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Israel on Edge

American "Guarantees" are a Foolish Offer

July 2nd 2013


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


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


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


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 ..

The Battle for Syria

About That War on Terror

June 23rd 2013

Syrian Rebel w/SAW

Now that President Barack Obama has decided the United States must provide direct military support to the Syrian opposition and Secretary of State John Kerry is meeting with "Friends of Syria" who are reportedly already providing  heavy weapons including anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles, some American observers warn that the main players in that opposition are in fact jihadists. If helping al -Qaeda take over Syria sounds a little strange, it's worth pointing out that it is consistent with U.S. policy in Libya.

Not, of course, that the Administration puts it that way. Obama, speaking May 23, 2013, at the National Defense University, referred several times to the situation in Libya. In his analysis, extremists gained a foothold there due to "unrest in the Arab World." The only way to fix this problem is to combat poverty and sectarian hatred, while "patiently supporting transitions to democracy" there and elsewhere in North Africa. Read more ..

Iran's Nukes

Hassan Rohani and the Nuclear Question

June 22nd 2013


Hassan Rohani, the winner of the recent presidential election in Iran, is no novice, having served as a national security adviser for 16 years between 1989 and 2005, under Presidents Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and Mohammad Khatami. It was in this capacity that he became Tehran's chief nuclear negotiator during the talks between Iran and the EU-3 (Britain, France and Germany) between October 2003 and August 2005. His negotiating record during those years provides a glimpse into how he is likely to treat the nuclear file now that he is president.

True, the ultimate control over nuclear matters in Iran is in the hands of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who is also the commander-in-chief of the Iranian armed forces. In the West there has been a tendency to forget this, and hence overstate Rohani's possible influence over developments in the nuclear arena. In a June 14 interview with the BBC, British former Foreign Secretary Jack Straw described Rohani as "someone we can do business with."


Obama's Second Term

How to Not Inspire Confidence

June 21st 2013

Obama with baseball bat

This is what happens when the President of the United States is dragged into making foreign and defense policy decisions, instead of determining American interests and then making policy to suit. And it is what happens when the president fails to make a clear case for those policies not only to the American public, but also to his own cabinet.

It had been understood that senior members of the Obama administration wanted to provide arms to Syrian rebel forces in opposition to the Assad regime. Before leaving office in February, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, accompanied by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Martin Dempsey, told Congress that the DOD supported arming the rebels. The New York Times reported that then-Secretary of State Clinton and then-CIA Director David Petraeus favored arming them as well. President Obama, however, was opposed. Read more ..

EMP Warfare

EMP, Congress & The SHIELD Act

June 20th 2013

Minneapolis skyline

On June 18, the Congressional EMP Caucus held a public event to launch the SHIELD Act that would protect the national electric grid from a natural or manmade electromagnetic pulse (EMP) It works like a super-energetic radio wave that can damage and destroy all electronic systems across vast regions, potentially across the entire continental United States. EMP is harmless to people in its direct effects. But it would create the failure of critical infrastructures that sustain our lives, such as electricity , water, communication and literately everything we depend on  today; trains will collide, planes could crash and ships could sink. Anyone with an implanted medical devise could die, banks will shut down as will their ATMs…and on and on.  Clearly, the indirect effects of EMP would be genocidal. EMP is a high-tech means of killing millions of people the old fashioned way–through starvation, disease, and societal collapse. Read more ..

Iran's Nukes

And the Winner is... Iran's Nuclear Program

June 19th 2013

Hassan Rohani closeup

The Iranians are the best strategists in the Middle East, better than those in the West, and the reason the Iranians constantly succeed in out-maneuvering the West.

In the West, we constantly look for ways not to engage in military conflict; the Iranians are more than willing to offer us those ways. We will almost assuredly give the new president Hasan Rouhani time to "consolidate" his position, thereby granting Iran even more time to develop its nuclear weapons capability. That is the meaning of this Iranian presidential "election."

