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America and Mexico

Evolving U.S.-Mexico Relations and Obama's Visit

May 2nd 2013

Obama

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

The Cost of Inaction in Syria

April 30th 2013

Syria fighting injured baby

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 ..


Broken Banking

After Multi-Million Inheritance, Playboy Sachs Goes Offshore

April 29th 2013

International Currency 2

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 ..


Broken Government

Graham's Campaign Collects Bundle from Lobbyists

April 28th 2013

Sen Lindsey Graham

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

Thwarted Canadian Terrorist Plot Shows Continuing Threat from Al-Qaeda and Iran

April 25th 2013

Hamas head

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 ..


Broken Banking

Faux Corporate Directors Stand in for Fraudsters, Despots and Spies

April 23rd 2013

International Currency 3

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

Four Reasons Sens. Graham and McCain are Wrong about Military Detention for Dzhokar Tsarnaev

April 21st 2013

gitmo camp sign

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 ..


Broken Borders

New Immigration Bill Provides Ray Of Hope For Separated Families

April 20th 2013

Stop the Raids immigration protest

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.

Read more ..

Terror in America

Boston Marathon Bombers are Grass-Roots Chechen Terrorists

April 19th 2013

Boston suspects

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.

Analysis

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

State and Local Leaders Double Down on Infrastructure

April 19th 2013

Bridge Failure

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

The Muslim Brotherhood and the Arab Education System

April 18th 2013

Morsi

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 ..


Broken Banking

Lawyers and Accountants Help Rich Manage Their Money

April 17th 2013

Indonesian-Beaches

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

China and North Korea: A Tangled Partnership

April 16th 2013

Chinese soldier at Tienamen Square

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

Boston Police say IEDs May Lead to Bombing Suspects

April 16th 2013

Security Against 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

Egypt’s Army Will Not Intervene

April 15th 2013

Flames in Cairo

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

What the Agreement on Jerusalem between the Palestinian Authority and Jordan Really Means

April 13th 2013

DomeOfTheRock

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

The Dangers of Cozying Up to Terrorists

April 12th 2013

Hamas celebrating

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 ..


Broken Banking

Offshore Tax Havens Became Traps for Investors

April 12th 2013

International Currency 2

A New York hedge fund manager allegedly swindles $12 million from a prominent Baltimore family. An Indiana couple is accused of bilking hundreds of customers by charging for free trials of cosmetic products. A financial manager in Texas promises 23-percent returns but absconds with $33.5 million of his investors’ money in a classic Ponzi scheme.

All three cases have one thing in common: money that ended up in offshore accounts and trusts set up in tax havens around the world.

The existence of the trusts surfaced during a joint examination of the offshore world by The Washington Post and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, a D.C-based nonprofit news organization. ICIJ obtained 2.5 million records of more than 120,000 companies and trusts created by two offshore companies, Commonwealth Trust Ltd. (CTL) in the British Virgin Islands and Portcullis TrustNet, which operates mostly in Asia and the Cook Islands, a South Pacific nation. The records were obtained by Gerard Ryle, ICIJ’s director, as a result of an investigation he conducted in Australia. Read more ..


China on Edge

The Geopolitics of the Yangtze River: Developing the Interior

April 11th 2013

Three Gorges Dam/Hydro Plant

As the competitive advantage of low-cost, export-oriented manufacturing in China's coastal industrial hubs wanes, Beijing will rely more heavily on the cities along the western and central stretches of the Yangtze River to drive the development of a supplemental industrial base throughout the country's interior. Managing the migration of industrial activity from the coast to the interior -- and the social, political and economic strains that migration will create -- is a necessary precondition for the Communist Party's long-term goal of rebalancing toward a more stable and sustainable growth model based on higher domestic consumption. In other words, it is critical to ensuring long-term regime security.

