Honduras on Edge
|Ekow Bartels- Kodwo||June 16th 2012|
In a highly controversial move, the newly minted chief of Honduras’ national police force, Juan Carlos Bonilla Valladares, has announced that 4,000 police officers will be discharged from the force in an attempt to purge it of the endemic corruption and impunity that has plagued the country. This decision follows last week’s swearing-in of Bonilla, commonly known as ‘El Tigre,’ and last month’s firing of Ricardo Ramirez del Cid due to allegations linking him to the killing of Alfredo Villatoro. Reports claim that police were involved in the murder of Villatoro, a close confidant of President Porfirio Lobo.
These recent sordid events have two main implications. Bonilla has had his own issues with corruption and impunity, which should cast immediate doubt on the integrity of the purge. More immediately, the loss of a large quantity of police officers in Honduras may have devastating consequences for the security of Hondurans.
President Lobo has received some praise for this appointment. Long-time critic of Honduras’ human rights record Ramon Custodio has said that Bonilla’s appointment sends the right message about the president’s commitment to fighting crime. The new chief has been given a formidable amount of power, as demonstrated by the dismissal of the 4,000 officers, as well as his ability to dismiss any member of the national police who refuses to undergo a background check. Read more ..
Education on Edge
|Justin W. van Fleet and Anda Adams||June 16th 2012|
The Brookings Institution
The UNESCO Institute for Statistics and the Global Monitoring Report recently released new numbers for out of school children. According to the data, 61 million children of primary school age were not in school in 2010. At first glance, this seems like an improvement over the 67 million kids reported out of school in 2009. Unfortunately, that’s not the case.
If you take a look at the footnotes, you find that UNESCO used new UN Population Division data to calculate the number of out-of-school children. Using the new calculations, UNESCO had previously revised the 2009 statistic down to 61 million. While we should be outraged that we are only able to analyze education statistics that are two years out-of-date, we should be more outraged about what this says about our commitment to education: it is stagnating and declining. Read more ..
America on Edge
| Anna Chennault, Richard Nixon, Nguyen Van Thieu (l-r)|
On the thousands of hours of White House tapes Richard Nixon secretly recorded, you can hear him order exactly one burglary. It wasn’t Watergate, but it reveals the real root of the cover-up that toppled a President.
On June 17, 1971, (one year to the date before the Watergate arrests, by impure coincidence) Nixon ordered his inner circle to break into the Brookings Institution. “Blow the safe and get it,” the president said. “It” was a file of secret government documents on the 1968 bombing halt.
“What good will it do you, the bombing halt file?” asked National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger seconds after the president ordered his top aides to commit a felony.
“To blackmail him,” Nixon replied. President Lyndon Johnson had halted the bombing of North Vietnam less than a week before Election Day. Nixon claimed LBJ did it for political reasons, to throw the election to his vice president, Hubert Humphrey.
Kissinger knew better, since he had inside information about the talks. Having worked on an abortive bombing halt deal for Johnson in 1967, Kissinger used his connections with LBJ’s negotiators then to gain access to the Paris talks in 1968 -- access he used as a secret informant to the Nixon campaign.
“You remember, I used to give you information about it at the time,” Kissinger reminded the president. “To the best of my knowledge, there was never any conversation in which they said we’ll hold it until the end of October. I wasn’t in on the discussions here. I just saw the instructions to [Ambassador Averell] Harriman,” the chief U.S. negotiator in Paris. (Kissinger’s words on tape contradict his later claim that he didn’t even have access to classified information at the time.) Read more ..
The Obama Edge
President Obama told the United Auto Workers (UAW) in February not to listen to critics of the auto bailout who said union members “made out like bandits—that saving the auto industry was just about paying back the unions.” “Really?” Obama said. “I mean, even by the standards of this town [Washington], that’s a load of you-know-what.” New research from Heritage labor economist James Sherk proves that it was, in fact, a load of truth.
The Treasury Department estimates that taxpayers will lose $23 billion on the auto bailout. Sherk and co-author Todd Zywicki find that none of these losses came from saving jobs, but instead went to prop up the compensation of some of the most highly paid workers in America. "We estimate that the Administration redistributed $26.5 billion more to the UAW than it would have received had it been treated as it usually would in bankruptcy proceedings. Taxpayers lost between $20 billion and $23 billion on the auto programs. Thus, the entire loss to the taxpayers from the auto bailout comes from the funds diverted to the UAW." They write. Read more ..
|Alexander Bolton||June 14th 2012|
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said this week that President Obama never made a sincere effort to reach out to him after the 2008 election. McCain was once seen as a potential ally of Obama. But far from becoming a partner — as the left hoped for and the right feared — McCain has turned into one of Obama’s thorniest adversaries.
“Let’s get real here,” McCain said. “There was never any outreach from President Obama or anyone in his administration to me.” McCain disputes the notion that he has rejected entreaties to cooperate with the White House because he is bitter from his defeat four years ago. He said he expressed eagerness to work with the president on immigration reform and the line-item veto, but has been left out in the cold.
McCain, the ranking Republican on the Armed Services Committee, also said Obama failed to consult with him on national-security issues. “He never asked for advice on national-security nominees,” McCain said. Some Republicans thought the Arizona Republican would emerge as a bipartisan dealmaker who could help Obama achieve his goal of bringing Democrats and Republicans together to address major policy problems. Read more ..
|Jonah Goldberg||June 14th 2012|
Compromise has always been a holy word for the Washington establishment. But against the backdrop of ever-increasing anxiety over our fiscal dysfunction, most particularly the next budget showdown, the word has taken on a tone of anger, desperation and even panic.
