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Israel on Edge

Is Education a Threat to Peace?

December 28th 2012

West Bank Construction

The newest threat to peace in the Middle East is a college–at least according to the government of the United Kingdom.

The educational institution in question is Ariel College, now Ariel University, in the Israeli settlement of Ariel in the West Bank. Ariel was founded in 1978 and now has about 20,000 residents. Ariel College was founded in 1982 as a branch of Bar Ilan University, became independent in 2005, and now has a remarkable 14,000 students from all over Israel and even a branch in Tel Aviv. It also has the largest group of Ethiopian-born immigrant students of any university in Israel, and hundreds of Israeli Arab students. The university has five faculties as of now: architecture, natural science, engineering, health sciences, and humanities and social sciences, and plans to add more. In 2008 Ariel College applied for upgrading from college to university, and despite strong opposition in some parts of Israel’s educational establishment, that change was just approved. Read more ..


Spain on Edge

Muslims Upset Over Spain's Offer of Citizenship to Sephardic Jews

December 28th 2012

Synagogue in Cordoba
Synagogue in Cordoba, Spain.

The Spanish government has announced that it will grant automatic citizenship to Jews of Sephardic descent, whose ancestors were expelled from Spain in 1492. The measure has been welcomed by Jewish groups, who say the move is long overdue and that it rights a historic wrong. But Muslim groups are now clamoring for reciprocity, and are demanding that the Spanish government grant instant citizenship to millions of descendants of Muslims who were also expelled from Spain during the Middle Ages.

The so-called Right of Return for Sephardic Jews (Sepharad means Spain in Hebrew) was announced in Madrid on November 22 by the Spanish Justice Minister, Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón, and the Foreign Minister, José Manuel García-Margallo.

Under existing Spanish law, Sephardic Jews already benefit from a preferential naturalization procedure that allows them to claim Spanish citizenship after having lived in Spain for only two years, a privilege that is also available to citizens of Spain's former colonies in Latin America and elsewhere. Read more ..


Edging Toward the Fiscal Cliff

Obama and Republicans: Little Room Left to Maneuver Before Fiscal Cliff

December 27th 2012

Click to select Image

With little time left for action, President Obama and members of the Senate will return to Washington on Thursday in search of a scaled-back agreement to lessen the economic pain of the “fiscal cliff.” Lawmakers are under pressure to pass some kind of legislation that reverses or delays the tax increases and spending cuts slated for January, but they find themselves without a clear path forward after the breakdown in negotiations between Obama and Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio).

The president is scheduled to fly back from Hawaii on Wednesday night to return to work on a fiscal deal. The Senate is also expected to be back in business Thursday, though flight delays from a winter storm could prevent the upper chamber from reassembling quickly.

Republican leaders in the House, meanwhile, have yet to notify members of any plans to reconvene. GOP leaders held a private conference call Wednesday to discuss their plans, a chat that a Boehner spokesman described as "routine." Read more ..


The Iranian Threat

Iran Fears May Be Compelling Saudi Arabia to Begin to Tell the Truth About Israel

December 27th 2012

Iran Missiles

If there were a prize for the Arab country that has done most to promote Arab-Israeli peace recently, I'd seriously consider nominating Saudi Arabia. Admittedly, that's a counterintuitive choice: Riyadh doesn't even recognize Israel and shows no signs of doing so anytime soon; moreover, it finances the spread of extremist Islamic ideology. But Saudi-funded papers have been doing something that may be far more important than another handshake on the White House lawn: providing a platform for Arab journalists and public figures to challenge the dominant Middle Eastern narrative of Israel as the root of all evil. 

Consider, for instance, a column published last month in Asharq Al-Awsat, a paper owned by a member of the Saudi royal family and known for its support of the Saudi monarchy. Written by the paper's then-deputy editor-in-chief, Adel Al Toraifi, and titled "Who holds Hamas' terrorism to account?" the column blamed not Israel, but Hamas, for Palestinian casualties during both the second intifada and the recent fighting in Gaza. Read more ..


Peru and Chile

The Power of Historical Memory in Peru/Chile Maritime Dispute

December 27th 2012

SS Huascar of Chile and Peru

In January 2008, Peru called Chile before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague in order to resolve a maritime dispute between the two countries. Both belligerents, dispute the exact metrics of the current maritime border that for decades has embittered relations between both countries; the area of the maritime zone that is being contested is roughly 37 thousand square kilometers of water. While a verdict is not expected before 2013, the trial has currently entered a critical stage as delegations from both countries recently finished presenting their oral arguments before the court. The proceedings are being followed closely not only by the two immediate claimants, but also by a broader community, with social media, as well as conventional news organs being used to distribute information on new developments that may occur. Read more ..


