Iran on Edge
|Mehdi Khalaji||May 25th 2013|
The Washington Institute
Although Iran will not hold its presidential election until June 14, the winners and losers are already clear. The biggest losers are Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and outgoing president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad; the biggest winner is former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani.
RAFSANJANI WINNING BEFORE THE VOTE
Earlier this week, the Guardian Council -- with Khamenei's consent, and perhaps even at his request -- disqualified Rafsanjani from running in the election. However difficult the decision may have been, it was also essential for Khamenei's plans. Since 2009, Rafsanjani has become known as a vocal critic of the Supreme Leader and Ahmadinejad. In recent months, reformists began to support his candidacy because they knew that the Guardian Council would prevent their own prominent candidates from running. Rafsanjani rapidly became a symbol for change among his former critics, who concluded that only he could alter the power equation to limit the Supreme Leader's authority and keep the military and intelligence forces from further expanding their control over nonmilitary life. He also received wide support from technocrats and other figures who want a more competent leadership in Tehran -- two traits sorely lacking in the current government. Had Rafsanjani been permitted to run, he could have converted the election into a referendum on Khamenei's leadership, so the Supreme Leader decided to stop the tsunami before it began. Read more ..
Brazil on Edge
|Dr. Sean Burges||May 24th 2013|
Council on Hemispheric Affairs
The selection of Ambassador Roberto Azevêdo as Director General of the World Trade Organization (WTO) has once again put Brazilian diplomacy on the front pages of the world’s newspapers. While without a doubt superbly prepared and qualified for this new post, Azevêdo’s appointment also owes much to Brazil’s international reputation as a critical bridge between old and new powers. But is this really the case?
New research by the Australian National University’s Dr. Sean W. Burges published in the London-based Royal Institute of International Affairs’ journal International Affairs
suggests that Brazil is not quite the international good citizen and selfless consensus builder it seems. As Burges notes: “Brazil is blessed with enormously clever and capable diplomats who consistently advance their own country’s national interest while making others think they are acting for the global good.” The point the paper makes is that Brazil is able to do this partly because it is trying to gain a greater voice in international affairs, not tear the global governance system down: “The current international system is quite a comfortable place for Brazil. What Brazil wants is to have more of a say about where the world is going and how it is going to be run in the future.”
Read more ..
Azerbaijan on Edge
|Stefan Candea||May 22nd 2013|
Members of Azerbaijan’s first family have had been shareholders in at least four offshore companies, newly revealed records show.
A corporate mogul whose business empire has won building contracts worth billions of dollars amid Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev’s massive construction spree is tied to the president’s family through secretive offshore companies.
The businessman, Hassan Gozal, is the director of three British Virgin Islands (BVI) companies set up in 2008 in the name of the president’s daughters, according to secret documents obtained by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. The daughters were 19 and 23 years old at the time. The documents obtained by ICIJ also show that the president and his wife, Mehriban, a member of Parliament, acquired their own BVI company in 2003, Rosamund International Ltd. Read more ..
The Education Edge
|Allison Anderson||May 21st 2013|
While the theme of the third meeting of the High-Level Panel on Post-2015 in Bali was on global partnerships, the meeting’s communiqué set up the handover from the high-level panel to the intergovernmental Open Working Group on the Sustainable Development Goals (OWG). The communiqué calls for “a single and coherent post-2015 development agenda that integrates economic growth, social inclusion and environmental sustainability”, and with good reason since the two development frameworks for post-2015—poverty alleviation and sustainable development—are not separate. Rather, they are interlinked challenges that need to inform each other and ultimately must be addressed together in one framework.
Moreover, the role of education and equitable learning in achieving sustainable development needs to figure prominently in these discussions. Sustainable development cannot be attained without education that provides learners with 21st century skills that equip them for healthy, safe, and productive lives, while also safeguarding the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. Read more ..
Venezuela After Chavez
|Luis Fleischman||May 20th 2013|
The late Venezuelan president, Hugo Chavez was known for having started and spread what is called the Bolivarian revolution, a kind of anti-American, dictatorial type of socialism. His success in spreading his revolution and his influence in the region would not have been so successful without the support of the moderate-left countries of Latin America as well as the ALBA block made up of Cuba, Nicaragua, Ecuador and Bolivia. In my last article I pointed out the role that countries in the region have played and continue to play in the perpetuation of the Bolivarian revolution in Venezuela.
However, of all the countries in the region, Brazil is a crucial piece in the support of the Bolivarian revolution. At this point is probably a more effective source of support than Cuba or any other member of ALBA, despite having openly distanced itself from the Venezuelan model. Indeed, Brazil has supported Chavez in the international arena thus helping prolong the agony of the Venezuelan people, the authoritarian practices of its government, and the geo-political threats to the region. Read more ..