But in all its usages these days, "compromise" remains a word for bludgeoning Republicans. "Congress isn't just stalemated, it's broken, experts say," proclaims the typical headline, this one in The Miami Herald. And the experts say it's all the Republicans' fault.
"The challenge we have right now is that we have on one side, a party that will brook no compromise," President Obama explained at the Associated Press Luncheon in April. The Republicans' "radical vision," Obama insisted, "is antithetical to our entire history as a land of opportunity." The speech was hailed as a "thunderclap" by the editors of The New York Times because Obama signaled he was done asking Republicans to put their "destructive agenda" aside. "In this speech, he finally conceded that the (Republican Party) has demonstrated no interest in the values of compromise and realism." Read more ..
Venezuela on Edge
|Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez|
Recently, Henrique Capriles, the youthful governor of Miranda state in Venezuela, launched his campaign to rid the country of Hugo Chávez at the presidential election scheduled for October this year. Joined by thousands of supporters, the newly minted candidate led a six-mile procession through the capital city, Caracas. Their final destination was the office of the national election board, where Capriles formally registered his candidacy.
The march showcased Capriles, whose Jewish origins have been mercilessly attacked by the Chavistas, as the anti-Chávez—not just figuratively, but literally as well. By marching for a long distance over a short space of time, Capriles wanted his fellow Venezuelans to see him as the picture of health, in marked contrast to the ailing Chávez. For more than a year now, Chávez’s physical condition has been subjected to the sort of rolling speculation typically reserved for dictators. Until June 9, Chávez had released virtually no information about the terminal cancer he is widely believed to be suffering from. Then, one day before the Capriles march, he summoned journalists to his presidential palace to tell them, “I feel very good.” The following day, Chávez held a buoyant election rally of his own. Read more ..
Latin America on Edge
|Luis Fleischman ||June 13th 2012|
Cutting Edge Latin America analyst
The 42nd General Assembly of the Organization of American States (OAS) took place in Cochabamba, Bolivia on June 4, 2012. Again the coming together of all the nations of the Western Hemisphere was effectively used by the Bolivarian countries to weaken the OAS Democratic Charter and reduce the influence of the United States. As during the Summit of the Americas this past April, Venezuela and its allies in the Bolivarian alliance insisted on the inclusion of Cuba. One after another ALBA country helped put an end to the summit without any resolution. This is a continuation of the Bolivarian policy of sabotaging what they consider to be American-dominated traditional institutions. The Summit of the Americas and the OAS General Assembly belong to the same category. Concurrently, new inter-American institutions are being created that exclude the United States and Canada.
What happened at the OAS General Assembly was another very sophisticated step. It went beyond sabotage. It is important to analyze every step in order to understand what actually happened in Cochabamba. Bolivian president, Evo Morales opened the assembly by launching an attack on Chile. He demanded that Bolivia be given a territorial exit to the sea along with sovereignty over such territory. Chile has offered an exit to the sea to Bolivia but without conceding sovereignty over the territory facing the sea. Morales’s intention was to internationalize an issue that was being conducted bi-laterally. Morales is supported by Chavez who has been inciting Bolivia against Chile for a long time. The idea was to create pressure on Chile by a coalition of the left, radicals and moderates alike, to take advantage of the historical revisionist mood prevailing in the region.
It is also important to point out that Chile stands as a “in your face” symbol to the Bolivarian countries since that country is where neo-liberal policies showed significant success. Neo-liberalism is strongly rejected by the ALBA countries. Read more ..
|Audrey Singer||June 12th 2012|
The Brookings Institution
It’s been five years since we seriously attempted to reform U.S. immigration policy. Since then, partisan politics and extremist views have hijacked any sensibility on the topic, both in Congress and in many states and communities across the country. Five years ago, the Great Recession and housing crisis hadn’t yet wreaked economic havoc, crushing businesses, swelling unemployment, and threatening millions of homeowners. Back then, we had a lot less to worry about.
Reflecting those dramatic changes, immigration to the United States has slowed, but bitter immigration debates continue as economic anxiety grows. The quest for job creation, innovation and high-skills has us looking at the growing number of international students differently these days, including the ones from countries that are now our greatest competitors. In the past, we were more likely to send them home. Today, we’d like to encourage more highly-educated immigrants to stay here and contribute to our own economy. Read more ..
Spain on Edge
|Douglas J. Elliot||June 12th 2012|
The Brookings Institution
Let’s give one cheer for Europe’s announcement of a rescue for Spain’s banks. In some ways it is very good news that leaders of the eurozone have agreed to pump as much as 100 billion euros (about $125 billion) into the Spanish government’s fund for bank rescues. At the most basic level, this is money that Spain needs and will be able to borrow from its neighbors at low cost rather than expensively from the financial markets. As important, it begins to break the links between the governments of troubled eurozone countries and their often equally troubled banks by moving, very modestly, towards a so-called “banking union” to supplement the monetary union. In Greece, Ireland, Spain, and elsewhere, fiscal problems of the national governments have harmed the banks and troubles at the banks have harmed their governments, in a vicious circle. Interposing the strength of the eurozone as whole is important.