The Darkest Edge

America is Talking about Guns while the NRA is Not Listening

December 27th 2012

Sandy Hook Shooting

Top GOP pollster Frank Luntz said the National Rifle Association's call for armed guards in schools shows it is not listening to the public response to the shooting in Newtown, Conn.

"The public wants guns out of the schools, not in the schools," Luntz said Wednesday morning on CBS. "And they are not asking for a security official or someone else."

"I don’t think the NRA is listening. I don’t think they understand most Americans would protect the Second Amendment rights and yet agree with the idea that not every human being should own a gun, not every gun should be available at anytime, anywhere, for anyone. At gun shows, you should not be able to buy something there without any kind of check whatsoever."

Luntz is a prominent Republican pollster, though he's also worked for Mayors Against Illegal Guns, a group backed by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg (I) that calls for stricter gun-control laws. Luntz conducted a poll for the group in May that found many NRA members would support some restrictions on firearms. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

Weapons of Mass Distortion--Syria's Chemical Weapons Not Yet Deployed

December 26th 2012

Syria fighting injured baby

Read more ..

Broken Housing

US and Canada Remain at Opposite Ends of the Housing Cycle

December 25th 2012

Foreclosure

North American housing markets present an interesting contrast between the U.S. and Canada.

It now appears that the U.S. has passed the bottom of its housing markets at long last. After falling for six years from the 2006 high in a terrific bust, house prices are now widely rising from their lows, and house sales are increasing. So the U.S. is starting to come up from the bottom.

Canada is at the opposite end of the cycle. Having weathered the crisis of 2007-09 far better, it looks like Canada's housing markets have just gone over the top, a top of very high house prices and household debt levels, and now are starting down.

The U.S. Federal Housing Finance Agency's house price index for the third quarter of 2012, counting house purchases financed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, was up 4% over a year ago, partially reflecting a lower proportion of distressed sales. This house price index rose in 39 of the 50 states. The widely followed S&P/ Case-Shiller National House Price Index was up 3.6% year-over-year in September.

Read more ..

Japan on Edge

How Beijing Sees Abe’s Return

December 24th 2012

Shinzo Abe
Shinzo Abe

An Xinhua editorial that also appeared in the U.S. edition of the China Daily asserts that the impending premiership of Japan’s Shinzo Abe would “destabilize” East Asia. Yet the piece in reality makes a case for why Abe’s next term in office would be a good thing.  To quote from the article:

"…Abe has called for an increase in Japan's defense spending, easing constitutional restrictions on the military and even changing Japan's so-called Self Defense Forces into a full-fledged military.

Abe is likely to push through several changes with little opposition, including abolishing the requirement for a separate new law each time Japan wants to send peacekeepers abroad and establishing a National Security Council to streamline decision-making, which was a primary, though eventually unrealized, goal of Abe's previous administration."

The editorial also rightly notes that “for the first time in decades, national defense played a significant role in Japan's general election,” yet refrains from listing the reasons for this, namely North Korea’s renewed belligerence and the on-going crisis over the Senkaku (Diaoyu) Islands between China and Japan. Read more ..


Yemen on Edge

Stabilizing Yemen's Government

December 24th 2012

Yemen Female Protestor

The ongoing process of stabilizing Yemen's political, military, financial, administrative, and economic spheres will require expanded U.S. governance and development efforts.

In a series of decrees signed on December 19, Yemeni president Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi announced a fundamental reorganization of the country's military. Although these initiatives address many of the opposition's demands for reform, various challenges will persist as the process of political consolidation and stability moves incrementally forward.

REPLACING SALEH

In 2011, Yemen became embroiled in a political crisis between then president Ali Saleh, who had ruled for over thirty years, and opponents who criticized his regime's corruption, leadership failings, and lack of services. As the crisis unfolded, opponents mounted a series of protests; Saleh responded by initiating limited reforms, but his efforts did not satisfy the opposition's demands. Read more ..


Venezuela on Edge

Chavez Party Gubenatorial Victory Spells Disaster for the Region

December 23rd 2012

Hugo Chavez

Chavez continues to be the hero in Venezuela and the region. In the last elections for state governors that took place on Sunday, December 16th, Chavez’s party, the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), won overwhelmingly and now holds 20 out of the 23 state governments in the nation.

The opposition lost important states such as Zulia that it had controlled for more than eight years. Likewise, the opposition lost the state of Carabobo, a state that has never been in the hands of a pro-Chavez government. Even in the state of Tachira, which was the only state the opposition won in the October 7th presidential election, was lost to Chavez’s political loyalists.

