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Islam on Edge

Raping Women in the Name of Islam

April 10th 2013


While jihadis in Syria are importing girls from Tunisia to satisfy their sexual needs, their colleagues in Libya are kidnapping and raping women. Last week, the father of two British women of Pakistani origin said that his daughters were gang raped in front of him by Muslim fundamentalists in Libya's eastern city of Benghazi. The father, Awadh al-Barassai, said on his Facebook page that the women were part of a humanitarian convoy that was heading to the Gaza Strip. As of now, families of "pro-Palestinian" activists will have to think ten times before sending their daughters on humanitarian aid convoys. He said that the women were raped in front of him after being kidnapped by Muslim extremists. He condemned the crime as a "horrible act." Read more ..

Turkey's Domestic Edge

Syria's War Could Inflame Turkey's Hatay Province

April 9th 2013

Assad and Erdogan

Despite Ankara's sharp turn away from Bashar al-Assad over the course of Syria's civil war, domestic complications have prevented it from taking the lead on overthrowing him. Several unique demographic, political, and historical factors are at play in Turkey's Hatay border province, increasing the risk of violent sectarian spillover from next door. Curbing this trend will require Washington to work closely with Ankara on keeping sectarian sentiment out of its Syria policy.

Hatay is Turkey's southernmost province, a panhandle sandwiched between Syria and the Mediterranean Sea. It is also demographically unique, containing the country's largest proportion of Arabs (nearly a third of the province's population of 1.5 million).As the only province to join Turkey after its establishment in 1923, Hatay is politically unique as well. Read more ..

The Iranian Threat

Iran Beyond Oil?

April 9th 2013

Iranian Rial Close-Up

The image of Iran's economy as oil, carpets, and pistachios was always flawed, but has now become badly dated. The Islamic Republic is in the midst of a non-oil export boom -- it has the potential to remain a middle-income country even with no oil exports, and the reserves to finance the transition in the meantime. For years, Iran's leaders called for reduced reliance on oil but did little to meet that goal. Western sanctions have seemingly spurred them to action -- in his annual Nowruz address on March 21, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei acknowledged for the first time that restrictions on the country's oil exports had made a serious impact: "The sanctions have had an effect, which is because of an essential flaw that we are suffering from. The flaw that our economy is suffering from is that it is dependent on oil." He also acknowledged that Iran's "economic weakness" had led to "harsh conditions for certain groups of people." Rather than change Iranian nuclear policy, however, he argued, "We can turn every threat into an opportunity...The sanctions caused the massive domestic capacities of the Iranian nation to become activated." Read more ..

Cyprus on Edge

Giving Bank Depositors "Haircuts" Sets Bad Precedent

April 8th 2013

IndyMac bank run

"Bailing in" implies the opposite of governments' "bailing out" careless investors or bank managers with public money. Specifically, "bailing in" substitutes appropriate losses by "at risk" investors for injections of taxpayer funds to rescue them. The recent collapse of Cypriot banks included "bail ins" for investors. But large depositors were also "bailed in", suffering the loss of at least 60 percent of their deposits. This was described as making investors pay for bad banking instead of taxpayers bailing out the banks.

But do we really want to treat bank depositors as "investors"? The Dutch finance minister, Jeroen Dijsselboem, now president of the Eurozone's foreign minister group, is a 46 year old agricultural economist who thinks that bailing in large depositors in Cypriot banks by expropriating at least 60% of their deposits was the right approach to March's Cypriot bank work out. As Mr. Dijsselboem said, "that's an approach we, now that we are out of the crisis, should consequently take." Read more ..

Guantanamo on Edge

What's Behind The Hunger Strike At Guantanamo Bay?

April 7th 2013


News that many of the detainees at Guantanamo have gone on hunger strike has refocused attention on the U.S.-run detention facility. What triggered the hunger strike at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility and when did it start?

In early February, the camp commander resumed a 2006-era policy of searching prisoners’ Korans for possible contraband. A few inmates began refusing meals to protest what they considered desecration. More men have joined in the weeks since.

Washington-based lawyer David H. Remes represents 15 detainees, at least six of whom are on hunger strike. He visited the detention facility a few weeks ago and spoke by phone with two of his clients on March 29.

"They told me that the hunger strike is still widespread," he says. " According to them and other detainees, virtually everyone in Camp 6, which is the most populous camp in the prison, has been hunger striking and the men are more determined than ever to continue until they achieve their goal, even if it means starving themselves to death." Read more ..

