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The Battle for Syria

Obama, Syria, and the Perils of 'Red Line' Declarations

September 9th 2013

Obama pensive with flag

Amidst a heated and confused debate on the question of U.S. intervention in Syria, President Obama made one of his infrequent appearances before the press to explain the red line he laid down more than a year ago regarding the use of chemical weapons. “First of all, I didn’t set a red line. The world set a red line,” Obama said.

Setting aside the fact that this is, at best, a tortured locution (as the president did indeed say, “a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized”), Obama’s attempt to rewrite his own rhetoric has obscured an important lesson: Red lines are too often idle threats that hamstring the good guys without constraining the bad. Predictability in international affairs is a virtue. The better rogue nations understand the boundaries between acceptable and unacceptable behavior, the less likely they will transgress. Read more ..

Venezuela on Edge

Venezuela’s Supreme Court Dismisses Electoral Fraud Charges

September 8th 2013

Henrique Capriles Radonski

The war of nerves between Venezuela’s ruling chavistas and its battered adversaries intensified this week, following the decision of the country’s Supreme Court, the TSJ, to summarily dismiss opposition charges of electoral fraud during last April’s presidential election.

The charges, filed by Henrique Capriles, the leader of the opposition MUD coalition, were based on thousands of reports of electoral irregularities submitted by independent observers on election day. Capriles, who was defeated by Hugo Chavez’s chosen successor, Nicolas Maduro, by a little over 200,000 votes, insists that he was the true victor. Maduro’s triumph, Capriles says, was handed to him by Venezuela’s National Electoral Council, or CNE, a nominally autonomous body that has been fatally compromised by fourteen years of chavista rule.

Daniel Duquenal, a dissident blogger who monitors the macabre twists and turns of Venezuelan politics, believes that the TSJ decision is a stark sign of Maduro’s determination to dispense with the niceties of the electoral process. Notice has been served to the opposition, Duquenal wrote this week, that “the days of ‘dissent’ are over, and that we are moving toward a more classical form of dictatorship.” Read more ..

Broken Government

By Dropping Syria In Congress's Lap, Obama Creates The Worst Of The Bad Old Days

September 7th 2013

US Capital Day

In the olden days, before the 75 percent debt ratio, when compromise meant achievement rather than dishonor, service in the Congress was rewarding, fulfilling, and often, fun. But, even in those kinder, gentler times, there were occasional days when Congress was a pain, even to its most enthusiastic members.

The bad days were times when members were called upon to make decisions on problems where there were no apparent good choices, and no good outcomes. On those days, win or lose; right or wrong; members had to take political heat from friend and foe, often to no good purpose.

Those tough votes might have been on Congressional pay raises, or supporting one’s president when his position was debatable, or an impeachment vote. Congress has always had to face difficult votes from time to time. Read more ..

Broken Economy

America’s Broken Dream

September 6th 2013

People lined up for jobs

The United States has long been viewed as the “land of opportunity,” where those who work hard get ahead. Belief in this fundamental feature of America’s national identity has persisted, even though inequality has been gradually rising for decades. But, in recent years, the trend toward extremes of income and wealth has accelerated significantly, owing to demographic shifts, the economy’s skills bias, and fiscal policy. Is the collapse of the American dream at hand?

From 1997 to 2007, the share of income accruing to the top 1 perceent of US households increased by 13.5 percentage points. This is equivalent to shifting $1.1 trillion of Americans’ total annual income to these families – more than the total income of the bottom 40 percent of US households.

Inequality’s precise impact on individual well-being remains controversial, partly because of the complex nature of the metrics needed to gauge it accurately. But, while objective indicators do not provide a complete picture of the relationship between income inequality and human well-being, how they are interpreted sends important signals to people within and across societies. Read more ..

Broken Education

How to Make College More Affordable? Improve Productivity

September 5th 2013

university students and laptops

In recent decades, the cost of going to college has skyrocketed, more than doubling in inflation-adjusted terms since the 1960s. There are three ways to make college more affordable. The first is for government or philanthropy to pick up more of the tab. The second is by borrowing the money in the hopes that the increased earnings that graduates receive will enable the borrower to pay back the loan. The third is by improving the productivity of the sector so that students learn as much (or more) but at a lower (or the same) cost.

So far, students and their families have coped by relying more on assistance from government or philanthropy or by borrowing large sums of money. While state governments have been cutting back on subsidies to community colleges and state universities, the federal government has taken up some of the slack and is now spending a total of $137 billion a year on subsidized loans, grants, and tax credits. Borrowing has also risen sharply. Outstanding student loan debt is now over $1 trillion and almost a sixth of borrowers are more than 90 days delinquent on their payments. Continuing to rely on taxpayer support during a time of fiscal constraint, and on the ability of students to borrow large sums of money with no certainty than they can repay their debts is not a sustainable policy. We must address the third reason for rising costs: the failure to improve the productivity of the higher education sector. Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

No Way To Launch a War in Syria...or a Punitive Action

September 4th 2013

Bomb Damage

President Obama’s August 31 decision to seek Congressional support for military action against Syria caught nearly everyone by surprise. Many in the Middle East and elsewhere see it as a sign of White House indecision—or worse, that the president would not mind being able to blame Congress for not taking military action. Recovering presidential credibility will not be easy.