The political and psychological benefits of the agreement are also important. This substantial act of solidarity may help restore confidence that the eurozone leaders will do what needs to be done in a time of crisis. Further, it sends a signal to the Greek voters that they should not count on being able to coerce the rest of the eurozone into completely rewriting the current bailout agreement by making explicit and implicit threats to bring down the rest of the monetary union through financial contagion. (Changes should be made in the agreement, but they will not be nearly as extensive as the more radical Greek voices demand, nor should they be.) There is now probably at least a modestly greater chance that the more reasonable parties will win in the June 17 elections in Greece, avoiding the worst risks of a showdown between that country and the rest of Europe. Read more ..
|Kevin Boyle||June 12th 2012|
Last Tuesday, June 5, two elections delivered brutal blows to unions and their progressive allies. Neither was in Wisconsin.
The Wisconsin results were bad enough. Scott Walker’s widely-watched recall campaign pit organized labor against a phalanx of incredibly wealthy private donors, led by the billionaire who’d financed the swift-boating of John Kerry in 2004.
In the end Walker didn’t simply survive the recall. He won by a larger margin than he had when he was elected governor in 2010. He did considerably better in urban areas, where his percentage of the vote shot up by a startling eight percentage points. He even gained ground in union households. There’s no doubt about it. In Wisconsin labor had suffered a tough, tough defeat.
But there were also a number of mitigating factors that helped to explain the unions’ poor showing. Money, of course: thanks to his donors’ deep interest in public affairs, Walker was able to spend seven times more than his opponent, Milwaukee mayor Tom Barrett. The national Democratic Party did almost nothing to counter the right’s onslaught; Bill Clinton put in an appearance, but Barack Obama didn’t. Read more ..
The Defense Edge
|Barry Rubin||June 11th 2012|
Let me explain to you why the Obama Administration’s propaganda leak effort to prove that the president is tough on national security is nonsense. Almost every example with two exceptions—a computer virus against Iran and regime change in Libya–revolves around the willingness to combat or kill al-Qaida leaders, including Usama bin Ladin.
There has never been any question but that the Obama Administration views al-Qaida as an enemy and a danger that should be wiped out. That isn’t the problem. The problem is that this is the only factor that in the world that this administration sees as a national security threat, since al-Qaida is eager to launch direct attacks against targets on American soil.
In contrast, though, the administration does not act against any other possible national security threat be it Cuba, Bolivia, Venezuela, North Korea, China, Russia, Pakistan, Syria, Hizballah, Hamas, the Turkish Islamist regime, the Muslim Brotherhood, or anything else you can think of. The administration obviously has shown its belief that engagement, flattery, refusal to help their intended victims, and concessions can win over these enemies. It has even tried to redefine the Taliban as a group that can be conciliated and given a share in a new Afghan government, despite its involvement in September 11! Read more ..
Edge of Terrorism
On Sunday, Pakistan's Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani accused Obama of ordering unmanned aerial vehicle, or drone, strikes in his country to boost his political image.
More than a few political commentators and counterterrorism analysts on Sunday morning's television news shows spoke of President Barack Obama's abysmal week dealing with a lethargic economy, accusations of intelligence leaks and misstatements that provided ammunition for his opponents. But the criticisms didn't end there. Prime Minister Gilani's stated that Barack Obama is "using drone strikes in Pakistani tribal regions for political motives." The Prime Minister's verbal assault came a day after President Obama allegedly ordered a "sharp increase" in drone strikes in Pakistan's tribal areas aimed at killing members of al-Qaeda and the Taliban. Read more ..
The Obama Edge
In a report released June 8, a government watchdog group revealed that the Obama Administration gave a former director at the scandal-ridden left-wing front group, Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now--otherwise known as ACORN--nearly half-billion dollars to assist “struggling” homeowners in President Barack Obama's home state of Illinois. According to the public-interest group Judicial Watch, the former ACORN official, Joseph McGavin, will go from operating a corrupt leftist community group, that’s banned by Congress from receiving federal funding, to controlling over $445 million in U.S. taxpayer funds. "The money is part of a $7.6 billion Treasury Department program to help the “unemployed or substantially underemployed” make their mortgage payments," said Judicial Watch officials.
In this alleged corruption case, JW investigators discovered that a subcomponent of the state-run Illinois Housing Development Authority, known as the Illinois Hardest Hit Program, received a generous $445,603,557.00 Obama Administration gift of taxpayer cash. "It's always heartwarming to see progressives who are so generous and helpful to their fellow man. Of course, they're usually generous and helpful with other people's money. Read more ..
The Massacre in Syria
World Jewish Daily
Another day, another massacre.
The reaction from Washington? Silence, or worse, more empty rhetoric.
Syrian forces killed at least 96 rebels and civilians Saturday and Sunday in attacks across the country. According to CNN: "random shelling tormented the Homs neighborhood of Talbiseh early Sunday, pausing every four minutes only to continue with artillery and mortars. The violence followed a particularly gruesome day across Syria, where at least 96 people were killed, opposition activists said." At the same time, the opposition Syrian National Council elected a new leader, a Kurdish exile who analysts say may unite Kurdish forces with the anti-Assad militia. The Syrian National Council named Abdul Baset Sieda, a Syrian native now living in Sweden, as its leader. Read more ..
