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Europe on Edge

The Security Implications of Europe’s Economic Downturn

June 28th 2013

Euro Symbol

The European Union's unfolding crisis tends to be seen as purely economic in nature and consequence. The EU is a common market, with a common currency adopted by most of its members and with fiscal problems of one kind or another facing almost all of its capitals. Most analyses of the euro crisis focus, therefore, on the economic and financial impact of whatever "euro exit" may occur or of a European fiscal centralization. In the worst case, they project a full-fledged breakup of the common currency and perhaps even the EU itself. Not much can be added to this sea of analysis except a pinch of skepticism: nobody really knows the full economic impact, positive or negative, of such potential developments. In fact, not even European leaders seem to have a clear idea of how to mitigate the economic and political morass of the Continent. While it is certain that the EU of the future will be different, it isn't clear just how. Read more ..

The New Egypt

Egypt Will Erupt Again on June 30

June 28th 2013

Muslim Brotherhood bus burning 10 2012

Given the opposition's growing rage and the Brotherhood's increasingly confrontational stance, the upcoming nationwide protests are unlikely to end well.

The Middle Egypt governorate of Beni Suef, an agricultural province located 70 miles south of Cairo, is an Islamist stronghold. Islamists won 14 of Beni Suef's 18 seats during the first post-Mubarak parliamentary elections in December 2011, and Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohamed Morsi won nearly two-thirds of Beni Suef's votes in the second round of the 2012 presidential elections en route to an otherwise narrow victory.

Yet Brotherhood Supreme Guide Mohamed Badie, who teaches in the veterinary school of Beni Suef University, hasn't visited his home in the governorate since late March, when activists hoisted anti-Brotherhood banners and surrounded the mosque where he was scheduled to deliver a Friday sermon. "The people planned to attack him and hold him in the mosque," Waleed Abdel Monem, a former Muslim Brother who owns a socialist-themed cafe up the street from Badie's home, told me. The Supreme Guide's son now holds down the fort, and Brotherhood cadres are occasionally called upon to protect his home whenever demonstrations are announced on Facebook. Read more ..

The Way We Are

Supreme Court Tips the Gay Marriage Scales

June 26th 2013

Gay Marriage

What will be the effects of the Supreme Court's twin rulings on gay marriage? My first-blush take is that the rulings will have a modest effect on legal doctrine but a major effect on cultural momentum.

The Supreme Court did two things today. First, it overturned the federal Defense of Marriage Act. The federal government will now have to recognize states' same-sex marriages--mine among them--as valid for federal purposes. But, second, the court declined to make same-sex marriage a federal constitutional right. It punted on that issue. As a result, gay marriage will go back into effect in California (after a four-year hiatus), but nothing will change in other states.

California, however, is a big change all by itself. The state is so big that it takes the percentage of Americans living in gay-marriage states up to 30 percent, from 18 percent. Soon, when Illinois or a few other states come in, more than a third of the country, by population, will allow gay marriage. If that is not mainstream, nothing is. Read more ..

The Nuclear Edge

Nuclear Waste: A Major Proliferation Concern

June 25th 2013

Standard Missile 3

A half-finished monolith of raw concrete and rebar rises suddenly from slash pine forests as the public tour bus crests a hill at this heavily-secured site south of rural Aiken.

Dozens of hard-hatted workers in bright green and orange vests slog through the damp clay and clamber over a half-finished roof five floors up. Others filter in and out of openings cut into the windowless, half-a-million square-foot box, where towering construction cranes are clustered.

Guide Laurie Posey uses the bus loudspeaker to describe the project’s 6,800 miles of cable, 80 miles of radiation-resistant piping and double walls of reinforced concrete. Recently, she said the government factory would cost $4.86 billion, then coughed into her fist and shot a glance at the bus’ driver.

“Do you think they picked up on that?” she asked, shaking her head. The estimate she cited — $4.86 billion — is a fiction the government used well after its lead contractor said the real number was likely to be $3 billion higher.

Dark clouds hover over this ambitious federal project, 17 years in the making and at least six more from completion — if, indeed, it is ever completed. It lies at the center of one of the United States’ most troubled, technically complex, costly, and controversial efforts to secure nuclear explosive materials left stranded by the end of the Cold War. Read more ..

Broken Government

IRS Chief: Agency Improperly Screened Groups Until Last Month

June 24th 2013

IRS building

The acting head of the IRS said Monday that the agency was still giving improper scrutiny to groups seeking tax-exempt status when he arrived in May, suggesting that the probe into the IRS’s treatment of conservative groups could widen.

Danny Werfel, the acting chief, said that the IRS division overseeing tax-exempt applications used other “be on the lookout” lists as they tried to flag cases that needed more attention.

The so-called BOLO list has proven to be a key detail in the current investigation over the IRS’s singling out of conservative groups, with agency officials searching for groups with the name “Tea Party,” “patriots” and “9/12.” In a Monday conference call, Werfel gave little detail about the ideology or interests of groups receiving additional scrutiny, though he added that the IRS hopes to circulate more information soon after it takes more steps to protect confidential information. Read more ..

