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Broken Education

Failing Our Children

July 24th 2013

Student at Blackboard-Togo

America’s public school system has largely become a disaster. A few weeks ago, a listener of my radio show told me how her son had recently graduated high school and gone to college. He quickly discovered he could not keep up with the coursework because he could only read at a 6th grade level. This is not an uncommon occurrence. In fact, it is typical.

State and federal funding for schools is determined by how many kids pass, graduate, as well as score on standardized tests. Administrators are pressured to pass poor students to ensure funding. Teachers are pressured to go along and teach to the tests. Kids know they will be promoted to the next grade, so many choose the path of least resistance.

You are left with a multitude of young adults that are not prepared for higher education or the work force because they were never held accountable. There is plenty of blame to go around. We can start by looking at the failures of two groups at the top and bottom of the education debate: politicians and families. Read more ..


Israel on Edge

Israel in an Era of Decline American Influence in the Mideast

July 23rd 2013

Palestinians Villify Obama

The chaos gripping the Middle East, especially Syria, Egypt, Libya and Tunisia, is leading to a surprising turnabout for many powers, in and outside of the region. Starting with the United States, long-time superpower in the region not since the British withdrawal in the 1950s and 1960s, now finds itself surprisingly powerless to deal with the "Arab Spring" or ongoing Islamist upheaval. In Libya, the decision to let the British and French lead the charge translated into U.S. weakness and powerless.

Once the powerful benefactor of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt and its main supplier of military equipment ($40 billion of U.S. equipment) ever since Camp David in 1978, the United States finds itself sidelined in the current Egyptian showdown. Its support for Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohamed Morsi alienated its natural base (Christians, secularists, liberals and the old "deep Egypt") while underwhelming the Muslim Brotherhood when it failed to prevent the military, once a close U.S. ally, from ousting it from power. Read more ..


The EU and Israel

The Other Occupied Territories: Cyprus, Tibet and Kashmir

July 23rd 2013

Turk flags

What about Cyprus? That is just one of the questions that Israelis and Europeans should be pondering now that the European Union has again decided that it should dictate Israeli border and security policy.

Last week the European Union issued a ban on funding of, or cooperation with, any Israeli institutions that are shown to operate in what it calls the "occupied territories" – meaning the West Bank, or Judea and Samaria. Never mind that -- as Palestinian groups have already admitted -- the ban will affect Palestinians as much as Israelis. In its perpetual rush to find new double-standards to enforce, the EU has rushed straight in, regardless.

As one senior Palestinian Authority official said on the announcement of the news, many Palestinians in Ramallah and elsewhere will be just as affected by the EU's decision as their Israeli neighbors. The senior PA official was quoted saying:

"For our part, we approached a number of [European] Union officials, in the [Palestinian] Authority and also in Israel, to try and prevent the decision or at least to keep it unofficial," said the official, who declined to give his name. "It's not just Israeli companies that are going to be hit economically, it's also going to be disastrous economically and socially for the Palestinian community." Read more ..


Wall Street on Edge

Financial Reform, On a Roll

July 22nd 2013

Financial reform now protest

Five years ago, the financial crisis crushed the American economy and cost millions of Americans their livelihoods, their homes, and their savings. Two years later, passage of the Dodd-Frank Act, on July 21, 2010, laid the foundation for reform in key areas. Implementation is now at the three-year mark. Let’s take stock.

The Act created the authority to regulate Wall Street firms that pose a threat to financial stability, without regard to their corporate form, and bring shadow banking into the daylight; to wind down major firms in the event of a crisis, without feeding a panic or putting taxpayers on the hook; to attack regulatory arbitrage, restrict risky activities, regulate short-term funding markets, and beef up banking supervision; to require central clearing and exchange trading of standardized derivatives, and capital, margin and transparency throughout the market; to improve investor protections; and to establish a new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) to look out for the interests of American households. Read more ..


The Edge of Justice

The George Zimmerman Trial: Virtues of an Acquittal

July 21st 2013

trayvon martin protest nyc

The bottom line is that a boy, on the cusp of manhood, is dead; his only crime: wearing a hoodie while going out to buy a can of soda. Everything that followed is a footnote. There is nothing to celebrate here. The man who killed him is acquitted, although he behaved badly, ignored what the police told him, and appears to have been motivated by racial stereotypes if not racial hatred. He may also, in fact, have committed murder in the second degree or manslaughter, but he will not serve time if he has. Yet his trial and the verdict are not without their virtues.   