The Iranian Threat
|Shoshana Bryen||June 9th 2012|
Few things ought to be as urgent as keeping Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, yet the West – led from the front by the United States – has fallen into the "peace process" trap that considers talk to be progress and, once a conversation has begun, that there is nothing worse than stopping it. Iran understands this as a Western peculiarity, and has used it to cause a rift between Israel and the West; receive assurances that that military action is not in the offing; and begin a process that leaves the Islamic Republic in full control of its nuclear program for a negligible price.
Talk about your demands. Talk about what you've talked about. Talk about what you won't talk about. Talk about talking again. Talk again. Repeat.
Several months ago, the media was ablaze with war talk -– a potential Israeli strike against Iran, of course, but also the war between Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and his former Mossad chief, Meir Dagan. While the PM was working to keep the threat of military action on the Western agenda, Dagan was announcing to the world that military action was a choice to which he was opposed. Time Magazine put "King Bibi" on its cover and said he was "unlikely to forge a peaceful path." Everyone seemed to know when Israel was going to "do it." Read more ..
Turkey on Edge
|Raymond Ibrahim||June 9th 2012|
Ostensibly dealing with a building, a recent report demonstrates how Turkey's populace—once deemed the most secular and liberal in the Muslim world—is reverting to its Islamic heritage, complete with animosity for the infidel West and dreams of Islam's glory days of jihad and conquest. According to Reuters: Thousands of devout Muslims prayed outside Turkey's historic Hagia Sophia museum on Saturday [May 23] to protest a 1934 law that bars religious services at the former church and mosque. Worshippers shouted, "Break the chains, let Hagia Sophia Mosque open," and "God is great" [the notorious "Allahu Akbar"] before kneeling in prayer as tourists looked on. Turkey's secular laws prevent Muslims and Christians from formal worship within the 6th-century monument, the world's greatest cathedral for almost a millennium before invading Ottomans converted it into a mosque in the 15th century.
Hagia Sophia—Greek for "Holy Wisdom"—was, in fact, Christendom's greatest cathedral for a thousand years. Built in Constantinople, the heart of the Christian empire, it was also a stalwart symbol of defiance against an ever encroaching Islam from the east. After parrying centuries of jihadi thrusts, Constantinople was finally sacked by Ottoman Turks in 1453. Its crosses desecrated and icons defaced, Hagia Sophia—as well as thousands of other churches—was immediately converted into a mosque, the tall minarets of Islam surrounding it in triumph. Then, after the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire, as part of several reforms, Ataturk transformed Hagia Sophia into a "neutral" museum in 1934—a gesture of goodwill to the then triumphant West from a then crestfallen Turkey. Read more ..
The Education Edge
|Norman J. Oranstein||June 8th 2012|
Among the many unresolved issues in Congress, the student loan matter looms large. If Democrats and Republicans don’t find a pay-for, student loan interest rates will double to 6.8 percent on July 1, hitting hard a group of people already staggering under loan burdens.
To be sure, artificially keeping rates low is not the best way to do things, but the larger set of problems is real.
Higher education costs keep rising at a rate faster than even health care inflation. The number of students dropping out and not graduating but still facing heavy loan burdens keeps going up as well. The number of higher-paying jobs, at salaries substantial enough that graduates can meet high loan payments, keeps going down. The number of young people with jobs where the take-home pay cannot begin to meet monthly loan requirements is burgeoning. And the problems clearly go beyond students themselves: Parents and even grandparents in many cases are facing bankruptcy because they have guaranteed the loans of their progeny. Read more ..
|Asaf Romirowsky||June 8th 2012|
Washington Jewish Week
One of Palestinian society's core beliefs is that at some point there will be a full return to the land they consider to be "Palestine," aka, the modern State of Israel. Their expectation and demand is rooted in the in UN General Assembly (UNGA) Resolution 194 of December 1948, which stated that "refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbors should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date." This "right", though explicitly contingent on peace, has bloomed into an unconditional "right of return" for all refugees and their descendents, now in their third or fourth generation.
The "right of return" is, at the core, a rejection of any Jewish rights or sovereignty. But it is fashionable to disguise this reality in more palatable terms, including the improbable suggestion that in fact, Palestinian "return" would not challenge the Jewish demographic majority of the State of Israel.
Publicly UNRWA defines a Palestinian refugee as anyone whose "normal place of residence was Palestine during the period 1 June 1946 to 15 May 1948 and who lost both home and means of livelihood as a result of the 1948 conflict." In reality UNRWA has continually expanded the definition to include "the children or grandchildren of such refugees are eligible for agency assistance if they are (a) registered with UNRWA, (b) living in the area of UNRWA's operations, and (c) in need." The best estimates are that perhaps 700,000 Palestinians became refugees in 1948-1949. By UNRWA's accounting, however, virtually every Palestinian born since that time is also a refugee. That number now reaches into the millions. Read more ..
Palestine on Edge
Palestinian Authority (PA) Prime Minister Salam Fayyad says that his regime is short of funds. And meanwhile a reader asks me, "Can you please explain to me why 20 years after Oslo and billions in dollars in foreign aid, the Palestinian Authority (PA) still has not built modern hospitals? Or rather, why do the donor countries pour money down the PA drain without expecting even some face-saving results?”
Good question. Short answer: Swiss bank accounts. In other words, a huge amount of the money has been stolen. There is nothing more distasteful than rulers of a people–especially a poor people–who complain about their subjects’ suffering at the same time that they profit from it. Of course, when some foreign observer sees Palestinians in poor conditions they blame Israel, thus furthering the cause of the same leaders who, -by their intransigent policies, ensure that the situation continues. The personal wealth of PA “president” Mahmoud Abbas is estimated at $100 million. Add onto that millions of dollars for a large number of PA and Fatah senior officials and you get the idea.
