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Lebanon on Edge

Lebanon Teeters on a Knife Edge of Anxiety

October 20th 2012

Beirut Bombing Carnage 10-20-12

Tensions run high in Lebanon as the government declared an emergency meeting following a bomb attack that killed a top security official. Clashes and protests have been reported throughout the country amid opposition calls for the PM to resign.

Riots and protests continued into Saturday as thousands of people across Lebanon voiced their ire at the car bomb blast in Beirut on Friday that claimed the lives of eight people. Over a hundred people were also injured in the explosion that killed Brigadier General Wissam al-Hassan.

Enraged citizens have blocked roads with burning tires as a sign of their protest, while clashes in the city of Tripoli close to the southern Syrian border fueled fears the Syria’s conflict is overflowing across the border. Lebanon’s Prime Minister Najib Mikati offered to step down amidst the fallout of Friday’s deadly attack, but President Michel Suleiman refused his resignation. Read more ..

Broken Borders

The Dizzying Legal Twist of Immigration

October 20th 2012

Stop the Raids immigration protest

Given the white-hot politics of immigration, it’s perhaps not surprising that President Obama instantly drew fire with a proposal in January to help undocumented spouses of American citizens obtain legal status — without being ousted from the U.S. for years as punishment. Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas — the chairman of the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee — accused Obama of “bending long established rules” and pursuing a “backdoor amnesty.”

“Who is the President batting for — illegal immigrants or the American people?” Smith said in a statement.

Smith is no casual observer. He is the key author of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996, which established penalties mandating years of exile for illegal immigrants before they can return to the United States and legalize — even if they are married to an American citizen. Marriage is one of the primary ways a person obtains legal status within the largely family-based U.S. immigration system.


The Battle for Syria

Obama's Shortcomings in Syria

October 19th 2012


For months now, the United States has been providing direct so-called humanitarian assistance to the Syrian rebels-while cautioning Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and other Arab states to limit the types of weaponry they provide. Rifles and other small arms are okay, the administration says, but not heavier weapons that might fall into the hands of al-Qaeda and other terrorists fighting alongside the rebels.

The last thing Washington wants to do, administration officials have repeatedly said, is “radicalize the conflict.” But the truth is, that’s exactly what happening, and America’s strategy carries some of the blame.With AK-47s, hand grenades, and other light weapons, the Syrians are able to do little more than maintain a stalemate with the far better armed Syrian military. That’s why the rebellion is now in its 19th month. And along the way more and more extremists are pouring into the country. Read more ..

Iran on Edge

Iranian Agent Admits Plot to Kill Saudi Ambassador to U.S.

October 19th 2012

Iranian Manssor Arbabsiar
Manssor Arbabsiar

Perhaps you remember an incredibly sensational story from back in October 2011 that after a brief period in the headlines disappeared completely. The U.S. government arrested an Iranian-American citizen in Texas and charged him with being an agent of the Iranian government who planned at Tehran’s behest to hire a Mexican drug gang to assassinate the Saudi ambassador in a fiery terrorist attack in Washington DC.

It would have been another September 11, albeit on a far smaller scale. Knowing about such an operation should have been a real game-changer for U.S. Middle East policy. Now that man, Manssor Arbabsiar, arrested in September 2011, has pled guilty to these charges in a Manhattan court. The trial is scheduled for January.

The case is so important because the U.S. government was officially claiming that the Iranian regime planned an act of war on American soil. Talking to journalists, U.S. officials insisted that the very top leaders in Iran must have authorized the attack, though they admitted they didn’t have hard proof. Read more ..

America and Israel

The Myth of Obama's Powerlessness in the Arab Spring

October 17th 2012


One argument we will be increasingly hearing is that President Barack Obama couldn’t have done anything to change events in the Middle East. This is ironic of course because when things were going well he wanted to take credit as the inspiration for the “Arab Spring.”

Let’s remember that the president began with three acts that foreshadowed what was to come. He gave a speech in Cairo in which Muslim Brotherhood leaders were seated at the front, thus making it impossible for Egyptian government officials to attend. Obama thus not only declared himself on the side of the opposition but of the Islamist opposition.

What’s even important but never noticed was something critical Obama did. In discussing the Middle East and the Arabic-speaking world he exalted Islamic identity. Remember that for six decades national, i.e., Arab, identity that had dominated. True, it was used by dictatorships and for demagogic, anti-American purposes. Now, however, here was an American president declaring that religious identity should dominate. This was an action against both the existing regimes but also against the moderate opposition forces. Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

Which Presidential Candidate is Toughest on Global Issues?

October 16th 2012

Romney Obama debate

Closely-fought presidential campaigns can confound expectations by constricting — rather than broadening — public debate about significant policy issues, a phenomenon most recently on display during the debate between Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Rep. Paul D. Ryan. The two men, offering a preview of the foreign policy issues expected to arise at the Oct. 16 and Oct. 22 debates between President Obama and Mitt Romney, mostly competed to demonstrate the muscularity of their teams’ approaches to a vexing set of international challenges.

Each vowed their party would play tough with Iran and stick by the current hard line leadership in Israel; spend whatever is needed for critical U.S. military operations and forces; safely extract U.S. troops from Afghanistan; and efficiently engineer the ouster of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad.

Ryan argued that Iran’s drive for a nuclear weapon has been relentless, and that it is closer now to achieving its goal than it was when Obama won election. Biden responded that Iran is more isolated now than ever before, and said international sanctions are seriously harming the Iranian economy. Read more ..

