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Israel's Looming Attack

Joint Chief Admits to U.S.-Israel Disagreement on Iran threat

August 20th 2012

Obama and Netanyau

After a week of media speculation and Israeli denials of a gap between American and Israeli policy on Iran, America's top military man has publicly admitted that such a gap does indeed exist. Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters on Sunday that "You can take two countries, give them the same intelligence and reach two different conclusions. I think that's what’s happening here." The chairman also admitted that the U.S. does not believe that a nuclear Iran would represent an immediate threat to American interests or security.

"Israel sees the Iranian threat more seriously than the US," he said, "because a nuclear Iran poses a threat to Israel's very existence." Speaking of his Israeli counterpart, IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz, Dempsey said that he speaks to Gantz twice a month, but "we admit that our clocks ticking at different paces." Nonetheless, the Chairman did express an understanding of Israel's concerns. "We have to understand the Israelis," he said, "they live with a constant suspicion with which we do not have to deal." Read more ..

Manufacturing on Edge

Hubs of Manufacturing: Let’s Get Started

August 20th 2012

Youngstown Ohio

Hubs and clusters, institutes and ecosystems: In recent years, we and others have talked a lot about the morphology of innovation systems, which are frequently anchored by major centers of research and comprised of related regional clouds of entrepreneurs, orbiting firms, industry actors, and educational institutions.

Strengthening that optimal structure was the idea behind our companion proposals for the creation of a network of regional energy discovery-innovation institutes and the establishment of a program to aid and abet nascent clusters with competitive grants. And it is also the point of the Department of Energy’s Energy Innovation Hubs program as well as the several regional innovation cluster programs now running, including at the Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration, that have moved along these lines. Now, it’s great to see the Obama administration moving to pilot another proposed national network of innovation hubs aimed at catalyzing regional growth ecosystems, this time in manufacturing. Read more ..

Egypt and Israel

Cautious Suspense in Israel Amid Egyptian President’s Power Play

August 19th 2012

Mohammed Morsi

Israel was cautiously monitoring its relationship with Egypt following Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi’s stunning decision to dismiss Cairo’s two top generals and quash a military order that had curbed the new leader’s powers.

The Jewish state was reportedly surprised by the decision to dismiss Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces and Minister of Defence Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, and Chief of Staff Sami Enan, and is watching the evolving situation with some concern. Morsi stunned the world on Sunday, when he announced that he would be replacing them—in essence dismissing the most powerful figures of the post-Mubarak era in Egypt.

A senior government source told Israel Radio on Monday morning that the incoming heads of the Egyptian military are well-aware of the importance of cooperation with Israel over the situation in the Sinai Peninsula and along the border between Israel and Egypt. However, the source added, that it was as yet unclear whether they fully appreciated the vital necessity of military cooperation between the two countries. Morsi’s current position of no direct communication with Israel makes it very difficult to establish any sort of dialogue and cooperation, and also makes it more difficult to formally assess the plans of the new Egyptian government. Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

With Ryan On Ticket, Right’s Worries Over His Business Tax Plans Ease

August 19th 2012

Paul Ryan

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) may have included a business consumption tax in his budget vision several years ago, but conservatives don’t appear to be holding that against Mitt Romney’s new running mate.

Consumption taxes – especially the dreaded value added tax (VAT) – can make conservatives queasy. But some economic thinkers on the right say the consumption tax that Ryan included in his “Roadmap for America’s Future” had key differences with VATs. And, they add, Ryan moved to more feasible and politically palatable corporate tax reforms after the 2010 elections, when Republicans took over the House and he became Budget Committee chairman. Douglas Holtz-Eakin, the chief economic adviser to Sen. John McCain’s (R-Ariz.) 2008 presidential campaign, said Ryan realized that it would be easier to fix the existing way businesses are taxed than to substitute in an entire new system.  Read more ..

Israel's Looming Strike

Israel Debates Strike on Iran

August 19th 2012

F21 kfir jet

Israelis agree that Iran's nuclear program must be stopped, and their debate regarding a strike's cost-effectiveness, urgency, and impact on relations with the United States is coming to a head.

With the heat of the summer has come an unprecedented flare-up in Israel's public debate on whether and when to unilaterally strike the advancing Iranian nuclear program. Broadly speaking, Defense Minister Ehud Barak seems to advocates early Israeli action, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu appears inclined to act but remains undecided, President Shimon Peres and most of the current and former defense establishment oppose an independent Israeli strike in the near future, and the rest of the government and the public at large are divided or uncertain. Peres has gone public with his opposition in recent days, further elevating the flames.

Following a wave of press reports pitting the bulk of the defense establishment against political decisionmakers on this issue, senior officials launched a media counteroffensive in a bid to defend the unilateral military option, prepare the public for a possible strike, and influence Washington and Tehran's calculus. First, Netanyahu publicly emphasized that threats directed at Israel's home front are "dwarfed" by the danger of Iran attaining nuclear weapons. In private, he reportedly stated, "If there is an inquiry commission [after a strike], I will say that I am responsible." Read more ..

The Digital Edge

Verizon Learned from AT&T’s Mistakes

August 18th 2012

Verizon Wireless Store

In winning approval for a $3.6 billion deal with leading cable companies, Verizon showed that it learned from the mistakes of its chief rival, AT&T.