The concept of developing the interior is rooted in the dynastic struggle to establish and maintain China as a unified power against internal forces of regional competition and disintegration. Those forces arise from and reflect a simple fact: China is in many ways as geographically, culturally, ethnically and economically diverse as Europe. That regional diversity, which breeds inequality and in turn competition, makes unified China an inherently fragile entity. It must constantly balance between the interests of the center and those of regions with distinct and often contradictory economic and political interests. Read more ..


Edging Away From Peace

Palestinians: Why Salam Fayyad Stands No Chance Against Fatah

April 11th 2013

Salam Fayyad2

The Fatah leaders are yearning for the days of Yasser Arafat, when they were able to steal international aid earmarked for helping Palestinians. The Palestinians' problem with Fayyad is that he did not sit even one day in an Israeli prison. For them, graduating from an Israeli prison is even more important that going to any university. In recent weeks, the US Administration has resumed its efforts to achieve peace not only between Israel and the Palestinians, but also between Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and his prime minister, Salam Fayyad. These efforts, however, seem to have failed: Fayyad is apparently on his way out.

Over the past few years, Abbas and his Fatah faction have been trying to get rid of Fayyad, but to no avail. Abbas and Fatah leaders see the US-educated Fayyad, who was appointed prime minister in 2007 at the request of the US and EU countries, as a threat to their control over the Palestinian Authority in general and its finances in particular. Some Fatah leaders, such as Tawfik Tirawi and Najat Abu Baker, are even convinced that Fayyad is plotting, together with the US and other Western countries, to replace Abbas as president of the Palestinian Authority. Were it not for US and EU intervention, Abbas and Fatah would have removed Fayyad from his job several years ago.

Each time Abbas considered sacking Fayyad, US and EU government officials stepped in to warn that such a move would seriously affect foreign aid to the Palestinian Authority. President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry, who made separate visits to Ramallah recently, also found themselves devoting much of their time trying to persuade Abbas to keep Fayyad in his position. But US and EU efforts to keep Fayyad in power seem to have been counterproductive. Read more ..


The Cyber Edge

Business Planning in the Face of Cyber Threats

April 10th 2013

Computers/Nerd Silhouette

In our private lives we can’t always effectively prepare for any emergency or threat scenario, we can try and prepare for a specific and collective threat or to invest in expensive cover plans that may quiet our anxiety, however the real important aspects of our private lives are irreplaceable and we can’t prepare for every possible scenario. In contrast, in the business world we are often required to put aside feelings and other considerations and rationalistically deal with major and complex threats that can escalate to a clear violation of our organization business and operational continuity. While every Business Continuity Plan (BCP) is unique to each organization and reflects the operational and commercial profile of the organization and the variables unique to him, still there are common guidelines for all Programs and Plans. Read more ..


Islam on Edge

Raping Women in the Name of Islam

April 10th 2013

anti-assad-demonstration

While jihadis in Syria are importing girls from Tunisia to satisfy their sexual needs, their colleagues in Libya are kidnapping and raping women. Last week, the father of two British women of Pakistani origin said that his daughters were gang raped in front of him by Muslim fundamentalists in Libya's eastern city of Benghazi. The father, Awadh al-Barassai, said on his Facebook page that the women were part of a humanitarian convoy that was heading to the Gaza Strip. As of now, families of "pro-Palestinian" activists will have to think ten times before sending their daughters on humanitarian aid convoys. He said that the women were raped in front of him after being kidnapped by Muslim extremists. He condemned the crime as a "horrible act." Read more ..


Turkey's Domestic Edge

Syria's War Could Inflame Turkey's Hatay Province

April 9th 2013

Assad and Erdogan

Despite Ankara's sharp turn away from Bashar al-Assad over the course of Syria's civil war, domestic complications have prevented it from taking the lead on overthrowing him. Several unique demographic, political, and historical factors are at play in Turkey's Hatay border province, increasing the risk of violent sectarian spillover from next door. Curbing this trend will require Washington to work closely with Ankara on keeping sectarian sentiment out of its Syria policy.