The Iranian Threat

European Union Knocks Iran's PressTV Off the Air

October 16th 2012

Iran TV talking head
Screen capture from Iran's PressTV.

Three years after the Iranian regime’s English-language broadcaster, Press TV, plastered London’s buses with an advertising campaign that billed the station as “giving a voice to the voiceless,” Europe’s airwaves have been abruptly closed to its propaganda offerings. Here’s Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty:

A leading European satellite provider has taken 19 Iranian television and radio broadcasters off the air.

Satellite provider Eutelsat and media services company Arqiva said the decision has been made because of “reinforced” European Union sanctions aimed at punishing human rights abusers. People in Iran still have access to most of the channels operated by Iranian state broadcaster IRIB, but the channels are no longer broadcast in Europe and elsewhere. Read more ..

Iran on Edge

Will Iran Weather the Economic Storm?

October 16th 2012

Iranian Rial Close-Up

The depreciation of the rial is unlikely to change Iran's foreign-policy calculations.

The conventional wisdom that the collapse of the Iranian rial will have disastrous consequences for the Islamic Republic has it wrong: On the contrary, it could be the best thing that has happened to the Iranian economy in years.

Iran is a classic case of the resource curse. OPEC founder Juan Pablo Pérez Alfonso, who served as Venezuela's oil minister, called oil "the devil's excrement" for the pernicious impact petroleum revenues had on his country's economy. The same is true for Iran, which faces the challenge of becoming a country that produces goods, not merely consumes them. Unfortunately, the current Iranian government shows few indications it will meet this challenge. Rather, history suggests that Tehran will instead persist in its populist policies, including its confrontation with the international community about its nuclear program. Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

Polling shows Romney with 1-Point Lead in Crucial Florida

October 15th 2012


A new survey from Public Policy Polling (PPP) shows Mitt Romney with a 1-point lead in Florida thanks to strong gains among independent voters. The poll from the Democratic-affiliated firm finds Romney leading President Obama with 49 percent support to 48 among likely voters. The advantage is the result of a five-point gain for the GOP nominee from late September, when he trailed in the same poll by a 50-46 margin.

Obama’s 51-40 advantage three weeks before among independent voters is now a Romney 51-43 edge.
The poll shows Obama and Romney’s favorability ratings also moving in opposite directions since the first of their three debates Oct. 3. Romney was widely-considered to have won the first face-off and the candidates will debate again on Tuesday Oct. 16. Read more ..

Iran on Edge

As Sanctions Bite, West And Tehran Play Risky Game

October 14th 2012

Iran Banknotes

Western sanctions are moving Iran's economy into unknown territory as they press Tehran to give up controversial nuclear activities. The cracks in Iran's economic planning became plain as parliamentarians voted overwhelmingly on October 7 to reopen debate on a key government economic program. The vote came just days after the rial made a record plunge against the U.S. dollar as sanctions on oil exports limit Iran's access to hard currency.

Legislators said ordinary citizens cannot afford the government's anticipated second round of rollbacks to price subsidies at a time when the national currency is sagging. The government's reform program, which began in 2010, intends to progressively remove blanket subsidies on food and fuel in favor of direct cash payments to the needy.

A date for the parliamentary debate has yet to be set. But the legislators' challenge throws into disarray a plan the government has said could save it as much as $100 billion a year and help move Iran toward a more efficient market-based system. Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

Expensive and Long U.S. Campaigns: A Competitive Disadvantage?

October 13th 2012

Romney Obama debate

Of the competitive disadvantages faced by the United States, its democratic system is not supposed to be one of them. Quite the opposite. The stability of the U.S. democratic process and the trusted legal system it has produced have long been a competitive advantage. It is a big reason why so many global business powerhouses are headquartered in the United States. But the recent World Economic Forum Global Competitiveness Report found that business concerns about the U.S. political process is one of the major factors pulling the U.S. down in global rankings. Jonathan Browning, President of Volkswagen America, said at a Brookings event last week: “[The United States] needs to restore global confidence in the workings of its political system” to continue to attract foreign investment. Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

The Right Way for Turkey to Intervene in Syria

October 12th 2012

Turkish Air Force

Turkey was the first country to take direct military action against the government of Bashar al-Assad since Syria’s uprising began in the spring of 2011. And tensions are escalating further: earlier this week, the Turkish government sent 25 F-16 fighters to an air base near the border with Syria and on Wednesday it forced a Syrian passenger plane to land in the Turkish capital, Ankara, where suspected military aid shipments were taken off the plane.

The shelling along the Turkish-Syrian border is a critical development. The Assad regime is already busy fighting the Free Syrian Army near the Turkish border, where it has been bombing towns and villages. Precision artillery targeting is difficult, and the Syrian military is not known for its accuracy. What’s more, many rebel-held areas lie right next to the Turkish border. Hence even if the Syrians try not to shell Turkish territory, they are quite likely to cause inadvertent damage, potentially killing Turkish citizens — as happened on Oct. 3, when Syrian artillery landed in Akcakale, a Turkish border town. Read more ..

China and Japan

Japanese React With Fear, Anger Over China Islands Dispute

October 12th 2012

Chinese protest Japan

The dispute between Japan and China over the ownership of a chain of islands in the East China Sea continues to escalate, with China boycotting a meeting of the IMF being held in Tokyo. A growing sense of fear over China's increasing strength is being reported in the Japanese capital.