Over the past two years, the president has taken a cautious attitude toward Syria. Having extracted the United States from Iraq and on the verge of a significant reduction in the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan, he shows little desire to engage in yet another conflict in that part of the world.

Syrian President Bashar Assad has waged an abhorrent military campaign, leaving some 100,000 Syrians dead and millions displaced. He has inflicted a horrific humanitarian tragedy on his own people. In an ideal world, the international community would react with more than just revulsion—but it has not and likely will not. Russian support for Assad assures that the UN Security Council will take no serious action. Read more ..

Broken Government

The Budget Battle

September 3rd 2013

Capitol Hill

What’s more confused, the Obama administration’s Middle East policy or its economic policy? Really kind of a pick-’em situation. While the Syrian befuddlement is more in the headlines right now, the brewing battle over the budget and the debt ceiling will soon remind America of the White House’s illogical obsession with more federal tax increases despite a glacial economic recovery. As Treasury Secretary Jack Lew recently told CNBC, “The president made clear he was prepared to do tough things on entitlement programs, but those tough actions on entitlement programs require balance in terms of revenue both for fairness and . . . for economic results.” Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

Is Syria a Terminal Case?

September 2nd 2013

Syrian Dead

The world has watched Syria being destroyed from within for more than two years. The death toll has mounted steadily, month after month, and refugees continue to pour into neighbouring countries. The country’s infrastructure is being obliterated. With 100,000 dead and likely more to come, millions internally and externally displaced, and thousands imprisoned, injured, maimed, and psychologically scarred, it is getting worse everyday.

It isn’t getting better politically either. The Assad regime continues to kill indiscriminately in a desperate effort to regain control. The merciless army it has deployed to wipe out dissent is destroying entire rebel-held towns. The horrifying chemical weapons attacks it most likely carried out on innocent civilians may be only a terrible prelude to more massacres.

Syria’s secular rebels are losing ground to hardened, better financed fighters with ties to networks that provide them with superior weapons to take on the regime. Radicals from around the world have been pouring into Syria to fight the regime under the al-Qaeda banner. The watching international community repeatedly talks of ‘reconciliation’ even as the armed parties express their willingness to kill or be killed to “liberate the country”. Whatever their cause, the fighters speak of having only one choice: “Victory or death”. Read more ..

Latin America on Edge

Latin America and American Intimidation Habits

September 1st 2013

Rafael Correa

When Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa indignantly denounced the U.S. spy program and spoke up in defense of whistleblower and leaker Edward J. Snowden, the United States Senate took up the issue, fearing that Correa’s next move would be to grant Snowden asylum. Senator Charles Schumer (D—N.Y.) wanted Ecuador to be punished preemptively, pressing his colleagues in Congress to eliminate the $23 million USD in trade preferences that Ecuador enjoyed under the Andean Trade Promotion and Drug Eradication Act.

This sort of U.S. intimidation used to work on smaller Latin American nations like Ecuador. But Quito was insouciant about the threat, responding by simply canceling Ecuador’s participation in the U.S. tariff reduction program. Furthermore, Correa saw this as an opportunity to mock the United States, offering $23 million USD to the United States for “human rights training.”

United States Secretary of State John Kerry visited Bogotá, Colombia earlier this month, meeting with President Juan Manuel Santos Calderón, as well as the foreign minister and the defense minister. Kerry moved on to Brasília, Brazil the next day for meetings with President Dilma Rousseff and Foreign Minister Antonio de Aguiar Patriota. It was Kerry’s first visit to Latin America as Secretary of State, and a most disappointing debut.

Kerry spent most of his energy in an unpersuasive effort to defend the Obama administration over embarrassing revelations of mass U.S. eavesdropping on Latin American nationals, promising a fuller explanation at some unspecified later date. Kerry, who in fact developed a reputation as a senator attuned to the sensitivities of Latin America, labored to shore up sagging U.S. influence in the region. He dutifully rehearsed the conventional U.S. agenda for the region: more neoliberal economic policies, support for the U.S.-led war on illegal drugs, and cooperation in stemming the flow of unauthorized immigration. Read more ..

Broken Education

Don't Stifle the Schools of Tomorrow

August 31st 2013

Student at Blackboard-Togo

For all of the doom and gloom surrounding the American education system, it is an exciting time to be involved in schooling.

Yes, it is true that on international assessments, American students have been found to lag behind their peers around the world. On the most recent iteration of the Trends in International Math and Science Study exam, U.S. eight graders scored just above the international average in math, placing them in the same pack as Hungary and Slovenia, well below Asian nations like South Korea and Japan.