Chief among them is that legal justice has been done. It is easy to construct scenarios consistent with a guilty George Zimmerman. We have only Zimmerman’s word that Trayvon Martin turned on him or ambushed him, yet he refused to tell this tale under oath. Zimmerman’s claim that Martin pounded his head violently and repeatedly against the pavement such that he feared for his life seems inconsistent with the few bumps and scrapes on his head and the absence of any trace of his DNA on Martin’s fingernails, hands or body. If Martin was pounding Zimmerman’s head, he wasn’t aggressive enough to prevent Zimmerman from retrieving his gun and precisely, or with great luck, aiming it directly at Martin’s heart. The defense’s strongest evidence, testimony that Martin was on top of Zimmerman as they struggled, tells little of moment, even if it is accurate. Consider. You turn to confront a man who has been following you and is closing in. You see him reaching for a gun. You lunge at him to stop him from getting it, and your weight pushes him to the ground with you on top. Your position on top as you struggle does not mean you are the aggressor. Read more ..


Broken Elections

A System for Picking Best Presidential Candidates

July 20th 2013

Whitehouse

You can get agreement from almost all points on the political spectrum that the worst aspect of our political system is the presidential nomination process. It is perhaps no coincidence that it is the one part of the system not treated in the Constitution.

That's because the Founding Fathers abhorred political parties and hoped that presidents would be selected by something like an elite consensus. But we have political parties, the oldest and third-oldest in the world, and they are not going away.

Surely a better system is possible. The current system of primaries, caucuses and national conventions is the result of reforms initiated by Democrats in the late 1960s and constantly fiddled with, mostly but not entirely by Democrats, ever since. The resulting system is replete with oddities. Nothing in the Constitution says that Iowa and New Hampshire vote first, but they do. Any politician thinking of ever running for president wouldn't dare suggest otherwise. Read more ..


Broken Economy

For the Last Time, Robots Do NOT Cause Unemployment

July 19th 2013

Robotic Orange Harvester

Parts of the nation’s commentariat have been seized, in recent months, with a nasty bout of technophobia. Technophobia is a psychological condition, but infectious. Hardly a week goes by without a new outbreak documented in another blog post or business column. To judge from the symptomatic hand-wringing the epidemic is spreading, we are on the verge of mass unemployment as work becomes increasingly automated.

Technophobia is an affliction we have yet to cure even after decades of evidence-based ameliorative efforts. We might not have expected much resistance to the disease in earlier times, before evidence accumulated that the fears it inspired were irrational. Back in 1930, a mind as brilliant as John Maynard Keynes was susceptible to the condition. Keynes sensed sickness in the air but misdiagnosed it as a feature of the capitalist economy: “We are being afflicted with a new disease of which some readers may not yet have heard the name, but of which they will hear a great deal in the years to come—namely, technological unemployment.” Read more ..


The World on Edge

INGOs' Insatiable Power Grab

July 18th 2013

Lobbyist

The rapidly increasing role of nongovernmental organizations internationally (INGOs) has been a matter of concern for a very long time.

First and foremost, INGOs are responsible to no one. They are motivated by a group's interest and its financial and political backers.   Second, there are some 40,000 of them, each with its supposedly particular idea regarding the needs and priorities of an international civil society. Often, though, their ideas differ very little. Collectively, they've become a powerful force in international politics. Third, international civil society is infeasible. The world today as we know it is made up of some 200-plus independent and semi-independent countries and 40,000 INGOs. The 200-plus countries can't agree on much in political, social and economic matters. The addition of 40,000 more "interested parties" does not help. Read more ..


Broken Economy

The Next Shoe

July 17th 2013

Home Foreclosure

In the summer of 2005 I was invited to speak ­in relation to energy markets--at a conference in Lausanne convened by the Geneva Centre for Security Policy on the subject of 'Economic Terrorism'.  Essentially this conference concerned the resilience of financial rather than physical infrastructure to attack by terrorists using economic rather than physical means.

My message was that the existing market architecture concentrated risk in centralised organisations such as banks and clearing houses to an extent that was not appreciated. I made the wry observation that the only difference between a hedge fund and an economic terrorist was their motive.

In October 2008 the first shoe dropped.  Following the collapse of Lehman Brothers, which I regard as a milestone in the evolution of markets, we saw the financial system freeze up almost entirely. In fact, in the UK we came two hours away from the ATMs being switched off, and a day or so from what has been described as 'shopping with violence'. Read more ..


Broken Bookselling

Should We Even Care About Barnes & Noble's Survival?

July 16th 2013

Barnes and Noble Closing dated

Once upon a time, the book superstore elicited two major responses. One: I'm in heaven; here are more books I've ever seen in one place, ever! Two: This is hell on independent bookstores; it's a sad time indeed.

Today, everything's come full circle. Borders failed, and even though one huge rival was wiped off the map, Barnes & Noble is showing serious signs of losing to its aggressive competition.

Some investors may be studying Barnes & Noble as a value play, but they'd better think twice. Not only is the bookstore chain in big trouble, but if it fades from the scene, maybe in the long run, nobody would even really care. This is a story of more than a decade of disruptive change. It illustrates the economic theme of creative destruction, as painful as that may be. Read more ..