In August a fleet of Japanese boats headed for the disputed islands, called the Senkaku by Japan, and the Diaoyu by China. After a journey of several hours, some of the activists - including Japanese lawmakers - swim out to the uninhabited rocks. The expedition was organized by 'Ganbare Nippon', a nationalist group whose name loosely translates as 'Go Japan.' Its founder is the right-wing filmmaker and playwright Satoru Mizushima.

"Historically the Senkaku are Japan's islands and China never owned the islands before. The Chinese state media accept that fact," said Mizushima. "But in 1970 gas and oil was found beneath the ocean floor; only then did China start to say that the Senkaku belong to them." In recent weeks the dispute has sparked violent anti-Japanese protests across China, with Japanese businesses and property targeted. The group Ganbare Nippon has organized counter-protests in Tokyo. Read more ..

Israel and Palestine

UN Resolution 194 and the "Right of Return"

October 11th 2012

Austrian Hospice

Resolution 194, adopted by the UN General Assembly on December 11, 1948, addressed a host of issues, but only one paragraph out of 15 dealt with refugees created by the conflict. Resolution 194 attempted to create the tools required to reach a truce in the region. It established a conciliation commission with representatives from the United States, France and Turkey to replace the UN mediator. The commission was charged with achieving "a final settlement of all questions between … governments and authorities concerned." The Resolution’s "refugee clause" is not a standalone item, as the Arabs would have us think, nor does it pertain specifically to Palestinian Arab refugees.

One paragraph has drawn the most attention: Paragraph 11, which alone addressed the issue of refugees and compensation for those whose property was lost or damaged. Contrary to Arab claims, it did not guarantee a Right of Return and certainly did not guarantee an unconditional Right of Return – that is the right of Palestinian Arab refugees to return to Israel. Nor did it specifically mention Arab refugees, thereby indicating that the resolution was aimed at all refugees, both Jewish and Arab. Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

The Axis of Evil in Action: Iranian Support for Syria

October 11th 2012

Assad and Ahmadinejad

There is no doubt that Iran is quite concerned about events in Syria and the possibility that the Assad regime will be toppled. Since the Islamic Revolution, Iran has not had any real ally, among the superpowers or in the region, other than Syria. The alliance between Iran and Syria has lasted more than thirty years, the longest alliance between any two states in the region in the last few decades. Syria is a key component in Iran’s security doctrine, as it is a principal arena in the struggle against Israel, the United States, and the West in general. Moreover, Syria is an important link connecting Iran to Lebanon, viewed by Iran as a significant arena thanks to Hizbollah’s successful evolution as a prominent Shiite-Islamist organization integrally tied to Tehran, and in turn, the construction of a Hizbollah-led Lebanon that can function as an Iranian front against Israel.

These important achievements are liable to be seriously undermined should Assad’s regime collapse. This is of course not an inevitable outcome to the current turmoil; perhaps the damage to Iran will be limited or Assad’s regime will survive despite its current difficulties. In another scenario, the current regime could survive but without Assad and his cronies who would be exiled after some sort of compromise with the opposition. It may also be that Syria will be overcome by chaos, a situation Iran could exploit to expand its influence by sending arms and cash to various factions as it did in Iraq. However, these scenarios are no consolation to Iran; it views its assets in Syria and Lebanon as at risk, and should these disappear, its regional standing will be negatively affected. The Iranians are presumably concerned on yet another score: the Iranian opposition, in a state of suspended animation for the last three years, could be inspired by the collapse of Assad’s regime and encouraged to renew its activity against the Islamic regime in Iran.

The worst possible scenario from Iran’s point of view would be for the next Syrian regime to distance itself from Tehran, forge closer relations with the United States and the West, including Saudi Arabia and Egypt, and distance itself from Hizbollah. Indeed, Iran views the Western pressure on the Assad regime as part of the effort designed to topple the regime in Tehran and change the regional balance of power to Iran’s detriment. In recent years Iran has worked to establish a radical Shiite axis extending from western Afghanistan, through Iran, to Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon, with a proxy in the Gaza Strip. In Iran’s view, what is at stake is thus not only the future of its main ally but also the possibility of the toppling of the central and irreplaceable link in the axis it has tried to build. Read more ..

The Iranian Threat

The Obama Administration's Pretensions in the Persian Gulf

October 11th 2012

Iranian warship

Washington wants to avoid a confrontation with Iran, but faces two wild cards. First, Israel may find itself unable to forgo the use of force against Iran's nuclear facilities. Second, the administration has reiterated that it, too, finds a nuclear-armed Iran "unacceptable," and may have to take action against Iran despite its fervent desire not to. Washington therefore seeks to put sufficient protection in place in the Persian Gulf to ensure that if Iran tries to choke commerce – more than 25% of the world's oil shipments pass through the Strait of Hormuz – there is a workable response.

The Iranians are upping the rhetorical ante. The Chairman of the Iranian Chiefs of Staff, Major General Hassan Firuzabadi said last week, "We do have the plan to close the Strait of Hormuz, since a member of the military must plan for all scenarios." His point was reinforced by the head of the Economic Commission of the Iranian parliament, Arsalan Fathipour, who said Iran wouldn't necessarily wait for military action against his country. "If we completely go under the sanctions, we will not let a single drop of oil pass through the Hormuz Strait," he said. Read more ..