Whereas AT&T rolled out a splashy public relations campaign last year to try and push through a $39 billion acquisition of T-Mobile, Verizon kept its cable proposal under the radar while offering concessions to regulators. Verizon's strategy proved more effective. The Justice Department filed a lawsuit claiming AT&T's purchase of T-Mobile would stifle competition, stopping the merger in its tracks.

On Thursday, those same regulators gave the Verizon cable deal their seal of approval. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has yet to formally complete its review of Verizon's deal, but Chairman Julius Genachowski said he plans to circulate an order with his fellow commissioners to give it the final go-ahead.  Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

Syrian Refugee Exodus Escalates

August 18th 2012

Syrian Refugees in unhcr

The United Nations Refugee Agency says that the Syrian refugee exodus continues to escalate. It says the exodus is particularly significant from Syria's most populous city of Aleppo where fighting continues between government and opposition forces.

UNHCR says it has registered more than 170,000 Syrian refugees in Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon, and Iraq.  It says it has recorded the sharpest rises in Turkey, which is close to Syria's besieged northern city of Aleppo. The agency says Turkey hosts almost 65,000 Syrians in nine camps, about 40 percent of them include people who have arrived this month. The UNHCR says it is scaling up its humanitarian assistance in Turkey.

The UNHCR says the number of refugees formally registered in Turkey and other neighboring countries does not reflect the actual magnitude of the exodus from Syria because many Syrians are fearful of being identified. ​​Refugee numbers also are climbing in Jordan.  The agency says on Thursday night, more than 1,000 people arrived at Jordanian border areas. The Jordanian government estimates some 150,000 Syrians have crossed into the country since the Syrian uprising began nearly 18 months ago. UNHCR spokesman, Adrian Edwards, says refugees are being housed in shelters and schools throughout the region. Read more ..

The Edge of Defense

Dissent among Republicans over Defense Spending

August 17th 2012

B-2 Bomber

Grover Norquist, influential Republican Washington lobbyist, is advising his party’s lawmakers to cut the defense budget deeply to avoid a major federal tax hike. His remarks this week were another sign of splintering views in Republican ranks about spending on national defense, that presently consumes about half of the discretionary federal budget—with Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney going in one direction and some Republican lawmakers and lobbyists headed in a different direction.

Norquist, a long-time anti-tax crusader in Washington, said in a talk at the Center for The National Interest that Republicans should not be pushing for increased spending on defense when the national deficit has ballooned. Instead, he said, lawmakers should embrace the need to balance the budget and cut wasteful projects, which he said could be done without negatively impacting national security. “You need to decide what your real defense needs are,” said Norquist. “That doesn’t mean chairmen of certain committees get to build bases in their states. That’s not a defense need ... [but] a political desire.” The debate so far, he said, has been marked by a lack of “serious conversation” on the Hill. However, he predicted that many of the Republicans unwilling to cut defense spending would either retire or be replaced in the November elections. Read more ..

The New Egypt

Egypt’s New President Moves Against Democracy

August 16th 2012

Mohamed Morsi - Vivat Rex

Egypt’s “full transition to civilian rule,” long sought by the Obama administration, has finally come to fruition. But it is neither liberal nor democratic.

On August 12, having purged top military officials, Muslim Brotherhood veteran and new President Mohammed Morsi issued a sweeping constitutional declaration. It grants him complete executive and legislative power, plus the authority to select the writers of Egypt’s new constitution. Eighteen months after Hosni Mubarak’s ouster, Egypt has a new dictator—and the way in which Mr. Morsi grabbed power says much about what he will do with it.

These moves follow an attack last week in the notoriously unstable Sinai peninsula, where militants killed 16 Egyptian soldiers, stole a military vehicle, and attempted to breach Israel’s borders. The incident gave Mr. Morsi an excuse to sack the security officials who posed the greatest threat to his domestic authority—particularly the leaders of Egypt’s now-defunct military junta, which in June had issued its own constitutional declaration limiting the newly elected president’s powers. Read more ..

Education on Edge

Is Retaining Students in the Early Grades Self-Defeating?

August 16th 2012

School kids

Whether a child is a proficient reader by the third grade is an important indicator of their future academic success. Indeed, substantial evidence indicates that unless students establish basic reading skills by that time, the rest of their education will be an uphill struggle. This evidence has spurred efforts to ensure that all students receive high-quality reading instruction in and even before the early grades. It has also raised the uncomfortable question of how to respond when those efforts fail to occur or prove unsuccessful: Should students who have not acquired a basic level of reading proficiency by grade three be promoted along with their peers? Or should they be retained and provided with intensive interventions before moving on to the next grade?

Several states and school districts have recently enacted policies requiring that students who do not demonstrate basic reading proficiency at the end of third grade be retained and provided with remedial services. Similar policies are under debate in state legislatures around the nation. Although these policies aim to provide incentives for educators and parents to ensure that students meet performance expectations, they can also be expected to increase the incidence of retention in the early grades. Their enactment has therefore renewed a longstanding debate about retention’s consequences for low-achieving students. Read more ..

Healthcare on Edge

Medicare Cuts: What Is the Fight About?

