and ship-delivered weapons only, not ground forces. It would also be fixed in duration, lasting hours or days -- although the threat of follow-on actions would be clear, the operation would not be designed as a no-fly zone or other open-ended aerial policing campaign.

In addition, most of its objectives and targets would be linked to the Assad regime's August 21 chemical strikes against civilians. Given these parameters, one can draw meaningful parallels to the many past air operations that sought to punish transgressions by states and/or deter escalation in ongoing conflicts. Read more ..

Israelis and Palestinians

Peace vs. UNRWA

August 27th 2013


The John Kerry-Martin Indyk negotiating team needs to come to terms with the fact that the crux of the Arab-Israeli conflict is rooted in the Palestinian "Right of Return," the collective demand claiming a legal and moral right for Palestinian refugees, and more importantly, for their descendants from around the world, to return to ancestral homes in Israel that were once part of Mandatory Palestine. The "right of return" is central to Palestinian national identity and is the barrier to any successful peace agreement.

Indyk is very aware from his past involvement in Camp David in 2000 that insisting on the Palestinian Right of Return is a clear non-starter for Israel as it is mostly used to deflect attention from the real hard honest talks. The real issues include mutual recognition then a discussion about land swaps.

While it maybe easier or convenient at times to believe that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is purely territorial, a closer look at the reality reveals that Palestinian rejectionism of a Jewish State at large is what prolongs the conflict rather than the question of Jerusalem or the borders of 1949 or 1967. To that end, the Palestinian identity as perpetual refugees has become UNRWA's raison d'être. Read more ..

The Battle for Egypt

Egypt in Crisis

August 26th 2013

Egypt Protests

The persistent talk and speculation as to what the U.S. should do about the crisis in Egypt is irrelevant. What will happen in Egypt will happen regardless of what the U.S., or any other country, does or doesn’t do about it. 

Egypt is seized by the forces of change—albeit a painful change that could, and possibly will, cause much damage to that country. It is the price it pays for decades of political, economic, and social stagnation. Egypt’s present experience is the result of a lack of gradual change that should have taken place over time and in stages. 

In order to perpetuate their position of power, Egypt’s rulers prevented socio-political change to take place. And as time passed by, the opposition gradually retreated to increasingly radical positions.  It was the fear of this radicalization that General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi toppled Mohamed Morsi’s government.   Read more ..

Obama's Second Term

Obama Picking Up the Pieces

August 26th 2013

Kickin back in the Situation room

When a young, flibbertigibbet reporter asked the old Edwardian Harold Macmillan what might derail implementing the prime minister's promised political agenda, he rejoined, "Events, dear boy, events!" For the pseudo-aristocrat that he might have been--his grandfather was a Scottish crofter, his mother quintessentially Midwestern American--Macmillan knew well and had been a victim of the vagaries of human life, that make plans just that, plans. (He almost died of wounds suffered in World War I.)

Macmillan's maxim is one always to be remembered when, for example, attempting to discern where current trends will take the U.S. Any serious attempt at calculating where the policies--or lack thereof--of the Obama Administration will guide the U.S. and the world is therefore conceit rather than speculation. But certain it is that even though there are another three years to go, it's highly unlikely that Pres. Barack Obama will either change his views, or even should he have an epiphany, he could now limit the enormous damage he already has done. Read more ..

Broken Healthcare

Doing as Much Harm as Possible to Florida's Insured

August 25th 2013

Obamacare Protest

First do no harm. That’s a tenet of medical ethics that future doctors worldwide are taught in medical school. If only the people we elect to represent us were required to take such an oath when they’re sworn into office.

Because they aren’t, folks in Florida are facing having to pay far more for health insurance over the next two years than necessary. And health insurance executives will be laughing all the way to the bank.

Florida state lawmakers, in their ongoing efforts to block the implementation of Obamacare in the Sunshine State, recently passed a law that will allow health insurance companies to gouge Floridians more than any corporate boss dreamed was possible. And if that weren’t bad enough, insurers will actually be required by law to mislead their Florida customers about why they’re hiking their premiums. Read more ..

The US and Egypt

The U.S. Can Afford to Rethink Aid to Egypt

August 24th 2013

Cairo burning US embassy

In the aftermath of the Egyptian military’s brutal crackdown on Muslim Brotherhood supporters, many have suggested that the United States must nevertheless sustain most or all of its $1.5 billion in annual aid to Egypt because of our military dependence on the Suez Canal and Egyptian airspace. While these geographical features of the Arab world’s central state are desirable and convenient for U.S. national security interests in the broader Middle East, and while there are other reasons not to categorically cut off contact with the Egyptian armed forces, the argument of military logistics needs to be placed in perspective.