Of the 686 men who wanted to run for president, the Guardian Council, totally under Khamene'i's control, chose eight candidates. All of them clearly supported Khamane'i's continued rule, which so many of the Iranian people, including senior clerics, loathe. So the choice for Iranian voters was not between candidates with widely differing views. Nevertheless, within that narrow framework, there were differences. Whoever the people actually voted for (we have no way of knowing how free and fair the election was), this result was one of the best of all possible outcomes -- for the Iranian regime. Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

Why the Current Syria Policy Doesn't Make Sense

June 18th 2013

Syrian rebels and M-60 antitank gun

President Obama's decision to arm Syrian rebels -- after resisting such a course for nearly two years -- has come under some withering criticism. Marc Lynch, who has long opposed military intervention in Syria, calls it "probably his worst foreign policy decision since taking office," while Daniel Larison casts it as "certainly one of the two or three worst [decisions]." Despite being on the opposite side of the debate -- I began writing in favor of military intervention nearly a year and a half ago -- it is hard to disagree with their assessment that providing "small arms" to the rebels is unlikely to make much difference.

What makes Obama's decision so unsatisfying -- and even infuriating -- to both sides is that even he seems to acknowledge this. As the New York Times reports, "Mr. Obama expressed no confidence it would change the outcome, but privately expressed hope it might buy time to bring about a negotiated settlement." Read more ..

The Defense Edge

America's Promises to Troops: Choice Between Weapons and Benefits

June 16th 2013

Stryker ICV

America likes the idea that we have made a solemn promise to generously compensate our military service members. After all, the argument goes, how can we ever fully repay them for risking their lives for us? Providing  benefits like low-cost premium health care, comfortable pensions, housing allowances, grocery discounts, tuition assistance, tax breaks and much more, feels like the right and honorable response.

Because so few serve on behalf of the rest of us, the nation has wanted to ensure we give the very best to those who risk death on the battlefield. Americans view it as their obligation, as well, to take exquisite care of those personnel and their families after they return from combat.

There is, however, another unspoken contract between Americans and our forces in uniform: we will make sure you get the best weapons and technology, along with the best intelligence, training and logistics money can buy. The goal is simple: we want to ensure you are never in a fair fight. Should fighting start, we tell them, we’ve done everything we can to make sure the enemy will die and you will live. Read more ..

Broken Economy

Why Isn’t Disruptive Technology Lifting Us Out of the Recession?

June 15th 2013

Unemployment Line in California

The weakness of the economic recovery in advanced economies raises questions about the ability of new technologies to drive growth. After all, in the years since the global financial crisis, consumers in advanced economies have adopted new technologies such as mobile Internet services, and companies have invested in big data and cloud computing. More than 1 billion smartphones have been sold around the world, making it one of the most rapidly adopted technologies ever. Yet nations such as the United States that lead the world in technology adoption are seeing only middling GDP growth and continue to struggle with high unemployment.

There are many reasons for the restrained expansion, not least of which is the severity of the recession, which wiped out trillions of dollars of wealth and more than 7 million US jobs. Relatively weak consumer demand since the end of the recession in 2009 has restrained hiring and there are also structural issues at play, including a growing mismatch between the increasingly technical needs of employers and the skills available in the labor force. And technology itself plays a role: companies continue to invest in labor-saving technologies that reduce demand for less-skilled workers. Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

The West’s New Syrian War

June 14th 2013

Executed Pile of Syrian Men

One day people will ask how the United States and several European countries became involved in mass killings, genocide, corruption, arms smuggling, and the creation of another anti-Western and regionally destabilizing government. Even if a single Western soldier is never sent, the West is on the verge of serious intervention in Syria. The choices are unpalatable and decisions are very tough to make but it appears to be still another in a long history of Western leaps in the dark, not based on a real consideration of the consequences. At least people should be more aware of the dangers. As I entitled a previous book on Iran (Paved with Good Intentions), the road to Hell is paved with good intentions. People are dying and suffering in Syria. That’s true. But will this make more people or fewer people die and suffer? Read more ..

Broken Education

Higher Education is a Scam that Favors the Wealthy

June 13th 2013


We have all heard the horror stories of crippling student debt and graduates that are lucky to land minimum wage retail jobs. But one part of the college scam that is not receiving much attention is the admissions process. No longer are good grades and good test scores enough to get you into a desirable university. No, it takes greater resources, time, and existential insight. These new conditions favor the affluent and unscrupulous.

Rich students dominate most top universities. These bastions of higher learning claim to want “diversity,” and generally are ethnically, religiously, and even geographically diverse. However, socio-economic differences are sparse. You can point out that lower income families are either intimidated by the possible cost of those schools, or simply are ignorant of the financial packages available for their children, but that trying to blame the family/student rather than the problem inherent in the system.