North Korea's Nukes

South Korea’s New Missile Guidelines and North Korea’s Response

October 10th 2012

Kim Jong-Un

The DPRK (North Korea) National Defense Commission responded with predictable bravado (“DPRK NDC Reiterates Its Stand to Fight It Out against U.S. and S. Korean Regime”) to Sunday’s announcement by the government of the Republic of Korea (ROK) that it had secured U.S. agreement to amend a 2001 accord that would allow the ROK to develop ballistic missiles with ranges of up to 800 kilometers and payloads of up to 500 kilograms. This amendment extends the current ROK missile range limit of 300 kilometers as a deterrence measure against the North’s own steady development of nuclear and missile capabilities. South Korea will pursue development of these capabilities over the next five years with a target date for deployment of 2017.

North Korea’s statement affirms Pyongyang’s sensitivity to U.S. support for South Korea’s development of capability, which the White House Press Secretary characterized as “a prudent, proportional, and specific response to the DPRK.” The DPRK National Defense Commission spokesman appears to respond directly to this message, seeing the announcement as proof of a hostile U.S. policy toward Pyongyang, marginalizing a “South Korean puppet regime,” and implying a North Korean missile capability to hit “U.S. imperialist aggression forces’ bases in the inviolable land of Korea but also Japan, Guam, and the U.S. mainland.” In light of North Korea’s failed satellite launch of last April, North Korea’s threat comes off as rhetorical bluff, but the prospect of an improved South Korean ballistic missile capability—in combination with Seoul’s planned launch of a Korea Satellite Launch Vehicle scheduled for the end of the month—are sure to rankle in Pyongyang. There is a risk that these developments may push North Korea toward further “satellite” testing of its own despite the fact that such tests are restricted under UN Security Council Resolutions 1718 and 1874. Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

Is Turkey Readying for War with Syria

October 9th 2012

Turkish Tanks

he Turkish government has been given the green light to send troops into Syria if it decides such action is needed. The question now is whether Turkey plans to do so.
Tensions continue to rise, with October 8 marking the sixth straight day the two countries had exchanged cross-border artillery salvos. Coming after the Turkish government obtained approval from its parliament on October 4 for military operations outside its border, continued cross-border shelling heightens the prospects of war. But for now, according to observers, that is not likely to happen.

Sinan Ulgen, chairman of the Center for Economics and Policy Studies (EDAM) in Istanbul, says "the Turkish government wants to deter future Syrian aggression and that is why it is taking all these steps." "So, if deterrence works in this case and the message gets across, the hope is that it will help to deescalate and defuse the tension," Ulgen says. Read more ..

Bosnia on Edge

The Balkans, Bosnia and the Muslim Brotherhood

October 9th 2012

Bosnia Grand Mufti Mustafa Ceric
Mustafa Ceric

The Mufti of the northeast Bosnian town of Tuzla, Husein Effendi Kavazovic, has been chosen as the new Chief Mufti of the nation's Islamic Community.  He will replace Mustafa Ceric who held the position for 19 years. (BIRN, Sarajevo, 12-13 September 2012.) According to some Bosnian human rights activists, Ceric is nothing less that a fundamentalist, hidden under a fake image of tolerance. This was repeated for Il Piccolo by Refik Hodzic, an influential activist for human rights and a leading documentary filmmaker.

Although Mustafa Ceric has stepped down from his position as Grand Mufti of Bosnia, he is likely to take a major step up in the next few months. Youssef Qaradawi, the Muslim Brotherhood's leading theologian is aging and must soon be replaced, and Ceric, born in 1952, would certainly be a more youthful replacement. Generally seen in secular Europe as a "populist" Islamic leader, Mustafa Ceric's ties to the Ikhwan are nearly as impressive as Youssef Qaradawi's. He is a member of Qaradawi's European Council for Fatwa and Research and participates in the U.K.-based "Radical Middle Way", which unites scholars representing the global Muslim Brotherhood.  Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

Big Donors Give Far And Wide to Influence Many Races and Issues

October 8th 2012

Bundles of Cash

The focus on billionaires’ and corporations’ contributions to Super PACs this year has highlighted the impact of the rich and powerful on the presidential campaigns. But an analysis of contributions by wealthy individuals in seven states shows that their giving is greater than any one cause or race reveals — with millions flowing into state, federal and even local campaigns, parties and committees far and wide. Take Colorado software entrepreneur and gay rights activist Tim Gill. He has given $450,000 to Colorado independent expenditure committees so far this political cycle, which began in 2011. He’s also given generously out of state —$100,000 to the Ohio Democratic Party Executive Committee and $25,000 to the Iowa Democratic Party—and smaller amounts to 26 candidates and causes in that time, from President Barack Obama to Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper, to candidates running for the Colorado state house.

All told, Gill, who did not respond to a request for comment, has doled out nearly $3.7 million to state and federal causes and campaigns in the past five years, making him the largest political donor from Colorado who wasn’t funding his own campaign. Gill is no exception.


The 2012 Vote

Romney Vows to ‘Change Course’ in the Mideast

October 8th 2012

Romney in Jerusalem 7-31-12

GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney will argue Monday in a major address that the Obama administration’s foreign policy has been marked by “passivity” and pledge “to change course in the Middle East.”

“I know the President hopes for a safer, freer, and a more prosperous Middle East allied with the United States. I share this hope. But hope is not a strategy,” Romney is expected to say, according to excerpted remarks.