The U.S. military benefits from being able to send ships through the Suez Canal and fly straight from Mediterranean airspace over Egypt to the Red Sea and then the Persian Gulf. But it does not need these conveniences in any absolute sense. There are alternatives, and we should bear this in mind as policy options toward Egypt are sized up. Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

Reacting to Chemicals in Syria

August 23rd 2013


It is hard to look at the photographs. American newspapers are showing largely sanitized versions, so you're safe. But Twitter feeds and UK newspapers such as the Daily Mail don't hesitate to show the full horror. Hundreds of beautiful children, all dead, most of them wrapped in white shrouds, and their mothers, aunts, uncles, fathers, and grandmothers.

These people didn't die of gunshots or explosions; there is no blood. If you look at photos from the fighting in Cairo, blood is clearly seeping through the shrouds, evidence of external wounds. Not in Syria. The Syrians died from nerve gas -- probably Sarin, a type of gas known to be in the Syrian arsenal. Israel's Minister for Intelligence and Strategic Affairs Yuval Steinitz confirmed observers' worst fears. Read more ..

The Arab Spring Withers

Bambi Meets Godzilla In the Middle East

August 23rd 2013

Hate Obama Patterson

President Obama has had a rude awakening in the Middle East. The region he thought existed was an illusion built on American progressive assumptions about the way the world works. In the dream Middle East, democracy at least of a sort was just around the corner. Moderate Islamists would engage with the democratic process, and the experience would lead them to ever more moderate behavior. If America got itself on the “right side of history,” and supported this hopeful development, both America’s values and its interests would be served. Our relationships with the peoples of the Middle East would improve as they saw Washington supporting the emergence of democracy in the region, and Al Qaeda and the other violent groups would lose influence as moderate Islamist parties guided their countries to prosperity and democracy.

This vision, sadly, has turned out to be a mirage, and Washington is discovering that fact only after the administration followed the deceptive illusion out into the deep desert. The vultures are circling now as American policy crawls forlornly over the dunes; with both the New York Times and the Washington Post running “what went wrong” obituaries for the President’s efforts in Egypt, not even the MSM can avoid the harsh truth that President Obama’s Middle East policies have collapsed into an ugly and incoherent mess. Read more ..

The Way We Are

A Spiritual Currency

August 22nd 2013


Most people always envy athletes for their fame and money, but they should really envy their work ethic. Now I know they have it great: they play a game for a living and make millions of dollars, but it takes a lot of blood, sweat, and tears to get there. Unlike many in society, they have to to earn their success based on their merits; they weren’t given anything.

Serena Williams is number one in the world again, becoming the oldest woman in the history of tennis to do so. She won her first U.S. Open title in 1999 as a teenager, and to think that almost fifteen years later, she still has the motivation to dominate the sport, is quite unique to the sport. Women’s tennis is famous for stars retiring early like Justine Henin and Kim Clisters, or plummeting from the top of the world ranks because they got comfortable. To stay on top for years in any sport is counterintuitive to human nature, and that is why it’s so impressive. In life we get comfortable, cozy, satisfied, we retire, we relax, we lounge. Once a goal is achieved the attitude is generally “Now that’s over,” rarely “What’s next.”

That drive is why I still to some degree admire Lance Armstrong. Yes he did steroids and was a cheater, and even worse he sued people who he knew were telling the truth. But to recover from near death cancer, to have the belief and desire to think he could win a Tour de France, then to go out and train 15 hours a day in the Texas heat, is pretty inhuman. Tiger Woods has said he practices for 14 hours a day, hitting balls, chipping, and putting again and again and again. Ed Bradley in a sixty minutes piece a few years ago described it as “A never ending quest for perfection.” Read more ..

The Arab Winter of Rage

A View from the Scorching Summer after the Arab Spring

August 21st 2013

Islamist Protest PostMorsi

The dominant country, in one of the most important regions of the world, experienced several years of tumultuous unrest, brutality, mass demonstrations, murders, and chaos. This was followed by a parliamentary election, won by an extremist right wing party whose demagoguery appealed to the lowest common denominator of the voters.