Those who think that Chavez’s movement will not survive his death should be dissuaded from this belief given the results of this gubernatorial election which proves exactly the opposite. Populism and the government’s massive use of state resources were key to winning those elections. Read more ..


Palestine on Edge

Hamas Planning Overthrow of Fatah on West Bank

December 23rd 2012

Hamas protester

The terror group Hamas is plotting a Gaza-style takeover of the West Bank, the Sunday Times reports. The Iranian-backed terror group is planning a putsch much like the one that brought it to power in the Gaza Strip in 2007. In that conflict, which lasted just eight days, Hamas fighters soundly defeated the Fatah security services aligned with Mahmoud Abbas.

This time, both Israel and Fatah are preparing for any attempt by Hamas to seize the West Bank's military and political institutions. The Times of Israel, quoting the Sunday Times, reports: "Jerusalem fears that a Hamas takeover of the West Bank would give Iran, which is allied with the group, a foothold on the border of Israel’s heartland, the report said. Reportedly, Iran is the driving force behind Hamas’s push to control the West Bank. A source close to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the paper that the prime minister is maneuvering to halt Iran and Hamas from gaining dominion of the territory. "[Netanyahu] understands the geopolitical changes in the Middle East. No way would [he] give up an inch of the West Bank — he is convinced that the intelligence assessment about a [Hamas] takeover is solid,” the source said. Read more ..


The Edge of Health

Tracking the History of HIV

December 23rd 2012

Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) may have affected humans for much longer than is currently believed. Alfred Roca, an assistant professor in the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences at the University of Illinois, thinks that the genomes of an isolated West African human population provide important clues about how the disease has evolved.

HIV is thought to have originated from chimpanzees in central Africa that were infected with simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV), a retrovirus. "If you look at the diversity present across SIV in chimpanzees, it suggests that they have had it for tens of thousands of years," Roca said.

HIV-1 Type M, which accounts for 90 percent of human infections, is believed to have crossed the species barrier into human populations between 1884 and 1924. Roca said that it may have crossed much earlier and many times, selecting for genetic resistance in isolated rural populations while remaining undetected. Read more ..


Iran's Nukes

Big Business Sides with Iran in Face of Nuclear Threat

December 22nd 2012

Iran centrifuges

Read more ..

Broken Government

Looking Ahead to 2013 Primaries, GOP Representatives Abandon 'Plan B'

December 22nd 2012

John Boehner
House Speaker John Boehner

Many House Republicans refused to vote for Speaker John Boehner’s (R-Ohio) Plan B bill because they were “gun shy” about drawing primary challengers in the 2014, according to several lawmakers.

A number of members involved in the intense whipping operation that took place over the past two days tsaid that entrenched no votes were more concerned with perception than principle. “I think that there were members that are so gun shy about primaries that they weren't willing to take a risk ... some members told me that it was just too hard to explain how it wasn't a tax increase,” Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Colo.) said shortly following Thursday night’s abrupt conference meeting where Boehner told his colleagues they wouldn’t vote on the bill. Read more ..


Israel on Edge

Palestinians Threaten Multilateral "War" Against Israel

December 21st 2012

IDF Soldiers

Following a day of blustering threats from the Palestinian Authority, Israel's foreign ministry responded in kind, calling "The 'new rules' the Palestinians are talking about... no different than the old rules that have always resulted in conflict, hatred, violence and their defeat."

The P.A. threatened on Thursday to do everything from seek sanctions against Israel to fomenting violence on the ground in the West Bank, claiming that their rise to non-member state status at the U.N. had changed the rules of their conflict with Israel.

According to YNet, Foreign Ministry Spokesman Yigal Palmor hit back hard on Friday, saying that: The Palestinians' tragedy is that instead of dedicating efforts to building themselves, they are focusing on trying to harm Israel. Instead of building their future they are immersed in attempts to ruin ours. This strategy has led to nothing but failure after failure for them. They continue digging in their heels out of some delusional, suicidal power drunkenness. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

Proof of Obama's Policy of Making Syria into an Anti-Western and Anti-Semitic Islamist State

December 20th 2012

Syrian Jihadis

In his article “The Revolt of Islam in Syria” (Jerusalem Post, December 12), Jonathan Spyer — senior fellow at the GLORIA Center — points out compelling information about the new Western-backed leadership in Syria.

The bottom line: if this is Syria’s new government, then Syria now has an Islamist regime.

