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Iran's Nukes

Redlines and Iran's Beating of War Drums

September 11th 2012

Simurgh booster

For the past several months, the Israelis have been threatening to attack Iranian nuclear sites as the United States has pursued a complex policy of avoiding complete opposition to such strikes while making clear it doesn't feel such strikes are necessary. At the same time, the United States has carried out maneuvers meant to demonstrate its ability to prevent the Iranian counter to an attack -- namely blocking the Strait of Hormuz. While these maneuvers were under way, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said no "redline" exists that once crossed by Iran would compel an attack on Iran's nuclear facilities. The Israeli government has long contended that Tehran eventually will reach the point where it will be too costly for outsiders to stop the Iranian nuclear program.

The Israeli and American positions are intimately connected, but the precise nature of the connection is less clear. Israel publicly casts itself as eager to strike Iran but restrained by the United States, though unable to guarantee it will respect American wishes if Israel sees an existential threat emanating from Iran. The United States publicly decries Iran as a threat to Israel and to other countries in the region, particularly Saudi Arabia, but expresses reservations about military action out of fears that Iran would respond to a strike by destabilizing the region and because it does not believe the Iranian nuclear program is as advanced as the Israelis say it is. Read more ..

Palestine on Edge

Why Indeed Has There Not Been Another Palestinian Intifada?

September 10th 2012

Bank of Palestine

Is the Arab Spring an 'intifada'? And why haven't the Palestinians joined in?

The intifada or 'throwing off' was the spontaneous Palestinians grassroots rebellion against Israel that began in the fall of 1987. Much like the beginnings of the Arab Spring in Tunisia, the rebellion spread quickly in the pre-internet days across the Palestinian territories and Gaza and captured the world's attention. Within a few short years, however, it was usurped by the PLO and Yasir Arafat. As befitting the Internet age, the Arab Spring has now largely been usurped more quickly by Islamists around the Arab world.

For the Palestinians the Arab Spring has produced hard choices. While the star of Arab nationalism has fallen everywhere, among the Palestinians in the West Bank it is still alive, kept on life support by international aid, the Israeli military, and an unquantifiable sense of dread at the prospect of a Hamas takeover. Hamas has been regnant in Gaza since 2007. Repression and immiseration have resulted. The choice for Palestinians in the West Bank is stark and all stakeholders have made the Faustian bargain to retain the repressive and kleptocratic Palestinian Authority over the murderous and theocratic Hamas. An intifada by choice seems unlikely there, but an accidental one cannot be dismissed. Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

The Presidential Candidates’ Solutions to Making College More Affordable

September 9th 2012

College expenses

 "Help us work with colleges and universities to cut in half the growth of tuition costs over the next ten years. We can meet that goal together,” declared President Barack Obama last night at the Democratic National Convention.

The discussion about the rising costs of higher education in this country has been heating up with prices across all categories of institutions rising at a rate that is well above the rate of inflation for other goods.

Both President Obama and presidential hopeful Mitt Romney have expressed a commitment to making college more affordable for American students. However, the candidates have very different ideas about how best to reform the federal student aid program to achieve this common goal.

The reforms that Romney would likely put in place reflect a market based solution to this problem. He supports reforms that would make information about school quality more readily available to prospective students. Policies of this nature would allow prospective students to have a better understanding of the value that different programs provide.  Since informed students are less likely to over-pay for a degree this will coerce colleges to charge prices that reflect the actual value of their services. (The value of a degree should be measured in terms of the additional future earnings that it provides.)  An advantage of this system is that it keeps the government out of the game of policing schools. However, it also relies on students taking the responsibility to make decisions that are best for them. Read more ..

Islam's War Against Christianity

Nadarkhani Released, but Iranian Christians Still Persecuted

September 9th 2012

Pastor Nadarkhani Released

 Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani

After nearly three years of incarceration in an Iranian jail, where he awaited a death sentence for the charge of apostasy, Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani was finally released earlier today. The American Center for Law and Justice, an advocacy group that has done extraordinary work in raising Nadarkhani’s profile in the U.S. and internationally, published a photograph of the pastor emerging from the gates of the notorious Lakan prison in the north of Iran. As Nadarkhani’s children greeted him with flowers, he wore the bewildered smile of someone who can’t quite believe that his luck has suddenly changed.

The Iranian regime’s apologists in the United States, among them Trita Parsi, head of the National Iranian American Council, and Hillary Mann Leverett, a former Clinton administration advisor, will certainly trumpet Nadarkhani’s release as proof that Tehran is amenable to outside overtures. That is why we should remember, before we get too carried away with the image of a kinder, softer Iran, that Nadarkhani is not the only Christian who has been imprisoned for his beliefs. Read more ..

The New Egypt

The Current Egyptian Government: A Fragile Stability

September 8th 2012

Moslem Brotherhood

Egypt’s recently elected president, Mohamed Morsi, has been facing great difficulties, bringing to question his ability to govern. This all changed, however, after the terrorist incident in which 16 Egyptian soldiers on border patrol fell victim in the city of Rafah on the Israeli border. The president used this incident as an excuse to dismiss the key figures in the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), as well as the General Intelligence Service who were running the country’s affairs.

Where there previously had been doubts as to the new president’s competency, he came out of this a modern pharaoh, more competent and powerful that his predecessor Hosni Mubarak, especially after he nullified the constitutional declaration supplemented by SCAF, and announced a new declaration, without the approval of the people, giving himself the right to legislate.

