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Egypt's Second Revolution

President Morsi Acts Out Egypt's Tragedy

November 28th 2012


How should we understand the apparently erratic behavior of Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi? In September, he seemed an unreliable ally, if an ally at all, after his tardy and diffident response to mob attacks on America's Cairo embassy. Morsi rose sharply in Western esteem after the November 21 Gaza ceasefire, only to earn the world's opprobrium by asserting dictatorial powers on November 23. Tahrir Square was filled with demonstrators for a seventh day at this writing and members of Morsi's cabinet have broken with the president's attempt to eliminate judicial review of executive actions.
It is possible that the Egyptian leader has a Jeykll-and-Hyde political personality, to be sure. But it is also possible that the exigent circumstances of Egyptian governance have pushed Morsi towards risky postures. In this reading, Egypt's present crisis is less a black comedy than a tragedy in which all available choices lead to a bad outcome.   Read more ..

Broken Government

Kick the Cliff Down the Road, Then Start Negotiating

November 28th 2012

Home Foreclosure

With the election and Thanksgiving out of the way, the rest of the year is shaping up to be an epic showdown between Democrats and Republicans over tax policy and how to avoid going over the fiscal cliff. At this point there appears to be little room for optimism that either side will give enough ground to avert the spending cuts and tax hikes that will otherwise go into effect within weeks. How markets—and voters—will react to the resulting contractionary pressure will likely depend on the extent to which the "cliff" is recognized to be potentially no more than a slope and on the actions Democrats and Republicans take to make the downward slide a gentle one.

One thing is clear at this point, however: Democrats have won the game to frame the debate. Ostensibly, the 2011 budget deal that brought us to this point was about the proper size of government and about calibrating spending and revenues in order to stabilize long-term federal finances. However, the positions staked out by both sides have effectively narrowed the debate considerably. One side wants continued low taxes for the vast majority of Americans and higher taxes on top earners. The other prioritizes continued low taxes for rich and poor alike. Democrats want higher revenues and see little upside to propose spending cuts. Republicans want lower revenues and lower spending but would rather hold the line on taxes than emphasize the spending cuts laid out in their recent House budgets. Read more ..

Obama and the Middle East

America's Responsibility in the New Middle East

November 28th 2012

The ceasefire struck last week between Israel and Hamas after eight days of conflict seems to be holding. But that's not to suggest that the time for diplomacy is over. To the contrary, it's precisely now that the United States needs to survey the new landscape that has emerged in the Middle East, and determine how it can shape it going forward.

The place to start is with the most obvious question of all: who won and who lost? In this particular case, there is an irony: Israel, Hamas, and Egypt all gained something.

Israel's declared goal was to re-establish its deterrent. In fact, Israel sought to prevent Hamas from defining a new normal -- where Israel would tolerate periodic rocket attacks into the south, with the lulls between attacks shorter and shorter, life for a million Israelis frequently disrupted, and the IDF unable to preserve a buffer along the border. In the weeks leading up to the conflict, Hamas did less and less to prevent Jihadi groups from firing rockets into Israel and also began to conduct its own attacks against the IDF on the Israeli side of border. Three Hamas attacks, in particular, set off the Israeli alarm bells: an IED attack, a tunnel dug under the fence and packed with explosives and ignited, and an anti-tank missile attack on an Israeli jeep. It was as if Hamas's leaders thought the new Egypt, Israel's concerns about not threatening its relationship with its post-Mubarak neighbor, and Israel's election preoccupation, all combined to allow Hamas to establish a new baseline for attacks against Israel and have it tolerated. Read more ..

The Edge of Climate Change

Paralysis by Analysis Should not Delay Decisions on Climate Change

November 27th 2012

Stormy Seas

Uncertainty about how much the climate is changing is not a reason to delay preparing for the harmful impacts of climate change says Professor Jim Hall of the Environmental Change Institute at the University of Oxford and colleagues at the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, writing today in Nature Climate Change.

The costs of adapting to climate change, sea-level and flooding include the upfront expenses of upgrading infrastructure, installing early-warning systems, and effective organisations, as well as the costs of reducing risk, such as not building on flood plains.

Robert Nicholls, Professor of Coastal Engineering at the University of Southampton and the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, says: "Some impacts of climate change are now inevitable, so it is widely agreed that we must adapt. But selecting and funding adaptation remains a challenge." Read more ..

Spain on Edge

Gaza, Catalonia and Romantic Nationalism

November 27th 2012

Catalonia is not Spain

Last week was spent obsessed with Gaza. In the end, nothing changed. A war was fought without an Israeli ground assault but with massive air and rocket attacks on both sides. Israel did not have the appetite and perhaps the power to crush Hamas.

Hamas did not have the power to compel Israel to change its policies but wanted to achieve a symbolic victory against Israel. Both decided that continued fighting made little sense and allowed the Americans and Egyptians to bless a settlement. Everyone from Iran to the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood played a role, and then the curtain on this act went down. It will come up again. It was not trivial for those who lived through the conflict, but in the end it changed little. In this context, focusing on Catalonian elections would seem frivolous, but it is the nature of geopolitics that the quiet and odd may have more significance in the long run than the events that carry noisy headlines. Read more ..