August 16th 2012

Obamacare Protest

Mitt Romney's selection of Paul Ryan as his running mate has moved Medicare to the center of the 2012 presidential campaign. Democrats have accused the Republican ticket of planning to "end Medicare as we know it" by turning it into a voucher plan that would leave seniors exposed to large and rising out-of-pocket costs. For their part, Republicans have accused President Obama of cutting Medicare by $716 billion to expand Medicaid and fund other provisions of the Affordable Care Act. Democrats have retorted that House Republicans overwhelmingly voted for a budget, drafted by Paul Ryan, that cut Medicare by the same amount and diverted the funds to purposes other than health care.

This brief lays out the basic facts about the Medicare cuts. A subsequent brief will discuss the issues raised by the broader structural changes to the program that Republicans have proposed. Read more ..

The New Egypt

Israel Wary as Morsi Curtails Egyptian Military's Power

August 16th 2012


Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi delivered a severe blow to the Egyptian military's political ambitions this week, and sent clear message to Egypt and beyond: his civilian Islamist government is now in charge.
Taking advantage of widespread shock in Egypt over the brutal gunning down of 15 Egyptian soldiers by jihadi terrorists in the Sinai desert last week, Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood made their move and eliminated the remnants of the old Mubarak order.
Morsi sacked Defense Minister Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, a towering figure in Egypt who served in his position for 22 years, as well as Chief of Staff Gen. Sami Enan. Morsi also fired the heads of the navy, the air force, and the air defense force.
By doing so, Morsi dealt a severe blow to the Egyptian military's quest to retain extensive political power in post-revolution Egypt.
To drive home the point, the Egyptian president cancelled a decree issued by the military's Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) that barred him from dealing with military appointments. No longer can the SCAF decide what powers an elected Egyptian president wields.
The Egyptian military's political goals may be in tatters but its control over large areas of the Egyptian economy remains intact, however. The military continues to monopolize a broad range of economic sectors, including manufacturing, management of businesses (such as gas stations), and is a major property owner. Undoubtedly, Morsi has set his sights on disbanding the army's economic empire as well.
The entire maneuver to depose the military chiefs was, of course, fully coordinated with the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, which rushed to praise Morsi afterwards. Read more ..

Israel on Edge

The Crisis of Imperiled Israel

August 15th 2012

Western/Wailing Wall

Crises are normally short, sharp and intense affairs. Israel's predicament has developed on a different time frame, is more diffuse than most crises and has not reached a decisive and intense moment. But it is still a crisis. It is not a crisis solely about Iran, although the Israeli government focuses on that issue. Rather, it is over Israel's strategic reality since 1978, when it signed the Camp David accords with Egypt.

Perhaps the deepest aspect of the crisis is that Israel has no internal consensus on whether it is in fact a crisis, or if so, what the crisis is about. The Israeli government speaks of an existential threat from Iranian nuclear weapons. I would argue that the existential threat is broader and deeper, part of it very new, and part of it embedded in the founding of Israel.

Israel now finds itself in a long-term crisis in which it is struggling to develop a strategy and foreign policy to deal with a new reality. This is causing substantial internal stress, since the domestic consensus on Israeli policy is fragmenting at the same time that the strategic reality is shifting. Though this happens periodically to nations, Israel sees itself in a weak position in the long run due to its size and population, despite its current military superiority. More precisely, it sees the evolution of events over time potentially undermining that military reality, and it therefore feels pressured to act to preserve it. How to preserve its superiority in the context of the emerging strategic reality is the core of the Israeli crisis. Read more ..

Iran's Nukes

If Hezbollah Acting for Iran Rains Missile Strikes in Israel, portions of Lebanon May be Destroyed

August 15th 2012

Iron Dome

Chatter in the U.S. and Israel over a possible attack by the Israeli military on Iran shifted this week following reports of factionalism within the Jewish state’s leadership and divisions in the U.S. over the appropriate response to Iran’s intransigence over its nuclear weaponization program. Should Israel attack Iran, so goes one possible scenario, the Islamic Republic could retaliate by instructing its Hezbollah and Hamas terrorist allies to send thousands of missiles into Israel.

Speaking in a radio interview in Israel, Vice Premier Silvan Shalom gave assurances that Iran does not have an “unlimited number of missiles.” He averred that Israel can stop massive rocket barrages within 24 hours by attacking the infrastructure in Lebanon and Gaza, thus bringing daily life there to a standstill. Possible targets include, he said, power plants, oil refineries and airports. Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

Syria’s Kurds Unite against Assad—but Not with Opposition

August 14th 2012

Syrian Kurdish protesters

While world attention focuses on bombings and clashes in Damascus and Aleppo, Syria’s Kurds buried their internal differences in mid-July, with Iraqi Kurdish help and Turkey’s blessing, and then promptly kicked Syrian regime forces out of their territory. This is a major blow to the regime, potentially clearing the northern approaches to Aleppo for opposition forces. But Kurdish relations with the rest of the Syrian opposition remain a deeply divisive issue.