There are those who believe that Morsi’s decisions were made within the framework of a conflict between the military council and the president as a member of the Muslim Brotherhood for control of the country. It is my conviction, however, that the struggle is essentially among army institutions, between those who supported Lt. Gen. Ahmed Shafiq’s presidential campaign, and those who supported the Muslim Brotherhood’s campaign as a way to diffuse the expected popular protests had a military candidate been elected. Had the military united behind Shafiq and threatened to try SCAF leaders, it might have restored the revolution to its rightful path. The Brotherhood was merely the spearhead in this conflict. Read more ..

Europe on Edge

Understanding the Radical Right in Europe

September 8th 2012

Golden Dawn - Greece

There is a continuing problem for researchers of the far right: namely, to define the terms and differentiate between the far right, the radical right, and the extreme right. However, in a sense, these definitions may be somewhat static and limiting as they can fail to reflect process and complexity.

The contemporary far right in Europe is rapidly moving away from the narrow ultranationalism that characterized it in the twentieth century toward a genuine and distinctive European agenda. This is evidenced in similar demands, growing liaison and coordination between national groups, and attempts to build supranational caucuses like that of the now defunct Identity, Tradition and Sovereignty group in the European Parliament, and the more recent European Social Movement.

The far right increasingly presents a transnational phenomenon, with some common, national, basic features. Two elements in particular are aiding these developments: the Schengen Agreement, which allows free access within the European Union, enabling all forms of cross-border travel, and the ever-increasing penetration of information and communication technologies, in particular the use of Web 2.0 social networking. Read more ..

Iran's Nukes

Israel May Defer on Attack if Obama Issues Red Lines

September 7th 2012

Obama and Nettanyahu

The Netanyahu government appears to be making a slow climbdown from recent talk of an imminent attack on Iran. Israeli television reported on Thursday night that if U.S. President Barack Obama sets out clear "red lines" on the Iran issue, it is unlikely that Israel will attack in the near future.

Such "red lines," which would, by definition, involve the threat of military force, have been rumored for several days, though Obama has yet to make any official announcement to that effect.

Israel's Channel 10 claimed in its Thursday night report that a source close to Netanyahu said that if, when Obama and Netanyahu meet in New York after Yom Kippur "Obama gives Israel the promised 'red lines' and his personal commitments, Israel will not attack Iran." It appears that Netanyahu expects to receive such commitments, as the source also said that an Israeli attack is "less and less likely." Read more ..

The Defense Edge

Is the Democratic Platform in Synch with the Public on National Defense?

September 6th 2012

Apache Helicopters

The Democratic party platform released in early September suggests that national security officials in a second Obama administration will attempt to leave outdated military projects behind, try to bolster the country’s international leadership, and try to control nuclear weapons materials—policies that match some but not all of the preferences expressed by members of both political parties in a May survey.

The platform, released September 4th, leaves plenty of wiggle room for the administration, eschewing hard numbers or strategic decisions in favor of generalities—a practice typical in platforms released at convention time that are heavy on rhetoric but light on specifics.

The 2012 platform is even more general than the Democrats’ 2008 version, which contained highly specific pledges of new aid to Afghanistan ($1 billion) and Israel ($30 billion) and called for increasing “the Army by 65,000 troops and the Marines by 27,000 troops.” Instead of looking forward, the focus of this year’s document is on what the Obama administration has already accomplished. Read more ..

The Iranian Threat

The Burning Oil Platform: Iran’s Threat to The West

September 6th 2012

It has become a commonplace that the United States and its allies went to war for a second time with Iraq not so much to relieve the Iraqi people of the yoke imposed by dictator Saddam Hussein but for oil, that fungible commodity on which modern life depends. Getting the oil to the United States is dependent on vital sea lanes and chokepoints in often unstable and dangerous parts of the world, thereby necessitating monitoring by the U.S. naval fleet and dozens of military installations overseas.

Consider what an interruption of the foreign oil supply could mean to the United States: Americans use approximately 19 million to 20 million barrels of oil per day, of which approximately half is imported. If 1 million barrels per day are lost, or suffer the type of havoc sustained from Hurricane Katrina, the federal government would open the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, which offers a mere six- to eight-week supply of unrefined crude oil. If the U.S. loses 1.5 million barrels per day, or approximately 7.5 percent, the government would ask allies in the 28-member International Energy Agency to tap their own Strategic Petroleum Reserves and provide other assistance. If 2 million barrels per day are lost for a protracted period, experts believe that the chaos in the country would be so astronomic as to beg estimation. Read more ..

Obama and Israel

Romney vs. Obama vis-a-vis Israel

September 5th 2012

Obama pointing finger at Netanyahu

"President Obama has thrown allies like Israel under the bus." That's what Mitt Romney, Republican candidate for president, said in the high-profile speech accepting his party's nomination last week, repeating a slang phrase for sacrificing a friend for selfish reasons. Romney had deployed this phrase before, for example in May 2011 and Jan. 2012. This criticism of Obama fits a persistent Republican critique. Specifically, several other recent presidential candidates used or endorsed the same "bus" formulation vis-à-vis Obama and Israel, including Herman Cain in May 2011, Rick Perry in Sept. 2011, Newt Gingrich in Jan. 2012, and Rick Santorum in Feb. 2012.