Romney’s address at the Virginia Military Institute in Lexington, Va. comes amid a wave of turmoil in the Mideast, which Romney has seized on to argue that the administration’s foreign policy has abandoned American allies and emboldened hostile regimes, as the region experiences its “most profound upheaval in a century.” Read more ..

The Economy on Edge

Brighter Picture of the Job Market

October 7th 2012

Emplyment Application

In September 2012 the unemployment rate fell below 8 percent for the first time since January 2009. Though the recovery from the 2008-2009 recession has been heartbreakingly slow, the latest unemployment statistics combined with revisions in old payroll employment numbers offer a brighter picture of job market progress than we have seen in recent BLS reports.

The September employment report shows that private payrolls increased for the 31st consecutive month, rising 104,000 compared with August. While this is a somewhat slower pace of private sector employment growth than we saw earlier in the year, a turnaround in public employment and revisions in estimated job gains in July and August significantly lifted the estimated rate of payroll gains this past summer. Initial estimates showed that government employment fell 21,000 in July and 7,000 in August. The latest BLS revisions suggest government payrolls increased 18,000 in July and 45,000 in August. In addition, preliminary estimates for September show public payrolls increased 10,000 in September. Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

The Evolving and Resourceful Nature of Terrorist Tradecraft

October 6th 2012

Hamas head

One of the distinctive features of terrorism and security analysis is its focus on the methodology of attacks. Of course, identifying those responsible for an attack is important, especially in ensuring that the perpetrators are brought to justice. But Stratfor believes that analyzing the way in which an attack was conducted is more important because it can prevent future attacks and protect potential victims. It is likewise important to recognize that even if a terrorist is killed or arrested, other groups and individuals share terrorist tactics.

Sometimes this comes from direct interaction. For example, many of the Marxist terrorist groups that trained together in South Yemen, Lebanon and Libya in the 1980s employed similar tactics. Otherwise, a tactic's popularity is derived from its effectiveness. Indeed, several terrorist groups adopted airline hijacking in the 1960s and 1970s. Read more ..

The Iranian Threat

Is Ahmadinejad the Scapegoat for Iran's Economy?

October 6th 2012

Ahmadinejad triumphant

Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, was responsible for bringing Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to the presidency in 2005 and paid a hefty price for keeping him in that job in 2009. These days, however, the Supreme Leader has chosen to make the president a scapegoat for Iran's deepening political and economic crisis.

While Khamenei is the ultimate decision-maker in the Islamic Republic, he hopes to avoid accountability for the regime's failed policies. In the wake of the protests that followed the disputed 2009 vote, the Supreme Leader stood firmly behind Ahmadinejad, primarily to ensure the marginalization of reformists and long-standing icons such as former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. Now that the power and influence of the first generation of revolutionary leaders has waned, Khamenei's sole use for Ahmadinejad is to pin the entirety of social and economic woes on him.

The judiciary -- headed by a rival of the president, Sadegh Larijani -- has accused the Ahmadinejad administration of the most severe corruption since the 1979 revolution. The legislature -- headed by Larijani's brother Ali, another rival of the president -- also blames Ahmadinejad for economic mismanagement, which has resulted in rising inflation and unemployment and an unprecedented collapse of the Iranian currency, the rial. Read more ..

Venezuela on Edge

The International Stakes in Venezuela's Continued Bolivarian Revolution

October 5th 2012

Viva Chavez poster

The October 7 Presidential elections in Venezuela will pit incumbent President Hugo Chávez (United Socialist Party of Venezuela) against challenger Henrique Capriles Radonski (First Justice Party). Capriles is backed by the Coalition for Democratic Unity (MUD). This election confronts Venezuelans with a choice between political parties that is not only momentous in its scope; it can also be looked upon as a referendum on the Bolivarian Revolution itself, or more precisely, the institutions and practices that constitute its development. The outcome of the election will also have implications beyond the borders of Venezuela because the revolution has posed the sharpest split with U.S. hegemony (apart from Cuba).

Moreover, it represents a model of the repudiation of international corporate control over Latin Americas’ natural resources, the terms of its trade, and the use of its labor. The election results will also likely impact the role of ALBA and the political posture of Venezuela in neighboring regional organizations.

The Obama Edge

The Changing Politics of Chinese Trade and Investment

October 4th 2012

China EU commerce

On the same day last week that President Obama was issuing an order blocking a Chinese company from acquiring several Oregon wind farms, the Financial Times had a fascinating story on the changing politics of the U.S. trade relationship with China. While both the president and his Republican challenger Mitt Romney are trying to one-up each other over the economic threat posed by China, the mayor of Toledo, Ohio – the swing state of all swing states – was busy courting some 150 potential Chinese investors, trying to persuade them to bring jobs into the hard-hit local economy.

“I have to say the [presidential] campaign is really hindering us,” the story quoted Toledo mayor Michael Bell. “The Chinese people we invited here are asking ‘Why are you picking on us?’ or ‘Why are we suddenly the big issue?’” The story brilliantly captured America’s current confusion over its economic relationship with China. There is no question that rising imports from China have caused job losses in U.S. manufacturing, and that the benefits of lower-priced consumer goods have been significantly offset by the costs associated with higher unemployment. Read more ..

Education on Edge

Can Academic Standards Boost Literacy and Close the Achievement Gap?

