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It’s Good News When Terrorists Break Up

February 24th, 2014

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What happens when you’re the meanest player on a team with a history of violence (say, the Philadelphia Flyers from the 1970s), but you disobey the coach too many times? No matter how good on the field, pitch or ice you may be, the head office has no choice but to cut you from the roster.

This happened recently in the world of international terrorism, where al-Qaida Central became fed up with one of its franchises and disavowed the Islamic State of Iraq and the Sham, or ISIS. This is the first time al-Qaida cut ties with one of its regional groups — surprisingly so since ISIS has been successfully driving the jihadist agenda in the heart of the Middle East.

This split is good news for the U.S. and its allies. Here’s why:

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The World Is Failing Failed States

January 28th, 2014

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Representatives of the Syrian regime and rebel groups currently meeting in Geneva face an arduous task: ending a bloody civil war that has lasted three years, cost  130,000 livesdisplaced nearly 9 million people and turned a developed,middle-income state into a failed one. Syria’s problems — ethnic and sectarian tensions, weak institutions and little rule of law — aren’t uncommon in the international arena. What is common among failed states is the international community’s inability to effectively deal with them. According to the 2013 Failed State Index, there are 35 states that have already failed or are in serious danger of failing.

State failures rarely occur in a vacuum; they can destabilize entire regions, as Syria has already done. Some on the right and the left argue that military intervention is the best way to hasten a peaceful political solution and restoration of order. Perhaps they are correct, but only in the short-term; even if a political solution is found, it would be built upon an unsteady foundation of poor civilian institutions. Fixing failed states involves a long-term effort to help them build better, more inclusive institutions. Otherwise, a political solution will only prolong the inevitable. Read the rest of this entry »

MLP Bill, With or Without Tax Reform

May 1st, 2013

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Comprehensive tax reform is long overdue, but it’s also going to be difficult and may not happen during this, or even the next, session of Congress. In the meantime, we can’t hold up other tax code fixes, especially in vital areas, such as energy. The MLP Parity Act, a fix to our unequal tax code, shouldn’t be delayed just because it doesn’t fix all of the problems with our current tax code.

As it stands now, the government is implicitly telling investors what to invest their money in. Master limited partnerships are attractive investments, passing profits through to investors without being taxed at a corporate level. This appealing financial structure draws in more capital and lowers the cost of capital for projects owned by an MLP. Unfortunately, under our current tax code, qualifying projects are generally oil and gas related – pipelines, extraction, refining or exploration – excluding many types of energy, from biomass to nuclear to wind. As a result, a project such as a wind farm is less attractive to investors and must offer a higher return than a comparable natural gas project.

This bias in the tax code unfairly picks energy winners and losers, incentivizing the types of energy projects that were common in 1981 when master limited partnerships were first created. Although our fuel supply has changed, the tax code has not, leaving clean energy out of the investment pool. While it may not fix all the inequity in our arcane and complex tax code, the MLP Parity Act is a much needed first step towards an even playing field for our energy future.

This piece was originally featured in National Journal.

Failing to Succeed: Fisker’s Demise Offers America a “Teachable Moment”

April 29th, 2013

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By: Woei Ling Leow* and Ryan Fitzpatrick

The tragic losses of Apollo 1 did not petrify the U.S. and derail the Moon Shot program. The collapse of Henry Ford’s first car company did not mean that the world would never want his product. And the demise of Fisker does not condemn the electric vehicle (EV) to certain failure.

If anything, Apollo 1 strengthened the resolve of those involved to do better. It also provided NASA with information and experience that would one day be critical to successfully landing Apollo 11 on the moon and ensuring the safe return of the Apollo 13 crew despite overwhelming odds. Apollo 1 was a great teacher, and perhaps its biggest lesson is that a nation cannot be held back by individual losses if it intends to achieve greatness.

Yes, Fisker is in the tank. But like Apollo 1, lessons will be learned from this failure. For one, future entrepreneurs and venture capitalists will take note of business strategies that are helping Fisker’s competitors succeed. For instance, Fisker focused on body styling and depended on other companies for technology. Tesla, on the other hand, developed its own technology that eventually brought in revenue streams through partnerships with Toyota and Daimler.

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Obama Toes the Red Line in Syria

April 26th, 2013

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Syria is a test for President Obama and the New America coalition he brought to power. Can the U.S. fulfill its obligation to be “the world’s indispensable nation” while at the same time avoiding the kind of military quagmire that enrages Democrats?

The Obama Administration did it once before, in Libya. The U.S. had limited interests in Libya. The Obama Administration proved that it could make a limited commitment, using limited resources, for a limited goal. No invasion, no nation-building. Syria, however, is more complicated and more dangerous.

There are two arguments propelling the Obama Administration to intervene in Syria. One is political. President Obama has drawn a “red line” in Syria. The government of Syrian President Bashar Assad appears to have crossed it. Obama said last year, “A red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized.”

Now the White House has released a finding by the intelligence community asserting “with varying degrees of confidence” that the Assad government has used chemical weapons “on a small scale.” The Syrian regime has called Obama’s bluff. Now what will we do?

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The Trans-Pacific Partnership: Don’t Forget Canada and Mexico

March 27th, 2013

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This piece was originally published on GE’s “Idea’s Lab” website.

Japan’s recent announcement that it’s seeking to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade negotiations has created quite a stir in trade circles.

Adding Japan and its $4 trillion economy to the TPP talks would substantially boost the economic and political importance of any eventual trade deal and create major new export opportunities for the United States and the 10 other TPP countries. But, as Third Way noted in a recent letter to Congressional trade leaders, TPP negotiators also face a huge challenge in assuring that Japan’s strong tradition of shielding its farm, manufacturing, and services sectors doesn’t derail the goal of creating a truly comprehensive, high-standard agreement that broadly opens up Asia-Pacific trade.

Seemingly lost in all the recent buzz about Japan is another important TPP development–the admission of Canada and Mexico to the TPP talks last fall. This less-heralded development is highly significant, particularly for the United States and our producers and workers.

But why? Isn’t the United States already linked to Canada and Mexico under NAFTA? How would the TPP improve things?

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