These Republican attacks on Obama's relations with Israel have several important implications for U.S. foreign policy. First, out of the many Middle East-related issues, Israel, and Israel alone, retains a permanent role in U.S. electoral politics, influencing how a significant number of voters - not just Jews but also Arabs, Muslims, Evangelical Christians, conservatives and liberals - vote for president. Read more ..

The Economy on Edge

Bleak Outlook for Youth Employment

September 4th 2012

Employee applications

A new report finds that 75 million young people are unemployed around the world. The study by the International Labor Organization suggests jobless rates among young people will worsen globally as the spillover of the euro crisis spreads from advanced to emerging economies. 

The International Labor Organization reports the global economic crisis is having a particularly devastating affect on people between the ages of 15 and 24 trying to enter the labor market.

The study finds the impact of the euro crisis is spreading beyond Europe and slowing down economies from East Asia to Latin America. It notes the situation is particularly severe in the Middle East and North Africa, where youth unemployment is above 25 percent and rising. Lead author of the report and head of the ILO Global Employment Trends Unit, Ekkehard Ernst, says the situation in the Middle East is projected to become even worse in the next five years. Read more ..

Latin America on Edge

Moscow and Washington Battle for Influence in the Western Hemisphere

September 4th 2012

Click to select Image

The current economic competition between the Russian Federation and the United States in the Western Hemisphere bears striking similarity to the political antagonism prevalent during the Cold War. This deep seated rivalry still influences world affairs, as the United Nations Security Council cannot enact any major decision without an agreement between those two powers. However, a pragmatic view of the world economy plays a greater role now in the determination of Russia’s priorities and strategies as it begins to catch up with the U.S. in its exposure to Latin American economic interests.

As of late, the Russian Federation has gained economic ground over the United States in various parts of the Latin American region. For example, Washington’s embargo on Cuba gives Russia the opportunity to fill in the economic hollows left by the “imperialist neighbor.” While Washington engages in very limited trade with its ancient foe, Russia-Cuban links have been growing stronger with each passing year. Recently, the Russian oil company Zarubezhneft announced its plan to invest $100 million USD in Cuba by 2025. Considering that deposits of Cuban oil are estimated to reach 20 billion barrels, the Russians’ investment plan appears as if it will bring considerable profits in the near future to both sides. Read more ..

Broken Labor

GAO Report Supports the Science Behind Black Lung Rule

September 3rd 2012

Coal miner

Research supports an Obama administration plan to reduce coal miners’ exposure to the dust that causes black lung, a much-anticipated Government Accountability Office report released Friday found. Last December, House Republicans inserted language into an appropriations bill requiring the study. No money could be used to implement a proposed coal mine dust rule until the GAO evaluated the research underpinning it, the rider said.

The GAO report lends support to one piece of the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration’s efforts to address a resurgence of black lung, particularly in parts of Appalachia. An investigation in July found that the disease has returned amid widespread cheating on required dust sampling by some mining companies and enforcement lapses by MSHA.

In October 2010, the agency proposed cutting in half the amount of dust to which miners could be exposed, but the proposal has drawn opposition from some in the mining industry and Congress. Some miners’ advocates worry the rule could die, as previous reform attempts have, if it isn’t finalized before the coming election. Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

Team Obama Predicts "Close" Race

September 2nd 2012


President Obama's campaign has downplayed expectations ahead of the Democratic National Convention next week, saying they expected to be locked in a close race against GOP nominee Mitt Romney until election day. "It's been a pretty steady race to date and we expect it will be in a pretty similar place following our convention," Obama campaign spokeswoman Jen Psaki told a press gaggle on Air Force One, en route to the president’s campaign rallies in Iowa. "We think it’s going to be close 'til the end. That's why we have such an active schedule. That's why the president is out there campaigning." Psaki’s comments about a packed campaign schedule between now and election day come after Obama reportedly complained last week about too much downtime. 

"Why am I having a short day?" he told adviser Valerie Jarrett on Wednesday, according to the Wall Street Journal. "There should be no short days." Psaki also said that the just completed Republican National Convention was more important for Romney than the Democratic meet would be for Obama. Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

Third-Party Candidates May Hurt Romney in Key States

September 1st 2012

Gary Johnson
Gary Johnson

Dark-horse presidential candidates Gary Johnson and Virgil Goode may not be household names, but with a little help from super PACs, they could peel away precious support from Republican Mitt Romney and possibly even President Barack Obama in some key state races.

The conservative Constitution Party, which seeks to “restore American jurisprudence to its Biblical foundations,” has nominated Goode, a former congressman from Virginia, for president, potentially taking votes away from Romney in what has become a presidential swing state.

Meanwhile, Johnson, a former two-term GOP governor of New Mexico who failed to win the 2012 Republican presidential nod, has been nominated by the Libertarian Party — a perch from which he could throw a wrench in the plans of both Obama and Romney in several swing states. Read more ..

Broken Economy

Indicators Show US Economic Recovery Slow and Uneven

September 1st 2012

Click to select Image

A look at some key industries in the United States shows that the economic recovery is a bit erratic and growth seems to be slowing down. Economists say trucks haul nearly 70 percent of the freight used in the United States. The American Trucking Association says freight is a measure of the economy, because manufacturers have to move raw materials, carry parts to factories, haul imports and exports and deliver goods to store shelves.