That problem is the ever increasing cost of jumping through the right hoops and creating the appropriate narrative in order to gain admittance. You can pay $30,000 or more a year per child to send them to a top prep school. There they will be properly challenged, get to play a second tier sport like lacrosse, and be offered the chance to build orphanages in Africa so their resume looks properly polished for an Ivy school. Read more ..

Obama's Second Term

Implications for Israel in the US Global Retreat

June 12th 2013

Samantha Power

The appointment of Samantha Power as America’s UN ambassador combined with recent US foreign policy statements, reinforce concerns that the US administration is accelerating its policies of global withdrawal, engaging rather than confronting rogue states, and appeasing Islamic extremism.

Ms. Power is on record for dismissing concerns about the Iranian nuclear threat. In addition, whilst favoring greater US assertiveness in relation to human rights issues, she seems to have a somewhat jaundiced moral relativist approach, jointly bracketing Israelis and Palestinian “crimes”. On one occasion she even called for the US to intervene militarily on behalf of the Palestinians against the Jewish state.

Indeed, in an article published 10 years ago entitled “Why do they hate us?” Powers perversely compared US behavior to that of the Nazis. While describing as “ennobling and cathartic for Germany”, Chancellor Willy Brandt kneeling in the Warsaw ghetto to demonstrate atonement for the crimes of the Nazis as “ennobling and cathartic for Germany”, she implied that the United States should make a similar apology for its global policies. Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

The Price of America Not Leading in the Conflict in Syria

June 12th 2013


This story has generated a buzz here at Doha, Qatar, where I've been attending the Brookings Institution's U.S.-Islamic World Forum. A number of well-informed people believe that President Obama is indeed inclined to begin arming the Syrian opposition.

Let's hope so. The hour is getting late. Last Wednesday, Hezbollah conquered the Syrian town of Qusayr. The week before, Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah, appeared on television and vowed to save the regime of Bashar al-Assad. The timing of the speech made it clear that taking Qusayr was crucial to that goal. The town sits on the most important route between the Hezbollah-controlled areas of Lebanon and the Assad-controlled parts of Syria. In rebel hands it was a wedge driving the two apart.  Read more ..

Broken Government

PRISM is Indeed a Really, Really Big Deal

June 12th 2013

Click to select Image

By now nearly everyone has heard of the National Security Agency (NSA) spy program called PRISM, in which the spooks are scooping up all the metadata of telephone calls from the United States overseas along with many within the U.S. itself. A related collection program, we are told, captures the actual content of emails sent abroad. Seeing the figure 97 billion for the pieces of data recorded merely during the month of March 2013 certainly raised my eyebrows. In an editorial today, June 11, 2013, the Washington Post declares that the spy programs result from “a checked, deliberative process across three branches of government.” This issue is far too important to permit rhetoric to drive the debate. The Post's assertion goes to the heart of the controversy and demands our attention.

“Checked” in this formulation suggests that NSA requests for authorization, along with any from the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) or other entities of the intelligence community, are carefully examined before approval. Carried out by an agency of the Executive Branch, the locus of approval for PRISM is clearly the White House. These are secret operations, but we know already from a controversy that arose during the Bush administration over an earlier version of this same surveillance, when President Bush was not aware of the extent of the spying and Justice Department officials were ready to resign over its continuation, that White House knowledge was limited at best. Read more ..

The Defense Edge

Leaking Secrets Empowers Terrorists

June 11th 2013

Smart Phone in hand

Once again, the tanks-have-rolled left and the black-helicopters right have joined together in howls of protest. They were set off by last week's revelations that the U.S. government has been collecting data that disclose the fact, but not the content, of electronic communications within the country, as well as some content data outside the U.S. that does not focus on American citizens. Once again, the outrage of the left-right coalition is misdirected.

Libertarian Republicans and liberal-progressive, if you prefer-Democrats see the specter of George Orwell's "1984" in what they claim is pervasive and unlawful government spying. These same groups summoned "1984" in 2001 after passage of the Patriot Act, in 2008 after renewal of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA, and many times in between and since. Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

The Arab World Fears the ‘Safavid’

June 10th 2013

Syrian Jihadis

In an interview on Al-Jazeera this past May, the commander of the Free Syrian Army, Brig. Gen. Salim Idris, explained that the diversion of Hezbollah forces from Lebanon to Syria to take part in the civil war was part of a “Safavid” plan for the Middle East region.

