Showing posts from December, 2012

Jerusalem: Extreme Makeover?

The announcement of significant new Israeli settlement construction in East Jerusalem has put the spotlight on the city, but the changes it has undergone since 2000, when the parties first negotiated its fate, are far broader and have far deeper roots.  Israelis, Palestinians and the international community must adjust their strategies accordingly, or Arab East Jerusalem will continue its perilous decline, with catastrophic consequences for all.
A pair of companion reports from the International Crisis Group describes how East Jerusalem has been altered in recent years, physically, but also socially, politically and emotionally. Extreme Makeover? (I): Israel’s Politics of Land and Faith in East Jerusalem, shows how the combination of Israeli settlement construction around and within East Jerusalem and increased religious activism has raised the costs of any future plan entailing partitioning the city. Extreme Makeover? (II): The Withering of Arab Jerusalem describes how Ara…

Scotland: The Bullying Braveheart State - Brian Monteith, The Scotsman

Scotland Independence  If the independence debate was over, we’d all be talking about the political intervention going on, writes Brian Monteith
AS THE end of 2012 approaches, I am drawn to look back on the generally lamentable quality of political discourse in Scotland and ask what would we discuss if the issue of independence did not dominate the landscape so much?
Sadly, it is difficult to answer this question with any excitement or anticipation because it is becoming clearer by the day that were Scotland to be independent, little would change within the existing consensus of our political elite or its corpulent supplicants that form so much of what is called our civic society.
It is occasionally suggested that out of the SNP, and following the collapse of the unionist Scottish Conservatives suddenly left without a purpose, a new right-of-centre party will rise up and that Scotland will instead move towards a more economically liberal, regulatory permissive state with a…

Independent Kurdistan - A Dream Fast Becoming A Reality

If there is one man who deserves the credit for the growing Turkish-Kurd rapprochement, it’s Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani of Iraqi Kurdistan. Five years ago Kurds and foreigners alike laughed in his face when he told them that not only did he want Iraqi Kurdistan to export its own oil, but that he wanted to export it to Turkey, which has had an intractable problem with its own large Kurdish minority. Barzani’s strategy was one of patience: starting with confidence-building with the Turks and then coaxing small oil companies and then larger ones to risk Baghdad’s ire to drill for oil not only in the autonomous region but in territory disputed by both Barzani’s government and the Iraqi central government.
Barzani sat down with TIME on December 13 to talk about the Turks, his stormy relationship with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and the potential for an independent Kurdish state–and how that would affect members of the non-Arab ethnicity, which lives in Iraq, Turkey…

War For Syria - Who Is Winning?

After all this misery, how can Syrians live together again? Part of his job was to ensure that religious clerics did not preach outside the government's line. If they did, he would unleash his men to arrest and torture them - and then monitor them for the rest of their lives.
"We're fighting Wahhabism whenever we find it," the officer once told a new graduate in Sharia studies, who had visited him to build trust and avoid any future arrest. This young imam, now a commander of an anti-regime faction, says this officer acted with the callous, pathological arrogance characteristic of the Baathist regime.
Then in mid-November, Abu Imad and 20 of his crew were killed in a battle with the Free Syrian Army. His body, dumped in the street, lay there for days; no one was willing to bury it.
Scenes like that may bring closure to those whose kinsfolk or friends have been killed by the regime's forces in the most brutal ways imaginable. Many hope to see Bashar…

Americans Are Leaving Afghanistan?

Steep U.S. drawdown in Afghanistan brings substantial risks

The Obama administration appears determined to vacate Afghanistan as fast as possible. If the latest leaks are to be believed, officials are willing to leave as few as 6,000 U.S. troops behind after 2014, concentrated at the Bagram air base and a few other installations around Kabul. The mind boggles at what this would mean in military terms.
Consider one simple fact: Kandahar, the city where the Taliban movement started, is 310 miles southwest of Kabul. Imagine that intelligence analysts have identified a “high-value target” — say, a terrorist facilitator with links to both al-Qaeda and the Taliban — in Kandahar. How would the U.S. military capture or kill him without a secure base in Kandahar?
This scenario is, on some level, fanciful, because the lack of a U.S. presence on the ground around Kandahar would make it very difficult to generate useful intelligence. How would the CIA or the Defense Intelligence…

Beginning of American Decline?