Syria’s rival Kurdish movements

Syria’s Kurds have lately been sharply split between two major movements: the Party of Unity and Democracy (PYD), founded in 2003, which collaborated both with the Bashar al-Assad regime and with the violently anti-Turkish Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK); and the Kurdish National Council of Syria (KNC), an amalgam formed in October 2011 of fifteen local parties opposed to both Assad and the PKK. Over the past year, as the wider Syrian revolution intensified, these two movements often came to blows in Syria’s Kurdish regions. Previous attempts to reconcile them, notably in January and again in May 2012, came to naught; their differences were simply too deep, and their supporters too evenly matched, to make a lasting agreement possible. Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

Paul Ryan Potentially a Game Changer for the Presidential Campaigns

August 14th 2012

Paul Ryan

As a budget hawk who has spent a good part of the last decade writing and speaking (sometimes yelling) about the “unsustainable” federal deficit, I think Mitt Romney’s selection of Paul Ryan as his running mate could be exactly what is needed to turn this ugly, ad hominem election into an election fought over the greatest problem our nation has faced since the fall of the Soviet Union. For three reasons.

First, as Ryan has shown repeatedly, he has vast knowledge of the federal budget and can argue the particulars of his case. Budget hawks of both parties have been yearning for a national candidate who knows the budget issues in detail and talks about the deficit at every opportunity. If Ryan is allowed to continue in this vein, the Presidential election of 2012 could turn into a national seminar with the American people coming to understand as they never have before why we can’t go on accumulating annual trillion dollar deficits and remain a strong nation. Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

Romney-Ryan: Entitlement Crisis Center of Campaign

August 13th 2012

Romney and Ryan--Virginia Announcement

In front of the USS Wisconsin in Norfolk harbor, a coatless Mitt Romney named a tieless Paul Ryan as his vice presidential nominee.

Romney's choice was not much of a surprise after he told NBC's Chuck Todd on Thursday that he wanted someone with "a vision for the country, that adds something to the political discourse about the direction of the country. I mean I happen to believe that this is a defining election for America, that we're going to be voting for what kind of America we're going to have."

This arguably describes some of the others mentioned as possible nominees, but it clearly fits Paul Ryan. He doesn't fit some of the standard criteria for vice president. He hasn't won a statewide election, held an executive position or become well known nationally or even in much of Wisconsin. Read more ..

Iran's Nukes

Iran Attack Decision Countdown Begins, Israeli Media Reports

August 12th 2012

IDF F-16s

Israel may be only a short time away from one of the most fateful moments in its history. Friday evening, Israeli television reported that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Barak have all but finalized their decision to attack Iran's nuclear program.

The reasons outlined for their decision make for chilling reading. Most importantly, the two men believe that the Obama administration does not and will never consider an Iranian nuke a threat serious enough to justify military action.

"The US," reports the Times of Israel: "has not provided Israel with details of an attack plan. President Obama has not promised to attack Iran if all else fails. Conditions cited by Defense Secretary Leon Panetta for an American attack do not calm Israeli concerns. And Obama has a record of seeking UN and Arab League approval before action. Obama does not want to intervene militarily before the presidential elections in November, and it is doubtful that he would act afterwards, runs the Israeli assessment, the TV report said. Obama may believe that the US can live with a nuclear Iran, but Israel cannot." Read more ..

The New Egypt

The Beginnings of Accountability in Egypt?

August 12th 2012

Egyptian bannerman

Here’s an odd story: On August 2nd, the government of Israel publicly warned Israelis to leave the Sinai because it had information about potential terrorist activity. On the 4th, the U.S. government followed suit. On the evening of the 6th, the attack came—not against Israel at first, or against Americans, but against an Egyptian military outpost where soldiers were having their Iftar dinner. Sixteen Egyptian soldiers were killed and their vehicles commandeered, and the terrorists set off for an Israeli Bedouin military base in the Negev, hoping to draw Israel and Egypt into war. Israel thwarted the attack.

That’s not the odd part.

In the aftermath, one of the most interesting developments came from Egyptian blogger Dalia Ziada. Ziada, a liberal political analyst and activist in Cairo, is Executive Director of the Ibn Khaldun Center for Development Studies, one of the oldest and largest human rights/civil liberties NGOs in the Arab world. She wrote in her blog that Israeli authorities had shared their information with Egyptian intelligence, but the intelligence agency had failed to act. Why, she wondered aloud, did the Israeli government take care of its citizens and the Egyptian government did not? Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

Terrorism in Sinai: Tests for President Morsi and the Egyptian Military

August 11th 2012

Apache Helicopters

The recent deadly attack in the Sinai Peninsula, in which militants killed sixteen Egyptian soldiers while wounding seven others, was as predictable as it was devastating. Since last year's revolution, terrorists have worked continuously to manufacture tensions between Egypt and Israel, attacking the gas pipeline to Israel and Jordan fifteen times and launching a deadly cross-border raid on Israel last August that catalyzed a near-crisis in bilateral relations. Given the severe threat that Sinai's instability poses to regional peace, Washington should emphasize two points to Egypt's military and Islamist rulers.

First, it should inform President Muhammad Morsi that his response to this crisis will provide the first real evidence of his oft-stated commitment to foreign diplomats that he will respect Egypt's international agreements, that is, maintain the peace treaty with Israel. Unlike last week's flap over whether or not Morsi had responded to a letter from Israeli president Shimon Peres, yesterday's Sinai attack carries severe security ramifications for regional peace.