I have seen the villas of the PLO leaders in Tunis and the PA leaders in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. I have followed in detail the saga not only of Yasir Arafat’s personal stash but also how he used corruption to sustain his political control. And his heirs mostly continue to run the Palestinian movement. It is easy to forget that the PA has existed for 18 years and governed virtually every Palestinian there starting about 16 years ago. That’s a long time. And while Israel can be accused of harassment and putting up various roadblocks, its part in this problem has been limited. Indeed, Israeli action that have hurt the PA’s economy have arisen in direct response to episodes of terrorism, violent confrontation, and all-out wars started by the PA. Read more ..
Muslims and America
|Peter Skerry||June 7th 2012|
The Brookings Institution
Over the recent Memorial Day weekend, several thousand Muslims gathered in Hartford for the annual convention of the Islamic Circle of North America. ICNA was founded almost 40 years ago by Indian and Pakistani university students intending to return home. Most of them never did, but their organization still has ties to Pakistan’s Jama’at-I Islami, the Islamist party founded by Sayyid Mawdudi, one of the twentieth century’s most notorious Muslim intellectuals.
So this event featured much that would alarm or offend many Americans. Yet it also revealed how even Islamists here are adapting in ways that many of us would find encouraging, even gratifying. Nevertheless, these Islamists have yet to address the political realities of life in America. Read more ..
President Barack Obama's Secretary of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano, on Tuesday unveiled the DHS Northern Border Strategy (NBS), according to a statement obtained by the 14,000-member National Association of Chiefs of Police. But some security and law enforcement commanders believe it's nothing more than a political diversion.
According to Napolitano, the NBS is "the first unified DHS strategy to guide [her] department’s policies and operations along the U.S.-Canada border." She claims that it provides "a framework for enhancing security and resiliency" while expediting lawful travel and trade throughout the Northern border region.
"Acting as if she's tackling the Northern border fresh from her victory on our Southern border, Napolitano appears to have lost touch with the reality of America's border security debacle. It's as if there are two Americas: the real one, and the Obama administration's version," said political strategist Mike Baker. Read more ..
The Battle for Syria
|Shoshana Bryen||June 6th 2012|
Jewish Policy Center
It can't be said that the U.S. is doing nothing
about Syria. The administration created the "Atrocities Prevention Board," which failed the test at Houla. It is supporting the feckless Kofi Annan, who is adding to a resume that includes the genocide in Rwanda and massacres in Bosnia. It is beseeching the Russians, who decimated Chechnya and still own it, to help.
But is the U.S. also getting ready to ride to the rescue with Eager Lion 2012? One would hope not.
Eager Lion 2012 is a multinational Special Operations exercise that began in Jordan at the end of May. The planning started long ago; it wasn't organized against Syria—or Iran, for that matter. It was widely touted by the Americans. Major General Ken Tovo, head of the U.S. Special Operations Forces, told reporters in Amman, "The message that I want to send through this exercise is that we have developed the right partners throughout the region and across the world … insuring that we have the ability to … meet challenges that are coming to our nations." Read more ..
Greece on Edge
|Robert D. Kaplan||June 6th 2012|
Greece is where the West both begins and ends. The West -- as a humanist ideal -- began in ancient Athens where compassion for the individual began to replace the crushing brutality of the nearby civilizations of Egypt and Mesopotamia. The war that Herodotus chronicles between Greece and Persia in the 5th century B.C. established a contrast between West and East that has persisted for millennia. Greece is Christian, but it is also Eastern Orthodox, as spiritually close to Russia as it is to the West, and geographically equidistant between Brussels and Moscow.
Greece may have invented the West with the democratic innovations of the Age of Pericles, but for more than a thousand years it was a child of Byzantine and Turkish despotism. And while Greece was the northwestern bastion of the anciently civilized Near East, ever since history moved north into colder climates following the collapse of Rome, the inhabitants of Peninsular Greece have found themselves at the poor, southeastern extremity of Europe.
Modern Greece in particular has struggled against this bifurcated legacy. In an early 20th century replay of the Greco-Persian Wars, Greece's post-World War I military struggle with Turkey led to a signal Greek defeat and as a consequence, more than a million ethnic Greeks from Asia Minor escaped to Greece proper, further impoverishing the country. (This Greek diaspora in Asia Minor was a massive source of revenue until the Greeks were expelled.) Read more ..
The 2012 Vote
|Mark Mellman||June 5th 2012|
Quick. Thirty-two degrees. Hot or cold? It depends. In Fahrenheit, it’s literally freezing; in Celsius it’s sweltering. One hundred dollars. A lot of money or a little? A veritable fortune in Timor, where it’s a quarter of the average annual wage. In Manhattan, not so much. Numbers seem absolute, but they only have meaning in context.
So it is with poll data. Is 80 percent of the African-American vote a lot or a little? It sounds like a lot, but if you’re a Democrat heading into Election Day with just 80 percent support from African-Americans, you ought to be quaking in your boots — it’s rarely enough to win.