“A modest man,” Winston Churchill supposedly quipped about Clement Attlee, his successor as primeminister, “but then he has so much to be modest about.” We should say the same about economists, particularly their ability to forecast anything in a useful and timely manner.

Those predicting an imminent American economic decline have usually been no exception. This time, though, they may be on to something.

Prevailing arguments about when the era of U.S. dominance would end, and which country would supplant it, have been wildly and consistently wrong for half a century. In the 1950s, Soviet leaderNikita Khrushchev was taken seriously when he told Western ambassadors “We will bury you.” Japan was supposedly going to be No. 1; now the question is whether the precipitous decline in its working-age population will generate a fiscal crisis.
Today, his country no longer exists.

In the 1980s,
The Germans
-- or Europeans more broadly -- were thought to be on the brink of elbowing aside the …

Kerry's Lifelong Training to Be Top Diplomat - Albert Hunt, Bloomberg

The requisites for a U.S. secretary of state, along with intelligence and judgment, are a knowledge of foreign policy, an understanding of domestic politics, and, ideally, first-hand experience of what President Dwight D. Eisenhower called the “brutality and stupidity” of war.

Senator John Kerry, who was tapped by President Barack Obama to succeed Hillary Clinton, checks off all those boxes. He has been an engaged diplomat, a successful politician with gravitas and a decorated combat veteran.

Much of his 28-year Senate career has focused on national security. He was among the few young Americans of privilege who fought in Vietnam.Clinton, though unlike most modern-day secretaries of state, he understands how U.S. politics affects foreign policy on issues from the Middle East to China. Massachusetts Democrat has won six statewide races. He knows how Washington works.
The 69- year-old
“Senator Kerry was the most prominent choice of most people on both sides of the polit…

The NRA Gets Downright Offensive - Ana Marie Cox, The Guardian

Wayne LaPierre and the NRA: so defensive it was downright offensive The leading gun rights lobbyist gave a performance so tone-deaf that only he missed why 'put more guns in
Wayne LaPierre, the NRA's executive vice-president, called reporters 'irresponsible, duplicitous and dangerously dishonest'. Photograph: Christian Gooden/AP Wayne LaPierre, executive vice-president of the National Rifle Association, came to the podium Friday with the pursed lips and furrowed brow of a banker anxious over accounting errors. Throughout the press conference, he seemed to be reaching for an emotional range that would reflect the horror and sorrow so many felt in the wake of the Sandy Hook killings.
But the most effective expression he could muster was that of someone trying to remember his lines. I would like to believe that LaPierre was as anguished and confused by the events of last week as the rest of us, but the man clearly suffers from constipation of the soul.
The NRA&…

Tax Code Milking Cash Cow Dry - Nolan Finley, Detroit News

Progressive tax rates have always puzzled me because they assume that government has different value for citizens based on their incomes.
Break government down to the basics and it is essentially a provider of services — defense, transportation, the legal system, schools, etc. — that customers want or need and are willing to pay a price to obtain.
In that way, it's little different than a private sector business.
Except in the private sector, goods and services have a set value; all customers pay the same. You don't have to scan your 1040 at the gasoline pump to set the price per gallon.
Only in government does every customer pay a different price for the same thing.
Reader Jon Taub sent me a note last week putting the difference between government and private sector pricing in perspective.
Taub, a corporate lawyer for a Detroit business, notes that the top 1 percent of earners pay for 38 percent of the general fund services delivered by the federal government.

GOP Brings Politics to a Crisis Point - Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast

Michael Tomasky: The GOP Brings Politics to a Crisis Point by Dec 23, 2012 4:45 AM EST With their refusal to vote for Boehner’s Plan B, Republicans have definitively shown that they’d rather sabotage democracy than govern. How can they be stopped?

Really, what is to be done about this Republican Party? What force can change it—can stop Republicans from being ideological saboteurs and convert at least a workable minority of them into people interested in governing rather than sabotage? With the failed Plan B vote, we have reached the undeniable crisis point. Actually we’ve been at a crisis point for years, but this is really the all-upper-case Undeniable Crisis Point. They are a direct threat to the economy, which could slip back into recession next year if the government doesn’t, well, govern. They are an ongoing, at this point almost mundane, threat to democracy, subverting and preventing progress the American people clearly desire across a num…

Sen. Barrasso: Obama Wants to Go Over "Cliff" - Alicia Cohn, The Hill

Sen. Barrasso: Obama sees a ‘political victory’ in going over the cliff Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) said Sunday he thinks President Obama wants to dive over the so-called "fiscal cliff."
"I believe the president is eager to go over the cliff for political purposes," Barrasso told Chris Wallace on "Fox News Sunday." "He senses a political victory at the bottom of the cliff."
The senator also said he believes the nation will go over the cliff, with the deadline just nine days away.