“We are actually a very good indicator, a leading economic indicator ((a way of looking at the economic future)) in fact. And so if tonnage starts to fall, we get nervous. If it’s going up, we are pretty happy,“ said Bob Costello, the group's chief economist.

Freight tonnage is going up at the moment, but the rate of growth is slowing down. "It is telling me that the economy is not falling into another recession. It will continue as a sort of a slow growth recovery," Costello said. Other clues about economic growth come from the volume of air freight.  The most recent data show demand for air freight fell more than three percent globally during July. Read more ..

The Iranian Threat

Iran’s Crusade to Remove the West from the World of Islam

September 1st 2012

Iran-US Hatred

Each year the Iranian regime marks international Jerusalem (Quds) Day on the last Friday of the month of Ramadan. This event, which has been held since a 1979 decision by Ayatollah Khomeini and the Iranian government, is aimed at expressing Islamic Iran’s ongoing support for the Palestinian issue and the “liberation of Jerusalem,” which it calls “the important and central problem of the Muslim world.” It is on this day that Iranian incitement against Israel and calls for its destruction reach their peak.

On August 17, 2012, Jerusalem Day was marked by events staged all over Iran with the regime’s encouragement, and in the Muslim Arab world as well. As in previous years, the Iranian leadership (the Supreme Leader, the president, members of the government, and heads of the army and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps – IRGC) called for the destruction of Israel and of “world Zionism.” Demonstrating masses shouted slogans of “Death to America” and “Death to Israel.” Outside Iran, as every year, the day was also celebrated in Lebanon under the stewardship of Hizbullah secretary-general Hassan Nasrallah, who echoed his patrons with a sally of anti-Israel threats and boasts. Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

Tax Policy Center’s Findings on Romney's Tax Plan

August 31st 2012

Romney and Ryan--Virginia Announcement

In a recent paper, we showed that any revenue-neutral tax reform that included Governor Romney’s specific tax cuts and that met his stated goal of not raising taxes on saving and investment would cut taxes for households with income above $200,000 and would therefore necessarily have to raise taxes on taxpayers below $200,000. This was true even when we considered an unrealistically progressive way of financing the specified tax reductions, and even when we accounted for economic growth and revenue feedback.

Writing in Wednesday’s Wall Street Journal, Romney economic adviser Martin Feldstein attempts to contradict our finding. Instead, his analysis actually confirms our central result. Under the stated assumptions in Feldstein’s article, taxpayers with income between $100,000 and $200,000 would pay an average of at least $2,000 more. (Feldstein uses a different income measure than we do – see technical note at end.) Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

2008 Was a Major Aberration for Democrats

August 31st 2012

Obama and Romney

By itself, the state of the economy is enough to guarantee a close election, and every national survey during the past two weeks has put Obama and Romney in a statistical tie. Now another key factor points in the same direction—the shifting balance between the political parties. This matters because party preferences and voting patterns are more closely linked today than they have been in several generations—and two recent in-depth surveys of the party system document that a clean Democratic victory, of the sort the party enjoyed in 2008, is exceedingly unlikely. The surging Democratic tide of four years ago has ebbed, exposing a partisan shoreline that more closely resembles what prevailed in 2004. Read more ..

Palestine on Edge

Order for Beatings Came From Abbas's Office

August 31st 2012

Palestinian Authority police

A Palestinian commission of inquiry into the beating of Palestinian journalists and demonstrators in Ramallah has found that top officials in Mahmoud Abbas's office had ordered the assault.

The discovery did not come as a surprise to many Palestinians, who have long been accusing the Palestinian leadership in the West Bank of waging a campaign of intimidation and terror against journalists, bloggers and political opponents.

Western donors who are funding the Palestinian Authority are willing to turn a blind eye to human rights violations as long as Abbas and his aides remain "committed to the two-state solution" and do not believe in violence against Israel, as a Western diplomat based in Israel explained.

The commission of inquiry was established after Palestinian policemen and security personnel -- in civilian clothes -- attacked Palestinians who were demonstrating several weeks ago against a planned visit to Ramallah by then Israeli Vice Prime Minister Shaul Mofaz. Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

Club for Growth's Clout

August 30th 2012

Bundles of Money

As Republicans have battled for the soul of their party in primaries across the country, the deep-pocketed, anti-tax Club for Growth has proved itself a force to be reckoned with.

If heavily favored Rep. Jeff Flake prevails Tuesday in Arizona over businessman Wil Cardon, the Club will mark four wins against two losses among its favored candidates in U.S. Senate GOP primary races.

Of about five-dozen organizations that spent a combined $32 million on independent expenditures in Republican Senate primaries this year, Club for Growth ranks No. 1, having spent $10.8 million, according to a Center for Public Integrity analysis of Federal Election Commission records.

The Club’s super PAC, which is allowed to accept unlimited contributions and spend the funds on ads attacking or backing candidates, is responsible for nearly all of this spending.

Flake has cultivated a reputation in Washington as an anti-earmark crusader, routinely earning a 100 percent favorable rating from the Club for his voting record. He was also one of the first senators to sign the Club’s pledge to repeal President Barack Obama’s signature healthcare reform law. Read more ..