What gives these numbers meaning is two bits of context — how they compare to numbers in similar situations across time or space and how they compare to what one needs in order to emerge victorious. Yet rarely do pundits, or even pollsters, provide readers with the context they need to interpret poll numbers meaningfully. Our firm has routinely provided that context for years, but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve listened to folks crow about a candidate garnering 53 percent of the female vote, or 80 percent of Democrats, or leading independents by 5. None of that is good news if you need 58 percent of the female vote or 93 percent of Democrats, or a 10-point margin among independents to actually win the race. Read more ..
The 2012 Vote
While Rep. Darryl Issa (R-CA) is eager to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of congress for failing to provide all records and information regarding the controversial Operation Fast and Furious gun-smuggling fiasco, a number of GOP members of his committee appear to be getting "cold feet at the thought of going up against Holder," a law enforcement source in Washington, D.C. said on Sunday.
As a result Rep. Issa, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, may not have the full support of his fellow Republicans in taking action against Holder and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and therefore he'll lack the votes to proceed with the contempt resolution and his investigation.
Operation Fast and Furious is blamed for, among other things, the death of U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry and possibly the death of Immigration & Customs Enforcement Agent Jaime Zapata.
If passed by a House vote, the contempt citation would order the controversial Attorney General to deliver to the House Oversight Committee and to the Judiciary Committee thousands documents related to the probe of the gun-smuggling operation.
According to a source, too many Republican members on Issa's committee are fearful of pursuing the proposed action so close to the November elections. "Apparently some feckless GOP lawmakers are willing to allow Holder and his minions to escape any scrutiny or punishment for an operation that cost lives on both sides of the U.S.-Mexican border," said former NYPD detective and military intelligence officer Mike Snopes, who has been following the aftermath of what he called a "blown covert operation." Read more ..
The Education Edge
When the Yale College Faculty passed a resolution in April condemning the "lack of respect for civil and political rights in the state of Singapore, host of the proposed Yale-National University of Singapore College" and urged "Yale-NUS "to uphold civil liberty and political freedom on campus and in the broader society," Yale's president Richard Levin declared that the resolution -- passed in his presence and over his objection -- "carried a sense of moral superiority that I found unbecoming."
Levin then unbecame what he ought to be as president of a liberal-arts university by going to Singapore and giving a speech at the end of last month, the same month in which authoritarian corporate city-state had committed yet another of its abuses against basic civil liberties that have been monitored and condemned by many international observers and advocates -- liberties that, as the Yale faculty resolution emphasized, "lie at the heart of liberal arts education as well as of our civic sense as citizens" and "ought not to be compromised in any dealings or negotiations with the Singaporean authorities."
When Levin gave his speech touting the appointment of the ill-prepared but energetically pliable Yale professor Pericles Lewis as Yale-NUS' first president, Singapore had only recently prevented Chee Soon Juan, Secretary-General of the opposition Singapore Democratic Party (SDP), from leaving the country to give a speech of his own at the Oslo Freedom Forum. Read more ..
The Obama Edge
In response to complaints by lawmakers and some news organizations, the U.S. House of Representatives' Committee on Oversight and Government Reform will hold a hearing on June 6 to examine the influence of Department of Labor staff, who are political appointees from the Obama Administration, statistics released to the media and public. The Committee, chaired by Rep. Darryl Issa (R-CA), will probe the Bureau of Labor Statistics processes for collecting and disseminating employment data, including unemployment figures and data regarding jobs created.
Among issues to be considered at the hearing is an April 10, 2012 order, which changes long-standing policy and requires news organizations that report on pre-released Labor Department data to use government-owned computer systems and software. The new policy has been strongly opposed by the Sunshine in Government Initiative, a coalition of media organizations that includes mainstream news organizations and the Online News Association.
Those expected to testify include representatives from Bloomberg LP and Reuters newswire, and the Committee also invited Labor Secretary Hilda Solis to testify, along with the acting head of BLS. However, Solis said she will not attend because of a scheduling conflict, according to SGI. Read more ..
Egypt on Edge
The Brookings Institution
“Bashar should abandon power and retire safely in Egypt. The general-prosecutor is murder-friendly,” a friend, referring to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, told me as we watched former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s trial in the Police Academy’s criminal court. Although Mubarak and his interior (security) minister, Habib al-Adly, were handed life sentences at the conclusion of their trials, the generals who ran Egypt’s apparatus of repression as deputy interior ministers were acquitted.
Hasan Abd al-Rahman, head of the notorious, Stasi-like State Security Investigations (SSI); Ahmad Ramzi, head of the Central Security Forces (CSF); Adly Fayyid, the head of Public Security; Ismail al-Shaer, who led the Cairo Security Directorate (CSD); Osama Youssef, the head of the Giza Security Directorate; and Omar Faramawy, who oversaw of the 6th of October Security Directorate, were all cleared of any wrongdoing. Lawyers for Mubarak and al-Adly will appeal their life-sentences, and many Egyptians believe that they will receive lighter sentences.
The verdicts sent an unmistakable message, one with serious consequences for Egypt’s political transition. A spontaneous cry was heard from the lawyers and the families of victims when they were announced: “The people want to cleanse the judiciary.” Read more ..
The Education Edge
|Jonathan Rothwell||June 3rd 2012|
The Brookings Institution
I’ve been enjoying Niall Ferguson’s new PBS series on the rise of civilization in Western Europe. One of the many lessons is that other societies—like China and the Ottoman Empire—were seemingly well positioned to lead the world into an industrial revolution, but at key points, their leaders rejected scholarship, scientific inquiry, and trade, while, haltingly, those things began to flourish in Western Europe, its universities, and its chartered commercial and learning institutions, like the Royal Society of London. As a result, non-western regions stagnated and missed out on economic development until much later.