It is also true that reports show an intellectual gulf between where students are when graduating from high school and where they need to be for college. ACT, for example, reported that only 25 percent of students that took its exam hit college readiness benchmarks in all four subjects. But at the same time, all across the country numerous organizations are rethinking how to deliver instruction and redefining what it means to be a "school" and a "teacher." Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

Losing Isn't Better

August 30th 2013

John Kerry

"It's a pity they can’t both lose.” So Henry Kissinger famously said about Iran and Iraq during their long and ugly war in the 1980s. Having squandered the many opportunities created by the uprising in Syria against the regime of Bashar al-Assad, and with the Syrian opposition increasingly dominated by al Qaeda-associated fighters, this has now become the de facto policy of the Obama administration.

Even accounting for Secretary of State John Kerry’s finely crafted expression of outrage at “the indiscriminate slaughter of civilians, the killing of women and children and innocent bystanders by chemical weapons,” actions he called a “moral obscenity,” the White House remains strategically and militarily ambiguous. Interviewed on PBS NewsHour, President Obama repeatedly struck a “jaw-jaw” tone that undercut Kerry’s “war-war” speech. “I have not made a decision” to attack Syria, he told Gwen Ifill and Judy Woodruff. Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

President Obama has Big Choices on Syria

August 29th 2013

Free Syrian Army fighters

What will the commander-in-chief order our military to do in Syria, and what will it accomplish?

President Obama has two big sets of choices should he want to launch military action against Syria: What to do before the first shot is fired, and what to do once military action commences. As U.S. warships cruise off Syria, Obama’s national security team has already presented him with a menu of options. For a president who likes to take his time deliberating, decision time is fast approaching.

Question one: Go it alone? The president abhors unilateralism; it was one of his big objections to the war in Iraq, and to earlier intervention in Libya. But the UN Security Council is a nonstarter, given veto promises by close Syria ally Russia. No wonder the State Department said on Wednesday the U.S. would do what it needs to do with or without the UN. Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

America’s Impending Defeat in Syria

August 29th 2013

Barack Obama in Thought

It’s really pretty simple. The American people understandably don’t want to go to war with Syria — not to mention with Syria’s patron, Iran — and especially not for the goal of putting the Muslim Brotherhood and murderous Islamists into power there. Going to war is a serious matter, to say the least. There’s no assurance how long it will take, how many lives it will cost, and what turns it may take. And the Middle East has just had several examples of these wars.

Iraq and Afghanistan cost a lot of money and lives as they extended for a much longer time than had been expected. In addition, they derailed the Bush administration’s electoral fortunes and domestic programs. With the main emphasis of the Obama administration being a fundamental transformation of America, such distractions are not desired. Read more ..

Cities on Edge

Wanted: A Modern, Global Mayor

August 28th 2013

New York skyline dusk

New York’s upcoming mayoral election is a pivotal one, and not just because Mayor Bloomberg is leaving office after 12 intense years. This election also coincides with a remarkable shift in power and leadership in the country as a whole, which is radically altering and elevating the role and responsibility of mayors.

New York City’s mayor, executive of the nation’s largest city by far, should be among the leaders of this new, ambitious group of public chief executives.

It is no secret that U.S. cities face enormous challenges. The country needs to gain 10 million jobs to make up for the jobs lost in the Great Recession and to keep up with population growth; the vast majority of those jobs will be created in cities and their surrounding metropolitan areas. We also need better jobs to counter the sharp growth in poverty and near-poverty: Between 2000 and 2011, the number of poor and near-poor in the United States increased from 81 million to 107 million. Read more ..

The Media on Edge

Beware al-Jazeera Coming to America

August 27th 2013


Al-Jazeera is "breaking in with something we think is unique, and are confident, with our guts and some research, that the American people are looking for," according to its America's president Kate O'Brian. If she is claiming "guts" and "research" are among the qualities sought by American viewers, she may be right, although what puts Al-Jazeera uniquely in a position to provide either is unclear. In a Time.com article, Al-Jazeera political analyst Marwan Bishara worried that it would become "too American," with too many American accents and "watered down" journalism – hardly the stuff of unique "guts."

The real concern for American viewers is not the quality of the product on the screen, but rather two mostly hidden issues: the government behind the network, and the difference between Al-Jazeera's Arabic and English versions. Read more ..

Broken Healthcare

Fear-Mongering Won't Scuttle Obamacare

August 26th 2013


Opponents of Obamacare know that time is not on their side. If they can’t kill the health care law by threatening to shut down the government, as some Republicans are suggesting, the game will be over, and they know it. That’s because there is an expiration date on their long-running campaign to scare the bejesus out of Americans about the awful things that will happen if health care reform is not mortally wounded by year’s end.

Fear mongering has a shelf life. The strategy the president’s opponents have been using to influence public opinion is based on the premise that people fear the unknown. Most of us just don’t like uncertainty.