The Weapon's Edge

Pentagon's F-35 Program May Be Unaffordable

June 23rd 2013


The troubled F-35 fighter jet, which is supposed to serve as the backbone of the U.S. military’s future air combat forces, may cost much more than the nation can afford, a federal auditor told a Senate panel Wednesday.

Michael J. Sullivan, acquisitions director of the Government Accountability Office, told the Senate defense appropriations subcommittee that current projections call for $316 billion in F-35 development and purchases from now through 2037, an average of $12.6 billion a year. Operations and maintenance costs alone will exceed $1 trillion over the fleet’s 35-year lifespan.

“Congress may want to consider whether the funding assumptions are reasonable in our current fiscal environment,” Sullivan said, responding to questions from Subcommittee Chairman Dick Durbin, D-Ill. Sullivan told the panel maintaining this sustained level of funding “will be difficult in a period of declining or flat defense budgets and competition with other ‘big ticket items’ such as the KC-45 tanker and a new bomber program.” Read more ..

The Education Edge

Special Education: The Forgotten Issue in No Child Left Behind Reform

June 22nd 2013

Special Ed Teacher

In 2002, when President George W. Bush signed the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), few would have predicted the law would last.  Yet persist it did, and the controversial legislation remains on the books more than a decade later.  Now that Democrats and Republicans have recently started its reauthorization process, it is time to examine one particular aspect, special education, that raises several different challenges.

Assessment of students with disabilities is perhaps the thorniest issue in education policy.  For decades students with disabilities were not assessed or educated along with their peers.  Schools, like all organizations, value what they can measure.  The education system did not value students with disabilities because their success or failure was not counted. Read more ..

Iran on Edge

Despite Election Outcome, Obstacles To An Iranian Nuclear Deal Persist

June 21st 2013

Hassan Rohani closeup

The election of Hassan Rouhani as Iran’s next president has rightfully elicited the first real optimism in years about the possibility of diplomatic progress in curbing Iran’s nuclear ambitions. As I’ve written repeatedly now, I believe that the campaign and its outcome have bestowed upon Rouhani some measure of mandate, both from the political establishment and from a population that desperately wants a reprieve from sanctions, to advance constructive solutions on Iran’s nuclear program at the negotiating table.

However, as Rouhani’s opening press conference made clear, Iran has no intention of simply capitulating to international demands for a suspension of its uranium enrichment activities. And Rouhani’s previous tenure as the nuclear negotiator – combined with the continuing influence of the hard-liners who now control the security bureaucracy – suggests that it is far too soon to declare victory on one of the world’s most urgent (and yet oddly enduring) crises. While no one should downplay the significance of the election and the apparent emergence of a new consensus around moderation rather than resistance within Iran’s leadership, it’s also important to hedge against any irrational exuberance either in Washington or within Iran. Read more ..

EMP Warfare

EMP, Congress & The SHIELD Act

June 20th 2013

Minneapolis skyline

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

The Iranian Threat

The Iranian election: Have the people really won?

June 19th 2013

Iran Election Protest

In elections heralded as being neither free nor fair - with the candidates preselected for their loyalty to the supreme leader, and the voters suffering under massive domestic repression - Iranians overwhelmingly elected a “moderate” cleric, Hassan Rohani, as president, an outcome that has been hailed as a harbinger of positive change.

It is true that, during the campaign, Rohani appeared to reject the hard line favored by his predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. He spoke in debates of improving relations with the West, of establishing a ministry for women’s affairs, and of creating more opportunities and freedoms for the country’s youth. His tone is undoubtedly less incendiary than that to which the world has become accustomed from Iranian leadership, and his message has been one of responsiveness, inclusiveness and accountability.

However, Rohani is the same person who struck a conciliatory posture as Iran’s top nuclear negotiator, under another reformist president, Mohammed Khatami, while presiding over the secret advance of the nuclear program. Rohani was the one who boasted that, even when Iran had suspended uranium enrichment, it was able to make its greatest nuclear advances, saying, “While we were talking with the Europeans in Tehran, we were installing equipment in parts of the facility in Isfahan,” a crucial nuclear site. “In fact, by creating a calm environment, we were able to complete the work in Isfahan.” Read more ..

Broken Government

Obama's Once-Sterling Reputation Takes a Nose Dive in the Polls

June 18th 2013

Obama's SS

Controversies are taking a toll on U.S. President Barack Obama's popularity with Americans, according to a public opinion poll published by CNN. The data show Obama's approval rating fell eight percentage points over the past month, to 45 percent. CNN said that is the lowest approval rating in a year and a half.

The poll follows revelations about government surveillance of Americans, unfair treatment of conservative groups by the tax agency, government snooping into reporters' phone records, and questions about the way the administration handled an attack on a U.S. diplomatic facility in Libya. Read more ..

