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The Economy on Edge

Brighter Picture of the Job Market

October 7th 2012

Emplyment Application

In September 2012 the unemployment rate fell below 8 percent for the first time since January 2009. Though the recovery from the 2008-2009 recession has been heartbreakingly slow, the latest unemployment statistics combined with revisions in old payroll employment numbers offer a brighter picture of job market progress than we have seen in recent BLS reports.

The September employment report shows that private payrolls increased for the 31st consecutive month, rising 104,000 compared with August. While this is a somewhat slower pace of private sector employment growth than we saw earlier in the year, a turnaround in public employment and revisions in estimated job gains in July and August significantly lifted the estimated rate of payroll gains this past summer. Initial estimates showed that government employment fell 21,000 in July and 7,000 in August. The latest BLS revisions suggest government payrolls increased 18,000 in July and 45,000 in August. In addition, preliminary estimates for September show public payrolls increased 10,000 in September. Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

The Evolving and Resourceful Nature of Terrorist Tradecraft

October 6th 2012

Hamas head

One of the distinctive features of terrorism and security analysis is its focus on the methodology of attacks. Of course, identifying those responsible for an attack is important, especially in ensuring that the perpetrators are brought to justice. But Stratfor believes that analyzing the way in which an attack was conducted is more important because it can prevent future attacks and protect potential victims. It is likewise important to recognize that even if a terrorist is killed or arrested, other groups and individuals share terrorist tactics.

Sometimes this comes from direct interaction. For example, many of the Marxist terrorist groups that trained together in South Yemen, Lebanon and Libya in the 1980s employed similar tactics. Otherwise, a tactic's popularity is derived from its effectiveness. Indeed, several terrorist groups adopted airline hijacking in the 1960s and 1970s. Read more ..

The Iranian Threat

Is Ahmadinejad the Scapegoat for Iran's Economy?

October 6th 2012

Ahmadinejad triumphant

Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, was responsible for bringing Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to the presidency in 2005 and paid a hefty price for keeping him in that job in 2009. These days, however, the Supreme Leader has chosen to make the president a scapegoat for Iran's deepening political and economic crisis.

While Khamenei is the ultimate decision-maker in the Islamic Republic, he hopes to avoid accountability for the regime's failed policies. In the wake of the protests that followed the disputed 2009 vote, the Supreme Leader stood firmly behind Ahmadinejad, primarily to ensure the marginalization of reformists and long-standing icons such as former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. Now that the power and influence of the first generation of revolutionary leaders has waned, Khamenei's sole use for Ahmadinejad is to pin the entirety of social and economic woes on him.

The judiciary -- headed by a rival of the president, Sadegh Larijani -- has accused the Ahmadinejad administration of the most severe corruption since the 1979 revolution. The legislature -- headed by Larijani's brother Ali, another rival of the president -- also blames Ahmadinejad for economic mismanagement, which has resulted in rising inflation and unemployment and an unprecedented collapse of the Iranian currency, the rial. Read more ..

Venezuela on Edge

The International Stakes in Venezuela's Continued Bolivarian Revolution

October 5th 2012

Viva Chavez poster

The October 7 Presidential elections in Venezuela will pit incumbent President Hugo Chávez (United Socialist Party of Venezuela) against challenger Henrique Capriles Radonski (First Justice Party). Capriles is backed by the Coalition for Democratic Unity (MUD). This election confronts Venezuelans with a choice between political parties that is not only momentous in its scope; it can also be looked upon as a referendum on the Bolivarian Revolution itself, or more precisely, the institutions and practices that constitute its development. The outcome of the election will also have implications beyond the borders of Venezuela because the revolution has posed the sharpest split with U.S. hegemony (apart from Cuba).

Moreover, it represents a model of the repudiation of international corporate control over Latin Americas’ natural resources, the terms of its trade, and the use of its labor. The election results will also likely impact the role of ALBA and the political posture of Venezuela in neighboring regional organizations.

The Obama Edge

The Changing Politics of Chinese Trade and Investment

October 4th 2012

China EU commerce

On the same day last week that President Obama was issuing an order blocking a Chinese company from acquiring several Oregon wind farms, the Financial Times had a fascinating story on the changing politics of the U.S. trade relationship with China. While both the president and his Republican challenger Mitt Romney are trying to one-up each other over the economic threat posed by China, the mayor of Toledo, Ohio – the swing state of all swing states – was busy courting some 150 potential Chinese investors, trying to persuade them to bring jobs into the hard-hit local economy.

“I have to say the [presidential] campaign is really hindering us,” the story quoted Toledo mayor Michael Bell. “The Chinese people we invited here are asking ‘Why are you picking on us?’ or ‘Why are we suddenly the big issue?’” The story brilliantly captured America’s current confusion over its economic relationship with China. There is no question that rising imports from China have caused job losses in U.S. manufacturing, and that the benefits of lower-priced consumer goods have been significantly offset by the costs associated with higher unemployment. Read more ..

Education on Edge

Can Academic Standards Boost Literacy and Close the Achievement Gap?