Education on Edge

Scaling Turnaround: A District-Improvement Approach

April 6th 2013

school kids

For years, US education reform has focused on simple, isolated reform elements such as promoting reading programs or redesigning individual schools. These efforts have only provided sporadic improvements in student achievement. School-level and single-focus reforms ultimately fail because they do not acknowledge the larger school system's role in supporting and creating capacity for the system's lowest-performing schools to improve. Driving excellent teaching and learning across schools necessitates considering how districts can be best structured to help schools meet unique student needs while maintaining alignment and system coherence. A handful of US school districts-Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools, the School District of Philadelphia, Denver Public Schools, Sacramento City Unified School District, and Long Beach Unified School District-have yielded notable performance gains by employing systemic, district-led turnaround approaches, and provide important lessons for devising systemic turnaround or improvement efforts and overcoming the myriad associated obstacles. Read more ..

Broken Economy

Bad News in March: Tepid Job Gains and a Shrinking Workforce

April 5th 2013

People lined up for jobs

Employers added only 88,000 workers to their payrolls in March, far off the pace of job gains in the previous six months. Between August 2012 and February 2013 payrolls grew at an average rate of 197,000 a month; private payrolls rose slightly faster than 205,000 a month. The much slower pace of job gains in March may foreshadow a slowdown in payroll growth over the next few months as fiscal contraction at the federal level begins to bite.

Employment gains reported in the household survey show an even bleaker picture of the job market. The number of adults in the household survey who report holding a job fell 206,000 in March, capping a 5-month period in which reported employment losses have averaged 34,000 a month.  The unemployment rate declined 0.3 percentage points between October and March, and 0.1 percentage point in March, because the labor force shrank an average of 137,000 a month during the period. The labor force participation rate reached a 35-year low in March, dipping to just 63.3 percent of the adult population. The last time the participation rate was this low was in the Carter Administration. Read more ..

North Korea on Edge

Analysts Downplay North Korean Nuclear Threats

April 3rd 2013

Kim Jong Un

Analysts say it is too soon to tell how North Korea's decision to resume operations at a shuttered plutonium nuclear reactor and  further uranium enrichment will impact Pyongyang's nuclear weapons program.

It would take about six months to get the plutonium reactor at the Yongbyon nuclear complex running again, estimates Mark Fitzpatrick, director of the London-based IISS's non-proliferation and disarmament program.

"The danger is that if North Korea could get the small reactor going again, they could resume the plutonium production program that has been the basis of their nuclear weapons program to date," says Fitzpatrick. "But we're not looking at an immediate production of plutonium."

North Korea agreed to mothball the plutonium reactor and destroy its cooling tower as part a 2007 aid-for-disarmament deal at the now-stalled six-party talks. A spokesperson was quoted Tuesday in state media as saying work on the facility would begin immediately. Read more ..

The Edge of Climate Change

New Models Predict Drastically Greener Arctic In Coming Decades

April 2nd 2013

Glacier calving

New research predicts that rising temperatures will lead to a massive “greening,” or increase in plant cover, in the Arctic. In a paper published on March 31 in Nature Climate Change, scientists reveal new models projecting that wooded areas in the Arctic could increase by as much as 50 percent over the next few decades. The researchers also show that this dramatic greening will accelerate climate warming at a rate greater than previously expected. “Such widespread redistribution of Arctic vegetation would have impacts that reverberate through the global ecosystem,” said Richard Pearson, lead author on the paper and a research scientist at the American Museum of Natural History’s Center for Biodiversity and Conservation. Read more ..

The Defense Edge

The Combined Powers of the U.S. Face a New Era in Geo-Politics

April 2nd 2013

Click to select Image

An era ended when the Soviet Union collapsed on Dec. 31, 1991. The confrontation between the United States and the Soviet Union defined the Cold War period. The collapse of Europe framed that confrontation. After World War II, the Soviet and American armies occupied Europe. Both towered over the remnants of Europe's forces. The collapse of the European imperial system, the emergence of new states and a struggle between the Soviets and Americans for domination and influence also defined the confrontation. There were, of course, many other aspects and phases of the confrontation, but in the end, the Cold War was a struggle built on Europe's decline.

Many shifts in the international system accompanied the end of the Cold War. In fact, 1991 was an extraordinary and defining year. The Japanese economic miracle ended. China after Tiananmen Square inherited Japan's place as a rapidly growing, export-based economy, one defined by the continued pre-eminence of the Chinese Communist Party. The Maastricht Treaty was formulated, creating the structure of the subsequent European Union. A vast coalition dominated by the United States reversed the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. Read more ..