The Iranian Threat

The Foreign Policy Impact of Iran's Presidential Election

June 18th 2013

Hassan Rohani closeup

Iranians went to the polls Friday to elect outgoing President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's successor. Candidates reported few serious problems with the process, and the losers sent congratulations to the eventual winner, Hassan Rouhani. Compared to the political instability that followed Ahmadinejad's 2009 re-election, this process was relatively boring. But however the news media felt about the election, Iran needs domestic stability if it is going to change its foreign policy in a very challenging geopolitical environment. Domestic stability has been the first goal for any regime that would project power from Iran's central highlands. The Persian Empire first emerged only after a central power subjugated the various groups of Indo-Iranian, Turkic and Semitic peoples within its borders. Read more ..

Iran on Edge

What to Expect from Iran under Hassan Rouhani

June 17th 2013

Hassan Rouhani votes

The 686 men who expressed their desire to run in Iran's presidential election were whittled down to 8 -- not by primaries, debates and polls, but by the six theologians and six jurists on the Guardian Council. The candidates had to be Iranian-born, over 21, and believe in "God, Islam and the Iranian Constitution." Education, military service and "public service" were also taken into account by the Council. So while in the West much has been made of the differences among them, similarities rule.

Nevertheless, the Iranian people used their franchise to vote for the man on the ballot most opposed by the Mullahs. They made their statement in overwhelming numbers, proving the existence of the much-sought-after "Iranian moderates." That is the good news. Read more ..

The Defense Edge

Why the NSA Leaks Will Lead to More Economic Espionage Against American Companies

June 16th 2013


What happens when an American economy built in significant part on intellectual property collides with overt second-class treatment of foreigners who entrust their data to American networks and systems? We’re about to find out.

On June 5, the world learned from the Guardian of an order from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court requiring Verizon to provide NSA with “metadata” for all Verizon phone calls involving at least one party within the United States. Metadata can include the calling and receiving phone numbers, location of the parties, and call time and duration, but not the actual audio content. A day later, the Washington Post described an NSA program called PRISM, which reportedly enables NSA to access data carried by “nine leading U.S. Internet companies” to extract “audio and video chats, photographs, e-mails, documents, and connection logs that enable analysts to track foreign targets.”

In a pair of statements on June 6 and June 8, Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper explained that the “collection of communications pursuant to Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act” includes “extensive procedures . . . to ensure that only non-U.S. persons outside the U.S. are targeted,” and that “Section 702 cannot be used to intentionally target any U.S. citizen, or any other U.S. person, or to intentionally target any person known to be in the United States.” Read more ..

Broken Government

The Nation's Budget Challenges Haven't Changed

June 15th 2013


It is a mistake to think of the nation's budgetary challenge as something associated solely with the size of near-term deficits. That was never the case.

Since the financial crash, the U.S. has run up extraordinary amounts of debt. Between 2009 and 2012, the U.S. ran a cumulative $5 trillion deficit. These enormous deficits were always going to recede when the nation's economy moved closer to normalcy again; it was just a matter of time.

It is also the case that some policy decisions have reduced the near-term deficit modestly as well. The president and Congress agreed to a tax deal earlier this year that raised revenue relative to the full extension of the Bush-era tax schedule, and the spending cuts associated with the sequester have been allowed to go fully into effect in 2013. The result is that the short-term outlook is now slightly less bad that it was a year ago. The Congressional Budget Office now projects that the federal budget deficit will total $642 billion in 2013 and $560 billion in 2014. Last summer, CBO was projecting that the deficit would remain over $1 trillion in 2013 and reach $924 billion in 2014. Those earlier CBO projections assumed full extension of the Bush-era tax schedule and elimination of the spending cuts required by the sequester. Read more ..

Venezuela After Chavez

U.S.—Venezuelan Relations Revisited

June 14th 2013

John Kerry

A week ago, during the annual general assembly of the Organization of American States (OAS), Secretary of State John Kerry met with his Venezuelan counterpart,  Elias Jaua, to discuss improvement of relations between the two countries. Relations between the two  have been severely strained during the 14- year rule of Hugo Chavez.
The meeting took place when the United States government had not yet officially recognized the legitimacy of President Nicolas Maduro whose election on April 14th raised suspicions of fraud. The Obama Administration also supported a recount. The  recount was conducted but without checking paper ballots  which the opposition had specifically requested. Since this was not done the opposition refused to recognize Maduro‘s victory. Yet, the meeting between the two diplomats took place in a “positive” atmosphere. Secretary Kerry declared that both countries agreed to “find a new way” forward. Venezuela, as a gesture, released from jail an American documentary filmmaker who had been accused of conspiring against the government. Read more ..