October 4th 2012

Chinese-American kids

U.S. schools are struggling to enable students, espe­cially those from poor families, to attain the advanced literacy skills required by the twenty-first-century American economy. One approach to enhancing schools’ efficacy in this area is improved educational standards. Standards are routine in American life. Sports have them; businesses have them; profes­sions have them. Standards are useful in clarifying the knowledge, skills, and competencies that society expects from individuals and organizations. Society also needs a way to determine whether the standards have been met, usually through testing, certification, licensing, or inspection systems. And a respected body of experts must be responsible for maintaining the integrity of the standards.

It is no surprise, then, that standards have become a key part of American primary and secondary educa­tion in recent decades. As mandated by the 2001 No Child Left Behind Act, every state now has standards that specify the skills and knowledge in literacy (and mathematics, which we do not address here) that children should have at specific grade levels. States also have standards that students must satisfy to grad­uate from high school. In the majority of states, these include passing state-specific English language arts and math exams. Now a new set of national standards has been adopted by nearly every state. These tough standards hold promise for playing an important role in an overall strategy for improving literacy skills for all students, including those from poor families who suffer from a striking literacy deficit. However, as we explain below, the new standards are only one step down a long road. Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

Listless Meandering Obama Performance Boosts Romney's Night

October 4th 2012

Obama Bowed Head

A subdued and sometimes listless performance from President Obama may have given Mitt Romney the opening he needed to reshape the battle for the White House on Wednesday night. Romney delivered a vivid and strong showing in Denver for the first of the three presidential debates. But Obama’s weakness was just as notable. His night was virtually devoid of memorable lines and at times his responses meandered.

Obama was also strikingly reluctant to take the fight to his challenger, at no time mentioning Romney’s controversial comments about “47 percent” of Americans who the former Massachusetts governor said thought of themselves as “victims” in a covertly-filmed speech that emerged last month. Obama also sought to find common ground between the two men at times, at one point noting that he and his challenger had “a somewhat similar position” on Social Security.

In the aftermath, even liberal and Democratic commentators acknowledged that Romney had the better night. On CNN, Democratic strategist James Carville said: “I had one overwhelming impression. I did everything I could not to reach it, but it looked like Romney wanted to be there and President Obama didn't want to be there. ... Obama gave me the impression that the whole thing was kind of a lot of trouble.” 

Bill Maher, the liberal TV talk show host — and a big donor to the Obama-supporting super-PAC Priorities USA — said on Twitter that he believed Romney had won the debate, even though he argued that Obama “had the facts on his side.” Maher also criticized the performance of the debate’s moderator, Jim Lehrer of PBS, as did many liberal commentators. But those complaints seemed akin to those of the cornermen for a losing boxer who protest about the referee. Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

Heath Insurance PACs in Love-Hate Relationship with Reform

October 4th 2012


The health insurance industry presented itself as a key ally of President Barack Obama’s health care law while at the same time making hefty contributions to members of Congress who are trying to get rid of it, according to contribution records. Between January of 2007 and August of 2012, the political action committees of the 11 largest health insurance companies and their primary trade group gave $10.2 million to federal politicians with nearly two-thirds of the total going to Republicans who oppose the law or support its repeal, according to the Center for Public Integrity’s analysis of Federal Election Commission filings.

The 11 top companies, according to the Fortune 500 list, controlled 35 percent of the industry in 2011, according to data from the National Association of Insurance Commissioners. The top industry trade group is America’s Health Insurance Plans. Much of the money rolled in as health insurance industry leaders lauded the Democrats’ reform efforts.


The Iranian Threat

Iran and Opium

October 3rd 2012

iran bank notes

"Iranian authorities capture more opiates than any other country in the world, but officials there say they have yet to develop a counternarcotics strategy. That approach has arguably contributed to the fact that opium cultivation, once thought to have been wiped out in Iran, has resumed." According to recent UN Office on Drugs and Crime data, in 2011 Iran intercepted  89% of the opium shipments seized worldwide and 41% of heroin/morphine shipments. 

In 2000 Robin Wright wrote that, "in the 1990s, Iran's young began using heroin." And by 1999, narcotics users were "estimated to reach 3 million." More recently, the UN Office of Drugs and Crime estimated that Iran has as many as 1.7 million opiate addicts - an indication that  5% of Iran's adult, non-elderly population of 35 million is addicted. To place that data in context, a 2003 a United States National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that 119,000 Americans had used heroin within the prior month - or less than one-tenth of 1% of the non-elderly adult population.


The Arab Winter of Rage

Salafist Islamism and Democratization of the Muslim World

October 2nd 2012

Mohamed Morsi Speaks at Press Conference
Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi

The outbreak of the Arab Spring in 2011 brought significant attention to groups -- known as Islamists -- seeking to establish Islamic states in countries once ruled by secular autocrats. The bulk of this attention went to already established political groups such as the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, which caused consternation in the West when its Freedom and Justice Party won control of both Egypt's parliament and its presidency.