America on Edge
|Adie Tomer and Joseph Kane||May 18th 2013|
Up and down the Atlantic coast, US ports are abuzz. Dredging machines, tunnel excavators, and highway pavers from Miami to New York are preparing metropolitan economies and their ports for a newly expanded Panama Canal. As the thinking goes, an expanded Canal promises bigger ships, bigger cargo loads--and each metro wants a piece of the bigger business.
But lost in this port-related arms race is what the newly-widened Panama Canal means for the US economy . Too many metropolitan areas simply assume they’ll immediately acquire new freight business when the expanded Canal opens, or that there will be more business at all. These billion-dollar assumptions ignore a more fundamental question: how and where will the Panama Canal affect US’ global goods trade? Read more ..
The New Egypt
In the decade following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Western analysts' search for a 'moderate Islamist' alternative to Al-Qaeda often brought them to the Muslim Brotherhood, whose rhetorical rejection of terrorism and embrace of electoral politics was seductive. Much of the resulting literature thus touted the Brotherhood's supposedly 'democratic' and 'non-violent' nature, all of which left the international community wholly unprepared for the very undemocratic and violent reality now emerging in Brotherhood-ruled Egypt.
Thankfully, however, not all analysts were so deluded. In her excellent book, The Muslim Brotherhood: From Opposition to Power, Alison Pargeter offers a much-needed dose of realism, weighing the Brotherhood's lofty assertions against its aggressive actions. Through her examination of the Brotherhood's early history in Egypt and subsequent spread throughout the Middle East and Europe, Pargeter depicts an organisation that faces the constant dilemma of either widening its base through pragmatic outreach or solidifying its base through a more hardline approach. And, as Pargeter tells it, the Brotherhood has almost always embraced the latter, favouring its 'conservative' tendencies over its more 'reformist' ones. Read more ..
The Drug Wars
|Scott Stewart||May 16th 2013|
Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto's approach to combating Mexican drug cartels has been a much-discussed topic since well before he was elected. Indeed, in June 2011 -- more than a year before the July 2012 Mexican presidential election -- I wrote an analysis discussing rumors that, if elected, Pena Nieto was going to attempt to reach some sort of accommodation with Mexico's drug cartels in order to bring down the level of violence.
Such rumors were certainly understandable, given the arrangement that had existed for many years between some senior members of Pena Nieto's Institutional Revolutionary Party and some powerful cartel figures during the Institutional Revolutionary Party's long reign in Mexico prior to the election of Vicente Fox of the National Action Party in 2000. However, as we argued in 2011 and repeated in March 2013, much has changed in Mexico since 2000, and the new reality in Mexico means that it would be impossible for the Pena Nieto administration to reach any sort of deal with the cartels even if it made an attempt. Read more ..
The Battle for Syria
|Jonathan Spyer||May 15th 2013|
The imminent demise of the Assad regime has been announced on numerous occasions over the last two years of civil war in Syria. But the regime has held on. Despite some advances by rebels in the south of the country in the early months of 2013, Assad shows no signs of cracking.
Indeed, in the last few weeks, the momentum of the fighting has somewhat shifted. Regime forces have clawed back areas of recent rebel advance. The government side, evidently under Iranian tutelage, has showed an impressive and unexpected ability to adapt itself to the changing demands of the war. As long ago as the summer of 2012,the government side demonstrated that it was able to adjust creatively, if ruthlessly, to events. When it became apparent that determined attempts by the regime army to crush the revolt in the northern Syrian countryside were proving fruitless, Assad’s forces carried out a strategic withdrawal. Read more ..
Last week President Obama used his trip to Austin, TX to announce the creation of three more public-private manufacturing research institutes as nodes of a $1 billion National Network for Manufacturing Innovation (NNMI). On the same day, though, there was another intriguing if lower-key announcement on the Obama administration’s manufacturing agenda.
That’s the new Investing in Manufacturing Communities Partnership, the first phase of a two-phase effort aimed squarely at communities and regions, announced by the Commerce Department’s Economic Development Administration (EDA).
Focused squarely on the fact that the locus of U.S. manufacturing prowess is emphatically local and regional, the new competitive solicitation will allow as many as 25 local communities to be awarded $200,000 this year to create smart strategies for leveraging and aligning their public- and private-sector assets to provide a promising environment for advanced manufacturing. These awards will in the near term allow ambitious communities to develop “bottom-up” plans for strengthening their regions’ intellectual, human, and physical infrastructure. Read more ..
Iran on Edge
|Suzanne Maloney||May 13th 2013|
The race to replace Iran’s deeply polarizing president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, officially opened last week with the registration of prospective candidates, and already the campaign promises an utterly fascinating ride through the unpredictable politics of the Islamic Republic. The shock and awe surrounding the last-minute decision by Iran’s iconic former president, Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, to throw his hat into yet another race has only been topped for drama by the latest antics of the current incumbent aimed apparently at elevating a controversial protégé to succeed him. At least at the outset, these sensational developments have overshadowed the emerging shape of the real race among an array of regime functionaries, most notably nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili.