President Obama signed the Affordable Care Act into law on March 23, 2010, but the most important consumer benefits and protections won’t go into effect until January 1, 2014. That has given the president’s political adversaries three and a half years to spread lies and misinformation. Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

The Day After Assad Wins: The Hard Truths About Post-War Syria

August 25th 2013

pro-Assad Rally Damascus

We will probably never know whether Bashar al-Assad lost any sleep over the horrific chemical weapons attacks he allegedly ordered during his country's ongoing civil war. But Syria's president has probably already taken solace in the fact that, despite the thousands of Syrians who have lost their lives in the fighting, things could have easily gone worse for him personally. With insurgents losing ground to the regime's forces and succumbing to ever more infighting among themselves, it seems increasingly likely that Assad will avoid losing the war -- which will qualify, in this context, as an outright win.

For the many countries, including the United States, that have based their policies on the hope that Assad would eventually be forced from power, Assad's resilience has probably come as a disappointment. (But given their generally indecisive interventions in the war, the outcome should not come as a shock.) Nevertheless, Washington and its allies need to reckon with the bitter trajectory that Syria is now on. The regime that emerges from the civil war will be more oppressive and more anarchic than the brutal yet stable one that existed before the war. Read more ..

Broken Education

College Costs Will Keep Rising Under Obama Plan

August 24th 2013


Colleges’ exploitation of young Americans through rapidly rising and increasingly exorbitant fees is a national scandal that can no longer be ignored. In his college tour this week, President Barack Obama is speaking at length about what he intends to do about it, after promising “tough love” on higher education for the last two years. Some of what he proposes is good in principle; some is very bad.

He wants to expand access to information on colleges by having the Department of Education issue a ranking of institutions relating outcomes to costs. The government has the power, via the Internal Revenue Service, to get some interesting data on college graduates’ earnings, and providing that data to consumers would be useful. Even independent college rankings -- such as those published by U.S. News & World Report and Forbes (the latter compiled by my Center for College Affordability and Productivity) -- could be improved with more data.

Tying federal funding after 2018 to the new federal ratings, which in turn incorporate performance measures such as graduation rates, may be a step toward giving colleges incentives to take cost reduction seriously. But the potential for unintended and damaging consequences is high: If the key to federal funding is raising graduation rates, colleges may lower already abysmally low standards. Similarly, the proposed funds for promoting educational innovation are, in principle, a good idea. But previous federal education spending in this area has had a pretty dismal result. Read more ..

Obama's Second Term

DHS Hired Racist Official Accused of Advocating Killing Whites

August 23rd 2013

A left-leaning, public-interest legal group exposed a Homeland Security Department department head of creating and maintaining a web site dedicated to advocating the killing of white people and black conservatives, according to a report on Thursday.

The Homeland Security Department official is authorized to buy weapons and ammunition for the numerous government agencies that came under the umbrella of the DHS when it was created, according to Southern Poverty Law Center officials. What the SPCL found disturbing was that DHS manager Ayo Kimathi operates an inflammatory web site that features gay slurs and the murder of "whites" and the "ethnic cleansing" of "Uncle Tom race traitors," according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. Read more ..

The Arab Winter of Rage

Whatever Happened to the Arab Spring

August 22nd 2013

Shouting Muslims in Cairo

As Egypt explodes in what could be civil war, with a reported death toll of at least 628 dead and rising in clashes between security forces and Islamists that began August 14, many are wondering, whatever happened to the Arab Spring? That is, to the wave of popular uprisings against the long-lasting dictatorships of the Middle East and North Africa that began nearly three years ago in Tunisia, and brought the promise of democracy to the region at last?

And what should the U.S. do now that the Muslim Brotherhood--President Obama's chosen horse in the race for control of the largest Arab state and our most important Arab ally—has apparently lost?

To answer the first question, the Arab Spring never happened as advertised. Rather than a series of straightforward, largely peaceful popular risings led by social-media savvy youth that swept decades-old repressive regimes into the dustbin of history, as first portrayed by the media, something else occurred.

In their place were a couple of military coups in Tunisia and Egypt, prompted by—or under the cover of—of the largest demonstrations yet seen in those countries; armed uprisings in Libya and Syria (the former successful with help from the U.S. and NATO, the latter locked in a stalemate that has claimed a 100,000 lives), and scattered demonstrations that have led nowhere--or next to it--in Bahrain, Iraq, Jordan, Palestine, Sudan and beyond. Read more ..

The Arab Winter of Rage

Why the Arab Spring hasn't Failed in Egypt and the Middle East

August 21st 2013

2012 Egyptian Elections

So much for the Arab Spring. In Cairo, Egyptian history appears to have completed a bloody full circle. First the crowds filled Tahrir Square to demand the end of a military-backed dictatorship. Then, just two years later, the crowds filled Tahrir Square again to demand the restoration of a military-backed dictatorship.

Now, within weeks of the coup that overthrew the democratically elected government of Mohamed Morsi, massacre has become the new normal in Cairo. In 2011, Egypt seemed to have reached a turning point – but it ended up turning 360 degrees. We are back to a “temporary” martial law that will probably last for years. Read more ..

Israel and Palestinians

The Triumph of Illusion

August 20th 2013

Mahmoud Abbas and Yassir Arafat

The Palestine Liberation Organization was created in 1964. Like most revolutionary movements, it wrote a Charter to define its aims and fundamental policies, including:

Article 17: The partitioning of Palestine, which took place in 1947, and the establishment of Israel are illegal and null and void, regardless of the loss of time...