The party received the largest popular vote and the largest number of seats in the parliament, but not an absolute majority. Its leader, jailed by a previous regime, was installed as head of the government. The program of action of the new ruling party was sometimes openly declared, and often whispered in code language, but it was unambiguously stated in published books and documents prior to the election. It aimed at suppressing all competing political forces, by brutal means, if necessary. Read more ..

The Arab Winter of Rage

The Frog and the Scorpion in the Middle East

August 20th 2013

Wounded Egyptian Protester

Out of the mist and murk of the Middle East since the inception of the so-called "Arab Spring" more than two years ago, there are signs that a new strategic balance may be emerging in the region. This realignment process is made up of various elements, some of which we have emphasized in previous columns:

* Withdrawal of the US military presence in Iraq and the pending withdrawal of NATO troops from Afghanistan.

* European neglect of the region and general withdrawal within itself to try to reverse its long-standing economic and financial decline.

* Discovery and incipient production of vast reserves of natural gas in Israeli waters.

* Gradual emergence of an autonomous, if not independent, Kurdistan, marking the formation of a new political entity in the Middle East, covering twenty to forty million people, depending on whether it is limited to Iraqi and Syrian Kurdistan, or whether it will eventually cover also the Kurdish regions of Turkey and perhaps Iran.

* Increasing military, security and intelligence cooperation between Israel and the new military-controlled government in Egypt. Egyptian closure of the border with Gaza. Read more ..

The Battle for Egypt

Egypt at a Bleak Crossroads

August 19th 2013

Egyptian bannerman

The bloody crackdown on the sit-in camps in support of deposed President Mohammad Mursi in Egypt’s Rabaa al-Adawiya and Ennahda squares on Wednesday left more than 600 Egyptians dead and more than 2,000 injured, according to the Health Ministry.

While the estimate of the makeshift hospital in Cairo’s Rabaa square was a lot worse, at around 2,000 fatalities, the figure still does not account for fatalities elsewhere in the bloodied country.

To many, the profiles of the murdered protestors reflect a less publicized reality. The sit-ins included more than just Muslim Brotherhood (MB) members, and even more than just the supporters of the pro-Mursi coalition (the National Coalition for the Support of Legitimacy).

The victims of the crackdown included young activists, such as Abdullah Sultan an activist who organized petitions and distributed anti-Mursi posters on June 30, celebrated his ouster on July 3, and then joined the Rabaa sit-in to protest the Presidential Guard massacre of July 8, 2013. Read more ..

The Battle for Egypt

How the Israeli Drone Strike in the Sinai Might Backfire

August 18th 2013

Drone Chopper

In April 1982, Israel withdrew the last of its military forces from Egypt's Sinai Peninsula. On Friday, for the first time in more than 30 years, Israeli military assets reportedly reentered Egyptian territory. On August 9, an Israeli drone operating in Sinai airspace with Egyptian approval killed five militants preparing to launch a rocket into Israel.

The proactive Israeli action may herald a positive new dynamic in Israeli-Egyptian relations. But for the Egyptian military -- which depends on popular goodwill to govern post-coup Egypt -- enhanced security coordination with Israel might not be politically sustainable. Already, this unprecedented move has provoked a backlash against the generals.

Ever since the toppling of Egypt's longtime President Hosni Mubarak in 2011, security in the Sinai -- a region long underserved by Cairo -- has become precarious. Read more ..

Broken Economy

The Economic Case for Social Mobility

August 17th 2013

Detroit abandoned house

Social mobility is flavor of the month in the politico-academic complex. President Obama passionately denounced the narrow opportunities for upward mobility from the bottom of the income scale as a "betrayal of the American idea." While the President provided the rhetoric, a team of academics from Harvard and Berkeley produced the data: a ground-breaking academic study on rates of mobility in local economies around the U.S.

Defined as "everyone getting a chance to get ahead in life," social mobility is a less controversial good than motherhood or apple pie. The controversies begin when it comes to explaining why some towns and nations – say, Salt Lake City and Denmark - have high rates of mobility and others – say, Atlanta and the UK – do not. Conservatives point to family breakdown; liberals to investments in education for poorer kids. (Both, of course, are right.)

Not just a social problem
But an overlooked aspect of the mobility debate is the connection to growth. Social mobility is not just a social problem, but an economic imperative too. And despite recent positive signs, sluggish economic growth is the single biggest problem facing the US, and indeed most advanced economies around the globe. Read more ..