Much less attention was paid to the Brotherhood's principal Islamist competitors, members of the ultraconservative Salafist movement, despite their second-place finish in Egypt's parliamentary elections. This changed in late September when certain Salafists played a key role in the unrest in reaction to an anti-Islamic video posted on the Internet. Since then, Salafism has become the subject of much public discourse -- though as is often the case with unfamiliar subjects, questions are vastly more numerous than answers. This is compounded by the rapidity of its rise from a relatively minor, apolitical movement to an influential Islamist phenomenon. Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

Somalia's Al-Shabab Terrorists are 'Degraded' but not Faded

October 1st 2012

Somali Militants

Witnesses in Kismayo confirm that Somali government forces have entered the city on Monday and are taking control of former al-Shabab bases. But Johnnie Carson, the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, warned that al-Shabab has been "effectively degraded" but not entirely defeated.

African Union and Somali troops have entered the Somali port city, two days after the militant group al-Shabab announced it had deserted the city for tactical reasons. But a Somali army commander in Kismayo says the militants still have a presence in the city and pose a serious threat to incoming forces.

Somali army commander Abdullahi Olow confirmed some forces entered Kismayo Monday, after days of being stationed at the outskirts of the city. “We entered the city to do patrols and we have pulled some of them," said Olow. "We have built some defensive positions. The situation looks a bit calm. Now we will start security operations.

Early Friday, Kenyan forces launched a long-awaited assault against al-Shabab militants in Kismayo, sending soldiers into the city from the beach. Later that evening, the militants left their defensive positions and announced they had closed down their offices. Despite al-Shabab’s exit, city residents still live in fear, as the security situation remains volatile. Somali local media report some remaining al-Shabab fighters and clan militias have killed nine civilians, including clan elders, in the last three days. Olow says the militant group, despite deserting the port city, still poses a serious threat to his forces and civilians. Read more ..

Israel on Edge

Canadian PM says 'Those who Target Israel are a Threat to all Free and Democratic societies'

September 30th 2012


It is swiftly becoming clear that, while Israel's strongest ally is still North American, it may not be the current U.S. administration. Judging by recent statements made by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, that honor may well go to the Canadian government. Speaking on Friday to the Appeal of Conscience Foundation, described as "an interfaith partnership of corporate and spiritual leaders from all faiths," Harper expressed unequivocal support for Israel against Iran, and made a direct connection between anti-Israel sentiments and antisemitism. "Neither [Israel's] existence," Harper said, "nor its policies are responsible for the pathologies present” in the Middle East; an explicit rejection of the frequent accusation that Israel is responsible for Middle Eastern extremism and terrorism.

Regarding Iran, Harper was equally clear. "The appeal of our conscience requires us to speak out against what the Iranian regime stands for," he asserted. "Likewise, it requires us to speak in support of the country that its hatred most immediately threatens, the State of Israel." Drawing an explicit link between the New Antisemitism and the old, Harper said that the international community must be aware: "of a lesson of history, that those who single out the Jewish people as a target of racial and religious bigotry will inevitably be a threat to all of us. Read more ..

Israel and Palestine

UN Security Council Resolution 242

September 29th 2012

UN General Assembly

Resolution 242 is the cornerstone for what it calls "a just and lasting peace." It calls for a negotiated solution based on "secure and recognized boundaries" - recognizing the flaws in Israel's previous temporary borders - the 1948 Armistice lines or the "Green Line" - by not calling upon Israel to withdraw from 'all occupied territories,' but rather "from territories occupied." The United Nations Security Council adopted Resolution 242 in 1967 following the Six-Day War. It followed Israel's takeover of the Sinai Peninsula and Gaza Strip from Egypt, the Golan Heights from Syria, and the West Bank from Jordan. The resolution was to become the foundation for future peace negotiations. Yet contrary to Arab contentions, a careful examination of the resolution will show that it does not require Israel to return to the June 4, 1967 Armistice lines or "Green Line." Read more ..

Israel and Palestine

A Divergence over Palestine on Display at the United Nations

September 28th 2012

Dome of the Rock

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke past one another in addressing the UN General Assembly, barely touching on the same issues. While the two leaders delivered passionate remarks within minutes of one another, they spoke to divergent future objectives. Their speeches highlighted the challenge of bringing the two leaders together into a meaningful dialogue.

Whereas Abbas' target audience was the assembled countries of the United Nations, Netanyahu's audience was one country in particular: the United States. This reflects different strategic priorities for each leader: For Abbas, the stated key objective today is Palestinian statehood in the West Bank and Gaza with East Jerusalem as its capital. For Netanyahu, the focus is the need for a clear and more robust threat to confront Iran's ongoing nuclear enrichment program.

Each leader articulated core requests: Abbas asked the United Nations to adopt a resolution laying out the basis for a solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Netanyahu called for the placement of a clear "red line" on Iran's nuclear weapons program, highlighting his core difference with the Obama administration, which explicitly refuses to enunciate a clear red line or timeline.

Both leaders were vague about their own intended next steps, though Abbas offered slightly more clarity than Netanyahu on this score. Abbas pledged to continue efforts to obtain UN membership for Palestine, saying that he had begun intensive consultations with member states with the aim of a General Assembly vote during the UN session just launched. This formulation provides Abbas time to see what, if anything, the international community will do before he decides to put Palestine's membership to a vote in the General Assembly. In contrast, Netanyahu's "or-else" was both unstated but well known: Failure for the United States to either strike Iran or articulate a red line that prevents Iran from moving toward nuclear weapons capabilities will trigger an Israeli military strike. Read more ..