Obama's Second Term

America Joins the Jihad

July 16th 2013

Hamas+Guns

It is not just that the United States government has aligned itself with the avowed vanguard of Islamic jihad -- the Muslim Brotherhood [MB] -- or committed American troops to battle (in Libya, and maybe soon in Syria) to ensure the victory of al-Qa'eda-linked militias. It is not just that whenever an opportunity has arisen, as in Iran in 2009, or pre-and-post revolutionary Egypt, or the Syrian civil war, the U.S. deliberately has chosen to side with the forces of jihad and shariah law and against the voices of civil society and genuine democracy.

The current U.S. administration has actually managed to flip from one side to the other, from "for the people in the streets" to "against the people in the streets," as recently became evident in late June 2013, when protests mounted against the incompetent, oppressive regime of Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood. Read more ..


Egypt's Second Revolution

Clashes leave More Dead and Injured in Egypt

July 16th 2013

Street Battle Civilians 6.2013

Egyptian officials say overnight clashes between security forces and supporters of ousted President Mohamed Morsi have left at least seven people dead and 261 others injured. The fighting broke out late on July 15 and lasted into the early morning hours on July 16, mainly in central Cairo, as Morsi supporters continue to demand his return to power.

Police fired tear gas at the Morsi loyalists, who retaliated by throwing rocks. Demonstrators also blocked Cairo's Ramses Square and a bridge, drawing tear gas from security forces who pushed them back. Protesters held a sit-in outside the Rabia el-Adawiya Mosque in Cairo's Nasir City, a stronghold of Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood. Leaders of the Islamist group have vowed to escalate their protests. Read more ..


The Edge of Justice

Beyond a Reasonable Doubt

July 15th 2013

Armstrong_Williams

We the people should learn from the O.J. Simpson murder trial nearly 18 years ago and behave as civil Americans now that George Zimmerman has been set free in the shooting death of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin.

When Simpson was acquitted on charges of killing Nicole Brown and Ron Goldman, many people were outraged with that verdict. I was one of them. Did you see anybody burn down cities? Did you see any riots? Did you see any violence? No.  And the many Americans who now feel outrage over the Zimmerman acquittal should learn from how Americans behaved when Simpson was set free and we accepted the verdict. That's our jury system. It is the best in the world and it works well for all of us. We must respect verdicts by our jury system and move on, whether we accept them or not.

As the Florida jury deliberated the fate of Mr. Zimmerman in the death of the 17-year-old Trayvon, some Florida communities were already bracing for possible riots if the former neighborhood watch captain was acquitted.
However despite the whisperings of violence and riots, Americans of all stripes again showed that we can be civil and nonviolent in these tense and uncertain moments. And if anybody were to defy our system of justice with rioting, violence and burning, they should be arrested and punished to the full extent of the law — absolutely no exceptions.

The bigger social issue in this case is why 90 percent of young black men who are killed are the victims of other black men. This is much more of a social problem in America than whites or Hispanics killing blacks.  Read more ..


Afghanistan on Edge

Don't Give Up On Afghanistan

July 14th 2013

Afghanistan Fighters

The Obama administration is reportedly considering an accelerated pullout of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, followed by a "zero option" - the complete elimination of an American and, presumably, international military presence in Afghanistan after 2014. This is an understandable but unwise idea. Even raising it as a bargaining device is a mistake in our ongoing mission in Afghanistan - a place that President Obama clearly considers crucial to U.S. security, given that more than 60,000 U.S. troops are still there.

In fairness, the zero-option idea has appeal not only because the war has been long and frustrating but also because Afghan President Hamid Karzai has been so difficult to work with. Beyond all the past brouhahas over corruption, tainted elections and other matters, there is the burst of invective Karzai recently leveled against the United States over what he described as a duplicitous approach to negotiating with the Taliban. Karzai has criticized Washington and broken off negotiations about the long-term U.S. presence because, when the Taliban opened an office for exploratory peace talks in Doha, Qatar, last month, it again called itself the Government of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan and otherwise sought to portray the new facility as a quasi-embassy for a government in waiting. Karzai decided that Washington was complicit because the Obama administration failed to prevent that outcome. Read more ..


Middle East on Edge

Taqiyya and Illusive Middle East Agreements

July 13th 2013

Abbas UN

The Quran-derived "taqiyya" concept is a core cause of systematically-failed U.S. peace initiatives in the Middle East; 1,400 years of intra-Muslim/Arab warfare and the lack of intra-Muslim/Arab comprehensive peace; the tenuous nature of intra-Muslim/Arab agreements; and the inherently shifty, unpredictable and violent intra-Muslim/Arab relations, as currently demonstrated on the chaotic, seismic Arab street.

The taqiyya concept constitutes Islam-sanctioned dissimulation, deception and concealment of inconvenient data, aimed at shielding Islam and "believers" from "infidels" and hostile Muslims. It is a tactic utilized by Muslims during times of strategic inferiority, intended to achieve provisional accords, only to be abrogated once conditions are ripe for vanquishing adversity.

Read more ..