Article 18: The Balfour Declaration, the Palestine Mandate System, and all that has been based on them are considered null and void. The claims of historic and spiritual ties between Jews and Palestine are not in agreement with the facts of history or with the true basis of sound statehood. Judaism... is not a nationality (and) the Jews are not one people with an independent personality...

Article 19: Zionism is a colonialist movement in its inception, aggressive and expansionist in its goal, racist in its configurations, and fascist in its means and aims...

Article 24: This Organization does not exercise any territorial sovereignty over the West Bank in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, (or) on the Gaza Strip. Read more ..

The Way We Are

World Humanitarian Day: The Courage of Humanitarian Workers

August 19th 2013

Humanitarian aid

Today is World Humanitarian Day – a time to remember the courageous people who risk their lives and give up the comforts of everyday life to bring assistance to those whose lives are shattered by war and disasters. I’ve been working the past couple of weeks on Syrian displacement, sifting through hundreds of reports by aid workers from many organizations – UN agencies, NGO staff, Red Cross/Red Crescent societies, diaspora groups, governmental aid agencies, faith-based groups. The reports tell a terrible story of what is happening inside Syria and the human consequences of a conflict the international community seems incapable of stopping.

The conflict seems intractable and as the International Crisis Group recently concluded “the optimal solution – a negotiated, diplomatic one – at this stage belongs pretty much to the world of make-believe.” It seems impossible to get meaningful action through the UN Security Council. Supplying arms to the rebels raises thorny issues about who will use the arms and where they will end up. There are complex regional dimensions in play; every political actor in the region seems to have a stake in this conflict. As we’ve seen in other conflicts, notably Bosnia, when the quest for a political solution reaches an impasse, attention turns to humanitarian response. ‘Even if we can’t stop the war,’ the argument goes, ‘at least we can help the victims.’ In the case of Syria, that means sending aid to help the refugees pouring out of the country, increasing funding for the few international organizations which are able to work inside Syria, and supporting under-the-radar operations in rebel-controlled territory. Read more ..

The Battle for Egypt

Abdullah Should Put His Money Where His Mouth Is

August 18th 2013

King Abdullah2

Vacationing President Obama conceded the obvious, “America cannot determine the future of Egypt,” he said. He went on to declare, “We don’t take sides with any particular party or political figure,” only to contradict himself by announcing the cancellation of U.S.-Egyptian joint military exercises “while civilians are being killed in the streets.”

The Saudis, however, have little doubt regarding the Brothers’ political agenda. Saudi King Abdullah reiterated the Kingdom’s backing of the Egyptian military and “Egyptian brothers against terrorism, deviance and sedition and against those who try to interfere in Egypt’s internal affairs and its legitimate rights in deterring those tampering with and misleading its people.” He called “on the honest men of Egypt and the Arab and Muslim nations … to stand as one man and with one heart in the face of attempts to destabilise a country that is at the forefront of Arab and Muslim history.”

Jordan and the UAE (except for Qatar), which are also threatened by the Muslim Brotherhood’s calls for an “Islamic uprising (overthrowing the current rulers),” find Obama’s and European leaders’ support of the radical anti-Western Muslim Brotherhood difficult to understand.

There is growing critisim of American and European officials and commentators support of the Muslim Brotherhood’s “democratic” election and/or future participation in government. The Saudi Gazette pointed out, “The bloodshed … effectively ends the open political role of the Brotherhood, which survived for 85 years as an underground movement before emerging from the shadows after the 2011 uprising.” Read more ..

The Arab Winter of Rage

Egypt's Quest for Democracy in Context

August 18th 2013

Hijab and flag

It's impossible to tell whether it is an infection from the hysterical Mideast Arabic and English commentaries on radio and TV. Or is it twaddle the result of misunderstanding of the complexity of the issues? Whatever, our talking heads are more than usually befuddled about events in Egypt. And they are lending further confusion to an already impossibly muddled situation with Obama Administration attempts to straddle the unstraddable.

No, "democracy" was not overthrown in Egypt, nor can it be restored with the ouster of the present puppet government established by the military. "Democracy" is not simply elections, however fairly they may be managed--and we in the U.S. know something about the difficulties of that. It requires a whole set of values, not the least, the concept of the individual and his right to his own thoughts and, in so far as he does not harm others, actions. That has rarely if ever existed anywhere in the Arab-Muslim world--except perhaps for a brief glimpse of it, ironically, under what is now Pakistan in late British colonial days. (Now, for example, in Pakistan proselytizing for a religion other than Islam, and that is often interpreted in exaggerated ways, brings the death sentence. A leading political figure was not only assassinated for advocating its amendment two years ago but his confessed murderer was cheered in courtroom scenes--by lawyers!) Read more ..