Economic Jihad

BDS vs. Palestinian Statehood

June 14th 2013


This year's National Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) conference took place at Bethlehem University where we witnessed a strong dose of Palestinian realism when a dispute occurred between the Palestinian Minister of Economy Jawad Al-Naji, and BDS participant, Nizar Banat, resulting in Al-Naji storming out of the room. The argument was triggered when Banat questioned Mahmoud Abbas and his tactics of normalization with Israel as the conference also aimed at combating such relations with Israel.

Consequently, Banat later found himself in the hospital after he was attacked when leaving the conference by PA security officers and Fatah "thugs." So while according to the schedule there were featured BDS solidarity messages from celebrities like Desmond Tutu and Roger Waters and of course, a live presentation by BDS leader and founder Omar Barghouti all paled in the face of Palestinian censorship.  Read more ..

Turkey on Edge

Understanding the Turkish Demonstrations

June 13th 2013

Barricades Taksim Sq

Turkey, although nominally part of the West, is in most ways culturally closer to the Middle East. Turks live with pent-up grievances -- as do we all -- but with virtually no way to resolve them. People in a supposedly democratic Turkey are reluctant to air their grievances even in public surveys out of fear their government might take revenge on them. During the past few years, people in Turkey have been saying that they are petrified to speak to others, write things, or talk freely on the telephone for fear they will be arrested. At present, Turkey has more journalists in jail than any other country.

The ruling AKP government has set up countless apparatuses to monitor dissent; these cause those who disagree with the government to fear not just arrest but interrogation. People and groups have therefore chosen largely to suffer in silence. Moreover, in the culture of the Middle East, there is no such thing as a win-win compromise. Turks, like their neighbors, consider backing down or apologizing dishonorable. Read more ..

Broken Government

State Legislators' Nonprofit Ties Spawning Corruption?

June 12th 2013

Bundles of Cash

When investigators examined the operations of a sprawling New York social service organization, what they uncovered was deeply troubling. Board members of the Ridgewood Bushwick Senior Citizens Council had almost no experience in nonprofit management. Several couldn’t name any of the group’s programs. Two of them could not identify the executive director, who in turn told investigators she was unaware of a fraudulent scheme carried out under her watch: Employees had squandered or stolen most of an $80,000 city grant.

As a result of that July 2010 report by New York City’s Department of Investigation, both the city and state quickly pulled the plug, suspending the organization’s grants, which provide practically all of its funding. But just as quick, the Brooklyn-based group won back it’s government support on the condition that it enact corrective measures, and today, the council has active grants from the city and the state totaling more than $50 million. Maybe that’s because the organization provides critical services, such as senior care and affordable housing, as a city spokeswoman said when funding was restored. But the council may also be thriving because its founder, Vito Lopez, was for years one of New York’s most powerful politicians — a state legislator who spent much of his career channeling that power through Ridgewood Bushwick. Read more ..

The Mideast on Edge

Russia's New Middle Eastern Role

June 11th 2013


Russia has thrown a monkey wrench into Western plans for Syria by promising to deliver its top-of-the-line S300 surface-to-air missile system to the Bashar al-Assad government. Exactly when the missiles might arrive remains unclear; the last word from Moscow is that the missiles are not yet in place, which means the matter is up for bargaining.

It is humiliating for the West to trip over a game-changing Russian technology nearly a quarter of a century after the fall of the Berlin Wall. The larger scandal is that the West lacks countermeasures against the Russian system, the result of misguided defense priorities over the past dozen years. If the United States had spent a fraction of the resources it wasted in nation-building in Iraq and Afghanistan on anti-missile technology, Russia would lack the bargaining chip in the first place. That's spilt milk, however, and the pressing question is: what should the West do now? Read more ..

The Broken Economy

The Bernanke Difference

June 10th 2013


The mild May jobs report should serve as yet another reminder to President Obama and Congress that the U.S. labor market is suffering a Long Emergency. A smaller share of the adult male population has a job than at any time since the Great Depression. And there's still a job shortfall of nearly 12 million between current employment levels and the pre-Great Recession job-growth trend. It's long past time for Washington to launch a full-spectrum response - including cutting investment tax rates and modifying unemployment insurance to support work sharing and relocation to areas of lower unemployment.

But things could be so much worse. For instance: The euro zone is suffering a double-dip recession. The region's economy has contracted for six straight quarters through the first three months of this year. And euro zone unemployment has risen for 24 straight months and stands at 12.2 percent. "It still looks highly probable that the [jobless] rate will reach 12.5 percent in the latter months of 2013, and there is a grave danger that it could continue rising into 2014," consultancy IHS Global Insight predicts. Read more ..

Education on Edge

Is Starting College and Not Finishing Really That Bad?

June 9th 2013


Employers added 175,000 jobs in May, according to today’s employment report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, about the same average pace of job creation over the prior year. All of the job increases were in the private service-providing sector; employment edged down in both the goods-production sector, which includes construction and manufacturing, and in government. This reflects a longer-term pattern: over the prior year, employment in the service sector has increased by almost 2 million jobs, while employment in the goods-producing sector has been essentially flat, and public employment has declined.  Also in May, the unemployment rate edged up to 7.6 percent. The broadest measure of employment—the employment-to-population ratio—was 58.6 percent, the same as a year ago. It has remained roughly at the same level since late-2009.