HATAY: BETWEEN TURKEY AND SYRIA
Hatay is Turkey's southernmost province, a panhandle sandwiched between Syria and the Mediterranean Sea. It is also demographically unique, containing the country's largest proportion of Arabs (nearly a third of the province's population of 1.5 million).As the only province to join Turkey after its establishment in 1923, Hatay is politically unique as well. Read more ..


The Iranian Threat

Iran Beyond Oil?

April 9th 2013

Iranian Rial Close-Up

The image of Iran's economy as oil, carpets, and pistachios was always flawed, but has now become badly dated. The Islamic Republic is in the midst of a non-oil export boom -- it has the potential to remain a middle-income country even with no oil exports, and the reserves to finance the transition in the meantime. For years, Iran's leaders called for reduced reliance on oil but did little to meet that goal. Western sanctions have seemingly spurred them to action -- in his annual Nowruz address on March 21, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei acknowledged for the first time that restrictions on the country's oil exports had made a serious impact: "The sanctions have had an effect, which is because of an essential flaw that we are suffering from. The flaw that our economy is suffering from is that it is dependent on oil." He also acknowledged that Iran's "economic weakness" had led to "harsh conditions for certain groups of people." Rather than change Iranian nuclear policy, however, he argued, "We can turn every threat into an opportunity...The sanctions caused the massive domestic capacities of the Iranian nation to become activated." Read more ..


Cyprus on Edge

Giving Bank Depositors "Haircuts" Sets Bad Precedent

April 8th 2013

IndyMac bank run

"Bailing in" implies the opposite of governments' "bailing out" careless investors or bank managers with public money. Specifically, "bailing in" substitutes appropriate losses by "at risk" investors for injections of taxpayer funds to rescue them. The recent collapse of Cypriot banks included "bail ins" for investors. But large depositors were also "bailed in", suffering the loss of at least 60 percent of their deposits. This was described as making investors pay for bad banking instead of taxpayers bailing out the banks.

But do we really want to treat bank depositors as "investors"? The Dutch finance minister, Jeroen Dijsselboem, now president of the Eurozone's foreign minister group, is a 46 year old agricultural economist who thinks that bailing in large depositors in Cypriot banks by expropriating at least 60% of their deposits was the right approach to March's Cypriot bank work out. As Mr. Dijsselboem said, "that's an approach we, now that we are out of the crisis, should consequently take." Read more ..


Guantanamo on Edge

What's Behind The Hunger Strike At Guantanamo Bay?

April 7th 2013

al-Qaeda

News that many of the detainees at Guantanamo have gone on hunger strike has refocused attention on the U.S.-run detention facility. What triggered the hunger strike at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility and when did it start?

In early February, the camp commander resumed a 2006-era policy of searching prisoners’ Korans for possible contraband. A few inmates began refusing meals to protest what they considered desecration. More men have joined in the weeks since.

Washington-based lawyer David H. Remes represents 15 detainees, at least six of whom are on hunger strike. He visited the detention facility a few weeks ago and spoke by phone with two of his clients on March 29.

"They told me that the hunger strike is still widespread," he says. " According to them and other detainees, virtually everyone in Camp 6, which is the most populous camp in the prison, has been hunger striking and the men are more determined than ever to continue until they achieve their goal, even if it means starving themselves to death." Read more ..


Education on Edge

Scaling Turnaround: A District-Improvement Approach

April 6th 2013

school kids

For years, US education reform has focused on simple, isolated reform elements such as promoting reading programs or redesigning individual schools. These efforts have only provided sporadic improvements in student achievement. School-level and single-focus reforms ultimately fail because they do not acknowledge the larger school system's role in supporting and creating capacity for the system's lowest-performing schools to improve. Driving excellent teaching and learning across schools necessitates considering how districts can be best structured to help schools meet unique student needs while maintaining alignment and system coherence. A handful of US school districts-Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools, the School District of Philadelphia, Denver Public Schools, Sacramento City Unified School District, and Long Beach Unified School District-have yielded notable performance gains by employing systemic, district-led turnaround approaches, and provide important lessons for devising systemic turnaround or improvement efforts and overcoming the myriad associated obstacles. Read more ..