October 4th 2012

Chinese-American kids

U.S. schools are struggling to enable students, espe­cially those from poor families, to attain the advanced literacy skills required by the twenty-first-century American economy. One approach to enhancing schools’ efficacy in this area is improved educational standards. Standards are routine in American life. Sports have them; businesses have them; profes­sions have them. Standards are useful in clarifying the knowledge, skills, and competencies that society expects from individuals and organizations. Society also needs a way to determine whether the standards have been met, usually through testing, certification, licensing, or inspection systems. And a respected body of experts must be responsible for maintaining the integrity of the standards.

It is no surprise, then, that standards have become a key part of American primary and secondary educa­tion in recent decades. As mandated by the 2001 No Child Left Behind Act, every state now has standards that specify the skills and knowledge in literacy (and mathematics, which we do not address here) that children should have at specific grade levels. States also have standards that students must satisfy to grad­uate from high school. In the majority of states, these include passing state-specific English language arts and math exams. Now a new set of national standards has been adopted by nearly every state. These tough standards hold promise for playing an important role in an overall strategy for improving literacy skills for all students, including those from poor families who suffer from a striking literacy deficit. However, as we explain below, the new standards are only one step down a long road. Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

Listless Meandering Obama Performance Boosts Romney's Night

October 4th 2012

Obama Bowed Head

A subdued and sometimes listless performance from President Obama may have given Mitt Romney the opening he needed to reshape the battle for the White House on Wednesday night. Romney delivered a vivid and strong showing in Denver for the first of the three presidential debates. But Obama’s weakness was just as notable. His night was virtually devoid of memorable lines and at times his responses meandered.

Obama was also strikingly reluctant to take the fight to his challenger, at no time mentioning Romney’s controversial comments about “47 percent” of Americans who the former Massachusetts governor said thought of themselves as “victims” in a covertly-filmed speech that emerged last month. Obama also sought to find common ground between the two men at times, at one point noting that he and his challenger had “a somewhat similar position” on Social Security.

In the aftermath, even liberal and Democratic commentators acknowledged that Romney had the better night. On CNN, Democratic strategist James Carville said: “I had one overwhelming impression. I did everything I could not to reach it, but it looked like Romney wanted to be there and President Obama didn't want to be there. ... Obama gave me the impression that the whole thing was kind of a lot of trouble.” 

Bill Maher, the liberal TV talk show host — and a big donor to the Obama-supporting super-PAC Priorities USA — said on Twitter that he believed Romney had won the debate, even though he argued that Obama “had the facts on his side.” Maher also criticized the performance of the debate’s moderator, Jim Lehrer of PBS, as did many liberal commentators. But those complaints seemed akin to those of the cornermen for a losing boxer who protest about the referee. Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

Heath Insurance PACs in Love-Hate Relationship with Reform

October 4th 2012


The health insurance industry presented itself as a key ally of President Barack Obama’s health care law while at the same time making hefty contributions to members of Congress who are trying to get rid of it, according to contribution records. Between January of 2007 and August of 2012, the political action committees of the 11 largest health insurance companies and their primary trade group gave $10.2 million to federal politicians with nearly two-thirds of the total going to Republicans who oppose the law or support its repeal, according to the Center for Public Integrity’s analysis of Federal Election Commission filings.

The 11 top companies, according to the Fortune 500 list, controlled 35 percent of the industry in 2011, according to data from the National Association of Insurance Commissioners. The top industry trade group is America’s Health Insurance Plans. Much of the money rolled in as health insurance industry leaders lauded the Democrats’ reform efforts.


The Iranian Threat

Iran and Opium

October 3rd 2012

iran bank notes

"Iranian authorities capture more opiates than any other country in the world, but officials there say they have yet to develop a counternarcotics strategy. That approach has arguably contributed to the fact that opium cultivation, once thought to have been wiped out in Iran, has resumed." According to recent UN Office on Drugs and Crime data, in 2011 Iran intercepted  89% of the opium shipments seized worldwide and 41% of heroin/morphine shipments. 

In 2000 Robin Wright wrote that, "in the 1990s, Iran's young began using heroin." And by 1999, narcotics users were "estimated to reach 3 million." More recently, the UN Office of Drugs and Crime estimated that Iran has as many as 1.7 million opiate addicts - an indication that  5% of Iran's adult, non-elderly population of 35 million is addicted. To place that data in context, a 2003 a United States National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that 119,000 Americans had used heroin within the prior month - or less than one-tenth of 1% of the non-elderly adult population.


The Arab Winter of Rage

Salafist Islamism and Democratization of the Muslim World

October 2nd 2012

Mohamed Morsi Speaks at Press Conference
Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi

The outbreak of the Arab Spring in 2011 brought significant attention to groups -- known as Islamists -- seeking to establish Islamic states in countries once ruled by secular autocrats. The bulk of this attention went to already established political groups such as the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, which caused consternation in the West when its Freedom and Justice Party won control of both Egypt's parliament and its presidency.

Much less attention was paid to the Brotherhood's principal Islamist competitors, members of the ultraconservative Salafist movement, despite their second-place finish in Egypt's parliamentary elections. This changed in late September when certain Salafists played a key role in the unrest in reaction to an anti-Islamic video posted on the Internet. Since then, Salafism has become the subject of much public discourse -- though as is often the case with unfamiliar subjects, questions are vastly more numerous than answers. This is compounded by the rapidity of its rise from a relatively minor, apolitical movement to an influential Islamist phenomenon. Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

Somalia's Al-Shabab Terrorists are 'Degraded' but not Faded

October 1st 2012

Somali Militants

Witnesses in Kismayo confirm that Somali government forces have entered the city on Monday and are taking control of former al-Shabab bases. But Johnnie Carson, the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, warned that al-Shabab has been "effectively degraded" but not entirely defeated.