Egypt's Second Revolution

The U.S. Gets a "Mulligan" in Egypt

July 12th 2013

Chief Justice + President Mansour

Egyptian Army Commander and Defense Minister Abdul Fattah al-Sisi was faced in Cairo with that experts say was the largest human gathering in history -- somewhere between 17 and 30 million people -- demanding a chance to redo the 2011 revolution. A "mulligan," so to speak. The military responded by removing Morsi and announcing that it would not rule, but rather manage a civilian-run transition.

The Obama administration should be pleased. Having made a mess of Egypt by abruptly withdrawing support from a longtime ally; by failing effectively to express its displeasure with 18 months of military rule that included the arrest of American and Egyptian NGO workers; and by accepting without comment Mohammad Morsi's power-grabs, increasingly heavy-handed imposition of Sharia law, and violence against minorities, the U.S. is essentially getting its own "mulligan." Read more ..


Turkey on Edge

Getting Erdoğan Wrong

July 12th 2013

Erdogan

In the aftermath of Turkey's urban uprisings, many have expressed bewilderment at Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's outlandish reaction. Whereas the Prime Minister had multiple opportunities to prevent the demonstrations from escalating, he never missed an opportunity to miss those opportunities, lashing out at foreign and domestic enemies for planning a protest movement that was so obviously spontaneous. As Erdoğan and his mouthpieces have blamed everyone from foreign media and airlines to the "interest rate lobby" and "Jewish diaspora," Erdoğan is rapidly becoming a liability to his foreign friends. President Barack Obama is sure to regret having mentioned Erdoğan as one of the five foreign leaders with which he has the closest "friendship and bonds of trust". Indeed, Erdoğan's Turkey has taken on an important role in Obama's policy toward the Middle East, and according to numerous sources, Erdoğan is among the foreign leaders Obama speaks with most frequently. But Erdoğan's authoritarianism is not new. Anyone watching Turkey for the past several years has had plenty of opportunity to see Erdoğan's slide. Did the White House not know or not care? And what should American policy toward Turkey be now? Read more ..

Inside South Africa

Mandela--A Life-Changing Experience

July 11th 2013

Mandela

In February and March of 1990, I had a profoundly life changing experience.

At the time I was working for Robert J. Brown, former aide to President Nixon, as a VP for the international division of Mr. Brown's B&C Associates. The position required my spending many months in South Africa.

Never in my life had I felt and seen such racism. The raw ugliness of racism was laid bare in South Africa as I had, nor have to this day, ever seen in America. Blacks were treated as chattel and subhuman.

I was treated as such until they heard my accent or saw my passport. Suddenly, I was ok to the racist throngs and treated with all respect. Only my US passport differentiated me from other blacks, but apparently that was enough.

Very quickly, this exposure started to harden me and for the first time hate started to seep within my heart.

But then, on February 11, Nelson Mandela was released from prison after 27 years. Mr. Brown had been a friend to Mandela and his wife Winnie, and due to that friendship he arranged for me to be one of the first to interview Mandela and act as his personal secretary following his early release from prison. Read more ..


Obama's Second Term

Obama's Job Approval Ratings are Not Just Sagging, They are Down

July 10th 2013

Obama pensive with flag

The president’s poll numbers are no longer sagging. They’re just plain down. Looking at the Gallup poll’s daily tracking trend line of President Obama’s job approval, the president has been at 45 or 46 percent since the end of last month.

More importantly, he has been upside-down, with higher disapproval than approval, for six of the past eight tracks. Let’s put those numbers into context.

At no time in the first five months of the year was Obama upside-down for multiple days in a week. And during the same period, never did Obama’s approval drop to 45 percent. But in June, it tested that bottom in five daily tracks.

Will there be resistance at that level to dropping lower? Or is the core of Obama’s support — his base — still smaller yet, allowing his approval ratings to drop even more? I say he’ll test the low forties before the year is out, maybe even this quarter. What is going on? Read more ..


Broken Government

Grand Budget Bargain? No, Congress Would Prefer To Fight

July 9th 2013

Congress-senate

Barring a miracle, budget bargains, either grand or petty, are not in the cards this year. The Congress would prefer to fight. It is happily at war with itself over immigration, student loan interest rates, the farm bill, energy policy and the like. The president has abandoned his charm offensive, and is chasing other butterflies.

With no other candidates in sight, it is not surprising that tax reform has re-emerged as the major economic issue in Washington.

In the Senate, Finance Chairman Baucus and his Republican counterpart, Sen. Hatch, announced that they would soon begin work on a tax bill. The Senators intend to start clean, with a bill stripped bare of all tax preferences. Senate Finance Committee members were warned that they would have to amend that bill with any preferences they wished to restore or add. Read more ..


Broken Government

Time for Reid to Go Nuclear

July 8th 2013

Juan Williams 02

With the July 4 recess over, the fireworks now begin for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.
In the next month, the Nevada Democrat’s legacy as leader will be set with a decision on the so-called “nuclear option.”