Afganistan on Edge

Why US Troops Must Stay in Afghanistan

November 27th 2012

Afgan Troops

Will the United States continue to conduct counterterrorism operations in South Asia? That question is central to any discussion about U.S. troop presence and mission in Afghanistan. The answer can be yes only if we pursue and support the current strategy, retaining roughly 68,000 troops in Afghanistan into 2014 and about half that number thereafter.

Amateurs can discuss imaginary, over-the-horizon “light footprint” strategies. Professionals must consider logistics. Physics and military reality dictate the minimum number of troops needed to have any U.S. presence in Afghanistan without inviting calamities worse than the events in Benghazi, Libya. The presence of U.S. forces in Afghanistan alone permits counterterrorism operations in Pakistan. It’s this simple: Either we keep the necessary number of troops in Afghanistan or operations against al Qaeda and its affiliates in Afghanistan and Pakistan cease. Read more ..

Greece on Edge

The IMF in Greece: Marking New Territory

November 27th 2012

Greek Protesters

Next week we will find out whether or not the growing political gap that has distanced the International Monetary Fund from its key European shareholders for months can be partially bridged.

The need to reach a common agreement for Greece—a major agenda item at the Eurogroup meeting in Brussels next Monday (December 3rd)—reflects the “joint” nature of the Greek assistance program. This implies that a veto by even one of the creditors, like the IMF, would make the disbursement of the subsequent tranches of the Greek bailout program technically impossible.

In fact, there has been significant tension for some time at the heart of the Troika. Their report on Greece, due this past summer, has still not been finalized, so as not to make public the stark differences between the IMF’s position and that of the European creditors. The apparent source of friction is the sustainability of the Greek public debt. The IMF maintains that debt should be on the order of 120 percent of GDP by the end of 2020, as previously agreed, and expects that further resources be mobilized, if necessary, for the credible attainment of this objective. Read more ..

Broken Government

States Choose Own Paths with One-Party Governments

November 26th 2012

Caifornia State House

In Washington, Americans have two-party government, with a Democratic president and Senate and a Republican House. We had it before November's election and will have it again for the next two years.

Looking back from 2014, we will have had two-party government for most of the preceding two decades, for six years of Bill Clinton's presidency, three and a half years of George W. Bush's and four years of Barack Obama's. But in most of the 50 states, American voters seem to have opted for something very much like one-party government.

Starting next month, Americans in 25 states will have Republican governors and Republicans in control of both houses of the state legislatures. They aren't all small states either. They include about 53 percent of the nation's population. At the same time, Americans in 15 states will have Democratic governors and Democrats in control of both houses of the state legislatures. They include about 37 percent of the nation's population. That leaves only 10 percent in states in which neither party is in control. Read more ..

Operation Pillar of Defense

Was Gaza Outcome: Victory, Stalemate or Defeat?

November 26th 2012

Sodiers on patrol

Castigating the government for the ceasefire agreement and implying that Operation Pillar of Defense was a failure is misguided and merely provides credibility to the distorted Hamas narrative of the conflict. Under current adverse geopolitical conditions, it was unrealistic to anticipate that this campaign would end the conflict as eliminating Hamas was unfeasible.

A “pyrrhic victory” could have been achieved with a long and bitter ground invasion but Israel would have been obliged to withdraw very quickly and the IDF would have suffered heavy casualties. In addition, a ground offensive, aside from possibly leading to a military confrontation with the Egyptian Moslem Brotherhood regime and Turkey, would have diverted attention from the Iranian nuclear threat. Collateral casualties in Gaza may also have undermined prevailing favorable public opinion including crucial support from the American people. Read more ..

Operation Pillar of Defense

Who Won the Last Israel-Gaza War?

November 25th 2012

Iron Dome

Naturally the question of who won any given war preoccupies people’s minds. And I’m amused by those who think that Hamas won the recent conflict. Winning has to mean something real, not just bragging to reassure oneself. Let’s begin by examining the causes and goals of each side. Hamas’s goal was to be able to attack Israel as much as it wanted without significant retaliation. This time, as in late 2008, the war began because Hamas escalated the level of its attacks on Israel to unacceptable levels (more on that phrase in a moment). The same might be said of Hizballah in 2006.

Israel’s goal was to force Hamas to the lowest possible level of attacks and to make such attacks as ineffective as possible. Incidentally, that was also Israel’s strategy in dealing with the PLO. Attempts to “solve” the problem once and for all, varying from the 1982 invasion of Lebanon to the Oslo peace process of the 1990s didn’t work too well.

The Vote Aftermath

An Immigration Solution Equals Salvation For The Republicans

November 25th 2012

Immigration Protest

By now, we all know the facts. Among Hispanics, the fastest-growing segment of the American population, Mitt Romney won just 27 percent of the 2012 vote for president, compared to 44 percent won by former President George W. Bush in 2004. Some commentators suggest the GOP is outdated and irrelevant. Others predict the GOP will not win the White House again unless it abandons certain fundamental tenets. Both are wrong.