Venezuela on Edge

A Primer to the Coming Election in Venezuela

September 28th 2012

Hugo Chavez infirm

After being rescheduled from its original date in November, Venezuela’s upcoming presidential elections will take place on October 7. There are several valid reasons to consider the outcome of “7-O” as a pivotal moment for a new direction of the country. For starters, in contrast to the example of Mexico’s recent elections, Venezuela’s approaching ballot will only decide the presidency; this means that there will be but one winner for a six-year presidential term.

For almost the first time in memory, President Hugo Chávez might be losing his preferred status as frontrunner. However, the Supreme Court, the National Electoral Council, and other key institutions in the country would still remain under Chávez’s and his party’s sway even with the victory of the opposition candidate.

As the world focuses on Miraflores’s possible change of tenant in the coming days, it is essential to comprehend a complex Venezuelan electoral system. At the same time, it is also critical to recognize the different aspects affecting the presidential contest, such as the intricacies of the electoral system and the inherently uneven playing field being faced by the competition. Read more ..

The Iranian Threat

Ahmedinejad Lies at the UN: Israel has no Historical Roots in the Middle East

September 27th 2012

Ahmadinejad at UN

Defying historical fact, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad continued his existential verbal attacks on the State of Israel, claiming Israel has no historical basis in the Middle East Region.

Speaking to reporters at the United Nations before his address to the General Assembly, Ahmedinejad claimed that Israel has no Middle East roots and would be "eliminated".

“Iran has been around for the last 7,000, 10,000 years. They [the Israelis] have been occupying those territories for the last 60 to 70 years, with the support and force of the Westerners. They have no roots there in history,” he said. “We do believe that they have found themselves at a dead end, and they are seeking new adventures in order to escape this dead end. Iran will not be damaged with foreign bombs,” he continued, referring to Israel.

“We don’t even count them as any part of any equation for Iran,” he added. “During a historical phase, they represent minimal disturbances that come into the picture and are then eliminated.” Read more ..

Iran's Nukes

Inside Iran's Nuclear Warhead

September 27th 2012

Edwin Black

Since the last century, Iran has been methodically pursuing the in-house capability of developing a missile-delivered nuclear bomb. The regime of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is now closer than ever and probably in the latter stages of perfecting an atomic bomb with a multipoint detonation mechanism, compact enough to insert into a Shahab-3 missile nosecone.

For years, the Obama administration, Western governments, the United Nations, and the International Atomic Energy Administration (IAEA) have been fully aware of the specific details of Tehran’s nuclear weapons program, down to the blueprints and names of the engineers. Whether or not Iran will complete the last leg of its decades-long journey toward a deliverable atomic bomb is still unknown. The difference in viewing the cannon is whether you are staring down the muzzle or observing it through a telescope from a perch six thousand miles away. Israel is peering into the muzzle, hence its assessment is different than Washington’s.

Protracted multilateral negotiations, crippling international sanctions, and even elaborate programs of sabotage have delayed but not derailed the nearly autarkic program. Now the world teeters at the brink of a regional war with profound global ramifications because the threat may have been ignored too long.

Here are the four determining factors, the dynamics of which will govern whether Israel launches a preemptive attack against Tehran’s massive nuclear infrastructure.

The four technological achievements are key to completing Tehran’s nuclear weapon are: 1) accretion of enough nuclear materials, highly enriched to 90 percent, to make the bomb; 2) machining that highly-enriched material into metal for a spheroid warhead so it can fit into a missile nosecone for detonation; 3) a trigger mechanism to initiate the atomic explosion at the precise moment of missile reentry; and, of course, 4) a reliable rocket delivery system to carry such a weapon. Read more ..

Mexico on Edge

The Last Days of Mexico's President Felipe Calderon

September 26th 2012

Calderon and Pena Nieto
Left to right: Enrique Peña Nieto and President Felipe Calderón of Mexico

The southern neighbor of the United States of America faces a transition of its executive power in less than one hundred days. The inauguration of Enrique Peña Nieto of Partido Revolucionario Institucional or the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) will take place on December 1 and Felipe Calderón from Partido Acción Nacional or National Action Party (PAN) will cease to be the president of Mexico. The change goes beyond a simple switch of names and men in position: it is a debate of continuity, as well as the nature of security and economic policies under Calderón. In the meantime, a large number of PRI’s deputies and senators have taken their seats in the Congress and the Senate of Mexico, leaving Calderón’s PAN party with less influence than ever in political maneuvers.

As the date of Peña Nieto’s inauguration approaches, talks about the presidential transition also have begun. It is the second time that independent Mexico is facing a presidential change from one party to another and the first time the United States’ neighbor will be governed by the PRI again after twelve years of PAN rule. The PRI has governed Mexico for most of the 20th century and during this period serious doubts have been raised about the quality of Mexican democracy and the use of authoritative tactics during its time in power. Read more ..