The Iranian Threat

Balancing Iran

August 16th 2013

Iranian clerics

This past May 29, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and President Abdullah Gül came together to dedicate the building of a new bridge to span the Bosporus. Launched on the anniversary of the Ottoman Empire’s conquest of Istanbul, the new bridge was christened after Selim the Grim, the architect of the Ottoman wars against Persia during the 16th century. For observers of Turkey, the namesake certainly seemed suggestive: Selim I is also remembered for smashing the Ottoman Alevis and Shi‘a during the most brutal chapter of the Turkic-Persian wars.

In exalting Turkey’s Ottoman champion against Iran, Turkish leaders may have unwittingly paraphrased contemporary Turkish foreign policy. If nothing else, they called attention to an historical parallel that is increasingly coming into starker relief. Once upon a time, Turkish-Persian rivalry was the defining political contest of the Middle East. Following the retraction of the Mongol armies in the mid-14th century, Ottoman Turks and Safavid Persians—claiming to stand for Sunnis and Shi‘a, respectively—fought incessantly for two centuries over Iraq, the Caucasus and what is today eastern Turkey. It was a contest for geopolitical and economic dominion, for the victor would control the hub of the lucrative global silk trade and production. Read more ..

Egypt's Second Revolution

Making the Most of Limited U.S. Leverage in Egypt

August 16th 2013

Cairo Violence Dec 2012

Although Washington cannot dispel the existential fight between the military and the Brotherhood, it can exert influence in other ways.

Washington's confusion about the rapidly worsening events in Egypt is understandable. The Muslim Brotherhood's yearlong, stunningly inept attempt to consolidate total power has given way to a new military-backed government that appears inclined to do the same -- albeit with far better arms. American policy makers are once again wringing their hands over what to do; specifically, whether to cut off $1.3 billion in annual military aid.

According to U.S. law, foreign aid must be cut off to any country after a coup. So some worry that by not withdrawing aid from Egypt following what was, technically speaking, a military coup, Washington is sending the message that American law doesn't matter. Many also fear that continuing military aid will reflect -- for the umpteenth time -- a lack of American seriousness about promoting democracy in Egypt. Read more ..

The Edge of Justice

Why Would You Foolishly Waste it All Hernandez?

August 15th 2013


A contract worth 40 million dollars, a newborn child, a fiancée, on top of being the star receiver for one of the NFL’s best teams and historically successful franchises apparently didn’t matter to Aaron Hernandez. How anyone in their right mind do something so sinister after becoming “set” for the rest of their life seems to be the general consensus. The headline for the Aaron Hernandez case however shouldn’t be about the tragedy he was involved in, as horrific as it was, it should focus on the fact that despite stardom, athletes fame and fortune actually enhances their past demons, they become lost in an inner image struggle, and revert back to their comfort zone and their old life, too give them a deeper sense of power. This is a problem that can be fixed, sports leagues and their owners around the world can do a couple of things to help prevent a situation like this in the future, believe it or not, but first it’s important to understand the underlying reason for Hernandez’s behavior, at the most basic level.
Generally speaking people act like the people that surround them; it gives insight to your personality, your interests, and your ambition, or your lack thereof. If you hang out with people that aren’t very ambitious it’s fair to say you aren’t or won’t be in the future, and if you’re Aaron Hernandez and you hang out with a crowd that got you in trouble in years past, it should be no surprise for your facing time in prison. According to a columnist for the Orlando Sentinel "The fact is, nobody in Gainesville is totally shocked that Hernandez seems to be a person of interest in a homicide probe."But why is everyone else in the media so surprised? Born in the home town of ESPN, Bristol Connecticut, Hernandez was the star of the high school football team and was heavily recruited to play at the University of Florida. Read more ..

Broken Government

State and Local Government Deficits Soar. Are Others Following Detroit's Footsteps?

August 14th 2013

Detroit abandoned house

What if state and local government deficits doubled over night and nobody noticed? That’s what happened last Wednesday when the Bureau of Economic Analysis released its comprehensive revision of the National Income and Product Accounts.

As my TPC colleague Donald Marron noted, the new BEA numbers downsized the federal government relative to GDP. They assigned economic value to intellectual property (such as a TV show about nothing). The numbers also brought about some soul searching on what GDP should be measuring.