For reasons of political survival, Romney adopted a hard-line position against undocumented immigrants during the Republican primary. That was unfortunate and unnecessary. President Bush also believed deeply in border security and the rule of law. However, he spoke about the challenges of illegal immigration in a way that recognized we are a nation of immigrants. I believe with the right messenger, message and tone, the GOP will rebound and capture a larger percentage of the Hispanic vote in the future. Read more ..

The Obama Edge

Don't Go There

November 24th 2012


Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov announced last week that President Vladimir Putin had called to congratulate Barack Obama on his reelection and claimed that the American president accepted an invitation from Putin to come to Russia. Obama's plans, which have not yet been publicly announced, seem truly puzzling.

In the past 12 months, Putin's foreign and domestic policies have been nothing but a brazen, in-your-face challenge to U.S. interests and values. Russia has sided with Bashar al-Assad's regime in Syria as it slaughtered tens of thousands of its own citizens, casting three vetoes in the U.N. Security Council to shield Damascus from international sanctions. Moreover, it has signaled the end of its already limited and caveat-ridden support for international efforts to contain a nuclear-bound Iran.

Closer to home, Kremlin-sponsored goons have heckled and hounded Obama's own ambassador to Moscow, Michael McFaul, and Kremlin-controlled television networks have aired vile, Soviet-style propaganda "documentaries" accusing McFaul, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and, the United States more broadly, of organizing and funding Russia's anti-Putin, pro-democracy opposition. Read more ..

After the Arab Winter of Rage

Changing Middle East Looks Like What it Replaces

November 23rd 2012

Israel fire

This small war between Hamas and Israel will pass. The just announced ceasefire may be sustained. Or Israel may move from aerial bombardment to a ground incursion, which will deter Hamas from relighting the fuse for some time. But not forever, because Hamas exists only to fight with Israel. It has no other purpose. Those who counter that Hamas governs need only look at Gaza to understand that governance is far from Hamas’ aims or abilities. Will this late 2012 battle end differently for the Palestinians? Advance a two state solution? Heal the ills of the Palestinians? Allow Israel to live in peace and security? No.

Another question:  Will the realignment of the Middle East to an order more congenial to Hamas matter? Clearly, Hamas believed that with its Muslim Brotherhood brethren at the helm in Egypt and the new spiritual leader of the region’s Sunni Islamists at the helm in Turkey, this adventure would end differently. Of course, Hamas’ hope was not to destroy the state of Israel. Rather, it was to gain the upper hand in its endless and fruitless battle against Fatah for the Palestinian political mantle, ideally with the wind of the Arab world’s Islamist revolutions at its back. Read more ..

The Obama Edge

Obama Needs a Family Plan

November 23rd 2012

Obama Kids

President Obama has several stated ambitions for his presidency. He wants it to be "transformative." He wants to unite Americans of all parties. He wants to build an economy from the middle class out (whatever that means), and he wants to help what you might call the domestic refugees of America's economic transformation.

Given the principled disagreements dividing left and right in America, it's hard to see how he can accomplish these goals when it comes to conventional economic policy.

But there is one area where Obama could be transformative and bipartisan while helping both the middle class and the poor. He could show some leadership on the state of the black family, and the American family in general.

The thought came to me when a friend pointed me to a column by the Washington Post's Courtland Milloy about how blacks are fleeing baseball at an alarming rate. Today only 8 percent of the baseball players are black. In 1959, black participation was more than twice as high at 17 percent. In 1975, the high-water mark, the rate was 27 percent. Read more ..

Operation Pillar of Defense

A Potential Game Changer In Hamas’s Attack Methods

November 23rd 2012


As Operation Pillar of Defense continues to escalate, we have now witnessed a potential game-changer in Hamas’s methods. After years of pounding southern Israel, for the first time, Hamas rockets are now aimed at Jerusalem and its surrounding neighborhoods. This begs the question, just how holy is Jerusalem to the Islamic faith?

Sunni groups like Hamas, the Al-Aqsa Martyr Brigades, Palestinian Islamic Jihad ,(PIJ) and al Qaeda, and Shia Hizballah all operate against Israel on the basis of shared Islamist doctrine. An integral part of this is declaring jihad to liberate Jerusalem from its occupiers. Radical Islam expert Emmanuel Sivan quotes one of Anwar Sadat’s killers, Abd al-Salam Faraj, as saying, “there are some who say that the jihad efforts should concentrate nowadays upon the liberation of Jerusalem. It is true that the liberation of the Holy Land is a legal precept binding upon every Muslim…but let us emphasize that the fight against the enemy nearest to you [Israelis] has precedence over the enemy farther away.”

A Jewish-governed Jerusalem may thus be holy to the Islamic faith at large, but while under “occupation” by a hated enemy even it may be targeted for the purposes of liberation. In term of the quest of a two state solution, both Israelis and Palestinians see Jerusalem as their nations’ legal and religious capital. But in the manner in which Muslims treat Jerusalem shows the inextricably bound up nature of religion and politics.