The North Korean Threat

China Aids Persecution of North Koreans

April 1st 2013

Kim Jung Un-Chinese Officiers

When the North Korean government stated on Saturday it was entering a "state of war" with South Korea, a large number of refugees -- mostly Christians -- once again began fleeing across Chinese border in hopes of avoiding more suffering and starvation from the hard-line communist regime. In many cases, according to human rights groups, North Korean Christians are accused of being spies for South Korea or the United States and incarcerated in prison camps or worse -- killed.

"From this time on, the North-South relations will be entering the state of war and all issues raised between the North and the South will be handled accordingly," a statement carried by the North's official KCNA news agency said. Fleeing North Koreans are finding that the Chinese are no big help in providing asylum from the brutality and state-sanctioned killing in North Korea, according to the group Liberty in North Korea. Read more ..

Broken Government

Easter Has Friends on K Street

March 31st 2013


The Easter Bunny — that cotton-tailed purveyor of egg-shaped confections — will deliver his annual baskets of goodies this Sunday. But not without some help from K Street lobbyists.

Organizations linked to the Easter holiday and its furry mascot have ramped up their efforts to influence lawmakers, according to federal lobbying data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics.

Consider the National Confectioners Association, the trade group for all things cream-filled and candy-coated, which spent a record $420,000 on federal lobbying in 2012.

The association hired 20 lobbyists last year to push Congress for sweet deals on bills such as the Free Market Sugar Act and the Free Sugar Act of 2011. Nine of those lobbyists have previously worked for the federal government in some capacity.  Among them is William J. Morley, of the D.C.-based Altrius Group, who also lobbied on behalf of the Central American Sugar Association and the American Chamber of Commerce in Columbia. Read more ..

Cuba on Edge

Preserving Stability in Cuba

March 30th 2013

Cuba Street Scene

Cuba under Raúl Castro has entered a new period of economic, social, and political transformation. Reforms instituted within the past few years have brought the expansion of private sector entrepreneurial activity, including lifting restrictions on the sales of residential real estate, automobiles, and electronic goods. Additional reforms included, more than a million hectares of idle land has been leased to private farmers, where citizens have been granted permission to stay in hotels previously reserved for tourists, and freedom being granted for most Cubans to travel abroad. Stating that it was time for the “gradual transfer” of “key roles to new generations,” President Raúl Castro announced that he will retire by 2018, and named as his possible successor a man who was not even born at the time of the Cuban Revolution.

The twilight of the Castro era presents challenges and opportunities for U.S. policy makers. Normalization of relations is inevitable, regardless of timing, yet external and internal factors may accelerate or retard the process. The death of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez is likely to undermine the already dysfunctional Cuban economy, if it leads to reductions in oil imports and other forms of aid. This could bring social chaos, especially among the island’s disaffected youth. Such an outcome would generate adverse consequences for U.S. national and regional security. To maintain Cuba’s social and economic stability while reforms are maturing, the United States must throw itself open to unrestricted bilateral trade with all Cuban enterprises, both private and state-owned. Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

Obama Goes His Own Way in Syria

March 29th 2013

Corpses in Homs

President Obama is at odds with Vice President Biden, Secretary of State John Kerry and others on his national security team on whether to provide body armor and other non-lethal military equipment to vetted rebels battling Bashar Assad's regime in Syria, Foreign Policy reported Thursday.

The president's National Security Council principals all agreed to the aid last month, according to the report, but Obama has not acted on it. The Washington Post first reported last month that the administration was considering sending the aid, but Thursday's report is the first to claim that the council has sent the president an interagency recommendation urging the shift in policy. Read more ..

The Edge of Justice

Corporations, Pro-business Nonprofits Foot Bill for Judicial Seminars

March 28th 2013

judge's gavel

Conservative foundations, multinational oil companies and a prescription drug maker were the most frequent sponsors of more than 100 expense-paid educational seminars attended by federal judges over a 4 1/2-year period, according to a Center for Public Integrity investigation. Among the seminar titles were “The Moral Foundations of Capitalism,” “Corporations and the Limits of Criminal Law” and “Terrorism, Climate & Central Planning: Challenges to Liberty & the Rule of Law.”

Leading the list of sponsors of the 109 seminars identified by the Center were the conservative Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation, The Searle Freedom Trust, also a supporter of conservative causes, ExxonMobil Corp., Shell Oil Co., pharmaceutical giant Pfizer Inc. and State Farm Insurance Cos. Each were sponsors of 54 seminars. Other top sponsors included the conservative Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation (51), Dow Chemical Co. (47), AT&T Inc. (45) and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce (46), according to the Center’s analysis. Sponsors pick up the cost of judges’ expenses, which often include air fare, hotel stays and meals. The seminars in the Center’s investigation took place from July 2008 through 2012. Read more ..