Defense on Edge

The Military Epidemics That Aren't

August 17th 2013

Army in Afghanistan

There is a growing presumption in the West that war dehumanizes those who experience combat, or, in more extreme expressions, even those who only serve in the military. In this country, for example, journalist Robert Koehler writes of war itself as a "disease," one that produces a nearly infinite variety of violent "symptoms."

The wars of the post-9/11 era, particularly in Iraq and Afghanistan, might seem to reinforce the point—the Abu Ghraib scandal, for instance, or atrocities committed by U.S. soldiers like Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, who murdered 16 Afghan civilians in March 2012. Then there are the supposedly high rates of suicide, post-traumatic stress and sexual aggression, all of which tempt one to regard the military itself as a dehumanizing institution in need of therapeutic intervention.

Soldiers, in this view, are no longer seen as models of self-control, courage and patriotism. Instead they are victims and should be treated as patients. Yet the links between combat, the military and mental health are more complex than the war-as-disease construct allows. Read more ..

The Middle East on Edge

'To Hell With Them' Sums Up American Exasperation with Middle East

August 16th 2013

Islamist Protest PostMorsi

Maybe everyone is misreading America's views on foreign policy?

Among Republicans, there's a big argument between the so-called isolationist wing of the party and the ostensibly interventionist wing. On the left, there's a similar debate (though liberals are never described as isolationists no matter how isolationist they might be). Among Democrats, the dividing lines are murkier if for no other reason than the Democratic Party takes its lead from President Obama, and his own views are murky, to put it charitably.

The biggest boon to the anti-interventionists is the simple political reality that Americans just don't want to intervene in Syria. They also want to get out of Afghanistan. They don't seem to care much that Iraq is slowly sliding back into chaos. The footage out of Egypt may be horrific, but I would be surprised by any groundswell of sympathy for the Muslim Brotherhood. Read more ..

Broken Healthcare

Health Insurance Exchanges and the Affordable Care Act: What To Expect on October 1

August 15th 2013

No Obamacare

You have probably heard the classic definition of the Yiddish word "chutzpah"—it defines the behavior of the youngster on trial for killing both his parents who pleads for mercy because he is an orphan. The current behavior of the Republican party with respect to implementation of the Affordable Care Act (a.k.a. Obamacare) fits that definition pretty well. Republicans are vociferously predicting that implementation of the that law will fail and simultaneously doing all they can to produce that outcome. They seek to stop spending to implement the law. Officials in many states have adopted a stance reminiscent of "massive resistance," the South's futile effort to block implementation of the Supreme Court's decision banning school segregation. A state legislator in South Carolina even proposed that the state give tax credits to help defray any penalties state residents might incur from defying the federal law. Read more ..

Broken Government

Lawmakers Demand Emails from Lois Lerner

August 14th 2013


Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., chairman of the powerful House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, and Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, chairman of the Subcommittee of Regulatory Affairs, on Tuesday submitted an official letter to the Internal Revenue Service's Lois Lerner seeking e-mails related to her official duties in her non-government e-mail account.

“Through the course of the investigation, we have learned that you sent documents related to your official duties from your official IRS e-mail account to an msn.com e-mail account labeled ‘Lois Home,’” the letter sent to Lerner states. “This raises some serious questions concerning your use of a non-official e-mail account to conduct official business.” Read more ..

Broken Government

We're No. 1-- In Public Employee Pay

August 13th 2013

US Capital Day

Amid the recent hubbub over municipal bankruptcies and rising public-employee pension costs, pay for state and local government employees has gotten a great deal of publicity. Lost in the press attention, however, is that federal-employee compensation remains a problem, too, and new data again indicate that Washington, D.C., may be overpaying for the two million workers it employs.

In a 2011 AEI paper with Jason Richwine, I concluded that federal workers receive salaries and benefits around 37 percent higher than do private-sector workers with similar levels of education and experience. This prompted congressional requests for the Congressional Budget Office to conduct its own analysis, which, the requesters hoped, would rebut ours. Using slightly different methods, the CBO showed a smaller wage premium for federal workers. They omitted a $2.3 billion per year federal subsidy to government workers’ accounts held by the Thrift Savings Plan, but still reached qualitatively similar conclusions: Federal workers receive pay and benefits 16 percent above private-sector levels. Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

The Rebirth of Al-Qaeda

August 12th 2013


I must be mistaken. I was told that Al-Qaeda was basically wiped out; for all intents and purposes it was dead. Nope, that was Detroit. Al-Qaeda is very much alive as evidenced by the closing of embassies and consulates throughout the Middle East and Islamic world.

Wait, I must be confused again. The election of President Barrack Obama promised to usher in a new age of love from the Muslim sphere. Nope, somehow the words “love” got mixed up with “revulsion.”

The drone attacks in Yemen signal a possible ramp up in kinetic action against Al-Qaeda. Hold on now. The administration promised no more war and pledged to try to withdraw all the military from areas of conflict. Oh, I see. Because drones are robots piloted from simulators in Utah, it is ok and not actual boots-on-the-ground.