This is happening with the knowledge and collaboration of the Obama administration and a number of European governments. It is a catastrophe, and one that’s taking place due to the deliberate decisions of President Barack Obama and other Western leaders. Even if one rationalizes the Islamist takeover in Egypt as due to internal events, this one is U.S.-made. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

Syrian Crisis Evolves From Arab Spring to a War between Sunnis and Shiites

December 19th 2012

Alawites

In Syria, what began as an Arab Spring, eager for greater dignity, work and freedom, has slipped out of hand to become a regional and international conflict in which Saudi Arabia and Qatar are fighting against Iran , Turkey and Israel against Syria, Russia and China against the United States and Europe.

At first efforts were concentrated on the demand for greater dignity, but after receiving only violence as a response from the government, the Spring has become a well armed rebellion. Many army officers have defected and organized an armed response. Now both sides are fighting with weapons.

A conflict within Islam

Syria, unlike Egypt, is a multicultural and multiethnic country: there are Druze, Christians (9%), Kurds (7%), Sunni (70%), and other small groups, and this country, so far, is dominated by the Alawite (12-13%).

All this leads the Syrian tensions to a regional conflict. The fear, for Sunnis and the majority of Arab countries, is that Syria, religiously tied to Iran, could become increasingly instrumental to the spread of Shiism.

It must be said that Iran's enemies, rather than Israel, are Sunnis. On the other hand, the fear of Islam is the fear of Shiism, which is advancing in every Islamic country. Last week, in Cairo (Egypt), I came across a group of Shiite Muslims for the first time in more than a millennium, who were promoting their religion there. They were stopped by Sunni leaders. I have heard that the same phenomenon is occurring in Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, and in many African countries. Read more ..


The Arab Winter of Rage in Libya

Libya Shuts Certain Border Sections

December 18th 2012

Libya protesters

Libya's struggling government on Sunday ordered the nation's southern borders to be closed and ordered the military to create restricted areas in several regions. The reason given for these closures was the enormous influx of illegal immigrants and contraband. The nations singled out were Chad, Niger, Sudan and Algeria, all countries with active Islamic terrorist organizations, according to the Israeli source, a member of the law enforcement and intelligence community. While the nation struggles to create a secular democracy, Libya's southern regions are plagued with rampant lawlessness and violence ever since its dictator Moamar Khadhafi's regime was toppled and he was executed by an angry mob last year.

Some nations within the European Union have volunteered to train the Libyan military and police in border security measures and combating the trafficking of weapons and drugs across Libya's borders. The parliamentary decree said the southern regions of Ghadames, Ghat, Obari, Al-Shati, Sebha, Murzuq and Kufra would be military zones subject to martial law. Read more ..


Global Migration

The World Comes to Grips with the Phenomenon of Unceasing Migration

December 18th 2012

Latino immigration rally

On December 18, the United Nations and countries around the world mark International Migrants Day, an event established a dozen years ago to acknowledge the contributions made by economic migrants. People have always been on the move in search of a better life. Today, it’s estimated that more than 200 million people worldwide are working in foreign lands, hoping for a future they couldn’t find at home. And the numbers are growing each year. Experts who study this mass migration are working to convince governments that, given the right policies, they have much to gain – whether they are the country migrants are leaving or the one that is their destination.

But there are still societal roadblocks fueled by false assumptions about migrants that prevent the free flow of international migration. Among them are persistent beliefs that migrants are a burden on host nations, even dangerous. Read more ..


The Arab Winter of Rage

Transition towards Democracy in North Africa

December 17th 2012

African ancestry

Egypt’s transition is turbulent, to say the least. The upcoming constitutional referendum is becoming more fraught by the day. Because most of the country’s judges are refusing to supervise the referendum, it is now scheduled to take place on two different dates: December 15 and December 22. Egypt’s main opposition coalition, after considerable indecision, has decided to participate in the referendum—trying to vote it down rather than boycotting it—but says it will not participate without sufficient oversight, monitoring, and security.

All of this is taking place against a backdrop of increasing economic instability and uncertainty: this week, President Morsi announced tax increases stipulated by the IMF, only to rescind them hours later. Egypt also delayed its loan from the IMF in order to better explain required austerity measures to the population.

How are its North African neighbors, Tunisia and Libya, faring in their transitions? Read more ..


China Rising

Beijing Testing Tokyo

December 16th 2012

Senkaku Islands

Early this morning, East China Sea time, China sent a small reconnaissance plane into Japanese airspace over the Senkaku Islands. Too small to register on Japan’s air defense radar, but large enough to make a point, this propeller jet assigned to the Chinese Marine Surveillance Agency was perfectly timed to take advantage of the distraction of North Korea’s missile launch.