Fortunately, the United States government, its businesses, and its people still place a high value on science. To give two examples, according to National Science Foundation statistics, 82 percent of Americans agree with the proposition that the federal government should fund basic scientific research, which is roughly unchanged since 1985. Only seven countries spend more on R&D as a share of GDP and none spend as much in total. Read more ..
Venezuela on Edge
In a move sure to make the American gun-control lobby green with envy and Second Amendment advocates wary, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez's new gun law, which totally bans the commercial sale of firearms and ammunition to civilians, went into effect on Friday, June 1, a police source in Washington, D.C. informs. Until this ban became law, anyone in that South American country with a gun license could purchase firearms and ammunition from privately owned gun shops or sporting goods stores. With Chavez's new gun-control law, only the Venezuelan army, police officials and certain groups such as security and private detective firms are allowed to buy firearms, and then only from state-owned weapons manufacture
It's gun-control on steroids and its nationalizing the firearms industry. And I'm certain "American progressives are envious of both actions: banning gun ownership and nationalizing the gun industry," said the police source who requested anonymity. According to the Venezuelan news media, the gun ban is the latest attempt by the government to improve security and cut crime ahead of elections in October, but many suspect it's all part of Chavez's socialist plan. According to the Chavez government, Venezuela had more than 18,000 homicides in 2011, a much higher per-capita murder rate than the United States. Read more ..
The Education Edge
The Brookings Institution
"So if you haven't found a job yet: You're better off coming to the city than sitting on your parents' couch."
Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Remarks at the Cornell University 2012 Convocation, May 27, 2012
As another college graduation season draws to a close, today’s New York Times reports the results of a small analysis we conducted on college degree attainment rates in metropolitan areas. We examined the share of adults age 25 and over in the 100 largest U.S. metro areas who held at least a bachelor’s degree in 2010, versus in 1970. (The Times’ website provides a table with the key data.)
It suggests a centrifugal force that is concentrating the nation’s college graduates into a set of metro areas that, like Bloomberg’s New York, are pulling farther away from the pack. But first: Why is high college degree attainment important for a metropolitan area? The article notes that places in which lots of college graduates cluster exhibit patterns that, not surprisingly, are common to college graduates themselves: longer life expectancies, higher incomes, fewer single-parent families. Indeed, differences in adults’ rate of bachelor’s degree attainment explain nearly three-quarters of the variation in per capita income among metro areas in 2010. And higher regional income can translate into a higher tax base, better public services, and more private amenities. Read more ..
Edge of Terrorism
|Andrew Bacevich||June 2nd 2012|
History News Network
|SEAL Team 6|
As he campaigns for reelection, President Obama periodically reminds audiences of his success in terminating the deeply unpopular Iraq War. With fingers crossed for luck, he vows to do the same with the equally unpopular war in Afghanistan. If not exactly a peacemaker, our Nobel Peace Prize-winning president can (with some justification) at least claim credit for being a war-ender.
Yet when it comes to military policy, the Obama administration’s success in shutting down wars conducted in plain sight tells only half the story, and the lesser half at that. More significant has been this president’s enthusiasm for instigating or expanding secret wars, those conducted out of sight and by commandos.
President Franklin Roosevelt may not have invented the airplane, but during World War II he transformed strategic bombing into one of the principal emblems of the reigning American way of war. General Dwight D. Eisenhower had nothing to do with the Manhattan Project that developed the atomic bomb. Yet, as president, Ike’s strategy of Massive Retaliation made nukes the centerpiece of U.S. national security policy. Read more ..
The Arab Winter in Egypt
|Khaled Elgindy||June 1st 2012|
The Brookings Institution
Egyptians are still reeling from the results of the first round of voting in the country’s first freely contested presidential elections. The outcome? The Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohammed Morsi will now face former Mubarak prime minister (and fellow air force commander) Ahmed Shafiq in a run-off set for June 17. While there is apparent hopelessness over such a “nightmare scenario” outcome that pits a conservative Islamist against a former regime stalwart, there is a silver lining.
By and large, the elections shattered the myth that individual Egyptian actors, whether the powerful Muslim Brotherhood or the boisterous protesters of Tahrir, could achieve the goals of the revolution on their own. This realization may finally compel anti-regime forces from across Egypt’s highly fractured and polarized political landscape to work together toward a common cause, namely beginning the long, difficult task of rolling back a military regime that remains deeply entrenched. Read more ..
Turkey and Israel
|Gabriel Max Scheinmann||June 1st 2012|
The week of May 21-25th, 28 NATO leaders gathered in Chicago for the first NATO summit in the United States since 9/11. While global attention was focused on the Alliance's impending withdrawal from Afghanistan, the summit also exposed underlying tensions, most notably the new French president's campaign promises "reevaluate" his predecessor's decision to reintegrate France into NATO's military command and accelerate the withdrawal of French troops from Afghanistan.
Meanwhile, Turkey, NATO's sole Middle Eastern member and second largest military, blocked Israeli attendance of the summit--despite the presence of 13 other non-NATO partners--in an escalation of its six-year-old spat with the Jewish State. Originally a bilateral dispute, Ankara has now entangled NATO and, with it, the United States, blocking cooperation between two of the United States' most important alliances. Unfortunately, the Obama Administration's reaction has been to defend rather than curtail Turkish behavior, rewarding Ankara with sales of some of the most sophisticated arms in the U.S. arsenal. Read more ..