This past January, an article in the influential Lebanese daily As-Safir accused Iraq’s Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki of receiving assistance from his “Safavid allies.” After the powerful Sunni Muslim leader, Sheikh Yousuf al-Qaradawi, condemned Iran for its actions in Syria, the Muslim Scholars Association of Lebanon warned that the Sunni Arabs were facing “the spreading Safawi project.”

Indeed, over the last decade, the term “Safavid” has become a commonly used derogatory word among Arab leaders for the Iranians. American journalist Bob Woodward describes a harsh diplomatic exchange in one of his books between King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and a high-level U.S. official about the 2003 Iraq War, in which the Saudi leader states: “You have allowed the Persians, the Safavids, to take over Iraq.” By using the term Safavid, Arab leaders were making reference to the Safavid Empire and imputing hegemonic motivations to the current Iranian government, suggesting that Iran is seeking to re-establish their country’s former imperial borders. Read more ..

Obama's Second Term

How Obama Killed the Grand Bargain

June 9th 2013

Barack Obama with Flag

Prospects for a “grand bargain” on the budget finally seem dead, and, we’re told, the reason is the improved budget outlook. While it is certainly true that the Congressional Budget Office’s latest projections of federal deficits over the coming decade are less dismal than they were previously, that’s not the main reason Washington has lost interest in a bipartisan compromise on the budget. The chances of such a compromise have been low all year, and are due to the tactical choices made by the one person with the most to gain from a deal — the president.

There was a period when the prospects for a “grand bargain” were on the rise — right after President Obama’s reelection in November 2012. The president was riding high and had campaigned on a “balanced approach” to deficit reduction, by which he meant any deal to reform entitlements and cut spending must also increase taxes, especially on the rich. In the weeks after his reelection, the president might have been able to press a demoralized congressional GOP into agreeing to a large, multiyear budget framework along these lines.

That certainly would have been in his interests. Based on where things now stand, his presidency will be defined in part by the $7 trillion in debt he will run up during his time in office. A “grand bargain” on the budget at the beginning of his second term could have fundamentally altered the legacy of his budgetary performance in office, turning what is sure to be viewed as a rather large failure into perhaps a modest achievement. Moreover, a multiyear budget deal would have taken fiscal issues, including the sequester the administration despises, off the table for the remaining years of the president’s time in office, freeing up his administration to press for agenda items he clearly is more passionate about. But for some unfathomable reason, the president decided to pursue a different strategic approach. Instead of moving quickly to do what was necessary to create the conditions for a budget deal, he chose instead to pursue a two-part strategy on taxes and spending. That was a huge mistake. Read more ..

The Race For EVs

Better Place is Dead, the Electric Car Isn't

June 8th 2013

Gal Luft

The bankruptcy of the electric car company Better Place is a major setback for the growing community of electric vehicle enthusiasts. Since its establishment in 2007, the company projected the allure of a world changing enterprise which could transform not only the automotive business but the entire concept of personal mobility. Better Place offered its clients to bid farewell to the gas station by purchasing a package of electric miles just like one buys minutes from a cell phone provider. The company also committed to seed its markets -- Israel, Denmark, U.S., and Australia to name a few - with charging poles and battery switching stations where drivers could extend their driving range by replacing an empty battery with a fully charged one.

Better Place deserves high marks for messaging much to the credit of its charismatic founder Shai Agassi who was named one of Time Magazine’s 100 most influential people.  But when it comes to execution, the results were underwhelming. The company, which raised $850 million from its investors and lured French automaker Renault into manufacturing 150,000 dedicated cars, was able to sell less than one percent of this number. Worse, it failed to persuade other automakers to design and produce cars that fit its battery switching system. With only one car model in its offering there was very little chance to succeed.  

The Better Place bankruptcy is one of several recently failed electrification ventures including Fisker, Coda Automotive, and A123 Systems, some of them recipients of federal grants. But it would be wrong to draw the conclusion from those fiascos that the electrification of transportation is a hopeless, unworthy goal.  Better Place may be dead but the electric car is very much alive. Read more ..

