After dark edition — pour yourself an adult beverage and get ready for some crazysexycool links (after the jump):
The 800lb gorilla riding the elephant in the room: Megan Bradley on why the right of return must be paramount in any Mideast dialogue:
To date, discussions on the right of return in the Middle East have been little more than polemics, with both sides claiming they have history in their favour. Israeli leaders have typically declared that the right of return doesn’t exist, at best offering reparations as a substitute. Israel points to the population exchanges between Greece and Turkey and after the partition of India to suggest that return is exceptional. Even if some refugees return, they maintain, this right does not pass down through generations. In contrast, Palestinians point to international law backstopping the right of return and the emergence of return as the so-called “preferred solution” to refugee crises. In countries as diverse as Bosnia, Tajikistan and Guatemala, refugees and their children have exercised their right to return to their countries and reclaim their homes. Why should the Palestinian case be any different?
Palestinians are correct that the right of return is well established in international law. Visiting Palestinian refugee camps such as Bourj al-Barajneh in Beirut made it abundantly clear to me that insistence on the right of return is not simply a foil for opposition to peace. It is a conviction about their experience of injustice, and a core part of Palestinian national identity. It cannot be wished away.
Averting the inevitable? Arif Rafiq with some real talk on Afghanistan’s future:
The windfall from the Western presence will soon dry up and much of the change the Western coalition has brought to Afghanistan will prove to be ephemeral. Afghanistan will be tested as to whether it has the resilience to build an economy more independent of foreign rent than today. The outlook is gloomy. Recently, President Hamid Karzai’s brother Mahmoud told the Associated Press, “Afghanistan became a game. The game is to make money and get the hell out of here. That goes for politicians. That goes for contractors.” He is certainly one to know.
As corrupt as Afghanistan’s elites are, and as much blood as is on their hands, they’re essential to the prevention of an all-out civil war—a civil war that would cause a massive loss of life in Afghanistan, potentially embolden regional and transnational jihadists in the area, and spill over into a deeply precarious Pakistan.
This is not your father’s revolution: Aliza Marcus on the evolution of the PKK’s struggle with Ankara:
Nearly thirty years after the PKK, which the US and EU list as a terrorist group, launched a guerrilla war to wrest control of the Kurdish region from Turkish rule, the battle with the Turkish state has been increasingly channeled into the legal and political arenas. PKK rebels haven’t given up fighting—according to official figures, more than three hundred rebels and close to one hundred Turkish soldiers have died in fighting since February and, over the summer, rebels held their ground for almost three weeks against Turkish troops in Hakkari Province. But the PKK knows its demands will not be won solely through arms. This is why the group has spent the past decade carefully working to assert itself as a political organization. Where it once sought to direct all political and cultural activism toward support for the rebel war—be it by raising money for the guerrillas or encouraging new military recruits—the PKK now understands the importance of the political battlefield.
Pro-PKK activists, especially those newly released from Turkish prisons, are encouraged to work within the civil society groups and umbrella organizations that dominate the Kurdish political scene, including the legal Kurdish political party, the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP). The presence of these trusted, respected, and experienced activists gives the rebel group a strong influence over BDP decisionmaking and ensures that Kurdish groups speak with one voice. At the same time, young men and women who once would have been pushed to go to a rebel training base in the mountains along the Turkish-Iraqi border now have the option of helping the PKK by staying in school and joining student groups and demonstrations for broader Kurdish rights, freedom for PKK leader Ocalan, and a comprehensive peace deal. By offering people a route to get involved and show support for the PKK without having to risk their lives in armed struggle, the rebel group has gained new adherents and respect. It’s not that the group has become democratic, but that it acknowledges the importance of (and in fact, need for) nonviolent activism, be it through the political party BDP or in a center teaching illiterate women to read.
“The PKK has become part of the people. You can’t separate them anymore,” said Zubeyde Zumrut (in Diyarbakir), co-chair of BDP, which won control of one hundred municipalities in the southeast of Turkey in the 2009 local elections and thirty-six parliamentary seats in the June 2011 national elections. “Which means if you want to solve this problem, you need to take the PKK into account.”
Pay no attention, etc (redux): Mark Levinson believes all the overwrought hype about the debt and deficit is a distraction from America’s real problems:
One cannot open a newspaper or turn on a TV without being told that reducing the U.S. federal debt should be the country’s number one economic priority. A committee of CEOs warns that “our growing debt is a serious threat to the economic well-being and security of the United States.” Erskine Bowles, former chief of staff to Bill Clinton and co-chair of Obama’s deficit commission, ominously declares that the “debt we are accumulating will be like a cancer. It will definitely destroy this country from within.”
This is nonsense. The United States is confronted with numerous threats to its economic well-being and security. The national debt is not one of them. The real challenges of our time are massive joblessness—23 million Americans cannot find full-time work—and the decrepit state of American infrastructure, most recently illustrated by the devastation wrought by Hurricane Sandy.
A multi-year investment program could address both of these problems and should be at the top of our national agenda. Yet it is not. Why?
The reason is our myopia about debt and deficits.
Speaking of fiscal hyperbole… It’s the rhetoric, stupid, says Simon Johnson:
In early 2012, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke used the term “fiscal cliff” to grab the attention of lawmakers and the broader public. Bernanke’s point was that Americans should worry about the combination of federal tax increases and spending cuts that are currently scheduled to begin at the end of this year.
But there is not really any kind of “cliff” in the sense that if you stepped over the edge, you would fall fast, land on something hard, and not get up for a long time. In the modern US economy, the scheduled changes constitute more of a fiscal “slope” – meaning that the full effect of the tax increases would not be felt immediately (income withholding takes time to adjust), while the spending cuts would also be phased in (the government has some discretion regarding implementation). This slope offers President Barack Obama a real opportunity to restore the federal government’s revenue base to what it was in the mid-1990’s.
The choice of words to describe America’s fiscal situation matters, given the hysteria that has been whipped up in recent months, primarily by people who want to make big cuts in the country’s two main entitlement programs, Social Security and Medicare. Their logic is that if we are about to rush off a cliff, we need to take extreme measures. And cutting pensions and health care for the elderly certainly qualifies as extreme – as well as completely inappropriate and unnecessary.
If, instead, the US faces a fiscal slope, then people who refuse to consider raising taxes – namely, Republicans in the US Congress’s House of Representatives – have a very weak hand indeed.
Moment of zen: