Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Two views on Africa:

Monday, April 26, 2010

Foreign Policy reports:
As for why Syria seems to be playing such an unhelpful role, "that's the million-dollar question," the official said. The Obama administration genuinely does not understand Syrian intentions and there are three basic theories within the administration as to why Syrian President Bashar al-Assad would continue to escalate arms shipments to Hezbollah despite U.S. warnings.

According to one school of thought, this is Assad's way of playing hardball with the Israelis in advance of Israeli-Syrian negotiations. No one wants to negotiate from a weak position, so he is amassing chits that he can bargain away later.

An opposing theory is that Assad has no interest in engaging with the Americans or negotiating with Israel at all. This line of thinking concludes that he is simply paving the way for eventual conflict with Israel.

The third, more nuanced analysis portrays Assad as a man in a bind. He has himself so tied up with Iran and Hezbollah that perhaps he can't disengage as easily as those in the West think he can. Also, Assad has always been a gambler and may have simply become entangled in his own web of deals with so many competing interests.

In a column last spring, Brett Stephens over at Commentary helpfully recalls the last attempt at reaching out to Syria:
With President Bill Clinton looking on, Shara responded to Barak’s politesse with a lengthy broadside against Israelis...

The Syrians could not have been unaware of the effect that its statements and behavior had on Israeli public opinion, and how that in turn would constrain Barak’s room for political maneuver. Indeed, just weeks after the Shepherdstown failure, Shara delivered a speech to the Arab Writers Union in which he explained that Syria’s interest in a negotiated settlement with Israel had nothing to do with actually coming to terms with Israel’s right to exist, but rather that the recovery of the Golan Heights was merely a stage on the road to the destruction of Israel. Assad’s government “believes that regaining the whole of Palestine is a long-term strategic goal that could not be implemented in one phase,” said Shara. “[Our] doctrine draws a distinction between the different phases of the struggle for the liberation of Palestine.”

Sunday, April 25, 2010

The environmental friendliness of certain biofuels takes another hit:
"Crop residue removal can make no-till soils a source rather than a sink of atmospheric carbon," says Blanco, even at rates lower than 50%. Residue removal at rates of less than 25% can cause loss of sediment in runoff relative to soils without residue removal.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

DefenseTech points us to an excellent new paper from RAND on lessons learned by the IDF from their war in Lebanon:
1. The basics of combined arms fire and maneuver are necessary for successful operations against opponents with capabilities like Hezbollah and Hamas. These hybrid opponents create a qualitative challenge that demands combined arms fire and maneuver at lower levels, despite their generally small-unit structures. The Israelis had lost these skills after years of preparing for and confronting (understandably) terrorist attacks during the second intifada. The U.S. Army, focused as it necessarily is on preparing soldiers and units for duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, might be approaching a condition similar to that of the Israelis before the 2006 Second Lebanon War: expert at COIN, but less prepared for sophisticated hybrid opponents. Furthermore, the introduction of sophisticated weapons (e.g., ATGMs, MANPADS) could radically escalate the challenges faced by U.S. forces in Afghanistan, as it did for the Soviet Union in the 1980s.
2. Precision, standoff fires are critical, but not sufficient, to cope with hybrid warfare opponents, particularly if they are operating “among the people.”
3. Responsive and adequate air, artillery, and UAV support are critical components of the combined arms fight against hybrid opponents. The well-practiced capacity to integrate these capabilities is a precondition for success.
4. Heavy forces—based on tanks and infantry fighting vehicles—are key elements of any force that will fight hybrid enemies that have a modicum of training, organization, and advanced weapons (e.g., ATGMs and MANPADS). Light and medium forces can complement heavy forces, particularly in urban and other complex terrain, but they do not provide the survivability, lethality, or mobility inherent in heavy forces. Quite simply, heavy forces reduce operational risks and minimize friendly casualties.

There's an old saying, that Generals are always fighting the last war. One of the most significant problems arising from the recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is that they breed this mentality that all wars of the future will be guerilla or counter-insurgency warfare. But, we must remember, that the reason that we got into a counter-insurgency war in OEF and OIF was because we were able to be so successful in the opening phases of the conflict.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Paul Ryan's Roadmap for America:
Health Care. The plan ensures universal access to affordable health insurance by restructuring the tax code, allowing all Americans to secure an affordable health plan that best suits their needs, and shifting the control and ownership of health coverage away from the government and employers to individuals. It provides a refundable tax credit—$2,300 for individuals and $5,700 for families—to purchase coverage (from another state if they so choose) and keep it with them if they move or change jobs. It establishes transparency in health-care price and quality data, so this critical information is readily available before someone needs health services...

Medicare. The Road Map secures Medicare for current beneficiaries, while making common-sense reforms to save this critical program... For those under 55—as they become Medicare-eligible—it creates a Medicare payment, initially averaging $11,000, to be used to purchase a Medicare certified plan. The payment is adjusted to reflect medical inflation, and pegged to income, with low-income individuals receiving greater support. The plan also provides risk adjustment, so those with greater medical needs receive a higher payment. The proposal also fully funds Medical Savings Accounts (MSAs) for low-income beneficiaries, while continuing to allow all beneficiaries, regardless of income, to set up tax-free MSAs. Enacted together, these reforms will help keep Medicare solvent for generations to come.

Social Security. The Road Map preserves the existing Social Security program for those 55 or older. For those under 55, the plan offers the option of investing over one-third of their current Social Security taxes into personal retirement accounts, similar to the Thrift Savings Plan available to federal employees. This proposal includes a property right, so those who own these accounts can pass on the assets to their heirs. The plan also guarantees that individuals will not lose a dollar they contribute to their accounts, even after inflation. The plan also makes the program permanently solvent by combining a modest adjustment in the growth of initial Social Security's benefits for higher-income individuals, with a gradual, modest increase in the retirement age.

Tax Reform. The Road Map offers an alternative to today's needlessly complex and unfair tax code, providing the option of a simplified system that promotes work, saving and investment. This highly simplified code fits on a postcard. It has just two rates: 10% on income up to $100,000 for joint filers and $50,000 for single filers, and 25% on taxable income above these amounts. It also includes a generous standard deduction and personal exemption (totaling $39,000 for a family of four), and no tax loopholes, deductions, credits or exclusions (except the health-care tax credit)... It promotes saving by eliminating taxes on interest, capital gains, and dividends. It eliminates the death tax. It replaces the corporate income tax—currently the second highest in the industrialized world—with a business consumption tax of 8.5%. This new rate is roughly half the average in the industrialized world and will put American companies and workers in a stronger position to compete in a global economy.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Source: Office of Management and Budget, via

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Five misconceptions about the Congo conflict

Friday, April 9, 2010

FP has a fascinating first-hand account of some of the riots that accompanied the recent revolution in Kyrgyzstan. The photo that they run at the top of the piece is especially haunting, check out the expression on the policeman's face.

From the article:
Even within the crowd people seem jaded. "I don't know if this is a good thing," mutters one young man. "We'll just have to wait and see," chips in his friend. "I don't expect things to really change," mutters a rioter, "but today is a revolution." There is no jubilation and frenzied utopian plans. The crowd has no idea what the opposition stands for. Instead, it watches unenthusiastically and shouts as if participating in something rather like a deadly election.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

This is undoubtedly a win for those who value freedom. TechDirt sums up the case appropriately:
That doesn't mean that Comcast should get off free for its actions. It should still be punished -- but by the FTC, rather than the FCC -- for misleading its customers about what type of service they were getting, and what the limitations were on those services.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

A great example of economic progress in Ethiopia:
In the early 2000s, China-made leather shoes flooded into the Ethiopian market plunging the local industry into a slump. Remarkably, however, the industry soon resumed vigorous growth, not only taking the market back but even finding its way into the international market.

The full article is gated, but from the abstract:
The leather-shoe industry in Ethiopia is thriving, and in the early 2000s it managed to recover the domestic market which had once been swept by imported Chinese shoes. Using primary enterprise-level data, this paper finds that the industry has been growing not only because of a number of new entrants but also because of the growth of enterprises that have been improving product quality and developing new marketing systems.

This is a classic example of a free market win-win. Ethiopia opening itself up to competition results in better product quality in its domestic industries. This quality growth allows domestic industries to compete internationally, yielding a new-found export capacity. h/t: Chris Blattman

Friday, April 2, 2010

Although the big picture remains murky, the biggest looser in Iraq's parliamentary elections? Iran.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Improving our standing in the world:
This month, with President Hamid Karzai looking ahead to a visit to the White House, he received a terse note from aides to President Obama: Your invitation has been revoked...

Incensed, Mr. Karzai extended an invitation of his own — to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Iranian president, who flew to Kabul and delivered a fiery anti-American speech inside Afghanistan’s presidential palace.

“Karzai was enraged,” said an Afghan with knowledge of the events, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the delicacy of the issue. “He invited Ahmadinejad to spite the Americans.”

...But according to Afghan associates, Mr. Karzai recently told lunch guests at the presidential palace that he believes the Americans are in Afghanistan because they want to dominate his country and the region, and that they pose an obstacle to striking a peace deal with the Taliban. During the recent American-dominated military offensive in the town of Marja — the largest of the war — Mr. Karzai stood mostly in the shadows.

The comment about the US spiking peace deals with the Taliban is a direct reference to the recent arrest of Mullah Baradar by the Pakistanis. Smart diplomacy, indeed.

UPDATE: Karzai repeats his criticism, this time very publicly:
President Hamid Karzai on Thursday delivered one of his most stinging criticisms to date of the foreign presence in Afghanistan, accusing the West and the United Nations of wanting a "puppet government" and of orchestrating fraud in last year's election.

Karzai's comments come just five days after President Obama, in his first visit to Afghanistan as commander in chief, pushed the Afghan president hard in a tense exchange to crack down on his government's pervasive corruption, ensure independently monitored elections and draw up a clear plan for how to reintegrate defecting Taliban foot soldiers into Afghan society.

Karzai, of course, has to walk a tightrope, trying to please the Americans to keep the security backing, while simultaneously trying to appeal to a domestic audience. His comments about puppets are surely somewhat geared towards showing his independence. But, the apparent bad blood between the American and Afghan administrations does not seem to be subsiding.
Dating site OK Cupid mines its database for a fascinating political analysis.
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