With 686 would-be candidates and an array of insidious regime mechanisms for influencing the outcome, it is literally impossible to predict today who the ultimate contenders will be, much less who will win the race. However, what is clear is that Iran’s presidential election represents the opening salvo in another historic turning point in the volatile evolution of the revolutionary theocracy. Read more ..
The Battle for Syria
|Shimon Shapira||May 12th 2013|
In mid-April, Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah paid a secret visit to Tehran where he met with the top Iranian officials headed by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and Gen. Qasem Suleimani, the commander of the Quds Force of the Revolutionary Guard Corps. Suleimani prepared an operational plan named after him based upon the establishment of a 150,000-man force for Syria, the majority of whom will come from Iran, Iraq, and a smaller number from Hizbullah and the Gulf states.
Suleimani’s involvement was significant. He has been the spearhead of Iranian military activism in the Middle East. In January 2012, he declared that the Islamic Republic controlled “one way or another” Iraq and South Lebanon. Even before recent events in Syria, observers in the Arab world have been warning for years about growing evidence of “Iranian expansionism.”
An important expression of Syria’s centrality in Iranian strategy was voiced by Mehdi Taaib, who heads Khamenei’s think tank. He recently stated that “Syria is the 35th district of Iran and it has greater strategic importance for Iran than Khuzestan [an Arab-populated district inside Iran].” Significantly, Taaib was drawing a comparison between Syria and a district that is under full Iranian sovereignty.
Tehran has had political ambitions with respect to Syria for years and has indeed invested huge resources in making Syria a Shiite state. The Syrian regime let Iranian missionaries work freely to strengthen the Shiite faith in Damascus and the cities of the Alawite coast, as well as the smaller towns and villages. In both urban and rural parts of Syria, Sunnis and others who adopted the Shiite faith received privileges and preferential treatment in the disbursement of Iranian aid money.
Iran is also recruiting Shiite forces in Iraq for the warfare in Syria. These are organized in a sister framework of Lebanese Hizbullah. Known as the League of the Righteous People and Kateeb Hizbullah, its mission is to defend the Shiite centers in Damascus. It is likely that Tehran will make every effort to recruit additional Shiite elements from Iraq, the Persian Gulf, and even from Pakistan.
Iran Cannot Afford to Lose Syria
In mid-April, Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah paid a secret visit to Tehran where he met with the top Iranian officials headed by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and the commander of the Quds Force of the Revolutionary Guard Corps, Gen. Qasem Suleimani, who is in charge of Iranian policy in Lebanon and Syria. The visit was clandestine and no details were divulged on an official level – except for the exclusive posting on Hizbullah’s official website of a photograph of Khamenei with Nasrallah beside him in the former’s private library, with a picture of Ayatollah Khomeini above them. Read more ..
Obama's Second Term
|William H. Frey||May 12th 2013|
While it may seem like the 2012 presidential election has been analyzed to death, the recent release of the Census Bureau’s November election survey points out the key role that minority voter turnout, especially for blacks, played in determining the outcome.
Until now, most of what we knew came from the National Election Pool exit poll which elicited Election Day candidate preferences of voters. The new, larger survey from the Census Bureau permits an examination of the voting-eligible population and the extent to which they turned out to vote. These turnout rates tell us a lot more about the enthusiasm, or lack thereof, among different groups.
Already, the Census Bureau’s report trumpeted the historically noteworthy finding that black turnout rates in 2012 exceeded that of whites for the first time. This, in an election when white turnout declined significantly and Hispanic and Asian turnout inched down modestly from 2008. Read more ..
Obama's Second Term
|Robert D. Kaplan||May 11th 2013|
One feels sympathy for U.S. President Barack Obama. Whatever he does in Syria, he is doomed. Had he intervened a year ago, as many pundits demanded, he might presently be in the midst of a quagmire with even more pundits angry at him, and with his approval ratings far lower than they are. If he intervenes now, the results might be even worse. Journalists often demand action for action's sake, seemingly unaware that many international problems have no solution, given the limits of U.S. power. The United States can topple regimes; it cannot even modestly remake societies unless, perhaps, it commits itself to the level of time and expense it did in post-war Germany and Japan.
Indeed, Obama has onerous calculations: If I intervene, which group do I arm? Am I assured the weapons won't fall into the wrong hands? Am I assured the group or groups I choose to help really are acceptable to the West, and even if they are, will they matter in Damascus in the long run? And, by the way, what if toppling Syrian leader Bashar al Assad through the establishment of a no-fly zone leads to even more chaos, and therefore results in an even worse human rights situation? Do I really want to own that mess? And even were I to come out of it successfully, do I want to devote my entire second term to Syria? Because that's what getting more deeply involved militarily there might entail. Read more ..
|Jonathon Rothwell and Neil G. Ruiz||May 10th 2013|
Last month, a landmark immigration reform bill was introduced in the U.S. Senate that has the potential to both increase the number of available H-1B visas for foreigners working in specialty occupations and shift the U.S. employment-based visa system to a more merit-based scheme favoring science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) workers.