African Union and Somali troops have entered the Somali port city, two days after the militant group al-Shabab announced it had deserted the city for tactical reasons. But a Somali army commander in Kismayo says the militants still have a presence in the city and pose a serious threat to incoming forces.

Somali army commander Abdullahi Olow confirmed some forces entered Kismayo Monday, after days of being stationed at the outskirts of the city. “We entered the city to do patrols and we have pulled some of them," said Olow. "We have built some defensive positions. The situation looks a bit calm. Now we will start security operations.

Early Friday, Kenyan forces launched a long-awaited assault against al-Shabab militants in Kismayo, sending soldiers into the city from the beach. Later that evening, the militants left their defensive positions and announced they had closed down their offices. Despite al-Shabab’s exit, city residents still live in fear, as the security situation remains volatile. Somali local media report some remaining al-Shabab fighters and clan militias have killed nine civilians, including clan elders, in the last three days. Olow says the militant group, despite deserting the port city, still poses a serious threat to his forces and civilians. Read more ..

Israel on Edge

Canadian PM says 'Those who Target Israel are a Threat to all Free and Democratic societies'

September 30th 2012


It is swiftly becoming clear that, while Israel's strongest ally is still North American, it may not be the current U.S. administration. Judging by recent statements made by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, that honor may well go to the Canadian government. Speaking on Friday to the Appeal of Conscience Foundation, described as "an interfaith partnership of corporate and spiritual leaders from all faiths," Harper expressed unequivocal support for Israel against Iran, and made a direct connection between anti-Israel sentiments and antisemitism. "Neither [Israel's] existence," Harper said, "nor its policies are responsible for the pathologies present” in the Middle East; an explicit rejection of the frequent accusation that Israel is responsible for Middle Eastern extremism and terrorism.

Regarding Iran, Harper was equally clear. "The appeal of our conscience requires us to speak out against what the Iranian regime stands for," he asserted. "Likewise, it requires us to speak in support of the country that its hatred most immediately threatens, the State of Israel." Drawing an explicit link between the New Antisemitism and the old, Harper said that the international community must be aware: "of a lesson of history, that those who single out the Jewish people as a target of racial and religious bigotry will inevitably be a threat to all of us. Read more ..

Israel and Palestine

UN Security Council Resolution 242

September 29th 2012

UN General Assembly

Resolution 242 is the cornerstone for what it calls "a just and lasting peace." It calls for a negotiated solution based on "secure and recognized boundaries" - recognizing the flaws in Israel's previous temporary borders - the 1948 Armistice lines or the "Green Line" - by not calling upon Israel to withdraw from 'all occupied territories,' but rather "from territories occupied." The United Nations Security Council adopted Resolution 242 in 1967 following the Six-Day War. It followed Israel's takeover of the Sinai Peninsula and Gaza Strip from Egypt, the Golan Heights from Syria, and the West Bank from Jordan. The resolution was to become the foundation for future peace negotiations. Yet contrary to Arab contentions, a careful examination of the resolution will show that it does not require Israel to return to the June 4, 1967 Armistice lines or "Green Line." Read more ..

Israel and Palestine

A Divergence over Palestine on Display at the United Nations

September 28th 2012

Dome of the Rock

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke past one another in addressing the UN General Assembly, barely touching on the same issues. While the two leaders delivered passionate remarks within minutes of one another, they spoke to divergent future objectives. Their speeches highlighted the challenge of bringing the two leaders together into a meaningful dialogue.

Whereas Abbas' target audience was the assembled countries of the United Nations, Netanyahu's audience was one country in particular: the United States. This reflects different strategic priorities for each leader: For Abbas, the stated key objective today is Palestinian statehood in the West Bank and Gaza with East Jerusalem as its capital. For Netanyahu, the focus is the need for a clear and more robust threat to confront Iran's ongoing nuclear enrichment program.

Each leader articulated core requests: Abbas asked the United Nations to adopt a resolution laying out the basis for a solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Netanyahu called for the placement of a clear "red line" on Iran's nuclear weapons program, highlighting his core difference with the Obama administration, which explicitly refuses to enunciate a clear red line or timeline.

Both leaders were vague about their own intended next steps, though Abbas offered slightly more clarity than Netanyahu on this score. Abbas pledged to continue efforts to obtain UN membership for Palestine, saying that he had begun intensive consultations with member states with the aim of a General Assembly vote during the UN session just launched. This formulation provides Abbas time to see what, if anything, the international community will do before he decides to put Palestine's membership to a vote in the General Assembly. In contrast, Netanyahu's "or-else" was both unstated but well known: Failure for the United States to either strike Iran or articulate a red line that prevents Iran from moving toward nuclear weapons capabilities will trigger an Israeli military strike. Read more ..

Venezuela on Edge

A Primer to the Coming Election in Venezuela

September 28th 2012

Hugo Chavez infirm

After being rescheduled from its original date in November, Venezuela’s upcoming presidential elections will take place on October 7. There are several valid reasons to consider the outcome of “7-O” as a pivotal moment for a new direction of the country. For starters, in contrast to the example of Mexico’s recent elections, Venezuela’s approaching ballot will only decide the presidency; this means that there will be but one winner for a six-year presidential term.