Colombia on Edge

The Price Colombia Pays for Negotiating with FARC Guerrillas

September 25th 2012

Colombia FARC rebels

Early in October, peace negotiations will take place between the Colombian Government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in Oslo, Norway. If successful, the talks will continue in Havana, Cuba. These talks are taking place against the backdrop of major military victories by the Colombian army against the FARC, the elimination of key FARC leaders in the last four years, and, confirmed connections between the FARC and the governments of Venezuela and Ecuador.

The upcoming talks were made possible through the mediation of Chile, Venezuela and Cuba. Venezuela and Cuba are two key players in the revolutionary, anti-American Bolivarian alliance. The Government of Venezuela has been one of the staunchest enemies of Colombia whom it views as an American puppet. Venezuela has also objected to the war on drugs and to Plan Colombia.. Many of Hugo Chavez's international political attacks have been directed towards Colombia. Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

Obama Hopes to Restore Foreign Policy Cred at United Nations

September 25th 2012

Obama Bowed Head

President Obama will use his address to the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday to argue his administration will have a muscular and active policy in the Middle East, an effort to counter recent criticism from Mitt Romney.

When he takes the stage, Obama will “send a clear message that the United States will never retreat from the world,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said on Monday.

The address comes at a pivotal point in the presidential race just six weeks before Election Day, with Obama appearing to be opening a lead in a number of swing states.

While the economy remains the dominant issue in the campaign, Obama will be forced to address the criticism lobbed in recent days from Romney and Republicans, who have sought to portray him as weak and inconsistent on foreign policy.

The Romney campaign has seized on Obama’s decision not to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the General Assembly, as well as the recent attack on the U.S. Consulate in Libya to bolster its argument that the president’s policies abroad aren’t as strong as he has been portraying to the American public. Romney officials argue that the president is undermining U.S. strength overseas and abandoning its closest allies, including Israel. Romney aides point to the fact that Obama taped an appearance on ABC’s “The View” instead of using the time to meet with the assembled leaders as part of traditional bilateral meetings. Read more ..

Geopolitical Edge

Getting to the Heart of the Japan/China Conflict

September 25th 2012

Japnese destroyer at Guandong China

Sept. 29 will mark 40 years of normalized diplomatic relations between China and Japan, two countries that spent much of the 20th century in mutual enmity if not at outright war. The anniversary comes at a low point in Sino-Japanese relations amid a dispute over an island chain in the East China Sea known as the Senkaku Islands in Japan and Diaoyu Islands in China.

These islands, which are little more than uninhabited rocks, are not particularly valuable on their own. However, nationalist factions in both countries have used them to enflame old animosities; in China, the government has even helped organize the protests over Japan's plan to purchase and nationalize the islands from their private owner. Read more ..

America on Edge

US Slips in Freedom and Health

September 24th 2012

Premature Baby

Health care policy can be tricky to navigate. One reason stems from the difficulty of measuring its intangibles — differences in the quality of life, for example, or the social value of extending life for a few days. A new report from Canada's Fraser Institute has does the hard work of putting a number on a related intangible concept: economic freedom.

Assessing data on 42 variables (i.e. trade barriers, property rights, etc.) across 144 countries, the report's authors discover the United States' score has plummeted over the last decade. While 2nd only to Hong Kong in 2000, we dropped all the way to 18th in the latest report. In contrast, our neighbor to the north, Canada, ranks 5th worldwide in economic freedom.

None of the measured variables in the freedom index relate to health care per se. However, the news release emphasizes that "much of this decline is a result of high spending on the part of the U.S. government."  Indeed, I have calculated that if government's share of consumption spending and government transfers and subsidies as a percent of GDP (two of the components that make up the index's size of government variable) had remained at their 2000 level, the U.S. freedom index ranking would have been 12th instead of 18th in 2010. Read more ..

The Arab Winter of Rage

Avoiding a Sectarian Split in the Middle East

September 24th 2012

Syrian Kurdish protesters

As the Assad regime hurtles toward deserved collapse in Syria, I often think back to a warning I received from a friend 18 months ago. I was serving then as the U.S. ambassador in Baghdad and was focused on Iraqi problems. But my confidant, an Iraqi Kurd with a strong commitment to a unified, multi-sectarian Iraq, and who was no friend of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, was worried about the uprising brewing in neighboring Syria. Unless the United States was able to influence events, he cautioned, a revolt might violently split Syria, and then Iraq and finally the region along sectarian lines.

The sense that Assad's days are numbered has prompted worries that militant Sunni extremists might claw their way to the top in Damascus. A greater and related danger, however, is that the uprising will degenerate into a Sunni-Shiite conflict that could spread beyond Syria's borders and further destabilize the Middle East. Read more ..

The Arab Winter of Rage

How the Arab Spring Exploded into a Wave of Violence

September 23rd 2012

Embassy Attacks 9-12-12


The 2012 Vote

Immigration Deal a Lock in 2013 if Obama Re-elected

September 22nd 2012

Border Patrol shakedown

A prominent Hispanic lawmaker is predicting that President Obama and a weakened Republican Party will strike a deal on immigration next year. Rep. Luis Gutierrez said he’s received no promises from the White House that Obama would move quickly on immigration reform if reelected in November. But the Illinois Democrat said it’s a lock the president would use a second term to revamp the nation’s immigration laws.