The 2012 Vote
|Lanny J. Davis||May 31st 2012|
Within 24 hours over the holiday weekend, Democrats could read two starkly different messaging strategies for President Obama’s reelection campaign.
On Monday, May 28, Memorial Day, John Heilemann’s New York magazine article was headlined: “For Obama & Co., this time it’s all about fear.”
The day before, New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman wrote a column headlined: “Obama Should Seize the High Ground.”
Heilemann wrote: “Though the Obamans certainly hit John McCain hard four years ago running more negative ads than any campaign in history, what they intend to do to Romney is more savage. They will pummel him for being a vulture-vampire capitalist at Bain Capital. They will pound him for being a miserable failure as governor of Massachusetts. They will mash him for being a water-carrier of Paul Ryan’s Social Darwinist fiscal program. … ‘He’s the ’50s, he is retro, he is backward, and we are forward, that’s the basic construct,’ says a top Obama strategist. ‘If you’re a woman, you’re Hispanic, you’re young, or you’ve gotten left out, you look at Romney and say, ‘This “f--king guy is gonna take us back to the way it always was, and guess what? I’ve never been a part of that. … ’ “Thus to a very real degree, 2008’s candidate of hope stands poised to become 2012’s candidate of fear. For many Democrats, this is fine and dandy, for they believe that in the Romney-Republican agenda there is plenty to be scared of.” Read more ..
The 2012 Vote
|Mark Mellman||May 31st 2012|
The Obama campaign’s attacks on Mitt Romney’s tenure at Bain are not attacks on free enterprise, capitalism or even private equity.
Capitalism did not require Bain to issue debt that GS Steel could not afford to repay, mainly to put money in the pockets of Bain partners. Capitalism did not require Bain to take tens of millions in profits while workers lost their livelihoods. Private equity is not to blame for the company underfunding its pensions system and sticking the government with the bill.
Capitalism does lead to “creative destruction,” in Schumpeter’s famous phrase. Free enterprise does entail risk and the freedom to fail. Private equity exists to make profits. None of that is inherently evil.
The critiques are not focused on the system or the process, or even the failures themselves. Everyone is entitled to some. Rather, the doubts revolve around the decisions Romney made and the values those decisions reflect. And if candidates’ decisions and values are not appropriate considerations in an election, nothing is. Read more ..
Islam on Edge
The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) on May 30 demanded that Attorney General Eric Holder and the U.S. Department of Justice protect the religious liberties of Muslims after a Tennessee judge's ruling prevented a mosque to be completed as a result of public outcry in Murfreesboro.
The judge ruled that proper public notice was not given for the May 2010 meeting that approved the site plan for the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro, near Murfreesboro, Tenn. He seemed to base his ruling on the fact that anti-Muslim bigots were able to manufacture a controversy over the construction of the mosque, the site of which has been the target of hate vandalism, said CAIR officials after the ruling.
"American Muslim constitutional rights should not be diminished merely because anti-Muslim bigots are able to manufacture a controversy about what would otherwise be normal religious activities," said CAIR Staff Attorney Gadeir Abbas. "If the Rutherford County Planning Commission does not immediately issue new permits for the mosque, we urge the Department of Justice to intervene in this case to support the religious rights of Tennessee Muslims," he stated in a media release on May 30. Read more ..
|Arlene Kushner||May 31st 2012|
Israel Behind The News
For years we have been part of a small cadre of determined individuals who saw clearly the damage being done by UNRWA -- the UN Relief and Work Agency for Palestinian Refugees. Damage to prospects for peace in this region, and damage directly to Israel. There is so much wrong with this agency that it's impossible to document it all in this post. Suffice it to say the following:
UNRWA is the only international refugee agency in the world dedicated to one group of refugees -- the Palestinian Arab "refugees." All other refugees are tended to by the UN High Commission for Refugees. And what's astounding is that UNRWA's rules for "its" refugees are different from the rules for all those other refugees.
UNHCR works to get refugees resettled as quickly as possible -- even if the only alternative is settling them permanently in the place to which they had fled or to a third place -- so that they might get on with their lives. Read more ..
|Daniel Pipes||May 30th 2012|
Cutting Edge Middle East Contributor
The fetid, dark heart of the Arab war on Israel, I have long argued, lies not in disputes over Jerusalem, checkpoints, or “settlements.” Rather, it concerns the so-called Palestine refugees.
So called because of the nearly 5 million official refugees served by UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East) only about 1 percent are real refugees who fit the agency’s definition of “people whose normal place of residence was Palestine between June 1946 and May 1948, who lost both their homes and means of livelihood as a result of the 1948 Arab-Israeli conflict.” The other 99 percent are descendants of those refugees, or what I call fake refugees.
Worse: Those alive in 1948 are dying off and in about 50 years not a single real refugee will remain alive, whereas (extrapolating from an authoritative estimate in Refugee Survey Quarterly by Mike Dumper) their fake-refugee descendants will number about 20 million. Unchecked, that population will grow like Topsy until the end of time.
This matters because the refugee status has harmful effects: It blights the lives of these millions of non-refugees by disenfranchising them while imposing an ugly, unrealistic irredentist dream on them; worse, the refugee status preserves them as a permanent dagger aimed at Israel’s heart, threatening the Jewish state and disrupting the Middle East. Read more ..
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