The uniqueness of Jerusalem as the eternal capital for Israelis and Palestinians demands explanation. Jews have remained loyal to Jerusalem for over three thousand years, when King David made her the capital of his kingdom and home to the Temple. During two millennia of exile, Jews looked to Jerusalem as the focal point for their enduring relationship with God. Religious yearning was practically separated from political possibility, and it was not until the 19th century that a large-scale Jewish return to the land and to Jerusalem was realized. Read more ..

The Race for Alt Fuel

Re-Fueling America’s Economy for Unprecedented Growth

November 22nd 2012

Grown from Biofuel

The United States needs a new industry that necessitates a vertical range of jobs and which spawn additional supportive industries with an even greater vertical range of jobs. This industry must produce products and services that: benefit all Americans; save money; are healthy (or at least healthier than the products being replaced); and that improve our overall standard of living. In other words, products consumers actually need and want to buy.

The solution is alternative energy and fuels. But, most importantly, the alternative energy and fuels must be produced domestically and controlled by American entrepreneurs.  The raw materials used to generate the energy and produce the fuels must come from our own domestic resources that generate domestic jobs reserved for our citizens (the operative words being “our citizens”).

Lately there has been a great deal of attention focused on new domestic oil drilling and shale oil production as the solution to our economic problems. Headlines proclaim that the U.S. will once again become the world’s dominant exporter of petroleum oil (Yes, America was once the dominant oil exporter). Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

Responding to Assad's Use of Airpower in Syria

November 22nd 2012

Syria fighting injured baby

Through innovative use of Patriot missile batteries and command-and-control aircraft, Washington and its allies could create a much-needed protective arc for Syrian civilians without having to penetrate the regime's still-formidable air defenses.

The Syrian air force continues to terrorize the civilian populace and slow the rebel advance. After twenty months of conflict and over 32,000 deaths, Bashar al-Assad has survived in part because of the regime's ability to strike anytime, anywhere from the air. In order to protect Syrians from this indiscriminate use of airpower, the international community should enact "airborne controlled" and "ground–based enforced" northern and southern safe zones.


Soon after the uprising began in March 2011, the regime adopted an aggressive approach involving tanks, infantry carriers, and artillery, but no aircraft. These forces were used to seal and storm cities such as Deraa and Latakia. In early June 2011, Assad responded aggressively in the northwestern town of Jisr al-Shughour after the regime lost 120 troops. And in January 2012, the regime initiated artillery operations across the country. Read more ..

Obama's Second Term

ASEAN’s Future—and Asia’s

November 21st 2012


It’s telling that President Obama’s first foreign trip after winning reelection takes him to Asia, the historical hinge of the twenty-first century. The president will visit three Southeast Asian nations: He’ll mark one hundred and eighty years of diplomatic relations with Thailand, a staunch U.S. ally in the region. He’ll become the first sitting U.S. president to visit Myanmar, a nation emerging from five decades of military rule. And he’ll attend the East Asia Summit in Cambodia, reaffirming the presence of the United States as a Pacific power and a geopolitical counterweight to China.

At a symbolic level, the president’s visit is intended to reinforce America’s strategic “rebalancing” (née “pivot”) toward East Asia, after a decade of U.S. distraction and overextension in the broader Middle East. The White House recognizes that East Asia will remain the dynamic core of global growth for the foreseeable future—and that the United States must be present and active to encourage its economic openness and strategic stability, at a time when China’s neighbors are increasingly wary of its ultimate intentions. Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

China’s Role in Syria: How Beijing Can Help End the Violence

November 21st 2012

Click to select Image

The Chinese Foreign Ministry recently announced a “new” four-point peace initiative to solve the crisis in Syria. During a visit to Beijing by U.N. and Arab League mediator Lakhdar Brahimi in October, China’s Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi stated that “political dialogue is the only correct way to tackle this issue,” and he added that he hoped the mediation discussions would promote “mutual understanding” and “the appropriate handling of the Syrian issue.”

The U.S. News & World Report summarized the four points of China’s proposal as follows: The Syrian government and rebel fighters should make every effort to maintain a ceasefire and work with Brahimi’s mediation efforts; Both sides should appoint interlocutors who can negotiate a political transition and maintain governmental stability; The international community should increase support for Brahimi’s efforts and other mediation initiatives, such as ‘relevant Security Council resolutions’; The international community should increase humanitarian assistance to conflict regions in Syria. Read more ..

Operation Pillar of Defense

Turkey is Playing a Dangerous Game in Gaza Conflict

November 20th 2012


There was a fiery exchange at yesterday’s State Department briefing between the department’s spokeswoman, Victoria Nuland, and AP reporter Matthew Lee, over Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s latest verbal assault upon Israel. Here’s the key part of their back-and-forth:

LEE: You’re not telling us anything about… when the Turks come out, when the leaders of Turkey come out and say that Israel is engaged in acts of terrorism and you refuse to say that you don’t agree with that… maybe you do agree with that, that’s being silent.

NULAND: Matt, we have made a decision that we need to engage in our diplomatic work diplomatically, we have been very clear on where we stand on this. Which is that we don’t practice diplomacy from the podium. We have been very clear that Israel has the right of self-defense. Very clear that rockets continue to be fired and land on Israel. We’ve been very clear that we are working to get this conflict de-escalated. We have been very clear about our concern for the civilians and innocents on both sides who are getting caught in this…

LEE: And yet you won’t stick up for your ally Israel when the Turks, another one of your allies, say that they are engaged in terrorism in Gaza. Read more ..