China and Japan have been drawing lines in the waters around the Senkaku Islands (Diaoyu Islands for the Chinese) almost daily since the Japanese government under Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda purchased these islands from a private owner on September 11. China’s foreign ministry spokesman, Hong Lei, has consistently argued that Japan escalated the bilateral dispute over these small uninhabited islands by “nationalizing” them. China’s foreign minister Yang Jiechi took his case to the United Nations, where he derided the Japanese government for challenging the post-WWII settlement in Asia. Read more ..


Nigeria on Edge

Nigeria Rises to Top-20 of Money Laundering Nations

December 16th 2012

Nigeria Oil

A new study by the US-based research and advocacy organisation, Global Financial Integrity (GFI), has placed Nigeria in the 7th position out of the 20 biggest exporters of illicit financial flows over a decade, with cumulative figure of US$129 billion and an average of US$12.9 billion. BusinessDay reports that the organisation also revealed that among the 20 top exporters of illegal capital in 2010, Nigeria occupied the same position with US$19.66 billion.

The GFI report, which is coming barely one week after Transparency International's Corruption Perception Index placed Nigeria 135th out of 176th corrupt countries, covered 2001 to 2010.

The report, co-authored by GFI Lead Economist Dev Kar and GFI Economist Sarah Freitas, is the first by GFI to incorporate a new, more conservative estimate of illicit financial flows, facilitating comparisons with previous estimates from GFI updates, identifies crime, corruption and tax evasion at near historic highs. It estimates that nearly US$6 trillion were stolen from poor countries within the decade and US$859 billion in 2010 alone.

The report fingered China as leading the pack with US$274 billion average (US$2.74 trillion cumulative); followed by Mexico with US$47.6 billion average (US$476 billion cum.); Malaysia, US$28.5 billion average ($285 billion cum.); Saudi Arabia US$21.0 billion average (US$210 billion cum.); Russia US$15.2 billion average (US$152 billion cum.); and Philippines US$13.8 billion avg. (US$138 billion cum.). Read more ..


The Medical Edge

Scrutiny of Health Records Tightened

December 15th 2012

StethoscopeAndKeyboard

Federal officials, in an apparent effort to clamp down on Medicare fraud and abuse, are tightening scrutiny of the  growing numbers of doctors who rely on electronic medical records to bill for their services.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has directed its auditors to look more closely to make sure the systems are properly documenting the services being paid for by the government. The new policy, announced in November, went into effect earlier this week. At issue is the impact electronic medical records can have on billing for doctor visits. Doctors must choose one of five escalating payment levels, known as “Evaluation and Management” codes that best reflect the amount of time spent with a patient as well as the complexity of the care.

Medical groups argue that computers make it easier for them to document all of the work they do, which leads to higher codes and fees. But officials worry that the software also can be manipulated to inflate bills — a practice known as “upcoding.” Read more ..


Broken Labor

ALEC's Decades of 'Right-to-Work' Effort Pay Off in Michigan

December 14th 2012

Click to select Image

Amid protests by labor unions, and objections from the state’s congressional delegation and even the president, Michigan’s Republican Gov. Rick Snyder signed a “right-to-work” bill into law Tuesday, drawn word-for-word from a 32-year-old “model bill” pushed by a corporate-funded, conservative think tank.

The legislation deals a severe blow to organized labor in a state that has the fifth-highest union density in the country, and it marks the revival of an effort long promoted by the influential American Legislative Exchange Council, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit that has seen its share of controversy recently.

Since 1973, ALEC has hosted corporate-sponsored meetings where state legislators and lobbyists meet behind closed doors to write and vote on model legislation. In a 1992 annual report, the free-market think tank boasted that it “provides the private sector an unparalleled opportunity” to influence state legislation. One of its first priorities was passage of “right-to-work” laws, which now exist in 24 states. The 16 states with the lowest union density in the country have right-to-work laws, mostly in the American South and West, while the 13 states with the highest union density do not, until this week. Read more ..


Operation Pillar of Defense

The Gaza Operation and its Effects on Iran

December 13th 2012

Hamas demo

How effectively Israel's recent Gaza operation will deter Palestinian rocket fire remains to be seen. Israelis are skeptical: One poll found that a whopping 88 percent think the truce will not last long. Even Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu doesn't sound too confident: Visiting an airbase shortly after the cease-fire took effect, he warned pilots they should already start preparing for the next campaign.