Such changes have been a third rail in Washington for most of the last decade, as President George W. Bush couldn’t overcome Republican opposition to his comprehensive immigration reform plan. Gutierrez predicted the results of November’s elections would prove a game changer, as the sheer number of Latinos voting against Mitt Romney will force GOP leaders to support reforms for fear of alienating those voters indefinitely.

“I’m absolutely positive he’s going to [prioritize immigration reform],” Gutierrez said Friday of Obama, “because the Republicans are going to take such a beating in this election that they’re going to propose [their own plan].” Romney is working hard to ensure such a beating doesn’t happen, reaching out to Latino voters in a series of recent speeches, Spanish-language ads and interviews with the Hispanic press. Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

Obama's Support Drops Among Florida Jews

September 21st 2012

Obama and Flag

Recent polls indicate a small but possibly decisive drop in Jewish support for President Barack Obama, particularly in the pivotal state of Florida. While Obama enjoys a massive lead among Jewish voters, his 70 percent of the vote represents a nearly 10-point drop from the results of the 2008 election. The 70 percent number is shared between two major polls, one by Gallup, the other by the American Jewish Committee. The AJC poll, however, also measured Jewish support in the swing state of Florida, which many believe will decide the 2012 election as it did in 2000. As the Times of Israel points out, "A 7% drop in the Jewish vote likely represents over 50,000 votes in a state that the Republicans won in 2000 by fewer than 600 votes."

AJC Executive Director David Harris explains that: "In a key state, to which both parties are devoting a great deal of time and attention, and where recent history is a reminder that the margin of victory can be razor-thin, the Jewish vote takes on added importance." Read more ..

The Arab Winter of Rage

Libya An Existential Threat to the West

September 21st 2012

Amb. Christopher Stevens, killed in Libya #2

Faced with graphic photos of the tortured dead body of the late U.S. ambassador to Libya, Christopher Stevens, being dragged through the streets of Benghazi by a mob, one can't help but think that, together with the ambassador's body, the country at the helm of the free world was also dragged through the mud and humiliated. The attack on the American Consulate in Benghazi this week was yet another horrendous chord in the symphony of terror that is offending the ears of the West. The West, for its part, is shutting its ears and closing its eyes and avoiding the recognition that, for quite some time now, it has been under existential attack.

Let's stop pretending that these are just "radical Islamists" or "extremist Salafists" or any other restrictive, politically correct definition meant to disarm the West's defenses, instead of giving it the tools to deal with the menacing Islamic wave that is threatening to destroy Western civilization from within. The Western world shouldn't really care that some idiot made a movie that desecrates Islam (titled "Innocence of Muslims").


The 2012 Vote

Senate Candidates in Massachusetts Resort to Mud-Slinging Debate

September 21st 2012

Scott Brown

Republican Sen. Scott Brown and his Democratic challenger Elizabeth Warren went head-to-head Thursday night in the first of four debates, as they battle for the Senate seat from Massachusetts in one of the most high-profile contests in the 2012 political landscape.

Brown, who won the seat formerly held by Ted Kennedy in a special election upset in 2010, attacked Warren's character several times during the hourlong face-off, bringing up that Warren misrepresented herself as a Native American to gain minority status when applying for teaching positions; that she receives a six-figure salary for minimal work as a Harvard professor while representing herself as an advocate for working families; and that she worked as an attorney for a large insurance firm in a case that denied workers' claims for asbestos poisoning. Read more ..

Broken Medicine

Growth of Electronic Medical Records Eases Path to Inflated Bills

September 20th 2012

medicine and money #2

Electronic medical records, long touted by government officials as a critical tool for cutting health care costs, appear to be prompting some doctors and hospitals to bill higher fees to Medicare for treating seniors.

The federal government’s campaign to wire up medicine started under President George W. Bush. But the initiative hit warp drive with a February 2009 decision by Congress and the Obama administration to spend as much as $30 billion in economic stimulus money to help doctors and hospitals buy the equipment needed to convert medical record-keeping from paper files. In the rush to get the program off the ground, though, federal officials failed to impose strict controls over billing software, despite warnings from several prominent medical fraud authorities. Now that decision could come back to haunt policy makers and taxpayers alike, an investigation has found. Read more ..

Inside Iran

Tehran Adds to the Pressure on Iran’s Economy

September 18th 2012

Tarjish bazar Teheran
Tarjish Bazaar, Tehran (credit: Mani Parsa)

Late in August, Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei called for an “economy of resistance,” which he described as “using the country’s full potential … [to] break the illusions of the arrogant powers” that Tehran will change its policies. Since then, the country’s currency has lost 27 percent of its value on the free market. Yet these and other deteriorating economic circumstances are due not just to ongoing international sanctions, but also to the accumulating impact of inappropriate Iranian government policies. And although the situation may eventually spill over into the nuclear impasse, there are no signs of that at present.