Healthcare on Edge

Why Obamacare Is Still No Sure Thing

November 19th 2012


Champions of Obamacare want Americans to believe that the president's re-election ended the battle over the law. It did no such thing. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act won't be fully repealed while Barack Obama is in office, but the administration is heavily dependent on the states for its implementation.

Republicans will hold 30 governorships starting in January, and at last week's meeting of the Republican Governors Association they made it clear that they remain highly critical of the health law. Some Republican governors—including incoming RGA Chairman Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, Ohio's John Kasich, Wisconsin's Scott Walker and Maine's Paul LePage—have already said they won't do the federal government's bidding. Several Democratic governors, including Missouri's Jay Nixon and West Virginia's Earl Ray Tomblin, have also expressed serious concerns. Read more ..

Operation Pillar of Defense

Breaking the Stranglehold: Defeating Hamas and Hezbollah is Vital to Israel’s Survival

November 19th 2012

Israeli tank and crew

In the current Middle East, where erstwhile Israeli allies like Egypt and Turkey display open hostility, where Sudan serves as Iran’s warehouse and Gaza and Lebanon as its forward bases, the Jewish State finds itself in the precarious center of a tightening noose. Israel has not been so under siege since the Yom Kippur War.

Reality check: Since 9/11, and especially in the wake of the so-called Arab Spring, we have been living in the “Era of Islamism”, as evidenced by the rise to power of Hamas in Gaza, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, the Islamist-leaning AK Party in Turkey, and the Ennahda Party in Tunisia. Libya has also been overrun by violent Islamists, as has the Sinai Peninsula. Should Syria fall into the wrong hands, the situation severely worsens. If the Hashemite monarchy in Jordan is also toppled, circumstances could be dire indeed. Read more ..

Edging Toward the Fiscal Cliff

Going Off the Fiscal Cliff Is Good Policy­—If You Like Unemployment

November 18th 2012

Emplyment Application

Don't even think about it! Falling off the fiscal cliff would be an economic disaster for the United States. The fall would add over $300 billion in taxes in this fiscal year, along with another $200+ billion in spending cuts and other changes, or a net change in the deficit of over half a trillion dollars in the current fiscal year (9 months of it are left).

The Congressional Budget Office says that our GDP would be reduced by 3.4 percent in fiscal year 2013, and 4.5 percent in calendar year 2013. We are suffering now with a "slow" recovery of 2 percent growth or slightly less, with unemployment still about 7.9 percent. The cliff recession would wreck our economy and make our current national pain seem pleasant. Worse, the suffering would not gain us much. Taxes would rise on all Americans, including those least able to pay, but little would have been done to reduce the entitlements which are the long-term drivers of our deficits and debt. Read more ..

Operation Pillar of Defense

Preventing an Escalation of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

November 17th 2012

Hamas rocket in Gaza
Hamas missile fired from Gaza.

The fighting between Israel and Hamas has escalated for a second day. Hamas rocket barrages are targeting the coastal cities of Ashdod and Ashkelon along with areas as far south as Dimona (seventy-five kilometers from Gaza and home to Israel's nuclear reactor). In all, 274 rockets have been fired at Israel so far, reportedly including a longer-range Fajr-5 aimed at the Tel Aviv area -- the first time since the 1991 Gulf War that the city has been targeted in this manner.

And in the southern Negev region, three civilians were killed today when their apartment building was hit. Meanwhile, Israel says it has struck 250 Hamas targets in Gaza, apparently knocking out many longer-range rockets and weapon storehouses. This comes after Operation Amud Anan (Pillar of Defense/Pillar of Cloud) was launched on Wednesday, when Israel killed Hamas military chief Ahmed Jabari after days of escalation. Eleven Palestinians are believed to be dead. Read more ..

The Petraeus Scandal

The Dangerous Arc of Disgraced General David Petraeus

November 17th 2012

David Petraeus

"Associate with men of good quality if you esteem your own reputation; for it is better to be alone than in bad company." George Washington

"Keep your indiscretions a hundred miles from the flagpole" ~ military aphorism

On November 9th, David H. Petraeus, the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), announced his resignation subsequent to the disclosure that he had carried on a lengthy extra-marital affair with author and U.S. Army Reserve officer Paula Broadwell.

Although Petraeus claims to have ended the affair in August 2012, it erupted into a public scandal when incriminating e-mails were made public following an investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Broadwell, who mistook Petreaus family friend Jill Kelley as a romantic rival, had written a series of threatening e-mails to Kelley, warning her to stay away from Petraeus. Kelley forwarded the messages to the FBI. Read more ..

Operation Pillar of Defense

The World's Challenge in the Current Israel-Gaza War

November 17th 2012

Hamas rocket in Gaza

Perhaps Hamas was hoping for a spectacular provocation. After Egyptian Prime Minister Hesham Kandil arrived for a visit to the Gaza Strip, November 15, Hamas launched a barrage of rockets and mortars at Israel, perhaps trying to provoke an Israeli counterattack that might shake up or even injure the Egyptian leader and get Cairo to escalate its involvement in the war.