Central Asia on Edge

Militarism in Central Asia Reflects More than Religious Extremism

August 10th 2012

Uzbekistan mosque

Since 2010, Central Asia has become increasingly volatile, a trend many have attributed to a rise in militant Islamism. Militancy has indeed risen since 2010, but the notion that militant Islamists primarily are responsible for Central Asia's volatility is shortsighted because it ignores other political and economic dynamics at play in the region.

But if these dynamics, not jihadist designs, inspired much of the region's recent militant activity, the impending U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2014 could put Central Asia at greater risk for militant Islamism in the future. Combined with upcoming leadership changes in several Central Asian states, the withdrawal could complicate an already complex militant landscape in the region.

Regional Militancy: Late 1990s and Early 2000s

Central Asia was an important region for Islamist militancy in the late 1990s and early 2000s. The region is predominantly Muslim, though like all religious practices, Islam was suppressed during the Soviet era. Given the region's secularization under Soviet rule, many religious groups and figures either went underground or practiced openly to the extent that the Soviets would allow.

These groups and individuals were concentrated in the Fergana Valley, the demographic core of Central Asia that encompasses parts of Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. Islamists were particularly prevalent in Uzbekistan, which is home to several important religious and cultural cites in areas such as Samarkand and Bukhara. Read more ..

Iran on Edge

Iran and the Human Rights Opening

August 10th 2012

Iran protest

Action on Iran's domestic brutality can prevent the Islamic Republic from labeling sanctions as something they are not intended to be: an attack on the Iranian public.

With tensions mounting over Iran's nuclear program, the West has dealt the Tehran regime crippling blows on several fronts, including through sanctions, the targeted killing of scientists, and cyber operations such as the Stuxnet virus. Tehran is no doubt reeling, but regime leaders have spotted a silver lining: The West's single-minded focus on the nuclear dossier has permitted them to widen their violations of human rights.

Indeed, since the protests that followed the 2009 election, Iran's human-rights abuses have worsened substantially -- a development that has gone largely unnoticed in the U.S. and Europe. This is a tragedy with profound strategic implications for the West.

The Iranian legal system allows numerous human-rights violations, including discrimination against women and ethno-sectarian minorities, and the imposition of brutal penal sentences, such as stoning. Tehran's ruling theocrats view human rights as a Western invention used to undermine Islamic culture and sovereignty as part of what Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei considers a soft war against Iran. They therefore do not believe themselves duty-bound to uphold their basic human-rights obligations, including those under international agreements to which they are party.


The 2012 Vote

Akin Wins Missouri Senate Primary, Dems Happy

August 9th 2012

Rep Todd Akin (R-Mo)
Missouri senate candidate Representative Todd Akin (R)

Rep. Todd Akin, a six-term lawmaker and evangelical Christian with the support of former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, won a hotly contested Republican U.S. Senate primary in Missouri, meaning he will face incumbent Claire McCaskill, a Democrat the GOP considers beatable. Unlike his two main opponents, Akin was spared from millions of dollars worth of attack ads paid for by outside groups. Super PACs and politically active nonprofits targeted former state treasurer Sarah Steelman, who was endorsed by former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, and millionaire businessman John Brunner.

With all precincts reporting, Akin won 36 percent of the vote, Brunner finished second with 30 percent and Steelman was a close third at 29.2 percent, according to the Missouri Secretary of State's offfice. Steelman called Akin to concede a little after 10 p.m., according to news reports.

Brunner, a self-funder who enjoyed favorable advertising paid for by the powerful U.S. Chamber of Commerce, was the target of more than $1.1 million in attack ads paid for by Majority PAC, the main super PAC focused on helping Democrats retain control of the Senate. Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

Spending Reported by Nondisclosing Groups Well Ahead of 2010

August 8th 2012

One Million Dollars

As of today, spending reported to the Federal Election Commission by groups that aren't required to disclose the sources of their funding has nearly tripled over where it stood at the same point in the 2010 election cycle, according to research by the Center for Responsive Politics. By Aug. 6, 2010, groups registered as social welfare organizations, or 501(c)(4)s, as well as super PACs funded entirely by them, had reported spending $8.5 million. That figure has soared to $24.9 million in this cycle. In 2008, nondisclosing groups reported spending $8.3 million at this point in the campaign season.

In addition, the numbers show a clear break from those of previous cycles in that independent expenditures (ads explicitly calling for the election or defeat of a particular candidate) make up the vast majority of the spending reported by nondisclosing groups. Spending for electioneering communications -- "issue ads" that name a federal candidate and are run within a 60-day window before a general election, or 30 days before a primary or a national party nominating convention -- has fallen as a share of the total.

The Edge of Terror

Looming U.S.-Iraqi Confrontation over Decision to Release Hizballah Commander

August 8th 2012

Daqduq's false IDs

Early in August, the Iraqi Central Criminal Court rejected Washington’s formal request to extradite Hizballah commander Ali Musa Daqduq to the United States to face charges of murder, terrorism, spying, and other offenses filed by a U.S. military commission. Iraqi courts had dropped similar charges against him on May 29 and then again on June 25 when the decision was appealed, seemingly giving the central court cause to reject the extradition request and approve his release. “It is not possible to hand him over because the charges were dropped in the same case,” the judges ruled. But the cases are not the same, and the ruling means Baghdad could soon release one of the most senior and dangerous Hizballah commanders ever apprehended. In the words of one former CIA officer, Daqduq is “the worst of the worst. He has American blood on his hands. If released, he’ll go back to shedding more of it.”