Will he be the majority leader who allowed the Senate to sink into dysfunction in the face of Republican refusal to allow President Obama to select Cabinet members and judicial nominees? Or is he the majority leader who will be remembered for fighting back against the GOP’s strategy of obstruction through paralysis?

Time is running out for Reid to get any political value from calling for a vote to blow up the current 60-vote requirement to end filibusters. At the end of the month, the August recess will arrive and then comes September and the start of the Congress’ transition to the 2014 campaigns, further draining any remaining momentum from  Obama’s reelection victory.

So, in the next three weeks Reid will have no choice but to take action or accept defeat. Having passed its immigration bill, the Senate now gets back to its failure to confirm the president’s nominee to run the Environmental Protection Agency, Gina McCarthy, and his choice for Labor secretary, Thomas Perez. In addition, the president has a nominee to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau — Richard Cordray — also waiting for Senate attention. Last month, Obama forced the political world to look anew at the Senate’s inaction when he named three nominees to vacant seats on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. Read more ..


Broken Healthcare

Hillary and Healthcare

July 7th 2013

Hillary Clinton in blue

As the chaos continues surrounding implementation of the new healthcare law, the 2014 election campaign begins and jockeying for the 2016 presidential campaign is underway, the two most intriguing political questions surrounding the healthcare law are these:

First, how will Democrats running for the House and Senate in 2014 discuss healthcare during the campaign

Second, if Hillary Clinton runs for president in 2016, how will she discuss healthcare going into the presidential campaign?

Let me begin with my conclusion. Democrats should not be trapped into defending the healthcare status quo. They should champion and defend the most effective and popular aspects of the law, and champion more aggressively than ever the more progressive (and popular) reforms that should have been included in the reform law but were not. Read more ..


Egypt's Second Revolution

The West Must Back the New Egypt

July 6th 2013

Chief Justice + President Mansour

The turnaround in Egypt is a once in a generation opportunity. Can Western, and Arab, leaders seize it?

The Egyptian army has ousted the elected Muslim Brotherhood president, Mohammed Morsi. Gigantic anti-Morsi demonstrations forced the hand of the armed forces. An interim, secular, government will take office, headed by the Chief Judge of the Constitutional Court. The parliament and the constitution are abolished. This is a huge setback for the Muslim Brotherhood and its Salafist allies. It is potentially a triumph for liberal, secular, Christian and mainstream Muslim Egyptians.

Now what? Egypt still faces a disastrous economic and financial crisis that cannot be put off for more than a few weeks at the most. It faces hunger, unemployment and social unrest. With the best will in the world the new government will have an almost impossible task before it. Some commentators have even suggested that it would be better if Morsi had survived, because then he and the Brotherhood would have been blamed for the collapse. Read more ..


Israel and Palestine

Kerry Stands a Chance with Israelis and Palestinians

July 5th 2013

John Kerry

In his latest round of talks culminating early this week, Secretary of State John Kerry spent close to twenty hours in separate meetings with Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas. Afterward, he declared that "real progress" had been made and that the parties could be within grasp of launching final-status negotiations.

Kerry has visited the Middle East five times over the past few months, yet peace-process expectations have been low for each trip due to several factors: Although numerous polls clearly show that Israelis and Palestinians favor a two-state solution, each side has convinced the other that they do not, and that an agreement is therefore impossible at the moment. However, expectations are low during this round of behind the scenes wrangling.  Read more ..


Egypt’s Second Revolution

Why What Happened in Cairo Isn’t a Coup

July 5th 2013

Tahrir square at night

The Obama Administration has stated that the recent events in Egypt were a coup by the military, when this is not the case. What happened in Egypt was not a coup—it was a revolution by the Egyptian people.

In office for only one year, Morsi broke three key promises. The first promise was to restructure the constitution drafting assembly to include all sectors of Egyptian society, which he did not do.

The second broken promise was appointing three Vice Presidents including a Coptic, a woman, and a young revolutionary leader, which again he did not do.

The third broken promise was that he would form a national united government. One week after being in office he appointed a Muslim Brotherhood ally, Counselor Ahmed Mekky as Vice President. After that, he appointed another Muslim Brotherhood ally, Dr. Hisham Kandeel as Prime Minister of the new government. Read more ..


Broken Borders

Boehner's Dilemma

July 4th 2013

john Boehner

Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) is very likely to pass an immigration reform bill, but its content is unknown.

The Speaker’s desire to act on reform is based on a vocal consensus of the national Republican Party leadership that’s correctly advised him that the GOP cannot be the impediment that blocks reform. Stung by the overwhelming Latino vote for President Obama in 2012, all the Republican leaders grasp that the bill must pass in some form. It is important that Boehner remove the issue from the national stage by passing the bill and ending an irritant that keeps Latinos voting Democratic.