A few sirens went off in Tel Aviv around 6:30 PM, November 15—not the whole system or the one outside my window but those a few blocks away—and didn’t stay on very long. Then there were two loud but short booms, the sound of anti-rocket missiles being fired. Rumors followed. This being the age of social media people insisted that something must have happened because somebody in California said so. Read more ..

The Petraeus Scandal

Going over the Fiscal Cliff and Crashing into the Petraeus Scandal

November 16th 2012


Robert Rubin, former secretary of the Treasury, writes in the New York Times: “Now that the election is over, Washington’s attention is consumed by the looming combination of automatic spending cuts and tax increases known as ‘the fiscal cliff.’”

“Consumed”? Excuse me, but I just checked the websites of the Times, the Washington Post, USA Today, CNN, Fox News, CBS, NBC, and ABC. Every one of them had the same lead story -- and it was not “the fiscal cliff.”

By now, of course, you know what it was. Everybody knows: THE SCANDAL WIDENS!

If Robert Rubin had written that some people in Washington are giving some attention to the “the looming ‘fiscal cliff,’” he might have been correct. In Washington they’re sort of forced to deal with such wonkish stuff, at least part of the time.

But outside Washington the “fiscal cliff’ must be so far eclipsed by THE SCANDAL that hardly anyone can see the “cliff” at all, much less see it looming ominously just ahead. Even in Washington, the news sources suggest, the “cliff” is taking a distinctly back seat to THE SCANDAL. Read more ..

The Vote Aftermath

Six Ways President Obama and Congress Can Avoid the “Fiscal Cliff”

November 16th 2012

US Capital Day

Republican congressional leaders and President Obama sharply disagree over how to deal with the impending “fiscal cliff.” Negotiations among Democratic and GOP lawmakers will be tough. But averting the cliff and putting the nation on a sustainable fiscal course shouldn’t be that hard.

A reasonable framework could be agreed to now, with the details worked out in 2013. Such a scenario includes a balance of spending cuts and new revenues, most of which are consistent with the recommendations of a variety of bipartisan groups and priorities articulated in the recent election.

Here are six ways Washington can avoid the “fiscal cliff.”

1. Extend all tax cuts except those for millionaires

President Obama and Congress must first extend all of the Bush-era tax cuts except those affecting millionaires. Individuals and small businesses with annual incomes of more than $1 million can afford to pay a little more. Read more ..

The Defense Edge

Lessons for an Army During War

November 16th 2012

Soldiers In Afghanistan

Once again, the U.S. Army is trying to learn lessons from the last war and apply them to future situations. Recent exercises at Fort Polk, La., emphasized short deployments with limited objectives: defend a consulate (!), secure the flow of energy resources and similar situations.  "My premise is that the world is going to get more complex, it's going to get more difficult," Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno told reporters. "We're going to need leaders who can be very adaptive."

The United States has had adaptive leaders since the Christmas rout of the Hessians at Trenton, but the real lessons of the past 11 years are not about the troops.

The United States has ceased to use military force as an instrument with which to enforce its will. The military has become an element of American diplomacy designed to change minds or behavior, and the door is always open, including to the Taliban and the Muslim Brotherhood. The civilian population — the sea in which non-conventional armies swim, to paraphrase Mao — is the object of intense and expensive American courtship. Read more ..

The Way We Are

At Thanksgiving, Embracing the Winds of Change and Increasing Our Faith

November 16th 2012


The chilly winds of change blowing across the global economic landscape this fall have tested our threadbare garments to the point of fraying. Many of our fellow travelers find themselves losing hope that things will ever get any better. Many are disillusioned that President Obama was re-elected and yet the majority which truly matters in presidential elections are elated that the President will be given a second term to complete his mission.  While I was in that minority that didn't support the re-election of our president, I couldn't be prouder of who we are as American's and that our freedom of choice is our most precious and sacred gift. Some of us may feel at times as if there is no choice but to stop in our tracks and forsake ourselves to the fate of the dry and dusty bones littering the ground all around us. However, despite facing a bleak economic and jobless landscape at present, the human spirit always has a choice. Instead of giving up the ghost, we can choose to reaffirm our faith. Surviving these trying times demands of us that we give thanks and praise.

Consider if you will that the improbable and unfathomably precious gift of our lives takes shape in a crucible of struggle. A single sperm cell, swimming along a foreign and hostile canal, pushes past the strewn corpses of millions of its fellow sojourners, to finally arrive at the ultimate prize; an unfertilized egg. Upon meeting the egg, a miraculous process ensues. The two cells combine and become instantly productive. They divide and multiply, and, in a matter of mere months, grow out of that singular union a complex and living being composed of hundreds of millions of cells. At length, we come to term. Again, a stark struggle occurs. Our mothers, in travail upon travail, bear the pain of ultimate sacrifice, approaching the very precipice of death to bring us forth, wailing and crying, into this world. Most of us have no memory of the shock and loss we experienced when we were evicted from the warm comfort of the womb to face the glaring sun for the first time. But out of such shock and awe emerges springs life, and for that miracle alone we must give thanks and praise. Read more ..