Inside the Catholic Church

With Chavez gone, Will Pope Francis Play a Role in Latin America?

March 27th 2013

Pope Francis1 March 2013

Following the spirit of the constitution, the next elections in Venezuela are scheduled for April 14th. Nicolas Maduro will be the candidate of the PSUV while Henrique Capriles Radonski will be the candidate of the united opposition (MDU).

Chavez’s death has left a legacy in Venezuela similar to that of Peron: a mythical figure that will be remembered by those who have materially benefitted from Chavez’s years as president and by those who see him as a symbol of redemption and independence regardless of any concerns for constitutional democracy.

We have seen these mythical signs of his legacy when Maduro placed Chavez in the same light as “Jesus the Redeemer”. He pointed out that Chavez is the Christ of the poor of Latin America. Read more ..

Broken Government

North Dakota is New Battleground over Abortion

March 27th 2013

Click to select Image

North Dakota adopted the nation’s strictest abortion ban Tuesday, setting the stage for a lengthy court battle and reviving the charge among abortion-rights supporters that Republicans are “radical” on women’s health. The measure, signed Tuesday by North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple (R), bans abortions when doctors can first detect a heartbeat, or after about six weeks of fetal development.

Two other new laws ban genetic and gender discrimination in abortions, and require abortion doctors to maintain admitting privileges at a hospital. Dalrymple’s quick decision to approve the measures came as a surprise to abortion-rights supporters, who savaged the laws in language reminiscent of the 2012 election. Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

Implications of Possible Chemical Weapons Use in Syria

March 26th 2013

Syria fighting injured baby

Claims that chemical weapons (CW) were used in Syria Tuesday center on two reported incidents. The first, claimed by the regime, was at Khan al-Asal in the northern Aleppo province; at least 25 people died (reportedly including 16 regime troops), and more than 110 were injured. The regime claims a rocket or missile with a chemical agent hit a government-controlled area. The second incident, claimed by the opposition, was in the town of Ataibah east of Damascus; it included "fierce shelling with chemical rockets" containing an agent that induced "suffocating and nausea cases" as well as "headache, vomiting, and hysteria cases." The two episodes occurred hundreds of miles apart.

According to Syrian information minister Omran al-Zoubi, the missile or rocket that struck Khan al-Asal came from Qatar or another Arab League country, a claim that may be possible to verify or refute through intelligence sources. He stated that those responsible "must be held accountable -- a king or a prince, a president or a minister." The Syrian regime has asked the UN to investigate. For their part, the military office of the National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces (SOC) and other groups denied that they have the ability to deploy such weapons and instead blamed the regime, claiming it missed its original target of a police academy taken by the rebels. Read more ..

Europe on Edge

Portents of Danger in the Cyprus Bailout

March 26th 2013

Click to select Image

The European economic crisis has taken different forms in different places, and Cyprus is the latest country to face the prospect of financial ruin. Overextended banks in Cyprus are teetering on the brink of failure for issuing loans they cannot repay, which has prompted the tiny Mediterranean country, a member of the European Union, to turn to Brussels for help. Late Sunday, the European Union and Cypriot president announced new terms for a bailout that would provide the infusion of cash necessary to prevent bankruptcies in Cyprus' banking sector and, more important, prevent a banking panic from spreading to the rest of Europe. Read more ..

Catholic Church on Edge

Pope Francis and a New Era for the Catholic Church

March 25th 2013

Click to select Image

With their unending infatuation with the exotica of ritual and royalty, all of the networks provided extensive coverage of the papal resignation and election.

Expect the same when Queen Elizabeth II either dies or abdicates.

The appearance of Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio of Buenos Aires on the loggia of St. Peter’s was greeted by a brief moment of surprise (conclave coverage suggested we would be seeing Pope Angelo Scola or Odilo Scherer -- the Italian Episcopal Conference even e-mailed an erroneous congratulations to Scola -- the papal version of “Dewey Defeats Truman.”) Then crowd went wild as the huge bell on St. Peter’s pealed out the glad tidings.

Pope Francis is widely touted as a pope of “firsts,” which is true, but with qualifications. He is the first non-European in many centuries (although his family history suggests a more “transnational” identity). He is the first Latin American (true enough, but this geographical short-hand obscures the distinctiveness of Argentine culture and Catholicism.) Perhaps most surprisingly, he is the first Jesuit elected to the See of Rome (truly remarkable since the Jesuit “brand” was pretty much damaged by Pope John Paul II’s punitive “take-over” of the order in the 1980s.) Read more ..