These latest jobs and unemployment statistics, however, do not tell the full story of how all Americans are faring in today’s economic climate, as workers with more education continue to be employed at higher rates and earn more than their less-educated counterparts. Indeed, as previous Hamilton Project work has shown, the rates of return to a two- or four-year college degree are high. In recent years, however, there has been increasing concern about students who begin two- and four-year colleges but fail to complete a degree—particularly in light of the large increase in student debt and growing talk about the high costs of college. Read more ..

Broken Government

Lobbying Firm PACs Start 2013 Slow

June 8th 2013


Most lobbying firms are not in a hurry to pad politicians' political coffers early this election cycle, with only a few either raising or spending significant cash, a Center for Public Integrity analysis of Federal Election Commission records indicates.

And that's for the lobby shops that have PACs: More than half of the nation's top 40 firms, ranked by 2012 lobbying income, do not sponsor one at all, the analysis shows. While this doesn't represent a major shift from the lobbying world status quo, the trend stands in stark contrast to the actions of other industries' largest corporations, which generally sponsor PACs as a means to support and interact with politicians and candidates.

Among the PAC-less government affairs powerhouses are Podesta Group; Ogilvy Government Relations; Peck, Madigan & Jones; Prime Policy Group and Dutko Worldwide. For top lobbying firms that do sponsor PACs, only four — Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld; K&L Gates; Ernst & Young and DLA Piper — have reported spending more than $100,000 during the year's first four months, mostly on donations to political candidates and committees. This figure could rise slightly in July, as eight of the nation's top 40 PACs have chosen to report their finances semiannually this year. Read more ..

Obama's Second Term

Steady Employment Gains Offer Sign of Continued Expansion

June 7th 2013

Employee applications

Private payrolls grew for the 39th consecutive month in May, increasing by 178,000. Perhaps coincidentally, this is exactly the same pace of job growth we have seen since March 2010 when the streak of private-sector employment gains began. Payrolls in the public sector, driven by a sizeable drop in federal employment, fell 3,000 in May. In the 39 months of private-sector job gains, federal, state, and local government payrolls have shrunk a total of 622,000—about 16,000 a month—offsetting 9 percent of the job gains in the private sector.

To put these numbers in perspective, the Census Bureau’s estimates of the working-age population suggest that about 80,000 new jobs a month are needed to keep the unemployment rate steady. If employment gains are faster than 80,000 a month we should expect to see a trend toward a lower unemployment rate. Of course, the unemployment rate is also affected by trends in the percentage of adults who want to hold a job. The deep recession caused the labor force participation rate to fall sharply in 2009, and the decline has continued through this year. Even though a sizeable part of the decline can be traced to population aging, we will nonetheless see some rebound in participation rates if Americans who are currently outside the workforce become more optimistic about their chances of finding a job. Read more ..

Israel on Edge

The Six Day War--How We Got There and What it Means

June 6th 2013

Wailing Wall 1967

In June 1967, the combined armies of Egypt, Syria, and Jordan attacked Israel with the clear purpose expressed by Egypt’s President: “Destruction of Israel.” At the end of what is now known as the Six-Day War, Israel, against all odds, was victorious and in possession of the territories of the West Bank, Sinai and the Golan Heights.

International law makes a clear distinction between defensive wars and wars of aggression. Egypt’s blockade of the waterway known as the Strait of Tiran, which prevented access to Israel’s southern port of Eilat, was an act of aggression that led to the Six-Day War in 1967. More than six decades after the 1948 War and four decades since the 1967 Six-Day War, it is hard to imagine the dire circumstances Israel faced and the price it paid to fend off its neighbors’ attacks.

In 1967, the combined Arab armies had approximately 465,000 troops, more than 2,880 tanks and 810 aircrafts, preparing to attack Israel at once. Israel, faced with the imminent threat of obliteration, was forced to invoke its right of self-defense, a basic tenet of international law, enshrined in Article 51 of the United Nations Charter. Israel launched a surprised pre-emptive air strike against Egypt on June 5, 1967.

Who Starts Wars Does Matter

UN Charter Article 51 clearly recognizes “the inherent right of individual or collective self-defense if an armed attack occurs against a Member of the United Nations” by anyone.

Arabs would like the world to believe that in 1967, Israel simply woke-up one morning and invaded them, and therefore Israel’s control of the Golan Heights, West Bank and Sinai is the illicit fruit of an illegal act – like Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in 1991. Read more ..

Education on Edge

The Postsecondary Education Conundrum

June 5th 2013

College expenses

Postsecondary education in the United States faces a conundrum: Can we preserve access, help students learn more and finish their degrees sooner and more often, and keep college affordable for families, all at the same time? And can the higher education reforms currently most in vogue—expanding the use of technology and making colleges more accountable—help us do these things?