The Petraeus Scandal

Petraeus: Lessons Learned

November 15th 2012


America has been at war for 10 years in two of the cruelest theaters of combat in modern warfare. Troops face unprecedented tours of duty and extended deployments beyond human endurance and sound military practice.

They battle an enemy whose goal is to kill millions of Americans by destroying cities through nuclear terrorism. They serve a nation in which 1 percent of our people bear 100 percent of the sacrifice.

During the height of the Iraq war, the Marine Corps pathologist suggested that up to 70 percent of American casualties were preventable. In those days, while lobbyists fought valiantly for tax cuts for the highest incomes, our troops fighting valiantly to defend us were not given adequate body armor and Humvees. Official Washington did not know, did not care or did not believe we could afford them. Read more ..

Operation Pillar of Defense

The Gaza Strip Erupts: Cast Lead Redux?

November 15th 2012

Israeli Jet

Earlier today [November 14] Israeli aircraft killed Ahmad Jabari, the commander of the military wing of Hamas, the Islamist Palestinian organization that controls the Gaza Strip. Jabari was a well known figure to Palestinians and Israelis alike; he was a leader of Hamas's violent campaign to take control of the Gaza Strip and decimate the presence of its secular rival Fatah in the Strip. Jabari was also the central figure behind the kidnapping of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit in 2006. His assassination marks a major escalation of an ongoing rocket-and-airstrike exchange in recent weeks.

The escalation of the conflict, though dramatic, was not unexpected. In recent weeks Hamas engaged in a series of large-scale rocket attacks against towns in southern Israel. This was something of a departure from precedent in recent years, when smaller Palestinian organizations such as the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and not Hamas, carried out most of the rocket tacks. Though these attacks receive little coverage abroad, they naturally dominate the news in Israel, where hundreds of thousands of people -- in a country of less than eight million -- are under the threat of rockets and their daily lives are disrupted. The question now is what form this new round of fighting will take, and whether it can produce a longer-term quiet or lead to a far worse situation in both Gaza and southern Israel. Read more ..

After the Election

Trust Methodologies, Not Pollsters

November 14th 2012

Rahm Emanuel and Barry

Congratulations to President Obama and winning senators and representatives. Victorious incumbents like Obama accomplished a historic feat, overcoming the miserable economy and wrong-track sentiment. Kudos are also in order for the “winning” pollsters, those research organizations that came closest to “predicting” the election outcomes. Several lists of the most accurate firms are out there — and I am troubled by the storylines that often accompany these lists. 

The media coverage of poll accuracy typically glorifies firms and individual pollsters, not their methodologies. This is so dangerous. Just compare the 2008 accuracy lists with those from 2012 and you’ll see what I mean. Several of the most accurate pollsters in 2008 (like Gallup and Rasmussen) have tumbled down the rankings. Did they suddenly get dumb? I doubt it. In all likelihood, their methodologies changed or real-world circumstances transcended the efficacy of their methods. For example, Rasmussen’s focus on landline phones, acceptable in 2008, simply didn’t work when so many voters have switched to cells. It is also possible, a statistician would acknowledge, that the differences between 2008 and 2012 for a fallen pollster could simply be the result of a one-chance-in-20 that a poll has a larger margin of error than normal. Probability theory assures us that it works only 95 percent of the time, even with consistent methodology. Read more ..

Turkey on Edge

Turkey's Sectarian Agenda

November 14th 2012


It has now been more than 10 years since Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) came to power in Turkey.  Despite receiving just 34 percent of the vote, a quirk of Turkish election law enabled Erdoğan’s party to grab two-thirds of the seats in parliament and therefore to dominate government.

Turks and non-Turks alike worried that Erdoğan’s victory would herald a religious transformation of Turkey’s traditionally liberal society. While mayor of Turkey’s largest city, Erdoğan described himself as the "the imam of Istanbul" and as “servant of the Shari'a." In September 1994, he promised, “We will turn all our schools into İmam Hatips," as Turkey calls its madrasas. An early conviction for religious incitement initially left Erdoğan disqualified for higher office and so he could not immediately become prime minister. Fortunately for Erdoğan, the AKP was able to use its super-majority to change the law so he could become prime minister. Read more ..

Wall Street on Edge

The SEC vs. J.P. Morgan

November 14th 2012

Financial reform now protest

J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. announced last week that it had agreed to settle a multiyear probe by the Securities and Exchange Commission. The probe alleges that Bear Stearns (which J.P. Morgan acquired in early 2008) failed to disclose key information about the mortgage-backed securities it sold—such as the low quality of the mortgages underlying them. Under the proposed settlement, J.P. Morgan will pay an undisclosed amount, but no individuals will be charged.

The agreement punishes the wrong people. Instead of fining J.P. Morgan—which acquired a failing firm at the behest of the federal government—the SEC should take action against the individual executives who committed the alleged wrongdoing.