Iran's Nukes

Understanding the Current State of the Iranian Nuclear Challenge

March 24th 2013

Iran Nuclear Equipment centrifuges

Over the last decade, a clear international consensus has slowly emerged that Iran was not just pursuing a civilian nuclear program, as Tehran argued, but rather was seeking nuclear weapons. True, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty guarantees the right of signatories, like Iran, to use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, but that did not include a right to enrich uranium in order to produce indigenous nuclear fuels that could be employed for nuclear weapons.

Many countries with nuclear power infrastructures, like South Korea, Finland, Spain, and Sweden, actually received their nuclear fuels from abroad. Even in the U.S., 92 percent of the uranium used in 2010 by nuclear power plants was of foreign origin. But unlike these other cases, Iran chose to establish its own uranium enrichment infrastructure at Natanz and suspiciously kept it totally secret from the world until 2002, when it was revealed by the Iranian opposition. A second secret enrichment facility, near Qom, buried deep inside a mountain, was disclosed in 2009. Read more ..

Obama and Israel

From Ramallah to Cairo, The Winds of Change and Tension Are Blowing

March 23rd 2013

Obama, Bibi, Peres chat walking away

Barack Obama has traveled a long way over the past four years in his Middle East policy. In other words: the Mideast has traveled a long way since the President took office.

The tête-à-tête vis-à-vis Israel has now become hugs and kisses, and Obama is gradually bidding adieu to his landmark Cairo address in favor of his new address in Jerusalem.

The President’s remarks at a joint press conference Thursday with Palestinian Authority (PA) president Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah underscore just how wide the gap is between the President Obama of 2009 and the reality of today.  Rather than counterproductive unilateral calls for Israel to stop building, an implied censure of Abbas for insisting on preconditions for negotiations – like that very same freeze. Read more ..

The Economy on Edge

The Bias Against Working Women

March 22nd 2013

Working Women

In proclaiming March as Women's History Month, President Obama stated that "too many women feel the weight of discrimination on their shoulders." Liberals often make this claim, citing the fact that women earn only 77 cents for every dollar earned by men, and call for stronger protection against gender-based discrimination by employers.

Conservatives typically respond by pointing out that men and women tend to make different choices about occupation, working hours and whether to take time off from the labor force. They cite studies showing that, after controlling for these choices, the gender wage gap falls to only a few cents.

Unfortunately, both sides are missing an important point. Our society does indeed discriminate against working women. But the main culprit isn't employers. It's the government. Fortunately, some simple policy fixes can help create real fairness for women. But these reforms will require liberals to accept tax and entitlement changes and conservatives to accept more mothers working outside the home. Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

Cyprus, Terrorism & Drugs

March 19th 2013

International Currency 3

For the first time during the Euro crisis, depositors will contribute to the cost of recapitalizing banks. But Cyprus's bailout precedent may end up affecting bank depositors elsewhere in Europe and even in the U.S. 

This bailout scheme was initiated by Germany, and agreed upon by the Cypriot government, the International Monetary Fund, the European Central Bank and the European Union. Here's how it works: Nicosia will find 5.8 billion euro from a 9.9 percent "stability levy" on deposits larger than 100,000 euro and a 6.75 percent levy on smaller deposits.  The IMF will throw in a billion euro and the rest will come from the European Stability Mechanism. While the benefit would be limited the potential risks of destabilizing the whole banking system of Southern European eurozone countries, and beyond, are high. 

Cyprus has become a major money-laundering destination for Russians even before the fall of the Soviet Union. They were joined oligarchs who found safe haven in the Cypriot banks. Not surprisingly, the Cypriot government doesn't wish to push them away. Instead, it works to minimize the burdens on the large depositors (Russians) so as not to "derail progress on renegotiating a 2.5 billion euro loan from Moscow."  Read more ..

Egypt and Israel

Egyptian Security Officials In Israel To Discuss Security and Diplomacy

March 18th 2013

Wailing Wall in Jerusalem

The Tower has learned that just days before President Barack Obama arrives in Israel for discussions on sensitive regional issues, a high-ranking group of Egyptian army intelligence officers has made a quiet trip to Israel to meet counterparts.

The discussions this week come at a time of increasing strain between Hamas, the Iran-backed terror group based in the Gaza Strip, and Egypt’s military and security forces, and as dire economic issues, as well as spreading riots, are straining the country. Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi has repeatedly overreached in pursuit of consolidated Islamist rule, deepening widespread public unrest that was already growing due to massive economic pressure.