As it stands today, businesses say they cannot find the skills they need in the domestic labor pool and need access to a global pool of STEM workers. Bolstering their contention are a number of studies that suggest that STEM jobs exhibit characteristics of under-supply: high wages and low unemployment.
Yet, some analysts have argued that there are plenty of U.S. native-born workers who can do these jobs. They claim that H-1B workers do not have special skills but instead are preferred because they are paid lower wages. Without attempting to fully resolve this complex issue, new detailed data on H-1B wages by occupation, presented more fully here, suggests that the H-1B program helps to fill a shortage of workers in STEM occupations. Read more ..
Education on Edge
The release of President Obama’s budget reignited the debate over the potential benefits of public investment in early childhood education. The centerpiece of his proposal is a $75 billion federal-state partnership to provide all low- and moderate-income four-year-olds with high-quality, full-day pre-K. But equally important is what the President proposed—or, rather, didn’t propose—for the Child Care and Development Fund (CCDF), a vital child care subsidy program serving 1.7 million low-income children each month at a cost of $10 billion per annum. By comparison, Head Start spends about $7 billion on 900,000 children each year.
As I will explain below, the President’s budget is disappointing because it misses an opportunity to fix two structural flaws with the CCDF: its lack of integration with the larger early care and education system and its disproportionate emphasis on supporting parental employment. Read more ..
|Nicholas Kusnetz||May 8th 2013|
Center for Public Integrity
A series of revelations and stinging media reports about Virginia Gov. Robert McDonnell’s relationship with a corporate executive is bringing new attention to the state’s forgiving accountability laws — a subject highlighted last year by the State Integrity Investigation.
The root of the uproar is a $15,000 catering tab for the wedding of McDonnell’s daughter back in 2011, quietly paid by Jonnie Williams Sr., the CEO of Star Scientific, a Glen Allen, Va.-based dietary supplement company. Now the news, first reported in late March by the Washington Post, is dominating conversation in the state’s political circles and raising questions about Virginia’s liberal allowances for gifts to politicians: there is no limit.
Through a series of reports, the Post has detailed a close relationship between Williams and McDonnell’s family. Three days before the wedding, McDonnell’s wife, Maureen, flew to Florida to promote Star Scientific’s new product at a gathering of scientists and investors. Three months later, the company held its launch party for the product at the governor’s mansion. The McDonnells have also vacationed at Williams’ home, flown on his corporate jet and received more than a hundred thousand dollars to the governor’s campaign and PAC. Read more ..
The Edge of terror
|Nicole Brackman and Asaf Romirowsky||May 7th 2013|
In the immediate hours and days after September 11, 2001 it became clear to most Americans that the values of tolerance and democracy - cornerstones of the "American dream " - for which countless immigrants have journeyed to this land are at risk. In the 12 years since 9/11, and in the wake of combat fatigue from Afghanistan and the Iraq wars, many have become complacent - arguing that there is no longer a threat to our values or our lives.
Yet, the seeming period of homeland tranquility is only a result of internal security measures designed to prevent similar attacks. The threat to American domestic security is real and what appear to be isolated violent incidents over time are in fact part of a more insidious pattern that can be traced back to the influence of al-Qaeda and Islamist extremist infiltration.
On the flawless bright spring day of April 15, 2013 - Patriot's Day in Massachusetts - explosions rocked the peaceful and festive finish line of the Boston Marathon, where hundreds of spectators and runners celebrated on Boylston Street. Two homemade bombs using pressure cookers had one goal – killing and injuring as many in the crowd as possible. Read more ..
The Economy on Edge
|Gary Burtless||May 6th 2013|
Gloomy news in last month’s jobs report was partially erased by better news in this month’s report. Employers reported payroll gains of 165,000 in April, a considerable improvement compared with the initial estimate that payrolls grew just 88,000 in March. That initial estimate of March job gains turns out to have been too low and was revised in this month’s report. The BLS now estimates that March payroll gains were 138,000—not a terrific number, but 50,000 better than the initial estimate.
The April jobs report also contains a major revision to earlier estimates of job growth in February. The BLS initially estimated that February’s job gains were 246,000, certainly a welcome piece of news. In its March report it revised February’s job gains up to 268,000. And in its latest report, February job gains are now estimated to have totaled 342,000, the fastest rate of job gain we have seen in three years. Read more ..
Israel's Next Northern War
|Avi Issacharoff||May 5th 2013|
The latest overnight airstrikes targeting reportedly targeting a dozen military bases, weapons depots and sensitive facilities across Syria, including in the heart of Damascus, may have redrafted the unwritten code of silence between Israel and Syria, at least temporarily.