But few people noticed that the numbers included a new measure of defined benefit (DB) pension obligations, which remain a big deal in the public sector even as most private employers have switched to 401(k)s. Largely because of this accounting change, what the BEA calls state and local government “net savings”—or the difference between current revenues and expenditures—fell from -$129 to -$252.7 billion.

Given attention to state and local pensions lately, especially in Detroit, one would think this news would have been met with cries of alarm or at least mild curiosity. But alas, no. That oversight is unfortunate because the new data shed light on an important issue. Read more ..

Islam and Europe

Islam Advances towards Conquest of Higher European Education

August 13th 2013

Muslims pray at Vitorio Emanuele in Rome

The Catholic University of Leuven, the oldest university in Belgium and one that has been a major contributor to the development of Roman Catholic theology for more than 500 years, will offer a degree in Islamic theology beginning in 2014.

The decision by KU Leuven, as the university is commonly known, to focus on Islam follows similar moves by other leading universities in Europe and reflects the growing influence of Islam on the continent.

The proliferation of degree programs in Islamic theology is being justified by European governments -- which are subsidizing the teaching of Islam in European universities with taxpayer money -- as a way to "professionalize" the training of Muslim imams, or religious teachers, many of whom do not even speak the language of their European host countries.

Some European governments believe that by controlling the religious education of imams, they can promote the establishment of a "European Islam," one that combines Islamic principles and duties with European values and traditions such as the rule of law, democracy, human rights and gender equality. Read more ..

The Iranian Threat

Iran's "Reformist" Charade

August 13th 2013

Quds Force

The U.S. resolve to deny Iranian aggression, especially its ongoing nuclear weapons development is giving the Ayatollah Khamenei and his new government operative, "reformist" Hassan Rowhani the rope with which to hang the U.S. The more Obama squirms away from the unpleasant reality of Iran, the tighter the noose gets.
Rowhani's nomination of Hossein Dehghan as defense minister, should have made headlines in the NYT and the WSJ, but it didn't.  Apparently they've forgotten Dehghan's role in the 1983 Marine Barracks bombing in Lebanon that killed 241 American troops. Instructions from Tehran for the attack were sent to the Iranian ambassador to Syria, who passed then on to the Revolutionary Guards in Lebanon and their Lebanese Shiite allies.  Dehghan was in command of the Revolutionary Guards in Lebanon and saw to it that the actual bombers got the funding and operational training required. Read more ..

The Digital Edge

App-Powered Protests Put Democracy in Peril

August 12th 2013

french of turkish descent protesing genocide bill

Should we have democracy on demand? Spain, Turkey, Brazil, Egypt have experienced forms of it. What other country might be next to feel the wrath of people power?

In the past few years, TV news cameras have gone from capital to capital to film the anger of people demanding change from their governments.

Europeans have taken to the streets to oppose economic austerity policies — demanded by the IMF and eurozone powerhouses in exchange for sorely needed money to shore up public finances.

In Turkey, an urban planning issue turned a small green space into a national crisis for a third-term president who was viewed as a populist leader. In Brazil, people poured into the streets to tell its democratically elected president that policy priorities should be transportation, solving inequities and better education — not flashy international games. Read more ..

Broken Education

Obama Needs Push to Shake Up Higher Education

August 11th 2013

College expenses

President Barack Obama keeps declaring war on rising college costs. In a speech at Knox College last month, he vowed to unveil an “aggressive strategy to shake up the system, tackle rising costs and improve value.” He said something similar in his 2012 State of the Union address, so I’m a little skeptical that much will happen.

As students get ready to go to college this month, let me suggest ways to “shake up the system” and “tackle rising costs.” In doing so, I would point out that two things lead to higher prices: rising demand and falling supply. Any efficient solution to the explosion in college tuition and fees must either damp demand or increase supply. With that in mind, here is a five-point federal-action plan.

First, scale back federal student loans and related government programs. The increased demand for higher education in recent decades partly results from the explosive growth of these programs. They were originally intended to help poor people gain access to college, yet they have probably had the opposite effect, pushing up the sticker prices of colleges substantially. The easy money has helped fuel an academic arms race that provides amenities such as climbing walls and luxury student centers that entice kids from higher-income families but scare poor students away. The proportion of recent college graduates from low-income backgrounds has fallen since the federal student-assistance programs became large. Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

The Coming of Al Qaeda 3.0

August 10th 2013

Ayman al-Zawahiri

In case anyone needed reminding, the recent global terror alert illustrates that, 15 years after its first attacks on America, Al Qaeda is thriving. The coup in Egypt and the chaotic aftermath of the Arab awakening is only going to add more militants to this army of radicals. Failed revolutions and failing states are like incubators for the jihadists, a sort of Pandora’s Box of hostility and alienation.