For almost the first time in memory, President Hugo Chávez might be losing his preferred status as frontrunner. However, the Supreme Court, the National Electoral Council, and other key institutions in the country would still remain under Chávez’s and his party’s sway even with the victory of the opposition candidate.

As the world focuses on Miraflores’s possible change of tenant in the coming days, it is essential to comprehend a complex Venezuelan electoral system. At the same time, it is also critical to recognize the different aspects affecting the presidential contest, such as the intricacies of the electoral system and the inherently uneven playing field being faced by the competition. Read more ..

The Iranian Threat

Ahmedinejad Lies at the UN: Israel has no Historical Roots in the Middle East

September 27th 2012

Ahmadinejad at UN

Defying historical fact, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad continued his existential verbal attacks on the State of Israel, claiming Israel has no historical basis in the Middle East Region.

Speaking to reporters at the United Nations before his address to the General Assembly, Ahmedinejad claimed that Israel has no Middle East roots and would be "eliminated".

“Iran has been around for the last 7,000, 10,000 years. They [the Israelis] have been occupying those territories for the last 60 to 70 years, with the support and force of the Westerners. They have no roots there in history,” he said. “We do believe that they have found themselves at a dead end, and they are seeking new adventures in order to escape this dead end. Iran will not be damaged with foreign bombs,” he continued, referring to Israel.

“We don’t even count them as any part of any equation for Iran,” he added. “During a historical phase, they represent minimal disturbances that come into the picture and are then eliminated.” Read more ..

Iran's Nukes

Inside Iran's Nuclear Warhead

September 27th 2012

Edwin Black

Since the last century, Iran has been methodically pursuing the in-house capability of developing a missile-delivered nuclear bomb. The regime of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is now closer than ever and probably in the latter stages of perfecting an atomic bomb with a multipoint detonation mechanism, compact enough to insert into a Shahab-3 missile nosecone.

For years, the Obama administration, Western governments, the United Nations, and the International Atomic Energy Administration (IAEA) have been fully aware of the specific details of Tehran’s nuclear weapons program, down to the blueprints and names of the engineers. Whether or not Iran will complete the last leg of its decades-long journey toward a deliverable atomic bomb is still unknown. The difference in viewing the cannon is whether you are staring down the muzzle or observing it through a telescope from a perch six thousand miles away. Israel is peering into the muzzle, hence its assessment is different than Washington’s.

Protracted multilateral negotiations, crippling international sanctions, and even elaborate programs of sabotage have delayed but not derailed the nearly autarkic program. Now the world teeters at the brink of a regional war with profound global ramifications because the threat may have been ignored too long.

Here are the four determining factors, the dynamics of which will govern whether Israel launches a preemptive attack against Tehran’s massive nuclear infrastructure.

The four technological achievements are key to completing Tehran’s nuclear weapon are: 1) accretion of enough nuclear materials, highly enriched to 90 percent, to make the bomb; 2) machining that highly-enriched material into metal for a spheroid warhead so it can fit into a missile nosecone for detonation; 3) a trigger mechanism to initiate the atomic explosion at the precise moment of missile reentry; and, of course, 4) a reliable rocket delivery system to carry such a weapon. Read more ..

Mexico on Edge

The Last Days of Mexico's President Felipe Calderon

September 26th 2012

Calderon and Pena Nieto
Left to right: Enrique Peña Nieto and President Felipe Calderón of Mexico

The southern neighbor of the United States of America faces a transition of its executive power in less than one hundred days. The inauguration of Enrique Peña Nieto of Partido Revolucionario Institucional or the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) will take place on December 1 and Felipe Calderón from Partido Acción Nacional or National Action Party (PAN) will cease to be the president of Mexico. The change goes beyond a simple switch of names and men in position: it is a debate of continuity, as well as the nature of security and economic policies under Calderón. In the meantime, a large number of PRI’s deputies and senators have taken their seats in the Congress and the Senate of Mexico, leaving Calderón’s PAN party with less influence than ever in political maneuvers.

As the date of Peña Nieto’s inauguration approaches, talks about the presidential transition also have begun. It is the second time that independent Mexico is facing a presidential change from one party to another and the first time the United States’ neighbor will be governed by the PRI again after twelve years of PAN rule. The PRI has governed Mexico for most of the 20th century and during this period serious doubts have been raised about the quality of Mexican democracy and the use of authoritative tactics during its time in power. Read more ..

Colombia on Edge

The Price Colombia Pays for Negotiating with FARC Guerrillas

September 25th 2012

Colombia FARC rebels

Early in October, peace negotiations will take place between the Colombian Government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in Oslo, Norway. If successful, the talks will continue in Havana, Cuba. These talks are taking place against the backdrop of major military victories by the Colombian army against the FARC, the elimination of key FARC leaders in the last four years, and, confirmed connections between the FARC and the governments of Venezuela and Ecuador.

The upcoming talks were made possible through the mediation of Chile, Venezuela and Cuba. Venezuela and Cuba are two key players in the revolutionary, anti-American Bolivarian alliance. The Government of Venezuela has been one of the staunchest enemies of Colombia whom it views as an American puppet. Venezuela has also objected to the war on drugs and to Plan Colombia.. Many of Hugo Chavez's international political attacks have been directed towards Colombia. Read more ..

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