The Iranian Threat

Iran Struggles Unsuccessfully for Influence in Central Asia

August 30th 2012


On the sidelines of the Non-Aligned Movement summit in Tehran, Iranian officials will consult with Central Asian republics in another failed attempt to strengthen the Islamic Republic's position and counter what they see as dangerous U.S. influence in the region.

In recent months, Tehran's diplomatic efforts in Central Asia have far surpassed their traditional level. Iranian officials have met with representatives of the region's ex-Soviet republics on numerous occasions, including on the sidelines of the June 6 Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit, at several events organized by the Tehran-influenced Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO), at bilateral trade commission meetings with Kazakhstan (June) and Turkmenistan (July 15), through exchanges of delegations, and in other multilateral and bilateral forums. Yet the actual impact of this flurry of activity is questionable.


A major reason for Tehran's intensified diplomacy in the region is Washington's planned military withdrawal from Afghanistan. Iran's ruling elites are practically unanimous in their belief that the announced departure is nothing but a cover for a strategic regrouping. According to this view, the United States may decide to not only remain in Afghanistan, but also increase its military presence in other Central Asian countries. Tehran's apprehensions became stronger in June-July, when Central Asian and Russian media sources began spreading rumors about U.S. assistance to the Tajikistan government in suppressing local insurgents, and about possible rapprochement between Washington and Uzbekistan.

The Economy on Edge

The Gap Between Metropolitan Job Openings and Educational Attainment

August 29th 2012


For the first time since World War II, there are fewer jobs three years after the end of a recession than before it began. Our new Brookings report suggests that most of this flat recovery can be attributed to severe losses in housing wealth and jobs in industries such as manufacturing and construction.

Yet education--especially the balance between the demand and supply of educated workers--is the most important factor explaining long-run unemployment in metropolitan and national labor markets.

First, consider the short-run picture. As of the first quarter of 2012, the economy was down 5.1 million jobs from the first quarter of 2008. 71 percent of that jobs deficit--3.7 million jobs--is attributable to just two sectors: construction and manufacturing, which made up only 15 percent of all jobs in 2008. The massive losses in construction jobs devastated metro areas like Las Vegas, while manufacturing losses crippled Detroit and Wichita. Since manufacturing is so export-oriented, it has not helped that growth in Europe--a large trading partner--has been dismal in recent years. Read more ..

Iran's Nukes

The Geography of Iranian Power

August 29th 2012

Iranian Warships
Naval vessels in the Strait of Hormuz

The most important facts about Iran go unstated because they are so obvious. Any glance at a map would tell us what they are. And these facts explain how regime change or evolution in Tehran -- when, not if, it comes -- will dramatically alter geopolitics from the Mediterranean to the Indian subcontinent and beyond.

Virtually all of the Greater Middle East's oil and natural gas lies either in the Persian Gulf or the Caspian Sea regions. Just as shipping lanes radiate from the Persian Gulf, pipelines will increasingly radiate from the Caspian region to the Mediterranean, the Black Sea, China and the Indian Ocean. The only country that straddles both energy-producing areas is Iran, stretching as it does from the Caspian to the Persian Gulf. In a raw materials' sense, Iran is the Greater Middle East's universal joint.

The Persian Gulf possesses by some accounts 55 percent of the world's crude oil reserves, and Iran dominates the whole Gulf, from the Shatt al-Arab on the Iraqi border to the Strait of Hormuz 990 kilometers (615 miles) away. Because of its bays, inlets, coves and islands -- excellent places for hiding suicide, tanker-ramming speed boats -- Iran's coastline inside the Strait of Hormuz is 1,356 nautical miles; the next longest, that of the United Arab Emirates, is only 733 nautical miles. Iran also has 480 kilometers of Arabian Sea frontage, including the port of Chabahar near the Pakistani border. This makes Iran vital to providing warm water, Indian Ocean access to the landlocked Central Asian countries of the former Soviet Union. Meanwhile, the Iranian coast of the Caspian in the far north, wreathed by thickly forested mountains, stretches for nearly 650 kilometers from Astara in the west, on the border with former Soviet Azerbaijan, around to Bandar-e Torkaman in the east, by the border with natural gas-rich Turkmenistan. Read more ..

Politics on Edge

Poland's Dire Choices for a Strategy of National Identity

August 28th 2012

Polish soldiers in Chad

Polish national strategy pivots around a single, existential issue: how to preserve its national identity and independence. Located on the oft-invaded North European Plain, Poland's existence is heavily susceptible to the moves of major Eurasian powers. Therefore, Polish history has been erratic, with Poland moving from independence -- even regional dominance -- to simply disappearing from the map, surviving only in language and memory before emerging once again.

For some countries, geopolitics is a marginal issue. Win or lose, life goes on. But for Poland, geopolitics is an existential issue; losing begets national catastrophe. Therefore, Poland's national strategy inevitably is designed with an underlying sense of fear and desperation. Nothing in Polish history would indicate that disaster is impossible.

To begin thinking about Poland's strategy, we must consider that in the 17th century, Poland, aligned with Lithuania, was one of the major European powers. It stretched from the Baltic Sea almost to the Black Sea, from western Ukraine into the Germanic regions. By 1795, it had ceased to exist as an independent country, divided among three emerging powers: Prussia, Russia and Austria. Read more ..