The hard reality is this: the current Al-Qaeda in the Middle East has arisen like a phoenix from the ashes of Al-Qaeda Iraq (AQI). It has helped plunge Iraq back into a civil war, is fighting against Assad in Syria, operating in Libya, and training in Yemen.

The Arab Spring gave Al-Qaeda the perfect opportunity to move into the chaos that ensued. We absconded the field and hung any allies out to dry. We still have troops scattered throughout the Middle East, but none are in a position to start fighting a hot war in a faraway nation (outside Afghanistan that is).

Yes, the Bush administration is responsible for creating AQI by invading Iraq. Just like the US helped create what would become the Taliban during the Afghan war against the Soviets. Read more ..

The Media on Edge

The Death of The Washington Post

August 12th 2013


"In the good old days" a reader's world was filled with newspapers, several coexisted competitively in a single urban area and even in the rural hinterlands. The choice for a subscriber for dawn home delivery by a boy on a bicycle or picked up at the local newsstand en route to work was based on one's "worldview," however vague. It was a filter for what was then considered a welter of reporting of events out there in the wide world, although in America before World War II largely confined to North American happenings.

Needless to say, that day is long since going, going, gone, for an institution that has been with us for three centuries, or maybe even earlier if you count something the Chinese, as usual, invented along with movable type. But it was not until the 19th century that newspapers took on the importance that The American Founders ascribed to them. That was summed up in Thomas Jefferson's famous dictum: "The basis of our government's being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right; and were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter." Jefferson was writing to a fellow Virginia politician to endorse the adoption of the Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments to the Constitution including guarantees for freedom of the press. They were designed to meet the objections then--and now--of those who opposed big government and feared its depredations. Read more ..

Russia on Edge

Putting Russia on the Right Path

August 11th 2013


I was relieved to learn Wednesday that President Barack Obama canceled a planned summit meeting with Vladimir Putin. It was the right thing to do, given the Russian president’s recent bad behavior. But there’s much more the United States can and must do to help put Russia on the right track.

The European Court of Human Rights recently ordered the Russian government to pay damages for violating the rights of former Yukos Oil Co. CEO Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who has been languishing in jail ever since the state took over his company a decade ago. Russia’s expropriation of Yukos and Putin’s escalating crackdown on political opponents continue to have repercussions not just for Khodorkovsky and his fellow Russians, but for thousands of foreign investors — including many Americans — who were caught in the crossfire between Khodorkovsky and the Kremlin. My Senate colleagues and I addressed this problem last year in legislation that grants Russia permanent normal trade relations with the United States. We hoped that the Obama administration would use the bill to work with Russia on a robust rule of law agenda. Read more ..

Broken Intelligence

Is NSA Leaker Edward Snowden a Traitor?

August 10th 2013


The White House has cancelled a planned summit meeting next month between President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin and one of the reasons given was Moscow’s decision to grant asylum to an American who leaked top secret information.

The American, former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden, is wanted in the United States on espionage charges after he leaked information about how the super-secret National Security Agency (NSA) monitors U.S. and international telephone and Internet traffic.  

Snowden is now living in Russia after spending more than a month in the transit area of a Moscow airport. But his plight has triggered a discussion on the issue of treason. In other words, is Snowden a traitor?

For John Bolton, former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, the issue is clear. “I do consider him a traitor. He has taken vital secrets of the United States, undoubtedly given some to China, given some to Russia – Russia and China may have them all now for what we know,” Bolton states. Read more ..

Oil Addiction

Rest in Peace, OPEC

August 9th 2013

Oil well

It happened to potash. It can happen to oil.

Last week marked the collapse of one of the last remaining cartels in the world economy—the potash cartel. Potash is a critical ingredient in the production of the fertilizers that help grow our food. For decades, the global potash industry has been dominated by Belarusian Potash Company (BPC), a joint venture between the Belarusian Belaruskali and the Russian Uralkali, together producing about a third of the world’s potash supply. On July 30th Uralkali broke away from BPC and directed its exports to China, consumer of one fifth of the world’s supply, via its own distribution channels. The announcement rocked the potash industry. Potash miners worldwide lost a third of their share value, and the commodity’s price is projected to slump by thirty percent. The breakup of the potash cartel should soon translate into lower fertilizer prices, which should in turn lower wholesale food prices. But as a new World Bank report confirms, the biggest contributor to increases in food prices over the last several years was neither the price of potash nor, as many still mistakenly believe, demand for biofuels, but rather the price of oil. Read more ..

Egypt's Second Revolution

"Radicalizing" the Muslim Brotherhood

August 8th 2013

Following another night of violence in Cairo during which 72 people were killed, The New York Times accused the military led government of Abdul Fattah al Sisi of "radicalizing" the Muslim Brotherhood. "For all its stated commitment to democracy and nonviolence, the Brotherhood's only reliable partners now are other Islamist groups whose members may be more willing to use violent or radical tactics -- partners that would tar the Brotherhood's identity as a more pragmatic movement with a broader base."