Since the 1960s, colleges and universities have worked hard to increase access to higher education. Fifty years ago, with the industrial economy booming—as Sandy Baum, Charles Kurose, and Michael McPherson write in the latest issue of the Future of Children—only 45 percent of young people went to college when they graduated from high school. Today, they note, at least 70 percent enroll in some form of postsecondary education. Women, who once accounted for little more than a third of the college population, now outnumber men on campus, and minorities and the poor have also seen many barriers to a college education fall. Certainly, we still have work to do—for example, advantaged children are still much more likely than children living in poverty to go to college, and to attend elite institutions when they do. Yet the gains in access have been remarkable. Read more ..

Economic Jihad

TIAA-CREF Decision Sets Precedent to Block BDS Motions

June 4th 2013

Boycott Israel

A decision by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to allow a major financial services group to keep Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions off the agenda at their shareholders’ meeting, created new precedent to counter BDS assaults on the financial community, legal analysts stated.

The SEC’s decision on Thursday was a relief for TIAA-CREF, officially Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association – College Retirement Equities Fund, which manages $520 billion on behalf of millions of teachers and other union members, many of them Jewish. The BDS motion demanded divestment from Israel as part of a new human rights policy it wanted shareholders to adopt. The SEC chose to ignore the first part of the argument, simply ruling that the BDS motion would interfere with the company’s ordinary business.

The BDS motion was filed by Jewish Voice of Peace in the names of 200 signed shareholders requesting to be heard at TIAA-CREF’s annual shareholder meeting in July and put their motion to a proxy vote. Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

Excluding Iran From Syria Talks Will Backfire

June 3rd 2013

Syrian Missiles

Diplomatic wisdom holds that you make peace with your enemies, not your friends. This mantra has been intoned by such diverse figures as Moshe Dayan, Desmond Tutu, and James Baker. When they said it, it seemed almost self-evident, even trite. But it is nonetheless often repudiated in U.S. domestic debates, where a willingness to negotiate is seen as a sign of weakness or an inappropriate reward for bad behavior.

Negotiating with the United States is not a reward. Anyone who has ever spent long hours shut in a windowless conference room with Secretary of State John Kerry understands this basic truth at the core of his being.

The question of whether to seek Iran’s involvement in the proposed Geneva talks on Syria illustrates how this concept of reward can lead us astray. The reason to involve Iran is not because Iran is a constructive actor on Syria. According to a recent report by The New York Times, Iran has been a key supporter of the Assad regime’s violent oppression and is a party to the conflict. It is not because U.S. officials believe that agreement with Iran on Syria could herald the dawn of a new era of U.S.-Iranian friendship. After more than ten years of dealing with the Iranian regime on the nuclear file, there are few illusions and even less trust left in the U.S. government when it comes to the Iran. The regime in Iran is, quite simply, our enemy. Read more ..

Legal Jihad

Manipulating International Law as Part of Anti-Israeli “Lawfare”

June 2nd 2013

Scales of Justice

The attempts to brand Israel as a state that violates rules of international law have become a recurrent feature of the “lawfare” being waged against Israel. Although no state has a perfect record in this regard, Israel’s record of compliance with international law is remarkably strong. Israeli courts enforce customary international law as part of the “law of the land” and in a long series of decisions, the Israeli High Court has ordered the Israeli government, army, and security services to change policies that, in the court’s view, were in violation of customary international law. Perhaps uniquely among national court systems, the court has even intervened in actual combat situations. The Israeli government has a near-impeccable record of complying with such court orders. In a personal vein, this author can attest to a not-very-friendly senior Egyptian negotiator telling him in a private conversation that although negotiating with Israel was “hell,” he was aware that once agreement was reached, Israel had a very good record of complying with its undertakings. Read more ..

Israel on Edge

The Al-Dura Affair and Its Implications for Morality and Ethics in France

June 1st 2013

al Dura Death

The report of Israel’s governmental inquiry committee on the al-Dura affair, written after a thorough examination of all the materials related to this unfortunate affair and published by the director-general of the Ministry of International Relations and Strategy, Yossi Kuperwasser, should set off red lights and serve as a lesson for all foreign reporters working in Israel. It should also be taught in journalism schools in Israel and throughout the world.

It is, of course, regrettable that the report only appeared thirteen years after the outbreak of the Second Intifada and the al-Dura affair, which caused grave damage to Israel’s image, but there is no early or late when it comes to the truth. We also owe profound gratitude and esteem to all those who tirelessly pursued justice in this affair despite the many difficulties that confronted them. Read more ..