The New Egypt

Brother President: The Islamist Agenda for Governing Egypt

August 27th 2012

Mohammed Morsi

It was looking bleak for Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood. The region’s oldest and most influential Islamist movement had underperformed and overreached in parliament, alienating leftists and liberals in the process. When, in April, the Muslim Brotherhood announced that Mohammed Morsi would be its presidential candidate, after its first choice had been disqualified, the sense of policy drift was unmistakable. The Brotherhood was losing ground. Predictions of its demise, however, were premature. Despite numerous missteps, the movement has proved its resilience. It has not, to be sure, become what many Egyptians hoped it might be—the leader of a unified, national movement that would push Egypt, however haltingly, toward democracy. But by its own particular standards, the Brotherhood has succeeded.

The organization (including its political arm, the Freedom and Justice Party) does not operate as a traditional party might be expected to. It cares, of course, about winning elections. But it cares even more about the unity and integrity of the organization, in Arabic, tanzim. In the early days of Egypt’s transition, the Brotherhood showed its more ruthless side—not necessarily out of discomfort with internal democracy but out of its longstanding concern, some would say obsession, with self-preservation. To the extent that dissent within the Brotherhood undermined the tanzim, it had to be quashed. Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

GOP Seeks to Hit Reset with Hispanic Voters

August 27th 2012

Voting 2012

Republicans this week will look to push the reset button with Hispanic voters by featuring a slew of prominent Latino GOP speakers in Tampa. The Republicans’ goal, according to a top campaign official, is to win 38 percent of the Hispanic vote on Election Day. Mitt Romney’s campaign has chosen a number of influential Latinos to be the public face of the convention.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), a home-state favorite, will introduce Romney on the convention’s final night. And Ann Romney will be preceded by Lucé Vela Gutiérrez, Puerto Rico’s first lady on Tuesday. Puerto Rico Gov. Luis Fortuño, New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez, Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval and Texas Senate hopeful Ted Cruz will also speak. “There are Hispanic-specific events every day at the convention,” said Jose Fuentes, a co-chairman of Romney’s national Hispanic leadership team and former Puerto Rico attorney general. “I don’t think you’ve ever in the past seen a Republican convention where so many primetime speakers are Hispanics.” Fuentes said of the campaign’s 38 percent goal, 7 percent higher than the 31 percent Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) pulled in 2008 and a slight decrease from the approximately 40 percent former President George W. Bush won in 2004. Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

A Qualitative Reading of the July Jobs Report

August 26th 2012

Employee applications

There was considerable confusion recently around the July jobs report. The payroll survey reported an addition of 163,000 jobs, but at the same time the unemployment rate ticked up a tenth of a percentage point? We added jobs, but at the same time the number of employed persons shrank by 195,000? How could these things be true at the same time? More generally, how should you read and interpret a jobs report? Here's our advice: read it as a qualitative story representing a coherent narrative, not as a list of facts.

The most important key is not to latch on to any of the specifics. The unemployment rate increased to 8.3 percent, as was widely reported in the press? Yes ... but barely. In fact, the unemployment rate was 8.217 percent in June and 8.254 percent in July. So it didn't increase by 0.1 - it increased by 0.037. The economy added 163,000 jobs, as was splashed all over the headlines? Yes ... kind of.  The economy actually lost over 1.2 million jobs moving from June to July. How do you get from a loss of 1.2 million to a gain of 163,000? Read more ..

the 2012 Vote

Planned Parenthood’s Action Fund Planning Revenge on Mitt Romney

August 25th 2012

Planned Parenthood

Planned Parenthood’s Action Fund plans to spend more than $3 million in Ohio and Virginia against Mitt Romney in the wake of his pledge to “get rid” of the women’s health advocacy group. The group is one of several liberal-leaning women’s organizations planning to spend millions of dollars in crucial election states to swing undecided female voters toward President Obama.

Joining them are NARAL Pro-Choice America and EMILY’s List, two abortion-rights groups who are also planning aggressive campaigns. Their message is in line with Obama’s increased courtship of female voters. Several women will address the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte. And the campaign announced on Friday a “Romney/Ryan: Wrong For Women” tour for next week that will feature prominent female supporters traveling to swing states to promote the president’s record on women issues. Read more ..

The New Egypt

Egypt's Outreach to China and Iran Is Troubling for U.S. Policy

August 25th 2012

Mohamed Morsi Speaks at Press Conference
Mohamed Morsi

Next week, Egypt's Islamist president, Mohamed Morsi, will visit China at the invitation of President Hu Jintao. He will seek investments there that will enable Egypt to "dispense of loans and aid," according to Morsi's party vice chairman. From China, Morsi will travel to Tehran to attend the Non-Aligned Movement summit. Just two months after coming to power, Morsi is pursuing a rapprochement with Tehran and articulating a newfound ambition to jettison billions in U.S. foreign assistance dollars and financing from Western financial institutions. Taken together, these steps suggest that Morsi's Egypt may be headed for a foreign policy shift rivaling the scope of President Anwar Sadat's expulsion of the Soviets in 1972 and subsequent reorientation to the West.

Cairo's burgeoning rapprochement with Tehran is the most obvious of Morsi's foreign policy pivots. An Egyptian president hadn't visited Iran since the 1979 revolution, and the clerical regime there continues to celebrate Sadat's assassination. While the notion of a major long-standing U.S. ally self-identifying as "non-aligned" is odious, it was perhaps more tolerable for Washington during the tenure of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. Given the heightened tension over Iran's nuclear program, the timing of the Morsi visit seems deliberately provocative. Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

Turkey's Split with Syria

August 24th 2012

Turk flags

Turkey is divided on what course to pursue in Syria, and the AKP's ability to sell a more muscular policy is by no means guaranteed.