The Egyptian army – the country’s most popular institution, which is still seen as a guarantor of social stability and public safety – has been making increasingly firm moves against Hamas, and as The Tower reported exclusively last week, each side has taken to waging a media-driven “cold war” against the other. Read more ..

The Eurozone on Edge

The Eurozone's Gambling Problem: Rolling the Dice on Cyprus

March 18th 2013

Euro Bills

In Cyprus, the eurozone’s leaders are yet again gambling the future of the currency zone through an excessively risky move. As is too frequent in the euro crisis, cruelly binding political constraints blocked the most sensible approach. Instead, they have chosen a path that may get them through the next period while laying the seeds of a worse trouble down the line. They may get lucky, but they are increasing the vulnerability of the currency zone to a future wave of crisis. (In due humility, we must note that U.S. politicians are not strikingly better at these types of decisions.)

The Cypriot government was about to run out of money and the banking system needs a bailout that is too large for the state to support in the long run, even if it could borrow the cash now. The best solution would have been a eurozone rescue on fairly lenient terms, as an interim solution if not a longer-term one. The country is very small; its economy is only about one half a percent of the total in the eurozone. A pragmatic rescue would have paid dividends in increasing the zone’s stability at a critical time when problems in Greece, Italy, Spain and elsewhere are worsened by political constraints created by the run-up to Germany’s September federal elections. Read more ..

Iran Nuclear Cheats Caught

Covert Iranian Nuclear Dealings via Turkey Revealed

March 17th 2013

Ahmadinejad triumphant

An investigation conducted by the federal prosecutor's office of Germany has revealed that Iranian front companies based in İstanbul transported 941 items with nuclear applications through Turkey, the Bugün daily reported on Tuesday.
According to the report, in 2012 German police detected that materials with nuclear applications obtained in Germany and India were transported to the Mitech company in Iran through Turkey by an Iranian national, Hossein Tanideh. Mitech is under US and European Union-imposed sanctions.

Germany's Federal Criminal Police Office, which is also the German branch of Interpol, informed its counterpart in Turkey about Tanideh's dealings, and Tanideh was arrested after being referred to the Küçükçekmece Court in İstanbul on Jan. 19, 2013. As part of the investigation, Mesut Atasoy, who is the owner of one the front companies implicated in Turkey, was also taken into custody, while three other Iranian nationals are still on the run. Read more ..

Turkey on Edge

How Revolutions Work: Turkey, America, and the Arab World

March 15th 2013

Haghia Sophia

A fascinating article on Islamism in Turkey that also reflects on the situation in Arabic-speaking countries has been written by Soner Cagaptay, director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy’s Turkish research program. I’m a fan of his analysis so nothing in the following article should be taken as criticism but rather as an exploration of his article’s themes.

There’s also a very interesting parallel here with domestic events in the United States. But first, Cagaptay’s theme us as follows:  There are strong limits on how far Islamism can go in Turkey; and, the Arabic-speaking states are very different from Turkey in lacking a strong secularist (or at least anti-Islamist) sector that is deeply embedded in the country’s culture and history. I think he is right on both points but let’s look more into the details. First, on Turkey itself. Cagaptay’s article was prompted by a personal experience in Istanbul. Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

Global Jihad? Al Qaeda Expands to Africa, Beyond

March 15th 2013

NYPD and flag

A recent study found American citizens make up more than half of those convicted for involvement with al Qaeda. Many converted from Christianity to Islam. The stunning statistic is another sign that the face of al Qaeda is changing -- in more ways than one. "They have these aspirations essentially to use Mali as a base to expand jihad across the entire part of Africa: North Africa, West Africa. And also from there, they can franchise into Europe," said Rudy Atallah, CEO of White Mountain Research and a former counterterrorism director for the Pentagon.

Atallah said al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, or AQIM, poses a growing danger to Africa and beyond. "It's the wealthiest AQ affiliate in the world," he told CBN News. "They've made so much money -- I've heard quotes as much $90 million to $120 million -- between ransoms and drugs. "So they're flush with cash," Atallah said. "They have a lot of weapons and they have recruits everywhere." Read more ..

Greece on Edge

Greek's Radical Left: The Dangers of the Disaffected and the Unemployed

March 14th 2013

Greek Protesters

In last week's Geopolitical Weekly, George Friedman discussed how the global financial crisis has caused a global unemployment crisis and how Europe has become the epicenter of that crisis. He also noted that rampant unemployment will give way to a political crisis as austerity measures galvanize radical political parties opposed to the status quo.