The New Egypt

An Egyptian Summer of Discontent Follows the Arab Spring

May 31st 2013

Jump at Cops

Due to a moribund economy, fuel and food shortages, and a lack of political opportunities, Egypt faces a tumultuous summer, and conditions will likely continue to deteriorate thereafter. While Washington should encourage Cairo to undertake necessary political and economic reforms that might calm the situation and improve governance, the Obama administration should concentrate on preserving vital strategic interests in the event of renewed upheaval.

A summer of shortages

Since Egypt’s 2011 revolution, persistent political uncertainty and plummeting domestic security have undermined foreign investment and harmed the country’s once-vibrant tourism industry. According to the Interior Ministry, the past year has witnessed a 120 percent increase in murders, 350 percent increase in robberies, and 145 percent jump in kidnappings. Read more ..

Iran on Edge

Iran's Election: The Men Who May Be Also-Rans

May 31st 2013

Iran Missiles

In the span of the past week, the field of candidates for Iran’s presidential election has winnowed from 686 to 8, thanks to the theocratic system's heavy-handed vetting process, and now media speculation is converging even more narrowly around a single apparent front-runner— nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili. And yet as I pointed out in a previous post, the drumbeat of inevitability surrounding Jalili may well be overstated, at least for the moment. Much can happen over the course of the next 15 days, and recent Iranian history suggests that it’s worth the effort to learn a bit about the longshots. In the Islamic Republic, today’s unknown may be tomorrow’s upset winner of the presidency.

In addition to Jalili, the field includes 7 other political figures intended to satisfy various constituencies and present a veneer of competition and diversity to a deeply cynical and depoliticized public. There are at least two serious contenders who stand a credible prospect of gaining momentum in this race; two additional candidates who, despite limited public traction, could credibly fill out the office of the presidency while ensuring its absolute impotence; two candidates whose inclusion reflects a grudging nod toward assuaging relevant political constituencies; and finally, an independent candidate who is a political entrepreneur.  Read more ..

Pacific Islanders on Edge

Pacific Islanders Cope with Displacement from Natural Disasters and Climate Change

May 30th 2013

Pagasa Island

Like its neighbors in the Pacific, the Cook Islands is no stranger to severe natural disasters. Pacific island countries are highly susceptible to increasingly frequent and extreme events, such as cyclones, tsunamis and landslides, as well as the slower-onset effects of climate change, such as rising sea levels, increased temperatures and coastal erosion.

Last week I was privileged to attend the first-ever regional consultation of the Nansen Initiative on Disaster-Induced Cross-Border Displacement, held in the Cook Islands in the Pacific. The consultation, hosted by the Prime Minister of the Cook Islands, brought together government officials from ten Pacific countries, as well as representatives from regional and international organizations, academia and civil society.

The issue of cross-border migration is always a sensitive one, and even more so when the prospective, permanent movement of whole communities is contemplated. While a key message from the meeting was that Pacific peoples wish to remain in their homes for as long as possible, there was recognition that some displacement and migration is inevitable. As the Prime Minister of the Cook Islands observed: ‘If we fail to plan, then we plan to fail.’ Read more ..

Defense on Edge

Why this Defense Drawdown Must Be Different

May 29th 2013


Over two months in, deep and arbitrary budget cuts imposed by sequestration are popping up all over the US military with real consequences for those in uniform. This may be one reason the president’s budget request for next year virtually ignores sequestration. While Congress may be inclined to follow, the law remains unchanged and no grand bargain seems within reach at the moment.

This means that now is the time for policymakers at the Pentagon and on Capitol Hill to seize the opportunity to mobilize support for far-reaching changes to some of the key drivers of defense spending that are threatening other essential priorities. Unfortunately, while there is a growing consensus in DC that such structural reforms are needed at the Department of Defense (DoD), the political will is conspicuously absent. AEI defense analyst Mackenzie Eaglen has written extensively about this topic. AEIdeas recently sat down with Mackenzie and asked for her thoughts on the subject. Read more ..

Oil Addiction

To Drill or Not to Drill

May 28th 2013

Saudi Oil

The coming American oil boom is bad news for Saudi Arabia. How the kingdom responds could very well determine if it survives.

Current trends in the global energy market don't look good for Saudi Arabia. First, the International Energy Agency projected in November 2012 that the United States will surpass the Gulf petrogiant as the world's top energy producer by 2020. Then, last week, it revealed that North America, buoyed by the rapid development of its unconventional oil industry, is set to dominate global oil production over the next five years. These unforeseen developments not only represent a blow to Saudi Arabia's prestige but also a potential threat to the country's long term economic well-being -- particularly in the post-Arab Spring era of elevated per-capita government spending.

But if the kingdom's outlook is decidedly bleak, its official response has been muddled. Within a period of just five days last month, two senior Saudi Arabian officials laid out starkly different versions of their country's oil production plan. In an April 25 speech at Harvard University, Prince Turki al-Faisal, a former head of Saudi Arabia's top intelligence agency and the current chairman of the King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies, announced that the kingdom is set to increase its total production capacity from 12.5 million barrels per day (mbd) today to 15 mbd by 2020, an amount that would easily make it the world's top oil producer once again. But five days later, in a speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, DC, Saudi Arabian Minister of Petroleum and Mineral Resources Ali al-Naimi conveyed an entirely different message, rejecting Turki's statement out of hand. "We don't see anything like that, even by 2030 or 2040," he said. "We really don't need to even think about 15 million." Read more ..