The collapsing rial and stagflation

Until recently, Iran’s economy had been doing rather well -- its growth was higher than that of either the United States or the European Union every year since 2008. But that may be changing. The Iranian rial has been nose-diving since September 2010, when for the first time since the 2002 currency reform, the free market rate fell appreciably below the official rate of about 10,000 rials per dollar (the official rate was periodically adjusted by small amounts). Read more ..

Inside North Korea

September Photo Hints at Kim Uncle’s Enhanced Influence

September 18th 2012

NK military leaders Sep 2012

A recent photograph of North Korea’s leader and his military entourage is stirring speculation that Kim Jong Un’s uncle may have a new role. In a country where the smallest details involving public appearances by North Korea’s leader are choreographed, a uniform change for a key insider is drawing notice. The vice chairman of the national defense commission, Jang Song Taek, has switched his military uniform from light to dark brown. All of the other top brass seen during a ceremony Sunday to mark the country’s 64th anniversary were clad in light brown.

The Chosun Ilbo newspaper in South Korea, quoting an intelligence official in Seoul, says this means Jang, a four-star general who is the uncle of the new, young leader, Kim Jong Un, is now in charge of the most elite bodyguard unit. The General Guard Bureau is at the core of the Kim family dynasty. Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

Obama Doesn't Waste Terrorist Crisis to Cut National Security Budget

September 17th 2012

Bomb explosion

An Obama White House report -- which was one of the topics of discussion during the weekend news shows -- describes the automatic and drastic spending cuts that will take effect at the end of 2012 should the congressional budget battle continue past election day.

The 394-page report highlights the $129 million a year budget that would have gone to maintaining and protecting U.S. embassies and consulates throughout the world that will be cut beginning on New Year's Day.

"We're talking about upwards of 400 State Department facilities, some of them located in the world's most dangerous nations," said Mike Baker a political consultant and attorney.

But the budget has nothing to do with embassy security. "Ambassador Chris Stevens did not have a Marine detail in Benghazi, Libya. But White House Senior Advisor and Obama confidante Valerie Jarrett has a full Secret Service detail on vacation in Martha’s Vineyard," Democratic pollster Pat Caddell told Big Government. Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

Obama Has Latino Edge over Romney

September 17th 2012


President Obama holds a commanding lead over his Republican challenger among Latino voters, with a particular advantage among women, according to a poll released Monday by Latino Decisions.

The survey finds Obama with a 68-26 percent lead over Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney among all Latinos. Among Hispanic women, Obama's lead is even larger. He leads Romney among this consituency by a 74-21 percent margin — a staggering 53-point advantage. Among men, the lead decreases to 61-32 percent in favor of Obama. Both Hispanic women and men give the president a 71 percent favorability rating, while Romney's favorability fails to crack 30 percent with either group. Romney is looking to chip away at that lead with a speech Monday afternoon to the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce in Los Angeles. Romney will hit the president on the economy and immigration, according to excerpts of his remarks released by his campaign. Read more ..

Broken Healthcare

Judgment Calls On Billing Make 'Upcoding' Prosecutions Rare

September 17th 2012

judge's gavel

There simply weren’t enough hours in the day to justify the fees Dr. Angel S. Martin collected from Medicare. On fifty-three separate days, the Newton, Iowa, general surgeon billed the government health plan for the elderly and other insurers for medical services that would have taken him more than 24 hours to complete, according to federal prosecutors.

The hours made the case a slam dunk for prosecutors. But they weren’t Martin’s only problem. Many patients recalled the briefest of visits with the doctor, even though Martin routinely billed Medicare for long, complicated treatments.

Every year, Medicare pays doctors more than $30 billion for treating patients. For office visits, doctors must choose one of five escalating billing scales — called Evaluation and Management codes — that most closely reflect the complexity of the treatment and the time it takes. The fees range from about $20 to about $140. Read more ..

Palestine on the Edge

Gaza Prepares to Declare Independence (From Palestine)

September 14th 2012

Gaza Tunnel Smuggler

It's no secret that Hamas, the Palestinian Islamist faction that controls Gaza, has long considered exchanging its underground smuggling tunnels to Egypt for a policy of above-board trade. What has only recently begun to register is that Hamas may be contemplating a bolder political gambit still: Cutting its financial ties to both Israel and the Palestinian Authority government in the West Bank, in preparations for declaring full independence on behalf of Gaza.

Al-Hayat first reported the story on July 22. The London-based Arabic daily noted that Hamas was poised to sever its limited economic ties with Israel, open a free trade zone with Egypt at the Rafah border crossing, and declare itself liberated. Before the story could gain traction, however, senior Hamas leaders Mahmoud al-Zahhar and Salah al-Bardawil quickly disavowed the reports.

But senior Gazans quietly acknowledged to me in recent meetings that Hamas, a Muslim Brotherhood splinter group, and President Mohamed Morsi's new Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt, are actively discussing this controversial idea. Hamas has approached the question patiently since conquering the Gaza Strip from the Palestinian Authority in 2007. Now, after a half decade of economic hardship resulting from the Gaza embargo, the Hamas government appears to believe that 1.7 million Gazans would welcome the free flow of goods above nearly all else. Read more ..