Unlike the earlier strike on Friday, this time Syria dropped its quiet game and pointed the finger directly at its southwest neighbor, even publishing photos of the damage. Hezbollah’s Al-Manar TV channel has also changed its tune, after previously and dutifully taking to regurgitating Syrian denials that a strike had even taken place.
This change in tactics could be cause for concern in Israel. Until now, Syria’s silence fit well with Israel’s desire to maintain plausible deniability, and made it easier for Damascus to pursue a policy of restraint. Now, pressure from Arabic media could all but force Bashar Assad’s hand. Speaking of the attack in Arabic media this morning, Syrian opposition members could hear scarcely contain their elation. Read more ..
The New Egypt
|Rachel Ehrenfeld and Ken Jensen||May 4th 2013|
Economic Warfare Institute
Under Muslim Brother Morsi's inept economic team more than 4,500 factories have shut down. Egypt's unemployment rate in the fourth quarter of 2012, have reached 13 percent, most of which, (77.5 percent) is among the 15-24 years old. Inflation has climbed much above the official 7.5 percent (March 2013), and foreign currency reserves declined to US $ 13,424 billion. The country spends about $14.5 billion subsidizing fuel and $4 billion subsidizing food each year. Nearly half of Egypt's 90 million people live at or below the poverty line of $2 per day. The Egyptian Centre for Economic and Social Rights (ECESR), reports of "3,817 labor strikes and economically motivated social protests" following Morsi's election, and more than 2,400 "between January and March" 2013.
Campuses all over the country are rocked by violent demonstrations, and "it's getting worse by the day," a student is quoted saying by Al-Hayat. Bloody clashes between students affiliated with Brotherhood and independent and opposition groups have been reported in Cairo's Ain Shams University, and ongoing demonstrations in Al-Azhar University have gotten more violent after tainted food made dozen of students ill. Read more ..
Russia and America
In mid-April, Washington and Moscow each published blacklists of suspected human rights violators in the other's jurisdiction. The moves were rife with symbolism, and clear signs of a deteriorating bilateral relationship between the U.S. and Russia. But while it is clearly essential to make real efforts to promote human rights, using what appears to be politicized sanctions to secure them might not be the best strategy.
The current round of recriminations began in December 2012, when the Obama administration signed into law the Magnitsky Act, imposing a sanctions regime against individuals connected to the death of lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, a whistleblower who uncovered the largest known tax fraud case in Russian history, while in official custody. On April 12 of this year, the United States also imposed travel bans on eighteen Russians linked to the case—including senior Interior Ministry officials, prosecutors, judges, prison officials and tax officers—and froze any assets they hold in the United States. Read more ..
Israel's Next Northern War
|Avi Issacharoff||May 3rd 2013|
It is far from certain the Iran-backed Assad regime in Syria or the Lebanese based Iran-backed terrorist army Hezbollah will clear the fog surrounding the air strike that struck Syria between Thursday night and Friday.
One might expect decision-makers in Damascus or Hezbollah’s south Beirut headquarters to respond to U.S. media reports (echoed in the Arabic press) over the strike on a convoy of advanced missiles capable of carrying both chemical and conventional payloads that Syria was transferring to Hezbollah in Lebanon.
But despite what logic might dictate, neither Syria nor Hezbollah has any interest in doing so. Admitting that an Israeli air strike occurred would place the Syrian or Hezbollah leadership in a familiar dilemma of whether to respond or stay mum.
From the perspective of the “Arab street,” Bashar Al-Assad and Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah are required to respond to this latest “Israeli aggression.” Over the years both have gone to great lengths to brand themselves as the torchbearers of the “Resistance” to Israel, and ignoring the strike would prompt a torrent of criticism in anti-Syrian pan-Arab news outlets like Al Jazeera and Al-Arabiya. Read more ..
America and Mexico
|George Friedman||May 2nd 2013|
As the first member of Mexico's Institutional Revolutionary Party to win the presidency this century, Pena Nieto has set about reconsolidating the party's control over the government while attempting to turn attention away from the country's entrenched security issues and toward its economic opportunities. The pace of reform and political cooperation since the new government was elected July 1 has been unusually high for Mexico.
Labor and education overhauls passed through the legislature relatively easily, and banking reforms intended to broadly increase access to credit are set to be proposed once the legislature reconvenes in September. The administration still has an aggressive to-do list remaining, with planned overhauls ranging from the telecommunications and energy sectors to issues such as taxation. The majority of the reforms has been structural in nature and driven by economic imperatives, representing a notable shift in tempo and character from the previous government, which saw its legislative efforts largely stall for years prior to the 2012 election. Read more ..
The Battle for Syria
|Mathew RJ Brodsky||April 30th 2013|
Pressure is mounting on the Obama Administration to respond more decisively to the situation in Syria after the White House conceded that it believes the Syrian regime has used chemical weapons against its people. After all, on Aug. 20, 2012, the president said, "a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized. That would change my calculus." He reiterated his warning on March 21, 2013: "I've made it clear to Bashar al-Assad and all who follow his orders: We will not tolerate the use of chemical weapons against the Syrian people, or the transfer of those weapons to terrorists. The world is watching; we will hold you accountable."