Background: attack in Karbala

In the early evening of January 20, 2007, American and Iraqi military officers met at the Provincial Joint Coordination Center in Karbala, about thirty miles south of Baghdad, to discuss local security operations. A short time later, a convoy of five black SUVs was waved through three checkpoints and allowed to access the base; the trucks were carrying about a dozen English-speaking militants dressed in U.S. military fatigues and carrying American-type weapons and fake identity cards. Read more ..

The Weapon’s Edge

Counter-IED Efforts Still Beset by Poor Oversight and Duplication

August 8th 2012

IED 1; Humvee 0

The Pentagon has pumped billions of dollars into programs to counter the dangers of improvised explosive devices over the last decade but still lacks a way to track whether its initiatives are meeting their goals—a circumstance that a government watchdog warns could lead to overlap and wasted taxpayer funds. Poor recordkeeping has hindered the Defense Department’s ability to monitor more than 1,300 individual anti-IED projects, complicating any effort by outsiders to assess whether the funds have been well spent, an August report by the Government Accountability Office said.

“DOD has not determined, and does not have a ready means for determining,” just how many anti-IED projects it is currently funding, the report said. Although GAO accounted for $4.8 billion in Pentagon spending, it called that estimate “understated,” because many anti-IED initiatives weren’t properly recorded. “DOD has funded hundreds of C-IED initiatives but has not developed a comprehensive database of these initiatives or the organizations conducting them,” the report stated. The report is a follow up to a February 2012 GAO study that concluded DOD does not have “full visibility” over its anti-IED projects. Read more ..

Obama and Israel

U.S.–Israeli Missile Defense Cooperation

August 7th 2012

THAAD Weapon system

On July 27, President Obama signed into law the United States–Israel Enhanced Security Cooperation Act, which is designed to strengthen the qualitative edge of Israeli military forces over its current and future enemies. While the law serves to strengthen this edge in a variety of areas, it pays special attention to improving Israel’s capabilities for defending its civilian population against rocket and missile attacks.

Not coincidentally, this special focus has come on the heels of the demonstrated success of the Israeli Iron Dome system for countering rockets and short-range missiles against attacks with such weapons launched by Hamas terrorists in Gaza. Accordingly, Congress needs to take additional actions to expand cooperation with Israel in the area of missile defense.The act is accompanied by still incomplete actions by Congress regarding U.S.–Israeli missile defense cooperation. The House version of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which passed the House on May 18, includes a provision to provide an additional $168 million to general missile defense cooperation with Israel above the Administration’s roughly $100 million request.

The Edge of Crime

Organized Criminals Won't Fade Away

August 7th 2012

Drug War

Policies that focus on suppressing drug flows are often ineffective in suppressing organized crime. Under the worst circumstances, such as in Mexico or Afghanistan, policing policies, such as high-value targeting or eradication of illicit crops, can trigger intense criminal violence or strengthen insurgencies. But neither is legalization an effective shortcut to law enforcement. On its own, it is unlikely to address a host of problems associated with organized crime.

Illicit economies exist in some form virtually everywhere. For example, some part of the illegal drug economy – production, trafficking, or distribution – is present in almost every country. Although the drug trade is widely believed to be the most profitable illicit economy, dwarfing others such as the illegal trade in wildlife or logging, its impact on society and the intensity of violence and corruption it generates vary in different regions and over time.

Like Colombia in the 1980s, Mexico today is blighted by violence. But although many of the same drug trafficking groups operate in both Mexico and the United States, their behaviour is strikingly different north of the border where their capacity to corrupt state institutions is limited and the level of violence they generate is small. Read more ..

The Race for Natural Gas

Fracking, Legislation and the Court

August 7th 2012

Hydrolic Fracking pollution

The ink was barely dry on far-reaching new Pennsylvania legislation to regulate hydraulic fracking practices before a state appellate court recently overturned key provisions as an unconstitutional encroachment on traditional land-use policies.

This ruling serves as a reminder that few governance issues are as contentious as governmental battles over land-use decisions. Federal and state policies that restrict land-use preferences have routinely been assaulted by waves of litigation, many aiming to return authority to private and local hands.

But many of the very organizations so outraged by top-down governmental control have been remarkably quiet as the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania enacted far-reaching legislation that dramatically shifted one major form of land-use from local to near-total state control. This is why last week’s decision by the Commonwealth Court to overturn key legislative provisions will only serve to draw more attention to this issue, as a larger national debate likely begins on all facets of governance related to fracking. Read more ..

Mali on Edge

A Second Afganistan in Mali?

August 5th 2012

Taureg dude

Mali, like other sub-Saharan countries, has been facing growing attacks from al-Qaeda’s North African branch – Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). Islamists are involved in a multi-million-dollar ransom industry fuelled by kidnapping Westerners and drug-trafficking in Northern Mali, where al-Qaeda militants and other Islamist combatants share ground with the Tuareg, a minority of perhaps 1 million of Mali’s 15 million people and about a third of the population of Northern Mali.

In March 2012 the country collapsed into chaos after soldiers toppled the president, leaving a power vacuum that enabled the rebels to take control of the northern part of Mali, approximately two-thirds of the country. This is the fourth rebellion led by Tuareg nomads since independence in 1960. The last ended only in 2008.