Because unemployment is so pervasive, jobless, disenchanted people are joining radical parties espousing a wide variety of ideologies. Examples include populist euroskeptic parties, such as Italy's Five Star movement; far-right parties, such as Greece's Golden Dawn party; and anti-austerity leftist groups, such as Greece's Coalition of the Radical Left, or Syriza. With unemployment in Greece at 27 percent, it is not surprising to see both radical right-wing and radical left-wing groups gaining support from those who have become deeply disaffected by the crises.  Read more ..

Obama's Second Term

The Ryan Budget: DOA But Driving Fiscal Debate

March 13th 2013

Paul Ryan

Paul Ryan, the chair of the House Budget Committee, has just released Republicans' version of the Budget Resolution for fiscal year 2014.  It promises to balance the budget by 2023 and to eliminate the entire national debt shortly after 2050.  Between 2014 and 2023, spending would be reduced by $4.6 trillion.  All of the deficit reductions are to be achieved through spending cuts; changes to the tax code will be revenue-neutral.

Let's begin with the basics.  According to CBO's baseline budget projections, spending in 2023 will be $5.94 billion, while revenues will be only $4.96 billion.  Reaching balance in 2023 would imply spending cuts totaling nearly $1 trillion in that year alone—a reduction of more than 16 percent, fully 3.8 percent of the GDP. Not every category of spending is cut.  Defense spending would be increased by more than $500 billion above the baseline during the next decade, and spending for veterans would also rise.  That means that non-defense cuts would have to total more than $5.1 trillion. Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

Israel Likely to Be Next Target of Syrian Rebels, General Says

March 12th 2013

Rebel fighters

Israel’s military chief of staff warned that some of the rebel forces trying to topple Syrian President Bashar Assad may soon turn their attention southward and attack Israeli settlements in the Golan Heights.

“We see terror organizations that are increasingly gaining footholds in the territory and they are fighting against Assad,” Lieutenant-General Benny Gantz said today at a conference in Herzliya, north of Tel Aviv. “Guess what? We’ll be next in line.”

Fighting between forces loyal to Assad and rebels who want to end his family’s rule in Syria has left almost 70,000 people dead, according to the United Nations. The U.S. and its allies have sought ways to support Syria’s opposition without allowing arms to reach the hands of rebel groups associated with terrorist groups such as Al-Qaeda. Read more ..

Japan on Edge

Earthquake, Tsunami, Meltdown - The Triple Disaster's Impact on Japan, Impact on the World

March 12th 2013

Fukushima damage

Two years ago today, a devastating 9.0 earthquake struck Japan’s east coast, followed minutes later by a massive tsunami with 100 foot waves. Japan’s legendary investment in earthquake-resistant design meant that only about 100 people died in the earthquake itself although almost 20,000 people lost their lives in the tsunami. The economic destruction of the "Triple Disaster" was massive: 138,000 buildings were destroyed and $360 billion in economic losses were incurred. This was the most expensive disaster in human history. Japanese response to the earthquake and tsunami was rapid, effective and life-saving. Some 465,000 people were evacuated after the disaster. But it was the meltdowns at the Fukushima nuclear plant – the world’s worst global nuclear crisis since Chernobyl in 1986 – which caused the most fear and provoked the greatest criticism of the Japanese government’s response. Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

Hezbollah's European Enablers

March 12th 2013

Given Hezbollah's long and sordid history in Europe, and the fact that it has now resumed violent operations there, what will it take to get EU member states to ban the group?

This week, Prime Minister Stephen Harper will welcome his French counterpart, Jean-Marc Ayrault, who is making his first official visit to Canada since taking office last May. Their meeting provides a timely opportunity for Ottawa to teach Paris a thing or two about how to deal with Hezbollah.

Hezbollah has long sought to engage in financial and logistical support activities in Canada. Thankfully, Canadian law enforcement investigators and intelligence agencies have taken the threat seriously. Read more ..

Obama's Second Term

Obama Bundlers Closely Tied to Influence Industry

March 11th 2013


President Barack Obama prides himself on rejecting donations from registered lobbyists, but a newly released list of campaign fundraisers is peppered with leaders from companies and law firms that lobby the federal government.

New bundlers, whose names were released this week, include Anthony Welters, executive vice president of UnitedHealth Group, and Qualcomm co-founder and former chairman Irwin Jacobs and his wife Joan.

Each raised at least $500,000 for the Obama Victory Fund, a joint fundraising committee that includes Obama’s presidential campaign, the Democratic National Committee and party committees in several battleground states.