Regardless of what happens in Gaza, however, Operation Pillar of Defense clearly enhanced Israel's deterrence against a much more important enemy - Iran. The operation demonstrated two important things, neither of which was self-evident beforehand. One is that even in the post-Arab Spring world, Israel can conduct military operations without igniting its southern front or shattering its peace with Egypt. The other is that for all the disagreements between Netanyahu and President Barack Obama on other issues, America's traditional support for Israel's right to defend itself takes precedence. Read more ..


The World on Edge

Global Power Will Shift by 2030

December 13th 2012

F-22s at Sunset

The U.S. intelligence community has confirmed in a new report that global power in the future will not be marked by the deployment of large military force or arsenals of nuclear weapons, two measures of American power that still have a large following in Washington.

In a new report entitled “Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds”, the National Intelligence Council said global power in that year will be reflected instead by a mix of factors, including the state of technology, health, education, and governance as well as GDP (the size of the national economy), population size, and military spending.

And by 2030, countries in Asia will have surpassed the United States in many of these power metrics, meaning that “the ‘unipolar moment’ is over and Pax Americana – the era of American ascendancy in international politics that began in 1945 – is fast winding down,” the report said. “There will not be any hegemonic power” in 18 years but instead a collection of “networks and coalitions” in which Asian nations and rising economic powers such as India, Brazil, Colombia, Indonesia, Nigeria, South Africa and Turkey will take part. Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

Banking without Borders with Terrorists as Major Clients

December 12th 2012

HSBC

In the past three months, two London-based banks – HSBC and Standard Chartered – have been accused by the US government of serving as a gateway for Iran into the international financial market. Both financial institutions have come under scrutiny from United States (US) regulators, who have made it clear that banks doing business in the US must cut their ties with illicit Iranian entities or risk losing access to the US market.

On 17 July 2012, the US Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations issued a 335-page report (in addition to several hundred pages of supporting evidence, including bank records and internal emails) accusing HSBC of exposing the US financial system to a range of money laundering, drug trafficking and terrorist financing risks due to its poor anti-money-laundering (AML) controls. Read more ..


Egypt’s Second Revolution

A Turning Point in Egypt: On the Speed—Not the Direction—of the Islamist Transformation

December 11th 2012

Mohamed Morsi - Vivat Rex

A critical moment has arrived for Egypt. But what does it mean? President Morsi has rescinded much of his decree claiming total power, but he could accomplish much the same thing after the constitution is confirmed, and perhaps if he forces the reinstatement of the elected parliament whose election was declared invalid by a court. At any rate, Morsi’s concession has not quieted the demonstrations—another sign that concessions in the Middle East don’t bring agreements—and so this crisis is not going away.

There are three broad possibilities for Egypt. Either the regime will fall, the opposition will be repressed, or there will be an increasingly violent civil war.

The regime will not fall due to these demonstrations alone. Remember what happened to the Mubarak regime—it fell for the following reasons:
• The army would not defend it.
• The army then overthrew it.
• The Muslim Brotherhood-led opposition would not compromise.
• The West would not support the regime. Read more ..


Edging Toward the Fiscal Cliff

Both Obama and Republican Debt Solutions Risk U.S. Credit Downgrade

December 11th 2012

Cliff Face West Wales

Deficit-reduction proposals from Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and President Obama fall short of clearly stabilizing the debt, according to budget experts, putting the U.S. credit rating at risk of a downgrade. Under both proposals, U.S. debt would continue to grow as a percentage of gross domestic product, unless the economy grows at a rapid pace, according to experts who have studied the proposals.

While some suggest new talks between Obama and Boehner suggest a deal is in reach, they have doubts it will be big enough to meaningfully reduce deficits — or satisfy credit rating agencies. “More is going to have to be done. I’m actually getting a bit more optimistic that a fiscal-cliff deal will get done, but at the same time I’m less optimistic that a ‘grand bargain’ will be achieved,” Bob Bixby of the Concord Coalition said. “The real issue is where everything ends up as a percentage of GDP.”

Moody’s, Fitch and Standard and Poor’s have taken a cautious approach in public comments on talks between congressional Republicans and the White House. Read more ..


Israel on Edge

Israel's Periphery and its Geopolitical Dilemma

December 11th 2012

Israel border crossing Eilat

The state of Israel has a basic, inescapable geopolitical dilemma: Its national security requirements outstrip its military capabilities, making it dependent on an outside power. Not only must that power have significant military capabilities but it also must have enough common ground with Israel to align its foreign policy toward the Arab world with that of Israel's. These are rather heavy requirements for such a small nation.