Following this week's suicide bombing in the Turkish city of Gaziantep, Turkey's government has hinted at Syrian complicity in the attacks, with Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu noting, for example, parallels between the bombing and the Syrian regime's tactics.

Such a mindset brings Turkey a step closer to taking action against Damascus. Yet despite such comments, the country is far from united around a policy for taking down Bashar al-Assad's regime anytime soon. These domestic differences have some interesting echoes from almost a decade ago, when Turkey was torn over involvement in another conflict -- the Iraq war. In 2003, Turkey's recently elected Justice and Development Party (AKP) government supported U.S. efforts in the Iraq war despite significant domestic opposition. In doing so, the Islamist-rooted organization was apparently keen to enamor itself with Washington, thereby gaining leverage against the then powerful Turkish military. Read more ..

The Iranian Threat

Iran's Unlikely Surrogate Assassins

August 24th 2012

Ahmadinejad hipster
Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

In addition to elite Iranian and Hizballah operatives, Tehran has a long history of employing unlikely surrogates to target dissidents abroad, including in the United States.

Over the past few months, Iran has demonstrated a renewed willingness to carry out attacks targeting its enemies. From India and Azerbaijan to Cyprus and Thailand, recent Iran directed plots have targeted diplomats and civilians, Israelis, Americans, Saudis, and more. To execute these attacks, Iran has sometimes dispatched its own agents, such as members of its elite IRGC Quds Force. Other times Iran has relied on trusted proxies like Hezbollah. In a number of cases Quds Force and Hezbollah operatives have worked together to execute attacks abroad.

Now, evidence has emerged indicating Tehran is employing another type of agent -- the unlikely surrogate assassin -- to target Iranian dissidents abroad, including here in the United States. Last October, dual U.S.-Iranian citizen Manssor Arbabsiar and Gholam Shakuri, a commander in Iran's Quds Force, the special-operations unit of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), were charged in New York for their roles in an alleged plot to murder the Saudi ambassador to the United States, Adel al-Jubeir. Read more ..

The New Egypt

Egypt's Economic Journey Between the IMF, FMF and the MFO

August 24th 2012

Mohamed Morsi - Vivat Rex

"President Barack Obama himself, among other personnel from the US administration, promised Egypt $2 billion in the form of debt swaps and credit guarantees in 2011, shortly after Mubarak was unseated. These promises, however, have yet to materialise."

On 15 August the Egyptian Finance Minister Momtaz El Said met with U.S. Ambassador to Egypt Anne Patterson to discuss previously promised U.S. foreign aid funding. Also discussed were Egypt government efforts to restore Egypt's national economy and prospects for an International Monetary Fund (IMF) loan.
Regarding the IMF loan, Patterson agreed that given the political stability it was a "good time" for Egypt to resume negotiations with the IMF. In fact, new negotiations were pending and on 22 August IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde was to visit Cairo to re-open discussions that were initiated shortly after protests erupted across Egypt in January 2011.

Egypt and Israel

Sinai, the New Egypt, and the Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty

August 23rd 2012

Mohammed Morsi

The transfer of leadership in Egypt into the hands of the Muslim Brotherhood, the consequent effects on its internal political, social, economic and religious orientation and stability, its status within the Middle East region, and the standing, strength, and influence of its military – all pose a serious quandary to the international community, in general, and to those countries within Egypt’s own neighborhood, in particular.

The continued integrity of the relationship between Egypt and Israel, based on the Treaty of Peace between them signed over 33 years ago, which has served the strategic interests of both states as well as of the international community, is perhaps the major test of how the new Egypt chooses to see itself and its status in the region.

An integral component of this quandary is the Sinai Peninsula which has served as a buffer between the two countries, where the presence of Egyptian military personnel, equipment, and fortifications was limited by mutual agreement in the Treaty of Peace. Read more ..

The Wikileaks Case

The Assange Case and Ecuador: Correa Positions Himself as Chávez’s International Successor

August 22nd 2012

Julian Assange

Ecuador’s decision to grant political asylum to computer hacker Julian Assange is very revealing in relation to the character and aspirations of Ecuadorian president Rafael Correa.

Assange was the man who succeeded in disclosing American state officials’ and diplomats’ conversations through Wikileaks as well as releasing thousands of pages of top secret documents. However, Assange, besides being suspected of having raped two women in Sweden, is also a man that has become an ideological symbol. This is why Assange was granted political asylum. Such status is usually given to people who have been persecuted for political or ethnic reasons. Assange, although the disclosure of secrets would make him an offender under U.S. laws if so charged, sought asylum over alleged sex crimes committed in Sweden.

Yet, Assange has become a political symbol as elements in the left have seen him as a man who mocked the great power, the United States. This is why several left-wing groups such as the 99 percenters, and other anti-capitalist groups, and civic libertarian groups have turned strongly in favor of Assange, with total disregard for the allegations of sexual assault, which they interpret as an excuse. Read more ..