The perfect solution for Republicans is the approach charted by Texas Sen. John Cornyn: border security before immigration reform. Cornyn’s approach demands that the border be sealed before any legalization begins. He articulates conservative fears that amnesty will trigger its own flow of new illegal immigrants into the U.S. unless they are physically barred from entering. We do not need millions more in the purgatory of limbo waiting for Congress to act. Sealing the border needs to come first. Read more ..


Egypt's Second Revolution

After the Egyptian Coup, Uncertainty Reigns in the Muslim Brotherhood

July 4th 2013

Wounded Egyptian Protester

It is unclear what will become of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood in the wake of the July 3 ouster of President Mohammed Morsi. In the short term, the world's oldest and largest Islamist movement will continue to denounce the coup and engage in protests which, coupled with the security crackdown on the Brotherhood, will likely result in violence. Eventually, however, the group will try to revive itself by re-assimilating into Egypt's political institutions, though it is in no hurry to attempt to reclaim the presidency.

On July 4, Egyptian security forces continued to hold members of the Muslim Brotherhood's leadership, particularly those affiliated with its political arm, the Freedom and Justice Party. In addition to Morsi, who remains in what military authorities are describing as "preventative" detention, many key figures such as supreme guide Mohammed al-Badie; his deputy and the movement's top strategist and financier, Khairat El-Shater; and Freedom and Justice Party chief Saad El-Katatny have been taken into custody -- as have hundreds of others. Read more ..


Israel and Palestine

Kerry Stands a Chance with Israelis and Palestinians

July 3rd 2013

John Kerry

Kerry has visited the Middle East five times over the past few months, yet peace-process expectations have been low for each trip due to several factors:

Although numerous polls clearly show that Israelis and Palestinians favor a two-state solution, each side has convinced the other that they do not, and that an agreement is therefore impossible at the moment. For example, in a just-released joint poll by Hebrew University's Harry Truman Research Institute for the Advancement of Peace and the Ramallah-based Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, 68 percent of Israelis and 69 percent of Palestinians said that the chances of establishing an independent Palestinian state next to Israel in the next five years are low or nonexistent. Both sides see past diplomatic failures as vindicating their prism of analysis, creating deep skepticism about the prospects for progress.

Netanyahu and Abbas have been hesitant. At a Likud Party meeting this week, Netanyahu declared that he did not want to publicly announce concessions because it would only weaken Israel's bargaining position. On a more basic level, both leaders are risk-averse; neither wants to get out ahead of the public or be branded as quixotic. They are also convinced that any progress would mobilize hardline elements within their own polity to take action against them. Thus far, they have preferred to let sleeping critics lie. Read more ..


The Middle East on Edge

Arab Leaders Believe ‘Reaching a Two-State Solution is to Betray God’

July 2nd 2013

Ayaan Hirsi Ali

Writer and activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali offered some frank words on the prospect for peace between the Israelis and Palestinians in a wide-ranging interview with Israel Hayom, saying “From the perspective of the Arab leaders, reaching a two-state solution is to betray God, the Koran, the hadith and the tradition of Islam.”

Hirsi Ali, who was born to a Muslim family in Somalia, has become a firebrand in recent years, speaking out against Muslim extremism around the world.

In her early twenties, upon learning of plans for an undesirable arranged marriage, she made her way to Holland, where she applied for asylum. She began publishing critical articles about Islam, the condition of Muslim women, and co-directed a film with Theo van Gogh who was subsequently murdered by an Islamist.

Hirsi Ali says that the two sides, the Israelis and Palestinians, have diametrically opposed concerns, and this has lead to the current stalemate.

“…the main problem is that you may speak of a peace process, but what you get is a process, not peace. And why is this process so prolonged? Because for the Israelis this issue is a territorial problem. For the Palestinian negotiators, on the other hand, it is not a territorial problem but a religious and ethnic one, It is not only about Palestinians but about all Arabs. Most of all, it is a religious problem.”

Hirsi Ali continues: “But there is no agreement as of today, because on one side it has become religious jihad of all or nothing, while on the other side it is still a territorial issue. Of course I know that there are Israelis who also perceive this as a religious problem; but their numbers pale in comparison to the Muslim side.” Describing Islam as an “Orthopraxy”— something that must be fought for, Hirsi Ali says that what is needed most— compromise—is unlikely to be attainable.

“More and more leaders see that this conflict is not going to be resolved Western-style, namely that all conflicts are resolvable and no-one leaves the table empty-handed,” she says. “In a culture dictated by honor and shame – in addition to the religious issue – defeat of any kind, accepting a compromise, is to leave the room empty-handed. Compromise is loss in this culture. It is very hard to explain this to contemporary Westerners.” Read more ..


Israel on Edge

American "Guarantees" are a Foolish Offer

July 2nd 2013

Dome-of-the-Rock

How much territory does Israel need to be secure in the absence of peace with its Palestinian neighbors? Is that different from how much security Israel is entitled to under that circumstance? Who decides? And why is an American general trying to find out? These are not trick questions -- they should be.