In October 2011 the Tuareg fighters gathered in the oasis settlement of Zakak in the hills by the border of Algeria. They were joined by career rebels, Malian army deserters, and young activists in a conclave that gave birth to the MNLA (National Movement for the Liberation of the Azawad). Read more ..

The New Egypt

Seven Ways America Can Get Its Bridge Rebuilt Back in Egypt

August 5th 2012


With its initial attempts at building bridges in Cairo having backfired, the Obama administration is looking for new ways to improve America's image in Egypt.

Egypt's President Mohammed Morsy is trying to get down to business, but the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) isn't making things easy. The Muslim Brotherhood leader's newly appointed cabinet keeps holdovers from the previous cabinet in top positions, which suggests that the military junta is preventing Morsy from radically reshaping Egyptian policy, at least for the time being. Indeed, the power struggle between the Muslim Brotherhood and SCAF continues to define Egypt's post-Mubarak transition -- and it could be years before either emerges victorious.

This is a messy political environment for the United States to try to improve its relationship with the Egyptian people, and it is not going well. Just last month, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's motorcade was showered with rotten vegetables upon her visit to Egypt, and thousands-strong crowds protested her appearances in both Cairo and Alexandria.


Economy on Edge

Employment Gains, But Job Deficit Unchanged

August 3rd 2012

Unemployment Line in California

Employer payrolls climbed faster in July than in any month since February, but households reported that fewer members were at work in July than in June. The mixed employment report reinforces the message from earlier reports that the economy continues to grow modestly. Since January labor market gains have been fast enough to keep pace with population growth, but not fast enough to put a dent in the nation’s unemployment rate. The number of unemployed and the unemployment rate were essentially the same in July as they were in January.

The employer survey offers a brighter picture of job gains than the household survey. Private sector employment grew for the 29th straight month in June. It increased 172,000, far faster than the rate of growth in the previous three months. Since January private payrolls have climbed 141,000 a month. A wide variety of industries saw job gains in July, including manufacturing, wholesale and retail trade, finance, professional and business services, and education and health. The temporary help services industry continued to add to payrolls in July. Since the start of the year, employment in the temporary help industry has climbed 6 percent. Read more ..

Broken Borders

U.S. Must Evaluate Mexican Border Tactics

August 2nd 2012

US Border Patrol arrest

Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano's recent visit to the U.S.-Mexican border was less than admirable when she accused local officials and others of exaggerating the danger and violence within border states such as Arizona, California and New Mexico, according to several lawmakers and enforcement officials on Monday.

Congressman Connie Mack (R-FL) responded to Napolitano's comments with outrage, calling for an all-encompassing strategy to provide for U.S. national security through what he termed "bold steps and bold solutions." Mack believes that U.S. foreign policy has neglected this reality and now must reestablish its authority of the United States over illegal organizations which threaten U.S. security at the Mexican border.

Mack stated, "A counterinsurgency strategy from our government that includes civil society, law enforcement, civil authorities and military personnel at the U.S. border is urgently needed. Repeated calls on the Administration have not gotten ahead of this plague and the lives of more U.S. citizens have been taken in the meantime, adding to the tens of thousands of people who have been killed in a drug war, [while]expanding the influence of terrorists." Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

The Election, the Presidency and Foreign Policy

August 1st 2012

Barack Obama in Thought

The American presidency is designed to disappoint. Each candidate must promise things that are beyond his power to deliver. No candidate could expect to be elected by emphasizing how little power the office actually has and how voters should therefore expect little from him. So candidates promise great, transformative programs. What the winner actually can deliver depends upon what other institutions, nations and reality will allow him. Though the gap between promises and realities destroys immodest candidates, from the founding fathers' point of view, it protects the republic. They distrusted government in general and the office of the president in particular.

Congress, the Supreme Court and the Federal Reserve Board all circumscribe the president's power over domestic life. This and the authority of the states greatly limit the president's power, just as the country's founders intended. To achieve anything substantial, the president must create a coalition of political interests to shape decision-making in other branches of the government. Yet at the same time -- and this is the main paradox of American political culture -- the presidency is seen as a decisive institution and the person holding that office is seen as being of overriding importance. Read more ..

Israel and Palestine

Reinvigorating the Discussion of Israel’s Rights in the West Bank

August 1st 2012

West Bank Construction

The Commission to Examine the Status of Building in Judea and Samaria (the "Levy report") has drawn a flurry of overwrought criticism due to its inclusion of a section concerning the lawfulness of Israeli settlement activity. But the report’s argument is surprisingly modest in substance; it does little more than endorse the traditional official Israeli position that the Fourth Geneva Convention does not apply de jure to the West Bank, and in any event does not bar Israeli settlements. Some have argued that the Levy report is foolish politically, arguing that by asserting its legal rights, Israel will signal that it is unwilling to entertain "land for peace" compromises. This seems a doubtful thesis. Israel has asserted its legal rights to Jerusalem for decades, but yet repeatedly offered compromises on its rights in the city. What the Levy report has done is to reinvigorate the discussion of the legitimacy of Israel’s position under international law after many years in which Israel has been silent about its legal rights. That is a welcome development.