Palestine on Edge

New Palestinian Prime Minister Is a Victory for Fatah

June 8th 2013

Rami Hamdallah-Prime-Minister

This week, Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas appointed academic Rami Hamdallah as prime minister, replacing internationally respected economist Salam Fayyad, who resigned in April. As a political outsider, Hamdallah lacks Fayyad's independent power base, so Abbas and the ruling Fatah Party will likely have greater control over his activities. Yet his low profile could also help him pursue his predecessor's economic and security initiatives with fewer political impediments.

Born in the West Bank city of Tulkarem in 1958, Hamdallah has served as president of al-Najah National University in Nablus since 1998. A linguist, he received his doctorate from Britain's University of Lancaster. Until now, he has not been involved in PA political life, though he once headed the Palestinian stock exchange and has served as secretary-general of the PA Central Elections Commission since 2005. Read more ..

Obama's Second Term

Susan Rice: Team Player

June 7th 2013

Susan Rice

Susan Rice, who President Barack Obama today named his new national security advisor, will do well in her new role. I am confident of that. She will of course face challenges, often on problems where there are no good or easy answers—starting with Syria and Iran. She will be helping a president who is leading a war-weary nation with a nearly trillion dollar deficit and numerous domestic woes that compete for his time and attention, as well as the country’s resources. And the partisan problems in Washington won’t make life any easier.

But in taking on all of this, Rice has a number of strengths. Some are well known—her experience at the United Nations, her expertise on handling Iran and North Korea sanctions issues there (and thus working with Europeans, Russians, Chinese, and others on such problems), her previous service in government. To me, however, one set of strengths stands out as a major and often underappreciated aspect of Rice’s character and personality—the ability to build and lead a team.

I saw this firsthand when Susan led then-Senator Obama’s foreign policy team in 2007 and 2008 during his first campaign for president. I was her colleague down the hall—but also a Hillary supporter, as well as a supporter of the surge in Iraq. So we were not by any stretch of the imagination aligned on all matters.

And that’s one of the reasons my admiration for her efforts grew by the month over that period. Even though Hillary was the juggernaut within the Democratic Party, and the presumed nominee, Susan helped create a network of top-notch foreign policy analysts and advisors to help a freshman senator prepare himself for a severe set of tests in taking on the former first lady and New York senator. Indeed, rather than try to run away from foreign policy, Obama decided to try to make it one of his strengths. I did not agree with him (or with Susan) on every issue, starting with the surge in Iraq. But they were very well prepared, well-disciplined in their messaging, and generally cogent in their worldview. After defeating Hillary, they then took on and defeated a great American, war hero, and extremely impressive senator, John McCain, in the general election. Read more ..

Obama and Israel

Obama's Plan to Make Israel Nervous

June 6th 2013

On June 5 it was revealed that that the current US ("I've got Israel's back") administration leaked to the media the specifications for the heretofore-secret US-Israel installation for Israel's Arrow 3 missiles. It was quickly called just another leak from an administration already reeling from leaks; someone apologized. But it was more likely a deliberate decision -- by someone. The constellation of players in the administration now contains a heavy contingent of those determined to bring "peace" to Israel. "Peace" is defined as the creation of the State of Palestine under whatever circumstances they can, and the operative question is how to bring Israel in line.

Leaking military secrets is actually the second step in the process -- first was Secretary of State Kerry last month positing the absurdity that because Israel is successful, democratic, and increasingly energy independent, Israelis don't care about peace. "People in Israel aren't waking up every day and wondering if tomorrow there will be peace because there is a sense of security and a sense of accomplishment and of prosperity." Read more ..

The Election Edge

Here Come Rhonda, Rex Resentful

June 5th 2013

us voters

It’s never too early to try identifying the next big demographic that will play a significant role in the outcome of the next round of elections.
Think about archetypes from past elections, like soccer moms, NASCAR dads, waitress moms, office park dads, security moms and the ever-incendiary angry white men.

These creative demographics are likely to become even more important in future elections as big data and precise online targeting allow campaigns to home in on microtargets. My initial targeting for 2014 will be to focus on what I refer to as “The Resentfuls” — Rhonda and Rex Resentful (if you need cutesy) — the newly graduated couple that cannot find full-time jobs, has a combined $35,000 in student debt and is underwater on the town home Rhonda’s parents helped them buy with a downpayment. Rhonda and Rex are in a really, really bad place, and likely susceptible to political entreaties. Read more ..