The Defense Edge

All Three Budget Options Would Damage National Security

May 27th 2013

AC-130 Gunship

The Department of Defense (DOD) is now examining three revised budget options for presentation to the President. All three would impose significant damage. This is because even the highest of the three options would shrink the portion of the economy committed to defense, shrink force structure, reduce the number of people serving in the military, impose slower increases in military compensation, reduce the scope of training and maintenance, and deprive the military of significant portions of the new weapons and equipment it needs.

Most importantly, the budget reductions would result in a military of insufficient overall strength to meet the established security commitments the federal government has made to the American people and U.S. friends and allies around the world. Read more ..

Iran on Edge

Winners and Losers in Iran's Presidential Election

May 25th 2013

Iranian clerics

Although Iran will not hold its presidential election until June 14, the winners and losers are already clear. The biggest losers are Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and outgoing president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad; the biggest winner is former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani.


Earlier this week, the Guardian Council -- with Khamenei's consent, and perhaps even at his request -- disqualified Rafsanjani from running in the election. However difficult the decision may have been, it was also essential for Khamenei's plans. Since 2009, Rafsanjani has become known as a vocal critic of the Supreme Leader and Ahmadinejad. In recent months, reformists began to support his candidacy because they knew that the Guardian Council would prevent their own prominent candidates from running. Rafsanjani rapidly became a symbol for change among his former critics, who concluded that only he could alter the power equation to limit the Supreme Leader's authority and keep the military and intelligence forces from further expanding their control over nonmilitary life. He also received wide support from technocrats and other figures who want a more competent leadership in Tehran -- two traits sorely lacking in the current government. Had Rafsanjani been permitted to run, he could have converted the election into a referendum on Khamenei's leadership, so the Supreme Leader decided to stop the tsunami before it began. Read more ..

Brazil on Edge

New Research on Brazil’s Rise as a Global Power

May 24th 2013

biblioteca nacional brasilia

The selection of Ambassador Roberto Azevêdo as Director General of the World Trade Organization (WTO) has once again put Brazilian diplomacy on the front pages of the world’s newspapers. While without a doubt superbly prepared and qualified for this new post, Azevêdo’s appointment also owes much to Brazil’s international reputation as a critical bridge between old and new powers. But is this really the case?

New research by the Australian National University’s Dr. Sean W. Burges published in the London-based Royal Institute of International Affairs’ journal International Affairs suggests that Brazil is not quite the international good citizen and selfless consensus builder it seems. As Burges notes: “Brazil is blessed with enormously clever and capable diplomats who consistently advance their own country’s national interest while making others think they are acting for the global good.” The point the paper makes is that Brazil is able to do this partly because it is trying to gain a greater voice in international affairs, not tear the global governance system down: “The current international system is quite a comfortable place for Brazil. What Brazil wants is to have more of a say about where the world is going and how it is going to be run in the future.”


Azerbaijan on Edge

Offshore Companies Provide Link BetweenCorporate Mogul and Azerbaijan's President

May 22nd 2013

Azerbaijani President Allyea

Members of Azerbaijan’s first family have had been shareholders in at least four offshore companies, newly revealed records show.

A corporate mogul whose business empire has won building contracts worth billions of dollars amid Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev’s massive construction spree is tied to the president’s family through secretive offshore companies.

The businessman, Hassan Gozal, is the director of three British Virgin Islands (BVI) companies set up in 2008 in the name of the president’s daughters, according to secret documents obtained by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. The daughters were 19 and 23 years old at the time. The documents obtained by ICIJ also show that the president and his wife, Mehriban, a member of Parliament, acquired their own BVI company in 2003, Rosamund International Ltd. Read more ..

The Education Edge

Focus on Sustainable Development: Education and Learning Can Play a Role

May 21st 2013

African school kids

While the theme of the third meeting of the High-Level Panel on Post-2015 in Bali was on global partnerships, the meeting’s communiqué set up the handover from the high-level panel to the intergovernmental Open Working Group on the Sustainable Development Goals (OWG). The communiqué calls for “a single and coherent post-2015 development agenda that integrates economic growth, social inclusion and environmental sustainability”, and with good reason since the two development frameworks for post-2015—poverty alleviation and sustainable development—are not separate. Rather, they are interlinked challenges that need to inform each other and ultimately must be addressed together in one framework.

Moreover, the role of education and equitable learning in achieving sustainable development needs to figure prominently in these discussions. Sustainable development cannot be attained without education that provides learners with 21st century skills that equip them for healthy, safe, and productive lives, while also safeguarding the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. Read more ..

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