Broken Economy

Bad News in March: Tepid Job Gains and a Shrinking Workforce

April 5th 2013

People lined up for jobs

Employers added only 88,000 workers to their payrolls in March, far off the pace of job gains in the previous six months. Between August 2012 and February 2013 payrolls grew at an average rate of 197,000 a month; private payrolls rose slightly faster than 205,000 a month. The much slower pace of job gains in March may foreshadow a slowdown in payroll growth over the next few months as fiscal contraction at the federal level begins to bite.

Employment gains reported in the household survey show an even bleaker picture of the job market. The number of adults in the household survey who report holding a job fell 206,000 in March, capping a 5-month period in which reported employment losses have averaged 34,000 a month.  The unemployment rate declined 0.3 percentage points between October and March, and 0.1 percentage point in March, because the labor force shrank an average of 137,000 a month during the period. The labor force participation rate reached a 35-year low in March, dipping to just 63.3 percent of the adult population. The last time the participation rate was this low was in the Carter Administration. Read more ..


North Korea on Edge

Analysts Downplay North Korean Nuclear Threats

April 3rd 2013

Kim Jong Un

Analysts say it is too soon to tell how North Korea's decision to resume operations at a shuttered plutonium nuclear reactor and  further uranium enrichment will impact Pyongyang's nuclear weapons program.

It would take about six months to get the plutonium reactor at the Yongbyon nuclear complex running again, estimates Mark Fitzpatrick, director of the London-based IISS's non-proliferation and disarmament program.

"The danger is that if North Korea could get the small reactor going again, they could resume the plutonium production program that has been the basis of their nuclear weapons program to date," says Fitzpatrick. "But we're not looking at an immediate production of plutonium."

North Korea agreed to mothball the plutonium reactor and destroy its cooling tower as part a 2007 aid-for-disarmament deal at the now-stalled six-party talks. A spokesperson was quoted Tuesday in state media as saying work on the facility would begin immediately. Read more ..


The Edge of Climate Change

New Models Predict Drastically Greener Arctic In Coming Decades

April 2nd 2013

Glacier calving

New research predicts that rising temperatures will lead to a massive “greening,” or increase in plant cover, in the Arctic. In a paper published on March 31 in Nature Climate Change, scientists reveal new models projecting that wooded areas in the Arctic could increase by as much as 50 percent over the next few decades. The researchers also show that this dramatic greening will accelerate climate warming at a rate greater than previously expected. “Such widespread redistribution of Arctic vegetation would have impacts that reverberate through the global ecosystem,” said Richard Pearson, lead author on the paper and a research scientist at the American Museum of Natural History’s Center for Biodiversity and Conservation. Read more ..


The Defense Edge

The Combined Powers of the U.S. Face a New Era in Geo-Politics

April 2nd 2013

Click to select Image

An era ended when the Soviet Union collapsed on Dec. 31, 1991. The confrontation between the United States and the Soviet Union defined the Cold War period. The collapse of Europe framed that confrontation. After World War II, the Soviet and American armies occupied Europe. Both towered over the remnants of Europe's forces. The collapse of the European imperial system, the emergence of new states and a struggle between the Soviets and Americans for domination and influence also defined the confrontation. There were, of course, many other aspects and phases of the confrontation, but in the end, the Cold War was a struggle built on Europe's decline.

Many shifts in the international system accompanied the end of the Cold War. In fact, 1991 was an extraordinary and defining year. The Japanese economic miracle ended. China after Tiananmen Square inherited Japan's place as a rapidly growing, export-based economy, one defined by the continued pre-eminence of the Chinese Communist Party. The Maastricht Treaty was formulated, creating the structure of the subsequent European Union. A vast coalition dominated by the United States reversed the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. Read more ..