The exact amounts are unknown. The campaign only divulges bundlers’ fundraising activity in broad ranges, with a top category of “more than $500,000.” Qualcomm has spent at least $6 million each year since 2007 on federally reportable lobbying efforts, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. UnitedHealth spent at least $2.5 million annually in the same period. Read more ..

The New Egypt

U.S. Betting on the Wrong Egyptian Horse

March 11th 2013

Cairo embassy protest Sep 2012

The Muslim Brotherhood continues the process of destroying Egypt with one ideologically driven catastrophic error in judgment after another. This weekend's involves yet more violence in Port Said. Riots there have been going on for months now and the latest episode is detailed below by James Dorsey.  As has been the case, the riots are not about football, but the Egyptian regime's character and policies.

Mohamed Morsi et al. have mishandled the protest over soccer riot convictions so badly that now the police are on strike in more than a third of Egyptian provinces, including not only Port Said, where they've abandoned their posts, but also parts of Cairo.  More than 50 people have died in Port Said in the past month.

According to the Guardian UK,"Police have also refused to protect President Mohamed Morsi's home in the Nile delta province of Sharqiya. Among several seemingly contradictory grievances, police demand better weapons. But conversely, they also claim the Morsi regime is using them as unwilling pawns in the suppression of protesters who demand the regime's downfall."

The Guardian also reports that the government is trying to "Ikhwanise" the police according to junior police officers who don't approve of that. Read more ..

Inside the Catholic Church

Cardinals Debate Qualifications for Pope

March 10th 2013

Vatican-Palazzo Apostolico

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, who resigned as pontiff last month, has pledged his “unconditional reverence and obedience” to whomever succeeds him to guide the 1.2-billion-member Roman Catholic Church. As cardinals continue their discussions, Vatican experts ask what kind of pope do they believe will be best suited to lead the church?

The Rev. Thomas Reece, at Georgetown University, said the cardinals will be looking for someone who can best convey the Catholic message.

“The most important thing is to figure out how to preach the gospel in a way that is attractive and understandable to people in the 21st century - especially young people,” said Reece. “Certainly in the north, in Europe and the United States, we see young people leaving religion, not just Catholicism, but Christianity and other religions. So, how to make the message of Jesus, which I think is very attractive and challenging, get it across to young people so that it doesn’t turn them away. That is the real challenge.” Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

Syria's Unseen Crisis: Displaced Women Face Rape, Insecurity, Poverty

March 9th 2013

Syrian refugees

In the past week, the Syrian refugee crisis has grabbed headlines around the world as the number of Syrians who have had to seek asylum abroad reached one million. But there is another, less-discussed displacement crisis unfolding inside Syria. Syria’s internally displaced population passed the two million-mark months ago – by some estimates, there are more than three million Syrians uprooted within their country, most out of reach of international aid and media attention. The consequences of this crisis have been catastrophic for all displaced persons, but particularly for women and girls. International Women’s Day is a chance to give these consequences the attention they deserve, but have lacked so far. Read more ..

Broken Economy

Sizable Job Gains, but a Long Way from Good Health

March 9th 2013

Employee applications

Employers added 238,000 workers to their payrolls in February, the 29th consecutive month of job gains. Over the past six months employers have added 187,000 jobs a month, a rate of gain that is fast enough to reduce the ranks of the unemployed. The unemployment rate, which is calculated using a different survey, dropped to 7.7 percent in the month, its lowest level since December 2008.

As has been the case for most of the past year, the employer survey offers a brighter picture of progress than the Labor Department’s household survey. Reported job gains in the household survey were only 170,000 in February. An important reason the unemployment rate fell 0.2 percentage points in the month is that the number of adults who are employed or looking for work fell 130,000. Over the past year, the household survey shows that the labor force participation rate has declined 0.4 percentage points. Part of the decline is traceable to the aging of the population. Read more ..

Obama and Israel

Current Limits of U.S.-Israel Security Cooperation

March 8th 2013

Obama Pentagon

Shared values and democratic systems count for a lot in the political world -- and they can advance military cooperation -- but national security interests can evolve without them. No one would mistake Saudi Arabia or Bahrain for a country that shares American values, yet the U.S. Central Command works closely and cooperatively with both.

Israel shares American values in many ways, but a shared security outlook is something else, hinging on threat perceptions that may no longer be coincident.

Vice President Biden took to the stage at AIPAC this week to promote U.S.-Israel security relations. His emphasis on American support for Israel's missile defense program is the coin of the realm – first because it is true and second because Israel's enemies have missiles. But security relations have undergone a subtle, negative change in the past four years. Read more ..

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