The result of Washington spending more than two years on the sideline, watching as the death toll tops 80,000, is that the most effective options for dealing with the crisis have evaporated, leaving few good choices on the table. At the start of the uprising in March 2011, U.S. intelligence agencies could have been vetting potential partners in the Syrian opposition and providing them with lethal assistance. When in August 2011, President Obama called on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to "step aside," he could have worked with NATO to create a "no-fly zone" or establish a safe zone for those fleeing Assad's forces. But the president decided against offering assistance to the non-Islamist opposition -- whose protests provided the spark that ignited the Syrian conflict. Read more ..
|Bastian Obermayer, Frederik Obermaier and Titus Plattner||April 29th 2013|
He's known as Brigitte Bardot’s husband, photographer, director, art collector. Now another aspect has come to light: a man who set up an intricate offshore scheme to manage his vast fortune, a scheme that remained inscrutable to the fiscal authorities until the end.
The hand that governs everything must remain invisible. It certainly must not sign anything. That is why Hanswerner Schwenk, a private secretary in his 50s, sets off for the Pacific island of Rarotonga.
Meanwhile, the man behind the scenes can relax: in London, Paris or St. Tropez, on one of his many estates. His name must not appear in any official document, for such is the nature of an anonymous enterprise. Otherwise one would not need to bother with all the hassle, after all: the South Seas, the lawyers and all that secretiveness.
It is a strenuous trip for Schwenk, who lives in Munich. Rarotonga is situated about halfway between New Zealand and Hawaii, and it takes him more than 40 hours to get there from Germany. At least his local partner, the International Trust Corporation Ltd., has arranged for a hotel and a rental car. Hanswerner Schwenk’s mission: confirm with his signature that the share issue of the recently founded company Triton Ltd. proceeded in a lawful way. Read more ..
|Michael Beckel||April 28th 2013|
Center for Public Integrity
South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham raised more money from lobbyists ahead of the 2012 election than any other member of Congress save one — an impressive feat considering he wasn’t on the ballot.
Roughly 10 percent of Graham’s $2.2 million haul, about $223,000, came from lobbyists acting as “bundlers,” a higher percentage than any other member. Bundlers raise money from friends and associates and deliver the checks in a “bundle.”
Only New Jersey Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez, who did face opposition in 2012, received more bundled campaign cash from lobbyists — about $227,100 — less than 2 percent of his total contributions, according to a Center for Public Integrity analysis of Federal Election Commission filings.
Graham’s bundlers include organizations and lobbyists whose positions Graham has supported. Among them are an energy giant, the film industry’s main trade association and a former U.S. ambassador who represents clients that would benefit from the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline.
Tops on the list, however, were GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney and his “victory fund,” which accepted more than $17 million from lobbyist-bundlers. Six individuals raised at least $1 million apiece for Romney’s unsuccessful efforts, as the Center for Public Integrity previously reported. In all, a dozen candidates and political committees raised at least $100,000 from lobbyist-bundlers ahead of the 2012 election, including the leadership PAC of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. Read more ..
The Edge of Terrorism
|Michael Johnson||April 25th 2013|
Jewish Policy Center
Canadian police arrested Chiheb Esseghaier and Raed Jaser on Monday on suspicion of planning an attack on VIA Rail, Canada's national railway system. The two non-Canadian citizens had been under surveillance for a year as they planned to target Toronto, Canada's most populous city.
Esseghaier, the Tunisian-born student, appeared in Canadian court on Wednesday. The 30 year old questioned the court's legitimacy and the criminal code saying it is "not (a) holy book." He faces a number of charges including conspiracy to murder and working with a terrorist group. On Tuesday the other suspect in the case, Raed Jaser, was remanded to stay in police custody. While no date has been set for their bail hearings, both suspects will be in court again on May 23rd for a procedural hearing.
Local media reports officials first became alerted to the two after a Toronto imam saw one of them spreading extremist propaganda. Moreover, Royal Canadian Mounted Police Assistant Commissioner James Malizia told reporters at a press conference the suspects took "direction and guidance" from al-Qaeda operatives in Iran. However, he contended the attacks did not appear to be "state-sponsored." Read more ..
|Gerard Ryle and Stefan Candea||April 23rd 2013|
On November 14, 2006, a man going by the name Paul William Hampel was arrested at a Canadian airport on charges of being a Russian spy. Hampel’s carefully constructed identity portrayed him as a successful businessman, yet for a decade his company did no business.
Only months before his capture, the same apparatus used to create his alias was also employed by a very different spy agency - the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency —to build a secret prison in Lithuania, where U.S. agents interrogated suspected al-Qaeda terrorists.
Earlier again, it was used by the regime of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein to cheat the Oil for Food program.