Israel on Edge

The War Against the Jews

August 22nd 2012

Western/Wailing Wall

The sustained anti-Israel de-legitimization campaign is a corollary of the millenarian obsession with the Jews in the Christian and the Muslim worlds. Since Israel is the world’s only Jewish state, and since Zionism is the Jewish people’s national liberation movement, anti-Zionism—as opposed to criticism of specific Israeli policies or actions—means denial of the Jewish right to national self-determination. Such a discriminatory denial of this basic right to only one nation (and one of the few that can trace their corporate identity and territorial attachment to antiquity) while allowing it to all other groups and communities, however new and tenuous their claim to nationhood, is pure and unadulterated anti-Jewish racism, or anti-Semitism as it is commonly known.

By any conceivable standard, Israel has been an extraordinary success story: national rebirth in the ancestral homeland after millennia of exile and dispersion; resuscitation of a dormant biblical language; the creation of a modern, highly educated, technologically advanced, and culturally and economically thriving society, as well as a vibrant liberal democracy in one of the world’s least democratic areas. It is a world leader in agricultural, medical, military, and solar energy technologies, among others; a high-tech superpower attracting more venture capital investment per capita than the United States and Europe; home to one of the world’s best health systems and philharmonic orchestras, as well as to ten Nobel Prize laureates. And so on and so forth. Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

Obama may not Feel the Love at Democratic National Convention that He did in 2008

August 22nd 2012


The Democratic National Convention in Charlotte is expected to be far less star-studded than in 2008, when a rock-star-like President Obama first accepted his party’s nomination. There will be fewer parties celebrating Obama’s nomination and a smaller number of celebrities to watch him accept his party’s blessing, according to an early events list. Compared to the Democratic convention four years ago, this year’s gathering has a noticeably toned-down list of events and a much smaller A-list presence than Denver.

That could change.

Some organizations may be waiting to announce their festivities at a date closer to th convention. Celebrities, for their part, are notoriously fickle, and Hollywood stars could decide to jet to Charlotte at the last minute. The convention committee has yet to release its official schedule too. Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

Republicans are Tops in the List of Wealthiest Members of Congress

August 21st 2012


Republicans dominate The Hill’s annual rankings of the 50 wealthiest lawmakers for the second year in a row, with Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas) retaining the crown as the richest member of Congress.

This year’s wealthy list tilts decisively once again toward the right side of the aisle, with 31 of the 50 richest coming from the GOP. Thirty-one of the lawmakers on the list are from the House, with the remaining 19 coming from the Senate.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.), at No. 37, is the only GOP leader to make the top 50. The Republican Party’s fastest-rising star, GOP vice-presidential candidate and Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, comes nowhere near making the list, having a net worth of at least $2.2 million, a modest sum among members of Congress. McCaul reported a minimum net worth of $290.5 million for 2011, a more than $3 million jump from 2010 that kept him nearly $100 million ahead of his nearest challenger, Democratic Sen. John Kerry (Mass.). Read more ..

America and Asia

Who Benefits Most from the Trans-Pacific Partnership?

August 21st 2012

TPP and Obama

In November 2011, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced Washington’s official pivot to Asia. Outlining a vision for an Asia-Pacific Century, Secretary Clinton described a desired symbiotic and unfettered relationship between the two regions that will provide “unprecedented opportunities for investment, trade, and access to cutting-edge technology.” Washington hopes this engagement will help in “strengthening bilateral security alliances, deepening working relationships with emerging powers, engaging with relational multilateral institutions, expanding trade and investment, forging a broad-based military presence, and advancing democracy and human rights.” With the TPP as a first step, the ultimate goal is to “build a web of partnerships and institutions across the Pacific that is durable and consistent with American interests and values.”

At the center of this pivot has been the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), an enigmatic trade pact that has been hailed as a true “21st century agreement.” In negotiation since 2008, the TPP would link the United States with Australia, Brunei, Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam (the TPP-9) across a variety of economic platforms. Mexico, Canada, and Japan are all looking to join the agreement (the TPP-12), which would make the TPP the largest trade bloc in the world, encompassing some 700 million people and about $26 trillion USD in various forms of economic activity. Read more ..

Mexico on Edge

A Brighter Future Emerges for Embattled Mexico

August 21st 2012

Mexican girls on parade

A few years ago, I wrote about Mexico possibly becoming a failed state because of the effect of the cartels on the country. Mexico may have come close to that, but it stabilized itself and took a different course instead -- one of impressive economic growth in the face of instability.

Mexican Economics

Discussion of national strategy normally begins with the question of national security. But a discussion of Mexico's strategy must begin with economics. This is because Mexico's neighbor is the United States, whose military power in North America denies Mexico military options that other nations might have. But proximity to the United States does not deny Mexico economic options. Indeed, while the United States overwhelms Mexico from a national security standpoint, it offers possibilities for economic growth.

Mexico is now the world's 14th-largest economy, just above South Korea and just below Australia. Its gross domestic product was $1.16 trillion in 2011. It grew by 3.8 percent in 2011 and 5.5 percent in 2010. Before a major contraction of 6.9 percent in 2009 following the 2008 crisis, Mexico's GDP grew by an average of 3.3 percent in the five years between 2004 and 2008. When looked at in terms of purchasing power parity, a measure of GDP in terms of actual purchasing power, Mexico is the 11th-largest economy in the world, just behind France and Italy. It is also forecast to grow at just below 4 percent again this year, despite slowing global economic trends, thanks in part to rising U.S. consumption. Read more ..

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