The North Korean Threat

China Aids Persecution of North Koreans

April 1st 2013

Kim Jung Un-Chinese Officiers

When the North Korean government stated on Saturday it was entering a "state of war" with South Korea, a large number of refugees -- mostly Christians -- once again began fleeing across Chinese border in hopes of avoiding more suffering and starvation from the hard-line communist regime. In many cases, according to human rights groups, North Korean Christians are accused of being spies for South Korea or the United States and incarcerated in prison camps or worse -- killed.

"From this time on, the North-South relations will be entering the state of war and all issues raised between the North and the South will be handled accordingly," a statement carried by the North's official KCNA news agency said. Fleeing North Koreans are finding that the Chinese are no big help in providing asylum from the brutality and state-sanctioned killing in North Korea, according to the group Liberty in North Korea. Read more ..


Broken Government

Easter Has Friends on K Street

March 31st 2013

Lobbyist

The Easter Bunny — that cotton-tailed purveyor of egg-shaped confections — will deliver his annual baskets of goodies this Sunday. But not without some help from K Street lobbyists.

Organizations linked to the Easter holiday and its furry mascot have ramped up their efforts to influence lawmakers, according to federal lobbying data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics.

Consider the National Confectioners Association, the trade group for all things cream-filled and candy-coated, which spent a record $420,000 on federal lobbying in 2012.

The association hired 20 lobbyists last year to push Congress for sweet deals on bills such as the Free Market Sugar Act and the Free Sugar Act of 2011. Nine of those lobbyists have previously worked for the federal government in some capacity.  Among them is William J. Morley, of the D.C.-based Altrius Group, who also lobbied on behalf of the Central American Sugar Association and the American Chamber of Commerce in Columbia. Read more ..


Cuba on Edge

Preserving Stability in Cuba

March 30th 2013

Cuba Street Scene

Cuba under Raúl Castro has entered a new period of economic, social, and political transformation. Reforms instituted within the past few years have brought the expansion of private sector entrepreneurial activity, including lifting restrictions on the sales of residential real estate, automobiles, and electronic goods. Additional reforms included, more than a million hectares of idle land has been leased to private farmers, where citizens have been granted permission to stay in hotels previously reserved for tourists, and freedom being granted for most Cubans to travel abroad. Stating that it was time for the “gradual transfer” of “key roles to new generations,” President Raúl Castro announced that he will retire by 2018, and named as his possible successor a man who was not even born at the time of the Cuban Revolution.

The twilight of the Castro era presents challenges and opportunities for U.S. policy makers. Normalization of relations is inevitable, regardless of timing, yet external and internal factors may accelerate or retard the process. The death of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez is likely to undermine the already dysfunctional Cuban economy, if it leads to reductions in oil imports and other forms of aid. This could bring social chaos, especially among the island’s disaffected youth. Such an outcome would generate adverse consequences for U.S. national and regional security. To maintain Cuba’s social and economic stability while reforms are maturing, the United States must throw itself open to unrestricted bilateral trade with all Cuban enterprises, both private and state-owned. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

Obama Goes His Own Way in Syria

March 29th 2013

Corpses in Homs

President Obama is at odds with Vice President Biden, Secretary of State John Kerry and others on his national security team on whether to provide body armor and other non-lethal military equipment to vetted rebels battling Bashar Assad's regime in Syria, Foreign Policy reported Thursday.

The president's National Security Council principals all agreed to the aid last month, according to the report, but Obama has not acted on it. The Washington Post first reported last month that the administration was considering sending the aid, but Thursday's report is the first to claim that the council has sent the president an interagency recommendation urging the shift in policy. Read more ..


The Edge of Justice

Corporations, Pro-business Nonprofits Foot Bill for Judicial Seminars

March 28th 2013

judge's gavel

Conservative foundations, multinational oil companies and a prescription drug maker were the most frequent sponsors of more than 100 expense-paid educational seminars attended by federal judges over a 4 1/2-year period, according to a Center for Public Integrity investigation. Among the seminar titles were “The Moral Foundations of Capitalism,” “Corporations and the Limits of Criminal Law” and “Terrorism, Climate & Central Planning: Challenges to Liberty & the Rule of Law.”