The news that al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri and his man in Yemen, Nasr al Wuhayshi, were communicating and hatching plots to attack Western targets in the region is no surprise. Like any CEO of a multinational company, Zawahiri is in regular communication with al Qaeda’s half dozen regional franchises—just as Osama bin Laden was before he was killed.

What is new is the rapid growth of these franchises—associated cells and sympathetic movements from Algeria to Aden. The uprisings that swept the Middle East two years ago initially threatened al Qaeda by suggesting a better alternative to terror and jihad in the form of democracy and peaceful change. Now the revolutions have all but failed, creating more chaos than constitutions, and Twitter is not mobilizing reform. The pandemonium in Syria, Libya, and Egypt, are like a hothouse for al Qaeda, which is thriving just as it has in Somalia and Afghanistan. Read more ..

Broken Healthcare

A Brave New World for Health Insurance

August 9th 2013

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If you pay attention and listen closely, you can hear it.

That’s the sound of the death rattle. Soon we’ll need to put the undertakers and gravediggers on notice.

It is just a matter of time, no more than a few years, before we will be bidding farewell to the U.S. health insurance industry as we have grown to know it.

The big New York Stock Exchange-listed insurance firms have known for several years that their core business models are not sustainable, but they have dared not talk about it publicly. The demise of those companies started way before Barack Obama was elected president but, with the passage of ObamaCare, it has accelerated.

It is ironic, but the companies have become victims of their own success, or more accurately, victims of the prevalent industry business practices that contributed to that success.

Even more ironic: these companies, which got their start by assessing and assuming risk, have gone to great lengths in recent years, because of pressure from Wall Street, to shun as much risk as possible. That’s why with one notable exception — WellPoint — the big for-profit “insurers” are not looking at the new health insurance marketplaces, which will go online October 1, as opportunities. Aetna, Cigna and UnitedHealthcare have all said they will be participating in only a few of those state-based marketplaces, at least in 2014. Read more ..

America and Israel

Memo to Republicans: Israel on the Rise

August 8th 2013

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As Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and BFF John McCain (R-Ariz.) head to Egypt on President Obama’s orders, should not Nancy Mace, who brings Graham a primary challenge, take a trip to Israel to establish contrast? Mace has the opportunity here to educate and awaken Sens. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Ted Cruz (R-Texas), the avant garde of the rising conservative generation, just as Dorothy did her erstwhile triumvirate on their journey to Oz.

Recently, Paul visited Israel, possibly hoping to quash rumors that his father is an anti-Semite.

Ron Paul is no anti-Semite. He may have believed, like many, that American foreign policy regarding the Middle East was coordinated with Israel and dominated by American Jews. American Jewish influence on policy in Washington no doubt reflects the great presence of second- and third-generation Jews from Europe to America.

It is anti-Semitism lite, compared to what we have seen in Europe in past centuries. But the easy new anti-Semitism emitting from academia and global pop culture may be damning for Israel. And Israel’s American friend may in fact be her worst enemy. It has been so these past 20 years.

To generalize Jewish dominance is misguided and has fostered a new, Certain American Christians greatly influence policy on Israel, which is why an American politician with Jeffersonian and libertarian roots should identify with Israel as a liberty and freedom-loving American without the apparent imperial and paternalistic intent to educate (a 5,773 year-old people) and the conquistador mentality that conspicuously drips from visiting Americans like Secretary of State John Kerry, including religious leaders. Read more ..

The Defense Edge

Dog Days of Summer and the Electrical Grid

August 8th 2013

Electromagnetic Pulse Weapon

In these "dog days of summer" and with congress out of town, intelligence warnings have provoked an unprecedented closure of our embassies and consulates, associated overseas travel alerts, and presumably preparations to deal with jihadi attacks at home and abroad.

These sobering events suggest it is time to reconsider our policies for dealing with jihadi terrorists and protecting the American People at home and abroad against failures of past policies-especially in view of the dysfunctional features of the Federal Government that prevent the common defense called for by the Constitution.