Earlier this month, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was presented with the report of the Commission to Examine the Status of Building in Judea and Samaria, headed by former Supreme Court Justice Edmond Levy (the "Levy report"). The report has drawn a flurry of overwrought criticism due to its inclusion of a section concerning the lawfulness of Israeli settlement activity.

The Battle for Syria

Is The War in Syria Undermining Palestinian Claim to Right of Return?

August 1st 2012

Palestinian Refugee Camp
Palestinian Refugee Camp

The fate of the Assad regime in Syria has been the main focus of media attention in recent months. Yet, another crisis has quietly developed on the sidelines of the Syrian calamity which may greatly affect the Palestinian refugees and the coveted “right of return”.

Over the past year, the Palestinians have challenged Israel by organizing mass marches of refugees to the Jewish state’s northern borders in order to breach its defenses and “return” to their homes. These attempts ended in a debacle, prompting the angry marchers, who felt betrayed by PLO organizers, to storm and set fire to the headquarters of Ahmad Jibril – one of the founders of the PLO – located in the Syrian Palestinian capital refugee camp of al-Yarmuk, situated in Damascus. The collapse of the "return marches" became the precursor of a process accelerated by the Syrian crisis, whereby the destruction of the refugee camps is leading to the dissolution of the right of return.

Reports indicate that the Yarmuk camp lies in ruins and its Palestinian inhabitants have joined the convoy of an estimated one million Syrian refugees fleeing to Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon and Iraq, no longer concerned with forcing their way to Israel. Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

A Battle for Two Cities

August 1st 2012

Syrian security forces

The Syrian regime is pouring all available resources into its defense of the two main cities of Syria: Damascus and Aleppo.

While simultaneously constructing an Alawi enclave in the northwest, the Assads understand that maintaining control of these central urban areas is vital to maintain their claim to constitute the government of Syria. Lose the cities, and Bashar Assad’s regime will come to constitute just another sectarian force in a Syrian civil war.

As of now, the dictator’s forces appear to have largely succeeded in their mission in Damascus. In Aleppo, the battle is still on. Those who began last week to prepare eulogies for the Assad regime have once again spoken too soon. This is because while the balance of power in Syria is slowly shifting in the rebels’ favor, the essential cause of the stalemate between the sides remains.

The rebels are now far too numerous and powerful for the regime to entertain hopes of re-imposing its authority throughout the entirety of the country in the foreseeable future. Assad simply does not have sufficient manpower to carry out an effective campaign of counter-insurgency throughout the country. Read more ..

Afganistan on Edge

Millions of Dollars in U.S. Aid Wasted in Afghanistan

July 31st 2012

Afganistan construction

In the Nangarhar province near Afghanistan’s eastern border sits an abandoned police base, built with $4.5 million of U.S. taxpayer dollars and completed just 13 months ago. The base, known as Lal Por 2, is badly needed but remains empty because it lacks any viable water supply. No efforts are underway to add one.

A neighboring base on the border, also built with U.S. funds, has some Afghan police, but lacks a fully-functioning septic system or air conditioning. Those shortcomings, along with drainage problems in the main buildings, put the base at risk for abandonment as well, according to a new report by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction.

John Sopko, a former deputy director at Homeland Security and prosecutor who just filled the inspector general role July 2, says in his quarterly report published Monday that these two bases are prime examples of rampant waste throughout the Afghan reconstruction effort. Costing a total of $19 million, the bases, along with two others in the Nangahar province facing their own problems, are meant to give Afghan police a watchful eye along the nation’s militarily-significant border with Pakistan. Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

Swing States Give Obama the Edge

July 30th 2012

Obama Campaign 2012

President Obama has an overall edge in the 12 decisive battleground states that is measurably greater than his advantage in national polling. The dynamic, which may reflect a combination of lower swing-state unemployment rates and demographic advantages for the president, is causing stirrings of unease among Republicans, even as they emphasize that it is important not to read too much into the state of the race right now.

“Obama is concentrating his considerable early resources and messaging in the swing states, and it’s had an impact,” said Mark McKinnon, who served as a media adviser for President George W. Bush’s presidential campaigns.

But McKinnon added that Republican candidate Mitt Romney was “raising and saving his money to ensure he won’t be out-punched in the final rounds.” The crucial battleground states number about a dozen: Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin. Read more ..

Europe on Edge

The Radical Right in Europe

July 29th 2012

french riot police toulouse mar 2012

The rise in radical-right social and populist movements over the past ten years has been remarkable. While once these were on the political fringes, they now carry political weight in the parliaments of Austria, Bulgaria, Denmark, Hungary, the Netherlands, Sweden, Greece, Latvia, and Slovakia among others, as well as in the European Parliament.

These groups oppose ethnic and cultural diversity. They foment public disorder with marches and rallies to harass and intimidate Muslims and other migrants, and there is growing liaison and even coordination among them. Their street violence provokes reactions from Muslims, especially Islamists, and an escalating spiral of action and counteraction is emerging.

The radicals do not target Jews, and several even profess to be pro-Israel. The reality, though, is that their members are sometimes former neo-Nazis. It is important not to exaggerate these groups’ successes. So far, the radical right is represented in only a minority of national parliaments, and some researchers believe that their share of the vote may even have peaked in some countries. Read more ..

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