All three deceptions employed a common subterfuge: far-flung corporate entities used as anonymous fronts, with “executives” who lacked knowledge of what the firms were up to. The activities of these so-called nominee directors are a little noticed part of the world of secretive offshore finance that’s grown so vast that it touches more than 170 of the globe’s 206 countries, but it’s one that’s often drenched in intrigue. Read more ..
Justice on Edge
|Benjamin Wittes||April 21st 2013|
Sens. Lindsey Graham and John McCain were quick out of the box last night in declaring that the Obama administration should hold Dzhokar Tsarnaev in military detention for his role in the Boston bombing:
Now that the suspect is in custody, the last thing we should want is for him to remain silent. It is absolutely vital the suspect be questioned for intelligence gathering purposes. We need to know about any possible future attacks which could take additional American lives. The least of our worries is a criminal trial which will likely be held years from now.
Under the Law of War we can hold this suspect as a potential enemy combatant not entitled to Miranda warnings or the appointment of counsel. Our goal at this critical juncture should be to gather intelligence and protect our nation from further attacks. We remain under threat from radical Islam and we hope the Obama Administration will seriously consider the enemy combatant option. We will stand behind the Administration if they decide to hold this suspect as an enemy combatant. Read more ..
|Susan Ferriss||April 20th 2013|
Center for Public Integrity
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The new immigration proposal now before the Senate could help thousands of American citizens whose families have been shattered or forced into exile because of deportation and tough immigration penalties Congress adopted in 1996.
Grueling debate on the sweeping bipartisan proposal is ahead, with opponents, such as Numbers USA, an immigration restriction group, already mustering a campaign to denounce portions of the bill as “amnesty.” But Americans who have been forced to move out of the country to remain united with ousted spouses – or who face years of separation from spouses and sometimes children — say they are thrilled by language in the proposal that could provide them relief.
“We still have a long way to go, but this is one giant step forward for my family,” New Jersey native Margot Bruemmer, 40, told the Center for Public Integrity in a phone call from Veracruz, Mexico. She has lived there, in a remote area, since 2005, after she tried to legalize her husband and he was given a mandatory lifetime “bar” from living in the United States that can’t be appealed for 10 years.
Terror in America
|George Friedman||April 19th 2013|
The identities of the suspects in the Boston Marathon bombing -- Chechen brothers Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 19, and Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26 -- appear tentatively to confirm several of Stratfor's suspicions. From this profile, the simple nature of the attack, their efforts to rob a convenience store and their lack of an escape plan, we can at least say at this point in time that they were what we refer to as grassroots militants. Despite being amateurs, such militants clearly still pose a significant threat.
Just after 10 p.m. on April 18, the Tsarnaev brothers were identified after having robbed a convenience store in Cambridge, Mass., just three miles from Boston, hours earlier. A Massachusetts Institute of Technology police officer, who responded to the robbery, was shot and killed and found in his car by fellow responding officers. The two suspects later hijacked an SUV at gunpoint, releasing the driver unharmed. Authorities later caught up to the suspects, and a car chase ensued. Read more ..
Obama's Second Term
|Robert Puentes||April 19th 2013|
Cautious optimism followed President Obama's FY2014 budget request to rebuild and reinvest in America's infrastructure.
The proposal highlighted infrastructure as a fundamental driver of the nation's economy and critical asset for its long-term recovery. Specifically, the request reiterates the determined proposals to create a national infrastructure bank, build-out an American high-speed rail system, invest in clean energy, modernize the air traffic control network and the electrical grid, and reinvest in state-of-good repair projects, among other things.
The president's infrastructure package has a lot of good ideas. What it does not have is a lot of money. Undaunted, state and metropolitan leaders are coming to Washington this week with their own ambitious and creative strategies to make their infrastructure goals a reality and looking to the federal government to engage in new partnerships with government, labor, and institutional investors to accelerate the construction and deployment of new infrastructure. Read more ..
Inside the Muslim Brotherhood
|J. Millard Burr||April 18th 2013|
In the second week of April 2013, Egyptian papers were full of articles on the growing unrest within Egypt’s universities.
Students are especially incensed with a Higher Education Ministry decision to postpone student elections to the Federation of Egypt Student Union. Almost certainly the elections would have diminished the leadership role of the Muslim Brotherhood’s student wing within the education system itself. (See, “University students protest alleged Brotherhood influence on union vote,” Al Masri Al Youm, 10 April 2013) Protests have most recently occurred at Helwan, Ain Shams, Mansoura, and Sohag universities. Meanwhile, recent elections “have witnessed a remarkable drop in support for Brotherhood-linked students. In greater Cairo and Alexandria they won less than 30 percent of seats.” Read more ..
|Nicky Hager||April 17th 2013|
The story of Portcullis TrustNet and its birthplace — the Cook Islands — is in many ways the story of the offshore system itself.