Chile on Edge

Chilean Student Protests

June 4th 2013


Over the past few weeks, Chilean students in major cities, including Santiago, Valparaiso, Concepción, and Temuco, have returned to the streets in full force in order to protest recent changes implemented by the Education Ministry and demand “free education for all.” The dramatic protests, which began back in early April, highlight the extreme discontent in regards to Chile’s entire approach to the education sector. Chile has one of the most privatized education systems in the world, and frustration has reached a boiling point.

Chile first implemented drastic changes to its public school system during the rise of Augusto Pinochet, who overthrew the socialist administration of former President Salvador Allende in 1973. Under Pinochet, a neoliberal economic agenda was enacted in which large sectors of Chile’s economy were privatized. University funding declined, because the dictator viewed universities as potential sources of dissent, and schools were forced to raise tuition rates and cut the number of students accepted. In 1981, Pinochet enacted sweeping education reforms that called for greater autonomy to regional campuses and encouraged the establishment of private universities. Read more ..

Broken Government

Don't Let Them Fool You, We Still Have Debt Problems

June 3rd 2013

Financial reform now protest

Your uncle, Sam, has ignored his chronic health condition – let’s say he’s diabetic – for a long time. Then he suddenly has a heart attack, followed by a long, slow painful recovery. As he is recovering, he is feeling good about his health – after all, he got though a crisis. But he is not actually healthier than he was before. He’s still diabetic, and now he has to deal with the cautions of being a heart attack victim as well.

I think of a situation like that whenever I hear or read people saying that our debt problems are behind us. It’s true that there has been good news recently on a variety of fronts regarding the budget, but it is premature to say that we’ve solved the long-term fiscal imbalance. 

Fiscal optimism stems from the Congressional Budget Office’s most recent estimates, which place the deficit at 4 percent of GDP this year, falling as low as 2 percent of GDP by 2015, before rising to about 3.5 percent of GDP by 2023. These figures are way down from the deficit of 10 percent of GDP that prevailed a few years ago. Some of this reduction is due to the slowly improving economy. The rest is due to policy changes, slower health care cost growth, and various technical factors. But the fiscal problem isn’t gone. There are really two different deficits out there – the short-term and the long-term. Read more ..

Iran's Nukes

In Middle East Iran’s Nuclear Designs the Greater Threat

June 2nd 2013

The world is, understandably, focused on the Middle East. The map of the region — drawn a century ago by European powers to reflect imperial interests rather than ethnic realities — is unraveling. Syrians and Iraqis are being massacred, and Jordan is flooded with the half-million who have fled. Turkey, a formidable power, also struggles to meet the challenges of refugees and terrorist attacks. Russia, meanwhile, seems bent on supplying Syrian President Bashar al-Assad with deadly weapons such as the S-300 anti-aircraft system. This will enable Assad to enforce a no-fly zone over all of Syria and even parts of neighboring countries.

Given such seismic activity, it is easy to overlook the most explosive development of all. For the Iranian regime, the situation in the Middle East is a convenient distraction. As world leaders deliberate whether and how to intervene in Syria, how to grapple with Iraq, how to shore up Jordan and Turkey, and how to engage the Russians, the Iranian nuclear program advances unchecked.

While the Middle East roils, the Iranians have amassed some 182 kilograms of uranium enriched to a level easily enhanced to weapons grade. This stockpile stops short of the red line drawn by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but the Iranians are quietly preparing to cross it. Read more ..

Obama's Second Term

Secretary Kerry Fumbles at the African Union

June 1st 2013

John Kerry

At the 50th anniversary Summit for the African Union celebrations, Secretary Kerry referred to Boko Haram not as a “terrorist group” in typical State Department–approved terms but as an outright “terrorist organization.” The distinction between calling Boko Haram an “organization” and not a “group” may seem trivial, but it matters. The legal designation of “terrorist organization” allows the U.S. government to combat terrorism by naming and shaming violent actors and eliminating their sources for funding.

Most likely it was a slip of the tongue, since Boko Haram is currently not designated as a terrorist organization, but this mistake highlights how little credence is given to serious threats against our own national security and that of our partners. Boko Haram is a terrorist organization and should be legally designated as one. The magnitude of the security threat posed by terrorism in Africa is large and growing. Organizations such as Boko Haram, whose terrorist attacks since 2009 have resulted in thousands of deaths, seriously threaten regional stability in West Africa. The region is also enduring the spillover violence from terrorist activities in Mali and Libya. Last week, Niger became a victim of this violence when a terrorist attack on a French-owned mine killed 30 people. Read more ..