Security, in the Israeli sense, is thus often characterized in terms of survival. And for Israel to survive, it needs just the right blend of geopolitical circumstance, complex diplomatic arrangements and military preparedness to respond to potential threats nearby. Over the past 33 years, a sense of complacency settled over Israel and gave rise to various theories that it could finally overcome its dependency on outside powers. But a familiar sense of unease crept back into the Israeli psyche before any of those arguments could take root. A survey of the Israeli periphery in Egypt, Syria and Jordan explains why. Read more ..


Mexico on Edge

The Changing Landscape of US-Mexico Security Cooperation

December 10th 2012

President Enrique Pena Nieto

U.S.-Mexico security cooperation, led by the Merida Initiative, is vital and must continue. But with Enrique Peña Nieto's inauguration, Mexico's political landscape is now changing, and the United States must adjust its strategy and support accordingly. Building on the lessons of the past five years, the United States should work with Mexico to implement the nonmilitary programs envisioned in the current Merida framework, in particular supporting and prioritizing Mexico's ongoing judicial reform, training police officers at the state and local levels, modernizing the U.S.-Mexico border, and investing in local community and youth-oriented programs.

The Merida Initiative After Five Years

The Merida Initiative was launched in 2007 under the George W. Bush administration, which promised $1.4 billion over three years to "support Mexico's law enforcement in the fight against organized crime." Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

Syrian Rebels Claim Assad has Already Used Chemical Weapons

December 10th 2012

Syrian Chemical Weapons

Syrian rebels uploaded a video to YouTube on Saturday which they claim shows victims of a chemical weapons attack by the Assad regime, the Times of Israel reports. The use of chemical weapons has not been confirmed, but Syria has long been known to harbor an arsenal of such weapons, and rumors have been flying that Assad might well employ them should his situation prove desperate. Recent weeks have seen major gains by the rebel forces, which have succeeded in unifying their various factions and undertaking attacks within the capital of Damascus. Many observers believe the Assad regime's days are numbered.

At the same time, however, the United States and Israel, as well as other nations, have made it clear that they will not tolerate the deployment of chemical weapons by Syria. The U.S. has hinted at possible military intervention in order to prevent it. Read more ..


The Gender Edge

Diversifying Global Supply Chains

December 9th 2012

Working Women

Women-owned businesses represent 32 to 39 percent of all private businesses worldwide, but reportedly receive less than one percent of procurement from both corporations and governments. (I say reportedly, because these numbers are very hard to verify. Still, even if the statistic is off by a factor of ten, women-owned businesses are still hugely underrepresented.)

As societies around the world struggle with ways to expand women’s economic opportunities, better integrating women-owned businesses into global supply chains clearly holds enormous potential. This is a topic I’ve explored previously, and was able to delve into it more deeply at a meeting yesterday of CFR’s ExxonMobil Women and Development Roundtable Series.

Corporations are working in concert with governments and nonprofits to address issues of women’s empowerment for a variety of reasons: some are in search of improving their image or motivated by a sense of corporate social responsibility; increasingly, others recognize a business argument for embracing women’s economic empowerment. They understand that reaching out to women can make their labor forces more productive, improve the quality of their global supply chains, and expand their customer bases. As Astrid Pregel, an adviser to the Canadian government, argues, women owned-businesses should be supported and grown because they are the “greatest underutilized resource” when it comes to growing the global economy. Read more ..


BenghaziGate

Benghazi Terrorists Got Arms from Obama Administration

December 9th 2012

libya-consulate

In spite of the threat of American weapons ending up in the hands of terrorist groups, President Barack Obama secretly approved an arms transfer to Libyan rebels through Qatar at the height of the rebellion against Moamar Khadhafi, a knowledgeable source noted on Friday. However, American counterterrorists are discovering that some of those U.S. weapons ended up in the hands of radical Islamists including associates of al-Qaeda, according to a law enforcement source who trained police in the Middle East.

Some Americans who are retired from the military, as well as intelligence and law enforcement agencies, believe there should be an investigation into possible connections between the weapons provided by the Qataris back then and the attack that killed an American ambassador and three other Americans in Benghazi, Libya, on Sept. 11, 2012. Read more ..


The Digital Edge

Crunch Time For US Negotiators Working To Keep Internet Rules Out Of UN Treaty

December 8th 2012

Russian computer user

Delegates from the United States are running out of time to bury proposals that could have a major effect on the Internet as a United Nations treaty conference heads into its final week. The top item on the U.S.'s agenda is to confine the scope of the international treaty to telecommunications networks, so its regulations only apply to major operators like AT&T and Verizon. Members of the U.S. delegation, led by Ambassador Terry Kramer, are pushing back against proposals from Russia and other countries that want to include measures in the treaty that apply to the Internet.