Barrasso said he thinks Obama is eager to blame Republicans if Congress cannot reach a deal by the end of the year. Polls have indicated that Americans would blame Republicans more than Democrats if talks fail.
Barrasso also pointed to a report in the Wall Street Journal late last week that said during negotiations, Obama threatened Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) that he would use the presidential bully pulpit to heap blame on the GOP during his "State of the…

How Budget Talks Hit the Wall - O'Connor & Nicholas, Wall Street Journal

How 'Cliff' Talks Hit the Wall Behind Scenes, Boehner Failed to Sell Republicans on Taxes, While Obama's Spending Plans Rankled
WASHINGTON—Congressional leaders and President Barack Obama called Friday for a return to negotiations to avert the so-called fiscal cliff, a day after talks cratered in a very public fashion when Republicans abandoned House Speaker John Boehner's backup plan.
In truth, talks to secure a big deficit-reduction deal had already broken down Monday afternoon in the office of Mr. Boehner (R., Ohio), a Wall Street Journal reconstruction shows. Mr. Boehner had been negotiating a deal with the White House to let tax rates rise for upper-income people.
Mr. Boehner, irritated with the White House, was finding it hard to keep his troops in line as details of his negotiations with Mr. Obama leaked out. In the speaker's office just off the Capitol's majestic rotunda that afternoon, he told his top lieutenants that he was already think…

With the UK economy stuck in a groove, what prospects for 2013?

The crab-like performance of the last two years is not easy to explain – a third year of the same would be. The sales have started early this year, which means the economy is struggling. Photograph: Stefan Rousseau/PA On the Saturday before Christmas the shop windows told their own story. Up to 50% off at Hobbs. Discounts of 60% at LK Bennett. Similar reductions at French Connection and the Gap. The sales started early this year and that means the economy is struggling. Fearful of being left with large amounts of unsold stock, retailers are slashing prices to attract hard-up consumers.
It was the same a year ago. Hopes of recovery have been dashed in 2012, a year in which the UK has gone nowhere fast. Interest rates, gross domestic product and house prices are where they were in January. The economy is not collapsing but it is not growing either. For the past two years it has gone sideways, and the expectation at the Bank of England and the Treasury is that 2013 will be lit…

Which U.S. Cities Have Kids? - Joel Kotkin, New Geography

America’s Baby Boom And Baby Bust Cities At this most familial time of the year, as recent events make us hold our children even closer, we might want to consider what kinds of environments are most conducive to having offspring. Alarm bells are beginning to ring in policy circles over the decline of the U.S. birth rateto a record low. If unaddressed, this could pose a vital threat the nation’s economic and demographic vitality over the next few decades.
In contrast to last week, when we examined the nearly uniform aging of America’s biggest cities over the last decade, the decline in the country’s youth population has been in relative terms. In 2000, roughly 21.4% of Americans were under 15; in 2010, that percentage had dropped to 19.8%. However, unlike in parts of Europe and East Asia, the number of American children did not decline – there were over a million more in 2010, a 1.7% increase.
Yet since children are by definition the bearers of…

Floods In England & Scotland

Weather: Floods Bring Christmas Misery Rail passengers are told to avoid parts of southwest England and South Wales as much of the UK is deluged by rain.
Families preparing for Christmas have been hit by floods and travel chaos as heavy rain batters Britain. The southwest of England has been particularly badly affected by the downpours. Three severe flood warnings - which means there is a danger to life - were issued in Devon and Cornwall.
Conditions are so bad that rail passengers have been told to avoid parts of southwest England and South Wales.
And motorists and shoppers faced difficult conditions on one of the busiest weekends of the year for travel and shopping.

Floods in Helston, Cornwall, led to homes being evacuated
The town of Braunton in north Devon has been effectively cut off, with homes and shops under water, after the River Caen burst its banks.
Liz Spear, chairwoman of Braunton Parish Council, said a river was running through the centre of the town.
"It's rea…