General John R. Allen, USMC (ret.) has been made a "special advisor" to both Secretary of State Kerry and Secretary of Defense Hagel, ostensibly to determine Israel's "objective" security requirements. But in fact, his mission is yet another attempt to determine what American or international security guarantees would induce Israel to withdraw from territory in the absence of a durable Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement. According to a source in The Washington Post, "The rationale behind reaching understandings on U.S. security guarantees at this point is to render certain Israeli security demands from the Palestinians moot and thus remove them from the negotiating table." The Post added, "Allen's team was dismayed by the initial Israeli discussions, which participants described as less substantive and less cooperative than U.S. officials were expecting, given that Allen's job was created to address Israeli security concerns." Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

Russian Troubles in Syria

July 1st 2013

Civil war

It is tempting to watch American foreign policy and Russian foreign policy and assign all the naiveté and sloppy thinking to one and all the clever, chess-playing skills to the other. But that would be wrong. Neither side is very clever and Russia's hand -- and that of the Arabs, Turkey and Iran -- looks even less good today than it did a month ago.

The Russian government has announced the pullout of all Russian military forces from Syria, including those who were in the naval base at Tartus, Russia's only (small) toehold in the region. Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov told the pan-Arab newspaper al Hayat last week, "Today, the Russian defense ministry does not have a single person in Syria." He also downplayed the significance of Tartus, saying the base "does not have any strategic importance." Read more ..


Broken Education

Democrats Blow It on Student Loan Interest Rates

June 30th 2013

College expenses

A glimmer of hope in the debate over student loan interest rates briefly appeared this week with the release of the first bipartisan proposal to address the impending doubling of interest rates on subsidized student loans, only to be dashed by the Democratic leadership in the Senate.  The new proposal, from a group of senators including three Republicans, two Democrats, and one Independent, offers a permanent fix to the now-annual problem of Congressional meddling with interest rates by instead tying rates to the market.

The bipartisan compromise bill one-ups existing proposals by not only heading off the doubling of interest rates on subsidized loans, but also reducing rates on the unsubsidized loans taken out by millions of students from middle-class families each year.  By charging higher rates to graduate students and on the PLUS loan program for parents, the overall plan is close to budget-neutral according to the Congressional Budget Office.

Is this plan the ideal policy?  Plans aimed at achieving political compromise almost never are, and this one is no exception.  For example, it leaves in place subsidies to students that are better delivered through up-front grants that directly reduce the cost of college.  And estimates of the policy’s costs are still made using a methodology that does not adequately take into account the risk inherent in student lending. Read more ..


Turkey on Edge

The Gezi Diaries: Can We Still Call Turkey Civilized?

June 29th 2013

Turkish-anti-gov-protest

Some see it as a modern democracy with an Islamic tint, an improving, reforming country. But if you were in Istanbul during the last month and a half, you’d have seen something completely different: a violent, authoritarian, increasingly suppressive and brutal regime. Tales from the Dark Side, Turkish style.

I’ve always been a critic of armchair reporting. But when your armchair is four blocks away from Taksim Square, it has one of the best views of the uproar in Istanbul any diligent reporter could ask for. I’m now able to calculate with great precision the time between the beginning of the screaming, the sound of the shot, and the entry of the gas through my window. It’s two and twelve seconds respectively. Read more ..


Iran on Edge

Talk to Iran’s New President. Warily.

June 28th 2013

Hassan Rowhani

The election of Hassan Rowhani as Iran’s new president has created a sense that there are new possibilities of progress on the nuclear issue; we need to respond, but warily. Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, allowed Mr. Rowhani to win the election, recognizing that he had run against current Iranian policies that have isolated the country and invited economically disastrous sanctions. But it isn’t clear why Mr. Khamenei allowed such an outcome, and here are some theories that have been proposed:

• He believes that Mr. Rowhani’s election could provide a safety valve for the great discontent within Iran.

• He believes that Mr. Rowhani, a president with a moderate face, might be able to seek an open-ended agreement on Iran’s nuclear program that would reduce tensions and ease sanctions now, while leaving Iran room for development of nuclear weapons at some point in the future. Read more ..


Israel on Edge

Breaking the Silence 2.0

June 28th 2013

Soldiers at ready

Once again the fallacies of the Israeli NGO Breaking the Silence (BtS) are making headlines, this time directly from the IDF. Barak Raz, spokesman for the IDF's Judea and Samaria Division, correctly blasted the group and its actions, stating that "Breaking the Silence is an organization that engages in nothing – but nothing – other than a smear campaign targeting the IDF. This smear campaign has nothing to do with rooting out their observed problem. Furthermore, none of their work helps the IDF (or Israel, for that matter) provide a solution."