It’s a largely invisible world, a curious blend of the parochial and the global that’s made up of the minor personalities and politics inside each offshore jurisdiction — many with populations no larger than a small town.
But by establishing special zones, these tiny provinces have changed the face of international finance and business and impacted law enforcement, tax policies and political and economic transparency across the planet. Read more ..
The North Korean Threat
|Rodger Baker||April 16th 2013|
Stratfor Global Intelligence
China appears to be growing frustrated with North Korea's behavior, perhaps to the point of changing its long-standing support for Pyongyang. As North Korea's largest economic sponsor, Beijing has provided the North Korean regime with crucial aid for years and offered it diplomatic protection against the United States and other powers. To outsiders, China's alliance with North Korea seems like a Cold War relic with little reason for persisting into the 21st century. However, Beijing's continued support for Pyongyang is not rooted in shared ideology or past cooperation nearly as much as in China's own security calculations. Perhaps nothing sums up the modern relationship more effectively than the oft repeated comment that the two countries are "as close as lips and teeth." Far from a statement of intense friendship, the completion of that Chinese aphorism -- "When the lips are gone, the teeth will be cold" -- highlights China's interest in propping up the North Korean regime. Read more ..
The Edge of Terrorism
Two detonated improvised explosive devices (IEDs) met a crowd of enthusiastic runners at the finish line of the Boston Marathon on Monday afternoon, leaving three people dead, while maiming and injuring more than 100 victims in what the Obama White House is now labeling an "act of terror." Meanwhile, police and military bomb experts believe the IEDs themselves may lead to identifying the perpetrators of Monday's terrorist attack -- an attack that turned celebration and outdoor fun into a war zone on American soil.
According to White House officials, the Patriot Day attack is the worst bombing on U.S. soil since security was tightened after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. During a televised address to the nation, President Barack Obama said the United States will hunt down the people or groups responsible for the attack on a day when tens of thousands of spectators packed the streets to watch the Patriot Day marathon in Boston. Read more ..
The New Egypt
|Hillel Frisch||April 15th 2013|
Those calling for the Egyptian army to intervene, or believe that it will do so to avert growing unrest, range from former Egyptian justice officials and minor Egyptian politicians to journalists both within and outside Egypt. However, such hopes or expectations are probably misguided. The probability that the Egyptian army will be willing to retake the reins of power – or is even capable of doing so, after Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi unceremoniously sent its leaders back to their barracks in August 2012 – is highly unlikely, if not impossible.
Taking over the reins of power means, above all, removing Egypt’s first elected president, as well as confrontation with the Muslim Brotherhood, by far the most disciplined and organized political force in the country. Such a move would inevitably spur massive urban demonstrations and, further down the line, wide-scale urban guerrilla warfare. Read more ..
Israel and Palestine
|Jonathan D. Halevi||April 13th 2013|
On March 31, Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen), in his role as leader of the PLO, president of the state of Palestine, and chairman of the Palestinian Authority, signed an agreement on the safeguarding of Al-Quds (Jerusalem) and its holy places with Jordan’s King Abdullah II.
The preamble to the agreement, in fact an integral part of it, sets forth the historical and legal background that bestows responsibility for the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Jerusalem holy places on King Abdullah II. This is based on the claim that the monarch is a scion of the family of the Prophet Muhammad and descendant of King Al-Hussein bin Ali, who received this responsibility in 1924.
The preamble also underlines the PLO’s status as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people, and the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination and sovereignty over the territory that includes the Al-Aqsa Mosque.
According to the agreement, King Abdullah II will continue to function as “Servant of the Holy Places in Jerusalem,” a title similar to that of the Saudi monarch, who is called the “Servant of the Two Holy Places” in the Arabian Peninsula.
The agreement defines the Jordanian role as: maintaining the honor of the Jerusalem holy places, ensuring freedom of access to the holy places of Islam, administering and safeguarding the holy places of Islam, representing the interests related to the holy places in international forums, and supervising the Wakf (religious trust) and its properties in accordance with Jordanian law. Read more ..
The Edge of Terrorism
|Evelyn Gordon||April 12th 2013|
This past February, the New York Times reported on a love affair gone sour. For months, Algeria had courted an Islamist warlord in Mali. The Algerians knew, as the Times put it, that he was "the leader of one of the militant Islamist groups holding northern Mali captive," but they thought he was someone they could do business with. So they hosted him in one of Algiers' best hotels and "closed their eyes" when members of his group entered Algeria to procure vital supplies.
But Iyad Ag Ghali didn't repay the favor: Instead, he joined his fellow jihadis in an effort to conquer the rest of Mali, thereby sparking international intervention. That was exactly what Algeria had hoped to avoid, fearing, as one expert put it, that intervention would "create a mess" on its southern border. A few days later, the "mess" penetrated Algeria itself, when another radical Islamist group attacked a gas field, killing 48 people, in what it termed retaliation for Algeria's decision to let French forces use its airspace. Read more ..
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