Leading the list of sponsors of the 109 seminars identified by the Center were the conservative Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation, The Searle Freedom Trust, also a supporter of conservative causes, ExxonMobil Corp., Shell Oil Co., pharmaceutical giant Pfizer Inc. and State Farm Insurance Cos. Each were sponsors of 54 seminars. Other top sponsors included the conservative Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation (51), Dow Chemical Co. (47), AT&T Inc. (45) and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce (46), according to the Center’s analysis. Sponsors pick up the cost of judges’ expenses, which often include air fare, hotel stays and meals. The seminars in the Center’s investigation took place from July 2008 through 2012. Read more ..


Inside the Catholic Church

With Chavez gone, Will Pope Francis Play a Role in Latin America?

March 27th 2013

Pope Francis1 March 2013

Following the spirit of the constitution, the next elections in Venezuela are scheduled for April 14th. Nicolas Maduro will be the candidate of the PSUV while Henrique Capriles Radonski will be the candidate of the united opposition (MDU).

Chavez’s death has left a legacy in Venezuela similar to that of Peron: a mythical figure that will be remembered by those who have materially benefitted from Chavez’s years as president and by those who see him as a symbol of redemption and independence regardless of any concerns for constitutional democracy.

We have seen these mythical signs of his legacy when Maduro placed Chavez in the same light as “Jesus the Redeemer”. He pointed out that Chavez is the Christ of the poor of Latin America. Read more ..


Broken Government

North Dakota is New Battleground over Abortion

March 27th 2013

Click to select Image

North Dakota adopted the nation’s strictest abortion ban Tuesday, setting the stage for a lengthy court battle and reviving the charge among abortion-rights supporters that Republicans are “radical” on women’s health. The measure, signed Tuesday by North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple (R), bans abortions when doctors can first detect a heartbeat, or after about six weeks of fetal development.

Two other new laws ban genetic and gender discrimination in abortions, and require abortion doctors to maintain admitting privileges at a hospital. Dalrymple’s quick decision to approve the measures came as a surprise to abortion-rights supporters, who savaged the laws in language reminiscent of the 2012 election. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

Implications of Possible Chemical Weapons Use in Syria

March 26th 2013

Syria fighting injured baby

Claims that chemical weapons (CW) were used in Syria Tuesday center on two reported incidents. The first, claimed by the regime, was at Khan al-Asal in the northern Aleppo province; at least 25 people died (reportedly including 16 regime troops), and more than 110 were injured. The regime claims a rocket or missile with a chemical agent hit a government-controlled area. The second incident, claimed by the opposition, was in the town of Ataibah east of Damascus; it included "fierce shelling with chemical rockets" containing an agent that induced "suffocating and nausea cases" as well as "headache, vomiting, and hysteria cases." The two episodes occurred hundreds of miles apart.

According to Syrian information minister Omran al-Zoubi, the missile or rocket that struck Khan al-Asal came from Qatar or another Arab League country, a claim that may be possible to verify or refute through intelligence sources. He stated that those responsible "must be held accountable -- a king or a prince, a president or a minister." The Syrian regime has asked the UN to investigate. For their part, the military office of the National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces (SOC) and other groups denied that they have the ability to deploy such weapons and instead blamed the regime, claiming it missed its original target of a police academy taken by the rebels. Read more ..


Europe on Edge

Portents of Danger in the Cyprus Bailout

March 26th 2013

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The European economic crisis has taken different forms in different places, and Cyprus is the latest country to face the prospect of financial ruin. Overextended banks in Cyprus are teetering on the brink of failure for issuing loans they cannot repay, which has prompted the tiny Mediterranean country, a member of the European Union, to turn to Brussels for help. Late Sunday, the European Union and Cypriot president announced new terms for a bailout that would provide the infusion of cash necessary to prevent bankruptcies in Cyprus' banking sector and, more important, prevent a banking panic from spreading to the rest of Europe. Read more ..



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