The poor Brotherhood. It seems, according to The Times, that people it cannot control are pushing it into violence it does not want. Pardon, but how do you "radicalize" an organization the credo of which is, "Allah is our objective; the Quran is our law, the Prophet is our leader; Jihad is our way; and death for the sake of Allah is the highest of our aspirations"? The Brotherhood was born in violence and knows the value not only of violence, but also of martyrdom. Since its ouster, its leaders have been threatening and inciting violence, hoping to provoke the secular government into killing.

The organization works much the same way Hamas -- the Brotherhood's Palestinian franchise -- does. Hamas implants its military capabilities, storehouses and launch sites in civilian neighborhoods in Gaza. From behind the captive civilians, it fires rockets and missiles at Israeli towns, putting on high alert a million people on who will have exactly 15 seconds to find shelter when the alarm goes off. When the situation becomes intolerable, Israel responds and Hamas wins: if the Israelis are cautious, and there are no civilian casualties, Hamas has terrorized Israel with no consequence. If there are civilian casualties, Hamas wins again, bewailing Israeli brutality in front of Western media. Read more ..

Broken Intelligence

Manipulating the U.S. Intelligence Community Shouldn't Be This Easy

August 7th 2013

Embassy Attacks 9-12-12

The US government shut down all US embassies in the Middle East for the first weekend in August and notified all US persons traveling abroad that they face extra danger of being set upon by terrorists. Because, says the official announcement, US Intelligence detected "increased chatter" among suspected terrorists that contained "specific threats." The closings and warnings are dreadful policy. The intelligence on the basis of which the policy was made suffers from a lack of quality control - counterintelligence in the language of the trade - so serious as to expose US policy makers to being manipulated by foreign enemies. Read more ..

Israel and Palestine

Palestinians Dismiss Prisoner Release as a "Bribe"

August 6th 2013

Dome of the Rock

They regard the prisoner release as something Israel was supposed to have done anyway, many years ago. Many will continue to see it as as part of an Israeli-American scheme to extract concessions, and will continue to attack Abbas for "succumbing" to US presure.

The argument that the release of Palestinian prisoners boosts the standing of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and "moderate" Palestinians and facilitates the resumption of peace talks with Israel is not necessarily true.

Many Palestinians do not see Israel's decision to release more than 100 Palestinians who were imprisoned before the signing of the Oslo Accords two decades ago as a gesture on the part of Israel.

Rather, they regard the Israeli move as something that Israel was supposed to have done anyway, many years ago.

As Saeb Erekat, the chief PLO negotiator, explained: "This Israeli cabinet decision is an overdue step towards the implementation of the Sharm Sheikh agreement of 1999, whereby Israel committed to release all the pre-Oslo prisoners. We welcome this decision 14 years later."

So unlike the US and other Western governments, the Palestinian Authority does not see the release of prisoners as a conciliatory move on the part of the Israeli government. Moreover, Palestinian Authority representatives do not believe there is a link between the release of prisoners and progress toward achieving peace between Israelis and Palestinians. Many of the prisoners who are scheduled to be released do not even belong to Abbas's Fatah faction. Read more ..

Borken Economy

Economy is Sick and Prospects are Dim

August 5th 2013

I am not your ATM

The U.S. economy is sick. And it's not getting any better despite the inherent vitality and innate resources which do spring to life intermittently from the world's largest and most important economic enterprise. In fact, it may be growing worse in terms of basic issues.

Vested interests--the Obama Administration, economists living in perennial statistical delirium, and the Administration's media claque led by government-subsidized National Public Radio/Marketplace--have been grasping at straws. Despite their paeans based on Washington's manipulated statistics, the reality is quite different.

One stark element stands out: a catastrophic loss of jobs and increasing, not decreasing, unemployment, particularly among semi- and unskilled workers and among recently university leavers. The Administration and its backers perform a statistical hat trick in calculating a declining unemployment percentage against the working population. But what is not emphasized is that the total labor force is rapidly declining, due in large part to disillusioned workers dropping out as they find it more and more difficult to find employment and take advantage of government benefits. (Almost 50 million people are on the government's give-away food program. A third of a million workers are at any given time receiving unemployment benefits.) Read more ..

Broken Economy

Wild About Larry

August 4th 2013

Federal Reserve

Can a couple dozen Democratic senators and the New York Times editorial board be wrong?

You bet they can. Both are advocating Janet Yellen’s appointment to be the next chair of the U.S. Federal Reserve, claiming that those who prefer Larry Summers as the Fed’s big cheese are closet sexists in bed with the banking lobby.

These advocates, along with a host of left-leaning pundits, say they are concerned about Summers’s involvement in financial markets, as a paid consultant to megabank Citigroup, hedge funds like DE Shaw, and other financial institutions, while clucking about what a shame it would be for President Obama to pass up the chance of nominating the first woman for the top Fed post. Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.) has made clear her preference for Yellen, telling CNN, “a woman as head of the Fed, a qualified woman, would be a positive thing for this administration.” Even the Wall Street Journal has fanned the flames, headlining one article,” Summers Faces Hit on Potential Fed Nod Over His Wall Street Ties.” Read more ..

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