But with just days until the conference wraps up on Dec. 14, the matter remains unresolved. "That's looking very much like one of the sticking points," said Sarah Parkes, a spokeswoman for the United Nations International Telecommunications Union (ITU), which is hosting the treaty conference in Dubai. Read more ..


Latin America on Edge

The Intellectual Left of Latin America Faces the Gaza Crisis

December 7th 2012

Palestinian Arabs wearing Che Guevara shirts
Palestinian Arabs wearing Che Guevara shirts

The recent Gaza crisis, during which Israel responded with a limited military operation to stop Hamas missile attacks against Israeli populations, unleashed a number of reactions by intellectuals in Latin America.

Some of these reactions were expected but others raise serious concerns about the direction Latin America is taking in what is called “the battle of ideas”.

The reaction to the Gaza crisis by some intellectuals reflects the ideological power of the Bolivarian Revolution and the challenge this revolution will present for us in the future. This time we did not hear mere pacifist statements calling to stop the bloodshed. We heard a much more aggressive discourse that accused Israel of conducting genocide on the Palestinians; promoting expansionism; committing war crimes; and nothing short of serving the devil. Read more ..


Palestine on Edge

Kuwait Expulsion of Thousands of Palestinians

December 6th 2012

Palstinian refugee camp

Much has been made of the Palestinian exodus of 1948. Yet during their decades of dispersal, the Palestinians have experienced no less traumatic ordeals at the hands of their Arab brothers. As early as the mid-1950s, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and Libya expelled striking Palestinian workers. In 1970, Jordan expelled some 20,000 Palestinians and demolished their camps; in 1994-95, Libya expelled tens of thousands of long-term Palestinian residents in response to the Oslo process; and after the 2003 Iraq war, some 21,000 Palestinians fled the country in response to a systematic terror and persecution campaign. As recently as 2007, Beirut effectively displaced 31,400 Palestinian refugees when the Lebanese army destroyed the Nahr el Bared refugee camp during fighting between the militant Fatal al-Islam group and the Lebanese army.

The expulsion of Kuwait's Palestinians was precipitated by the endorsement of Iraq's brutal occupation of the emirate. Whether true or not, the Palestinians where viewed by Kuwait's rulers as "fifth colmnists" and forced to leave their decades-old homes. Read more ..


The Battle of Syria

Syria's Dictator Assad Circles the Wagons for a Last Stand

December 6th 2012

Assad

The battle for Damascus is raging with increasing intensity while rebels continue to make substantial advances in Syria's north and east. Every new air base, city or town that falls to the rebels further underlines that Bashar al Assad's writ over the country is shrinking. It is no longer possible to accurately depict al Assad as the ruler of Syria. At this point, he is merely the head of a large and powerful armed force, albeit one that still controls a significant portion of the country.

The nature of the conflict has changed significantly since it began nearly two years ago. The rebels initially operated with meager resources and equipment, but bolstered by defections, some outside support and their demographic advantage, they have managed to gain ground on what was previously a far superior enemy. Even the regime's qualitative superiority in equipment is fast eroding as the rebels start to frequently utilize main battle tanks, infantry fighting vehicles, rocket and tube artillery and even man-portable air-defense systems captured from the regime's stockpiles. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

Syria After Assa: Heading Toward a Hard Fall

December 5th 2012

al-Assad and Generals

Recent opposition military successes near Damascus, Aleppo, and Deir al-Zour make the eventual demise of Bashar al-Assad's regime increasingly likely. Although one cannot rule out a definitive end to the civil war -- one that leads to the creation of a "unified, democratic, pluralistic" Syria, as envisioned by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton -- the regime's departure is much more likely to herald a more chaotic and dangerous phase of the conflict.

POST-ASSAD SCENARIOS
To a certain extent, the nature of the transition will be influenced by how the Assad regime leaves the scene. If government forces retain their cohesion while being rolled back one village and urban neighborhood at a time, the opposition will have more time to set up rudimentary institutions of governance in liberated areas, and a less disruptive transition may be possible. Indeed, large swaths of the country have already fallen out of government control and are being administered by local ad hoc committees. Much will also depend on whether the regime fights on in Damascus, laying waste to the capital in the process, or withdraws to strongholds in its traditional Alawite heartland, the mountainous northwestern coastal region; -- the former scenario could hinder the development of a new central government for years to come. A sudden collapse by regime forces might presage an even more chaotic transition, as rival opposition forces rush to fill the vacuum. Read more ..



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