Internet Edge

Traditional Ideas of Privacy May no Longer be Relevant

June 1st 2013

Click to select Image

I am a very private person. I won’t tell the cashier at the sports equipment store my phone number. I am not interested in reading the details of people’s daily routines that make up so many blogs. I don’t understand the need to put revealing photographs on public websites. I don’t like to talk about myself, even to friends. So I am completely out of touch with the contemporary Facebook ethos.

Headlines have been made recently by young people who have put obviously incriminating information online for anyone to see. Using Facebook, an Oklahoma mother tried to sell her two babies, so she could bail out her boyfriend, and a Tennessee teacher demanded sex from a student. When a group of teenagers attacked another teen in Chicago last year, punching, kicking and then robbing him, they filmed themselves and posted the video on YouTube. Soon they were arrested. Read more ..

Broken Government

You Get What You Pay For: Lessons From the IRS Scandal

May 31st 2013

IRS building

Everyone is outraged by the IRS scandal—Republicans and Democrats, members of Congress and the president, alike. Outrage is a good clean emotion to have when one encounters outrageous behavior. But after a good fist-clenching growl, serious people need to decide what to do to prevent a repetition of such misbehavior.

Here are three suggestions. First, implement the specific reform suggestions put forward by the Inspector General whose report documents the misdeeds. Next, tighten the law under which organizations are granted tax exempt status. The third suggestion—and this may surprise you—raise the budget of the Internal Revenue Service—a lot!

Before explaining the suggestions, let’s start with the facts. As far as tax exemption is concerned, organizations claiming tax exempt status don’t have to apply to the IRS, but most do to avoid challenge later on. Tax exempt status under section 501(c)(4) of the Internal Revenue Code is supposed to be granted to an applicant only if it is a ‘social welfare’ organization. That means that no income of such organizations is taxable and that the names of contributors may be kept secret. Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

U.S. Should Support Nigeria in Its Fight Against Islamists

May 30th 2013

Boko Haram

During Secretary of State John Kerry’s first official trip to sub-Saharan he had the opportunity to publicly bolster a key U.S. ally.   Instead, he singled out Nigeria for criticism at the very time the country is engaged in a pitched battle to defend itself against radical Islamic terrorists who have pledged to overthrow the government and replace it with an Islamic state.

It was a puzzling choice by the United States, coming at the very moment that Nigeria is reporting major progress in combating the group Boko Haram.  Nigeria has deployed 2,000 soldiers to its northern regions to destroy well-equipped terrorist training camps utilized by the radical Islamic terrorists. Public chiding is not what Nigeria needs.  It doesn’t help Nigeria in its fight and ultimately does not best serve American interests. Nigeria is presently at war and on the other side are terrorists who may be receiving help from al-Qaeda and al-Qaeda linked fighters.  Nigeria’s goal is to retain its grip on three northern states, preventing Boko Haram from solidifying its grip on the region and fundamentally destabilizing Nigeria through terrorism that aims to strike fear in the hearts of its citizens. Read more ..

Cities on the Edge

A Big City Growth Revival?

May 29th 2013


Big cities could be making a growth comeback after a rocky decade. Their growth rates are rising and, for the second year in a row, they are growing faster than their surrounding suburbs.

The Census Bureau’s new release of population estimates for cities through July 2012 offer some surprises in light of recent trends. After plummeting to postwar lows during the Great Recession and its immediate aftermath, national migration rates have begun to increase again as the economy recovers. As a result, the traditional Snowbelt-to-Sunbelt shift has resumed as well. Many assumed that large cities, especially in the Snowbelt, might also release their hold on seemingly “stuck in place” residents who, due to the housing market stall, might have been prevented from moving to the suburbs or other regions of the country.

Instead, these new numbers raise the prospect that large cities may be in store for something of a demographic comeback. During the 2000-2010 decade, including the pre-recession housing boom years, many big cities grew slowly or even lost population as residents decamped for growing smaller cities and suburbs. From 2010 to 2012, however, cities with over one-half million population grew considerably more rapidly than they did, on average, over the previous ten years. Read more ..

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