When a young SC farm boy, I thought the "dog days of summer" referred to the hot, humid, sultry days of summer-before air conditioning. Recently, I was not sure what it had to do with man's best friend. So I googled . . . and learned the term had nothing to do with our furry, four-legged friends lounging in the shade.

Apparently, the "Dog Days" date to when our Greek ancestors, after nightfall, studied the sky in the dark-no electricity. They looked up at the billions of stars, none brighter than Sirius-this time of year, part of the Canis Majoris constellation, hence Dog Star. After a long night of wishing on falling stars, Sirius would finally awake from his slumber, rise, stretch, and bark with the sunrise as the earth proceeded in its orbit around the sun.

When the philosophers of ancient Greece were eclipsed by the warriors of ancient Rome, the Dog Days evolved to include a new ritual-the sacrifice of a brown dog to mollify Sirius, who was believed to be responsible for the hot, sweaty weather. Contemporaries of the Greeks and Romans, the ancient Egyptians connected Sirius rising to the season of the Nile's flooding, and thought of the star as a watchdog for the event. Read more ..

Israel on Edge

Iron Dome Is A Game Changer, But It’s Just The Beginning

August 7th 2013

Iron Dome sunset

Thousands of rockets aimed at schools, nursing homes and city centers within Israel have killed or injured hundreds of innocent Israelis. For well over the past decade, Israel has been terrorized by indiscriminate rocket fire from Hamas, Hezbollah and other neighboring terrorist entities.

Thousands of rockets aimed at schools, nursing homes and city centers within Israel have killed or injured hundreds of innocent Israelis.

Over 50,000 rockets are pointed at Israel at any given time, not including chemical weapons from Syria or intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) from an Iran on the brink of nuclearization.

To address this increasingly sophisticated and aggressive threat, the United States and Israel are co-producing a multi-tier missile defense apparatus capable of intercepting virtually any rocket or missile. This unprecedented joint venture will save lives, prevent further conflict escalation, create American jobs and pay dividends far into the future. Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

"Dealing" with Terrorism, the Obama Way

August 6th 2013

Hamas head

The State Department's extended embassy closures in the Middle East and Africa and worldwide alert to Americans traveling abroad, according to ABC News was announced because of fear of al Qaeda attacks by "living (but not ticking) bombs," i.e. surgically implanted undetectable liquid explosives. Most likely these were developed by AQAP's expert bomb-maker, Ibrahim Hassan al-Asiri, who is alive today probably thanks to the Associated Press.

The AP's May 7, 2012. report on al-Asiri's new explosive device probably saved his life only to threaten our lives.
Thus undermining the efforts underway to kill the terrorist .

Al-Asiri remained free to improve his super-bomb.  At that time, Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, remarked, "I don't think those leaks should have happened. There was an operation in progress and I think the leak is regarded as very serious." And the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Mike Rogers (R-MI) stated, "If something bad happens because it was leaked too early, that's a catastrophe and it's also a crime." AP called it 'free speech'. Alas, as we are witnessing today, this was irresponsible speech.  Read more ..

Inside Politics

Dogmatism of GOP's Base Leading Party Down a Dead-End Street

August 5th 2013

Juan Williams 02

The summer recess sends home 535 members of our nation’s wildly unpopular Congress.
Will members be told to do better at job creation and fixing the broken immigration system? Will voters get in their faces and say ‘Enough’ to meaningless votes over healthcare reform? It is not likely.

The old Pogo comic-strip zinger applies here: “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

The heavily manipulated drawing of congressional districts over the last decade has created insulated pockets for dysfunctional political behavior. Most members of Congress face little criticism from people in their districts because those districts are increasingly limited to like-minded voters of the same party. And the political activists in those homogenized districts are often more polarizing than the people they send to Congress.

Only 16 House Republicans come from congressional districts that voted for President Obama. Among Democrats, there are only nine members who represent a district won by the Republicans’ last presidential candidate, Mitt Romney.

Thanks to an increase in Republican-led state legislatures over the last two years, the borders of several congressional districts nationwide have been redrawn to increase the odds that Republicans will retain control of those seats. One consequence is an increase in the racial imbalance in Republican congressional districts. In a nation that is more than one-third Hispanic, black and Asian, the voters in GOP congressional districts are on average 75 percent white. The Cook Political Report puts an even sharper edge on what ‘home’ means to members of Congress. There are almost no swing districts anymore. Read more ..

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