Argentina on Edge

President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner: Don't Cry for Me Argentina

September 14th 2012

Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner

Cristina Fernández de Kirchner was elected to presidential office in 2007 with the assumption she would be a mere puppet to her husband, Néstor, the previous president. Since then, after being unexpectedly widowed, she has proven those criticisms to be grossly off the mark.

Cristina has proven herself to be a strong and determined leader of Argentina, comparable to the iconic female political figures of Eva Perón and Hillary Clinton, recognizable women who have shaped the political process of a continent. In 2012, Forbes magazine named Kirchner 16th on its list of the world’s 100 most powerful women. She has shown that her decisive changes to Argentine politics have rippled throughout Latin America. This is perhaps most evident in the nationalization of the formerly private Spanish oil company YPF, done in the hope of revitalizing the Argentine economic sector. While foreign critics have dismissed this reform as a desperate move, Argentina’s economy appears to be growing with the country greatly supporting the measure. Read more ..

Edge of Terrorism

What to Do When Things Go Really Badly

September 13th 2012

Bomb explosion

Over the past several weeks, we have discussed a number of different situations that can present a common problem to people caught up in them. First, we discussed how domestic terrorism remains a persistent threat in the United States, and that despite improvements in security measures since 2001, soft targets still remain vulnerable to attack by terrorist actors driven by a variety of motivations. Due to the devolution of the jihadist threat toward the grassroots, there is also a growing trend of jihadist actors using armed assaults instead of bombing attacks. We also discussed the continuing problem of workplace violence, and finally, we discussed last week evacuation plans for expatriates due to natural disaster, civil unrest or war.

People caught in any of these situations could find themselves either confronted by an armed assailant or actually coming under fire in an active shooter scenario. Of course, there are other situations where people can find themselves confronted by armed assailants, from street muggings and carjackings to bank robberies. Because of this, we thought it might be useful to our readers to discuss such situations and how to react when caught in one. Read more ..

The Iranian Threat

Iran's Quds Force Mission: Destroy the Jewish state

September 13th 2012

Quds Force

The ongoing series of terrorist attacks and attempted terrorist attacks in countries throughout the world in recent years is prima facie evidence that Israel is being singled out for total destruction using any means necessary by Iran's global terrorism network. The Iranian government's tool for the annihilation of the Jewish State is the Iranian Revolutionary Guard's elite unit the Quds Force, analysts at the Israeli terrorism think-tank the Meir Amit Information Center said.

The terrorist attacks are planned and directed by the Quds Force, while the Lebanese-based terrorist group Hezbollah carries out the actual attacks performing the function of the Quds Force's main proxy-militia abroad.

"In our assessment, the terrorist attack targeting the bus of Israeli tourists in Bulgaria was carried out by Hezbollah as part of the Iranian campaign and from their point of view was the most successful to date. Five Israelis, the Bulgarian bus driver and the terrorist were killed and 36 Israeli tourists were wounded," stated the Meir Amit analysts. Read more ..

The Edge of Medicine

Indian Case Could Impact Availability of Generic Drugs

September 12th 2012

India Doctor

India’s generic drug industry began to flourish in the 1970s when India disallowed the patenting of medicines, enabling domestic companies, which did not have to invest in research, to make copies of branded drugs at a far lower cost. In 2005, India allowed patenting, but set the bar higher for patents than other countries.

Novartis went to court in 2006 after India turned down a patent for Gleevek - a medicine used to treat leukemia. Indian authorities argue it is not a new medicine, but a modification of an earlier one, and therefore not eligible for a patent under Indian law.

The head of the Swiss pharmaceutical company in India, Ranjit Shahani, says the legal challenge is about protecting intellectual property rights. “Novartis is seeking clarity to see how innovation will be valued and protected in India," said Shahani. "Now Gleevek has received patent protection in 40 countries across the world including China, Taiwan and Russia. And truly you know, protecting intellectual property advances the practice of medicines and brings hope to patients.” Read more ..

Iran's Nukes

Did Canada Close Iran Embassy to Protect Its Diplomats Should Israel Strike?

September 12th 2012

Iran Nuclear

One theory of why Canada now decided to close its Embassy down in Tehran is that it wants its diplomats out of the country in the event of an Israeli military strike, which may be getting closer (although Israeli media has been reporting that Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak is now in favur of holding off.)

I have no way of knowing if the possibility of a military strike is a factor in Canada's decision, but it is interesting to note that Canada's decision comes shortly after Israeli and American media reported that Prime Minister Netanyahu had a row with U.S. Ambassador Dan Shapiro, expressing his frusteration at what he sees as President Obama's dropping the ball and not defining clearly enough what the "red lines" are, such if Iran breaches them the United States would be willing to respond militarily. It it possible that the Harper government, on seeing that Netanyahu lost it with Shapiro has made the assessment, (or has inside knowledge) that an Israeli strike is pending ? For anyone who wants to get an inside view of the undiplomatic and "explosive" tones that were heard between Netanyahu and Dan shapiro, read in full Jeffrey Goldberg's piece about what Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers said occured at the meeting. Read more ..

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