Notwithstanding such criticisms, BtS has become the poster child for groups like J Street and others on many North American campuses that want to engage in "honest debate" about the Israeli- Palestinian conflict. In reality these groups do nothing more than fuel a skewed view of Israel in order to pressure Israel to succumb to Palestinian demands, thereby only contributing to the isolation of the Jewish state. Further, it is also the pervasive tactic employed by the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS) in their political warfare against Israel. Read more ..


Turkey on Edge

Amid Islamization and Anti-Semitism, Is Turkey Fit for EU Membership?

June 27th 2013

Turk flags

It’s a familiar pattern. The citizens of a Middle Eastern state explode with frustration against their corrupt, repressive government. They gather for noisy, impassioned demonstrations in their capital city. The authorities react violently. Images of middle-aged women and wheelchair-bound individuals being tear-gassed, clubbed, and sprayed with water cannon race across social media platforms like wildfire. The protests then spread to other cities. The authorities step up their repression.

And then, inevitably, the country’s political leaders snarl that outside forces are stoking the discontent. Newspapers and websites are suddenly full of lists of American neoconservatives, illustrated with lurid graphics that superimpose the logos of organizations like the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) over pictures of demonstrations. No one needs to say the word “Jew” in order to know who’s being referred to here. Read more ..


The Way We Are

Marriage on the Rocks: Economic and Social Consequences for Kids

June 26th 2013

Students

It is usually assumed that marriage and family are the bedrock on which societies are built. Parents provide the necessities of life for their offspring; parents are children’s first teachers; parents provide an important part of the discipline children need to learn and thrive; parents teach values and appropriate behavior to their children; and the extended family is a source of traditions and values that provide a sense of belonging to something big. But after four decades of fundamental changes in the structure of American families, it is wise to consider the impacts of these changes on subsequent generations and the traditional way of American life.

First, the changes. Here is a succinct summary: between 1970 and 2010, marriage rates declined by nearly 75 percent for 20 to 24 year old women and more than 30 percent for 30 to 34 year old women; nonmarital births increased by over 280 percent; the percentage of women age 35 who are single with children increased by over 120 percent; and about 60 percent of men and women who marry cohabited prior to their first marriage. These are momentous changes in the American way of love, romance, and family formation. The fact that these trends have been going on for four decades, mostly at a fairly steady clip, leads to the conclusion that they are permanent and will be difficult to change. Read more ..


Israel and Palestine

Will Secretary Kerry Comply with Palestinian 'No Jews Allowed' Policy?

June 25th 2013

John Kerry Shimon Peres and Palestinian dude

The next time U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry visits Ramallah, will he actually violate U.S. law to make sure there are no Jews among his entourage, lest he upset his Palestinian hosts?

"We will approve the meeting on condition there are no Jews."

This is what you are likely to hear these days if you request a meeting with any senior Palestinian Authority official in the West Bank. Palestinian journalists who try to arrange meetings or interviews with Palestinian Authority representatives for Western colleagues have become used to hearing such things almost on a daily basis. Just last week, for example, a journalist who requested a meeting between Western journalists and a top Palestinian Authority official was told "to make sure there were no Jews or Israelis" among the visitors. Read more ..


The Afghanistan war

Abandoning Vietnam, Er, Afghanistan

June 24th 2013

Obama

The Taliban carefully scripted the kerfluffle to embarrass the United States. Its not like we didn't know they were in Qatar. For eighteen months, Doha has been the scene of sometimes secret, sometimes leaked U.S. talks with the Taliban -- and without the Afghan government.

But this week, Taliban representatives inaugurated a large and ornate building, complete with a flag and a banner proclaiming the diplomatic office of "The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan." The "Islamic Emirate" also released a statement that said, inter alia, that it "never wants to pose harms (sic) to other countries from its soil, nor will it allow anyone to cause a threat to the security of countries from the soil of Afghanistan," an apparent overture to the United States. There was an announcement then that the Obama Administration would open "peace and reconciliation" talks with the enemy of our presumed ally, Hamid Karzai. Read more ..


The Iranian Threat

Teheran and Islamic Fundamentalism: Facing Realities

June 24th 2013

Iranian clerics

  


The enthusiastic media response to the election of the “moderate” and “reformist” Hassan Rouhani is reminiscent of the unrealistic drivel which greeted the “Arab Spring”. Indeed, there was perhaps greater justification for the misplaced optimism over the downfall of despotic Arab leaders than in the election of this Mullah, one of eight candidates approved by Ayatollah Khamenei from a pool of 686.

While Rouhani is far more sophisticated than his predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (a Holocaust denier who continuously called for Israel to be wiped off the map), he is no moderate. In the past he sought to cover up Iranian nuclear development, and during the recent elections reiterated that he remains adamantly committed to Iran’s nuclear project. In 1999 he supported the brutal suppression of the Iranian student protest. As a member of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, he was also fully au fait with Iranian global terrorist attacks including the 1994 bombing at the Buenos Aires Jewish community center (AMIA) which killed 85 and injured hundreds of others. Rouhani still unhesitatingly refers to Israel as the “great Satan”. Read more ..



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