Typically, a corporation that buys another assumes all of its financial obligations, including its legal liabilities. The logic here is that the buyer will look into these obligations—perform "due diligence"—and adjust its offer price to account for any potential legal liabilities of the company that it wants to buy. This logic holds, for instance, in the case of the federal government's billion-dollar lawsuit against Bank of America regarding alleged wrongdoings by Countrywide Financial before the merger of those two companies. Read more ..

After the Election

Obama Fiddles While Planet Earth Burns

November 13th 2012

Obama oil spill

In the fall of 1948, Harry Truman barnstormed the country by train, repeatedly bashing a “do-nothing Congress,” and so snatched victory from the jaws of defeat in that year’s presidential campaign. This year, neither presidential candidate focused on blasting a do-nothing Congress or, in Obama’s case, “Republican obstructionism,” demanding that the voters give them a legislative body that would mean an actual mandate for change.

We now know the results of such a campaign and, after all the tumult and the nation’s first $6 billion election, they couldn’t be more familiar. Only days later, you can watch a remarkably recognizable cast of characters from the reelected president and Speaker of the House John Boehner to the massed pundits of the mainstream media picking up the pages of a well-thumbed script.

Will it be bipartisanship or the fiscal cliff? Are we going to raise new revenues via tax reform or raise tax rates for the wealthiest Americans? Will the president make up with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu or not? Will it be war or something less with Iran? And so on and so forth. It’s the moment the phrase déjà vu all over again was made for. Read more ..

The Vote Aftermath

Obama's 'Moneyball' Campaign

November 13th 2012

Obama victory

How on earth did Barack Obama, the community organizer, harness the power of data in the 2012 election like a Bain Capital numbers-cruncher, while Mitt Romney’s data-mining effort crashed and burned like, well, Solyndra?

While Romney was relying on false signs of Republican “enthusiasm” and “momentum,” Obama was playing a game of political “Moneyball” — using an analytical, metrics-based approach to assemble a winning campaign, the way Billy Beane’s Oakland A’s used rigorous statistical analysis to assemble a winning baseball team.

According to Time magazine, the Obama campaign undertook an unprecedented data-mining effort that helped the president “raise $1 billion, remade the process of targeting TV ads and created detailed models of swing-state voters that could be used to increase the effectiveness of everything from phone calls and door knocks to direct mailings and social media.” Read more ..

America on Edge

New Ethnic and Religious Groups in Contention for Next Presidential Election

November 13th 2012

Muslim vote

The elections are over, and the finger-pointing is in. Most factors that contributed to Obama’s advantage and conversely Romney’s weakness have been thoroughly rehashed in the media.

Obama’s more “human” personality, natural appeal for African-Americans, Asian-Americans (the Hawaii connection) and Latinos (immigration), stronger than expected national security and foreign policy record (except the Benghazi embassy tragedy, Bin Laden was killed on his watch – and that’s all that matters to most voters), record-breaking fundraising (being able to out raise businessman Romney is no small thing) and superior “ground-game” operations. Read more ..

Broken Government

The Election is Over, Now the Real Battle Begins

November 12th 2012

Obama with baseball bat

The election is over. That signals the temporary end of the season's political warfare and the other indignities the campaigns have laid upon us. The country, and the facts, have been spun and misdirected enough. It's time to get to work on repairs to the nation's battered fiscal condition.

The people have spoken. Unsurprisingly, they have given us another sharply divided government much like the last one. The polarized electorate has produced another polarized Congress. Both parties, both houses and the President can claim, and have claimed, mandates.

A Fractured Government
Our policymakers are fresh off the nastiest campaign trail in memory. They are now expected to transform themselves, suddenly and magically, from warriors into statesmen. Their core constituencies are urging them to make neither peace nor comprise, but rather to continue the war. As usual, the election did not solve our political problems. Read more ..

Broken Government

California Leading the Way to a More Functional Congress

November 12th 2012

Juan Williams 02

The dark and dysfunctional 112th Congress, now drawing to its close, will go down in history as one in which the bad behavior of lawmakers led to a downgrade of the nation’s credit rating and the creation of the impending fiscal cliff. The Gallup approval rating for this Congress, at one point, reached a historic low of 12 percent.

This Congress passed the fewest bills of any Congress since the end of the Second World War. Now, there will be a lame-duck session and negotiations to put in place a temporary bridge to get past the fiscal cliff. But the 112th Congress is still not likely to surpass the low number of bills approved by the Congress of 1947 — the one President Truman famously dubbed the “do-nothing Congress.”

Polarization and gridlock have paralyzed Congress. But now, a bright ray of hope for ending those twin curses is emerging from election results in California. The optimism begins with changes in the system for electing lawmakers in the Golden State, home to the largest congressional biggest delegation.

In 2010, a diverse group of the state’s biggest political stakeholders — including the California Chamber of Commerce, the AARP and then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger — united to support a ballot proposition creating a bipartisan commission that redrew the geographic lines for California’s congressional districts. The proposition also changed the rules for the general election.

The old system pitted the winners of the party’s primaries against each other. The new system provides for the two candidates with the most votes in an open congressional primary to move on to the general election — even if they belong to the same party. Read more ..

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